Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Cuba lambastes Mexico over diplomat withdrawal

AP , HAVANA

Responding angrily to Mexico's decision to scale back diplomatic relations, Cuba accused Mexican authorities of trying to divert attention from a growing political scandal at home.

Foreign Secretary Felipe Perez Roque said on Wednesday that a Mexican fraud suspect arrested in Cuba claimed that senior Mexican officials had promised to protect him if he would produce compromising videotapes of their political foes.

He showed Cuban police department footage of the suspect, Carlos Ahumada, telling authorities that the Mexican officials had coaxed the videos from him.

Perez Roque refused to reveal which Mexican officials were named. But he said that Mexico had created a crisis in relations with Cuba to distract attention from the scandal.

"Cuba and Mexico are living their worst moment in more than 100 years of diplomacy," Perez Roque said.

The videos produced by Ahumada caused a scandal when aired in Mexico. They showed him giving money to members of a party that could challenge the current ruling party in the next election.

Mexico recalled its ambassador earlier this week after Cuban leader Fidel Castro condemned the government for supporting a UN resolution criticizing Cuba's human rights record.

The Mexican government, accusing the communist government of meddling in its internal affairs, also expelled the Cuban ambassador but stressed it was not severing diplomatic relations altogether.

Speaking for three hours before more than 150 reporters, many of whom had been specially invited from Mexico, Perez Roque called Mexico's decision "unjustifiable, inflexible and haughty."

The Cuban minister suggested the near-break in relations "was meant to divert attention" from the scandal.

Responding on Wednesday night in Mexico, Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Debez said Perez Roque's comments "could create confusion in public opinion."

"I want to make clear that Mexico is not responsible for starting this conflict," he said

The unpopular spat with Cuba threatens to complicate Mexican President Vicente Fox's relations with his Congress, which is controlled by opposition parties.

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