Cuban minister makes appeal to end U.S. embargo

Monday, September 29, 2003

NEW YORK -- Cuba's foreign minister made an impassioned appeal for the lifting of the trade embargo against his country, saying the blockade has cost the Caribbean nation $72 billion in the last 42 years.

In a 75-minute speech at a Harlem church, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said the Cuban people do not hold any hatred against the American people.

He stressed that Cuba was against terrorism and has been combating drug trafficking, but despite overtures the Americans have refused to lift the embargo.

"The blockade is a major obstacle to our development. It prevents and curtails our development," Perez Roque told a sympathetic audience of more than 800 people, many of whom repeatedly interrupted with chants of "Viva Cuba."

The embargo has cost Cuba $72 billion setting back its development, affecting education, trade, industry, business transactions and its ability to receive international assistance, the minister said.

The embargo was imposed by the United States in 1961 to punish Cuba's Fidel Castro, then a Soviet ally. The United States has also imposed sanctions on companies that do business in the communist island.

Perez Roque is in New York for the annual ministerial session of the U.N. General Assembly. In a speech on Friday, the Cuban criticized the U.S.-led war in Iraq. He hit that theme again Saturday.

American entertainer Harry Belafonte introduced Perez Roque to the audience.

Belafonte, who said he frequently visited Cuba, hoped the event would move Americans to push for lifting the embargo.

"So far things don't look so good. But I think the more we display our willingness to be open...more people will support the idea," he told The Associated Press.

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