Mexico recalls ambassador from Cuba, expels Cuban

Monday, May 3, 2004

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico announced Sunday it will recall its ambassador from Cuba and expel the Cuban ambassador, saying the communist-run island has meddled in Mexican affairs.

The government also declared a political adviser in the Cuban Embassy a "persona non grata" and told him to leave Mexico immediately.

Officials stopped short of severing diplomatic relations but reduced the relationship to the level of charges d'affaires, Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez told a new conference.

Cuban officials had no immediate reaction. The actions iced over bilateral relations already chilled by Mexico's recent vote denouncing Cuba's human rights record at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, and by Cuba's public declarations regarding an ongoing political scandal in Mexico.

President Fidel Castro severely criticized the U.S.-backed human rights resolution in his May Day speech Saturday, saying Mexico's former standing as an independent leader in Latin America had "turned to ashes."

One reason President Vicente Fox took action was that Mexican officials discovered Cuban communist party members had entered the country on diplomatic passports last month and held a "political reunion" without going through diplomatic channels, Interior Secretary Santiago Creel said. He did not say with whom the Cubans met.

The expulsions also were a result of recent remarks Cuban officials made regarding an ongoing political furor involving Mexican businessman Carlos Ahumada, Derbez said.

Ahumada fled to Cuba -- and was deported last week -- after the release of videotapes showing him passing large wads of cash to elected Mexico City officials.

He said he made the videotapes because officials were trying to blackmail him.

However, left wing Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, seen as a presidential contender in 2006, claimed the federal government was behind the tapes in an effort to tarnish his image. The government denied the charges.

As they deported Ahumada, Cuban officials claimed he said the videos were "deliberately calculated to achieve political objectives and planned with months of anticipation," remarks that fed Lopez Obrador's claims and angered the Mexican government.

"The recent actions of the Cuban government ... have led Mexico to conclude that the government of Cuba has directly interfered in internal affairs that are of the exclusive competence of the government," Derbez said.

"Mexico does not want or desire to alter its friendly relationship with a community that has been its brother," he added. "But let it be clear that ... what President Castro has said and the actions of his functionaries in Mexico cannot be overlooked."

Derbez said Mexico hoped to restore normal diplomatic relations "when the conditions of friendship and respect that should exist between nations are reconstructed."

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