Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cuban sting shows US diplomat handing over cash to dissidents

Cuban sting shows US diplomat handing over cash to dissidents

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Cuba has accused Washington of illegally funding opposition groups on the island after conducting an elaborate sting on a dissident who met a US diplomat.

The government published emails, letters, videos and audio tapes which purportedly showed a political activist, Martha Beatriz Roque, receiving monthly payments from Michael Parmly, the head of the US interests section in Havana.

"We have a right to know all about this dark drama," said Felipe Pérez Roque, the foreign minister.

Cuban agents spied on the dissident for months, filming her, bugging her home and mobile phones, hacking into her emails and sifting through her rubbish.

The communist authorities said the diplomat delivered mail including three monthly cash payments of at least $1,500 (£750) intended for other dissidents.

The money allegedly came from Fundación Rescate Jurídica, a Miami-based group headed by Santiago Alvarez, a Cuban-American businessman once convicted in the US of conspiring to collect weapons to overthrow Fidel Castro.

Another dissident, Laura Pollan, has acknowledged receiving at least $2,400 from the group via Martha Beatriz Roque. She said the money was split among members of the Ladies in White, a group that demands freedom for political prisoners.

The foreign minister said the payments violated Cuban, US and international law and cited the 1961 Vienna convention, which prohibits diplomats from breaking the laws of a host state or interfering in internal affairs. The dissident, Roque, said she would comment after the authorities had finished making the allegations, which have aired on state media all week.

The US state department denied wrongdoing, saying it had long provided humanitarian aid to opposition leaders, but did not respond to the specific accusations.

In a separate development, President George Bush announced a slight loosening of the US trade embargo to allow Americans to send pre-paid mobile phones to relatives in Cuba, saying it would give Cubans a greater chance to speak out. Raúl Castro, who has taken over from his ailing brother Fidel, recently lifted a ban on ordinary Cubans possessing mobile phones.

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