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Cuba takes over center at Spanish Embassy

Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 15, 2003

HAVANA - Fidel Castro's communist government took its first major step in its anti-Europe campaign Saturday, taking control of the Spanish Embassy's cultural center - a showcase of Iberian tradition Havana says was used to nurture the opposition.

The Foreign Ministry announcement came two days after Castro led hundreds of thousands of people on marches outside the Spanish and Italian embassies in the capital to protest European alignment with U.S. policies supporting prodemocracy dissidents.

Havana was responding to the 15-member European Union's announcement last week that it would review its relations with the island after a crackdown on the opposition and the firing-squad executions of three men who tried to hijack a ferry to South Florida.

A government statement Saturday said Cuba was canceling its agreement with the Spanish Embassy, signed in 1995 and renewed in September, to operate the cultural center in a renovated historic building facing the ocean in the capital's Old Havana district.

Cuban authorities told Spanish officials of the decision Friday, giving them 90 days to relinquish control of the two-story building, owned by the Cuban government.

"The accord signed by both countries said that the center would be created to promote the best values of Spanish culture based on respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and nonintervention in Cuba's internal affairs," the Foreign Ministry said.

"Far from promoting Spanish culture in our country - the reason it was created - it has maintained a program of activities unrelated to its original function, in open challenge of Cuban laws and institutions," the statement added.

The center was operating normally Saturday morning, but no officials there were authorized to comment on the announcement.

Inside, an exhibit of Iberian design was on display, with objects including plates, jewelry and lamps. In one workshop, Spanish graphics artist Isidro Ferrer was teaching a class to his Cuban counterparts.

"Cultural should not be at the service of politics," Ferrer said.

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