December 11, 1998

Cuba tries to defuse spat with Mexico over Castro

By Andrew Cawthorne

HAVANA, Dec 10 (Reuters) - The Cuban government sought on Thursday to defuse an embarrassing diplomatic spat with Mexico over comments by communist leader Fidel Castro about his oldest and strongest ally in Latin America.

Repeatedly quizzed on the issue, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez avoided going into detail but insisted Cuba's good ties with Mexico since Castro's 1959 revolution were still intact.

``As we have said before, and repeated, relations between Cuba and Mexico remain unalterable. I have nothing more to say,'' he told a weekly news briefing.

His comments reflected Havana's eagerness to minimise political fallout from last week's speech by Castro, which caused offence in Mexico, the only Latin American nation never to break relations with his government.

Mexican Foreign Minister Rosario Green recalled her ambassador from Havana and has said she will not send him back until she gets a full explanation from the Cuban government.

Among various mentions of Mexico, Castro at one point implied its efforts to join the ranks of the world's top industrial nations meant abandoning poorer neighbours in the region. ``They left us in the House of Misery, and they moved into an aristocratic quarter,'' he told the Latin American Economic System (SELA), a regional forum for economic policy debate.

The 72-year-old Cuban leader, traditionally polite about Mexico, also complained the world was heading toward a ``universal mono-culture'' where Mexican children knew who U.S.

cartoon creation Mickey Mouse was, but not their own nation's founding fathers.

Havana has already sought to limit the damage.

A Foreign Ministry statement published in Saturday's Communist Party newspaper Granma said Castro's remarks were ``only fragmentarily reproduced and, on occasions, totally wrongly interpreted.''

The statement, which did not halt the row, added that Castro's remarks about various countries were made ``with great respect, especially toward Mexico, which is united with Cuba through historical links and a special affection.''

``No-one like him (Castro) has recalled so many times the aggressions toward Mexico, which had half its rich territory snatched by the United States,'' the statement said, concluding that ``no-one has the right to stir intrigue between Cuba and Mexico.''

Cuban officials have insisted that Castro's comments on Mexico were made in a light, joking way, and not intended as mockery or serious criticism.

Castro's affection for Mexico dates from his days in exile there before he set sail for Cuba in 1956 on a mission to topple former dictator Fulgencio Batista.

After the revolution, Mexico was the only Latin American nation to maintain full diplomatic ties when Cuba was expelled from the Organisation of American States (OAS) in 1962.

In return for that support, Castro studiously avoided giving any support to left-wing guerrilla insurgencies in Mexico in the 1970s, despite his backing for revolutionary movements elsewhere in the region.

On a visit to Havana in June, Mexico's foreign minister Green hailed the two nations' ``impeccable'' ties and lavishly praised Castro as ``a universal man.''

16:54 12-10-98

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited


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