Electricity restored to U.S. Interests Section

June 14, 2006

Miami Herald- Pablo Bachelet and Frances Robles

Electricity at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana was restored Tuesday, the same day that Cuba's Communist Party daily published a scathing 2,000-word editorial denying that the weeklong outage was intentional.

The Cuban government 'categorically denies' claims by the U.S. State Department that it deliberately cut off power and water to the U.S. Interests Section, and such accusations are an attempt to provoke a total break in relations and end immigration accords and food sales, the Granma editorial said.

On Monday the U.S. State Department said its Havana mission had been running on generators since June 5, when electricity was shut off. The State Department also said faucets ran dry for a month this year -- plus another three days last week.


'Our revolution has never assaulted or violated the diplomatic headquarters,' the newspaper said. ``It never did it and never will.'

The flap over water and lights comes amid increasing hostility between the two nations. The U.S. Interests Section infuriated Cuba in January when it put up an electronic ticker-tape board that carried messages critical of the government. Cuba fired back by posting a sea of flags to block its view.

Not long after, the Interests Section received a letter from the Cuban government saying that in response to the electronic billboard sign, it would cease diesel fuel deliveries.

Granma said the power outage was the result of a broken electrical line, and that water department technicians have diligently responded to problems. It even listed the amount of construction supplies delivered this year.

Washington scoffed at the Cuban explanation.

'You'll excuse me if I don't take that explanation at face value,' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, noting that Cuba's power company is controlled by the government. ``It's the only building or compound on the block that doesn't have power, and we did pay our power bill.'

The Cuban government claims its notoriously poor electrical service suffered a setback recently when the 13,000-volt underground circuit that supplies power to the U.S. Interests Section broke down during recent heavy rains.


Proof that the Interests Section doesn't 'lack a single watt:' the electronic billboard that broadcasts 'insulting and offensive' messages is still on, the paper said. Granma also said the diplomatic mission demonstrated 'bad faith' by not mentioning that the water department sent maintenance workers to do repairs seven times since January.

Granma also offered a list of how much electricity and gas and construction equipment the Interests Section had used this year.

'Cuba fights up front and clean: It doesn't need to find pretexts to harass the office,' the paper said. ``It doesn't look for subterfuge, or cut electric cables to turn out little trashy signs.'

Interests Section spokesman Drew G. Blakeney said the office was being harassed in other ways: a lack of supplies; a shortage of Cuban construction workers; refusal to grant exit visas to the Cubans who work at the office and need to travel abroad.

'It's a propaganda piece from a dictatorial state's propaganda machine,' Blakeney said of the Granma editorial. ``What we got today was electricity. All the other things are still outstanding.'


Cutting power to a diplomatic mission is a rare occurrence, although not unprecedented. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami said the Cubans did it at the start of the Lyndon Johnson administration, forcing Washington to send generators.

In 1964, Cuban leader Fidel Castro cut off the water and power to the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base to retaliate for the arrest of 36 Cuban fishermen in Florida waters.

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