Dario Lopez-mills  /  AP
Tourists take pictures of a massive billboard showing photographs of Iraqi prisoners being abused by American soldiers and a red swastika on Friday in front of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana.
updated 12/17/2004 12:26:00 PM ET 2004-12-17T17:26:00

Cuba responded Friday to a U.S. diplomat’s refusal to take down Christmas decorations by putting up a huge billboard in front of the U.S. Interest Section emblazoned with a swastika and showing photographs of Iraqi prisoners being abused by American soldiers.

The billboard, put up overnight, had a large swastika in red and the word “fascist” covered with a “Made in the U.S.A.” stamp. It sat prominently on the Malecon, Havana’s coastal highway, facing the mission’s offices.

There was no immediate response from American diplomats in Havana.

The U.S. Interest Section, headed by chief James Cason, ignored a demand earlier this week to remove Christmas decorations that included a reference to dissidents jailed by Fidel Castro’s government.

The trimmings included a Santa Claus, candy canes and white lights wrapped around palm trees — and a sign reading “75” — a reference to 75 Cuban dissidents jailed last year.

Christmas decorations are seen at night at the U.S. Interest Section in Havana
Claudia Daut  /  Reuters file
This year's Christmas decorations at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana include a lighted display of the number 75 in remembrance of the March 2003 arrests of 75 opponents of Cuba's communist government.

Cuban Parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcon called the sign “rubbish” this week, and said Cason seems “desperate to create problems.”

Cuba had warned the U.S. Interest Section to remove the decorations or face unspecified consequences.

No other officials from Castro’s administration have commented on the spat.

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