Billboard escalates Cuban Christmas crisis

TAKING PICTURES IN FRONT OF BILLBOARD
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. Dario Lopez-mills / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

This year's Christmas decorations at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana include a lit display of the number 75, seen in the frontyard of the compound on December 7, 2004. The display is in remembrance of the March 2003 mass arrest of 75 opponents of Cuba's communist government. According to U.S. mission chief James Cason in a press conference on December 14, 2004 Cuba has demanded that the United States take down the number 75 and as a U.S.diplomat told Reuters, Cuban officials had indicated they would take serious action if the lights were not removed. Picture taken December 7, 2004. REUTERS/Claudia DautClaudia Daut / X00076

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.