U.S. Envoy Walks Out on Castro Speech; No Impact Seen on Already Strained Ties
U.S. envoy John J. Taylor walked out in protest during what he called an “intemperate and unacceptable” speech by Fidel Castro on Wednesday night, but both Cuban and Western officials said Thursday they doubt that the incident will significantly alter already strained U.S.-Cuban relations.
Taylor stood up from his seat on the highly visible diplomats’ platform beside the podium and walked out just as Castro, addressing a crowd of many thousands at the dedication of a new trade exhibition center outside Havana, began to excoriate the United States for applying “peculiar concepts of peace” in such hot spots as Nicaragua and Libya.
Thundering against “how peace is defined by imperialism” as Taylor made his exit, Castro briefly berated the United States for its role in Nicaragua, then launched a longer and even more bitter tirade against “the U.S. President (who) spoke openly of the possibility of an aerial attack” against an alleged chemical weapons plant in Libya.
Curiously, he did not mention the U.S. downing of two Libyan jets over the Mediterranean Sea that same morning.
“I walked out because of the intemperate attack on the U.S.,” Taylor explained Thursday. “I left when he began talking about U.S. aggression in Nicaragua. That was an intemperate and unacceptable attack on the U.S.”
Taylor heads the U.S. Interests Section in Havana which, in the absence of formal diplomatic relations, operates under the auspices of the Swiss Embassy here.
Characterizing Taylor’s protest as “just another bump in the road,” both Cuban and other Western officials discounted its significance to what many believe has been a recent lowering of the longstanding hostility in U.S.-Cuban ties.
“It has nothing to do with our relations,” said a Cuban official.
“I don’t attach too much importance to it,” said a Western ambassador. “These types of attacks against the U.S. are common here. This one went beyond the bounds of protocol.”
Castro was sharply critical of the United States in other parts of his speech as well, particularly concerning its leading role in cooperation with the Soviet Union and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council in pressing for a money-saving cut in the size of U.N. peace forces to be sent to Namibia. But diplomats said these criticisms, while harsh, were within bounds.
Yet diplomats and political analysts here say they can sense a slight warming in relations compared to years past.
“Obviously the Cubans have made significant changes,” said one. “Over the past year there have been more positive changes in Cuban behavior and policies than at any time in the past 30 years.”
Even normally tight-lipped U.S. officials here openly describe what they call “positive” steps by Cuba--the agreement to withdraw its troops from Angola, which Castro pledged in his speech Wednesday to begin on Jan. 11; the renewal of the Mariel prisoner-and-refugee accord with the United States; the release of hundreds of political prisoners, and the tolerance of limited activity by Cuban human rights groups.
But when asked about the apparent warming trend, a Cuban official shrugged noncommittally.
“I won’t say things are changing,” he said. “We want to do things to improve relations with the U.S., but most of these things we have done have nothing to do with the U.S. We do these things because they are right.”