Envoys visit Cuban dissident's home in protest over jailing

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The Independent US

Diplomats from the United States and the European Union have visited the home of a Cuban journalist serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Raul Rivero was among 75 alleged dissidents who were jailed in a wide-ranging crackdown by the regime of Fidel Castro in April last year.

The visit yesterday was the latest effort by the international community to protest against political repression on the Communist island. It came after President Castro suffered a stinging rebuke from two normally friendly nations, Mexico and Peru, both of which withdrew their ambassadors from Havana.

Rivero, who was accused of conspiring with US diplomats to undermine the Castro government, was awarded a prestigious press freedom prize sponsored by Unesco yesterday.

James Cason, the chief of the US interests section in Havana, was among the diplomats who visited Rivero's home. President Castro accused him last year of being one of those trying to undermine the Cuban government. The diplomats were received by Blanca Reyes, Rivero's wife.

In a joint statement, the US and European diplomats said their governments remained outraged by the imprisonment of the 75 Cuban activists.

The US government and Mr Cason have denied any collusion to undermine Cuba.

The prize given to Rivero is worth about £14,000 and was described by Koichiro Matsuura, the director of the Paris-based Unesco, at a ceremony in Belgrade as a tribute to the journalist's "brave and long-standing commitment to independent reporting" in Cuba.

Both Mexico and Peru decided to withdraw their envoys in Havana and expel the Cuban ambassadors in their capitals after complaining that Cuba had been meddling in their internal affairs.

Both countries, Mexico in particular, have a long history of cordial ties with President Castro's regime.

Santiago Creel, Mexico's Interior Secretary, said: "We can't allow ourselves to be treated, under any circumstances, like we were treated by Castro in his declarations against the Mexican government."

Cuban officials had repeatedly criticised Mexico for its participation in votes at the United Nations on Iraq and had involved itself in a local scandal that has surrounded the mayor of Mexico City recently.

The action by the Mexican government provoked large protests in Mexico City, however, with demonstrators loudly denouncing the move and waving Cuban flags.

Although Mexico and Peru downgraded their relations with Cuba, they have not cut them entirely.