Cuba protests new U.S. air security measures

HAVANA Tue Jan 5, 2010 11:38pm EST

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HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba signaled its growing anger with the United States on Tuesday by calling in the top U.S. diplomat on the island to protest its inclusion on a list of countries whose U.S.-bound air passengers must get extra security screening.

In a statement, the Cuban government said it had delivered a note of protest calling the new measures a "politically motivated" ploy to justify the United States' 47-year-old trade embargo against the communist island. On Monday, the measures were denounced in Cuba's state-run press as "anti-terrorist paranoia."

"We categorically reject this new hostile action by the United States government," said the statement, which was the latest broadside by Cuba against the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The note was delivered to Jonathan Farrar, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and to the State Department in Washington.

Relations between the United States and Cuba, ideological foes since the Cuban revolution in 1959, warmed slightly after Obama took office last January, but in recent weeks Cuba has expressed growing dissatisfaction with his policies.

Cuban leaders say he has done nothing to end the trade embargo they blame for most of their country's economic woes.

Last month, Cuba arrested an American it said was illegally distributing satellite equipment on the island, prompting President Raul Castro to say that Obama was continuing the long U.S. policy of trying to subvert the Cuban government.

Obama has said the trade embargo will be lifted only if Cuba releases political prisoners and improves human rights.

The new security measures call for inspecting baggage and patting down U.S.-bound passengers from four countries -- Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria -- that the U.S. government considers state sponsors of terrorism and 10 other "countries of interest."

They include Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced the extra screening on Sunday following a botched Christmas Day bombing attempt by a Nigerian man on a Northwest Airlines flight into Detroit.

U.S. officials believe he was trained by al Qaeda in Yemen.

Gloria Berbena, spokeswoman at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, said she could not comment on Cuba's summoning of Farrar.

The United States does not have a full embassy in Havana because the two countries have not had formal diplomatic relations for almost five decades.

Cuba has been on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorism-sponsoring countries since 1982, but has long insisted it should not be because it does not back terrorists.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley insisted otherwise on Tuesday in Washington.

"Cuba is a designated state sponsor of terrorism, and -- and we think it's a well-earned designation, given their longstanding support for radical groups in the region," he told reporters, referring to Colombian rebels.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks)

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