May 12, 2009 / 12:31 AM / 10 years ago

Castro upbraids Mexico as Cuba reports 1st flu case

HAVANA (Reuters) - Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro accused Mexico’s government of not revealing an outbreak of H1N1 flu during a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, which Mexico denied on Tuesday after Cuba reported its first confirmed case of the illness.

The Cuban government said on Monday a Mexican student at a Cuban medical school was found to have the new flu virus after returning from a trip home in late April. No further details about the student’s condition were given.

On April 28, Cuba suspended flights from Mexico, epicenter of the swine flu outbreak that has spread to at least 30 countries, in a move that upset Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Calderon said in a television interview last week that he might cancel a planned trip to Cuba “as one of the unforeseen consequences of decisions that have no technical basis.”

In an Internet column published late on Monday, Castro took offense at Calderon’s threat and said Mexico had not disclosed the flu outbreak as soon as it knew about it.

MEXICAN DENIAL

“The Mexican authorities did not inform the world of (the outbreak), awaiting the visit of Obama. Now they threaten us with suspending Calderon’s trip,” he said. “The only thing that can be confirmed now is that (the flu) wasn’t brought here by the CIA. It came from Mexico.”

Obama visited Mexico in mid-April on his way to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. A federal agent who traveled with Obama was later reported to have come down with a mild case of swine flu.

“We and dozens of other countries are paying for the broken dishes (consequences) and on top of that they accuse us of harmful measures against Mexico,” Castro wrote.

Calderon on Tuesday denied Castro’s accusations, saying Mexico had acted responsibly.

“The response of the Mexican health system and the transparency with which the country has conducted itself allowed the rest of the countries in the world to take preventative actions in time to combat this illness,” he said.

“We have never hidden anything,” said Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova.

Calderon’s Mexico trip, for which a date had not been set, had been seen as part of a rapprochement between Cuba and Mexico whose relations were strained under Calderon’s predecessor, President Vicente Fox.

Fidel Castro, who is 82, was replaced as Cuban president last year by his brother, Raul, but he retains a powerful voice through columns published in state-run media.

The Mexican embassy in Havana said on Tuesday it had asked the Cuban government for information about the infected student, as well as other Mexican students at the same school, to offer them help if needed.

Cuba’s health ministry said 14 Mexican students were among nearly 600 people tested for the flu, but only the one case had been confirmed.

The World Health Organization said more than 5,000 flu cases had been confirmed worldwide. So far, 63 people have died, including 58 in Mexico.

Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Eric Walsh

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