Cuban dissident strains relations between Havana and Buenos Aires

Two Argentine top diplomats resigned as Castro refuses to allow a Cuban prominent doctor to visit her relatives in Argentina

The case of a Cuban dissident willing to visit her son in Buenos Aires for Christmas triggered a deep crisis in the Argentine Foreign Service, after Cuba's leader, Fidel Castro, personally refused to allow Ms. Hilda Molina – a former member of Cuba's National Assembly and a recognized physician - to leave Cuba, as Argentine President Nestor Kirchner had publicly requested.

The situation created over the case strained the relations between both nations which were at their best since Kirchner took office in May 2003. In almost two years, Fidel Castro visited Argentina to attend to Kirchner’s inauguration, and Foreign Ministers exchanged official visits. It was even expected that Kirchner pay an official to Havana in February 2005, but now sources do not rule out a possible cancellation of the trip.

The story began ten years ago when the prominent Cuban doctor Hilda Molina was deprived from his post at the National Assembly for his opinions against the health policy of the government. Since then, she could not further leave Cuba to visit her son  and two grandchildren living in Buenos Aires.

After years and years of secret talks and negotiations, the case exploded earlier this month when Kirchner publicly asked Fidel Castro to allow Ms. Molina to travel. According to sources, the Argentine President was poorly advised by the Foreign Ministry to do so, as a rotund negative could be heard from the Caribbean Islands.

The information available allows thinking that the Argentine Foreign Ministry wrongly took notice of a recent shift in Cuba's attitude toward internal dissidents. Some of them were released from their long terms in prison after secret negotiations headed by Spain. Castro showed flexibility to Spain, as badly needs support from the European Union after decades of US embargo.

It was not the case with Argentina for two reasons. First of all, Cuba does not depend on Argentina for its economical survival. Secondly, Argentina made public its requests, something that usually does not work with Castro's regime.

The first mishandling of the case led to a second. After Havana made public its negative, suggesting that both mother and son could meet in Cuba, Ms. Molina desperately rushed into the Argentine embassy aiming to obtain political asylum from Buenos Aires.

The woman remained more than 24 hours inside Argentine premises but had to leave as Buenos Aires refused to concede it. Argentina later told that Ms. Molina had been welcomed at the Embassy as a “guest” and the Cuban doctor denied she was there asking for a political asylum.

At that time, Kirchner was furious with his foreign service. During the weekend, the President asked Foreign Ministry's chief of cabinet and the ambassador to Havana to resign. The first one was a close advisor of Argentine Foreign Minister, Rafael Bielsa, who, according to local newspapers could also leave his post to run for a position to the lower chamber in 2005.

In Buenos Aires, Molina's son, Roberto Quinones, blamed the Argentine government for not doing enough efforts to bring his mother from Cuba and strongly criticised Castro for depriving her of a basic human freedom.

Putting things into an ideological sphere only added more problems to the question. If everything turns into a political case, Quinones won't see his mother again, as Havana will harden its position.

Now, Buenos Aires is trying to convince the family to meet in Cuba escorted by prominent Argentine human rights personalities. At the same time, the Spanish ambassador to Buenos Aires met with Kirchner in order to discuss a common strategy to negotiate with Cuba a permission for Molina.

Buenos Aires

Photo: Cuban dissident Hilda Molina, once a close friend of Fidel Castro.

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Author`s name Olga Savka