San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Relations Strained Between Cuba, Panama

PANAMA CITY (AFP) – Panama’sPresident-elect, Martín Torrijos, who willtake office Sept. 1, made public this weekhis intentions to overcome the currentdiplomatic crisis that is threatening to endformal relations between Panama andCuba.Speaking for the incoming administration,Torrijos’ newly tapped ForeignMinister, Samuel Lewis, said Tuesdaythat the new Panamanian government“will maintain harmonious and productiverelations with Cuba, as we have for along time before.”The announcement came shortly afterthe outgoing government of PresidentMireya Moscoso on Tuesday gave Cuba’senvoy to Panama, Carlos Zamora, 48hours to leave the country.Panama withdrew its Ambassador toLa Habana on Monday, following Cuba’sthreat to break off diplomatic relationswith Panama in the event Moscoso’s governmentwere to pardon suspected anti-Castro plotters Luis Posada Carriles,Pedro Crispín, Gaspar Jiménez andGuillermo Novo.The four Cubans were arrested inPanama in November 2000 and sentencedto prison terms of 7-8 years for authoringa plan to assassinate Cuban PresidentFidel Castro during the X Ibero-AmericanSummit in Panama City (TT, Nov. 24,2000).Castro, responding to unspecifiedrumors, warned last week that Cuba wouldcut off ties with Panama if the Moscosogovernment pardoned the four men.Moscoso, upon kicking Zamora out ofthe country this week, said Cuba had toask forgiveness.“I am not going to tolerate this,” shesaid. “This is unacceptable. There havebeen two notes threatening me. Panamawill not be threatened.”In a tit for tat, Panama’s ForeignMinister, Harmondio Arias, said Panamawas not considering the possibility of pardoningthe four Cuban men, followingthe threats from Cuba.Despite the strained relations, Cubaand Panama had not yet officially brokenoff diplomatic or economic relations bypress time.

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