While the majority of the U.S. public supports ending the embargo against Cuba and normalizing relations, the Bush administration took another step in the opposite direction. On Nov. 1, the chief of the State Department’s Cuba Bureau told the Cuban Interest Section in Washington that Cuban diplomats Oscar Redondo Toledo and Gustavo Machin Gomez were “personas non grata” and gave them 10 days to leave the United States. The Bush administration then unilaterally increased the tensions by notifying the Cuban government, Nov. 4, that two Cuban United Nations officials would have to leave the country by Nov. 10.

Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded with a detailed statement saying the diplomats were “undertaking absolutely legal tasks of a political and diplomatic nature there and were totally respectful of U.S. laws. They are not guilty of anything at all, but are the victims of a useless and senseless repression.”

The statement said Machin and Redondo were officials involved in areas of work that the ultra-right and anti-Cuba mafia oppose. “Machin is the official who attends to the U.S. business sector and his efforts in favor of eliminating regulations restricting economic relations between Cuba and the United States have greatly annoyed the anti-Cuba mafia and its allies in Washington. In the case of Oscar Redondo, he has been highly involved in our labors to refute the State Department’s slander and lies regarding our country’s inclusion on the list of nations sponsoring terrorism and its false accusations on the alleged production of biological weapons in Cuba. Moreover, he has developed respectful and friendly exchanges with former high-ranking U.S. military officials now functioning as academics in the defense sector,” the statement said.

The provocation against the UN diplomats came just days before the UN General Assembly voted, for the eleventh time, in favor of ending the U.S. blockade. The U.S., Israel and the Marshall Islands casting the sole nay votes. Nicaragua, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia and Malawi abstained.

The 173-3 vote reflects the ever-increasing international repudiation of the U.S. policy of harassment toward Cuba. The Nov. 12 vote was the highest number in favor since 1992 when the UN debate began.

Cuba charged these moves by the Bush administration were an intentional provocation orchestrated by far-right operative Otto Reich, who is in charge of Western Hemispheric Affairs for the State Department. The statement says Reich is a “representative of the anti-Cuban mafia to the U.S. government, [and] resorted to these and other desperate measures just a few days before the mid-term elections in the United States, with the objective of generating a new escalation of irrational hostility towards Cuba that would worsen the already complicated state of relations between both countries. Above all, he is obsessed with halting the unstoppable advance of forces within the United States opposed to the policy of aggression and attacks on Cuba.”

The growing majority opinion to normalize relations has taken shape in Congress and on the state level, with numerous official state and federal government delegations visiting Cuba to discuss trade issues. Legislation lifting restrictions on travel and trade has passed with bipartisan support.

The appointment of Reich was seen by many as a signal that instead of opening relations with Cuba and other governments in Latin and South America U.S. foreign policy would be guided by the most extreme and anti-democratic actions for which Reich is well-known. Reich was an operative in the Reagan administration, a key player in the Iran-contra scandal, who headed the notorious Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD) in the State Department. There he manufactured op-eds that were passed off to the U.S. media under the name of Nicaraguan rebel leaders as he berated editors and journalists he deemed too soft on the Sandinistas or too tough on the Reagan administration.

Reich also met with Venezuelan coup-plotters just days before a failed attempt to depose democratically-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Reich has been a lobbyist for the liquor, tobacco and armaments industries representing Bacardi, British American Tobacco and Lockheed Martin. He’s also remained in the propaganda business. From the U.S. Cuba Business Council and other organizational springboards, Reich broadcasts the exile line, denouncing baseball exchanges, the return of Elian Gonzalez and trade delegations to Havana, according to Foreign Policy in Focus.

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org