Friday, June 13, 2003

International News

Cuban leader slams US over human trafficking charge

HAVANA — President Fidel Castro late Thursday angrily rejected a US report accusing Cuba of failing to adequately fight sex trafficking, saying that US Secretary of State Colin Powell should hang his head in shame.

"Its really despicable, rude, cynical and repugnant," Castro said of a US State Department report issued Wednesday that blacklisted Cuba and 14 other countries for not making "significant efforts" to combat the trafficking of human beings, particularly of women and children.

While Powell did not draw up the report, Castro said during a three-hour speech closing an international meeting on culture and development held here, he did present it to the world.

"Mr. Powell should ponder a bit on this; it should make him feel a little ashamed," the 72-year-old Castro said, adding that he hoped the foreign secretary would "show a modicum of decency and correct himself."

In its reference to Cuba, the US reports said its government turns a blind eye to the sexual and labor related exploitation of minors to gain much needed foreign currency.

"All this is offensive, its an insult to the Cuban family, to our children and ourselves," Castro said.

"Gross lies like this one, multiply our capacity and resolve to keep fighting," he added.

Besides Cuba, the State Department's third annual "Trafficking in Persons" report cites Belize, Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Greece, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Suriname, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

The blacklisted countries named could be subject to cutoffs in non-humanitarian and non-trade-related US aid unless they take steps to improve their performance by October 1 or receive a waiver, US officials said.

The report, which has raised a storm among the countries cited, has been criticized by the Women's Rights Division of the US-based Human Rights Watch for lacking hard figures on the number of people being trafficked and for failing to meaningfully evaluate governments' efforts to combat human trafficking.

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