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News / Nation & World

Cuba decried Ecuador raid on Mexican Embassy – but Castro stormed diplomatic missions too

By Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald
Published: April 14, 2024, 6:00am

Like most countries in Latin America, Cuba strongly condemned a recent raid by Ecuador’s military on Mexico’s Embassy in Quito to arrest former Vice President Jorge Glass, who faces corruption charges and had been granted asylum by the Mexican government.

Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel said the incident, which resulted in Mexico cutting diplomatic ties with Ecuador, was “an unacceptable violation” of diplomatic conventions.

He said on X that “the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which is an essential component of International Law, must be respected by all.”

What Diaz-Canel didn’t say: Cuba’s late leader Fidel Castro twice ordered armed assaults on foreign embassies to arrest refugees seeking protection, setting an almost forgotten precedent for the assault on the Mexican embassy. In a third incident, Cuban police officers also entered the grounds of an embassy in Havana to arrest a man seeking asylum inside.

One of those assaults, on Feb. 13, 1981, involved the Ecuadorian Embassy in Havana, and as a result, the two countries were also on the brink of breaking diplomatic relations.

That day, a group of 31 Cubans led by armed former military officials broke into the Ecuadorian embassy in Havana and took three diplomats hostage, among them Ambassador Jorge Pérez Concha, demanding political asylum to leave the country. The group included four women and six children and was led by a former Cuban rebel army captain, Rómulo Juan Delgado y Fernández.

At the time, it was extremely difficult to migrate from Cuba because the government severely restricted travel abroad. The break-in at the embassy of Ecuador happened almost a year after hundreds of Cubans crammed into the Peruvian Embassy in Havana in April 1980 seeking political asylum. The events at the Peruvian Embassy led to the exodus of 125,000 Cubans to the United States in what became known as the Mariel boatlift.

Worried about another potential crisis amid growing public discontent, the Cuban government warned it was not willing to negotiate with the refugees at the Ecuadorian embassy, calling them “criminals” and “antisocial” in official Cuban state media.

A week after the armed group entered the embassy, it released the diplomats unharmed and surrendered the weapons, but stayed inside the embassy, hoping to get safe passage, according to multiple press reports. Ecuador authorities said at the time they were taking the group under their protection. But a day later, Cuban special troops stormed the embassy and arrested several members of the group in an operation reportedly directed by Castro, who was seen at the scene, several news agencies reported.

The Cuban foreign ministry said Ecuador’s government had authorized the raid, but the country’s president, Jaime Roldós, denied it and formally protested, calling the intrusion “intolerable.” Roldós also demanded the “unrestricted respect for the life and freedom of those who were inside the embassy.” He later recalled the country’s ambassador to Havana and demanded that Cuba release the refugees.

Castro had other plans.

He accused the CIA of plotting the whole incident, and his government executed three of the men leading the group that sought asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy, according to press reports and Cuba Archive, an organization that has built a database with historical records of deaths and disappearances of a political nature on the island.

Juan Owen Delgado Temprana, who was 15 and who had entered the embassy with his parents and 12 family members, died in a hospital in Pinar del Rio on March 3 after suffering a beating at Havana’s State Security Headquarters, according to Cuba Archive, which cites accounts from close relatives and other historical sources.

In a lesser-known incident on Dec. 10, 1980, also recorded by Cuba Archive and the Spanish newspaper El País, Cuban security forces stormed the diplomatic mission of the Vatican in Havana and arrested 14 people who wanted to leave the country and had taken four nuns as hostages. According to El País, the group had shot one embassy guard.

Three brothers – Ventura, Cipriano, and Eugenio García Marín Thompson – who were part of the group and were Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious group that suffered harassment for decades under Castro’s rule, were sentenced in a summary trial and executed at the Cabaña Fortress prison on Jan. 2, 1981, according to Cuba Archive. They were aged 19, 21, and 25.

The most recent incident involving Cuban security forces breaking into an embassy happened on July 13, 1990, when four Cuban police officers chased a man who had jumped a gate at the Spanish Embassy in Havana seeking asylum. The four officers also jumped the gate, firing shots, took down the man, handcuffed him and shoved him into a car with a state security license plate, according to a report in El País. Spanish diplomats protested, and Cuban authorities apologized.

On Sunday, the Cuban ambassador to Ecuador was among the diplomats escorting the Mexican ambassador on her way to the airport to leave the South American country after the break in diplomatic relations.

The Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, said the gesture was showed solidarity with Mexico.

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