FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a news conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday condemned accusations by Cuba’s government against Washington’s top diplomat in Havana, which he said were made to distract attention from its “abysmal treatment of the Cuban people.”
Communist-run Cuba accused the U.S. embassy in Havana on Wednesday of having fomented the “counterrevolutionary” activity of leading dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer, whom it arrested nearly two months ago.
The U.S. embassy last week posted on Twitter a video of Charge d’Affaires Mara Tekach with Nelva Ismarays Ortega, partner of Ferrer, leader of Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the country’s most active opposition organization. Together they pleaded for his release.
The U.S. government “strongly condemns” the accusations against Tekach, Pompeo said in a statement.
“The regime has launched these baseless allegations against her in an attempt to distract the international community from its abysmal treatment of the Cuban people, especially the ongoing arbitrary detention of dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer,” Pompeo said.
The Trump administration, which has tightened the decades-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba in a renewed attempt to force the one party system to reform, has been campaigning vociferously for Ferrer’s release.
In the video posted on Twitter, Ortega said Ferrer had been beaten and left without medicine after his arrest.
In an editorial this week, Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma said allegations that Ferrer had been mistreated were lies cooked up by the U.S. embassy.
“The United States has, and will continue to, openly and transparently express our grave concerns about the treatment and condition of human rights defenders in Cuba,” Pompeo said.
Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Daniel Wallis