Cuba protests US screening of airline passengers

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HAVANA (AP) — Cuba summoned the top U.S. diplomat on the island Tuesday to protest extra screening for Cuban citizens flying into the United States, calling the measure a “hostile action” meant to justify America’s trade embargo.

Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs office, said the new security controls were “discriminatory and selective.”

“We categorically reject this new hostile action by the government of the United States against Cuba,” she told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview.

Vidal Ferreiro said she lodged the protest in an afternoon meeting with Jonathan Farrar, the head of the U.S. Interest Section, which Washington maintains in Cuba instead of an embassy. Cuba’s top diplomat in Washington delivered a similar message to State Department officials earlier in the day, she said.

The United States imposed the airline security measures Monday following an apparent attempt by a Nigerian man to blow up a passenger jet as it approached Detroit on Christmas Day.

Among the 14 nations whose citizens will face increased scrutiny are four — Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — that the U.S. government considers state sponsors of terrorism.

Cuba has been on that list since the 1980s, but has always maintained its inclusion had more to do with the United States’ antagonistic policy toward the communist-governed nation than with evidence that it sponsors terrorism.

Washington and Havana have been at odds since shortly after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba on New Year’s Day 1959. The United States has maintained a trade embargo on the island — which the Cuban government refers to as a blockade — for 47 years.

“The arguments the U.S. uses to keep Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism are totally unfounded,” Vidal Ferreiro told the AP. “Everyone knows they are politically motivated and only designed to justify the blockade against Cuba.”

She said Cuba has a spotless record against terrorism, adding that Washington maintains a double standard because it harbors several individuals Cuba considers to have committed terrorist acts on the island.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Cuba’s inclusion on the terror sponsor list was justified.

“Cuba is a designated state sponsor of terrorism, and we think it’s a well-earned designation given their long-standing support for radical groups in the region,” he said, highlighting Havana’s support for Colombian rebel groups.