Pubdate: Tue, 22 Jun 1999
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 1999, New Haven Register
Author: Associated Press


WASHINGTON - Amid protests from Cuban-American lawmakers, four U.S.
officials met Monday in Havana with Cuban officials to discuss ways of
improving counter-narcotics cooperation, a State Department official said.

Meetings between U.S. and Cuban officials on issues other than migration are
rare but not unprecedented.

"This is not a change in U.S. policy," said Michael Ranneberger, who heads
the State Department's office of Cuban affairs. He said the meeting was
taking place within guidelines for law enforcement efforts on counter-narcotics.

The U.S. team consisted of two State Department and two Coast Guard
officials, none of whom holds a high rank. They were to spend only one day
in Cuba.

Monday's meeting was aimed at elevating communications on counter-narcotics
issues from an existing telex link to a phone link and other means, an
official said, adding that the U.S. team had no plans to offer assistance to
Cuba, to share intelligence or to discuss joint operations.

U.S. counter-drug specialists have become increasingly concerned about South
American traffickers' use of Cuban waters and air space to transport drugs
to the United States, and the law enforcement community had requested that a
team be sent, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., objected strongly to the decision, saying
it was ridiculous for the administration to give Cuban President Fidel
Castro credibility on the drug issue. She said Castro is notorious for
helping drug traffickers. Similar objections were voiced by Rep. Lincoln
Diaz-Balart who, like Ros-Lehtinen, is a Cuban-born South Florida Republican.

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