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Cuba blasts U.S., cites arrest of an American contractor

HAVANA — Raul Castro gave the strongest signal yet his government's would-be honeymoon with the Obama administration is over, delivering a harshly worded speech Sunday charging that the White House endorses efforts to topple the island's communist system.

Offering Cuba's first public acknowledgment of the arrest of an American contractor, Castro said the case shows "the United States won't quit trying to destroy the revolution and bring a change to our economic and social regime."

"In the last few weeks we have witnessed the stepping up of the new administration's efforts in this area," he told Parliament. "They are giving new breath to open and undercover subversion against Cuba."

Castro gave no specific charges against the U.S. citizen, but said he was "working to illegally distribute sophisticated methods of satellite communication to members of the 'civil society' which they hope to form against our people."

The U.S. State Department previously confirmed the Dec. 5 arrest but has not released the name of the person involved, citing privacy issues. American diplomats in Havana have asked for but not received access to the detainee, who was working for a Maryland-based development organization.

Castro repeated his offer to sit down with President Barack Obama and discuss relations that have been ice cold for nearly a half century, since an armed revolution put his brother Fidel in power on New Year's Day 1959.

But he strongly criticized the Obama administration, saying Washington has begun "exclaiming cynically that we have returned to Cold War and anti-American discourse."

Better U.S.-Cuba relations seemed a real possibility as recently as the spring.

The White House eased restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel and send money to this country, and Obama spoke of a possible new beginning with the island — although others in his administration suggested they would like to see Cuba embrace small economic and democratic reforms.

Fidel Castro ceded power to his younger brother in 2008.

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Economic growth

Cuba used its unique brand of state accounting Sunday to claim 1.4 percent economic growth for the year, avoiding an official recession but failing to meet forecasts by more than two-thirds. Still, Economy Minister Jorge Murillo branded the result "a moral victory" and told a session of Parliament to expect another, saying officials project GDP to grow 1.9 percent in 2010. When calculating growth, the government includes what it spends on free health care and education through college, as well as subsidies for housing, transportation and food rations. Critics say that exaggerates output.

Cuba blasts U.S., cites arrest of an American contractor 12/20/09 [Last modified: Sunday, December 20, 2009 11:14pm]
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