WASHINGTON – The Bush administration ordered the expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats -- seven from the United Nations (search) and seven from Washington -- for engaging in "inappropriate and unacceptable activities."
The expulsion order, announced Tuesday, is by far the largest of six over the years that have involved Cuban diplomats.
A senior administration official said those ordered home from the Cuban mission in Washington were found to have engaged in three types of improper activities: monitoring and surveillance, association with known criminals and the attempted recruitment of spies for Cuba (search).
State Department (search) spokesman Philip Reeker said the seven Washington-based diplomats have been declared "persona non grata." The seven in New York were expelled for "activities deemed to be harmful to the United States outside of their official capacity," he said.
Reeker said the 14 were given 10 days to leave the country.
The action was unusually harsh in that the number of those ordered out of the country exceeds the total number of Cubans involved in similar cases since 1969, according to a preliminary official count.
An administration official said the action should not be considered a response to the arrest of some 75 dissidents who were given long prison sentences after brief trials earlier this spring -- a move that drew strong U.S. criticism.
A formal response to the Cuban crackdown could come on May 20, regarded by most Cuban-Americans as Cuban Independence Day. The official said a range of options is under consideration.
The highest-ranking Cuban expelled from the U.N. mission was Adrian Francisco Delgado Gonzalez, a counselor listed as No. 3 in the latest U.N. diplomatic directory. Another counselor, Alfredo Jose Perez Rivero, listed as No. 5, was also ordered to leave, U.S. officials said.
The five other diplomats ordered to leave were the mission's first secretary, Helmut Domenech Gonzalez, second secretary Enrique Miguel Mesa Levis, third secretary Miguel More Santana and attache Juan Carlos Rodriguez Lueje, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The latest U.N. directory lists 37 accredited Cuban diplomats, led by Ambassador Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.
The identities of the diplomats in Washington were not disclosed. The chief of the Cuban mission in the capital, Dagoberto Rodriguez, will be allowed to remain.
Under mutual agreement, Cuba is allowed to have 26 diplomats and staff members at its Washington office.
The office does not operate as an embassy because diplomatic relations were broken in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro assumed power. After a 16-year hiatus, small diplomatic missions, known as interests sections, were opened in each other's capital.
Until Tuesday's announcement, the largest expulsion involving Cubans occurred last fall when four were ordered home. Two were expelled for their role in support of Ana Belen Montes, a spy for Cuba who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency. The other two were based at the United Nations.
Frictions involving official Americans in Havana and official Cubans in the United States have been frequent.
At the time Cuban authorities arrested the 75 dissidents, the Havana government said all were linked to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, headed by career diplomat James Cason. He was accused of promoting counterrevolutionary activities.
The State Department defended Cason, saying his activities were consistent with the U.S. goal of a peaceful transition to democracy on the island.