HAVANA – The chief U.S. diplomat in Havana built a model of a Cuban prison cell in his backyard to draw attention to the island's human rights record, drawing fierce criticism from the speaker of Cuba's parliament.
James Cason (search), head of the U.S. Interests Section here, presented the structure, a model of what he said is a typical solitary holding cell in a Cuban prison, during a small diplomatic reception at his home Wednesday night.
"I'm not surprised by any unsightly display that man makes," Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's parliament, the National Assembly, said Thursday. "He lacks seriousness."
"What he should do is mount an exposition of the holding areas of the base at Guantanamo (search)," Alarcon said, referring to the prison in easternmost Cuba where the U.S. military is holding hundreds of prisoners accused of links to Afghanistan's fallen Taliban regime or the Al Qaeda terror network.
Cason said the structure was based on a description that imprisoned dissident Oscar Biscet (search) gave his wife.
A little over six feet high and three feet wide, the holding cell of wood and metal features a drain on the floor for a toilet, a plastic bowl of food, a sheet for a bed and a fake rat.
The United States and Cuba have been without diplomatic relations for more than four decades, but both countries operate "interests sections" in each other's capitals to deal with consular and other matters.
Havana has criticized Washington for using its mission to support Cuban dissidents as part of efforts by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to undermine Fidel Castro's socialist system.
Amnesty International (search) counts Biscet among 84 Cuban inmates it describes as prisoners of conscience.
While Amnesty International and other human rights groups criticize Cuba's human rights record, they also accuse the United States of human rights violations in its detention and treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo base.