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United States Relations with Cuba Bring on New Period of Tensions

By Douglas Farah
The Washington Post
HAVANA

Recent tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions in Havana and Washington have highlighted a new a period of deteriorating relations between Cuba and the United States.

The soured atmosphere, replacing a period of hope for reduced tensions earlier in the Clinton administration, has arisen out of Cuban anger over Washington's efforts to tighten its economic embargo on the island, along with fears in Havana of a new mass emigration of Cubans in rafts and small boats.

Added to these irritants is a determination by the United States to maintain contact with small groups of Cuban dissidents, whom the Havana government views as traitors, with the declared goal of inciting more dissent.

Relations between the two nations have been rocky since Fidel Castro's revolution triumphed in 1959, and the governments have viewed each other as enemies for decades.

But ties have deteriorated in recent months to their lowest point since the Cuban missile crisis of 1963.

"You have two countries who do not understand each other, caught in a downward spiral neither knows how to get out of," said a Latin American diplomat.

"Everything each side does compounds the mistrust and apprehension."

The downturn began in February, when Cuban fighter jets shot down two small civilian airplanes flown by a Miami-based Cuban exile group that had, in preceding months, repeatedly violated Cuban airspace.

In response, President Clinton signed the Helms-Burton law, which he initially opposed, tightening the economic embargo on Cuba and seeking to punish foreign companies that invest in the island.