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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 December, 2004, 10:59 GMT
Cuba threat over Christmas lights
Christmas display at the US interests section in Havana
The US says it wants to draw attention to human rights
Cuba's most senior US diplomat says he has been warned by the government of serious consequences unless he takes down Christmas decorations in Havana.

James Cason says he will not remove the display at the American interests section, which includes a reference to 75 dissidents jailed last year.

Fourteen have been freed since the arrests took place in March 2003, in a major clampdown on political dissent.

Cuba has twice told US diplomats to remove all decorations immediately.

It describes those it jailed as "mercenaries in the pay of the United States".

We're prepared to pay whatever price for the things we believe in
James Cason
The display at the US interests section - so-called because the United States and Cuba do not have diplomatic relations - includes a huge white Santa Claus, an image of galloping reindeer and a flashing sign wishing Cubans a Happy Christmas.

A large figure 75, is picked out in neon, inside a large circle.

James Cason, head of the interests section, says the decorations will remain in place until the end of the holidays and that any action taken by Cuba against US personnel or the US mission in Havana will not affect his government's determination to draw attention to human rights.

"We're prepared to pay whatever price for the things we believe in," Mr Cason said.

"They could expel us, they could continue to hinder our activities... We don't know what they're going to do."

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs in the capital, Havana, says the display does seem designed to irritate the Cuban government.

He adds that the government cancelled Christmas as a holiday for several decades in an apparent bid to increase sugar production.

See the lights causing the diplomatic row

Cuba frees dissident journalist
06 Dec 04 |  Americas
Cuba frees sixth jailed dissident
02 Dec 04 |  Americas
Cuba releases leading dissident
30 Nov 04 |  Americas
Cuba frees political dissidents
29 Nov 04 |  Americas
EU ponders softer stance on Cuba
19 Oct 04 |  Americas

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