Colombia expels Cuban; Havana says move ‘groundless’

HAVANA (AP) — Colombia’s government has expelled the No. 2 Cuban diplomat in the country for “activities incompatible” with his position, and Cuba lashed back Friday by accusing Colombia of trying to divert attention from a wave of protests.

Cuban officials issued an official letter demanding more explanation and calling the removal of Omar Rafael García Lazo “an unfriendly act.”

A public statement by Colombia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday did not detail reasons for the removal or identify the diplomat, though the ministry assured it put a “priority on the diplomatic relationship and cooperation” with Cuba.

The Colombian Foreign Ministry’s letter, which was received on Thursday and was seen by The Associated Press in Cuba, said Colombia was cancelling García Lazo’s diplomatic accreditation and visa and giving him 48 hours to leave.

Cuba’s letter in response said the ouster was “a groundless decision” that would affect the functioning of its embassy.

The conservative government of Colombian President Iván Duque has had a tense but complicated relationship with socialist Cuba, which has long been a refuge for leaders of leftist Colombian guerrilla movements.

Cuba hosted peace talks that led to a 2016 disarmament pact with the largest of those groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — a deal that Duque’s party strongly criticized but which his government has not wholly renounced.

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry send a tweet accusing Colombia’s government of using the expulsion to try to divert attention from its own crackdown on a wave of anti-government protests this month in which at least 26 people have died.

Duque has several times demanded that Cuba give up leaders of the still-rebellious National Liberation Army. Cuba has overseen several unsuccessful attempts at peace between Colombia and that rebel faction, The last round of talks was frozen in 2018.

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