Ambassador responds to MP’s complaint

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UPDATED: An ongoing quarrel between a top Norwegian politician and the Cuban ambassador in Oslo has grown so nasty that Jan Tore Sanner, a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Conservatives, has asked Norway’s foreign minister to intervene. Ambassador  Rogerio Santana claims Sanner started it all.

Jan Tore Sanner, a Member of Parliament and deputy leader of Norway's Conservative Party, is having a nasty quarrel with Cuba's ambassador to Norway. PHOTO: Høyre

Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend how both Sanner, who also serves as deputy leader of Norway’s Conservative Party (Høyre), and Santana have resorted to name-calling over the years. Sanner is guilty of calling Santana Komiske Ali (Comical Ali), a reference to the former minister of information for Saddam Hussein. Santana admits he responded by calling Sanner the equivalent of a “banana politician” and little more than an “insect.”

“I have to put up with some of that, especially after I called him what I did,” Sanner admitted to Aftenposten. But now Sanner claims that Santana has accused him of having ties to both terrorists and the mafia. “I think that’s problematic,” Sanner said.

He’s thus turned to Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre from the Labour Party, Sanner’s party’s biggest opponent within Norway, for help. Sanner sent a letter to Støre late last week where he wonders whether Støre thinks it’s okay for an ambassador in Norway to make such accusations against a Norwegian politician.

Sanner wants Støre, who was in Poland on a state visit with King Harald and Queen Sonja when Sanner’s letter arrived, to call the Cuban ambassador in for a talk. Støre’s staff wouldn’t comment on the issue until they’d responded to Sanner’s letter. The Cuban ambassador apparently didn’t respond to Aftenposten in time to meet the paper’s deadline.

Santana told Views and News on Monday, however, that the conflict between Sanner and himself dates back several years and he claims Sanner “was the first one” to stoop to name-calling. “For me, it was insulting, you know?” Santana said, referring to Sanner’s characterization of Santana as akin to Hussein’s flak. Santana believes Sanner firmly supports the US’ position against Cuba, that “the US has been trying to destroy Cuba for 50 years” and that now Sanner is trying to threaten “the good relationship” between Cuba and Norway.

Santana candidly admits to sending the letters and using the language to which Sanner objects. He was unhappy that Sanner, in his opinion, had “invited people to talk here (in Norway) who have been involved in terrorism. This had to be denounced.” While he concedes to various “misunderstandings” between himself and Sanner, he still feels Sanner “lately has been very active against Cuba. He went to the press. He likes these kind of shows.”

Arguing over human rights
Sanner, a member of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba (ICDC), is a human rights activist at the Norwegian parliament who has provoked staff at local embassies before. He was, for example, among those nominating Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize, and when Liu won the prize in 2010, staff at the Chinese Embassy reacted with anger and disappointment. They blamed the Norwegian government for awarding the prize, even though Liu was nominated by an opposition politician in Norway and even though the government is not involved in award decisions that are made by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The Chinese government has nonetheless frozen high-level diplomatic relations with Norway ever since.

Now Sanner has clearly angered the Cuban Embassy, not least after Sanner was among those inviting a former political prisoner in Cuba, Regis Iglesias, to Norway. Santana calls Iglesias “a former Cuban US-paid agent,” while Sanner views him as a human rights champion.

It’s the allegation that he has ties to terrorists and the mafia that upsets Sanner most of all. “If he (Santana) didn’t have diplomatic immunity, I would have considered suing him for damages,” Sanner told Aftenposten.

Ambassador on overtime
Santana has been Cuba’s ambassador to Norway for nearly five years. That’s much longer than the term normally held by diplomats and Santana said he likely would be leaving Norway by the end of the year. “Maybe my successor will have a better relationship with Mr. Sanner,” he said.

“It’s true we’ve had some harsh exchanges,” Santana added, but stressed that he thinks his relations with Norway itself and diplomats at Norway’s foreign ministry are excellent. He said he met with Støre and the new minister in charge of foreign aid, Heikki Holmås, in mid-April when Cuba’s deputy minister in charge of European affairs visited Norway. He also said Støre has been invited to Cuba and he thinks a trip by Norway’s foreign minister to Havana is under serious consideration.

Asked whether he’s now been called in for another, perhaps more stern, meeting with Støre following Sanner’s letter, Santana said he had not, at least not as of Monday evening. “I don’t know if someone will call me again,” he said, but added: “I think Mr. Støre has more important things to do.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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