Accuser in WikiLeaks saga has ties to Cuban dissidents

The bizarre saga of WikiLeaks yielded an arrest and yet another unexpected wrinkle on Tuesday: One of the Swedish women who has accused WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of sex crimes was revealed to be a supporter of Cuban dissidents.

Anna Ardin’s links to Cuba were posted on several websites Tuesday after Assange surrendered in London to answer a warrant issued for his arrest by Sweden. He is wanted for questioning after Ardin and another woman accused him of having sex with them without a condom and without their consent.

And in yet another Cuba-related development Tuesday, a U.S. diplomatic cable made public reported that Brazilian officials had said that country’s investment in expanding the Cuban port of Mariel was based “on the assumption that Cuba and the United States will eventually develop a trading relationship” after the U.S. embargo is lifted.

These revelations came as Assange, 39, appeared in a London court Tuesday for a hearing on the extradition request. He denied the sex-crime allegations, declared he would fight extradition and was sent to jail to await a Dec. 14 hearing.

Judge Howard Riddle said the Australian citizen, a former computer hacker who claims to have no permanent home, could abscond if granted bail.

Assange turned himself into Scotland Yard, and was sent to the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court in the early afternoon.

In one of the Swedish cases, he faces rape and sexual molestation allegations, and in the other, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion charges.

He and his lawyers claim the incidents stem from a “dispute over consensual but unprotected sex” in August.

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday that U.S. diplomats abroad have already seen signs that other countries are being more cautious in their U.S. contacts because of Wikileaks’ release of hundreds of classified U.S. embassy dispatches.

“We’re conscious of at least one meeting where it was requested that notebooks be left outside the room,” Crowley said.

Defense Department spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said the military also had seen foreign contacts “pulling back.”

Ardin, one of the Assange’s alleged victims, works in Sweden’s Uppsala University and is known in some Cuban exile and dissident circles.

She visited Cuba about four times between 2002 and 2006 as a representative of Swedish social democrats, said Manuel Cuesta Morua, head of Cuba’s Arco Progresista, a social-democratic dissident group.

She later wrongly alleged that some European funds for Cuban dissidents had been mishandled, Cuesta Morua said by telephone from Havana. She was said to have been born in Cuba, he added, but he never confirmed it with her.

Ardin has written for Asignaturas Cubanas, a Cuban exile magazine published in Sweden, and her 2007 master’s thesis at Uppsala University was titled The Cuban multi-party system. Is the democratic alternative really democratic and an alternative after the Castro regime?

She could not be reached for comment, and Cuban exiles in Sweden who know her said she was keeping a low profile because of Assange’s detention.

Two left-of-center websites also alleged that she was close to Cuban exile author Carlos Alberto Montaner and the Ladies in White, female relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

The websites portrayed Ardin’s links to Cuba as evidence of a U.S.-backed plot to smear and jail Assange. One site said Montaner had links to the CIA.

Montaner told journalists that he did not recall ever meeting Ardin and dismissed the CIA allegation as Cuban propaganda. Ladies in White spokeswomen Berta Soler and Laura Pollán said they did not know Ardin.

Ardin’s Cuba connections were first reported Sept. 14 by CounterPunch, a liberal newsletter co-edited by Alexander Cockburn, a steadfast critic of U.S. foreign policy.

In another Cuba-related disclosure made public by Assange’s Wikileaks website, a Sept. 9 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in Brazil noted that two senior Brazilian foreign policy officials had discussed their government’s view on Cuba with a visiting Obama administration official.

The Brazilians “laid out their view that Raúl Castro is more pragmatic and less ideological than Fidel, with a focus on getting short-term economic results,” the cable said.

“They see Cuba as taking a path similar to that of Vietnam under Raúl, whom they acknowledged was a transitional leader,” it added. “In their view, Brazilian support for Cuba and efforts to `create a new niche’ for Cuba in the hemisphere open additional space that Raúl needs to engage the United States.”

The Brazilians also noted that a large Brazilian investment to expand the port of Mariel west of Havana “only makes sense on the assumption that Cuba and the United States will eventually develop a trading relationship.”

Another Cuba-related dispatch — a 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Madrid — reported that on a visit to Spain, Florida Sen. Mel Martinez had met with Cuban dissident Hector Palacios, then in the country undergoing medical treatment after five years in Cuban prison.

“Palacios said U.S. assistance was not reaching the dissidents,” the cable reported. “He noted the irony of being jailed as an agent of U.S. imperialism when the actual amount of USG [U.S. Government] funding was minimal.

“He said they ran into problems doing things as simple as finding the small amounts of money needed to bring dissidents from one part of the island to another to attend demonstrations,” the dispatch added.

Another 2008 cable from the embassy in Madrid reported on a meeting between Spain’s right-of-center Prime Minister José Maria Aznar and Thomas Shannon, then assistant secretary of Western Hemisphere affairs.

“Aznar praised President Bush’s strong stance in support of a democratic transition in Cuba,” the dispatch said. “He said we needed to monitor carefully the steps Raúl Castro was taking, some of which were in the right direction.

“Nevertheless, both the U.S. and the EU [European Union] needed to stay on the record as promoting democratic transition and openly supporting civil society and the dissidents,” the cable added.


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