Cuba accuses US of helping dissidents access internet

Woman uses computer (file image) Cubans face tight restrictions on accessing the internet

Cuba has accused the United States of helping Cuban dissidents access the internet as part of a campaign to undermine the communist government.

In a foreign ministry statement, Cuba said the US was "promoting... financing and supplying" opponents of the government using "diverse media".

It blamed staff at the US Interests Section at the Swiss embassy in Havana.

The US has said it simply allows Cubans access to computers and free courses on how to use the internet.

Access to the internet in Cuba is severely restricted, but some activists have used it to challenge the government.

Havana said that diplomats from the US Interests Section were "permanently inciting these people... to undertake provocative actions... and act against the Cuban constitutional order".

The statement was published in the official newspaper, Granma.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the section did offer free internet courses for Cubans as well as access to computers - like all other US missions - but denied that diplomats were working to subvert the Cuban government.

She said the US promoted "freedom of access to information around the world".

"Obviously, this wouldn't be necessary if the Cuban government didn't restrict access to the internet and prevent its own citizens from getting technology training," she said.

The timing of the latest statement, just ahead of the US presidential elections, is curious, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports from Havana.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney recently launched a campaign advert in the key swing-state of Florida - home to many anti-communist exiles - saying that Cuba supports Barack Obama for the presidency.

The government in Havana appears to be denying that, albeit in a roundabout way, while also reminding Cubans that hostility to Cuba has remained constant in the US for five decades, regardless of who is in the White House, our correspondent adds.

The US and Cuba broke off diplomatic relations in 1961, but have maintained interest sections in each other's capitals for the past three decades to provide consular services and deal with bilateral issues.

Three years ago, a US contractor was imprisoned for 15 years for distributing laptops and electronic material to the island's Jewish community.

Alan Gross said he had just been trying to help the small community get access to the internet.

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