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U.S. Bid To Quash Cuban Gripe Foiled

Thu., Aug. 28, 1997

Cuba’s accusations that the United States launched a biological attack by using a crop-duster to spew insects over the island during a 1996 overflight will be examined further, representatives of countries that have signed the Biological Weapons Convention agreed at a meeting on Wednesday. The United States, which had dismissed Cuba’s complaint as “outrageous,” lost its effort to quash it outright. The complaint was the first by a country under a 1991 provision of the convention that allows a treaty country to ask for an investigation into an alleged biological attack. Signing countries can review evidence put forth by the two nations and file their views in a month, the members decided.

Cuba had maintained that a U.S. government plane sprayed a substance over western Cuba last Oct. 21 while flying over the island, and two months later a crop-eating pest called thrips palmi appeared. Maria de los Angeles Flores, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister, presented evidence on film that she said was proof of Cuba’s complaint. The U.S. government acknowledged that the single-engine plane, used in anti-narcotics operations, flew over western Cuba during a flight from Florida to the Cayman Islands last fall.

U.S. officials insisted that the plane emitted smoke to identify its location to a passing commercial airliner. Overflying Cuba on the way back from maintenance in the United States is routine, and regularly approved by the Cubans. Also, they said, the infestation could have been blown by winds from other islands where it already existed.

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