HAVANA — Cuba denounced the American diplomatic mission on the island on Friday for what it called subversive activities designed to undermine the government of Raul Castro, a shot across the bow just four days before the U.S. election.
The Foreign Ministry said the Americans illegally give classes inside the walls of the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains instead of an embassy, and provide Internet service without permission.
It vowed to defend Cuba's sovereignty "by any legal means" at its disposal, but gave no details.
U.S. officials have long maintained that they are doing nothing illegal in Cuba and that supporting free speech, cultural activities and Internet access is a common practice at missions around the world.
"We are absolutely guilty of those charges. The U.S. Interests Section in Havana does regularly offer free courses in using the Internet to Cubans who want to sign up. We also have computers available for Cubans to use," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington. "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."
Cuba accused the diplomatic mission of more nefarious motives.
"The U.S. Interests Section in Cuba continues to serve as a general headquarters for the subversive policies of the North American government," reads the statement, which was published in state-media on Friday.
It added that the Section's aim was "the impossible task of converting its mercenaries into a credible internal opposition movement."
Cuba considers all opposition figures to be stooges paid by Washington to cause trouble.Comment on this story
The American mission has long provided Internet to dissidents and run cultural and language programs, and it was not clear why Cuba chose now to criticize the practice. But the timing could be linked to next Tuesday's U.S. election.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney has launched a Spanish-language ad in the key swing state of Florida implying that President Barack Obama is supported by the Castros and leftist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
The Obama administration says the ad itself rewards Chavez and the Castros with undeserved attention, and it notes that relations with both countries have remained chilly under this administration.