US pulls the plug on ticker in Cuba

A news ticker at the US mission in Havana reads “Democracy in Cuba”. The ticker has gone blank

A ticker at the US interests section in Havana no longer flashes messages such as this in 2008. Photograph: Enrique de la Osa / Reuters

It was smuggled through the US diplomatic pouch, secretly installed across the facade of a building overlooking Havana and given a very specific mission: to annoy Fidel Castro.

The scrolling electronic sign, a low-tech version of New York's Times Square ticker, escalated the US's propaganda war with Cuba's leader three years ago by flashing human rights messages in five-foot high crimson letters. But history, or more specifically Barack Obama, appears to have pulled the plug on the billboard which flitted across 25 windows of the US interests section in Havana. The screen has gone blank - the latest indication that half a century of enmity may be winding down.

The ticker, erected by the Bush administration in January 2006, infuriated Castro and provoked tit-for-tat diplomatic jousting which further strained relations.

"It was basically a contest of which side could annoy the other the most," said Dan Erikson, author The Cuba Wars and an analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue thinktank. "The US described [the sign] as a way to convey information to the Cuban people but the real purpose was to irritate the Cuban government."

It ran quotes from Martin Luther King ("I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up") and Abraham Lincoln ("No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent") as well as the likes of Lech Walesa.

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