Tuesday, October 5, 2010

James Cason: "I am proud of what I did in Havana"

In his first public appearance as chief of the U.S. Interests Section in 2002, James Cason wore a button that signaled "No bull."

Former U.S. diplomat James Cason took a break from his campaign for Coral Gables mayor to respond to a Sept. 15 article that asked whether he might have broken the law while he was chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

Here is Cason's response:
For many years, the Castro dynasty in Cuba has been blaming its repression and inherently destabilizing economic chaos on the United States. So I was intrigued by the posting on your blog “Along the Malecón” of the fictional article by Saul Landau and Nelson Valdes, “Confessions of Roger Noriega: Muscular diplomacy or law breaking?” that echoes the regime’s propaganda.

For the sake of accuracy, let me restate the obvious: The real “Cuba issue” is not, and never has been U.S. policy but rather the behavior of the murderous, anti-American dictatorship Fidel Castro has imposed on the Cuban people for more than 50 years.

Havana’s “blame America” propaganda campaign continues. Cuba just released, at the United Nations, a document alleging that U.S. trade sanctions has cost the island $751 billion. Very soon now the regime’s friends abroad will begin to repeat the Castros’ charges. If those friends are simply misinformed, and not a part of Havana’s disinformation system, they will also recall Fidel Castro’s early statements:

On March 2, 1964, two years after Fidel Castro confiscated U.S. properties worth more than $1 billion without compensation and -- more to the point -- two years after the beginning of the U.S. embargo, Fidel boasted: "Within 10 years we will produce more milk than Holland and more cheese than France. This is the great goal we set for ourselves. By that date, we expect to exceed 30-million liters of milk, so much in fact that we will have to export." Fidel’s statement was published in Hoy, Cuba’s communist daily.

Cason stands at attention at his former residence in Havana during an event marking America's Independence Day.

While in Cuba, Cason called the Cuban government “an international deadbeat" with a “Jurassic Park economy.” Fidel Castro fired back, calling Cason "a bully with diplomatic immunity."

Almost six years later, on Jan. 2, 1969, Fidel said Washington would have to accept the “unpleasant reality of a blockade, which is meaningless.” During the same speech at Plaza de la Revolucion, he gloated: “Imagine thinking that the blockade could have any effect nowadays! At best it makes some people laugh in scorn.”

In 1985, he said “the socialist countries pay us much better prices and have much better relations with us, than does the United States.” The statement appeared in an article published by Playboy and later repeated in a book by Jeffrey M. Elliot and Mervyn M. Dymally. For Fidel, the Soviet Union was the cow, with bountiful tits, while the United States was a nanny goat and he declared that he would not “swap a cow for a goat!"

Journalists Landau and Valdes are well known for their admiration of the “Cuban experiment.” Today they attempt to make hash of a Miami radio interview with former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega to claim that he and I, when I was serving as chief of mission at the U. S. Interests Section in 2002-2005, “undertook their own initiative to foster instability.” They call for an investigation and blame the United States for the regime’s 2003 crackdown against dissidents, repeating Havana’s mendacious lie that the pro-democracy dissidents arrested by the Castro Regime were “Cason’s Cuban collaborators.”

Landau and Valdes, who have special expertise on Cuba, know better. The Castro Regime’s kangaroo trials were widely denounced around the world. Amnesty International declared the 75 imprisoned dissidents to be “prisoners of conscience.” None had planned or engaged in any violent activity.


Wayne Smith, who had served as Interests Section chief from 1978-1982, is quoted objecting to my “bull-in-the-china-shop tactics,” that presumably resulted in the long prison sentences meted out to the dissidents. Little or nothing the United States has done in regard to Cuba, since Dr. Smith left the Foreign Service has merited his approval. By his account, he was the epitome of professional diplomacy during his tenure in Havana when “Cubans armed with chains, pipes, sticks and clubs attacked hundreds of people who were waiting for information about possible emigration to the United States” right outside the door of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

Through all these years, the fact remains: The tyrannical nature of the Castro Regime does not result from U.S. policy. It is rooted in the Castro brothers’ claim that they have the right to remain in power indefinitely and without regard to how the Cuban people feel about it.

By now, blaming the United States is a tired and discredited gimmick. In the mid-1960s, a time when there was no U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Fidel acknowledged that he had 20,000 political prisoners locked up. In 1989, he tried and executed Cuban General Arnaldo Ochoa Sánchez, on what many believe were trumped up charges; five years previously he had declared the general “a hero of the Revolution.” More recently three young black men trying to escape Cuba were executed. Washington is not to blame for any of this.

During Cason's tenure in Havana, this plant appeared at the entrance to the ambassador's residence. It was marked "Scientific name: A Free Cuba. Popular name: Someday I hope."

The U.S. policy of trying to reach out to the people of Cuba has been undertaken with stringent congressional oversight. I am proud of what I did in Havana. I am no friend of dictatorship of any kind. In one of my early assignments in Uruguay, I also spoke up against abuse and repression and earned the enmity of that country’s generals.

American diplomatic missions all over the world regularly meet with and invite to social functions both government leaders and members of the opposition. I do not believe the Cuban Regime should be allowed to decide who is invited to meet with an American diplomat, but it tries to do so and the smear is one of its tactics.

Add to the litany of hostile behavior by Cuba, the espionage conviction of Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes, a senior analyst with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency who not only passed U.S. military secrets to the Castros but drafted intelligence reports downplaying the ability and threat of the Cuban military. Her benign assessments continue to be quoted by people who should know better. Havana is also engaged in a worldwide propaganda campaign to misrepresent the trial and sentencing of other Castro’s spies in the United States, including the “Five Heroes” as Cuba calls them. There were not just five, there were many more who acknowledged spying on U.S. military bases and served time in prison.

There is an urgent need for a debate on Cuba. When there is a democratic government in Cuba, and the files of Cuba’s intelligence services are finally opened, we will find many surprises, just as we found in the KGB files after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We need to wait for those facts, or for the U.S. government to make information available on Cuba’s intelligence and disinformation efforts in the United States. Attempting to criminalize policy differences is neither useful nor effective diplomacy and most certainly is not “the American way.”

- Jim Cason
See below for links to the Sept. 15 article and additional reaction to the story:

Sept. 15 - Confessions of Roger Noriega: Muscular diplomacy or law breaking?
Sept. 16 - Did U.S. pro-democracy efforts break U.S. law?
Sept. 16 - Roger Noriega responds to Progreso Weekly story
Sept.18 - Landau and Valdes ask if former U.S. official lied

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