Sunday, December 19, 2010

Secret cable: Alan Gross could be "gigantic wrench" in U.S.-Cuba relationship

Jonathan Farrar           Alan Gross
In this January 2010 cable, U.S. Interests Section chief Jonathan Farrar says Cuban officials are "interested in improving relations" but would quickly "abandon improved relations if it feels its political authority undermined."
Farrar is prophetic in this cable, writing:
  • The detention of Alan Gross "remains a wild card that could further complicate progress in improved U.S.-Cuba relations.
  • The arrest of Gross "has chilled the atmosphere for democracy programs in Cuba, especially those that hinged on unfettered and hassle-free travel to the island."
  • Spanish officials have asked for Gross to be freed, but Fidel Castro has "the final word" and is reluctant to do so.
  • Old guard dissidents are isolated and the Cuban government "doesn't pay much attention to their articles or manifestos....But the bloggers' mushrooming international popularity and their ability to stay one tech-step ahead of the authorities are causing serious headaches in the regime."
  • U.S. government attention to the roughing-up of Yoani Sanchez "fanned the fears that the blogger problem had gotten out of control."

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10HAVANA9 2010-01-06 20:08 2010-12-16 21:09 SECRET US Interests Section Havana

VZCZCXRO1987
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL
DE RUEHUB #0009/01 0062020
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 062020Z JAN 10
FM USINT HAVANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5071
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCOGCA/COMNAVBASE GUANTANAMO BAY CU PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUCOWCV/CCGDSEVEN MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 HAVANA 000009

NOFORN
SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CCA AND WHA/PD
STATE FOR DRL CNEWLING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/20/2019
TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV SMIG CU
SUBJECT: U.S.- CUBA CHILL EXAGGERATED, BUT OLD WAYS
THREATEN PROGRESS

REF: A. REF A HAVANA 639 ("A SPLENDID LITTLE VISIT")
¶B. B HAVANA 772 (CONSULAR VISIT TO JAILED AMCIT)
¶C. C HAVANA 763 (CUBA PASSES UP ON REFORMS)
¶D. D HAVANA 739 (STRIDENT PROTEST)
¶E. E HAVANA 736 (HUMAN RIGHTS MARCHES TURN VIOLENT)
¶F. F HAVANA 755 (CUBAN FEATHERS RUFFLED BY USCG
RESCUE)

HAVANA 00000009 001.2 OF 003


Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Joaquin F. Monserrate for reasons 1.4 (b)
and (d).

¶1. (S/NF) SUMMARY. Over the course of the last month the
tone coming out of Havana seems a regression to the hostile
language that kept U.S. - Cuba relations on ice for much of
the last 50 years. The U.S. press is playing it that way,
and both U.S. and Cuban observers are publicly throwing their
hands up in the air in frustration. The reality is far more
complex, and possibly less pessimistic. The most vitriolic
language was the result of Cuba's, and more specifically
Fidel Castro's, sense of humiliation at being excluded from
the negotiating table at Copenhagen. The GOC would like
nothing more than to firewall its civil society from
foreigners, but its grumblings over U.S. observance of Human
Rights Day were par for the course. Much more threatening to
the regime are our overtures to and complaints of
mistreatment of bloggers, a group that frustrates and scares
the GOC like no other. The arrest of an Amcit, publicly
denounced by President Raul Castro, remains a wild card that
could further complicate progress. The GOC remains
interested in improving relations and extracting what
benefits it can but harbors no unrealistic expectations about
a radical shift in U.S. policy. That interest wanes and is
subject to the whims of Cuba,s rulers. This gerontocracy
would rather abandon improved relations if it feels its
political authority undermined. END SUMMARY.

HEATED WORDS OVER CLIMATE CHANGE
--------------------------------

¶2. (S/NF) The language coming out of Havana after the Climate
Summit was as incendiary as it has been over the last year
and a half. Communist Party boss and former President Fidel
Castro railed about the U.S. "deceit" and "arrogance" and his
Foreign Minister, upon his return from Copenhagen, duly
repeated the charges at a press conference (Septel). The
atmosphere became so charged, that retired General Barry
McCaffrey called off a 2010 visit to Cuba in disgust over the
"shallow and vitriolic" language that "made the Cuban
leadership appear non-serious, polemical amateurs." The head
of the National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, said that he had
given up too, and did not expect "big changes in the near
future." The international press was quick to declare that
the U.S.-Cuba "honeymoon" was over.

VERBAL WARMING A STAND-ALONE ISSUE
----------------------------------

¶3. (S/NF) Other Cuban leaders and the official media,
however, have refrained from regurgitating, as they often do,
the vitriolic language of the elder Castro. Many
interlocutors, both foreign and Cuban, believe that Castro's
(and by extension his Foreign Minister's) words constitute a
stand-alone tantrum, and are not necessarily reflective of
the state of relations between Cuba and the U.S. The British
and Danes, for instance, were targeted just as fiercely.
Castro's topical obsessions are notorious, and climate change
is certainly one of them (Septel). Adding insult to injury
is the palpable sense of humiliation at seeing the Cuban
Foreign Minister, and wannabe world leader and surrogate Hugo
Chavez, excluded from the final negotiations (where Grenada,
Mexico and Brazil took part).

THE INFLUENCE OF THE CASTRO GERONTOCRACY
----------------------------------------

¶4. (S/NF) The former President is widely blamed in the island
for the regime's obstinate refusal to change its old ways.

HAVANA 00000009 002.2 OF 003


According to many of our contacts, the political and policy
paralysis in Cuba is a reflection of the sway that Castro and
his generation of "historicos" (including his brother and
current President Raul) have over the GOC. According to a
Spanish colleague, Fidel Castro's word is final on the fate
of Cuba's political prisoners and the Spanish had a hard time
overcoming Castro's reluctance to release an ailing 60-year
old inmate last fall (Ref A). His aim, the Spaniard claims,
is to seek the release of the five Cuban spies in U.S. jails.
The GOC thus far has refrained publicly from linking the
five Cuban spies to the release of an Amcit detained on
December 5 (Ref B).

EXPLAINING THE ARREST
---------------------

¶5. (S/NF) President Raul Castro himself was the first Cuban
official to have acknowledged the arrest. (The only other
public statement by officials or in the official press was a
January 6 remark about his treatment by National Assembly
President Alarcon in response to questions from the press.)
Theories about the arrest abound, from an attempt to force
high-level attention from Washington a la North Korea, to a
move to counter the blogger movement (see paragraph 7).
However, at his National Assembly speech on December 20,
President Castro linked the detention to U.S. democracy
programs on the island, deriding the very notion of a Cuban
"civil society" (Ref C). Whether that was Castro's intent or
not, the arrest has chilled the atmosphere for democracy
programs in Cuba, especially those that hinged on unfettered
and hassle-free travel to the island. Thus, the arrest has
already served the interests of the authoritarian ruling
class. It is not clear how the GOC intends to exact more
mileage from the arrest, but if theories about the elder
Castro are accurate, he could throw a gigantic wrench in the
relationship if he insists on holding the man as a bargaining
chip.

OBJECTIONS OVER HUMAN RIGHTS
----------------------------

¶6. (S/NF) A third oft-cited example of a deteriorating
climate was the GOC complaints about the diplomatic presence
at the Human Rights Day marches where peaceful protesters
were assaulted by state-organized mobs (Ref D, E). Although
the GOC would prefer that the international community stay
away from civil society engagement, and sometimes it tries to
bully nations into silence, it has grown accustomed to the
U.S. and other countries observing these events. It could
hardly claim surprise when we did, and its "complaints" were
delivered in a matter-of-fact manner that belied its
purported ire.

BLOGGER XXXXXXXXXXXX
----------------

¶7. (S/NF) The conventional wisdom in Havana is that GOC sees
the bloggers as its most serious challenge, and one that it
has trouble containing in the way that it has dealt with
traditional opposition groups. The "old guard" dissidents
mostly have been isolated from the rest of the island. The
GOC doesn't pay much attention to their articles or
manifestos because they have no island-wide resonance and
limited international heft. For a while, ignoring the
bloggers too seemed to work. But the bloggers' mushrooming
international popularity and their ability to stay one
tech-step ahead of the authorities are causing serious
headaches in the regime. The attention that the United
States bestowed on XXXXXXXXXXXX, first by
publicly complaining when she was detained and roughed up and
later by having the President respond to her questions,
further fanned the fears that the blogger problem had gotten
out of control.

OPPORTUNITIES TO WORSEN RELATIONS NOT TAKEN
-------------------------------------------


HAVANA 00000009 003.2 OF 003


¶8. (S/NF) Despite the challenges to the GOC,s authority, its
economic mismanagement and its unwillingness to adapt with
the times, the GOC remains confident and in control. A less
hostile United States has helped allay real or imaginary
fears that the regime will come under fire if it retreats
from the dogmatic stance of years past. President Castro
acknowledged in December that domestic change was needed, but
asked for more time for consultations. And, despite his
criticism of U.S. democracy programs, he again called for
improved relations (Ref C).

¶9. (S/NF) Moreover, thus far, Cuba has refrained from going
on the warpath. Aside from President Castro's remarks, it
has not turned the Amcit's arrest into an issue of public
debate, or taken the elder Castro's hostile route. On at
least two recent occasions, the GOC has passed up
opportunities to heighten hostilities. In November and again
this January, the GOC complained about U.S. policies without
resorting to hyperbolic language.

¶10. (S/NF) In December, the GOC complained about maritime and
airspace incursions (Ref F). Interior Ministry officials
were genuinely incensed at the Coast Guard rescuing of the
American crew of a sailboat that ran aground on alleged Cuban
waters, but in the weeks since the early December incident,
cooperation in this area (perhaps, the most effective and
closest of U.S.-Cuba engagement) has continued unaffected.
Likewise, in January, protestations over new flight screening
rules affecting all Cubans did not stop the GOC from granting
access to legal teams from the U.S. to depose Cuban witnesses
in a TIP case or from continuing to review a full agenda of
meetings, including the Migration Talks in February.

RESTRAINT LIKELY, BUT PROGRESS LIMITED
--------------------------------------

¶11. (S/NF) The GOC has no reason to eschew the prospect of
better relations in the current state of play. However,
political control is paramount to the current regime, and it
will not hesitate to shut the door if it feels its authority
undermined. The key for the United States is to continue
promoting reform and greater space for Cubans, while keeping
the GOC engaged and interested in areas where it is of
benefit to us.
FARRAR

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