Friday, May 8, 2009

Managing a "tropical Soviet Union" ain't cheap

U.S. Interests Section, Havana

U.S. officials were meeting three times a week in Havana in 2007 to figure out how to shape Cuba in the post-Fidel era, according to a report marked "sensitive but unclassified" before its release. The State Department report states:
If change and U.S. policy are well-managed here, this will be of great value in dealing with pariah nations elsewhere, such as Iran or Burma.
Michael Parmly was chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana in 2007 and chaired those weekly meetings, which evidently underscored Bush administration intentions to exercise a heavy hand in Cuba if the socialist government unraveled.

Barack Obama has said he wants to take a new approach toward Cuba, but I imagine that many of the U.S. plans are still active.

Cubans march past the Interests Section. This was taken before workers installed an electronic message board along the top of the building.
The 2007 report said the weekly sessions at the Interests Section included "a freewheeling weekly transition meeting wherein section and agency chiefs exchanges ideas and scenarios for Cuba after Castro." The document said:
Similar to when Cuba lost its Soviet Union support 15 years ago, change is again in the air, and there is a need to plan ahead. Credible scenarios abound, thus arguing for flexibility and multiple game plans.
The report was released April 10, 2009. It caused a stir because it claimed that the Cubans harass U.S. government employees in Havana, sometimes poisoning their family pets. I hadn't read the 67-page document until I noticed Phil Peters' interesting post on it today.

A scene from the plaza across from the Interests Section. Cubans often protest here, but these girls arrived to dance
The State Department's Office of Inspector General produced the report, dated July 2007. It sums up the findings of officials who visited the Interests Section in Havana on Feb. 19 and on March 2 of that year.

Members of the inspection team included team leader and former ambassador to Tajikistan Franklin Huddle, deputy team leader Robert Whitehead, William Belcher, Joseph Catalano, Zandra Flemister and Matthew Ragnetti.

Interestingly, Howard Krongard, then inspector general of the State Department, also took part in the inspection. I can't imagine why that was necessary. It sounds like someone was curious and wanted to see Cuba.

Krongard is the same guy who once sued his daughter and son-in-law over a home loan, the Los Angeles Times reported in December 2007. More importantly, he was accused of repeatedly blocking investigations into contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported in September 2007.

Krongard resigned under pressure in December 2007, blaming Democrats for his troubles.

He took part in the Cuba junket, I mean, the inspection from Feb. 20 to 24, 2007.

His office's report advises the Interests Section to "move quickly out of its hostile, defensive position as the U.S. government comes to terms with what the post-Fidel transition means and how we manage it, especially in nuts and bolts terms."

More dancers

Cubans may be poor and frustrated, the report said, but they're not necessarily going to take to the streets.
While the Cuban government remains one of the world’s worst human rights violators, widespread repression – even accompanied by severe economic hardship – will not necessarily translate into immediate political unrest. Among the tools of regime survival are Cuba’s elaborate security apparatus and the Cuban government’s skill in manipulating the strong Cuban sense of nationalism.
I read that as: Cubans can't - or won't - topple the socialist government on their own. They're going to need Uncle Sam's help.

To be sure, the U.S. government is up to its eyeballs in planning for the post-Castro era. Among those involved, the report said: "Seven separate interagency working groups in Washington."

There are also separate Defense Department initiatives in Miami. The report said:
Synergy has been the rule, with a large number of departments and agencies involved in group exercises and planning.
Synergy? U.S. government? Boy, whoever wrote this report was laying it on thick.

Smiling faces

Anyway, the inspectors recommended that the Interests Section learn from U.S. experiences in other nations in transition. American officials should have "on-the-shelf action plans for a full range of likely scenarios from worst case to best case," the report said. And they should consider "prepositioning nearby of logistical materials that would be needed to support an expanded U.S. presence or programs on the island."

"...What would that be?" Phil Peters of the Cuban Triangle asked.

Good question.

What are we "prepositioning?" Food? Construction materials? Vehicles? Computers? Police or military gear?

Probably all of that and more. Who knows.

Just be ready for the big expansion, the inspectors advise U.S. officials in Havana. Keep "a sharp sense of priority as to which staffing increases should take place and in what order."

Interests Section personnel in 2007

A few final tidbits from the report:

* On the Cuban economy: "Wages, which typically go largely for clothes and sources of protein, are a dollar a day or less. The artificial, distorted economy produces little of value for the international marketplace despite mincing steps towards developing biotechnological industries."

* On Internet access at the Interests Section: "Twenty-five close embassy contacts have permanent passes for Internet access, and 200 two-hour slots per week are available to other interested parties on a first-come, first-serve basis."

* On staffing: The U.S. government employs 330 people in Havana and has a payroll of $7.2 million.

A salary breakdown

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