Thursday, December 30, 2010

Parmly: Secrecy necessary - "Otherwise it's anarchy"

Below is a translation of a recent interview with Michael Parmly, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

The original interview was published in French and appeared in the Swiss newspaper, Le Temps.
Michael Parmly could not remain indifferent to the publication of thousands of documents from the U.S. State Department by the site Wikileaks. He headed the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from September 2005 to July 2008 and has signed numerous cables sent from Cuba to Washington that the daily El País published mentioning him by name. In a cafe in Nyon, a few days after these revelations, we received Michael Parmly. He recently retired after working for the U.S. Mission in Geneva. "The documents prove that we have principles, ethics,” noted the diplomat, whose grandmother, a Cuban, had left the island in 1920 to marry an American general. “But Julian Assange broke the law by publishing confidential telegrams. Every business has its rules and is entitled to its secrets. Otherwise it's anarchy. Or voyeurism."

A cable of March 16, 2007, signed by Michael Parmly, describes how Fidel Castro fell gravely ill aboard a plane that carries him from Holguin in eastern Cuba in Havana in July 2006, shortly before turning over power to his brother Raul. He has diverticulitis and a perforation of the large intestine, and the plane makes an emergency landing. According to the document, Fidel refuses to undergo a colostomy. And intervention of another kind is made by his regular doctor, but it fails. The colon is infected and Fidel must undergo a new operation and loses 18 pounds.

The former head of the U.S. Interests Section, located along the Malecon, Havana, had a practice of involving fifty Americans present in Cuba in the work of information to the Department of State. He fears that some will be identified: "Contrary to what some publications suggest, I wrote 1 to 2 percent of the cables. It was important for me that the staff write. It was a form of learning. I personally did not write the cable on the health of Fidel. It is the work of someone who had contacts with hospitals and physicians. I hope she is never identified. "

Wikileaks threatens, in the opinion of Michael Parmly, the quality of work that diplomats perform on the island. "For us, the opinion of the 11.2 million Cubans count. I believe in pointillism. (Note from Along the Malecon: Merriam-Webster’s defines this as “the theory or practice in art of applying small strokes or dots of color to a surface so that from a distance they blend together.”)

"Diplomats from the U.S. Interests Section and have established numerous contacts with the public, dissenting or not.”

At his residence, Michael Parmly, who the Cuban authorities had tried in vain call a "pariah" to cut off access to the population, received more than 800 people, ordinary Cubans, dissidents, but also government officials, even if it was much rarer.

At the U.S. Interests Section, a secure room with a computer was available to Cubans who registered. A dozen visitors who have not complied with the conditions of using this "library" were once banned electronic access. A fact which provoked the ire of some dissidents, Vladimiro Roca and Elizardo Sanchez. The two came to meet with Michael Parmly. These discussions have been published in the WikiLeaks documents. "These are two international figures. The damage is limited. If it is instead a family man, little known, appears in a footnote, he could suffer the consequences of his life. I would also be very unhappy if the many conversations I had with blogger Yoani Sanchez should be released," notes the former U.S. official.

The diplomat has even been invited by the head of a Committee of Defense of the Revolution (CDR). "He asked me if he could go there. I could see no objection. We had to listen to the Cuban people," insists Michael Parmly, who had the support of the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and has attracted interest from President George W. Bush during a meeting in the Oval Office.

"The Wikileaks published documents may discourage Cubans from talking to us. The capital may be less informed. Intimidated, the diplomats could censor themselves. If I had known of Wikileaks, I would have reduced the production of documents in half. An effort to lower the level of classification was undertaken. Now, the secret will again be reinforced."

Cubans have read the first time the U.S. cables and have published several on the site Cubadebate. Havana believes that these documents prove the policy "imperialist" Washington. But the Cuban government censors the cables on the health of Fidel and Raul Castro's request to the White House to create a special channel of communication. As for Michael Parmly, he now poses a question: "Will Julian Assange publish the diplomatic documents of Iran and North Korea? Is there a hidden agenda?"

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