An Undying Obsession: Cuba in the Wikileaks Mirror*
By ISRAEL SHAMIR
Hundreds of thousands of US State Department documents, in the form of cables from hundreds of embassies and consulates around the world, give us an in-depth picture of American interests and activities such as never before seen. Yet as we peruse cables that chronicle the changing faces of US diplomacy, there is one constant: Cuba.
Everywhere, from Dushanbe in the mountains of Tajikistan to Paris, from Kiev in the Ukraine to Sydney in Australia, American diplomats are busy watching over a small island in the Caribbean Sea with an obsessive malice. Like a professional womanizer who was once rebuffed by a small-town beauty, Uncle Sam can’t seem to get over it. The diplomats monitor all Cuban activities, make note of every Cuban utterance, and report every sighting of a migratory Cuban with the enthusiasm of a birdwatcher. It seems that the US has lost none of its Cold War passion for Cuba.
In far-away Uzbekistan, the US Ambassador is promoting the US case against Cuba and duly reports to Mme Clinton:
“UNCLAS TASHKENT 000524 SIPDIS DEPT FOR WHA/CCA E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PHUM, KDEM, PREL, UZ SUBJECT: UZBEKISTAN/DAY OF SOLIDARITY WITH CUBAN PEOPLE REF: SECSTATE 46997 (U) on the margins of a May 5 meeting with Foreign Minister Norov, the Ambassador informed the Uzbek government of U.S. plans to mark solidarity with the Cuban people on May 21. In addition, the Embassy has placed a box in the Embassy newsletter ‘Dostlik’ marking the date and has added a brief statement about it on its web site. NORLAND”
In a few days, the US diplomats “celebrate a day of solidarity with the Cuban people”.“Embassy Tashkent continues to promote and prepare for solidarity with the Cuban people on May 21. We have raised points with appropriate high-level Uzbek officials and have placed information on our website and in our quarterly English and Uzbek languages publication, ‘Dostlik’.”
Now that takes me back to the 1970’s! In Brezhnev’s day, the Soviets were regularly mustered to express their solidarity with “the people of Cuba”, “the people of Vietnam”, “the people of Korea”, etc, and eventually it began to bore us all to tears. The Soviet Union was abandoned largely due to this boredom, and now the Uzbeks (and all the rest) are being offered the same boring dish again, only this time “the people of Cuba” represents little more than the catchphrase of CIA operatives in Miami.
When Uzbekistan established diplomatic relations with Cuba, the US ambassador vented his hurt feelings in a confidential cable. The Ambassador comments: “Uzbekistan has only a minimal diplomatic relationship with Cuba, but we thought it important to make this demarche so our Uzbek interlocutors will see that the US government raises human rights issues around the world, not just with the GOU.”
When a Cuban delegation visited Uzbekistan, US embassy staff snooped like jilted lovers. When the Uzbeks told them to mind their own business, the spurned Ambassador cabled home: “The Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s refusal to discuss this event with the Embassy is particularly laughable. Only a handful of employees work at the America’s Desk, and the same officials who were “unable” to give us any information were likely involved with the Cuban delegation’s visit.” Some guys just don’t understand that “No” sometimes means “No”!
Frozen in time, Cold War ideology and language is still de rigueur in the State Department, as one sees in this cable from Ukraine:
“Ukraine’s Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights (known as the Human Rights Ombudsman), Nina Karpachova was in rare form during the Regions party congress in December. During a feisty speech, she declared that her lowest professional moment had come during the 2005 session of U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, where Ukraine’s Orange government had instructed her to vote “against Cuba, a small island nation that has helped us.” Pressed to explain that comment at a January 16 meeting with Ambassador, during which he passed her information about Cuba’s dismal human rights record, Karpachova launched into a lengthy defense of the Castro regime, praising the dictator for, among other things, curbing illiteracy and running summer camps for Ukrainian children affected by the 1989 Chornobyl disaster. Karpachova even blamed Cuba’s poor economic record on the U.S. embargo, which she advocated lifting.”
The sulky Ambassador still insisted on having the last word. He: “expressed surprise that a representative of a party that purportedly believes in business would ignore the fact that the socialist policies of the Castro regime were the primary cause of Cuba’s economic problems.”
Caught recruiting spies in Bolivia, the US embassy cables Washington: “Fulbright student Alex van Schaick reported to the Bolivian Foreign Ministry February 7 that he had been asked by Post’s Assistant Regional Security Officer to report contacts with Venezuelan and Cuban nationals to the Embassy.” Eventually the Americans apologized and the US diplomat was sent home.
The US continues to exert pressure on the UN to expand the decades-old US embargo of Cuba, but all efforts have been in vain. Every cable dealing with the UN includes these telling words: “On embargo of Cuba we remain isolated.” The US record of brokering UN resolutions against Cuba is even more dismal than their Middle Eastern efforts. Cuba is the one issue Americans cannot get traction on; they are always met with resolutions against their policy.
In Baku, Azerbaijan, the US ambassador coaxed the Azerbaijani foreign minister to support the US embargo, but received this strong response: “On the Cuba Embargo resolution, Mammadyarov said that Azerbaijan had been “with the 184 countries.” Mammadyarov said that over 1,000 Cubans had been educated in Azerbaijan during the Soviet period, primarily at the oil academy and international law department, and that there is a large Azerbaijan diaspora in Cuba. Mammadyarov also said that Azerbaijan could not have many embassies in South America because it had so few fluent Spanish speakers, so Cuba was an important element along with Mexico and Brazil. Responding to the Ambassador’s question about what interest Cuba would have in having an embassy in Baku, Mammadyarov said that this would be the first Cuban embassy in the Caucasus, with Cuba having over 145 embassies, mainly smaller one to two person posts.”
In contrast, Armenia, after much prevarication, agreed to support the US, and it was “a grand gesture”, the Ambassador writes.
Diplomatic exchanges with Cuba are routinely met with American sabotage. The US Ambassador in Vilnius proudly reported: “Last year, we succeeded in blunting an effort by some in Lithuania to recognize Cuba.”
Despite continuous American efforts, the cables show that the winds of change are blowing in Cuba’s favor. A secret cable from Brasilia details the US Ambassador’s meeting with a Presidential adviser: “The Ambassador asked what Garcia thought would come of the EU decision to lift its sanctions. Garcia said he did not see Raul Castro giving any type of concession to foreign pressure, and that the EU move was a sign that there is a perception Cuba is changing. He noted that in Brazil, both businesses and the press that had been critical of Brazil’s Cuba policy have changed their tune. Businesses are now interested in investing, and there is less criticism in the press.”
We are working on Spain
After Spanish Minister Dezcallar visited Cuba, he was immediately interrogated by the US ambassador. The cables show that the Spaniard attempted to mollify the Americans by claiming that the trip to Cuba “hadn’t immediately accomplished much for Spain, but said that through its new engagement, Spain would be able to exert influence and push for “Western values” as the Cuban transition advanced.”
Dezcallar urged the American to take the long view, and called for ongoing, and discreet, coordination between the US and Spain. But the ambassador is not placated. In the cables, he “emphasized Washington’s deep disappointment with the trip, which was not only a surprise but even a bit of a spectacle as world power Spain’s FM went to Cuba and came away with nothing. He noted that Moratinos didn’t meet with dissidents, and didn’t even try to correct the record when Cuban FM Perez Roque called the dissidents “mercenaries” in the pay of the US. So much for Spain’s independence!” Their foreign minister is being told off like a schoolboy!
A cable from Poland shows that the US policy of Cuban isolation is quickly eroding: “Szlajfer said there was a serious problem within the EU on Cuba policy. The Spanish had been attempting since 2004 to revise EU policy towards Cuba, saying that the EU’s hard line had brought no results and that therefore there should be a shift towards engagement with both the government and the opposition.”
The Polish government still officially opposes engagement with “the Castro regime” and toes the hard line according to US dictat, but in the cables Szlajfer noted that times are a’changing: “not only Spain, but also France and Great Britain might be playing a different game.” Szlajfer added that their tough line on Cuba had diminished Poland’s influence with these countries and was affecting Poland’s commercial opportunities in the region. Ending the cable on a positive note, Ambassador Fried of the State Department cheered the Poles by assuring them: “We are working on Spain”.
The Czech Republic continues to cooperate with US orders. Like other pro-US outposts in Eastern Europe, they do all they can to isolate Cuba. The US ambassador reports: “The Czechs continue to look for ways to raise support within the EU for a Cuba common position with teeth.” The Czech NGO initiated an anti-Cuban conference and gained a pat on the head in US State Department cables.
Estonia is another obedient client state, and Estonian leaders are always ready to oblige their masters. A confidential cable from Tallinn relays an Estonian condemnation against Spain for being too soft on Cuba: “Kahn [an Estonian diplomat] called Spain’s position, as the new EU President, both “strange and difficult to understand.” Spain is trying to encourage EU states to improve relations with Cuba at the expense of ties with the opposition, according to Kahn. In contrast, Kahn emphasized that the GOE supports engaging the Cuban Government, but only as a means to influence Cuba towards democracy. Estonia cannot accept any policy that forgets about the Cuban opposition. Kahn laid out three elements of Estonia’s Cuba policy: all meetings with the GOC have to be balanced by meetings with the democratic opposition; Cuba must free its political prisoners; and Cuba should be encouraged to undertake reforms providing democracy, free speech and freedom of assembly.
“Khan noted, however, that because the GOE is so far removed from Cuba, and receives the majority of its information about Cuba from the press, that Estonia cannot be as staunch and active a supporter of democratic change as is, for example, the Czech Republic.”
In another cable, the Ambassador of Estonia is interrogated over Cuba:
“5. (C) Did the host country offer or deliver humanitarian or other assistance to the Cuban people in the wake of the major damage caused by Hurricanes Gustav (August 30) and Ike(September 8)? — No.
“6. (C) What is the nature of investments (and names, if known) that host country businesses have in Cuba? What host country businesses participated in the Havana Trade Fair (November 3)? – There is no foreign direct investment in either direction between Estonia and Cuba. No Estonian businesses participated in the Havana Trade Fair.
“7. (C) Are there any bilateral trade agreements between host country and Cuba? –
There are no bilateral trade agreements between the countries.
“8. (C) Are there any exchange programs between host country and Cuba, including but not limited to: scholarships for host country nationals to study in Cuba; Cuban-paid medical travel for host country nationals; and Cuban doctors working in host country? — There are no official exchange programs between Estonia and Cuba and Estonia.”
Estonians are eager to support US interests and will always side with the US, even against fellow EU members. In a cable, the US representative in Tallinn, Goldstein, “expressed our concern over Spanish FM Moratinos’ visit to Havana in April”. He received a very satisfactory reply: “Estonia fully understands and agrees with U.S. concerns, and has quietly supported the Czech Republic, Poland, and other like-minded EU member states in EU fora. Juhasoo-Lawrence added that Estonia understands dictators such as Castro and what they can do to their people, and does not see any reason to ease up on him now. The EU, she said, is divided on this issue between new and old member states.”
In contrast, Belarus has been much too independent for US tastes. The ambassador in Minsk reports with chagrin: “A delegation from Cuba led by Minister of Government Ricardo Cabrisas visited Belarus and during the visit, the Cuban representative signed an agreement to purchase 100 buses manufactured by the Minsk Automobile Factory (MAZ) and discussed possible purchases of Belarusian farm machinery and trucks.”
The cables note further: “In a July 2007 greeting sent to Fidel Castro on the occasion of Cuba’s “Rebellion Day,” Aleksandr Lukashenko called Cuba ‘Belarus’ main strategic partner in Latin America’. They acknowledge that ‘thousands of Belarusian children from Chernobyl-affected zones who have traveled to Cuba for rest and recuperation since 1991.’”
The ties are political as well. A Minsk cable acknowledges that: “Belarus is actively working to reinvigorate the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and set up Lukashenko as the eventual successor to Cuban leader Fidel Castro as the next ‘Papa’ of the anti-West block. Lukashenko is the ideal anti-globalist leader — he is young (51 years old), energetic, bold, and he sits at the helm of a growing, stable (for now) economy in the heart of Europe.”
Could it be the reason for the US vehement attitude to Belarus? In a fit of green-eyed pique, the US refused to allow Lukashenko to refuel in Iceland as he returned from the 2006 meeting of Non-Aligned States. The American ambassador cabled that he had checked whether Iceland “had received a landing clearance request from Belarusian President Lukashenko, who had reportedly intended to refuel in Iceland on his way to the NAM summit. Gudjonson said Iceland had not, and gave assurances that any such requests would be denied.”
The cable goes on to reveal that “The U.S. and EU imposed visa bans and froze the assets of the most odious GOB officials. When the USG and Canada refused to grant a refueling request to a Belarus delegation returning from Cuba, Lukashenko announced Belarus would respond by refusing overflight clearances to aircraft carrying USG and Canadian official delegations. More recently, the GOB announced it would freeze the assets of President Bush and Secretary Rice in Belarusian banks. These announcements remain ambiguous and even comical” …as they were certainly intended to be.
The Ukraine no longer complies with US demands. A cable from Kiev says that despite the US demarche, a Ukrainian diplomat told the ambassador that “Cuba continues to provide substantial assistance for the “Chornobyl children” [belonging to families affected by the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster] “and that Ukraine’s position is to oppose the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. Ukraine would support the EU statement on the annual UNGA resolution introduced by Cuba condemning the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.” In another cable, the Embassy states: “The Ukrainian parliament passed a resolution a few days earlier condemning embargoes on Cuba. Ukraine remains grateful for ongoing Cuban medical assistance for victims of Chornobyl.”
Cuba is renowned worldwide for its extraordinary commitment to help all countries in need, regardless of politics. After an earthquake in Peru, the US ambassador in Peru was forced to admit in a cable: “Cuban assistance has reportedly been targeted and effective, if not directly coordinated with the GOP. Cuba has sent at least two field hospital teams that have offered high-impact quality service, according to observers. At one camp where a U.S. Medrete team had been sent to provide services, a Cuban team had already been set up.”
Cuba is no longer alone. The cables also document that when Bolivian President Evo Morales visited Peru, he “criticized U.S.-Latin American FTAs and called for continued struggle against colonialism, imperialism, and neoliberalism. He also praised Fidel Castro as a ‘father’ and welcomed the presence of Hugo Chavez’s ALBA in Peru.”
Relations with Russia: more profitable business
Russia has not yet succeeded in mending fences with Cuba, but the effort is there:
“Prime Minister Putin called for Russia to rebuild (its) positions in Cuba. The US Ambassador in Moscow reports on several upcoming events between the GOR and Cuba in 2010:
“– Russia will host a preparatory meeting for the April 2010 Russian-Cuban Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, Commercial, Scientific, and Technical Cooperation.
“Foreign Minister Lavrov will participate in the 9th Annual Havana Book Exhibition as a special invited guest. Lavrov will lead a delegation that includes heads of the Russian Ministry of Culture and the Russian Press Agency
“Cuba will host a meeting of the Russian-Cuban Intergovernmental Commission. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin would likely lead the Russian delegation. Sechin’s last visit to Cuba was in July 2009 and resulted in several agreements, including a $150 million loan for Cuba to purchase Russian agricultural machinery.
“Russia was currently providing humanitarian aid to Cuba in the form of grain shipments, with plans to send 100,000 tons of grain to Cuba this year. Also, the GOR plans to increase the number of scholarships granted to Cubans; 100 Cuban students received scholarships in 2009 to study in Russian universities.”
In a secret/not-for-foreigners (NOFORN) cable, the US Ambassador informs the State Department that: “Russia did not have a preference for working with Raul or Fidel Castro. As a general trend, Cuba-Russia ties were becoming stronger, but that the relationship had not changed significantly since Raul Castro came to power in 2008.”
The cable continued with a report from a Russian academician:
“Cuban President Raul Castro visited Moscow January 28 to February 4, 2009. Raul Castro and Medvedev signed a number of agreements … Russia also pledged two shipments of grain, of 25,000 and 100,000 metric tons, worth USD 37 million. Cuba has agreed to purchase or lease seven Russian-made aircraft. In addition, Kamaz, Russia’s largest truck manufacturer, has agreed to sell its trucks in Cuba and to establish a Cuban assembly plant with Cuba’s Tradex. Russia’s principal exports to Cuba are aircraft, heavy machines, and equipment. Cuba’s principal exports to Russia are sugar, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and cigars.
“Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin negotiated a series of economic cooperation deals with Cuban government officials in Moscow. A Gazprom-led consortium created in 2008 to develop Venezuela’s gas and oil fields signed a cooperation agreement with Cuba Petroleo to jointly work on exploration, production, and refining. Norilsk Nickel agreed to fund exploration of ore reserves in Cuba, with the prospect of mining them in the future. Carmaker AvtoVAZ signed a deal to service its cars in Cuba. Sechin’s extensive role in mid-wifing the Russian-Cuban relationship likely reflects PM Putin’s personal interest in reasserting a Russian presence in the Western Hemisphere.”
Cables also discuss the possibility of: “enhanced military cooperation of Russia with Cuba. Deputy Chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on International Affairs Andrei Klimov told RIA-Novosti that ‘If America installs antiballistic missile (ABM) systems next to the Russian border, Russia too may deploy its systems in those states that will agree to take them.’ Leonid Ivashov, head of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, told RIA-Novosti that the West was creating a “buffer zone” around Russia and that in response, Russia might expand its military presence in Cuba or other places.”
The cables show that the need for support of Cuba is far from over. Americans will do well if they will ask their government to cease squandering their resources in this yesterday’s fight against a small island in the Caribbean.
Previous essays of Israel Shamir on Cuba can be seen on
Keep Shining, Cuba!
Israel Shamir can be reached at email@example.com