Dissidents, Spies, and Attack Cartoons — Life at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana

From 2002-2005, James Cason served as the Principal Officer – the de facto U.S. ambassador – at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Cason saw himself not “at a mission,” but rather, “on a mission” to promote democratic principles and support the people of Cuba. As the key representative of the “Yankee Imperialists,” Cason inevitably faced enormous backlash and pressures from the Cuban government, he tells ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy.

Every year the GOC [Government of Cuba] held country-wide exercises where the people and the army prepared for an American invasion. The international press would call and ask for my opinion. I said  “This is ridiculous. Our policy is one that calls for a rapid, peaceful change to a more democratic and free Cuba. We don’t advocate or support the overthrow of the regime. We hope it falls, but that depends on the Cuban people, not us. We will never support the revolution or take steps to prolong its life. And we’re not about to invade.”

And then Fidel started attacking me personally; it became an obsession. In a radio address he said General Powell said the U.S. had no plans to invade “for the moment,” therefore how can we believe a “mere corporal” like Cason. So from that moment on I became Corporal Cason. I’m probably the only diplomat in the history of the world where the host government ran attack cartoons on TV against him. The Cuban propagandists produced a series of nine cartoons, animated cartoons, ridiculing me that they aired for almost three years. I think they’re still shown. You can find them on YouTube (above).

I adopted the corporal as my symbol. The Cubans can’t stand humor and I refused to be cowed by the cartoons. I told people I liked them, they were funny. I began going to all the national day parties with corporal stripes on my guayabera shirt and put my cartoon persona on a flag which I flew on the front of my car to show that it didn’t bother. I’d turn the cartoons against them. People would wave and give the thumbs up when my car passed.

Soon everyone was talking about the Cabo. The Center for a Free Cuba sent me 2000 Cabo Cason dolls. If you pushed my belly button I would say, “Cachan, Cachan, días mejores pronto vendran.” [Cachan, Cachan, better days will come soon] We gave these out to dissidents and they were sent all over the island.

I was trying to say nothing you Cubans do or say against USINT personnel is going to stop us from doing what we think is right and that is supportive of a people who don’t have a say in their own future.


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A failed state’?: Libya starts from scratch

The apparently accelerating deterioration of security in Libya, underscored by the recent abduction of the country’s prime minister Ali Zeidan (left), has raised the prospect of even larger numbers of migrants and refugees arriving on European shores, The Financial Times reports.

“It’s a failed state,” a high-ranking EU diplomat says of Libya. “It’s not functioning. It’s basically an open door to the Mediterranean Sea.”

Duncan Pickard has spent the last year in Tripoli studying constitutional reform for a German NGO, writes The Washington Post’s David Ignatius:

He warned last December that the imperative was U.S. training of Libyan security forces to protect government institutions. Nearly a year later, we’re still waiting.

“We are seeing a defenseless government,” says Karim Mezran, a Libyan political scientist and senior fellow of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. Mezran says the situation in his country is so fragile now that NATO may have to send in its own security forces to keep order until the long-delayed training program is ready.

“The July 2012 elections were an impressive achievement, but the lingering effects of Qadhafi’s decades in power still work against stability and the consolidation of such democratic gains,” Pickard and Mieczysaw P. Boduszynski write in the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy:

Tensions between the country’s regions, made worse by Qadhafi’s long neglect, are  a defining feature of Libyan politics.  The need to balance east, west, and south pervades all decision making. The impulse toward inclusion has a positive side, but the three-part nature of every committee also bespeaks the divisive notion that regional ties must define all interests. Tribal and ethnic tensions further threaten the national unity that is critical to democratic development.  A new civil society and free media may yet prove allies of democratization, but they remain inexperienced, underdeveloped, and hampered by security concerns.

On top of that, Libya is undergoing a parallel transition from a quasisocialist economy with a weak private sector, and it is struggling to build a cohesive identity.

In the face of such challenges, Islamist populism may appear an attractive way to construct a new national identity and to promote unity, but the commitment of the protagonists of this worldview to democracy is unclear. The single-minded focus of Islamist groups and their militia allies on a harsh form of “political isolation” could sideline many individuals with the requisite experience and skills to reconstruct the state institutions vital to the legitimization of democracy. These are also the institutions upon which a new conception of Libyan citizenship must ultimately rest.


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U.S. must restructure aid to Egypt

“The United States’ recent decision to suspend military aid to Egypt has drawncriticism. It has reinforced the suspicions of many Egyptians that U.S. policy is hypocritical and unprincipled,” the Project for Middle East Democracy’s Stephen McInerney and Cole Bockenfeld write in The Washington Post:

In Washington, the move has been attacked as unlikely to affect the actions of Egypt’s military, instead reducing U.S. influence and leverage in Egypt. If this decision turns out to be a halfhearted measure before returning to business as usual in a few months, then those criticisms will have been justified. On the other hand, if the current suspension is instead the first step toward overhauling a badly outdated and damaged relationship, it could be pivotal in restoring the U.S. position in Egypt and in the region more broadly.

“Egypt’s assistance package, in both structure and content, is simply a relic from the past — an outdated construct that served U.S. and Egyptian interests in 1979, but today is almost entirely divorced from reality,” they contend: 

In many respects, the same could be said of the broader bilateral relationship. While Egypt has gone from the rule of Mubarak to military rule to Morsi and back to the military, the U.S. government has failed to adapt, clinging to the old policy of backing the narrow set of actors ruling Egypt at the moment while seeking to influence events only through polite entreaties.

RTWT HT: Foreign Policy.com

POMED is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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