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.