BY JUAN O. TAMAYO | Miami Herald
The U.S. State Department has added a top Cuba analyst to its Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) staff, and appointed a career diplomat as the new head of its Cuban affairs section.
Daniel P. Erikson, a senior associate with the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington and author of a book on Cuba-U.S. relations, is now a senior advisor at WHA, headed by Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela.
His duties are still being defined, U.S. government officials said, but he’s likely to play at least some role in carrying out the diplomatic side of the Obama administration’s policies on Cuba.
Department officials don’t comment on their personal opinions on foreign policy issues, but Erikson’s views on Cuba are known through his book, The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States and the Next Revolution, and his many media interviews.
Erikson criticized Cuba’s human rights record and ineffective economic model during a book presentation to New York-based Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in early 2009.
``Fidel Castro has clearly subverted the goal of democracy in the Cuban revolution. Some people in Cuba who support the revolution would say, `You know, it was a good revolution, but it stayed one generation too long,’ ‘’ he said.
He also criticized President George W. Bush’s aggressive policies toward Cuba as ineffective and at times counterproductive, and backed a policy of engagement that fits well with the Obama administration’s efforts to expand travel and communications with the island.
U.S. policy on Cuba, he told the Council, has been based on the hope ``for a `poof moment’: that at one date in the future the Castro government will go poof, vanish.’‘
The Inter-American Dialogue favors a policy ``which basically says remove all the barriers to communication, travel, and exchange . . . and have the trade-and-investment embargo be a subject of discussion between the two governments. I think that’s a pretty good starting point,’’ he added.
The best policy ``is to allow a range of actors in American society to engage with a range of actors in Cuban society, not for the purpose of democratizing Cuba, but for the purpose of trying to create a more open environment between the two countries that will lead to more openness in Cuba,’’ Erikson told the Council.
Erikson graduated from Brown and Harvard universities, was a Fulbright Scholar focusing on U.S.-Mexican business relations and joined the Dialogue in 2001.
He first visited Cuba in 2000 and returned to the island about 15 times to research his book, published in 2008.
His arrival at WHA comes at a time when career diplomat Peter Brennan is scheduled to take over as director of Cuban affairs, officially known as Counselor for Cuban Affairs, on Monday.
Brennan last served as Chargé d’Affaires and deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, and previously served in Nicaragua, Uruguay, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Barbados.
A graduate of Georgetown University, he entered the Foreign Service in 1984 and has pursued graduate studies at Georgetown and George Washington universities.
He will replace Ricardo Zuniga, who has been acting head of Cuban affairs since the previous head, Bisa Williams, was named ambassador to Niger. Zuniga was assigned to the U.S. embassy in Brazil.
The Cuba section reports to Julissa Reynoso, a political appointee serving as deputy assistant secretary for Central American and Caribbean Affairs.