BY NANCY SAN MARTIN AND PABLO BACHELET | Miami Herald
The State Department is expected to name a European specialist as new envoy to Havana.
Michael Parmly, a career U.S. diplomat with experience in promoting democracy and human rights, will replace James Cason as the State Department’s top man in Havana, Cuba experts familiar with the matter say.
Parmly, a 26-year State Department veteran, served in 2001 as a deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, focusing on Europe, Africa, Latin America and South Asia.
He recently returned from several months as the State Department’s representative on the Provincial Reconstruction Team in the Afghan province of Kandahar, one of the redoubts of the former Taliban regime. He also teaches a course on Europe at the National War College.
Parmly served as a peace corps volunteer in Colombia 1973-1975, but has no diplomatic experience in Latin America. This is in contrast to Cason, who was the policy director in the Western Hemisphere bureau at the State Department and a diplomat in Jamaica and Honduras before taking on his job in Havana three years ago.
The State Department declined to confirm Parmly’s appointment, and he could not be reached for comment. But two Washington experts on Cuba confirmed his assignment. It does not require congressional approval.
Cason, who is expected to turn over the reins of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana—the two countries do not have full diplomatic relations—by summer’s end, earned a reputation in his three years in Cuba as a harshly outspoken critic of Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s government.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Cason said that the United States’ hardline stance against the communist country will persevere long after he leaves.
‘‘There is no reason to believe there will be any loosening of anything we do. Fidel said there couldn’t be anyone worse than me—he may be sorry,’’ Cason said.
Dan Erikson, who follows Cuban affairs at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, says Parmly seems to be a ‘‘generalist’’ whose strength may be his capacity to reach out to the Europeans and establish a common policy on Cuba.
Washington and Europe differ over the 44-year old economic embargo on Cuba, and the Europeans have generally favored a more active engagement with Cuba. However, both sides strongly condemned a 2003 crackdown on dissidents on the island.
In 1996-1997, Parmly was deputy chief of mission and charge d’affairs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, at the height of the Kosovo war.
Cason, in an effort to bring attention to the plight of dissidents, once built a replica of a dissident’s jail cell on the grounds of the U.S. mission. On Monday he unveiled a three-story replica of the Statue of Liberty on the grounds of his official residence for July 4.