Cuba Politics

Interview with James Cason of US Interests section in Havana

Posted December 17, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Politics.

BY TRACEY EATON | The Dallas Morning News

He’s Public Enemy No. 1 in Cuba and relishes the role.

James Cason, America’s top diplomat in Havana, got right to work after arriving two years ago. He journeyed across the island, meeting with political dissidents and other supposed “subversives.” He urged them to fight for democracy and handed out tens of thousands of books and shortwave radios.

Cuban authorities reacted quickly, jailing 75 dissidents and journalists and banning Cason’s countryside jaunts. But that hasn’t ended the U.S. official’s crusade.

More than 4,000 Cubans visit Cason’s Havana headquarters every month. They get free Internet access. They pick up books and pro-democracy literature. And they sit glued to cable television, which is unavailable to most of Cuba’s 11 million inhabitants.

“We used to have an outreach program. Now we have an inreach program,” Cason said in an interview. Cuban authorities “would love to stop it. But they can’t.”

Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba’s National Assembly, isn’t amused. He accuses the Bush administration of interfering with the country’s internal affairs and violating international law. And he calls Cason a “fourth-rate” bureaucrat.

Cason, expected to remain in Cuba for one more year, said he doesn’t mind such talk. Sitting outside his sprawling $35 million ambassador’s residence in Havana, he pulled a black badge from his shirt pocket. It was an Army corporal’s pin.

“I’m going to wear this until the day I leave Cuba,” Cason said. “I may be just a corporal, but I’m proud of it. I’m closer to the ground, closer to the people.”

Alarcon, he adds, is the true bureaucrat. He leads Cuba’s national assembly, which meets only two times a year and has not voted against any government initiatives since the beginning of the revolution in 1959, Cason said.

“I don’t call him Alarcon. I call him `Alacran.’ Scorpion. I wonder why the Cubans don’t like me,” he said.

He paused for a moment, sipping a rum-laced mojito, Cuba’s national drink. Cuba’s government, he said, is a crumbling, bankrupt regime. No one knows when it will fall, but it’s going to be sometime soon and it is inevitable, he said.

“We know there’s going to be a transition and we know it’s not going to be much longer.”

But Cubans “are going to have a brilliant future,” because they are educated, creative and hard-working, he said.

Still, ridding the country of socialism is going to be painful and difficult, he said.

Key to the country’s future is President Fidel Castro, who shattered his knee and broke his arm when he fell in October. Little will change in Cuba while the 78-year-old leader is alive, the American diplomat contends.

“This is a one-man show. This is Fidel. Anybody who thinks he’s going to be a democrat is nuts. This guy’s not going to change.”

But after Castro fades from the scene, Cuban leaders who care nothing about socialism are going to emerge, Cason said.

“There are reformists out there. And when the opportunity comes, they’ll flip-flop and say, `I’ve been a democrat for all my life.’”

Expected to succeed Castro is his brother, Raul Castro, chief of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces. Many Cuba watchers see him as less radical than Fidel Castro and open to economic reforms.

But if the 73-year-old Raul dies first, that could lessen the chances of a smooth, peaceful transition to democracy, Cason said.

Bush administration officials have said that if asked, they will give massive economic and material aid to a future democratic government in Cuba.

Officials in Cuba aren’t convinced. They say they don’t trust Americans and believe the United States would invade the country if given the chance.

This month, Cuban officials are holding military exercises aimed at showing the United States that their guerrilla war strategy will defeat any invader.

“The Americans should watch closely so that they do not commit the same mistakes they made in Vietnam and are now making in Iraq,” Raul Castro told reporters this month.

Cason said Cubans don’t have to worry.

“We have no plans to invade. Our policy is clear and transparent. We want a rapid and peaceful transition.”

He said Cuban officials warn of an imminent American attack to distract Cubans from the country’s dismal economy.

The country has struggled since the former Soviet Union cut off $5.8 billion in annual cash and subsidies to Cuba more than a decade ago.

Short on cash, Castro banned the circulation of dollars in November and asked that Cubans exchange their greenbacks for Cuban pesos.

Cason estimates that ordinary Cubans had as much as $2 billion “stashed under the mattress” and that the new measures took $400 million to $700 million out of circulation.

Those who didn’t exchange their money have no confidence in the Cuban peso, however, and believe it will be worthless in the post-Castro era, Cason said.

“The only way it’ll be a hard currency is if it gets a huge dose of Viagra,” he said. Cuban officials have “no silver bullets out there to get their economy going.”

Castro loyalists call those words offensive and insulting.

Cason “is the personification of Bush in Cuba. Cason is - pardon the word - a beast. A tank of war. He’s not a diplomat,” said Lisandro Otero, a Cuban writer and intellectual who won the country’s national literature prize in 2002.

Member Comments

On December 17, 2004, publisher wrote:

Did Mr. Cason provide the “4000 Cubans per month” figure? That’ 133 Cubans a day coming in for internet access and booklets?

We have said before that anything James Cason says is either political propaganda or just plain stupid.

Read his comments again and ask yourself if he sounds like a diplomat. He is not a diplomat. No true diplomat would even take the job in Havana because the Bush Administration wouldn’t allow honest diplomatic relations. So, what kind of person would take the “diplomat” job in Havana?

Read his official biography here and make your own decision about the qualtity of his experience.

With all due respect Mr. Cason, and we do appreciate your service to the United States:

A diplomat is a creator of unions and understanding.

You are a destroyer of unions and you should be briefing President Bush on how best to deal with Cuba.

On December 17, 2004, I-taoist wrote:

Mr. Cason’ words appear to be the exact thing a dictator needs; belligerent and bellicose opposition.  With such inflammatory words Mr. Cason strengthens the hold of Castro and his henchmen by providing them the militant opposition they need in order to maintain power.  It is a great irony.

Unfortunately, such rhetoric has come to mark the Bush administration’ approach to the Cuban dilemma, probably ensuring the survival of the Castro regime until its last desperate heartbeat.  What shame for average Cubanos who only want a little more food on the table and a decent civil society with the opportunity of free enterprise. 

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On December 18, 2004, Jesus wrote:

Mr. Cason is the latest addition to the long list of “enlighten diplomats” the U.S. has inflicted upon Cuba for a century.

On December 20, 2004, Dana Garrett wrote:

>>But Cubans “are going to have a brilliant future,” because they are educated, creative and hard-working, [Cason] said.<<

This is precisely why the USA’ corporate elites would like to have a USA puppet government in Cuba.  That way they could have a pool of highly educated workers that they could exploit and a government that doesn’t spend its resources on free health care and low cost housing. 

On December 22, 2004, waldo wrote:

Mr. Carson should stop listenning to the bad advice and childish ideas from Miami. He is a top diplomat, not a provocator and offender. Perhaps Mr. Carson should resign and go home.