Jim Cason’s Work in Cuba

The Miami Herald: Joe Cardona on the work of Jim Cason in Cuba.

Jim Cason’s work in Cuba offered ‘refreshing approach’

I have always been amazed at the lengths some U.S. elected officials and diplomats (present administration included) will go to justify the totalitarian regime in Havana.

The left-leaning intelligentsia (though it is difficult to determine right from left anymore, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs) holds onto the notion that the U.S. economic embargo has been a complete failure. This claim has become gospel for policy wonks at American think tanks. If the ultimate barometer of U.S. policy towards Cuba over the last half century has been how effective American initiatives have been in helping the Cuban people attain democracy, then one must recognize that the “softer” method — reflected through talks (dialogue) and cultural exchange has also been an abject failure.

This week I shared some thoughts on Cuba with Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason, the former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. I find his views on U.S.-Cuba relations refreshing. He speaks with a great deal of common sense. His convictions have been shaped by four decades of foreign service in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is precisely his experience in dealing with Latin American regimes both on the right and left that prevents him from tainting his views with the unfortunate, self-loathing American complex that plagues many U.S. diplomats in our hemisphere.

“The difference between Cuba and the other dictatorial regimes that I experienced in Latin America is that Cuba’s government is totalitarian,” said Cason, who arrived in Havana as chief of the U.S. Mission, in the fall of 2002. Upon his arrival, the Cubans were in no hurry to meet with the Bush administration’s appointee, so Cason took the opportunity to get to know the people of Cuba, particularly the dissidents and human rights activists who at that time were growing in number.

“These people were nothing like the ‘elitist, mercenaries’ the Cuban government had made them out to be,” Cason told me. “They were humble people. Many of them were living in dire economic conditions and yet no one asked for money. They sought moral support and supplies but no one asked for money.”

Those very same “humble people” comprised the majority of the 75 dissenters arrested by the regime in the spring of 2003 — now known as Cuba’s Black Spring. Fortunately for the opposition leaders imprisoned under bogus charges, Cason did not stand pat. “I needed to do something to prompt the attention of the international press,” he said. And sure enough, Jim Cason’s response to the unjust imprisonments was unorthodox, thought provoking, and courageous.

He proceeded to go on a publicity blitz like no foreign diplomat had dared to do in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. The campaign included putting up a scrolling electronic billboard outside the Interests Section with messages that challenged the government’s unlawful detentions. As you can imagine, Castro was fit to be tied. The Cubans retaliated by putting up a wall of flagpoles to cover Cason’s billboard.

They also made Cason the butt of all jokes, including an animated cartoon series featuring “ el Cabo Cason” (Corporal Cason) portraying the American diplomat as an evil wizard that eventually morphs into a rat. “I was honored and thought it was hysterical,” Cason said. “I really knew then that I was getting to them.”

“Getting to them” he did. Cason’s dogged insistence on speaking out for the jailed 75 drew attention to their cause. All of the 75 have now been released due to pressure from the international community, especially after last year’s death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in prison.

“I didn’t go to Cuba to make friends.  I went there to stand up for what is right and to defend those people against the totalitarian regime,” Cason pointed out.

Jim Cason chose to support vulnerable victims rather than to gain favor with a dictatorial regime — an approach that won him no friends among U.S. intellectuals but gave comfort to Cuban dissidents who risked their lives.

1 thought on “Jim Cason’s Work in Cuba”

  1. When the enemy seeks you out to attack, ridicule and defame…you know …you are doing a good job.
    Thank you Mr. Carson!

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