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United States Interests Section in Havana

United States Interests Section in Havana

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The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is located on of land and water at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba which the United States leased for use as a coaling station following the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. The base is located on the shore of Guantánamo Bay at the southeastern end of Cuba. It is the oldest overseas...

 is inaccessible from within Cuba. Consular issues regarding the naval base are handled by the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica.

Location


The USINT is located on the Malecón
Malecón, Havana
The Malecón is a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for 8 km along the coast in Havana, Cuba, from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana to Vedado.Construction of the Malecón began in 1901, during temporary U.S. military rule...

 in the district of Vedado
Vedado
Vedado is the downtown and a vibrant neighboorhood in the city of Havana, Cuba. Bordered on the east by Central Havana, and on the west by the Miramar/Playa district. The main street running east to west is Calle 23, also known as 'La Rampa'...

, Plaza de la Revolución
Plaza de la Revolucion
Plaza de la Revolución is a municipality and a square in Havana, Cuba.The municipality stretches from the square down to the sea at the Malecón and includes the Vedado district.- Square :...

, Havana.

History



The US broke diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961, ostensibly due to a disagreement about staffing levels at the respective Embassies. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army...

 stated at the time, "There is a limit to what the United States in self-respect can endure. That limit has now been reached". Protective powers were appointed to represent each country in the capital of the other. The US was represented by the Swiss in Havana and the Cubans in Washington by Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

. These offices, sections of the respective embassies, were staffed by Swiss and Czechoslovak diplomats.

US and Cuban Interests Sections staffed by actual US and Cuban diplomats were mutually agreed upon in 1977 after the Carter Administration took office and decided to seek normalization of relations with Cuba. US officials replaced the Swiss in the US Interests Section in Havana on September 1, 1977. Both under the Swiss and now with US staff, the Section has occupied the former United States Embassy building on Havana's Malecon which was designed by Harrison & Abramovitz
Harrison & Abramovitz
Harrison & Abramovitz was an American architectural firm based in New York and active from 1941 through 1976, a partnership of Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz....

 architects and originally entered into service in 1953. When relations were broken in 1961, the building was occupied, and its contents safeguarded, by the Swiss Embassy personnel who handled US Interests in Cuba on behalf of the US Government as the protecting power
Protecting power
A protecting power is a state which somehow protects another state, and/or represents the interests of the protected state's citizens in a third state....

 until the arrival of the US staff in 1977.

The Swiss staff included some of the Foreign Service National employees who were working at the US Embassy when relations were broken. Sixteen years later when the US Government resumed its presence, many of them remained and resumed their direct employment. Most of the local hires employed by the Swiss also continued their employment. New hires were obtained through CUBALSE, the Cuban Government enterprise that serviced diplomatic missions.

The initial American staffing of the Section consisted of ten State Department Officials and a plain clothes US Marine guard detachment. By mutual agreement, the Cubans had an equal number of staff in Washington. Lyle Franklin Lane
Lyle Franklin Lane
Lyle Franklin Lane is a United States Diplomat. He served as the first Chief of Mission of the United States Interests Section in Havana, heading the return of U.S. diplomats to Cuba in 1977. He also served as U.S...

 was the first Chief of the Interests Section in Havana. When they re-entered the building, they found items dating from the 1950s, including Eisenhower's photograph. Wayne Smith
Wayne Smith (diplomat)
Wayne S. Smith is a former US diplomat, and currently an academic and author.-Government service:In 1949, Smith joined the United States Marine Corps, and served until 1953, including combat in the 1950-1953 Korean War. In 1957, he joined the US State Department, and served in the Soviet Union,...

, who had closed the Embassy in 1961 as a young officer, replaced Lane in September 1979 when the entire US staff turned over after an initial two year tour of duty. The former ambassadorial residence in Cubanacan is the official residence of the Section Chief.

Early years


After the initial bloom, bilateral relations deteriorated almost immediately as the extent of Cuban military involvement in Angola became clear to Washington. The first two years were a period of rebuilding contacts, dealing with the contents and condition of the building and the residence, repatriating dual national Americans and their families stranded in Cuba, securing the release of American prisoners held on political charges (including Lawrence K. Lunt, a suspected CIA agent), servicing a large and growing prisoner population of American common criminals including marijuana smugglers and hijackers, repatriating fugitive Americans who had hijacked US planes to Cuba and wanted to go home to face justice, and processing thousands of Cuban political prisoners released and allowed to leave Cuba if they could find a country that would take them.

In 1978 several fugitive U.S. Citizen hijackers were voluntarily repatriated to face justice in the US. The first attempt to send them out through Canada failed when the flight attendants on a regular Air Canada
Air Canada
Air Canada is the flag carrier and largest airline of Canada. The airline, founded in 1936, provides scheduled and charter air transport for passengers and cargo to 178 destinations worldwide. It is the world's tenth largest passenger airline by number of destinations, and the airline is a...

 flight refused to fly with them even with a contingent of Mounted Police providing security. Alternate arrangements were soon made to fly them out on Cubana via Jamaica. The Cubans agreed to allow them to leave only if voluntary and without restraints. Once in Jamaica they were transferred to an FBI charter and moved to the U.S.

During the first two years of resumed US presence, only one US passenger aircraft was hijacked to Cuba from the US. President Castro went personally to the airport to manage the June 12, 1979 hijacking incident involving Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines, Inc. is a major airline based in the United States and headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. The airline operates an extensive domestic and international network serving all continents except Antarctica. Delta and its subsidiaries operate over 4,000 flights every day...

 flight 1061, a DC-10 piloted by Captain Vince Doda. It had been hijacked by Eduardo Guerra Jimenez, a former Cuban air force pilot who had hijacked a MiG
Mig
-Industry:*MiG, now Mikoyan, a Russian aircraft corporation, formerly the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau*Metal inert gas welding or MIG welding, a type of welding using an electric arc and a shielding gas-Business and finance:...

 jet to the United States 10 years earlier. Castro personally met with and briefed the U.S. Consular Officer, Tom Holladay, who had been sent to the scene. Through Holladay, Castro assured the US Government that Cuba would adhere to the terms of the bilateral anti-hijacking agreement even though it was in suspension due to disagreements over US handling of Cuban boatjackers. When asked, Castro also authorized the passengers to purchase items from airport shops with hard currency. The aircraft and passengers returned to the US without delay or incident. Because it could not accept the Captain's Company credit cards, Cuba extended Delta credit for the refueling with Holladay's assurance that Delta was good for its money and the Interests Section would facilitate the payment from Delta via the Department of State OCS Trust mechanism. Delta transferred the funds immediately.

The Consular staff, inexperienced, and including very green locally hired staff and temporary duty personnel, including INS officers and local employees from the Embassy in Mexico, was overwhelmed by the initial heavy workload and the inadequate conditions but managed to keep the work flowing. The Immigrant visa workload was very heavy but not very productive. Thousands of approved immigrant petitions flowed in but few beneficiaries had permission to depart the country and those that did had no petitions.

In the aftermath of the "dialogo" between a group of prominent Miami Cubans, led by Bernardo Benes
Bernardo Benes
Dr. Bernardo Benes Baikowitz is a prominent Jewish Cuban lawyer, banker, journalist and civic leader, who was responsible for freeing 3,600 Cuban political prisoners in 1978....

, and the Cuban government, secret bilateral talks were held in Mexico City in which Cuba agreed to release 2500 political prisoners at the rate of 500 per month and the US agreed to take them. The Cubans released the first tranche and an initial high profile group, including Polita Grau
Polita Grau
Polita Grau was a first lady of Cuba, a Cuban political prisoner, and the "godmother" of Operation Peter Pan, a program to help children leave Cuba....

 and Tony Cuesta
Tony Cuesta
-Life:Cuesta was educated at the University of Havana. Initially a member of the 26th of July Movement and a close supporter of Fidel Castro, Cuesta in 1960 defected to the United States, and in 1961 was one of the founders of the anti-Communist paramilitary organization Alpha 66...

 was moved to the US expeditiously. However, due to bureaucratic hangups about parole quotas, INS scheduling, and name checks it was soon apparent that the US could not process the prisoners fast enough to maintain the release schedule. The Cubans continued to release the prisoners as scheduled but the processing did not keep up mainly due to name check delays. By late August, the US was hopelessly behind in processing the released prisoners, some of whom had married after release. As the non-aligned meeting approached the Cubans threatened to set up a camp for the unprocessed prisoners in front of the Interest Section and drive the delegates to the international meeting past to show them how the US lives up to its commitments. Even this threat failed to accelerate the process although the Interests Section staff did all it could. Washington hang ups were slow to resolve but the Cubans did not set up the threatened camp.

Role during the Mariel Boatlift



In early 1979, as more and more Cubans were authorized to leave the country, and could not find countries, including the United States, that would admit them, the internal situation became increasingly unstable, eventually leading to the Mariel Boatlift
Mariel boatlift
The Mariel boatlift was a mass emigration of Cubans who departed from Cuba's Mariel Harbor for the United States between April 15 and October 31, 1980....

 in April 1980. The US government had led the Cuban government to believe that it would take most of the former political prisoners and their families it authorized to depart. However, it was not possible to fulfill this commitment. A large band of ex political prisoners with permission to leave and no place to go made daily rounds of the Embassies of Venezuela and Spain, as well as the US Interests Section, in search of visas. The Cuban government told the Interests Section it suspected that the US was attempting to destabilize the internal order of the country by using these desperate dissidents to fuel further popular discontent and warned that if immediate action to document these Cubans for emigration was not forthcoming, they would take matters into their own hands. They had done so before during the Johnson Administration when they opened the port of Camarioca to vessels from Miami picking up the relatives who wanted to leave. In that case the crisis was disarmed with the establishment of a formal orderly program to screen applicants and airlift the emigrants to the US. This program was terminated by the Nixon Administration leaving several thousand applicants unattended.

Although the Mariel boatlift was partially a Cuban response to Western failure to take the dissident unadapted prisoners and ex prisoners out of Cuba, it was sparked by the removal of the Cuban security guards from the Embassy of Peru compound resulting in its being overrun by thousands of Cuban asylum seekers. Leaving the country was again in vogue as the US-Cuban relationship improved. Cuban members of divided families were encouraged to seek exit permission. For those for whom legal channels were not available, since early 1979, increasing numbers of Cubans had tried to gain access to Foreign Embassies in Havana to gain asylum and safe passage abroad. Large groups entered diplomatic compounds by jumping from adjacent buildings and by ramming gates and perimeter fences with buses and trucks. In such an attempt at the Embassy of Peru, a Cuban guard was killed by friendly fire. Cuba precipitously removed the perimeter guards and over ten thousand Cuban asylum seekers flooded the compound. Eventually 125,000 Cubans left the island in the ensuing months, mostly to the United States. Also during the Mariel period a group of Cuban civilians waiting in front of the Interests Section was attacked by government employees and sought refuge inside the building. A junior Consular Officer, Susan Johnson Lamanna, was accused of inciting the crowd and was expelled from Cuba as persona non grata
Persona non grata
Persona non grata , literally meaning "an unwelcome person", is a legal term used in diplomacy that indicates a proscription against a person entering the country...

. The Cubans had been secretly filming Consular crowd dispersal activities at the front entrance and used the film as evidence of incitement.

A renovation of the building was undertaken and finally completed in 1997, 20 years after the US Interests Section staff took occupancy.

Relations with the Cuban government and support for dissidents


Some observers trace a deterioration in relations with the Cuban government to the arrival of James Cason
James Cason
James Cason is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer, most recently serving as Ambassador to Paraguay, a post he held from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that post, he was the Principal Officer of the US Interests Section in Havana...

 as head of mission. Cason stepped up US support for opponents to the Castro government, and regularly met dissidents and anti-Castro journalists.

In March 2003, approximately 75 dissidents were jailed by the Cuban authorities for allegedly receiving unlawful payments from the Interests Section. Some of these were participants in the Varela Project
Varela Project
The Varela Project is a project that was started in 1998 by Oswaldo Payá of the Christian Liberation Movement and named after Felix Varela, a Cuban religious leader...

, though the leader of that project, Oswaldo Payá
Oswaldo Payá
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas is a political activist in Cuba and is considered that country's most prominent political dissident. He received the Sakharov Prize in 2002...

, was careful to stress his distance from the Americans.

Propaganda battles




USINT has long been a focus for propaganda between Cuba and the US. In the late 1990s, this was little more than a billboard facing USINT with a cartoon revolutionary shouting to Uncle Sam "Señores Imperialistas ¡No les tenemos absolutamente ningún miedo!" - "Mr. Imperialists, We have absolutely no fear of you!" In 2005 that billboard was repositioned to a nearby site - now facing across the sea to Florida.

During the Elián González
Elián González
The custody and immigration status of a young Cuban boy, Elián González , was at the center of a heated 2000 controversy involving the governments of Cuba and the United States, González's father, Juan Miguel González Quintana, González's other relatives in Miami, Florida, and in Cuba, and Miami's...

 case, the area to the east of USINT (previously a grassed area containing the above-mentioned billboard) was paved and a stage was built. It is known as the José Martí Anti-Imperialist Plaza
José Martí Anti-Imperialist Plaza
The José Martí Anti-Imperialist Plaza opened across the street from the United States Interests Section in Havana in April 2000. It lies between the waterfront Malecón, Calzada Avenue and N and M streets on the coast of Havana. The first demonstration there was an anti-American protest over the...

 in Cuba. Whilst originally used for rallies and protest meeting (particularly those protesting against actions by the US government), this stage has also been used for concerts, such as Audioslave
Audioslave
Audioslave was an American rock supergroup that formed in Los Angeles, California in 2001. It consisted of former Soundgarden lead singer/rhythm guitarist Chris Cornell and the former instrumentalists of Rage Against the Machine: Tom Morello , Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk...

's concert released on their album Live in Cuba
Live in Cuba
Live in Cuba is the first live DVD of the American rock supergroup Audioslave, containing footage of the free concert that the band performed in Cuba in front of over 70,000 people. The concert itself is considered to be an historical event, as it marks the first time in Cuban history that an...

.

The grounds of the USINT annually feature a Christmas display - including a Santa Claus, a Frosty the snowman and a sleigh. In 2004, the display also included a large number "75". This was in reference to the jailed dissidents (see above). The Cuban government, in response to Section Chief James Cason
James Cason
James Cason is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer, most recently serving as Ambassador to Paraguay, a post he held from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that post, he was the Principal Officer of the US Interests Section in Havana...

's refusal to remove the sign, placed several large billboards facing the building, carrying images of the abuse in Abu Ghraib
Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse
Beginning in 2004, human rights violations in the form of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, including torture, rape, sodomy, and homicide of prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to public attention...

 and references to Nazis.

In January 2006, USINT began displaying messages on a scrolling "electronic billboard" in the windows of their top floor. Messages include the George Burns
George Burns
George Burns , born Nathan Birnbaum, was an American comedian, actor, and writer.He was one of the few entertainers whose career successfully spanned vaudeville, film, radio, television and movies, with and without his wife, Gracie Allen. His arched eyebrow and cigar smoke punctuation became...

 quotation, "How sad that all the people who would know how to run this country are driving taxis or cutting hair." Following a protest march, the Cuban government erected a large number of poles, carrying black flags with single white stars, obscuring the messages. In June 2006, Granma
Granma (newspaper)
Granma is the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.Its name comes from the yacht Granma that carried Fidel Castro and 81 other rebels to Cuba's shores in 1956 launching the Cuban Revolution.-Editions:...

 International referred to the billboard as the systematic launching of the crudest insults of our people via the electronic billboard, which, in violation of the most elemental regulations of international law, they think they can maintain with impunity on the facade of that imperial lair.

Also during 2006, the Cuban billboards began carrying images of President Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 and Luis Posada Carriles
Luis Posada Carriles
Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles is a Cuban-born Venezuelan anti-communist and former Central Intelligence Agency agent....

 as vampires and axe-murderers.

In June 2009, the electronic billboard was turned off, because, according to the United States Department of State
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...

, the billboard was not effective in delivering information to the Cuban people.
Subsequently, the billboards - including the famous "Señores Imperialistas" sign - are gone as of June 2009.

Chiefs of the U.S. Interests Section

  • 1977–1979 Lyle Franklin Lane
    Lyle Franklin Lane
    Lyle Franklin Lane is a United States Diplomat. He served as the first Chief of Mission of the United States Interests Section in Havana, heading the return of U.S. diplomats to Cuba in 1977. He also served as U.S...

  • 1979–1982 Wayne S. Smith
  • 1982–1985 John Ferch
  • 1985–1987 Curtis W. Kamman
  • 1987–1990 John J. Taylor
    John J. Taylor
    John James Taylor was a U.S. Representative from New York.-Education:Born in Leominster, Massachusetts, Taylor attended the common schools, New Ipswich Academy, and Groton Academy....

  • 1990–1993 Alan H. Flanigan
  • 1993–1996 Joseph Sullivan
    Joseph Sullivan
    Joseph Sullivan may refer to:* Joseph Sullivan , Scottish Member of Parliament for North Lanarkshire and Bothwell* Joseph A...

  • 1996–1999 Michael Kozak
  • 1999–2002 Vicki Huddleston
    Vicki Huddleston
    Vicki J. Huddleston is a U.S. diplomat.Since June 2009, Ambassador Huddleston has been the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. She is a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa; U.S. Ambassador to Madagascar...

  • 2002–2005 James Cason
    James Cason
    James Cason is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer, most recently serving as Ambassador to Paraguay, a post he held from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that post, he was the Principal Officer of the US Interests Section in Havana...

  • 2005–2008 Michael E. Parmly
    Michael E. Parmly
    Michael E. Parmly is the former Chief of Mission of the United States Interests Section in Havana, or USINT, a post he held from September 10, 2005 to July 2008. He succeeded James Cason at this post and is predecessor to Jonathan D. Farrar.-Personal life:...

  • 2008–2011 Jonathan D. Farrar
    Jonathan D. Farrar
    Jonathan D. Farrar is the current Chief of Mission of the United States Interests Section in Havana, Cuba . He has held this post since July 2008, and succeeded Michael E. Parmly as the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Havana....

  • 2011–Present John Caulfield

See also


  • Cuba – United States relations
  • Varela Project
    Varela Project
    The Varela Project is a project that was started in 1998 by Oswaldo Payá of the Christian Liberation Movement and named after Felix Varela, a Cuban religious leader...

  • James Cason
    James Cason
    James Cason is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer, most recently serving as Ambassador to Paraguay, a post he held from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that post, he was the Principal Officer of the US Interests Section in Havana...

  • American diplomatic missions
    American diplomatic missions
    This is a list of diplomatic missions of the United States.-History:Morocco, in December 1777, became the first nation to recognize the United States and together they maintain the United States' longest unbroken treaty.Benjamin Franklin established the first overseas mission of the United States...


External links