- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

‘Viva Cuba libre’

James C. Cason spent the past three years working to undermine Fidel Castro’s dictatorship and preparing for a transition to a free Cuba.

The communist regime spent the same amount of time trying to discredit him.

Its biggest attempt to smear the former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana backfired. The government produced a TV cartoon character named “Transition Man” to mock Mr. Cason’s efforts to promote democracy. The character wore a pink gown, waved a magic wand and flew around Cuba “trying to roll back the revolution’s so-called ‘accomplishments,’” Mr. Cason said in a recent speech.

“However, dictatorships are not good at humor. Moreover, the cartoons inadvertently reminded all Cubans that a transition is inevitable, exposed the regime’s scare tactics and converted me into an icon of dissent,” Mr. Cason told an audience earlier this month at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

Mr. Cason said his mission as the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba was to “help the Cuban people understand that their nightmare is ending.” Mr. Castro has been in power since 1959.

“Castro’s rickety system cannot last much longer. Everyone on the island knows it does not work. Change is inevitable,” Mr. Cason said. “I’m confident that the Cuban people will not be satisfied with a partial economic opening but will demand that Cuba undergo a thorough democratic transition.”

Mr. Cason, a career diplomat, said he set out to undermine the Castro regime by focusing on three goals: breaking the regime’s “information blockade,” highlighting the failure of government programs and promoting the pro-democracy movement.

His staff distributed 540,000 pieces of “uncensored informational materials” such as academic studies, independent newsmagazines, literature and opinion pieces. He demonstrated solidarity with political dissidents by inviting them to diplomatic receptions where they met foreign reporters and other ambassadors.

Mr. Cason famously demonstrated his support of political prisoners during the Christmas season last year with a display of holiday lights in the form of No. 75 to remind Cubans of the 75 pro-democracy advocates imprisoned at the time. In Fourth of July celebrations this year, he erected a three-story-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty with No. 75 in place of the torch.

Mr. Cason promised he would return to Cuba to help celebrate democratic elections after the end of the Castro regime.

“See you there,” he said. “Viva Cuba libre.”

Committed to Israel

Ambassador Richard Jones pledged “unwavering” U.S. support to Israel when he presented his diplomatic credentials yesterday as envoy to the Jewish state.

“Israel is a staunch ally and reliable friend in the global war on terror,” he told President Moshe Katsav.

“We look forward to continued cooperation with our friends in Israel in this difficult endeavor.”

Mr. Jones added, “Our commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering.”

Over the weekend, the ambassador expressed U.S. support of Israel’s military response to Hamas rocket attacks in the Gaza Strip, where Israel recently withdrew its forces.

“I think we have reached a good understanding of the situation,” he told reporters.

“We all know that the terrorists are trying to provoke Israel at a very sensitive time, and we understand exactly what the government’s position is.”

Mr. Jones, a career diplomat who has specialized in Arabic issues, has faced questions about his acknowledged lack of knowledge of Israel and inability to speak Hebrew.

“I am not familiar with Israel, but I plan to study the country as soon as possible,” he told reporters last week after arriving in Tel Aviv.

Mr. Jones, fluent in Arabic, French, German and Russian, promised to learn Hebrew.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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