- - Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Barack Obama’s romance with the Castro brothers is rapidly turning into a sour shack-up. That’s what happens sometimes to romances under a tropic moon and the rustle of the coconut palms. Cuba wants to redefine the sanctity of embassies, and how they function. The public still doesn’t know what concessions the president is making to keep a flame under the romance, but it doesn’t sound good for our side.

The State Department has asked for another $6 million to expand the “American interests section,” in all but diplomatic protocol the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. Legally and officially, the American Interests Section is part of the Swiss Embassy, but it’s staffed by American diplomats and housed in the old American Embassy in a large building facing the Jose Marti Anti-Imperialist Plaza, which was cobbled together to “embarrass” the Americans.

John D. Feeley, a diplomat with the usual mouthful of title, “the principal deputy assistant secretary of state” in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, asked in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the money. Unless he told the senators more in private than he did in the public forum, it’s not clear what the money will be used for.

However, Mr. Feeley said some startling things about the big romance. American negotiators are still arguing about whether the security officers at the embassy are to be those of the Cuban secret police, and whether the U.S. can take its own electronic security equipment to expand the mission.

Whether American criminals who have taken refugee in Havana would be returned has not been determined, either. Within 48 hours of the announcement by the Obama administration that it would restore full relations with Havana, several Cuban dissidents were arrested, and are likely to remained imprisoned for an unknown period of time. The question of what the United States will get from reopened relations is not clear. What is clear is that the Cubans get a new center for Cuban infiltration, subversion and espionage in Washington.

Cubans miss the electronic billboard war that briefly shattered the gloom that inevitably envelops a Marxist capital. The Cuban government put up a billboard to face the American Special Interests Section with the cartoon figure of a revolutionary shouting, in Spanish, to Uncle Sam (though it is not clear the old fellow speaks anything but English): “Mr. Imperialist, we have absolutely no fear of you!” Several years later the Special Interests Section installed an electronic billboard to flash its messages, including a famous remark by the comedian George Burns: “How sad that all the people who would know how to run this country are driving taxis and cutting hair.” The Cuban government then put up poles to fly black flags to obscure the public view of the electronic billboard.

Cuban billboards once portrayed President George W. Bush as a vampire and ax murderer. The likeness was not necessarily persuasive. The American electronic billboard subsequently went dark.

The State Department’s record of managing real estate is not good. The new Russian embassy in Washington was built on Mount Alto on Wisconsin Avenue with an unobstructed electronic sight line to Foggy Bottom and beyond the Potomac River to the Pentagon. In exchange, the State Department deftly negotiated a site for a new American embassy in a swamp in Moscow.

“There is a limit to what the United States in self-respect can endure,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower said on the break in diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961. “That limit has now been reached.” Yes, Virginia, that’s how American presidents used to talk.

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