Wednesday, June 29, 2011

US Interests Section

On Friday June 10th, we visited the US Interests Section in Havana. Unfortunately, our meeting there was officially an informal ‘information session’ and we’re prohibited from publishing anything we discussed. Oddly, for a country as censorship-happy as Cuba, none of our other meetings that week came with the same disclaimer. Instead of leaving the rest of this post blank, here’s some background on the US Interests Section in Havana.
Because the US government has no diplomatic relations with Cuba, neither country has official representation in the other. Instead, the United States has a pseudo-embassy in the form of an ‘interests section’ hosted by the Swiss embassy in Havana. The US Interests Section is held in a nondescript building on the Malecon, with the view from one side practically hidden by empty flagpoles. The empty flagpoles could be a metaphor for US-Cuban relations, if you’re into that kind of thing. One side makes a moderately aggressive PR move that condemns the ideology of the other, and the other side makes its own PR overture, then nothing is resolved and the situation stays essentially the same. For example, in January 2006, the Interests Section set up an electronic billboard on the top floors of the building to project scrolling anti-revolutionary messages to the Cuban people. In response, the Castro government erected over a hundred flagpoles with black flags on top to block the message from public viewing. In 2009, the Interests Section removed the billboard, claiming that it was not an effective use of money.

The problem with breaking off diplomatic relations is that it eliminates the possibility of future communication should the need arise, as well as diminishing the leverage both sides hold on each other. The US prefaces most of its demands on Cuba with the promise of easing the embargo upon successful completion of the task, even though previous overtures by Cuban governments have resulted in little economic or political opening. The US continues to trade with China and Vietnam, which have similar human/civil rights issues as Cuba, and the explanation for why this is not hypocritical was interesting but unfortunately we are not at liberty to discuss it.

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