After Fidel Castro: U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Cuba
Ambassador Vicki Huddleston
Hosted by International Relations Institute
New Mexico State University
April 17, 2008
Thank you all. It’s very nice to be here. The one thing that you should know is that I am a
resident of Santa Fe, so I’m a fellow New Mexican. I’ve spent a good deal of time now in
Washington with this Cuba project [as a Fellow with the Brookings Institute] that I’m working
on, but in fact I consider Santa Fe home.
What I want to talk to you about today is United States policy toward Cuba; however, I
understand that Governor Richardson has kind of upstaged me. I hear he was here the other day
and said to get rid of the embargo and normalize relations. Well that’s not a bad idea. I said to
my husband, Bob, I don’t think he said that when he was running for President.
Anyway I’m glad he said it and I’m going to address that issue in some depth this afternoon.
When I was in Havana, Cuba from 1999 to 2002, United States policy was a bit different. Some
of you who are in this crowd came down to Havana at that time. One day during that time I was
driving this nice black Crown Victoria - the official car - down the main avenue called Quinta
Avenida (Fifth Avenue), and I saw all these Cuban kids standing there looking for a ride. So I
stopped and they jumped in the car. They were delighted as you can imagine. In Havana it’s
mainly old American-made clunkers or little Soviet-made Ladas. Imagine their surprise when I
stopped this great big beautiful car and said, “Hop in.”
When the kids got in they said, “Wow, where did you get this car?”
And I said, “Oh, this belongs to the United States Government.”
“Who are you?” they demanded.
And I said, “I’m the head of the United States Interest Section. That’s what we call our
diplomatic mission to Cuba.”
Then this girl in the back seat leaned over and said, “Be our mother, take us to Miami.”
It was funny and it was sad, because these are really sharp, delightful young kids and they’re not
thinking about a future in Havana. They’re thinking about a future in Miami. And one of the
reasons that they’re thinking about a future in Miami as opposed to Havana is United States
policy. The other reason is the policy of the Cuban Government that limits their opportunities.
I’m going to speak mainly about United States policy, and I think we can all agree that United
States policy has not changed Cuba. After 50 years of isolation we still have a Castro as head of
the Cuban government. Even in Miami where I was yesterday, I think you would find a good
number of people who do not support the embargo wholeheartedly. They say the embargo has
failed, but we aren’t going to give it up. Well, why has it failed?
The number one reason is because it is not an international policy. It is a domestic policy. When
Bill Clinton ran for election for his first term - when he was out of money and in trouble - he
went down to Miami and cut a deal with Jorge Mas Canosa, the head of the Cuban American
National Foundation. The next thing we saw was Bill Clinton in Miami’s “Little Havana” saying,
“Bring down the hammer on Fidel Castro.” Well, the next day - I was the Director of Cuban
Affairs with the State Department - I got a little note from George H. W. Bush saying, “What in
the hell is going on here?” And that meant we had to negotiate the Cuban Democracy Act – the
legislation that prevents United States companies from trading with Cuba – with the United
But it’s not the Democrats or the Republicans; it’s both. Do you recall the group that was very
unhappy about the hanging chads, those who were banging on the door to stop the counting of
the disputed ballots in Miami? They were Cuban Americans who were very unhappy about this
little shipwrecked boy, Elian Gonzalez, who had been found floating on an inner tube in the
Florida Straits. They were paying Al Gore back because, although he had not supported the
return of little Elian to Cuba he was, of course, the Vice President for Clinton, who did the right
thing in my view, and sent Elian back to his Father in Cuba. So Cuba policy is domestic policy.
Secondly, Cuba policy is based on regime collapse. It’s a 50-year-old policy from the days when
a dictator was thrown out by a coup d’etat and a new one came in. Batista was overthrown by
Fidel. The idea was that Cuban exiles would come to us and we would help them overthrow
Fidel Castro. They tried and that was the Bay of Pigs. You might say the infamous Bay of Pigs.
But they were unsuccessful. In 1962 this debacle was followed by the Missile Crisis, which is the
only time the United States came close to seeing the Cold War turn hot. The embargo continued
and it continues to this day.
A final reason the policy has failed is that it impoverishes the Cuban people. For the Cuban
people to have the courage to demand change - to stand up on their own - they have to feel
So what do we do to change policy? I would suggest that we need to base our policy on some
fundamental principles; the first principle would be United States national interests. I come from
the State Department, and that means that we would want stability in Cuba. We do not want to
see violence in Cuba. We want to ensure orderly migration.
The second principle might be economic opportunity for United States firms. Third would be
that Cuba policy needs to be based on our belief in democracy, human rights, and rule of law.
And the fourth, to me the most important, would be that United States policy will have to
empower the Cuban people so that they - not the United States, not Mexico, not Venezuela - can
decide what kind of government Cuba should have.
If you were thinking about advising the next American President, what would be the first thing
you would recommend that he do? I hear, “Stop the embargo.” Oh, but I didn’t tell you that
whatever you decide, it has to be done without changing any laws, because we have to assume
that Congress is not going to jump on board with this new policy. There is a strong
Congressional delegation from South Florida that isn’t going to like it. So what are we going to
do? Unfortunately, when the Cuban Government shot down two civilian airplanes, President Bill
Clinton signed in to law the Cuban Liberty Act. It is often called Helms-Burton. It codifies the
embargo making it impossible to lift the embargo until Cuba is on it’s way to a democracy, until
expropriated property claims are resolved, and both Fidel and Raul Castro are no longer in
So what can we do? We can do a lot if we have a President who is willing to change the policy.
What will the next President do? Before I give you my opinion, you should know that I’m an
advisor to Presidential candidate Barak Obama, so anything I say about Obama may reflect that
fact. Presidential candidate John McCain said no change, absolutely no change in United States
policy. It’s ironic because McCain was the Senator who opened up relations with Vietnam.
Senator Clinton said she would allow more Cuban American travel, but nothing more. Senator
Obama says the same as Senator Clinton, except that because he has a policy of being open to
conversations with any leader, he would also be open to conversations with the President of
Cuba. I commend him for that. But that is still a very, very long way from normal relations. So
I’m not sure how we’re going to get any of these candidates, one of whom is going to be
President, to change our Cuba policy.
I would advise the next President to take the following initiatives.
The first initiative would be to let our diplomats in Havana do their jobs. Our diplomats in
Havana can’t even travel around the country to find out what’s going on. When I was there we
traveled all over the country, and we knew what was going on. We have the largest diplomatic
mission in Cuba - bigger then the Russians and the Spanish. Yet we don’t have a military
attaché, despite the fact that the Cuban military is the backbone of the Cuban regime.
For years we held migration talks with the Cubans. Now we are not talking to them about
migration and this is a very serious fault, especially if not doing so leads to mass migration.
I would also take Cuba off the terrorist list. This is just a political issue. The last people that
were called terrorists - and some would say they’re not - were members of the Puerto Rican
independence movement. Cuba is not engaged in terrorist activity, but it is on the list.
Finally, I would do a very controversial thing. We may have to do it sooner rather then later. I
would end the wet foot/dry foot policy. The wet foot/dry foot policy allows any Cuban who
comes to the United States to stay, automatically. What is happening now is that over 30,000
Cubans entered the United States this year. About one-half arrive illegally without a United
States visa. A lot are coming through Mexico. They are using Mexican mafias along with Cuban
Americans to facilitate this trafficking. The Mexican Attorney General is very upset, because it is
To deal with this illegal immigration, we don’t have to change the Cuban Adjustment Act, which
is a United States law. We only have to change the policy so that Cubans who come to the
United States are treated the same as the Cubans who are picked up at sea. Those picked up at
sea are interviewed by United States immigration authorities on board the Coast Guard cutter
that picked them up. If it is determined that they are not in danger of persecution, they are
returned to Cuba. A change of policy would allow United States immigration authorities to
return to Cuba those Cubans who enter the United States illegally, if they are determined not to
be in danger of persecution.
If we begin returning Cubans to Cuba, we need to do some things that would make life better for
the Cuban people. The first thing would be to permit human contact. In Eastern Europe human
contact meant cultural exchanges and support for the dissidents. This led in many cases to
change. So in Cuba I would very much support open travel for Cuban Americans and people-to-
people or purposeful travel. These were programs that we permitted during the latter part of the
Clinton Administration, as well as during the first year and a half of the current President. This
was wonderful for Cubans. All sorts of American church groups traveled to Cuba. In Camaguey,
a Cuban city in the center of the island, there was a wonderful Afro-Cuban pastor. His church
received lots of money from the Baptists in southern United States. They also donated a state-of-
the-art sound system. As a result the youth had a band. The pastor also started a farm so his
church could provide meals for elderly and ill people. These activities improved the quality of
their lives and helped make them independent of the government. These activities built
democracy from the ground up. These visits from Americans, along with their generous
donations made a huge difference to many Cubans.
The second thing I would recommend is a communications package. This is hugely important
now. If you’ve been following Cuba closely you will have noticed that Raul Castro is
undertaking a number of reforms. This in itself is kind of ironic, because when I was in Miami I
was doing interviews and a number of people said they’re not reforms. But Cubans for the first
time can buy cell phones. They can buy any electronics including radios, televisions, and
computers. They can lease private property if they’re farming, and they have access to more
land. The government is turning over the leases on state apartments to private Cubans; they’re
allowing Cubans for the first time to go into the hotels. Psychologically, this is huge because
Cubans for the first time are being treated like citizens around the world. Treated like first class
citizens in their own country.
If we were able to donate communications equipment to Cubans, can you imagine how much
difference that would make to the young people? It would connect people throughout the islands.
Imagine people talking about how to form their businesses, or that they are unhappy because
they don’t have freedom of speech, or don’t have freedom of assembly. Communications via cell
phones and internet could make an enormous difference in bringing change to Cuba.
When I was in Cuba, my staff and I distributed little AM/FM/shortwave radios. Fidel Castro
hated these little radios. I would go around the country handing them out and so would my staff.
I have so many stories about these radios. One story I remember so well was picking up a
woman, a young woman probably in her thirties, along a dusty road. When she got into the car, I
handed her a radio, and tears began streaming down her face. She said, “Now I have a birthday
present for my son.”
I once gave them to a group of students. As you can imagine they were putting up the antennas,
playing around with the sound, saying, “How does it work? How do the batteries work?” They
were delighted that they had this opportunity to listen to anything they wanted. In Cuba there is
only one channel on television and radios have very little power. These radios that we were
handing out were different. Cubans had a choice of many frequencies. Fidel really disliked the
radios so he denounced the United States Interests Section - our diplomatic mission in Cuba -
and me. Fidel called for a “Tribuna Abierta,” an open court. I asked one of my staff, who was a
great big guy, to go with me to the gathering of about 20,000 people. At first we were part of the
crowd, and there were people all around us. Then we found that we were isolated as the plain
clothes men were keeping the crowd away from us. But the amazing thing was that Fidel did not
speak. He was there on the podium but he did not speak. I always wondered why he didn’t speak.
But then I figured it out. He was afraid that if he singled me out, the crowd would ask me for the
In fact, our duel over the radios came to a climax at the last Fourth of July celebration that I
hosted in Havana. Diplomats know about these festivities in which you invite everyone you can
think of - artists, musicians, government, diplomats, business men and, in the case of Cuba, the
human rights activists. They were all arriving, and I was shaking hands and greeting everybody.
This went on and on for about an hour. Then all of a sudden I saw a whole stream of people
beginning to leave. Why are they leaving so early? And each one was carrying a clear plastic bag
with an AM/FM/ shortwave radio tied with a little red and white ribbon. They came up to me and
said, “Ambassador, we’re really sorry but Fidel Castro is holding a Fourth of July at the Karl
Marx Theatre with the Buena Vista Social Club. We have to go.”
Well, this is one of the best things that has happened in Cuba, Fidel Castro celebrating the Fourth
of July! All this was just to give you an idea of how much communications, just a simple little
radio, meant to these people. Now that they can buy cell phones, computers, and radios, it would
be tremendous if we could seize this opportunity by selling or donating this equipment. It would
create the kind of change that is needed in Cuba; it would help push forward more rapidly Raul
The other initiative I recommend would be an opportunity package. As you probably know
Cuban Americans send money to Cuba. Just like Salvadorians and Honduranos, but in the case
of Cuba the remittances are very much limited to whom they can go to and how much. If we
could only send more money, Cubans could become independent of their government. If Cubans
could use these remittances to organize their own businesses, they would be able to say, “I don’t
care what the government tells me because I can stand up and say what I want. I’m not going to
lose my job. I have enough money so that I can buy food. I’m not dependent on the
Increasing remittances along with allowing United States vessels to go to Cuba without being
penalized is what I would do. Cubans then would have more food, medicine and communications
equipment. Yet, you’re going to say, “Oh, you can’t do that!” Right? I just told you there is a law
that codifies the embargo so these actions would violate the law. But it can be done. The
embargo is like your car. You have this nice car and you change the hubcaps, or add a GPS, or
you can change the upholstery, as long as it still runs and you can get a New Mexico license you
still have your car. Right?
The embargo is like that. Although it was codified, President Clinton changed it. He permitted
more travel so that there could be more contact with the Cuban people. Few complained, because
he did so using the President’s foreign policy authority, and Congress was willing to accept these
modifications. President Bush at first expanded travel to Cuba then decided against it. He had the
regulations rewritten, making them more conservative. He even took away the exception that
allowed travel to Cuba if no money was spent, if the traveler was fully hosted. The point is that
both Presidents used their licensing authority to modify the embargo. The President can use his
licensing authority to allow greater communication, more contact, and assistance for micro-
businesses. There are all sorts of opportunities to promote change in Cuba.
The Cuban Government has changed. Raul Castro, not Fidel Castro, is the head of the Cuban
government. The Politburo and the Council of State are pretty much the same. The founder of the
Communist Party is now the First Vice President of the Council of State. But Raul Castro has to
meet the needs of the people if he is to retain power. He can’t, as Fidel has done, refuse to allow
change in Cuba. There are just too many Cubans who want change. A recent Gallop Poll
indicated that over 70% wanted more freedom.
Cuban Americans also want change. According to a poll done in Miami Dade County by the
Florida International University, 51% would lift the travel ban, and over 60% would go back to
the policies of Clinton and the early Bush years, when there was more Cuban American travel
and more people-to-people travel. Seventy percent of Cuban Americans approve of donations
and sales of medicine and food.
Although we understand that the embargo has failed, we’re not sure what would replace it. Many
are afraid that if we begin removing sanctions, it will be seen as giving concessions to an
undemocratic government. Yet if we keep waiting, we’ll lose the chance to promote change in
Cuba has 4.6 billion barrels of unproven off-shore crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Experts
estimate that this oil if proven - and several major companies have already sunk wells - will
come on line within five years. At that point Cuba will become energy independent. It will be
able to sell its oil. Then the United States’ unilateral embargo won’t influence Cuba that much.
Cuban Americans who are the most likely people to go back to Cuba will have lost their chance
to trade and invest in Cuba. If we want to influence Cuba’s future, the time is now.
I always think back to my proudest moment in Cuba. It was at the University of Havana. In a
room about the size of this room, President Jimmy Carter gave a speech with Fidel right there in
the front of the room. Carter called for the embargo to be lifted. Everybody clapped. Fidel was
delighted. Then Carter called on Fidel to hold a referendum on the Cuban Constitution. Carter
was calling for support of “Project Varela.” This project was led by a group of very brave
dissidents who collected over 40,000 signatures throughout Cuba on a petition calling for a
referendum on the Cuban constitution. Fidel just sat there stony faced. He didn’t blink an eye,
nothing. When Carter ended his remarks Fidel gave him a big hug, and they walked outside
together. No sign of a disagreement. But Cubans all over the island had just heard from the
former President of the United States that they should have a right to vote on their government.
The reason this dissidents’ petition, known as Project Varela, had gotten so much support in
Cuba was because the United States had allowed travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans, by church
groups, sports groups, cultural groups, and many others. They traveled all over the island. There
was a lot more interaction between Americans and Cubans. Fidel was willing to risk greater
contact because he loved the attention. He loved having visits from Kevin Costner and Carol
King, who sang to him. Even David Rockefeller, our greatest capitalist, came down along with
Senators and Congressmen who wanted to sell food to Cuba. As a result, today we’re selling
over $600 million dollars annually of agricultural products because of these visits and the
modifications made to the embargo.
Fidel of course did not care for Carter’s public support for a referendum on the Cuban
Constitution. At the airport when Fidel came to bid farewell to Carter, he was not happy. When
Carter arrived Fidel had met him in a beautiful dark blue Armani suit and red tie. Fidel was
delighted. He even shook my hand, but he moved away quickly. I think he thought I was going
to give him one of those little radios that I had been distributing to Cubans around the island.
Now a dour Fidel in fatigues was anxious to see Carter depart so that he could announce his own
referendum on the unchangeable Cuban Constitution.
Fidel succeeded in having ninety-eight percent of Cubans sign his referendum making the Cuban
Constitution immutable. They had no choice. But what was different in this more open period
was that dissidents were able to garner the support of the Cuban people. And a former United
States President could speak to the Cuba people and endorse the efforts of dissidents and their
desires for greater freedom. Isn’t it time that the United States recognize that a more open policy
is the only way we can help the Cuban people to prepare for and carry out change in Cuba?
Thank you very much. Okay, I’m open for questions.
Unknown person stated: You mentioned earlier that our diplomats at the Interest Section in
Havana can’t do their job. Why are they restricted?
Ambassador Huddleston stated: And this is a favorite issue of mine; thank you for the question.
When I was in Havana we would notify the Cuban government 72 hours in advance, and then we
could travel. We had to tell them where we were going. The same thing went for their diplomats
up here. For those of you who are not aware, the United States Interest Section is located in our
old Embassy in Havana. The Cubans are in their former Embassy in Washington D.C. In Havana
we have this absolutely gorgeous building. It is an all glass building that we renovated at a cost
of about $40 million. Located on the Havana Malacon seawall it looks out over the Caribbean. I
had a nice little balcony from which I could watch hundreds of thousands of Cubans march by
protesting the United States government’s delay in returning little Elliott Gonzales – the child
found floating on an inner tube in the Florida Straits. Yes, I was in Havana during that time. But
after the Anna Belen Montes case - she was an American official at the Defense Intelligence
Agency who spied for the Cuban Government - there was a real anger in the United States
government. To retaliate, our government refused to let Cuban diplomats go outside of
Washington D.C. I refused to allow this on my watch, because I knew that if we denied Cubans
the right to travel out of Washington they would restrict American diplomats to Havana.
Previously, Cuban diplomats could visit New Mexico or wherever they were invited. The Cuban
Chief of the Cuban Interest Section and his staff used to speak all over the United States and get
a very favorable reception. But you know we’re a free country. I think we could listen to what he
had to say without harm to ourselves. In any case, only a few days after I left Havana, the Bush
Administration announced that the Cubans in Washington could not travel outside Washington
D.C. The next day the Americans at the Interest Section in Havana were prohibited by the Cuban
Government from traveling outside Havana. So we did it to ourselves. We ended their travel in
the US and they retaliated. As a result we cut off activities that were helping the Cuban people.
We were traveling around the country all of the time. We were meeting with Cuban human rights
activists and opposition throughout Cuba. We were meeting with local officials so that we knew
what was going on. Now today, we’re trying to run a policy on Cuba without knowing what’s
going on, because our diplomats can’t get out of Havana.
Unknown person stated: One of the things that I perceive as a bilateral issue is our presence at
Guantanamo Base. I was wondering if you could explain this.
Ambassador Huddleston stated: Guantanamo Base as we know is now a prison for illegal
combatants. I believe that the prison will probably be closed. Guantanamo is no longer used as a
base, we’re not repairing Navy ships there; Navy ships aren’t target practicing off of
Guantanamo anymore. Basically, what Guantanamo had become before the illegal combatants
were put there was a place where we held migrants. If we picked up migrants at sea and weren’t
sure whether they would suffer persecution if returned to Cuba, we held them at Guantanamo.
At one time we had about 15,000 Cubans at Guantanamo. But there is no security or military
reason to keep Guantanamo. I think the Cuban people want Guantanamo back, but it’s extremely
difficult for the United States government to do. If we gave up Guantanamo, it would look like a
big concession. If the United States Government is going to give back Guantanamo, we really
need to have a government in Cuba that we can deal with, one that is democratic. The agreement
between the United States and Cuba states that both governments have to agree to its return to
Cuba. The United States Government has not been inclined to return the base since Fidel Castro
Unknown person stated: Tell us a little bit about what the Brookings Project on the Cuban
Transition hopes to achieve.
Ambassador Huddleston stated: The expected outcome is that we would like to influence the
next administration so that they wouldn’t just say no to any change in policy. We hope that our
project will help them to understand there are some valid reasons to make changes in United
States policy, and what those changes might be. Brookings has a group of 20 advisers who are
the best Cuba scholars and Cuban opinion leaders and a couple other ambassadors who were in
Cuba when I was there. Together we’re carrying out six simulations. The first ones were on
United States policy for Cuba. Then we reviewed the Cuban hierarchy, the Cuban American
community, civil society and the international community. When we finish those simulations
next February we’ll run again the first simulation on United States policy toward Cuba. What we
are finding, and already have begun to come out with, is that we are able to identify the critical
points, like what happens when Fidel dies? Something as simple as whom we are sending to the
funeral is an important decision. Is it the Interest Section Chief going? If so, will the Cubans
accept this? They don’t like him, and they don’t talk to him. In that case, is no one going? But if
diplomats from around the world are attending, and Havana has the highest level of diplomatic
representation after Washington D.C., even more then Mexico City, will the United States
Government be isolated? Certainly Nelson Mandela, if he is able, will attend. So will most of the
European Heads of State, certainly the Spanish, probably the King. What are we going to say
when Fidel dies? We don’t want a mass migration from Cuba. On the other hand, a lot of people
aren’t going to be very sad. He has been a dictator, but will his death bring about democracy?
The Administration is thinking about it, and they’re worried about it.
Yet there are other much bigger questions, such as what policies will best empower the Cuban
people so that they can determine what type of government they wish to have. We just did a
simulation in Miami that was very difficult to do, because there’s such strong opinion in the
Cuban American community. They are concerned that decisions will be made behind closed
doors. Still, one of the things that we have learned is that if anything is going to happen in Cuba,
the Cuban people must have more information and more independence.
At the end of the project we’ll present the findings, the key points and the recommendations. We
hope our advisers, who span the spectrum from liberal to conservative, will be able to come
together on some basic recommendations on policy.
Unknown person stated: What was the reason for the Bush administration’s decision to change
Ambassador Huddleston stated: Ah, ha! What a great question. You know the Bush
Administration initially was even more liberal than the Clinton Administration, allowing travel
to Cuba by Cuban Americans and licensing people-to-people travel of religious and educational
groups. They did a lot on human rights and particularly liked the Interest Section’s “Outreach
Program” that distributed books and radios. But when Jed Bush began to run for reelection, the
most conservative Cuban Americans demanded a more stringent policy toward Cuba. Then the
Administration began to reduce travel and remittance. Fidel Castro jailed seventy-five human
rights activists and the Administration increased Cuba’s isolation.
Unknown person stated: I share your optimism about the prospects for Cuba, but I was
wondering how Cuba and the United States will deal with Cuban Americans. I was just
wondering whether once the Castro regime is over, if there’s any danger of issues resulting from
returning Cuban Americans or returning property?
Ambassador Huddleston stated: This is a complex issue. Many Cuban Americans owned a lot of
property: houses and businesses. They have been very prosperous here, maybe 20% would like
to go back to live. Almost all of the businessmen and a lot of the doctors and humanitarians
would love to go back and help their country by setting up business or helping out. You can
imagine the possibilities. United States influence would increase substantially, just by the
number of Cuban Americans returning. But there are questions about what rights Cuban
Americans would have. Would they be able to vote? Would they be able to run for office? In
East Germany the reason many people feel that the transition was a disaster is because the West
Germans took back their property and took political power, thereby disenfranchising the East
Germans. I don’t think we want to see this happen. After all, Cubans who remained have paid a
high price. They have suffered and waited for a chance to really have freedom. It is a very
delicate issue. There has to be reconciliation between the Cubans and Cuban Americans and
there also has to be resolution of Cuban American property claims as well as Guantanamo.
Unknown person stated: I was in Cuba last year and was very impressed by the level of
education. But there are few jobs. Many want to work in the tourist industry and there are people
who are waiting for jobs. What is the solution?
Ambassador Huddleston stated: That’s the reason why I advocate strongly that we begin to have
more contact. If the Cuban Government permits Cubans to have their own businesses, we should
permit people outside Cuba to help finance micro businesses. In this way we begin a process of
helping Cubans become self sufficient. You’re absolutely right. The people are hugely talented;
they’re well educated. They need to be motivated by good salaries. Raul says that Cubans can be
paid a salary that the organization they work for wishes to pay them. This could be significant.
Unknown person stated: Really?
Ambassador Huddleston stated: Yes.
Unknown person stated: You said before that a state-run organization would pay the Cubans only
a small salary.
Ambassador Huddleston stated: Right, exactly. They have something called CUBALSE. It is a
state employment agency. For example, embassies pay the state employment agency for each
worker, and then the state employment agency pays the Cuban worker a very small portion of
that amount. If Cubans can make a fair salary that will provide a lot of benefits, it is a beginning;
but what we need to do is look for ways to push the government toward more reforms.
Unknown person stated: Yes, okay. What about the role of foreign governments in Cuba?
Ambassador Huddleston stated: It’s a good point, because Cuba has always been supported by a
foreign government. The United States, the Soviet Union, and now Venezuela have all supported
Cuba. Cuba may not be dependent on foreign countries in the future, because oil may at some
point within the next five years actually allow Cuba to export oil. The embargo has always been
political. When John F. Kennedy was running for election, he said Eisenhower was being soft on
Cuba’s Communist regime. As a result, Eisenhower was probably harsher then he would have
been on Cuba. Then of course there was the Bay of Pigs crisis, and then the Missile Crisis with
the Soviet Union. President Carter lifted the travel ban but then Cuba sent troops to Angola.
Cuban policy has been all of these things – domestic politics – foreign crises. Just when the
United States considers modifying the embargo, something would happen to keep it in place. But
now that we are beginning to see real change in Cuba, let’s get rid of the barriers that keep us
from helping the Cuban people.
Unknown person stated: Looking at the inner circle that’s there now is there any real change?
Ambassador Huddleston stated: Four of the five vice presidents are currently or have been high-
level military leaders. The First Vice President is Jose Ramon Machado, the founder of the
Communist Party, two others are the generals in charge of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of
Interior. All are seventy except Carlos Lage Davila, who some people were even imagining
might become President of Cuba instead of Raul. But had they remembered the day in 2001
when Fidel fell over in a dead faint, they would not have made this mistake. On that day the
Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, grabbed the microphone and cried out, “Viva Fidel, Viva
Raul, y Viva la Revolución.” Today Raul is surrounded by very old, hard line military men.
These “heroes of the Revolution” reassure the Party faithful that if things get out of hand the
military will step in. Their presence in the leadership shows that the party and military are united.
Carlos Lage is still one of the Vice Presidents, and we can hope that he will still have an
influential role. But there are others. There’s Fernando Estennoz, who was the representative of
the Cuban Interest Section in Washington. He’s a very competent, charming guy. There’s Felipe
Roque the Foreign Minister who’s in his forties; he is a hard liner but he’s young. There is
another generation coming up. They are the children of the current leaders. Carlos Lage’s son is
a student leader. Fidel’s children, he has six or seven, all have very good jobs. This generation
likes nice things, and they like to go abroad. Raul’s children as well, and the children of other
members of the hierarchy are interested in change. I think there has to be change, because
they’ve already started to reform. The real question is: could we make those reforms go faster?
If there were more phones and they were cheaper, if there were more books and they were more
available, if there was more money coming to Cuba from remittances, all this would encourage
Cubans to press for change.
Unknown person stated: Is there any way to travel to Cuba?
Ambassador Huddleston stated: Well, you can legally travel if you are a journalist, doing
research and/or have a license to visit for religious or other approved activities. Cuban
Americans may travel only once every three years.
Before I close, I’ll tell you a few stories about Fidel. The only time I clearly won a battle with
Fidel Castro was when the little puppy I bought in Havana turned out to be a beautiful Afghan
hound. I hired a Cuban woman to be the trainer, because I didn’t have enough time to walk the
dog and to train the dog. She knew all about dogs and soon we were showing Havana. After
Havana won several prizes I received a letter telling me that I had been kicked out of the Afghan
Club because of my government’s policies and my actions. I informed the media that alas we
were again in the dog house – something that gave us “paws.” Fidel was so embarrassed that he
gave “my husband’s dog a pardon.” Fidel didn’t want to admit that he had lost the publicity
battle to me so he said Havana was Bob’s dog, not mine. The Cuban government called the press
and told them that the government had been slandered. Havana hadn’t been thrown out of the
Club, I had.
I met Fidel Castro when I went to Cuba in 1991 for the conclusion of the Tripartite Accords
under which Cuba withdrew its 25,000 troops from Angola, and Namibia gained its
independence. Ironically, President H.W. Bush was willing to negotiate with the Cubans, but
today we no longer even conduct the traditional migration talks. Castro knew who I was because
I’d been to Cuba as Deputy Director of Cuban Affairs. However, when I went down this time I
had just been promoted to Director of Cuban Affairs.
In the evening the United States delegation attended, along with the delegations from the Soviet
Union, Great Britain, Namibia, Angola, and South Africa, a gala reception at the Revolutionary
Palace. Fidel walked over to our delegation but refused to speak to the head of the delegation,
because he was about a head taller, and Fidel likes to be the biggest man in the room. Fidel
looked at me and said, “Who are you, someone’s spouse?” I was angry, because I knew he was
well aware of who I was. Standing up to my full 5 foot 5 inches, I replied, “No. I am the Director
of Cuban Affairs.”
Fidel smiled slyly and replied, “I thought I was.”
Well, Fidel no longer is the Director of Cuban Affairs, so isn’t it time we had a policy that
recognizes that fact?