Weeks before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, several former ambassadors and American diplomats released an open letter under the aegis of the Center for a Free Cuba that suggests several principles for the new administration’s Cuba policy.
Taking pride of place is their call for the new President, as soon as he comes into office, to rescind President Obama’s October 2016 directive instructing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to “[work] to find opportunities for engagement on areas of common interest through which we could exchange information” with Cuban state security. The diplomats also urge Trump to rescind “ill-conceived and unlawful executive orders lifting restrictions on doing business with the Castro regime” within his first hundred days in office. While the heart of the US embargo of Cuba is an act of Congress that is outside the President’s jurisdiction, they argue that President Obama’s easing of restrictions on travel and commercial transactions clashes with the LIBERTAD Act of 1996.
The signatories also take issue with the overall tenor of the outgoing administration’s diplomacy on Cuba, citing President Obama’s “friendly gestures” toward Raúl Castro despite Cuba’s unflagging “hostility” toward the US and its courting of US adversaries around the world. Specifically, they point out that the US ambassador to the UN abstained from a UN vote denouncing the LIBERTAD Act rather than defending US law on the world stage.
They also recommend specific steps regarding the US diplomatic presence in Havana. Rather than elevate the current caretaker head of the US embassy to full ambassador, they recommend bringing in someone entirely new—but only as Chargé d’Affaires. No ambassador should be named while the Castro regime retains the power to select and pay the US embassy’s local hires.
The letter was signed by James Cason, a former US Ambassador to Paraguay and Chief of the US Mission in Havana, as well as the President of the Center for a Free Cuba; Everett E. Briggs, a former US Ambassador to Portugal, Honduras and Panama; José Sorzano, former Deputy Representative of the US to the United Nations with the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary; Otto Reich, former US Ambassador to Venezuela; and Elliott Abrams, Former Assistant Secretary of State and Deputy National Security Advisor.