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A CIA Insider on Cuba


William Ross Newland III

Managing Director, The Delian Group LLC

Dec 18, 2014

I was based in Havana, Cuba as the CIA's Chief of Station from 1994-1996, and since then I have followed developments in Cuba closely.

 Cuba 'gets under your skin' and you cannot leave the place without taking an interest in Cuba's future. 

Over the years U.S. efforts at rapprochement were often rebuffed, and Cuban efforts at reform were too modest and usually abandoned.

The simultaneous announcements by President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro that the U.S. and Cuba would normalize relations presents the best opportunity in many years for the U.S. to improve relations in the hemisphere. 

For too long U.S. involvement in the region has been characterized by admonishments and criticism related to narcotics trafficking, human rights, and immigration. 

Positive engagement with a more diverse and mature Latin American hemisphere will enable the U.S. to advance its interests and limit Russian, Chinese and Iranian influence in the area.

The 17 December announcement will undoubtedly be well-received around the world, and especially in the region. But the announcement really only kicks off a process that, if managed well, will lead to a lifting of U.S. sanctions in exchange for some democratic reforms in Cuba. 

The U.S. cannot improve relations unilaterally: the Cuba Democracy and Freedom Act of 1996 (aka Helms-Burton) conditions improved relations on democratic reform. 

With the Summit of the Americas scheduled for April 2015 in Panama, the goal should be to lift elements of the embargo in return for reform, for example commitment to democratic elections, freeing all political prisoners, and allowing international human rights officials and Red Cross officials access to the Cuban penal system. 

We should also engage our regional allies to press for the same reforms since it is in everyone’s interest to have a constructive political and economic partner in Havana.

A Cuba committed to democratic reform could be a good trading partner to the U.S. The new port at Mariel is a logical stop for shipping that goes through the Panama Canal to/from the U.S. Cuba should be able to eventually offer promising investments in petroleum exploration, tourism, and agriculture (not to mention the export of baseball players!).

 Perhaps eventually Cuba could even be brought into the FTA process as part of the Caribbean negotiations.

Politically, Cuba could be an important interlocutor for the U.S. in dealing with regional issues, many of which have polarized Latin American nations.

 Cuba could play a positive role helping negotiate peace with the FARC in Colombia, and in blocking the efforts by Russia, China, and Iran to gain footholds in the Western Hemisphere.

 Venezuela might be driven to take some democratic steps if their puppet master Cuba is seen negotiating productively with the U.S.

With Cuba negotiating to improve relations with the U.S., the Organization of American States (OAS) would assume its former prominence as the regional anti-American fora are dismantled, among them the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), both of which were promoted by Hugo Chavez with the support of Fidel Castro, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, and the Kirchners.

The 17 December announcement of a normalization of relations begins a complex process which, if handled well, will help restore and advance U.S. political and trade interests in the Hemisphere on a positive, modern footing.

By William Ross Newland III. 

Mr. Newland was responsible for U.S intelligence activities in Cuba from 1994-1996 as Chief of Station for the CIA in Havana. As such he is one of very few Americans who has a deep and intimate knowledge of Cuba. He currently advises U.S. companies seeking to expand into Cuba.

The Delian Group advises American companies that are expanding into Latin America. We provide insight and information to our clients from our local source networks in Cuba, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Colombia. 

Our clients include Fortune 100 companies, intelligence services, military and financial institutions, oil & gas, and mining companies. We have offices in San Francisco, Argentina, and Chile.

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