CubaNews / August 2005
By Larry Luxner
Michael Eleazar Parmly, a career diplomat who’s spent most of his 26 years with the Foreign Service in Europe, will replace James Cason as chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
Parmly spent three years as the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor. At DRL, he focused on Europe, Africa, Latin America and South Asia, recently returning from Afghanistan as the State Department’s representative on the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar.
Among Parmly’s earlier posts: political minister-counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Paris; political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, and tours in Morocco and Spain. Parmly has also served at the State Department’s Operations Center, in its Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and as office director for Northern Europe in the Bureau of European Affairs.
Parmly holds two master’s degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia.
Before joining the Foreign Service, Parmly was a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia, though he has no diplomatic experience in Latin America. Cason, on the other hand, served at U.S. missions in Jamaica and Honduras before being sent to Havana in 2002.
Cason, who will leave Cuba in September, has been named U.S. ambassador to Paraguay. During his three years in Havana, Cason made himself persona non grata with Fidel Castro due to his persistent criticism of the Castro regime’s human rights violations.
Both Cason and his predecessor, Vicki Huddleston, have been profiled by CubaNews.
Last month, the veteran diplomat told the Associated Press that Washington’s hardline policy will continue long after he leaves Cuba.
“There is no reason to believe there will be any loosening of anything we do,” Cason said. “Fidel said there couldn’t be anyone worse than me. He may be sorry.”
Daniel Erikson, who follows Cuban affairs at the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, told the Miami Herald that Parmly seems to be a “generalist” whose strength may be his capacity to reach out to Europeans and establish a common policy on Cuba.
In a related move, the State Department has chosen Caleb McCarry to be its new “Cuba transition coordinator.” The new position was created by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, an interagency committee whose findings resulted in a 500-page report last year that included recommendations to President Bush on how to facilitate a “democratic transition” in Cuba.
McCarry most recently served as staff director for the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the House International Relations Committee. The CANF says he has “a distinguished record of work on Cuban issues, including the co-authoring of a Congressional report which detailed the failings of Cuba’s repressive system.”
He also made recommendations as how to precipitate a democratic transition on the island following his participation on a visit to Cuba during the Pope John Paul’s historic trip to the island in 1998.
“Caleb McCarry not only has an impressive breadth of knowledge and a deep understanding of the complexities of the Cuba issue, but also a sense of personal commitment to the cause of freedom for the Cuban people,” said CANF spokeswoman Camila Ruíz.
“I had the pleasure of witnessing this first-hand, and I believe he is an excellent choice to fill this position.”
Said the CANF’s chairman, Jorge Mas Santos: “The new Cuba Transition Coordinator position provides an opportunity not only to look at what issues will be faced in a post-Castro transition, but more importantly, how we can best help those brave dissidents who have already begun to work towards peaceful, democratic change on the island.”
The day after McCarry’s appointment was announced, Roger F. Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs for the past two years, said he would resign. The New York Times noted that McCarry’s mission of “regime change” took primary responsibility for Cuba — one of Noriega’s favored issues — away from him. The White House has not said who will replace Noriega, though Thomas Shannon, who oversees Latin American affairs at the National Security Council, is widely viewed as the likely replacement by Latin American observers, lawmakers and former officials.
In Cuba, McCarry’s appointment was criticized by both the regime and its opponents.
“I’m sure he will receive a juicy salary in his new post,” said Cuba’s foreign minister, Felipe Pérez Roque, “but I can assure you he will retire without ever setting foot in Cuba.”
Leading human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez, meanwhile, said he considered the State Department announcement “counterproductive and difficult to accept,” and that it will worsen the already dismal relations between Washington and Havana.
“It will serve the totalitarian government of Cuba, allowing it to continue holding up the scarecrow of foreign intervention,” said Sánchez, of the non-government Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation.
In yet another personnel shuffle, Kevin Whitaker, coordinator of the State Department’s Office of Cuban Affairs, has left that job to become deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela.
Our sources indicate that Steve McFarland, who currently holds that post, will come up to Washington to take Whitaker’s place.
Whitaker, 47, had been State’s point man for Cuba since September 2002. Other assignments in his 26-year career include serving as a desk officer for El Salvador and France, as well as working as a political officer at U.S. embassies in Honduras in Jamaica. Parmly,
Whitaker and McCarry were all unavailable for comment for this article.