U.S. presence in Cuba remains unofficial


February 3, 2011 - 12:00 AM

(Emerson Lynn, jr., associate editor of the Register was one of a small group of newspaper editors who spent the week of Jan. 16-23 in Cuba as members of a study mission arranged by the Inland Press Association. This is the third in a series of articles reporting on the trip.)

Because the United States and Cuba have not exchanged ambassadors since 1961, U.S. interests are looked after by “The United States Interests Section,” which is located in the former U.S. Embassy and is referred to by those who work there as the un-embassy, with the officer in charge, Jonathan Farrar, being the un-ambassador. Farrar, a career diplomat, has been at the post for about two years.
He and Gloria Berbena, public affairs officer, welcomed our group and shared off-the-record information with us.
While there we learned that the interest section employs 51 Americans, including the Marines who stand guard, and 285 Cubans. The Cubans are paid a salary by the government and receive an additional amount from the United States, which makes them among the best paid workers in Havana.
More nations have missions to Cuba than to any other country in Latin America and all of them offer bonus salaries to the Cubans who work for them.
Granting visas to Cubans to travel in the U.S. or to immigrate is one of the major functions of the interests section. Under an agreement with Washington, at least 20,000 Cubans are allowed to immigrate to the U.S. annually. In exchange, Cuba has agreed to patrol its coastal waters to prevent illegal immigration to the U.S. For the past two years, the quota has been raised to 22,000.
From various sources we learned that Cuba’s population has been static for the past 10 years, that most women have only one child and there is no influx of migrants from other countries. If these trends continue, the future for the nation appears bleak.
Under its new constitution, Communist Cuba became atheist. That article was later amended to “secular.” There are now 75 Roman Catholic churches that celebrate Mass regularly in Havana, with congregations ranging from a handful to standing room only, depending on the neighborhood and the priest. Protestant churches there are growing, we were told.

JOHANNA TABLANDA De La Torre is a fiery diplomat whose official title is Deputy Director of the North American Division of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She spent quite a bit of time in Washington representing Cuba there and speaks English fluently. There have been nine Inland Press visits to Cuba in years past. She has met with several of them.
She said:
— Cuba has been supported in the United Nations by 83 nations. Only Israel, Morocco and the U.S. voted against Cuba’s right to membership. Currently, Cuba has diplomatic relations with 125 nations.
— We are working to see that immigration to the U.S. is safe, orderly and legal.
— While there have been changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba, today we are only back to where we were in the 1990s.
— As a high-ranking diplomat I am paid 300 Cuban pesos a month, plus a food allowance of 300 pesos. (About $25 in total.)
— We believe our system provides justice and equality to the Cuban people. We are proud that Cubans can get a college degree without cost, that every Cuban has enough to eat and a place to live, that health care is provided to everyone and that our health outcomes are among the best in the world. We cannot accept the demand that we change our system before we can have talks with the U.S. government.

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