The United States has not had formal diplomatic relations with Cuba for more than four and a half decades, however since the Carter administration the U.S. has maintained an “Interests Section” in Havana.
Ambassador James Cason (retired) is the former head of the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Cuba, and in 2006 he had an electronic news ticker installed across the windows of the top floor of the building. In June of this year the sign went dim, along with any hope that the Obama administration would take a stand in favor of liberty for the Cuban people who have been ruled by a Stalinist dictatorship for half a century.
I expected as much from Obama, who seems to have a knack for picking the wrong side — as witnessed by his insistence on the return of Manuel Zelaya to power in Honduras despite the fact that he was deposed by the other two branches of government for attempting an unconstitutional power grab, complete with pre-rigged election results. Still, I had hoped that Obama might use his popularity with the international left to demythologize the dictatorship in Cuba and rally the world to the cause of freedom for that country’s citizens.
Turning off the electronic news ticker billboard is just the latest sign that Obama has no such intentions.
I asked Ambassador Cason about the billboard. He said that he “arranged financing and construction of the billboard because the government of Cuba refused to allow us to talk to the Cuban people and did everything, and still does, to block outside information from arriving in Cuba.”
Cason also noted that such actions by the Castro regime are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory. In an email to me, Cason explained: “Whereas the government of Cuba can lobby and otherwise gain access to the U.S. media and public, we cannot [do the same in Cuba].”
It’s an important point, because Fidel Castro famously launched a “battle of ideas” featuring anti-American billboards posted throughout the island. But as Cason explains, “You can’t have a battle without the other side participating.”
“The billboard was an attempt to level the playing field, to participate in the so-called battle of ideas.”
Shortly after the ticker went into operation, Castro ordered the installation of dozens of tall flagpoles in the vacant lot across from USINT in an attempt to obscure its viewing. Cason says the electronic ticker was supposed to be used “to send messages regarding news, human rights, sports, and other info of interest to ordinary Cubans.”
Cason goes on, stating that the regime “blocked it because it cannot allow alternative sources of information.”