Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Senior official at U.S. Embassy in Caracas to lead U.S. mission in Cuba

Posted on Tuesday, 04.26.11

Senior official at U.S. Embassy in Caracas to lead U.S. mission in Cuba
McClatchy Newspapers

MIAMI -- John Caulfield, the veteran diplomat running the U.S. Embassy
in Venezuela amid Washington's testy relations with President Hugo
Chavez, has been picked to head the American diplomatic mission in Cuba,
according to U.S. officials.

Caulfield will replace Jonathan Farrar, who has been named as ambassador
to Nicaragua after a three-year assignment in Havana marked by
complaints from some Cuban dissidents that he did not meet with them
often enough and criticized them too harshly.

The U.S. officials said his replacement of Farrar was a routine
reassignment for both diplomats. They requested anonymity because they
were not authorized to comment for this story.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has approved Caulfield's new
assignment but not yet made it official, the officials added. The
Senate, which must approve all ambassadors, is not required to endorse
his posting because the mission in Cuba is not a full-fledged embassy.

He will have the title of chief of mission of the U.S. Interests Section
in Havana, established by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 after decades
of no bilateral diplomatic relations. The State Department declined
comment, and Caulfield could not be reached.

Caulfield, who spent much of his diplomatic career of more than 30 years
in consular posts, is regarded in Washington and Venezuela as a
professional and quiet diplomat who did the best he could running the
embassy in Caracas in the absence of an ambassador.

He was appointed as deputy chief of mission in 2008 but has been charge
d'affaires, responsible for the day-to-day management of the embassy,
since Chavez expelled Ambassador Patrick Duddy in 2010 and then rejected
his nominated replacement, Larry Palmer.

"Notwithstanding his attributes as a senior diplomat, his job in Caracas
has been very difficult because of Chavez," said Pedro Burelli, an
anti-Chavez activist in Washington.

One U.S. official who knows his work called him a "good and competent
officer with solid political judgment." Another said his cool demeanor
and lack of ambassadorial rank undercut his ability to "change the
dynamics" of U.S.-Venezuela relations.

A 2009 dispatch by the embassy, signed by Caulfield and made public by
the WikiLeaks Web site, noted that although rumors that Chavez was
providing Iran with Venezuelan uranium "may help burnish the
(Venezuelan) government's revolutionary credentials, there seems to be
little basis in reality to the claims."

His State Department biography shows Caulfield served as Consul General
in the U.S. embassies in England and the Philippines and as consul in
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. He also served in Peru, Colombia, Portugal, and
Brazil. Originally from New Jersey, Caulfield earned a degree in
International Relations and Latin American Studies from St. Joseph's
University in Philadelphia.

Farrar, also a career diplomat, has a reputation for keeping a certain
distance from dissidents - a shift away from the more supportive role
played by his predecessors first noticed in the final years of the
George W. Bush administration and maintained by the Obama administration.

"He is the only one (U.S. Interests Section chief) who has not
communicated well with us," said Havana dissident Martha Beatriz Roque.
"I've only seen him two or three times in my life. It seems that it's
hard for him to communicate."

"My impression was always that he's a very professional diplomat, and
therefore very discrete," said Havana human rights activist Elizardo
Sanchez Santa Cruz. "But he was also personable, affable and kind. And
that's my opinion, in public and in private, even though I know his
opinion of us."

A cable sent by the U.S. mission in Havana on April 15, 2009 and signed
by Farrar said the dissidents deserved U.S. support as "the conscience
of Cuba" but described them as old, with little popular support and
penetrated by Cuban intelligence agents who fuel their already bitter
internal rivalries.

Their "very valid" focus on human rights, the dispatch added, does not
resonate with Cubans "who are more concerned about having greater
opportunities to travel freely and live comfortably."

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