Bush removes six of his Cuba team

Campaign News | Friday, 23 March 2007

Changes cause concern in Miami



TWO officials with the U.S. State Department’s Cuba Desk were sent to Iraq in a shift that has affected to date this year six of the individuals who were in charge of Cuban affairs. This movement of personnel has caused concern in Miami.

Stephen McFarland, head of the Cuba Desk, and his second, Timothy Zúñiga-Brown, will join groups participating in the reconstruction of Iraq, in an operation located outside the so-called "green" safety zone of Baghdad considered safe for U.S. personnel. Outside of that zone, U.S. personnel face serious danger.

However, the importance of the change was dismissed, and it was not considered unusual, and instead as a normal rotation within U.S. agencies.

Eric Watnik, a spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said that the main responsibilities for Cuba would remain unchanged, in a probable reference to the two members of government most involved in Cuban affairs: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Commerce Secretary Cuban-American Carlos Gutiérrez, according to The Miami Herald.

Watnik added that McFarland and Zúñiga-Brown had spent two years of work in their posts and voluntarily opted for the positions in Iraq.

Previously, it was learned that Adolfo Franco, who was functioning as administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has also been moved, and has joined the election campaign for presidential candidate Senator John McCain. To replace him, the White House appointed Paul J. Bonicelli as deputy assistant administrator for democracy, conflicts and humanitarian assistance.

David Mutchler, senior advisor on Cuba at USAID, is to be replaced in the summer, also as part of a rotation, according to Morgan D. Ortagus, a press officer at that agency.

It was more difficult to explain the removal of Norman Bailey, the Cuba and Venezuela coordinator for the Office of the National Intelligence Director (ODNI). He was substituted earlier this year after the new ODNI director, Mike McConnell, took up his post, replacing the powerful, pro-Bush John Negroponte, who became the No. 2 man in the State Department, in charge of Iraq affairs. McFarland and Zúñiga Brown were sent to Iraq after being removed, provoking commentary among analysts.

Bailey was in his post for barely three months, and tried to explain his removal by telling his friends that the position had been eliminated, something that was quickly refuted.

The State Department also quietly dismantled a so-called "war room," in which five interagency working groups were meeting to closely follow events in Cuba. Watnik said that the groups were still operating, but in another location.

Three of these groups, the ones on diplomatic actions, strategic communications and democratic promotion, are under the State Department. A group that coordinates so-called humanitarian aid to Cuba is run by the Commerce Department, and a fifth, on migration issues, is run by the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security.


| top | back | home |
Share on FacebookTweet this