Tags: Castro-Cuba | US embassy | Havana | Roberta Jacobson

US May Reopen Outpost in Havana Called 'Nest of Spies' by Castro

By    |   Wednesday, 21 January 2015 04:51 PM

A six-story building that once served as the U.S. embassy in Havana and which was routinely derided by Fidel Castro as a "nest of spies" could reopen for the first time in more than five decades after a diplomatic mission completes negotiations, reports say.

Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, expected to arrive in Havana Wednesday, will be negotiating embassy operations, staffing and visa processing with her Cuban counterparts, Voice of America reports.

State Department spokeswoman Katherine Pfaff told Voice of America that Jacobson also would meet with civil, religious and independent business leaders.

The building was officially closed after President Dwight Eisenhower broke ties with Cuba in 1961, but since 1977 has been operated by the United States as an "interests section" to process visas, hold cultural events and keep communication however limited flowing with Cuba, The New York Times notes.

Building up intrigue on the eve of negotiations, the Times reports, a Russian ship identified as an intelligence craft docked Tuesday in Havana's harbor, near the American interests section. A spokesman for the Russian Embassy told the Times the visit was a long-planned rest stop.

The incident only underscores the decades of spy games staged from the interests section.

For example, the Times reports, the George W. Bush administration installed a huge Times Square-style ticker on the building's side to flash news and political statements, a move that so angered Cuban officials that they retaliated with a forest of 138 black flags waving on huge poles that blocked the sign.

Other times, the spy games were more prankish than political.

The Times reports American diplomats often claimed they came home to find all their books rearranged, while one Cuban government visitor to the American outpost spit out a coffee accidentally seasoned with salt instead of sugar, afraid he was being poisoned.

The Times notes that after diplomatic relations imploded in 1961, the Bay of Pigs invasion plot was revealed and a missile crisis was averted, both sides began to assume the others' interests section was mainly a listening post for intelligence services.

Vicki Huddleston, chief of the mission from 1999 to 2002, told the Times that opening embassies would make it easier and more likely for diplomats of both countries to attend briefings and meetings and that meetings with dissidents may no longer be viewed as attempts to overthrow the Castro regime.

"As an interest section, we were sort of the enemy, and they were suspicious that everything we were doing was trying to overthrow them," she told the Times.

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A six-story building that once served as the U.S. embassy in Havana – and which was routinely derided by Fidel Castro as a "nest of spies" – could reopen for the first time in more than five decades.
US embassy, Havana, Roberta Jacobson
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2015-51-21
Wednesday, 21 January 2015 04:51 PM
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