The Cuban government’s hostility toward U.S. diplomats in Havana was underscored earlier this month after the White House announced that Ricardo Zuniga, who served as a human rights monitor at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana in 2003, had been appointed to head the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere section.
The official Granma newspaper reported June 6 that Zuniga handled the “work of subversion and destabilization” and was “a traveling salesman for the most retrograde and anti-Cuban ideas.”
The U.S. government officials said restrictions on travel for both U.S. and Cuban diplomats assigned to their respective Interests Sections remain tight despite repeated Obama administration proposals to ease them significantly.
U.S. diplomats in Havana and Cuban diplomats in Washington and at the United Nations now must ask permission of the host government before they can travel outside established boundaries, roughly a 25-mile radius.
Washington has offered several times to require only prior notification of travel, the U.S. officials noted. But Cuba rejected the offers, saying that the Americans would take advantage of the increased freedom to meet more often with “undesirables.”
Cuban authorities almost always reject or don’t reply to U.S. requests to travel outside the Havana boundaries for meetings with provincial government or Communist Party officials, labor unionists, academics or students, one of the officials explained.
He said he expected Cuban officials would reject any request to meet with dissidents, although American diplomats sometimes try to get around that by saying vaguely that they plan to meet with members of civil society groups.
The State Department imposes “reciprocal treatment” when it comes to requests by Cuban diplomats to visit U.S. universities, for instance, approving or denying them based on Cuban replies to U.S. requests in Havana.
But U.S. officials said visa approvals for U.S. and Cuban diplomats assigned to work in each other’s countries have been flowing with relative ease, because both sides are interested in maintaining efficient diplomatic missions.