U.S. diplomat recommends caution in Cuba talks

Assistant Secretary of State William W. Brownfield, who heads the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Assistant Secretary of State William W. Brownfield, who heads the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Assistant Secretary of State William W. Brownfield, who heads the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, has recommends caution in talks with Cuba on law enforcement issues, saying they should not get ahead of the broader bilateral negotiations.

“The point of this is to do it very, very carefully. The two governments have to conclude that there's value for them in taking this road and taking additional steps,” Brownfield said during a visit to Miami on Monday. “There will be times when this will make sense to both, and other times when it will make sense to only one of them.”

The diplomat said there is “a new reality” because the two sides at least are talking about the issues, “in contrast to what was happening two years ago. But we can't forget that there were reasons behind the more than 50 years of bad relations between the two governments, and those issues will have to be addressed along the way.”

Brownfield said any progress on law enforcement cannot be separated from other pending issues in bilateral relations. “Progress in the cooperation on law enforcement will be affected, to a point, by progress on social, economic, democracy and human rights issues,” he said.

“The cooperation will go as far as it makes sense for both governments, and at the end of the day the cooperation on law enforcement is not isolated from the rest of the issues affecting the United States and Cuba,” he added.

Brownfield, a veteran diplomat who has served as ambassador to Colombia, Venezuela and Chile, said the cooperation with Cuba on law enforcement, while still limited, has improved from past decades when the channels of communications were limited and an exchange of information could take days.

The current cooperation between the two countries “is operational and based on specific cases” between agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard and Drug Enforcement Administration and their counterparts in Cuba, he explained.

Brownfield said that his agency focuses on “advising, equipping and training law enforcement in other countries” and has not participated in the U.S. talks with Cuba on security, border protection and other such issues, handled largely by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “The relationship between the United States and Cuba have not yet reached that stage,” he said, referring to his bureau's duties.

DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the highest-ranking Cuban American in the Obama administration, visited Havana in May to “explore areas of bilateral cooperation on law enforcement issues,” the Cuban foreign ministry said in a statement. Mayorkas was accompanied by several officials of the U.S. Departments of Justice and State.

“I am not worried that we are not part of this process right now,” said the ambassador, adding that “whether you like it or dislike it,” Fidel Castro's decision to bring to trial and execute by firing squad four top military officers in 1989 allegedly involved in drug trafficking “had a very significant impact in terms of the drug trafficking organizations operating through the island. We have issues to discuss, of course, but not the same type of issues that we have with other countries in the Caribbean and Central America.”

U.S. cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking and other security issues is one of the Obama administration's priorities in its negotiations with the Cuban government.

El Nuevo Herald reported in May that a delegation of senior officials from Cuba's Ministry of the Interior had made a one-day visit to the headquarters of a key U.S. counter drug center in Key West, the Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S)

“I did not participate in or was involved in that decision, perhaps because of my very cautious stand until now. It was not a decision in which I participated,” said Brownfield. He nevertheless praised the role of JIATEF-S in cracking down on drug trafficking routes and the positive effect of making its work known to governments in the area.

The possibility of expanding U.S. cooperation with the Cuban military, as suggested recently by the head of the Pentagon's Southern Command in Miami, has generated concern in the U.S. Congress among opponents of the improving relations with Cuba.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fl., introduced an amendment to a Department of Defense spending bill that bars contacts with the Cuban military until Havana meets all the requirements of the Helms-Burton Act. The House approved the amended measure last week.

The Congressman also declared on Facebook that the United States “shouldn't be working with a Cuban military establishment that has been an instrument of anti-American and rogue activities.”