Diplomatic shuffle, political strategy put new man in Panamá

Jonathan D. Farrar

In the benighted world of Washington’s foreign policy toward the Americas, astute observations made in private can get sewn onto a diplomat as the red letter for apostasy if ever they get published. WikiLeaks published a number of cables that Jonathan D. Farrar sent back to Foggy Bottom as chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and one of them observed that “We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among Cubans.”

That’s a heresy for which one can be at least figuratively burned at the stake in Miami. Forget that other Farrar cables from Cuba show a diplomat faithfully carrying out long-standing and futile U.S. policies toward the island, and a skepticism toward both the diplomacy of acting like a belligerent drunk and the obsequious words and behavior of
some U.S. allies’ delegations to Cuba. Making sense about Cuba, even just a little bit, is just not done in public in Washington.

And so it was that Farrar’s next appointment, as U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, met with loud opposition from the Miami Cuban exile leadership, and as a consequence that move was blocked in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It wouldn’t do to have somebody who’s “soft on communism” dealing with Danny Ortega.

But it also won’t do for Republicans to destroy the career of a respected Mexican-American diplomat over Cuban-American dogma and still expect to carry much of the Hispanic vote in several southwestern states where’s it’s an important and growing factor. And while polls indicate that Florida’s Cuban voters will by and large remain in the GOP column — with some slippage among the younger ones — the Republicans have trouble with the state’s non-Cuban Hispanic voters, who substantially outnumber the Cuban-Americans and by most learned estimates Florida remains in play for the November election. There is talk about Mitt Romney nominating Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio as his runningmate both to incorporate some of his party’s farther-right and to avoid a Democratic blowout among “the Hispanic vote.” It might be erroneous math based on faulty assumptions, but calculations of this sort probably do affect what Republican senators do these days.

President Obama reacted to the Republican block on Farrar’s nomination to serve in Managua by appointing the U.S. ambassador in Panamá, Phyllis Powers, to go to Nicaragua instead, and appointing Farrar to take her place in Panamá. There was a delay, but when Farrar testified before the committee the two Cuban-Americans on the panel, Rubio and Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey, spoke in his favor. Rubio did put in a jab or two about Cuba, but echoed the fears of many libertarian Republicans that Ricardo Martinelli is making a petty tyrant of himself and expressed confidence that Farrar would stay on top of that situation.

For his part, Farrar mostly talked about topics that are considered “safe” in the Senate — pursuing the “War on Drugs,” helping U.S. corporations benefit from “free trade” with Panamá and such.

After another delay, the entire Senate approved both Farrar’s and Powers’s appointments without objection on March 29. Farrar should be here shortly. The policies that he upholds should not be any surprise, but his personality and relationships with the press and the American community here remain to be seen.

Farrar, a Los Angeles native, is a graduate of Cal Poly Pomona, Claremont Graduate School and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He has served in Cuba, Uruguay, Mexico, Belize, and Paraguay. He has served with the State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau and its Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. In Washington he was deputy director of the Office of Andean Affairs, among his other assignments there.

Copyright 2012 The Panamá News. Used with permission.

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