U.S. Interests Section Cuba (USINT) — 12 Plus Things We Learned About Assignment Havana

— Domani Spero  

State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, Cuba.   Post which is headed by career diplomats, John P. Caulfield, the Chief of Mission and Conrad R. Tribble, the Deputy Chief of Mission received a good overall review with a few exceptions. “U.S. Interests Section Havana advances U.S. objectives in a challenging environment. The Chief of Mission and his deputy provide strong leadership.”

Among the main judgments: 1) The consular section has reduced waiting times for Cuban visa applicants and deftly handled the increase in American citizens cases; 2) The political/economic section meets high standards in its reporting, despite limited information and host government restrictions that limit opportunities to make representations to the Cuban Government, and 3) The management section performs well under difficult conditions that hamper its ability to provide seamless administrative support.

An important point, USINT is not in regular communication with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Foreign Missions on issues of reciprocity. Since the movement of diplomatic pouches, cargo, and personal shipments is covered under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, OIG recommends that USINT should inform the Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) and the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) on a regular basis of delayed shipments and other reciprocity issues.  On May 1, President Obama announced his nomination of Gentry O. Smith as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, with the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service.  He will, of course, be stuck in the Senate for the next several months.   (Note: We understand that OFM no longer reports to DS but now reports directly to U/S Management).  Also, the report describes low morale among First and Second Tour (FAST) officers.  However, the final report does not include the curtailments of ELOs/FAST officers from post.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 3 and October 17, 2013, and in Havana, Cuba, from November 5 through 21, 2013. The overseas portion of the inspection was truncated because of the partial Federal Government shutdown. Ambassador Pamela Smith (team leader), Lavon Sajona (deputy team leader), Paul Cantrell, Eric Chavera, Mark Jacobs, John Moran, John Philibin, Iris Rosenfeld, and Steven White conducted the inspection.

Below we’ve listicled the twelve things we learned about the assignment in Havana that we did not know before, plus a couple of other things that apparently did not make it to the final report.

 

#1.  The mission had 51 U.S. direct-hire employees, a cap jointly agreed to by the United States and Cuba.  USINT cannot sustain the elevated pace of nonimmigrant visa adjudications without increasing the number of consular officer positions.  However, because of the cap, it is unlikely that new permanent officer positions can be established in the short term.

500px-Australian_State_Route_51

 

 #2. Sixteen employees work in the Office of the Coordinator for Cuban Affairs, one of the Department’s largest country desks.  […] Not all the coordination office’s operations are transparent to USINT or to working-level office staff …Compounding these difficulties, the coordinator has not visited USINT since his previous assignment in Havana more than a decade ago.

500px-Korea_Expressway_No.16

#3.  USINT officers’ travel is limited to within Havana province. Permission to travel outside the area requires sending a diplomatic note a minimum of 5 days before travel begins.

 

#4. Materials and supplies sourced in the United States can take 6 months or longer to procure, ship, and clear into Cuba; that is if the Cuban Government doesn’t reject them.

 

#5. Unclassified pouches with personal mail are often rejected and sent back to the United States. Incoming household effects, which take 1 day to sail from Miami to Havana, have sat for months in the port awaiting clearance; the same holds for personal vehicles and consumables.

 

#6.   The mission makes effective use of eligible family members to fill gaps and augment its workforce to meet critical needs.  All family members who wish to work have jobs.

 

#7.  Offices go without equipment and supplies, the maintenance section lacks materials to repair buildings and residences, and employees and their families go without familiar foods, medicines, clothes, children’s toys, transportation, computers, and books.

 

#8.  USINT pays the Cuban Government a monthly fee for each employee’s services. The Cuban Government withholds a large portion of the fee, ostensibly as the employee’s contribution to the social welfare system, and pays employees a salary that can be as little as the equivalent of $10 per month.

 

#9.  In addition to the clearance delays, staff report that the Havana port authority has only one crane and one forklift (not always operable) to move containers, adding to delays.

 

# 10.  On a more positive note, employees state that Cuban packers are some of the best they have experienced in their careers. Unfortunately, Cuban customs authorities open and x-ray both inbound and outbound shipments before they will clear them.

 

#11. Productivity increased by a factor of four, as the consular section went from interviewing 120 to 150 applicants per day to an average of more than 500.[…] Consular managers schedule appointments assuming that each officer will interview at least 110 applicants per day. In reality, some officers interview as many as 140 applicants a day, but others interview as few as 80. The rate at which the top producing officers are expected to interview is not reasonable or sustainable for the long term.

 

#12. [M]ission employees operate vehicles that are damaged, unsightly, and possibly unsafe. One vehicle is missing interior door panels and its gear shift knob. In Cuba, diplomatic vehicles can be sold only to other diplomatic missions. No mission has expressed interest in purchasing USINT’s unserviceable vehicles.

PLUS

 

#13. What’s that?   Just couple or so sections accounted for the loss of multiple officers at post? Miserable.  So as a consequence, 3 out of 8 permanently assigned Entry Level Officer (ELO)/First and Second Tour (FAST) officers curtailed? You wouldn’t know it from reading the IG report. Blame it on this ‘swallow da bad stuff’ contraption:

Image via Imgur

Image via Imgur

 

#14.  Pardon me?  One officer curtailed Havana to go to Pakistan?  Yo, Pakistan! Then one officer … what?  A West Point grad, quit post and the Foreign Service in mid-tour? And then there’s one that did not work out … when we heard these, we’re like ….

Image via Imgur

Image via Imgur

 

That’s it, until the next listicle.

 

Related item: Inspection of U.S. Interests Section Havana, Cuba (ISP-I-14-10A)  [729 Kb]  05/31/14   | Posted on May 8, 2014

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