Previously, Ziff had been appointed Senior Fellow at the US Department of State for the US German Marshall Fund (GMF), where he focused on restoring transatlantic ties between Washington and Europe. He has worked in Spain, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Australia and Israel. He was Deputy Director of the Office of Central American Affairs at the State Department. He has held senior positions in the US embassies in Venezuela, Iraq and Italy. He received the State Department’s Murrow Award for Public Diplomacy and the Presidential Rank Award.
a good negotiator
A western diplomat, whose identity we withhold, describes “Benjamin G. Ziff as a good negotiator. At the moment, relations between Havana and Washington have been at an impasse since 2016. With the arrival of Trump, everything the Obama administration had achieved was undone. The alleged sonic attacks, the strengthening of the conservative positions of the Cuban regime, the pandemic, the economic crisis Cuba is going through and the unstoppable wave of migration require both sides to sit down and engage in dialogue. The immigration issue is a national security issue in the United States and will, of course, affect the midterm elections. I believe that Ziff can open a channel for serious dialogue, smooth out rough edges and create a climate of trust. Keeping human rights on the table at all times, which is a priority in the Biden administration.”
“Falcon or dove?” DIARIO LAS AMÉRICAS asked the diplomat. “I don’t think Zúñiga-Brown was a hard line, nor that Ziff will come to restore the Obama doctrine. Like politics, diplomacy is the art of the possible. And both the Cuban government and the White House must engage in dialogue and seek agreements on common issues such as illegal immigration, the fight against drugs, respect for freedom of expression and, where possible, sign agreements that benefit Cubans,” he replied. .
Another source believes that “The question or suspicion that Timothy Zúñiga-Brown was replaced due to poor work should no longer be addressed. His mission lasted two years. Mara Tekach, who preceded him, also spent two years. Some things may change, but the United States government will continue to insist on the release of the 11J prisoners and the release of dissidents such as José Daniel Ferrer, Félix Navarro, Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca, Luis Manuel Otero and Maykel Osorbo.”
Zúñiga Brown “Interference”
According to rumors from diplomatic circles in Havana, the Cuban authorities had complained to Washington about Zúñiga-Brown’s alleged “disrespectful conduct”. In this regard, a foreign official argues:
“Local political actors saw Timothy as a man who defends Trump’s actions against the regime. Zúñiga-Brown’s speech during the July 4th commemoration was found disturbing by Cuban officials. The government here has a very thin skin when it comes to criticizing them or supporting dissidence. But in the current context, sitting down at the negotiating table is a priority for the regime, as the economic situation is at its limit and social discontent is like a grenade without a fuse. The United States knows. And something is brewing between AMLO, the Vatican and Washington. There are sensitive issues such as possible acoustic attacks, irregular emigration, repression and the imprisonment of opponents. But Havana is increasingly dependent on Miami. Emigrant money is the second national industry. The economic measures applied by Díaz-Canel did not work. Geographically, Cuba cannot be moved. The United States is their natural market, and the two million Cubans who live there are the best asset they have to rebuild the country. Negotiations with the White House would be a first step. Later, the island government has to make a deal with wealthy Cuban-American politicians and businessmen. The solution is to cut that Gordian knot. If the authorities want to get out of this morass, Ziff could be a suitable person to talk to.”
The internal dissidence has conflicting opinions. Opposition leader Manuel Cuesta Morúa reiterates that the appointment of Benjamín G. Ziff “entails a new approach that is more assertive on human rights issues and therefore more open to the opposition. This is a political label responding to Biden’s vision on Cuba. It’s not a purely diplomatic designation like the previous one. On two counts: on the big migration issue, which puts the accent on the primary issue related to the government, and on the issue of human rights and democracy. On this last point, I understand that contact and exchanges with the opposition will be increased.
According to Cuesta Morua, “Timothy Zúñiga-Brown, who has previous experience in Cuba, has done a good job in terms of political prisoners, supporting civil society and keeping a close eye on the oppression in Cuba. But perhaps he lacked a larger vision of the possibilities of the Cuban transition.”
Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, opponent and director of the audiovisual medium Palenque Vision, does not believe that “the appointment of the new chargé d’affaires can change anything. To save the time there were diplomats like Vicki Huddleston and James Cason who did a commendable job consistent with what the moment called for and the support the opposition in Cuba needed. From my point of view, business leaders who arrive in Havana go with an agenda and cannot exceed it because it is set by the administration on duty. So I don’t know what wave Ziff can come in. But I don’t think it will make a difference because the interests of the White House prevail,” he said, adding:
Good management of Zúñiga
“I rate Zúñiga-Brown’s management as good. He had significant support for the opposition, but I repeat, this is always in line with Washington’s drafted agenda. Zúñiga reminded me of Mara Tekach, who has personally traveled to the eastern provinces and met with several dissidents and civil society activists, and that has been done by a few United States Embassy officials, and that is creditable. On the Cuban issue, and I am very clear on this, Cubans must strategize themselves and decide our future. There are many variables at stake, the issue of immigration negotiations, support for private companies and other issues shared by many opponents disagree, but it is the vision of the Biden administration that follows Obama’s guidelines to open gaps within society and make people independent from the state, but none of these strategies have found the approval of the resistance leaders in Cuba, reflecting the inherently repressive nature of the dictatorship, which is always several steps ahead of the détente governments of the United States”.
The prevailing opinion among many Cubans is that, beyond the negotiations that Washington could agree with the regime in Havana, a broad segment of compatriots recognizes that the future of the island depends on an inclusive dialogue between compatriots inside and outside the country and stop the Catastrophe. Any other strategy could be doomed to failure.