State Dept: Cuba poisoning diplomats' pets

As President Obama and members of Congress push to strengthen relations with Cuba, the State Department released a report on Friday that details Cuban efforts to weaken the morale of U.S. diplomats on the island by poisoning their family pets.

The 64-page report written in 2007 states that the life of U.S. diplomats serving in the U.S. Interest Section (USINT) – which issues visas and performs other diplomatic services in Havana – was laden with poor morale “in part because USINT life in Havana is life with a government that ‘let’s [sic] you know it’s hostile.’”

Cuban officials would often try to create dissention within the ranks of U.S. diplomats on the island according to the report, which was prepared and released by the State Department inspector general.

“Retaliations have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime has recently gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal has been to instigate dissension within USINT ranks.”

“(H)ousehold effects and consumable shipments are languishing in containers awaiting customs clearance. Customs clearance has also lagged for some unaccompanied air freight shipments,” the report says.

The official account of U.S. diplomats in the Communist country closely follows recent political efforts to improve ties with Cuba.

President Obama, in advance of a summit of Latin American leaders that begins next week, is expected to ease restrictions on Cuban-Americans who send money and visit family in Cuba.

Several Latin America countries have put increasing pressure on Obama to signal a change in relations with Cuba. His move is meant to break with the hard-line approach taken by the Bush administration in which travel and the sending of money to the island was severely limited.

The report also comes days after a visit to Cuba by members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). They were the first U.S. officials to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro since he took over for his brother, Fidel, more than one year ago.

The U.S. delegation returned with positive comments about their discussion, which they said were the beginning stages of talks that could end the nearly 50-year old trade embargo with the island.

“This is a moment where we need to review our policies as it relates to the embargo against Cuba, and, first, allow American citizens to travel to Cuba,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) on NPR this week. “(The embargo) has not worked. And, in fact, it has done just the opposite. It has isolated the United States.”

The State Department has also been developing talk strategies with Cuba in order to anticipate what ending the embargo could mean in terms of emergency preparedness and travel to and from the island, according to the report released on Friday.

“Fidel Castro’s incapacitation underscored the urgency of gaming out scenarios for a new era in relations between Cuba and the United States. USINT has actively engaged in planning for what comes next, including how the U.S. government can best pursue the outcomes that it desires.

“On a tactical level, USINT has devised steps that will allow it to react to the consular, migration, and security contingencies most likely to arise in emergency scenarios or with a change of regime. On a parallel track, the mission has continued to develop a plan for reacting to a major hurricane, a health epidemic, or other potential natural disasters.”