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Cablegate: Cuban Border Guard's Feathers Ruffled by Uscg

VZCZCXYZ0036
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUB #0755/01 3521839
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 181839Z DEC 09
FM USINT HAVANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5024
RUCOWCV/CCGDSEVEN MIAMI FL PRIORITY
INFO RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COGARD INTELCOORDCEN WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RULSJGA/COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCOWCA/COMLANTAREA COGARD PORTSMOUTH VA PRIORITY 0144
RHEFHLC/HQ DHS WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/FBI WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCOWCV/MARINCEN MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCOGCA/NAVSTA GUANTANAMO BAY CU PRIORITY
RHMFISS/NAVINTELOFC GUANTANAMO BAY CU PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RHMFISS/DIRJIATF SOUTH J2 PRIORITY

S E C R E T HAVANA 000755

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/15/2029
TAGS: SNAR PREL SMIG PGOV CU ASEC
SUBJECT: CUBAN BORDER GUARD'S FEATHERS RUFFLED BY USCG
RESCUE

Classified By: COM JONATHAN FARRAR FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) & (D)

1. (C) Summary: The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Drug
Interdiction Specialist (DIS) assigned to the U.S. Interests
Section (USINT) in Havana, Cuba attended a 10 December 2009
meeting with the Cuban Ministry of Interior's (MININT)
International Relations Directorate (DRIC) and Border Guard
(CBG). The subject of the meeting was a 3 December 2009
rescue by the USCG of 3 American citizens whose sailing
vessel (S/V) inadvertently entered Cuban territorial seas
(TTS) and struck a reef, causing damage to the vessel, and
creating an imminently dangerous situation for the crew
onboard. The meeting also addressed the supposed incursion
of a USCG aircraft into Cuban airspace during a routine
patrol. During the meeting, Cuban officials alleged that the
USCG had violated Cuban airspace. The meeting between the
DIS and Cuba's MININT came at a time of heightened tension in
and around Havana. The atmosphere was notably improved in a
follow-up meeting with the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(MINREX) on 17 December. End Summary.

2. (C/NF) On 10 December 2009, the USCG DIS assigned to
USINT, attended a meeting with the Cuban MININT at a protocol
house in Havana. In attendance were the 2 MININT Directorate
of International Relations (DRIC) "handlers" who coordinate
the DIS's meetings with the Cuban Border Guard (CBG) and
National Anti-Drug Directorate (DNA) personnel. The total
number of MININT officers in attendance was 5: 1 Colonel
(COL) and 4 Lieutenant Colonels (LTCOL). 4 officers,
including the COL, sat directly across the table from the DIS
while one of the handlers sat immediately next to the DIS, as
usual, and read his written notes. All 5 officers were
wearing uniforms and ribbons as they normally do when they
want to appear more imposing and drive home their points.

3. (S/NF) COL Samper (COL), who directs CBG's operations
nation-wide, and is the DIS's primary conduit into the CBG
when not speaking directly with CBG watchstanders, was the
primary speaker during this meeting. He was accompanied by a
female LTCOL who has taken on more of an active role in CBG
interactions with the DIS in the past 6 months. The other
LTCOL, who the DIS believes directs the MININT's
international relations division (he rarely attends meetings,
but is normally visible when DIS is around/working with
MININT elements), played the role of the second heavy-handed
speaker who delivered the follow-up to COL Samper's comments.

4. (S/NF) COL Samper's 20-minute commentary elaborated on the
Diplomatic Note received in both Washington, DC and Havana
earlier this week, protesting the USCG's "gross violation" of
Cuban territorial seas (TTS) and airspace, on 3 and 4
December respectively. Focusing primarily on the COLUMBINE
incident, he gave a chronological run-down of the DIS's
communications with the CBG command center. He repeatedly
referred to the entry as "inexcusable, inadmissible, a
violation without authorization," and repeated much of the
same language contained in the Diplomatic Note. The COL
angrily asserted that throughout the duration of the
incident, a CBG vessel was standing by to assist the mariners
onboard the COLUMBINE, the mariners spoke Spanish and were
able to communicate with the CBG crew. The latter, he
alleged, made numerous offers of assistance, and told the
COLUMBINE crew that a rescue & salvage vessel was enroute to
assist. The Colonel asserted that the COLUMBINE was never in
any imminent danger, and he expressed disbelief that the
crewmember was suffering from chest pain.

5. (S/NF) While the COL's entire commentary was heated and
extremely pointed, he became visibly and verbally more
emotional when he brought up the issue of the time the USCG
took to recover cargo from the S/V and the water after the
USCG had already pulled the 3 mariners onboard 2 USCG rescue
vessels. DIS estimates that this act led the GOC/MININT/CBG
to question whether or not USCG crews were trying to cover
something up throughout the rescue phase of the case.

6. (S/NF) Following COL Samper's comments, the LTCOL
(presumably the head of MININT's DRIC) began to calmly
explain that he was not going to repeat the COL's comments,
but did want to underscore additional points. He likened the
supposed USCG HC-130 incursion on 4 December 2009 to the
"incident on February 24th, 1996," (referencing the Brothers
to the Rescue shoot-down case). Turning his attention to the
COLUMBINE incident, he reiterated that the entry of both USCG
"auxiliary vessels" was a gross violation of Cuban
sovereignty, and challenged the USG to look at this issue "as
if the tables were turned." If Cuban assets had entered U.S.
TTS, he forcefully stressed, the USG would be equally upset
and angry. He then asked why the USCG decided to violate
Cuban TTS when we (CBG) and the USCG (specifically USCG
District Seven in Miami) have worked similar cases in the
past, in which the Cubans have provided quick and capable
assistance.

7. (S/NF) The LTCOL's commentary became more and more
adversarial as he continued to speak, but he stuck to the
"command message" that both he and the COL relayed at various
points during the meeting: "The United States Government
owes the Government of Cuba an explanation as to why it took
the actions it did, and what measures we plan to prevent this
kind of violation from occurring again."

8. (S/NF) In tag-team fashion, towards the end of the
meeting, the COL and LTCOL asked for clarification on the
role of the USCG DIS in Cuba, and questioned whether the DIS
has the necessary influence with his bosses at USCG District
Seven to mitigate these kinds of incidents. Both MININT
officers seemed to be saying that as the USCG's designated
liaison to Havana, the DIS should be able to prevent these
kinds of "violations" by informing his headquarters in Miami.

9. (S/NF) DIS informed the group of officers that he was not
going to make any comments. Instead, he assured them he
would take all of the information that they passed and
forward it to USINT and District Seven, as well as ensure
that our response Diplomatic Note address the issues they
raised. Moreover, the DIS assured everyone in attendance
that there was no contraband in the bags recovered from the
S/V, and they were only the crew's personal belongings.

10. (S/NF) The meeting closed when the COL showed the DIS a
list of the items recovered from the S/V COLUMBINE, making
sure to point out the length of the list (100 items) that
included radar and radios. He was adamant that each item was
dry and in good condition when it was recovered. He then
showed the DIS 3 photos of COLUMBINE, "the day after the
incident," in good condition, with a Cuban salvage operator
climbing its mast. In the photos, the vessel is listing
approximately 20-30 degrees, and looks to be high and dry out
of the water (assuming low-tide). One of the color photos
depicted the name of the vessel (of note was the COL's
comment that "none of these photos has been doctored by Cuban
officials"). When the DIS asked the COL if his office could
send the DIS copies of the photos via email, he stated "we
have the photos and all the other information, but we're not
sending anything." That concluded the meeting.

11. (S/NF) Observations: 10 December is International Human
Rights Day. There was undoubtedly a lot of tension in Havana
as there were numerous crackdowns on peaceful human rights
marchers as well as on one British Diplomat who was passively
observing the protests as part of his work portfolio.
Besides MININT's follow-up to the go-fast "hijacking" case
prior to the Migration Talks in July 2009, this was the most
heated meeting the DIS has had since his arrival in-country.
Both officers were doing their best to make a point, angrily,
but the DIS gauges that both were genuinely upset.


12. (S/NF) Comment: While the relationship that exists
between the USCG and Cuba's MININT, specifically the CBG and
DNA, is generally viewed as one of the more fruitful and
positive USG-GOC interactions, this relationship is by no
means immune to the periodic bursts of anger at the U.S. by
the GOC. Separately, Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(MINREX) representative, Armando Bencomo, took a softer line
and opined that the case demonstrates that both the U.S. and
Cuba could stand to improve the flow of information between
both sides. The DIS gauges confidently that MINREX, via
MININT, is attempting to elicit a response from the USG in
order to maximize its interaction with USINT and the USG writ
large. The DIS accompanied the Chief of Mission to a meeting
at MINREX on 17 December to present the USG response to the
GOC Diplomatic Note on this issue. The tone of that meeting
was much more calm as the MINREX side appeared to take well
the news that the USCG was reviewing the incident and
information would be forthcoming.
FARRAR

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