HAVANA Despite years of U.S. political and financial support for Cuban dissidents, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana said opposition leaders are largely unknown, badly divided and unlikely to ever run the country, according to a secret diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks.
U.S. Interests Section chief Jonathan Farrar said the dissidents deserved backing as the "conscience of Cuba," but Washington "should look elsewhere, including within the government itself, to spot likely successors to the Castro regime."
"We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans," Farrar said. Without changes, he said, "the traditional dissident movement is not likely to supplant the Cuban government."
The cable, published on Thursday by Spanish newspaper El Pais, is one of 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables Wikileaks has begun issuing on the Internet and provided to a number of media outlets.
Farrar's comments, made in a cable dated April 15, 2009, raise questions about the wisdom of the United States' longtime policy of supporting Cuban dissidents as an alternative to the Communist government that has ruled the island since a 1959 revolution put Fidel Castro in power.
Despite claims they are supported by thousands of Cubans, Farrar said "informal polls we have carried out among visa and refugee applicants have shown virtually no awareness of dissident personalities or agendas."
He described the dissident movement as largely ineffectual, due to factors including internal conflict, outsized egos, preoccupation with money, outdated agendas and infiltration by the Cuban government.
"The greatest effort is directed at obtaining enough resources to keep the principal organizers and their key supporters living from day to day," Farrar wrote.
MONEY AND MISTRUST
He told of one political party organization that told him "quite openly and frankly it needed resources to pay salaries" and presented him "with a budget in hopes the (interests section) would be able to cover it."
"With seeking resources as a primary concern, the next most important pursuit seems to be to limit or marginalize the activities of erstwhile allies, thus preserving power and access to scarce resources," he said.
Cuba views dissidents as mercenaries in the pay of the United States and allied with anti-Castro Cuban exiles.
Farrar said dissidents get "much of their resources" from exile groups, but also look upon the exiles with suspicion.
"Opposition members of all stripes complain the intention of the exiles is to undercut local opposition groups so that they can move into power when the Castros leave," he wrote.
Dissident leaders tend to be "comparatively old" and out of touch with a Cuban society less concerned with freeing political prisoners than "having greater opportunities to travel freely and live comfortably," Farrar wrote.
He said a new generation of "non-traditional dissidents," such as internationally known blogger Yoani Sanchez, will likely have more impact in post-Castro Cuba, but that "the most immediate successors to the Castro regime will probably come from within the middle ranks of the government itself."
Farrar's cable was written before President Raul Castro, in apparent response to international pressure and dissident activities, agreed in July to release political prisoners.
So far, more than 50 have been freed, with almost all going to Spain in an agreement with the Spanish government.
Long-time dissident Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights, told Reuters he did not feel out of touch with younger Cubans, but said there was an occasional "generational rupture" among Cuba's opposition.
Still, he admitted, "There comes the moment when we must retire from the scene. That appears to me convenient from all points of view."
(Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes and Esteban Israel; Editing by Todd Eastham)