Ex-US Diplomat Urges Caution on Cuba

A former American diplomat who for years worked for the U.S. government while in Cuba issued a strong word of caution regarding the move toward normalization of relations between the two countries.

"This is not a good group of people," former State Department official Charles Barclay said of the Castro regime. "It is not a benign government. Will they crack heads down the line? Almost certainly. It is a government that will accept a certain amount of change but under very strict circumstances."

Barclay served as the deputy head of mission for the U.S. Department of State in Havana for three years starting in 2009.

The diplomatic mission, called an "interests section," has been operating in Cuba since the mid 1970s. He made the comments Sunday on NBC4 Los Angeles.

While expressing caution, Barclay nevertheless endorsed President Barack Obama's decision to restore full diplomatic relations with the Castro regime.

"The embargo and the effort to isolate the Cuban government and squeeze the economy to seek some political change simply hasn't worked in 50 years." said Barclay, who recently retired from the State Department after 28 years of service. "It's time we had some new tools to work with."

While in Cuba, Barclay routinely met with American prisoner Alan Gross, who was arrested for pro-democracy activities and accused by the Cuban government of "crimes against the state." Barclay called Gross "courageous" and said he felt deep satisfaction upon his release.

"The goal is to promote the development of a small but growing private sector in Cuba and help pragmatists within the Cuban government isolate the hard liners," he said. "But things move glacially in Cuba, and these changes are going to come very slowly."

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