Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on the nomination of Jonathan Farrar to be the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua. After thoroughly researching his track record, consulting with others familiar with his work and personally questioning him during a Senate hearing last month, I believe his confirmation would send the wrong message and I strenuously oppose it.
His tenure as chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana should alarm all my colleagues. Several Cuban human-rights organizations reported his systematic “reluctance and disinterest” to work with dissidents in Cuba, while keeping his distance from the besieged pro-democracy organizations in that country. Under his direction, the mission dismantled creative methods that had been put in place and maintained by the two previous chiefs of mission to visibly engage with the Cuban people and bring them uncensored information. The most notable of these was taking down the news ticker that ran across the façade of the U.S. Interests Section projecting quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and uncensored news headlines to those living under Castro’s repressive regime.
When given a chance to alleviate these concerns during his nomination hearing, Mr. Farrar did not credibly explain what prompted the policy shift that ended these creative initiatives. He also failed to explain his role in this decision.
According to press reports, an April 2009 dispatch signed by Mr. Farrar stated that Cuban pro-democracy activists’ focus on human rights did not resonate with Cubans “who are more concerned about having greater opportunities to travel freely and live comfortably.” This conclusion raises the possibility that Mr. Farrar believes respect for the rule of law and human rights is predicated on economic progress. Furthermore, his views conflicted with information from surveys done by internationally-recognized NGOs inside Cuba, which note that more than 75 percent of Cuban adults have expressed support for voting for fundamental political change if given the opportunity.
During his hearing, Mr. Farrar did not explain how he arrived at those conclusions. Furthermore, Mr. Farrar did not provide any evidence of programs he would have proposed to address the situation described on the April 2009 dispatch and help the Cuban pro-democracy groups strengthen the capacity of their organizations even as they face the relentless persecution of the Castro regime.
During a September 2009 visit to Cuba by then–Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bisa Williams, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana hosted a reception where Castro regime officials were invited, but representatives of independent civil society were excluded. This unprecedented measure undermined long-standing bipartisan U.S. policy to support Cuba’s pro-democracy movement. It’s practically unheard of for the U.S. Interests Section to have an event and exclude dissidents.
During his hearing, Mr. Farrar failed to explain the purpose of excluding dissident organizations from U.S. events or his role in planning the September 2009 reception. He also did not provide an explanation as to how many other similarly exclusionary events took place during his assignment in Havana.
In sum, while in Havana, Mr. Farrar adopted a “give no offense” approach to U.S. policy in Cuba, unilaterally dismantling or weakening U.S. pro-democracy initiatives in order to placate the Castro regime. More importantly, the measures taken under his direction failed to produce any demonstrable improvement in the Castro regime’s human rights record or its willingness to engage the Cuban people in a path towards meaningful political openness.
In Nicaragua, a determined and autocratic President Daniel Ortega is corrupting and weakening Nicaraguan institutions to extend his grip on power. He has manipulated elections, corrupted and manipulated the courts, and threatened opposition members with mob violence.
Mr. Farrar’s nomination is problematic because of its broader applications to every embassy and diplomatic mission we have around the world. It goes to heart of the question: What is the proper role of the United States around the world when it comes to advocating for freedom? In countries where people live in the oppressive darkness or feel increasingly powerless in the face of authoritarianism, is the United States going to be a shining light that people can turn to for support? Are we going to be a voice for the powerless?
I believe that whether it’s people in Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, Syria, or anywhere else around the world, the United States must be a voice that will speak clearly and unmistakably for freedom. Our diplomatic corps — from the ambassadors all the way down to the Foreign Service officers on their first assignments — should be doing everything they possibly can to vehemently support democratic movements around the world. We certainly shouldn’t be shunning them, diminishing them, or undermining them in any way.
I am deeply troubled by the message the president is sending not only to Nicaragua and Cuba but the entire Western Hemisphere through this nomination. I am concerned about what it says to the rest of the world. At this time, we need a forceful and unequivocal voice for democratic values and the rule of law in Nicaragua. Mr. Farrar is not the right choice for this post and he should not be approved by the committee.
— Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and serves as ranking member of its Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps and Global Narcotics Affairs.