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World Perspective | CUBA

It's a Dog's Life for U.S. Envoy in Havana

The head of the Interests Section took anti-American sentiment in stride--until the kennel club went after her hound.

March 23, 2001|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HAVANA — As the Bush administration appears to slip seamlessly into a post-post-Cold War foreign policy of further isolating renegade regimes, it might pause for just a moment and consider the case of Vicki Huddleston and her hound, Havana.

Huddleston, a career U.S. diplomat, heads the fortress-like mission--officially dubbed the U.S. Interests Section--in the Cuban capital, Washington's only link here since America severed its ties with President Fidel Castro's Communist government 40 years ago.

The case of Huddleston and her Afghan hound sheds a rare bit of light on the life of U.S. diplomats at the front line of that isolationist policy, underscoring how the envoys often suffer the indignities of their own isolation under their government's isolationist policy.

Huddleston, after all, is barred from traveling outside Havana's city limits without special permission--as are Cuban diplomats in Washington. She's often shunned from the party lists of the dozens of friendlier-to-Fidel embassies. And her office window facing Cuba's new seafront Dignity Plaza often looks out on the throngs and slogans of anti-U.S. demonstrators.

Then, last month, the directors of the national Afghan hound kennel club kicked her out of the organization--along with her dog.

The club's president, Amalia Castro, sent the eviction notice Feb. 6, citing the U.S. government's "policy of hostility against our people and government" and Huddleston's personal support for Cuban dissidents on the island.

"You will understand that these facts," wrote Castro, who isn't related to the president, "are incompatible with the morality of our association."

At that point, Huddleston, who has endured such slights largely in diplomatic silence through her 18 months here, spoke out. She told locally based foreign journalists soon after she got the letter that attacking her was one thing--but shunning her hound was quite another.

Besides, she asserted, the expulsion order was probably more about canine competition than capitalist ideology. Her prized Havana, she said, had defeated Amalia Castro's Afghan in last year's annual dog show.

Ten days after Huddleston contacted the media, the National Assn. of Afghan Breeds reconsidered. Amalia Castro sent a second letter to the "Distinguished Senora" Huddleston. It was an apology--not to the diplomat but to the dog, who is officially registered as "Hassan Havana Huddleston."

The club president conceded that Havana had been "slandered," adding, "We wish to pay a homage of amends to the beautiful and exemplary daughter of Hassan."

Still, the missive made it clear that only the dog was welcome back to the club, and it invited Havana to participate in the upcoming national dog show in the capital next month.

Huddleston's response: Her dog most definitely will attend, "and they can't keep me from going to the show."

"It's a dog-eat-dog world out there," she said, using a bit of the litany of new diplomatic language she has been fond of since the affair began. "Besides, I'm always in the doghouse here, anyway."

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