As the U.S. government steps up the pressure on Cuba, the State Department is relying on a veteran diplomat with experience in hotspots throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
Michael G. Kozak is a senior official at State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, or DRL.
He was born in Pasadena, California, on Sept. 18, 1946. He earned a law degree from the University of California School of Law at Berkeley in 1971.
In the 1970s, he was an assistant U.S. negotiator for the Panama Canal Treaties.
He took part in efforts to find a peaceful solution to the civil war in Nicaragua from 1978 to 1979.
Kozak also had a role in the case of Robert Vesco, a fugitive financier who sought refuge in Cuba, according to a confidential cable dated Aug. 2, 1978. The cable stated:
SEC HAS ADVISED US THAT YOU SUCCESSFULLY SERVED ROBERT VESCO PERSONALLY WITH DOCUMENTS INVOLVED IN SEC CASE. CONGRATULATIONS. SEC REQUESTS THAT CONSULAR OFFICER WHO SERVED VESCO EXECUTE AN AFFIDAVIT OF SERVICE TO THAT EFFECT FOR USE WITH COURT. TEXT OF MODEL AFFIDAVIT FOLLOWS. PLEASE PREPARE TYPED VERSION, HAVE IT SIGNED AND DULY NOTARIZED, AND MAIL OR POUCH TO DEPARTMENT IMMEDIATELY, ATTENTION MICHAEL KOZAK, L/ARA, RM 5527A.
After the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, Kozak helped negotiate an immigration accord with Cuba in 1984. His counterpart was Ricardo Alarcón, then deputy foreign minister at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Kozak also led “the planning that ended in the overthrow of Panamanian President Manuel Noriega in 1988,” Progreso Weekly reported. He helped the U.S.-backed government in Panama “establish the core institutions of democracy.”
A Dec. 21, 1989, cable posted to Wikileaks recounted Kozak’s role, mentioning at one point “Robert Mulle of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office.” I wonder if that’s a misspelling of Robert Mueller, who was involved in the Noreiga investigation. The cable stated:
MARCH 19, 1988 – DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY WILLIAM WALKER AND DEPUTY LEGAL ADVISOR MICHAEL KOZAK MEET NORIEGA AND OFFER TO FACILITATE HIS IMMEDIATE DEPARTURE TO EXILE AS WELL AS GUARANTEES FOR THE PANAMANIAN DEFENSE FORCES. THE GOVERNMENT POLITICAL PARTY, AND NORIEGA’S FAMILY AND FRIENDS. NORIEGA REFUSES DISMISSES HIS OPPONENTS AS PSYCHOTIC, AND MISREPRESENTS THE U.S. POSITION TO THE PDF GENERAL STAFF AS A U.S. ULTIMATUM TO DISBAND THE PDF.
APRIL 22 – MAY 25, – PRESIDENT SENDS DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETAR 1988 – MICHAEL KOZAK AND LT. COL. GERALD CLARK AS SPECIAL EMISSARIES. THEY NEGOTIATE DIRECTLY WITH NORIEGA A SCENARIO FOR HIS DEPARTURE NO LATER THAN AUGUST 12, 1988, A RESTORATIO) OF POLITICAL AND CIVIL LIBERTIES, PROVISION FOR TRANSITIONAL POLITICAL ARRANGEMENTS TO BE NEGOTIATED BY PANAMANIANS AND DISMISSAL OF U.S. INDICTMENTS FOLLOWING NORIEGA’S DEPARTURE. NORIEGA REFUSES TO IMPLEMENT AGREEMENT AT LAST MOMENT, CITING RESISTANCE FROM MIDDLE GRADE OFFICERS.
LATE SUMMER/EARLY – SECRETARY SHULTZ ENCOURAGES A SOUTH FALL, 1988 – AMERICAN PRESIDENT IN HIS OFFER TO MEDIATE. FOREIGN MINISTER IS APPOINTED TO UNDERTAKE THIS MISSION. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOZAK PROVIDES THE MEDIATOR A FULL BRIEFING ON THE MAY NEGOTIATIONS AND, ON INSTRUCTIONS, INDICATES U.S. WILLINGNESS TO ACCEPT AN APPROACH WHEREBY NORIEGA WOULD BE ALLOWED TO TAKE EXILE IN ANOTHER COUNTRY. THROUGH INTERMEDIARIES, U.S. ADVISES NORIEGA/GENERAL STAFF THA MEDIATOR IS AUTHENTIC CHANNEL. MEDIATOR MEETS WITH NORIEGA REPRESENTATIVE. NORIEGA’S FOREIGN MINISTER THEN CONTACTS MEDIATOR ON ISSUE (PRESUMABLY AT NORIEGA’S INSTIGATION). NORIEGA USES FACT OF CONVERSATION AS PRETEXT TO DENOUNCE MEDIATOR AS UNRELIABLE (FOR REVEALING CONTACT TO NORIEGA’S OWN MAN) AND CUTS OFF FURTHER CONTACT.
OCTOBER 1989 – DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOZAK, ROBERT MULLE. OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE AND DEPUTY LEGAL ADVISER MICHAEL MATHESON MEET WITH NORIEGA ATTORNEY. ATTORNEY STATES HE IS AUTHORIZED TO DISCUSS NORIEGA’S DEPARTURE. USG PARTICIPANTS REQUEST A SPECIFIC PROPOSAL AND OUTLINE USG PARAMETERS. ATTORNEY UNDERTAKES TO CONSULT WITH NORIEGA AND RETURN WITH A PROPOSAL WITHIN A WEEK. NO FURTHER CONTACT IS MADE.
As a special presidential envoy, Michael Kozak dealt with the crisis in Panama provoked by General Noriega’s attempt to overthrow the constitutional government.
U.S. forces invaded Panama in December 1989, leading to Noriega’s surrender in January 1990.
Some of Kozak’s others past positions include:
- Special negotiator for Haiti, 1993 to 1996
- Chief of the diplomatic mission in Havana, 1996 to 1999 (I am grateful that Kozak – along with Cuban diplomat Fernando Remírez de Estenoz – attended a conference that the Dallas Morning News sponsored in 1998. “Cuba in Evolution,” we called it).
- U.S. ambassador to Belarus, 2000
In 2003, Kozak became the DRL’s principal deputy assistant secretary. His duties included pressing other nations to condemn Cuba’s human rights record as illustrated by this confidential cable posted to Wikileaks.
Kozak was promoted to acting assistant secretary in 2004 and was the State Department’s pointman on human rights issues.
During a Feb. 28, 2005, meeting with reporters, he discussed the human rights situation in Cuba.
I wish I could say something has changed there. It’s really bad and stayed bad. I was head of our mission in Havana in the mid-’90s, or mid- to late ’90s, and have been dealing with Cuba for a good deal of my career. And, you know, it’s one of these things where you — it’s not just that the problems are the same, the individuals are the same. I mean, you’ve had people in the same positions for 45 years. And when you have a system that’s that stultified, you keep making the same mistakes over and over again and making them worse. With a democratic system, at least you have the chance every so often to rectify your errors and commit new ones, but you don’t keep making the same mistake over and over. But Cuba is a special case, in that regard.
Kozak, now 72, is married and has two sons, records show. On Sept. 4, 1980, he bought a home in Arlington, Virginia, for $231,750. He still owns the home, which was built in 1951 and now has an assessed value of $1,251,500, records show.
Kozak earned $2,279,156 for his work at the State Department from 2004 to 2017, records show. His annual salary in 2017 was $187,000.
No salary is shown for 2015, which leads to me to believe that he may have retired from government service and was later called back to duty.
During a press briefing on April 20, a reporter asked:
I’d like to know if you think that such statements in the United States weaken the impact of this report, because the American President has called the press an enemy of the people. And I think at one point he called for a closer look at libel laws or something like that. Do you think in the eyes of people that are looking at this report, as an example and as a resource, do statements like that currently weaken its impact?
Well, I think the report is very clear about the kinds of things that we consider to be inappropriate restrictions on freedom of the media – as I mentioned, using the legal system to go after members of the press, using physical force and so on. It doesn’t go to the nature of discourse in a country. And you can have your own judgments as to how – how strong a statement might or might not be, but I don’t – I don’t think we have a hard time explaining that in a lot of places. When you talk to some of my friends in Cuba, for example, who try to be independent journalists there and are routinely slapped around, they also get called names, but they – I think if it were limited to that they’d be pretty happy as compared to the situation now. So —
On Oct. 16, Kozak moderated a discussion about “the Cuban government’s continued use of arbitrary detention and specious charges to silence the Cuban people.”
Cuban and Bolivian diplomats protested the event, yelling and banging on their desks.
“¡Cuba sí, bloqueo no!” they shouted. “Cuba yes, blockade now!”
Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, Cuba’s ambassador to the U.N., told reporters:
Cuba is proud of its human rights record, which denies any manipulation against it. On the contrary, the U.S. lacks the morals to give lessons, much less in this matter.