Over forty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, America once again finds itself in the crosshairs of a determined, Cuban-based adversary possessing the capability to inflict incalculable damage to U.S. democracy efforts and regional stability. That adversary is China.
For two decades, Soviet defense, economic and intelligence assistance allowed Fidel Castro’s Cuba to project its own brand of Stalinist totalitarianism throughout Latin America infesting countries such as; Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Chile. Castro’s dream of leading a new Latin American empire ended abruptly in the early 1990’s with the fall of the Soviet Union, sending the diminutive island nation into a catastrophic, decade-long economic freefall.
Recognizing an opportunity for a permanent base of influence and operations in the Western Hemisphere, China has stepped into the void caused by the Soviet collapse to embrace Castro, giving the Cuban leader a second chance to secure a place among the world’s communist immortals.
Castro’s fondness of China is well-known. In fact, Cuba was the first Latin American country to establish relations with China in 1961. Since that time, Cuba and China have attempted to balance domestic economic expansion with a strong, central control of the political process. As a result, natural synergies have emerged allowing both countries to develop a beneficial relationship in the areas of defense, finance, education, energy, intelligence, science, and telecommunications.
The bilateral relationship has grown in both its diversity and intensity recently, heightened by Cuba and China’s mutual disdain for what they see as America’s global hegemony and intrusiveness. Their joint, anti-democracy stance was further solidified in March when Cuba’s Foreign Ministry Office issued a statement supporting the “one China” principle and the Chinese anti-secession law.
Recent diplomatic overtures and a renewed commitment to the Castro government make it clear that China views Cuba as a valuable ally moving forward. In November 2004, Chinese President Hu Jintao and 200 Chinese businesspersons took part in the China Investment and Trade Forum in Havana. As a result of this increased economic cooperation, China has become the island’s third largest trading partner behind only Venezuela and Spain. This, as Chinese President Hu Jintao reaffirmed his country’s commitment to Latin America by announcing an astounding $100 billion investment in the region in the next decade.
But China’s primary interest in Cuba is not related to commerce. Rather, the country is interested in fostering defense ties with the island and developing a state-of-the-art intelligence infrastructure to monitor U.S. activities in the region. Intelligence and spying, not Cuban cigars and sugar cane, motivates Beijing.
Since the late 1990’s, independent Cuban journalists have reported an increasing number of Chinese diplomats, scientists, engineers, and military advisors arriving in Cuba. As a result, the Cuban Chinese community now makes up 1 percent of the island’s total population of 11.3 million people.
In the face of an increasing Chinese presence only 90 miles off the Florida coast, the question remains; Will Fidel Castro become a conduit for Chinese expansionist aspirations in the region setting the stage for another confrontation with the U.S.? Given Cuba’s dismal economic condition, Castro’s deteriorating health, and a consensus within the Cuban government that China offers a formidable ally against American regional authority and control – the answer is increasingly yes.
When considering the possibility of another confrontation with Cuba, it is important to remember that Fidel Castro is the same man who in 1962, pleaded with the Soviet Union to initiate a nuclear attack on the U.S. He is directly responsible for a Latin American communist insurgency that has resulted in regional destabilization and illegal immigration over America’s southern border. After coming to power, he nationalized billions of dollars worth of American property without compensation to its owners. His clandestine support of Latin American drug smugglers and trafficking is well known.
In March, Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alberto Moreno took a page out of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s book of socialist paranoia by stating, “U.S. officials are publicly speaking of regime change in Cuba. They were already attacking us as sponsors of terrorism. Now we are told we are an outpost of tyranny. We do not discount the possibility of military action.” These are merely diversionary comments designed to conceal illicit or subversive actions on the part of both China and Cuba.
Both countries are working together to penetrate U.S. intelligence, collect classified information on U.S. ports and navel assets, and secure information on the latest U.S. science and technology. China and Cuba have increased their cooperation in the areas of cyber-terrorism, biological and chemical weapons research and development, and missile capabilities. In addition, China’s use of the Bejucal base in Cuba, as well as facilities in Wajay and Santiago de Cuba, pose a growing threat to U.S. national security.
There is little doubt that a sophisticated and well integrated Chinese defense and intelligence infrastructure is being built in America’s backyard. To combat this growing threat, the current U.S. embargo first initiated in 1960 that applies to all goods, excluding medicine, medical products and agricultural commodities should remain firmly in place. The policy of U.S. agricultural companies trading with Cuba on a cash only basis prior to delivery should also continue, as well as the ongoing policy restricting travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba.
In the face of international pressure, comprehensive U.S. legislative action such as the Cuban Democracy Act which prohibits foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba, and the Helms-Burton Act which denies certain visas and gives American citizens the right to sue foreign investors, should be continued and strengthened. In addition, a “Cuban Contingency Plan” should be formulated to counter any increased defense and intelligence activities initiated by Cuba which may involve hostile, non-hemispheric foreign powers such as China.
Moreover, bulk carriers and transports offloading at Cuban ports should be closely monitored for offensive or intelligence-oriented contraband including: advanced satellite communications and jamming equipment, missiles and their components, mobile launch platforms, sophisticated military hardware, and tracking devices.
It is no coincidence that China is positioning itself in the Gulf of Mexico, Panamanian Peninsula, Canada’s British Columbia, and Venezuela. It is also no coincidence that the Chinese are spending billions of dollars to upgrade antiquated Soviet military facilities in Cuba. Not surprisingly, escalating Chinese economic involvement in Latin America since the 1990’s has brought with it a resurgence of socialist behavior and empathy.
Recent actions by the Chinese in the Western Hemisphere are designed to secure state-sponsored outposts at strategic “choke” points that one day can be used by Beijing to place acute pressure on the U.S. and its allies. In this regard, recent comments made by Chinese sympathizers such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez that a “new geopolitical map of alliances is emerging” support a troubling trend of inflammatory comments by Latin leaders. Otto Reich, a Cuban-born U.S. diplomat under the first President Bush stated in March, “The U.S. needs a secure and prosperous hemisphere not only to ensure a peaceful neighborhood in which to live, but also to be able to project its power to the farthest reaches of the globe.”
Fidel Castro is an increasingly isolated man frustrated by a communist strategy that has produced 40 years of suffering for the Cuban people. As his years as president wind down, he is seeking to solidify his socialist legacy. What better way to achieve this goal than by playing one final cruel joke on America by allowing communist China unrestricted access to the Western Hemisphere?
Frederick W. Stakelbeck, Jr. is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia.