How Dangerous is Cuba?

Since 1958, the United States has imposed a trade embargo on the island nation of Cuba It bans American and foreign companies who trade with Cuba, from also trading in the U

S It is the longest embargo in modern history Since 1992 the UN General Assembly has condemned this economic strangulation It asks what, if any, threat Cuba poses to a global superpower Yet in 2019, the Trump administration maintains “El Bloqueo”

The White House says that by criticising America’s stance on Cuba, the UN has lost any kind of moral authority Is Cuba really a threat to global security? Just how dangerous is Cuba? Cuba is a small nation in the Caribbean, home to eleven million people and with an official GDP above $87 billion A former colony of Spain, it was ceded to America in 1898, and became a satellite of the US until Fidel Castro seized power in a revolution in 1959

The Communist Party of Cuba remains in charge Prior to 1989, Cuba had the largest Latin American military per capita It had 130,000 serving soldiers, including armoured and mechanised divisions Much of this was funded by an annual loan of $4 billion from the Soviet Union After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the loan from the Soviet Union was cancelled

Consequently, Cuba was forced to cut its military budget by 50%, from almost $12 billion to $600 million As a result, according to a 1997 joint report by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, a “significant number of active duty members” in the Cuban military were engaged in sustainment tasks to maintain strength Growing their own food, cannibalising equipment and fundraising became the primary job of the military, as government funding was replaced by a policy of self sufficiency Cuba is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 2002, and to the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention of 1976

This means, officially, they possess no weapons of mass destruction A 2015 report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that Cuba has 90,000 men and women on active military service, with 58 combat ready aircraft and 12 naval vessels This contrasts sharply with the US, whose 2019 military budget of $674

4 billion gives them 13 million active troops, 2,200 aircraft, 275 naval vessels and approximately 4,018 active nuclear weapons Given this large disparity between the US and Cuba’s military capabilities, Cuba seems to pose no danger whatsoever to its northern neighbour

Yet Cuba might not feel the need for a strong military According to William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Cuba’s secret intelligence activity is increasing In an interview with former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell, Evanina said that Cuba should be high on America’s list of potential enemies because, “The Cuban Intelligence Service for decades [has been] silent but deadly” Cuba has a long history of infiltrating US

agencies In September 2001, Ana Belen Montes, the Defence Intelligence Agency’s most senior Cuban analyst, was arrested and charged with espionage on behalf of the Cuban government Earlier, in 1998, five Cuban intelligence officers in Miami were convicted of conspiring to commit espionage and murder In 1987, towards the end of the Cold War, Major Florentino Aspillaga Lombard, a senior official in Cuban intelligence, defected and revealed just how easy it was for Cuba to implant agents Lombard informed the CIA that approximately 350 Cuban agents were active in America, and had been living and working in the U

S for years Former State Department counterintelligence officer Fred Burton believes the threat of Cuban intelligence never left In 2015 Burton warned that the newly opened US

embassy in Havana made “the United States much more vulnerable to monitoring and infiltration by Cuban intelligence agencies” Burton’s warning appeared to come true in 2016 and 2017 US officials working at the embassy began to complain of dizziness, vertigo and pain

The US State Department feared they were victims of new weapons that used sound In October 2017, President Trump directly accused Cuba of attacking US

embassy staff with sonic weapons The Cuban government says accusations of deliberate sonic attacks are merely “speculation” Instead, it blames the indigenous Jamaican Field Cricket for the strange noises However, a year later, US

diplomats in China complained of similar symptoms, ranging from headaches to sleeplessness While the exact cause has yet to be found, China and Cuba are known to share technology and classified information In February 2018, US satellites spotted a new radome south of Havana in a region called Bejucal (BEH-HOO-CAAL)

Such constructions are extremely rare in Cuba, because the technology and funding required are difficult to obtain US Senator Marco Rubio, who sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence, calls it “[a] Chinese listening station in Bejucal” Significantly, both Russia and China have expressed their desire to increase military and economic investments in Cuba

China is Cuba’s largest international creditor and trading partner, offering large unconditional loans for redevelopment and infrastructure In return, China receives preferential treatment for its commercial interests and military cooperation Meanwhile, in 2014, Putin wrote off 90% of Cuba’s $32 billion military debt to Russia As recently as March 2018, Russia used Havana as a base for its intelligence ship Viktor Leonov, when it completed reconnaissance patrols along the US

Eastern seaboard It’s not just China and Russia who supply money and materials to Cuba Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Mongolia and North Korea also ignore America’s trade embargo So too do US

allies Poland, Canada and Spain This trade has been a lifeline for the authoritarian Cuban regime However, the official US stance has always been that the embargo is there to exert pressure on the Cuban government to enact democratic reforms

America’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, says countries that circumvent the embargo only harm the Cuban people by supporting a dictatorship To her, “[The embargo demonstrates] continued solidarity with the Cuban people” From 1959 to 2018, the Castro family ruled Cuba with a combination of propaganda and fear According to Human Rights Watch, arbitrary detention and harassment is still used to restrict journalists, activists and political opponents Between 2010 and 2016, arbitrary detention rose from an average of 172 cases to 827 per month

According to Human Rights Watch, this number did decrease by 50% in 2017, and by a further 45% in 2018 However that is still an average of 253 arbitrary arrests a month, and detainees are allegedly subject to beatings and threats Meanwhile, The Ladies in White, a group formed of wives and daughters of imprisoned political activists, say they are frequently harassed and assaulted by the authorities There is little freedom of expression The government routinely blocks access to the internet

In 2009 an American aid worker, Alan Gross, was jailed for five years for setting up internet connections for the small Jewish community on the island According to Amnesty International, editors, artists and journalists who criticise the regime risk detention They are routinely denied fair trials Public hearings and impartial tribunals are replaced by a judicial panel of judges that answers to the government Even when cases go to trial, prisoners are kept in inhuman conditions

Prisons are overcrowded, inmates are forced to work 12 hours a day and risk punishment if they fail to reach production quota In 1962, for thirteen days in October, Cuba was one of the most dangerous places on Earth The Cuban Missile Crisis almost brought about nuclear war, and the end of life on Earth Six decades later, Cuba itself doesn’t pose much danger to the world It lacks the manpower and equipment to either attack or defend itself against the might of the USA

However, America’s evident hostility to Cuba may have forced the island to seek friends elsewhere This has given America’s rivals a strategically advantageous position, just over 300 kilometres from Miami

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