In the wake of President Barack Obama’s unilateral decision to reward the communist regime in Havana with the reversal of 50 years of American foreign policy following a routine prisoner exchange, polling has shown that the public is broadly supportive of the president’s move.
A new ABC News/Washington Post survey found that the vast majority of the public favors the establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. 64 percent back creating bilateral diplomatic ties today, down a statistically insignificant 2 points from 2009.
Americans believe that the issue of diplomatic bonds is largely unconnected from trade and travel restrictions. 68 percent support ending the trade embargo against that island nation and nearly three-quarters support abolishing travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba – an 11-point and 19-point jump from 2009 respectively.
“The poll described each policy in general and did not mention Obama’s action, maintaining broad comparability to previous surveys,” The Washington Post averred.
It’s quite the demonstration of faulty logic on the public’s part to back the abolishment of trade and travel relations with Cuba, but remain less enthusiastic about the necessity of diplomatic ties. For Americans who would plan to engage in either practice with Cuba sans full diplomatic relations, they will be operating without a net should that trade or travel go awry.
That is just one element that serves to demonstrate how thoroughly the national political press has failed to educate the public on the issues relating to Cuban-American relations. If you are not self-educated on the myriad obstacles preventing the immediate normalization of relations between these two countries, you could be forgiven for thinking that America’s present policy toward Cuba is arbitrary and unthinking. The fact that the press prefers this oversimplified narrative is evident in that that so many appear to share it.
Already, the price America paid for the pleasure of having Raul Castro entertain the notion of opening Cuba to the United States was to consent to the release of convicted murderers who also happen to be Cuban nationals. In exchange, the United States received a CIA operative and an American religious missionary whose only crime was to seek to provide Cuban Jews with satellite radios. This disproportionality is only going to be the beginning of America’s one-sided effort to seek rapprochement with Cuba.
Outside of local media in Florida, how often has it been reported that Cuba harbors approximately 80 fugitives from American justice; murderers, anti-American revolutionaries, and even a member of the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. Havana is not about to give all of these criminals up, many of whom have been living in this communist nation for decades and have firm ties to the local community. In fact, the Cuban government has already signaled that the extradition of American fugitives is off the table. So, will Washington seek controversial extradition treaty with Cuba or will the president offer these violent criminals a blanket pardon? The latter course is fraught with domestic political peril and could jeopardize the popularity of the normalization project – if the press deigns to report on this narrative-disrupting condition at all – while the former is equally problematic.
For decades, United States’ policy has been to allow any Cuban national that sets foot on U.S. soil the freedom to pursue expedited legal permanent resident status. Essentially, Cubans who make it to American shores are treated like political refugees. Starting in early January, the Cuban government will no longer require its citizens who travel abroad to obtain an exit visa. This will facilitate even more travel between Cuba and the United States, and likely greatly increase the number of political refugees the United States absorbs. The Cuban government is going to want this policy addressed as more of its brightest and most capable citizens flee to the United States. What will a mutually acceptable solution look like, and what effect will it have on the Cuban nationals who already enjoy asylum status in America?
And what of the international security implications of the thaw in relations with Cuba? Practical observers of geopolitics have suggested that this shift in policy on Havana’s part was likely prompted by Cuba’s determination that one of its sponsor nations, the ailing petrodollar-fueled socialist basket case country of Venezuela, can no longer prop up the Caribbean’s lone decrepit, retrograde Brezhnevian state. Rather than leverage Cuba’s predicament, the United States merely handed them a lifeline and, in doing so, propped up both Caracas and Havana despite their continued efforts to frustrate American interests in the Western Hemisphere.
And for all those self-assured commentators in the press who insist that the Cold War is over, despite the perpetual flaring of the unresolved Korean War and Moscow’s decision to invade and annex sovereign territory in Europe this year, the situation on the ground in Cuba looks rather nostalgic for the bad old days.
In May, Cuba and Russia concluded a mutual security cooperation agreement which established ties between the Cuban Commission for National Security and Defense and Russia’s Security Council. Russian military and naval assets have been making repeated, ostentatious trips to and from Cuba in the wake of this agreement.
“The security agreement comes amid fresh U.S. intelligence agency concerns that Russia is taking steps to follow through on plans to conduct strategic nuclear bomber flights over the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, possibly with the help of Cuba and Venezuela,” The Washington Times’ Bill Gertz reported on the 17th.
Russian official recently held discussions with both governments about the use of airfields for Russia’s Tu-95 nuclear capable bombers, known as the Bear H. The bombers have been conducting large numbers of threatening flights near U.S. coasts in recent months.
Additionally, there are indications that Venezuela for the past several years has been extending the main runway at the Maiquetia international airport near Caracas. U.S. officials believe the extension will allow Bear Hs, possibly equipped with nuclear-armed cruise missiles, to use the airfield.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated Nov. 12 that Russia would begin sending long-range bombers to the Gulf. “We have to maintain [Russia’s] military presence in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, as well as the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico,” he said, noting strategic bombers would be dispatched to the region for “drills.”
Perhaps the press has been popping the Champagne corks a bit prematurely over the warming of relations between Washington and Havana. It seems like the United States is getting little out of this deal save for increased instability and the prospect of ill-defined “leverage” over Cuba at some indeterminate date at which point we can kindly ask our new friend to surrender American cop killers and politely request they refrain from facilitating the transit of Russian nuclear bombers into Latin America. That’s a high price to pay for the privilege of allowing American tourists the option of traveling to this prison country where they would merely help prop up that repressive government with the introduction of U.S. tourism dollars.
When the president announced that his Cuba fiat was designed to cut loose “the shackles of the past,” few pondered the prospect that he was also forging the shackles of America’s future. A thorough examination of the impediments to warm bilateral ties, a study in which the American press has been loath to engage, reveals that Obama’s move was the easiest part of a long, complicated, and likely contentious process.