A few days after American negotiators met with Cuban officials to continue talks to reestablish formal diplomatic relations, a Chinese ship bound for Cuba was intercepted near Colombia’s Port of Cartagena carrying 100 tons of gunpowder, almost 3 million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells to Cuba.
On Monday, a Colombian judge ordered that the Chinese captain of the Hong Kong-registered Da Dan Xia be placed under house arrest.
It’s not yet known whether President Obama has been alerted to Havana’s arms purchase. If he has, he’s not likely to say anything in this new era of aggressive niceness. He didn’t say anything about Cuba’s attempt in 2013 to smuggle two warplanes, missile parts and 240 metric tons of war materiél from Cuba into North Korea. Certainly, he wouldn’t say anything resembling his negative response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.
As negotiations with Cuba and Iran continue, however, the president might want to seek a briefing by the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, which tracks Cuba’s foreign policy and describes it as “a close and cooperative relationship against the United States and in support of terrorist groups and states.”
Reporting this month on the relationship among Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, it writes, “Cuba plays a strategic role in terms of geography...intelligence gathering (both electronic eavesdropping and human espionage) and logistics.” Iran’s president is quoted as saying, “The Islamic Republic of Iran and Cuba can play a significant role in international organizations. Teheran and Havana share [a] common viewpoint on major international issues” and “the Hamas-funded Turkish ‘charity’ known as IHH continues to operate in Havana.” In 2014, Castro’s banks were holding accounts for al Qaida affiliates.
Like many, President Obama has bought into the idea that whatever happened between Cuba and the United States, it was many years ago. The president is committed to moving forward and implementing the same failed Cuba policies of the European states, Canada, and others: full diplomatic relations, millions of tourists filling resorts and unrestricted trade facilitated by export insurance and loans that aren’t repaid.
Washington will say as little as possible about the regime’s beating Cuban dissidents that peacefully demonstrate against the lack of civil rights, free elections and economic reforms, and the jailing and killing of human-rights activists.
While Netanyahu’s words are seen as a threat, Raúl Castro’s actions during Obama’s tenure in the White House — not what happened 50 years ago — are not.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s record is not much better. While chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry held secret talks at the home of the Cuban ambassador to the United Nations in New York without telling committee members. The committee was ignored during the 18 months of secret talks between Washington and Havana.
At the same time the president wants to take Cuba off the list of states sponsoring terrorism, he considers putting North Korea back on the list. Does Obama know about the dangerous alliance between Cuba and North Korea? He should. In 2008, the State Department removed Pyongyang from the list, hoping that by doing so the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un would behave differently.
That is the approach Obama is taking with Havana: Ignore the facts and acquiesce to demands for recognition. Kim Jong Un hasn’t changed, and there’s no good reason to think Raúl Castro will change.
While the president believes the Cold War is over, Vladimir Putin, Castro, the Iranians and the North Koreans believe it’s time to push their advantage. There will be no end to the indignities inflicted by North Korea, Iran and Cuba. Moscow is happy. Russian generals think there is merit in extending a Cold War strategy: visits to Cuba by Russian spy ships, as we just saw, establishment of an electronic spy station and when Obama withdraws from Guantánamo, the opening of the Russian Navy base in the warm waters of the Caribbean at Guantánamo Bay.
Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba based in Washington, D.C.