Cuba, all over again

Staff Columnist

In 1978/79 when I was a grad student at the Kennedy School of Government (now the Harvard Kennedy School) we were treated to the seminal work of the then dean of that institution, Graham Allison’s “Essence of Decision.”  In it Allison used his discussion of the Cuban Missile Crisis to explain, as a case study, models of government decision making.  I remember it well as I had served in that area and in that time of crisis.

As a lad (Ensign, Civil Engineer Corps) I served in the late ‘50s on the West Indies islands of Grand Turk and South Caicos.  We built there, and elsewhere, Naval Facilities whose functions were mostly to listen – listen for submarines of course.  There is in that area of the Atlantic deep water known as the Caicos Trench – through which submarines might have entered the Gulf of Mexico.  With the range of those years’ missiles it would have been possible to fire on the American heartland from the Gulf, if not from the Atlantic itself.  So the Navy listened.  The Seabees built the facilities on British Islands under terms of agreements left over from WWII’s  Lend-Lease.

So I had become familiar with the islands, and their proximity to Cuba.

Now these were the days of Fidel Castro, a maybe visionary Cuban revolutionary who was coming ‘down from the mountains’, the Sierra Maestra.  He was, I recall, the darling of many in the United States.  He came almost in triumph to the U.N. staying in the Hotel Theresa in NYC’s Harlem.  Earlier we on those salt islands witnessed the rather primitive ‘gun running’ of weapons to the revolutionaries in Cuba using aircraft from the U.S. to the islands for transfer to fishing boat to Cuba.  Our British hosts (Jamaican Constabulary) were unable to stop these efforts.  We were ordered not to interfere.  I was fascinated with Allison’s descriptions of Russian involvement in Cuba which threatened our Nation with ballistic missiles from Cuba.

“The Kremlin and the Castros are chummy again, and Moscow is offering military aid.”  This reminder was published in “Putin Restores a Cuban Beachhead” by Mary Anastasia O’Grady, The Wall Street Journal, Monday, July 28, 2014.

Vladimir Putin visited Havana in July.

Ms. O’Grady writes, The Castros remain as paranoid, power-hungry and pathological as ever.  They may be economic fools, but they run a good business making the island available to criminal governments, like Iran and North Korea. Mr. Putin’s Cuba trip reinforces the point.  The old Cold War villains are up to no good one more time.”

“Russia’s president is trying to rebuild the Soviet empire.  Eastern Europe won’t cooperate and in Asia the best he will ever be is China’s junior partner.  But in Latin America Mr. Putin’s KGB resume and willingness to stick his thumb in the eye of the U.S. gives him traction.  Colonizing Cuba again is an obvious move.”

Russian support for Cuba was cut off after the fall of the Soviet Union.   Fidel was furious with the Kremlin. It seems, the Journal reports, that  the Island’s rulers are willing to forgive – for the right price.   O’Grady continues, “With sugar-daddy Venezuela running into economic problems in recent years and Mr. Putin itching for a place in the Caribbean sun, Cuba has decided to deal.”

Interestingly, in June of this year Russia signed a space cooperation agreement with Cuba to allow it to use the island to base its Glonass (Russia’s alternative to GPS) navigation stations.

“When he called in Havana this month Mr. Putin flaunted his intentions to restore a Russian beachhead in Cuba. The shoot-down of the Malaysian Airlines flight on the same day that he ended his Latin American tour raised the visibility of a trip that was made for both psychological and strategic reasons.  Mr. Putin wants to assure the Free World that he can be a menace in the U.S. backyard  –  and he wants a local foothold to make the threat real.”

“Mr. Putin officially wrote off $32billion of bad Cuban debt on his trip, leaving just $3.2billion due over the next 10 years.  Russia is looking for oil in Cuban waters, and Mr. Putin signed new agreements in energy, industry and trade with Castro.”

More from Mary O’Grady, “Far more troubling is the emergence of Mr. Putin as a Latin American presence.  Tyrants all over the region, starting with the Castros, admire his ruthlessness and skill in consolidating economic and political power.  They want to emulate him.  It’s a role model the region could do without.”

I’ve written about our neighbor to the south on these pages several times.  I even quoted the Cuban revolutionary poet, Jose’ Marti, twice.

Florida is as close as we’ll get to Cuba.  What happens there is important to us.  The Seabees and sailors of by-gone years protected us once.  We must pay attention again.  “Can Do.”

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3 Responses for “Cuba, all over again”

  1. Peter O'Connor says:

    Jeff, WOW, but thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Jeff Putterman says:

    If this man went to the Kennedy School, he wasted his tuition. Anyone who has read history knows that when the CIA killed JFK, one significant reason was because he was negotiating a peace treaty with Castro. Indeed they had been in contact two days before Kennedy was killed. So the presence of Putin in Cuba now owes entirely to the CIA killing JFK.

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