A recently retired military intelligence officer submitted a memo [see below] to his former commander (Southcom) — copies to other appropriate agencies. Obama Administration officials ignored it. “Cuba is not on our agenda,” one said. One official surreptitiously mailed us a copy, which we share.
The Cuban government has announced it will lay off 500,000 “superfluous” state workers. Our sources predict at least another 500,000 will get pink-slipped before the end of 2011.
Such news should ring alarm bells in Florida and Washington. Havana could encourage – without formally acknowledging it to its newly unemployed population – a migration northward rather than face possible unrest on the island. If the Cuban government tried to stop migration, we do not think Cuba’s police or military would fire on the population, even if their commanders ordered it.
This hypothetical scenario could force our President into a situation where he had little choice but to order military intervention – not a welcome event at this precarious time.
One preemptive scenario suggests Washington renew the previous Administration’s warning: discourage Cuban attempts to release their “excess” populations northward by threatening a US Navy seizure of some Cuban territory on which it would relocate the sea-bound migrants. Mixing any Cuban balseros with the inmates at Guantanamo could spark an international crisis of monumental proportion.
Our intelligence group devised these scenarios in response to the current Administration’s denial or lack of planning. In the absence of solid assessment, I share some analysis done by our intel group on “recent changes in Cuba,” which should have come from the US Interest Section in Havana. Instead of submitting useful information or analysis of events our mission in Cuba, under instructions from State, has cultivated and support “dissidents”; including some state security moles and repeats publicly mindless slogans like Cuba should allow citizens unrestricted rights to travel (We have informed Havana not to take this literally – or else). Indeed, if Havana complied, a massive migration might ensue. The impact? Officially, south Florida reports a 12.8% (September 2010) rate of unemployment; unofficially the rate is higher. Imagine 500,000 Cubans arriving on leaky boats, vying for scarce jobs and scant area welfare resources. Possible riots and unrest could erupt, with negative impact on tourism and outside investors. Difficult to calculate the inherent political difficulties such disturbances would cause.
Considering the Administration’s virtually unchanged policies toward the island (from the Bush Administration, except for allowing Cuban-Americans unlimited visiting rights), two possible sequences of events emerge: massive migration to south Florida would compel the Administration to distribute new “marielitos” elsewhere; few states will willingly accept large numbers of Cubans given the depressed employment situation; the other scenario foresees upheaval in the island.
If instability arises, as former Secretary of State Colin Powell envisaged as possible, from south Florida armed exiles with impressive amounts of weapons might attempt to launch commando/sabotage attacks; even small invasions. Washington would find such a situation unacceptable. Indeed, illegal movement of Cubans in either direction through the Straits of Florida poses and ought to be assessed as security threats.
The embargo, imposed 50 years ago by President Eisenhower, has damaged the island, albeit fallen short of causing regime change. A previous report noted, “Since the breakup of the former Soviet Union, the political system and economic infrastructure of Cuba have significantly deteriorated, a situation that will only further increase in seriousness and import for the United States in the remaining years of this century.” (Gen. John J. Sheehan, USMC, commander in chief, U.S. Atlantic Command, Senate Armed Services Committee, February 14, 1995.)
The shortages and ensuing economic breakdowns have eroded the Cuban national psyche. Decades of absence of important material goods and services has caused biological and psychological deprivation, shared feelings of impotence and even depression.
Cuban leaders manage an economy without access to key external inputs and financial resources. They must also deal with a shortage/corruption cycle, which further undermines morale.
After the USSR collapsed and Cuba lost its beneficent trading partners, the embargo’s impact swelled. Some analysts predicted regime change. But Castro had exported his enemies – or we had imported them.
Cuba does not constitute a military threat, but the possibility of mass migration and civil strife demand creative and constructive engagement. Unfortunately, policy-makers have responded by worsening making Cuba’s economic condition — severing Havana’s banking ties with banks even remotely connected to US banks. As of March 31, 2012 Cuban banks will lose access to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication because SWIFT contains embargoed US technologies.
Policy recommendations: lift restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba; expand cultural, social, and economic exchanges. These stabilizing measures would increase Cuban income and provide for jobs. Press for US aid to individually owned farms or coops as signs of US support for Cuba’s privatizing reforms — moves turning Cuba away from socialism.
This strategy would relieve destabilizing tensions and promote regional security. Acting boldly might preempt the parade of horrors outlined above and allow our attention to focus on Caribbean basin difficulties (hurricanes, earthquakes, cholera, narcotics trafficking and criminal volatility).
Collaboration and cooperation with Cuba would contribute to regional stability. China has announced it will invest $6 billion in Cuba’s oil refinery. Time is of the essence.
Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies Fellow. His new film WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP premieres Dec 11 at the Havana Film Festival. CounterPunch published his BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD.
Nelson Valdes is Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico.