President Donald Trump’s Cuba policy has three drawbacks.
It ignores history, it ignores other powers who are trying to establish a beachhead on the island, and it could create a situation where runaway defense spending is made easier. Cuba and the U.S. both have a history of fighting the influence of colonialism. Our country emerged in a colonial revolt against the British Empire. At the time of the Spanish-American War of 1898, the Cuban people were engaging in a colonial revolt against the Spanish Empire. Spain owned Cuba at the time and the conflict is recorded in Cuban history as the Cuban War of Independence.
The U.S. sided with the Cuban revolutionaries and against the Spanish Empire in the Spanish-American War. In addition, it also sided with Philipino revolutionaries who were fighting against the Spanish Empire, at the same time, in a conflict that has been recorded in Philippine history as the Philippine Revolution. The Philippines were a second front for the U.S. in the Spanish-American War.
After helping the Cubans and the Philippines break free of Spanish colonialism in the Spanish-American War, our country walked away with possession of Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands, but we ignored the meaning of true independence for those people and let them stay mired in poverty for years. We experienced a blowback when Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution turned Cuba toward another empire – Soviet Russia.
President Obama’s Cuba policy started the warming of relations with Cuba. It used commerce and opened the island up to American companies. The market segment of Cuba’s economy has benefitted. The private sector workforce has more than quadrupled since the Obama thaw and hubs of investment include companies like Google and Sheraton Four Points Hotel.
The warming also opened the door to new intelligence sources. Cuba is now sharing counterterrorism information with our government and we’re cooperating with them on border security and environmental protection.
Since Trump’s inauguration, our engagement with Cuba has stopped because the administration wants to conduct a review of the policy. This could be a rollback of the Obama-era reforms and closing off our diplomatic engagement with Cuba. If Trump wants to lessen our influence in Cuba, other countries are willing to take up the slack. This month, a tanker full of Russian crude oil docked in Cuba. This represents the largest shipment from Russia to Cuba since the Cold War. Last October, Russia’s defense minister announced that the country was considering reopening military bases on the island nation. It would be the first time Russia has had a presence on the island since 2002. The Chinese aren’t standing by idle. China is Cuba’s largest trading partner and the largest holder of Cuban debt. On the commerce front, the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei is in competition with Google to provide Cuba internet access. This could determine if Cubans have open internet access or one controlled by the government.
If China and/or Russia establish a larger presence on the island then voices of panic could emerge in the U.S. There will be an even further call for escalated military spending in our country. Congressmen and senators will want even more military hardware made in their districts. There’s been a powerful call in our country lately to rebuild our country from within through a higher minimum wage, expanded health insurance, more research and development funding and rebuilding our infrastructure. But we will not rebuild internally if a China and/or Russia induced military buildup distracts us.
Sources: Financial Times, The Agenda.