Hurricane Irma left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean before it pummeled South Florida. In Cuba, for example, in addition to extensive damage to Cuban military-owned hotels and beach resorts, Cuba’s ministry of intelligence stable of unicorns was severely damaged. Efforts are underway, of course, to replenish the stable of rhetorical unicorns, and Communist Cuba’s agents of influence are working overtime in Washington, D.C. Even before Hurricane Irma struck Cuba, stories were already appearing that tried to portray Cuban officials as befuddled and confused, even willing to cooperate with U.S. officials.
The Washington Post took the pro-engagement, Obama-era spin to new levels with a story that they published on the website late yesterday. “Raul Castro seemed rattled,” was the opening sentence. The way Castro responded, “surprised” official Washington. In a “rare face-to-face conversation,” a befuddled and confused Castro told a senior State Department official that it was not them. Earlier this week a former CIA official and long-time supporter of engagement with Cuba, Fulton Armstrong, was quoted in several publications using the same script. “None of this has a reasonable explanation … [i]t’s just mystery after mystery after mystery,” Armstrong told CNBC. There is no mystery. Just a well-crafted Cuban ruse.
The Obama-era, pro engagement lobby is working overtime to salvage unconditional U.S. engagement with the regime. Helping Cuba project these incidents as “mysteries” is typical Cuban regime propaganda. Why is Cuba doing this? There are many reasons. For example, the publication of the new Cuban Assets Control Regulations (“CACR”) that may seriously slow the money flow to the military in Cuba. After hurricane Irma, the regime cannot afford that U.S. sanctions be tightened. That is why, again, it is no ‘mystery’ that Cuban regime officials want to talk to the United States. It is in Cuba’s interest to do so. Had they not gone to the State Department yesterday, things could’ve become a great deal more complicated for the regime than it already is. Diplomatic niceties aside, the Cubans must be told that it is not business as usual.
The regime is also in succession mode. In a few months, or so the tale goes, Castro will step down and allow a new generation of leaders to take the helm. If the hardliners want to hold on to power, they need money and, also, the Americans on their side. The hardliners have successfully spun the Washington, D.C. policy establishment with yet the biggest unicorn of all, that they are the only one who can prevent a mass migration or control the island if there is civil unrest. On this one they are partially correct, but not all generals are happy with the hardliners. Nor are important segments of the Catholic Church in Cuba.
For the first time in decades, possibly since the early 1990s, Cuban regime officials fear for their futures. I can see no better opportunity than now for Uncle Sam to recast U.S.-Cuba talks that put U.S. national interests at the very top of the list. Issues such as Cuba out of Venezuela, property claims owed to U.S. citizens, Iran, drug dealing and so much more. President Trump has already told Cuba, in a speech in Miami, and in other speeches where the president has called out rogue regimes, that strategic patience is over. Cuba needs to step up. Cuba must be held to account.
Theories about what has caused the injuries are many, ranging from an acoustic device or, because of Cuba’s history developing chemical and biological weapons, poison. Whatever the cause, it’s unacceptable. Cuba must be held to account.
Several weeks ago I wrote on this blog that the U.S. Embassy should be temporarily shut down until, among other things, Cuba could guarantee that U.S. diplomatic personnel were safe living and working in Havana. Closing Post Havana will allow the Trump administration an opportunity to reframe U.S.-Cuba talks. In much the same that dealing with Middle East thugs requires a firm hand, so do Cuban. Temporarily closing the U.S. embassy would be a propaganda blow to the hardliners. Opening it was a trophy. Closing it, a reminder that what America gives, America can and should take away. America should set the terms of discussion, not Cuba. Americans were hurt in Cuba, again. Cuba knows or should know, who is responsible. Cuba must be held to account.
My friends, in much the same way Russia waged for several years leading up to the 2016 election what will likely be exposed by the Congress as one of the most complex influence campaigns of the post-Cold War era, Cuba is doing the same. Make no mistake about it, there are no moderates in the Cuban regime, just anti-American hardliners supported by Russia and China. Arguments to the contrary are simply naïve, wrong, and hurt U.S. national interests in the Americas and beyond. We’re more likely to find a stable of unicorns in Cuba than a moderate around the team led by Raul Castro.