Cuba, the United States and the National Interest of Both

By José R. Cabañas Rodríguez on February 16, 2024

photo: Bill Hackwell

On February 7 of this year, official delegations from Cuba and the United States met in Washington DC, to address issues related to the bilateral agenda, as foreseen in the current Memorandum of Understanding on Law Enforcement and Compliance. The term in English is Law Enforcement since in that language the two meanings are contained in the same word.

The memorandum, which was signed on January 16, 2017, presupposes that the respective authorities exchange information and coordinate joint actions in relation to eight sub-themes, ranging from cybersecurity and illegal migration, to judicial cooperation and counter-terrorism.

It could be argued that this is the memorandum, signed under the administration of Barack Obama, which, compared to the other 21, commits more U.S. federal agencies and official institutions in Cuba and, also, one of the most directly related to the national security of the respective countries, however the definition of that concept is assumed.

This is the sixth occasion on which such a formal meeting has taken place, which to a certain extent contributes to a sort of balance of all the specific exchange actions that have taken place since the previous meeting.

Among the practical results that can be related thanks to the bilateral cooperation in this area are the following:

1.- Early warning to U.S. authorities on sightings of vessels involved in maritime drug trafficking.

2.- Prevention of cyber-attacks against U.S. targets using Cuban IP addresses.

3.- Prosecution in Cuba or in the United States of defendants accused of various crimes, using information provided by the counterpart.

4.- Fraudulent use of Cuban immigration documents to gain illegal access to U.S. territory.

5.- Joint operations against perpetrators of crimes circulated by Interpol.

6.- Actions against human trafficking by sea.

7.- Exchange of information on new psychotropic substances and their potential trafficking through direct mail between the two countries, parcels or on board direct flights.

8.- Return of patrimonial goods illegally stolen from the respective territories.

Regardless of the ups and downs in the bilateral political relationship, Cuba has maintained its commitment to the spirit and to the letter of the agreement and continued during all these years to provide information to the U.S. side on these issues.

It can be stated without a doubt that this attitude has allowed the preservation of many lives and material goods. Through discreet and professional communications, the U.S. federal agencies have sometimes acknowledged receipt of information, acknowledged cooperation, and at other times remained silent.

In most cases where meetings have occurred, both delegations have issued terse communiqués stating the purposes of the dialogue and their commitments to it.

However, at the conclusion of this sixth meeting, the U.S. delegation released a press statement stating that this exchange with senior Cuban officials was in the “national interest” of the United States. While this is assumed, it has not been stated so explicitly on every occasion.

It is known that within a limited political sector with South Florida connections, there have been repeated questions to the White House and the State Department about the continuity of these ties. From Washington it is considered that by using the expression “national interest” the exercise is sufficiently justified in the face of any criticism.

And so it is, but at the same time the argument is contradictory with other practices that have been exercised against Cuba in the last seven years. The first and most obvious could be the inclusion and maintenance of Cuba on the list of countries that allegedly sponsor terrorism.

On repeated occasions, the U.S. governmental media releases to the press, or uses in its own public documents, phrases that serve to test public reactions and states of opinion on specific issues.

It would make sense that this is the kind of exercise that is being carried out now, when the aforementioned press release has coincided with the publication of articles from the U.S. ideological right (not the left) that rethink the question of the need to relaunch relations with Cuba.

It is becoming clear to more and more observers and decision-makers that all the arguments used in the past to hinder bilateral relations (sonic attacks, troops in Venezuela, Chinese bases) were totally false and that there have been migratory flows and other disorders counterproductive to the real “national interest” of the United States.

These small signs are manifesting themselves at the same time that unexpected situations are occurring in the lives of some of the main spokesmen of the anti-Cuban agenda, ranging from an extermination trial against a once prominent senator in the Democratic camp to a public decharacterization of the voting pattern of a new Republican Taliban. In a third case, one still remembers the strong criticism against another anti-Cuban legislator literally bought by the National Rifle Association, which ignores again and again the killings of minors in schools.

If there were a political decision at the highest executive level in the United States to design the policy towards Cuba based on the “national interest”, then the safety of migrants would be more important than handing over their fate to traffickers with a specific residential location, there would be more university cooperation and less brain drain, more advances in science would be achieved and more lives would be saved, the U.S. federal budget would be used for productive purposes and not in ineffective attempts at external destabilization, trade would flourish and not inflate the prices of each other’s products in the other’s market, true culture would fill theaters and diverse spaces instead of the commercialism of a third-rate entertainment industry, temporary travel would perhaps replace permanent migration.

This (and much more) is only at the bilateral level, let’s ask our regional neighbors the magnitude of the benefit for them of this new type of bilateral relationship between Cuba and the United States.

 José R, Cabañas Rodríguez is Director of the International Policy Research Center (CIPI) in Havana, Cuba.

translation: Resumen Latinoamericano – English