Are the actions in Cuba routine or might China be planning a national security threat to the US?
In the past few days, the Biden administration admitted that the People’s Republic of China had reactivated the Soviet Union’s old Cold War intelligence post at Lourdes, in Cuba. This revelation was soon followed by an even bigger concern:
China is in talks with Cuba to stand up a military training facility within 100 miles of Florida.
So, what is China doing in Cuba? Are these actions routine, or might China be planning something larger? Something that might pose a significant national security threat to America?
The spy base at Lourdes on the north coast of Cuba, 93 miles south of Key West, has a long history. It operated for 40 years, from 1962 until 2002 when the nearly bankrupt Russian Federation could no longer afford to pay Cuba the $200 million a year in rent, nor keep the more than 1,500 intelligence specialists on the island.
In 2014, shortly after Russia seized Crimea and the Donbas region from Ukraine, there were reports that the Russians were looking to reopen the vast, but partially demolished facility.
For China, cash isn’t much of a problem. China’s paramount Xi Jinping visited Cuba in 2014 with the Chinese president engaging in a follow-up visit with Cuba’s dictator, Raul Castro, in 2016. China reactivated Lourdes as well as three other intelligence stations on Cuba in 2019.
These facilities likely have the capability to monitor cellphone and internet traffic, including financial transactions throughout much of the U.S. Southeast. Modern AI is probably being employed to sift through hundreds of millions of daily communications, looking for information of interest to convert into intelligence. Depending on the availability of electric power, there may even be electronic jamming systems as well.
Of China’s new training base, Southern Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Giménez said, “…the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is building training grounds in Cuba – posing a direct threat to our national security. The Biden administration is asleep at the wheel while Communist China, Russia and Iran continue to infiltrate our hemisphere.”
With Cuba’s military and intelligence services already among the better trained in the Western Hemisphere, a Chinese training base in Cuba appears to make little sense – unless considered in the context of Giménez’s concerns about Chinese communist infiltration in Latin America.
We’ve seen this threat before. In 1979, when the Carter administration was more concerned with human rights than with confronting the Soviet Union, the communist Sandinistas took over Nicaragua with help from Cuba and quickly looked to export their revolution to El Salvador and Honduras.
Today, a dozen of the 19 Latin American nations are run by left-wing governments. And, while these governments mainly came to power amid voter frustration with corruption and weak economic growth, their left-wing redistributionist policies are scaring away investment and will result in misery. This has already been seen in Venezuela, where a quarter of the population – 7 million people – has fled socialist policies.
Thus, China’s training base in Cuba could have two purposes, both deleterious to peace, freedom and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere.
First, the base will likely serve to train security forces for Latin America’s socialist leaders who know they may be one fair election away from losing power. Second, the Chinese may start to train insurgents to overthrow some of the remaining seven U.S.-aligned governments in the region.
The prize for the Chinese Communist Party isn’t merely the consolidation of additional client states at America’s doorstep, but rather the consequences of economic hardship and political repression: millions of additional migrants seeking refuge in America along with hemispheric chaos that keep the U.S. preoccupied.
Of course, China might seek to escalate matters, taking a page from 1962’s Cuban missile crisis. Here the intent would be to threaten America with an offensive military capacity to create the opportunity for a quid pro quo over another island nation sitting 90 miles off the coast of a major power: Taiwan. One of the oft-forgotten agreements that helped deescalate the Cuban missile crisis was America’s secret agreement with the Soviet Union to remove the nuclear-tipped Jupiter missiles it deployed to NATO ally Turkey in 1961.
Two years ago, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that China was aiming to be capable of successfully conquering Taiwan in six years – in 2027. Even then, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be fraught with danger.
As an alternative strategy, China might seek to turn Cuba into a deadly dagger pointed at America – a dagger that might be withdrawn in exchange for the U.S. abandoning Taiwan.
A future U.S. president needs to resist the option of betrayal and instead turn the tables by leveraging the Cuban regime’s deep unpopularity to support a Cuba Libre insurgency with the objective of restoring freedom to the long-suffering island.