After over 50 years of embargo and no-contact with Cuba, the US finally reopened its embassy and removed all restrictions on travel between the US and Cuba. Some people lauded this move as indication that the US was moving on from ancient grievances against the small nation just miles off our Florida coast. However, 7 months into the renewed communication, we’ve already seen that the United States is not fully prepared to re-open communications with Cuba. In what should have been an organized effort between departments, it appears that Obama failed to line all of his ducks in a row, so to speak. Too many factors and too many international issues seemed to slip past the notice of our government, resulting in direct danger to our citizens and additionally, loss of money from our federal government.
The immediate danger that concerned citizens was international flights in and out of Cuba. In the case, Cuban flight safety was the exception that proved the rule. In addition to the normal safety measures implemented on flights, air marshals were instructed to ride on every Cuban-US flight. However, this wasn’t even fully implemented until a few months ago, when former Republican presidential candidate, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is also a Cuban-American, made headlines complaining about the lack of well-manned aircraft to and from Cuba. He and a fellow senator, Robert Menendez (D-NJ), unveiled a bill in early September implementing flight safety for Cuban-American flights, and also delaying all flights until such measures were undertaken. A week later on the Senate floor, Rubio noted that a month earlier, the Obama administration had sworn air marshals would be present, but the agreement with the Cuban government outlining this was not signed until the end of the month. While no hijackings occurred in this time, it is quite possible that Cuba and some terrorist groups have already used this opportunity to analyze passengers on the flights, possibly gathering data on the qualities of those who are not air marshals, so that they can more easily identify and incapacitate real air marshals from flights in the future.
Furthermore, it seems as if the legislators of the Department of Homeland Security didn’t get the memo that Cuba should be treated similarly to other Caribbean Island nations. According to the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cuban immigrants receive special immigration status, a status which now can be abused by many Cuban immigrants, not just the few that are able to make it to the United States. Special refugee status is not only a work-around to allow more refugees to enter our country, but it allows them a path to citizenship that is unavailable to those who are in different nations. In addition, special refugee status allows former Cuban citizens to receive welfare benefits, even if they have no intention of remaining in the US. This in and of itself is wrong – Cubans should not have more rights than a citizen from Syria or South Africa. However, now that travel has been re-established between the nations, the potential for abuse of this act is high, too high for Americans to pay for. This was yet another piece of legislation left in place after Cuba-US travel was restored.
The worst part of all these new changes is that Russia now perceives Cuba as a potential air base, just like the one they currently maintain in Syria. Established in 2015, the Russian air base in Syria is very capable of defending itself, especially in a nation with an ongoing civil war, and enables Russia to bomb Syria at any time. Similarly, Russia now desires to keep a base mere miles off US soil, but in this case the region contains no obvious threats to Russia. A potential Cuban air base should remind Americans of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Russia attempted to send ballistic missiles to Cuba during the Cold War. However, the current plans for the Russian base in Cuba is much worse. Renewed Russian-Cuban ties allow Russians almost direct access to our nation, and without a strong leader, there is no countermeasure we can implement. In the past, Russia and the United States have established bases in the same vicinity to each other, or limited Russian ability to stockpile weapons in Cuba, such as during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This time, our president shows no indication of responding to an air base, and the presidential candidates will have a weak military to build up before they can respond authoritatively to this threat. Russia is one of the few nations with nuclear weapons, and a Russian air base in Cuba should scare all Americans.
There are two methods to actually resolve this issue. One, taken by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, is to reverse the normalizations of relations with Cuba. While effective in making the current legislation match, the policy may be too harsh against Cubans, who have now started to regain international contacts and would likely retain them after the US cuts them off. Another policy would be to retain the normalization, but impose harsh realities for the Cuban government. For example, if the Castro brothers accept a Russian proposal for an air base, the US should sanction the Cuban government and make the costs of having that base unbearable. Additionally, we need a strong leader, who knows the law as it is, and who continually outlines discrepancies and works with Congress to amend them. Outdated laws regarding US-Cuba relations from the past should be re-written to reflect changes, but also protect safety. If flights or other communications must be stopped temporarily, then so be it. The US needs to be concerned about the safety of our citizens, which the Obama Administration seems to have overlooked in their failed efforts to promote peace and diplomacy. We should never compromise our safety for the sake of a poor attempt at negotiations.
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