WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Engage Cuba released a report that illustrates how the U.S. withdrawal from Cuba has enabled greater Russian and Chinese influence, threatening U.S. national security, compromising diplomatic aims, and hindering U.S. economic expansion in the region.
The report was released ahead of Cuba's presidential transition this week, which is set to occur on April 18 and 19. A historic transfer of power, it will usher in a non-Castro president for the first time in almost 60 years. At the same time, U.S. embassy staffing is at its lowest point since the Carter Administration, with no political, economic, human rights, or consular officers assigned to the post. The U.S. has also expelled 60 percent of Cuban diplomats in Washington.
As the U.S. has distanced itself from Cuba under the Trump administration, foreign adversaries have stepped in to fill the vacuum through economic arrangements such as preferential financial terms and new trade agreements. The increased presence of countries like Russia and China could destabilize critical security agreements between the U.S. and Cuba and could undermine U.S. interests in regional stability and democracy promotion.
"Cuban hardliners in South Florida, Vladimir Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping all support the Trump pullback on U.S.-Cuba relations. Our retreat into diplomatic and economic isolation has opened the front door to our adversaries and left us blind on the island at this time of historic transition," said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba. "This hurts U.S. interests, and it harms the Cuban people, who overwhelmingly support closer relations between our two countries."
Since normalizing relations, the U.S. and Cuba have signed 23 bilateral agreements to collaborate on a host of security and economic issues. The nine agreements focused on national security promote cooperation on narcotics interdiction, migration, cybercrime, terrorism, human trafficking, smuggling, and money laundering.
Earlier this year, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cautioned against Russian military expansion and Chinese economic statecraft in our hemisphere. In 2017, over a dozen retired U.S. military flag officers urged former U.S. National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster to continue to normalize relations with Cuba in order to strengthen regional stability in the Western Hemisphere.
The report recommends short-term actions the executive branch can take in order to increase U.S. presence on the island and foster diplomatic engagement with Cuba:
- Fully staff the U.S. embassy in Havana, prioritizing the return of consular services;
- Promote U.S. economic engagement with Cuba where possible; and
- Facilitate U.S. travel to Cuba to boost Cuba's private sector and increase people-to-people exchange.
The full report is available below.