Cuban Military is the Big Winner of Obama's Deal

Wednesday, March 18, 2015
In Politico, former diplomat and author James Bruno has an interesting piece entitled, "How Obama’s Cuba Deal Is Strengthening Its Military."

Its subheading reads, "Castro’s real heirs are the generals, and they’re going to make a bundle from normalization."

Bruno's thesis is two-fold:

First, that the Cuban military (or Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, "FAR") is the big winner of the Obama-Castro deal. And second, that it may (cautiously) not be a bad thing.

He's absolutely right about the first. But his second conclusion is misguided.

Despite all of the Obama Administration's rhetoric regarding "support for the Cuban people" and "cuentapropistas" -- the undisputed winner of his December 17th deal with General Raul Castro is the Cuban military.

As Bruno explains:

"Americans flocking to Cuba in years ahead will likely be shoring up the Cuban military’s bottom line. Today, senior FAR officers are in charge of sugar production, tourism, import-export, information technology and communications, civil aviation and cigar production. It is estimated that at least 60 percent of Cuba’s economy and 40 percent of foreign exchange revenues are in the hands of the military and that 20 percent of workers are employed by the FAR’s holding company, GAESA. Tourists sipping a mojito at Varadero beach, flying by commuter to lush resorts in the Cuban keys, visiting historic attractions, enjoying the cuisine at a five-star hotel or lighting up a Cohiba after one of those meals are unconsciously contributing to the coffers of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias and the communist government to the tune of several billion dollars a year. Some of this hard-currency infusion has fed corruption within the FAR. Nonetheless, when the U.S. embargo is eventually lifted, American companies interested in investing in Cuba will need to partner with enterprises under the control of the Cuban military. It follows, therefore, that the U.S. government will need to broadly engage with the FAR on economic and trade as well as political and military matters."

Ditto.

But Bruno then stumbles trying to temper views on the Cuban military -- most notably regarding its role in the repression of the Cuban people:

"The powerful Ministry of Interior is widely feared as the blunt instrument of oppression, but it too is likely to be swept aside eventually by the tide of change. And more than a half-century of authoritarian single-party rule has stunted civil society and held the Catholic Church in check. This leaves the FAR. Under Raúl Castro’s leadership from 1959 until he succeeded brother Fidel as president in 2006, the now 60,000-strong military has been widely considered to be Cuba’s best managed and stablest official entity. Furthermore, it has never been called upon to fire on or suppress Cuban citizens, even during the so-called Maleconazo protests in 1994, and most observers believe the FAR would refuse any orders to do so."

Bruno fails to note one fundamental fact -- Cuba's feared Ministry of the Interior is run by the FAR.

In the late 1980s (pursuant to a post-"Ochoa affair" purging), the FAR under General Raul Castro not only consolidated its control over all business on the island -- but also the security services and intelligence apparatus.

Since then, the Ministry of the Interior has been headed by a FAR General -- General Abelardo Colome Ibarra, a close confidant of Castro.

The Vice-Minister of the Interior is also a FAR General -- General Carlos Fernandez Gondin, who is also known as Castro's point-man in control of Venezuela's security services.

Meanwhile, the most symbolic figure in the Ministry of the Interior is also a FAR official -- Colonel Alejandro Castro, Raul's son.

Let's also not forget that Raul Castro -- Cuba's current dictator-in-chief -- is himself a FAR General and that his ruling junta is composed overwhelmingly of FAR Generals.

Thus, Cuba's military is not only involved in the day-to-day repression of the Cuban people -- it directs it and is ultimately responsible for it.

Finally, Bruno fails to note the central role of the Cuban military in the international smuggling of heavy weapons (having gotten caught twice red-handed in the last twenty months), and the outstanding indictments against senior FAR officials in the United States for crimes including narcotics-trafficking and the murder of Americans.

In other words, the further enrichment and empowerment of the Cuban military pursuant to the Obama-Castro deal increases the risk of a post-Castro, Putin-style criminal state.

Hardly an appealing scenario.

Image below: FAR General (and Minister of the Interior) Abelardo Colome Ibarra and FAR General (and Minister of Information Technology and Communications) Ramiro Valdes welcome back one of the Cuban spies released by Obama.