Friday, October 14, 2011

Cuba, Venezuela pose subtle, but real dangers to United States

Havana Malecon, summer 1994

This bicoastal discussion with a colleague began on Twitter. We are often — to avoid the absolutes — on different sides of most issues. This one exchange over the weekend was no different.

We were tweeting along, disagreeing respectfully, when she came up with a question that was difficult to answer in 140 characters. What danger do Cuba and Venezuela represent to the United States?

This was not a question of human rights, or of democracy, or even of communism. The question was simple and direct. I was stumped, particularly when limited in space. I have to admit that, in that Twitter conversation, I was check-mated.

This is why I resort to a lengthier format; one in which I am more comfortable in responding to my colleague.

Cuba and Venezuela do represent a serious dangers to the United States, but not directly in a militaristic way.

Cuba did at one point represent a very real danger to the United States — during the 1962 Missile Crisis, when armed with Soviet missiles the world came closer than ever to a nuclear war. That, however, was almost five decades ago — it will be 50 years ago in October 2012. Certainly, that is not the case now.

Still both Cuba and Venezuela, each in its own way, present a real and present danger to the United States today. No, the danger is not of a military invasion, or of terrorists attacking this country, or even of invading other countries in the region. Still, they represent a real and present danger to this country in many other ways.

First, let's start with Cuba. The Cuban regime has repeatedly used its people as weapons against the United States. It has done so at least three times, and could do it again at any point as a way of relieving the pressure from its failed economy. South Florida felt the brunt of its fury in the 1960s when Fidel Castro opened the Port of Camarioca in 1965, forcing the United States to adopt an orderly flow of exiles from Cuba that brought 270,000 Cubans to the United States over the next seven years.

Fifteen years later, Castro did it again when he opened the Port of Mariel and allowed 125,000 Cubans to cross the Florida Straits in less than five months. And in the mid-1990s, he allowed more than 33,000 people to flee on rafts in a few short weeks.

Back in the 1980s, then-Ambassador Victor Palmieri, director of Refugee Affairs in the State Department when Jimmy Carter was president, wrote in an unpublished paper that Mariel had been "an act of war." And this is a weapon Cuba can always use on the United States to test the will of a U.S. president.

Venezuela and Hugo Chávez, Castro's most advanced disciple, represent an enormous danger to U.S. diplomacy in the region. In much the same way that Castro tried to oust regimes in Latin America by helping guerrilla movements, Chávez now is the chief financial officer of the movement to elect socialist leaders in countries to set up an anti-American block in Latin America. For starters, we can talk about Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. All have been helped by Chávez, whose petrodollars feed anti-American sentiment in the region.

Cuba and Venezuela still support Iran, as well as Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who is now probably fighting for his life in the city of Serta against Libyans rebelling against his regime. They also back the Palestinian effort to be recognized as a nation, and quietly oppose the state of Israel.

Furthermore, Venezuela's armed forces have billions in new weapons purchased from Russia to please its generals, who are now heavily Involved — albeit secretly — in the drug trade. As Colombian rebels have lost power, it has moved across the border to Venezuela where its own armed forces supervise the drug trafficking to Europe and the United States.

The elected authoritarian regimes rising in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua are not a direct danger to the United States. They do represent, however, represent a danger to the freedoms of people in the hemisphere. Freedom of the press and human rights are constantly violated in these countries. People live in fear of their governments and thousands have been forced to flee their homeland.

But no, none of this represents a clear and direct danger to the United States; just to the type of government we would like our neighbors to our south to have. So point, set and match go to my colleague on the West Coast. Or does it?

By Guillermo I. Martínez

Source: Sun Sentinel 

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