President Barack Obama's eagerness to cut deals with Cuba at almost any cost could yield a "strategic disaster" in which the Russian military winds up controlling Guantanamo Bay, Cuba scholar Jaime Suchlicki told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV
The historic re-start of diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba ordered by Obama does not alter the fact that the communist nation's rulers neither want nor feel they need improved relations with the United States, said Suchlicki, director of the Cuban Institute at the University of Miami.
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Just look at all the demands issued by Cuban leader Raul Castro
, said Suchlicki: a handover of Guantanamo Bay; embargo reparations to the tune of $2.5 trillion, and no U.S. "interference"
in Cuban policies at home or abroad.
"If they were interested in helping the Cuban people they would've done a deal with the United States many years ago," said Suchlicki. "Neither [previous Cuban leader] Fidel [Castro] nor Raul are really interested in better relations with the United States."
The Castros want concessions, not relations, he said, and Raul is "raising the bar so high that he's going to preclude any normalization."
How much Obama will indulge him should be a concern, said Suchlicki, alluding to a prisoner swap that freed Cuban spies
— a deal that even Hillary Clinton said she opposed as Obama's Secretary of State.
On reparations, "Raul Castro is talking about $50 billion for the 50 years of the embargo," said Suchlicki, adding, "that's nonsense, and I don't think the U.S. will pay that."
But on another key demand, "giving away Guantanamo — this president is liable to do that," he said of Obama.
Castro, in turn, would "probably" turn the territory over to Russia as a naval base.
Pressed by Berliner on this scenario, with its overtones of the Cuban missile crisis, Suchlicki said, "I don't know what the president can get away with," meaning the political limits, if any, on Obama's willingness to placate Castro.
"My concern is that Guantanamo is one of the deepest bases in the Caribbean — ideal for submarines," he said. "And if Cuba were to turn that base [over] to the Russians, or tell the Russians that they can use that base, it would be a strategic disaster for the United States."
From Cuba's point of view, shunning the U.S. despite the overture from Obama after a half century of mutual hostility is not a tactical mistake, said Suchlicki.
"The point here is that [former Cuban leader] Fidel Castro is an ally of Venezuela, Iran, Russia and China," he said. "So for Cuba, the United States is not important. What is important is the [connection] with those countries that provide significant amounts of aid without any condition and without requesting anything."
Between the money Cuba brings in from tourism, remittances from Cubans working abroad and a thriving export market for Cuba's well-regarded medical professionals, the Castro brothers are convinced they can still continue on as they please, and maintain absolute political control, no matter what the U.S. says, said Suchlicki.
Raul Castro is also betting that American tourists will bring in more money, that petro-state allies Venezuela and Russia will continue to supply crude even through the worldwide plunge in oil prices, and that other countries including China will keep aid coming, he said.
Castro also wants military weaponry, and Russia will give it to him, said Suchlicki.
Nor is it time to remove Cuba from the U.S. State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism
, he said, even though Obama probably will.
"I'm almost sure that they're going to get Cuba out of the terrorist list, despite the fact that Cuba harbors terrorists, supports Hezbollah and Hamas," he said. "It's an ally of Iran, so I don't think Cuba should be removed, but the president and Secretary [of State John] Kerry have indicated that they're willing to give Raul Castro another concession."
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