University of Miami sets up mock Cuba crisis
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
Just hours after Fidel Castro is buried, brother Raúl is killed in a
coup. Fighting between army units is reported, and would-be refugees are
massing near the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo. What's the U.S.
government to do?
It was only a simulation, but the event at the University of Miami's
Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies underlined the
complexities of U.S. policy options should a crisis erupt 90 miles from
"This was not picked because it was the most likely scenario ... but it
showed that there's no formula, there are no easy answers to a crisis in
Cuba," ICCAS head Jaime Suchlicki said at the end of the simulation Monday.
With Suchlicki playing the role of national security advisor to the
White House, a panel of Cuba experts channeled other key U.S. officials
-- including the secretaries of state, defense, homeland security and
justice -- and played out the scenario.
As Florida's governor, UM Assistant Provost Andy Gomez stridently
demanded the federal government do something to keep waves of Cuban
refugees from reaching the shores of his already financially strapped state.
"I am looking at social instability in Florida," Gomez said before
closing off the road to the Florida Keys -- to keep Cuban exiles from
taking boats to the island to pick up relatives -- and Navy and Coast
Guard ships established a cordon to intercept refugees leaving Cuba. All
U.S.-Cuba charter flights were canceled.
But where to put the intercepted Cubans? They can't be returned to Cuba
because of the violence there, and the Guantánamo base can only house a
maximum of 55,000 refugees. Allowing them into U.S. territory would be a
slap at Haitians intercepted at sea, who are returned home despite the
earthquake this year.
Playing the role of secretary of defense, Carlos Gutierrez -- who in
real life served as secretary of commerce under President George W. Bush
-- recommended the U.S. president issue a cautious statement, neither
too aggressive nor too limp.
The president should tell the Cuban military that they have a role to
play in the island's future, as well as a responsibility for controlling
migration and violence, Gutierrez said. To the Cuban people, he should
signal that Washington stands ready to help with humanitarian and
U.S. armed forces should be put in high alert meanwhile, and
reinforcement should be sent to Guantánamo, he said. Spy satellites
should be diverted to monitor events on the island, Suchlicki added, and
another role-player said Radio/TV Martí should step up their broadcasts
ICCAS Senior Research Associate Jose Azel, speaking as Homeland Security
secretary, said he had critical concerns: Cuba's possible deployment of
biological weapons, its ties to Iran and the island's use as a base for
"Do we have a failed state here?" Azel asked.
Suchlicki said the president was concerned about the impact of any U.S.
reactions to the crisis on politically critical states like Florida, and
needed to know more about the developing political situation and players
"The president needs to know, is this Valdés fellow the kind of guy we
can talk to?" he said, referring to Ramiro Valdés, a hardliner who, in
the simulation, replaced Raúl Castro as president of Cuba.
Retired CIA Cuba expert Brian Latell, playing the role of the director
of national intelligence, acknowledged that U.S. intelligence, "as
usual," was lagging behind the news media on the crisis and knew
relatively little about the political leanings of senior Cuban military
or Communist Party officers.
Valdés is "shrewd, cunning'' and a longtime favorite of Fidel Castro,
Latell added. On his deathbed, Fidel in fact might have urged Valdés to
oust his more pragmatic brother and keep Cuba on the path of communist
All tough challenges, Suchlicki concluded, unlikely to come up in real
life yet showing some of the dilemmas that U.S. policy makers could face
in case of abrupt changes in Cuba.