A changing Cuba may create risks for U.S. maritime border security.
Shore Up Security at Sea
By Scott Savitz and Paul DeLuca
Nov. 1, 2016, at 7:00 a.m.
The United States has long waited for – and sometimes actively aspired
to – regime change in Cuba. For nearly 60 years, the United States has
opposed the Castro regime's misrule at home and support of communist
insurgents and dictatorships abroad. Cuba's alliances with the
now-defunct U.S.S.R., and more recently with Venezuela, added to the
United States' distaste for the regime.
Over the last two years, the Obama administration has tried to reach out
to Cuba. In a particularly striking action, on Wednesday the U.S.
abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning the
U.S.'s own embargo against that nation. At the same time, the island has
also shown signs of limited internal reforms. Political scientists and
historians may debate to what extent these reforms stemmed from Cuba's
dire economic state and the aging of its octogenarian leadership, and
the extent to which U.S. efforts at reconciliation have contributed to
the island's changing policies. Regardless, it appears that Cuba is
beginning to change in ways that may enable it to become a more open and
free society, which should be welcomed.
These changes, however, may create risks with respect to U.S. border
security. The Castro regime has been able to curtail the movement of
migrants to the United States, despite the island's poverty. The
de-communization of the economy could worsen living standards for some
Cubans in the short term, as was the case in many ex-communist countries
before they recovered. The Castro regime's ability to control domestic
crime may also diminish; Venezuela's crime rate has shot up as its
government totters, and the same could occur in Cuba. These conditions,
in the absence of a strong central authority curtailing migration, could
impel large numbers of Cubans to attempt to cross the Florida Strait in
search of a better future. The actual collapse of the Castro regime, if
it leads to a more divided government or one that lacks control over
parts of the island, could contribute to disorder that would both
stimulate and enable a mass exodus. Such migration could occur even if
the U.S. changes its policy allowing Cubans who reach U.S. soil to stay.
While treating Cubans like other unauthorized migrants might inhibit
some from undertaking the trip, the possibility of successfully evading
the authorities and living clandestinely could still entice some
migrants, as it has those of other nations.
There has not been a mass migration to the United States via sea for
over two decades, despite the 2010 Haitian earthquake and ongoing
economic challenges in much of the Caribbean. In part, this reflects the
strong deterrent posture of the U.S. Coast Guard as it demonstrates
presence along major migration routes and its continuing efforts to
rescue and repatriate the limited numbers of people who undertake this
journey. However, like any military service or agency, the Coast Guard
and Customs & Border Protection's Air and Marine Operations units can be
overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Moreover, Cuba could serve not only a
source of migrants, but also as a way-station for migrants from other
nations. The island is only 50 miles from Haiti and 85 from Jamaica (as
opposed to 90 miles from Key West, Florida). If the U.S. were unable to
stem a tide of mass migration by sea from Cuba, and there were few
controls within Cuba to inhibit movement to the island, populations from
other islands could be tempted to join the fray.
The risks of post-dictatorial disorder sparking mass migration via sea
are substantial, as Europeans have found over the last five years. In
2011, Libya and Syria both had uprisings against their respective
dictators. The collapse of centralized dictatorships, and the ensuing
civil wars, have caused millions of people to flee their homes, with
many of them trying to reach Europe by sea. Amid Libya's chaos, the
country has become a hub for people-trafficking from other nations. A
failed state in close proximity to developed countries has facilitated
movements that even the vastness of the Sahara and numerous deaths in
the Mediterranean have not deterred.
While immigration benefits the United States in many respects, having
thousands of people risk their lives at sea on unstable, overloaded
vessels would be a humanitarian disaster; the many bodies that have
already washed up on Europe's shores are testament to that. Nearly
everyone in the United States is an immigrant or the descendant of
immigrants, and most recognize the value that immigration can contribute
to this country. However, it needs to be conducted via a managed
process, not by having individuals risk their lives on fragile boats and
literally wash up en masse.
In addition to serving as a transit route for migrants, Cuba could also
become one for drugs. Under communism, Cuba has also been able to stamp
out international drug trafficking by executing those associated with
it. However, to the degree that the Castro regime's tight control over
its maritime borders and internal activities begins to falter, drug
traffickers may detect opportunities to move product through the island.
Its proximity to other islands could enable South American cocaine to
reach the United States via a series of short hops.
The emergence of a less totalitarian Cuba, one with which the United
States can better engage, is a welcome development in most respects. The
United States can and should continue to promote a Cuba that is more
open to ideas and personal freedoms. However, as with the fall of
dictators in Libya and Syria, it should anticipate the possibility that
a changing Cuba will contribute to less secure maritime borders – and
plan accordingly to deter and interdict mass movements of both drugs and
Source: The US Must Anticipate the Security Challenges of Regime Change
in Cuba | World Report | US News -