Just 100 Miles Off Florida, China Gets ‘Unrestricted Access’ To US Backyard; Russia Too Joins The Cuban Party

Cuba has opened the doors for visa-free travel for Chinese citizens, marking another instance of growing ties between socialist Cuba and the People’s Republic of China.

As direct flights between Cuba and China start this month, after a long hiatus triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, holders of Chinese passports can seamlessly enter the country.

Cuban Tourism Minister Juan Carlos Garcia announced the flights at the Cuban International Tourism Fair. Garcia also announced that China would be the “guest of honor” in the event next year.

According to the major Chinese online travel firm, Ctrip, searches for keywords like Cuban hotels and flights surged by over 40% on the platform within 30 minutes of the announcement of the visa-free policy, the Chinese state-owned publication Global Times reported.

The announcement was made after China’s five-day Labor Day holiday, known as the “golden week,” which began on May 1. The move is aimed to boost the Cuban economy by tapping the Chinese tourist market. China is already the biggest trading partner for the Latin American socialist state, with bilateral trade of US$862 million last year.

Song Wei, a professor at the School of International Relations and Diplomacy at Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times that the resumption of flights would “help mitigate the impact of the decades-long US embargo and enhance its economic ties with the rest of the world as an opposition against hegemony and unilateral sanctions.”

The US trade embargo on Cuba is the longest-running embargo of modern times. It prohibits US companies and companies incorporated under US law or those majority controlled by US citizens from engaging in trade with Cuban entities. The UN has called on the US to end the embargo that chokes Havana, but it has had no success yet.

The worsening economic crisis in Cuba has proved to be an opportunity for China to forge ties and expand its regional influence. The resumption of flights, expansion of trade, and visa-free travel aims to strengthen cooperation between the two countries.

Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to support Cuba against foreign interference and the American economic blockade. He also promised an expansion in strategic coordination with Havana. This was later reiterated by China’s Premier Li Qiang, who spoke of similarity in the values of their communist states.

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel
Chinese President Xi Jinping with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel

The cooperation between China and Cuba has sent alarm bells ringing in Washington. China has been gradually expanding its footprint in the region, triggering concerns about a Chinese military influence in what the US considers its backyard.

In a massive scare last year, reports noted that Beijing could allegedly be building a spy military base in Cuba, which would allow it to eavesdrop on electronic communications throughout the southeast of the United States.

This was told to CNN by two sources with knowledge of the matter. One of the sources reportedly told the publication that an agreement regarding the spy facility had been reached in principle, but construction had not started.

The location of such an outpost was speculated to be roughly 100 miles from Florida. Experts at that time noted that this would allow China to monitor a variety of communications, including emails, phone calls, and satellite broadcasts throughout the southeastern United States, home to many military facilities. After causing a great deal of hysteria in the country and among its friends in the region, the claims were refuted by US officials as “inaccurate.”

U-2 photo during Cuban Missile Crisis- Wikimedia Commons

Even so, these reports managed to create a scare that Cuba could be caught in the middle of the US-China rivalry, much like what happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when the American deployment of nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey was matched by Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba.

While the possibility of a Chinese spy base coming up in Cuba has been ruled out for now, the United States would be keenly watching the growing cooperation between the two nations, which has the potential of assuming a military character that threatens American security.

China, however, is not alone in courting Cuba in the face of American sanctions imposed on the country. Recent reports detail how Russia wooed Cubans to fight against Ukraine in the ongoing Ukraine war.

Cubans Fight For Russia Against Ukraine

Cuba is among the few countries that has not joined the international sanction regime on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. On the contrary, the relationship between the two states has improved since February 2022.

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Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel had earlier criticized the sanctions, “We are condemning, we are rejecting, the expansion of NATO towards Russia’s borders,” he had said. The President also heralded a new era of economic cooperation with Russia while announcing new projects. Additionally, a Russian naval vessel docked in Cuba in July 2023 after several years.

Since at least the second half of last year, reports have surfaced indicating that Russians have recruited Cubans to fight against Ukraine.

The latest research by BBC states that Russia has probably been enlisting Cuban nationals to serve in its army in Ukraine. The research cited a pro-Ukrainian website, InformNapalm, which published passport information of more than 200 Cubans who are said to have enlisted in the Russian army online in September and October of 2023.

The website said that the passport information was taken by hacking the emails of a Russian military recruiter in Tula, south of Moscow.

The BBC report stated that a Facebook search revealed that 31 of the identities listed in the Ukrainian breach matched accounts that seemed to have Russian military ties or were owned by Russian nationals.

For example, some people uploaded pictures of themselves in Russian military uniforms or places with Russian street signs. Others state that they currently live in Russia. BBC conjectured that many of those Facebook users may have landed in Russia after they began sharing content about the country in the second half of 2023.

“Bringing Cubans into Russia is relatively straightforward. The two countries have been allies since the Cold War. Cubans do not need a visa to travel to Russia, and direct flights to Moscow make the trip easier,” the research noted.

Although EurAsian Times could not independently verify these claims, it is understood that several reports have surfaced in the past year indicating alleged Russian recruitment of foreigners for the ongoing Ukraine war.