Cuba Cozies Up to Russia as Report Claims Island Will Host Chinese Spy Base

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with his Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on October 29, 2019. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ALEXANDER NEMENOV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Communist Cuba, long disregarded as a priority by leftist President Joe Biden, boasted of taking on a role as a “key partner” to Russia on Wednesday, shortly before a bombshell report claimed the island would soon host a Chinese “spy base.”

That report, citing anonymous “officials familiar,” claimed that the Chinese Communist Party had come to an agreement with its Cuban counterparts to pay the impoverished island nation to build a facility to eavesdrop on phone calls, emails, and other communications whose content would benefit the regime. The Wall Street Journal, which published the report, claimed the anonymous alleged “officials” had “declined to provide more details” about the situation.

Communist Cuba, which prioritizes animosity towards the United States in its foreign policy, has long maintained friendly ties with Russia that evolved from its economic dependence on the Soviet Union. As China grew into an economic powerhouse, thanks to American business interests, Havana cozied up to its fellow communists through effusive support at venues such as the United Nations, which has included denial of China’s ongoing genocide of Uyghurs and other Turkic ethnic groups in occupied East Turkistan.

Cuba’s figurehead “President” Miguel Díaz-Canel, who answers to the long-ruling Castro family, last visited China and Russia on a tour in November intended to convince the larger nations to invest in the Cuban Communist Party’s stranglehold on the island, a necessary investment for the Castro regime following a year-long wave of anti-communist protests that erupted in July 2021 and the collapse of its electric grid, food supply, oil and gas supplies, and other critical sectors.

On Wednesday, top Cuban Politburo official and Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz met in Moscow with multiple high-ranking government officials, according to the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, Granma.

“The relations [with Russia] have always been at a high level, but in these complex times, when the enemies are attempting to secure their world domination, many more elements unite us to continue struggling together,” Marrero proclaimed in a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

Mishustin, for his part, called Cuba a “key partner” of Russia in the region, according to Granma, and described expanding Russia’s role in Cuba as “very important” for Moscow, particularly in commercial investments – critical to keeping the communist regime from financial failure. Mishustin specifically offered help in sending Russian tourists to Cuba, aiding an industry entirely controlled by the communist regime and ailing after years of coronavirus lockdowns and the physical collapse of luxury hotels in Havana, a product of socialist neglect.

Marrero also emphasized that Cuba opposes alleged American “Russophobia” and condemned sanctions imposed on Russia over its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, comparing them to the “hardened American blockade” – the barely existent “embargo” that does little to prevent Cuba from receiving American money and nothing to block humanitarian aid:

As Cuba touted its ties to Russia – the Marrero visit was the top story on Granma‘s webpage as of Thursday morning – the Wall Street Journal warned that unknown individuals had reason to believe China was working to establish a secret spy base on the island.

“Officials familiar with the matter said that China has agreed to pay cash-strapped Cuba several billion dollars to allow it to build the eavesdropping station, and that the two countries had reached an agreement in principle,” the newspaper reported. “Officials declined to provide more details about the proposed location of the listening station or whether construction had begun.”

The alleged “officials” claimed evidence of the deal was “convincing.” The National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby, told the Wall Street Journal generally that the Biden administration was “well aware of” China attempting to “invest in infrastructure around the world that may have military purposes, including in this hemisphere.” He neither confirmed nor denied information regarding the alleged Cuban spy base.

Cuba is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global plot to indebt poor countries by offering predatory loans meant to pay China to build infrastructure projects. China initially claimed that the goal of the BRI was to reconstruct the Ancient Silk Road, a critical trade route connecting Beijing to Western Europe. It rapidly began incorporating countries far afield of the location of the Ancient Silk Road, however, in particular in Africa and Latin America, allied with China and struggling economically.

As part of the BRI agreement, Díaz-Canel has repeatedly asked China to invest in the Castro regime, including during his visit in November. His efforts yielded some results in January when China announced a $100 million “donation” to Cuba to be used for unspecified projects. Cuban ambassador to China Carlos Miguel Pereira said in January that the money would be “destined for the execution of high social impact projects linked to prioritized sectors of our economy.”

In March, China announced a separate deal with Cuba to facilitate the promotion of Chinese tourism to Cuba, similar to the deal Havana made with Moscow.

Chinese tourists in a shop of souvenirs about the cuban revolution in Havana, Cuba, on 23 November 2016. (Photo by Alvaro Fuente/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Chinese tourists in a shop of souvenirs about the Cuban revolution in Havana, Cuba, on 23 November 2016 (Photo by Alvaro Fuente/NurPhoto via Getty Images).

The Biden administration – including during the July 11, 2021, anti-communist protests and the subsequent violent crackdown on the island – has repeatedly signaled that it has little interest in addressing Cuba as a foreign policy matter.

“Despite the support that President Biden is offering to the people of Cuba today, this White House has openly admitted that the issue of the island is not a priority for this government,” Univisión White House correspondent Janet Rodríguez lamented in 2021, a direct response to then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki describing Cuba as “not currently among President Biden’s top priorities.”

The Biden administration has, nonetheless, enacted some small measures benefitting the regime, including easing rules on sending American money to Cuba and repatriating anti-communist Cuban refugees. In February, congressional Republicans denounced the Biden administration for agreeing to allow Cuban communist agents to tour American Coast Guard facilities.

“Extending an invitation to Cuban intelligence operatives into sensitive national security facilities in order to share with them our nation’s coastal and maritime security protocols is an egregious dereliction of duty,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote to the president that month, “that betrays one of the most fundamental tenets of the oath you have sworn, to protect America from foreign enemies. You must cancel this visit immediately, and explain to the American people how this was allowed to happen on your watch.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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