“The location of Cuba in the Caribbean and proximity to the US make it a natural and strategically valuable partner on issues of immediate concern, including terrorism, border control, drug interdiction, environmental protections, and emergency preparedness,” the retired officers stated in a letter to National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. McMaster that was made public last week.
The military officials indicated that it would be beneficial for the U.S. to ensure economic stability in Cuba for security reasons. Their letter seeks to influence the Trump administration as it reviews the changes to the island’s policy that were made by the previous administration.
“We acknowledge the current regime must do more to open its political system and dialogue with the Cuban people. But, if we fail to engage economically and politically, it is certain that China, Russia, and other entities whose interests are contrary to the United States’ will rush into the vacuum,” the letter said. “We have an opportunity now to shape and fill a strategic void.”
Six of the letter’s signatories traveled to Cuba in March at the invitation of the Cuban government and met with representatives from the Foreign, Agriculture, Foreign Investment, Energy, and Trade ministries. The military officials also met with a dozen officials from the Ministry of Interior, which is in charge of the island’s intelligence services and domestic security.
The trip to the island and the letter were coordinated by the American Security Project (ASP), a non-partisan organization of which many of the retired military officials who signed the letter are a members of.
Stephen A. Cheney, the executive director of ASP and a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Marine Corps, was one of the officials who traveled to Havana. He called the Cubans a “pretty interesting group of active military folks.” Anticipating criticism for not meeting with the opposition, he told the press that the group did not meet with dissidents because the purpose of the visit was to meet with government officials, listen to them, and find out what their concerns are.
Cheney said the current administration “must take into account all national security factors under consideration” and not look at the changes made by the previous administration “simply as something that Obama did and because Obama did it, you hate it,” The Miami Herald reports.
Cheney highlighted the potential of a migration crisis if Cuba’s economy continues to worsen as one of the main concerns from a security standpoint. He also suggested the Trump administration lift trade and financial restrictions in agriculture to benefit U.S. companies, a sentiment shared by some Republican members of Congress who believe opening an agricultural export market in Cuba could benefit farmers and ranchers in the U.S.