China’s threatening authoritarian presence in Cuba

There’s an outstanding artitlce by Leland Lazarus, and Even Ellis published in Diálogo Digital Military Magazine detailing China´s extensive business and influence in Cuba, the Carribean, and Latin America.. It is a must read.

By Leland Lazarus and Even Ellis in Diálogo;

How China Helps the Cuban Regime Stay Afloat and Shut Down Protests

View of the entrace of the Chinese neighbourhood in Havana, on April 11, 2019. – A hundred first-generation Chinese still live in Cuba. Their descendants work together with the authorities to recover the neighbourhood where they grew up. (Photo by Yamil LAGE / AFP)

On July 11, thousands of people across Cuba took to the streets, fed up with the lack of food, basic products, medicine, and vaccines to combat COVID-19. They were the first large-scale demonstrations in Cuba since 1994, and the largest since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Protesters used social media to broadcast to the world what was happening, but the communist regime shut off the internet and telephone services, pulling the plug on their connection outside the island.

The key to the regime’s ability to do so was China. Chinese companies have played a key part in building Cuba’s telecommunications infrastructure, a system the regime uses to control its people, just as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does within its own borders.

When the protests began, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted: “Expect the regime in #Cuba to block internet & cell phone service soon to prevent videos about what is happening to get out to the world… By the way, they use a system made, sold & installed by #China to control and block access to the internet in #Cuba.” An article in Newsweek discussing Beijing’s possible links with the censoring of Cuba’s protests noted that the primary technology providers for Etecsa, Cuba’s sole internet access company, are all Chinese: Huawei, TP-Link, and ZTE. A 2017 report by the Open Observatory of Network Interference found traces of Chinese code in interfaces for Cuban Wi-Fi portals. The Swedish organization Qurium discovered that Cuba uses Huawei network management software eSight to help filter web searches. China’s role in helping the regime cut off communications during the protests has exposed one of the many ways Beijing helps keep the Cuban communist regime afloat.

People wave Cuban and PRC flags as several Chinese Navy vessels enter the port of Havana on November 10, 2015. AFP PHOTO/YAMIL LAGE (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP)

China’s Interests in Cuba

Since the two countries established diplomatic relations in September of 1960, Sino-Cuban relations have been complicated. Cuba enjoys the sole designation as a “good brother, good comrade, good friend” of China, reflecting their shared communist legacy. Despite that common bond, however, their relationship has been complex; the two were on opposite sides of the Sino-Soviet split during the Cold War, and, in some cases, on opposite sides of national liberation struggles in Africa. During that period, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro verbally sparred over ideological supremacy. Mao accused Castro, a Soviet ally, of “revisionism,” a serious offense within communist orthodoxy. When China reduced rice shipments to Cuba, Castro accused it of joining the U.S. embargo. Following Mao’s death, Castro characterized the late leader by saying that Mao “destroyed with his feet what he did with his head.”

China was also arguably deterred in its dealings with Cuba by the United States’ strong reaction to the Soviet deployment of missiles in Cuba in 1961. The incident, well known in China, was a cautionary tale that suggested that the U.S. would not tolerate China getting too close to Cuba. Doing so would have potentially risked China’s broader goals of building a strong and wealthy state through commercial dealings with the U.S., including financial interdependence, investment by Western companies, and access to U.S. technology.

After the Soviet Union collapsed and Soviet aid to Cuba abruptly ended, China stepped up support. High-level government officials from China have visited Cuba 22 times since 1993; Cuban high level government officials have visited China 25 times since 1995. During a visit to the island in 2014, President Xi Jinping said, “The two countries advance hand in hand on the road on the path of the construction of socialism with its own characteristics, offering reciprocal support on issues related to our respective vital interests.”

China recognizes Cuba’s geostrategic importance. Due to its position in the Caribbean, Cuba can exert influence over the southeastern maritime approach to the United States, which contains vital sea lanes leading to ports in Miami, New Orleans, and Houston. Author George Friedman has argued that, with an increased presence in Cuba, China could potentially “block American ports without actually blocking them,” just like U.S. naval bases and installations pose a similar challenge to China around the first island chain and Straits of Malacca. Cuba’s influence in the Caribbean also makes it a useful proxy through which Beijing can pressure the four countries in the region (out of the 15 total globally) that recognize Taiwan to switch recognition.

Continue reading more, much more on China´s Economic Support to Cuba, Traces of China’s “Digital Authoritarianism” in Cuba and Beyond, and How the United States Can Respond, HERE.