Glenn Baker / Center for Defense Information – 2004-06-22 12:47:07
WASHINGTON ()June 16, 2004) —
Recent US Navy exercises have caused concern among Cuban officials about the growing possibility of US military action there. President George W. Bush also recently ordered US military EC-130 “Commando Solo” aircraft to broadcast Radio and TV Marti signals into Cuba as a result of the recommendations of the State Department’s “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.”
Taken together, Cuban officials see these actions as part of a growing pattern of antagonism toward the island’s Communist government that raise the possibility of an incident that could trigger a violent series of events.
Two US carrier strike groups (CSGs) sailed in the vicinity of Cuba as part of Summer Pulse 04, the Navy’s first exercise of a new operational construct that will deploy seven CSGs around the world simultaneously, a major change from the way carriers have been used in the past.
The goal is to create a more responsive, less predictable carrier force that can quickly support contingency operations around the world. A CSG typically consists of six major vessels and 65 aircraft. Cuba sits just 90 miles from Florida. The Cubans note that the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, supported by the carrier USS Independence, took place without warning.
The White House decision to deploy military “Commando Solo” airborne platforms in coordination with the US government’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti) is seen as particularly provocative by the Cubans. These aircraft, operated by the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, traditionally support psychological operations in wartime.
The new policy also calls for procurement of a dedicated aircraft for full-time broadcasting into Cuba. It is unclear whether this aircraft will be operated by the military or the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB). Some Cuban officials privately have expressed greater concern over the latter possibility, because the OCB is run largely by Cuban exiles based in Miami.
OCB officials maintain ties to extremist exiles who seek to trigger a violent incident that could create a pretext for military action against Cuba, who might see this aircraft as the tool for such an incident. In 1996, the Cuban Air Force shot down two private planes near Cuban airspace operated by the exile group “Brothers to the Rescue.”
In response to the array of new US policies, some of which are aimed at restricting cash flow to Cuba, the Cuban government temporarily closed all the “dollar stores” in the country, where those with access to US dollars purchase consumer goods to supplement their meager state rations. (They have since re-opened with higher prices.)
This had the effect of further embittering most Cubans toward both the US and Cuban governments, but also served to get the people on a war footing and prepare them for crisis. While Cuba’s military has shrunk to less than a quarter of its previous size since 1992, the country has long prepared for a guerrilla-style “people’s war” in response to any outside effort to occupy it.
Castro Warns Bush Against Launching Attack
Anita Snow / Associated Press
HAVANA (June 21, 2004) — Tens of thousands of Cubans rallied Monday, as Fidel Castro warned President Bush against launching a military attack on Cuba, saying it would provoke a mass exodus and an all-out ground war.
Washington has repeatedly denied it is planning any military action against Havana. But an increased tightening of sanctions against the island, along with the Bush administration’s pre-emptive strike on Iraq, has convinced the Cuban leadership that a military attack is not impossible.
“Do not try crazy adventures such as surgical strikes or wars of attrition using sophisticated techniques because you could lose control of the situation,” Castro said in a speech addressed specifically to Bush.
“You could shatter the immigration agreement and provoke a mass exodus that we would not be in a position to prevent, and you could bring about an all-out war between young American soldiers and the Cuban people,” he said. “That would be very sad. You would never be able to win that war. Here you will not find a divided people.”
In May, a US presidential commission delivered Bush what amounts to a policy of regime change in Cuba, recommending that the United States subvert the planned succession in Cuba under which power would pass from Castro to his younger brother, Raul.
The release of the report coincided with a new round of tough new measures that will further limit travel here by US citizens — including Cuban Americans.
Dressed in his typical olive green uniform and cap, Castro spoke at a mahogany wood podium on a stage outside the oceanfront US Interests Section — the American mission here.
The coastal Malecon highway was crowded with tens of thousands of people called out by their workplaces, schools and neighborhood authorities. The government estimated the crowd at 200,000, a number impossible to confirm independently.
The Communist Party daily Granma said the morning gathering was called to deliver Cuba’s “most energetic condemnation and protest against the brutal anti-Cuban measures by the current US government.” The sanctions are to take effect June 30.
The new rules by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control will severely limit how often Cuban-Americans can visit family and which relatives they can legally send money to on the impoverished island.
Cuban-Americans who previously could visit relatives every year will now be able to travel here once every three years.
While in the past they could send money to aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces — along with more immediate family — they now will be able to send financial help only to parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses, children and grandchildren.
The moves have been welcomed by more conservative Cuban exiles in Miami. But they have been rejected by other Cuban immigrants, especially those who arrived in the United States more recently and still have family on the island. Small protests against the measures were held in Miami and Key West over the weekend.
The measures will also make it even more difficult for non-Cuban Americans to travel here legally. Students now will be prohibited from traveling to Cuba for courses that last less than 10 weeks. This change will end a host of short educational trips sponsored here in recent years by American universities and other groups.
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