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Latin America - Clinton probes Russia’s relationship with Cuba and Venezuela

By María Luisa Rivera, Wikileaks, 6 February 2011

A few months after becoming U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton instructed embassy officials in Havana and Moscow to assess the state of the bilateral relationships of Russia with Cuba and Venezuela. In a cable from April 2009 (09STATE40419) Clinton asks questions intended to determine whether Russia prefers Caracas over Havana, whether Raul Castro is any “easier or harder to work with” than Fidel, and if the Russians had any plans to establish a military presence in Cuba.

The U.S. has had a troubled relationship with Cuba ever since the 26th of July Movement led by Fidel Castro overthrew the Fulgencio Batista government in 1959. Castro established close ties with the former Soviet Union and brought Cuba into the middle of the Cold War struggle when he invited Moscow to place missiles on the Caribbean island that could strike the U.S.

Over the years, the Central Intelligence Agency has worked with Cuban exiles in Florida to attempt to oust Castro unsuccessfully. Today, despite stringent U.S. sanctions and the collapse of the Soviet Union over two decades ago, the government of Cuba remains steadfast in its commitment to a Marxist economic and political form of government.

In 2008, Raul Castro took over the helm of government in Havana after his brother Fidel suffered a series of health problems prompting speculation that economic changes might be forthcoming. With the advent of the Obama administration in 2009, many hoped for a warmer relationship between the two countries. But a series of State department cables uncovered by Wikileaks suggest that not much has changed in the U.S. attitude to Cuba, which remains suspicious of Havana’s ties to Moscow.

Soon after Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State, U.S. diplomats were asked to evaluate the Russia-Cuba relationship from the Cuban perspective and inquire whether the Cubans were seeking Russian financial assistance “to help fund domestic programs” such as housing and transportation projects and determining “how far were the Cubans willing to go to accommodate Russian military operations” and what the Cubans might seek in exchange.

No Russian Bases in Cuba

The questions suggest that Washington was hoping to find and perhaps exploit divisions between Havana and Moscow but the answers did not offer any support for such a plan. Based on their interviews of Russian officials, the diplomats responded (09MOSCOW1732) that Russia does not prefer Havana over Caracas, that working with Raul is neither easier nor harder and that the relationship with Cuba is good (09MOSCOW1730)and that it’s getting better. The Russians pointed, however, that the relationship is based entirely on economic interests and not in ideology. Russian officials also indicated that Russia has no interest in establishing military bases in Cuba.