CubaBrief: Why December 17, 2014 Cuba policy changes failed, and shouldn’t be repeated

President Barack Obama participates in a pull-aside with Cuban President Raul Castro during the Summit of the Americas Second Plenary Session at the Atlapa Convention Center in Panama City, Panama, April 11, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba began in 2009 with the unilateral loosening of sanctions, it followed the same failed pattern of other Administrations, opposition leaders killed, increased repression, and hostile actions against U.S. interests abroad. This did not prompt a change in policy, but a doubling down. It did not help that secret negotiations on Washington’s side were led by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, who is a former fiction writer with no foreign policy experience. Senior U.S. diplomats at the State Department were kept in the dark. His counterpart on Havana’s side was Raul Castro’s son, Fidel’s protege and senior Ministry of the Interior official, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin. His colleagues in the New York Times profile describe the Deputy National Security Adviser as “having no poker face“, leading the negotiations versus some of the most seasoned and manipulative intelligence officials in the world.

Ben Rhodes with Rodolfo Dávalos León, a Cuban oligarch living in South Florida.  When protests erupted in Cuba in July 2021, Mr. Dávalos León tweeted: “If the revolution falls you will find me in Cuba, with my father, knee on ground, rifle in hand, defending the work of Fidel. Long live Cuba, long live Raul, & long live Fidel!” 

Nine years ago, on December 17, 2014, this thaw was elevated and formalized when President Barack Obama, and Cuban dictator Raul Castro announced the intent to normalize diplomatic relations. Obama freed three Cuban spies the same day, including Gerardo Hernandez, who was serving two life sentences, one of which was for conspiracy to murder four members of the Brothers to the Rescue in return for aid worker Alan Gross, who had been abducted by Havana in 2009, and an unidentified Cuban intelligence agent. This was a great propaganda victory for the Castro regime.

Barack Obama and Raul Castro each made an announcement on December 17, 2014 on US-Cuba relations.

Following Obama’s announcement the Cuban military expanded its control over the national economy during the 2014-2017 detente.

This was followed by an exodus of over 120,000 Cubans through Central America who entered the United States between 2014-2016, regine influence expanded with their client state Nicaragua becoming a full blown dictatorship under Daniel Ortega, and more hostile actions. In the midst of this on March 20, 2016 President Obama, with his family, arrived in Cuba for a state visit. On August 22, 2016 the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Cuba, and said Iran wants to forge a “new path” in its relations with Cuba by tightening ties. Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov said on October 7, 2016 that Moscow was considering plans to return to Cuba where it had a military base in the past. 

Calder Walton, of the Harvard Kennedy School, in his article “A US ambassador working for Cuba? Charges against former diplomat Victor Manuel Rocha spotlight Havana’s importance in the world of spying” published in The Conversation on December 15, 2023 reviews the Russian and Chinese presence in Cuba.

“Putin’s government reopened a massive old Soviet signals intelligence facility in Cuba, near Havana. This facility had been the Soviet Union’s largest foreign signals intelligence station in the world, with aerials and antennae pointed at Florida shores just 100 miles away. Soviet records reveal that Moscow obtained valuable information from U.S. military bases in Florida. Russia may well still be trying to try to eavesdrop on U.S. targets today from Cuba, although the U.S. government is doubtless alert to such efforts and is likely undertaking countermeasures. Cuban intelligence today is also collaborating with China, which reportedly plans to open its own eavesdropping station in Cuba. Beijing has significant influence over Cuba as its largest creditor and, following in Soviet footsteps, views the island as a valuable intelligence collection base and a “bridgehead” — the KGB’s old code name for Cuba — for influence in Latin America.”

Beginning in November 2016, U.S. and Canadian diplomats stationed in Havana began suffering brain injuries, and on January 2, 2017, Raúl Castro presided over a military parade in which Cuban soldiers chanted: “Obama! Obama! With what fervor we’d like to confront your clumsiness, give you a cleansing with rebels and mortar, and make you a hat out of bullets to the head.”

This was a failed policy that did not understand what motivates Havana. The Communist regime in Cuba is anti-American and over the past 64 years it has sought to end the post-1945 U.S. led world order by seeking out alliances with regimes hostile to the United States, and coordinating efforts to undermine it.  This is the strategic context that too many have ignored.

Proponents of constructive engagement with the Cuban dictatorship are asking policy makers to do three things: disregard the past, dismiss current actions by Havana, and get ready for their own country’s taxpayers to foot the tab.

Richard Nixon met with Fidel Castro in April 1959 and sought a detente with Havana in 1974

1. Disregard the past
Multilateral sanctions against Havana worked to contain communist expansion in the Western Hemisphere until Kissinger lifted them.

The Ford administration provided Havana with a number of inducements without expecting anything in return, believing that they could restore relations with the Castros. Initially, the United States supported the OAS resolution on July 29, 1975, which essentially put an end to the multilateral economic and diplomatic sanctions against Cuba. On August 19, President Ford went further loosening the US embargo, removing the sanctions against foreign aid to nations that conducted business with the regime in Cuba and enabling ships traveling to the island to refuel in the US. This was an initiative led by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Rather than the “easing of tensions” that was anticipated, the Ford Administration found itself looking foolish.  Havana’s response was to send thousands of Cuban troops to Africa, first to Angola. Secretary Kissinger was so angered by the Cuban intervention in Angola, and the failure of detente that he entertained the idea of air strikes on Cuba.  Multilateral sanctions were not reimposed and Communist Cuba’s influence would expand in the region. Subsequent administrations ( Carter 1977, Clinton 1993 and 2000), Obama (2009-2017) attempted rapprochements with Havana, and endured the same cycle. Carter’s opening coincided with plunging Central America into civil war, with the establishment of communist rule in Nicaragua with Daniel Ortega in 1979 and a mass exodus in 1980 which Fidel Castro personally seeded with murderers, rapists, and psychiatric patients. The Clinton Administration’s normalization efforts coincided with massacres of Cubans, the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown, another exodus, the expansion of Cuban influence in Venezuela and the take over of Hugo Chavez in 1999.

2. Dismiss current actions by Havana

Lessons from Europe’s constructive engagement

Although the European Union (EU) has and continues to pursue a policy of constructive engagement, and was Cuba’s top trading partner in the 1990s it did not curb its international outlaw behavior. Venezuela became Cuba’s top trading partner in 2001, and was eclipsed by China in 2016 However, when Europe de-linked human rights considerations from economic engagement with Havana trade shot up. As of 2019, the EU was Cuba’s top trading partner for both imports and exports. It was also Cuba’s top development partner and source of foreign investment. In 2019, a quarter of all tourists visiting Cuba, which relies on its tourism sector for income, were from the EU.This did not alter Havana’s hostile posture towards Europe. Cubans are in Russian uniforms fighting to advance Moscow’s objectives in the illegal war in Ukraine, and Havana is conducting military training in Belarus. Terrorists continue to be harbored in Cuba, and the Cuban dictatorship refuses to extradite them. Cuban diplomats have held high level meetings with Hamas in 2023, and Hezbollah maintains a base in Cuba. Cuba’s communist dictatorship and Iran’s Islamist regime are closely allied and coordinating efforts against Israel.

3. Get ready for taxpayers to foot the tab.

“One of the best-kept secrets of our 40-year-old trade embargo with  Cuba is that it has saved millions of dollars for U.S. taxpayers. Due to the embargo, there are no U.S. banks in the “Paris Club”, a  consortium of Cuba creditors. (The Paris Club is currently owed between $10 and $15 billion in debt from Cuba.) Otherwise, U.S. banks now would  be hitting U.S. taxpayers to cover their losses in Cuba. If the U.S. begins to subsidize trade with Cuba–estimated at $100  million a year–five years from now, U.S. taxpayers could be holding, or paying off a $500 million tab.” – Senator George Allen, May 21, 2002, Hearing on U.S. Trade Policy with Cuba

Cuba scholar Jaime Suchlicki at the Cuban Studies Institute on April 10, 2023 published an important analysis titled “The Folly of Investing in Cuba” that outlines a number of pitfalls both economic and moral to doing business with the Castro dictatorship that is a must read.

Existing U.S. sanctions have protected American taxpayers from having to shell out billions of dollars to subsidize the Castro dictatorship.

Others have not had the benefit of this policy.

China canceled $6 billion dollars in Cuban debt in 2011, On November 1, 2013 the government of Mexico announced that it was ready to waive 70 percent of a debt worth nearly $500 million that Cuba owes it. The former president of Mexico Vicente Fox protested the move stating: “Let the Cubans get to work and generate their own money…They’re normally like chupacabras.  The only thing they’re looking for is someone to give them money for free.” In December 2015 it was announced that Spain would forgive $1.7 billion that the Castro regime owes it. In December of 2013, Russia and Cuba quietly signed an agreement to write off $32 billion of Cuba’s debt to the former superpower. Western governments pursued Cuban maritime debts seizing Cuban vessels and negotiating payment through Canadian courts.

The 2015 debt restructuring accord between Cuba and the Paris Club, according to Reuters, “forgave $8.5 billion of $11.1 billion, representing debt Cuba defaulted on in 1986, plus charges.”

The Paris Club is made up of the following permanent members: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France,Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States. Thanks to existing U.S. sanctions, none of the $11.084 billion in debt has been left for U.S. taxpayers to pay off.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago is Distinguished Service Professor emeritus of economics and Latin American studies at the University of Pittsburgh, and in his work CUBA’S ECONOMY IN TIMES OF CRISIS: 2020–2022 AND PROSPECTS FOR 2023 provided the following table which lists debt forgiven, and remaining debt owed by the Cuban dictatorship.

Kenosha News, December 15, 2023


Commentary by Arthur I. Cyr: Cuba spying in strategic context

Arthur I. Cyr

On Dec. 4, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested a retired very senior diplomat. Victor Manuel Roca has been charged with spying for the government of Cuba over a period of many years.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland stated, “This action exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent.”

There are other disturbing examples of foreign agents in sensitive positions. In 1994, CIA officer Aldrich Ames was convicted of spying for Russia and the Soviet Union. In 2002, FBI agent Robert Hanssen was convicted of similar charges.

Both provided Moscow with enormous amounts of sensitive information, including the names of agents serving in that country. We don’t know for certain exactly how many lives were lost as a result of their treason.

Manuel Roca’s arrest provides a strong incentive to place Cuba’s challenge in the current strategic context. Our hemispheric security requires new attention.

Fidel Castro exercised ruthless control of Cuba for nearly a half century. After taking power in early 1959, enforcer brother Raul handled bloody mass executions with efficient dispatch.

Fidel highlighted the new alliance with the Soviet Union by joining Nikita Khrushchev in a 1960 visit to the United Nations in New York. The Soviet premier was wildly disruptive at UN sessions, while the Cuban delegation provided a media sideshow, based at a Harlem hotel.

The Eisenhower administration began a clandestine effort to overthrow the regime, including a CIA project to assassinate Castro. The successor Kennedy administration vastly escalated such efforts.

Khrushchev secretly shipped long-range nuclear missiles to Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 resulted. President John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev managed to resolve the crisis short of war.

Cuba became an active far-reaching revolutionary force. The U.S. aggressively intervened against perceived threats, notably in Chile in the 1970s, where East Germany was influential. Cuban troops served as Soviet proxies in various Africa wars.

Cuba once boasted the strongest economy in Latin America, but this status changed quickly after Castro took power. The Soviet Union provided ongoing support. In May of this year, Havana and Moscow agreed on a plan designed to aid the weakening economies of both countries.

Efforts at improving relations have been frustrating. In March 2016, President Barack Obama visited Cuba. President Calvin Coolidge was the last U.S. chief executive to visit the island nation, in early 1928. Reflecting the outlooks, and transportation limitations, of that earlier era, President Coolidge travelled by battleship.

The Trump administration re-imposed a hard line. Soon after taking office, President Trump announced new trade and travel restrictions.

The Cuban government, increasingly hard-pressed, has carried out massive layoffs, combined with liberalization designed to encourage small business and foreign purchases of real estate. This is an admission of failure by Cuba’s committed Communist leaders. Havana now courts foreign investment, while maintaining political controls.

In the past, Cuba has been extremely important in U.S. presidential politics. Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kennedy fanned the flames of hostility to Castro in the 1960 contest with Republican Vice President Richard Nixon.

In 2016, some Republicans strongly denounced the rapprochement with Cuba, but Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona joined President Obama’s delegation. Bipartisan U.S. Congressional delegations continue to visit Cuba.

After Manuel Roca’s arrest, initiatives toward Havana must be cautious.

Most pressing is the need to review and tighten U.S. security measures and methods. The Clinton administration deemphasized human intelligence in favor of electronic means.

We must reverse this change.

The Conversation, December 15, 2023

A US ambassador working for Cuba? Charges against former diplomat Victor Manuel Rocha spotlight Havana’s importance in the world of spying

Calder Walton, Harvard Kennedy School

Fri, December 15, 2023 at 8:22 AM EST

A U.S. Justice Department image showing Victor Manuel Rocha during a meeting with an FBI undercover employee. U.S. Department of Justice

The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Dec. 4, 2023, that Victor Manuel Rocha, a former U.S. government employee, had been arrested and faced federal charges for secretly acting for decades as an agent of the Cuban government. Rocha joined the State Department in 1981 and served for over 20 years, rising to the level of ambassador. After leaving the State Department, he served from 2006-2012 as an adviser to the U.S. Southern Command, a joint U.S. military command that handles operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Harvard Kennedy School intelligence and national security scholar Calder Walton, author of “Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West,” provides perspective on what U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland described as “one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent.”

How common is it for spies to embed in foreign governments?

Every state seeks to place spies in this way. That’s the business of human intelligence: providing insights into a foreign government’s secret intentions and capabilities.

What makes Rocha’s case unusual is the length of his alleged espionage on behalf of Cuba: four decades. It’s important to emphasize the word alleged here – the case is underway, and Rocha has not yet offered a defense, let alone been convicted.

If proved, however, Rocha’s espionage would place him among the longest-serving spies in modern times. Allowing him to operate as a spy in the senior echelons of the U.S. government for so long would represent a staggering U.S. security failure.

What can a spy in this kind of position do?

Typically, an embedded spy would be tasked by his or her recruiting intelligence service to take actions like stealing briefing papers, secret memorandums and other materials that show what decision-makers are thinking. Such work quickly resembles movie scenes – photographing secret documents, swapping information in public places or depositing it under lampposts and bridges.

Having an agent reach ambassador level would be a prize for any foreign intelligence service. Rocha held senior diplomatic postings in South America, including Bolivia, Argentina, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. This would have given him, and thus his Cuban handlers, access to valuable intelligence about U.S. policy toward South America — and anything else that crossed his desk.

An embedded spy can also act as an “agent of influence” who works secretly to shape policies of the target government from within. This will be something to look for as the federal government discloses more information to support its charges against Rocha.

Presumably the U.S. intelligence community either already has carried out a damange assessment, or is urgently now conducting one, reviewing what secrets Rocha had access to during his diplomatic service – and whether, as ambassador to Bolivia, he may have shaped U.S. policy at the behest of Cuban intelligence.

Has Cuban intelligence partnered with Russia, in the past or now?

Cuban intelligence worked closely with the Soviets during the Cold War. After Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, Soviet intelligence maintained close personal liaisons with him. Cuba’s intelligence service, the DGI, later known as the DI, received early training and support from the KGB, Russia’s former secret police and intelligence agency.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, Cuban intelligence operatives acted as valuable proxies for the KGB in Latin America and various African countries, particularly Angola and Mozambique. But they didn’t just follow Moscow’s direction.

As Brian Latell, a former U.S. intelligence expert on Latin America, has shown, Castro’s intelligence service was often far more aggressive than the Soviet Union in supporting communist revolutionary movements in developing countries. Indeed, at times, the KGB had to try to rein in Cuban “adventurism.”

One of Cuba’s greatest known espionage feats was recruiting and running a high-flying officer at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Montes, who spied for Cuba for 17 years before she was detected and convicted. To the best of my knowledge, there is no publicly avilable U.S. damage assessment of her espionage, but one senior CIA officer told me it was “breathtaking.”

Cuban intelligence recruited Montes while she was a university student and encouraged her to join the Defense Intelligence Agency. There, using a short-wave radio to pass coded messages and encrypted files to handlers, Montes betrayed a massive haul of U.S. secrets, including identities of U.S. intelligence officers and descriptions of U.S. eavesdropping facilities directed against Cuba.

Cuban and Russian intelligence agencies maintained their ties after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed. That relationship has only strengthened since Vladimir Putin, an old KGB hand, took power in the Kremlin in 1999.

Putin’s government reopened a massive old Soviet signals intelligence facility in Cuba, near Havana. This facility had been the Soviet Union’s largest foreign signals intelligence station in the world, with aerials and antennae pointed at Florida shores just 100 miles away.

Soviet records reveal that Moscow obtained valuable information from U.S. military bases in Florida. Russia may well still be trying to try to eavesdrop on U.S. targets today from Cuba, although the U.S. government is doubtless alert to such efforts and is likely undertaking countermeasures.

Cuban intelligence today is also collaborating with China, which reportedly plans to open its own eavesdropping station in Cuba. Beijing has significant influence over Cuba as its largest creditor and, following in Soviet footsteps, views the island as a valuable intelligence collection base and a “bridgehead” — the KGB’s old code name for Cuba — for influence in Latin America.

If Rocha is proved guilty, how would he rank historically among other spies?

It remains to be seen what damage Rocha may have done while allegedly working as a Cuban spy. His tenure in the U.S. government, however, would place him right up there with the most successful, and thus damaging, spies in modern history.

The longest-running Soviet foreign intelligence agent in Britain, Melita Norwood, spied for the KGB for four decades. When she was exposed in 1999, the unrepentant 87-year-old great-grandmother was quickly dubbed “the great granny spy” in the British tabloid press.

In the United States, the highest Soviet penetration of the executive branch was probably Lauchlin Currie, who was President Franklin Roosevelt’s White House assistant during World War II. Records obtained after the Soviet Union’s collapse reveal that Currie acted as a Soviet agent.

The greatest damage to U.S. national security, however, was done in the 1980s and 1990s by Aldrich Ames at the CIA and Robert Hanssen at the FBI. Each man betrayed a wealth of secrets, including U.S. intelligence operations. The information that Ames stole for the Soviets led to the arrest and execution of Soviet agents working for U.S. intelligence behind the Iron Curtain.

In due course, we will find out whether Rocha occupies a place of similar ignominy in U.S. history.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization bringing you facts and analysis to help you make sense of our complex world.

It was written by: Calder Walton, Harvard Kennedy School.

Read more:

Calder Walton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Miami Herald, December 13, 2023

In courting U.S.’ enemies, hemisphere’s dictators are a threat to our security | Opinion

By John Suarez

On Dec. 4, in Tehran, Iran, Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel, center, meets with Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, left, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei. Press TV

Coverage of Miguel Diaz-Canel’s visit to Iran has been almost exclusively viewed through the prism of economic engagement. This includes the Miami Herald’s Dec. 7 story “Cuba leader meets Iran’s supreme leader, opens up the island to Iranian investors.” 

The story highlights the four high-level meetings between Cuban and Iranian officials. Diaz-Canel’s visit to Iran on Dec. 4 was “the first time in 22 years that a Cuban leader has visited Iran since Fidel Castro went to Tehran in 2001.” 

Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi visited Cuba in June, and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited in February. The leaders also met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September. 

But this economic framing ignores broader national-security issues. 

In his novel “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” author Salman Rushdie observed that, “The only people who see the whole picture are the ones who step outside the frame.”

[ Full article ]

From the archives, September 4, 2023

Letters: Editorial addressed

By Staff Report

September 4, 2023

Your Aug. 3 editorial, “What if Cuba is rebuilding ties with Russia and China” correctly diagnoses the growing threat of Russia and China in the region, but then asks the question “What if” the Obama thaw had continued.  This is where the question of cause and effect arises.  

On July 5, 2023, Chris Simmons, a former chief of a counterintelligence research branch on the Western Hemisphere at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, revealed in the Miami Herald that in 1992 China began reasserting itself in Cuba with  50 Chinese officers embedded in a single building within the Bejucal facility, and smuggling arms into the island. 

During Bill Clinton’s thaw with Fidel Castro in 2000, Russia reasserted its position in Cuba. In September 2000,  Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro at the United Nations, and less than a month later, he eased Cuban sanctions , allowing cash and carry transactions with the Cuban government and military. Cuban-Russian relations had deteriorated throughout the Gorbachev and Yeltsin administrations, but were renewed by Vladimir Putin. In December 2000, Putin flew into Cuba and “said the abrupt rupture of the close alliance between Moscow and Havana a decade earlier was a mistake.

Castro handed over power to his brother Raul in 2006. It was Raul Castro and his son Alejandro Castro that negotiated “the thaw” with President Obama and White House aide Ben Rhodes that was announced on December 17, 2014. When American diplomats traveled to Cuba to negotiate normalizing relations with their Cuban counterparts in January 2015, they were greeted by a Russian intelligence warship that docked the day before

What were the results of Obama’s opening to Cuba? The Cuban military commercial empire expanded substantially during the detente that began on December 17, 2014, until the Trump Administration changed course.  Although Washington had a diplomatic presence in Cuba since 1977, the first U.S. diplomats to suffer serious and inexplicable brain injuries in Cuba occurred under President Obama. Speculation centered on Russian or Chinese actors causing the injuries, with the acquiescence of Cuban intelligence services.

To make matters worse,  Raúl Castro presided over a military parade in Havana on January 2, 2017 to mark the 58th anniversary of the communist revolution, with troops chanting: “Obama! Obama! We’d like to confront your clumsiness, cleanse you with rebels and mortar, and make you a hat out of bullets to the head.”

Not normal.

John Suarez
Executive director
Center for a Free Cuba
Falls Church, VA.

South Florida Sun Sentinel, December 23, 2020

Obama’s Cuba policy only emboldened Castro | Opinion

By John Suarez

Special to the Sun Sentinel | Dec 23, 2020 at 1:46 PM

Reading the Dec. 15 op-ed by William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh [“For Biden’s Cuba policy, quid pro quo incrementalism is doomed to fail, Dec. 15”], I was shocked by the numerous omissions the authors made in defending a failed policy.

President Obama’s détente began in 2009 with sanctions loosened and calls for a willingness to negotiate with Havana. This coincided with increasing violence against dissidents, including high-profile opposition leader Oswaldo Payá, who died in a suspicious car crash in Bayamo, Cuba, on July 22, 2012. Payá’s children and the driver of his car that night all say the car was run off the road. The Cuban government, of course, says otherwise.

On the international front, the Castro regime was caught smuggling Soviet era fighter jets and weaponry to North Korea in July 2013, in violation of international UN sanctions. In June 2014, a U.S. Hellfire missile used in NATO exercises in Europe ended up in Havana’s possession instead of being sent back to the United States. Although U.S. officials said this was the result of a shipping mishap by Lockheed Martin, the missile’s manufacturer, this was at a time during which the U.S. was already secretly negotiating with Castro. Relations were officially reestablished in July 2015, and yet, the United States was unable to obtain the return of this weapon, despite repeated requests, until the story went public in January 2016. The Hellfire missile, filled with sensitive technology, was returned in February 2016, after over a year and a half in Havana’s possession.

On Dec. 17, 2014, when President Obama opened what he called “a new chapter” in U.S.-Cuba relations, he commuted the sentence of Cuban spies who planned terrorist acts on U.S. soil and freed Gerardo Hernandez, who was serving a double life sentence for espionage and murder conspiracy, as part of a prisoner exchange. The murder conspiracy charges were for his role in the killing of three American citizens and a Cuban national with residency in the United States on Feb. 24, 1996. The four were shot down by Cuban fighter jets as they flew small aircraft with Brothers to the Rescue, a group that searched the seas for Cuban refugees in trouble. Hernandez’s spy group had infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue. Hernandez returned to Cuba and became tasked with spying on Cubans on a national level. Last week, on Dec. 17, he was promoted to the Castro dictatorship’s Council of State, the 31-member body that governs day-to-day life on the island.

LeoGrande and Kornbluh give a false impression when they state that “Obama restored full diplomatic relations and fully staffed the embassy and consulate in Havana.” The president did restore full diplomatic relations, renaming the Interests Section an Embassy, but the Interests Section had been fully staffed for years. What the authors left out was that, beginning in November 2016, on President Obama’s watch, scores of U.S. diplomats began suffering neurological injuries, and the Cuban government failed in its duty to protect them on their territory. This was the reason for the reduction in personnel.

Moreover, they write about “diplomatic civility” but omit that on Jan. 2, 2017, Raúl Castro presided over a military parade in which Cuban soldiers chanted: “Obama! Obama! With what fervor we’d like to confront your clumsiness, give you a cleansing with rebels and mortar, and make you a hat out of bullets to the head.”

This was a one-sided and failed détente that did not serve U.S. interests or improve the lot of Cubans on the island, but it did empower the dictatorship that oppresses them.

John Suarez is the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, an independent nonprofit institution dedicated to promoting human rights and a nonviolent transition to democracy and the rule of law in Cuba.