The document is a virtual diplomatic bombshell. It could prove a source of embarrassment to all three governments concerned-the U.S., the Cuban and the Jamaican.
The Americans are believed to have made determined efforts to keep the WikiLeaks cables out of the regional media, especially those originating in their Caribbean embassies. The content of the despatch, however, has been splashed all over the Jamaican media (e.g. http://www.jamaica- gleaner.com/gleaner/20101215/lead/lead2.html).
In Jamaica’s domestic politics, it will be another embarrassment for the Bruce Golding-led Administration, whose credibility in fighting narco-trafficking is already on the line. Earlier this year there was a huge uproar of the government’s reluctance to extradite to the U.S. an alleged drug lord entrenched in the Prime Minister’s own political constituency, with strong ties to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party. The Opposition People’s National Party has already weighed in on this point (http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/PNP-claims-US-cable-released-by-Wikileaks-confirm- suspicions).
The cable details a number of instances where the Cuban anti-drug police and Ministry of Interior officials report a less than enthusiastic response from the Jamaican authorities to their appeals for cooperation in stemming the use of Cuban airspace and territorial waters for shipments of narcotics-notably marijuana-from Jamaica.
Jamaica’s Minister of National Security has angrily denounced the accusations of non-cooperation. According to the published report, however, he did not deny that the specific incidents mentioned in the leaked cable actually took place (http://www.jamaica- gleaner.com/gleaner/20101215/lead/lead1.html)
For the US authorities, the implications of the content of the cable are intriguing.
Cuba has been consistently demonised by US government officials and media, to the point where it has been officially designated as a state that sponsors terrorism.
Yet the U.S. Coast Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist assigned to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is reported as having had multiple meetings and conversations with Cuban Ministry of Interior officials over a period up to August 2009.
The contact included a two-day trip to Camaguey, where the senior US official received a briefing on a Jamaican drug flight en route to the Bahamas which had to make an emergency landing. The crew of three were in detention by the Cubans.
U.S. officials held individual and collective conversations with up to 15 officials of Cuba’s Interior Ministry, including on provincial trips outside of Havana. US officials appear to have been granted generous official and physical access to Cuba.
A recurring complaint of the Cubans was lack of Jamaican cooperation in information sharing. On one occasion a meeting was arranged between Cuban and Jamaican anti-narcotics officials. The meeting was reportedly arranged by the UK Defence Attachea and held on a British naval vessel assigned to drug interdiction duties, which was then in the Port of Havana. The cable says that at the meeting, the Jamaican officials “just sat there and didn’t say anything”.
On another occasion in May 2009, the Cuban Border Guard, acting on real-time information supplied by the Americans, intercepted a Jamaican go-fast vessel and seized 700 kg of Jamaican marijuana. This operation is actually referred to as a “joint-interdiction”.
Joint interdiction? The US and Cuba? Is this the terrorist state that poses a threat to the national security of the United States?
(A separately leaked memorandum recently published in the United States shows US military strategists expressing grave concern about US security should there be a ‘regime change’ in Cuba. One can now see why. To begin with, the kind of cooperation now taking place could not be counted on).
Cuba, with one of longest coastlines in the island Caribbean, has probably the best system of coastal border security in the region.
The reason is straightforward. The island has lived for the past 50 years under constant threat of invasion from the United States. The Cubans never let their guard down.
There is considerable irony that it is this very system that is now proving to be an asset in protecting the security of the US against narco-trafficking.
As far as the Cubans are concerned, the revelations in the cable are a double-edged sword.
The Cuban government has always maintained that it is utterly opposed to narco-trafficking; and does everything in its power to prevent the use of Cuba for the trade and to cooperate with the US authorities.
The US does not deny this. But the extent and intimacy of the cooperation may surprise many in both countries. To that degree, the revelations are unlikely to harm Cuba.
There may be some, embarrassment, however, in its relations with the Jamaican government, which have in recent years been very cordial.
Just last week (December 8) Cuba-Caricom day was simultaneously celebrated in Havana and in several Caricom capitals with diplomatic receptions and speeches.
To be seen to be complaining to the US-presumably in the hope that US pressure on Jamaica would succeed where Cuban pressure had not-might not fit the image of friendship that Cuba has so carefully cultivated over the years.
Still, if the facts reported in the US cable are true, the Cuban frustration is understandable.
Why take the rap from the US for Jamaica’s inaction, especially when the stakes for Cuba are so high?
As for this coming to light, the Cubans have the perfect response.
Don’t blame us, blame WikiLeaks.
December 15, 2010.
Postscript December 17, 2010.
1. In my earlier posting I missed an important detail from the first Gleaner report: “The report also said that Cuban officials ultimately blamed high demand for illegal drugs from US consumers for the problems they were facing.”
2. Following the initial dismissal of the first Gleaner report by the Jamaican Security Minister, Senator Dwight Nelson, the Office of the Prime Minister (Jamaica) issued a formal statement on the WikiLeaks cable on December 15, 2010 (http://www.jis.gov.jm/officePM/html/20101216T150000- 0500_26314_JIS_STATEMENT_FROM_THE_OFFICE_OF_THE_PRIME_MINISTER_ON_THE_ALLEGATIONS_CONTAINED_I N_WIKILEAKS_REPORT_.asp.) The Statement confirmed that complaints had been made to Jamaica by the Cuban authorities in 2009, as a result of which “The officer who headed that unit and who had been assigned in 2006 was replaced and the unit was reorganized and renamed the Transnational Crime Narcotics Division”. It went on to say that “Since then, there has been full and active cooperation between Jamaica and Cuba on counter-narcotics surveillance and interdiction and no concern has been expressed by officials of the Cuban government”. I have not seen any report of comments from the Cuban government.
Norman Girvan is Professorial Research Fellow at the UWI Graduate Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. In 2010 he was appointed as the United Nations Secretary General