Everything We Know About The Huge Spy Base In Cuba That Russia Is Reopening 1

New LourdesBy Corey Adwar & Michael B. Kelley, Business Insider

Moscow and Havana have agreed to reopen a Cold War-era signals intelligence (SIGINT) base in Lourdes, Cuba.

An agreement was reached during Putin’s visit to Cuba last week to reopen the base, Russia business daily Kommersant reported last week. That was confirmed by a Russian security source who told Reuters: ”A framework agreement has been agreed.”

The base was set up in 1964 after the Cuban missile crisis had brought the U.S. and Soviet Union close to confrontation over Moscow’s proposal to place nuclear weapons on Cuban soil.

Havana shut it down in 2001 because of financial issues and American pressure. (Editor’s Note: This statement is incorrect. Russia’s shut down of Lourdes infuriated Fidel Castro).

Located south of Cuba’s capital Havana and just 150 miles from the U.S. coast, the base left many parts of the U.S. vulnerable to Soviet communication intercepts, including exchanges between Florida space centers and U.S. spacecraft. (Editor’s Note: The first statement is partially incorrect — Lourdes is roughly 100 miles from the U.S. coast).

Here’s what a Congressional report from 2000 said about the facility:

• The Secretary of Defense formally expressed concerns to Congress regarding the espionage complex at Lourdes, Cuba, and its use as a base for intelligence directed against the United States.

• The Secretary of Defense, referring to a 1998 Defense Intelligence Agency assessment, reported that the Russian Federation leased the Lourdes facility for an estimated $100 million to $300 million a year.

• It has been reported that the Lourdes facility was the largest such complex operated by the Russian Federation and its intelligence service outside the region of the former Soviet Union.

• The Lourdes facility was reported to cover a 28 square-mile area with over 1,500 Russian engineers, technicians, and military personnel working at the base.

• Experts familiar with the Lourdes facility have reportedly confirmed that the base had multiple groups of tracking dishes and its own satellite system, with some groups used to intercept telephone calls, faxes, and computer communications, in general, and with other groups used to cover targeted telephones and devices.

• News sources have reported that the Lourdes facility obtained sensitive information about United States military operations during Operation Desert Storm.

• Academic studies cite official U.S. sources affirming that the Lourdes facility was used to collect personal information about United States citizens in the private and government sectors, and offered the means to engage in cyberwarfare against the U.S.

• The operational significance of the Lourdes facility reportedly grew dramatically after Russian President Boris Yeltsin issued a 1996 order demanding the Russian intelligence community increase its gathering of U.S. and other Western economic and trade secrets.

Read more here:  The Lourdes SIGINT Base  

Editor’s Note:  The caption under the lead photo in the Business Insider posting of this article is highly misleading. During the Cold War, Moscow provided Havana with subsidies exceeding three billion dollars annually. Given this massive foreign aid influx, it is grossly disingenuous to claim that Cuba allowed the Russians to stay there “rent-free” through 1992.

Russia Rejoins Cuba’s Espionage Apparatchik in the Americas Reply

The former Russian listening station at Lourdes some 20 miles south of Havana is seen in this December 2000. It was mothballed a year later but could reopen, it is reported. [Courtesy:  The (London) Daily Mail]

The former Russian listening station at Lourdes some 20 miles south of Havana is seen in this December 2000. It was mothballed a year later but could reopen, it is reported. [Courtesy: The (London) Daily Mail]

By Jerry Brewer, in Mexidata-Info

In order to effectively monitor aggression, hostile intelligence acts, interference, and other forms of insurgency within their homelands, democracies throughout the Americas must immediately address their governments’ counterintelligence missions against those rogue and dictatorial style regimes that pose obvious threats.

Russia’s recent decision to reopen its electronic spying center in Cuba is once again an obvious act that aggressively demonstrates support for the Cuban Castro regime, and a shared dispute versus the United States.

The Lourdes base closed 13 years ago, having been built in 1962. The closing was reportedly due to the economic crisis in Russia, along with repeated requests from the United States.

Lourdes served as a signals’ intelligence (SIGINT) facility, among other applications, located just 100 miles from the United States at Key West, Florida. During what has been described as the Cold War, the Lourdes facility was believed to be staffed “by over 1,500 KGB, GRU, Cuban DGI, and Eastern Bloc technicians, engineers and intelligence operatives.”

In 2000, it was reported that China signed an agreement with the Cuban government to share use of the facility for its own intelligence agency.

Despite pro-Cuba chants for economic aid and the lifting of the 50 year old Cuban Embargo, placed via President John F. Kennedy’s Proclamation 3447, there appears to be no shortage of funding by Cuba for that nation’s energetic spy apparatchik.

The original U.S. manifesto regarding Cuba, in 1962, expressed the necessity for the embargo until such time that Cuba would demonstrate respect for human rights and liberty.  And today, there certainly cannot be much of an argument that the continuing Castro regime has ever complied with any aspect of that mandate.  In fact, Castro’s revolution has arrogantly continued to force horrific sacrifices on Cubans in their homeland, as well as suffering by those that fled the murderous regime over the decades and left families behind.

Neither of the Castro brothers has ever, even remotely, disguised their venomous hatred for the U.S., democracy, or the U.S. way of life – even prior to the embargo.  Their anti-U.S. rhetoric continues, along with Russia and Venezuela, and they continue to extol radical leftist and communist governments throughout the world.

The Russian parliament recently pardoned 90% of Cuba’s US$38.5 billion debt dating back to the now defunct Soviet Union.

Feature continues here:  Russia Rejoins Cuba 

Russia Plans to Reopen Post in Cuba for Spying Reply

Lourdes Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) base in Cuba (Courtesy - Federation of American Scientists)

Lourdes Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) base in Cuba (Courtesy – Federation of American Scientists)

By ANDREW E. KRAMER, New York Times

MOSCOW — Russia has decided to reopen an electronic eavesdropping post in Cuba that it closed more than a decade ago, reaching out for a onetime symbol of its global superpower status, Russian officials and newspaper reports said on Wednesday.

President Vladimir V. Putin agreed with Cuba’s leader, Raúl Castro, during a visit to Cuba last week to reopen the post. In exchange, Mr. Putin agreed to forgive about 90 percent of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt to Russia, or about $32 billion. News of the debt relief emerged last week, but the agreement to reopen the listening post was first reported Wednesday by the Russian newspaper Kommersant.

Members of the Russian Parliament appeared to confirm the report in public statements praising what seemed to be a step by Russia toward re-establishing a military presence in Cuba, at a time when the conflict in Ukraine has sent Russian-American relations spiraling to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

Russia vacated the listening post site at Lourdes, outside Havana, in 2001. At the time, Mr. Putin cited the strapped finances of the post-Soviet Russian government and said the war in Chechnya was a higher priority than maintaining a Cold War relic half a world away.

The United States Congress had also pressed Russia to move out of Lourdes, linking the abandonment of the site with deals to restructure Russia’s heavy foreign debt.

Russia closed a listening post at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, at that time as well. There were no indications on Wednesday that the Kremlin intended to revive that post.

In its heyday, the Soviet signals intelligence base at Lourdes enabled Moscow to listen in on microwave transmissions of telephone conversations in the southeastern United States, keep an eye on the United States Navy in the Atlantic, monitor the space program at Cape Canaveral and communicate with its spies on American soil. In 1993, when Mr. Castro was chief of the Cuban armed forces, he boasted that Russia obtained 75 percent of its strategic intelligence on the United States through Lourdes.

Article continues here: Russia to Reopen Spy Base 

Man Accuses Cuban Agents of Insidious, ‘Psychological’ Intimidation 1

Porno para Ricardo

Porno para Ricardo

A man who threw a party for a friend in a punk-rock band that has been critical of Fidel Castro says that he has been the target of a ‘psychological’ campaign of intimidation.

By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

Oscar Casanella, a 35-year old cancer researcher in Havana, says he just wanted to have a party for Ciro Díaz, a close friend who plays in a punk-rock band.

Problem is, Díaz is lead guitarist for Porno Para Ricardo, a band whose expletive-filled lyrics include attacks on Cuba’s former ruler, Fidel Castro: “The Comandante wants me to applaud after he’s spoken his delirious s—.”

So Casanella’s party turned into an example of how Cuba’s communist system tries to grind down the citizens it finds objectionable, starting out with low-level threats and ratcheting up the pressure if the targets refuse to change their behavior.

Cuban police and State Security agents can beat dissidents, arrest them for brief periods to harass or intimidate them, search their homes, seize their phones and computers, listen in on their conversations, and throw them out of school.

“But they also have psychological pressures, like anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night, a car that comes too close, an agent who stands there just to make sure you know he’s watching you,” dissident Guillermo Fariñas told a Miami audience last year.

Casanella said Díaz, a friend since high school, called him at the end of a trip to Europe to say that he was returning to Havana on Dec. 6, 2013, a Friday. Casanella promised him a welcome-back party at his own home that Saturday.

“That’s where the Kafka-esque machinery started,” wrote Lilian Ruiz, who first reported the case July 4 on Cubanet, a Miami-based portal for news on Cuba.

On the Thursday before the party, four elderly men and women he did not know approached him as he left his home in the Plaza neighborhood of Havana and threatened him, Casanella told el Nuevo Herald on Thursday.

“They said, ‘You cannot have any activities or parties these days,’ that other people could harm me, and they also could harm me,” he said. He asked what right they had to threaten him, but they refused to identify themselves and walked away.

Casanella said he presumed the four knew about the party from State Security monitors of Diaz’s telephone calls or perhaps his own. He has attended meetings of the dissident group Estado de SATS but said he does not consider himself to be a dissident.

Read more here:  State Security tactics

 

Porno para Ricardo

Cuban ‘Dissident’ Says He Was Really an Infiltrator 3

State Security collaborator Ernesto Vera

State Security collaborator Ernesto Vera

Lawyer Ernesto Vera said his main task was to attack and sow discord within two key Cuban opposition groups on the island.

By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

A Cuban lawyer has confessed that he was a State Security collaborator for the four years he spent portraying himself as a dissident and harshly attacking two of the country’s most active opposition groups.

Ernesto Vera, 34, had been accused of being a collaborator last year, but his confession cast a rare spotlight on how State Security agents recruit informants and pay them thousands of dollars to discredit dissidents and generate rivalries among them.

Vera also pointed a finger at five other Cubans who in his view have been suspiciously critical of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) and the Ladies in White, the largest and most aggressive dissident groups on the communist-ruled island.

“My mission within State Security was to disparage and discredit UNPACU, especially its leader, José Daniel Ferrer, and the Ladies in White,” Vera told el Nuevo Herald by phone Wednesday from his home in the eastern city of Santiago De Cuba.

But he said he sat for a 44-minute video taped confession to Ferrer earlier this month because he was “disgusted with so many lies, the double life and faking a friendly relationship with people I hated so much.”

The two men shook hands at the end of the video.

State Security began the slow work of recruiting him as “Agent Jorge” after he was fired as a law professor at a medical school in Santiago, he said. Until then, he had been only on the periphery of dissident groups.

People who identified themselves as dissidents arranged to meet him in public places. But they were State Security agents and their meetings were videotaped — recordings then used to blackmail him into becoming an informant in 2010, Vera said. They also threatened to kill his mother and make it look like an accident unless he cooperated.

“I am ashamed to say I was a coward,” he told el Nuevo Herald, confirming that he had recorded the talk with Ferrer and written a three-page confession dated July 5 and published Tuesday by UNPACU.

“All of my attacks on José Daniel Ferrer and the Ladies in White were ordered by State Security,” he said. They were part of a one-two punch, “to discredit the dissidents and lessen the impact of the repression when it came.”

The lawyer said he falsely accused Ferrer of stealing money sent by supporters abroad and abusing his wife. He and another infiltrator also sparked the biggest schism within the Ladies in White, causing about 30 members in Santiago to break with the main group.

Vera said he wrote the attacks with information and photos provided by State Security Col. Ernesto Samper. He was paid several thousand dollars over four years so he could send his columns abroad via the Internet, which costs $6 to $10 per hour in Cuba.

Read more here: State Security agent Ernesto Vera

Editor’s Note:  For additional background, also see Cuban Dissidents Plant a Hoax to Trap Government Spies and Ladies in White Resign Over Alleged State Security Infiltrator

 

 

Expelled Spy in Washington TODAY For Migration Talks With State Department 1

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

US, Cuba Hold Migration Talks in Washington

By Peter Orsi (AP) U.S. and Cuban government officials were meeting in Washington on Wednesday for the latest round of migration talks, a rare chance for dialogue between two countries that have not had full diplomatic relations for more than five decades.

Held every six months to monitor the implementation of 1990s migration accords, the talks often touch on other areas of mutual concern. In the last round, in January, officials discussed issues such as aviation safety, consular document fraud and maritime search and rescue protocols.

The migration talks were suspended in 2011, the same year Cuba sentenced U.S. government development subcontractor Alan Gross to 15 years in prison after he was detained with restricted communications equipment while working to set up Internet networks for Jewish groups on the island.

They resumed two years later, along with separate discussions on re-establishing direct mail service between the two countries.

A U.S. State Department announcement called the talks routine and said they do not indicate a change in policy toward Cuba. It added that they are consistent with U.S. interest in ensuring safe, legal and orderly migration between the countries, and an opportunity to talk about things such as civil liberties.

“In our interactions with the Cubans, the United States also regularly raises our concerns about the continued detention of Alan Gross, the poor state of human rights in Cuba and fugitives from U.S. justice,” the announcement said.

Havana has said it is willing to talk about Gross’ case and any other matter, but it also wants to negotiate the fate of three Cuban intelligence agents serving long prison terms in the United States.

The State announcement said the delegations at the one-day migration talks were headed by Alex Lee, deputy assistant secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Josefina Vidal, the top official for North American affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry.

U.S.-Cuba relations were severed in 1961 at the height of Cold War tensions. Since the late 1970s, however, Washington and Havana have maintained diplomatic missions in each other’s capitals that are technically “interests sections” of the respective Swiss embassies.

The U.S. economic and financial embargo against Cuba has been in effect since 1962.

Editor’s Note:  Undercover DI officer Josefina de la Caridad Vidal Ferreiro was thrown out of the US in May 2003 as part of a mass expulsion of Cuban spy-diplomats. Her espionage career is well documented in previous postings of this blog.

Daily Caller Editor Vows To Investigate ‘Bizarre Claim’ Cuban Spies Used His Site To Spread A Fake Senate Sex Scandal Reply

Sen. Robert Menendez

Sen. Robert Menendez

By Hunter Walker, Business Insider

A popular conservative news site is at the center of an alleged plot by Cuban spies to smear New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez with a fake sex scandal.

Daily Caller Editor In Chief Tucker Carlson he’s is looking into a “bizarre claim” made by an attorney for Menendez that Cuban intelligence agents may have planted false stories claiming the senator had encounters with underage prostitutes on the site.

“I guess this means Menendez no longer thinks the story is part of a racist plot against him, as he initially suggested. But Cuban intelligence? It’s a bizarre claim, and self-serving, and they’ve produced no evidence of any kind to prove it. Obviously we’re skeptical, but we’re making calls right now to see what we can dig up,” Carlson told Business Insider in an email Monday night.

According to a Washington Post story published Monday, Stephen M. Ryan, a lawyer for the Democratic lawmaker, claimed U.S. officials believe agents of the Cuban government may have attempted to damage Menendez’s reputation due to his criticism of the Castro regime and position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Ryan made his blockbuster claim in a letter to the Department of Justice calling for an investigation into a possible Cuban plot to smear the senator.

Both Ryan and Menendez office did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider about the letter. A spokesperson for the FBI field office in Miami, which was reportedly looking into the initial allegations about Menendez also did not respond.

The Post noted the Cuban government has previously been accused of smearing opponents, including Menendez, with false media reports.

Accusations Menendez employed underage prostitutes at a resort in the Dominican Republic first appeared in the Daily Caller in late 2012. The first story about the scandal was written by Matthew Boyle and featured videos of women who claimed “Menendez agreed to pay them $500 for sex acts, but in the end they each received only $100.”  Boyle, who is now a reporter for Breitbart News, did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

After Boyle’s story was published ABC reported tipsters attempted to bring the videos detailing the accusations against Menendez to other media outlets prior to the Daily Caller. Menendez’s alleged contact with the prostitutes was said to have taken place while he was traveling in the Dominican Republic with a donor, a wealthy doctor named Salomon Melgen.

The Justice Department is currently investigating whether Menendez used his office to aid Melgen’s business interests. In April, new data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services showed Melgen collected more money from Medicare in 2012 than any other doctor in the country.

According to a Dominican prosecutor, a lawyer for the woman involved in the story later claimed he was offered money to get them to lie about Menendez on tape by a man named “Carlos” who said he worked for the Daily Caller. A man named “Carlos” briefly appeared in one of the video clips showing the women being interviewed. In March of last year, a spokeswoman for the site told ABC News the Daily Caller had no connection to anyone named “Carlos.”

Editor’s Note:  Cuban Intelligence has a long history of using an intelligence technique known as “Active Measures” against U.S. politicians. Within the spy profession, Active Measures are defined as activities which use disinformation, threats, and/or violence to discredit opponents or otherwise manipulate the behavior of an individual or group.

For example, evidence presented during the trial of the Wasp Network spies revealed that the Directorate of Intelligence (DI) ordered Active Measures against no less than six U.S. political figures.

More specifically, DI headquarters ordered the Wasps to use two agents to infiltrate Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s reelection campaign. Once immersed in the campaign, the spy ring planned to publicize derogatory information to discredit, harass, or neutralize Congress’ Cuban-American contingent.

Additionally, Miami Herald journalist Gail Epstein Nieves reported on January 23, 2001 that Havana ordered the Wasp Network’s target list to focus on those officials who “COULD HAVE AN IMPACT ON FORMULATING POLICY TOWARD CUBA.” Furthermore, other Wasp communications referred to the three highly influential and strongly anti-Castro Congressional officers as “THE THREE PESTS”:  Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and Senator Bob Menendez. Evidence also proved the DI planned to place one or more agents on the Congresswoman’s staff.

The Herald went on to note that other targets included state Senator Mario Diaz-Balart, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and Hialeah Council President Herman Echevarria. This Active Measures operation was run by Major Ramón Labañino Salazar. It was codenamed Operation Giron, after the beachhead where the Bay of Pigs invasion failed.

 

Sen. Robert Menendez Seeks Probe of Alleged Cuban Plot to Smear Him Reply

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

By Manuel Roig-Franzia and Carol D. Leonnig

Sen. Robert Menendez is asking the Justice Department to pursue evidence obtained by U.S. investigators that the Cuban government concocted an elaborate plot to smear him with allegations that he cavorted with underage prostitutes, according to people familiar with the discussions.

In a letter sent to Justice Department officials, the senator’s attorney asserts that the plot was timed to derail the ­political rise of Menendez (D-N.J.), one of Washington’s most ardent critics of the Castro regime. At the time, Menendez was running for reelection and was preparing to assume the powerful chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

According to a former U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of government intelligence, the CIA had obtained credible evidence, including Internet protocol addresses, linking Cuban agents to the prostitution claims and to efforts to plant the story in U.S. and Latin American media.

The alleged Cuba connection was laid out in an intelligence report provided last year to U.S. government officials and sent by secure cable to the FBI’s counterintelligence division, according to the former official and a second person with close ties to Menendez who had been briefed on the matter.

The intelligence information indicated that operatives from Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence helped create a fake tipster using the name “Pete Williams,” according to the former official. The tipster told FBI agents and others he had information about Menendez participating in poolside sex parties with underage prostitutes while vacationing at the Dominican Republic home of Salomon Melgen, a wealthy eye doctor, donor and friend of the senator.

Read more here:  Alleged Cuban Plot

 

 

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Cuban Intelligence Cooperated With Search For Americans Missing During Cold War Confrontations 2

Dr, Chip Beck

Dr, Chip Beck

Ask A Senior Analyst – Dr. Chip Beck

By WikiStrat

After serving as a “soldier, sailor, spy and artist” for many years, Dr. Chip Beck retired from the CIA, U.S. Navy and U.S. State Department in 1993, 1996 and 2010, respectively. Today, he works as a writer, editor, freelance contractor and continues with his art. He has degrees in International Relations, Middle Eastern Studies, Organizational Leadership and Conflict Resolution.

Carlos A. Puentes: Given the confluence of events such as U.S. policies on immigration and pressure to reform on Cuban trade, wouldn’t a first step to both be the liberalization of trade policies and update the Cuban immigration status as defined by the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966? Reduction/normalization on barriers implies a change in relationship vis-à-vis nations and suggests fewer belligerences and as such implies a less hostile environment in Cuba toward its own citizens and a lack of need to open U.S. borders, thus a convergence with stricter immigration controls or entry opportunity in the US.

Answer: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you already have — the status quo.

In the case of U.S. relations with Cuba, the status quo is not working for either side; it is an unnecessary relic of the Cold War that should (in this writer’s opinion and direct experience with the island) be scrapped.

Fifty-five years of a unilateral trade and travel embargo has kept U.S. influence off the island more than it has isolated Cuba. It should be clear to all but the most obstinate that America’s outdated means and methods did not and will not achieve America’s goals and objectives of a freer or more democratic Cuba.

The U.S. does not need to change its goals and objectives, but the means and methods employed for five decades are counterproductive and need to be jettisoned for positive engagement that works.

During the Cold War, this writer worked against or confronted Cuban Expeditionary Forces or operatives on three continents (Indochina, Africa, Central America). Some of those situations resulted in direct contact under less than diplomatic circumstances.

Subsequently, between 1998-2001, I made five (legal) trips to Cuba to seek information on Americans missing in various geographic areas during the Cold War. Because I had once demonstrated my humanity to some beleaguered Cuban soldiers in a time of war, Havana was open to assisting me — and they did so by opening up old classified files, letting me read the original reports in Spanish, and giving me access to former covert operators for interviews that I was allowed to record on film.

Although I was by then retired (prior to September 11, 2001, after which time I came back into government) and entered Cuba as a freelance journalist, the Cubans knew my background as a U.S. Navy Commander and former intelligence officer. Obviously Cuban intelligence (DGI) was curious as to why I was asking to enter their country. I told them up front that I was (a) not defecting, (b) not spying on them, but (c) I wanted access to classified information that I believed Havana could share without harming Cuba’s own national interests.

Feature continues here:  Retired CIA Officer Gained Cuban Help 

U.S.-Cuba Relations May Be Thawing 1

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) reaches out to shake hands as he welcomes Uruguay's President Jose Mujica (L) before their meeting in the Oval Office in Washington May 12, 2014.  (REUTERS/Jonathan Erns)

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) reaches out to shake hands as he welcomes Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica (L) before their meeting in the Oval Office in Washington May 12, 2014. (REUTERS/Jonathan Erns)

By STRATFOR Global Intelligence

A breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations may be in the offing. On June 14, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica delivered a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro, according to Uruguayan media June 20, containing an offer to begin talks on a variety of issues, most prominently Washington’s longstanding economic embargo. According to Uruguayan media, Obama had asked Mujica to help him improve relations with the island nation when Mujica was in Washington in mid-May. If the report is true, the transaction could be the first step toward reconciliation.

Cuba certainly has its reasons for entertaining such an offer. The country’s main benefactor, Venezuela, may no longer be in a position to support the Cuban economy. In fact, Venezuela is in the throes of a protracted economic crisis, which is owed partly to declining oil production. Since Cuba depends heavily on Venezuelan oil exports, it may soon have to look elsewhere for its energy needs. Castro was supposedly interested in Obama’s offer, provided that it did not necessarily impose conditions on Cuba, but given the situation in Venezuela, Castro would demand that the embargo be lifted in any negotiations.

Normalized ties would also benefit the United States, which is concerned with Russia’s attempts to improve relations with Latin America. Though the Cold War is over, Washington still does not want any country, let alone Russia, to establish too strong a presence in a country as geographically close as Cuba. That Havana is so close to Caracas may also help the United States make some political overtures to the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, though Venezuela’s future stability and willingness to engage the United States largely depends on Maduro’s political support and the country’s economic conditions. However, Cuba’s influence in the Venezuelan military and intelligence organizations could facilitate future communication between Washington and Caracas.

Still, domestic considerations will delay any potential reconciliation between Cuba and the United States. Under the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, lifting the embargo and ending sanctions requires U.S. congressional approval, which hinges on a variety of issues, including human rights improvements and the election of a new government in Havana. Obama cannot simply approve an agreement to normalize relations with Cuba.

In any case, an agreement would have to be agreed upon by both sides — no small feat, given the decades of animosity between the two. In the United States, improved public opinion toward ending the embargo would help future negotiations, but opposition lawmakers could impede the government’s efforts. For its part, Cuba has been liberalizing its economy slowly for nearly four years, and the concerns some Cuban leaders have over opening up an erstwhile closed country could delay the pace of any talks.

Of course, both countries have ways of moving the negotiations forward if they wish. These include possible prisoner exchanges. In fact, Obama has already reportedly asked Cuba (via Uruguay) to release Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen held in Cuba since 2009 for subversive activity. Discussions over the release of prisoners would be a strong sign that a larger negotiation is imminent.