By James Bruno, Politico Magazine
In the hit 1992 movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s fictional Colonel Jessup famously declares: “I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans who are trained to kill me.” The Cuban officers I met never gave me that impression. As the State Department’s former representative to negotiations with Cuba’s military, I can tell you that our discussions were typically convivial and constructive. And today, President Barack Obama’s initiative to normalize relations with Havana has presented the United States with a truly mind-boggling prospect: Our most reliable partner on that long-isolated island is probably going to be the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, Cuba’s military establishment.
And soon they’re going to be making a lot of money.
The Communist Party of Cuba may constitute the country’s political leadership, but it is seen increasingly as an anachronism by the population and after Fidel Castro, 88, and Raúl Castro, 83, pass from the scene, the party may too. Cuba’s legislature, the National Assembly of People’s Power, is a rubber stamp appendage of the party and likewise held in low popular esteem. Civilian agencies have proven inept and sclerotic in managing government programs. The powerful Ministry of Interior is widely feared as the blunt instrument of oppression, but it too is likely to be swept aside eventually by the tide of change. And more than a half-century of authoritarian single-party rule has stunted civil society and held the Catholic Church in check.
This leaves the FAR. Under Raúl Castro’s leadership from 1959 until he succeeded brother Fidel as president in 2006, the now 60,000-strong military has been widely considered to be Cuba’s best managed and stablest official entity. Furthermore, it has never been called upon to fire on or suppress Cuban citizens, even during the so-called Maleconazo protests in 1994, and most observers believe the FAR would refuse any orders to do so.
For years our discussions with the FAR have focused on cooperating on practical matters: avoiding tensions along Guantánamo Naval Base’s 17-mile perimeter, collaborating on firefighting and working out arrangements for the return of Cuban citizens who were picked up at sea while trying to escape their country. In contrast with our stiff exchanges with the North Koreans at Panmunjom, these monthly encounters tend to be productive, constructive and amiable.
Read more: Politico