Fernando “X” — Cuban Hero, American Spy

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Nine years ago, Bayard & Holmes designated October 31 as Love-A-Spook* Day—a day when we honor the men and women of the Intelligence Community who dedicate and sometimes sacrifice their lives to keep the fight from our shores. On this 9thAnnual Love-A-Spook Day, we make our most personal dedication to date to honor a Cuban we will call “Fernando X,” who devoted his life to saving his people from the Castro regime.

If you are a Castro-apologist this article will surely confuse and stress you. For the rest of you, if you ever visit Key West, Florida, stroll to the south end of the island. You will find there a monument heralding the southernmost point in the contiguous forty-eight states. The monument will tell you that Cuba is ninety miles to the south. The monument is mistaken. Cuba is ninety-five miles south. It could be corrected, but we hope it remains inaccurate. In its current condition it serves, albeit accidentally, as a monument to the many popular misconceptions that Western journalists and politicians harbor about the reality of Cuba.

Rather than focus on the many grim aspects of life in Cuba, we prefer to remember the brave Cubans that have risked their lives in the hope of bringing freedom and justice to the island of Cuba. At this point, most of them would settle for just the freedom.

Holmes will tell you about one of them in particular that he was honored to know and call friend—Fernando “X.”

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The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Revolutionaries

~ Jay Holmes

Fernando was older than I am. The last time I saw him, he told me he would not live to see Cuba free. He said in Spanish, “The son of a bitch assassin Fidel will outlive me. Well, that’s life. I have done the best I could, brother.” I knew he was right.

Fernando was in poor health and didn’t look like he had much left in him. I know the look. I was not ready to admit it. I lied to him. I told him with a few of my favorite Spanish curses that Satan couldn’t keep Fidel out of Hell forever, and that he would die soon. We laughed. Fernando looked at me, and he knew that I knew. He said, “It’s OK, hermanito. I can’t stay forever. Take good care of your children. Give them the love that I won’t be here to give them. I would have liked to. It was my one way of thanking you.” I wanted to cry, but I knew I owed him something better than that, so I just smiled and assured him that I would, and that they would not forget him. They haven’t, and they won’t. Neither will the people of Cuba.

Six and a half decades earlier, on an afternoon in October of 1958, Fernando’s life was about to get more exciting.

The teenage revolutionary wanted a rifle and grenades and some excitement on one of the many raids that were being conducted against the incompetent dictator Fulgencio Bautista’s clownocracy. Instead, Fernando was equipped with soap and sponges in his personal battle against the dirty pots and pans in his camp’s kitchen. He was not enjoying the revolution much. He wondered if he shouldn’t have listened to his mother and stayed home to tend the pigs and chickens. He was starting to miss his boring, more pleasant home life.

For reasons unknown, the group’s comandante decided to bring “El Niño,” the boy, along on the day’s raid.

Fernando remembered being excited. He intended to make a name for himself. He had insisted to his cohorts that his nickname was “El Tigre,” the tiger. His cohorts were even more insistent that his nickname would remain El Niño. Before the day ended, they were calling Fernando “El Tigre Con Cojones Imensos,” the tiger with immense balls.

Fernando was given a captured American made M-1 Garand. He was small and the rifle was heavy. Too heavy. The group decided he should carry a much lighter captured American made M-1 carbine. The fact that they had no ammo for it was a disappointment for Fernando. His cohorts assured him that they were just going to occupy a recently-abandoned police station, and that there would be plenty of ammo there for everyone. Fernando should just stay behind everyone else until they secured the building.

The five revolutionaries climbed into a Chevrolet sedan and drove to the supposedly abandoned police station, but the best-laid plans of mice and revolutionaries . . .

They arrived at the plaza where the police station was located and jumped out of the Chevrolet with much bravado. Oddly, none of the locals came out to cheer or jeer. The revolutionaries walked toward the front door of the station, and a shot rang out. The round kicked up dirt near them.

They jumped for cover—all of them except El Tigre. The fifteen-year-old Fernando stood his ground with his empty rifle.

The somewhat loyalist police retreated to the roof top. They had ammo in their weapons. Fernando wasn’t sure how many police there were, nor what they had to fight with, but he stood his ground without flinching. He stared up at the policeman that stared down from the parapet of the roof. The policeman said they didn’t want to kill anyone, and that the revolutionaries should all just get in their car, leave, and not return. Four of the five revolutionaries thought it sounded like a great deal and jumped in the car. They yelled to El Tigre to get the hell back in the car. El Tigre didn’t budge.

The policeman vanished from the parapet for a moment. A few seconds later, one of the police returned to the edge of the roof and yelled down, “Let us leave and you can have the station. Just let us leave without any shooting.” The cops were either impressed by the kid’s courage, or they just didn’t want to shoot a child on behalf of a government that they never much liked. The revolutionary comandante got out of the car and yelled up his agreement. No shots were fired that day, but a hero of the revolution was born.

Fernando was something of a celebrity—a teenage superhero.

A few months later, Cuban dictator Bautista realized that neither his fellow Latin-American despots nor the United States was going to back him up. He hit the road. Fernando and his friends celebrated. They were free. They could build a free and just society.

In the following months, as Fidel Castro consolidated his grip on power, inconvenient dissenters died publicly or vanished.

Then, as Fernando grew into adulthood, like many of his revolutionary cohorts, he grew disillusioned with the new regime. All he could see in Cuba was less freedom, more misery, and a vanishing hope for his people and country. The new bastard-in-chief Castro somehow managed to be even worse at governing than the previous bastard-in-chief Bautista had been.

With all the standard Soviet-style rhetoric and Soviet specialists assisting, Fidel and his elite friends assured the public that once they overcame the mostly-imaginary aggression of the evil American imperialists, they would all build their great socialist paradise. The new president of the American imperialists, John F. Kennedy, radically trimmed back the planned support of exiled Cubans for an impending invasion of Cuba. Worse still, the operation had been penetrated by the Cuban government. Eventually, against the advice of the US military, a half-hearted invasion occurred at the wrong location, the Bay of Pigs.

The previous president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was an “invade Normandy with everything we can send” sort of man. He had been successful using that strategy when invading Normandy. However, the new president was a “do way more with way less” PT boat veteran. He had been somewhat successful with that strategy in the wildly dangerous waters of the Solomon Islands. In Cuba, the “way less” was way too little. The invasion failed. Fidel celebrated his “grand victory” over the feeble attempt.

Eventually, Fernando, whose first priority was always the Cuban people, decided it was time to resist against the new despots. He did. He helped the United States try to help Cuba.

As a revolutionary celebrity, Fernando had status and access to many top members of Fidel’s regime. This gave Fernando a great deal of valuable information about the regime’s intentions. Through a like-minded ex-revolutionary cohort, Fernando was able to make contact with the US Intelligence Community, and for several years, he risked his life by sharing valuable information with the United States. I will not elaborate on the nature or extent of that information. Suffice to say that, thanks to Fernando’s efforts, numerous Cuban dissidents were able to escape from Cuba and move to the United States or Spain. Many of these people would have been tortured and even executed if not for Fernando’s quiet help. He saved many lives and asked for nothing in return.

 It couldn’t last forever. Fernando was betrayed.

He ran for his life and hid, but he was eventually captured. To Fidel and his monsters, Fernando was a traitor. To us, he was a hero. Fernando expected to be shot. Instead, he was sent to the infamous political prison on Isla de Juventud to rot in grim conditions for a few decades. Day after day, year after year, he wondered if he would live to feel the sun on his skin before he died. He survived the torture and abuse, though many did not.

One day the prison authorities caught Fernando writing in a hidden journal. They broke several bones in each of his hands. He received no medical attention. For the rest of his life, his hands caused him great pain.

Nearly twenty years ago, by methods that I will not elaborate on or ever admit to, Fernando was able to leave the prison on Isla de Juventud and come to the United States.

Along with several others of my favorite Cuban exiles, we became close friends. In poor health, Fernando lived a sparse life here. My friends and I helped him a bit. He more than deserved it. He was poor in American terms, but in terms of spirit, he was a rich man with much to offer the world. I knew I was blessed to have him as my friend.

One Christmas I was home for the holidays, and I brought Fernando to our house to join my family and many of our mutual Cuban friends.

He had saved a few dollars from his tight budget to buy my children gifts. They were poorly wrapped by his tortured hands, but I thought they were the most beautiful gifts my kids had ever received. They loved Fernando and understood. They were touched by the gifts. My wife had knitted him a nice sweater and scarf. My father gave him a gift certificate for groceries. He was thrilled. I gave him a case of decent rum. He used a couple of shots before bedtime to deaden the pain in his hands enough to sleep for a while.

One of the party attendees, my dear friend, the brilliant Doctor Jesus Jose Acea Rodriguez, was also in attendance that evening. He, too, had taken risks to try to help Cuba. Jesus asked Fernando to recount his well-known heroic events for the benefit of Jesus’s teenage son.

Fernando described in brilliant detail the events of that day when he earned the name El Tigre. I could smell the salt air of the Cuban coast and feel the Cuban earth beneath my feet as I imagined the cop firing that shot. Then Fernando told us a previously unshared detail of that battle. He had not budged when the police fired because he was scared stiff and couldn’t move.

The police apparently misjudged the situation. Fortunately, everyone else except for Fernando misunderstood, as well. El Tigre was forever a hero because he was frozen in fear. We laughed a long time. Fernando comically pantomimed his famous stand-off as my son rolled on the floor laughing. We loved him. Everyone did. . . . Everyone except Fidel Castro and his regime.

Before driving Fernando home the next morning, I took my Garand rifle out of my gun safe and slipped it into my car. When we arrived at his apartment, I told him he had waited a long time for the rifle he wanted. I gave the M-1 to him. He laughed. He was thrilled. We hugged.

I am sitting here at the same antique table that we sat at that beautiful Christmas night. I miss him. The brilliant Jesus is gone now, too. I miss those two the most of the many Cubans that now reside in my past. They and many others stood up for freedom at a great cost.

Fernando once told me to never give up hope for Cuba, and to teach my children to understand that in the end, evil will always fail because freedom and justice are natural and right. He believed that. I do, too.

The Caribbean Sea holds the blood of many brave Cubans. Most of the many Cuban people that have secretly risked their lives in the hope of bringing Cuba a better future will never be known. Many did not live to see Cuba free. I might not live that long, either. But for all my days, I will hold onto my hope and remember my many beautiful Cuban cohorts. I hope that you will, as well.

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In honor of our 9th Annual Love-A-Spook Day, the Kindle and Nook versions of SPYCRAFT: Essentials and The Spy Bride are on sale now through November 3, 2018 for only $0.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Click on these links . . .

SPYCRAFT: ESSENTIALS on Kindle

SPYCRAFT: ESSENTIALS on Nook

THE SPY BRIDE on Kindle

THE SPY BRIDE  on Nook

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*The slang term “spook” has been used for centuries in the Intelligence Community to refer to intelligence personnel. It derives from “a ghost that haunts and is undesirable.” Intelligence personnel of all races are commonly called “spooks.” Bigots have enough words. They can’t have this one.

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Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney with a college degree or two. She is also a belly dancer and a former hospice volunteer. She has been working daily with her good friend Jay Holmes for the past decade, learning about foreign affairs, espionage history, and field techniques for the purpose of writing fiction and nonfiction. She currently pens espionage nonfiction and international spy thrillers with Jay Holmes, as well as post-apocalyptic fiction of her own.

Jay Holmes is a forty-something-year veteran of field espionage operations and a senior member of the Intelligence Community with experience spanning from the Cold War fight against the Soviets, the East Germans, and the various terrorist organizations they sponsored to the present Global War on Terror. He is unwilling to admit to much more than that. Piper is the public face of their partnership.

Together, Bayard & Holmes author non-fiction articles and books on espionage and foreign affairs, as well as fictional international spy thrillers. They are also the bestselling authors of The Spy Bride from the Risky Brides Bestsellers Collection and were featured contributors for Social In Worldwide, Inc.

When they aren’t writing or (in Jay’s case) busy with “other work,” Piper and Jay are enjoying time with their families, hiking, exploring back roads of America, talking foreign affairs, laughing at their own rude jokes until the wee hours, and questing for the perfect chocolate cake recipe. If you think you have that recipe, please share it with them at BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

To keep in touch with Bayard & Holmes and to receive notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard or Bayard & Holmesor at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

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Manila–Triumph Over Devastation

By Jay Holmes

In The Scream Heard Around the World–Manila, Part 1, we saw the far-reaching effects of a speech given by Carlos Cespedes in Cuba and how it spawned a movement for freedom in both Cuba and the Philippines. In The Battle That Wasn’t–Manila, Part 2, we looked at how the reach of that scream carried on through a poem by Dr. Jose Rizal and influenced the course of a nation. In A Nation Becoming and the Battle for Manila, we investigated the challenges the budding Philippine nation faced, as well as the WWII Japanese invasion and the Bataan Death March. Today, we review the Japanese occupation of Manila, WWII, and the realization of Dr. Rizal’s dream.

After the Japanese defeated the main formations of U.S. and Philippine forces at Corregidor in May of 1942, it took them two more months to defeat them on the other major islands. Throughout the Archipelago, a few thousand U.S. and Philippine forces that had managed to avoid death or capture served as nuclei for the formation of various guerilla groups. By way of submarine delivery and a few airdrops, the Allies were able to keep them supplied with weapons, ammunition, explosives, radios and medicine.

A few additional U.S. troops were inserted into the islands to help organize and coordinate the various guerilla groups. The allied guerilla activities caused the Japanese to retain more infantry and aircraft in the Philippines than they had intended. With airpower, the Japanese were able to prevent the guerillas from billeting in large formations or moving on roads and trails except at night. Though the guerillas were usually unable to cause significant casualties to the occupying Japanese troops, the drain on Japanese forces further hampered the Japanese advance to the South and the Southeast. This helped the Allies in coming to grips with the Japanese in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

 

Tanks line up for the invasion of Cape Sansapor, Dutch, New Guinea, 1944

Tanks line up for the invasion of Cape Sansapor,
Dutch, New Guinea, 1944

 

By the middle of 1944, General MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Command (SWPC) had managed to leapfrog its way up the northern coast of New Guinea. In September, Allied forces captured Morotai in the Dutch East Indies. The Allies quickly built a large, reinforced runway on the island, which provided SWPC with a valuable base of operations for heavy bombers and long-range reconnaissance against the Japanese forces in the southern half of the Philippines. The U.S. Navy sent carrier groups under Task Force 38, commanded by Admiral William Halsey, to conduct repeated raids against the various Japanese airbases in the central and northern Philippines. The raids were highly successful in destroying Japanese planes at a surprisingly low cost to the pilots of TF 38.

 

Admiral William F. Halsey, 1944 image from U.S. Navy

Admiral William F. Halsey, 1944
image from U.S. Navy

 

The Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) had allocated resources to SWPC for an invasion of the southern Philippines in late December. Halsey and his staff were convinced that Japanese airpower had suffered a terrible attrition not just in numbers, but also in declining quality of pilots. Based on intelligence information from guerilla groups throughout the Philippines and on the minimal opposition that pilots had faced during their repeated raids, Halsey felt certain that the U.S. invasion of the Philippines should be moved up from December to October, and that they should strike in the central Philippines to quickly defeat the main Japanese formations. General Douglas MacArthur concurred with Halsey’s assessment.

By 1944, based on Admiral Halsey’s many successes against the Japanese, his reputation had grown to epic proportions, and he had the trust of both the CCS and the Allied political leaders. Wisely, MacArthur left it to Halsey to make the recommendation to the CCS that the invasion timetable be moved up. With offensive operations taking place on multiple fronts from Europe to the Pacific, the competition for supplies and shipping to support operations was a limiting factor in Allied offensive operations around the globe. Halsey’s reputation carried the day, and the CCS quickly agreed to his recommendations.

 

Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore at Leyte Philippine Islands, Oct. 1944

Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore at Leyte
Philippine Islands, Oct. 1944

 

On October 20, 1944, the U.S. Sixth Army landed on the eastern shore of Leyte, northeast of Mindanao Island. The Japanese general staff underestimated the strength of the U.S. forces supporting the invasion. In conjunction with waves of kamikaze air attacks, the Japanese launched a complicated, three pronged attack with the majority of their remaining naval ships in an attempt to destroy the U.S. landing forces.

A series of large naval battles ensued from October 23 through 26. The combined might of the U.S. surface ships, carrier planes, and submarines ensured a disastrous defeat for the Japanese Navy. The defeat was so complete that the Japanese Navy was never again able to attempt any major engagements for the remainder of the war. Henceforth, the entire Japanese Navy became a kamikaze force.

Once the U.S. 6th Army was ashore on Leyte Island, the Philippine guerillas attached themselves to them, volunteering to handle scouting and sabotage missions. The newly supplied guerillas were able to befuddle Japanese defensive maneuvers on Leyte by blowing up the right bridges and telephone lines at just the right time while the 6th Army conducted its offensive. Their efforts undoubtedly saved thousands of U.S. lives.

 

U.S. Navy gun crews cover landing on Mindoro Island, 1944 image from U.S. National Archives

U.S. Navy gun crews cover landing on Mindoro Island, 1944
image from U.S. National Archives

 

Although fierce fighting by well dug-in Japanese troops continued for several months, the 6th Army was able to launch an attack on nearby Mindoro Island on December 15, 1944. Mindoro Island is located south of Luzon, and it offered a perfect location for fighter bases to support any future operations against the large Japanese Army formations on Luzon Island. The Japanese had expected the next assault to come elsewhere, and they had not reinforced their garrison on Mindoro. The results of their miscalculation were disastrous. The 6th Army had complete control of Mindoro by December 18.

To confuse the Japanese about allied intentions, Philippine guerillas conducted major sabotage operations in southern Luzon while the U.S. conducted air raids against southern Luzon. When U.S. minesweepers appeared in southern Luzon harbors the Japanese were convinced that a landing and would soon be conducted. It would, but in another area much further north.

 

U.S. Coast Guard landing barges sweep through waters of Lingayan Gulf carrying first wave of invaders to the beaches of Luzon. 1945

U.S. Coast Guard landing barges sweep through waters of Lingayan Gulf carrying first wave of invaders
to the beaches of Luzon. 1945
image from U.S. National Archives

 

On January 9, 1945, U.S. forces stormed ashore at Lingayan Gulf. The surprised Japanese offered little resistance. In an amphibious assault that out-scaled the Normandy landings, the U.S. landed 176,000 troops within three days. Japanese General Yamashita, the Tiger of Manila, could see a very effective trap for his army forming in southern Luzon, and he ordered half his army to retreat to the northern mountains of Luzon while the other half moved to block the expected allied assault on Manila. Yamashita hoped to minimize the U.S. advantages of complete air supremacy and armored formations by fighting a prolonged defensive action in the mountains of northern Luzon. It was a wise move on his part.

In the late hours of February 3, the lead elements of the U.S. 1st Cavalry reached Santo Tomas University on the outskirts of Manila. The campus had been used as a prison for U.S., Philippine, Australian, New Zealand, and Dutch civilians. The U.S. troops were shocked by the emaciated condition of the prisoners.  The nightmare was just beginning.

Before they could be ensnared, General Yamashita took his southern force out of the Luzon area to join the rest of his army in the north. Before Yamashita had left Manila, he placed Vice Admiral Denshichi Okochi in charge. He ordered Okochi to destroy the port facilities, declare Manila an open city, and escape northward.

MacArthur’s staff ordered that fire from tanks and artillery only be used selectively and at close ranges to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. Sadly, an estimated 1,200 Filipinos died from U.S. fire. Sadly, that was the least of the suffering for the inhabitants of Manila.

Admiral Okochi had ignored Yamashita’s orders. Instead of leaving, he used his force of 20,000, consisting of Naval Special Troops and other naval and army troops, to make a last stand in Manila. In a war defined by ruthless Japanese atrocities, Okochi and his men engaged in one of the worst atrocities of the war in the Pacific. Women of all ages were raped and murdered. Hospitals were set afire with patients tied to their beds. Babies were torn from their mothers’ arms and mutilated.

It took the allied forces another month of non-stop, heavy urban fighting to clear the Japanese from Manila. In the final hours of the battle, Admiral Okochi and his staff committed ritual seppuku. At his orders, his forces had raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered about 100,000 Filipino civilian inhabitants of Manila. The fighting reduced most of the city’s historical buildings to rubble.  Allied commanders had grown accustomed to the Japanese military’s barbaric crimes. However, Okochi’s savagery against civilians in Manila and the many other war crimes committed against Philippine civilians and POWs further inflamed Allied anger against Japan and ultimately helped President Truman make his difficult final decision to use atomic bombs against Japan in August of 1945.

 

Japanese surrender in the Philippines, Sept. 15, 1945 image from wikimedia commons

Japanese surrender in the Philippines, Sept. 15, 1945
image from wikimedia commons

 

On February 27, 1945, Manila was considered safe for the return of the Philippine government. At Malacañang Palace, a formal ceremony was conducted to install Sergio Osmeña as the President of all of the Philippines. The last pockets of Japanese defenders were not cleared until March 3. At a horrible cost, Manila, or the little that was left of it, was now free. Fighting continued in the Philippines until after the Japanese surrendered on September 2. About 15,000 Allies had lost their lives. Fighting against superior U.S. firepower and U.S. air supremacy, the Japanese had lost about 338,000 soldiers and sailors. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, about one million Filipino civilians were murdered or lost their lives to starvation and Japanese abuse.

After the war, the Philippine people rebuilt Manila into a capital city. The ground beneath the city is considered by the Philippine people to be their most sacred ground.

In 1946, fifty hard years after revolutionary scholar and poet Dr. José Rizal left his goodbye poem to Manila, My Last Farewell, in his prison cell on his execution day, the Philippine people received their independence. His dream was finally realized.

Cuba Libre? Not Quite.

By Jay Holmes

For the last week, much of America’s attention has been focused on US President Obama’s announcement that the United States and Cuba would restore full diplomatic relations. The reopening of full diplomatic ties with Cuba after over a half-century of hostile relations is, indeed, major news.

 

 

Responses to the President’s announcement have been varied and somewhat predictable.

They have ranged from the absurd to the thoughtful. One of the more humorous responses came from a guest on NPR’s “Democracy Now.” The guest declared that the CIA has suffered a humiliating defeat and retreated from war with Cuba. The guest was apparently pretending to not know that the president commands the CIA with oversight by both houses of the US Congress. In spite of what impressions one might gather from Hollywood movies or political propagandists, the CIA does not declare wars or set foreign policy.

I won’t attempt to speak for the CIA, and the CIA won’t attempt to publicly speak for itself, but the CIA has no reason to regret improved relations with Cuba. For one thing, entertaining fewer Cuban defectors to the US would represent a savings in manpower and cash for the CIA. More importantly, if we are indeed able to move past an announcement of improved relations to actual improvements of relations, then the CIA, along with the rest of the US government, will have one less set of critical problems to juggle in the foreign policy field.

On the other end of the spectrum, President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba is being viewed by some as a “surrender” to a despotic communist regime. In Congress, some members are displeased that the president is, in their view, again acting without regard to the constitution by acting without Congressional agreement. I will leave that argument to learned constitutional scholars.

From the Cuban side of the equation, an improvement in relations with the US represents significant economic opportunities.

The Castro family dynasty in Cuba has never been able to convert communist fervor into a working economy. Cuba was long dependent on Soviet price subsidies for Cuban sugar and Soviet aid for its economic survival. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the standard of living nose-dived in Cuba.

 

Fidel Castro and Nikita Kruschev Image by Superdominicano, public domain

Fidel Castro and Nikita Kruschev
Image by Superdominicano, public domain

 

Once Hugo Chavez took control of Venezuela and declared himself to be Fidel Castro’s most adoring fan, Cuba began to receive shipments of free oil and other economic aid from Venezuela. However, Hugo Chavez was no better than the Castros at converting communist theory into a functioning economy.

Chavez is dead, and Venezuela is now run by Maduro (and her husband). In spite of vast oil reserves, Team Maduro has managed to guide Venezuela into a deepening economic disaster with high inflation and unemployment. Cuba’s latter-day best friend Venezuela can no longer prop up the Cuban economy.

The Castro dynasty simply came to a point where economic benefits from improved relations with the US were more valuable than the propaganda value of pretending to be under attack by the US. The good news is that, ever-depressing geopolitics aside, the long-suffering Cuban people stand to benefit significantly from economic ties with the US.

 

El Moro lighthouse at the entrance to Havana Image by Dr. Anthony R. Picciolo, wikimedia commons  public domain

El Moro lighthouse at the entrance to Havana
Image by Dr. Anthony R. Picciolo, wikimedia commons
public domain

 

So precisely what is it that we are all debating about? We have heard the announcements and the media storm, but what does it amount to?

So far, we know that the US and Cuba have agreed to release political prisoners and captured spies. The release of Alan Gross has been the main focus of the media coverage of prisoner exchanges. Given that his case had previously received significant attention in the US media, it’s natural that his release is now at the focus of the prisoner exchange.

One of the problems in getting the Cubans to release political prisoners stems from the fact that both Fidel Castro and his replacement, Raul Castro, have, for PR reasons, consistently under-declared the number of political prisoners in Cuba. Admitting to large numbers of political prisoners would be admitting that many Cubans would prefer something other than the Castro political brand.

For the US to secure the release of the greatest number of political prisoners, it needs to forego publicity about how many prisoners are being released by Cuba. The downfall of agreeing to remain silent about the release of large numbers of Cuban political prisoners is that the American public will not be aware of the extent of that positive development, and therefore the President’s policy changes toward Cuba will seem that much less desirable to American voters. In my view, that is a small and acceptable price to pay for the release of the greatest number of political prisoners in Cuba.

 

USS Lexington leaving Guantanamo Bay Image by US Navy, public domain

USS Lexington leaving Guantanamo Bay
Image by US Navy, public domain

 

One of the concerns being voiced by many Americans is that the new relationship might lead to the closing of the US Naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba.

The Guantanamo base was conceived in 1901, at a time when ships ran on sail power or coal. Having a coaling station in Guantanamo allowed for more efficient operation of US Navy ships in the Caribbean. The US Navy now has no use for coal, but Guantanamo Naval Base remains important in the US military psyche. Its value today is more psychological than tactical.

To many members of the American public, the base in Guantanamo is a symbol of US military strength. It serves as a well-deserved slap at the loudly anti-American Castro dictatorship.

For many US Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps veterans, Guantanamo, or “Gitmo,” as they call it, holds important memories. Gitmo has long been a prime location for some of the Navy, Coast Guard, and Fleet Marine’s toughest training exercises. Surviving a training cycle at Gitmo is something of a status symbol in the US military. The training is intense, and a sailor that doesn’t perform well in a Gitmo exercise might well be transferred to a backwater billet. Sailors might not remember Gitmo training exercises with warmth, but they take pride in having performed well in those exercises. The decades of hard training by the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps have left Gitmo with an almost mythical image in the US military community. For many, seeing Gitmo close would be like seeing their childhood home burn down.

 

US Coast Guard patrolling Guantanamo Bay Image by US Dept. of Defense, public domain

US Coast Guard patrolling Guantanamo Bay
Image by US Dept. of Defense, public domain

 

Only time will tell how long the base will remain in operation. Closing Guantanamo Naval Base might not be of major strategic importance to the US, but there is a converse paradigm that is of much greater importance. What matters most to the US is not whether or not we keep a naval base in Cuba, but whether or not China or Russia will build naval bases in Cuba.

A few years ago, Putin began to talk about having a major Russian naval base in Cuba. The base would service Russian nuclear submarines and their nuclear missiles. Such a base would be a violation of a (then secret) agreement between President Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev. That agreement eliminated US nuclear weapons from Turkey and Italy in exchange for removing Russian nuclear weapons from Cuba.

Castro was informed that the Soviets had negotiated a guarantee from the US that the US would not invade Cuba if Cuba did not conduct provocations against the US. Since then, the Castros have generally limited their anti-American agenda to rhetoric and intelligence operations.

 

Guardalavaca, Holguin, Cuba Image by Yfrojas, wikimedia commons, public domain

Guardalavaca, Holguin, Cuba
Image by Yfrojas, wikimedia commons, public domain

 

If Cuba is willing to agree to not allow Communist China or Russia to build nuclear weapons bases in Cuba, it will likely have to do so as quietly as Khrushchev and Kennedy did in 1962.

Overall, I view the normalization of relations with Cuba as a positive step. The openly-declared aspects of the agreement are known, but because of the need for secrecy in order to negotiate the best terms of agreements with Cuba, my analysis is based on incomplete information. Only time will tell what the real impacts will be.

The Battle That Wasn’t — Manila, Part 2

By Jay Holmes

Last week in The Scream Heard Around the World, we looked at how one Cuban raised his voice and instigated a war that defeated Spanish occupation in two island nations half a world apart. Today, we look at U.S. involvement in that war, and the impact of one man’s poetic farewell.

On April 20, 1898, the U.S. delivered an ultimatum demanding that Spain leave Cuba. On April 25, Spain formally declared war on the U.S. Given the poor state of repair of the Spanish naval forces in the Caribbean and in the Philippines, the U.S. Navy was able to conduct successful blockades.

 

Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898 Painting by R.F. Zogbaum

Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898
Painting by R.F. Zogbaum

 

A U.S. Navy task force lead by Commodore Dewey destroyed the entire Spanish fleet in Manila Harbor in the Philippines on May 1, 1898, without any significant damage to the U.S. ships. The revolutionary movement was encouraged by the Spanish naval defeat. The exiled Aguinaldo was invited back to the Philippines by the U.S. government. Dewey’s force remained in Manila harbor, waiting for a U.S. Army corps consisting mostly of new volunteers to arrive on the scene. Nineteen days later, Aguinaldo arrived in the Philippines and, to the disappointment of the U.S., instituted a dictatorship. Philippine forces surrounded the Spanish Army in Manila.

While Dewey waited for U.S. Army forces to arrive, the U.S. Navy quickly annihilated the Spanish squadron in Cuba. U.S. Marines and the U.S. Army, in conjunction with the Cuban Liberation Army, defeated the Spanish forces. As Americans had expected, the U.S. government demanded independence for Cuba. On August 12, 1898, Spain and the U.S. signed a cessation of hostilities in anticipation of an eventual peace treaty. Spain granted Cuba full independence and agreed to withdraw from the Philippines.

In the meantime, the U.S. Army had arrived in Manila Bay. One of the senior commanders among the new arrivals was a brilliant officer named Arthur MacArthur. His son Douglas would one day play an important role in Philippine history.

On August 13, unaware that a peace accord had been reached between the U.S. and Spain, the opposing armies in Manila conducted one of the strangest battles in their respective histories. The Spanish garrison knew that it could not hold out for long without reinforcements or resupply. They feared that the Philippine revolutionaries would enact bloody reprisals against the Spanish civilians in Manila.

 

Raising American Flag Over Ft. Santiago, Manila, August 13, 1898 image by G.W. Peters for Harper & Brothers wikimedia commons

Raising American Flag Over Ft. Santiago, Manila,
August 13, 1898
image by G.W. Peters for Harper & Brothers
wikimedia commons

 

Commodore Dewey was sympathetic to their concerns and managed to get the Spanish to agree to what was, in fact, a well-directed drama performance. In a prearranged fake battle, the U.S. forces went ashore and took Manila while simultaneously managing to keep the Philippine troops from entering Manila. In what had to be one of the greatest acting performances in history, the U.S. forces occupied Manila with only a few casualties on either side. The Spaniards were able to explain to their government in Madrid that they had put up an honorable resistance against overwhelming odds. By the time the Philippine revolutionaries realized what had happened, the U.S. forces had taken solid control of Manila and were able to enforce order. Aguinaldo and his followers rightly grew suspicious.

Whereas the U.S. public sentiment had always been in favor of Cuban independence, most Americans knew little about the Philippines and considered it a distant land occupied by exotic savages. The general assumption, thanks in large part to the U.S. press, was that those angry savages in the Philippines could not possibly govern themselves.

The U.S. was, in fact, hoping to take possession of the Philippines as new colonizers. Most of the public rationalized that this would be an act of kindness toward the “helpless savages.” Not all Americans agreed, and an anti-annexation faction led by Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain protested against the U.S. intentions to annex the Philippines.

On December 10, 1898, in the final peace agreement, the U.S. paid Spain $20,000,000 for Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Aguinaldo and his supporters were not amused.

War broke out between the Philippine revolutionaries and the U.S. occupation force on February 4, 1999. The U.S. Army was better equipped and well supplied, but it took them two years to put down the insurrection.

Embarkation of Nebraska volunteers June 23, 1899 image by War Dept. Office of Chief Signal Officer U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Embarkation of Nebraska volunteers June 23, 1899
image by War Dept. Office of Chief Signal Officer
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

 

In 1902, the U.S. Congress was still debating precisely how the U.S. would administer the Philippines. A few stubborn voices spoke in favor of the Philippine people. During the 1902 session, U.S. Representative Henry Cooper took to the floor and read a poem to the House. It was an English translation of a poem that José Rizal had written during the last hours of his life, Mi última adios . . . My Last Farewell. (See The Scream Heard Around the World.)

Cooper asked his fellow congressmen if those were the words of a savage or a brilliant man. His fellow congressmen were touched by the poem. In minutes, their sentiments shifted significantly. The Philippines were not granted their independence, but an administration was installed with the intention of preparing the Philippines for self-governance. The enabling bill included a provision for the Philippine Assembly, allowed for two Philippine delegates to the American Congress, and most importantly, it extended the U.S. Bill of Rights to the Philippines. The U.S. did not grant complete independence until July 4, 1946, by the Treaty of Manila. With decades of bloody fighting, the people of the Philippines had not been able to achieve their goal of independence. With his final words, their most beloved native son, the gentle doctor José Rizal had given them their freedom.

Before the people of the Philippines could fully exercise their freedom, tragedy would come to their land in the form of a Japanese invasion. But that is a story for our next installment.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

My Last Farewell

By Jose Rizal, 1896

Farewell, dear Fatherland, clime of the sun caress’d,

Pearl of the Orient seas, our Eden lost!

Gladly now I go to give thee this faded life’s best,

And were it brighter, fresher, or more blest,

Still would I give it thee, nor count the cost.

*

On the field of battle, ‘mid the frenzy of fight,

Others have given their lives, without doubt or heed;

The place matters not–cypress or laurel or lily white,

Scaffold of open plain, combat or martyrdom’s plight,

‘Tis ever the same, to serve our home and country’s need.

*

I die just when I see the dawn break,

Through the gloom of night, to herald the day;

And if color is lacking my blood thou shalt take,

Pour’d out at need for thy dear sake,

To dye with its crimson the waking ray.

*

My dreams, when life first opened to me,

My dreams, when the hopes of youth beat high,

Were to see thy lov’d face, O gem of the Orient sea,

From gloom and grief, from care and sorrow free;

No blush on thy brow, no tear in thine eye.

*

Dream of my life, my living and burning desire,

All hail! cries the soul that is now to take flight;

All hail! And sweet it is for thee to expire;

To die for thy sake, that thou mayst aspire;

And sleep in thy bosom eternity’s long night.

*

If over my grave some day thou seest grow,

In the grassy sod, a humble flower,

Draw it to thy lips and kiss my soul so,

While I may feel on my brow in the cold tomb below

The touch of thy tenderness, thy breath’s warm power.

*

Let the moon beam over me soft and serene,

Let the dawn shed over me its radiant flashes,

Let the wind with sad lament over me keen;

And if on my cross a bird should be seen,

Let it trill there its hymn of peace to my ashes.

*

Let the sun draw the vapors up to the sky,

And heavenward in purity bear my tardy protest;

Let some kind soul o’er my untimely fate sigh,

And in the still evening a prayer be lifted on high

From thee, O my country, that in God I may rest.

*

Pray for all those that hapless have died,

For all who have suffered the unmeasur’d pain;

For our mothers that bitterly their woes have cried,

For widows and orphans, for captives by torture tried;

And then for thyself that redemption thou mayst gain.

*

And when the dark night wraps the graveyard around,

With only the dead in their vigil to see;

Break not my repose or the mystery profound,

And perchance thou mayst hear a sad hymn resound;

‘Tis I, O my country, raising a song unto thee.

*

When even my grave is remembered no more,

Unmark’d by never a cross nor a stone;

Let the plow sweep through it, the spade turn it o’er,

That my ashes may carpet thy earthly floor,

Before into nothingness at last they are blown.

*

Then will oblivion bring to me no care,

As over thy vales and plains I sweep;

Throbbing and cleansed in thy space and air,

With color and light, with song and lament I fare,

Ever repeating the faith that I keep.

*

My Fatherland ador’d, that sadness to my sorrow lends,

Beloved Filipinas, hear now my last good-by!

I give thee all: parents and kindred and friends;

For I go where no slave before the oppressor bends,

Where faith can never kill, and God reigns e’er on high!

*

Farewell to you all, from my soul torn away,

Friends of my childhood in the home dispossessed!

Give thanks that I rest from the wearisome day!

Farewell to thee, too, sweet friend that lightened my way;

Beloved creatures all, farewell! In death there is rest!

*

                        English translation by Charles Derbyshire.

The Scream Heard Around the World — Manila Part 1

By Jay Holmes

Here in the U.S., if we hear the words “the Battle of Manila,” we generally assume they refer to the WWII battle that took place in the Philippine Islands in 1945. That’s a reasonable assumption, but long before U.S. General Douglas MacArthur attempted the liberation of the city of Manila in the Philippines, the U.S. fought a lesser-known Battle of Manila—one that began with a scream halfway around the world. Both battles were crucial for the U.S. interests in Asia, and both battles marked major turning points for the people of the Philippines. There ends the similarity.

 

Statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes in Havana image by Emmanuel Huybrechts, wikimedia commons

Statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes in Havana
image by Emmanuel Huybrechts, wikimedia commons

 

On the morning of October 10, 1868, a Cuban plantation owner-turned-philosopher by the name of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo rang the slave bell calling his slaves to assembly. Carlos freed them and invited them to join him in a revolution against Cuba’s Spanish occupiers. In Cuban history, Carlos’s conversation that day is known as el Grito de Yara, or “the scream of Yara.”

 

Carlos Céspedes’s scream was the Declaration of Independence for Cuba, a country which, from the point of view of most Cubans at that time, was suffering a brutal Spanish occupation. Knowing that Cuba’s Spanish occupiers worked for a government that considered Cuba to be part of Spain’s national territory, Carlos took the precaution of committing to writing his Declaration of Independence for Cuba.

 

Most Cubans thought independence was a sensible idea. Most Spaniards thought it was the worst idea since Napoleon decided to visit. Before it was all over, Carlos’s particular grito, or scream, would be heard as far away as Manila and in every village in the Philippines. Unfortunately for Spain, before that scream could echo off the stout walls of Intramuras in Manila, it registered in the ears and minds of revenue-conscious and often-bored-but-always-creative newspaper owners in the U.S. Within a year, the revolutionary Cubans had selected Carlos as their leader.

 

Loud though his scream was, Carlos did not live to see Cuban independence. In 1873, he lost his position as the leader of the Cuban revolution and went into hiding in the mountains. The following year, the Spanish found him and executed him, but the revolution he began continued on.

 

In 1878, Spain grew tired of the high cost of the war in Cuba and signed a treaty that freed most of the slaves and promised improvements and more rights for Cubans. But the treaty did not grant Cuba her independence, and Carlos Céspedes’s grito was not done echoing.

 

The yearning for Cuban independence continued to smolder, and in 1893, another Cuban philosopher, José Julián Martí Pérez, founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party in New York City. José Martí carried forward that cry for independence.

 

Martí returned to Cuba to help incite a new revolution in April of 1895. One month later, he died while attempting to inspire Cuban fighters by charging a Spanish stronghold on horseback. Like Carlos Céspedes, he did not live to see his native country free, but his writings and his devotion to democracy and freedom helped inspire the Cuban people to achieve their independence.

 

Soldiers of the Cuban Army, 1898 wikimedia commons

Soldiers of the Cuban Army, 1898
wikimedia commons

 

Halfway around the world, another philosopher had been inspired by Carlos Céspedes’s scream. The Philippines’ most beloved native son, Doctor José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, had attended both the University of San Tomas in Luzon and Madrid University in Spain, and he had traveled extensively from a young age. He had grown tired of the Spanish occupation.

 

José Rizal was never one to do much screaming. He was more of a listener and a quiet thinker. He was also a powerful writer, heavily influenced by the European philosophers of his time. Rizal wanted freedom and democracy for his native Philippines, but the revolutionary groups that were forming there did not enthrall him. He felt that a Filipino revolution against Spain without adequate education and a clear national identity with democratic ideals would not be an improvement for the people of the Philippines.

 

Dr. Jose Rizal, age 35, 1896 The Philippine National Archives

Dr. Jose Rizal, age 35, 1896
The Philippine National Archives

 

In 1887, José Rizal published his seminal work called Noli Me Tángere, which is Latin for “touch me not.” The gentle whisper of the thoughtful young doctor spread through the Philippines and inspired his countrymen to stand up against the Spanish occupation. However, to Rizal’s dismay, the uprising turned extremely violent by 1896. At that time, Rizal volunteered to go to Cuba to help doctor the victims of an outbreak of yellow fever. The Spanish intercepted his ship in route arrested him. In spite of his public denouncements of the violence and his constant pleas for peaceful dialogue, Rizal was charged with inciting the violence in the Philippines.

José Rizal was convicted for imaginary crimes and sentenced to death. On December 30, 1896, he was executed by firing squad. Even so, his words refused to die. After his death, his sister recovered his last poem, Mi última adios . . . My Last Farewell. It had been hidden in his small portable stove in his cell in Manila. She and Rizal’s friends saw that it was published. There was no way they could know the eventual impact of their choice.

 

Photo Engraving of Jose Rizal's Execution wikimedia commons

Photo Engraving of Jose Rizal’s Execution
wikimedia commons

 

The increasing violence in Cuba and the Philippines caught the attention of Europe and the U.S. A few weeks before Rizal’s execution, U.S. President Grover Cleveland and his cabinet had carefully considered a secret report by Naval Intelligence Officer William Kimball. Kimball concluded that the Spanish Navy, though well trained and well led, was vulnerable due to years of inadequate maintenance. Kimball was aware that the U.S. maintained only a small professional army of about 25,000 men. He recommended that the U.S. use its growing naval power to intervene in Cuba and the Philippines by conducting naval blockades and, if necessary, conducting a naval bombardment of locations on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. U.S. President Grover Cleveland called on Spain to bring the uprisings to peaceful conclusions and announced that the U.S. would consider intervening in Cuba if the bloodbath did not stop.

 

By 1897, U.S. newspapers such as William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal were publishing increasingly one-sided reports about Spanish barbarism in Cuba and the Philippines. Though there were no shortages of real atrocities to report, the newspapers often reported pure fantasy. This inflammatory press coverage fed America’s sympathy for the Cuban people.

 

In March of 1897, U.S. President William McKinley was inaugurated. A few days later, Emilio Aguinaldo was selected as the leader of the revolutionary government of the Philippines. The new U.S. President preached against involvement in the war between Spain and its colonies, but his position quickly lost supporters, due in large part to the yellow journalism being practiced by major U.S. newspapers.

 

On August 8, 1897, an Italian anarchist assassinated Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas del Castillo. The assassination created instability in the Spanish government and hindered its conduct of foreign and colonial policy. On December 15 that year, Spanish negotiators paid Emilio Aguinaldo 800,000 pesos and agreed to grant the Philippines autonomy. In exchange, Aguinaldo and his cohorts agreed to a voluntary exile in Hong Kong.

 

Spain granted “limited autonomy” to the Philippines on January 1, 1898. For many Philippine people, this declaration was simply too little, too late.

 

Anti-Spanish sentiment in the U.S. was growing much worse. In Cuba, violence was increasing. The U.S. was concerned for the safety of U.S. citizens in Havana. Since the U.S. was still politically neutral in the conflict, it received the approval of the Spanish government to send the battle cruiser USS Maine to Havana harbor.

 

USS Maine U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 60255-A

USS Maine
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 60255-A

 

On February 15, 1898, the USS Maine exploded while at anchor in Havana harbor, killing 270 U.S. sailors. Navy investigations concluded that a mine likely detonated near an ammunition magazine and set off a fatal explosion, which caused the battle cruiser to sink rapidly. The Navy investigators made it clear that they had no information as to who might have placed the mine. Nevertheless, most newspapers in the U.S. reported that the Spanish had placed the mine.

 

The public outcry for war against Spain gathered momentum. Newspaper sales reached new records in New York and other major cities, and advertising revenues skyrocketed. Carlos Céspedes’s grito echoed once more, and on April 11, President McKinley bowed to public opinion and requested permission from Congress to take military action against Spain. On April 13, Congress approved President McKinley’s request. America entered the war.

 

In the next installment, we will look at how this Battle of Manila unfolded, and the power of a poem.

 

Rizal Monument in Rizal Park Manila, Philippines image by Handtell, wikimedia commons

Rizal Monument in Rizal Park
Manila, Philippines
image by Handtell, wikimedia commons

 

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Bayard & Holmes

The Scream Heard Around the World

Russia to Build Naval Base in Cuba: An Intelligence Perspective

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes

On Thursday, July 26, news outlets reported that Russia announced intentions to build military bases in Vietnam, the Seychelles, and Cuba. The source of the news was an interview given by Russian Vice Admiral Victor Chirkov to the Russian IRA Novosti news network.

Map courtesy of the CIA

The Russian Defense Ministry subsequently denied that Chirkov had ever discussed anything about foreign bases and pointed out that the Russian Navy would not be in charge of any foreign base agreements that Russia would make with any foreign nation.

Today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated the denial at a press conference in Moscow. Given that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has so loudly voiced his intentions of returning Russia to its former military might, presumably with equipment that works this time, most foreign observers were not surprised by IRA Novosti’s report.

The idea of bases in the Seychelles, Vietnam, and Cuba is hardly new. Russia previously maintained bases in these locations until financial constraints forced them to close after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When questioned about any military base deals with Russia, Vietnam’s president Truong Tan Sang said that Vietnam has no intention of allowing foreign bases in his country. He said Vietnam would make the port of Cam Ranh available to all countries, but that Vietnam would help Russia by allowing for some facilities to be built to aid military cooperation between Vietnam and Russia.

Is that clear to everyone? No Russian bases in Vietnam ever, just some military facilities for Russian ships to use. The distinction is important, I’m sure . . . to someone . . . somewhere.

The desire for a base in Vietnam is understandable these days. Besides having had a base there previously and wanting closer relations with Vietnam, Russia’s inability to affect China’s current attempt to expand its borders across the South Pacific has to be terribly frustrating to a man like Putin. Vietnam is genuinely concerned about China’s new military aggression and wouldn’t mind a little help from its old communist brothers from up north, even if they are all stinking capitalist brothers now.

As for the Seychelles, some folks might wonder why anyone other than Seychelles sailors would want a port there. The answer is that a port in the Seychelles would give Russia a base of operations for refueling, resupply, and repairs when they operate ships in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean matters because that’s where the Suez canal and the Arabian Sea lead to, and that means tons of oil are shipped through the Indian Ocean to many destinations, including China.

The case of a Russian base reopening in Cuba is somewhat more irksome for the USA. Cuba is 90 miles from Florida. Part of the resolution to the 1962 “Cuban Missile Crisis” was that the Soviet Union agreed to never again bring nuclear weapons to Cuba. If Russian capital ships port in Cuba, then there will be Russian nuclear weapons in Cuba. If asked about it, Putin might say that those ships have no nuclear weapons (which no one would believe) and that he is not bound by agreements made by the old USSR.

So far, Putin has said neither of those things and isn’t directly responding to the issue. He is still busy with the question, “What fleet would we send to those new bases?”

At present, the Russian Navy is still suffering from a lack of money and is unable to put a credible deep sea fleet in the water. Putin claims that will change, and he has been increasing the budgets of all of the Russian military branches, including the navy. Even with Putin’s stifling influence on the Russian economy and its ongoing “brain drain” of many of Russia’s brightest young people, as long as oil and gas prices remain high, Russia will continue to make huge profits from energy sales to European nations.

So what shall we guess at as Putin’s intentions? Putin can’t be happy about events in Syria. Once his intelligence service informed him that the Assad regime would likely collapse, he had to reverse his stance. After loudly proclaiming Russian support for Assad (and for the continued use of the Russian fleet’s one foreign base beyond the Ukraine), Putin had to pretend to suddenly claim the moral high ground and hedge his bets against Syria.

Being Putin can’t be easy. Whenever he thinks about it, he can’t help but be aware that no reasonable Russian would put up with having him in charge unless they absolutely had to do so. He knows that his fellow corporate giants in Russia would love an opportunity to replace him with someone less expensive and less powerful. Putin can only get so much mileage out of the “daring Putin” staged photo shoots that portray him as a macho tough guy. Always in the market for any help he can get, Putin is becoming more willing to play the imaginary Cold War card.

There’s nothing like a national emergency to get people to tolerate a reduction in freedom and a lousy economy. (We’ll write about the D.H.S. some other day). Well okay, an efficient and obedient police state apparatus helps as well, but Putin’s thugs aren’t quite back up to North Korean or Cuban standards yet, and he can’t resist working on his mythology a bit in the mean time.

So while Putin has no urgent military need for a naval base on the US doorstep, and though he can hardly afford to waste cash on one, the chance to remain in the international limelight and to stir up some nationalistic sentiment in Russia is just too hard to pass up. So how do bright young Russians feel about all this? I can’t speak for them. The next time you see one moving into Western Europe, ask him.

In the short term, none of Russia’s imperialist dreams mean much to us in the West. How much it means to us in the future will depend on how well Putin can run the Russian economy, and how much of a Russian Navy he can build and put to sea.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at@piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at BH@bayardandholmes.com.

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