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    Retired military officials ask Trump to continue normalization process with Cuba

    Retired military officials ask Trump to continue normalization process
    with Cuba
    BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
    ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

    Sixteen retired senior military officers are asking the Trump
    administration to continue the process of normalization with Cuba for
    the sake of U.S. national security and stability in the region.

    “The location of Cuba in the Caribbean and proximity to the US make it a
    natural and strategically valuable partner on issues of immediate
    concern, including terrorism, border control, drug interdiction,
    environmental protections, and emergency preparedness,” the retired
    officers stated in a letter that was for National Security Adviser Lt.
    Gen. H.R. McMaster and made public on Thursday.

    The retired officers indicated that ensuring economic stability on the
    island was beneficial to the United States for security reasons.

    “We acknowledge the current regime must do more to open its political
    system and dialogue with the Cuban people. But, if we fail to engage
    economically and politically, it is certain that China, Russia, and
    other entities whose interests are contrary to the United States’ will
    rush into the vacuum,” the letter said. “We have an opportunity now to
    shape and fill a strategic void.”

    Six of the 16 letter-signers traveled to Havana from March 14-17 at the
    invitation of the Cuban government and met with officials from the
    Foreign Ministry as well as representatives from the Energy,
    Agriculture, Trade, and Foreign Investment ministries. The group also
    visited the Port of Mariel and met with 12 Ministry of Interior
    officials — a gathering not previously disclosed. The MININT is in
    charge of domestic security but also of the Cuban intelligence services.

    The Cuban officials provided “a significant hour and a half Power Point
    brief on their security concerns and their thoughts on cooperation with
    the United States,” Stephen A. Cheney, a retired brigadier general in
    the U.S. Marine Corps, said. “A pretty interesting group of active
    military folks.

    “Some questioned why we did not meet with dissidents, but this was not
    the purpose of this trip but to listen to government people, have an
    idea of ??how it works and what their concerns are.”

    The letter seeks to influence the administration while it is still
    reviewing Cuba policy, an exercise spearheaded by the National Security
    Council. The Trump administration “must take into account all national
    security factors under consideration” and not look at the current policy
    “simply as something that Obama did and because Obama did it, you hate
    it,” Cheney said.

    The main concern from the national-security standpoint, he added, is a
    migration crisis if the island’s economy worsens, a possibility that “at
    90 miles from our coasts, does not do us any favors.”

    “If they feel desperate, they are going to reach out to those we would
    rather not want,” added retired Brig. Gen. David McGinnis, in reference
    to the growing role of China, Russia, and Iran in the region.

    Cheney highlighted the level of cooperation with Cuba on issues like
    anti-drug efforts but said that part of the “frustration” of the Cuban
    government is that the routine meetings to continue these mechanisms of
    cooperation have been canceled by the Trump administration, “not out of
    a policy change but because the people are not there.”

    Cheney also said the Trump administration could lift trade and financial
    restrictions, such as in agriculture, to the benefit of U.S. companies.
    “Clearly the embargo has not worked. We have to look for new actions if
    we want to increase our security,” said retired Lt. Gen. John G. Castellaw.

    The trip and the missive were coordinated by the American Security
    Project (ASP), a non-partisan organization of which several of the
    retired officials who signed the letter are members of — Cheney is its
    executive director. According to an ASP statement, the trip was
    organized by Scott Gilbert, a member of its board and a lawyer of
    contractor Alan Gross, who was jailed in Cuba for five years and
    released on Dec. 17, 2014.

    Among those who signed the letter are retired Gen. James T. Hill, who
    headed the U.S. Southern Command from 2002-2004 and retired Admiral
    Robert Inman, who held senior positions in the intelligence services
    under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

    Several signers of the letter including, McGinnis; retired Major Gen.
    Paul Eaton; retired Rear Admirals Jamie Barnett and Michael Smith; and
    retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis publicly supported Hillary Clinton
    during the presidential campaign.

    Source: Retired military officials ask Trump to continue normalization
    process with Cuba | Miami Herald –
    www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article145847939.html