The last several days have seen more conflicting news reports about whether Cuba condemns or tolerates Cubans fighting for Russia in the Ukrainian war. There also has been an U.S.-Cuba meeting on various issues and U.S. refusal to cancel its designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism as well as the U.S. continued authorization of its embargo of the island.
Cuba and the Ukrainian War
On September 14, Reuters reported that RIA, a Russian state-owned news agency, had stated that “Cuba is not against the legal participation of its citizens in Russia’s war in Ukraine.” RIA’s stated source was the Cuban ambassador to Russia, Julio Antonio Garmendia Pena, who was quoted as saying, “We have nothing against Cubans who just want to sign a contract and legally take part with the Russian army in this operation. But we are against illegality” and those recently arrested in Cuba “had been engaged in illegal activities and had broken the law.”
More details about the Ambassador’s statement were provided by the Miami Herald, which reported that he said the Cubans who had been arrested were “’swindlers’ who had broken the law” and “We are talking about bad people who, on the basis of such an important issue as a military operation, as relations between our countries, want to earn money, want to put money in their pocket and engage in illegal activities.”
A Cuban Foreign Ministry official in Havana, however, on September 14, issued the following statement:
- “Cuba reiterates its firm historical position against mercenarism and upholds its active role at the United Nations against that practice. Cuban laws are very explicit in relation to the criminalization of crimes such as trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants and mercenarism.”
- “Cuba likewise reiterates that it is not a part of the war conflict in Ukraine. It also states that, following the uncovering of a trafficking in persons network operating from Russia, intended to recruit Cuban citizens settled in that country, as well as others residing in Cuba, so that they would join the military forces taking part in war operations in Ukraine, several attempts of this same nature have been neutralized and criminal proceedings have been established against persons involved in such activities.”
- “The Cuban authorities maintain an exchange with their Russian counterparts in relation to these incidents, given the excellent level of relations that exist between both countries, with the purpose of clarifying these events.”
The Miami Herald also reported that a “U.S. State Department official said the administration is “concerned by reports alleging young Cubans have been deceived and recruited to fight for Russia in its brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s need to use deceit to attract foreign fighters indicates both its military weakness and its disregard for human life. We continue to monitor the situation closely.”
In addition, the Miami Herald reported that the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament’s committee on foreign relations, Oleksandr Merezhko, stated, “the Cuban communist regime pretends that it has nothing to do with this ‘human trafficking.’ In reality, this totalitarian regime is on the side of the aggressor.”
U.S. Actions Regarding Cuba
The U.S. State Department confirmed that on September 11, 2023, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols met with the Cuban vice foreign minister and discussed “human rights, migration, and other issues of bilateral interest” after a number of meetings with officials from the Cuban embassy in Washington. But the U.S. did not agree to terminate its designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Another U.S. action continuing its hostility towards Cuba was President Biden on September 13, 2023, signing another year’s extension of the Trading with the Enemy Law, which is the basis for the U.S. embargo of the island. That document urged the Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, to enforce this sanctioning measure against the Cuban economy, and emphasized that the embargo “is in the national interest” of the United States.
The U.S. needs to end its embargo of Cuba and its designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. In addition, the U.S. needs to press Cuba to stop assisting Russia in its war against Ukraine and to publicly clarify Cuba’s policies and actions regarding Ukraine.
 Conflicting News About Cubans Fighting for Russia, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 12, 2023); Cuba is not against its citizens fighting on Russia’s side in Ukraine, RIS cites envoy, Reuters.com (Sept. 14, 2023); RIA Novosti, Wikipedia; Torres, Cuban diplomat says island will not stop citizens from fighting for Russia in Ukraine, Miami Herald (Sept,. 14, 2023); Statement by Lleana Nunez Mordoche, Director for Europe and Canada of the General Division of Bilateral Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba (Sept. 14, 2023). Damage control: the regime says it opposes the participation of Cubans in any conflict, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 15, 2023).
Torres, American and Cuban officials meet ahead of Cuban leader’s trip to UN meeting in New York, Miami Herald (Sept. 14, 2023); Spetalnick, High-Level US-Cuba talks yield no progress on top disputes, Cuban official says, Reuters.com (Sept. 14, 2023); Senior Cuban and US officials hold an unusual meeting in Washington, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 15, 2023); Capote, Biden ratifies the blockade with his signature: the genocide against Cuba continues, Granma.com (Sept. 14, 2023); White House, Memorandum on the Continuation of the Exercise of Certain Authorities under the Trading With the Enemy Act (Sept. 13, 2023).