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Cuba: Deteriorating U.S. Diplomatic Ties Will Keep Cuba Reliant on Venezuela

3 MINS READSep 29, 2017 | 19:30 GMT

As a direct response to a series of sonic attacks against U.S. and Canadian diplomats in 2016 and 2017, the United States will sharply reduce its diplomatic engagement with Cuba. According to several reports, the U.S. Department of State will indefinitely stop issuing visas in Cuba, has warned U.S. citizens against travel to Cuba, and will repatriate 60 percent of diplomatic staff currently working on the island. According to reports, the United States does not believe the Cuban government is responsible for the attacks, which raises the likelihood that the decision to reduce diplomatic staff is a safety precaution because their safety in Havana cannot currently be guaranteed. Even if the decision to reduce diplomatic staff in Cuba is out of an abundance of caution, U.S. reluctance to engage Cuba diplomatically will bolster Havana's dependence on Venezuela in the short term.

U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba have been deteriorating since June, when the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump moved to tighten financial sanctions on Cuba's armed forces — a move that will likely reduce the inflow of dollars to Cuba's government. A reduction of diplomatic staff in Cuba will prevent the deepening of political ties with Havana's government, leaving infrequent discussions between senior State Department officials and Cuba's Foreign Ministry as the main official channel of communication and diplomacy.

Despite relatively high support among Congress and the U.S. population for the lifting of a five-decade embargo with Cuba, it's unlikely that the Trump administration will soon reverse any decisions to increase political pressure on Havana's government. According to polls, about 70 percent of the U.S. population supports a normalization of relations, but lifting the embargo must be done through Congress, where individual legislators can hold up any legislative progress.

As political and economic relations with Washington remain increasingly out of reach (possibly for the remainder of the Trump presidency), Havana simply has nowhere to turn but to Venezuela for economic sustenance. Cuba's cash-strapped government will keep relying on Venezuela for fuel and crude oil shipments and will probably keep trying to cement an energy trade agreement with Mexico to reduce its reliance on increasingly uncertain Venezuelan energy supplies. Yet, in the absence of any lifelines from Mexico or the United States, the Cuban government will continue to prop up the Venezuelan government with its intelligence assistance. It will help the Venezuelan government monitor potential dissidents that could present a risk to the administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and, by extension, to Cuban energy supplies.

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