Friction over how to resolve the differences between the US and Cuba often obscures the various ways the two governments and people have cooperated.
Here are the important ways the US and Cuba have looked past their respective differences and worked together over long periods of time:
Ernest Hemingway’s Home, The Finca Vigía
According to the Cuban government, after Hemingway’s death, Mary Hemingway deeded his Cuban home to the Cuban people, which made it into a museum devoted to the author. Recognizing the rapid deterioration of the house, in March 2002, US preservationists negotiated an agreement between the US and Cuba and signed an accord with Cuba’s Office of Cultural Patrimony for the preservation of documents. By 2008, three sets of 3,000 of documents were digitized and microfilmed — one for the Kennedy Library, one for a Chicago vault for safekeeping and one for Finca Vigia. The originals never left the house, which was suffering from a leaking roof, with rampant mold and fungus.
Today, the house enjoys a good state of preservation due to cooperation of the Cuban government and the famous US TV home restoration personality, Bob Vila. According to Vila, “We’re the only U.S. cultural group active in Cuba [with] a formal accord with the Cuban Culture Ministry and their institute for the protection of Cultural Heritage.” Vila’s own Cuban heritage deepened his passion for helping restore Hemingway’s home. When asked about the house’s importance to Cuba, Vila states, “Finca Vigia is unique and remains the biggest cultural attraction for international visitors to Cuba.”
As a leader in science and conservation, the American Museum of Natural History has long-standing research and capacity development collaborations with Cuban scientists at a number of institutions, including the Cuban National Museum of Natural History (Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Cuba, MNHN), the University of Havana, the Cuban Botanical Society, and the National Enterprise for the Protection of Flora and Fauna. Museum scientists have led nearly 30 expeditions and field projects to Cuba over the last 120 years.
Building on this long legacy, the Museum recently launched a new research collaboration with Cuba under the banner of Explore21—a comprehensive Museum initiative that began in 2013 to foster a series of innovative scientific expeditions to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. The Explore21 program, which previously sent teams to the Solomon Islands and to Papua New Guinea, supports exploratory fieldwork that is multidisciplinary, heavily integrated with emerging technologies, and focused on delivering real-world applications by discovering new species, conserving biodiversity, and uncovering new knowledge about the natural world and humanity’s relationship to it.
According to the US State Department’s 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), issued March 2, 2016, Cuba has a number of anti-drug-related agreements in place with other countries, including 36 bilateral agreements for counter-drug cooperation and 27 policing cooperation agreements. As reported in the INCSR, Cuba reported seizing 962 kilograms of drugs (largely marijuana) in the first eight months of 2015 and detected 33 suspected “go-fast” boats on its southeastern coast.
Over the years, there have been varying levels of US-Cuban cooperation on anti-drug efforts. In 1996, Cuban authorities cooperated with the US in the seizure of 6.6 tons of cocaine aboard the Miami-bound Limerick, a Honduran-flag ship. Cuba turned over the cocaine to the US and cooperated fully in the investigation and subsequent prosecution of two defendants in the case in the United States.
Cooperation has increased since 1999, when US and Cuban officials met in Havana to discuss ways of improving anti-drug cooperation. Cuba accepted an upgrading of the communications link between the Cuban Border Guard and the US Coast Guard as well as the stationing of a US Coast Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist (DIS) at the US Interests Section in Havana. The Coast Guard official was posted to the US Interests Section in September 2000, and since that time, coordination has increased.
According to the 2016 INCSR, Cuban authorities and the US Coast Guard share tactical information related to vessels transiting through Cuban territorial waters suspected of trafficking. The report noted that Cuba also shares real-time tactical information with the Bahamas, Mexico, and Jamaica. It reported that such bilateral cooperation has led to multiple interdictions.
For example, in August 2015, Cuban cooperation with the US Coast Guard led to arrest of three Bahamians involved in drug trafficking and the seizure of their go-fast boat. As in past years, the State Department asserted in the INCSR that “Cuba has demonstrated an increased willingness to apprehend and turnover U.S. fugitives and to assist in U.S. judicial proceedings by providing documentation, witnesses, and background for cases in U.S. state and federal courts.”
Cuba maintains that it wants to cooperate with the US to combat drug trafficking and, on various occasions, has called for a bilateral anti-drug cooperation agreement with the US. In the 2011 INCSR, the State Department acknowledged that Cuba had presented the US government with a draft bilateral accord for counternarcotics cooperation that is still under review. According to the State Department, “Structured appropriately, such an accord could advance the counternarcotics efforts undertaken by both countries.” This was reiterated in the INCSR for 2012 through 2014.
In the 2015 INCSR, the State Department maintained that the US and Cuba held technical discussions on counter-narcotics in April 2014 and shared information on trends and enforcement procedures.
In the 2016 INCSR, the State Department noted that the US and Cuba held bilateral discussions on law enforcement and counter-narcotics cooperation in late 2015 that included current information on trends and enforcement procedures. This second counter-narcotics dialogue was held at the headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, DC, on December 1, 2015, with delegations discussing ways to stop the illegal flow of narcotics and exploring ways to cooperate on the issue.
As in the past, the State Department contended in the 2016 INCSR that “enhanced communication and cooperation between the United States, international partners, and Cuba, particularly in terms of real-time information-sharing, will likely lead to increased interdictions and disruptions of illegal drug trafficking.”
In April 2016, Cuban security officials toured the US Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South) based in Key West, FL.200 JIATF-South has responsibility for detecting and monitoring illicit drug trafficking in the region and for facilitating international and inter-agency interdiction efforts.