Navigating the rough diplomatic waters between the U.S. and Cuba has gotten easier since Obama and Castro established diplomatic relation in 2015, but the actual sea that separates the two nations has been a long-standing source of cooperation.
Officials from Cuba’s charting agency traveled to Maryland and met with National Ocean Service representatives in December 2015, as the agencies began to formulate the memorandum of understanding on cooperation to improve maritime navigation safety and related areas of mutual interest – to protect lives and property at sea.
The U.S. and Cuba have expressed their joint commitment to pursuing the improvement of maritime safety through the exchange of modern hydrographic data and products.
The countries signed the MOU in Havana on March 18, 2016. The National Ocean Service is part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“NOAA has a strong interest in both improving navigational safety and in protecting the marine environment in the heavily travelled and vibrant waters between our two countries in the Straits of Florida,” said Russell Callender, Ph.D., assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service. “We welcome this agreement and the progress it represents.”
Both agencies agreed to “develop annual work plans to identify specific priority activities for cooperation.” Among a range of activities, the U.S. will coordinate electronic navigational charts production and facilitating international charts; improve tides and currents monitoring and forecasting; and collaborate on geodetic challenges.
Oil Spill Response
The U.S. and Cuba signed a bilateral agreement to prepare for and respond to oil spills and hazardous substance pollution in the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida on January 9, 2017.
The two countries will cooperate and coordinate in an effort to prevent, contain, and clean up marine oil and other hazardous pollution in order to minimize adverse effects to public health and safety and the environment.
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 U.S. 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 U.S.-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 U.S. and cooperated fully in the investigation and subsequent prosecution of two defendants in the case in the US.
Joint efforts have increased since 1999, when U.S. 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 U.S. Coast Guard as well as the stationing of a US Coast Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist (DIS) at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. The Coast Guard official was posted to the U.S. Interests Section in September 2000 (now the U.S. Embassy), and since that time, coordination has increased.
According to the 2016 INCSR, Cuban authorities and the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. to combat drug trafficking and, on various occasions, has called for a bilateral anti-drug cooperation agreement with the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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. JIATF-South has responsibility for detecting and monitoring illicit drug trafficking in the region and for facilitating international and inter-agency interdiction efforts.