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Blasts Russian Decision to Close Lourdes Base
Spy Station Casualty of War against Terrorism
World Press Review Correspondent
Oct. 24, 2001
Oct. 18, the Cuban government released an official declaration
firmly rebuking Russian President Vladimir Putin's abrupt announcement
that Russia is cancelling its lease on the Lourdes Electronic
Surveillance Station, labeling the decision "a special
gift" to U.S. President George Bush. While both U.S. and
Russian officials spoke last week of "retiring a Cold War
relic" and a sensible reallocation of Russian military
funds, the Cuban declaration painted a different pictureone
that further illustrates how quickly the world is realigning
itself as a result of the new international war on terrorism.
the Ground: The Lourdes Electronic Surveillance Station,
Russia's largest overseas covert military station (Photo:
The Cuban government's statement occupied the entire front page
of the Oct. 18 edition of Havana's government-owned Granma.
In a measured but forceful tone, the statement described
the history of the Lourdes Base and the political developments
that Cuba perceives as having led up to Russia’s unexpected
decision. According to the statement published in Granma,
during Putin’s visit to Cuba last December, he spoke not
of a Russian withdrawal from Lourdes, but of developing and
modernizing the facility, saying that "Russia and Cuba
are interested in continuing to promote its function."
The Lourdes Station was built just outside Havana by the Soviets
in 1964. According to U.S. and British newspaper reports, the
stationone of the largest of its kind in the worldemploys
1,500 Russian military personnel, and is capable of tapping
into White House communications, NASA transmissions, and regional
U.S. military signals. The Cuban statement explains that while
the Soviet Union was allowed to operate the base "without
paying a cent" until the 1990's, Cuba decided to charge
the new Russian Federation rent after the collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991, since "not even the most minimal political
or ideological connection existed between them."
recent years, Cuba had been receiving some U.S. $200 million
a year in rent for the facility from Moscow. Russian officials
have reportedly been grumbling about the rent for some time,
citing Cuba’s massive foreign debt to Moscow.
view from a U.S. spy plane (Photo courtesy of the Fedaration
of American Scientists)
Understandably, Cuba is not willing to lose the station without
a fight. In their Oct. 18 statement, the government insisted
that "the agreement has not been cancelled, since Cuba
has yet to give its approval."
According to Havana, Russia’s decision came at "the most
inopportune moment, at the exact moment when the United States
is more bellicose and politically aggressive than ever, leading
many countries to feel threatened." This is both a reference
to Cuba’s presence on the U.S. blacklist of seven nations that
harbor terrorists, and to President Bush’s earlier warning to
foreign governments that they "are either with us or [they]
are with the terrorists." Though Cuba signed a broad U.N.
resolution to fight terrorism on Sept. 28, and has repeatedly
offered its sympathy to the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks, Havana remains adamantly opposed to the current U.S.
military campaign in Afghanistan, arguing that the conflict
should be resolved through the United Nations instead.
The Lourdes Base has been a sticking point in Moscow's relations
with Washington for years. Its presence has been cited as an
obstruction to Congressional approval of new Russian aid packages.
According to the Cuban statement, the Russians rushed to "declare
publicly and immediately" that the Lourdes agreement had
been nullified prior to Putin’s meeting with President Bush
in Shanghai. The ensuing scenes of jocular exchanges and new-found
fraternizing between Putin and Bush have certainly only added
to Cuba’s frustration and sense of betrayal.
The closure of the base not only robs the Cuban government of
an important source of revenue and intelligence, it also drags
a familiar skeleton from the Cold War closet. In 1962, former
Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev brokered a secret deal with
the Kennedy administration to remove Soviet missiles from the
island, effectively resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cuban
President Fidel Castro was not privy to those negotiations either.
At least that time Cuba was compensated with additional Soviet
aid and new military facilities such as the Lourdes base. This
time, the Russians have not yet publicly offered anything to
compensate Cuba for the loss of the Lourdes base, and Cuba fears
that it may now be left with little more than another Cold-War