The US hasn’t provided any specific details about what a historic new deal with Cuba means in terms of security and counternarcotics policy — an area where limited collaboration between the two countries already exists — but the restored relationship is nonetheless promising on many fronts.
According to a fact sheet released by the White House, meant to accompany President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States has re-established relations with Cuba, the United States will now “work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance US national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.”
In the short term, this could simply mean that pre-existing cooperation between the US and Cuba intensifies when it comes to counternarcotics efforts. The two countries already share information with each other about maritime drug trafficking on a case-by-case basis, as detailed by the US State Department.
A more dramatic move would be if the US should actually begin providing anti-drug aid to the island — something that is not currently done. Cuba presented a draft counternarcotics agreement to the US in 2011, which has remained under review since then.
Another major development would be if Cuba began extraditing fugitives to the US. The island nation has handed over fugitives to the US before, but not under the terms of its pre-existing extradition treaties with the US. Until more information is released, however, it is impossible to do much more than speculate.
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Cuba already has an extremely strict drug policy that has severely limited its domestic drug trade and has seen minor offenders subjected to harsh sentences. There hasn’t been any indication that the Cuban government is interested in receiving additional counternarcotics aid from either the US or other countries. And it is difficult to assess to what extent Cuba may be in need of such assistance, as aside from statistics about drug seizures, there is very little information about the drug trade available — regarding, for example, the presence of transnational criminal groups or official collusion, if any, with organized crime. It’s unlikely that Cuba’s draconian drug laws, or its secrecy around this subject, will change in light of the new agreement with the US.
Another promising area is the commitment to work together on human trafficking, a phenomenon that the US State Department has said Cuba isn’t doing enough to combat. Cuba has an active sex tourism trade, and the country convicted 10 people for the crime in 2012, according to data that Cuban authorities provided to the US for the first time last year.
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Even if the new Cuba-US deal doesn’t entail anything beyond increased cooperation when tracking drug traffickers, this could have some limited impact on drug trafficking dynamics in the Caribbean, a region that the US has said could face a “security crisis” if not given more aid. While Central America still appears to be the primary route that traffickers use to move drug shipments into the US, there have been warnings that drug trafficking through the Caribbean is increasing.