As Bill Clinton was celebrating his election to the White House, Cuba and an ever more hard-line Russia completed secret negotiations on the most far-reaching agreement between the two countries since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Arguably, it is the most portentous pact they have entered into since the Cuban missile crisis.
Pursuant to this so-called "entente," Russia will continue to provide life support to Fidel Castro's moribund economy with subsidized barter arrangements; persist in operating an immense signals intelligence collection station at Lourdes, Cuba (a facility used primarily for Cold War-style eavesdropping on U.S. military and civilian communications); and, worst of all, help Fidel bring on line dangerous nuclear power plants near Cienfuegos.
Thirty years ago, the communist Soviet Union misjudged another young, newly elected president of the United States, perceiving John F. Kennedy to be weak, inexperienced and indecisive. In a fateful decision that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, Nikita Khrushchev decided to try to exploit the situation through the deployment of nuclear weapons and medium-range ballistic missiles to Cuba.
Today, in yet another indication of the rapidly deteriorating prospects for
genuine reform in Russia, a new and potentially as dangerous nuclear threat to the U.S. is being put into place in Cuba with the former Soviets' help. Under the terms of the entente, Russia has agreed to help Castro complete two VVER-440 nuclear power reactors that are known to be fatally flawed -- poorly designed, fabricated with defective materials and constructed incompetently (notably, with myriad unsafe welds in their critical cooling systems).
Indeed, a recent General Accounting Office study provided fresh confirmation that "Cuba's nuclear power program suffers from poor construction practices and inadequate training for future reactor operators." According to NBC, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believes that, should these reactors become operational and suffer a Chernobyl-like failure, the consequences to the U.S. could be catastrophic: "The day after [a nuclear disaster in Cuba] could witness radioactive fallout stretch[ing] from Key West to Managua, Nicaragua. [By] Day Three, the cloud could cover Miami and Tampa, Fla. Within the first week, most of the Eastern Seaboard, portions of Texas and Louisiana, plus all of Mexico might be at risk."
Incredibly, reports out of Russia indicate that Moscow has agreed not only to assist in the completion of the Cienfuegos reactors but to help underwrite the project financially through supplier credits. This commitment is all the more extraordinary as it comes at the same moment Russia is seeking a generous, long-term rescheduling with Western creditors of some $80 billion in unpayable former Soviet debt.
For its part, the Bush administration has chosen largely to ignore the dangers posed by these Cuban Chernobyls in the making. …