Why Cuba Is Back At The Center Of Mexican Politics

As the Castro reign lives its final phase, the future of Cuba is uncertain. This is not necessarily good news for Mexico.

The presidents of Cuba and Mexico on Pena Nieto's recent visit to Havana
The presidents of Cuba and Mexico on Pena Nieto's recent visit to Havana
Luis Rubio


MEXICO CITY — Security became central in the Mexican government's logic toward Cuba the day Fidel Castro set out from the Veracruz coast, to forge a revolution in Cuba.

In the early years of the new Cuban regime, such security concerns translated mostly into mutual, diplomatic and political support in return for exempting Mexican territory of any Cuban guerrilla activity. Thus it was security in the form of domestic peace, in spite of the Cuban revolution's impact on domestic politics, which ultimately prompted a rapprochement between the governing powers and the political Left in Mexico.

In the 1960s and beyond, Cuba's fate was largely tied to the Soviet Union, then to its collapse and the inevitable aging of its own leadership. As the revolutionary spirit transformed into a logic of survival, the Cuban government began an economic opening that, without much involving the population, attracted foreign tourism and investment in the oil and mining sectors. The inevitable effect on Mexico was to mitigate its perception of Cuba as a security risk.

Whatever happens in Cuban politics in the coming decades will have an enormous impact on Mexico. No other country provokes such passions inside Mexico. Discussions around President Enrique Peña Nieto's recent visit to Cuba speak for themselves: on whether or not he was legitimizing a dictatorship, if he should meet with dissidents or understood that we were no longer a part of Latin America? We have nothing similar in our relations with the United States.

While I respect the critics, I believe they are missing the point.

In the context of political or international relations theory, we may term the interactions of recent Mexican governments with Cuba as "idealist," as they sought to influence its fate, or qualified its government in moral terms or contacted dissidents, and so on. The Peña government however has returned to the realpolitik often associated with Bismarck or Henry Kissinger and indeed Peña Nieto's own Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). This is not to do with parties, but with political outlook.

Biology and chaos

For the preceding three governments of Mexico, which sought more or less emphatically to abandon the security logic, the important point was to make a proud display of Mexico's own democratic transition. Nothing wrong with that of course, had it been with Nigeria. But the situation is very different with Cuba, our close neighbor, for which reason I applaud the President's decision to follow the "Cuban protocol" - Machiavellian though it may be.

Cuba may now again be the most important country for Mexico, which means dealing with whoever is there. That is what Mexico does with China and Guatemala, and there is no reason why it shouldn't with Cuba as well.

It is singularly important for two reasons. First, because its security apparatus has an enormous presence on our territory, creating a "situation" to consider in its own right. And secondly, because the island may soon live a biological, rather than a political transition - that is, certain individuals will die. If existing plans made for this eventuality do not survive the island's governing duo, Mexico could become an immediate victim, which again makes the security logic imperative.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, its former security apparatus took on a life of its own. Part of it became what has become known as the Russian mafia, and other segments busied themselves with internal affairs and eventually, with recovering power. Should the centralized control that characterizes the island collapse, something very similar may happen. Transition can be gradual, negotiated or at least administered, but can also become chaotic. Mexico would be on the "front line" if the latter were to occur.

In this logic, any effort the Mexican government makes to help ensure Cuba's future transition is successful is merely to exercise one of its elemental duties: to assure the security of its own citizens. Our institutional weaknesses are so obvious (as critical crime levels indicate), that the last thing Mexico needs is a "transforming" factor of potentially greater gravity, which Cuba can become.

Thus anything that must be negotiated with the Cuban government must be considered a question of national security for Mexico.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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