China and Cuba have reached a secret agreement whereby Beijing will install a new electronic espionage base in Cuban territory that will intercept communications of all kinds. As compensation for the “permission” Beijing will pay billions of dollars to the Cuban regime, according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
“The Cuban regime is capable of anything in exchange for money. It is very likely that this espionage base is already up and running,” Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, director of the Miami-based Inter-American Democracy Institute, told Diálogo on July 11.
According to WSJ, the spy base on the island, about 150 kilometers from Florida, would be strategically important for obtaining information on maritime traffic in a region with numerous military bases, as well as for monitoring electronic communications in the southeastern United States.
On June 14, A Reuters reporter described seeing satellite dishes, a metal dome, and a barbed wire fence with a “military zone” warning in the Cuban town of Bejucal. The base in question has been raising concerns for some time that it is being used for a Chinese intelligence collection operation.
Both the Cuban and Chinese governments denied that the Bejucal base houses a spy station, Reuters reported. However, according to CNN, Cuba had agreed for China to establish the controversial facility, and new Chinese efforts are now underway.
Experts have for some time pointed to Beijing’s global efforts to expand its overseas logistics and data collection infrastructure. Efforts that allow the Chinese military to project and maintain power at ever greater distances, U.S. magazine Politico reported.
According to CNN, China has been operating military and intelligence bases on the Caribbean island since at least 2019, enhancing its intelligence-gathering facilities in Cuba. Now Beijing could seek to monitor communications traversing wireless lines and networks.
Huawei – ZTE
According to WSJ, U.S. officials tracked employees of Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE entering and leaving suspected Chinese spy facilities in Cuba. The equipment of these companies is subsidized by the Chinese government, news site The Hill reported.
Huawei and ZTE equipment, used in developing countries because of their low cost, contain an embedded code that could send sensitive information to China, the North Africa Post reported. These two manufacturers have ties to the Chinese military, the Communist Party, and the Chinese intelligence community.
“China wants a world hegemony contest. It knows that the United States is the world’s leading power. Beijing wants that position, but lacks the economic, military, and political conditions,” Sánchez said.
In 2017 China enacted the National Intelligence Law of the People’s Republic of China, which authorizes the state to use various assets, including “non-traditional” ones for intelligence gathering, to ensure national security, Mexican daily El Economista reported.
This law empowers Chinese civilian and military agencies to obtain support, assistance, and cooperation from Chinese institutions, organizations, and citizens, El Economista added. The Chinese government established a clear priority: to obtain technological and military secrets from other countries.
The Chinese regime has already attempted to spy on the region’s electronic communications through signal jamming. A Chinese spy balloon flew over the United States in January and February 2023, while another was spotted over Latin America, both suspected of attempting to collect intelligence, CNN reported.
“Chinese spying bases […] are a reality,” Sánchez says. “China has bases in Argentina, controls satellites in Bolivia and Venezuela, and seeks to penetrate Peru. Beijing is also involved in arms sales, aircraft and port development, getting into everything it can.”
China’s only declared foreign military base is in Djibouti, Africa. The Asian nation has been pursuing a global port development campaign to establish a network of military seaports and intelligence bases to project its power worldwide, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported.
Chinese companies control close to 100 ports in more than 60 countries. One of the projects underway is the construction of the port of Chancay in Peru, operated by Cosco Shipping Ports with a $3 billion investment, which operations are set to begin in 2024, Chilean news site Mundo Marítimo reported.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, ports with Chinese investments include, among others, Lazaro Cardenas, Ensenada, Manzanillo, and Veracruz in Mexico; Freeport in the Bahamas; Kingston in Jamaica; Balboa and Colón in Panama; Paranagua in Brazil, and Buenos Aires in Argentina.
“The United States should establish a coherent foreign policy with Latin America, based on the principles of the 1994 summit [First Summit of the Americas]: democracy, the fight against drug trafficking, sustainable development, and free trade. This will help counteract the harmful presence of China, Russia, Iran, and dictatorships that seek to undermine democracy in the region,” Sánchez concluded. “It is critical that Latin American countries restore democracy as a right of the people of the Americas. Governments must promote and defend this right, according to the American Charter. Dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua violate the international legal order.”