Nuclear-Powered Submarines in Cuba

Cuba is visited regularly by submarines and other vessels from different countries due to its strategic location in the Caribbean. Photo by Leni V. Reeves
Cuba is visited regularly by submarines and other vessels from different countries due to its strategic location in the Caribbean. Photo by Leni V. Reeves

Is it the Cuban missile crisis all over again, when you thought they were calling that school assembly to announce the end of the world?

Or is it just another manifestation of U.S. exceptionalism, in which the neocolonial power can do whatever it wants, and the rest of the world has no rights at all that the United States is bound to respect?

Sub Score Sheet

Here’s the nuclear-powered submarine tit-for-tat score sheet so far.

First, in July 2023, the U.S. nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Pasadena, arrived at the illegally occupied U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, and a U.S. Navy spokesperson told ABC News it was a “scheduled logistics stop” as the submarine transits to Colombia to participate in a multinational maritime exercise.

Whatever a scheduled logistics stop is: A chance to see the U.S. torture prison? An opportunity to bask in the extreme heat and humidity of summer in eastern Cuba? Possibly even a provocation for a Cuban government that denies any U.S. claim to any part of Cuba?

In any case, the Cubans said, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly rejects the arrival of a nuclear-powered submarine in Guantanamo Bay on July 5, 2023, that stayed until July 8 at the U.S. military base located there, which is a provocative escalation of the United States, whose political or strategic motives are not known. The presence of a nuclear submarine there at this moment makes it imperative to wonder what is the military reason behind this action in this peaceful region of the world.”

Second, on June 12, 2024, a Russian naval detachment, including a frigate, a tanker, a rescue tugboat and a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived in the port of Havana, scheduled to remain for five days. The Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba clarified that none of the vessels carried nuclear arms and that the public could visit them on June 15.

Third, on June 13, the USS Helena, a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine, arrived at Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. Southern Command said that the stop was part of a “routine port visit” as the submarine travels through Southern Command’s region.

Is this the Cuban Missile Crisis again? No.

The question of whether this represents an equivalent to the events of October 1962 has also been asked in Cuba. José Ramón Cabañas, director of the International Policies Center of Investigations of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, discussed the question, “Is this (the October Crisis) a valid referent for what is currently occurring?” He placed it in a clear context: “Relating this news with what occurred in October 1962 is as inadequate as supposing that each time a U.S. naval detachment moves through Southeast Asia, alarms should be sounded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“Today, Cuba and the US have formal diplomatic relations and therefore various channels to deal with this and with other even more sensitive affairs. We are speaking of three naval vessels (a submarine, a tanker and a tugboat) that have come to a Cuban port in a region in which the US has 80 military bases and many other means of domination.

“In recent years, we have received naval detachments from Canada, France, Spain, the UK, Japan, Holland, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Jamaica, China and Russia on friendly and cooperative visits. The majority of these have not been worthy of international press attention.

“In fact, the arrival in Cuba on June 14 of a ship of the Royal Canadian Navy, the HMCS Margaret Brooke, has already been announced. Until now, the Canadians haven’t been worth headlines.

“On June 5, 2023, Cuba denounced the presence of a U.S. nuclear submarine on the outlying areas of the Naval Base located in the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo, Cuba. Few media outlets in countries allied with the United States considered our concerns worthy of being a news item.”

Many More Serious Situations to Worry Us

“How much should we be worried about the current situation?” Cabañas was asked by a correspondent from the Spanish press outlet El Periódico. Again, he placed the situation in the context of reality.

“If this question is in reference to the particular fact of the naval visit, we repeat what we have already said, in the sense that this has no repercussions beyond the plane of bilateral friendly Cuban-Russian relations.

“Now, if this refers to the current situation in a more general context, there is a lot we should worry about. The genocide against Palestine has not stopped, and the international community is not capable of articulating a coherent response that can halt this massacre.

“NATO insists on seeking a military solution in Ukraine, with the only goal of satisfying the great arms producers. The countries that have the greatest reserves of strategic (or desirable) minerals are those that are least developed, and they are victims of constant destabilization plans.

“Humanity as a whole has not learned the basic lessons from the experiences of the struggle against Covid-19 and has not prepared for future similar events at the same time that biological weapons labs financed by military institutions proliferate in the world.

“A fourth industrial revolution is taking place that will create even more disparity between the more developed countries and those that have been spurred on repeatedly to guarantee the well-being of the colonizers.”

There are a lot of reasons to worry, Cabañas said, but this isn’t one of them. It’s just another opportunity to offer a negative slanted view of Cuba.

How can U.S. submarines dock in Cuba?

Here’s what the U.S. Navy says: “Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is the forward, ready and irreplaceable U.S. sea power platform in the Caribbean. We preserve America’s strategic influence in the Caribbean by maintaining a deep-water U.S. Naval Station and ensuring effective support across military and interagency operations.”

The U.S. government states that it has a lease without a termination date on this property and that Cuba cannot choose to end this lease. The legality of both positions is worse than dubious.

The original lease was for a naval base and coaling station, not a prison, and expressly excludes the use of the land for any other purpose. So the establishment of a prison was and is a violation of the lease.

Beyond that, legal agreements must be voluntarily entered into by both parties, which is certainly not the case with this lease. In 1898, the United States intervened at the point when Cuban forces had, for all practical purposes, defeated Spain and won their independence. The Cuban liberation forces were not permitted by the United States to send representatives to the Paris treaty talks or even to participate in the Spanish surrender ceremonies.

The United States imposed a military dictatorship in Cuba that was withdrawn only after Cuba accepted—not freely or voluntarily but under duress, effectively at gunpoint—the Platt Amendment in 1903, establishing a permanent right for the United States to intervene as desired and requiring Cuba to lease land for “coaling or naval stations.”

In 1934, this amendment was repealed and replaced with a new treaty that allowed the naval base to be retained by the United States indefinitely. The signatory for Cuba was Fulgencio Batista in his first period of power after his first military coup.

Under international law, these agreements are illegal, imposed by the threat of force and benefitting one side only; the U.S. payment for the lease is just above $4,000 annually. That’s not even one month’s rent for a house in San Francisco.

Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Cuba has refused these payments and demanded its sovereign territory back. Cuba has been able to defy the United States in many other matters, resisting attacks and the siege warfare of the U.S. blockade—aka embargo—and Cuba has had an outsized influence on international affairs, with visions and examples of resistance and anti-colonialism that inspire other nations.

Apparently, the United States derives satisfaction from taunting Cuba by using this one occupied part of Cuba for morally repugnant purposes and demonstrating Cuba’s powerlessness to end this last bit of U.S. invasion.

More Than You Wanted to Know about Submarines

There are three major types of submarines in the U.S. Navy: ballistic missile submarines, attack submarines and cruise missile submarines. All submarines currently in the U.S. Navy are nuclear-powered.

Ballistic missile submarines have a single strategic mission of carrying nuclear submarine–launched ballistic missiles. Attack submarines have several tactical missions, including sinking ships and subs, launching cruise missiles and gathering intelligence. Cruise missile submarines perform many of the same missions as attack submarines, but with a focus on their ability to carry and launch larger quantities of cruise missiles than typical attack submarines.

The United States has a total of 72 submarines. Both the Helena and the Pasadena are attack submarines. The Russian submarine Kazan is that nation’s equivalent of an attack submarine.


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