Just as Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict has been seen as a lack of leadership on the part of President Barack Obama, the news that Cuba is also sending troops to the region has also been regarded as a slap in the face of the American chief executive. General Leopold Cintra Frías, the head of Cuba’s military, was recently spotted in Syria where he led a number of Cuban military to join with Russia in support of the embattled Syrian president, Bashr al-Assad. U.S. sources have confirmed that Cuba has sent both Special Forces and paramilitary units to Syria, adding more boots on the ground in opposition to the Islamic State forces and those that are being supported by the U.S. It is likely that the Cubans trained in Russia and were transported to Syria on Russian military aircraft. 
 
Barely two weeks ago, when speaking to the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations, Cuban President Raúl Castro called on the international community to refrain from interfering with Syria. Castro said, “Let the people resolve their own problems.”
 
Jaime Suchliki, who is the head of Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami told Fox News that observers in Syria noted that Cubans arrived at the Damascus airport in recent days to operate Russian tanks. Syria has long relied on military materiel Made in Russia. Russia has also been a supplier to Cuba for decades, having provided heavy weaponry to Cuba when it was involved in Soviet-led military operations in southern Africa in the 1970s and 80s. Russian advisors have long been a feature of the Cuban military. While Cuba’s military is small, it is very well trained. Its presence in Syria may have come as a surprise to the Obama administration. By some estimates, there are now approximately 300 Cuban troops serving in Syria. Cuba is greatly in debt to Russia: which may explain its willingness to deploy troops in aid to Assad.
 
Cuban Gen. Leopoldo Cintra Frias
 
"If this information about the presence of Cuban troops in Syria now is confirmed, it would indicate that General Raul Castro is more interested in supporting his allies, Russia and Syria, than in continuing to normalize relations with the U.S.," declared the institute in an October 13 statement. Moreover, stated the institute, Cuban leader "Raul Castro has expressed publicly his support for the Syrian regime and his solidarity with Russian and Iranian objectives in the Middle East…This new Cuban internationalism reaffirms one more time that the Castro’s brothers are more interested in their role in the world in opposition to the U.S. than in modernizing Cuba and helping the Cuban people rise above their current misery."
 
Even so, relations between the United States are still on a warming trend ever since Obama removed the communist nation from the government list of government sponsors of terrorism. Secretary John Kerry opened the U.S. embassy in Havana in July of this year as American companies prepare to do business with Cuba, which has been under an embargo since 1961 when the U.S. severed diplomatic relations. "Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation," Obama said then, "but it's long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn't work. It hasn't worked for 50 years." Speaking at the White House, Obama said in July "This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas."
 
The involvement of Cuba in Syria bears a resemblance to the country’s involvement in Angola and elsewhere in Africa. In Angola, the U.S. and the Soviet Union (with Cuba on the side of the latter) were engaged in a proxy war that left thousands dead and a landscape littered with still-deadly landmines and unexploded ordnance. Also, Cuba also sent troops to Syria in 1973 to support them in the Yom Kippur War against Israel. Cuba also spied on Israel to learn its military tactics.
 
José Azel of the Institute on Cuban and Cuban-American Studies said he believes that Cuba’s latest move is a “slap in the face to President Barack Obama from Raúl Castro." Speaking to Infobae.com, Azel said “This should affect the process of rapprochement with the United States,” who added that Obama is apparently obsessed with U.S. relations with communist Cuba.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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