Changes in the relationship between the United States and Cuba have come fast and furious since the December 2014 announcement by the Obama administration that diplomatic relations would resume between the two former foes. Understanding past incidents will help the nation address current and future concerns as movement between these two countries increases.
The opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana in the summer of 2015 cemented President Barack Obama’s seriousness to embark on a course of stark contrast from previous administrations and normalize the lines of communications with the Castro regime. The current changes mark the most significant modifications to foreign policy since the Eisenhower administration severed relations with Cuba in the 1960s.
For many Cuban and American entrepreneurs, and those who have been long secluded on the island, this is an exciting time. There is the potential for expanding U.S. commerce and exchanging democraticeas; there is potential for change within the Cuban government itself. However, South Florida’s elected officials, police, and city administrators should be concerned how any changes on the island will affect their respective jurisdictions.
Past Policies for Cuban Immigrants Miami is the adoptive home of the Cuban diaspora, with more than one million residents of Cuban descent living in its metropolitan area. Most South Florida residents can remember the 1980 Mariel boatlift that brought 125,000 Cubans to the United States in a six-month period and the impact that it had on Miami. The city was not logistically ready to handle the mass influx and the demands the refugees placed on local services – both governmental and private.
The lack of emergency housing combined with the limited availability of social services compounded the effects of the population explosion. Local police departments were caught undermanned and unprepared to manage the need for additional police services. Most departments lacked a plan that would aid the police leadership to respond to the quick changes that affected their cities. The lack of a comprehensive response plan potentially played a role in the rise of violent crime that plagued the city streets and labeled Miami as the most dangerous city in America for most of the decade.
In 1994, the “Balseros” or rafters crisis witnessed 30,000 Cuban immigrants crossing the Florida straits in one month and had all the makings of a second Mariel. Only the fast response and intervention by federal officials mitigated a deal with the Cuban government to end the migration and limited the impact on the local landscape. However, Miami still failed to have a plan to respond to the incident, despite the previous devastating effects of the 1980 boatlift.
The 1994 incident led to the 1996 amendment to the Cuban Adjustment Act, better known as the “wet-foot/dry-foot policy,” by the Clinton administration. The policy allowed Cubans that reach U.S. soil, regardless of method of entry, to claim asylum and relief benefits. Though different in the severity of their local impact, both cases highlighted the misunderstanding and unpreparedness of local city administrators of the serious impact that changes in Cuba have in Miami.
Current & Future Changes Federal officials report a spike in the number of Cubans trying to reach U.S. soil since the changes in 2015. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported a 78 percent increase compared to 2014. One reason for the rise in numbers is the increasing fears of Cuban nationals over what is to come of U.S. relations. At this point, it is unclear if the current shifts in diplomatic relations might prompt another mass exodus from the island nation to U.S. shores. Nevertheless, it is imperative that municipal jurisdictions be cognizant of the possibility for local influences due to changes in Cuba. Miami officials must understand the potential impact that changes in Cuba could have on their cities and recognize the need for action.
In February 2016, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published the National Planning System, which strengthens the federal emergency planning philosophy and “provides a unified approach and common terminology to plan for all-threats and hazards and across all mission areas.” The system allows homeland security practitioners and emergency managers to get an overview of the planning architecture and process to enable a consistent approach to address risk and keep their communities safe in accordance with the National Preparedness Goal of keeping the nation secure and resilient. Some emergency practitioners are not impressed with the latest FEMA document for its redundancy and lack of integration of neweas and methodology into the national framework. However, the document serves as a wakeup call for local officials to set in motion preparations to better protect their communities.
In Miami, area administrators should start taking proactive measures to prepare their respective departments for the Cuban influences. They could start by following FEMA recommendations and guidelines as described in the Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101 to prepare an emergency operations plan that will:
Conduct community-based planning that engages the whole community by using a planning process that represents the actual population in the community and involves community leaders and the private sector in the planning process
Ensure plans are developed through an analysis of risk
Identify operational assumptions and resource demands
Prioritize plans and planning efforts to support a seamless transition from development to execution for any threat or hazard
Integrate and synchronize efforts across all levels of government.
Law enforcement executives and emergency planners should take a structured and comprehensive look at the local response to developing changes in Cuba, but understand that it must be flexible and adaptable to the approach recommended by the National Preparedness System planning process:
Form a collaborative planning team
Understand the situation
Determine goals and objectives
Plan preparation, review, and approval
Plan implementation and maintenance
South Florida communities need a strategy that will allow them to prepare an emergency operations plan that builds relationships between federal, state, and local stakeholders to facilitate unity of effort. They need a strategy that shares common objectives and lays the foundation for effective problem solving on strategic, operational, and tactical levels. And they need a plan that prepares first responders to accomplish their missions by believing that the key to success is knowing that the planning process is as important as composing a final product that serves the needs of their communities.
Manuel A. Morales is police executive in the South Florida area. During his 26 years career as a law enforcement officer he has worked in patrol, investigations, and as a supervisor in the street narcotics and gang unit. He is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security Studies from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA.