China Expands Spy Stations in Cuba 

Contributor UniqueEye / shutterstock.com
Contributor UniqueEye / shutterstock.com

Satellite images confirm that China is leveraging Cuba’s proximity to the southeastern U.S. to intercept sensitive electronic communications from American military bases, commercial shipping, and space-launch facilities. According to a recent report, these satellite images reveal the expansion of Cuba’s electronic surveillance stations, suspected to have connections with China. This includes new construction at a previously undisclosed site approximately 70 miles from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. 

A recent study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Washington-based think tank, builds on previous reports by The Wall Street Journal. Last year, the Journal disclosed negotiations between China and Cuba for closer defense and intelligence collaboration, including plans for a joint military training facility and an eavesdropping station. 

According to U.S. officials cited by the Journal, China and Cuba were already operating joint eavesdropping stations on the island, though specific locations were undisclosed. But now, after comparing years of satellite imagery, the authors of the CSIS report discovered that Cuba has extensively modernized and expanded its electronic surveillance facilities in recent years. They identified four specific sites – El Salao, Calabazar, Bejucal, and Wajay,  

While some sites, like the one in Bejucal, were previously known as monitoring stations, the satellite images provided new insights into their capabilities, growth trajectory, and suspected connections with China. 

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union operated its most significant foreign base for electronic espionage, known as signals intelligence, at Lourdes near Havana. The site reportedly housed hundreds of Soviet, Cuban, and other Eastern-bloc intelligence personnel. It ceased operations after 2001, and its current status is uncertain. 

In recent years, China has become more involved with the island. According to a White House statement last year, China upgraded its intelligence-gathering facilities in Cuba in 2019. 

In its February release of the annual threat assessment, the U.S. intelligence community publicly acknowledged for the first time that China is seeking military facilities in Cuba, although specifics were not disclosed. 

In the summer of 2023, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that China was considering various places worldwide, Cuba included, to improve its capability to extend and maintain military influence. He further added that China upgraded its intelligence facilities in Cuba in 2019. 

Chinese officials emphasize that the U.S. operates an extensive global network of military bases and surveillance stations. In a message, Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for China’s embassy in Washington, stated, “The U.S. is undoubtedly the foremost power in eavesdropping and does not hesitate to monitor even its allies.” He added that U.S. claims about China establishing spy bases or conducting surveillance in Cuba have been repeatedly exaggerated. 

Matthew Funaiole, a senior fellow at CSIS and the report’s lead author, cautions, “These sites are actively used, and their mission scope continues to evolve.” 

According to the report, two locations near Havana—Bejucal and Calabazar—feature large dish antennas seemingly intended for satellite monitoring and communication. Cuba lacks satellites, but these antennas would be valuable for China, which maintains a significant space program. 

The U.S. and Russia have mostly abandoned these antenna arrays in favor of newer technologies. However, China has been constructing them at multiple fortified locations in the South China Sea. 

Construction began in 2021 at El Salao, near Santiago de Cuba, in the eastern part of the country, not far from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo. The site is designed to accommodate many antennas, known as a “circularly disposed antenna array,” capable of detecting and intercepting electronic signals. Once completed, it could potentially monitor communications and other electronic signals from the Guantanamo base, as explained by Funaiole. 

The report comes amid increasing concerns about major power rivalry in the Caribbean and other parts of Latin America. Washington has long sought to thwart competitors from gaining regional military and economic leverage. 

Tensions have been escalating recently, however. Russia has deployed a nuclear-powered submarine armed with Kalibr cruise missiles and a frigate to Havana harbor in Cuba. China is constructing a large port on Peru’s Pacific coast. 

America’s enemies are uniting in a way never seen before. How America responds will be up to the voters in November. 

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