Officials with the Cuban government toured the Port of Wilmington last week, and Congressman David Rouzer, R-N.C., has raised national security concerns about the apparently sanctioned visit.
Cuba was first designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982 due to its track record of supporting guerrilla groups and terrorists, according to the U.S. Bureau of Counterterrorism. Though the designation was rescinded in 2015, it was reinstated in 2021 “for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists,” the State Department shared at the time.
Laura Blair, a spokesperson for the N.C. State Ports Authority, said the event was not initiated or sponsored by the authority.
“[U.S. Coast Guard] Sector North Carolina requested and coordinated the delegation visit,” Blair wrote in an email Wednesday. “The Ports provided the access and support as requested by Sector North Carolina.”
In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) told the Business Journal that the military branch conducts assessments of foreign ports “and provides reciprocity of access” to advance the Department of Homeland Security’s “national security and antiterrorism mission,” as required by law.
“USCG officials visited Cuba and conducted a cyclical port security assessment in January, contingent on this reciprocity, in the same manner as visits that took place in 2019,” the spokesperson said. “The U.S. Coast Guard performs these assessments to assess the effectiveness of antiterrorism measures maintained at foreign ports.”
During Tuesday’s Morning Hour Debate in the U.S. House of Representatives, a practice that allows representatives to speak for a limited time on non-legislative issues, Rouzer aired his concerns about the tour.
Rouzer said he was informed of the visit on Friday after it had already occurred. The visit was “planned and authorized” by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, Rouzer said.
"As one of our nation's oldest adversaries and a state sponsor of terrorism, Cuba's communist government is no friend of the United States or anyone else who believes in freedom,” he said. “Cuba has a history of being a strategic Western asset to our greatest adversaries, including China, Russia, and Iran. And they regularly cooperate with narcotics traffickers bringing cocaine, fentanyl, and other deadly drugs to our country.”
In a Feb. 26 letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security, the chairmen of the Homeland Security Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Mark Green and Mike McCaul, and other representatives expressed serious concern about the then-upcoming visit. The representatives wrote the visit would entail a Cuban delegation of officials from the country’s Border Guard and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to visit the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the Port of Wilmington.
According to the letter, the visit was organized under the U.S. Coast Guard’s International Port Security Program.
"Now I'm told this trip, as well as others in the past, have been arranged as part of a reciprocal relationship to turn back Cubans fleeing to the United States. So, we apparently have this arrangement where we view their ports and security protocols, and they view ours,” Rouzer said on the House floor Tuesday. "Now, there is no reason any nation with a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation should be hosted by the United States, let alone be allowed to analyze sensitive coastal and maritime security protocols. Ironically, the decision to designate Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism and the decision to authorize this trip were made by the same agencies. This action flies in the face of the purpose of both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State and makes a mockery of American strength against our adversaries.”
The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State did not return a request to comment. However, a State Department spokesperson told the National Review
the Cuban delegation’s visit was “not new.”
“The U.S. Coast Guard and Cuban Border Guard have had a collaborative relationship for decades that focuses first and foremost on maritime safety,” the spokesperson told the outlet. “The most recent visit of a Cuban delegation as part of the International Port Security Program took place in 2019.”
Rouzer concluded his remarks by stating it is imperative to maintain the domestic security of maritime borders. “Mr. Speaker, bottom line is this visit should have never happened and the American people deserve to know what steps were taken to protect our national security interests,” he said.