A leading expert on trade with Cuba resigned out of frustration with what he called opportunists in both countries.
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN AND JUAN O. TAMAYO
WASHINGTON - A top expert on U.S.-Cuba trade announced Tuesday that he had resigned, saying he was ‘‘tired’’ of dealing with the Cuban and U.S. governments, careless journalists and ``two-bit hustlers.’‘
‘‘I don’t care what conclusions people draw; I would just like them to use accurate information,’’ said John Kavulich, head of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council (USCTEC). ``Integrity, accuracy, ethics seem to be increasingly less important.’‘
Kavulich and USCTEC have been regarded as the leading experts on U.S trade with Cuba and the Cuban economy since it was established in 1994. Its members are largely major U.S. companies exploring business opportunities in Cuba.
In a USCTEC report to members Tuesday, Kavulich wrote that the final reason for resigning as president was the death in August 2003 of his father in upstate New York.
But Kavulich had been hinting at a resignation long before, privately admitting his growing frustration with a Cuban government that he believed was not interested in free and fair trade but more bent on using the lure of trade to force U.S. companies to lobby for policy changes in Washington. Cuban officials repeatedly refused him visas to travel to the island, and even his last visit in 2002 for a trade show of U.S producers he helped organize was controversial.
‘‘since 2002, I had struggled with maintaining interest, frustrated with conflict, heartfelt toward certain individuals,’’ Kavulich wrote in his resignation letter.
Cuban purchases of American agricultural products have soared since a change in U.S. law in 2001 allowed American firms to sell agricultural products to Havana, totaling $392 million last year alone.
But Kavulich’s USCTEC reports regularly pointed out Havana’s increasing practice of requiring its U.S. business partners to sign letters promising to lobby against the U.S. trade embargo. At the same time several new U.S. groups popped up to take what the USCTEC reports portrayed as unscrupulous advantage of the new openings for trade with Cuba—the groups that Kavulich’s letter called ``two bit hustlers.’‘
Kavulich’s reports also repeatedly complained about media reports that contained erroneous information on Cuba or misstated U.S. policies on Havana—and challenged others that simply reported Cuban government economic figures at face value and with little questioning.
Compared to those frustrations, his reports on Clinton and Bush administration policies toward Cuba focused largely on politically driven measures and bureaucracies that made trade more difficult.