Havana Cuba Business Travel Culture and Politics

Havana Cuba News

Cuba Politics News

Posted November 08, 2004 by publisher in US Embargo

Email this article | Print this article | Search Havana Journal        

By Frank Calzon | Center for a Free Cuba

While the Washington debate on U.S. Cuba policy remains stuck on the issue of trade sanctions, the world has not stood still. At a recent meeting sponsored by the Czech government in Prague, a dozen former presidents and chiefs of governments, including Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, and former leaders from Uruguay, Chile, Canada, Costa Rica, Bulgaria and Estonia, met not to discuss the U.S. embargo but to urge the international community to support the Cuban people’s aspirations for a transition to democracy.

The Czech meeting was followed by a similar meeting in Slovakia, where again prominent Europeans called on Fidel Castro to open his jails and allow civil society to grow. Earlier European illusions have been destroyed by Mr. Castro’s repression and unwillingness to reform. Just last week, three members of Parliament (two Dutch and one Spaniard) were prevented from entering the country at Havana airport because they intended to meet with Cuban human rights activists.
  Much has also changed about the U.S. trade embargo. Those who still talk about “lifting the embargo” routinely ignore that American companies already sell foodstuffs and medicine to Cuba. The issue is not about selling, but getting paid.
  American companies sell to Cuba on a cash basis; the U.S. government does not provide credit guarantees. So there are no American banks standing in the long queue of Mr. Castro’s creditors in the Paris Club.
  The Paris Club is comprised of foreign governments and banks that have extended credit to Mr. Castro, who hasn’t made a payment on principal or interest since 1986 to many of them. Havana owes Mexico $380 million. In 2002, that debt was renegotiated. But last March, Mr. Castro stopped payments when he became angry with Mexican President Vicente Fox. BancoMex has since closed its offices in Havana.
  Even South Africa, a longtime ally due to Mr. Castro’s support for Nelson Mandela during Mr. Mandela’s many years of imprisonment, suspended its export insurance and credits to Cuba because of nonpayment.
  We all know what happens when American banks can’t collect on outstanding loans: One way or another, taxpayers shoulder the burden. Remember the U.S. savings and loan debacle? If the U.S. unilaterally lifts what remains of its Cuba trade sanctions, as some are pushing for, American taxpayers will be handed the bill and the Cuban people will see no benefit.
  “Commercial engagement” with Cuba comes with an extra political price. When Mr. Castro buys from U.S. companies, he expects them to become apologists and lobbyists for his government. As USA Today reports, “Castro’s regime uses its checkbook as leverage so that U.S. political and commercial groups sign promises to work for changes in the laws that restrict travel and trade with Cuba.” Sysco, which was ready to export $500,000 in foodstuffs, backed out when told it had to “take legal action to promote changes in trade with Cuba.”
  If the insolvency of Cuba’s government is not reason enough for caution, how about the fact Cuba remains in the State Department list of rogue-nation terrorism sponsors? Cuba’s espionage against the United States, in which a high-ranking U.S. intelligence analyst pleaded guilty to spying for Mr. Castro for many years? The hospitality Cuba has granted fleeing felons ó including accused killers of American police officers? Commerce is not the only factor to weigh in determining U.S. relations with other countries.
  With the Soviet Union’s collapse and the end of Soviet subsidies, Mr. Castro turned to tourism for financing his repressive government. Should Americans now join in exploiting Cuban workers?
  “Private enterprise” doesn’t exist in Cuba. The government owns all businesses, and Cuba’s military controls tourism. Unless they work at a hotel, nightclub or restaurant, Cubans are routinely banned from businesses catering to tourists. Some call it “tourist apartheid.” Paychecks are issued by Cuba’s government; foreign investors deal only with the Cuban government and become complicit exploiters of Cubans who get only $15 to $20 a month.
  That is not enough to live on, so prostitution thrives. Anyone who promotes or talks about an “independent labor union” or “collective bargaining” is fired, arrested and imprisoned.
  Some argue American tourists in Cuba would promote democracy and freedom. They are wrong; they misunderstand the lessons of Eastern Europe.
  It was not American tourists enjoying Soviet ballets in Leningrad that brought down communism. Rather, it was Western efforts such as Radio Free Europe that broke the Soviet news monopoly. And Western leaders, such as President Ronald Reagan, kept the pressure on while maintaining America’s commitment to freedom and human decency.
  The American people have a role in helping Cubans and others achieve freedom. It is a solidarity that should not now be replaced by complicit exploitation. Cubans need help maintaining pressure for reform on one of the world’s last communist tyrants.
  There will be plenty of time to trade with a free Cuba.
  Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, an independent human rights organization. He has testified before congressional committees and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on November 09, 2004 by I-taoist with 213 total posts

    If Mr. Calzon is so right in his arguments, why are the great majority of Cuban dissidents arguing for the very changes he so eloquently condemns?  Does he, living in south Florida for the last 25 years, know more about Cuban life than those on the ground there now, those waging the real battles?  How long since his feet have trod Cuban soil?

  2. Follow up post #2 added on November 09, 2004 by Gregory

    Another issue that should be kept in mind when reading Frank Calzon’ analysis on Cuba is the fact that he was (possibly still is) and agent of the CIA, from which he has never distanced himself. Given the CIA’ sordid history of sponsoring torture, disappearances, and other gross human rights violations in Latin America and elsewhere, with what moral authority does Mr. Calzon preach about freedom and human rights in Cuba. Moreover, he mentions the American fugitives living in Cuba, but fails to mention to self-proclaimed anti-Castro terrorists living a comfortable life in Miami (Orland Bosch, Novo, etc…) Finally, I could not agree more with the comment by I-taoist: Only the Cuban’ on the island know what is best for Cuba…and the overwhelming majority of Cubans, both in favor or in opposition to the government of Fidel Castro, support the lifing of the embargo. It is as simple as that.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on November 09, 2004 by Dana Garrett

    Two meetings.  One by a bunch of has-beens:

    “At a recent meeting sponsored by the Czech government in Prague, a dozen former presidents and chiefs of governments.”

    The other by a bunch of countries that want increased USA aid:

    “The Czech meeting was followed by a similar meeting in Slovakia, where again prominent Europeans called on Fidel Castro to open his jails and allow civil society to grow.”

    Iím sorry, but this seems like one of those USA conferences cobbled together for pure propaganda purposes similar to the former Captive Nations Conference. It’ difficult to take any of this seriously. 

  4. Follow up post #4 added on November 10, 2004 by Dana Garrett with 252 total posts

    Indeed, it now seems that this entire conference was little more than an USA sponsored propaganda stunt: 


Would you like to add more information?

Only members can add more information. Please register or log in

  • Advertise at Havana Journal Inc
We recommend this AirBnB Food and Drink Experience... Cuban flavors: Food, Rum and Cigars
Images of Cuba
CultiCana sugarcane harvesting machine
Follow Havana Journal
SUBSCRIBE to our Cuba Watch newsletter
LIKE us on Facebook

FOLLOW us on Twitter

CONNECT with us on Linked In

Section Archive
Havana Journal, Inc. BBB Business Review

Member of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy