Doing Business with Castro’s Cuba

No reassessment of U.S.-Cuban relations today can ignore why Castro’s Cuba remains on the list of supporters of international terrorism. Apart from the terrorists it continues to shelter and its close links to Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, the Castro regime is holding an imprisoned American hostage, Alan Gross, for the crime of giving a laptop computer to a Cuban Jewish group.


By Frank Calzon l February 18, 2014

The Castro regime, facing an acute financial crisis and the possible risk of losing their lucrative Venezuelan oil lifeline, is trying to woo foreign investors, including some Cuban-American businessmen. It has launched this charm offensive without a true opening, while arresting, beating and harassing hundreds of peaceful Cuban pro-democracy activists.

The Castro brothers’ search for business deals is not new. In fact, they actively pursued them in the 1990s, when the Soviet oil subsidies ended. But many of the foreign investors who were lured to the Caribbean island have left the island disappointed and less well off. Of the 400 foreign companies then operating in Cuba, there are now only 190 remaining. Among the problems they encountered: 1) having to partner, on a minority basis, mostly with army-controlled organizations; 2) hiring employees only through state agencies, which pay the workers five percent of the dollar salaries in local currency; 3) a government freeze of hard-currency bank deposits; 4) arrests without due process; and, 5) outright seizure of businesses, without compensation or recourse.

A year-and-a-half ago, when it was learned that several Cuban-American businessmen were advocating the lifting of U.S. restrictions in order to strike deals with the Castro regime, a dissenting group of a dozen former Fortune 500 senior executives and other multinational business leaders issued a joint statement, Commitment to Freedom. The group was led by the late Manuel J. Cutillas, Chairman of the Center for a Free Cuba, philanthropist, civic leader, and for many years Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Bacardi Company.

The corporate leaders denounced “the Castro regime’s deceptive campaign aimed at securing much-needed financial resources to prolong its iron grip over the people of Cuba.” They further stated that “instead of ushering in a true economic and political opening that would unleash the entrepreneurial skills of the Cuban people and attract foreign capital, it has only introduced non-systemic, heavily-taxed, revocable reforms with no legal protection or investment return.”

The regime, they added, “is trying to induce the U.S. to lift or further weaken the embargo to funnel tourist dollars and bank credits to the bankrupt island — a bailout under the guise of constructive engagement.”

Finally, the group of prominent Cuban-American executives asserted that “the future of the island-nation lies not with the current failed, octogenarian rulers, but with the leaders of the growing pro-democracy movement. They, and not their oppressors, are worthy of receiving international recognition, financial resources and communications technology to carry out their heroic struggle.”

Among the signers were former senior executives from Dow Chemical, General Mills, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Colgate-Palmolive, Bacardi, American Express Bank, PepsiCo, Warner Communications, Martin Marietta Aluminum, Amex Nickel Corporation, and others.

No reassessment of U.S.-Cuban relations today can ignore why Castro’s Cuba remains on the list of supporters of international terrorism. Apart from the terrorists it continues to shelter and its close links to Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, the Castro regime is holding an imprisoned American hostage, Alan Gross, for the crime of giving a laptop computer to a Cuban Jewish group. Recently, a U.S. federal court indicted Colombian terrorists based in Cuba and the FBI has placed on its Most Wanted List an American terrorist, Joanne Chesimard, who murdered a New Jersey State Trooper and who, the FBI says “has been living in Cuba…, where she attends government functions and her standard of living is higher than most Cubans.”

Moreover, a UN Panel of Experts has just concluded that the war planes and missiles that Havana attempted to smuggle to North Korea, concealed beneath 10,000 tons of sugar, constituted a clear violation of UN sanctions against North Korea.

The Center for a Free Cuba calls on government leaders, business organizations, think tanks and media representatives to heed our warning and not be deceived by biased polls or Castro propaganda, sadly spread, if not financed, by those eager to make a quick profit in connivance with the totalitarian regime. For our part, we reject any such disgraceful dealings, and pledge to support the reconstruction of Cuba, but only when freedom dawns on the captive island.

The text of the letter issued by the aforementioned Cuban-American corporate leaders on June 25, 2012 is reprinted as follows:

COMMITMENT TO FREEDOM

We, the undersigned, Cuban exiles with deep roots in U.S. and international corporations, institutions and business communities, wish to convey our great concern regarding the Castro regime’s deceptive campaign aimed at securing much-needed financial resources to prolong its iron grip over the people of Cuba.

The regime is facing the severest financial crisis since the early 1990s, compounded by the possible loss of its Venezuelan life line. But instead of ushering in a true economic and political opening that would unleash the entrepreneurial skills of the Cuban people and attract foreign capital, it has only introduced non-systemic, heavily-taxed, revocable reforms with no legal protection or investment return. To stay afloat, the regime is pursuing a three-pronged strategy:

First, it is trying to induce the U.S. to lift or further weaken the embargo to funnel tourist dollars and bank credits to the bankrupt island–a bailout under the guise of constructive engagement.

Second, it has apparently enlisted the support of the Catholic Church hierarchy in Cuba to promote “reconciliation” under the current totalitarian system, while continuing to hound, beat and arrest peaceful opponents and human rights activists across the island.

Third, it is seeking to divide and neutralize the Cuban-American community, and lure some of its businessmen, by selling the fallacious concept that there is no solution to Cuba’s predicament other than supporting cosmetic reforms without liberty and democracy.

We reject that outrageous proposition, since for us, and for most Cuban-Americans, there is no substitute for freedom. We believe that, absent the dismantling of the totalitarian apparatus on the island, along with the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the restoration of fundamental human rights, there should be no U.S. unilateral concessions to the Castro regime.

The future of the island-nation lies not with the current failed, octogenarian rulers, but with the leaders of the growing pro-democracy movement. They, and not their oppressors, are worthy of receiving international recognition, financial resources and communications technology to carry out their heroic struggle.

We pledge our continued support to them–the vanguard of the emerging civil society–and look forward to helping in the reconstruction of the island where we were born, but only when the Cuban people can enjoy the blessings of freedom we cherish and they deserve.

SIGNATORIES OF “COMMITMENT TO FREEDOM”

  • Manuel Jorge Cutillas, Fr. Chairman and CEO, Bacardi
  • Sergio Masvidal, Fr. Vice Chairman, American Express Bank
  • Enrique Falla, Fr. EVP and CFO, Dow Chemical
  • Eduardo Crews, Fr. President, Latin America, Bristol-Meyers Squibb
  • Emilio Alvarez-Recio, Fr. VP. Worldwide Advertising, Colgate-Palmolive
  • Néstor Carbonell, Fr. VP International Government Affairs, Pepsico
  • Alberto Mestre, Fr. President, Venezuela, General Mills
  • Rafael de la Sierra, Fr. VP International Coordination Warner Communications/Time Warner
  • Eugenio Desvernine, Fr. Senior EVP, Reynolds Metals
  • José R. Bou, Fr. VP Primary Products Operation, Martin Marietta Aluminum
  • Alberto Luzárraga, Fr. Chairman, Continental Bank International
  • Remedios Diaz-Oliver, Fr. Director of U.S. West and Barnett Bank
  • Leopoldo Fernández-Pujals, Chairman Jazztel; Founder of TelePizza
  • Jorge Blanco, Fr. President & CEO, Amex Nickel Corporation
  • Carlos Gutierrez, Fr. U.S. Secretary of Commerce
  • Mel Martinez, Fr. U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Frank Calzon is executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba, whose mission it is to promote a Cuban transition to democracy, market economics, respect for human rights and the rule of law. Mr. Calzon is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.