Bankrolling Repression in Cuba: Castro Desperately Seeking Dollars

by | Aug 25, 2001

All business dealings with Cuba are joint ventures between the regime and the foreign investor. Cubans are not allowed to be partners.

On July 26, the 48th anniversary of the start of Fidel Castro’s revolution, the U.S. House of Representatives voted not to implement the law that bars American tourists from traveling to Cuba.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., introduced the measure. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, R-Fla., told El Nuevo Herald that Flake explained to him that he had become interested in the topic “after a lobbying visit by Cuban dissident Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz.”

Sánchez, whom I consider my friend, stated in a press release distributed in Washington by the Center for International Policy that, “To maintain the restrictions on travel to Cuba favors only the Cuban regime.” If this is so, why did the Havana regime immediately celebrate Flake’s proposal.

Castro allowed Sánchez to travel to Miami to attend his son’s funeral. The Center for International Policy blames Washington for many of Cuba’s problems, while it ignores much of Castro’s repression.

Sánchez’s lobbying is important because he lives in Cuba. Cubans on the island who support continuation of the embargo as a form of pressure to secure respect for human rights live under the threat of imprisonment.

Let us refresh our memories. In 1989, when the end of Soviet subsidies plunged the regime into its worst crisis, Castro was forced to allow some adjustments in the economy. In what became known as “the special period,” Cubans were permitted to work on their own (though with many restrictions) in trades such as carpentry, barbering, etc.

They also were permitted to open restaurants at home — paladares — with no more than 12 seats. The possession of dollars — until then a crime punishable by jail — was legalized.

These reforms were conducted solely and exclusively because the regime’s very survival was at stake. When the government deemed that the situation had improved a bit, it redoubled its repression. There was a return to the arrest and daily harassment of dissidents; Cubans again were imprisoned for “crimes” as serious as buying a chicken from a farmer; the number of cuentapropistas — self-employed workers — declined by more than 30 percent.

Yet, Castro still is desperately seeking dollars and favors a lifting of the embargo and the long-awaited injection of millions of dollars brought by tourists. Castro, who stopped paying his country’s debt in 1986, now wants loans from the World Bank.

Sánchez, leader of a human-rights organization on the island, played a key role in the U.S. House’s approval of Flake’s amendment, which was part of an appropriations bill. Sánchez has a serious responsibility on his hands and would do well to use his influence to inform some American politicians about the following:

All business dealings with Cuba are joint ventures between the regime and the foreign investor. Cubans are not allowed to be partners.

Castro receives millions of dollars through labor fraud. Foreign investors are not allowed to hire workers on their own. The regime does the hiring. The foreign companies pay the regime between $8,000 and $9,000 a year for each laborer, and the regime pays the laborer the peso equivalent of $15 a month — about $180 a year.

In Castro’s segregated hotels, Cubans cannot rent rooms even if they have dollars, nor can they enter the restaurants, beaches or clinics set aside for foreigners.

Tourism earnings are not like the family remittances sent from abroad to ordinary Cubans. Tourism-generated income goes directly to the regime’s coffers to strengthen the police and armed forces. Gaviota, Cuba’s official tourism agency, is a front for the Cuban armed forces.

Cubans need an exit permit from the regime to travel abroad. As in the old Soviet Union, Cubans also need a permit to move from one city to another within the national territory. Cubans who live abroad need a permit from Castro to visit their native land.

Castro confiscates all property of every Cuban who emigrates, down to the electrical appliances and furniture. Air fare and all immigration paperwork inside Cuba must be paid in dollars by the relatives abroad.

Ideas have consequences. Did Elizardo Sánchez err when he lobbied Congressman Flake? Did he take into account the correlation of strength (of resources) between the regime and the domestic opposition? Will tourists risk their skin to defend freedom? Will tourists bankroll with their dollars an increase in the repression?

Frank Calzón is executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba. This article was originally published in the Miami Herald.

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