More Americans favor engaging Cuba diplomatically than any other approach to the island, according to a new poll by the online political platform Moxy.
survey found that 41 percent of respondents favored diplomatic engagement,
followed by 35 percent saying it should be easier for Cubans to migrate to the
United States, 34 percent wanting to sanction Cuban human rights abuses in
international courts, and 33 percent favoring ratcheting up sanctions on the
presented 10 different policy measures, and the respondents can choose as many
as they want,” said Cesar Melgoza, CEO of Moxy.
one that was chosen most often, overall as well as by Republicans and
Democrats, was diplomacy,” added Melgoza.
polling results come as the Biden administration is expanding its diplomatic
footprint in Cuba. The State Department last month allowed diplomats on the
island to be accompanied by adult relatives, but the White House has stopped
short of the policy of rapprochement from the Obama era.
Cuba remains in the political spotlight, particularly in Florida after protests
on the island renewed interest in supporting the Cuban opposition among some
according to Moxy’s poll, Americans overall don’t see Cuba as a top issue.
scale of 1 to 5, Cuba received a score of 2.74 as a policy that affects
how respondents vote. Among Democrats,
the average score was 3.01 and among Republicans it was 2.67. Cuban-American voters were most likely to
have their vote swayed by Cuba policy, with an average score of 3.75.
Rep. Joe García (D), a South Florida political veteran, said the poll results
indicate a need for President Biden to engage more in Cuba policy. “I’ll go so far as to say that if he
does not, he will have missed a premium opportunity to endear himself to the
Cuban people in South Florida, perhaps to impact the next election,” said
don’t know what his advisors are thinking. From my point of view, it’s the
perfect opportunity, and it’s harmonic with democracy. It’s harmonic with human
rights, it’s harmonic with the best political strategy. So there’s no reason
not to pay more attention,” he added.
to the poll, 24 percent of respondents think Biden proactively represents the
interests of the Cuban people. That puts
the president behind Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), at 29 percent. But
Biden is ahead of Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), at 17 percent, and Sen. Ted Cruz
(R-Texas), with 15 percent.
Republican politicians dominate the list of individuals who represent the
interests of the Cuban people, almost 37 percent of voters said Democrats best
represent Cuban Americans, and nearly 27 percent of voters said Republicans do.
interpreted the poll results as an invitation for Biden to engage Cuba with a
“carrot and stick” approach.
frankly, invite those Republicans who are most outspoken on the issue into the
dialogue, because otherwise they’ll criticize probably anything he proposes
anyway. But bring them in into it, make them part of the team, come up with a
plan. And more importantly, do something about it,” he added.
The poll was conducted online Aug. 2-9, with 1,014 completed responses and an oversampling of Cuban-origin voters.
After protests swept the whole country in July, the Cuban government has started taking measures to contain the fallout. While this response goes beyond the regime’s initial repression, it hasn’t yet entirely left that path. If the country’s leadership wants to survive this test, it has no choice but to respond to citizens’ legitimate demands.
one may like it or not, the events of 11 July 2021 will have an effect on how
Cubans themselves and their country. For most of the population, it was a sad
day – and most people would rather not remember the sad days. But it cannot be
ignored. At present, information about what actually happened is still patchy;
it is difficult to navigate between fake news and the official versions of
been established is that, on Sunday 11July, there were widespread
anti-government protests, some of which ended in violence – and this had never
happened before in Cuba. As such, many observers and indeed the authorities
themselves were surprised. The result was images of violence and a situation
which had escalated out of control. Whatever the details, this is objectively
damaging for the Cuban government: and even if, as looks unlikely, the
situation settles back down, the reputational damage will last.
NOT A SURPRISE
the Cuban government shouldn’t have been surprised by the course of events –
this being the same government that had for months been talking up the
possibility of a ‘soft coup’ or a ‘colour revolution’ planned across the water
by its arch-enemy, the US. Perhaps it was the surprise of something actually
happening that led the government to clamp down so repressively, while pursuing
the same endless propaganda communication strategy as ever despite its
demonstrably diminishing returns.
equally surprising that this unrest did not surface much earlier, considering
the privations to which the Cuban population has long been subject and which
have been further worsened by the pandemic.
the social progress of the early years and Cuba’s international high profile,
unrest in the country was staved off.
unrest is here – and its effect is palpable. Just three months after the Eighth
Congress of the Communist Party and two years after establishing a new
constitution, the new Cuban leadership finds itself in crisis. A crisis that,
in many ways, evokes the situation in the socialist countries of eastern Europe
just prior to their collapse.
CUBA’S EARLY ACHIEVEMENTS
are, however, several differences. Cuba is a third-world country which, after
years of neo-colonial suppression, liberated itself by means of a national
revolution. As the result of an aggressive confrontation with Washington, this
revolution became increasingly radical – and was initially successful, too, in
its goal of halting the advance of US imperialism. The result was a socialist
model that because of an alliance with the Soviet Union offered considerable
advantages for at least the next three decades.
the social progress of the early years and Cuba’s international high profile,
unrest in the country was staved off. Essentially, the fact that the socialist
regime not only survived a direct confrontation with the US but went on to
become a unique actor on the world stage – not only during the Cold War, but
beyond – conferred considerable credit on the government and allowed it freedom
of manoeuvre in domestic issues.
achievements and successes are without doubt the foundation of Cuban regime’s
resilience and its people’s stoicism in the face of lasting and quite
extraordinary difficulties. Yet while these difficulties certainly are caused
by the US embargo, they are in no small part also the result of governmental
inadequacy and poor policy. When it comes to the role of the country’s
political opposition, the situation is similar. Certainly, some groups are
being supported from the US with a view to subverting the Cuban regime.
THE DOMESTIC OPPOSITION
during the unrest, the activists with US support were less visible than those
of the country’s domestic Movimiento San Isidro and 27N groupings. Then again,
there is no doubt about the fact that protests were encouraged on social media
– to no small degree by political influencers who do not live in Cuba, but
rather mainly in Miami, where militant anti-Castro activism remains an
important local industry financed from a range of state and non-state sources.
In Cuban national reality, social media has become a toxic element as millions
of dollars are pumped into fake-news campaigns aiming to destabilise the
however, the trigger came from outside, unrest would not have flared up if it
had, inside Cuba, not found fertile ground prepared by numerous political
mistakes on the part of the government. Here, a range of factors played a role:
in the poorest urban areas, conditions had worsened considerably; overall, food
supply had become increasingly erratic; and after a successful start in
combating the pandemic, the situation in healthcare was becoming unstable.
government reacted by proclaiming that ‘the embargo is the problem’ and talking
down the protests as ‘interference from outside’ in an effort to cover up its
own errors. What the regime has underestimated is the dissatisfaction that this
mantra now provokes. Certainly, the sanctions upheld against Cuba by the US for
almost 60 years now represent, to paraphrase US historian Peter Beinart, a kind
of economic war against a country under siege. Beinart is right to criticise
the embargo as a non-military act of war – and one which, given that the stated
aim has always been regime change, has never had much prospect of success. And
while Washington refutes Cuban accusations, it is a simple matter of fact that
Joe Biden has maintained sanctions imposed by Donald Trump even as the pandemic
has continued to rage.
to place all the blame on external factors without any real introspection in
respect of home-grown issues would be a grave mistake.
more than six months now, the Biden Administration has failed to make good on
its manifesto promise and remains locked in the Trumpian version of Republican
Party logic vis-à-vis Cuba policy – the illusion that ever more extreme
sanctions will eventually succeed in dislodging the regime which came to power
in 1959. So this much seems likely: sanctions against Cuba will remain in place
for the next three years; Cubans will get even poorer; the Cuban government will
continue to be bullied.
THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT NEEDS A RETHINK
In view of this, Havana is currently trying to contain the fallout. Yet the regime needs to examine the political and social situation – and grasp that only economic policy focusing on efficiency and activating domestic productive capacity can get the country out of the current crisis. Continuing to place all the blame on external factors without any real introspection in respect of home-grown issues would be a grave mistake. The reforms the government has promised, especially in respect of food distribution, need to be enacted – fast.
of how to deal with the figureheads of the protests adds another layer of
complexity to the situation. The government cannot allow the impression to develop
that, either at home or abroad, it is cracking down hard on peaceful
demonstrations. Yet currently, there are rumours about summary justice and
questionable court proceedings leading to sentences of ten to twelve months for
people who, in many cases, do not seem to have been involved in any acts of
violence. This comes for Cubans who have only recently had the important
experience of debating and then approving a new constitution in which the
importance of fair trials is underscored. Now more than ever, citizens are
demanding nothing more – and nothing less – than that the police act within the
government, too, needs to rethink how it works. As its population is
increasingly deaf to the argument that the embargo is the root of all evil, it
needs to make a serious attempt to overcome two key political-ideological
obstacles in its way. Firstly, there is the outdated approach to socialism as a
system primarily steered from central planning bureaus; this dogmatic dirigisme
reduces the role of the market in distributing resources to a minimum – with
all the attendant problems. Secondly, the regime needs to distance itself from
an idea of socialism as an authoritarian model that can ignore or even
criminalise those whose criticism is intended to make the country’s economy
more efficient and its society more democratic, to see its 2019 constitution
enacted and establish the rule of law.
A WHOLE NEW MOMENT FOR CUBA
regime’s reaction to the events of 11 July as communicated official media channels
showed no signs of overcoming this tendency. Those who took part in the
protests have been discredited and decried as criminal elements – overlooking
the specific and legitimate demands made by many in a peaceful manner. This may
come back to haunt the regime.
demonstrations represent a wholly new development for Cuba and make clear just
what difficulties the country’s society is facing.
Furthermore, official announcements have sought to justify the use of repressive violence – a message with which many Cubans who, while not directly involved, have observed (and been shocked by) events, strongly disagree. Internationally, Cuba’s image has taken a hit. There is still no clarity about the number of demonstrations or how they played out, how many took part, and how many participants have been placed under arrest. Meanwhile, intellectuals and artists have publicly denounced the regime’s repressive course, with many demanding the release of all peaceful protestors – including such figures as songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, who enjoys a great deal of respect among many in government.
of genuine information is leaving space for disinformation to circulate around
both external actors and the country’s population – disinformation spread with
the aim of undermining the government. At the same time, Cuban citizens have
broadly accepted the precept that peaceful protests are legitimate and should
be protected under law. This is a precept with which the government, however,
in clear contravention of the principal of a socialist country under the rule
of law, does not agree. This is not sending the right message – neither on a
domestic nor international level.
demonstrations represent a wholly new development for Cuba and make clear just
what difficulties the country’s society is facing. These difficulties have been
further aggravated by a US embargo which continues to impoverish the Cuban
population and exert pressure on the country’s government. The current
situation represents a stress-test for the Cuban regime, which would do well to
remember that, when faced with similar situations, like-minded politicians had
more success when they decided to pursue a path of generosity and listen to
citizens’ legitimate concerns rather than leaving demands to fall on deaf ears.
he street demonstrations that broke out all over Cuba on July 11 are an unprecedented event in the more than 60 years since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
But why now? This essay explores the historic, economic and political factors
that help to clarify the causes of Cuba’s July 11,
considers the role of the United States, and briefly reflects on
On Sunday, July 11, Cuba erupted in street
protests. Unlike the major street protest that took place in 1994 and was limited to the Malecón, the long multi-lane
Havana road facing the Gulf of Mexico, the July 11
outbreak of protest was national in scope. There were protests in many towns
and cities, including Santiago de Cuba in the east, Trinidad in the center of
the island, as well as Havana in the west. The growing access to social media
in the island played an important role in the rapid spread of the protests; no
wonder the government immediately suspended access to certain social media
sites and brought all telephone calls from abroad to a halt.
The street presence and participation of Black women and men was notable
everywhere. This should not be surprising since Black Cubans are far less
likely to receive hard currency remittances from abroad even though over 50% of the population receive some degree of financial
support through that channel. These remittances have become the key to survival
in Cuba, particularly in light of the ever-diminishing number of goods
available in the peso-denominated subsidized ration book. Cuban Blacks have also
been the victims of institutional racism in the growing tourist industry where
“front line” visible jobs are mostly reserved
for conventionally attractive white and light skinned women and men.
The demonstrators did not endorse or support any political program or
ideology, aside from the general demand for political freedom. The official
Cuban press claims that the demonstrations were organized from abroad by
right-wing Cubans. But none of the demands associated with the Cuban right-wing
were echoed by the demonstrators, like the support for Trump often heard in
South Florida and among some dissident circles in Cuba. And no one called for “humanitarian intervention” espoused by Plattistas
(Platt Amendment, approved by Congress in 1901and
abolished in 1934, gave the United States the right
to militarily intervene in Cuba), such as biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola,
himself a victim of government repression for his independent ecological
activism. The demonstrators did speak about the scarcity of food, medicine and
essential consumer items, repudiated President Díaz-Canel as singao—a
phrase that in Cuba translates as “fucked” but
means a wicked, evil person, and chanted patria y vida
(fatherland and life). “Patria y Vida” is
the title of a very popular and highly polished rap song by a group
of Cuban Black rappers (available on YouTube.) I have seen and heard the
song more than a dozen times to enjoy it as well as to search for its
explicit and implied meanings including in its silences and ambiguities.
“Patria y Vida” counterposes itself to the old
Cuban government slogan of “Patria
o Muerte” (“Fatherland or Death”). While that slogan may have made sense
in the 1960s when Cuba was faced with actual
invasions, it borders on the obscene when voiced by second generation
bureaucrats. It is certainly high time that the regime’s macho cult of violence
and death be challenged, and this song does it very well.
But what does it mean to implicitly repudiate the year 1959,
the first year of the successful revolution, as the song does? There was no
Soviet style system in Cuba at the time and the year 1959
is not equivalent to the Castro brothers. Many people of a wide variety of
political beliefs fought and died to bring about the revolution that overthrew
the Batista dictatorship. The song does express many important democratic
sentiments against the present Cuban dictatorship, but it is unfortunately
silent about the desirable alternative, which leaves room for the worst
right-wing, pro-Trump elements in South Florida to rally behind it as if it
True to form, President Díaz-Canel called on the “revolutionaries”
to be ready for combat and go out and reclaim the streets away from the
demonstrators. In fact, it was the uniformed police, Seguridad del Estado (the
secret police), and Boinas Negras (black berets, the special forces) that
responded with tear gas, beatings and hundreds of arrests, including several
leftist critics of the government. According to a July 21 Reuters report, the authorities had confirmed that they
had started the trials of the demonstrators accused of a variety of
charges, but denied it according to another press report on July 25. These are summary trials without the benefit of
defense counsel, a format generally used for minor violations in Cuba but
which in this case involves the possibility of years in prison for those
Most of the demonstrations were angry but usually peaceful and only in a few instances did the demonstrators behave violently, as in the case of some looting and a police car that was overturned. This was in clear contrast with the violence frequently displayed by the forces of order. It is worth noting that in calling his followers to take to the streets to combat the demonstrators, Díaz-Canel invoked the more than 60-year-old notion that “the streets belong to the revolutionaries.” Just as the government has always proclaimed that “the universities belong to the revolutionaries” in order to expel students and professors that don’t toe the government’s line. One example is René Fidel González García, a law professor expelled from the University of Oriente. He is a strong critic of government policies, who, far from giving up on his revolutionary ideals, has reaffirmed them on numerous occasions.
But Why Now?
Cuba is in the middle of the most serious economic crisis since the 1990s, when, as a result of the collapse of the
Soviet bloc, Cubans suffered innumerable and lengthy blackouts due to the
severe shortage of oil, along with endemic malnutrition with its accompanying
The present economic crisis is due to the pandemic-related decline of
tourism, combined with the government’s long term capital disinvestment and
inability to maintain production, even at the lower levels of the last five years.
Cuba’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) fell by 11% in 2020 and only rose by 0.5% in 2019, the year before the
pandemic broke out. The annual sugar crop that ended this spring did not even
reach 1 million tons, which is below the 1.4 million average of recent
years and very far below the 8 million tons in 1989. The recent government attempt to unify the various
currencies circulating in Cuba — primarily the CUC, a proxy for the
dollar, and the peso — has backfired resulting in serious inflation that was predicted
among others by the prominent Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago. While the CUC
is indeed disappearing, the Cuban economy has been virtually dollarized with
the constant decline of the value of the peso. While the official exchange rate
is 24 pesos to the dollar, the prevailing black
market rate is 60 pesos to the dollar, and it is
going to get worse due to the lack of tourist dollars. This turn to an ever
more expensive dollar, may be somewhat restrained in light of the government’s
recent shift to the euro as its preferred hard currency.
Worst of all, is the generalized shortage of food, even for those who have divisas,
the generic term for hard currencies. The agricultural reforms of the last
years aimed at increasing domestic production have not worked because they are
inadequate and insufficient, making it impossible for the private farmers and
for the usufructuarios (farmers who lease land from the government for
20 year terms renewable for another 20 years) to feed the country. Thus, for example, the
government arbitrarily gives bank credits to the farmers for some things but
not for others, like for clearing the marabú, an invasive weed that is
costly to remove, but an essential task if crops are to grow. Acopio, the
state agency in charge of collecting the substantial proportion of the crop
that farmers have to sell to the state at prices fixed by the government is
notoriously inefficient and wasteful, because the Acopio trucks do not
arrive in time to collect their share, or because of the systemic indifference
and carelessness that pervade the processes of shipping and storage. This
creates huge spoilage and waste that have reduced the quality and quantity of
goods available to consumers. It is for reasons such as these that Cuba imports
70% of the food it consumes from various countries
including the United States (an exemption to the blockade was carved out in 2001 for the unlimited export of food and medicines to
Cuba but with the serious limitation that Cuba has to pay in cash before the
goods are shipped to the island.)
The Cuban economist Pedro Monreal has called attention to the overwhelming
millions of pesos that the government has dedicated to the construction of
tourist hotels (mostly in joint ventures with foreign capital) that even before
the pandemic were filled to well below their capacity, while agriculture is
starved of government investments. This unilateral choice of priorities by the
one-party state is an example of what results from profoundly undemocratic
practices. This is not a “flaw” of the Cuban
system any more than the relentless pursuit of profit is a “flaw” of American capitalism. Both bureaucracy and
the absence of democracy in Cuba and the relentless pursuit of profit in the
United States are not defects of but constitutive elements of
Similarly, oil has become increasingly scarce as Venezuelan oil shipments in
exchange for Cuban medical services have declined. There is no doubt that
Trump’s strengthening of the criminal blockade, which went beyond merely
reversing Obama’s liberalization during his second period in the White House,
has also gravely hurt the island, among other reasons because it has made it
more difficult for the Cuban government to use banks abroad, whether American
or not, to finance its operations. This is because the U.S. government will
punish enterprises who do business with Cuba by blocking them from doing
business with the United States. Until the events of July 11,the
Biden administration had left almost all of Trump’s sanctions untouched. Since
then, it has promised to allow for larger remittances and to provide staff for
the American consulate in Havana.
While the criminal blockade has been very real and seriously damaging, it
has been relatively less important in creating economic havoc than what lies at
the very heart of the Cuban economic system: the bureaucratic, inefficient and
irrational control and management of the economy by the Cuban government. It is
the Cuban government and its “left” allies in
the Global North, not the Cuban people, who continue, as they have for decades,
to blame only the blockade.
At the same time, the working class in the urban and rural areas have
neither economic incentives nor political incentives in the form of democratic
control of their workplaces and society to invest themselves in their work,
thus reducing the quantity and quality of production.
Health Situation in Cuba
After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the
early spring of 2020, Cuba did relatively well
during the first year of the pandemic in comparison with other countries in the
region. But in the last few months the situation in Cuba, for what are still
unclear reasons except for the entry of the Delta variant in the island, made
a sharp turn for the worse, and in doing so seriously aggravated the
economic and political problems of the country. Thus, as Jessica Domínguez
Delgado noted in the Cuban blog El Toque (July 13),
until April 12, a little more than a year
after the beginning of the pandemic, 467 persons had
died among the 87,385
cases that had been diagnosticated as having Covid-19.
But only three months later, on July 12, the number
of the deceased had reached 1,579
with 224, 914 diagnosed
cases (2.5 times as many
as in the much longer previous period).
The province of Matanzas and its capital city of the same name located 100 kilometers east of Havana became the epicenter of
the pandemic’s sudden expansion in Cuba. According to the provincial governor,
Matanzas province was 3,000
beds short of the number of patients that needed them. On July 6, a personal friend who lives in the city of
Matanzas wrote to me about the dire health situation in the city with
a lack of doctors, tests, and oxygen in the midst of collapsing hospitals.
My friend wrote that the national government had shown itself incapable of
controlling the situation until that very day when it finally formulated
a plan of action for the city. The government did finally take
a number of measures including sending a substantial number of additional
medical personnel, although it is too early to tell at the time of this writing
with what results.
Cuban scientists and research institutions deserve a lot of credit for
the development of several anti-Covid vaccines. However, the government was
responsible for the excessive and unnecessary delay in immunizing people on the
island, made worse by its decision to neither procure donations of vaccines
from abroad nor join the 190-nation strong COVAX
(Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access) sponsored by
several international organizations including the World Health Organization
(WHO), an organization with which the Cuban government has good relations.
Currently only 16% of the population has been fully
vaccinated and 30% has received at least one dose of
The medical crisis in the province and capital city of Matanzas fits into
a more general pattern of medical scarcity and abandonment as the Cuban
government has accelerated its export of medical personnel abroad to strengthen
what has been for some time its number one export. This is why the valuable
family doctor program introduced in the 1980s has
seriously deteriorated. While the Cuban government uses a sliding scale
(including some pro bono work) in what it charges its foreign government
clients, Cuban doctors get an average of 10 – 25% of what the foreign clients pay the Cuban government.
Needless to add, Cuban medical personnel cannot organize independent unions to
bargain with the government about the terms of their employment. Nevertheless,
going abroad is a desired assignment for most Cuban doctors because they
earn a significant amount of hard currency and can purchase foreign goods.
However, if they fail to return to Cuba after their assignments are over, they
are administratively (i.e., not judicially) punished with a forced exile
of 8 years duration.
The Political Context
Earlier this year, the leadership old guard, who fought the Batista regime
and are in their late eighties and early nineties, retired from their
government positions to give way to the new leadership of Miguel Díaz-Canel
(born in 1960) as president and Manuel Marrero Cruz
(born in 1963) as prime minister. This new
leadership is continuing Raúl Castro’s policy of economic and social
liberalization without democratization. For example, in 2013
the government liberalized the regulations that controlled the movement of
people to make it easier for most Cubans to travel abroad. However, at the same
time, the government made it virtually impossible for many dissidents to leave
the country, by for example delaying their departure so they could not make it
on time to conferences held abroad, and by creating a list of some 200 “regulados” (people
subject to regulatory rules) that are not allowed to leave the country at all.
It is important to point out that as in the case of other measures adopted by
the Cuban government mentioned earlier, these actions continue the policies of
Fidel and Raúl Castro, in which political and administrative decisions are made
outside of the regime’s own judicial system. The same applies to the hundreds
of relatively brief detentions that the government of Raúl Castro carried out
every year, especially to try to impede public demonstrations not controlled by
the government (a police method that only works for previously planned
political protests, unlike the ones that took place on July 11).
The One-Party State
The one-party state continues to function as under Fidel and Raúl Castro’s
rule. In reality, however, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, its Spanish acronym)
is not really a party — that would imply the existence of other parties.
Neither is the PCC primarily an electoral party although it does firmly control
from the top the periodic so-called elections that always result in the
unanimous approval of the political course followed by the authorities.
Sometimes people disillusioned with the existing corrupt parties in Latin
America and even in the United States itself, react with indifference if not
approval to the Cuban one-party state because they perceive elections as
reinforcing corrupt systems. Thus such people think that is better to have one
honest political party that works than a corrupt multi-party system that
doesn’t work. The problem with this type of thinking is that one-party
bureaucratic systems do not work well at all, except perhaps to thoroughly
repress any opposition. Moreover, corruption sooner or later works its way into
the single party system as history has repeatedly shown. In the case of Cuba,
Fidel Castro himself warned in a famous speech on November 17, 2005, that the revolution
was in greater danger to perish because of endemic corruption than because of
the actions of counterrevolutionaries.
The organizational monopoly of the PCC — explicitly sanctioned by the Cuban
constitution — affects far more than elections. It extends its power in
a highly authoritarian manner to control Cuban society through the
so-called mass organizations that function as transmission belts for the
decisions taken by the PCC’s Political Bureau. For example, the CTC, the
official trade union, is the transmission belt that allows the Cuban state to
maintain its monopoly of the organization of Cuban workers. Beyond enforcing
the prohibition of strikes, the CTC is not an organization for the defense of
working class interests as determined by the workers themselves. Rather, it was
established to advance what the ruling PCC leadership determines are the
workers’ best interests.
The same control mechanisms apply to other “mass
organizations” such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and to other
institutions such as editorial houses, universities and the rest of the educational
system. The mass media (radio, television and newspapers) continue to be under
the control of the government, guided in their coverage by the “orientations” of the Ideological Department of the
Central Committee of the PCC. There are however, two important exceptions to
the state’s control of media organs: one, is the internal publications of the
Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the Cuban Catholic hierarchy is extremely
cautious, and the circulation of its publications is in any case limited to its
parishes and other Catholic institutions. A far more important exception
is the Internet, which the government has yet been unable to place under its
absolute control and remains as the principal vehicle for critical and
dissident voices. It was precisely this less than full control of the Internet
that made the nationwide politically explosive outbreaks of July 11 possible.
Where is Cuba Going?
Without the benefit of Fidel Castro’s presence and the degree of legitimacy
retained by the historic leadership, Díaz-Canel and the other new government
leaders were politically hit hard by the events of July 11,
even though they received the shameful support of most of the broad
international Left. The fact that people no longer seem to be afraid may be the
single largest threat for the government emerging from the events on July 11. In spite of that blow, the new leadership is on course
to continue Raúl Castro’s orientation to develop a Cuban version of the
Sino-Vietnamese model, which combine a high degree of political
authoritarianism with concessions to private and especially
At the same time, the Cuban government leaders will continue to follow
inconsistent and even contradictory economic reform policies for fear of losing
control to Cuban private capital. The government recently authorized
the creation of private PYMES (small and medium private enterprises), but it
would not be at all surprising if many of the newly created PYMES end up in the
hands of important state functionaries turned private capitalists. There is an
important government stratum composed of business managers and technicians with
ample experience in such sectors as tourism, particularly in the military. The
most important among them is the 61-year-old Gen.
Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, a former son-in-law of Raúl Castro, who
is the director of GAESA, the huge military business conglomerate, which
includes Gaviota, the principal tourist enterprise in the island. It is
significant that he recently became a member of the Political Bureau of
Perhaps this younger generation of business military and civilian
bureaucrats may try to overcome the rentier mentality that 30 years
of ample Soviet assistance created among the Cuban leadership as witnessed the
failure to modernize and diversify the sugar industry (as Brazil did) during
those relatively prosperous years that ended in 1990. To
be sure, the U.S. economic blockade contributed to the rentier mentality by
encouraging a day-to-day economic survival attitude rather than of
increasing the productivity of the Cuban economy to allow for a more
Finally, what about the United States? Biden is unlikely to do much in his
first term to change the United States’ imperialist policies towards Cuba that
were significantly aggravated by Trump. Whether a possible second
Democratic administration in Washington beginning in 2025
will do anything different remains an open question.
There is, however, a paradox underlying the U.S. government’s Cuba
policy. While U.S. policy is not at present primarily driven by ruling class
interests but, rather, by electoral considerations, particularly in the highly
contested state of Florida, it is not for that reason necessarily less harsh
or, what is more alarming, less durable. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, probably
the most politically active business institution in the United States has
advocated the resumption of normal business relations with Cuba for many years.
Thomas J. Donohue, its long-time director who retired earlier this year,
visited Cuba in numerous occasions and met with government leaders there. Big
agribusiness concerns are also interested in doing business with Cuba as are
agricultural and other business interests in the South, Southwest and Mountain
States represented by both Republican and Democratic politicians. However, it
is doubtful that they are inclined to expend a lot of political capital in
achieving that goal.
This places a heavy extra burden on the U.S. Left to overcome the
deadlock, which clearly favors the indefinite continuation of the blockade,
through a new type of campaign that both zeroes in on the grave aggression
and injustice committed against the Cuban people without at the same time
becoming apologists for the political leadership of the Cuban state.
Be that as it may, people on the Left in the United States have two key
tasks. First, they should firmly oppose the criminal economic blockade of Cuba.
Second, they should support the democratic rights of the Cuban people rather
than an ossified police state, in the same way that they have supported the
struggle for human rights, democracy, and radical social and economic change in
Colombia and Chile in Latin America as well as Myanmar and Hong Kong
Cubans confront a host of problems amid a national health emergency — and the Biden administrative is only adding to punitive sanctions with the intent to make everything worse.
Fidel Castro holds up a newspaper
headlining a plot to kill him in 1959. (Bettmann via Getty)
After months of casual indifference to conditions in Cuba, the Biden
administration reacted with purposeful swiftness to support street protests on
the island. “We stand with the Cuban people,” President Biden pronounced. A talking point was born.
“The Biden-Harris administration stands by the Cuban people,” secretary
of state Antony Blinken followed. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair
Robert Menéndez also joined to emphasize “the need for the United States to
continue to stand with the Cuban people.”
For more than a hundred and twenty years, the United States has “stood
with the Cuban people” — or, perhaps more correctly, has stood over the Cuban
people. Cuba seems always to be at the receiving end of American history. To
stand with the Cuban people has meant armed intervention, military occupation,
regime change, and political meddling — all normal events in US-Cuba relations
in the sixty years before the triumph of the Cuban revolution.
In the sixty years after the revolution, standing with the
Cuban people has meant diplomatic isolation, armed invasion, covert operations,
and economic sanctions.
It is the policy of economic sanctions — the embargo — officially
designated as an “economic denial program,” that gives the lie to
US claims of beneficent concern for the Cuban people. Sanctions developed early
into a full-blown policy protocol in pursuit of regime change, designed to
deprive Cubans of needed goods and services, to induce scarcity and foment
shortages, to inflict hardship and deepen adversity.
Nor should it be supposed that the Cuban people were the unintended “collateral
damage” of the embargo. On the contrary, the Cuban people have been the target.
Sanctions were designed from the outset to produce economic havoc as a way to
foment popular discontent, to politicize hunger in the hope that, driven by
despair and motivated by want, the Cuban people would rise up to topple the
The declassification of government records provides insight into the
calculus of sanctions as a means of regime change. The “economic denial
program” was planned to “weaken [the Cuban government] economically,” a State
Department briefing paper explained, to “promote internal dissension; erode its
internal political support . . . [and] seek to create conditions conducive to
incipient rebellion.” Sanctions promised to create “the necessary preconditions
for nationalist upheaval inside Cuba,” the Department of State Bureau of
Intelligence and Research predicted, thereupon to produce the downfall of the
Cuban government “as a result of internal stresses and in response to forces
largely, if not wholly, unattributable to the U.S.”
The “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support,” the
Department of State offered, “is through disenchantment and disaffection based
on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. . . . Every possible means should be
undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba . . . [to deny] money
and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about
hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
The embargo has remained in place for more than sixty years. At times
expanded, at other times contracted. But never lifted. The degree to which US
sanctions are implicated in current protest demonstrations in Cuba is a matter
of debate, of course. But that the embargo has contributed — to a greater or
lesser extent — to hardship in Cuba can hardly be gainsaid; that has been its
intent. And now that hardship has produced popular protests and demonstrations.
That, too, is in the “playbook” of the embargo.
But the embargo has had a far more insidious impact on the political
culture of Cuba. The Cuban government is not unaware of the United States’
desired policy outcomes from the sanctions. They understand well its subversive
reach and interventionist thrust, and have responded accordingly, if not always
Such a nakedly hostile US policy, which has been ongoing and
periodically reaffirmed over such a lengthy period of time, designed purposely
to sow chaos, has in fact served Cuban authorities well, providing a readily
available target that can be blamed for homegrown economic mismanagement and
resource misallocation. The embargo provides a refuge for blamelessness and
immunity from accountability. The tendency to attribute the consequences of
ill-conceived policies to the embargo has developed into a standing master
narrative of Cuban government.
But it is more complicated still. Not a few within the Cuban government
view popular protests warily, seeing them as a function of US policy and its
intended outcomes. It is no small irony, in fact, that the embargo has so often
served to compromise the “authenticity” of popular protest, to ensure that
protests are seen as acts in the service of regime change and depicted as a
threat to national security.
The degree to which the political intent of the embargo is imputed to
popular protest often serves to drive the official narrative. That is, protests
are depicted less as an expression of domestic discontent than as an act of US
subversion, instantly discrediting the legitimacy of protest and the credibility
of protesters. The embargo serves to plunge Cuban politics at all levels into a
Kafkaesque netherworld, where the authenticity of domestic actors is challenged
and transformed into the duplicity of foreign agents. In Cuba, the popular
adage warns, nothing appears to be what it seems.
Few dispute the validity of Cuban grievances. A long-suffering people
often subject to capricious policies and arbitrary practices, an officialdom
often appearing oblivious and unresponsive to the needs of a population
confronting deepening hardship. Shortages of food. Lack of medicines. Scarcity
of basic goods. Soaring prices. Widening social inequalities. Deepening racial
Difficulties have mounted, compounding continuously over many years, for
which there are few readily available remedies. An economy that reorganized
itself during the late 1990s and early 2000s around tourist receipts has
collapsed as a result of the pandemic. A loss of foreign exchange with ominous
implications for a country that imports 70 percent of its food supplies.
The Trump administration revived the
most punitive elements of US sanctions, limiting family remittances to $1,000 per quarter per
person, prohibiting remittances to family members of government officials and
members of the Communist Party, and prohibiting remittances in the form of
donations to Cuban nationals. The Trump administration prohibited the
processing of remittances through any entities on a “Cuba restricted list,” an
action that resulted in Western Union ceasing its operations in Cuba
in November 2020.
And as a final spiteful, gratuitous gesture, the outgoing Trump
administration returned Cuba to the list of state sponsors
of terrorism. At the precise moment the Cuban people were reeling from greater
shortages, increased rationing, and declining services, the United States
imposed a new series of sanctions. It is impossible to react in any way other
than with blank incredulity to State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s
comment that Cuban humanitarian needs “are profound because of not anything the
United States has done.”
Cubans confront all at once a collapsing economy, diminished
remittances, restricted emigration opportunities, inflation, shortages of food,
scarcity of medicines, all in a time of a national health emergency — and with
the United States applying punitive sanctions with the intent of making
everything worse. Of course, the Cuban people have the right to peaceful
protest. Of course, the Cuban government must redress Cuban grievances.
Of course, the United States must end its deadly and destructive policy of subversion.
The French philosophe and
essayist Michel Montaigne often used the phrase “What do I know?” to express
the subjective limits of knowledge. What can any individual really know about
the world? About others who inhabit it? I pose this question to myself often.
It’s part of the job description for being a critical sociologist. I scratch my
head in puzzlement each time that I gather data to analyze my compatriots in
South Florida. What do I really know about Cuban Americans? Many will jump to
answer, “You know nothing. You are clueless,” and they might be right. But you
would think that after nearly thirty years of writing about and studying Cubans
in the United States I would know something about what makes our “moral
community” tick. But when faced with the question Que sais-je?,
which translates into a very Cuban, “Qué sé yo?” I have to admit that many of
the moving parts of the community remain a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside
Take, for example, the resurgence of
pro-embargo sentiments among South Florida Cuban American. It’s a grim turn
even if not totally surprising given the Jarabe de Trump that many have savored
in recent years.
What is driving this macabre enthusiasm
to endorse an archaic, cold war policy designed in 1962 to isolate Cuba and
bring about regime change because, as stated in Kennedy’s infamous Proclamation 3447,
the country is “incompatible with the principles and objectives of the
Inter-American system; and, in light of the subversive offensive of Sino-Soviet
Communism with which the Government of Cuba is publicly aligned?” Seriously?
There is still support for a policy designed to “protect” the Americas from the
threat of “Sino-Soviet Communism?” Directed at Cuba? Does this policy remain a
vital element in the foreign policy of the United States? The world has
changed so much but we seem to have changed so little.
Maybe there is more behind this seeming
callous attitude of “que se jodan” exhibited by my fellow denizen of the Cuban
diaspora than sheer opportunism. After all, we are not all YouTube mavens
making a nice living peddling fear and disinformation. Most of us care about our
friends and relatives on the island. About half of us send money when we can
afford it and sending food via Katapulk is
becoming a thing. Many on the island depend on us, if not for survival, for support,
especially during this horrific pandemic period.
Maybe championing the embargo, in the
minds of those who do, is part of a larger plan. Maybe supporters see in the
embargo a part of a broader strategy to improve the lives of Cubans throughout
the island. Qué sé yo?
I want to understand why so many of us
insist on supporting a foreign policy implemented to punish and isolate when we
know that change in this globalized world is brought about by contact and
negotiation. Why do people support the embargo? Why do they support lifting the
With the help of the colleagues at OnCuba News, I floated a questionnaire on their platform and various social media streams (FB, Twitter) to try to understand why Cuban Americans either support or oppose the nearly sixty-year-old sanction. This is not a scientific sample, but the 361 responses (as of May 19) allow us to create broad categories to describe the types of reasons shaping opinions.
To be honest, I harbor no illusions that the Cuban American vox populi will raise in an exilic chorus supporting the end to the embargo. I see no sign that we are willing, as a community to come to terms with our Big Lie. To recognize that the embargo, as a policy to motivate change in Cuba, has been a resounding failure and has not met the expectations of its supporters. It is a zombie policy which should have been killed by years of evidence verifying its failure but stays alive, eating the brains of Cuban Americans. Supporting the embargo is evidence that our community has been successfully recruited to brutalize the Cuban people by assisting the U.S. in its feeble attempt to project American power. I worry about the history we are helping to shape.
The only hope that I hold for seeing
the lifting of the embargo in my lifetime is for the U.S. government to act in
its best interest. In this unique case, the best interests of the United States
are aligned with the best interests of Cuba, its people and government.
Accepting this might not be easy for
those who have developed an identity based on opposition to the Cuban
government, but it is the reality we face. Let’s give in to a moment of
clarity. We cannot, with any credibility, demand changes in others when we, as
a community, remain so unwilling, or unable, to change.
Large cranes can be seen at Port Mariel inside the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone.
A generic-sounding company headquartered in the tax
haven of Liechtenstein has for the past 37 years served as the center of global
shipping operations for the Cuban government, functioning under the radar while
skirting a six-decade trade embargo, an investigation by the Miami Herald/el
Nuevo Herald and McClatchy shows.
When incorporated in 1984 in the principality of
Liechtenstein, Acemex Management Company Limited was created as a means of
survival. It grew into a business model, has been described as the work of a
genius and has proved enduring.
A new Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald investigation
reveals the network of hidden shell companies and secretive jurisdictions that
allowed Fidel and Raúl Castro and now their military successors to borrow money
and to buy, sell and charter the ships that bring in chemicals, fuel and
construction supplies needed to build the growing tourism sector and export
The new investigation sheds light on little-known Acemex and the key players surrounding it — a pair of powerful Cuban brothers not named Fidel and Raúl, but Guillermo Faustino Rodriguez López-Calleja and hisyounger sibling Luis Alberto. The latter is a brigadier generalblacklisted by the United States in 2020.
Las relaciones entre Cuba y
Estados Unidos han estado determinadas por el embargo a la isla que el gobierno
de Washington estableció tras el triunfo de la revolución en 1959. Esa política
no ha cambiado, aunque ha sufrido endurecimientos y también flexibilizaciones.
Al llegar Barack Obama a la Casa Blanca inició una fase de normalización,
coincidiendo con el avance de las reformas aperturistas en la Gran Antilla,
iniciadas en la década de 1990, pero hasta hace poco discontinuas. Sin embargo,
para ello empleó los recursos de relajación de las medidas que ofrecen las
propias leyes del embargo. Es decir, sin modificarlo, lo que ha permitido a su
sucesor, Donald Trump, restablecerlas en su versión más dura. Este libro
estudia el problema de los vínculos entre los dos países desde comienzos del
siglo XX desde la perspectiva de lo económico, que fue razón esencial de los
mismos, y muestra cómo la falta de un sentido de estado y de conformidad con la
influencia tuvo en la constitución de otro –Estados Unidos ocupó Cuba entre
1898 y 1902, tras su guerra de independencia– implicó dejarlas al juego de
intereses particulares que rige el funcionamiento del sistema político
norteamericano y que tal defecto los ha dotado de un asimetría que ha
prevalecido a los cambios de coyuntura y circunstancias desde entonces, al
triunfo de la revolución, al fin de la Guerra Fría.
Capítulo I. 90 millas. Relaciones
económicas Cuba-Estados Unidos en perspectiva histórica. Antonio Santamaría
García; José Manuel Azcona Pastor
Capítulo II. Avance y retroceso
de los capitales norteamericanos en la industria cubana del azúcar, 1890-1959.
Alejandro García Álvarez
Capítulo III. Proteccionismo y
restricción de la oferta: los orígenes de los controles de producción de azúcar
en Cuba y la relación comercial con Estados Unidos, 1921-193. Alan D. Dye
Capítulo IV. Ajustes al modelo de
dominación: la política de Estados Unidos hacia Cuba tras la revolución de
1933. Oscar Zanetti Lecuona
Capítulo V. “Cuba sería un cementerio de deudores”. El problema de la moratoria en la década de 1930. Julio César Guanche
Capítulo VI. El nacionalismo
moderado cubano, 1920-1960. Políticas económicas y relaciones con Estados
Unidos. Jorge I. Domínguez
Capítulo VII. Relaciones
comerciales azucareras Cuba-Estados Unidos, 1902-1960. Jorge Pérez-López
Capítulo VIII. Las relaciones
Cuba-Estados Unidos desde la revolución hasta el periodo especial.Victor
Capítulo IX. Failed on all
counts. El embargo de Estados Unidos a Cuba. Andrew Zimbalist
Capítulo X. La ventana de oportunidad que se abrió y se cerró: historia
de la normalización de relaciones Estados Unidos-Cuba. Carmelo Mesa-Lago
Capítulo XI. El bloqueo económico en el contexto de las agresiones de
Estados Unidos contra Cuba. Historia no contada y evolución reciente.José Luis
Capítulo XIII. Cuba-Estados Unidos: la gestión de las empresas cubanas.
Ileana Díaz Fernández
Capítulo XIV. Viajes, remesas y trabajo por cuenta propia. Relaciones
económicas entre los cubanos emigrados y su país de origen.Jorge Duany
Capítulo XV. El papel de los visitantes de Estados Unidos en la economía cubana. Historia y realidad. Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva; José Luis Perelló Cabrera
WASHINGTON- The Washington Office on Latin
America and the Center for Democracy in the Americas
December 17, 2020
Today the Washington Office on Latin America
(WOLA) and the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) are
releasing “The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement,”
a roadmap for how the Biden-Harris administration can implement a policy of
engagement toward Cuba. Six years after President Barack Obama’s December 17,
2014 announcement that he would begin normalizing relations with Cuba, we
continue to emphasize the importance of engagement to advance the interests of
the U.S. and of the Cuban people. Engagement accomplished more in two years
than the policy of hostility achieved in sixty, and is a more effective strategy
to advance the cause of human rights, political liberty, and economic reform.
Engagement will facilitate family ties, cultural exchange, and commercial
relations, expanding the market for U.S. businesses, raising the standard of
living for the Cuban people, and encouraging economic reform on the island. A
new policy of engagement entails relatively little political risk and has the
potential to mobilize a wide variety of constituencies in support. Our report
expands on why Cuba should be a priority, why a variety of bipartisan
stakeholders including the business community, Congress, and Cuban Americans
support policies of engagement. The roadmap lays out a series of sequenced
recommendations in three sections “Repairing the Damage: The First Nine Months,”
“Taking the Initiative: The Second Year,” and “Finishing the Job: A Legislative
Agenda” detailing how the Biden-Harris administration can move quickly to
implement much-needed change in U.S.-Cuba policy.
One lesson from the Obama years is that a policy based exclusively on executive action is notenduring. As we have witnessed, a new administration can quickly dismantle it. If we hope to persuade the Cuban government that a constructive relationship with the United States is possible and will flourish to the extent that Cuba moves toward a more open political and economic system, Cuban authorities must be convinced that U.S. policy is durable. That will require legislative action to remove some of the constraints on engagement that Congress has enacted over the years, first and foremost the embargo. Ending the embargo is Cuba’s highest priority in its relationship with the United States; so long as the embargo remains in place, progress toward a more normal relationship will be limited.
of which party ultimately holds the majority in the U.S. Senate, the
administration should publicly express support for legislation to end the
embargo, and work with the bipartisan Cuba Working Group in the House and champions
for engagement in the Senate to cultivate congressional leadership on
actions that could gain some Republican support are repeal of the Cuba-related
sections in the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000
(TSRA) that limit travel and agricultural sales.
• Repeal the
prohibition on travel to Cuba that is not expressly licensed in the CACR.
• Repeal the
limits on the use of credits for financing U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba.
additional measures would facilitate commercial ties:
• Repeal Section 211, a special interest
provision of U.S. law that invalidates certain Cuban trademarks in the United
States and threatens reciprocal protection for U.S. brands.
• Approve an amendment that,
notwithstanding any other provision of law, authorizes the United States to
provide Cuba with foreign assistance for the purpose of developing sustainable energy sources and implementing
its 100 year plan to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
embargo is a central obstacle to the normalization of relations with Cuba, as
President Obama recognized when he called on Congress to repeal it. For
Congress to repeal the embargo it would have to amend a number of different
statutes in addition to the TSRA.33 The most important:
• Repeal the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992,
or at least the sections that limit the freedom of U.S. subsidiaries in third
countries to do business with Cuba, and that prevent vessels engaged in
commerce with Cuba from entering U.S. ports for 180 days.
• Repeal the Cuban Liberty and Democratic
Solidarity Act of 1996, or at least the sections that inscribe the embargo into
law, prohibit U.S. support for Cuban participation in IFIs, and impose extraterritorial
sanctions on other countries (Titles III and IV).
• Repeal the section of the Foreign
Assistance Act of 1961 that authorizes the president to unilaterally impose a
trade embargo on Cuba.
the embargo is no longer mandated by law, the President can lift it simply by
not renewing the emergency authorities under the Trading with The Enemy Act. If
economic sanctions against Cuba are called for in the future, they can be
imposed under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
legal scholars argue that the President has the authority to end the embargo by
executive order. Because the embargo regulations codified by the LIBERTAD Act
include the President’s licensing authority without any limitation, there is a
legal argument that the licensing power extends to ending the embargo
entirely.34 The principal rationale for such a step would be President Clinton’s
contention, in his signing statement, that certain passages of the law,
including codification, constitute unconstitutional infringements on the
President’s authority to conduct foreign policy.35
33 For an effort to compile a complete list of the amendments required, H.R. 403 (Mr. Rangel) 114th Congress 1st
Session, January 16, 2015.
34 Robert L. Muse, “The President Has the Constitutional Power to Unilaterally Terminate the Embargo on Cuba,” Global Americans, October 8, 2020, ttps://theglobalamericans.org/2020/10/the-president-has-the-constitutional-power-to-unilaterally-terminate-the-embargo-on-cuba/. For concurring opinions, see Kevin J. Fandl, “Adios Embargo: The Case for Executive Termination of the U.S. Embargo on Cuba,” 54 Am. Bus. L.J. 293; and Pete Jeydel, “How Much of the Cuba Embargo Could the President Unilaterally Lift?” Steptoe International Compliance Blog, October 21, 2016, https://www.steptoeinternationalcomplianceblog.com/2016/10/how-much-of-the-cuba-embargo-could-the-president-unilaterally-lift/.35 William J. Clinton, “Statement on Signing the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996,” March 12, 1996. The American Presidency Project, ttps://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/222515. For the constitutionality of the LIBRTAD Act, see Joaquin Roy, “Lawyers Meet the Law: Critical U.S Voices of Helms-Burton,” Yearbook of International Law, 6, 39 (1997/1998)
Americans traveling to Cuba will not be able to buy rum or tobacco as souvenirs, nor will they be able to stay in government hotels, according to new restrictions announced by President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
“Today as part of our continuing fight against communist oppression, I am announcing that the Treasury Department will prohibit U.S. travelers from staying at properties owned by the Cuban government,” Trump said in a speech to honor Bay of Pigs veterans at the White House. “We are also further restricting the importation of Cuban alcohol and Cuban tobacco. These actions will ensure U.S. dollars do not fund the Cuban regime.”
The Treasury Department modified the embargo regulations on Cuba to prohibit imports of rum and tobacco, as well as lodging in hotels or properties controlled by the Cuban government, government officials and the Communist Party, or their close relatives.
The list names 433 hotels and properties, including some “casas particulares” (private rentals) that the State Department determined were not independent of the government, said Carrie Filipetti, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, in a call with reporters on Wednesday.
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Among the private rentals included is Casa Vida Luxury Holidays, a property advertised on Airbnb that, according to media reports, is linked to Vilma Rodríguez, granddaughter of Communist Party head and former president Raúl Castro.
The measures will deal a harsh blow to Cuba’s tourism industry because the government owns all the island’s hotels. Many travel companies have operations in the United States and will therefore be affected by the measure. Previously, the administration had banned accommodation in hotels run by military companies, but now the prohibition extends to all state-run properties.
Thousands of Cuban Americans who travel to the island every year usually take their families on vacation at these hotels.
“The prohibition on the use of hotels owned by the government of Cuba will also result in fewer airline flights from the United States to Cuba,” said John Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
Filipetti said the restrictions aim at denying funds to the government, which dominates the hospitality industry as well as tobacco and rum production. She added that the policy intends to benefit owners of private bed and breakfasts.
“The Cuban government profits from properties in the hospitality industry owned or controlled by the Cuban government … all at the expense of the Cuban people, who continue to face repression at the hands of the regime,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. “Authorized travelers should instead stay in private accommodations, or casas particulares, owned and operated by legitimately independent entrepreneurs.”
The Treasury Department also eliminated a general authorization policy for the participation or organization of conferences, seminars, exhibitions and sporting events. Citizens, residents and companies subject to U.S. law must apply for a specific authorization or license for these activities.
Organizations in favor of more engagement with Cuba quickly pointed out that further restricting travel to Cuba could also hurt the private sector the administration officials say the U.S. wants to lift up.
“To continue limiting American citizens to travel to Cuba is to continue to put pressure on Cuba’s growing private sector, which is already hurting from the domestic economic crisis, the impact of U.S. policies, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said María José Espinosa, interim president of Engage Cuba.
Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel blasted on Twitter the U.S. “empire” and the new measures “that violate the rights of Cubans and Americans. Its cruel and criminal policy will be defeated by our people, who will never renounce their sovereignty.”
In the last two years, the administration has intensified its “maximum pressure” campaign against the Cuban government, citing human rights violations and its support of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.
In June, the Trump administration included Fincimex, a company controlled by the military conglomerate GAESA, on a list of entities linked to the Cuban military. Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are prohibited from direct financial transactions with these entities.
The United States also suspended all charter and commercial flights to Cuba, except for flights to Havana. It also limited per person remittances to $1,000 per quarter. And it has sanctioned companies involved in the shipments of Venezuelan oil to Cuba.
U.S. sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic, and the decline in Venezuela’s oil aid have plunged Cuba’s inefficient socialist economy into a deep crisis. The population suffers from a severe shortage of food, medicine and hygiene products, and although the government has promised some economic reforms, none appear to be immediate.
On Tuesday, Díaz-Canel complained to the United Nations General Assembly about the increase in the “aggressiveness of the U.S. blockade. … Not a week goes by without that government issuing statements against Cuba or imposing new restrictions.”
U.S. officials have rejected the Cuban government’s narrative and have pushed back on criticism that the sanctions may aggravate the situation of ordinary Cubans.
What the Cuban people are “going through, it’s a serious humanitarian concern. The embargo has specific provisions to allow Cuba to import food from the United States; it has exceptions for food and medical supplies,” said Mara Tekach, coordinator for Cuban affairs at the State Department in an interview with the Miami Herald on Wednesday. Citing Cuba’s long-standing inability to feed its population, Tekach added that “the regime is the one that ultimately is failing its people.“
The sanctions and the unrelenting attacks on socialism have secured President Trump the support of a significant portion of Cuban-American voters.
“The Obama-Biden administration made a weak, pathetic, one-sided deal with the Castro dictatorship that betrayed the Cuban people and enriched the communist regime,” Trump said in the White House speech. “Today, we reaffirm our ironclad solidarity with the Cuban people, and our eternal conviction that freedom will prevail over the sinister forces of communism.”
Filipetti denied that the timing of the announcement was linked to the upcoming presidential election, as critics of the administration have suggested.
“This announcement, just weeks before the presidential election, shows what the Trump Administration’s Cuba policy is really about,” said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel. “It’s about South Florida and it places absolutely no importance on the well-being of the Cuban people, democracy, human rights or advancing U.S. national interests in the region.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres
At least 25 companies in tax havens had Cuban links
Nora Gámez Torres
The Miami Herald, June 7, 2016
The Cuban government used the Panama law firm involved in the Panama Papers to create a string of companies in offshore financial havens that allowed it to sidestep the U.S. embargo in its commercial operations.
El Nuevo Herald identified at least 25 companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, Panama and the Bahamas and linked to Cuba.
The documents found in the Panama Papers are dated as far back as the early 1990s, when the Cuban economy crashed following the end of Moscow’s massive subsidies to the island. But Cuba kept its links with some of the firms until very recently.
Listed as a director of one of the companies is a brother of Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja — husband of Cuban ruler Raul Castro’s daughter and powerful head of the Cuban armed forces’ business conglomerate, GAESA.
The Panama Papers, documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with the McClatchy Washington Bureau, Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, among others, contain hundreds of thousands of pages from the files of Mossack Fonseca, a Panama law firm with offices in 33 other countries.
Offshore corporations have one main purpose – to create anonymity. Recently leaked documents reveal that some of these shell companies, cloaked in secrecy, provide cover for dictators, politicians and tax evaders.
Sohail Al-Jamea and Ali Rizvi McClatchy
The documents reveal previously unknown details about the Cuban government’s economic maneuvers abroad and the foreign companies that do business with Havana as some of the firms tried to hide Cuba’s hand in business deals to skirt the U.S. embargo.
One of the more intriguing schemes mentioned in the documents puts Cuba at the heart of a deal to sell Russian oil to Latin America through a company registered in Panama by the Bassatne family. The family controls BB Energy, a conglomerate founded in Lebanon in 1937 that buys and sells 16 million metric tons of crude and derivatives each year. One Bloomberg report showed BB Energy had $10 billion in revenues in 2012.
BB Naft shareholder Wael Bassatne told El Nuevo Herald that his company did not violate the U.S. embargo because it is not registered and does no business in the United States.
The Bassatne family incorporated BB Naft Trading S.A. in Panama, with Jürgen Mossack as a director. The company, which has offices in Havana and other countries, was created “to handle, among other things, its relationship with oil-exporting Latin American countries and with Cuba,” Mossack Fonseca lawyer Rigoberto Coronado wrote in an email.
BB Naft does not appear, however, among the subsidiaries listed on BB Energy’s Web site. They include BB Energy Trading Ltd., BB Energy Management S.A., BB Energy Holdings NV., BB Energy B.V., BB Energy (Asia) Pte. Ltd., BB Energy (Gulf) DMCC and BB Holding S.A.L.
BB Naft did business with Cuba between 1992 and 2001, trading oil for sugar “for $300 million, with credit facilities at low interest rate,” Coronado wrote. He added that in 1996 “there was agreement on a triangular Russia/Cuba/Naft Trading S.A. deal to deliver Russian fuel to other markets for a number of tens of millions of US$.”
One of the markets may have been Ecuador. A letter sent in 1998 by a Mossack Fonseca employee to the international trade office at state-run Petroecuador referred to documents sent by BB Naft “required to register the company.” A 2005 fax also points to an initial contact with the Venezuelan government’s Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).
The relationship between the BB Energy Group and Petroecuador appears to have lasted until recent days. Petroecuador contracted BB Energy (Asia) Pte. Ltd., in February of this year to import 2,880,000 barrels of diesel fuel. In 2015, BB Energy won Ecuadoran contracts for more than three million barrels of naphtha, a petroleum distillate.
The Russian oil scheme appears to have been affected by the agreement between Cuba and Venezuela to exchange oil for medical services, and BB Naft expanded its work in Cuba in 2007 to include “the sale of spare parts and batteries for autos and trucks, work boots, farm machinery, hardware for USD 5.3 million.”
Records of a meeting in Dubai in March of 2011 reflect a decision to significantly reduce the capital of BB Naft, held by BB Energy Holdings NV., from $8 million to $1.050 million. Riad Bassatne and his son Wael remained owners of the remaining shares. Instructions for the change were sent by Iulia Ispas, legal adviser to BB Energy Trading Ltd.
Emails exchanged by Mossack Fonseca lawyers also point to company operations in Syria and Iraq.
One lawyer for BB Naft, Noureddine Kabalan, asked Mossack Fonseca in April of 2008 to create a power of attorney so that “the empowered person can be authorized to sign on behalf of the company in Syria and Iraq for specific transactions.”
A Reuters news agency report shows that the mother company, BB Energy, was still sending petroleum to Syria in 2011. Global Policy Forum, a non-government agency that monitors the work of the United Nations, also included BB Energy in a list of beneficiaries of the so-called “oil bribes” distributed by Saddam Hussein to recruit international support for weakening U.N. and other economic sanctions against Iraq.
BB Naft was listed in the Cuban registry of foreign companies operating on the island as of April of this year, with Riad Bassatne as director. Its Havana address is Centro De Negocios Miramar, 5ta Ave. E/ 76 Y 78, Ofic. 310. Edif. Santiago De Cuba. Miramar Playa.
BB Energy registered a company in Texas, BB Energy USA LLC., in 2014. Its official address is the same as that of BB Energy Trading: 140 Brompton Rd., London, SW3 1HY, United Kingdom.
Peter Quinter, an expert on U.S. embargo laws and former head of the International Law section of the Florida Bar Association, said the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba generally bars a company with a U.S. presence from doing business with Cuba directly or indirectly — through an offshore branch, for example. Such deals, however, may be authorized by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control or the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security.
BB Naft shareholder Wael Bassatne told El Nuevo Herald that his company did not violate the U.S. embargo because it is not registered and does no business in the United States.
“All the other commercial activities were not affected by any sanctions because these regulations do not exist as such,” he wrote in an email, adding that “Mexico, Canada and the European Union have laws prohibiting their citizens and companies from obeying U.S. sanctions” on Cuba.
Many of the Mossack Fonseca emails and documents show the relationship between BB Naft and the BB Energy group through the years.
In 2003, for example, BB Naft agreed to guarantee and meet the obligations of a loan obtained by BB Energy (Asia) Pte Ltd. from the Standard Chartered Bank of Singapore. The instructions to the BB Naft shareholders were dated and signed in Beirut, but the agreement for the guarantee was signed by lawyers and verified by the office of the BNP Paribas bank in Marrousi, Greece.
In another document, the lawyer Kabalan instructed Mossack Fonseca in 2005 to issue new shares for BB Naft because the originals had been sold to BB Energy Holdings N.V., a Curacao-based company publicly listed as part of the BB Energy group. The new certificates, for 800 shares, were to be issued in the names of 10 members of the Bassatne family, including 160 shares for Riad Bassatne.
The Web page of the Cuba-Lebanon Businessmen’s Council lists a Riad Bassatne as a member of its board of directors and describes him as “president of BB Naft Trading and member of the board of directors of BB Energy.”
Wael Bassatne nevertheless insisted that “there are no commercial or financial relations between BB Naft Trading S.A. and the BB Energy Group.” He added that BB Naft’s activities in Cuba included “the sale of spare parts and agricultural machinery.”
The company opened an office in Cuba, he explained, because he has been “a resident of Havana like his wife and three children, all of them born in Cuba” and Cuban citizens.
Secret Cuban companies
Other leaked Mossack Fonseca documents show the interwoven complex of offshore companies created by the Cuban government to import and export goods and invest funds abroad with the assistance of the Panamanian law firm.
Starting in the early 1990s, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade, through the Compañía Panamericana S.A, used Mossack Fonseca to create a string of disguised companies in Panama, the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands that bought and sold medicines, cigars and food.
Panamericana’s former director, José L. Fernández de Cossío Domínguez, is listed in the leaked documents as a director of Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd, Euro Foods Ltd, Racuza S.A, Caribbean Sugar Trader, Mercaria Trading S.A. and Sabradell S.A. Fernández more recently served as Cuba’s ambassador to Japan and economic attaché at the embassy in Paris.
The news website Diario de Cuba has identified the director of foreign investments at the Foreign Trade Ministry, Déborah Rivas Saavedra, as another of the directors of Racuza, Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd and Caribbean Sugar Trader.
The leaked documents also show that Guillermo Faustino Rodríguez López-Calleja, brother of Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, was appointed in 1999 as a director of Pescatlan S.A., a company incorporated by Mossack Fonseca in the British Virgin Islands in 1991 with an initial capital of $50,000. A letter sent to the Panamanian law firm in 1997 requested assistance organizing “a fishing operation in the Turks and Caicos Islands with Cuban-flagged fishing boats.”
The Mossack Fonseca documents nevertheless refer to Pescatlan as a Cuban company and do not identify the true owners of the company. Its ownership was in the form of anonymous bearer shares — the owners are whoever has those shares.
There have been unconfirmed reports that Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja divorced Deborah Castro Espin in recent years, but he remains in charge of Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A., (GAESA) and the government’s signature port of Mariel development project. The Cuban military is estimated to control at least 60 percent of the island’s economy.
Guillermo Faustino Rodríguez López-Calleja also appears as the representative of seven foreign companies registered in Cuba: Acemex Management Company Limited; Caroil Transport Marine Limited; Nautilus Shipping Overseas Corp.; Northsouth Maritime Company Limited; Gulf Lake Enterprises Ltd.; Acando Shipping Co. Ltd.; and Gilmar Project Finance Establishment. They have addresses in the Miramar and Old Havana neighborhoods of the Cuban capital.
The Panama Papers also show that Labiofam S.A., the marketing branch of Grupo Empresarial Labiofam, a Cuban government company that produces vaccines, medicines and other products for the control of carriers of diseases, owns shares in BioAsia Ltd. That company was founded with an investment of 10 million euros from Vietnam, southern Asia and the United Kingdom and lists Mossack Fonseca as its registered agent.
Labiofam S.A. bought all the shares of BioAsia Ltd. in 2009. Longtime Labiofam director José Antonio Fraga Castro, a nephew of Fidel and Raúl Castro, retired in 2014 amid the so-called “revolutionary perfumes” scandal, sparked when the company sought to sell perfumes inspired by Cuban revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara and former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Little is known inside the island about the Cuban government’s companies abroad, but Havana economist Omar Everleny wrote in the early 2000s that there were “more than 100 entities with the participation of Cuban capital, founded as mixed [state-private] companies or as branches of companies based on the island” operating abroad in areas such as “construction, agriculture, food, medicine, mining, finance and science.”
Everleny, recently fired from the University of Havana’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, noted the paradox that a country that “lacks the capital for its own development has invested in other countries.” The motive, he speculated, is the U.S. embargo “that forced the establishment of a network of companies around the world to warehouse and market products from the sea, among them lobsters and shrimp.”
Today the export of products from the fishing industry is carried out through those companies,” he said, adding that Cuban officials also created “an international network of companies to warehouse and sell the famous Cuban cigars.”
One knowledgeable source who asked to remains anonymous said the Cuban government also has registered companies, ships and airplanes in Panama and other countries to get around the embargo and avoid court-ordered seizures to settle its many debts abroad. Those front companies, the source added, also help Cuba carry out foreign trade transactions in U.S. dollars, forbidden by the embargo until President Barack Obama lifted the restriction earlier this year.
“Every time something was purchased in dollars, it could not be done because the Cuban checks in dollars were automatically canceled because the dollars belong to the U.S. Federal Reserve,” the source said. “So the seller had to be told that payment would be in euros from a bank in Spain, for example, and Cuba lost on the currency exchange.”
Companies registered abroad are “legally not Cuban,” according to the source, and could be used for dollar-denominated transactions.
The leaked documents confirm the existence of these types of foreign companies, with at least partial Cuban government capital. Much of the Mossack Fonseca correspondence on those companies involves updates of company registries and boards of directors, payment of fees and requests for letters of financial status required to open bank accounts or sign contracts. Mossack Fonseca was listed as the registered agent for most of the companies,
Swiss lawyer Albert-Louis Dupont-Willemin appears as a director of several of the Cuban companies, among them Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd. and Pescatlan S.A. The Panama Papers show Dupont-Willemin as a director of a total of 49 offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, five in Panama and two each in the Bahamas and Seychelles islands.
In one email exchange in 2011 involving a British company representing ALIMPORT — the Cuban state agency that handles food and agricultural imports, valued at nearly $2 billion in 2014 — that wanted to open an account with the BBVA bank, a bank employee in Great Britain asked why documents related to Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd had been notarized in Switzerland.
Emails exchanged by Mossack Fonseca lawyers point to BB operations in Syria and Iraq.
An accountant for the British company All Worlds Food Ltd, Jose Da Silva, answered: “I do not know the reasons why the documents were certified by a Swiss notary. I understand Mr. Dupont-Willemin is a Swiss lawyer and I believe it is for the documents to be more transparent and trustworthy. It is assumed that companies will have more trust in documents certified in Switzerland than in Cuba.”
The Swiss lawyer did not respond to El Nuevo Herald requests for comments on this story.
Hiding behind offshore companies
The Cuban government also hid its control of offshore companies by creating still other limited liability companies whose sole objective was to appear in registries as owners of the offshore companies — and disguise Cuba’s hand in them.
That’s the case of Racuza S.A., incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. It held all the shares of Euro Foods Ltd., which was registered in the Bahamas and in turn represented ALIMPORT.
And the case of Sabradell S.A., headed by Panamericana director José L. Fernández de Cossío Domínguez for a time and dissolved in 2008. Sabradell was the sole owner of Resimevis Ltd, a Mossack Fonseca client since 1995 dedicated “to general commerce of medical products and equipment.”
What’s more, a 2015 email indicated that the sole purpose of Curtdale Investments Ltd., registered in the British Virgin Islands, was to hold the shares of Ardpoint Company Inc., which in turn owned Altabana S.L. and Promotora de Cigarros S.L., two companies registered in Spain and involved in the sale of Cuban cigars
One of the directors of both Curtdale and Ardpoint starting in 2011 was Hernán Aguilar Parra, executive director of Grupo Empresarial de Tabaco de Cuba, known as TABACUBA, the government’s tobacco monopoly. Aguilar also has served as a deputy in the legislative National Assembly.
At times, however, the shield of anonymity over Cuban companies is not very effective. A convoluted email by a Cuban lawyer for Tecnica Hidraulica, registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), showed all its shares were held by Cuba’s Técnica Hidráulica, S.A. The difference: The name of the BVI firm has no Spanish accents, the Cuban company’s name does. The BVI company was dissolved in 2015.
The efforts to hide the Cuban government’s hand in the offshore companies means that its officials, lawyers and other employees used as stand-ins could eventually become the effective beneficiaries of the shares in those companies
A lawyer for Panamericana, Katiuska Peñado Moreno, and a former commercial attaché at the Cuban embassy in London, Alejandro Gutiérrez Madrigal, are listed as the beneficiaries of shares in Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd. worth $50,000.
The long list of companies linked to the Cuban government or active in Cuba also includes Sanford Management Financial Ltd.; Commercial Mercadu S.A. (linked to Panamericana); Amadis Compañía Naviera S.A.; Seagull and Seafoods, S.A.; Mavis Group S.A.; Octagon Industria Ltd; Travelnet; and Venus Associates Inc., among others.
Companies with Cuban capital or activities on the island