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WHY CUBANS PROTESTED ON JULY 11. Is this the beginning of the end of fear in Cuba?

Samuel Farber July 27, 2021

Original Article

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 Cuba’s future.

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 was theirs. 

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 found guilty. 

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 health problems.

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 both systems.

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 vaccine.

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 foreign capital.

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 the PCC. 

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 prosperous future. 

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 in Asia.

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THE MANY FACES OF REGIME CHANGE IN CUBA

BY LOUIS A. PÉREZ JR

The Jacobin, July 24, 2021

Original Article.

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 government.

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 consistently.

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 disparities.

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.

Fidel Castro in New York, 1959

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YEA OR NAY ON THE EMBARGO. WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?

What does a recent survey tell us?

by Guillermo J. Grenier

OnCuba News,  May 28, 2021

Original Article C

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 a pastelito. 

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 embargo? 

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. 

Continue Reading

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Conclusion

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. 

But, I could be wrong. What do I know?

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FROM LIECHTENSTEIN TO HONG KONG: HOW CUBA USES SHELL COMPANIES TO THUMB ITS NOSE AT EMBARGO

BY KEVIN G. HALL AND NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

MARCH 31, 2021 07:30 AM,  UPDATED APRIL 01, 2021 05:50 PM

Original Article: How Cuba uses shell companies

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 minerals.

The findings build on earlier reporting published in February as part of a global investigative collaboration called OpenLux, which spotlighted how the small European nation of Luxembourg was used as a camouflage for Cuban maritime operations.

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.

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Nuevo Libro: 90 MILLAS. RELACIONES ECONÓMICAS CUBA-ESTADOS UNIDOS, 1898-2020

Editores: Azcona Pastor, José Manuel, y Santamaría García, Antonio.

Ficha técnica

Nº de páginas:                       471

Editorial:                               S.L. – DYKINSON

ISBN:                                     9788413772882

Año de edición:                     2021

Plaza de edición:                   ESPAÑA

Fecha de lanzamiento:         05/03/2021

COMPRAR LIBRO: 90 MILLAS

RESUMEN DEL LIBRO

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.

INDICE GENERAL

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 Bulmer-Thomas

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 Rodríguez

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

COMPRAR LIBRO: 90 MILLAS

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THE UNITED STATES AND CUBA: A NEW POLICY OF ENGAGEMENT

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. 

The Full Report: The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement,”




Finishing the Job: A Legislative Agenda

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.

Regardless 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 engagement.

First Steps

Two 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.

Several 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.

Ending the Embargo

The 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.

Once 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).

Some 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)

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NO MORE RUM OR TOBACCO, NOR HOTEL STAYS: TRUMP IMPOSES NEW SANCTIONS ON CUBA

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

Nuevo Herald  News Sanctions, SEPTEMBER 23, 2020 05:22 PM

Trump honors Cuban-American veterans who served in 1961 Bay of Pigs  invasion - U.S. - Stripes

Trump with Bay of Pigs Veterans

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 properties appear in a new list created by the Department of State. Travel and tourism companies subject to U.S. jurisdiction will not be able to make reservations at these properties.

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.

The new rules will go into effect Thursday, when they will be officially published in the Federal Register.

MORE SANCTIONS TO 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

 

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PANAMA PAPERS SHOW CUBA USED OFFSHORE FIRMS TO THWART EMBARGO

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: The secret shell game

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.

Russia-Lebanon-Havana connection

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 Energys 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

BB Naft Trading S.A.; Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd, Eurofoods Ltd., Racuza S.A., Caribbean Sugar Trader, Mercaria Trading S.A., Sabradell S.A., Pescatlan S.A., BioAsia Ltd., Resimevis Ltd., Curtdale Investments Ltd., Ardpoint Company Inc., Tecnica Hidraulica S.A., Sanford Management Financial Ltd,  Commercial Mercadu S.A., Amadis Compañía Naviera S.A., Seagull and Seafoods S.A., Mavis Group S.A., Octagon Industria Ltd., Travelnet, Venus Associates Inc., Acepex Management S.A., M.I.S. Technologies S.A., Vima World Ltd.,Billingsley Global Corp.

 

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UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL TRADE COMMISSION, OVERVIEW OF CUBAN IMPORTS OF GOODS AND SERVICES AND EFFECTS OF U.S. RESTRICTIONS

March 2016 Publication Number: 4597 Investigation Number: 332-552

Complete document is here:  US Exports to Cuba after the Embargo is Lifted

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Executive Summary

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 2 Cuban Imports of Goods and Services

Chapter 3 Current U.S. Restrictions on Trade with and Travel to Cuba and Their Effects on Cuban Imports of U.S. Goods and Services

Chapter 4 Possible Cuban Barriers to U.S. Exports and Investment in the Absence of U.S. Restrictions .

Chapter 5 Agricultural Products

Chapter 6 Manufactured Products

Chapter 7 Services

Chapter 8 Modeling the Effects of U.S. Restrictions and Cuban Barriers on U.S. Exports to Cuba

 Appendix A Request Letters

Appendix B Federal Register Notices

Appendix C Hearing Calendar

Appendix D Written Submissions

Appendix E List of Authorized Cuentapropistas

Appendix F Regulatory and Legislative Framework of the U.S. Restrictions on Trade with and Travel to Cuba

Appendix G Cuban Intellectual Property Laws

Appendix H HS Codes Contained in Each Sector

Appendix I Description of Empirical Methodology

Appendix J Tables to Support Figures

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A POLICY LONG PAST ITS EXPIRATION DATE: US ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST CUBA

William M. LeoGrande

Social Research: An International Quarterly, Volume 82, Number 4, Winter 2015, pp. 939-966 (Article)

Original Article: US Economic Sanctions Against Cuba, William LeoGrande

ABSTRACT

The embargo against Cuba is the oldest and most comprehensive U.S. economic sanctions regime against any country in the world. It comprises a complex patchwork of laws and presidential determinations imposed over half a century. Presidents have tightened or relaxed it to suit their own strategy—some seeking to punish the Cuban regime by economic pressure, other seeking to improve relations by resorting to soft power rather than hard. The impact of U.S. sanctions has also varied, at times inflicting serious harm on the Cuban economy, and at times being merely as an expensive annoyance. But the embargo has never been effective at forcing Cuba’s revolutionary regime out of power or bending it to Washington’s will.

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