Posted on Sunday, 04.14.13
Castro wants money, not a dialogue
BY FRANK CALZON
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died, and Raúl Castro is searching for
"investors" in Cuba. Chávez spent billions of Venezuela's petro-dollars
shoring up Cuba's economy but Venezuela's new leaders may not be as
beneficent. Venezuela may cut off its Cuban subsidy, just as new Russian
leaders did after the Soviet Union's demise.
American taxpayers are at the top of Castro's list, but can the Cuban
communist government cash in on its years of political theater
proclaiming itself the victim of American economic aggression while
running its own economy into the ground and training and financing
anti-American insurgencies around the world?
Perhaps it can, given that the collective U.S. memory is rather short if
not wholly forgiving.
Earlier this year, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy visited the Cuban dictator
and returned home saying this is the time "to overcome continuing
obstacles" and " to improve relations" because that would be in the
"best interests of both countries." The senator means well, but his
statements cry out for a more detailed appraisal of U.S.-Cuban relations.
The real questions are: Improve relations for what purpose? And under
what conditions? It might be in America's best interests to improve
relations with North Korea, Syria and Iran too, but the obstacles
standing in the way are similar to those in Cuba. There is no quid pro
quo their leaders are willing to offer.
Granted that while in Cuba, Sen. Leahy managed to wrangle permission
from Gen. Castro to visit Alan Gross, a subcontractor with the
U.S.Agency for International Development, who is serving a 15-year
prison sentence. Gross after-the-fact "crime" was giving a laptop
computer and satellite telephone to a Jewish organization seeking access
to the Internet.
Gross is innocent and also quite ill. Amnesty International reports he's
lost more than 100 pounds in prison, and he has developed a growth that
may be cancerous. Havana won't allow an American physician chosen by his
family to see him.
There are others. Amnesty International says that Calixto Martinez, a
Cuban independent journalist — a reporter not working for state-run
media — was jailed when he went to Havana's international airport to ask
about a shipment of cholera medication sent by the World Health
Organization. He has not been charged nor had a trial. Havana does not
want tourists to hear about a cholera outbreak.
But, back to the benefits of lifting what remains of the U.S. embargo
against the Castros' dynasty: Cuba is broke and has suspended payments
to many creditors.
There is no ban on American companies selling foodstuffs or medicines to
Cuba, which they do on a "cash-and-carry" basis. But Washington won't
provide credit to Cuba, i.e., absorb the loss if the regime fails to pay
its suppliers. Thus American companies selling to Cuba get paid and
American taxpayers aren't on the hook when the regime fails to pay what
Individually, Cubans have no "purchasing power" to speak of. The
government is the island's only "employer" and pays workers the
equivalent of $20 a month. Except for cigars, Cuba now has very little
to sell to anyone. For 200 years, the engine of Cuba's economy was its
sugar industry. It is now in shambles due to "state planning."
Lastly, the United States lists Cuba as a state-sponsor of international
terrorism. It does so, despite the best efforts of Ana Belen Montes, a
high-ranking Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, who presented Havana
as peace-loving and no threat to anyone. Montes was a spy for Cuba. She
pleaded guilty and is now in a federal penitentiary. Her "reports" are
still used by Castro's advocates.
It is difficult to improve relations with dictatorships that deny human
rights, ban labor unions and abuse and jail peaceful dissidents for
talking about democracy. Visiting members of European parliaments have
been arbitrarily arrested in Cuba.
President Obama tried unilaterally to extend a "hand of friendship"
without success. Today Havana wants money, not a meaningful dialogue
that might lead to a "transition."
Like Sen. Leahy, I wish things could be different, but that requires a
demonstrable Castro initiative to change the nature of his rule in Cuba.
Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in