The Coddling of Castro

Trading with a dictator will not free Cuba from tyranny

FIDEL CASTRO came and went from his visit to the United Nations, where he got the opportunity to interact with democratic leaders of the world. With great fanfare and idolizing by some in the American media, by world leaders, and even by some of my congressional colleagues, Castro's traveling show made even Broadway jealous.

UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warmly embraced him, once again demonstrating the UN's hypocrisy when it comes to promoting democracy and human rights. The US news media fawned all over the tyrant, ignoring his record of murder and oppression. Congressional Democrats from New York (Jose Serrano, Charles Rangel, and Nydia Velazquez), shamefully glorified Castro and praised his "achievements." Congressman Serrano even gave the tyrant a pair of boxing gloves engraved with "Fidel is #1" during a rally that he hosted. One of few who deserve credit is New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R) who ostracized Castro, understanding that a tyrant has no place among democratically elected leaders.

Castro's main mission in New York was not to attend the UN celebration. His primary goal was to recruit US corporate executives as part of his propaganda campaign to lift the US trade embargo. Sadly, many executives were hooked into Castro's plan, and no doubt some are already pressuring the Clinton administration, suggesting the millions in profits that US corporations could make if they just had the opportunity to invest in Cuba.

Ignoring repression

Overlooked and rarely mentioned was one principal fact: The people of Cuba continue mired in misery and in brutal repression by Castro's Communist regime. For example, while Castro was in the US, Cuban independent journalist Olance Nogueras Roce was arrested and detained by Cuban state security for writing an article on the dangerous Juragua nuclear power plant and for attempting to ask a Cuban Foreign Ministry official a question during a briefing. For while Castro was asking the UN to become more democratic and reporters asked him about his pick for the World Series, his repressive, undemocratic machinery continued operating, full speed ahead.

Castro's main pitch throughout his trip was that his regime was ready to change direction. Upon closer examination, however, it is clear that this is far from the reality in Cuba today.

Castro has implemented a new plantation-style economy that uses worker repression as its main attraction for foreign investors. Investors are not allowed to deal directly with the Cuban worker. Instead, laborers work for a state-run employment agency, which then pays them for their work. This means that while Castro pockets the hard currency that foreign investments produce, the Cuban worker is paid in Cuban pesos at the official exchange rate of one peso per dollar, even though the real exchange rate is about 25 pesos to the dollar. As one foreign investor put it: "You pay $500 for an employee, and he only receives the equivalent of $20."

Exploiting workers

The regime's promotion of worker repression to salvage the failed revolution is shameful. A Cuban official told the Wall Street Journal that "the current system is more convenient. We are free from labor conflicts; nowhere else in the world could you get this tranquility." This was echoed in a statement by an investor from the Dominican Republic: "The main reason why I chose to invest in Cuba, rather than in the Dominican Republic, was the assurance by the Cubans that I would not have to negotiate or be forced to sign collective agreements with trade unions." Castro's plan to finance and salvage his regime is driven by calculated steps to sell the island to foreign investors as a production platform propelled by cheap labor with no rights.

This brings us to those who promote the end of the embargo and the trade that would rise from that move as a way to push Castro from power. These folks ignore the fact that under Castro's new economy, such a move would have the opposite effect by providing Castro with the resources he needs to continue his repressive regime. In effect, the investments would replace the massive Soviet subsidies to the island; Castro's desperate moves to salvage his regime are proof that economic pressures are having an effect on him. Moreover, no political changes have emerged or are being contemplated by Castro, given his recent rhetoric. Instead of easing economic sanctions, even stronger sanctions like those embodied in the Helms-Burton legislation, designed to reduce foreign investment on the island, are necessary to finally remove Castro from power.

If US companies wish to profit in Cuba, it should be in a Cuba where freedom once again reigns. As long as Castro is in power, any attempt to ease sanctions to promote US investment in Cuba would benefit no one except Castro, and would help extend the life of the our hemisphere's last tyranny. For while Castro came to New York and went, nothing has really changed on the island after 37 years of his failed Communist dictatorship.

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