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Castro wants money, not a dialogue

Posted on Sunday, 04.14.13

CUBAN EMBARGO

Castro wants money, not a dialogue

BY FRANK CALZON

frank.calzon@cubacenter.org

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

it owes.

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

Washington.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/14/3340674/castro-wants-money-not-a-dialogue.html

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