Bail out Cuba? No way!

Monday, April 6, 2009
BY MAURICIO CLAVER-CARONE

The Miami Herald
Mon, Apr. 06, 2009

With bailout fever spreading through the Capitol, it's hardly surprising that even a bankrupt dictatorship has found surrogates to plead for a handout.

Americans thought the financial-services industry was audacious in asking for billions of taxpayer dollars while senior managers gold-plated their bathroom fixtures, scheduled ''team-building'' sessions at luxurious resorts in the Napa Valley and paid themselves unmerited bonuses. Then executives of Detroit's Big Three automakers, also seeking billions, flew their private jets to Washington.

Now, a host of business and trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) and the American Farm Bureau, are voicing their support for bailing out the Cuban government. In a letter earlier this year to President Obama, they urged him to extend U.S. trade credits and financing to the Castro brothers' regime. Needless to say, Cuban authorities quickly reacted to this generous -- and unconditioned -- proposal with praise and enthusiasm.

The letter essentially endorsed a Cuba-policy report released by the NFTC just as the Paris Club of creditor nations disclosed that Cuba already owes $29.7 billion to its international trading partners -- with little hope for repayment -- and ranks second on the list of the world's most indebted nations.

Coincidentally, the Castro regime's biggest international benefactor, President Hugo Chávez of oil-rich Venezuela, is scrambling to adjust his domestic and international spending as declining oil prices remain steady below the $50 a barrel mark. Chávez had been making his short- and mid-term budget forecasts on an assumption that the price of oil would average $60 a barrel. From a fiscal standpoint, it's unsustainable for him to continue his ideological handouts around the hemisphere. However, Cuba has been the biggest beneficiary of Chavez's largesse, raking in about $5 billion a year.

If U.S. trade credits and financing aren't sufficient to bailout the Cuban regime, the American business groups, so eager to subsidize this dictatorship, held multiple press conferences this week with their Congressional allies promoting legislation to send American tourists to Cuba. According to Cuba's Ministry of Tourism, lifting U.S. restrictions on tourist travel to Cuba would net the Castro government $5 billion annually. Wouldn't that be convenient?

Never mind that Cuba's travel and tourism industry is owned and operated by the Cuban Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which keeps and spends the money. Try to forget, too, that Cuban nationals are denied access to those isolated resorts -- including the hotels, beaches, clinics, restaurants and stores -- where foreign tourists only vacation.

Curiously, the American business group's letter to Obama never uses the words freedom, democracy or human rights; nor does it mention the most popular word in America today -- change -- in any context that might help the Cuban people. Perhaps its authors were unaware that Cuba's nascent civil society was struggling for ''change'' even before it became the Obama campaign's mantra. Change translates into the Spanish word cambio. When young Cubans began wearing white wristbands last year -- á la Lance Armstrong's yellow wristbands -- imprinted with the word cambio, the Cuban government's repressive response was sweeping arrests and prison sentences.

Obama correctly promised, while campaigning, to keep the embargo on the Cuban dictatorship and use it as leverage to negotiate civil liberties and political freedom. Cubans admire the United States as much for its democratic ideals and personal freedoms as for its prosperity. Change cannot be achieved by bailing out Cuba's longtime oppressors.

For Cuba to become a credit-worthy nation, it must first become a multi-party democracy that respects its citizens.