Doing Business With Castro's Cuba

Friday, February 14, 2014
Statement from The Center for a Free Cuba:

The Castro regime, facing an acute financial crisis and the possible risk of losing the Venezuelan money lifeline, is trying to woo foreign investors, including some Cuban-American businessmen. It has launched this charm offensive without a true opening, while arresting, beating and harassing hundreds of Cuban peaceful pro-democracy activists.

The Castro brothers' search for business deals is not new. In fact they actively pursued them in the 1990s, when the Soviet subsidies ended. But many of the foreign investors who were lured have left the island with a bitter after-taste. Of the 400 foreign companies then operating in Cuba, there are now only 190 left. Among the problems they encountered: having to partner, on a minority basis, mostly with army-controlled organizations; hiring employees only through state agencies, which pay the workers five percent of the dollar salaries in local currency; government freezing of hard-currency bank deposits; arrests without due process; outright seizure of businesses without recourse.

A year and a half ago, when it was learned that several Cuban-American businessmen were advocating the lifting of U.S. restrictions in order to strike deals with the Castro regime, a dissenting group of a dozen former Fortune 500 senior executives and other multinational business leaders issued a joint statement, Commitment to Freedom. The group was led by the late Manuel J. Cutillas, Chairman of the Center for a Free Cuba, philanthropist, civic leader, and for many years Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Bacardi Company.

The corporate leaders denounced "the Castro regime's deceptive campaign aimed at securing much-needed financial resources to prolong its iron grip over the people of Cuba." They further stated that "instead of ushering in a true economic and political opening that would unleash the entrepreneurial skills of the Cuban people and attract foreign capital, it has only introduced non-systemic, heavily-taxed, revocable reforms with no legal protection or investment return."

The regime, they added, "is trying to induce the U.S. to lift or further weaken the embargo to funnel tourist dollars and bank credits to the bankrupt island--a bailout under the guise of constructive engagement."

Finally, the group of prominent Cuban-American executives asserted that "the future of the island-nation lies not with the current failed, octogenarian rulers, but with the leaders of the growing pro-democracy movement. They, and not their oppressors, are worthy of receiving international recognition, financial resources and communications technology to carry out their heroic struggle."

Signing the document Commitment to Freedom were former senior executives from Dow Chemical, General Mills, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Colgate-Palmolive, Bacardi, American Express Bank, PepsiCo, Warner Communications, Martin Marietta Aluminum, Amex Nickel Corporation, and others.

No reassessment of U.S.-Cuban relations today can ignore why Castro's Cuba remains on the list of supporters of international terrorism. Apart from the terrorists it continues to shelter and its close links to Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, the Castro regime is holding an imprisoned American hostage for the crime of giving a laptop to a Cuban Jewish group. Recently, a U.S. federal court indicted Colombian terrorists based in Cuba and the FBI placed on its Most Wanted List an American terrorist who murdered a New Jersey State Trooper and who, the FBI says “has been living in Cuba…, where she attends government functions and her standard of living is higher than most Cubans.”

Moreover, a U.N. Panel of Experts has just concluded that the war planes and missiles that Havana attempted to smuggle to North Korea, concealed under 10,000 tons of sugar, constituted a clear violation of U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

The Center for a Free Cuba calls on government leaders, business organizations, think tanks and media representatives to heed our warning and not be deceived by biased polls or Castro propaganda, sadly spread, if not financed, by those eager to make a quick profit in connivance with the totalitarian regime. For our part, we reject any such disgraceful dealings, and pledge to support the reconstruction of Cuba, but only when freedom dawns on the captive island.

Below is the letter issued by Cuban-American corporate leaders mentioned in this statement.
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COMMITMENT TO FREEDOM

We, the undersigned, Cuban exiles with deep roots in U.S. and international corporations, institutions and business communities, wish to convey our great concern regarding the Castro regime’s deceptive campaign aimed at securing much-needed financial resources to prolong its iron grip over the people of Cuba.

The regime is facing the severest financial crisis since the early 1990s, compounded by the possible loss of its Venezuelan life line. But instead of ushering in a true economic and political opening that would unleash the entrepreneurial skills of the Cuban people and attract foreign capital, it has only introduced non-systemic, heavily-taxed, revocable reforms with no legal protection or investment return. To stay afloat, the regime is pursuing a three-pronged strategy:

First, it is trying to induce the U.S. to lift or further weaken the embargo to funnel tourist dollars and bank credits to the bankrupt island--a bailout under the guise of constructive engagement.

Second, it has apparently enlisted the support of the Catholic Church hierarchy in Cuba to promote “reconciliation” under the current totalitarian system, while continuing to hound, beat and arrest peaceful opponents and human rights activists across the island.

Third, it is seeking to divide and neutralize the Cuban-American community, and lure some of its businessmen, by selling the fallacious concept that there is no solution to Cuba’s predicament other than supporting cosmetic reforms without liberty and democracy.

We reject that outrageous proposition, since for us, and for most Cuban-Americans, there is no substitute for freedom. We believe that, absent the dismantling of the totalitarian apparatus on the island, along with the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the restoration of fundamental human rights, there should be no U.S. unilateral concessions to the Castro regime.

The future of the island-nation lies not with the current failed, octogenarian rulers, but with the leaders of the growing pro-democracy movement. They, and not their oppressors, are worthy of receiving international recognition, financial resources and communications technology to carry out their heroic struggle.

We pledge our continued support to them--the vanguard of the emerging civil society--and look forward to helping in the reconstruction of the island where we were born, but only when the Cuban people can enjoy the blessings of freedom we cherish and they deserve.

SIGNATORIES OF “COMMITMENT TO FREEDOM”

Manuel Jorge Cutillas, Fr. Chairman and CEO, BACARDI
Sergio Masvidal, Fr. Vice Chairman, AMERICAN EXPRESS BANK
Enrique Falla, Fr. EVP and CFO, DOW CHEMICAL
Eduardo Crews, Fr. President, Latin America, BRISTOL-MEYERS SQUIBB
Emilio Alvarez-Recio, Fr. VP. Worldwide Advertising, COLGATE-PALMOLIVE
Néstor Carbonell, Fr. VP International Government Affairs, PEPSICO
Alberto Mestre, Fr. President, Venezuela, GENERAL MILLS
Rafael de la Sierra, Fr. VP International Coordination WARNER COMMUNICATIONS (now Time Warner)
Eugenio Desvernine, Fr. Senior EVP, REYNOLDS METALS
José R. Bou, Fr. VP Primary Products Operation, MARTIN MARIETTA ALUMINUM
Alberto Luzárraga, Fr. Chairman, CONTINENTAL BANK INTERNATIONAL
Remedios Diaz-Oliver, Fr. Director of U.S. WEST and BARNETT BANK
Leopoldo Fernández-Pujals, Chairman JAZZTEL; Founder of TELEPIZZA
Jorge Blanco, Fr. President & CEO, AMEX NICKEL CORPORATION.
Carlos Gutierrez, Fr. U.S. SECRETARY OF COMMERCE
Mel Martinez, Fr. U.S. SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT