Like Cuban-American Barbarians at the Gate

Tuesday, May 27, 2014
The most telling reaction to last week's Council of the Americasletter, which lobbies President Obama to bypass Congress in easing travel and financial sanctions towards Cuba, didn't come from exile organizations.

The U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, the Democratic Directorate, Mothers Against Repression, the Cuban-American National Foundation, every single political prisoner organization. You name it, they opposed it.

Moreover, it wasn't from Cuba's largest internal opposition groups.

The Ladies in White, with hundred of members throughout the island; the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), with thousands of activists; Estado de Sats, the largest independent think-tank; the indefatigable men and women of the Civil Resistance Front, led by Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez"; The Emilia Project, led by Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet; and the Christian Liberation Movement, with its nation-wide presence. They all opposed it as well.

It wasn't even from some of the most renowned Cuban intellectuals, such as famed poet and former political prisoner, Raul Rivero, author Carlos Alberto Montaner and philosopher Alexis Jardines. None of whom are known for their strong advocacy in favor of U.S. sanctions. Their opposition is worth contemplating (here, here and here).

The most telling opposition came from those Cuban dissident leaders, who have supported the lifting of U.S. sanctions in the past, but rightfully view the Council of the Americas' letter with suspicion.

Such is the case of Manuel Cuesta Morua, of the Progressive Arc Movement, who stated:

"I find it interesting that this initiative is based in the United States and not Cuba. It is dangerous for Cuba, like the hug of a bear, because Cuba is very weak as a nation. Nor do I see in this letter a clear defense of human rights and freedoms, and that makes me a little suspicious."

Much of the reason for this suspicion stems from some of the Cuban-American signatories of the letter.

It is the result of a crisis of confidence created by a handful of Cuban-American businessmen, who travel to Cuba, "wheel and deal" with Castro regime officials and ignore the plight of courageous democracy activists -- but then return saying their intention was to "help Cuban civil society."

It is the result of actions by businessmen like Carlos Saladrigas, for whom the end justifies the means in his efforts to unconditionally lift commercial and financial U.S. sanctions. If Saladrigas has to partner with pro-Castro groups to lobby, so be it. If he has to be a cheerleader for Raul Castro's "cosmetic reforms," so be it. If he has keep silent about Castro's murder of renowned democracy leaders, illegal weapons smuggling to North Korea and the subversion of Venezuela's democracy, so be it. The state-sponsors of terrorism list? Take Castro off. American hostage Alan Gross? Exchange him for the imprisoned Cuban spies. These have nothing to do with "civil society," but Saladrigas says -- so be it.

It is also the result of actions by businessmen like Alfy Fanjul, who traveled to Cuba with the Brookings Institute and met solely with Castro regime officials, purposefully shunning Cuba's brave democracy leaders in order to not offend their "regime hosts." It is worth noting that Alfy did not sign The Council of the Americas' letter. Perhaps this indicates some regret for his insensitive behavior. Let's hope. However, his relatively unknown younger brother, Andres, signed. Whether as a proxy for Alfy or on his own volition is unclear.

Or businessmen like Jorge Perez, the Miami real estate developer. Perez is not known for having ever lifted a finger or raising his voice in support of Cuba's democracy activists. Yet now, according to the BBC, he's "challenging Cuban-American support for the embargo." Are we to believe that Perez has suddenly taken this stance because he wants to help "civil society"? Or was he enticed by meetings with Eusebio Leal, the notorious regime official in charge of Castro's Habaguanex S.A., who controls the real estate development of Old Havana and the Malecon seaside harbor?

These Cuban-American businessmen talk ambiguously about Cuban "civil society" -- but their actions speak louder than their words.

Moreover, the notable absence in the Council of the Americas' letter of the primacy of freedom, democracy, human rights and security -- the cornerstones of U.S. policy toward Cuba, as codified by Congress into law -- is glaring.

The Castro regime has always sought to depict Cuban-Americans as greedy "barbarians at the gate" (popular term referring to the infamous corporate raiders of the 1980s) who want to financially prey upon the Cuban people.

The historic integrity of the overwhelming majority of Cuban-American business leaders has always proven this depiction to be nonsense.

Unfortunately, Saladrigas, Inc., is playing the part to a tee.