Below is a letter sent by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to Tom Donohue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on his upcoming trip to Cuba:
Dear Mr. Donohue:
I understand that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will be leading a business delegation to Cuba next week. As you know, I have a strong interest in the freedom and well-being of the Cuban people. And because I have great respect for much of the U.S. Chamber’s work, I want to share my perspective about why I believe the Chamber’s trip is misguided and fraught with peril of becoming a propaganda coup for the Castro regime – to the detriment of America’s strategic interest in protecting human rights around the world, as well as the Cuban people.
As you attempt “to develop a better understanding of the country’s economic environment and the state of its private sector,” keep in mind that whatever new opportunities the regime claims to have made available to some Cubans, those opportunities are systematically denied to those who criticize and oppose the regime. Also consider the reality that no supposed economic change can be real or lasting since it can be unilaterally taken away at the regime’s discretion – without any independent judicial system to appeal to, and no way to seek meaningful policy changes through the political process, since free and fair elections are nonexistent in Cuba.
The irony should not be lost on the U.S. Chamber that an independently operated Cuban chamber of commerce – modeled after America’s, free to criticize the government, and free to advocate against state control of the economy – is simply not allowed by the Castro regime.
In essence, the Cuban regime’s claims of economic change actually represent the antithesis of “free enterprise” that the U.S. Chamber promotes.
Since your last visit to Cuba 15 years ago, some things have changed, though much has remained the same. For example:
Fidel Castro no longer runs the regime’s day-to-day dictatorial duties, because his brother does. Meanwhile, a pro-democracy leader named Oswaldo Payá, who in 1999 was just starting to gain momentum for his pro-democracy Varela Project, is now dead – the victim of a mysterious car accident that many, including me, have good reason to believe was orchestrated and covered up by the regime.
On a positive note, there is less fear now among the Cuban people who have increasingly spoken out against the regime’s abuses and in favor of their democratic aspirations. However, this has resulted in the regime stepping up its repression, with exponentially more documented cases of unjust incarcerations, physical abuse, intimidation, murders and other forms of repression. Under Raul Castro, political arrests have at least tripled, reaching nearly 1,000 per month.
The Cuban regime continues to violate international norms. For example, it was recently caught smuggling illicit weapons to North Korea, marking the largest weapons shipment uncovered in violation of United Nations sanctions against the Kim regime.
Since your last visit, Raul Castro has attempted to extort the U.S. into releasing convicted Cuban regime spies by taking an American hostage, Alan Gross, who was in Cuba helping the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet.
Since your last visit, perhaps no greater transformative innovation has occurred than what we’ve seen with the Internet, which has expanded economic opportunities, along with new platforms to engage in free speech. However, this positive change that has changed most of the world has left Cuba behind. According to the most recent Freedom on the Net report by Freedom House, Cuba ranked as the world's 2nd worst violator of Internet and digital media freedom. Only Iran ranked worse.
To be clear, I have great respect for the U.S. Chamber's work promoting job creation through free enterprise, but from the day it endorsed my campaign in 2010, I've made my view clear that the U.S. Chamber is dead wrong on U.S. policy toward Cuba.
Until the Cuban people are free to choose their destiny, their fundamental freedoms are respected and Cuban prisons are empty of political prisoners, the U.S. should not make it easier for the Castro regime to enrich itself and fund its repression with American dollars. At a time when the regime unjustly holds American Alan Gross as a hostage, repression continues in the streets and political prisoners are desperately waging hunger strikes, we should not be setting up propaganda opportunities like this for the Castro regime.
But at the very least, the U.S. Chamber should use its considerable clout to draw attention to the regime’s treatment of dissidents and Alan Gross, as well as its unwillingness to change its political system to enshrine the guarantee of freedom and human rights. The Castro regime, not the U.S., is the biggest impediment that exists toward normalizing relations with Cuba.
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