What the U.S. Chamber Won't Tell You About Cuba

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
In announcing his upcoming trip to Cuba, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue stated:

Since I was last in Cuba 15 years ago, a reform program has reportedly taken 600,000 workers from government payrolls and allowed the number of self-employed entrepreneurs in the country to triple to more than 450,000."

Sort of.

According to the Castro regime's official statistics, 600,000 workers have supposedly been removed from government payrolls, though well-short of its announced goal of 1 million layoffs by the end of 2011. A major concern is that very few of the laid-off workers have transferred to the "self-employment" sector.

Then, the fuzzy math begins.

The number of "self-employed entrepreneurs" has not tripled to more than 450,000.  During Donohue's 1999 trip to Cuba there were nearly 210,000 self-employed licensees. Thus, according to the Castro regime's official, unverified statistics, in the last 15 years there has been a net gain of 240,000 new licensees. That's hardly triple.

Deduct the one-in-four ratio (confirmed through 2012) of self-employed licenses that have been canceled or returned due to frustration with state control -- probably an even higher ratio now -- and the net gain (over 15 years) is of 180,000 new licensees.  That's not even double.

But anyone can miscalculate, particularly when relying on a dictatorship's manipulated data.

Most importantly, here's what the Chamber won't tell you about "self-employed" licensees:

- Cuba's "self-employed" licensees have no ownership rights whatsoever - be it to their artistic or "intellectual" outputs, commodity they produce, property, or personal service they offer.

- Licensees have no legal entity (hence business) to transfer, sell or leverage. They don't even own the equipment essential to their self-employment.

As Havana-based lawyer and pro-democracy blogger Miriam Celaya has previously explained:

"The fact that no legal document exists that clearly explains how measures are established for each [self-employment] activity, the particular requirements of each and the obligations and rights of investors, only creates a vagueness and formlessness that favors speculation and corruption on behalf of the regime officials in charge of the process, as well as the defenselessness for those that risk investment in the private sector. To summarize it in a simple phrase: in a State where no citizen rights exist, there are no legal guarantees for slaves that aspire to freedom."

- Licensees have no right to engage in foreign trade, seek or receive foreign investments.

- Effectually, licensees continue to work for the state -- and when the state decides such jobs are no longer needed, licensees are shut down without recourse.

- The only thing licensees have is a "get out of jail free card" (license) that (in theory) doesn't punish them for selling some widgets (like they would in the black-market), though (in practice) the authorities' harassment remains arbitrary and constant.

Moreover, here's what the Chamber won't tell you about foreign investment in Cuba:

- In Cuba, foreign trade and investment is the exclusive domain of the state, i.e. Fidel and Raul Castro. There are no "exceptions."

- In the last five decades, every single "foreign trade" transaction with Cuba has been with a state entity, or individual acting on behalf of the state.

- The state's exclusivity regarding trade and investment was enshrined in Article 18 of Castro's 1976 Constitution.

- Since passage of the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act ("TSREEA"), more than $4 billion in U.S. agricultural and medical products have been sold to Cuba. However, all those sales by more than 250 privately-owned U.S. companies were made to only one Cuban buyer -- a company called Alimport, which is the Castro's import monopoly.

- Castro's 2014 Foreign Investment Law offers absolutely not rights to Cubans on the island.  They remain prohibited from transacting business with any foreign entity.  Even more fundamental, they remain prohibited from owning a business, period.

- The 2014 Foreign Investment Law violates six International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

1. Forced Labor Convention (No. 29) and Abolition of Forced Labor Convention (No. 105) - Cuba has used forced and compulsory labor by sending workers to permanent agricultural camps as a means of political coercion and education and punishment for holding expressing opposing political views. In addition, labor mobilizations to work in specific agricultural development projects also violate these Conventions.

2. Freedom of Association and Protection to Organize Convention (No. 87) - Article 1(g) of the new Labor Code grants the workers “the right to associate themselves voluntarily and establish Unions.” In practice, it is not allowed.

3. Protection of Wages Convention (No. 05) - Cuba violates this Convention that prohibits deductions from wages with a view to insuring a direct or indirect payment for obtaining or retaining employment made to a state intermediary agency.

4. Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98) - Collective bargaining is nonexistent in Cuba.

5. Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111) - By selecting the workers to supply to foreign enterprises, Cuba does not follow the mandate of equality of opportunity or treatment in employment and occupation.

6. Employment Policy Convention (No. 122) - Cuba’s policy is of selecting who works where, regardless of skills or endowments, and transfers are not the result of the will of the worker.

7. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23) - Nonexistent in Cuba are: the right to work; free choice of employment; just and favorable working conditions; protection against unemployment; the right to equal pay for equal work; just and favorable remuneration; and the right to form and join trade unions.

Finally, here's what the Chamber won't tell you about Cuba's current political reality:

- Cuba's regime was recently caught red-handed smuggling weapons to North Korea - the largest weapons cache discovered since U.N. Security Council sanctions towards the Kim regime were enacted.

- Cuba's regime has wrested political and operational control of the most resource-rich nation in Latin America, Venezuela; it has undermined that nation's democratic institutions; and led a campaign of repression resulting in the arrest and torture of thousands of innocent student protesters, and the murder of over 40.

- Repression has risen dramatically under Raul Castro; political arrests have at least tripled (reaching nearly 1,000 per month); opposition activists Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Juan Wilfredo Soto and Wilmar Villar have been murdered; and democracy leaders Laura Pollan of The Ladies in White and Oswaldo Paya of the Christian Liberation Movement have died under mysterious circumstances.

- European and Canadian businesses in Cuba have been illegally confiscated, their bank accounts frozen and an unknown number of foreign businessmen imprisoned without charges or trial.

- Democracy activists, including Sonia Garro, an Afro-Cuban member of The Ladies in White, and Angel Yunier Remon, a young Cuban rapper critical of the Castro regime, remain imprisoned after years without charges or trial.

- Raul Castro has taken an American hostage, Alan P. Gross, who was in Cuba helping the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet, in order to extort the United States into releasing five (now three) spies convicted in federal courts of targeting military installations and conspiracy to murder three American citizens and a permanent resident of the U.S.

Welcome to the real Cuba.