Keep the Chamber Out of Cuba Policy

Sunday, November 8, 2015
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has exercised poor judgment in every defining foreign policy issue of modern times.

And always for the same short-sighted reason -- because it placed the profits of some of its member companies over American foreign policy interests.

Both are important -- but not necessarily compatible.

In 1941, the Chamber actively lobbied against American involvement in World War II.

"American businessmen oppose American involvement in any foreign war," argued the Chamber.

Why? Because some of its member companies, including DuPont, Standard Oil and Alcoa, had business arrangements with German companies and cartels.

They were afraid to disrupt those profits, so Hitler became more palatable -- "hitherto we have been a nation... with no jealousy or resentment with respect to the aggrandizements of other countries," said the Chamber.

The Chamber also fought bitterly against General Douglas McArthur's post-war breakup of the zaibatsu -- the Imperial monopolies that overwhelmingly controlled Japan's economy -- and whose executives were responsible for war crimes.

Why? Because long-established business relationships would be severed.

Imagine how different the world would have been if the Chamber had gotten its way.

In 1982, the Chamber actively lobbied against President Reagan's boycott of the Trans-Siberian gas pipeline.

Reagan believed that the pipeline would bring desperately needed hard currency to the Soviets, plus make Germany and France energy dependent on the USSR.

But the Chamber only cared about General Electric's contracts for compressors, turbine rotors and pipelaying equipment.

It even publicly accused Reagan of "economic warfare" and a "potentially dangerous conflict" in NATO.

History has shown the disruption of the pipeline was key to the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Again, how dangerously wrong the Chamber was.

In 2010, the Chamber actively lobbied against sanctions towards Iran.

Remember those sanctions that are now universally credited for having debilitated Iran's regime and bringing it to the negotiating table?

(Never mind whether the Obama Administration then ultimately cut a good deal at the table or not.)

Guess who were the main opponents of those sanctions -- aside from the Mullahs, of course?

That's right -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A nuclear Iran? U.S. national security? None a priority.

What mattered were the business interests of Cargill, Boeing, Halliburton, Caterpillar and Siemens.

In 2014, the Chamber actively lobbied against sanctions on Russia for its aggression towards the Ukraine.

No armed incursion, violent provocation or violation of international law is worth disrupting any financial, defense or energy deal with Putin's cronies, argued the Chamber.

Needless to say, Putin has gotten that dangerous message loud and clear.

And following this tradition, last week, the Chamber led a delegation to the Havana International Trade Fair -- desperately seeking a deal with Castro's monopolies.

Here in the U.S., the Chamber likes to disingenuously talk about Cuba's "emerging private sector," the "people" and "entrepreneurship."

But an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal described how it was all about meetings with Castro's apparatchiks -- over cigars and mojitos -- at the mezzanine of the twice-confiscated, luxurious Hotel Saratoga.

It was about how to cut a deal with one of the shadow companies run by Castro's military and intelligence services, which alone control over 80% of the Cuban economy.

"We need two or three or four or five important deals... to show that there’s momentum, to show that this is for real," said former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez.

(Newsflash: Since 1992 and 2001 -- through sanctions exemptions -- over 250 U.S. companies have cut deals with Castro's telecom monopoly, ETECSA, and food import monopoly, ALIMPORT. None have trickled-down to the Cuban people.)

Well, that's dandy for Gutierrez's consulting fees, the Chamber's member companies, its delegation's Havana trysts and Castro's heirs.

But it does nothing to promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people.

To the contrary -- it has proven to only empower the Castro family's repressive political and economic monopoly.

Thus please, based on its long history of poor foreign policy judgment -- for the noble cause of a free and democratic Cuba -- keep the Chamber out of the policy.