The Hill: Keep U.S. Chamber Out of Cuba Policy

Thursday, December 3, 2015
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Hill:

Keep U.S. Chamber out of Cuba policy

With predictable consistency in modern times, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has exercised its poor judgment on the defining foreign-policy issues our nation faces. Even worse, it’s always for the same short-sighted reason: It places the profits of some member company above American foreign-policy interests.

Profits are important. So are the nation’s foreign-policy interests. They are not always compatible.

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

"American businessmen oppose American involvement in any foreign war," the Chamber argued then. Why? Because some of its member companies, including DuPont, Standard Oil and Alcoa, had business arrangements with German companies and cartels, and were afraid to disrupt business and the flow of profits. So Hitler was deemed 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 Gen. Douglas McArthur's post-war breakup of the zaibatsu – Japan’s imperial monopolies that controlled the country’s economy and whose executives were responsible for countless war crimes. Why would the U.S. Chamber support Japan’s monopolies?  To maintain long-established, pre-war business relationships between the imperial monopolies and American companies.

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

In 1982, the Chamber actively lobbied against President Ronald Reagan's policy to boycott and prevent construction of the Trans-Siberian gas pipeline.

Reagan believed that the pipeline would provide the Soviet Union with hard currency that it desperately needed and make Germany and France energy-dependent on the USSR.  The Chamber cared only about General Electric's contracts for compressors, turbine rotors and pipe-laying equipment. It even publicly accused Reagan of "economic warfare" and fanning a "potentially dangerous conflict" within NATO.

History has shown that the Reagan administration’s disruption of the pipeline was a key factor in the collapse of the Soviet empire and, again, how dangerously wrong the Chamber was.

In 2010, the Chamber actively lobbied against sanctions imposed on Iran.

Those sanctions are now universally credited for having debilitated Iran's regime and for bringing it to the negotiating table.

Aside from the mullahs, of course, guess who were the main U.S. opponents to imposing those sanctions? That's right -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A nuclear Iran? U.S. national security? Neither was a priority for the Chamber. 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 toward the Ukraine.

No armed incursion, violent provocation or violation of international law is worth disrupting any financial, defense or energy deal with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin's cronies, argued the Chamber.  Needless to say, Putin has gotten that dangerous message loud and clear.

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

Here in the United States, the Chamber likes to talk disingenuously about Cuba's "emerging private sector," the "people" and "entrepreneurship." Media reports, however, 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 control more than 80 percent 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 – as a result of exemptions to U.S. sanctions on Cuba – more than 250 U.S. companies have cut deals with Castro's telecom monopoly, ETECSA, and food import monopoly, ALIMPORT. None of the money the Cuban government collects has trickled-down to the Cuban people.)

The new “deals” may be dandy for Gutierrez's consulting fees, the Havana trysts of the delegates of the Chamber’s members, and heirs of the Castro brothers, but the deals do nothing to promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people. To the contrary -- they has proven to only empower the Castro family's repressive political and economic monopoly.

So, for the noble cause of a free and democratic Cuba -- please, don’t let the Chamber of Commerce set U.S.-Cuba policy.

Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and editor of in Washington, D.C. He is an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has served on the full-time faculty of The Catholic University of America's School of Law and adjunct faculty of The George Washington University's National Law Center.