"Visiting Cuba hurts Cuban workers, dissidents"

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Sep 5 06:18:59 MDT 2002

(In his letter to the governor of Minnesota, Jeb Bush,
the governor who appointed Fulgencio Batista's
grandson to the Florida Supreme Court, recycles all
manner of familiar old stale arguments to support the
blockade and travel ban. Journalist Karen Lee Wald
has creatively taken Bush's letter and turned it back
on him in a most imaginative way. Please pass this
on to other lists and people who would appreciate it.)

The Miami Herald
Posted on Mon, Sep. 02, 2002
Visiting Cuba hurts Cuban workers, dissidents

The following are edited excerpts of a letter that Florida
Gov. Jeb Bush sent to Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura
regarding Ventura's planned trip to Cuba Sept. 26-30.

I want to share some information that I hope will provide
you with a broader and more-realistic picture of life in
Cuba. While I don't expect you to cancel your trip,
I strongly believe doing so would be the right thing to do.
I encourage you to consider other options as you look for
opportunities to expand international trade for your state.

Recently, it has become politically popular for U.S. elected
officials to travel to Cuba. But we should never forget that
the people of Cuba don't share the same basic freedoms and
rights that the residents of Florida and Minnesota enjoy.
The reason: Fidel Castro denies them the opportunity to
exercise the unalienable rights that we have come to take
for granted in America. Speaking out against government
policies, fighting for what you believe, or attempting to
change the established order to create a better society will
make you an ''independent'' or ''maverick'' in the United
States. In Cuba, you become a ''dissenter'' and an ''enemy
of the revolution'' and are summarily thrown in jail.

As a strong supporter of worker rights, you should be aware
of the abysmal conditions that hard-working Cubans must
endure. For example, when foreign companies use Cuban
laborers, the companies pay the Castro government in dollars
or other hard currency, but the workers are paid in
near-worthless pesos. In effect, Castro skims off the top
and leaves the workers with a tiny fraction of what is
rightfully theirs. He uses the difference to finance his
oppressive regime and ensure its continued existence.

While in Cuba, ask about the Varela Project, a petition
initiative -- legal under the Cuban Constitution -- that
calls for a referendum on open elections, freedom of speech,
protection from state-sponsored political retribution and
the establishment of free enterprise.

The initiative is led by the courageous Oswaldo Payá
Sardiñas, who is being honored by the National Democratic
Institute with its 2002 Democracy Award. The award is
scheduled to be presented to Payá in Washington, D.C., on
Sept. 30. So far, he has not been granted a visa from the
Cuban government to travel to the United States. Ask every
Cuban official you meet, including Castro, when Payá can
expect to receive his visa.

Because your trip concerns the establishment of trade
agreements, it should be noted that Cuba is not the economic
windfall some U.S. companies are hoping for, nor is it the
kind of business partner that Minnesota corporations are
accustomed to working with. The Cuban government repeatedly
fails to pay its bills, and many nations have stopped doing
business with the island. The current business state of
affairs in Cuba has been described as ''uneasy, unreliable
and uncertain.'' That should not come as a surprise from a
failed economic system that still considers private business
and profits as evil. The result is a standard of living for
Cubans that has gone in just a few decades from one of the
highest in Latin America to one of the lowest.

Now is not the time to encourage expanded trade and grant
unrestricted tourist travel to Cuba. Dollars generated from
such activity are funneled into the coffers of the Cuban
military and internal security forces. In fact, expanding
tourism travel was exactly what Castro did in 1991 after he
lost his stipend from the collapsed Soviet Union -- a
stipend he earned by spying on the United States and
inciting revolution throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Moreover, Cuba is a bad credit risk. Even the European
Union, with many current and former Castro allies among its
members, complained to the Cuban government about ''delayed
payment, excessive government fees, and inconsistent and
sometimes outlandish rules.'' France, Spain, Italy and
Venezuela have suspended official credits after being left
holding the bag filled with millions of dollars in IOU's.

I will commit to working with you in searching for new
business and trade opportunities with nations other than
Cuba. I will direct my office to research potential overseas
ventures from which Florida and Minnesota can mutually
benefit. There are many more-lucrative markets with
countries that believe in democracy, free trade and respect
for human dignity.

In a recent letter to Congress, Secretary of State Colin
Powell and Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neill reminded
lawmakers that the relationship between the United States
and Cuba remains one of ''continued hostility.'' Cuba
continues to harbor criminal fugitives and supports
international terrorist organizations. While our military
are protecting us from terrorists, Castro's government
claims that the U.S. operation in Afghanistan has engaged in
''war atrocities.'' This type of rhetoric normally would be
dismissed as absurd if it weren't so offensive to our
uniformed personnel.

President Bush announced on May 20 his ''Initiative for a
New Cuba,'' a series of steps that the United States expects
Castro to implement in return for a more-normalized
diplomatic and trade relationship. While no one expects
Castro to cede power, he continues to be unwilling to make
even the most basic changes. We should not participate in
his continued oppression of the Cuban people.

While in Cuba, meet with dissidents and other human-rights
defenders. You will get another view and insight, directly
from those who suffer under Castro's totalitarianism. They
will tell you that lifting the trade embargo and allowing
unrestricted travel will serve only to maintain the status
quo and delay the peaceful transition to democracy and free
enterprise that the Cubans have been waiting for and so
justly deserve.

Now read Karen Lee Wald's "Turning The Tables on Jeb":

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