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Doing business with a dictator

International

Issue: "Bush picks Cheney as VP," Aug. 5, 2000

The stunning escape of Andy Morales and thousands of other lesser-knowns from Cuba each year should hinder the lurch toward normalizing relations between the United States and the communist government of Fidel Castro. Nevertheless, lapdogs for the Cuban dictator are durable. The same week that Mr. Morales turned up on U.S. soil:

  • President Bill Clinton again waived provisions of a 1996 law that would allow U.S. citizens whose property was confiscated in the Castro takeover to sue foreigners who use those assets to do business. Mr. Clinton signed the law after Cuba shot down two American planes, but has without fail waived its provisions at six month intervals ever since.
  • U.S. Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), made a weekend visit to Cuba and met for 10 hours with Mr. Castro. Afterwards they called for the end of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and said relations can improve under Mr. Castro.
  • The House approved legislation to ease the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. The bill will allow virtually unlimited travel to Cuba, along with the export of food and medicine to Cuba. Instead of helping the Cuban president, said Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, Congress should have been "turning down the screws on this dictator that kills people, that has killed American citizens over international waters, has put people in jail for being dissident."

Orestes Lorenzo, perhaps Cuba's most famous defector (see story), said he does not mind easing the embargo-so long as it cuts both ways. If American citizens travel to Cuba, then Cubans should also be able to travel abroad. That is not possible under Castro, he points out. Further, even Cuban citizens living abroad who wish to visit Cuba must apply for a visa to enter their own country. "It is one thing for the United States to lift sanctions," he said, "it is another for Castro to lift his embargo against Cubans." Mr. Lorenzo abandoned a prestigious career as a fighter pilot when he left Cuba. He now runs his own investment business in Orlando. In Cuba, he said, "making a profit independent of the government lands you in jail." His business now makes him more aware of how many ways there could be to make a buck from Cuban investments. He said he believes "there is a lot of money on the table right now. Part of corporate America that lacks certain ethics just wants to lift the embargo regardless, because Castro is going to die and they will have to invest on other terms." As long as the dictator is offering cheap labor to overseas investors and keeping tight control, he said, "It is a good deal for overseas companies, and a good deal for Castro. Castro is selling slave labor."

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Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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