CUBA BRIEF: Two views on doing business in Cuba Congressman Roger Marshall and Frank Calzon

Dear friends,

This is the kind of respectful exchange the Center for a Free Cuba engages in all the time. I welcome your comments or suggestions.

High Plains / Midwest AG Journal, May 8, 2017

Cuba: Another perspective

By Frank Calzon

U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall wants to sell Kansas wheat to Cuba (“Congressman reflects on a recent Cuba trip,” High Plains Journal, April 10), and has filled a bill that “allows” American banks and to finance the Cuban government’s purchase. Really? Cuba has one of the worst credit records in the world. Americans shouldn’t be dragooned into the role of guarantors of credit extended to Cuba.

The real issue isn’t selling to Cuba. It’s getting Cuba to pay for what it buys. The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Economic Freedom puts Cuba’s credit rating right in the bottom—178th out of 180 countries, followed by Venezuela and North Korea.

The problem : The average Cuban’s salary is about $25 dollars a month—there’s no great purchasing power there. Havana has defaulted on loans worth billions.

It’s not a new issue. Despite raking in massive Soviet Union subsidies and boasting Moscow was a better commercial partner than the United States, Fidel Castro stopped payment in 1986 on the island’s $16 billion debt to the Paris Club, a consortium of foreign banks facilitating trade with Cuba. By 2015, those banks had “forgiven” $4 billion of Cuba’s debt. Last year, Japan forgave $1.08 billion dollars (120 billion Yen) owed by Cuba. The Castros dynasty seems to assume it never has to pay off its loans. Uncle Sam must not become Cuba’s next sucker.

American companies have been making sales for years to Cuba on a “cash and carry” basis. In the year before Barack Obama became president, American companies exported $711.5 million in foodstuffs to Cuba. By 2010, trade had dropped to $362.8 million and by 2015 to $180.2 million. The decline was deliberate and intended to put pressure on U.S. companies to lobby Congress and the U.S. administration to extend credit.

“Much has changed and in a very positive way,” Marshall says now. In the United States, many changes. In Cuba, not much change other than a dramatic increase in repression. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights documented 1,005 political arrests in 2008 and 9,940 in 2016.

The “greater mutual security” that the Congressman wants can’t be attained without considering the presence of Russian spy ships in Havana’s harbor and such hostile acts as Gen. Raul Castro’s 2013 attempt to smuggle war planes, hidden under tons of sugar, in a ship to North Korea—a clear violation of United Nations’ trade sanctions. That came as President Obama prepared to re-establish diplomatic relations by making numerous concessions to Cuba.

One of those concessions was removing Cuba from the U.S. list of supporters of terrorism. Yet, Cuba today harbors numerous U.S. criminals. On the FBI’s “Most Wanted List” is a domestic terrorist convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper in cold blood. She was sentenced to life in prison but escaped and fled to Cuba, where she enjoys the regime’s hospitality. The good people of Kansas may want to ask President Donald Trump to demand her return and, if Cuba refuses, to put the island nation back on the infamous list.

Before the Castro Revolution, Cuban teenagers used to sell expired lottery tickets to naïve American tourists. Now Congressmen take guided tours to Cuba. As Mark Twain observed: “It is easier to deceive folks, rather than to convince them, they have been deceived.” Extending credit to “do business with Cuba” would be a deceit—and a very bad deal for American taxpayers.

—Frank Calzon is executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba.


High Plains / Midwest AG Journal,

April 10, 2017

Congressman reflects on recent Cuba trip

By U.S. Representative Roger Marshall 

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba with several of my colleagues on a 3-day congressional delegation. On this trip, we saw the country and were warmly welcomed by citizens and government officials alike. While everyone knows that the cars and architecture look like the year is still 1959, so much has changed, and in a very positive way. Cuba is becoming a modern country, and very much wants to engage with and trade with America.

While much about our past relations with Cuba can be debated, one thing this trip cemented for me is how dramatically our current policy of isolation has failed. Cuba has moved on, as has the rest of the world. The 50-year-old embargo now only serves to generate animosity toward America and to arbitrarily limit our citizens’ chances to engage with Cubans. The moves over the last two years toward greater engagement are already paying dividends in peoples’ hearts and minds. Folks there are getting a taste of capitalism, and are craving more.

Greater engagement in Cuba can lead to positive changes. Americans and Cubans have a great deal in common; the importance of family, a strong sense of patriotism and entrepreneurship. These commonalities will only become greater as we continue to engage, and Cuba continues to modernize. The spread of the internet in Cuba is opening dialogues that previously couldn’t occur. More than a third of the island’s workers are now in the private sector. Tourism continues to boom, even with travel restrictions placed on the nation by its neighbor.

Opening relations with Cuba should be a win-win for Cuban and American citizens. A healthy relationship with the country would foster greater mutual security, additional trade opportunities and greater human rights. For our Kansas farmers and ranchers, Cuba is a natural export market. They represent a potential top-10 wheat market, and as their tourism continues to grow, demand for higher quality protein sources will match well for our livestock producers. In a time of record low commodity prices, we cannot be arbitrarily choosing markets in which not to sell. We are only holding ourselves back.

Though lifting the embargo is the ultimate issue, a good first step would be to allow American banks and financial institutions to provide financing. To this end, I have co-sponsored H.R. 525, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, to achieve just that.

This trip was a remarkable opportunity to learn more about the opportunities ahead of us with Cuba. I am proud to be a member of the Cuba Working Group, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue to build relations between our two countries.

—Congressman Roger Marshall serves on the House Ag Committee, the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and the House Small Business Committee.