CubaBrief: How unconditional engagement with the Castro regime works in practice

U.S. policy makers over the years have repeatedly sought to unconditionally engage the Castro regime, while unilaterally loosening sanctions, and each time the results led to negative outcomes, and a cooling of relations until a new crowd made another good faith effort, ignored past failures and repeated the cycle leaving a mess.

The Wall Street Journal’s Mary O’Grady revisited in her column what happened to Stephen Purvis, a British businessman, who moved together with his family to Cuba and “as a top executive at his firm, he worked with the regime on a variety of joint ventures, including resorts, hotels and factories. Over a decade, he writes, ‘steadily our business grew into a respected company.’” This is what those who advocate a policy of engagement do not understand about the dictatorship in Cuba, and Mr. Purvis learned at a high cost that “Raúl [Castro] and a cadre of his military buddies worried about the status quo ‘turning into something uncontrollable.’ They decided to act by ‘methodically eradicating anything that [was] a threat’ including “every single high-ranking politician or business leader.’ There were ‘public purges’ of a few but ‘most were simply edited out’ and ‘replaced by military figures.'”

Learning this lesson cost Mr. Purvis 18 months of his freedom beginning in 2011 along with turmoil and terror for him and his family. Targeting businessmen and capitalists in a communist dictatorship should not be a surprise, but the treatment of workers is another matter.

British businessman Stephen Purvis jailed for 18 months in Cuba starting in 2011

British businessman Stephen Purvis jailed for 18 months in Cuba starting in 2011

Human Rights Watch in their World Report 2020 on “Cuba: Events of 2019” in the section on Labor Rights reported that “despite updating its Labor Code in 2014, Cuba continues to violate conventions of the International Labour Organization that it ratified, regarding freedom of association and collective bargaining. While Cuban law technically allows the formation of independent unions, in practice Cuba only permits one confederation of state-controlled unions, the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba.”

On the humanitarian front the Cuban government engages in propaganda campaigns that pass for humanitarian ones, but the reality is problematic. Havana has been promoting the missions of Cuban medical doctors overseas, the regime’s chief source of income, as a humanitarian gesture. International human rights organizations have reached a different conclusion.

Ms. Urmila Bhoola, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, along with Ms Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children, sent a letter on November 6, 2019 to the Cuban government regarding the regime’s medical missions in which the special rapporteurs indicated that “according to the conditions of work reported could be elevated to forced labor, according to indicators established by the International Labor Organization. Forced labor constitutes a form of contemporary slavery.”

On the same topic, Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch,  argued that “governments that accept Cuban assistance that includes the abusive conditions imposed by Cuba risk becoming complicit in human rights violations,” who added that “Cuba may not be willing to protect its health workers, but other governments should avoid furthering their exploitation.”

Meanwhile when independent members of the Cuban diaspora send tons of aid to the island in the midst of a humanitarian crisis it is “arbitrarily withheld by the authorities of the Cuban regime on the Island.”  Civil society and religious activists have sent letters to members of the United States Congress and to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to support efforts and raise awareness in order to obtain the release of the humanitarian aid sent to Cuba.

Conditional engagement using sanctions, public diplomacy, and recognizing Cuba’s independent civil society worked when pursued with serious purpose during the Reagan Administration, and needs to be revisited.

The Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2020

Biden’s Cuba Policy Ignores Reality

Stephen Purvis’s harrowing story shows how engaging with the regime works in practice.

By Mary O’Grady

Cuban leader Raul Castro speaks in Santiago de Cuba, Jan. 1, 2019. Photo: yamil lage/AFP/Getty Images

Cuban leader Raul Castro speaks in Santiago de Cuba, Jan. 1, 2019. Photo: yamil lage/AFP/Getty Images

“The interrogations pluck me out of the never-ending routine of jail at random intervals. I am carried off down twisting and tortuous corridors and past padlocked doors with whimpering inmates to another parallel world. . . . the cheerful photo of Raúl smiling like a reluctant headmaster invites me to confess, or better still, denounce.” —Stephen Purvis, “Close But No Cigar” (2017)

Presidential candidate Joe Biden has promised to resurrect Obama-era Cuba policies that recognized the six-decade-old military dictatorship as a normal country. Diplomatic ties and American tourism and investment were supposed to foster Cuban liberation.

Critics predicted it would do the opposite. Legitimizing the tyranny and putting more dollars in the hands of the Castro Nostra, they said, would only fuel more repression.

Mr. Purvis’s memoir, grimly detailing his arrest and horrifying 18 months in Cuban jails, supports the view that economic engagement on its own is unlikely to soften Cuban despotism.

Stephen Purvis Photo: Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Stephen Purvis Photo: Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Full article here ]

Fundación para la Democracia Panamericana, August 24, 2020

Cuba in Crisis

MIAMI, Aug. 24, 2020  — The board of directors of the Fundación para la Democracia Panamericana, together with Rosa María Payá and City of Miami Mayor, Francis Suarez, sent a letter, found below, on Friday, August 14, to twenty-seven members of the United States Congress, including Bernie Sanders and Karen Bass. The letter was written to request their support in obtaining the release of humanitarian aid sent to Cuba, specifically following a letter they sent to Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. The aid has been arbitrarily withheld by the authorities of the Cuban regime on the Island, despite the serious crisis that the country is facing. The letter to the members of Congress is signed by more than 30 citizens, churches and organizations of the United States and Cuba involved in the Solidarity among Brothers effort as organizers or recipients.

Our letter follows:

August 14, 2020

Dear Congress member,

We are U.S. and Cuban citizens who appreciate the interest you have recently expressed in the “health and safety of not only Cubans but Americans and others in the Caribbean region,” in a letter to Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, signed in May 2020 by 27 members of the U.S. Senate and the House, including yourself.

Taking your words into consideration, we urge you to support the demand that all the humanitarian aid we collected in the United States in May 2020, which was later sent to Cuba with the help of Christian churches through regular channels, be delivered immediately and without further governmental intervention to its legitimate recipients in Cuba. This aid has been arbitrarily detained by the Cuban authorities upon its arrival to the Island.

In the hopes of mitigating the impact of the crisis being suffered by the Cuban people, aggravated by COVID-19, we, along with hundreds of other citizens, contributed to the donation drive Solidaridad Entre Hermanos / Solidarity Among Brothers, in Miami, Florida, where thousands of pounds of humanitarian aid were collected in May 2020. This effort was conducted with the intention to provide as many products as possible to our brothers and sisters in Cuba, so that the most vulnerable families can maintain appropriate hygiene, as well as feed themselves substantially, during the current crisis. At least 15,000 Cuban families managed to register to receive this assistance on our website, despite having to bypass the cyber-attacks by Cuban authorities.

Cuba is in crisis. The rule of the single-party communist government, that exerts centralized control upon all aspects of Cuban society, has not only caused a dire humanitarian crisis, but has also increased political repression. Every day, due to the shortages of food and basic needs, the people of Cuba must stand in long lines, which eventually become crowds, in order to buy whatever is offered by the Cuban State, making it impossible to take safety measures against the Coronavirus pandemic. To make matters worse, the Cuban State is now selling several basic-need products in hard currency, making it impossible for the majority of Cuban families to have access to them given that all salaries are paid in national currency.

As Cubans of the diaspora, our ability to directly help our families in Cuba should be without restrictions from any government. In the spirit of your statements in the aforementioned letter, which emphasizes that government interference with humanitarian efforts like ours is “dangerous and contrary to our longstanding tradition of not politicizing the delivery of humanitarian aid,” we hope to have your support in our efforts to deliver these goods to their rightful recipients, since “in such an unprecedented emergency caused by a deadly virus that is so easily transmissible, public health and safety must take precedence.”

This initiative is not of a political nature, but it is a people-to-people humanitarian effort, which was not met with any obstacles from the U.S. State Department. It is in this regard that we call upon you to use your influential platform in order to stay true to your words as government officials, and to please demand that the supplies provided by Solidaridad Entre Hermanos / Solidarity Among Brothers, which have been  detained by the Cuban authorities―despite the fact that we fully complied with the Cuban law―be immediately released and delivered to their rightful recipients.

Specifically, our request is that you support us in demanding the Cuban State to:

  1. Remove all arbitrary barriers that are being imposed to prevent the delivery of the goods;

  2. and allow the members of the church community, the rightful owners of the goods, as well as other people of good will in Cuban civil society, to distribute the humanitarian assistance without interference.

I appreciate your assistance and request that you please send a response if you are able to help us with this critical issue during these trying times.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration of this request.


Dr. Omar Vento, Rosa María Payá & Victor Pujals

Fundación para la Democracia Panamericana

Miami FL USA 


Francis Suarez,

Mayor of Miami,

Florida, USA

Berta Soler – Damas de Blanco, La Habana, Cuba (Ladies in White) 

José Daniel Ferrer – Unión Patriótica de Cuba, Promotores de Cuba Decide, Cuba

Ramón Saúl Sánchez – Movimiento Democracia, Miami FL, US

Alexander Otaola – Influencer, Miami, US

José Díaz Silva – Mov. Opositores por una Nueva República, Promotores de Cuba Decide, Cuba

Ángel J. Moya Acosta – Movimiento Libertad Democrática por Cuba, Cuba

Félix Navarro – Partido por la Democracia Pedro Luis Boitel, Promotores Cuba Decide, Cuba

Víctor M. Dueñas Otero – Grupo de apoyo a Cuba Decide, Países Bajos

Rev. Cristina María Rodríguez Pentón – Representante en Cuba del Ministerio Internacional “De Mujer a Mujer”

Rev. Dayixys Ávila Herrera – Iglesia “Mi Viña”, Santa Clara, Cuba

Rabbi Olaine Tejeda Beltrán – Líder de la comunidad judía Bnei Anusim, Nuevitas, Camagüey, Cuba

Rev. Daniel Josué Pérez Naranjo – Presidente Iglesias Bautistas Misión Bereana, Cuba

Rev. Yoel Demetrio Aspron Morales – Presidente Iglesia Misionera en Cuba

Rev. Yilber Durant Domínguez – Ministerio “Fuego y Dinámica”, Nuevitas, Camagüey, Cuba

Rev. Mario Jorge Travieso Medina – Ministerio “Viento Recio”, Las Tunas, Cuba

Rev. Bernardo de Quesada Salomón – Ministerio “Fuego y Dinámica”, Camagüey, Cuba

Rev. Jorge Luis Pérez Vázquez – Ministerio Rehobot, El Cristo, Santiago de Cuba

Rev. Alayn Toledano Valiente – Ministerio “Sendas de Justicia”, Santiago de Cuba

Rev. Alejandro Hernández Cepero – Ministerio Bet-El-Shalom, Guanabacoa, La Habana, Cuba

Guillermo del Sol Pérez – Periodista, Santa Clara, Cuba

José G. Barrenechea, Ateos y Humanistas, Encrucijada, Villa Clara

María Cristina Labrada Varona – Damas de Blanco, La Habana, Cuba

Oylín Hernández Rodríguez – Damas de Blanco, Cuba

Lourdes Esquivel Vieto – Damas de Blanco & MONR, La Habana, Cuba

Yamile Barges Hurtado – Damas de Blanco, Cuba

Frank Calzon, Washington DC, US

Imán José Alberto Martínez Rodríguez – Asociación Islámica para la divulgación del Islam, Holguín, Cuba 

Imán Niovel Alexander Tamayo Formen – Asociación Islámica para la divulgación del Islam, La Habana, Cuba