Press Advisory: Setting the record straight on The People’s Forum’s falsehoods

Press Advisory

Setting the record straight on The People’s Forum’s falsehoods

Contact: John Suarez (612) 367-6845

Center for a Free Cuba. Washington DC. October 3, 2022 – In the ad released yesterday by “The People’s Forum” there are a number of misstatements, and omissions that have been addressed in the Fact Sheet prepared by the Center for a Free Cuba below. The People’s Forum has questionable financial ties.

According to John Suarez, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, “Left out of the ad is the fact that Havana has a history of blocking aid directly sent to Cubans and that hundreds of Cubans are currently jailed for exercising their right to free expression.” “Cuba has no free or independent trade unions, newspapers, radio or television stations, civic associations, nor does the population have any other avenue to express its disgust with its government than by protesting in the streets,” said Suarez.

”At the same time as the ad was being released, the Cuban government that “The People’s Forum” asks President Biden to “Let Rebuild” unleashed a brutal wave of beatings, disappearances of citizens, and arbitrary detentions,” he added.

Cubans know that the scarcities that “The People’s Forum” falsely attributes to the limited US embargo are the result of 63 years of Marxist-Leninist rule. It is their own government that Cubans asked to be changed in July 2021, and in the protests over the past four days, not US policy. Cuba trades with the rest of the world, and the US is one of the largest providers of food and remittances to the island. Havana cannot buy more from abroad because the ruling elites have stolen or wasted the money, and price gouge Cubans with the products imported.

The People’s Forum’s paid advertisement’s title would be more accurate if it said the part left unsaid: “Let Cuba Rebuild a Better Tyranny.” They have confused the Castro dictatorship with Cuba. We encourage those who oppose the dictatorship and stand in solidarity with Cuba’s oppressed people to use the hashtag # LetCubansRebuildInFreedom.

Let Cubans Rebuild in Freedom

The People’s Forum has published a misleading full page advertisement in The New York Times that while pretending to address humanitarian concerns backs the dictatorship in Cuba when it falsely claims that the United States is responsible for preventing Cubans rebuilding after Hurricane Ian, but fails to mention the internal blockade imposed by the Castro regime on Cubans. Over 23,000 Cubans have signed a petition calling for the end of the Castro dictatorship’s internal blockade on the Cuban people. 

The People’s Forum also claims that Cuba is not a threat, but fails to mention Havana’s harboring of National Liberation Army (ELN) terrorists after the ELN took credit in 2019 for a bombing attack at a police academy that killed 22, or that Colombia requested their extradition. Left out is also Cuba’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the repressive role Cuban soldiers and spies are playing today in Venezuela and Nicaragua against civilians and how Cuba continues to harbor other terrorists, and cop killers.

The People’s Forum’s advertisement is titled “Let Cuba Rebuild”, and it equates the island of Cuba with the regime, but we advocate that policy makers should “Let Cubans Rebuild”, and directly provide humanitarian assistance to Cubans through a humanitarian corridor that bypasses the dictatorship and its military. We have also called on hotel owners, with hotels in Cuba, to set aside half of the empty rooms in their establishments on the Island to provide refuge to families impacted by Hurricane Ian.

Lastly, the advertisement fails to mention the rapid response brigades chanting “I am Fidel” and taking to the streets to beat down and carry away Cuban protesters, nor internet shutdowns, or threats made by Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel against Cuban demonstrators.

The Center for a Free Cuba has prepared the following fact sheet challenging the main claims made in the advertisement.

FACT SHEET

1. FALSE CLAIM: “The US sanctions and embargo are preventing Cuba from rebuilding after Hurricane Ian..” 

FACTS: Remittances continue to be sent from the United States. Prior to the Obama Administration’s repeated loosening of the embargo, the United States in 2007 was Cuba’s fifth leading trading partner. 

A. Remittances continue to be sent from the United States to Cuba from agencies in the United States, but not through Western Union. Western Union’s alliance with Fincimex – one of GAESA’s subsidiaries –managed all the operations to transfer money to Cuba. GAESA is a consortium of military companies that dominates the Cuban economy. U.S. policy is not to do business with the Cuban military and intelligence apparatus due to their repressive nature. “In 2017, the State Department issued a list of restricted Cuban entities (referred to as the “Cuba restricted list”) affiliated with the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit such services at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.” Sources: Congressional Research Service, May 11, 2021, Cuba Sanctions FAQ Treasury Department

B. U.S. trade in goods with Cuba according to the U.S. Census bureau in 2021 was $327 million in U.S. exports to  the island, and $2.9 million in imports. Source: United States Census Bureau 2022.

The advertisement fails to mention that in 2007, during the George W. Bush Administration, when U.S. sanctions were tighter than they are today, the Cuban government announced that the United States was the fifth leading trade partner of the communist island. Source: Reuters, 8/4/08.

Trade between the two countries dropped precipitously during the Obama Administration when the U.S. economic embargo was repeatedly loosened. Sources: United States Census Bureau, 2022, Reuters, 10/14/16..

C: U.S. Agricultural businesses in the first seven months of 2022 have exported $180.7 million dollars in goods to Cuba. The number one seller of chicken to the Castro regime continues to be agricultural businesses in the United States. These companies sell the chicken to Cuba at $1 per kilogram and the communist apparatchiks mark it up and sell it to Cubans at $7 per kilo despite Cubans on average making less than $600 per year. Total U.S. exports to Cuba since 2000 are over six billion dollars. The problem is not U.S. sanctions but the internal blockade placed on Cubans by the dictatorship. Sources: U.S. Census Bureau 2022, 14ymedio, June 22, 2021.

2. FALSE CLAIM: “People from around the world are eager to sell construction materials and provide aid, but the US policy of sanctions and embargo against Cuba threatens US and other companies from doing business with Cuba — even for the most basic goods and materials.”

FACTS: Cuba is a poor credit risk, and for that reason sellers are not eager to provide credits to sell to Cuba. US sanctions policy targets military entities in Cuba, and foreign investors trafficking in stolen properties. Construction materials do not fall into  that category. Centralized planning and the military conglomerate GAESA that runs construction in Cuba makes it difficult. Cubans are excluded from international trade. This is part of the internal blockade by the Cuban dictatorship against Cubans.

A. Cuba is a poor credit risk that has regularly defaulted on loans taken out. Moody’s Investors Service on November 18, 2021 downgraded Cuba’s long-term local and foreign-currency issuer ratings to Ca from Caa2. This is judged to be “of poor standing” and “subject to very high credit risk.” Source: Moody’s Investors Service, 11/18/21

B. US sanctions policy targets military entities in Cuba, and foreign investors trafficking in stolen properties.  “The United States Department of State has notified other governments that the transfer to third parties of properties confiscated by the Cuban Government `would complicate any attempt to return them to their original owners’.” Source: Public Law 104-114 104th Congress, March 12, 1996. … “We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. Source: CNN, November 8, 2017.

C. Centralized planning and the military conglomerate GAESA that runs construction in Cuba makes it difficult to do business in Cuba.  “Dr. Garcia-Bengochea. It is Putinesque. It is what is  happening in Russia. It is crony capitalism. At the very best,  it is a sinister form of trickle-down economics. You are  engaging a military oligarchy. We think of the Cuban Government  as this state. The government itself is an enormous bureaucracy  that insulates these military oligarchical families from the  Cuban people. They operate in an entirely different orbit, and  that is who we are dealing with.” Source: SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE OF THE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, 6/18/15

D. Cubans are excluded from setting up their own construction businesses due to the internal blockade. Saul Berenthal who attempted to open a tractor factory in Cuba, and when he regained his Cuban citizenship, the deal was killed by Havana, because Cubans are not allowed to engage in those kinds of investments in Cuba, foreigners can, in partnership with the dictatorship. CubaBrief, 3/16/22

3. FALSE CLAIM: “Cuba is also prevented from processing many financial transactions because the Trump administration absurdly placed it on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list simply for hosting internationally recognized peace talks in Colombia.”

FACTS: The Cold War is over but someone needs to tell the Castro regime. Cuban soldiers and spies carry out repression in Venezuela and Nicaragua today, Havana is backing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and harboring terrorists.

A. In 2020, Havana refused Colombia’s requests to extradite ten ELN leaders living in Cuba. ELN claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured over 87 others. Castro trained, armed, and supported the ELN terrorist group since 1964. Source: Reuters, 1/18/19

B. U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela (FFMV) found Venezuela’s top leaders committing crimes against humanity with Cuba’s help. ” Former DGCIM officials told the Mission that Cuban State agents have instructed, advised and participated in intelligence and counterintelligence activities with DGCIM. The Mission further reviewed written confidential agreements between the Governments of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Cuba, in which the latter was given a formal role in restructuring Venezuelan military counterintelligence services and to train officers. These agreements date back to 2006 and the cooperation is still ongoing.” Source: United Nations September 20, 2022

C. Cuba is backing Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. The Cuban government is spreading Russian propaganda both domestically and internationally defending Putin’s invasion, and repeating Moscow’s talking points. Cubans dissenting from this official line on the island have been arrested. Cuba has taken part in Russia’s International Military Exercises that in 2022 were held in Venezuela and Iran. Cuba has repeatedly backed Russia’s invasion in votes at the United Nations. Sources: Euronews, 2/24/22. Iran International, 8/16/22. Diario Las Américas, 2/28/22

D. Cuban soldiers and intelligence agents are active in carrying out repression in Venezuela today. The Prague-based CASLA Institute in its 2021 report “Venezuela: Crimes Against Humanity, Systematic Repression and Torture, Responsibility of the Cuban regime” presented testimonies they obtained in 2020 from Venezuelan civilian and military witnesses who were tortured by Cuban officers present in Venezuela. A rape was also reported. Source: Tamara Suju CASLA Institute, 2021.

E. Cuban soldiers and intelligence agents are active in carrying out repression today in Nicaragua. “Cuban strategists are capable of neutralizing internal dissidents in the most brutal way and maintaining the dual Ortega-Murillo dictatorship,” said Jorge Serrano, an academic at the Peruvian Center for Higher National Studies.“Cuba deploys political and military intelligence and counterintelligence advisers in military bases and in key situations for political and economic power in Nicaragua,” Source: Julieta Pelcastre /Diálogo August 10, 2019

4. FALSE CLAIM: “This same policy [ the U.S. Embargo] also deters and makes it nearly impossible for organizations in the US to send aid in a timely manner.”

FACTS:  Cuba’s dictatorship maintained monopoly control over the distribution of assistance, had zero transparency, and blocked the Cuban diaspora from directly helping Cubans on the island, even though they are the chief source of remittances to Cuba.

A. 7,200 pounds of emergency humanitarian assistance was blocked from being delivered to Cubans in need by Havana because of messages of solidarity on aid boxes. In October of 1996, Cuban exiles donated 72,000 pounds of rice, beans, and powdered milk that was shipped to Cuba aboard a 707 cargo plane from Miami International Airport on October 27, 1996, to provide aid following Hurricane Lily’s destructive path across the island. The aid arrived, but regime officials refused to allow its distribution for days and days. The relief supplies sat in Havana warehouses while Cubans went without. The aid was finally delivered on November 4, 1996, but 10% of it was not delivered because the regime objected to messages on the aid boxes such as: “exilio (exile) and Por Cuba, el amor todo lo puede (For Cuba, love conquers all).” Sources: Sun Sentinel, 10/27/96. Miami Herald, 11/2/96. 

B. In 2020 the Castro regime seized a humanitarian shipment that would have helped tens of thousands of Cubans. Sources: ABC (Spain), 9/2/20. Univision, 9/27/20.

C. Cubans in the island are also restricted from exercising independent solidarity. In May 2022, young Cubans who tried to deliver humanitarian aid they collected for the people affected by the explosion of the Saratoga Hotel on May 6,complained that authorities and State Security agents prevented them from doing so after arriving where several of the families who lost their homes were housed in buildings adjacent to the tourist facility. Source: Diario de Cuba, 9/29/22

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