Frank Calzon. Posted on Thu, Mar. 14, 2002 in
The Miami Herald
Fidel Castro's most persistent trait since assuming power in 1959 has been
anti-Americanism. Now he says he wants to help American farmers and to trade
with the United States.
By Castro's reckoning, selling grain and other commodities to Cuba will
greatly benefit American farmers.
The American economy today is grappling with the Enron fiasco, which can be
attributed to the company's manipulation of its fiscal data and the
unwillingness of executive-branch regulators and Congressional policymakers to
ask tough questions.
Congress must today ask whether profits from trade with Cuba aren't another
mirage and whether American taxpayers won't take another hit if Castro's
campaign to win credits and export guarantees succeeds.
Say what you will about the U.S. embargo, but one of its best-kept secrets
is that it has saved U.S. taxpayers millions. Because of the embargo, American
banks aren't among the consortium of creditors (among them Spanish, French,
Canadian banks) known as ''The Paris Club.'' A consortium that has been waiting
for years to be paid what's owed.
Had American banks been permitted to make loans to Castro, you and I both
know that they would be pressing Congress to find a way for U.S. taxpayers to
cover their losses in Cuba.
American agribusiness believes that there are huge profits to be made by
trading with Havana. It argues that foreign-policy considerations should not
prevent trade -- even if strengthening regimes such as those of Libya, Iraq and
Cuba might someday put the lives of U.S. servicemen at risk.
Providing trade benefits to America's enemies, especially those on the State
Department's list of terrorist nations, makes as much sense as the sale of U.S.
scrap metal to Japan in the 1930's. Some of it was used to build up the Japanese
military, leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
As the American Chamber of Commerce of Cuba in the United States reports in
its February 2002 newsletter:
"Cuba's economic woes continue to mount as a result of being especially
hard hit by the worldwide economic slow down and the fall-off in international
travel after Sept. 11.
"Tourism, Cuba's most important economic sector has declined sharply.
"Cuba's second-largest source of foreign exchange, expatriate
remittances, are down due to the downturn in the U.S economy.
"Removal of Russian surveillance facilities cost Havana $200 million in
Russian rent yearly.
'Vice President Carlos Lage has cited 'the hard blow' by a fall in world
prices for sugar and nickel.''
Since June 2000, sales of agricultural products and medicine to Cuba have
been legal, but for more than a year no sales were made. After a hurricane in
November 2001, the United States offered Cuba humanitarian assistance. Instead
of accepting it and thanking the administration, Castro turned the offer into a
public-relations stunt, insisting Cuba would buy $30 million in U.S.
His goal: to win U.S. credits and export insurance for future "sales.''
But Cuba is broke. It suspended debt payments in 1986. According to a
Reuters story last month, "Cuba's Foreign Trade Ministry recently asked
some of its biggest creditors to form a consortium to collectively restructure
hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.''
The proposal signals Cuba cannot meet payment schedules, which it has been
missing anyway since October, Reuters says.
During the last two years, France, Chile, South Africa, Thailand and others
have canceled shipments or refused to provide export insurance to Castro.
Yet Castro's U.S. sales pitches are accepted at face value without checking
available economic data. Castro desperately needs credits and subsidies, and
agribusiness wants Washington to extend them.
Asking American taxpayers to extend credit to Castro is to ask them to
finance an international deadbeat. The Bush administration said No when asked to
bailout Enron. It should say No, as well, to bailing out Castro.
Frank Calzón is executive director of the
Center for a Free Cuba.