Key West officials dropped plans last week to invite Cuban officials to the Conch Republic and hold events at the historic San Carlos Institute after a controversy erupted about the political implications of such an event. Here is the open letter to the Key West community sent by San Carlos board members:
We, a broad group of members of the Cuban community in Key West and the Keys, firsthand victims of the totalitarian Cuban regime, feel deeply hurt by myopic plans by business interests to welcome and fete in Key West the de-facto ambassador and deputy ambassador of the Castro regime as part of a covert campaign to promote business with the regime. We rely on the people of Key West, known for their unwavering defense of freedom and democracy, to act in accordance with their conscience to instead empower the Cuban people in the island and reject the fallacies of a regime that continues to repress human rights advocates and the most basic civil rights we enjoy in this country.
We, the undersigned, are members of the Board of Directors of the historic San Carlos Institute, an educational and patriotic center founded in 1871.
The San Carlos’ board is mostly composed of persons of Cuban descent who were either born in Key West or have been long-time residents of the Conch Republic. Many of us have families in Cuba and all of us care deeply about the welfare of the Cuban people. This letter is an appeal to the conscience of the people of Key West and the Florida Keys who value principle over profit and who take pride in the city’s history as a defender of human rights and as a beacon of freedom and hope for the Cuban people.
The Key West community is being bombarded with a propaganda campaign led by the Cuban regime and a few powerful local business interests that advocate for an “Open Cuba” policy with the Castro regime. As a part of this campaign, the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., Jose Rodriguez Cabanas, and the First Secretary of said mission, Raul Sanchez Cordovi, will be visiting Key West this coming week to meet with local business leaders and attend receptions and cocktail parties in their honor. It is shameful that anyone in the Key West business community would extend a welcome mat or shake the bloody hands of Castro’s representatives.
The objective of the Cuban officials coming to Key West is to attract US investment in Cuba without making significant political reforms. The Castro elite wants to hold on to power in Cuba while making what appears to be economic reforms, which are already failing, to attract US investors. They want US investors to grease the repressive apparatus that keeps them in power.
To paraphrase the words of Baptist pastor and dissident Cuban blogger Mario Felix Lleonart Barrosol, who came from Cuba this week, the same communist elite who caused all the suffering, who took away Cubans’ freedoms and who led the economy to ruin now want to project themselves as its capitalist saviors. “They are the same people and the same communist party,” he said.
It hurts us deeply that those calling for an “Open Cuba” don’t seem to care about the suffering of the Cuban people under the Castro regime. They are calling for an “Open Cuba” where they can do business – not a Free Cuba where the Cuban people can enjoy the freedoms we can easily take for granted.
The proponents of an “Open Cuba” point to the virtues of free enterprise and argue that the policy of isolation has failed to open up Cuban society. On the surface, their argument sounds persuasive. But beware. Cuba has always been open to foreign investors from throughout the world who have profited from Cuba’s cheap and captive labor force. The foreign investment allowed in Cuba has only served to fill the coffers of Castro’s inner circle and help pay for the repressive apparatus that keeps them in power. There is no such thing as free enterprise in Cuba. Cubans are not allowed to freely pursue business opportunities with foreign investors nor share in the proceeds of those investments. All commercial activity in Cuba is strictly controlled by the regime. The Cuban regime uses the award of business licenses as a means to exert political control over its people. To qualify for a business license, foreigners are usually required to take as partner an operative of the Castro regime. Dissidents need not apply. The isolation of the Cuban people and the stagnation of Cuba’s economy come primarily from the embargo that the Cuban regime keeps on its own people.
For 54 years, Fidel and Raul Castro have held on to power in Cuba through a brutal and repressive military apparatus that denies the Cuban people the most elemental human and civil rights. Tens of thousands of Cubans have been executed by firing squads or suffered long political imprisonment. The once-proud and prosperous Cuban nation is destroyed. Over 2 Million of its citizens have fled to exile, often leaving their loved ones and all of their worldly possessions behind. Cuba has become the personal fiefdom of the Castro brothers. There have not been free elections Cuba for over half a century and any political dissent is violently suppressed. There is no freedom of speech, nor freedom of assembly, nor a free press. There is neither independent judiciary nor independent radio or television stations. Even access to the Internet is highly restricted. The totalitarian regime controls every aspect of Cuban society. The Castro brothers have no ideology other than doing whatever it takes to remain in power.
Key West holds a special place in Cuba’s history. Just 90 miles from Cuba, the city is a symbol of freedom and hope for the Cuban people. Key West’s San Carlos Institute, founded in 1871, served as cradle of Cuba’s independence movement. In recent years, thousands of Cuban rafters seeking to escape from Castro’s repression have perished at sea trying to reach Key West’s shores. Some of those rafters are buried in the Key West Cemetery.
The Castro regime, in need of foreign capital to maintain the repressive apparatus that keeps it in power, is trying to lure politically-influential US businessmen to partner with members of Castro’s elite to develop and exploit selected segments of Cuba’s economy – most notably tourism.
To project the appearance of reform for visiting tourists, the Cuban regime restored a section of Old Havana and allowed limited private enterprises to develop in that zone. Gullible tourists and prospective investors were given the false impression that things were changing in Cuba. True to its nature, however, the regime is again crushing the entrepreneurial spirit of Cubans through its economic “reforms” that do not allow Cubans to achieve economic independence and has forced many to close their small businesses. Behind the restored facades of Old Havana, Cuban dissidents are crushed and totalitarianism prevails.
The Castro regime offers foreign investors a cheap, enslaved labor force and controlled markets. Sweet deals that would not be possible in an open and democratic society. The same privileged investment opportunities that are now being offered to American businesses have been previously enjoyed by influential investors from throughout the world, most notably from Spain, Canada and Brazil. History shows that once foreign investors get their licenses to operate in Cuba, they exert their influence to make sure that there are no political changes in Cuba that could threaten their privileged positions.
It is a proven formula that has produced quick profits for foreign investors, kept the Castro brothers in power for 54 years and the Cuban people enslaved. The record shows that an “Open Cuba” for profiteers does not lead to a “Free Cuba” for the Cuban people. All the contrary.
Foreign investors are not free to choose any Cuban as a business partner. The regime tightly controls business licenses and its most valuable asset: the cheap and enslaved labor force. Cuban workers are forbidden from forming labor unions or demanding improved working conditions. Investors pay the regime in US Dollars but Cuban laborers and are paid in worthless “pesos” for their work.
Due to its geographic proximity and historical ties to Cuba, Key West would provide the perfect beachhead for the Castro regime to launch a charm offensive to lure American capital and perpetuate itself in power without providing the Cuban people the most sensible basic human and political rights.
We believe it is shortsighted for Key West business interests to jump in bed with dying dictators. Change is at hand in Cuba, with more Cubans taking to the streets and speaking out against the regime’s abuse of power, arbitrary arrests, and violence against its people. A new dawn of freedom is coming to Cuba. Once the Castro brothers are gone and the atrocities committed by the regime are fully revealed, foreign investors will be viewed as opportunists who sought to take advantage of a captive people.
It would be unfortunate for Key West to be on the side of the oppressors rather than the oppressed when that change comes.
We are appalled by the insensitivity of some of the proponents of the “Open Cuba” policy who sought to bring Castro’s representatives to the San Carlos Institute and to lay a wreath in the Cuban Martyrs’ plot at the Key West Cemetery. In no uncertain terms, the San Carlos board stated that Cuba’s representatives would not be welcomed at the San Carlos or the Cuban Martyrs’ Plot. Their visit would be an affront to the memory of the founders of the San Carlos, the tens of thousands killed at the hands of Castro’s thugs, to those who perished while escaping Cuba’s island prison, and to countless others in our community who still suffer as a result of atrocities perpetrated against them and their families.
The Castro regime still imprisons U.S. humanitarian aid worker Alan Gross for the “crime” of helping connect Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet, and continues to viciously oppress the Cuban people. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reports that in 2012, there were a documented 6,602 political arrests, which is markedly up from 4,123 arrests in 2011 and 2,074 in 2010. Furthermore, the 2013 Human Rights Watch World Report states, “Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. In 2012, the Raul Castro’s regime continued to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile.” The deaths of pro-democracy activists Orlando Zapata Tamayo (d. February 23, 2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (d. May 8, 2011), Laura Pollan (d. October 14, 2011), Oswaldo Paya (d. July 22, 2012) and Harold Cepero (d. July 22, 2012) demonstrate the regime’s callous brutality against activists in the pro-democracy movement.
Over one hundred years ago the noble people of Key West forged a legacy with the Cuban people. The Key West community should be proud of its legacy for standing on the side of the Cuban people rather than a tyrant.
Let Key West be again on the right side of history. Let us reject myopic opportunism and instead let us concentrate on ways of empowering the Cuban people and positioning Key West for a post-Castro Cuba.
Rafael A. Peñalver, President, Miami
Javier Garrido, Vice-President, Key West
Monica Faraldo Hill, Secretary / Treasurer, Key West
Diana Arteaga, Miami Beach
Julio Barroso, Key West
Barbara Edgar, Islamorada
Julio Estorino, Miami
Irving Eyster, Islamorada
Norma Faraldo, Key West
George Galvan, Key West
Joe Garrido, Key West
Gilda Niles, Key West
Alex Pascual, Key West
Elena Spottswood, Key West
Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh, Miami