Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Miami Herald editorial page on June 25, 1999. On Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, Newsweek published a story reporting that in late 1998, Trump's hotel and casino company secretly spent money trying to do business in Cuba in violation of the U.S. trade embargo.
Several large European investment groups have asked me to take the "Trump Magic" to Cuba. They have "begged" me to form partnerships to build casino-hotels in Havana. With the influx of foreign tourists, we would make a fortune, they promise, and they are no doubt right. They are also right to say that this type of arrangement would allow me to skirt the U. S.-imposed embargo.
But rushing to join those who would do business in Cuba would do more than that. It would place me directly at odds with the longstanding U. S. policy of isolating Fidel Castro. I had a choice to make: huge profits or human rights. For me, it was a no-brainer.
I fully understand the familiar arguments for lifting the embargo. The Cold War is over. Castro is on the ropes. Pumping money into his economy would benefit the long-suffering masses. This is the way to "open up" Cuba, export democracy, and promote entrepreneurship and independence from the state. We need to put the past behind us.
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Each of those arguments is bogus.
The Cold War is indeed over, but it would be instructive to remember the role that Castro played in the struggle between - yes - good and evil. He turned his island over to his Soviet patrons. He was quite willing to have nuclear missiles, launched from Cuban soil, destroy American cities. He exported revolution to Central and South America. He abetted Libyan terrorism. He gave asylum to murderers. He posted troops in Africa.
More important, he turned his nation into a maximum-security prison. His regime controls every aspect of human life - access to food, medical assistance, schools and employment. Castro has not mellowed with age. Terror continues to reign. The secret police are unrestrained. The disappearance and beatings of citizens are still tools of civilian control, as is the suppression of free speech. Castro's ruthless domination of the Cuban people has not lessened even as his regime crumbles.
The real cause of misery of the Cuban people is Castro's Marxist-Leninist economic system - not the U.S. embargo. Castro's Cuba is a brutal police state; Castro rules through terror, intimidation and brutality.
Castro urgently wants the United States to lift the embargo because he is desperate for hard currency to keep his faltering communist economy afloat. Now, without the generous subsidies from the Soviet Union - between $5-7 billion dollars a year - Cuba's economy is reeling.
Of course, he would love Donald Trump to come to Havana and build casino hotels. Why? Not to raise the standard of living for the people of Cuba. Quite the contrary. Almost every dollar would go to prop up his police-state. Why? Because foreign investors cannot legally do business with private Cuban citizens. They can go into business only with the Castro government. It is highly illegal in Cuba for anyone except for the regime to employ a Cuban citizen.
Foreign investors are not allowed to hire or pay Cuban workers. They must pay the government directly for the workers. Castro then pays the workers in worthless Cuban money and keeps the rest. Under these circumstances, my investment cannot help average Cubans - it can only replace the Soviet subsidy Castro no longer receives.
If I opened a casino/hotel in Havana, I would be required to pay Castro about $10,000 per year for each Cuban worker. But the workers would not benefit. Castro would pay them the equivalent of $10 a month. The rest he uses to pay for the brutal and violent system that keeps him in power - and deprives the Cuban people of basic human rights. In other words, my investment in Cuba would directly subsidize the oppression of the Cuban people.
Yes, the embargo is costly. If I formed a joint venture with European partners, I would make millions of dollars. But I'd rather lose those millions than lose my self-respect. I would rather take a financial hit than become a financial backer of one of the world's most-brutal dictators, a man who was once willing to aid in the destruction of my country. To me the embargo question is no question at all. Of course, we should keep the embargo in place. We should keep it until Castro is gone.
Donald J. Trump is a real-estate investor and head of The Trump Organization in New York City.