Jewish World Review March 15, 2001/ 20 Adar 5761
American dream lives in Havana?
HAVANA, Cuba | It's hard not notice that Americans
are all over Cuba and, parenthetically, that the
Helms-Burton Act and the U.S. embargo are
Cuban people are suffering deprivations most
Americans can only imagine, while U.S. citizens miss
out on a variety of business opportunities. Despite our
efforts to strangle the Cuban economy, about 150 other
nations are enjoying trade relations and business
associations with the Cuban government.
The only person who seems to benefit from our
draconian policies is Fidel Castro. How convenient of
us to provide him an enemy to hate and an excuse for
the failings of his regime. As long as the United States
appears to behave badly, Castro can believe -- and
perhaps convince others -- that his contempt is
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Americans are
ignoring our policies. No one's saying how many
Americans visit the island illegally. Cuban officials
record every boat that docks at one of the country's 17
marinas, but they politely decline to divulge numbers.
Whether they count those who come by jet from Canada, Mexico and Jamaica
isn't clear. Cuba doesn't stamp American passports and welcomes anyone who
is friendly. The unspoken understanding is that American policies toward Cuba
aren't worthy of allegiance.
A Floridian and veteran visitor who was docked in Marina Hemingway, for
example, says he fills out all the proper forms with American customs, signs
papers promising he won't spend any money while he's here, and then does what
he wants. "Yadda, yadda, yadda. They know it's bull," he says.
Cubans are delighted to welcome Americans and their dollars, which have
become the preferred currency since Castro legalized it in 1993, a step he took
to funnel dollars from the flourishing black market into the mainstream economy.
The effect has been creation of an economic apartheid. Cubans with access to
dollars, primarily through coveted tourist industry jobs, can buy quality products
at "dollar stores," while state employees who earn only pesos stand in line for
It's not surprising that well-educated Cubans clamor for jobs as cab drivers,
bartenders and hotel maids. A chemical engineer mixing daiquiris at Havana's
Parque Central Hotel might collect $20 a day in tips, while his state-employed
counterpart earns a comparable amount monthly. One cab driver left his job as a
military jet pilot. Another gave up his engineering job, saying, "It beats peddling a
bicycle 25 kilometers to work in a factory."
But what about all that education? Training? Talent?
"You can have talent or you can have food," he says. "Eating is better."
The dollar economy is changing the way Cubans think. When hard currency is
freely exchanged for goods and services, it's tough to ignore the connections.
Hard work equals more money equals better goods equals a better life.
These capitalist constructs, which Americans embrace as inalienable rights, are
considered counterrevolutionary here. Yet as Americans' feet continue touching
Cuban soil, these ideas are slowly taking root.
If, as our official policy claims, we really want to encourage open economies and
a peaceful transition to a stable, democratic form of government, the most direct
route isn't through embargoes or other punitive actions, but through increasing
Cubans' exposure to Americans and Western values. Castro would hate
JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.
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