An article in Cuban media claiming to be written by retired Cuban despot Fidel Castro is demanding an unspecified number of “millions” of dollars from the United States as recompense for alleged economic damage created by America’s sanctions on the repressive communist state, on the eve of the scheduled celebration of the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana.
“Cuba is owed compensation equivalent to damages totaling over various millions of dollars, as our country denounced with irrefutable arguments and data throughout its interventions at the United Nations,” someone claiming to be Castro writes at Cuba Debate, a state media outlet. Castro fails to substantiate the allegation or suggest that his brother, current Cuban despot Raúl Castro, do anything in particular to force President Obama to hand over this sum.
In addition to these “millions,” the Castros have demanded in exchange for diplomatic ties that President Obama hand over America’s Guantánamo Bay military base to communist rule, and insisted they will yield “nothing” in return.
Cuban officials have, for decades, attempted to make the argument that sanctions imposed on the communist state by the United States have severely damaged the economy, despite the government’s ability to openly trade with every other nation on earth, and its close ties to wealthy states like China, Russia, and Iran. While the Cuban economy has remained in ruins since the 1960s, the oligarchy running the state has amassed millions for itself, with little to show the public. The Cuban government makes $8 million a year of “volunteer” work by the nation’s doctors; other countries pay the Cuban government large sums to send them medical aid, while the doctors themselves receive a small stipend for food and shelter.
In the aftermath of President Obama’s announcement that the White House would legitimize the Cuban regime by reestablishing diplomatic ties, Raúl Castro issued a decree that the government would pocket 92 percent of a worker’s salary should it be paid by a foreign corporation. A Cuban national working for an American company would only be able to keep eight percent of that American money paid for his labor.
The Castros’ riches were in large part amassed through the violent theft of approximately $7 billion in American assets in the years following the Cuban Revolution. The Joint Corporate Committee on Cuban Claims, an organization working to advocate for the rights of those U.S. citizens who lost their property and assets in Cuba, estimates that the government stole $1.8 billion in funds, which represents “only the principal value of private property at the time it was seized.” Spanish newspaper El Pais has found that this total, adjusted for inflation, represents $7 billion owed to nearly 6,000 American individuals and companies. The corporations hurt by this mass theft include Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Exxon, and Texaco.
This sum does not include the millions stolen from Cuban citizens, much of which is now owed to U.S. citizen descendants of those who had their properties stolen. While attorneys like Nicolas Gutierrez have tried to represent Cuban-Americans in using legal methods to retrieve their property, these efforts have been entirely unsuccessful. Since announcing the legitimization of the regime in December, President Obama has yet to mention the money the Cuban communist regime owes U.S. citizens.
Fidel Castro begins his article with a paragraph about the importance of writing into one’s old age, followed by an attack on the United States government for having used nuclear weapons on Japan during World War II. Castro then turns to “the struggle,” asserting, “We will never stop struggling for the peace and wellbeing of all human beings, despite the color of their skin, the native country of every inhabitant of the planet, as well as the right of all to possess a religion or not.”
Religious rights are barely existent in Cuba, particularly for those who dare publicly express dissatisfaction with the Castro regime. The dissident group known as Ladies in White (“Damas de Blanco”), whose members are female relatives of political prisoners, were recently banned from wearing white to Sunday Mass services, after months of mass arrests on Sunday mornings. As the group is predominantly Catholic, communist officials have used the knowledge that they will attend Mass on Sundays to more easily find and arrest them.
Religious minorities are treated as badly as predominantly Catholic citizens. The population of 4,000 Cuban Muslims are forced to worship without a boss, and attempts by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to fund the construction of a mosque on Cuban territory have been refuted.
The only religion treated with some autonomy on Cuban soil is santería, a syncretic religion in which Nigerian Yoruba gods are worshipped using the names of Catholic saints, but with Yoruba traditions. Santería is not considered an official religion in Cuba, however, which santería leaders in the United States hope will mean more autonomy in assembly and communication with groups on the island following President Obama’s “normalization” with the rogue state.
American Secretary of State John Kerry will attend a ceremony tomorrow in Havana to inaugurate the American embassy. Dissidents, who largely oppose President Obama’s plan to legitimize the Castro regime, will not be allowed to attend.