Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is dominating global headlines on Wednesday for spending ten minutes in space. While previously vocally proud of his Cuban heritage, he has found no time in his publicity campaign this week to support anti-communist protesters in his father’s home country.
Cuba has endured 62 years of brutal communist repression under the currently still-ruling Castro family mafia. Pro-democracy dissident groups have spent years organizing peaceful marches and other assemblies against the regime, culminating last year in a massive protest in front of the Cuban Ministry of Culture over a regime law that made it illegal to write, paint, or engage in any artistic activity without first obtaining a government permit.
That momentum led to an eruption of protests in dozens of municipalities and every major city nationwide on July 11 demanding an end to the Communist Party regime. While the regime actively repressed reporting from the island – including gang-beating an Associated Press photographer – observers estimate that thousands of people took the streets and that police arrested or forcibly disappeared many as 5,000 were either arrested or forcibly disappeared.
In response, the Castro regime issued an “order of combat” to pro-regime civilians, urging them to physically assault anyone suspected of participating in protests. The Communist Party also shut down access to the internet, making it much more difficult for Cubans to share videos of the repression with the outside world.
The Cuban diaspora has responded passionately to these protests. Nearly every major city in America has hosted rallies and protests urging the U.S. government to intervene. Cubans on multiple continents –in Italy, Japan, and Argentina, among other countries – organized displays in solidarity with the movement against communism at home.
Yet the world’s wealthiest man, once eager to celebrate his father’s story as a Cuban refugee, has remained silent on the issue – despite embarking on the biggest public relations tour of his life.
Jeff Bezos has issued an unprecedented number of interviews this past week on his company Blue Origin, which is working on facilitating space travel. Bezos and brother Mark, among other hand-picked explorers, took to the skies for ten minutes on Tuesday, enough to somehow fascinate the world despite the dozens of space missions undertaken by multiple nations in the past half-century.
Bezos spoke off-topic in a presentation following the short flight on Tuesday to announce two $100-million donations to leftist activist Van Jones and chef José Andrés, the first two recipients of his “Courage and Civility Award.” The chef was part of a wave of leftist celebrities who enjoyed vacations to Cuba – despite them being technically illegal under the barely-there “embargo” – during the Obama era, expressing hope that tourism profiting the Castro regime would soon boom there. Jones has a very small record of comments on Cuba, but notably condemned socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for defending dictator Fidel Castro last year – more than Bezos has weighed in on the topic.
During his press tour this week, Bezos said nothing about Cuba. Nobody bothered to ask. The only public person who apparently remembers that Bezos is Cuban is Cuban-American rapper Pitbull, who published a video calling for global solidarity against communism and explicitly requested that Bezos contribute.
“All world allies get together to help. Global businesses get together to help,” Pitbull said in the video published last week. “People that we’re so proud of people such as Jeff Bezos — Cuban-American — graduated from a high school in Miami, built one of the biggest companies in the world, the richest man in the world. He’s somebody that can get involved and really help us.”
Things were not always this way for Bezos. In 2019, Bezos published a promotional video celebrating his father’s “grit, determination, and optimism” in making his way in America.
At the Statue of Liberty, where my dad’s being honored with a Liberty Star as part of the new museum’s opening. When he came here from Cuba at 16, not only was he all alone, but he only spoke Spanish. His grit, determination, and optimism are inspiring. #StatueofLibertyMuseum pic.twitter.com/DFhR3Dbf7p
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) May 16, 2019
Miguel Bezos came to the United States in 1962 as part of the Peter Pan program, which allowed desperate Cuban parents to send their children to America alone to escape communism. Bezos admits his parents were some of the few people on the island who supported Fidel Castro (though he falsely claims Castro was popular at the time, he never won an election and had to kill thousands of people to maintain power in the early days of the Revolution). The elder Bezos has boasted that his children, including Jeff, love Cuban food and for years partook in stable Cuban cultural activities like Christmas Eve pork roasts.
Bezos’ celebration of his father in 2019 did not explicitly mention Amazon, but the message was clear: Amazon was, in many ways, the crowning jewel of the “American dream” – which Miguel Bezos shouts out by name in the video – because its founder came from a family where the head of the household was a refugee.
“My dad’s journey to the U.S. shows how people come together to help each other,” Bezos said in the video.
That message was clear pushback to the mounting evidence that, rather than evidence of the American dream, Amazon has all but destroyed it. The mega-corporation’s dominance of sales of everything from books to home goods to medicine and groceries has wreaked havoc on American businesses small and large, drawing calls for anti-trust action by the government.
“I think if you look at Amazon, although there are certain benefits to it, they’ve destroyed the retail industry across the United States so there’s no question they’ve limited competition,” former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said two months after Bezos published his video tribute to his father. The Trump administration, Mnuchin said at the time, would investigate potential action against Amazon in defense of small businesses, but it never acted in any significant way to protect small Amazon competitors.
The Chinese coronavirus pandemic has significantly escalated concerns about Amazon’s corrosive effect on the American economy. According to the New York Times, as of April 2021, Amazon increased its profits 220 percent from April 2020.
“Revenue from merchants listing items on its website and using its warehouses was up 64 percent, to $23.7 billion. Its ‘other’ business segment, which is largely its lucrative advertising business, increased 77 percent, to almost $7 billion,” the Times observed.
“I’ve been walking around the city nonstop talking to small businesses owners and every story is sadder than the next,” Rory Cox, the founder of the San Francisco Small Business Alliance, told the San Fransisco Chronicle in December. “Everyone is like, ‘I wake up every day and I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I had 60 employees but now all I have is six, or now it’s only me.'”
A businessowner speaking to the publication, Tony Granieri, observed, “the only businesses that win in these close downs are the big ones. Amazon, Safeway, Taco Bell, etc.”
With a public relations disaster on his hands and a non-controversial, and close to home, political movement waiting for support, Bezos’ silence and inaction are somewhat baffling. Yet, like the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, it is clear that Amazon is one of the few entities that could benefit from an expansion of U.S. business in Cuba – something the Cuban-American community is energetically campaigning against, asking instead for more, not fewer, sanctions on the regime.
The Cuban “embargo” allows Americans to travel to the island. It allows shipments of food and medicine, despite false Communist Party assertions that it does not. It allows the sale of telecommunications equipment and even “green” technology. During the Obama era, the “tourism” ban was nearly non-existent thanks to a “people to people” travel exception and permission for cruise companies to use stolen American property to dock in Havana and Santiago de Cuba.
Essentially the only ones hurt by the embargo are the Castro regime and corporations like Amazon, which cannot do business directly with the regime. The embargo prevents the Communist Party from generating more funds to torture, imprison, starve, and otherwise abuse the Cuban people at the expense of “victims” like Jeff Bezos and José Andrés.
There is no guarantee that Bezos’ silence on the issue – after exploiting it to make Amazon look like a friendly refugee family business – is tied to hopes of doing business with the Castros. After all, he hasn’t said a word about the issue. But his compatriots have taken note even when a doe-eyed media are too busy indulging his space travel fantasies and the campaign to free Cuba appears to have no end in sight, potentially posing a liability for Bezos’ public image.