Before 1959, three-fourths of Cuba’s arable land was owned by U.S. corporations and citizens. The two nations were so tightly bound that Cuba’s economic policies were practically guided by U.S. interests alone. However, after Dictator Fulgencio Batista was deposed in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Cuba’s economic relationship with the United States was shattered. As part of a process of nationalization, the new Cuban government seized land and factories owned by foreign companies and Cubans who fled to the United States, and in retaliation, the United States issued a strict embargo that continues to constrain Cuba’s economic potential today. Although diplomatic relations have gradually been re-established over the past several years through environmental agreements and the reopening of both embassies, a number of contentious economic grievances remind both countries of their Cold War past.
The first round of talks were held in Havana, Cuba, on December 8, 2015, and while the initial meeting can be considered a positive diplomatic move, it was less of a negotiation than a preliminary discussion to establish the facts and specific demands. The second round, held on July 28-29 of this year, allowed for more substantive debate. The process of negotiations remains ongoing, and both countries seek to “resolve the claims as quickly as possible,” according to a U.S. State Department Official.
Although concessions are not the most pressing issue on the table, the settlement of claims is necessary before full normalization of relations, due to the Helms-Burton Act. This 1996 law stipulates that “the satisfactory resolution of property claims…remains an essential condition for the full resumption of economic and diplomatic relations” between Cuba and the United States. According to a Brookings report on the concessions, Helms-Burton “formally wrote into law the linkage between compensation and normalization of relations,” meaning that the United States sought to create a permanent strong-armed policy toward Cuba and legislatively cement the claims. The law is thus indicative of a larger issue at hand; the United States has consistently undermined its own relationship with Cuba through counter-productive policies, which have had vast and long-lasting consequences.
The historical and political disputes that surround the issue of claims are so numerous that it is unlikely that substantial progress will be achieved anytime soon. Through an exploration of the nature of the demands and their historical roots in anti-communist ideology, it becomes evident that the United States is primarily responsible for the hostility that remains today.
Over 50 years have passed since the Cuban government under Fidel Castro nationalized all foreign-owned assets; nonetheless, hundreds of U.S. companies and individuals have not forgotten about their appropriated possessions and demand that they be compensated for their losses. These assets include personal bank accounts, oil refineries, cattle ranches, and sugar factories.
In total, the assets being claimed by the United States amount to approximately $1.9 billion USD at their original value. With a U.S. government-determined six percent simple interest added onto the concessions, this amount has accrued to over $8 billion USD. In addition, outstanding judicial claims against the Cuban government levied by the United States add an additional $2.2 billion USD. Cuba’s 2013 GDP was only $77.15 billion USD, which means that the country’s payment would amount to over thirteen percent of its GDP.
Cuba’s counterclaim toward the United States is much broader and focuses on long-term problems rather than a specific event. The Cuban government is asking for $121 billion USD for economic damages, and $181 billion USD for human damages. The total amount, over $300 billion USD, drastically eclipses the United States’ claims of $10.2 billion USD. Though massive, the claims are a telling reflection of the historical damages caused by devastating U.S. policies. Economically, they address the long-term stagnation, isolation, and developmental damages that the country suffered at the hands of the embargo. Additionally, Cuba seeks to hold the United States accountable for “acts of terrorism” committed in Cuba, including the Bay of Pigs incident and various covert CIA missions that killed thousands of Cuban nationals over the past fifty years. In essence, Cuba is making a bold statement to the United States through their claim: if you seek to hold us accountable, we will do the same to you.
There are several critical issues impeding progress in U.S.-Cuba negotiations. First, the total claims presented by both sides are too high for a mutual settlement. The relative size of the U.S. demands, at 13 percent of Cuba’s annual GDP, means that Cuba is unlikely to be able to pay the full price. Similarly, from a pragmatic standpoint, it is hard to imagine that the United States has any incentive to pay Cuba even a single cent of a $300 billion USD request. Moreover, if either country refuses to negotiate on its demand, then the other will do the same; and an unsettled dispute will remain for both.
In theory, the purpose of the negotiations is to revise each side’s demands so that both countries reach a settlement. However, one key hindrance is that the judicial branches of the United States and Cuba have declared their own respective decisions to be legally valid. With both countries’ demands legitimized by the domestic legality of their claims, the demands are unlikely to be modified in the immediate future. On both sides, to lessen the amount demanded would mean depriving someone of compensation that they are legally owed.
An additional critical question arises when considering these claims: at what point does the past become the past? Is there a statute of limitations on these events that would render them as part of history, with less specific relevance to the present day? Given the continued level of contention regarding the specific effects of events from fifty years ago, it is likely that the issue of claims will not be forgotten until they are settled. Even as more and more of the claimants pass away, and the companies who lost property cease to exist, the bargaining chip of expropriated land remains vital for justifying the U.S. treatment of Cuba. Yet, just as actors within the United States are unlikely to forget their claims, the Cuban government will undoubtedly continue to press for justice.
Finally, straightforward negotiations are made improbable by the implications of reparation. If the United States ultimately compensates Cuba for human and economic damages, then it must also answer to legitimate claims from others across the globe who have been harmed at the hand of U.S. policies. For example, if the United States were to compensate Cuba for human damages, why not also provide reparation toward those who lost their homes during the Iraq War, who have suffered directly from U.S. actions as well? Therefore, the country is extremely unlikely to pay Cuba directly, as to avoid dealing with consequences of other historical wrongs. Through this notion of accountability, a double standard is exposed–while the United States is eager to continue pressing claims when its citizens are the ones who are damaged, Washington is quick to dismiss or deny reparations for anything it may have done wrong.
A Problem Entrenched by Ideology
While each roadblock in the negotiation is salient on its own, they can all be traced back to a broader source: the historical and ideological conflict which has defined the present relationship between the United States and Cuba.
The overall position of the United States can be largely characterized by ideological stubbornness, and is explained through concurrent historical narratives. During the process of nationalization in Cuba, the United States was not the only country whose citizens and corporations lost property. In fact, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Spain faced similar losses. Yet, these countries established claims agreements with Cuba between 1967 and 1973, and were able to put the issue behind them. Reconciliation was incentivized by the prospects of increased trade in the future, and through their quick settlements, these governments were able to restore relatively positive diplomatic relations and beneficial trade relationships with Cuba. Cuba’s trade with Spain and France drastically increased throughout the 1960s and 70s, and these countries have continually supported Cuba over the United States in regards to the embargo.
Although the losses in assets for these nations were less sizeable than for the United States, the lesson of these narratives is clear. Cuba was more than willing to negotiate with other countries for lost property, and the final product reflects an overall beneficial outcome for all parties involved. In fact, the government’s intention for land reform was to create a more equitable Cuba and retain international relationships. In Cuba’s 1959 Agrarian Reform, enacted before the government began nationalizing land, Castro promised that Cuba would compensate the expropriated assets through Cuban bonds, a clear sign that his government sought revolutionary changes but still wished to remain part of the international community. Though the government’s priorities shifted over the next few years, it remains true that Cuba did in fact make an effort to pay back the United States. However, the Eisenhower administration was too uncomfortable to accept the bonds as a secure method of payment.
On October 19, 1960, as land reform in Cuba quickly proceeded, the United States government imposed the embargo and in essence declared that it would not support the Castro regime in any manner. The United States was so quick to reject Cuba’s proposal and fully embargo the country that it essentially extinguished the chance for an immediate resolution of the claims. With economic and diplomatic relations pushed aside because of ideological differences, the United States removed any capacity for a timely settlement to occur, even when Cuba would clearly have been a ready partner in negotiation.
Through its embargo, the United States entrenched the claims in a Cold War stalemate, ensuring that if the issue would ever be resolvable, it would be completely intertwined with grievances of Cuban economic and human suffering. If the United States had not placed the embargo and subsequently engaged in numerous retaliatory actions, Cuba would have far less to counterclaim–it is solely U.S. retribution that brought about such difficult negotiations today.
If it was Cuba who took the first step, it was the United States who began sprinting. If it was Cuba who first broke ground, it was the United States who dug the hole too deep to get out. The escalation of the claims conflict by the United States in 1960 has defined the tense relations more than Cuba’s initial land reform ever could have, and thus the various roadblocks obstructing a speedy negotiation can be attributed to past and present U.S. government policy.
However, the current talks nonetheless present an opportunity to redefine this relationship. It is a sign that both sides are finally willing to reflect on their interwoven histories. And at the very least, they’re talking, which is more than can be said for the past fifty years.
Original research on Latin America by COHA.
 Office of Global Analysis, FAS, USDA. “Cuba’s Food and Agriculture Situation Report, March 2008.” United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed August 1, 2016. https://www.ilfb.org/media/546435/fas_report_on_cuba.pdf
 US and Cuba to sign agreement on marine conservation and research.” The Guardian. Accessed August 12, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/18/us-cuba-thaw-environmental-accord-marine-conservation
 “Senior State Department Official on Cuba Claims Discussion.” U.S. Department of State. Accessed August 8, 2016. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/07/260666.htm
 U.S. Treasury Resource Center. “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996.” Accessed August 12, 2016. https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Documents/libertad.pdf
 Richard E. Feinberg. “Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity.” Brookings. Accessed August 8, 2016. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Reconciling-US-Property-Claims-in-Cuba-Feinberg.pdf
 Leon Neyfakh. “Cuba, you owe us $7 billion.” The Boston Globe. Accessed July 29, 2016. https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/04/18/cuba-you-owe-billion/jHAufRfQJ9Bx24TuzQyBNO/story.html
 Senior State Department Official. “Senior State Department Official on Cuba Claims Discussion.” United States Department of State. Accessed August 3, 2016. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/07/260666.htm
 “Cuba, you owe us $7 billion.”
 Arshad Mohammed. “U.S., Cuba hold ‘substantive’ second round talks on claims.” Reuters. Accessed August 3, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-cuba-idUSKCN1091ZV
 World Bank. Accessed August 8, 2016. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=CU
 The US Embargo Against Cuba: Its Impact on Economic and Social Rights.” Amnesty International. Accessed August 8, 2016. http://www.amnestyusa.org/pdfs/amr250072009eng.pdf.
 Rosa Miriam Elizalde and Ismael Francisco, “Aberlardo Moreno sobre compensaciones Cuba-EEUU: Solo estamos conversando,” Cuba Debate, Accessed August 6, 2016. http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2016/08/01/abelardo-moreno-solo-estamos-conversando-sobre-las-compensaciones-mutuas-cuba-eeuu/#.V64sDJMrJp
 Michael W. Gordon. “The Settlement of Claims for Expropriated Foreign Private Property between Cuba and Foreign Nations Other than the United States.” Lawyer of the Americas 5, no. 3 (1973): 457-70. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40175493?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
 Ibid, pg 460.
Ibid., Chritine L. Quickenden, “Helms-Burton and Canadian-American Relations at the Crossroads: The Need for an Effective, Bilateral Cuban Policy,” American University International Law Review, Vol. 12 no. 4, 1997, http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1398&context=auilr.
 “Cuba, you owe us $7 billion.”
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Member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas are natural targets for the relentless psychological warfare of Western news media, because they form a resistance front to the foreign policy imperatives of the United States government and its allies. Right now, Venezuela is the most obvious example. Daily negative coverage in Western media reports invariably attack and blame the Venezuelan government for the country’s political and economic crisis. Similar coverage is applied to the governments of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Cuba’s revolutionary government led by Raul Castro and also to Nicaragua’s Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega.
By contrast, the permanent economic sabotage, the attacks on democratic process and the cynical promotion of violence by the dysfunctional Venezuelan opposition gets a free pass. Likewise, U.S. and European news media have virtually nothing to report about Argentina’s abrupt plunge into crisis with 40 percent inflation and a dramatic increase in poverty after barely six months of Mauricio Macri’s corruption tainted government. Nor has coverage of the chronic complicity of the Mexican government in covering up the disappearance of of the 43 Ayotzinapa students or the mass murder of striking teachers in Oaxaca matched the hysteria applied by Western media to Venezuela over bogus human rights concerns.
No doubt political scientists could work out the correlation between adverse or downright hostile media coverage and official measures or announcements by U.S. and allied governments. What’s clear in general is that Western media coverage actively and purposefully serves U.S. and allied government foreign policy preparing the ground for otherwise categorically inexplicable measures of diplomatic and economic aggression. For example, the self-evidently absurd declaration by President Obama that Venezuela constitutes a threat to the security of the United States or the anti-humanitarian failure of the U.S. government to lift the illegal economic blockade of Cuba despite President Obama’s duplicitous avowals recognizing the blockade’s political failure.
Venezuela and Cuba are close, loyal allies of Nicaragua, now in an election year. Nicaragua’s Sandinista government has faced a Western media assault over the last month or so with the U.S. government issuing a travel alert. The alert warns U.S. travelers to Nicaragua to be wary of “increased government scrutiny of foreigners’ activities, new requirements for volunteer groups, and the potential for demonstrations during the upcoming election season in Nicaragua…. U.S. citizens in Nicaragua should be aware of heightened sensitivity by Nicaraguan officials to certain subjects or activities, including: elections, the proposed inter-oceanic canal, volunteer or charitable visits, topics deemed sensitive by or critical of the government.” In a video mixed message about that alert, the U.S. Ambassador to the country, Laura Dogu, states that the advisory should in no way deter tourists from the United States visiting Nicaragua.
The travel alert appears to have been provoked by the experiences of a U.S. academic and also two U.S. government functionaries who were asked by the Nicaraguan authorities to leave the country in June. The official U.S. reaction has a lot in common with the mentality described in “Orientalism,” Edward Said’s intricate psycho-cultural map of Western perceptions of Muslim countries. Said writes, “The scientist, the scholar, the missionary, the trader or the soldier was in or thought about the Orient because he could be there or could think about it with very little resistance on the Orient’s part.” Translated to the Americas, the attitudes and behavior of Said’s orientalist are clearly present among U.S. Americanists, both governmental and non-governmental, and their regional collaborators.
The latest example of Americanist hubris here in Nicaragua has been a remarkably unscholarly outburst by Evan Ellis, the professor of the U.S. College of War who was expelled by the Nicaraguan government while attempting an unauthorized investigation of Nicaragua’s proposed interoceanic canal. Ellis’ ill-tempered diatribe repeats a familiar litany of downright falsehoods, wild speculation and poisonous calumnies, attacking Nicaragua’s Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega as a dictatorship. It appeared in Latin America Goes Global, closely associated with the center right Project Syndicate media network. Project Syndicate lists among its associate media right-wing media outlets like Clarin and La Nación in Argentina, Folha de Sao Paulo and O Globo in Brazil and El Nacional in Venezuela.
So it is no surprise that in Nicaragua its associate media outlet should be the virulently anti-Sandinista Confidencial, which published the Spanish version of Ellis’s attack, making Ellis’ accusations of dictatorship look stupid. Addressing Chinese involvement in Nicaragua’s proposed interoceanic canal, Ellis displays his ignorance of Nicaragua’s relationship with both China and Taiwan. His tendentious, ahistorical analysis betrays the mentality of an unreconstructed Cold Warrior in all its inglorious torpor. That ideological straitjacket prevents Ellis from even beginning to appreciate Daniel Ortega’s hard-headed but deep commitment to promoting peace and reconciliation based on genuine dialog. Western political leaders and their media and academic shills perceive that commitment as a sign of weakness, which explains a great deal about repeated failures of Western foreign policy all around the world.
Around the same time as the Ellis affair, Viridiana Ríos a Mexican academic associated with the U.S. Woodrow Wilson Center left Nicaragua claiming police persecution. Ríos entered Nicaragua as a tourist but then proceeded to carry out a program of interviews with various institutions for her academic research. The curious thing about her claims is that she was never actually interviewed by any Nicaraguan official, either of the police or the immigration service. But she claims her hotel alerted her to a visit by police, in fact if it happened at all more likely immigration officials, who presumably left satisfied because otherwise she would certainly have been interviewed. Ríos then supposedly contacted the Mexican embassy who allegedly and inexplicably advised her to leave for Mexico. The upshot is that Ríos visited Nicaragua only to suddenly fear, for no obvious reason, being disappeared by government officials who could easily have detained her had they so wished. Rios then, with no complications, left Nicaragua, the safest country in the Americas along with Canada and Chile, and went home to Mexico, a country with 28,000 disappeared people.
Around the same time, as the reports about Ellis and Ríos, the Guardian published a disinformation scatter-gun attack on the Nicaraguan government also firming up the false positive of Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega’s presidency as a dictatorship. The dictatorship accusations are complete baloney. Neither Ellis nor the Guardian report faithfully that even center-right polling companies agree that support for Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista political party runs at over 60 percent of people surveyed while the political opposition barely muster 10 percent support. Similar polls show massive confidence in both the police (74 percent ), the army (79.8 percent) and satisfaction with Nicaragua’s democracy (73.9 percent). Another common theme in the attacks by Ellis and the Guardian is the supposed suspension of the construction of Nicaragua’s planned interoceanic canal, based on yet another false positive -the bogus hypothesis that the canal has no finance.
The basis for this claim is sheer speculation based on the afterwards-equals-because fallacy, typified by another unscrupulous and disingenuous Guardian article from November 2015 offering zero factual support for the claim that the Canal ‘s construction has been postponed for financial reasons. That report and numerous others reflect the outright dishonesty of the Canal’s critics. From the outset the canal’s critics accused the government and HKND, the Chinese company building the canal, of moving too quickly and failing to take into account environmental concerns and also for an alleged lack of transparency. When the government and the HKND took on board recommendations from the ERM environmental impact study to do more environmental studies, the Canal’s critics changed tack, accusing the government of covering up that the Canal has been delayed because HKND has run out of money. That claim seems to originate in Western psy-warfare outlets in Asia like the South China Morning Post and the Bangkok Post which have consistently run attack pieces on HKND’s owner, Wang Jing.
This standard operating intellectual dishonesty by NATO psy-warfare outlets like the Guardian, omits various inconvenient facts. For example, preparatory work on the Canal route continues with various studies in progress, including aerial surveys by an Australian company, one of whose pilots, Canadian Grant Atkinson tragically died in a crash late last year. This year, the government reached a conclusive agreement with local indigenous groups affected by the Canal after an extensive process of consultation. This year too, Nicaragua has signed a memorandum of understanding with Antwerp’s Maritime Academy to train the pilots who will guide shipping through the Canal and also a cooperation agreement with the UK Hydrographic Office for training and advice in relation to the hydrographic maps the Canal will need. This is hardly the behavior of people managing a project in crisis. That said, the global economic environment right now is so uncertain that investors in any large project let alone one as huge as the Nicaraguan Canal will certainly be wary.
The global economic context and the Canal’s geostrategic aspect receive a more rational treatment than Ellis’ self-serving rant in an article by Nil Nikandrov. Even Nikandrov seems to accept as fact the Guardian’s entirely speculative claim that the Canal’s financing is in crisis, but he rightly treats Ellis’s Cold War style anti-Sandinista hysteria with amused scepticism. In fact, neither Nikandrov nor Ellis make the obvious point that the strongest geostrategic reality in relation to the Canal is that, should U.S.-China tensions in the South China Sea accentuate into outright confrontation, China could not defend militarily the strong investment by Chinese companies in Nicaragua’s Canal. In any case, Nikandrov, rightly points out with regard to Nicaragua’s economy, “Nicaragua’s socioeconomic progress, Nicaraguans’ improved standard of living, and the stability and security there (compared to the increase in crime in most Central American countries) can all largely be credited to President Ortega.”
But even that reality can be turned on its head in the hands of a butterfly columnist as Bloomberg’s Mac Margolis demonstrated in his July 4 article “Nicaragua Prospers Under an Ex-Guerrilla.” Just for a change Bloomberg’s editors omitted their trademark “unexpectedly”, usually slipped in to any headline reporting unpalatable news. But the premier U.S. business news site could only finally recognize the incredible progress achieved by Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista government by at the same time smearing and denigrating President Ortega in the process. On the positive side Margolis recognizes, “the Nicaraguan economy grew 4.9 percent last year and has averaged 5.2 percent for the last five. Although three in 10 Nicaraguans are poor, unemployment and inflation are low. Public sector debt is a modest 2.2 percent of gross domestic product.”
That apart, Margolis writes, “Ortega’s critics know a darker side. Consider the ever-accommodating Nicaraguan Supreme Court, which last week deposed opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre as head of the Independent Liberal Party – essentially clearing the way for Ortega to run unchallenged in the November elections.” This is identical to the dishonest argument in Nina Lakhani’s Guardian article. Montealegre’s PLI had around 3 percent support, under the new PLI leader that seems to have crept up to around 5 percent. The Supreme Court decision made no difference to the fact that Nicaragua’s political opposition has been incapable of a serious electoral challenge to Daniel Ortega since before the last elections in 2011. Since then Daniel Ortega’s popularity has grown while support for the Nicaraguan opposition has collapsed. Implicitly contradicting himself, Margolis acknowledges that fact but goes on to make speculative, fact-free accusations of corruption, directly in relation to Nicaragua’s proposed Canal.
Without being specific he hints at widespread opposition to the Canal in Nicaragua, writing “a shadowy project that Ortega farmed out to Chinese investors led by billionaire Wang Jing. Ground has yet to be broken on the US$50 billion development, but Nicaraguans have raised a stink over the lavishly generous terms of the deal”. While opposition to the Canal certainly does exist, 73 percent of people in Nicaragua support it. Evan Ellis mentions an alleged opposition demonstration of 400,000 people, which is simply untrue. The biggest demonstration against the Canal drew about 40,000 people back in 2014 when Nicaragua’s political opposition bussed people to a march from all over the country. Plenty of information is available about the Canal and Margolis has no facts to back up his baseless accusation of corruption “I’d wager a fistful of Nicaraguan córdobas that ‘Presidente-Comandante Daniel’ has something he’s uneager to share.”
Only the crass Americanist mind set could provoke such presumptuous contempt for the opinion of the great majority of Nicaraguans. Margolis really seems to believe Nicaraguans are so stupid as to support a President who he alleges is self-evidently corrupt. In fact, Margolis’ discredited protagonist, Eduardo Montealegre, has precisely the kind of corruption tainted track record so familiar from the U.S. government deregulation of Wall Street. Montealegre was the Nicaraguan Treasury Minister under a U.S. supported right wing government and oversaw a massive bailout of Nicaragua’s rotten banking system from which his own bank benefited directly at the time. Perfectly natural then for a Bloomberg columnist to highlight Montealegre while attacking Daniel Ortega who rescued Nicaragua from precisely that culture of abject corruption. This banal irrational attack on Daniel Ortega deliberately obscures the reasons for Nicaragua’s economic success, which shows up current US and European economic policy as faith based nonsense.
Domestically, President Ortega has prioritized poverty reduction, implementing very successful socialist redistributive policies and extensive infrastructure development. Overseas, his Sandinista government has dramatically diversified commercial and development cooperation relationships, in particular structuring Venezuela’s aid in a way equivalent to deficit spending, whose success contrasts sharply with the mindless futility of current Western economic policy. Contradicting the Bloomberg article, Nil Nikandrov is much closer to reality when he writes that Ortega is, “a faithful defender of Nicaragua’s interests on the international stage and enjoys the support of the vast majority of Nicaraguans.” As the NATO country psychological warfare media crank up their attacks on Nicaragua in an election year, it remains to be seen whether Nikandrov is right when he argues, “the subversive activities of the U.S. intelligence services and their ‘strategy of chaos’ will not work in Nicaragua.”
The heirs of Meyer Lansky, the impresario of the North American Mafia gambling colony in Cuba (1933-1958) are betting on a big payback from the negotiations between the United States and Cuba to normalize relations between the two countries. Compensation claims by U.S. citizens or businesses for properties nationalized by the Cuban revolution are among the issues under discussion.
Lansky’s daughter Sandi, her son Gary Rapoport, and her brother Paul have filed a compensation claim against Cuba for the Riviera Hotel and Casino with the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. The Cuban revolution confiscated the Riviera and other Mafia-owned properties after it toppled the gangster-linked regime of General Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
“It was through my grandfather’s hard work that the hotel was built,” Rapoport told the U. K. Daily Mail Online on December 23, 2015. “We are his natural relations . . . . By right, it should be our property.” He says the Riviera is valued at $70 million. The Tampa Bay Tribune, Reuters, and Haaretz have also covered the story.
The Riviera, which overlooks the Straits of Florida, was the crown jewel of Lansky’s casinos, hotels, and nightclubs in Havana. When the Riviera opened in December 1957, it was the largest Mafia-owned hotel-casino outside Las Vegas. The hotel’s 440 double rooms were booked solid for the winter season of 1957-1958.
However, the narrative that the success of the Riviera was the product of Meyer Lansky’s “hard work” is undercut by Lansky’s own assessment of his arrangement with Batista. Lansky talked candidly about his years in Cuba with Israeli national security writers Dennis Eisenberg, Uri Dan, and Eli Landau for their admiring biography Meyer Lansky: Mogul of the Mob (Paddington Press, 1979). (Lansky lived in Israel in 1970-1971 to avoid tax evasion charges in the United States.)
Lansky pitched his plan to Batista to open Mafia owned casinos and nightclubs in Cuba in 1933. Lansky promised to make Batista, who had just come to power in a coup d’etat, a partner. Batista and his inner circle would get regular payments from the Mafia gamblers. In return, the gangsters would be allowed to operate without interference from Cuban authorities. With a handshake and an abrazo, Lansky and Batista laid the foundations of the Cuban gangster state.
“Working on the well-known principle that it’s better to use other people’s money than your own, Lansky persuaded Batista to have the Cuban government help finance the venture,” Eisenberg, Dan, and Landau wrote. “The [Cuban] government agreed to back every dollar invested on the island by foreigners with a dollar of its own and to give every hotel that cost more than one million dollars the precious prize of a gambling license . . . and the casino hotels would not have to pay Cuban taxes.”
The Riviera was one of four new hotels with casinos, which opened in Havana between 1955 and 1958. Cuban development banks subsidized 50 percent of Lansky’s $14 million Riviera project; Lansky-linked investors provided the rest. Senator Eduardo Suarez Rivas, brother of Batista’s Minister of Labor Jose Suarez Rivas, was secretary of the Compania de Hotels La Riviera de Cuba, which operated the Riviera.
The Mafia gambling colony was the cornerstone of the Cuban gangster state. The gangsters’ graft bound Batista, his inner circle, senior security officers, and the Mafia together in the defense of one of the most repressive regimes in Latin America. As a CIA report put it, “In return for the loyalty they gave him, Batista always backed his security services. In times of crisis, he often suspended civil guarantees . . . and gave the services a free hand.”
The days of the North American gangsters in Cuba were numbered when Batista fled into exile on January 1, 1959. In 1958, Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement had denounced the Mafia radio broadcasts from its guerrilla redoubt in the Sierra Maestra for turning Havana into a center of commercialized vice – gambling, prostitution, and drugs. When Castro arrived in Havana on January 8, he vowed to “clean out all the gamblers.” The Riviera and other gangster-owned properties were nationalized, and the Mafia gamblers returned to the United States.
To regain control of its casinos, hotels, and nightclubs in post-Castro Cuba, the Mafia waged a covert war on the Cuban revolution. The gangsters regrouped with their Cuban political allies, now in exile in the United States. The Mafia subsidized Cuban exile leaders and supplied arms to Cuban exile commando groups for attacks on Cuban targets from speedy boats and small aircraft. The gangsters also plotted with the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro.
In 1959, Lansky volunteered to arrange the assassination of Castro in a meeting with the CIA, according to Doc Stacher, a life-long Lansky associate. “He [Lansky] indicated to the CIA that some of his people who were still on the island, or those who were just going back, might assassinate Castro,” Stacher told his Israeli biographers. “Meyer Lansky thought that if Castro would be eliminated there was a good chance for Batista to make a comeback . . . He told them [CIA officers] he was quite prepared to finance the operation himself.” From 1960 to 1963, the CIA and the Mafia plotted covertly to assassinate Castro.
To portray Lansky as an aggrieved victim of Cuba is to stand history on its head. There should be no compensation for the heirs of the former Mafia gamblers in Cuba.
Jack Colhoun is an historian of the Cold War (University of Wisconsin, Madison, BA, 1968; York University, Toronto, PhD, 1976), an investigative reporter, and professional archival researcher. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Toronto Star, Salon, History News Network, The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, the former (New York) Guardian newsweekly, and formerCovert Action Quarterly. He is the author of Gangsterismo: The United States, Cuba, and the Mafia, 1933-1966 (New York: OR Books, 2013).
The letter outlined US military counterrorism operations across the globe in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Somalia, Yemen, Djibouti, Libya, Cuba, Niger, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Jordan, and Kosovo. All nations have US combat-equipped personnel deployed for a specific counterterrorism mission.
Obama indicated that that there is no timeline for the war on terrorism, and he will direct “additional measures to protect US citizens and interests” if necessary.
“It is not possible to know at this time the precise scope or the duration of the deployments of US Armed Forces necessary to counter terrorist threats to the United States,” Obama said.
Under the 2001 authorization for use of military force, the US president must update Congress every six months on the military operations against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces.
Unsatisfied with only ousting Brazil’s President by leaking NSA surveillance to the country’s judiciary, Washington now seeks to break the back of Venezuela by fracturing the powerful Petrocaribe energy alliance.
On Monday, the US began a two-day energy summit in Washington, attended by several Caribbean countries, in an attempt to undermine the Petrocaribe oil alliance between Venezuela and Caribbean nations, in what some see as a bid to break the back of the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro.
The energy summit comes on the heels of a proposed recall referendum against the Venezuelan leader, who was elected following the death of Hugo Chavez. The Maduro government faces flagging public opinion due to economic disruption brought about by dwindling oil prices, now at $35 per barrel.
The Venezuelan economy relies on oil revenues for some 95% of its income. Regional agreements set forth under the Chavez regime allow for Latin American and Caribbean countries to pool resources in markets where they possess a competitive advantage.
With oil prices nearing decade lows, the Venezuelan economy and its populace continue to be ravaged by deep poverty and over 1000% inflation. Dire conditions in the country are a consequence of policies that long pre-date the Maduro government, and have been exacerbated by Western market manipulation and Saudi Arabia’s push to bankrupt competitor countries by artificially deflating oil prices below profitable levels.
In a Wednesday interview with Loud & Clear’s Brian Becker, Francisco Dominguez of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign explained that this is not the first time that the White House has attempted to fracture the Petrocaribe oil alliance. In 2015, Vice President Joe Biden created a fracas by attempting to meet secretly with Caribbean leaders to woo them away from the alliance. The Vice President and the State Department initially denied the meeting before retracting that position.
Dominguez speculated that this week’s energy in summit in Washington revolved around US imperialistic hopes to replace Maduro with an opposition leader more favorable to American oil companies. “I think this whole thing has more to do with the overall policy of the United States seeking to oust the government of Venezuela once and for all,” said Dominguez.
US relations with the Latin American country have long been strained, both under Maduro and under his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Many remember the late-President Chavez stating before the United Nations that he smelt sulfur, a reference to the Christian devil, after walking past then-President George W. Bush. The Chavez regime opposed the Bush administration’s penchant for regime change and US intervention in oil rich countries.
Yet, Dominguez believes that the Venezuelan people have more to fear from Washington Democrats than from a Republican Party led by presumptive nominee Donald Trump. He suggested that this week’s round of meetings was sparked by a positive general election outlook on the side of Democrats, who expect a Clinton presidency that will mirror the policies of Obama.
“It looks good for the Democrats against the Republicans so now they want to take a tougher policy against Venezuela,” said Dominguez.
Dominguez asserts that it remains unlikely that Caribbean states will abandon the Petrocaribe alliance, providing as it does for impoverished countries with stable oil supplies preferential conditions and favorable prices for 25 years. He suggests that at least 13 Caribbean nations have benefited from an arrangement that also contributes to regional unity.
But the Washington-supported opposition in Venezuela includes among their grievances the Petrocaribe energy alliance, which has become increasingly expensive for the country to maintain as oil prices have dropped. The White House is seen to be aiming to fabricate the fear among Caribbean states that Venezuela will not maintain their commitment to Petrocaribe, in a bid to force the smaller nations to accept an arrangement with the United States.
Some see the effort to fracture the Petrocaribe alliance as an attempt by Washington to strike a fatal blow at Chavez’s legacy. The controversial former leader established a number of regional political bodies in an effort to strengthen Latin America against Western corporate interests.
Dominguez recalls that the string of coalitions established by Chavez saw to it that each regional country contributed what they had into a broader pool, expanding the fortunes of all Latin American and Caribbean countries.
“In the case of Venezuela it was oil, in the case of Brazil it was industrial goods, Argentina provided agricultural goods, and Cuba supplied the doctors,” said Dominguez. “Chavez was very successful, if you look at the regional political map.”
That legacy now rests in the hands of the embattled Maduro government, likely facing a recall election following a review of referendum signatures. The opposition will need some 7.5 million votes to oust Maduro, equal to the amount of votes he won when elected. The outcome of the referendum remains unpredictable, and to date the opposition remains divided.
Opposition organizations from Cuba are anxiously expecting President Barack Obama’s visit to the island as they prepare allegations against the Cuban government and demands to the U.S. government in an effort to take advantage of the recent international attention on what has been deemed a historic visit.
“(Much of the) Cuban opposition is not legitimate because it does not seek the well being of Cubans as they claim and is led by powerful U.S.-backed groups that have always sought to overthrow the socialist government,” said to teleSUR international analyst Ramiro Galarza.
Representatives from groups of the Cuba’s most prominent opposition movements, like “the Ladies in White,” will have a meeting with Obama on Tuesday. They are expected to give him a letter in which they will demand the U.S. intervene in various issues, including the release of prisoners and unmediated access to internet.
However, some opposition leaders have started to show disappointment about Obama’s visit, underlining the same points of disagreement of the most conservative U.S. opponents to the restoration of relations between Washington and Havana.
Cuba’s opposition has never been jointly organized, says Galarza, because different factions and leaders rarely have reached agreement.
“They are only interested in their own cause,” the analyst said. “(Most) people in Cuba are not familiar with opposition leaders and their demands, not even those [who] claim refugee status with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” he added.
During what was known as “Cuba’s Special Period,” which lasted from the late 1980’s till the early 2000’s, the isolated country passed through one of its worst economic crisis, mainly provoked by the collapse of the Soviet Union, ally and sponsor of Cuba, but also largely caused by the U.S. blockade on the island.
Analyst Galarza said during that time, several U.S.-backed organizations, headed by groups of wealthy Cubans abroad, tried to destabilize the government of then President Fidel Castro, using the adverse situation experienced by people to sow dissent.
On August 5, 1994, there was a huge demonstration in Havana, with thousands of people in the streets demanding that the government improve their situation, clashes between protesters and police erupted, the riot became violent and then President Fidel Castro went out and gave a passionate speech to Cubans in an attempt to calm the situation.
He accused the United States of trying to provoke a “bloodbath” in Cuba.
The incident led to the reforms that softened the restrictions on dissident movements while advocating for non-violence. Those reforms have increasingly improved in recent years.
However, recently, attempts by the U.S. government to embolden Cuba’s opposition have not be unheard of.
In 2014, “the Cuba Twitter” controversy caused a stir after the Associated Press reported that the social media platform ZunZuneo, named after Cuban slang for a hummingbird, was allegedly intended to destabilize the Cuban government by advocating for Cuban users to create “smart mobs” and “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”
The Cuban Adjustment Act, passed in 1966 by the U.S. Congress, allows any Cuban who enters the United States to gain permanent residency after being present in the U.S. for one year. This law, passed at the height of the Cold War, is unique to Cuban emigrants, with no other migrant group given this special consideration.
Cubans sit aboard a homemade raft, known in Cuba as a balsa.
This Act was passed in order to encourage emigration from Cuba to the United States. After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, there was an exodus of Cubans opposed to the revolution who fled to the United States. In his autobiography, Fidel Castro stated that in the first three years after the revolution, more than 270,000 Cubans migrated to the United States.
Many of those who left Cuba were professionals and their exit put a strain on the Cuban economy – a favorable situation for policy makers in the U.S.
Wanting to continue to promote a “brain drain” in Cuba, the Cuban Adjustment Act was passed, which further encouraged Cubans to leave the island and arrive in the U.S. Those opposed to the revolution also facilitated their arrival by providing material support for these so-called refugees.
Cuba and the U.S. did eventually negotiate a deal where the U.S. promised to issue up to 20,000 visas a year so people could migrate legally, but ultimately only some 1,000 were issued yearly.
With the allure of having the right to live and work in the United States legally upon arrival but unable to secure a visa, many Cubans continued to make the journey to the U.S. state of Florida by whatever means they could.
This led to people undertaking various means in an attempt to navigate the strait separating the island from Florida’s southern tip, including hijacking vehicles not apt for long-distance sea travel, such as tug boats. Despite this, the Cuban coast guard had strict orders not to intercept vessels in the water if they had people aboard. This also led to the phenomenon known as the balseros, people who attempt to arrive in the U.S. in homemade rafts, especially during the difficult Special Period.
The influx of Cubans led to more negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba, and in 1995 the U.S. government finally agreed not to admit Cubans found at sea headed for the U.S. Those who did reach the shores of the U.S. would be admitted and be granted residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act, hence the reference to the “wet-foot, dry-foot” rule.
The Cuban government considers this rule a provocation, while critics say the policy not only promotes dangerous forms of travel, but is also an incentive for human trafficking by criminal groups.
Cuba is known for sending medical personnel overseas as part of its medical brigade program which was launched during the 1959 Revolution.
The Bolivian Health Ministry thanked Cuban doctors and the Cuban government Friday for the solidarity offered to their country as part of Cuba’s medical internationalism over the past 10 years.
Ariana Campero, the head of agency of the decade-long program, congratulated the local partners and conveyed greetings from President Evo Morales. “Thank you very much to Fidel Castro, Commander Raul Castro and the Cuban people. We are sending you all an embrace of solidarity from Bolivia.”
According to Dr. Pavel Noa, the national coordinator of the mission, the most important results that protrude from the mission encompass more than 63 million consultations offered to the Bolivian people, 179,282 surgical interventions performed and a total of 86,983 lives saved.
Medical workers are often believed to be Cuba’s most important export, having served in countries all over the world and in particular in Latin America, Africa and, more recently in Oceania.
Dr. Alina Ochoa, head of Medical Assistance Brigade, stressed the importance of cooperation in the healthcare sector and said the aim was to ensure the health of the Bolivian people. “Cuba has a long and successful history in providing medical staff worldwide, which was ratified in Bolivia with the presence of more than 700 collaborators.”
The representative of the Pan American Health Organization, Luis Fernando Leanes, acknowledged the work of the Cuban mission, which he described as wonderful and very important. “How nice to be in this country and see Cubans and Bolivians working together for peace and welfare”, he said.
Cuba´s efforts in providing medical services to the poor have been acknowledged internationally as it was among the first countries to respond when the World Health Organization called for medical staff to help with the Ebola crisis. Fidel Castro proudly described the 12,000 medical volunteers who signed up as “an army of white coats”.
February 10, 2016
SHOW NOTES AND MP3: https://www.corbettreport.com/?p=17810
Although it gets short shrift in the history textbooks, in many ways the modern American empire can find its origins in the Spanish-American War. Today we talk to James Perloff of JamesPerloff.com about his article on the war, “Trial Run for Interventionism,” and how the bankers used their media and political connections to launch the war and introduce foreign interventionism to the American psyche.
The White House may end a program encouraging Cuban doctors sent abroad to defect and move to the United States.
The program, created under George W. Bush in 2006, is under review as a part of ongoing negotiations to normalize relations with Cuba, reported Reuters on Friday. Cuba considers it a “reprehensible practice” that is designed to “deprive Cuba and many other countries of vital human resources.”
The island sends medical personnel to countries suffering from health crises, including to South Africa in the post-apartheid brain drain and to West Africa to treat patients infected with Ebola.
The dispatches are a significant export and source of income for the country. In exchange for staff Cuba receives 100,000 barrels of oil a year from Venezuela.
Under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, U.S. embassies in over 60 countries have discretionary authority to grant Cuban doctors abroad U.S. visas.
Despite being compared to slaves or prisoners on parole, out of over 40,000 medical workers in third world countries, the program accepted a total of 7,117 applicants. In 2015, 1,663 applicants were approved, a record in its nine-year history.
“It’s not only an issue of quantity, but of the quality of the specialists, the brains that the North American government has been selectively robbing… which is also a source of income for the problems that our people are confronting daily,” Marcos Agustín del Risco, director of Human Capital in the Ministry of Public Health, told Radio Rebelde.
The defectors “seriously affected” Cuba’s own free health care system, causing President Raul Castro to recently announce that the government will re-impose limits on the number of medics leaving the country. Last summer, controversy over Cuban doctors who had fled to Colombia to process U.S. visas became a major question in U.S.-Cuba relations.
“It’s an unusual policy, and I think as we look at the whole totality of the relationship, this is something that we felt was worth being in the list of things that we consider,” Ben Rhodes, a national security adviser that participated in Cuba talks last year, told Reuters.
The United States government could potentially spend up to US$30 million on “democracy development” programs in Cuba in 2016, according to bills waiting for approval at U.S. Congress.
Two draft bills related to U.S. State Department’s budget for foreign spending were approved by the Appropriation Committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The draft bill approved by the House Committee on Appropriations states that the National Endowment for Democracy, or NED, the State Department and the Agency for International Development would share US$30 million in Cuba democracy funds.
Of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘Economic Support Fund, “$30,000,000 shall be made available to promote democracy and strengthen civil society in Cuba,” the draft bill said. It was approved by the House’s committee in June 2015.
It added that such funds could not be used “for business promotion, economic reform, entrepreneurship, or any other assistance that is not democracy-building.”
Meanwhile, the draft bill approved by the Senate Committee on Appropriations said that US$20 million should be used for Cuba democracy programs, including up to $5 million for “private Cuban entrepreneurs.” This draft was approved by the committee in July last year.
The Senate version of the bill also authorizes US$50.5 million “for programs to promote Internet freedom globally,” and says a portion of the funds would likely be used “to support Internet freedom in Cuba.”
Neither bill has been approved by any of the corresponding government bodies yet.
Over the years, programs such as the NED or the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have received mounting criticism over meddling in other nations political spheres in order to promote U.S. interests, unlike their claim of promoting democracy and aid.
Both programs are funded by the U.S. congress.
Republican Congressman Ron Paul, who ran for the U.S. presidency twice, has argued against such programs. In 2005, he stated that NED has “very little to do with democracy. It is an organization that uses U.S. tax money to actually subvert democracy, by showering funding on favored political parties or movements overseas.”
The NED has been banned in various countries over meddling claims.