The Coastal Post - July, 1996

Punishing Uncle Fidel


Tuesday, June 4, the Organization of America States (OAS) unanimously criticized the latest extension of the United States' 35-year embargo on Cuba. Our hemispheric neighbors called the Helms-Burton Act harmful and a violation of international law. The new U.S. sanctions let U.S. citizens sue foreign companies benefitting from properties nationalized by Castro in the 1959 Revolution, denies U.S. visas to foreign businessmen and stockholders investing in such properties, and withholds foreign aid from countries helping Castro build his nuclear generator (for electric power). Canada, Mexico and several European countries threaten legal action against us for what they call illegal restriction of international trade.

Canada and Mexico and many European nations, many of whom have investments in Cuba, bitterly resent the United States' "imposing its foreign policy on other friendly countries in this way," as one editor so aptly put it. (The Economist, June 1). The law could have a damaging effect on companies such as Mexico's Grupo Domos that bought half of Cuba's telephone company for $750 million in 1994. (New York Times, June 12). The Cemex, a large Mexican cement company, announced two weeks ago it was pulling out of Cuba. Other Mexican businesses are taking a more defiant stand. Certainly many Mexicans are angry enough at the U.S., feeling that both our government and our big stock brokerages took advantage of their recent financial crises. Mexico's president, Zedillo, speaking in Canada to a joint session of their parliament recently stated: "Mexico and Canada consider inadmissible every measure that, rather than promoting liberty, obstructs freedom, that instead of dropping barriers, erects them to the detriment of international investment and business." Canada's legislature has already passed laws blocking her companies from complying with the Helms-Burton Act, and forbidding Canadian businessmen from paying such fines as might be levied on them under the Act. The New York Times (June 12) quotes Canadian Liberal Party member Roy MacDonald as saying: "In trying to isolate Cuba, they are hurting their largest trading partners. In our view, that is not how you treat your friends."

The most controversial sections of Helms-Burton, permitting lawsuits against foreign companies and their executives who trade with Cuba, and denying U.S. entry visas to such executives (treating them like convicted felons) go into effect August 1. Clinton has until 15 days before this date to employ his veto.

Older Cubans still remember "American-style capitalism," under the Batistas; remember their land being seized by international agribusiness, their wages reduced to poverty level, their women, often sexually molested, slaving over machines for pennies in 12-15 hour shifts, while their angry protests were answered with the machete and rifle or torture in prison. In the background they could hear Uncle Sam laughing. They remember.

Fidel Castro has given his people universal medical care, free housing and education and a secure old age. Cuban economy has slipped since the Soviets can no longer afford to sell them cheaper oil or pay as much for their sugar. The U.S. has for years embargoed their major crop, sugar, while expensively supporting our own sugar beet industry. The result: We have destroyed much of our Everglades National Park in Florida; American housewives pay three times the world price for sugar, and we are making enemies of all our OAS neighbors and Europeans while punishing the Cuban people. All for a few electoral votes from Miami. Fidel, meanwhile, has already survived eight U.S. presidents.

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The U.S. is the bully again. Kodak is complaining in Washington that Fuji, its Japanese competitor, in collusion with the Japanese government, has blocked Kodak's access to the market in that county. Japan says it's not so, and that Kodak has failed to approach both Japanese dealers and customers with the sales approach that has worked for those U.S. firms which sell successfully in Japan. Kodak enjoys 70% of the U.S. film and camera market and 10% in Japan. Conversely, Fuji enjoys 70% of the Japanese market and 10% of the American. So why the fuss? Our trade officials will file complaints with the World Trade Organization.

Now for supercomputers: Cray, the U.S. giant in that field, has sold over 105 of its products to Japan. Japan's two supercomputer companies, NEC and Fujuitsu, have sold in Europe and Canada, but not here. Recently our National Science Foundation, having extensively tested the whole market, decided to purchase an NEC model. Immediately, Cray went screaming to Washington, blaming NEC for "dumping," i.e., selling below cost, to gain U.S. market access. NEC denies the allegation. Another confrontation.

Some years ago a popular novel, The Ugly American, depicting America's tendency to bully her neighbors, was made into a movie. Time to take it off the shelf and show it again?