Why doesn’t Joe Biden attack Cuba? | Latest News Headlines
Why doesn’t Joe Biden attack Cuba?
| Today Headlines | Fox News
During his press conference last week, President Biden was asked to comment on US foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere. He poked fun at Central America, said he spent “a lot of time talking” about Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, and made incoherent references to Chile and Argentina. He then expressed his concern over the decreasing number of democracies in the world.
Yet, strangely, the president never mentioned the region’s heart of darkness, the 63-year-old military dictatorship in Havana.
Cuban intelligence and security apparatuses direct repression in Venezuela and Nicaragua and support the one-party state in Bolivia. Cuba is actively trying to undermine democratic institutions in Colombia, Peru and Chile. At home, he resorted to torture, imprisonment and exile to suppress dissent.
Freedom in the region cannot be secured without tackling totalitarian Havana. Mr. Biden’s failure to prioritize the task is alarming. This is why, despite the historic uprising of July 11, the hope of a Cuba free that sprung up last summer is fading.
Socialism preaches the common good, but in real life it’s hard to find more money than the ruling socialists. See Cuba.
The island’s economy is in shambles and the outlook is dire. Yet the most powerful (and most hated) man in the country – the light-skinned, blue-eyed general Luis Alberto López Calleja – responded to the humanitarian crisis by circling the wagons to protect his own empire from a billion dollars.
The problem is the 70% drop in US dollar remittances over the past two years. Mr. López Calleja is the former son-in-law of Raúl Castro and owner of the Cuban military conglomerate GAESA. He wants the world to believe that the cratering of remittances is the fault of US sanctions. In fact, full dollar remittances could restart tomorrow if it allowed Cubans to receive them.
The island has been heavily dependent on remittances for over two decades. For most of this period, Cubans could change greenbacks into “convertible” pesos, which had the same purchasing power in government stores as the dollar. A floating, worthless peso was still used to pay workers. But the CUC, as the currency equivalent to the dollar was called, allowed Cubans who could obtain it to improve their standard of living.
Eventually, the CUC became a problem for the regime because it printed too many of them. They started trading on the black market at their devalued price. In addition, in 2013, when Cuba eased travel restrictions outside the island, entrepreneurs began transporting goods from abroad to resell at home. As informal markets flourished, the government lost control and, more importantly, deprived itself of capturing hard currency revenues for itself.
In 2019, the military tried to put a stop to it by cracking down on travelers returning to the island with goods. It also mandated the use of government-issued debit cards in government stores, where high markups are common. The military, through its financial institutions, continued to seize dollars from remittances and issue overvalued pesos to intended recipients. The Miami-based Havana Consulting Group estimates that remittances to Cuba from the United States in 2019 totaled $3.7 billion.
In October 2020, the Trump administration began banning remittances through Fincimex, a shadow company owned by the Cuban military, or other military-owned companies. Western Union,
the most popular financial firm serving the island, responded by shutting down operations in Cuba. On January 1, 2021, the Trump administration added the military’s Banco Financiero Internacional to its shortlist.
This has deprived Mr. López Calleja of hard currency as credit from China, Russia and Venezuela has been cut and tourism is in the tank. Last year, the regime withdrew the CUC and, in a last-ditch effort to scare away the real money hidden in mattresses, imposed a deadline for exchanging dollars. It now only issues floating pesos and acknowledged in December that official inflation in 2021 would reach 70%. In October, he said that the black market peso exchange rate implied an increase in the price level of 6,900%.
For Mr. López Calleja, this homemade mess offers another way to control dissent. Scarce food goes to the compliant while “counter-revolutionaries” – including teenagers – are beaten, locked up, denied employment and medical care, and otherwise subjected to extreme deprivation. Meanwhile, an army of propagandists and useful idiots in universities and media around the world continue to insist that the difficulties are caused by US sanctions.
The Biden administration could counter the regime’s misinformation by launching a high-profile campaign for a transparent pathway for Cubans to receive dollar remittances directly as other nations do.
Mr. López Calleja would refuse, of course, because as a Cuban who knows the general says, “Luis Alberto doesn’t like to share”. But that’s one more reason to make it a problem.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
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