Apologists for repressive regimes

In the thankless world of apologists for repressive regimes, the cradle to grave dedication of the New York Times to the Castro [Barabbas?] dictatorship is something to read [Behold the Apologists?]. Gray Lady meet Pontius Pilate, the most egregious example of living with a bad decision, eternally speaking.

One month after the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, weeks into the hunger strike of Guillermo Fariñas and smack in the middle of viral-like attention to the Damas de Blanco, the New York Times regales us with a such a regime-friendly story, that one wonders if it would make Bill Ayers and North Korean guards blush. With the tone of a global warming scientist on an Earth Day lecture tour, the article diligently explains how much the United States is missing out by not investing in Cuba [otherwise known as PLEASE LIFT THE EMBARGO muzak to us veteran observers]. The photograph which accompanies the article, along with it’s comical caption, appear below:

“… a pleasure few Americans have experienced in decades” – New York Times, March 28, 2010

In the photograph, we can make out an Anglo-looking couple in the back seat of a 1952 convertible Cadillac taxi ferreting tourists along Havana’s El Malecón. The male is looking particularly pleased, the type of happiness typically limited to people who star in infomercials. The driver less so. For the driver of the vehicle — whose Morgan Freeman-like role gives the picture an added level of discomfort — the quaintness of the moment somehow escapes him.

Would it be impolite to note that the reason Americans haven’t had the “pleasure of driving 1952 Cadillacs in decades” is that driving 58 year-old vehicles is mainly a pleasurable activity when one is a collector driving around a prized and meticulously kept piece of machinery. When the vehicle in question still exists due to shortages which are endemic to centrally planned economies and only functions due to mechanical improvisations born of desperation, then the thrill be gone brother.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the guy in the back seat was Tyler Cowen, the Über-blogging economist from one of my favorite blogs. But upon closer inspection, the codger is a bit too spry to be confused with Mr Cowen. But at a minimum, they share a passion for visiting places before they suffer an improvement in their standards of living. Ahh the cultural left, they are different.

What I can wish upon them is limited, especially during Holy Week. But the Gospel of Matthew comes to mind, as in, “… they have received all the reward they will ever get.”

Article referenced is copied in full at end of post.

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March 28, 2010
Dreaming of Cuban Profits in Post-Embargo World
By MARC LACEY

CANCÚN, Mexico — Would Americans’ playing bingo in a Havana retirement home violate the Cuban government’s socialist ethos? How about avowed capitalists living on their 401(k) accounts in condominiums along the Cuban coastline? Or, horror of horrors, fast food outlets offering Big Macs, Whoppers and buckets of fried chicken along the seaside Malecón?

Although Cuba remains closed to American investment, dreamers in both countries are actively considering the money-making possibilities that the island might offer once the half-century-old travel and trade embargoes imposed by the United States become policies of the past.

“Cuba does have problems,” said Kirby Jones, a business consultant, stating the obvious at the start of a meeting last week that brought American travel industry executives and Cuban government officials to Cancún to strategize on what might, and what might not, play out in the years ahead.

Mr. Jones urged potential investors to banish certain words from their minds — Bay of Pigs, dissidents, Elián González, hijackers and socialism, for instance — and to focus on the fact that the Cuban government had already joined more than 200 joint ventures with foreign corporations, none of them American.

“Everyone is there, except us,” he told the travel agents, hoteliers, tour operators, charter companies and others with an eye on Cuba. “There are offices and representatives of over 500 companies around the world. Nobody knows when it will open up for Americans, but it will.”

But as Cuban officials nodded and participants scribbled notes, the likelihood of wholesale change in American-Cuban relations, widely considered a possibility in the early days of the Obama administration, seemed slim.

On Wednesday, the day the conference began, President Obama was scolding Cuba for its treatment of dissidents. “Instead of embracing an opportunity to enter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.

And Cuban papers were reporting Fidel Castro’s written comments the same day calling Mr. Obama a “fanatic” when it comes to capitalism and dismissing his remarks on Cuba as “foolishness.”

Senator Byron L. Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, is pushing legislation that would lift the ban on travel, and he offered an optimistic view of his bill’s chance of passing this year. But he also told the Cuban officials at the meeting that they were endangering the legislation by jailing an American government contractor, Alan P. Gross, whom the Cubans accuse of espionage but the State Department says was engaged in democracy-building.

“That sort of thing is a problem and a hindrance to change U.S. policy toward Cuba,” said Mr. Dorgan, addressing the conference by telephone.

The highest ranking Cuban official in attendance, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz, brushed off questions of Mr. Gross’s jailing as being outside his portfolio. But he did say that the Cuban government was not concerned about large numbers of visiting Americans prompting any change to Cuba’s government or culture.

As for the likelihood that the embargo would end soon, he shrugged. “It’s impossible to predict,” Mr. Marrero said. “We have many scenarios. We are not waiting for the Americans. We’re developing tourism for others around the world.”

The same thing has happened in other aspects of Cuba’s economy, as the government, which is dependent on imports, has struck deals with countries like China, Venezuela and Iran as well as Britain, France and Spain.

“Cuba already trades with the rest of the world,” said Philip Peters, an expert on the Cuban economy at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, a policy research group. “A lot of the opportunities are taken already.”

But Cuba may yet offer healthy profits one day to American entrepreneurs who manage to get in.

“It’s going to be a very slow process,” said John S. Kavulich II, an adviser to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York, who criticized the Cancún meeting as a show that would probably not lead any of the attendees to real deals in Cuba. “The Cuban government is going to be very cautious about turning over the keys to the country.”

In a telephone interview, Mr. Kavulich said that Cubans already closely identified with many American brands. And he envisions that Coca-Cola, McDonalds and others will have no problem one day establishing themselves, even though Cuban government enterprises now control the market when it comes to cola and fast food.

Katia Alonzo, director of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, made clear that there would be no unregulated rush of outside investment into Cuba. She outlined a few areas the government had identified as essential, including mining, oil exploration and tourism development.

She left unsaid the risks of doing business in a country where the government is used to operating unchecked, like Cuba’s decision last year to freeze hundreds of millions of dollars in bank accounts held by foreign companies.

Already, there is more of an American imprint on the island than during the Bush years. The Cuban government said that 250,000 Cuban-Americans visited from the United States in 2009, up from roughly 170,000 the year before. Mr. Obama’s loosening of restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ travel last year prompted such a crush of new visitors that the Cubans have begun remodeling the airport terminal used for flights arriving from Miami, New York and Los Angeles.

But that is still a long way from opening travel to all Americans, which legislation in Congress would couple with an easing of restrictions on American farm exports to Cuba. The Cuban government has been permitted to buy agricultural products from the United States since 2001, but the Cubans must wire payments to third-country banks before goods are shipped, making other countries’ products far easier to buy. All the same, the agricultural exports to Cuba, which include American meat, shellfish, coffee, bread, wine, cigarettes and pistachios, among other products, reached a peak of $710 million in 2008.

Until other business is allowed, however, the dreaming goes on.

Frank C. Weed, head of real estate investment for The Americas Group, which helps businesses break into emerging markets in Latin America, envisions retirement communities in Cuba one day and American-run golf courses linked with residences that give buyers longtime rights to their vacation homes.

“Not everybody will want to live there,” he acknowledged. “They have to be an adventure seeker.”
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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