In 2000, I went to Havana, Cuba with a group of activists seeking to end the U.S. embargo. This is the letter I wrote to the State Department, U.S. Senators, and several newspapers after my return to the U.S.:
“In a global economy, the U.S. sanctions against Cuba make no sense. They were imposed 41 years ago in defiance of the Cuban Revolution, which toppled the U.S.-supported Batista dictatorship and robbed American companies of great tracts of land and other valuable resources.
“The fear of a Soviet influence so close to home made it reasonable to impose such sanctions; but that threat no longer exists. The United States can no longer justify these radical measures.
“For four decades, the Cuban population has struggled with severe poverty and the great weight of bringing an idealistic social experiment to fruition.
“While the spirit of the Cuban Revolution continues to motivate and inspire the general population, the Cuban government has been forced to adapt the economy to the conditions imposed by the U.S. sanctions. According to Carlos Lage, vice-president of the Council of State, there is a new movement toward opening Cuba’s borders to tourism and commercial exchange. This year alone, 1.8 million tourists (including 100,000 U.S. citizens) are expected to visit, and this number is expected to rise by 19 percent annually.
“Cuba is now accepting foreign investments, with restrictions; entering into joint ventures with private companies; and contracting with private foreign companies to manage state-owned enterprises.
“Representatives of the Cuban government freely admit that the country lacks the knowledge and technology necessary to create profitable enterprises. Over the last few years, they have accepted $4.5 billion in foreign investments of capital, technology, and marketing expertise.
“While publicly upholding the ideals of socialism, the Cubans are gradually leaning toward the realities of capitalism. They prefer to use their own resources, if possible, and privatization at this time has been condemned. But they are realizing the need to market their products in a global economy.
“The current trend is to create associations (Rum Association, Tobacco Association, Nickel Association, etc.) with foreign companies that agree to market the designated product in exchange for cash or social services (doctors, teachers, etc.)
“Tourism is now being touted as the No.1 revenue-producing enterprise in the country so there is much new construction and restoration taking place. The government has mandated a dual economy that freely accepts and circulates both American dollars and Cuban pesos.
“The Cuban government openly acknowledges that inequalities exist and that complete equality between people is not possible. To pacify the anxiety of the Cuban people, prices on basic commodities are deliberately kept low and wages are being raised, especially in the revenue-producing sectors of the economy (such as tourism). There is no underlying feeling among the general population of widespread discontent; in fact, it is estimated that 80 percent of the population supports Fidel Castro as a leader and national hero.
“Fidel Castro is Cuba, and there is concern among the Cuban people that when Fidel Castro dies, Cuba, as they know it now, will also die.
“Ordinary Cubans do not understand why the U.S. government hates them and deprives them of necessary food and medicines. It is not surprising that the U.S. government is generally characterized as “an evil capitalist monster” that seeks to destroy the Cuban people.
“Like people everywhere, the Cuban people want to be recognized as a legitimate society within the global economy. They want to sell their products in the global marketplace and raise their standard of living. Therefore, the Cuban government is negotiating with other countries to create a Latin American-Caribbean Trading Bloc.
“The embargo has not stopped Cuba from procuring American brand-name products for resale to the general public. Familiar tobacco products such as Salem, Winston, and Marlboro cigarettes sit openly on vendor shelves. Coca-Cola and Sprite are sold freely in restaurants and stores. Kellogg’s cereals are proudly served in hotels and restaurants. Famous brand-name candies like Snickers and M&Ms are sold in shops. These products come into the country through private companies in Panama and Mexico.
“Even relatively new Dodge Caravans can occasionally be seen on the streets of Havana. Some of the corporations doing business in the United States that also have offices in Havana are DHL Worldwide Express and Benetton.
“The real losers in this political game are the American companies that are prevented by the U.S. government from negotiating lucrative contracts with the Cuban government for trade and commerce. Increased foreign investment into the country can only lead to widespread economic and social change.
“The recent vote in the United Nations (167-3) condemning the U.S. sanctions against Cuba prove that the U.S. government does not receive worldwide support.
“As a man from the United Kingdom expressed it, “It is America that is in the darkness . . . While Cuba is economically blockaded, America is morally blockaded and out of step with the rest of the world.”
Dawn Pisturino, RN
Member of U.S. Delegation to Cuba,
November 10-14, 2000
Copyright 2000-2015 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.
Published in the Kingman Daily Miner on December 1, 2000
Published in The Standard on November 29, 2000
Published in New Unionist, January 2001 issue
Senators who responded to my letter:
Senator Jesse Helms and Senator Jon Kyl
Closing Thoughts: Other countries have been doing business with Cuba for decades. Obama’s push to ease sanctions may or may not benefit Cuba and the United States. As long as the Castro family remains in power, the possibility of democratization of Cuba seems remote.