How foreigners fuel US anti-Cuba policy
Stephen Wilkinson reports on how the US policy towards Cuba is dictated by powerful Cuban emigres who are not even US citizens
As George Bush hardened US policy towards Cuba on May 20th in two speeches aimed at the influential Cuban-American lobby in Miami, a report was published in the US showing how US policy on Cuba is heavily influenced by immensely rich Cuban émigrés who are not even US citizens.
Using its grip on Florida politics and not a little of its vast fortune a small group of essentially foreign citizens seeks to dictate US policy towards Cuba through hefty political contributions to politicians who share their anti-Castro views.
According to a study conducted by Cynthia Thomas, a Dallas-based public policy analyst and member of the executive committee of Americans for Humanitarian Trade With Cuba, a group dedicated to normalising trade relations with Havana, most of this money comes from wealthy business executives whose vast landholdings in Cuba were seized by the revolutionary government after it took power in 1959.
The study offers the most detailed list yet of how much Cuban-American contributors and Free Cuba PAC, an organisation that handles direct political contributions on behalf of the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, influence Washington politics.
Between January 1st, 1999, and February 28, 2002, contributions by Cuban-American business executives were estimated to be $1.8 million. More than 70 percent of this from the two Cuban-American brothers who own a swathe of the Florida sugar industry and the Bacardi Martini rum company.
This study follows another report earlier this year by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non party political study group that illustrates the same pattern.
The findings of the two studies prove that Washington’s Cuba policy is fuelled by those with personal interests in the island.
Officially, the State Department denies that the electoral system (and the Bush need to win in Florida) influences their policy towards Cuba. But no-one really believes this. These reports show the direct link between money and influence on Washington politics.
In her report, Ms Thomas says that few foreign citizens play a more active role in seeking to influence U.S. foreign policy than the Bermuda-based Bacardi Martini rum company and sugar barons Alfonso and Jose Fanjul.
The Cuban-born brothers, better known as Alfy (a Democrat) and Pepe (a Republican), are Spanish citizens but have homes in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Of the $1.8 million contributed between 1999 and 2002, the Fanjul brothers; their corporation, Flo-Sun Sugar; and Bacardi contributed $1.34 million, or 71 percent of the total.
“The debate on this delicate and important issue is being coloured by people who can’t even vote in this country,” Ms. Thomas says. She noted that the contributions also serve to help them gain access to lobby for federal price subsidies.
The Fanjul brothers, and their corporation control about 40 percent of Florida’s sugar crop. They made contributions to 39 political candidates and committees, among them the 2000 presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore, with $2,000 and $1,000 respectively.
The company Bacardi Martini, which contributed nearly $400,000, was a prime instigator of the 1996 Helms-Burton law, which tightened the US embargo on Cuba and allowed Cuban-Americans to sue foreign companies using, or investing in, nationalised properties in Cuba.
The authors of the law, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms., and Representaive Dan Burton, of Indiana, (Burton was in the audience at the White House on Monday when Bush delivered his speech) both received substantial contributions from Bacardi executives.
Before 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Burton hadn’t received a penny from Cuban-Americans. By 1996, he had received more than $61,000 from Cuban-Americans individuals and companies, including Bacardi.
Similarly, 74 percent of the $86,000 Helms has received from these groups and individuals came in 1995 and 1996, “while Helms was running for re-election and the Helms-Burton Act was before Congress,” according to the report.
The person now in charge of enforcing the Helms-Burton law is Mr. Bush’s top Latin American diplomat, Otto J. Reich. He helped write the Helms Burton bill and also worked as a paid Bacardi lobbyist from 1997 to 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He is reported to have received a fee of $600,000 from Bacardi for his services.
The Thomas report lists 99 individual contributors to Free Cuba; 74 individual recipients, including both Republicans and Democrats; and 17 political action committees. Between 1999 and February 2002, Republicans received about $909,595 and Democrats $882,399.
Among the major recipients was the Republican National Committee with $465,300. Of this $337,500 came from the Fanjul’s Florida-Sun Sugar. The Democratic National Committee received $246,250 – with the Fanjuls contributing $185,000.
The Fanjul name lives on both sides of the Florida Straits. In Havana, where a street is named after their grandfather, some people call the Fanjuls powerful and arrogant. At one time, according to Cuban historians, the Fanjuls’ father, Alfonso Fanjul Sr., and their grandfather, Jose Gomez-Mena, presided over one of the largest sugar holdings in Cuba, more than 150,000 acres and 10 sugar mills.
Today, their childhood home is government property. After their father lost one of Cuba’s great sugar fortunes to the revolution, the brothers built a new empire in Florida.
They have been exposed on numerous occasions as being highly exploitative, importing cheap Jamaican labour for sugar harvesting and paying less than the minumum wage. They are very influential;.When Monica Lewinsky was doing that thing with Bill Clinton and and was said to have been on the the telephone, it was with one of the Fanjuls that he was talking.
Now as George Bush is seen to be dancing more than ever to the Florida tune, is it not time for the president’s friends to point out the downright appalling hypocrisy of it all?