Articles, Opinions, and Papers

August 2017
On Aug. 1, the Cuban government announced an abrupt halt to issuing licenses for 27 occupations in the island’s nascent private sector. After promising to advance economic reform “without haste, but without pause,” Raúl Castro’s government has now called for a break.
HAVANA (Reuters) - The Cuban government said on Monday the freeze on new licenses for some private-sector occupations would not last years, in an attempt to reassure citizens worried about an apparent pause in the liberalization of the economy.
HAVANA — Cuban authorities have ordered the closure of one of the island’s fastest-growing cooperatives, days after announcing that they would stop issuing new permits for some private enterprise.
First, Cuban authorities hauled out tables and chairs from several private restaurants on the island. Then, they put a hold on issuing permits for a range of new ventures citizens had hoped to launch — from home rentals to agricultural endeavors.
HAVANA (Reuters) - Communist-run Cuba said on Tuesday it was suspending issuing new licenses for certain private-sector activities from bed-and-breakfasts to restaurants until it had implemented new measures to curb wrongdoing such as tax evasion.
May 2017
The first Cuban chef with a Michelin star, and the chef — and owner — of the private paladar where former President Barack Obama dined during his trip to Cuba, have something more in common than love of cooking: Both represent snippets of success that Afro-Cubans can find in the emerging private sector on the island.
April 2017
Cubans who rent homes to tourists saw the heavens open when Airbnb, an American company that connects guests with hosts renting their homes, offered them the opportunity to use its digital platform.
December 2016
Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers joined Cuban entrepreneurs on Wednesday to urge President-elect Donald Trump to continue President Barack Obama’s engagement with Havana, despite Trump’s threat to end detente with the island.
November 2016
Walk along the leafy boulevard of el Prado in Old Havana and you'll find it hard to escape the sounds of construction.
October 2016
Oct 17 Havana's city government has temporarily suspended issuing licenses for new private restaurants in the city and warned existing ones to obey tough regulations, according to several owners of the businesses popular with foreign tourists.
Havana, Cuba - Sparks fly and drills roar, but the restoration of the Manzana de Gomez, an ornate and imposing building to the east of Central Park in Old Havana, is well behind schedule.
August 2016
Cuba's approval for a French company to import Indian workers to build a Havana hotel has been met with disbelief, anger and complaints about a policy that usually requires foreign companies to hire local workers through state labor agencies
July 2016
French construction group Bouygues (BOUY.PA) is employing more than 100 Indian laborers to work on a hotel it is building in Cuba, breaking a taboo in the Communist-run country on hiring foreign labor in order to meet increased tourism demand.
Sofía's living room is covered in clothes. Stacks of t-shirts and shorts line a faded plaid couch. Dresses are strewn across the counter, and an armchair cradles a small mountain of shoes. You can't see the floor.
April 2015
Dr. Julio A. Diaz Vazquez of the University of Havana's Center for the Study of International Economics analyzes Cuba's foreign investment law and its implications for worker's compensation.
November 2014
Western cultures don’t approve of human trafficking, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “organized criminal activity in which human beings are treated as possessions to be controlled and exploited.” Yet it’s hard to find any journalist, politician, development bureaucrat or labor activist anywhere in the world who has so much as batted an eye at the extensive human-trafficking racket now being run out of Havana. This is worth more attention as Cuban doctors are being celebrated for their work in Africa during the Ebola crisis.
August 2014
HAVANA — Yet another revolutionary tradition has been broken in Cuba: A lawmaker voted “no” in parliament. And it wasn’t just any lawmaker. Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel Castro, gave the thumbs-down to a workers’ rights bill that she felt didn’t go far enough to prevent discrimination against people with HIV or with unconventional gender identities.
September 2013
HAVANA (AP) — Cuba announced Friday that island athletes will be allowed to sign contracts to compete in foreign leagues, a shift from decades of policy that held professional sports to be anathema to socialist ideals.
August 2013
The National Tax Administration (ONAT) office is open and dozens of people have been waiting from very early. An employee shouts directions for what line to get into for each procedure, although a few minutes later confusion will reign once again. At a desk without a computer another official writes the details of each case attended to, by hand.
June 2012
IKEA continues to investigate claims that it used Cuban prisoners to build furniture.
May 2011
HAVANA — Independent Cuban transportation workers are joining unions as part of a sweeping economic overhaul that’s allowing increased private-sector activity.
November 2010
Cuban President Raul Castro urged union leaders to explain the need for massive layoffs to the country's labor force, and warned them not to hide the deep economic problems facing the cash-strapped island.
August 2009

Group Blasts Cuba for Arresting Participants in Documentary

August 7, 2009

Latin American Herald Tribune

WASHINGTON – The Cuba Study Group has condemned the Havana government’s arrest of four labor activists featured in the documentary “Under Cuban Skies – Workers and Their Rights.” The activists “were unjustly detained, interrogated and harassed as a result of their participation” in the film, the Washington-based CSG said in a statement. “These repressive tactics on independent labor activists expressing their opinions in the film is unjust and unwarranted,” CSG executive director Tomas Bilbao said. “The Cuban government’s actions serve as further evidence of its continued systematic violation of labor rights as shown in the documentary.” On Monday, Maria Elena Mir Marrero, Justo J. Sanchez, Hanoi Oliva and Daniel Sabatier were ordered to report the following day to the offices of the National Revolutionary Police in the Havana suburb of Guanabo. Once in police custody, they were interrogated, “subjected to degrading treatment, and threatened prior to their release,” the CSG said. The CSG said the activists’ participation in the documentary on working conditions in Cuba is seen as a challenge to the island’s only legal union, a body controlled by the communist government. “The interrogating agents threatened the activists to cease their activities or face further harassment and physical harm,” the Cuba Study Group said. The labor documentary was screened last month at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. Filmmaker Carlos Montaner says he made the documentary to highlight the “systematic violation of human and labor rights” in Cuba. “It covers a not very well-known aspect of the situation of labor rights that is peculiarly different from most of the world because the government is the employment agency and the union represents the official party. There is no collective bargaining and many international agreements are being violated,” he told Efe. EFE .

Activists feature in labor film detained

August 6, 2009

Frances Robles, Miami Herald

Four Cuban labor activists who were featured in a documentary that debuted last week in Miami were summoned by the Cuban National Police and threatened, stateside supporters said. "Under the Cuban Skies' is a 29-minute movie filmed in Cuba about the lack of labor rights and low salaries in Cuba, which aired a week ago at the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy onference in downtown Miami. Four days later in Havana, activists Maria Elena Mir Marrero, Justo J. Sanchez, Hanoi Oliva and Daniel Sabatier, who were featured in the film, were summoned and threatened, said Cuba Study Group executive director Tomas Bilbao. The Cuba Study Group hosted the premier. In the film, which was produced by retired InterAmerican Development Bank economist George Plinio Montalvan, the four discussed racial and political discrimination at the workplace, low salaries and the lack of right to organize. The movie was directed by Carlos Montaner - son of the Spain-based writer who is a regular commentator for the Miami Herald. "They reported to police on Tuesday and were interrogated, fingerprinted had DNA samples and photos taken and were degraded,' Bilbao said. "They were told that if they continue these activities, they would be subject to detention or more physical harm.' Documentary Trailer: .
July 2009
MIAMI – The Cuban Revolution was built in part on the basis of protecting workers and 50 years later “it has created the 21st century slave” who has no right to collective bargaining, independent union members complained in a documentary to be shown Thursday in Miami. The film “Under Cuban Skies – Workers and Their Rights,” directed by Carlos Montaner, will be shown at the 19th conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. Montaner presents testimonies of workers, independent union members and journalists about what he calls the “systematic violation of human and labor rights” by Cuba’s communist government. “It covers a not very well-known aspect of the situation of labor rights that is peculiarly different from most of the world because the government is the employment agency and the union represents the official party. There is no collective bargaining and many international agreements are being violated,” the filmmaker told Efe. To show the labor reality in Cuba, Montaner sent teams to the island and conducted clandestine interviews with people in June and July 2008. Most of the testimonies are from Cubans employed in hotels and to show the “sharp contract” in labor conditions, the teams also interviewed workers from the same hotel chains in Spain, Mexico, Miami and the Dominican Republic. Emilio Jerez, of the illegal National Independent Workers Confederation of Guanabo, said in the documentary that in Cuba people never see a notice offering jobs in hotels, a “privileged” sector, because the government wants to assign those jobs. “To hire someone, the negotiations are done by the same people with the foreign investor and the qualified person is the one who’s a member of the (Communist) party, the one who’s part of Cuban Youth and the internationalist,” Jerez said. In Cuba, obtaining a job or a promotion “is heavily based on loyalty to the party,” Montaner said. “Cubans should have the right to decide how they want to handle their working fate and not depend on a central government,” said the son of Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner. But because the government is the only employer on the island, the situation “is open to abuses and discrimination against workers,” said George Plinio, the documentary’s executive producer. Plinio, an economic expert on the Cuban labor situation, said that the government confiscates 97 percent of the salary paid by foreign investors to the workers in hotels and in the exploration and production of nickel. “The investor pays the government about 500 euros ($704) per worker per month and the government, in turn, turns over less than $20 to the employee,” he said. The International Labor Organization determined from this situation that the Cuban government “is violating the agreements related to job protection and the prohibition of job discrimination, and that is what we denounce in the documentary,” Plinio said. Tomas Bilbao, the executive director of the Cuba Study Group, emphasized to Efe that the documentary allows viewers to hear the Cuban workers themselves talk about “the violations that are going on.” “The Cuban Revolution has always tried to base itself on the protection of the Cuban worker, which this documentary demonstrates ... is a farce. What it has done is create a 21st century slave, as an independent union member says in the film,” he said. The documentary will be distributed in Cuba, in countries of the European Union and in Latin America. EFE.

21st Century Slaves: Cuba and Obama's Hope

July 27, 2009

Huffington Post- Luis Carlos Montaner,

"THE Revolution has abandoned its principles, if it ever had them, of building a more just society, and has condemned Cubans to a fierce fight for their lives at the most primitive level -- obtaining food." --Vicente Botín, Los funerales de Castro (Castro's Funeral). President Obama recently removed restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba by Cuban-Americans. U.S.- Cuba discussions have begun on other issues such as immigration. Congressional initiatives to relax further or to eliminate the U.S. embargo entirely have been announced for Fall 2009, including expanding the right to travel to Cuba by all U.S. citizens. The business sector has long advocated an end to the embargo, and there is considerable interest on the part of U.S. investors to begin operations on the island, as well as offshore. However, here's the rub: the current Cuban labor system is in violation of internationally recognized human and labor rights. The Cuban government believes that because of increasing domestic and international pressures, the U.S. will be forced to lift the embargo unilaterally, without concessions of any kind by Cuba. At the very least, then, investors from the U.S. and other countries will need to consider precedents such as the Unocal and Curaçao Drydock ruling under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) of 1789, whereby federal "district courts have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a Treaty of the United States." Courts hearing cases brought under ATCA have interpreted the statute to grant U.S. courts jurisdiction over tortuous acts that occur anywhere in the world, provided that those acts violate international law. The ATCA is also called the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law that, "...allowed non-U.S. citizens to seek redress in American courts for torts considered violations of the law of nations: piracy, attacks on ambassadors and the right of safe passage." In October 2008, a court entered the first corporate ATCA judgment -- $80 million to three Cuban workers trafficked to work in the nation of Curaçao for a Dutch dry dock company. According to the law firm, Grossman Roth, P.A., the landmark case was "the first time a U.S. Court has held a company doing business with Cuba liable for forced labor and human rights abuses committed in concert with the Cuban state." Alberto Rodriguez-Licea, one of the plaintiffs who spoke on behalf of the three, said, "We hope that today's historic judgment means that no Cuban worker will ever have to suffer the same humiliation and inhumane treatment that we experienced. We are overwhelmed by the generosity of so many people who have worked very hard to help bring our oppressors to justice." In Cuba, not only is the labor market a disaster, the whole economy is currently in the throes of a severe crisis. The national GDP, overly reliant upon nickel, remittances, tourism and Venezuelan foreign aid, has been battered by the worldwide financial recession. In addition, two devastating hurricanes in 2008 wreaked widespread damage upon the island nation. However, in the midst of this crisis, if the Cuban government wishes to take advantage of opportunities offered through the lifting of the embargo, it will be forced to undertake profound reforms, at least encompassing its labor practices. At virtually the same time, changes in leadership in Cuba in 2008 and in the United States in 2009, foretell a "new beginning" in U.S-Cuba relations which could eventually lead to greater respect for human and labor rights as well as to sustainable economic development in Cuba. In addition, each year of late, Americans report diminishing domestic support for the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Two years ago this week, the "new leader" of Cuba, Raúl Castro, urged Cuban citizens to debate openly their nation's problems. Hopeful Cubans took him up on his offer. A growing number of journalists, labor leaders, as well as founders of independent libraries, pressed their demands for freedom and an end to the government's suffocating monopoly over virtually every aspect of life. The government ordered a token relaxation of its restrictions by granting Cubans the right to purchase electric items such as microwaves, cell phones, and computers, and for the first time the right to patronize modern hotels. Until now, all of the above were inaccessible to ordinary Cubans and reserved only for tourists. The relaxation of limitations on computer and cell phone use has resulted, predictably, in a rise in the number of dissident Cuban bloggers. The world renowned Yoani Sánchez, who blogs as Generación Y, has led the clarion call for labor reform and liberty in Cuba: "I arrived at this medicine that would 'cure a horse' after verifying that the Internet was the only opening through which an alternative, critical and inconvenient opinion could 'jump the fence' of censorship in Cuba. The examples around me of those thrown out, isolated, and incarcerated warned me that differences of opinion continue to be penalized. But the inquisitors grow older and their methods do not develop at the same speed as technology. So, there was the Internet, still without laws to prevent the posting of opinions, like an unregulated zone, a crack that opened up in the wall." Cuban dissidents have been calling attention to the problem since the mid-1990s, but even now it seems to have gotten very little attention in the business community or in the U.S. Congress. On a trip to Cuba I took a few weeks ago, I witnessed the well-known Cuban dissidents "Las Damas de Blanco" (The Ladies in White) marching down Fifth Avenue in Havana after Sunday Mass. In what has traditionally been a silent protest of the unjust incarceration of their loved ones and the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba turned vocal. "Libertad! Libertad! Libertad!" shouted the ladies in unison as they stood abreast of one another with raised flowers and impassioned voices. Other potential witnesses in any labor dispute are the Cuban doctors who have defected from Cuba during their internationalist missions in Venezuela and in other countries. Awareness must be raised in the international community as to how the expectations of thoughtful, courageous and "independent" Cubans can help the U.S. and other countries arrive at a new, respectful relationship with Cuba - a relationship based on greater freedom for the Cuban people and on a realistic agenda for meaningful and sustainable development. Today, the interests of international business, the U.S. government, and the Cuban populace coalesce around a single ideal: labor reform in Cuba. The Obama administration and the United Nations have a fleeting opportunity to embrace and encourage greater awareness of human and labor rights in Cuba and pave the way for meaningful change on the island only ninety miles from our shores. They must seize that opportunity now. Luis Carlos Montalván is a member of the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs (CENSA) and consulted on the forthcoming documentary film, "Under Cuban Skies - Workers and their Rights." .

Cubans get official OK for multiple jobs

July 1, 2009

AP, Miami Herald

HAVANA -- Cuba is letting workers hold multiple government jobs for the first time under an overhaul of the island's labor system. A note published in state media Monday and Tuesday says the permission was granted under a decree passed by the island's governing councils of state and ministers headed by President Raul Castro. The decree itself has not been published. The measure seems aimed at filling necessary positions in a shrinking work force, and giving Cubans the chance to increase their income in a country where the average monthly salary is about $20. It also seems designed to prevent Cubans from engaging in non-sanctioned activities to earn money - a common practice here. Although most Cubans do not pay for housing and receive free health care and education and highly subsidized utilities, transportation and basic food basket, they complain the government salaries do not provide enough for many essential items. Many Cubans already engage in various illegal jobs to make ends meet, such as the sale of goods stolen from government workplaces and warehouses, or providing unlicensed services. The official note says that the decision to let Cubans hold multiple jobs is tied in part "to the effects of an aging population" and designed to "stimulate work throughout society, as well as the possibility that workers can increase their income." It adds that the decree will allow Cubans to obtain labor rights and retirement benefits only with jobs that are "legally established." .
January 2009

Workers gain as Cuba shifts gears

January 9, 2009

Financial Times- Marc Frank

Fifty years ago, Fidel Castro swept into Cuba’s capital on January 8, promising to establish a socialist state that would promote collectivism over individualism. But the anniversary celebrations, which culminated in an evening rally in Havana on Thursday, have put less emphasis on social spending and more on rewarding individual labour, as Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro’s younger brother Raúl moves away from its decades-old commitment to communism. In a series of speeches and interviews dedicated to the anniversary, President Raúl Castro hammered away at the theme that workers did not appreciate many government benefits – with the exception of free health, education and subsidised culture – and should be given higher wages instead. “It is well known that the vast majority of people do not appreciate a gratuity or generally high subsidies of goods and services as part of the return for their labour, for which they look only at wages,” he told parliament on December 27. In the same speech, he said subsidised vacations at tourism resorts were being scrapped, along with 50 per cent of government travel abroad and other unnamed gratuities. Many Cubans applaud the new policy but worry that wages will not rise as quick- ly as gratuities disappear. Cuba has had a second world war-style food ration system since the revolution. Public transport and utilities are heavily subsidised, as are many workplace rewards, even though an economic crisis following the Soviet collapse, combined with remittances sent by relatives from abroad, have long since undermined income equality. “Why, after working 24 years, is my ration the same as people who have never worked?” asked Nancy Artigas, a Havana resident. “What’s more, their rights and benefits are the same as mine. That doesn’t seem fair – nor is it a way to get people to work.” Although 85 per cent of workers receive no hard currency from their jobs, an estimated 40 per cent of the population receives some money from abroad. Cuba reports annual per capita income, including gratuities and subsidies, as being $6,000 (€4,380, £3,960), although the average yearly wage is the peso equivalent of only $240 at the official exchange rate. After taking over from his ailing brother Fidel last February, Raúl Castro has freed up sales of computers, mobile phones and other consumer goods and lifted caps on wages and on what farmers may earn. Cuba is struggling with mounting deficits, low productivity and the need to import 70 per cent of its food. In an interview carried by the official media to mark the anniversary of the revolution, Mr Castro said wages should reflect the real value of one’s work, and that those who did not work should feel economic pressure to do so. “If we do not take measures to ensure people feel the necessity of working to satisfy their needs, we will not get out of the hole we are in, and we are going to get out of it,” he said. Cuba’s trade and budget deficits soared and its current account balance deteriorated in 2008, despite a 4.3 per cent increase in gross domestic product – casting a pall over the anniversary celebrations that wound up in Havana on Thursday. In recent years, the country has helped to pay for its trade deficit through revenue from tourism and from services exports – mainly for health and education to its oil-rich ally Venezuela, which now faces a big drop in oil revenues. Tourism and services revenues did increase last year, but not by enough to compensate..
November 2008

US case highlights Cuban 'slaves' in Curaçao

November 18, 2008

Colin Woodard Christian Science Monitor,

WILLEMSTAD, NETHERLANDS ANTILLES - Olivia Ocampo well remembers the night the two Cuban workers came to her house in January 2005. Exhausted and afraid, they had escaped from the premises of the nearby Curaçao Drydock Company, where they said they and some 100 other Cubans had been forced to work 112 hours a week fixing ships for three cents an hour. Ms. Ocampo approached the police and government authorities in Willemstad, the capital of the Netherlands Antilles, a Dutch dependency in the southern Caribbean, but "they just wanted to push all the trash under the carpet and say that everything is fine," she said. But last month, a federal judge in Miami ordered the shipyard to pay the workers and one of their colleagues a total of $80 million in damages, after finding it had conspired with the government of Cuba to force them into what was, in effect, slave labor. The case has focused a spotlight on the shadowy corners of the global economy, where capital moves freely across borders and laborers are sometimes forced to follow in bondage. While most cases involve abuses committed in developing nations with poor human rights records, this took place within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, home to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. "These types of violations are not out of the ordinary for the Cuban government," says Tomas Bilbao of the Cuba Study Group in Washington, which helped the workers bring their suit. "What's surprising is that it happened in a dependency of the Netherlands, a country known for its interest in human rights." The three men testified that they had been sent to Curaçao to work off Cuba's multimillion-dollar debt to the Curaçao Drydock Company, a private company whose largest shareholder is the government of the Netherlands Antilles. Their passports were seized at the airport and they were rarely allowed to leave the shipyard complex, and only in groups with a minder. They typically worked 15 days in a row and when off-duty had to watch Fidel Castro's videotaped speeches. Working conditions were perilous, they testified. One of the men, Fernando Alonso, burned his hand while welding steel without proper safety gear. Another, Alberto Rodriguez-Licea, broke his foot and ankle when a rope he was dangling from snapped. The third, Luis Casanova, was ordered to work in water and says he was shocked so severely that electricity shot from his tongue. "They faced the worst choice you can imagine: to continue being slaves not knowing if they would live or die because they were being treated so badly or to try to escape, knowing that even if they were successful it would be horrific for their families in Cuba," says Miami-based attorney Seth Miles, who represented the men. "Their kids have been kicked out of school, their relatives have lost their jobs, and neighborhood gangs harass their families." Mr. Castro's nephew, Manuel Bequer, was a senior manager of the shipyard at the time. He is still listed as the production manager on the company's website. The company has denied many of the allegations, though they admitted that the Cuban workers' passports were seized and that their unpaid wages were deducted from the debt Havana owed the company. After failing to get the case thrown out on technical grounds, the firm fired their attorneys and abandoned the case. Reached by telephone on Oct. 20 and informed of the judge's ruling, company spokesman Lennox Rhodes said to "call in an hour" for comment. He did not subsequently answer his telephone or respond to frequent phone and e-mail messages. The company has also refused to respond to local media requests, according to Mike Willemse, editor of the Antilliaans Dagblad newspaper. "We understand that they will in no way pay the [damages] because they don't have it," he said. "It's simply not there." A spokesperson for the Netherlands Ministry of Kingdom Affairs, Mireille Beentjes, said her government "has been concerned about the labor circumstances" at the shipyard and had "on several occasions expressed these concerns" to the Netherlands Antilles government. Mr. Alonso and Mr. Casanova eventually received visas to seek justice in US courts. All three escapees now live in Tampa, Fla. Theirs is one of dozens of human rights cases tried in recent years under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign citizens to sue foreign officials and companies in US courts for serious violations of international law. If the Curaçao Drydock Company ignores the judgment, they will find it hard to do business with US firms or the Miami-based cruise ship lines, Mr. Miles says. "Good corporate citizens generally don't do business with bad actors," he says. "They would not want to be associated with a company that not only employs slave labor, but ignores US court judgments.".

Cuba won't let our kids leave, medical workers say

November 18, 2008

Frances Robles and Casey Woods, Miami Herald

Inside her bedroom on Cuba's Isle of Youth, 7-year-old Daviana González prays to be reunited with her mother after more than five years, relatives say. In Camagüey, Marta Daniela Batista, another little girl separated from her parents, is said to suffer from mental health problems. The girls are children of Cuban medical professionals living in Miami who deserted their posts in various nations where the Cuban government sent them to help spread ideology and earn income for their cash-starved homeland. But the price for desertion was higher than the families believed possible: The Cuban government is denying the little ones permission to leave, even though they have U.S. visas that would allow them to come here. 'Marta isn't to blame for what her parents did, and yet they punish her,' said her mother, Melvis Mesa, 42. ``She's just a child, and children have a right to be with their parents. What the Cuban government is doing is a terrible abuse.' Mesa and Daviana's mother -- Yaisis González -- are among more than a dozen Cuban health workers working with the Cuban American National Foundation, or CANF, on a campaign to get their children back. CANF representatives plan to file complaints against the Cuban government with international organizations, such as the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations. A press conference is planned for Tuesday morning to call for other Cuban medical professionals in the same situation to come forward and join their cause. The Cuban government is 'holding the children hostage' to punish those who leave official missions, López said. AFRAID TO SPEAK OUT Many Cuban medical professionals who have deserted their posts over the years and are struggling to be reunited with their children have remained silent until now in fear that speaking out would further jeopardize their children's release. 'It's the normal mindset to stay quiet. But after a while, when they realize they're not getting anywhere with that attitude, they figure if they make a lot of noise, they might get results,' said Omar López, CANF's human rights director. ``With the Cuban government, contrary to what most people believe, the more you talk, the more chance you have of getting results.' González, 34, is a nurse who came to Miami in January 2007 after working three years in Qatar. She compared her separation from her daughter Daviana to the 1999-2000 case involving Elián González [no relation], the Cuban migrant boy returned to his father despite a protracted attempt by his extended family in Miami to prevent it. 'It's basic human right that parents should be with their children,' she said. ``My child is my child.' A 2005 report by Human Rights Watch said the Cuban government regularly denies exit visas to medical professionals, children of defectors and relatives of Cubans living abroad legally. Cuba uses the exit visas as a tool for revenge against the disloyal and as leverage to force the return of Cubans who have government permission to live abroad temporarily, the report said. The report blasted both Cuba and Washington for violating people's ``freedom of movement.' Experts say taking the issue to an international court would be at best a legal long shot, but would be worth it -- if just for sometimes helpful international publicity. `MORAL FORCE' 'There's tremendous symbolic value in proceeding before international tribunals, because of the moral force that such proceedings can create,' said former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey, who was part of the legal team that represented the Miami family in the Elián case. 'And moral force combined with consensus of support throughout the hemisphere could be meaningful, but ultimately it would be a verdict that could not be enforced by a judge's gavel,' Coffey said. ``Ultimately the question is: What tribunal can enforce an order against the Castro government if the Castro government refuses to comply?' José Cohen, a former Cuban intelligence agent who in 1994 began his fight to get his three children off the island, said he went to Geneva, to U.S. members of Congress opposed to the embargo and everywhere else he could think of, to no avail. 'I never took it to an international court, because I did not have the money, and Cuba does not respect international laws anyway,' said Cohen, who now lives in Miami Beach. ``But at least it's a public denouncement. They should do it. They should struggle every way they can.' Cohen's youngest son still lives in Cuba; his daughters, now 20 and 24, left the island on a fast boat to Mexico this year and now live in Miami. González said she has learned to parent by phone. Her daughter lives with her grandmother on the Isle of Youth. 'She already thinks she's a little woman,' González said, adding that Daviana often asks for shoes and stylish tops as gifts from the United States. In their daily conversations, Daviana recites math equations -- 'two-plus-two-equals-four!' -- and reads passages out of her text books to show her mother the progress she's making in class. 'She does it to show me that she deserves all the gifts she's asking for,' said González. ``Anything she asks me for, I give her, because it's the only thing I can do for her.' Mesa, 42, often weeps when she speaks of her daughter in Camagüey. PHYSICAL THERAPISTS Mesa and her husband, both physical therapists, said the couple deserted from a medical mission in Venezuela last March and came to the United States through Colombia a short time later. Doctors in Cuba say their daughter Marta's mental health is suffering because of the separation from her parents. Sensitive and intelligent -- she's at the top of her elementary class -- Marta cries constantly for her family. 'Sometimes it's hard to even speak on the phone, because she says over and over, `Mama, when are we going to be together?' ' Mesa said. ``It tears up your heart.'.
October 2008

Food Shortages Bring Crackdown In Cuba

October 28, 2008

Ray Sanchez, Sun Sentinel

The pizza shop has been closed all month. In a country long accustomed to shortages, the back-to-back assaults of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in late August and early September spurred widespread shortages of food. Most of the flour in the hands of the state was diverted to the hardest-hit provinces. "There's no flour anywhere," said Olga, a 57-year-old entrepreneur who pays the state a monthly $35 fee for the right to sell pizza. She supplemented the flour she purchased from the state with cheaper supplies bought under-the-table from bakeries. Not anymore. The state has started a zero-tolerance crackdown on anyone suspected of profiteering from the national suffering, including those accused of stealing state resources or price gouging on food. "If they catch me with flour bought under the table from the bakery, they'll put me away for 10 years," said Olga, who asked that her full name not be used for fear of reprisal. Cuban media said this week that courts are getting tough on price gouging and other post-hurricane crimes, handing down jail sentences to nearly one-fourth of the people tried in September and October for allegedly stealing government materials or setting prices above government limits. Fidel, a 50-something-year-old Havana resident, said police caught him last month with eight packages of crackers sold at state-run bread shops. He said he intended to sell them for a slight profit. He shared a cell that day with another man jailed for possession of 100 head of garlic. On Tuesday, Fidel began serving a one-year jail sentence for his offense. "I'm not a thief or a terrorist," he said. "I was just struggling to make four pesos.".

3 Cuban workers awarded $80 million in modern-day slavery case

October 20, 2008

Frances Robles, Miami Herald

Three Cuban men who were forced to work against their will repairing ships for a Cuban joint venture in Curacao won an $80 million judgment Monday in U.S. federal court in Miami. Alberto Justo Rodríguez, Fernando Alonso Hernández and Luis Alberto Casanova Toledo sued the Curacao Drydock Co., alleging the company conspired with the Cuban government and forced them into virtual slave labor in order to pay off a debt the Cuban government had with the company. After hearing tearful testimony from the three men describing 16-hour working days -- sometimes for as many as 45 days straight -- U.S. District Court Judge James L. King decided the evidence was ``overwhelming and uncontradicted.' The men told King how they hid on-the-job injuries from their supervisors so they would not get in trouble. Alonso, who spent 10 years in Curacao, lost a finger and suffered serious burns. He was awarded $30 million. The others were awarded $25 million each. 'I have never even seen $1,000 together,' Alonso said after the judgment. ``I feel complete. We are in the best country in the world for justice.' The men won their lawsuit in August, when lawyers for the company quit the case and the company failed to show up for any further hearings. King issued a default verdict in the ship workers' favor, and held a separate trial for damages on Monday. Attorneys Seth Miles and Stuart Grossman of Grossman Roth and John Andres Thornton and Orlando do Campo of do Campo & Thornton showed that the Curacao Drydock Co. hired at least 100 Cuban workers to repair cruise ships and tankers at its dock in Willemstad, Curacao. Court records showed that instead of paying the men, the Curacao company applied their $6.90 hourly value to the Cuban government's debt with the company. The men escaped and in 2006 sued the company in U.S. District Court in Miami under the Alien Tort Act, which allows foreigners to file civil suits in U.S. federal courts when a serious international law has been violated. The plaintiffs -- who now live together in the Tampa area -- said the company made them work double shifts against their will in substandard conditions and kept their passports to prevent them from fleeing. On their time off, they were forced to watch hours-long videotaped speeches of then-President Fidel Castro. The men wept on the stand when they said they now suffer depression and sleepless nights. 'This is a free country, but my life here is senseless,' Casanova testified. ``I am free but alone. I was always the best worker, and now I don't even want to work. I don't know what's happening to me.'.
August 2008

Cuban government uses slave labor to pay off its debts

August 22, 2008

Sun Sentinel- Guillermo I. Martinez

If one travels throughout Latin America, you probably have seen them at hotel bars, Cuban trios playing traditional tropical music. The Cuban government sent them there and pays them survival wages. The rest of what they earn the hotels pay the Cuban government directly. Something similar happens to Cuban doctors spread throughout Latin America. Most live in government housing and have their medical offices attached or nearby. As with the musicians, most of their wages help pay for the oil that Venezuela gives Cuba at bargain prices. We have all heard the stories. Now, in a Miami courtroom we have evidence. In this case, three Cuban dry-dock workers who defected to the United States sued a joint venture between a Cuban-owned shipyard and the Curacao Drydock Company who hired them. According to court documents, the $6.90 hourly wages were paid not to the men who worked the hours, but to the Cuban government directly. The money paid was deducted from the debt Cuba owed the Curacao Drydock Company. The suit only covers three men who filed the grievance after defecting to the United States. What they described, however, applies not only to them, but to the more than 100 Cuban workers forced to labor under inhumane conditions. The Curacao Drydock Company admitted in court papers they kept the men's passports and the money they earned was applied to the Cuban government's debt. The company denied inhumane conditions. U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King issued a default judgment against the Curacao Drydock Company, when the company would not show up in court. This is the first time human rights organizations have been able to document how Cuba uses workers to pay off debt to governments and companies. The company in Curacao and the Cuban government might avoid having to pay. The company in Curacao as long as it does not do business in the United States, and Cuba because it refuses to honor any foreign court rulings. Yet the case proves beyond reasonable doubt that in the 21st century, Cuba uses slave labor to pay of debts so those who rule the island can live as kings. Guillermo I. Martínez is a journalist living in South Florida. He may be reached at

Cuban trio win suit against Curacao firm

August 9, 2008

Miami Herald- Frances Robes

Three Cuban dry-dock workers who sued a Curacao shipyard business for conspiring with the Cuban government and forcing them into virtual slave labor won their federal lawsuit Friday, after their former employers failed to show up in court. In a joint venture with the Cuban state shipyard, Curacao Drydock Company hired at least 100 Cuban workers to repair cruise ships and tankers at its dock in Willemstad, Curacao. Court records showed that instead of paying the men, the Curacao company applied their $6.90 hourly value to the Cuban government's debt with the company. ESCAPED Alberto Justo Rodríguez, Fernando Alonso Hernández and Luis Alberto Casanova Toledo escaped and in 2006 sued the company in U.S. District Court in Miami under the Alien Tort Act, which allows foreigners to file civil suits in U.S. federal courts when a serious international law has been violated. The men -- who now live in the Tampa area -- said the company made them work double shifts against their will in substandard conditions and kept their passports to prevent them from fleeing. On off hours, they were forced to watch hours-long videotaped speeches of then-President Fidel Castro. U.S. District Judge James L. King ordered a default judgment against the Curacao Drydock Company because the company fired its Boca Raton attorneys, did not hire new ones, and failed to show up for court-ordered depositions. According to King's ruling, the company 'abandoned the case,' so he ordered a Nov. 17 trial just to determine how much should be awarded to the three men. Attorneys for the plaintiffs from the Miami firms do Campo & Thornton and Grossman Roth said they would request an amount in the 'eight or nine figure' range. `HISTORIC' The lawsuit was considered significant because it offered a rare glimpse at employment terms normally kept secret between the Cuban government and the firms with which it does business. Tens of thousands of doctors, trainers and other workers are dispatched around the world on behalf of the Cuban government, but how much they are paid is rarely publicized. The dock workers were given per diems for food and paid an $18 monthly salary that would be legal in Cuba but violated labor laws in Curacao. 'It really is a historic ruling,' said Tomás Bilbao, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, an organization of Cuban-American business leaders who followed the suit. 'It sends a message to any company that would conspire with the Cuban government to violate the human rights of Cuban workers and basically says, `Look, you are on notice: there is now a legal precedent. If you conspire to do this, there will be severe consequences.' ' Company general manager Franklyn Asser did not return a telephone call seeking a comment. Stephanie Reed Traband, the attorney who represented the company until last month, could not be reached for a comment. `UNDER A ROCK' The plaintiffs' attorneys said the Curacao company tried to duck the case on a variety of technicalities, such as where the trial should took place. When those attempts failed, the company stopped appearing in court. 'When they realized there would be a day of judgment on the merits of this case, then all of a sudden they climbed under a rock,' said Seth Miles, one of the workers' attorneys. ``Either they are going to pay these men, or they are going to have a significantly difficult. if not impossible, time doing business in the United States. We will do everything possible to make sure of that.' `ECSTATIC' In court papers, the company denied that the men worked in inhumane conditions, but acknowledged holding the workers' passports for safe-keeping and applying their salaries to the Cuban government's debt. Attorney John Andres Thornton said the plaintiffs will appear in court in November to tell their tales of suffering. 'Our clients are ecstatic,' Thorton said. ``They hope that this means that companies will think twice before entering deals using forced Cuban labor.' .

Fla. judge rules in favor of Cubans in slave case

August 8, 2008

Curt Anderson- AP

MIAMI -- A federal judge ruled Friday in favor of three Cuban men who claimed in a lawsuit that the communist Castro government forced them to work as virtual slaves at a shipyard on the island of Curacao. Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King determined that the Curacao Drydock Co. failed to meet several court-imposed deadlines and essentially walked away from the case. King found in favor of the Cubans by default, leaving only the issue of damages to be decided. "The court finds the defendant has abandoned the case by disobeying the court's orders," King wrote in his decision. The three Cuban men, all now living in the U.S. - Alberto Justo Rodriguez Licea, Fernando Alonso Hernandez and Luis Alberto Casanova Toledo - claimed in the 2006 lawsuit that Cuba forced them and others to work for the Curacao shipyard to repay a Cuban debt. They said they were victims of a conspiracy in which Cuba provided low-cost, forced labor in return for hard currency desperately sought by the communist Havana government. They said they worked long hours in hellish conditions, had their passports confiscated and were forced to watch endless videos of then-Cuban President Fidel Castro's speeches. The three eventually escaped and were permitted to remain in the U.S., where Cubans generally are allowed to stay if they reach dry land. The Curacao shipyard admitted many of the allegations in court documents but sought to get the case dismissed on jurisdictional grounds or have it moved to Curacao, a self-governing Dutch island in the Lesser Antilles off Venezuela's coast. When those efforts failed, the shipyard gave up and dismissed its U.S. legal team. It currently has no U.S. lawyers, and a lawyer from the old team did not return a telephone call Friday. "There are undisputed facts of how this absurd forced labor business was run," said Seth Miles, another attorney for the Cuban men. The issue of how much the three Cuban men are due in damages will be decided at a trial set for Nov. 17. Attorneys for the three said Friday their damages request from the shipyard would run well into the millions of dollars. "They are either going to pay these three men what they owe them, or they are going to have a difficult if not impossible time doing business in the United States. We'll make sure of that," said attorney John Andres Thornton. Cuba's government, now run by Fidel Castro's brother Raul Castro, was not part of the case and has never responded to the slavery allegations. But Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the nonprofit Cuba Study Group, said the case highlights a common Cuban practice of sending citizens to work in other countries as forced laborers. "We're just talking about three Cuban workers. But they represent dozens and dozens of workers," Bilbao said. "The Cuban government treats its workers like a commodity.".
MIAMI (AP) - A federal judge in Miami has ruled in favor of three Cuban men who claimed in a lawsuit they were enslaved by a shipyard on the island of Curacao. Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King ruled Friday that the Curacao Drydock Co. failed to meet several court deadlines and decided the case for the Cubans by default. That means a trial on damages will be held in November. The three Cubans, now living in the U.S., claimed in their 2006 lawsuit that Cuba's communist government forced them to work for the Curacao shipyard as virtual slaves. The shipyard had denied the allegations and an attorney for the company didn't immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. King previously rejected an attempt by the shipyard to move the case to Curacao..
July 2008
Havana, July 29 (IANS) More than 60 percent of Cuba’s trade union leaders have little knowledge of laws protecting workers’ rights, the communist-ruled island’s only legal union CTC has said. Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC)’s official journal Trabajadores said of more than 930 labour leaders it surveyed, barely 40 percent said they have some knowledge of workers’ rights or mechanism for redressal of grievances, EFE news agency reported Tuesday. Results of the survey, which was conducted in September 2007 by the Labour and Social Security Ministry and the CTC, indicate that collective bargaining does not play a role in management-worker relations. Among the workers, awareness of labour rights is also dismally poor, the journal said. Of the 2,620 workers surveyed, some 70 percent said they had no knowledge if an agreement protecting their rights exists. A large number of respondents among the workers opined that collective bargaining agreements were of “little value” or that “if conflicts happen, only with difficulty could the union or a worker win a dispute with management”. Alfredo Machado, head of the CTC, blamed “the lack of objectivity and dynamism” in implementing the labour agreements on the “scarce participation” by workers. He said there was no effective monitoring of union officials, and that the latter lacked “knowledge and training”. Few workers know that they can take their grievances to higher authorities or that violation of labour laws is a criminal offence and managers may face criminal prosecution for flouting workers’ rights. Trabajadores concludes that labour laws rarely come in aid of the workers “because labour organisations do not play the role they are supposed to”. The first article of Cuba’s constitution defines the nation as a “socialist workers’ state, independent and sovereign”..

Cuba paid debts with forced labor, lawsuit says

July 17, 2008

Miami Herald- Frances Robes

Each Cuban worker got two pairs of overalls, a set of sturdy boots, a helmet and food commensurate with how hard he worked. Their labor fixing up American cruise ships at a Curacao dry dock was valued at $6.90 an hour. But the 108 Cuban shipyard hands who worked double shifts in a joint venture between the Cuban government and the Curacao Dry Dock Company did not get to spend their wages. Their earnings were applied to the Cuban government's debt with the company, court records show. Documents reviewed Wednesday by The Miami Herald in an ongoing 2006 lawsuit filed in Miami by the workers offer a rare glimpse at employment terms normally kept secret between the Cuban government and the firms with which it does business. The documents appear to offer proof that the government's joint ventures abroad sometimes involve unpaid labor. Instead of a salary, the men got money for food and 400 Cuban pesos a month -- about $18 at the current exchange rate. Three former dry-dock workers eventually escaped what their attorneys call a 'forced labor camp' in Willemstad, Curacao, and filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Miami, alleging the Cuban government offered them up as slave labor to pay off its debts. Alberto Justo Rodríguez, Fernando Alonso Hernández and Luis Alberto Casanova Toledo -- who now live in the Tampa Bay area -- sued the Curacao Dry Dock Company, saying it forced them to work against their will while Cuban agents kept an eye on their every move. Their boss at the docks: Fidel Castro's nephew. In court papers, the Curacao Dry Dock Company says allegations it forced employees to work 112 hours a week in substandard conditions are untrue. In a sweeping denial of wrongdoing, the company acknowledged it did not pay the Cubans and that managers held the workers' passports ``for safekeeping.' 'Because of the significant debt owed by . Havana to defendant for repairing ships . monies that defendant would otherwise pay to the Havana shipyard for the provision of temporary workers from Cuba are subtracted from the debt owed by the shipyard,' the company's attorneys wrote in a court filing. The suit was filed under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreigners to file civil suits in U.S. federal courts when a serious international law has been violated. It was unclear how much the Cuban government owed the company. The court filing responding to the lawsuit added that the workers got a per diem and 'additional benefits.' Employment contracts show the men were supposed to receive $1,500 a month for a per diem, but the workers say they received only a $12 daily food allotment to spend at the company store. Court documents also show that the dock's production manager was Manuel de Jesus Bequer Soto Del Valle, the nephew of Fidel Castro's wife, Dalia Soto Del Valle. The records show Bequer's employment ended in April 2007 and he later sued the company. Without detailing the cause of his lawsuit, the records show the company settled for $125,000. Asked what Bequer was like, plaintiff Alonso Hernández said through his Miami attorney, Orlando do Campo: ``Manuel Bequer was a despot -- a Nazi. He had no regard for our health or well-being and personally put me in dangerous and hazardous situations. His only concern was to exploit the Cuban laborers to the fullest extent possible.' The men said they worked 3 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts 15 days in a row. They got days off only when the docks were empty, attorney John Andres Thornton said. In the suit, attorneys allege that the Cuban government and the Curacao Dry Dock company formed the joint venture to repair ships as a way to skirt the U.S. trade embargo against the communist nation. Now Thornton said the Cuban government has enacted revenge on the plaintiffs' families -- who are still on the island -- by refusing their children access to day care and higher education. The Curacao Dry Dock Company did not show up for depositions scheduled in Miami last week, and its Boca Raton attorneys want off the case. At a hearing Wednesday before U.S. District Judge James L. King, attorney Stephanie Traband asked the court to allow her Boca Raton firm, Proskauer Rose, to be removed from the case, citing irreconcilable differences. The workers' attorneys assert Curacao Dry Doce is trying to dodge the case -- and a financial judgment against the firm -- by not cooperating in the suit..
May 2008
HAVANA (AP) — Cuba urged its people to work harder and increase production at a short, snappy May Day parade Thursday, reflecting the businesslike style of new president Raul Castro. Marchers danced, sang, waved banners and screamed "Long Live Fidel! Long Live Raul!" until they were hoarse. Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel as president in February, did not speak, but smiled and waved from a podium as hundreds of thousands streamed past him in vast Revolution Plaza. The whole thing was over in under two hours — less time than Fidel Castro used for his speech at the last May Day event he attended, in 2006. For decades, May Day often featured lengthy addresses by Fidel and foreign leaders, as well as musical productions. But Raul, who has spent most of his life running Cuba's military, has a reputation for pragmatism and calculating efficiency. Thursday's event had only one speaker, communist labor union chief Salvador Valdes Mesa, who called on state employees to rout out "inefficiencies and weaknesses" in the workplace. It was Raul Castro's first May Day as president, though he also presided over last year's celebrations without giving a speech. The 81-year-old Fidel has not been seen in public since emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006, but he was still the star of Thursday's parade, which began with a row of marchers carrying a huge sign reading "Revolution is Fidel." Several minutes went by before a picture of Raul came into view. The parade ended with more than a dozen people hoisting a likeness of the former leader that looked like it might stretch half a city block. But 57-year-old Rolando Gonzalez, who marched with government tourism workers, said the two brothers aren't as different as many think. "Raul's style is the same as Fidel's. With him we are on the same road as always," he said. "But Raul does talk more about hard work, producing more and that's important.".
March 2008

UK Unions Push for Warmer EU Ties With Cuba

March 21, 2008 Kevin McCandless

London ( - Drawing on ties that go back decades, British trade unions have called on their government to help expand Europe's relations with the Cuban government. In letters sent to the British Foreign Office and released to the media, the heads of more than 20 unions said that with Fidel Castro stepping down as president, it was time for a new approach to the island nation. The British government should lobby the European Union to adopt a policy of constructive engagement with Cuba, including stronger diplomatic links and trade relationships, they said. Looking ahead to an E.U. meeting in June that will discuss policy towards Cuba, the unions also want Europe to resist any pressure from the U.S. to support the American economic embargo. David Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, the main civil service union, said in a statement that British exports to Cuba fell by 48 percent between 2000 and 2006 because of U.S. pressure. (American law penalizes foreign companies that do business with both Cuba and the United States.) "Nearly fifty years after sanctions against the people of Cuba began, it is time for the E.U. to forge stronger cultural, diplomatic and sporting links," he said. For years, British unions have forged ties with both the Cuban government and Cuban unions. While the U.S. regards Cuba as a Communist dictatorship, many on the British left see it as a bastion of socialism and a victim of American imperialism. Delegations from British unions frequently visit Havana for May Day celebrations, while Cuban diplomatic officials appear at liberal conferences around Britain. Rob Miller, director of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in London, said he was confident that the E.U. would start to engage more with Cuba. Pressure by trade unions on the British government was key, he said, particularly since many lawmakers from the ruling Labor Party draw financial support from unions. Many Labor lawmakers are former union officials, and dozens are given funds by various unions to run their election campaigns and for their local constituency party. "There is an absolute link between the British government and trade unions," Miller said. In 2003, following a Cuban clampdown that resulted in the imprisonment of 75 dissidents, the E.U. imposed diplomatic sanctions against Havana, including a ban on bilateral high-level visits. Europe's response to the clampdown never included economic measures. Earlier this month, weeks after Fidel Castro's brother Raul formally took over, the E.U.'s top development aid official voiced optimism that changes were are on the way, especially in the area of human rights. After talks in Havana with top officials, E.U. Commissioner Louis Michel told reporters that it was time "to start a new era" with Cuba and that diplomatic sanctions should be officially dropped. Antoni Kapcia, an expert on Cuba at Nottingham University, said he didn't think the remarks by the E.U. official were particularly significant as Michel was known for being upbeat on ties with Cuba. He said a more important development was the recent reelection of a Socialist government in Spain, which has been promoting reengagement with Cuba in recent years. While some E.U. members -- especially those in formerly Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe -- remain wary of Cuba, Spain in 2007 sent its foreign minister for an official visit. The British government is still considering its position ahead of the June meeting on Cuba, but Kapcia said that he doubted the unions would have a major influence on its thinking. The days of the unions wielding political clout were long gone, he said..
January 2008

Where denouncing labor abuses is illegal

January 23, 2008

Miami Herald- Editorial Opinion

Now is a good time for labor and democracy activists to press for worker rights and reform in Cuba. With Fidel Castro still sidelined and the economy crumbling, pressure for reform is building -- not only from ordinary Cubans but also from the international community. Promoting the Arcos Principles, which set standards for foreign businesses in Cuba, could pay dividends in a future transition, if not sooner. The State Department and private-advocacy groups such as the Cuba Study Group do well to lobby governments, international-labor groups and business communities to help improve labor rights and conditions in Cuba. A 95 percent tax? For all its talk of being a socialist paradise, Cuba exploits workers horribly. Its labor practices hurt both workers and the foreign businesses that become partners in the abuse. Foreign businesses, for example, may only hire workers through a government agency. Foreign firms pay wages in hard currency to the agency, which in turn pays the workers less than 5 percent of those wages in pesos. That's a 95 percent tax. Ordinary Cubans, the vast majority of whom work for the government, get paid even less. Forget pay for performance. The regime also bans independent unions. In fact, six labor activists remain in prison, serving terms from 12 years to 26 years. Their 'crimes'? Denouncing violations of international-labor standards and attempting to organize workers into independent unions, what union activists routinely do in free countries. These men should be freed. Such labor abuses inspired the late Cuban dissident Gustavo Arcos to propose the Arcos Principles. Those principles require foreign investors in Cuba to: • Hire Cubans directly, not through a state agency, and keep politics out of hiring decisions. • Allow employees to organize independent unions. • Defy tourism apartheid by allowing ordinary Cubans access to facilities, goods and services now reserved for foreign visitors. One sign that Cuba is bowing to pressure is that it recently legalized the annual bonuses, subject to taxes, that foreign firms used to pay under the table. Such bonuses motivate employees to improve the quality and productivity of their work. Those are the kinds of boosts that Cuba's moribund economy needs. Regime hard-liners may oppose these reforms because they increase the inequality of wages. But the real issue is improving incentives, income and rights for all workers -- not just those employed by foreign ventures. Raúl Castro already has raised expectations of economic reforms. The international community should push for reforms sooner rather than later..
June 2007

$1.25B slated for Cuba

June 7, 2007

Miami Herald- AP

HAVANA -- (AP) -- Canada's Sherritt International Corp. said Wednesday it plans to invest $1.25 billion in Cuba over the next two years, bolstering its position in the island's oil, natural gas, electricity and nickel and cobalt mining sectors. 'Cuba is one of our favorite places to work,' Sherritt President Ian Delaney said during an event marking the expansion of the Energas natural gas plant, 30 miles east of Havana, which his company manages jointly with state-owned Cuba Petroleo. Delaney did not specify what the new investments will be used for, saying only they will go toward a variety of projects. Sherritt is among the largest foreign investors in Cuba. Acting President Raul Castro and Vice President Carlos Lage were among those at the ceremony. Lage said Cuba plans to erect 39 oil exploration wells this year, 26 of which will include foreign investment. Washington's 45-year-old embargo against Cuba bans American tourists from visiting the island and chokes off most trade between the two countries. Cuba plans offshore drilling for oil and natural gas close to the coast of Florida, and proposals in the U.S. Congress would ease restrictions to allow American firms to invest in the island's exploration efforts..
October 2006

Cuba accused of slavelike labor deal

October 28, 2006

Miami Herald- Frances Robles

The Cuban government conspired with a Curacao ship repair company to provide practically slave labor fixing up vessels, including Miami-based cruise ships, and kept workers under harsh conditions, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District court in Miami alleges. The civil suit filed before Judge James Lawrence King alleges that up to 100 Cuban shipyard workers are forced to work against their will at Curacao Drydock Co., a ship repair company with an agent in Delray Beach, Klattenberg Marine Associates. The suit, filed by three workers who escaped and now live in Florida, alleges they were ordered to work 16-hour shifts for $16 a month, a low wage common in their native Cuba. 'We started work at 3 in the afternoon and kept working until 7 a.m. the following day,' plaintiff Alberto Justo Rodríguez told The Miami Herald. ``We worked in the worst, most uncomfortable parts of the ship. Where nobody wanted to go -- that's where they sent the Cubans.' 112 HOURS A WEEK According to the suit, the men often worked 112 hours a week. Their wage amounted to 3 ½ cents an hour. The suit was filed two months ago and was first reported Friday by The Associated Press. Rodríguez, a former shipyard worker in Cuba, was summoned to the Ministry of Transportation in 2001 for a mandatory transfer to Curacao. Upon arrival on the Caribbean island, he says, his passport was seized. He and up to 100 other Cubans worked on a joint venture with the Cuban government and Curacao Drydock, a company that does shipyard repair, including work for U.S.-based cruise lines, oil companies and shipping firms. The joint venture between the Cuban government and Curacao Drydock has Cuba providing the workers for the company, providing a source of cash for the Cuban government, the suit alleges. Curacao Drydock, the suit alleges, knew the Cuban workers were being held against their will. A written statement provided by Curacao Drydock attorney Matt Triggs to The Miami Herald says many of the suit's allegations are directed at the Cuban government. 'There are allegations, however, regarding the health and safety of our employees that are of great concern to Curacao Drydock Co.,' the statement said, stressing that the company has safety measures in place. ``Nevertheless, the company is undertaking a full investigation of the allegations.' The suit claims the men were forced to labor in sweltering weather and dangerous conditions, like hanging from scaffolds. When Rodríguez broke his foot and ankle in 2002 while scraping rust from the hull of a ship, he was sent home to heal -- and then ordered back after his recovery. The suit claims plaintiff Luis Alberto Casanova once suffered an electric shock but was forced to finish his shift despite bleeding from his tongue. The workers' supervisors were other Cubans, including a nephew of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the suit alleges. 'They always told us if we didn't work, they'd throw us out of the country, fire us and send us to jail,' Rodríguez said. ``Really, we were slaves. We didn't have a voice or a vote.' FORCED VIEWING On time off, Rodríguez said, they were forced to watch videos of political speeches, marches and the Cuban government Mesa Redonda -- Round Table -- TV news shows. He escaped in 2004 and now works odd jobs in Hialeah. The suit was filed by Miami Beach lawyer John Andres Thornton under the Aliens Tort Act, which allows foreigners to file civil suits in U.S. federal courts when an international law has been violated. Curacao Drydock has asked the judge to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction. The suit seeks unspecified damages. No trial date has been set. Co-plaintiffs Fernando Alonso Hernández worked in Curacao from 1995 until he fled in January 2005. He and the third plaintiff, Luis Alberto Casanova, who worked in Curacao from 2002 until 2005, now work in shipyards in Tampa. One of the plaintiffs, Thornton said, now makes in an hour what he used to get in a month..
September 2006

Raúl Castro urges labor union to lead Cuba's corruption fight

September 28, 2006

Miami Herald- Vanessa Arrington

HAVANA - Union urged to combat corruption Raúl Castro urged Cuba's communist labor union to lead the country's battle against corruption Wednesday, saying workers are 'the essential force' in fighting a wide range of vices. His speech, which closed the union's 19th congress in Havana, earned him a standing ovation from the crowd of about 1,400 people, which chanted ``Vive Raúl!' Castro, 75, is acting president while his brother Fidel recovers from intestinal surgery. It was the first time Fidel Castro, who is 80, had missed one of the union's congresses, his brother said, adding that Fidel's 'ideas, and also his teachings, were nonetheless present' at the three-day event. The younger Castro, who appeared relaxed and confident in his new leadership role, complimented the union for its dedication to the island's socialist ideals, at the same time chiding the leaders for failing to control rampant stealing from the state, and worker apathy. 'One of the most difficult challenges in this ideological work is succeeding in making the worker feel like a collective owner of the society's riches -- and acting accordingly,' Castro said in remarks lasting under an hour. 'I'm not saying that this is the only cause of the acts of corruption, and robbery, and illegalities, and lack of labor discipline,' he said. ``But given the conditions of socialism, it is very difficult to confront these dangerous vices without the assistance of the workers, who are the essential force.' He said severe shortages created when Cuba lost economic support after the fall of the Soviet Union have prompted some of the stealing. 'But it's also been due to our old and new errors,' he said. ``Some union leaders have not made the best decisions, nor employed the best work form.' He called on those present to 'meditate profoundly' on how they can improve their roles. Before falling ill, Fidel Castro had been leading his own campaign against corruption, portraying the widespread stealing from the state and other examples of 'moral decay' as the greatest threat yet to Cuba's socialist system. The younger Castro repeatedly cited former remarks by his brother, but said nothing specific about the health of the leader, who ceded power July 31..