The Turbulent Waters of the Florida Straits

Fernando Ravsberg*

July 4 at the home of the chief US diplomat in Havana. (Photo: Raquel Perez)

HAVANA TIMES — The US is complaining that Cuba’s banking system is not transparent, and that such a situation may have allowed some Cubans — refugees of “Communist persecution” — to hoodwink the American health care system and transfer money out of that country through a foreign bank that also operates on the island.

It’s surprising that Washington would ask for greater banking transparency on the part of Cuba just a few days after sanctioning a Dutch bank for doing business with Havana. Earlier the US had punished a Swiss bank, and — if I’m remembering correctly — there was also another one in far-off Australia.

It seems that chasing the island’s business contacts all over the world is starting to wear them out, so now they want to simplify things. How?…by demanding that the Central Bank of Cuba make all of its activities transparent so the US can more easily find and punish the island’s financial partners.

Viewed negatively, this proposal for bank transparency might even seem silly. However, viewed optimistically — very optimistically — it could be the first step towards a bilateral cooperation agreement aimed at combatting money laundering.

If the US authorities are so interested in going after this crime, they have the option of refraining from the financial persecution of Cuba globally and requesting the country follow international standards of banking transparency.

Clearly, Havana would have to think about this very carefully, otherwise it could find itself in a situation similar to when (1998) it provided the FBI with information about the violent actions being plotted by exiles in Miami, only to ultimately discover this same information was used to arrest and jail the Cuban agents who came up with it.

Their trials were so flawed that Gabriela Knaul, the UN rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, recently expressed her concern to Washington about the trial of the five Cubans imprisoned in the US for conspiracy to commit espionage.

The naivety of Cuba in relation to the FBI led to their imprisonment. Four of them are still in prison and the fifth is on probation in Miami.

What’s more, it seems that there will be no change in their legal status since the White House is rejecting the offer to release the Cuban Five in exchange for Alan Gross’ freedom.

Washington insists that the five Cubans are spies while Gross was no more than an innocent “contractor.” It’s true that he was working under “contract,” but in the service of the US government to smuggle into Cuba communications equipment that’s so sophisticated that it’s only used by the CIA and the Pentagon.

In the negotiations to free Gross, the US continuously placed all its bets on the “winning horse” because they knew all of Cuba’s intentions in advance. Nevertheless, in recent months they lost their eyes and ears, and the reaction appears to be one of taking shots in the dark.

A good example of this is the statement by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announcing that the US government will intensify the implementation of its clandestine communications program in Cuba, which was a blow to hopes for a humanitarian solution for Gross and his family.

To prevent the imprisonment of more US citizens, now they are trying to extend the Internet through computers that are legally sold in Cuban stores. It’s hard to believe that this will succeed, unless the real objectives are to further Havana’s restrictions on the use of the new technologies and to repress the cyber-opposition.

This is because there’s a clear contradiction between a Hilary Clinton who is promoting the Internet on the island and her colleagues at the US Treasury Department who have ordered Google to prohibit all Cubans from using some of their online tools.

There’s not the least doubt of this use of political force. Christine Chen, Google’s manager of Global Communications and Public Affairs, made it very clear: “We have to comply with the policies of the Treasury Department (…) Google Analytics cannot be used in countries subject to embargoes.”

Washington is loading the weapons of the hardline diehards on the Cuban side of the shore. The censorship of Google and the millions of dollars allocated to the cyber-dissidents by Hilary Clinton is the perfect justification for some of the proposed new restrictions “that will allow us to confront this imperialist assault.”

Now the Cuban government will find it much easier to justify censorship, and the very existence of the “Ministry of Silence” (which limits citizens’ access to Internet) will continue to guard the secret behind the non-functioning underwater telephone/Internet cable and will declare all of those online voices that aren’t unconditional supporters of the government to be its hostile enemies.

When I first came to the island, Victorio Copa (a very Cuban colleague, despite his name) gave me some sage advice: “If you want to understand what happens in Cuba, you have to study its relations with the US, because almost nothing that occurs here is outside of that century-old conflict.”


6 thoughts on “The Turbulent Waters of the Florida Straits

  • Beardo, it is exactly the ‘transparency” the US seeks. By this means, that is to report publicly deposits and payment cash flows, the US would also be able to detect the veracity of Cuba’s claims to not be a part of the well-known “drugs for products for money” laundering scheme that is prevalent in the Caribbean and Latin America. For Rafa, it is disingenuous to only blame the IMF and World Bank for the debt borrowed by Latin America. That is like only blaming the drug dealer for a drug addict’s addiction.

  • ‘Moses’ would have us believe that reports to the World Bank would not wind up in the FBI’s hands? Since it was founded in 1946, all 12 presidents of the bank have been US citizens, including US government officials, Robert McNamara and Paul Wolfowitz.

    Unfortunately, I cannot praise ‘Moses’ for posting “well-researched and factually correct” information as he did Fernando. The obsessive commenting resembles that of a professional propagandist. As the aphorim goes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.

  • It’s awfully hypocritical of the US to say that another country’s banking system is not transparent. The US itself is a haven for money laundering and legally and morally dubious financial practices. (Just search for the terms “money laundering” and Delaware to see). In any case, it’s perfectly right for Cuba to not want to submit to the unjust practices of the World Bank and the IMF. Both these institutions have only brought on more poverty and suffering around the globe by forcing countries into crushing, perpetual debt.

  • Moses – I really doubt that that is the “banking transparency” that the US is seeking.

    By the way, I have always been able to use Google maps in Cuba without any problems – and found their map of Havana to be useful and accurate.

  • I just went thru the Miami airport to Havana!! For a country that supposedly does want trade, there was an ungodly amount of shrink wrapped packages of supplies put on the airplane.

  • Fernando, I am disappointed with your post this time. Ususally you are well-researched and factually correct. Even when I don’t agree with your conclusions, I support can’t deny the facts used in your analysis. First of all, transparency in Cuban banking is idiomatically saying that the Cuban national bank (Treasury) does not report to the World Bank or the UN the data requested and reported by nearly all national treasuries. North Korea being the only other exception. As a result of this “transparency” the EU, for example, can more accurately assess the quality of debt service payments being made by its member countries and therefore more accurately assess the degree of bailout neccesary. To compare this example to Cuba’s reporting to the FBI the information gathered by unregistered foreign agents who alleged that terrorists plots were being planned against Cuba is comparing apples and elephants. Secondly, the Google online tools restrictions are non-issues. All of these tools are either available through third party sources online or the service the tools provides is easily replaced by other sites or useles in a Cuban context. For the most part, Cuban internauts would have little if any use for these tools. Google maps, for example, requires internet speeds currently unavailable in Cuba (at least so they say) so its lack of access is meaningless. The Cuban regime will use any excuse to justify its failings to the Cuban people. Please work harder next time to support your well-intended analysis.

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