FIDEL AS BUSINESS PARTNER
By Humberto Fontova
Kenny Lay you sorry chump. Take a lesson from the TRUE corporate looter and master of hype. You got nailed after only ten years. Fidel Castro is still at it after 43. And here's the best part: the very same people who want you keelhauled and horse-whipped, proclaim loud hossanahs to Fidel's charms as a business partner. They say you should be put "in the pokey" and barred from ever doing business with the American people again. Yet they insist-in Congress, on CNN, in The New York Times-that doing business with Fidel is a can't-lose proposition for any American and that moral and material blessings will rain upon all involved.
Perhaps competent Psychiatrists (if such a thing exists) can explain this.
Yes, who'd a thought it. The American stockholder has new and vociferous fans: Congressional Democrats and pink pundits. Welcome aboard maties! They're all shrieking for Kenny Boy's scalp. Seems he defrauded thousands of stockholders out of millions of dollars. Jesse Jackson seems particularly upset.
Well, I know a guy who didn't just defraud U.S. stockholders, he outright stole -not millions-but BILLIONS from them. He didn't hide behind the fifth or hire lawyers to obfuscate the matter either. He crowed about it gleefully, then boasted that he'd never repay it-and hasn't, not a farthing.
Some of the U.S. stockholders he was robbing resisted and were, imprisoned, tortured and finally murdered by firing squads. One was a brave man named Howard Anderson who owned an auto dealership in Havana a few blocks from where I was born. In April 1961 he was dragged from his house by Castro's goons. A few weeks later his bullet-riddled body was dumped in an unmarked grave on orders of the man Gov Ryan of Illinois recently described as, "charming...a hero..a true gentleman!" The enchanted governor then invited this charming gentleman with the blood drenched hands to the unveiling of the new Lincoln library in Illinois. Not to be outdone, the bearded mass- murderer replied that he plans to erect a statue of Gov. Ryan in Havana soon, perhaps next to Che's.
The good Governor was simply doing his job, I know. He was peddling his state's corn, wheat and medicine in Cuba.. I also realize that sales calls require a degree of BS. But still, this was nauseating.
Anderson's murderer also gets warm abrazos from Jesse Jackson."Viva Fidel!" he gushes on every visit. But Jesse sounds positively subdued compared to Gov Ryan, the honorable Arlen Specter and the whole procession of starry-eyed capitalists visiting Havana of late.
But let's forget the 20,000 political murders by firing squad (don't take it from this "crazy embittered exile with an ax to grind," though. Read it in the Black Book of Communism. I'm constantly astounded at the number of educated people ignorant of this. To them Castro's at worst a harmless tin-pot, a Mouse That Roared type comic figure, at best, a Health-Care reformer in a hurry) Let's also forget the 45,000 drowned in the Florida straits, the thousands of broken families etc. Let's calmly discuss business.
Let's do like Hyman Roth and Mikey Corleone. Remember that? "Mikey, I didn't ask who put a bullet in Mo Green's eye because it didn't deal with business." Fine, let's do the same here.
"Mirth is necessary for wisdom," wrote Martial. Lately it's even more necessary for Cuban-Americans (or anyone familiar with Castro's credit rating) to keep from ripping their hair out in utter frustration and rage. It's either that sprain the diaphragm laughing. And the BS is getting so deep lately that I prefer to put on my hip-boots, hold my nose, and guffaw.
For instance, I just read a report from the head of Mississippi's recent trade delegation to the tropical Gulag. He gushed that they'd "had a chance to meet Cuba's business community."
"Cuba's Business community?"
There's NO SUCH THING you dingbat!! It's the government! The same one that LOOTED and MURDERED the Cuban business community, along with their U.S. partners....do business down there and you do it with the Cuban government......Geezuz!
The Europeans (especially the French) and Mexicans gloated while watching Fidel loot Uncle Sam. Oh how they loved it. Then they scooted in themselves, rubbing their hands. "We'll reap a windfall here!" they snickered. "Money is money. We're not burdened by archaic cold-war attitudes! We're not influenced by crude Mc Carthyism like those yahoo Americans! We're not hag-ridden by that obnoxious Cuban-American lobby! Yippeee! Let's ROOOLLLL!"
Here's the windfall for those shrewd investors:
"Cuba stopped payment on ALL its foreign commercial and bilateral debt with non-socialist countries in 1986. U.S. International Trade Commission Report, 2001
"Debt talks between Cuba and the Paris Club of creditor nations are on hold¼..on the table was $3.8 billion of official debt to Paris Club members, part of a much larger debt Cuba ran up through the 1980s, until it began to DEFAULT on payments and then stopped talking with creditors¼." Reuters, June 2001
And remember folks, back then Cuba was getting $5 billion a year from the Soviet sugar-daddy.
So what happened to that debt, you ask? Well, Fidel repudiated it too. "Soviet Union?" he frowns. "What Soviet Union?...Where is this Soviet Union?" No country by that name anymore, right? So how can he owe it any money? True story. Johnny Cochran and Al Dershowitz couldn't shine this man's shoes, I tell ya.
But no problem. Unlike Kenny Boy, Fidel still had a multitude of friends and well wishers. Some more "comradely" nations stepped in to help. Mandela's South Africa in one case. And here's the results of that shrewd move:
"Cuba's efforts to attract more investment from South Africa are being frustrated by the island nation's failure to settle a 13 million dollar debt¼¼the South AfricanTrade and Industry Ministry is wary of exposing itself to the Cuban risk until the debt is settled. " Xinhua, April 2001
Yet the same New York Times lusting for Kenny Boy's hide consistently genuflect to this corporate looter and refer to him as "President" Castro.
We're hearing a lot about how business hype-from Enron, from the dot.coms-- blinded investors to reality. I'm here to tell you that the people lining up to trade with Cuba and wetting their pants with bliss when shaking the Maximum Leader's hand will make Enron investors look positively clairvoyant.
I can't believe the things I'm hearing! It's worse than anything I ever heard about any dot.com. And it's being orchestrated by a hype machine that shame's Enron's to insignificance. The momentum for the long-awaited opening with Cuba is mounting my friends. And I have some advice-hide your wallets. But that's only if you're a poor chump taxpayer. If you're a Archer Daniels Midland exec chummy with the Ex-Im Bank or a Goldman Sachs exec chummy with the IMF start shopping for a new yacht. This thing's going to make the Mexican bail-out look like a fruit-stand transaction.
Reading the coos and gurgles of infatuation from every delegation to Castroland have finally striated my gag muscles. The Houston Business Chronicle calls Castro Cuba "a great new marketplace!" That's even funnier than what they were saying about Enron just a year ago.
Illinois Gov. Ryan, a Republican, just led a huge delegation of farmers, businessmen and assorted capitalists over there, including ADM and Cargill officers. None forgot their knee pads......But wait! Did I say capitalists? Please excuse me.
A genuine capitalist takes risk. But because of something called the Export- Import Bank there's no risk whatsoever in exporting to bankrupt, murderous and kleptocratic regimes- worse there' no incentive for the kleptocrats to clean up their act, as would happen under a genuine free-market.
Yep, get some Ex-Im coverage and a U.S. business man would take more of a risk selling to Switzerland than to thrice bankrupted Cuba!
(Full disclosure: It's obvious why I have it in for Fidel. I also have it in for the Ex-Im bank.. They were once my competition. I sold a private sector version of what they provide. It's called "export-credit insurance." A U.S. company exporting to a foreign company buys a policy that indemnifies them if the foreign company defaults or refuses to pay.
Sadly, my employers relied on profits for operating capital. They actually evaluated the risk and charged accordingly. My competitors extorted their operating capital from the U.S. taxpayer.) The skunk who sold Ex-Im policies simply followed me around, snickering, and made another quote. It was hopeless. All salesmen like the rough and tumble of competition, but you talk about a handicap! No matter how old the Brandy, no matter how skillful and conscientious the lap-dancer-I usually lost the deal. The Ex-Im charged peanuts for premiums and covered the most outrageous risks in the most kleptocratic countries. You and I make good on the billions in claims. Their spokespersons claim that the Ex-Im doesn't compete with private insurance. Hogwash! I saw it repeatedly.)
Now, does anyone halfway sober think that Archer Daniels Midland (prominent in every delegation to Cuba the last five years) is any less politically connected than Enron? Enron's connections got it (among other things) an electrical plant built in a losing market in India with Ex-Im financing. That'll be pocket change compared to what ADM will get in Cuba. Mark my words. It's coming.
I read recently how ADM execs consider the current restrictions on Cuba trade "too onerous." And what are these "restrictions" for ADM who sells food? Forget what you hear from Fidel and his American echo-chamber about an "embargo," much less a "blockade." Actually study the diluted version in force today. For people like ADM and Cargill this embargo simply amounts to this: no Ex-Im financing of any deal with the current rulers of Cuba. In other words: no taxpayer bail-out for politically-connected millionaires entering into boneheaded business deals with known deadbeats and thieves. Otherwise ADM is perfectly free to sell Castro whatever they want. But because of the nefarious machinations and subterfuges of the dreaded "Miami Mafia" the U.S. taxpayer will not be left holding the bag.
Yes folks, getting paid by customers, is now considered an "onerous" burden for a big, sophisticated and politically-connected company! Boy, I must still be way "INside-the-box" in my business thinking.
Cuba is Bankrupt because of the people in charge. These vermin took over a country with a higher standard of living than Belgium and Italy in 1959, with a trade surplus, with the Cuban Peso equal to the U.S. dollar, with net immigration and... well...you know the rest.
Why on earth would these same looters and cutthroats turn it around when the system has served them so splendidly for 43 years?! Remember, Mao croaked before change came to China. Brezhnev croaked too. But there's no Cuban version of Deng or Gorbachev in power yet. What conceivable incentive would turn the current Cuban nomenklatura into capitalists overnight? Huhn Mr Dodd?! Huhn Governor Ryan?! Huhn ADM and Cargill executives?!
Don't answer. I know the answer. You don't give a damn about that. It's irrelevant. The way things are moving the U.S. taxpayer will soon make good on Castro's thievery through a larcenous farce called the Ex-Im bank. Fidel doesn't have to steal directly any more, or even use spies. He's got ADM execs doing his bidding in Washington's ritziest circles.
Cuba is still Maoist to the core. When they were desperate, when foreign capital started drying up in the early 90's-THEN a small crack appeared in the system like Lenin's NEP (New Economic Policy). This allowed a few tiny businesses to open. But as more dollars have flowed into Cuba the number of private enterprises have actually shrunk. This sounds odd, I know. It's supposed to go the other way....and I think I hear dissent;
"That's impossible you reactionary blockhead! You're n embittered exile with an ax to grind. You want to punish the Cuban people!...the only way it'll ever open up down there is if we start...."
Look, that'll get you a warm ovation at any Ivy League hall, and lately, at any Chamber of Commerce meeting. But didn't you learn anything from Kenny Boy and Skilling? Stop gaping at the cooked books, stop nodding idiotically at the hype-meisters with their fancy suits, their $100 hair cuts, their manicures, their buzzwords, ("outside-the-box!" "Proactive!".."empower!" "paradigm-shift!") Pull the plug on their overhead projector, shut off the colorful power-point presentation, and blow a loud raspberry from the back of the room. Then tell them they're fulla crap.
Let's look at facts, which are much more inconvenient and ugly. Recall that when the entire Bolshevik boondoggle was about to collapse in the early 20's Lenin opened up too. And it worked like a charm. Capitalist rope peddlers swarmed in. Some Kulaks emerged. The system started creaking along again. " Aha!" said many westerners. "That's the end of this Bolshevism madness. They're coming to their senses. They're rational after all."
Tell it to the Kulaks. In fact the worst was ahead. The "forgotten holocaust" lay around the corner. The system clamped down again and the Kulaks were exterminated like termites. Without the aid of "capitalists" like ADM's Armand Hammer that murderous Muscovite mess might have imploded in 1925 instead of 1990.
Ditto for Mao, with his "let a hundred flowers bloom" ploy. The butcheries of the "cultural revolution" followed close on it's heels.
In about 1996 Castro followed suit. His NEP served it's purpose-so SLAM! Cuba's Kulaks weren't slaughtered, just fleeced.
Okay don't take it from me. I know, I know: I'm a: "a crazy, embittered exile with an ax to grind." My Cuban cousins--some of whom were among those very budding capitalists in the early 90's-- could be lying to me on the phone from Havana every week. You want an impartial source. Okay fine:
"Recent (CUBAN) government actions indicate that official attitudes towards economic reform may have soured¼.Increased obstacles to private sector activities and restrictions to foreign direct investments reveal heightened concerns about the loss of political control inherent in the economic reform process." Moody's Investors Service, July 2001
Yes folks, that's Fidel at work. He's no fool. In fact he agrees with us: private sector activity will indeed imperil his rule. Don't you think he knows that? He knows that better than anyone - so he will never permit it. He's very vigilant.
"But he wont be able to control it," you retort. "He'll be swept away by the invisible hand..etc...etc.."
Sounds great on paper and it will probably happen to his successor, but you're forgetting something: remember, Fidel inherited a vibrant free-market economy in 1959 (something unique among communist rulers.) All the others-- from Lenin to Mao to Uncle Ho to Ulbricht to Tito to Kim Il Sung--took over primitive, and-or, chaotic war-ravaged economies.
Fidel had a golden goose land in his lap-- and he wrang its neck. He deliberately and methodically wrecked Latin America's premier economy. No "mismanagement" or "bungling" involved. Cuba's people are poor not because of "mismanagement" by the rulers. Indeed, considering these rulers' goal (total power) the Cuban economy is expertly managed, as was Russia's in the 30's.
Castro destroyed Cuban capitalism for a very rational reason: to wrest from private citizens the power that they retain over their daily lives under that system. Capitalism didn't sweep him away or even co-opt him. He swept it away. He's not Deng or Gorbachev. This is a different animal.
There was a definite method to his madness. He could have easily left most of Cuba's economy in place, made it obedient to his whims, and been a Peron, a Franco, a Mussolini. He could have grabbed half and been a Tito. He could have demanded a piece of the action from all involved and been a Marcos, a Somoza, a Mobuto, a Suharto. But this wasn't enough for him. These guys were chumps.
Castro lusted for the power of a Stalin or a Mao. And he got it-- in spades. And there simply will be no loss of political control as long as he's alive. Get that through your heads. As John Lukacks tells us, history is made--not by theoretical "systems" or "historical forces"-but by humans, by individuals subject to ego, greed and original sin.
Fidel didn't just murder scores of his original revolutionary chums, he gloated in the fact like Stalin and often insisted on watching the execution, like Hitler. The Cuban Revolution "devoured it's own children" more hideously than the French. An American named William Morgan was among the most chilling cases. Willie was an AWOL GI with creditors and ex-wives on his tail who fled to Cuba and wound up a Commandante in Castro's Rebel army in 1959. He soured on the Revolution when the unmistakably Red pattern emerged.. Castro heard about it through spies and clamped Morgan in prison. He visited him one day. "Kneel and beg for your life," taunted Gov Ryan's charming cuddle-bunny.
"F*** You!" Willie snarled back. " I kneel before NO man!"
An hour later Willie was bound, blindfolded and facing the firing squad-but they weren't aiming at his face and chest as usual.....
"FUEGO!!"-- The bullets slammed into Willie's knees. He crumpled to the ground snarling and writhing in agony. "See, I made you kneel," said a voice somewhere above him. The next shot hit Willie's right shoulder, long seconds later another slammed into his left shoulder. Then another into his legs. Willie lay there bleeding, writhing and moaning for long minutes. "POW!" Finally a massive .45 slug to the head ended Willie Morgan's agony.
Next time Fidel's grandfatherly smile warms your cockles, next time his cute whiskers tickle your cheek, you might want to remember people like Morgan-but multiply it by 20,000. We're dealing with a serious sicko here, my friends--a sadist, psychopath, and megalomaniac.
And if this sounds like just the sort of story an "embittered exile with an ax to grind" would make up, I urge you to read it for yourselves. It's in a book titled The Losers by Paul Bethell, former Press Attache in the ( pro-Castro, incidently) U.S. embassy in 1959.
Among the more laughable insults hurled at Cuban-Americans by liberals (and nowadays by myopic businessmen) is that we want to "punish" the Cuban people.
As if we had that luxury! Nothing could be more preposterous. Many of us send money to our relatives monthly, to keep them semi-nourished.
Believe me, if anyone has an immediate and pressing stake in genuine and permanent free-market reforms in Cuba-if anyone prays for it nightly-it's us. We'd love for our deadbeat relatives to start earning their keep. We'd feel it in the pocketbook immediately. We have the most to gain. And ask yourselves: who's in the best position to sniff out and cash in on any genuinely profitable business prospects down there? We speak the language. We know the culture. We still have relatives and connections down there, for heavens sake. If Cuban-Americans are the money-mad greed-heads of leftist lore, why aren't we stampeding into the place?
Because we're familiar, from personal experience, with Castro and his henchmen. And know that until he gets whacked, it's hopeless, nothing will change-not that it'll change overnight when he's gone.
Sorry, but all I hear regarding Cuba trade is typical salesman BS about how they'll be "bringing in all these great accounts!" with nary a thought to details like getting paid, like making a profit.
We need to hear from the bookeepers, from the credit-managers, from the proverbial bean-counters. Where's all the damn bean-counters when I finally need them! For twenty years they bedeviled me:
"Hom-Boy-Da! (Humberto in New Orleanian which is almost identical to Brooklynese)...get your ass in here! What's this $250 expense voucher from the Gold Club?....You crazy salespeople keep bringing in these lousy accounts that never pay! That guy's 90 days past due! You get cash up front, and these charge- offs are coming outta your commissions!
OUCH!-you talk about shape up in a hurry.
I propose a similar deal with Cargill and ADM. "Now listen up you high-rolling hot shots. This Fidel bum has $2 billion invoice that's 40 years past due! All his credit references look like crap. You guys get cash up front! If you don't, any charge offs are coming outta YOUR profits, not the already pillaged pay check of the American working man!
You'd see all those "trade delegations" (taxpayer-financed vacation junkets for state bureaucrats, their business cronies and their spouses) re-routing to the far east in a heartbeat. I ga-ron-tee.