Time for Compensations / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Who will compensate the thousands of Cuban boat people who lost their lives in the Florida Straits? (Mexico, Department of the Navy)
Who will compensate the thousands of Cuban boat people who lost their lives in the Florida Straits? (Mexico, Department of the Navy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 22 July 2015 — After the media foreplay stirred by the opening of the Cuban and US embassies in their respective countries, some outstanding issues on the agenda of negotiations between the two governments begin to surface as matters that should, in short order, get the attention of the media and of public opinion.

Statements by senior officials on both sides have made reference to cardinal issues that marred the Cuba-US relations for half a century, whose solution – requiring very complex negotiations and agreement — will depend on the success of the standardization process that has been occupying headlines and raising expectations since this past December 17th.

One such point refers to compensation claims from both sides. On the US side, for the expropriations suffered by large American companies in Cuba, whose assets have remained in the hands of the Cuban government, and the demands of Cuban citizens who emigrated to the US, who were also stripped of their properties under laws introduced by the Revolution in its early years which remained in place for decades. The total amount of compensation demanded by those affected is estimated at about 7 or 8 billion dollars.

The amount the Cuban government has established as compensation “to the people” exceeds $100 billion, though it is not known what indicators were used to calculate it.

The Cuban government, in turn, is demanding that American authorities “compensate the Cuban people for over $100 billion in human and economic damages caused by US policies,” referring to economic constraints imposed by the commercial and financial embargo that has weighed on the Island (the so-called “genocide”), as well as other damages resulting from “terrorist attacks”. The total that the Cuban Government has established exceeds $100 billion, although it is not known how or who came up with the process of quantification of the damages.

Up until recently, Cubans “in Cuba” have feared the supposed danger of the nearly 6,000 compensation claims registered in the US at the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC, its acronym in English). A quasi-war cry that emerged from the official discourse, when stating that those once termed “siquitrillados”* — hat despicable gang of “bourgeois and stateless softies” who stole the wealth that belonged to the humble people and then took refuge under the shadow of Cuba’s worst enemy — were trying to recuperate what they had lost under the weight of revolutionary justice. That is to say, in the event revolutionary power might cease, thousands of Cuban families would be left homeless when the former owners took back their real properties and evicted them from their buildings. At the same time, children would be left without schools and there would not be enough hospitals, jobs, etc.

The fear was so deep that until now the specter of eviction, unemployment and other possible losses worries not just a few families

And, while that was the message to Cubans on the island in the late 90’s, the government, with its exhausted coffers, sent reassuring signals to foreign investors interested in Cuba as a market, reassuring them that they would be willing to negotiate “fair” compensation with the victims of those old expropriations.

But fear, that indispensable tool of every totalitarian power, had penetrated so deeply into the common people’s psyche that, to date, the specter of eviction, of unemployment and of some other possible losses worries not just a few of the families who live in properties built before 1959 or who work at establishments and factories that Fidel Castro’s government seized decades ago. It is expected, therefore, that the issue of “claims and compensation” of the current negotiating agenda will awaken a higher expectation among Cubans than the modicum of (harmless) novelties that have been presented so far in the framework of political strife currently taking place.

Every Cuban is familiar with those huge posters displaying mysterious mathematical calculations which, however, nobody understands. Such language is often seen declaring how many books, notebooks, medicines or sport equipment have not been acquired for each number of days of the “blockade” (embargo) against Cuba.

Cubans should be getting their calculators ready to determine the exact amount of compensation that the “revolutionary” government should pay us.

The figures are usually astronomical, but the basic criteria and indicators are completely unknown. That is, exactly what is the equivalent of one day of US embargo if measured in notebooks? What are these notebooks and how are their prices calculated? Something similar happens with even more subjective issues, such as the amounts the US owes Cubans who have been victims of violence or terrorism in acts of sabotage taking place during these years.

However, it is absolutely fair to demand compensation for damages in either case. For this reason, and because the scenario seems conducive to reconciliation, Cubans should be getting our calculators ready to determine exactly what amounts of compensation the “Revolutionary” government should pay us for all the wars they got us involved in, where thousands of our fellow countrymen died, how much for the destruction of the national economic infrastructure, how much for the waste of public funds based on ideology, how much for the parades, for the poverty, for the emigration, for shattering our country and the Cuban family, for so many useless “battles,” for the fraud they call Revolution, for the lives lost in the Florida Straits, for the sinking of the 13 de Marzo tugboat, for the repression, moral damages, persecution, exclusions, prohibitions, low wages, inflation, monetary duality, for snatching our freedom, and for the curtailment of our rights.

Let’s test it out, and in the style of those experiments the beloved General-President loves so much. I propose that we prepare, slowly but surely, a list of our losses over 56 years of dictatorship, and calculate their cost. Our list of demands is sure to be endless, but the sum of the total compensation they owe us is simply beyond price.

*Translator’s note” Siquitrilla: wishbone. Those who lost property in early years of the revolution, or who “ended up with the short end of the (their own) wishbone.”

Translated by Norma Whiting