14ymedio, Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, Miami, 9 October 2023 — Lately, many have witnessed the apparent growth of small and medium-sized businesses (MSMEs) in Cuba, a development characterized by the regime as a step towards economic freedom and development. However, behind the facade lies a much more complex reality.
The regime in Havana is making a visible effort to show the world, especially the European Union, how much more economically open it is becoming. It has managed to profit from this by retaining control of allegedly private companies, using them as it sees fit. Clearly, the communist government needs more resources and international support, and MSMEs are one means of achieving this.
So what is behind these seemingly independent companies?
According to investigations and statements by various experts, there is a network of support behind many MSMEs, some of which were created by senior government officials, their families or friends under the auspices of the Cuban military. Some were even registered in countries such as Panama and Canada.
One of the most striking cases is that of Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez, now national coordinator for the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. It has been pointed out that Hernandez is the “godfather,” if not the owner, of a private company operating in Cuba, a fact that calls into question his autonomy given his obvious connection to the state. And his is just one of dozens of cases.
The international community must continue to investigate and raise questions to ensure MSMEs do not become one more tool of the regime
Allegations that MSMEs have been been acquiring high-value properties abroad for use as tax havens are a cause for concern. Questions about how the earnings of these companies are generated and whether they are being used for the benefit of the Cuban people cannot be ignored.
Gelet Fraguela, director of the digital platform ADN Cuba, publicly exposed this network during a press conference organized in Miami by the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance.
Research indicates that they are a way for the regime to make money through purchases made by Cuban exiles on behalf of family members still on the Island. They allow the regime to fund itself in the midst of the worst economic crisis it has faced in decades.
The main purpose of these MSMEs seems to be to open US bank accounts and then apply for loans in their names. This raises additional concerns, however, as it could put undue pressure on banks to use them as lobbyists calling for the U.S. embargo to be lifted.
Therefore, it is essential that the international community continue to investigate and raise questions to ensure MSMEs do not become one more tool of the regime for maintaining its control over the Cuban economy and evading international sanctions.
A genuinely open economy and freedom to do business in Cuba are desirable, but only under a democratic government which, as we know, has not existed on the island since 1959. Ideally, these initiatives would be driven by real businesspeople and not used as strategy to acquire economic resources and more power. It’s time for the United States to open its eyes to this reality.
Editor’s note: Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat is coordinator of the Assembly of Cuban Resistance
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