14ymedio, Maite Rico, Madrid, 23 April 2019 — Shocking to the Spanish business community. Especially the hotel sector. And more specifically in two of the big ones, Meliá and Iberostar. The United States has opened the door for its citizens to file court claims over properties confiscated in Cuba since the 1959 Revolution. Since the majority of the Cuban exile lives in the United States, what is coming is a tsunami of demands: the most conservative calculations speak of 75,000.
And what does that have to do with the hotel operators? Well, a dozen of them exploit 77 establishments in Cuba (51.2% of the entire hotel infrastructure of the Island) and it would be coincidence if none of the land they are built on came from the pillage.
Donal Trump did not pull this measure out from under his toupee. It is included in the Helms-Burton Act, approved by the Bill Clinton Administration in 1996 after the Cuban Air Force shot down two planes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue, an organization that helped Cuban rafters in the Florida Straits.
Helms-Burton toughened the trade embargo and included two thorny titles related to the confiscated properties: Title 3, which allows claims in the courts, and Title 4, which restricts the entry into the US of people who have kept those properties or to do business with them. The European Union screamed to high heaven before what it considered an extraterritorial application of restrictive measures, and the successive tenants of the White House left those two chapters in the freezer to keep the peace.
But Trump no. Trump, or rather, his advisors, have lost patience with the Cuban dictatorship, the brain-in-the-shadows of what is happening in Venezuela. After the disappearance of the USSR, the Castro regime has remained afloat in the last two decades thanks to the oil sent by Venezuela, and is not willing to allow that to change. That is why Washington has decided to tighten the screws by imposing restrictions on travel to Cuba, limiting the sending of remittances and activating those two titles of the Helms-Burton Act that so frighten the companies that have invested in the Island.
The Meliá chain has rushed to insist that it “operates legitimately in Cuba” and that “it does not own property that could be of potential claim after its expropriation in the 1960s.” Its role, it adds, is that of “mere hotel managers.”
It is true that the Cuban State is the formal owner of the facilities, and that Spanish businessmen manage them through contracts or as part of joint-venture companies (the majority controlled by the Cuban Armed Forces). But hoteliers can not wield the “I just sign in the guests”. Because, in fact, they have taken advantage of those properties to make big profits. Above all, Meliá and Iberostar, which today account for 27 and 19 hotels, respectively, 70% of the establishments in the hands of Spanish capital.
They knew from the first moment (and has already been going on for three decades) that legal problems would arise sooner or later, and they took a risk. Many others did not. But they did. They overcame their scruples and opened hotels subject to Castro’s apartheid: all the guests were welcome except Cubans, who could not stay. And thus it was until 2008, when Raúl Castro repealed the restriction, smelling the dollars of the Cubans in Miami.
The package also included the exploitation of workers, deprived of union rights and most of their salary, through the cheating exchange of currency: foreign companies pay the State salaries in dollars, and the employee receives them in local currency and at a considerably diminished share (the State keeps up to 95%). A hard sell in corporate social responsibility brochures.
The bold Spanish entrepreneurs have also had to go along with the ugly custom of the regime of spying on guests. Cuban Security has turned the hotels into Big Brother sets, placing microphones and cameras in the rooms and filling them with infiltrators and snitches. The archives of the State are fat with files about the intimacies of illustrious visitors, even of friends of the regime, always suspicious.
As the Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner has noted on several occasions, criminal consequences could result from all this. The battle begins now. The hoteliers hire law firms and Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, threatens fireworks. The Spanish Government and the European Union fulfill their role defending the economic interests of their companies, especially if there are legal discrepancies. But let’s not lose sight of the moral: to associate with a dictatorship has its drawbacks.
Editor’s note: this article has been published by Vozpópuli. We reproduce it with the authorization of its author.
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