Posted on June 16, 2009 by gonzalezloumiet
BY MAURICIO CLAVER-CARONE
The Miami Herald
June, 16th, 2009
If the United States lifted all restrictions on tourist travel to Cuba,
what corporations would net the biggest gains? Two: Orbitz Worldwide of
Chicago, Ill., and GAESA, S.A. of Havana.
Orbitz, the Internet travel agency, is ratcheting up its campaign to
lift U.S. travel sanctions against Cuba. It has announced an on-line
petition addressed to Congress and the Obama Administration, and to
seduce signatories from the 14-million monthly visitors to its website,
it is offering $100 coupons good for travel to Cuba if restrictions are
What's in it for Orbitz? Obviously there is an anticipated financial
windfall from tourists booking vacations. Less obvious but more
important, there are the good graces of the Castro brothers, who run
Cuba. Their goodwill could make Orbitz the sole provider of travel
services between the United States and Cuba, a monopoly worth millions.
Monopolies are not new to the Castros. Havanatur, a commercial entity of
Cuba's Ministry of the Interior, has exclusive rights to arrange foreign
travel and already contracts with a small cartel of agents in South
Florida to arrange flights for Cuban Americans allowed to travel to the
island. Obligingly the cartel allows the Castro regime to vet the
travelers to exclude human-rights advocates and its outspoken critics.
Orbitz's Chief Executive Barney Hartford, a British national, has been
traveling in and out of Cuba since 1997, and surely has the appropriate
business connections with Cuban authorities to cash in if the United
States lifts remaining restrictions. The same week Orbitz announced its
Internet petition, however, the Cuban regime ironically issued a decree
permitting only foreign visitors to access the Internet from Cuba's
hotels and other tourist facilities.
Tourist facilities are among the few places in Cuba with access to the
Internet, but islanders who don't work in the government-run tourist
industry have been barred from entering hotels, restaurants, and other
facilities "reserved" for foreign tourists. That apartheid has brought
widespread criticism and serves as a slap of reality in the faces of
those still promoting the idea that tourism will somehow "open up" the
Even more repressive are the Castro regime's Law 80, which makes it a
crime for Cuban nationals to accept "publications" from foreigners, and
the Ministry of Tourism's 2004 memo that prohibits hotel workers from
accepting gifts and having any contact with foreigners outside the
For Orbitz to ignore such repression puts the company on the same low
rung of the ladder of moral equivalence that the DeBeers Corporation
occupied in South Africa's apartheid governments. DeBeers, world famous
for diamonds, was set up by another British national, Cecil Rhodes. It
used all the mechanisms of apartheid to ensure it had a cheap and docile
labor force for its mines. Propped up by apartheid laws, DeBeers
prospered to spawn other corporations and eventually to own 40 percent
of all companies listed on the Johannesburg stock exchange.
In the Castros' Cuba, not all the spoils will go to Orbitz. To boost its
revenues, the Cuban government has been promoting foreign investment in
tourism since the mid-1990s. The foreign investor, however, must have a
Cuban partner, and as head of the Cuban armed forces, Raúl Castro made
sure the military would be that partner and become the driving force of
the island's economy. Raúl established Grupo de Administracion
Empresarial S.A. (Enterprise Management Group), or GAESA, a holding
company for the military. He appointed several of his close confidants
and relatives to GAESA positions, including its current chairman and
CEO, Maj. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez Callejas, who is married to
Deborah Castro Espin, Raúl's oldest daughter.
No tourism-related transactions take place in Cuba without GAESA or one
of its companies having a stake. GAESA leads the nation in
foreign-exchange earnings and undoubtedly will be the biggest Cuban
beneficiary of U.S. tourist travel to Cuba.
This leads to the next question: Who will be the biggest loser?
Unfortunately, that will be the Cuban people. They will not only
continue to be subject to the harassment and repression of Cuban
government authorities, but also subject to the exploitation of their
military's foreign partners.
The Cuban people deserve a better deal from U.S. policymakers.
Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and
founding editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington, D.C.
The Corporate Beneficiaries of Travel to Cuba (16 June 2009)