Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Cuban-born Humberto Fontova, who left Cuba in 1961 at age seven. He has written for several conservative magazines and is the author of Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant and Exposing the Real Che Guevara: And the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him. He has appeared on many radio and television shows and is active in the Cuban American community.
FP: Humberto Fontova, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Fontova: Always great to be here. Thanks for the invite.
FP: I would like to discuss the matter of the Cuban embargo with you today and how the Cuban regime employs a sophisticated network of agents to spread lies about it -- and to loot the U.S. taxpayer.
I think a good way to start a discussion on this issue is to take a look at the individual Phil Peters – a prominent opponent of the U.S. embargo against Cuba . He is the vice president of the Lexington Institute in Arlington , Va. He’s been an analyst of U.S. policy toward Cuba for many years and served as advisor to the Cuba Working Group in the House of Representatives. He has also testified before Congressional committees and the U.S. International Trade Commission and served as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on U.S.-Cuba Relations.
The Lexington Institute bills him as an impartial "free market" theorist and former "Reagan-Bush State Dept. official."
What can you tell us about him?
Fontova: Well, Mr. Peters is unquestionably the mainstream media's top source for sound bites on Cuba 's so called reforms and transition. He's quoted everywhere from the Washington Post to the Miami Herald, and from the AP to Reuters. These sound bites always -- and I mean always -- manage to include a few jabs (however subtle) at U.S policy towards Cuba .
Peters’ zeal against the so-called U.S. embargo of Cuba (the U.S. is actually Cuba's biggest food supplier and fourth biggest trade partner ) strikes many as excessive for someone with a purely intellectual stake in the matter. Moreover, Peters snipes at all aspects of U.S. policy, even the traditional one of accepting Cuban refugees. It's like he follows the entire list of Castro's directives to his own captive media.
FP: Why do you think he has be become one of the mainstream media’s favorite sources for Cuba sound-bites?
Fontova: Primarily because he echoes their anti-U.S. policy viewpoint. But he does it from the point of view of a "former Reagan-Bush State Dept. official" and "Vice Pres of a free-market" think tank, you see. So he's billed as being free from any leftist taint which gives his observations and opinions a more mainstream cachet than if they issued from, say, Noam Chomsky or Saul Landau.
FP: What do you think explains the fact that he is a frequent guest of the Cuban regime -- which rolls out the red carpet for him?
Fontova: Cuba 's Stalinist rulers are not overly keen on hosting anyone who will alert the outside world to their high-living and repression, and they have various methods of making it worthwhile for their guests to cooperate in the cover-up.
A year ago, reporters Gary Marx of The Chicago Tribune, Stephen Gibbs of the BBC, and César González-Calero, of the Mexican newspaper El Universal, were all booted from Cuba . The regime cited their "lack of objectivity" for the booting. And it's not like they were reporting on Raul or Fidel in the manner Dan Rather and Sam Donaldson, for instance, reported on Ronald Reagan or George Bush--much less Richard Nixon. These reporters seemed to take their job titles seriously and deviated somewhat from the normally subservient and lame style of reporters and press agencies who are granted Havana bureaus.
Here's another case: a few months back, an ABC producer got videos smuggled out of Cuban hospitals by Cuban dissidents enraged by Michael Moore's Sicko propaganda. These videos showed the actual and horrible conditions in non-Potemkin Cuban hospitals and ABC's 20/20 planned a show using them to refute Michael Moore's puff piece on Cuban healthcare. The Castro regime got word of this, called in ABC's Havana Bureau, threatened them, and ABC caved in. I'm proud to report that I notified Fox News of these videos, gave them the contact and Hannity & Colmes got their hands on them. Within days Hannity (probably to the horror of Colmes) went to bat for the truth, featuring the myth-shattering videos prominently on their show.
In fact the Cuban regime has a policy whereby most official U.S. visitors to Cuba-- be they Congressmen, businessmen, academics--are urged to become spokespersons against the so-called embargo. Some really take this role to heart. We saw it in the case of Republican Senator from Idaho Larry Craig after his first visit to Cuba in 2003 to peddle homegrown Idaho potatoes, which I realize is part of his job. But he went above and beyond the call of duty, exchanging smiles, handshakes and gifts with Fidel himself. Back home he promptly began denouncing his Republican party's Cuba policy and sponsoring legislation in conjunction with such as Charles Rangel, against the so-called embargo. Material incentives accounts for much of this--but so does blackmail.
"My job was to bug the hotel rooms of U.S. celebrities and officials," revealed high-ranking Cuban intelligence defector Delfin Fernandez, "with both cameras and listening devices. Most people have no idea they are being watched while they are in Cuba . But their personal activities are filmed under orders from Castro himself."
“I always warned visiting Americans about this” told me a former U.S. official assigned to the U.S. Interest Office in Havana . “One visitor scoffed at me. Next night he's in his hotel room, hears a loud thump in the closet, opens the door and finds someone who'd tumbled out of a little elevated compartment with many wires. The intruder almost bowled him over while rushing out of the room. That sure made a believer out of him.”
It's painful to contemplate, but due to the desperation of it's subjects, Cuba has become a rival to Bangkok in the vacation plans of people with certain tastes, so the opportunities for regime blackmail are enormous, and Cuba's Intelligence services, founded and trained by the KGB and East German STASI, exploit these opportunities expertly. Fernandez admits to bugging Jack Nicholson's, Leo Di Caprio's and Naomi Campbell's rooms, among many others. He defected before Larry Craig's visit so there's absolutely no proof of anything. But given Craig's recent problems, some people can't help but wonder.
FP: As you mentioned earlier, Phil Peters is an advisor to the Congressional "Cuba Working Group." Can you tell us more about this Congressional caucus?
Fontova: In brief, they devote all of their energies to trying to end the so-called Cuban Embargo. This has been the regime's priority for decades but with much more urgency after the Soviet Union 's collapse. The Cuba Working Group obviously doesn't have to register as a foreign lobbying group which is what makes them so attractive as partners to Cuba 's Stalinist rulers.
Charles Rangel is among the most active in this group, which is interesting considering his traditional activism FOR embargoes. “Every dollar we spend with (this regime) makes us accomplices in their crimes!” he thundered in 1986. “No true friend of democracy can also be a friend of (this regime!) In any business dealings with (this regime) we become tainted by association!”
Rangel was referring, of course, to South Africa 's segregationist regime. Somehow none of these moral admonitions apply when dealing with a Stalinist regime that imprisoned political prisoners at roughly ten times the rate as Botha's, used Sarin gas against Angolan villagers, and came closest to nuking the U.S.
And please allow me explain why I keep saying "so-called" embargo. As mentioned, the U.S is currently Cuba 's biggest food supplier and 4th biggest trade partner. A few months back, trade delegations from 27 of our 50 states attended a trade fair in Cuba and signed business deals with Cuba 's Stalinist regime. In 2007 the U.S, sold almost half a billion dollars worth of goods to Cuba -- for cash."
That last point is the rub with the Castro regime and with its agents (on the payroll on and off) in the U.S. And accounts for much of the recent hoopla about an "opening" to Cuba .
FP: So then the “so-called” embargo is completely misunderstood in the States.
Fontova: Whoo-boy. It's enormously misunderstood by the general public. But it's perfectly understood by such as the Lexington Institute, the Cuban Working Group and their cabal of well-heeled allies such as Archer Daniels Midland, the Carlyle Group, Canada's Sherritt International, etc., hence their campaign—with of rager aid of the MSM—to disguise it's genuine nature and rationale. To hear these groups, us embargo proponents are blockheaded, selfish, close-minded, blind to reason, etc. whereas embargo opponents are uniformly motivated by altruism, common sense, etc. Fine, let's look at a few of these altruists and the observable evidence.
The notion of opening the floodgates to free travel and trade with Cuba has obvious appeal to some conservatives. It sounds like a logical capitalistic method to undermine Cuba ’s Communism, a stealth solution. And it sounds eminently reasonable and works flawlessly--on scholarly panels and in think-tank position papers. Sadly this dogmatic position blows up completely in light of the abundant evidence showcased by recent history. Conservatives have traditionally defined their viewpoints as based on evidence, unlike leftists who cling to (untested or repeatedly refuted) dogma.
FP: What’s the evidence?
Fontova: Well, the evidence is already in on this “free-market” solution to Cuban Communism. Those floodgates have been long open. Cuba has been doing business with practically every nation on earth for decades and for the past fifteen years five to ten times as many tourists have been visiting Cuba annually as visited Cuba during the 1950's when she was billed a “tourist playground.”
Cuba is as essentially Stalinist today as she was thirty years ago. Cuba 's major industries, primarily tourism, are owned by Raul Castro and his military cronies, who pocket almost every euro, dollar, peso, etc. spent in Cuba . In brief, they have a nice racket going and no conceivable incentive to disrupt it, especially as more lucre flows in.
On the other hand, because of that U.S. Embargo (back when it had teeth), the Soviets were forced to pour the equivalent of almost ten Marshall plans into Cuba . Many analysts are convinced that this played at least a role in the Soviet's financial collapse in 1990, which freed Eastern Europe . Cuba might have also freed itself, but for the emergency and massive transfusion, starting in 1991, of millions (and shortly billions) in tourist money—all of it going straight into regime coffers.
The current U.S "embargo" of Cuba amounts to little more than a limited travel ban plus: no U.S. Export- Import Bank financing of any sales to the current rulers of Cuba. In other words: no taxpayer bailout for politically-connected millionaires entering into business deals with known deadbeats and thieves (and mass-murdering Stalinists). Currently, ADM and every other agricultural company in the U.S. is perfectly free to sell Cuba whatever they want. The embargo simply protects the U.S. taxpayer from being left holding the bag from credit sales to Cuba gone bad—which is the international norm.
Last year, one of the worlds most respected economic forecasting firms, the London- based Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked Cuba as virtually the world's worst country business-wise. Only Iran and Angola ranked lower. This firm predicts that Cuba 's abysmal business climate will remain that way for the next five years, at the very least.
Dun & Bradstreet also rates Cuba among the world's worst, right below Belarus . Moody's rating is off the bottom of the chart as "very poor." Their reasoning: Standard & Poors refuses even to rate Cuba , regarding the economic figures released by the regime as utterly bogus.
Today Cuba 's foreign debt, including to the former Soviet Union , exceeds $40 billion. In 1986 Cuba defaulted on most of its foreign debt to Europe . France 's version of the U.S. government's Export- Import Bank, (named COFACE recently cut off Cuba 's credit line. Mexico 's BANCOMEX recently did likewise. This came about because the Castro regime stuck it to French taxpayers for $175 million and to Mexican taxpayers for $365 million. Bancomex was forced to impound Cuban assets in three different countries in an attempt to recoup its losses. Just last week, one of the Cuban regime's best friends, South Africa was also forced to cut them off. Here's part of the AFP story: "Given the assessment of Cuba's debt position,” Said South African Minister, Themba Maseko, “we are of the view that Cuba was not in a position to meet its obligations in the forseeable future." Cuba stuck it to the Export Credit Insurance Corporation of South Africa (South African taxpayers) for $117 million, dating back to 1996.
Yet the Cuba Working Group more trade with Cuba—on Cuba's terms—will be a boon and blessing to the U.S.
In 1998 an anti-embargo lobbying group called Americans for Humanitarian Trade with Cuba found David Rockefeller of the Council on Foreign Relations on its board as well as Frank Carlucci, at the time chairman of The Carlyle Group, the worlds biggest private investment corporation, which is headquartered on Washington DC 's Pennsylvania avenue. Carlyle Group is widely regarded as the most politically-connected corporation in the world.
George Soros was among its founders and major investors. The groups “mission statement” read: “We can no longer support a policy (U.S. policy towards Cuba) carried out in our name which causes suffering of the most vulnerable -- women, children and the elderly."
A few years earlier something called the U.S.-Cuban Trade and Economic Council, burst upon the scene. Lo and behold, Dwayne Andreas was also a member. Follow the money trail and most of these names keep popping up on practically everything associated with easing the Cuban "embargo.” Somebody sees dollar signs and it’s not the U.S. Taxpayer.
Also significant, in a recent interview, Robert Eringer, the author of “Ruse: Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence" says Cuban "diplomats" from their Interest Section office in Washington D.C. tried recruiting him to spy on and spread malicious rumors on Cuban-American leaders who support the embargo. "They promised me exclusive business opportunities in Cuba as a bribe", he reports.
FP: Let’s get back to Peters. A recently uncovered legal memo has revealed that Peters receives some funding from some curious places. Can you give us the story here? And tell us exactly what this memo is.
Fontova: A little background first: Sherritt International is a Canadian-based mining company that in a joint-venture with Cuba 's regime, occupies and operates the Moa nickel mining plant in Cuba 's Oriente province. This plant (worth $90 million) was stolen at gunpoint from its U.S. managers and stockholders in July 1960 by Castro gunmen. According to U.S. law this means any investment by Sherritt in the U.S. could be subject to seizure to compensate for Sherritt trafficking in stolen U.S. property. This obviously discomfits. Sherrit and they yearn to lobby against these laws. But obviously can't do so openly and legally.
This legal memo is by a Washington D.C attorney who specializes in property claims against the Cuban regime and emerged as part of a court case discovery: " Canada 's Sherritt works quietly in Washington ,” it reads. “It has given money to a former State Department employee, Phil Peters, to advance its interests. The money to Peters goes through contributions to the Lexington Institute, where Peters is a Vice-President. Because the Lexington Institute is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, there is no public record of Sherritt’s funding. This has allowed Peters to advise and direct the Cuba Working Group (a Congressional anti-embargo cabal) in ways beneficial to Sherritt while presenting himself to the Group as an objective think-tank scholar with a specialization in Cuba .”
Adding more suspicions are the “free-market” Lexington Institute's consistently curious priorities. For instance, the U.S. government and various states ban U.S. oil companies from drilling in thousands upon thousands of square miles off the U.S. Coast. These areas, primarily on the outer Continental Shelf, hold an estimated 115 billion barrels of oil and 633 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. By government decree Alaska ’s National Wildlife Refuge, holding an estimated 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil, is also off limits to oil drilling. This leaves America 's energy needs increasingly at the mercy of foreign autocrats, despots and maniacs.
For various reasons all U.S. based free-market think-tanks, from CATO to Heritage and from the American Enterprise Institute to the Independence Institute, bemoan this drilling ban and proselytize against it. Yet the Washington D.C. based Lexington Institute (champion of “free-markets and limited government”) remains utterly mute on the issue.
On the other hand, the U.S government bans U.S. oil companies from drilling in a small area 45 miles off the Florida coast that contains no more than 9.3 billion barrels of oil. The Lexington Institute (who claims interest only in issues that constitute “national priorities”) promptly comes to the fore in high dudgeon, calling this ban “an absurdity” and claiming that most U.S. Oil co’s would agree with them.
Why the discrepancy, some might ask?
Possible answer: In 1977 this small area off Florida called the North Cuban Basin –though as near the Florida coast as others proscribed for drilling by U.S. law and thus presenting the identical environmental risks—was ceded by then President Jimmy Carter to Fidel Castro as his “Exclusive Economic Zone.” Therefore the fruits of any oil exploration in this area would result from joint-ventures with Cuba ’s Stalinist regime which would promptly enrich its coffers (and perhaps some others.)
The perils of depending on repressive and/or unstable foreign regimes for our energy is often cited as a pressing rationale for U.S. energy independence. Any oil found in Cuba ’s “Exclusive Economic Zone” would belong to the regime that craved and came closest to nuking America 's biggest cities. “My dream is to drop three atomic bombs on New York City ,” confessed Raul?not Fidel?Castro to revolutionary comrade Faure Chaumont in July 1960.
The U.S. Dept of Defense estimates that 40 thousand foreign guerrillas and terrorists-- from Al Fatah, to the Sandinistas, to El Salvador's FMLF, to the Tupamaros to the Weather Underground to the IRA and Spain's ETA to Colombia’s FARC?got their training, motivation and many of the tools of their trade in Cuba. "Thanks to Fidel Castro, we are now a powerful army, not a hit and run band." boasted Colombian FARC chieftan Manuel “Tiro-Fijo” Maralunda in January 1999.
How buying Castro's oil would make us safer than buying it (for the time being) from Hugo Chavez or Saudi princes mystifies many outside the Lexington Institute.
But, again, see “possible answer” above for explanation.
FP: So what are your conclusions?
Fontova: Recall the U.N.--applied (and U.S. instigated) embargo against Saddam’s regime after the first Gulf War. Recall the heart-rending stories of innocent Iraqi children perishing in agony from the lack of food and medicine thus engendered.
Then recall the U.N. “Oil For Food Scandal” and how the sources for many of those heart-rending stories were all scurrying for cover and shielding their faces as a spotlight exposed the scandal’s malodorous money trail. Sadly it took Saddam’s toppling to expose the stinking mess. A pungent whiff from the “Lobby Against the Cuban Embargo for Fun and Profit” scandal is already wafting through.
FP: Thank you for joining us Humerto Fontova.
Fontova: Thank you Jamie.