Doing Business With The Castro Brothers

How JetBlue is aiding Cuba's brutal oppressors.

It was a historic moment in President Obama’s gradual normalization of relations with communist Cuba: JetBlue’s inaugural flight last week from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara – a city of 242,000 in central Cuba –whose biggest claim to fame is a mausoleum holding the remains of Che Guevara and sixteen of his comrades. They were killed in 1967 during their ill-fated attempt to export Cuba’s communist revolution to Bolivia – whose people had no desire to live under Stalinist socialism.

Regular commercial flights to Santa Clara are not, to be sure, giving a green light for unrestricted tourism between the U.S. and Cuba. Rather, JetBlue’s service will allow Cuban families in the U.S. (for the first time in more than 50 years since the trade embargo) to visit family members in Cuba on affordable and scheduled flights. In the past, charter flights were irregular and expensive. 

And what about ordinary Cubans who are fed up with their Caribbean gulag? JetBlue will offer no easy escape for them: no one-way tickets to Miami. They’ll still have to make perilous journeys the old-fashioned way: aboard rickety vessels bound for Florida – and freedom. Other U.S. air carriers also are planning scheduled flights. 

All in all it’s a win-win for the Castro brothers. Their miserable economy gets badly needed foreign revenue. They get legitimacy. And Cuba’s police state won’t receive more tourists that it can handle.

This all raises troubling question about whether President Obama and JetBlue’s president and chief executive, Robin Hayes, are useful idiots serving the interests of Raúl and Fidel Castro: specifically by facilitating the brothers’ oppression as they simultaneously export their Stalinist revolution abroad to places like socialist Venezuela.  Indeed, JetBlue’s chief executive announced the maiden flight with the sort of gushy feel-good sentiment that leftists adore. “For the first time in decades, families separated by only a short stretch of water can easily and affordably visit a loved one, attend an important occasion or visit a special place – and the role we play speaks directly to our mission of inspiring humanity,” he declared.

What lovely words: “inspiring humanity.” Somebody needs to tell JetBlue’s chief that those lovely words have a far different meaning to Cuba’s autocratic leaders. For them, “inspiring humanity” involves oppressing its own people in the name of social justice – while simultaneously exporting Cuban-style socialism abroad. In chaotic Venezuela, Cuba has helped to destroy democratic institutions and to oppress and impoverish ordinary Venezuelans.

Interestingly, at the same time JetBlue was trumpiting its inaugural flight, Venezuela President Nicholas Maduro (Hugo Chávez’s successor) was following the playbook provided by his Cuban mentors. Over the years, the Castro brothers have dispatched thousands of agents to Venezuela with the goal of guiding the oil-rich country toward Cuban-style socialism.

And while JetBlue makes money by “inspiring humanity,” the revenues from its Cuba flights will generate badly needed foreign currency for Cuba and its communist elites. This will help them solidify their power at home while exporting Cuba’s socialism to other countries. Venezuela is a prize for Cuba, incidentally, providing dirt-cheap oil and other largesse that has propped up the communist island after the Soviet Union pulled out.

“The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism,” notes Human Rights Watch, the watchdog rights group. “It now relies less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, but short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others have increased dramatically in recent years. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.”

Hayes, JetBlue’s CEO, may be happy to do business with the Castro brothers but it’s doubtful he would invite such thugs to a family dinner in his home. 

In Venezuela, Cuba’s tactics have become the norm under Cuba’s mentoring; or as Human Rights Watch observes:

Under the leadership of President Hugo Chávez and now President Nicolás Maduro, the accumulation of power in the executive branch and erosion of human rights guarantees have enabled the government to intimidate, censor, and prosecute its critics, leading to increasing levels of self-censorship. Leading opposition politicians have been arbitrarily arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and barred from running for office. Police abuse, poor prison conditions, and impunity for security forces when they commit such abuses as arbitrary arrests, beatings, and denial of basic due process remain serious problems. Other concerns include lack of access to basic medicines and supplies – the result of problematic government policies – and continuous harassment of human rights defenders by government officials.

Recently, President Maduro fired government employees who had signed a recall petition – a tactic Hugo Chávez also employed. In Cuba, such tactics are a time-honored practice. Last week, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to demand the recall of President Maduro who has doubled down on Hugo Chavez’s socialist polices: draconian currency exchange and price controls in the command-and-control economy. And as foreign reporters arrived in Venezuela to cover the unrest, they were turned away. Just like in Cuba.

Reacting to Venezuela’s shortages of basic goods, President Maduro took Cuba-style socialism to new extremes –  appointing top military men to take charge of combating food shortages. Now, as reported by Caracas Chronicles and other Venezuelan media outlets, Brigadier General Jorge Pérez Mancilla (director of Air and Land Safety at the Air Force Inspectorate) is also chief of cooking oil; Division General José Inés González Pérez (director of Budget Planning at the Defense Ministery) is chief of rice; Rear-admiral Ángel Rueda Pinto (director of Organization and Development for Seguros Horizonte) is chief of poultry; and Brigadier General Ludwing Palima Cisneros (director of Criminal and Financial Investigation for the National Guard) chief of sugar. The list goes on and on. 

Interestingly, Cuba and Venezuela both enjoy a cozy relationship with Iran. Last August, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced Iran’s desire to increase trade with Cuba after the Obama administration removed international sanctions against the Islamic Republic. To that end, he undertook visits to Chile, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela. 

“We will start a new chapter in the bilateral relations with Cuba on the basis of a big (business) delegation accompanying me on this visit,” Zarif said at a meeting with his Cuban counterpart, according to Reuters. He added, “We have always been on the side of the great Cuban people in view of atrocities and unjust sanctions. The government and Cuban people have also always shown us solidarity with regards to the atrocities committed by the empire.“ 

Iran, incidentally, remains on the State Department’s list of states sponsoring terrorism while Cuba’s designation as a terrorism sponsor was lifted as part of the President Obama’s normalization of relations with the communist nation.

President Obama is ultimately to blame for JetBlue’s problematic flights. Last year, during his groundbreaking trip to Havana, he declared that he had “come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. It is time for us to look forward to the future together.”

Obama’s noble words apparently failed to impress ordinary Cubans, who have continued to set out on rickety boats in hopes of coming ashore in Florida. No JetBlue flights will be able to carry them from their gulag.

For them, JetBlue’s claim that it’s “inspiring humanity” must have a hollow ring.