Why Is Thomas Donahue Shilling For Communist Cuba?

A big hat tip to our friends at Babalu Blog for finding this incredible Reuters story about Thomas Donahue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who recently suggested that if the Republican Party doesn’t surrender to the Democrats on amnesty for illegal immigrants they might as well not even run a candidate in 2016, traveling to Havana to salute the Castro regime.

Yes, you read that right. Thomas Donahue went to Cuba and said nice things about their government. Seriously…

The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the growth of free enterprise in Cuba upon his arrival in Havana Tuesday at the start of a three-day visit that was criticized by a leading supporter of the U.S. embargo in Washington.

Chamber President Thomas Donohue has long opposed the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba as an impediment to free enterprise for American companies that want to do business in the communist-ruled country.

Now that free market reforms in recent years under Cuban President Raul Castro have created a class of small-business owners and private cooperatives and the government is courting foreign investment, Donohue has returned for the first time in 15 years.

“I’m here because of the evidence that we’re seeing in Cuba of an extraordinary expansion of free enterprise, the reduction in government jobs, and more private hiring, all of which is moving in the right direction,” said Donohue, whose chamber is an influential lobbying group that bills itself as the world’s largest business organization.

“As you know the chamber for years has been opposed to the sanctions as they are used,” he told reporters shortly after his arrival and before he met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

Alberto de la Cruz at Babalu makes this very simple from an American perspective…

There are two simple yet very important requirements for doing business with Cuba’s apartheid Castro dictatorship: 1) All business agreements have to be made with the Castro regime and all monies from that business must go through them, and 2) You are required to actively and consistently parrot, regurgitate, and disseminate Castro-communist propaganda. Furthermore, neither of these two requirements are negotiable and any prospective investor looking to do business in Cuba has only two options; they either comply fully with the demands or they must forgo doing any business in Cuba.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donahue is fully aware of these requirements and seems to have no issue complying with them. Immediately after arriving in Cuba yesterday he stepped up to a microphone provided by the Cuban government and began to heap praise upon the so-called reforms of the apartheid Castro regime. Using talking points provided by his Cuban handlers, Donahue shamelessly celebrated dictator Raul Castro’s “market reforms” and “free enterprise” initiatives that in reality are neither reforms nor initiatives. Unless, of course, Donahue believes Cuba’s economy can be lifted out of privation and desperate misery by shoeshine kiosks and fruit stands while U.S. businesses pump billions of dollars into the Castro crime family’s Swiss bank accounts.

You could make the argument that the embargo against the Castros is a failed idea, and that economic engagement with that regime would ultimately bring it down as the populace would, with a taste of prosperity, become mobilized by its thirst for more.

And to some extent we’re talking about two different things. Donahue is praising the Castros’ relatively recent decision to allow a bit of liberalization of the Cuban economy to permit small businesses to exist, and what de la Cruz is talking about is the system of tribute they’ve instituted as a prerequisite for foreign investment in Cuba.

Except they’re related. You don’t get licensed to run a small business in Cuba unless you’ve got connections with the regime, for one thing. For another thing, the majority of those small businesses are allowed to exist because without them it’s impossible to run a tourist economy – how do you supply tourists a decent Caribbean experience competitive with Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic or the Bahamas without bars, restaurants, taxicabs, gift shops and the like?

The Cuban tourist economy is just about the only thing even possibly interesting to foreign investors, anyway. Communist agriculture isn’t a good investment and Cuba doesn’t have much in the way of oil and gas – stories to the contrary were just that, as it turns out. The only thing the Castros can’t completely screw up is the beaches and former grandeur of Havana – so that’s what they’ve got to trade.

And this is why Donahue showed up to bend a knee to Cuban communism; he wants to get his members into the game to do business with the Castros.

It’s interesting that Donahue’s trip should come now, because City Journal just published a fascinating piece by Michael Totten on Havana tourism and what might be found there. It turns out Cuba is Neill Blomkamp’s clown-socialist film Elysium in reverse; it might be a communist utopia such as Blomkamp and his leading man Matt Damon pine for, but while there is a thin skim of prosperity among the Castros and their friends the vast majority of their domain reside in the hellish dystopia below…

I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba—not because I’m nostalgic for a botched utopian fantasy but because I wanted to experience Communism firsthand. When I finally got my chance several months ago, I was startled to discover how much the Cuban reality lines up with Blomkamp’s dystopia. In Cuba, as in Elysium, a small group of economic and political elites live in a rarefied world high above the impoverished masses. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authors of The Communist Manifesto, would be appalled by the misery endured by Cuba’s ordinary citizens and shocked by the relatively luxurious lifestyles of those who keep the poor down by force.

Many tourists return home convinced that the Cuban model succeeds where the Soviet model failed. But that’s because they never left Cuba’s Elysium.

I had to lie to get into the country. Customs and immigration officials at Havana’s tiny, dreary José Martí International Airport would have evicted me had they known I was a journalist. But not even a total-surveillance police state can keep track of everything and everyone all the time, so I slipped through. It felt like a victory. Havana, the capital, is clean and safe, but there’s nothing to buy. It feels less natural and organic than any city I’ve ever visited. Initially, I found Havana pleasant, partly because I wasn’t supposed to be there and partly because I felt as though I had journeyed backward in time. But the city wasn’t pleasant for long, and it certainly isn’t pleasant for the people living there. It hasn’t been so for decades.

Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city—tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins.

That is the system Donahue wants to prop up by getting American business in bed with the Castros and ending the embargo. He might say otherwise; he might tout the healing powers of commerce over the long haul and he may be correct in doing so. But Donahue is going to Cuba and breaking bread with communist dictators sworn to the destruction of the very capitalism it’s his job to promote. He’s certainly not there to preach the gospel of capitalism to the Cuban people.

There really isn’t any defense for this. It makes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce out to be the money-grubbing whores the American Left accuses them of being, and it also makes them the Yankee exploiters of the brown people of Latin America we’ve heard about for a century. And no, there isn’t all that great an irony here that it’s the communist dictators of Cuba they’re seeking cooperation with in exploiting the Cuban people.

This is political poison for the Republican Party, to the extent that the GOP is to be tied to the Chamber of Commerce. And of course the party’s DC establishment is seen as joined at the hip with Donahue and his group. They’re the money behind the party, and it’s their checks which continuously raise the specter of amnesty despite (1) the clear political stupidity of the Republicans doing a deal which will create millions of new Democrat voters with nothing gained in return, (2) the even clearer political stupidity of John Boehner doing a deal this year with Harry Reid when he can do one next year with Mitch McConnell and (3) the unfathomable political stupidity of Republican politicians in Washington doing a deal that Republican voters aren’t interested in them doing.

Donahue was enough of a problem for the GOP when it was just a question of the Chamber demanding a vehicle for more cheap labor in a country with a double-digit real unemployment rate. Now that he’s in Cuba congratulating the Castros for a smattering of small businesses when it’s Cuban “advisors” running a tyrannical socialist government that has wiped out what used to be a productive economy in Venezuela, there is very little left to recommend him as an ally of the party.

It’s time for the Republican establishment to rebuke Donahue, and to distance themselves from the U.S. Chamber until it gets some different leadership. The Chamber is supposed to represent American business, and that means capitalism and free markets. It does not mean cronyism, dirty deals with slimeball potentates or crumbs from Raul Castro’s table while he continues trying to export La Revolucion to his neighbors.

Donahue’s Cuba trip shows the Chamber isn’t what it purports to be under his leadership, and the GOP needs a better partner than that.

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