Human Rights in Cuba

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High on Cuba policy proposal: restricting U.S. business deals with
Cuba’s military-run entities
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

Cuban-American members of Congress have been pushing the Trump
administration to restrict deals between U.S. companies and Cuban firms
controlled by the island’s military, as part of the new Trump policy
toward Cuba expected to be announced this week in Miami.

White House spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré confirmed Monday that the
proposal is under consideration, but added that it was “one of the many
possibilities under discussion.”

The possibility of restrictions put a spotlight on the military-run
companies, which are just about everywhere on the island.

If you’re a U.S. traveler in Cuba and you buy a bottle of water in the
supermarket or a souvenir in a store, or you rent a car or a room,
it’s very likely that you’re putting money into the pockets of the
military-run GAESA, which experts say controls nearly 60 percent of the
Cuban .

GAESA, the Spanish acronym for Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A.,
is the business conglomerate owned by the Revolutionary Armed Forces and
controls more than 50 enterprises, although the exact details are
difficult to establish.

GAESA operates in virtually every profitable area of the Cuban economy,
controlling hotel chains, car rental agencies and sales companies,
banks, credit card and remittance services, supermarkets, clothing
shops, real estate development companies, gasoline stations, import and
export companies, shipping and construction companies, warehouses and
even an .

Heading the conglomerate is Gen. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez
Calleja, who, according to various reports, is married or was married to
a daughter of Cuban ruler Raúl Castro.

One of the best known companies of GAESA is the Gaviota hotel chain,
which owns nearly 29,000 rooms around the country and serves an
estimated 40 percent of all the island’s foreign .

Gaviota has signed management contracts for 83 percent of its rooms with
international hotel chains like ’s Meliá and the Swiss-based
Kempinski. It also has a deal with Sheraton’s Starwood chain to
administer the Four Points Hotel in Havana, a contract that was allowed
by policy changes under the Obama administration.

Gaviota also owns the Gran Hotel Manzana in Havana, Cuba’s first luxury
hotel, managed by the Kempinski group. Exclusive hotel shops that sell
Montblanc, Versace and Armani goods are owned by CIMEX, a Cuban business
conglomerate taken over by GAESA in 2010. CIMEX, founded by the Ministry
of the Interior, includes financial services, a chain of shops and
import and export agencies.

Restrictions by the Trump administration on doing business with Cuba’s
military-run companies, if imposed, would impact more than tourism
because GAESA operates in virtually every sector of the island’s economy
— with the exception of telecommunications and agriculture.

GAESA’s Almacenes Universales S.A., for example, controls the container
terminal in the Port of Mariel, which receives most of the cargo that
once arrived at the port of Havana. The terminal was built by Brazil’s
Odebrecht company, with funding from President Dilma Rousseff’s government.

Western Union has said that its operations in Cuba use the
infrastructure of FINCIMEX (Financiera Cimex) to send remittances to
Cuba. FINCIMEX also processes VISA and MASTERCARD transactions on the
island. FINCIMEX also handles remittances sent to Cuba through companies
like VaCuba.

And the room-rental company Airbnb, which saw its Cuba operations boom
after the Obama Administration approved it, may be affected by any
change because it pays home and apartment owners through VaCuba. Airbnb
declined to comment for this story.

The birth of GAESA goes back to the 1980s. But when Raúl Castro, who was
in charge of the military for more than five decades, replaced his
brother Fidel in 2006, military officers began taking more control of
the economy under the argument that they were more efficient than Cuban
bureaucrats.

Trump policy change on Cuba coming, but he has not made decision yet
GAESA expanded even further in 2016 when it took over Cuba’s
International Financial Bank (BFI) as well as Habaguanex, a corporation
that had favored with a special license to run hotels,
shops and restaurants in Old Havana.

MIAMI HERALD STAFF WRITER PATRICIA MAZZEI CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: High priority: restricting U.S. business deals with Cuba’s
military-run | Miami Herald –
www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article155772469.html

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