Under US law, Americans, including American corporations or foreign corporations with a US connection, are prohibited from financing transactions in Cuba involving any confiscated property the claim to which is owned by a United States national. Financing is broadly defined. Again, under the law, the President is allowed to lift that ban if, and only if, a legally defined transition government is in power and the President tells Congress as much.
Take a look at this story about the Airbnb program in Cuba: “How Airbnb Piggybacked on a communist program to make Cuba its fastest growing market ever.” Supporters of Obama’s engagement policy thought those of us who opposed them were nuts when we, among other things, cited express legal prohibition to such activities. The prohibition on financing transactions in properties that were stolen from Americans was the primary reason, but there are many others.
One of the excuses they’d use was that Airbnb only worked with independent persons in Cuba, or people with no ties to the regime. Of course, they were wrong then and remain so today. This article explains why. Frankly, I’m surprised they are being so blunt about it with a news organization:
“It’s [Airbnb] a U.S. capitalist model built on a Cuban communist foundation. Without the groundwork laid by the Castro regime over the past 20 years, Airbnb’s success and massive scale-up in Cuba would not be possible today. That’s because the website only recruits new property listings from an existing government roster of 21,000 state-authorized rental homes.”
Did you read the last sentence?
I stumbled onto this nugget a few years ago when colleagues on the island, including a first cousin, explained to me that not everyone could rent their home or apartment. You need strong political connections to the Communist Party or a proof of concept approved by neighborhood block captains that, in essence, vouch that you are worth the risk and will not cause political trouble.
For now, as long as the regime is making money, that is what matters. In fact, Airbnb does not even hide the fact that close to 100% of the money you pay goes to the government, according to Airbnb‘s regional director for Latin America Jordi Torres:
“90% of the money ends up in the national economy,” Torres says. And at an average of $250 per booking, that’s still good scratch in a country where the average monthly income is around $25.”
What Torres is really saying is that, again, 90% of the money a guest pays end up in regime coffers, not the person who operates the Airbnb rental. Airbnb makes it seem as if travelers are renting a home from a Cuban person, not the government. They also omit another important factoid, individuals cannot own property in Cuba the way you and I do in the United States or any other non-Communist country. With very few exceptions, Cuba’s Constitution prohibits private property including homes. The all powerful and mighty new king, the Communist party, owns it all as part of some cockamamie collective.
Travelers to Cuba who use this government-managed system are supporting modern-day serfdom, not the people of Cuba, at least not as required under U.S. law. I wonder if Airbnb has required that the Cuban dictatorship agree to its new non-discrimination policy:
Airbnb is in Cuba because the Obama administration granted the company authorization, likely pursuant to a specific license granted by the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the lead agency that enforces economic sanctions on the regime. However, this licensing arrangement, as well as another authorization granted to Marriott Hotels to manage hotels for the military, remain a mystery to lawyers who advise on these matters since the Obama administration refuses to release details about it. On its face, and under a plain-meaning of the law, these arrangements are not allowed because, among other things, they undermine the primary reason for U.S. sanctions.
For those of you whose families used to live in Cuba, and who had their property unlawfully confiscated by the regime, in most cases, you will not be able to secure the return of property. Indeed, this remains a vexing issue to US-Cuba normalization because under U.S. law, there must be resolution of the property claims issues especially for holders of U.S. certified claims. However, you should still check and see, on the Airbnb website if your family’s former home or business is being used by the regime. Don’t let the Left tell you that you have no rights or that you should simply, walk away and forgive and forget.