An article published yesterday in The New York Times reports that President Bush is considering a series of steps to punish the government of Cuba. "Among the more drastic," it says, "are the possibility of cutting off cash payments to relatives in Cuba –a mainstay for millions of Cubans-- or halting direct flights to the islands, the officials said."

"President Bush is likely to make a public statement soon about the crackdowm," the article says.

"Administration officials said they were preparing a variety of options for the president, and no final decisions have been made. The harshest sanctions involve restricting or eliminating the transfer of cash payments, called remittances, to friends and relatives on the island. The payments, sent primarily from South Florida exiles, are a lifeline to millions of Cubans and with estimates as high a $1 billion, a mainstay of the economy.

"Also being considered is a move to limit the number of Americans who travel to Cuba by ending direct charter flights between the countries. Thousands of travelers –mostly Cuban-Americans visiting family-- board charter flights each month from Miami, New York and other cities."

Perhaps there are not millions of people who benefit from remittances, as the article claims, but there are indeed many hundreds of thousands of households or individuals whose exact number is difficult to estimate. Initially, this family assistance only benefited those who had family ties with residents of the United States and other countries, who could purchase products in hard currency stores or exchange dollars for Cuban pesos to be used in regular stores, farmers markets and other providers of goods or services. Today, all Cubans have the possibility of buying or selling U.S. dollars and convertible Cuban pesos, equivalent to dollars, in the currency-exchange bureaus run by the Banco Central, which has meant a significant progress.

The president of the United States and his advisors in the Miami mob, close friends to whom he owes his election through the scandalous fraud they perpetrated, are working on the theory that remittances and trips to Cuba to help or visit relatives should be banned. It is their theory that this brings hundreds of millions of dollars to the Cuban economy. Some even speak of billions. The truth is that with one dollar in Cuba the people who receive remittances can purchase food and other essential products in much larger quantities than would be possible anywhere else in the world.

Numerous examples could be given: a family with a child up to seven years of age, with one dollar, at the exchange rate of 26 pesos to a dollar, can buy 104 liters of milk, which costs 25 centavos of a peso for children in this age group –in other words, less than one cent of a dollar– while the price of the raw material to produce that milk on the world market ranges between 15 and 20 cents of a dollar per liter, that is to say, roughly 15 to 20 times more. Similarly, in the stores where rationed foods are sold, a dollar can buy over 100 pounds of rice, which costs 25 centavos a pound in Cuban currency. The same is true for beans, bread and many other foods. Medicines bought in pharmacies are sold in Cuban currency as well, at half their price of 40 years ago; those used in hospitals are provided absolutely free of charge.

Recreation is almost free. A good baseball game, which is paid for in Cuban pesos, costs around 500 times less than in the United States. People who receive a dollar can go to 26 baseball games, which cost roughly 20 dollars a game in the United States, or to a number of theater plays or movies, between five and 26, with that one dollar. In the United States, each show would cost an average of between 10 and 12 dollars. These figures are approximate and can vary from one venue or city to another. In Cuba, 85% of homes are owned by the families who live in them thanks to the revolutionary laws, and they do not pay a penny in rent or taxes; the remaining 15% of the population pays only a symbolic rent that does not surpass the equivalent of four dollars a month. For electricity, they pay an average of half a cent a kilowatt. Education and healthcare are absolutely free for the entire population, and for a cost of 20 cents of a dollar on printed materials and electrical power usage, anyone can follow an excellent 160-hour English language course by television.

All of this is possible because every year the Cuban state pays subsidies of over 500 million dollars on imports of essential foodstuffs and many billions of pesos for vital services provided free of charge to the entire population, including those who receive remittances in U.S. dollars.

These figures regarding the food and services that can be acquired at the above-mentioned prices serve to demonstrate how many things a Cuban family or individual will be deprived of if their relatives living in the United States are prevented from sending them just one dollar. During a period of more than 30 years, the remittance of funds from abroad to relatives in Cuba was not permitted, because it meant a privilege that could not be enjoyed by the large majority of the population. Visits to Cuba by relatives living in the United States were not authorized either, given the risks they implied for the national security of a country that had been the victim of thousands of acts of sabotage, terrorism, espionage, subversion, assassination plots and other similar activities, from the Bay of Pigs invasion 42 years ago to the recent terrorist attacks against hotels and other tourism facilities, with the participation of Cuban citizens living in the United States.

At a given point, the strength, maturity and experience of the Revolution allowed for the relaxation of the policy pursued for decades. It is odd that now it is the government of the United States that is toying with the idea of banning these practices as a way of punishing Cuba. More than four decades of Revolution have proved that our country is capable of confronting any threat and defeating any sinister plans.

Nothing could be more difficult than 44 years of a criminal blockade and economic warfare, the collapse of the socialist bloc and the demise of the Soviet Union, the special period, the Torricelli Act, the Helms-Burton Act, the murderous Cuban Adjustment Act in force since 1966, and biological attacks against crops and livestock. We have faced all of this, and nothing has impeded our social development, which places Cuba in top-ranking positions, above many developed countries.

Whatever their plans for punishment may be in the economic field, the United States government is left with very few options in the arsenal of actions it can carry out against Cuba. All of the possibilities have been foreseen and will be dealt with. The ones who will be punished will be the many families that have adapted their lives to the economic standards and considerable benefits provided by small remittances in the conditions of Cuba, as demonstrated above with irrefutable data, and even worse, the many people, most of them senior citizens, who depend on these remittances.

The Cuban economy and its social services can withstand the suspension of the supposedly great benefits of these remittances, or of charter flights, or any other measure, including the suspension of sales of food. Without access to the slightest bank credit, we have already purchased more than 300 million dollars worth of food from the United States, paying up to the last penny without a second of delay. Such measures would only serve to show that, for strictly political reasons, the United States is not a safe and reliable food supplier. Our purchases were limited, but nevertheless grew at a rapid pace thanks to the efficiency and seriousness of the American farmers. If we had had access to financing, the damage would be more significant.

The difficulties created by banning remittances and travel to Cuba, which will affect an incalculable number of people in both Cuba and the United States, will have to be dealt with by the government of that country. Those affected will do anything within their reach for their families, in order to prevent their most basic links and relations from being so unfairly and arbitrarily sacrificed.

Cuba, where not a single person is abandoned to their fate, will also help those who need the assistance of the Revolution because such an inhumane policy leaves them helpless.

The threatening language used to warn that an exodus of rafters will not be tolerated fully contradicts the enormous encouragement that the authorities of that country have given to hijackers of Cuban planes and boats, who used firearms or similar methods to those who held knives to the throats of pilots and crew members to steer planes full of innocent people into the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon.

More than 90% of illegal emigrants arrive on the speedboats of migrant traffickers who live in the United States and freely travel back and forth between that country and Cuba with complete impunity. This fact, combined with the absurd and criminal Cuban Adjustment Act and the greed of traffickers who take on their boats two or three times more people than they could safely hold, have led to a large number of deadly episodes.

It is obvious that the prizes and privileges awarded by the United States government to the criminals who use terrorist methods to hijack planes and boats do not contribute in any way to the legal and orderly emigration to which the United States has committed itself. Nor is any contribution made by the outrageous slander aimed at Cuba for the forceful and fully legal measures that our country was obliged to adopt to prevent a wave of hijackings of passenger planes and boats.

The alleged measures being announced to ban flights and remittances would also serve to encourage illegal emigration, and none of the blame for this could be placed on Cuba, which strictly and without exception, complies with its obligations as described in the bilateral Migratory Agreement.

It is truly absurd and contradictory for the United States to issue threats regarding a massive exodus against a country that, like Cuba, has repeatedly proposed a bilateral cooperation agreement to put an end to migrant trafficking, something that the United States government has not even cared to consider.

We shall then wait for the pronouncements and punitive measures that have been announced. Meanwhile, we shall try to guess and use our imagination to successfully confront, with dignity, strength and efficiency, any form of hostility and aggression, just as the Cuban Revolution has done for more than four decades.

April 18, 2003

1:40 a.m.