Apartheid en Cuba
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    Where denouncing labor abuses is illegal

    Where denouncing labor abuses is illegal
    Posted on Wed, Jan. 23, 2008

    Now is a good time for labor and democracy activists to press for worker
    rights and reform in Cuba. With Fidel Castro still sidelined and the
    economy crumbling, pressure for reform is building — not only from
    ordinary Cubans but also from the international community. Promoting the
    Arcos Principles, which set standards for foreign businesses in Cuba,
    could pay dividends in a future transition, if not sooner.

    The State Department and private-advocacy groups such as the Cuba Study
    Group do well to lobby governments, international-labor groups and
    business communities to help improve labor rights and conditions in Cuba.

    A 95 percent tax?

    For all its talk of being a socialist paradise, Cuba exploits workers
    horribly. Its labor practices hurt both workers and the foreign
    businesses that become partners in the abuse. Foreign businesses, for
    example, may only hire workers through a government agency. Foreign
    firms pay wages in hard currency to the agency, which in turn pays the
    workers less than 5 percent of those wages in pesos. That's a 95 percent
    tax. Ordinary Cubans, the vast majority of whom work for the government,
    get paid even less. Forget pay for performance. The regime also bans
    independent unions. In fact, six labor activists remain in prison,
    serving terms from 12 years to 26 years. Their ''crimes''? Denouncing
    violations of international-labor standards and attempting to organize
    workers into independent unions, what union activists routinely do in
    free countries. These men should be freed.

    Such labor abuses inspired the late Cuban dissident Gustavo Arcos to
    propose the Arcos Principles. Those principles require foreign investors
    in Cuba to:

    • Hire Cubans directly, not through a state agency, and keep politics
    out of hiring decisions.

    • Allow employees to organize independent unions.

    • Defy tourism apartheid by allowing ordinary Cubans access to
    facilities, goods and services now reserved for foreign visitors.

    One sign that Cuba is bowing to pressure is that it recently legalized
    the annual bonuses, subject to taxes, that foreign firms used to pay
    under the table. Such bonuses motivate employees to improve the quality
    and productivity of their work. Those are the kinds of boosts that
    Cuba's moribund economy needs.

    Regime hard-liners may oppose these reforms because they increase the
    inequality of wages. But the real issue is improving incentives, income
    and rights for all workers — not just those employed by foreign ventures.

    Raúl Castro already has raised expectations of economic reforms. The
    international community should push for reforms sooner rather than later.


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