CubaNews / March 2005
By Larry Luxner
The future of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council (USCTEC) is up in the air, now that its founder and president has decided to call it quits.
John S. Kavulich, who established the orga-nization in 1994, announced his resignation in a long and emotional Mar. 14 letter to members, saying he was “angry and indifferent,” and that “this is impacting my performance.”
For years, Kavulich has been quoted in CubaNews and other publications as a top expert on U.S.-Cuba trade.
“Having the organization become a primary source for journalists was a testament to the work of many,” he wrote. “I have so enjoyed reading, listening and watching the organization’s (and yes, my) name in newspapers, magazines and on radio and TV. There is satisfaction in having made a contribution.”
Yet a combination of political inaction, burnout and his father’s death in upstate New York was apparently too much for Kavulich.
“I am frustrated with the government of the United States, the government of the Republic of Cuba, members of Congress and their staffs, representatives of organizations, state and local officials, and with journalists,” Kavulich told members.
“The importance of using accurate, consistent and timely information is decreasing; integrity is less important; there are increasing instances of activities by, in my opinion, two-bit hustlers towards whom agencies of the U.S. government, the government of Cuba and media seem indifferent.”
Kavulich’s three-page, single-spaced resignation letter appeared in Economic Eye On Cuba, a newsletter that goes to USCTEC member corporations which pay $2,500 a year or more in dues, depending on the size of their revenues.
Kavulich, who wouldn’t give his age, also declined to say how many members USCTEC has. He also had no comment on whether someone else would be named to take over the organization, what would happen to the group’s website or even whether the Economic Eye will continue to be published.
“The organization remains funded and can continue. There is a question, however, as to whether there needs to be such an organization at this time — given the realities of the commercial, economic, and political relationship” between the U.S. and Cuba, he wrote.
“What is needed more at this time: an organization that provides or an organization that promotes? My vote — the provision of information remains critical. Given the complexities of the U.S.-Cuba relationship, credibility is more necessary than popularity.”
In the meantime, Kavulich told CubaNews, he is “totally focused” on his late father’s toy and hobby wholesale and retail business, real-estate ventures and philanthropic pursuits.
No reaction on Kavulich’s resignation was immediately available from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, though an astute observer of U.S.-Cuba trade issues told us the Castro regime “seems to have an obsessive hatred” of the man.
“The origins of that remain a mystery. Nobody’s really clear why that is — Kavulich himself isn’t certain,” said the source, who asked not to be named.
One possibility, he said, is that “Cuba refuses to tolerate dissent, and John Kavulich frequently dissented from Cuban official figures, for example food imports under TSRA. Yet to my knowledge, John was never political. I don’t recall him ever taking the position that the Cuban government should reform its state industries. His disagreements with Cuba were more on the basis of factual data.”
There’s no question that Kavulich was not particularly welcome in Cuba, though he denied a Mar. 16 report in the Miami Herald that said “Cuban officials repeatedly refused him visas to travel to the island.”
Kavulich insists he hasn’t even applied for a Cuban visa since his last trip there in September 2002. That was when he helped put together the U.S. Food & Agribusiness Exhibition in Havana — an event that generated considerable controversy of its own.
Peter Nathan, the Connecticut entrepreneur who organized that show, told CubaNews that Kavulich has made the right choice by stepping down now.
“I’ve been aware of John’s ultimate decision for about a year, and while I think he did a marvelous job as president of USCTEC, his priorities have changed as a result of his father’s passing away,” Nathan said. “And since his efforts vis-â-vis Cuba seem to have come to a standstill, I think this is the right path for him to take.”