The Spanish hotel chain Meliá has announced in a recent internal report the disaffiliation of three of the hotels to which it lends its name in Cuba; although none of the hotels it owns on the island is its property, it only manages and markets them.
Who is the owner of those hotels? Well, not even the Cuban State, but the Cuban chain Gaviota, one of the companies of the military business octopus GAESA. The main offices of certain companies associated with GAESA, such as CIMEX, are registered abroad and those that operate on the island merely appear as their branches. They are, for all purposes, foreign companies that escape any national control over their income and the way in which those resources are employed.
Last year the United States sanctioned both the head of GAESA, Army Brigadier General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López Calleja, and Meliá’s CEO, Gabriel Escarrer. But they were sanctioned under different laws: López-Calleja under the Magnitsky Act and Escarrer under the Helms-Burton Law. Both have been involved in the exploitation of Cuban workers by the GAESA military with the complicity of foreign investors such as Meliá. God raises them and greed brings them together.
A study on the subject, sponsored by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba in 2016, revealed that the exploitation of Cuban labor in joint ventures is even greater than that of doctors sent on missions abroad. The former are not hired directly but by two employment agencies of the Cuban government; one of them is Almacenes Universal, dependent on GAESA. Using the magic tricks made possible by the existence of two currencies, if in a joint tourism venture the foreign firm paid a salary of 420 dollars per month for a worker with average qualification, they could receive, for example, 260 pesos, equivalent to 9 dollars 80, and the military employing agency would keep the remaining $ 410.20.
The information on the disaffiliation of the three Meliá hotels in Cayo Guillermo, part of the Jardines del Rey archipelago, which is Gaviota’s fiefdom, specifies that it was jointly agreed by the Spanish and the Cuban hotel chains.
In the last two years, to improve its public image as a socially responsible corporation, Meliá has included in its reports evaluations on human rights that include topics such as “freedom of association and collective bargaining”; the dignity of people and “just and dignified working conditions and remuneration”. However, Cuba is the only country that is not included in these evaluations. According to Meliá, the corporation has taken as a frame of reference the approaches defined by the Danish Institute for Human Rights, the Guiding Principles on business and human rights, the 10 Principles of the Global Compact, as well as elements from the Modern Slavery Act. If these were applied to the case of Cuba, Meliá would have to withdraw.
But the measure against Escarrer has the symbolic impact of a US sanction on a top executive of a transnational company, and it remains to be seen what Meliá will do to avoid it.
We will have to see what is contained in Melia’s 2021 management report. The inclusion or not of Cuba this year in the company’s analysis on human rights will give an indication on how Meliá’s relations with Cuba’s military businessmen are doing.