Marabou Charcoal: "This is the perfect example..."

13 Feb 2017 3:01 PM | Silvia G. (Administrator)



Havana, 1/5/17 -Scott Gilbert Founder and CEO of Coabama Trading LLC, signing international selling-buying contract with Cuba.  Gilbert will buy 40 tons charcoal made from the invasive woody plant marabou.

Mr. Gilbert, this Indeed is the "Perfect Example"

This article began with a simple mission, help put out the word on the forced labor camps producing charcoal from the marabou plant in Cuba. The inspiration for this piece came from Eliecer Bandera Barrera, a Cuban Human Rights Activist (with UNPACU) who was sentenced last September to three years in a Cuban prison for exposing the truth behind what has been touted as the first commercial export in a half century from Cuba to the U.S. As the article progressed, some connections appeared which further enlightened me about the true nature of US-Cuba engagement.

You see, the Castro Regime  has been very busy spinning a tale of products coming from "privately run" or "cooperative farms" in Cuba. Take the case of the Marabou charcoal which was said to be produced by "hundreds of worker owned cooperatives" according to an article in the Chicago Tribune[1]. 


Eliecer Bandera Barrera

Barrera risked his own safety and freedom by filming an actual marabou camp.  He captured the reality that those preaching "engagement" and "normalization" refuse to face:

This video which cost Barrera three years of liberty, shows the inhumane conditions these marabou Cuban workers are forced to endure. The cruel reality bares no resemblance whatsoever to what one would envision terms such as "privately owned" or "cooperative farms" would mean. Behind the smoke and mirrors one sees human beings who will sleep on a make shift mattress made of grass inside a dilapidated structure that is exposed to the elements and are not permitted to have blankets. The energy they will need to muster to start working the fields comes from one piece of bread and the sugar they will mix with water. They get are no safety-type gear of any kind and those hatchets they use to cut the marabou? Well, they are expected to pay those back. Working under the harsh tropical sun, they find themselves having to drink from a dirty water pond which they share with cows. Bathing takes place in a canal with muddied water from which they also occasionally have to drink from. 

On the video workers declare being paid between $200-$300 Cuban pesos per ton of marabou carbon they produce, at times even less. This is equivalent to $10-$15 American dollars per ton.  This deal brings the Castro Regime $420 American dollars per ton of marabou charcoal. 

Washington DC-based attorney Scott Gilbert has been the leading US proponent of the marabou deal with the Castro Regime.  Upon signing the selling-buying contract for marabou charcoal with Cuba, Scott Gilbert stated "the deal “marks the beginning of a new era of trade between the United States and Cuba. This is a perfect example of a win-win for both our countries.”  

Gilbert owns a series of companies all dedicated to business with the Castro Regime.  These include: Coabana Trading, which is is engaged in brokering a variety of import and export projects on behalf of U.S. and Cuban businesses, Coabana Development LLC, Coabana Holdings LLC, and Reneo Consulting which boasts on its website of having "built strong and lasting relationships with the Cuban government".

What makes all of this of particular interest is that Scott Gilbert is the attorney that represented Alan Gross, the captured American contractor.  The negotiations for Gross' release was one of the justifications given by the Obama Administration for the engagement strategy with the Castro Regime. 

Much has been said lately about getting internet connection to Cubans. Ironically, it was Gross' attempt to get internet connectivity to Jewish synagogues that sentenced him to 15 years in a Cuban jail, of which he served five years. According to Gross on a 60-Minutes interview that aired November 2015,   the Cubans threatened to rip off his fingernails and hang him. He lost 110 pounds and five teeth due to lack of nutrition and would spend his days walking 10,000 steps in circles inside his 18' by 18' roach and ant infested cell which he shared with two other prisoners. 

In May of 2015 Gilbert hosted at his home the launch of  "New Cuba" a political action committee. The mission of New Cuba is to lobby Congress to end travel restrictions for Americans wanting to visit the communist-run island as well as expanding trade. New Cuba is part of Engage Cuba, a national coalition dedicated to ending the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Solidarity (Libertad Act) of 1996. This Act (referred to as the "Embargo") lays out a blueprint for the lifting of U.S. sanctions based on:

  • Release of all political prisoners
  • Legalization of opposition political parties and other civil society organizations
  • A time table for free multiparty elections.

The lopsided nature of this engagement, and Gilbert's business interests with the Castro Regime is quite ironic.  Independent farmers aren't producing the Cuban marabou charcoal, slaves in a work camp are.  Far from benefiting human rights activists, these deals victimize them, as is the case with Barrera, who has been imprisoned for his expose of the camp.  Far from empowering the Cuban people, as the Obama Administration insisted that its engagement strategy meant to do, the marabou charcoal deal clearly exemplifies how trade with the dictatorship leads to greater exploitation of Cubans.


                     Photo: Miami Herald

In speaking with Fox News Latino this past May encouraging companies to do business with Cuba, Gilbert was asked what was the critical turning point with his dealings with Cuba, he cited having asked the Cuban "government" what they wanted from the U.S. and getting an immediate, one word answer: RESPECT [2]. Ironically demanding the same thing the Castro Regime has denied the Cuban people. Ask anyone beaten, detained, imprisoned or working at a marabou camp about the "respect" they receive from this regime. 

Worldwide outrage has taken place whenever other inhumane  working conditions have been revealed and when innocent people are thrown in prisons for promoting human rights. The demand for workers rights and the liberation of political prisoners cannot be ignored when it comes to Cuba. 


[1] http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-first-cuban-export-to-us-artisanal-charcoal-20170105-story.html

[2] http://video.foxnews.com/v/4238256449001/?#sp=show-clips








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