He was 16 years old when he migrated alone to the United States, after the Cuban Communist regime expropriated his family’s wood factory. His story of overcoming adversity forged the necessary values for his son, Jeff Bezos, who has created the largest fortune in the world with his Seattle-based company, Amazon.
The political left commonly accuses the US of maintaining a “blockade” against Cuba. What they conveniently forget is that the embargo is a response to the massive expropriation of companies such as that owned by the Bezos family.
Before the revolution of 1959, Cuba was a prosperous country. Miguel Ángel Bezos, passed on to his son the work ethic he learned from his entrepreneur father, and today Jeff’s fortune is estimated at USD $146 billion, an amount unimaginable to the son of a man who came to the country as a refugee.
Miguel Ángel Bezos achieved that famous American dream where even the most destitute can create a fortune.
Bezos Sr. was part of the Peter Pan program, which – with the help of the Catholic Church – transported 14,000 children from Cuba to Miami when the massive expropriations of the regime began, and parents had fewer options to feed their children.
Each child could only carry 3 garments, so Miguel Angel’s mother wove a coat made with cleaning cloths. The family still keeps the garment as a souvenir.
“No one can take education away from you”
Now Miguel Ángel is the vice president of the Bezos Family Foundation, which invests in education and focuses on early stimulation.
As someone who was robbed of his worldly possessions and separated from his family by force, Bezos Sr. explains that “education can not be taken away from you.”
As an adoptive father, (he is not the biological father of Jeff Bezos), he explains that the most important thing for children is support. Not toys, not even the amount of time spent with them, but the quality. Let the children know that they can count on the parents.
Through the Vroom program, for example, they provide tools for parents so that they can stimulate their children.
In addition, they encourage the presence of parents at home, since the tools aim “to turn everyday moments into moments of mental development.”
In turn, it incorporates feedback from parents to strengthen the project, as well as the advice of early childhood experts, neuroscientists, and community leaders.
From refugee to philanthropist
As a beneficiary of philanthropy, Miguel Ángel Bezos now can return the generosity of which he was once a beneficiary. He met Jeff’s mother at the University of New Mexico, thanks to a scholarship awarded to Cuban students.
Now, the Bezos Family Foundation offers training programs for young and outstanding leaders.
The foundation provides learning experiences for all ages. For young people, for example, there is an environmental conservation program focused on the oceans, which aims at innovation instead of prohibition, to create alternatives that help to take better care of the seas.
Reduce taxes so that the private sector offers solutions instead of the state
Among the most outstanding gifts of the foundation was the donation of USD $2 billion for the construction of homes for homeless families, as well as a network of day care centers for young children.
Bezos Jr. proposed to the government of the city of Seattle that instead of charging high income taxes, they offer a tax cut, and then local companies would commit to remedy the housing crisis.
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) September 13, 2018
“We will use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon,” Bezos wrote. “The most important among them will be the genuine and intense obsession with the clients. The child will be the client.”
There was no shortage of critics who accused the philanthropist of spending little, because USD $2 billion is equivalent to 1.22% of his net worth. But it is hardly Bezos’ first philanthropic effort.
In 2016, Amazon renovated a hotel so that the non-profit group Mary’s Place could accommodate 200 homeless families and almost 15,000 square meters of its new corporate office will be destined for a permanent refuge for homeless people.
Despite having arrived without resources and unable to speak the English language, in a few years the refugee child became co-director of one of the largest and most important philanthropic organizations, putting billions of dollars on the line.
Stories like this are not unusual. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, was also the son of a Syrian refugee and ended up being given up for adoption. He would go on to become one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Adversity is often a great teacher, just as perseverance is often the path to success.