• This Blog on The Cuban Economy is dedicated to Cuba's Generation "A". Although inspired by Yoani Sánchez' blog "Generation Y" this is not dedicated to those with names starting with the letter "A". Instead, it draws from Douglas Coupland's novel Generation A which begins with a quotation from Kurt Vonnegut at a University Commencement that was brought to my attention by Andrew Johnston of Ottawa: ".. ... I hereby declare you Generation A, as much as the beginning of a series of astounding triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."

    The objective of this Blog is to facilitate access to research resources and analyses from all relevant and useful sources, mainly on the economy of Cuba.

MORE BAD NEWS FOR NEW IDEAS IN CUBA: EUSEBIO LEAL SIDELINED

BY PAUL HARE

In Cuba Today, August 29, 2016

Original Essay: BAD NEWS FOR NEW IDEAS IN CUBA z111

Havana historian Eusebio Leal escorts U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry around Old Havana during a tour of the city last year. Ismael Francisco AP

Very few without Castro in their name have survived in the leadership of the Cuban Revolution as long as Eusebio Leal. And he didn’t do it by the conventional means of silence and obedience. He brought loyalty but also ideas to the Castros. Now the military-run business empire has asserted itself in Old Havana as elsewhere and Leal appears to have been outmaneuvered.

Uniquely among Cuban leaders Leal has cared about other things beyond preserving the Castro Revolution. He has been as fascinated by Cuba’s past as its future. He has received numerous overseas cultural awards but his stature in Cuba has been that he thought differently.

In 2002 the British embassy in Havana staged a two-month-long series of events to commemorate 100 years of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United Kingdom. We were told it was the largest such festival by an overseas country ever held in Cuba. Leal was our indispensable ally for venues, organization, contacts and vision. At times the Revolution’s agenda surfaced and he negotiated hard. But his heart was in the history of both our countries. Leal even created a garden in Old Havana in memory of Princess Diana. And as a historian he loved the story of the British invasion of Havana in 1762.

The military conglomerate GAESA will now assume business control over Leal’s beloved Old Havana project. This has been a labor of love and ingenuity. But it has also depended on his versatile role at the heart of revolutionary politics. He proved a man of taste, of determination but also shone as a contemporary entrepreneur in a Cuba which despises individualism.

His versatility served him well. A teenager at the time of the Revolution, he chose to prove that innovation and a love of past cultures and elegance could coexist with the new era. He admired Fidel, a fellow intellectual, and — not accidentally — he was chosen by the official Cuban media to eulogize his old friend again on his 90th birthday. Typically, the Revolution was extracting a declaration of loyalty from a man who was feeling pretty disgruntled.

Times are changing in Cuba and the undermining of Leal’s control has wider implications.

Times are changing in Cuba and the undermining of Leal’s control has wider implications. He may not be a household name outside Cuba and he may be in failing health. But his project showed he knew the Castros would never allow private sector growth to restore the largest area of Spanish colonial architecture in the Western Hemisphere.

His only chance was to harness funds from tourist visitors and foreign investors. There is still much to do but the current rush of tourists to Cuba owes much to achievement.

Leal’s fate is nothing new. Set in the 57-year context of the Cuban Revolution, many able and loyal leaders have been discarded. Felipe Pérez Roque, Carlos Lage and Roberto Robaina are recent examples. But Leal had survived and appeared to be growing in stature with Raúl. His walking tour of Old Havana with Obama received worldwide publicity.

Leal’s bonding with the U.S. president may have irked the Castros. The disintegration of Venezuela and loss of subsidies under Nicolás Maduro gave the military companies the opening they needed to swoop for Old Havana. Now, effectively Raúl Castro’s son-in-law will rule the roost and U.S.-operated cruise ships will soon be occupying many berths in the Old Havana harbor.

But perhaps the saddest lesson from Leal’s marginalization is the signal it sends to Cuban innovators and foreign investors. The restoration of the Revolution is still more important than the architectural jewels of past eras. Almost at the same time as Leal’s demise, a far less visionary but unquestioning loyalist, Ricardo Cabrisas, was promoted. These are indeed depressing times for Cubans hoping for some new ideas and less of the same.

Z11111Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler, Historiador de La Habana

Paul W. Hare is a former British ambassador to Cuba and currently senior lecturer at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University

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VENEZUELA’S ECONOMIC WOES SEND A CHILL OVER CLOSEST ALLY CUBA: Warnings of rationing revive memories of post-Soviet austerity in Havana

Financial Times, July 25, 2016

Marc Frank in Havana

The crisis in Venezuela has spread to its closest ally Cuba, with Havana warning of power rationing and other shortages that some fear could mark a return to the economic austerity that traumatised the island nation after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Only a year after the euphoria that followed the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the US, hopes of an economic rebound in Cuba have faded and an undercurrent of concern and frustration is evident on the streets of the capital.

“Just when we thought we were going forward, everything is slipping away again,” says Havana retiree Miriam Calabasa. “I am worried people are going to decide enough is enough: then what?”

Government offices now close early, with open windows and whirring fans in lieu of air-conditioners. Already scant public lighting has been reduced further, and traffic in Havana and other cities is down noticeably.

“Nothing will get better any time soon; it can only get worse,” worries Ignacio Perez, a mechanic. “The roads won’t be paved, schools painted, the rubbish picked up, public transportation improved, and on and on.”

President Raúl Castro outlined the scale of the problem this month, telling the National Assembly that “all but essential spending” must cease. He blamed “limits facing some of our principal commercial partners due to the fall in oil prices … and a certain contraction in the supply of oil contracted with Venezuela.”

Fuel consumption has been cut 28 per cent between now and December, electricity by a similar amount and imports by 15 per cent, or $2.5bn, in a centralised economy where 17 cents of every dollar of economic output consists of imports.

But crippling shortages, rampant inflation and an economy that is expected to shrink 10 per cent this year have forced Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro to cut back. According to internal data from state oil company PDVSA seen by Reuters, oil deliveries to Cuba are down a fifth on last year.

Venezuela has for 15 years supplied unspecified amounts of cash and about 90,000 barrels per day of oil — half of Cuba’s energy needs. Havana in return sold medical and other professional services to Caracas. Venezuelan aid helped to lift Cuba out of an economic black hole after Soviet subsidies ended in 1991.

“Under current conditions, [Cuban] gross domestic product will dip into negative territory this year and decline 2.9 per cent in 2017,” says Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank employee who is now a professor at Colombia’s Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Cali. “If relations with Venezuela fall apart completely, GDP could decline 10 per cent.”

Although Venezuelan aid is a fraction of Soviet help, mention of the “special period” that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall provokes traumatic memories in Cuba, with many remembering shortages so severe they ate street cats. Karina Marrón, deputy director of the official Granma newspaper, this month warned of possible street protests similar to 1994.

“A perfect storm is brewing … this phenomenon of a cut in fuel, a cut in energy,” Ms Marrón told the Union of Cuban Journalists. “This country can’t withstand another ’93, another ’94.”

So-called rapid response brigades, formed in the 1990s to quell social unrest, are back on alert, according to one brigade member who asked not to be named.

For Mr Castro, the slowdown is a serious blow to the limited market-orientated reforms begun under his leadership, especially the long-planned liberalisation of the peso, which requires a comfortable foreign reserve cushion.

But foreign businesses hope it may speed economic opening. “Venezuela’s problems increase the chance of Cuban reforms. This government only acts when it has to,” says one Spanish investor on the island.

One complication lies in how the government apportions resources.  Cuba relies heavily on tourists, most of whom expect hotels with electricity and air-conditioning. Meanwhile, some 500,000 people, or 10 per cent of Cuba’s workforce, are employed at restaurants, lodging houses and other recently allowed private businesses which need power to ply their trade.

Mr Castro insists residential users will be spared power cuts, for now, while Marino Murillo, who heads the reform commission of the ruling Communist party, says hard currency earning sectors such as tourism and nickel would be spared.

Another problem is that the other countries Cuba exports medical services to, such as Algeria, Angola and Brazil, are also expected to reduce spending. In 2014, medical services earned Cuba about $8bn, or 40 per cent of exports.

“We cannot deny there will be some impact, including worse than currently, but we are prepared,” Mr Castro has said.

Analysts suggest Mr Castro’s warning may in part serve to deflate expectations following the easing of US sanctions. Certainly, a full return to special period-style austerity looks unlikely as Cuba has more diversified income streams, from increased remittances, medical services, tourism to a nascent private sector.

However, “a majority [in Cuba] are still very dependent on state salaries that are now worth a third of what they were in 1989 in real terms”, said Prof Vidal. “[They] are in a situation of extreme vulnerability.”

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AMID GRIM ECONOMIC FORECASTS, CUBANS FEAR A RETURN TO DARKER TIMES

By VICTORIA BURNETT

New York Times, JULY 12, 2016

Original Article: Darker Times

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A return to the “Black-outs” of the early 1990s?  No, I don’t think so.    Maybe a few but unlikely to be as widespread or longlasting.zz apagon

 

MEXICO CITY — During the economic turmoil of the early 1990s, power cuts in Havana were so routine that residents called the few hours of daily electricity “lightouts.”

Now, grim economic forecasts; the crisis in its patron, Venezuela; and government warnings to save energy have stoked fears among Cubans of a return to the days when they used oil lamps to light their living rooms and walked or bicycled miles to work because there was no gasoline.

Addressing members of Parliament last week, Cuba’s economy minister, Marino Murillo, said the country would have to cut fuel consumption by nearly a third during the second half of the year and reduce state investments and imports. His comments, to a closed session, were published on Saturday by the state news media.

Cuba’s economy grew by just 1 percent in the first half of the year, compared with 4 percent last year, as export income and fuel supply to the island dropped, said Mr. Murillo.

“This has placed us in a tense economic situation,” he said.

Weak oil and nickel prices and a poor sugar harvest have contributed to Cuba’s woes, officials said. Venezuela’s economic agony has led many Cubans to wonder how much longer their oil-rich ally will continue to supply the island with crucial oil — especially if the government of President Nicolás Maduro falls.  Those fears grew last week after Mr. Murillo warned of blackouts and state workers were asked to cut their hours and sharply reduce energy use.

“We all know that it’s Venezuelan oil that keeps the lights on,” said Regina Coyula, a blogger who worked for several years for Cuban state security. “People are convinced that if Maduro falls, there will be blackouts here.”

President Raúl Castro of Cuba acknowledged those fears on Friday but said they were unfounded.

“There is speculation and rumors of an imminent collapse of our economy and a return to the acute phase of the ‘special period,’” Mr. Castro said in speech to Parliament, referring to the 1990s, when Cuba lost billions of dollars’ worth of Soviet subsidies.

“We don’t deny that there may be ill effects,” he added, “but we are in better conditions than we were then to face them.”

Mark Entwistle, a business consultant who was Canada’s ambassador to Cuba during the special period, said that despite its dependency on Venezuelan fuel, the island’s economy is now more sophisticated and diversified than it was before the Soviet collapse.

Besides, he said, Cuba has “this phenomenal social and political capacity to absorb critical changes.”

Still, some are perturbed at the prospect of power cuts. None of the Havana residents interviewed over the weekend had experienced power outages in their neighborhoods.

In an unusually blunt speech to journalists this month, Karina Marrón González, a deputy director of Granma, the official Communist Party newspaper in Cuba, warned of the risk of protests like those of August 1994, when hundreds of angry Cubans took to the streets of Havana for several hours.

 “We are creating a perfect storm,” she said, according to a transcript of her speech that was published in various blogs. She added, “Sirs, this country cannot take another ’93, another ’94.”

Herbert Delgado-Rodríguez, 29, an art student, remembered his mother cooking with charcoal in the 1990s.

“I don’t know if it will get to the point where there will be protests in the street,” he said. However, he added, Cubans “won’t tolerate the extreme hardships we faced in the ’90s.”

One worker at a bank said that employees had been told to use air-conditioning for two hours each day and work a half-day. Fuel for office cars had been cut by half, she said. A university professor said that she had been given a fan for her office and told to work at home when possible.

Jose Gonzales, who owns a small cafeteria in downtown Havana, was more sanguine.

“Raúl is simply urging us to cut back on unnecessary consumption, that’s all,” he said, adding that talk of another special period was “just a lot of speculation.”

Not all offices or companies have been affected, and Mr. Murillo said that the idea was to ration energy in some users so that others — homes, tourist facilities and companies — could use as much as they need.

In all, he said, the government aimed to cut electricity usage by 6 percent and fuel by 28 percent in the second half of the year.

Under an agreement signed in 2000, Venezuela supplies Cuba with about 80,000 barrels of oil per day, a deal worth about $1.3 billion, said Jorge Piñon, an energy expert at the University of Texas. In return, Cuba sends thousands of medical and other specialists to Venezuela.

On Friday, Mr. Castro said there had been a “certain contraction” of that oil supply.

How large of a contraction is unclear. Reuters reported last week that shipments of crude to Cuba had fallen 40 percent in the first half of this year. Mr. Piñon said that at least part of the reduction was oil that Venezuela refines in Cuba and then ships out again.

Cuba’s energy problems may also be a product of growing demand on the electricity grid, he said. Electricity consumption has risen dramatically over the past 10 years as Cubans who receive remittances from abroad kept air-conditioners whirring and private restaurants, bars and bed-and-breakfasts added refrigerators and heated food in toaster ovens.

Tourism has soared since the United States and Cuba announced an end to their 50-year standoff in December 2014. The number of visitors rose 13.5 percent in the first four months of 2016 and is likely to rise further when commercial flights from the United States begin this year.

If Venezuela did halt oil exports to Cuba, it would not necessarily precipitate a political crisis, experts and bloggers said.

The United States may offer help in order to prevent instability or a mass exodus of desperate Cubans. The Cuban government might speed reforms and open the door wider to foreign investment, Mr. Entwistle said.

“To extrapolate some dire political consequence is unwise,” said Mr. Entwistle, adding, “There are so many levers that they have to push and pull.”

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LOS PROBLEMAS DEL PERIODISMO CUBANO

Karina Marrón González, julio 1, 2016

Articulo Original: PERIODISMO CUBANO

En un encuentro que hicimos en el Instituto de Periodismo con jóvenes de todas partes del país, si una cosa nos alegraba a nosotros fue identificar a otros jóvenes dentro del sector de la prensa que también tenían la intención de transformar, de cambiar, que tenían las ganas de unir esfuerzos por transformar la realidad y en esa reunión se dijo que hay una intensión marcada en enemistar al Partido con la prensa y nosotros no podemos estar ajenos de ello, pero mientras el Partido y la prensa sigamos mirando para un lado y no para donde tenemos los problemas reales, sigamos viendo las cosas por separado y no como un todo, no vamos a resolver jamás los problemas que llevamos años discutiendo.

Y será Karina entonces la Rosa Miriam quizás de esa época, hablando lo mismo y habrá otras personas como Sergio, diciendo las cosas que viene diciendo Raúl Garcés durante tantos años y otros que tienen más edad que yo entonces serán los que hablarán, y seguiremos repitiendo el ciclo, si con suerte llegamos a repetir el ciclo, y lo que está pasando señores, es que no tenemos tiempo para repetir el ciclo.
(Aplausos)

Yo, sinceramente creo que nosotros lo que tenemos que ver cuando los jóvenes se nos van de los medios, es sencillamente que tenemos en los jóvenes la expresión de la sociedad que tenemos hoy, y es lo que decía Iramis; No podemos ver el asunto como un problema puramente económico, hay un problema profesional de fondo, porque esos jóvenes que eligieron la carrera de periodismo, no eligieron hacer propaganda, publicidad, no eligieron sencillamente quedarse callados y al margen porque si no hubieran escogido otra profesión. Pero también tenemos muchos jóvenes en las aulas que cuando se gradúan salen tan desencantados que llegan a los medios , no sé ni con qué intensión, porque a veces uno les da la oportunidad de hacer cosas, de transformar, de trabajar, y no les interesa, no les importa absolutamente nada. Por qué? Porque es de esa misma generación de jóvenes desconectados a los cuales sencillamente no les llegamos en otras etapas de su vida y ahora no podemos pretender que no les interese la ropa, los tacones, los zapatos, cómo acceder a internet o tener 50 o 70 CUC, no para mantener su casa como si sabemos que hay algunos en nuestros medios que colaboran con tal de poder pagar un alquiler.

Son jóvenes que lo hacen para mantener ciertos y determinados estándares de vida y que en el fondo usted puede ver que no está mal, pero ahí entra lo que decía Darío Machado, y es ese espíritu de consumo que hemos establecido en nuestra sociedad que es parte también de todas estas carencias materiales que hemos acumulado durante años.

 z Karina Marrón

Karina Marrón integrante del Comité Nacional de la Upec y subdirectora del periódico Granma.

Entonces yo lo que creo es que nosotros no podemos ver única y exclusivamente la cosa como que la Upec tiene que esforzarse porque los jóvenes se sientan atraídos por la organización, porque al final, si la Upec no tiene ningún poder de decisión, si la Upec no tiene ninguna fuerza, si se desgasta hablando los mismos problemas de congreso en congreso, entonces para qué yo quiero pertenecer a esa organización, para qué me interesa, para qué me importa, qué estoy cambiando, qué estoy transformando.Al final lo único que uno tiene en la vida es su tiempo, lo que uno está poniendo en el frente de batalla es su vida, sus años, su dedicación y su sacrificio, y eso se hace por un ideal, se hace por amor, pero hay quien sencillamente decide que no está dispuesto a hacerlo porque no confía en ese futuro, porque no ve que haya posibilidades de cambiarlo y lo triste es que en ese bando de los que hoy están colaborando fuera hay jóvenes que apuestan por eso por diferentes razones, porque creen que ahí van a tener su realización profesional y nos duele que no la vean del lado nuestro o que no intenten cambiar las cosas del lado nuestro, o lo hacen por las motivaciones económicas que ya hablamos pero no es nunca un único motivo, y eso es lo que nosotros no podemos perder de vista, e insisto, si seguimos mirando para el lado no vamos a ver nunca la pedrada que nos va a dar en el justo lugar donde nos van a matar.

Respuestas no tengo. En Granma (periódico) hay un grupo de jóvenes que estamos haciendo lo posible por seguir remando, no sabemos si vamos a llegar realmente a puerto seguro en un momento determinado, pero hay jóvenes que quieren seguir echando a navegar el yate y yo estoy convencida, porque los conozco a muchos de ellos, que hay muchos en varios lugares del país que también están haciendo lo mismo.

Entonces, yo los invito a todos es a unir fuerzas para eso, pero sobre todo a que quienes deciden no den dobles discursos , a que quienes deciden cuando se enfrenten a este escenario de gente que sabe lo que vive cada día en las redacciones, en la radio, en la televisión, en el más mínimo lugar de este país donde hay un periodista intentando defender esta sociedad que somos todos, esa gente que quizás no tiene esa cultura excelsa para entender todos los escenarios de fenómenos pero hay un periodista que sencillamente sabe que defendiendo esa institucionalidad de la que hablaba Garcés, está defendiendo esta Revolución y puede quizás transformar la mente de alguien.

Eso nosotros tenemos que cuidarlo, tenemos que defenderlo y a esa gente nosotros no podemos irrespetarla, hablándole de cosas de las que uno sabe que no ocurren de esa manera y prometiéndole cosas que después no se van a cumplir, entonces, yo creo que este es un debate que no podemos seguir teniendo entre nosotros mismos y mirándonos las caras y diciéndonos lo mismo unos a los otros y engañándonos una y otra vez porque no hay tiempo.

Se está armando una tormenta tan perfecta y lo discutíamos ayer en la redacción, este fenómeno de la reducción del combustible, de la reducción de la energía, señores este país no aguanta otro 93´, otro 94´, si no queremos ver protestas en la calle, y no hay un Fidel para salir al malecón, o por lo menos hasta ahora no ha habido una figura en este país que le dé la cara a este pueblo para explicarle las cosas como están sucediendo hoy con esta situación, y va a ser muy difícil de enfrentar y con la prensa la situación en la que tenemos hoy nos vamos a quedar dados.

Ya Ravsberg (Fernando Ravsberg, periodista uruguayo radicado en Cuba, ex corresponsal de BBC Mundo en La Habana. Administrador del blog cartasdesdecuba.com) ayer estaba hablando de estas reducciones de combustible, como nos pasa muchas veces que hay quien sencillamente hace proyectos y cosas, acepta dinero y lo hace a veces queriendo mirar para otro lado.

Yo llamo la atención sobre esto porque estamos en una circunstancia en que el 2018 está a las puertas y todo se está apostando por esa fecha, y todo se está haciendo para que esa tormenta llegue allí en las peores circunstancias para este país, entonces no es un momento para dudar, no es un momento para titubear, no es un momento para prestarles nuestras fuerzas, nuestras ideas a algo que no funciona y por eso muchas veces nuestros jóvenes se van, y por eso muchas veces nuestros jóvenes no están en las redacciones aun cuando haya gente que todavía sigue confiando y sigue tratando de hacer el periodismo de todos los días. (Aplausos)

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FLIGHTS TO CUBA FROM THE U.S. COULD START THIS FALL

JEFF MASON and JEFFREY DASTIN

Globe and mail, Reuters, Thursday, Jul. 07, 2016 3:44PM EDT

Original Arcicle: FLIGHTS TO CUBA FROM THE U.S. zzza - Copy

The United States has tentatively approved flights on eight U.S. airlines to Havana as early as this fall, with American Airlines Group Inc. receiving the largest share of the limited routes, the U.S. Transportation Department said Thursday.

The decision, coming about a year after the United States and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations, includes 35 flights per week on American, the biggest U.S. airline in Latin America by flights. Its rival for Caribbean travel, JetBlue Airways Corp., was granted 27.

The department expects to reach a final decision on the routes later this summer after reviewing any objections. It also recommended flights to Havana on Delta Air Lines Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., Alaska Air Group Inc., Spirit Airlines Inc. and Frontier Airlines Inc.

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The flights to Cuba’s capital would be the latest step in bringing the former Cold War foes closer together.

Last month, the Transportation Department gave airlines the green light to schedule flights to other cities in Cuba for the first time in decades. Until now, air travel to the Communist-ruled island has been limited to charter services.

Selecting the carriers for the Havana flights created a challenge for the Obama administration. Airlines applied for nearly triple the 20 daily round-trips that Cuba and the United States agreed to allow.

“The proposed slate of airlines will ensure service to areas of substantial Cuban-American population, as well as to important aviation hub cities,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

“The department also sought to offer the public a wide array of travel choices in the type of airline such as network, low-cost and ultra low-cost carriers.”

Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. which have the biggest Cuban-American communities in the United States, received the most flights, at 83 a week among six airlines.  American won one-third of flights from south Florida. This may give it a leg up over rivals because it can offer corporate customers more convenient connections through Miami.

“It’s enough to make it a viable business-traveler schedule,” said aviation industry consultant Robert Mann.

Over time, U.S. airlines anticipate a bigger payout from Cuba than is typical for Caribbean destinations.  Strong demand will come from Cuban-Americans visiting relatives and executives travelling in business class to evaluate commercial opportunities, experts said.

“These flights open the door to a new world of travel and opportunities for our customers,” said Oscar Munoz, United’s chief executive officer. United will fly from Newark, N.J., and Houston under the proposal.

Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Los Angeles, New York, Orlando and Tampa will also offer non-stop service.

While a ban on tourism to Cuba remains part of U.S. law, President Barack Obama has authorized exceptions. U.S. citizens that meet one of 12 criteria, such as taking part in educational tours, can now visit Cuba.  The U.S. House of Representatives was due to vote as early as Thursday on a spending bill amendment that would essentially lift travel restrictions to Cuba for a year.

American said it hopes to begin Havana service in November.  Its shares rose 3.3 per cent while JetBlue shares added 1.7 per cent. Southwest rose 1.7 per cent and Delta was up 2.2 per cent.

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Cubana de Aviación Ilyushin Il-96-300; What Share of the US Tourism Market for Cubana?

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CUBA LOOKING FOR ITS FUTURE

Fernando Ravsberg, Havana Times, June 23, 2016

Original Article http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=119572

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba finds itself at a critical juncture in its history, where important decisions, like those made in 1902 or in 1959, need to be made. The only difference this time being that we’re no longer living under the suffocating rule of military occupation or in the middle of a full-blown revolution.

Today, every Cuban has the chance to voice their opinions and to help steer the country’s future. This is a right we all have but it’s also a huge responsibility because our children’s and grandchildren’s futures are hanging on the line.

Before the debates had even begun, some people, who believe they have a patriotic compass which puts them above the rest of us, took it upon themselves to decide which Cubans should be excluded from exchanging their opinions.  They’re the ones who hope for a “Mesa Redonda”-style debate, where all those taking part say exactly the same thing. However, in this case, what’s on the table is so important that just pretending to discuss these issues would be to betray the Cuban nation and its future generations.  They instill fear to keep us from voicing our thoughts freely, they talk about Imperialism’s untrustworthy plans, capitalism’s Trojan horses, the danger of losing Cuban sovereignty and about crimes against equality. These truths are manipulated until they create one big fat lie.

What they don’t tell us is that in the middle of such volatile times, the biggest danger we face is staying put, immobile. All of the dangers they warn us about are real but the worst thing we can do is to continue stuck in our ways, in the trenches because “that’s how we’ve managed to survive for 50 years.”

Extremists are popping up on both the left and the right, attacking the warming of relations between Cuba and the US. Ironically, some criticize Obama for giving in without overthrowing the socialist regime and others criticize Raul Castro for having opened up the country to capitalism.

A few days ago, I was speaking to a politically active young man who told me that Raul’s reforms “have ideologically dismantled the people in order to strengthen the economy and all it’s done is leave us without both ideology and economy.” That’s another half truth.

Some people dream, just like the Soviets used to dream, about the possibility of upholding socialist ideology without strengthening the economy. They believe that medals, degrees and awards can substitute a dignified paycheck, housing, transport or food.

When Raul Castro came into power he didn’t really have a choice, being able to save the revolutionary’s accomplishments would mean being able to finance them. What do speeches and rallies matter when hospitals are falling to pieces, teachers are walking out of classrooms and young people are emigrating?

Not all of the Communist Party (PCC) members agree with the type of society the President and his ministers have put forward. Raul Castro himself officially recognised at the PCC Congress in April that there were major differences in opinion regarding the subject of private ownership of the means of production.

And there aren’t just a few differences when you bear in mind the fact that, in previous enquiries carried out in closed circles, 600 amendments were asked to be made to the original socialist project presented by the government, which only had 614 points to begin with.

It’s important to understand that the socialist project is a single unit and so it needs all of its parts to work properly. You can’t expect a State to be even the tiniest bit efficient if it hasn’t removed the burden of having to manage medium and small-sized businesses and micro-entities.

Sometimes it feels like this is a contradiction which goes against the old leftist ideals but Cuba won’t have dynamic sovereignty without foreign investment. Therefore, if you prohibit opening up our economy for “ideological” reasons, you’re going against the country and humanity’s best interests.

When every Cuban sits down to discuss the future of their society, they shouldn’t only think about their dreams but also about the political, economic and social mechanisms they need to make them come true. We need to remember that politics is the art of the possible.

It’s not enough to just want our children to go to school and university, that their grandfather has a decent pension, that we make Cuban films or that pregnancies receive the proper medical care they should; we also need to think about how we can finance all of these things.

A defensive mentality and resistance helped the nation to bear the siege of the greatest economic and military power in the world for over 50 years, but today, even Fidel Castro himself, its creator, has publically said that this no longer works.

If Vietnam had held fast onto the mentality that allowed them to win the war, it wouldn’t have the thriving economy it has today. Nature has shown us that species that are unable to adapt to changes in their environment eventually die out.

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Fernando Ravsberg

 

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CRISIS IN VENEZUELA MAKES LIFE HELL FOR CUBAN MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

A growing number of Cuban health professionals working in Venezuela are fleeing or seeking second jobs as a result of the economic and political crisis in the South American country.

By MARIO J. PENTÓN

In Cuba Today, June 22, 2016

Original Article: Cuban Doctors in Venezuela

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Cuban Doctors in Venezuela in More Promising Times

z3 medicos-cubanos-venezuela

Tania Tamara Rodríguez never thought she would escape from the Cuban medical teams in Venezuela and become a “deserter,” now blocked by her government from returning to her country for eight years.

But the many difficulties that Cuban health professionals face in Venezuela as a result of the economic and political crisis in the South American country are leading a growing number to seek refuge in neighboring countries or obtain other jobs to make ends meet.

“Conditions for the doctors and other health professionals are horrible. You live all the time under the threat of being returned to Cuba, losing the job. You’re afraid they will take all the money – which is in Cuban government accounts – and revoke your assignment (to Venezuela) if they want to discipline you,” said Rodríguez, who now lives in Tampa.

While she worked in a medical laboratory in Venezuela as part of Cuba’s “Mission to the Neighborhood” medical aid program, the government deposited Rodríguez’s salary of 700 pesos per month (about $29) to an account in Cuba and gave her access to $280 dollars (U.S.) per month and a card for 25 percent off at the TRD shops in Cuba, which offer hard-to-find imported goods at dollar prices.

In 2014, after acknowledging that its “export of health services” was earning the island more than $8.2 billion a year, the Cuban government increased salaries in the domestic health sector. Even with the increases, which took effect after the public health sector had dismissed 109,000 employees, Cuban doctors are still not earning even close to the international median.

Rodríguez went to Venezuela in early 2015 from the eastern city of Holguín where she worked in the laboratory of the Máximo Gómez Báez. She agreed to join one of Cuba’s many medical teams in foreign countries in hopes of providing better opportunities for her 13-year-old daughter.

Cuba currently has about 28,810 medical personnel in Venezuela working in public health programs that, according to President Nicolás Maduro, represent a priority sector for his government and has cost Venezuela more than $250 billion since 1999.

The payment arrangement, essentially trading Venezuelan oil for Cuban medical personnel, has been repeatedly denounced by critics as a way for the Venezuelan government to cover up its subsidies to Cuba. Cuba then resells part of the refined oil products on the international market.

Rodríguez, who arrived in the United States after a few months in Venezuela under the U.S. government’s special parole program for Cuban medical personnel who defect, saved the money needed to buy her daughter a plane ticket to the United States from Cuba. But when her family took the girl to an Interior Ministry office to apply for a passport, she was denied because the mother was still listed as working in Venezuela.

“I don’t understand how I can be listed as working when I have been in the United States for more than a year. Someone must be pocketing the money the Venezuelan government is paying for me,” Rodríguez said.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) agency, 2,335 petitions were received in Fiscal Year 2015 under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program, an initiative by the George W. Bush administration that offers visas to Cuban medical personnel “recruited by the (Cuban) government to study or work in a third country. Since its start in 2006, more than 8,000 medical professionals have been admitted under the program.  Solidarity Without Borders, a Hialeah non-profit that helps the arriving Cuban medical professionals, told el Nuevo Herald that the number of Cubans applying for the CMPP has risen in recent years. Not everyone is accepted, and 367 were rejected in fiscal year 2015, according to official data.

Rodríguez said that when she arrived in Venezuela in 2015, she was assigned to work with other Cuban medical personnel in the north central state of Falcon.

 “Everything in Venezuela is a lie,” she complained. “We were forced to throw away the reactive for CKMB (a type of blood test), a product that is scarce in Cuba. But we had to throw it away so that it would be marked in the books as having been used and Cuba could sell more. The same happened with the alcohol, bandage, medicines …  “Everything was produced in Cuba and paid for by the Venezuelan government,” Rodríguez said. “We faked lists of patients and were forced to live on nothing, while Cuba took all the money.”

During the time she worked in Venezuela, Cuban officials paid each medical professional about 3,000 bolivares (about $3) per month — an amount that has increased substantially recently because of an inflationary crisis and the relentless devaluation of the Venezuelan currency.

“Sometimes I had to do little jobs on the side to make ends meet,” she said. “Thank God that many Venezuelans take pity on the Cubans and help us.”  “Maybe what happened in my case was that when I decided to escape, I went to the municipality and told them everything about the disaster” at her clinic, she said. “And now they want to take revenge because I denounced them.”

Another Cuban doctor who works in the northeastern state of Anzoategui spoke on the condition of not being identified because of fear of being punished for speaking with a journalist.

“We started earning 3,000 bolivares and we’re now up to 15,000,” he said, or about $15 on the black market. “What’s interesting is that it makes no difference if they give us more bolivares because they are worthless in real life.”   “Our working conditions are horrible. We are salaried slaves of Cuba,” the doctor said. “They keep us in groups. Since I arrived, I live with three doctors from other parts of the island, so I have to share my room with someone I don’t know, and every day at 6 p.m. I have to ‘report’ that I am home.”

Officials of the Cuban medical teams in Venezuela justify the daily check-ins as a security measure due to the high levels of violence in the neighborhoods where they work. The doctors, however, see it as part of an effort to keep a close watch on them.

“There are many (Cuban) state security agents. Their job is to keep us from escaping,” said the doctor working in Anzoategui. “When you arrive in Venezuela, they ask you if you have relatives abroad, especially in the United States. We all say no, even if we do, because the surveillance is even worse then.”

The economy in Venezuela is so poor, he added, that returning from his last vacation in Cuba he had to carry back laundry and bathroom soap and toothpaste.

“When we first got here, this was paradise. They had everything we did not have in Cuba. Today it’s exactly the opposite,” he said. “We came thinking we would help our families, and it turns out they are the ones helping us. If it were not for the money that my brother in Miami sends me, I don’t know what I would do.”

Several other medical professionals in Venezuela also said that authorities try to hide cases when the Cubans become the victims of crimes, even when they are killed.

“You can’t avoid being robbed, because everyone gets robbed here. A stray bullet, a thug who doesn’t like you, we run all those risks,” said another Cuban doctor who also asked for anonymity. “One day I was mugged by two children, no more than 12 years old. I had to give them all my money because the pistols they were playing with were real.”

The personal relations of the Cuban medical personnel are also watched.

“They warn you that it can go badly for you if you have relations with Venezuelan government critics,” the female doctor said. And although intimate relations with Venezuelans are formally forbidden, “people find a way.”

During the 13 years that Cuba has been sending medical personnel to Venezuela, more than 124,000 have served in the South American country. Thousands have escaped to the United States and other countries, searching for better lives.

For many years, like Rodríguez, the medical defectors were banned from returning to Cuba for eight years. Last year, Cuba announced the defectors could return and would be guaranteed “a job similar to what they had before.”

But there was a catch: Those who returned would need a special permit to travel abroad again.

Venezuela's President Maduro speaks with Cuba's President Castro during their meeting in Havana

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LA UNIVERSIDAD DE LA HABANA, EN EL PUESTO 59 EN AMÉRICA LATINA

14ymedio, La Habana | Junio 16, 2016

zzzzCaptureThe QS University Rankings: Latin America 2016 – a ranking of the 300 top universities in the Latin American region.  The methodology can be viewed here.

Among the Top 100 Universities in Latin America:

  • Brazil has # 1, #2, and #5 and a total of 24;
  • Argentina, 20 in total;
  • Chile, # 3 and 15 in total;
  • Mexico, #4 and 14 in total;
  • Colombia, 12 in total;
  • Venezuela 4 in total
  • Peru, 3 in total., and
  • Cuba 1 in total

The complete rankings can be seen here: University Rankings: Latin America 2016

 Salen del listado el centro de Cienfuegos Carlos Rafael Rodríguez y la CUJAE zuniversidaddelahabanaafet3Universidad de La Habana, circa 1952

La Universidad de La Habana se sitúa en la posición 59 del listado de los 300 mejores centros de estudio de América Latina de este año elaborado por QS y publicado este martes. Pese a mejorar su posición en comparación con el año pasado, cuando se clasificó en el puesto 83, la institución académica se mantiene por debajo de los estándares de excelencia defendidos por las autoridades de la Isla.

Solo dos universidades del país han logrado colarse en el ránking, la otra es la de Santiago de Cuba, en el puesto 145, que empeora frente a 2015, cuando llegó a colocarse en el 141. Salieron del listado los centros de Cienfuegos Carlos Rafael Rodríguez y la José Antonio Echeverría – CUJAE, que el año pasado cerraban la clasificación (entre los puestos 250 y 300).

Entre los mayores problemas que señalan los estudiantes de la Universidad de La Habana se encuentra el deficiente acceso a internet. Cada alumno recibe una cuota de horas de navegación al mes, según el año de estudio que cursa, pero la baja velocidad de conexión y la antigüedad de las computadoras en la sala de información digital lastran la experiencia.

El listado, que se publica por sexto año consecutivo, se elabora a partir de cinco criterios principales: el impacto de la investigación y la productividad, el compromiso de los docentes, la capacidad de los diplomados para conseguir empleos, el impacto en internet y, por primera vez este año, se tomó en cuenta también la internacionalización.

Otros factores determinantes son, de acuerdo con los autores, la reputación académica del centro de estudio, la proporción de estudiantes por facultad. Aunque el QS University Rankings para América Latina es parte de la iniciativa global QS World University Rankings, los métodos de evaluación difieren según las distintas zonas del mundo para adaptarse al contexto regional.

Lidera la clasificación la Universidad de Sao Paulo, seguida por otro centro brasileño, el de Campinas, y por la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

zCuba-Nov-2008-041Alma Mater 1995, Photo by Arch Ritter

ztankThe Faculty of Law in Background, Photo by Arch Ritter, circa 1996

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FAR FROM SILICON VALLEY, CUBA CULTIVATES STARTUP SCENE

BY Leani García |

Americas Quarterly, June 15, 2016

Original Article Here: Cuba Cultivates Startup Scene

 Cuba’s startup community is developing despite a lack of funding, equipment or fast internet.

 zz wifi-hotspots zzCubans can access the internet at government-run wireless hotspots.

The barriers to founding a tech startup in Cuba are high. For starters, hardly anyone has access to internet connections faster than dial-up.

But that’s not stopping a generation of young entrepreneurs on the island, where a nascent tech community is challenging the idea that tech innovation has to come from places like Silicon Valley.

Two of those entrepreneurs, Eliecer Cabrera Casas and Pablo Rodríguez Yordy, spoke with AQ at a recent tech startup event in Miami about their experience founding the Yelp-like app Conoce Cuba.

“Cuba is an emerging market where there are a lot of opportunities and talented professionals,” Cabrera said.You can’t invest at the moment, but in a short amount of time conditions can change. We’re preparing the field for the future.”

In addition to the challenges that entrepreneurs face region-wide – from weak infrastructure to innovation-stifling corruption – Cubans like Cabrera face a number of unique obstacles to getting their ideas off the ground.

One of the first hurdles they face is funding. While bank lending on the island is increasing, it’s still not sufficient to meet the needs of the 500,000 registered self-employed Cubans. And having been excluded from Cuba’s recent foreign investment law, tech entrepreneurs don’t have a legal avenue to receive direct funding from foreign companies or investors. Instead, they rely on a combination of state salaries and family connections to support their ideas. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of Cuba’s small businesses are funded with remittances and family money, according to Sergio Lázaro, president of the Cuban software engineering startup Ingenius.

Then there’s web access. Cuba has the lowest internet penetration rate in the region, at just 3.4 percent for authorized households. For businesses like Ingenius, which specializes in cloud computing, the key is to make the most of limited time on the internet. Programmers connect just twice a day, once in the morning to download what they’re working on and again in the evening to push finished products to their clients.

The spotty internet can also create opportunities. Conoce Cuba, which functions as an offline app and website, was built as an upgrade to traditional phone books, one of the few ways to discover business and restaurants on the island. Because Cuba has limited internet and nearly non-existent 3G or 4G cell phone network coverage, the app was first distributed through a network of cell phone repair shops. The shops agreed to act as physical app stores where Cubans could download the latest version of Conoce Cuba.

“Now there are about 70 of these repair shops in Havana that can […] install or update [the app] for users for free,” Cabrera said.

Today, the Conoce Cuba app is also distributed through the paquete semanal — a digital selection of TV shows, movies, foreign newspapers and music known in the U.S. as the internet in a box because it can be downloaded and shared without an internet connection.

The company’s founders acknowledged the difficulties in coding software so smartphones function as if they’re on the web even while not being connected to the internet. But a bigger challenge has been a lack of access to hardware, in part because of the U.S. embargo.

“We weren’t able to see what we’d created come to fruition because we lacked the resources,” explained Rodríguez.

Like many Cubans, however, they said they found ways to resolver, or overcome. By borrowing devices from friends and the repair shops they used to distribute the app, or by purchasing them outside Cuba, Cabrera and Rodríguez found creative ways to test and distribute their product on the island. Now, the task is to convince business owners and consumers that their product deserves a look.

“We were doing something new that people had never seen before, we had to earn their trust,” Rodríguez said. “The biggest challenge for us, and for any entrepreneur in Cuba, is to change the Cuban mentality about how to consume a tech product.”

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More on: THE NORTH KOREA-CUBA CONNECTION

 Tuesday, June 7, 2016, North Korea Cuba Connection

By Samuel Ramani in The Diplomat:z Flag-Pins-North-Korea-CubaOn May 24, 2016, the Korea Times reported that senior officials from North Korea’s governing Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the Communist Party of Cuba held talks on strengthening ties between Pyongyang and Havana. This meeting followed Cuba’s congratulatory rhetoric toward Kim Jong-un after his re-election during last month’s historic Workers’ Party Congress. That congress was the first such-meeting since 1980.

While relations between North Korea and Cuba have been close since the Cold War, this revelation is an embarrassing blow to the Obama administration’s attempts to normalize relations with Cuba. North Korea’s close ties to Cuba can be explained by a shared normative solidarity against American values and perceived American imperialism. This ideological bond is formed out of historical experience and has occasionally manifested itself in symbolically significant shipments of arms and manufactured goods. These trade linkages persist to this day, despite tightened UN sanctions and strides towards a less confrontational U.S.-Cuba relationship.

North Korea and Cuba: A Cold War-Born Ideological Alliance

Over the past half-century, Cuba has been one of North Korea’s most consistent international allies. This alliance has caused Havana to resist diplomatically recognizing South Korea, despite growing economic cooperation with Seoul. Cuba’s firm pro-Pyongyang stance has deep ideological underpinnings, stemming from both countries’ shared Communist experiences. In 1960, Che Guevara visited North Korea, praising Kim Il-sung’s regime as a model for Fidel Castro’s Cuba to follow.

While both regimes preserved authoritarian systems and the trappings of a planned economy, their ideological synergy did not translate into convergent governance trajectories, as Guevara predicted. As Wilson Center expert James Person argued in a July 2013 BBC article, North Korea wanted to avoid Cuba’s dependency on Soviet weaponry following Khrushchev’s retreat from confrontation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This resulted in North Korea transitioning toward a military-first policy, to the detriment of the country’s economic development. Meanwhile, despite visiting North Korea in 1986, Fidel Castro avoided creating a cult of personality resembling Pyongyang’s, as he felt that statues erected in his honor were incompatible with the Soviet Marxist-Leninist principles that he adhered to.

Despite their divergent development courses, both countries have remained close allies to this day, and there are signs that the bilateral relationship has strengthened further under Raul Castro’s rule. Panama’s interception of a North Korean ship in 2013 containing Cuban arms concealed under bags of sugar represented the most significant Havana-Pyongyang commercial linkage since the 1980s. Despite Cuban attempts to downplay the controversy, Panama’s foreign minister regarded this action as just part of a much larger Cuba-North Korea arms deal. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, also condemned Cuba for violating international sanctions.

The U.S.-Cuba normalization has done little to shake Cuba’s close ties with North Korea. In March 2015, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez declared that Cuba maintained solidarity with the North Korean regime, despite Pyongyang’s increased international isolation. Rodriguez justified his stance on the grounds that Cuban foreign policy is based on upholding just principles and resisting Western interference into the internal affairs of countries.

While leading North Korea expert Andrei Lankov interpreted these statements as proof that Cuba’s criticisms of U.S. imperialism would continue unabated despite the normalization, some NK News analysts have contended that Cuba’s show of support for North Korea may be more rhetorical than substantive. Cuba is mentioned only sporadically by the North Korean state media, and in a limited range of contexts. This suggests that the Obama administration’s Republican critics may have overblown the strength of the Havana-Pyongyang bilateral linkage.

Even if the extent of the relationship has been periodically exaggerated, Cuba’s September 2015 and May 2016 reaffirmations of an alliance with North Korea suggest that the ideological partnership remains alive and well. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s visit to Cuba for the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) summit on June 4 and Seoul’s open calls for normalization with Cuba are unlikely to cause illicit trade between Cuba and North Korea to diminish or become more covert. This is because the symbolic significance of arms shipments and small-scale trade deals between the two countries still outweighs the economic benefits Cuba could glean from enhanced South Korean capital investments.

How Illegal Trade Persists Between Cuba and North Korea

Despite the immense international controversy resulting from Cuba’s 2013 arms sales to North Korea, sporadic trade linkages between the two countries have continued largely unhindered. In January 2016, Cuba and North Korea developed a barter trade system, which officially involved transactions of sugar and railway equipment.

According to Curtis Melvin, an expert at the Washington D.C.-based U.S. Korea Institute, barter trade is an effective way for Cuba and North Korea to evade international sanctions without depleting their hard currency reserves. Cuba’s use of sugar as a medium of bilateral trade has close parallels with Myanmar’s historical use of rice in exchange for North Korean military technology assistance. This form of trade has been vital for the North Korean regime’s survival in wake of the Soviet collapse and more inconsistent patronage from China.

While Cuba’s ability to use North Korean railway equipment remains unclear, NK News reported in January that Kim Jong-un was planning to modernize the DPRK’s railway networks, This development initiative could result in heavy industry production that can be bartered to Havana.

While trade in civilian goods between Cuba and North Korea appears to be on the upswing, trade in illicit arms continues to be the most symbolically potent and controversial form of bilateral trade. A 2013 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report noted that a large number of North Korean arms brokers speak fluent Spanish. This language training demonstrates the importance of Cuba as a trade destination for the DPRK. The SIPRI report notes that Cuban arms dealers are especially attractive because they can deal with North Korea with a sense of impunity. This contrasts sharply with a British arms dealer who faced prison time in 2012 for purchasing North Korean weapons.

While the 2013 incident remains the most recent confirmed incident of weapons trading between Havana and Pyongyang, recent revelations of a lost U.S. Hellfire missile turning up in Cuba have sparked fresh concerns about a revival of the long-standing arms trade.

Cuba has consistently insisted that its arm shipments to the DPRK are for repair purposes, and therefore do not violate sanctions, which only ban one-way arms transfers. But Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal recently speculated that Cuba’s intelligence sharing and close cooperation with the DPRK constituted a highly pernicious blow to the prospects of U.S.-Cuba normalization.

While the Obama administration has removed Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list and taken a big stride toward lifting the Kennedy-era embargo on Cuba, Havana’s continued cooperation with Pyongyang is an alarming blow to the normalization process. The current linkage between anti-Americanism and the Cuban Communist Party’s regime security makes a shift in Havana’s North Korea policy unlikely in the short-term. It remains to be seen if Castro’s planned retirement in 2018 will take Cuban foreign policy in a more pragmatic direction, and allow South Korean diplomatic overtures to finally be successful.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzCaptureVice President Miguel Diaz-Canel meet with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang over  the world’s widest conference table.

zzzzzzzzzzCapture Jong Un posed for a photo with a Cuban delegation, led by Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez (third left)

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