• 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.

The Economist: “FIDEL’S LAST STAND”

The Economist, April 29, 2016

Original Article: Fidel’s Last Stand

WHEN Fidel Castro made a brief appearance at the Cuban Communist Party’s seventh congress on April 19th he was greeted with prolonged applause. “Well, let’s move to another subject,” he eventually said, his stentorian voice distorted by age. It was a joke. But he might as well have been turning the page on the historic visit to Havana by Barack Obama in March and the expectations it generated among Cubans of speedy changes. Having reminded his audience that he would soon turn 90 and that death comes to all, Fidel went on: “The ideas of Cuban communists will endure.”

No serious student of Cuba imagined that Mr Obama’s visit and his televised call for free elections would prompt overnight change. But the party congress proved to be a disappointment even by the cautious standards of the reforms that Raúl Castro, Fidel’s slightly younger brother, has set in train since he took over as president in 2008.

The stasis was symbolised by the retention as second party secretary (behind only Raúl) of José Ramón Machado Ventura, an 85-year-old Stalinist ideological enforcer. Even officials had hinted that his powerful post might be passed to Miguel Díaz-Canel (56), the vice-president and Raúl’s putative successor as president in 2018. Five new, youngish members joined the politburo, but none is known to be a reformer. Earlier hopes in Havana that the congress might approve an electoral reform and a bigger role for the rubber-stamp parliament were dashed.

Raúl Castro devoted part of his opening report to the congress to answering Mr Obama. Complaining of a “perverse strategy of political-ideological subversion”—a reference to Mr Obama’s call for the empowerment of Cuba’s small businesses and incipient civil society—Raúl told the delegates that “we must reinforce anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist culture among ourselves.” As for free elections, he twice insisted: “If they manage some day to fragment us, it would be the beginning of the end…of the revolution, socialism and national independence.”

He insisted that the “updating” of Cuba’s economy, to give a bigger role to the non-state sector and remove distortions and subsidies, would continue “without haste but without pause”. In fact, the reforms have all but halted: of the 313 “guidelines” approved at the previous congress in 2011, only 21% have been fully implemented. The government recently reintroduced price caps on some foodstuffs.

Days before the congress Omar Everleny Pérez, the most prominent of the reformist economists advising Raúl, was sacked from his post at the University of Havana. His alleged fault had been to share information with American academics. Mr Pérez has often called for the reforms to go faster.

One hypothesis is that Raúl can afford to move more slowly because of the injection of dollars from Mr Obama’s loosening of restrictions on tourism, remittances and investment. That may be true in the short term. But Raúl himself offered a withering critique of Cuba’s underlying problems, criticising “out-of-date mentalities”, “a complete lack of a sense of urgency” in implementing change and the “damaging effects of egalitarianism” in failing to reward work or initiative. He lamented the economy’s inability to raise wages, which “are still unable to satisfy the basic needs of Cuban families”.

So what explains Raúl’s caution? He said that he had joked with American officials that “If we were to have two parties in Cuba, Fidel would head one and I the other.” Joking apart, that rings true. Many of the Communist Party’s 670,000 members are terrified of change, fearing the loss of security, perks and privileges. They see Mr Obama’s opening to Cuba as an existential threat. Fidel is their reference point. He acts as a brake on reform.

What Raúl, in his neat and tidy way, is doing is to institutionalise the Cuban system, which long depended on Fidel’s whims. He has set out a gradual process of transition to a post-Castro leadership. He is no liberal democrat: he praises the balance between state planning and the market in China and Vietnam. He has initiated both a “conceptualisation” of Cuba’s socioeconomic model and a revision of the constitution to incorporate his reforms. These will be the Castro brothers’ political testament.

But Raúl, unlike Fidel, is a realist. He knows that the system does not work and that the steps he has taken, especially the opening to the United States, have unleashed expectations of change and a better standard of living. Cuban society is evolving fast, even as the political leadership remains as stodgy as a government-supplied lunch. In the medium term, something will have to give.

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CUBA: RAÚL CLARIFIES THE LACK OF CLARITY ON FUTURE

By Fulton Armstrong

AULA Blog, April 21, 2016

Original Article: Clarity on Lack of Clarity

The report that Cuban President Raúl Castro delivered to the 7th Party Congress last weekend walked a tightrope between pressing harder for change – embracing the importance of the small, emerging private sector – and reassuring party conservatives that the basic tenets of the revolution will not be touched.  He reiterated his commitment to step down in 2018 and promote younger cadre, but he left unclear what he proposes the Cuban system look like in the future.  He defended his decision to normalize relations with the United States, but used Washington’s continuation of the embargo and “democracy promotion” and immigration policies as a rationale for not letting down the Party’s guard.  Among key points:

On Conceptualización.  Castro said this Congress was basically to give “confirmation and continuity” to policies set five years ago to update Cuba’s economic and social model,  but it kicks off a process of consensus-building around a conceptualización, which he said “outlines the theoretical bases and essential characteristics of the economic and social model that we aim for as result of the updating process.”  Private property is a major topic, and Raúl sought to reassure the party that respect for it does not mean – “in the slightest bit” – a return to capitalism.

On reforms approved previously.  The road has been difficult, he said, held back by “an obsolete mentality that gives rise to an attitude of inertia and an absence of confidence in the future.”  He referred to the foot-draggers as “having feelings of nostalgia for other, less-complicated moments in the revolutionary process,” such as when the USSR and socialist camp existed.  But he insisted that the reforms have continued advancing at a steady pace – “without hurry but without pause.”

On upcoming reforms.  Castro talked more about what will not happen rather than any new vision.  He firmly ruled out “shock therapies,” and he said that “neoliberal formulas” to privatize state assets and health, education, and social security services “will never be applied in Cuban socialism.”  Economic policies can in no case break with the “ideals of equality and justice of the revolution.”  But he confirmed that one of the potentially most disruptive reforms – unifying currencies and exchange rates – must be done as soon as possible to resolve and many distortions.  On foreign investment, he called on the party “to leave behind archaic prejudices about foreign investment and to continue to advance resolutely in preparing, designing, and establishing new businesses.”

On Cuba’s economic model.  Castro acknowledged “the introduction of the rules of supply and demand” and claimed they didn’t contradict the principle of planning, citing the examples of China and Vietnam.  “Recognizing [the role of] the market in the functioning of our socialist economy,” Castro said, does not imply that the party, government, and mass organizations stand by and watch abuses occur.

On private and state enterprises.  He said the “non-state sector” – which includes “medium, small, and micro-enterprises” – is providing very important goods and services, and expressed hope for its success.  This sector will continue to grow, he said, “within well-defined limits and [will] constitute a complementary element of the country’s economic framework.”  Castro also called for greater reform efforts to strengthen the role of – and, simultaneously, the autonomy of – state companies, telling managers to overcome “the habit of waiting for instructions from above.”    He noted that the creation of cooperatives outside agriculture “continues in its experimental phase,” with some achievements and shortfalls.

On U.S. policies and intentions.  Castro criticized Washington’s efforts to drive political change in Cuba, which he called “a perverse strategy of political-ideological subversion against the very essence of the revolution and Cuban culture, history, and values.”  He said, “We are neither naive nor ignorant of the desires of powerful external forces that are betting on what they call the ‘empowerment’ of non-state forms of management as a way of generating agents of change in hopes of ending the revolution and socialism in Cuba by other means.” Castro said that U.S. officials recognize the failure of past policy toward Cuba but “do not hide that the goals remain the same and only the means are being modified.”

Rhetoric about forever rejecting capitalism (and multi-party democracy) is standard, especially for a Party event meant to assuage anxieties of conservative factions reluctant to give up their familiar, if failed, models.  The re-election of 85-year-old Vice President Machado Ventura is another sop to the aging right as the country inches each day to its biologically imposed transition, as Fidel Castro made explicit in his closing remarks.  The pace of change in Washington is also slow in some areas, particularly the embargo and the Administration’s “democracy promotion” strategies,  but pro-normalization voices cannot be faulted for lamenting that Cuba could more effectively influence U.S. policy through simple regulatory measures encouraging business deals that will give momentum to embargo-lifting initiatives in the U.S. Congress.  All politics is local, however, and both governments seem content holding off on changing their paradigms for now.

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ALABAMA COMPANY SAYS CUBA NEEDS ITS TRACTORS, BUT APPROVAL POCESS IS SLOW

By Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald, 26 April 2016

Original Article: Alabama Tractors in Cuba?

An Alabama tractor company angling to become the first American business in more than a half century to set up manufacturing operations in Cuba is about midway through the approval process.

Cleber, based in Paint Rock, Alabama, outside Huntsville, wants to assemble small tractors in Cuba’s Mariel Special Economic Development Zone for use in Cuba and beyond. The simple tractor model that Cleber wants to produce is called Oggún in homage to the Santeria god of iron, tools and weapons, and it’s designed for small-scale farming.

Cleber is the first U.S. company to receive permission from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Commerce Department for a manufacturing project on the island since the Dec. 17, 2014 rapprochement between the two countries.

When President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March, he said that Cleber “will be the first U.S. company to build a factory here in more than 50 years.”

But Saul Berenthal, a Cuban-American who is a co-founder of the company and its chief operating officer, said it’s not a done deal yet. The Cubans still haven’t given final approval for the project. “I’d say we’re in the middle of the process,” Berenthal said. “Nothing is done until the fat lady sings.” I’d say we’re in the middle of the process. Nothing is done until the fat lady sings.

As overtures to Cuba by American businesses have picked up since the thaw, Berenthal said, “There are a lot of people in Cuba who are very busy and that tends to slow things down.” All documents and manuals also must be translated into Spanish, he said, and there’s plenty of other red tape.

But Berenthal, who was in Cuba two weeks ago for more talks, said he’s hopeful Cuban approval could come within the next 90 days. Cleber has been told it will take about six months to get a factory up and running. Initially, Cleber plans to have 10 employees and expects to add two more people annually as production ramps up.

From just serving the Cuban market, Cleber would like to eventually expand and export to other Central American and South American markets covered by Cuban trade agreements.

Berenthal and co-founder Horace Clemmons set up Cleber shortly after the rapprochement was announced with the idea of producing small-scale tractors particularly suited for the Cuban market.

Many Cuban campesinos still use livestock in the fields or aging tractors, Berenthal said. There are about 60,000 tractors in use in Cuba today, but many of them are from the 1980s, and 500 to 1,000 are lost every year because they are cannibalized for parts or simply stop working, he said.

The simple design of the Oggún, which uses parts that are widely available, also is in keeping with more sustainable agriculture.Cuba began a transition to more sustainable agricultural practices in the 1990s because it didn’t have much choice after the collapse of its benefactor, the old Soviet Union. With supplies of pesticides, fertilizers and oil scarce, Cuba began breaking up large state farms and Cuban producers began turning to organic farming techniques. But production has fallen.

Getting food production back on track is a Cuban priority. “Cuba’s mission is to be able to replace $2 billion in agricultural imports,” Berenthal said. “There’s also the pressure for more food from the tourism industry, which is increasing tremendously.”

“Not often in life do we get the opportunity, through simple efforts on our part, to make a difference in the lives of many. This venture represents that opportunity, to show the Cuban people the benefits of expanded commerce opportunities with the United States,” Clemmons said.

Even though new rules by the Obama administration make it easier to trade with and do business with Cuba, the embargo is still in effect and some U.S. projects require special approvals.

“There will be opportunities in Cuba. There are few places in the world with a real white space,” said Maguerite Fitzgerald, a partner at The Boston Consulting Group. But doing business with Cuba, she added, “isn’t a fast game or one that’s played with traditional rules.”

Berenthal said Cleber is prepared to let the Cuban approval process run its course. But if it drags on too long, Cleber plans to begin assembling Oggún tractors in Alabama and taking orders.

“We’re going to build tractors. We’d like to do it in Cuba,” he said. Cleber thinks Cuba’s Special Economic Development Zone, a 180-square-mile complex under development 28 miles west of Havana, is the place to do it. The Mariel zone wants to attract foreign investment in clean, sustainable projects with export potential.

Farmer Ploughing Field with Oxen

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The New Tractor: Appropriately Small-scale for Small Farms?

 

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Carmelo Mesa-Lago ¿UN PASO ADELANTE O HACIA ATRÁS?

El VII Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba no ha impulsado la apertura esperada tras la visita de Obama a la isla. Raúl Castro ha apostado por la continuidad y sembrado dudas sobre la mejora económica y el bienestar ciudadano

Carmelo Mesa-Lago

EL PAÍS, 21 ABR 2016 – 18:00 EDT

Contrariamente a lo que se esperaba, el recién concluido VII Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) básicamente ha mantenido el statu quo. Hubo escasísima información y ningún debate antes del evento; unos 4.700 conocían los proyectos, 0,7% de los miembros del partido. En el Congreso hubo 8.800 propuestas.

En contraste, el debate de los “Lineamientos” antes del VI Congreso en 2011 envolvió a 8,9 millones de participantes con tres millones de propuestas. Se alegó que el VII Congreso era un seguimiento del anterior y no requería otra discusión masiva aunque solo se han implementado 21% de los 313 “Lineamientos”.

Un avance fue el rejuvenecimiento del Comité Central: de sus 142 miembros, más del 66% nació después de 1959; los 55 nuevos miembros del Comité son todos menores de 60 años, así como

Tres mujeres y dos afrocubanos fueron incorporados al Buró. Aun así, solo 23% de sus miembros son mujeres —la mitad de la población— y 29% son afrocubanos que constituyen el 36%. Empero, en el Comité Central la participación femenina creció hasta el 44% y la de los afrocubanos al 36%.

Raúl Castro recomendó que la fecha tope de ingreso al Comité Central sea de 60 años y de 70 para cargos en el PCC, medida que debe ser debatida y ratificada antes del próximo Congreso en 2021, tres años después de jubilarse Raúl. Este afirmó: “En el 2018 concluirá mi segundo mandato consecutivo como presidente de los Consejos de Estado y de Ministros y cederé estas responsabilidades a quien sea elegido”.

El sector estatal mermó de 81% a 71% en el periodo 2010-2015, mientras que el sector privado y cooperativo se expandió. Raúl enfatizó que estas formas no son anti-socialistas ni implican una vuelta al capitalismo, pero apuntó “corrupción e ilegalidades, evasión de tributos y ejercicio ilegal de actividades no permitidas”, con el riesgo que concentren la propiedad y la riqueza, por lo que habrá que imponerles “límites bien definidos”.

Según Raúl Castro, las fuerzas de la oferta y la demanda no están reñidas con la planificación central; ambas pueden convivir como en las exitosas reformas de China y Vietnam, aunque Cuba las llama “actualización” porque no cambiará “el objetivo fundamental de la Revolución”.

Al ritmo de implementación de los Lineamientos en el pasado lustro, costará 23 años implantar el resto. El Plan de Desarrollo hasta 2030 no se terminó y se acordó posponerlo a 2017. Tras ocho versiones de la “conceptualización del modelo económico”, el Congreso preparó una propuesta para ser consultada por la militancia del Partido y de la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas con un plazo que se extiende hasta 2021. La unidad de la doble moneda, debatida durante cinco años, sigue pendiente. “No quedará para las calendas griegas”, dijo Raúl. En los dos años de la Zona de Mariel ha habido 400 proyectos de inversión, solo se han aceptado 11; a ese ritmo costará 72 años aprobar el resto.

Los más altos dirigentes del Buró (la mayoría octogenaria o septuagenaria) se afincan en sus puestos y posponen su renovación. Reelegidos son: Raúl (84) primer secretario, lo que permite su continuidad hasta 2021; Machado Ventura (85), uno de los ortodoxos más fuertes, segundo secretario; Esteban Lazo (72), Salvador Valdés (70) y Leopoldo Frías (74). Miguel Díaz-Canel, Bruno Rodríguez y Marino Murillo, que tienen 55-56 años, ya estaban en esos puestos.

El partido único —ratificó Raúl— continuará siendo “la fuerza dirigente superior de la sociedad y el Estado”. Se nos ataca y exige, “desde casi todas partes del planeta, para debilitarnos, que nos dividamos en varios partidos en nombre de la democracia burguesa; ni hoy ni nunca. Si lograran algún día fragmentarnos sería el comienzo del fin”.

Raúl Castro, Mariano Murillo y otros dirigentes han ratificado “el predominio de la propiedad de todo el pueblo” (estatal) sobre los medios fundamentales de producción, así como del plan sobre el mercado. Aunque hace cinco años comenzaron las cooperativas de producción no agrícola y de servicios, continúa su carácter “experimental”, se ha paralizado su creación para concentrase en las establecidas, debido a sus deficiencias y el precario acceso a insumos del mercado mayorista.

El aumento de precios de los alimentos por las ganancias de los intermediarios ha causado disgusto en la población y forzado el aumento del acopio y la fijación del tope a precios en los mercados estatales, desandando avances previos.

El sector no estatal desempeña un papel complementario al estatal, pero hay que limitarlo para evitar la concentración de la propiedad y la riqueza, como la cantidad de hectáreas de tierra que pueden tenerse, el número de locales arrendados, y que una empresa estatal rija los precios de su actividad.

¿Por qué no se avanzó en el VII Congreso de la misma manera que en el VI? Una posible razón es que la visita de Obama generó apoyo en la población y una dinámica de cambio para la que no estaba preparado el Gobierno. Contrario a la idea de que esto impulsaría las reformas estructurales, los que se oponen a ellas han reforzado sus argumentos sobre los graves riesgos que conllevan en un momento ideológico-político difícil.

En esto abundó Raúl: “Las relaciones entre Cuba y Estados Unidos imponen elevados desafíos al trabajo ideológico con programas dirigidos hacia los sectores que el enemigo identifica como los más vulnerables y abarca a los jóvenes, la intelectualidad, los trabajadores en formas no estatales de gestión”. Agregó que recientemente ha ocurrido “un crecimiento de las acciones enfiladas a fomentar valores de la sociedad de consumo: la división, la apatía, el desaliento, el desarraigo y la falta de confianza en la dirección de la Revolución y el Partido”.

Seguidamente se refirió a “las acciones dirigidas a introducir plataformas de pensamiento neoliberal y de restauración capitalista apoyadas por una perversa estrategia de subversión político-ideológica que atenta contra las esencias mismas de la Revolución”. Estados Unidos ha cambiado la estrategia anterior de hostilidad “por otros métodos más difíciles de combatir”. Esto último alude al discurso de Obama al pueblo cubano en que aseguró que EE UU no intervendría en la isla y que era el pueblo quien debía decidir su futuro, a la par que estaría dispuesto a ayudar en lo que se solicitase.

El Congreso apostó por la continuidad y, aunque hubo algunos avances, se caracterizó por el estancamiento e incluso algunos retrocesos. Hay que preguntarse si esto ayudará a la economía, al bienestar de los ciudadanos y al proceso de normalización con Estados Unidos.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago es catedrático distinguido emérito de Economía y Estudios Latinoamericanos en la Universidad de Pittsburgh.

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UPDATING THE PARTY: CUBA’S NEW (AND NOT SO NEW) LEADERS

Original Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-m-leogrande/updating-the-party-cubas_b_9766014.html

By William M. LeoGrande, Professor, American University in Washington, D.C.

Huffington Post, April 24, 2016

Alluding to his own mortality, Fidel Castro told the delegates to the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party he founded that this would probably be his last speech to such a gathering. When the members of the new Central Committee were announced the following day, Fidel was not among them. Generational succession is high on the agenda of Cuba’s leadership, still dominated at the highest level by “los historicos“ — the generation that fought together against the Batista dictatorship and founded the revolutionary regime.

At the previous Party Congress in 2011, Raúl Castro emphasized the need to build a contingent of experienced young men and women for the inevitable succession. To ease out the old guard, he introduced term limits for top government and party positions — no more than two five-year terms — and pledged to abide by the limit himself by stepping down as president in 2018.

At the Congress this month, Raúl reiterated the importance of rejuvenating the party. An aged leadership was “never positive,” he said, reminding listeners that three leaders of the Soviet Communist Party died within months of one another a few years before it collapsed. Henceforth, Castro proposed, 60 would be the maximum age for admission to the Central Committee, and 70 would be the maximum age for assuming any leadership position. Nevertheless, renovating the leadership will involve a “five-year period of transition to avoid doing things in haste,” Castro explained, echoing his watchword for updating the economy: “without haste, but without pause.”

The blend of old and young was visible in the new Political Bureau. Only two of the fourteen members in the old body were dropped — General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, who retired as minister of the Interior in October 2015 because of ill-health, and Adel Yzquierdo Rodríguez, who was removed as Minister of Economy and Planning in 2014. José Ramón Machado Ventura, the architect of the party apparatus over preceding decades, retained his post as second secretary despite the fact that he is widely seen as a conservative, skeptical of economic reform. In 2013, Machado stepped down as first vice-president of the Council of State, replaced by heir apparent Miguel Díaz-Canel. Machado’s retention as party second secretary suggests that Raúl Castro is intent on maintaining unity at the top — despite differences in opinion — as the party navigates the politically treacherous waters of economic change.

Five new young members were added and their professions signal the issues the leadership sees as critical going forward. Three are technocrats: one is minister of Health, one works in biotechnology, and one works in information technology — all high value-added fields that Cuba hopes will form the foundation for its 21st Century economy. The other two new members are the leaders of the trade union federation and the women’s federation, organizations that, between them, comprise almost all Cuban adults. The inclusion of these two leaders speaks to the party’s need to keep ears to the ground for early warning signs of grassroots discontent unleashed by the economic reforms. y   yy The composition of the new Central Committee also suggests how the leadership is preparing its team for the future. Twenty-five percent of the old committee was dropped, but the membership was expanded from 116 to 142 to accommodate the addition of 55 younger members, all below the age of 60, bringing the average age of the body down to 54.5 — younger than the committee elected in 2011. The new committee is also 44.4% women, up from 41.7% in 2011 and just 13.3% in 1997; and 35.9% Afro-Cuba, up from 31.3% in 2011 and just 10.0% in 1997.

The Central Committee of the party represents an extended leadership group, the members of which typically hold other important posts in various state institutions. The relative bureaucratic influence of those institutions can be seen in the Central Committee’s changing composition. The biggest increase in representation in the new committee is for government officials working in economic and scientific fields (Table 1). They represent 23.2% of the new Central Committee, up from just 19.8% in the 2011 committee. Presumably, these people are more technocratically minded, and more likely to support economic reform. Representation of the party apparatus increased only slightly, to 32.4% of the committee, up from 31.0% in 2011.

Contrary to pundits who insist that the Cuban regime is really run by the military, the armed forces and police were the big losers in the renovation of the Central Committee. Even though the committee expanded from 116 to 142 members, the number of military and security officials fell in absolute terms. They comprise just 9.2% of the membership, down from 13.8% in 2011. Moreover, the long term trend in the number of active duty military and security officials in the Central Committee has been downward ever since 1965 (Figure).

Fidel Castro wasn’t the only prominent Castro not included in the new Central Committee. Neither Raúl’s son, Col. Alejandro Castro, who negotiated the December 17 agreement to normalize relations with the United States, nor Raúl’s daughter, LGBT activist Mariela Castro, were included. Their absence was, no doubt, a disappointment to opponents of the U.S. opening to Cuba who have been predicting that Alejandro would succeed his father, thereby consolidating a Castro family dynasty — North Korea in the Caribbean.

The new Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party reflects the priorities and style of its First Secretary. The party itself maintains the leading role, but the committee has a more technocratic tilt, positioning it for the complex economic tasks ahead. It combines a large new cohort of younger members, while retaining a core of experienced elders to smooth the generational transition. The increased representation of women and Afro-Cubans reflects their important role in society and politics, connecting the party to these key constituencies. In short, the new leadership exemplifies a party updating itself for the future without renouncing its past. yyy yyyyy yyyyyy

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ONE OF CUBA’S MOST RENOWNED ADVOCATES OF ECONOMIC REFORM HAS BEEN FIRED FROM HIS UNIVERSITY OF HAVANA THINK TANK FOR SHARING INFORMATION WITH AMERICANS WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION, AMONG OTHER ALLEGED VIOLATIONS

Associated Press, April 21 2016

Original Article: Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva Fired

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press

zzzDr. Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva

HAVANA (AP) — One of Cuba’s most renowned advocates of economic reform has been fired from his University of Havana think tank for sharing information with Americans without authorization, among other alleged violations.

The dismissal of Omar Everleny Perez adds to a chillier mood that has settled over much of Cuba as the country’s leaders try to quash the jubilation that greeted President Barack Obama’s historic trip to the island last month.

The Cuban Communist Party’s twice-a-decade Congress ended Tuesday after four days of officials issuing tough warnings about the need to maintain a defensive stance against what they called the United States’ continuing imperialist aspirations. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez described Obama’s visit as an “attack on the foundation of our political ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols.” President Raul Castro described the U.S. as an “enemy” seeking to seduce vulnerable sectors of society, including intellectuals and members of Cuba’s new private sector.

While that was going on, Cuban academics began sharing the news that Perez had been dismissed from his post at the Center for Studies of the Cuban Economy on April 8, less than three weeks after Obama’s visit.

Perez is one of the country’s best-known academics, an expert in developing economies who served as a consultant for Castro’s government when it launched a series of market-oriented economic reforms after he took over from his brother Fidel in 2008. Perez made dozens of trips to universities and conferences in the U.S. with university approval and frequently received foreign visitors researching the Cuban economy.

Reached by The Associated Press on Wednesday, Perez confirmed his dismissal by center director Humberto Blanco for having unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions and informing “North American representatives” about the internal procedures of the university.

The dismissal letter described Perez, 56, as “irresponsible” and “negligent” for continuing to engage in unauthorized activity after warnings from his superiors. It also accused him of receiving unauthorized payments for a study of the South Korean economy and said he was barred from returning to work for at least four years.

Perez said he had appealed his dismissal, and believes Cuban authorities were seeking to make an example of him — not because of the allegations in the letter, but because of his critical writings about the slow pace of economic reforms.

“Sometimes they don’t like what you write or think,” he told the AP.

Cuban government representatives did not respond to request for comment on Perez’s dismissal.

Perez was one of the first state economists to begin publishing in non-government publications, including several run by the Catholic Church. In 2010, he became a key consultant in reforms implemented by Raul Castro that include the legalization of hundreds of new types of private businesses, a loosening of restrictions on foreign investment, the opening of a real estate market and the handing of unused agricultural land to small farmers.

“I’m still a revolutionary and a nationalist and I believe in many of the reforms that Raul Castro is undertaking,” he said.

Cuba’s system is based on the communist government’s total oversight of virtually all elements of society, including the press, arts and academia.

While room for debate has grown somewhat under Raul Castro, and Cubans openly criticize the government in private conversations, intellectuals who publicly offend official sensibilities have found themselves losing their state jobs and other privileges.

“His call to speed up the reforms and make them coherent may have served to frighten some of the forces of immobility in the bureaucracy,” said Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban political scientist based at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico. “It’s a terrible message to economists that will affect the government’s own capacity to hear feedback about its reforms.”

Political scientist Esteban Morales was expelled from the Communist Party in 2010 for two years for denouncing corruption. Sociologist Roberto Zurbano lost his job at a state cultural center after discussing racism in Cuba in an editorial published in The New York Times. In 2013, musician Roberto Carcasses was temporarily barred from cultural institutions after criticizing the government during a concert, and director Juan Carlos Cremata was prevented last year from putting on a production of Eugene Ionesco’s “Exit the King,” a play about a once-powerful dying leader.

Pavel Vidal, a former colleague of Perez now working in Colombia, said the University of Havana was taking limits on academic work to an extreme.

“The public work of academics has been coming under increasingly greater control,” he said, even as Castro’s reforms make it more urgent for the country to have “new ideas and an open and honest debate about the future of the country.”

 

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UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL TRADE COMMISSION, OVERVIEW OF CUBAN IMPORTS OF GOODS AND SERVICES AND EFFECTS OF U.S. RESTRICTIONS

March 2016 Publication Number: 4597 Investigation Number: 332-552

Complete document is here:  US Exports to Cuba after the Embargo is Lifted

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Executive Summary

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 2 Cuban Imports of Goods and Services

Chapter 3 Current U.S. Restrictions on Trade with and Travel to Cuba and Their Effects on Cuban Imports of U.S. Goods and Services

Chapter 4 Possible Cuban Barriers to U.S. Exports and Investment in the Absence of U.S. Restrictions .

Chapter 5 Agricultural Products

Chapter 6 Manufactured Products

Chapter 7 Services

Chapter 8 Modeling the Effects of U.S. Restrictions and Cuban Barriers on U.S. Exports to Cuba

 Appendix A Request Letters

Appendix B Federal Register Notices

Appendix C Hearing Calendar

Appendix D Written Submissions

Appendix E List of Authorized Cuentapropistas

Appendix F Regulatory and Legislative Framework of the U.S. Restrictions on Trade with and Travel to Cuba

Appendix G Cuban Intellectual Property Laws

Appendix H HS Codes Contained in Each Sector

Appendix I Description of Empirical Methodology

Appendix J Tables to Support Figures

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CUBA’S AGING LEADERS TO REMAIN IN POWER YEARS LONGER

zzqqFidel Castro is applauded by his brother, Cuba’s President Raul Castro, right, and the second secretary of the Central Committee, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, left, during the closing ceremonies for the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 19, 2016.)

By Michael Weissenstein | AP April 20, 2016

Original article: Cuba’s Gerontocracy Continues

 HAVANA — The former guerrilla fighters who founded Cuba’s single-party government will hold power for years to come after a twice-a-decade Communist Party congress kept President Raul Castro and his hardline deputy in the top leadership positions.

Fidel Castro, who held power for nearly five decades before ill health led him to make way for his brother, delivered a valedictory speech to the congress Tuesday and called on it to fight for his communist ideals despite the fact that he is nearing the end of his life.

“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Castro said in his most extensive public appearance in years. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without a truce to obtain them.”

Raul Castro, 84, said he would remain the party’s first secretary and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 85, would hold the post of second secretary for at least part of a second five-year term.

Castro currently is both president and party first secretary. The decision means he could hold a Communist Party position at least as powerful as the presidency even after he is presumably replaced by a younger president in 2018. Castro indicated that he and Machado may also step down before the next congress in 2021, saying this year’s session was the last to be led by Cuba’s revolutionary generation.

Machado Ventura, who fought alongside the Castro brothers to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, is known as an enforcer of Communist Party orthodoxy and voice against some of the biggest recent economic reforms.

Despite the ascension of five younger party officials, including three women, to the party’s powerful 17-member Political Bureau, the day’s events disappointed many Cubans who had been hoping for bigger changes at the top of the single-party state.

“I would have liked younger people with fresh minds,” said Luis Lai, a 31-year-old printing-company worker. “The same party, but able to articulate ideas of people of my generation. Older people should retire.”

Fifty-five years after Fidel Castro began installing a single-party system and centrally planned economy, younger Cubans complain bitterly about low state salaries of about $25 a month that leave them struggling to afford food and other staple goods. Cuba’s creaky state-run media and cultural institutions compete with flashy foreign programming shared online and on memory drives passed hand-to-hand. Emigration to the United States and other countries has soared to one of its highest points since the revolution.

Limited openings to private enterprise have stalled, and the government describes capitalism as a threat even as it appears unable to increase productivity in Cuba’s inefficient, theft-plagued networks of state-run enterprises.

The ideological gulf between government and people widened last month when President Barack Obama became the first U.S. leader to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. He gave a widely praised speech live on state television urging Cubans to forget the history of hostility between the U.S. and Cuba and move toward a new era of normal diplomatic and economic relations.

The Cuban government offered little unified response until the Communist Party’s Seventh Party Congress began Saturday, and one high-ranking official after another warned that the U.S. was still an enemy that wants to take control of Cuba. They said Obama’s trip represented an ideological “attack.”

Shortly after the congress ended, government-run television showed rare images of 89-year-old Fidel Castro seated at the dais in Havana’s Convention Palace, dressed in a plaid shirt and sweat top and speaking to the crowd in a strong if occasionally trembling voice. State television showed at least one delegate tearful with emotion, and the crowd greeting the revolutionary leader with shouts of “Fidel!”

“This may be one of the last times I speak in this room,” Fidel Castro said. “We must tell our brothers in Latin America and the world that the Cuban people will be victorious.”

 

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DID OBAMA CHANGE CUBA?

By Joel Simon

Columbia Journalism Review, April 19, 2016

Original article: Did Obama Change Cuba?

When President Obama made his historic visit to Cuba last month, the US media followed. At a joint press conference on March 21 with Cuban president Raúl Castro, Obama called on CNN’s Jim Acosta, who asked the Cuban leader if he would be willing to release political prisoners. A flustered Castro sputtered and demanded a list of those imprisoned. Obama directed aknowing wink at the assembled journalists.

Obama’s implication was that by maneuvering to force Castro to respond live in front of the Cuban people and the world, he had bolstered the power of the press. Indeed, one of the key goals of Obama’s Havana trip was to create more space for critical expression in a country that until recently was one of world’s most censored. Among the 13 dissidents Obama invited to meet with him at the US Embassy in Havana on March 22 were several independent journalists. He insisted that his joint news conference with Castro be broadcast live.

While it’s too early to assess the overall impact of Obama’s visit, it seems the right moment to ask a more basic question: Has anything changed for journalists on the island in the month since Obama departed?

Miriam Leiva, an independent  journalists and blogger who met with Obama, sees the presidential visit as accelerating trends already under way. “The Cuban government is losing credibility day after day,” Leiva noted by phone from Miami, where she was visiting relatives. “President Castro made many promises and has not been able to fulfill those promises.”

Leiva has been a leading voice of independent journalism in Cuba since 2003, when her husband, economist turned journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, was arrested as part of a sweeping crackdown known as the Black Spring. Espinosa Chepe was released after two years due to poor health (he died of a liver ailment in 2013). But many of those detained along with him were not freed until 2010, in a deal brokered by the Spanish government and the Cuban Catholic Church.

By far the favored strategy employed by the Cuban government against dissident journalists has been organized stigmatization and isolation. Independent journalists have been confronted by screaming mobs, denounced in the state media, and relentlessly tracked by state security.

That is why Leiva is so heartened by the fact that  her neighbors now greet her in the street and even occasionally read her stories, which are distributed by email. “People are now more open, they feel less fear,” she says. “We ourselves have gained spaces.”

Indeed, Cuba’s media landscape is no longer static. While the stale state media predominates, there are over 3,000 blogs. Some espouse dissidence and resistance; others express support for the government and the Communist Party while highlighting shortcomings by local officials. “I wanted something small that wouldn’t be seen as a threat by the state media,” said blogger Elaine Díaz Rodríguez in arecent CPJ report. Díaz was the first Cuban journalists to receive a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University.

For Yoani Sánchez—another leader in the independent media—Obama’s visit had tremendous symbolic value. When Obama arrived in Havana in the middle of a rainstorm, he carried his own umbrella. Cuban functionaries had aides hold theirs. Obama is youthful; Cuba’s leadership is decrepit. Obama is black; Cuba’s leadership is white (despite the fact that Cuba is a majority black country); Obama shows off his family; Cuban leaders hide theirs.

Speaking this weekend at the International Symposium of Online Journalism, an annual media confab in Austin, Sánchez said the primary impetus for change in Cuba has been technology. Only 5 percent of the Cuban population has access to the internet (according to Sánchez; other sources say it’s higher). Cubans must use creative means to access information, including emailed PDFs and flash drives, which are easy to hide and distribute. More recently, Cubans have been flocking to a handful of expensive WiFi hotspots set up around Havana.

“We thought the Cuban people would take to the streets to topple the government, but instead they have done so to get online,” Sánchez quipped.

Sánchez, who started out posting an irreverent personal blog, is now essentially a publisher. She employs a regular staff that puts out a online newspaper, 14YMedio, that provides comprehensive coverage of daily events. “I’m worried less about who will be our next president, and more about who will our next citizens,” Sánchez explained. “As citizens become empowered, they need more information to make decisions. We want to be the newspaper of the Cuban transition.”

While the changing environment for news and information in Cuba is exciting, it is important to keep in mind that is still for the most part taking place within limits set by the Cuban Communist Party, which while no longer monolithic, is still firmly in control. Its reasons for opening Cuba are complex, but they are largely dictated by pragmatic concerns and a desire for self-preservation.

Even as it ceded the limelight briefly to Obama during his trip, the government made a point of consistently affirming the limits of dissent. Dissidents were roughed up and detained prior to and following Obama’s visit; the state media, which operates in accordance with Communist Party dictates, published identical headlines; Fidel Castro lashed out at Obama as soon as he departed the island; the Communist Party Congress, which ends today and will set the stage for transition from nearly six decades of rule by the Castro brothers, has been a particularly opaque affair, even by Cuban standards. Raúl Castro emphatically rejected new reforms during his opening speech, which only state media were invited to cover.

In visiting Havana, the gambit for Obama was that his mere presence could accelerate the opening in Cuba; the gambit for Raúl Castro was that he could gain international credibility and legitimacy without making political concessions. With his press conference wink, Obama implied that he had gotten the upper hand, but that is far from clear. While the press conference showed that Raúl Castro doesn’t like answering tough questions, there is no real evidence that he will be forced to do so again anytime soon.

After all, as 14YMedio photojournalist Luz Escobar pointed out, no independent Cuban reporters were present. “Cuba continues to be hostile for journalists” she says. “What gives me hope is the changing attitudes of the Cuban people.”

Joel Simon is a CJR columnist and the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. His second book, The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, was published by Columbia University Press in November 2014.

 

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CUBA CALLS OBAMA VISIT ‘AN ATTACK’ AS COMMUNISTS DEFEND IDEOLOGY

By Frank Jack Daniel and Nelson Acosta

Original Article: Communists Defend Ideology

Reuters, Mon Apr 18, 2016 3:59pm EDT

HAVANA U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Communist-led Cuba was an “attack” on its history and culture aimed at misleading a new business class, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Monday, the latest sign of blow-back after the ground-breaking trip last month.

“In this visit, there was a deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols,” Rodriguez said at the Communist Party congress.

Cuban leaders have hardened language against the United States since Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years, with Fidel Castro accusing him of sweet-talking the people.

President Raul Castro referred to the United States as “the enemy” in the opening speech of the party congress over the weekend and told Cubans to be alert to U.S. attempts to weaken the revolution.

The congress, held every five years, must make decisions about the future of Cuba’s elderly leadership and the progress of market-style economic reforms adopted in 2011 that allowed more small businesses.

The measures have been only partially implemented, amid resistance from hard-liners who distrust market economics and fear detente with the United States at a time when Cubans are increasingly vocal about their needs.

“The harsh rhetorical push-back by the ideological wing of the Communist Party suggests their heightened sense of vulnerability,” said Richard Feinberg, a former national security adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Rodriguez accused Obama of coming to “dazzle” the private sector, highlighting concern U.S. promises to empower Cuban entrepreneurs were aimed at building opposition to the single-party system in office since 1959.

“Socialism and the Cuban revolution are the guarantees that there can be a non-state sector that is not that of big North American companies,” he told state television.

Cuba has struck deals with U.S. companies such as hotel chain Starwood (HOT.N) and is in talks with others including Google-parent Alphabet (GOOGL.O). On May 1, Carnival (CCL.L) is to become the first U.S. cruise company to sail to Cuba, but the trip is in doubt over a ban on Cuban-Americans sailing.

Cuba believes “the interest in the country of 11.3 million and its tourism potential will overshadow any political decisions,” said John Kavulich, head of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York-based non-profit organization.

The United States and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations after Castro and Obama announced in December 2014 the two countries were seeking to normalize ties.

Despite the rhetoric, U.S. musicians Smokey Robinson, Usher and Dave Matthews were in Havana on Monday as part of a delegations representing Obama’s arts and humanities committee. A group of U.S. architects also visited on Monday.

PANAMA-AMERICAS-SUMMIT-CUBA-US-OBAMA-CASTRO

 

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