• 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.

Robert Muse: “US PRESIDENTIAL ACTION ON CUBA: THE NEW NORMALIZATION?”

Robert Muse, a Washington-based lawyer who has analyzed and written on US-Cuba relations for many years, has just published an article explaining how President Obama could use his executive authority to move towards normalization with Cuba.

The full article is published in “Americas Quarterly” here: http://www.americasquarterly.org/charticles/the-new-normalization/.

It would be truly gratifying if staff in the White House read and acted upon the Muse “road-map” towards normalization, finally ending the 50 year policy failure on the part of the United States towards Cuba.  Unfortunately this looks increasingly improbable in the last two years of the Obama Presidency, in view of the negative position stated by a White House spokesman November 20, 2014.

(“Unless Cuba is able to demonstrate that it is taking significant steps, I don’t know how we could move forward in our relationship,” said Antony J. Blinken, deputy national security adviser, during a hearing in the US Senate, according to the Havana Times.  )

Muse 1

Muse 2 Robert Muse is a lawyer in Washington, D.C. with substantial experience in U.S. laws relating to Cuba. Among his clients are major corporations engaged in international trade and foreign direct investment. He has testified on legal issues involving Cuba before the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate; the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Standing Committee of the Canadian House of Commons; the Trade Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and the External Economic Relations Committee of the European Parliament (Brussels) as well as the Parliament’s inter-party group on Cuba (Strasbourg). Mr. Muse has delivered papers on the Helms-Burton Act and other U.S. embargo laws pertaining to Cuba at conferences sponsored by The Economist and various legal and international relations foundations based in London, Miami, Washington, D.C., Brussels, Toronto, Ottawa, Havana, Madrid, Barcelona, and Amsterdam.

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A CUBAN BRAIN DRAIN, COURTESY OF THE U.S.

New York Times, THE EDITORIAL BOARD; NOV. 16, 2014

Leer en español (Read in Spanish) »

Secretary of State John Kerry and the American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, have praised the work of Cuban doctors dispatched to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sent an official to a regional meeting the Cuban government convened in Havana to coordinate efforts to fight the disease. In Africa, Cuban doctors are working in American-built facilities. The epidemic has had the unexpected effect of injecting common sense into an unnecessarily poisonous relationship.

And yet, Cuban doctors serving in West Africa today could easily abandon their posts, take a taxi to the nearest American Embassy and apply for a little-known immigration program that has allowed thousands of them to defect. Those who are accepted can be on American soil within weeks, on track to becoming United States citizens.

There is much to criticize about Washington’s failed policies toward Cuba and the embargo it has imposed on the island for decades. But the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which in the last fiscal year enabled 1,278 Cubans to defect while on overseas assignments, a record number, is particularly hard to justify.

It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy.

American immigration policy should give priority to the world’s neediest refugees and persecuted people. It should not be used to exacerbate the brain drain of an adversarial nation at a time when improved relations between the two countries are a worthwhile, realistic goal.

The program was introduced through executive authority in August 2006, when Emilio González, a hard-line Cuban exile, was at the helm of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Mr. González described the labor of Cuban doctors abroad as “state-sponsored human trafficking.” At the time, the Bush administration was trying to cripple the Cuban government. Easily enabling medical personnel posted abroad to defect represented an opportunity to strike at the core of the island’s primary diplomatic tool, while embarrassing the Castro regime.

Cuba has been using its medical corps as the nation’s main source of revenue and soft power for many years. The country has one of the highest numbers of doctors per capita in the world and offers medical scholarships to hundreds of disadvantaged international students each year, and some have been from the United States. According to Cuban government figures, more than 440,000 of the island’s 11 million citizens are employed in the health sector.

Havana gets subsidized oil from Venezuela and money from several other countries in exchange for medical services. This year, according to the state-run newspaper Granma, the government expects to make $8.2 billion from its medical workers overseas. The vast majority, just under 46,000, are posted in Latin America and the Caribbean. A few thousand are in 32 African countries.

Medical professionals, like most Cubans, earn meager wages. Earlier this year, the government raised the salaries of medical workers. Doctors now earn about $60 per month, while nurses make nearly $40. Overseas postings allow these health care workers to earn significantly more. Doctors in Brazil, for example, are making about $1,200 per month.

The 256 Cuban medical professionals treating Ebola patients in West Africa are getting daily stipends of roughly $240 from the World Health Organization. José Luis Di Fabio, the head of the W.H.O. in Havana, said he was confident the doctors and nurses dispatched to Africa have gone on their own volition. “It was voluntary,” Mr. Di Fabio, an Uruguayan whose organization has overseen their deployment, said in an interview. “Some backtracked at the last minute and there was no problem.”

10-03-2014cuban_ebolaCuban Doctors Arriving in Sierra Leone

Some doctors who have defected say they felt the overseas tours had an implicit element of coercion and have complained that the government pockets the bulk of the money it gets for their services. But the State Department says in its latest report on human trafficking that reported coercion of Cuban medical personnel does “not appear to reflect a uniform government policy.” Even so, the Cuban government would be wise to compensate medical personnel more generously if their work overseas is to remain the island’s economic bedrock.

Last year, the Cuban government liberalized its travel policies, allowing most citizens, including dissidents, to leave the country freely. Doctors, who in the past faced stricter travel restrictions than ordinary Cubans, no longer do. Some 20,000 Cubans are allowed to immigrate to the United States yearly. In addition, those who manage to arrive here in rafts or through border crossing points are automatically authorized to stay.

The Cuban government has long regarded the medical defection program as a symbol of American duplicity. It undermines Cuba’s ability to respond to humanitarian crises and does nothing to make the government in Havana more open or democratic. As long as this incoherent policy is in place, establishing a healthier relationship between the two nations will be harder.

Many medical professionals, like a growing number of Cubans, will continue to want to move to the United States in search of new opportunities, and they have every right to do so. But inviting them to defect while on overseas tours is going too far.

New Picture

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CUBA: LESSONS ON TOTAL PRESS CONTROL

pravda-modernizarea-misiunii-de-pacificare-seamana-mai-mult-cu-lichidarea-acesteia-1351776650 November 13, 2014 – Havana Times –

Fernando Ravsberg

Original essay here:  http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=107315  HAVANA TIMES

Maintaining control over all of the media and having the power to decide who manages these and what gets published is probably the dream of many politicians around the world. Such a degree of control, however, is not without serious dangers. When all of the media are controlled by a small group of people in the governing party, these individuals have enormous influence over society, so much that, if push came to shove, they could use it to pressure the rest of the party and government.

The experience of the Soviet Union demonstrates the consequences of that control. Alexander Yakovlev, head of the Agitation and Propaganda Department (AGITPROP), became one of the main actors responsible for the disappearance of the USSR. For years, this “ideologue” was the second-in-command in this department. He was a rather insignificant figure until Mikhail Gorbachev appointed him head of AGITPROP, placing all of the Soviet Union’s media in his hands. He then went on to replace many newspaper editors, appointing people who were politically like-minded. He encouraged journalists to criticize certain sectors within the Communist Party in order to weaken the position of those who were opposed to the Perestroika process. Almost overnight, the same media that praised everything that transpired in the USSR began criticizing almost everything and had a decisive impact on public opinion, paving the road for the system’s implosion.

Ironically, some of the high communist officials who personally suffered the criticisms leveled by the press had been staunch defenders of Party control over the media.

In 1975, Cuba copied the Soviets in their control of the media, creating the Department for Revolutionary Orientation, which, according to Jorge Gomez Barata, a former member of that body, would later become the Party’s Ideology Department.

Periodico_granma As in the former Soviet Union, all Cuban newspapers, radio stations and TV channels repeat the same news – and they do so with such lack of subtlety that, on occasion, the three major newspapers (Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Trabajadores), have had the exact same front page.

What is truly curious is that these rigorously controlled newspapers belong to organizations aligned with the revolution: nothing other than the Communist Party, the People’s Power Organization, the Young Communists League and the Cuban Workers Federation. Those in charge of these organizations, and even the trade unions, are communist cadres who ought to be able to manage the media under their control without having Big Brother tell them what they can publish and what they can’t.

Giving control over the newspapers back to the organizations that publish them, letting these chose their editors and editorial stances, would be a first step towards transforming these into public media, that is to say, into newspapers that actually belong to Cubans. It would also be an important step towards allowing these media to fashion their own editorial positions, prioritizing the issues that interest their readers, be these about youth, trade unions, provincial developments or culture.

Decentralizing control over the media is key to preventing any one power group from taking full control over these and molding public opinion to suit its interests, as occurred in the Soviet Union. What was questionable about AGITPROP wasn’t the path it proposed but the centralized use of the media to manipulate citizens. They acted as those in previous decades had done but in the opposite direction, the direction in which the wind was then blowing.

In addition to the similarities with the Soviet model, we must mention that there is already a huge gap between the reform process being impelled by the government and the contents of the country’s press, and that the resistance to change isn’t to be found in journalists but in those who coerce them.

There are those who believe that those people who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat its mistakes – theirs and those of others.

ravsberg-755x490_fghFernando Ravsberg

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New Book: REVOLUTIONARY CUBA: A HISTORY

By: Luis Martínez-Fernández The following is the publicity/sales information from the publisher. I will try and review this volume in the near future.

Publisher: University Press of Florida, 15 NW 15th Street, Gainesville, FL 32611

Details: 408 pages 6×9 Cloth: $44.95

ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-4995-3 Pubdate: 10/14/2014

Revolutionary Cuba, A History   Hyperlinks to:

Table of Contents

Excerpt: Chapter 2 Fatherland or Death: Setting the Revolution’s Foundations:  

Comments on the book: “A remarkable achievement. The most comprehensive, synthetic, and systematic appraisal of the Cuban Revolution to date.”–Jorge Duany, author of Blurred Borders “Passionate and balanced, Luis Martínez-Fernández guides the reader expertly through the seemingly endless twists, turns, and detours of the Cuban Revolution.”–Gustavo Pérez Firmat, author of Life on the Hyphen

This is the first book in more than three decades to offer a complete and chronological history of revolutionary Cuba, including the years of rebellion that led to the revolution.

Beginning with Batista’s coup in 1952, which catalyzed the rebels, and bringing the reader to the present-day transformations initiated by Raúl Castro, Luis Martínez-Fernández provides a balanced interpretive synthesis of the major topics of contemporary Cuban history. Expertly weaving the myriad historic, social, and political forces that shaped the island nation during this period, Martínez-Fernández examines the circumstances that allowed the revolution to consolidate in the early 1960s, the Soviet influence throughout the latter part of the Cold War, and the struggle to survive the catastrophic Special Period of the 1990s after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. He tackles the island’s chronic dependence on sugar production that, starting with the plantations centuries ago, continues to shape Cuba’s culture and society today.

He analyzes the revolutionary pendulum that continues to swing between idealism and pragmatism, focusing on its effects on the everyday lives of the Cuban people, and–bucking established trends in Cuban scholarship.

Martínez-Fernández systematically integrates the Cuban diaspora into the larger discourse of the revolution. Concise, well written, and accessible, this book is an indispensable survey of the history and themes of the socialist revolution that forever changed Cuba and the world.

Luis Martínez-Fernández, professor of history at the University of Central Florida, is coeditor of Encyclopedia of Cuba: People, History, Culture and the author of numerous books including Frontiers, Plantations, and Walled Cities: Essays on Society, Culture and Politics in the Hispanic Caribbean.

New Picture (5)New Picture

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CUBA’S WALL HAS NOT FALLEN … BUT IT IS NOT ETERNAL

1

The Berlin Wall, Pre 1989

Yoani Sanchez, 10 November 2014 – The Huffington Post – Blog:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yoani-sanchez/cubas-wall-has-not-fallen

 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 November 2014

My life up to then had always been lived between walls. The wall of the Malecon that separated me from a world of which I’d only heard the horror. The wall of the school where I studied when Germany was reunified. The long wall behind which the illegal sellers of sweets and treats hid themselves. Almost six feet of some overlapping bricks that some classmates jumped over to get out of classes, as indoctrinating as they were boring.

To this was added the wall of silence and fear. At home, my parents put their fingers to their lips, speaking in whispers… something happened, but they didn’t tell me what.  

In November of 1989 the Berlin Will fell. In reality, it was knocked down with a sledgehammer and a chisel. Those who threw themselves against it were the same people who, weeks earlier, appeared to obey the Communist Party and believe in the paradise of the proletariat.  

The news came to us slowly and fragmented. Cuba’s ruling party tried to distract attention and minimize the matter; but the details leaked out little by little. That year my adolescence ended. I was only fourteen and everything that came afterwards left me no space for naivety.  

The masks fell on by one. Berliners awoke to the noise of hammers and we Cubans discovered that the promised future was a complete lie. While Eastern Europe shrugged off the long embrace of the Kremlin, Fidel Castro screamed from the dais, promising in the name of everybody that we would never give up.  

Few had the insight to realize that that political delusion would condemn us to the most difficult years to confront several generations of Cubans. The wall fell far away, while another parapet was raised around us, that of ideological blindness, irresponsibility and voluntarism.  

A quarter century has passed. Today Germans and the whole world are celebrating the end of an absurdity. They are taking stock of the achievements since that November and enjoying the freedom to complain about what hasn’t gone well.  

We, in Cuba, have missed out on twenty-five years of climbing aboard history’s bandwagon. For our country, the wall is still standing, although right now few are propping up a bulwark erected more at the whim of one man than by the decision of a people.  

Our wall hasn’t fallen… but it is not eternal. 2   3

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Review Essay, REVOLUTION IN THE REVOLUTION: RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE CUBAN ECONOMY

 Latin American Research Review, Volume 49, Number 3 (2014)

By Arch Ritter

hdrs-eng Original article here: https://lasa.international.pitt.edu/LARR/prot/fulltext/vol49no3/49-3_246-255_Ritter.pdf

Cuban Economists on the Cuban Economy. Edited by Al Campbell. Gainesville, FL: The University Press of Florida, 2013. Pp. xvii + 337. $79.95 cloth. ISBN: 9780813044235.

Cuban Economic and Social Development: Policy Reforms and Challenges in the 21st Century. Edited by Jorge I. Domínguez, Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva, Mayra Espina Prieto and Lorena Barberia. David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, USA, 2012. Pp. iii + 333. $24.99 paper.  ISBN: 9780674062434.

Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment. By Samuel Farber. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2011. Pp.ix + 369. $24.00 paper. ISBN: 9781608461394.

Cuban Revelations: behind the Scenes in Havana, By Marc Frank, University Press of Florida, 2013. Pp. iii + 327. $29.95 cloth. ISBN: 9789813944651

Cuba Under Raúl Castro: Assessing the Reforms. By Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Jorge Pérez-López. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2013. Pp.xv + 295. $65.00 cloth. ISBN: 9781588269043.

¿Quo vadis, Cuba? La incierta senda de las reformas . Edited by Pavel Vidal and José Antonio Alonso.  Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011. Pp. xvii + 453. $48.00 paper. ISBN: 9780268029830.

 When President Fidel Castro experienced a medical emergency on July 31, 2006, First Vice-President Raúl Castro assumed the role of Acting President, and was then declared President in February 2008 by the National Assembly. Hopes for change were high relative to the almost half century of Fidel’s presidency because Raúl was considered to be more pragmatic than Fidel.  During the first years of Raúl “acting” and then full Presidency, policy changes were modest, uncertain and hesitant.  However, after deliberation and some modest policy experimentation, the pace of reform accelerated in 2010.

In his first major speech in July of 2007, Raúl acknowledged the difficulties that the economy faced and the dimension of the reform effort that would be needed to overcome its problems. “To have more, we have to begin by producing more, with a sense of rationality and efficiency, so that we may reduce imports, especially of food products –that may be grown here– whose domestic production is still a long way away from meeting the needs of the population.”[1] This contrasted with the complacency of the last years of the Fidel era. Raúl emphasized the necessity of improving agriculture as well as industry and mentioned the possibility of increasing direct foreign investment.  He discussed “social indiscipline” and the expansion of the underground economy.  He assured citizens that the government was studying these issues and would soon introduce appropriate policies.  In subsequent speeches – shorter and less frequent than those of his elder brother – Raúl demonstrated increased pragmatism and decreased ideological rigidity. He also has shown an awareness of the need to break with some traditional Cuban economic institutions and policies.  Such change was ultimately necessary in his view for political reasons, to ensure the long-term viability of Cuba as an independent nation he stated:

We are facing unpleasant realities, but we do not close our eyes to them.  We are convinced that we need to break away from dogmas and assume firmly and confidently the ongoing upgrading of our economic model in order to set the foundations of the irreversibility of Cuban socialism and its development, which we know is the guarantee of our national sovereignty and independence.[2]

He did not view such changes as adoption of any sort of “capitalism,” but instead considered it an “up-dating” or “modernization” (actualización) of Cuban socialism.  However, Raúl’s concept of socialism reflected a change from the Fidelista view: it no longer implied an aspiration to equal outcomes.

Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights and opportunities, not salaries.  Equality does not mean egalitarianism.  This is, in the end, another form of exploitation, that of the exploitation of the responsible worker by the one who is not, or even worse, by the slothful.[3]

Raúl also emphasized that policy changes were to be introduced with deliberativeness and caution. This was certainly the approach prior to mid-2010.

The major reforms of 2010 began with the proposal to downsize employment in the state sector by 500,000 presumably redundant state employees by the end of March 2011 and 1.5 million by the end of 2012 with the hope that they would somehow be absorbed productively by an invigorated small enterprise sector. Then came the publication of the ambitious and comprehensive “Draft Guide for Economic and Social Reform” published in November 2010. The Guide was discussed broadly throughout Cuba, revised, and then approved at the Sixth Congress of Cuba’s Communist Party in April 2011. Since then, there has been a steady series of economic reforms introduced that are transforming the economy increasingly into a “mixed” economy with significant state, private, cooperative and joint venture sectors (the latter with foreign and state enterprises) together with a greater reliance on the market mechanism for the social control of economic activity.

Is this a “Revolution in the Revolution”, to hijack Regis Debray’s catchy book title?[4] The answer is “probably yes”.  Raúl’s reforms amount to a repudiation of almost a half century of the institutions and policies mainly borrowed from and/or inspired by the countries of the Soviet Bloc. The reforms also constitute a rejection of the impetuous and capricious policy experimentation of Fidel. Indeed, by 2014 Raúl already had been successful in forging his own legacy and emerging from the shadow of his elder brother.

Eight years after the accession of Raúl, it is time for an analysis and evaluation of his revised approach to economic management. Not surprisingly, a large number of books dedicated to this task have been published recently. The volumes reviewed here all focus directly on, or include lengthy analyses of the Raúlista reforms.[5]

The authors come from a variety of analytical traditions and disciplines. They include Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Jorge Pérez-López as well as the Spanish authors of the Vidal-Alonso volume whose approach is by and large mainstream economics, the more radical economist Al Campbell and also political scientists Samuel Farber and Jorge Domínguez. Included are analysts from the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy (CEEC) and other institutes of the University of Havana (in the Vidal-Alonso and the Domínguez et. al. volumes) many of whom have been moderate reformists since the early 1990s. About half of the analysts in Al Campbell’s volume have been working in the National Institute for Economic Studies (INIE), the main governmental economic think-tank, with the remainder from other branches of the government or its institutes. It is tempting to label these authors the “old guard” but some such as Miguel Figueras and José Luis Rodríguez can be said to have been moderate reformists as well, and all profess to be supporters of Raúl’s reforms.

These volumes all make important contributions to the analysis and understanding of Cuba’s overall economic situation. However, economic policies in a range of vital issue areas remain to be analyzed in greater depth as part of the process of the actualización of the Cuban economy.

One hopes that the next round of major publications on the Cuban economy will investigate some of these specific policy areas more profoundly than was possible in any of the general volumes reviewed here. Of particular relevance would be analyses of the policies toward agriculture, industry, energy, infrastructure, the service sector, small enterprise and the private sector, cooperatives, state enterprise, foreign investment and joint ventures, exchange rate and monetary issues, trade policy, policy towards foreign investment, social policies, health and education, labor issues, pensions demographic issues, cultural areas, etc. The work ahead is daunting.

What remains to be seen is how far economic reforms can proceed without any actualización of Cuba’s political system.

CONTINUE READING: Revolution in the Revolution, LARR, Ritter, October 2014

larr-cover[1]NOTES

[1] Cuban Communist Party, “Speech by the First Vice-President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, at the main celebration of the 54th Anniversary of the attack on Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrisons, at the Major General Ignacio Agramonte Loynaz Revolution Square in the city of Camagüey. July 26th, 2007, ‘Year 49 of the Revolution.,’” Diario Granma, July 27, 2007.

[2] Yohandry Fontana, “Key Address by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the State Council and the Council of Ministers and Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee,” Yohandryweb’s Noticias, April 4, 2009, http://yohandryweb.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/300/.

[3] President Raúl Castro, Speech at the Close of the Seventh Legislature of the national Assembly, 11 July 2008, http://www.ratb.org.uk/raul-castro/149-full-text-of-a-speech- president-raul-castro-at- the-first-ordinary-period-of-sessions-of-the-seventh-legislature-of-the-national-assembly. Accessed March 5, 2014

[4] Régis Debray, Revolution In The Revolution? Armed Struggle and Political Struggle In Latin America  (New York: Penguin Books Ltd),1968.

[5] Other books focusing on this theme include: Muricio A. Font and Carlos Riobo (Editors). Handbook of Contemporary Cuba: Economy, Politics, Civil Society and Globalization, Boulder and London: Paradigm Publishers, 2013; Claes Brundenius and Ricardo Torres Perez (Editors). No More free Lunch: Reflections on the Cuban Economic Reform process and Challenges for Transformation, Switzerland: Springer, 2013; and Alberto Gabriele (Editor). The Economy of Cuba after the VI Party Congress, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2012.

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PAYING FOR THE PORT OF MARIEL: ARE CUBA AND BRAZIL PARTNERS IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

Capitol Hill Cubans – Oct 24, 2014 – By Maria C. Werlau in Spain’s ABC

Original article: http://www.capitolhillcubans.com/2014/10/must-read-are-cuba-and-brazil-partners.html

The Brazilian government has committed huge taxpayer funds —in loans, subsidies, and direct humanitarian assistance— to support infrastructure projects, food exports, and other initiatives in or for Cuba. Brazil has also provided decisive international political backing to the Cuban military dictatorship. This support is nowhere more evident than in the Port of Mariel, refurbished to great fanfare with Brazilian public financing of over one billion dollars.

Brazil’s massive lending for Cuba seems reckless from a financial/due diligence perspective, as Cuba does not meet basic standards of creditworthiness. The island is technically insolvent; it has US$75 billion in external debt, a long history of defaults, and a classification from The Economist Intelligence Unit as one of the four riskiest countries on the planet to invest in. Meanwhile, the port project is apparently not viable, as the two main reasons given to justify the gigantic investment are shaky at best. Several ports in the vicinity look better positioned to take advantage of the Panama Canal expansion and the U.S. embargo does not seem anywhere close to ending.

df919cc65a58e4d82fdff81f6504895e Brazil’s huge government loans and subsidies for Cuba have been granted with unprecedented levels of secrecy and are currently under investigation for allegations of corruption, kickbacks, and favoritism towards the port builder, Odebrecht, which received Brazil´s development bank (BNDES) loans for the port construction and is a large campaign contributor of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (P.T.). Moreover, while Brazil has greatly increased financing for projects of politically-compatible foreign governments such as Cuba’s —growing the deficit to 4% of GDP—, public funding for infrastructure projects within Brazil has been lacking.

The manifest commitment to support Cuba at all costs may seem puzzling, but can be explained by the strong political-ideological alliance of P.T. leaders with the Cuban regime in the pursuit of a radical hemispheric agenda (inspired in the Foro de Sao Paulo). The hyped-up business opportunities surrounding the port seek to exert pressure against the U.S. embargo and attract investors.

While the Mariel port project does not meet standard repayment conditions, Brazilian officials insist Cuba is meeting its financial commitments, presumably the amortization of its own loans from Odebrecth. In fact, it appears that repayment is coming from exploiting Cuba’s citizens as export raw material for goods and services —purchased mostly by public entities in Brazil— in what arguably constitutes a government-to-government collaboration in human trafficking. Referred to as “health cooperation,” these exports consist of:

  • Export services provided by approximately 11,400 Cuban doctors hired out for a Brazilian government program launched in 2013 that generates Cuba estimated annual net revenues of US$404 million.
  •  Export products reported under standard trade codes for blood — including plasma and medicines and other products derived from blood — and for extracts of glands and organs.

Both have grown exponentially since former Brazilian president Lula da Silva launched the Brazil-Cuba alliance in 2003. Blood imports by Brazil from Cuba were only US$570 thousand in 2002, grew to US$16.9 million in 2011, and totaled US$4.8million in 2013; imports of extracts of glands and organs increased phenomenally from almost nothing in 2003 (US$25,804) to US$88.4 million in 2013.

These exports raise serious ethical concerns. The doctors are deployed as “exportable commodities” to remote zones of Brazil in violation of several ILO (International Labor Organization) conventions as well as of international standards and agreements on the prohibition of human trafficking, servitude, and bondage.

Regarding the export products, details are lacking, but if the trade is in products of human origin, as it appears, it would have very troubling implications. In Cuba, blood and organs/tissues/body parts are obtained from voluntary and uncompensated donors unaware of a profit motive by their government and practices involved in their collection —some quite scandalous— are unacceptable by standards of the World Health Organization and other international bodies.

Additional concerns pertain to safety, quality, effectiveness, and the potential political purpose driving the purchases.

While the service of Cuban doctors has raised ample debate and media coverage in Brazil, the import of products purportedly derived from human blood and body parts has, as of yet, remained out of the public sphere.

In addition, while Brazilian authorities move forward with plans to integrate its biopharmaceutical production with Cuba, that this industry is under the absolute control of the secretive Cuban military regime or that it collaborates with rogues states such as Iran and Syria —including with exports of dual-use technology— have yet to raise attention in Brazil. In Cuba, this discussion cannot be had, as all media and mass communications belong to and are run by the state.

Maria WerlauMaria Werlau

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AS CUBAN ECONOMY STAGNATES, ECONOMISTS PRESS FOR DEEPER REFORMS

By Marc Frank HAVANA (Reuters Oct 24 2014) -

Some of Cuba’s best-known economists are openly questioning the very core of the Soviet-style command economy and saying market reforms under way are too modest to boost weak growth.Emboldened by freer debate in the country, they are increasingly vocal in criticizing rigid instructions coming down from the top and the uneven management of policies across the economy, from banking to agriculture. Their influence on government policy-makers is difficult to gauge due to the secretive nature of the ruling Communist Party, but they clearly have been given leeway to call for changes.

Seeking to build a “prosperous and sustainable” socialism, President Raul Castro pushed through a 311-point reform agenda that was adopted by the Communist Party in 2011. It has led Cuba to liberalize farming and retail services by turning much of them over to cooperatives and allowing small private businesses. The Caribbean island is also actively seeking foreign investment. Castro, who took over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, has repeatedly said he despises false consensus and has encouraged debate as long as it takes place within the system.

The economists now talking out are generally members of the Communist Party and some have contact with high-ranking officials, suggesting they may be able to influence the debate inside government on the speed and scope of reforms.They have called for economic reforms for years, but never targeted so sharply the very pillars of the system.

Juan Triana, one of the best-known and most influential economists, says the government’s reforms have signaled a reliance on market mechanisms but officials have still not embraced competition for core parts of the economy and more than 2,000 state companies. “The cost of not recognizing the importance of competition for development are paid in lower rates of growth than the potential, the incorrect assigning of resources, lower than possible rates of productivity and efficiency, and most of all a lack of incentives for innovation, one of the principal motors of development,” he said in a recent presentation to mid-level government officials and peers at a seminar in Havana. The seminar was hosted by the Havana University Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy (CEEC), known for its bold stand for reform over the last 15 years and its criticism of the status quo.

Speaker after speaker joined Triana in urging deeper reform, according to copies of presentations seen by Reuters. Central planning, the government’s sway over strategic company decisions and the state’s monopoly in foreign trade were all criticized.

Frente-CEECCentro de Estudios sobre la Economia Cubana (CEEC), Universidad de la Habana

 ”Probably, the so-called state monopoly on foreign trade is a big obstacle to the diversification and growth of exports,” said Miguel Alejandro Figueras, winner of Cuba’s top economics prize in 2007.

While Castro’s reforms have raised the expectations of many Cubans, they have largely disappointed. Public frustration over a lack of well-paid jobs has contributed to a sharp increase in the number of Cubans risking dangerous and illegal journeys on home-made boats in search of better opportunities in the United States. “Most Cubans support the reforms but are coming to realize that much more needs to happen. I think everyone from top to bottom is concerned with the numbers and reality on the ground,” said one Cuban economist, who asked to remain anonymous due to a prohibition on talking with foreign journalists without permission.

The economists generally believe Cuba’s leaders are listening, in part because the reforms so far have failed to lead to growth. They say they hope to reinforce the more reform-minded leaders in closed-door debates at the highest levels. Many liken Cuba’s process to the first years of reform in China and Vietnam, when partial measures proved ineffective and eventually gave way to deeper reforms. But Castro has moved at a deliberate pace, and despite official calls for a more critical press unorthodox views rarely get aired in the state-controlled media. The government revised down its economic growth forecast for this year to 1.4 percent, a second straight year of slowing growth, and food prices are rising on average 10 percent a year. Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of the economy remains in state hands, usually in the form of monopolies.

At the recent seminar, economist Jorge Mario Sanchez criticized state monopolies as out of step with a growing mixed economy and international competition. “The state-centrist culture of production and trade by the state and for the state should begin to transition to another broader mode from and for society,” he said.

Others say harsh U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba are only partially to blame for a lack of state financing and delays in the arrival of supplies and parts, which lead to disruptions in production and shortages. “Our top leaders are very aware of these problems, but unsure how to proceed without creating greater inequality,” said the economist who asked to remain anonymous.

Hal Klepak, a Canadian military historian and author of two books on the Cuban military and Raul Castro, said he thought Castro and other leaders ”find criticism welcome not because it is comfortable but because it allows them to push for more and faster movement of a deeply cutting kind.” “There will be more and deeper reform since there is really little hope for any other option,” Klepak said.

Another outside expert differed, doubting that major changes were coming any time soon. “There is still no blueprint as to where the major state-controlled sectors will be in 5 or 10 years time,” said Paul Hare, a former British ambassador to Cuba who now teaches at Boston University.

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Juan Triana, CEEC

Jorge Mario SanchezJorge Mario Sanchez, CEEC

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NEW BOOK BY JOSÉ ÁLVAREZ: FIDEL CASTRO’S AGRO\ICULTURAL FOLIES

[The following materials are from the Press Release accompanying the publication of the book. I will try to review this book later.]

FIDEL CASTRO’S AGRICULTURAL FOLLIES: ABSURDITY, WASTE AND PARASITISM, by Emeritus Professor José Álvarez, documents Fidel Castro’s responsibility for Cuba’s economic disaster. Using the agricultural sector as the analytical framework, the book  evaluates Castro’s absolute power in decision-making.

NEW BOOK FLYER

Oct. 1, 2014WELLINGTON, Fla.Contrary to what the title implies, this book is not about agriculture; rather, the author uses examples from agriculture to make the point that Fidel Castro is a delusional fool, a modern Don Quixote, who has “sunk Cuba into a sea” of misery and despair.

Agriculture in this book is loosely defined.  Can one say that building a room where only the heads of cows are exposed to air conditioning so as to increase their milk production is an agricultural activity? Can one claim that a single cow can provide milk for thousands of people? In fact, one must forgive the reader who concludes that the follies described in this book are the fictional musings of the author. They are not; these follies actually took place and they are very well documented.

It has been said that the problem with a socialist economy is that the leaders eventually run out of other people’s money. However, time and again, as shown in the book, the Castro brothers have managed to find the money to subsidize Fidel’s follies. By theft, charity and defaulted debt, they have kept their failing socialist experiment afloat for over fifty years.

The time has come to evaluate Castro’s performance in the economic field. On July 31, 2006 Vice-President Raúl Castro assumed the duties of President of Cuba’s Council of State in a temporary transfer of power due to Fidel Castro’s illness. On February 24, 2008 the National Assembly of People’s Power unanimously chose General Raúl Castro as his brother’s permanent successor. Although Fidel Castro has partially recovered, he will not resume his former duties. His complete control over the economy in general, and the agricultural sector in particular, during nearly fifty years ended with his illness.

The book contains 12 chapters (under three parts: absurdity, waste and parasitism), an appendix and an afterword. Additional materials have been placed on a website devoted exclusively to the book. (www.cubanquixote.com ).

COMMENTS:

The book, published in paperback and electronic formats by the Amazon Company CreateSpace, has received numerous acclaims from a wide array of Cuba specialists

. Luis Martínez-Fernández, Professor of History at the University of Central Florida, states that the book «is thoroughly researched, written in exquisite prose, and sprinkled with the characteristic irony and irreverent humor of the Cuban intellectual. »

Tom Gjelten believes that, «in choosing Cuba’s disastrous experience with agriculture to illustrate some of Fidel Castro’s bizarre delusions, José Álvarez has found a novel way to tell the familiar story of the failure of Castroism.

Zane R. Helsel, Professor and Extension Specialist in Agriculture Energy at Rutgers University; expressed: « Dr Álvarez’s book is insightful across a broad scale of political, cultural and economic aspects. Aspiring politicians, leaders, and anyone with an interest in understanding Cuba or other attempts at such totalitarian governments will benefit from reading it. »

Juan M. del Águila, Retired Associate Professor of Political Sciences at Emory University believes that «in this appraisal of socialist Cuba’s economic development, Dr. Álvarez shows how and why Fidel Castro’s unbridled megalomania devastated the country’s political economy and stifled its social progress. The interconnectedness of charismatic rule, narcissistic personal traits and autocratic decision-making form the pathological matrix defining Fidel Castro’s behavior. As the cause of colossal blunders and irreversible damage to the economy and social system, that matrix drove Castro’s wretched choices and ignorant decisions while the arrogant leader exercised direct power. And Dr. Alvarez properly attributes Cuba’s economic ruin and descent into insolvency and mendicancy to Fidel Castro’s quixotic fixation with himself. »

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh declares: «This book by one of the world’s experts on Cuban agriculture has an amazing amount of information, but Álvarez manages to make it extremely interesting and with frequent touches of humor. It is a wonderful reading, which I recommend for experts and the general public alike. »

Jose de Cordoba, Latin America correspondent for The Wall Street Journal had the following thoughts: « Most people regard Fidel Castro either as a great revolutionary or a bloody dictator. Few know him as a world-class crackpot inventor and frustrated would-be scientist whose madcap ideas destroyed Cuban agriculture and the island’s economy. During his half century in power, Castro experimented with everything from creating a New Cuban Man to cloning his favorite champion milk cow. None of the experiments worked. Now, thanks to José Álvarez, we have an entertaining and encyclopedic history of Castro’s hair brained efforts to re-engineer the island. This book is must reading for anybody interested in Cuba. »

THE AUTHOR

José Álvarez left his native Cuba in 1969, obtaining a Ph.D. in food and resource economics from the University of Florida, where he finished a productive academic career in 2004, receiving the title of Emeritus Professor. A great deal of his time was devoted to study Cuba’s agricultural sector. He obtained private support and was able to pay several professional visits to the island. For his work on Cuban agriculture, Professor Álvarez received the «National Honor Award for Superior Service», the highest honor conferred by the United States Department of Agriculture to an agricultural researcher. Six of the 16 books he has authored or co-authored have received 17 national or international literary awards and recognitions.

JoseAlvarez_TProfessor José Álvarez

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ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE

ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE

 Archibald R.M. Ritter and Ted A. Henken

 2014/373 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62637-163-7 hc $79.95 $35

A FirstForumPress Book

New Picture (4)

Special limited-time offer!Mention e-blast when ordering

 CLICK HERE TO READ THE INTRODUCTION:  Cuba’s Chabging Policy Landscape” 

“A provocative, compelling, and essential read. The ethnographic work alone is worth the price of admission.” John W. Cotman, Howard University

“A multifaceted analysis of Cuban economic activity…. Ritter and Henken paint a lively picture of daily life in entrepreneurial Cuba.” Julia Sweig, Council on Foreign Relations

 SUMMARY

During the presidency of Raúl Castro, Cuba has dramatically reformed its policies toward small private enterprises. Archibald Ritter and Ted Henken consider why—and to what effect.

After reviewing the evolution of policy since 1959, the authors contrast the approaches of Fidel and Raúl Castro and explore in depth the responses of Cuban entrepreneurs to the new environment. Their work, rich in ethnographic research and extensive interviews, provides a revealing analysis of Cuba’s fledgling private sector.

THE AUTHORS

 Archibald R.M. Ritter is distinguished research professor of economics and international  affairs at Carleton University.

Ted A. Henken is associate professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College, CUNY.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Cuba’s Changing Policy Landscape.
  • The Small-Enterprise Sector.
  • Revolutionary Trajectories and Strategic Shifts, 1959–1990.
  • The “Special Period,” 1990–2006.
  • Policy Reform Under Raúl Castro, 2006–2014.
  • The Movement Toward Non-Agricultural Cooperatives.
  • The Underground Economy.
  • The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Paladar, 1993–2013.
  • The Future of Small Enterprise in Cuba.
  • Appendix 1: Timeline of Small Enterprise Under the Revolution.
  • Appendix 2: 201 Legalized Self-Employment Occupations.

Lynne Rienner Publisher’s page on Entrepreneurial Cuba: https://www.rienner.com/title/Entrepreneurial_Cuba_The_Changing_Policy_Landscape

For order and general inquiries, please contact: questions@rienner.com

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