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Presentation at the 2015 Conference of the Associayion for the Study of the Cuban Economy, July 30, 2015 by Arch Ritter
Full presentation here: Presentation RITTER ASCE 2015
CubaDebate, 12 julio 2015 | 34
Original Article here : http://www.cubadebate.cu/opinion/vision-externa
José Luis Rodríguez es asesor del Centro de Investigaciones de la Economía Mundial (CIEM). Fue Ministro de Economía de Cuba.
Algo que sin dudas ha llamado la atención a lo largo de la historia de la Revolución es la proliferación de múltiples interpretaciones externas sobre lo que se hace en el país, especialmente en el orden de la política económica. Desafortunadamente, la cantidad no hace la calidad y muchos de los trabajos que se han publicado adolecen de un mínimo de rigor analítico en sus análisis, en especial, aquellos que parten de una visión anti socialista excluyente de otro modelo que no sea afín a la economía de mercado en las diferentes versiones de la misma.
En el presente artículo no se pretende realizar un balance exhaustivo de todos estos enfoques, ni siquiera de aquellos que se han producido a lo largo de los últimos cinco años y que se relacionan con la actualización del modelo económico en curso. No obstante, resulta útil destacar algunas tendencias presentes en el ámbito académico y que permiten identificar los principales enfoques acerca de las transformaciones económicas que se desarrollan en Cuba en la actualidad.
Lo primero que valdría la pena subrayar es que no se aprecia una ruptura con paradigmas anteriores que han preponderado a la hora de examinar la realidad económica en Cuba a lo largo de los años. Ello se aprecia en los análisis que se llevan a cabo por la Asociación para el Estudio de la Economía Cubana (ASCE) de Estados Unidos, que se reúne sistemáticamente todos los años desde 1990 y que publica la memoria de sus debates en los que continúa siendo mayoritaria una visión cercana al neoliberalismo más ortodoxo y al mainstream de la cubanología tradicional al evaluar nuestra realidad.
En este sentido destacan –como ejemplo- los numerosos artículos de Luis R. Luis, uno de los editores del blog de ASCE, que se empeña en pintar con los tonos más oscuros posibles la realidad económica en Cuba calificándola como economía arruinada y carente de liquidez internacional, lo cual se aprecia en sus recientes artículos “Cuba’s Feeble International Liquidity” (La débil liquidez internacional de Cuba) publicado en el blog de ASCE el 9 de abril y “Cuba-US Reconciliation and Limited Reforms” (Reconciliación Cuba-EEUU y reformas limitadas) publicado el 22 de mayo pasado. En ambos trabajos se constata la ausencia de un análisis objetivo, que no excluya otros enfoques desarrollados por la academia en los propios EEUU, y que no ignore informaciones oficiales del gobierno cubano tales como el discurso del Ministro de Economía y Planificación Marino Murillo, pronunciado en la Asamblea Nacional en diciembre de 2014, donde se brindan numerosas informaciones sobre la política de financiamiento externo del país, entre otros temas de importancia para el análisis.
Afortunadamente, se pueden encontrar otros enfoques no necesariamente afines a las ideas socialistas, pero que elaboran sus tesis con una mayor seriedad y rigor, aun en el terreno en el que necesariamente se mantienen discrepancias de fondo con los economistas que defendemos la Revolución.
Si se examinan los años transcurridos desde que se aprobaron los Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del país en abril de 2011, se proyecta una valoración crítica de las medidas propuestas en diversos trabajos del profesor Carmelo Mesa-Lago tal y como aparecen en su libro “Cuba en la era de Raúl Castro. Reformas económico-sociales y sus efectos” (Editorial Colibrí, Madrid, 2012), que reseñé en la revista TEMAS Nº 73 de 2013. Su valoración resumió diversos argumentos basados en una ideología keynesiana que sustentaba el análisis de errores que en su opinión llevaban a la inviabilidad del socialismo en Cuba.
Con posterioridad al 17 de diciembre de 2014, Mesa-Lago se ha pronunciado sobre los cambios en Cuba, incluyendo la perspectiva que se abre en las relaciones con Estados Unidos. En un reciente trabajo titulado “Normalización de las relaciones entre EEUU y Cuba: causas, prioridades, progresos, obstáculos, efectos y peligros” (Real Instituto El Cano, Documento de Trabajo Nº 6/2015, 8 de mayo de 2015 disponible en www.blog.rielcano.org ) el profesor Mesa-Lago realiza un interesante análisis de la nueva situación y ofrece una visión notablemente objetiva de muchos temas que atañen a la evaluación de los cambios en Cuba, lo cual resulta destacable en relación a otros trabajos anteriores. No obstante, el documento tiene un enfoque negativo sobre las relaciones de Cuba con Venezuela tomando como válidas informaciones y datos que resultan especulativos, especialmente cuando valora el supuesto impacto sobre la economía cubana de una contracción económica en Venezuela este año y ubica la situación de ese país como un motivo para buscar el acercamiento de Cuba con Estados Unidos, lo cual no se corresponde con la verdad.
Igualmente el documento cierra con lo que el autor denomina como el enigma de la posición cubana frente al proceso de negociación con Estados Unidos, el cual revela un alto grado de especulación y desconocimiento de las razones que asisten a Cuba para fundamentar sus posiciones. A pesar de estos aspectos controversiales, el documento revela un análisis profundo y abarcador de las relaciones posibles entre Cuba y Estados Unidos por parte del autor, que revela el fruto de un trabajo sistemático y serio sobre estos temas durante muchos años.
Un aspecto que es tomado como premisa en el análisis de las transformaciones más recientes de la economía cubana por la mayoría de los autores, es el fracaso del modelo socialista de desarrollo y lo inevitable de la transición a una economía de mercado.
Al respecto se destacan investigadores como Richard E. Feinberg, ex funcionario del gobierno norteamericano, actual profesor de la Universidad de California en San Diego y Senior Fellow de Brookings Institution, uno de los principales tanques pensantes de Estados Unidos. Este analista ha venido publicando sistemáticamente trabajos sobre la economía cubana, entre los que se destacan sus ensayos “Extendiendo la mano: La nueva economía de Cuba y la respuesta internacional” Iniciativa para América Latina, Brookings Institution, Washington, noviembre de 2011, www.brookings.edu y “¿Aterrizaje suave en Cuba? Empresarios emergentes y clases medias” Iniciativa para América Latina, Brookings Institution, Washington, noviembre 8 de 2013, www.brookings.edu.
En el primero de estos trabajos Feinberg defiende la tesis de que constituye una anomalía la no pertenencia de Cuba a organismos financieros internacionales como el FMI y el Banco Mundial, por lo que propone un programa de aproximaciones sucesivas para superar esa situación, tomando como ejemplo los casos de Nicaragua y Vietnam para ello. Sin embargo, esta propuesta no parte de aceptar los cambios que Cuba se planteó en los Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social, sobre los que el autor expresa que “Las pautas están plagadas de contradicciones internas y siguen rindiendo culto a la planificación centralizada, pero las fracciones pro reforma fueron lo suficientemente fuertes para incluir un lenguaje que transformaría la cultura política y la ética social cubana si se lo interpretara y actuara en consecuencia.”
Claramente sale a relucir que la transición al capitalismo es a fin de cuentas lo determinante y para ello se cifran esperanzas en lo que Feinberg denomina como “las fracciones pro reforma”.
Adicionalmente faltaría por demostrar que es posible ingresar al FMI y sostener un programa de desarrollo como al que Cuba aspira, especialmente si se tiene en cuenta el papel que ha jugado este organismo en la aplicación de las recetas neoliberales a toda costa, tal y como se refleja en estos momentos en su posición frente al actual gobierno de Grecia en la Unión Europea.
Acerca de este supuesto papel positivo del FMI, bastaría con examinar su desempeño en la transición al capitalismo en Europa Oriental y la antigua URSS, cuestión abordada muy seriamente por la investigadora del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo Emily Morris en el artículo “Unexpected Cuba” publicado en New Left Review Nº 88, Julio-Agosto 2014 www.newleftreview.org .
Un analista que trabaja los temas de la economía cubana desde la década de los años 70 del pasado siglo es el profesor de la Universidad de Carleton Archibald Ritter. Autor de uno de los pocos libros sobre la estrategia de desarrollo de Cuba –“The Economic d=Development of Revolutionary Cuba: Strategy and Performance”, Praeger, New York, 1974- ha incursionado con una visión crítica en distintos aspectos del desempeño económico del país, dedicándole especial atención en los últimos años al desarrollo del sector privado. En este sentido Ritter publicó junto a Ted Henken el libro “Entreprenurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape” que vio la luz en 2014, trabajo que aborda desde diferentes ángulos la temática del llamado sector no estatal.
Al igual que otros textos, en este libro se examinan las insuficiencias para el desarrollo sin límites de la propiedad privada y cooperativa, por lo que se deja establecido que solo en una economía de mercado pueden evaluarse sus verdaderas potencialidades, con lo que evidentemente se niega la posibilidad de su desarrollo en los límites que supone una economía socialista.
Finalmente vale la pena destacar otro trabajo que –previo al escenario actual de posibles relaciones con Estados Unidos- se elaboró anteriormente. Este es el caso del ensayo de Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Barbara Kotschwar y Cathleen Cimino “Economic Normalization with Cuba. A Roadmap for US Policymakers” Policy Analysis Nº 103, Peterson Institute for International Economy, 2014 www.piie.com . Siguiendo la línea de otros autores, en este análisis se propone para Cuba un modelo de transición a una economía de mercado siguiendo el modelo de Europa Oriental a través de diferentes pasos, que incluyen la apertura del mercado de Estados Unidos y el ingreso a los organismos del sistema financiero internacional, es decir, al FMI, Banco Mundial y Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo.
Otros análisis de interés sobre la economía cubana en años recientes, que no toman como premisa una transición inevitable a la economía de mercado en nuestro caso, también puede encontrarse en diferentes autores, sin que se pretenda en este breve artículo hacer un listado exhaustivo de los mismos.
Profundo conocedor de la economía cubana a la que ha estudiado durante muchos años, el economista sueco Claes Brundenius, actualmente Profesor Honorario del Research Policy Institute de la Universidad de Lund, elaboró uno de los libros más importantes sobre el desarrollo socioeconómico en Cuba: “Revolutionary Cuba: The Challenge of Economic Growth with Equity” (Cuba revolucionaria: el desafío del crecimiento económico con equidad) Westview Press, Boulder, 1984, al que siguieron numerosos artículos y libros de especial valor –varios de ellos elaborados en esos años con el destacado profesor Andrew Zimbalist del Smith College. Entre los trabajos más significativos se destaca “Revolutionary Cuba at 50: Growth with Equity Revisited” (Cuba revolucionaria a los 50: crecimiento con equidad revisados) Latin American Perspectives Volume 36, Nº 2, March 2009.
En uno de sus libros más recientes, coeditado con Ricardo Torres: “No More Free Lunch. Reflections on the Cuban Economic Reform Process and Challenges for Transformation” (No más comida gratis. Reflexiones sobre el proceso cubano de reformas y desafíos para la transformación) Springer, London, 2014; Brundenius ofrece una evaluación sobre los cambios en Cuba y las reformas económicas en Vietnam. Sin dejar de plantear ideas que pueden resultar polémicas, Brundenius arriba –como en trabajos anteriores- a conclusiones más objetivas y balanceadas al afirmar en este libro “Es un poco irónico que mientras nosotros hablamos sobe la crisis del modelo socialista en Cuba, el capitalismo en todo el mundo atraviesa su crisis más profunda desde la Gran Depresión (…) Pero claramente, el capitalismo no es “el fin de la historia” y es ahora más que nunca importante buscar modelos alternativos que puedan combinar la eficiencia de la competitividad de los modelos de mercado con sostenibilidad ambiental combinada con equidad, solidaridad y democracia. Modelos cooperativos pueden ser una importante parte de esas soluciones como se discuten en este volumen.”
Además de Emily Morris ya mencionada anteriormente, un grupo de diversos autores se han destacado por aportes puntuales al análisis socioeconómico de la realidad cubana desde posiciones igualmente objetivas y no prejuiciadas de nuestra realidad.
Entre ellos vale la pena destacar la labor de Albert Campbell, Profesor de Mérito de la Universidad de Utah, que durante años ha emprendido estudios sobre Cuba en el campo de la economía política y la filosofía de indudable relevancia y que fue el editor del más reciente libro publicado en Estados Unidos escrito totalmente por autores cubanos residentes en nuestro país: “Cuban Economist on the Cuban Economy” (Economistas cubanos sobre la economía cubana) The University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2013.
En este grupo pueden incluirse con diversos matices, los británicos George Lambie –uno de los editores del International Journal of Cuban Studies, del International Institute for the Study of Cuba- y Mervyn Bein, especialista en temas de relaciones entre Cuba y los antiguos países socialistas; el canadiense John Kirk, durante muchos años estudioso de la colaboración internacional brindada por Cuba en el campo de la salud y editor de la colección Contemporary Cuba de la University Press of Florida; los académicos norteamericanos Nelson Valdés Profesor Emérito de Sociología en la Universidad de Nuevo México profundo conocedor de la realidad cubana, creador de uno de los proyectos de investigación más completo sobre Cuba contemporánea –Cuba-L Direct-; Frank Thompson, profesor de la Universidad de Michigan; Paolo Spadoni, profesor asistente de Georgia Regents University y autor del libro “Cuba’s Socialist Economy Today. Navigating Challenges and Change” (La economía de Cuba socialista hoy. Desafíos de la navegación y cambio) Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 2014, libro en el que se realiza un análisis macroeconómico –no exento de criterios debatibles pero interesantes- acerca de las transformaciones en desarrollo actualmente en Cuba; y Jorge R. Piñón un destacado especialista en temas energéticos y director de Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program en la Universidad de Texas en Austin.
Lógicamente, con posterioridad al 17 de diciembre de 2014 el tema de Cuba y su economía ha pasado a ocupar un destacado lugar en todos los análisis, tanto por los especialistas, como por aquellos que comienzan a enfrentarse al estudio de nuestro país.
Un examen sobre estas nuevas visiones y las diferentes teorías que se enarbolan para sustentarlos, merecerá una evaluación más detenida en la misma medida en que se vayan despejando obstáculos que –como la permanencia del bloqueo norteamericano contra Cuba- no permiten una proyección clara de los posibles derroteros de las relaciones económicas entre nuestros dos países a corto plazo.
Por el momento, resulta de mucha importancia para los economistas cubanos mantener un seguimiento de todos los trabajos que se publican en el exterior, especialmente de aquellos académicos que han demostrado una mayor rigurosidad en sus análisis hasta el presente, tomando en cuenta su posible contribución al debate científico y a profundizar en el desarrollo de los estudios sobre la economía cubana.
Notas En esta misma línea de pensamiento se incluyen autores como Jorge Sanguinetty, Roger Betancourt, Rolando Castañeda, Joaquín J. Pujol y Ernesto Hernández-Catá todos ponentes regulares de “Cuba in Transition” el anuario que publica la ASCE desde 1990. Ver www.ascecuba.org
 En este trabajo no solamente se contrastan críticamente los elementos esenciales de la política económica cubana con la aplicada en los ex países socialistas europeos, sino que se incluye una valoración crítica de los enfoques de la cubanología al respecto, lo cual es un valor añadido muy interesante para el análisis.
 Hay una versión disponible en español. Ver “Emily Morris: Cuba ha demostrado que la economía socialista es posible” Cubadebate, noviembre 24 de 2014 en www.cubadebate.cu
La introducción a este libro se encuentra en www.thecubaneconomy.com
WE KNOW WHY OBAMA CHANGED U.S. POLICY TOWARD CUBA. BUT WHY DID CUBA CHANGE ITS POLICY TOWARD THE U.S.?
July 25, 2015, History News Network
To understand the change we need to acknowledge that Castro has always followed a policy of “revolutionary pragmatism”
The restoration of U.S. and Cuban diplomatic ties is quite an event, particularly given the hostility that defined relations between the two countries for so long. President Obama’s decision to re-open an embassy in Havana and Raul Castro’s agreement to do the same in Washington continues the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations. The steps taken by both countries have generated much publicity over the past few months. Numerous U.S. media outlets have produced stories on the implications for Obama’s legacy and the potential fallout for 2016 presidential candidates. As usual Washington politicians and pundits have focused their attention on the reasons for the U.S. shift. Yet, it is not President Obama’s decision to seek a normalization that warrants the most attention, but rather the Castro government’s reasoning behind their determination to chart a new course in U.S.-Cuban relations. In fact, much more can be learned from concentrating instead on what is behind the Cuban leadership’s thinking.
Havana’s recent decisions are deeply rooted in what can best be termed as Cuba’s “revolutionary pragmatism.” Though the Castro government continually speaks the language of revolutionary change, it also has also taken a sensible view to foreign policy matters when necessary. Such an approach has guided Cuban engagement with the world from the 1960s to the present.
“Revolutionary pragmatism” traces back to the very beginning of the Castro regime. In the years immediately following the Cuban Revolution, for example, a top issue in US-Cuban relations included Fidel Castro’s support for anti-US guerilla movements throughout Latin America. Castro repeatedly challenged Latin Americans and others around the world to stand up to the United States. He famously declared in 1962 that it was “the duty of every revolutionary to make the revolution. In America and the world, it is known that the revolution will be victorious, but it is improper revolutionary behavior to sit at one’s doorstep waiting for the corpse of imperialism to pass by.”
Yet, privately, Castro proved willing to develop a foreign policy based on practical considerations. On a recent research trip to Cuba I gained access to the Foreign Ministry Archive in Havana and was surprised at what I found. Many detailed reports from the early 1960s discussed the prospects for revolution in Central and South America, but concluded that conditions were not ripe in many nations for radical change. This reality led to a more pragmatic position being taken by leaders in Havana as they approached Latin America.
The most documented aid came in the form of training young Latin Americans in guerilla tactics who traveled to Cuba. As historian Piero Gliejeses’s excellent studies demonstrate, Castro turned his attention to Africa as early as 1964. Havana’s decision to abandon any large-scale support for revolutionary groups in Latin America was not made due to a lack of enthusiasm for challenging Washington’s traditional sphere of influence, but owed instead to practical considerations.
Similarly, in the 1980s when the Sandinista triumph in Nicaragua offered Havana an ally in Latin America, Castro held to “revolutionary pragmatism.” He counseled Daniel Ortega not to antagonize elite economic interests too much. On a visit to Managua, Castro even declared that allowing some capitalism in the Nicaraguan economy did not violate revolutionary principles. He bluntly told Nicaraguan leaders that they did not have to follow the path taken by Cuba, “Each revolution is different from the others.”
Perhaps the greatest illustration of Cuban flexibility was the Castro regime’s response to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In June 1990, after receiving word that aid from Moscow would no longer flow to Havana, Fidel Castro announced a national emergency. He called his initiative “the Special Period in Peacetime.” Cuba welcomed foreign investment, tourism, the U.S. dollar, and allowed small-scale private businesses. While many prognosticators predicated a complete collapse of the Castro regime, the revolutionary government endured due to its ability to adapt.
Thus, recent developments must be viewed within their proper historical context. As it has in the past, Castro’s regime is pursuing “revolutionary pragmatism.”
The impetus for changes in Cuba’s approach owes to several reasons. First, since the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013 Venezuela has become a questionable economic ally. Political instability coupled with a crumbling economy has likely caused Havana to view a key economic patron in Caracas as increasingly unreliable. A complete breakdown of order in Venezuela would greatly affect the Cuban economy in a negative way. Thus, a better economic relationship with the United States is one way of protecting the island from a changing relationship with Venezuela.
Other reasons for Cuba’s rapprochement with the United States owe to domestic concerns. Since taking power in 2008, Raul Castro has been open to reforms in an attempt to make socialism work for the twenty-first century. Over the last few years the Cuban government has relaxed controls over certain sectors of the economy, but reforms have been slow and halting. Anyone who has spent time in Havana cannot help but notice the aging infrastructure and inefficient public transportation system. A key to any reform agenda is attracting foreign investment, and the United States stands as an attractive partner.
Furthermore, as Raul is poised to step down from power in 2018, Cuba is starting to make preparations for a successful turnover. An improving relationship with Washington may help his likely successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel, better navigate the transfer. In sum, at this point and time, normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations serves Havana’s best interests.
It remains to be seen just how far the Cuban government will go regarding changes in policy. Going back to 2010, Raul Castro declared during a national address that “we reform, or we sink.” His recent push for renewed relations with the United States will likely create an influx of U.S. tourists and more capital from American businesses. In turn, this could place Cuba down the path of other communist nations who embraced elements of capitalism, China and Vietnam notably. Just how far Raul will go with his reform agenda remains to be seen.
Ultimately, a U.S.-Cuban thaw is a positive step. Antagonism between the two countries serves no one, especially the Cuban people. Yet, we should not see the recent shifts as merely Washington changing course. The steps taken by Havana are equally important and should be viewed as part of a long history of shrewd diplomacy. While Cuban foreign policy has traditionally been revolutionary in rhetoric, it has proven once again to be pragmatic in practice.
Original Available In
The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism. While in recent years it has relied less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and other critics have increased dramatically. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.
In December 2014, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel and commerce with the island in exchange for several concessions by the Cuban government, including a commitment to release 53 political prisoners and to allow visits by international human rights monitors.
Arbitrary Detentions and Short-Term Imprisonment
The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN)—an independent human rights group the government views as illegal—received over 7,188 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through August 2014, a sharp increase from approximately 2,900 in 2013 and 1,100 in 2010 during the same time period.
Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify the detention of critics and threaten them with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors can then use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings aim to discourage them from participating in activities seen as critical of the government.
Detention is often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. In the days leading up to the summit meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), for example, which took place in Havana on January 28 and 29, 2014, at least 40 people were arbitrarily detained, and 5 held under house arrest until the conference had ended, according to the CCDHRN.
Members of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—are routinely detained before or after they attend Sunday mass. On May 4, for example, more than 80 women were detained before attending mass throughout the island. On July 13, 129 members of the group were detained as they prepared to attend commemorative ceremonies honoring Cubans who died attempting to leave the island in 1994.
Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours and even days. The former political prisoner Guillermo Fariñas, who was placed under house arrest for the duration of the CELAC conference and then arrested when he attempted to leave home, reported suffering two broken ribs and other injuries as a result of a beating he received while in detention. Yilenni Aguilera Santos, a member of the Damas de Blanco movement in Holguín, reported suffering a miscarriage when security agents subjected her to a severe beating after arresting her on her way to mass on June 22.
Even after the conditional release of dozens of political prisoners in December 2014, dozens more remain in Cuban prisons according to local human rights groups. These groups estimate that there are more political prisoners whose cases they cannot document because the government prevents independent national or international human rights groups from accessing its prisons.
Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are “subordinated” to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence.
Freedom of Expression
The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression. Only a very small fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of, and limited access to, the Internet. While people in cities like Havana, Santiago de Cuba, or Santa Clara have access to the Internet, people in more rural areas are not able to go online.
A May 2013 government decree directed at expanding Internet access stipulates that the Internet cannot be used for activities that undermine “public security, the integrity, the economy, independence, and national security” of Cuba—broadly worded conditions that could be used against government critics.
A small number of independent journalists and bloggers manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. Yet those who publish information considered critical of the government are sometimes subject to smear campaigns, attacks, and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.
In May 2014, blogger Yoani Sanchez launched the website 14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent online newspaper. Within hours, the site was hacked, and visitors were directed to a page dedicated to scathing criticisms of Sanchez. The site was restored the following day, but blocked again several days later, and has remained inaccessible to Internet users within Cuba ever since.
In May 2013, the director of the government-run Casa de las Americas cultural institute, Roberto Zurbano, published an article in the New York Times highlighting persistent inequality and prejudice affecting Afro-Cubans. He was subsequently attacked in the government-controlled press and demoted to a lesser job at the institute.
Travel Restrictions and Family Separation
Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminate the need for an exit visa to leave the island, which had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government and their families. Since then, many people who had been previously denied permission to travel have been able to do so, including human rights defenders and independent bloggers.
Nonetheless, the reform included very broad discretionary powers that allow the government to restrict the right to travel on the grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest,” allowing the authorities to deny exit to people who express dissent. For example, authorities have repeatedly denied Manuel Cuesta Morúa the right to travel abroad since he attempted to organize a parallel summit to the CELAC conference in January 2014.
The government also continues to arbitrarily deny Cubans living abroad the right to visit the island. In August 2013, the Cuban government denied Blanca Reyes, a Damas de Blanco member living in exile in Spain, permission to travel to Cuba to visit her ailing 93-year-old father, who died in October before she could visit him.
The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217. Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires that Cubans obtain government permission before moving to the country’s capital. It is often used to prevent dissidents from traveling there to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live in the capital.
Prisons are overcrowded, and unhygienic and unhealthy conditions lead to extensive malnutrition and illness. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, and those who criticize the government, or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest, are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.
While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April 2013, it continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.
Human Rights Defenders
The Cuban government still refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Meanwhile, government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.
Key International Actors
President Obama announced in December 2014 that the US government would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel and commerce with the island. In exchange, the Cuban government committed itself to—among other things— releasing 53 political prisoners and allowing visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN human rights monitors.
President Obama also called on the US Congress to lift the economic embargo on Cuba. For more than half a century, the embargo has imposed indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and has done nothing to improve the country’s human rights record. The UN General Assembly has repeatedly called for an end to the US embargo on Cuba. In October 2014, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the embargo.
The European Union (EU) continues to retain its “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which conditions full EU economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. However, after a meeting in April 2014 in Havana, European Union and Cuban delegates agreed on establishing a road map for “normalizing” relations. EU officials indicated that concerns about civil liberties and democratic participation would continue to influence EU policy towards Cuba.
At the Organization of American States General Assembly in June, governments throughout the region called for the attendance of Cuba at the next Summit of the Americas in Panama in 2015.
In November 2013, Cuba was re-elected to a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), defeating Uruguay for a regional position despite its poor human rights record and its consistent efforts to undermine important council work. As a UNHRC member, Cuba regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of serious human rights situations around the world, opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in North Korea, Syria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Belarus, and Ukraine. Cuba, however, supported the landmark resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity adopted by the council in September 2014.
PAN-AMERICAN GAMES: THE REAL RESULTS.
By Arch Ritter
Being a numbers junkie, I follow the Pan-American Games results – and those of the Olympics – with keen interest. However, I am always bothered by the commonly-used scoring systems that rank countries either but the total number of medals won, or the number of gold medals won. Obviously these rankings are biased to the more populous and the wealthier countries and are therefore not all that valid. The bigger and wealthier countries such as the US and Canada can develop expertise in all the rarer and expensive sports like water-skiing, water boarding, sailing, and equestrian. Big countries like Brazil and Mexico, both reasonably well-off and with huge population bases can be expected to do well also.
One surprise outlier is always Cuba, which with its relatively small population achieves a strong medals ranking, coming fourth in these games
But the real winners have always seemed to me to be the small Caribbean Islands with minuscule populations in some cases, yet with some medals to their credit.
REAL PAN-AMERICAN GAMES RESULTS
So I decided to recalculate the rankings of countries with respect to the Pan-American Games results. According to my system, explained below, the real winners are:
- Bahamas (2 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze)
- Antigua (1 silver)
- St. Kitts and Nevis (1 bronze)
- Grenada (1 bronze)
- St. Lucia (1 bronze)
- Cuba (36 gold, 27 silver, 34 bronze)
- Barbados (1 bronze)
- Trinidad and Tobago (3;3 2)
- Bermuda (1 bronze)
10. Canada (78; 69; 70)
22. United States (103; 81; 81)
24 Brazil (41; 40; 60)
The complete spread-sheet on which these rankings are based is here: Pan-American Games Real Results. You can play with them and re-calculate the rankings any way you like.
It is interesting that even using a population adjustment and Human Development Index adjustment, Cuba still performs exceptionally well, ranking 6th in this system despite a population of about 11.6 million. Congratulations to Cuba. But congratulations also the Bahamas (#1) and the other Caribbean countries that make the top 9. The countries with large populations such as the US, Brazil and Mexico obviously don’t do so well with this measurement arrangement.
The revised rankings here are based on three adjustments to the raw medals data. First, a weight of “3” is given to gold; “2” to silver and “1” to bronze, generating the “weighted” results on the attached table. Second, the “weighted” results are recalculated on a per million population basis, leading to the “Per Capita” Ranking. Third, the “Per Capita” Ranking results are discounted by the UNDP Human Development Index, leading to the Final results and the HDI-adusted Ranking in the last column. The HDI adjustment was made to compensate for the unfair advantage that better-off countries possess, (with higher income levels and better health systems) that can afford to invest in expensive sports programs.
REAL RESULTS Spreadsheet: Pan-American Games Real Results
LA REINTEGRACIÓN ECONÓMICA DE CUBA: COMENZAR CON LAS INSTITUCIONES FINANCIERAS INTERNACIONALES; CUBA’S ECONOMIC REINTEGRATION: BEGIN WITH THE INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS;
The Right Step for Improving the Lives of Cuba’s Citizens; Un paso importante para mejorar la vida de los ciudadanos de Cuba
By Pavel Vidal and Scott Brown; for The Atlantic Council
English Version Here: Pavel Vidal & Scott BrownCuba_ and the IFIs, English.
Spanish Version Here: Pavel Vidal & Scott Brown, Cuba and the IFIs, Spanish
3 Executive Summary
5 Reforms Are Here… and More Are Coming
6 Why Join the IFIs?
An Economy with Promise but Needing Help
How the IFIs Can Assist
A Helping Hand in Tackling Pending Reforms
Challenges for the Cuban Government
How Can Cuba Gain Membership?
11 Global Experiences
Albania’s Entry into the Global Financial System
Sidebar: The Vietnamese Experience
16 Why Should the United States Support Cuba’s Reintegration?
What Is the Best Way to Help the Cuban People?
18 Recommendations for Cuba, the United States, and the International Financial Institutions
21 About the Authors
The new US policy toward Cuba comes at a critical moment, with its impact reaching far beyond the Florida Straits. Since President Obama’s historic announcement in December 2014, Havana has welcomed the Presidents of France and Turkey, the Foreign Ministers of Japan and the Netherlands, the Director of Diplomacy for the European Union, the Governor of New York, and a host of other policymakers and entrepreneurs from the United States. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit in September.
Engagement will be critical to buttressing the government’s appetite for reform. After twenty-five years of post-Soviet adjustment and patchy results from limited reforms, a consensus exists that the economic system and old institutions require a fundamental overhaul. The Cuban government is cognizant of the imperative to allow the “nonstate,” or private sector, to grow. It is the only way to slim down the public sector without massive unemployment.
Now that Cuba has caught the eye of foreign investors and the international community, it is a good time to reignite discussion on Cuba’s reintegration into the global economy. As with so many other countries before, the critical first step will be to regain access to the international financial institutions (IFIs), with a particular focus on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Accession would serve the interests of Cuba and its citizens, the United States, and the international community. In Cuba, the process of economic reform is at a pivotal moment, and more progress is needed to lift the economy on to a new growth trajectory before President Raúl Castro is to step down in 2018. Accession will require adjustments: improving data and transparency, aggressively working to unify the two currencies, and shifting official attitudes. But in the context of the new relationship with the United States, these should not be difficult.
The experiences of other former communist countries can provide lessons for Cuba. Albania, which joined the IMF in October 1991, has some interesting parallels. Albania’s first loan from the Fund, under a stand-by arrangement, was approved in August 1992, and its reengagement with the global financial system and policy reforms produced significant improvements in the standard of living. Vietnam offers another positive example, with access to IFI support coming after a period of initial reform. In both countries everything from GDP to life expectancy improved. These universal benefits are compelling factors for Cuba.
For the international community, Cuba’s accession is long overdue. Still, in the United States, agreement to Cuban accession could face objections. However, those objections rest on discredited assumptions that sanctions can bring political change and that international support will help only the government and not the people of Cuba. US backing of Cuban membership in the IFIs would be consistent with the new policy of helping to support economic reform. This is a unique opportunity to stimulate further transformations in Cuba.
Three possible approaches exist for Cuba to join the IFIs. The first would involve a gradual process of confidence-building between the IFIs and the Cuban authorities, with no initial commitment or date for membership. The second would be a more direct and immediate path, beginning with a Cuban decision to apply for membership. The third would be for President Obama to take the initiative by making a public statement of support for Cuba’s accession to the IFIs, claiming his constitutional prerogative to define the direction of US foreign policy—much like the leadership by President George H. W. Bush in advocating for Russian engagement and membership in the IMF in 1991-1992.
This report argues that a series of steps can be taken now—by Cuba, the United States, and the international community—to pave the way for Cuba to be welcomed back as a full and active member of the international financial institutions.
By Andrea Rodriguez
Associated Press, Jul 14, 4:30 PM EDT
MARIEL, Cuba (AP) — At Cuba’s new mega-port project west of Havana, shipping containers are stacked five-deep the length of its 2,300-foot (700-meter) dock alongside four massive, Chinese-built offloading cranes.
Mariel Cranes, April 2014. Photo by A. Ritter
Neon-vested workers are busy laying roads and building a convention center, and trucks filled with dirt rumble over rutted roads and coat the vegetation with dust. Not far from the Mariel container terminal, workers have finished grading a flat area the size of a football field for the first private companies to establish operations in a special economic development zone billed as a key part of the country’s effort to attract foreign investment and jumpstart a sluggish economy.
A year and a half after the port’s launch, only seven companies – five foreign and two domestic – have the green light to operate here. But with six of those approvals coming since January, officials say things are getting off the ground.
“We’re in July and we have approved almost one company per month,” Ana Teresa Igarza, director of the Special Development Zone at Mariel, said in an interview this week, when The Associated Press received access to the site. “The pace is what we expected from the beginning.” “The first ones are the trickiest,” she added. “After they begin to invest, it’s simpler for others to do so. But there’s an exploratory phase.”
Igarza declined to say which companies are coming to Mariel, except that the foreign firms include two from Mexico, two from Belgium and one from Spain. They cover sectors including food, chemicals and logistics, represent total investment of around $50 million and are expected to launch operations in the first half of 2016.
With Mariel, Cuba is also looking ahead to when the U.S. embargo may be lifted as part of a rapprochement begun by presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro in December. Washington and Havana plan to officially restore diplomatic relations on Monday.
Igarza said visiting U.S. businesspeople also have expressed interest. Tractor assembly company Cleber LLC of Alabama has already applied for a U.S. Treasury license with an eye toward building a plant at Mariel. “We see this as attractive and necessary for our economy, and we told them to go ahead with preparing the documentation,” Igarza said.
Located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Havana, the first part of the port and planned development zone are to occupy some 11,000 acres (4,500 hectares) of bay-shore and low hills. Mariel bay is being dredged to a target depth of 59 feet (17.9 meters) to accommodate deeper-draft ships than those that can use the port of Havana, which cannot be expanded because of an automobile tunnel that traverses its mouth.
Container shipping has already been transferred from Havana to Mariel, though the capital still receives fuel tankers and grain shipments. A new railroad line will transport cargo and workers from Havana. Not counting the construction, there are currently just 328 people working at Mariel, though officials project the development zone could ultimately create some 70,000 jobs, including manufacturing, biotech and other areas.
In selling Mariel to investors, Cuba touts its well-educated populace, low labor costs and strategic location in the Caribbean. Officials also talk of the port eventually becoming a center for transshipment activity.
“Without haste, but without pause,” said Igarza, echoing the oft-repeated mantra of Castro and other officials about the pace with which Cuba intends to implement broader economic reforms that in recent years have allowed a smidgen of free-market activity in the communist-run country.
Some observers say that speed is too slow to attract much foreign investment to Mariel. “The timetables from those who are promoting reform along the lines of the slogan `without haste, but without pause,’ I think they’re inadequate,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban economist who teaches at New York University.
Some potential investors are skittish because of how Cuba nationalized properties following the 1959 revolution, and more recent cases of missed payments and assets seized from foreign companies accused of corruption. Several foreign businessmen were even imprisoned. Many also may be happy to let others test development zone rules that offer tax breaks and other incentives and, Cuba says, guarantee assets and access to arbitration if disputes arise. Others are wary about entrenched bureaucracy or disapprove of the requirement that Cuban workers be hired and paid through a government-run employment agency.
But Lopez-Levy said that, at least in principle, the rules at Mariel should do much to ease concerns, such as lessening bureaucratic bottlenecks. Mariel has the potential to be “an exporting platform at a time in which the stars seem to be aligning in a favorable way for the Cuban economy in terms of improving (relations) with the United States and the European Union,” he said
Mariel Under Construction, Photo by A. Ritter, April 2015
Julie M. Feinsilver
Cuban Studies, Volume 41, 2010, pp. 85-104
Complete Article here: Feinsilver – Fifty Years of Cuba’s Medical Diplomacy
Medical diplomacy, the collaboration between countries to simultaneously produce health benefits and improve relations, has been a cornerstone of Cuban foreign policy since the outset of the revolution fifty years ago. It has helped Cuba garner symbolic capital (goodwill, influence, and prestige) well beyond what would have been possible for a small, developing country, and it has contributed to making Cuba a player on the world stage. In recent years, medical diplomacy has been instrumental in providing considerable material capital (aid, credit, and trade), as the oil-for-doctors deals with Venezuela demonstrates. This has helped keep the revolution afloat in trying economic times. What began as the implementation of the one of the core values of the revolution, namely health as a basic human right for all peoples, has continued as both an idealistic and a pragmatic pursuit. This article examines the factors that enabled Cuba to conduct medical diplomacy over the past fifty years, the rationale behind the conduct of this type of soft power politics, the results of that effort, and the mix of idealism and pragmatism that has characterized the experience. Moreover, it presents a typology of medical diplomacy that Cuba has used over the past fifty years.
Medical diplomacy has been a cornerstone of Cuban foreign policy since the outset of the revolution fifty years ago. It has been an integral part of almost all bilateral relations agreements that Cuba has made with other developing countries. As a result, Cuba has positively affected the lives of millions of people per year through the provision of medical aid, as well as tens of thousands of foreign students who receive full scholarships to study medicine either in Cuba or in their own countries under Cuban professors. At the same time, Cuba’s conduct of medical diplomacy with countries whose governments had not been sympathetic to the revolution, such as Pakistan, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, to name only a few, has led to improved relations with those countries. Medical diplomacy has helped Cuba garner symbolic capital (goodwill, influence, and prestige) well beyond what would have been possible for a small, developing country, and it has contributed to making Cuba a player on the world stage. In recent years, medical diplomacy has been instrumental in providing considerable material capital (aid, credit, and trade), as the oil-for doctors deals with Venezuela demonstrates. This has helped keep the revolution afloat in trying economic times.
What began as the implementation of one of the core values of the revolution, namely health as a basic human right for all peoples, has continued as both an idealistic and a pragmatic pursuit. As early as 1978, Fidel Castro argued that there were insufficient doctors to meet demand in the developing world, despite the requesting countries’ ability to pay hard currency for their services. Because Cuba charged less than other countries, with the exception at that time of China, it appeared that it would win contracts on a competitive basis. In fact, during the following decade (1980s), Cuba’s medical contracts and grant aid increased. In most cases, aid led to trade, if not to considerable income. With the debt crises and the International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment programs of the 1980s, grant aid predominated. In 1990, Cuban medical aid began to dwindle as neither the host countries nor Cuba could afford the costs, the former because of structural adjustment–mandated cuts in social expenditures and the latter because of the collapse of its preferential trade relationships following the demise of the Soviet Union. As Cuba’s ability to provide bilateral medical aid diminished, its provision of medical aid through multilateral sources (contracts) increased.56 Cuba’s medical diplomacy continued, albeit on a smaller scale during the 1990s, until the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
With medical services leading economic growth in the twenty-first century, it seems unlikely that even the more pragmatic Raul Castro will change direction now. In contrast, dependency on one major benefactor and/or trade partner can be perilous, as the Cubans have seen more than once. If Chavez either loses power or drastically reduces foreign aid in an effort to cope with Venezuela’s own deteriorating economic conditions and political opposition,
Cuba could experience an economic collapse similar to that of the Special Period in the early 1990s. In fact, the global financial and economic crisis has compounded existing problems. In an effort to avert that type of collapse, Raul Castro has been trying to further diversify Cuba’s commercial partners.57 In July 2009, Cuba received a new US$150 million credit line from Russia to facilitate technical assistance from that country, and companies from both countries signed various agreements, including four related to oil exploration.
Furthermore, Raul Castro made clear in his August 1, 2009, speech before the National Assembly of People’s Power, that Cuba could not spend more than it made. He asserted that it was imperative to prioritize activities and expenditures to achieve results, overall greater efficiency, and to rationalize state subsidies to the population. Despite a little help from its Venezuelan friend, the Cuban government has had to embark on austerity measures that hark back to the worst of times right after the collapse of the former Soviet Union.60 With two budget cuts already this year, restrictions on electricity distribution, and a 20 percent decrease in imports, it is likely that the Cuban government will attempt to increase its medical exports to countries that can afford to pay for them. In fact, in August 2009, Raul Castro indicated that Cuba would need to increase the production of services that earn hard currency.62 Pragmatism clearly dictates this course of action even if it also is imbued with strong revolutionary idealism about humanitarian assistance.
Economic and political benefits of medical diplomacy aside, Fidel, both when he was president and today as an elder statesman and blogger, most sincerely cares about health for all, not just for Cubans. His long-term constant involvement in the evolution both of the domestic health system and of medical diplomacy has been clear through both his public pronouncements and actions, and the observations and commentary of his subordinates and external observers. Today, this concern for health is part of the social agenda of ALBA, through which, for example, additional Cuban medical aid to Haiti post-2010 earthquake is being conducted.
Unable to offer financial support, Cuba provides what it excels at and what is easily available, its medical human resources. International recognition for Cuba’s health expertise has made medical diplomacy an important foreign policy tool that other, richer countries would do well to emulate. After all, what country could refuse humanitarian aid that for all intents and purposes appears to be truly altruistic?
Dr. Julie Feinsilver
Original Essay Here: Cuba Study Group, http://www.cubastudygroup.org/File_id=9ce1d57b-2598-4c7c-91bf-4a9b135a718a
Full Article Here: Yailenis Mulet Non-Agricultural Cooperatives in Cuba
Dr. C. Yailenis Mulet Concepcion
November 7, 2013:
Starting in 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power, countryside cooperatives were established as a way of increasing and developing Cuban agriculture. There are currently more than 5,000 such cooperatives, but for the first time in half a century, urban cooperatives have been authorized as part of the economic plan initiated by the adoption of the economic and social guidelines of April 2011.
The upgrading of cooperativism, which is part of a larger effort to update the Cuban economic model, seeks to enhance efficiency and productivity in the country. With this goal—of achieving greater efficiency in economic activity—the Cuban state has been forced to decentralize the operation of state enterprises and to allow new forms of non-state management. In that environment, urban cooperatives are an alternative with certain noteworthy advantages, but also unquestionable weaknesses since experiences with agricultural cooperatives have so far been mixed.
Urban cooperativism is part of a government program aimed at bringing the non-state sector to “contribute” close to 45% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the end of a five-year period, something that is somewhat doubtful in light of the enormous sluggishness of the program. Approvals for private activity and cooperatives across the country need to be accelerated.
The first non-agricultural cooperatives launched operations just a few months ago. It would be premature to speculate on this new form of management and its role within the updating of the Cuban economic model. Nevertheless, some important aspects can be underlined:
Urban cooperativism is part of a government program aimed at bringing the non-State sector to “contribute” close to 45% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the end of a five-year period.
The establishment of urban cooperatives is a special response to the following guidelines for economic and social policy adopted by the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party:
Guideline 02: “The management model recognizes and encourages socialist state-owned enterprises, which are the primary structure of the national economy, but also the foreign investment entities stipulated by law (e.g., joint ventures and international association contracts), cooperatives, small farming, usufruct, franchising, self-employment and other economic entities that may altogether contribute to increased efficiency.”
Guideline 25:“Grade 1 cooperatives shall be established as a socialist form of joint ownership in various sectors. A cooperative is a business organization that owns its estate and represents a distinct legal entity. Its members are individuals who contribute assets or labor, and its purpose is to supply useful goods and services to society, and its costs are covered with its own income.”
Cooperatives may be established by natural persons, self-employed or salaried workers, and state-run organizations which decide to change the management structure of their entity to that of a cooperative.
The aim is to improve management structures in sectors that directly impact the population and that have been inefficient for years. At the same time, the State can gradually shed activities that are non-essential to economic development or that have been plagued by productive inefficiency been inefficient for years. At the same time, the State can gradually shed activities that are non-essential to economic development or that have been plagued by productive inefficiencies.
Continue Reading: Yailenis Mulet Cooperatives Cuba
Yailenis Mulet is Doctor of Economic Studies at the Center of the Cuban Economy of the University of Havana. She is also Assistant Professor at the University of Havana and holds a Bachelors in Economics from the University of Holguin (2004). She has given several lectures at various institutions, both in Cuba and abroad, including the United States, Spain, Brazil and Norway.
She has completed approximately 32 professional projects related to assessments, consulting and applications in the business sector, with an emphasis on business intelligence services.Ms. Mulet has served as an advisor for 41 theses and seven master’s theses. Currently she advises five PhD theses related to the topics of Decentralization and Territorial Development. She has published over 25 articles in renowned sources in both Cuba and abroad. She has also taught graduate courses in the business sector, which emphasize managerial training on issues related to business intelligence.
Ms. Mulet has directed several business projects related to the implementation and development of business intelligence surveillance systems and management of cooperatives. Since 2010, she has focused her research on “Decentralization and Territorial Policies” and is currently involved in several research projects related to this topic.
The 2015 Taxi Rutero Cooperative
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, June 18, 2015
Original here: Us Food Exports: Bonanza In Cuba
Before the U.S. embargo, Cuba bought more American rice than any other country in the world. Now, most Cuban rice comes from Vietnam. Last year, Cuba imported $200 million worth of wheat — virtually all of it from Europe and Canada and none from the United States, the largest global exporter.
Many U.S. agricultural producers thought those facts would begin to change this year, as U.S. relations with Cuba improved. But in the six months since President Obama announced a new opening to the island, sales of U.S. foodstuffs — among the few U.S. products allowed, with restrictions, under the embargo — have dropped by half, from $160 million in the first quarter of 2014, to $83 million this year. Even frozen chicken, which has led U.S. food exports to Cuba for years, had lost favor in Havana long before fears of the U.S. bird flu epidemic led this month to a ban on all poultry purchases.
Silver Creek, Seaman’s Orchards Apples from Tyro Virgina, arriving in the “Barrio Chino”, Havana, November 2008, Photo by A. Ritter
As the administration wraps up negotiations with Cuba that are expected to lead to restored diplomatic ties this summer, only Congress can lift the embargo that still prevents nearly all financial and trade relations and severely limits even the few permitted exports.
Obama has said he wants that to happen, and U.S. producers from major agribusiness companies to small farmers have joined a bipartisan force of farm state governors and lawmakers to help overturn restrictions they say are keeping them out of a $2 billion annual market.
“Opening a new export market means a new source of revenue,” said Devry Boughner, vice president at Cargill Inc., the Minnesota-based agribusiness giant and a co-founder in January of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.
While Cuba’s 11 million people are not the world’s biggest market, Boughner said in an interview, “it’s a market that’s right in our target zone.” With Cuba only 90 miles away, she said, it makes little sense “to be losing out to competitors who take longer to ship it there, who might not even have the same quality” as U.S. products.
Cubans rival Southeast Asians as prodigious consumers of rice. Within two years, Riceland Foods vice president Terry Harris told the Senate Agriculture Committee in April, American rice could be providing up to 135,000 metric tons, 30 percent of the Cuban market. Within a decade, he said, that figure could rise to 75 percent or more.
Doug Keesling, a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer, told the panel he saw no “compelling reason” for Congress to “restrict the freedom of Americans to engage in commerce, especially for those who are just trying to sell wholesome, American-grown food.” “I can put my wheat in an elevator in Kansas, send it by rail down to the Gulf, put it on a ship that’s a couple days away from Havana harbor,” Keesling said. “But my wheat’s still going to lose out to wheat that has been on a boat for a week from Canada, or even two weeks from France.”
Yet despite a series of hearings, conferences, concerted lobbying and a stream of trade delegations to Cuba from both Republican and Democratic states this year, the embargo remains firmly in place, with little promise of early action.
Many lawmakers are receptive to Obama’s call to jettison a policy he says has failed for more than a half century to effect change in Cuba. But for most, lifting the sanctions remains just one more unwelcome controversy in a contentious Congress. Others want to retain congressional power to block a White House initiative they deeply oppose. They include GOP presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who has accused Obama of turning his back on Cubans oppressed by their communist government, and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), both sons of Cubans who emigrated before Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. Obama, Cruz charged, had thrown an “economic lifeline” to Cuba just as the embargo and diplomatic freeze had left its communist regime “gasping for air.”
Malnutrition rates in Cuba are “very low,” according to the World Food Program, on par with the United States and the rest of the highly developed world. Staples are guaranteed via government-issued ration cards. But domestic agricultural production rates are abysmal, equipment and farming methods are antiquated, and up to 80 percent of Cuban food is imported. Subsidies from the then-Soviet bloc helped fill the food gap for decades after the U.S. embargo was first imposed in 1960. The Soviet collapse left Cuba in deep recession in the early 1990s, and Havana welcomed the lifting of some U.S. restrictions on food and medical exports in 2000.
Despite permitting cash-only transactions, U.S. food sales rose to a 2008 peak of $710 million before starting a downward trajectory that appears this year to have gone off a cliff, according to figures compiled by the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
When current President Raul Castro took over nearly a decade ago he adopted more pragmatic policies than his older brother, and U.S exports increased. But the complication and high expense of buying American in recent years has diminished Cuban zeal. U.S. prices may be competitive and transportation cheaper over the short distance, but the cost of doing business with the United States is high.
Cash-only limits remain, although Obama has eased the restriction somewhat by requiring payment when title to the goods is transferred in Cuba, rather than up-front before goods are shipped. But Cuba’s lack of cash makes that a rarely used option. Most purchases are made on credit, and the embargo allows no U.S. financing. Instead, Cuba must go through third countries, with Havana obtaining a loan from a foreign bank. That bank then communicates with the bank of a U.S. producer, which arranges the sale with the producer himself. The process is then reversed, with each stage involving lengthy bureaucracy and significant fees.
Cubans “are not going hungry; they’re just buying wheat from other countries,” said farmer Keesling. “That may be more expensive than mine in a free market, but it is now a much better value because there aren’t massive compliance costs accompanying every purchase.”
Some opponents of lifting the embargo maintain that increased U.S. sales will only benefit the Cuban government, since all agricultural imports must go through the state agency, called Alimport.
Boughner and others point out that Cuba is not unique in that regard. Until recently, both Canada and Australia handled all of their wheat imports with state boards. “We’ve had examples through history where states have been involved in trading, but it doesn’t mean we don’t trade with them,” Boughner said. The U.S. food business also sees potential in the eventual lifting of remaining restrictions on American travel to Cuba. In addition to sampling Cuban cuisine, tourists will want to eat and drink what they are used to from home, industry analysts believe.