• 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.

AUMENTA CIRCULACIÓN DE BILLETES FALSOS EN LA CAPITAL CUBANA

Lisbán Hernández Sánchez

Hablemos Press, noviembre 21, 2014

En la capital cubana aumenta la circulación debilletes falsos en moneda nacional (CUP) y convertible (CUC), alertan trabajadores del sector privado.

Los dueños de negocios se pasan el mensaje de alerta ante la aparición de pesos convertibles falsificados de 5, 10 y 20 CUC, dijo el lunes el dueño de una cafetería del municipio Habana Vieja, quien no quiso dar su nombre.

Asegura el cuentapropista que la desconfianza ante los consumidores se ha incrementado en los meses de octubre y noviembre debido a los constantes intentos por insertar estos billetes en paladares, dulcerías, cafeterías y entre choferes de carros de alquiler, según él ha podido escuchar en su negocio.

“A lo largo de estos dos últimos años, varios trabajadores por cuenta propia se han visto afectados con billetes falsos de 5, 10 y 20 CUC que no han logrado identificar”, dijo al ser consultada una empleada del Banco Metropolitano en la habanera calle Monte.

Ariel Gutiérrez, quien trabaja en una paladar, comentó: “En agosto detecté al menos 5 intentos (de jóvenes de entre 25 y 30 años) de pagarme con billetes falsos”.

Otros cuentapropistas consultados aseguran que han tratado de infiltrarles billetes de iguales cifras. “En estos actos delictivos también participan mujeres, que pasan más desapercibidas”, agregó uno de ellos.

En la isla no solo circulan billetes en CUP y CUC falsos, también haybilletes de 100 dólares americanos y monedas de 1 CUC.

Un artesano dijo que intentaron pagarle con monedas falsas de 1 CUC. “Ya me habían advertido de las monedas de metal de 1 CUC y pude identificarlas con una piedra de imán que tenía en mi cartera para eso”.

En Cuba circulan dos monedas, el CUP (moneda nacional) y el CUC (convertible). Según la tasa de cambio actual 1 CUC equivale a 24 o 25 CUP, según sea a la venta o a la compra.

Odalis López, residente en el municipio Centro Habana, quien realizó una transacción en una CADECA (Casa de Cambio), dijo que ella fue testigo de una conversación donde algunos trabajadores del lugar advertían que “están circulando billetes falsos, y tienen mucha similitud con los billetes reales”.

Lázaro Izquierdo Ramírez, un trabajador de la construcción, comentó que en el mes de junio cambió 10 CUC en moneda nacional en la CADECA de la calle 26 y Puentes Grandes, y al pagar en una juguera con uno de los billetes de 10, le dijeron que era falso. Al revisar, encontró otros tres billetes de a 10 falsos entre los 240 pesos cubanos que le dio la cajera.

“Muchos de los empleados de los bancos, de las Casas de Cambio y hasta de las Tiendas Recaudadoras de Divisas son cómplices de los delincuentes“, indicó Izquierdo, quien dijo que el propio Estado tiene conocimiento de esto.

Otros ciudadanos consultados han recibido billetes falsos de 100 y 50 pesos cubanos como vuelto en cafeterías estatales y negocios por cuenta propia.

La activista Maritza Castro, residente en el municipio Cerro, fue estafada por dos mujeres de la provincia Cienfuegos que le cambiaron 5.000 CUC por dólares americanos que resultaron ser falsos. Un grupo de jóvenes del reparto La Victoria, en Centro Habana, comentaron que uno de sus vecinos estafa a turistas en el casco histórico de la Habana Vieja con billetes Felipe Paso, que circularon hasta 1960.

“Les hace creer que los billetes viejos tienen más valor que el dólar americano. También lo hace con los billetes de 3 pesos con la imagen del Che”, aseguran los jóvenes.

Según un ex prisionero consultado, en el mercado La Cuevita, del municipio San Miguel del Padrón, se pueden conseguir billetes falsos de 5 CUC a 40 CUP.

Aunque varias CADECA exhiben carteles que anuncian cuáles son los billetes falsos en moneda nacional, las autoridades no identifican el problema de fondo; tampoco los medios oficiales alertan a la población. Cabría preguntarse: ¿De dónde sacan los malhechores el papel moneda? ¿Dónde fabrican esos billetes tan realistas?

Publicado originalmente en Hablemos Press

tres-pesos-convertiblesTres Pesos Convertibles: Not Subject to Falsification!

Tre_pesos_cuba_frontTres Pesos , Moneda Nacional (about $US 0.12):  Not Worth to Counterfeiting?

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URBAN PLANNER OFFERS TOUGH TALK ON CUBA’S ECONOMIC PROSPECTS

By Larry Luxner

November 10, 2014 http://newsismybusiness.com/planner-economic-prospects/

WASHINGTON — When Miguel Coyula discusses Cuba’s struggling economy, he sounds more like a Miami-based critic of the Castro regime than a retired Cuban official visiting the United States on a lecture tour, then going back home to Havana. But times have changed, and Coyula says he isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

“In Cuba, the word ‘criticize’ means to blame or demonize. But I try to be like a doctor. I tell the truth,” said the renowned architect and urban planner, who recently returned to Havana after a month-long trip that began in Providence, R.I., and included speaking engagements in not only Washington but also New York, Atlanta and Miami.

“To quote Raúl, we need to learn to listen to others, even when we don’t like what we hear. He’s invited people to speak out,” Coyula said. “These days, people who work for the government are more open. The instruction coming from the top is that it doesn’t matter what people say; no one can be interrupted.”

D11_293_021Miguel Coyula

A prominent architect and urban planner, Coyula, 72, advised Havana’s municipal government for more than 20 years as part of a progressive think tank known as Grupo para el Desarrollo Integral de la Capital (GDIC). He spoke to us following a private roundtable briefing at Downey McGrath Group, a Washington lobbying firm.

Among Coyula’s key predictions:

  • Investment in the much-hyped Mariel special development zone won’t materialize anytime soon — despite the new foreign investment law and incentives — mainly because foreign companies are deeply unhappy with the government’s refusal to allow them to pay employees directly.
  • The number of universities island-wide will be slashed from 67 to 15 in order to save money, but the quality of education will suffer as a result — especially when young Cubans need business skills such as accounting and management.
  • Cuba’s population, now stagnant at 11.2 million, will never hit the 12-million mark. That’s because Cuba is aging rapidly due to a low birth rate and the continuing exodus of young people. By 2030, at least 30 percent of all Cubans will be 60 or older, up from 20 percent today.
  • The Cuban government will begin phasing out the convertible peso (CUC) in December, as part of efforts to end the dual-currency system.

“By the end of this year, they’ll begin substituting CUCs for regular pesos, so if today you pay 2.50 CUC for a liter of oil, you’ll pay 60 pesos. Considering that the average monthly salary is 150 pesos, that’s a lot of money,” said Coyula. With the planned phase-out of convertible pesos, people are trying to get rid of their CUCs and acquire dollars instead. Officially, the exchange rate is 87 cents per CUC, but on the black market, it’s 96 to 98 cents per CUC.

“Prices are astronomically high, and there’s a lack of economic education after decades of no education on this subject,” he said. “People don’t realize that the society creates wealth. The state administers that wealth, but it must come from somewhere.”

Embargo is ‘ethical issue’

Coyula’s U.S. visit was sponsored by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a Washington-based NGO that favors lifting the embargo and all U.S. travel restrictions against Cuba. His cousin, the well-known architectural historian Mario Coyula — who headed the GDIC — died this past July at the age of 79.

“For me, the embargo is an ethical issue,” he said. “But lifting it doesn’t necessarily mean that the day after people’s mindsets will change. The Cuban economy needs to be more efficient and dynamic — with or without the embargo.”

In Coyula’s opinion, “the revolution spends more than 40 percent of its time surviving. It’s maneuvering back and forth, and this has created a reactive mentality — always reacting to problems and not being pro-active. The present leadership is committed to the legacy of the revolution. They will try to keep the boat afloat as long as possible, until they die. Then they’ll pass the problems to the new leaders.”

And one of Cuba’s biggest problems, he said, is the rampant corruption that has impeded foreign investment — even as the government attempts to crack down on corruption by jailing foreigners such as Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian, who in September was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“Recently, the World Bank ranked 189 countries based on the ease of investing. The best place to invest was Singapore. Last on the list was Chad,” he said. “Cuba is not even on the list. Imagine, Chad is there and Cuba’s not.”

Even North Korea, the world’s most isolated state, has something Cuba doesn’t have, Coyula pointed out: a sprawling free zone built with foreign (South Korean) investment that employs tens of thousands of workers.

“Mariel is the most promoted place in Cuba, with special development zones for investors. But soon it’ll be a year after the opening of Mariel, and there is absolutely nothing. Even the container terminal in Havana was moved to Mariel to give it a sense of activity, but no one will invest there,” he complained.

It’s the same thing with half a dozen golf course projects that have been enthusiastically proposed by overseas firms — yet Cuba’s new foreign investment law by itself won’t be enough to drum up business.

“All these projects are about to happen, but they haven’t happened yet,” Coyula told us. For one thing, potential foreign investors in Mariel don’t like the fact that they can’t hire employees on their own, but instead must pay a government employment agency in dollars for that labor. The agency, in turn, pays workers in Cuban pesos. That’s because the Castro government wants to avoid creating a class of highly paid Cubans who work for foreign companies, “but inequalities are there whether you like it or not.”

For example, Coyula spoke of a woman he knows who works for an Italian joint venture. That company pays the state $850 a month for her services, but the woman herself receives only 360 Cuban pesos (worth about $14 a month).

“Part of that money is used to sustain a bunch of bureaucrats,” he said. “Because of that, many foreign companies give their employees a bonus in dollars or CUCs. You never discuss with your employer how much [extra] you’re going to earn. They say it’s to protect the worker.”

 Cubans have become speculators

Because salaries are so low relative to the high prices for just about everything, Cubans have become speculators — especially when it comes to food, he said.

“People will buy everything, because if you don’t someone else will and speculate with it. So you get a pound of rice for 30 cents,” he explained. “In the free market, it costs five pesos, and in the dollar shop, it’s 25 pesos. So you sell the rice you don’t need. You wouldn’t give it to your neighbor for 30 cents a pound, you’ll sell it for two pesos, which is cheaper than the free market.”

As prices for ordinary Cubans rise, the benefits they’ve long become accustomed to, such as free education and healthcare, are rapidly drying up because the state can no longer afford to provide them.

“Cuba has 67 universities, and the idea is to leave only 15 — more or less one per province. But Havana will have more than one, so some provinces will be left with none. They’re merging institutions and reducing the budget for higher education.

They’ve already cut the healthcare budget by 15 percent. These are things that people don’t see. These measures have implications,” Coyula said, adding that old university deficits continue.

“In none of Cuba’s 67 universities can you study for an MBA. Today, we need managers and people to understand what economics really is. We don’t teach planning in our universities, either. You want to buy a book on business administration? They don’t have any. The government gives some courses in business, but in my opinion, they’re shallow.”

Telecom, tourism are bright spots

One bright spot, he said, is telecommunications. In 2009, Cuba had only 40,000 or so mobile phones in use. Today, more than 2 million Cubans have cell phones, more services are available than ever before, and costs have fallen dramatically.

“Raúl also lifted restrictions for Cubans to have access to hotels and resorts,” he said. “Last summer, half a million Cubans stayed in beach hotels. The domestic market is saving the tourism from the low season.”

But while tourism has boosted the economies of some of Cuba’s 15 provinces, others have not been helped at all. “For example, Matanzas and Cárdenas are taking advantage of Varadero, which generates hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenues. And Havana is, of course, the jewel of tourism,” he said. “But Las Tunas and Guantánamo have nothing.”

The resumption of normal relations resume between Washington and Havana would be dire news for Cuba’s closest Caribbean competitors, predicts Coyula.

“The day the embargo is lifted, the Dominican Republic will commit suicide,” he warned. “The Dominicans inherited our sugar, tobacco and tourism industries. Once Cuba is open again, nobody will be interested in the D.R. You wait and see.”

 mariel Mariel Special Development Zone

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ROBERTO VEIGA AND LENIER GONZÁLEZ: EXTOLLING MODERATION TO GET CUBANS TALKING ABOUT POLITICS

22cuba-master675Roberto Veiga González, left, and Lenier González Mederos

By VICTORIA BURNETT,   New York Times, November 21, 2014

Original here: EXTOLLING MODERATION

MEXICO CITY — FROM a lectern covered in a lacy, white cloth at a provincial Cuban church center last month, Roberto Veiga González and Lenier González Mederos took turns talking before about 60 intellectuals and activists about the value of political dialogue. Not, perhaps, the most electrifying topic, but if politics is the art of the possible, it is a skill that the pair hope Cubans can master after wearying years of bombast and vitriol.

“A plurality of views can coexist,” said Mr. Veiga, a lawyer and former magazine editor who, with Mr. González, has come to represent an emerging, less confrontational, approach to Cuban politics.

Looking over his reading glasses at the opening of a two-day seminar on Cuban sovereignty, he added, “It is possible to think differently but work together.”

If that is a difficult view to peddle in Washington, it is an even tougher sell in Cuba, where the state has, for decades, stifled debate and the government and its opponents are bitterly divided.

 “We Cubans are the enemies of moderation,” said Mr. González, a former journalist, by telephone from Havana.

Mr. González, 33, and Mr. Veiga, 49, have been criticized as too timid by some in the opposition. But their dogged efforts to get Cubans talking have won them a strong following in Cuba’s tiny civil society.

They are leading figures in an incipient culture of debate that has taken root in recent years, largely as President Raúl Castro has allowed greater access to cellphones and the Internet, and lifted some restrictions on travel, but also as the United States has lifted restrictions on Cubans’ visiting their relatives.

The pair reflect a breakdown of the binary politics of pro- and anti-Castro Cubans that dominated for decades, and the development of a more diverse range of opinions, especially among younger Cubans, as they look to the era that will follow the Castros’ deaths.

As editors, until recently, of a Roman Catholic magazine, the pair have created a space where dissidents, dyed-in-the-wool communists, artists, exiles, bloggers and academics can discuss national issues, both in print and at seminars held in a Catholic cultural center in Old Havana.

Their new project, Cuba Posible — part forum, part online magazine, part research organization — aims to do the same, and will test the government’s threshold for debate as well as Cubans’ appetite for finding a third way.

Serious and circumspect, Mr. González and Mr. Veiga lack the caustic eloquence of Yoani Sánchez, whose blog Generation Y has millions of readers, and the daring of some dissidents. They tread carefully, advocating political change without rupture and keeping some distance from the Castros’ most outspoken adversaries.

THE two have become a double act, hosting debates together, traveling together for conferences and studying together in Italy for doctorates in sociology (Mr. González) and political science (Mr. Veiga).

Both are Roman Catholics. Mr. González was raised in a religious family, and Mr. Veiga joined the church as an adult. Their faith, they say, fuels their quest for solutions.

“We saw that there was a whole range of people who didn’t have anywhere to express themselves,” Mr. González said, adding, “We have a Christian calling to try to mend something that is broken.”

Still, their styles are different: Mr. Veiga, a lawyer from the city of Matanzas, about 60 miles east of Havana, is preoccupied with issues like constitutional overhaul and chooses his words carefully.

Cuba Posible does not advocate democracy, he said in a telephone interview, but promotes dialogues that incorporate “discernment of the question of how to advance toward fuller democracy.”

Mr. González, who studied media and communications at the University of Havana, is more direct than Mr. Veiga and, acquaintances say, less patient.

Cubans and political analysts say the pair are trusted and respected, even by those whose posture is more confrontational. Katrin Hansing, a professor of anthropology at Baruch College, who has known both men for years, said they were thoughtful and courageous.

When they took over Lay Space, the Cuban Catholic magazine, in the mid-2000s, Mr. Veiga and Mr. González refocused it, to include essays from academics, economists and political scientists. They wrote editorials on the timidity of the government’s economic overhauls and the options for a transition to democracy.

Their debates drew a spectrum of voices that Philip Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center in Virginia, said he had found nowhere else in Cuba. Some discussions were slow and academic, others surprisingly frank.

The impact of their efforts to broaden debate is hard to determine. Mr. Veiga said officials had told him they followed what was said. Still, he said, “we need many more spaces, mechanisms and guarantees so that citizens’ opinions can effectively interact with the public powers.”

Mr. Veiga and Mr. González are not the only, nor the first, Cubans debating national politics. Publications, including New Word, the magazine of the Archdiocese of Havana, have bluntly urged much faster economic changes. Temas, a cultural magazine, has for years held monthly discussions that are open to the public.

Antonio Rodiles, a physicist, has gained recognition for hosting discussions and jam sessions that are broadcast online under the name State of SATSan activity for which he has been arrested more than once.

The middle ground, too, can be fraught. Mr. González set off a fierce debate among bloggers and intellectuals last year when, at a conference in Miami, he advocated a loyal opposition — one, he explained, that sees the government as an adversary but not as an enemy.

MR. Peters said the stance was “very practical,” adding: “They want to see great changes in their country, but they don’t want to start by tearing down the system and starting over again.”

Others disagree. “I cannot sit and debate with a government in a position of weakness, where I am not their equal,” said Walfrido López, a government critic who has been living in the United States for six months.

Mr. López said that, although he appreciated Mr. Veiga and Mr. González’s efforts, he thought they were too timid and should have a more open relationship with dissidents.

“A space is either free and open, or it’s not a space,” he said by telephone.

Mr. Veiga shrugs off such criticism. “There are people who believe that acknowledging the other is a capitulation, and you’ll find them at either end of the political spectrum,” he said. “That’s the price you pay for making some effort for the common good.”

In May, that price was to lose their space in the church. Mr. Veiga and Mr. González resigned from Lay Space, citing the polemic that they had caused within “certain sectors of the ecclesiastical community.” The two refused to comment in a telephone interview and in emails on their reasons for leaving the magazine.

The storm that ensued was a measure of their following: Bloggers and academics reacted with dismay, quibbled about whether they had jumped or been pushed, and argued about what their departure meant for civil society.

Whatever the reason, Mr. Veiga and Mr. González now hope to weave a new strand with Cuba Posible.

The fuss that erupted after he and Mr. Veiga left Lay Space took the two by surprise, he said, and convinced them that their work was worth continuing. Not that Mr. González particularly liked the attention.

“It’s nice to be stopped on the street and someone salutes you for an article you’ve written,” Mr. González said. “But, actually, we’re both pretty shy.

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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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