• 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.

CUBA LOOKING FOR ITS FUTURE

Fernando Ravsberg, Havana Times, June 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fernando Ravsberg

 

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CRISIS IN VENEZUELA MAKES LIFE HELL FOR CUBAN MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

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

By MARIO J. PENTÓN

In Cuba Today, June 22, 2016

Original Article: Cuban Doctors in Venezuela

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Cuban Doctors in Venezuela in More Promising Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14ymedio, La Habana | Junio 16, 2016

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

Among the Top 100 Universities in Latin America:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FAR FROM SILICON VALLEY, CUBA CULTIVATES STARTUP SCENE

BY Leani García |

Americas Quarterly, June 15, 2016

Original Article Here: Cuba Cultivates Startup Scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More on: THE NORTH KOREA-CUBA CONNECTION

 Tuesday, June 7, 2016, North Korea Cuba Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Illegal Trade Persists Between Cuba and North Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PANAMA PAPERS SHOW CUBA USED OFFSHORE FIRMS TO THWART EMBARGO

At least 25 companies in tax havens had Cuban links

Nora Gámez Torres

The Miami Herald, June 7, 2016

The Cuban government used the Panama law firm involved in the Panama Papers to create a string of companies in offshore financial havens that allowed it to sidestep the U.S. embargo in its commercial operations.

El Nuevo Herald identified at least 25 companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, Panama and the Bahamas and linked to Cuba.

The documents found in the Panama Papers are dated as far back as the early 1990s, when the Cuban economy crashed following the end of Moscow’s massive subsidies to the island. But Cuba kept its links with some of the firms until very recently.

Listed as a director of one of the companies is a brother of Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja — husband of Cuban ruler Raul Castro’s daughter and powerful head of the Cuban armed forces’ business conglomerate, GAESA.

The Panama Papers, documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with the McClatchy Washington Bureau, Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, among others, contain hundreds of thousands of pages from the files of Mossack Fonseca, a Panama law firm with offices in 33 other countries.

Offshore corporations: The secret shell game

Offshore corporations have one main purpose – to create anonymity. Recently leaked documents reveal that some of these shell companies, cloaked in secrecy, provide cover for dictators, politicians and tax evaders.

Sohail Al-Jamea and Ali Rizvi McClatchy

The documents reveal previously unknown details about the Cuban government’s economic maneuvers abroad and the foreign companies that do business with Havana as some of the firms tried to hide Cuba’s hand in business deals to skirt the U.S. embargo.

Russia-Lebanon-Havana connection

One of the more intriguing schemes mentioned in the documents puts Cuba at the heart of a deal to sell Russian oil to Latin America through a company registered in Panama by the Bassatne family. The family controls BB Energy, a conglomerate founded in Lebanon in 1937 that buys and sells 16 million metric tons of crude and derivatives each year. One Bloomberg report showed BB Energy had $10 billion in revenues in 2012.

BB Naft shareholder Wael Bassatne told El Nuevo Herald that his company did not violate the U.S. embargo because it is not registered and does no business in the United States.

The Bassatne family incorporated BB Naft Trading S.A. in Panama, with Jürgen Mossack as a director. The company, which has offices in Havana and other countries, was created “to handle, among other things, its relationship with oil-exporting Latin American countries and with Cuba,” Mossack Fonseca lawyer Rigoberto Coronado wrote in an email.

BB Naft does not appear, however, among the subsidiaries listed on BB Energys Web site. They include BB Energy Trading Ltd., BB Energy Management S.A., BB Energy Holdings NV., BB Energy B.V., BB Energy (Asia) Pte. Ltd., BB Energy (Gulf) DMCC and BB Holding S.A.L.

BB Naft did business with Cuba between 1992 and 2001, trading oil for sugar “for $300 million, with credit facilities at low interest rate,” Coronado wrote. He added that in 1996 “there was agreement on a triangular Russia/Cuba/Naft Trading S.A. deal to deliver Russian fuel to other markets for a number of tens of millions of US$.”

One of the markets may have been Ecuador. A letter sent in 1998 by a Mossack Fonseca employee to the international trade office at state-run Petroecuador referred to documents sent by BB Naft “required to register the company.” A 2005 fax also points to an initial contact with the Venezuelan government’s Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).

The relationship between the BB Energy Group and Petroecuador appears to have lasted until recent days. Petroecuador contracted BB Energy (Asia) Pte. Ltd., in February of this year to import 2,880,000 barrels of diesel fuel. In 2015, BB Energy won Ecuadoran contracts for more than three million barrels of naphtha, a petroleum distillate.

The Russian oil scheme appears to have been affected by the agreement between Cuba and Venezuela to exchange oil for medical services, and BB Naft expanded its work in Cuba in 2007 to include “the sale of spare parts and batteries for autos and trucks, work boots, farm machinery, hardware for USD 5.3 million.”

Records of a meeting in Dubai in March of 2011 reflect a decision to significantly reduce the capital of BB Naft, held by BB Energy Holdings NV., from $8 million to $1.050 million. Riad Bassatne and his son Wael remained owners of the remaining shares. Instructions for the change were sent by Iulia Ispas, legal adviser to BB Energy Trading Ltd.

Emails exchanged by Mossack Fonseca lawyers also point to company operations in Syria and Iraq.

One lawyer for BB Naft, Noureddine Kabalan, asked Mossack Fonseca in April of 2008 to create a power of attorney so that “the empowered person can be authorized to sign on behalf of the company in Syria and Iraq for specific transactions.”

A Reuters news agency report shows that the mother company, BB Energy, was still sending petroleum to Syria in 2011. Global Policy Forum, a non-government agency that monitors the work of the United Nations, also included BB Energy in a list of beneficiaries of the so-called “oil bribes” distributed by Saddam Hussein to recruit international support for weakening U.N. and other economic sanctions against Iraq.

BB Naft was listed in the Cuban registry of foreign companies operating on the island as of April of this year, with Riad Bassatne as director. Its Havana address is Centro De Negocios Miramar, 5ta Ave. E/ 76 Y 78, Ofic. 310. Edif. Santiago De Cuba. Miramar Playa.

BB Energy registered a company in Texas, BB Energy USA LLC., in 2014. Its official address is the same as that of BB Energy Trading: 140 Brompton Rd., London, SW3 1HY, United Kingdom.

Peter Quinter, an expert on U.S. embargo laws and former head of the International Law section of the Florida Bar Association, said the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba generally bars a company with a U.S. presence from doing business with Cuba directly or indirectly — through an offshore branch, for example. Such deals, however, may be authorized by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control or the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security.

BB Naft shareholder Wael Bassatne told El Nuevo Herald that his company did not violate the U.S. embargo because it is not registered and does no business in the United States.

“All the other commercial activities were not affected by any sanctions because these regulations do not exist as such,” he wrote in an email, adding that “Mexico, Canada and the European Union have laws prohibiting their citizens and companies from obeying U.S. sanctions” on Cuba.

Many of the Mossack Fonseca emails and documents show the relationship between BB Naft and the BB Energy group through the years.

In 2003, for example, BB Naft agreed to guarantee and meet the obligations of a loan obtained by BB Energy (Asia) Pte Ltd. from the Standard Chartered Bank of Singapore. The instructions to the BB Naft shareholders were dated and signed in Beirut, but the agreement for the guarantee was signed by lawyers and verified by the office of the BNP Paribas bank in Marrousi, Greece.

In another document, the lawyer Kabalan instructed Mossack Fonseca in 2005 to issue new shares for BB Naft because the originals had been sold to BB Energy Holdings N.V., a Curacao-based company publicly listed as part of the BB Energy group. The new certificates, for 800 shares, were to be issued in the names of 10 members of the Bassatne family, including 160 shares for Riad Bassatne.

The Web page of the Cuba-Lebanon Businessmen’s Council lists a Riad Bassatne as a member of its board of directors and describes him as “president of BB Naft Trading and member of the board of directors of BB Energy.”

Wael Bassatne nevertheless insisted that “there are no commercial or financial relations between BB Naft Trading S.A. and the BB Energy Group.” He added that BB Naft’s activities in Cuba included “the sale of spare parts and agricultural machinery.”

The company opened an office in Cuba, he explained, because he has been “a resident of Havana like his wife and three children, all of them born in Cuba” and Cuban citizens.

Secret Cuban companies

Other leaked Mossack Fonseca documents show the interwoven complex of offshore companies created by the Cuban government to import and export goods and invest funds abroad with the assistance of the Panamanian law firm.

Starting in the early 1990s, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade, through the Compañía Panamericana S.A, used Mossack Fonseca to create a string of disguised companies in Panama, the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands that bought and sold medicines, cigars and food.

Panamericana’s former director, José L. Fernández de Cossío Domínguez, is listed in the leaked documents as a director of Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd, Euro Foods Ltd, Racuza S.A, Caribbean Sugar Trader, Mercaria Trading S.A. and Sabradell S.A. Fernández more recently served as Cuba’s ambassador to Japan and economic attaché at the embassy in Paris.

The news website Diario de Cuba has identified the director of foreign investments at the Foreign Trade Ministry, Déborah Rivas Saavedra, as another of the directors of Racuza, Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd and Caribbean Sugar Trader.

The leaked documents also show that Guillermo Faustino Rodríguez López-Calleja, brother of Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, was appointed in 1999 as a director of Pescatlan S.A., a company incorporated by Mossack Fonseca in the British Virgin Islands in 1991 with an initial capital of $50,000. A letter sent to the Panamanian law firm in 1997 requested assistance organizing “a fishing operation in the Turks and Caicos Islands with Cuban-flagged fishing boats.”

The Mossack Fonseca documents nevertheless refer to Pescatlan as a Cuban company and do not identify the true owners of the company. Its ownership was in the form of anonymous bearer shares — the owners are whoever has those shares.

There have been unconfirmed reports that Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja divorced Deborah Castro Espin in recent years, but he remains in charge of Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A., (GAESA) and the government’s signature port of Mariel development project. The Cuban military is estimated to control at least 60 percent of the island’s economy.

Guillermo Faustino Rodríguez López-Calleja also appears as the representative of seven foreign companies registered in Cuba: Acemex Management Company Limited; Caroil Transport Marine Limited; Nautilus Shipping Overseas Corp.; Northsouth Maritime Company Limited; Gulf Lake Enterprises Ltd.; Acando Shipping Co. Ltd.; and Gilmar Project Finance Establishment. They have addresses in the Miramar and Old Havana neighborhoods of the Cuban capital.

The Panama Papers also show that Labiofam S.A., the marketing branch of Grupo Empresarial Labiofam, a Cuban government company that produces vaccines, medicines and other products for the control of carriers of diseases, owns shares in BioAsia Ltd. That company was founded with an investment of 10 million euros from Vietnam, southern Asia and the United Kingdom and lists Mossack Fonseca as its registered agent.

Labiofam S.A. bought all the shares of BioAsia Ltd. in 2009. Longtime Labiofam director José Antonio Fraga Castro, a nephew of Fidel and Raúl Castro, retired in 2014 amid the so-called “revolutionary perfumes” scandal, sparked when the company sought to sell perfumes inspired by Cuban revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara and former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Little is known inside the island about the Cuban government’s companies abroad, but Havana economist Omar Everleny wrote in the early 2000s that there were “more than 100 entities with the participation of Cuban capital, founded as mixed [state-private] companies or as branches of companies based on the island” operating abroad in areas such as “construction, agriculture, food, medicine, mining, finance and science.”

Everleny, recently fired from the University of Havana’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, noted the paradox that a country that “lacks the capital for its own development has invested in other countries.” The motive, he speculated, is the U.S. embargo “that forced the establishment of a network of companies around the world to warehouse and market products from the sea, among them lobsters and shrimp.”

Today the export of products from the fishing industry is carried out through those companies,” he said, adding that Cuban officials also created “an international network of companies to warehouse and sell the famous Cuban cigars.”

One knowledgeable source who asked to remains anonymous said the Cuban government also has registered companies, ships and airplanes in Panama and other countries to get around the embargo and avoid court-ordered seizures to settle its many debts abroad. Those front companies, the source added, also help Cuba carry out foreign trade transactions in U.S. dollars, forbidden by the embargo until President Barack Obama lifted the restriction earlier this year.

“Every time something was purchased in dollars, it could not be done because the Cuban checks in dollars were automatically canceled because the dollars belong to the U.S. Federal Reserve,” the source said. “So the seller had to be told that payment would be in euros from a bank in Spain, for example, and Cuba lost on the currency exchange.”

Companies registered abroad are “legally not Cuban,” according to the source, and could be used for dollar-denominated transactions.

The leaked documents confirm the existence of these types of foreign companies, with at least partial Cuban government capital. Much of the Mossack Fonseca correspondence on those companies involves updates of company registries and boards of directors, payment of fees and requests for letters of financial status required to open bank accounts or sign contracts. Mossack Fonseca was listed as the registered agent for most of the companies,

Swiss lawyer Albert-Louis Dupont-Willemin appears as a director of several of the Cuban companies, among them Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd. and Pescatlan S.A. The Panama Papers show Dupont-Willemin as a director of a total of 49 offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, five in Panama and two each in the Bahamas and Seychelles islands.

In one email exchange in 2011 involving a British company representing ALIMPORT — the Cuban state agency that handles food and agricultural imports, valued at nearly $2 billion in 2014 — that wanted to open an account with the BBVA bank, a bank employee in Great Britain asked why documents related to Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd had been notarized in Switzerland.

Emails exchanged by Mossack Fonseca lawyers point to BB operations in Syria and Iraq.

An accountant for the British company All Worlds Food Ltd, Jose Da Silva, answered: “I do not know the reasons why the documents were certified by a Swiss notary. I understand Mr. Dupont-Willemin is a Swiss lawyer and I believe it is for the documents to be more transparent and trustworthy. It is assumed that companies will have more trust in documents certified in Switzerland than in Cuba.”

The Swiss lawyer did not respond to El Nuevo Herald requests for comments on this story.

Hiding behind offshore companies

The Cuban government also hid its control of offshore companies by creating still other limited liability companies whose sole objective was to appear in registries as owners of the offshore companies — and disguise Cuba’s hand in them.

That’s the case of Racuza S.A., incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. It held all the shares of Euro Foods Ltd., which was registered in the Bahamas and in turn represented ALIMPORT.

And the case of Sabradell S.A., headed by Panamericana director José L. Fernández de Cossío Domínguez for a time and dissolved in 2008. Sabradell was the sole owner of Resimevis Ltd, a Mossack Fonseca client since 1995 dedicated “to general commerce of medical products and equipment.”

What’s more, a 2015 email indicated that the sole purpose of Curtdale Investments Ltd., registered in the British Virgin Islands, was to hold the shares of Ardpoint Company Inc., which in turn owned Altabana S.L. and Promotora de Cigarros S.L., two companies registered in Spain and involved in the sale of Cuban cigars

One of the directors of both Curtdale and Ardpoint starting in 2011 was Hernán Aguilar Parra, executive director of Grupo Empresarial de Tabaco de Cuba, known as TABACUBA, the government’s tobacco monopoly. Aguilar also has served as a deputy in the legislative National Assembly.

At times, however, the shield of anonymity over Cuban companies is not very effective. A convoluted email by a Cuban lawyer for Tecnica Hidraulica, registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), showed all its shares were held by Cuba’s Técnica Hidráulica, S.A. The difference: The name of the BVI firm has no Spanish accents, the Cuban company’s name does. The BVI company was dissolved in 2015.

The efforts to hide the Cuban government’s hand in the offshore companies means that its officials, lawyers and other employees used as stand-ins could eventually become the effective beneficiaries of the shares in those companies

A lawyer for Panamericana, Katiuska Peñado Moreno, and a former commercial attaché at the Cuban embassy in London, Alejandro Gutiérrez Madrigal, are listed as the beneficiaries of shares in Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd. worth $50,000.

The long list of companies linked to the Cuban government or active in Cuba also includes Sanford Management Financial Ltd.; Commercial Mercadu S.A. (linked to Panamericana); Amadis Compañía Naviera S.A.; Seagull and Seafoods, S.A.; Mavis Group S.A.; Octagon Industria Ltd; Travelnet; and Venus Associates Inc., among others.

Companies with Cuban capital or activities on the island

BB Naft Trading S.A.; Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd, Eurofoods Ltd., Racuza S.A., Caribbean Sugar Trader, Mercaria Trading S.A., Sabradell S.A., Pescatlan S.A., BioAsia Ltd., Resimevis Ltd., Curtdale Investments Ltd., Ardpoint Company Inc., Tecnica Hidraulica S.A., Sanford Management Financial Ltd,  Commercial Mercadu S.A., Amadis Compañía Naviera S.A., Seagull and Seafoods S.A., Mavis Group S.A., Octagon Industria Ltd., Travelnet, Venus Associates Inc., Acepex Management S.A., M.I.S. Technologies S.A., Vima World Ltd.,Billingsley Global Corp.

 

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BACKLASH IN CUBA: OBAMA’S HISTORIC VISIT WAS A SMASH HIT IN HAVANA. FIDEL CASTRO WASN’T GOING TO TAKE THAT LYING DOWN.

By Ann Louise Bardach

Politico Magazine, June 10 2016

Original Article: BACKLASH IN CUBA

HAVANA—These days Fidel Castro doesn’t often leave his comfortable home in Siboney, a leafy suburb west of this city. But on April 19, the 89-year-old Cuban leader emerged, aides at his side, wearing a royal blue Adidas sports jacket over a blue plaid shirt, and was driven two miles to the immense Palacio de Convenciones. Inside he was greeted by a thousand members of the Communist Party, the ruling body that has been Cuba’s sole political party for half a century. They were wrapping up their four-day conference, generally held twice a decade.

Fidel is ailing and officially retired, having incrementally handed the reins of power to his brother Raul over the past decade. But he remains a history buff, a news junkie, and a man keenly concerned with his legacy. And he was not pleased with what he had been hearing.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzPresident Barack Obama had spent three high-profile days in Havana at the invitation of Raul. And the visit, to Fidel’s dismay, had been an immense public success, generating as much excitement and buzz on the island as the arrival of The Rolling Stones for a free concert a few days later. While state media treated Obama with cautious distance, there was no mistaking the thrill of ordinary Cubans as the president toured local sights, watched a baseball game, and drove through Havana with his family and entourage. They dubbed the president Santo Obama. “He’s more popular than the Pope!” one exultant habanera told me.

If the first state visit by a sitting president in 90 years struck Fidel as an unseemly and undeserved victory lap, there was troubling news as well from the Southern Hemisphere as well. Two of the island’s staunchest allies were fighting for their political lives. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was nearing impeachment; Argentina’s former president, Cristina Kirchner, was about to be indicted. Indeed, the entire left-wing coalition of Latin America, methodically cultivated by Fidel for decades, was unraveling. The death of Cuba’s Midas-like patron, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, had birthed a feeble successor who is unlikely to survive the next year; Ecuador’s leftist president was bowing out, while Castro champion Evo Morales of Bolivia had lost a referendum for another presidential term. Peru and Uruguay had lost their center-left leaders. If not a political tidal wave, a domino effect of sorts was shifting the Southern Hemisphere from left to right.

Fidel Castro, Cuba’s Maximum Leader, understood that something had to be done.

Cuba’s Party Congress sets the economic and political agenda of the island, and many, on and off the island, had anticipated that this year’s conclave would further crack the door open to more reform. As the U.S. and Cuba have navigated their rapprochement, their progress has continuously been buffeted by the alternating agendas of the two brothers: Fidel, the intransigent revolutionary, and Raul, the cautious reformer. Obama hoped that a state visit before the Congress would give a boost to Raul’s reform-minded approach, however modest.

Cubans, too, had their eye on the meeting, and many of them expected that the Party would at least start to retire its octo- and nonagenarian ruling elite, the historicos who came up with Fidel and Raul and have been governing the island since. Raul himself had fueled those hopes by urging an age limit of 70 for senior Party officials.

It did not happen that way. Instead the Party’s elders, with the blessing of Fidel, spent the first three days of the Congress issuing a series of retrograde edicts and re-establishing their hegemony. Rejecting the retirements of the old guard, they went on to quash reforms intended to rescue the country’s moribund economy.

For a finale, Fidel addressed the Congress for the first time since 1997. The date of his appearance, April 19, was not coincidental. It fell on the 55th anniversary of the doomed U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion, when Fidel’s army vanquished the CIA’s ill-conceived coup, captured thousands of U.S.-backed rebels, and utterly humiliated the world’s greatest superpower.

The days when Fidel routinely gave furious six-hour orations in olive-drab military garb are long gone. Now with hair white as the sands of Varadero Beach, he did not attempt to stand on his feet. Instead, he was helped to a chair at the center of the dais. “This may be one of the last times I speak in this room,” Fidel somberly told the throng.

Although Fidel spoke with a gravelly rasp, those looking to hear conciliatory words were quickly disabused of that hope. “The ideas of Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet,” he insisted, and their achievements “will endure.” And to that end, the firebrand Fidel exhorted those present —charged with setting Cuba’s agenda through 2030—“to fight without truce.”

“Soon, I’ll be 90 years old. Soon I’ll be like all the others,” Castro intoned as if giving his own eulogy. “The time will come for all of us.”

Then the old lion, albeit with a patchy beard and a thinning mane, roared again, one last time: “We must tell our brothers in Latin America—and the world,” he declaimed, “that the Cuban people will be victorious!”

In the closed, hermetic world of Cuban politics, Fidel’s speech marked a pivot in what has arguably been the country’s most remarkable three months since the Missile Crisis of 1962. The ceaseless whiplash includes a ballyhooed U.S. presidential visit, a Party Congress slamming the door on reform, a Fidel valedictory finale, and a series of fresh dramas in the long-running saga of the Brothers Castro.

On June 3, Raul turned 85, to be followed by Fidel’s 90th birthday on August 13, a pair of personal milestones that have the brothers keen to cement their legacies. “The Castros are robust and long-lived,” boasted Raul on his big day; he also chatted with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who called offering birthday wishes.

As the brinkmanship between the two Castros plays out, it’s likely to shape the course of U.S.-Cuban relations for the next generation. In that respect, it was possible to see the Congress as an episode in the long-running drama between two brothers to whom appearances matter deeply. Raul, the internationalist, got to produce the Obama Show. Fidel, the nationalist, won the right to orchestrate the Party Congress and to deliver his response to President Obama’s proposal of accelerated reform and cooperation with the U.S.

And Fidel’s message was unmistakable: Over my dead body.

This was hardly the step forward the White House had hoped for when it orchestrated its historic, if hastily planned, state visit in March. For Obama, Cuba was his “Nixon in China” moment, a legacy move to close the last chapter of the Cold War in our hemisphere.

It could not have contrasted more clearly with the previous U.S. presidential visit. In 1928, the Republican Calvin Coolidge sailed into Havana Harbor on a battleship. Obama, on the other hand, delivered his first words to the Cuban people before he even debarked from Air Force One. They came, cool, breezy and direct, in the form of a tweet. “¿Que bolá Cuba?” he tweeted, using the island slang for “what’s happening?” “Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.”

Cuban officialdom adopted a noticeably stiffer tone. Despite Obama being the single most important head of state to visit since 1959, Raul Castro—who has personally greeted more than one pope and innumerable national leaders upon their arrival—did not appear at the airport to welcome him. Instead, when the First Family touched down amid an insistent gray rain, they were met by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who greeted the president on the tarmac with a cordial handshake.

The government-run media gave a similarly cool treatment. On the eve of Obama’s visit, Granma, the organ of the Communist Party, devoted its six thin pages to the arrival two days earlier of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Cuba’s principal patron since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Havana, Maduro was robustly feted, even bestowed a new honorific title, with Raul declaiming that “we will never abandon our Bolivarian revolutionary friends.”

Obama’s trip had been something of a rush job, as state visits go, and behind the scenes, the U.S. had been on the back foot from early in the process. The date of the trip hadn’t been finalized until January. One consideration in the timing was to ensure the visit came prior to the Party Congress, with the White House hoping to be a moderating influence when it convened. But the driving force, according to sources at both State and the Vice President’s office, was that the president and first lady very much wanted a family trip, and the March 20-23 dates coincided with spring break at Sidwell Friends School for daughters Malia, who’s been studying Spanish, and Sasha.

The trip planning also augmented tensions between the White House and the State Department that dated back to the historic Cuban deal announced in December 2014. The landmark agreement had effectively ended the Cold War between the countries and began the process of normalization: Cuba agreed to release numerous political prisoners and return imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross along with a significant U.S. intelligence asset, Rolando Sarraff, in exchange for the U.S. returning the remaining three of the “Cuban Five” convicted spies. Although negotiations like this would normally be led by the State Department, Obama had deputized his trusted aide and speechwriter, Ben Rhodes, to make a deal with Cuba happen. The 18 months of secret negotiations largely bypassed the State Department; only one State veteran, Cuba policy specialist Ricardo Zuniga, who partnered with Rhodes, was fully trusted by Obama’s innermost circle, to maintain the secrecy demanded by the administration. Likewise, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, known as MINREX, was exiled from negotiations. The key player on the Cuban side was none other than Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, Raul’s 50-year-old son, a steely hard-liner widely believed to be his father’s heir apparent.

The rushed trip also gave the Cubans leverage to shape the agenda, or try to: No meetings with human rights activists, they insisted, and they would decide the guest list, including which U.S. reporters made the cut—a loaded issue with Cuba, which has a long history of barring American reporters who report seriously on the island.

Matters were not looking good, and the press around the reconciliation was getting worse, until Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a trip to Havana in protest weeks before the state visit. Kerry’s bluff worked, and from then on, the U.S. got what it wanted. The Cubans reluctantly issued visas for the reporters; the president had meetings with entrepreneurs, dissidents, human rights activists and even held a news conference, all to be recorded by live television coverage.

***

It is nearly impossible to overstate the impact of President Obama’s arrival in Cuba. The shift in outlook was tectonic. In the course of the visit, I heard more than one habanero refer to Obama as “El Negro de Oro”—the Golden Black Man, a flattering pun on “black gold.” It didn’t hurt that to many Cubans, Obama just looks Cuban; his mixed-race background gives him something in common with the half the island’s population that identifies as mulato, black or mestizo today.

The Obama family made the requisite tourist stops, including the city’s grand Cathedral, built in 1777 from blocks of coral; they took a walking tour led by Havana’s remarkable official historian, Eusebio Leal. Despite failing health and being in considerable pain, Leal gamely guided the Obamas through historic Havana in and around the Plaza de Armas.

The buzz of la bola en la calle—Cuban street gossip—was that the visit had prompted previously unimaginable upgrades to parts of the capital. Every building that the Obama entourage passed had been repainted, and every road his limousine traversed had been repaved. Some streets were still being paved and re-striped just hours before his arrival. “Come visit us,” cried out residents of neglected, pot-holed barrios in what became a weeklong running joke, “y llevar el asfalto!” — “and bring the asphalt!”

The culmination of the trip was Obama’s exquisitely crafted speech, delivered in downtown Havana’s Gran Teatro with Raul Castro and the senior Politburo present, along with an array of invitation-only favored Cubans. “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas,” Obama began, thus ending the half century David-and-Goliath face-off that once almost brought the world to its end. The speech, written by Rhodes, hit every note. Millions of Cubans watched, many saying later they were overwhelmed by emotion, as an American president spoke directly to them, not at them.

“I had tears in my eyes,” said Marta Vitorte, who watched the speech in her Vedado apartment. A former official in the Foreign Ministry, Vitorte for the past decade has run one of Havana’s most popular and upscale casa particulars, or private home rentals. “This is the beginning of the future of Cuba,” she gushed.

But for the island’s 11-million-plus inhabitants, an even more jaw-dropping moment had come earlier in the visit. On Day Two, Obama had cajoled Raul into participating in a live news conference, taking unscreened questions from American reporters.

Considering Cuba’s antagonism towards a free press, Raul’s participation was stunning and, no doubt, a spontaneous decision he quickly regretted. The Cuban leader was plainly displeased by a question on human rights by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, but he was infuriated by CNN’s Jim Acosta who asked, “Why are there Cuban political prisoners in your country?” Raul visibly bristled, having never endured an unfriendly press query. “Give me the list right now of political prisoners to let go of them,” Raul huffed. “Tell me the name or the names … And if there are political prisoners then before night falls, they will be free. There!” (Lists of prisoner names were promptly circulated on social media—none of whom are known to have been released since.)

“Oh my god,” said a former Cuban diplomat. “It made Raul look weak. No one here has ever seen anything like that.” | AP Photo

As the conference streamed live, Cubans watched a flustered Raul lose his cool, then abruptly end the news conference and march over to Obama to raise his arm in a victory salute. A bemused Obama was having none of it, and let his arm dangle. “Oh my god,” said a former Cuban diplomat. “It made Raul look weak. No one here has ever seen anything like that.”

***

Obama’s show-stopping appearances could only have mortified Fidel Castro, a public-relations genius, who was keenly monitoring the visit from his home. “Never abandon propaganda—even for a minute,” he had counseled compatriots in a 1954 letter. “It is the very soul of our struggle.”

Today, for hard-liners of Fidel’s generation, la lucha, the struggle, means just two things: keeping the principles of the Revolution alive in Cuba; and keeping themselves alive and in power.

At the very minimum, Obama had rewritten Fidel’s carefully scripted drama, in which the U.S. plays the rapacious foe. Suddenly, America seemed far less menacing. As the Cuban novelist Wendy Guerra wrote, in the wake of Obama’s visit: “Since you left, we are little more alone, because now we have to find another enemy.”

“The enemy always drove the story,” says Marilu Menendez, a Cuban exile and branding expert who now lives in New York. “It justified all of [Fidel’s] excesses.”

Even before Obama left the island, Fidel let it be known that that he took a dim view of the visit. Just days after Air Force One departed, an article appeared in the state-run Tribuna de la Habana that accused Obama of lording over a racist country and “inciting rebellion” in Cuba by meeting with pro-democracy activists. Its headline, roughly translated, “Black Man, Are You Dumb?” was a firebomb. “Obama came, saw, but unfortunately, with the pretend gesture of lending a hand, tried to conquer,” wrote Elias Argudín, a government loyalist, “choos[ing] to criticize and subtly suggest … incitements to rebellion and disorder, without caring that he was on foreign ground. Without a doubt, Obama overplayed his hand. Minimally, I can say is … ‘black man, are you dumb?’”

Following a wave of blowback, Argudín offered a quasi-apology for “causing offense,” noting that he himself was black. In a typically mysterious Cuban chess maneuver, the story was briefly deleted, then reposted on the paper’s website, while running in the print edition.

The column was only the first public salvo from hard-liners signaling their distress over the American president’s visit. A few days later, Fidel himself published a searing 1,500-word public letter, a full-throated denunciation of the visit and, by implication, Raul, who had hosted it. Entitled “Brother Obama,” it ran on Page 1 of Granma. Obama’s grand speech (which had begun with a famous line from the beatified patriot José Martí) was derided by Fidel as “honey-coated”—merely by listening to it, he warned, Cubans “ran the risk of having a heart attack.” And then Fidel dropped the hammer: “We don’t need El Imperio—The Empire—to give us any presents!”

Though Fidel and Raul’s lives have been anchored in decades of sibling love, collaboration and feuding, Fidel must have known, or quickly learned, that his public harpooning had gone just a bit too far. And so on April 8, a week before the highly anticipated Congress, Fidel made another unusual outing from his home. Wearing a white blousy sports jacket with a black wool scarf tied around his neck, Castro, aided by a cane, spoke briefly at the school named for his late sister-in-law, Vilma Espín.

Espín had been Raul’s wife and compañera in the Revolution from the early 1950s, and had served as Cuba’s de facto first lady. But when she died in 2007, Fidel did not attend her funeral. His own illness served as a reasonable excuse, but as one former Cuban official told me in Havana, none of Fidel’s family—neither his children nor his wife, Dalia—attended either. The snub deeply disappointed the family-centric Raul, who also serves as the Castro clan’s patriarch. Since then, the official said, Raul typically has a weekly family dinner, not with Fidel’s brood, but with his in-laws, the Espíns.

So it was impossible not to interpret Fidel’s tribute as a peace offering to Raul, in advance of the Congress, where it was imperative that the brothers present a unified front. “I’m sure that on a day like today, Vilma would be happy,” Fidel intoned to the schoolchildren in his weakened voice.

Vicki Huddleston, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, said the brothers knew they needed to project unity. “They do not want it to appear that there are divisions,” she said. Veteran Cuba negotiator and U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, suggested that the brothers’ brinkmanship was sometimes simply ritual role-playing—a kind of “good cop-bad cop within the Castro family.”

***

The dynamic between the Brothers Castro is of great import to Cubans, of course, and also determines what issues they allow on the table with American negotiators, and at what pace they are willing to address them.

On many issues the brothers are genuinely in lockstep, such as ending the U.S. embargo. While Cuba relentlessly hammers on about “el bloqueo”—the blockade, the hyperbolic term it uses for the embargo—its current prohibitions have been whittled down to a fraction of what they once were. Through executive actions, the Obama administration has lifted an array of trade and investment restrictions. Completely normalized trade and banking will have to wait for Congress to rescind the embargo officially, but whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins, the Cubans think they will have the requisite votes in Congress to get it done. With GOP Senators Jeff Flake and Rand Paul leading the charge, they expect a vote to come at some point in 2017. But until then, the embargo continues to be useful propaganda about the bully “Empire” to the north.

The embargo can be seen as Cuba’s short game. The longer game is Guantánamo—the territory, not the prison. Even more than the embargo, this 45 square miles of Cuba’s easternmost province has long served as Exhibit A of the crushing foot of El Imperio. As Raul reminded Obama on Day Two of his visit: “It will also be necessary to return the territory illegally occupied by Guantánamo Naval Base.”

While the prisoners held in Gitmo are the issue attracting global attention, for Cuba, they’re simply helpful propaganda in its quest to get its land back. America does have a lease, a 1903 deal stipulating that Guantánamo and its deep-water harbors be used as a “coaling station.” (The rent is $4,085 annually, and the Castros proudly boast that they never cashed a rent check—although they did cash one in 1959.) Cuba now argues that America’s current use of the land is in violation of its lease. “If this was a straight-up landlord-tenant law, the landlord would kick your butt right out,” says Jose Pertierra, a Cuban-born lawyer who shuttles between Havana and Washington.

A former Cuban diplomat told me he expects the Gitmo crusade to get louder and more insistent going forward. “We don’t really care about the prison,” he said, “but [the government] is going to politicize it as a human-rights violation [and] a breach of the lease.” In Havana, I asked Ben Rhodes if the Cubans had put Gitmo on the table as a chip. “There are never discussions in which Guantánamo does not come up,” he answered.

As talks between the countries haltingly advance, it is on domestic economic and political issues where the internal Cuban factions part company. In the 1990s, with the collapse of their Soviet patron, Raul began to see Cuba’s future very differently than his older brother. Raul had studied and visited China and Vietnam, and he liked what he saw: economic powerhouses fueled by competitive capitalism but all under the steely control of the Communist Party.

Fidel, on the other hand, mistrusted any version of capitalism, however dressed up as socialist entrepreneurism. He had railed against perestroika and glasnost and repeatedly warned Mikhail Gorbachev it would be the beginning of the end. (And indeed, it was the end of the Soviets’ billion-dollar patronage of Cuba.)

Unlike his brother, Raul has acknowledged cracks in the pillars of Cuba’s 65-year-old political system; insiders consider them serious. “There is no more discipline within the traditional ranks,” a retired government official told me. “No one wants to belong to the CDR [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the neighborhood snitch organs]. No one feels they have to belong to the Communist Party.” He added: “Five years ago, if you didn’t belong to the CDR or the Party, you weren’t going to get a promotion or could get in trouble. But there is no more fear about it.”

Likewise, such bastions of the Revolution as the Federation of Women, the Workers Union, and the Young Communists League are losing members, I was told. All these organs that have buttressed the Revolution are in decline, losing momentum as membership oozes away. “Everybody’s looking down the road about how to be an entrepreneur or a capitalist,” said a man who has turned his home into a casa particular.

For the past two years, Raul has been beseeching allies and trading partners—Russia and much of Europe—to forgive loans and debts incurred over decades, an estimated $51.5 billion, according to Emilio Morales of the Havana Consulting Group. (That figure that doesn’t even include debts owed to Venezuela and Brazil.)

And there is a relatively new reality on the island: corruption. “It’s a daily event,” he said. “If you have money, there’s nothing you cannot get,” then lowering his voice, “even a visa to leave Cuba.“

While Fidel may choose to turn a blind eye to the domestic woes of his country, he is keenly attuned to the fact that there are larger, inexorable forces at work. The Southern Hemisphere is plainly drifting away from Cuba. In 2006, as he lay gravely ill, Fidel could gaze out at Latin America—populated by Lula in Brazil, Evo in Bolivia, the Kirschners in Argentina and his adoring student and patron, Hugo Chavez—and rest serene that fidelismo and Cuba’s future were secure. If Fidel had died that year, as he has said he very nearly did, he would have been one satisfied soul.

But 10 years later, he has lived to confront a radically different picture. Cuba has lost all its patrons, except for the dramatically reduced oil shipments from Venezuela. Both Russia and China have set limits on their future largesse. Meanwhile, the U.S. rapprochement is making it inescapably clear that Cuba’s economic salvation lies, once again, as it did in the first half of the 20th century, in American investment and tourism—meaning ever-deepening ties to Fidel’s lifelong bête noire, the U.S.

So despite the rhetorical saber-rattling, and the alternating star turns of Raul and Fidel, Cuba is going through the only door that, for now, is open: Making friends with Uncle Sam. With no fanfare or pronouncements, U.S. and Cuban negotiators met recently and laid out an agenda for meetings well into the next year covering property claims, trade, environmental concerns and cooperation on narcotics.

In late May, the Cuban government announced that small and medium-size businesses would be legalized. The Party Congress may have repudiated change, but change is happening nonetheless.

Most crucially, there is the daily bonanza of ever-multiplying dollars from U.S. tourism. “More than 94,000 Americans have visited Cuba from Jan-Apr 2016,” proudly tweeted Josefina Vidal, a Cuban official who heads the U.S. division of the Foreign Ministry in May, “a 93% increase with respect to same period 2015.”

Leonardo Padura, Cuba’s most famous living writer, recently tried to explain his country’s contradictions. “If you say [Cuba] is a communist hell or a socialist paradise, you’re missing all the nuances,” he told EFE, the Spanish news agency. “Cuba is a society that apparently has not changed, but it really has.”

That assessment could apply just as well to Raul. Both a “reformer” and a “historico” by definition and personal loyalty—having fought alongside Fidel since 1952 and, since 1959, having run the Cuban Army, the country’s most powerful political organ—Raul has evolved into a pragmatist of necessity over the past 25 years. At the same time, Fidel has doubled down his resolve to resist reform. And like Cuba, the relationship between the deeply bonded brothers apparently has not changed, but it really has.

At his birthday last week, when Raul was toasted by family and friends after hosting a Caribbean summit, there was much to celebrate—replete with historical ironies. Fidel may have rescued Cuba from the clutches of the U.S., but it is Raul who is rescuing Cuba from Fidel.

Ann Louise Bardach is the author of Cuba Confidential (2002) and Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington (2009), as well as the editor of The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro and Cuba: A Travelers Literary Companion. She interviewed Fidel Castro in 1993 and 1994 and met Raúl Castro in 1994.

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DOES CUBA HAVE A FUTURE IN MANUFACTURING?

By Archibald R. M. Ritter

June 7 2016.

 Complete Article Here:  A Futute in Manufacturing? June 7 2016

Cuba has experienced a serious “de-industrialization” from which, by mid-2016, it had not recovered. The causes of the collapse are complex and multi-dimensional. The consequences include job and income loss, the loss of an important part of its economic base, the loss of much of the potential for export expansion and diversification, and rust-belt style industrial and urban decay. Can Cuba‘s manufacturing sector recover from this collapse? What can be done to reverse this situation?

I.       THE COLLAPSE OF MANUFACTURING, 1989-2014

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II.   CAUSAL FACTORS ANE CONSEQUENCES

III.  THE “LINEAMIENTOS” ON MANUFACTURING

IV. WHAT MIGHT BE THE SUCCESSFUL MANUFACTURING SUB-SECTORS IN FUTURE? 

V.  A POLICY ENVIRONMENT FOR THE PROMOTION OF MANUFACTURING

 CONCLUSION

 Does Cuba have a future in manufacturing?  There are some general comparative advantages as well as dis-advantages for manufacturing that Cuba is facing as of mid-2016. First, the disadvantages:

  • Cuba’s manufacturing base has collapsed significantly;
  • Its capital stock and infrastructure generally is decayed and obsolete;
  • Low investment levels impede up-grading the capital stock;
  • Human skills relevant for manufacturing are badly decayed, mis-fitted and obsolete;
  • Cuba’s domestic market size small due mainly low real income levels;
  • Agglomerative and scale economies are minimal.

.But Cuba also has important advantages:

  • Cuba’s citizens generally are well-educated with an incentive for further learning;
  • Many Cuban citizens are energetic, creative, and entrepreneurial;
  • Cuba has a some strong manufacturing sub-sectors such as  pharmaceutical products and traditional products (beverages and tobacco);
  • Cuba has potential in some agricultural products, namely fruits and vegetables;
  • Cuba will be able to capitalize on its locational advantage with respect to the US market;
  • The potential symbiotic relationship between Cubans on the Island and the Cuban-American community will stimulate the future development of economic activities in many areas, including manufacturing.

So, does Cuba have a future in manufacturing?

The answer is “Yes” – if policy reforms are significant and expeditious regarding further enterprise liberalization and taxation and if successful monetary and exchange rate reform lead to currency convertibility.  (However, I am a pathological optimist.)

A broad-based industrial revival for Cuba is possible but will be difficult.

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CUBA’S SOUTH KOREAN AND NORTH KOREAN CONNECTIONS

SOUTH KOREA AND CUBA MOVE TOWARD ESTABLISHING DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS

June 7, 2016 – Hankyoreh

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/747159.html

During a meeting with his Cuban counterpart in Havana on June 5, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se apparently communicated Seoul’s sincere desire to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. Yun is the first South Korean Foreign Minister to visit the country.

There were no reports about the initial reaction offered by Cuba, which has a special relationship with North Korea and considers the North a “brother country.” Rather than moving directly into negotiations about normalizing relations, South Korea and Cuba are likely to follow up the meeting of foreign ministers with a number of subsequent deliberations.

Yun met Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at the Palacio de Convenciones, a Cuban government building in Havana, on Monday.  “I emphasized that the time has come to further realize the potential that our two countries have, and I expressed our intention of moving in that direction,” Yun told reporters immediately after the meeting. Yun’s use of the phrase “the time to realize our potential” presumably expressed a desire to normalize diplomatic relations.

“The meeting ran for 75 minutes – an unusually long period of time – and the mood was very amiable, serious and candid,” Yun emphasized.  “They talked about issues of mutual interest, including bilateral issues, global cooperation and personnel exchange. We said everything that we wanted to say, and the Cubans were seriously engaged in the conversation,” said a source who was present at the meeting.

During the meeting, Yun explained the significance of his visit to Cuba by quoting Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  “The Cubans were very pleased by Yun’s remark,” the source said.

Yun did not say exactly how Rodriguez had responded to the idea of normalizing Cuba‘s relations with South Korea. “Personally, I felt that a tacit bond was forming between us,” he said.

“As they say, well begun is half done. Moving forward, we’re thinking about following up with a variety of deliberations,” Yun said, suggesting that the two countries had not immediately initiated negotiations for establishing official diplomatic relations.

The two countries are likely to use a number of ongoing deliberations, including meetings between senior officials, to speed up the normalization process.

In Feb. 2015, Yun announced to the National Assembly that he would push to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.  The South Korean government made its first official overture to Cuba about discussing the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2000, during the presidency of Kim Dae-jung.

THE NORTH KOREA-CUBA CONNECTION

June 07, 2016 – The Diplomat – Samuel Ramani

http://thediplomat.com/2016/06/the-north-korea-cuba-connection/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Illegal Trade Persists Between Cuba and North Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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EL NUEVO EVANGELIO, SEGÚN EL GENERAL SAN RAÚL, EL VERDE OLIVO, PORTADOR DE LA VERDAD REVELADA POR SU ANTECESOR, EL MAGNO ORATE, NOS ANUNCIA UNA “BUENA NUEVA”

Jueves, mayo 26, 2016 |  Miriam Celaya  |

Original Article: El Nuevo Evangelio,

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Raúl Castro habría deslizado los designios del PCC en el tabloide con los documentos analizados y aprobados durante el VII Congreso

LA HABANA, Cuba.- El partido-estado-gobierno cubano acaba de publicar un tabloide que contiene dos de los documentos raigales analizados y aprobados durante el VII Congreso del PCC, el pasado mes de abril de 2016. Se trata del Proyecto de Conceptualización del Modelo Económico y Social Cubano de Desarrollo Socialista y delProyecto Plan Nacional de Desarrollo Económico y Social hasta 2030: Propuesta de Visión de la Nación, Ejes y Sectores Estratégicos.

Sin dudas, estamos ante un caso de “desclasificación parcial”, teniendo en cuenta que los cuatro documentos aprobados en el rito oculto de abril tuvieron un carácter estrictamente secreto y en su discusión y aprobación, producida en condiciones de clandestinidad, participaron alrededor de un millar de ungidos (dizque “delegados”) y –según cifras oficiales– 3 500 “invitados”.

Aún quedan por desclasificar los dos misteriosos pergaminos restantes, a saber, el Informe sobre los Resultados de la Implementación de los Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución, con la Actualización de los Lineamientos para el período 2016-2021, y el que contiene el Trabajo del partido en cumplimiento de los objetivos aprobados en la Primera Conferencia Nacional y de las Directrices del Primer Secretario del Comité Central, es decir, los sagrados mandamientos del propio General-Presidente.

Lo primero que llama la atención en la divulgación de este tabloide es la indiferencia de la población cubana, que no ha dado la menor importancia a un documento donde, se supone, quedaron trazados y consagrados los destinos de la nación. En contraste, algunas agencias de prensa extranjeras han desatado una ola de comentarios que tienden a magnificar los referidos documentos como si se tratase del nacimiento de un milagro, centrando el foco de atención sobre lo que consideran la gran novedad: el supuesto reconocimiento del PCC a la “propiedad privada”, incluyendo en esa categoría a pequeñas y medianas empresas. A la vez, sus analistas más audaces sugieren cierta voluntad política del gobierno cubano de potenciar o permitir el desarrollo de este tipo de gestión económica.

Semejante espejismo agitado por los “co-responsables” de prensa acreditados en La Habana –tan diligentes en legitimar el discurso oficial de la cúpula como refractarios a adentrarse en la investigación seria y profunda de la realidad cubana– parte de una errónea interpretación del punto número 91 de la “Conceptualización…”, que expone textualmente “Otra transformación para contribuir a la economía, al empleo y al bienestar de la población es el reconocimiento del papel complementario de la propiedad privada sobre determinados medios de producción…”.

Sin embargo, es sabido que la verdadera propiedad privada solo es posible en sociedades donde los individuos, grupos o entidades empresariales estén en condiciones de ejercer el derecho de poseer, controlar, heredar, administrar y hacer producir sus bienes y capitales con el fin de alcanzar riquezas. Derechos estos que incluyen la posibilidad de ampliar sus propiedades en dependencia de sus capacidades, o de adquirir (incluso importar) materias primas, maquinarias, equipos y cualquier elemento necesario para el desarrollo de su actividad comercial o productiva, lo cual implica la existencia de un marco jurídico que ofrezca garantías legales a los “propietarios”. No es el caso de Cuba, como deberían conocer los corrillos de la prensa acreditada.

De hecho, el documento recién publicado refrenda todo lo contrario de lo que cabe esperarse allí donde existe la verdadera propiedad privada, cuando expone en el punto número 104: “No se permite la concentración de la propiedad y la riqueza en personas naturales o jurídicas no estatales conforme a lo legislado, de modo consecuente con los principios de nuestro socialismo”. Y, por si esto no bastara, se coloca otro clavo sobre el ataúd de la ilusoria “propiedad privada” en el punto 201, cuando dicta: “el Estado regula la constitución, disolución, liquidación y reestructuración de las personas jurídicas de todas las formas de propiedad, define sus ámbitos de actuación y actividades principales”.

Pero precisamente el valor más relevante del “Proyecto de Conceptualización…” es la enorme suma de elementos contrapuestos y excluyentes entre sí, lo que refleja con claridad meridiana no solo la magnitud y profundidad de la crisis socioeconómica cubana, sino la imposibilidad de darle solución desde el marco político-jurídico establecido en los últimos 57 años.

Esto se hace evidente a lo largo de todo el documento, pero bastan unas pocas cuestiones esenciales que contradicen los presupuestos ideológicos sobre los que se pretende construir el “Modelo”. Pongamos por caso las inversiones extranjeras, una “forma de propiedad” que ahora se reconoce oficialmente por el gobierno como “una fuente de desarrollo y vía de acceso a capitales, tecnologías, mercados y experiencia gerencial, que tributa a la solución  de importantes desequilibrios estructurales y a encadenamientos productivos…” (Punto número 90).

No obstante, se mantiene el principio de que el sistema de dirección de la economía es planificada, regulada y controlada desde el Estado, que también controla las relaciones con  la economía internacional (punto 203).

Es decir, que la solución a la crisis estructural del socialismo cubano se encuentra en las formas de producción capitalistas, pero la distribución de la riqueza que se obtenga de las relaciones de mercado a través del comercio exterior y de la inversión extranjera (capitalista) será ejercida por el Estado socialista. Luego, la riqueza obtenida de la capacidad de producción capitalista sería de propiedad estatal-socialista, ya que, como expone el punto 124, “el Estado actúa como representante del dueño, que es el pueblo”.

Y como, además, “Dada su condición de representante del dueño, el Estado decide y controla los destinos de las utilidades de las empresas propiedad socialista de todo el pueblo, una vez cumplidas las obligaciones tributarias y otros compromisos” (punto 148), se mantiene la colosal estatificación de la economía.

Esta “representatividad” incluye la regulación y control de las instituciones, empresas y medios de comunicación, como recurso estratégico del Estado –es decir, el monopolio estatal de los medios–, “según la política trazada” por el PCC, “preservando la soberanía tecnológica, con observancia de la legislación establecida en materia de defensa y seguridad nacionales” (puntos 110 y 111), en lo que presupone la ratificación de la Ley 88 (Ley Mordaza).

Desde luego, ese papel del Estado (a la vez gobierno y partido único) como  “padre” administrador de la riqueza y de las propiedades en virtud de “representante del pueblo” es más que discutible en una nación donde no se realizan elecciones para el cargo de Presidente desde hace más de 60 años, y donde más del 70% de la población nació después de 1959 y nunca ha tenido la posibilidad de legitimar semejante paternidad.

Precisamente esto determina que la “nueva” propuesta –absurdamente futurista, pero casi idéntica a toda la retórica discursiva de las décadas precedentes– desde la misma cúpula octogenaria y retrógrada, no despierte interés alguno entre los cubanos comunes. ¿A qué “debatir” acerca del mismo viejo hecho consumado?, se preguntan con la apatía que domina a la sociedad cubana.

Pocos se han detenido a pensar que con “el debate” popular que, según se dice, se producirá en torno a estos documentos, la casta gobernante persigue “legitimar” la consagración del capitalismo de estado para su propio beneficio, y mantenerse aferrada al poder más allá de las posibilidades biológicas de los bandoleros verde olivo. Así parece quedar expresado en la presentación del mamotreto en cuestión: estamos ante el  legado estratégico de la “generación histórica” a las nuevas generaciones.

No es posible agotar en un solo texto todos los ambiguos vericuetos que se deslizan a lo largo de los 330 puntos del Proyecto de Conceptualización. Baste, por el momento, con resumir que ellos constituyen la “buena nueva” que nos anuncia San Raúl, el verde olivo, portador de una verdad que seguramente le ha sido revelada por su antecesor, el Magno Orate: si nos apegamos al concepto de “Revolución” de aquel sabio anciano, si se cumplen los “Lineamientos” y si los resultados de la implementación de éstos resulta efectiva, para el año 2030 los cubanos estaremos en condiciones de “construir una nación soberana, independiente, socialista, democrática, próspera y sostenible”.

No se sorprenda nadie si en las semanas venideras se incrementa exponencialmente el número de emigrados desde esta ínsula imposible.

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