Tag Archives: Economic Recovery

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 disadvantages 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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LA REINTEGRACIÓN ECONÓMICA DE CUBA: COMENZAR CON LAS INSTITUCIONES FINANCIERAS INTERNACIONALES; CUBA’S ECONOMIC REINTEGRATION: BEGIN WITH THE INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS;

The Right Step for Improving the Lives of Cuba’s Citizens;   Un paso importante para mejorar la vida de los ciudadanos de Cuba

By Pavel Vidal and Scott Brown;      for The Atlantic Council

English Version Here: Pavel Vidal & Scott BrownCuba_ and the IFIs, English.

Spanish Version Here: Pavel Vidal & Scott Brown, Cuba and the IFIs, Spanish

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3    Executive Summary

5    Reforms Are Here… and More Are Coming

6    Why Join the IFIs?

An Economy with Promise but Needing Help

How the IFIs Can Assist

A Helping Hand in Tackling Pending Reforms

Challenges for the Cuban Government

How Can Cuba Gain Membership?

11    Global Experiences

Albania’s Entry into the Global Financial System

Sidebar: The Vietnamese Experience

16 Why Should the United States Support Cuba’s Reintegration?

What Is the Best Way to Help the Cuban People?

18    Recommendations for Cuba, the United States, and the International Financial Institutions

20    Endnotes

21    About the Authors

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The new US policy toward Cuba comes at a critical moment, with its impact reaching far beyond the Florida Straits. Since President Obama’s historic announcement in December 2014, Havana has welcomed the Presidents of France and Turkey, the Foreign Ministers of Japan and the Netherlands, the Director of Diplomacy for the European Union, the Governor of New York, and a host of other policymakers and entrepreneurs from the United States. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit in September.

Engagement will be critical to buttressing the government’s appetite for reform. After twenty-five years of post-Soviet adjustment and patchy results from limited reforms, a consensus exists that the economic system and old institutions require a fundamental overhaul. The Cuban gov­ernment is cognizant of the imperative to allow the “nonstate,” or private sector, to grow. It is the only way to slim down the public sector without massive unemployment.

Now that Cuba has caught the eye of foreign investors and the international community, it is a good time to reignite discussion on Cuba’s reinte­gration into the global economy. As with so many other countries before, the critical first step will be to regain access to the international financial institutions (IFIs), with a particular focus on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Accession would serve the interests of Cuba and its citizens, the United States, and the inter­national community. In Cuba, the process of economic reform is at a pivotal moment, and more progress is needed to lift the economy on to a new growth trajectory before President Raúl Castro is to step down in 2018. Accession will require adjustments: improving data and transparency, aggressively working to unify the two currencies, and shifting official attitudes. But in the context of the new relationship with the United States, these should not be difficult.

The experiences of other former communist countries can provide lessons for Cuba. Albania, which joined the IMF in October 1991, has some interesting parallels. Albania’s first loan from the Fund, under a stand-by arrangement, was approved in August 1992, and its reengagement with the global financial system and policy reforms produced significant improvements in the standard of living. Vietnam offers another posi­tive example, with access to IFI support coming after a period of initial reform. In both countries everything from GDP to life expectancy improved. These universal benefits are compelling factors for Cuba.

For the international community, Cuba’s accession is long overdue. Still, in the United States, agreement to Cuban accession could face objections. However, those objections rest on discredited assumptions that sanctions can bring political change and that international support will help only the government and not the people of Cuba. US backing of Cuban membership in the IFIs would be consistent with the new policy of helping to support economic reform. This is a unique opportunity to stimulate further transfor­mations in Cuba.

Three possible approaches exist for Cuba to join the IFIs. The first would involve a gradual process of confidence-building between the IFIs and the Cuban authorities, with no initial commitment or date for membership. The second would be a more direct and immediate path, beginning with a Cuban decision to apply for membership. The third would be for President Obama to take the initiative by making a public statement of sup­port for Cuba’s accession to the IFIs, claiming his constitutional prerogative to define the direction of US foreign policy—much like the leadership by President George H. W. Bush in advocating for Russian engagement and membership in the IMF in 1991-1992.

This report argues that a series of steps can be taken now—by Cuba, the United States, and the international community—to pave the way for Cuba to be welcomed back as a full and active member of the international financial institutions.

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Brookings Institution: CUBA’S ECONOMIC CHANGE IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE

Edited by RICHARD E. FEINBERG AND TED PICCONE

Full Document Here: Brookings, 2014:  Cuba’s Economic Change

                         TABLE OF CONTENTS

 Introduction and Overview    Richard Feinberg

Policies for Economic Growth: Cuba’s New Era,  Juan Triana Cordovi and Ricardo Torres Pérez

Economic Transformations and Institutional Changes in Cuba. Antonio F. Romero Gómez

Institutional Changes of Cuba’s Economic-Social Reforms: State and Market Roles, Progress, Hurdles, Comparisons, Monitoring and Effect. Carmelo Mesa-Lago

Economic Growth and Restructuring through Trade and FDI: Costa Rican Experiences of Interest to Cuba, Alberto Trejos

Monetary Reform in Cuba Leading up to 2016: Between Gradualism and the “Big Bang” Pavel Vidal Alejandro and Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva

Exchange Rate Unification: The Cuban Case. Augusto de la Torre and Alain Ize

New Picture (2)

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TIME: FIVE FACTS EXPLAINING THE ECONOMIC UPSIDES OF AN OPENED CUBA

Ian Bremmer,  April 20 2015

Original here: The Caribbean country could be the next frontier of global business

Taking Cuba off the list of nations that sponsor terrorism is the latest development that will attract foreign companies to the island. So who wants in? These five stats explain which industries present the most opportunities as Cuba opens for business.

1. Remittances

One of the immediate benefits of renewed relations with Cuba is the increase in permitted remittance flows. The most recent figures put annual cash remittances to Cuba at approximately $5.1 billion, a level greater than the four fastest growing sectors of the Cuban economy combined. Now, permitted remittance levels from the U.S. will be raised fourfold, from $2,000 to $8,000 per year. This will help drive an increase in spending power in Cuba, which is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 4.6% through this decade. For global companies seeking a foothold anywhere they can, more money in the pockets of Cubans means more fuel for expansion. Take Coca-Cola. With an open Cuba, Coke could be legally be sold in every country in the world save one: North Korea.

2. A lot more visitors

Just 110 miles off the coast of Florida, Cuba should be a natural magnet for American travelers. Despite needing to meet special criteria to receive a visa from the State Department—allowable categories include educational and journalistic activities—170,000 Americans visited the country last year. As the restrictions slacken, the sky is literally the limit. JetBlue already charters flights to Cuba from the U.S., but the budget airline wants to start running regular commercial flights. American Airlines Group now flies to Cuba 20 times per week, a 33% increase in flights compared to just a year ago. More flights—and more competition—will make airfare more affordable, driving additional tourist traffic.

Cuba Mar 2014 011April 2014: the Capitolio, under renovation, to be the new home of the National Assembly; the Centro Gallego (old community center for Cubans of Galician origin), being restored to its former glory; a hop-on hop-off Tour bus; 1950s American automotive beauties and a Russian Lada.

Missing from this photo: a Chinese Geely, currently taking over Cuba’s automotive market. 

3. Communication breakthroughs

Only one in ten Cubans regularly use mobile phones and only one in twenty have uncensored access to the Internet. Even state-restricted Internet penetration currently stands at just 23.2%. The telecom infrastructure is so underdeveloped that an hour of regulated Internet connectivity can cost up to 20% of the average Cuban’s monthly salary. There’s serious demand for the major infrastructure investments needed to improve these numbers. Some start-ups are making waves in spite of shoddy internet. Airbnb, a website that lets people rent out lodging, announced that it has started booking rooms in Cuba with over 1,000 hosts. It gets around the lack of Internet by teaming with middlemen who have long worked to link tourists with bed and breakfasts.

4. A cure for Cuba

Cuba has the third highest number of physicians per capita, behind only Monaco and Qatar. They’re even used as an export: Venezuela pays $5.5 billion a year for the almost 40,000 Cuban medical professionals who now make up half of its health-care personnel. Cuban doctors lack access to most American pharmaceutical products and, importantly, to third-generation antibiotics. For its part, Cuba’s surprisingly robust biotech industry makes a number of vaccines not currently available in the U.S. With the normalization of relations, Cuba can look to fully capitalize on its medical strengths.

5. Foreign investment

Cuba currently attracts around $500 million in foreign direct investment (FDI)—good for just 1% of GDP. Given its tumultuous political history and underdeveloped economy, it is difficult to accurately predict how quickly investors will flock once the embargo has been lifted. But a good comparison might be the Dominican Republic, another Caribbean nation with roughly the same size population as Cuba. The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates that Cuba could potentially attract as much foreign capital as the Dominican Republic, which currently receives $17 billion in FDI ($2 billion from the U.S). But this won’t happen overnight—in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Cuba ranks 177th out of 178, ahead only of North Korea.

 

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VENCEREMOS! CUBA’S LESSONS FROM EASTERN EUROPE

Financial Times, | Dec 30 17:05

Original here: LESSONS|

By Piroska Mohácsi Nagy, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

An historic thawing of ties between Cuba and the United States has raised the question of how far the Communist island state is prepared to go in opening up its economy to the forces of the market and integration with the international community.

If and when Cuba does embark on a path of economic – and perhaps also a degree of political transformation – it could well enjoy the advantages of the late-comer, drawing lessons both positive and negative from eastern Europe over the last quarter of a century.

It can assess what worked and what proved much more difficult, emulating the successes and avoiding the pitfalls. There is no doubt that the east European process was painful, especially at the very start when the existing production systems collapsed in the face of real competition, leading to precipitous declines in output and employment.There is equally no doubt that the unprecedented experiment that was launched after the fall of the Berlin Wall has been a success, however tortuous the route and however many times there have been setbacks on the way.

There were four key building blocks in the reform process that was launched after 1989. These began with the – often initially painful – measures to deregulate and liberalise economic structures, including trade, prices and markets. They also comprised measures to achieve macro-economic stability, the creation of new institutions, regulatory bodies and the dismantling of state-ownership of output via the privatisation process.

Of these four policies, privatisation proved to be the most socially controversial, leading not necessarily to calls for a return to the dominance of the state, but resulting in what was often perceived as a corrupt process that unfairly favoured a privileged set of elite insiders.

But none of the four can be viewed independently of the others; they are intimately intertwined. Without deregulation of product and labour markets, privatisation will not work. Without privatisation, macro stabilisation will not succeed. And without appropriate institutions, none of the reforms can be sustained.

The eastern Europe experience provides pointers on how to approach the reform roll-out and Cuba could benefit from reflecting on the outcome of what in the early years of transition was a furious debate about “big bang” reform or gradualism.

With the benefit of hindsight it is now clear that the advocates of pursuing all the four elements simultaneously were, in the main, right. Those include the believers in the “big bang” as well as the “opportunists”, i.e. those who claim that reforms should be implemented as soon as an opportunity arises.

Gradualism in the sense of postponing any of the key elements has proven not to be a workable option because it can create new vested interest in half-baked reforms, as Ukraine’s experience until recently has shown.

Lessons from eastern Europe’s mistakes
It is, therefore, vitally important to take full advantage of the window of opportunity that exists in the earliest days of transition. One lesson that the international community learnt late was the key role that is to be played by reformed public authorities and the state in helping to define and anchor the reforms that support the market reforms.

In the early post-communism euphoria the mantra of “State=Bad – Market=Good” dominated, leading to some of the worst examples of unfettered capitalism and wild-west economics that enriched the few and impoverished the many.

It was only much later that the reformed state was recognised as being a key element in the transition process, removing itself where markets can do the job more effectively but remaining or even being strengthened where it can support an environment within which the free market can flourish fairly.It is important to bear in mind that simply destroying the state instead of reforming and adapting it to support market development and perform the provision of public goods can lead to chaos and the state’s eventual resurrection with autocratic features.

At the same time, privatisation has to be addressed sensitively, preferably using a combination of methods that ensure fairness and also an acceptable balance between foreign and domestic private ownership.

For many European countries the prospect of EU membership has provided an anchor that has proven to be a major incentive in bedding down reforms and modernising economic structures. Similar options may not be out of reach for Cuba, given the vicinity of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), for example. And even without a powerful external anchor, like many other economies, Cuba can look to reap the benefits from other forms of external economic opening and integration and joining international organisations that can help to inculcate higher economic standards.

External support can work only if reforms start in earnest. Then foreign capital can be just as transformational as it has been in eastern Europe. Foreign direct investment can support know-how and good governance, in addition to providing much needed fresh capital. While developing external links are crucial, it is just as important for countries to nurture an independent civil society and a free media that holds up the evolving systems to scrutiny. They can both be a major support for developing democracies and fairer economies, acting as a deterrent to corruption and injustice.

However, local ownership of reforms will be, just as in eastern Europe, absolutely critical. The clear communication of new processes and policies is essential. The best policies in the world will not be effective if people do not understand them. Effective communication can help change value systems, explain policy choices and ensure their ultimate success.

What we are witnessing today may well be one of the last pieces of the iron curtain to start coming down. When it finally does, just as for eastern European countries 25 years ago, the Cuban people will deserve strong financial support and the best policy advice by the international community so that they can guide their reforms and re-integration into the world economy with as little volatility as possible.

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Piroska Mohácsi Nagy is Director for Country Policy and Strategy and Initiatives, Office of the Chief Economist, at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

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Cuban Gov. Presents “Favorable” Stats

July 7, 2013

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban government said on Saturday it is satisfied by the “favorable performance” of the island’s economy in the first half of the year, despite a “slowdown” overall and increased unemployment.

An optimistic minister of the economy, Adel Yzquierdo, painted a “favorable” picture of developments in the island’s centrally planned economy, but pointed to a general decline and reduced growth estimates for this year, in an address to the Cuban parliament.

Yzquierdo presented the legislature with economic performance figures for the first half of 2013. President Raul Castro was also present.

According to the figures, employment in the emerging private sector in Cuba continued to grow in the first half of 2013 while the state sector fell.

Unemployment is expected to grow by 4.2 percent in the state sector in the first half of the year, compared with a growth figure of 8.8 percent in the private sector, according to Yzquierdo’s report.

The forecasts, however, point to a general increase in unemployment because the expected growth in the self employed sector was not reached “, noted Prensa Latina.

The island currently has 400,000 people working in the private sector, the so-called “self-employed”. Over recent years, the government of Raul Castro is implementing a program of economic reforms with market elements that have allowed for an opening of some less specialized trades to private work.The medium-term goal is the progressive reduction of half a million jobs in the bloated state sector, as announced by the government in 2010.

Many of the “self-employed” registered so far, however, are retired or keep their jobs in the state sector while trying to obtain a little other income.

The economy showed an overall a “favorable performance”, said Yzquierdo. Almost all sectors recorded growth, “including trade, transport, communications and manufacturing,” he noted.

Yzquierdo said the Cuban trade balance was positive at the end of the first quarter and pointed to a similar trend for year-end. At the same time, he spoke of a “slowdown” in the global economic situation.

Cuba recently reduced its forecasts for annual growth in 2013 from the 3.6 percent initially estimated to somewhere between 2.5 and 3.0 percent. He emphasized that the evolution of gross domestic product (GDP) has been influenced by the crisis in the international arena.

In the first semester, the island’s economy grew 2.3 percent, according Yzquierdo, despite “external stress”, the “internal weaknesses” and the effects of Hurricane “Sandy”, which swept across the east of Cuba in October 2012.

“Sandy” affected 11 provinces and caused losses of almost 7 billion dollars, according to the minister.

The inaugural session of the eighth legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power closes on, Sunday. Raul Castro is expected to pronounce in a speech to the parliament.

In a Communist Party Central Committee meeting last week, Castro came down hard on what he called “indiscipline and illegalities” in the State apparatus. He will most likely refer to the fight against corruption, one of the banner efforts of his administration.

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Cuba’s Economic System: Reform or Change?

 

Fernando Ravsberg, June 20, 2013 HAVANA TIMES

Marino Murillo, Vice-Chairman of Cuba’s Council of Ministers and architect of the island’s recent economic reforms, has urged the country to aim for growth by eliminating “all of the obstacles that the current economic model places in the way of the development of the productive forces.”

The problem is that the greatest obstacle could be the model itself, which is based on relations of production that hinder the country’s economic development, slow down changes, interfere with reforms and bring about discontent among the population.

By implementing this socialist model, which dates back to Stalin’s time, Cuba obtained the same results seen in all other countries which copied it: agricultural production crises, industrial stagnation, shortages and a disaffected citizenry.

Marino Murillo, Vice-Chairman of Cuba’s Council of Ministers

Murillo invoked socialism’s theoretical forefathers, who said that the new, socialist society would need to nationalize only the “fundamental means of production”, a prescription that wasn’t exactly followed by a model which placed even junk food stands in State hands.

To be at all effective, every economic change essayed in the country today, no matter how small, invariably demands a whole series of subsequent reforms. And it is precisely there where the model, and its defenders, prevent the reform from becoming effective or yielding its best results.

Though the Cuban government’s official discourse itself is calling for a “rejuvenation” of the country’s model, the fact of the matter is that it will be next to impossible to fit a new piece into this jigsaw puzzle without altering the pieces around it, without producing a domino-effect that will ultimately change the entire pattern.

Though the Cuban government’s official discourse itself is calling for a “rejuvenation” of the country’s model, the fact of the matter is that it will be next to impossible to fit a new piece into this jigsaw puzzle without altering the pieces around it, without producing a domino-effect that will ultimately change the entire pattern.

The government runs into these obstacles every time it attempts to move one of the pieces of the puzzle. When it decided to hand over State-controlled lands to the peasants, officials invoked Cuba’s “current legislation” to forbid farmers to set up their homes in farm areas.

Such absurd restrictions discouraged many and pushed others to quit the food production sector altogether and devote themselves to securing construction materials illegally, so as to be able to build a home elsewhere, far from prying looks.

Massive and hugely inefficient, the agricultural sector may well be the very paradigm of bureaucratic mismanagement, but it is far from being its only expression in the country. Cuba’s import system is a true bureaucratic gem, in which producers are those with the least say in official decisions.

A Cuban factory wishing to import a piece of equipment from abroad is required to approach the importing company assigned to it by the State. Technically speaking, this “importer” does not actually import anything – it merely puts out a bid among foreign companies with offices in Cuba.

Employees from these companies are the ones who travel to the manufacturing country, purchase the equipment and bring it back to Cuba. Under the country’s current model, the manager of a Cuban factory is expressly forbidden from contacting the foreign export company directly.

Thus, the person who makes the order is an office clerk who knows little or nothing about what the company needs and who, in the best of scenarios, will opt for the cheapest piece of equipment available, something which often leads to serious production problems later.

The status quo relations of production continue to find support in Cuba, from the defenders of “Real Socialism.” Ironically, or not surprisingly, most of them are isolated from the reality of this socialist system, enjoying government perks that compensate for the “small inconveniences” of everyday life.

In the worst cases, these “intermediating State importers” are bribed by foreign companies so that they will purchase obsolete or poor-quality equipment. In recent weeks, Cuban courts tried hundreds of State employees implicated in these types of “deals”.

These are the “relations of production” which keep equipment in Cuban factories paralyzed for months, waiting for the needed spare parts, while State importers take all the time in the world to decide what to purchase.

Most Cubans I know support the changes that have been implemented thus far and want these to make headway quickly and effectively. It is hard to come by anyone who feels nostalgia for the old model, which proved more efficient in establishing restrictions than in satisfying the material needs of the population.

But these relations of production continue to find support in Cuba, from the defenders of “Real Socialism.” Ironically, or not surprisingly, most of them are isolated from the reality of this socialist system, enjoying government perks that compensate for the “small inconveniences” of everyday life.

During a recent debate, a Cuban journalist suggested that these officials catch a city bus from time to time, so as to immerse themselves in everyday reality. When they told me of this, I recalled the old anarchist graffiti which warned us that “those who do not live the way they think end up thinking the way they live.”

Fernando Ravsberg

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Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects in a Changing Geo-Economic Environment

By Arch Ritter

Below is a Power Point Presentation made at the “Seminar on Prospects for Cuba’s Economy” at the Bildner Center, City University of New York, on May 21, 2012.

The full presentation can be found here: CUNY Bildner Presention, Arch Ritter on Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects….”, May 21 2012

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The Economist, Special Report on Cuba, March 24, 2012

 

The Castros, Cuba and America; On the road towards capitalism

Change is coming to Cuba at last. The United States could do far more to encourage it.

The Economist has produced one of its excellent surveys, this time focusing on Cuba.

Below are a set of hyperlinks to the various chapters of the Cuba Report. The chapter on the economy is presented following the Table of Contents.

Hyperlinked Table of Contents

  Revolution in retreat; Revolution in retreat

Under Raúl Castro, Cuba has begun the journey towards capitalism. But it will take a decade and a big political battle to complete, writes Michael Reid

  Inequality; The deal’s off

Inequalities are growing as the paternalistic state is becoming ever less affordable

Population; Hasta la vista, baby

The population is shrinking, ageing—and emigrating

The economy: Edging towards capitalism

Why reforms are slow and difficult

Politics; Grandmother’s footsteps

With no sign of a Cuban spring, change will have to come from within the party

Cuban-Americans; The Miami mirror

Cubans on the other side of the water are slowly changing too

After the Castros; The biological factor

Who and what will follow Raúl?

The Economy: Edging towards capitalism

Why reforms are slow and difficult

GISELA NICOLAS AND two of her friends wanted to set up an events-catering company, but that is not one of the 181 activities on the approved list for those who work por cuenta propia (“on their own account”), so in May 2011 they opened a restaurant called La Galeria. With 50 covers, it is a fairly ambitious business by Havana standards. They have rented a large house in Vedado and hired a top chef and 13 other staff who are paid two to three times the average wage, plus tips. The customers are mainly foreign businesspeople and diplomats, Cuban artists and musicians and visiting Cuban-Americans.

“This opportunity means a lot to us,” says Ms Nicolas, who used to work for a Mexican marketing company. “But they haven’t created the conditions for a profitable business.” There are no wholesalers in Cuba, so all supplies come from state-owned supermarkets or from trips abroad. Reservations are taken on Ms Nicolas’s mobile phone. Advertising is banned, though classified ads in the phone book will soon be allowed.

Across Cuba small businesses are proliferating. Most are on a more modest scale than La Galeria. Fernando and Orlandis Suri, who are smallholders at El Cacahual, a hamlet south of Havana, can now legally sell their fat pineapples and papaya from a roadside stall, along with other produce. Orlandis plans to rent space on Havana’s seafront to sell fruit cocktails and juice. In Santa Clara, Mr Pérez’s wife, Yolanda, sells ice-cream from their home. Having paid 200 pesos for a licence and 87 pesos in social-security contributions, she earns enough “to buy salad”. The streets around Havana’s Parque Central heave with vendors hawking snacks and tourist trinkets. Many of them are teachers, accountants and doctors who have left their jobs for a more lucrative, if precarious, life in the private sector.

No reason to work

This cuentapropismo is only the most visible part of Raúl Castro’s reform plan. “The fundamental issue in Cuba is production,” says Omar Everleny, a reformist economist. “Prices are high and wages are low because we don’t produce enough.”

Cuban statistics are incomplete, inconsistent and often questionable. But in a lifetime’s detective work, Carmelo Mesa Lago at the University of Pittsburgh has calculated that output per head of 15 out of 22 main agricultural and industrial products was dramatically lower in 2007 than it had been in 1958. The biggest growth has come in oil and gas and in nickel mining, largely thanks to investment since the 1990s by Sherritt, a Canadian firm. But output per head of sugar, an iconic Cuban product, has dropped to an eighth of its level in 1958 and 1989. Capital investment has collapsed. Raúl Castro has repeatedly lamented that Cuba imported around 80% of the food it consumed between 2007 and 2009, at a cost of over $1.7 billion a year.

The American embargo is an irritant, but the economy’s central failing is that Fidel’s paternalist state did away with any incentive to work, or any sanction for not doing so. So most Cubans do not work very hard at their official jobs. People stand around chatting or conduct long telephone conversations with their mothers. They also routinely pilfer supplies from their workplace: that is what keeps the informal economy going.

The global financial crisis in 2007-08 also took its toll. Tourists stayed away, the oil price plunged, and with it Venezuelan aid. Hurricane damage meant more food imports, just when world food prices were rising and those of nickel, now Cuba’s main export, were plunging. All this coincided with the political infighting in which Mr Lage was ousted, during which “all financial and budgetary discipline was blown away”, according to a foreign businessman. Having repeatedly defaulted on its foreign debt, Cuba has little access to credit. Instead of devaluing the CUC, which would have pushed up inflation, in January 2009 the government seized about $1 billion in hard-currency balances held by state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and foreign joint ventures. It did not finish paying them back until December 2011.

The guidelines approved by the party congress contain measures to raise production and exports, cut import demand and make the state financially sustainable. This involves, first, turning over idle state land to private farmers; second, making the state more productive by transferring surplus workers to the private sector or to co-ops; and third, lifting some of the many prohibitions that restrict Cuban lives, and granting much more autonomy to the 3,700 SOEs.

The grip of the state on Cuban farming has been disastrous. State farms of various kinds hold 75% of Cuba’s 6.7m hectares of agricultural land. In 2007 some 45% of this was lying idle, much of it overrun by marabú, a tenacious weed. Cuba is the only country in Latin America where killing a cow is a crime (and eating beef a rare luxury). That has not stopped the cattle herd declining from 7m in 1967 to 4m in 2011.

In 2008 Raúl allowed private farmers and co-ops to lease idle state land for ten years. By December last year 1.4m hectares had been handed out. The government has now agreed to extend the lease-period to up to 25 years, allow farm buildings to be put up and pay for any improvements if the leases are not renewed.

Credit and technical assistance also remain scarce, says Armando Nova of CEEC. Farmers suffer in the grip of Acopio, the state marketing organisation. It is the monopoly supplier of inputs such as seeds, fertiliser and equipment and was the sole purchaser of the farms’ output, but its monopoly is being dented. Farmers can now sell surplus production of all but 17 basic crops themselves. Under a pilot programme in Artemisa and Mayabeque provinces, near Havana, new co-ops will take over many of Acopio’s functions.

The reformers want to see Acopio go. More surprisingly, so does Joaquín Infante Ugarte at the National Association of Economists and Accountants (ANEC): “It’s always been a disaster. We should put a bomb under it.” But in around 100 of Cuba’s 168 municipalities the economy is based on farming, so Acopio is a big source of power and perks for party hacks, and its future is the subject of an intense political battle. That makes farmers nervous. A year ago the 30 or so farmers in the Antonio Maceo co-op in Mayabeque leased extra land, got a loan and planted bananas, citrus and beans. The administrator says output is up, but “it will take time to see a real difference.” And with that he clammed up.

Official data suggest that output of many crops fell last year; the price of food rose by 20%. That may be partly because farmers are bypassing the official channels. Granma, the official—and only—daily newspaper, reported in January that a spontaneous, self-organised and regulated wholesale market in farm products has sprung up in Havana. That looks like the future.

Letting go is hard to do

Reducing the state’s share of the economy has been even more contested. Raúl originally said the government would lay off 500,000 workers by March 2011 and a total of 1.1m by 2014. That timetable has slipped by several years because the government has been reluctant to allow sufficiently attractive alternatives for workers to give up the security (and the pilfering opportunities) of a state job. But including voluntary lay-offs and plans to turn many state service jobs into co-ops (as has already happened with small barber’s shops, beauty parlours and a few taxi drivers), some 35-40% of the workforce of 4.1m should end up in the private sector by 2015, reckons Mr Everleny.

Raúl sees corruption as politically incendiary at a time of rising inequality

By October 2011, he says, some 338,000 people had requested a business licence, 60% of whom were not leaving state jobs, suggesting that they were simply legalising a previous informal activity. As happens to small businesses the world over, many fail in the first year. Few of the cuentapropistas have Ms Nicolas’s business experience. Many clearly find it hard to distinguish revenue from profit. ANEC is organising training courses. But the government has stalled an attempt by the Catholic church to set up an embryonic business school.

If cuentapropismo is not to be a recipe for poverty, the government will have to ease the rules. Mr Everleny wants to see private professional-service firms being established: architects, engineers, even doctors. Already the taxes levied on the new businesses have been cut, but they are still designed to produce “bonsai companies”, in the words of Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a dissident economist.

Lack of credit is another obstacle. Start-up capital for new businesses comes mainly from remittances. In a pilot scheme the government approved $3.6m in credits in January, nearly all for house improvements. As for deregulation, Raúl has taken some simple and popular steps, lifting bans on Cubans using tourist hotels and owning mobile phones and computers, and last year allowing them to buy and sell houses and cars.

But reforming SOEs is far more complicated. They have been told to introduce performance-related pay. The boldest step was last year’s abolition of the sugar ministry. In principle, SOEs that lose money will be merged or turned over to their workers as co-ops. But a planned bankruptcy law is still pending. So is the elimination of subsidies and the introduction of market pricing. Mr Ugarte of ANEC thinks much of this will happen this year, along with a new law to introduce corporate income tax.

The pace of change has picked up since the party congress set up a commission with 90 staff under Marino Murillo, a Politburo member and former economy minister, to push through the reforms, says Jorge Mario Sánchez at CEEC. “By 2015 there won’t be the socialist economy of the 1990s, nor the same society.” But there are several gaps.

For one, the government seems undecided what to do about foreign investment, a key element in the rapid growth in Vietnam and China. It has cancelled some of the joint ventures it had signed (often in haste) during the Special Period, and such new agreements as it is entering are almost exclusively with companies from Venezuela, China and Brazil. Odebrecht, a Brazilian conglomerate, has reached an agreement under which it will run a large sugar mill in Cienfuegos for ten years. Many foreign companies are keen to invest in Cuba but are put off by the government’s insistence on keeping a majority stake and its history of arbitrary policy change.

Officials worry that foreign investment brings corruption. Raúl has launched an anti-corruption drive with the creation of a powerful new auditor-general’s office. Several hundred Cuban officials, some very senior, have been jailed, as have three foreigners. Raúl rightly sees corruption as politically incendiary at a time of rising inequality. But he is tackling the symptoms rather than the cause. “People who were making $20 a month were negotiating contracts worth $10m,” says a foreign diplomat.

The guidelines involve only microeconomic reforms. Raúl’s macroeconomic recipe has so far been limited to austerity: he has managed to trim the fiscal and current-account deficits. The trickiest reform of all will be unifying the two currencies, by devaluing the CUC and revaluing the peso. It would help if Cuba were a member of the IMF and the World Bank and had access to international credit, but so far the government has shown no interest in joining. Mr Vidal of CEEC points out that for devaluation to provide a stimulus, rather than just generating inflation, the economy would have to be far more flexible. That will require a political battle.

 

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New Publication, CUBA: PEOPLE, CULTURE, HISTORY

A near-encyclopedic volume on Cuba was recently published by Charles Scribner’s Sons but has received surprisingly limited publicity- at least from my perspective up here in winter-time in the True North. I have not yet seen the volume myself nor have I even seen the Table of Contents. However, the description of the substance of the volume below looks interesting.

If my finances were infinite, I would certainly buy a copy, even though the price ranges from $284.44 to $454.95, depending on the seller.

I contributed two essays on the Cuban economy. These are available here:

Archibald Ritter  “The Cuban Economy, Revolution, 1959-1990”

Archibald Ritter, “Cuba’s Economy During the Special Period, 1990-2010”

Here is a brief description of the volume:

Editor in Chief: Alan West-Durán, Northeastern University

 Associate Editors: Victor Fowler Calzada, Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC); Gladys E. García Pérez, Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC); Louis A Pérez, Jr., University of North Carolina; César Salgado, University of Texas; Maria de los Angeles Torres, University of Illinois, Chicago

Charles Scribner’s Sons,  An Imprint of Gale, Cengage Learning 2011

 INTRODUCTION

In an exceedingly complex and changing global situation,  understanding Cuba is an important and challenging task. The Scribner CUBA: People, Culture, History is a reference work that goes beyond a mere presentation of facts, biographies, and “ready reference” information, which is widely available on the Internet, to offer deep interpretation. The book will offer on the one hand, twenty-one interpretative essays on major topics in Cuban history, culture and society, as well as over one hundred twenty-five shorter essays on artistic, literary, and nonfiction works; major events and places of cultural significance.

The major essays will not only cover Economics, Sugar, Tobacco, Religion, and Food, but also Cuba and its Diasporas, Ecology and Environment, Sexuality, Gender, Race and Ethnicity, the Arts, Language, Sports and Cuban Ways of Knowing and Being, among others.

The short essays will focus on specific literary works, photographs, paintings, political documents, speeches, testimonies, historical dates, key places and cities on the island and abroad. For example:  literary works include “Los Versos sencillos”; “Paradiso”; and “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love”; works of nonfiction include: “Cuba: Azúcar y Población”; “Indagación del choteo”; and La historia me absolverá”; works of visual art: “La Jungla”; and “Los Hijos del agua conversando con un pez”; works of music: “Guantanamera”; “Misa cubana”; and “Mambo #5”; cinema: “Lucía”; and “Fresa y chocolate”; events: “Violence and Insurrection in 1912: A Racial Conflict”; and “January 1, 1959”; and places of cultural significance: “Baracoa”; “Holguín”; “Isla de Pinos”; “Spain”; and “New York,” to name a few examples.

By combining longer overview pieces with short and focused descriptive and analytical ones, CUBA  aims to give the curious and interested reader a way to comprehend the country by presenting the major forces that have shaped the island historically and culturally. Rather than overwhelm the reader with thousands of entries and biographies, CUBA offers a close look at major themes that are emblematic to the country’s unique history. CUBA is a reference guide for readers undertaking a journey of comprehension; it is not a work that presumes to have all of the answers.

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