Tag Archives: General Economic Analyses

Publication of the Papers from the 2013 Conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy

 

The proceedings of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy’s 23rd Annual Meeting entitled  “Reforming Cuba?” (August 1–3, 2013) is now available. The presentations have now been published by ASCE  at http://www.ascecuba.org/.

The presentations are listed below and linked to their sources in the ASCE Web Site.

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 Preface

Panorama de las reformas económico-sociales y sus efectos en Cuba, Carmelo Mesa-Lago

Crítica a las reformas socioeconómicas raulistas, 2006–2013, Rolando H. Castañeda

Nuevo tratamiento jurídico-penal a empresarios extranjeros: ¿parte de las reformas en Cuba?, René Gómez Manzano

Reformas en Cuba: ¿La última utopía?, Emilio Morales

Potentials and Pitfalls of Cuba’s Move Toward Non-Agricultural Cooperatives, Archibald R. M. Ritter

Possible Political Transformations in Cuba in the Light of Some Theoretical and Empirically Comparative Elements, Vegard Bye

Las reformas en Cuba: qué sigue, qué cambia, qué falta, Armando Chaguaceda and Marie Laure Geoffray

Cuba: ¿Hacia dónde van las “reformas”?, María C. Werlau

Resumen de las recomendaciones del panel sobre las medidas que debe adoptar Cuba para promover el crecimiento económico y nuevas oportunidades, Lorenzo L. Pérez

Immigration and Economics: Lessons for Policy, George J. Borjas

The Problem of Labor and the Construction of Socialism in Cuba: On Contradictions in the Reform of Cuba’s Regulations for Private Labor Cooperatives, Larry Catá Backer

Possible Electoral Systems in a Democratic Cuba, Daniel Buigas

The Legal Relations Between the U.S. and Cuba, Antonio R. Zamora

Cambios en la política migratoria del Gobierno cubano: ¿Nuevas reformas?, Laritza Diversent

The Venezuela Risks for PetroCaribe and Alba Countries, Gabriel Di Bella, Rafael Romeu and Andy Wolfe

Venezuela 2013: Situación y perspectivas socioeconómicas, ajustes insuficientes, Rolando H. Castañeda

Cuba: The Impact of Venezuela, Domingo Amuchástegui

Should the U.S. Lift the Cuban Embargo? Yes; It Already Has; and It Depends!, Roger R. Betancourt

Cuba External Debt and Finance in the Context of Limited Reforms, Luis R. Luis

Cuba, the Soviet Union, and Venezuela: A Tale of Dependence and Shock, Ernesto Hernández-Catá

Competitive Solidarity and the Political Economy of Invento, Roberto I. Armengol

The Fist of Lázaro is the Fist of His Generation: Lázaro Saavedra and New Cuban Art as Dissidence, Emily Snyder

La bipolaridad de la industria de la música cubana: La concepción del bien común y el aprovechamiento del mercado global, Jesse Friedman

Biohydrogen as an Alternative Energy Source for Cuba, Melissa Barona, Margarita Giraldo and Seth Marini

Cuba’s Prospects for a Military Oligarchy, Daniel I. Pedreira

Revolutions and their Aftermaths: Part One — Argentina’s Perón and Venezuela’s Chávez, Gary H. Maybarduk

Cuba’s Economic Policies: Growth, Development or Subsistence?, Jorge A. Sanguinetty

Cuba and Venezuela: Revolution and Reform, Silvia Pedraza and Carlos A. Romero Mercado

Mercado inmobiliario en Cuba: Una apertura a medias, Emilio Morales and Joseph Scarpaci

Estonia’s Post-Soviet Agricultural Reforms: Lessons for Cuba, Mario A. González-Corzo

Cuba Today: Walking New Roads? Roberto Veiga González

From Collision to Covenant: Challenges Faced by Cuba’s Future Leaders, Lenier González Mederos

Proyecto “DLíderes”, José Luis Leyva Cruz

Notes for the Cuban Transition, Antonio Rodiles and Alexis Jardines

Economistas y politólogos, blogueros y sociólogos: ¿Y quién habla de recursos naturales? Yociel Marrero Báez

Cambio cultural y actualización económica en Cuba: internet como espacio contencioso, Soren Triff

From Nada to Nauta: Internet Access and Cyber-Activism in A Changing Cuba, Ted A. Henken and Sjamme van de Voort

Technology Domestication, Cultural Public Sphere, and Popular Music in Contemporary Cuba, Nora Gámez Torres

Internet and Society in Cuba, Emily Parker

Poverty and the Effects on Aversive Social Control, Enrique S. Pumar

Cuba’s Long Tradition of Health Care Policies: Implications for Cuba and Other Nations, Rodolfo J. Stusser

A Century of Cuban Demographic Interactions and What They May Portend for the Future, Sergio Díaz-Briquets

The Rebirth of the Cuban Paladar: Is the Third Time the Charm? Ted A. Henken

Trabajo por cuenta propia en Cuba hoy: trabas y oportunidades, Karina Gálvez Chiú

Remesas de conocimiento, Juan Antonio Blanco

Diaspora Tourism: Performance and Impact of Nonresident Nationals on Cuba’s Tourism Sector, María Dolores Espino

The Path Taken by the Pharmaceutical Association of Cuba in Exile, Juan Luis Aguiar Muxella and Luis Ernesto Mejer Sarrá

Appendix A: About the Authors

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Clase de economía política para el Ministerio del Interior (MININT) en Cuba, por Juan Triana Cordovi,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KwHP88wXfE

Juan Triana Cordovi, profesor del Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana en la Universidad de La Habana, se dirige en una conferencia magistral a los principales jefes del Ministerio del Interior (MININT) para hablarles de las necesidades de cambios profundos en la economía y la política del país

 Desde un enfoque favorable al gobierno cubano, el profesor Triana destaca muchísimos de los errores actuales y no tan actuales en la administración del país. Habla y reflexiona sobre la necesidad de que todos los cubanos tengan internet rápido en sus domicilios.

Habla de forma clara, sencilla y didáctica. Independientemente de su parcialidad política, por primera vez circula en Cuba de forma no censurada un análisis autocrítico del gobierno planteando soluciones

New Picture (9)Juan Triana Cordovi

New Picture (7) Jefes del Ministerio del Interior

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El proceso del socialismo de Cuba desde el mandato de Raúl Castro

Por Mao Xianglin.

Mao Xianglin, investigador-profesor titular, asesor del Centro de Estudios de Cuba del Instituto de América Latina de la Academia de Ciencias Sociales de China.

Professor Mao is an  friend of many years, who visited Carleton University and also  Harvard University in the early 1980s just as the relations between China and western countries were starting to open up. He has been the main analyst of Cuba for the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences for some 30 years.

Prof. Mao’s complete essay can be read here:  Mao Xianglin, “Cuba desde el mandato de Raul Castro”

….

Conclusion: Las perspectivas del futuro

Cuba continuará persistir y desarrollar el socialismo, y la actualización de su modelo tiene como objeto consolidar y perfeccionar el sistema socialista. En la actualidad, Cuba encara oportunidades y condiciones favorables para sus reformas, pero al mismo tiempo, enfrenta deversos desafíos tanto internos como internacionales. Si Cuba logra cambiar cabalmente las viejas concepciones sobre el modelo de desarrollo y el papel del mercado, su camino de avance será cada vez más amplio. Entonces, Cuba no sólo podrá resolver sus propias dificultades y problemas de desarrollo, sino también podrá proporcionar últiles experiencias al movimiento socialista internacional.

毛相麟肖像(201309)

Prof. Mao Xianglin

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Brookings/CEEC Study: “Políticas para el crecimiento económico: Cuba ante una nueva era”

Juan Triana Cordoví and Ricardo Torres Pérez Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, Universidad de la Habana

Original CEEC/Brookings Study here: Triana & Torres for Brookings  Politicas crecimiento economico

Este trabajo analiza los factores estructurales que afectan el crecimiento económico, incluyendo la dinámica y calidad de la fuerza de trabajo, la acumulación de capital físico, la acumulación y estructura de factores de producción, y el acceso a mercados internacionales y el mercado doméstico. Luego el trabajo promueve opciones de algunas políticas orientadas a atender los desbalances que se han acumulado a través de los años, con el objeto de colocar a Cuba en un camino hacia el crecimiento alto y sostenible.

Cuba revela profundas paradojas en lo que respecta a su desarrollo. Tiene recursos (aunque escasos) pero carece de una infraestructura macroeconómica o institucional que le permita explotarlos. De igual manera, se enorgullece de poseer trabajadores altamente educados y calificados, sin embargo su modelo económico no genera suficiente empleo, ni en cantidad, ni en calidad, ni en salarios adecuados. Asimismo este modelo económico no ha mostrado la flexibilidad necesaria para adaptarse al ambiente exterior en proceso de cambio.

Estas paradojas se exacerban aún más debido a factores externos e internos. Desde el punto de vista externo, el embargo Estadounidense limita el acceso de Cuba al mercado más cercano y mayor de los Estados Unidos y evita que Cuba participe en instituciones financieras internacionales. Internamente Cuba enfrenta una compleja interacción entre la oferta de trabajo y la demanda de bienes y servicios, especialmente dentro del contexto del mercado internacional. En los próximos quince años Cuba prevé una población en envejecimiento y una taza de dependencia en crecimiento (de 54.7% hoy en día a 66.75% en el 2025) que resultará en una presión en aumento sobre las finanzas públicas. La mayoría del crecimiento en los países en desarrollo en los últimos 50 años se ha llevado a cabo de una manera diametralmente opuesta, impulsado por una población joven y una fuerza laboral en crecimiento. Estos elementos junto con el modelo económico actual hacen inmensamente difícil que Cuba se encamine hacia un crecimiento sostenible a largo plazo.

En el 2011 el gobierno Cubano, bajo el Presidente Raúl Castro, presentó unas nuevas pautas económicas para “modernizar el socialismo cubano”. En la práctica esto permitió algunas actividades económicas restringidas (compra y venta de hogares y automóviles, creación de cooperativas no agrícolas, etc.). Sin embargo, más allá de estos casos limitados, es incierta la implementación de cambios al modelo económico de Cuba que estimulen el crecimiento y desarrollo. Como resultado, la atención se ha volcado en la necesidad de una infraestructura más moderna (especialmente las telecomunicaciones), la necesidad de una inversión extranjera directa y de formación capital fija, y las políticas de producción que complementan las nuevas pautas económicas y apoyan los altos niveles de crecimiento y desarrollo que Cuba necesita.

Este ensayo fue preparado para ser presentado en una serie de talleres de expertos sobre el cambio económico Cubano visto desde una perspectiva comparativa, organizado por la Iniciativa Latinoamérica en el programa de Políticas del Exterior de la Institución Brookings, y el Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana y el Centro de Investigaciones de la Economía Internacional en la Universidad de la Habana. Fue presentado inicialmente en un seminario de expertos en Washington D.C. el 28 de mayo del 2013 y fue revisado posteriormente. Los ensayos preparados por esta serie serán recopilados y publicados por Brookings en el 2014.

New Picture (1)

With the 2011 economic reforms enacted under Raúl Castro having tangible impacts (the expansion of self-employed cuentapropistas, the legalization of the sale of homes and automobiles, the recent announcement of the elimination of the dual currency, etc.), Cuba faces important choices regarding the updating of its economic model. These authors present their ideas for Cuba’s economic reforms as part of a series of expert workshops on Cuban economic change in comparative perspective organized by the Foreign Policy Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution and the University of Havana’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy and the Center for the Study of the International Economy. Additional papers will cover monetary and fiscal policy, and institutional changes.

habla22Juan Triana Cordoví

_MG_4323Ricardo Torres Pérez

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Book Review: Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Jorge Pérez-López, Cuba Under Raúl Castro: Assessing the Reforms

 

Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Jorge Pérez-López, Cuba Under Raúl Castro: Assessing the Reforms, Boulder CO: Lynn Rienner, 2013, pp. 1-293, Copyright © 2013;  ISBN: 978-1-58826-904-1 hc

M-L & P-L

Cuba Under Raúl Castro: Assessing the Reforms is, so far, the definitive survey, analysis and evaluation of Cuba’s economic and social policies and of its development experience during the Presidency of Raúl Castro.

This is an excellent volume. Mesa-Lago and Jorge Pérez-López have built on their 50 and 40 years records respectively of their highest quality analyses of the economic strategies, policies and economic performance of Revolutionary Cuba, as well as numerous in-depth analyses of specific issue areas.

This study is comprehensive in scope, yet concise and focused. It is balanced and objective. It is constructed on a solid and broad a foundation of statistical information and a deep knowledge of the meaning and limitations of that information. It includes virtually all possible source materials from inside as well as outside the island.

In sum, it constitutes the best starting point for any observer, analyst, researcher or scholar trying to understand Cuba’s economic experience after Raul Castro’s “Acting” Presidency then Presidency.

Below is the Table of Contents to provide a quick overview of the scope of the volume.

Chapter 1        Cuba’s Economic and Social Development, 1959-2012.

Chapter 2        The Domestic Economy, 2006-2012.

Chapter 3        International Economic Relations, 2006-2012.

Chapter 4        Social Welfare, 2006-2012.

Chapter 5        The Reforms, the National Debate, and the Party Congress.

Chapter 5        Assessing the Reforms: Impact and Challenges.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago is undoubtedly well-known to all all observers and analysts interested in Cuba in view of his prolific and excellent work on Cuba over the last half-century. He currently is distinguished service professor emeritus of economics and Latin American studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of numerous books on Cuba, most recently Cuba’s Aborted Reform: Socioeconomic Effects, International Comparisons, and Transition Policies (with Jorge F. Pérez-López).

Jorge Pérez-López is executive director of the Fair Labor Association in Washington, DC. He also has been the organizer of the conferences and publications of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy since its inception some 20 years ago. His publications on Cuba have been numerous and excellent – as a spare time activity. His recent publications include Corruption in Cuba: Castro and Beyond. How he manages to carry out his excellent research and writing on Cuba over and above his demanding employment is an amazing mystery to me!

The full Introduction to the book can be read here: https://www.rienner.com/uploads/51cb22c8e9c96.pdf

The Lynne Rienner web site where it can be ordered is here: https://www.rienner.com/title/Cuba_Under_Raul_Castro_Assessing_the_Reforms

New Picture (3)

Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Jorge Pérez-López

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Policy Options for Cuba’s Development: Preparing for the Post-Embargo Era

Below are hyperlinks to presentations at a conference in Havana in April 25-26 on policy possibilities for the Cuban economy and potential insights from the experiences of other countries including Sweden, Brazil, Vietnam and China. The original links are at the web site of NUPI, the , here: Policy Options for Cuba.

Policy Options for Cuba’s Development: Preparing for the Post-Embargo Era

This project aims at supporting the work of Cuban economists and social scientists – those living in Cuba and abroad – who have argued for substantial economic reform and new socio-development strategies.


Deltakere

Fulvio Castellacci1
Morten Skumsrud Andersen2
Vegard Bye3
4

Claes Brundenius, Professor, Lund University


The final conference of phase 2 of this project took place in Havana on April 25th and 26th 2013. All presentations from this conference can be downloaded below.

Presentations:

Conference programme5

1. Welcome Remarks (eng) – Castellacci6

2. The updating of the Cuban Economic Model (spa) – Pérez Villanueva7

3. Economic Development in Cuba (eng) – Torres Pérez8

4. Reforms in Cuba in light of experiences from China and Vietnam (spa) – De Miranda Parrondo9

5. Entrepreneurship, Innovation and SMEs: Can the Cuban Reform Process Learn from Vietnam? (eng) – Brundenius10

6. Innovation and Entrepreneurship: The Case of University Start Up Companies in China (eng) – Li11

7. Innovation, Absorptive Capacity and Growth Heterogeneity: Cuba in a Latin American Perspective (1970–2010) (eng) – Castellacci and Natera12

8. Institutions and innovation in the process of economic change (eng) – Alonso13

9. Challenges for an Efficient Cuban Economy in Times of Increasing Heterogeneity and Uncertainties (eng) – Fernández Estrada14

10. Towards a new taxation in Cuba (spa) – Pons Pérez15

11. The key to inclusive economic groth in Cuba (spa) – Sagebien16

12. The politics of Science, Technology and Innovation in Cuba (spa) – Núñez Jover17

13. Main problems for innovation in Cuban enterprises18

14. Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Challenges for Local Development in the university centers of Santiago de Cuba (eng) – Sayous and Soler19

15. Structural change in Brazil – A Latin American Experience (spa) – Vasconcelos20

16. The Swedish Innovation System: The Role of Government and its Support to SMEs (eng) – Schwaag Serger21

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THE POLITICS OF CUBAN TRANSFORMATION—WHAT SPACE FOR AUTHORITARIAN WITHDRAWAL?

An excellent exploration of Cuba’s possible political furures was presented by Norwegian Political Scientist Vegard Bye at the 2012 ASCE Conference and has just been made available in the ASCE Conference  Proceedings for 2012. Excerpts from the Introduction are presented below. The full study, well worth a close reading, is here: WHAT SPACE FOR AUTHORITARIAN WITHDRAWAL?

By Vegard Bye

Cuba is in the process of undergoing significant— perhaps fundamental—economic reforms. Although the pace is not always very fast, and the direction is more characterized by zigzagging that by a straight line, there is little doubt that the state-dominated economy is about to give way to more non-state actors. In theory and ideology, the official line confirmed at the 2011 Party Congress is still that “plan”  and not “market” is the guiding principle. But in practice, plans drawn up by the state bureaucracy play a rapidly diminishing role in the “really existing  economy.” State bureaucrats, however, seem to be practicing considerable “civil disobedience” by dragging their feet in the implementation of reforms approved by the party leadership, as Raúl Castro himself

So far, the discussion of reforms in Cuba has almost exclusively focused on economic aspects. The VI Party Congress in April 2011 was exclusively dedicated to economic reform, or “updating [actualización] of the economic model,” which is the politically correct but not very adequate expression. The Party Congress, and the comprehensive debate within Cuban society leading up to it, led to quite significantly rising expectations about economic prospects in Cuba, both for the country as a whole and for individuals and families, although the confidence in the present  leadership’s capacity to solve Cuba’s deep problems seems to be rapidly falling.

………

This article is part of a research project with the objective of making an on-going assessment of the dynamics between economic and political transformations in Cuba by comparing these to theoretical and empirical literature on other transition experiences: democratic transitions in Latin America as well as Southern and Eastern Europe, the on-going struggle between democratic and authoritarian trends in the former USSR (and even some newly democratized Eastern European countries), and the authoritarian market transition taking place in China and Vietnam.

 The general hypothesis is that the economic reforms in Cuba are slowly moving the country from a totalitarian to a post-totalitarian society (referring to a typology developed by Linz & Stepan2), with potential for the emergence of an increasing although limited democratic space, but alternatively for the emergence of  a post-Castro authoritarian political-economic elite not least linked to the Armed Forces. Three alternative scenarios are developed to reflect these options. It is believed that the study of two transition processes (agricultural reform and the emerging entrepreneurship), understood within Cuba’s international context and with an additional view to the impact of a future oil economy, will offer a good indication as to which of these three scenarios will have more prominence in Cuba’s political development.

  Vegard Bye is a Norwegian political scientist, Associate Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, and Partner in the consulting company Scanteam. His work record includes senior positions with the UN and Norad (Norway’s Development Cooperation Agency), long experience as reporter and part-time university lecturer and thesis supervisor. He has written various books on Latin American topics, and has followed Cuba since working there with the UN in the late 1970s.

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Five years later: Cuba under Raúl: He’s tinkered but it’s the same old machine

By Juan O. Tamayo

Original Here:   Miami Herald, February 24, 2013 Cuba under Raúl

As Cuban ruler Raúl Castro marks his fifth official year in power on Sunday, some Cubans might well be asking, like the U.S. advertising campaign, “Got Milk?”

In his first major speech after succeeding ailing brother Fidel, Castro declared that the government’s highly centralized and inept system for collecting and distributing milk was “absurd” and vowed to fix it.

Today, some towns are indeed getting not just more milk but also butter and cheese, yet others are no better off — mirroring the sharply contrasting assessments of the economic reforms Castro launched to dig the island out of its communism-induced quagmire.

Some Cubans say the newly allowed private economic activity already has made daily life a bit easier for most of the island’s 11.2 million people, with more sellers offering more goods and more buyers finding more of the goods they seek.

“Look, I see a lot of people smiling because there are more ways to make a living and I have more pork to sell,” said Mori, the nickname of a salesman in a Havana butchers’ kiosk. “And people are buying, even though the prices are high.”

“You can’t say that Raúl’s Cuba is the same as Fidel’s Cuba. You just have to go on the streets to see that,” said dissident Havana economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe.

“I am surprised at how fast Raúl has moved, in the context of the previous half-century” added Archibald Ritter, an economist at Carleton University in Ottawa who runs the blog The Cuban Economy.

But Espinosa Chepe, Ritter and other knowledgeable Cuba-watchers say the reforms have been far too slow and too meek to reverse nearly half a century of brutally incompetent central government and its controls, Soviet Union-style, over virtually the entire economy.

Castro’s main reforms are “positive and well-oriented” and have accelerated in the past six months but remain “insufficient to solve the socio-economic problems accumulated in 50 years of centralized socialism … due to obstacles and disincentives,” said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, the dean of Cuba economists and author of the Spanish-language book Cuba en la Era de Raúl Castro.

Just updates

The list of reform initiatives launched since Castro officially succeeded Fidel on Feb. 24, 2008, is long and impressive and points to a strategy of allowing more capitalism but not democracy that looks like the China model —- though Havana insists it’s on its own path.

He has legalized non-agricultural cooperatives, allowed more private businesses and farming, offered them loans and permitted them to hire non-family employees. He has cut the bloated state payrolls, legalized the sale of homes and cars and allowed Cubans to stay in previously tourist-only hotels.

Most importantly, Cubans say, the removal of the much-hated “exit permit” last month for those who want to travel abroad has eased the sense of isolation and entrenchment that prevailed during Fidel Castro’s hardliner search for a socialist utopia.

But Raúl Castro has repeatedly said he’s proceeding apace to “update” the economy — never “reform” it — and his No. 2, José Ramón Machado Ventura, has dismissed those “who demand faster advances, naively thinking they will lead to capitalism.”

As a result, Cuba today teeters somewhere between the promise and realities of the reforms, between his on-the-mark diagnoses of what ails the country and a shortage of the appropriately strong medicine.

Licenses, taxes

Castro has thrown the doors open to more private enterprise but still limits licenses to 181 strictly defined jobs — among them, party clown — slapped steep taxes on them and vowed that central planning will remain the guiding force of the economy.

The decree allowing non-agricultural cooperatives — state-owned restaurants can become employee coops, for instance — is positive, said Ritter. But it requires the coops to accept as full members all employees of more than 90 days, such as a receptionist.

In one of the most critical reforms, Castro decreed in 2008 that nearly five million acres of idle state farmlands would be leased to private farmers to increase agricultural production and cut a food import bill estimated at $1.5 billion a year.

But only 3.7 million acres had been handed out at the end of 2012 and the government retained Acopio, the notoriously bumbling state system for gathering and distributing farm products. That’s what Castro attacked in that first major speech, in 2007, when he detailed the incompetent system for producing, processing and distributing milk.

It also took the government four years to reverse a section in the decree that banned the new farmers from building homes on the land — in effect forcing them to commute and leave their farm animals and machinery exposed to thieves every night.

Perhaps that’s why domestic food production dropped in 2011 to pre-2007 levels, and dropped again in 2012, with pork, a staple of the Cuban diet, down by 18.3 percent. Agricultural food prices spiked by about 20 percent while salaries barely ticked up, and food imports remained stable.

Cuban officials also announced 500,000 state employees would be dismissed by April 2011, and 800,000 more would follow by the end of that year in order to slash government spending. Yet by the end of 2012 the total layoffs reportedly stood at only 365,000.

Castro ordered an all-out attack on corruption, and put his son, Alejandro, in charge of the campaign. Yet bribery appears to be booming in the dark spaces between socialist and capitalist economic activities, and reports of fresh scandals filter out almost every week.

He has repeatedly called for a younger leadership and promoted Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, 54, to the Politburo of the Communist Party and Higher Education Minister Miguel Diaz-Canel, about 52, to vice president of the Council of Ministers.

But Cuba’s leadership remains ancient. Castro is 81, Machado Ventura is 82 and Ramiro Valdes, another vice president of the Council of Ministers and sometimes considered No. 3, is 80. Overall, 10 of the 15 politburo members are in their 70s and 80s.

He has demanded that all state-owned enterprises improve their management and threatened to shutter those that do not turn a profit. Yet the General Comptroller’s report for 2012 said 34 percent of the 234 estate entities audited fell short of their goals.

Ritter noted that industrial output in 2011 stood at a shocking 47 percent of the levels in 1989, when post-communist Moscow halted its subsidies to Havana and the island plunged into economic ruin. The purchasing power of salaries in 2010 was 30 percent lower than in 1989, according to Espinosa Chepe.

Castro’s reforms “are useful and positive and I would applaud them, but in terms of reversing the situation in industry they are not going to go too far,” said Ritter. “The industrial sector is a disaster. Cuba is de-industrializing.”

Plans, illusions

Castro also improved daily life by halting the massive political marches and rallies that brother Fidel so loved, Espinosa Chepe added, and diversifying the programs on the state television monopoly — “though they remain boring and with a heavy political bias.”

But virtually every young Cuban still has “a plan or an illusion” to escape the island, said Michel Matos, executive director of the Rotilla Festival, a privately organized music fest held annually from 1998 until the government banned it in 2011.

Some Cubans paint a dark picture of their future, with more poverty, especially among retirees whose benefits seldom rise above $15 a month. The gap between haves and have-nots has risen as the government has cut back spending on public health and education. Crime and prices continue to rise.

A woman who visits Havana often said a well-off and pro-Castro friend there recently told her that “there is a tension you feel all the time, like it’s going to explode. We don’t know where we’re going.” The woman asked for anonymity to speak frankly.

The specter of Fidel

Castro’s half-measures and stop-and-go reforms have sparked speculation on exactly who or what is standing in his way. The “who” is presumed to be the 86-year-old Fidel, always a sworn enemy of capitalism.

“In general I believe that we have a duty to update and improve it [Cuba’s Soviet-style economic model], but this is a stage where it is essential that we march very carefully. We should not make mistakes,” Fidel said earlier this month when asked about the reforms.

Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former government analyst on intelligence issues and Cuba-U.S. relations now at the University of Denver, said Raúl Castro is “losing time” with the slow pace of reforms “not because of indolence but because there is no agreed-upon vision of the system toward which Cuba is moving.”

The “what” is widely believed to be an entrenched bureaucracy that fears the reforms will take away its benefits and perquisites. Jorge Dominguez, a Harvard University expert on Cuba, has described what Castro now faces as a tough “bureaucratic insurgency.”

Impediment to talks

As for U.S. relations, Castro has repeatedly offered talks with the Obama administration, yet held on to the one clear impediment to improved relations: U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, serving a 15-year sentence in Havana for giving sophisticated communications equipment to Cuban Jews in violation of Cuban laws.

“The government needs a less confrontational scenario in bilateral relations, but its survival is not dependent on a deal with the U.S.,” said Lopez-Levy. “The optimum scenario for [Castro] is not a sudden lifting of the embargo but a piecemeal dismantling.”

And on the human rights front, Castro freed 52 political prisoners jailed since a 2003 crackdown on dissent but at the same time stepped up repression, with a record 6,200 short-term detentions for political motives reported last year alone.

One bit of certainty

Castro is certain to be elected to a second five-year term as president of the Councils of Ministers and State when the parliamentary National Assembly of People’s Power opens its new session on Sunday. But the country’s future is less certain.

Lopez-Levy said he believes that during his first five years in power Castro carefully laid the institutional foundation for a more mixed state-private economy and a state withdrawal from daily life.

But Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, whose subsidies to Cuba are pegged at more than $6 billion a year — higher than the aid that Moscow once provided — has cancer and it’s not clear whether a successor would keep the same level of aid.

Havana blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote last month that given Cuba’s myriad and profound problems, it’s difficult for her to believe that the system can “survive the new year, never mind guarantee its long-term viability.”

“But it merits mentioning that the Havana regime has been showing its ability to overcome, including even the most unfavorable predictions, for a long time,” she added. “After all, the Cuban economy has been in a permanent state of crisis for 20 years.”

“It will be much more likely to see our frustrations in the lines outside embassies [in Havana] waiting for a visa,” Sánchez noted, “than in any mass protests.”

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Cuba en el siglo xxi : Escenarios actuales, cambios inevitables, futuros posibles

Juan Antonio Blanco has contributed a thought-provokinh analysis to the recent  Nueva Sociedad (No 242, noviembre-diciembre de 2012) special issue on Cuba entitled Cuba se Mueve.

The complete essay is here: Blanco, Juan Antonio, Cuba en el Siglo XXI

“El régimen de gobernanza que ha dirigido Cuba por medio siglo ha quedado  inmerso en un desequilibrio sistémico al perder su anterior hábitat internacional, que lo sustentó durante la Guerra Fría.

Los cambios introducidos hasta ahora no han sido suficientes para lograr un nuevo equilibrio. Si se comprende esa realidad y se rectifica el rumbo, hay una Cuba mejor esperando a sus ciudadanos en el futuro. Pero si se insiste en «actualizar» un sistema agotado y carente de mecenazgos de la magnitud de los que obtuvo del bloque soviético, también es posible que aguarde en el horizonte una Cuba peor.”

Juan Antonio Blanco: doctor en Ciencias Históricas. Actualmente es analista político y director ejecutivo del Centro para Iniciativas hacia América Latina y el Caribe del Miami Dade College.

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Ricardo Torres: “Cuba Needs to Be Bold and Creative”

Patricia Grogg’s interview with Ricardo Torres.  The original article, from IPS, the Inter Press Service news agency,  is located here:  “Cuba Needs to Be Bold and Creative”

HAVANA, Oct 11 2012 (IPS) – Cuba has been steeped in a profound economic crisis over the last 20 years, and no short-term solution to the accumulated problems can be expected, says Cuban professor and researcher Ricardo Torres.

Whoever expects overnight success from the “Economic and Social Policy Guidelines” of the country’s ruling Communist Party, the document that serves as a virtual road map for the reformsthat are being implemented by President Raúl Castro, “knows nothing about the social sciences, and is sending the wrong message,” Torres says in this interview with IPS.

Prof. Ricardo Torres, Centro de Estudios sobre la Economia Cubana

Q: Is the pace of reform slow solely due to a government decision, or is it also because of other internal and external factors?

A: I do not totally agree with the opinion that the pace of change is slow. It depends on how you look at the process.

If we understand that everything stemming from the Party “Guidelines” is a process of social change, then we have to remember that the guidelines are less than two years old, which is not a long time in these cases.

If we are judging from the standpoint of the needs and aspirations of the great majority of Cubans, I would even say of the government, then yes, it might be slow. There are elements of the internal process that are delaying the changes enormously, and the first of these is inexperience in dealing with unprecedented changes.

Q: What internal factors are hindering these changes?

A: This is something that has been referred to many times, but it doesn’t hurt to mention it again. People’s minds are the hardest thing to change, and if they have done something a certain way for 50 years, it is not easy for them to agree to do it differently in a short amount of time. In fact, in some cases, that learning process will be impossible.

There is also the question of interests. The changes are affecting certain groups and segments of the population, which, therefore, are going to oppose them, using whatever resources they have within their reach to prevent or at least hinder their progress. It is a natural reaction by people to protect themselves against whatever may affect them.

Q: Is the external context also a factor? How?

A: From an international standpoint, there are many aspects that are holding back change in Cuba. The first is U.S. foreign policy, which is not helping the Cuban people, because it is based on the false assumption that the only good and positive thing for this country is regime change as they (the U.S. authorities) understand it.

That is an assumption that is valid for Washington but not for the lives of the Cuban people. This country needs to change everything that should change, but it will do so to serve its own interest and to benefit society, not because a foreign government thinks it is important for us to do this or that.

The way that U.S. policy is currently designed, it does nothing to favour this process of transformations that the island is going through, and it is creating resistance among certain groups in the government and in the population. Moreover, it is hindering economic and social development, because it puts Cuba at a disadvantage for competing in the international market.

A: I’m an economist, not a politician, and what I can say responsibly is that the U.S. blockade is having an adverse effect on Cuba’s economy and society, which is impossible to ignore.

Every year, it is costing the Cuban people money and quality of life.

What we cannot say is that all of Cuba’s problems are because of the U.S. blockade. And the blockade is not responsible for all of the bad decisions that we have made in the last 50 years in certain areas.

Q: The situation is difficult for the Cuban population. Many say they are pessimistic, and don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. How can a consensus be maintained under these types of circumstances?

A: I see a way out, and this is a very personal opinion. For us, the key is to be bold and creative. It could be the case that we see ourselves locked into a vicious circle that requires an unexpected, radical decision, which may seem to break the consensus. If it is in the country’s long-term interest, it will have to be done and explained.

I am thinking about our relationship with the United States, our attitude toward private enterprise, effective and real decentralisation of decision-making, and the way that national or international economic relations are sometimes coordinated or governed in general. All of this requires a major change in mentality.

Q: Do you think that Cuba has the conditions needed for development?

A: Yes, of course, for growing and developing. What is needed is strategy, a vision for the future, and a break with many dogmas that are ever-present in most cases.

Q: Would you say political will exists for that?

A: Yes, I think it does, and there is also the legitimate aspiration of the entire Cuban people. Proof of that political will is that we are seeing a new, more pragmatic vision today, one that is more in keeping with reality and more flexible in decision-making and that takes the island’s real conditions more into account.

In addition, academia is playing a more important role in decision-making. I think this is a felicitous initiative of this process of change. Of course, we are not always satisfied with the level of participation that we have, and we want more.

Given that we devote ourselves full-time to investigating certain issues that are important to Cuba, we want that knowledge to be used, because in the end, our interest as economists — as I see it, the majority of us — is for our country to progress and for all of its inhabitants to have more comfortable, fuller lives.

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