Tag Archives: Monetary System

“Reforming the Dual Monetary System”

By Justin Rohrlich. from “VICE”, , 23 January 2014

Original essay Here: http://www.vice.com/read/millions-of-cubans-may-lose-their-life-savings-this-year

“F___ing cops in Cuba are always busting everybody’s balls.”  A man mutters this to me in perfect English as I walk down the once-elegant Calle 23 in downtown Havana. He is the very last customer waiting in a Kafkaesque line that wraps around the block and doubles back on itself twice. The afternoon is stiflingly hot. Two police officers are hassling a nearby teenager because he took off his T-shirt.

“But that’s why things here are so safe,” the man continues, much louder this time. I’m confused until I realize another cop is standing behind me. He wandered over after spotting a Cuban nacional talking to me—an American gusano. “Very safe, very safe. You know, because the police do such a good job!”  The officer gives him a long, hard stare, then wanders away. I take my place at the end of the line next to my new buddy, who says his name is Yaniel.

Along with several hundred other Cubans, Yaniel and I are waiting to get into Coppelia, the iconic ice cream parlor created in 1966 by order of Fidel Castro and named for his then-secretary’s favorite ballet. Located across the street from the Habana Libre hotel, a one-time Hilton from which Fidel directed the revolution for three months in 1959, Coppelia has been called the “ultimate democratic ice cream emporium.” But, as I quickly find out, that isn’t exactly true.

coppelia-lineCoppelia on  la Rampa

When the Cubans around me spot a foreign tourist standing with them in the endless queue, they’re quick to inform me that the line we’re in is for people using Cuban Pesos—which is to say, most Cubans. As a woman in curlers and a tube top explains, people holding Convertible Pesos, the country’s other currency, aren’t forced to endure such Socialist indignities. Foreigners, like me, carry Convertible Pesos. She then points to a tiny building surrounded by a well-kept patio and leafy trees offering respite from the blistering mid-summer sun. There is no line at this Coppelia stand and, sitting in the shade are several happy, relaxed-looking people, enjoying their ice cream.

This, in a nutshell, is what having two currencies has done to the already dysfunctional Cuban economy for the past 20 years. The good news is that the government is finally attempting to fix it. The bad news is that millions of Cubans could lose their life savings in the process.

Kooks and Coops
Cuba is the only country on earth that prints two currencies. When the Soviet Union fell in the early 90s, Havana’s subsidies from the USSR were cut off. As a result, Cuba suffered a devastating 35 percent drop in its GDP. The situation on the ground was dire. In Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos (With Our Own Efforts), a 300-page volume of everyday survival strategies distributed in the early 90s by the publishing arm of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Cubans were offered helpful instructions for how to make shampoo out of rum and “sausages” made of nylon stockings stuffed with seasoned grapefruit rind.

Desperate for hard currency, Fidel Castro grudgingly legalized use of the US dollar in 1993. People working in the tourism industry were allowed to earn—and keep—tips given to them in foreign currency. In addition, a resolution by the National Bank of Cuba permitted some Cuban citizens to own foreign currency; the list included government officials, artists and athletes paid overseas, airline and fishing vessel crews, and employees of foreign embassies or organizations.

Castro’s ultimate goal was to get greenbacks into the state’s coffers. In order to capture as many of the now-circulating dollars as possible, the Cuban government promptly opened a network of so-called “dollar stores,” which carried otherwise-impossible-to-find goods available only to people who used American dollars to pay for them. The Cuban government would purchase, say, cans of Pringles and bottles of Gatorade from American manufacturers thanks to a humanitarian loophole in the then-30-year-old US trade embargo. Then the government would sell the Pringles and Gatorade to citizens at a 240 percent markup. The state kept the profit.

However, the trade embargo made it all but impossible for the Cuban government to do much with their American dollars, especially after the US Federal Reserve fined Swiss bank UBS $100 million for its dealings with the regime. And so, in 2004, Fidel Castro once again outlawed the US dollar and popularized the Convertible Peso, or CUC, which had been in limited use since 1994. CUCs (pronounced “kooks”) are worth one US dollar, and are used primarily in domestic tourism and foreign trade. Cuban Pesos, or CUPs (pronounced “coops”), are worth 1/24th of one CUC—about four US cents—and are what the government uses to pay Cuban salaries. (The government owns just about everything in Cuba, and so nearly every Cuban is a government employee.) Doctors, who are employed by the national health system, earn a little less than 800 CUPs per month. That’s about $30.

Thus, in theory, a cabdriver who gets tipped by foreign tourists in CUCs can earn a cardiologist’s monthly income in a single shift. And since it’s against the law for anyone with a professional degree—doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc—to ply their trade in business for themselves, a domestic brain drain has decimated Cuba’s educated class.

“Basically, the incentive structure that shapes people’s behavior has become completely perverted and dysfunctional,” says economist Arch Ritter, a professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University who has been studying Cuba for almost 50 years.

People with access to CUCs live far more comfortably than those without. Buses that accept CUCs look like the ones you take to pick up your rental car at American airports. Buses that accept CUPs are Soviet-era, exhaust-belching beaters. Essentials like cooking oil and toiletries are easily purchased with CUCs, while CUP earners like Mario, a parking attendant I met one afternoon behind the Habana Libre hotel, ask tourists if they have extras. After I gave Mario a Right Guard Sport Stick and two bars of Irish Spring, he noted that we both have a 36-inch waist. So he asked for my belt.

Cuban President Raúl Castro has quite rightly called the dual currency “one of the major obstacles to the progress of the nation.” However, he has also said, “I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba. I was elected to defend, maintain, and continue to perfect socialism.” So it’s no surprise that the government has announced plans to split the difference and do away with the CUC while retaining its hold on industry and commerce in the country.

How do you eliminate an entire currency? Castro has released few details about how or even when Cuba intends to begin taking CUCs out of circulation. But Ritter explained it this way: “They’ve got to make people want to hold the CUP, through the forces of supply and demand. You increase the CUP’s demand by letting people use it to buy a wider variety of goods. Then, you also limit how many CUPs are available, so its value goes up. Likewise, you reduce demand for the CUC by increasing supply, which would, in time, bring its value lower.”

In Cuba, however, economic decisions aren’t made based on supply and demand, and “the market” as Adam Smith knows it does not exist. Instead, reforms are made with the stroke of a pen, so the government could simply, say, change the exchange rate between the CUC and the CUP from 24-to-1 to 12-to-1. This would instantly halve the life savings of countless Cubans who’ve spent two decades socking away CUCs, to say nothing of the Zimbabwe-like inflation that could strike the economy after such a move.

Or, the government may just take everyone’s savings outright. “My guess is that when the government does the reform, it will expropriate some part of the population’s wealth accumulated in CUCs,” says economist Daron Acemoglu, co-author of Why Nations Fail. “This is exactly the sort of expropriation that Argentina did.”

In the years following the collapse of Argentina’s economy in 2001, the government nationalized private pension funds, swiping roughly $24 billion of the citizenry’s money. Argentinians’ dollar-denominated bank accounts were frozen, and withdrawals were severely limited before everyone was forced to convert their savings into comparatively worthless pesos. The result were protests, a flood of court cases, violent riots, a worsening economic crisis, and a two-week period in which Argentina had five different presidents.

Raúl Castro has declared that the transition will not hurt holders of either CUCs or CUPs. But the concept of protecting individual wealth has no place in Cuba—a fact specifically stated in the Cuban Communist Party’s Lineamientos (Guidelines). And as Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the right-leaning Cuba Democracy Advocates points out, the Cuban government could really use the money.

“The Castro regime seems to undertake these currency operations when it’s suffering from a hard-currency crisis,” he explains. “The anticipated currency swap is simply another episode in a long series of asset confiscations by the Castro regime.”

Expropriations and nationalizations of private property have occurred repeatedly since the beginning of the Castro era. People leaving the island in the early days of post-Revolutionary Cuba were forced to give up their property and assets in addition to their rights as citizens. Those who stayed were soon relieved of 42 percent of their wealth in a top-down currency revaluation. In recent years, the CUC has been devalued in pursuit of stabilizing government debt, and hard currency accounts have been periodically frozen and restricted when it has suited the regime.

The economy of Cuba’s main benefactor, Venezuela, is thought by many economists to be in the midst of collapse. Just as the Soviet Union’s was 20 years ago.

Mucho Resolver
Carlos, like 4.6 million of the 5 million people in Cuba’s labor force, works for the state. A lighting and set designer who lives in the “upscale” Vedado section of Havana, the 74-year-old has accompanied traveling Cuban theater and dance productions all over Latin America and Eastern Europe. The government pays Carlos relatively well for his work; he earns roughly what a doctor earns. Yet even though he is relatively privileged by comparison, Carlos’s monthly salary covers perhaps half a month’s worth of expenses. And so, displaying the optimistic, opportunistic trait known in Cuba as resolver, Carlos makes up for the shortfall by earning CUCs on the side.

Carlos runs a small bed-and-breakfast—known in Cuba as a casa particular—out of his art-deco townhouse. He rents out two rooms—he could rent more, but the government imposes limits on how many rooms can be occupied at once—and charges 30 CUCs a night per room (the authorities also set maximum room rates). On paper, this means Carlos can multiply his monthly salary several times with just a handful of bookings. The reality, however, is another story.

Over the course of the three nights I stay with him, Carlos explains how it works. He pays about 300 CUCs a month to the government for the right to run his casa, whether or not he rents a single room. In other words, Carlos needs to fill one bed for 10 nights a month just to break even with the government, to say nothing of his own expenses. Still, the fact that he’s even still in business means Carlos is ahead of the game. One woman I met selling salsa CDs along Calle 12 in Vedado told me she’d set up her home as a casa particular, but was forced to shut down after just two months because she’d gone broke paying the government fees.

Attracting guests presents a whole other set of challenges. Advertising in Cuba is against the law, and few people are permitted Internet access in their homes, making it all but impossible to attract tourists looking for accommodations. Carlos is among the lucky Cubans who has internet access in the form of an old HP laptop and creaky dial-up connection, allowing him to maintain a web page to market himself to tourists.

First legalized in 1997, casas particulares generate intense competition among Cubans eager for precious CUCs. Mercedes, a rheumatologist who rents me a room in her perfectly preserved colonial mansion in the touristy hamlet of Trinidad, has to contend with dozens of other nearby casas. But in addition to going head to head with each other, small-business owners like Mercedes and Carlos must also compete against Gaviota S.A., a government-run tourism operation overseen by members of Raúl Castro’s inner circle.

A division of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, Gaviota’s tens of thousands of hotel rooms across the island generate the equivalent of almost a billion dollars a year. The money goes directly to the government.

But the big hotels that divert business away from people like Carlos and Mercedes also give other people—housekeepers, bellhops, bartenders—the chance to obtain CUCs for themselves. And state-run entities (particularly ones with bars, restaurants, and plenty of cash on hand) offer opportunities for all manner of graft, theft, and other types of financial chicanery that make up a robust underground economy in Cuba. It’s impossible to put a dollar value on the amount of money that’s stolen or hidden from the state, but economist Arch Ritter estimates that at least 95 percent of Cubans do it.

Isoyen worked at a Soviet-built, Gaviota-run beach hotel on Cuba’s Caribbean coast until he was furloughed earlier this year. When I met him, he told me it wasn’t the loss of his CUP salary that he missed—it was the CUC tips he received from tourists. A college graduate, Isoyen can only use his accounting degree to work for “the people,” making self-employment in his chosen field an impossibility. Living with his parents makes running a casa impossible, so he plans to use his resolver—and the CUCs he socked away—to open an ice cream stand.

For the elderly docents working at Havana’s Museum of the Revolution, resolver means engaging in a bit of basic arbitrage. After showing me Che Guevara’s gun in a glass display case, one of them tries to sell me a three CUP note bearing Che’s likeness as a souvenir. She asks one CUC for the bill. That’s a tidy 88 percent profit.

The Long Con
Resolver can mean a lot of things.

“My friend! My friend!” someone calls out as I walk down Calle E my first morning in Havana. “Where you from, my friend?”

His name is Rafael, and he says he’s a medical student, though he seemingly fails to understand my English only when I ask about the specifics of his education. He’s bald and wiry, and he has a homemade 13 tattoo on the webbing between his right thumb and forefinger. I like him immediately.

Rafael claims to be a licensed tour guide. He even has an official-looking ID card pinned to his shirt. He charges me 20 CUCs—the equivalent of a month’s salary at a typical government job—for a two-hour walking tour in which he listlessly points out a few local sites like the Plaza de la Revolucion and the clinic where soccer legend Diego Maradona supposedly kicked his cocaine addiction in the early 2000s.

We then go to lunch (I pay for it) at a local cafe where Rafael manages to triple his tour fee. For starters, he collects a commission from the restaurant manager for bringing in foreigners with CUCs—and, as I find out later, Rafael’s clients are charged five CUCs for a mojito instead of the usual 24 CUPs, a 500 percent markup. Rafael also sells me a bundle of cigars that he describes as “special, only for Cubans,” for 35 CUC. He’s telling the truth—they aren’t for export. However, I also come to learn they sell to locals for 25 CUP per bundle. (That’s about 1/35th of what I paid.) For his final trick, Rafael gently talks me out of the Everlast speed bag and hand wraps I brought to donate to a local boxing gym, explaining that he would walk them over for me, as the place is “very hard to find.”

As we part ways, Rafael turns to me with an earnest look on his face. “My friend, please don’t tell anybody else this is your first day in Cuba,” he says. “They will take advantage of you.”

Trusting Raul
Cuban citizens hope that Raúl Castro will tackle financial reform as artfully as Cuban citizens tackle financial survival. But the historically awful performance of the Cuban economy under the tutelage of the Castros doesn’t inspire much confidence. Nonetheless, Ernesto Hernández-Catá, former Deputy Director of the International Monetary Fund, has hope.

“This is part of a reform movement orchestrated by a few brave people in the Cuban government,” Hernández-Catá tells me. “It has been accepted by Raúl, who is not a saint, to be sure. But whereas Fidel was a crazy ideologue, Raúl wants to leave behind an image of a guy who is sober, is reasonably intelligent, and wants to improve the lives of his countrymen.”

Whether it turns out to be a failure or a success, the general consensus in the West remains that, while monetary reform is a positive development, Cuba needs to overhaul its entire financial system from top to bottom before real change can take place. While Secretary of State John Kerry called Cuba’s latest slate of reforms a good start—on top of the economic liberalizations, Cubans can now travel outside the country without an exit visa—he said Havana must do more.

And, not surprisingly, Mauricio Claver-Carone of Cuba Democracy Advocates doesn’t see life improving much for Cubans. “The Castro regime will always end up capturing income made in Cuba, one way or another,” he says. “That’s the nature of totalitarianism.”

cadeca

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La reforma monetaria en Cuba hasta el 2016: entre gradualidad y “big bang”

New Picture (4)

Ensayo original: Monetary Reform Cuba 2016

Dr. Pavel Vidal Alejandro, Universidad Javeriana Cali y Dr. Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva, Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, Universidad de la Habana

 In La Reforma Monetaria en Cuba Hasta el 2016: Entre Gradualidad y “Big Bang (Monetary Reform in Cuba Until 2016: Between Gradualism and the “Big Bang”), Pavel Vidal Alejandro and Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva analyze the benefits and costs of the eventual devaluation of the official exchange rate for the Cuban peso, the main measure the Cuban government will employ to achieve the goal of monetary unification in 2016. Possible policy responses and alternatives regarding devaluation of the exchange rate are evaluated. The authors conclude that, as far as is possible, the best strategy for the Cuban currency reform is a gradual devaluation and not the application of a “big bang” approach. However, given the huge gap between the multiple exchange rates, sharp depreciation in the value of the Cuban peso will be required at times.

 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 Havana, Cuba el 26 de septiembre del 2013 y fue revisado posteriormente. Los ensayos preparados por esta serie serán recopilados y publicados por Brookings en el 2014. Este ensayo refleja solamente las opiniones de los autores.

New-Picture-8

Pavel Vidal y Omar Everleny Pérez

 

 

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Exchange Rate Unification: The Cuban Case

New Picture (5)Exchange Rate Unification: The Cuban Case

By: Alain Ize and Augusto de la Torre

 In Exchange Rate Unification: The Cuban Case, Augusto de la Torre and Alain Ize take an international perspective in examining the challenges Cuba faces in unifying its exchange rate, and compare various options to meet this objective.

Since 2011, the Cuban authorities have placed exchange rate unification as one of their top policy priorities. Indeed, the current dual exchange rate system—whereby a one-to-one exchange rate for the “convertible peso” coexists with a twenty four-to-one exchange rate for the “Cuban peso” (both against the U.S. dollar)—introduces severe and pervasive distortions with costly consequences for resource allocation and the growth potential of the Cuban economy. At the same time, the unusually large (by international comparison) spread between the two exchange rates exacerbates the transition costs and thus constitutes one of the main reasons delaying their unification.

De la Torre and Ize argue in favor of a fast unification approach, cushioned during a pre-announced transition period by lump-sum taxes and subsidies applied on an enterprise-by-enterprise basis. By allowing for relative price changes to operate in full from the start, the immediate unification would maximize efficiency gains. At the same time, by cushioning the Cuban economy from potentially large transitional pains—including fiscal revenue losses, productive dislocations, inflationary outbursts and distributional effects—the lump-sum taxes and subsidies (to be gradually phased out) would ease the transition, thereby boosting policy credibility. However, to ensure the viability of the scheme and the rapid materialization of the efficiency gains, important habilitating reforms would be needed, particularly regarding the governance of state enterprises.

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 Havana, Cuba el 26 de septiembre del 2013 y fue revisado posteriormente. Los ensayos preparados por esta serie serán recopilados y publicados por Brookings en el 2014. Este ensayo refleja solamente las opiniones de los autores.

 

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New Site on the Cuban Economy: “ASCE BLOG”

 New Picture (10)

 

The Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy established a Blog  some months ago. It promises to be the locus of timely and serious economic analyses and commentaries on the Cuban economy.

The location of the Blog is  http://www.ascecuba.org/blog/

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The Table of Contents as of January 6 2013 was as follows. Each article is linked to the original location on the ASCE Blog.

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Cuba’s External Debt Problem: Daunting Yet Surmountable  by Luis R. Luis

The external debt of Cuba is not excessively large relative to GDP, though this is distorted by an overvalued currency and the reliance on non-cash services exports. Recent bilateral restructurings are easing the debt burden but are insufficient to lift creditworthiness and restore access to international financial markets. [More]

Controls, Subsidies and the Behavior of Cuba’s GDP Price Deflator by Ernesto Hernández-Catá

In this paper a model of overall price behavior for the Cuban economy is estimated. The model, despite limitations, explains reasonably well the path of the GDP deflator. Importantly, the model sheds light on the interaction between unit labor costs, consumption subsidies and the behavior of prices in the economy. [More]

A Triumph of Intelligence: Cuba Moves Towards Exchange Rate Unification by Ernesto Hernández-Catá

The movement towards a unified exchange rate is positive, though a gradualist approach presents some dangers, argues Ernesto Hernandez-Cata in this post. [More]

La Senda de Cuba para Aumentar la Productividad by Rolando Castaneda

Este artículo de Rolando Castañeda señala la necesidad de estimular la actividad privada propiamente dicha para alcanzar mayor productividad y empleo como han demostrado un gran número de economías en transición. [More]

Another Cuban Statistical Mystery by Ernesto Hernández-Catá

Ernesto Hernandez-Cata estimates the net value of Cuban donations abroad. [More]

La Estructura Institucional del Producto Interno Bruto en Cuba by Ernesto Hernández-Catá

Este trabajo presenta estimaciones de la estructura del PIB cubano para el gobierno, empresas del estado y el sector no estatal e ilustra la relativamente baja contribución del sector privado a la economía. [More]

Oscar Espinosa Chepe by ASCE

The members of ASCE are deeply saddened by the news of the passing after a long illness of Oscar Espinosa Chepe in Madrid on September 23.[More]

Convertible Pesos: How Strong is the Central Bank of Cuba? by Luis R. Luis

In this post Luis R. Luis analyzes implications of the lack of full dollar backing for the convertible Cuban peso (CUC), one of the two national currencies circulating in Cuba. [More]

Government Support to Enterprises in Cuba by Ernesto Hernández-Catá

This post looks at state support to Cuban enterprises and uncovers that net transfers are again rising. The reasons for this are not always clear but Ernesto Hernandez-Cata offers a plausible explanation. [More]

A Political Economy Approach to the Cuban Embargo by Roger Betancourt

Roger Betancourt analyzes the evolution of the Cuban embargo and shows that some parts have already been lifted. Verifiable human rights guarantees may provide a way to elicit political support in the US for action to change trade and financial elements of the embargo. [More]

Cinco mitos sobre el sistema cambiario cubano by Ernesto Hernández-Catá

Ernesto Hernández-Catá comenta sobre el sistema de cambios múltiples vigente en Cuba. [More]

La dualidad monetaria en Cuba: Comentario sobre el artículo de Roberto Orro by Joaquin P. Pujol

Joaquín P. Pujol comenta en esta nota sobre la dualidad monetaria en Cuba. [More]

Unificación monetaria en Cuba: ¿quimera o realidad? by Roberto Orro

En este artículo Roberto Orro describe el complejo sistema monetario y cambiario de Cuba y sugiere que la unificacion monetaria no está a la vista. [More]

Consumption v. Investment: Another Duality of the Cuban Economy by Roberto Orro

Roberto Orro argues in this article that the Cuban economy experienced two distinct periods where either investment or consumption prevailed. This behavior was influenced by external factors among them the assistance derived from the Soviet Union as contrasted to that coming presently from Venezuela. [More]

Gauging Cuba’s Economic Reforms by Luis R. Luis

In this post Luis R. Luis gauges the progress of Cuba’s recent economic reforms using Transition Indicators developed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). [More]

On the Economic Impact of Post-Soviet and Post-Venezuelan Assistance to Cuba by Ernesto Hernández-Catá

The end of Venezuelan aid to Cuba will have a sizable negative impact on the economy though very likely of lesser magnitude than the withdrawal of Soviet assistance in the 1990′s concludes Ernesto Hernandez-Cata in this article. [More]

The Significant Assistance of Venezuela to Cuba: How Long Will it Last? by Rolando Castaneda

Rolando H. Castaneda argues that the high levels of Venezuelan aid to Cuba are unsustainable and constitute a heavy burden for both countries even for Cuba in the medium-term as the assistance allows the postponement of essential economic reforms. [More]

Cuba: The Mass Privatization of Employment Started in 2011 by Ernesto Hernández-Catá

In this post Ernesto Hernandez-Cata analyzes Cuban labor market data, identifying large sectoral changes in employment that signal the beginning of large scale privatization of employment in the island. [More]

How Large is Venezuelan Assistance to Cuba? by Ernesto Hernández-Catá

In this article Ernesto Hernandez-Cata explores Cuban official statistics to show that Venezuelan subsidies rival or exceed those flowing from the former Soviet Union during the 1980s. This raises questions of sustainability and severe adjustment for both countries. [More]

Cuba Ill-Prepared for Venezuelan Shock  by Luis R. Luis

Cuba’s weak international accounts and liquidity and lack of access to financial markets place the country in a difficult position to withstand a potential cut in Venezuelan aid argues Luis R. Luis. The failure of reforms to boost farm output and merchandise exports make the economy highly dependent on Venezuelan aid and remittances from Cubans living abroad. [More]

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Cuba to eliminate currency pegged to dollar

BY ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, HAVANA, 20 december 2013, ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Cuba will eliminate a currency pegged to the dollar as part of a move to end its unique double-currency system, which had become a symbol of economic inequality to many islanders, Cuba’s top economic official said Friday.

Tourists currently use a convertible peso roughly equal to a U.S. dollar while most Cubans are paid in ordinary pesos worth about four cents. Many goods are easier to find in government stores that exclusively accept convertible pesos, a mechanism designed to keep the flow of the special currency under government control. The dual system has created special privileges for Cubans who work in tourism, and resentment among those who don’t.

The government of President Raul Castro pledged in October to gradually unify the two currencies in order to prevent shocks like spikes in inflation. Many Cuban economists said the process would take years.

On Friday, Vice President Marino Murillo told parliament that the peso pegged to the dollar, known as the CUC, would eventually disappear, the first time the government has explicitly said that. He promised that savings in the convertible pesos would retain their value until the change took place. “People who have the convertible Cuban peso (CUC), whether in the banks or kept at home, will not lose any financial capacity when the dual monetary system is eliminated,” said Murillo. He did not say when the change would go into effect.

The double monetary system was established in 1994 amid an economic crisis sparked by the fall of the Soviet Union, which heavily subsidized Cuba for decades. It was designed to allow Cuba to receive hard currency needed for international trade from the outside world while insulating the rest of the communist economy from market influences.

In October, the official newspaper Granma said that the government’s first step would be to allow several businesses that currently accept only convertible pesos, or CUCs, to do business in ordinary Cuban pesos, or CUPs. The official exchange rate will remain in effect, Granma said, meaning the goods themselves will remain out of reach for Cubans without access to the foreigner exchange-driven economy, which includes millions of dollars a year in remittances from relatives in the United States and other countries.

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Exclusive: Russia signs deal to forgive $29 billion of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt – diplomats

By Marc Frank;  HAVANA Mon Dec 9, 2013 3:55pm EST

HAVANA (Reuters) – Russia and Cuba have quietly signed an agreement to write off 90 percent of Cuba’s $32 billion debt to the defunct Soviet Union, a deal that ends a 20-year squabble and opens the way for more investment and trade, Russian and European diplomats said.

The two sides announced an agreement to settle the debt dispute earlier this year and finalized the deal in Moscow in October. It would have Cuba pay $3.2 billion over 10 years in exchange for Russia forgiving the rest of a $32 billion debt – $20 billion plus service and interest, the diplomats said. It must still be approved by the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

800px-Embassy_of_Russia_in_Havana_-_Nick_De_MarcoRussian Embassy, Havana

Negotiations on the form in which Cuba will pay the remaining debt are ongoing, the diplomats said, as even $320 million per year represents a large sum for the cash-strapped country, which has labored under a U.S. economic embargo for decades.

Cuba’s total export earnings are around $18 billion, including tourism and medical and educational services.

Neither Cuba nor Russia has made any official comment on the debt agreement. Cuban officials were not immediately available for comment.

Cuba defaulted on its debt in the late 1980s but recently has been trying to restructure the old debts to improve its international credibility.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, during a visit to Cuba in February, signed a general agreement to work out a formula and settle the old debt by next year. The decision rankled other countries grouped in the Paris Club of creditor nations because it broke ranks with the collective approach of the organization.

PARIS CLUB CONTACTS

The Paris Club is an informal group of creditor governments including Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as a number of smaller European nations. The Paris Club reported that Cuba owed its members $35 billion at the close of 2012, now estimated at around $37 billion, which would leave the island owing $5 billion to $6 billion of non-Soviet debt to the club’s members.   The organization has a Cuba working group, which does not include the United States.

Russia pledged to work with Cuba towards reaching an agreement with the Paris Club as part of the October settlement, one Russian diplomat said. “The Paris Club should be grateful as it removes a huge amount of money from the table and makes an eventual agreement more likely,” he said.

While some Paris Club members clearly preferred a united front, one European diplomat said Russia’s help in settling Paris Club debt could prove important and that a reduced debt would indeed be more easily negotiable.

Since the Medvedev visit, the Paris Club has put out feelers to the Cubans and a few months ago two representatives traveled to the Caribbean island to meet with the central bank, the first such visit in over a decade. Unlike the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, from which Cuba is excluded under the longstanding U.S. trade embargo, the Paris Club does not issue multilateral loans.

Cuba releases very little information about its foreign debt. Last month the government reported its “active” foreign debt, accumulated after it declared a default in the late 1980s, as $13.6 billion in 2010. The government no longer reports its “passive” debt from before the default and estimated at around $8 billion. The Communist-run island has never included debt to the Soviet Union in its figures, claiming the amount was in overvalued convertible rubles and that the country sustained massive damage from broken contracts when its former benefactor collapsed.

Cuba has post-1980s default debt of hundreds of millions of dollars to Russia. “The final deal recognizes some of the Soviet debt, and that’s politically important for Russia. It also opens the way for more credit which is important for Cuba,” a Russian diplomat said, like others requesting anonymity.

SEARCH FOR CREDIBILITY

Three years ago Cuba restructured its active government and commercial debt with China, estimated at around $6 billion. Last year Cuba settled a dispute with Japanese commercial creditors dating back to the 1980s. Under the Japanese agreement, 80 percent of the 130 billion yen debt (about $1.4 billion) was forgiven, with the remainder to be paid over 20 years. Mexico recently forgave 70 percent of a $478 million debt Cuba accumulated in the late 1990s, in exchange for the remaining $146 million being paid over 10 years.

“The agreements with China, Japan, Mexico and Russia ease some outside financial restrictions on the Cuban economy and should facilitate trade ties with these countries,” said Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban Central Bank economist now teaching at Colombia’s Javeriana University. “The austerity measures adopted by the government in 2009, and these accords to lower the foreign debt, help stabilize the island’s finances at a very important moment when a significant monetary reform over three years (devaluation and elimination of the dual currency system) has begun,” he said.

Raul Castro, who replaced his ailing brother Fidel as president in 2008, has drastically reined in imports and cut state payrolls and subsidies while insisting the near-bankrupt government get its financial house in order.

In 2011, the Communist Party approved a five-year economic plan that called for efforts to “enhance Cuba’s credibility in its international economic relations by strictly observing all the commitments that have been entered into,” before and after the default. The plan also called for expediting the rescheduling of Cuba’s foreign debts and implementing “flexible restructuring strategies for debt repayment” as soon as it is practical.

(Editing by David Adams and Jim Loney)

Soviet Spy Ship, havana Harbour, 1971; Photo by Arch RitterSoviet Spy Ship, Havana Harbour, 1971; Photo by Arch Ritter

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Eliminating Dual Currencies in Cuba: Measured, but Necessary Risk

By Emilio Morales and translated by Joseph L. Scarpaci, Miami (The Havana Consulting Group).

Original Here: Eliminating Dual Currencies in Cuba: Measured, but Necessary Risk

New Picture

The Cuban government finally announced the elimination of its dual currency system in what will be one of the most challenging reforms to the economic model. Great expectations are riding on this new, single currency, which will have a great impact on the island’s society and economy.

Said measures will change the prevailing lifestyle of the past nearly 20 years for 11.2 million Cubans. That consisted of getting paid in a devalued ‘soft’ currency yet purchasing essential goods and services daily in a ‘hard’ currency, one used by tourists or sent by loved ones from abroad.

Authorities say they will deploy the new measure in stages, and the timeline will begin with government businesses.

A first stage will entail specifying the legal framework to support the move to a single currency. Financial information systems and adjustments to accounting systems are required as well.

Accountants and other personnel from across the country will require some training to handle the transition.

Uncertainty Awaits.

This important announcement, however, fails to specify firm dates and related details. News of the single currency system no doubt aims to calm the nerves of those who have saving accounts in convertible pesos (CUCs), international currencies, and Cuban pesos (CUPs). Still, the government will continue to apply the current policy of both subsidizing retail prices, and subsidizing those Cubans who require special government assistance.

Both subsidy strategies, though, are contradictory. On the one hand, a single currency means that one of those subsidies will be eliminated. Therefore, bank accounts will lose some value when they are rolled over to a single currency, whenever and whatever that might be.

On the other hand, in order to unify the currencies, sate subsidies will have to disappear or be reduced to a bare minimum, and that will be the hardest measure for the Cuban government to carry out. How will authorities face the dilemma of protecting the most vulnerable groups once this process takes holds?

The list of subsidies is extensive: utilities (electricity, telephone, gas, potable water) and the dwindling list of sparse, yet essential products provided by the longstanding ration book (libreta). Other subsidized public services include transportation, all levels of education, health care, and the sale of prescription drugs.

Do conditions exist to eliminate or drastically reduce these subsidies? Do the results achieved by the reforms carried out thus far justify these measures Will the government allow the private sector to expand in order to minimize the pain this difficult process will unleash?

All of this is uncertain. As the details of this currency matter become known, we will be able to assess the real impact that the elimination of the dual currency will have. Until then, it remains a uncertain.

New Exchange Rate in Sight

The government announcement also fails to specify how it will adjust the exchange rate in the process. We anticipate an immediate and sharp rise in the black-market dollar; perhaps two or three times for what the dollar will officially sell at the state-run CADECA money-exchange houses.

CADECA exchange rates currently value 25 Cuban pesos (CUC) for a single convertible peso (CUP). It is likely that in a few weeks the government will adjust this rate as a first step. That will be the first test of the impact this monetary policy will have in the marketplace and in everyday living. It will no doubt shape how the rest of the reforms unfold.

For instance, reducing the exchange rate to 1 CUC for 18 CUPs would lower the ceiling on the black market and avoid early speculation. At the same time, the move would increase workers’ purchasing power if prices set in dollars in state stores remain unchanged.

In this regard, the 240% mark up that the government automatically places on consumer goods sold in the so-called ‘dollar stores’ (e.g., hard-currency CUC sales) will give the government some cushion in absorbing these costs because it is a handsome margin. Foregoing some state profit will increase consumer purchasing power for ordinary Cubans.

But one thing is a fine wine and the other is just plain table wine, which gives pause and makes us wonder these first-stage measures really will jump start the process.

Investors on Alert

If the impact will be great on the Cuban people, it will be no less salient for investors residing on the island.

Regardless of the fine points these changes unleash, foreign joint-venture companies with investments in Cuba will be affected in some fashion. The bottom line for these companies will be affected by the costs, exchange rates and prices of the products they produce there. Profit margins will likely diminish somewhat until the currency changes stabilize, and production cycles catch up other changes in the monetary system.

Even if the transition is relatively smooth, it is likely that investment will slow down or simply be deferred until the most challenging part of the transition is over. It is noteworthy that over the past ten years, almost 200 joint-ventures have closed in Cuba, particularly since the freeze on repatriating profits took place in 2008, which was not fully over until 2010. On top of that comes the anti-corruption campaign carried out over the past four years.

Government efforts to attract new waves of investment to the upcoming duty-free zone of Mariel port (just west of Havana) will be challenged by these proposed banking measures. The uncertainty caused by the positive and necessary combining of the island’s currency will not be attractive to investors, at least until the process is fully implemented.

We can only hope that efforts to modernize the Cuban economy through these fiscal and monetary proposals –the most daunting measures proposed in recent economictimes—achieves its goals for the good of the Cuban people and does not become a huge disaster.

peso_cuban_currency_cuba_photo_gov

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Gobierno cubano inicia proceso para eliminar la doble moneda

Havana, 22 octubre, 2013 (Café Fuerte) — El gobierno cubano anunció este martes la puesta en marcha de la unificación monetaria y cambiaria en el país, un paso decisivo en las transformaciónes impulsadas por Raúl Castro.

img_0002-0014 depositphotos_1265406-One-peso

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El Consejo de Ministros acordó “poner en vigor el cronograma de ejecución de las medidas que conducirán a la unificación monetaria y cambiaria”, indicó una Nota Oficial aparecida en el diario Granma. “Ninguna medida que se adopte en el terreno monetario, será para perjudicar a las personas que lícitamente obtienen sus ingresos en CUC [pesos convertibles] y CUP [pesos cubanos]“, enfatizó la declaración.

 Aunque no se precisa una fecha exacta para la arrancada del proceso, todo indica que la implementación de las primeras medidas será inmediata, comenzando por el sector empresarial y las instituciones estatales.

 Dos monedas, un camino

 En Cuba conviven dos monedas: el CUP, con el que la población cobra sus salarios y paga productos y servicios básicos, y el CUC, que es equivalente a 24 pesos cubanos y equiparable al dólar. La dualidad monetaria existe en el país desde la autorización del dólar en agosto de 1994.

 El texto expresa que los cambios en esta primera etapa afectarán a los organismos y entidades jurídicamente establecidas, a fin de “propiciar las condiciones para el incremento de la eficiencia, la mejor medición de los hechos económicos y el estímulo a los sectores que producen bienes y servicios para la exportación y la sustitución de importaciones”.

 El acuerdo fue analizado en una reunión del gabinete gubernamental, que sesionó el pasado sábado bajo la presidencia de Raúl Castro. “La unificación monetaria y cambiaria no es una medida que resuelve por sí sola todos los problemas actuales de la economía, pero su aplicación es imprescindible a fin de garantizar el restablecimiento del valor del peso cubano y de sus funciones como dinero, es decir de unidad de cuenta, medio de pago y de atesoramiento”, argumentó el documento.

 Período de preparación

 La información señala que esta decisión se sustenta en los lineamientos de la política económica y social aprobada en el VI Congreso del Partido Comunista, que busca la unificación de la moneda nacional teniendo en cuenta “la productividad del trabajo y la efectividad de los mecanismos distributivos y redistributivos”. Menciona además los pasos que se seguirán en la aplicación del proceso:

Se comenzará por un periodo de preparación de condiciones que permitirá la elaboración de las propuestas de normas jurídicas, los diseños de los cambios de los sistemas informáticos encargados de los registros contables y los ajustes en las normas de contabilidad.

 Esta etapa será esencial igualmente para la capacitación de las personas que deben acometer la ejecución de las diferentes transformaciones.El proceso de unificación monetaria conservará intactos los ahorros de las personas en los bancos cubanos en CUC, otras divisas internacionales y CUP.

 Continuará aplicándose la política vigente de subsidios a precios minoristas y a personas donde sea necesario, en tanto las condiciones económicas del país lo requieran.

 El CUC al igual que el CUP son monedas cubanas emitidas por el Banco Central de Cuba y mantendrán su total respaldo. En lo adelante se continuará extendiendo la posibilidad que hoy existe de aceptar en las tiendas que venden en CUC, pagos en CUP con tarjetas magnéticas denominadas en esta moneda. Experimentalmente en lugares seleccionados se po-drán efectuar pagos en efectivo en CUP por el equivalente calculado a la tasa de cambio de CADECA de 25 CUP por 1 CUC.

 La eliminación de la dualidad monetaria era un objetivo anunciado desde que abril del 2011, cuando el VI Congreso del Partido implementó las nuevas directrices para la actualización del modelo económico del país.

 La reunión del Consejo de Ministros se centró en el análisis de temas vitales para la economía del país y aprobó el perfeccionamiento del Ministerio de la Agricultura, tanto en su área empresarial como presupuestada.

 Reproducimos a continuación el texto íntegro sobre el proceso anunciado para eliminar la dualidad monetaria.

 NOTA OFICIAL

 El Lineamiento No. 55 de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución, aprobado por el VI Congreso del PCC plantea: “Se avanzará hacia la unificación monetaria, teniendo en cuenta la productividad del trabajo y la efectividad de los mecanismos distributivos y redistributivos. Por su complejidad, este proceso exigirá una rigurosa preparación y ejecución, tanto en el plano objetivo como subjetivo”.

 En cumplimiento de dicho Lineamiento, ha sido acordado por el Consejo de Ministros poner en vigor el cronograma de ejecución de las medidas que conducirán a la unificación monetaria y cambiaria.

 Como se ha informado, la unificación monetaria y cambiaria no es una medida que resuelve por sí sola todos los problemas actuales de la economía, pero su aplicación es imprescindible a fin de garantizar el restablecimiento del valor del peso cubano y de sus funciones como dinero, es decir de unidad de cuenta, medio de pago y de atesoramiento. Lo anterior, unido a la aplicación de las restantes políticas encaminadas a la actualización del modelo, propiciará el ordenamiento del entorno económico y en consecuencia la medición correcta de sus resultados.

 Se dará inicio al proceso por la unificación monetaria, para las personas jurídicas y para las personas naturales.

 Los principales cambios en esta primera etapa, se producirán en el sector de las personas jurídicas, a fin de propiciar las condiciones para el incremento de la eficiencia, la mejor medición de los hechos económicos y el estímulo a los sectores que producen bienes y servicios para la exportación y la sustitución de importaciones.

 Se comenzará por un periodo de preparación de condiciones que permitirá la elaboración de las propuestas de normas jurídicas, los diseños de los cambios de los sistemas informáticos encargados de los registros contables y los ajustes en las normas de contabilidad. Será una etapa esencial igualmente para la capacitación de las personas que deben acometer la ejecución de las diferentes transformaciones.

 El General de Ejército Raúl Castro Ruz en su discurso de clausura de la primera sesión ordinaria de la VIII Legislatura de la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular, el pasado mes de julio, expresó sobre el proceso de implementación de los Lineamientos lo siguiente: “Deseo reiterar que en este frente de significación estratégica ha continuado el avance y ya comienzan a observarse los primeros resultados alentadores, aunque también es verdad que falta un largo y complejo camino para actualizar nuestro modelo económico y social, asegurando el apoyo mayoritario de la población a este proceso, lo cual excluye la utilización de terapias de choque y el desamparo de millones de personas que caracterizan a las políticas de ajuste aplicadas en los últimos años en varias naciones de la rica Europa”.

 Al igual que ha sido una práctica aplicada en el transcurso de los años de la Revolución cubana, ninguna medida que se adopte en el terreno monetario, será para perjudicar a las personas que lícitamente obtienen sus ingresos en CUC y CUP. En este sentido, el proceso de unificación monetaria respeta los principios de que la confianza ganada por las personas que han mantenido sus ahorros en los bancos cubanos en CUC, otras divisas internacionales y CUP, se conserve intacta y que continuará aplicándose la política vigente de subsidios a precios minoristas y a personas donde sea necesario, en tanto las condiciones económicas del país lo requieran. El CUC al igual que el CUP son monedas cubanas emitidas por el Banco Central de Cuba y mantendrán su total respaldo.

 En lo adelante se continuará extendiendo la posibilidad que hoy existe de aceptar en las tiendas que venden en CUC, pagos en CUP con tarjetas magnéticas denominadas en esta moneda.

 Experimentalmente en lugares seleccionados se po-drán efectuar pagos en efectivo en CUP por el equivalente calculado a la tasa de cambio de CADECA de 25 CUP por 1 CUC. De acuerdo con el avance de la ejecución del cronograma, se irán dando a conocer los detalles sobre las medidas que en cada momento correspondan, tanto a los especialistas de las entidades que deben participar en su implantación, como a la población.

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Cuba Faces Challenges in Push to End Dual Currency

HAVANA October 1, 2013 (AP)

By PETER ORSI Associated Press

Cuba is the only country in the world that mints two national currencies, a bizarre system that even President Raul Castro acknowledges is hamstringing the island’s socialist economy and must be scrapped. Exactly how to do that is the problem.

Months after Castro made currency unification a centerpiece of a forceful address to parliament, no details have been made public. But a pilot program operating under the radar might hold clues to a way out.

Since the system was created in 1994, most islanders have been paid in national pesos worth 24 to the dollar in exchange houses, while tourists and the Cubans who attend to them receive a much more valuable peso pegged at 1-to-1 with the U.S. greenback. The imbalance means doctors and physicists can make more money driving taxis or renting rooms than they can working in the professions for which they spent years preparing. In his July speech, Castro denounced the setup as having a warping effect on the economy and society in general.Shaking up the dual currency system risks spiking inflation and creating new winners and losers, always dangerous on an island that embraces the goal of egalitarianism. It would also force a change in accounting rules that would eliminate a huge subsidy to state-run enterprises at a time when cash is so short.

Che-Three-Pesos QMoneda Nacional: Three old pesos = CuP 3.00 = $US o.12

But there are signs that change is coming, and hints at how the value of the currencies might meet in the middle.

Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban Central Bank economist now at Colombia’s Javeriana University, told The Associated Press that a pilot program is being launched with select state businesses operating at a 10-to-1 exchange rate. The businesses are in key sectors such as sugar, hotels and non-agricultural cooperatives. There has been no mention in the official media, but Vidal said it is happening and it’s a good step. “I think it’s great because the elimination of the double currency must be gradual,” he said.

Even incremental change may be tough to pull off, and requires the unraveling of Byzantine accounting practices that effectively allow state companies to purchase dollars at a fraction of what ordinary Cubans pay for them.

While the rate in exchange houses is 24 pesos to 1 convertible peso, or CUC, the Cuban government treats them as equal in official accounts, meaning state entities are getting them at a 1-to-1 subsidized rate. “Whoever is getting these dollars at one-to-one is doing well, and that’s the official sector,” said Rafael Romeu, former president of the U.S.-based Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Despite reforms under Raul Castro, the state still may be too inefficient to quit the subsidy cold-turkey. “They would be basically confronting their budget constraint in a serious way, and I don’t think they are ready to do that,” Romeu said. “They would have to cut a lot of social services.”

The two pesos have been circulating in parallel since 1994, when the loss of billions in Soviet trade and subsidies forced Cuba to reluctantly open the economy to tourism, while trying to insulate most islanders from its capitalist effects.

The drab local one-peso note bears the visage of independence hero Jose Marti, while the brightly colored CUC bill shows an image of the monument that honors him. Holding it up to the light reveals a magnetic strip with the words “Fatherland or death — we will be victorious,” in Spanish.

Other communist countries have experimented with second, hard currencies aimed at foreigners and business dealings, only to drop them. The Soviet Union tried dual currencies in the 1920s and China in the 1980s and 1990s. For Cuba, the idea seemed simple: Canadian and European travelers would spend hard currency at government CUC shops catering almost exclusively to foreigners, while Cubans would keep living a socialist ideal in the other currency. It hasn’t worked out that way. As authorities pulled back on subsidies that once covered almost all of islanders’ housing and food needs, people grew increasingly dependent on the added CUC income — moonlighting in the tourism industry or receiving remittances from relatives abroad.

The result is the upside-down wage structure where low-skill workers like hotel chamber maids earn more from travelers’ tips than professionals. A 53-year-old doctor recently left the medical profession after 25 years because his $25-a-month salary was putting food on the table for just two days a month. He now helps his mother rent rooms to tourists paying in convertible pesos.

“Professional salaries are in a desperate situation,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because doctors generally are not authorized to talk to foreign media. “There’s no motivation, and every day they ask more of you.”

Contrast that with Rigoberto Sanchez Beltran, who pulls in about $70-$100 a month in tips for watching over parked cars at a tourist complex in Havana. Getting by is still tough, but he knows the job gives him a leg up on many of his more-educated neighbors. “You get to know the regulars, and they give you a little more,” he said.

Since 2010, Cuba has seen reforms including the legalization of a real estate market, increased private small businesses and creeping decentralization of state enterprise. In July, Castro declared that the dual currency was “one of the most important obstacles to the progress of the nation.” He did not say, however, how the cash-strapped state would manage to pay white-collar workers more.

Cuban officials have long argued that state salaries are effectively much higher than the often-reported average of $20 a month if you factor in things such as free health care, education and monthly food ration cards. But today just about everyone acknowledges that low pay has been the enemy of efficiency, doing little to inspire hard work. Employees often pilfer supplies to resell or barter, or spend work hours on side projects that bring in CUCs.

At stores that still offer cheaper prices in national pesos, goods from soap to mops sell out quickly, snapped up by hoarders or black marketeers. So finding basics such as cooking oil and eggs often entails a trip to a CUC store.

“It’s totally absurd that you get paid in one currency, but in order to live you need to pay with another,” said Margarita Nieves, 69. “Until they fix that, they can’t keep telling people there’s no productivity.”

tres_pesos_convertibles Q

Three “Convertible Pesos” or CuC; CuC3.00 = $US 3.00 more or less.

 

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The Tax Regimen for the Mariel Export Processing Zone: More Tax Discrimination against Cuban Micro-enterprises and Citizens?

 By Arch Ritter

The Mariel Export Processing Zone (EPZ) is the second attempt since May 1997[i] to set up an EPZ that will promote foreign investment and thereby generate jobs, income, domestic value added and foreign exchange earnings for Cuba. This new container port facility and industrial park will free Havana Harbor for restoration and regeneration ultimately for recreational rather than industrial purposes. One might expect that Brazilian and Chinese enterprises – private and state-owned- will seize the opportunity to operate in Mariel vigorously with an eye for exports or re-exports to the Caribbean region.

The regulation and tax regimes for the Mariel EPZ were announced on September 23, 2013 (Marc Frank, Reuters, September 24 2013). The tax regime for the foreign firms operating in the Mariel EPZ is generous. It includes:

  •    a ten-year holiday from paying a tax on profits  and
  • presumably the full ex-patriation of profits;
  •   a 12% tax rate after 10 years;
  • the normal Cuban income tax rate for foreign workers
  •   a 14% (of wage) payment for workers’ social security;
  • zero tax on imported equipment; low duties on imported materials; and
  •  0.5% for EPZ maintenance.

These provisions should provide a strong incentive for foreign firms to locate in the EPZ. On the other hand, this tax regime in itself will not generate a huge amount of foreign exchange revenues for the Cuban Government.

The down-side of the tax regime for foreign investors and the major earner of foreign exchange for the government will be the hidden taxation involved in the hiring of labor. EPZ enterprises, like those in joint enterprises will have to pay hard currency to a state company to cover the wages and salaries of Cuban workers at a rate around $US 1.00 = 1 peso (CuP in Moneda Nacional) while the rate that is relevant for Cuban citizens is $US 1.00 = 26 pesos (CuP). The government can then sell the hard currency (“convertible pesos” or CuCs) at the rate of 1CuC = 26 CuP, meaning a profit on each CuC of 25 CuPs. This profit to the government is in effect a 96% tax rate (1 – 25/26 = 0.038) .  This counterbalances to some extent the generosity of the rest of the tax regime for the EPZ firms.

In the words of Marc Frank:

“However, one of the main complaints of foreign investors in Cuba has not changed: that they must hire and fire through a state-run labor company which pays employees in near worthless pesos while investors pay the company in hard currency. Investors complain they have little control over their labor force and must find ways to stimulate their workers, who often receive the equivalent of around $20 a month for services that the labor company charges up to twenty times more for.” Frank, Reuters, September 23, 2013

 EPZ enterprises also would prefer to operate with a reasonable and realistic exchange rate and the power to hire labor directly rather than to go through the state labor company.

The accompanying table compares the tax regimes for micro-enterprise, foreign firms in joint enterprises and EPZ enterprises. While the reforms of the micro-enterprise tax regime in 2010-2011 reduced the discrimination favoring foreign enterprises, but did so only slightly. For foreign firms the tax base is total revenues minus all costs of production and investment. In contrast, for micro-enterprises the tax base is total revenue minus arbitrary and limited maximum allowable levels of input costs ranging from 10 to 40 percent depending on the activity, and regardless of true production costs. As a result, for Cuban micro-enterprises the effective tax rate can be very high and could exceed 100% while the effective tax rate for foreign enterprises is exceedingly low. Moreover, investment costs are deductible from future income streams for foreign firms, this being the normal international convention. But for Cuban micro-enterprise, investment costs are deductible only within the 10 to 40% allowable cost deduction levels for the current year. 

The highest tax rate or bracket for domestic micro-enterprises is 50% while that for foreign firms in joint-enterprises is 30% generally but 50 % for mining (namely for Sherritt International). The Mariel EPZ rate is 0.0% for 10 years and 12% thereafter.

The EPZ firms can import equipment and materials at 0.0% import duty. For many imported inputs required for micro-enterprises, the sales tax they pay in the “convertible currency” stores is 140%, though wholesale markets are to appear before long providing imported inputs at prices that may be a good deal lower.

All in all, the differential tax regimes represent a surprising type of discrimination against Cuban citizens and in favor of the foreign firms in joint enterprises or the Mariel EPZ. The tax system permits very low taxes for the foreign owners of enterprises investing in the EPZ. IN contrast, Cuban micro-enterprises face a daunting tax regime.

From the perspective of Cuba’s national interest, the tax regime has another weakness. This is the heavy but hidden taxation on the payment of labor in the EPZ. The effective 96% tax operating through the dual exchange rate system does generate revenue for the Government. However, by making labor relatively expensive for the EPZ firms, it will provide a disincentive to job creation in the EPZs. This is a central objective of Cuban economic policy at this time as it tries to absorb up to 1 million workers that it considers to be redundant in the state sector of the economy.

Moreover, while the wage compensation to Cuban workers is pitifully low under the dual exchange rate system, the cost to employers is high. Under the wage payment systems of the previous EPZs, illustrated in the Table 2 below, the wage costs to employers were well above neighboring countries in the Caribbean region. This may well persist under the tax arrangements for the new Mariel EPZ.

[i]Three EPZs were established in 1997 at Mariel, Berroa, some ten kilometers from the port of Havana  and Wajay by the airport outside Havana. Their performance was mediocre; hence the new approach for a “Super-EPZ” at new container port at Mariel.

Table 2.Source: Larry Willmore, Export processing Zones in Cuba, in A. Ritter (editor). The Cuban Economy. University of Pittsburgh Press 2004.

 

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