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Book Review: Al Campbell (Editor) Cuban Economists on the Cuban Economy.
9 Jul 2014
Cuba’s New Foreign Investment Law: Amplified Discrimination against Cuban Small Enterprise Operators and in Favor of Foreign Enterprises.
17 Apr 2014
Book Review: ¿Quo vadis, Cuba? La incierta senda de las reformas
14 Apr 2014
Reordenamiento Laboral: Quién se queda, quién se va?; Labor Force Down-Sizing in Cuba’s Medical System
9 Apr 2014
Cuba’s Conception Conundrum: A Valentine’s Day Puzzle
14 Feb 2014
POTENTIALS AND PITFALLS OF CUBA’S MOVE TOWARD NON-AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVES
30 Jan 2014
Book Review: Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Jorge Pérez-López, Cuba Under Raúl Castro: Assessing the Reforms
28 Oct 2013
CAN WORKERS’ DEMOCRACY IN CUBA’S NEW NON-AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVES CO-EXIST WITH AUTHORITARIANISM?
7 Oct 2013
CAN CUBA RE-INDUSTRIALIZE?
5 Oct 2013
The Tax Regimen for the Mariel Export Processing Zone: More Tax Discrimination against Cuban Micro-enterprises and Citizens?
26 Sep 2013
Oscar Espinosa Chepe, 1940-2013
23 Sep 2013
“Political Science”: When Will Cuban Universities Join the World?
17 Jun 2013
“ASSESSING THE GOALS AND IMPACT OF THE CUBAN EMBARGO AFTER 50 YEARS”
25 Mar 2013
Cuba-Russia Debt Write-Off and Aircraft Leasing: Win-Lose or Win-Win?
22 Feb 2013
Raul on a Roll; Anti-Reformers in Retreat!
21 Jan 2013
The Economic Implications for Cuba of Relaxing Restrictions on the Freedom of Movement
17 Oct 2012
Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects in a Changing Geo-Economic Environment
13 Jul 2012
My Skepticism Runs High, but Maybe I am Wrong! Some Articles on the Moringa Oleifera.
27 Jun 2012
Still More “Good Advice” from Fidel!
26 Jun 2012
Cuba in the 2012 Yale University “Environmental Performance Index Rankings.”
14 Jun 2012
Cuba’s Debt Situation: Official Secrecy and Financial “Jineterismo”
8 Jun 2012
Cuba: Still Paying Homage to the Economic Absurdities of “Che” Guevara
20 Apr 2012
Cuba’s World Heritage Sites
16 Mar 2012
The Concept of a “Loyal Opposition” and Raul Castro’s Regime
28 Feb 2012
Poor Fidel: Repudiated by his Own Brother and Reduced to Playing “Chicken Little’”
13 Jan 2012
Johann Sebastian Bach, the “Stasi” and Cuba
9 Dec 2011
Fidel Castro: The Cowardice of Autocracy
4 Nov 2011
Liberating Cuba’s Long-Suppressed Resource: Entrepreneurship
20 Oct 2011
The “Home Hardware” Cooperative Model and its Relevance for Cuba
19 Oct 2011
Can Cuba Recover from its De-Industrialization? I. Characteristics and Causes
27 Sep 2011
Cuba: A Half-Century of Monetary Pathology and Citizen’s Freedom of Movement
23 Sep 2011
A Further Step in the Liberalization of the Regulatory and Tax Environment for Small Enterprise Has Raul Now Got the “Horse before the Cart”?
27 May 2011
Up-Date on Canadian-Cuban Economic Relations
27 May 2011
Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba: Will Raul Forge His Own Legacy?
16 Apr 2011
Cuba’s Economic Agenda and Prospects: An Optimistic View!
8 Apr 2011
Cuba’s Economic Reform Process under President Raul Castro: Challenges, Strategic Actions and Prospective Performance
4 Apr 2011
Recuperation and Development of the Bahi ́a de la Habana
29 Mar 2011
An Overview Evaluation of Economic Policy in Cuba circa 2010
15 Mar 2011
A Major Slow-Down for the Public Sector Layoff / Private Sector Job Creation Strategy
1 Mar 2011
Cuba’s Standings in Social, Political, Economic and Environmental Indices in Comparative International Perspective
3 Feb 2011
Has the US Tourism Tsunami to Cuba Already Begun?
2 Feb 2011
Cuba’s Best Friend: the Canadian Winter
25 Jan 2011
Micro-enterprise Tax Reform, 2010: The Right Direction but Still Onerous and Stultifying
10 Jan 2011
“Shifting Realities in ‘Special Period. Cuba”, LATIN AMERICAN RESEARCH REVIEW, volume 45 number 3, 2010
17 Dec 2010
Cuba’s 12 to 20 Chair Reform: Can the Small Enterprise Sector Save the Cuban Economy?
15 Dec 2010
Cuban Demography and Development: the “Conception Seasonality Puzzle”, the “Dissipating Demographic Dividend” and Emigration.
25 Nov 2010
Still the “Bestest” and the “Worstest” and Maybe the Most Opaque: Cuba in the 2010 UNDP Human Development Report
5 Nov 2010
Does Sherritt International Have a Future in Cuba?
20 Oct 2010
Jump-Starting the Introduction of Conventional Western Economics in Cuba
19 Oct 2010
- Book Review: Al Campbell (Editor) Cuban Economists on the Cuban Economy.
The Causes & Consequences of Cuba’s Black Market
22 Aug 2014
WHICH WAY CUBA? THE 2013 STATUS OF POLITICAL TRANSFORMATIONS
13 Aug 2014
AFTER OFFSHORE OIL FAILURE, CUBA SHIFTS ENERGY FOCUS
13 Aug 2014
Book Review: Al Campbell (Editor) Cuban Economists on the Cuban Economy.
9 Jul 2014
Mariela Castro in Ottawa: “I believe in the project Cuba is developing”
9 Jul 2014
COMUNICACIÓN PÚBLICA de Roberto Veiga y Lenier González
1 Jul 2014
CUBAN PROSECUTORS SEEK 15 YEARS FOR CANADIAN BUSINESSMAN IN BRIBERY CASE
1 Jul 2014
Comisión de Derechos Humanos publica listado de presos políticos, JUNIO DE 2014
23 Jun 2014
CUBAN-AMERICANS AGREE: TIME TO END THE EMBARGO
18 Jun 2014
Is Cuba heading towards a repeat of the 2003 Black Spring?
17 Jun 2014
- The Causes & Consequences of Cuba’s Black Market
- karolina on The Marketing of “Che” Guevara: A Review of “Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image”, by Michael Casey
- Havana Tourist Attractions / Travel Guide / Tips / Blog on Cuba’s World Heritage Sites
- Vladimir Laplace on Time to hug a Cuban
- Analysis: The Mariel Zone — more tax discrimination against Cubans? « Cuba Standard, your best source for Cuban business news on The Tax Regimen for the Mariel Export Processing Zone: More Tax Discrimination against Cuban Micro-enterprises and Citizens?
- Biblioteca Digital Cubana | Nuestras Voces Latinas on BIBLIOTECA DIGITAL CUBANA
- Laz on Proyecciones macroeconómicas de una Cuba sin Venezuela
- Rita Maria Garcia Betancourt on Clase de economía política para el Ministerio del Interior (MININT) en Cuba, por Juan Triana Cordovi,
- Vladimir Laplace on The “FIDEL” Models Never Worked; Soviet and Venezuelan Subsidization Did
- Arch Ritter on The “FIDEL” Models Never Worked; Soviet and Venezuelan Subsidization Did
- Vladimir Laplace on The “FIDEL” Models Never Worked; Soviet and Venezuelan Subsidization Did
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.
(Español) The Cuban Economy, 2012: Articles from the 2012 Conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE)
Below is a list of the presentations made at the August 2012 Conference of ASCE with links to each article at the ASCE Web Site.
- Where is Cuba Going? Economic Policies that Have Been Adopted and Results Thus Far Joaquín P. Pujol
- Situación de la economía cubana Oscar Espinosa Chepe
- The Politics of Cuban Transformation—What Space for Authoritarian Withdrawal?
- The International Financial Institutions and Cuba: Relations with Non-Member States Richard E. Feinberg
- Cuba’s Membership in the IMF and Other International Financial Institutions and their Possible Role in Promoting Sustainable Economic Growth in Cuba Joaquín P. Pujol
- Comments on Richard Feinberg’s “Reaching Out” Rolando H. Castañeda
- Comment: Cuba and the International Financial Institutions Lorenzo L. Pérez
- Transition Policies Twenty Years Later: Lessons for the Case of Cuba Gabriel Di Bella, Rafael Romeu and Andy Wolfe
- The Growth of the Cuban Economy in the First Decade of the XXI Century: Is it Sustainable? Ernesto Hernández-Catá
- Cuba: External Cash Flow, Barter Trade and Potential Shocks Luis R. Luis
- Market Orientation and Business Performance in Cuban Firms:
A Comparative Analysis of State-Owned Versus Joint Venture Firms Julio Cerviño, Joan Llonch and Josep Rialp
- Una isla 1.0 en un mundo 2.0 Yoani Sánchez
- Social Media in Contemporary Cuba Enrique S. Pumar
- Cuba Platform Fisheries: Collapse or Recovery? Sergio Díaz-Briquets
- Furthering Cuban Reforms Through Agricultural Trade Timothy Ashby and Stephen J. Kimmerling
- U.S. Food and Agricultural Exports to Cuba: Progress, Problems and Prospects William A. Messina, Jr.
- La Iglesia como puente de acercamiento Orlando Márquez Hidalgo
- Cuba: La Iglesia Católica y el Estado en tiempos de revolución—Una aproximación histórica Javier Figueroa de Cárdenas
- El crecimiento de la iglesia protestante y la libertad religiosa Teo A. Babún, Jr.
- Comentarios sobre la Iglesia y las reformas en Cuba Lorenzo L. Pérez
- Religion and Reforms in Cuba Enrique S. Pumar
- “Cubans: An Epic Journey”—Genesis of a Book Sam Verdeja and Guillermo Martínez
- The Contribution of the Cuban Diaspora in Business and Finance Leonardo Rodríguez
- Cuban Real Estate Framework Laws Rolando Anillo
- The Impact of Cuba’s New Real Estate Laws on the Island and the Diaspora Antonio R. Zamora
- The Proletarian Corporation: Organizing Cuban Economic Enterprises in the Wake of the Lineamientos—Property Rights Between Corporations, Cooperatives and Globalization Larry Catá Backer
- Cuba 2012: El fin de las reformas socioeconómicas ligeras o cosméticas en tiempos difíciles (O la Gran Falacia) Rolando H. Castañeda
- Prospects For Reform in Cuba: Is Raúl Castro Serious About Liberalizing the Cuban Economy? Armando S. Linde
- From Chaos to a Socialist Market Economy: A Contribution to the Understanding of Current Changes and Trends in Cuba Domingo Amuchástegui
- Can Cuban Rulers Rule Cuba? Jorge Domínguez
- Political Intolerance and Cuba’s Future: To Hell in a Hand Basket Jorge L. Romeu
- Cuba’s 1950 Midterm Elections: The Island’s Last Democratic Poll Ilan Ehrlich
- Apreciaciones psicohistóricas de la emigración y el exilio Carmen Díaz
- Entre la espada y la reforma migratoria Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
- Access to Human Health, Freedoms and Other Standards of Living Development in Cuba Rodolfo J. Stusser
- Cuba: Economic Growth, Aging, and Long-Term Fiscal Sustainability Gabriel Di Bella, Rafael Romeu and Andy Wolfe
- Venezuela: El próximo ajuste económico fundamental—Compleja situación en 2012 y perspectivas inmediatas Rolando H. Castañeda
- Oil and Democracy in Cuba: Going Towards Nigeria or Norway? Roger R. Betancourt
- Petróleo y rentismo entre Cuba y Venezuela Carlos A. Romero
- Turismo, migración y proyectos de codesarrollo en el escenario turístico cubano
José L. Perelló Cabrera
- The Future of the City of Havana: The Economic Dimension Jorge A. Sanguinetty
- The Cuban Labor Market: Availability and Interpretation of Statistics Jorge F. Pérez-López
- Does Cuba Share Responsibility for Human Rights at Guantanamo Bay? Michael J. Strauss
- Evaluation and Design of a Decentralized Alternative to Conventional Wastewater Infrastructure in Cuba Antonio Díaz, Jhon Cores, Alex Arias, William Rodríguez, and Miguel Morales
- Appendix A: About the Authors
I missed a March 2013 Toronto Star series on sex tourism in Cuba, but it was brought to my attention recently by Cristina Warren. (I am a Globe and Mail and The Economist aficionado.) It was produced jointly by the Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister publication of The Miami Herald and also by W5, an investigative television program on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation station. It is a disturbing examination of this phenomenon in the Cuban context.
Below are links to the articles in the series.
Toronto Star, Published Friday, March 15, 2013, Twisted Travellers: Canadian pedophiles travel Abroad for Child Sex, by Victor Malarek, W5 (CBC) Chief Investigative Reporter
Toronto Star, March 15, 2013 Toronto sex offender could be first Canadian convicted of child sex tourism in Cuba. By Jennifer Quinn Investigative News reporter, Robert Cribb Foreign, Investigations Julian Sher, Toronto Star
Toronto Star, March 16, 2013 Canadians are major customers in Cuba’s child sex market By Robert Cribb Jennifer Quinn, Julian Sher Toronto Star, and Juan Tamayo El Nuevo Herald
Toronto Star, March 18, 2013, Cuba’s most horrifying episode of child sex tourism resulted in a girl’s death by Juan Tamayo
Toronto Star, March 19, 2013 Editorial, Paradise for sex tourists
Juan O. Tamayo, Miami Herald, Wed, May. 01, 2013,
The U.S. government’s denial of visas to several Cubans invited to an upcoming academic congress has uncorked a string of protests — against Washington, the pro-Castro U.S. academics who allegedly control the conference’s Cuba agenda and the Havana spies who allegedly attend.
Some academics who study Cuba issues have long complained about the island government’s influence on the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), which bills itself as the world’s largest association for the study of the region. But they usually kept their complaints private because Cuba has repeatedly denied access to the island and research materials to any academics who dared criticize the communist government too harshly. Until now.
“The LASA Cuba section has been taken over by supporters of the revolution and it has been thoroughly politicized,” said Ted Henken, a professor of Latin American Studies at Baruch College in New York.
“Those of us who have been in LASA also know that within the Cuban ‘delegation’ there are always as many ‘policemen’ as in Coppelia on a Saturday night,” Cuban sociologist Haroldo Dilla wrote in an online column. He referred to Havana’s famous Coppelia ice cream parlor.
Asked about the criticism, LASA President Evelyne Huber said the Cuba section “is open to all LASA members, and LASA itself is open to all scholars and other professionals interested in Latin America. Nobody is excluded from membership based on their political opinions.”
“I do not know what qualifies a scholar as a ‘supporter of the Cuban government’ … and whether the elected leaders of the section would fall into that category. Most scholars who deal with Cuba that I know are acutely aware of both the strengths and weaknesses, or achievements and shortcomings of the Cuban government,” added Huber, head of the political science department at the University of North Carolina.
Cuba section co-chairman Sheryl Lutjens, director of the Women’s Studies Program at California State University San Marcos, did not reply to requests for comments. Her co-chairman is Jorge Mario Sanchez, a professor at the University of Havana.
All country sections are co-headed by members from the U.S. and the foreign country. LASA, with 7,000 members from around the world, is based at the University of Pittsburgh.
Henken and Dilla’s comments were triggered by reports that the U.S. State Department had denied visas to several Cubans invited to attend LASA’s annual congress May 29-June 1 in Washington, D.C.
Three of them were identified as Elaine Díaz Rodríguez, a journalist and University of Havana professor, and young bloggers Isbel Díaz Torres and Dimitri Prieto Samsónov. Elaine Díaz’s visa was later approved. The U.S. visas could have been denied for a broad range of issues, from concerns that the academics would defect and stay in the United States to any criminal records.
The trio should be allowed to participate in the LASA conference because they “are known for their critical positions in the face of specific aspects of the Cuban reality,” Dilla wrote in an April 15 column published on the website CubaEncuentro.
Henken, a LASA member who also heads the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE), argued that the visa denials are “a lost opportunity for the U.S. to hear critical and authentic voices from inside Cuba.”
But while academic freedom and exchanges are always desirable, both men argued, U.S.-Cuba academic relations are marred by a lack of reciprocity — and worse.
Henken noted that Omar Everleny Perez, a young economist in Cuba who has criticized some of the Raúl Castro government’s economic reforms and was scheduled to sit on a LASA panel, will not be allowed to travel to Washington by his own university.
And while Baruch College sent nine students to Cuba in January, Havana never answered Henken’s request to accompany them, he said. Henken visited Cuba several times for his research until 2011, when he interviewed several bloggers, including some critical of the government. As he left the country, he wrote, State Security officials told him, “This will be your last time.”
Dilla, who now teaches in the Dominican Republic, said that Cuba also does not allow some exile academics like himself to return to the island to attend conferences, to publish their work in the island’s periodicals or to teach in its universities.
One LASA member who presented a paper at an ASCE conference in Miami last year admitted she toned her criticisms of Havana in the printed version of the paper, compared with her verbal remarks, out of fear that Cuban officials would read her paper and block her annual research trips to Cuba.
“LASA’s Cuba section basically has been taken over by the Cubans, the government … and we keep quiet so we can get or continue to have access to Cuba,” said the researcher, who asked for anonymity for the same reasons.
While the U.S. visa-granting process for academics “has its problems of politicization, bureaucracy and arbitrarity,” Henken said, the Cuban government’s “systematic mockery of academic freedom and freedom of movement is much more condemnable.”
There’s been no indication of the size of the Cuban delegation to the LASA congress next month in Washington. But in 2003 the Bush administration denied visas to the entire Cuban mission — reportedly 75 people.
Dilla, who attended two LASA conferences before he left Cuba in 2000, wrote that the association should push the State Department to issue visas to Cuban academics who apply but added that he wanted “to point out a couple of details.”
While highly respected Cuban academics attend the LASA conferences, he said, the island’s delegations always include intelligence officials and collaborators.
“Some are on the payroll of Línea and A,” he added, referring to the Havana street address of the Interior Ministry’s Intelligence Directorate. “Others are guardians of the ideological agencies, some active and some retired … but all of them, and above all, [are] people who carry out duties that have little to do with the free academic debate.”
Former Cuban intelligence official Orlando Brito Pestana, who defected in 2002 and now lives in South Florida, has said that he attended a LASA conference in Canada around 1991 with accreditation from the Cuba Foreign Ministry. His job, he said, was to spot pro-Castro academics attending the conference and monitor Cuban academics who might have been planning to defect.
“They can be spotted at each congress, sucking up the LASA budget, coercing the true academics and turning the Cuba Task Force into a tangled and opaque extension of the Ideological Department of the Communist Party of Cuba,” Dilla said.
Cubans going to the LASA conferences are also subjected, before they travel, to nearly two weeks of briefings by the Ideological Department on issues such as the economy and human rights, Dilla added.
How Cubans’ Health Improved When Their Economy Collapsed: Sometimes financial crises can force lifestyle changes for the better.
I well remember in the 1990s in Havana. Food was in short supply; meat was almost unavailable; gasoline was out of the picture; walking. cycling and the “camello” were the chief sources of transportation. The result? My Cuban friends got thin and fit.This indeed was a general phenomenon in Cuba.
But then in the last decade or so, my friends have put on weight, some in a major way. This also seems to be a general phenomenon, and Cuba has climbed back into the ranks of the countries scoring highest in the obesity rankings, with at No. 24, with 20.1% of the male population having a body-mass index of 30 or more. (The Economist, Pocket World in Figures, 2013, p.87.)
A recent study published in the BMJ Group has found that the weight losses, greater physical activity, and increased vegetable and legume consumption in this period had a variety of beneficial impacts on health, notably coronary heart disease and diabetes mortality. Then the increased food consumption (and reduced reliance on the bicycle!) during the 2000-20210 period has coincided with a worsening of some of the basic health measures.
Unfortunately the prospects for obesity and related problems may be serious for Cuba, due in part to greater food availability, and notably meat, and reduced physical activity. There also may be a psychological factor – the urge to eat a lot when food is available, having gone through earlier periods of hunger. Cuba may now be starting to face some of the same problems as the countries where obesity has become a major challenge.
The write-up of the original medical journal article in the Atlantic is presented below. The original article from the BMJ Group is located here: Population-wide weight loss and regain in relation to diabetes burden and cardiovascular mortality in Cuba 1980-2010: repeated cross sectional surveys and ecological comparison of secular trends
Authors: Manuel Franco, associate professor, adjunct associate professor, visiting researcher; Usama Bilal, research assistant, visiting researcher; Pedro Orduñez, regional adviser; Mikhail Benet, professor; Alain Morejón, assistant professor; Benjamín Caballero, professor; Joan F Kennelly, research assistant professor; Richard S Cooper, professor and chair
Richard Schiffman, The Atlantic,, Apr 18 2013
When Cuba’s benefactor, the Soviet Union, closed up shop in the early 1990s, it sent the Caribbean nation into an economic tailspin from which it would not recover for over half a decade.
The biggest impact came from the loss of cheap petroleum from Russia. Gasoline quickly became unobtainable by ordinary citizens in Cuba, and mechanized agriculture and food distribution systems all but collapsed. The island’s woes were compounded by the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which intensified the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, preventing pharmaceuticals, manufactured goods, and food imports from entering the country. During this so-called “special period” (from 1991 to 1995), Cuba teetered on the brink of famine. Cubans survived drinking sugared water, and eating anything they could get their hands on, including domestic pets and the animals in the Havana Zoo
The economic meltdown should logically have been a public health disaster. But a new study conducted jointly by university researchers in Spain, Cuba, and the U.S. and published in the latest issue of BMJ says that the health of Cubans actually improved dramatically during the years of austerity. These surprising findings are based on nationwide statistics from the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, together with surveys conducted with about 6,000 participants in the city of Cienfuegos, on the southern coast of Cuba, between 1991 and 2011. The data showed that, during the period of the economic crisis, deaths from cardiovascular disease and adult-onset type 2 diabetes fell by a third and a half, respectively. Strokes declined more modestly, and overall mortality rates went down.
This “abrupt downward trend” in illness does not appear to be because of Cuba’s barefoot doctors and vaunted public health system, which is rated amongst the best in Latin America. The researchers say that it has more to do with simple weight loss. Cubans, who were walking and bicycling more after their public transportation system collapsed, and eating less (energy intake plunged from about 3,000 calories per day to anywhere between 1,400 and 2,400, and protein consumption dropped by 40 percent). They lost an average of 12 pounds.
Bicycle Parking Lot, Havana
It wasn’t only the amount of food that Cubans ate that changed, but also what they ate. They became virtual vegans overnight, as meat and dairy products all but vanished from the marketplace. People were forced to depend on what they could grow, catch, and pick for themselves– including lots of high-fiber fresh produce, and fruits, added to the increasingly hard-to-come-by staples of beans, corn, and rice. Moreover, with petroleum and petroleum-based agro-chemicals unavailable, Cuba “went green,” becoming the first nation to successfully experiment on a large scale with low-input sustainable agriculture techniques. Farmers returned to the machetes and oxen-drawn plows of their ancestors, and hundreds of urban community gardens (the latest rage in America’s cities) flourished.
“If we hadn’t gone organic, we’d have starved!” said Miguel Salcines Lopez in the journal Southern Spaces. Salcines is an agricultural scientist who founded “Vívero Alamar,” one of Cuba’s best known organopónicos, or urban farms, in vacant lots in Havana.
During the special period, expensive habits like smoking and most likely also alcohol consumption were reduced, albeit briefly. This enforced fitness regime lasted only until the Cuban economy began to recover in the second half of the 1990s. At that point, physical activity levels began to fall off, and calorie intake surged. Eventually people in Cuba were eating even more than they had before the crash. The researchers report that “by 2011, the Cuban population has regained enough weight to almost triple the obesity rates of 1995.”
Not surprisingly, the diseases of affluence made a comeback as well. Diabetes increased dramatically, and declines in cardiovascular disease slowed to their sluggish pre-1991 levels. (Heart disease did decline slightly in the 1980s due to improved detection and treatments.) By 2002, “mortality rates returned to the pre-crisis pattern,” according to the authors of the study. Cancer deaths, which fell in the years after the crash, also started inching up after the recovery, rising 5.4 percent from 1996 to 2010.
While the study’s author’s are cautious about attributing all of these changes in disease rates exclusively to changes in weight, Professor Walter Willett, of the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston wrote in an editorial that the study does provide “powerful evidence [that] a reduction in overweight and obesity would have major population-wide benefits.”
The findings have special relevance to the U.S., which is currently in the midst of a type 2 diabetes epidemic. Disease rates more than doubled from 1963 to 2005, and continue to rise precipitously. Diabetes and its attendant complications have been called one of “the main drivers” of rising health care costs in the U.S. by a report which was published last month by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). “Recent estimates project that as many as one in three American adults will have diabetes in 2050,” according to Robert Ratner, the chief scientific and medical officer of the ADA.
Cardiovascular disease is statistically an even bigger scourge. This illness, which was relatively rare at the turn of the twentieth century, has become the leading cause of mortality for Americans, responsible for over a third of all deaths. Heart disease is associated with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, obesity, and artery-clogging diets.
The Cuban experience suggests that to seriously make a dent in these problems, we’ll have to change the lifestyle that helps to cause them. The study’s authors recommend “educational efforts, redesign of built environments to promote physical activity, changes in food systems, restrictions on aggressive promotion of unhealthy drinks and foods to children, and economic strategies such as taxation.”
But they also acknowledge that the changes that they are calling for are tough to engineer at the government level: “So far, no country or regional population has successfully reduced the distribution of body mass index or reduced the prevalence of obesity through public health campaigns or targeted treatment programs.”
So where does that leave us? If the United States want to stem the rise of diabetes and heart disease, either we get serious about finding ways for to become more physically active and to eat fewer empty calories — or we wait for economic collapse to do that work for us.
Fig 4 Obesity prevalence and coronary heart disease, cancer and stroke mortality in Cuba (1980-2010). Red shaded area=period of economic crisis; blue shaded area=period of economic recovery; CHD=coronary heart disease. CHD mortality decreased by 0.50% per year from 1980 to 1996, 6.48% per year from 1996 to 2002, and 1.42% per year from 2002 to 2010. Cancer mortality decreased by 0.12% per year from 1980 to 1996, but increased by 0.47% per year from 1996 to 2010. Stroke mortality fell by 0.39% per year from 1980 to 2000, 5.03% per year from 2000 to 2004, and 0.01% per year from 2004 to 2010
Fig 1 Physical activity, dietary energy intake, and smoking in Cuba, 1980-2010. Red shaded area=period of economic crisis; blue shaded area=period of economic recovery. Physical activity data recorded in 1987, 1988, and 1994 obtained from Havana surveys; data recorded in 1995, 2001, and 2010 come from national surveys. *1 kcal=0.00418 MJ
Fig 3 Prevalence of obesity and diabetes, incidence, and mortality in Cuba, 1980-2010. Red shaded area=period of economic crisis; blue shaded area=period of economic recovery. Diabetes prevalence increased by 2.93% per year from 1980 to 1997, and 6.27% per year from 1997 to 2010. Diabetes mortality increased by 5.85% per year from 1980 to 1989, but fell by 0.68% per year from 1989 to 1996 and 13.95% per year from 1996 to 2002, before increasing by 3.31% per year from 2002 to 2010
The Globe and Mail, Published Friday, Mar. 29 2013
Sitting in a spotless, sunny apartment in Toronto’s immigrant-dense Thorncliffe Park, neatly dressed, fit and clear-eyed at 72, author Jose Latour shares his darkest thoughts. They focus on his native country, Cuba, and the disaster he foresees following the inevitable collapse of its geriatric communism.
“Once we have democracy in Cuba and a multiparty system and human rights, and so on, criminals from everywhere will come to Cuba,” he predicts. “There will be big corruption, a lot of prostitution and drugs.” Any semblance of social order will collapse with the dictators, he predicts.
It’s not that Latour harbours any fondness for the current regime, which effectively hounded him and his family out of the country when his crime novels began reaching an international audience, drawing unwelcome attention to the often harsh reality of life in a socialist paradise. But corruption and criminality are Latour’s métier. And as his latest novel proves, this author can still feel the deepest rhythms of Cuban society virtually in his own pulse.
Set at the climax of the Cold War, Riders of Land and Tide is a Tom-Clancy-style thriller that centres on a drug-fuelled mutiny aboard a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine in the Caribbean. Action, suspense, plot: It delivers all that the genre promises, as one would expect from a veteran once described by The Globe’s Margaret Cannon as “a classic noir writer.”
But Latour’s latest also offers a revealing portrait of ordinary people in Cuba, based closely on his own former friends and colleagues, struggling to maintain their dignity amid the wreckage of revolution.
In this, Latour says, Riders is his most ambitious novel. “It’s Cuban history through the lives of three families,” he says. “The plot is absolutely fictional,” he adds, but the events and the characters and their struggles are painstakingly real. “Hundreds of thousands of Cubans live lives like these,” Latour says.
But the author has paid for his ambition to stretch genre bounds. “My Canadian publisher, McClelland & Stewart, didn’t want to publish Riders of Land and Tide because they said it dealt too much with the personal lives of people,” he says. “They wanted the book more centred in action, action, action. And I don’t do that kind of book.”
Vampires, zombies and other trendy tropes leave him cold. “That’s not my world,” he says. “I’m a realist, and I don’t believe all endings are happy and the good guys always win.”
As a result, Latour finds himself thrust onto the front lines of the electronic revolution, publishing Riders as an e-book in an exclusive six-month deal with digital bookseller Kobo. It will become available on competing sites beginning in April.
But Latour is no stranger to the vanguard, beginning with his role as an ardent young revolutionary working as a financial analyst in his country’s new government. Making the leap from bureaucracy with the help of three successful novels written in his spare time, Latour was able to quit his day job in 1990 in order to write full-time.
A growing darling of the Havana diplomatic corps due to his international reputation and work as a translator, Latour definitively stepped offside with a novel called The Fool, based on a true story of political corruption involving high-ranking officers in the Cuban armed forces and Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
Declared an enemy of the people, Latour was followed in the streets and received threatening phone calls. “So I had a meeting with my family and said, ‘Look, this is going to be a problem. I’m 60 years old. I don’t want to go to a Cuban prison at 60.’”
Cuban prison “is not Canadian prison, just in case you don’t know that,” he adds. “No, no, it’s something very different.”
Using a book tour in Spain as pretext, Latour, his wife Sandra and their two children left Cuba for good in 2002. After two years of living in Spain, they became patriotic new Canadians. None dreams of a return. “Canada is my country,” Latour says. “I’m a Canadian citizen, and this is where I hope to be cremated.”
Both children have since graduated from the University of Toronto and left home to pursue careers. But as much as Latour worries about the future of his native country, he worries that his children dream of becoming writers like him.
“I tell them, ‘Listen, you write a book like you purchase a lottery ticket,’” he says. “’I’ve been purchasing 649 since I got to Toronto and I have never won more than $10. It’s exactly the same with books.’”
So why does he keep doing it himself?
“Because I was born to write,” he answers. “It’s as simple as that.”
[Text read in an event at the Freedom Tower, Miami, Florida, 1 April 2013]
Years ago, when I left Cuba for the first time, I was in a train leaving from the city of Berlin heading north. A Berlin already reunified but preserving fragments of the ugly scar, that wall that had divided a nation. In the compartment of that train, while thinking about my father and grandfather — both engineers — who would have given anything to ride on this marvel of cars and a locomotive, I struck up a conversation with the young man sitting directly across from me.
After the first exchange of greetings, of mistreating the German language with “Guten Tag” and clarifying that “Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch,” the man immediately asked me where I came from. So I replied with “Ich komme aus Kuba.”
As always happens after the phrase saying you come from the largest of the Antilles, the interlocutor tries to show how much he knows about our country. “Ah…. Cuba, yes, Varadero, rum, salsa music.” I even ran into a couple of cases where the only reference they seemed to have for our nation was the album “BuenaVista Social Club,” which in those years was rising in popularity on the charts.
But that young man on the Berlin train surprised me. Unlike others, he didn’t answer me with a tourist or music stereotype, he went much further. His question was, “You’re from Cuba? From the Cuba of Fidel or from the Cuba of Miami?”
My face turned red, I forgot all of the little German I knew, and I answered him in my best Central Havana Spanish. “Chico, I’m from the Cuba of José Martí.” That ended our brief conversation. But for the rest of the trip, and the rest of my life, that conversation stayed in my mind. I’ve asked myself many times what led that Berliner and so many other people in the world to see Cubans inside and outside the Island as two separate worlds, two irreconcilable worlds.
The answer to that question also runs through part of the work of my blog, Generation Y. How was it that they divided our nation? How was it that a government, a party, a man in power, claimed the right to decide who should claim our nationality and who should not?
The answers to these questions you know much better than I. You who have lived the pain of exile. You who, more often than not, left with only what you were wearing. You who said goodbye to families, many of whom you never saw again. You who have tried to preserve Cuba, one Cuba, indivisible, complete, in your minds and in your hearts.
But I’m still wondering, what happened? How did it happen that being defined as Cuban came to be something only granted based on ideology? Believe me, when you are born and raised with only one version of history, a mutilated and convenient version of history, you cannot answer that question.
Luckily, it’s possible to wake up from the indoctrination. It’s enough that one question every day, like corrosive acid, gets inside our heads. It’s enough to not settle for what they told us. Indoctrination is incompatible with doubt, brainwashing ends at the exact point when our brain starts to question the phrases it has heard. The process of awakening is slow, like an estrangement, as if suddenly the seams of reality begin to show.
That’s how everything started in my case. I was a run-of-the-mill Little Pioneer, you all know about that. Every day at my elementary school morning assembly I repeated that slogan, “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che.” Innumerable times I ran to a shelter with a gas mask under my arm, while my teachers assured me we were about to be attacked. I believed it. A child always believes what adults say.
But there were some things that didn’t fit. Every process of looking for the truth has its trigger, a single moment when a piece doesn’t fit, when something is not logical. And this absence of logic was outside of school, in my neighborhood and in my home. I couldn’t understand why, if those who left in the Mariel Boatlift were “enemies of the State,” my friends were so happy when one of those exiled relatives sent them food or clothing.
Why were those neighbors, who had been seen off by an act of repudiation in the Cayo Hueso tenement where I was born, the ones who supported the elderly mother who had been left behind? The elderly mother who gave a part of those packages to the same people who had thrown eggs and insults at her children. I didn’t understand it. And from this incomprehension, as painful as every birth, was born the person I am today.
So when that Berliner who had never been to Cuba tried to divide my nation, I jumped like a cat and stood up to him. And because of that, here I am today standing before you trying to make sure that no one, ever again, can divide us between one type of Cuban or another. We are going to need each other for a future Cuba and we need each other in the present Cuba. Without you our country would be incomplete, as if someone had amputated its limbs. We cannot allow them to continue to divide us.
Just like we are fighting to live in a country where we have the rights of free expression, free association, and so many others that have taken from us; we have to do everything — the possible and the impossible — so that you can recover the rights they have also taken from you. There is no you and us… there is only “us.” We will not allow them to continue separating us.
I am here because I don’t believe the history they told me. With so many other Cubans who grew up under a single official “truth,” we have woken up. We need to rebuild our nation. We can’t do it alone. Those present here — as you know well — have helped so many families on the Island put food on the table for their children. You have made your way in societies where you had to start from nothing. You have carried Cuba with you and you have cared for her. Help us to unify her, to tear down this wall that, unlike the one in Berlin, is not made of concrete or bricks, but of lies, silence, bad intentions.
Yoani Sánchez’s historic visit to New York last week thrust political debates about Cuba into the public arena, exposing their invariably polemical character. During the famed Cuban blogger’s visits to university campuses, the only venues that offered public access to Sánchez, she encountered fans who read her blog Generation Y, Cuban exiles who admire her temerity, and a small but ardent band of protestors. As one of the organizers of the conference featuring Sánchez at The New School and New York University, the institutions that sponsored her visit to New York, I was privy to the challenges involved in bringing her to the U.S. as well as those of managing a volatile crowd. Although the disruptive tactics used by the protestors suggested that they were intent on shutting public debate down rather than engaging with Sánchez, I’d like to take a moment to consider the content of their statements, as well as their form of address.
As a moderator, I reviewed all the questions from the audience. Those coming from Sánchez’s detractors were fairly consistent in content and limited in scope. Her critics asked about money they assumed she receives from the U.S. State Department; they doubted the political effectiveness of blogging; and they demanded to know why Sanchez’s writings did not highlight positive aspects of the Cuban Revolution. They also drew attention to the unjust treatment of immigrant workers in the U.S., as if to suggest either that Sanchez’s calls for democratization in Cuba were tantamount to an embrace of all American policies and practices, or that political change in Cuba would necessarily result in neoliberal style labor exploitation. Although Sanchez was invited to speak about digital cultures emerging in Cuba, the protestors sought repeatedly to sidetrack the discussion by exhorting Sánchez to defend the Revolution and by trying to impugn her credibility.
Sánchez described these protests in Cuban terms as “actos de repudio” — the collective acts of public excoriation aimed at dissidents that are orchestrated by the Cuban government. To her credit, she also responded calmly to many of her opponents’ questions, explaining that she recognizes the limits as well as the benefits of the internet-based movement that she leads; that she visits the U.S. Interests Section to obtain visas just as Cuban officials seeking to travel do; that the translations of her writings into multiple languages are produced by volunteers; that she makes a living from her publications and does not receive funding from the U.S. government; and that she understands her role as an independent journalist to be that of a critical conscience, rather than a promoter of official Cuban policy. Even though the conference organizers explained that Sánchez’s trip to New York was paid for by The New School and NYU, and even though her English translator MJ Porter detailed how the international team of translators had been formed, the protestors continued to accuse her of being a mercenary financed by the CIA, as if repeating unsubstantiated accusations would somehow make them true.
While it is not possible to prove that Sánchez’s protestors in New York took orders from Havana, it does appear that they do not perceive the contradiction involved in exercising their right to express alternative views in order to discredit Sánchez’s attempts to do the same in her own country. The protestors’ raucous behavior was somewhat comic, but sadly, their questions bespeak commonly held assumptions among American progressives about Cuba, Cuban dissidents and Cuban exiles. All too often, progressive Americans maintain their unflinching support of Cuba as an expression of their critical views of U.S. policy, not because of their understanding of Cuban society. Rather than renouncing their political ideals, they seek to silence the messengers who deliver a very different picture of life in Cuba as it is lived, not prescribed by a political apparatus. Unfortunately, the Cuban government makes matters worse through its hegemonic control over academic organizations that support Cuban studies abroad, and by instilling fear in Cuban studies scholars outside Cuba that public criticism of the Revolution will result in their being denied entry to the island. Recent posts from Cuba on government-sponsored blogs raised the issue of whether the presence of Sanchez and fellow blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo on American campuses might have an adverse effect on academic exchange projects between Cuban and U.S. institutions; the very act of releasing such questions can have a chilling effect on public debate about Cuba beyond its borders.
Ardent Cuba-supporters’ tirades against Cubans who publicly expresses criticism of the Cuban Revolution not only mirror the repressive tactics the Cuban government uses to discredit its internal opposition, but also deny Cubans agency as thinking subjects. As Sanchez herself put it, how could it be possible for Cuba to be the only country in the world with a citizenry that agrees with everything that its government does? Might it not be reasonable for Cuban exiles, who send billions of dollars to their island relatives and who function as de facto wholesale suppliers for Cuban small businesses, to have their views be treated with respect too? Don’t Americans deserve access to the diversity of views that exist among Cubans inside and outside Cuba? As a Cuban-American who has conducted research on Cuban culture for three decades, I have had to contend with intimidation from extreme right Cuban exiles, pro-Cuba leftists in the U.S. and Cuban state security because I refuse to stay inside the ideological sandbox created by the Cold War. I find it quite heartening now to witness how Cubans from across the political spectrum are beginning to open themselves to peaceful dialogue with each other thanks largely to the work of writers such as Yoani Sánchez who are creating virtual forums for a plurality of views about Cuba to be shared with the world.
Yoani Sanchez in New York
Original article here: Private sector bites into Cuban state food sales
* First wholesale market opens in Havana; State share of food sales declines
By Marc Frank, Reuters, Wed Mar 27, 2013
HAVANA, March 27 (Reuters) – Cubans are building private food distribution networks from the farm through to retail outlets as communist authorities gradually dismantle the state’s monopoly on the purchase and sale of agricultural products.
The country’s first wholesale produce market is up and running on the outskirts of Havana and across the island farmers report they are selling more of their goods directly to customers, ranging from hotels to individual vendors.
Those involved say the change is speeding the flow of food to market, helping end longstanding inefficiencies that often left crops to rot in fields and putting more money in the pockets of producers.
“We purchased two old trucks this year, in part to deliver produce to our state clients in Camaguey,” said the president of a cooperative near the city in central Cuba.
“A few years ago we had to sell everything to the state, which then sold it to our clients a few days later. Now it arrives fresh and we keep the 21 percent profit that went to the state wholesaler,” he said, asking to remain anonymous.
Private trucks, some dating back to the 1950s and beyond, clatter into cities and towns delivering goods to kiosks and stalls run by private farm cooperatives or their surrogates.
In eastern Santiago de Cuba, the trucks roll into retail markets where private food vendors, who roam the streets with horse-drawn wagons, push and tricycle carts, gather to buy.
With the country importing around 60 percent of its food and private farmers outperforming state farms on a fraction of the land, authorities are gradually deregulating the sector and leasing fallow land to would-be farmers.
At the same time private truckers and vendors are being licensed as part of an opening to small businesses, with 400,000 people, including employees, now working in what’s called the “non-state” sector.
It is slow going, with farm output up just a few percentage points since President Raul Castro, who replaced his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, began agricultural reforms as part of a broader effort to “modernize” the Soviet-style economy.
Local farmers and experts say resistant bureaucrats, cautious leadership, the state’s continued monopoly on farm inputs and a lack of financing are holding up growth.
Yet, deregulation is gradually taking hold and private supply chains, whose participants were once labeled “parasitic middlemen” and even criminals by authorities, are emerging, now with the state’s blessing.
“The farmers harvest all this in the mornings, put it in sacks and weigh it, then truckers bring it in,” said purchaser Ariel Gonzales, leaning on his tricycle cart loaded with onions, garlic, carrots and other items at the Havana wholesale market.
“The food arrives the same day, it’s all fresh and at 50 percent or less of retail prices,” Gonzalez, who delivers to three small Havana retail outlets, said.
“Of course, when it rains this all turns to mud. You would think the government would pave it,” he said. “After all, we are feeding Havana.”
Five years ago 85 percent of all food produced in the country was contracted and sold by the state. By last year it had fallen to below 60 percent, according to the government. Within a few years it is expected to bottom out at around 35 percent, mainly root vegetables, grains and export crops.
“These are products not included in any contract with the state. You can sell them freely,” said Homero Rivero, a small farmer turned part time trucker and wholesale vendor as he supervised the unloading of sacks of cucumbers, crates of tomatoes and other vegetables from a vintage Ford truck.
Hundreds of purchasers swarm the area bidding for the goods, often accompanied by strapping young men with tricycle carts hired to move the produce to waiting vehicles.
FOOD NO LONGER WASTED
Rivero’s old Ford was one of many similar vintage vehicles piled with fruit, garden and root vegetables late Tuesday afternoon, even as dozens more waited to enter the makeshift market on an unpaved lot at the edge of the Cuban capital.
The market opens in the afternoon and runs into the late evening.
The scene is chaotic and crude and the trucks and carts decrepit, reflecting the precarious state of the country’s agricultural infrastructure.
“The law is that there is no law, you can do what you want with these products,” said Rivero, who is from the adjoining province of Mayabeque.
Cuba’s capital is home to 2.1 million people, 20 percent of the country’s population and is far wealthier than other cities.
Trucks arrived from all over the island, for example hawking pineapples and oranges at 7 pesos and 2 pesos each from Matanzas, 70 miles (112 km) to the east, compared with the local retail price of 15 pesos and 4 to 5 pesos respectively.
Jaimito Alvarez, who comes into Havana every 10 days from Pinar del Rio, 100 miles (160 km) to the west, said before the produce was often wasted.
“Before, if you produced more than planned, you were lucky if the state picked it up. Private food sales were forbidden and usually some of your crop rotted in the fields or was fed to the pigs,” Alvarez said.
State Sector Retailing circa 2000