• This Blog on The Cuban Economy is dedicated to Cuba's Generation "A". Although inspired by Yoani Sánchez' blog "Generation Y" this is not dedicated to those with names starting with the letter "A". Instead, it draws from Douglas Coupland's novel Generation A which begins with a quotation from Kurt Vonnegut at a University Commencement that was brought to my attention by Andrew Johnston of Ottawa: ".. ... I hereby declare you Generation A, as much as the beginning of a series of astounding triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."

    The objective of this Blog is to facilitate access to research resources and analyses from all relevant and useful sources, mainly on the economy of Cuba.

Kerry, Hagel On Cuba: Cabinet Nominees Could Help Ease Relations, Lift Trade Embargo

By PAUL HAVEN

Original article here: Huffington Post, 28 January 2013

HAVANA — The nominee for U.S. Secretary of State, Sen. John Kerry, once held up millions of dollars in funding for secretive U.S. democracy-building programs in Cuba. Defense Secretary hopeful Chuck Hagel has called the U.S. embargo against the communist-run island “nonsensical” and anachronistic.

Both men are now poised to occupy two of the most important positions in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, leading observers on both sides of the Florida Straits to say the time could be ripe for a reboot in relations between the longtime Cold War enemies – despite major obstacles still in the way.

Kerry’s confirmation hearing was held last Thursday, with Hagel’s likely to begin next Thursday. In a day marked by platitudes and praise from his longtime colleagues, the Massachusetts Democrat up for top U.S. diplomat sidestepped two questions on Cuba without giving any hint of his opinion on bilateral relations.

Yet Kerry’s record has showed some openness to relaxing the tough U.S. stance on Cuba.

“I think having a secretary of state and secretary of defense who understand and are willing to speak publicly that isolation is counterproductive is a very good start,” said Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the nonpartisan Cuba Study Group, which advocates using engagement to spur democratic change. “I’m optimistic about the opportunity.”

Carlos Alzugaray, an ex-Cuban ambassador to the European Union and the author of several studies about Cuba-US relations, said that if both men are confirmed, no Cabinet since the Carter administration would have such high-level voices in favor of rapprochement.

At the same time, the composition of Cuban-Americans in Florida is evolving, with younger voters less emotionally attached to the issue than their parents and grandparents. Exit polls showed 49 percent of Cuban-Americans in the state voted for Obama, roughly the same percentage as four years ago, an indication the group no longer plays the make-or-break role it once did in presidential politics.

The atmosphere is changing in Cuba as well. Alzugaray noted that the island has taken many steps that would normally be welcomed by Washington such as freeing dozens of political prisoners, opening the economy to limited capitalism, hosting peace talks for war-torn Colombia and eliminating most restrictions on travel for its own citizens.

“Cuba is changing, and it is changing in the direction that the United States says Cuba must change,” Alzugaray told The Associated Press in an interview in his Havana apartment.

The greatest obstacle to better ties is undoubtedly the continued imprisonment of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence for crimes against the state after he was caught setting up clandestine Internet networks as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development democracy-building program. Havana has insisted the 63-year-old Gross will not be released unless Washington considers freeing five Cuban agents held in the United States. One is out on supervised release but was ordered to remain in the country, and the other four are still incarcerated.

Critics of engagement, including several prominent Cuban-American legislators, say none of the reforms Cuba has made brings the island closer to being a democratic state after 54 years of rule by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro. Dissidents are still detained and harassed, they say, the Cuban news media is not free, elections are restricted to approved candidates and the Cuban parliament acts as little more than a rubber stamp for decisions made by the island’s aging leaders.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Havana-born Florida Republican and staunch critic of the Castros, told the AP she was deeply concerned about both Cabinet nominees.

“I think both are bad for strengthening the U.S.-Cuba embargo,” she said. “They would work for an appeasement policy. They would work to normalize relations. That is their philosophy. But they won’t be able to achieve it.”

Ros-Lehtinen said she hoped Kerry’s likely replacement as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Cuban-American Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, would block any attempt to take a softer line.

As committee chairman in 2011, Kerry held up millions of dollars in funding for the same program that Gross was involved in, out of concern that it was ill-conceived and a waste of money. He later cut a deal with Menendez to free up the money. At the hearing on Thursday, Kerry said that as secretary of state, he would support such programs worldwide, but did not mention Cuba. Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, has termed the 50-year-old trade embargo an “outdated, unrealistic, irrelevant policy” and said the U.S. should engage with the island, just as it does with other communist countries such as Vietnam and China.

In his first term, Obama eliminated restrictions on the number of times Cuban-Americans can visit their relatives on the island, and the amount of money they can send back in remittances. He also has made it much easier for American travelers to get licenses to visit the island on cultural, educational and religious exchanges, though tourism is still barred.

Since 2009, the number of Americans traveling to Cuba has nearly doubled from 52,000 per year to 103,000 in 2012, according to statistics compiled by the firm the Havana Consulting Group. Trips by Cuban-Americans to visit their relatives rose from 335,000 to 476,000 a year during the same period. The surge puts the United States second only to Canada as the source of travelers to the island.

But just as American officials have met Cuban reforms with lukewarm indifference, Cuban leaders have dismissed Obama’s overtures as window-dressing, saying he has in many ways strengthened the embargo by going after companies that do business with the island.

Cuban officials have been reluctant to talk about the Kerry and Hagel nominations for fear their words will be used by opponents. But a pro-government Web site, Cubasi, published an opinion piece Thursday detailing both men’s past opposition to America’s Cuba policy.

“Chuck Hagel has no problem with Cuba,” wrote the author, well-known columnist Nicanor Leon Cotayo. “On the contrary, he has demonstrated common sense to do away with one of the White House’s most anachronistic foreign policies.”

Cotayo added that Obama has “real and legal options to maneuver and diminish tension in bilateral relations.”

Others say they are not holding their breath for any change. Alzugaray, the longtime Cuban diplomat, threw up his hands and shrugged when asked why he was not more optimistic that the stars would align for better relations this time around. “That dog has bit me several times,” he laughed. “I’ve often thought that now is the time, the possibilities are there, but always something has complicated things.”

From this:

To this?

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Cuba’s ‘resale’ economics: The island’s halfway capitalism has trapped Cubans between private business and the state economy.

The island’s halfway capitalism has trapped Cubans between private business and the state economy.

Nick Miroff, January 23, 2013.

Original Article here:  Cuba’s ‘resale’ economics

HAVANA, Cuba — Cracker Man’s cry echoes down the streets of Havana’s Buena Vista neighborhood, trailed by the clatter of his shopping cart over potholes.

“Crackers! Crackers!” he barks. “Fresh from the oven!”

He’s one of roughly 400,000 Cubans now working as state-licensed entrepreneurs in the communist country’s small but growing private sector.

Cracker Man, as he’s known in the neighborhood (“el Galletero”), sells his product for about $1 a bag. He doesn’t make the crackers, but buys them from the state-owned bakery.

He’s what Cubans refer to as a “revendedor,” a reseller who buys scarce state-subsidized items from government stores to sell at a mark-up.

That’s made many people here angry. Complaints abound in the “letters to the editor” section of Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma, where resellers are disparaged as parasites and good-for-nothing speculators whose main contribution to the economy is to make basic products more expensive for everyone.

They’re also entirely the creation of Cuba’s new halfway capitalism.

Raul Castro’s recent reforms — the government calls them “updates” — have provided a place for market forces to exist alongside the centrally planned, state-controlled economy. Cubans have been granted new opportunities to become tradesman, DVD vendors, pizza makers and licensed small-scale retailers whose tiny shops and stalls have bloomed along Cuba’s main streets and thoroughfares.

Other entrepreneurs navigate pushcarts through the streets as itinerant peddlers, hawking goods under the hot Caribbean sun.

The government wants the private commerce to stimulate Cuba’s moribund economy and substitute costly imports. But experts say the authorities have yet to take the next necessary step: allowing entrepreneurs to innovate and manufacture their own products.

Cracker Man, for instance, has nowhere to buy the kind of industrial ovens, bakery equipment and wholesale supplies he’d need to make crackers. Shipping those items from abroad would trigger steep import duties, never mind the logistical obstacles.

“We still haven’t created the mechanisms for a productive economy,” says economist Julio Diaz Vazquez, a Soviet-trained expert on China and Vietnam’s so-called market socialism. He criticizes the government for wanting to encourage entrepreneurship while tightly controlling it through an obtuse bureaucratic regulatory system.

He believes that’s a lost cause. “You can’t play games with the market,” he says.

The authorities say they want to sharply reduce the number of Cubans working in low-paid, unproductive government jobs by moving them into cooperatives and small-scale private businesses.

They’re setting up pilot programs to convert state-run enterprises into worker-managed cooperatives, and have expanded the range of occupations for which Cubans are allowed to obtain self-employment licenses.

But the list remains very small, with fewer than 200 officially sanctioned professions from which Cubans can choose, including obscure jobs such as “party planner” and “palm-tree pruner.”

Not the kind of thing to lift millions out of poverty or free Cuba from having to import soap, snack foods and other bare necessities on which the government spends billions of dollars abroad while its own state-run manufacturing sector withers.

Many of the newly licensed entrepreneurs sell hardware-store items and household essentials such as bleach and dishwashing detergent. As their stalls have proliferated, many of the items they sell are disappearing from state stores because private vendors are rushing to buy up supplies. The government says it’s working to set up wholesale markets to supply the new businesses, but it has yet to do so, with a few exceptions. The authorities seem nowhere close to allowing island residents to invest in the kind of infrastructure that could help give rise to private manufacturing and industry.

Until that happens, economists say, resale economics will continue to rule.

In one area of Havana known as the La Copa, private vendors offer plumbing supplies and other items not available in the state-owned hardware store next door.

Some of their goods are imported while others — such as crudely fashioned pipe fittings — are made on the island. Like most everywhere else, the rest are bought in government-owned stores.

The vendors respond to criticism about selling state-manufactured goods at higher prices saying that as long as they can show receipts proving they acquired the items legally, there’s nothing illegal about reselling them.

“I’m providing a service to my clients and to the government,” says Yormani Alayu, a plumbing-supply vendor who says he pays taxes and goes to great lengths to acquire scarce materials. He points to several rolls of flexible plastic tubing that would be nearly impossible to find in state-run stores.

“These are from Las Tunas,” he says of a city more than 400 miles from Havana.

One customer, Tania Alvarez, says she appreciates personal attention from private vendors, in contrast to the poorly paid clerks at government stores who are often indifferent toward shoppers, if not surly.

“I also appreciate the convenience,” she adds. “I don’t have to go all over town to look for these things.” She says she doesn’t mind paying slightly more.

Other resellers says they’re adding value to products they acquire from state stores.

A 21-year-old hardware vendor named Moises Amador points to colorful rum bottles on his table filled with different kinds of paint, each labeled with instructions. The paint is sold by the gallon in government stores, he explains, but often clients don’t need to buy that much. “And not everyone can afford a whole gallon,” he adds.

“I’m providing a service,” he says somewhat defensively. “I make my own labels and print them. I buy the bottles from a recycler. It’s an investment I make.”

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Raul on a Roll; Anti-Reformers in Retreat!

 

President Raul Castro, January 2013

By Arch Ritter

Migratory reform. New cooperatives legislation. Tax reform. Conversion of pseudo-cooperative “UBPCs” to more authentic cooperatives. Liberalized markets for housing and cars. Liberalized regulations and taxation for small enterprise. And perhaps more to come as some of the “Lineamients” recommendations get implemented.

President Raul is seems to be trying to escape from Fidel’s shadow and create his own legacy as he proceeds to reverse some of the most foolish of his brother’s policies. Indeed future history will not view Raul as his big brother’s sidekick and will evaluate him more positively.

Every successive Raulista  policy reform is a further condemnation of Fidel’s near-half century of personal rule in Cuba. No doubt Raul’s government would build a nice mausoleum for Fidel were he to die before Raul and Cuba’s media and speeches by Party members pour unanimous adulation on Fidel. But Fidel’s approach to the economy – not the polity – is being condemned by his own brother and by the Communist Party itself with every new reform measure.

Is anyone defending Fidel’s economic record?  One looks in vain for any critical analysis from the Fidelista conservative “left” in the press, the universities, or even in the world of the pro-government bloggers.  (Please let me know if I have missed this.)

Where are the defenders of Fidel’s approach to economic management?  They have fallen silent because Fidel, his economic team and his policy approach have been discredited.  Moreover, in Cuba’s one party system, Raul has all the means necessary to maintain unanimity and have the whole party and mass organization system move along with him. Interestingly enough, as far as I can determine, even the foreign Fidelista  “friends”, opportunists, sympathizers, and sycophants remain largely unanimous in abandoning Fidel’s economic approach and backing Raul’s reforms.

In contrast, those Cubans that want further and faster reforms are vocal and active – though their voices are muffled by the political controls over all the media, by the tight limits on the internet and by the monopolistic political system. However, the voices of independent analysts do get through via some academic and other publications and some blogs.

Will the reforms slow down? Will Cuban citizens be assuaged with the reforms that have now been introduced?  Will Cuban citizens continue to accept Fidel’s political system after having rejected much of his economic system?

Probably not.

Cubans must be asking themselves why they put up with so many of the economic stupidities of the Fidel regime for over 50 years. (Think of the nationalization of almost everything in the 1960s, the shutting down of almost all small enterprise, the 10 million tons, the “New Man,” the abolition of cost accounting – and accountants – in the 1960s, the shutting down of half the sugar sector in 2002.) They must also be asking themselves if the political system installed by Fidel is just as noxious and dysfunctional as the economic system.

Cuban citizens will not be assuaged. The economic reform movement will continue under and after Raul. Heightening popular expectations for reform will spread increasingly into political areas.

If only the United States would drop the embargo and remove the pretext of the regime for maintaining the one-party monopoly status quo, thereby permitting an acceleration of the democratizing process.

Fidel with President Kirschner of Argentina, January 2013

 

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Brookings Institution: “Opening to Havana “

By: Ted Piccone

Original Essay Here:

http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2013/01/opening-to-havana

President Obama can break free of the embargo against Cuba by asserting executive authority to facilitate trade, travel and communications with the Cuban people. Ted Piccone drafted this memorandum to President Obama as part of   big bets and black swans: a presidential briefing book.

How should the U.S. initiate a dialogue with Cuban officials on trade, travel and communications?

How does Cuba easing its travel restrictions affect U.S. migration policy?

Congress may be hesitant to pursue talks with Cuba. What can Obama do to secure Congressional support?

Your second term presents a rare opportunity to turn the page of history from an outdated Cold War approach to Cuba to a new era of constructive engagement that will encourage a process of reform already underway on the island. Cuba is changing, slowly but surely, as it struggles to adapt its outdated economic model to the 21st century while preserving one-party rule. Reforms that empower Cuban citizens to open their own businesses, buy and sell property, hire employees, own cell phones, and travel off the island offer new opportunities for engagement.

Recommendation:

You can break free of the straitjacket of the embargo by asserting your executive authority to facilitate trade, travel and communications with the Cuban people. This will help establish your legacy of rising above historical grievances, advance U.S. interests in a stable, prosperous and democratic Cuba, and pave the way for greater U.S. leadership in the region.

Background:

Early in your first term, you made an important down payment on fostering change in Cuba by expanding travel and remittances to the island. Since then, hundreds of thousands of the 1.8 million Cuban-Americans in the United States have traveled to Cuba and sent over $2 billion to relatives there, providing important fuel to the burgeoning small business sector and helping individual citizens become less dependent on the state. Your decision to liberalize travel and assistance for the Cuban diaspora proved popular in Florida and helped increase your share of the Cuban-American vote by ten points in Miami-Dade county in the 2012 election.

As a result of your actions and changing demographics, families are more readily reuniting across the Florida straits, opening new channels of commerce and communication that are encouraging reconciliation among Cuban-Americans and a more general reframing of how best to support the Cuban people. Cuba’s recent decision to lift exit controls for most Cubans on the island is likely to accelerate this process of reconciliation within the Cuban diaspora, thereby softening support for counterproductive tactics like the embargo. The new travel rules also require a re-think of the outdated U.S. migration policy in order to manage a potential spike in departures from the island to the United States. For example, the team handling your immigration reform bill should be charged with devising proposals to reduce the special privileges afforded Cubans who make it to U.S. soil.

Under Raul Castro, the Cuban government has continued to undertake a number of important reforms to modernize its economy, lessen its dependence on Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, and allow citizens to make their own decisions about their economic futures. The process of reform, however, is gradual, highly controlled and short on yielding game-changing results that would ignite the economy. Failure to tap new offshore oil and gas fields and agricultural damage from Hurricane Sandy dealt further setbacks. Independent civil society remains confined, repressed and harassed, and strict media and internet controls severely restrict the flow of information. The Castro generation is slowly handing power over to the next generation of party and military leaders who will determine the pace and scope of the reform process.

These trends suggest that an inflection point is approaching and that now is the time to try a new paradigm for de-icing the frozen conflict. The embargo — the most complex and strictest embargo against any country in the world — has handcuffed the United States and has prevented it from having any positive influence on the island’s developments. It will serve American interests better to learn how to work with the emerging Cuban leaders while simultaneously ramping up direct U.S. outreach to the Cuban people.

I recommend that your administration, led by a special envoy appointed by you and reporting to the secretary of state and the national security advisor, open a discreet dialogue with Havana on a wide range of issues, without preconditions. The aim of the direct bilateral talks would be to resolve outstanding issues around migration, travel, counterterrorism and counternarcotics, the environment, and trade and investment that are important to protecting U.S. national interests. Outcomes of these talks could include provisions that normalize migration flows, strengthen border security, break down the walls of communication that hinder U.S. ability to understand how Cuba is changing, and help U.S. businesses create new jobs.

In the context of such talks your special envoy would be authorized to signal your administration’s willingness to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, pointing to its assistance to the Colombian peace talks as fresh evidence for the decision. This would remove a major irritant in U.S.-Cuba relations, allow a greater share of U.S.-sourced components and services in products that enter Cuban commerce, and free up resources to tackle serious threats to the homeland from other sources like Iran. We should also consider authorizing payments for exports to Cuba through financing issued by U.S. banks and granting a general license to allow vessels that have entered Cuban ports to enter U.S. ports without having to wait six months. You can also facilitate technical assistance on market-oriented reforms from international financial institutions by signaling your intent to drop outright opposition to such moves.

Under this chapeau of direct talks, your administration can seek a negotiated solution to the thorny issue of U.S. and Cuban citizens serving long prison sentences, thereby catalyzing progress toward removing a major obstacle to improving bilateral relations.

You should, in parallel, also take unilateral steps to expand direct contacts with the Cuban people by:

• authorizing financial and technical assistance to the burgeoning class of small businesses and cooperatives and permitting Americans to donate and trade in goods and services with those that are certified as independent entrepreneurs, artists, farmers, professionals and craftspeople;

• adding new categories for general licensed travel to Cuba for Americans engaged in services to the independent economic sector, e.g., law, real estate, insurance, accounting, financial services;

• granting general licenses for other travelers currently authorized only under specific licenses, such as freelance journalists, professional researchers, athletes, and representatives of humanitarian organizations and private foundations;

• increasing or eliminating the cap on cash and gifts that non- Cuban Americans can send to individuals, independent businesses and families in Cuba;

• eliminating the daily expenditure cap for U.S. citizens visiting Cuba and removing the prohibition on the use of U.S. credit and bank cards in Cuba;

• authorizing the reestablishment of ferry services to Cuba;

• expanding the list of exports licensed for sale to Cuba, including items like school and art supplies, athletic equipment, water and food preparation systems, retail business machines, and telecommunications equipment (currently allowed only as donations).

The steps recommended above would give your administration the tools to have a constructive dialogue with the Cuban government based on a set of measures that 1) would engage Cuban leaders in high-level, face-to-face negotiations on matters that directly serve U.S. interests in a secure, stable, prosperous and free Cuba; and 2) allow you to assert executive authority to take unilateral steps that would increase U.S. support to the Cuban people, as mandated by Congress.

To take this step, you will have to contend with negative reactions from a vocal, well-organized minority of members of Congress who increasingly are out of step with their constituents on this issue. Your initiative should be presented as a set of concrete measures to assist the Cuban people, which is well within current congressional mandates, and as a way to break the stalemate in resolving the case of U.S. citizen Alan Gross (his wife is calling for direct negotiations). Those are winnable arguments. But you will need to be prepared for some unhelpful criticism along the way.

Conclusion:

Current U.S. policy long ago outlived its usefulness and is counterproductive to advancing the goal of helping the Cuban people. Instead it gives Cuban officials the ability to demonize the United States in the eyes of Cubans, other Latin Americans and the rest of the world, which annually condemns the embargo at the United Nations. At this rate, given hardening attitudes in the region against U.S. policy, the Cuba problem may even torpedo your next presidential Summit of the Americas in Panama in 2015. It is time for a new approach: an initiative to test the willingness of the Cuban government to engage constructively alongside an effort to empower the Cuban people.

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Information on Project: “Socially Responsible Enterprise, Local Development in Cuba”

Attached here is information on a project on “Socially Responsible Enterprise, Local Development in Cuba”.

A variety of institutions are involved in the consortium for this  project including
• Fundación AVINA
• Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy (CEEC)
• The Christopher Reynolds Foundation
• Environmental Defense Fund
• Forum Empresa
• Fundación de Ecología y Desarrollo
• Green Cities Fund
• National Association of Economists and Accountants
of Cuba (ANEC)
• The University of Havana

Additional support has come from

• The Canadian Embassy Fund for Local Initiatives
• Dalhousie University
• The Ford Foundation
• FUNDESO
• Halloran Philanthropies
• Havanada
• Instituto Ethos
• The International Development Resource Centre
• National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP)
• United Nations Development Program, Cuba Office

The fulld project description is here: Socially Responsible Enterprise UPDATE ENGLISH FINAL 12_2012.

Introduction

After years of experimentation, learning and successful cases in a variety of industries, socially responsible enterprise has made its way from the margins to the mainstream throughout the world. New ways of understanding the role of the private sector in society have emerged while businesses are increasingly being called upon to account for their effect on the environment and communities in which they operate. Through responsible enterprise, innovative models are being developed that produce positive environmental and social outcomes and offer new, sustainable solutions to many of today!s largest challenges. An early adopter of these types of models, Latin America can look to 15 years of experimentation in the field with best practices and replicable models now readily available. !

Since the end of 2010, a consortium of Cuban and international organizations has worked toward the creation of a dialogue on the potential for socially responsible enterprise (SRE) in Cuba. Academics, government officials and other groups in Cuba have engaged in dynamic exchanges with cutting edge Latin American firms and organizations working in the socially responsible enterprise space. Over the past two years, we have initiated and executed a series of highly successful programs including educational visits, conferences and workshops, and in the process, have helped strengthen Cuba’s links with other Latin American nations.

The initiative has been well received within Cuba, generating enthusiasm among important actors on the island as well as grounds for future, locally spearheaded activity. This series of programs has also helped coordinate efforts among a variety of groups involved in economic planning in Cuba. Today, this enthusiasm and coordination is being translated into actionable plans by key decision makers on the island.

Contact: Dr. Julia Sagebien,  julia.sagebien@dal.ca

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Documentary on Internet Access in Cuba

Documentary on Internet Access in Cuba

 By Yusimi Rodriguez, Havana Times, January 10, 2013

Original Essay here:  http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=85719

Students in Cuba are learning computer skills from the earliest grades in elementary school. But what will happen when they grow up in a country where access to the Internet and other social networks is highly restricted?

What does this mean for their chances for ongoing professional development?

That’s the question posed by the Cuban documentary Ojos que te miran: Entre redes (Eyes That Look at You: Among the Networks), made in 2012 by director Rigoberto Sanarega. But I think we need not go that far back in time to ask about Internet access in Cuba. Right now, many Cubans are wondering when Internet access will become available for all citizens of the country, not as a special privilege or requirement for some jobs, but as a right – even as a necessity.

In the documentary, a young woman who teaches computer classes to a group of elementary school students talks about her need for the Internet to complete her own studies, but she doesn’t have access. Another young man says he has to pay the equivalent of $6 USD an hour (almost half of many monthly wages) to access the Internet to complete his graduating project.

“Eyes That Look at You” doesn’t delve into the reasons for preventing Cubans from having Internet access. The 13-minute documentary is meant to reveal a situation rather than to question the roots of the problem.

I could list a lot of reasons why many professionals and undergraduates, graduates, masters level and doctorates students need Internet access, but we would be falling in a trap.

The ability to access the Internet would be determined by the actual “need” to have it, and the designated authorities would immediately appear to determine who needed it and who didn’t. Moreover, if they can determine who needs the Internet, they could also determine which websites are needed and which ones aren’t. If you work in the area of public health, they currently argue that the Cuban Infomed website should suffice. Others have to be content with the nation’s Intranet. Both are internal networks controlled by the Cuban government.

I believe that Internet access to any webpage, anywhere, is a right – period.

The documentary shows a worker at one of the Youth Computer Clubs, a program created by the eternal leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro. Over the months that he worked there, he wasn’t even allowed to access Wikipedia. However, another interviewee talks about the creation of EcuRed, a Cuban encyclopedia. However — paradoxically — most Cubans aren’t familiar with it or even know it exists. Most EcuRed users aren’t even from Cuba. Our country is in “ninth, tenth or eleventh users position,” according to the interviewee. The island is located behind Spain, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, the United States and other countries.

The reason? The respondent himself said this was because of the poor Internet access that exists here in the country.

Some people, like one man interviewed in the documentary, continue to accept the national security explanation, blaming the US government and its half century embargo for everything bad that happens in Cuba. However another man raised questions about what happened with the underwater fiber-optic cable that was laid between Cuba and Venezuela nearly two years ago. Though it still isn’t functioning, nothing has been explained to the public. I’d like to be able to recall his exact words, but I can’t. I can only say that I was pleasantly surprised.

The Venezuela-Cuba Undersea Cable Arriving  in Cuba, 2011; Still Unused

One of the problems about having to live thinking about what you’re going to eat at night is that it keeps you focused on the problems of daily survival. It doesn’t let you think about basic questions of freedom such as access to information. Why do I want the Internet on an empty stomach? Why do I want to have Internet access if I don’t have gas for cooking or soap for bathing?

Seen from this perspective, it appears that the Internet is a luxury that many Cubans don’t think about, even though they know it exists. But it’s heartening to know that more and more of our compatriots are interested in it.

Eyes That Look at You doesn’t delve into the reasons for preventing Cubans from having Internet access. The 13-minute documentary is meant to reveal a situation rather than to question the roots of the problem. Perhaps that was the intention of the director, or maybe he chose to be more cautious in dealing with such a complex issue. In any case, maybe it’s not so contradictory to teach computing in schools and to create Youth Computer Clubs and then deny Internet access to the public.

If we look to the past, the revolutionary government conducted a literacy campaign to teach the Cuban people to read and write, and then it banned many books and even several types of music.

The Internet will come to Cuba just like all those other things that were banned: the music of the Beatles, DVD players, cellphones and access to tourist hotels. The government will run out of excuses to restrict access. As what happened with cellphones, the Internet will become available to everyone, at least to those who can pay the pretty penny for using it. We’ll no longer say that we’re restricted from access; we’ll just have to dig that much deeper into our already shallow pockets for it.

But until those golden times come, it’s nice to see a Cuban documentary that puts the issue on the table – at least to some degree.

 

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An Assessment of the Cuban Government’s Management Over the Last Six Years

By Dimas Caseillano, from “Translating Cuba, Archive for the “Dimas Castellanos”

Complete  essay here: An Assessment of the Cuban Government’s Management Over the Last Six Years / Dimas Castellano

Four decades after taking power through revolution in 1959, the factors which made totalitarianism in Cuba possible have reached their limit. The populist measures imposed during the first years after the revolution were accompanied by the dismantling of civil society and a process of government takeover which began with foreign-owned companies and did not end until the last 56,000 small service-related and manufacturing businesses, which had managed to survive until 1968, were eliminated.

The efforts to subordinate individual and group interests to those of the state has led to disaster. The confluence of the breakdown of the current economic and political model, national stagnation, citizen discontent, external isolation and the absence of alternative forces capable of having an impact on these issueshave created conditions for change. On the one hand this has led to despair, apathy, endemic corruption and mass exodus, while on the other hand there has been an emergence of new social and political figures.

It was in this context that the provisional transfer of power from the Leader of the Revolution took place. The fact that this transfer was carried out by the same forces that led the country into crisis meant that the order, depth and pace of change were determined by the power structure itself, which explains the effort to change the appearance of the system while preserving its character – an unresolvable contradiction – doomed governmental efforts from the start. This process, now in-progress, has passed through three phases led by Army General Raúl Castro.

Phase One …………

Phase Two…………..

Phase Three

At the Sixth Party Congress and the First National Conference of the PCC, which took place in April 2011 and January 2012 respectively, were defining events for change.

In a report to the Sixth Party Congress,Raúl argued that self-employment should become a facilitating factor for the building socialism in Cuba by allowing the state to concentrate on raising the level of efficiency of the primary means of production, thus permitting the state to extricate itself from the administration of activities which were not of strategic importance to the country. At the session he explained that updating the current economic model would take place gradually over the course of five years. He acknowledged that, in spite of Law/Decree 259, there were still thousands and thousands of hectares of idle land. He called on the Communist party to change its way of thinking about certain dogmas and outdated views, which had constrained it for many years, and declared that his primary mission and purpose in life was to defend, preserve and continue perfecting socialism.

The outlines of a basic reform plan, approved by acclamation at the party conclave, were codified in the Political and Social Guidelines, but constrained by the socialist system of planning which viewed state-run enterprise as the primary driving force of the economy.

Several days after the Sixth Party Congress had agreed to separate political from administrative functions, Machado Ventura began reiterating the following ideas at the fifteen provincial conferences of the PCC: “The party does not administer. That is fine, but it cannot lose control over its activists, no matter what positions they may occupy… We have to know beforehand what each producer will sow and what he will harvest… We must demand this of those who work the land.” These were arguments intended to keep the economy under the control of the party and to hamper the interests of producers.

It was in this context that, in the thirty days between Thursday, May 10 and Saturday, June 9 of 2012, Fidel Castro published four essays. Between June 11 and June 18 he then published eight short pieces – each forty-three words on average – onErich Honecker, Teófilo Stevenson, Alberto Juantorena, Deng Xiaoping, poems about Che Guevaraby Nicolás Guillén, the moringa plant, yoga and the expansion of the universe. Nebulous messages with no relationship to each other and divorced from our everyday reality. Since then there have been no more such writings, and their disappearance seems to have marked the end of the period of power sharing. Only now and not before are we able to talk aboutRaúl’s administration.

At a meeting of the Ninth Regular Period of Sessions of the ANPP in July, 2012, after Fidel’s essays had already been published,Raúl Castro returned to proposals he discussed in his report to the Sixth Party Congress, such as the increase in the amount of idle land. On July 26 in Guantanamo he once again took up the theme of relations with the United States. And on July 30 he led the Martyr’s Day march in Santiago de Cuba, which seemed to confirm that he had entered the third phase of his administration.

Results of the Three Phases

In spite of efforts to achieve a strong and efficient agricultural sector capable of providing Cubans with enough to eat,agricultural production fell 4.2% in 2010. GDP in 2011 grew less than expected. Food imports rose from 1.5 billion in 2010 to 1.7 billion in 2011. Retail sales fell 19.4% in 2010 while prices rose 19.8%. On the other hand the median monthly salary rose only 2.2%, a factor which made things worse for the average Cuban just at the moment that changes began to be introduced. The 2011-2012 sugar harvest, officially slated to produce 1.45 million tons, had the same disappointing results as in the past in spite of being able to count on sufficient raw material, as well as 98% of the resources allocated to this effort. It neither met its target nor was completed on time.

The proposal to make people realize they need to work in order to survive, an issue closely associated with illegalities and other forms of corruption, has gone nowhere. On the contrary, criminal activity has increased to such a degree, as evidenced by the number of legal proceedings that have either been held or are ongoing, that corruption, along with economic inefficiency, now threaten national security. The government’s response, which has been limited to repression, vigilance and control, has not been successful. Even the official state media has reflected in recent years on the continual instances of price fixing, diversion of resources, theft and robbery carried out daily by thousands and thousands of Cubans, including high-ranking officials who are now being tried in court. Nevertheless, the problem persists.

In regards to shrinking the state’s labor force, the limitations imposed on self-employment have prevented this sector from absorbing the projected number of state workers. Of the 374,000 self-employed workers, more than 300,000 are people who were either already unemployed or retired. Besides being unconstitutional–the constitution stipulates that ownership of the means of production by individuals or families cannot be used to generate income through the exploitation of outside workers–self-employment has absorbed less than 20% of state workers. The assumption that this measure would absorb layoffs from the bloated state labor force byallowing the state to focus on raising the level of efficiency of the fundamental means of production and permitting the state to extricate itself from the administration of activities not of strategic importance to the country have not yielded the expected results.

The implementation of the new measures which have been announced–among them, an income tax exemption through 2012 for businesses with as many as five employees, an increase in tax exemption of up to 10,000 pesos of income, a 5% bonus for early filing of income tax returns, the creation of new cooperatives and a new law which will relieve the tax burden on the private sector of the economy–will not resolve the crisis either.

The Real Causes

To deal with a profound structural crisis like Cuba’s, changes must be structural in nature. With the passage of time it has been shown that small changes in some aspects of the economy must be extended to include coexistence of various forms of property, including private property, the formation of small and medium-sized businesses, and the establishment of rights and freedoms for citizens. Proposals which try to preserve the failed socialist system of planning as the principal route for the direction of the economy, and the refusal to accept that diverse forms of ownership should play their proper roles mean that the economy–the starting point for any initiative–will remain subject to party and ideological interests, while citizen participation will be notable by its absence.

The failure of the totalitarian model has forced the Cuban government to belatedly opt for reforms that have already been introduced by Cubans operating on the fringes of the law. Updating the model has been more an acknowledgement of the existing reality than an introduction of measures arising out of a real desire for change.

The First Cuban Communist Party Conferencedefinitivelydemonstrated the infeasibility of the current model and the inability of its leaders to sever the ideological attachments preventing it from moving forward. Their refusal to consider citizen’s rights shut off any possibility of change. The delays in relaxing restrictions on emigration, democratizing the internet and reincorporating into Cuban law the rights and freedoms outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are the principal causes for this failure.

Additionally, it must be added that time is running out. Now, with little time left, there is talk of going slowly and steadily, which clearly suggests a decision to not change anything that might threaten the grip on power.

Independently of the obstacles that have hampered General Raul Castro in the three phases of his administration, the decisive factor has been the infeasibility of the current model. Even if his management of the government had been carried out under the best possible conditions for implementing reform, it still would have failed due to a lack of freedom – something which is a prerequisite for modernity – and the lack of a high degree of political will to forge a new national consensus. Without these it is impossible to wrest Cuba out of the profound crisis in which it is immersed. The abilities and intelligence of one man or of his governing team, no matter how high they might be, are not enough to overcome the current situation. That is both the reality and the challenge.

Dimas Castellano

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Cubans See Internet as Crucial to Future Development

Bt Ivet González

Original Article here: Cubans See Internet as Crucial to Future Development

HAVANA, Jan 5 2013 (IPS) – The Cuban government’s economic reforms must consider the myriad opportunities offered by the Internet, a key platform of the dominant economic model on the planet, according to interviews with both experts and average people.

“It is not an option for our future development, it’s an imperative of our time,” economist Ricardo Torres told IPS. “Without the mass application of the New Information and Communications Technologies (NICT), to production processes and social life, there are no contemporary possibilities of development.”

Meanwhile, people who participated in the interactive section of Cafe 108, the website of the IPS office in Cuba, felt that mass access to the worldwide web would mean first of all, “Finally landing in the 21st century”, and more job opportunities together with the expansion of state enterprises and small private businesses.

However, the NICT and especially the Internet issue, is a complicated one in Cuba due to financial and political concerns, particularly because of the more than 50-year old conflict between Havana and Washington.

The global expansion of the Internet in the 1990s happened as Cuba entered the economic crisis that continues today, which followed the fall of the Soviet Union and the European socialist bloc, Havana’s main trading partners.

According to Torres, Cuba’s “unique socioeconomic and geopolitical situation” meant that “not enough resources have been earmarked for the development and use of these technologies”. The United States’ covert delivery of mobile phones, computers and Internet connections has been regarded by Cuba as meddling in its internal affairs.

In 2011, a fiberoptic submarine cable arrived at the Cuban coastline, thanks to a project between Havana and Caracas to grant greater independence in communication between the Caribbean and Central America. In May 2012, the Venezuelan Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Jorge Arreaza, told reporters that the cable was operational.

Cuban authorities remain absolutely silent about the cable, though there has been a noticeable improvement in local connectivity.

Cuba now has a minimum bandwidth of 323 megabits per second, the allowable capacity via satellite. According to official sources, the fiber optic cable will increase current transmission speeds by 3,000 times, and decrease operating costs by 25 percent, but satellite services will not cease.

The Ministry of Information and Communications has said it will boost the so-called social use of NICTs, but not its commercial application. Appearing before Parliament this month, the head of the ministry, Maimir Bureau, said the government prioritises access to Internet sites in places linked to social and community development, such as schools.

He also reported that projects are underway to reduce the costs of mobile phones. Today, few people have Internet connections or email at home; most use “dial up” (technology that allows access through an analog phone line) or wireless. Some shell out the high prices charged at Cyber Cafes, and especially at hotels.

Meanwhile, private sector job opportunities, opened up by an updated Cuban economic model, could further expand with an affordable Internet service for entrepreneurs and cooperatives.

Unable to take advantage of all the possibilities offered by the current Web, some independent initiatives are timidly exploring the promotion of services via email, in websites, social networks like Facebook or Twitter or messages to mobile phones. Among them is the Alamesa project for the “diffusion of Cuban gastronomy”.

The group, which also manages associated food services through the World Wide Web, has as its main tools a web directory on national restaurants and an electronic newsletter. The Chaplin’s Café restaurant in Havana and handcrafted lamps company LampArte have profiles on Facebook.

La Casa restaurant is on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Flickr and YouTube, and regularly interacts with users of the international travel site TripAdvisor. MallHabana, the exclusive shop of online remittances to Cuba is also online. These initiatives especially seek to attract international visitors.

Faced with national difficulties, many family businesses seek alternatives to offer their goods and services online. The exclusive leather handbag company Zulu, owned by Cuban Hilda M. Zulueta, has its own site, managed by one of the daughters of the artisan who lives in Spain, the owner told IPS.

In 2011, only 1.3 million of the 11.2 million inhabitants of the island had cell phone connections, according to the National Office of Statistics and Information. It also recorded 2.6 million online users, a figure that includes Internet accounts and Cuban intranet, which provides access to some international and local websites.

Before thinking about divulging his musical production, the well-known soundman Maykel Bárzaga dreams of having his own connection to easily update and activate the essential software for his home studio recordings. Five years ago, he took this option for associated creators of the non-governmental Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.

“When you buy equipment or a programme for music editing, you must activate it and update it by placing a key on the provider’s page,” he told IPS.

He also pointed out that the “Internet is a stunning source of work, since it allows musicians to perform international projects without each of them leaving their country.” The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimated in 2012 that the Internet economy will grow in the coming years to more than 16 percent annually in the developing markets of the world.

Expanding channels for retail is one of the many economic opportunities that would come with unrestricted access to the Internet, which was identified by participants of Café 108.

In their view, among other things, many people could make a living with new professions, Cuba could export services through the web, the tourism industry would have more independence to fully own sites and be better positioned, and companies and cooperatives with professionals from the whole country and the world could emerge.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation: Political Detentions Rose in 2012

HAVANA | Thu Jan 3, 2013 10:38pm EST

Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional  CCDHRN

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation

HAVANA (Reuters) – Political detentions rose dramatically in Cuba in 2012 and will likely increase again in 2013 because of a lack of “real reforms” on the communist island, a Cuban human rights group said on Thursday.

The independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights said in its annual report there were 6,602 detentions of government opponents last year, compared to 4,123 in 2011 and 2,074 in 2010.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the group, said the rise reflected growing discontent among Cubans and the government’s attempts to keep a lid on dissent.  “Dissatisfaction is increasing because of the general poverty and the lack of hope,” he told Reuters.

Cuban leaders counter that their opponents are largely the creation of the United States and others who provide money and other aid to help foment dissent against the government.

Havana also questions the validity of the commission’s numbers, which cannot be independently verified.

Under President Raul Castro, who succeeded older brother Fidel Castro nearly five years ago, Cuba has launched market-oriented economic reforms aimed at increasing productivity and prosperity while assuring the continuance of the island’s socialist system.

But Sanchez said the changes are small and have not improved human rights or living conditions on the Caribbean island, which he believes will lead to more dissent and detentions in 2013.  “This prediction is based on the refusal of the island government to introduce real reforms, especially regarding the system of laws,” he said.  “The regime continues perfecting and increasing the size of its powerful machinery of repression and propaganda,” he said.

Most of the detentions last only a matter of hours, but Sanchez said the number of Cubans going to prison for political reasons is on the rise, after most political prisoners were released in a government accord with the Catholic Church in July 2010.

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