• 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.

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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Cuba: Dramatic increase in religious freedom violations in 2012

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide: Voice for the Voiceless; January 3, 201; [CSW is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice. ]

Original Article here: Cuba: Religious Freedom Violations in 2012

Ladies in White in Plaza de la Catedral

CSW has called on the Cuban leader, Raul Castro, to ensure that significant improvements are made in upholding religious freedom in 2013 after recording a dramatic increase in violations across the country as the government cracked down on religious organisations and individuals.

Church leaders in different parts of the country reported ongoing violations in the final weeks of the year. An unregistered Protestant church affiliated with the Apostolic Movement in Camaguey was threatened with demolition on 29 December. The following day, nine women affiliated with the Ladies in White movement in Holguin were arrested in the early hours of the morning and held in prison until Sunday morning Mass had ended.

CSW documented 120 reported cases of religious freedom in 2012, up from a total of 30 in 2011, some of which involved entire churches and denominations and hundreds of people. The number does not include the men and women who were arrested and imprisoned for the duration of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in March which local human rights groups estimate to be upwards of 200.

While Roman Catholic churches reported the highest number of violations, mostly involving the arrest and arbitrary detention of parishioners attempting to attend church activities, other denominations and religious groups were also affected.  Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist churches in different parts of the country reported consistent harassment and pressure from state security agents. Additionally, government officials continued to refuse to register some groups, including the fast-growing Protestant network the “Apostolic Movement”, threatening affiliated churches with closure, and shut down a Mormon church in Havana which had been denied official recognition.  One of the most severe cases involved the violent beating of Pentecostal pastor, Reutilio Columbie, in Moa, early in the year. Pastor Columbie suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the beating which he believes to have been orchestrated by local Communist Party officials. To date, no investigation into the beating has been carried out.

There were some improvements in the exercise of religious freedom inside Cuban prisons, however, even these were marred by government interference. A number of Protestant members of the clergy, appointed by their respective denominations to carry out prison ministry, were arbitrarily denied permission to join prison ministry teams. In addition, in the Provincial Youth Prison in Santa Clara only fourteen prisoners were permitted to participate in Christmas services. Forty prisoners, all practicing Christians, had requested permission to do so.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said:

“We are deeply concerned by the rapid deterioration in religious freedom over the past year in Cuba. Despite promises of privileges to some religious groups, Sunday after Sunday the government continues to violate the most basic of rights: the right to freely participate in religious services and form part of a religious community without interference.  Unregistered religious groups and registered groups that have resisted government pressure have come under intense pressure, been subjected to harassment and in the worst cases come under physical attack or seen their buildings confiscated. The Cuban government’s claims of reform and respect for human rights cannot be taken seriously unless these violations are addressed and real protections for religious freedom for all put in place. We urge Raul Castro to make this a priority of the government in 2013.”

Standing Room Only at the Door. This is the Methodist Church close to the University of Havana, the name of which I have forgotten. In contrast to the pockets of white hair one sees in many Canadian churches, this is close to a sea of black hair.

Virgen de la Merced;

Photos by Arch Ritter, 2010-2011

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Yoani Sanchez on Cuba’s Prospects: “Midnight in Havana: Will the Cuban government fall in 2013?”

Read the complete essay here in “Translating Cuba: Midnight in Havana: Will the Cuban government fall in 2013? ”

HAVANA — Just outside the Virgin of Regla temple, here in Havana, a fortune-teller throws shells for passersby in exchange for money. Every day she gets the same questions: Will they find love? Will they be able to buy a home? Will they be able to travel in the near future? And above all, when will “this” end?

With a simple demonstrative pronoun, the fortune-teller’s clients refer to what some call “the revolution,” others, “the dictatorship,” but what most simply refer to as “The System.” It’s a difficult question for the white-turbaned woman with her intensely red nails to answer with any specificity, partly because she can never be sure if the questioner is a State Security agent in civilian dress. So she looks at the position of each shell and says, in barely a whisper, “Soon. It will be soon.”

It’s increasingly obvious that the biological clock of the Cuban government — a slow and agonizing journey of the hands that has lasted 54 years — is closing in on midnight. Every minute that passes brings obsolescence a little nearer. The existence of a political system should not be so closely linked to the youth or decrepitude of its leaders, but in the case of our island, both ages have come to be the same thing.

Like a creature made in the image and likeness of a man — who believes himself to be God — Cuba’s current political model will not outlive its creators. Every decision made over the past five decades, every step taken in one direction or another, has been marked by the personalities and decisions of a handful of human beings — two of them in particular. One, Fidel Castro, 86, has been convalescing for six long years in a place few Cubans could find on a map.

Although in the last five years Fidel’s brother Raúl, 81, has installed some younger faces in the administrative and governmental apparatus, the most important decisions remain concentrated in the hands of octogenarians. (Raúl’s successor, Jose Ramon Machado, is 82.) Like a voracious Saturn devouring his children, the principal leaders of the revolution have not allowed any favored sons to overshadow them.

The last to be ousted due to the paranoia of the Castro brothers were Vice President Carlos Lage, a figure who enjoyed popular sympathy, and the foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque. Both might have made promising successors, but were accused by Fidel Castro himself as having been “addicted to the honey of power” and removed from their positions in 2009.

Their own selfishness has left Cuban leaders without a plan for succession and time has run out to develop it, at least one not sincerely committed to continuing along the path set by old men dressed in olive green.

For Raúl, the picture is worrisome, and he has declared that “time is short” to ready the generation that will replace him and his comrades. In 2013, he will be forced to accelerate this process, and his obvious desperation about the future is contributing to the ideological weakening and the loss of whatever popular support the Castro regime still enjoys.

Meanwhile, Castro’s tentative economic reforms are also contributing to the loss of control over the population. Together, the expansion of the private sector, the imposition of taxes, the distribution of land leases to farmers, and the authorization of cooperatives in businesses other than agriculture, are gradually reducing the state’s influence in the daily life of Cubans.

Raúl may see these as a desperation move to jumpstart the Cuban economy, but one consequence will be the diminished ideological commitment of the people to a government that provides fewer and fewer subsidies and benefits. Every step the authorities take in the direction of greater flexibility is like pointing a loaded gun at their own temples.

A system based on keeping every tiny aspect of our national life under tight control cannot maintain itself when some of these bonds are loosened. Reform is the death of the status quo and maneuvers to guarantee financial survival by opening the system to private capital are a death sentence written in advance.

The year 2013 will be a decisive one in Cuba’s move from economic centralism to the fragmentation of production, from absolute verticality to its dismantling. Those who cease to receive their salaries from a state institution and come to support their families through self-employment will undoubtedly gain more political autonomy.

Continue Reading: Midnight in Havana

The last days of 1958 and of the Batista Regime as depicted in The Godfather.

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Nueva Sociedad: “Cuba Se Mueve”

A special edition of Nueva Sociedad entitled, Cuba se mueve, has just appeared.  Nueva Sociedad is a project of the Frederich Ebert Foundation of Germany’s Social Democratic Movement. It is a pleasant surprise that the authors include contributors from inside Cuba such as Alzugaray, as well as outside Cuba including DBlanco, Dilla and Farber.

The Table of Contents is presented below with hyperlinks to the original essays.

NUEVA SOCIEDAD 242   Noviembre-Diciembre 2012

 Leonardo Padura Fuentes Eppur si muove en Cuba.

Elizabeth Dore Historia oral y vida cotidiana en Cuba.

Juan Antonio Blanco Cuba en el siglo XXI. Escenarios actuales, cambios inevitables, futuros posibles.

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso Las encrucijadas de la política migratoria cubana.

Juan Triana Cordoví Cuba: ¿de la «actualización» del modelo económico al desarrollo?

Alejandro de la Fuente «Tengo una raza oscura y discriminada». El movimiento afrocubano: hacia un programa consensuado.

Velia Cecilia Bobes Diáspora, ciudadanía y contactos transnacionales.

Samuel Farber La Iglesia y la izquierda crítica en Cuba.

Carlos Alzugaray Las (inexistentes) relaciones Cuba-Estados Unidos en tiempos de cambio.

 

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Havana market offers Cuba a taste of capitalism in the dark

Nick Miroff /Global Post

Original Complete Article: http://www.voxxi.com/havana-market-offers-cuba-capitalism/#ixzz2GqP6zInJ

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuba has yet to grasp the invisible hand of Adam Smith, but it is giving some space to an invisible market. Invisible, at least, during the day.

At night, in an empty lot at the edge of Havana’s Mariano district, an extraordinary gathering of freewheeling commerce has been taking place in recent months. Every evening after sundown, trucks and tractors from all across the island arrive loaded with fresh produce, queuing up for hours just to secure a parking spot. Throwing open their tailgates, farmers and wholesale vendors shout out their wares and cut deals in cash under the faint glow of cellphone screens and lanterns. Young men lugging tomato crates and sacks of yams swarm between the rows of trucks, dodging pushcarts vendors on makeshift tricycle carts piled high with pineapples and cucumbers.

For now, it’s the closest thing Cuba has to the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and a big development in a country where state bureaucrats have tried to set the price for produce for decades.

“What is this place called?” a visiting reporter asked a young vendor.

He shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “We call it ‘El Hueco’ [The Hole].”

“This is great because we can sell wholesale here. We don’t have to go out in the streets and try to find customers,” said Yulian Castillo, 28, who was offering banana bunches and 100-pound sacks of taro root for 260 pesos — about $12.

Castillo had to sell two-thirds of this year’s taro crop to the state, which only allowsfarmers to sell their harvest at market rates once they’ve met their production quotas. But Castillo said the government gave him a decent price this year, and he was free to sell the rest here.

Cuba has millions of acres of fertile farmland, but it imports some 70 percent of its food, costing the government $1.5 billion last year. Communist authorities’ perpetual struggle to get local farmers to produce more has forced them to concede a great role for private incentive in agriculture, a shift that is only beginning to extend to the rest of the economy.

And while in towns and cities across the country the government has long permitted retail produce markets that function largely on supply-and-demand market principles, there hasn’t been a central wholesale market where growers from all over the island can sell in bulk quantities. The market is a boon to farmers and fruit-and-vegetable middlemen, who said it allows the wheels of commerce to turn more efficiently by giving them a direct relationship to retail vendors. One group of farmers at the market last Wednesday had hauled their lemons all the way across the island from Santiago de Cuba — 500 miles away. There were onion growers from central Cuba’s Sancti Spiritus province in rumbling 1950s-era Ford farm trucks, and mongers from Matanzas selling squash at half the price of those at the city’s retail markets.

Alejandro Manzo had driven 200 miles from his farm in the Villa Clara province, his family’s 1957 Chevy Bel Air stuffed with garlic. In the past, the police would have tried to seize his produce on the highway, he said. “I used to have to sell on the black market,” said Manzo. “But now the state sees us farmers differently. It’s letting us get ahead. There’s nothing illegal about this anymore — it’s just supply and demand.” Manzo said he makes the trip to the capital every 10 days, selling braided ropes of garlic in 100-head strands for $12 — $3 more than he’d get back home.

Since taking over Cuba’s presidency in 2008, Raul Castro has made agriculture reform one of his signature policy moves, distributing some 3 million acres of under performing state land to private farmers and cooperatives. But his government still hasn’t taken basic steps to boost production and eliminate the farming bureaucracy that often ends up making Cuban produce more expensive for consumers. Cuban farmers still can’t buy new tractors or trucks, relying instead upon rusting Soviet machinery and 50-year-old American farm equipment.

While Havana residents say there’s more food than ever in their markets, prices have risen faster than Cubans’ meager pensions and government salaries, leaving many to complain that the state should intervene more, not less.

One reason for the market distortion, economists say, is the growing inequality in Havana between Cubans who work in low-paid government posts and those who have access to hard currency sent by relatives abroad or through jobs in tourism and private business. It’s one of several reasons that liberalization measures like the new wholesale market haven’t yet led to lower prices for Cuban consumers.

“The growth of all the new [private] restaurants and snack bars has also kept demand high,” said University of Havana economist Juan Triana.

As the government has loosened restrictions on private farmers’ ability to hire laborers, rural wages have risen, he said. “Before farmers could pay workers 15 or 20 pesos [80 cents] a day. Now it’s 40 pesos [$1.50].”

With more money to be made in farming, anecdotal evidence also suggests Cuba is slowing the trend of rural-to-urban migration that left farmers complaining of too few young people interested in growing crops.

Abel Ramos, 35, had arrived at the market at dusk, but with the line of trucks stretching down the road, he said he didn’t expect to get a spot in the market until after midnight. The wait would be worth it, he said. “Three or four years ago, I used to grow tomatoes and they would go bad while I waited for the state to buy them,” said Ramos. “Not anymore. Now I can come here.” “This is a beautiful thing,” he said.

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Cuba’s New Law on Cooperatives

Below is Phil Peters fine summary and analysis of Cuba’s new law on cooperatives. Phil is first off the mark with this. I still have not been able to download the Gazeta Oficial to see the legislation first hand.

Peters’ essay can be seen on his Blog, “The Cuban Triangle” here:The new cooperatives law.

Here is his evaluation:

What does this all mean?

I think this is a major step, even though the full definition of the policy will only come with time as cooperatives are created and as the government moves beyond the experimental phase.

Certainly from a capitalist perspective, all we see are the restrictions – first and foremost in the requirement that these businesses organize as cooperatives. But from the perspective of the Cuba of five years ago, this new law was unimaginable.

It opens the door to a much larger private sector, one involved in more substantial activities than the small entrepreneurs.  It is a second option for Cubans interested in private business activity, and a new option for friends and relatives abroad who would support them with capital.  There is nothing stopping five software designers from applying to form a business under this law; we’ll see if there is anything stopping the government from approving it.  If the sector prospers it can create efficiencies in agriculture, construction, transportation, and other sectors that will benefit Cuba’s economy and people. And the government needs the cooperatives to prosper.  Without them, it cannot meet its own goals of cutting state payrolls and generating new private sector jobs.

The pace will satisfy no one, the process will be influenced by officials with more orthodox views, and it will surely have positive and negative notes.  But there’s no denying that this law breaks new ground, with potentially large consequences.

Phil Peters

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The Right to Speak About God in Cuba

By Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: 
For years I had a hard time deciding between writing, painting or dancing. It was writing that proved to make the most sense financially in the short term. I live in Alamar, an aborted project for a city that only breathes from what’s left of nature, from the alternative cultural and political scene, and above all, from the infinite will of the human soul. I’m not a journalist. Writing in HT has been an opportunity to say what I believe can be improved in Cuba

HAVANA TIMES — The question posed by Havana Times contributor Jose Iser (in “Quien se atreve a romper el tabu?”), concerning the tacit ban on playing of Christian music over the Cuban airwaves, started to “pick at one of my old scabs” (meaning it’s one of those sore points that never really heals because there’s no real cure or solution).

The author of the article believes that this avoidance by the media reflects more than fear, but “a prejudice, a bias, or — better yet — an aversion.” I would love to accompany him in that line of thought, but I have a hunch things aren’t so simple.

Even those freedoms that he says are afforded to us by the constitution, at least in my direct experience, can be quite relative.

Legal research would have to be done on that point, but more than anything, taking into account concrete facts would have to also accompany this because the responses from lawyers don’t necessarily reflect practical reality.

In 1995, for instance, I personally accompanied a Mexican friend to Radio Taino, where he hoped to speak about and promote yoga meditation. The journalist who conducted the interview was petrified that words like “God” or “soul” or “spirit” might creep into the discussion.

This fear was because any one of those terms — according to what he told us to our faces — could have cost him his job.

In lecture halls where my friend gave presentations, similar warnings were made to us. However after the visit by Pope John Paul II, one has to admit that significant changes were made in this regard.

On Cuban TV itself, for example, there began to appear films with philosophical postulates and even explicitly mystical ones.

But a sudden relaxation doesn’t mean no pressure exists. I don’t buy into the widespread theory that many limitations in Cuba are suffered due to bureaucratic inertia. If this inertia exists it’s because it’s sustained and nurtured from the top of the pyramid.

I share the opinion of my fellow writer about the urgent need to expand musical alternatives, because the current bombardment of reggaeton isn’t only alarming, it’s stifling. What’s more, the degenerative effects of its lyrics are painfully palpable.

A Biblical passage reads: “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Relatedly, whenever I’m riding in a collective taxi or on a bus, I’m bound to hear: “If they stick it in, weep, if they take it out, yell”, or “I like to do it with my leg in the air” or “when I start feeling whorish.”

These thoughts make me wonder if those are the sincere concerns of many people or whether these are unconscious feelings engendered by compulsion, inertia, apathy, or rebelliousness.

This isn’t even about getting into a tiff over whether or not those words are should be censored. It’s an indisputable fact that people have the right to disseminate alternative thought.

I fully agree that Christian music should be heard on the radio, but I would go further and ask: Why don’t they de-penalize not only songs inspired by Christ, but all devotional expressions inspired by Gods, whether focused on Jesus or Buddha or Krishna or Mohammed.

All of them are beings that have radiated spirituality into this world or are spontaneous expressions of the recognition of that truth – from the subjective perspective of the author.

This void felt by those of us interested in that subject, or let’s call it this gag that has been forced on some of us creators who have filtered our anxieties and findings in the search for God, is a need that is as objective as the legalization of political dissent or homosexual marriage.

I know musicians who don’t try to camouflage their belief in God in their work with any metaphors. They believe in God, even without confining themselves to any specific religion or creed. This, I stress, I don’t see as a particular merit but merely as a choice.

What comes to mind right now mind is a couple I met years ago, Maricarmen and Ramsay, who no longer live in Cuba, as well as the reggae group “Estudiante sin semilla” or the young rapper David of the Omni project, who this year organized a concert in Alamar paying tribute to Marcus Garvey, who’s considered one of the ideologues of the Rastafarian movement.

While I enjoyed the concert, I thought about all those people unaware of the event, which would have been an attractive alternative even for youth. I’m talking about music whose benefit doesn’t detract in the least from what’s already officially broadcasted.

So now who’s willing to step up to the plate? With a medium as controlled as the radio it’s not the program directors or managers who have the real authority to decide what crosses the line and requires censorship.

Even a supervisor can see a contradiction between this absolute avoidance of Christian music while promoting themes praising deities of the Yoruba religion, ones such as Chango, Obatala, Yemaya… which in their opinion, if there’s a law it is not equitable but is instead discriminatory.

But to generate debate and initiate legal research on the issue — demanding that attention be given for once and for all to this great omission that many of us have suffered — is already a decisive step, in my opinion.

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Cuba’s energy problem and oil in the Gulf of Mexico

By Ricardo Torres Perez, CEEC – University of Havana, December 20, 2012

from the Cuban Studies Group

Original Article here:   Torres, Cuba’s Energy Problem and Oil in the Gulf of Mexico

On-Shore Petroleum Extraction on the Bacuranao Oil Field between Matanzas and Varadero, Photo by Arch Ritter, 1996,

Cuba has historically suffered from an acute dependence on foreign sources to meet its  energy needs. Until now, the island has had a small supply of conventional energy resources such as oil1, gas and coal, key sources in the current energy model. During the last century, and for different reasons, the country concentrated its oil imports in two major contemporary economic and military powers, the U.S.  and the extinct Soviet Union. The analysis of the evolution of this dependence is essential to explain the possibilities of development for the country. Therefore, any event with the power to mitigate this  constraint has sizeble economic and geopolitical significance for the Caribbean nation.
After 1959, the Soviet Union became the quintessential foreign supplier. Preferential  supply conditions notably eased the pressures of the road towards diversified energy and greater weight for domestic sources, although there was a breakthrough in energy production from sugarcane biomass, logical result of the growth in volumes of sugarcane.

Twenty-two years ago, that model was in crisis. The country was forced to severely restrict consumption between 1990 and 1995, which was only partially relaxed to the extent that the economy left this critical period in the early nineties. The symbol par
excellence was the blackout, an extreme measure used frequently in exceptional circumstances. One of the immediate responses to alleviate the situation was the decision to double efforts to increase domestic oil production. That attempt was made feasible by the participation of foreign companies, under a scheme of risk contracts. The results have been very good, increasing output by nearly six times in the period. Progress was also made in the use of natural gas, which plays a major role in the generation of electricity2 and the supply of fuel for cooking in the capital of the country. In both examples, the role of foreign investment has been crucial.

Petroleum Exploration Concessions

Author: Ricardo Torres, CEEC Universidad de La Habana

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Raul Castro Says Economic Reforms Are Working

By By PETER ORSI Associated Press
HAVANA December 13, 2012 (AP)

President Raul Castro, December 13, 2012

 President Raul Castro declared Thursday that Cuba’s two-year experiment with market reforms is working and has the wind at its back, but said much work remains to breathe life into the sputtering economy.

In a speech devoid of any new policy announcements, the military khaki-clad leader sounded a generally positive tone in discussing the Marxist country’s progress, though he conceded that the island faces a “colossal psychological barrier” in shedding old habits and “concepts of the past.”

“The updating of the Cuban economic model … marches with a sure step and is beginning to delve into questions of greater reach, complexity and depth,” Castro said, according to an official transcript of his remarks before lawmakers at the second of their twice-annual sessions.

The proceedings were closed to foreign journalists, but state television later broadcast tape-delayed highlights.

Cuban economy czar Marino Murillo told the assembly that the government is planning more measures to support and increase the ranks of independent workers and small business owners.

Real estate broker, delivery person, antiques dealer and produce vendor will all be newly legalized private jobs in a country where the government has long dominated the economy and employed nearly the entire workforce.

The self-employed “are gaining space,” Murillo was quoted as saying by the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina.

Economists have said Cuba needs to expand the number of allowable private enterprises, with an emphasis on white-collar work. Real estate has been a particular concern. Cuba legalized the buying and selling of property 12 months ago, but has yet to allow agents to facilitate transactions.

Some 400,000 people now work in the private sector in 180 legally approved job areas, Prensa Latina said. That’s up from 156,000 in late 2010, the onset of Castro’s five-year plan to reform the economy with a dash of free-market activity.

Cuba intends to keep control of key sectors, however, and Castro and other top officials insist the country is not abandoning a half-century of socialism for freewheeling capitalism.

Murillo also said that in the future, state-run businesses including tourism concerns will be paying independent contractors via bank transactions in hard currency.

Meanwhile, lawmakers passed a 2013 budget with a deficit of 3.6 percent of GDP and heard an update on the country’s economy.

The government announced recently that GDP rose 3.1 percent this year, below expectations of 3.4 percent. Growth of 3.7 percent is forecast for 2013, low for a small developing economy, but Castro called it “acceptable in a scenario of continuing global economic crisis.”

Economy Minister Adel Izquierdo said the construction sector is expected to expand 20 percent in the coming year, worker productivity should rise 2.6 percent and the country has a goal of topping 3 million tourist visits for the first time, according to Prensa Latina.

In its first order of business, the assembly unanimously passed a resolution of support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who earlier this week underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery in the Cuban capital.

Chavez is a key ally of Cuba, and during his presidency Venezuela has sent billions of dollars’ worth of oil to the island on preferential terms.

“At this crucial hour for Venezuela … we will be like always,” Castro said, “together with President Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution he leads.”

The unicameral parliament will reconvene in February with a new membership following elections and is then expected to name Castro to another five-year term.

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