• 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.

“On Cuba, Canada has no choice but to walk Washington’s tightrope Add”

CARLO DADE /The Globe and Mail/February 20, 2013

The abridged Globe and Mail version is here:  “No choice but to walk Washington’s tightrope”

The complete unabridged version is presented below, courtesy of Carlo Dade.

.

As hard as it may be to believe, one of the most difficult foreign files for any Canadian government to manage is the Cuba file.

The importance of Cuba, throughout the hemisphere is as a symbol. The country is of marginal, if any, economic interest and despite theatrics and histrionics by the Americans is not a real security threat to anyone in the hemisphere larger than say Grenada.

The importance of Cuba in the rest of the hemisphere is its presence as an open sore of a reminder of centuries of American bullying, humiliation and degradation. It is hard to overstate the degree of visceral anger that U.S. policy toward Cuba elicits in the region. Having run afoul of the United States Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, the agency in charge of enforcing the U.S. embargo, this writer can, to some degree, appreciate that anger. Cuba’s prominence also comes from the ease with which any Latin American government, even one of the few right of centre governments like Colombia, earns cheap points at home and with its neighbours to burnish its “el pueblo unido” credentials by kicking the United States without incurring any real cost; given U.S. history with the region the Americans can and will only protest so much.

With Canada things are markedly different. Cuba is important as a symbol of what distinguishes Canada from the United States. Most Canadians strongly disagree with U.S. policy toward Cuba and find it offensive, but instead of anger they are more embarrassed for their neighbour. While the U.S., on the other hand, sees no need to afford Canada the same leeway it affords Latin Americans on Cuba.

And that is where Canada begins to run into problems that its friends in Latin America miss.

Twice each year the U.S. embassy in Ottawa has to certify that Canada is, more or less, in compliance with the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as Helms-Burton. The gist of the exercise is to demonstrate that, despite clearly violating the intent if not the letter of Helms Burton, Canada is doing enough other things to push reform in Cuba to earn a pass from direct sanction by the U.S. The exercise is essentially a series of winks and nods on each side followed by a round of beers, mostly to assuage sore feelings on the Canadian side. And each year the State department and congress go along with this.

Canada has of course vociferously opposed Helms Burton, raised challenges under the NAFTA and adopted laws to counter it. In this it has international law and public opinion on its side. But should the Americans decide to take unilateral action that combination would prove as effective in defending Canadian interests on Cuba as it did on softwood lumber.

As has been seen time and again, all it takes is one member of congress such as one of the easily-riled congressional Cuban lobby, including the out-of-state gringos who raise substantial money in southern Florida, or one particularly well-placed congresswoman to raise a fuss and Canada is left with nothing but a wink and a nod to cover its privates while an Alberta clipper of U.S. unilateralism flaps around it.

Yes, cooler heads would prevail – eventually. But a lot of damage would be done in the meantime.

Not convinced? Well, since when have reason, common sense or self-interest been an insurance policy with any U.S. congress and with this one in particular?

The fine line that Canada walks on Cuba is an object lesson on the Faustian bargain that the country has struck to enable it to get rich and fat off of easy and privileged access to the U.S. market. Criticise the government if you will but what choice does Canada really have? Before answering think of the $1 billion in daily trade across the border or the neighbour who holds one of the one-in-seven jobs in Canada dependent on an open U.S. border.

Canada can, does and will have differences with the U.S. But is has to pick its fights carefully. Avoiding going to war in Iraq makes that list. Having Cuba attend a meeting for which it does not qualify does not.

Despite limited room for manoeuvre Canada has managed a robust policy of engagement with Cuba. This is a policy that has been and is clearly not an embrace of U.S. policy, but neither is it in line with the rest of Latin America.

Canada has a full-fledged aid program in the country that is carried out in consultation with the Cuban government. Canada invests and trades with the country is open to travel and will welcome Cuban athletes to Toronto for the next PanAm games. All without controversy or second thought.

But Canada also recognises that Cuba is dictatorship; something the rest of the hemisphere seems to have forgotten in its fit of pique with the U.S.

While Canada welcomes Cuban participation in hemispheric events, it draws the line at extending to it the same recognition and privileges as the rest of the democracies in the hemisphere; or, to put it more clearly, the rest of the non-dictatorial regimes in the hemisphere. To that point Cuba does not and will not get invited to a meeting the explicit purpose of which is to convene – democratically – elected heads of government. Doing so is as egregious a sin as the U.S. embargo against Cuba and would make a mockery of the decades long struggle against dictatorship in the hemisphere; a fight to which Canada has contributed much.

Looked at in comparison to the U.S. and Latin American positions, Canadian policy toward Cuba seems to have a monopoly on reason and common sense. Rather than apologise for this Canada needs to tell the rest of the hemisphere to knock off the cheap criticism and cut Canada some slack.

Carlo Dade is a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s School of International Development and former executive director of the Canadian Foundation for the Americas.

Posted in Blog | Tagged | Leave a comment

“Canada should engage Cuba”

By Prof. Peter McKenna. Halifax Chronicle Herald

Original Here: “Canada should engage Cuba”

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird should be commended for undertaking his current six-country tour of Latin America, including stops in Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. But it is his visit to Cuba that is the most interesting and significant.

Canadian-Cuban relations during the Harper years have suffered badly and, for too long, have been locked in an unproductive diplomatic holding pattern. To an outside observer, it has looked as if neo-conservative ideology, underscored by lethargy in the Foreign Affairs Department in Ottawa, has supplanted pragmatism and common sense.

One hopes, then, that Baird’s visit can help to unshackle the bilateral relationship and return it to a sense of normalcy and “constructive engagement.”

Indeed, we can’t on the one hand criticize the U.S. government for a failed Cuba policy (after 50 years of ineffective economic sanctions), and then side with the Americans on excluding Havana from the Summit of the Americas process. Nor should we mimic the U.S. approach of isolating Cuba simply because we don’t like the way it organizes itself politically and electorally.

Additionally, we should not forget that Cuba punches well above its weight within the wider region — having just assumed the leadership of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. It has full diplomatic relations with almost every country in Latin America, and has hosted a slew of presidential visits over the last couple of years.

Equally important, more than 30,000 Cuban health professionals are working throughout the Americas and boosting Cuba’s hemispheric standing. Havana’s record on providing low-cost anti-retroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS sufferers in Latin America and the Caribbean is another feather in its cap.

Notwithstanding comments by former Cuban president Fidel Castro, who castigated Stephen Harper for the actions of Canadian mining companies that exploit struggling communities in many Latin American countries, the Canadian government should seek to strengthen its relationship with Havana.

The minister of state for Foreign Affairs, Diane Ablonczy, has already done some important work in this area. She has properly recognized that there are huge opportunities for Canada and Cuba to work constructively together on a wide range of issues, including trade, tourism, energy and people-to-people contacts.

Baird’s visit to Havana, if all goes well, could set the stage for a prime ministerial visit to Cuba — or a visit by a senior-ranking Cuban government official (Raúl Castro perhaps) to Ottawa in the near term.

But as former prime minister Jean Chretien found out during his own April 1998 visit to Cuba, it makes no sense to press the Cubans hard on the human-rights front or to attach certain conditions to a continued warming in bilateral relations. Yes, we should raise the issue of democratization and respect for political rights and freedoms; but if we hope to influence them, Baird should do so in a respectful and non-accusatory manner (and without any pre-conditions).

Having said that, we should not forget that Canada does have some cards to play with respect to the Cubans — not the least of which is over $1.5 billion in two-way trade. The number of Canadian tourists visiting the island has also grown to more than 900,000, another indication of how people-to-people exchanges between the two countries have grown exponentially since the mid-1990s.

Toronto-based Sherritt International Corp., which is involved in tourism development, iron-ore extraction and oil exploration, is the single largest foreign investor in the country. Simply put, Canada has had a long and storied relationship with Cuba, across a wide swath of policy areas, since 1959 (and was one of only two countries not to sever diplomatic relations with Havana in 1962).

Canada, then, could enhance its position and prestige in the wider hemisphere by standing up to the Americans on Cuba, and telling Washington to rescind its economic blockade and to remove any ridiculous references to Cuba as a terrorist-supporting country. It should inform Havana that it will be seeking Cuba’s presence at the next Americas summit, should there be one in Panama.

While most of what Fidel Castro said in mid-2012 can be ignored, he was right about highlighting the constructive engagement approach of former Canadian prime ministers Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien toward Cuba. In fact, we need to jettison the ideologically tinged rhetoric of the Harperites and focus on positive interaction, co-operative dialogue and growing our commercial exchange.

Baird’s visit, then, will not only send the right signals to the Cubans — especially if he handles the diplomacy with deftness — but it will also substantially increase Canada’s prestige and image throughout the wider Americas.

Peter McKenna is professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Posted in Blog | Tagged | Leave a comment

Human rights should be an integral part of Canada’s Cuba policy

Human rights should be an integral part of Canada’s Cuba policy

February 19, 2013 By YVON GRENIER /TheChronicleHerald.ca

The Harper government has been distinctly forceful in its recent statements on human rights violations in the world. One peculiar exception to this rule has been Cuba.

After a few impromptu comments years ago by the former junior minister for the Americas, Peter Kent, on the dictatorial nature of the Cuban regime, our government (in particular, Mr. Kent’s successor, Diane Ablonczy) has issued nothing but optimistic comments on the “process of economic reform and liberalization in Cuba” (Ablonczy, January 2012).

And yet, my colleague Peter McKenna is worried that Foreign Minister John Baird may “press the Cubans hard on the human rights front” during his visit to Havana (re: “Canada should engage Cuba,” Feb. 16 opinion piece).

Prof. McKenna does not elaborate on the issue of human rights violation in Cuba, so let me quote Human Rights Watch: “Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.” As HRW documents in great detail, the Cuban government “enforces political conformity using harassment, invasive surveillance, threats of imprisonment, and travel restrictions.”

Human rights organizations in Cuba and abroad have reported an increase in the number of arbitrary detentions for political reasons over the past year (up to more than a thousand a month). Shouldn’t our government condemn that publicly, and depart from a long bipartisan policy of silence on Cuba? After all, we constantly issue statements about human rights violations abroad.

To mention a few examples, last fall, in addition to well-publicized statements on Iran and Syria, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued statements to the effect that the government of Canada “has repeatedly called on the Belarusian authorities to uphold democratic principles, respect for human rights and the rule of law” (Sept. 25). It also urged “swift resolution of all outstanding issues” in Sudan and South Sudan, and proclaimed to be “deeply troubled by the reported Sept. 25 travel ban of former President Nasheed in Malé, Maldives” — this prompting Minister Baird to “directly raise the persecution of 19 other Maldives Democratic Party politicians and party officials to President Waheed today” (Sept. 28). Canada also stood “strong as a supporter of the Ukrainian people as they seek to build a nation based on democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law” (Oct. 2).

Why are we not using the same language on Cuba?

We are right to oppose the U.S. embargo (not a “blockade”), like most other countries on Earth: There is nothing distinctly Canadian in that policy. But the U.S. embargo is not the main obstacle to democratization in Cuba: The current Cuban regime is.

Here we can take Europe as a model. It has both diplomatic and commercial relations with Cuba, but it routinely speaks up against human rights violations on the island. The European parliament awarded the Sakharov human rights prize to two Cuban human rights activists (Oswaldo Paya in 2002 and Guillermo Farinas in 2010) and to the Ladies in White (2005), a group of women whose husbands are jailed in Cuba. The recent detention of another activist, dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, was condemned by the EU, the U.S. and several Latin American governments. But not by Canada.

Cuba is the last dictatorship in the Americas, a region that is supposedly a foreign policy priority of this government. Canadians expect their government to be a leader in the human rights field. No exception.

Yvon Grenier is a professor of political science, St. Francis Xavier University.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, “Sistemas de protección social en América Latina y el Caribe: Cuba”

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Documento de Proyecto,  CEPAL, Santiago Chile, 2012

Ensayo original:  Mesa-Lago, Cuba Proteccion Social CEPAL-13

Carmelo Mesa-Lago

Desde el inicio de la República en 1902 hasta 1958 el Estado introdujo sistemas públicos de educación y de salud gratuitos; el primero complementado por escuelas privadas y el segundo por una red de cooperativas, mutuales y clínicas privadas, esquemas de mejor calidad que los sistemas públicos, mientras que el acceso y la calidad de los últimos era muy inferior en el campo que en la capital y otras ciudades. La Constitución de 1940 y la legislación laboral y de seguridad social estaban entre las más avanzadas de América Latina pero, a diferencia del resto de la región (salvo Uruguay), no se creó un seguro nacional de salud, si bien el inusual desarrollo de cooperativas, mutuales y clínicas urbanas en parte  alivió ese vacío. En 1957 el desempleo abierto promediaba el 16% más el 14% de subempleo  (30% en total), bajaba durante la cosecha azucarera que proveía el 25% del empleo y se  duplicaba en el resto del año. Tampoco se creó un seguro de desempleo que era lo usual en la región. Se estableció gradualmente un sistema de pensiones de seguro social que cubría alrededor del 62% de la PEA pero segmentado en 54 esquemas separados, con amplias e injustificadas diferencias entre ellos. No existían programas integrados a nivel nacional de asistencia social ni de viviendas estatales o subsidiadas. Tal como ocurría en el resto de la región, no había estadísticas de incidencia de pobreza y de desigualdad del ingreso, pero la escasa información disponible indicaba que ambas eran substanciales. No obstante, en 1958 Cuba se ordenaba entre el primero y el quinto puesto de la región en sus indicadores sociales nacionales, pero con considerable desigualdad especialmente entre las zonas urbanas y rurales. Por ejemplo, la tasa de analfabetismo nacional era del 23%, pero en las ciudades   41,7% en el campo del 41,7%.
En el período de 1959-1989, la revolución logró avances muy notables en la protección social. El Estado dio prioridad y asignó cuantiosos recursos fiscales para: 1) promover el pleno empleo; 2) reducir la desigualdad en el ingreso mediante la expropiación de la riqueza y la disminución de las diferencias salariales en el empleo que era básicamente público; 3) universalizar los servicios gratuitos de educación y de salud que redujeron de forma substancial las disparidades en el acceso y calidad de los servicios sociales entre la ciudad y el campo; 4) lanzar una campaña de alfabetización, graduar masivamente maestros y médicos, y construir escuelas y establecimientos de salud; 5) acelerar la incorporación de la mujer a la fuerza laboral con políticas de educación y guarderías infantiles;  6) expandir la cobertura y monto de las pensiones de seguro social, financiadas por las empresas estatales y el fisco, sin cotización de los trabajadores; 7) crear un programa de asistencia social nacional y municipal; y 8) convertir a la gran mayoría de la población en propietaria de las viviendas que tenían arrendadas. El gobierno expropió todas las instalaciones de educación y salud privadas y cooperativas, además absorbió, unificó y homologó los 54 esquemas de pensiones. La construcción y mantenimiento de las viviendas, fundamentalmente a cargo del Estado, fue insuficiente y aumentó el déficit habitacional. Coadyuvó al desarrollo social la ayuda de 65.000 millones de dólares por la Unión Soviética en 1960-1990 (sin contar otros países socialistas), 60,5% en donaciones y subsidios de precios más 39,5% en préstamos que virtualmente no fueron pagados. Aunque dicha ayuda no se dio al sector social, liberó recursos internos para financiar la política del gobierno en este campo. En 1989 Cuba se colocaba a la cabeza de América Latina en la gran mayoría de los indicadores sociales.
El colapso de la Unión Soviética provocó en 1990-1994 una crisis económica muy severa: la caída 35% del PIB, la virtual paralización de la industria y de la agricultura por falta de combustible, insumos y piezas de repuesto, y una mengua drástica en las exportaciones e importaciones (incluyendo insumos para servicios sociales). A la crisis contribuyó el “Proceso de Rectificación de Errores”2, y la incapacidad del modelo de desarrollo para resolver los problemas estructurales, generar un crecimiento económico sostenible, expandir las exportaciones y substituir importaciones. Además, la política social adolecía de fallas: el pleno empleo se logró en parte creando empleo estatal innecesario lo que afectó a la productividad; el excesivo igualitarismo y énfasis cíclico en incentivos “morales” (no económicos) indujo una caída en el esfuerzo laboral y alto ausentismo; y el alto costo de los programas sociales se agravó por el envejecimiento demográfico. A pesar del esfuerzo del gobierno para proteger los programas sociales, casi todos sus indicadores se deterioraron y en 1993 Cuba había descendido en su ordenamiento social en la región.
Las modestas reformas orientadas al mercado en 1993-1996 lograron a partir de 1995 una recuperación económica parcial, pero ocurrió una desaceleración en 2001-2003 en gran  medida por la virtual paralización de las reformas y la “Batalla de Ideas”. Este programa, facilitado por la ayuda económica venezolana y centrado en la lucha ideológica incluyó varias políticas: revirtió las reformas de los años noventa, re-acentuó el centralismo, creó una cuenta única de divisas y CUC en el Banco Central de Cuba (BCC), puso énfasis de nuevo en el igualitarismo y la movilización laboral, redujo el trabajo por cuenta propia, intentó universalizar la educación superior, continuó expandiendo el empleo estatal innecesario, y acrecentó el gasto social haciéndolo insostenible. A partir de 2004, el PIB  creció con rapidez y alcanzó una cima en 2006, debido a la ayuda económica de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, la expansión de los servicios sociales y un cambio en la  metodología internacional para calcular el PIB3. La crisis global de 2007-2009 y los problemas que arrastraba el modelo de desarrollo cubano indujeron otra desaceleración en la tasa del PIB. Aún con oscilaciones, la recuperación en 1995-2006 ayudó a mejorar los indicadores sociales y la mayoría sobrepasó los niveles pre-crisis de 1989, aunque la pobreza y la desigualdad aumentaron. Desde 2007 ocurrió otra regresión en dichos indicadores por la crisis global y las necesarias “reformas estructurales” del Presidente Raúl Castro para corregir los problemas económico-sociales del país, aprobadas por el VI Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) en 2011 y extendidas en 2012. Este capítulo se concentra en el período comprendido entre 2007 y2012, describe las reformas por sector social y evalúa sus efectos.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Castrocare in Crisis: Will Lifting the Embargo on Cuba Make Things Worse?

The original complete essay is located here:  Castrocare in Crisis

Laurie Garrett; Foreign Policy, July-August, 2010

Hospital Hermanos Ameijeiras

 Cuba is a Third World country that aspires to First World medicine and health. Its health-care system is not only a national public good but also a vital export commodity. Under the Castro brothers’ rule, Cubans’ average life expectancy has increased from 58 years (in 1950) to 77 years (in 2009), giving Cuba the world’s 55th-highest life expectancy ranking, only six places behind the United States. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Cuba has the second-lowest child mortality rate in the Americas (the United States places third) and the lowest per capita HIV/AIDS prevalence. Fifty years ago, the major causes of disease and death in Cuba were tropical and mosquito-borne microbes. Today, Cuba’s major health challenges mirror those of the United States: cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic ailments related to aging, tobacco use, and excessive fat consumption.

By any measure, these achievements are laudable. But they have come at tremendous financial and social cost. The Cuban government’s 2008 budget of $46.2 billion allotted $7.2 billion (about 16 percent) to direct health-care spending. Only Cuba’s expenditures for education exceeded those for health, and Cuba’s health costs are soaring as its aging population requires increasingly expensive chronic care.

Cuba’s economic situation has been dire since 1989, when the country lost its Soviet benefactors and its economy experienced a 35 percent contraction. Today, Cuba’s major industries — tourism, nickel mining, tobacco and rum production, and health care — are fragile. Cubans blame the long-standing U.S. trade embargo for some of these strains and are wildly optimistic about the transformations that will come once the embargo is lifted.

Overlooked in these dreamy discussions of lifestyle improvements, however, is that Cuba’s health-care industry will likely be radically affected by any serious easing in trade and travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba. If policymakers on both sides of the Florida Straits do not take great care, the tiny Caribbean nation could swiftly be robbed of its greatest triumph. First, its public health network could be devastated by an exodus of thousands of well-trained Cuban physicians and nurses. Second, for-profit U.S. companies could transform the remaining health-care system into a prime destination for medical tourism from abroad. The very strategies that the Cuban government has employed to develop its system into a major success story have rendered it ripe for the plucking by the U.S. medical industry and by foreigners eager for affordable, elective surgeries in a sunny climate. In short, although the U.S. embargo strains Cuba’s health-care system and its overall economy, it may be the better of two bad options.

…..

…..

Conclusion

In the long run, Cuba will need to develop a taxable economic base to generate government revenues — which would mean inviting foreign investment and generating serious employment opportunities. The onus is on the Castro government to demonstrate how the regime could adapt to the easing or lifting of the U.S. embargo. Certainly, Cuban leaders already know that their health triumphs would be at risk.

The United States, too, has tough responsibilities. How the U.S. government handles its side of the post-embargo transition will have profound ramifications for the people of Cuba. The United States could allow the marketplace to dictate events, resulting in thousands of talented professionals leaving Cuba and dozens of U.S. companies building a vast offshore for-profit empire of medical centers along Cuba’s beaches. But it could and should temper the market’s forces by enacting regulations and creating incentives that would bring a rational balance to the situation.

For clues about what might constitute a reasonable approach that could benefit all parties, including the U.S. medical industry, Washington should study the 2003 Commonwealth Code of Practice for the International Recruitment of Health Workers. The health ministers of the Commonwealth of Nations forged this agreement after the revelation that the United Kingdom’s National Health Service had hired third-party recruiters to lure to the country hundreds of doctors and nurses from poor African, Asian, and Caribbean countries of the Commonwealth, including those ravaged by HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. In some cases, the recruiters managed to persuade as many as 300 health-care workers to leave every day. Although the agreement is imperfect, it has reduced abuses and compensated those countries whose personnel were poached.

Cuba’s five decades of public achievement in the health-care sector have resulted in a unique cradle-to-grave community-based approach to preventing illness, disease, and death. No other socialist society has ever equaled Cuba in improving the health of its people. Moreover, Cuba has exported health care to poor nations the world over. In its purest form, Cuba offers an inspiring, standard-setting vision of government responsibility for the health of its people. It would be a shame if the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba killed that vision.

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Reporters Without Borders: “CELAC presidency means Cuba must guarantee basic freedoms”

Published on Monday 11 February 2013. Press Release

President Raúl Castro Ruz

Head of Cuba’s Council of State

Chairman of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)

Dear President Castro,

When you were sworn in as chairman of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) for one year at the end of the recent CELAC summit in the Chilean capital of Santiago, you undertook to act “with total respect for international law, the United Nations charter and the fundamental principles governing relations between countries.” In your 28 January speech, you also declared your intention to reject “interference, aggression, threats and use of force” and to promote “dialogue.”

Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, hopes that these undertakings will quickly be given concrete expression in your own country. Cuba’s legitimate desire to participate in the process of regional integration and the desire for openness seen in certain reforms currently under way need to be accompanied by long-awaited progress in respect for fundamental freedoms

The migration law reform that took effect on 14 January is a major step forward. It means that Cubans who want to travel abroad no longer need an exit permit and are guaranteed the right to return. It must be applied to all citizens without distinction. The blogger Yoani Sánchez, who has obtained a passport, must be allowed to return at the end of the regional trip she plans to begin soon. The door should also be open for all the journalists and dissidents who want to come back after being forced into exile, and for all those in Cuba who would now like to travel. The dialogue you seek makes this promise imperative.

Releases pending

This dialogue will only be possible if Cuba stops cracking down on citizens “guilty” of providing domestic news coverage that is not controlled by the state. The authorities must abolish this control at once, recognize diverse news reporting and release all those who have been unjustly imprisoned. Your stated desire to comply with international law and the UN charter means that your government must now urgently ratify the two UN conventions on civil and political rights that it signed in 2008. And several dramatic situations can be resolved without waiting a moment longer.

Hablemos Press reporter Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who has been held for nearly five months, is facing a possible three-year jail term for “insulting the head of state.” In fact, this independent journalist is being punished for publishing information about cholera and dengue epidemics that was eventually confirmed by the government.

Luis Antonio Torres, a journalist employed by the state-owned daily Granma, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in July 2012 on unsubstantiated spying charges after reporting information of public interest about the negative consequences of certain infrastructural projects. Is talking about embarrassing facts tantamount to conspiracy against the state?

We are similarly concerned about Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, a recognized writer and intellectual and winner of various prizes, who was sentenced to five years in prison on 8 December on trumped-up charges of “home violation” and “injuries” after a trial with bribed witnesses. All he did was criticize your government on his blog. He could be arrested to begin serving his sentence at any moment.

Finally, Reporters Without Borders, has learned that the independent journalist Héctor Julio Cedeño was arrested in Havana on 5 February just for photographing state inspectors harassing street vendors, and that he is still being held. Does this kind of obstruction and persecution really help the critical debate you advocate?

Internet still held up despite ALBA-1

Information is needed to underpin the exchange of ideas and opinions that makes a society live and evolve. This is why Internet progress should benefit all Cubans. The ALBA-1 submarine cable linking Cuba to Venezuela, which recently came into service, now makes it possible to overcome the limitations on Internet connections.

You have often blamed these limitations on the impossibility of using other cables because of the embargo of Cuba that the United States has imposed since 1962, an embargo whose lifting we have repeatedly requested. Our position on this is unchanged. The ALBA-1 cable must now be used for all Cubans to have unimpeded access to the Internet.

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to this letter.

Sincerely,

Christophe Deloire

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general

Photo from Prensa Latina; Raul Defending  Liberty with CELAC

Sebastian Pinera, President of Chile, handing over to Raul

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cuban Politics : All Talk. The government fails to promote new leaders—even though hard times loom

Jan 26th 2013 | HAVANA

Original Article here: Cuban politics : All Talk

The Gerontocracy

RAÚL CASTRO, Cuba’s 81-year-old president, has long said his country should have a younger leadership. During the island’s most recent Communist Party congress he proposed ten-year term limits for future presidents. Rather pointedly, given that his brother Fidel served for 49 years, he called Cuba’s failure to groom a new political generation “an embarrassment”.

But Raúl has done little to promote political renewal either. During that same congress, he chose two ageing party veterans to fill vice-presidential positions. Most senior officials are still “históricos”, who fought with the Castro brothers before the 1959 revolution—originally known for the vigorous youth of its leaders.

On February 24th Cuba’s National Assembly, its nearest equivalent to a parliament, will gather for its twice-yearly meeting. Its 612 delegates are expected to re-elect Raúl to another five-year term. His 86-year-old brother will already have been reconfirmed as a member of the Assembly.

But the meeting will also remind Cubans that some of the regime’s most familiar faces are leaving the stage. Ricardo Alarcón, the president of the Assembly for the past 20 years, will not attend—not because he is 75, but because of suspected tensions with Raúl. His assistant, Miguel Álvarez, was arrested last year and is being held on suspicion of corruption and spying. In 2008 a video of Mr Alarcón struggling in a question-and-answer session with students was leaked to the foreign press. His justification of Cuba’s travel restrictions—because more travel would lead to too many planes in the skies—was ridiculed.

Replacing Mr Alarcón might let Raúl pass symbolic power to the next generation. Possible candidates include Bruno Rodríguez, who was recently promoted to the politburo, and Marino Murillo, the economics chief. Both are in their 50s. But they may have reservations about being portrayed as future leaders. In 2009 two previous high-flyers were secretly recorded at a boozy barbecue mocking Fidel as doddery and out of touch, in a sting co-ordinated by state security. They were soon dismissed.

Any young hopefuls might prefer to wait and see how the regime handles what could be the island’s hardest test since 1991. Hugo Chávez, the Castros’ closest ally, has spent the past month in Havana receiving treatment for cancer, missing his own inauguration for a third six-year term as Venezuela’s president. Cuba now gets almost all the oil it needs from Venezuela, in exchange for sending doctors.

Even while treating Mr Chávez, the Cubans may be looking at back-up plans in case he or his subsidies fail to survive. During the past few years, representatives of oil-rich nations have been generously feted in Havana. Sonangol, Angola’s state oil company, is exploring for oil and gas near the island’s shores. Lavish homes in the capital have been reserved for Angolan officials. In November Cuba awarded a contract to invest in and manage sugar production, which has long been off-limits to foreigners, to Brazil’s Odebrecht. The firm is also part of an $800m project to build a container port at Mariel, just outside Havana, and is looking at making ethanol.

Most Cuban officials were already in charge during the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country’s previous benefactor. That led to harsh austerity. If it happens again, at least Cuban leaders can say they have seen it all before—and survived.

Asamblea Nacional December 2012

Posted in Blog | Tagged | Leave a comment

Human Rights Watch 2013 Report on Cuba,

The Human Rights Watch  Report  is available here: Human Rights Watch World Report, 2013

CUBA

Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. In 2012, the government of Raúl Castro continued to enforce political conformity using shoratct-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile.

Although in 2010 and 2011 the Cuban government released dozens of political prisoners on the condition that they accept exile in exchange for their freedom, the government  continues to sentence dissidents to one to four-year prison terms in closed, summary trials,  and holds others for extended periods without charge. It has also relied increasingly upon arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions to restrict the basic rights of its critics, including the right to assemble and move freely.

Political Prisoners

Cubans who dare to criticize the government are subject to criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are “subordinated” to the executive and legislative branches, thus denying meaningful judicial independence. Political prisoners are routinely denied parole after completing the minimum required sentence as  punishment for refusing to participate in ideological activities such as “reeducation” classes.

The death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010 after his 85-day hunger strike, and the subsequent hunger strike by dissident Guillermo Farinas, pressured the government to release the political prisoners from the “group of 75” (75 dissidents who were sentenced to long prison terms in a 2003 crackdown). Yet most were forced to choose between ongoing prison sentences and forced exile, and dozens of other dissidents have been forced abroad to avoid imprisonment.

Dozens of political prisoners remain in Cuban prisons, according to human rights groups on the island. These groups estimate there are more political prisoners whose cases they cannot document because the government does not prisons. Rogelio Tavío López—a member the Unión Patriótica de Cuba dissident group— was detained in March 2012 in Guantanamo province after organizing a protest to demand the release of political prisoners. He has since been held in detention without being brought before a judge or granted access to a lawyer.

Arbitrary Detentions and Short-Term Imprisonment

In addition to criminal prosecutions, the Cuban government has increasingly relied on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation—an independent human rights group that the government views as illegal—received reports of 2,074 arbitrary detentions by state agents in 2010, 4,123 in 2011, and 5,105 from January to September 2012.

The detentions are often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in events viewed as critical of the government, such as peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Many dissidents are subjected to beatings and threats as they are detained, even though they do not try to resist. Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify the detentions and threaten detainees with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. Victims of such arrests are held incommunicado for several hours to several days, often at police stations. In some cases, they are given an official warning, which prosecutors may later use in criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings are aimed at discouraging them from participating in future activities seen as critical of the government.

In July, at least 40 people were arbitrarily detained in Havana at the funeral of dissident Oswaldo Payá, who died in a car accident. Police officers broke up the non-violent procession and beat participants. The detainees were taken to a prison encampment where they were held incommunicado for 30 hours before being released without charge.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, which severely limits the right to freedom of expression. Only a tiny fraction of Cubans have the chance to read independently published articles and blogs because of the high cost of and limited access to the internet. A small number of independent journalists and bloggers manage to write articles for foreign websites or independent blogs, yet those who use these outlets to criticize the government are subjected to public smear campaigns, arbitrary arrests, and abuse by security agents. The authorities often confiscate their cameras, recorders, and other equipment. According to the independent journalists’ group Hablemos Press, authorities arbitrarily detained 19 journalists in September 2012, including Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who remained in prison without charge at this writing.

The Cuban government uses selective allocations of press credentials and visas, which are required by foreign journalists to report from the island, to control coverage of the island and punish media outlets seen as overly critical of the regime. For example, in anticipation of the March 2012 visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba, the government denied visas to journalists from El Pais and El Nuevo Herald, newspapers whose reporting it has criticized as biased.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Meanwhile, government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses. In the weeks leading up to and during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba, authorities detained, beat, and threatened scores of human rights defenders.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

The Cuban government forbids the country’s citizens from leaving or returning to Cuba without first obtaining official permission, which is often denied to those who criticize the government. For example, acclaimed blogger Yoani Sánchez, who has been critical of the government, has been denied the right to leave the island at least 19 times since 2008, including in February 2012 after the Brazilian government granted her a visa to attend a documentary screening.

Yoani Sanchez did receive a passport on January 30, 2013, following the reform of Cuba’s Migratory Laws. Presumably she will be allowed to return as well as to leave.

The Cuban government uses forced family separation to punish defectors and silence critics. It frequently bars citizens engaged in authorized travel from taking their children with them overseas, essentially holding children hostage to guarantee their parents’ return. The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba by enforcing a 1997 law known as Decree 217. Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires Cubans to obtain government permission before moving to the country’s capital. It is often used to prevent dissidents traveling to Havana to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live in the capital.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded, unhygienic, and unhealthy, leading to extensive malnutrition and illness. More than 57,000 Cubans are in prisons or work camps, according to a May 2012 article in an official government newspaper. Prisoners who criticize the government, or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are often subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care. Prisoners have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, giving prison authorities total impunity. In January 2012, Wilman Villar Mendoza, 31, died after a 50-day hunger strike in prison, which he initiated to protest his unjust trial and inhumane prison conditions. He had been detained in November 2011 after participating in a peaceful demonstration, and was sentenced to four years in prison for “contempt” in a summary trial in which he had no lawyer. After beginning his hunger strike, he was stripped naked and placed in solitary confinement in a cold cell. He was transferred to a hospital only days before he died.

Key International Actors

The United States’ economic embargo on Cuba, in place for more than half a century, continues to impose indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people, and has done nothing to improve human rights in Cuba. At the United Nations General Assembly in November, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the US embargo.

In 2009, President Barack Obama enacted reforms to eliminate limits on travel and remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba, which had been put in place during the administration of President George W. Bush. In 2011, Obama used his executive powers to ease “people-to-people” travel restrictions, allowing religious, educational, and cultural groups from the US to travel to Cuba. However, in May 2012 the Obama administration established additional requirements to obtain “people to people” licenses, which has reduced the frequency of such trips.

The European Union continues to retain its “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which conditions full economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights.

In June, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) issued a report on Cuba in which it expressed concern about reports of inhumane prison conditions and the use of ambiguous preventive detention measures such as “social dangerousness,” among other issues for which it said the Cuban government failed to provide key information.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“Review of “The Politics of Canada-Cuba Relations: Emerging Possibilities and Diverse Challenges.”

H-Diplo Article Reviews  http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/reviews/  No. 383

Published on 31 January 2013

H-Diplo Article Review Editors: Thomas Maddux and Diane N. Labrosse

 URL: http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/reviews/PDF/AR383.pdf

Review by Asa McKercher, Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Lana Wylie, ed. “The Politics of Canada-Cuba Relations: Emerging Possibilities and Diverse Challenges.” Canadian Foreign Policy Journal 16:1 (2010): 55-178. “Special Section – The Politics of Canada-Cuba Relations: Emerging Possibilities and Diverse Challenges”

Table of Contents

“Partie Spéciale – La politique des relations Canada-Cuba : Options émergents et défis”

Introduction: Lana Wyle, “Shifting Ground: Considering the New Realities in the Canadian-Cuban Relationship”

Calum McNeil, “To Engage or not to Engage: An (A)ffective Argument in Favor of a Policy of Engagement with Cuba”

Julia Sagebien and Paolo Spaldoni, “The Truth about Cuba?”

Luis René Fernández Tabío, “Canadian-Cuban Economic Relations: The Recognition and Respect of Difference”

Archibald R.M. Ritter, “Canada’s Economic Relations with Cuba, 1990 to 2010 and Beyond”

Heather N. Nicol, “Canada-Cuba Relations: An Ambivalent Media and Policy”

Peter McKenna and John M. Kirk, “Evaluating ‘Constructive Engagement’”

Raúl Rodríguez Rodríguez, “Canada and the Cuban Revolution: Defining the Rules of Engagement 1959-1962”

Trudeau and Castro in Havana, 1976

 Introduction:

In early January 2012, Diane Ablonczy, the Canadian Minister of State for Latin America, travelled to Cuba for her first official visit to the island. In contrast to her party’s longstanding position on Cuba, Ablonczy – one of the more conservative Conservatives – went, not to lecture Cuba on human rights, but to talk business, a softening of Ottawa’s attitude on a thorny issue and a volte-face seen also in recent Canadian policy toward China. At the same time as Ablonczy set off for Havana, Canadians of all sorts were beginning their annual trek from their wintry homeland to Cuba’s sunny shores. Indeed, benefitting from their country’s stance of maintaining open diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba, over one million Canadians were expected to make the trip.1 Yet all was not well with Canadian-Cuban relations that year. In April, on the front page of Granma, Fidel Castro delivered a withering attack on Canada both for the environmental damage wrought by Canadian companies overseas and for Ottawa’s seeming support of London over the Falkland Islands. A week later, at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, sided with Barack Obama in blocking an attempt by Latin American nations to invite Cuba to the next summit meeting.2 As these instances show, relations between Ottawa and Havana can be oddly ambivalent. Still, such ups and downs are reflective of a normal state-to-state relationship, one that stands in stark contrast to the hostility between Havana and Washington.

To assess the Canadian-Cuban relationship, Lana Wylie, a professor at McMaster University who over the last few years has done much to deepen understanding of the Canada-Cuba dyad, has brought together a diverse group of scholars for a special issue of the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal examining “The Politics of Canada-Cuba Relations: Emerging Possibilities and Diverse Challenges”.3 As Wylie explains in her introduction, in light of changes on the island – Raul Castro’s assumption of the presidency and his resulting reforms – and the prospect of a softening of U.S. policy under President Barack Obama, there is a need for such an examination. The contributors, who range from academic stalwarts – John Kirk, Peter McKenna and Arch Ritter – to, importantly, Cuban scholars – Raúl Rodríguez and Luis René Fernández Tabío – provide perceptive prognostications, interesting insights, and prudent prescriptions about the relationship between Canada and Cuba.

Concluding comment…

Disagreements between Canada and Cuba – on human rights, the Falklands, free trade – have not resulted in the sundering of normal relations, nor are there any signs that they will. Engagement between the two countries, constructive or not, thankfully continues, as does the very valuable people-to-people contact between Canadians and Cubans. The contributions to this collection are an excellent example of the benefits of academic exchange between Canadians and Cubans, and scholars and policymakers interested in the bilateral relationship between these two countries will be well-served by reading them.

Fidel Castro at the Funeral of Pierre Trudeau, September 2000

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | 2 Comments