• 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.

Pravda: “Russia to write off $35 billion of Cuba’s debt”

Presidents Medvedev and Castro, February 21, 2013

From Pravda, Feb 22, 2013: Cuban Debt to USSR Write-Off

Russia and Cuba have initialed an agreement to settle Cuba’s debt to Russia on the loans that Cuba took from the Soviet Union. In addition, representatives of the two countries signed two agreements on the deliveries of Russian aircraft to Cuba in the amount of $650 million.

The initialed agreement “sets the general direction for further work”, a high-ranking source in the Russian delegation told Itar-Tass. The agreement was signed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Ricardo Cabrisas.

“This document is like a declaration of political will, and it sets off extensive work, which will consist of three stages,” said the official.

“The document goes through internal procedures and coordination. Afterwards, there will be another agreement signed – the new one will contain all specifications of all the technical details, and then it will have to be ratified,” he explained. According to the official, it is a very substantial amount of debt – $35 billion.

The final agreement on writing off the debts of Cuba will be prepared within six months, Minister for Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, told reporters after the Russian-Cuban talks.

 ”More than $30 billion – this is the total amount of debt that will be partially written off and partially refinanced, – said the minister. – So today it is still early to talk about the precise proportions. We have to coordinate all procedures inside the countries first before we sign the final agreement, which will take effect and determine the amounts and proportions of restructuring and writing-off the debt.”

The minister assured that it will happen “before the end of the year for sure.” “I think that the term that we have agreed on – six months – will be enough to finalize the formalities,” he added.

The total volume of two agreements about the supplies of Russian planes to Cuba is $650 million, the head of the Russian Ministry of Industry said. “In total, the amount for the supply of aircraft is 650 million dollars, – he said. – This includes two agreements for three Antonov aircraft (AN-158), three Ilyushin (IL-96-400) and two Tupolev airplanes (Tu-204SM).”

Following the talks, an option agreement was signed for the supply of three An-158 airplanes. Manturov explained that these would be delivered to Cuba in addition to those that Cuba would receive this year.

Under the second agreement, Cuba will receive three Il-96-400 planes. The planes will be redesigned from the cargo to the passenger version. In addition, Cuba will receive two Tu-204SM airplanes when tests and certification procedures are complete.

In addition, the agreements, according to Manturov, stipulate for the delivery of complete sets of spare parts to maintain the operation of the aircraft, which Cuba uses already. Manturov added that all aircraft would be delivered as part of financial leasing procedures.

The Russian delegation, led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, arrived on a work visit to Cuba from Brazil, where the head of the Russian government held talks with the leadership of the republic and took part in the meeting of the bilateral high-level commission on cooperation.

Following the results of Medvedev’s official meetings in Cuba, a number of bilateral documents is expected to be signed. On Friday, the Prime Minister will visit the 22nd Havana International Book Fair, which takes place in the Cuban capital every year.

The current fair is dedicated to the 160th anniversary of the birth of Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti. Medvedev will lay flowers to his monument as part of the traditional protocol ceremony.

The flight to Cuba marked the middle of Medvedev’s Latin American tour. The prime minister crossed seven time zones on the way from Moscow to Brasilia, making a technical refueling stop in Cape Verde. As a result, Medvedev spent more than 14 hours in the air. The trip to Cuba added two time zones to this route and a seven-hour flight.

Due to the nine-hour time difference between Havana and Moscow, even morning events in Medvedev’s Cuban work schedule fall for the evening time in Moscow.

 

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Cuba Study Group, “Restoring Executive Authority Over U.S. Policy Toward Cuba “

A major analysis of US policy towards Cuba has just been published by the Cuba Study Group. A brief Introduction and Executive Summary are presented below. The complete study is available here: Cuba Study Group, Restoring Executive Authority, Feb 21, 2013

 “Supporting the bill was good election-year politics in Florida, but it undermined whatever chance I might have if I won a second term to lift the embargo in return for positive changes within Cuba. It almost appeared that Castro was trying to force us to maintain the embargo as an excuse for the economic failures of his regime.” —President Bill Clinton

  “To make matters worse, the economic fence has helped to fuel the idea of a place besieged, where dissent comes to be equated with an act of treason. The exterior blockade has strengthened the interior blockade.” —Yoani Sanchez

 Opening Statement

The U.S. embargo toward Cuba is a collection of prohibitions, restrictions and sanctions derived from several laws that has been in effect for more than 50 years. Taken together and compounded with the designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” they result in the most severe set of sanctions and restrictions applied against any current adversary of the United States. This collection of sanctions was first codified into law by the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (“Torricelli”), severely tightened by the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (“Helms-Burton”), and modified by the Trade Sanctions and Reform Act of 2000 (“TSRA”), thus transferring almost absolute authority over U.S. policy toward Cuba from the Executive Branch to the U.S. Congress.

The codification of the U.S. embargo against Cuba has failed to accomplish its objectives, as stated in Helms-Burton, of causing regime change and restoring democracy in Cuba. Continuing to ignore this obvious truth is not only counterproductive to the interests of the United States, but also increasingly damaging to Cuban civil society, including the more than 400,000 Cubans now working as licensed private entrepreneurs, because it places the burden of sanctions squarely on their shoulders to bear.

At a time when Cuba seems headed toward a path of change and reforms, albeit slower than desired, and a real debate seems to be emerging within Cuba’s elite regarding its future, the inflexibility of U.S. policy has the ironic effect of hurting and delaying the very changes it seeks to produce by severely limiting Cuba’s ability to implement major economic reforms and strengthening the hand of the reactionaries, rather than the reformers, within the Cuban government.

Moreover, Helms-Burton and related statutory provisions in Torricelli and TSRA deny the United States the flexibility to address dynamic conditions in Cuba in a strategic and proactive way. They effectively tie the President’s hands in responding to developments on the Island, placing the impetus for taking advantage of the processes of change in Cuba in hands of hard-liners among Cuba’s ruling elites, whose interests are best served by the perpetuation of the embargo.

The Cuba Study Group is publishing this whitepaper to acknowledge that a Cuba policy fundamentally based on blanket unilateral sanctions and isolation has been grossly ineffective for more than half a century; it disproportionately hurts the Cuban people and is counterproductive to the creation of an enabling transitional environment in Cuba where civil society can prosper and bring about the desired social, political and economic changes for which we long.

Thus, we call for the repeal of the Helms-Burton Act, its related statutory provisions in Torricelli and TSRA, and for the restoration of authority over U.S.-Cuba policy to the Executive Branch. It is our belief that we can no longer afford to ignore the failure of this legislation.

Executive Summary

Seventeen years after its enactment, the Helms-Burton Act—which further codified the sanctions framework commonly referred to as the U.S. embargo against Cuba and conditions its suspension on the existence of a transition or democratic government in Cuba—has proven to be a counterproductive policy that has failed to achieve its stated purposes in an increasingly interconnected world.

Helms-Burton has failed to advance the cause of freedom and prosperity for the Cuban people, to encourage free and democratic elections in Cuba, to secure international sanctions against the Cuban government, or to advance the national security interests of the United States. It provides a policy framework for U.S. support to the Cuban people in response to the formation of a transition government in Cuba; yet, the all-or-nothing nature of its conditions for suspension undermine that very framework by effectively placing control over changes to embargo sanctions in the hands of the current Cuban leadership. Simply stated, it is an archaic policy that hinders the ability of the United States to respond swiftly, intelligently and in a nuanced way to developments on the island.

Worst of all, the failures of Helms-Burton have more recently produced a tragic paradox: Policies once designed to promote democratization through isolation are now stifling civil society, including an emerging class of private entrepreneurs and democracy advocates whose rise represents the best hope for a free and open society in Cuba in more than 50 years.

The Cuba Study Group believes that the most effective way to break the deadlock of “all-or-nothing” conditionality and remedy the ineffectiveness of current U.S.-Cuba policy is to de-codify the embargo through the repeal of Helms-Burton and related statutory provisions in Torricelli and TSRA that limit the Executive Branch’s authority over U.S. foreign policy toward the Island (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Helms-Burton and related statutory provisions”). De-codifying the embargo would allow the Executive Branch the flexibility to respond strategically to developments in the Island as they take place; using the entire range of foreign policy tools at its disposal—including diplomatic, economic, legal, political and cultural—to advance the cause of human rights and incentivize changes in Cuba.

The primary consequences of Helms-Burton and related statutory provisions have been to isolate the United States from Cuba and to serve as a political scapegoat for the Cuban government’s many failures. It has become a “Great Crutch” to all sides of the Cuba debate. First, for ordinary Cubans, their struggle has fallen hostage to an international dispute between their government and the United States, which they see themselves as powerless to affect. For the Cuban leadership, it has become easier to blame the embargo than to adopt the difficult reforms needed to fix their economy. Lastly, for defenders of the status-quo within the Cuban-American community, it has become easier to wait for the United States to solve our national problem rather than engage in the difficult and necessary processes of reconciliation and reunification.

Helms-Burton indiscriminately impacts all sectors of Cuban society, including democracy advocates and private entrepreneurs, causing disproportionate economic damage to the most vulnerable segments of the population. Conditioning our policy of resource denial on sweeping political reforms has only served to strengthen the Cuban government. The scarce resources available in an authoritarian Cuba have been and continue to be allocated primarily based on political priorities, thereby increasing the state’s relative power and its ability to control its citizens.

The majority of American voters, Cuban-Americans and Cuban democracy advocates in the Island have rejected isolation as an element of U.S. policy toward Cuba and have called on the U.S. government to implement a policy of greater contact and exchange with Cuban society.  As Cuba undergoes a slow and uncertain process of reforms, the continued existence of blanket U.S. sanctions only hinders the types of political reforms that Helms-Burton demands.

Instead of maintaining a rigid policy that ties our hands and obsesses over hurting the Cuban leadership, U.S. policy-makers should adopt a results-oriented policy that focuses primarily on empowering the Cuban people while simultaneously pressing the Cuban government to cease its repressive practices and respect fundamental human rights. Repealing Helms-Burton would also free civil society development and assistance programs to be implemented outside of a contentious sanctions framework.

Furthermore, the Cuba Study Group believes that any forthcoming congressional review of current legislation relating to Cuba, such as a review of the Cuban Adjustment Act, must require a review of the totality of the legislative framework codified in Helms-Burton and related statutory provisions so that the United States may finally develop a coherent policy toward the Island.

While we wait on the U.S. Congress to act, the Executive Branch should continue to take proactive steps through its limited licensing authority to safeguard and expand the free flow of contacts and resources to the Island, encourage independent economic and political activity in Cuba, and increase the relative power of Cuban private actors. The U.S. should pursue these courses of action independent of actions taken by the Cuban government so as not to place the reigns of U.S. policy in the hands of Cuban proponents of the status quo.

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Miriam Celaya: “I Don’t Want Siblings Like These”

Once again Miriam Celaya said it best.

From her Blog, Sin Evasion/ Without Evasion

Miriam Celaya

The recent ascent of the Cuban President-General to the head of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the silent tolerance or evident indulgence of thirty democratic nations, even before the arrogance that permeated his speeches, highlights the political cross-dressing of “our America”.

Some specific details on the speeches of Castro II, like lessons he offered his… counterparts(?) with regard to drug trafficking and consumption, based on the Cuban experience, on the strategic utility of the death penalty and the egregious disrespect he demonstrated against  the will of the majority of the Puerto Rican people – who recently endorsed their sovereign decision to remain a commonwealth – when he expressed his regret at the absence of that island nation at the conclave, and his wish that one day it would serve on the CELAC, are just an example of how we need to advance the region’s democratic culture.

The General’s blunders were welcomed by undaunted representatives of Latin-American democracies attending the meeting, who even applauded the rudeness of the old former guerrilla, wearing a civilian costume for the occasion. So we attended, among smiles, compliments, and handshakes, the alliance of democratically elected governments in the region – whose countries have multiparty systems, freedom of movement, of expression and of the press, freedom of association and other civil advantages that embellish democracies – with the ancient Antillean satrapy, thus legitimizing his dictatorship. The new Latin-American principle was explicitly made: gloss over what they have termed “our ideological and political differences in order to consolidate “the unity of our sister countries” and maintain “the respect to self-determination” of each peoples.

Obviously, the thirty-plus Latin American governments meeting in Santiago de Chile decided that the totalitarianism imposed on Cuba is not only an “ideology”, but has long remained in power thanks to the self-determination of the Cuban people (though we have to admit that they may have a point in the latter). Perhaps Chavez’s oil, the subtle detail that the new capital of Venezuela is located in Havana or that the investments of certain Latin-American enterprises in Cuba might have had something to do with such regional empathy.

Another thing that was not clear to me was what commitments the Cuban government might have entered into with the CELAC chairmanship, what advantages Cubans could expect from those commitments and what the projections are for the medium and long terms as far as the progress of the Latin American and Caribbean countries. At least from what they aired in Cuba, the speeches were geared more towards historical references that would justify our supposed common identity, towards the need to overcome poverty, and the command to create a common front in the presence of powerful economies of the developed nations of the First World. Too many clichés in the speeches. As is customary, there were also many “what’s” but few “how’s”.

In this vein, while in Cuba’s interior the dictatorship does not give one iota about civil liberties, it flaunts the presidency of the umbrella organization of democratic nations in the region. The General’s aggressive speech, presenting the violence of the Cuban experience as the legitimate letter of the government, seems to enjoy the complicity of those attending the regional event while the loneliness and helplessness of the Cuban people escalates. The dictatorship’s summit has ended, and, as for me, if those governments exemplify our siblings, then I’d rather be an only child.

 

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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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

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