• 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.

Exclusive: Russia signs deal to forgive $29 billion of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt – diplomats

By Marc Frank;  HAVANA Mon Dec 9, 2013 3:55pm EST

HAVANA (Reuters) – Russia and Cuba have quietly signed an agreement to write off 90 percent of Cuba’s $32 billion debt to the defunct Soviet Union, a deal that ends a 20-year squabble and opens the way for more investment and trade, Russian and European diplomats said.

The two sides announced an agreement to settle the debt dispute earlier this year and finalized the deal in Moscow in October. It would have Cuba pay $3.2 billion over 10 years in exchange for Russia forgiving the rest of a $32 billion debt – $20 billion plus service and interest, the diplomats said. It must still be approved by the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

800px-Embassy_of_Russia_in_Havana_-_Nick_De_MarcoRussian Embassy, Havana

Negotiations on the form in which Cuba will pay the remaining debt are ongoing, the diplomats said, as even $320 million per year represents a large sum for the cash-strapped country, which has labored under a U.S. economic embargo for decades.

Cuba’s total export earnings are around $18 billion, including tourism and medical and educational services.

Neither Cuba nor Russia has made any official comment on the debt agreement. Cuban officials were not immediately available for comment.

Cuba defaulted on its debt in the late 1980s but recently has been trying to restructure the old debts to improve its international credibility.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, during a visit to Cuba in February, signed a general agreement to work out a formula and settle the old debt by next year. The decision rankled other countries grouped in the Paris Club of creditor nations because it broke ranks with the collective approach of the organization.

PARIS CLUB CONTACTS

The Paris Club is an informal group of creditor governments including Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as a number of smaller European nations. The Paris Club reported that Cuba owed its members $35 billion at the close of 2012, now estimated at around $37 billion, which would leave the island owing $5 billion to $6 billion of non-Soviet debt to the club’s members.   The organization has a Cuba working group, which does not include the United States.

Russia pledged to work with Cuba towards reaching an agreement with the Paris Club as part of the October settlement, one Russian diplomat said. “The Paris Club should be grateful as it removes a huge amount of money from the table and makes an eventual agreement more likely,” he said.

While some Paris Club members clearly preferred a united front, one European diplomat said Russia’s help in settling Paris Club debt could prove important and that a reduced debt would indeed be more easily negotiable.

Since the Medvedev visit, the Paris Club has put out feelers to the Cubans and a few months ago two representatives traveled to the Caribbean island to meet with the central bank, the first such visit in over a decade. Unlike the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, from which Cuba is excluded under the longstanding U.S. trade embargo, the Paris Club does not issue multilateral loans.

Cuba releases very little information about its foreign debt. Last month the government reported its “active” foreign debt, accumulated after it declared a default in the late 1980s, as $13.6 billion in 2010. The government no longer reports its “passive” debt from before the default and estimated at around $8 billion. The Communist-run island has never included debt to the Soviet Union in its figures, claiming the amount was in overvalued convertible rubles and that the country sustained massive damage from broken contracts when its former benefactor collapsed.

Cuba has post-1980s default debt of hundreds of millions of dollars to Russia. “The final deal recognizes some of the Soviet debt, and that’s politically important for Russia. It also opens the way for more credit which is important for Cuba,” a Russian diplomat said, like others requesting anonymity.

SEARCH FOR CREDIBILITY

Three years ago Cuba restructured its active government and commercial debt with China, estimated at around $6 billion. Last year Cuba settled a dispute with Japanese commercial creditors dating back to the 1980s. Under the Japanese agreement, 80 percent of the 130 billion yen debt (about $1.4 billion) was forgiven, with the remainder to be paid over 20 years. Mexico recently forgave 70 percent of a $478 million debt Cuba accumulated in the late 1990s, in exchange for the remaining $146 million being paid over 10 years.

“The agreements with China, Japan, Mexico and Russia ease some outside financial restrictions on the Cuban economy and should facilitate trade ties with these countries,” said Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban Central Bank economist now teaching at Colombia’s Javeriana University. “The austerity measures adopted by the government in 2009, and these accords to lower the foreign debt, help stabilize the island’s finances at a very important moment when a significant monetary reform over three years (devaluation and elimination of the dual currency system) has begun,” he said.

Raul Castro, who replaced his ailing brother Fidel as president in 2008, has drastically reined in imports and cut state payrolls and subsidies while insisting the near-bankrupt government get its financial house in order.

In 2011, the Communist Party approved a five-year economic plan that called for efforts to “enhance Cuba’s credibility in its international economic relations by strictly observing all the commitments that have been entered into,” before and after the default. The plan also called for expediting the rescheduling of Cuba’s foreign debts and implementing “flexible restructuring strategies for debt repayment” as soon as it is practical.

(Editing by David Adams and Jim Loney)

Soviet Spy Ship, havana Harbour, 1971; Photo by Arch RitterSoviet Spy Ship, Havana Harbour, 1971; Photo by Arch Ritter

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In Cuba’s Press, Streets and Living Rooms, Glimmers of Openness to Criticism

  By VICTORIA BURNETT New York Times; Published: December 7, 2013; MEXICO CITY.

 It is a rare day in Cuba when the Communist Party’s triumphalist newspaper suggests that the government — just maybe — messed up. Or when the party’s chief ideologist renounces government secrecy. Or a salsa star, performing at an official concert, calls for the freedom to vote and to smoke marijuana. But such gestures of openness are becoming more common.

Glasnost it is not, say Cuban intellectuals and analysts. But glimpses of candor in the official news media and audacious criticism from people who, publicly at least, support the revolution suggest widening tolerance of a more frank, if circumscribed, discussion of the country’s problems. “There is more space for debate,” said Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban political scientist and blogger who lives in Mexico. “People are more outspoken.”

For decades, Cuba’s garrulous citizens discussed politics sotto voce and barely referred to Fidel and Raúl Castro by name, even in their own living rooms. But in recent years, especially in Havana, Cubans have begun talking more openly about the economy, the political leadership and the restrictions they resent. As they taste new freedoms and, increasingly, discuss their problems online, they are pushing the boundary between what can and cannot be said. “What people can get away with has changed,” said Ted Henken, a professor at the City University of New York.

Much of this comes down to President Raúl Castro’s style, said Carlos Alberto Pérez, a self-described “revolutionary” blogger. Since Mr. Castro took over from his ailing brother in 2006, he has invited Cubans to give their opinions on the economy and called on the state-run news media to be more incisive. “People in Cuba want to debate, argue, listen and be listened to,” said Mr. Pérez, whose website covers issues ranging from the difficulty of getting a body cremated to public transport.

Overhauls allowing limited private-sector activity and more freedom to travel have loosened the state’s grip on Cubans’ lives and led them to question more openly a political system that has kept the same people in power for more than five decades.

In September, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference made a bold, if oblique, bid for a more democratic system, calling in a pastoral letter for an “updating” of the political model and saying Cuba should be a “plural” society.

Meanwhile, the Internet — despite being out of reach for most Cubans — has broken the state’s monopoly on information and allowed for a spectrum of opinion, bloggers and analysts say. Bloggers, including many who support the Communist system, have written about economic mismanagement, the timidity of changes, corruption, bureaucracy, the lack of Internet connectivity and the passivity of the state-run news media. Blogs and Facebook posts often spur streams of blunt online comment. “It’s revealing that people who are supposedly on the inside are making the same criticisms as people on the outside,” Professor Henken said.

There are still limits. While the government preaches frankness, it continues to crush opposition, and those who step over the fickle line between loyal criticism and dissent risk ostracism, loss of employment, harassment or jail. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent group that tracks treatment of activists, said there were 761 short-term arrests of dissidents in November, one of the highest figures in the past two years. And in October, five independent journalists were detained for several days, according to Reporters Without Borders. “It’s ambiguous,” said Mr. Chaguaceda, the political scientist. “It depends who you are, how you say things, where you say them.”

In the middle of a nationally televised concert in September, the jazz singer Robertico Carcassés surprised the nation by calling for the right to elect the president, the legalization of marijuana and freedom of information. Even more shocking was the authorities’ reaction: After barring Mr. Carcassés from performing in state-owned venues, meaning most of them, they backed down after Silvio Rodríguez, a famous revolutionary singer, stuck up for his colleague’s right to speak out.

The state-run media, which comprises virtually all press, television and radio in Cuba, has publicly embraced what it calls the “battle against secretiveness” and made efforts, however tepid, to shake up its coverage. In September, the state-run television news introduced a segment, “Cuba Dice,” or Cuba Says, in which Cubans on the street are interviewed about issues including alcoholism, housing problems and the high price of fruit and vegetables.

In October, Col. Rolando Alfonso Borges, chief of ideology for the Communist Party, told a summit meeting of the Cuban Journalists’ Union that the party rejected secrecy. Last month, Miguel Díaz Canel Bermúdez, first vice president of the Council of State, met with journalists in the provinces to urge them to be more polemical. In a highly unusual show of flexibility, Granma, the party’s official newspaper, wrote in November that public opinion seemed to be against a recent ban on private 3-D cinemas. Noting the “rich” online debate, the article said Cubans supported regulating and reopening the movie theaters and hinted that the decision might be reversed.

Indeed, blogs have won high-level readers. The reform-minded blog La Joven Cuba was blocked for several months last year after it published several critical articles. These days, however, “we bump into officials, and they tell us, ‘Oh, I was just reading your article,’ ” said Harold Cárdenas Lema, 28, one of the blog’s founders.

The Internet, coupled with greater traffic between the island and the Cuban diaspora, has smudged the divisions that have defined life in Cuba since Fidel Castro’s 1961 dictum, “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing.”  

“Cuba is a country where for years there was nothing but extremes,” Mr. Cárdenas Lema said. “But we’ve managed to achieve a more nuanced reality.”

Some dismiss the changes as window-dressing or a tactic to co-opt internal dissent. Arturo López Levy, a former intelligence analyst with the Cuban government who lectures at the University of Denver, says the push for a more critical official news media is partly an attempt to control a debate that is already happening in social media and elsewhere.  “Faced with the challenge of a more open environment, the government would prefer to channel complaints and debates through its own mechanisms,” he said.

Mr. López Levy likened the task of pushing for change from within in Cuba to the punishment of Sisyphus, rolling a stone up a hill only to watch it roll to the bottom. “But sometimes,” he acknowledged, “the stone comes to rest in a different position.”

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Cuba: hacia un redimensionamiento de los derechos humanos

Una discusion sobre derechos humanos en Cuba era publicada en Espacio Laical. La publicacion completa esta aqui: Derechos Humanos Dossier, Espacio Laical, December 2013

La temática de los derechos humanos ha sido una constante que ha marcado, durante muchos años, los debates sobre Cuba. La construcción de versiones particulares sobre el tema, desde diferentes puntos del espectro político-ideológico nacional, nos muestra la existencia de una gran contraposición de opiniones. Se trata de un tema crucial que, más temprano que tarde, cobrará mayor fuerza en los procesos de transformación que vive el país. Por este motivo nuestra revista ha convocado a un grupo de expertos para debatir sobre este asunto trascendental. Participan en el dossier el jurista Roberto Veiga, editor de la revista Espacio Laical; el politólogo Rafael Hernández, director de la revista Temas; el jurista Julio César Guanche, ensayista y pensador cubano; monseñor Carlos Manuel de Céspedes,vicario de la Arquidiócesis de La Habana, pensador y ensayista; y el politólogo Arturo López-Levy, académico y activista cubano radicado en Estados Unidos.

Las Preguntas:

1-¿Puede hacer una reseña sobre los imaginarios históricos de nuestra nación acerca del tema de los derechos de la persona?

2-En las últimas décadas, ¿cuáles concepciones han conseguido en nuestro país una mayor elaboración y difusión? ¿Alguna noción ha prevalecido?

3-¿Cuánto han avanzado en materia de derechos las generaciones que hoy comparten el país?

4-¿Cuánto nos queda por avanzar? ¿Cuáles podrían ser los mejores mecanismos para lograrlo?

 New Picture (9)

 Roberto Veiga, Rafael Hernández, Julio César Guanche, Monseñor Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, y Arturo López-Levy

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Soft Landing in Cuba? Emerging Entrepreneurs and Middle Classes

By: Richard Feinberg

An excellent and fascinating examination of Cuba’s emerging private sector by Richard Feinberg was published in November by the Brookings Institution and is available at the Brookings Web Site here: Feinberg Study.

The complete  document is available here: Soft landing iin Cuba: Emerging Entrepreneurs.

Table of Contents:

New Picture (8)

From the Brookings Site:

A dynamic, independent private sector is rapidly emerging in Cuba, despite the dominance of the state-run socialist system. The private sector is quickly absorbing workers laid off from the state, enlarging its growing middle classes and defining a new Cuba. The old narrative — that Fidel and Raul Castro had to pass from the scene before real change could occur — has been discredited by these current trends.

More and more Cubans are opening bed and breakfasts, cafes and snack bars, small shops and markets, and offering services in areas such as construction and technology. But challenges in accessing capital, along with burdensome taxation, often prevent some of these operations from growing into larger firms.

It remains to be seen whether the powerful Cuba state is prepared to allow these businesses to expand and partner with state entities, creating a hybrid market socialist economy that can accelerate growth into a legitimate boom.

In Soft Landing for Cuba? Emerging Entrepreneurs and Middle Classes, Richard Feinberg provides:

• History of emerging private enterprise in Cuba

• Case studies of the challenges entrepreneurs face in launching and expanding their operations

• Recommendations on what the Cuban – and U.S. – governments can do to can cultivate a more inclusive economy, bringing prosperity to the wider population.

New Picture (7)Richard FeinbergRichard Feinberg

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Chucho Valdés: ‘Fue frustrante que la música de Bebo se prohibiese en Cuba’

VÍCTOR USÓN; EFE Publicado el viernes, 11.08.13 Madrid

chucho_valdes

El pianista de jazz Cucho Valdés califica de “inolvidables” los últimos años que pasó junto a su padre. Un recuerdo que contrasta con la “frustración” que sintió cuando la música de Bebo se prohibió en su Cuba natal y que ahora trata de reconfortar con un disco en el que le rinde homenaje. “Border-Free (Sin Fronteras)” es el título de este álbum en el que Valdés “rompe barreras, abre camino y elimina las fronteras” entre géneros musicales tan diversos como el jazz, el flamenco, los ritmos gnawaw de Marruecos, los rituales orishas o la música de Bach, haciendo en él una declaración de principios y una búsqueda en sus orígenes. Con una enorme carga de “sentimiento”, sus temas esconden historias personales y en uno de ellos, titulado “Bebo”, homenajea a su padre, acercando su estilo “de componer y tocar” e incluyendo un solo de saxofón que Bebo pudo escuchar y que calificó de “hermoso”. “Luché mucho para que la música de mi padre no estuviese prohibida. El mes que viene le van a hacer un tributo en el Festival de Jazz de La Habana”, comenta a Efe Valdés, tras asegurar que él no va a asistir al evento. Este cambio en la política cubana que se produce, según comenta el pianista, debido a las transformaciones que está viviendo la isla, permitirá recuperar la figura de un Bebo Valdés que vivió sus últimos años en Benalmádena (Málaga) junto a su hijo. Valdés le lleva realizando un continuo homenaje a su padre desde su muerte, el pasado 22 de marzo y de hecho, mañana le rendirá tributo en el festival de Jazz de Cartagena, como ya hizo en Barcelona el 29 de octubre en un concierto “muy emotivo” que se convirtió en una fiesta de homenaje “casera”. “Todos los que participaron se brindaron a ayudar, hubo un amor increíble. Nunca había tocado en un concierto así, era mucho más que un concierto, era una fiesta. La gente estaba tan emocionada…”, argumenta Valdés. “Border-Free” guarda un carácter “muy familiar”, ya que en él, además de homenajear a su padre, le dedica un tema a su abuela y otro a su madre, “Pilar”, en el que mezcla al Bach que “tanto le gustaba” con “Blue in Green” de Miles David, consiguiendo “una coherencia de carajo”, asegura. Rebusca Valdés en los orígenes étnicos de su Cuba natal, acercando así las raíces musicales de la España colonial que introdujo su cultura en la isla, los ritmos africanos que trajeron los esclavos y el sonido propio de esa América que reclamaba libertad. “Mi padre quiso que conociera los máximos elementos musicales posibles, también estudié desde pequeño en el conservatorio música clásica, mientras miraba los ritos religiosos africanos que se hacían en mi barrio. Todo aquello se convirtió en un solo elemento musical, que ahora reproduzco en el disco”, argumenta Valdés. Acerca esta música junto a la banda The Afro-Cuban Messengers, “el mejor grupo con el que he actuado nunca”, asegura, compuesto por músicos “jóvenes y talentosos” capaces de trasladar al presente la música cubana. El jazz es, según Valdés un género musical “que nunca morirá” porque su público es “especial, inteligente, sabe escuchar y es consciente de lo que busca”. “No está hecho para un público de masas, no se llenarán grandes estadios”, argumenta. Y precisamente ese estilo musical cargado de sentimiento que acerca Valdés en “Border-Free” seguirá estando presente en los trabajos de este músico, “eso lo van a ver durante un buen rato, ya no lo puedo dejar, voy a dar más pasos con esta música”, argumenta Valdés. chucho-valdes

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Cuba ensaya nuevas fórmulas para flexibilizar la comercialización agrícola

La Habana, 6 nov (EFE)

El Gobierno cubano anunció hoy nuevas medidas para flexibilizar la comercialización de productos agropecuarios en tres provincias del país, en un experimento que busca mejorar los complejos mecanismos de distribución y venta que entorpecen el sector desde hace años.

La Gaceta Oficial de Cuba divulgó este miércoles el nuevo reglamento de comercialización en las provincias occidentales de La Habana, Mayabeque y Artemisa, regiones de peso agropecuario, al que estarán sujetos los productores estatales, los privados y los diversos tipos de cooperativas que existen en la isla.

La nueva fórmula simplificará los vínculos entre productores y consumidores, y liberará la comercialización de modo que los agricultores puedan acceder a los mercados con sus propios medios y comerciar a su antojo tras cumplir sus compromisos contractuales con el Estado, explicó hoy el diario oficial Granma.

Las autoridades organizarán así una red de mercados minoristas gestionados por entidades estatales, por cooperativas o trabajadores por cuenta propia, con un espectro de precios regulados para productos como arroz, fríjoles y papas, y el resto sujeto a oferta y demanda.

Además estarán la opción de los “puntos de venta” a precios de oferta y demanda, y la de los comerciantes ambulantes o “carretilleros” autónomos.

El Gobierno planea asimismo crear una red de mercados mayoristas nocturnos administrados por empresas estatales que pueden arrendar el espacio a cooperativas, y cuya primera instalación debe comenzar a funcionar antes de 2014 en La Habana.

“Tomando en cuenta la diversidad que caracteriza el entramado comercial de productos agropecuarios en nuestro país, con esta decisión se pretende estudiar a escala territorial otros modos de hacer (…) que permitan modificar, ampliar, perfeccionar y luego extender la experiencia al resto de las provincias”, precisó Granma.

El rotativo indicó que se busca “transformar la comercialización de forma tal que se eliminen los mecanismos que actualmente la entorpecen y se logre hacerla más dinámica, eficiente y flexible”.

En ese sentido, procura “ordenar y perfeccionar” la red comercial “haciéndola más asequible para productores y consumidores, y también más competitiva entre todas sus formas”, añadió el diario.

De acuerdo con las autoridades, la medida debe favorecer la producción, la oferta en los mercados y la disminución de los precios.

El “reordenamiento” del sector agrícola forma parte del plan de reformas económicas impulsadas por el presidente cubano, Raúl Castro, para “actualizar” el modelo económico socialista de la isla.

En Cuba, el incremento de la producción de alimentos es considerado un asunto de “seguridad nacional” ya que el país importa anualmente el 80 por ciento de los alimentos que consume, con gastos de unos 1.800 millones de dólares, lo que representa un 30 por ciento de sus ingresos en divisas.

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Non-agricultural cooperatives in Cuba: A new way to unleash the forces of production?

DR. C. YAILENIS MULET CONCEPCION

NOVEMBER 7, 2013 Original essay here: Non-Agricultural Coops; WWW.FROMTHEISLAND.ORG

 CONCLUSION

The first non-agricultural cooperatives started operating just a few months ago, so it is premature to derive conclusions on their progress.

However, it should be stressed that obstacles that have prevented the functioning of the state sector until now must be taken into account if these models are to increase production and untie the knots holding back productive forces. Thus, the capacity needed for the import and export—or for the production of—goods should be analyzed in view of the lack of a wholesale market of inputs.

The capacity to purchase means of transportation or production equipment to increase labor productivity should also be analyzed, including alliances with foreign capital that are so essential to bridging Cuba’s development gap.

A challenge for economic authorities is to make the cooperative sector function through the transformation of state enterprises and not by the will of a group of people. Furthermore, the new urban cooperatives should promote solidarity and social responsibility. One important thing: important synergies between cooperatives and the rest of the existing means of production in the country must emerge, not the same stagnant behaviors of the past.

Access to supplies via wholesale trade is insufficient. The State must continue to work on improving the supply of basic resources needed by these cooperatives to operate. Thus, the capacity needed for the import and export—or for the production of—goods should be analyzed in view of the lack of a wholesale market of inputs.

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The Mariel Special Zone: Economic Wagers and Realities

By Emilio Morales and translated by Joseph L. Scarpaci, Miami (The Havana Consulting Group). Original Essay here:  The Mariel Special Zone The November 1 opening of the Mariel Special Economic Zone (ZEDM in Spanish) by the government of Raúl Castro is part of the so-called ‘economic model updating’ that seeks to attract fresh foreign capital to Cuba.A first step is the inauguration of the ZEDM Regulatory Office to receive and evaluate investment bids. Representatives from some 1,400 firms from 64 countries will get a chance to learn more about these investment opportunities when they attend the XXXI Havana International Fair from November 3 – 9. The special zone plays a key role in driving the government’s economic reforms, which have become the top priority. After the failures of the socialist economy over some five decades, the government leadership has little choice but to restructure the economy’s strategic sectors. Nothing short of a gradual opening towards a market economy, and shrinking the public sector, are key elements in this transformation. Second Stage Reforms Reforms seem to be headed towards stage two. Recently, 70 cooperatives outside of the agricultural sector came into operation and the number of approved self-employment jobs has risen to 201. The new Mariel project follows in the path of the Duty-free Zones (Zonas Francas) launched in the 1990s, and played an important role in attracting foreign investment. It is important to remember that such investment brought Cuba out of the so-called Special Period.   However, those Duty-free Zones were eliminated in the middle of the last decade when the government of Fidel Castro did an about-face and re-centralized parts of the economy. The current investment climate is clouded with uncertainty because of the current state of the Cuban economy and the condition of its main trading partner, Venezuela. That is why this new zone, built at an estimated cost of some $900 million USD, faces a daunting start. Recalling Recent Memories Let’s take stock of what led up to this mega-project. The sole purpose of the Duty-Free Zones (ZF in Spanish) born out of Law Decree 165 in 1996 was to attract foreign investment. Operators in the ZFs were spared import tariffs on manufacturing and assembling, or on processing finished or partially-finds goods.  Cuba’s competitors back then were from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and a few Central American companies. In all, there were some 65 ZFs in the region and they produced footwear and leather goods, candy, electronic goods, plastics, and textiles. These products were largely destined to the United States, whose market has been off limits to Cuban products since 1960. The first three ZFs in Cuba appeared in 1997. The largest area was in Mariel, followed by Berroa (near the Havana port), and the smallest one, Wajay, was close to the José Martí International Airport in the southern section of the capital. Of the 243 operators in the ZF, about two-thirds were involved in trade, a fifth were in services, and 14% was in manufacturing. The latter category included the technology sector such as software, industrial projects, and machinery. Wajay had 120 operators, followed by Berroa (91) and Mariel (32). Spain (62) and Panama (43) had the largest number of companies in these duty-free zones. Foreign investment and operations in the ZFs peaked in 2002 with some 400 joint-venture and strategic alliances that brought just under $3 billion USD in investment. Starting in 2002, companies started closing in these zones and foreign investment tapered off. By 2008, only 200 firms operated there and business tapered off. New Picture (2) Three Strategic Sectors The Cuban equivalent of the U.S. Federal Register – the Gazeta Oficial No. 26 of 2013— recently stated the zones were “to promote the increase of infrastructure and activities to expand exports, import substitution, high-tech projects [and] generate new sources of jobs that contribute to the nation’s progress” (our translation).  This pronouncement marks the second time in 20 years the government has tried to implement duty-free zones, and could strengthen three strategic sectors.

  1. Depwater oil exploration and extraction to become a      crude-oil proicessing center.
  2. High-tech industrial parks for all kinds of products.
  3. Container storage and distribution center.

Explore or refine oil? This idea draws on the relative location of Cuba and the port of Mariel. Researcher Jorge Piñón points out that Mariel is strategically located at the crossroads of basins in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, where 49% of the hemisphere’s crude oil production, and 59% of its refining capability, are located. Moreover, Mariel sits at the doorstep of the world’s largest consumer and importer of oil: The United States. Considerable planning preceded the decision to commence deep-water oil exploration over the 112,000 square kilometer area of the Economic Exclusive Zone (ZEE in Spanish) just north of Cuba. But oil was not located and, in the medium run, there is just a small chance that Mariel will become a refinery center. In that scenario, there are plans to construct at the port of Mariel, 45 kilometers west of Havana, a huge warehouse center. It would also mean reviving super-tanker facilities at the port of Matanzas, the pipeline linking Matanzas and Cienfuegos (the latter, on the south-central coast), and expanding the recently upgraded oil refinery in Cienfuegos. The latter will increase daily processing from 65,000 to 150,000 barrels daily. All that depends on Venezuelan financing. Producing Goods and Services The second objective is to convince foreign investors to produce high-value goods and services in Cuba that can then be exported. To that end, the Cuban company ZDIM S.A., a subsidiary of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces holding company, GAESA, has been created. ZDEM aims to link myriad development and industrial sectors via road, rail, and high-level communication networks. The strategy entails creating maquiladoras –low-cost and skilled labor clusters—to produce high-value added goods such as appliances, computers, construction materials, exportable biotechnology products, and even automobile assembly.  A canning and packaging industry is also expected to support the Cuban domestic and export markets. Even though foreign companies operating in these zones will be exempt from salary and wage taxes, free of taxes on earnings for 10 years, as well other incentives, these measures are insufficient because they rely on traditional barriers of contracting labor through a government agency. Licensure to operate in the zone still relies on government agencies, and therein is the danger of a cumbersome and highly bureaucratic approval process for investors. The Container Business A third objective is a modern facility for dispatching and warehousing maritime and truck containers. Mariel would receive cargo ships that presently operate out of the aged and inefficient port of Havana. In turn, the capital city’s port would house cruise ship and recreational boating and sailing. Ambitious port expansion plans at Mariel are undoubtedly linked to the renovated Panama Canal, which will be completed in 2015. All this bodes well for maritime traffic throughout the Caribbean, which is poised to do substantial business with the break-in-bulk activities related to the gigantic ships known as Post Panamax.  PSA International from Singapore will administer Mariel’s facility and will become the main port for Cuban imports and exports. A 2,000-meter long dock will be able to handle deep-water vessels and up to 3 million containers annually. The initial stage will develop the first 700 meters of berths and a storage capacity of 1 million containers per year. By 2014, it should be able to receive cargo ships bound for ports elsewhere in the Caribbean and the Americas. Installations include warehouses, could storage, fuel storage tanks, food distribution facilities, and other services. A highway and rail network will connect this, potentially the most important port in Cuba, with existing networks to guarantee the flow of goods. From Dream to Reality In theory, the Mariel project can only be viable over the long term. In the short term, however, it faces serious obstacles. First, ZEDM faces competition from similar installations in Panama, Jamaica, and elsewhere in the Caribbean basin and Central America. That competition is already tried and tested and operates with competitive prices. Significantly, they are in a better position to develop trade with the main market in the region: the USA. The Cuban project will be constrained by the U.S. trade embargo that prohibits ships that visit any Cuban port from entering U.S. territorial waters within six months.  Accordingly, the zone’s reliance on large foreign investment will require those foreign businesses to stay on the island for a long time to recover their costs and turn a profit, and those investors will also be constrained by the embargo regulations. It is difficult to forecast the long-term investment successes in this first stage because of these risk factors. Instead, medium-term investments from Cuba’s main business partners –China, Brazil and Venezuela—are more likely.  The zone’s development will require more flexible and open laws than the ones just launched. That means a new Foreign Investment Law, which was announced by Raúl Castro at the beginning of the year, but was inexplicably postponed until this week. Novel amendments to the existing legislation might allow for the Cuban exile community to invest or to exert pressure on the U.S. congress to lift the embargo. But let’s not deceive ourselves: The ZEDM has been conceived and designed all along with an eye on U.S. business investment. That is the same motivation behind Brazilian wagers and is the bait that will attract other investors.  Havana in November 2013 has become a mid-summer night’s dream.

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 Mariel

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¿Más allá de la cooperación Sur-Sur? Contexto, luces y sombras de la alianza Cuba-Venezuela

Daniele Benzi y Giuseppe Lo Brutto

Daniele Benzi (dbenzi@flacso.edu.ec) Profesor Asociado del Departamento en Estudios Internacionales y Comunicación FLACSO-Ecuador; Giuseppe Lo Brutto (giuseloby@msn.com) Profesor-Investigador del ICSyH, BUAP-México.

En proceso de publicación en Ayala, C., Rivera, J. (2013), De la diversidad a la consonancia: la CSS latinoamericana, AMEXCID/INSTITUTO MORA/BUAP.

El Ensayo completo esta aqui:   Benzi_y_Lo_Brutto,Mas_alla_de_la_cooperacion_Sur-Sur

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Resumen

 Además de constituir el núcleo originario y eje central de la propuesta de integración denominada ALBA-TCP, las relaciones bilaterales entre Cuba y Venezuela destacan en el panorama regional por los estrechos vínculos políticos y económicos establecidos en la última década, que, en la actualidad, se plasman y articulan en un amplio espectro de áreas de cooperación, proyectos conjuntos, inversiones e intercambios comerciales.

 Si para algunos autores se trata de un modelo paradigmático y al mismo tiempo novedoso de cooperación Sur-Sur que recupera y se alimenta del legado histórico de solidaridad internacional y entre los pueblos propio de la revolución cubana; otros, en cambio, críticos o escépticos a menudo, prefieren referirse al eje La Habana-Caracas como a un “caso singular” y hasta a una “utopía bilateral” (Romero, C. A. 2010: 127; 2011) inclusive dentro del panorama de las nuevas relaciones y cooperación Sur-Sur.

 En el presente artículo, tras caracterizar la posición de ambos países en términos de inserciónregional e internacional, líneas estratégicas en política exterior y áreas de cooperación, los autores abordan el análisis de sus relaciones y vínculos recíprocos, buscando profundizar todos aquellos aspectos útiles para revelar luces y sombras.

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Reflexiones finales

Una evaluación de las relaciones entre Cuba y Venezuela resulta una tarea nada sencilla. Al margen de las numerosas informaciones que se desconocen, las cuales indudablemente podrían aclarar distintos aspectos de este peculiar matrimonio en el cuadro de las relaciones internacionales contemporáneas, la valoración final depende en buena medida de la postura política adoptada por el observador. Lo cual implica, además, tener en cuenta factores de orden ideológico, político y de seguridad relativos a ambas naciones y que afectan profundamente sus vínculos, que apenas hemos mencionado a lo largo de este artículo.

Aunque quizás sería oportuno introducir alguna y otra variable de naturaleza política y de clases, en el corto plazo y en términos de coyunturas enfrentadas particularmente críticas, las ventajas en términos globales han sido sustanciales para ambos países. Por ello, desde la perspectiva cubana, Pérez Villanueva (2008: 63) ha afirmado que:

este vínculo abre una serie de potencialidades que podrían aprovecharse para desarrollar programas de reindustrialización, que por un lado complementen y sean funcionales a los sectores más dinámicos de la economía y, por otro, posibiliten la recuperación y el relanzamiento de sectores estratégicos por su impacto en la calidad de vida de la población y sus efectos sobre el sector externo.

Por otro lado, “En cuanto a los servicios médicos que el país exporta, fundamentalmente a Venezuela, su impacto directo en el sector productivo es muy reducido” (Sánchez y Triana, 2008: 82). Sin embargo, agregan los mismos autores:

“Otra perspectiva del análisis está en el hecho real de que Cuba ha venido creando una especie de rampa de lanzamiento en torno al sector de la salud. [...] Si tenemos en cuenta, junto a los servicios médicos, la exportación de equipos médicos y medicamentos genéricos y biotecnológicos y la inversión en el exterior en el sector biotecnológico junto a negocios de transferencia de tecnología, entonces estamos en presencia de uno de los sectores más dinámicos de la economía nacional, con altas posibilidades de generación de sinergias que potencien su efecto sobre el resto de la economía en un futuro próximo.” (Ibidem: 91)

No obstante, a la vez que algunos cuestionan la supuesta capacidad de los servicios médicos de volverse una efectiva “rampa de lanzamiento”, evaluándolos más bien como una peligrosa “terciarización disfuncional de la estructura económica” (Monreal, 2007, cit. en Mesa-Lago, 2008: 47), la actual dependencia energética y financiera de Venezuela, junto a lo que se percibe como una escasa diversificación de las relaciones económicas y comerciales del país, constituyen de momento el factor crucial de la realidad cubana. Una dependencia que, además, como advierte Mesa-Lago (2011: 5), “creció justo cuando la economía venezolana sufrió el peor desempeño regional”.

Otro punto importante a considerar es el impacto de la exportación de servicios médicos o salida de cooperantes a Venezuela y a otros países en el desempeño del sector nacional de salud. Si por un lado, como aclara Feinsilver (2008: 121), “la diplomacia médica ha proporcionado una válvula de escape para los disgustados profesionales de la salud que, aunque han sacrificado su tiempo, estudiado y trabajado con ahínco, ganan mucho menos que buena parte de los empleados menos calificados de la industria del turismo”; por el otro, el déficit interno es ahora evidente. Mesa-Lago (2011: 17) calcula “que aproximadamente un tercio de los médicos está en el exterior”. Así, sigue el autor, “Uno de los acuerdos [del último Congreso del PCC] estipula garantizar que la graduación de especialistas médicos cubra «las necesidades del país y las que se generen por los compromisos internacionales»” (Ibidem).

Por todo lo anterior, no resulta sorprendente constatar que mientras en Cuba el vínculo con la República Bolivariana es visto por lo general como una oportunidad para la mejora social y el necesario relanzamiento de la economía del país, muchos teman al mismo tiempo el repetirse de la tragedia de un nuevo CAME, tanto más en cuanto particularmente a partir del referéndum de 2007 perdido por el oficialismo en Venezuela y de la crisis económica de 2008, se revelaron cabalmente las fragilidades de un aliado estratégico y vital, como hemos visto, en el sentido literal de la palabra.

Entre 2008 y 2009, en efecto, una serie de eventos fuera del control de los gobiernos cubano y venezolano se ha encargado de evidenciar la inestabilidad y los límites de una alianza cuya principal fortaleza es dada por la afinidad humana e ideológica entre las respectivas cúpulas del poder y, sólo hasta cierto punto, de las elites políticas y algunos segmentos de la sociedad civil y organizaciones populares.

La drástica, aunque temporánea, caída en los precios del petróleo, sumándose en el caso de Cubaal desplome del precio mundial del níquel, de la reducción de los ingresos por turismo, de las remesas y del impacto catastrófico provocado por el paso seguido de tres huracanes, destacaron la impotencia de los subsidios y solidarid bolivariana para mantener a flote una economía estancada, en un cuadro de agotamiento y necesario replanteamiento también de la dinámica política.

Para esta fecha, sin embargo, esas cuestiones ya habían sido asumidas por la dirigencia cubana como un problema, a la hora de darle forma y contenidos al proceso de “actualización” del modelo. En este sentido, el pragmatismo de Raúl Castro y el ajuste intraelite que supuso su definitiva toma del poder, han significado también, en un marco de continuidad por el momento, un cambio cualitativo y de perspectiva en la relación con Venezuela, cuyos contornos apenas empiezan a esclarecerse.

Lo único cierto, por ahora, es que tanto la consolidación de la “utopía bilateral” que tanto preocupa a Carlos A. Romero (2011), como la “ilusión neocastrista”, en palabras de Alain Touraine (2006), de emprender nuevamente un proyecto revolucionario a escala continental a partir del eje La Habana-Caracas, ya no figuran en la agenda de quienes, verosímilmente, llevarán por un tiempo todavía las riendas del proceso de “actualización” del socialismo cubano31 .

Desde la perspectiva venezolana, la evaluación se torna tal vez aun más complicada. Hasta los críticos más enconados y menos reflexivos tienen cierta dificultad a la hora de sustentar con argumentos serios la descalificación total de la cooperación cubana dentro de las Misiones, unque éstas fueran meras políticas de corte asistencial con un perfil netamente partidista y/o políticoideológico.

Briceño (2011: 71), por ejemplo, sostiene que “Es cierto que Venezuela se ha beneficiado de la ayuda cubana en el desarrollo de las Misiones, pero surgen [algunas] cuestiones. La primera es la cuestión del equilibrio en la cooperación, que en el caso concreto del ALBA se plantea en comparar el aporte de la cooperación de Venezuela con Cuba, y la de este país con Venezuela”. El tema de las asimetrías en la cooperación ofrecida y recibida es inocultable y lo sería probablemente aun más en la medida en que fueran oficializadas las cifras estimadas en los párrafos anteriores y, especialmente, las que se refieren al supuesto sobrepago por servicios profesionales médicos.

Nuestro punto, sin embargo, en el marco de estas conclusiones, es otro. El gobierno bolivariano, aunque quizás no parezca evidente, también ha desarrollado cierta dependencia tanto de los servicios médicos cubanos, como en general de la asistencia técnica y política, así como en la orientación ideológica y hasta simbólica procedente de este país.

Si en algunos sectores y programas efectivamente se podría cuestionar un “exceso” de cooperación – en términos de presencias, capacidad operativa, escasa coordinación, oportunidad y/o falta de resultados – la colaboración cubana es por el momento un ingrediente esencial de las políticas desplegadas con las Misiones y de los resultados obtenidos en distintos indicadores.

De instrumento transitorio y excepcional, se ha pasado a su multiplicación y establecimiento semi permanente, pero siempre paralelo a las estructuras preexistentes, manteniendo un carácter híbrido de dispositivo extraordinario en mano del poder ejecutivo, que ha creado “una numerosa y desordenada burocracia paralela al funcionariado ministerial formal existente, para atender el desarrollo de cada actividad propia en estos programas sociales” (Viloria, 2011: 8-9)33 .

En el caso de Barrio Adentro, además, la Misión médica cubana goza de una autonomía cuasi absoluta con respecto a las autoridades venezolanas y al resto del sistema nacional de salud. Si por un lado se podría poner en tela de juicio su capacidad para llevar a cabo un programa tan complejo y prolongado en el tiempo en un país tan polarizado como es actualmente la República Bolivariana, por el otro, a pesar de no ser la única responsable de esta situación, su autonomía y falta de articulación con otras instituciones supone determinados problemas tanto legales como de funcionalidad y efectividad de resultados34. A pesar de la destacada actividad médica cubana a lo largo de los últimos decenios, lo cual ha implicado ciertamente un importante proceso de aprendizaje y reflexión sobre si misma, el hecho de que la colaboración con Venezuela sea de lejos el programa más amplio y complejo jamás emprendido, determina nuevos e insoslayables desafíos que son al mismo tiempo técnicos, éticos y políticos.

Después del giro de 2006-2007, al lado de las Misiones surgidas para experimentar las nuevas políticas e instituciones socialistas, la última generación de estos programas ha abandonado el carácter inicial de complemento a las políticas económicas y de desarrollo, para reproducir, por una parte, políticas meramente compensatorias y focalizadas; y, por la otra, sustituirse a lo que debería ser la acción ordinaria del gobierno y de sus Ministerios.

Lo anterior, evidentemente, está íntimamente atado a la característica estructural de Venezuela en cuanto Estado-nación, esto es, ser un país rentista-petrolero, lo cual produce y reproduce ciertas “creencias en los atajos, las soluciones cortoplacistas, la creencia de un país rico”, con el resultado de que muchas propuestas “en gestión de políticas públicas dirigidas a erradicar a la pobreza, descansen en el asistencialismo y en la transferencia de recursos económicos de forma directa, hacia aquellos sectores poblacionales seleccionados como beneficiarios de los programas sociales” (Viloria, 2011: 8).

Por paradójico que pudiera aparecer, esta condición encuentra un terreno particularmente fértil y potencialmente perverso tanto en el voluntarismo típico de todo proceso revolucionario y muy presente en Cuba a lo largo de su historia, como, por un lado, en una concepción anquilosada del socialismo y del papel del Estado, la cual produce ciertas formas de paternalismo y parasitismo social; y, por el otro, en las urgentes e insoslayables necesidades económicas del régimen cubano y de sus propios cooperantes.

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Camilo Cienfuegos Refinery

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The Venezuela-Cuba Undersea Cable Arriving in Cuba, 2011

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El proceso del socialismo de Cuba desde el mandato de Raúl Castro

Por Mao Xianglin.

Mao Xianglin, investigador-profesor titular, asesor del Centro de Estudios de Cuba del Instituto de América Latina de la Academia de Ciencias Sociales de China.

Professor Mao is an  friend of many years, who visited Carleton University and also  Harvard University in the early 1980s just as the relations between China and western countries were starting to open up. He has been the main analyst of Cuba for the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences for some 30 years.

Prof. Mao’s complete essay can be read here:  Mao Xianglin, “Cuba desde el mandato de Raul Castro”

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Conclusion: Las perspectivas del futuro

Cuba continuará persistir y desarrollar el socialismo, y la actualización de su modelo tiene como objeto consolidar y perfeccionar el sistema socialista. En la actualidad, Cuba encara oportunidades y condiciones favorables para sus reformas, pero al mismo tiempo, enfrenta deversos desafíos tanto internos como internacionales. Si Cuba logra cambiar cabalmente las viejas concepciones sobre el modelo de desarrollo y el papel del mercado, su camino de avance será cada vez más amplio. Entonces, Cuba no sólo podrá resolver sus propias dificultades y problemas de desarrollo, sino también podrá proporcionar últiles experiencias al movimiento socialista internacional.

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Prof. Mao Xianglin

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