• 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. It includes analyses and observations of the author, Arch Ritter, as well as hyper-links, abstracts, summaries, and commentaries relating to other research works from academic, governmental, media, non-governmental organizations and international institutions.
    Commentary, critique and discussion on any of the postings is most welcome.
    This Blog on The Cuban Economy is dedicated to Cuba's Generation "A". Although inspired by Yoani Sánchez' original 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:
    "... 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."

CUBA IMPOSES MORE TAXES AND CONTROLS ON PRIVATE SECTOR AND INCREASES CENSORSHIP ON THE ARTS

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

Miami Herald, July 10, 2018 07:01 PM

The Cuban government announced that it will start issuing licenses to open new businesses — frozen since August 2017 — but established greater controls through measures intended to prevent tax evasion, limit wealth and give state institutions direct control over the ‘self-employment’ sector

Original Article: TAXES, CONTROLS, CENSORSHIP

The Cuban government issued new measures on Monday to limit the accumulation of wealth by Cubans who own private businesses on the island. The provisions stipulate that Cubans may own only one private enterprise, and impose higher taxes and restrictions on a spectrum of self-employment endeavors, including the arts.

The government announced that it will start issuing licenses to open new businesses — frozen since last August — but established greater controls through a package of measures intended to prevent tax evasion, limit wealth and give state institutions direct control over the so-called cuentapropismo or self-employment sector.

The measures will not be immediately implemented. There is a 150-day waiting period to “effectively implement” the new regulations, the official Granma newspaper reported.

Cubans who run private restaurants known as paladares, for example, will not be able to rent a room in their home to tourists since no citizen can have more than one license for self-employment.

“There are workers who have a cafeteria and at the same time have a manicure or car wash license. … That is not possible. In practice, he is an owner who has many businesses, and that is not the essence and the spirit of the TCP [self-employment], which consists of workers exercising their daily activities,” Marta Elena Feitó Cabrera, vice minister for labor and social security, told the official Cubadebate site.

About 9,000 people, half in Havana, are affected by the measure, said the official.

In addition, all private sector workers must open an account in a state bank to carry out all their business operations. And the boteros, those who work as private taxi drivers, must present receipts to justify all their deductible expenses. Other measures curb the hiring of workers in the private sector, which currently employs 591,456 people, or 13 percent of the country’s workforce.

The government also stated it would eliminate the tax exemption for businesses that have up to five employees and would instead impose a sliding scale that increases with each worker hired. It also ordered an increase in the required minimum monthly taxes of businesses in various categories.

Government officials quoted by Granma said that the measures will increase tax collection and reduce fraud. But economists have warned that more taxes on hiring employees could dramatically hamper the development of the private sector at a critical moment. A monetary reform — which could bankrupt nearly half of the state companies, potentially leaving thousands unemployed — is expected to happen soon.
The new measures also maintain a halt on new licenses for things such as “seller vendor of soap” and “wholesaler of agricultural products,” among others.

One significant provision states that those who rent their homes to tourists and nationals may also rent to Cuban or foreign companies but “only for the purpose of lodging.” That would presumably prevent renters from subletting units.

The “rearrangement” of self-employment, as the new measures were framed in the official media, reduces licenses by lumping together various elements of one industry while limiting another. For example, while there would be only one license for all beauty services, permits for “gastronomic service in restaurants, gastronomic service in a cafeteria, and bar service and recreation” were separated — meaning that one can own a restaurant but not also a bar.

To increase controls, each authorized activity will be under the supervision of a state ministry, in addition to the municipal and provincial government entities, which can intervene to set prices. The level of control reaches such extremes that the Official Gazette published a table with classifications on the quality of public restrooms and the leasing rates that would have to be paid by “public bathroom attendants,” one of the authorized self-employment categories. Some public bathrooms are leased by the state to individuals who then are responsible for upkeep and make their money by charging users a fee.

The regulations are the first significant measures announced by the government since Miguel Díaz-Canel was selected as the island’s new president in April. But the proposed regulations had been in the making for months by different government agencies, according to a draft of the measures previously obtained by el Nuevo Herald. The announcement comes just as the Cuban economy is struggling to counter the losses brought by the crisis in Venezuela — its closest ally — and the deterioration of relations with the United States.

The new measures could also have a significant impact on the cultural sector. The decree may be used by the Ministry of Culture to increase control over artists and musicians and impose more censorship in the country.

Decree 349 of 2018 establishes fines and forfeitures, as well as the possible loss of the self-employment license, to those who hire musicians to perform concerts in private bars and clubs as well as in state-owned venues without the authorization of the Ministry of Culture or the state agencies that provide legal representation to artists and musicians.

Many artists in urban genres such as reggaeton and hip-hop, who have been critical of the Cuban government, do not hold state permits to perform in public. However, many usually perform in private businesses or in other venues.

Painters or artists who sell their works without state authorization also could be penalized.

The measures impose sanctions on private businesses or venues that show “audiovisuals” — underground reggaeton videos or independent films, for example — that contain violence, pornography, “use of patriotic symbols that contravene current legislation,” sexist or vulgar language and “discrimination based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, disability and any other injury to human dignity.”

The government will also sanction state entities or private businesses that disseminate music or allow performances “in which violence is generated with sexist, vulgar, discriminatory and obscene language.”

Even books are the target of new censorship: Private persons, businesses and state enterprises may not sell books that have “contents that are harmful to ethical and cultural values.”

Some CuentaPropistas:

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CUBA, SÍ, VENEZUELA, NO? A DOUBLE STANDARD IN FOREIGN POLICY

BOTH LATIN AMERICAN STATES REPRESS THEIR CITIZENS AND HAVE LITTLE REGARD FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, SO WHY HAVE THEY RECEIVED SUCH DIFFERENT TREATMENT FROM CANADA AND OTHERS? 

BY:  YVON GRENIER, JUNE 21, 2018

 Original Article: Cuba, Sí, Venezuela, No?

For years the Trudeau government has been exceptionally forceful in its condemnation of Nicolas Maduro’s budding dictatorship in Venezuela.

Canada imposed sanctions last September on key figures in the Maduro regime “to send a clear message that their anti-democratic behaviour has consequences.” In advance of April’s Summit of the Americas, Canada supported the announcement by host country Peru that Maduro would not be welcome to attend. In Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s words: “Maduro’s participation at a hemispheric leaders’ summit would have been farcical.”

Freeland then characterized Maduro’s re-election on May 20 as “illegitimate and anti-democratic,” with Canada announcing further sanctions on key figures in the Maduro regime on May 30. The Organization of American States also passed a June 5 resolution that calls for an extraordinary assembly to vote on suspending Venezuela from the 34-member organization. Furthermore, Canada will not seek to replace its ambassador in Caracas, which amounts to suspending normal diplomatic relations. And most recently, in a speech at a Foreign Policy event June 13 in Washington, Freeland made a point of mentioning the country, saying that “some democracies have gone in the other direction and slipped into authoritarianism, notably and tragically Venezuela.”

The three main parties in Ottawa are strangely in lockstep to denounce the “erosion of democracy” in that once prosperous and democratic nation. But the Trudeau government is particularly combative. This is a strong contrast to our policy toward the only country in the region that is arguably a worse offender of democratic rights: Cuba. For if “Canada will not stand by silently as the Government of Venezuela robs its people of their fundamental democratic rights,” its policy toward Cuba has studiously been to stand by silently as the Castro brothers and now President Miguel Díaz-Canel robs the Cuban people of their fundamental democratic rights.

Comparing the state of democracy and human rights

The kind of elections held on May 20 in Venezuela, while clearly unfree and unfair, would represent a positive step toward pluralism in the one-party system of communist Cuba. For one, Maduro banned his main opponents from running, but he did allow two marginal opponents to campaign and compete for the presidency. Neither the Castro brothers nor Díaz-Canel ever had to run against anybody. For decades they were appointed unanimously by a rubber-stamp legislature completely controlled by the only party allowed in the country. Arbitrary detentions, total control of all branches of government by the executive, and violation of democratic rights are systematic and written into law on the island.

While Maduro is accused of violating the constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, his Cubans counterparts do not need to disregard their 1976 constitution to trample democratic rights; its template is the USSR’s constitution of 1936 (imposed there under the leadership of Joseph Stalin). Cubans visiting Venezuela are pleasantly surprised at how relatively free the media and Internet access are compared to the reality at home. Monitoring organizations such as The Economist Intelligence Unit, Reporters without Borders and Freedom House rank Cuba lower than Venezuela in their indexes of democracy, press freedom, and civil and political rights.

True, violent repression in Cuba is not as overt as it has been recently in the patria of Bolivar, where up to 160 civilians were killed by government forces during the massive street protests of last summer. Arguably, this is because Cuba is a more stable dictatorship, one that has already exported most of its opposition overseas. Short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights activists, independent journalists and dissonant artists appear sufficient to curb public criticism. Incidentally, the number of such arrests “have increased dramatically in recent years” according to Human Rights Watch. The dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reports 5,155 such detentions in 2017. As Venezuela becomes more totalitarian, and more of its aggrieved citizens rush to the exit, it will conceivably experience lower levels of violence and unrest. To recall: in the wake of the 1959 revolution, violent clashes with the “counter-revolutionary” opposition lingered on until mid-1965 in Cuba — Fidel Castro had become a master of counter-insurgency.

According to some observers, the humanitarian situation may be worse in Venezuela, primarily because of rapidly deteriorating access to food and medicine. But then again, it is hard to measure and compare. The Cuban government does not produce statistics on poverty on the island. We know most Cubans are very poor, especially if they don’t have access to remittances regularly sent by their family in exile, a source of income not (yet) available to most Venezuelans.

In other words, while the situation may be worse in some respects in Venezuela, the difference in criticism from outside those countries can be in no way because of Cuba’s superior “democratic behaviour.”

A Cuban fascination versus a newer crisis

And yet, under Trudeau, Canada’s relations with communist Cuba have returned to their former glory. Seasoned advocate of ever-closer Canada-Cuba relations, professor John Kirk, recently waxed eloquent at a conference in Barcelona about a newly found “warm embrace” between the two countries, with increased investments, cultural ties, and exchange of high-ranking government ministers in both directions. The Canadian government, according to its approach presented online, is about “unlocking opportunities” and trade, not about sanctions and denunciations of undemocratic practices.

Contrast Freeland’s comments on Maduro to Trudeau famously saying, in his statement on the death of Fidel, “on behalf of all Canadians,” that “Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people.”

When CBC News senior parliamentary reporter Catherine Cullen asked Trudeau whether he believes Castro was a dictator, Trudeau tepidly replied: “Yes.” Yet he sends very mixed messages and seems to prefer overlooking the darker side of the Cuban regime.

One can think of several plausible explanations for this discrepancy, starting with the Trudeau family and its strange fascination with Fidel. Comparisons with US President Donald Trump’s man crush for Vladimir Putin come to mind. One cannot help but wonder if Freeland’s silence on Cuba (it would be a shoe-in addition to her Putin-Maduro axis of evil) is a concession made to the boss.

Other explanations, inter alia: Venezuela is (still) an OAS member, unlike Cuba, though if memory serves, Canada and other principled guardians of the OAS Democratic Charter are invariably sanguine about welcoming Cuba back to the hemispheric fold. Perhaps hostility toward communist Cuba is now perceived as an outmoded residue of the Cold War. Venezuela is a post-Cold War failing state, driven to the ground by a clumsy heir of Hugo Chávez, with no Bay of Pigs or even embargo (the US purchases most of Venezuela’s oil) as convenient excuses.

The most credible justification for such double standards is that Venezuela is in the midst of a crisis, with lots of moving parts, rather than being fully constituted (or ossified) like Cuba, where it is too late for pressures to work. The island fully “slipped into authoritarianism” — just as Freeland described Venezuela recently — in 1952 and then into totalitarianism in the 1960s. Former US President Barack Obama’s rationale for opening up to Cuba was ostensibly that the US tried to topple the regime for longer than he lived, and repeatedly failed. Venezuela is still in flux, increasingly isolated in the region and the world, and consequently, amenable to change under international pressure. Maybe.

Cuba’s impact on Venezuela

Be that as it may, Canada would be well advised to consider the responsibility of Cuban leaders in the current crisis in Venezuela. Cuban infiltration of Venezuelan state institutions is complete, as Cuban “advisers” can be found in virtually every single office, ministry or barrack of the Venezuelan state. Meanwhile, millions of Venezuelan oil dollars (even foreign oil bought by Venezuela and gifted to Cuba) flow into Cuba’s coffers. Venezuela had been an obsession of Fidel’s since the early 1960s and turning the country into a Cuban ally was his greatest foreign policy accomplishment. His smaller and poorer country astonishingly managed to infiltrate what is after all a larger and richer country. When Chávez declared in 2007 that Cuba and Venezuela were a “single nation” with a “one single government,” he was not kidding.

So, in other words, Canada is excoriating Venezuela for trying to emulate a country Canada is proud to have sunny relations with. To be provocative: would the Canadian government like Maduro more if he, like Cuban leaders, banned competitive elections altogether and closed the borders?

Leaving aside the complementary but separate discussion on what policy is best for Canada, one can at least say this: if Canada continues to pick its human rights policies à la carte, raging against violations in one country and glossing over possibly worse ones next door, the world may notice and take neither Canada’s principled position nor its not-so-principled position seriously. And if global consistency is too much to ask (after all, Canada seems to get along fine with China, Saudi Arabia, etc.), at least some regional evenness or just an explanation would be most welcome.

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CUBA TO UPDATE SOVIET-ERA CONSTITUTION, ADAPTING TO REFORMS

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ,

 ASSOCIATED PRESS, HAVANA, May 28, 2018

 Original Article: CONSTITUTIONAL UPDATE

 When Cuba adopted its current constitution, the sugar-based economy was being bolstered by aid from the Soviet Union, citizens were forbidden to run private businesses or sell homes and gays kept their sexual identity a tightly guarded secret.

Now a rewrite is on the way as the country’s communist leaders try to adapt to the post-Soviet world in which hundreds of thousands of Cubans work for themselves, American remittances and tourism keep the economy afloat and the daughter of Communist Party chief Raul Castro is campaigning for gay rights.

The country’s parliament is scheduled on Saturday to name the commission to draft a new constitution, consulting with the citizenry and eventually bringing it to a referendum.

Officials have made clear that the constitution will maintain a Communist Party-led system in which freedom of speech, the press and other rights are limited by “the purposes of socialist society.” But Castro and other leaders apparently hope to end the contradictions between the new, more open economy and a legal system that calls for tight state control over all aspects of the economy and society.

The current ban on dual citizenship collides with the government’s effort to reach out to exiles. The definition of marriage as between a man and a woman runs up against Cuba’s growing gay rights movement. Many small businesses employ workers even though the constitution now forbids “obtaining income that comes from exploiting the work of others.”

The current constitution allows worker cooperatives, but only in the farm sector, and officials have allowed other types of cooperative but placed sharp limits on their growth and operations, keeping them as a marginal economic player.

The government, too, is likely to see changes. Castro, who turned over the presidency last month to Miguel Diaz-Canel, has proposed limiting presidents to two five-year terms and imposing an age limit — a dramatic shift following a nearly 60-year run of leadership by Castro and his late brother Fidel, who both ruled into their 80s.

“Cuba needs to change its constitution because our society has been radically transformed in recent years,” said political scientist Lenier Gonzalez, one of the directors of Cuba Possible, a think-tank aimed at promoting reform with the limits laid out by Cuban law and its single-party system. He noted the society has become more international, forms of property ownership have diversified and new social movements have emerged that now exist on the margins of the law.

He also said the revamp could help build the legitimacy of Diaz-Canel, 58, and other members of the new guard who are finally replacing the men enshrined as national heroes of the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma has reported that the new constitution could boost the role of the country’s parliament, which now usually meets for two days a year to listen to speeches and approve official proposals. It said the congress might be professionalized and its membership trimmed. The 605 deputies now receive no pay other than what they get from their other jobs.

Parliamentarian Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raul and director of the Center of Sexual Education, has said the reform will expand gay rights, partly by tackling the current wording of the constitution that limits marriage to a man and woman.

The current constitution was adopted four decades ago at a time when Cuba was a potential Cold War flashpoint and a pillar of the Soviet Bloc. The document proclaims Cuba’s adherence to Marxist-Leninist socialism and to solidarity with countries of the Third World, particularly Latin America. The Communist Party is described as the “superior guiding force” of Cuba’s society and it says the economic system is “based on socialist property of the entire people over the fundamental means of production and on the suppression of the exploitation of man by man.”

“It is a historic constitution, the only one that remains in our hemisphere” from the time of Soviet-style socialism, said Julio Antonio Fernandez Estrada, a law professor at the University of Havana. “It’s more than 40 years old … It continues speaking of things that now do not exist in the world, such as the formation of the citizen for communism.”

He said the economic reforms promoted by Castro, which sought to allow the limited introduction of private enterprise within the communist system, “have been carried out, if not against, then in large part in spite of the constititution.”

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CUBA’S NEW LEADER PRAISES MADURO IN ‘SOLIDARITY’ VISIT TO VENEZUELA

REUTERS, WORLD NEWS, MAY 30, 2018

Deisy BuitragoAndreina Aponte

Original Article: President Miguel Diaz-Canel Praises Maduro

CARACAS (Reuters) – Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel flew to Caracas on Wednesday for his first foreign trip as head of state, a show of solidarity for Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro, whose controversial re-election this month has drawn condemnation in the West.

“I pledge to you that no matter how big the challenges, you can count on Cuba today and forever,” Diaz-Canel said after meeting Maduro in the Miraflores presidential palace. “Venezuela now needs our solidarity,” he earlier told Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly, a pro-government legislative super-body.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks next to Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel during their meeting at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

The United States, the European Union and major Latin American countries have condemned Maduro’s May 20 re-election, saying it did not meet democratic standards.

Two of his rivals were barred from standing and the election board is run by loyalists. The U.S. government imposed new sanctions on the crisis-stricken oil exporter.

But China and Russia have warned against meddling in the Socialist-run country, and fellow leftist governments in the region from Cuba to Bolivia have offered their support.

“Your words express the best of the Cuban people and we are forever grateful for the support you have given us,” said Delcy Rodriguez, a senior Maduro ally who heads the Assembly, which critics say has undermined the opposition-controlled legislature, the National Assembly.

Maduro was the first foreign leader to meet with Diaz-Canel last month after he succeeded Raul Castro to become president of the Communist-run island.

Venezuela, which holds the world’s largest oil reserves, exchanges crude for Cuban medical and other technical services, though deliveries have dropped in recent years during an economic implosion in the country of 30 million people.

“We felt (Maduro’s) victory as our own,” Diaz-Canel said. “Venezuela has supported Cuba in many ways throughout its history. We have a debt of gratitude.”

Venezuelan opposition politicians say bilateral relations with Cuba are deeply unfavorable.  “Maduro did not sell the country, he handed it over. NATIONAL SHAME!” tweeted opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido, posting a picture of Diaz-Canel wearing a sash with the yellow blue and red Venezuelan colors on Wednesday.

Diaz-Canel flew to Venezuela with his wife Liz Cuesta as first lady, in a break with custom during the nearly 60 years’ rule by the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul who generally traveled without their spouses.

Diaz-Canel’s visit came as Cuban authorities faced the chaos of flooding in the wake of Subtropical Storm Alberto that has killed already four people and prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands.

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¿QUÉ DIJERON LAS ÚLTIMAS ELECCIONES SOBRE LOS MIEMBROS DEL BURÓ POLÍTICO DEL PCC?

Por: Jorge I. Domínguez. |  2018-04-30

¿Cómo les fue a los miembros del Buró Político (BP) del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) en la elección para la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular, que fue celebrada el 11 de marzo de 2018? Fue un resultado que les amerita un perfeccionamiento. Todos los miembros del BP ingresan a la Asamblea, ya que la ley garantiza que el número de candidatos sea igual al número de escaños parlamentarios y, por tanto, todos los que aparecen en la boleta electoral son elegidos.

La ley electoral, sin embargo, ofrece una ventanilla para sopesar la popularidad relativa de los candidatos. La ley agrupa los candidatos en distritos y, por tanto, permite cuatro tipos de comportamiento electoral:

a) el voto unido por todos los candidatos,

b) el voto en blanco,

c) el voto nulo, c) o el voto selectivo; este último implica votar por el candidato A, pero no por el candidato B.

La preferencia oficial ha sido por el voto unido; la boleta electoral facilita la votación por el voto unido al ubicar privilegiadamente un círculo para tal votación. Por tanto, los otros tres comportamientos electorales implican una cierta inconformidad con estos procedimientos electorales, ya sea general (voto en blanco, o nulo) o con relación a algún candidato en particular (voto selectivo). Sumemos los tres tipos de votos que constituyen el voto inconforme, que difiere de la preferencia oficial por el voto unido: blanco + nulo + selectivo. En marzo de 2018, el voto inconforme sumó 1 millón 779 mil 178 personas, un 24 por ciento del electorado que acudió a las urnas, la mayor proporción en la historia de estas elecciones.

Examinemos la votación proporcional de los votos reportados para los miembros del BP. Ocho de los 17 miembros del BP quedaron en el primer lugar entre los diversos candidatos de sus respectivos municipios, pero los otros nueve no. Entre los miembros del BP, solamente el presidente Raúl Castro logró la mayor proporción de los votos en su respectiva provincia. Solamente cuatro de los miembros del BP se encuentran entre el 20 por ciento de los candidatos más votados en sus respectivas provincias (Raúl Castro, la Primera Secretaria del PCC en La Habana Lázara Mercedes López Acea, el Presidente de la Asamblea Nacional Esteban Lazo, y el Primer Vicepresidente Miguel Díaz-Canel).

Observemos también ciertos rasgos generales. Hay tres generales en servicio activo en el BP. La proporción relativa de votos que recibieron los ubica en la mitad inferior de los candidatos en sus respectivas provincias. Hay dos líderes sindicales en el BP. Uno es el actual secretario general de la Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, Ulises Guilarte, que resultó el quinto de seis candidatos a elegir en su municipio y septuagésimo-quinto en la provincia de La Habana. El otro es un antecesor, Salvador Valdés Mesa, que quedó en último lugar entre los tres candidatos en su municipio y en el penúltimo lugar de todos los candidatos en la provincia de Mayabeque.

En el último Congreso del PCC, celebrado en 2016, cinco nuevos miembros ingresaron al BP, logrando así su composición actual. Entre estos cinco, solamente la secretaria general de la Federación de Mujeres de Cuba, Teresa Amarelle, fue la más votada en su municipio, pero ninguno de estos cinco logró quedar entre el 20 por ciento de los candidatos más votados en sus respectivas provincias; dos de los cinco quedaron en la mitad inferior de los candidatos en sus respectivas provincias.

El peor resultado entre los miembros del BP fue para Marino Murillo, Vicepresidente encargado de la aplicación de los Lineamientos para la actualización de la política económica. El Canciller Bruno Rodríguez, quien jugó un papel importante en el proceso de cambio de las relaciones entre Cuba y Estados Unidos durante 2015 y 2016, fue el siguiente con la menor proporción de votos. Murillo quedó en quinto lugar, entre siete candidatos en su municipio, y Rodríguez quedó en séptimo lugar, entre diez. Es decir, tanto los miembros más nuevos del BP como aquellos asociados a innovaciones importantes recibieron una proporción relativa menor.

Tres candidatos históricos obtuvieron buenos resultados. Quedando en primer lugar en sus respectivos municipios, ellos fueron: Raúl Castro, José Ramón Machado, y Ramiro Valdés; aunque solamente Raúl Castro despuntó en su provincia. También en primer lugar en sus municipios, y muy bien en sus provincias, quedaron López Acea, Lazo, y Díaz-Canel; Amarelle quedó en primer lugar en su municipio, pero escasamente en la mitad superior en su provincia.

Diversos factores inciden sobre estos resultados. Por lo general, el electorado en La Habana es el más exigente, ya que el voto selectivo representa el 25,8 por ciento de los votos válidos, y el voto inconforme el 30,8 de quienes acudieron a las urnas, ambos los mayores porcentajes en el país. En segunda instancia, el electorado en las capitales de provincia también recurre al voto selectivo con mayor frecuencia que en pueblos y zonas rurales.

La combinación del voto inconforme y de los resultados relativos de los diversos candidatos parece implicar resultados que deberían ser muy mejorables para estos importantes candidatos. Sugiere, también, una cierta reticencia a votar desproporcionadamente por nuevas caras o por candidatos asociados a innovaciones políticas importantes, así como por generales o por líderes sindicales. Ocho de los 17 miembros del BP nacieron antes de 1945. De los nueve más jóvenes, quizás la mitad han impactado a sus respectivos electorados. En general, es una elección que indica cierta impaciencia, pero sin determinar claramente cuál debe ser un rumbo a seguir.

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DISASTROUS CUBAN SUGAR HARVEST MAY FORCE IMPORTS – AND REFORM

Marc Frank

HAVANA, May 24 (Reuters) – Rainfall has shuttered all but a few of Cuba’s 54 sugar mills, with output down nearly 40 percent to the lowest level in more than a century, which could force the island to import, official media and industry sources say.

While inclement weather played a big role in this season’s disastrous performance, local experts and officials also blamed inadequate reforms and decapitalization, reflecting more broadly the socialist country’s struggle to update its economy.

The Communist Party has already tasked President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who replaced Raul Castro last month, with carrying out a series of reforms aimed at making the state-dominated economy more efficient, according to party insiders.

The Cuban sugar ministry was eliminated in 2011 and Azcuba, a state-run monopoly, formed after output declined to a similar low comparable only to the first decade of the 1900s. Production is far below the 8 million tonnes produced in 1990 before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s former benefactor.

The Caribbean island nation, where sugar was once synonymous with its name, planned to produce 1.6 million tonnes of raw sugar this season, compared with 1.8 million the previous harvest due to damage from Hurricane Irma in September.  It then reduced that figure to 1.3 million tonnes due to rainfall as the harvest began, but production is now pegged at 1.1 million tonnes of raw sugar.

The decline is more bad news for Cuba, which is struggling with a cash shortage due to ally Venezuela’s economic collapse, a hostile and sanctions-wielding Trump administration, a drop in tourism and its own inertia.

The sugar industry also contributes to electricity production and derivatives such as rum and animal feed.  Cuba consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes of sugar a year and has an agreement to sell China 400,000 tonne

Not quite the 10 million tons of sugar that Fidel attempted to produce by 1970.

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CAN CUBA’S MIGUEL DÍAZ-CANEL COMPLETE RAÚL CASTRO’S ECONOMIC REVOLUTION?

BY WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE ON 5/3/18 AT 12:18 PM

Original Article: MIGUEL DÍAZ-CANEL

When Miguel Díaz-Canel formally accepted the presidency of Cuba in April, he became the first non-Castro to run the country since Fidel’s revolution swept the island in 1959.

In his inaugural address, the new president pledged to continue Raúl Castro’s vision, most notably his unfinished “updating” of the economy, a Cuban form of market socialism launched in 2011 to replace the former Soviet-style central planning system. If he is successful, his reforms would produce the most profound transformation since Fidel took power six decades ago and lay the groundwork for what his brother Raúl called “prosperous and sustainable socialism.”

Salvador Sanchez Ceren recibe a VicePresidente de Cuba, Miguel Diaz Canel.

Miguel Díaz-Canel

But, in taking the helm of government, Díaz-Canel faces strong political headwinds. He has to force Raúl’s economic reforms through a resistant bureaucracy—something even Raúl had trouble doing. He has to hold together a fractious political elite, which is divided over how far and how fast to push economic change for fear of unleashing forces beyond its control. And he has to deliver the goods to a population increasingly vocal in its demands for a higher standard of living and a greater say in politics.

Never has the pursuit of continuity seemed so hard.

Progress has been slow. A total of 313 specific economic reforms were approved by the Cuban Communist Party in 2011. By 2016, less than a quarter of them had been achieved. The plans call for state enterprises that are subject to market prices and efficient enough to show a profit, a vibrant private sector to generate jobs and tax revenue, and an open door for foreign direct investment to provide the capital for growth.

But the reforms are stalled, held back by recalcitrant bureaucrats loathe to give up their authority and perks, and by senior Communist Party leaders who worry that the reintroduction of markets, private property and foreign investment betrays the revolutionary values for which they fought. Raúl called their attitude “an obsolete mentality based on decades of paternalism.”

Foreign investors have been wary. Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca says Cuba needs to attract $2.5 billion a year in direct foreign investment. But in the three years since Cuba adopted a new investment law with attractive concessions, it has raised just $3.4 billion. Cuba’s opaque and unresponsive bureaucracy still deters all but the most intrepid foreign companies.

On the domestic front, most state enterprises lack adequate cost accounting systems. Introducing them and requiring that state enterprises make a profit has been an excruciatingly slow process. Some 20 percent of the state budget still goes to cover deficits from failing state companies. But closing them en masse is something the government has been unwilling to do, as it would create a huge unemployment problem.

The government has licensed 580,000 private businesses—a five-fold increase since 2010—and the agricultural sector is composed almost entirely of private farms and cooperatives. In total, the private sector now employs 29 percent of the labor force.

But in the eyes of some Cubans, private businesses have been too successful. Hemmed in by unrealistic regulations, many private companies skirt the law—buying supplies on the black market because there are no wholesale markets, evading taxes because the rates are extortionate and operating beyond the terms of their licenses because the permits are so narrow.

To conservatives in the Communist Party, this looks suspiciously like incipient capitalism run amok. To the average Cuban, the private sector’s growth has fueled rising and visible inequality. Today, unlike a decade ago, you can find fashionably dressed Cubans eating at the most expensive restaurants and staying at tourist hotels once reserved for foreigners. Meanwhile, most people struggle to get by on inadequate state salaries.

Raúl understood that market reforms would produce inequality, but he expected the changes to boost productivity, stimulate growth and raise everyone’s standard of living, thereby blunting discontent over the inequality. It hasn’t worked out that way. Because the state sector is so resistant to change, growth has been anemic, undermining the political logic of the reform process. A Cuban economist advising the government told me that Cuba’s senior leadership understands what economic steps it needs to take to put the economy on sound footing; what worries them is the political risk.

That explains why Cuba still has two currencies—the Cuban peso and the Cuban convertible peso, which is has the same value as the U.S. dollar—and multiple exchange rates. Introduced in the 1990s to attract remittances from the Cuban diaspora, the two-peso system is now a huge drag on economic growth, making realistic cost accounting almost impossible. But currency unification is complex and will ripple through the economy in unpredictable ways. With a chronic shortage of foreign reserves and no access to help from international financial institutions, Cuba will have to manage the conversion on its own.

So while Díaz-Canel’s most urgent tasks are economic, his bigger problems are political. Independent opinion polls conducted in Cuba consistently show that discontent with the economy is pervasive, and faith in the government’s ability to improve things is low. In a 2016 poll by NORC (formerly the National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago, 70 percent of Cubans cited the economy as the country’s most serious problem, and half thought that inequality had become too great. Discontent is even higher among younger generations, who have no memory of the revolution’s halcyon days in the 1960s and 1970s.

As Díaz-Canel tries to navigate the ship of state through these dangerous shoals, he also has to keep an eye out for mutiny among the crew.

Although decision-making among Cuba’s top leadership is opaque, signals point to divisions over the economic reforms and how to respond to expressions of popular discontent that have grown with the expansion of the internet. Raúl Castro’s authority as a revolutionary veteran enabled him to manage these disagreements and maintain elite cohesion—an advantage Díaz-Canel will not enjoy. Although he is a seasoned politician who has spent three decades working his way up the political ladder, he is not well known outside the two provinces where he served as Communist Party first secretary. But he will not be alone. Raúl still serves as Community Party leader, and he promises to be there supporting Díaz-Canel, telling the National Assembly that he expects the new president to ultimately become leader of the party as well.

So Cuba’s new president is no mere puppet. Through a calibrated handover of power, he will become the man in charge. And he has his work cut out for him.

William M. LeoGrande is a professor of government at American University in Washington, D.C., and co-author with Peter Kornbluh of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

 

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BOOK REVIEW, ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE

Boulder, CO: First Forum Press, 2015. 373 pp.

By Archibald R. M. Ritter and Ted A. Henken

Review by Sergio Díaz-Briquets,

Cuban Studies, Volume 46, 2018, pp. 375-377, University of Pittsburgh Press

The small business sector, under many different guises, often has been, since the 1960s, at the center of Cuban economic policy. In some ways, it has been the canary in the mine. As ideological winds have shifted and economic conditions changed, it has been repressed or encouraged, morphed and gone underground, surviving, if not thriving, as part of the second or underground economy. Along the way, it has helped satisfy consumer needs not fulfilled by the inefficient state economy. This intricate, at times even colorful, trajectory has seen the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive that did away with even the smallest private businesses, modest efforts to legalize self-employment in the 1979s, the Mercados Libres Campesinos experiment of the 1980s, and the late 1980s ideological retrenchment associated with the late 1980s Rectification Process.

Of much consequence—ideologically and increasingly economically—are the policy decisions implemented since the 1990s by the regime, under the leadership of both Castro brothers. Initially as part of Special Period, various emergency measures were introduced to allow Cuba to cope with the economic crisis precipitated by the collapse of the communist bloc and the end of Soviet subsidies. These early, modest entrepreneurial openings were eventually expanded as part of the deeper institutional reforms implemented by Raúl upon assuming power in 2006, at first temporarily, and then permanently upon the resignation of his brother as head of the Cuban government.

In keeping with the historical zigzag policy pattern surrounding small businesses activities—euphemistically labeled these days as the “non-state sector”—while increasingly liberal, they have not been immune to temporary reversals. Among the more significant reforms were the approval of an increasing number of self-employment occupations, gradual expansion of the number of patrons restaurants could serve (as dictated by the allowed number of chairs in privately owned paladares), and the gradual, if uneven, relaxation of regulatory, taxing, and employment regulations. Absent has been the authorization for professionals (with minor exceptions, such as student tutoring) to privately engage in their crafts and the inability to provide wholesale markets where self-employed workers could purchase inputs for their small enterprises.

The authors of this volume, an economist and a sociologist, have combined their talents and carefully documented this ever-changing policy landscape, including the cooperative sector. They have centered their attention on post–Special Period policies and their implications, specifically to “evaluate the effects of these policy changes in terms of the generation of productive employment in the non-state sector, the efficient provision of goods and services by this emergent sector, and the reduction in the size and scope of the underground economy” (297).

While assessing post-1990 changes, Entrepreneurial Cuba also generated a systematic examination of the evolution of the self-employment sector in the early decades of the revolution in light of shifting ideological, political, and economic motivations. Likewise, the contextual setting is enhanced by placing Cuban self-employment within the broader global informal economy framework, particularly in Latin America, and by assessing the overall features of the second economy in socialist economies “neither regulated by the state nor included in its central plan” (41). These historical and contextual factors are of prime importance in assessing the promise and potential pitfalls the small enterprise sector confronts in a changing Cuba.

Rich in its analysis, the book is balanced and comprehensive. It is wide ranging in that it carefully evaluates the many factors impinging on the performance of the small business sector, including their legal and regulatory underpinnings. The authors also evaluate challenges in the Cuban economic model and how they have shaped the proclivity for Cuban entrepreneurs to bend the rules. Present is a treatment of the informal social and trading networks that have sustained the second economy, including the ever-present pilfering of state property and the regulatory and transactional corruption so prevalent in Cuba’s centralized economy.

While none of the above is new to students of the Cuban economy—as documented in previous studies and in countless anecdotal reports—Ritter and Henken make two major contributions. First, they summarize and analyze in a single source a vast amount of historical and contemporary information. The value of the multidisciplinary approach is most evident in the authors’ assessment of how the evolving policy environment has influenced the growth of paladares, the most important and visible segment of the nonstate sector. By focusing on this segment, the authors validate and strengthen their conclusions by drawing from experiences documented in longitudinal, qualitative case studies. The latter provide insights not readily gleaned from documentary and statistical sources by grounding the analysis in realistic appreciations of the challenges and opportunities faced by entrepreneurial Cubans. Most impressive is the capacity of Cuban entrepreneurs to adapt to a policy regime constantly shifting between encouraging and constraining their activities.

Commendable, too, is the authors’ balanced approach regarding the Cuban political environment and how it relates to the non-state sector. Without being bombastic, they are critical of the government when they need to be. One of their analytical premises is that the “growth of private employment and income represents a latent political threat to state power since it erodes the ideals of state ownership of the means of production, the central plan, and especially universal state employment” (275).

This dilemma dominates the concluding discussion of future policy options. Three scenarios are considered possible. The first entails a policy reversal with a return to Fidel’s orthodoxy. This scenario is regarded as unlikely, as Raúl’s policy discourse has discredited this option. A second scenario consists of maintaining the current course while allowing for the gradual but managed growth of the non-state sector. While this might be a viable alternative, it will have limited economic and employment generation effects unless the reform process is deepened by, for example, further liberalizing the tax and regulatory regimes and allowing for the provision of professional services.

The final scenario would be one in which reforms are accelerated, not only allowing for small business growth but also capable of accommodating the emergence of medium and large enterprises in a context where public, private, and cooperative sectors coexist (311). As Ritter and Henken recognize, this scenario is unlikely to come to fruition under the historical revolutionary leadership, it would have to entail the resolution of political antagonisms between Washington and Havana, and a reappraisal by the Cuban government of its relationship with the émigré population. Not mentioned by Ritter and Henken is that eventual political developments—not foreseen today—may facilitate the changes they anticipate under their third scenario.

In short, Entrepreneurial Cuba is a must-read for those interested in the country’s current situation. Its publication is timely not only for what it reveals regarding the country’s economic, social, and political situation but also for its insights regarding the country’s future evolution.

…………………………………………………………………………….

Table of Contents

 Table of Contents,

 List of Charts and Figures

Chapter I Introduction       

Chapter II      Cuba’s Small Enterprise Sector in International and Theoretical Perspective

Chapter III    Revolutionary Trajectories, Strategic Shifts, and Small Enterprise, 1959-1989

Chapter IV    Emergence and Containment During the “Special Period”, 1990-2006

Chapter V        The 2006-2011 Policy Framework for Small Enterprise under the Presidency of    Raul Castro

Chapter VI    The Movement towards Non-Agricultural Cooperatives

Chapter VII  The Underground Economy and Economic Illegalities

Chapter VIII  Ethnographic Case Studies of Microenterprise, 2001 vs. 2011

Chapter IX  Summary and Conclusions

APPENDIX                                                              

GLOSSARY                                                                                                                         

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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NOW WHAT, CUBA?

By Ted A. Henken  /  ElYuma    /  

Global Americans, May 1, 2018

Original Article: Now What?

After the Cuban government’s naming of a new “post-Castro” president on April 19, in the coming months three variables will determine whether this “historic” change will be a mere succession within Cuba’s Communist Party (PCC) or the start of a long-delayed transition to a more open Cuba.

First, an invisible power struggle is currently taking place within the “black box” of the Cuban regime. Second is the unresolved tension between the government and Cuba’s embattled, emerging, diverse, and often fractious civil society. The final complicating factor is the on-again, off-again process of normalization with Cuba’s long-time nemesis to the north: the United States. Each of these key variables is influenced by a fourth, all-important factor:  the stalled process of economic reform—particularly in the area of small private enterprise, or “cuentapropismo”—launched by Raúl Castro in 2008.

The Dynamics of Power

While the Cuban government has long attempted to present a unified front to the world under the fiction that its “partido único,” the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), best represents the diverse interests of the nation, the claim hides a number of fault lines. First, and perhaps most important, is the generational division between “los históricos” (the “founding generation” who established the current system) and those born after the revolutionary triumph in 1959.

The most prominent members of the first group are “retiring” Central Committee stalwarts: 88-year-old former first Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura (who continues to sit on the Council of Ministers); former Minister of the Interior 85-year-old Ramiro Valdés (who will stay on as one of Cuba’s six Vice Presidents); and 86-year-old Raúl Castro himself who, while stepping down as president, will remain as First Secretary of the PCC.

The second group includes the man who had been overseeing the implementation of Cuba’s economic reforms, 57-year-old Marino Murillo (who was surprisingly removed as a Vice President and will exit the Council of State, perhaps indicating his fall from grace), 61-year-old foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez, and Miguel Díaz-Canel himself, who was all but unanimously selected by Cuba’s Parliament as the new president on April 19, the day before he turned 58 years old.

Other potential players in this generational transition include the three most politically engaged younger members of the Castro family: 53-year-old Interior Ministry Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín (Raúl’s only son); 56-year-old psychologist and member of parliament Mariela Castro (Raúl’s eldest daughter); and General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, Raúl’s former son-in-law and long-time president of Gasea, a military-run holding company.

However, while all have held important posts in recent years, none is currently a member of the PCC’s Political Bureau, Central Committee, or Council of State. Still, their family pedigree, combined with their key positions in the state security apparatus, the military, and the National Assembly, gives them unparalleled political capital.

While one might expect that this generational division would be coterminous with the one that separates old-school central planning hardliners from younger, market-oriented economic reformers, this is not necessarily the case with the members of the “successor generation.” Indeed, they all owe their current positions to either their tendency to adhere strictly to the party line on key political and economic issues or to their membership in the Castro clan.

Apart from Mariela’s advocacy of greater tolerance for sexual diversity and some nods from others for allowing greater legal space for Cuba’s non-state economic sector, none has developed any truly reformist agenda that would alter Cuba’s command economy or totalitarian political structure.

While there was never much question whether Díaz-Canel would take power on April 19 (he was the sole official nominee for president), there remain many unanswered questions related to the power struggle among Cuba’s top brass, starting with just how much power and autonomy Díaz-Canel will actually have. He lacks an independent base of popular support given his heretofore low profile and the outlawing of any public campaigning or policy platforms in Cuban elections. Moreover, his presidency marks the first time that the President of the Council of State (Díaz-Canel’s actual title) does not simultaneously hold the position of First Secretary of the PCC, an arguably more powerful post (especially given that Castro himself will remain in that post until 2021).

It’s worth asking whether there are any “Miguelistas” within the government in the same sense that both Fidel and Raúl cultivated a coterie of loyalist “Fidelistas” and “Raúlistas.” And if there are, does any set of shared political and economic policies—such as the deepening and acceleration of Raúl’s stalled economic reforms—tie them to Díaz-Canel?

The jury is still out on Díaz-Canel’s own orthodox vs. reformist orientation. He has made a name for himself in recent years as a down-to-earth and broadminded modernist, given his past tolerance of LGBT cultural expression, defense of some critical-minded bloggers, and advocacy for greater internet access. However, he has also proven himself to be a reliable defender of the revolutionary party-line, evidenced in a (perhaps intentionally) leaked video last year where he railed against independent think tanks, digital media outlets, private sector pioneers, and even the Obama administration’s threatening policy of engagement. His presidential acceptance speech on April 19, which served as his official introduction to the world, reiterated this fiercely defensive posture and lionized the leadership of his predecessor.

The Power of the People

Cuba’s revolutionary government rapidly eviscerated the island’s pluralistic (and often extremely conflictive) civil society in the early-1960s, replacing it with a series of official, para-governmental mass organizations. But recent years have seen a rebirth of a variety of autonomous groups that all seek to actively participate in the resolution of national issues and hold authorities accountable, while preserving their independence from state control.

This set of new civil society actors includes a variety of dissident groups such as UNPACU, Somos +, The Ladies in White, and State of Sats, none of which has been able to develop a mass following on the island due to systematic state repression, internal divisions, and an aversion among most islanders to becoming actively involved in political opposition. However, Cuban civil society cannot be reduced to this small group of valiant dissidents.

One major new element in this autonomous universe is Cuba’s emergent digital media. Among dissident media platforms, Primavera Digital (produced from Cuba), CubaNet (run out of Miami), and Cuba Encuentro (run from Spain) are noteworthy veterans that exist to mainly denounce and expose the undemocratic nature of the Cuban regime. There are also a number of increasingly objective, professional, and credible news outlets such as 14ymedioand Diario de Cuba that combine a critical approach to daily reportage with principled, investigative journalism.

Perhaps the most telling turn in this world of digital independent journalism is the fact that a handful of other sites like El EstornudoPeriodismo de BarrioEl Toque, and OnCuba are staffed not by political dissidents, but by university trained journalists who opt not to work in the constraining and poorly paid state sector. Consulting a cross-section of the above platforms has become essential for citizens and Cuba watchers alike to gain insight into the rich, complex, and changing nature of social and civic life on the island today. A small handful of think tanks like Cuba PosibleConvivencia, and Observatorio Crítico have also established themselves as important players in recent years.

Unfortunately, Cuban state security keeps close tabs on all of the above groups, equating their insistence on critical-minded independence with sedition. Their journalists endure periodic harassment, detentions, jailings, and arbitrary travel bans. While some platforms are repressed more harshly and systematically than others, all have been ridiculed, if not outright defamed, in the official media. The Cuban government has also blocked access to many of their websites.

A final key element of Cuban civil society to emerge robustly over the past decade is what the government continues to insist on euphemistically calling “the non-state economic sector.” Relaunched by Raúl Castro in 2010 after a more than a decade of asphyxiating regulatory policies issued by his brother, the cuentapropista (“self-employed”) sector benefitted from a set of new, more flexible rules that produced a clear quantitative leap from just 150,000 registered cuentapropistas in 2010 to nearly 600,000 today.

However, the almost medieval quality of the vast majority of the roughly 200 allowed private sector occupations acts as an inherent check on their ability to productively contribute jobs and affordable goods and services to Cuba’s sorely needed economic recovery. In August 2017, the government dashed hopes of an impending expansion of legal rights for entrepreneurs when it issued a still-in-effect freeze on the issuance of new licenses in the most popular and lucrative occupations.

In response to this freeze and fearing the implementation of a new, comprehensive slate of even more restrictive laws, a group of 43 successful entrepreneurs sent a private letter to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS) requesting a meeting. They sought to provide critical input before any new major changes in the so-called “perfeccionamiento” of Cuba’s self-employment regulations were issued. Surprisingly, MTSS officials did eventually meet with the group in December 2017. At the meeting, the entrepreneurs made six specific proposals:

  • Greater access to wholesale supplies;
  • The legal ability to import commercial goods essential to their businesses;
  • A more flexible tax system;
  • The replacement of the current limited list of approved occupations with one that would simply prohibit specific activities while allowing all others;
  • The implementation of a clear legal status for small- and medium-sized private enterprises (SMEs); and
  • A commitment to engage members of the private sector in an ongoing dialogue.

Unfortunately, the MTSS has so far given the entrepreneurs no official response, nor has Díaz-Canel made any public commitments to take any of the above proposals into consideration as part of his economic plan.

Cuba and The United States: Still The Closest of Enemies?

While visiting Havana in the days immediately following President Trump’s June 2017 announcement of his new Cuba policy, I spoke with the former Chief of the U.S. Interest Section, John Caulfield (2011-2014), who was himself then visiting the island on business. He summed up the crux of the Trump policy with the incisive words: “Sometimes in politics, what you say is more important than what you do.”

Indeed, despite Trump’s bombastic claims to his domestic, hard-line Cuban-American audience in Miami that he was launching a “complete reversal” of Obama’s “bad deal” with Cuba, initially it seemed that he would leave in place the majority of Obama’s policies— especially those aimed at aiding Cuba’s private sector—while simultaneously targeting a few relatively narrow economic and travel-related areas for modification: the elimination of the category of individual “people-to-people” travel, requiring future U.S. travelers to visit with organized group tours, and the banning of all future financial dealings with entities controlled by the Cuban military, security, or intelligence services.

Still, Trump’s new policy toward Cuba represents a step backward in U.S.-Cuba relations. Apart from injecting a new, unnecessary antagonism and mistrust into an already thorny diplomatic relationship, Trump’s measures will also have negative consequences for the very Cuban entrepreneurs they are presumably aimed at helping. While Trump’s measures may shift some U.S. visitors away from Cuban state- and military-run enterprises and into Cuba’s private sector, this slightly larger portion of private business comes at the price of a major reduction in the overall flow of American travelers. This will choke off the growing confidence and prosperity the private sector had been experiencing due to the influx of new American travelers who had become frequent and enthusiastic patrons of “entrepreneurial Cuba.”

The Cuban government reaction to Obama’s soft power offensive deployed during his historic March 2016 state visit to Cuba indicates that state officials saw even Obama’s much more nuanced, respectful, and sensitive approach as “a deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols,” in the words of Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez.

Indeed, the Cuban government reaction to Trump’s new policy, published as an official state position in June 2017 in Granma, made the argument that U.S. policy under Trump was only rhetorically different from that of Obama. While Trump has reverted to the arrogant past policy of imposing demands on Cuba, the Cuban government portrayed Obama’s more respectful, courteous, and subtle approach as essentially the same “regime change” wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Exacerbating this already extreme level of mistrust, the U.S.-Cuba relationship has suffered from a series of still-unexplained sonic incidents suffered by U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana. Starting in November 2016 and continuing at least until August 2017, more than 22 U.S. diplomats and at least one Canadian diplomat reported experiencing mysterious sonic “attacks” resulting in headaches, dizziness, hearing loss, and even mild brain damage.

Though the incoming Trump administration did not initially blame the Cuban government, by August 2017 both President Trump and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson began suggesting that Cuba was responsible for the incidents, either by commission or omission. For its part, Cuba has repeatedly denied responsibility and even questioned the legitimacy of the symptoms while simultaneously pledging to cooperate with the U.S. in finding the cause.

By September 2017 the U.S. announced that it had ordered a drastic reduction in its Embassy staff as a preventative measure while its investigation was ongoing. Senator Marco Rubio then demanded that the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C. also be reduced by two-thirds as a form of parity. The Trump administration quickly responded by expelling 17 Cuban diplomatsfrom the Cuban Embassy. The State Department also issued a strongly worded official travel warning to all potential U.S. visitors advising them to “reconsider travel to Cuba due to attacks targeting U.S. Embassy Havana employees,” even though no civilians had reported any symptoms and there was no proof that the reported incidents were “attacks” at all.

The consequences of this bizarre and unprecedented series of developments have been to drastically reduce the diplomatic presence and outreach of both U.S. and Cuban officials in their respective diplomatic missions, perhaps giving whoever is ultimately behind the incidents exactly what they were aiming for: a de facto reversion to the status quo ante of minimal and antagonistic diplomatic dealings and minimal mutual trust.

The incidents may have also given the Trump administration the perfect pretext to do what it had not yet dared to do in law: reverse Obama’s diplomatic opening to Havana. In March, six months following the initial diplomatic drawdown, the Trump administration decided to make the Embassy staffing cuts an indefinite feature of its diplomatic mission in Havana, converting the outpost into an “unaccompanied post,” a shadow of its former self with only 10 staff members, all of whom serve without any family members. The skeletal staffing of the Embassy has hamstrung U.S. intelligence, migration, and people-to-people efforts, not to mention the ability of the U.S. to ultimately get to the bottom of the cause of the sonic incidents themselves.

In short, American diplomats have been removed from the field of engagement precisely during a once-in-a-generation moment when Cuba is undergoing a historic governmental transition, limiting U.S. ability to advocate its interests during the transition.

Cuba: Retrenchment, Continuity, or Reform?

Ironically, Trump’s bizarre strategy, which aims to “impoverish the Cuban people, so that they may be freer”, dovetails nicely with the Cuban government’s own political and ideological resistance to a greater economic opening. This helps to justify its economic “pause” on the private sector as a necessary defensive measure in the face of foreign aggression.

Under Raúl Castro, the Cuban government has repeatedly declared that what it insists on calling the “non-state” sector will gradually expand, while remaining a decidedly secondary supplement to what will remain a dominant centrally planned and state-owned socialist economy. While Deng Xiaoping may have kicked off China’s own economic revitalization under the Communist Party with the pungent slogan, “To get rich is glorious!”, Cuba’s own Communist Party continues to explicitly restrict the private concentration of wealth or property.

Thus, while we can expect that an aggressive Trump policy that rolls back or conditions parts of U.S. economic engagement on Havana’s “good behavior” will be counterproductive and indeed hurt Cuban cuentapropistas, it does not follow that more engagement will necessarily increase economic freedoms or produce a “change moment” on the island at least in the short term. This is so because it is Havana’s own continued restrictions on the private sector (not to mention its ongoing suppression of fundamental political rights and civil liberties) that present the greatest obstacle to entrepreneurial success on the island, not U.S. policy embodied in the counterproductive, outdated embargo.

Change in leadership does not necessarily mean change in policies, especially when Raúl Castro’s administration justifies its timid and unfinished economic opening by quoting the largely meaningless if not outright Orwellian words of his big brother Fidel: “Revolution is changing everything that should be changed.” Until this change explicitly includes clear and defensible rights to private property and a recognized “legal personality” (personalidad jurídica) as business enterprises for today’s so-called cuentapropistas, Cuban entrepreneurs will remain largely powerless against arbitrary state power a decade after the start of Raúl Castro’s economic reforms in 2008.

Ted A. Henken is a visiting professor at the Institute of Advanced Latin American Studies (IHEAL), Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3, and Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies, Baruch College, City University of New York

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1968: A DECISIVE TURNING POINT IN THE CUBAN REVOLUTION

JACOBIN MAGAZINE, May 1, 2018

BY SAMUEL FARBER

Original Article: Cuba in 1968

In 1960, less than two years after having overthrown the Batista dictatorship, the Cuban Revolution was well on its way to implementing the Soviet model. Most people at that time still supported the revolution. Notwithstanding the recurring shortages of consumer goods and the housing crisis, most Cubans had benefited from the newly established welfare state, which insured an austere but secure standard of living.

Buoyed by that support and by the people’s enthusiastic response to its resistance to US imperialism, the Cuban leadership pursued its foreign-policy objectives with a revolutionary elan absent in the more cautious and conservative Soviet bloc.

Cuba displayed its anti-imperialism with particular vigor in Latin America, where it supported — and often organized — guerrilla groups set on overthrowing dictatorial governments. Fidel Castro’s government devoted extra attention to countries that had severed their ties with Cuba following Washington’s directives. That is, Castro’s militant foreign policy was based not only on its revolutionary ideas also but on the Cuban state’s interests.

This helps explain why Castro maintained friendly relations with corrupt and authoritarian Mexico, the only Latin American country that refused to break diplomatic relations with revolutionary Cuba. In fact, Castro’s government abstained from criticizing Mexico’s crimes, including the October 1968 Tlatelolco massacre.

Granma, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, adopted a purely “objective” journalistic posture when covering Tlatelolco, allowing it to avoid any critical analysis of the political actors behind the massacre. While the Mexican left was denouncing the murder of hundreds of demonstrators, Granma uncritically reported the “provisional” figures provided by the “official sources”: just thirty dead, fifty-three seriously injured, and fifteen hundred arrested.

Reasons of state also explain why, after a rough start, Fidel established friendly relations with Franco’s dictatorship and why the Cuban revolutionary hierarchy, from its official unions and student organizations all the way to the top, did not support the French May ‘68 movement. Not only did French President de Gaulle refuse to toe the US line against Cuba, but he had also agreed to continue trade, which had became of crucial importance to the island following the American blockade. As with Tlatelolco in Mexico, Granma limited itself to “objectively” reporting the events of May ‘68. It strictly avoided making any political inferences or conclusions.

Despite these contradictions, Castro’s early foreign policy was governed by a set of revolutionary ideas that aimed to establish systems similar to Cuba’s across Latin America. His government supported and organized foco groups on the top-down Cuban model, which produced acrimonious conflicts with the gradualist and pro-Moscow Communist parties in countries like Venezuela and Bolivia. It also caused friction with the Soviet Union itself because Castro’s militancy jeopardized the long-standing agreement between the USSR and the United States, which held that the two imperialist powers and their partners would not intervene in each other’s spheres of influence.

This tension came to a head in 1967, when Moscow began to significantly reduce its oil shipments to Cuba in hopes of pressuring the island into moderating its aggressive foreign policy. But Castro wasn’t swayed. He responded by denouncing the USSR’s friendly overtures to Venezuela and Colombia despite their anti-communist repression. He then refused to send a top Cuban political figure to the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution in November 1967. And, at the celebration of the ninth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in January 1968, he expressly, albeit diplomatically, connected Cuba’s tightened oil rations to the slowdown of Soviet delivery. The USSR then suspended its supply of military hardware and technical assistance.

When conflict simmered between a reform-minded Communist government in Czechoslovakia and Moscow, many wondered what the Cuban response would be. For months, Granma published very little about Czechoslovakia, entirely ignoring the reformist Prague Spring and its impact on the international left. This changed, however, in mid-July, when the paper began covering the growing confrontation between Czechoslovakia and the USSR in depth.

Most likely, Castro recognized that the key dynamics of the Czech events had shifted. Originally, protesters were calling for internal reform and democratization, which Castro would not want to have publicized on the island. (Likewise, Granmadid not cover the student movements in Poland and Yugoslavia that had taken place in March and June of that year.) But by July it had become clear that a confrontation between Czechoslovakia and the USSR was coming, one that would bring the issue of national sovereignty to the fore. US imperialist aggression made this question particularly important to Castro, and the conflict brewing between Cuba and the USSR only made the issue more urgent.

Granma focused on the external USSR-Czechoslovakia conflict, excluding the internal dimension, and wrote in some detail about other Communist parties’ reactions to the developing confrontation, regardless of which side they supported. It was clear that the newspaper — and by inference Fidel Castro, his government, and the Cuban Communist Party — would not take sides. In fact, it was going out of its way to give equal space to both parties.

But this all changed when Fidel, without having said a word about the conflict, came out in support of the Soviet invasion in August. Granma immediately adopted the Soviet line and started publishing statements from Cuban mass organizations praising Fidel’s support of the invasion.Other steps, designed to appease the Soviets and incur favors, followed. Cuba cut back on its support to Latin American guerrillas, and, in the 1970s, it carried out a rapprochement with the pro-Moscow Communist parties in the region by acknowledging that armed struggle represented only one path for revolutionary struggle. In response, these parties recognized Cuba’s vanguard role in the hemisphere’s anti-imperialist struggle.

This was the beginning of what former Soviet diplomat Yuri Pavlov called the “belated honeymoon” between the USSR and Cuba, which lasted well into the 1980s. In June 1969, the Cuban representative at the International Conference of Communist Parties in Moscow joined the pro-Soviet majority in denouncing China’s “sectarian” position. In return, the Soviet Union sent a flotilla of warships to visit Cuba. An exchange of military delegations soon followed. Marshal Andrei Grechko, the Soviet defense minister, went to Havana in November 1969, and Raúl Castro, Cuba’s defense minister, traveled to Moscow in April and October 1970. The flow of Soviet arms resumed and then increased, and Fidel Castro approved the construction of a deep-water base for Soviet submarines at Cienfuegos.

Mutual state visits came soon after, and Cuba joined the Soviet-led Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) in 1972. In that period, Cuba turned to Africa as the main focus of its revolutionary foreign policy. There, unlike in Latin America, it shared Moscow’s strategic interests.

While appeasing Moscow, Castro nevertheless preserved his right to disagree with some Soviet policies, making Cuba a junior partner, rather than a satellite, of the USSR. In fact, Castro had staked out this position from the beginning. In his speech supporting the invasion of Czechoslovakia, he not only criticized Alexander Dubcek’s “liberalism” but also the USSR’s policy of peaceful coexistence with the United States. The Cuban leader sarcastically wondered if the Soviets would dispatch Warsaw Pact troops to help defend Cuba from an attack by the imperialist Yankees.

Full Nationalization

That same year, Castro initiated what he called the Revolutionary Offensive, a project aimed at totally nationalizing the island’s economy. The state had already taken over large and middle-sized businesses in 1960, but family-owned operations remained in private hands.

Within sixteen days of the announcement, the official press reported that 55,636 small businesses had been nationalized, including bodegas, barber shops, and thousands of timbiriches (“hole-in-the-wall” establishments). The Revolutionary Offensive gave Cuba the world’s highest proportion of nationalized property.

According to Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, some 31 percent of these small businesses were retail food outlets, and another 26 percent provided consumer services, like shoe and auto repair. Restaurant and snack shops represented another 21 percent; 17 percent sold clothing and shoes. The rest (5 percent) were small handicraft establishments that manufactured leather, wood products, and textiles. Half of these small businesses were exclusively owner- and family-operated and had no employees.

Shortly after nationalization, the state closed one-third of the small enterprises. The only private activity left in Cuba was small-farm agriculture, where 150,000 farmers owned 30 percent of the land in holdings of less than 165 acres each.

One of the Revolutionary Offensive’s goals was to shut down the many thousand bars in Cuba, both private- and state-owned. The regime wanted them closed not because of opposition to alcohol but because it believed the bars fostered a prerevolutionary social ambiance, antithetic to the Castro government’s militaristic, ascetic, anti-urban campaigns to forge the “New Man.”

These campaigns began in 1963, when Castro attacked homosexuality and cultural nonconformity.. Hoping to emphasize the state’s centrality to citizens’ lives, he also went after religious dissenters, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and followers of the secret Afro-Cuban Abakuá society. Members of these groups were imprisoned in the Units of Military Aid to Production (UMAP), forced labor camps established in 1965 and disbanded in 1968.

The Revolutionary Offensive’s nationalization of all small businesses was also intended to provide the state with complete control over agricultural output. Many of the expropriated merchants bought farm products at high prices, reducing the amount available for the state.

In addition, it granted the state more power over the labor force. Absenteeism and job abandonment, generated by the lack of consumer goods, had become a major problem. To combat it, the Cuban leadership drafted a law against vagrancy, which it enacted on March 28, 1971. The legislation ordered all adult men to put in a full day’s work and established a variety of punishments ranging from house arrest to internment in forced labor rehabilitation centers. Information regarding its enforcement is unknown.

The Revolutionary Offensive exemplifies Castro’s super-voluntarist, “idealist” approach to socialization. The policy equated private property in general with capitalist private property in particular, a misreading of Friedrich Engels’sSocialism: Utopian and Scientific.

There, Engels distinguished modern capitalism, in which individual capitalists appropriate the products of social and collective activity, from socialism, where both production and its appropriation are socialized. Accordingly, productive property involving collective work is the proper object of socialization, not the individual or family productive unit, let alone personal property.

Besides this confusion, the Cuban government was in no position to take over the distribution of goods and services from small businesses — the nationalization program reinforced, instead of ameliorated, the shortage of consumer goods.

The Ten Million Ton Sugar Crop campaign, planned for January 1969 to July 1970, is another example of Castro’s voluntarist orientation. This extravagant effort never achieved its goal. Instead, it diverted scarce production and transportation inputs, causing serious disruptions to the island’s economy.

As historian Lillian Guerra pointed out, the campaign represented far more than an exercise in voluntarism or “idealism.” It aimed not only “to revive the ‘júbilo popular’ (mass euphoria) of the early sixties and thereby restore the unconditional standards of support for government policies” but, more importantly, “to prove the value of labor discipline and enforce it simultaneously.”

Likewise, as Mesa-Lago pointed out, Castro used the Revolutionary Offensive to mobilize as much of the labor force as possible for production, particularly in agriculture, in order to reinforce labor discipline, save inputs, and exhort workers to increase productivity and do unpaid work. In April 1968, the official union confederation recruited a quarter of a million workers to perform farm labor without pay for twelve hours per day over three to four weeks. Some 2.5 million days were “donated” by workers who spent fourteen weeks on coffee plantations.

These campaigns were all launched in response to that decade’s economic crisis, one that became qualitatively worse with the criminal economic blockade established by the United States in the early sixties. But the bureaucratic and chaotic top-down administration of the economy generated that crisis.

As Andrés Vilariño, a Cuban government economist pointed out, investment inefficiency was one of the principal causes of declining economic productivity in the sixties. For example, expensive imported machinery sat in warehouses and ports for so long, most of it rusted over. Meanwhile, the inadequate supply of consumer goods, combined with the lack of worker control of the production process and the absence of independent unions, engendered a sense of apathy among Cuban workers. The lack of transparency in decision making, not to mention the inaccurate economic information coming from a lower management class fearful of reprisals for reporting bad news, produced bad planning and waste, often aggravated by Fidel Castro’s capricious interventions and micromanagement.

In one telling case, he tried to introduce a new breed of cattle, the F1 hybrid, against the advice of British experts that he himself had brought to Cuba. The project wasted millions of dollars.

New Targets

In 1968, Castro shifted the repression already being deployed on his government’s enemies (even critics from the pro-revolutionary left). First, the government eliminated some of the most excessive forms of punishment, closing, for example, the UMAP agricultural labor camps. Second, government policing efforts zeroed in on any political and cultural expression that deviated from the official party line.

A case in point was the old Communist leader Aníbal Escalante. In 1962, he was purged from the government and party and then jailed for his sectarian attempt to accumulate power by excluding revolutionaries who did not belong to the old pro-Moscow Communist Party from government positions. In 1968, he was again purged and jailed, this time on charges of having formed a “micro-faction” within the Cuban Communist Party critical of Castro’s economic policies. He was also accused of meeting with Eastern European diplomats in order to gain their support. For Fidel — and his brother Raúl, assigned to officially charge Escalante — this “micro-faction” jeopardized their efforts to impose a single line in the party.

The affair demonstrates the disproportion between the supposed offense and the punishment. Not only were many of Escalante’s criticisms of Castro’s economic policies correct — especially with regard to the disastrous ten million ton sugar-crop campaign — but no evidence ever indicated that Escalante and his small group were conspiring to remove or overthrow the Cuban government with or without the support of Eastern European diplomats. The group may have been “unpatriotic,” as the government charged, but its activities were peaceful and therefore subject to public political debate. Instead, the regime, following the Stalinist tradition, turned it into a criminal case.

Castro had thirty-five of the thirty-seven members of Escalante’s group tried by a so-called War Council (Consejo de Guerra), which the government assembled specially to impose stiff sentences. Escalante was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, and thirty-four of his associates were sentenced to terms ranging from one to twelve years. The two remaining members belonged to the armed forces and were therefore referred to the Revolutionary Armed Forces’ prosecutor for processing.

By adopting these separate paths, the government implicitly recognized most of Escalante’s group as civilians, who were supposed to be processed differently from, and under less onerous rules than, the military. Despite this implicit difference, they faced a War Council, where they earned harsher sentences than they might have received otherwise.

Castro also turned his attention to Cuban dissenters in the cultural realm. In January, 1968, the government opened the Havana Cultural Congress, inviting more than five hundred intellectuals from seventy countries to attend, including prominent left-wing social scientists and historians such as Ralph Miliband and E. J. Hobsbawm, well-known Caribbean and Latin American literary figures like Aimé Cesaire, Julio Cortázar, and Mario Benedetti, famous European writers such as Michel Leiris, Jorge Semprún, and Arnold Wesker, as well as left-wing politicos such as several leaders of the North American SDS and SNCC. The congress, which focused on the topic of political, economic, and cultural anti-imperialism, was ostensibly carried out in an open manner. According to independent observers, all the presentations and resolutions that participants proposed were included without any interference.

Thanks to this apparent openness, neither the foreign guests nor many of the invited Cuban intellectuals suspected that an important group of black Cuban intellectuals and artists — among them Rogelio Martínez Furé, Nancy Morejón, Sara Gómez, Pedro Pérez-Sarduy, Nicolás Guillén Landrián, and Walterio Carbonell — had been excluded.

According to the Black Cuban author Carlos Moore, the group had been meeting to discuss the Cuban government’s lack of action against racism, a problem that the revolutionary leaders claimed to have solved with the abolition of racial segregation in the early sixties. In response to a rumor that these intellectuals had drafted a position paper on race and culture in Cuba for the congress, Minister of Education José Llanusa Gobel called them in for a private meeting a couple of days before the event began. After listening to their critiques, Llanusa accused them of being “seditious” and told them that the “revolution” would not allow them to “divide” the Cuban people along racial lines. He explained that the very idea of their “black manifesto” was a provocation for which they would have to recant or face the consequences.

He then barred them from the congress. In addition, each member was subjected to various degrees of punishment. The worst was meted to those unwilling to recant, such as Nicolás Guillén Landrián, the nephew of the national poet laureate and then-president of the Cuban writers and artists union. After the congress, he was repeatedly arrested and later left Cuba as an exile.

Walterio Carbonell, one of the group’s leaders, also refused to recant. A Cuban exponent of Black Power politics, he had originally belonged to the old pro-Moscow Cuban Communist Party. Ironically, he had been expelled from that organization for supporting Fidel Castro’s attack on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953. After the revolution, he served as Cuba’s ambassador to the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). In 1961, he published his Critique: How Cuba’s National Culture Emerged, where he argued that black Cubans had played a major role in the war of independence and the establishment of the republic — a fact that the prerevolutionary white racist culture and institutions had erased. Moreover, he claimed that the black Cuban experience was at the heart of the Cuban Revolution’s radicalism — accordingly, the struggle against racism strengthened rather than weakened the revolution.

Walterio Carbonell

Thanks to these arguments, Carbonell endured various forms of detention between 1968 and 1974, including compulsory labor. According to Lillian Guerra, after he was released in 1974, he continued to defend his ideas, so he was interned in various psychiatric hospitals and subjected to electroshock and drug therapy for another two to three years. After that, Carbonell spent his remaining years as a little-known researcher at the National Library.

Unlike Carbonell’s cases, the repression case of Cuban poet and journalist Heberto Padilla became well known very quickly. In 1968, Padilla won was awarded the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba’s (UNEAC) most prestigious prize for his book of poems Fuera del Juego (Outside the Game). But the government objected to Padilla’s critical, nonconformist spirit and condemned the work, forcing UNEAC to change its line on it as well.

Heberto Padilla

Ostracized and unable to publish in Cuba, Padilla was arrested for daring to read several of his new poems in public and trying to publish a new novel. He was compelled to confess, in Stalinist fashion, his political sins in 1971. This provoked an international scandal, and a large group of well-known intellectuals sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Julio Cortazar, protested. In response, the regime banned and withdrew from the country’s libraries the works of any Latin American and European intellectual who objected to Padilla’s treatment.

In 1968, the government began using repressive to enforce a monolithic cultural line. This shift created the foundation of what was later called the Quinquenio Gris, the five-year period from 1971 to 1976 in which the Castro regime brutally repressed nonconformist expression. In 1971, the National Congress of Education and Culture viciously attacked gay artists and intellectuals, banned gays from representing Cuba abroad in artistic, political, and diplomatic missions, and branded the Afro-Cuban Abakuá brotherhood a “focus of criminality” and “juvenile delinquency.” Over those five years, the government imposed “parameters” on professionals in the fields of education and culture in order to scrutinize their sexual preferences, religious practices, and relationships with people abroad, among other political and personal issues.

The late Cuban architect Mario Coyula Cowley insisted that the Quinquenio Grishad in fact been the Trinquenio Amargo (the “bitter fifteen years”), because it had really started in the second half of the sixties. The hope that Castro would have supported Czech national self-determination and the upheavals of revolutionary 1968 to chart an independent, more democratic course for the Cuban Revolution was quickly lost.

 

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