• 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."

WHO WILL BE CUBA’S PRIME MINISTER? A GENERAL AND FORMER CASTRO SON-IN-LAW STANDS OUT

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES, Miami Herald

NOVEMBER 04, 2019 04:19 PM, UPDATED NOVEMBER 05, 2019 08:55 AM

Original Article: WHO WILL BE CUBA’S PRIME MINISTER?

Whether in New York, Mexico, or Russia, a face has become familiar in the most recent international trips Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel has made: that of General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja.

Image result for General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja.

General Luis Alberto Rodríguez Lopez-Calleja, head of the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA)

Introduced as “an economic adviser,” the enigmatic military figure was third in line to greet Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting last week, just behind the vice president of the Council of Ministers, Ricardo Cabrisas, who renegotiated the debt to Russia, and foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez.

López-Calleja also sat close to Díaz-Canel in a meeting with Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador in mid-October this year and accompanied him to his debut at the United Nations in September 2018.

Although the official Cuban media has been ambivalent, showing López-Calleja in photos but without publicly naming him as part of the official delegations, his growing international profile suggests that Raúl Castro’s former son-in-law could be among the favorites to fill the newly created position of prime minister.

While leaving much in place, the Cuban Constitution approved in February established a division at the top of the government and the appointment of a prime minister. Accordingly, Díaz-Canel changed his title from President of the Council of State and Ministers to President of the Republic at the beginning of October. The Cuban leader has three months to propose a prime minister, who will be in charge of the day-to-day running of the country.

“The election or designation of the prime minister is a decision in which the executive committee of the Political Bureau of the [Cuban Communist Party], the nerve center of the Cuban one-party system, will have the lead,” said Arturo López-Levy, assistant professor of international relations and comparative politics at Holy Names University in Oakland. Key figures of the generation of historical leaders, such as the first and second secretary of the Party, Raúl Castro and José Ramón Machado Ventura, as well as Castro’s successor in the presidency, Díaz-Canel, must approve the candidate, the analyst said.

López-Levy is López-Calleja’s cousin but declined to comment on their family relationship.

Although the president of the republic, Díaz-Canel, remains as head of state and “supreme” chief of the armed forces as established in the new Constitution, the prime minister will have great power as head of government and chief decision-maker in the administration of the country.

The new prime minister must manage the economic situation of the country, “particularly in the areas of food and energy security,” have the support of the Party and the Armed Forces high command, as well as knowledge of international affairs, especially relations with the U.S., Russia, and China, López-Levy said.

López-Calleja, a Castro relative with proven experience in administration and leadership over the military, as well as contact with business people and foreign leaders, stands out as the ideal candidate for the position.

He is the true czar of the Cuban economy, being at the head of the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA), a conglomerate of military companies estimated to control at least half of the Cuban economy. GAESA manages critical areas such as the remittance business, most of the tourism industry, the Special Development Zone in the Port of Mariel as well as the main stores and supermarkets, gas stations, import and export companies, shipping and construction companies, warehouses and an airline.

In emails obtained by the Miami Herald, managers at Odebrecht — the Brazilian construction company involved in a corruption scheme throughout Latin America that was in charge of the modernization of the Port of Mariel in Cuba — wrote that, though López-Calleja divorced one of Raúl Castro’s daughters, Deborah, he had the ear of the Cuban leader and exercised “strong leadership in the decisions made by the Cuban government. All our businesses in Cuba passed through their hands.”

GAESA is currently under U.S. sanctions. Some analysts suggest that the fact that the Trump administration did not include López-Calleja among Castro’s relatives hit with recent visa sanctions might indicate that the U.S. believes the general could play a key role during a transition on the island.

But internal movements in Cuba are difficult to predict, and López-Calleja is not the only one with prospects of becoming prime minister.

Foreign Minister Rodríguez has increased his international profile in recent years, capitalizing on his frequent harsh criticism of the U.S. government while negotiating a new diplomatic agreement with the European Union. He also served in the military and has spent years cultivating relations in the Party as a member of its Central Committee, to the point that he is seen as someone who represents the most conservative voice of the Party in the foreign ministry.

While Rodríguez and Tapia are currently members of parliament, López-Calleja must become a deputy in order to be nominated as prime minister, a requirement written in the new Constitution. Since the last parliamentary elections in March 2018, the Assembly has dropped 22 deputies and admitted 16 new ones who were not elected, through a mechanism that is not public.

The Party could also choose one of its own, for example, economist Jorge Luis Tapia, appointed a vice president of the Council of Ministers in September, after a decade leading the Party, first in the province of Ciego de Ávila and then in Camagüey.

Rodríguez, however, lacks experience in administration, and Tapia lacks international contacts.

Castro and the military could also keep López-Calleja as an influential figure who acts behind the scenes, especially for his valuable contacts with international business people.

“While he is a logical candidate given his success at managing GAESA, his business expertise may be more valuable there than as prime minister,” said William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University and a specialist in U.S. relations with Cuba.

But the advance age of Castro, 88, and Machado, 89, leads López-Levy to think that whoever occupies the prime minister position will have real power during an imminent transition.

“In the transitions of post-revolutionary regimes, the titles acquire real power,” he said. In those circumstances, “people prefer to formalize their position.”

Arturo López-(Cajella)-Levy

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TRUMP ACTIVATED A LONG-DORMANT CLAUSE IN CUBA TRADE WAR — AND IT’S STARTING TO HURT CANADIAN COMPANIES

Sherritt International is suffering from a ratcheting up of U.S. restrictions on everything from financial transactions, to travel and shipping

Naomi Powell, November 5, 2019, 3:47 PM EST

Tougher U.S. sanctions on Cuba squeezed Sherritt International in the third quarter, disrupting the supply of diesel to its nickel mine on the island and casting doubt over the timing of key payments in foreign currency.

The Toronto based firm, which operates the Moa mine as a joint venture with the Cuban government, was forced to adopt conservation measures including running fewer mining trucks as U.S. sanctions on oil shipments worsened an acute fuel shortage.

The measures reduced production of mixed sulphite, though nickel production was unaffected. Mixed sulphides production is now back on track and access to fuel supply returned to normal in the fourth quarter, the company said in a call with investors Friday.

Meantime, the Trump administration’s attempts to unsettle business in the Communist run nation have stifled the flow of cash Cuba needs to pay Sherritt, which has taken pains to limit its direct exposure to American sanctions, including the recent activation of Title III of the Helms Burton Act.

 

Sherritt’s Moa Cuba Operations

“The U.S. sanctions continue to be a concern for us,” Sherritt chief executive David Pathe said in a call with analysts last week. “There is potential for further sanction increases in the months ahead and that does put further difficulty on our ability to forecast the timing of Cuban receivables, receipt of cash on Cuban receivables from our Cuban partners in the oil and power business.”

The Trump administration moved in April to activate Title III of the 1996 Helms Burton Act, the legal underpinning of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. The long-dormant provision allows parties whose property was confiscated by the Cuban government in the 1959 revolution to sue in U.S. courts anyone who “traffics” or derives an economic benefit from that property. The provision has been suspended by every previous U.S. President.

Though a certified claim of $88.3 million stands against Sherritt’s Moa nickel mine, the company has structured its operations to avoid having any presence in the U.S. where a claim could be pursued. And changes made in 1996 to Canada’s Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act (FEMA) state that any judgement made under the U.S. embargo will not be recognized or enforced in Canada.

But that hasn’t sheltered Sherritt from a ratcheting up of the U.S. restrictions on everything from financial transactions, to travel and shipping.

In an effort to punish Havana for its close ties to Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela, the Trump administration has limited U.S. travel to Cuba, banned American cruise ships from entering Cuban ports, imposed sanctions on shipping companies and restricted the ability of Americans to send remittances to family in the country. The moves have limited foreign investment in Cuba, restricted access to supplies and equipment and reduced the availability of foreign currency, Sherritt said.

That’s left the Caribbean nation unable to pay Sherritt — it’s largest private investor — for the energy it has produced. Sherritt also produces electricity, oil and gas in the country.

“Each one of those implemented successively does impact Cuba’s ability to draw hard currency reserves into the country and puts more pressure on their liquidity situation and hence more pressure on their ability to service our receivables,” Pathe told investors.

Sherritt’s Cuban partners are currently overdue on US$154.8 million in payments, though the Canadian miner did receive its monthly injection of US$2.5 million, National Bank Canada analyst Don DeMarco said in a note.

Cuba’s timing in paying off the debt will have implications for Sherritt’s liquidity and “ability to repay (or refinance) the Cdn $170 million first tranche of corporate debt due in 2017,” he added.

So far 20 lawsuits have been filed under Title III, according to John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., a group that tracks Title III lawsuits. That’s a long way from the avalanche of claims many experts were expecting when Trump activated the provision, many of which were expected to affect Canadian companies.

Nearly 6,000 certified claims for property confiscated in Cuba have been certified by the U.S. Justice Department. And the number of uncertified claims have been estimated to be as high as 200,000.

Many parties are likely waiting to see how U.S. courts sort out various jurisdictional and other issues related to the law before venturing out with their own claims, said John Boscariol, head of the international trade and investment law group at McCarthy Tétrault LLP.

“This just happened in April so this is just the tip of the iceberg I think,” he said. “A lot of Canadian companies stepped in to fill the vacuum after the U.S. left so I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of this.”

Though former U.S. President Barack Obama sought to settle the certified claims and restore relations with Cuba, Trump has taken a markedly different stance. Ultimately the action will have a “chilling effect” on investment in Cuba, he added.

“Rather than face lawsuits, these companies may decide not to spend in Cuba at all,” he said.

Financial Post

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The Cuban Economy: Private, Cooperative and Underground

Attached is a Power Point Presentation delivered at Kennesaw State University on October 24, 2019.  Kennesaw Presentation on Cuban Economy, October 24, 2019

 

 

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Public and Private, Market and Plan: Some Lessons from Cuba and the United States.

Attached is the PDF of a P.Pt. presentation delivered at Kennesaw State University on October 24, 2019 entitled Public and Private, Market and Plan:Some Lessons from Cuba and the United State: 

    Public and Private, Market and Plan, Kennesaw, Oct. 24, 2019

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Cuba: redolarización de la economía y el fracaso del CUC

Autorizar operaciones con divisas en algunos mercados de consumo y en algunas industrias es abrir la caja de Pandora a una redolarización acelerada del resto de la economía.

por Pavel Vidal Alejandro,  octubre 18, 2019

Esta semana el gobierno cubano anunció un grupo de transformaciones monetarias para enfrentar la compleja situación financiera y de balanza de pagos que agobia en extremo a la economía. No se trata de la reforma monetaria que llevan años anunciando. No van dirigidas a unificar el sistema monetario, sino que producen nuevas fragmentaciones.

No apuntan a una solución definitiva y de largo aliento al complejo y distorsionante sistema de múltiples tipos de cambios y dualidad monetaria. Son medidas para afrontar la crisis actual y buscar algún alivio rápido a los crecientes desbalances financieros que se vienen acumulando desde 2015 a raíz de la crisis venezolana y el congelamiento de las prometidas reformas estructurales, situación que desde finales de 2017 se ha agravado con el endurecimiento de las sanciones económicas desde la actual administración estadounidense.

La motivación no es estructurar un sistema monetario que efectivamente contribuya a la estrategia de largo plazo del país y al desarrollo de todo el sistema productivo. Nuevamente son medidas que se toman en el calor de la urgencia y buscando un resultado inmediato, sin mucho tiempo para pensar en las implicaciones futuras. De hecho, la reforma monetaria que hasta hace muy poco se presentaba públicamente en la agenda oficial era la unificación monetaria.

Las recientes decisiones se mueven en la dirección opuesta, llevan a la economía a operar no con dos, sino con tres monedas: pesos cubanos, CUC y dólares (o su equivalente en otras divisas internacionales). No restablecen el peso cubano como único signo monetario, tal como estaba plasmado en múltiples documentos oficiales, sino que redolarizan parcialmente la economía.

Las medidas persiguen un objetivo muy preciso. Evitar que las familias y el sector privado siga importando bienes a través de vías informales, sobre todo a través de personas que viajan a Panamá y otros destinos, compran en estos mercados y regresan a Cuba con las mercancías. Se busca que las divisas se queden y se gasten en el territorio nacional.

Para ello se van a organizar unos mercados de consumo que funcionarán en dólares y operarán con tarjetas bancarias, y que estarán mejor surtidos que los actuales mercados en CUC. Para poder comprar las personas deberán tener una cuenta bancaria en dólares (o en otras divisas internacionales) en alguno de los bancos estatales.

Las empresas estatales que vendan en estos mercados podrán usar las divisas para importar directamente sus insumos sin necesidad de aprobación del plan central, y sin tener que lidiar con la falta de convertibilidad de las monedas locales. También se establecen mecanismos para que las familias y el sector privado pueda importar a través de empresas estatales.

Es previsible que en el corto plazo se observen efectos positivos. Las nuevas medidas van a fortalecer la liquidez en divisas de los bancos, las familias van a tener mayores opciones de compra en mercados formales, y el sector privado va a contar con acceso más directo a determinados insumos a menores costos. También favorece que determinadas industrias estatales puedan recibir financiamiento, sustituir importaciones y actuar con mayor autonomía del plan central. Por supuesto, todo ello dentro de la acotada eficiencia y competitividad con que opera el monopolio estatal en el comercio exterior y la industria, el cual se conserva.

La economía cubana ya estuvo dolarizada en la década de los noventas y en los primeros años de los 2000. En 2004, sin eliminarse la dualidad monetaria y de tipos de cambio, el Banco Central desdolarizó la economía sustituyendo los dólares en circulación por el peso cubano convertible (CUC). El CUC permitió recuperar la autonomía de la política monetaria y se veía como una transición hacia una futura unificación monetaria.

Dentro del Banco Central y desde la academia advertimos que la desdolarización implicaba retos, que se requería manejar la emisión del CUC con algún tipo de regla transparente y verificable. Sin embargo, desde 2004 se abandonó la caja de conversión que respaldaba el CUC (ya los CUC no tuvieron más un cien por ciento de respaldo en reservas de dólares), nunca supimos cuánto CUC se emitía cada año, la Asamblea Nacional se mantuvo aprobando el presupuesto del Estado y el déficit fiscal en pesos cubanos sin saber qué pasaba con el presupuesto en CUC. Y nunca la política económica definió una regla para un manejo prudente de las reservas internacionales.

La política cambiaria tampoco ayudó. En los últimos quince años la economía estuvo sujeta a múltiples choques económicos y financieros, pero la tasa de cambio del CUC se mantuvo inamovible (se aplicó una única corrección para regresar a la paridad con el dólar estadounidense y revertir la apreciación de 8% decretada en 2004).

Tener que devolvernos a los mecanismos monetarios y financieros de los años noventa es un reconocimiento de facto del fracaso de la desdolarización. Que nuevamente se tenga que recurrir a monedas extranjeras para hacer funcionar los mercados domésticos confirma que fracasaron las políticas e instituciones que guiaron el funcionamiento del CUC desde 2004.

La emisión desproporcionada de CUC, la subordinación de la política monetaria a los vaivenes y excesos del gasto público, y la falta de transparencia, poco a poco fueron socavando la convertibilidad y la credibilidad del CUC. Las cadenas minoristas, las industrias estatales y hasta las empresas extranjeras terminaron inundados de CUC con los cuales pueden hacer poco dentro de los mercados domésticos y casi nada de operaciones de importación, pagos de deuda externa y repatriación de utilidades.

La redolarización es una medida que alivia en el corto plazo, pero deja muy mal paradas a las instituciones que definen las políticas económicas. Si no pudieron manejar adecuadamente el CUC, qué garantías existen para un futuro escenario donde solo circule el peso cubano.

Autorizar operaciones con divisas en algunos mercados de consumo y en algunas industrias es abrir la caja de Pandora a una redolarización acelerada del resto de la economía. Otras empresas estatales también van a solicitar participar en los nuevos mercados dolarizados, los inversionistas extranjeros van a exigir poder operar en divisas extranjeras dentro del mercado cubano y los trabajadores van a demandar salarios o estímulos en dólares. El sector privado y agrícola también tiene ahora mayores incentivos para fijar precios y cobrar en dólares.

Algunos en las esferas de gobierno pudieran inclinarse a abandonar definitivamente el peso cubano y el CUC y dolarizar toda la economía. Sería un tema a debatir. Habría que considerar experiencias recientes de economías que no les ha ido tan bien sin contar con una moneda propia (Grecia o Ecuador), y países como Colombia que han logrado usar su política monetaria y la depreciación de la tasa de cambio para amortiguar una caída de las exportaciones (debido al desplome de los precios del petróleo) mayor que la que ha tenido Cuba debido a la crisis venezolana.

También habría que tomar en cuenta a economías como Argentina y la misma Venezuela que con una moneda propia tampoco han logrado corregir sus desequilibrios macroeconómicos y estabilizar el crecimiento del PIB. Creo que el debate nos llevaría muy cerca a concluir que lo que más importa son las instituciones, las políticas y las condiciones estructurales que definen el curso de las monedas, justo lo que falló con el CUC y que seguirá faltando si se mantienen congeladas las reformas.

El gobierno no ha dicho qué va a suceder con el proyecto de eliminación de la dualidad monetaria. Pero parece obvio que por ahora queda descartada la unificación de las monedas. Sin embargo, sigue siendo necesario el ajuste de la tasa de cambio oficial del peso cubano en el sector empresarial estatal.

La economía continúa requiriendo de una corrección de la tasa de cambio que clarifique los balances financieros de las empresas y los precios relativos. La corrección del tipo de cambio del peso cubano no puede abandonarse después de haberse decretado un aumento significativo de salarios en el sector estatal.

Con un tipo de cambio más realista se podría otorgar algún grado de convertibilidad al peso cubano e incentivar que las empresas estatales vendan en pesos y mitiguen el impacto inflacionario de la expansión salarial. De hecho, la devaluación del tipo de cambio oficial del peso cubano podría ser una vía para reducir los incentivos a la dolarización de más industrias y mercados. La redolarización anunciada cancela la unificación de las monedas, pero no la unificación cambiaria.

 

Image result for cuc cuban currency

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An Energy Crisis Is Putting Cuba’s Post-Castro Leadership to Its First Test

William M. LeoGrande | Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019

Venezuela’s economic collapse and Washington’s new sanctions on companies shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba have plunged the island nation into its most severe energy crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. In response, Havana is looking to its old ally Russia to plug the hole in energy supplies left by the decline in Venezuelan shipments. But the crisis is hampering plans to implement economic reforms that Havana hopes will respond to popular demands for economic liberalization while retaining the Communist Party’s political dominance.

Continue reading: An Energy Crisis Is Putting Cubas Post-Castro Leadership to Its First Test

Image result for cuba energy refineries gas

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SPECIAL REPORT: HOW CUBA TAUGHT VENEZUELA TO QUASH MILITARY DISSENT

Angus Berwick,  REUTERS, CARACAS, AUGUST 22, 2019

Original Article:     HOW CUBA TAUGHT VENEZUELA,,,,

In December 2007, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez suffered his first defeat at the polls.  Although still wildly popular among the working class that had propelled him to power nearly a decade earlier, voters rejected a referendum that would have enabled him to run for re-election repeatedly.

Stung, Chavez turned to a close confidant, according to three former advisors: Fidel Castro. The aging Cuban leader had mentored Chavez years before the Venezuelan became president, when he was still best known for leading a failed coup.

Now, deepening economic ties were making Cuba ever more reliant on oil-rich Venezuela, and Castro was eager to help Chavez stay in power, these advisors say. Castro’s advice: Ensure absolute control of the military.

Easier said than done.  Venezuela’s military had a history of uprisings, sometimes leading to coups of the sort that Chavez, when a lieutenant colonel in the army, had staged in 1992. A decade later, rivals waged a short-lived putsch against Chavez himself.

But if Chavez took the right steps, the Cuban instructed, he could hang on as long as Castro himself had, the advisors recalled. Cuba’s military, with Castro’s brother at the helm, controlled everything from security to key sectors of the economy.

Within months, the countries drew up two agreements, recently reviewed by Reuters, that gave Cuba deep access to Venezuela’s military – and wide latitude to spy on it and revamp it.  The agreements, specifics of which are reported here for the first time, led to the imposing of strict surveillance of Venezuelan troops through a Venezuelan intelligence service now known as the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence, or DGCIM.

Under Cuban military advisors, Venezuela refashioned the intelligence unit into a service that spies on its own armed forces, instilling fear and paranoia and quashing dissent.  Now known for its repressive tactics, the DGCIM is accused by soldiers, opposition lawmakers, human rights groups and many foreign governments of abuses including torture and the recent death of a detained Navy captain.

According to the documents reviewed by Reuters, the agreements, signed in May 2008, allowed Cuba’s armed forces to:

  • Train soldiers in Venezuela
  • Review and restructure parts of the Venezuelan military
  • Train Venezuelan intelligence agents in Havana
  • And change the intelligence service’s mission from spying on foreign rivals to surveilling the country’s own soldiers, officers, and even senior commanders.

The first agreement, according to the documents, would prepare Venezuelan intelligence agents to “discover and confront the subversive work of the enemy.” The second agreement authorized Cuban officials to oversee the “assimilation” and “modernization” of Venezuela’s military.

The presence of Cuban officials within Venezuela’s military has been known for years. President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s disciple and increasingly beleaguered successor, said in a 2017 speech: “We are grateful to Cuba’s revolutionary armed forces. We salute them and will always welcome them.”  But neither country has ever acknowledged details of the agreements or the extent of Cuba’s involvement.

In March, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence denounced Havana’s “malign influence” on Caracas, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez downplayed the relationship. “I strongly reject repeated and false accusations,” he tweeted, “of Cuban military ‘training,’ ‘controlling’ or ‘intimidating’ in Venezuela.”  Neither Venezuela’s Defense Ministry nor its Information Ministry, responsible for government communications including those of Maduro, responded to emails and phone calls for this article. Cuban officials didn’t respond to requests from Reuters for comment.

Eleven years after they were forged, the military agreements have proven crucial for Maduro’s survival as president, according to security experts, people familiar with the administration and opposition politicians.  With Cuba’s help and training, the military has stood by Maduro and helped him weather an economic meltdown, widespread hunger and crime, and the emigration of more than 4 million people – more than 10 percent of Venezuela’s population in recent years.

In June, Reuters explained how a reshuffling of the armed forces, and proliferation of senior officers, has kept military leadership beholden to Maduro.

Now, the documents laying out Venezuela’s agreements with Cuba – and interviews with dozens of current and former members of the armed services, government officials and people familiar with the relationship between Caracas and Havana – show how instrumental Castro’s help has been as well.

The transformation of the DGCIM, these people say, has been particularly effective. “The most important mission for the intelligence service once was to neutralize any threat to democracy,” said Raul Salazar, a former defense minister under Chavez who opposes Maduro. “Now, with Cuba in charge, the government uses it to stay in power.”

Once Cuba began training DGCIM personnel, the intelligence service embedded agents, often dressed in black fatigues, within barracks. There, they would compile dossiers on perceived troublemakers and report any signs of disloyalty, according to more than 20 former Venezuelan military and intelligence officials.  The DGCIM also began tapping the phones of officers, including senior military commanders, to listen for conspiracies.

The crackdown has led to hundreds of arrests. At least 200 military officials are currently detained, according to the opposition-led National Assembly. Citizen Control, a Venezuelan organization that studies the armed forces, says the number is over 300.

In a June 2017 report, reviewed by Reuters, the DGCIM accused a soldier, who enrolled in a university considered to be aligned with the opposition, of “ideological and political subversion.” Speaking out for the first time, the former lieutenant recounted how he was handcuffed to a chair in a continuously lit room and beaten until two vertebrae broke.  “Those days had no end,” he recalled. He revealed his story to Reuters on the condition that the news agency use only his first name, Daniel, and not disclose his age.

Since its remaking, the DGCIM’s ranks have swelled – from a few hundred agents early in the Chavez administration to at least 1,500 now, according to former military officials.

A recent United Nations report accused the DGCIM of torture – including electric shocks, suffocation, waterboarding, sexual violence, and water and food deprivation. Under Maduro, DGCIM officers have been promoted to senior positions, including the command of his personal security detail.  The repression, opposition leaders say, has cowed the armed forces. Juan Guaido, head of the National Assembly, early this year denounced Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham and declared, with the support of most Western democracies, that he was Venezuela’s rightful leader.

But opposition pleas for a military rebellion have gone unheeded. “We have failed,” said a senior opposition official involved in attempts to broker talks with military leaders. “We have nothing to offer to convince them.”

“A BASTION OF LATIN AMERICAN DIGNITY”

For Chavez, the changes foreseen by the two agreements resonated on a personal level.  Castro, whom he had long admired, was the first international leader to embrace Chavez as a rising politician in the 1990s.

Venezuela’s military intelligence unit, meanwhile, was run by officers allied with the conservative elite and opposed to Chavez’s vision of transforming a country which, despite boasting the world’s biggest oil reserves, suffered rampant poverty.

When Chavez’s 1992 coup failed, officers from the unit, then known as the Directorate of Military Intelligence, or DIM, were the ones tasked with arresting him. They initially jailed him in one of the same underground cells at the DIM’s Caracas headquarters where Chavez would later detain some of his own political opponents, according to several former officials.

Months after his release from prison because of a presidential pardon, Chavez in 1994 flew to Havana, where Castro, in their first in-person meeting, greeted him at the airport.

In Chavez, Castro saw a like-minded leftist leader of the sort that had become rare since the end of the Cold War. In Venezuela’s vast oil wealth, Castro saw potential nourishment for a Cuban economy starved by the collapse of its former sponsor, the Soviet Union.  With Castro looking on, Chavez in a speech at the University of Havana called Cuba, then in its fourth decade of authoritarian rule, “a bastion of Latin American dignity.” He vowed to cure the capitalist “gangrene” afflicting Venezuela.

After the visit, the two men began to speak regularly, former advisors said.

By the late 1990s, high inflation, low economic growth and increased poverty made Chavez’s Socialist message attractive to a growing number of Venezuelans. In 1998, he was elected president. Almost immediately, he deepened formal links with Cuba.

In October 2000, Castro traveled to Caracas to sign a series of economic agreements. Venezuela would give Cuba enough oil to meet half its energy needs.

Since then, Venezuela has sent at least 55,000 barrels per day to the island, or more than $21 billion worth of oil, according to government figures and average prices over the period. In exchange, Cuba sent thousands of doctors, teachers and agricultural specialists to help diversify Venezuela’s grass-roots economy.

By 2002, many of Venezuela’s elite had tired of Chavez. That April, conservative opposition leaders teamed up with military chieftains, including senior DIM officials, and detained him. But the coup, after a massive popular uprising on his behalf, failed within two days.

Back in power, and with Castro’s blessing, Chavez placed Cuban advisors within his inner circle to tighten security, according to his former advisors and several former military officials. He began a purge of the intelligence service and other top ranks of the military.  He appointed Hugo Carvajal, a lieutenant colonel who had joined Chavez’s 1992 coup effort and later headed the DIM’s investigations division, to be its subdirector. Within two years, Carvajal became its director general.  Carvajal began modernizing the DIM. In an email to Reuters, Carvajal said Venezuela’s central bank provided millions of U.S. dollars in cash to the DIM for new technology, including surveillance equipment and a database to centralize intelligence.

The intelligence boss would lead the service for nearly a decade. Now out of office, he has been sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department for allegedly helping Colombian guerrillas. Last April he was arrested in Spain and remains detained in response to a U.S. warrant for alleged drug trafficking.

In the email, sent through his lawyer in Spain, Carvajal denied the accusations.

In July 2007, Chavez named Gustavo Rangel, a loyalist who headed the army reserves, as defense minister.

At his swearing-in, Rangel spoke of the need for “new Venezuelan military thinking” to counter the “real enemy.” The “empire,” he said, using common Caracas shorthand for the United States, was sponsoring “subversive groups” bent on destroying the revolution.

Reuters was unable to reach Rangel, now retired, for comment.

That December, Chavez lost the referendum on term limits. On television, he vowed a “new offensive” to pursue the goal.

Defense talks with Cuba began. At a meeting in Caracas on May 26, 2008, Rangel and General Alvaro Lopez, Cuba’s vice minister of defense, signed the two agreements.

Under the first agreement, Cuba’s defense ministry would oversee a restructuring of the DIM and advise on creating “new units” inside the service. The DIM would also send groups of as many as 40 officers to Havana for up to three months of espionage training.

According to the documents, Venezuela would send resumes of training candidates for Cuba to vet. Courses included how to handle “secret collaborators,” how to conduct criminal investigations and how to select new intelligence agents.

Most of the training, according to the documents, took place at the Comandante Arides Estevez Sanchez Military Academy in western Havana. At the academy, a cluster of white four-story buildings and parade grounds, Cuban instructors told DIM agents their mission henceforth would be to infiltrate and control the military, according to five people familiar with the courses.

The second agreement created a committee known as the Coordination and Liaison Group of the Republic of Cuba, or GRUCE. The GRUCE, comprising eight Cuban “military experts,” would send Cuban advisors to Venezuela to inspect military units and train soldiers.

One former Venezuelan intelligence official recalled training he received by Cuban instructors on a farm in the eastern Venezuelan state of Anzoategui. Instructors, he told Reuters, drilled students with questions about their political beliefs. The DIM, they said, must be the “tip of the spear” in the fight against “traitors.”

Chavez, fortified by increases in government spending that boosted his popularity, won a new referendum to end term limits.

In 2011, he changed the DIM’s name to include the term “counterintelligence,” reflecting its mission to thwart sabotage from within. By then, the new DGCIM was several hundred agents stronger, former officials said.

Fresh from Cuban training, the new agents began infiltrating barracks. “We lived and trained with the troops to monitor them, keeping the bosses informed,” another former DGCIM officer told Reuters. “We had an iron grip.”

Some agents pretended to be regular soldiers. Others donned their DGCIM uniforms and regularly encouraged soldiers to report on each other. They came to be known as “the men in black,” according to several former soldiers. “I’ll hand you to the DGCIM,” a battalion commander warned would-be rebels, one soldier recalled. Stories of detentions and torture by DGCIM agents, sometimes wearing skeleton masks and balaclavas, spread through the ranks.

“YOU CAN’T FIGHT THE STATE”

Chavez, following four surgeries in Cuba, died in 2013. Castro in a newspaper column called him “the best friend the Cuban people had in their history.” Voters elected Maduro to succeeded him.

In 2014, oil prices plummeted.  Maduro’s effort to spur the economy failed.  Hunger and shortages hit even the armed forces. A military doctor told Reuters recently that many enlisted soldiers are underweight, subsisting primarily on pasta and lentils.

As growing numbers of troops sought to desert, the DGCIM grew more aggressive. It expanded surveillance, wiretapping senior officers.

On the top floor of its headquarters, some 40 agents in its Operational Communications Division used a platform called Genesi, according to a former member of the team.

The system, designed by Italian telecommunications firm IPS SpA, allows users to “intercept, monitor and analyze every kind of information source,” according to the company’s web site.

IPS didn’t respond to calls, emails or a letter seeking comment at its Rome headquarters. Reuters couldn’t identify an IPS office or personnel working in Venezuela.

In July 2017, Daniel, the Army lieutenant in Caracas, was summoned to his battalion commander’s office. Once a Chavez supporter, Daniel had joined the army in 2004 but under Maduro lost enthusiasm and told superiors he planned to leave. He had enrolled in law classes at a local university while still in the military and taken part in some opposition marches. Daniel’s behavior, according to the intelligence report reviewed by Reuters, was “counter-revolutionary.” The report described the university, whose name Daniel asked Reuters not to disclose, as a school for the opposition.

Upon reporting to the commander’s office, Daniel said, three uniformed counterintelligence agents confiscated his phone and said he was needed for an “interview” at DGCIM headquarters.

Daniel said agents transferred him to an underground cell and handcuffed him to a chair. Each day, a man entered and punched him repeatedly. The beatings broke two vertebrae, according to a physician’s report reviewed by Reuters. The cell was lit all hours, causing Daniel to lose track of time.

After 20 days, a military court charged him with treason, rebellion and violating military decorum. Pending a trial, he was transferred to another prison. Six months later, after entering a guilty plea, the court released Daniel on condition he remain in the country. He was expelled from the Army.

Daniel returned to law classes, but regrets pleading guilty. “I’m not sure it was the right thing to do,” he said, but noted that many who don’t enter a plea remain detained indefinitely. “You can’t fight the state.”

The surveillance has hurt even senior officers.

One case sparked national outrage, forcing the government to recognize DGCIM abuse. Rafael Acosta, a 50-year-old Navy captain, died in DGCIM custody on June 29, eight days after agents arrested him.

Tarek Saab, Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, said Acosta was detained for participating in an unspecified “right wing” plot. Acosta’s wife, Waleswka Perez, said the accusations were untrue and accused the DGCIM of torture.  On July 1, Saab said the government had charged two DGCIM agents with homicide. He gave neither a cause of death nor the circumstances in which it occurred. The charges, Saab said in a statement, followed an “impartial” investigation into the “unfortunate event.”  Most DGCIM handiwork never comes to light.

In March 2018, five DGCIM agents summoned Lieutenant Colonel Igbert Marin, commander of the 302nd mechanized Army brigade, in Caracas. Marin, now 40 and the father of two young children, for most of his career was a rising star who had excelled at Venezuela’s top military academy.

His wife, Yoselyn Carrizales, told Reuters the agents took Marin to the Defense Ministry, where he was met by officials including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and Ivan Hernandez, the current head of the DGCIM.

The officials accused Marin of scheming against the government, said Carrizales, who is acting as one of Marin’s attorneys. They said they had video evidence of Marin and eight other officers conspiring, she added, but didn’t show him the video.  Marin denied the allegation, saying that the meeting in question had been merely a gathering of old academy classmates. Indignant, he told the defense minister that such accusations were counterproductive, especially at a time when most of the military was suffering from shortages of food, pay and equipment.

The minister should “leave his office, open his eyes and see how soldiers actually feel,” Marin told Padrino, according to Carrizales. Another lawyer defending Marin, Alonso Medina Roa, confirmed her account.  Neither Padrino nor Hernandez could be reached for comment.

The agents took Marin and the eight other officers to DGCIM headquarters. Marin later told his attorneys that agents handcuffed him to a chair, placed a bag over his head and filled it with tear gas. His lawyers detailed the alleged abuse to Reuters.  A week later, at a hearing Carrizales attended, a military court charged Marin with treason, instigating rebellion and violating decorum. Agents then took Marin away. He remained incommunicado for 78 days.

“I didn’t know if he was alive or dead,” said Carrizales.

Marin remains detained, and his wife continues to work for his release. Venezuelan officials haven’t publicly commented on the case or shown Marin’s lawyers the alleged video. No trial date has been set.

“They fear him,” Carrizales said. “He is an obvious leader within the armed forces. That’s why they arrested him.”

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TRUMP’S CUBA GAMBIT PUSHES CANADIAN MINER SHERRITT TO THE BRINK

Original article: Sherritt could get caught in the crossfire between U.S. and Cuba

Paula Sambo and Danielle Bochove,

Bloomberg News, June 5, 2020

 

Sherritt International Corporation’s nickel mine in Cuba.

Sherritt International Corp. (S.TO), whose executives were once known as Fidel Castro’s favorite capitalists, is paying the price for its close ties to the struggling Caribbean nation.

The Canadian miner, which gets all its revenue from assets in Cuba, is being hit on multiple fronts by Donald Trump’s isolationism, plunging nickel prices and cost overruns. With the stock at 21 cents and its bonds trading at distressed levels, investors are starting to question the company’s viability.

“It all depends how the world unfolds in terms of commodity prices and the U.S.-Cuban relationship,” Chief Executive Officer David Pathe said in an interview this week. “There’s only so much that we can do right now and that’s focusing on the things that we can control.”

The Toronto-based miner is a shadow of what it once was. Long-known as a proxy for Cuba since former CEO Ian Delaney first engaged with Castro in the 1990s to develop the island’s nickel, oil and gas assets, Sherritt prospered as U.S. relations thawed over the past two decades and commodity prices soared.

Revenue jumped to almost $2 billion a decade ago, while the stock traded as high as $18 in 2007. Since then, the stock has dropped 99 per cent amid heightened country risk, a failed project in Madagascar, cost overruns and the collapse of the commodity super-cycle. The company’s bonds are trading at about 30 Canadian cents, according to multiple portfolio managers, implying low recovery in case of a default or debt overhaul.

“We have seen some bonds selling in the context of more aggressive U.S. policy towards Cuba, which has caused holders that have significant interests or operations in the U.S. to get out,” Pathe said. “That is what it is. From our perspective, we are focused on running our business as best we can.”

Sherritt’s debt costs are rising even as the company’s ability to generate cash flow to service that debt falls. Concerns about global growth have knocked the price of nickel down 24 per cent over the last year, reducing the amount of cash Sherritt receives from markets outside Cuba. Meanwhile, a tightening of U.S. sanctions against Cuba this year has resulted in the island nation being unable to pay Sherritt for the energy it produces in foreign currency and has caused bondholders to sell the company’s debt.

“We have deliberately avoided having any presence in the U.S. since Helms-Burton came in 23 years ago,” said Pathe, who is barred from entering the country under a section of the act. Despite this, the company is being caught in the cross-fire as Trump punishes Cuba for its support of Venezuela, and takes aim at trading partners around the world.

Debt Reduction

Having managed to knock around $2 billion off its debt in recent years, the 92-year-old company’s top priority is to continue to see that balance come down and reduce interest expenses, according to its CEO. The next big bond maturity is $170 million in notes in 2021 and the company has a $70 million revolving facility due next year that it anticipates renewing ahead of the maturity, Pathe said.

As it hangs on by its fingernails, some debt investors are seeing a silver lining ahead.

“They are trading below their working capital; the optionality is huge even excluding long-term assets like the refinery” said Paul Tepsich, founder and portfolio manager at High Rock Capital Management Inc. in Toronto, referring to the refinery in Alberta. “I think they get a deal signed with Cuba imminently and that produces strong cash flow on a monthly basis to Sherritt.”

For Tepsich, who owns Sherritt debt, the company has room to buy back bonds. The Moa nickel-and-cobalt mine joint venture should also provide both cash flow and dividends in hard currency, he said. The company produces electricity, oil and gas in Cuba and has a 50 per cent stake in the Moa mine, although it finishes the ore in Canada.

Coal Sale

For more than a decade, Sherritt has fought to reduce its debt, selling all of its coal assets in 2013 as commodity prices languished. A spike in cobalt prices in 2017 helped the company post its first annual profit since 2012 but it fell back into the red last year. Total debt stands at $706 million, less than a third of what it was less than two years ago.

Sherritt’s debt almost quadrupled between 2007 and 2008 as the company developed the massive Ambatovy nickel and cobalt project in Madagascar with Sumitomo Corp. and Korea Resources Corp. From the start, the project was plagued with delays and cost overruns, not to mention a political coup that resulted in the suspension of mining licenses.

Meanwhile, the company’s footprint in Cuba has created constant challenges. In 1996, Sherritt executives and shareholders were the first to be banned from the U.S. under the Helms-Burton law.  Twelve years later, Fidel Castro’s resignation sparked hope for more foreign investment in Cuba but progress, including subsequent American liberalization under President Barack Obama, has recently been overshadowed by a tightening of policy under Trump. The pressure has worsened Cuba’s access to foreign currency; it owed Sherritt almost US$172 million at the end of the first quarter, although Sherritt said a plan is in place to manage payments.

Last April, meanwhile, the White House said it would activate a provision of Helms-Burton that would let Americans sue for land confiscated in the 1959 revolution.  That’s a big deal for Sherritt: The US$88.3 million claim against its nickel mine is now greater than the company’s market capitalization.

 

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TRUMP DECLARES ECONOMIC WAR ON CUBA

April 18, 2019 6.45am EDT

William M. LeoGrande, Professor of Government, American University School of Public Affairs

Original Article: Trump Declares Economic War on Cuba

The Trump administration has declared the most severe new sanctions against Cuba since President John F. Kennedy imposed an economic embargo banning all trade with the communist island in 1962.

Speaking in Miami on April 17, the anniversary of the United States’ failed 1961 invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, national security adviser John Bolton announced the end of virtually all non-family travel to Cuba and placed new limits on the money Cuban Americans can send to family on the island.  He also said the U.S. will now implement a 23-year-old law aimed at blocking both U.S. and foreign investment in Cuba, first passed by Congress in 1996 as part of a broader sanctions package against Cuba but put on hold because it triggered immense opposition among U.S. allies.

The harsh new sanctions reverse “the disastrous Obama-era policies, and finally end the glamorization of socialism and communism,” Bolton said.

A law too controversial to implement

Trump’s decision activates a long-suspended 1996 provision of U.S. Cuba sanctions that allows Cuban Americans to sue in U.S. courts any company that benefits from private property of theirs confiscated by Fidel Castro’s regime.

Normally, U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over property owned by non-citizens that is nationalized by a foreign government. For U.S. courts to sit in judgment of another government’s actions toward its own citizens in its own territory is a challenge to that government’s sovereignty.

U.S. allies who do business with Cuba vehemently oppose the move.

In 1996, when the U.S. law was first approved, the European Union filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization and adopted a law prohibiting EU members and their companies from complying with the U.S. legislation. Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom soon passed similar legislation.

In response, President Bill Clinton suspended the lawsuit provision, which is called Title III, for six months, and in 1998 he signed an agreement with the EU that European companies who do business in Cuba would not be targeted.  Since then, every president, Democrat and Republican, has renewed the suspension. Trump himself renewed it three times – until he didn’t.

The president has now reignited international outrage over this sanction, which abrogates Clinton’s agreement with the EU and complicates already rocky U.S. relations with Mexico and Canada.

Who wins?

A small but elite community stands to benefit from Title III: Cuba’s former one percenters – members of the exiled upper class that owned nearly all the land and business in Cuba prior to the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Most wealthy Cubans fled the country after Fidel Castro’s Communist government nationalized their businesses and confiscated their homes, bank accounts and property. Some still dream of recouping their lost fortunes.  They can now sue Cuban, American and foreign companies that profit in any way from the use of that property.  For example, former owners of Cuba’s nickel mines could seek damages from Canada’s Sherritt International Corporation, which has invested in Cuba’s nickel mining industry. The former owners of Cuban hotels could sue the Spanish hotel company Melia, which manages hotels across the island.

Every U.S. and foreign company that does business with Cuba – or might do so in the future – risks being sued if they make use of property once owned by a Cuban exile who is now a U.S. citizen. According to a 1996 State Department analysis, implementing Title III could flood U.S. federal courts with as many as 200,000 lawsuits.

Trump’s 2020 bet

Most Cuban Americans will gain nothing from Trump’s latest sanctions.  It exempts private residences from compensation. So, if the main thing you owned back in Cuba was a house that was confiscated after Jan. 1, 1959, you’re out of luck.  The exiled owners of thousands of small Cuban mom-and-pop shops nationalized in 1968 won’t see compensation, either, because the law exempts Cuban small businesses that were confiscated.

Those who stand to benefit are the oldest, most conservative and wealthiest segment of Florida’s 1.5 million Cuban Americans.  Trump believes these influential Republicans helped him win Florida in 2016 because he promised to take a hard line toward Havana, rolling back President Obama’s restoration of diplomatic and economic relations with the island.

If the president thinks these punishing new sanctions can deliver Florida to him again in 2020, he may have miscalculated.

I’ve studied Cuba-U.S. relations for decades. While activating the law may please Cuba’s former wealthy business owners, Trump’s new sanctions – like limiting the money Cuban Americans can send back to the island – are unlikely to be popular in the broader Cuban American community.  By decisive majorities, Cuban Americans support free travel between the U.S. and Cuba, broader commercial ties and President Obama’s decision to normalize relations. Every year, they send $3 billion to family on the island, and hundreds of thousands of them travel there to visit.  These Cuban-American voters don’t want to inflict more economic pain on the Cuban public, which includes their friends and family.

Hurting everyday Cubans

The punitive aspects of the newly implemented law, which administration officials have for months hinted that they would put into effect, are already having an impact.

Cuban American families who owned the land and facilities at the port of Havana and José Martí International Airport have warned the cruise ship companies and airlines that their use of these properties could put them at legal risk.

Along with money sent from their families abroad, tourism-related income sustains many everyday Cubans.

If travel businesses withdraw from Cuba, and if U.S. and foreign firms hesitate to enter into new commercial relations with Cuba for fear of incurring lawsuits in the United States, Cuba’s already fragile economy would take a serious hit.

That may play well with Cuba’s old elite. But the rest of Florida’s Cuban Americans will feel the hurt, too.

 

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THE REVENGE OF THE JEALOUS BUREAUCRAT”: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF CUBA’S NEW RULES FOR CUENTA-PROPISTAS

ASCE Conference Proceedings 2018

Ted A. Henken 

Original Article: Cuba’s New Rules for Cuenta-propistas

The quantitative expansion of self-employment from150,000 to nearly 600,000 licensed cuenta-propistas between 2010 and 2018 during the presidency of Raúl Castro can be celebrated given its expansion of economic freedom, the provision of job opportunities, greater productivity and efficiency, and a markedly higher quality of goods and services for those who can afford them. However, it is also curious that the Cuban government has embraced the micro-enterprise sector historically only during times of economic crisis when it could no longer provide enough jobs, goods, or services for the people (Mesa-Lago and Pérez-López 2013).

Indeed, this is one of the mantras most commonly repeated in the official press when justifying the downsizing of the state sector and the expansion of cuenta-propismo (i.e., self-employment or literally “on-your-ownism”): The state must “lighten its load” so it can focus on the fundamental sectors of the economy.

Given such a context, Cuban workers can be forgiven for concluding that Castro’s much trumpeted economic “updating,” constant calls for greater productivity and efficiency, and sharp criticisms of Cuba’s “inflated state payrolls, bulky social spending, undue gratuities, and excessive subsidies” (2010) are simply fancy words for the state’s abandonment of its  historic commitment to them under the Revolution.

Indeed, entrepreneurship has an elastic history in revolutionary Cuba and has undergone oscillating phases of relevance, vigilance, legality, and illegitimacy.  In that context, Cuba’s successful cuenta-propistas (the island term that lumps individual freelancers, together with private business owners and their employees, without giving formal, legal recognition to Cuba’s emergent small- and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs) have often found themselves in the frustrating position of being counted on to supplement the moribund state enterprise sector by providing private employment, high quality goods and services, and economic productivity and efficiency, while simultaneously doing without any legal personality or legal standing (personalidad jurídica) as true business enterprises.

This restriction prevents them from opening bank accounts, signing contracts, importing needed inputs, or exporting their goods or services abroad. That is, while Cuba’s cuenta-propistas may be individually licensed to operate as freelancers (i.e.,personas naturales), “Cuban law does not recognize1. In some cases, the expansion of the private sector has also driven down prices. However, because of extensive subsidies and price controls in the state sector, combined with chronic material scarcity and a dual currency system where a good portion of the private sector operates in hard “convertible” currency, prices for most goods and services available in Cuba’s private sector are very high relative to the state sector.

 Continue reading.

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