• 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."

LAS TRANSFORMACIONES ECONÓMICAS EN CUBA: VISIÓN EXTERNA

Cubadebate, 12 julio 2015 | 34

 Por: José Luis Rodríguez

Algo que sin dudas ha llamado la atención a lo largo de la historia de la Revolución es la proliferación de múltiples interpretaciones externas sobre lo que se hace en el país, especialmente en el orden de la política económica. Desafortunadamente, la cantidad no hace la calidad y muchos de los trabajos que se han publicado adolecen de un mínimo de rigor analítico en sus análisis, en especial, aquellos que parten de una visión anti socialista excluyente de otro modelo que no sea afín a la economía de mercado en las diferentes versiones de la misma.

En el presente artículo no se pretende realizar un balance exhaustivo de todos estos enfoques, ni siquiera de aquellos que se han producido a lo largo de los últimos cinco años y que se relacionan con la actualización del modelo económico en curso. No obstante, resulta útil destacar algunas tendencias presentes en el ámbito académico y que permiten identificar los principales enfoques acerca de las transformaciones económicas que se desarrollan en Cuba en la actualidad.

Para leer mas:  Las Transformaciones Económicas en Cuba: Visión Externa

 

José Luis Rodríguez es asesor del Centro de Investigaciones de la Economía Mundial (CIEM). Fue MInistro de Economía de Cuba.

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“EN VEZ DE SERVIR PARA REGULAR, LA LEY SIRVE PARA CONVERTIR A LA POBLACIÓN EN DELINCUENTES”

Hypermedia, 10 de Diciembre de 2018.

Ted A. Henken & Archibald R. M. Ritter

From Hypermedia, LA LEY…..

Original from the book entitled Entrepreneurial Cuba, The Changing Policy Landscape, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder Colorado.

En el verano de 1992, el gobierno cubano despenalizó la posesión y el uso del dólar estadounidense, legalizando así una actividad realizada por un gran número de personas. Esta medida aceleró el proceso de “dolarización” de la economía y estimuló y legitimó aún más la búsqueda popular del dólar mediantes actividades de la economía clandestina. Posteriormente, el 8 de septiembre de 1993, entró en vigor el Decreto Ley 141 que legalizaba el trabajo autónomo, bajo el término “trabajo por cuenta propia” (Granma). Esto representó un cambio de política decisivo, que permitió a estas microempresas salir de la clandestinidad y funcionar de manera más eficaz, eficiente y rentable.

Con la aparición de la microempresa fuera de la clandestinidad en aquellos años, comenzó a evidenciarse una suerte de jerarquía. El espectro de escala y éxito sería más pronunciado en las escasas ocupaciones de mayor envergadura y dinamismo, especialmente: las casas particulares, los taxis, y los paladares que estaban conectados con la floreciente industria del turismo.

La ley del trabajo por cuenta propia se creó originalmente para aplicarse a los cubanos que ya brindaban servicios a otros ciudadanos, por lo cual la mayoría de las licencias y las tarifas fijas mensuales se pagaban en pesos. Sin embargo, con la expansión acelerada del turismo a lo largo de la isla en la década de 1990, algunas empresas, especialmente en las áreas de los servicios alimenticios, el transporte, y el alojamiento, comenzaron a brindar servicios a extranjeros y a cobrarles en dólares americanos. Como consecuencia parcial, se añadieron algunas modificaciones a la legislación original entre 1995 y 1997, incluyendo la expansión de los servicios alimenticios (1995), el transporte (1996) y el alquiler de casas particulares (1997), en la lista de ocupaciones permisibles, puesto que los cuentapropistas de estos tres sectores, a menudo, brindaban sus servicios a extranjeros y obtenían ingresos en dólares.

Estas tres ocupaciones —el transporte, el alquiler de habitaciones y los servicios de alimentos — se convirtieron rápidamente en las ocupaciones privadas más populares durante el “Período Especial”. Y una vez más reemergieron como las más comunes —junto a los trabajadores contratados—, luego de la reapertura y la expansión significativa del trabajo por cuenta propia después de octubre de 2010.

Para continuar: La Ley…..

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PUNTO FIJO: CUENTAPROPISTAS

El Nuevo Día,  miércoles, 13 de mayo de 2015

por Jorge Duany

En febrero pasado, el gobierno cubano reportó 489,929 trabajadores por cuenta propia, el 9.6% de la fuerza laboral. Dicha cifra representa más del triple de la cantidad registrada inicialmente cuando el gobierno autorizó el autoempleo en 1993, en plena crisis económica bautizada como “Período Especial en Tiempos de Paz”. Conocidos popularmente como “cuentapropistas”, miles de cubanos emprendedores han establecido pequeños negocios privados, especialmente en la elaboración y venta de alimentos, el transporte de pasajeros y el arrendamiento de viviendas.

Este es el tema central del valioso libro del economista canadiense Archibald R. M. Ritter y el sociólogo estadounidense Ted A. Henken, “Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape” (Boulder: FirstForumPress, 2015). Los autores se proponen explicar las causas y consecuencias socioeconómicas del auge del trabajo por cuenta propia durante la era de Raúl Castro (2006–2014).

El estudio se basa en entrevistas a profundidad con 60 microempresarios cubanos, completadas entre 1999 y 2009, así como en extensas observaciones sobre el terreno de varios negocios independientes. Su análisis se concentra en tres sectores  económicos vinculados a la industria turística: los paladares (pequeños restaurantes familiares), las casas particulares (alquiladas a extranjeros) y los taxis privados, incluyendo los “bicitaxis”, “cocotaxis” y “almendrones”, como llaman los cubanos a los antiguos carros americanos. En el 2010, el gobierno cubano anunció el despido de 500,000 empleados estatales “redundantes” como parte de la “actualización” del modelo económico en la Isla. Al mismo tiempo, fomentó la expansión de empleos en el sector no estatal, muchos de los cuales ya se realizaban clandestinamente.

El número de oficios autorizados para el trabajo por cuenta propia incrementó de 55 en 1993 a 201 en el 2013. El grueso son ocupaciones de servicios poco calificados, como aguador, amolador, barbero, jardinero, limpiabotas, mago, masajista, mensajero, payaso, peluquera y productor de piñatas. A la vez, se sigue prohibiendo el autoempleo en los servicios profesionales y técnicos, excepto profesores de idiomas, música y arte, programadores de computadoras y reparadores de equipos electrónicos y de oficina. Según Ritter y Henken, aún persisten numerosas restricciones burocráticas, desincentivos económicos y obstáculos ideológicos al trabajo por cuenta propia en Cuba. Para empezar, las tasas impositivas mucho más onerosas que para la inversión extranjeramantienen artificialmente el tamaño pequeño de las empresas. Más aún, la estigmatización de los cuentapropistas como “macetas” (adinerados, en el argot cubano) niega la legitimidad del motivo de lucro individual. El discurso oficial ni siquiera utiliza los términos “mercado” o “sector privado” al referirse a las pequeñas empresas independientes, sino al “sector no estatal”. El crecimiento del cuentapropismo tiene implicaciones políticas en Cuba, en tanto permite ensanchar un segmento de la población que no depende del gobierno para su sustento. Asimismo, subvierte algunas premisas claves del gobierno, como el monopolio estatal de los medios de producción, la planificación central, la distribución equitativa de los ingresos y la política de pleno empleo.

Los autores de “Entrepreneurial Cuba” recuerdan que la confiscación estatal de todos los establecimientos comerciales privados a fines de la década de 1960 agravó la escasez de productos básicos, infló los precios de bienes y servicios y deprimió los niveles de vida de la población cubana. La intensa antipatía oficial contra cualquier “timbiriche” (pequeña tienda al aire libre) estuvo vigente hasta principios de la década de 1990. Según los autores, las reformas económicas iniciadas por el gobierno de Raúl Castro han impulsado la recaudación de impuestos, ayudando a subsidiar servicios sociales y estimulando nuevas fuentes de ingresos. Sin embargo, Ritter y Henken recomiendan legalizar el autoempleo en todas las actividades económicas incluyendo los servicios profesionales, reducir los impuestos y aumentar la cantidad de trabajadores empleados en cada empresa. Solo entonces podrá el cuentapropismo desempeñar un papel protagónico en la revitalización de la precaria economía cubana.

Jorge Duany

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INFORME: “LA ECONOMÍA CUBANA: SITUACIÓN EN 2017-2018 Y PERSPECTIVAS PARA 2019”

POR CARMELO MESA-LAGO

Cuba Posible, Diciembre de 2018.

Tres eventos de importancia han ocurrido en Cuba en 2018: 1) la salida, en abril, de Raúl Castro como presidente de la nación (aunque manteniendo su puesto de Primer Secretario del Partido Comunista) y el arribo parcial de una nueva generación con el nombramiento de Miguel Díaz-Canel como presidente, un civil-tecnócrata que nació después del triunfo de la Revolución; 2) el proceso de aprobación de una nueva Constitución que reemplazará a la de 1976; y 3) nuevasregulaciones al sector privado para trabajadores por cuenta propia y usufructuarios de la tierra (la anunciada unificación monetaria no se llevó a cabo). Por otra parte, después de una caída o virtual estancamiento económico en 2016, hubo una ligera recuperación en 2017, seguida de un descenso en 2018.

Continue Reading:

Informe económico Cuba Posible 2017-2018 perspectivas 2019

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DEMOCRATIZING CUBA? INTERVIEW WITH ARTURO LÓPEZ-LEVY

Published originally by NACLA (https://nacla.org). This is the last installment of a NACLA series on Cuba’s constitutional reform

Arturo López-Levy is the Bruce Gray Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of International Relations at Gustavus Adolphus College, Minnesota. He worked as a political analyst for the Cuban government until 1994. He is a co-author of Raúl Castro and the new Cuba: A Close-Up View of Change (McFarland, 2012.

Arturo López-Levy

During his time as president, Raúl Castro announced a series of reforms. [3] One of these was to overhaul Cuba’s 1976 constitution [4], which was drafted at the height of Cuban socialism and has long been out of sync with the country’s post-Soviet reality. In July, Cuba’s National Assembly unveiled a proposed version for the new constitution [5]. This draft will undergo a process of public debate throughout the fall and should be ratified in February 2019.

The constitutional reform has intensified debates on the island about rights, citizenship, and the new economy. This essay forms part of a running forum NACLA is hosting to offer a range of views on this crucial process at a critical moment in Cuban history.

In this essay, political scientist and international relations expert Arturo López-Levy explains how the constitutional reform reflects the goals and expectations of a new generation of the Cuban political elite.

 

Michelle Chase (MC): In broad strokes, what are the most relevant changes proposed in the new draft of the Constitution?

Arturo López-Levy (ALL): If people outside Cuba want to understand the current process of constitutional reform in Cuba, they should look at the relevant terms of the debate and balance of power within the island rather than impose prescriptive and sometimes utopian views about democracy from the outside.

The first thing I would caution is that we should pay attention to the framing of this debate. While many outside observers, dissidents, opposition, and exile intellectuals focus on substantive issues of liberal democracy (such as the right to organize political parties, freedom of association and expression, etc.), the framing of this debate within Cuba’s political structures is mostly focused on procedures and institutions (term limits, decentralization, separation of a new presidency of the republic, presidency of the Council of State, and premiership and legalizing new institutions and practices of the new economy.)

This is hardly a surprise. Facing the passing of the generation who made the Cuban revolution in 1959, the goal of the Cuban elite is improving the collective character of the leadership and the sustainability of the one-party system. There is a new generation of leaders rising in Cuba, but there is no evidence to suggest that they will dismantle the monopoly of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), establish an independent judicial system, or willingly adopt a free press. This fact has made many observers of Cuba’s political reform skeptical about the prospects for democratization in Cuba. That is why they dismiss the relevance and implications of the debate that is taking place as non-consequential.  The problem with these analysts is that they are imposing their own priorities and values without observing the process on its own merits. In contrast, a good analysis should emphasize the magnitude of the institutional change being proposed, and how a change in these institutional procedures can produce substantive changes, even if unintentionally, in the long run.

From an institutional point of view, the proposed reforms to Cuba’s current constitution represent a fundamental political liberalization of the current system. The new Carta Magna represents explicit and implied changes of utmost importance in the economic realm and the organizational structure of the Cuban state.

In terms of explicit changes, the proposed amendments redefine the character and goals of the Cuban state. The proposed constitution drops the goal of “building a communist society” and ratifies the adoption of a new model of a mixed economy in which not only private property is legalized but also the role of the state sector in the Cuban economy changes. This goes farther than reforms introduced in 1992, which opened the possibility for some expansion of private property in the country but explicitly excluded some sectors of production from privatization. That list disappears in the new project. This change does not mean that the Cuban state now has a “neoliberal orientation,” as some have argued, but it does legally empower the government with discretion to decide what to privatize, how and when.

The draft constitution also lays out changes in the structure of the state that open the gates for a substantial future decentralization. The new constitution redefines the role and mode of election of the provincial governors and their relations with the municipalities. At the national level, the new text proposes the creation of a presidency, as the top official of the country, centralizing in that office many functions that Fidel Castro has said in the past that should be distributed in a council of notables and representatives of the social organizations under the tutelage of the communist party (the Council of State). Together with this new office of the presidency, the constitutional proposal includes the separation of functions and position of the president of the Council of State and prime minister. This is not a separation of power, as some uninformed observers suggest, but a clearer distribution of functions. The prime minister is subordinate to the president, who is also supposed to be the leader of the party, but the premier’s performance and legacy will be essentially assessed by his performance (better economy, welfare, etc.), not in ideological terms.

MC: How was this draft produced? Who exactly contributed to it and how do we see those interests in the draft?

ALL: The politburo of the Communist Party created a commission six years ago that worked on a blueprint of the most important proposals. Then, at the end of the legislative term in December 2017, the National Assembly created a commission of deputies that included many of the members of the first commission created by the party, plus some relevant scholars of law, history and other matters, and representation from official regional and mass organizations.  In terms of generations, the commission showed an interesting mix of old and new blood (in both political and demographic terms).

Most of the members of this commission are openly and inextricably tied to the orthodox party line of the PCC. The group was not composed of the country’s most prominent jurists, constitutional law scholars, experts, or intellectuals. They were competent loyalists who exercised their power as agenda setters in the dark, with no transparency.

This fact disavows any fiction of separation between the state and the party but it also confirms the relevance assigned by the leadership to the constitution making process and the anticipated changes for the political future of the country. This is a loyalist commission that is conscious of the need for renewal within the limits of the system and took seriously the challenge of legitimation and adaptation under the new conditions of the world and Cuban politics and economy.

The commission submitted its proposal to the National Assembly, which debated it and approved it for submission to the general public as a project for debate. Then a process of discussion throughout the whole country began, in every neighborhood or place of employment. In addition, for the first time and creating an interesting precedent, a website hosted by the ministry of foreign relations is collecting comments from emigres. This final project will supposedly be submitted to a referendum during the first half of 2019.

The process of debate serves many purposes beyond the pursuit of some domestic and external legitimation. One of the most important goals is the collection of information about the positions not only of the antagonists but also about those who are associates in different degree with the system. The discussion allows also some cooptation of civil society’s demands and elites opening space for them within the governing coalition. It also allows the historic generation of the revolution to test the persuasive capability and attraction of the different positions of those rising within their ranks.

MC: Why is the Constitution being revisited at this time? How is it related to Raúl Castro’s reforms, the new presidency of Miguel Díaz-Canel, etc.?

ALL: This proposal of constitutional reform is part and parcel of the gradualist and incrementalist approach to economic and political reform adopted by Raúl Castro. An important part of the new project has to do with the political conception about what type of state Cuba will be. The new Article 1 introduces the notion of a socialist “rule of law,” better interpreted as a socialist rule by law. Although this term has been mentioned several times since 1959, it has never been elevated to the rank of a constitutional principle. The idea—as presented by the most outspoken voice in the commission, the chief of the secretariat of the Council of Ministers Homero Acosta—emphasized constitutional obedience and observance over arbitrary power.

Does talking about a “rule of law” socialist state and the reintroduction of guarantees of important rights such as habeas corpus represent the adoption of a judiciary independent from the Communist Party? Obviously not, but that does not mean that when Cuban leaders speak about a “more democratic system” or a “democratic party of the Cuban nation” or rapprochement with patriotic emigres, they are just babbling demagoguery. On the contrary, this is an acknowledgment that, without the complement of political liberalization, the success of economic reform is at risk. Facing the ideological position presented by former dean of the law school of the University of Havana, Jose Toledo Santander who defended the proposition that the Communist party was above the National Assembly and the constitution is what the party- particularly its Political Bureau- say it is; Acosta proposed a different scheme in which the party lead the discussion of the constitutional reform today and then becomes the main guardian of its strict application in accordance with the will of the people who is the ultimate holder of Cuban sovereignty.

The new president Miguel Díaz-Canel and his team are conscious of the potential problems that a more open Cuba can bring. Let’s not forget that political liberalization, not to mention democratization, can be a destabilizing process for a system like Cuba’s. But Díaz-Canel and the new generation of leaders know that accelerating the reforms adopted under Raúl is their best chance. Many factors are pushing in this direction. The one-party state’s old pillars of legitimacy (personal charisma, the appeal of communist paradigms, the appeal of social equality) have declined. It is also clear that the current political structure is inadequate to cope with challenges associated with these reforms, such as the rise of inequality, the overlapping of race and class in the income gap, the increase of corruption and the divisions between urban and rural areas, tourist and non-tourist sectors of the economy, and sectors that benefit from remittances versus those that do not.

In general, these reforms show that president Díaz-Canel and his generational team are setting the political agenda of the country. Some of these leaders have been candid about the fact that the constitutional reforms are updating the legal framework of the country because politics and law have lagged behind the economic and social changes in the country. This was never a major concern of Fidel and Raúl Castro, or the generation of the so-called “historicos.” It confirms that the new generation of leaders is acting with the support of the old generation but is pressing their own issues forward.

MC: Is it fair to say that the new constitution is moving Cuba toward a more republican, or liberal, concept of citizenship?

ALL: Yes, in the margins. In the liberal sense, it proposes a rule by law, not a rule of law. This is better than what exists now but it is not based on an open and transparent competition of political views within the paradigm of the universal declaration of human rights. In the republican sense, the assessment is more complex. The new project creates a better separation of functions between president and prime minister and improves some mechanisms of horizontal accountability and decentralization. At the same time, by transferring to a president of the republic the previous functions of the council of state, the new constitution will strengthen the individual power of the top executive. This could open the door to bouts of Latin American caudillismo down the road.

However, liberal democracy or republicanism in the western style should not be the main criterion to measure the progress of Cuban political development. Cuba democratizes according to its own history and culture. The concept of political liberalization is better fitted to deal with the transformation taking place in Cuba because it emphasizes issues such as the expansion of choices and human rights as international standards. For instance, the expansion of rule by law provides the country with better institutional mechanisms (courts, police, prosecutors, etc.) to cope with an eventual democratization, regardless of the government’s intention to use it to strengthen one-party rule. In a worst-case scenario, non-liberal reformers will be doing the right thing for the wrong reason. The result could be positive.

MC: What implications do all these changes have for U.S. policy toward Cuba?

ALL: If the international community, particularly Latin America and the United States, want to have a realist policy of democracy promotion towards Cuba, it is essential for their policymakers to abandon false presumptions about short-term democratization in the liberal sense and educate themselves about the real and relevant framework, choices, and scenarios within which Cuba is discussing its constitutional reforms. In such a critical hour, the policies of the Trump administration are the model of what not to do. If they continue to adopt a narrow vision about democratization and rights, the role of most international actors, their positions and interactions will be counterproductive.

At a critical time of debate, which will shape how Cuban politics will unfold and whether there will be more opportunities for democratization in the future, the role of the United States is important mainly for what it shouldn’t do. Cubans will decide their own destiny within the context of a nationalist culture strengthened by the 1959 revolution. If Washington insists on treating the new government as mere continuation of the previous generations, trying to play favorites within Cuban politics and interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, American policy will be very counterproductive to Cuba’s political development and even detrimental to America’s national long-term interest in a peaceful, stable, democratic, and market-oriented Cuba.

The Trump administration has chosen to reaffirm policies of hostility despite all the promising signs for marketization and political liberalization of more engagement during the last two years of the Obama administration. Washington should reconsider the way it engages with a changing Cuba. It should look at this process of constitutional reform with a flexible vision about the positions and motivations of all Cuban actors, including non-liberal reformers in the government. Rather than dismiss the relevance of the intergenerational transition of leadership, it should engage the new president Miguel Díaz-Canel with dialogue and dignity using this critical juncture for a new beginning and facilitating the deepening of the reforms, not repeating the hostility role so fruitful to the most conservative elements in the Cuban government ranks.

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VENEZUELA’S SUICIDE: LESSONS FROM A FAILED STATE, With emphasis on Cuba-Venezuela Relations

By Moisés Naím and Francisco Toro

Original Article: Venezuela’s Suicide,  Foreign Affairs, November –December 2018

Consider two Latin American countries. The first is one of the region’s oldest and strongest democracies. It boasts a stronger social safety net than any of its neighbors and is making progress on its promise to deliver free health care and higher education to all its citizens. It is a model of social mobility and a magnet for immigrants from across Latin America and Europe. The press is free, and the political system is open; opposing parties compete fiercely in elections and regularly alternate power peacefully. It sidestepped the wave of military juntas that mired some Latin American countries in dictatorship. Thanks to a long political alliance and deep trade and investment ties with the United States, it serves as the Latin American headquarters for a slew of multinational corporations. It has the best infrastructure in South America. It is still unmistakably a developing country, with its share of corruption, injustice, and dysfunction, but it is well ahead of other poor countries by almost any measure.

The second country is one of Latin America’s most impoverished nations and its newest dictatorship. Its schools lie half deserted. The health system has been devastated by decades of underinvestment, corruption, and neglect; long-vanquished diseases, such as malaria and measles, have returned. Only a tiny elite can afford enough to eat. An epidemic of violence has made it one of the most murderous countries in the world. It is the source of Latin America’s largest refugee migration in a generation, with millions of citizens fleeing in the last few years alone. Hardly anyone (aside from other autocratic governments) recognizes its sham elections, and the small portion of the media not under direct state control still follows the official line for fear of reprisals. By the end of 2018, its economy will have shrunk by about half in the last five years. It is a major cocaine-trafficking hub, and key power brokers in its political elite have been indicted in the United States on drug charges. Prices double every 25 days. The main airport is largely deserted, used by just a handful of holdout airlines bringing few passengers to and from the outside world.

Bottom of Form

These two countries are in fact the same country, Venezuela, at two different times: the early 1970s and today. The transformation Venezuela has undergone is so radical, so complete, and so total that it is hard to believe it took place without a war. What happened to Venezuela? How did things go so wrong?

The short answer is Chavismo. Under the leadership of Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, the country has experienced a toxic mix of wantonly destructive policy, escalating authoritarianism, and kleptocracy, all under a level of Cuban influence that often resembles an occupation. Any one of these features would have created huge problems on its own. All of them together hatched a catastrophe. Today, Venezuela is a poor country and a failed and criminalized state run by an autocrat beholden to a foreign power. The remaining options for reversing this situation are slim; the risk now is that hopelessness will push Venezuelans to consider supporting dangerous measures, such as a U.S.-led military invasion, that could make a bad situation worse.

CHAVISMO RISING

To many observers, the explanation for Venezuela’s predicament is simple: under Chávez, the country caught a strong case of socialism, and all its subsequent disasters stem from that original sin. But Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Uruguay have also elected socialist governments in the last 20 years. Although each has struggled politically and economically, none—aside from Nicaragua—has imploded. Instead, several have prospered.

If socialism cannot be blamed for Venezuela’s demise, perhaps oil is the culprit. The most calamitous stage of Venezuela’s crisis has coincided neatly with the sharp fall in international oil prices that started in 2014. But this explanation is also insufficient. Venezuela’s decline began four decades ago, not four years ago. By 2003, Venezuela’s GDP per worker had already declined by a disastrous 37 percent from its 1978 peak—precisely the decline that first propelled Chávez into office. Moreover, all of the world’s petrostates suffered a serious income shock in 2014 as a result of plummeting oil prices. Only Venezuela could not withstand the pressure.

The drivers of Venezuela’s failure run deeper. Decades of gradual economic decline opened the way for Chávez, a charismatic demagogue wedded to an outdated ideology, to take power and establish a corrupt autocracy modeled on and beholden to Cuba’s dictatorship. Although the crisis preceded Chávez’s rise to power, his legacy and Cuba’s influence must be at the center of any attempt to explain it.

Chávez was born in 1954 into a lower-middle-class family in a rural town. He became a career military officer on a baseball scholarship and was soon secretly recruited into a small leftist movement that spent over a decade plotting to overthrow the democratic regime. He exploded into Venezuela’s national consciousness on February 4, 1992, when he led an unsuccessful coup attempt. This misadventure landed him in jail but turned him into an improbable folk hero who embodied growing frustration with a decade of economic stagnation. After receiving a pardon, he launched an outsider bid for the presidency in 1998 and won in a landslide, upending the two-party system that had anchored Venezuelan democracy for 40 years.

What drove the explosion of populist anger that brought Chávez to power? In a word, disappointment. The stellar economic performance Venezuela had experienced for five decades leading up to the 1970s had run out of steam, and the path to the middle class had begun to narrow. As the economists Ricardo Hausmann and Francisco Rodríguez noted, “By 1970 Venezuela had become the richest country in Latin America and one of the twenty richest countries in the world, with a per capita GDP higher than Spain, Greece, and Israel and only 13 percent lower than that of the United Kingdom.” But by the early 1980s, a weakened oil market had brought the era of fast growth to an end. Lower oil revenue meant cuts in public spending, scaled-down social programs, currency devaluation, runaway inflation, a banking crisis, and mounting unemployment and hardship for the poor. Even so, Venezuela’s head start was such that when Chávez was elected, it had a per capita income in the region that was second only to Argentina’s.

Another common explanation for Chávez’s rise holds that it was driven by voters’ reaction against economic inequality, which was driven in turn by pervasive corruption. But when Chávez came to power, income was more evenly distributed in Venezuela than in any neighboring country. If inequality determined electoral outcomes, then a Chávez-like candidate would have been more probable in Brazil, Chile, or Colombia, where the gap between the well-off and everyone else was larger.

Venezuela may not have been collapsing in 1998, but it had been stagnating and, in some respects, backsliding, as oil prices slumped to just $11 per barrel, leading to a new round of austerity. Chávez was brilliant at mining the resulting discontent. His eloquent denunciations of inequality, exclusion, poverty, corruption, and the entrenched political elite struck a chord with struggling voters, who felt nostalgic for an earlier, more prosperous period. The inept and complacent traditional political and business elite who opposed Chávez never came close to matching his popular touch.

Venezuelans gambled on Chávez. What they got was not just an outsider bent on upending the status quo but also a Latin American leftist icon who soon had followers all around the world. Chávez became both a spoiler and the star attraction at global summits, as well as a leader of the burgeoning global wave of anti-American sentiment sparked by U.S. President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. At home, shaped by his career in the military, Chávez had a penchant for centralizing power and a profound intolerance of dissent. He set out to neuter not just opposition politicians but also political allies who dared question his policies. His collaborators quickly saw which way the wind was blowing: policy debates disappeared, and the government pursued a radical agenda with little forethought and no real scrutiny.

A 2001 presidential decree on land reform, which Chávez handed down with no consultation or debate, was a taste of things to come. It broke up large commercial farms and turned them over to peasant cooperatives that lacked the technical know-how, management skills, or access to capital to produce at scale. Food production collapsed. And in sector after sector, the Chávez government enacted similarly self-defeating policies. It expropriated foreign-owned oil ventures without compensation and gave them to political appointees who lacked the technical expertise to run them. It nationalized utilities and the main telecommunications operator, leaving Venezuela with chronic water and electricity shortages and some of the slowest Internet connection speeds in the world. It seized steel companies, causing production to fall from 480,000 metric tons per month before nationalization, in 2008, to effectively nothing today. Similar results followed the seizure of aluminum companies, mining firms, hotels, and airlines.

Diaz-Canel and Maduro

In one expropriated company after another, state administrators stripped assets and loaded payrolls with Chávez cronies. When they inevitably ran into financial problems, they appealed to the government, which was able to bail them out. By 2004, oil prices had spiked again, filling government coffers with petrodollars, which Chávez spent without constraints, controls, or accountability. On top of that were the easy loans from China, which was happy to extend credit to Venezuela in exchange for a guaranteed supply of crude oil. By importing whatever the hollowed-out Venezuelan economy failed to produce and borrowing to finance a consumption boom, Chávez was able to temporarily shield the public from the impact of his disastrous policies and to retain substantial popularity.

But not everyone was convinced. Oil industry workers were among the first to sound the alarm about Chávez’s authoritarian tendencies. They went on strike in 2002 and 2003, demanding a new presidential election. In response to the protests, Chávez fired almost half of the work force in the state-run oil company and imposed an arcane currency-exchange-control regime. The system morphed into a cesspool of corruption, as regime cronies realized that arbitraging between the state-authorized exchange rate and the black market could yield fortunes overnight. This arbitrage racket created an extraordinarily wealthy elite of government-connected kleptocrats. As this budding kleptocracy perfected the art of siphoning off oil proceeds into its own pockets, Venezuelan store shelves grew bare.

It was all painfully predictable—and widely predicted. But the louder local and international experts sounded the alarm, the more the government clung to its agenda. To Chávez, dire warnings from technocrats were a sign that the revolution was on the right track.

PASSING THE TORCH

In 2011, Chávez was diagnosed with cancer. Top oncologists in Brazil and the United States offered to treat him. But he opted instead to search for a cure in Cuba, the country he trusted not only to treat him but also to be discreet about his condition. As his illness progressed, his dependence on Havana deepened, and the mystery about the real state of his health grew. On December 8, 2012, an ailing Chávez made one final television appearance to ask Venezuelans to make Maduro, then vice president, his successor. For the next three months, Venezuela was governed spectrally and by remote control: decrees emanated from Havana bearing Chávez’s signature, but no one saw him, and speculation was rife that he had already died. When Chávez’s death was finally announced, on March 5, 2013, the only thing that was clear amid the atmosphere of secrecy and concealment was that Venezuela’s next leader would carry on the tradition of Cuban influence.

Chávez had long looked to Cuba as a blueprint for revolution, and he turned to Cuban President Fidel Castro for advice at critical junctures. In return, Venezuela sent oil: energy aid to Cuba (in the form of 115,000 barrels a day sold at a deep discount) was worth nearly $1 billion a year to Havana. The relationship between Cuba and Venezuela became more than an alliance. It has been, as Chávez himself once put it, “a merger of two revolutions.” (Unusually, the senior partner in the alliance is poorer and smaller than the junior partner—but so much more competent that it dominates the relationship.) Cuba is careful to keep its footprint light: it conducts most of its consultations in Havana rather than Caracas.

It did not escape anyone’s attention that the leader Chávez annointed to succeed him had devoted his life to the cause of Cuban communism. As a teenager, Maduro joined a fringe pro-Cuban Marxist party in Caracas. In his 20s, instead of going to university, he sought training in Havana’s school for international cadres to become a professional revolutionary. As Chávez’s foreign minister from 2006 to 2013, he had seldom called attention to himself: only his unfailing loyalty to Chávez, and to Cuba, propelled his ascent to the top. Under his leadership, Cuba’s influence in Venezuela has become pervasive. He has stacked key government posts with activists trained in Cuban organizations, and Cubans have come to occupy sensitive roles within the Venezuelan regime. The daily intelligence briefs Maduro consumes, for instance, are produced not by Venezuelans but by Cuban intelligence officers.

With Cuban guidance, Maduro has deeply curtailed economic freedoms and erased all remaining traces of liberalism from the country’s politics and institutions. He has continued and expanded Chávez’s practice of jailing, exiling, or banning from political life opposition leaders who became too popular or hard to co-opt. Julio Borges, a key opposition leader, fled into exile to avoid being jailed, and Leopoldo López, the opposition’s most charismatic leader, has been moved back and forth between a military prison and house arrest. Over 100 political prisoners linger in jails, and reports of torture are common. Periodic elections have become farcical, and the government has stripped the opposition-controlled National Assembly of all powers. Maduro has deepened Venezuela’s alliances with a number of anti-American and anti-Western regimes, turning to Russia for weapons, cybersecurity, and expertise in oil production; to China for financing and infrastructure; to Belarus for homebuilding; and to Iran for car production.

As Maduro broke the last remaining links in Venezuela’s traditional alliances with Washington and other Latin American democracies, he lost access to sound economic advice. He dismissed the consensus of economists from across the political spectrum: although they warned about inflation, Maduro chose to rely on the advice of Cuba and fringe Marxist policy advisers who assured him that there would be no consequences to making up budget shortfalls with freshly minted money. Inevitably, a devastating bout of hyperinflation ensued.

A toxic combination of Cuban influence, runaway corruption, the dismantling of democratic checks and balances, and sheer incompetence has kept Venezuela locked into catastrophic economic policies. As monthly inflation rates top three digits, the government improvises policy responses that are bound to make the situation even worse.

ANATOMY OF A COLLAPSE

Nearly all oil-producing liberal democracies, such as Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States, were democracies before they became oil producers. Autocracies that have found oil, such as Angola, Brunei, Iran, and Russia, have been unable to make the leap to liberal democracy. For four decades, Venezuela seemed to have miraculously beat these odds—it democratized and liberalized in 1958, decades after finding oil.

But the roots of Venezuelan liberal democracy turned out to be shallow. Two decades of bad economics decimated the popularity of the traditional political parties, and a charismatic demagogue, riding the wave of an oil boom, stepped into the breach. Under these unusual conditions, he was able to sweep away the whole structure of democratic checks and balances in just a few years.

When the decadelong oil price boom ended in 2014, Venezuela lost not just the oil revenue on which Chávez’s popularity and international influence had depended but also access to foreign credit markets. This left the country with a massive debt overhang: the loans taken out during the oil boom still had to be serviced, although from a much-reduced income stream. Venezuela ended up with politics that are typical of autocracies that discover oil: a predatory, extractive oligarchy that ignores regular people as long they stay quiet and that violently suppresses them when they protest.

The resulting crisis is morphing into the worst humanitarian disaster in memory in the Western Hemisphere. Exact figures for Venezuela’s GDP collapse are notoriously difficult to come by, but economists estimate that it is comparable to the 40 percent contraction of Syria’s GDP since 2012, following the outbreak of its devastating civil war. Hyperinflation has reached one million percent per year, pushing 61 percent of Venezuelans to live in extreme poverty, with 89 percent of those surveyed saying they do not have the money to buy enough food for their families and 64 percent reporting they have lost an average of 11 kilograms (about 24 pounds) in body weight due to hunger. About ten percent of the population—2.6 million Venezuelans—have fled to neighboring countries.

The Venezuelan state has mostly given up on providing public services such as health care, education, and even policing; heavy-handed, repressive violence is the final thing left that Venezuelans can rely on the public sector to consistently deliver. In the face of mass protests in 2014 and 2017, the government responded with thousands of arrests, brutal beatings and torture, and the killing of over 130 protesters.

Meanwhile, criminal business is increasingly conducted not in defiance of the state, or even simply in cahoots with the state, but directly through it. Drug trafficking has emerged alongside oil production and currency arbitrage as a key source of profits to those close to the ruling elite, with high-ranking officials and members of the president’s family facing narcotics charges in the United States. A small connected elite has also stolen national assets to a unprecedented degree. In August, a series of regime-connected businessmen were indicted in U.S. federal courts for attempting to launder over $1.2 billion in illegally obtained funds—just one of a dizzying array of illegal scams that are part of the looting of Venezuela. The entire southeastern quadrant of the country has become an exploitative illegal mining camp, where desperate people displaced from cities by hunger try their luck in unsafe mines run by criminal gangs under military protection. All over the country, prison gangs, working in partnership with government security forces, run lucrative extortion rackets that make them the de facto civil -authority. The offices of the Treasury, the central bank, and the national oil company have become laboratories where complicated financial crimes are hatched. As Venezuela’s economy has collapsed, the lines separating the state from criminal enterprises have all but disappeared.

THE VENEZUELAN DILEMMA

Whenever U.S. President Donald Trump meets with a Latin American leader, he insists that the region do something about the Venezuelan crisis. Trump has prodded his own national security team for “strong” alternatives, at one point stating that there are “many options” for Venezuela and that he is “not going to rule out the military option.” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has similarly flirted with a military response. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, however, has echoed a common sentiment of the U.S. security apparatus by publicly stating, “The Venezuelan crisis is not a military matter.” All of Venezuela’s neighboring countries have also voiced their opposition to an armed attack on Venezuela.

And rightly so. Trump’s fantasies of military invasion are deeply misguided and extremely dangerous. Although a U.S.-led military assault would likely have no problem overthrowing Maduro in short order, what comes next could be far worse, as the Iraqis and the Libyans know only too well: when outside powers overthrow autocrats sitting atop failing states, open-ended chaos is much more likely to follow than stability—let alone democracy.

Nonetheless, the United States will continue to face pressure to find some way of arresting Venezuela’s collapse. Each initiative undertaken so far has served only to highlight that there is, in reality, little the United States can do. During the Obama administration, U.S. diplomats attempted to engage the regime directly. But negotiations proved futile. Maduro used internationally mediated talks to neutralize massive street protests: protest leaders would call off demonstrations during the talks, but Chavista negotiators would only stonewall, parceling out minor concessions designed to divide their opponents while they themselves prepared for the next wave of repression. The United States and Venezuela’s neighbors seem to have finally grasped that, as things stand, negotiations only play into Maduro’s hands.

Some have suggested using harsh economic sanctions to pressure Maduro to step down. The United States has tried this. It passed several rounds of sanctions, under both the Obama and Trump administrations, to prevent the regime from issuing new debt and to hamper the financial operation of the state-owned oil company. Together with Canada and the EU, Washington has also put in place sanctions against specific regime officials, freezing their assets abroad and imposing travel restrictions. But such measures are redundant: if the task is to destroy the Venezuelan economy, no set of sanctions will be as effective as the regime itself. The same is true for an oil blockade: oil production is already in a free fall.

Washington can sharpen its policy on the margins. For one thing, it needs to put more emphasis on a Cuban track: little can be achieved without Havana’s help, meaning that Venezuela needs to be front and center in every contact Washington and its allies have with Havana. The United States can cast a wider net in countering corruption, preventing not just crooked officials but also their frontmen and families from enjoying the fruits of corruption, drug trafficking, and embezzlement. It could also work to turn the existing U.S. arms embargo into a global one. The Maduro regime must be constrained in its authoritarian intent with policies that communicate clearly to its cronies that continuing to aid the regime will leave them isolated in Venezuela and that turning on the regime is, therefore, the only way out. Yet the prospects of such a strategy succeeding are dim.

After a long period of dithering, the other Latin American countries are finally grasping that Venezuela’s instability will inevitably spill across their borders. As the center-left “pink wave” of the early years of this century recedes, a new cohort of more conservative leaders in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru has tipped the regional balance against Venezuela’s dictatorship, but the lack of actionable options bedevils them, as well. Traditional diplomacy hasn’t worked and has even backfired. But so has pressure. For example, in 2017, Latin American countries threatened to suspend Venezuela’s membership in the Organization of American States. The regime responded by withdrawing from the organization unilaterally, displaying just how little it cares about traditional diplomatic pressure.

Venezuela’s exasperated neighbors are increasingly seeing the crisis through the prism of the refugee problem it has created; they are anxious to stem the flow of malnourished people fleeing Venezuela and placing new strains on their social programs. As a populist backlash builds against the influx of Venezuelan refugees, some Latin American countries appear tempted to slam the door shut—a temptation they must resist, as it would be a historic mistake that would only worsen the crisis. The reality is that Latin American countries have no idea what to do about Venezuela. There may be nothing they can do, save accepting refugees, which will at least help alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Today, the regime is so solidly entrenched that a change of faces is much more likely than a change of system. Perhaps Maduro will be pushed out by a slightly less incompetent leader who is able to render Cuban hegemony in Venezuela more sustainable. Such an outcome would merely mean a more stable foreign-dominated petro-kleptocracy, not a return to democracy. And even if opposition forces—or a U.S.-led armed attack—somehow managed to replace Maduro with an entirely new government, the agenda would be daunting. A successor regime would need to reduce the enormous role the military plays in all areas of the public sector. It would have to start from scratch in restoring basic services in health care, education, and law enforcement. It would have to rebuild the oil industry and stimulate growth in other economic sectors. It would need to get rid of the drug dealers, prison racketeers, predatory miners, wealthy criminal financiers, and extortionists who have latched on to every part of the state. And it would have to make all these changes in the context of a toxic, anarchic political environment and a grave economic crisis.

Given the scale of these obstacles, Venezuela is likely to remain unstable for a long time to come. The immediate challenge for its citizens and their leaders, as well as for the international community, is to contain the impact of the nation’s decline. For all the misery they have experienced, the Venezuelan people have never stopped struggling against misrule. As of this summer, Venezuelans were still staging hundreds of protests each month. Most of them are local, grass-roots affairs with little political leadership, but they show a people with the will to fight for themselves.

Take Back Venezuela With Votes, Not Violence

Is that enough to nudge the country away from its current, grim path? Probably not. Hopelessness is driving more and more Venezuelans to fantasize about a Trump-led military intervention, which would offer a fervently desired deus ex machina for a long-suffering people. But this amounts to an ill-advised revenge fantasy, not a serious strategy.

Rather than a military invasion, Venezuelans’ best hope is to ensure that the flickering embers of protest and social dissent are not extinguished and that resistance to dictatorship is sustained. Desperate though the prospect may seem, this tradition of protest could one day lay the foundations for the recovery of civic institutions and democratic practices. It won’t be simple, and it won’t be quick. Bringing a state back from the brink of failure never is.

 

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New Book: CUBAN FOREIGN POLICY:,Transformation Under Raúl Castro

Edited by H. Michael Erisman and John M. Kirk

This volume illustrates the sweeping changes in Cuban foreign policy under Raúl Castro. Leading scholars from around the world show how the significant shift in foreign policy direction that started in 1990 after the implosion of the Soviet Union has continued, in many ways taking totally unexpected paths—as is shown by the move toward the normalization of relations with Washington. Providing a systematic overview of Cuba’s relations with the United States, Latin America, Russia, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, this book will be invaluable for courses on contemporary Cuban politics.

THE AUTHORS:

Michael Erisman is professor of international affairs at Indiana State University.

John M. Kirk is professor of Latin American studies at Dalhousie University.

 

PUBLICATION DETAILS:

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Pages: 314 • Trim: 6 x 9

978-1-4422-7092-3 • Hardback • April 2018 • $85.00 • (£54.95)

978-1-4422-7093-0 • Paperback • April 2018 • $35.00 • (£23.95)

978-1-4422-7094-7 • eBook • April 2018 • $33.00 • (£22.95)

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Historical Introduction to Foreign Policy under Raúl Castro, John M. Kirk

Part I: Key Issue Areas

  1. The Defense Contribution to Foreign Policy: Crucial in the Past, Crucial Today
    Hal Klepak,
  2. Cuba’s International Economic Relations: A Macroperspective on Performance and Challenges, H. Michael Erisman
  3. The Evolution of Cuban Medical Internationalism, John M. Kirk

Part II: Cuba’s Regional Relations

5. Cuba and Latin America and the Caribbean, Andrés Serbin
6. Cuba and Africa: Recasting Old Relations in New but Familiar Ways, Isaac Saney
7. Cuba and Asia and Oceania, Pedro Monzón and Eduardo Regalado Florido
8. Cuba and the European Union, Susanne Gratius
9. Cuba, Oceania, and a “Canberra Spring”, Tim Anderson

Part III:Cuba’s Key Bilateral Relations

10. The United States and Cuba, William LeoGrande
11. Canada and Cuba, John M. Kirk and Raúl Rodríguez
12. Spain and Cuba, Joaquín Roy
13. Venezuela and Cuba, Carlos A. Romero
14. Brazil and Cuba, Regiane Nitsch Bressan
15. Russia and Cuba, Mervyn Bain
16. China and Cuba, Andrian H. Hearn and Rafael Hernández

Part IV: Retrospective and Prospective Views

17. Conclusion, H. Michael Erisman and John M. Kirk

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CUBA’S STALLED REVOLUTION

Cuba’s Stalled Revolution: Can New Leadership Unfreeze Cuban Politics After the Castros?

By Richard E. Feinberg and Ted Piccone

 Foreign Affairs, September 2018

Original Article: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/central-america-caribbean/2018-09-20/cubas-stalled-revolution

For Cuba, 2018 marks the end of an era. For the first time in almost six decades, the country’s president is no longer a Castro—neither the late guerilla fighter, revolutionary caudillo, and international icon Fidel, nor his lower-profile brother Raúl, who succeeded Fidel as president in 2008. This April, the mantle was instead passed to former vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canel, a younger post-revolutionary politician who raised paradoxical hopes of both continuity and change.

Yet for those who imagined that the post-Castro era would quickly bring major reforms, Díaz-Canel’s tenure so far has been sorely disappointing. Five months in, progress in the country has come either slowly or not at all. The island’s economy continues to decline, just as it has since the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, and this despite the carefully calibrated reforms Raul Castro instituted in 2011. Investment rates are alarmingly low, foreign exchange scarce, and shortages of consumer goods widespread. Many discontented Cubans, especially educated youth, continue to emigrate in search of higher living standards and better career choices, depleting the current and future workforce.

Miguel Díaz-Canel 

Reformers and hardliners continue to do battle within the Cuban Communist Party. A new draft constitution promises progress, notably on gender and gay rights, but it also reaffirms the hegemony of the Cuban Communist Party and institutionalizes outdated economic thinking. Recent government initiatives further restrict individual freedoms in business, the arts, and media. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has largely returned to the pre-Obama rhetoric of regime change and posture of hostility and isolation.

STAGNATION NATION

Díaz-Canel has inherited an economy in a state of transition. During his decade-long rule, Raúl Castro broke through once-forbidding ideological barriers on economic policy. He actively inserted Cuba into global commerce, opened the island to foreign investment, and promoted a burgeoning domestic private sector. Raúl also relaxed barriers to travel abroad, allowed private markets for real estate and automobiles, and gradually expanded access to mobile technology and social media. The private sector took off. By 2017, it provided jobs and income to as many as four out of ten Cubans of working age. Tourist traffic rose more than 80 percent during Raul’s tenure. Even though U.S. travelers became less common on the streets of Havana over the course of 2017, as the Obama bump gave way to a Trump dip, tourism is once again the brightest feature of the Cuban economy.

The government has not laid out a new economic policy agenda, much less a strategic vision for long-term development.

And yet, the Cuban economy has performed poorly overall. During the decade of Raúl Castro’s rule, Cuba’s GDP grew an average 2.4 percent per year—at least according to government statistics. At times, GDP growth stagnated at below two percent per year. Five percent would be the minimum necessary for Cuba’s growth to be considered sustainable.

The government has failed to create a truly receptive business climate, and outside the flourishing tourism sector, foreign investors remain skeptical. The precipitous drop in Cuba’s merchandise exports bodes particularly ill, signaling that the country’s state-owned enterprises are failing to compete in global markets. In 2016, these exports shrunk to less than $3 billion, their lowest level in more than ten years. In response, authorities slashed imports, from a peak of nearly $15 billion in 2013 to $10.4 billion in 2016. The loss of these imports has left Cuban stores empty of the most basic consumer items, from beer and paper products to spare parts for household appliances. All the while, restrictions on bringing capital goods into the country continue to exacerbate the already serious lack of factory machinery and farm equipment.

Change is unlikely to materialize soon. The Díaz-Canel administration, occupied with managing austerity policies, has not yet laid out a new economic policy agenda, much less a strategic vision for long-term development. In July, the government issued tough new regulations for the island’s emerging private enterprises. Aimed at preventing private companies and citizens from accumulating wealth—and nipping in the bud any potential challenge to the state’s monopoly on economic and political power—the new rules show that Cuban leaders are still extremely wary of, if not outright hostile to, private enterprise.

OLD RUM IN NEW BOTTLES?

Cuban politics are similarly resistant to change. Raúl Castro is still very present—as head of the Cuban Communist Party until 2021 and as leader of the government’s current efforts to revise the constitution. Every step of the relatively smooth succession process seemed designed to signal continuity with the measured pace of change that had marked Raúl Castro’s tenure, encapsulated by his maxim “sin prisa, pero sin pausa”—without haste, but without pause. It’s no wonder, then, that Díaz-Canel told the national assembly upon donning the presidential sash that “comrade Raúl will head the decisions for the present and future of the nation.”

Díaz-Canel has a lighter touch and is less camera-shy than his predecessor, but when it comes to policymaking, he has so far failed to deliver change. He retains a largely inherited team of senior bureaucrats, and his public remarks have been less about programmatic innovation than about maintaining party unity. Granted, this could be a temporary posture meant to reassure the old party apparatchiks while he builds a more autonomous governing class of technocrats. By this interpretation, the 58-year old is cautiously cultivating a power base of his own to set forward in the later portion of his five-year term, especially after Raúl steps down as party chief in 2021.

On the institutional side, recent changes are a mixed bag. The National Assembly chosen in March includes a mix of old and new faces. More than half of the deputies are new, 53 percent are women, and 41 percent are black or of mixed race. Likewise, the council of state, which is headed by Díaz-Canel and effectively governs the country year-round, has three new vice presidents between the ages of 48 and 52—young leadership for a country long ruled by former revolutionaries in their seventies and older. New rules mandate that deputies serve no more than two five-year terms and enter office at an age no older than 60. Taken together, the changes suggest that party leaders understand the importance of making the benefits of public office accessible to younger cadres and of diversifying the ranks of the governing elite.

A proposed constitutional reform, meanwhile, promises a modest but potentially meaningful political opening. The draft constitution divides power between a president serving as head of state and a prime minister who manages the government’s day-to-day functions. It devolves more autonomy over local affairs to provincial authorities, even though governors would still be appointed by the president. Other provisions suggest greater separation between state and party, even though the overlap in personnel would probably remain high. A new national electoral council would improve the image of the country’s elections, if not their actual integrity. Citizens who gather at least 10,000 signatures can propose legislation. Those who gather 50,000 or more will be able to initiate constitutional revisions.

Even if reformers manage to wedge open some cracks in the state’s monolithic apparatus, Cuba will remain a strictly one-party system.

The draft constitution explicitly grants important civil and due process rights, including habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence, the right to seek restitution for violations committed by state agents, non-discrimination regardless of sexual orientation, and religious liberty. But it makes such fundamental rights conditional upon “collective security, general well-being, respect for public order, the Constitution and laws.” The draft document is rife with such contradictory loopholes that ultimately confirm the state’s supreme power to override fundamental human rights.

Make no mistake: even if reformers manage to wedge open some cracks in the state’s monolithic apparatus, Cuba will remain a strictly one-party system. The draft constitution re-inscribes the Cuban Communist Party as the “superior leading force of [Cuban] society and the state.” Cuban socialism and its political and social system remain “irrevocable.” In the economy, the draft charter complements state planning and ownership with some space for domestic and foreign private capital, but these changes stop well short of formally embracing a more genuinely balanced, hybrid regime, such as the market socialist models of China or Vietnam.

At the moment, the Communist Party is holding forums to debate the draft constitution across the island. These forums are generating discussions among interested elites, but they are expected to yield only modest fixes to the issues outlined above. Once ratified by the legislature and by public referendum—likely easy hurdles—the new constitution will mainly cement the Castro legacy in constitutional, legal and de facto terms, while also bestowing some political legitimacy upon the post-revolutionary cohort Díaz-Canel now leads. For the many Cubans yearning for higher wages and more consumer goods, there is little relief in sight.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Havana’s economic and political inertia has left Washington with little room to elicit more progressive reforms. Either the United States can accept Cuba’s reality and find ways of getting along in order to protect its national interests, or it can maintain and perhaps even step up its efforts to pursue regime change through punitive measures. The latter policy, in place for nearly six decades, has demonstrably failed, but it is unfortunately entrenched in U.S. law, thanks to Congress’ codification of the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba in 1996. U.S. President Donald Trump, who has rolled back many of the openings granted by President Obama, has important pro-embargo constituencies in Florida and is unlikely to shift direction any time soon.  In effect, the Miami hardliners have won back the initiative from the diverse anti-embargo constituencies of the Obama era. This is probably fine and well with hardliners in Cuba, as it gives them some breathing space to seek better relations with Europe, Russia and China without Washington in the picture.

The new administration will likely split the country along generational lines.

The United States and Cuba still cooperate in some areas, but such exchanges face significant challenges. U.S. tourism to the island, especially cruise ship travel, is showing signs of recovery, after a sharp decrease in 2017 and in the first half of 2018. Bilateral cooperation in the areas of law enforcement, migration, and environmental affairs continues quietly, but depleted staffing at both U.S. and Cuban embassies, in part due to a wave of mysterious health concerns reported by U.S. diplomats in Cuba last year, has hampered basic diplomatic and consular functions. U.S. congressional activity has stalled, with the exception of efforts to lift financial restrictions on agricultural trade. All told, neither the punishing embargo nor anemic U.S. diplomacy is likely to prod Havana towards more ambitious reforms.

Domestically, the Díaz-Canel administration will likely split the country along generational lines. For many older Cubans, the new government’s commitment to the principles that guided the Castro era is reassuring. Many middle-aged Cubans will welcome the renewed guarantees of state-sponsored economic security and welfare. Some may also perceive glimmers of a more normal, open and, accessible polity, and will take heart in Díaz-Canel’s support for gradual, carefully monitored openings to foreign investment, the internet, and controlled private enterprise. Cuba’s restless youth, on the other hand, are likely to see only more missed opportunities, whether in a constitutional reform that prioritizes continuity over change or in a president who so far has proven more cheerleader for the status quo than agent of reform. Tragically, Cubans of all stripes, including too many of the best and the brightest, will continue to seek opportunities elsewhere.

 

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IS CUBA’S VISION OF MARKET SOCIALISM SUSTAINABLE?

William M. LeoGrande

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Just three months after Miguel Diaz-Canel took over the presidency of Cuba from Raul Castro, his government has unveiled a new Council of Ministers—essentially, Cuba’s Cabinet—along with the draft of a new constitution and sweeping new regulations on the island’s emergent private sector. While the changes announced represent continuity with the basic reform program Raul Castro laid out during his tenure, they are nevertheless significant milestones along the road to a more market-oriented socialist system.

The discussion and approval of the draft constitution was the main event of last week’s National Assembly meeting. The revised charter will now be circulated for public debate, revised, reconsidered by the National Assembly, and then submitted to voters in a referendum early next year. The avowed reason for revamping the constitution is to align it with the economic reforms spelled out in 2011 and 2016 that constitute the blueprint for Cuba’s transition to market socialism. Cuba’s 1976 constitution, adopted at the height of its adherence to a Soviet model of central planning, reflected “historical circumstances, and social and economic conditions, which have changed with the passing of time,” as Raul Castro explained two years ago. …

Continue Reading: Is Cubas Vision of Market Socialism Sustainable_

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GACETA OFICIAL NO. 35 EXTRAORDINARIA, DE 10 DE JULIO DE 2018:

New Regulations for Cuba’s Non-Agricultural Private Enterprises as of July 10, 2018

Complete Document available here:

Gaceta-Oficial-Extraordinaria, 10 de Juliode 2018, _CYMFIL20180710_0001

 

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