Author Archives: Arch Ritter

ALTERNATE FUTURES FOR CUBA’S EMERGING NON-STATE ECONOMIC SECTOR

Presented at Florida International University, Cuban Research Institute Conference: “Beyond Perpetual Antagonism: Re-imagining U.S. – Cuba Relations.”

February 24, 2017

Complete Presentation:  FIU CRI 2017 Presentation


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CHINA PILES INTO CUBA AS VENEZUELA FADES AND TRUMP LOOMS

Reuters, Tue Feb 14, 2017 | 8:17 PM EST

Original Article: China piles into Cuba

CUBA ISN’T WAITING AROUND FOR U.S. WHEN IT’S GOT CHINA

By Marc Frank | HAVANA

From buses and trucks to a $500 million golf resort, China is deepening its business footprint in Cuba, helping the fellow Communist-run state survive a crisis in oil-benefactor Venezuela and insulate against a possible rollback of U.S. detente.

Cuban imports from China reached a record $1.9 billion in 2015, nearly 60 percent above the annual average of the previous decade, and were at $1.8 billion in 2016 as the flow of oil and cash slowed from Venezuela due to economic and political turmoil in the South American country.

China’s growing presence gives its companies a head start over U.S. competitors in Cuba’s opening market. It could leave the island less exposed to the chance U.S. President Donald Trump will clamp down on travel to Cuba and tighten trade restrictions loosened by his predecessor Barack Obama.  A deterioration in U.S.-China relations under Trump could also lead Beijing to dig in deeper in Cuba, some analysts say.

“If and when the Trump administration increases pressure on China … China may decide to double down on its expanding footprint in the United States’ neighborhood,” said Ted Piccone, a Latin America analyst at the Brookings Institution think tank.

China, the world’s second largest economy, sells goods to Cuba on soft credit terms. It is Cuba’s largest creditor and debt is regularly restructured, though amounts and terms are considered state secrets.  While Cuba does not publish investment data, the state press has been abuzz with news of Chinese projects lately, covering infrastructure, telecoms, tourism and electronics.

Yutong (600066.SS) buses, Sinotruk (3808.HK) trucks, YTO (600233.SS) tractors, Geely (0175.HK) cars, Haier (1169.HK) domestic appliances and other products are prominent in Cuba, where the main U.S. products on display are cars dating back to the 1950s, thanks to the ongoing economic embargo.

Cubans flock every day to hundreds of Huawei supplied Wi-Fi hot spots and the firm is now helping to wire the first homes.

“Business is really booming, more than we could have ever imagined,” said the manager of a shipping company which brings in Chinese machinery and transport equipment and who asked not to be identified.

The foreign ministry in Beijing described China and Cuba as “good comrades, brothers, and partners,” and said the relations “were not influenced by any third party,” when asked whether U.S. policy was encouraging China to deepen its presence.  “We are happy to see that recently countries around the world are all expanding cooperation with Cuba. I think this shows that all countries have consistent expectations about Cuba’s vast potential for development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.

The U.S. State Department and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

INCREASED INVESTMENT

Over the past two decades, China has become a major player in Latin America and the Caribbean, second only to the United States in investment flows and diplomatic clout.  But the Asian giant was reluctant to invest in Cuba because of the poor business climate and fear of losing opportunities in the United States, according to Asian diplomats in Havana.

That began to change after Obama moved to normalize relations two years ago and Cuba sweetened investment rules, sparking new interest among U.S. businesses and competitors around the world.  China was well placed because the local government preferred doing business with long-term friends offering ample credit to work with state-run firms.

In return, Cuba has shared contacts and knowledge about the region, and taught hundreds of Chinese translators Spanish.

A report on the government’s official Cubadebate media web site last month said the two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in renewable energy and industry, with 18 Chinese firms taking part in a three-day meeting in Havana.

Plans for several projects were signed, including a joint venture with Haier to establish a renewable energy research and development facility, the report said.  A few weeks earlier, Cuba opened its first computer assembly plant with Haier with an annual capacity of 120,000 laptops and tablets, state media reported.

Other projects include pharmaceuticals, vehicle production, a container terminal in eastern Santiago de Cuba, backed by a $120 million Chinese development loan, and Beijing Enterprises Holdings Ltd. (0392.HK) venture for a $460 million golf resort just east of Havana.  Shanghai Electric (601727.SS) is providing funds and equipment for a series of bioelectricity plants attached to sugar mills.

Barrio Chino, La Habana

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WHY OXEN REMAIN VITAL TO CUBA’S ECONOMY

Cuba Standard, February 10, 2017
Original Article: OXEN

The collapse of the Soviet Union hit the Cuban economy severely. The island nation lost approximately 80% of its imports, 80% of its exports and its Gross Domestic Product dropped by a third, virtually overnight.

Entirely dependent on fossil fuels to operate, the major buttresses of Cuban society – its transport, industrial and agricultural systems – were frozen. There were extensive losses of productivity in both Cuban agriculture – which was dominated by Soviet modern industrial tractors, combines, and harvesters, all of which required petroleum to run – and in Cuban industrial capacity.

As a result, animals returned to the agriculture scene, and ox, in particular, carried most of the farming burden in the slow recovery that lasted until the last 1990s. After the hurricanes of 2008 (Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Gustav, Tropical Storm Fay), Raul Castro cited ox as essential for recovery. “For this program we should forget about tractors and fuel, even if we had enough. The idea is to work basically with oxen,” Castro told parliament August 1, 2008.  “An increasing number of growers have been doing exactly this with excellent results.”

Cuba imports most of its agricultural machinery and is in need of high ­quality, consistent machinery and spare parts. Cuban imports of agricultural machinery rose from $11.4 million in 2005 to a peak of $92.8 million in 2013 before falling to $57.5 million in 2014. In 2014, Brazil was the leading supplier of agricultural machinery to Cuba, followed by the EU (largely Spain and Italy).

The Cuban drivers for increased imports of agricultural machinery have been the need to improve agricultural performance and reduce reliance on imported agricultural products. Nonetheless, any attempts by Cuba’s agricultural sector to replace its old and obsolete agricultural machinery are making slow progress. In 2013, approximately 1% of Cuba’s 66,128 tractors were less than five years old, nearly 12 percent were between 6 and 30 years old, and 87% were more than three decades old.

 

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CUBA WANTS MORE BABIES, SO IT’S GIVING PARENTAL LEAVE TO GRANDPARENTS, TOO

By Nick Miroff February 10, Washington Post
Original Article: Grandparents and Fertility Rates!

MEXICO CITY — Cuba is giving parental leave to the grandparents of newborns, the country’s latest attempt to reverse its sagging birthrate and defuse a demographic time bomb.

The island already has one of the most generous parental leave policies in the Americas, allowing mothers and fathers to take more than a year off from work at partial pay. The new decree extends those benefits to maternal and paternal grandparents.

But so far, such attempts haven’t brought any sort of Cuban baby boom.  The island of 11 million has one of the lowest fertility rates in the Western Hemisphere, with 1.7 births per woman. There are several factors that explain this figure, but they mostly come down to a combination of effective socialist medical care and a dysfunctional state-run economy.

Cuba’s health-care system makes contraceptives widely available, and abortions are available on demand. At the same time, Cuban women are a growing portion of the country’s professional workforce, and many choose to delay motherhood until their late 30s, often because they don’t have the financial means to care for children.

It’s hardly the only demographic problem Cuba faces: Some  60,000 to 80,000 Cubans emigrate each year, many of them young people looking for better opportunities in the United States, Europe and Latin America.

The Cubans who stay behind are going gray. Nearly one-fifth of the island’s population is 60 or older, and they depend on a shrinking pool of Cuban workers to keep the state-run economy afloat. Cuba’s life expectancy is 78, on par with the United States, so there’s a larger and larger pool of dependents.

According to the Communist Party newspaper Granma, the decision to extend parental leave to grandparents was necessary “to deal with the high degree of aging among the population, and to encourage fertility in the short term.”  “The challenge of raising the birthrate in Cuba is a challenge that cannot be put off,” Granma said.

The decrees also reduce day-care costs for Cuban parents with multiple children, and provide tax breaks for women who work in the country’s small but growing private sector.

Offering partial salary to Cuban parents on leave is not the kind of burden for the government — which employs about 70 percent of the workforce — that it would be in more prosperous nations.

The average official state salary hovers around $20 a month. Paying parents and grandparents a fraction of that to care for children is costly in a country where economic growth is stagnant, but nothing like the expenditure it would be elsewhere.

The United Kingdom has adopted a leave policy for grandparents who still work, and while a similar law has been proposed in Argentina, Cuba appears to be the first Latin American country to offer the benefits to grandparents.

 

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HOW DOES CUBA MANAGE TO ACHIEVE FIRST-WORLD HEALTH STATISTICS?

The island’s medical system is envied throughout the region and is a major foreign revenue earner

ÁLVARO FUENTE; EL PAÍS, Havana 10 FEB 2017

Original Article: Cuba’s Medical System

Cuba’s healthcare system is a source of pride for its communist government. The country has well-trained, capable doctors, the sector has become an important export earner and gives Cuba valuable soft power – yet the real picture is less rosy. A lot of health infrastructure is deteriorating and there is a de facto two-tier system that favors those with money.

Cuba’s child mortality rate is on par with some of the world’s richest countries. With six deaths for every 1,000 births, according to World Bank data from 2015, Cuba is level with New Zealand. In 2015, the global average was 42.5 deaths for every 1,000 births. Despite more than half a century of a US economic embargo, Cuba’s average life expectancy matches that in the US: 79.1 years, just a few months shorter than Americans who, on average, live to 79.3 years, according to 2015 data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Much of Cuba’s success in these areas is due to its primary healthcare system, which is one of the most proactive in the world. Cuba’s population of 11.27 million has 452 out-patient clinics and the government gives priority to disease prevention, universal coverage and access to treatment.

Cuba has also produced innovations in medical research. In 1985 the country pioneered the first and only vaccine against meningitis B. The country’s scientists developed new treatments for hepatitis B, diabetic foot, vitiligo and psoriasis. They also developed a lung cancer vaccine that is currently being tested in the United States. Cuba was also the first country on earth to eliminate the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to child, a feat recognized by the WHO in 2015.

In 2015, Cuba spent 10.57% of its GDP on health, slightly higher than the global average. According to the World Bank in 2014, the European average spending GDP spending was 10%, compared to 17.1% in the United States.

TWO-TIER SYSTEM

A lesser-known characteristic of Cuba’s healthcare system is the existence of special clinics, reserved for tourists, politicians and VIPs. The state reserves the best hospitals and doctors for the national elite and foreigners, while ordinary Cubans sometimes must turn to the black market or ask expatriate friends or family to send medicine.

“Cuba’s health service is divided in two: one for Cubans and the other for foreigners, who receive better quality care, while the national population has to be satisfied with dilapidated facilities and a lack of medicines and specialists, who are sent abroad to make money for Cuba,” says Dr. Julio César Alfonzo, a Cuban exile in Miami and director of the NGO Solidaridad Sin Fronteras.

In 2015, Cuba spent 10.57% of its GDP on health, slightly higher than the global average

In 1959, the country had only 6,000 doctors, half of whom emigrated after the Cuban revolution. By 2014, Cuba had 67.2 doctors for every 10,000 inhabitants, with only Qatar and Monaco ahead of it.

However, despite these impressive statistics, the quality of primary healthcare, which has been fundamental to Cuba’s success, has been declining in recent years. Between 2009 and 2014 there was a 62% fall in the number of family doctors, from 34,261 to 12,842, according to Cuba’s National Statistics Office (ONEI).

AN ARMY OF WHITE COATS

In the words of Fidel Castro, Cuba’s “army of white coats” was formed in 1960, when a medical brigade was sent to Chile after an earthquake left thousands dead. Since then, Cuba has sent more than 300,000 healthcare workers to 158 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, according to Cuba’s state news agency. Today, around 50,000 Cuban medical workers are present in 67 countries.

“Cuban doctors are rooted in solidarity and in the Hippocratic Oath. Our job would be unthinkable without foreign missions,” says Salvador Silva, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases who has worked in Haiti and Liberia.   “Yes, our salary is low and maybe that pushes us to go abroad, but it also makes us proud when we see our work recognized throughout the world, on top of just helping in our own country,” he adds.

Doctors are arguably Cuba’s most profitable resource and the country’s medical missions have proved to be a lucrative diplomatic tool. The healthcare industry is also one of the country’s main sources of income. In 2014, Cuban authorities estimated overseas healthcare services would bring in $8.2 billion, putting it ahead of tourism.

Cuba has a different deal with each country it works with. For example, in exchange for sending 3,500 health care workers to work in and provide training in Venezuela, a close Cuban ally, Venezuela sends oil.

With such a high demand for personnel, some suspect that the Cuban government has been reducing educational requirements to hasten students’ entry into the work force.  “They are giving doctors licenses in record time to meet the need to export them, and this has been detrimental to the quality of training and medicine, which used to be the best. This has been happening since they started the program in Venezuela, between 2003 and 2004,” says Dr Alfonzo.

Doctors are also eager to be sent abroad, not only to help the less fortunate, but also for money. Salaries are higher – depending on the location, with doctors abroad reportedly making up to $1,000 per month (minus taxes), whereas those in Cuba make around $50. On the island, it isn’t rare to find taxi drivers, shopkeepers or construction workers with medical degrees.

Juan drives a 1950s Chevrolet he bought with his brother and he uses it as a taxi from 6pm to midnight. He’s also a doctor in the clinic Hermanos Ameijeiras. “The wage is a pittance. We find ourselves obligated to make a living doing other things. I have coworkers who sell prescriptions to pharmacies, who work in unlicensed clinics or help their families in shops. It’s frustrating,” he says. “It’s like they’re pushing us to enlist in international missions, the business of Cuba.”

The country’s medical missions abroad have been an important escape route for Cubans looking to defect. Before migratory reforms were passed in January 2013 allowing Cubans with passports and visas to travel abroad, the preferred way to abandon Cuba was via Venezuela. In 2013 and 2014, more than 3,000 doctors deserted the island to go to the United States through a special visa program called Cuban Medical Professional Parole, a program started by George W. Bush to help healthcare workers who had escaped while working abroad.

Lucia Newman, a former CNN correspondent in Habana, said Cuban doctors complain that travel restrictions prevent them from attending conferences or keeping abreast of the latest medical advances. The US trade embargo on Cuba includes some textbooks, but the major problem is that Cuban doctors cannot buy medical equipment from the United States or from any US subsidiaries.

For Odalys, a young patient waiting at the Hospital Salvador Allende, “the situation is becoming unsustainable in this country and it’s not because of a lack of specialists, it’s because we have to bring everything ourselves. I just bought a light bulb for the hospital room. I’ve called home so that they can bring me bedding, towels and even toilet paper. There aren’t even stretchers, I saw a family carrying their sick son into a room. Free and universal health care, yes, but it’s a bit of a mess and very informal,” she says.

English version: Alyssa McMurtry.

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DEBATING U.S.-CUBAN RELATIONS: HOW SHOULD WE NOW PLAY BALL? 2nd Edition

Edited by Jorge I. DomínguezRafael M. HernándezLorena G. Barberia

© 2017 – Routledge

To Order: Routledge

ABOUT THE BOOK

The boundary between Cuba and the United States has become more and more porous, as have those with Latin America and the Caribbean. Never in the past half-century has Cuba’s leadership or its social and political fabric been so exposed to the influence of the outside world. In this book, an all-star cast of experts critically address the recent past and present in U.S.-Cuban relations in their full complexity and subtlety to develop a perspective on the evolution of the conflict and an inventory of forms of cooperation. This much needed approach provides a way to answer the questions “what has been . . .?” and “what is . . .?” while also thinking seriously about “what if . . .?”

To illustrate the most significant areas of U.S.-Cuban relations in the contemporary era, this newly updated edition of Debating U.S.-Cuban Relations adds six more themes to the study of this complex relation: political, security, economic, and cultural/academic issues; the triangular relations of the United States, Cuba, and Europe; and the politics of Cuban migration/emigration. Each topic is represented by perspectives from both Cuban and non-Cuban scholars, leading to a resource rich in insight and a model of transnational dialogue.

The future course of U.S.-Cuban relations will likely be more complex than in the past, not only because of the matrix of factors involved but also because of the number of actors. Such a multiplicity of domestic, regional, and global factors is unique; it includes the rise to power of new administrations in both countries since 2008. Raúl Castro became president of Cuba in February 2008 and Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States in January 2009. And it will feature the inauguration of a new president of the United States in January 2017 and a new president of Cuba, likely in February 2018.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1: Introduction: A Baseball Game. Jorge I. Domínguez and Rafael M. Hernández

Chapter 2: Intimate Enemies: Paradoxes in the Conflict between the United States and

Cuba. Rafael M. Hernández

Chapter 3: Reshaping the Relations between the United States and Cuba. Jorge I. Domínguez

Chapter 4: Cuba’s National Security vis-à-vis the United States: Conflict or Cooperation? Carlos Alzugaray Treto

Chapter 5: Cuban-United States Cooperation in the Defence and Security Fields: Where Are We? Where Might We Be Able to Go? Hal Klepak

Chapter 6: Terrorism and the Anti-Hijacking Accord in Cuba’s Relations with the United States. Peter Kornbluh

Chapter 7: The European Union and U.S.-Cuban Relations. Eduardo Perera Gómez

Chapter 8: European Union Policy in the Cuba-U.S.-Spain Triangle. Susanne Gratius

Chapter 9: U.S.-Cuba Relations: The Potential Economic Implications of Normalization. Archibald R. M. Ritter

Chapter 10: United States-Cuba Economic Relations: The Pending Normalization. Jorge Mario Sánchez Egozcue

Chapter 11: Cuba, Its Immigration and U.S.-Cuba Relations. Lorena G. Barberia

Chapter 12: U.S.-Cuba: Emigration and Bilateral Relations. Antonio Aja Díaz

Chapter 13: The Subject(s) of Academic and Cultural Exchange: Paradigms, Powers, and Possibilities. Sheryl Lutjens

Chapter 14: Academic Diplomacy: Cultural Exchange between Cuba and the United States. Milagros Martínez Reinosa

 

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CHARCOAL — FIRST LEGAL CARGO FROM CUBA IN MORE THAN 50 YEARS — ARRIVES AT PORT EVERGLADES

Original Article:  http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article128433209.html#storylink=cpy

BY MIMI WHITEFIELD

The first Cuban exports since the embargo went into effect over a half century ago arrived at Port Everglades Tuesday as port officials prepared to receive a business delegation from Cuba later in the week.

The delegation also plans to visit the Port of Palm Beach, which is located in Riviera Beach, and Port Tampa Bay durina a swing through the United States that has already included a stop at the Port of Houston. Also on the itinerary are visits to the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Virginia in Norfolk and meetings with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C., members of Congress and the American Association of Port Authorities, which is holding a conference in Tampa.

Two containers of artisanal charcoal made from Cuban Marabú, an invasive woody species from Africa that is considered a nuisance on the island, arrived at the Fort Lauderdale port aboard a Crowley Maritime ship called the K-Storm. The charcoal exports, which are produced by private worker-owned cooperatives, are legal under a rule change by the former Obama administration that allows the importation of some products produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs.

In Cuba, Marabú has taken over wide swaths of idle agricultural land and strangled other plants. But it makes a hardwood charcoal that is winning acceptance as a fuel for pizza and bread ovens in Europe and the Middle East. It will be sold under the Fogo Charcoal brand by various U.S. retailers.

The charcoal deal was put together by Coabana Trading, a subsidiary of Reneo Consulting, a firm chaired by Scott Gilbert, the Washington D.C. lawyer who represented Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor who was jailed by the Cuban government for five years.

“This is truly a momentous occasion,” Gilbert said when the deal for 40 tons of charcoal was announced earlier this month. “Now U.S. consumers will be able to purchase this product, as have Europeans and others for many years. More importantly, this marks the beginning of a new era of trade between the United States and Cuba.”

The agreement was struck with CubaExport, a Cuban government entity that develops trade opportunities, but Scott said that the Marabú plant is cut and the charcoal produced by private Cuban cooperatives.

The embargo still remains in effect, but executive orders issued by Obama over the past two years eased some Cuba-related travel and trade restrictions.

Although the transaction was negotiated under the Obama opening, the historic Cuban exports are arriving during the Trump administration. Trump has said he might roll back some of Obama’s executive orders on Cuba unless Cuba offers a better deal to the United States and Secretary of State-nominee Rex Tillerson has said that all Obama’s executive orders on Cuba will be reviewed.

Whether Cuban charcoal becomes a staple of U.S. trade with the island remains to be seen.

“It’s experimental, but the importer hopes to have regular shipments,” said Jay Brickman, vice president of government services and Cuba service at Crowley. Brickman called the shipment “the first truly commercial shipment from a Cuban cooperative to a private U.S. business since the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo was imposed more than 50 years ago.”

The shipping line makes thrice-monthly trips from Port Everglades to Cuba’s container port in Mariel and also calls in Honduras and Guatemala before returning to the Fort Lauderdale port. Crowley mostly carries frozen chicken parts and foodstuffs to Cuba but it also handles small amounts of other legal exports to the island and was involved in shipping some of the equipment that the Rolling Stones used in their historic concert in Cuba in March 2016.

Crowley has been calling on Cuba for the past 15 years. “We average about 40 to 45 loads of cargo [for Cuba] per voyage,” said Brickman.

Another port user, Pearl Seas Cruises’ Pearl Mist, is currently on its maiden voyage to Cuba from Port Everglades.

On Thursday, a Cuban delegation will be at Port Everglades to sign a memorandum of understanding between the port and the National Port Administration of Cuba that could pave the way for joint marketing studies, joint training and other cooperation, said Jim Pyburn, the port’s director of business development.

“We would like to see U.S. exports to Cuba increase; imports are good, too,” said Pyburn.

He hopes for a future when large U.S. grocery chains and shopping clubs ship food to Cuba from the port. “Cubans are in dire need of paint and basic building materials and we’d like that to be part of the [export] mix, too,” he said.

At Port Everglades, the seven-member Cuban delegation will begin its day with a meeting with Port Director Steven Cernak, tour the port and then lunch with executives from Crowley and the cruise lines. In the afternoon, the delegation will present a “Doing Business with Cuba” seminar for about 150 invited businesses executives. It will include presentations on inland and sea transportation in Cuba, the Mariel Container Terminal and the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone, which is prospecting for foreign investment projects leading to sustainable economic development.

The Cuban delegation includes Ana Teresa Igarza, general director of the Mariel zone; José Leonardo Sosa Barrios, deputy director of the Mariel Container Terminal; Eradis González de la Peña, president of Almacenes Universales; René Rolando Fernández, director of inland waterway and sea transport for the Ministry of Transportation; Tania Vazquez, an official with the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment; Joel Lago from the Cuban Embassy in Washington’s economic and trade office and Ernesto Viñas, an adviser to the deputy minister of transportation.

Pyburn said Port Everglades had been working on an MOU with Cuba since early 2016 but originally it was only going to cover Mariel, which is about 28 miles west of Havana. Now, with the involvement of the National Port Administration, it will cover all Cuban ports.

He said the MOU was completed for signing in May. But there was little action until Brickman visited Washington in December. During the trip, Brickman said he received a call from the Cuban Embassy “saying the Cubans would really like to sign a memorandum of understanding with Port Everglades.” He helped facilitate the visit and the signing.

The Port of Palm Beach also is expected to sign a MOU with the Cuban port administration on Friday.

Unloading Charcoal at Port Everglades, Florida

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UNITED NATIONS ECLAC: PRELIMINARY OVERVIEW OF THE ECONOMIES OF LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN, 2016: CUBA

Document is available here: UN ECLAC 2016, CUBA http://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/40826/70/1601259BP_Cuba_en.pdf

ECLAC estimates GDP growth of 0.4% for Cuba in 2016. This was a particularly difficult year for the country’s economy, in an international context where economic expansion was still slow and foreign trade continued to weaken as a driver of growth. A fiscal deficit of 6% is projected (compared with 5.8% in 2015). The current account is expected to yield a surplus again in 2016, but a smaller one of about US$ 1.9 billion. Although economic conditions have caused prices for some agricultural products to rise, price levels generally have remained fairly stable and inflation in 2016 is expected to be similar to the previous year’s (2.8%). The total number of employed remained unchanged, with a tendency for employment to fall in the State sector and increase in the non-State sector. The unemployment rate is projected to be 2.4%.

Disponible en español
Disponível em português

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IN CUBA, THE POST-FIDEL ERA BEGAN TEN YEARS AGO

January 23, 2017 2.49 am EST

Ramón I. Centeno, Postdoctoral fellow, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

Original Article: Post-Fidel Era

Ever since Fidel Castro died in November 2016, foreign observers – journalists, political tourists, and the like – have flocked to the streets of Havana. Let’s go and see communist Cuba before it is too late! they reason.

What this reaction misses is that Cuba has already changed: the post-Fidel era is a decade old.

My new research, published in Mexican Law Review, shows major shifts in the governing style and ideology of the country. The charismatic leadership that epitomised Fidel’s time in power is gone, replaced by a collective arrangement. And Cuba’s centrally planned economy has integrated market socialist features.

These changes will likely be accelerated by Barack Obama’s recent repeal of the US policy that gave Cuban migrants favoured immigration status – both by eliminating an escape route for dissatisfied citizens and by reducing potential future remittances.

The end of charismatic leadership

When Fidel fell gravely ill in July 2006, he provisionally delegated his dual posts – president of the Council of State and first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba – to his younger brother Raúl, long-time head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and second secretary of the Communist Party. As Fidel’s health further deteriorated, the National Assembly made Raúl president in February 2008.

This move kept succession within the family, but Raúl has rejected any Kim dynasty-style future for the country. If ten years ago Cuba looked more like North Korea than China, today the opposite is true.

Leadership and ideology in surviving communist systems in 2016. Created by author.

Breaking with Fidel’s decades-old practice, Raúl recommended to the delegates of the sixth Party Congress in April 2011 that they limit public officials to a maximum of two five-year terms; this soon became the official Party line.

In the short term, term limits meant that Raúl Castro’s presidency would end in February 2018, which he has confirmed. In the long term, that raised questions on the post-Castro era. To be sure, in 2013 Miguel Díaz-Canel, a Communist Party insider, was promoted to first vice president of the Council of State – the first time ever that a revolutionary veteran did not hold that position. Technically, according to the Cuban constitution, if the president dies, the first vice-president takes over.

The seventh Party Congress, held in April 2016, nonetheless appointed Raúl Castro to be first secretary. While this does keep a revolutionary veteran in control of a key post after 2018, for the first time the head of the Cuba’s Communist Party will not be the same person as Cuba’s president.

The rise of market socialism

Market socialism can be defined as “an attempt to reconcile the advantages of the market as a system of exchange with social ownership of the means of production.”

As if following this definition from the Oxford Dictionary of Social Sciences, the sixth Party Congress approved that from now on “planning will take the market into account, influencing upon it and considering its characteristics.”

This is a clumsy engagement with the market, treating it as an alien from outer space. And it epitomises the current ideological hardships of the Cuban regime.  Still, Raúl Castro has overseen the largest expansion of non-state socioeconomic activity in socialist Cuba’s 50-year history.

Cuba’s National Office of Statistics reports that in 2015 71% of Cuban workers were state employees, down from 80% in 2007, and the number of (mostly urban) self-employed workers has grown from 141,600 in 2008 to half a million in 2015. In a country with a total workforce of five million, this is not a trivial change.

From 2008 to 2014, more than 1.58 million hectares of idle land has been transferred into private hands. That’s nearly a quarter of Cuba’s 6.2 million hectares of agricultural land, roughly on par with state-owned land (30%).

In sum, the market is no longer the enemy, it’s a junior partner in Cuban central planning. The last Party Congress, Cuba’s seventh, approved the continuity of controlled liberalisation efforts by turning market socialism into Communist Party doctrine, stating that “the State recognises and integrates the market into the functioning of the system of planned direction of the economy.”

The new Cuban polity

The rise of market-socialist ideology emerged, to a substantial extent, from the decline of charismatic authority.

Cuba’s next generation of leaders –- expected to take over in 2018 -– will not enjoy the same unquestionable legitimacy as its founding fathers, much less that of Fidel Castro. So the inevitable passing of the revolutionaries still in power today, most of whom are in their 80s, makes the already difficult process of revamping the regime even tougher.

Raúl Castro’s challenge over the past decade has thus been not only to make his presidency stand on solid ground, but also to make sure that such a ground endures after he leaves. The question of economic performance was clearly central to that task. Raúl saw market socialism as a way to strengthen Cuba’s economy without abandoning its Castro-era ideals. The revolutionary veterans’ interest in seeing the system they built survive is unsurprising, and it explains their rejection of any capitalist encroachments. But it remains to be seen how long – and if – this ideological limit will survive them.

Let’s return to the earlier chart presenting a comparison of surviving Communist countries at present. It shows Cuba today, after ten years of Raúl, located somewhere in between North Korea (where an orthodox Soviet-style economy is still firmly entrenched) and countries such as China and Vietnam that have seen capitalism restored, and somewhat closer to the latter.

But the difference between “medium” market acceptance and “high” market acceptance is a substantial one. The latter presupposes a comeback of the bourgeoisie – the social class of owners of the means of production, expropriated by Castro’s revolution – and thus far this key ideological limit remains strong in Cuba.

Since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, many have assumed that the fall of communist Cuba is a matter of when not if. Only by abandoning the focus on “the fall” and understanding how communist rule has survived in Cuba we can grasp that Cuba has already changed mightily.

Welcome to the second decade of the post-Fidel era.

Some Cuenta-propistas, January 2015, Photos by Arch Ritter

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CAN DONALD TRUMP AND RAÚL CASTRO MAKE A GOOD DEAL

By JORGE I. DOMÍNGUEZ, New York Times JAN., 10, 2017

Original Article: Trump-Castro Deal?

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Cuba operates as if it had two parties, President Raúl Castro joked in his main report to the Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party last April: “Fidel leads one and I, the other.”

This was more than just a joke: Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro’s brother and the former president, had criticized President Obama’s visit to Havana a month earlier in official publications. It was the first public split between the brothers on an issue of such importance. President Obama’s Cuba policy change, announced in December 2014, drove a wedge through the Cuban leadership, making manifest the differences between government hard-liners and soft-liners. For the balance of 2016, the hard-liners dominated official communications, republishing tales of American perfidy over the previous two centuries. During the same period, however, Raúl Castro’s senior team negotiated and signed many practical agreements to alter American-Cuban relations.

Fidel Castro is now dead; the ossified government he nurtured is vanishing as well. Since taking power in 2008, Raúl Castro has made many domestic and foreign policy changes that happen to be in line with key foreign policy priorities of the American president-elect, Donald J. Trump, and at the same time open up Cuba’s economy, and society. A deal-making Trump presidency will find a deal-honoring Raúl Castro presidency. The agreements that the Trump administration will inherit, reached under Mr. Trump’s three predecessors, serve both the interests of the United States and Cuba as well as the presumed Trump presidential agenda. Reversing or scaling back such agreements, as Mr. Trump has threatened to do, will make it more difficult for him to fulfill that agenda.

Last year, more than half a million visitors from the United States had set foot in Cuba and American commercial airlines now fly regularly between the United States and Cuban cities. Earlier in the Obama presidency, the United States government liberalized rules on sending money transfers to Cuba, and much of it informally financed the re-emergence of a Cuban private business sector. The number of small- business licenses now exceeds a half-million in a country of 11.2 million people. Money transfers from the United States fund a Cuban civil society independent of the state for the first time in a half-century.

Recent agreements between the two countries make it easier for them to cooperate on hurricane tracking and biodiversity protection, share information on pollution and undertake joint maritime geological exploration. Other agreements protect migratory birds and fish. Cuba and the United States now also work together on cancer research, in which Cuban scientists have registered significant advances, and on the prevention and cure of infectious diseases, including combating the Zika epidemic, in which Cuba is a worldwide example of effectiveness.

Cuba and the United States have long cooperated on security matters, coordinating on security around the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay. Since the mid-1990s, the two countries have worked together to prevent undocumented migration. Cuba patrols its ports to prevent anyone from stealing boats and rafts; at its airports, it checks for valid visas among those about to board. United States Coast Guard cutters intercept undocumented migrants in the Straits of Florida and return them to Cuba.

The two countries have informally combined efforts on drug traffic interdiction since the 1990s, and this was formalized last July; Cuba provides an effective barrier against drug traffic into the United States.

And Cuba long ago adopted the Trump-preferred migration policy: seek to stop the departure and accept the return of undocumented migrants.

Suppose you are the United States president-elect. What is not to like?

Still, while economic agreements emphasize the two countries’ equality, some of the deals couldn’t be more lopsided. Only American airlines fly between the two countries; Cubana de Aviación does not. And since late 2002, Cuba has purchased about $5.3 billion worth of United States agricultural products, paying cash, while exporting almost no goods to the United States.

What’s wrong with agreements already in place that benefit both countries? The United States wants to warn Florida and the Carolinas about hurricane trajectories, its fowl and fish to winter in Cuba’s Caribbean waters and come back, and to benefit from Cuba’s scientific expertise. Cuba and the United States are interested in exploring for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and have agreed to track seismic threats beneath the gulf’s waters to prevent oil spills.

On delicate issues, President George W. Bush and Fidel Castro, and later President Obama and Raúl Castro, developed ways of agreeing substantively while publicly denying any negotiation had taken place. That diplomatic ruse worked. In 2002, the Cubans induced the Bush administration to begin exporting American agricultural products; each side made it known that these were unilateral, independent and sovereign decisions. In December 2012, the United States and Cuba did not trade spies; rather, each made unilateral, independent and sovereign decisions to release some of the other’s prisoners.

Slowly, United States-Cuba relations got better. That serves Cubans who may travel more easily, receive friends, rent space through Airbnb, and get working capital through money transfers to establish private businesses and fund an independent civil society. That serves Americans who benefit from freer travel and cooperation on issues such as migration, crime and drug trafficking. What next? Rely on unilateral, independent and sovereign Cuban decisions to foster change.

Here’s how Raúl Castro’s joke ended at the April party congress: “Fidel will certainly say, ‘I want to lead the Communist Party,’ and I will say, ‘O.K., I’ll lead the other one, the name does not matter.’ ” If you are a Cuban hard-liner, that joke is terrifying. President Raúl Castro is prepared to open the gateway to something different, less dogmatic, whose name neither he nor we know. But we know what it is not. It is not called “Communist.”

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