Author Archives: Faya Ana Julia

Cuba: A Half-Century of Monetary Pathology and Citizen’s Freedom of Movement

By Arch Ritter


Article 13. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.  (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Article 30. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

In December 2009, I made a formal invitation to two Cuban citizens to visit Canada, following the official “Procedure for Inviting a Cuban National to Visit Canada” as laid out by the Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). I paid the required Consular Fee of $CDN 256.00 for each invitation. The two Cuban citizens invited were Yoani Sanchez and Miriam Celaya. I thought naively and foolishly that while Yoani Sanchez had been denied the right to leave Cuba a number of times before December 2009 when she had been invited by official institutions, perhaps a personal invitation would be successful. I of course was wrong. The Exit Permits of course were refused. The Consulate of Cuba in Ottawa of course refused to return the $512.00.

Yoani Sanchez

Miriam Celaya

The lack of freedom of movement of Cuban citizens is well known. The case of Yoani Sanchez is a cause célèbre and also a public relations disaster for the Government of Cuba. A number of analysts have written eloquently on the practice of the Cuban Government to dishonor its commitment to Article 13 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights cited above. (See Ana Julia Faya: Nosotros tampoco viajamos libremente a Cuba, “Los permisos de entrada y salida del país son una violación de los derechos de los cubanos” and Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, “The (Non) Right of Cubans to Travel, Havana Times, February 01, 2011”

Sergio Diaz-Briquets has presented a comprehensive and comparative analysis of the Consular Fees charged by the Governmemt of Cuba for the acquisition of a passport, its renewal while abroad, and various other consular services (ASCE Conference 2010). He concluded that the Consular Fees are simply abusive. (See  S. Diaz-Briquets, Government-Controlled Travel Costs to Cuba and Costs of Related Consular Services: Analysis and International Comparisons )

However, the most egregious violation of the freedom of movement of Cuban citizens lies less in the exorbitant consular fees that are routinely charged to Cubans abroad for consular services and the Exit Permit controls over Cuban citizens and more in Cuba’s monetary and exchange rate system.  Cuba’s currency has been inconvertible for 50 years and the dual monetary and exchange rate system has prevailed for the last 20 years. Currency inconvertibility means that citizens can not routinely change their earnings for foreign currencies in order to travel freely. Instead, from 1961 to 1992 they have had to get permission from the Government to exchange their earnings in Moneda Nacional into a foreign currency. On the other hand, anyone on official government business or activities sanctioned by the Government could get access to foreign exchange. This meant that for the average citizen travel was highly restricted unless one could find a foreign sponsor to pay the bills.

With the dual monetary system coming into play in the early 1990s, the economic powerlessness of most Cuban citizens was further intensified. With the collapse of the value of the “old peso” (Moneda Nacional) vis-a-vis the US dollar (and then the convertible peso CUC) the purchasing power of earnings in the official economy also collapsed. At the exchange rate for Moneda Nacional to the US dollar at around 26 to 1, the average monthly income is somewhere around US$ 20.00. Cuba’s monetary system impoverishes Cuban citizens in terms of the international transferability of their earnings from work.

In order to travel abroad, Cuban citizens now have three options. First, they can work for some branch of the government, mixed or state enterprises or organizations such as Universities for which travel abroad on official business can occur. Second, they can marry a foreigner for convenience or in sincerity – Spaniards and Ecuadoreans have been predominant recently – who then provides hard currency funding for travel abroad. Or third, they can now convert their Moneda Nacional earnings into Convertible pesos at the ratio of 26 to 1 and then acquire foreign currency through various channels with the convertible pesos. For most citizens, travel abroad is essentially blocked by the monetary and exchange rate systems.

The central planning system and the generalized controls on the economy adopted in 1960-61 meant that inconvertibility would have happened in any case. However, inconvertibility occurred under the watch of Che Guevara, who at the time was President of the National Bank and Minister of Finance as well as Minister of Industries (which included Basic Industry, Light Industry, Mining, Petroleum, and the sugar mills. Guevera was the indisputable “czar” of the Cuban economy.

Monetary inconvertibility and the accompanying loss of freedom of movement is one of Che Guevara’s gifts to the Cuban people. This has been compounded by the monetary and exchange rate policies of the Fidel and Raul Castro Presidencies after about 1990, which generated the dual system and which have so far been unable to come to grips with it and establish a unified and convertible currency.

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Ana Julia Faya: “Back to where everything began”

I still remember the very private sea-front golf course, west of Havana, on my way to Jaimanitas, a small public beach where my parents took us in the summer. It was a neat, bright, green course, which contrasted with the deep blue coast. Then, in 59 or so, the “bourgeois” field was swept by “proletarian” Caterpillar tractors. Now, the golf course is being built again by other “bourgeois” companies, for the survival of the elite in power.

After reading about the projects of those big Canadian companies in Cuba, with their luxury hotels, golf courses, villas for… whatever, and don´t know what else, I cannot but feel very frustrated. Fifty years –actually 52!– in the life of a whole country absolutely wasted; almost two million Cubans living abroad, including skilled professionals; families divided, torn apart; thousands of Cubans going through the trauma of changing all their social values twice in a life time; hundreds drown trying to cross the Florida Strait, or having suffered repression, incarceration, harassment in front of their homes and their children; a good portion of the population currently living in rags, and this “socialist” “revolutionary” Government is leading the country back to where everything began in 1959 –except that at that time, the Havana Biltmore green course was owned by Cubans, and now is owned by foreign companies; Cuba was a prosperous small country, and now is in ruins.

The Varadero Golf Course

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Ana Julia Faya: “The Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba: Walking a Fine Line”

Cuba’s leaders are currently facing a serious internal crisis.

The Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) will take place in Havana April 16-19, 2011, during which an ambiguous process of economic reform that the governing elite calls “updating the system” will be sanctioned. Reluctant to admit that they are undertaking reforms, Cuba’s leaders face a serious internal crisis; meanwhile they continue to express loyalty to socialism and rely on a fledgling and confined private sector to save the national economy.

In December 2010, Raúl Castro, the president of Cuba and second secretary of the PCC, said that the island now finds itself at the edge of an abyss, and analysts across the political spectrum agree. The regime is facing serious financial and credibility crises.

On the one hand, Cuba is having difficulty fulfilling its financial promises: the country does not receive credit from international institutions; oil reserve prospects have not materialized; and aid from Venezuela seems to have bottomed out.

On the other hand, the sources of the government’s legitimacy are dissolving quickly among a population that is struggling to survive in the midst of basic shortages and shrinking state subsidies. The struggle against the U.S. embargo has become a tough sell as an instrument for internal cohesion since the Cuban government itself has publicly admitted that a good part of the island’s economic problems is due to inefficiency and bad policy decisions rather than the embargo. Services such as education and public health, which have historically been presented as achievements of the system, can no longer receive the same level of subsidies that they did in past years and are now subject to scrutiny by a population enduring their gradual deterioration.

Given this situation, the Cuban government faces the dilemma of making changes it has qualified as “pressing,” such as decentralizing the state, to ensure the system’s survival. However, such changes could jeopardize the totalitarian model that has existed until now and, ultimately, support for the elite in power. It is within the context of this dilemma that after 13 years of postponement, the Congress, which according to the statutes of the PCC “decides on all of the most important policy issues,” will meet to focus the discussion on the meager Draft Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy.

The Guidelines seek to perfect a dysfunctional model while walking a fine line: the document introduces a private sector that will have to absorb more than one million unemployed workers from the public sector (excluding coercive and security agencies, which have grown), yet warns that concentrating capital in private hands will not be permitted. This ambiguity has generated criticism from all sides. Some militant orthodox communists have expressed their dissatisfaction with the reforms and have labelled them “state monopoly capitalism”; reformists within the system and others from the opposition describe the guidelines as “cosmetic” because they do not include an actual restructuring of the current regime and as “lacking a real base,” as there are no resources or financing to allow the private sector to expand.

What is certain is that Cubans have expressed their opinions both in the assemblies convened by the PCC to discuss the Guidelines and on the Web, and on March 1 Raúl announced that the beginning of the layoffs would be postponed. Perhaps the government took into consideration one of the most reiterated arguments offered by specialists: Wait until the private sector consolidates before proceeding with dismissals. Perhaps the government also decided to show caution given the explosive social climate created by the layoff announcements and cuts to social benefits —such as the closing of workers’ canteens and the gradual disappearance of the rations book— in addition to the international context of protests against long-lived dictatorships. Raúl has announced that due to the “complexity” involved in “updating the system,” it will take at least five years to implement the new model completely. We will have to wait until the Congress meets for a clearer outline of these plans, which are currently vague and shifting.

It also remains to be seen if Congress will take into consideration proposals by specialists on Cuba that include: abandoning the planning model; abolishing the 10-year limit for leasing new plots of land; creating legal support to protect the new private sector; legalizing the buying and selling of homes and vehicles; adding flexibility to the onerous tax system for the self-employed; and creating industrial and service co-operatives from state-run companies.

Despite the fact that Raúl has asked the leadership for a “change in mentality,” what has been left out of discussions is the role that the Cuban diaspora should play in the reform process given its support for the new private sector through remittances, of which the government has made a utilitarian use. The Congress will also exclude topics such as ending repression, arbitrary arrests and “repudiation meetings” against peaceful opposition; it will disregard important political and civil issues, such as abolishing permits for Cubans entering and leaving the country or ceasing control of communications and the Internet; and it will not discuss freedom of association. Yet, these issues constitute the basis for reaching sustainable economic development in any society.

According to Raúl, this Congress will be the last one held by the “historic administration.” It will have to approve the new Central Committee and make appointments to the positions of first and second secretaries of the PCC, currently held by the official leaders, Fidel and Raúl Castro.

To date, everything indicates that the decisions of the Sixth Congress will prolong the status quo by adopting ambiguous reforms under strong controls. But the consequences of introducing these reforms are difficult to predict; in politics, when one walks a fine line any of the tendencies in play can prevail. Clearly, Cuba’s economy will change as Cuban society already has. The elite in power should change, too. After 52 years, it is about time.

Ana J. Faya is an independent consultant and policy analyst.

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Ana Julia Faya: Nosotros tampoco viajamos libremente a Cuba

Los permisos de entrada y salida del país son una violación de los derechos de los cubanos.

Published originally on January 26, 2011 in  Diario de Cuba

Jose marti International Airport, Photo by A. Ritter, 1966

Primero fue en la Declaración del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores en respuesta a las medidas de Obama sobre los viajes a Cuba. Después fue la subdirectora de América del Norte de la cancillería cubana, Johana Tablada, en entrevista publicada en Cubadebate. Y más recientemente Fidel Castro en una de sus Reflexiones, o quizás Castro primero y Johana después. Para el caso, no importa. Repiten el mismo desaguisado: que los estadounidenses son los únicos ciudadanos de este mundo que no pueden viajar libremente a Cuba. Craso error.

Los ciudadanos cubanos que vivimos fuera del territorio nacional tampoco viajamos libremente a nuestro propio país, no solo desde Estados Unidos, sino desde Canadá, España, o cualquier otro de los cientos que ocupan el globo terráqueo. Y no es por voluntad del “imperio”, sino por las restricciones impuestas en Cuba por cubanos sobre viajes de cubanos, medidas que ya suman tantas décadas que si no somos especialistas en la materia no sabemos cuándo fue que empezaron, en qué período de la historia antigua de los Castro se decidió cerrarnos las puertas para salir y para entrar.

En la cancillería cubana se sabe muy bien que los cubanos que residimos en segundos países y no le pagamos al MINREX por un Permiso de Residencia en el Exterior, si queremos visitar a nuestra familia en Cuba debemos solicitar antes a las autoridades de la embajada cubana correspondiente que se nos “habilite” el pasaporte cubano. Porque para viajar a Cuba no se nos admite el del país donde tenemos segunda ciudadanía. Y en ese pasaporte se nos estampará un cuño que nos abrirá las puertas del Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí, si los funcionarios encargados de esa gestión no se oponen y no nos incluyen en un largo listado que el defenestrado ministro de Exteriores Felipe Pérez Roque denominara de “personas repugnantes”, y que hasta el momento no tenemos noticia de que Bruno Parrilla haya desechado.

Que Fidel Castro asegure que solo los estadounidenses no viajan libremente a Cuba, bueno, él predijo una guerra nuclear por los días del campeonato mundial de fútbol, el año pasado, y ahora, en medio de su senilidad, se regocija con la bondad de los delfines mientras sobre el modelo cubano dice lo mismo y lo contrario. Pero que el tema de los viajes se especifique en una Nota Oficial del MINREX y que una inteligente funcionaria lo asegure también, da que pensar. Porque si seguimos al pie de la letra lo declarado últimamente por el régimen, en esta nueva era inaugurada por el general Castro con Lineamientos, Congreso y sesiones en la Asamblea Nacional, rigen los llamados a que los funcionarios cambien la “mentalidad”, se enfatiza en la necesidad de eliminar “prohibiciones obsoletas justificadas en el pasado”, y sobre todo se exige actuar con disciplina. Quizás los funcionarios del MINREX se han salido del modelo de conducta exigido por el liderato del régimen y no han cambiado su mentalidad, quizás se debe a que en Cuba hay tantas cosas obsoletas que se confunden al dirigir los tiros, o quizás es ahora el general Castro el que dice lo mismo y lo contrario.

La abolición de los permisos de entrada y salida fue pedida en muchas de las asambleas celebradas en el país convocadas por Raúl Castro de 2007 a 2008, dizque para conocer qué pensaban los cubanos de la isla. “El permiso de salida y de entrada, eso debería abolirse completamente (…) se hizo con otro destino, por otras razones, y ha sobrevivido durante demasiados años en Cuba, y yo no creo que tenga razón de ser”, dijo Silvio Rodríguez entonces. Fueron tantas las declaraciones públicas en ese sentido de conocidos seguidores del régimen, y tantos los rumores de que “ahora sí”, que incluso el corresponsal de El País en La Habana aseguró haber visto el documento donde se levantaban las prohibiciones sobre viajes y que su presentación era cuestión de días. Pero, seguimos esperando.

Ahora pudiera ser un buen reclamo de los delegados al VI Congreso del Partido Comunista, aunque tengan que ser indisciplinados y salirse de la agenda prevista solo para los Lineamientos económicos. En definitivas, ¿no es el Congreso “el órgano supremo del partido y decide sobre todas las cuestiones más importante de la política”? Si es así, la discusión en abril no debiera circunscribirse a las reformas sobre los cuentapropistas, o la compra y venta de casas, sino ampliarse hacia otras cuestiones importantes reclamadas por la población desde hace rato, como los permisos de entrada y salida.

Soy de las que piensa que Obama debiera levantar todas las restricciones de viaje en su país, para que no sean violados los derechos de sus ciudadanos. Los permisos de entrada y salida en Cuba debieran levantarse por lo mismo. No en reciprocidad por las decisiones de Obama, sino por elemental respeto, para que no se sigan violando los derechos de los cubanos.

Playas del Este, Summer 1994 Preparing to Leave

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