Author Archives: Feinberg Richard E.

ORDER FROM CHAOS: WHAT WILL BE RAUL CASTRO’S LEGACY?

Richard E. Feinberg, Nonresident Senior Fellow – Foreign PolicyLatin America Initiative

Brookings, December 4, 2017

Original Article: Order from Chaos
In many ways, Raúl Castro’s 10-year presidential rule, ending in February 2018, has been utterly disappointing. Cuba’s economy is stagnant and economic reform has stalled. Political power remains highly centralized and secluded. The island’s educated youth are fleeing in droves for better opportunities abroad. And the Trump administration is renewing U.S. hostility.

Nevertheless, during his decade in power Raúl Castro oversaw historic shifts in Cuban foreign and domestic policies. Raúl initiated some policy innovations, deepened and consolidated others, and merely watched while forces beyond his control drove other changes. Regardless, these changes have paved the way for the successor generation of leaders—if they dare—to push Cuba forward into the 21st century.

MORE FRIENDS

Fidel’s younger brother, now 86, can be especially pleased with his achievements in foreign affairs. Cuba had been a colony of Spain, a dominion of U.S. capital, a cog within the Soviet-dominated Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) system. Now, for the first time in its 500-year history, Cuba has escaped the grip of a single world power.

Today, Cuban traders circumnavigate the globe, engaging both state-directed and free-market economies. The top trading 10 partners in goods in 2016 were (in rank order): China, Venezuela, Spain, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, Argentina, Germany, and Vietnam. The next tier of merchandise trading partners (between $275 million and $100 million) includes the United States, France, Algeria, the Netherlands, Russia, and Trinidad and Tobago. No single country accounts for more than 20 percent of total merchandise trade.

This trade diversification began in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but Raúl’s economic team extended and consolidated it. Under Raúl, Cuba also expanded the number of countries that purchase its main service export—the labor of educated professionals, especially in the medical field. While Fidel initiated large-scale service exports to Venezuela, Raúl followed suit with Brazil and dozens of other developing countries.

In the last 10 years, Cuba has also diversified the sources of foreign investment. For example, in the economy’s bright spot, international tourism, investors hail from Spain, France, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, China, and Malaysia, among other locations.

A small island economy cannot hope to be fully autonomous; it must adapt to global constraints. But by diversifying its economic partners, Cuba has minimized its vulnerability to external dictates, and maximized its own margin for maneuver. This diversification of economic partnerships has paid handsome diplomatic dividends. Cuba has become an accepted participant in various Latin American forums and diplomatic initiatives; overcame its exclusion from the Summit of the Americas leaders’ meetings; gained membership in the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI); and gained access to resources at the multilateral Andean Development Corporation (CAF). President Donald Trump is alone in his efforts to damage the Cuban economy through comprehensive economic sanctions.

BREAKING IDEOLOGICAL BARRIERS

The slow, halting pace of economic reform has discouraged many Cubans, especially recent university graduates. Conservative forces resisting change remain strong within the Cuban Communist Party. Nevertheless, Raúl leaves a legacy that could greatly facilitate the work of reformers in the future. (I will further evaluate the economic reforms and pathways forward in a February 2018 Brookings policy brief.)

Raúl’s legacy lies not in standard measures of economic performance, such as per capita GDP growth, labor productivity, or investment rates, where results have varied from disappointing to disastrous. Rather, Raúl’s legacy in economic policy lies in breaking once forbidding ideological barriers. True, Raúl’s public statements often have been contradictory and shifting, as he apparently sought to balance conflicting tendencies within the Cuban Communist Party. But in key areas, Raúl demolished or at least cracked these obstacles to change: rejection of globalization (a favorite Fidel bugaboo), fear of foreign investment, and hostility to private business and markets. He also transformed relations with the United States.

In daily life, Cubans have left behind the comfort of social uniformity and relative economic equality for the more tumultuous worlds of greater social heterogeneity and income inequalities.

Raúl is no cheerleader for globalization. But he set aside his brother’s heated denunciations of multinational corporations and “exploitative” markets. Instead, he went about the practical business of building economic relations with a multitude of governments and foreign corporations. Without much pomp and circumstance (although there was the occasional ribbon-cutting), Raúl advanced the process of normalizing Cuba’s integration into global markets.

Raúl’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with “the historic enemy,” the United States, dramatically revised his regime’s foreign policy doctrine. The hegemon just across the Florida Straits was no longer an imminent, existential threat, readily justifying economic deprivations and tight political restrictions. Notwithstanding the altered attitude in Washington today, so far a number of the concrete gains from the Obama era détente remain in place, notably the facilitation of travel (commercial airline flights and cruise ships) and the generous flows of remittances to many Cuban families, whether for household consumption or business start-ups.

Of the reforms most directly attributable to Raúl, the suppression of the special (and expensive) permit to travel abroad was among the most important to many Cubans. As a result, most Cubans can freely leave the island (provided they can acquire an entry visa elsewhere), to be enriched by their contact with foreign lands and ideas. Greater access to mobile technology and rapidly expanding social media, permission to sell homes and cars, and more freedom to stay in once-forbidden tourist hotels have also improved life for many Cubans during his tenure.

De facto, by building commercial partnerships worldwide, and by accepting the freedom to travel, Cuba has now embraced core components of globalization.

OPENING TO FOREIGN INVESTMENT

To stave off complete economic collapse in the early 1990s, Fidel had invited in limited foreign investment. El Comandante en Jefe made these concessions holding his sensitive ideological nose and again closed Cuba’s borders once he felt politically secure. In sharp contrast, Raúl has publicly chastised his ministers for not accelerating foreign capital inflows (although he hesitated to fire them).

Periodically, the government releases a “Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment.” Each edition is fatter and glossier; the 300-page 2017-2018 version features 456 projects with a cumulative price tag of $11 billion. Yes, most projects have remained on paper, victims of bureaucratic foot-dragging and red tape; but these documents are products of an inter-agency process whereby many ministries and state enterprises join in a collective waving of hands to the international commercial community.

In a 2011 official document outlining proposed reforms, foreign investment was derided as “complementary,” a secondary afterthought. In contrast, when addressing Havana’s annual international trade fair in 2017, Raúl’s minister for foreign trade and investment sang a very different tune: “Today foreign investment ceases to be a complement and has become an essential issue for the country.”

Mariel, the new economic development zone facing the Straits of Florida, has gotten off to a slow start, having approved over three years only 26 projects worth about $1 billion. However, 15 of these projects have broken through another ideological barrier: allowing 100 percent foreign ownership.

LEGITIMIZING PRIVATE PROPERTY

Fidel disliked and distrusted private property. In 1968, for example, he nationalized remaining mom-and-pop businesses. In contrast, over the last decade the government has issued hundreds of thousands of licenses to small-scale private businesses. Raúl has also encouraged some 200,000 Cuban families to farm as homesteaders (although not all survived). In addition to these authorized private businesses, many Cubans augment their income in more-or-less tolerated gray-market activities. Altogether, as much as 40 percent of the Cuban workforce have at least one foot in the private sector.

Recently, Raúl criticized private business for illicit activities, and the government halted the granting of new business licenses. Nevertheless, these concessions to anxious Communist Party stalwarts appear to be a temporary pause. The ideological foundations, and public constituency, for the acceptance and eventual expansion of a market-driven private sector have most likely been set too deep for a full-blown counter-revolution to succeed.

SOCIAL RELAXATION

This increase in economic pluralism has unleashed public debates on economic policy. Criticism of government performance is widely voiced with less fear, even if journalists and academics are still careful not to directly confront senior authority.

Another major shift that accelerated during the last decade: the evolution of Cuban society from socialist uniformity toward a more heterogeneous mix of property relations, income levels, and social styles. While legal statutes remain to be written, property can now be private (often in partnership with diaspora capital), cooperative (in numerous variations) and foreign-owned, as well as state controlled.

Income inequalities have become more visible, even if less jarring than in other Latin American and Caribbean nations. Many Cubans still honor social solidarity. But the transition toward a more normal, relaxed, and individualistic society is unmistakable. On Havana’s streets, Cuban youth—increasingly exposed to international tourists, travel opportunities and the worldwide web—sport the variety of hairstyles, tattoos, music, and other signatures of global youth.

These ideological adaptations do not guarantee speedy policy changes, much less their faithful implementation. The Cuban government is grappling with a severe foreign exchange crisis, and the sudden, unanticipated chill in bilateral relations imposed by the United States. All the more reasons for the next generation of Cuban leaders to build upon the diversity of international economic associations and the new ideological currents unleashed during the reign of the second and last Castro brother—and to launch their island state into deeper phases of global integration and economic transformation.

Richard Feinberg

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New Publication: CUBA: LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

CUBA: LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

William LeoGrande, Guest Co-editor; Arien Mack, Journal Editor

TABLE OF CONTENTS

William M. Leogrande, Introduction: Cuba Looks to the Future                235

 

PART I: UPDATING THE ECONOMY

Ricardo Torres Pérez, Updating the Cuban Economy: The First 10 Years                                                                                                                            255

Archibald R.M. Ritter,   Private and Cooperative Enterprise in Cuba’s Economic Future                                                                                                                           277

Richard E. Feinberg,  Bienvenida—Maybe: Cuba’s Gradual Opening to World Markets                                                                                                                          305

Katrin Hansing,  Race and Inequality in the New Cuba: Reasons, Dynamics, and Manifestations                                                                                                               331

 

PART II: FACING POLITICAL CHALLENGES

William M. Leogrande,  Updating Cuban Socialism: The Politics of Economic Renovation                                                                                                                     353

Margaret E. Crahan, Cuba: Religion and Civil Society                                          383

Rafael Hernández, Intellectuals, Civil Society, and Political Power in Cuban Socialism  407

Ted A. Henken, Cuba’s Digital Millennials: Independent Digital Media and Civil Society on the Island of the Disconnected                                                                                     429

 

PART III: ENGAGING THE WORLD

 

Philip Brenner And Teresa Garcia Castro,  A Long Legacy of Distrust and the Future of Cuban-US Relations                                                                                                    459

Carlos Oliva Campos And Gary Prevost,  Cuba’s Relations with Latin America   487

Mervyn J. Bain, Havana, Moscow, and Beijing: Looking to the Future in the Shadow of the Past                                                                                                                                          507

 

 

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Book Review Essay: THE EMERGING NON-STATE SECTOR IN CUBA’S ECONOMY

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, University of Pittsburgh,

Latin American Research Review, July 2017  https://doi.org/10.25222/larr.2

This essay reviews the following works:

Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy. By Richard E. Feinberg. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2016. Pp. vii + 264. $22.00 cloth. ISBN: 9780815727675.

Miradas a la economía cubana: Análisis del sector no estatal. Edited by Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva and Ricardo Torres. La Habana: Editorial Caminos, 2015. Pp. 163. $5, paper. ISBN: 9789593031080.

Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape. By Archibald R. M. Ritter and Ted A. Henken. Boulder, CO: First Forum Press, 2015. Pp. xiv + 374. $79.95 cloth. ISBN: 9781626371637.

Retos para la equidad social en el proceso de actualización del modelo económico cubano. Edited by María del Carmen Zavala et al. La Habana: Editorial Ciencias Sociales, 2015. Pp. vi + 362. $20 paper. ISBN: 9789590616105.

Soon after current president of the State Council Raúl Castro took over power in Cuba from his brother Fidel in 2006, he started structural reforms to cope with the serious socioeconomic problems accumulated in the previous forty-five years. Some authors, including a few in this review, argue that Cuba is in transition to a mixed economy. Despite the importance of these changes, however, the official view is that central planning will predominate over the market, and state property over private property.1 A main reform goal was to fire 1.8 million unneeded workers in the state sector, which demanded an expansion of the “non-state sector” (NSS) to provide jobs to those dismissed. The four books I review are commendable additions to the growing literature on the NSS (inside and outside Cuba), as they fill some of its existing gaps, to be identified below.2 A few authors rely on surveys to gather data, but surveys are not easy to take in Cuba; hence the majority used interviews of different size and representativeness, as well as in-depth conversations.

Within the NSS, the most dynamic four groups are self-employed workers (507,342), usufruct farmers (312,296), and members of new nonagricultural and service co-ops, NASCs (only 7,700 so far). Altogether these make up 17 percent of the labor force, out of a total 29 percent in the entire NSS.3 Except for the most recent NASCs, the other three forms were legalized during the severe crisis of the 1990s but did not take off until much later. Selling and buying of private dwellings, banned in 1960 and reauthorized in 2011, involve at least 200,000 transactions but still only 5 percent of the total housing stock. The books reviewed in this essay mainly concentrate on self-employment and to a much lesser extent on NASCs.

The main gaps treated by the books are the NSS’s history; size and personal profiles; relations with the state; progress achieved and obstacles faced; the role of variables—age, gender (most treated), race, educa­tion, and location—on growing inequalities; particular issues such as access to raw materials, capital and credit, competition, and taxes; and NSS perspectives. This review discusses the data, method, and evidence that each researcher uses and the major issues and findings, arguing that the size of the NSS remains questionable.

In Entrepreneurial Cuba, Archibald Ritter and Ted Henken combine their economic and sociological exper­tise to produce an encyclopedic, balanced, and laudable volume on the development of the NSS in Cuba. Targeted on self-employment and, to a lesser extent, on NASCs, the book also tackles broader topics like the “underground” economy. It starts with an examination of small enterprises in general, internationally, and its lessons for Cuba. Based on historical and comparative approaches, Ritter and Henken discuss the evolution of self-employment throughout Cuban contemporary history. In the socialist period, they com­pare Cuban policies with those of the USSR and Eastern Europe; furthermore they contrast Fidel’s hostility to the NSS (except for reluctant support in times of economic crisis) with Raúl’s more pragmatic and posi­tive style, which does not exempt the sector from tight controls, restrictions, and taxes. Largely based on my cycles approach,4 the history of self-employment under socialism is divided in three periods (each one covered in a chapter): 1959–1990, trajectories and strategic shifts; 1990–2006, the “Special Period”; and 2006–2014, Raúl’s reforms.

Ritter and Henken conclude that the NSS has grown and achieved substantial progress: for instance, increase in authorized activities and licenses, broadened legal markets, deduction of part of the expenses for tax purposes, micro credits and banking facilities, and rental of state facilities. Conversely they identify limi­tations, like narrow definition of legal activities, exclusion of most professional and high-tech occupations, multiple taxes and taxation at a high level, lack of wholesale markets, bureaucratic resistance, obstacles to hiring employees, and discrimination in favor of foreign firms. They provide suggestions to overcome these problems. Lack of space impedes a more profound treatment of this book, the most comprehensive and profound on self-employment so far. The structure of the book, combining historical stages and current analysis of self-employment and NASC, however, is somewhat complex and leads to a certain overlapping.

Ritter and Henken rely on three series of interviews conducted in Cuba with sixty self-employed workers in 1999–2001, half of them re-interviewed in follow-up visits in 2002 and 2009 and, finally, some revisited in April 2011 to evaluate the impact of Raúl’s reforms. The authors select the three most dynamic, lucrative, and sizeable private activities: small restaurants (paladares), taxis, and lodging. They asked their informants about three issues: (1) ambitions and expectations for the future (whether they expected to become true small- and medium-sized enterprises—SME—in the long run); (2) survival strategies in negotiating with the state (how they responded to the government regulations, licenses, and taxes); and (3) distinctions between licensed and clandestine self-employed workers.

Accompanying abundant evidence, deep analysis, statistical tables, synoptic charts, figures, and useful appendices (including a list of the 201 authorized activities for the self-employed and a timetable of the evo­lution of NSS in 1959–2014), the authors intersperse vignettes that allow the reader to better understand the daily life of the self-employed. Occasional jewels in the book brighten our knowledge, such as uncover­ing in fascinating detail the bureaucratic shutdown of El Cabildo, which was the most prosperous private, medium-sized business in Cuba.

Miradas a la economía cubana, a collection edited by well-known Cuban economists Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva and Ricardo Torres, includes twelve essays that offer a first-rate sample of scholarship on the NSS at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, the best economic think tank in Cuba. The anthology, an excellent complement to the Ritter and Henken book, includes self-employment and NASCs. In the prologue, Juan Valdés Pérez notes that “the new economic model in Cuba is moving [transita] toward a mixed economy, based on a public sector, a mix-capital sector, and a private sector, mostly SME” (14). Most contributors to the volume propose reasonable policies to help the consolidation and further expansion of the NSS.

In the opening chapter, Torres discusses the role of the private sector in a centrally planned economy such as Cuba, which generates an intrinsic conflict. Despite NSS advances, the government still sees it as a supplement to the state sector and imposes clear limits. Hence the NSS role is and will continue to be very minor, if currents trends hold. An important point, among many discussed by Torres, is that its productivity is low, despite the very highly educated labor force (ranked at the top of Latin America), and shows a declin­ing trend due to the low skills of the activities approved. He ends by suggesting, “In a scenario [Cuba] where public enterprises are predominant and mostly inefficient, wealth is not socialized and man is not liberated from alienation, just the opposite” (25). Torres believes that the solution to all existing problems is neither privatization of all public assets nor to insist on old formulas overcome by time, and urges a serious national social debate on these issues.

Pérez Villanueva analyzes and defines self-employment and SME, tracing their evolution and identifying needs such as autonomy, a wholesale market with competitive prices, facilitation of payments through the national banks, and use of highly skilled personnel; he also notes adverse effects like social inequalities (see Zavala et al., below). At the end of his chapter, he asserts that “the Cuban SME would be more viable than the actualization of our economic model and contribute more positive results, providing that the government understands its role and potential” (35).

Camila Piñeiro provides the most comprehensive and deep analysis of NASCs so far. These cooperatives grew 74 percent, from 198 to 345, in 2013–2014, but their tempo slowed to 6 percent in 2015.5 Based on diagnosis and audits done on sixty NASCs in 2014, Piñeiro identifies their achievements (increase in income and motivation, improvement in the locale and working conditions) and problems (complex and delayed creation, insufficient training, and lack of a wholesale market). The most successful NASCs are those cre­ated by the voluntary initiative of a group of persons that share the same goals and values (23 percent of all NASCs), and the least successful are those coming from former state enterprises, without negotiating with their workers so that they accept what is decided from above (77 percent).

Mariuska Sarduy, Saira Pons, and Maday Traba analyze tax evasion and underdeclaration of income among self-employed owners. They report that evasion was 12 percent of total fiscal revenue and 60 percent of registered self-employed contributors in 2013–2014. They carried out 300 interviews with self-employed workers in Havana in 2014 and found that 55 percent omitted income in their declaration for the follow­ing reasons: 95 percent due to very high taxes; 77 percent blamed the complex procedure to pay taxes; 80 percent knew that evasion or underdeclaration are toughly penalized crimes, but half believed that they were necessary to survive, and 20 percent thought that it was improbable that fiscal authorities would catch them.

Expanding her substantial work on geographic inequalities, Luisa Íñiguez uses the 2012 population census to explore the distribution of NSS enterprises in Cuban provinces and municipalities and shows their differences and contribution to social inequalities. She develops various maps of the island, displaying the location of total NSS enterprises, as well as key components such as the self-employed, usufruct farmers, and small private farmers. In addition, she calculates percentages of components of the NSS relative to the employed labor force. The NSS developed much further after 2012, but her work remains valuable and sets a solid foundation for future study.

The role of women in microenterprises is examined by Ileana Díaz and Dayma Echevarría, relying on data from the 2012 population census and Ministry of Labor and Social Security in 2013, and a survey of thirty-five self-employed owners in Havana circa 2014 (63 percent women and 37 percent men). Among other gender inequalities, they find that women are more hurt than men by the lack of a state policy to foster microenterprises, and by poor access to credit as well as to legal and accounting advice. Interviewees answered key questions with a fair consensus: 50 percent noted unfair competition from state and mixed enterprises; most preferred to work as self-employed instead of for the state; public or private financing was judged insufficient; elementary-secondary school didn’t help in their activity but university did; and they noted poor access to wholesale markets, telecommunications, and vanguard technology. Virtually all inter­viewees, but a sizably lower percentage of women than men, said that their success was more than expected. Both genders agreed on the major obstacles: limited demand, excessive state bureaucracy and regulations, too much competition, absence of a wholesale market, and difficulties to get inputs.

Retos para la equidad social, edited by Maria del Carmen Zavala et al., contains twenty contributions, all but one authored by women, focused on socioeconomic inequality under Raúl’s structural reforms. Three chapters of the book deal with expanding inequalities among the self-employed by age, gender, race, educa­tion, and location, and also with their motivation, satisfaction, competition, capital access, obstacles faced, and views of the future.

The best chapter in the collection, by Daybel Pañellas, Jorge Torralbas, and Claudia Caballero, relies on a survey taken between October 2013 and March 2014 among 419 persons self-employed in fifty-seven activities and located in three districts of Old Havana. They find that age, gender, education, and location are important factors in the quality of occupation, access to capital, and earnings of the self-employed. In the sample, 76 percent worked by themselves, without employees; 13 percent were employers and 11 percent employees; 64 percent were men and 36 percent women; 48 percent were white and 52 percent nonwhite; 54 percent were middle-aged adults, 30 percent young people, and 15 percent elderly; 54 percent had precollege or university education, 31 percent had a low level of education, and 15 percent had a technical education (a highly trained labor force and NSS, also noted by Torres). Not only are women underrepresented, but their activities reproduced their roles in domestic life, such as work in cafeterias, food preparation, manicure, makeup, and as seamstresses. While women rented rooms mostly in national pesos (CUP), men rented rooms in the more advantageous convertible pesos (CUC = 24 CUP). Combining education, race, and gender, the best-educated white males had better occupations than the lowest trained nonwhite females (e.g., computer programing vis-à-vis seamstress). The self-employed were mainly attracted by these features of self-employment (not exclusive categories): better income (80 percent), easier labor journey (20 percent), and being their own bosses (15 percent). Their level of sat­isfaction ranged from so-so (53 percent), to good/very good (38 percent), to bad/very bad (9 percent)—the higher the educational level the more occupational satisfaction.6 Success in competition was attributed to the quality of product or service (56 percent), business location (24 percent), and low prices (14 percent). Access to capital was mostly by employers that receive remittances, are white, and have higher or mid­dle education, ample social networks, and good locations; conversely, investment is minimal among low-educated nonwhites. Obstacles encountered by the self-employed were lack of access to raw materials (49 percent), heavy taxes (44 percent), lack of financing (35 percent), state control and inspections (33 percent), and legal procedures (23 percent). These proportions varied in the three districts and were influenced by gender, race, and type of activity; for example, controls and inspections were mostly mentioned by workers with low education, nonwhites, and women. On their perceptions for the future, 81 percent believed that the self-employed would prosper—especially if the mentality of the state and the self-employed changes— and 10 percent didn’t think so.

Geydis Fundora expands on the growing inequalities enumerated above, based on a study of fifty-two self-employed residents of Havana Province in 2010–2013, reaching similar conclusions. Out of the 201 activities approved, 65 percent have a male profile; paladar owners mostly hire women because of their sex appeal to clients and because the work is similar to that done at home; other activities are in practice barred to the “weak sex.” Men tend to be employers and women employees, thus resulting in lower decision making and income for women. The elderly are disadvantaged because most activities require physical strength; most young people are hired as employees and in less specialized activities. There is no political will to gather statistics on race, but whites predominate over blacks and mulattoes, opposite to what Pañellas, Torralbas, and Caballero found; nonwhites have less access to capital and hence to success and higher earnings. Those that have a high initial capital—coming from savings, remittances, or hidden foreign investment—enjoy an advantage over the rest not only to establish the business but also to buy inputs, pay taxes, and bribe inspec­tors. Location in more attractive and populous zones are keys to success.

Magela Romero targets self-employed women engaged on infant care, a most-needed occupation to increase female participation in the employed labor force, which was 37 percent of the total in 2015;7 the low proportion is an outcome of resilient traditional gender roles at home and work. Based on eighteen cases in the town of Cojímar (in Havana) in 2013, the study found that all those self-employed in infant care were women, and half of them had previously been informal domestic employees. All said that their main attraction was a higher income, but all also complained of exhausting work and high responsibility with a monthly salary of 200 CUP per infant, with a maximum of five infants, equal to US$40, still three times the mean average salary in the state sector.

Open for Business by Richard E. Feinberg deals mainly with the economic events following the process of normalization between the United States and Cuba that started at the end of 2014, preceded by a summary of the previous state of the Cuban economy and Raúl’s reforms. Feinberg believes that the emerging NSS “offers the best hope for a more dynamic and efficient Cuban economy, especially if it is permitted to partner with foreign investment and with more efficient state-owned enterprises” (132). One chapter on emerging entrepreneurs is based on a monograph he published in 2013, which at that time provided substantial data and analysis on self-employment, preceding the other three books reviewed herein.8 One graph and one table are updated to mid-2015, but most of the text remains unchanged. The author and an assistant had in-depth conversations with twenty-five microentrepreneurs between March 2012 and April 2013, emphasiz­ing financial issues (averages of time open, number of employees, starting capital, and use of domestic and foreign capital). Interesting profiles of self-employed activities are given on paladares, cafeterias and cater­ing, bed and breakfasts, accounting, a shop selling handicrafts to tourists, building construction and house remodeling, electronic repairs, and renting of 1950s cars; from such profiles he extracts useful lessons.9 A stimulating innovation is the selection of twelve young Cuban “millennials” (aged 20–35), one of them the owner of a cafeteria, for appealing interviews based on ten questions.

Feinberg envisages four stages of capital accumulation of microbusinesses: primitive household accumu­lation, early-mover super-profits, growth and diversification, and strategic alliances with state enterprises and with foreign investors (not yet authorized). Like the other authors whose books I review here, he stresses the progress and achievements of self-employment, perhaps more so than other authors. But he also pin­points the many constraints the self-employed face: poor banking and meager credit, serious scarcity of inputs of all sorts (as a visible exception he gives the wholesale market “El Trigal,” temporarily closed in May 2016), shortage of commercial rental space, a very challenging business climate, and government restric­tions including persecution by government inspectors and heavy fines, as well as constraints on capital accumulation and business growth. He provides his own recommendations to alleviate these problems.

One fundamental question left unanswered is the size of the NSS. Unfortunately, there are no official data on the NSS, complete and disaggregated by components. Neither Ritter and Henken nor most Cuban authors provide such a figure (Torres estimates it as 27 percent of the labor force; p. 21). The only elaborated calculation in the four books is Feinberg’s, who states that “altogether, as many as 2 million enterprising Cubans—40 percent of total employment—and possibly even more can be counted within the private sector” and predicts that “in the next three to five years, total private employment could reach 45 to 50 percent of the active labor force” (Feinberg, 132, 139; emphasis added); this exceeds by 10 percentage points Torres’s middle-term estimate of 35 to 40 percent (24).

Feinberg overestimates the NSS’s size. First, an important semantic and substantive issue is that not all NSS participants are private, only most self-employed workers and their employees as well as small private farmers are. Usufruct farmers, NASCs, and other cooperatives’ members do not own their land or buildings; these belong to the state, which leases them to the workers. Second, several figures in Feinberg’s estimates are either questionable or not supported by specific sources; the main query is what he labels “other private activities (estimated),” such as full-time unregistered self-employment and partial self-employment done by state-sector employees, which add up to between 185,000 and 1,185,000, based on guesstimates (while it is true that some government employees work part-time as self-employed workers, it is impossible to know for how many hours, which makes it difficult to estimate average full days of work). Third is the inclusion of 353,000 members of credit and service cooperatives (CCS), because that number exceeds by 65 percent the total number of all co-op members in 2015, including agricultural production (UBPCs, Basic Units of Agricultural Production, and CPAs, Agricultural Production Co-ops), CCSs (Credit and Services Co-ops) and NASCs.10 Furthermore, many private and usufruct farmers are also members of CCSs, thus they are counted twice. Fourth, the category of “land lease farmers” (172,000) is confusing; on the one hand Feinberg does not specifically include usufruct farmers (312,296), and on the other hand the official data on land leasers (arrendatarios) is only 2,843.11 Fifth, employees of self-employed workers are counted since 2011 in the total number of the self-employed, mixed with owners, and we have shown that there is a double counting in the overall figure. In any case, the official statistics on the total NSS share in the employed labor force expanded from 17 percent in 2008, when Raúl officially became president, to 29 percent in 2015.12 In conclusion, there is no doubt that the NSS is important and growing, but certainly not as much as Feinberg estimates.

In summary, the most studied NSS group is the self-employed; NASCs are briefly discussed by Ritter and Henkel and in Piñeiro’s chapter in Zavala et al. Largely excluded from the discussion are usufruct farmers, and totally omitted is the selling/buying of private homes. The historical approach is followed most inten­sively by Ritter and Henken, although several Cuban authors provide summaries of the evolution in their respective topics. The preferred methodology is interviews or conversations combined with research. There is a consensus that the NSS (mostly self-employment) has been successful despite considerable obstacles. We lack a reliable estimate of the NSS’s size.

Missing in the four volumes is an evaluation of the NSS’s macroeconomic effects.13 Ritter and Henken refer to some results of self-employment, such as job creation, noting the nonfulfillment of the official target of dismissing more than one million unneeded state employees. None of the books discuss the impact of usufruct farming on agricultural output, where NASC members are still minute and their impact is even more difficult to assess. It is true that the scarcity of available data hinder the task, but still some estimation could have been done on the NSS’s effect on produce sales, fiscal revenue, and GDP.14

Feinberg and Ritter and Henken are the only authors who explore the future of the NSS. Feinberg provides three broad overall scenarios, which are thought-provoking but touch little on the NSS: (1) “inertia” with little change, without citing potential precedents and projecting self-employment to 750,000, 48 percent higher than the March 2016 official figure of 507,342; (2) “botched transition and decay,” the most pessimistic, similar to former states of the USSR, but with self-employment expanding to 1 million, twice its 2016 size, as some restraints are removed; and (3) “soft landing” in 2030, the most optimistic, under market socialism as in Vietnam, where self-employment really takes off and reaches 2 million employees and 40 percent of the labor force—this is somewhat confusing because he refers to the private sector and had previously predicted, for the entire NSS, 45 to 50 percent in 2019–2021 (203–222).

Ritter and Henken offer three possible alternative routes for the NSS, without predicting its size: (1) reversal to Fidel’s hostile approach, which they judge very improbable because it is totally unfeasible and discredited (“unlikely to be reversed” for Feinberg, 131); (2) stabilization of Raúl’s current (2014) and cautious reform package to self-employment and NASCs, which would remain in place for the rest of his presidency, but with a significant expansion of both and the potential of creating a “mixed cooperative market economy”; and (3) acceleration of the reform and rebalancing among public, private, and cooperative sectors, with medium and large private enterprises advancing at the expense of co-ops and smaller private enterprises; the viabil­ity of this scenario, they say, could be helped by a “serious relaxation of US policy toward Cuba” that could “encourage the Cuban government pro-market openings” (311).

Cuba is always unpredictable, and none of the three scenarios by the above authors completely fit the situ­ation in August 31, 2016, when this review essay was finished. Ritter and Henken’s book was concluded in October 2014, thus this reviewer has the unfair advantage of almost two years that have brought significant changes, such as the evolution of US-Cuba rapprochement in 2014–2016 and the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party held in April 2016.15 In light of those events, their first and third alternatives are implau­sible, at least in the medium and long run; the second might be conceivable if the emphasis is placed on “stability” instead of significant expansion. By August 2016, however, rapprochement, rather than helping the reforms, appeared to have the opposite effect due to dread in the leadership caused by Obama’s visit and it effects, reflected in the results of the Seventh Party Congress. The number of self-employed workers peaked at 504,613 in May 2015, declined to 496,400 in December, and climbed again to 507,342 in March 2016, an increase of 0.7 percent in ten months, substantially lower that the expansion rate in 2014 and 2015 (14 and 3 percent, respectively). Furthermore, at the Congress, Raúl warned that although NSS forms are not antisocialist, “powerful external forces” try to “empower” them as agents of change, and could risk further “concentration of wealth and property” (the latter was not among the agreements of the Sixth Congress in 2011), making it necessary to impose “well-defined limits” on them.16 The Seventh Congress also recom­mended to halt the creation of new NASCs because of their deficiencies, and to concentrate on the existing ones instead.17 Finally, the only existing wholesale market was temporarily closed in May 2016. Feinberg’s book ended in early 2016, much later than Ritter and Henken’s, but his scenarios and predictions don’t cor­relate well with the facts explained above: “inertia” looks optimistic and even more so “decay”—both appear to be short- or middle-term effects—whereas the 2030 “soft landing” would require the drastic changes detailed by him, which are difficult to visualize now.

1 These basic principles of the reforms were set in the Sixth Communist Party Congress of 2011 and ratified in the Seventh Congress of 2016.

2 The pioneer book in the field is Jorge F. Pérez-López, Cuba’s Second Economy: From Behind the Scenes to Center Stage (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1995).

3 Oficina Nacional de Estadística e Información (ONEI), Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2015 (La Habana, 2016).

4 Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Market, Socialist, and Mixed Economies: Comparative Policy and Performance; Chile, Cuba, and Costa Rica (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000).

5 ONEI, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2015.

6 A series of interviews conducted by five authors in 2014–2015, in a much wider part of Havana City, agreed with the predominance of men over women, the highest participation of middle-aged adults, and the important role of education, but found a prevalence of whites and a higher level of satisfaction. Carmelo Mesa-Lago et al., Voces de cambio en el sector no estatal cubano: Cuentapropis­tas, usufructuarios, socios de cooperativas y compraventa de viviendas (Madrid: Editorial Iberoamericana Vervuert, 2016).

7 ONEI, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2015.

8 Richard E. Feinberg, Soft Landing in Cuba? Emerging Entrepreneurs and Middle Classes (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2013).

9 These cases are more varied than those discussed by Ritter and Henken, but the latter provided the most comprehensive and profound analysis of paladares.

10 ONEI, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2015.

11 ONEI, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2014 (La Habana, 2015).

12 Mesa-Lago et al., Voces de cambio en el sector no estatal cubano; ONEI, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2015.

13 Valdés notes in the prologue to Pérez Villanueva and Torres’s book the absence of a macroeconomic essay to place all NSS forms in the proper context.

14 The percentage of GDP generated only by self-employment has been estimated as 5 percent by Saira Pons, Tax Law Dilemmas for Self-Employed Workers (La Habana, CEEE), but by 12 percent by Torres (in Pérez Villanueva and Torres, p. 24), a significant gap. For an assessment of some NSS effects see Mesa-Lago et al., Voces de cambio en el sector no estatal cubano.

15 After this essay was finished, the guidelines (lineamientos) for 2016–2021 were published; a rapid browse indicates no significant changes from the guidelines of 2011.

16 Raúl Castro Ruz, “Informe central al Séptimo Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba,” Granma, April 17, 2016 (emphasis added), 1–3. Mauricio Murillo mentioned, as examples of the limits to be imposed, the establishment of limits on the number of hectares that somebody may have (“Intervención en el VII Período Ordinario de la Asamblea Nacional,” Granma, July 9, 2016).

17 Carmelo Mesa-Lago, “El lento avance de la reforma en Cuba,” Política Exterior 30, no. 171 (2016): 94–104.155

 

 

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IS CUBA “OPEN FOR BUSINESS”? BOOK REVIEW BY TED HENKEN

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZBy Ted Henken. Complete review is available here: http://cubacounterpoints.com/archives/3832

A review of Open for Business: Building The New Cuban Economy by Richard E. Feinberg,  August 30, 2016, Washington, D.C.Brookings Institution Press, 264 pages, $22.00;    ISBN-10: 0815727674’;     ISBN-13: 978-0815727675

Introduction

A few years ago I ran into a fellow watcher of Cuba’s economy in my favorite local New York coffee shop. It was just after the publication of my own recent book on the emergent Cuban private sector, which I co-wrote with the Canadian economist Archibald Ritter. Keen on announcing my good fortune (and great timing!) to my colleague, I whipped the book out and proudly presented it to her. However, when she saw the title, Entrepreneurial Cuba, she looked up at me with a skeptical grin and said: “Well, aren’t you the optimistic one?!” I laughed, quickly assuring her that while the title was indeed up-beat, the contents of the book were a decidedly more complex, critical, and ambivalent affair, filled with equal parts new opportunities, old obstacles, significant reforms, and frightful omens.

Similarly, the title of Richard Feinberg’s own eminently readable and richly informative new book, Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy, slyly posits a reality of economic “openness” that is aspirational. The author himself admits that this position is still as much a government slogan for the future as it is an achieved present-day reality. While Feinberg tells his readers that Cuba is indeed “open for business” on the book’s eye-catching cover, the actual contents of the book’s wide-ranging eight chapters highlight aspects of Cuba’s new post-Fidel economy that place an emphatic and well deserved question mark (?) after this claim.

Far from falling prey to the “irrational exuberance” of facile boosterism or blatant apologetics that tend to characterize much business-oriented writing about Cuba these days, Feinberg’s book is a critical-minded and deeply informed evaluation of the pro-market experiments undertaken by the Cuban government over the past two decades with a special emphasis on Raúl Castro’s economic reforms between 2010-2016. Thankfully, Feinberg goes beyond an exclusive focus on the top-down administrative efforts on the part of the government to solve its chronic economic problems (chapter 2). Feinberg does consider the so-called “update” of Cuba’s state socialist economic model that is often in league with sympathetic foreign governments like China, Brazil, and Venezuela (Chapter 3) and pioneering foreign firms including Sherritt, Meliá, and Unilever (chapters 4-5).

Notably, chapter 6 on entrepreneurial Cuba tells the fascinating story of Cuba’s emerging private entrepreneurs and middle classes. According to Feinberg, now this new economic class includes as many as two million people and makes up 40% of the island’s workforce (a well-sourced if questionable claim). This is followed by a wonderfully original chapter that profiles a dozen Cuban “millennial voices”; youthful, and quite hopeful, pioneers in fields as diverse as business, art, media, academics, and technology. These innovative sections of the book allow the author to offer his readers a refreshingly rich and diverse portrait of the grass-roots efforts of everyday citizens to “open Cuba for business” from the inside and for the benefit of Cubans themselves.

 ********************

Conclusion

Not a typical academic monograph focused on a single aspect of the Cuban economy, Feinberg’s “Open for Business” is instead a globally-informed analysis of what are arguably the three most important and dynamic aspects of Cuba’s new economy: International trade, foreign investment, and the island’s emerging domestic entrepreneurs. His wide-ranging yet richly detailed focus – enhanced by multiple foreign investor case studies and vivid profiles of Cuba’s emerging entrepreneurs and pioneering millennials – makes this book required reading not just for professional economists and other academics, but also – and perhaps especially – for the growing ranks of potential foreign investors looking for independent, hard-nosed, and practical advice about Cuba’s unique business environment as they contemplate their own entreé into the Cuban market. It will also be useful and revelatory tool for U.S. policymakers as they gauge how best to “engage” the Cuban government over questions of trade and investment and “empower” the Cuban people, especially the emerging Cuban entrepreneurial middle classes.

open-for-business

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RECONCILING U.S. PROPERTY CLAIMS IN CUBA: TRANSFORMING TRAUMA INTO OPPORTUNITY

Richard Feinberg, December 2015,  Brookings Institute

Original Here: Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity.” 

zzzzzzzzz CONCLUSION:  . A Grand Bargain?

In their opening meetings, the U.S. and Cuba will present their conflicting claims. One possible outcome is protracted and contentious negotiations. But there is a much more promising alternative approach: to take advantage of the very size and complexity of the conflicting claims and to make their resolution the centerpiece of a grand bargain that would resolve some of the other remaining points of tension between the two nations, and embrace an ambitious, forward-looking development strategy for Cuba.

There are precedents for such a grand bargain, in such cases as the Soviet Union, Vietnam, and China. The Roosevelt-Litvinov agreements—negotiated in the White House directly between the U.S. president and Soviet foreign minister—laid the foundations for renewing diplomatic relations, and one might argue for the World War II alliance that defeated the axis powers. Similarly, the claims settlement with Vietnam was one piece of a much broader normalization process between the two once bitter adversaries—two nations that now label themselves strategic allies. Pointedly, at the August 14, 2015 flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Secretary of State John Kerry remarked:

“And last week, I was in Hanoi to mark the twentieth anniversary of normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. Think about that. A long and terrible war that inflicted indelible scars on body and mind, followed by two decades of mutual healing, followed by another two decades of diplomatic and commercial engagement. In this period, Vietnam evolved from a country torn apart by violence into a dynamic society with one of the world’s fastest growing economies.”

In recent U.S.-Cuban relations, there is also the precedent of the December 17, 2014 announcements, when the return of Alan Gross and a CIA asset for three Cuba spies was wrapped in the larger story of normalizing diplomatic relations, and on the U.S. side, the relaxing of certain travel and economic restrictions.

The two-tiered settlement strategy outlined above allows for U.S. firms to re-engage in Cuba. At the same time, some individual claimants and their families harbor deep affections for Cuba and would probably be willing to contribute to its future development. Cuba could consider special incentives to regain this legacy of the island’s past, and for interested claimants to match their awards with re-investments in new projects.

With the right incentives, Cuba could also attract the capital and talents of many of the two million Cuban-Americans resident in the United States. With their separate legal issues and emotional charges, and the vastness of their numbers, the property claims of Cuban-Americans will require their own treatment (more on this in a subsequent paper). But the settlement of U.S. property claims might include a general framework for the future consideration of issues of concern to Cuban-Americans – with the overarching goal being reconciliation of the diaspora with the homeland.

The settlement of U.S. claims could be wrapped in a package of economic opportunities for Cuba. Importantly, the United States could further relax its economic sanctions (amending or repealing Helms-Burton), providing more trade and investment opportunities – and the capacity for Cuba to earn the foreign exchange needed to service debt obligations. In turn, Cuba will have to accelerate and deepen its economic reforms, to offer a more attractive business environment for investors and exporters. Politically, the Cuban government could present a significant softening of the U.S. embargo as a victory, offsetting any concessions made in the claims negotiations. A comprehensive package might also be more attractive to the U.S. Congress; formal Congressional consent would enhance the measures’ legitimacy and durability and help to close off any court challenges, should some claimants be unsatisfied with the final settlement. It is time for Cuba to enter the international financial institutions and the United States should no longer stand in the way. The IFIs can play a vital role, in providing capital and connections to the global marketplace. The IMF and World Bank are also deep repository of knowledge on transitions from central planning to more market-driven economic systems.

The claims settlement agreement between the United States and Hungary contained an annex where it was agreed, inter alia, that the Hungarian Government intended to settle outstanding dollar bonds through direct talks with bondholders; and that the United States would seek authority from its legislature to accord Most-Favored Nation (MFN) treatment to Hungary, subject to separate negotiations.

75 In a grand bargain, the United States could offer to work with Cuba and other creditors to renegotiate Cuba’s outstanding official (Paris Club) and commercial (London Club) debts on terms that take into account Cuba’s capacity to pay.76 The U.S. government continues to carry on its books $36.3 million of Cuban obligations to the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank), which could be addressed within the Paris Club framework.77 The United States could also agree to reconsider remaining trade and investment restrictions.

At this stage, it would be too much to expect agreement on a detailed development strategy for Cuba. But a process could be put in place whereby Cuba would work with its many international partners, including the United States, to forge a twenty-first century development model that preserves the social gains of the revolution but that also raises labor productivity and living standards.

Under President Raúl Castro, Cuba has initiated economic reform and the international community can accompany it by adding its expertise and resources. It would not be too much for the claims ettlement talks, if they agree on a two-tiered strategy, to include a discussion of the business climate, and what additional steps Cuba needs to take to attract badly needed foreign investment. As strict socialist property relations are gradually replaced by a more hybrid economic system, Cuba will need to design and  implement new property regimes that promote individual initiative but that also encompass land-use, housing, natural resources and other regulatory oversight protective of the public interest and consistent with sustainable and equitable growth.

The strategic goals in a massive claims resolution process must be political: to heal the deep wounds of past conflicts, to lay foundations for peaceful coexistence and the non-violent resolution of disputes, to avoid jeopardizing fiscal balances and crippling debt burdens, to build investor confidence and  international reputation, and to help render the Cuban economy more open and competitive. These vital goals will not always be fully convergent with the more traditional, legal objective focused narrowly on the rights of property claimants. In designing and implementing solutions, as claimants bang on doors and demand attention, policy makers should not lose sight of their overriding purposes. In the interests of both Cuba and the United States, the twentieth-century trauma of massive property seizures should be transformed into a twenty-first century economic development opportunity.

 zzzzzRichard-Feinberg

Richard Feinberg is a nonresident senior fellow with the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He is a professor of international political economy at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego. His four decades of engagement with inter-American relations spans government service (in the White House, Department of State, and U.S. Treasury), numerous Washington, D.C.-based public policy institutes, the Peace Corps (Chile), and now in academia. He is also the book reviewer for the Western Hemisphere section of Foreign Affairs magazine.

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FINANCIAL TIMES SPECIAL REPORT ON CUBA, June 16, 2015

Financial Times, June 16, 2015

Document here: Financial Times SPECIAL REPORT on CUBA June 16 2015

Authors:

John Paul Rathbone, Latin America Editor; Geoff Dyer, US diplomatic correspondent; Richard Feinberg, Professor, UCLA San Diego; Marc Frank, Journalist based in Cuba; Cardiff Garcia, FT Alphaville reporter

obama-castroTHAW IN US RELATIONS RAISES EXPECTATIONS; Tentative signs of openness heighten hopes, but is the island ready to do business?

NEW CONNECTION DIVIDES OPINION; President Obama’s overtures play better than expected at home — although not with everyone

STRAITS DEALING BRIDGES MANY GAPS; Retailers in Florida cash in on items needed by customers across the water

GLIMMERS OF GLASNOST BEGIN TO WARM ISLAND; Government retains a firm grip, but there are signs it is loosening a little

NEW PORT ZONE HARBOURS BIG AMBITIONS; A would-be capitalist enclave in a socialist state, the Mariel project is emblematic of change

STATE EXPERIMENTS WITH CO-OPERATIVE THINKING; From garages and restaurants to dealers in exotic birds, co-ops are expanding

CUBA’S NASCENT KNOWLEGE ECONOMY; The island could capitalise on a wealth of expertise in science

US COMPANIES STILL FACE INVESTMENT HURDLES; Bureaucracy, eroded infrastructure and regulatory risk are among hurdles

GOVERNMENT LIKELY TO END TO DUAL CURRENCY; Change would be part of reforms to remove price distortins

COMPENSATION IS KEY TO FUTURE RELATIONS; What now for legal claims by those who lost property in the revolution?

OPINION: WHAT CUBA CAN LEARN FROM VIETNAM; The island has the resources and location to create a balanced economy

 There is a new entry among Cuba’s roll of important dates. Alongside Fidel Castro’s 26th of July movement and the January 1 1959 “triumph of the revolution”, there is now December 17 2014. That was the day when Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, the US and Cuban presidents, announced that they wanted to normalise bilateral relations and end more than 50 years of cold war enmity.

 To be sure, communist Cuba was already changing. After formally becoming president in 2008, Mr Castro began a tentative economic liberalisation process to boost the country’s flagging economy — especially urgent now that Venezuela’s growing crisis jeopardises the $1.5bn of aid it sends every year. But the December 17 announcement lit a bonfire of expectations among US businesses — even if Cuba’s $80bn economy, for all its exotic allure, is much the same size as the Dominican Republic’s. “There is a new sense of excitement, of US companies coming to look and thinking of starting seed businesses,” says one long-established European investor in Havana. “It makes sense. Start small, learn how the system works and then see how it all goes.”

 So, how might it all go? Continue reading:  Financial Times SPECIAL REPORT on CUBA June 16 2015

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Brookings Institution: CUBA’S ECONOMIC CHANGE IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE

Edited by RICHARD E. FEINBERG AND TED PICCONE

Full Document Here: Brookings, 2014:  Cuba’s Economic Change

                         TABLE OF CONTENTS

 Introduction and Overview    Richard Feinberg

Policies for Economic Growth: Cuba’s New Era,  Juan Triana Cordovi and Ricardo Torres Pérez

Economic Transformations and Institutional Changes in Cuba. Antonio F. Romero Gómez

Institutional Changes of Cuba’s Economic-Social Reforms: State and Market Roles, Progress, Hurdles, Comparisons, Monitoring and Effect. Carmelo Mesa-Lago

Economic Growth and Restructuring through Trade and FDI: Costa Rican Experiences of Interest to Cuba, Alberto Trejos

Monetary Reform in Cuba Leading up to 2016: Between Gradualism and the “Big Bang” Pavel Vidal Alejandro and Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva

Exchange Rate Unification: The Cuban Case. Augusto de la Torre and Alain Ize

New Picture (2)

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REACTIONS TO DECEMBER 2014 US-CUBA STEPS TOWARDS RAPPROCHEMENT: Farber, Feinberg and Piccone

SAMUEL FARBER, “THE ALTERNATIVE IN CUBA

Jacobin, December 22, 2014

 Original Article Here: The resumption of US – Cuban relations is a real victory. But Cuban workers face renewed economic liberalization with little political opening.

…………

Conclusion

Independently of the considerations that led the governments of Cuba and the United States to reach this agreement, it is a major gain for the Cuban people.

First, because it acknowledges that the imperial power of the US was not able to coerce the imposition of its socio-economic and political system, handing a victory for the principle of national self-determination. It is up to Cubans and Cubans alone to decide the destiny of their country. Second, because in practical terms, it can improve the standard of living of Cubans and help to liberalize, although not necessarily democratize, the conditions of their political oppression and economic exploitation, making it easier to organize and act to defend their interests in an autonomous fashion against both the state and the new capitalists.

This has been the case of China, where thousands of protests occur every year to protect the standard of living and rights of the mass of the population in spite of the persistence of the one-party state.

Contrary to what many liberals thought right after the Cuban Revolution, the issue was never whether the end of the blockade would lead the Castro brothers to become more democratic. That possibility was never and is not in the cards, except for those who believe that the establishment of Cuban Communism was merely a reaction to American imperialism instead of what Che Guevara admitted was half the outcome of imperialist constraint and half the outcome of the Cuban leaders choice.

What is real is the likelihood that the end of the blockade will undermine the support for the Castro government thereby facilitating the resistance and political formulation of alternatives to its rule.

That Cuba will be free from the grasp of US imperialism even if the economic blockade comes to an end is not likely. The more “normal” imperialist power broadly experienced in the Global South will replace the more coercive and criminal one of the blockade era, especially if a successful alliance develops between American capital and the native state capitalists of the emerging Sino-Vietnamese model, as it happened in China and Vietnam. Even at the purely political level, there are many conflicts that are clearly foreseeable, like, for example, one that was left unmentioned in the Obama-Castro agreement involving the return of revolutionary exiles, such as Assata Shakur, to prison in the United States.

With the passing of the historic generation of revolutionary leaders within the next decade, a new political landscape will emerge where left-wing opposition political action may resurface and give strength to the nascent critical left in Cuba. Some may argue that since socialism of a democratic and revolutionary orientation is not likely to be on the immediate agenda, there is no point to put forward such a perspective. But it is this political vision advocating for the democratic self-management of Cuban society that can shape a compelling resistance to the economic liberalization that is likely to come to the island.

By invoking solidarity with the most vulnerable, and calling for class, racial and gender equality, a movement can build unity against both the old and the emerging oppression.

.

Richard Feinberg,DIPLOMATIC SHOCK AND AWE: OBAMA ELATES CUBANS,

|Brookings, December 22, 2014 9:00am

Original Here: Diplomatic Shock and Awe: Obama Elates Cubans

………………….

Focusing on Next Steps

The U.S. bureaucracy is now under pressure to transform Obama’s promises into deeds. The upcoming April Summit of the Americas in Panama sets a deadline for issuing the new regulations liberalizing travel and commerce. In a speech before the National Assembly on December 20, Castro announced that he would personally attend the Summit, where he would “express our positions with respect for all of the other heads of state.” So the Panama conclave will bring Obama and Castro face-to-face. They will want to be able to report real progress in warming relations and in improving the economic prospects of ordinary Cubans.

Already there is speculation that the Panama Summit will witness a second round of initiatives, fed by Obama’s pledge to discuss with Congress a formal and full lifting of economic sanctions.

Both governments have raised hopes. But the Cuban government, accustomed to operating in deep secrecy, will have to learn how to manage popular expectations in a more relaxed international environment—where the United States can no longer be blamed for its own economic mistakes. And if promises are kept, Cuba will finally enter a post-Cold War era where informed citizens have ready access to the Internet and a world of information.

.

Ted Piccone ON CUBA, OBAMA GOES LONG AND CASTRO HOLDS ON”

Brookings, December 22, 2014 9:51am

Original Article Here: On Cuba, Obama and Castro

Introduction

It’s hard to overstate the sense of relief and joy that was felt in both Washington and Havana as Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro simultaneously announced a breakthrough in their two countries’ long-running hostilities. There was, of course, much anger and hand-wringing as well and a host of questions about what happens next. But it’s worth taking a moment to understand how both sides got to this point and why it portends a major shift in U.S. foreign policy and potentially, in Cuban society.

………………….

.Conclusion

The head-snapping confluence of events on December 17—the simultaneous presidential announcements and returning flights home of prized Americans and Cubans; the holiday season celebration of loss and redemption and hope in the Jewish, Catholic and Afro-Cuban traditions; and the powerful language employed by President Obama in particular—make this a watershed moment in U.S. foreign policy. It marks the beginning of the end of five decades of hostility between two proud neighbors with distinct systems of governance. It symbolizes the end of the Cold War just as tremors of a new cold war between Washington and Moscow are growing. It signifies a reset in U.S.-Latin American relations on the eve of an unprecedented summit meeting of all the region’s leaders. It recognizes the failure of comprehensive punitive sanctions against a general population in favor of targeted sanctions for specific transgressions, as recently adopted in the case of Venezuela. It underscores that democratic change cannot be imposed by external coercion but only by supporting indigenous citizen movements willing to take the difficult and brave steps to demand it themselves. It declares the end of the strangle-hold of a minority faction of Cuban-American hardliners on an important foreign policy issue that affects all Americans. And most importantly, it restores hope on both sides of the Florida straits that change will continue, as it must, to improve the livelihoods and rights of millions of citizens in both countries. It was the big enchilada.

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Havana Bars: The Next Wave of Private Innovation

By Richard Feinberg

Cuba Standard, May 7, 2014

Original Here: Cuba Standard

 Among investors focused on Cuban markets, private bars and clubs are the new big thing. Within the last 18 months, enterprising Cuban investors have spiced up an already vibrating Havana night life by opening a variety of chic watering holes.

By all accounts, many investors are achieving their primary goal: rapid returns on risk capital.

And middle-class Cubans — not just tourists and expats — are enjoying the widening diversity of options for evening destinations.

 

Stiff competition, narrow market

For the emerging private sector — promoted by Raúl Castro since he took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008 — the previous big story was the paladares, privately run restaurants generally located within family homes. But so many enterprising Cubans seized the opportunity to earn gastronomic profits that the restaurant market quickly turned terribly competitive.

Many fine-dining paladares cater primarily to well-heeled tourists, charging prices that are moderate by international standards but far out of the reach of nearly all Cubans. Most Cubans working for the state receive the miserable wage of $20 per month — roughly the cost of a single paladar meal.

Facing this dual challenge of stiff competition in the restaurant space and the narrow tourism market, innovative Cuban entrepreneurs seized upon nocturnal entertainment as an exciting solution. Havana is not without bars, often featuring Buena Vista Social Club–style bands in Havana Vieja that appeal to middle-age tourists — but not to hip young Cubans or international travelers looking for the latest music video or mixed cocktail creations.

The newly launched bars/clubs feature flat-screen TVs with contemporary sounds. Dancing begins around 10 pm and whirls well into the early morning hours. Some of the bar-hopping crowd may be exiting the paladares, in search of the after-hours fun for which Havana is so famous — but with a contemporary beat.

Significantly, the new upscale bars are also attracting Cubans – by keeping their prices within the range of what could be labeled the Cuban middle or upper-middle classes.

Entrance or cover charges are minimal and local beers sell for the equivalent of $2, tapas for just $2 – $6, heavier fare for $6 -15. These prices still lock out most Cubans, but are within the range of perhaps five percent of the 2 million Habaneros. (Alas, the Cuban government does not publish statistics on income distribution.)

Even if a Cuban couple limits their consumption to two beers each and a few snacks, how can they afford an evening on the town? Where do they find the $20 — the equivalent of a full month’s state salary? The sources of this middle-class purchasing power: profits from their own thriving private businesses, wages and tips earned in the tourist trade, bonuses granted by joint ventures, or remittances sent by generous family and friends living abroad. Cubans who served overseas — as diplomats, military attachés, or medical personnel — can accumulate savings. And privileged offspring of senior government officials are known to enjoy free beverages and bites.

As recently noted by AP correspondent Peter Orsi, the elites of the remarkably large and talented Cuban creative class — painters, dancers, musicians, film makers — also earn a good living; the farándula — the inbreed creative classes — congregate at Café Madrigal, Privé, and Espacios.

In Havana these days, trendy bars are not the only visible indicators of Cuba’s prosperous upper-middle classes and their lucky, beautiful children. Expensive daycare centers and domestic housekeepers, 21st century cars with private license plates replacing the iconic but decrepit 1950s Chevrolets, and expensive cell phones with e-mail service — all signal the emergence of new money.

At the new nocturnal watering holes, successful Cubans mingle comfortably with foreigners: the resident expatriate community of diplomats and business executives as well as tourists — mostly Europeans and Canadians, but also increasingly Americans, permitted to travel legally to Cuba under people-to-people educational programs licensed by the Obama administration.

 

The places

Two of the hottest Havana bars, Sangri-La and Up-and-Down (their ownership overlaps), are so packed on weekends that their overcrowded dance floors challenge even the most fluid salsa dancers. Intimate but very lively, Up-and-Down exploits the increasing stratification of Cuban society by differentiating the entry fee for the upstairs VIP lounges: a minimum of $20 consumption per person, priced for foreigners and a thin slice of the best-heeled Cubans. The bartender at Up-and-Down is rightly famous for his designer tropical drinks laced with plentiful pours.

 A combination restaurant and terraza bar, El Cocinero is a dramatic conversion of an old cooking oil factory into a two-floor industrial entertainment space. The plush first floor dining décor is dominated by a large black-and-white minimalist painting, while the al fresco upstairs features comfortable butterfly lounge chairs and a neon-lite bar. Typically, the denim-clad waitresses are youthful and attractive, and frequently with university degrees in their back pockets.

 

Product placement

A theatrical production of a Cuban-authored drama currently running in Havana, Rascacielos (Skyscrapers), is co-sponsored by the embassies of Spain and The Netherlands — and by El Cocinero and StarBien, a plush paladar (co-owned and managed by the gracious son of the minister of the interior). The commercial sponsorships earned product placements — explicit mentions in the text of the play — one dramatic signal of the growing weight and self-confidence of the emerging private sector.

Other trendy Havana dispensaries of alcohol and nocturnal diversion include Fábrica de Arte (featuring avantgarde paintings), Capricho (tasty tapas, serene ambiance), Escencia Havana (pre-revolution nostalgia in an 1880 villa), O’Reilly 304 (in Old Havana, superb vegetarian soup with three varieties of chili peppers), Toke (a mostly gay clientele, next to the Cabaret Las Vegas), and two new dimly lit dance clubs catering to a younger crowd, Melén and Las Piedras.

 zEl Cocinero upstairs; Photos by Richard Feinberg

 In many of Havana’s new bars, the décor and the crowd are sophisticated and universal: Their Miami equivalents have similar vibes, albeit with more bling and, as one Cuban male observed, more silicon. Island-bound Cubans have less jewelry to flaunt, and may sense that the Communist government, while more permissive today than during the decades of Fidel Castro’s austere rule, would still look askance at ostentatious displays of new wealth.

 

Small investment, quick return

Chats with owners and managers of these after-hour establishments suggest initial capital investments of roughly $30,000 – $70,000 (small by international standards). No entrepreneur reported commercial bank backing, which is scarce in Cuba. Rather, funds come from savings of family and friends, and in some cases money transfers from abroad – as donations, loans, or informal equity arrangements. Working within an uncertain business climate, these newly minted Cuban entrepreneurs often seek to recoup their capital in 12-24 months, a potentially feasible goal due to low costs of labor, rent, and utilities, and often interest-free financing.

zzPaul Sosa at his bar

The award for the most economical opening goes to Mamainé (as in the popular Cuban song, Mamainé, Mamainé, todos los negros tomamos café), a comfortable coffee and cocktail bar constructed by environmentalist and artist Paul Sosa using recycled woods and iron work. Spending less than $5,000 to fashion the 36-seat establishment within his parents’ home, Paul attracts both tourists and locals with strong $1 espresso coffees and $2 made-to-order mojitos.

 State-owned beer garden

Not to be outdone by the dynamic private sector, Cuban state companies have recently opened two large bars. Sloppy Joe’s, a revival of a pre-revolutionary saloon with a legendary 59-foot mahogany bar, once again caters mostly to tourists. More original, the government gloriously transformed an old timber and tobacco warehouse on Havana Bay into a large beer garden. The affordable prices and spectacular brightly painted murals attract Cuban families as well as foreigners. On one Sunday afternoon, the author viewed more than one Cuban child watching his parents enjoy the Austrian-made tall tubes of chilled beer.

 zzzOld warehouse, new beer garden

Cuban capitalists not only must confront uneven competition from state-run firms, but also face regulatory uncertainty: bars are still not an officially sanctioned category of business, so their owners must register them as restaurants — making them vulnerable to government inspectors. Not surprisingly, in this high-risk business climate, investors seek a quick return on capital. But short of an abrupt shift in government policy, it is a safe bet that bold entrepreneurs will continue to provide Havana’s after-hours revelers with new and exciting entertainment options.

 

Richard E. Feinberg, professor of international economy at the University of California, San Diego, writes about and travels frequently to Cuba. Three of his recent publications on the Cuban economy, including Safe Landing for Cuba?, can be found at www.brookings.edu

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Richard Feinberg: “Cuba’s New Investment Law: Open for Business?”

Richard Feinberg, April 1, 2014 1:30pm

We are still awaiting the publication of Cuba’s new foreign investment law, passed by the National Assembly on Saturday March 29 2014. In the meantime, here is a brief outline and discussion from Richard Feinberg in a Brookings Blog.

Original here: Cuba’s New Investment Law

 Dateline Havana: The Cuban legislature has approved a new foreign direct investment law (FDI), and the detailed follow-on regulations will be issued within the next 90 days. From my informal conversations in Havana, Cubans on the street seem to accept with enthusiasm the government’s dual message: that the new guidelines will not compromise Cuban sovereignty – a key gain of the 1959 revolution – but will encourage badly needed inflows of foreign capital and technology.

In a shift from past practices, government messaging has emphasized the importance of foreign investment worldwide, with the Communist Party daily, Granma (March 31, 2014), quoting a government commission declaring that “no country today has successfully developed without foreign investment as a component of its political economy.” President Raúl Castro asserted that “we must take into account the absolute necessity to stimulate and attract foreign investment, to add dynamism to our economic and social development.”

Experienced commentators have noted, however, that many of the more positive paragraphs in the new law could also be found in the previous 1995 FDI regulations, which were outweighed by more restrictive clauses and by a recalcitrant bureaucracy that in recent years has approved very few major new foreign ventures.

Several of the more promising sections of the new law echo recommendations in the 2012 Brookings monograph, The New Cuban Economy: What Roles for Foreign Investment?:

·         A strong official recognition that FDI must be integral to Cuba’s development strategy, if the country is to depart from its sluggish economic path.

·         Majority foreign ownership is an option (although this was also the case, if ignored in practice, under the 1995 regime).

·         The project approval process should be streamlined and made more transparent.

·         Firms should have more flexibility with regard to wage scales, such that remuneration can be a stimulus to productivity. In addition, the much anticipated currency unification will likely reduce the extraordinarily heavy tax on wages paid by foreign investors.

Other noteworthy aspects of the new law include reductions in certain taxes, and the promise of just compensation in the event of expropriation. But some existing obstacles to investment appear not to have been adequately addressed. For example, the new law continues to press investors on local content requirements, even as it also notes the importance of firm integration into global value chains.

The proof will be in the pudding, and investors will be watching closing for the fine print in the new regulations and, most importantly, for the implementation of the approval process. The new law recognizes that Cuba badly needs foreign investment in many sectors of its economy, including but not limited to agriculture and sugar, energy, bio-technology, construction, and tourism. Will the government establish an investment climate that attracts foreign investments, and a truly transparent bureaucratic process that vets proposals in a prompt timeframe competitive with international standards?

U.S.-based businesses, of course, will not be able to take advantage of any new investment opportunities, as a result of long-standing and comprehensive commercial sanctions. Other foreign businesses, however, are likely to get a head start soon

 Cuba Canada

Former Sherritt International CEO, Ian Delaney and Raul Castro, Captivated!

melia-cohiba-aerial-view-98The Melia Cohiba Hotel, Havana

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