Author Archives: Gámez Torre Nora



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


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

Image result for General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arturo López-(Cajella)-Levy

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Miami Herals, April 11, 2018 06:05 PM

Original Article: Latin America Leaders Urge Summit Participants To Reject Cuba’s Next Handpicked Ruler


Former Latin American presidents on Wednesday urged participants in the upcoming VIII Summit of the Americas to reject the new Cuban government scheduled to take power next week.

The former leaders of Costa Rica, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, and of Bolivia, Jorge Quiroga, issued the statement on behalf of the 37 former heads of state and government that are part of the Democratic Initiative in Spain and the Americas.  They urged summit participants to “reject the presidential elections called by the dictatorship” and “refuse to recognize as legitimate the newly elected members of the National Assembly, the Council of State and its president because they do not represent the will of the people.”

The declaration, read from the halls of the Peruvian congress, also demands an end to the Cuban government’s repression of opponents and the release of political prisoners.

The former government leaders also endorsed a proposal for a binding plebiscite on whether Cubans want “free, just and pluralistic elections” pushed by the Cubadecide coalition headed by Cuban opposition activist Rosa María Payá.  Latin American leaders who will meet at the Summit of the Americas on Friday and Saturday “have a commitment to democratic stability in the region,” Payá said. “It is time for democracies in the Americas to pay their historical debt to the Cuban people.”

Several Cuban opposition activists, including Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, as well as Guillermo Fariñas, Antonio Rodiles and Jorge Luis García “Antúnez,” also urged Latin American governments earlier this week to repudiate “the Castro dictatorship and its dynastic succession.”

They also demanded the release of political prisoners and official recognition of the Cuban opposition as legitimate political players, and asked for more economic and political sanctions against the Cuban government. Quiroga and former Colombian President Andres Pastrana traveled to Havana last month to receive the Oswaldo Payá Liberty and Life prize, but were turned away by authorities at the airport. The prize was organized by the Latin American Network of Youths for Democracy, headed by Rosa Maria Payá, daughter of the late opposition activist.

Cuban activist Rosa María Payá with the former president of Costa Rica, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, in Lima, Peru

The selection of a new Cuban ruler when the island’s National Assembly meets April 19 is nothing but a “dynastic succession … a change of tyrants in a dictatorial system,” Quiroga told el Nuevo Herald. “How can an election be democratic with 605 candidates for 605 seats and a single party?”
Cuban leader Raúl Castro is expected to be replaced next week as head of state and government by First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, although he is also expected to remain head of the Communist Party.
The former Bolivian president added that Peru’s invitation to Castro to attend the summit was “incoherent” because Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s invitation was withdrawn.
“My only complaint to those who decided to exclude Maduro from the upcoming summit is that a narco-tyrant, who has been in power for 18 years and wants another six, is excluded because he’s about to turn Venezuela into a new Cuba, while those who have destroyed democracy in Cuba for 60 years are welcome.”
Before the news conference, Rodríguez, Quiroga and Payá met with the president of the Peruvian congress, Luis Fernando Galarreta Velarde.

“The Venezuelan problem has a starting place that many people at times forget, and that starting place is Cuba, Galarreta said. There’s a risk for the region “if we continue to avoid looking directly at the situation in those countries.”
Asked whether Peru would refuse to recognize the new Cuban government, Galarreta said that the country’s foreign policy was handled by the foreign ministry, not the legislature, but added that Congress would forward the former Latin American president’s petition to the executive branch.

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Saul Berenthal

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES, Miami Herald, 9 January 2012


Saul Berenthal was to become the first Cuban American investor on the island with a plan to assemble tractors to help small farmers. But his full embrace of his Cuban roots backfired.

The tale of Cleber LLC, a U.S. company that wants to assemble farm tractors in the Mariel Special Development Zone near Havana, is one example of the questions the island’s government will have to face if it wants to attract investments from the Cuban diaspora.

President Barack Obama described the proposal in March by Cleber, owned by Cuban American businessman Saul Berenthal and his partner, Horace Clemmons, as the first business with 100 percent U.S. capital authorized to invest in Cuba in more than half a century.

The goal was to assemble — and in the future produce from the ground up — a line of tractors for small-scale farmers under the Oggun brand, using Cuban labor for the benefit of the Cuban people, Berenthal told the Granma newspaper, official voice of the Cuban Communist Party, in April.

The paper published a report on Berenthal and Clemmons, and praised their idea of using the Open Source Manufacturing Model, which allows easier sourcing of materials. The Juventud Rebelde newspaper earlier published a report on the U.S. investors all but predicting the Cuban government would approve their project.

But Berenthal was told during the Havana International Fair, a business exhibition held Oct. 31-Nov. 4, that the proposal had been rejected.  Berenthal told el Nuevo Herald that the project “was not canceled. More than anything else, it was not authorized.”

The real reason for the rejection was that Berenthal, a 73-year-old retired software engineer who was born in Cuba and lived in the United States since 1960, had obtained permanent residence in Cuba, according to a knowledgeable source who asked for anonymity to speak about the issue.

“Saul got enthusiastic,” the source told el Nuevo Herald.

Berenthal’s “repatriation” put the Cuban government in a difficult position: accept the project, even though it would break its own ban on large investments by Cubans who live on the island, or reject it using an indirect argument. Officials chose the second option.

Berenthal said the government told him the proposal did not meet the Mariel requirements on technology and worker safety.

Berenthal said his repatriation had nothing to do with the government’s decision “because they were aware from the beginning” of his efforts to become a permanent residence. He added that the rejection of the Mariel project “does not mean we will not continue with the project. They suggested we contact the Agriculture Ministry.”  Berenthal’s legal residence on the island — which gave him the right to buy property and obtain free medical care, among other perks — put him at odds with laws that forbid Cubans who live on the island from establishing medium or large-scale companies.

The Justice Ministry’s web pages notes that the Cuban government does not recognize dual citizenship and follows the principle of “effective nationality.” That means a person with dual citizenship, such as Cuban Americans, can exercise only one when they are on the island.  “That does not mean a Cuban citizen cannot have another citizenship, but the valid one here is ours,” the ministry notes.

Although the Cuban constitution does not recognize the right of citizens living abroad to return and reunite with their families, they can be allowed to re-establish permanent residence and recover the benefits the government cancels for those it considers to have emigrated. Cubans with U.S. citizenship who return and re-establish permanent residence are therefore considered to be Cuban citizens only, subject to Cuban laws and regulations.

The Cuban ambassador in Washington, José Ramón Cabañas, told an interviewer in October that more than 13,000 Cubans living in the United States had been approved for repatriation in the previous two years. More applications were being processed, he added.

The impact on the U.S. status of Cubans who repatriate “is zero,” said immigration lawyer Wilfredo Allen. “The problem is that Cuba controls you.”

That control means, as in Berenthal’s case, that those 13,000 Cuban Americans who returned cannot invest their money in Cuban companies — even though the country’s Foreign Investment Law leaves open the possibility that Cubans with other nationalities may invest in areas such as tourism or energy.

Private sector workers in Cuba, known as cuentapropistas (self-employed), are licensed only to work for themselves and cannot legally establish companies to expand their work beyond a small scale. Larger enterprises are allowed only for the government and foreigners.

According to a report on the foreign investment law produced by the National Organization of Cuban Law Firms, “Cuban citizens residing in the country cannot participate as partners in a joint venture.” The report added: “This law is designed to favor ‘foreign investors’ or Cubans living outside the country.”

Cuban American economist Carmelo Mesa Lago said those restrictions are counterproductive, especially at a time when the island’s economy is shrinking.

Cuba’s Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas has said that only 6.5 percent of investments planned for 2017 are tied to foreign capital. The Cuban government estimates that it needs $2.5 billion in annual investments for economic growth.

“It is totally crazy. The level (of foreign investments) they are receiving is absolutely minimal,” Mesa Lago told el Nuevo Herald. “The government needs investments in all sectors. They have set priorities and have more interest in big investments than in medium investments, and that is totally absurd.

“They need all kinds of investments,” he added. “Cubans who have the capacity to invest, based on their profits … that should be allowed.”


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By Nora Gámez Torre, 22 January 2015

Original here: Cuentapropismo, Importaciones, Normalizacóin

La lista que el Departamento de Estado está confeccionando con bienes y servicios ofrecidos por empresarios cubanos privados que podrán ser importados en los Estados Unidos será amplia para estimular la creatividad de los “cuentapropistas” y el interés del gobierno de la isla por ampliar sus exportaciones, dijo una fuente que ha tenido acceso al borrador del documento.

Las nuevas regulaciones que comenzaron a regir el 16 de enero prevén el apoyo a los pequeños negocios, pero el Departamento de Estado debe decidir quiénes estarán comprendidos dentro de este sector privado y cuáles serían los productos a importarse desde la isla.

Una de las mayores limitaciones de la política económica actual respecto al “cuentapropismo”, como se designa el trabajo privado en la isla, es que de las 201 actividades ahora permitidas por el gobierno de Raúl Castro, la mayoría son oficios que requieren poca capacitación e infraestructura tecnológica —“vendedor ambulante de alimentos”, “rellenador de fosforeras” y “barberos” son algunos ejemplos— y el espacio para el empleo de profesionales es mínimo.

Por eso la fuente consultada por el Nuevo Herald cree que el Departamento de Estado no confeccionará la lista a partir de la legislación vigente, sino que intentará “abrir la puerta lo más amplia posible, para que sea el gobierno cubano el que decida si va a eliminar los obstáculos a los empresarios y, si esto no sucede, que ellos sepan que es por culpa del bloqueo interno”.

En la lista, que iría cambiando a partir de las dinámicas en Cuba, estarían incluidos servicios profesionales de traducción, programación o de construcción que no están autorizados actualmente en Cuba, por lo que se trata de “anticiparse un poco al futuro”, agrega.

Consultado al respecto, el profesor de Sociología de Baruch College, Ted Henken, cree que este enfoque es positivo pero “la gran pregunta es si esto tendrá impacto o si el gobierno cubano permitirá este intercambio”.

El profesor de Economía de la Universidad de Carleton en Canadá, Archibald Ritter, comentó a el Nuevo Herald que uno de los principales obstáculos para que Estados Unidos pueda apoyar a la empresa privada es el monopolio que tiene el estado sobre las importaciones y las exportaciones.

En las nuevas regulaciones, también se autoriza la exportación a Cuba de materiales de la construcción, herramientas y maquinaria agrícola a los cuentapropistas, pero según Ritter “esto requiere cambios en el monopolio del estado sobre el comercio exterior”, pues actualmente no existe un mecanismo que permita que los empresarios privados puedan importar o exportar. Tampoco existe un mercado mayorista donde ellos puedan adquirir sus insumos.

En la nota de la Agencia de Información Nacional sobre las nuevas regulaciones, el único reporte que fue publicado en todos los medios nacionales, no se hace referencia a la posibilidad de exportación de productos cubanos hacia Estados Unidos, provenientes del sector privado.

También se hace notar que “se mantienen las restricciones a las exportaciones de Estados Unidos a Cuba, especialmente de productos de alta tecnología, con excepción de limitadas ventas de materiales de construcción, equipos e implementos agrícolas que se permitirán realizar a particulares, al parecer a través de empresas cubanas”.

Y según la fuente consultada por el Nuevo Herald, el Departamento de Estado estaría considerando utilizar a una empresa estatal cubana como intermediaria, si se ofrecen garantías de que los productos y materias primas llegarán a manos de los cuentapropistas.

Presentación de libro sobre cuentapropismo en Cuba

Ritter y Henken son expertos en el tema y publicaron una investigación sobre el cuentapropismo titulada Cuba empresarial: un contexto de políticas cambiantes, que será presentada el viernes en la libraría Books and Books a las 6:30 pm, un evento auspiciado por el Cuban Research Institute de la Universidad Internacional de la Florida.

En el libro, en el que realizan una comparación entre las políticas de Fidel y Raúl Castro sobre la empresa privada, Ritter y Henken hacen un balance del estado de esa actividad en la isla y advierten de los altos impuestos, y la “discriminación” en términos fiscales que favorece a empresas mixtas con capital extranjero.

Si la liberalización del cuentapropismo tenía como objetivo absorber el millón de trabajadores de la economía estatal que Raúl Castro consideró como “redundantes”, a los que se les llama eufemísticamente como “disponibles”, los autores del libro concluyen que esta meta no ha sido alcanzada. Más bien, argumentan, el cuentapropismo ha venido a legalizar muchas actividades que trascurrían en el mercado informal.

Aunque según estadísticas del Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social hasta septiembre del 2014, el número de empleados en estas actividades aumentó a 471,085 en todo el país, cifras de la capital hasta marzo de ese mismo año indicaban que solo 63 de los cuentapropistas registrados habían perdido sus empleos (“disponibles”). El 15 por ciento de los cuentrapropistas habaneros eran también trabajadores estatales mientras que el 63 por ciento, cerca de 80,000, no tenían “vínculo laboral previo”, según publicó el portal oficial Cubadebate.

Los autores señalan que aunque en la prensa se ha comenzado a eliminar el estigma en torno a la empresa privada, el cierre de negocios exitosos, sobre todo paladares, apunta a que la acumulación de capital todavía no es bien vista por las autoridades.

Ritter y Henken concluyen que aunque la reforma de Raúl Castro ha sido significativa, “no es suficiente” para promover el desarrollo económico a gran escala y que medidas que permitan un mayor protagonismo de la diáspora así como mayores garantías y beneficios a la pequeña y mediana empresa son indispensables.

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