Author Archives: Henken Ted

Americas Society / Council of the Americas: ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: A DISCUSSION ON CUBA’S EMERGING NON-STATE SECTOR (Web Cast of the Event)

10163_logo_1In 2011, Cuban President Raúl Castro began the process of reforming policies toward entrepreneurs and small, private enterprises. Join Ted Henken and Archibald Ritter as they present their book Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape,* which analyzes the evolution of Cuban policy since 1959.

Henken and Ritter will discuss Cuba’s fledgling non-state sector, the underground economy, the new cooperative sector, Cuban entrepreneurs’ responses to the new business environment, and how Obama’s new policy of entrepreneurial engagement might impact Cuba’s “cuentapropistas.”

Speakers:

  • Ted A. Henken, Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies, Baruch College, CUNY
  • Archibald R.M. Ritter, Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Economics, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
  • Alana Tummino, Policy Director, Americas Society/Council of the Americas; Senior Editor, Americas Quarterly (Moderator)

April 2, 2015, Americas Society, 680 Park Avenue, New York NY USA

Book order form: Ritter-Henken-Entrepreneurial Cuba wdisc pdf

Here is the link to the web cast of the event:   http://www.as-coa.org/events/entrepreneurial-cuba-discussion-cuba%E2%80%99s-emerging-non-state-sector

New Picture (12)Alana Tummino

New Picture (13)Tummino, Henken and Ritter

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ENTERPRISING CUBA: CITIZEN EMPOWERMENT, STATE ABANDONMENT, OR U.S. BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY?

 AU-SSRC Implications of Normalization: Scholarly Perspectives on U.S.-Cuban Relations April 2015

 TED A. HENKEN AND GABRIEL VIGNOLI

Original here: ENTERPRISING CUBA

After cautiously consolidating his new government once becoming president in 2008, Raúl Castro made a series of unprecedented moves in late 2010 to encourage the reemergence of private self-employment (known as trabajo por cuenta propia or cuentapropismo in Cuba)—explicitly ending Cuba’s previous policy under Fidel Castro that, according to Raúl’s own bold assessment, had “stigmatized” and even “demonized” it.

Subsequently, both the number of legally allowed private occupations (up from 178 to 201) and of Cubans licensed to practice them have grown significantly, with the island seeing a veritable “boom” in entrepreneurial activity between 2011 and 2015. Indeed, in that time, the number of Cuba’s cuentapropistas (self-employed workers or micro-entrepreneurs) has more than tripled, growing from less than 150,000 in 2010 to nearly half a million by early 2015. Additionally, 498 new non-agricultural cooperatives have been authorized to operate on the island between 2013 and 2014, with another 300 under review at the start of 2015.

Moreover, on December 17, 2014, as part of a momentous diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana, the Obama Administration announced a new policy of engagement targeted explicitly at “empowering” Cuba’s new class of private entrepreneurs by allowing U.S. companies to “support the emerging Cuban private sector,” in Obama’s historic words.

How might Washington’s new policy of “empowerment through engagement” and the larger bilateral process toward normalization impact the island’s emerging entrepreneurs as well as the emergent “non-state sector” of its economy? While there are many potential economic benefits of concerted U.S. private sector engagement with Cuba’s cuentapropistas, the monopolistic Cuban government poses significant challenges to those who want to do business on the island, reach out to island entrepreneurs, and hire Cuban workers—as many European and Canadian companies can already attest. How will this work in practice, who will be the likely winners and losers (both in Cuba and abroad), and how can the Cuban government deal effectively with the growth in socioeconomic inequality that will inevitably follow an expanded private sector?

Direct U.S. engagement with Cuban entrepreneurs through freer travel and more remittances; access to banking and other financial services; increased exports of badly needed inputs to island cuentapropistas; the import of private or cooperatively produced Cuban goods and services to the U.S.; and technology and know-how transfer are all encouraging elements of Obama’s new Cuba policy. These changes have the potential to both “empower” individual entrepreneurs—the stated goal of the U.S. policy shift—and incentivize the initial, if exceedingly cautious, private sector reforms already begun by the Cuban government.

However, to increase Cuba’s economic independence and overall prosperity, the U.S. should focus on addressing the specific economic needs of Cuban entrepreneurs, rather than framing its engagement as a way to effect “regime change” by other means. That is, given the need to build bilateral diplomatic trust after more than fifty years of mutual antagonism, Washington should eschew any “Trojan horse” approaches to entrepreneurial engagement that aim to empower the Cuban people by undermining the government. Such an antagonistic and divisive approach has not worked in the past and could derail Obama’s promising effort to encourage the incipient pro-market reforms already underway.

At the same time, a U.S. policy based on empowerment through economic engagement—even when motivated by the best and most transparent of intentions—will be a dead letter if the U.S. Congress insists on clinging to the outdated and counterproductive embargo and the Cuban government stubbornly refuses to ease its own auto-bloqueo (or “internal embargo”) against island entrepreneurs. As it implements a self-described economic “updating of socialism,” will Cuba continue to hold fast to its monopolistic “command and control” economic model—one that “ya no funciona ni para nosotros” (“no longer works even for us”), as Fidel Castro himself famously admitted in a rare moment of economic candor in 2010?

Continue reading: AU-SSRC-Henken-Vignoli-Enterprising-Cuba-FINAL 

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Book Launch in New York: ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: A DISCUSSION ON CUBA’S EMERGING NON-STATE SECTOR

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Americas Society / Council of the Americas

 

April 2, 2015

AS/COA; 680 Park Avenue; New York, NY    View map

Registration: 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m., April 2, 2015
Lunch and Discussion: 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

In 2011, Cuban President Raúl Castro began the process of reforming policies toward entrepreneurs and small, private enterprises. Join Ted Henken and Archibald Ritter as they present their book Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape,* which analyzes the evolution of Cuban policy since 1959. Henken and Ritter will discuss Cuba’s fledgling non-state sector, the underground economy, the new cooperative sector, Cuban entrepreneurs’ responses to the new business environment, and how Obama’s new policy of entrepreneurial engagement might impact Cuba’s “cuentapropistas.”

*Copies of the book will be available for purchase.

Speakers:

  • Ted A. Henken, Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies, Baruch College, CUNY
  • Archibald R.M. Ritter, Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Economics, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
  • Alana Tummino, Policy Director, Americas Society/Council of the Americas; Senior Editor, Americas Quarterly (Moderator)

Registration Fee:   This event is complimentary for all registrants. Prior registration is required.

Event Information: Sarah Bons | sbons@as-coa.org | 212-277-8363
Press: Adriana La Rotta | alarotta@as-coa.org | 212-277-8384
Cancellation: Contact Juan Serrano-Badrena at jserrano@counciloftheamericas.org before 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 1, 2015

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PERSPECTIVE: OVERCOMING CUBA’S INTERNAL EMBARGO

Published in Current History, February 2015, here: INTERNAL EMBARGO 

See original essay here: Overcoming Cuba’s Internal Embargo

By Ted A. Henken and Archibald R.M. Ritter

In scores of interviews conducted over the past 15 years with Cuban entrepreneurs for our new book, “Entrepreneurial Cuba,” Arch Ritter and I often heard the following two very pregnant Cuban sayings:

El ojo del amo engorda el caballo” (The eye of the owner fattens the horse) and “El que tenga tienda que la atienda, o si no que la venda” (Whoever has a store should tend to it, and if not then sell it”).

The first adage indicates that the quality of a good or service improves when the person performing it enjoys autonomy and has a financial stake in the outcome. The second saying suggests that if the Cuban government is unable to “tend its own stores,” then it should let others take them over.

In essence, this popular wisdom demands that the state turn over to the private sector the economic activities it cannot operate effectively itself—many of which are already widely practiced in Cuba’s ubiquitous underground economy.

In other words, the U.S. embargo – recently dealt a near fatal blow by the joint decision by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro to reestablish diplomatic relations after almost 54 years – is hardly the principal “blockade” standing in the way of Cuba’s economic revitalization. Though the American “bloqueo” has long been the target of withering and well-deserved international condemnation, on the island Cubans themselves are much more likely to criticize what they bitterly refer to as the “auto-bloqueo” (internal embargo) imposed by the Cuban government itself on the entrepreneurial ingenuity, access to uncensored information and open communications, as well as basic civil and political rights of the Cuban people.

President Barack Obama has opened a door to potential U.S. investment in (and import/export to and from) Cuba’s entrepreneurial and telecom sectors. But is Raúl Castro willing to allow U.S. companies to operate on the island? More important still, is his government ready to open up to the Cuban people by beginning to relinquish its tight control over private enterprise and the Internet?

While we believe that it is both good and necessary for the United States to open up to Cuba and vice versa (to paraphrase the late Pope John Paul II), our book argues that little economic progress or political freedom will be enjoyed by Cubans themselves until the Cuban government opens up to its own people, ceases to demand their acquiescence as subjects, and begins to respect them as citizens, consumers, and entrepreneurs with defensible and inalienable economic and political rights of their own.

In fact, two weeks following the historic mid-December Obama-Castro announcement, the Cuban government received its first public test of whether its internal embargo would now be relaxed in light of the sea-change in U.S. policy. On December 30, the internationally renown Cuban artist Tania Bruguera organized a public act of performance art in Havana’s iconic Revolutionary Plaza. Dubbed “#YoTambienExijo,” Bruguera invited Cuban citizens to “share their own demands” on the government and visions for the island’s future for one minute each at an open-mic set up in the Plaza. Predictably, the government responded by arresting and detaining scores of artists, activists, and independent journalists, which amounted to an even more public “performance” of its own typically repressive tactics, as news of the event echoed in the international media on the final day of the year.

Thus, while we can celebrate the fact that the U.S. and Cuban governments have finally agreed to begin respectful, diplomatic engagement, the Cuban government’s failure to respectfully engage with the diverse and often dissenting voices of its own citizens makes us wonder with Bruguera whether “it’s the Cuban people who will benefit from this new historic moment,” as she put it in her previously circulated open letter to Raúl Castro.

Between 1996 and 2006, President Fidel Castro pursued an economic policy retrenchment that gradually phased out the pro-market reforms of the early 1990s, indicating that he was more aware of the political risks that popular entrepreneurship would pose to his centralized political control than of the economic benefits it could provide. Therefore, he was unwilling to transfer more than a token portion of the state “store” to private entrepreneurs.

His brother, Raúl Castro, whose presidency began in 2006, has significantly eased this resistance. While the underlying goal of economic reform is still to “preserve and perfect socialism,” he has started to deliberatively shrink the state “store” and transfer the production of many goods and services to the more than half-a-million new small enterprises, including both private and cooperative ventures.

However, much more remains to be done in reforming policies toward microenterprise so that it can contribute fully to productive employment, innovation, and economic growth. For example, 70 percent of the newly self-employed were previously unemployed, meaning that they likely converted previously existing underground enterprises into legal ones, doing little to absorb the 1.8 million workers slated for state-sector layoffs. Moreover, only 7 percent of self-employed are university graduates, and most of them work in “low tech” activities because almost all professional self-employment is prohibited. This acts a “blockade” on the effective use of Cuba’s well-educated labor force, obstructing innovation and productivity.

A further goal of the tentative reforms to date has been to facilitate the emergence of cooperative and small enterprise sectors so that they can generate sustained improvements in material standards of living. This can only be achieved with additional reforms that effectively “end the embargo” against Cuban entrepreneurs.

Among the necessary changes would be:

1. Opening the professions to private enterprise,

2. Implementing affordable wholesale markets,

3. Providing access to foreign exchange and imports (a fiercely guarded state monopoly),

4. Establishing effective credit facilities,

5. Permitting the establishment of retailing enterprises, and

6. Relaxing the tax burden on small enterprise, which now discriminates against domestic enterprise in favor of foreign investors.

Progress in all these areas would be greatly facilitated by access to U.S. investors and markets (both as a source of desperately needed wholesale inputs and as a place to sell their products), something now possible following the implementation of Obama’s historic policy changes during the coming year.

However, it remains to be seen whether Raúl has the political will to intensify the internal reform process. The outright prohibition of activities the government prefers to keep under state monopoly allows it to exercise control over Cuban citizens and impose an apparent order over society. However, this comes at the cost of pushing all targeted economic activity (along with potential tax revenue) back into the black market – where much of it lurked prior to 2010.

On the other hand, the inclusion and regulation of the many private activities dreamed up and market-tested by Cuba’s always inventive entrepreneurial sector would create more jobs, a higher quality and variety of goods and services at lower prices, while also increasing tax revenue. However, these benefits come at the political cost of allowing greater citizen autonomy, wealth and property in private hands, and open competition against state monopolies.

The viability of Cuba’s reforms also depends on the recently announced changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba and on Cuba’s changing policy toward its émigrés, who already play a major role in the Cuban economy as suppliers of start-up capital via the billions of dollars they provide annually in remittances. Such investment could be expanded if the Cuban government were to deepen its recent migration reforms by granting greater economic rights to its extensive émigré community.

Obama’s relaxation of U.S. policy will inevitably shift the political calculus that underlies economic reform on the island. As external obstacles to Cuba’s economic revitalization are removed, the onus will fall with increased pressure on the Cuban government to broaden and deepen its initial reforms, since it alone will be to blame for poor performance.

For example, organizations like Catholic Church-affiliated CubaEmprende have already begun to offer entrepreneurship workshops to small business owners with the financial backing of Cuban-Americans. Now that they needn’t worry about the threat of U.S. sanctions, will this and other similar projects be provided the legal and institutional space to flourish by the Cuban government?

Despite a continued state monopoly on the mass media and one of the Western Hemisphere’s lowest Internet penetration rates, in recent years Cuba has seen a number of significant developments in information and communication technology (ICT) capabilities, access to uncensored news, and the availability of new dissemination channels for digital data.

These developments include:

1. The spread of the worldwide blogging and citizen journalism phenomena to Cuba;

2. The connection of a fiber-optic Internet cable to the island from Venezuela in 2013, followed by the opening of 118 Internet cafés in June 2013 and access to e-mail via cell phone for the first time in 2014;

3. The appearance of a small number of independent, island-based news outlets – including the news and opinion websites Havana Times, On Cuba, and 14ymedio (launched by pioneering blogger Yoani Sánchez in May 2014);

4. The creation of a number of unauthorized “mesh” networks that use private Wi-Fi networks to communicate and share information, and

5. The emergence of an underground digital data distribution system known as “el paquete” (the packet).

Each of these developments could be accelerated by the new U.S. policy that allows American telecom providers to do business in Cuba, but only if the Cuban government is willing to allow diversification and freer competition in its centralized, monopolistic ICT system.

For example, the so-called “packet” phenomenon currently acts as an alternate, off-line Internet on the island making huge amounts of electronic data (CDs, DVDs, video games, books, “apps,” computer programs, news, and so forth) readily available for purchase in Cuba’s digital “black market.” While much data continues to circulate via thumb-drives, there is also a market for entire external hard drives of data bought and sold not in megabytes or gigabytes, but in terabytes – and all outside the rigid control of the state media production and distribution system – amounting to an indirect but very serious and effective challenge to the so-called “política cultural de la Revolución.”

This digital black market arises from the fact that many products—especially the latest electronic gadgets—are either priced far out of reach for most Cubans in “las tiendas estatales,” not sold at all, or even banned outright. More recently, the small but rapidly growing number of Cubans who have joined the smart phone revolution (often purchasing their Androids or iPhones via the blocked site Revolico.com, a Cuban version of Craig’s List) have benefitted from the proliferation of “apps” especially configured for Cuba’s peculiar off-line environment.

Undoubtedly, such a peculiar digital media environment will be fundamentally transformed if American data, service, and hardware providers were given access to the Cuban market. At the very least, prices are bound to fall, speed increase, and access expand, with the quality and quantity of digital ICT equipment improving.

A key recent development was the June 2014 trip of top Google executives to the island, including company co-founder Eric Schmidt, with the purpose of “promoting a free and open Internet.” To that end, they met both with leading cyber-activist Yoani Sánchez and government officials, while also interacting with students at Cuba’s University of Computer Science. Upon returning to the U.S., Schmidt declared that Cuba was trapped in the Internet of the 1990s and heavily censored, with American-engineered hardware and software losing out to Chinese ICT infrastructure.

He also reasoned that the U.S. embargo “makes absolutely no sense” if Washington’s aim is to open the island up to the freer flow of information. “If you wish the country to modernize,” Schmidt argued, “the best way to do this is to empower the citizens with smart phones and encourage freedom of expression and put information tools into the hands of Cubans directly.”

The greatly expanded telecom opportunities for U.S. companies and the decision to review the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, both included in December’s announcement to normalize relations, indicate that the Obama administration was convinced by Schmidt’s logic.

The slow pace and (so far) only marginally successful results of Cuba’s economic reforms to date has put the Cuban government under rising internal pressure to expand Internet services and from abroad to meet the needs of the new foreign investors it hopes to attract. This eventuality – now with the help of U.S. investment and technology – could positively impact the population’s access to the web.

At the same time, the government is clearly looking to the Chinese example as it contemplates ramping up its own Internet capabilities, hoping to remake the web in its authoritarian image and forestall any of its democratizing impacts.

Still, in the months following the Google visit, the company announced that it was unblocking island access to its free cloud-based Chrome search engine as well as popular applications such as Google Play and Google Analytics – a decision that could not have been made without tacit approval from the Obama administration. Events in 2015 will reveal how much further the Cuban government is willing to allow Google and other Internet and telecom companies to go.

While these digital developments are significant, it remains difficult to determine to what extent they will affect ordinary Cubans, given that the government itself estimates the Internet access rate at an extremely low 26 percent. Even this figure conflates access to the Internet with the island’s limited internal “intranet,” and counts sporadic access to e-mail in the same category as full access to the World Wide Web.

Moreover, while 118 new cyber-cafes opened across the island in June 2013, the service is a state monopoly available only to those able to pay in hard currency. Full access for one hour costs the equivalent of the average weekly salary. Thus, expanded access to ICT in Cuba takes place in a context of a connectivity that can be described as slow, expensive, and censored, with certain sites – such as 14ymedio – blocked outright.

Devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones are scarce and costly; the purchase and importation of key equipment such as routers and other Wi-Fi technology are highly controlled. Indeed, it is still not legally possible for the vast majority of Cuban citizens to obtain a household Internet connection, and there is virtually no legal access on the island to wireless networks and fully functional mobile technology or smart phones with data plans, outside of international hotels and certain government institutions, and select educational facilities.

The government has recognized these limitations and made commitments to remedy them, but there is no clear timeline or way to hold the government or its telecom monopoly Etecsa accountable to citizens, consumers, or Cuba’s emerging class of private entrepreneurs.

Cuban citizens of all stripes are working to overcome the substantial obstacles to entrepreneurship and free expression. This effort, however, takes place in an asphyxiating climate of political polarization, where Cubans have been doubly blockaded by the U.S. embargo on one side and by the ongoing internal embargo on the other.

This is why the recent growth of domestic entrepreneurship and innovative engagement by Internet companies like Google is so significant. This new approach seeks to engage and empower the Cuban people directly while accepting some collateral benefit for the Cuban government, instead of aiming to undermine the government with a ham-handed embargo while accepting the collateral damage that such a policy inevitably has on the people.

Now that this approach has been reinforced by the Obama administration’s momentous decision to diplomatically engage Cuba as a way to further empower the Cuban people (making their lives, in the words of the president, a bit more fácil), the ball is clearly in Castro’s court.

Will he transform his initial economic reforms and marginal expansion of the Internet into change Cubans can believe (and even invest) in?

 

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TED HENKEN’S BOOK LAUNCH PRESENTATION: ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA

239574f3-e049-46c1-8ff7-d5b9e371f096_1320Ted Henken presenting  our book ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA at the Coral Gables cultural institution, Books and Books, with the generous co-sponsorship of Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute.

See Ted Henken’s presentation here: http://elyuma.blogspot.ca/2015/01/from-external-embargo-to-internal.html  starting at minute 5:15

entrepreneurial-cuba

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NOW THAT WASHINGTON HAS BEGUN TO DISMANTLE ITS TRADE EMBARGO, HAVANA MUST END ITS INTERNAL EMBARGO AGAINST ISLAND ENTREPRENEURS

Ted A. Henken, Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies at Baruch College, New York City, and, Archibald R.M. Ritter, Economics and international Affairs,  Carleton University,  Ottawa

Huffington Post, January 20, 2015

Original Article here: INTERNAL EMBARGO

In scores of interviews conducted over the past 15 years with Cuban entrepreneurs, we often heard the following saying: “El que tenga tienda que la atienda, o si no que la venda” (Whoever has a store should tend to it, and if not then sell it). This pungent adage demands that the government turn over to Cuba’s burgeoning private sector those economic activities it cannot operate effectively itself — many of which are already widely practiced in Cuba’s ubiquitous underground economy.

In other words, the U.S. embargo — recently dealt a near-fatal blow by the joint decision by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro to reestablish diplomatic relations after almost 54 years — is hardly the principal “blockade” standing in the way of Cuba’s economic revitalization. Though the American “bloqueo” has long been the target of withering and well-deserved international condemnation, on the island Cubans themselves are much more likely to criticize what they bitterly refer to as the “auto-bloqueo” (internal embargo) imposed by the Cuban government itself on the entrepreneurial ingenuity and basic civil and political rights of the Cuban people.

While it is good and necessary for the United States to open up to Cuba and vice versa (to paraphrase the late Pope John Paul II), little economic progress or political freedom will be enjoyed by Cubans themselves until the Cuban government opens up to its own people, ceases to demand their acquiescence as subjects, and begins to respect them as citizens, consumers and entrepreneurs with defensible and inalienable economic and political rights of their own.

In fact, two weeks following the historic mid-December Obama-Castro announcement, the Cuban government received its first public test of whether its internal embargo would now be relaxed in light of the sea-change in U.S. policy. On December 30, 2014, the internationally renowned Cuban artist Tania Bruguera organized a public act of performance art in Havana’s iconic Revolutionary Plaza. Dubbed “#YoTambienExijo,” Bruguera invited Cuban citizens to “share their own demands” on the government for one minute each at an open-mic set up in the Plaza.

Predictably, the government responded by arresting and detaining scores of artists, activists and independent journalists, which amounted to an even more public “performance” of its own typically repressive tactics, as news of the event echoed in the international media on the final day of the year. Thus, while we can celebrate the fact that the U.S. and Cuban governments have finally agreed to begin respectful, diplomatic engagement, the Cuban government’s failure to respectfully engage with the diverse and often dissenting voices of its own citizens makes us wonder with Bruguera whether “it’s the Cuban people who will benefit from this new historic moment,” as she put it in her open letter to Raúl Castro.

Before 2006, President Fidel Castro pursued an economic policy retrenchment that gradually phased out the pro-market reforms of the early-1990s, indicating that he was more aware of the political risks that popular entrepreneurship would pose to his centralized political control than of the economic benefits it could provide. Therefore, he was unwilling to transfer more than a token portion of the state “tienda” to private entrepreneurs. However, his brother Raúl Castro, whose presidency began in 2006, has begun to heed the popular wisdom cited above and deliberatively shrink the state “store,” transferring the production of many goods and services to small private and cooperative enterprises. In fact, the number of Cuba’s licensed self-employed has grown from less than 150,000 in 2010 to half-a-million today.

Still, much more needs to be done so that Cuban entrepreneurs can contribute fully to economic growth. For example, 70 percent of the newly self-employed were previously unemployed, meaning that they simply likely converted their clandestine enterprises into legal ones doing little to absorb the 1.8 million workers slated for layoff from the state sector. Moreover, only seven percent of self-employed are college graduates and most them work in low-tech activities because almost all professional self-employment is prohibited. This acts as an effective “blockade” on the productive use of Cuba’s well-educated labor force.

Effectively “ending the embargo” against Cuban entrepreneurs and facilitating the emergence of cooperative and small-enterprise sectors will require deeper, more audacious reforms. Among these changes is

  • opening the professions to private enterprise;
  • implementing affordable wholesale and credit markets;
  • ending the fiercely guarded state monopoly on imports, exports and investment;
  •  permitting the establishment of retailing enterprises; and
  • relaxing the tax burden on small enterprise, which currently discriminates against domestic enterprises in favor of foreign firms.

 Progress in all these areas would be greatly facilitated by access to U.S. investors and markets, which will soon become possible as Obama’s historic policy changes are implemented during 2015.

However, does Raúl have the political will to double-down on his reforms? The prohibition of activities the government prefers to monopolize allows it to exercise control over Cuban citizens and impose an apparent order over society. However, this comes at the cost of pushing all targeted economic activity (along with potential tax revenue) back into the black market — where much of it lived prior to 2010. On the other hand, the legalization and regulation of the many private activities dreamed up and market-tested by Cuba’s inventive entrepreneurial sector would create more jobs, a higher quality and variety of goods and services at lower prices, while increasing tax revenue. However, these benefits would come at the cost of allowing greater autonomy, the concentration of wealth and property in private hands, and open competition against long-protected state monopolies.

This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called “90 Miles: Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations.” The series puts the spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.

Cuba Mar 2014 005

Photographer with museum quality camera at the front of the Capitolio

Cuba Mar 2014 038

Restaurant Metropolis, 19 y “L”, Vedado,  with its menu on display  (below)

Cuba Mar 2014 039 Cuba Mar 2014 042

Bicytaxis

Cuba Mar 2014 050

Vegetable and Fruit Vendor, Central Havana

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TED HENKEN “EL YUMA” CONOCE BIEN A LOS CUENTAPROPISTAS CUBANOS

Ted Henken appeared on he Maria Elvira Salazar television show in Miami discussing our new book Entrepreneurial Cuba: the Changing Policy landscape.

The full discussion can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvKS3tb8_Ds&feature=youtu.be

New Picture.bmpaaaMaria Elvira Salazar

New Picture (2)Ted and Maria Elvira

New Picture (1) Ted Henken

  Maria_Elvira_Salazar-CNNL

Maria Elvira

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ABAJO CON EL BLOQUEO EN CONTRA DE LOS EMPRENDEDORES CUBANOS, TANTO EN LA HABANA COMO EN WASHINGTON

TED A. HENKEN Y ARCHIBALD R.M. RITTER*

 Source: Abajo con el bloqueo en contra de los emprendedores cubanos, tanto en La Habana como en Washington, 14 y medio, Diciembre 13, 2014

 Original article here: Abajo con el bloqueo

En docenas de entrevistas que hicimos a empresarios cubanos durante los últimos 15 años solíamos oír dos refranes: “El ojo del amo engorda el caballo” y “el que tenga tienda que la atienda, o si no, que la venda”. El primero indica que la calidad de un bien o un servicio mejora (o “engorda”) cuando la persona que lo presta goza de autonomía y obtiene una ganancia económica. El segundo exige que el Gobierno entregue al sector privado las actividades económicas (o “tiendas”) que no ha logrado operar con efectividad, muchas de las cuales ya se practican en la economía sumergida cubana.

En otras palabras, el embargo norteamericano, que ha sido criticado mucho últimamente, no es el “bloqueo” principal que está obstaculizando la revitalización de la economía cubana. Aunque el embargo ha sido condenado constantemente (y creemos correctamente) tanto por el Gobierno cubano como por los editores de The New York Times, en la Isla es mucho más común oír críticas al “auto-bloqueo” (embargo interno) impuesto por el mismo Gobierno cubano en contra del ingenio empresarial de su propio
pueblo.

Entre 1996 y 2006, Fidel Castro dio una gradual marcha atrás a las aperturas económicas que él mismo había implementado durante el llamado Período Especial a principios de los años noventa, demostrando que estaba más preocupado por los riesgos políticos que la iniciativa empresarial popular tendría para su control centralizado que en los beneficios económicos que estos traerían a Cuba. Por eso no estuvo dispuesto a transferir más que una porción simbólica de la “tienda” estatal a los emprendedores privados.

En cambio, durante la presidencia de Raúl Castro, aunque se declara que el objetivo de los cambios económicos sigue siendo “preservar y perfeccionar el socialismo,” él ha empezado a hacerle caso a la sabiduría popular de los refranes citados arriba reduciendo el tamaño de la “tienda” estatal al transferir la producción de últiples bienes y servicios a las cooperativas y pequeñas empresas privadas. De hecho, el número de los trabajadores por cuenta propia ha aumentado de menos de 150.000 en 2010 a casi medio millón hoy.

No obstante, hace falta hacer mucho más para que los empresarios cubanos puedan contribuir plenamente al crecimiento económico. Por ejemplo, el 70% de los nuevos trabajadores por cuenta propia vienen de las filas de los “desempleados”, una cifra que indica que simplemente legalizaron sus empresas informales ya existentes, por lo que no están creando empleos que absorban a los 1,8 millones trabajadores del sector estatal despedidos por el Gobierno.

Solamente un 7% de los trabajadores por cuenta propia son universitarios y la mayoría trabajan en actividades de bajo nivel porque casi todos los empleos por cuenta propia profesionales están prohibidos. Esta prohibición resulta ser un “bloqueo” bastante eficaz que obstaculiza el uso productivo de la fuerza de trabajo cubano altamente calificada.

Para “acabar con el bloqueo” contra los empresarios cubanos y así facilitar el surgimiento de un sector privado de empresas cooperativas y de pequeña y mediana escala hay que emprender reformas más profundas y audaces. Entre estas, una apertura de las profesiones a la empresa privada; la implementación de mercados mayoristas y crédito asequibles; acabar con el fuertemente custodiado monopolio de estado sobre las importaciones, las exportaciones y la inversión; permitiendo el establecimiento de empresas de venta al detalle; y relajar la presión fiscal sobre la pequeña empresa, que actualmente discrimina a las empresas nacionales a favor de las extranjeras.

¿Tiene Raúl Castro la voluntad política para profundizar sus reformas?

La prohibición de las actividades que el Gobierno prefiere monopolizar le permite ejercer un control sobre las ciudadanos cubanos e imponer un orden aparente sobre la sociedad. Sin embargo, esto se alcanza al precio de empujar toda la actividad económica prohibida (y toda ganancia impositiva) nuevamente al mercado negro donde se desarrollaba antes del 2010.

Por el otro lado, la legalización y regulación de las muchas actividades creadas y puestas a prueba en el mercado por el creativo sector empresarial cubano crearía más puestos de trabajo, una mayor calidad y variedad de bienes y servicios a precios más bajos, al tiempo que aumenta los ingresos fiscales. Pero estos beneficios vendrían a costa de permitir una mayor autonomía económica, la concentración de riqueza y propiedad en manos privadas y abrir la competencia contra los monopolios de estado por mucho tiempo protegidos.

La viabilidad de estas reformas depende también de cambios en la política norteamericana hacia Cuba y de la política cubana hacia su diáspora, la cual ya juega un papel importante en la economía cubana como proveedores de capital inicial a través de los miles de millones de dólares que mandan cada año en remesas. Otro fenómeno cada vez más importante es el amplio coro de voces en Estados Unidos, incluyendo a muchos prominentes miembros de la comunidad cubana-americana, que reclaman una nueva política norteamericana hacia Cuba.

Al reclamar reformas económicas más profundas dentro de Cuba, también creemos que unos cambios calibrados en la política norteamericana podrían estimular la apertura del mercado al permitir más apoyo material y técnico a los nuevos empresarios cubanos. Este acercamiento responsable al cada vez más robusto sector de las pequeñas empresas independientes de Cuba, puede y de hecho debe ser permitido, para estimular la expansión de las reformas económicas de Cuba y por tanto potenciar la autonomía económica del pueblo cubano.

Si el Gobierno cubano insiste en mantener un embargo a su propio pueblo, no debemos nosotros ayudarlo con nuestro propio embargo externo. Por el contrario, deberíamos hacer lo opuesto trabajando directamente con los florecientes empresarios de Cuba.

*Ted A. Henken es Jefe del Departamento de Sociología y Antropología de Baruch College, City University of New York. Archibald R.M. Ritter es Profesor de Investigación Distinguido Emérito de Economía y Asuntos Internacionales de Carleton University, Ottawa, Canadá. Su nuevo libro, Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape, se publica en enero de 2015. 

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ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE

ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE

 Archibald R.M. Ritter and Ted A. Henken

 2014/373 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62637-163-7 hc $79.95 $35

A FirstForumPress Book

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Special limited-time offer!Mention e-blast when ordering

 CLICK HERE TO READ THE INTRODUCTION:  Cuba’s Chabging Policy Landscape” 

“A provocative, compelling, and essential read. The ethnographic work alone is worth the price of admission.” John W. Cotman, Howard University

“A multifaceted analysis of Cuban economic activity…. Ritter and Henken paint a lively picture of daily life in entrepreneurial Cuba.” Julia Sweig, Council on Foreign Relations

 SUMMARY

During the presidency of Raúl Castro, Cuba has dramatically reformed its policies toward small private enterprises. Archibald Ritter and Ted Henken consider why—and to what effect.

After reviewing the evolution of policy since 1959, the authors contrast the approaches of Fidel and Raúl Castro and explore in depth the responses of Cuban entrepreneurs to the new environment. Their work, rich in ethnographic research and extensive interviews, provides a revealing analysis of Cuba’s fledgling private sector.

THE AUTHORS

 Archibald R.M. Ritter is distinguished research professor of economics and international  affairs at Carleton University.

Ted A. Henken is associate professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College, CUNY.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Cuba’s Changing Policy Landscape.
  • The Small-Enterprise Sector.
  • Revolutionary Trajectories and Strategic Shifts, 1959–1990.
  • The “Special Period,” 1990–2006.
  • Policy Reform Under Raúl Castro, 2006–2014.
  • The Movement Toward Non-Agricultural Cooperatives.
  • The Underground Economy.
  • The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Paladar, 1993–2013.
  • The Future of Small Enterprise in Cuba.
  • Appendix 1: Timeline of Small Enterprise Under the Revolution.
  • Appendix 2: 201 Legalized Self-Employment Occupations.

Lynne Rienner Publisher’s page on Entrepreneurial Cuba: https://www.rienner.com/title/Entrepreneurial_Cuba_The_Changing_Policy_Landscape

For order and general inquiries, please contact: questions@rienner.com

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Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, 2011 Conference Proceedings

ASCE, the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy has just published the Proceedings of its 2011 Conference. The Proceeding include a wealth of information and analyses. All articles for 2011 and indeed all the Conference proceedings for the last 21 years are freely available on the ASCE Web Site

Below is the Table of Contents for the 2011 Proceedings with all articles hyper-linked to the original ASCE source.

Preface

Conference Program

Table of Contents

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