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CUBA AFTER CASTRO: THE COMING ELECTIONS AND A HISTORIC CHANGING OF THE GUARD

World Politics Review, October 17, 2017.

 William M. LeoGrande

Historic “Changing of the Guard”: Raul Castro to Miguel Diaz-Canel

On Nov. 26, Cubans will go to the polls to elect delegates to 168 municipal assemblies, the first step in an electoral process that will culminate next February when the National Assembly, Cuba’s parliament, will select a new president. In 2013, when Raul Castro pledged not to seek a third term, he also imposed a two-term limit for all senior government and Communist Party leadership positions.  That means the succession will replace not only Castro but almost all the remaining members of the “historical generation” who fought to overthrow Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship in 1959.

The changing of the guard comes at a delicate political moment. Castro’s ambitious economic reform program, the “updating” of the economy, is still a work in progress and has yet to significantly raise the standard of living of most Cubans. Moreover, it is encountering resistance from state and party bureaucrats who are loath to lose control over the levers of economic power and the perks those provide.

The economy has also been struggling because of declining oil shipments from Venezuela, which sells oil to Cuba at subsidized prices, helping to ease Cuba’s chronic shortage of hard currency. The political and economic chaos engulfing Venezuela has caused oil production to decline, and shipments to Cuba are running 13 percent below last year and 37 percent below their peak in 2008. The resulting energy shortage has forced Cuba to impose drastic conservation measures and pushed the economy into a mild recession last year.

In September, Cuba’s economic woes were exacerbated when Hurricane Irma came ashore, inflicting several billion dollars’ worth of damage as it tracked along the north coast before turning toward the Florida Keys. The storm hit some of Cuba’s most lucrative tourist resorts, cutting into the one sector of the economy that has enjoyed sustained growth in recent years. Most of the major hotels predicted they would reopen for business quickly, but the storm did enormous damage to the power grid, leaving large swaths of central Cuba in darkness.

Popular discontent over the economy and impatience with the slow pace of improvement are both running high. In an independent opinion poll taken in late 2016, 46 percent of Cubans rated the nation’s economic performance as poor or very poor, 35 percent rated it as fair, and only 13 percent rated it as good or excellent. Solid majorities reported not seeing much economic progress in recent years for the country or themselves, and they had low expectations for the future.

The economy is not Cubans’ only source of anxiety. With the election of Donald Trump, Havana’s relations with Washington entered a period of uncertainty. In his speech to Cuban Americans on June 16 in Miami, Trump blasted the Cuban government as a murderous dictatorship, echoing the Cold War rhetoric of regime change. Although the new economic sanctions Trump imposed were surprisingly mild—the result of intense lobbying by the U.S. business community—the prospects for improved relations and expanded commercial ties look dim in the near term.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision to withdraw nonessential from the U.S. embassy in Havana in the wake of mysterious health problems among nearly two dozen staff and family members, the expulsion of most Cuban diplomats from Washington, and the State Department’s decision to issue a travel advisory warning U.S. residents not to travel to Cuba, pushed relations to a low point not seen since December 2014, when then-President Barack Obama’s normalization process began.

Cuba’s new post-Castro leaders will therefore face an imposing array of problems, and they will have to answer to a population that has become more vocal in expressing its discontent. The expansion of internet access, the ability of Cubans to travel abroad without state permission and Raul Castro’s own calls for more open debate about Cuba’s problems have fueled an increasingly robust public sphere.

As the leadership transition gets under way, First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is the likely successor to Raul Castro as president, but little is known about this party veteran’s real views. Until recently, he kept a low profile, but even as his public visibility has increased, his speeches have simply reiterated well established policy, providing little insight into his own thinking.

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Historic Changing of the Guard

 

Miguel Diaz-Canel

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THE TROUBLE WITH CUBA’S NEW ECONOMY

Why economic opening on the island has been slower  –  and less effective  –  than many hoped.

BY WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE

America’s Quarterly, Cuba’s New Economy, 11 October 2017,

 When Raúl Castro steps down as Cuba’s president in February 2018, he will hand off to his successor the unfinished task of reforming the economy. It is Cuba’s most urgent need and, at the same time, an increasingly controversial one.

Castro succeeded his brother Fidel as president in 2008 amid serious structural economic problems on the island. State salaries were inadequate to cover basic needs, productivity in state enterprises was weak, and foreign reserves were chronically low. Agricultural production was so poor that Cuba had to import 80 percent of its food at a cost of $2 billion annually. The dual currency and exchange rate system produced severe distortions in the labor market and external sector.

Three years later, the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba endorsed the Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution, a document of 313 economic objectives comprising Castro’s plan to “update” the economy. In it, Castro was unsparing in his criticism of the hyper-centralized economic system imported from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. The key problem was low productivity. “No country or person can spend more than they have,” he reminded his comrades. “Two plus two is four. Never five, much less six or seven – as we have sometimes pretended.”

The Guidelines were a blueprint for a new economic policy in which the state’s role would be restricted to strategic sectors, leaving the rest to private enterprise and cooperatives. Decision-making would be decentralized to give managers greater authority, and state enterprises would be required to operate profitably or close. Wage incentives would reward productivity, and market mechanisms would balance supply and demand. Foreign investment would be actively sought. The social programs emblematic of the revolution – free health care and education – would continue, and no one would be left behind.

The pace of change had been intentionally deliberate – “without haste, but without pause,” in Castro’s oft-repeated phrase. But recent signals indicate the reforms may be stalled and that some of Cuba’s leaders are having doubts. At the Seventh Communist Party Congress in 2016, Castro reported that only 21 percent of the guidelines adopted in 2011 had been fully implemented.

The process of rationalizing state enterprises, which produce about three-quarters of GDP, has been especially slow. In April 2010, Castro noted that a million state sector workers – 20 percent of the labor force – were employed unproductively. By 2015, the state labor force had been reduced by 718,000 people and 15 percent of state enterprises had been closed. Nevertheless, productivity remained low and a significant number of firms still operated in deficit.

As workers were laid off from state enterprises, the private sector was expected to provide alternative employment. Although self-employment (cuentapropismo) was first legalized in the 1980s, it was not until Castro’s new economic policy that the state accepted the private businesses and cooperatives as a permanent part the economy. By 2017, some 543,000 people had self-employment licenses, operating a variety of small businesses.

The Seventh Party Congress promised to give private businesses legal status, but the National Assembly has yet to make good on it. Instead, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. In July 2017, Castro criticized the private sector for tax evasion and black-marketeering, though he insisted that private enterprise would remain a permanent part of the economic landscape. On Aug. 1, however, the government suspended the issuance of new licenses for some private occupations, including the most popular – private restaurants (paladares) and bed and breakfast rentals (casas particulares). A number of successful, high-profile businesses were closed for violating their licenses. More ominously, in a private Communist Party meeting, First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Castro’s likely successor, accused some private businesses of being counter-revolutionary.

Ideological suspicion has also hampered Cuba’s search for foreign direct investment (FDI). In 2014, Cuba adopted a new FDI law with competitive tax rates and concessions, hoping to attract $2 billion in FDI annually. By the end of 2016, however, only $1.3 billion had been approved in total. The problem was interminable bureaucratic delays in the approval of proposed projects. “It is necessary to overcome, once and for all, the obsolete mentality of prejudices toward foreign investment,” Castro insisted. “We must rid ourselves of unfounded fears of foreign capital.”

The most difficult task that Cuba’s new president will inherit is the unification of the dual currency and exchange rates. State sector employees are paid an average monthly wage of 779 Cuban pesos (CUP), which is insufficient for a decent standard of living. Convertible pesos (CUC) exchange 1-to-1 with the U.S. dollar and 24-to-1 with the CUP. Some Cubans have access to CUC through remittances or through work in the tourist sector (from tips), the private sector, in joint ventures, or work abroad. The imbalance drives highly skilled professionals out of the state sector and into low-skill jobs paying higher wages in CUCs – what Cubans call the “inverted pyramid.” Among state enterprises, half a dozen different exchange rates between CUPs and CUCs are in effect, ranging from 1-to-1 to 10-to-1, creating disincentives to export at a time when Cuba suffers from chronic balance of payments shortfalls and inadequate foreign reserves.

The government has been promising monetary unification since 2013, but implementation keeps getting delayed. The task is complex, and will reverberate through the economy with effects that are not entirely predictable. The government has little margin for error; it has no significant foreign reserves to cushion dislocations and no access to assistance from international financial institutions. Moreover, Cuba currently faces other serious economic challenges: the decline in shipments of cheap oil from Venezuela; the unprecedented damage from Hurricane Irma; and the unpredictability of relations with the United States.

Finally, while the reform process has had limited success stimulating growth, it has produced a noticeable rise in inequality, price increases that outpace wage growth, and rumblings of political discontent. When food prices surged in 2015-16, the state stepped in, imposing price controls. It did the same to taxi drivers, some of whom resisted by stopping work. The message, Castro made clear, was that markets had a role to play in the new economic policy, but a strictly regulated one, subordinate to political exigencies.

Formidable challenges await Cuba’s new president. He or she will have to hold together a shaky elite coalition behind the economic reform process, push the needed changes through a reluctant bureaucracy while maintaining economic stability, and simultaneously navigate the political shoals of popular discontent over a stagnant standard of living and growing inequality. At stake is nothing less than the future of Cuban socialism.

LeoGrande is Professor of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and co-author with Peter Kornbluh of  Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, 2015)

 

“ACTUALIZANDO” (UPDATING) THE Cuban Economy: An Immense Task

Cuba’s unsung heroes! Professional and amateur car mechanics, keeping the economy ticking over.

Maintenance and repairs: urgent everywhere.

Coffee imports from Vietnam in a quasi-“dollar” store. Cuba provided technical assistance to Vietnam’s coffee sector in the 1970s. Now Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer while Cuba’s coffee production has plummeted.

Photos by Arch Ritter, March 2014

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IS TRUMP USING ‘HEALTH ATTACKS’ ON US DIPLOMATS IN HAVANA AS AN EXCUSE TO PUNISH CUBA?

Published in The Conversation, October 4, 2017

Original article: An excuse to punish Cuba?

By William M. LeoCrande

In a blow to diplomatic relations with Cuba, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Oct. 3 ejected 15 Cuban diplomats from the United States. The expulsion follows his withdrawal of most U.S. personnel from the embassy in Havana after 22 American diplomats and family members there suffered unexplained health problems.

Last November, some U.S. personnel in Havana began experiencing a range of symptoms, including hearing impairment, nausea, dizziness and mild cognitive impairment. The people affected first and most severely were intelligence officers, but later victims held a variety of positions in the U.S. Embassy. Several Canadian diplomats were also affected.

The United States informed the Cuban government of these incidents on Feb. 17, 2017. Four days later, Cuban President Raúl Castro met with then U.S. Charge d’Affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis and, pledging full cooperation, invited the FBI to investigate.

So far, though, the investigation has been unable to determine the perpetrator or motivebehind the mysterious attacks. Nearly a year after the first incidents, nobody even knows how the attacks were carried out. U.S. officials initially blamed some sort of sophisticated sonic weapon, but scientists have questioned whether sound waves alone could have produced the reported symptoms.

In this context, withdrawing U.S. personnel is arguably a reasonable precaution. But, in my view, expelling Cuban diplomats despite Cuba’s cooperation in the investigation is baseless and counterproductive. During the 40 years I’ve studied U.S.-Cuban relations, domestic politics, rather than foreign policy interests, have often driven U.S. policy, and I believe that’s what is happening now.

Sentence first, trial afterwards

State Department officials doubt that the Cuban government is behind the incidents. No evidence has emerged implicating Cuban officials, and Cuba is cooperating with the investigation.

Nevertheless, opponents of President Barack Obama’s 2014-2016 rapprochement with Cubahave successfully seized upon the mysterious injuries as an excuse to punish Cuba, wreaking havoc on relations that had been improving. As the Red Queen said to Alice in Wonderland, “Sentence first, trial afterwards.”

When the diplomats’ health problems were first reported publicly in August 2017, Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a vociferous opponent of normalizing relations, demanded that President Trump close the U.S. Embassy and expel all Cuban diplomats from the United States.

Instead, on Friday, Sept. 29, Tillerson announced the withdrawal of nonessential personnel, suspended visa processing for Cubans seeking to enter the U.S. and issued a travel warning advising Americans not to travel to Cuba. In a press release, Rubio denounced his actions as “weak, unacceptable and outrageous,” and took to Twitter to demand that Cuban envoys be expelled.

Marco Rubio  ✔@marcorubio
Some at @StateDept want massive drawdown of Americans at @USEmbCuba but allow Castro to keep regime embassy in DC virtually the same 1/2 Marco Rubio ✔@marcorubio
So Castro regime allows attacks on Americans forcing us to drawdown to keep them safe but he gets to keep about same # of people here? 2/2  9:20 AM – Sep 29, 2017

A few days later, on Oct. 3, Tillerson finally did what Rubio demanded. Cuban American U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also a Republican of Florida and an opponent of Obama’s normalization process, pronounced herself “pleased as punch” at the expulsions.

Denormalization

This was not what U.S. diplomats wanted. The American Foreign Service Association, the union representing Foreign Service officers, opposed the withdrawal from Havana as contrary to U.S. interests. “We have a mission to do and we’re used to operating around the globe with serious health risks,” association president Barbara Stephenson told the news network CNN.

The expulsion of its diplomats isn’t the only punishment Washington has inflicted on Cuba. Some half a million Cubans depend on tourism for their livelihood, and it contributes about 10 percent to Cuba’s gross domestic product. The travel warning will deter U.S. visitors from going to the island, hurting the economy at a time when it is already suffering from the damage done by Hurricane Irma.

The sweeping and categorical nature of the travel warning is also unwarranted, considering that the State Department believes U.S. diplomats were the targets of “specific attacks” and no U.S. visitors have suffered any injury.

Canada, by contrast, issued no travel advisory after its personnel were injured, nor did its government withdraw Canadian diplomats from Havana or expel their Cuban counterparts from Ottawa.

Finally, by temporarily suspending visa processing for Cubans seeking to enter the United States, Washington risks violating the 1994 migration accord, which commits the United States to accept a minimum of 20,000 Cuban immigrants annually. That commitment will be almost impossible to meet now.

Predictably, as the United States has ratcheted up these punishments, the tone of Cuba’s response has become defiant. In Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper, the Foreign Ministry on Oct. 3 condemned the expulsion of its diplomats as “unfounded and unacceptable,” and rejected “categorically” any Cuban responsibility for the incidents.

Noting the absence of evidence as to perpetrator or means, Cuba for the first time questioned whether any attacks had even occurred.

The Trump administration has let a legitimate concern over the safety of U.S. diplomats become an excuse for reversing key elements of Obama’s policy of engagement, caving in to the political demands of those who, like Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen, opposed normalizing relations with Cuba from the outset.

By so doing, I think the administration has fallen into a trap. Whoever is responsible for the attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana almost certainly did it to disrupt the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. The U.S. response is handing that shadowy adversary a victory.

Lineup to enter the Consular Service at dawn at the US Embassy in Cuba, March 2011. Presumably the withdrawal of US diplomats will damage the consular service for Cubans wishing to travel to or migrate to the United States. (Photo by Arch Ritter)

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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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WILL TRUMP OPEN A PANDORA’S BOX OF LITIGATION OVER CUBAN PROPERTY?

If the president fails to continue the suspension of Title III, business relations will be disrupted far more severely and irreparably than they would be by any regulatory change.

William M. LeoGrande,  Professor of Government at American University

Huffington Post, 07/10/2017 02:34 pm ET |

Original Article: Pandora’s Box of Litigation?

Signing the “Helms-Burton Bill”

Long before the Departments of State, Treasury, and Commerce finish writing the new regulations that President Trump ordered to restrict trade and travel to Cuba, the president will face another decision on relations with Havana that could be far more consequential for U.S. businesses. By July 16, he will have to decide whether to continue suspending certain provisions of Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (also known as Helms-Burton, after its sponsors).

If he allows Title III to go fully into effect, he will open the door to as many as 200,0000 lawsuits by U.S. nationals whose property was taken by the Cuban government after 1959.

U.S. courts would be swamped, the ability of U.S. companies to do business on the island would be crippled, and allies abroad might retaliate for U.S. suits brought against their companies in Cuba. The tangle of resulting litigation would take years to unwind.

Title III allows U.S. nationals to file suit in U.S. courts against anyone “trafficking” in their confiscated property in Cuba—that is, anyone assuming an equity stake in it or profiting from it. The U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission has certified 5,913 claims of U.S. nationals whose property was seized. These are the claims that Cuba and the United States had begun to discuss during the Obama administration.

But Title III takes the unusual position of allowing naturalized Cuban Americans who lost property to also file suit against alleged traffickers. Normally, international law recognizes the sovereign right of governments to dispose of the property of their own citizens. According to the Department of State, by including Cuban Americans who were not U.S. citizens when their property was taken, Title III creates the potential for an estimated 75,000-200,000 claims worth “tens of billions of dollars.”

Back in 1996, angry opposition from U.S. allies Canada, Mexico, and Western Europe, whose companies doing business in Cuba would be the targets of Title III law suits, led President Bill Clinton to insist on a presidential waiver provision in Title III when Congress was debating the law. As a result, the president has the authority to suspend for six months the right to file Title III law suits, and he can renew that suspension indefinitely. Every six months since the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act was passed, successive presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, have continued the suspension of Title III.

The Morning Email

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If President Trump does not renew the suspension by July 16, however, claimants will be free to file Title III law suits by the tens of thousands. Once the suits have been filed, there will be no way to undo the resulting legal chaos.

When the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act was passed, U.S. allies in the Americas and Europe denounced its extraterritorial reach. Mexico, Canada, and the United Kingdom passed laws prohibiting compliance with it. The European Union filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization, which it dropped after President Clinton suspended Title III. In fact, the principal justification both President Clinton and President George W. Bush offered for continuing the suspension was the need to maintain cooperation with European allies.

If President Trump does not renew the suspension, all these old wounds with allies will be reopened as U.S. claimants try to haul foreign companies into U.S. courts for doing business in Cuba. We already have enough tough issues on our agenda with Mexico, Canada, and Europe without adding another one.

U.S. businesses would not be exempt from potential liability. A Cuban American family in Miami claims to have owned the land on which José Martí International Airport was built, so any U.S. carrier using the air field could be sued under Title III. Another family that owned the Port of Santiago could file suit against U.S. cruise ships docking there.

Moreover, it would be almost impossible for a U.S. company to know in advance whether a proposed business opportunity in Cuba might become the subject of Title III litigation. “This will effectively end for decades any attempt to restore trade between the U.S. and Cuba,” attorney Robert Muse told the Tampa Bay Times.

Explaining the new trade and travel regulations that President Trump announced on June 16, senior administration officials said they were designed “to not disrupt existing business” that U.S. companies were doing in Cuba. If the president fails to continue the suspension of Title III, business relations will be disrupted far more severely and irreparably than they would be by any regulatory change.

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DOES THE CUBAN MILITARY REALLY CONTROL SIXTY PERCENT OF THE ECONOMY? ANATOMY OF A FAKE FACT

William M. LeoGrande, Contributor, Professor of Government at American University

Huffington Post, 06/28/2017 11:39 am ET

Original Article: Fake Fact

President Donald Trump’s decision to prohibit U.S. transactions with Cuban enterprises controlled by the military has thrown a spotlight on the role of the armed forces in Cuba’s economy. That role is extensive, reaching across a number of different sectors, and it has grown in recent years along with Cuba’s tourism industry, where military-controlled firms are concentrated. These enterprises are managed by the holding company Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A., GAESA, which reports to the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR).

The sudden spurt of media interest has produced widespread repetition of the spurious “fact” that the Cuban military controls 60% of the economy. “GAESA is the business arm of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces and controls 60 percent of the island’s economy,” the Miami Herald reported shortly after Trump’s speech and repeated several times thereafter. The EconomistPoliticoThe GuardianThe Times of London, Business Insider, and others repeated it.

Even a cursory review of the composition of Cuba’s Gross Domestic Product demonstrates that this “fact” is ludicrous. Sectors in which the military has little or no participation easily comprise more than half of GDP, and in the other sectors, there are civilian as well as military-controlled firms (Anuario Estadístico 2015).

So how much of the economy do military enterprises really control and where did the 60% claim come from?

The Cuban government does not routinely report the revenue from individual enterprises, but we have a few data points for the largest military holding companies from which we can make reasonable projections.

Total revenue from enterprises managed by the military was reported as $970 million in 1997. Since a large portion of their revenue comes from tourism, let’s suppose that their revenue has increased in tandem with the rapid growth of that sector. In 1997, Cuba had 1.2 million foreign visitors (according to Cuba’s 2004 statistical year book, Anuario Estadístico). In 2016, Cuba had 4.1 million — a 249% increase. At that same rate of increase, projected revenue from military-linked firms in 2016 would be $3.4 billion.

We can check the reliability of this estimate with data from the three main military companies, Gaviota, Cimex, and TRD. Gaviota, the largest military-controlled conglomerate, is concentrated in tourism. Total revenue from the tourism sector was $2.8 billion in 2015 (Anuario Estadístico 2015). While Gaviota is the largest player, it does not hold a monopoly; it controls 40% of all available hotel rooms (though it has a higher proportion of the better ones), plus car rentals, tourist taxis, and restaurants. It is plausible, then, that Gaviota may generate as much as 60 percent of the earnings from tourism, or approximately $1.7 billion.

Cimex had 2004 revenue of $740 million. Using the same projection method based on the growth of tourism, Cimex’s estimated 2016 revenue would have been about $1.3 billion. The Havana Consulting Group, whose President Emilio Morales was formerly an executive at Cimex, estimates its revenue as $1.2 billion.

TRD, a chain of retail stores created to capture hard currency, had sales of $250 million in 2004. Using the same projection method, TRD’s estimated 2016 revenue would have been about $442 million.

Thus we estimate that the three largest GAESA companies taken together would have had 2016 revenue of about $3.45 billion, very close to the $3.4 billion initially estimated from the data on total MINFAR revenue. Emilio Morales at the Havana Consulting Group, using data he has collected over the past 15 years, estimates GAESA’s total current revenue at $3.8 billion.  Using Morales’ estimate, GAESA’s revenue constitutes 21% of total hard currency income from both state enterprises and the private sector, 8% of total state revenue, and just 4% of GDP (Anuario Estadístico 2015). That’s a long way from 60% of the economy, no matter what metric you use.

Where Did It Come From?

So where did the wildly inaccurate claim of 60% come from?

It first appeared in a February 2004 story in the Miami Herald about the head of Gaviota, Manuel Marrero Cruz, being named Minister of Tourism. “Cuba’s armed forces have taken over up to 60 percent of the island’s economy,” the Herald reported, citing the Cuba Transition Project (CTP), a U.S. government-funded project of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

In subsequent months, Institute Director Jaime Suchlicki regularly repeated the claim. In the proceedings of a November 2004 CTP conference, he wrote, “Today, more than 65 percent of major industries and enterprises are in the hands of current or former military officers.” In August 2006, he told the Associated Press, “They’re running 60 percent of the Cuban economy. All major industries are in the hands of the military’s active duty or former military people.”

Although no data or evidence was ever produced to support that claim, Suchlicki’s formulation was at least plausible, though misleading, because he included not just enterprises managed by the armed forces, but civilian enterprises and whole ministries led by active or retired military officers. The implication was that these entities were controlled by the armed forces, although there was no basis for such a conclusion. On the contrary, because the military has always been among the most efficient Cuban institutions, it has a long history of exporting managers to the civilian sector, going back to the 1970s.

Before long, the claim of military control devolved into a claim that MINFAR enterprises themselves constituted 60% of the economy. “The University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies estimates that soldiers control more than 60% of the island’s economy,” the Wall Street Journal reported in November 2006.

Other conservatives picked up the theme. “The military… controls about 60 percent of the economy through the management of hundreds of enterprises in key economic sectors,” wrote Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy (which also received U.S. government funding for “democracy promotion” in Cuba), and Orlando Gutierrez, national secretary of the exile organization Cuban Democratic Directorate. A 2008 Heritage Foundation report declared, “Serving or former military officers direct an estimated 60 percent of Cuba’s business and industry.”

By 2016, Suchlicki himself, who had originally been careful to specify that he was talking about major industries and enterprises run by military officers and former officers, had lapsed into the broad, unqualified claim that “more than 60% of the economy is under military control.”

Various newspapers and web sites repeated the claim over the years, setting the stage for this oft-repeated “fact” to be widely circulated when President Trump’s announcement made the Cuban military’s role in the economy a news story, as exemplified by the Miami Herald’s declaration, “GAESA…controls 60 percent of the island’s economy.”

It’s a case study in how fake facts become legitimated and spread, even without the boost of social media. Promulgated by a university-based center, which gave the claim credibility, it began as an exaggeration of the military’s control, lumping together military enterprises and civilian enterprises run by officers and former officers.

Gradually, those details fell away, perhaps because the flat statement of 60% control was more dramatic, or a better sound-bite, or perhaps because journalists failed to understand the nuances of the claim. As more and more sources quoted it, it gained credibility. By the time of President Trump’s June 16 policy announcement in Miami, it had become conventional wisdom that Cuban military enterprises controlled 60% of the economy, even though that “fact” was spectacularly wrong.

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TRUMP’S HARD LINE ON CUBA IS A BLUFF, AND HAVANA KNOWS IT

William M. LeoGrande | Tuesday, June 20, 2017, World Politics Review

Original Article here:       World Politics Review


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TRUMP POLICY COULD CUT REMITTANCES TO A MILLION CUBAN FAMILIES

Huffington Post, 06/20/2017 12:45 pm ET

William M. LeoGrande and Marguerite Rose Jiménez

There is a poison pill hidden in President Donald Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) on Cuba that could deprive over a million Cuban families of access to remittances from their relatives abroad—a declaration of economic war on the very people that Trump claims his policy will empower.

Section 3(d) of the NSPM redefines “prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba” expansively, potentially including almost a quarter of Cuba’s entire labor force. The significance: Cubans who are “prohibited” are not allowed to receive payments from U.S. persons, and that includes remittances (Cuban Assets Control Regulations, §515.570).

The previous regulatory definition of prohibited officials was very narrow, limited to members of the Council of Ministers and flag officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The new definition proposed by President Trump includes hundreds of senior officials in every government agency, thousands of ordinary Cubans who volunteer as leaders of their local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and—most importantly— every employee of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR) and Ministry of the Interior (MININT).

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MINFAR has some 60,000 active duty troops and MININT has some 35,000 police and Border Guards, and that’s not counting their civilian employees. Military service is compulsory for both men and women, so almost every family on the island will be affected by this new definition at some point.

More importantly, according to the U.S. government’s Cuba Broadcasting service, over a million Cubans are employed by the two big holding companies, GAESA and CIMEX, that report to MINFAR. If all these people are now to be considered “prohibited officials,” then a quarter of the Cuban labor force will no longer be eligible to receive remittances.

For Cuban state employees who are paid an average salary equivalent to about $25 a month, cutting them off from family remittances will have a devastating impact on their standard of living. By what possible logic can a clerk at GAESA, a truck driver at CIMEX, or a private in the Cuban army be defined as an “official” important enough to be prohibited from receiving help from their family abroad?

The alleged premise of Trump’s policy is to empower the Cuban people by directing U.S. funds to them, rather than to the Cuban government. Remittances are the very best way to do that because the dollars go directly to family on the island, at a rate of about $3 billion annually.

President Trump could have imposed limits on remittances directly and openly, as previous presidents have done, but that would have been very unpopular in the Cuban American community, so instead he has disguised a potentially massive cut behind the small print of an obscure regulation. Now it is up to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to write the new regulations in a way that averts this travesty.

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CUBA, RUSSIA, TRUMP AND COMEY

William M. LeoGrande, Contributor, Professor of Government at American University

Huffington Post, 06/05/2017 07:50 am ET

President Trump has a knack for bad optics. The day after he fired FBI Director James Comey in hopes of taking the pressure off the investigation into whether his campaign colluded with the Kremlin during the 2016 election, Trump received Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in the Oval Office. Now, as Comey prepares to testify before Congress about Trump’s request that the FBI halt the investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, the president is preparing to announce a Cuba policy that would clear the way for Moscow to re-establish itself as Cuba’s principal foreign patron.

President Trump and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak

According to press reports, Trump is on the verge of reversing key elements of Barack Obama’s policy of engagement with Cuba, even though his own government’s review concluded it is producing positive results across a range of issues, including security. If the United States reverts to a policy of hostility, U.S. adversaries will once again reap the rewards, and Russia will be first in line—just like it was in 1960.

The end of the Cold War severed Cuba’s partnership with the Soviet Union, but Vladimir Putin has been restoring Russia’s global influence by repairing relations with traditional allies. Russia’s resurgence in the Caribbean dates to Putin’s 2000 trip to Havana, followed by Raúl Castro’s 2009 visit to Moscow—the first since the end of the Cold War.

In July 2014, Putin visited the island again and agreed to forgive 90% of Cuba’s $32 billion in Soviet-era debt. By the time Raúl Castro returned to Moscow in 2015, Russia had signed agreements to invest in infrastructure development and oil exploration, and agreed to lend Cuba 1.2 billion Euros to develop thermal energy. When Venezuela failed to meet its promised oil shipments to Cuba, Russia stepped in to cover the shortfall.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin and Cuban President Raúl Castro, July 11, 2014.

The linkages extend beyond commerce. Both sides refer to their revived relationship as a “strategic partnership” with diplomatic and military components. Russia is refurbishing and replacing Cuba’s aging Soviet-era armaments. Russian naval vessels visit Cuban ports, the most prominent being the ostentatious arrival of a large Russian surveillance vessel in January 2015, the day before U.S. and Cuban diplomats began talks on normalizing diplomatic relations. Russia reportedly wants to establish a military base on the island.

At the Pentagon, the intrusion of extra-hemispheric powers in Latin America has been a serious concern since 2010 when the U.S. Southern Command’s annual Posture Statement first identified Russia, China, and Iran as challenging U.S. interests. Every year since, SouthCom has warned that Washington needs to increase its engagement with the region to counter the influence of outsiders.

Just this past April, Admiral Kurt W. Kidd presented the 2017 Posture Statement to Congress, declaring, “For Russia, China, and Iran, Latin America is not an afterthought. These global actors view the Latin American economic, political, and security arena as an opportunity to achieve their respective long-term objectives and advance interests that may be incompatible with ours.”

For some policymakers, this geostrategic challenge mandates support for engagement with Cuba, giving Havana less incentive to expand its economic relationships with Russia and China into politico-military ones. K. T. McFarland, who served briefly as Trump’s deputy national security advisor, succinctly summarized the argument for engaging Cuba before she joined the administration: “It would be foreign policy malpractice if we stood aside while our adversaries develop strong bilateral and economic — and possibly military relations.”

A few months after Donald Trump’s inauguration, 16 retired senior military officers, including a former commander of SouthCom, sent National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster an open letter urging the administration to maintain engagement with Cuba on national security grounds, citing successful cooperation on counter-terrorism, border control, drug interdiction, environmental protection, and emergency preparedness. “If we fail to engage economically and politically,” they warned, “it is certain that China, Russia, and other entities whose interests are contrary to the United States’ will rush into the vacuum.”

So why would President Trump reverse a policy that his own government judges to be largely successful, and that enjoys broad support with the general public, business community, and national security establishment—especially when that reversal would give adversaries like Russia, China, and Iran a new foothold in the hemisphere? According to the White House, the answer is human rights: “As the President has said, the current Cuba policy is a bad deal,” spokesman Michael Short claimed. “It does not do enough to support human rights in Cuba.”

The invocation of human rights is clearly an excuse rather than the real reason. The administration has shown no interest whatsoever in human rights in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, or the Philippines. On the contrary, the president has gone out of his way to praise and encourage leaders whose human rights records are far worse than Cuba’s. Moreover, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said explicitly that “America First” means human rights will take a back seat to U.S. national security and economic interests.

The real reason for changing Cuba policy is raw, naked politics. Cuban American Representative Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), one of the most vocal critics of Obama’s policy, reportedly extracted a commitment from the White House to be tough on Cuba as the price for his vote to repeal Obamacare. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the other main proponent of turning back the clock, sits on the Intelligence Committee investigating the Trump Campaign’s Russian connections. Instead of draining the swamp, the Trump team has apparently decided that to swim in it, you have to feed the alligators.

It would be exquisitely ironic if Trump adopted Marco Rubio’s failed Cuba policy in order to curry favor with him in hopes of blunting the Senate’s Russia investigation— and by so doing ceded to Moscow a dominant geostrategic position on our doorstep in Cuba.

William M. LeoGrande is co-author with Peter Kornbluh of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

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ENGAGEMENT WITH CUBA IS A BIPARTISAN ISSUE

William M. LeoGrande, Professor of Government at American University

Huffington Post, 04/22/2017 02:46 pm ET

Original Article: Engagement with Cuba

Shortly after his election, Donald Trump tweeted that he would insist on a Cuba policy that was good for “the Cuban people, the Cuban American people, and the United States as a whole.” While that may seem like a tall order, in fact Cubans, Cuban Americans, and the U.S. public at-large generally agree on what U.S. policy ought to be.

In our hyper-polarized politics, engagement with Cuba is one of the few issues that enjoys bipartisan support. Poll after poll in the United States has shown that engagement is widely popular, even among Republicans. A January 2015 Pew Research poll, taken just a few weeks after President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro announced their intention to normalize relations, found 63% of the U.S. public in favor of restoring diplomatic relations and 66% in favor of ending the U.S. economic embargo. Six months later, a second Pew poll found support for engagement had grown, with 73% of respondents in favor of diplomatic relations and 72% in favor of ending the embargo.

A majority of Republicans agreed (56% and 59% in favor respectively), as did even self-identified conservative Republicans (52% and 55% in favor). In December 2016, after Trump’s election, support for normalizing relations remained strong, with 75% of Americans in favor of diplomatic relations and 73% in favor of lifting the embargo. Republican support had risen to 62%, and conservative Republican support to 57% on both issues.

A November 2016 poll by the Economist reported similar results. Right after the presidential election, it found that a plurality of Republicans supported both having diplomatic relations and lifting the embargo (47% and 46% respectively), as did a plurality of Trump voters (40% and 47% respectively).

Even Cuban Americans, who for years were the strongest voice against any change in the U.S. policy of hostility, now favor engagement. A Bendixen & Amandi International poll taken in March 2015 found 51% of Cuban Americans in support of normalizing relations and a plurality of 47% in favor of lifting the embargo. By December 2015, a year after Obama and Castro’s announcement, a majority of Cuban Americans supported both normalization (56% in favor, 36% opposed) and lifting the embargo (53% in favor, 31% opposed). Even those living in Florida supported engagement (52% in favor, 40% opposed).

Florida International University poll of Cuban Americans in south Florida conducted in the summer of 2016, after Obama’s March trip to Cuba, found that support for normalization had grown to 56% and support for ending the embargo to 54%.

Cuban Americans have been taking advantage of the opening to reconnect with the island. The number of them visiting family increased to 329,000 in 2016, and the value of remittances sent to the island has reached some $3 billion annually. Cuban Americans have become a critical source of both financing and inputs to Cuba’s growing private sector—so much so that more than 100 Cuban private entrepreneurs wrote a letter to President Trump asking him not to cut off these lifelines.

Private entrepreneurs are not the only Cubans who see normal relations as beneficial. An independent poll commissioned by the Washington Post, and conducted in Cuba in March 2015 found that 97% of Cuban respondents thought better relations with the United States were “good for Cuba.” (Lest you think people were afraid to respond honestly, 48% of these same respondents expressed unfavorable opinions of Raúl Castro.)

A November 2016 poll in Cuba by NORC (formerly the National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago found that 55% of Cubans thought that normalization would be good for Cuba, and only 3% thought it would be bad (26% thought it wouldn’t make much difference).

As President Trump’s foreign policy team conducts its review of policy toward Cuba, they should keep in mind the president’s admonition that his policy ought to benefit the Cuban people, Cuban Americans, and the United States. If administration officials take seriously the clearly expressed views of those three constituencies, they can only conclude that pursuing a policy of engagement is far more beneficial than returning to a failed policy of hostility that serves no one’s interests and no one wants.

US Congress

Cuban Congress

 

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