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U.S. – CUBAN RELATIONS ARE ABOUT TO GET WORSE

Ted Piccione, Brookings Institute, April 16, 2018.

Original Article: About to Get Worse

Ted Piccone  Senior Fellow – Foreign PolicyLatin America InitiativeProject on International Order and Strategy

The orchestrated presidential succession underway this week in Cuba, from Raúl Castro to his likely replacement Miguel Díaz-Canel, is prompting a new round of speculation about how the Trump administration should react to the long-awaited departure of the Castro brothers from power. Judging from the heated rhetoric between the U.S. and Cuban delegations at last week’s Summit of the Americas, relations are likely to go from bad to worse.

Shortly before the U.S. presidential election, candidate Donald Trump promised to “cancel” President Obama’s normalization policy. His administration made good on that promise last year with a number of measures rolling back key features of the incipient rapprochement. This included dire travel warnings, a dramatic 60 percent drawdown of U.S. embassy personnel in Havana, and the eviction of 17 staff from Cuba’s embassy in Washington last September in response to unexplained health incidents affecting U.S. diplomats.

These steps loudly signaled the return of Florida’s pro-embargo faction, led by Senator Marco Rubio, at the helm of U.S.-Cuba policy. Now, with the appointment of the more hardline John Bolton and Mike Pompeo to top national security positions, we should expect the White House to double down on its first year’s embrace of punitive regime change.

THE HANDCUFFS OF THE EMBARGO AND DOMESTIC POLITICS

Ever since the nearly six decades of hostilities between Havana and Washington began, the United States has been locked in a narrow band of policy options. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, the engine driving U.S. strategy remained a deep distrust of Cuba’s closed socialist system, fueled by the hundreds of thousands of nostalgic Cuban exiles concentrated in the swing state of Florida. Domestic politics prevails.

The rationale for tightening or loosening the comprehensive embargo established in the Kennedy administration has shifted, depending on the circumstances. The pivotal moment, however, was Congress’ decision to codify the embargo after the Cuban military shot down a plane piloted by Cuban exiles in 1996. This law—with its unilateral demands for the end of communist rule, the removal of the Castros from power, the establishment of free and fair elections, and full respect for human rights—severely handicapped any attempt by U.S. policymakers to adapt to changing circumstances, let alone construct an alternate route toward reconciliation and change.

 

Until the Obama administration. For a short period of two years, it forged a narrow path between a rock and a hard place, encompassing diplomatic recognition, bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest, continued U.S. support for the Cuban people’s claim for more political and economic freedom, and a call for Congress to lift the embargo. Obama took these steps after the Raúl Castro government adopted concrete actions toward reform such as reducing the size of the bloated public sector, opening new avenues for private sector entrepreneurs, and expanding personal liberties for Cubans to buy and sell property, access the internet, and travel on and off the island more freely. These mutually reinforcing dynamics contributed to a flourishing of Cuba’s non-state sector, which grew from a registered 150,000 self-employed workers in 2008 to 580,000 in 2017. Record numbers of Americans began seeing for themselves the realities of Cuban socialism, including thousands of Cuban Americans each year.

Whether or not one agrees with the Obama approach of constructive engagement, it took critics only a few months to declare it a bust for failing to force Cuba to adopt fundamental human rights and market economic reforms. This was, and remains, patently unrealistic. Some progress was made quickly: release of political prisoners; expanded cooperation on matters such as maritime security, drug trafficking, and counterterrorism; new commercial opportunities for American farmers and travel businesses; a significant drop in illegal immigration; and direct support to the Cuban private sector and religious communities.

Beyond these short-term gains, Obama’s strategic gambit was about laying the groundwork for long-term change, especially as a new generation of post-Castro leadership takes the helm this month. It was aimed at removing the Cuban government’s ability to paint the United States as its mortal enemy, a narrative it has used effectively for decades to consolidate its standing at home and around the world. It was also designed to build bridges for dialogue and reconciliation among Cubans on and off the island, which is at the heart of the problem, and triggered a flood of new exchanges and record levels of remittances to struggling Cuban families. Not surprisingly, large majorities in both countries applauded this new approach.

BOLTON, POMPEO, AND RUBIO

For the vocal constituency of Cuban exiles and their families, who bear bitter feelings toward the Castro regime, Obama’s March 2016 handshake with Raúl was sacrilege. They found, among the many Republicans who support their cause, a late convert in Donald Trump who, in the final stretch of his presidential campaign, hardened his position on Cuba, promising a crowd in Miami that he would reverse Obama’s executive orders “unless the Castro regime meets our demands.” The following June, surrounded by veterans of the failed Bay of Pigs operation in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana, President Trump delivered a theatrical rebuke of Obama’s opening toward Cuba and set in motion new rules to restrict individual travel and prohibit any dealings with Cuba’s leadership or military, police, and security officials and their business entities.

For Senator Rubio, the architect of Trump’s hardline approach toward Cuba, this tightening of the screws was not enough. The new rules, for example, allowed any previously negotiated business deals to remain intact, permitted air and cruise ship travel to continue, and kept Cuba off the state sponsors of terrorism list. (Obama’s authorization of unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban Americans, popular in Miami, notably went untouched.) When mysterious ailments affecting over 20 U.S. personnel were reported in the late summer of 2017, Rubio and his allies jumped on the opportunity to demand additional steps to punish the Cuban government for failing to prevent or explain the source of the incidents. Trump ordered diplomats in both countries to go home and issued severe travel warnings. The result: a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans visiting the island, and vice versa. This directly undermines the administration’s purported goal of supporting Cuba’s burgeoning private sector, which U.S. visitors help sustain.

Now, enter John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, stage right. Both have strongly criticized the Castro government and vociferously opposed Obama’s overtures to Havana. Bolton, who was roundly criticized in the 2000s for his unfounded allegation that Cuba was developing biological weapons, wroteas recently as January that “Russian meddling in Latin America could inspire Trump to reassert the Monroe Doctrine (another casualty of the Obama years) and stand up for Cuba’s beleaguered people (as he is now for Iran’s).” Given Russia’s expanding security and economic relationship with Havana, and the general hardening of U.S. policy toward Moscow, this is no longer an abstract notion. Bolton also doubted whether the Cuban regime can survive much longer, a perennial claim used to justify more punitive sanctions, despite Cuba’s ability to withstand five decades of the U.S. embargo, threats, attacks, and assassination attempts.

Pompeo, who initially endorsed Marco Rubio for president, was highly critical of Obama’s visit to the island in 2016 and defended retaining the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Although his Senate confirmation testimony on April 12 promised to improve relations with Cuba and rebuild diplomatic staff, Pompeo made no specific commitments on how or when this would occur.

We should expect a continued mind meld among these three key actors in the U.S.-Cuban drama. Senator Rubio, with colleagues from the Florida delegation, has already called on the White House to “denounce Castro’s successor as illegitimate in the absence of free, fair, and multiparty elections, and call upon the international community to support the right of the Cuban people to decide their future.” Rubio then traveled to the Summit of the Americas in Lima with Vice President Pence, who declared Cuba “a despotic regime” and blamed it for exporting its “failed ideology” to Venezuela and beyond. In response, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez harshly attacked both Pence and Rubio for decades of “U.S. imperialism,” denounced U.S. political corruption, and blamed the Miami “mafia” for hiding terrorists. Not surprisingly, the region remains divided on how to respond.

From a national security perspective, it is hard to understand why Cuba occupies so much high-level attention, given the much more serious security challenges Washington faces. Cuba can barely keep its armed forces trained and equipped, and is falling short on many economic and social fronts as well, prompting thousands of Cubans to vote with their feet every year and risk the perilous journey to the United States or elsewhere. The deterioration in relations also adds pressure on Cuba to turn to Moscow and Beijing for more help, a prospect that directly runs counter to U.S. interests.

In the end, what matters most to this administration is the power many of those same Cubans wield by supporting politicians who want the total collapse of the Cuban regime. The Bolton-Pompeo-Rubio triangle, hand in hand with Trump and Pence, will gladly meet their needs, and then some.

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CUATRO CLAVES DEL CAMBIO PRESIDENCIAL EN CUBA

Esglobal. 19 marzo 2018 

 Arturo López-Levy

 Articulo original: Cambio presidencial en Cuba

El vicepresidente cubano, Miguel Díaz-Canel y el presidente de Cuba, Raúl Castro,

La trascendencia del actual momento político para la isla en cuatro dimensiones: la transición generacional, la llegada de un civil a la presidencia, la separación de las cabezas del partido comunista y el gobierno, y los cambios en las élites cubanas.

El próximo abril se producirá la primera transición intergeneracional presidencial en el sistema político cubano posterior a la revolución de 1959. Raúl Castro, quien ascendió a la presidencia de Cuba con carácter temporal tras la enfermedad de su hermano Fidel Castro en 2006, y con su propio mandato, dos años más tarde, ha dirigido una transformación remarcable de la economía y la política de la isla. Deja un legado inconcluso a su sucesor. Pocas transiciones de liderazgo en la historia de América Latina y los países comunistas han sido tan cuidadosamente diseñadas. Desde ahora hasta el próximo octavo congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) en 2021 corresponderá observar cuán hábil es la elite cubana para ejecutarla.

¿Es esta sucesión presidencial algo más que un cambio de personal? ¿Cómo difiere este traspaso de poder del anterior de Fidel a Raúl Castro en 2006? ¿Qué implicaciones tiene para la política cubana y el curso de las reformas? ¿Se puede esperar algún cambio sistémico como resultado del reemplazo del octogenario Raúl Castro por un líder cercano a los 58 años? Este artículo discute la trascendencia del cambio presidencial cubano que se avecina en cuatro dimensiones: la transición generacional, el primer ascenso de un civil a la presidencia desde 1976, la primera separación de las cabezas del PCC y el gobierno en el sistema político postrevolucionario, y la circulación de las redes de influencia y patronazgo al interior de las elites cubanas como resultado de la llegada al Ejecutivo de un nuevo equipo.

El cambio generacional. En su libro Political Order in Changing Societies, el politólogo estadounidense Samuel Huntington definió el traspaso intergeneracional del poder como la prueba última de la capacidad de un orden político de reproducirse. Ese es el reto mayor del paso de la presidencia del liderazgo que llevó a las guerrillas castristas al poder en 1959 a otras generaciones, nacidas dentro del sistema político desovado por la revolución cubana. Las nuevas elites postrevolucionarias comparten valores nacionalistas con sus antecesores pero han estructurado sus convicciones, intereses, valores y privilegios en torno a experiencias distintas en las últimas seis décadas.

El castrismo original se forjó en la guerra revolucionaria y la toma autónoma de posiciones en torno a la decisión fidelista de adoptar el comunismo como ideología garantizadora del triunfo nacionalista contra la hostilidad estadounidense. Sus herederos han ascendido al poder, no contestando ni compitiendo contra el poder establecido, sino por su lealtad, obediencia y capacidad burocrática para implementar las políticas que los hoy octogenarios les dictaron. En algún momento de la próxima década, esa nueva generación tendrá que abrir su propio debate, no en términos de lo que hubiesen querido Fidel Castro o Che Guevara, sino sobre las políticas óptimas para lidiar con realidades muy distintas a las de la Guerra Fría que sus padrinos ideológicos enfrentaron.

Algunos de los nuevos líderes han combinado distintas funciones a lo largo y ancho del sistema (dirigentes de la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas (UJC), primeros secretarios del PCC en diferentes provincias, miembros de su secretariado, jefes o segundos jefes de departamentos en el Comité Central, ministros en varias carteras o secretarios en los consejos de Estado y de ministros, militares de diverso rango).  Tal multiplicidad de roles y el papel tutelar ejercido en la promoción de otros dirigentes hoy en niveles intermedios, le confiere a esos burócratas una base política más allá de una o dos instituciones específicas. Sin embargo, ninguno de ellos, incluido Díaz-Canel, quien es el mejor situado por su variada trayectoria institucional y geográfica, tiene una penetración social, prestigio y base de poder equivalente a sus predecesores Fidel y Raúl Castro. Por tanto, nadie en las nuevas generaciones de líderes puede aspirar a una presidencia con el mando que los hermanos Castro usaron.

A partir de esa realidad, se aventura el reto de la consolidación de un liderazgo colectivo, ya ensayado en la etapa raulista. Es en esa nueva institucionalidad postotalitaria, con pluralismo burocrático,  menor movilización de masas y un leninismo menos rígido donde descansa la probabilidad realista de una acentuación de las reformas. El nuevo presidente necesitará una gestión colegiada, sensible a la discusión de políticas públicas entre personalidades o facciones dentro de la elite partidista. El cambio de políticas públicas se relaciona no solo con el relevo generacional sino también con el fin inevitable del modelo carismático de “Fidel al timón”, reformado pero no abandonado del todo en la presidencia de su hermano menor.

La política cubana del último lustro anticipa al ingeniero Miguel Díaz-Canel como el probable presidente cubano después de abril. Las evidencias de su trayectoria política, como zar provincial partidista en Villa Clara y Holguín, o su paso por el ministerio de Educación superior y la primera vicepresidencia, perfilan a Díaz-Canel como un modernizador dentro de los cánones leninistas del sistema vigente.  El balance de poder que hereda, con Raúl Castro como actor de veto desde su permanencia en la primera secretaria del PCC hasta 2021 y mientras viva por su rol revolucionario fundador del PCC y las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR), la hostilidad anticipada por Estados Unidos bajo Donald Trump y los propios intereses de elite que representa, empujan a Díaz-Canel a la cautela.  En la escala de James MacGregor Burns es de esperar un líder transaccional. A diferencia de uno transformador, estos líderes coordinan soluciones incrementales a los problemas, pero no se propone una transformación sistémica.

 Un civil a la presidencia. La transición anuncia el ascenso de un civil a la primera magistratura.  Es una movida simbólica hacia el ideal republicano de subordinación del fuero militar a las autoridades elegidas. Sin experiencia notable ni una base de poder en las FAR, Díaz-Canel como nuevo presidente de Cuba dependerá  del respaldo de Raúl Castro y de la legitimidad institucional que la presidencia le confiere.

Díaz-Canel no es ajeno al poder de los cuerpos castrenses pero no viene de sus filas. Después de graduarse en la Universidad Central de las Villas,  el actual primer vicepresidente sirvió por dos años como teniente en los cuerpos armados. En su condición de primer secretario del PCC, Díaz-Canel sirvió como presidente del consejo de defensa provincial en Villa Clara y Holguín. Desde allí interactuó con el alto mando en dos regiones militares de las tres en las que está dividida Cuba, el Ejército Central, con sede en Matanzas, y el Ejército Oriental, llamado también el “señor ejército”, con sede en Holguín. El tiempo que sirvió en las dos provincias, su liderazgo partidista coincidió tanto con los generales Espinosa Martín y Quinta Sola, hoy en el alto mando nacional, como con sus relevos, y hoy jefes de Ejército, los generales Onelio Aguilera Bermúdez y Raúl Rodríguez Lobaina, a medio camino entre su generación y la de los fundadores.

Esos contactos mitigan pero no resuelven el déficit de previo control de la maquinaria de seguridad nacional, asiento hoy del  poder último en el sistema político cubano, que adolecerá el nuevo presidente. En el caso de los hermanos Castro existía una jerarquía establecida tanto sobre el PCC como sobre las FAR y el ministerio del Interior. Díaz-Canel será como “un primero entre iguales”. Tendrá que afianzar su liderazgo institucional encabezando el PCC y contar con que Raúl Castro juegue un papel estabilizador, de respaldo a la autoridad nominal del Partido sobre las FAR. El próximo paso, si se trata de apostar por un líder en la cúspide que empuje la reforma, es lograr que el octavo congreso del PCC elija a Díaz-Canel su primer secretario.

Ese camino a la concentración de poder en una sola persona como garante de la supervivencia del sistema parece contradictorio a los casos exitosos de sobrevivencia socialista en el este de Asia con liderazgo colectivo y el contra-ejemplo de poder desmontador desde el centro exhibido por Mijaíl Gorbachov en la URSS.

 Separación de funciones del PCC y el Estado cubano. Después del traspaso de la presidencia, Raúl Castro puede permanecer al frente del PCC hasta su octavo congreso en 2021. Tal dinámica abre un interinato en el que por primera vez desde la adopción de la Constitución de 1976 se separan la autoridad presidencial en el consejo de Estado y de ministros del máximo liderazgo del PCC. Se abre la interrogante si tal situación puede contribuir a clarificar institucionalmente las funciones, contrapesos y controles entre el gobierno y el partido.

Una variante institucional sería una enmienda al artículo 74 de la Constitución de 1976, separando la presidencia de los consejos de estado y de ministros. Tal cambio podría permitir que el presidente del Estado y la primera secretaria del PCC se mantengan en una persona, mientras la presidencia del gobierno, y por ende la responsabilidad en la promoción diaria de la reforma se ubique en un primer ministro, a la manera china. Una diferencia importante es que en el caso cubano, Díaz-Canel tomaría las riendas del Estado primero que las del partido comunista, cuando en el gigante asiático ha ocurrido desde 1989 en un orden reverso.

Queda por ver si la separación entre la presidencia y el liderazgo del PCC puede estructurar una victoria sobre el último obstáculo a una transición intergeneracional suave: el retiro por edad o límites de términos de mandato del grupo octogenario que ha acompañado a los Castro en toda su vida política. Esa gerontocracia, empezando por Machado Ventura y Ramiro Valdés,  ha mostrado un apego por las “mieles del poder”-para usar la expresión fidelista– sin parangón en la historia cubana. Si Raúl Castro no los retira, continuarán obstaculizando la implementación de reformas urgentes.

 La recirculación de las elites. La llegada de un nuevo equipo a los niveles superiores del gobierno, y eventualmente del PCC en 2021, implica una circulación de las redes de tutela y promoción ejercidos por los máximos líderes gubernamentales  sobre grupos y personalidades subalternas dentro del Estado-partido. Al cambiar esas personalidades, por lógica humana, habrá quien tenía más acceso a Fidel y Raúl Castro, que no lo tendrá a Díaz-Canel y el equipo que lo acompaña.

Este cambio en la distribución de influencias a partir de la transición presidencial es de los más opacos, pero a la vez más importante en áreas como la respuesta ante el avance de la corrupción. El unipartidismo cubano no se estructura a partir de un pluralismo de camarillas o facciones al estilo de partidos dominantes como el PRI y el Kuomintang. Como es casi imposible develar los datos claves de esas redes informales de patronazgo al interior de las elites cubanas, me limito a plantear preguntas y aventurar algunos hechos y tendencias.

¿A qué grupos o redes sociales de influencia política favorecerá el ascenso de Díaz-Canel y el equipo que apunta a tomar las riendas del Estado cubano? ¿Qué es lo que esos grupos quieren? ¿Cuáles son sus valores e intereses? ¿Qué lugar en su jerarquía de preocupaciones tienen la defensa de los privilegios monopólicos de grupos corporativos estatales como GAESA, CIMEX o Cubanacan frente a otras metas como la protección de los consumidores cubanos? ¿Qué poderes preservarán los que se retiran y sus protegidos? ¿Aligeraran o aumentaran el fardo fiscal y político de la actual situación de reforma parcial y gradualismo excesivo?

Las preferencias de tres grupos dentro de la política cubana han prevalecido en las dinámicas institucionales post Fidel: los zares provinciales partidistas, el alto mando militar y los gerentes del nuevo sector corporativo. El haber ascendido paso por paso en la economía política del sistema cubana debe servirle a Díaz-Canel para identificar a quienes, dentro de esos generales, gerentes y dirigentes partidistas, debe atraer a su lado, o por lo menos no cruzarse en su camino. Una importante decisión política para el nuevo equipo es presentar muchos de los retos de la transición económica e inserción en un mundo global (acceso a Internet, por ejemplo) no como amenazas sino como oportunidades.

Por último, sería un error fatal concebir la política cubana como un juego de elites. Las reformas de Raúl Castro han provocado cambios relevantes en la sociedad cubana y en su relación con el Estado. Las expansiones de las libertades religiosas y de viaje, el derecho a tener propiedad privada y el acceso incremental a Internet han desatado dinámicas de empoderamiento y pluralización en la sociedad que no son reversibles. Sin la retórica mágica de Fidel Castro ni la legitimidad de fundador del proceso que ha gozado Raúl Castro, el nuevo equipo de gobierno está forzado a mostrar un desempeño eficaz en promover desarrollo económico y bienestar.

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FINALLY, AN LNG PROJECT FOR CUBA?


By Jorge R. Piñón, Director, Institutional Relations – Mexico, The Office of the Vice President for Research, The University of Texas at Austin.

Personal Communication, 16 April 2018

Is an LNG Floating Storage and Regasification (FSRU) unit in Cuba’s energy future?

Industry press reports indicate that France’s Total is looking at a LNG Floating Storage and Regasification (FSRU) unit able to supply a 600MW power plant in Matanzas, Cuba.

FSRU’s are former LNG carriers capable of transporting, storing, and regasifying LNG onboard and deliver natural gas to on-shore power plants.  They typically cost about 50-60% less than a land based facility.  There are today over 100 FSRU projects in operation, construction or in various stages of development throughout the world; including in the Caribbean –Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

This could be a LNG supply agreement for a reported October 2015 Russia’s Inter RAO $1.4b usd deal with Cuba’s EnergoImport to install four 200 MW power plant units; three (600MW) in the Santa Cruz del Norte power plant and one (200MW) in Mariel.  The Santa Cruz del Norte power plant is 52 kilometers east of the deep-water Matanzas crude oil terminal.  The Inter RAO project financing is reported to be provided by a Russian 4.5 percent interest ten year loan.

France’s Total has been active in Cuba since 1993 in partnership with CUPET (ELF Gas Cuba S.A.) as a distributor of liquid propane and butane (LPG) bottles in Santiago de Cuba, used as home cooking fuel.

Total has two major LNG projects;

  • Russia’s Yamal LNG (20%), one of the largest and most complex LNG projects in the world, where in partnership with Russia’s Novatek and China’s CNPC is developing the enormous South Tambey gas and condensate field.
  • Ichthys LNG project (30%) in partnership with Japan’s INPEX is developing large natural gas and condensate reserves found in deep waters off Australia’s northwest coast.

If the report is correct this could be the best strategic long term decision that the Cuban government has ever made toward a comprehensive National Energy Policy that would allow it to react to changes in price, geopolitical events and or supply-demand disruptions.

A clear road map could finally be emerging toward a balanced energy matrix of renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass; and cleaner burning natural gas (compared to high sulfur fuel oil) for base-load generation, which still would represent 76% of its 2030 energy matrix.

LNG to the FSRU could be supplied from T&T, West Africa or eventually from the U.S….even through Mexico from Altamira.

As far back as 2010 we have been advocating in support of LNG as a fuel for Cuba’s based load needs: https://www.cubastandard.com/?p=3048, and in 2013 in Havana, during the IV Congreso Cubano De Petróleo Y Gas (Petrogas’2013): http://www.cubacienciasdelatierra.com/PROGRAMA

Whether it becomes a reality or another Cuban “pipe dream” we will have to wait and see.

Saludos, Jorge

 

LIQUID NATURAL GAS IS KEY TO CUBA’S ENERGY PLANS

By Jorge Piñón

Cuba Standard, Friday, October 29th, 2010

Cuba produces today approximately 1.155 million m³ of associated natural gas per year, an increase of 55 percent from 2005 levels of .743 million m³. Cuba’s natural gas production is all associated natural gas found within the crude oil reservoirs. The island’s geology to date has not proven to be a major source of dry, non associated natural gas reservoirs.

Associated natural gas production is being used as fuel for onsite power generating plants of 400 mw total capacity owned and operated by Energas, a joint venture between Canada’s Sherritt and Cuba’s Cupet and Unión Eléctrica.

A LNG re-gasification facility to receive Venezuelan-sourced LNG is currently being planned for the southern coast port city of Cienfuegos by CuvenPetrol, a joint venture between Venezuela’s PdVSA (51%) and Cuba’s Cupet (49%). Two 1-million-ton re-gasification trains are planned for 2012 at a cost of over $400 million.  The natural gas is destined as fuel for that city’s thermoelectric power plant, and as a feedstock (hydrogen) for the Cienfuegos refinery and future petrochemical/fertilizer plants.

Liquefied Natural Gas 

LNG is natural gas that has been super cooled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 162 degrees Celsius). At this temperature, natural gas condenses into a liquid taking up to 600 times less space than in its gaseous state, which makes it feasible to transport over long distances.

The chilled natural gas, now LNG, is then loaded onto specially designed tankers where it will be kept chilled until it reaches its final destination. The typical LNG carrier can transport about 125,000-138,000 cubic meters of LNG.

Once the tanker arrives at the regasification terminal, the LNG is offloaded into large storage tanks, built with full-containment walls and systems to keep the LNG cold until it is turned back into a gaseous state and moved into pipelines which will deliver the natural gas to the various end-users.

Venezuela

It is estimated that Venezuela has 176 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven natural gas reserves the second largest in the Western hemisphere behind the United States. Venezuela’s PdVSA plans to build three liquefaction trains at the Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho natural gas complex in Guiria. The project would source gas from the Plataforma Deltana and Mariscal Sucre natural gas projects. Total investment in the three projects could approach $20 billion, with first exports by 2013.

Atlantic Basin LNG exporters such as Trinidad and Tobago (the only country in Latin America with liquefaction facilities), Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Algeria and possibly Angola could supply Cuba with LNG if Venezuela’s supplies are not available at the time of the completion of the Cienfuegos facility.

Cuba’s neighbors, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are the only other Caribbean countries with LNG regasification facilities.

Environment

Natural gas, as the cleanest of the fossil fuels, emits fewer harmful pollutants, and helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury.

Smog and poor air quality is a pressing environmental challenge in Cuba where high-sulfur (3%) crude oil and fuel oil are burned as electric power plant and industrial fuel for the cement, nickel and steel industries. In 2009, high-sulphur fuel oil accounted for 64 percent of Cuba’s petroleum consumption.

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos is fast becoming Cuba’s oil refining and petrochemical center.

The CuvenPetrol refinery is in the process of a $3 billion expansion project which would double its processing capacity to 150,000 barrels per day as well as improving the quality of its refined products production.

The Carlos Manuel de Cespedes electric power plant in Cienfuegos is already in the middle of an upgrading and revamping project which will allow her to burn natural gas in its 158 mw generating capacity unit number 3.

Natural gas will provide fuel to the refinery as well as hydrogen for the upgrading units scheduled to be completed by 2013. Natural gas will also be used as a feedstock for a planned $1.3 billion petrochemical complex which will include ammonia and urea producing facilities which will provide Cuba with much needed fertilizers for its agricultural sector.

All seems to indicate that Cuba is moving forward toward an energy policy which embraces energy conservation, modernization of the energy infrastructure and a balance sourcing of oil and natural gas in a way that protects the island’s environment.

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LATIN AMERICA LEADERS URGE SUMMIT PARTICIPANTS TO REJECT CUBA’S NEXT HANDPICKED RULER

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

Miami Herals, April 11, 2018 06:05 PM

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

LIMA, PERU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RAÚL CASTRO’S UNFINISHED LEGACY IN CUBA

BY WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE | APRIL 9, 2018

CASTRO’S ATTEMPTS AT REFORM REMAIN UNFULFILLED. WHAT CAN CUBANS EXPECT FROM HIS SUCCESSOR?

 Original Article: Raúl’s Unfinished Legacy

 Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel,

This month, Cuba’s Raúl Castro will leave office at the end of his second term as president, having set in motion changes to the island’s economy, politics and social relations more sweeping than any since the revolution in 1959. As he steps down after a decade at the helm, those changes are still a work in progress. The far-reaching economic reforms he launched in 2011 are at best half-finished and the pace of change has slowed. His efforts to strengthen Cuba’s political institutions are about to face the stress test of a generational leadership transition. And the Cuban public is clamoring for a better life and a greater voice. Will Miguel Díaz-Canel, Raúl’s likely successor, be able to carry these changes through to completion?

Throughout Fidel Castro’s 57 years as Cuba’s líder máximo, Raúl was second in command, in the shadow of his charismatic sibling. But behind the scenes, he proved to be an effective manager, turning the rag-tag Rebel Army into the most effective and respected institution in the country. Cuba’s armed forces scored impressive victories in Africa, and then took on domestic economic responsibilities with an efficiency that surpassed most civilian enterprises.

Raúl recognized the inherent shortcomings of the hyper-centralized socialism Cuba adopted from the Soviet Union. As armed forces minister, he mandated the use of market-oriented business practices in the military enterprises under his command and sent officers abroad to business school. When the collapse of the Soviet Union threw Cuba into deep recession, Raúl pushed for the pragmatic use of market mechanisms to jump-start the economy. He overcame Fidel’s reluctance by framing economic recovery as a matter of national security, declaring, “Beans are more important than cannons.”

Updating the economy

Within months of assuming office as acting president in 2006, Raúl let loose a blistering attack on economic inefficiency. “We are tired of excuses,” he told the National Assembly that December. “No one, no individual or country, can afford to spend more than what they have,” he said repeatedly.

The drumbeat of criticism foreshadowed his most ambitious and potentially transformative initiative, the updating of Cuba’s economy. The reforms sought to transform the economy by unleashing market forces, demanding that state enterprises make a profit or close, promoting a significant private and cooperative sector, and welcoming foreign direct investment (FDI) to stimulate growth. The goal: a model of socialism that combined the efficiency and productivity of markets with the social benefits of free health care and education, and minimized inequality.

The reform process has been slow going. As of 2016, only 21 percent of the 313 reforms adopted in 2011 had been completed. Subsidies to failing state enterprises still consume some 20 percent of the state budget – almost as much education. After a period of rapid growth during which the number of registered private sector businesses expanded five-fold, new state regulationsrecently reined them in. While Cuban officials aspire to attract $2.5 billion annually in FDI, they are still well short of the goal. Progress has been slowed by officials who fear the reforms represent a slippery slope toward capitalism, not to mention a threat to their own job security.

State-building

On the political front, Raúl’s changes have been less dramatic, but equally important for the system’s sustainability. Fidel chaffed at the restrictions formal institutions imposed on his political instincts and impromptu decision-making. Raúl has moved Cuba away from a system built around the charismatic and unquestioned authority of the líder máximo to one that relies increasingly on the strength of institutions and collective decision-making. “It is vitally necessary to reinforce the country’s institutions,” he told the Communist Party’s Central Committee in 2008. Only strong institutions could “ensure the continuity of the Revolution when its historic leaders are gone.”

A central tenet of this project has been to fill leadership positions with people who have proven track records of achievement, rather than following Fidel’s penchant for elevating young, inexperienced protégés who quickly crashed and burned – people Raúl mocked as “test tube leaders.” Miguel Díaz-Canel, Raúl’s likely successor, has a decades-long record of effective leadership within the Communist Party and government at both the provincial and national levels.

To underscore the idea that no one is indispensable, Raúl proposed term limits of no more than two five-year terms for all senior party and government posts. When aging leaders stay in power too long, the results are “never positive,” he observed, pointing to the gerontocracy than ran the Soviet Union into the ground. He set the example himself, declaring in 2013 that he would step down in 2018 at the end of his second term.

Raúl also established a more collective leadership style, inviting debate and seeking to build consensus on major issues. In fact, he may have been collegial to a fault, allowing skeptics to slow the implementation of the economic reforms.

Lacking Raúl’s authority as one of the historic leaders of the revolution, Díaz-Canel will most likely have to give even greater deference to the views of others in the leadership, making it tougher to come to decisions on contentious issues.

The expanding public sphere

For someone who spent most of his life running Cuba’s national security apparatus, and battling U.S. efforts to create a fifth column of internal opposition, Raúl has presided over a significant expansion of personal liberty and access to information that has spilled over into political expression. In his inaugural speech as president, Raúl pledged to do away with the “excess of prohibitions and regulations” through which the state controlled a wide range of social interactions. He legalized personal cell phones and computers. He allowed people to sell their cars and houses without going through the state. He repealed the prohibition on Cubans staying in tourist hotels, and abolished the tarjeta blanca exit permit required every time a Cuban wanted to travel abroad.

In 1961, Fidel defined cultural policy as, “Within the revolution, everything. Against the revolution, nothing.” During Raúl’s presidency, the boundaries of what is “within the revolution” have expanded, allowing more space for critical cultural expression, often with political overtones. The expansion of internet connectivity has given Cubans access to a world of information, with only a few dozen sites blocked by censors. Cuban blogs, discussion forums and independent news services have flourished, initiating vigorous online debates on a wide range of issues.

Some senior Cuban officials have voiced concerns that expanded Internet access poses political risks, especially since the United States has repeatedly tried to use it as a means of waging information warfare. Just two months ago, the Trump administration formed a Cuba Internet Task Force as part of its policy to undermine the Cuban government. Nevertheless, Cuban leaders understand that connectivity is a prerequisite for building a 21st Century economy, despite the risk.

The state still represses small dissident groups that advocate overturning Cuba’s socialist system. Instead of the long prison terms meted out during Fidel Castro’s days, however, the state’s current strategy is harassment and disruption. When dissidents try to meet or demonstrate, they are arrested, held for a few hours, and then released.

Díaz-Canel’s attitude toward critics is uncertain. In 2013, he publicly defended a group of students whose critical blog was banned by a university administration. In February 2017, however, he gave a speech to a closed Communist Party meeting attacking prominent online critics as counter-revolutionary. At the very least, that speech signals the continuing influence of party leaders intolerant of critical expression.

The Washington roller coaster

For the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, it appeared that normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba would be one of Obama’s and Raúl’s most important legacies. After December 17, 2014, when the two presidents made simultaneous television broadcasts announcing they had decided to re-establish diplomatic relations, their governments made rapid diplomatic progress, reopening embassies and signing two dozen bilateral agreements. The number of U.S. visitors to Cuba more than doubled and U.S. businesses lined up to sign commercial deals with Havana.

But President Donald Trump’s announcement in June 2017 that he was canceling Obama’s policy of engagement has cast doubt on the permanence of the new relationship. Last October, the administration used unexplained injuries suffered by U.S. government personnel in Havana as an excuse to reduce staffing at the embassy so dramatically that it can barely function. Then the administration expelled an equal number of Cuban diplomats from Washington.

For Raúl, the decision to normalize relations was driven by economic imperatives. In the past two decades, tourism has become a pillar of Cuba’s domestic economy, and no country sends more tourists to the Caribbean than the United States. Likewise, Cuba needs $2.5 billion a year in FDI to sustain a decent rate of growth, and no country sends more FDI to the Caribbean than the United States.

But Raúl’s decision was not without risk. From the outset, others in the leadership had doubts about the wisdom of it. Suspicious of U.S. intentions, they worried that defending the revolution from Obama’s soft power might be harder than defending it against open hostility. Those worries went public after Obama’s trip to Cuba in March 2016, when Fidel wrote a critical article for Granma, giving political cover for others to articulate an even tougher line against engagement.

The Trump administration’s hostility reinforces Cuban conservatives who argued from the beginning that Washington could not be trusted. That, in turn, makes it harder for the next Cuban president – and the next U.S. president – to get normalization back on track.

Unfinished business

The timely and constitutionally prescribed succession of leaders signals the institutional strength of the Cuban regime. That said, Díaz-Canel inherits a formidable agenda of tough issues: fundamental economic changes that are desperately needed but still incomplete, a rapidly evolving public sphere in which Cubans are better informed and more outspoken but have few ways to hold leaders accountable, and an uncertain relationship with Washington that is likely to get worse before it gets better.

If Díaz-Canel can successfully carry through to completion the transformations Raúl began, Raúl will be remembered as Cuba’s Deng Xiaoping – the revolutionary Chinese founder who achieved détente with the United States and began the transition from a failed centrally planned socialism to an economically viable market socialism. But if relations with Washington remain mired in animosity and the economic reforms fail, Raúl will be remembered as just one more reform communist who could not force the system to change despite his best efforts.

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).

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CUBA’S COMMUNIST PARTY ADMITS ERRORS, SLOWDOWN IN REFORMS

HAVANA (Reuters) MARCH 27, 2018

Sarah Marsh

 

Cuba’s Communist Party admitted a slowdown and errors in its implementation of Raul Castro’s market-style reforms, just weeks before he steps down from the presidency, but vowed to continue updating the Soviet-style command economy.

The party central committee held a plenary session to discuss the state of reforms undertaken during Castro’s 10-year presidential mandate to open up the ailing economy and give the private sector and foreign investment greater roles. Castro, who steps down as president on April 19, presided over the plenary which took place this week. The 86-year old will remain head of the party, the country’s guiding political force, until 2021.

“Despite the errors and insufficiencies recognized in this plenary, the situation is more favorable than a few years ago,” Castro, 86, was quoted as saying by party newspaper Granma.

Reforms were implemented swiftly in the first three years since being agreed in 2011, the head of the party’s reform commission Marino Murillo was cited as saying.

The number of self-employed workers in the Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million residents has more than tripled to around 580,000 workers.

But implementation has slowed in the last two years due to the complexity of the process, mistakes in oversight, a lack of financial backing and low engagement of the bureaucracy, Murillo said. The party was also deliberately implementing reforms slowly to ensure they would not marginalize anyone.

The government last year froze the issuance of licenses for an important set of private sector activities as it sought to root out malpractices such as purchases on the black market and to improve regulation.

The 142-member central committee discussed the lack of a fiscal culture and accountancy tools to make a serious economic analysis in Cuba as well as difficulties communicating the complex process.

Many Cubans, whose expectations were raised by Castro’s reforms, have felt frustrated by the slowdown that they believe means Havana is not truly committed to updating the economy.

The government said late last year, for example, it would limit licenses to one per person going forwards – a move that could limit Cubans’ entrepreneurial ambitions.  Yet it did not address key private sector concerns like the lack of a wholesale market or ability to import or export.

Havana has also backtracked on reforms in the key agricultural sector over the last few years, once more assigning resources, setting prices and controlling most distribution.

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IS CUBA’S ECONOMY READY FOR THE 2018 LEADERSHIP TRANSITION?

Pavel Vidal Professor, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Cali

CUBA STUDY GROUP, February 2018

Complete Article, English:  Pavel_Is Cuba’s Economy Ready English

Complete Article, Spanish:  Pavel En qué condicion llega la economia cubana a la transicion generacional

Introduction

Cuba has changed considerably in these last ten years of economic reforms, though not enough. Family income, tourist services, food production, restaurants, and transportation depend less on the state and much more on private initiative. The real estate market, sales of diverse consumer goods and services, and the supply of inputs for the private sector have all expanded, in formal and informal markets. Foreign investment stands out as a fundamental factor in Cuba’s development. The country has achieved important advances in the renegotiation of its external debts.

Nevertheless, many other announced changes were defeated by internal resistance, half-heartedly implemented, or put in place in ways that replicated mistakes of the past. The bureaucratic and inefficient state enterprise sector, tied down by low salaries and a strict central plan, impedes economic progress. Cuba’s advantages in education and human capital continue to be underexploited. Neither has the international environment provided much help. The U.S. trade embargo remains in place, the Trump administration has returned to the old and failed rhetoric of past U.S. policies, and Cuba continues to depend on a Venezuelan economy that does not yet seem to have hit rock bottom.

As a consequence, the growth of GDP and productivity has been disappointing, agricultural reform has produced few positive results, and Cuba is once again drowning in a financial crisis. The reforms implemented to date did not create sufficient quality jobs, and, all told, half a million formal positions were eliminated from the labor market.

The second half of 2017 proved especially challenging due to the impacts of Hurricane Irma and new restrictive measures announced by the U.S. government. To these difficulties one must add the decision of the Cuban government to freeze (temporarily) the issuance of licenses to the private sector.

Even so, the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) reported that the economy has not fallen into recession. There are reasons to doubt these statistics, however. Such doubts only multiply when we take into consideration the decision to delay, or altogether avoid, the publication of reports on individual sectors of the economy and the state of the national accounts. For 2018, the government has proposed a rather optimistic economic growth plan (2% increase in GDP) that once again does not appear to appropriately evaluate the complexity of Cuba’s macro-financial environment.

Three highly significant events are anticipated this year: the generational transition within the government, new norms for the private sector, and the beginning of the currency reform process. These three issues have raised expectations on the island, but each may be tackled in a disappointing fashion.

…………………………………..

Conclusions:

Two Other Changes that Could Disappoint A generational transition in the Cuban government will take place on April 19, 2018. Beyond indications that Miguel Díaz-Canel will be the future president, there are no signals as to who will be vice president or who will direct principal ministries such as the Ministry of the Economy or the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Nor do we know where politicians of the “historic generation” will end up.

The new government will want to demonstrate continuity with the former in order to assure its position with various spheres of political power. It appears that the new government will not have its own economic agenda. We can expect that documents approved by recent Congresses of the Cuban Communist Party—which define the limits of reform, the desired development strategy, and the social and economic model to which Cuba aspires—will continue to serve as economic policy guides.

Whatever the composition of the incoming government, in the short term, Cuba’s new leaders will need to convince other state actors that they have the authority and will to, first, achieve the objectives laid out in the “Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy” (Lineamientos), and then deepen the process of reform, overcoming internal forces resistant to change. The new government will thus have to carefully assess the political costs and benefits of implementing reforms to different degrees and at varying speeds, but it will start with low initial political capital due to less popular recognition and a lack of historic legitimacy. Cuba’s new leaders, moreover, must confront these challenges at a time of renewed conflict with the U.S. government. The task is by no means easy, and we will have to wait to see how they handle it.

Another change we can expect this year is the publication of new rules governing the operations of the private sector, and thus unfreezing the issuance of licenses. A greater degree of control over tax payments, as well as efforts to more strongly “bank” the sector, appear to be two basic objectives of the forthcoming rules.

It is very important that the private sector contribute to the Treasury in proportion to its earnings. This is impossible to guarantee if private sector operations are not registered in banks. An effective and progressive tax system provides net dividends to all. The state budget would benefit, exorbitant gaps in income distribution could be avoided, and the societal image of the private sector would be improved. It will be much easier to defeat political and ideological resistance to expansion of the private sector when its income also serves to finance expenses in education and healthcare, and when individual contributions are in line with variable levels of income.

We still do not know if the new rules for the private sector will focus only on fiscal and banking control, or if new policies will address some of the many complaints that the private sector itself has made—high tax rates, the struggle to obtain inputs, and the difficulty of linking operations to foreign trade, for example. A draft of the rules that has circulated does not contain answers to these problems, but rather suggests a focus primarily on more control and penalization.6 If the rules that are ultimately implemented do not differ much from what appears in this draft, depleted prospects for the private sector will be the first disappointment Cubans face in 2018.

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EL PAQUETE: CUBA’S UNDERGROUND NETWORK IS LIKE NETFLIX AND SPOTIFY, WITHOUT THE INTERNET

“Quartz Obsession”

March 16, 2018 at 3:46:38 PM

Cuba has one of the lowest rates of internet usage in the Western Hemisphere, and access to media is strictly restricted—but that doesn’t stop Cubans from watching Game of Thrones. Their secret is El Paquete Semanal (“The Weekly Packet”), a clandestine in-person file-sharing network that distributes hard drives and flash drives full of media.

Nobody quite knows how El Paquete, which has thrived since the mid-2000s, is created or how it makes its way across the country every week. But Cubans have come to rely on the pervasive distribution of music, TV, and movies—not to mention pirated software and e-commerce platforms.

Ultimately, the uniquely Cuban tech phenomenon is proof that just like life in Jurassic Park, information always finds a way—especially when you’re jonesing for the latest episode of a subtitled South Korean soap opera and the closest open internet is an ocean away.

BY THE DIGITS

  • 5.6%: Cuban households with dial-up connections, at speeds of 4–5 kB/s
  • 386%: Cost of household internet service in Cuba as a percentage of per capita GDP
  • 0.007%: Cuban broadband internet penetration (8,157 connections for 11 million people)
  • 2018: Year the Cuban government has promised to offer mobile internet service
  • $2: Cost per hour of public Wi-Fi hotspot access, equivalent to 10% of the average monthly salary
  • $3: Estimated cost of one week’s Paquete, accessed on a Monday
  • $1: Estimated cost on a Wednesday

 

How does it work?

There are a lot of question marks about El Paquete—more accurately, Los Paquetes, as there are reportedly several versions—but this much is clear: At the end of each week, its creator(s) compile the most in-demand media of the week—roughly 15,000 to 180,000 files, 1 terabyte in total. The provenance is murky, but the most likely source is a mix of illicit broadband internet access, secret satellite dishes, and hard drives and flash drives smuggled in from overseas.

From there, it’s top-down distribution. A network of Paquete wholesalers (many based in street-level phone repair and DVD shops) copy the contents onto their own hard drives and flash drives, which are then copied many more times. The last links are the door-to-door Paquete delivery guys, who will bring it to individual residences, copying over select files or the entire thing to customers.

The network is based in the capital Havana, but El Paquete also makes its way to most Cuban towns, with a noticeable time lag. El Paquete is most expensive early in the week; by Thursday or so, prices will have dropped by 50% or more.

 The kingpins of El Paquete

Former engineering student Elio Hector Lopez is one of the people credited with starting El Paquete around 2006, where it built on longstanding clandestine networks used to distribute physical media like books, videotapes, CDs, and DVDs.

“At the beginning we saw this as a way to make money—but after having penetrated the entire country we see it more as a responsibility,” he told NBC in 2015.

“For the time being, El Paquete replaces the Internet for those who don’t have it,” Lopez told Reuters. “If tomorrow El Paquete disappears I don’t know what people would do, it’s like water, or a pill for the Cuban body.” According to the CBC, as of 2016 Lopez had moved to the United States.

“El Paquete was founded by several people, each with a desire to find a way to entertain their towns,” he told Polygon last year. “We wanted to find a way for the island to see the world in ways outside of politics, showing them culture, sports, entertainment, economy and society, showing them all the things going on in the world that weren’t making it to our TVs.”

 Cuba’s make-do culture

El Paquete is a distinct phenomenon of the internet age, but according to Nick Parish, author of a fascinating in-depth study,there’s an interesting precedent in Cuban history. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 left Cuba reeling, “the military issued a book called “Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos” (With Our Own Efforts) that served as a chronicle to survival through shared knowhow, with everything from horticultural knowledge and recipes to herbal medicines to public health to transport, featuring tips submitted by ordinary Cubans.”

“The make-do culture in Cuba, known locally by the term “resolver,” and the propensity for Cubans to bring a unique isolated, constrained lens to solving problems is important to bear in mind as we see some of the features and systems that make el paquete a unique Cuban solution.”

This week’s list

A volunteer site, Paquete de Cuba, lists the weekly contents, though they’re not available for download.

In the absence of actual internet access, techies in Havana and elsewhere have created a homebrewed network called SNET “that reproduces much of the consumer internet we know in the free world,” according to Wired. It includes copycat versions of Facebook and Instagram—and facilitates dissemination of El Paquete.

 

How does advertising work?

There are classifieds in El Paquete. According to a report from the Yugoslavia-based Share Foundation: “If you send an SMS to a certain number, the content of the message will appear in the El Paquete folder ‘classifieds’ in form of a jpeg image that has your message on one half and some advertisement on the other half.”

But local ads are also embedded directly into the content: Users might also see video advertisements for local services embedded at the end of a trailer for a Hollywood movie, or ads sandwiched between magazine pages.

There’s even an e-commerce supplement: “a 199-page PDF catalog with interlinked product pages and ordering instructions, so people can purchase handmade products such as purses, shoes, boots, backpacks, and belts,” according to Nick Parish.

 So, does the government know?

Cuba’s authoritarian government is known for its censorship and intolerance of dissent, which has prompted many conspiracy theories about El Paquete: Is it all a government scheme to placate the masses with the opiate-like effects of western mass media?

There’s perhaps one telltale clue that Raul Castro’s government chooses to tolerate the existence of El Paquete: It contains no porn or political speech, or even western news accounts that might run afoul of the country’s communist party.

“There exists a kind of established agreement in which El Paquete must not reproduce content critical of the government, propaganda, or pornography, and in exchange the state turns a blind eye,” one Paquete distributor told Cubanet.

At least, that was true until recently: Cubanet reports a new folder called “Tremendo lío” (“tremendous mess”) recently appeared in El Paquete, which contains videos from some Cuban social media stars who voice anti-government views, along with those who support it. Is this a brave new era for El Paquete, or a signal that a government crackdown is coming?

“In a country where materials, shopping, and consumption are limited to food and maybe clothing, El Paquete becomes a luxury, a form of asserting one’s independence from the state’s attempts to suppress individuality.”

— “El Paquete: A qualitative study of Cuba’s Transition from Socialism to Quasi-Capitalism,” an undergraduate thesis by Princeton sociology major Dennisse Calle.

“Prefiero gastar un dólar que estar como un zombi. (I would rather spend a dollar than be a zombie.)”

 El Paquete customer Alejandro Batista

 

 

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EL PODER POLÍTICO ES EL RESPONSABLE DE LA CORRUPCIÓN GENERALIZADA

LA IMPUNIDAD ES LO ÚNICO QUE ALCANZA MAGNITUDES TAN COLOSALES COMO ESTOS DELITOS, QUIZÁS MAYORES

MIRIAM CELAYA, La Habana | Marzo 01, 2018

La prensa oficial cubana recientemente ha publicado un extenso artículo, de la autoría del periodista Lázaro Barredo, donde se aborda el tema de la corrupción en la Isla, sus disímiles formas, su propagación, la profundidad que ha alcanzado –afectando incluso instituciones públicas, altos cargos administrativos del Estado y funcionarios de diferentes niveles del sistema jurídico– y sus efectos para la economía y la sociedad.

La relación de la alarmante corruptela nacional –que también contiene ejemplos de “procesos confiscatorios” y de juicios seguidos contra varios implicados en delitos de esta índole– pretende una actualización de datos y cifras oficiales que no suelen ser del dominio público y a los que solo podrían acceder, previa autorización o encargo expreso, sujetos fieles y confiables con una hoja de servicios al castrismo suficientemente probada como es el caso de Barredo.

No obstante, los detalles ofrecidos y el pavoroso cuadro descrito no sorprenden. Cualquier cubano común está perfectamente familiarizado con la magnitud y profundidad que ha alcanzado la corrupción en Cuba puesto que forma parte de la realidad cotidiana y abarca prácticamente todas las esferas de la vida.

   Raúl Castro, Miguel Díaz-Canel, Machado Ventura y Ramiro Valdés. (EFE)

Tampoco causan sorpresa las omisiones en la enumeración de corruptos que presenta el texto. No se menciona, por ejemplo, a los agentes de la Policía Nacional Revolucionaria y los funcionarios del Cuerpo de Inspectores ni sus habituales prácticas de extorsión a infractores o la aceptación de sobornos, delitos que cometen con la mayor naturalidad y absoluta impunidad.

Si Barredo es cubano y quiere parecer honesto, no puede ni debe descartar el grave hecho de que la corrupción ha calado tan profundamente que socava también a las instituciones oficiales llamadas a combatirla en la primera línea de fuego.

La corrupción en Cuba es como una hidra imbatible que debe su éxito y persistencia a su doble función, aparentemente contradictoria. Por una parte corroe las bases morales de la sociedad, mientras por otra, su papel como proveedora la convierte en un recurso esencial de supervivencia en un país sesgado por las carencias y las precariedades de todo tipo.

Sin ánimo de justificar el delito ni de minimizar lo pernicioso del daño que ocasiona, la corrupción en Cuba es un mal inevitable, al menos en las condiciones actuales. No porque la población de esta Isla tenga una propensión natural a transgredir la legalidad o una voluntad espontánea de delinquir, sino porque la corrupción es un rasgo inherente al (también pernicioso) sistema sociopolítico y económico impuesto seis décadas atrás, y cuyos hacedores todavía detentan el poder político absoluto.

Este es uno de los vacíos que sobresalen del texto de Barredo cuando asegura que, a diferencia de otras naciones del mundo donde la corrupción “es causa de crisis moral y de descréditos de gobiernos y partidos”, en el caso de Cuba “este flagelo se concentra en lo fundamental en la gestión empresarial y administrativa”.

En el texto se da por sentada la inmaculada integridad de nuestros dirigentes, y en especial del liderazgo político, falacia que constituye también una manifestación de corrupción por parte de su autor, toda vez que entre las funciones esenciales de la prensa honesta están, entre otras, el cuestionamiento de los poderes políticos, la responsabilidad o la movilización de la opinión pública a partir del apego a la verdad.

Así, desde el discurso del autor, el Palacio de la Revolución no solo descuella como el último reducto de pureza que va quedando en la Isla sino que, además, a la cúpula verde olivo no le cabe responsabilidad alguna en el caos y la podredumbre que hoy minan el país hasta los cimientos.

Quizás esto explica el llamado a que sean las masas –a la vez víctimas-beneficiarias de la corrupción– quienes libren otra trascendental batalla en abstracto en la cual el enemigo no es –o al menos no directamente– el “imperialismo norteamericano”. Ahora se trata de una subespecie mucho más peligrosa que, en nuestra propia casa, amenaza la existencia del “modelo” sociopolítico cubano.

Esta es una batalla realmente surrealista y perdida de antemano, teniendo en cuenta lo difícil que resulta imaginar –pongamos por caso– a una humilde madre de familia delatando a la revendedora ilegal que le provee leche a un precio más módico que el de las tiendas de las redes minoristas en divisas, para el desayuno de su hijo al que le han suprimido la asignación de la cartilla de racionamiento no más arribó a los siete años de edad. O que alguien decida “combatir” a punta de conciencia al especulador que le garantiza la imprescindible medicina para un familiar enfermo que falta en los anaqueles de la red de farmacias.

Las aguerridas huestes de “ciudadanos honestos” incorruptibles –esto es, una categoría inexistente– deberían enfrentar enérgicamente, según el texto, a los corruptos: funcionarios ambiciosos, cuentapropistas enriquecidos, notarios y jueces que falsifican documentos o aceptan sobornos, revendedores callejeros, comerciantes de productos del agro, dependientes de tiendas en divisas y de moneda nacional, sub-declarantes que evaden los impuestos, empleados de servicios gastronómicos, médicos que aceptan pagos, y otros etcéteras.

El recuento de bribones de Barredo (con significativas ausencias, vale aclarar) resulta casi tan infinito como las causas de la proliferación de la corrupción, que discretamente calla. Enumeremos algunas: incompatibilidad entre los salarios y el costo de la vida, oferta comercial muy inferior a la demanda de productos de consumo –desde alimentos hasta cualquier otro género–, desempleo, pobreza generalizada, freno gubernamental a la iniciativa privada y a las capacidades productivas de los ciudadanos, demonización de la prosperidad y la riqueza, alta dependencia de la sociedad respecto del Estado, centralismo excesivo, ausencia de libertades…

En consecuencia, no se precisa ser un genio para concluir que, si bien la corrupción implica a toda la sociedad, las causas de su existencia conciernen solo a quienes deciden la política del país, de manera que la solución del problema depende esencialmente de ellos.

Lástima que en Cuba la impunidad del poder político es lo único que alcanza magnitudes tan colosales como la corrupción, quizás mayores. Razón por la cual el principio del fin de la corrupción solo se producirá cuando desaparezca el sistema que la potenció y que la sostiene. Por el momento todo indica que tendremos corrupción para rato

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AS CASTRO PREPARES TO LEAVE OFFICE, TRUMP’S CUBA POLICY IS A ROAD TO NOWHERE

By Jon Lee Anderson

The New Yorker, March 18, 2018

Original Article: As Castro Prepares to Leave 

The year 2018 is a seminal one for Latin America: two-thirds of the region’s people will choose new national governments, and the citizens of Communist Cuba will be among them. Last Sunday, the island held parliamentary elections to elect a new roster of deputies for the National Assembly of the People’s Power, Cuba’s parliament. It was the penultimate step in a series of complex voting exercises that make up Cuba’s version of political democracy. Twelve thousand ward delegates had already been chosen in a public ballot in November. Next, in a historic final step, scheduled to take place on April 19th, the six-hundred-and-nine-person National Assembly will vote for a leader to replace Raúl Castro, who is now eighty-six and intends to vacate the Presidency. (He has served two five-year terms, which he has declared to be the limit for the office.) Once he does, someone other than a Castro will rule the island for the first time since 1959; In 2006, Raúl succeeded his ailing brother, Fidel, in office, and officially assumed his duties in 2008. Castro’s likely successor is the Vice-President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, a fifty-seven-year-old, second-generation Party stalwart. It’s always possible that someone else will emerge; a number of Castro heirs presumptive have fallen in the past. But it seems improbable now. Díaz-Canel has been in his job for five years, following stints as a provincial Party chief, so his selection would telegraph a message of steadiness to Cuba’s citizens and to the outside world.

In any event, Castro will remain the secretary-general of the Communist Party, meaning that he will continue to be the maximum arbiter of political life in Cuba. Given his age, however, he may not stay in the post for long. He is said to be planning to move to the city of Santiago, on the eastern end of the island, not far from the farmlands where he and his brother were born. Fidel’s ashes are encased in a boulder in a cemetery in Santiago, and Raúl’s final resting place will be in a mausoleum in the nearby Sierra Maestra mountains, where the Castros fought the guerrilla war that brought them to power.

………………………………….

Conclusion:

For much of the past two decades, many of nation’s economic needs were provided for by oil-rich Venezuela, but that supply has been dropping, and, particularly if Maduro loses power sometime soon, Cuba will need a new partner. Coinciding with Trump’s pullback, the Russians, for one, have exhibited a growing interest in revitalizing their own presence on the island. Moscow has resumed oil shipments to Cuba, for the first time this century, and other export and infrastructure deals are under way.

Trump’s bullying only makes it more likely that the Cubans, with or without a Castro, will do what they have done for the past fifty-nine years: exhibit stubborn pride and, if necessary, forge tactical alliances with any of America’s geostrategic foes who might be willing to watch their back.

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