Category Archives: Blog

EFFICIENCY AND FREER MARKETS FOR CUBA

By Michael Wiggin*

HAVANA TIMES, April 14, 2021

Original Article: Efficiency and Freer Markets for Cuba

There is much to admire in Cuba in its commitment to principles of universal education, health care and equality.  Yet, something is not working well enough and these commitments cannot be adequately supported.  What jumps out is the potential benefits of a self-reorganizing of society made possible by free markets.

This observation became apparent when studying participatory democracy.  It does not seem fair to write off Cuba as non-democratic when certain aspects of Cuban governance involve high levels of engagement of citizens in the elections of representatives at the municipal level and indirect elections at provincial and national levels. 

In describing the activities of elected officials, much of their time seems preoccupied with the central administration of bakeries not working well, deterioration of buildings, lack of local services, line-ups at grocery stores etc. Topics that would rarely, if ever, attract the attention of elected officials in free market societies. 

If a bakery provides poor service, someone establishes another and provides better service.  A lack of local services becomes a recognized need and an opportunity for someone to set up a business to serve that need. 

Local contractors compete based on affordability and quality of service.  There should be no need to wait for the next council meeting in several months with follow-up another six months later.

A freer marketplace allows for timely improvements and creation of new services with little or no effort by government and greater overall efficiency.

I respect that it is not as simple as that.  A bakery unable to get flour is not able to bake bread.  A grocery cannot provide vegetables if they are rotting in the farmers’ field because of transportation problems or fuel shortage.  However, even these difficulties will generate needs that enterprising individuals can address and improve. 

Gradually, the improved efficiency in providing services and products will lead to an improvement in the overall economy.  This is already very evident through the expanding activities of innovative cuenta propistas (self employed).

It is therefore important to look at free markets as an important aspect of how people behave not as ideology – not as capitalism.  Free markets are possible in conjunction with Cuban societal commitments to fairness and equality. 

Keynes observed that while excessive inequality is undesirable, a little inequality is a driver for improvement, a way for people to do a little better. 

Accordingly, the objective should be to limit excessive inequality.  Successful societies apply progressive, but not punitive, income taxes and inheritance or wealth taxes. 

A continued stress on a commitment by individuals to a well-functioning fair society could allow Cuba to benefit from the efficiency of free markets and, at the same time, better support Cuban principles and objectives.

Raul Castro did say that he would move forward, carefully, but without pause.  He also said the Cuba has to learn, even from capitalists.

Unfortunately, it is during times of change that people get dissatisfied as the desire for change outstrips the rate of change.  I think that now is such a time and Cuba should open up more rapidly to free market philosophies without compromising Cuban commitments and principles.

*A Havana Times guest writer from Ottawa, Canada

Photographer, in front of the Capitolio, 2014

Paladar, 2014

Mobile food vender, 2014
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CUBA’S ECONOMIC WOES MAY FUEL AMERICA’S NEXT MIGRANT CRISIS

April 16, 2021

Author: William M. LeoGrande, Professor of Government, American University School of Public Affairs and senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group.

Original Article: Cuba’s Economic Woes May Fuel America’s Next Migrant Crisis

Not all of the migrants hoping to claim asylum in the United States are fleeing Central America’s violence-torn “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, contrary to popular perception.

Of the 71,021 asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico for their applications to be processed in the U.S. as of late February, 16% were Cuban, according to federal immigration data.

That makes Cubans the third-largest group of migrants, just ahead of Salvadorans, and after Guatemalans and Hondurans.

Why Cubans flee

The Cubans at America’s doorstep are mostly economic refugees. But since Cubans no longer have preferential status over other immigrants – as they did until former President Barack Obama stopped automatically admitting Cubans who made it to the U.S. – claiming asylum is now virtually their only hope of winning entry. G

Cubans who can afford it fly to South America or hire smugglers to take them to Mexico in “fast boats” before trekking north to the U.S. border. Those who can’t afford to pay smugglers try to cross the Florida Straits on rafts or small boats called “balsas” – a dangerous 90-mile ocean passage.

So far this year, the U.S. Coast Guard has picked up 180 Cuban “balseros” at sea trying to reach the U.S. The number is modest – but it’s already more than three times the Coast Guard rescues of Cubans made last year. Cubans intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba under the terms of a 1995 migration agreement.

The current uptick recalls the gradual increase in rafters rescued at sea in the spring of 1994, numbers that rose exponentially that summer, culminating in the “balsero” migration crisis.

Triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union – communist Cuba’s main international partner at the time – the 1994 exodus saw 35,000 Cubans arrive in the U.S. in two months.

It was the United States’ third Cuban migration crisis. In 1965, some 5,000 Cubans embarked from the port of Camarioca in small boats, landing in south Florida. In 1980, the Mariel boat crisis brought 125,000 Cuban migrants to the U.S. in the so-called “freedom flotilla.”

These migration waves came when the Cuban economy was in crisis and standards of living were falling. All three occurred when Cubans had few avenues for legal migration. With legal routes foreclosed, pressure to leave built over time as the economy deteriorated, finally exploding in a mass exodus of desperate people.

After studying U.S.-Cuban relations for four decades, I believe the conditions that led to these migration crises are building once again.

Economy in free fall

Hit by the dual shocks of renewed U.S. economic sanctions during the Trump administration and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cuban economy shrank 11% in 2020.

Former President Donald Trump cut off two major sources of Cuba’s foreign exchange revenue: people-to-people educational travel from the U.S., worth roughly US$500 million annually, according to my analysis of data from the Cuban National Office of Statistics, and $3.5 billion annually in cash remittances.

The pandemic hammered Cuba’s tourist industry, which suffered a 75% decline – a loss of roughly $2.5 billion.

These external shocks hit an economy already weakened by the decline in cheap oil from crisis-stricken Venezuela due to falling production there, forcing Cuba to spend more of its scarce foreign exchange currency on fuel. Since Cuba imports most of its food, the island nation has experienced a food crisis.

The result is the worst economic downturn since the 1990s.

Pent-up Cuban demand to emigrate

The 1994 Cuban migration crisis ended when former President Bill Clinton signed an accord with Cuba providing for safe and legal migration. The U.S. committed to providing at least 20,000 immigrant visas to Cubans annually to avoid future crises by creating a release valve.

President Trump replaced President Obama’s policy of normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations with one of “maximum pressure” aimed at collapsing the Cuban regime.

He downsized the U.S. embassy in Havana in 2017, allegedly in response to injuries to U.S. personnel serving there. And he suspended the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which provided upwards of 20,000 immigrant visas annually to Cubans with close relatives in the U.S.

These measures drastically reduced the number of immigrant visas given, closing the safety valve Clinton negotiated in 1994. In 2020, just over 3,000 Cubans immigrants were admitted to the U.S.

Today, some 100,000 Cubans who have applied for the reunification program are still waiting in limbo for the program to resume.

A policy problem

The migration crisis brewing in Cuba has been largely overlooked while the Biden administration focuses on managing the rush of Central American asylum-seekers and caring for unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently said that Cuba policy is currently under review, but that it’s “not a top priority.”

U.S. officials could head off the migration crisis brewing in Cuba by making the changes to U.S.-Cuba relations Biden promised during his 2020 presidential campaign.

Restaffing the U.S. embassy in Havana would make it possible to resume compliance with Clinton’s 1994 migration agreement to grant at least 20,000 immigrant visas annually. That would give Cubans a safe and legal way to come to the U.S. and discourage them from risking their lives on the open seas or with human traffickers.

Lifting Trump’s economic sanctions would curtail the need to emigrate by reducing Cuba’s economic hardship, in part by enabling Cuban Americans to send money directly to their families there.

And reversing Trump’s restrictions on travel to the island would help revitalize the private Cuban restaurants and bed and breakfasts that rely on U.S. visitors.

All these measures would put money directly into the hands of the Cuban people, giving them hope for a better future in Cuba.

Balseros arranging Departure, Playas e Este, 1994
Playas del Este, 1994. Did this one make it?
Launching the balsa (rAFT)
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CUBAN COMMUNISTS UNDER PRESSURE TO ACCELERATE ECONOMIC REFORMS

Reuters, April 15, 2021

Marc Frank

Original Article: Pressure to Accelerate Economic Reforms

Retiring Cuban Communist Party leader Raul Castro promised a decade ago he would transform the Soviet-style command economy into a more mixed and market-driven one “without haste and without pause.”

Now, with the Caribbean country in crisis and even the most basic goods in short supply, the party is under pressure to act faster as it convenes this weekend for its eighth congress since the 1959 Revolution.

The April 16-19 congress comes as Cubans battle worsening shortages of basic goods, including food and medicine. An economic crisis has been exacerbated by a tightening of decades-old U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

“I hope that the congress will take a deep look at our internal problems, not to reiterate promises but to quickly solve them,” said Julian Valdes, a government accountant in Havana.

Most experts say reform has been undermined by vested bureaucratic interests and ideologues within the party. They will be reading the tea leaves as new leaders emerge in the all powerful politburo at the summit.

The congress will mark the end of the Castro era as the 89-year-old Raul Castro – the brother of late revolutionary leader Fidel – resigns as party secretary, the most powerful position in Cuba.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel is widely expected to replace him. “If President Miguel Diaz-Canel is given the post of party secretary, it would strengthen his ability to take decisions and it might augur well for more expansive reforms,” said Carlos Saladrigas, president of the Cuba Study Group, composed of Cuban-American business people in favor of engagement with their homeland.

“If, however, someone else is appointed, especially from the ‘old guard’, it would possibly indicate… continuing economic stagnation,” he added.

A long-time European investor in Cuba agreed, saying the government needed to push ahead with reforms to improve competitiveness, including further devaluation of the peso currency, liberalization of agriculture, and greater incorporation of small- and medium-sized companies into the economy.

The pace of that would be dictated by personnel changes announced at the congress, he said, requesting anonymity.

Diaz-Canel, 60, said at a meeting last week on agriculture that “everything that stimulates production, eliminates red tape and benefits producers is favorable.”  That captures the essence of reforms adopted by the party at its sixth congress in 2011 and again five years ago at the seventh congress, but which have stalled amid resistance from some party members and ideological infighting.

The party has previously pledged to regulate and tax, not administer state-owned businesses; allow markets more sway over the central planning system and agriculture; do more to attract foreign investment; and support private initiative.

PEOPLE DO NOT EAT PLANS

John Kirk, a Cuba expert at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, said there was much more to be done to free up the private sector, agriculture and foreign investment.

“The Cuban government has taken only baby steps in all of these areas, and needs to show greater initiative,” he said.

Over the last nine months, following four years of stagnation and in 2020 an 11% contraction of the economy, the government has made more forceful changes.

It has granted more autonomy to state businesses to earn and spend hard currency and loosened regulations on small private ones. It has also unified its two currencies and devalued the remaining peso, cut utility and other subsidies, and decentralized the pricing and sale of some farm products.

“People do not eat plans,” Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said this month, expressing the new sense of urgency.

That will be the underlying theme of the economic debate at the congress, according to Cuban economist Omar Everleny.

Everleny said Cubans understood U.S. sanctions and the pandemic were partly to blame for the hardships they faced, but also were tired of excuses and foot-dragging by authorities.

“The people demand more concrete actions and results from the party,” he said, using agriculture as an example.  “It is not enough to make an effort: there must be results. Thousands of measures have been taken in agriculture, but the results are not yet on the shelves of the average Cuban,” he said.

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CUBA LOOSENS BAN ON CATTLE SLAUGHTER, SALES OF BEEF, DAIRY

Reuters, April 15, 20212

Marc Frank

Original Article: Cuban Cattle/Beef

Cuba announced that it was loosening a decades-old ban on the slaughter of cattle and sale of beef and dairy as part of agricultural reforms as the Communist-run country battles with food shortages.

Ranchers will be allowed to do as they wish with their livestock “after meeting state quotas and always with a guarantee it will not result in a reduction of the herd,” the Communist Party daily, Granma, said late on Tuesday.

In 1963 the government made it illegal for Cubans to slaughter their cows or sell beef and byproducts without state permission after Hurricane Flora killed 20% of the country’s herd.

The number of cattle and milk production improved through 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Since then, the herd has remained stagnant at around 70% of the 1963 level, and powdered milk imports have increased.

Farmers can be fined for killing their own cows, leading many to have only one for milk, as if another dies by accident, they face an investigation. Others hide calves in the barn. Still others team up with rustlers, though they face up to 15 years behind bars if caught.

This has led to the local joke that you can get more prison time for killing a cow than a human being.

Cuban economists say deregulation of the agricultural sector could help boost production.

The government is expected to announce further agricultural measures in a roundtable discussion on state television as it battles a grave economic crisis that has resulted in food shortages and long lines for even the most basic products such as rice, beans and pork, let alone milk, butter, cheese, yogurt and beef.

The Caribbean island nation imported more than 60% of the food it consumed before new U.S. sanctions on top of the decades-old trade embargo and then the COVID-19 pandemic, which decimated tourism, left it short of cash to import agricultural inputs from fuel and feed to pesticides, let alone food.

Economic growth contracted 11% in 2020 and imports 40%, according to the government.

Agricultural production has stagnated in recent years and declined dramatically in 2020, though the government has yet to publish any data.

Last November, the government said it would allow farmers, private traders and food processors to engage in direct wholesale and retail trade if they met government contracts.

The state owns 80% of the arable land and leases most of that to farmers and cooperatives, and until recently had sold them inputs in exchange for up to 90% of their output plus a set margin.

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BIDEN SHOULD PURSUE A FULL ENGAGEMENT WITH CUBA

Responsible Statecraft, April 15, 2021
By Arturo Lopez-Levy

Original Article: Engagement with Cuba

The United States needs a fundamentally different policy towards a post-Castro Cuba than the one applied for the last four years. Engagement is the best long-term strategy to peel Havana away from Washington’s rivals in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and Caracas. It is also the optimal choice to signal American goodwill to the new leaders of post-Castro Cuba and put the onus on them. 

President Biden should restart normalization efforts not only because the retreat from normalization falls squarely at the feet of the Trump administration, but also because he understands — as his predecessor did not — how to conduct a great power bilateral relationship with a smaller neighbor. Estrangement from the United States was not the Cuban government’s choice, which embraced engagement long before the last embers of the Cold War had cooled.

What Happened after Obama’s opening towards Cuba?

A new and effective engagement policy requires an honest assessment of what happened between Cuba, the Cuban American community, and U.S.-Cuba relations after President Obama launched his full engagement approach in 2014. The Cuban government responded positively to the first African American president’s offers of negotiation. Of course, Cuban officials could have done more, particularly regarding reconciliation with the Cuban American community, but the two countries signed 22 important agreements. President Obama was welcomed in Havana by Raúl Castro. In his memoirs, Ben Rhodes, the architect of Obama’s rapprochement, describes how, in a relative short time, Cuba and the United States built a partnership removing many obstacles to a comprehensive interaction between the two societies.

In 2016, President Obama visited Cuba with a focus on transcending the traumas of history and a policy of sanctions repudiated by the overwhelming majority of the international community. The visit was welcomed by almost every segment of Cuban civil society. During this visit, the widespread hope about a new era rose above the resentment expressed toward President Obama by the most radical elements of the Cuban Communist Party. The Cuban Catholic Church, the main protestant denominations, and the Jewish Community welcomed an approach that improved their chances for close relations with their brothers and sisters in faith in the United States. At the same time, Cuba’s emerging private sectors received tangible benefits and profits from the inflow of American visitors.

Unsurprisingly, Trump and his ally, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), cluelessly deviated from Secretary Henry Kissinger’s golden rule for negotiation with Cuba: “Behave chivalrously; do it like a big boy, not like a shyster.” Most of the new sanctions against Cuba were implemented amid the 2020 electoral race. Distrust in Cuba about Obama’s rapprochement as a mere change of imperial tactics, aired by the most radical Cuban left, was confirmed by Secretary of State Pompeo’s last minute gratuitous return of Cuba to the State Department list of state sponsors of terror. This damage has made engagement considerably more difficult and in need of some dramatic gesture in line with the dignity of a democratic great power.

Trump didn’t achieve anything in Havana, but his supporters’ disinformation campaign presenting President Obama as an appeaser touched some nerves within the Cuban American community. By stigmatizing any supporter of Obama-Biden’s engagement as a Castro sympathizer, Trump and Rubio rang the bells of McCarthyism and conspiracy theories within the Latino community. The Democratic Party was portrayed as a communist beachhead. 

By avoiding the discussion about the merits of Obama’s engagement policies, Florida Democrats surrendered a significant political space to Trump’s narrative. Trump succeeded without easing any migration restriction for Cubans, Venezuelans, or Nicaraguans. Using his stay in Mexico anti-immigration policy, Trump kept thousands of Cuban refugees from entering the United States, while increasing the number of deportations to the same archipelago Senator Rubio compared to Hitler’s Germany in senseless analogies. 

A win-win engagement

There is no rationale to argue in favor of half-measure engagement if the decision is to engage. U.S. sanctions against Cuba are not a human rights policy but a violation of the very human rights principles they purport to support. Biden’s policy towards Cuba must eliminate all the counterproductive sanctions contrary to international law and must attempt to implement full normalization of relations with Cuba predicated on Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive of October 2016. 

Adopting a full package of dialogue and rapprochement will multiply the impact of engagement measures in Cuba. For example, it makes no sense to ease travel to Cuba while preventing U.S. airlines from traveling to other cities but Havana. Moreover, given the notoriously electoral nature of the Trump administration’s hostility towards Cuba, it makes no sense to treat Trump’s actions as standard procedure while trying to change U.S. policies which have applied tightened sanctions for 25-years under the Helms-Burton Act’s imperial image.

In public diplomacy, a drastic cut from Trump’s policies will be better for American interests. U.S. diplomats will be in a better negotiating position if their marching orders are seen by Cubans as reflecting a full commitment to engagement. This perception will allow issue-linkage strategies when dealing with the Cuban government. It will also encourage the Cuban government on the path of reforms that are absolutely needed to overcome the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. A summer immigration crisis with thousands of Cubans trying to reach the American or Mexican shores in road to the U.S. southern border is not improbable. Is this in the interest of the Biden administration?

A Biden’s commitment to normalcy in U.S.-Cuba relations will expose all Cuban government’s self-limitations versus the U.S. government’s propensity to engage and respect international norms. A full engagement disposition will attract to the U.S. side the goodwill of Western allies like Canada, the European Union, and most of Latin America. Such an approach might even have spillovers in Cuba’s attitude towards a negotiated solution to the Venezuelan conundrum. After four years of a policy of America First, translated as America Only, it will be an act of productive humility to show some deference to the U.S. allies.

From a political perspective, President Biden should be reminded about his advice to Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2011 that “there’s no sense dying on a small cross.” The opposition by radical exiles will be the same if the president attempts a partial or a full normalization. Concurrently, the political benefits of engagement would multiply the sooner and the more comprehensive the rapprochement policy is adopted. 

Of course, normalization is a tango for two. If the Cuban government wants to reestablish lasting relations effectively with the United States, it must behave as a country, not as a revolutionary cause. It is in Cuba’s national interest to reduce as much as possible the relevance of the Cuban right-wing radicals in the swing state of Florida. This will be possible by reducing the bases for their grievances and opening economic opportunities for the Cuban diaspora. A mixed economy with rule of law and a more committed Cuban human rights policy is in the interests of Cuban society, regardless of what the United States does or says.

Engaging Cuba is not a favor to the Cuban Communist Party. By opening trade and travel to the island and opening American doors to as many Cubans as possible, the United States will influence how the Cuban people view their society and its place in the world. Developing business ties between the two countries, allowing Cubans to visit, work, and study in the United States, and easing visa restrictions as the Obama administration did, will increase the information flows between Cuba and the outside world.

U.S. interests in Cuba are advancing a gradual, peaceful, and well-ordered transition to a market economy and eventually a pluralistic democracy. Ideology aside, such an outcome is also optimal for the majority of Cubans. If there is a marketization of the Cuban economy, more openness and contacts between the Cuban people and its diasporas, and close ties with the United States, it will most likely happen. Not overnight, but it will happen faster and with better results than 60 years of sanctions and siege.

Arturo Lopez-Levy

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CUBA: WILL POLITICAL CHANGE FOLLOW ECONOMIC LIBERALISATION?

by Tom Arnold , March 28, 2021

In response to crippling economic stagnation, Cuba has passed regulations which hint at a turn towards a more market-driven economy. However, political control over key sectors including education and the media still lies heavily with the state. The most striking policy, which allows thousands of professions to run outside the remit of the state, will change the character of business within Cuba and may lead to increased innovation and interaction with international markets. Could Cuba’s economic liberalisation lead to further political freedoms?

Hints of Change

In 2020, the number of tourists visiting Cuba dropped by 80% and its economy accordingly shrank by 11%. Times are hard for Cubans, with queues growing outside grocery stores and businesses being forced to close. The economic downturn has been lurking for many years. In particular, Cuba has suffered from the Trump Administration’s sanctions, imposed to placate the Republican voter base by designating the Cuban government as a “sponsor of terrorism” from its support for Venezuela’s Maduro. 

In response to economic hardships and US sanctions, Cuba has indicated an intention to liberalise the economy. A strong signal of change to Castroist economic ideas are demonstrated by the Díaz-Canel government’s removal of the somewhat confusing dual currency system in January 1, 2021, previously established in 1994 after the loss of Soviet subsidies. This major change, which led to a surge in inflation and devaluation of the peso, had costly implications for Cubans by placing downward pressure on the purchasing power of salaries and pensions.

A Landmark Shift in Business Privatisation

The currency change is just one part in a series of major reforms. On 6th February, Labour Minister Marta Elena Feito Cabrera stated that the government would allow private participation in more than 2000 professions; a stark contrast to the previous limit of 127 professions. The expansion in private participation means that previously illegal enterprises can now function openly. 

It is hoped that this will unleash a wave of innovation in a wide range of sectors. This could work in tandem with recovery from the pandemic. For instance, there has been encouraging news regarding Cuba’s  own “Soberana 2” Covid-19 vaccine: The government believes that it can administer this vaccine to the whole of Cuba’s population by the end of the year and export the vaccine to Latin America as a source of income.

However, the new private business law does have many caveats: private enterprises lack certain resources and access to supply chains that state-owned enterprises possess. For instance, the government maintains control of all large industries and wholesale shops and monopolises 124 professions, thereby restricting options for obtaining supplies. In the short-term, the large restructuring of the economy will inevitably cause painful effects with bankruptcies and unemployment rising. Yet, in the long-term, opening up may yield positive benefits through increased opportunities for entrepreneurs. The sectors included within the 124 professions remaining under state remit (including law enforcement, defence, the media, education) suggest that Cuba is looking to follow the model of China or Vietnam through the introduction of capitalist economic policies with the maintenance of tight political control.

Could Improved Relations with the US Spur Political Change in Cuba?

One follow-on effect of Cuba’s economic liberalisation could be a strengthening of relations with the Biden administration. Indeed, the recent theme of economic policy changes would require more foreign investments and capital, for which improved relations with the US would be important.

Strengthened ties could have political liberalisation effects in Cuba. The Obama Administration’s relationship with Cuba was emblematic of this trend: Obama’s approach of normalising relations with Cuba, which was designed to “create economic opportunities for the Cuban people”, increased US influence in other spheres of Cuban society. Citizens began to criticise issues such as access to medical care, education, unemployment and domestic media sources while religious leaders and artists started to articulate positions contrary to the official narrative. This suggested that civil society was for the first time open to vocally opposing the political system, despite the government responding with detentions of some dissidents and censorship of blog posts . A similar phenomenon is possible if Havana’s new economic policies leads to a strengthening of economic ties with the Biden Administration.

Is a new Cuba Realistic?

Cuba is ripe for change. The push and pull of reform efforts in recent years suggest disputes between traditionalists and more progressive, youthful factions. In April, Raúl Castro will step down as leader of the Communist party which will see the end of the Castro name in Cuban politics for the first time in over 60 years. This has major symbolic significance: Fidel Castro established the political and economic systems that endure today, such as the characteristics of a one-party state with complete control of the media. Combined with the election of Biden, who will likely take a more lenient approach to Cuba in comparison to Trump, and an array of free market policies in the midst of an economic crisis, it seems a realistic possibility that Cuba could undergo major structural change in the coming years.

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CONVOCATORIA AL VIII CONGRESO DEL PARTIDO COMUNISTA DE CUBA

CubaDebate, 2 diciembre 2020 

“El Congreso de la continuidad histórica de la Revolución Cubana”

Articulo Original: Convocatoria

Después de hacerse pública la decisión de efectuar el VIII Congreso del Partido en abril de 2021, un evento extraordinario marcó de forma crucial la vida de la nación. La pandemia de la COVID-19 puso a prueba la capacidad y la voluntad de la Revolución, y el temple de nuestro pueblo para enfrentar cualquier dificultad, por compleja que esta sea.

Una vez más se mostró ante el mundo la verdad de Cuba, sus valores, su probada vocación humanista, solidaria y de justicia social que, junto a la capacidad organizativa del país y el desarrollo científico alcanzado, nos ha permitido traducir en resultados visibles el compromiso con la vida y el bienestar de nuestros compatriotas y de otros pueblos, a pesar de la constante agresividad del Gobierno de Estados Unidos.

El capitalismo y sus defensores neoliberales demuestran no tener solución alguna ante problemas cardinales de la humanidad. Sus teorías del papel mínimo del Estado y la magnificación del mercado, solo reforzaron su incapacidad para salvar vidas.

Inmersos hoy los cubanos en la superación de los dísimiles obstáculos derivados de la pandemia, en particular los vinculados a nuestra economía, sumados a otros que ya venían gravitando sobre nosotros, el Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba ratifica con esta convocatoria la decisión de desarrollar el VIII Congreso en la fecha prevista.

El Congreso centrará su atención en la evaluación y proyección de asuntos medulares para el presente y futuro de la nación, lo cual incluirá la actualización de la Conceptualización del Modelo Económico y Social Cubano de Desarrollo Socialista, los resultados alcanzados y la actualización de la implementación de los Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución, así como los resultados económico-sociales obtenidos del VII Congreso a la fecha; analizará de igual forma el funcionamiento del Partido, su vinculación con las masas, la actividad ideológica y valorará la situación que presenta la política de cuadros en el Partido, la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas, las Organizaciones de Masas y el Gobierno.

Será un escenario oportuno para la actualización de nuestra estrategia de resistencia y desarrollo. Significará un estímulo a la participación de militantes, revolucionarios y patriotas en las soluciones que se demandan para enfrentar la aguda crisis mundial que nos impacta y continuar las transformaciones que fortalezcan la economía nacional. Para lograrlo contamos con una vasta experiencia de lucha en la construcción del socialismo como única opción de desarrollo, y con el ejemplo imperecedero del Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz.

Digno heredero de la confianza depositada por el pueblo en su líder, nuestro Partido, único, martiano, fidelista, marxista y leninista, asume una alta responsabilidad en la preservación de la unidad, factor estratégico para la victoria.

En estos años el Gobierno de Estados Unidos ha acentuado su hostilidad contra Cuba, arreciando el genocida bloqueo económico, comercial y financiero, y la subversión político-ideológica. A ello se suman las consecuencias de la crisis económica mundial. Frente a estas dificultades, el pueblo ha respondido con firmeza, disciplina y conciencia, lo cual requiere traducirse aún más en aportes de eficiencia y superiores resultados en la economía. Ello implica nuevas formas de pensar y hacer para alcanzar la prosperidad, fruto de nuestro trabajo diario.

En este escenario, la implementación de los Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución enfrenta amplios desafíos. Se afrontan problemas objetivos y subjetivos que influyen en el ritmo de aplicación de las políticas y medidas aprobadas.

La situación actual no puede convertirse en justificante que retarde los procesos; por el contrario, impone la necesidad de dar un impulso a la actualización de nuestro modelo económico y social para cumplir lo que hemos acordado y eliminar las trabas que aún persisten en el desarrollo de las fuerzas productivas y la eficiencia, asunto definido como problema estratégico principal por el General de Ejército Raúl Castro Ruz.

Urge incrementar la producción de alimentos en el país, empleando todas las reservas internas, que incluye, como en el resto de los sectores de la economía y la sociedad, la investigación, la innovación y el desarrollo tecnológico, además de la sistematización de los resultados.

Los vínculos entre el sector estatal y el no estatal de la economía han de seguir desarrollándose, como parte de la estrategia económica definida. La industria nacional deberá responder cada vez más a la demanda interna. Es imprescindible desterrar la inercia, la apatía y explotar con creatividad todas las potencialidades existentes, estimulando el aporte de todo el pueblo, sus ideas e iniciativas.

Debemos avanzar en la eficiencia de los procesos productivos y la calidad de los servicios, así como en el ahorro de los recursos, el incremento de las exportaciones, la sustitución de importaciones y la participación de la inversión extranjera directa. En ese empeño, la empresa estatal socialista está llamada a cumplir el papel principal que le corresponde en la economía nacional.

Nuestro objetivo es llegar al VIII Congreso con definiciones precisas y concretas, que fortalezcan y den continuidad al programa de gobierno emprendido, en cumplimiento de la Estrategia Económico-Social para el impulso de la economía y el enfrentamiento a la crisis mundial provocada por la COVID-19.

La prevención y enfrentamiento constantes a la corrupción, el delito, las indisciplinas sociales y otras manifestaciones negativas incompatibles con las esencias del socialismo que construimos, deberá ser una tarea de todos.

Para alcanzar este y otros objetivos, debemos continuar fortaleciendo el funcionamiento del Partido desde el núcleo hasta las instancias superiores, a partir de la ejemplaridad de quienes militan en sus filas. A la par, resulta imprescindible contar con cuadros que mantengan en todo momento una actitud revolucionaria frente a los problemas, desarrollen la capacidad de análisis en la búsqueda de soluciones, estimulen el diálogo franco y se caractericen por una ética intachable en su actuación cotidiana.

El Partido mantendrá una prioritaria atención a la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas, sus cuadros, militantes y las nuevas generaciones, en cuya formación y educación en valores tiene una responsabilidad especial. Igualmente, apoyará a las organizaciones de masas y sociales, en sus misiones de integrar, movilizar y representar a nuestro pueblo, propiciando una participación superior de sus miembros en los procesos políticos y socio-económicos que deciden nuestro futuro como nación.

Hoy adquiere mayor importancia el trabajo político-ideológico para enfrentar los intentos de restauración capitalista y neoliberal. Las redes sociales e Internet se han convertido en un escenario permanente de confrontación ideológica, donde también deben prevalecer nuestros argumentos frente a las campañas enemigas.

Ante la guerra cultural y de símbolos que se nos hace, la defensa de la identidad nacional, y la cultura, así como el conocimiento de nuestra historia, reafirman nuestra soberanía e independencia.

El imperialismo estadounidense no ha podido cumplir su objetivo de destruir la Revolución Cubana. Insiste en provocar la inestabilidad en el país, legitimar la oposición mercenaria y fracturar la unidad de los cubanos, convertida en valladar infranqueable para garantizar la libertad, la justicia y la democracia socialista que no se negocian.

Ratificamos una vez más la importancia estratégica de mantener la defensa y seguridad nacional del país como asunto de máxima prioridad.

Compatriotas:

En el 64 Aniversario del Desembarco del Granma, fecha que trasciende por mostrarnos el valor del sacrificio, la confianza en el triunfo de las ideas que hace suyas el pueblo y la voluntad de vencer, ratificamos que este será el Congreso de la Continuidad, expresado en el tránsito paulatino y ordenado de las principales responsabilidades del país a las nuevas generaciones, con la certeza de que la Revolución no se circunscribe a quienes la llevaron al triunfo aquel glorioso Primero de Enero, sino a la voluntad y el compromiso de quienes la han hecho suya en todos estos años y los que continuarán la obra.

El VIII Congreso del Partido, que realizaremos del 16 al 19 de abril de 2021, será de todo el pueblo. Como en Girón, 60 años después, frente al imperio que nunca logrará doblegarnos, y ante dificultades presentes y futuras por poderosas que sean, una vez más proclamaremos ante el mundo nuestra convicción irreductible de Victoria.

Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba

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Primer Congreso
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CUBA SAYS IT’S ‘BETTING IT SAFE’ WITH ITS OWN COVID VACCINE

“We are seeing a safety profile with the vaccine [Soberana 2] that is very good,” Dr. Vicente Verez, director of the Finlay Institute of Vaccines, told NBC News.

NBC News, April 10, 2021, 3:35 PM EDT

By Orlando Matos and Carmen Sesin

Original Article: Cuba’s Covid Vaccine

HAVANA — Cuba is “betting it safe” with the later development of their own Covid-19 vaccines and encouraged by what they’re seeing in late stage and experimental studies, a top Cuban vaccine scientist said.

If the trials are successful, the relatively small, communist island of 11 million — that has been sanctioned by the United States for decades — would be one of just very few countries with vaccines to fight the coronavirus pandemic, drawing worldwide attention to its potential feat.

The other countries that have developed vaccines, including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Russia and India, have significantly larger economies and population sizes.

Two of Cuba’s five vaccine candidates are in Phase 3 trials: Soberana 2, which translates to ‘sovereignty,’ and Abdala, named after a book by the Cuban independence hero José Martí.

Around 44,000 people are getting the Soberana 2 vaccine as part of the Phase 3 double-blind study. An additional 150,000 health care workers are being inoculated with Soberana 2 as part of an “interventional study.”

Unlike the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the Soberana 2 uses synthesized coronavirus proteins to trigger the body’s immune system.

“We are seeing that the vaccine is very safe, the potential risk for applying it to more people is decreasing, and the potential benefits are increasing. There is evidence of certain efficacy and that is why we decided to expand the interventional studies,” Dr. Vicente Verez, director of the Finlay Institute of Vaccines, told NBC News. The institute is named after the Cuban epidemiologist Dr. Carlos Finlay who discovered yellow fever is transmitted through mosquitoes.

The institute was established in 1991 by the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro who invested heavily in the country’s health care system and pharmaceutical sector. Its cancer research center developed a vaccine being tested in the United States and other countries.  

In Cuba, “we began a bit later than the rest of the vaccines [in the world] because we had to wait and know a little more about the virus and the mechanism though which it infects cells,” Verez said. “We are seeing a safety profile with the vaccine [Soberana 2] that is very good.”

With its economy ravaged by the pandemic, decades of sanctions and a decline in aid from its ally Venezuela, the island has been grappling with shortages in food and medicine. Its economy shrank 11 percent in 2020. But it has managed to keep the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths down with strict measures and lockdowns, compared to many developed countries around the world. In recent weeks, the country has averaged around 1,000 cases per day, but it had very low infection rates last year.

The final results of the Phase 3 trials are not expected for months. The government’s plan is to have nearly all the inhabitants of the capital, Havana, vaccinated by May through the interventional study, and the entire country’s population inoculated before the year ends.

Verez said that while the vaccination won’t be mandatory, he thinks “the immense majority of the population wants the vaccine.”

For Cuba, the vaccine is as much about public health as it is a show of force; that a small communist country sanctioned by the U.S. can compete on the world stage with its own vaccine candidates.  Cuba could have acquired vaccines from its allies, China and Russia, but developing its own gives it the opportunity to sell vaccines to underdeveloped countries that have seen few doses, giving it a source of badly-needed hard currency. As U.S. and British vaccines advanced in clinical trials last year, wealthy countries in North America and Europe preordered large quantities, leaving poor and developing countries with a large gap in access.

Verez said some countries have approached Cuban officials with the intent to purchase more than 100 million annual doses of some of its vaccines. He said Cuba’s vaccine production system is being reorganized to produce 100 million doses.  Iran, which banned U.S. and British vaccines, will host a Phase 3 trial of Soberana 2 as part of an agreement that includes producing millions of doses there. Venezuela will produce Abdala vaccines, its government announced Thursday. Mexico and Argentina have also expressed interest in Cuba’s vaccines.

“They are very safe,” Dr. Eduardo Martínez Díaz, president of the state-run BioCubaFarma, said in emailed responses to questions. “After applying thousands of doses, only slight and moderate side effects were seen in a small percentage of volunteers.”

Díaz added that both vaccines are creating a high amount of immunity. If exported, the prices would be affordable, he said.

Verez said the vaccines will be adapted to the new variants, and extra doses could be required to boost immunity.

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ONE HUNDRED YEAR OF THE RUSSIAN NEP – LESSONS FOR CUBA

By: Samuel Farber, April 3, 2021

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Author’s Note – This article originally appeared in Spanish in La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba), one of the most important critical blogs in the island, where the Internet remains the principal vehicle for critical opinion because the government has not yet succeeded in controlling it. The article elicited some strong reactions including that of a former government minister who called it a provocation.

The New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced by the revolutionary government in 1921 was in fact an attempt to reduce the widespread discontent among the Russian people with measures designed to increase production and popular access to consumer goods. Even though the Civil War (1918-1920) caused great hardship among the rural and urban populations, it was the politics of War Communism, introduced by the Bolshevik government during that period, that significantly worsened the situation. This led to a profound alienation among those who had been the pillars of the October Revolution in 1917: the industrial workers, and the peasantry that constituted 80 percent of the population.

In the countryside, the urban detachments, organized to confiscate from the peasantry their agricultural surplus to feed the cities, ended up also confiscating part of the already modest peasant diet in addition to the grain needed to sow the next crop. The situation worsened when under the same policy the government, based on an assumed class stratification in the countryside that had no basis in reality, created the poor peasant committees (kombedy) to reinforce the functions of the urban detachments. Given the arbitrary informal and formal methods that characterized the operations of the kombedy, these ended up being a source of corruption and abuse, frequently at the hands of criminal elements active in them, who ended up appropriating for their own use the grain and other kinds of goods they arbitrarily confiscated from the peasantry.

Moreover, during the fall of 1920, symptoms of famine began to appear in the Volga region. The situation became worse in 1921 after a severe drought ruined the crops, which also affected the southern Urals. Leon Trotsky had proposed in February 1920, to substitute the arbitrary confiscations of War Communism with a tax in kind paid by the peasantry as an incentive to have them grow more surplus grain. However, the party leadership rejected his proposal at that time.

The politics of War Communism was also applied to the urban and industrial economy through its total nationalization, although without the democratic control by the workers and the soviets, which the government abolished when the civil war began and replaced with the exclusive control from above by state administrators. Meantime, the workers were subjected to a regime of militarized compulsory labor. For the majority of the Communist leaders, including Lenin, the centralized and nationalized economy represented a great advance towards socialism. That is why for Lenin, the NEP was a significant step back. Apparently, in his conception of socialism, total nationalization played a more important role than the democratic control of production from below.

The elimination of workplace democracy was only one aspect of the more general clampdown on soviet democracy that the Bolshevik government launched in response to the bloody and destructive civil war. Based on the objective circumstances created by the war, and on the urgent need to resolve the problems they were facing, like economic and political sabotage, the Bolshevik leadership not only eliminated multiparty soviets of workers and peasants, but also union democracy and independence, and introduced very serious restrictions of   other political freedoms established at the beginning of the revolution.

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The Situation in Cuba

Since the decade of the nineties, and especially since Raúl Castro assumed the maximum leadership of the country in 2006–formally in 2008 – economic reform has been one of the  central concerns of  the government. The logic of that economic reform points to the Sino-Vietnamese model–which combines an anti-democratic one-party state with a state capitalist system in the economy–and not to the compulsory collectivization of agriculture and the five-year plans brutally imposed on the USSR by Stalinist totalitarianism after the NEP. The Cuban government’s decision to authorize the creation of the PYMES (small and medium private enterprises), a decision frequently promised but not yet implemented, would constitute a very important step towards the establishment of state capitalism in the island. This state capitalism will very probably be headed by the current powerful political, and especially military, leaders who would become private capitalists.

Until now, the Cuban government has not specified the size that would define the small and especially the mid-size enterprises under the PYMES concept. But we know that several Latin American countries (like Chile and Costa Rica) have defined the size in terms of the number of workers. Chile, for example, defines the micro enterprises as those with less than 9 workers, the small-size with 10 to 25 workers, the medium-size with 25 to 200 workers, and the big size with more than 200 workers. Should Cuba adopt similar criteria, its mid-size enterprises would end up as capitalist firms ran by their corresponding administrative hierarchies. If that happens, it is certain that the official unions will end up “organizing” the workers in those medium size enterprises and, as in the case of Chinese state capitalism, do nothing to defend them from the new private owners.

Regarding political reform, there has been much less talk and nothing of great importance has been done. As in the case of the Russian NEP, the social and economic liberalization in Cuba has not been accompanied by political democratization but, instead, by the intensification of the regime’s political control over the island. Even when the government has adopted liberalizing measures in the economy, like the new rules increasing the number of work activities permitted in the self-employed sector, it continues to ban private activities such as the publication of books that could be used to develop criticism or opposition to the regime. This is how the government has consolidated its control over the major means of communication –radio, television, newspapers and magazines – although it has only partially accomplished that with the Internet.

The government is also using its own socially liberalizing measures to reinforce its political control. For example, at the same time that it liberalized the rules to travel abroad, it developed a list of “regulated” people who are forbidden to travel outside of the island based on arbitrary administrative decisions, without even allowing for the right of appeal to the judicial system it controls. Similar administrative practices lacking in means for judicial review control have been applied to other areas such as the missions organized to provide services abroad. Thus, the Cuban doctors who have decided not to return to the island once their service abroad has concluded, have been victims of administrative sanctions – eight years of compulsory exile – without any possibility of lodging a judicial appeal.

Still pending is the implementation of the arbitrary rules and the censorship of artistic activities of Decree 349, that allows the state to grant licenses and censor the activities of self-employed artists. The implementation of the decree has been postponed due to the numerous and strong protests that it provoked. All of these administrative practices highlight the fact that the much discussed rule of law proclaimed by the Constitution is but a lie. Let us not forget that the Soviet constitution that Stalin introduced in 1936 was very democratic … on the paper it was written. Even so, Cubans in the island should appeal to their constitutionally defined rights to support their protests and claims against the Cuban state whenever it is legally and politically opportune.

At the beginning of the Cuban revolutionary government there was a variety of political voices heard within the revolutionary camp. But that disappeared in the process of forming the united party of the revolution that established the basis for what Raúl Castro later called the “monolithic unity” of the party and country. That is the party and state model that emulates, along with China and Vietnam, the Stalinist system that was consolidated in the USSR at the end of the twenties, consecrating the “unanimity” dictated from above by the maximum leaders, and the so-called “democratic centralism”, which in reality is a bureaucratic centralism.

The Cuban Communist Party (CCP) is a single party that does not allow the internal organization of tendencies or factions, and that extends its control over the whole society through its transmission belts with the so-called mass organizations (trade unions, women’s organization), institutions such as the universities, as well as with the mass media that follow the “orientations” they receive from the Department of Ideology of the Central Committee of the CCP. These are the ways in which the one-party state controls, not necessarily everything, but everything it considers important.

The ideological defenders of the Cuban regime insist in its autochthonous origins independent from Soviet Communism. It is true that Fidel Castro’s political origin is different, for example, from that of Raúl Castro, who was originally a member of the Socialist Youth associated with the PSP (Partido Socialista Popular), the party of the pro-Moscow orthodox Communists. But  Fidel Castro developed his “caudillo” conceptions since very early on, perhaps as a reaction to the disorder and chaos he encountered in the Cayo Confites expedition in which he participated against the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in 1947, and with the so-called Bogotazo in Colombia in 1948.

In 1954, in a letter he wrote to his then good friend Luis Conte Aguero, Fidel Castro proclaimed three principles as necessary for the integration of a true civic movement: ideology, discipline and especially the power of the leadership. He also insisted in the necessity for a powerful and implacable propaganda and organizational apparatus to destroy the people involved in the creation of tendencies, splits and cliques or who rise against the movement. This was the ideological basis of the “elective affinity” (to paraphrase Goethe) that Fidel Castro showed later on for Soviet Communism.

So, what can we do? The recent demonstration of hundreds of Cubans in front of the Ministry of Culture to protest the abuses against the members of the San Isidro Movement and to advocate for artistic and civil liberties, marked a milestone in the history of the Cuban Revolution. There is plenty of room to reproduce this type of peaceful protest in the streets against police racism, against the tolerance of domestic violence, against the growing social inequality and against the absence of a politically transparent democracy open to all, without the privileges sanctioned by the Constitution for the CCP. At present, this seems to be the road to struggle for the democratization of Cuba from below, from the inside of society itself, and not from above or from the outside.

The lesson of the Russian NEP is that economic liberalization does not necessarily signify the democratization of a country, and that it may be accompanied by the elimination of democracy. In Cuba there has been economic and social liberalization but without any advance on the democratic front.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

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FROM LIECHTENSTEIN TO HONG KONG: HOW CUBA USES SHELL COMPANIES TO THUMB ITS NOSE AT EMBARGO

BY KEVIN G. HALL AND NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

MARCH 31, 2021 07:30 AM,  UPDATED APRIL 01, 2021 05:50 PM

Original Article: How Cuba uses shell companies

Large cranes can be seen at Port Mariel inside the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone.

A generic-sounding company headquartered in the tax haven of Liechtenstein has for the past 37 years served as the center of global shipping operations for the Cuban government, functioning under the radar while skirting a six-decade trade embargo, an investigation by the Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald and McClatchy shows.

When incorporated in 1984 in the principality of Liechtenstein, Acemex Management Company Limited was created as a means of survival. It grew into a business model, has been described as the work of a genius and has proved enduring.

A new Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald investigation reveals the network of hidden shell companies and secretive jurisdictions that allowed Fidel and Raúl Castro and now their military successors to borrow money and to buy, sell and charter the ships that bring in chemicals, fuel and construction supplies needed to build the growing tourism sector and export minerals.

The findings build on earlier reporting published in February as part of a global investigative collaboration called OpenLux, which spotlighted how the small European nation of Luxembourg was used as a camouflage for Cuban maritime operations.

The new investigation sheds light on little-known Acemex and the key players surrounding it — a pair of powerful Cuban brothers not named Fidel and Raúl, but Guillermo Faustino Rodriguez López-Calleja and hisyounger sibling Luis Alberto. The latter is a brigadier generalblacklisted by the United States in 2020.

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