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WHY CUBANS PROTESTED ON JULY 11. Is this the beginning of the end of fear in Cuba?

Samuel Farber July 27, 2021

Original Article

he street demonstrations that broke out all over Cuba on July 11 are an unprecedented event in the more than 60 years since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. But why now? This essay explores the historic, economic and political factors that help to clarify the causes of Cuba’s July 11, considers the role of the United States, and briefly reflects on Cuba’s future.

On Sunday, July 11, Cuba erupted in street protests. Unlike the major street protest that took place in 1994 and was limited to the Malecón, the long multi-lane Havana road facing the Gulf of Mexico, the July 11 outbreak of protest was national in scope. There were protests in many towns and cities, including Santiago de Cuba in the east, Trinidad in the center of the island, as well as Havana in the west. The growing access to social media in the island played an important role in the rapid spread of the protests; no wonder the government immediately suspended access to certain social media sites and brought all telephone calls from abroad to a halt. 

The street presence and participation of Black women and men was notable everywhere. This should not be surprising since Black Cubans are far less likely to receive hard currency remittances from abroad even though over 50% of the population receive some degree of financial support through that channel. These remittances have become the key to survival in Cuba, particularly in light of the ever-diminishing number of goods available in the peso-denominated subsidized ration book. Cuban Blacks have also been the victims of institutional racism in the growing tourist industry where ​“front line” visible jobs are mostly reserved for conventionally attractive white and light skinned women and men. 

The demonstrators did not endorse or support any political program or ideology, aside from the general demand for political freedom. The official Cuban press claims that the demonstrations were organized from abroad by right-wing Cubans. But none of the demands associated with the Cuban right-wing were echoed by the demonstrators, like the support for Trump often heard in South Florida and among some dissident circles in Cuba. And no one called for ​“humanitarian intervention” espoused by Plattistas (Platt Amendment, approved by Congress in 1901and abolished in 1934, gave the United States the right to militarily intervene in Cuba), such as biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, himself a victim of government repression for his independent ecological activism. The demonstrators did speak about the scarcity of food, medicine and essential consumer items, repudiated President Díaz-Canel as singao—a phrase that in Cuba translates as ​“fucked” but means a wicked, evil person, and chanted patria y vida (fatherland and life). ​“Patria y Vida” is the title of a very popular and highly polished rap song by a group of Cuban Black rappers (available on YouTube.) I have seen and heard the song more than a dozen times to enjoy it as well as to search for its explicit and implied meanings including in its silences and ambiguities.

“Patria y Vida” counterposes itself to the old Cuban government slogan of ​“Patria o Muerte” (“Fatherland or Death”). While that slogan may have made sense in the 1960s when Cuba was faced with actual invasions, it borders on the obscene when voiced by second generation bureaucrats. It is certainly high time that the regime’s macho cult of violence and death be challenged, and this song does it very well.

But what does it mean to implicitly repudiate the year 1959, the first year of the successful revolution, as the song does? There was no Soviet style system in Cuba at the time and the year 1959 is not equivalent to the Castro brothers. Many people of a wide variety of political beliefs fought and died to bring about the revolution that overthrew the Batista dictatorship. The song does express many important democratic sentiments against the present Cuban dictatorship, but it is unfortunately silent about the desirable alternative, which leaves room for the worst right-wing, pro-Trump elements in South Florida to rally behind it as if it was theirs. 

True to form, President Díaz-Canel called on the ​“revolutionaries” to be ready for combat and go out and reclaim the streets away from the demonstrators. In fact, it was the uniformed police, Seguridad del Estado (the secret police), and Boinas Negras (black berets, the special forces) that responded with tear gas, beatings and hundreds of arrests, including several leftist critics of the government. According to a July 21 Reuters report, the authorities had confirmed that they had started the trials of the demonstrators accused of a variety of charges, but denied it according to another press report on July 25. These are summary trials without the benefit of defense counsel, a format generally used for minor violations in Cuba but which in this case involves the possibility of years in prison for those found guilty. 

Most of the demonstrations were angry but usually peaceful and only in a few instances did the demonstrators behave violently, as in the case of some looting and a police car that was overturned. This was in clear contrast with the violence frequently displayed by the forces of order. It is worth noting that in calling his followers to take to the streets to combat the demonstrators, Díaz-Canel invoked the more than 60-year-old notion that ​“the streets belong to the revolutionaries.” Just as the government has always proclaimed that ​“the universities belong to the revolutionaries” in order to expel students and professors that don’t toe the government’s line. One example is René Fidel González García, a law professor expelled from the University of Oriente. He is a strong critic of government policies, who, far from giving up on his revolutionary ideals, has reaffirmed them on numerous occasions.

But Why Now?

Cuba is in the middle of the most serious economic crisis since the 1990s, when, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Cubans suffered innumerable and lengthy blackouts due to the severe shortage of oil, along with endemic malnutrition with its accompanying health problems.

The present economic crisis is due to the pandemic-related decline of tourism, combined with the government’s long term capital disinvestment and inability to maintain production, even at the lower levels of the last five years. Cuba’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) fell by 11% in 2020 and only rose by 0.5% in 2019, the year before the pandemic broke out. The annual sugar crop that ended this spring did not even reach 1 million tons, which is below the 1.4 million average of recent years and very far below the 8 million tons in 1989. The recent government attempt to unify the various currencies circulating in Cuba — primarily the CUC, a proxy for the dollar, and the peso — has backfired resulting in serious inflation that was predicted among others by the prominent Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago. While the CUC is indeed disappearing, the Cuban economy has been virtually dollarized with the constant decline of the value of the peso. While the official exchange rate is 24 pesos to the dollar, the prevailing black market rate is 60 pesos to the dollar, and it is going to get worse due to the lack of tourist dollars. This turn to an ever more expensive dollar, may be somewhat restrained in light of the government’s recent shift to the euro as its preferred hard currency. 

Worst of all, is the generalized shortage of food, even for those who have divisas, the generic term for hard currencies. The agricultural reforms of the last years aimed at increasing domestic production have not worked because they are inadequate and insufficient, making it impossible for the private farmers and for the usufructuarios (farmers who lease land from the government for 20 year terms renewable for another 20 years) to feed the country. Thus, for example, the government arbitrarily gives bank credits to the farmers for some things but not for others, like for clearing the marabú, an invasive weed that is costly to remove, but an essential task if crops are to grow. Acopio, the state agency in charge of collecting the substantial proportion of the crop that farmers have to sell to the state at prices fixed by the government is notoriously inefficient and wasteful, because the Acopio trucks do not arrive in time to collect their share, or because of the systemic indifference and carelessness that pervade the processes of shipping and storage. This creates huge spoilage and waste that have reduced the quality and quantity of goods available to consumers. It is for reasons such as these that Cuba imports 70% of the food it consumes from various countries including the United States (an exemption to the blockade was carved out in 2001 for the unlimited export of food and medicines to Cuba but with the serious limitation that Cuba has to pay in cash before the goods are shipped to the island.)

The Cuban economist Pedro Monreal has called attention to the overwhelming millions of pesos that the government has dedicated to the construction of tourist hotels (mostly in joint ventures with foreign capital) that even before the pandemic were filled to well below their capacity, while agriculture is starved of government investments. This unilateral choice of priorities by the one-party state is an example of what results from profoundly undemocratic practices. This is not a ​“flaw” of the Cuban system any more than the relentless pursuit of profit is a ​“flaw” of American capitalism. Both bureaucracy and the absence of democracy in Cuba and the relentless pursuit of profit in the United States are not defects of but constitutive elements of both systems.

Similarly, oil has become increasingly scarce as Venezuelan oil shipments in exchange for Cuban medical services have declined. There is no doubt that Trump’s strengthening of the criminal blockade, which went beyond merely reversing Obama’s liberalization during his second period in the White House, has also gravely hurt the island, among other reasons because it has made it more difficult for the Cuban government to use banks abroad, whether American or not, to finance its operations. This is because the U.S. government will punish enterprises who do business with Cuba by blocking them from doing business with the United States. Until the events of July 11,the Biden administration had left almost all of Trump’s sanctions untouched. Since then, it has promised to allow for larger remittances and to provide staff for the American consulate in Havana. 

While the criminal blockade has been very real and seriously damaging, it has been relatively less important in creating economic havoc than what lies at the very heart of the Cuban economic system: the bureaucratic, inefficient and irrational control and management of the economy by the Cuban government. It is the Cuban government and its ​“left” allies in the Global North, not the Cuban people, who continue, as they have for decades, to blame only the blockade. 

At the same time, the working class in the urban and rural areas have neither economic incentives nor political incentives in the form of democratic control of their workplaces and society to invest themselves in their work, thus reducing the quantity and quality of production. 

Health Situation in Cuba 

After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the early spring of 2020, Cuba did relatively well during the first year of the pandemic in comparison with other countries in the region. But in the last few months the situation in Cuba, for what are still unclear reasons except for the entry of the Delta variant in the island, made a sharp turn for the worse, and in doing so seriously aggravated the economic and political problems of the country. Thus, as Jessica Domínguez Delgado noted in the Cuban blog El Toque (July 13), until April 12, a little more than a year after the beginning of the pandemic, 467 persons had died among the 87,385 cases that had been diagnosticated as having Covid-19. But only three months later, on July 12, the number of the deceased had reached 1,579 with 224, 914 diagnosed cases (2.5 times as many as in the much longer previous period).

The province of Matanzas and its capital city of the same name located 100 kilometers east of Havana became the epicenter of the pandemic’s sudden expansion in Cuba. According to the provincial governor, Matanzas province was 3,000 beds short of the number of patients that needed them. On July 6, a personal friend who lives in the city of Matanzas wrote to me about the dire health situation in the city with a lack of doctors, tests, and oxygen in the midst of collapsing hospitals. My friend wrote that the national government had shown itself incapable of controlling the situation until that very day when it finally formulated a plan of action for the city. The government did finally take a number of measures including sending a substantial number of additional medical personnel, although it is too early to tell at the time of this writing with what results.

Cuban scientists and research institutions deserve a lot of credit for the development of several anti-Covid vaccines. However, the government was responsible for the excessive and unnecessary delay in immunizing people on the island, made worse by its decision to neither procure donations of vaccines from abroad nor join the 190-nation strong COVAX (Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access) sponsored by several international organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), an organization with which the Cuban government has good relations. Currently only 16% of the population has been fully vaccinated and 30% has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The medical crisis in the province and capital city of Matanzas fits into a more general pattern of medical scarcity and abandonment as the Cuban government has accelerated its export of medical personnel abroad to strengthen what has been for some time its number one export. This is why the valuable family doctor program introduced in the 1980s has seriously deteriorated. While the Cuban government uses a sliding scale (including some pro bono work) in what it charges its foreign government clients, Cuban doctors get an average of 10 – 25% of what the foreign clients pay the Cuban government. Needless to add, Cuban medical personnel cannot organize independent unions to bargain with the government about the terms of their employment. Nevertheless, going abroad is a desired assignment for most Cuban doctors because they earn a significant amount of hard currency and can purchase foreign goods. However, if they fail to return to Cuba after their assignments are over, they are administratively (i.e., not judicially) punished with a forced exile of 8 years duration. 

The Political Context 

Earlier this year, the leadership old guard, who fought the Batista regime and are in their late eighties and early nineties, retired from their government positions to give way to the new leadership of Miguel Díaz-Canel (born in 1960) as president and Manuel Marrero Cruz (born in 1963) as prime minister. This new leadership is continuing Raúl Castro’s policy of economic and social liberalization without democratization. For example, in 2013 the government liberalized the regulations that controlled the movement of people to make it easier for most Cubans to travel abroad. However, at the same time, the government made it virtually impossible for many dissidents to leave the country, by for example delaying their departure so they could not make it on time to conferences held abroad, and by creating a list of some 200 ​“regulados” (people subject to regulatory rules) that are not allowed to leave the country at all. It is important to point out that as in the case of other measures adopted by the Cuban government mentioned earlier, these actions continue the policies of Fidel and Raúl Castro, in which political and administrative decisions are made outside of the regime’s own judicial system. The same applies to the hundreds of relatively brief detentions that the government of Raúl Castro carried out every year, especially to try to impede public demonstrations not controlled by the government (a police method that only works for previously planned political protests, unlike the ones that took place on July 11). 

The One-Party State

The one-party state continues to function as under Fidel and Raúl Castro’s rule. In reality, however, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, its Spanish acronym) is not really a party — that would imply the existence of other parties. Neither is the PCC primarily an electoral party although it does firmly control from the top the periodic so-called elections that always result in the unanimous approval of the political course followed by the authorities.

Sometimes people disillusioned with the existing corrupt parties in Latin America and even in the United States itself, react with indifference if not approval to the Cuban one-party state because they perceive elections as reinforcing corrupt systems. Thus such people think that is better to have one honest political party that works than a corrupt multi-party system that doesn’t work. The problem with this type of thinking is that one-party bureaucratic systems do not work well at all, except perhaps to thoroughly repress any opposition. Moreover, corruption sooner or later works its way into the single party system as history has repeatedly shown. In the case of Cuba, Fidel Castro himself warned in a famous speech on November 17, 2005, that the revolution was in greater danger to perish because of endemic corruption than because of the actions of counterrevolutionaries.

The organizational monopoly of the PCC — explicitly sanctioned by the Cuban constitution — affects far more than elections. It extends its power in a highly authoritarian manner to control Cuban society through the so-called mass organizations that function as transmission belts for the decisions taken by the PCC’s Political Bureau. For example, the CTC, the official trade union, is the transmission belt that allows the Cuban state to maintain its monopoly of the organization of Cuban workers. Beyond enforcing the prohibition of strikes, the CTC is not an organization for the defense of working class interests as determined by the workers themselves. Rather, it was established to advance what the ruling PCC leadership determines are the workers’ best interests.

The same control mechanisms apply to other ​“mass organizations” such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and to other institutions such as editorial houses, universities and the rest of the educational system. The mass media (radio, television and newspapers) continue to be under the control of the government, guided in their coverage by the ​“orientations” of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the PCC. There are however, two important exceptions to the state’s control of media organs: one, is the internal publications of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the Cuban Catholic hierarchy is extremely cautious, and the circulation of its publications is in any case limited to its parishes and other Catholic institutions. A far more important exception is the Internet, which the government has yet been unable to place under its absolute control and remains as the principal vehicle for critical and dissident voices. It was precisely this less than full control of the Internet that made the nationwide politically explosive outbreaks of July 11 possible. 

Where is Cuba Going?

Without the benefit of Fidel Castro’s presence and the degree of legitimacy retained by the historic leadership, Díaz-Canel and the other new government leaders were politically hit hard by the events of July 11, even though they received the shameful support of most of the broad international Left. The fact that people no longer seem to be afraid may be the single largest threat for the government emerging from the events on July 11. In spite of that blow, the new leadership is on course to continue Raúl Castro’s orientation to develop a Cuban version of the Sino-Vietnamese model, which combine a high degree of political authoritarianism with concessions to private and especially foreign capital.

At the same time, the Cuban government leaders will continue to follow inconsistent and even contradictory economic reform policies for fear of losing control to Cuban private capital. The government recently authorized the creation of private PYMES (small and medium private enterprises), but it would not be at all surprising if many of the newly created PYMES end up in the hands of important state functionaries turned private capitalists. There is an important government stratum composed of business managers and technicians with ample experience in such sectors as tourism, particularly in the military. The most important among them is the 61-year-old Gen. Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, a former son-in-law of Raúl Castro, who is the director of GAESA, the huge military business conglomerate, which includes Gaviota, the principal tourist enterprise in the island. It is significant that he recently became a member of the Political Bureau of the PCC. 

Perhaps this younger generation of business military and civilian bureaucrats may try to overcome the rentier mentality that 30 years of ample Soviet assistance created among the Cuban leadership as witnessed the failure to modernize and diversify the sugar industry (as Brazil did) during those relatively prosperous years that ended in 1990. To be sure, the U.S. economic blockade contributed to the rentier mentality by encouraging a day-to-day economic survival attitude rather than of increasing the productivity of the Cuban economy to allow for a more prosperous future. 

Finally, what about the United States? Biden is unlikely to do much in his first term to change the United States’ imperialist policies towards Cuba that were significantly aggravated by Trump. Whether a possible second Democratic administration in Washington beginning in 2025 will do anything different remains an open question.

There is, however, a paradox underlying the U.S. government’s Cuba policy. While U.S. policy is not at present primarily driven by ruling class interests but, rather, by electoral considerations, particularly in the highly contested state of Florida, it is not for that reason necessarily less harsh or, what is more alarming, less durable. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, probably the most politically active business institution in the United States has advocated the resumption of normal business relations with Cuba for many years. Thomas J. Donohue, its long-time director who retired earlier this year, visited Cuba in numerous occasions and met with government leaders there. Big agribusiness concerns are also interested in doing business with Cuba as are agricultural and other business interests in the South, Southwest and Mountain States represented by both Republican and Democratic politicians. However, it is doubtful that they are inclined to expend a lot of political capital in achieving that goal.

This places a heavy extra burden on the U.S. Left to overcome the deadlock, which clearly favors the indefinite continuation of the blockade, through a new type of campaign that both zeroes in on the grave aggression and injustice committed against the Cuban people without at the same time becoming apologists for the political leadership of the Cuban state. 

Be that as it may, people on the Left in the United States have two key tasks. First, they should firmly oppose the criminal economic blockade of Cuba. Second, they should support the democratic rights of the Cuban people rather than an ossified police state, in the same way that they have supported the struggle for human rights, democracy, and radical social and economic change in Colombia and Chile in Latin America as well as Myanmar and Hong Kong in Asia.

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CUBA: SERVE THE PEOPLE; Cuba Is Facing its Worst Shortage of Food since the 1990s

Government bungling and a shortage of dollars are to blame

The Economist, July 3, 2021

Original Article: Cuba’s Food Crisis

“CUBANS HAVE always been resourceful,” says Ana, the owner of a private farm-to-table restaurant near Havana. “But now we need to be magicians and acrobats.” The communist island is facing its worst shortage of food since the 1990s. Finding ingredients was never easy in a place which imports around 70% of its food. Over the past year it has become nearly impossible. When grocery shops are empty, as is so often the case, Ana tries the internet or the black market, only to find that prices are prohibitively high. Farmers no longer want to sell produce to her, she says, as they need to eat it themselves.

“CUBANS HAVE always been resourceful,” says Ana, the owner of a private farm-to-table restaurant near Havana. “But now we need to be magicians and acrobats.” The communist island is facing its worst shortage of food since the 1990s. Finding ingredients was never easy in a place which imports around 70% of its food. Over the past year it has become nearly impossible. When grocery shops are empty, as is so often the case, Ana tries the internet or the black market, only to find that prices are prohibitively high. Farmers no longer want to sell produce to her, she says, as they need to eat it themselves.

The government blames the shortage of food mostly on sanctions imposed by the United States—sanctions which, on June 24th, the UN General Assembly voted to condemn, as it has done nearly every year since 1992. But since 2001 the sanctions have exempted food. Indeed, the United States is the largest exporter of food to Cuba, though last year those imports were at their lowest level since 2002.

Some external factors have affected the food supply. The jump in global food prices, which in the year to May surged by 40%, the largest increase in a decade, has made imports more expensive. But the main problem is the government’s lack of hard currency. Tourism, normally 10% of GDP, has atrophied because of the pandemic: whereas 4.2m people visited in 2019, just over 1m did last year, nearly all in the first three months of the year. Remittances have also suffered. Before covid-19, commercial airlines would operate as many as ten flights a day between Miami and Havana, all packed with cash-toting mulas. But now only a handful of flights go to Havana each week. In addition, this year’s harvest of sugar—one of Cuba’s main exports—was the worst in more than a century, as a result of drought (the dollar shortage also sapped supplies of fertiliser and petrol).

The government is trying desperately to eke out dollars and skimp on imported goods. Cubans can no longer buy greenbacks from state-operated exchanges at the airport. State-owned bakeries are replacing a fifth of the imported wheat flour they use in bread with substitutes made from home-grown corn, pumpkin or yucca, much to the dismay of consumers, who have complained that bread now tastes like soggy corn. The sale of biscuits has been limited in certain cities to cut back even more on imports of flour.

Since February, in a desperate attempt to collect hard currency, the government has required that foreigners pay for their seven-day mandatory stay in a state-owned quarantine hotel in dollars (since June, this has even applied to some Cubans). To earn more from its diaspora, the state also operates e-commerce sites through which Cubans abroad can pay in dollars or euros for food and gifts to be delivered to people on the island.

Indeed many Cubans abroad are trying to help their family members stave off hunger by sending their own care packages. But even these have become harder and more costly to post. Goods from the United States that once took two weeks to deliver can now take up to four months to arrive, as shortages of fuel and trucks in Cuba make the final leg of the delivery trickier.

Bungled policy responses have made things worse. On June 10th the Cuban central bank announced that, from June 21st, Cubans would not be able to deposit dollars into their bank accounts for an undisclosed amount of time. This is despite the fact that, in order to buy goods in state-owned shops, Cubans need to have a prepaid card loaded with dollars. They will now have to exchange their dollars for euros or other currencies, which involves a fee. Emilio Morales, the head of the Havana Consulting Group in Miami, thinks this was a way to scare people into depositing more before the deadline.

Rather than stabilise the economy, the policy is likely to do the reverse. Some exchange houses in Miami soon ran out of euros. Cuban banks were overwhelmed by queues of panicking people trying to deposit the dollars they needed to buy groceries. “Cuba has 11m hostages and is expecting Cuban exiles to pay their ransom,” says Mr Morales. Ricardo Cabrisas, the deputy prime minister, was recently in Paris negotiating another extension on the roughly $3.5bn of loans owed to foreign governments—the island has been in arrears since 2019. An ultimatum from creditors may help explain the government’s desire to hoover up greenbacks.

Despite making some attempts to liberalise the economy, the government is bafflingly poor at boosting agricultural production or wooing foreign investors. Firms producing food in Cuba earn only pesos, which have little value internationally, but must buy almost all their inputs abroad in a foreign currency. The government requires farmers to sell their harvest to the state at uncompetitive prices and imposes draconian rules on livestock management. Up until last month it was illegal to slaughter a cow before it had reached an advanced age, as determined by the state. Now farmers may kill them either to sell the meat or to eat it themselves. But before they do so, they must jump through a series of hoops, including certifying that the cow has produced at least 520 litres of milk a year. They are also not allowed to let their herd shrink overall, and so can only slaughter one cow for every three calves they add to it—a tall order in the long run, mathematically. As it is, Cuba is having trouble maintaining its existing cattle herd: last year, in the province of Las Tunas alone, more than 7,000 cows died from dehydration. Farmers have to complete paperwork and wait a week for approval, too. “The process of applying to eat a cow is enough to make you lose your appetite,” says a farmer in Bahía Honda.

Rural transportion
Zafra of 2016-20127

Cubans are no strangers to difficult times. Eliecer Jiménez Almeida, a Cuban filmmaker in Miami, was a child during the “special period” of hardship after the fall of the Soviet Union, and remembers how his grandmother sold her gold teeth in exchange for soap, just so that he and his siblings could take a bath. For him and for many Cubans, the question is not how many more of the same indignities their people can endure, but how much longer.

Discontent was slightly less likely when Fidel Castro was in power. He had charisma and mystique that neither his brother and successor, Raúl, nor Cuba’s current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, can replicate. What is more, the Cuban diaspora is larger and wealthier and the internet has shown Cubans that many of their economic difficulties are created by their leaders, not the United States. The best way to stave off popular discontent would be to implement more and bigger economic reforms, at a faster pace, starting with farms and small businesses. It is a measure of Cubans’ disillusionment that the old revolutionary cry of “Hasta la victoria siempre” (On to victory, always) has largely been supplanted by the longsuffering “¿Hasta cuándo?” (How much longer?) ■

Fidel, cutting cane during the Zafra of 1970
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LA INDUSTRIA AZUCARERA DE CUBA: ESPEJO DEL FRACASO

Desde hace 130 año no se producía en la Isla tan poca azúcar. ¿Qué hacer?

Emilio Morales, Mayo 2021 – 12:58

Original Article: La industria azucarera de Cuba

La noticia anunciada por el Gobierno cubano de que la zafra apenas alcanzó 816.000 toneladas de azúcar no constituye sorpresa alguna, sino la confirmación de que el sistema es la estampa misma del fracaso. A esta noticia hay que agregar que seguramente el azúcar comenzará a escasear en la Isla, como lo hacen ya una larga lista de alimentos y productos ausentes no solo en las tiendas en moneda nacional, sino también en las de divisas.

Lo peor de todo es que difícilmente el Gobierno tenga recursos para importar el déficit de azúcar que cubra la demanda interna del país. El régimen ha convertido al que fuera el mayor productor de azúcar del mundo en un país importador.

Sin duda, una mala noticia para una población que siente los primeros embates de una hambruna ya presente en decenas de miles de hogares.

Como suele ser costumbre, el régimen ha achacado la baja productiva al embargo de EEUU. Lo cierto es que apenas 38 centrales participaron en la zafra, lo cual representa el 24.35% del total de los centrales azucareros confiscados en 1959. La cifra de producción alcanzada en 2021 es la menor lograda en más de 130 años.

El vicepresidente de la empresa AZCUBA dijo al diario oficial Granma que los pobres resultados alcanzados en la zafra del 2021 fueron consecuencia de “la crisis económico-financiera y energética, acentuada por la intensificación del bloqueo económico, comercial y financiero del Gobierno de EEUU y los efectos de la pandemia de la COVID-19”.

Cuando en 1959 el Gobierno cubano se adueñó de la industria azucarera más poderosa del mundo a punta de pistola, sin pagar un centavo a los dueños de los 161 ingenios azucareros que fueron confiscados, nadie imaginó que 62 años después, dicha industria se fuera a convertir en un amasijo de chatarra incapaz de alcanzar los valores de producción que se obtenían cuando las zafras se hacían con trapiches.

Fidel Castro no solo robó y arruinó una industria que era la más moderna en aquel entonces, y la que más producía, sino que arruinó la vida y el futuro de millones de cubanos y la economía de un país.

¿Cómo fue posible esta galopante involución en el tiempo?

La génesis de la debacle de la industria azucarera pasa por la combinación de varios factores que han incidido en su desarrollo. En primer lugar, hay que señalar el tema de la propiedad de la tierra y la organización empresarial que rige la industria. En segundo lugar, la base legal, es decir, las leyes que hoy dan soporte al desarrollo de esa industria en la Isla. Y en tercer lugar, la falta de visión estratégica de quienes hoy dirigen la industria; en otras palabras, la falta de visión estratégica del Gobierno.

Hace un siglo Cuba era uno de los productores de azúcar más importantes en el mercado internacional. Sin embargo, el mal desempeño de su industria azucarera acumulado en los últimos 62 años de economía centralizada empujó al país a convertirse en un mercado importador de azúcar.

En 2018, la producción de azúcar en la Isla apenas llegó a 1.1 toneladas métricas. Dicha cifra representó un 16.3% menos que la producción alcanzada en 1905. La producción de 816.000 toneladas lograda en 2021 confirma claramente el impactante declive de la industria.

Figura 1. Serie histórica de la producción de azúcar (TM), 1905-2021.

Fuente:  Havana Consulting Group a partir de los datos publicados por la Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas e Información (ONEI).

Esta figura nos muestra claramente la debacle en la que se ha sumido la industria azucarera cubana en los últimos 30 años, desde que desaparecieron los mercados de la URSS y el campo socialista de Europa del Este.

En 1958 el país tenía 161 centrales funcionando a toda máquina y una fuerte presencia de inversión extranjera, sobre todo norteamericana. Del total de centrales en activo, 36 pertenecían a empresas norteamericanas, 121 estaban en manos de empresarios privados cubanos, tres eran de españoles y uno de franceses.

Para Continuar: La industria azucarera de Cuba

Reparaciones, Central Australia, Noviembre de 1994, Photos por Arch Ritter
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ANALYSIS: SOARING INTERNATIONAL PRICES AGGRAVATE CUBAN FOOD CRISIS

Reuters, May 20, 2021.

Original Article: Cuban Food Crisis

Marc Frank

Waiting. courtesy 14 y medio

Soaring international food and shipping prices and low domestic production are further squeezing import-dependent Cuba’s ability to feed its people.

Cuba traditionally imports by sea around 70% of the food it consumes, but tough U.S. sanctions and the pandemic, which has gutted tourism, have cut deeply into foreign exchange earnings.

For more than a year Cubans have endured long waiting lines and steep price rises in their search for everything from milk, butter, chicken and beans to rice, pasta and cooking oil. They have scavenged for scant produce at the market and collected dwindling World War II-style food rations. 

This month the Communist-run government announced flour availability would be cut by 30% through July.  Diorgys Hernandez, general director of the food processing ministry, said when he announced the wheat shortage that “the financial costs involved in wheat shipments to the country” were partly to blame.  That was bad news for consumers who had been buying more bread to make up for having less rice, pasta and root vegetables at the dinner table.

“People eat a lot of bread and there is concern there is going to be a shortage of bread because that is what people eat the most,” Havana pensioner and cancer survivor Clara Diaz Delgado said as she waited in a food line.

Cuba does not grow wheat due to its subtropical climate. The price of the commodity was $280 per tonne in April, compared with $220 a year earlier.

The government has also said the sugar harvest was short of the planned 1.2 million tonnes by more than 30%, coming in at less than a million tonnes for the first time in more than a century.  Cuba will have trouble making up for a shortage of domestically produced sugar as international prices are around 70% higher than a year ago.

Adding to the pain, the cost of international container shipping is up as much as 50% over the last year and bulk freight more.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported its international food price index was up 30.8% through April compared with the same month last year, and the highest since May 2014.

The Cuban state has a monopoly on foreign trade and purchases around 15% of the food it imports from the United States for cash under a 2000 exception to the trade embargo.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which follows the trade, said sales fell 36.6% last year to $163.4 million, compared with 2019. They recovered in the first quarter, reaching $69.6 million, though that represented less food due to higher prices.

Chicken, Cuba’s most important U.S. import, is badly affected. A U.S. businessman who sells chicken to Cuba said he shipped drumsticks at 24 cents a pound in January and 48 cents in April. He did not wish to be named.  “Resuming global demand, increased prices for product inputs and labor shortages suggest that commodity prices will not decrease soon,” Kavulich said.

The economy declined 11% last year and according to local economists contracted further during the first trimester of 2021 as a surge in the new coronavirus kept tourism shuttered and much of the country partially locked-down.  The government reported that foreign exchange earnings were just 55% of planned levels last year, while imports fell between 30% and 40%.

Incoming container traffic was down 20% through April, compared with last year, according to a source with access to the data, who requested anonymity.

The government has not published statistics for the notoriously inefficient and rustic agricultural sector since 2019 but scattered provincial and other reports on specific crops and livestock indicate substantial declines for rice, beans, pork, dairy and other Cuban fare.  This was confirmed by a local expert who requested anonymity and said output was down by double digits due to a lack of fuel and imported fertilizer and pesticides.

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CUBA SUGAR HARVEST PILES ON ECONOMIC WOES

Reuters , May 10, 2021 9:18PM EDT

Original Article: Cuba’s Sugar Harvest

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, May 10 (Reuters) – With Cuba’s sugar harvest poised to draw to a close as the coronavirus pandemic rages, production stands at little more than two-thirds of planned levels, an industry official said on Monday, indicating the smallest crop in more than a century.

In yet another blow to the ailing Cuban economy, Jose Carlos Santos Ferrer, first vice president of state sugar monopoly AZCUBA, told the state Cuban News Agency that as of end-April, production had reached 68% of the Communist-run country’s plan. With the planned target announced earlier this year as 1.2 million tonnes of raw sugar, that means a harvest of 816,000 tonnes – the lowest since 1908.

The harvest was also hit hard by a shortage of foreign exchange to purchase fuel, agricultural inputs and spare parts due to the COVID-19 pandemic and fierce U.S. sanctions. Mills were temporarily shuttered due to fuel and cane shortages, as well as COVID-19 outbreaks, Santos Ferrer said.

Cuba consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes of sugar a year domestically and has an agreement to sell China 400,000 tonnes annually. It was not clear if authorities planned to cut domestic consumption, exports to China or both.

Cuba’s sugar harvest begins in November and usually winds down by May, when yields plummet as the summer heat and rainy season set in. Even if the country manages to reach 900,000 tonnes of raw sugar, that would still mark the lowest since 1908.

Cuba’s output has averaged around 1.4 million tonnes of raw sugar over the last five years, compared with an industry high of 8 million tonnes in 1989.

While no longer a top export, and behind other foreign revenue earners such as medical services, tourism, remittances and nickel, sugar still brings Cuba hundreds of millions of dollars a year from exports, including derivatives. It’s also used to produce energy, alcohol and animal feed at home.

Like other industries, agriculture and cane cultivation face structural problems in the import-dependent command economy which the government is only just addressing.

Over the last six months it has adopted monetary and other market-oriented reforms, but these will take time to kick in.

Cuban economist Ricardo Torres said the measures established a minimum base to relaunch the sugar sector, but were not nearly enough.  “As the overall reform progresses, new opportunities will emerge for the sector, but it requires a fresh look to begin the recovery, possibly with outside advice,” he said.

Cuba’s economy shrank 11% last year and continued its decline through April, local economists said, as a COVID-19 surge gutted tourism and combined with shortages of even the most basic goods to hit retail sales and agriculture in general, as well as sugar.

“The results are not good and we are at the start of the rainy season which effectively ends the harvest,” a local sugar expert said, confirming the country would not reach a million tonnes for the first time in over a century and requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to talk with journalists.

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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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Nuevo Libro: APUNTES SOBRE ECONOMÍA CUBANAY COVID-19

CENTRO DE ESTUDIOS DE LA ECONOMÍA CUBANA, Universidad de la Habana.

COMPILADORES: HUMBERTO BLANCO ROSALES y BETSY ANAYA CRUZ

Febrero de 2021

ISBN: 978-9945-9278-3-2

Complete Text of Book

INDICE:

A modo de introducción: otra pelea cubana contra los demonios/ Humberto Blanco Rosales y Mayra Tejuca Martínez

Reflexiones en torno a la nueva estrategia para el desarrollo económico y social de Cuba/ Betsy Anaya Cruz

Implementación de la nueva estrategia económica y social: una mirada desde la gestión/ Humberto Blanco Rosales

IED en tiempos de COVID-19: ¿qué podemos esperar?/ Juan Triana Cordoví

Cuba: apuntes sobre comercio exterior y COVID-19/ Ricardo Torres Pérez

Alimentación en Cuba: impactos de la COVID-19/ Anicia García Álvarez

El turismo mundial y en Cuba pospandemia/ Miguel Alejandro Figueras

Teletrabajo en tiempos de COVID-19: oportunidades y desafíos para Cuba/ Dayma Echevarría León

Trabajo por cuenta propia. Pre y posCOVID-19/ Ileana Díaz Fernández

La banca comercial tras la COVID-19/ Francisco Fidel Borrás Atiénzar y Oscar Luis Hung Pentón

De los autores

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SUGAR HARVEST NO SWEETENER FOR CUBA’S AILING ECONOMY

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) March 12, 2021

Original Article: Cuba’s Sugar Harvest arvest

Hopes in Cuba that sugar exports would soften an economic slowdown and plug an exchangeable currency gap appear in vain, with state media reports of output at least 200,000 metric tons short of forecasts for the end of February.

While no longer a top export and behind other foreign revenue earners such as medical services, tourism, remittances and nickel, sugar still brings Cuba hundreds of millions of dollars a year from exports, including derivatives, while also producing energy, alcohol and animal feed at home.

Like other industries, agriculture and cane cultivation face structural problems in the Communist-run import dependent command economy, which the government is only just addressing.  In the last six months it has adopted monetary and other market-oriented reforms, but these will take time to kick in.

Julio Andres Garcia, president of the Caribbean island nation’s sugar monopoly AZCUBA, said in December that the state-owned industry would produce 1.2 million metric tons of raw sugar in 2021, similar to the previous year.

Cuba’s output has averaged around 1.4 million metric tons of raw sugar over the last five years, compared with an industry high of 8 million tons in 1989.

The harvest runs from November into May with peak yields from January through mid-April.

Reuters estimates based on available data and local sources that this year’s harvest will come in under one million metric tons of raw sugar for the first time since 1908, and perhaps as low as 900,000 tons, a 25% decline.  All 13 sugar-producing provinces were behind schedule as March began, and the five largest producers Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Villa Clara, Holguin and Las Tunas provinces by between 25,000 and 50,000 metric tons of raw sugar each.

The harvest has been plagued by a dearth of fuel and spare parts for mills and machinery, cane shortages and low yields and a COVID-19 outbreak in at least one of 38 active mills.

Cuba consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 metric tons of sugar a year and has a 400,000 metric ton toll deal with China.

Tough U.S. sanctions and the pandemic, which have gutted tourism, have cut into Cuban foreign exchange earnings causing scarcity, job losses and an 11% economic contraction in 2020.  So far this year appears no better, with the pandemic keeping visitors away, no change in U.S. policy and the scarcity of foreign currency leading to shortages of fuel, agricultural inputs and a general scarcity of even basic consumer goods.

The government reported that foreign exchange earnings were just 55% of planned last year, in part because the harvest came in 300,000 metric tons short, while imports fell between 30% and 40%. It did not provide further details.

“There is no reason to believe the shortfall will be made up and every reason to believe it could become worse,” a Cuban sugar expert said, requesting anonymity due to restrictions on talking to foreign journalists.

Fidel, Machetero, 1969
Repairs before the Zafra, Central Australia, 1995
Zafra, Canecutters, Oriente Province, 2021
Firing Up the Mill, 2021
Mechanized Harvest, 2021
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UNITED STATES AGRICULTURE COALITION FOR CUBA ENCOURAGES BIDEN ADMINISTRATION TO IMPROVE U.S. / CUBA AGRICULTURE RELATIONS

For Immediate Release January 14, 2021

Contact: Paul Johnson Phone: 773-814-2493; Email: usagcoalitionforcuba@gmail.com

Original Letter: USACC

United States Agriculture Coalition for Cuba Encourages Biden Administration to Improve U.S. / Cuba Agriculture Relations

The United States Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC) today wrote to President-Elect Biden to urge a return to policies of engagement toward Cuba, for the sake of the U.S. national interest, to boost U.S. food exports to Cuba, and to support the development of beneficial relations between our countries’ agricultural sectors.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Mr. President-Elect: The undersigned members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba congratulate you on your election victory and wish you every success in office.

We would like to offer our views on U.S. relations with our neighbors in Cuba.

We share your view that six decades of economic sanctions against Cuba have been ineffectual. Our sanctions hurt the Cuban people, limit American influence in Cuba, and antagonize friends and allies, while doing nothing to advance any U.S. interest.

A turn to policies of engagement will serve our national interest and benefit U.S. agriculture, which has long practiced many forms of engagement on a global scale. Freed of restrictions, we expect that ties between our agricultural sectors will produce important economic and humanitarian benefits and contribute to better relations between our peoples and governments. American strength in agricultural exports has been built over the years on the principle that all markets matter.

Cuba is an opportunity for U.S. farmers and ranchers: it imports $2 billion in food each year, less than ten percent from the United States. U.S. exports of potatoes, wheat, animal feed, dairy, poultry, rice, and other products stand to grow significantly.

U.S. farmers, businesses, private organizations, NGOs, and universities can work with Cuban counterparts on the challenges of increasing productivity, adapting to climate change, and building sound commercial strategies.

With Cuba now allowing its private sector to import and export, and also inviting foreign investment in private farm cooperatives, the opportunities for Americans to assist in the growth of that private sector have expanded

We offer these recommendations.

First, we urge you to resume efforts to normalize relations. We hope you make clear that neither our principles nor our interests are served by harming the Cuban economy and increasing hardship for the eleven million neighbors who live in it. We urge you to inform Congress that your Administration would welcome legislation to end the embargo entirely, should Congress choose to act.

Second, we urge early action to restore the Cuban Asset Control Regulations to those in place January 20, 2017 and to suspend Title III of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. These regulatory steps are important to U.S. agriculture, to business generally, and to any Americans seeking to make a positive difference. Recent experience shows that U.S. travelers propel growth across Cuba’s private sector, benefiting many thousands of Cuban families.

Third, we urge you to support legislation to put U.S. exporters on an equal footing with our competitors by allowing us to negotiate trade terms including private financial credit.

Fourth, we urge resuming full operation of our Embassy in Havana as health considerations permit. The lack of consular and other operations impedes travel, business, and effective diplomacy. A full Embassy staff, which we hope will include U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel, can support continued work on the 2016 agriculture memoranda of understanding, especially in plant and animal health, and to create conditions for two-way trade, including Cuban exports. American agriculture supports a Cuba policy based on our broad national interests, enabling citizens and business across our country to engage freely.

We are confident that such a course will have strong bipartisan support, and we urge you to take it.

We appreciate your consideration of our views.

Sincerely,

 USA Rice Federation

National Corn Growers Association

American Soybean Association

US Grains Council

U.S. Wheat Associates

National Sorghum Producers

National Potato Council

National Association of Wheat Growers

National Onion Association

National Turkey Federation

US Dry Bean Council

Keesling Farms-Chase,

Kansas Isbell Farms-England,

 Arkansas American Feed Industry

Michigan Agri-Business Association

 Minnesota Department of Agriculture

 Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Iowa Corn Growers Association

Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture

Kansas Wheat Commission

 Hoverson Farms-Larimore,

North Dakota Sietsema Farms, Allendale,

Michigan Allied Potato-Bakersfield, California

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CUBA’S ECONOMY WAS HURTING. THE PANDEMIC BROUGHT A FOOD CRISIS.

The island was able to control the coronavirus, but the dearth of tourists in the pandemic’s wake strangled an economy already damaged by mismanagement and U.S. sanctions.

By Ed Agustin and Frances Robles

New York Times, September 20, 2020

Original Article: Cuba’s Economy Was Hurting….

HAVANA — It was a lucky day for the unemployed tourism guide in Havana.  The line to get into the government-run supermarket, which can mean a wait of eight or 10 hours, was short, just two hours long. And better yet, the guide, Rainer Companioni Sánchez, scored toothpaste — a rare find — and splurged $3 on canned meat.

“It’s the first time we have seen toothpaste in a long time,” he said, sharing the victory with his girlfriend. “The meat in that can is very, very expensive, but we each bought one simply because sometimes in an emergency there is no meat anywhere.”

Cuba, a police state with a strong public health care system, was able to quickly control the coronavirus, even as the pandemic threw wealthier nations into crisis. But its economy, already hurting from crippling U.S. sanctions and mismanagement, was particularly vulnerable to the economic devastation that followed.

As nations closed airports and locked down borders to combat the spread of the virus, tourist travel to Cuba plummeted and the island lost an important source of hard currency, plunging it into one of the worst food shortages in nearly 25 years.

What food is available is often found only in government-run stores that are stocked with imports and charge in dollars. The strategy, also used in the 1990s, during the economic depression known as the “special period,” is used by the government to gather hard currency from Cubans who have savings or get money from friends or relatives abroad.

Even in these stores, goods are scarce and prices can be exorbitant: That day, Mr. Companioni couldn’t find chicken or cooking oil, but there was 17-pound ham going for $230 and a seven-pound block of manchego cheese with a $149 price tag.  And the reliance on dollar stores, a move intended to prop up the socialist revolution in a country that prides itself on egalitarianism, has exacerbated economic inequality, some Cubans say.

“This is a store that charges in a currency Cubans do not earn,” said Lazaro Manuel Domínguez Hernández, 31, a doctor who gets cash from a friend in the United States to spend at one of the 72 new dollar stores. “It kind of marks the difference in classes, because not everyone can buy here.”

He left the Puntilla supermarket with a cart full of fruit cocktail, cheese and chocolate biscuits that he loaded into a 1950s Dodge taxi.

Cuba’s economy was struggling before the coronavirus. The Trump administration has worked hard to strengthen the decades-old trade embargo, going after Cuba’s sources of currency. It also imposed sanctions on tanker companies that delivered petroleum to Cuba from Venezuela and cut back on the commercial flights from the United States to the island.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an end to charter flights, too. After the Cuban state energy company Corporación Panamericana faced sanctions, even cooking gas rations had to be reduced.  Then Covid-19 put a stop to tourism. Remittances sent by Cubans who live abroad began to dry up as the illness led to huge job losses in the United States.

That left the Cuban government with far fewer sources of revenue to buy the products it sells in state-run stores, leading to shortages of basic goods throughout the island. Earlier this year, the government warned that personal hygiene products would be hard to come by.

Cuba is facing “the triple threat of Trump, Venezuela and then Covid,” said Ted A. Henken, a professor at Baruch College and a co-author with A. Ritter of the book “Entrepreneurial Cuba.”   “Covid was the thing that pushed them over the edge.”

The pandemic, and the recession that followed, pushed the government to announce that, after years of promises, it would make good on a series of economic reforms intended to stimulate the private sector.

The Communist Party said in 2016 that it would legalize small and medium-size private businesses, but no mechanism was ever set up to do so, thus business owners are still unable to get financing, sign contracts as a legal entity or import goods. Now, that is expected to change, and more lines of work are expected to be legalized, although details have not been announced.

Cuba also has a history of offering reforms only to rescind them months or years later, entrepreneurs said.  “They go back, go forward, then back again,” said Marta Deus, the co-founder of a business magazine who owns a delivery company. “They need to trust the private sector for all its capacity to provide for the future of the economy. We have big ideas.”

The government puts the blame for the current situation squarely on Washington.  “Why can’t we export what we want? Because every time we export to someone, they try to cut off that export,” President Miguel Díaz-Canel said of the United States in a speech this summer. “Every time we are trying to manage a credit, they try to take away our credit. They try to prevent fuel from reaching Cuba. And then we have to buy in third markets, at higher prices. Why is it not talked about?”

Mr. Díaz-Canel stressed that despite the hardships, Cuba still managed a successful battle against the coronavirus: The health system did not collapse, and, he said, no children or medical professionals died of the disease.

With 11.2 million people, Cuba had just over 5,000 coronavirus cases and 115 deaths by Friday, one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. By comparison, Puerto Rico, with 3.2 million people, had five times as many deaths.

People who tested positive in Cuba were whisked away to the hospital for two weeks — even if they were asymptomatic — and their exposed contacts were sent to isolation for two weeks. Apartment buildings, and even entire city blocks, that saw clusters were closed to visitors.

Anyone flying in after March also had to isolate in quarantine centers, and medical students went door to door to screen millions of people daily. Masks are mandatory, and the fines for being caught without one are stiff.

With international flights at a virtual standstill, immigration officers are now assigned to stand guard outside quarantined apartment buildings, making sure no one goes in or out 24 hours a day.

At a quarantined building in Boyeros, a neighborhood near the Havana airport, an immigration officer sat in the shade while messengers and family members of those inside dropped off food. Daniela Llanes López, 21, left vegetables for her grandfather, who was stuck inside because five people in his building had tested positive.

“In Cuba, I don’t know anyone who knows anyone who got the coronavirus,” said Ms. Llanes, who studies German at the University of Havana, noting that she does know people in Germany who contracted the illness.

The strategies worked, although when the authorities started lifting restrictions in July, opening beaches, bars and public transportation, the nation’s capital saw an uptick in cases and a curfew was imposed there.

“Cuba is good in crisis and good in preventive health care,” said Katrin Hansing, a professor at Baruch College who spent the peak of the pandemic in lockdown in Cuba. Support for the government was notable, she said; even if the store lines were long, people felt safe from the virus.

Many Cubans are now hoping the economic reforms will stimulate the private sector and allow independent business operators to kick-start the economy.

Camilo Condis, an electrical contractor who has been out of work for months, said the changes must come quickly, and must allow Cuba to function, whether the United States is under a second Trump presidency, or under Joe Biden.  “Like we private business owners say here: ‘All I want is for them to let me work,’” he said.

https://i.insider.com/5ece9265f34d050a1a0103ca?width=1100&format=jpeg&auto=webp

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