Tag Archives: Development Assistance

CUBA’S EMERGING STARTUP SCENE GIVEN A CANADIAN TECH BOOST

Jacob Serebrin

Special to The Globe and Mail, Monday, Feb. 01, 2016 5:00AM EST

Few countries are as technologically isolated as Cuba. Home Internet is rare, data plans are non-existent and, in a country where doctors make the equivalent of around $70 a month, paying almost $3 an hour for government-run WiFi is too steep for many.

Yet, even here, tech startups are beginning to emerge and they’re getting some help from Canada. Montreal technology hub Notman House has launched a program to give Cuba’s nascent startup scene a boost.  The idea of Develop Cuba is to create a seed fund and a way to support and educate the community on how to build an ecosystem,” says Noah Redler, the campus director at Notman House and the initiator of the Develop Cuba project. “The major obstacle they have isn’t around talent, it isn’t around want or desire, it’s literally just that basic seed capital.”

In Cuba, a little money can go a long way. So far, Develop Cuba has raised a few thousand dollars to rent space for startup groups to meet in Havana and bought a projector – a rare piece of equipment in a country where even basic supplies can be hard to find.

The next step will be to send a group of mentors from Montreal to visit Havana and work with local startups. If that goes well, Mr. Redler wants to help open Cuba’s first co-working space. The goal is to build capacity for Cuban startups, he says. While Canadians may be helping to get the project off the ground, it will be led by local people.

Internet usage has grown rapidly since the Cuban government lifted an almost total ban on Web access in 2008. By 2014, the country had more than three million Internet users, a little more than one-quarter of the population, according to Cuba’s national statistics agency. By now, that number is almost certainly higher.

On a Thursday afternoon in mid-January, about a dozen people are gathered in a public square in downtown Havana, looking at their phones. A couple more sit on nearby benches with laptops. It’s a scene that would be unremarkable in Canada, but was extremely rare in Cuba until just a few months ago.

In June, Etecsa, Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications monopoly, cut the price of Internet access in half and opened dozens of new WiFi access points in parks and public squares across the country. More have opened since then. Before that, getting online usually required waiting to use a computer at an Etecsa outlet or a post office; WiFi was rarely found outside of hotel lobbies. Free WiFi is still almost unheard of, and Cubans have to prepay and show ID to get online.

For startups, “the most difficult part is accessing the Internet,” says Martin Proenza, the founder of YoTeLlevo, a website for booking taxis. While his business is generating revenue, it’s not profitable enough for Mr. Proenza to afford home Internet. Instead, he relies on his day job at a government-owned software company for Internet access.

The lack of mobile data means that Cuban apps are generally built to work offline. AlaMesa, an app for finding restaurants, is fully functional without an Internet connection. Its restaurant directory and map are downloaded onto a user’s phone. If a user opens the app when they do have an Internet connection, the database is updated. “Considering the insufficient connectivity infrastructure and cost of Internet access in the country, an offline solution was mandatory,” says Alfonso Ali, AlaMesa’s lead programmer.

But they also face a uniquely Cuban challenge. “Due to U.S. blockade restrictions, we are unable to use PayPal or Stripe,” Mr. Ali says. “So standard operations like online booking, coupons, etc., are very difficult and costly to implement.”

The Cuban government appears to have taken little notice of the country’s growing startup community, but there are fears about what will happen if they do. While economic reforms that began in 2008 have opened the door to an increasing number of private businesses, there are no provisions for tech startups, making them illegal.

“You have to keep yourself under the radar,” Mr. Proenza says. “But is it a big concern? No. Really, the state is not running after people for creating online businesses.”  He does think the government will allow startups to operate legally in the future, and says that’s a view shared by others in the startup community.

In Montreal, Mr. Redler says he sees some hopeful signs – accommodation-rental site Airbnb was allowed to enter the Cuban market earlier this year; there are now over 2,000 listings. But he says he doesn’t expect change to come rapidly.

Despite the challenges, Cuban business owners say they’re optimistic about the future. “The Cuba education system is very good, so it’s very easy to find talented people to work on any field of innovation,” Mr. Ali says.  “We used to say ‘need is the mother of invention,’ so people in Cuba have good talent, skills and the mindset to find solutions to almost any problem.”

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FIFTY YEARS OF CUBA’S MEDICAL DIPLOMACY: FROM IDEALISM TO PRAGMATISM

Julie M. Feinsilver

Cuban Studies, Volume 41, 2010, pp. 85-104

Complete Article here: Feinsilver – Fifty Years of Cuba’s Medical Diplomacy

ABSTRACT

Medical diplomacy, the collaboration between countries to simultaneously produce health benefits and improve relations, has been a cornerstone of Cuban foreign policy since the outset of the revolution fifty years ago. It has helped Cuba garner symbolic capital (goodwill, influence, and prestige) well beyond what would have been possible for a small, developing country, and it has contributed to making Cuba a player on the world stage. In recent years, medical diplomacy has been instrumental in providing considerable material capital (aid, credit, and trade), as the oil-for-doctors deals with Venezuela demonstrates. This has helped keep the revolution afloat in trying economic times. What began as the implementation of the one of the core values of the revolution, namely health as a basic human right for all peoples, has continued as both an idealistic and a pragmatic pursuit. This article examines the factors that enabled Cuba to conduct medical diplomacy over the past fifty years, the rationale behind the conduct of this type of soft power politics, the results of that effort, and the mix of idealism and pragmatism that has characterized the experience. Moreover, it presents a typology of medical diplomacy that Cuba has used over the past fifty years.

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Conclusion

Medical diplomacy has been a cornerstone of Cuban foreign policy since the outset of the revolution fifty years ago. It has been an integral part of almost all bilateral relations agreements that Cuba has made with other developing countries. As a result, Cuba has positively affected the lives of millions of people per year through the provision of medical aid, as well as tens of thousands of foreign students who receive full scholarships to study medicine either in Cuba or in their own countries under Cuban professors. At the same time, Cuba’s conduct of medical diplomacy with countries whose governments had not been sympathetic to the revolution, such as Pakistan, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, to name only a few, has led to improved relations with those countries. Medical diplomacy has helped Cuba garner symbolic capital (goodwill, influence, and prestige) well beyond what would have been possible for a small, developing country, and it has contributed to making Cuba a player on the world stage. In recent years, medical diplomacy has been instrumental in providing considerable material capital (aid, credit, and trade), as the oil-for doctors deals with Venezuela demonstrates. This has helped keep the revolution afloat in trying economic times.

What began as the implementation of one of the core values of the revolution, namely health as a basic human right for all peoples, has continued as both an idealistic and a pragmatic pursuit. As early as 1978, Fidel Castro argued that there were insufficient doctors to meet demand in the developing world, despite the requesting countries’ ability to pay hard currency for their services. Because Cuba charged less than other countries, with the exception at that time of China, it appeared that it would win contracts on a competitive basis. In fact, during the following decade (1980s), Cuba’s medical contracts and grant aid increased. In most cases, aid led to trade, if not to considerable income. With the debt crises and the International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment programs of the 1980s, grant aid predominated. In 1990, Cuban medical aid began to dwindle as neither the host countries nor Cuba could afford the costs, the former because of structural adjustment–mandated cuts in social expenditures and the latter because of the collapse of its preferential trade relationships following the demise of the Soviet Union. As Cuba’s ability to provide bilateral medical aid diminished, its provision of medical aid through multilateral sources (contracts) increased.56 Cuba’s medical diplomacy continued, albeit on a smaller scale during the 1990s, until the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

With medical services leading economic growth in the twenty-first century, it seems unlikely that even the more pragmatic Raul Castro will change direction now. In contrast, dependency on one major benefactor and/or trade partner can be perilous, as the Cubans have seen more than once. If Chavez either loses power or drastically reduces foreign aid in an effort to cope with Venezuela’s own deteriorating economic conditions and political opposition,

Cuba could experience an economic collapse similar to that of the Special Period in the early 1990s. In fact, the global financial and economic crisis has compounded existing problems. In an effort to avert that type of collapse, Raul Castro has been trying to further diversify Cuba’s commercial partners.57 In July 2009, Cuba received a new US$150 million credit line from Russia to facilitate technical assistance from that country, and companies from both countries signed various agreements, including four related to oil exploration.

Furthermore, Raul Castro made clear in his August 1, 2009, speech before the National Assembly of People’s Power, that Cuba could not spend more than it made. He asserted that it was imperative to prioritize activities and expenditures to achieve results, overall greater efficiency, and to rationalize state subsidies to the population. Despite a little help from its Venezuelan friend, the Cuban government has had to embark on austerity measures that hark back to the worst of times right after the collapse of the former Soviet Union.60 With two budget cuts already this year, restrictions on electricity distribution, and a 20 percent decrease in imports, it is likely that the Cuban government will attempt to increase its medical exports to countries that can afford to pay for them. In fact, in August 2009, Raul Castro indicated that Cuba would need to increase the production of services that earn hard currency.62 Pragmatism clearly dictates this course of action even if it also is imbued with strong revolutionary idealism about humanitarian assistance.

Economic and political benefits of medical diplomacy aside, Fidel, both when he was president and today as an elder statesman and blogger, most sincerely cares about health for all, not just for Cubans. His long-term constant involvement in the evolution both of the domestic health system and of medical diplomacy has been clear through both his public pronouncements and actions, and the observations and commentary of his subordinates and external observers.  Today, this concern for health is part of the social agenda of ALBA, through which, for example, additional Cuban medical aid to Haiti post-2010 earthquake is being conducted.

Unable to offer financial support, Cuba provides what it excels at and what is easily available, its medical human resources. International recognition for Cuba’s health expertise has made medical diplomacy an important foreign policy tool that other, richer countries would do well to emulate. After all, what country could refuse humanitarian aid that for all intents and purposes appears to be truly altruistic?

Julie F.

Dr. Julie Feinsilver

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CUBA’S EXTRAORDINARY GLOBAL MEDICAL RECORD SHAMES THE US BLOCKADE; From Ebola to earthquakes, Havana’s doctors have saved millions. Obama must lift this embargo.

cuba ebola B Seumas Milne, The Guardian, Wednesday 3 December 2014 20.07 GMT

Original article here: CUBA’S GLOBAL MEDICAL RECORD

Four months into the internationally declared Ebola emergency that has devastated west Africa, Cuba leads the world in direct medical support to fight the epidemic. The US and Britain have sent thousands of troops and, along with other countries, promised aid – most of which has yet to materialise. But, as the World Health Organisation has insisted, what’s most urgently needed are health workers. The Caribbean island, with a population of just 11m and official per capita income of $6,000 (£3,824), answered that call before it was made. It was first on the Ebola frontline and has sent the largest contingent of doctors and nurses – 256 are already in the field, with another 200 volunteers on their way.

While western media interest has faded with the receding threat of global infection, hundreds of British health service workers have volunteered to join them. The first 30 arrived in Sierra Leone last week, while troops have been building clinics. But the Cuban doctors have been on the ground in force since October and are there for the long haul.

The need could not be greater. More than 6,000 people have already died. So shaming has the Cuban operation been that British and US politicians have felt obliged to offer congratulations. John Kerry described the contribution of the state the US has been trying to overthrow for half a century “impressive”. The first Cuban doctor to contract Ebola has been treated by British medics, and US officials promised they would “collaborate” with Cuba to fight Ebola.

But it’s not the first time that Cuba has provided the lion’s share of medical relief following a humanitarian disaster. Four years ago, after the devastating earthquake in impoverished Haiti, Cuba sent the largest medical contingent and cared for 40% of the victims. In the aftermath of the Kashmir earthquake of 2005, Cuba sent 2,400 medical workers to Pakistan and treated more than 70% of those affected; they also left behind 32 field hospitals and donated a thousand medical scholarships.

That tradition of emergency relief goes back to the first years of the Cuban revolution. But it is only one part of an extraordinary and mushrooming global medical internationalism. There are now 50,000 Cuban doctors and nurses working in 60 developing countries. As Canadian professor John Kirk puts it: “Cuban medical internationalism has saved millions of lives.” But this unparalleled solidarity has barely registered in the western media.

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Cuban doctors have carried out 3m free eye operations in 33 countries, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, and largely funded by revolutionary Venezuela. That’s how Mario Teran, the Bolivian sergeant who killed Che Guevara on CIA orders in 1967, had his sight restored40 years later by Cuban doctors in an operation paid for by Venezuela in the radical Bolivia of Evo Morales. While emergency support has often been funded by Cuba itself, the country’s global medical services are usually paid for by recipient governments and have now become by far Cuba’s largest export, linking revolutionary ideals with economic development. That has depended in turn on the central role of public health and education in Cuba, as Havana has built a low-cost biotech industry along with medical infrastructure and literacy programmes in the developing countries it serves – rather than sucking out doctors and nurses on the western model.

Internationalism was built into Cuba’s DNA. As Guevara’s daughter, Aleida, herself a doctor who served in Africa, says: “We are Afro-Latin Americans and we’ll take our solidarity to the children of that continent.” But what began as an attempt to spread the Cuban revolution in the 60s and became the decisive military intervention in support of Angola against apartheid in the 80s, has now morphed into the world’s most ambitious medical solidarity project.

Its success has depended on the progressive tide that has swept Latin America over the past decade, inspired by socialist Cuba’s example during the years of rightwing military dictatorships. Leftwing and centre-left governments continue to be elected and re-elected across the region, allowing Cuba to reinvent itself as a beacon of international humanitarianism.

But the island is still suffocated by the US trade embargo that has kept it in an economic and political vice for more than half a century. If Barack Obama wants to do something worthwhile in his final years as president he could use Cuba’s role in the Ebola crisis as an opening to start to lift that blockade and wind down the US destabilisation war.

There are certainly straws in the wind. In what looked like an outriding operation for the administration, the New York Times published six editorials over five weeks in October and November praising Cuba’s global medical record, demanding an end to the embargo, attacking US efforts to induce Cuban doctors to defect, and calling for a negotiated exchange of prisoners.

The paper’s campaign ran as the UN general assembly voted for the 23rd time, by 188 votes to 2 (US and Israel), to demand the lifting of the US blockade, originally imposed in retaliation for the nationalisation of American businesses and now justified on human rights grounds – by a state allied to some of the most repressive regimes in the world.

The embargo can only be scrapped by congress, still stymied by the heirs of the corrupt US-backed dictatorship which Fidel Castro and Guevara overthrew. But the US president has executive scope to loosen it substantially and restore diplomatic ties. He could start by releasing the remaining three “Miami Five” Cuban intelligence agents jailed 13 years ago for spying on anti-Cuba activist groups linked to terrorism.

The obvious moment for Obama to call time on the 50-year US campaign against Cuban independence would be at next April’s Summit of the Americas – which Latin American governments had threatened to boycott unless Cuba was invited. The greatest contribution those genuinely concerned about democratic freedoms in Cuba can make is to get the US off the country’s back.

If the blockade really were to be dismantled, it would not only be a vindication of Cuba’s remarkable record of social justice at home and solidarity abroad, backed by the growing confidence of an independent Latin America. It would also be a boon for millions around the world who would benefit from a Cuba unshackled – and a demonstration of what can be achieved when people are put before corporate profit.

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RECIPROCITY AND RENT-SEEKING: A STUDY OF THE PARTNERSHIP APPROACH TO DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE (A Canada-Cuba Case Analysis)

[I just stumbled again upon this excellent analysis of the Carleton University- Universidad de la Habana Partnership program of 1995-2002, written by my colleague Frances Woolley. It is of broad interest to those interested in development assistance generally and of particular interest to those interested in Cuba. It is a fine article that seems to have slipped under the radar of many analysts of Cuba. I am therefore publishing it again here.  A.R.]

Canadian Journal of Development Studies / Revue canadienne d’études du développement , Volume 23, Issue 2, 2002

Dr. Frances Woolley,  Department of Economics and Associate Dean, Faculty of Public Affairs, Carleton University, Canada

Complete article available here: Frances Woolley, Cuba-Canada Reciprocityand Rent-Seeking 2002 CJDSABSTRACT Under the partnership approach to development assistance, donor agencies fund partnerships between donor-country and host-country institutions. This paper develops a model of development assistance in which project participants attempt to extract rents from donor agencies. The model is applied to an academic exchange between Carleton University and the University of Havana. The behaviour of project participants is rational given the constraints and incentives they face, yet individually rational responses can undermine collective reciprocity and jeopardize both partners’ goals for development assistance. The paper concludes that structural and ideological issues may be easier to account for than personal needs and power.

New Picture (1)untitledFrances Woolley

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