Tag Archives: Emigration

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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Nuevo Libro: 90 MILLAS. RELACIONES ECONÓMICAS CUBA-ESTADOS UNIDOS, 1898-2020

Editores: Azcona Pastor, José Manuel, y Santamaría García, Antonio.

Ficha técnica

Nº de páginas:                       471

Editorial:                               S.L. – DYKINSON

ISBN:                                     9788413772882

Año de edición:                     2021

Plaza de edición:                   ESPAÑA

Fecha de lanzamiento:         05/03/2021

COMPRAR LIBRO: 90 MILLAS

RESUMEN DEL LIBRO

Las relaciones entre Cuba y Estados Unidos han estado determinadas por el embargo a la isla que el gobierno de Washington estableció tras el triunfo de la revolución en 1959. Esa política no ha cambiado, aunque ha sufrido endurecimientos y también flexibilizaciones. Al llegar Barack Obama a la Casa Blanca inició una fase de normalización, coincidiendo con el avance de las reformas aperturistas en la Gran Antilla, iniciadas en la década de 1990, pero hasta hace poco discontinuas. Sin embargo, para ello empleó los recursos de relajación de las medidas que ofrecen las propias leyes del embargo. Es decir, sin modificarlo, lo que ha permitido a su sucesor, Donald Trump, restablecerlas en su versión más dura. Este libro estudia el problema de los vínculos entre los dos países desde comienzos del siglo XX desde la perspectiva de lo económico, que fue razón esencial de los mismos, y muestra cómo la falta de un sentido de estado y de conformidad con la influencia tuvo en la constitución de otro –Estados Unidos ocupó Cuba entre 1898 y 1902, tras su guerra de independencia– implicó dejarlas al juego de intereses particulares que rige el funcionamiento del sistema político norteamericano y que tal defecto los ha dotado de un asimetría que ha prevalecido a los cambios de coyuntura y circunstancias desde entonces, al triunfo de la revolución, al fin de la Guerra Fría.

INDICE GENERAL

Capítulo I. 90 millas. Relaciones económicas Cuba-Estados Unidos en perspectiva histórica. Antonio Santamaría García; José Manuel Azcona Pastor

Capítulo II. Avance y retroceso de los capitales norteamericanos en la industria cubana del azúcar, 1890-1959. Alejandro García Álvarez

Capítulo III. Proteccionismo y restricción de la oferta: los orígenes de los controles de producción de azúcar en Cuba y la relación comercial con Estados Unidos, 1921-193. Alan D. Dye

Capítulo IV. Ajustes al modelo de dominación: la política de Estados Unidos hacia Cuba tras la revolución de 1933. Oscar Zanetti Lecuona

Capítulo V. “Cuba sería un cementerio de deudores”. El problema de la moratoria en la década de 1930. Julio César Guanche

Capítulo VI. El nacionalismo moderado cubano, 1920-1960. Políticas económicas y relaciones con Estados Unidos. Jorge I. Domínguez

Capítulo VII. Relaciones comerciales azucareras Cuba-Estados Unidos, 1902-1960. Jorge Pérez-López

Capítulo VIII. Las relaciones Cuba-Estados Unidos desde la revolución hasta el periodo especial.Victor Bulmer-Thomas

Capítulo IX. Failed on all counts. El embargo de Estados Unidos a Cuba. Andrew Zimbalist

Capítulo X. La ventana de oportunidad que se abrió y se cerró: historia de la normalización de relaciones Estados Unidos-Cuba. Carmelo Mesa-Lago

Capítulo XI. El bloqueo económico en el contexto de las agresiones de Estados Unidos contra Cuba. Historia no contada y evolución reciente.José Luis Rodríguez

Capítulo XIII. Cuba-Estados Unidos: la gestión de las empresas cubanas. Ileana Díaz Fernández

Capítulo XIV. Viajes, remesas y trabajo por cuenta propia. Relaciones económicas entre los cubanos emigrados y su país de origen.Jorge Duany

Capítulo XV. El papel de los visitantes de Estados Unidos en la economía cubana. Historia y realidad. Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva; José Luis Perelló Cabrera

COMPRAR LIBRO: 90 MILLAS

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THE 2020 FIU CUBA POLL: BEHIND THE PARTISAN NOISE, A MAJORITY OF CUBAN-AMERICANS SUPPORT ENGAGEMENT POLICY.

Read the full 2020 FIU CUBA POLL report here.

The results of the 2020 FIU Cuba Poll suggest the link between political party and Cuba policy preferences among Cuban-Americans is not as clearly defined as it used to be. Put another way, although a majority of Cuban-Americans respond postively to Trump’s anti-socialist rhetoric, most still support engagement policies that help the Cuban people.

To illustrate, when asked to rate Trump’s performance in a host of national issues ranging from his handling of immigration and healthcare to Covid-19 response, responses split along partisan lines, with roughly two-thirds consistently in favor of the Republican president. This was also true when respondents were asked to rate Trump’s handling of “Cuba policy” (66% in favor). But when respondents were asked about support for individual components of Cuba policy without mentioning Trump, political parties or “the embargo,” the partisan lines disappeared and previous trend lines in favor of engagement resurfaced, with U.S.-born Cuban-Americans and recent arrivals leading the way:

  • 56% support diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
  • 57% support the temporary suspension of trade sanctions on Cuba during Covid-19.
  • 69% support the food sales to Cuba by U.S. companies.
  • 71% support the sale of medicine to Cuba by U.S. companies.
  • 58% oppose the suspension of visas services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
  • 58% support the resumption of the Cuban Family Reunification Program (suspended in 2019).

Support for unrestricted travel to Cuba—for Americans and Cuban-Americans alike—did drop below 50% for the first time since the Bush-era, with cruise ship being the least popular (40%). Yet, 62% favor allowing U.S. commercial airlines to re-establish routes throughout the island, not just to Havana. This suggests that while a majority of Cuban-Americans may now favor some restrictions on U.S.-Cuba travel, they remain lenient on what those may be.
Notably, on questions that define U.S.-Cuba policy in terms of “carrots” and “sticks”, strong majorities supported a combined approach: 68% favor policies “designed to put maximum pressure on the Cuban government” while 66% support policies directed at “improving the economic well-being of the Cuban people.” In other words, the Obama-era view that “U.S. policy should be tough on the government but soft on the people” continues to hold firm. So has the shrinking salience of U.S.-Cuba policy among key election-year issues for Cuban-American voters, ranking below the economy, healthcare, race, immigration and even China policy across party affiliation.
Perhaps the most significant number in the poll is the percentage of newer émigrés who identify as Republican: a whopping 76% of those who migrated to the United States between 2010 and 2015. Paradoxically, these are also the Cubans-Americans who most frequently travel to Cuba, maintain relations on the island and favor most of the same engagement policies that their Republican representatives so ardently strive to dismantle. This contradiction is shaped by too many factors to explore here. The appeal of Trump’s strongman/ business mogul persona and anti-socialist bombast is certainly one of them. Yet it is also true that these migrants harbor deep antipathies toward a Cuban government that did precious little to seize the opportunity for reform presented by President Obama’s diplomatic opening. Their party affiliation likely represents a rebuke of the system they left behind more than a defined ideological orientation. Nonetheless, this should serve as a wakeup call for Cuban officials. Those who arrived between 2010 to 2015 aren’t batistianos. They are a direct product of the Revolution. By continuing to resist meaningful reforms, the Cuban government runs the risk of forging a new generation of aggrieved exiles supportive of U.S. presidents who take a hardline approach against Cuba.

Finally, there are important lessons here for whoever wins the White House come November. Should it be Joe Biden, reversing Trump’s most hurtful measures toward Cuba in his first 100 days will be popular among Cuban-Americans. These include the re-establishment of island-wide commercial and charter travel, lifting remittance limits, re-opening consular services and fully staffing the U.S. Embassy in Havana. For Trump, the FIU poll suggests that Cuba sanctions have a political ceiling, which his policies reached long ago. In a second term, Trump could ease harmful restrictions on travel, remittances, and some trade in pursuit of a “better deal” without losing support.

“The poll estimates about 52.6% of Cuban Americans in Florida are registered Republicans compared to 25.8% who are registered Democrats and 21.5% who are registered independent.” (NBC Miami, October 2, 2020)

Read the full 2020 FIU CUBA POLL report here.

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FORO CUBANO: INDICADORES

COMPLETE DOCUMENT: Foro Cubano – Indicadores

Coordinador:  Pavel Vidal Alejandro

 

Foro Cubano – Indicadores

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CUBA WANTS MORE BABIES, SO IT’S GIVING PARENTAL LEAVE TO GRANDPARENTS, TOO

By Nick Miroff February 10, Washington Post
Original Article: Grandparents and Fertility Rates!

MEXICO CITY — Cuba is giving parental leave to the grandparents of newborns, the country’s latest attempt to reverse its sagging birthrate and defuse a demographic time bomb.

The island already has one of the most generous parental leave policies in the Americas, allowing mothers and fathers to take more than a year off from work at partial pay. The new decree extends those benefits to maternal and paternal grandparents.

But so far, such attempts haven’t brought any sort of Cuban baby boom.  The island of 11 million has one of the lowest fertility rates in the Western Hemisphere, with 1.7 births per woman. There are several factors that explain this figure, but they mostly come down to a combination of effective socialist medical care and a dysfunctional state-run economy.

Cuba’s health-care system makes contraceptives widely available, and abortions are available on demand. At the same time, Cuban women are a growing portion of the country’s professional workforce, and many choose to delay motherhood until their late 30s, often because they don’t have the financial means to care for children.

It’s hardly the only demographic problem Cuba faces: Some  60,000 to 80,000 Cubans emigrate each year, many of them young people looking for better opportunities in the United States, Europe and Latin America.

The Cubans who stay behind are going gray. Nearly one-fifth of the island’s population is 60 or older, and they depend on a shrinking pool of Cuban workers to keep the state-run economy afloat. Cuba’s life expectancy is 78, on par with the United States, so there’s a larger and larger pool of dependents.

According to the Communist Party newspaper Granma, the decision to extend parental leave to grandparents was necessary “to deal with the high degree of aging among the population, and to encourage fertility in the short term.”  “The challenge of raising the birthrate in Cuba is a challenge that cannot be put off,” Granma said.

The decrees also reduce day-care costs for Cuban parents with multiple children, and provide tax breaks for women who work in the country’s small but growing private sector.

Offering partial salary to Cuban parents on leave is not the kind of burden for the government — which employs about 70 percent of the workforce — that it would be in more prosperous nations.

The average official state salary hovers around $20 a month. Paying parents and grandparents a fraction of that to care for children is costly in a country where economic growth is stagnant, but nothing like the expenditure it would be elsewhere.

The United Kingdom has adopted a leave policy for grandparents who still work, and while a similar law has been proposed in Argentina, Cuba appears to be the first Latin American country to offer the benefits to grandparents.

 

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DEBATING U.S.-CUBAN RELATIONS: HOW SHOULD WE NOW PLAY BALL? 2nd Edition

Edited by Jorge I. DomínguezRafael M. HernándezLorena G. Barberia

© 2017 – Routledge

To Order: Routledge

ABOUT THE BOOK

The boundary between Cuba and the United States has become more and more porous, as have those with Latin America and the Caribbean. Never in the past half-century has Cuba’s leadership or its social and political fabric been so exposed to the influence of the outside world. In this book, an all-star cast of experts critically address the recent past and present in U.S.-Cuban relations in their full complexity and subtlety to develop a perspective on the evolution of the conflict and an inventory of forms of cooperation. This much needed approach provides a way to answer the questions “what has been . . .?” and “what is . . .?” while also thinking seriously about “what if . . .?”

To illustrate the most significant areas of U.S.-Cuban relations in the contemporary era, this newly updated edition of Debating U.S.-Cuban Relations adds six more themes to the study of this complex relation: political, security, economic, and cultural/academic issues; the triangular relations of the United States, Cuba, and Europe; and the politics of Cuban migration/emigration. Each topic is represented by perspectives from both Cuban and non-Cuban scholars, leading to a resource rich in insight and a model of transnational dialogue.

The future course of U.S.-Cuban relations will likely be more complex than in the past, not only because of the matrix of factors involved but also because of the number of actors. Such a multiplicity of domestic, regional, and global factors is unique; it includes the rise to power of new administrations in both countries since 2008. Raúl Castro became president of Cuba in February 2008 and Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States in January 2009. And it will feature the inauguration of a new president of the United States in January 2017 and a new president of Cuba, likely in February 2018.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1: Introduction: A Baseball Game. Jorge I. Domínguez and Rafael M. Hernández

Chapter 2: Intimate Enemies: Paradoxes in the Conflict between the United States and

Cuba. Rafael M. Hernández

Chapter 3: Reshaping the Relations between the United States and Cuba. Jorge I. Domínguez

Chapter 4: Cuba’s National Security vis-à-vis the United States: Conflict or Cooperation? Carlos Alzugaray Treto

Chapter 5: Cuban-United States Cooperation in the Defence and Security Fields: Where Are We? Where Might We Be Able to Go? Hal Klepak

Chapter 6: Terrorism and the Anti-Hijacking Accord in Cuba’s Relations with the United States. Peter Kornbluh

Chapter 7: The European Union and U.S.-Cuban Relations. Eduardo Perera Gómez

Chapter 8: European Union Policy in the Cuba-U.S.-Spain Triangle. Susanne Gratius

Chapter 9: U.S.-Cuba Relations: The Potential Economic Implications of Normalization. Archibald R. M. Ritter

Chapter 10: United States-Cuba Economic Relations: The Pending Normalization. Jorge Mario Sánchez Egozcue

Chapter 11: Cuba, Its Immigration and U.S.-Cuba Relations. Lorena G. Barberia

Chapter 12: U.S.-Cuba: Emigration and Bilateral Relations. Antonio Aja Díaz

Chapter 13: The Subject(s) of Academic and Cultural Exchange: Paradigms, Powers, and Possibilities. Sheryl Lutjens

Chapter 14: Academic Diplomacy: Cultural Exchange between Cuba and the United States. Milagros Martínez Reinosa

 

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CANADA-CUBA ECONOMIC RELATIONS: AN UPDATE

By Arch Ritter                                                                                                  October 5, 2016

 Canada and Cuba have maintained a normal and mutually beneficial economic relationship from Colonial times to 2016.  With the beginning of Cuba’s “Special Period” in 1990 and its modest moves towards a mixed market economy in the 1990s, Canadian participants were optimistic about future economic relations.  In the 2000’s, this was replaced by some skepticism, but with the reforms of 2010-2012 and the beginning of the normalization of US Cuba relations, optimism has returned. This article provides an update on Cuban-Canadian economic relations, including trade, foreign investment, development assistance and migration and some speculation concerning the future of the relationship.

Canada-Cuba Trade Relations

Since the start of Cuba’s revolution, normal trade relations between Canada and Cuba have been maintained. However, trade has waxed and waned over the years as can be seen in Chart 1. The chief feature of the trade relationship in the 1980s was the large volume of Canadian exports which were mainly wheat. Trade expanded steadily in the 1990s with the ending of the special trade relationship with the Soviet Union, as Cuba’s economy began to recover and as it began to diversify its export markets and sources of imports.

q1After 2001, Cuba’s exports to Canada expanded and began to exceed Canada’s exports to Cuba due to high nickel volumes and prices. Canadian exports to Cuba have more or less stagnated since 2001 while other countries have increased their market shares.  By 2015, Canada was the fourth ranking exporter to Cuba following Venezuela, China, and Spain (Table 1.) In contrast, Canada was the second largest export market for Cuba after Venezuela in 2015, accounting for 11% of Cuba’s exports.

r1

Cuba’s exports to Canada have consisted almost totally of nickel concentrates, with cigars, rum, seafood and copper scrap (presumably a quirk in 2015) as very small foreign exchange earners (Table 2.).

By 2015, Canada’s exports to Cuba were reasonably diversified (Table 2.) Its agricultural exports remained significant, though overwhelmed by US agricultural exports. Minerals (sulfur for Cuba’s nickel industry, potash for fertilizer), metals (copper products for Cuba’s electrical system mainly) and machinery of various types have all been significant in the 2010s.

r2 Tourism

Cuba’s best and most faithful friend is the brutal Canadian Winter, which has driven millions of Canadians to warmer Caribbean climes during the December to April period. Canada has been the largest single national source of tourists consistently from 1990 to 2015 and accounted for almost 40% of all tourist arrivals in 2015.  But when US tourism opens up completely, there will likely be a deluge of US winter-escape tourism as well as curiosity tourism, convention tourism, medical tourism, March-break tourism and retirement relocation. The result will likely be that prices rise, and Canadian winter time tourism may well be squeezed out of Cuba into lower cost destinations.

q2Canadian Enterprises in Cuban Joint Ventures

In 1991, Cuba opened itself to foreign investment in joint venture arrangements with state firms. By the end of 1999, there were 72 joint ventures or “economic association” agreements between Canadian firms and Cuban state enterprises but few seem to have ever come to life.

Sherritt International has been by far the most successful Canadian-Cuban joint venture.  Its formula for success is one that cannot likely be replicated by any other enterprise.  In effect, it exchanged 50% of its ownership in the nickel refinery in Alberta Canada for 50% ownership of the Moa mine and concentrator in Cuba and shared in the ownership of the marketing enterprise.  This made Cuba a significant foreign investor in Canada!  The Sherritt experience was explored in the previous issue of this publication.

A number of mineral exploration companies established joint ventures in Cuba by 1994 in association with Geominera S.A. It was thought that Cuba was an ideal location for mineral exploration because much of the country had been covered by aero-magnetic and geological surveys in the Soviet era.  Among the enterprises involved in exploration projects in joint ventures with Geominera were Holmer Gold Mines, Joutel Resources, CaribGold Resources, Northern Orion, and MacDonald Mines. Unfortunately, the exploration undertaken from 1992 to 2007 yielded disappointing results and none of the exploration projects led to producing mines. This suggests that either the quality and/or magnitude of the deposits are lower than in other regions of the world. Alternatively, perhaps the investment conditions, the policy environment and/or the political risk situation were worse than elsewhere. It would be surprising if there were another mineral exploration rush in the medium term future, unless mineral prices were to rise to very high levels.

Canadian enterprises in real estate development have also had difficult experiences in Cuba. One project announced in October 1998 by an association between Cuba’s luxury hotel chain, Gran Caribe and Cuban Canadian Resorts International proposed U.S. $250 million set of four condominiums with hotel and resort facilities. It would have opened up an important new type of tourism for Cuba.  However, in May 2000, the Ministry of Foreign Investment and Cooperation announced a prohibition of foreign ownership of condominium units killing this and other such projects for the time being.

Another project was that of Leisure Canada for the construction of some 11 hotels and two golf courses, a marina. (Leisure Canada Incorporated, 2000). This project fizzled out. In 2011 Leisure Canada, having changed its name to 360 VOX Corporation, was bought out by Dundee Corporation in May 2014.  Any mention of this project has disappeared.

One successful venture was the construction of five airports in Cuba, including Varadero and Havana International Airports by Intelcan Technosystems of Ottawa. The CDN$ 52 million investment in the Havana Airport, was financed in part by Canada’s Export Development Corporation (33%) and 15% from Intelcan. Since 2000, the ultimate payment has come from international passengers who pay U.S. $25.00 (CUC 25.00) as an airport tax on departure.

Unfortunately brilliant successes for Canadian-Cuban joint ventures seem to be few and far between.  Indeed, a number of executives of Canadian trading enterprises and joint ventures, Cy Tokmakjian and Sarkis Yacoubian, were jailed and tried on corruption charges –a cooling factor in the foreign investment process. The moral of the story is that establishing a joint venture in Cuba can work, but it must be done with patience, intelligence, and scrupulous awareness of Cuban regulations and processes and with clear benefits for the Cuban partner enterprise and the Cuban people.

Canadian Development Assistance

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has provided some interesting development assistance to Cuba since 1994. A major proportion of this has been “economic” in character, aimed at the “modernization of the state.”  Some has been used to support the initiation of projects by Canadian enterprises with Cuban counterparts or to promote Canadian exports. Some of the economic programs were micro-enterprise tax administration, economic management, support for technical training and computer acquisition at the Central Bank, a program to help strengthen administration and professional economics at the Ministry of Economics and Planning and training/certification programs for tradesmen in some basic industrial areas. Various types of commodity assistance were provided as well. Much of the assistance provided by NGOs was aimed at community level activities.  A small amount of assistance was directed towards human rights and governance initiatives including a “Human Rights Fund Pilot Project” and “Dialogue Fund” with multiple Canadian and Cuban partners.

r3Canada’s active development assistance projects in Cuba as of mid-2016 are listed in Table 3. The annual expenditures of these multi-year projects for 2014-2015 was $CDN 2.42 million, a very

 International Migration

 An interesting dimension of Canadian-Cuban relations is migration. As indicated in Chart 3, Cuban migration to Canada has risen from levels in the hundreds in the 1980s to around 1,400 in 2014-2015. However, an unknown number of the Cuban immigrants to Canada move on to the United States, especially Florida, reflecting the attraction of the large Cuban-American population there and the weather.

 q3

Detailed sociological information on Cuban migrants is not available. However, my impressions are that, generally speaking, they are relatively well-educated, industrious, self-activating and entrepreneurial. They also seem to be relatively young, for the most part, many having recently finished their education and just starting out on their careers. Many Cuban immigrants seem to have done reasonably well and have found work in their professional areas, something that is not easy in a new society, culture and language.  This migration represents a “brain drain” or a loss of human capital for Cuba and a corresponding gain for Canada.

 Prospective Canadian-Cuban Economic Relations

The future economic relationship between Canada and Cuba will be shaped mainly by three factors: the strength and durability of Cuba’s economic recovery; the nature of Cuba’s economic policies affecting trade, and foreign investment; and the character and timing of complete normalization of relations with the United States.

A sustained recovery of the Cuban economy would promote a deepened and broadened economic relationship with Canada. A growing Cuban economy would permit increases in imports from all trading partners, including Canada.  At the same time, economic recovery in Cuba also requires expansion of its exports of goods and services.

Is an enduring recuperation of the Cuban economy probable in the next decade or so? First, the driving force for the Cuban economy, namely export earnings, at this time depends mainly on tourism, medical services and nickel exports.  Nickel and tourism should continue to be strong, but the obscured subsidization from Venezuela is over. Cuba’s medical service exports will likely be transitory as other countries develop their own medical systems and increase medical personnel.  Pharmaceutical exports may hold promise in the longer term but have been somewhat disappointing relative to the high hopes once placed in their prospects. Little progress appears imminent regarding the expansion of other merchandise exports. New exports of manufactured products have not appeared on the scene in a significant way and are obstructed by some public policies.

Some continuing problems may prompt skepticism regarding Cuba’s economic prospects in the near future. Among the difficulties often cited are: a dual exchange rate system with negative consequences for export diversification and expansion; a blockage of people’s initiatives, energies and entrepreneurship due to the unwillingness to extend further the reform process especially for medium scale enterprise; and the deterioration of parts of the infrastructure, most notably housing.

The second set of factors that will shape Canada’s future economic relations with Cuba in is Cuba’s policies relating to trade, foreign investment and tourism. These policies are unlikely to undergo dramatic change under Raul Castro’s leadership. This implies that the basic Canadian-Cuban economic relationship should not be affected seriously by changed Cuban policies in the next few years. The state-trading that in part characterizes these relationships is not intrinsically beneficial for Canada.

Thirdly, the complete normalization of U.S. – Cuban relations especially regarding trade and US investment in Cuba, will have a major effect on the Canada-Cuba economic relationship. Complete normalization will permit expansion of Cuban exports, US foreign investment in Cuba, US tourism in Cuba, financial flows and the possibility of open and vigorous collaboration of Cuban-America and Cuban citizens in business activities.  Greater prosperity will be the result.

Normalization with the United States will lead to expanded exports of goods and services to Cuba from the U.S. and vice versa.  This is due to geographic and transport factors.  More frequent freighter connections, high speed hydrofoil passenger boat connections, a re-connection of U.S. and Cuban railway systems and a proliferation of airline connections will lead to a reintegration of the two economies. The diversified U.S. economy can provide a broad range of consumer and capital goods and services competitively with other countries and with low transport costs and quick delivery times.

Canadian exporters to Cuba therefore will face a challenge after US – Cuban normalization. The location and logistical advantages of U.S. exporters, plus the interest, activism and advantages of the Cuban-American business community will outweigh any lingering “goodwill effect” with Canada. Overnight or next-day delivery of products ordered from the U.S. makes continuation of some types of exports from Canada difficult, as delivery from Canada currently may take up to two weeks or more on ships leaving Canada every week or ten days on average.

On the other hand, some of Canada’s current exports to Cuba are competitive with U.S. products and should increase in a post-embargo Cuban economic recovery. This might include fertilizers (potash), cereals, animal feed stocks, lumber, wood and paper products and fabricated non-ferrous metals products. Canada also is competitive in certain types of capital equipment such as minerals machinery and equipment, some paper making equipment, Bombardier aircraft, railway rolling stock and equipment, urban transit vehicles, communications equipment, electrical generation and distribution equipment, and some specialized vehicles. However, some Canadian exports may be threatened by U.S. competition.

In summary, the recovery of the Cuban economy and the increase in foreign exchange receipts that U.S.-Cuban normalization in time should bring about will be of benefit for some Canadian exporters while others may be replaced by U.S. suppliers.  Will the “expansionary effect” outweigh the costs of the “displacement effect” for Canadian exporters?  Perhaps, but this is not assured.

Normalization will also induce U.S. enterprises to invest in Cuba. With no further changes to the foreign investment law and within the current policy environment, one can imagine some but not many U.S. firms entering joint ventures.  But with policy liberalization in a post-Raul Castro situation, one can imagine large numbers of U.S. enterprises investing in Cuba. Cuban-Americans would also enter Cuba to set up small businesses or to finance business ventures with their Cuban relatives or counterparts.  The “geo-economic” gravitational pull of the U.S. will be strong. After U.S.-Cuba rapprochement Canadian trade and investment as a proportion of total trade and investment will likely diminish even though both might increase in absolute terms.

To conclude, there are future uncertainties and challenges regarding the Canadian-Cuban economic relationship.  The character and intensity of future economic performance in Cuba, Cuba’s policy environment and the timing of the complete normalization of relations with the United States are still ambiguous and uncertain. These factors will have mixed effects, but effects that on balance should be positive for Canada and Cuba.

Bibliography

Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2014/permanent/10.aspAccessed October 23, 2016

Cuban Club Resorts. 2000. Web site: www.cubanclubresorts.com

Global Affairs Canada, Cuba – International Development Projects, http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/cidaweb/cpo.nsf/fWebCSAZEn?ReadForm&idx=00&CC=CU.  Accessed 3 October 2016

Industry Canada, Trade Data Online (TDO), Trade by Product (HS Codes) http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/tdo-dcd.nsf/eng/Home

Leisure Canada Incorporated. (2000, August, 17). Press Release. Reproduced in   www.cubanet.org

Nolen, Stephanie. 2015. In tourist-deluged Cuba, Canadian firms are noticeably absent. The Globe and Mail December 13.

Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, Cuba.  Anuario Estadistico de Cuba. (Various issues) http://www.one.cu/ . Accessed various times and October 4 2016.

Sequin Rob. 2013. Leisure Canada now a defunct Cuba real estate development brand.  Havana Journal September 25,

 

 

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CRISIS IN VENEZUELA MAKES LIFE HELL FOR CUBAN MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

A growing number of Cuban health professionals working in Venezuela are fleeing or seeking second jobs as a result of the economic and political crisis in the South American country.

By MARIO J. PENTÓN

In Cuba Today, June 22, 2016

Original Article: Cuban Doctors in Venezuela

z1

Cuban Doctors in Venezuela in More Promising Times

z3 medicos-cubanos-venezuela

Tania Tamara Rodríguez never thought she would escape from the Cuban medical teams in Venezuela and become a “deserter,” now blocked by her government from returning to her country for eight years.

But the many difficulties that Cuban health professionals face in Venezuela as a result of the economic and political crisis in the South American country are leading a growing number to seek refuge in neighboring countries or obtain other jobs to make ends meet.

“Conditions for the doctors and other health professionals are horrible. You live all the time under the threat of being returned to Cuba, losing the job. You’re afraid they will take all the money – which is in Cuban government accounts – and revoke your assignment (to Venezuela) if they want to discipline you,” said Rodríguez, who now lives in Tampa.

While she worked in a medical laboratory in Venezuela as part of Cuba’s “Mission to the Neighborhood” medical aid program, the government deposited Rodríguez’s salary of 700 pesos per month (about $29) to an account in Cuba and gave her access to $280 dollars (U.S.) per month and a card for 25 percent off at the TRD shops in Cuba, which offer hard-to-find imported goods at dollar prices.

In 2014, after acknowledging that its “export of health services” was earning the island more than $8.2 billion a year, the Cuban government increased salaries in the domestic health sector. Even with the increases, which took effect after the public health sector had dismissed 109,000 employees, Cuban doctors are still not earning even close to the international median.

Rodríguez went to Venezuela in early 2015 from the eastern city of Holguín where she worked in the laboratory of the Máximo Gómez Báez. She agreed to join one of Cuba’s many medical teams in foreign countries in hopes of providing better opportunities for her 13-year-old daughter.

Cuba currently has about 28,810 medical personnel in Venezuela working in public health programs that, according to President Nicolás Maduro, represent a priority sector for his government and has cost Venezuela more than $250 billion since 1999.

The payment arrangement, essentially trading Venezuelan oil for Cuban medical personnel, has been repeatedly denounced by critics as a way for the Venezuelan government to cover up its subsidies to Cuba. Cuba then resells part of the refined oil products on the international market.

Rodríguez, who arrived in the United States after a few months in Venezuela under the U.S. government’s special parole program for Cuban medical personnel who defect, saved the money needed to buy her daughter a plane ticket to the United States from Cuba. But when her family took the girl to an Interior Ministry office to apply for a passport, she was denied because the mother was still listed as working in Venezuela.

“I don’t understand how I can be listed as working when I have been in the United States for more than a year. Someone must be pocketing the money the Venezuelan government is paying for me,” Rodríguez said.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) agency, 2,335 petitions were received in Fiscal Year 2015 under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program, an initiative by the George W. Bush administration that offers visas to Cuban medical personnel “recruited by the (Cuban) government to study or work in a third country. Since its start in 2006, more than 8,000 medical professionals have been admitted under the program.  Solidarity Without Borders, a Hialeah non-profit that helps the arriving Cuban medical professionals, told el Nuevo Herald that the number of Cubans applying for the CMPP has risen in recent years. Not everyone is accepted, and 367 were rejected in fiscal year 2015, according to official data.

Rodríguez said that when she arrived in Venezuela in 2015, she was assigned to work with other Cuban medical personnel in the north central state of Falcon.

 “Everything in Venezuela is a lie,” she complained. “We were forced to throw away the reactive for CKMB (a type of blood test), a product that is scarce in Cuba. But we had to throw it away so that it would be marked in the books as having been used and Cuba could sell more. The same happened with the alcohol, bandage, medicines …  “Everything was produced in Cuba and paid for by the Venezuelan government,” Rodríguez said. “We faked lists of patients and were forced to live on nothing, while Cuba took all the money.”

During the time she worked in Venezuela, Cuban officials paid each medical professional about 3,000 bolivares (about $3) per month — an amount that has increased substantially recently because of an inflationary crisis and the relentless devaluation of the Venezuelan currency.

“Sometimes I had to do little jobs on the side to make ends meet,” she said. “Thank God that many Venezuelans take pity on the Cubans and help us.”  “Maybe what happened in my case was that when I decided to escape, I went to the municipality and told them everything about the disaster” at her clinic, she said. “And now they want to take revenge because I denounced them.”

Another Cuban doctor who works in the northeastern state of Anzoategui spoke on the condition of not being identified because of fear of being punished for speaking with a journalist.

“We started earning 3,000 bolivares and we’re now up to 15,000,” he said, or about $15 on the black market. “What’s interesting is that it makes no difference if they give us more bolivares because they are worthless in real life.”   “Our working conditions are horrible. We are salaried slaves of Cuba,” the doctor said. “They keep us in groups. Since I arrived, I live with three doctors from other parts of the island, so I have to share my room with someone I don’t know, and every day at 6 p.m. I have to ‘report’ that I am home.”

Officials of the Cuban medical teams in Venezuela justify the daily check-ins as a security measure due to the high levels of violence in the neighborhoods where they work. The doctors, however, see it as part of an effort to keep a close watch on them.

“There are many (Cuban) state security agents. Their job is to keep us from escaping,” said the doctor working in Anzoategui. “When you arrive in Venezuela, they ask you if you have relatives abroad, especially in the United States. We all say no, even if we do, because the surveillance is even worse then.”

The economy in Venezuela is so poor, he added, that returning from his last vacation in Cuba he had to carry back laundry and bathroom soap and toothpaste.

“When we first got here, this was paradise. They had everything we did not have in Cuba. Today it’s exactly the opposite,” he said. “We came thinking we would help our families, and it turns out they are the ones helping us. If it were not for the money that my brother in Miami sends me, I don’t know what I would do.”

Several other medical professionals in Venezuela also said that authorities try to hide cases when the Cubans become the victims of crimes, even when they are killed.

“You can’t avoid being robbed, because everyone gets robbed here. A stray bullet, a thug who doesn’t like you, we run all those risks,” said another Cuban doctor who also asked for anonymity. “One day I was mugged by two children, no more than 12 years old. I had to give them all my money because the pistols they were playing with were real.”

The personal relations of the Cuban medical personnel are also watched.

“They warn you that it can go badly for you if you have relations with Venezuelan government critics,” the female doctor said. And although intimate relations with Venezuelans are formally forbidden, “people find a way.”

During the 13 years that Cuba has been sending medical personnel to Venezuela, more than 124,000 have served in the South American country. Thousands have escaped to the United States and other countries, searching for better lives.

For many years, like Rodríguez, the medical defectors were banned from returning to Cuba for eight years. Last year, Cuba announced the defectors could return and would be guaranteed “a job similar to what they had before.”

But there was a catch: Those who returned would need a special permit to travel abroad again.

Venezuela's President Maduro speaks with Cuba's President Castro during their meeting in Havana

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CUBAN BASEBALL CRISIS: THE DOWNSIDE OF WARMING RELATIONS WITH AMERICA

The Economist, December 18, 2015

Original Essay: Cuban Baseball Crisis

zzzzThe Havana Sugar Kings of the old International League, circa 1956

LOOK for the Che Guevara mural on a pitch-black street corner in Lawton, a run-down district on the outskirts of Havana. Turn left, walk up the concrete steps and give the password (today it’s “I sell green dwarfs”). Inside, around 20 Cuban men sit silently. Despite the humidity, the ceiling fan is still, allowing puffs of sweet tobacco smoke to hover in the flickering fluorescent light. The newcomers are asked for a “solidarity contribution” of 25 Cuban pesos, or $1. After the customary first drops are spilled to sate the thirst of the saints, a $3 bottle of clear rum makes its way around.

It could easily be a clandestine political gathering. But this group has far more important business: the first game in the Major League Baseball (MLB) semi-final series between the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays. For half a century after Cuba’s revolution in 1959, the island’s sports fans knew little of professional leagues beyond their shores. But today, thanks to the internet’s belated arrival and a wave of Cuban players defecting and starring in MLB, in-depth knowledge of American baseball is a badge of honour for baseball-loving Cubans—that is, nearly all the men and plenty of the women, too. “You didn’t know Kansas City won? You’re an embarrassment,” one attendee teased a friend during the ride to Lawton in an exhaust-spewing 1950s taxi, whose shock absorbers were no match for the area’s cavernous potholes.

The easiest way for Cubans to follow MLB in real time is at hotel bars in Vedado, a central Havana district packed with middle-aged American tourists taking advantage of the recent relaxation of travel restrictions. But few Cubans can afford a beer priced in dollars. And if a woman happens to be running a shift at the bar, locals say, there’s always a risk she will put a soap opera on the TV instead. So baseball fans gather in speakeasies like this decrepit flat, whose owner has managed to acquire an illegal satellite broadcast signal and hook it up to his 1980s Japanese television.

The group try to keep quiet, lest the neighbours snitch to the local Committee for the Defence of the Revolution (a network of government informants in every town). But they are rooting for the Royals because of the team’s first baseman, Kendrys Morales, who fled Cuba on a raft in 2004 after serving several stints in jail for his seven previous failed escape attempts. Every time he comes up to bat they allow themselves a muffled cheer. A round of high-fives follows Kansas City’s 5-0 victory.

The next day a big game is scheduled in the domestic baseball league, at Havana’s rickety 55,000-seat Latin American Stadium. It pits the hometown Industriales, Cuba’s answer to the New York Yankees, against a visiting club from nearby Matanzas. A few years ago the stands would have been packed. But today the outfield bleachers are empty, and only the rows of seats closest to the action appear even half-full. Bored-looking police drag on cigarettes. A group of hometown fans tries to rouse the crowd by blaring on hand-held air horns, but it is well short of critical mass.

One reason for the apathetic mood is that the government has banned alcohol sales in stadiums to stop fights. A bigger problem is the poor quality of the play. Last year 11 Industriales players left for the United States; Matanzas lost ten. Only the weaker players remain, and they are demoralised: runners seem content to jog around the basepaths, and fielders let the ball skip past them on difficult plays. In recognition of the depleted rosters, the Cuban league now disbands half of its teams at mid-season and shares their players among the eight clubs that are doing best.

Today’s game is painfully lopsided, as the Matanzas hitters pound the Industriales starting pitcher for seven runs. The biggest attraction is Rey Ordóñez, who defected in 1993, played in MLB for nine years and is catching a game on a visit home. Fans pose with him for pictures. “It’s very hard for the team,” says Lourdes Gourriel junior, the 21-year-old shortstop for the Industriales, following his team’s defeat. “It’s weird seeing someone on TV [in MLB], and just yesterday they were here with you. But that’s everyone’s individual decision. We’re still friends with those who left.”

South American football fans are accustomed to their countries’ brightest sporting stars decamping to richer European leagues. But for Cuban baseball fans the exodus is new. Less than a year after the United States and the government of Raúl Castro, Fidel’s younger brother and successor, announced they would re-establish diplomatic relations, this brawn drain is the most visible consequence of rapprochement with the yanquis, and an indication of what might be lost as the Cuban economy liberalises.

BOTTOM OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

Although baseball originated in the United States, the sport arrived in Cuba during its infancy in the 1860s. Within a decade of the first recorded match on the island, Cuba had established the first professional league outside America and put its adopted national game at the service of political aims: the league’s organisers funnelled its profits to guerrilla groups fighting for independence from Spain, and the movement’s spies posed as baseball players when shuttling messages and funds to and from supporters in the United States. “Baseball is more Cuba’s national pastime than it is America’s,” says Roberto González Echevarría, the author of a history of Cuban baseball. “It was considered modern, democratic and American, while the Spaniards had bullfighting, which was retrograde and barbaric. It’s as if the American Founding Fathers had been wielding Louisville Sluggers [an iconic brand of bat].”

After Cuba gained its independence in 1902 baseball became one of its principal means of exercising soft power. It was Cuban athletes, not American soldiers, who spread the sport across the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, helping to form a shared cultural identity with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and eastern Mexico, and earning the Cuban players the nickname the “apostles of baseball”. And it was baseball players who became the best-known Cubans in the United States. Of all the MLB players born in Latin America who started playing before 1959, two-thirds were Cuban, even though most of the island’s stars were black and banned from MLB until the league’s colour barrier was broken in 1947. (In 1912, in response to inquiries about the lineage of two olive-skinned Cuban players, the Cincinnati Reds conducted an “investigation” which declared them “two of the purest bars of Castilian soap [that] ever floated to these shores”.) During the same period Cuba was putting black and white talent on the same fields in its racially integrated winter league, establishing the country as an exemplar of moral leadership in sports.

After Fidel Castro (pictured, swinging) took power and became the island’s baseball-fan-in-chief, the sport’s tacit political role became explicit. He proclaimed athletes to be “standard-bearers of the revolution playing for the love of the people, not money”. He banned professional sports and founded the National Series, a wildly popular amateur league in which each province fielded a team of players from its territory. He also established a formidable player-development system, with scouts identifying talented children and academies to train them once they became teenagers.

American fans, who then, as now, paid attention only to MLB, were unaware of the stars Cuba was producing, since they never played for a team in the United States. But Cuba’s athletic assembly line yielded a national team that dominated the weak competition in international events like the Olympics (in which MLB players do not participate): from 1987 to 1997, the squad won 156 straight games. The elder Mr Castro made such successes central to his propaganda strategy. “The only way Cuba could raise its head in the world was in sports,” says Ismael Sené, who ran the sports department of the Communist Youth in the early 1960s. “There was a campaign against us from the outside, saying that we were all needy, that we didn’t have food. Well, look at our athletes!” The fact that baseball, America’s “national pastime”, was Cuba’s strong suit made each victory extra sweet.

Fidel Castro might be proud of Cuba’s ability to export baseball players, were they not going to America

But setting so much store by its baseball players left the government vulnerable to shifting geopolitics. In 1991 René Arocha, a pitcher in the national team, walked out of his hotel room during a tournament in Miami, made his way to his aunt’s house, and never returned, making him the first team member to defect in history. He had not been planning on playing baseball afterwards, because he had assumed that MLB players were far superior to Cuban ones. But after connecting with a Cuban-born agent, he was given an MLB contract with a six-figure salary, and the next year became the St Louis Cardinals’ second-best pitcher.

After Mr Arocha had proved that Cuban players were of MLB quality, and the fall of the Soviet Union plunged Cuba into a “special period” of unprecedented poverty, more defectors began to leak out. Two half-brothers, Liván and Orlando Hernández, left the island separately in the 1990s, one at a tournament, the other on a rickety boat. Both played starring roles for World Series champions in their first years in MLB, providing Miami’s Castro-hating exiles with a remarkable narrative about the risks Cubans will take for a taste of freedom and the chance to play America’s game. To reduce the risk of further defections, the Cuban team put its players under tight surveillance whenever they travelled abroad, making their national treasures feel like prisoners and encouraging more defections.

SQUEEZE PLAY

The government responded to early defections with stoicism. “When one leaves, another ten better players emerge,” Fidel Castro once said. But in the past few years, the trickle of defections has become a torrent. As recently as 2007 there were just ten Cubans in MLB. Today there are 27. And whereas some of the early defectors had undistinguished careers, the current crop is aking an impact that, were it to occur anywhere but in the reviled United States, Fidel Castro would probably regard as his greatest accomplishment. Yoenis Céspedes, a burly outfielder with a pronounced uppercut swing, single-handedly powered the New York Mets to the World Series this year. His deadly accurate throws to home plate from distances of 300 feet (91 metres) or more have earned him the nickname the Cuban Missile. José Fernández, who fished his mother out of the ocean after a wave swept her overboard during their escape to Mexico when he was 15, is the toast of Miami’s Little Havana for his unhittable array of blazing fastballs and knee-bending curves. Aroldis Chapman holds the record for the fastest pitch in MLB history at 105 miles (169km) per hour. At the “Esquina Caliente” (Hot Corner), a bench in a downtown Havana park where die-hard fans have gathered daily for decades to talk baseball, the regulars today come prepared with the latest statistics on how Cuban players—and even the American-born children of Cuban exiles—are performing in MLB. They use websites like CubanPlay, a new, locally run site, by connecting their phones to public hotspots accessible with $2-an-hour Wi-Fi cards.

Major-league success has been accompanied by major-league riches: the 27 Cuban MLB players earn an aggregate annual salary of $100m. As the rewards have grown, a sophisticated infrastructure to smuggle more players has built up. Almost all recent defectors have escaped with the help of sinister human-trafficking syndicates. These hire boats to bring players to nearby countries, bribe the Cuban coastguard to let them depart, and Dominican or Mexican authorities to grant residency papers, pay tribute to organised-crime groups for the right to operate on their turf, and hold players hostage until they sign an MLB contract and provide a return on the gangsters’ investment, perhaps from their signing bonus. Yasiel Puig, a star right fielder, was held at a motel in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula for months while his captors, associated with the fearsome Zetas mafia, argued over payment. Leonys Martín, an outfielder, was held at gunpoint in Mexico and forced to sign a contract in which he promised to pay 30% of his earnings to a front company; his smugglers are now in a Florida jail.

Since Raúl Castro became Cuba’s president in 2006, he has cautiously tried to relax state controls. But the defections have forced the pace when it comes to baseball. In 2013 Cuba said it would allow athletes to play professionally in foreign leagues—if they paid a 20% tax and returned for international tournaments and the winter National Series. A handful have gone to the Japanese league in the summer and earned seven-figure salaries.

Both MLB and the Cuban government now say they want a “normalised” system, in which Cuban athletes can travel to America legally and safely, play for MLB teams on a work visa and return home in the off-season. Antonio Castro, one of Fidel’s nine acknowledged children, an international baseball official and the national team’s doctor, has publicly called for such a change.

In an echo of the 1970s “ping-pong diplomacy” in which table tennis helped restore relations between the United States and China, MLB is encouraging a thaw between Havana and Washington. It has applied for an American government licence to do business in Cuba, is sending former players on a pre-Christmas goodwill tour of the island and is trying to organise an exhibition game in Havana featuring one of its teams next March. Meanwhile, Cuban baseball stars are giving Americans a new perspective on a country many perceive as nothing more than a totalitarian dystopia.

Yet the defections continue, for two reasons. The first is that the Cuban baseball authorities’ proclamations that players are now “free to go” ring hollow. It is the government, not athletes, that determines who can leave and for how long, to which country and team, and how much they will be paid. It generally selects older stars who have shown loyalty to the regime.

The second is the continuing influence of ageing “cold warriors” in the United States. Although Barack Obama has streamlined much of the bureaucracy required to authorise contracts with Cuban players, they must still establish residency outside Cuba and sign an affidavit saying that they “do not intend to, nor would [they] be welcome to, return to Cuba”. And America’s trade embargo, which can only be lifted by Congress, bans transactions with the Cuban government. That precludes any arrangement in which athletes would pay a modest tax on their foreign earnings in recognition of the state’s investment in training them, just as the United States taxes its citizens on their worldwide income. Cuba’s requirement that its players working abroad also participate in the National Series and be available to the national team represents another stumbling block, since MLB clubs would never allow their stars to skip out for an international tournament during the season, or risk injury during a long winter campaign in Cuba.

 

Yet for all the Cuban government’s rhetoric about America’s athletic imperialism, it may have an unlikely ally in MLB on the issues that concern it most. Despite MLB’s reputation as a fiercely capitalist industry worth $9 billion a year, the game’s economic model has much in common with Cuban-style socialist principles. To maintain fans’ interest, MLB needs a competitive balance between its rich and poor clubs. It accomplishes this by levying a tax on teams with high payrolls, and via an annual draft that routes the best young players to losing franchises. Cuban players aged over 23 with at least five years in the National Series are exempt from these rules. That enables them to auction their services to the highest bidder, undermining MLB’s carefully calibrated system of economic redistribution and reducing club owners’ profits. As a result, MLB is likely to advocate a tightly controlled system of acquiring Cuban players, rather than a free-for-all.

Moreover, MLB clubs and agents are already warning that after so many defections, the Cuban baseball pipeline is running dry and will need to be replenished. At the Premier 12, an international tournament held last month in Taiwan and Japan, Cuba finished an embarrassing sixth. The unique baseball culture Cuba has developed over 50 years of isolation has proved to be a formidable manufacturer of outstanding players. The Dominican Republic and Venezuela serve as providers of raw athletic material for MLB. Ordinary Cubans, by contrast, have grown accustomed to a remarkable closeness to world-class athletes, who play only for their home provinces and for almost no pay. “I’m just another fan,” says Reinier Reynoso, a 27-year-old pitcher for Industriales who is hanging out with the faithful outside the ballpark before a game. Fans and players “party together”, he says.

Since MLB has a keen interest in producing a new generation of Cuban superstars, it is reluctant to meddle with this potent combination of popular encouragement and state support. “We have no interest in going to Cuba and taking all of their players,” says Dan Halem, MLB’s chief legal officer. “We want Cuban baseball to thrive. We’re perfectly happy for Cuba to develop their own stars and keep them for a period of time. If they lose all their stars, fans will lose interest. There aren’t enough countries where baseball is played for this to just be a feeder for Major League Baseball.”

zzzzzzA recent friendly game

zzzzzWorld champions many times over

CASTRO AT BAT 1977

A Cuban baseball star

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HOW CUBA IS, AND ISN’T, CHANGING, ONE YEAR AFTER THE THAW WITH THE U.S.

By Nick Miroff December 15 at 7:00 AM

HAVANA — No event in decades shook up Cuba like the announcement last Dec. 17 by presidents Obama and Raul Castro that their countries would begin normalizing long-broken relations. In the 12 months since, Cubans have witnessed scenes few expected to see in their lifetimes, or at least in the lifetimes of Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul.

A U.S. flag snaps once again in the sea breeze outside a U.S. embassy in Havana. Raul Castro and Obama held talks on the sidelines of a hemispheric summit in April. So many U.S. politicians, corporate executives, foreign leaders, tourists and celebrities have visited, that an island long known for isolation suddenly feels it is at the center of the world.

The psychological impact of these events, however, has far outpaced any physical one. So far, U.S. businesses have only completed a handful of new deals. Cuba remains the only closed, one-party state in the Americas, and if anything, normalization with Washington has left communist authorities increasingly anxious about dissent and more determined to stifle it.

Cuba is still very much the same country it was a year ago. And yet, not quite.

“For a lot of my friends who are university graduates, the news was positive, and we saw it as the beginning of a long and complicated process,” said Lenier Gonzalez, a founder of the group Cuba Posible, which advocates gradual reform. But for more of the population, “it produced an unrealistic expectation

That third group of Cubans heard in Obama’s words last Dec. 17 a cue to flee. They fear normalization will put an end to the immigration rules that essentially bestow residency and welfare benefits on any Cuban who reaches U.S. soil.

As many as 70,000 Cubans have left for the United States in the past year, in what appears to be the largest wave of migration from the island in decades.

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The Legal Emigration Route to the USA: Early Morning Queue outside the American Embassy, April 2015

The changes of the past year have set Cuban authorities on edge too, bringing an escalating crackdown on public protest or opposition activity.

Dozens, even hundreds of activists are detained or arrested each Sunday, when the Ladies in White dissident group attempts to march in Havana and another group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, stages a weekly mobilization in Santiago, the island’s second- largest city.

Though the government generally no longer locks up dissidents for long prison terms, it increasingly relies on short-term arrests to block protests by activists it considers “mercenaries” at the service of foreign interests.

The illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission of Human Rights and Reconciliation tallied 1,447 political arrests or arbitrary detentions in November, the highest monthly total in years.

In an interview published Monday, Obama said that the United States would continue to support Cuban rights activists and that he was considering a trip to the island — but on the condition that he can meet with dissidents. “If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,” he said, in an interview with Yahoo News.

“Our original theory on this was not that we were going to see immediate changes or loosening of the control of the Castro regime, but rather that over time you’d lay the predicates for substantial transformation,” said Obama, whom surveys show is a widely popular figure on the island.

Cuban officials this year have tried to push back at public perceptions that Obama is a friend and the United States is no longer a threat or a foe. Relations will not be truly normal, they insist, until Washington lifts its trade embargo, closes the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay and makes reparations for a half-century of economic sanctions and other grievances.

Yet the rivalry has morphed from hostile confrontation into something more sportsmanlike: a low-intensity contest to set the pace of change, with Washington trying to move faster and Cuba preferring slow, cautious steps.

As Rafael Hernandez, editor of the Cuban journal Temas, put it: “We’ve traded a boxing ring for a chess board.”

For all its revolutionary slogans and lore, Cuba can be a profoundly conservative place, in the strict definition of the term. It is a country where the television programming, food rations and newspaper editorials seem to remain the same, year in, year out. This drives young Cubans crazy. But the continuity is a comfort to some, not least the communist party elders who have ruled for 57 years.

Raul Castro, 84, has pledged to step down in February 2018. Obama has 13 months left in office. That leaves a narrow window for the two men who charted the normalization course to see it through.

Rarely does a week go by without some new chess move. The Obama administration in May took Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, paving the way for the countries to formally reestablish diplomatic ties in July.

The two countries have signed new agreements on environmental cooperation. They’ve enhanced anti-narcotics enforcement. Direct mail service is set to resume on a trial basis. U.S. and Cuban officials have even started discussing their oldest grievances, opening negotiations to settle billions in U.S. property claims and Cuban counter-claims.

The U.S. secretaries of agriculture, commerce and state have all visited Havana in the past year, along with dozens of U.S. lawmakers, adding up to the highest-level government contacts in decades.

A U.S. tourism tsunami still seems to be building. U.S. travel to Cuba increased by 40 percent since last December, according to industry estimates. Overall tourism to Cuba increased nearly 20 percent, bringing billions in additional revenue for the government.

“Our booking activity has been off the charts,” said Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, the largest U.S.-based provider of the licensed “people-to-people” travel permitted under U.S. law.

Most of the U.S. travelers have come to Havana, where a shortage of hotel beds has kicked off a scramble among Cubans and their foreign business partners to buy, renovate and rent properties. Each city block seems to have at least one crew of contractors patching cracks and applying paint.

A deal to reestablish regular commercial flights between the two countries is said to be imminent, with United, JetBlue, American Airlines and other U.S. carriers pledging to begin service as soon as they’re cleared by the two governments.

Cuba established a direct phone link with a U.S. company, IDT, and a roaming agreement with Sprint. It has set up nearly 50 outdoor WiFi hotspots at parks and boulevards across the island, where Cubans gather round-the-clock to chat with friends and relatives overseas.

But the initial Cuba excitement among U.S. companies has been replaced by something more “sober” a year later, said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a group lobbying to lift the embargo.

Williams said he knew of at least two-dozen U.S. companies that had submitted formal business proposals to the Castro government, aimed at taking advantage of more flexible rules. “I would imagine it’s probably in the hundreds,” he said.

The companies want to lease office space, build warehouses, dock cruise ships and ferries. Not one has gotten a green light so far, he said.

“Frankly I think the Cubans have been overwhelmed with a surge in interest and the decentralized nature of how that interest is coming to them, with companies calling them up, consultants coming to them, and not a lot of clarity about how to make a deal,” said Williams. “The non-responsiveness has slowed things down.”

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