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

Samuel Farber July 27, 2021

Original Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Why Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Situation in Cuba 

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

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

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

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

The Political Context 

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

The One-Party State

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

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

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

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

Where is Cuba Going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LAS RAZONES DEL 11-J Y LAS OPCIONES POSIBLES.

julio 17, 2021

Autor: Mauricio de Miranda

Original Source: Las razones del 11-J y las opciones posibles.

En días pasados estallaron protestas sociales en diversas localidades de Cuba. Para los dirigentes cubanos y los medios oficiales de prensa que responden al gobierno cubano, se trata de “disturbios, desorden, causados por una operación comunicacional que se prepara desde hace tiempo”, propiciados por “mercenarios al servicio del imperialismo”. Sin embargo, más allá de una retórica que se basa en el no reconocimiento de la realidad política, económica y social que vive el país y en achacar la responsabilidad de las protestas, denominadas desórdenes -aunque los hubo como en todas las protestas-, a agentes al servicio de intereses extranjeros, Cuba enfrenta desde hace muchos años una crisis económica y social de graves proporciones que se ha transformado en una crisis política. Es imprescindible debatir acerca de las causas pero también abrir un debate sobre las alternativas y posibles soluciones, con el objeto de evitar que el país llegue a un callejón sin salida.

Las razones económicas.

La situación económica actual de Cuba es la más terrible desde el llamado Período Especial de los años noventa del pasado siglo. En 2020, el Producto Interior Bruto (PIB) cayó un 11,3% pero ya en 2019 se había producido una caída del 0,2% y el crecimiento promedio anual entre 2015 y 2019 fue de solo 1,7%, lo cual es insuficiente para asegurar una senda de desarrollo económico. El gobierno cubano ha insistido en responsabilizar al bloqueo estadounidense y a los efectos de la pandemia con la situación económica del país. El recrudecimiento de las sanciones económicas durante la administración de Trump y la aparición y ahora el empeoramiento de la pandemia han tenido efectos nocivos indudables en la economía cubana, sin embargo, no son los responsables de los graves problemas estructurales que ésta padece.

A lo largo de más de seis décadas se han ido acumulando serios problemas que dependen, principalmente, de los sucesivos errores de política económica cometidos por la dirección del país, que han conducido a un incremento de la vulnerabilidad externa de la economía cubana y han dificultado el desarrollo de la producción nacional, debido a la excesiva centralización de las decisiones económicas, a la incapacidad para generar suficientes estímulos al desarrollo productivo y a los frenos que se han impuesto al emprendimiento.

Las reformas económicas que se han realizado desde los años noventa han sido parciales e insuficientes, no han abordado los cambios estructurales de forma sistémica y no han apuntado a la promoción del emprendimiento empresarial. La mayor parte de las ramas de la industria nacional y varias de las más importantes producciones agropecuarias en 2019 tenían niveles inferiores a los de 1989. A partir de la crisis de los noventa el gobierno optó por el desarrollo del turismo. Fue una decisión parcialmente correcta pero lo que no debió ocurrir es que ese desarrollo obviara las necesidades del desarrollo industrial y agrícola del país.

La excesiva dependencia respecto al turismo es una causa estructural fundamental en la debacle actual de una economía que prácticamente carece de reservas y de alternativas productivas, con una industria azucarera que está produciendo a niveles de principios del siglo XX, con el resto de la industria prácticamente colapsada y con una agricultura afectada por una estructura de precios y excesivos controles que desestimulan el desarrollo de la producción de alimentos y de materias primas.

Con campañas políticas no se resuelven los problemas de la producción. El país está importando gran parte de los alimentos que podría producir y carece de las divisas necesarias para importarlos. Para colmo, se insiste en el control monopólico estatal del comercio exterior. Sigue sin dar los pasos necesarios para promover la legalización de pequeñas y medianas empresas privadas que promuevan el emprendimiento y canalicen el empleo superfluo que es una excesiva carga al presupuesto del Estado. Persisten en la planificación centralizada en condiciones de una inmensa escasez y no generan otras alternativas. En los años noventa el turismo fue una alternativa y a comienzos del siglo XXI, la exportación de servicios profesionales, principalmente a Venezuela, se convirtió en otra opción muy importante de ingresos en divisas. Estos junto a las remesas, aseguraron la subsistencia económica del país.

En la actualidad, el turismo está en niveles mínimos, las remesas afectadas por las limitaciones de sus fuentes debido a problemas económicos de los remitentes y al endurecimiento de las sanciones durante la era de Trump, mientras que los ingresos por exportaciones de servicios están afectados por su cierre en ciertos países pero sobre todo por la terrible crisis económica venezolana. Entonces, el gobierno no ha querido salirse del guión que ha determinado la política económica, ha actuado con muchísima lentitud y ha adoptado medidas económicas equivocadas.

Los errores más recientes de política económica.

A lo largo de estas décadas se han acumulado una serie de errores de política económica, pero en las condiciones actuales quisiera concentrarme en dos: 1) la llamada Tarea Ordenamiento y 2) la apertura de tiendas en monedas libremente convertibles (MLC) para la venta de productos que originalmente se describían como “suntuarios” pero que en realidad resultaron de primera necesidad, no solo para las condiciones de la vida moderna sino incluso para la subsistencia.

El llamado Ordenamiento monetario no fue tal. Desde hace tiempo muchos economistas hemos destacado la necesidad de abolir la dualidad monetaria por el desorden en los sistemas de costos, en el funcionamiento de las empresas y en el establecimiento de precios relativos respecto a la economía internacional. Adoptaron la unificación monetaria y cambiaria como un lineamiento del 6º Congreso del PCC en 2011 y finalmente en 2021 decidieron unificar los tipos de cambio a una tasa sobrevaluada, a la cual el Banco Central no puede asegurar la venta de la divisa extranjera, con lo que, inmediatamente, se desarrolló el mercado negro de divisas en el que el dólar se cotiza a varias veces por encima del valor oficial.

En lugar de establecer la soberanía del peso cubano como moneda nacional, crearon tiendas en MLC, re-dolarizando parcialmente la economía y vendiendo en ese mercado bienes a los cuales no tiene acceso la población que carece de remesas o de opciones de ingresos en divisas, generando un grave problema social debido a la marginación de un sector considerable de la población en la capacidad de adquirir dichos bienes.

La unificación cambiaria llegó acompañada de un incremento de salarios en el sector estatal y de pensiones en niveles claramente inferiores a los incrementos reales en los precios, producidos por una estampida inflacionaria, lo cual ha causado gran insatisfacción en una parte considerable de la ciudadanía que continúa sin asegurar sus necesidades básicas a partir de sus ingresos debidos al trabajo.

Los problemas sociales.

La insatisfacción creada por los errores de política económica y la persistencia de los mismos a veces ha podido canalizarse por los mecanismos controlados por el poder pero ni esas ni aquellas que ni siquiera han podido ser planteadas oficialmente sino que se expresan en redes sociales, han tenido una respuesta creíble más allá de achacar al bloqueo de todo cuanto no funciona. No se trata de anexionistas, ni de delincuentes, ni de agentes de alguna potencia extranjera. Se trata simplemente de ciudadanos cubanos que necesitan satisfacer aspiraciones en la única vida probada que tienen y que sienten que el gobierno del país no está siendo capaz de ofrecer las alternativas de solución necesarias.

La sociedad cubana de hoy es claramente diferente a la que decidió permanecer en el país tras el triunfo revolucionario. Existe un porcentaje creciente de jóvenes, que están a dos o tres generaciones de la que hizo la Revolución y que tiene esperanzas de vida, intereses, aspiraciones y proyecciones políticas y sociales propias y muy probablemente diferentes y a las que incluso la Constitución actual les priva del derecho a definir el tipo de Estado y de sociedad que prefiere. Y dentro de este grupo, existe una parte considerable de personas que viven en condiciones de subsistencia y no ve opciones de mejoramiento de las mismas.

En otras oportunidades, la emigración, incluso con cierto nivel de masividad, como ocurrió en los primeros años sesenta, en 1980 y en 1994, ha actuado como válvula de escape para solucionar las insatisfacciones individuales, pero también para reducir el factor de oposición social interna. En esta ocasión esta posibilidad está claramente muy limitada.

La emigración carece de derechos políticos, pero a ella se ha apelado, una y otra vez, para que haga valer sus derechos al envío de remesas familiares pero sin reconocerla socialmente como un factor importante para la solución de los problemas económicos del país y sin integrarla políticamente en un sistema democrático. La emigración es un factor decisivo en la solución de muchos de los problemas económicos del país y también debería ser un importante actor político a partir de su experiencia en otras realidades.

En la sociedad cubana existe una parte considerable que carece de opciones y de perspectivas, que vive en una situación de pobreza que no es reconocida públicamente por las autoridades cubanas. En consecuencia, gran parte de esa población salió a las calles como explosión de una situación de hastío. Sin embargo, hay que tener en cuenta que antes de eso ya se habían producido una serie de indicios de protesta pacífica en diversos sectores sociales, incluidos los artistas, reclamando espacios de diálogo que solo han encontrado la intolerancia y el rechazo como respuesta.

Los problemas políticos.

Todo este conjunto de cuestiones ha llevado a una crisis política de la cual estas protestas públicas han sido solo un primer momento, si consideramos su capacidad de difusión y su masividad. Sin embargo, existe una parte de la sociedad cubana inconforme con la situación del país que no se expresa por miedo a las consecuencias negativas que pueden sufrir debido a una cultura arraigada de exclusión de las opciones políticas diferentes a las defendidas desde las estructuras de poder. El gobierno cubano debería considerar esta realidad política y actuar en consecuencia si realmente quiere evitar que la fractura social y política en la sociedad cubana se profundice y supere el nivel de polarización que ya es gravísimo.

En 2019 se adoptó una nueva Constitución que establece en su artículo 1 que “Cuba es un Estado socialista de derecho y justicia social, democrático, independiente y soberano, organizado con todos y para el bien de todos como república unitaria e indivisible, fundada en el trabajo, la dignidad, el humanismo y la ética de sus ciudadanos para el disfrute de la libertad, la equidad, la igualdad, la solidaridad, el bienestar y la prosperidad individual y colectiva”. Sin embargo, existen ejemplos que demuestran que muchos de esos preceptos no reflejan la realidad política del país.

El artículo 5 de la carta magna le otorga al Partido Comunista de Cuba, la condición de “fuerza política superior de la sociedad y del Estado”, lo cual, en la práctica, coloca al Partido por encima de la sociedad. Esta realidad no tiene nada de democrática, toda vez que tampoco el Partido Comunista es una organización democrática en su vida interna.

En esa misma Constitución se garantizan el derecho a la vida, la integridad física y moral, la libertad, la justicia y la seguridad …. (artículo 46); el derecho a que se respete su intimidad personal y familiar … (artículo 48); a la inviolabilidad de su domicilio (artículo 49); a la inviolabilidad de la correspondencia y demás formas de comunicación (artículo 50); las personas no puede ser sometidas a desaparición forzada, torturas ni tratos o penas crueles inhumanas o degradantes (artículo 51); el Estado reconoce, respeta y garantiza a las personas la libertad de pensamiento, conciencia y expresión (artículo 54); se reconoce la libertad de prensa (artículo 55); los derechos de reunión, manifestación y asociación, con fines lícitos y pacíficos, se reconocen por el Estado siempre que se ejerzan con respeto al orden público y el acatamiento a las preceptivas establecidas en la ley (artículo 56); se reconocen a las personas los derechos derivados de la creación intelectual (artículo 62); los ciudadanos cubanos tienen derecho a participar en la conformación, ejercicio y control del poder del Estado, lo cual implica: estar inscriptos en el registro electoral, proponer y nominar candidatos, elegir y ser elegidos, participar en las elecciones, plebiscitos, referendos, consultas populares y otras formas de participación democrática, pronunciarse sobre la rendición de cuenta que le presentan los elegidos, ejercer la iniciativa legislativa y de reforma de la Constitución, desempeñar cargos públicos y estar informados de la gestión de los órganos y autoridades del Estado (artículo 80).

La mayor parte de estos artículos, relacionados con derechos humanos y políticos está sin reglamentar, pero al margen de esto, la propia Constitución contradice algunos de esos derechos. Por ejemplo, la libertad de elegir y ser elegidos, mediante el voto de los ciudadanos es restringida por el inciso “c” del artículo 205 que establece como excepción a “los que no cumplan el requisito de residencia en el país previstos en la ley”. Es decir, a los cubanos residentes en el exterior, que constituyen más de un 20% de la población actual del país y cuyas remesas han contribuido a la subsistencia del país, se les niega ese derecho elemental que está consagrado en la mayor parte de las constituciones de las repúblicas latinoamericanas. De igual forma, la iniciativa legislativa y la reforma de la Constitución, contenidas también en el artículo 80 son restringidas por el artículo 227 que trata sobre la iniciativa para promover reformas a la Constitución, porque la iniciativa de los ciudadanos debe ser “mediante petición dirigida a la Asamblea Nacional, firmada por un mínimo de 50.000 electores”, además de que la Constitución solo puede ser reformada por la Asamblea Nacional en una “votación nominal no menor a dos terceras partes del número total de sus integrantes”, es decir, que no permite que la Constitución sea reformada o elaborada por una Asamblea Constituyente, elegida libremente por la ciudadanía, tal y como ocurrió en 1940. Si la Asamblea Nacional es elegida con base a una lista única que responde a las orientaciones del Partido Comunista, es fácil intuir que sería imposible contar con ella para reformar una constitución hecha a la medida de los intereses de la dirigencia de dicho partido, que no necesariamente se corresponde con los intereses reales de parte de su membresía.

A diferencia de la mayor parte de los países latinoamericanos, los ciudadanos cubanos carecen del derecho a elegir, mediante sufragio universal y directo, entre varias alternativas, al Presidente y Vicepresidente de la República, a los diputados a la Asamblea Nacional, y a las autoridades de gobierno provinciales y municipales.

Las leyes cubanas posteriores a 1959 no han permitido el derecho a la huelga, ni a la formación de asociaciones sociales, profesionales o políticas que estén por fuera del control del poder político, con lo cual se conculcan los derechos proclamados en los artículos 54 y 56 de la Constitución.

Así, en las cuestiones relativas a los derechos políticos, la Constitución de 2019, al igual que la de 1976, retroceden respecto a la de 1940 que, dicho sea de paso, fue el resultado de una Asamblea Constituyente, elegida democráticamente, en la que también participaron delegados comunistas junto a otros del amplio espectro de fuerzas políticas que caracterizaba a la sociedad cubana de entonces.

La Constitución de 2019 fue aprobada en referendo nacional por una mayoría significativa de la población, pero en su proceso de discusión y debate, solo tuvo cabida la pedagogía del SI y en dicho referendo no se permitió votar a la población cubana residente en el exterior que aun ostenta un pasaporte cubano. Hasta en el régimen pinochetista en Chile se permitió la pedagogía del NO.

En los tiempos recientes han ocurrido varios episodios en los que autoridades cubanas han violado la Constitución aprobada por esa inmensa mayoría alcanzada entre aquellos que tuvieron la oportunidad de ejercer su derecho al voto. Se han producido detenciones de ciudadanos por el simple hecho de caminar por una calle portando un cartel que exige la libertad para alguna persona detenida; han sido detenidas personas por expresar su inconformidad y rechazo al sistema político; fuerzas de la policía han obligado, de forma ilegal, a ciudadanos que no están condenados judicialmente, a permanecer en sus casas en contra de su voluntad y cuando éstos se han negado alegando su derecho a la libre movilidad, han sido detenidos; no se han atendido solicitudes de hábeas corpus, a pesar de que esta figura jurídica está presente en la nueva Constitución y es un derecho universalmente reconocido en las sociedades civilizadas; se mantiene la práctica de expulsar de ciertos centros de trabajo a personas que expresan opiniones contrarias a las que se sostienen desde el poder político, incluso cuando en algunos casos esas opiniones ni siquiera han cuestionado la esencia del sistema político y social; se ha promovido y en otros casos, permitido situaciones de hostigamiento a personas identificadas como desafectas al gobierno del país; para solo mencionar algunos ejemplos de violaciones de la ley suprema de la República, generadas desde las estructuras de poder, que deberían ser sus garantes ante la sociedad.

Desde las estructuras de poder se ha dicho que las manifestaciones del 11-J han sido orquestadas desde el exterior. Es cierto y además público que algunos llamados “influencer” de ciertas redes sociales ha realizado llamados a la desobediencia civil y a la insurrección. Sin embargo, si fuera cierto que estas protestas fueron el resultado de estos llamados y de la labor de zapa del gobierno de los Estados Unidos, esto podría significar que el Partido Comunista carece del liderazgo y la influencia que en Cuba que se establece como precepto constitucional. Argumentar que las protestas fueron orquestadas desde el exterior es un insulto a la ciudadanía y a su derecho a expresar un descontento que antes no ha encontrado otras vías de canalización, debido a la soberbia, al autismo y al escaso espíritu autocrítico de muchos de los que ejercen responsabilidades de dirección en el país y que mantienen un discurso alejado de la realidad del país.

Las protestas sociales, a diferencia de lo que se sostiene desde el discurso oficial, fueron el resultado de la combinación de todos esos factores a los que se suma el hastío de muchos ciudadanos que no encuentran una salida esperanzadora a una situación de crisis que persiste en la sociedad cubana desde hace varias décadas pero que en las circunstancias actuales ha cobrado una gravedad extraordinaria.

En las protestas hubo saqueos y destrucción de propiedad pública y privada, que no fueron masivos. ¿En cuáles protestas no ocurren? Es lamentable y condenable. Sin embargo, vale la pena llamar la atención sobre cuales han sido los objetos de estos actos deplorables. En unos casos, fueron algunas tiendas en MLC, que son un símbolo evidente de la diferenciación social establecida en Cuba entre los que tienen acceso a ellas y los que no, por el solo hecho de no disponer de cuentas en una moneda que no se obtiene como resultado del trabajo sino que proviene de remesas desde el exterior. Se produjo el volcamiento y destrucción de algunos automóviles de la policía y de instituciones oficiales. También se produjeron enfrentamientos entre fuerzas antimotines y de policía, tanto uniformados como vestidos de civil y los ciudadanos que protestaban. Las imágenes de supuestos civiles, perfectamente organizados, transportados en vehículos públicos y armados de palos y bates de béisbol para golpear a quienes protestaban son una muestra del insulto que ese día se profirió contra el ideario de la Revolución Cubana. Y la orden fue proferida desde el más alto nivel de dirección del país. No es la primera vez que esto ocurre, sin embargo, si es la ocasión en la que alcanzó las mayores proporciones.

Las opciones.

A pesar de la profundidad de la fractura social y política del 11-J y del nivel de polarización que ha alcanzado la sociedad cubana, para bien del país, la política debería imponerse a la golpiza.

Me opongo a los llamados a una intervención militar extranjera que solo causaría sangre y dolor a las familias cubanas y también en las de quienes, eventualmente, pudieran intervenir. Y me opongo a la represión militar, policial y paramilitar ejercida por quienes tienen el deber de proteger la seguridad del pueblo y no mancillarlo. La vida y la dignidad deben ser preservadas.

Siento un profundo compromiso con la idea original que inspiró la Revolución Cubana, es decir, la democracia y la justicia social. La democracia nos ha sido confiscada y la justicia social se despedaza en cada medida que crea excluidos en nuestra Nación.

Una opción que parece imponerse en el discurso oficial es la de reprimir a quienes han sido identificados como participantes de las protestas y hacer caer sobre ellos el peso de cuestionables figuras jurídicas, y de paso, amedrentar a quienes pudieran protagonizar eventos similares en el futuro con medidas ejemplarizantes. Esta opción solo profundizará la fractura de la sociedad y solo postergaría una futura crisis política y social que podría tener gravísimas consecuencias.

Otra opción, que considero necesaria, sería liberar a todas las personas que han sido detenidas por las protestas y antes de las mismas, por expresar su desacuerdo con el gobierno o con el sistema político actualmente vigente. A fin de cuentas, ellos no realizaron un asalto armado a un cuartel del ejército. No hay que reprimir al descontento sino crear las condiciones para que el descontento pueda ser convertido en satisfacción y esperanza o que al menos ese descontento tenga vías legítimas de expresión, y ello pasa necesariamente por una reconfiguración pacífica de nuestro sistema político.

La Constitución actual no satisface las aspiraciones democráticas de todo el pueblo, precisamente porque excluye a una parte del mismo en el derecho a ejercer su soberanía por lo cual debe ser enmendada, aunque en mi opinión debería ser elaborada una nueva que garantice el establecimiento de un sistema democrático. Para esta enmienda, el elemento inicial debería ser la reforma de los artículos 205, 226 y 227.

En el 205 debería eliminarse la excepción en el derecho al voto de los ciudadanos cubanos residentes fuera del país. En el 226 debería permitirse que la Constitución sea reformada por una Asamblea Constituyente, elegida libremente por la ciudadanía, mediante sufragio universal, además de la actual facultad de la Asamblea Nacional. En el 227 debería modificarse el inciso f que le otorga iniciativa a la ciudadanía para la reforma constitucional solo como petición a la Asamblea Nacional, mediante la recolección de 50.000 firmas, y permitir que estas firmas puedan ser válidas para la convocatoria de una Asamblea Constituyente.

En tales circunstancias y para hacer valer el carácter democrático del Estado que define el artículo 1 de la Constitución, debería convocarse a una consulta nacional vinculante, en la que puedan participar todos los ciudadanos cubanos sin distinción de lugar de residencia e identificados con un pasaporte cubano válido vigente y en la que los electores puedan escoger una de dos alternativas que podrían ser: a) Desea Usted que la Constitución vigente se mantenga como está y que su posible reforma posterior solo sea una facultad de la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular; y b) Desea Usted que se convoque a una Asamblea Constituyente, elegida mediante sufragio universal directo y secreto con candidatos nominados o auto-nominados libremente, que elabore una nueva Constitución.

Lo verdaderamente revolucionario, lo verdaderamente progresista, no solo es la urgente necesidad de liberar las fuerzas productivas y el emprendimiento productivo que pueda iniciar la recuperación de la economía y encauzar el proceso de desarrollo, sino también resulta urgente la construcción de un nuevo consenso político, sobre la base del establecimiento de una sociedad verdaderamente democrática en la que tengan cabida las diferencias políticas y el imperio de la ley y de la justicia social.

mauriciodemiranda

La Habana, 1 de abril de 1958. Doctor en Economía Internacional y Desarrollo, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, España. Licenciado en Economía, Universidad de La Habana, Cuba. Profesor Titular del Departamento de Economía de la Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Cali, Colombia. Ver todas las entradas de mauriciodemiranda

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

Government bungling and a shortage of dollars are to blame

The Economist, July 3, 2021

Original Article: Cuba’s Food Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rural transportion
Zafra of 2016-20127

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

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

Fidel, cutting cane during the Zafra of 1970
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New Book by Vegard Bye, CUBA, FROM FIDEL TO RAÚL AND BEYOND

I have just read Vegard Bye’s Cuba analysis – a bit late as it was published in mid-2020.  It is indeed an excellent analysis of Cuba’s current situation and prospects.  


This is one of the very best general analyses of the inter-relationships between Cuba’s economic conundrums and reforms, its socio-economic transformationsand the character and functioning of the political system.  Bye has drawn from his own experience in Cuba over a number of decades and from a careful and examination of the broad ranges of literature from within Cuba, from Cuban analysts outside Cuba, and from Cuban-American and international analysts. His chapters on the economic changes since the death of Fidel and their social implications is masterful.  Even better is his analysis of Cuba’s political system in Chapters 4, and 6 to 8.  

This volume is a tremendously valuable resource for a comprehension of Cuba’s current situation and its possible future.  

INFORMATION ON THE BOOK:

Title:               Cuba, From Fidel To Raul And Beyond

Format:           Paperback

Published:       August 14, 2020

Publisher:       Palgrave Macmillan

Language:       English

ISBN –             13:9783030218089

OVERVIEW FROM THE BACK COVER:

This book analyzes the economic reforms and political adjustments that took place in Cuba during the era of Raúl Castro’s leadership and its immediate aftermath, the first year of his successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel. Faced with economic challenges and a political crisis of legitimacy now that the Castro brothers are no longer in power, the Cuban Revolution finds itself at another critical juncture, confronted with the loss of Latin American allies and a more hostile and implacable US administration.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Introduction
  2. Retreat of State as Economic Actor?
  3. Achieving the Required Surge in Investment and Growth?
  4. Political Implications of Socio-economic Changes
  5. T he Evolving International Arena: Fitting into a New Context
  6. More Pluralism or Continued Authoritarianism/
  7. Evolution of Party and State Relations
  8. Towards the End of Gerontocracy
  9. Into the Critical Juncture: Principal Dilemmas and Possible Scenarios

EDITORIAL REVIEWS

“The text that Vegard Bye presents to us summarizes the ideas and visions that he has been developing after years of observing closely the evolution of the Cuban social, political and economic model, especially during the reforms process led by Raul Castro since 2008. His proposals and analysis have the virtue of not falling into common places and stereotypes so usual in the Cuba subject. He found originality from his firsthand knowledge of the Cuban reality, seen from an international perspective and from the prism of modern concepts of political science.” (Pavel Vidal Alejandro, Professor of Economics at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia)

“This is a timely book and a well-informed contribution to the ever-going debate about Cuba’s future. The author has accumulated decades of experience in assessing and living in the Cuban reality, and the book offers just that, a scholarly as much as a personal view of the events in the Island. Whether you share or not his opinions, this piece will greatly contribute to your knowledge about this fascinating country, in a way that is both enjoyable and useful.” (Ricardo Torres, Professor at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, University of Havana, Cuba)

“Displaying an expertise gained through several decades of closely watching developments on the island, Bye delivered a very perceptive and informed analysis of the economic and political changes in the post-Fidel era, the outcomes of Raúl Castro’s reform and the political scenarios for the future. A most-needed assessment of Cuba’s contemporary realities from a political science perspective.” (Nora Gamez Torres, Cuban-American journalist covering Cuba and US-Cuban relations for Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald)

“A timely and thankfully heterodox volume that gives readers a front row seat and fresh and locally informed analysis of contemporary Cuban political economy. The book provides both a sober assessment of Raúl Castro’s 10 years of economic reforms (2008-2018) and an early analysis of the first year of Miguel Díaz-Canel’s―Raúl’s hand-picked successor―government. Its unique perspective derives equally from the author’s immersion in progressive projects of national renovation in Cuba and Nicaragua as a war correspondent, United Nations official, and representative of various Norwegian development agencies. Bye’s ongoing collaboration with various leading Cuban NGOs and civil society groups gives his book an insider’s insight and balance rare for a volume by a non-Cuban about such a controversial topic as Cuban politics.” (Ted A. Henken, Associate Professor of Sociology at Baruch College, City University of New York, USA)

“A study on Cuba focused on its most pressing issues. A must-read for any researcher―carefully researched and accessible to anyone interested in the past, present and future of the Cuban Revolution.” (Harold Cárdenas, co-founder of the Cuban blog La Jóven Cuba)

VEGARD BYE is a Norwegian political scientist, writer, consultant and ex-politician. He has represented the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Angola and Bolivia, written extensively on Latin America, and is a consultant specializing on human rights, democracy, conflict and post-conflict societies as well as solar energy. He served as a Substitute Representative (Vararepresentant) to the Norwegian Parliament for the Socialist Left Party from Oslo (1993-1997), meeting in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs.  He is currently a Partner at Scanteam a.s., an Oslo-based consulting company focusing on international development and responsible business.

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Nuevo Libro: APUNTES SOBRE ECONOMÍA CUBANAY COVID-19

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

COMPILADORES: HUMBERTO BLANCO ROSALES y BETSY ANAYA CRUZ

Febrero de 2021

ISBN: 978-9945-9278-3-2

Complete Text of Book

INDICE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

El turismo mundial y en Cuba pospandemia/ Miguel Alejandro Figueras

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

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

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

De los autores

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WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO SALVAGE CUBA’S ECONOMY?

Mar 12 2021

On March 9, 2021, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted the online event What Will It Take to Salvage Cuba’s Economy?”. The event featured opening remarks from Michael Shifter, president of the Dialogue, who also served as the moderator. The panel of experts included Pavel Vidal Alejandro, professor of Economics at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Cali, Colombia; Ted Henken, associate professor for the department of Sociology at Baruch College, CUNY; and Vicki Huddleston, retired US Ambassador & former chief of the US Interests Section in Havana. The panel explored what effect the Cuban’s government 2021 economic reforms will have on the economy, the private sector, and Cuban foreign relations.

WATCH THE FULL RECORDING OF THE EVENT HERE:

Vidal Alejandro started by highlighting the Cuban government’s historical resilience in terms of getting through the hardest of economic and political times. He compared the current moment to the Cuban government’s economic decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s. Although the contemporary and historical struggles are different, he was confident that the Cuban government will eventually figure out how to navigate their economic reforms and all that comes with it, as they once did three decades back.

Both Vidal Alejandro and Henken recommend expanding the private sector and allowing businesses more freedom as a strategy to revive the Cuban economy. Henken stated that “Cuba went from a situation where the government told you what you could do to now the Cuban government telling you what you can’t do.” He further affirmed that while it is positive that the Cuban government is listening and changing things based on feedback, the slower the reforms come to place, the more the people that will leave the country. All the panelists agreed that only time will tell if the Cuban government carries through with its promises and enforces its new policies.

Huddleston suggested that the Biden administration should allow for higher levels of remittances, Covid-19 cooperation, and humanitarian assistance. She also emphasized on the importance of reviewing Cuba policy in order to remove sanctions, which have hurt the Cuban people. According to Huddleston, there are multiple avenues for the United States to capitalize on Cuba’s economic reform and forge a renewed relationship with the Cuban people.

Overall, panelists were optimistic about the future of the Cuban economy and the prospects for foreign investment. The new single national currency and official exchange rates will make it easier to calculate return on investments and to understand financial risks around projects in the island. In closing, it was mentioned that what remains to be seen is whether or not the government will continue to let go of some of its control: banning less and less activities and taking constructive criticism from the entrepreneurial sector, a previously unheard-of act. The speed at which the Cuban government makes these reforms is critical due to the growing impatience of Cuban professionals who are deliberating whether or not to leave the country.

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SUGAR HARVEST NO SWEETENER FOR CUBA’S AILING ECONOMY

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) March 12, 2021

Original Article: Cuba’s Sugar Harvest arvest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fidel, Machetero, 1969
Repairs before the Zafra, Central Australia, 1995
Zafra, Canecutters, Oriente Province, 2021
Firing Up the Mill, 2021
Mechanized Harvest, 2021
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LA UNIFICACIÓN MONETARIA Y CAMBIARIA EN CUBA: NORMAS, EFECTOS, OBSTÁCULOS Y PERSPECTIVAS

DOCUMENTO DE TRABAJO 2/2021,  5 DE FEBRERO DE 2021, REAL INSTITUTO ELCANO

Carmelo Mesa-Lago

Original Article: Mesa-Lago 2021 Monetary Unification

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CUBA: CRISIS ECONÓMICA, SUS CAUSAS, EL COVID-19 Y LAS POLÍTICAS DE RESCATE

 

 

 

 

 

Carmelo Mesa-Lago,  10/6/2020

Tema1

¿Cuál es el estado de la economía cubana en tiempos del COVID-19 y qué políticas de recuperación se prevén?

Resumen

Este documento se divide en cuatro partes: (1) un análisis de la crisis económica en Cuba, con indicadores macroeconómicos internos y externos; (2) una examen de las cuatro causas de la crisis, una interna y tres externas (persistencia de la planificación central, recorte en la ayuda económica venezolana, sanciones de Trump y COVID-19); (3) una descripción de la evolución y efectos en la salud de la pandemia; y (4) una revisión de las potenciales opciones para afrontar el COVID-19 y salir de la crisis económica, así como recomendaciones de organismos regionales para hacer frente a la recesión en América Latina y su potencial aplicabilidad en Cuba.

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Conclusiones

Cuba está sufriendo una severa crisis económica y parece haber muy pocas políticas (internas o externas) capaces de generar una reactivación. Hay un consenso entre la mayoría de economistas académicos cubanos (y también extranjeros) de que la única salida está en retomar las reformas estructurales interrumpidas y acelerarlas y profundizarlas. Ricardo Torres (2020) apunta que: “… una situación extrema como esta debería servir de catalizador de las transformaciones que requiere el modelo cubano… es hora que se reconozca que el esquema de producción y distribución actual es un rotundo fracaso y requiere ser revisado desde sus fundamentos. En esa revisión el sector privado y cooperativo debe ser empoderado”.

También sugieren un grupo de economistas cubanos (entere los que se encuentra el autor) tres medidas que Cuba podría adoptar internamente, sin necesidad de ayuda internacional, para salir de la crisis y propiciar el desarrollo económico-social (véase Mesa-Lago et al., 2020).

Escasez de alimentos

Para aumentar la producción agrícola, Cuba debería seguir las políticas de China y Vietnam: autorizar a todos los productores agrícolas a que determinen por sí mismos qué sembrar, a quién vender y fijar los precios en base a la oferta y la demanda. Estas políticas terminaron con las hambrunas periódicas en los dos países asiáticos, ahora autosuficientes. Hoy Vietnam es un exportador neto de productos agrícolas y envía a Cuba 350.000 toneladas de arroz anuales, que la isla podría producir. Esto requiere eliminar el ineficiente sistema de acopio. Las compras estatales obligatorias de la mayoría de las cosechas a precios fijados por el Estado, inferiores al precio de mercado, son un desincentivo. Si Cuba siguiera las reformas sino-vietnamitas, con las adaptaciones necesarias, podría alcanzar autosuficiencia alimentaria en cinco o seis años, terminar con la importación por valor de 1.800 millones de euros anuales de productos agrícolas y convertirse en exportador neto.

Desempleo visible y oculto

Es esencial expandir el sector no estatal, particularmente el trabajo por cuenta propia y pymes, muy dinámico antes del COVID-19 y esencial en la recuperación con creación de empleo productivo y eliminación del empleo estatal innecesario. Para ello se recomienda: (a) reemplazar la lista de actividades por cuenta propia autorizadas por una lista de actividades prohibidas; (b) autorizar a los profesionales a trabajar por cuenta propia y eliminar las barreras en el sector no estatal; (c) terminar la etapa experimental de las cooperativas de producción no agrícolas y de servicios y aprobar más de ellas; (d) establecer mercados al por mayor para suministrar insumos a todo el sector no estatal; (e) establecer bancos –incluyendo extranjeros– que provean microcréditos; (f) permitir al sector no estatal importar y exportar directamente; (g) eliminar los impuestos más gravosos al sector no estatal; (h) imponer el impuesto a las ganancias en vez de al ingreso bruto y permitir la completa deducción de gastos; (i) empoderar a una asociación independiente de microempresas para negociar condiciones con el gobierno y envolverse en la legislación pertinente; y (j) crear una vía para denunciar a funcionarios estatales corruptos que cobran sobornos a los trabajadores del sector no estatal (Díaz, 2020).

Inversión extranjera

Todos los economistas cubanos la consideran fundamental. Para aumentarla es necesario implementar ciertas reformas, como: (a) autorizar a las compañías extranjeras a contratar y pagar directamente a todos sus trabajadores; (b) aprobar la inversión de capital extranjero (incluyendo a los cubanos en el exterior) en todos los sectores económicos, así como en las microempresas y cooperativas de producción no agrícolas y de servicios; y (c) publicar estadísticas actualizadas en áreas clave en que hay vacíos para infundir confianza en el exterior, como la deuda externa total (no sólo la negociada), la forma de calcular el IPC, incluyendo las operaciones en CUC que ahora se excluyen, y cifras más detalladas de las finanzas públicas.

Estas reformas y otras ayudarían a Cuba a salir de la recesión actual y generarían recursos para poder refinanciar los servicios sociales erosionados y establecer una red mínima de protección social para los sectores más vulnerables a la crisis.

Dos semanas después de un seminario virtual dictado por el autor, patrocinado por las universidades de Harvard, Columbia, Florida Internacional y Miami donde se propusieron dichas medidas, el periódico oficial Granma tildó dichas propuestas (y otras similares, como Monreal, 2020) de “neoliberales” (Luque, 2020). Sin embargo, un par de días después, en una reunión extraordinaria del Consejo de Ministros se exhortó de manera urgente a “cambiar todo lo que debe ser cambiado”, aunque dentro de los parámetros de la planificación central y en un mercado estrictamente regulado. Se ha especulado mucho acerca de dichos cambios, sólo el tiempo dirá si se harán y si finalmente Cuba toma el camino exitoso de la recuperación y el desarrollo sostenido.

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CUBA ON EDGE AS GOVERNMENT READIES LANDMARK CURRENCY DEVALUATION

Government is forced to act as it faces a dire shortage of dollars and collapse of tourism


Marc Frank
in Havana. Financial Times, September 30, 2020.

Original Article: Landmark Currency Devaluation

Cuba is stepping up plans to devalue the peso for the first time since the 1959 revolution, as a dire shortage of tradable currency sparks the gravest crisis in the communist-ruled island since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Two Cubans and a foreign businessman, all with knowledge of government plans, said the move to devalue the peso had been approved at the highest level. They said the devastating effect of the coronavirus pandemic on tourism, a fall in foreign earnings from the export of doctors and tougher US sanctions had created the worst cash crunch since the early 1990s, forcing the government to move forward with monetary and other reforms. The sources said preparations for the devaluation were well under way at state-run companies and they expected the measure before the end of the year. They asked not to be identified owing to the sensitivity of the subject.

The government declined to comment. Scarcity of basic goods and long queues at shops have been a feature of life in Cuba since the Trump administration pushed for tighter sanctions against the country in 2019. The shortages have been exacerbated by the pandemic because Cuba imports about 60 per cent of its food, fuel and inputs for sectors such as pharmaceuticals and agriculture.

The Cuban government has yet to provide any economic data this year but the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean predicts the economy will contract 8 per cent after a sluggish performance over the past four years. Most other foreign analysts say trade is down by at least a third. People queue to exchange money at a bank in Havana.

Cuba operates two currencies: the peso and the convertible peso. The government claims both are of equal value to the US dollar, but neither currency has any tradable value abroad and imported goods, when available, are priced with huge mark-ups when they are purchased in the domestic currencies. The Cuban public can buy the convertible peso for 24 pesos and sell it for 25 pesos, although the government sets different domestic exchange rates between the two currencies in some sectors, ranging from one peso to 10 pesos. For example, in the special economic zone at Mariel near Havana, one convertible peso is exchangeable for 10 pesos.

According to the sources and recent government statements, the peso will be devalued significantly from its current level on paper of one per dollar and the convertible peso will be eliminated. Economists have long argued that Cuba’s currency system is so unwieldy that it stymies the country’s exports, encourages imports and makes it difficult to analyse corporate profits. Cuba’s government has said it will respect the peso’s current rate for an unspecified period to allow people to exchange convertible pesos into pesos. It will convert bank accounts priced in convertible pesos. As monetary reform becomes a reality Cubans face a shortage of hard currency and will once again be allowed to make purchases in US dollars, though only with a bank card. This was last permitted in 2004.

It is legal in Cuba to own US dollars and other internationally tradable currencies, but until recently they were not deemed legal tender even when paying by card. There is a large black market in US dollars beyond the government’s reach in which the American currency has this year appreciated by more than 30 per cent when valued in the local currencies. According to the government there are now more than 120 official outlets which price goods in dollars, selling everything from food and hygiene products to domestic appliances, hardware and car parts, and the government plans to open more.

Many Cubans queue for hours outside dollar shops to obtain the products they sell. To do so, Cubans first need to open an account in which they can deposit cash or wire transfers in dollars or other hard currencies; they can then use a debit card to pay for goods in dollars. There are already more than a million dollar-denominated cards in circulation, according to local reports.

“Now, on top of everything else, I have to also worry about the value of my money and how to buy dollars on the informal market for the card because the state has none to exchange at the moment,” said Jenifer Torres in Havana, who said she had a good job but was supporting dependent parents at home.

Bert Hoffmann, a Latin America expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, said: “Instead of monetary unification — for many years the government promise — Cuba is moving into an economy with two different monetary circuits.” These were “the dollarised debit card shops and the normal domestic economy, in which the Cuban peso will be under strong inflationary pressures”.

The Cuban economy is largely owned and run by the state, which sets exchange rates and many prices. As the cost of inputs increases due to the currency devaluation, state-run companies are likely to increase their prices — fuelling inflation. Alejandro Gil, economy and planning minister, said in July that the crisis was “exceptional” and announced the government would move towards market-orientated reforms and loosening of the Soviet-style central planning system.

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President Diaz-Canel

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