Tag Archives: General Economic Performance

THE MAGNITUDE OF THE ECONOMIC CRISIS IN CUBA AND THE CAUSES OF THE RECENT PROTESTS

Carmelo Mesa-Lago
Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies, University of Pittsburgh

Columbia Law School,  Horizonte Cubano / Cuban Horizon, September 10, 2021

Original Complete Article: Economic Crisis in Cuba

Cuba faces the worst economic crisis and public protests since the 1990s. This essay: 1) analyzes the multiple causes of the crisis and protests, 2) examines the factors that have facilitated the social unrest, and 3) measures the magnitude of the crisis using various socio-economic indicators.

Causes of the Crisis and Protests

Extremists reduce the causes of the crisis to a single culprit: for the Cuban government, it is the U.S. embargo (known in Cuba as the “blockade”). For the most radical exiles in Miami, only the communist system is to blame. In reality there are multiple causes, summarized below (Mesa-Lago and Svejnar, 2020).

  1. The inefficient centrally planned economic system and the deep state dominance over the market and non-state property, which has failed throughout the world including in Cuba. Raúl Castro attempted market-oriented structural reforms, but they happened very slowly and were plagued with obstacles, disincentives, taxes and policy zig zags, so they had no tangible effects on the economy. The government has rejected the successful Sino-Vietnamese “market socialism” model. President Miguel Díaz-Canel supports continuity, but at the beginning of 2021 he decreed the monetary-exchange unification. Although necessary, it was begun at the worst economic moment. So far, it has only generated adverse effects.
     
  2. The serious economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has radically reduced its financial relationship with Cuba: a 24% decrease in purchasing Cuban professional services (the island’s primary source of foreign-currency revenue); a 62% reduction in oil shipments with favorable terms (which covered 50% of Cuban needs); and an $8 billion drop in direct investment (Mesa-Lago and Vidal, 2019). This relationship reached its peak in 2012-2013 at US $ 16,017 million and decreased by half by 2018. In relation to GDP, it contracted from 22% to 8% and the decrease continued in 2019-2020. 
     
  3. The Cuban economy has been unable to finance its imports with its own exports due to the drop in domestic production, which makes it unsustainable. The total value of Cuban exports contracted by 65% in 1989-2019, while imports increased as did the merchandise-trade deficit. For example, Cuba’s economic relationship with China reached its zenith in 2015-2016, when it became Cuba’s primary trading partner, briefly surpassing Venezuela. Their trade relationship represented 17% and 20%, respectively, but decreased by 36% from 2015-2019 (14% of trade). The main reason was a negative trade balance—Cuba exports much less than it imports from China, representing a deficit of US $2 billion in 2015, leading China to reduce its exports to Cuba by almost half (ONEI, 2016 to 2020).
     
  4. The tough measures imposed by Donald Trump’s administration, which reversed President Barack Obama’s process of rapprochement with Cuba and reinforced the embargo, have paralyzed investment. This includes the application of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which had been suspended every six months by previous presidents (including Trump) and that allows the suing of foreign companies that have “trafficked” with assets confiscated by the Cuban government. Other measures were the restriction of flights to Cuba and the banning all cruises; the imposition of a limit on remittances and prohibiting Western Union from sending remittances to a Cuban agency run by the military; the tightening of sanctions on international banks that do business with Cuba; and the reinstatement of the country on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

    Thus far President Biden has not lifted those sanctions. Obama’s policy of rapprochement with Cuba, which I supported, resulted in numerous concessions from the U.S. without Cuba yielding one iota. On the contrary, the Cuban leadership continued to criticize the U.S. government for maintaining the embargo that Obama did not have the authority to eliminate, since the Republicans had a majority in both houses (Mesa-Lago, 2015).
     
  5. The pandemic is now at its highest number of cases and deaths despite inoculating the population with two vaccines produced in Cuba (the efficacy of neither has been proven). COVID-19 has virtually eliminated all international tourism. The government requires travelers to pay in advance for an “isolation package” to stay in hotels during a quarantine period.

    The pandemic has also prevented the travel of so-called “mules,” people who previously traveled back and forth carrying remittances, food, and other goods for relatives or for informal sale in Cuba. The combination of Trump’s measures and COVID-19 has led to the departure of Spanish tourism companies such as Meliá and Bankia.
     
  6. The implementation, at the beginning of 2021, of the “currency and exchange rate unification” which, although in the long term should yield positive results, in the short term has aggravated many of the previous problems, such as a huge increase in inflation, pressure to increase unemployment, a notable rise in the price of goods, and a severe shortage of food and medicine, which we describe in more detail below.
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WHY CUBANS PROTESTED ON JULY 11. Is this the beginning of the end of fear in Cuba?

Samuel Farber July 27, 2021

Original Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Why Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Situation in Cuba 

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

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

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

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

The Political Context 

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

The One-Party State

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

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

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

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

Where is Cuba Going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government bungling and a shortage of dollars are to blame

The Economist, July 3, 2021

Original Article: Cuba’s Food Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rural transportion
Zafra of 2016-20127

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

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

Fidel, cutting cane during the Zafra of 1970
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SOBRE LA DEFENSA DE LA ECONOMÍA CUBANA

Mauricio De Miranda Parrondo 17 junio 2021

Original Article

En días recientes, autoridades cubanas anunciaron que a partir del 21 de junio no se recibirían depósitos de dólares estadounidenses en efectivo en las cuentas en moneda libremente convertible (MLC). La razón argumentada se refiere a las sanciones económicas impuestas por el gobierno de Estados Unidos y su agudización poco antes del fin de la administración Trump.

Habría que recordar no obstante que Cuba tiene prohibido operar en dólares estadounidenses desde inicios del embargo, a comienzos de los sesenta, y a pesar de ello ha persistido en el uso de esa divisa como principal moneda de reserva. Incluso, las últimas decisiones relativas a la unificación cambiaria la ratifican como referencia del nuevo tipo de cambio unificado, para lo cual se ha definido un anclaje nominal del peso cubano.

La medida ha sido controvertida, tanto por el momento de su adopción como porque en el fondo no soluciona ninguno de los principales problemas que afectan a la economía insular. Pese a ello, varias autoridades han afirmado que esta decisión se adopta «en defensa de la economía cubana». Me permito discrepar, una vez más, de las opiniones vertidas por algunos dirigentes respecto a cuestiones de política económica. En cualquier caso, es una medida insuficiente para tal propósito.

Las debilidades de la economía resultan de una combinación de problemas estructurales, políticas erróneas adoptadas por el gobierno a lo largo de seis décadas —con graves efectos acumulativos— y de las sanciones económicas impuestas por Estados Unidos durante años. Los efectos de estas últimas están fuera del control de Cuba, puesto que solo el Congreso de ese país puede removerlas. Las dificultades estructurales, sin embargo, dependen de su condición de nación subdesarrollada, agravada por los errores de las políticas económicas.

 A esto debe añadirse que la soberanía nacional, planteada como meta por el proceso revolucionario, no ha podido alcanzarse realmente en la esfera económica. La dependencia que Cuba tuvo respecto a Estados Unidos por varias décadas, fue reemplazada por una no menos profunda a la Unión Soviética.

Cuando este último país se desintegró, la Isla debió enfrentar la crisis económica más profunda de toda su historia, en la que el Producto Interior Bruto (PIB) acumuló una contracción de casi un 35% entre 1990 y 1993. Los efectos de esa crisis no han sido superados plenamente, sobre todo en lo que se refiere a la industria y a la agricultura.

A partir de la victoria del chavismo en Venezuela en 1999, la economía cubana reprodujo con aquel país una relación de dependencia parecida a las anteriormente mencionadas, con la particularidad de que las necesidades de combustible y otros bienes provenientes del país suramericano —aún nuestro principal suministrador de importaciones— eran más que compensadas por la exportación de servicios médicos y profesionales.

Como es sabido, Venezuela viene arrastrando una profunda crisis económica que se expresa en variaciones negativas sucesivas de su PIB entre 2014 y 2020, para un comportamiento anual promedio de -18,9% en el período. Especialmente duros han sido los años 2019 y 2020, en los que su economía se contrajo 35% y 30% respectivamente (IMF, 2021).

En las condiciones actuales, la economía cubana está enfrentando una profunda crisis, agudizada por la pandemia del Covid-19 y los efectos del recrudecimiento de las sanciones económicas por la administración Trump. Sin embargo, el origen de esta crisis no depende de esos dos hechos. En 2019, el PIB tuvo una contracción de 0,2% respecto a 2018, el consumo de los hogares se contrajo en 1,3%, las exportaciones de bienes y servicios en 4,6% y las importaciones en 2,9% (ONEI, 2020).

La sensibilidad de la economía cubana a los choques externos continúa siendo muy alta, y la crisis venezolana tiene efectos contraccionistas en tal sentido.

Después del deterioro de los noventa, el gobierno cubano apostó por reinsertar al país en la economía mundial como proveedor de servicios turísticos. El turismo se convirtió así en prioridad estratégica, ha venido captando un volumen considerable de inversiones y su importancia creció significativamente en los ingresos en divisas.

En 2019, dicho sector aportó el 20,9% de ese tipo de ingresos y superó la sumatoria de las exportaciones de bienes, que solo representó el 16,3% del total. A falta de datos más precisos, el resto fue aportado, esencialmente, por las exportaciones de servicios profesionales y las remesas, lo cual constituyó un total de 7.925 millones de dólares.[1]

sistemático de los sectores industrial y agrícola, cuyos niveles de producción se mantienen, en gran parte de los rubros, por debajo de los alcanzados en 1989.

En 2019, por ejemplo, se produjo solo un 29,9% del azúcar que se obtenía tres décadas antes, 69,8% de los alimentos, 85,9% del tabaco, 7% de los productos textiles, 15% de las prendas de vestir, 9,3% de artículos de cuero, 34,1% de los productos de madera, 4,3% de fertilizantes, 27,1% de materiales de construcción, 12,4% de productos de caucho y de plástico, 1,9% de maquinarias y equipos, 15,8% de maquinarias y aparatos eléctricos, 0,1% de equipos de transporte, 88,1% de sustancias y productos químicos, 48,6% de equipos y aparatos de radio, televisión y comunicaciones.

En los únicos rubros en que superó la producción de 1989, fue en la elaboración de bebidas, con un 113,5%, y en la de muebles, que alcanzó el 179%. El índice general de volumen de la producción industrial en 2019 respecto a 1989 fue de solo 61,3 (ONEI, 2020) y no es que ese año fuera el de mejor desempeño para la industria cubana.

De acuerdo con estadísticas de la ONEI, el sector agropecuario presenta incrementos en 2019 comparados con 1989 en la producción de: frijoles (753,7%), maíz (425,4%), viandas (174,4%), tabaco (66,2%) y otras frutas (211,1%); así como en la carne de cerdo (207,6%) y de huevos (11,3%). Mientras, ha disminuido la existencia de cabezas de ganado (77,5%), la producción de carne de aves (40,9%), carne bovina (48,5%), leche de vaca (55,4%), arroz (73,1%), cítricos (8,1%) y hortalizas (61,7%).

En gran medida, estos desempeños sectoriales son resultado de la combinación de dificultades externas de la economía con una serie de fenómenos internos, entre los que pueden mencionarse: fallas en la planificación, insuficiencias organizativas en la actividad empresarial, escasos estímulos económicos a los productores, errores de política económica causados por el excesivo voluntarismo en la toma de decisiones e inexistencia de mecanismos de control a la gestión del gobierno por parte de la sociedad.

Aún no se dispone de toda la información para 2020, no obstante, se informó oficialmente que el PIB se contrajo un 11,3% respecto a 2019. The Economist Intelligence Unit estimó que la producción industrial se redujo un 11,2%, mientras que la agropecuaria lo hizo un 12,0%; en tanto, el déficit fiscal llegó a representar un 20,1% del PIB. Estas cifras preliminares denotan una muy difícil situación macroeconómica.

Así las cosas, para defender la economía cubana es necesario adoptar una serie de medidas que superen ampliamente el alcance de una disposición marginal como es la suspensión de depósitos de dólares en efectivo en los bancos de la Isla.

Para proteger la economía de la nación, es imprescindible tomar medidas que permitan la recuperación de la industria de su actual colapso y obsolescencia tecnológica, que impulsen la recuperación de los sectores agropecuario, pesquero y del transporte; que desarrollen la infraestructura, rescaten la industria azucarera, diversifiquen e incrementen los rubros exportables, reduzcan la excesiva dependencia externa y fortalezcan la soberanía del peso cubano como moneda nacional, respaldada por una economía en crecimiento.

El desarrollo económico no se garantiza con fórmulas propagandísticas, ni puede asegurarse con el simple deseo de que se produzca. Es imperativo crear las condiciones institucionales y un clima de negocios que favorezca apuestas de inversión, no solo por parte del Estado sino también del sector privado aún incipiente, junto a la inversión extranjera directa (IED).

Esta última es imprescindible, porque el país no cuenta con fuentes suficientes de acumulación de capital y el incremento del endeudamiento no puede ser una opción a considerar. Las posibilidades que brinda el sector privado para constituir microempresas, pequeñas y medianas empresas  industriales, agropecuarias y de servicios son inmensas.

Mientras tanto, el peso podría anclar su tipo de cambio al euro o a una canasta de monedas que reduzca la influencia del dólar en la determinación del valor nominal de la moneda cubana en términos de monedas extranjeras. Adicionalmente, debiera modificarse la estructura de las reservas internacionales del país, eliminando los dólares estadounidenses de las mismas o reduciendo sustancialmente su participación.

Una medida de realismo económico sería la rectificación del error cometido por las autoridades cubanas al establecer una sobrevaluación del peso cubano en su tipo de cambio unificado. La sobrevaluación de una moneda tiene efectos nocivos en la economía de cualquier país, porque reduce la competitividad de su sector exportador, abarata injustificadamente las importaciones y no permite que la tasa de cambio actúe como válvula de escape de la presión que representan los desequilibrios externos. 

En tanto no se creen las condiciones para que se produzcan más bienes industriales y agropecuarios; mientras no se dinamicen la construcción, el sector de los transportes, las comunicaciones, los servicios comerciales y profesionales; si no se alcanzan tasas de ahorro e inversión que realmente impulsen el crecimiento; la economía cubana seguirá siendo extremadamente vulnerable y la soberanía nacional profundamente comprometida. Los malabarismos cambiarios no resuelven esos problemas.

El Estado cubano no cuenta con los recursos necesarios para asegurar semejante tarea económica. El gobierno puede seguir anclado en su idea fija respecto a que la planificación centralizada sea el principal mecanismo de asignación de recursos, o que la propiedad estatal continúe dominando el sistema económico; de hacerlo fracasará una vez más, porque lejos de propiciar el mejoramiento del bienestar de la sociedad, profundizará el actual estancamiento.

No pueden perderse de vista las consecuencias políticas de los errores en las decisiones económicas. Llegados al punto actual, no existe otra opción posible para Cuba que no sea estimular el desarrollo de los sectores privado y cooperativo, sin camisas de fuerza, con la convicción de que en su desarrollo contribuirán significativamente —ellos sí—, a la defensa de la economía cubana; así como crear las condiciones para que se incremente la inversión extranjera directa en sectores que puedan conectar la producción nacional con cadenas productivas globales.

En este proceso, el papel regulador de un Estado democrático es de valor inestimable, para evitar los fallos del mercado, sin restringirlo, y para crear las condiciones que permitan utilizar instrumentos fiscales en la redistribución de recursos con criterios de justicia social.

***

Referencias.

IMF (2021) World Economic Outlook Database.

ONEI (2020) Anuario Estadístico de Cuba, 2019.

The Economist (2021) The EIU Intelligence Unit Report.

[1] Cálculos con base a ONEI (2020)

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ANALYSIS: SOARING INTERNATIONAL PRICES AGGRAVATE CUBAN FOOD CRISIS

Reuters, May 20, 2021.

Original Article: Cuban Food Crisis

Marc Frank

Waiting. courtesy 14 y medio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Publication: CUBA EMPRESARIAL: EMPRENDEDORES ANTE UNA CAMBIANTE POLÍTICA PÚBLICA

March 12, 2021 by Arch Ritter

I have just received a copy of our new volume,

CUBA  EMPRESARIAL. EMPRENDEDORES ANTE UNA CAMBIANTE POLÍTICA PÚBLICA, by Ted Henken and Archibald Ritter, 2020, Editorial Hypermedia Del Libro of Spain.  This is an up-dated Spanish-language version of the book ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE, by Archibald Ritter and Ted Henken.

The publication details of the volume are as follows:

  • Paperback : 536 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1948517612
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1948517614
  • Dimensions : 6 x 1.34 x 9 inches
  • Item Weight : 1.96 pounds
  • Publisher : Editorial Hypermedia Inc
  • Publication Date: November 19, 2020
  • Language: : Spanish
  • Paperback, $21.90

Nuestro nuevo libro sobre el sector empresarial de Cuba, “Entre el dicho y el hecho va un buen trecho” a la venta AHORA a un precio accesible: US $21.90. It can be ordered from Amazon here: Cuba empresarial: Emprendedores ante una cambiante política pública (Spanish Edition): Henken, Ted A, Ritter, Archibald R. M.: 9781948517614: Amazon.com: Books

Some Brief Reviews:

Carmelo Mesa-Lago. Hasta ahora, este libro es el más completo y profundo sobre la iniciativa privada en Cuba.

Cardiff Garcia. Este libro aporta una lúcida explicación a la particular interacción entre el incipiente sector privado en Cuba y los sectores gubernamentales dominantes. 

Sergio Díaz-Briquets. Cuba empresarial es una lectura obligada para los interesados en la situación actual del país. Su publicación es oportuna no sólo por lo que revela sobre la situación económica, social y política, sino también por sus percepciones sobre la evolución futura de Cuba.

 

Richard Feinberg.Los autores reconocen la importancia de las reformas de Raúl Castro, aunque las consideran insuficientes para sacar a la economía cubana de su estancamiento. 

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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 SAYS ECONOMY SHRANK 11% IN 2020, THWARTS ‘SOFT COUP’ ATTEMPTS.

By Sarah Marsh

Reuters December 17, 2020

Original Article: Cuba Says Economy Shrank

HAVANA, Dec 17 (Reuters) – Cuba’s already cash-strapped economy shrank 11% in 2020 due to the pandemic and tougher U.S. sanctions but the government thwarted attempts by anti-communists to exploit this momentary weakness in a bid to topple it, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Thursday.

Addressing a year-end session of the Communist-run country’s parliament, Diaz-Canel celebrated Cuba’s successful management of its coronavirus outbreak despite “exceptional economic conditions” and predicted 6% to 7% economic growth next year.

Yet the government’s estimate for this year’s contraction was even more dire than that of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which this week predicted an 8.5% contraction for Cuba compared to a 7.7% regional decline.

Cuba received just 55% of the hard currency it had planned this year, Economy Minister Alejandro Gil told the assembly earlier in the day. Gil did not provide data on the debt, trade or current account but earlier this week had told a parliament commission that imports were down 30% compared to last year.

Cuba imports more than 50% of its fuel, food and many other vital inputs and this decline, coming on top of a 15% drop in 2019, has resulted in a scarcity and long lines for even the most basic products, from food and medicine to fuel.

Diaz-Canel said the government had thwarted attempts by anti-communists to capitalize on this moment of economic weakness to “destroy” the Cuban leftist revolution.

Over the past three weeks, state-run media have run shows on what they say are attempts directed and financed from the United States to create unrest on the island, like attacks on state shops and a hunger strike by an artists collective.

“New provocations are on the way and we will vanquish those too,” the president said.

Critics say the government is trying to undermine legitimate discontent among some Cubans and requests for greater civil liberties underscored by a rare rights protest by artists outside the culture ministry late last month.

Diaz-Canel warned on Thursday of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and said attempts at non conventional warfare and a soft coup by the “industry of counterrevolution” would fail.

Nothing, he said, should distract the country from its “most complex task” of recent decades, pointing to the monetary reform taking place from January including a steep devaluation in bid to revitalise the economy.

Earlier in the day, Gil said a gradual recovery would begin in 2021, based mainly on that reform and a 50% increase in tourist arrivals to 2.2 million in 2021, compared with more than 4 million in 2019.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has also promised to unravel some of President Donald Trump’s sanctions on Cuba aimed at forcing political reform such as restrictions on travel and remittances.

Diaz-Canel said the Trump administration’s attempts had “roundly and notoriously failed”. However, the government remained open to improving relations with the United States, he said, without explicitly referring to the incoming Biden administration. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Bernadette Baum & Shri Navaratnam)

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THE CUBAN ECONOMIC CRISIS: ITS CAUSES AND POSSIBLE POLICIES FOR THE TRANSITION

Carmelo Mesa-Lago (University of Pittsburgh) and Jan Svejnar (Columbia University)

Florida International University, School of Public and International Affairs, October 2020.

A definitive 2020 analysis of Cuba’s current economic situation.

Full document available here: The Cuban Economic Crisis: Its Causes and Possible Policies for the Transition

 

 

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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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