Tag Archives: Politics

WHO WILL BE CUBA’S PRIME MINISTER? A GENERAL AND FORMER CASTRO SON-IN-LAW STANDS OUT

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES, Miami Herald

NOVEMBER 04, 2019 04:19 PM, UPDATED NOVEMBER 05, 2019 08:55 AM

Original Article: WHO WILL BE CUBA’S PRIME MINISTER?

Whether in New York, Mexico, or Russia, a face has become familiar in the most recent international trips Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel has made: that of General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja.

Image result for General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja.

General Luis Alberto Rodríguez Lopez-Calleja, head of the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA)

Introduced as “an economic adviser,” the enigmatic military figure was third in line to greet Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting last week, just behind the vice president of the Council of Ministers, Ricardo Cabrisas, who renegotiated the debt to Russia, and foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez.

López-Calleja also sat close to Díaz-Canel in a meeting with Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador in mid-October this year and accompanied him to his debut at the United Nations in September 2018.

Although the official Cuban media has been ambivalent, showing López-Calleja in photos but without publicly naming him as part of the official delegations, his growing international profile suggests that Raúl Castro’s former son-in-law could be among the favorites to fill the newly created position of prime minister.

While leaving much in place, the Cuban Constitution approved in February established a division at the top of the government and the appointment of a prime minister. Accordingly, Díaz-Canel changed his title from President of the Council of State and Ministers to President of the Republic at the beginning of October. The Cuban leader has three months to propose a prime minister, who will be in charge of the day-to-day running of the country.

“The election or designation of the prime minister is a decision in which the executive committee of the Political Bureau of the [Cuban Communist Party], the nerve center of the Cuban one-party system, will have the lead,” said Arturo López-Levy, assistant professor of international relations and comparative politics at Holy Names University in Oakland. Key figures of the generation of historical leaders, such as the first and second secretary of the Party, Raúl Castro and José Ramón Machado Ventura, as well as Castro’s successor in the presidency, Díaz-Canel, must approve the candidate, the analyst said.

López-Levy is López-Calleja’s cousin but declined to comment on their family relationship.

Although the president of the republic, Díaz-Canel, remains as head of state and “supreme” chief of the armed forces as established in the new Constitution, the prime minister will have great power as head of government and chief decision-maker in the administration of the country.

The new prime minister must manage the economic situation of the country, “particularly in the areas of food and energy security,” have the support of the Party and the Armed Forces high command, as well as knowledge of international affairs, especially relations with the U.S., Russia, and China, López-Levy said.

López-Calleja, a Castro relative with proven experience in administration and leadership over the military, as well as contact with business people and foreign leaders, stands out as the ideal candidate for the position.

He is the true czar of the Cuban economy, being at the head of the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA), a conglomerate of military companies estimated to control at least half of the Cuban economy. GAESA manages critical areas such as the remittance business, most of the tourism industry, the Special Development Zone in the Port of Mariel as well as the main stores and supermarkets, gas stations, import and export companies, shipping and construction companies, warehouses and an airline.

In emails obtained by the Miami Herald, managers at Odebrecht — the Brazilian construction company involved in a corruption scheme throughout Latin America that was in charge of the modernization of the Port of Mariel in Cuba — wrote that, though López-Calleja divorced one of Raúl Castro’s daughters, Deborah, he had the ear of the Cuban leader and exercised “strong leadership in the decisions made by the Cuban government. All our businesses in Cuba passed through their hands.”

GAESA is currently under U.S. sanctions. Some analysts suggest that the fact that the Trump administration did not include López-Calleja among Castro’s relatives hit with recent visa sanctions might indicate that the U.S. believes the general could play a key role during a transition on the island.

But internal movements in Cuba are difficult to predict, and López-Calleja is not the only one with prospects of becoming prime minister.

Foreign Minister Rodríguez has increased his international profile in recent years, capitalizing on his frequent harsh criticism of the U.S. government while negotiating a new diplomatic agreement with the European Union. He also served in the military and has spent years cultivating relations in the Party as a member of its Central Committee, to the point that he is seen as someone who represents the most conservative voice of the Party in the foreign ministry.

While Rodríguez and Tapia are currently members of parliament, López-Calleja must become a deputy in order to be nominated as prime minister, a requirement written in the new Constitution. Since the last parliamentary elections in March 2018, the Assembly has dropped 22 deputies and admitted 16 new ones who were not elected, through a mechanism that is not public.

The Party could also choose one of its own, for example, economist Jorge Luis Tapia, appointed a vice president of the Council of Ministers in September, after a decade leading the Party, first in the province of Ciego de Ávila and then in Camagüey.

Rodríguez, however, lacks experience in administration, and Tapia lacks international contacts.

Castro and the military could also keep López-Calleja as an influential figure who acts behind the scenes, especially for his valuable contacts with international business people.

“While he is a logical candidate given his success at managing GAESA, his business expertise may be more valuable there than as prime minister,” said William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University and a specialist in U.S. relations with Cuba.

But the advance age of Castro, 88, and Machado, 89, leads López-Levy to think that whoever occupies the prime minister position will have real power during an imminent transition.

“In the transitions of post-revolutionary regimes, the titles acquire real power,” he said. In those circumstances, “people prefer to formalize their position.”

Arturo López-(Cajella)-Levy

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CUBA’S NEW CONSTITUTION EXPLAINED

By Geoff Thale and Teresa Garcia Castro

Washington Office on Latin America, (WOLA), February 26, 2019

Original Article: Cuba’s New Constitution

On February 24, Cubans went to the polls to vote on the ratification of a new constitution, one that makes significant changes to the country’s political, social, and economic order. This was the first time in 43 years that the Cuban people had the opportunity to express either support or opposition to a proposal that fundamentally restructures aspects of the Cuban economy and political system.

 Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel, left, Cuban First Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa, center and Cuban Vice President Ramiro Valdez, right.

According to the Cuban electoral commission, voter turnout reached 84 percent (slightly higher than in Cuba’s last election cycle in April 2018), with 87 percent of the votes in favor. The size of the vote suggests that, whatever misgivings or frustrations Cubans had with the new Constitutional proposal, they saw it as a step in the right direction.

The new Cuban Constitution retains language that proclaims the Communist Party’s guiding role in Cuban society and socialism as being irreversible. At the same time, the document includes several major changes to Cuba’s traditional economic and political model.Additionally, the drafting process that yielded the final text that was approved in the February 24 referendum involved a citizen consultation process that was relatively inclusive and even resulted in changes to the final document, an important indication that the Cuban government’s gradual process of reform is continuing.   

Overall, there was real and relatively open debate leading up to the referendum on the Cuban Constitution.

Cuba’s current constitution was drafted and approved by referendum in 1976. Since then, the government’s vision for the country’s economy has changed significantly, especially in the past decade.  Reform guidelines announced in 2011, alongside a Communist Party document approved in 2016, make clear that Cuba is moving toward a mixed economy that includes both a private sector and state-run sector, a more significant role for foreign investment, and where the central planning role, though not eliminated, is diminished. A small private sector has already emerged in Cuba, and grown substantially in the last few years.

Overall, the past decade has seen Cuba’s Communist Party shift (at least in principle) toward a less heavy-handed approach to exercising influence over both Cuban society and the economy. In addition, expanded internet access has helped spread access to information and enabled greater and more open political debate.

In the face of these ongoing changes, the government launched a process to revise and update the 1976 Cuban Constitution. Some people had hoped that the final text would incorporate more radical changes in the Cuban model, and were disappointed. Indeed, some rumored changes did not appear in the final version that was voted on, while other proposed reforms appear to have been postponed to later debates about implementing legislation in the National Assembly.

Still, Cuba’s new constitution includes some noteworthy overhauls.The document does the following:

  • Recognizes private property and promotes foreign investment as fundamental to the development of the economy.
  • Limits the term of the president—who is selected by the National Assembly, as in parliamentary systems—to two consecutive five-year terms, and requires that the president be under sixty when s/he is elected. (This is a dramatic change from the era in which aging revolutionaries monopolized key government positions, and were repeatedly approved in their positions.)
  • Restores the pre-1976 position of Prime Minister, an official selected by the president who leads government ministries on a day-to-day basis.
  • Forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • Guarantees women’s sexual and reproductive rights and protects women from gender violence.
  • Establishes the presumption of innocence in criminal proceedings and the right to habeas corpus.
  • Strengthens the authority of local governments.
  • Allows holding dual citizenship.

These changes, and others, will have to be implemented through legislation and regulation. That process is likely to be both gradual and complicated. However, the changes in the new Cuban Constitution are undeniably significant, both reflecting and advancing the process of economic reform, strengthening citizen protections, and making the political process more transparent. While not as transformative as some had hoped, they should not be dismissed as meaningless or cosmetic.

 

THE CONSTITUTIONAL PROCESS

The process by which the new constitution and referendum came about is also noteworthy, given the degree of citizen participation involved and the government’s response to some of the feedback it received.

Constitutional reform had been under discussion since 2013, but it wasn’t until June 2018 that a drafting commission (made up of senior government and Communist Party officials, the heads of several Cuban National Assembly committees, and academic and technical advisors) began to work on this issue seriously. The government, the National Assembly, and the Communist Party all engaged in ongoing internal debates about the draft constitution, reflecting a larger national conversation among political elites about the pace and depth of political and economic reform in Cuba

Despite Cuba’s image as a state that has suppressed religious freedom, prevented organized political campaigns, and been unwilling to listen to citizens’ views, the government responded.

The first draft of the constitution was approved by the National Assembly in July 2018. For a subsequent three-month period, Cubans were invited to suggest changes to the proposed draft. According to official numbers, more than 8 million people participated in nearly 112,000 debates in workplaces, schools, and community centers, and suggested a large number of proposed modifications to the constitution draft.

This participatory process was also significant in that, for the first time, Cuban expats were allowed to submit proposed changes to the constitution draft. However, other than diplomats, Cubans abroad were not allowed to vote in the referendum unless they returned to the island to cast their ballots.

Overall, the consultation process constituted a significant exercise in citizen participation. While officials were not required to make changes based on citizen feedback, there were some cases in which they did.

The most well-known example of this was the same-sex marriage provision: a draft of the constitution originally included language that defined marriage as a consensual union between two people, without specifying genders. This attracted significant pushback from evangelical churches and some sectors of the Cuban Catholic Church, who organized a campaign to get the provision withdrawn. Many Cubans supported this campaign and made their objections known by disseminating posters, stickers, and t-shirts, threatening to vote “no” in a constitutional referendum. Around 179,000 people signed a petition, backed by evangelical churches, calling on the government to withdraw the provision.

The new constitution and the constitutional drafting process mark important steps forward in the economy, the political system, and the decision-making process in Cuba…

Despite Cuba’s image as a state that has suppressed religious freedom, prevented organized political campaigns, and been unwilling to listen to citizens’ views, the government responded. The commission in charge of processing citizen feedback eventually withdrew the proposed language. The just-approved constitution now contains no language on marriage; the issue will likely be revisited in a debate over the Cuban Family Code sometimes in the next two years.

Meanwhile, the government launched a campaign to encourage “yes” votes with posters, advertising, and the use of social media. On the other hand, opposition forces also painted “no” signs, printed up T-shirts, and staged Twitter protests. While there were reports that some proponents of the “no” vote were harassed, overall, there was real and relatively open debate leading up to the referendum on the Cuban Constitution.

 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

Overall, the new constitution and the constitutional drafting process mark important steps forward in the economy, the political system, and the decision-making process in Cuba, and should be understood as signs of change in the thinking of the political leadership and in the population as a whole.

Indeed, the referendum comes at a complicated moment for Cuba. Economic growth has stalled in the past year, and is projected to be no more than1.5 percent in 2019. Austerity measures initiated in 2016 will continue this year, including cuts in energy and fuel to state companies and reduced imports of consumer goods. The government will struggle to maintain its investment in the social safety net, including free healthcare, education and other services

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is threatening additional economic sanctions on the island, which could make foreign investment riskier. These sanctions will damage Cuba’s already fragile economy, and hurt everyday Cubans. In addition, they are likely to discourage the process of economic reforms and will have a negative impact on the growing private sector. A more constructive approach, and one that would encourage rather than discourage internal reform, would be to return to normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations. Ultimately, recognizing that important if gradual changes are underway in Cuba—as the new constitution illustrates— is in the interests of both the Cuban people and the United States.

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SIXTY YEARS AFTER THE REVOLUTION, IS A ‘NEW CUBA’ EMERGING?

World Politics Review, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019

William M. LeoGrande |

Is the Cuban Revolution reinventing itself at age 60? That was my unmistakable impression during a visit to Cuba last month. Change is in the air as the island celebrates the anniversary of the 1959 revolution.

Last year, Raul Castro stepped down as president in favor of his protégé, 58-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, who promised a “new Cuba” — a government more open and responsive to people’s needs. In the ensuing months, three constituencies — the churches, the private sector and the arts community — took advantage of that promise to launch organized campaigns pushing back against government policies they opposed. And in each case, the government backed off.

Continue reading: LeoGrande, Is a New Cuba Emerging

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LETTER FROM HAVANA: THE SUDDEN CIVIL SOCIETY AWAKENING

December 17, 2018

Richard Feinberg, Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution.
Original Article: Brookings Institution,  Letter from Havana

As the Castro brothers fade into history, green shoots of civil society are visibly emerging in Cuba. Make no mistake: The Cuban Communist Party retains its authoritarian hegemony. Nevertheless, and largely unnoticed in the U.S. media, various interest groups are flexing their youthful muscles—and with some remarkable albeit very partial policy successes.

These unanticipated stirrings of civil society present a serious challenge to the cautious new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, who assumed office this April. In recent weeks, three significant interest groups have pushed back against newly restrictive government regulations issued in the usual way: by government fiat, with few if any opportunities for public input. The new regulations aim to reduce profit margins of independent entrepreneurs, driving some out of business altogether, and to impose new censorship rules on cultural expression.

In response to these threats, the emerging private sector—some 600,000 employers and workers, over 10 percent of the workforce by official count—pressed the authorities to retract proposed limitations on individual capital accumulation. To everyone’s great surprise, the authorities suddenly offered significant concessions. Entrepreneurs will be able to own more than one business, the government agreed, and restaurant and bar owners will no longer face occupancy ceilings of 50 customers each.

Nevertheless, other restrictive anti-business clauses remain on the books. Apprehensive entrepreneurs are waiting to see whether government bureaucrats and inspectors apply their new discretionary powers with a light or heavy hand.

For their part, Cuba’s large army of cultural workers, in music, film, theater, and the visual arts, vigorously pushed back against draft regulations requiring prior approval of public performances and threatening censorship of “unpatriotic” content. At the last minute, again the government stepped back, agreeing to consult with representatives of the arts community prior to implementation.

In yet another challenge to government authority, Havana taxi owners and drivers staged an informal strike against a complex set of new rules. The government is seeking to impose burdensome reporting of all revenues and expenditures, higher effective taxes, more rigorous safety requirements for certain vehicles, and on some routes a lower ceiling on taxi fares. In protest and despair, many taxi drivers have turned in their licenses. Moreover, public buses are running less frequently, apparently due to scarcities of gasoline and spare parts. The result: a daily transportation headache for Havana’s work force.

The government has promised to import more buses. Meanwhile, the authorities seem incapable of foreseeing the practical outcomes on daily life of bureaucratic innovations. Intent upon raising tax revenues and imposing order over Havana’s unruly transportation grid, the authorities failed to anticipate the market-driven reactions of the regulated taxi owners and drivers.

In all three cases—the disgruntled business owners, the alarmed artistic community, and the frustrated taxi drivers—the civil protests took similar forms. Brave citizens signed carefully crafted letters, respectful but firm, addressed to ministers and President Díaz-Canel. (Some signatories reported subsequent government harassment, including menacing phone calls.) Spreading social media (on-island and offshore) buzzed with sharp criticisms of government policies. In a few notable cases, intrepid protesters gathered in public spaces, provoking brief police arrests. One prominent state TV program, “Mesa Redonda” (Roundtable), gave voice to some of the popular complaints, politely challenging official guests.

To access social media, most Cubans have had to locate scattered Wi-Fi hotspots. But this month the government has enabled 3G technology throughout the island. This belated entrance into the world of modern telephony may be another game changer. Cuban citizens who sport cell phones will now be empowered to upload immediately content to Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter.

These struggles over economic and cultural freedoms between the authorities and civil society come in the midst of a major re-write of the nation’s constitution. The Communist Party submitted a draft document for public comment in innumerable meetings convened throughout the island. Initial skepticism has given way to anticipation that the authorities may prove responsive to citizen suggestions and significantly amend the final draft, even as one-party rule and socialist planning will persist. A popular referendum on the new constitution is scheduled for late February.

Overall, the heated conversations over constitutional reform and the government’s responsiveness to civil society voices, however belated and partial, have raised hopes: Maybe post-Castro Cuba will gradually evolve toward a more responsive governance. Emboldened by cracks in government stone-walling, Cubans may seek to widen the space for civil society expression.

At the same time, while many welcome the young administration’s relative responsiveness to independent voices, some party stalwarts and ordinary Cubans accustomed to authoritarian rulers see only weakness and improvisation. Backsliding is certainly a feasible scenario. Already some anti-government skeptics see only one half-step forward, two steps backward.

Nevertheless, some Cubans harbor this aspiration: That President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who so far has championed continuity over change, will eventually gain the authority and confidence to tackle the other elephant in the room—the long-stagnant economy. For only comprehensive economic reforms could lift the economy from its deepening recession, the root cause of the government’s anxieties and the popular discontent.

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DEMOCRATIZING CUBA? INTERVIEW WITH ARTURO LÓPEZ-LEVY

Published originally by NACLA (https://nacla.org). This is the last installment of a NACLA series on Cuba’s constitutional reform

Arturo López-Levy is the Bruce Gray Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of International Relations at Gustavus Adolphus College, Minnesota. He worked as a political analyst for the Cuban government until 1994. He is a co-author of Raúl Castro and the new Cuba: A Close-Up View of Change (McFarland, 2012.

Arturo López-Levy

During his time as president, Raúl Castro announced a series of reforms. [3] One of these was to overhaul Cuba’s 1976 constitution [4], which was drafted at the height of Cuban socialism and has long been out of sync with the country’s post-Soviet reality. In July, Cuba’s National Assembly unveiled a proposed version for the new constitution [5]. This draft will undergo a process of public debate throughout the fall and should be ratified in February 2019.

The constitutional reform has intensified debates on the island about rights, citizenship, and the new economy. This essay forms part of a running forum NACLA is hosting to offer a range of views on this crucial process at a critical moment in Cuban history.

In this essay, political scientist and international relations expert Arturo López-Levy explains how the constitutional reform reflects the goals and expectations of a new generation of the Cuban political elite.

 

Michelle Chase (MC): In broad strokes, what are the most relevant changes proposed in the new draft of the Constitution?

Arturo López-Levy (ALL): If people outside Cuba want to understand the current process of constitutional reform in Cuba, they should look at the relevant terms of the debate and balance of power within the island rather than impose prescriptive and sometimes utopian views about democracy from the outside.

The first thing I would caution is that we should pay attention to the framing of this debate. While many outside observers, dissidents, opposition, and exile intellectuals focus on substantive issues of liberal democracy (such as the right to organize political parties, freedom of association and expression, etc.), the framing of this debate within Cuba’s political structures is mostly focused on procedures and institutions (term limits, decentralization, separation of a new presidency of the republic, presidency of the Council of State, and premiership and legalizing new institutions and practices of the new economy.)

This is hardly a surprise. Facing the passing of the generation who made the Cuban revolution in 1959, the goal of the Cuban elite is improving the collective character of the leadership and the sustainability of the one-party system. There is a new generation of leaders rising in Cuba, but there is no evidence to suggest that they will dismantle the monopoly of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), establish an independent judicial system, or willingly adopt a free press. This fact has made many observers of Cuba’s political reform skeptical about the prospects for democratization in Cuba. That is why they dismiss the relevance and implications of the debate that is taking place as non-consequential.  The problem with these analysts is that they are imposing their own priorities and values without observing the process on its own merits. In contrast, a good analysis should emphasize the magnitude of the institutional change being proposed, and how a change in these institutional procedures can produce substantive changes, even if unintentionally, in the long run.

From an institutional point of view, the proposed reforms to Cuba’s current constitution represent a fundamental political liberalization of the current system. The new Carta Magna represents explicit and implied changes of utmost importance in the economic realm and the organizational structure of the Cuban state.

In terms of explicit changes, the proposed amendments redefine the character and goals of the Cuban state. The proposed constitution drops the goal of “building a communist society” and ratifies the adoption of a new model of a mixed economy in which not only private property is legalized but also the role of the state sector in the Cuban economy changes. This goes farther than reforms introduced in 1992, which opened the possibility for some expansion of private property in the country but explicitly excluded some sectors of production from privatization. That list disappears in the new project. This change does not mean that the Cuban state now has a “neoliberal orientation,” as some have argued, but it does legally empower the government with discretion to decide what to privatize, how and when.

The draft constitution also lays out changes in the structure of the state that open the gates for a substantial future decentralization. The new constitution redefines the role and mode of election of the provincial governors and their relations with the municipalities. At the national level, the new text proposes the creation of a presidency, as the top official of the country, centralizing in that office many functions that Fidel Castro has said in the past that should be distributed in a council of notables and representatives of the social organizations under the tutelage of the communist party (the Council of State). Together with this new office of the presidency, the constitutional proposal includes the separation of functions and position of the president of the Council of State and prime minister. This is not a separation of power, as some uninformed observers suggest, but a clearer distribution of functions. The prime minister is subordinate to the president, who is also supposed to be the leader of the party, but the premier’s performance and legacy will be essentially assessed by his performance (better economy, welfare, etc.), not in ideological terms.

MC: How was this draft produced? Who exactly contributed to it and how do we see those interests in the draft?

ALL: The politburo of the Communist Party created a commission six years ago that worked on a blueprint of the most important proposals. Then, at the end of the legislative term in December 2017, the National Assembly created a commission of deputies that included many of the members of the first commission created by the party, plus some relevant scholars of law, history and other matters, and representation from official regional and mass organizations.  In terms of generations, the commission showed an interesting mix of old and new blood (in both political and demographic terms).

Most of the members of this commission are openly and inextricably tied to the orthodox party line of the PCC. The group was not composed of the country’s most prominent jurists, constitutional law scholars, experts, or intellectuals. They were competent loyalists who exercised their power as agenda setters in the dark, with no transparency.

This fact disavows any fiction of separation between the state and the party but it also confirms the relevance assigned by the leadership to the constitution making process and the anticipated changes for the political future of the country. This is a loyalist commission that is conscious of the need for renewal within the limits of the system and took seriously the challenge of legitimation and adaptation under the new conditions of the world and Cuban politics and economy.

The commission submitted its proposal to the National Assembly, which debated it and approved it for submission to the general public as a project for debate. Then a process of discussion throughout the whole country began, in every neighborhood or place of employment. In addition, for the first time and creating an interesting precedent, a website hosted by the ministry of foreign relations is collecting comments from emigres. This final project will supposedly be submitted to a referendum during the first half of 2019.

The process of debate serves many purposes beyond the pursuit of some domestic and external legitimation. One of the most important goals is the collection of information about the positions not only of the antagonists but also about those who are associates in different degree with the system. The discussion allows also some cooptation of civil society’s demands and elites opening space for them within the governing coalition. It also allows the historic generation of the revolution to test the persuasive capability and attraction of the different positions of those rising within their ranks.

MC: Why is the Constitution being revisited at this time? How is it related to Raúl Castro’s reforms, the new presidency of Miguel Díaz-Canel, etc.?

ALL: This proposal of constitutional reform is part and parcel of the gradualist and incrementalist approach to economic and political reform adopted by Raúl Castro. An important part of the new project has to do with the political conception about what type of state Cuba will be. The new Article 1 introduces the notion of a socialist “rule of law,” better interpreted as a socialist rule by law. Although this term has been mentioned several times since 1959, it has never been elevated to the rank of a constitutional principle. The idea—as presented by the most outspoken voice in the commission, the chief of the secretariat of the Council of Ministers Homero Acosta—emphasized constitutional obedience and observance over arbitrary power.

Does talking about a “rule of law” socialist state and the reintroduction of guarantees of important rights such as habeas corpus represent the adoption of a judiciary independent from the Communist Party? Obviously not, but that does not mean that when Cuban leaders speak about a “more democratic system” or a “democratic party of the Cuban nation” or rapprochement with patriotic emigres, they are just babbling demagoguery. On the contrary, this is an acknowledgment that, without the complement of political liberalization, the success of economic reform is at risk. Facing the ideological position presented by former dean of the law school of the University of Havana, Jose Toledo Santander who defended the proposition that the Communist party was above the National Assembly and the constitution is what the party- particularly its Political Bureau- say it is; Acosta proposed a different scheme in which the party lead the discussion of the constitutional reform today and then becomes the main guardian of its strict application in accordance with the will of the people who is the ultimate holder of Cuban sovereignty.

The new president Miguel Díaz-Canel and his team are conscious of the potential problems that a more open Cuba can bring. Let’s not forget that political liberalization, not to mention democratization, can be a destabilizing process for a system like Cuba’s. But Díaz-Canel and the new generation of leaders know that accelerating the reforms adopted under Raúl is their best chance. Many factors are pushing in this direction. The one-party state’s old pillars of legitimacy (personal charisma, the appeal of communist paradigms, the appeal of social equality) have declined. It is also clear that the current political structure is inadequate to cope with challenges associated with these reforms, such as the rise of inequality, the overlapping of race and class in the income gap, the increase of corruption and the divisions between urban and rural areas, tourist and non-tourist sectors of the economy, and sectors that benefit from remittances versus those that do not.

In general, these reforms show that president Díaz-Canel and his generational team are setting the political agenda of the country. Some of these leaders have been candid about the fact that the constitutional reforms are updating the legal framework of the country because politics and law have lagged behind the economic and social changes in the country. This was never a major concern of Fidel and Raúl Castro, or the generation of the so-called “historicos.” It confirms that the new generation of leaders is acting with the support of the old generation but is pressing their own issues forward.

MC: Is it fair to say that the new constitution is moving Cuba toward a more republican, or liberal, concept of citizenship?

ALL: Yes, in the margins. In the liberal sense, it proposes a rule by law, not a rule of law. This is better than what exists now but it is not based on an open and transparent competition of political views within the paradigm of the universal declaration of human rights. In the republican sense, the assessment is more complex. The new project creates a better separation of functions between president and prime minister and improves some mechanisms of horizontal accountability and decentralization. At the same time, by transferring to a president of the republic the previous functions of the council of state, the new constitution will strengthen the individual power of the top executive. This could open the door to bouts of Latin American caudillismo down the road.

However, liberal democracy or republicanism in the western style should not be the main criterion to measure the progress of Cuban political development. Cuba democratizes according to its own history and culture. The concept of political liberalization is better fitted to deal with the transformation taking place in Cuba because it emphasizes issues such as the expansion of choices and human rights as international standards. For instance, the expansion of rule by law provides the country with better institutional mechanisms (courts, police, prosecutors, etc.) to cope with an eventual democratization, regardless of the government’s intention to use it to strengthen one-party rule. In a worst-case scenario, non-liberal reformers will be doing the right thing for the wrong reason. The result could be positive.

MC: What implications do all these changes have for U.S. policy toward Cuba?

ALL: If the international community, particularly Latin America and the United States, want to have a realist policy of democracy promotion towards Cuba, it is essential for their policymakers to abandon false presumptions about short-term democratization in the liberal sense and educate themselves about the real and relevant framework, choices, and scenarios within which Cuba is discussing its constitutional reforms. In such a critical hour, the policies of the Trump administration are the model of what not to do. If they continue to adopt a narrow vision about democratization and rights, the role of most international actors, their positions and interactions will be counterproductive.

At a critical time of debate, which will shape how Cuban politics will unfold and whether there will be more opportunities for democratization in the future, the role of the United States is important mainly for what it shouldn’t do. Cubans will decide their own destiny within the context of a nationalist culture strengthened by the 1959 revolution. If Washington insists on treating the new government as mere continuation of the previous generations, trying to play favorites within Cuban politics and interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, American policy will be very counterproductive to Cuba’s political development and even detrimental to America’s national long-term interest in a peaceful, stable, democratic, and market-oriented Cuba.

The Trump administration has chosen to reaffirm policies of hostility despite all the promising signs for marketization and political liberalization of more engagement during the last two years of the Obama administration. Washington should reconsider the way it engages with a changing Cuba. It should look at this process of constitutional reform with a flexible vision about the positions and motivations of all Cuban actors, including non-liberal reformers in the government. Rather than dismiss the relevance of the intergenerational transition of leadership, it should engage the new president Miguel Díaz-Canel with dialogue and dignity using this critical juncture for a new beginning and facilitating the deepening of the reforms, not repeating the hostility role so fruitful to the most conservative elements in the Cuban government ranks.

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CUBA’S STALLED REVOLUTION

Cuba’s Stalled Revolution: Can New Leadership Unfreeze Cuban Politics After the Castros?

By Richard E. Feinberg and Ted Piccone

 Foreign Affairs, September 2018

Original Article: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/central-america-caribbean/2018-09-20/cubas-stalled-revolution

For Cuba, 2018 marks the end of an era. For the first time in almost six decades, the country’s president is no longer a Castro—neither the late guerilla fighter, revolutionary caudillo, and international icon Fidel, nor his lower-profile brother Raúl, who succeeded Fidel as president in 2008. This April, the mantle was instead passed to former vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canel, a younger post-revolutionary politician who raised paradoxical hopes of both continuity and change.

Yet for those who imagined that the post-Castro era would quickly bring major reforms, Díaz-Canel’s tenure so far has been sorely disappointing. Five months in, progress in the country has come either slowly or not at all. The island’s economy continues to decline, just as it has since the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, and this despite the carefully calibrated reforms Raul Castro instituted in 2011. Investment rates are alarmingly low, foreign exchange scarce, and shortages of consumer goods widespread. Many discontented Cubans, especially educated youth, continue to emigrate in search of higher living standards and better career choices, depleting the current and future workforce.

Miguel Díaz-Canel 

Reformers and hardliners continue to do battle within the Cuban Communist Party. A new draft constitution promises progress, notably on gender and gay rights, but it also reaffirms the hegemony of the Cuban Communist Party and institutionalizes outdated economic thinking. Recent government initiatives further restrict individual freedoms in business, the arts, and media. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has largely returned to the pre-Obama rhetoric of regime change and posture of hostility and isolation.

STAGNATION NATION

Díaz-Canel has inherited an economy in a state of transition. During his decade-long rule, Raúl Castro broke through once-forbidding ideological barriers on economic policy. He actively inserted Cuba into global commerce, opened the island to foreign investment, and promoted a burgeoning domestic private sector. Raúl also relaxed barriers to travel abroad, allowed private markets for real estate and automobiles, and gradually expanded access to mobile technology and social media. The private sector took off. By 2017, it provided jobs and income to as many as four out of ten Cubans of working age. Tourist traffic rose more than 80 percent during Raul’s tenure. Even though U.S. travelers became less common on the streets of Havana over the course of 2017, as the Obama bump gave way to a Trump dip, tourism is once again the brightest feature of the Cuban economy.

The government has not laid out a new economic policy agenda, much less a strategic vision for long-term development.

And yet, the Cuban economy has performed poorly overall. During the decade of Raúl Castro’s rule, Cuba’s GDP grew an average 2.4 percent per year—at least according to government statistics. At times, GDP growth stagnated at below two percent per year. Five percent would be the minimum necessary for Cuba’s growth to be considered sustainable.

The government has failed to create a truly receptive business climate, and outside the flourishing tourism sector, foreign investors remain skeptical. The precipitous drop in Cuba’s merchandise exports bodes particularly ill, signaling that the country’s state-owned enterprises are failing to compete in global markets. In 2016, these exports shrunk to less than $3 billion, their lowest level in more than ten years. In response, authorities slashed imports, from a peak of nearly $15 billion in 2013 to $10.4 billion in 2016. The loss of these imports has left Cuban stores empty of the most basic consumer items, from beer and paper products to spare parts for household appliances. All the while, restrictions on bringing capital goods into the country continue to exacerbate the already serious lack of factory machinery and farm equipment.

Change is unlikely to materialize soon. The Díaz-Canel administration, occupied with managing austerity policies, has not yet laid out a new economic policy agenda, much less a strategic vision for long-term development. In July, the government issued tough new regulations for the island’s emerging private enterprises. Aimed at preventing private companies and citizens from accumulating wealth—and nipping in the bud any potential challenge to the state’s monopoly on economic and political power—the new rules show that Cuban leaders are still extremely wary of, if not outright hostile to, private enterprise.

OLD RUM IN NEW BOTTLES?

Cuban politics are similarly resistant to change. Raúl Castro is still very present—as head of the Cuban Communist Party until 2021 and as leader of the government’s current efforts to revise the constitution. Every step of the relatively smooth succession process seemed designed to signal continuity with the measured pace of change that had marked Raúl Castro’s tenure, encapsulated by his maxim “sin prisa, pero sin pausa”—without haste, but without pause. It’s no wonder, then, that Díaz-Canel told the national assembly upon donning the presidential sash that “comrade Raúl will head the decisions for the present and future of the nation.”

Díaz-Canel has a lighter touch and is less camera-shy than his predecessor, but when it comes to policymaking, he has so far failed to deliver change. He retains a largely inherited team of senior bureaucrats, and his public remarks have been less about programmatic innovation than about maintaining party unity. Granted, this could be a temporary posture meant to reassure the old party apparatchiks while he builds a more autonomous governing class of technocrats. By this interpretation, the 58-year old is cautiously cultivating a power base of his own to set forward in the later portion of his five-year term, especially after Raúl steps down as party chief in 2021.

On the institutional side, recent changes are a mixed bag. The National Assembly chosen in March includes a mix of old and new faces. More than half of the deputies are new, 53 percent are women, and 41 percent are black or of mixed race. Likewise, the council of state, which is headed by Díaz-Canel and effectively governs the country year-round, has three new vice presidents between the ages of 48 and 52—young leadership for a country long ruled by former revolutionaries in their seventies and older. New rules mandate that deputies serve no more than two five-year terms and enter office at an age no older than 60. Taken together, the changes suggest that party leaders understand the importance of making the benefits of public office accessible to younger cadres and of diversifying the ranks of the governing elite.

A proposed constitutional reform, meanwhile, promises a modest but potentially meaningful political opening. The draft constitution divides power between a president serving as head of state and a prime minister who manages the government’s day-to-day functions. It devolves more autonomy over local affairs to provincial authorities, even though governors would still be appointed by the president. Other provisions suggest greater separation between state and party, even though the overlap in personnel would probably remain high. A new national electoral council would improve the image of the country’s elections, if not their actual integrity. Citizens who gather at least 10,000 signatures can propose legislation. Those who gather 50,000 or more will be able to initiate constitutional revisions.

Even if reformers manage to wedge open some cracks in the state’s monolithic apparatus, Cuba will remain a strictly one-party system.

The draft constitution explicitly grants important civil and due process rights, including habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence, the right to seek restitution for violations committed by state agents, non-discrimination regardless of sexual orientation, and religious liberty. But it makes such fundamental rights conditional upon “collective security, general well-being, respect for public order, the Constitution and laws.” The draft document is rife with such contradictory loopholes that ultimately confirm the state’s supreme power to override fundamental human rights.

Make no mistake: even if reformers manage to wedge open some cracks in the state’s monolithic apparatus, Cuba will remain a strictly one-party system. The draft constitution re-inscribes the Cuban Communist Party as the “superior leading force of [Cuban] society and the state.” Cuban socialism and its political and social system remain “irrevocable.” In the economy, the draft charter complements state planning and ownership with some space for domestic and foreign private capital, but these changes stop well short of formally embracing a more genuinely balanced, hybrid regime, such as the market socialist models of China or Vietnam.

At the moment, the Communist Party is holding forums to debate the draft constitution across the island. These forums are generating discussions among interested elites, but they are expected to yield only modest fixes to the issues outlined above. Once ratified by the legislature and by public referendum—likely easy hurdles—the new constitution will mainly cement the Castro legacy in constitutional, legal and de facto terms, while also bestowing some political legitimacy upon the post-revolutionary cohort Díaz-Canel now leads. For the many Cubans yearning for higher wages and more consumer goods, there is little relief in sight.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Havana’s economic and political inertia has left Washington with little room to elicit more progressive reforms. Either the United States can accept Cuba’s reality and find ways of getting along in order to protect its national interests, or it can maintain and perhaps even step up its efforts to pursue regime change through punitive measures. The latter policy, in place for nearly six decades, has demonstrably failed, but it is unfortunately entrenched in U.S. law, thanks to Congress’ codification of the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba in 1996. U.S. President Donald Trump, who has rolled back many of the openings granted by President Obama, has important pro-embargo constituencies in Florida and is unlikely to shift direction any time soon.  In effect, the Miami hardliners have won back the initiative from the diverse anti-embargo constituencies of the Obama era. This is probably fine and well with hardliners in Cuba, as it gives them some breathing space to seek better relations with Europe, Russia and China without Washington in the picture.

The new administration will likely split the country along generational lines.

The United States and Cuba still cooperate in some areas, but such exchanges face significant challenges. U.S. tourism to the island, especially cruise ship travel, is showing signs of recovery, after a sharp decrease in 2017 and in the first half of 2018. Bilateral cooperation in the areas of law enforcement, migration, and environmental affairs continues quietly, but depleted staffing at both U.S. and Cuban embassies, in part due to a wave of mysterious health concerns reported by U.S. diplomats in Cuba last year, has hampered basic diplomatic and consular functions. U.S. congressional activity has stalled, with the exception of efforts to lift financial restrictions on agricultural trade. All told, neither the punishing embargo nor anemic U.S. diplomacy is likely to prod Havana towards more ambitious reforms.

Domestically, the Díaz-Canel administration will likely split the country along generational lines. For many older Cubans, the new government’s commitment to the principles that guided the Castro era is reassuring. Many middle-aged Cubans will welcome the renewed guarantees of state-sponsored economic security and welfare. Some may also perceive glimmers of a more normal, open and, accessible polity, and will take heart in Díaz-Canel’s support for gradual, carefully monitored openings to foreign investment, the internet, and controlled private enterprise. Cuba’s restless youth, on the other hand, are likely to see only more missed opportunities, whether in a constitutional reform that prioritizes continuity over change or in a president who so far has proven more cheerleader for the status quo than agent of reform. Tragically, Cubans of all stripes, including too many of the best and the brightest, will continue to seek opportunities elsewhere.

 

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CUBA TO UPDATE SOVIET-ERA CONSTITUTION, ADAPTING TO REFORMS

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ,

 ASSOCIATED PRESS, HAVANA, May 28, 2018

 Original Article: CONSTITUTIONAL UPDATE

 When Cuba adopted its current constitution, the sugar-based economy was being bolstered by aid from the Soviet Union, citizens were forbidden to run private businesses or sell homes and gays kept their sexual identity a tightly guarded secret.

Now a rewrite is on the way as the country’s communist leaders try to adapt to the post-Soviet world in which hundreds of thousands of Cubans work for themselves, American remittances and tourism keep the economy afloat and the daughter of Communist Party chief Raul Castro is campaigning for gay rights.

The country’s parliament is scheduled on Saturday to name the commission to draft a new constitution, consulting with the citizenry and eventually bringing it to a referendum.

Officials have made clear that the constitution will maintain a Communist Party-led system in which freedom of speech, the press and other rights are limited by “the purposes of socialist society.” But Castro and other leaders apparently hope to end the contradictions between the new, more open economy and a legal system that calls for tight state control over all aspects of the economy and society.

The current ban on dual citizenship collides with the government’s effort to reach out to exiles. The definition of marriage as between a man and a woman runs up against Cuba’s growing gay rights movement. Many small businesses employ workers even though the constitution now forbids “obtaining income that comes from exploiting the work of others.”

The current constitution allows worker cooperatives, but only in the farm sector, and officials have allowed other types of cooperative but placed sharp limits on their growth and operations, keeping them as a marginal economic player.

The government, too, is likely to see changes. Castro, who turned over the presidency last month to Miguel Diaz-Canel, has proposed limiting presidents to two five-year terms and imposing an age limit — a dramatic shift following a nearly 60-year run of leadership by Castro and his late brother Fidel, who both ruled into their 80s.

“Cuba needs to change its constitution because our society has been radically transformed in recent years,” said political scientist Lenier Gonzalez, one of the directors of Cuba Possible, a think-tank aimed at promoting reform with the limits laid out by Cuban law and its single-party system. He noted the society has become more international, forms of property ownership have diversified and new social movements have emerged that now exist on the margins of the law.

He also said the revamp could help build the legitimacy of Diaz-Canel, 58, and other members of the new guard who are finally replacing the men enshrined as national heroes of the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma has reported that the new constitution could boost the role of the country’s parliament, which now usually meets for two days a year to listen to speeches and approve official proposals. It said the congress might be professionalized and its membership trimmed. The 605 deputies now receive no pay other than what they get from their other jobs.

Parliamentarian Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raul and director of the Center of Sexual Education, has said the reform will expand gay rights, partly by tackling the current wording of the constitution that limits marriage to a man and woman.

The current constitution was adopted four decades ago at a time when Cuba was a potential Cold War flashpoint and a pillar of the Soviet Bloc. The document proclaims Cuba’s adherence to Marxist-Leninist socialism and to solidarity with countries of the Third World, particularly Latin America. The Communist Party is described as the “superior guiding force” of Cuba’s society and it says the economic system is “based on socialist property of the entire people over the fundamental means of production and on the suppression of the exploitation of man by man.”

“It is a historic constitution, the only one that remains in our hemisphere” from the time of Soviet-style socialism, said Julio Antonio Fernandez Estrada, a law professor at the University of Havana. “It’s more than 40 years old … It continues speaking of things that now do not exist in the world, such as the formation of the citizen for communism.”

He said the economic reforms promoted by Castro, which sought to allow the limited introduction of private enterprise within the communist system, “have been carried out, if not against, then in large part in spite of the constititution.”

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¿QUÉ DIJERON LAS ÚLTIMAS ELECCIONES SOBRE LOS MIEMBROS DEL BURÓ POLÍTICO DEL PCC?

Por: Jorge I. Domínguez. |  2018-04-30

¿Cómo les fue a los miembros del Buró Político (BP) del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) en la elección para la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular, que fue celebrada el 11 de marzo de 2018? Fue un resultado que les amerita un perfeccionamiento. Todos los miembros del BP ingresan a la Asamblea, ya que la ley garantiza que el número de candidatos sea igual al número de escaños parlamentarios y, por tanto, todos los que aparecen en la boleta electoral son elegidos.

La ley electoral, sin embargo, ofrece una ventanilla para sopesar la popularidad relativa de los candidatos. La ley agrupa los candidatos en distritos y, por tanto, permite cuatro tipos de comportamiento electoral:

a) el voto unido por todos los candidatos,

b) el voto en blanco,

c) el voto nulo, c) o el voto selectivo; este último implica votar por el candidato A, pero no por el candidato B.

La preferencia oficial ha sido por el voto unido; la boleta electoral facilita la votación por el voto unido al ubicar privilegiadamente un círculo para tal votación. Por tanto, los otros tres comportamientos electorales implican una cierta inconformidad con estos procedimientos electorales, ya sea general (voto en blanco, o nulo) o con relación a algún candidato en particular (voto selectivo). Sumemos los tres tipos de votos que constituyen el voto inconforme, que difiere de la preferencia oficial por el voto unido: blanco + nulo + selectivo. En marzo de 2018, el voto inconforme sumó 1 millón 779 mil 178 personas, un 24 por ciento del electorado que acudió a las urnas, la mayor proporción en la historia de estas elecciones.

Examinemos la votación proporcional de los votos reportados para los miembros del BP. Ocho de los 17 miembros del BP quedaron en el primer lugar entre los diversos candidatos de sus respectivos municipios, pero los otros nueve no. Entre los miembros del BP, solamente el presidente Raúl Castro logró la mayor proporción de los votos en su respectiva provincia. Solamente cuatro de los miembros del BP se encuentran entre el 20 por ciento de los candidatos más votados en sus respectivas provincias (Raúl Castro, la Primera Secretaria del PCC en La Habana Lázara Mercedes López Acea, el Presidente de la Asamblea Nacional Esteban Lazo, y el Primer Vicepresidente Miguel Díaz-Canel).

Observemos también ciertos rasgos generales. Hay tres generales en servicio activo en el BP. La proporción relativa de votos que recibieron los ubica en la mitad inferior de los candidatos en sus respectivas provincias. Hay dos líderes sindicales en el BP. Uno es el actual secretario general de la Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, Ulises Guilarte, que resultó el quinto de seis candidatos a elegir en su municipio y septuagésimo-quinto en la provincia de La Habana. El otro es un antecesor, Salvador Valdés Mesa, que quedó en último lugar entre los tres candidatos en su municipio y en el penúltimo lugar de todos los candidatos en la provincia de Mayabeque.

En el último Congreso del PCC, celebrado en 2016, cinco nuevos miembros ingresaron al BP, logrando así su composición actual. Entre estos cinco, solamente la secretaria general de la Federación de Mujeres de Cuba, Teresa Amarelle, fue la más votada en su municipio, pero ninguno de estos cinco logró quedar entre el 20 por ciento de los candidatos más votados en sus respectivas provincias; dos de los cinco quedaron en la mitad inferior de los candidatos en sus respectivas provincias.

El peor resultado entre los miembros del BP fue para Marino Murillo, Vicepresidente encargado de la aplicación de los Lineamientos para la actualización de la política económica. El Canciller Bruno Rodríguez, quien jugó un papel importante en el proceso de cambio de las relaciones entre Cuba y Estados Unidos durante 2015 y 2016, fue el siguiente con la menor proporción de votos. Murillo quedó en quinto lugar, entre siete candidatos en su municipio, y Rodríguez quedó en séptimo lugar, entre diez. Es decir, tanto los miembros más nuevos del BP como aquellos asociados a innovaciones importantes recibieron una proporción relativa menor.

Tres candidatos históricos obtuvieron buenos resultados. Quedando en primer lugar en sus respectivos municipios, ellos fueron: Raúl Castro, José Ramón Machado, y Ramiro Valdés; aunque solamente Raúl Castro despuntó en su provincia. También en primer lugar en sus municipios, y muy bien en sus provincias, quedaron López Acea, Lazo, y Díaz-Canel; Amarelle quedó en primer lugar en su municipio, pero escasamente en la mitad superior en su provincia.

Diversos factores inciden sobre estos resultados. Por lo general, el electorado en La Habana es el más exigente, ya que el voto selectivo representa el 25,8 por ciento de los votos válidos, y el voto inconforme el 30,8 de quienes acudieron a las urnas, ambos los mayores porcentajes en el país. En segunda instancia, el electorado en las capitales de provincia también recurre al voto selectivo con mayor frecuencia que en pueblos y zonas rurales.

La combinación del voto inconforme y de los resultados relativos de los diversos candidatos parece implicar resultados que deberían ser muy mejorables para estos importantes candidatos. Sugiere, también, una cierta reticencia a votar desproporcionadamente por nuevas caras o por candidatos asociados a innovaciones políticas importantes, así como por generales o por líderes sindicales. Ocho de los 17 miembros del BP nacieron antes de 1945. De los nueve más jóvenes, quizás la mitad han impactado a sus respectivos electorados. En general, es una elección que indica cierta impaciencia, pero sin determinar claramente cuál debe ser un rumbo a seguir.

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CAN CUBA’S MIGUEL DÍAZ-CANEL COMPLETE RAÚL CASTRO’S ECONOMIC REVOLUTION?

BY WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE ON 5/3/18 AT 12:18 PM

Original Article: MIGUEL DÍAZ-CANEL

When Miguel Díaz-Canel formally accepted the presidency of Cuba in April, he became the first non-Castro to run the country since Fidel’s revolution swept the island in 1959.

In his inaugural address, the new president pledged to continue Raúl Castro’s vision, most notably his unfinished “updating” of the economy, a Cuban form of market socialism launched in 2011 to replace the former Soviet-style central planning system. If he is successful, his reforms would produce the most profound transformation since Fidel took power six decades ago and lay the groundwork for what his brother Raúl called “prosperous and sustainable socialism.”

Salvador Sanchez Ceren recibe a VicePresidente de Cuba, Miguel Diaz Canel.

Miguel Díaz-Canel

But, in taking the helm of government, Díaz-Canel faces strong political headwinds. He has to force Raúl’s economic reforms through a resistant bureaucracy—something even Raúl had trouble doing. He has to hold together a fractious political elite, which is divided over how far and how fast to push economic change for fear of unleashing forces beyond its control. And he has to deliver the goods to a population increasingly vocal in its demands for a higher standard of living and a greater say in politics.

Never has the pursuit of continuity seemed so hard.

Progress has been slow. A total of 313 specific economic reforms were approved by the Cuban Communist Party in 2011. By 2016, less than a quarter of them had been achieved. The plans call for state enterprises that are subject to market prices and efficient enough to show a profit, a vibrant private sector to generate jobs and tax revenue, and an open door for foreign direct investment to provide the capital for growth.

But the reforms are stalled, held back by recalcitrant bureaucrats loathe to give up their authority and perks, and by senior Communist Party leaders who worry that the reintroduction of markets, private property and foreign investment betrays the revolutionary values for which they fought. Raúl called their attitude “an obsolete mentality based on decades of paternalism.”

Foreign investors have been wary. Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca says Cuba needs to attract $2.5 billion a year in direct foreign investment. But in the three years since Cuba adopted a new investment law with attractive concessions, it has raised just $3.4 billion. Cuba’s opaque and unresponsive bureaucracy still deters all but the most intrepid foreign companies.

On the domestic front, most state enterprises lack adequate cost accounting systems. Introducing them and requiring that state enterprises make a profit has been an excruciatingly slow process. Some 20 percent of the state budget still goes to cover deficits from failing state companies. But closing them en masse is something the government has been unwilling to do, as it would create a huge unemployment problem.

The government has licensed 580,000 private businesses—a five-fold increase since 2010—and the agricultural sector is composed almost entirely of private farms and cooperatives. In total, the private sector now employs 29 percent of the labor force.

But in the eyes of some Cubans, private businesses have been too successful. Hemmed in by unrealistic regulations, many private companies skirt the law—buying supplies on the black market because there are no wholesale markets, evading taxes because the rates are extortionate and operating beyond the terms of their licenses because the permits are so narrow.

To conservatives in the Communist Party, this looks suspiciously like incipient capitalism run amok. To the average Cuban, the private sector’s growth has fueled rising and visible inequality. Today, unlike a decade ago, you can find fashionably dressed Cubans eating at the most expensive restaurants and staying at tourist hotels once reserved for foreigners. Meanwhile, most people struggle to get by on inadequate state salaries.

Raúl understood that market reforms would produce inequality, but he expected the changes to boost productivity, stimulate growth and raise everyone’s standard of living, thereby blunting discontent over the inequality. It hasn’t worked out that way. Because the state sector is so resistant to change, growth has been anemic, undermining the political logic of the reform process. A Cuban economist advising the government told me that Cuba’s senior leadership understands what economic steps it needs to take to put the economy on sound footing; what worries them is the political risk.

That explains why Cuba still has two currencies—the Cuban peso and the Cuban convertible peso, which is has the same value as the U.S. dollar—and multiple exchange rates. Introduced in the 1990s to attract remittances from the Cuban diaspora, the two-peso system is now a huge drag on economic growth, making realistic cost accounting almost impossible. But currency unification is complex and will ripple through the economy in unpredictable ways. With a chronic shortage of foreign reserves and no access to help from international financial institutions, Cuba will have to manage the conversion on its own.

So while Díaz-Canel’s most urgent tasks are economic, his bigger problems are political. Independent opinion polls conducted in Cuba consistently show that discontent with the economy is pervasive, and faith in the government’s ability to improve things is low. In a 2016 poll by NORC (formerly the National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago, 70 percent of Cubans cited the economy as the country’s most serious problem, and half thought that inequality had become too great. Discontent is even higher among younger generations, who have no memory of the revolution’s halcyon days in the 1960s and 1970s.

As Díaz-Canel tries to navigate the ship of state through these dangerous shoals, he also has to keep an eye out for mutiny among the crew.

Although decision-making among Cuba’s top leadership is opaque, signals point to divisions over the economic reforms and how to respond to expressions of popular discontent that have grown with the expansion of the internet. Raúl Castro’s authority as a revolutionary veteran enabled him to manage these disagreements and maintain elite cohesion—an advantage Díaz-Canel will not enjoy. Although he is a seasoned politician who has spent three decades working his way up the political ladder, he is not well known outside the two provinces where he served as Communist Party first secretary. But he will not be alone. Raúl still serves as Community Party leader, and he promises to be there supporting Díaz-Canel, telling the National Assembly that he expects the new president to ultimately become leader of the party as well.

So Cuba’s new president is no mere puppet. Through a calibrated handover of power, he will become the man in charge. And he has his work cut out for him.

William M. LeoGrande is a professor of government at American University in Washington, D.C., and co-author with Peter Kornbluh of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

 

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CUBA’S NEW GENERATION TAKES THE HELM WITH AN IMMEDIATE TEST: THE ECONOMY

World Politics Review, Tuesday, April 24, 2018

William M. LeoGrande

For a man stepping down after half a century at the apex of Cuba’s government—first as the island’s longtime defense minister and vice president, then as president—Raul Castro was in good humor last week, looking relaxed and happy as he handed the presidency to his designated successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel. Departing from the prepared text of his valedictory speech in Havana, Castro cracked jokes, reminisced about the revolution and quipped that he planned to travel more, “since I’m supposed to have less work to do.”

There were no big surprises at the National Assembly meeting that installed Diaz-Canel as the first non-Castro to lead Cuba in six decades. Raul Castro did not decide at the last minute to stay in office, or sneak his son Alejandro into the presidency, as fevered commentary out of Miami kept predicting  Instead, the central theme of the conclave was continuity.

Continue reading: Leogrqande, April 2018, Cuba,s New Generation Takes the Helm With an Immediate Test: the Economy

Conclusion

But the significance of all the personnel changes and even the constitutional amendments pale in comparison to the urgent need to jump-start the economy, as the speeches by both Castro and Diaz-Canel implicitly acknowledge. Cuba’s younger generations are not just tired of octogenarian leadership; they are tired of economic hardship.

Miguel Diaz-Canel’s ascension to the presidency represents a major step in the generational transition of leadership in the Cuban state. But nothing will improve the prospects for a smooth transition more than a growing economy that finally raises the standard of living and gives young Cubans hope for the future.

Asume Miguel Díaz-Canel presidencia de Cuba

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