Tag Archives: President Raul Castro

BOOK REVIEW, ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE

Boulder, CO: First Forum Press, 2015. 373 pp.

By Archibald R. M. Ritter and Ted A. Henken

Review by Sergio Díaz-Briquets,

Cuban Studies, Volume 46, 2018, pp. 375-377, University of Pittsburgh Press

The small business sector, under many different guises, often has been, since the 1960s, at the center of Cuban economic policy. In some ways, it has been the canary in the mine. As ideological winds have shifted and economic conditions changed, it has been repressed or encouraged, morphed and gone underground, surviving, if not thriving, as part of the second or underground economy. Along the way, it has helped satisfy consumer needs not fulfilled by the inefficient state economy. This intricate, at times even colorful, trajectory has seen the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive that did away with even the smallest private businesses, modest efforts to legalize self-employment in the 1979s, the Mercados Libres Campesinos experiment of the 1980s, and the late 1980s ideological retrenchment associated with the late 1980s Rectification Process.

Of much consequence—ideologically and increasingly economically—are the policy decisions implemented since the 1990s by the regime, under the leadership of both Castro brothers. Initially as part of Special Period, various emergency measures were introduced to allow Cuba to cope with the economic crisis precipitated by the collapse of the communist bloc and the end of Soviet subsidies. These early, modest entrepreneurial openings were eventually expanded as part of the deeper institutional reforms implemented by Raúl upon assuming power in 2006, at first temporarily, and then permanently upon the resignation of his brother as head of the Cuban government.

In keeping with the historical zigzag policy pattern surrounding small businesses activities—euphemistically labeled these days as the “non-state sector”—while increasingly liberal, they have not been immune to temporary reversals. Among the more significant reforms were the approval of an increasing number of self-employment occupations, gradual expansion of the number of patrons restaurants could serve (as dictated by the allowed number of chairs in privately owned paladares), and the gradual, if uneven, relaxation of regulatory, taxing, and employment regulations. Absent has been the authorization for professionals (with minor exceptions, such as student tutoring) to privately engage in their crafts and the inability to provide wholesale markets where self-employed workers could purchase inputs for their small enterprises.

The authors of this volume, an economist and a sociologist, have combined their talents and carefully documented this ever-changing policy landscape, including the cooperative sector. They have centered their attention on post–Special Period policies and their implications, specifically to “evaluate the effects of these policy changes in terms of the generation of productive employment in the non-state sector, the efficient provision of goods and services by this emergent sector, and the reduction in the size and scope of the underground economy” (297).

While assessing post-1990 changes, Entrepreneurial Cuba also generated a systematic examination of the evolution of the self-employment sector in the early decades of the revolution in light of shifting ideological, political, and economic motivations. Likewise, the contextual setting is enhanced by placing Cuban self-employment within the broader global informal economy framework, particularly in Latin America, and by assessing the overall features of the second economy in socialist economies “neither regulated by the state nor included in its central plan” (41). These historical and contextual factors are of prime importance in assessing the promise and potential pitfalls the small enterprise sector confronts in a changing Cuba.

Rich in its analysis, the book is balanced and comprehensive. It is wide ranging in that it carefully evaluates the many factors impinging on the performance of the small business sector, including their legal and regulatory underpinnings. The authors also evaluate challenges in the Cuban economic model and how they have shaped the proclivity for Cuban entrepreneurs to bend the rules. Present is a treatment of the informal social and trading networks that have sustained the second economy, including the ever-present pilfering of state property and the regulatory and transactional corruption so prevalent in Cuba’s centralized economy.

While none of the above is new to students of the Cuban economy—as documented in previous studies and in countless anecdotal reports—Ritter and Henken make two major contributions. First, they summarize and analyze in a single source a vast amount of historical and contemporary information. The value of the multidisciplinary approach is most evident in the authors’ assessment of how the evolving policy environment has influenced the growth of paladares, the most important and visible segment of the nonstate sector. By focusing on this segment, the authors validate and strengthen their conclusions by drawing from experiences documented in longitudinal, qualitative case studies. The latter provide insights not readily gleaned from documentary and statistical sources by grounding the analysis in realistic appreciations of the challenges and opportunities faced by entrepreneurial Cubans. Most impressive is the capacity of Cuban entrepreneurs to adapt to a policy regime constantly shifting between encouraging and constraining their activities.

Commendable, too, is the authors’ balanced approach regarding the Cuban political environment and how it relates to the non-state sector. Without being bombastic, they are critical of the government when they need to be. One of their analytical premises is that the “growth of private employment and income represents a latent political threat to state power since it erodes the ideals of state ownership of the means of production, the central plan, and especially universal state employment” (275).

This dilemma dominates the concluding discussion of future policy options. Three scenarios are considered possible. The first entails a policy reversal with a return to Fidel’s orthodoxy. This scenario is regarded as unlikely, as Raúl’s policy discourse has discredited this option. A second scenario consists of maintaining the current course while allowing for the gradual but managed growth of the non-state sector. While this might be a viable alternative, it will have limited economic and employment generation effects unless the reform process is deepened by, for example, further liberalizing the tax and regulatory regimes and allowing for the provision of professional services.

The final scenario would be one in which reforms are accelerated, not only allowing for small business growth but also capable of accommodating the emergence of medium and large enterprises in a context where public, private, and cooperative sectors coexist (311). As Ritter and Henken recognize, this scenario is unlikely to come to fruition under the historical revolutionary leadership, it would have to entail the resolution of political antagonisms between Washington and Havana, and a reappraisal by the Cuban government of its relationship with the émigré population. Not mentioned by Ritter and Henken is that eventual political developments—not foreseen today—may facilitate the changes they anticipate under their third scenario.

In short, Entrepreneurial Cuba is a must-read for those interested in the country’s current situation. Its publication is timely not only for what it reveals regarding the country’s economic, social, and political situation but also for its insights regarding the country’s future evolution.

…………………………………………………………………………….

Table of Contents

 Table of Contents,

 List of Charts and Figures

Chapter I Introduction       

Chapter II      Cuba’s Small Enterprise Sector in International and Theoretical Perspective

Chapter III    Revolutionary Trajectories, Strategic Shifts, and Small Enterprise, 1959-1989

Chapter IV    Emergence and Containment During the “Special Period”, 1990-2006

Chapter V        The 2006-2011 Policy Framework for Small Enterprise under the Presidency of    Raul Castro

Chapter VI    The Movement towards Non-Agricultural Cooperatives

Chapter VII  The Underground Economy and Economic Illegalities

Chapter VIII  Ethnographic Case Studies of Microenterprise, 2001 vs. 2011

Chapter IX  Summary and Conclusions

APPENDIX                                                              

GLOSSARY                                                                                                                         

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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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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CUATRO CLAVES DEL CAMBIO PRESIDENCIAL EN CUBA

Esglobal. 19 marzo 2018 

 Arturo López-Levy

 Articulo original: Cambio presidencial en Cuba

El vicepresidente cubano, Miguel Díaz-Canel y el presidente de Cuba, Raúl Castro,

La trascendencia del actual momento político para la isla en cuatro dimensiones: la transición generacional, la llegada de un civil a la presidencia, la separación de las cabezas del partido comunista y el gobierno, y los cambios en las élites cubanas.

El próximo abril se producirá la primera transición intergeneracional presidencial en el sistema político cubano posterior a la revolución de 1959. Raúl Castro, quien ascendió a la presidencia de Cuba con carácter temporal tras la enfermedad de su hermano Fidel Castro en 2006, y con su propio mandato, dos años más tarde, ha dirigido una transformación remarcable de la economía y la política de la isla. Deja un legado inconcluso a su sucesor. Pocas transiciones de liderazgo en la historia de América Latina y los países comunistas han sido tan cuidadosamente diseñadas. Desde ahora hasta el próximo octavo congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) en 2021 corresponderá observar cuán hábil es la elite cubana para ejecutarla.

¿Es esta sucesión presidencial algo más que un cambio de personal? ¿Cómo difiere este traspaso de poder del anterior de Fidel a Raúl Castro en 2006? ¿Qué implicaciones tiene para la política cubana y el curso de las reformas? ¿Se puede esperar algún cambio sistémico como resultado del reemplazo del octogenario Raúl Castro por un líder cercano a los 58 años? Este artículo discute la trascendencia del cambio presidencial cubano que se avecina en cuatro dimensiones: la transición generacional, el primer ascenso de un civil a la presidencia desde 1976, la primera separación de las cabezas del PCC y el gobierno en el sistema político postrevolucionario, y la circulación de las redes de influencia y patronazgo al interior de las elites cubanas como resultado de la llegada al Ejecutivo de un nuevo equipo.

El cambio generacional. En su libro Political Order in Changing Societies, el politólogo estadounidense Samuel Huntington definió el traspaso intergeneracional del poder como la prueba última de la capacidad de un orden político de reproducirse. Ese es el reto mayor del paso de la presidencia del liderazgo que llevó a las guerrillas castristas al poder en 1959 a otras generaciones, nacidas dentro del sistema político desovado por la revolución cubana. Las nuevas elites postrevolucionarias comparten valores nacionalistas con sus antecesores pero han estructurado sus convicciones, intereses, valores y privilegios en torno a experiencias distintas en las últimas seis décadas.

El castrismo original se forjó en la guerra revolucionaria y la toma autónoma de posiciones en torno a la decisión fidelista de adoptar el comunismo como ideología garantizadora del triunfo nacionalista contra la hostilidad estadounidense. Sus herederos han ascendido al poder, no contestando ni compitiendo contra el poder establecido, sino por su lealtad, obediencia y capacidad burocrática para implementar las políticas que los hoy octogenarios les dictaron. En algún momento de la próxima década, esa nueva generación tendrá que abrir su propio debate, no en términos de lo que hubiesen querido Fidel Castro o Che Guevara, sino sobre las políticas óptimas para lidiar con realidades muy distintas a las de la Guerra Fría que sus padrinos ideológicos enfrentaron.

Algunos de los nuevos líderes han combinado distintas funciones a lo largo y ancho del sistema (dirigentes de la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas (UJC), primeros secretarios del PCC en diferentes provincias, miembros de su secretariado, jefes o segundos jefes de departamentos en el Comité Central, ministros en varias carteras o secretarios en los consejos de Estado y de ministros, militares de diverso rango).  Tal multiplicidad de roles y el papel tutelar ejercido en la promoción de otros dirigentes hoy en niveles intermedios, le confiere a esos burócratas una base política más allá de una o dos instituciones específicas. Sin embargo, ninguno de ellos, incluido Díaz-Canel, quien es el mejor situado por su variada trayectoria institucional y geográfica, tiene una penetración social, prestigio y base de poder equivalente a sus predecesores Fidel y Raúl Castro. Por tanto, nadie en las nuevas generaciones de líderes puede aspirar a una presidencia con el mando que los hermanos Castro usaron.

A partir de esa realidad, se aventura el reto de la consolidación de un liderazgo colectivo, ya ensayado en la etapa raulista. Es en esa nueva institucionalidad postotalitaria, con pluralismo burocrático,  menor movilización de masas y un leninismo menos rígido donde descansa la probabilidad realista de una acentuación de las reformas. El nuevo presidente necesitará una gestión colegiada, sensible a la discusión de políticas públicas entre personalidades o facciones dentro de la elite partidista. El cambio de políticas públicas se relaciona no solo con el relevo generacional sino también con el fin inevitable del modelo carismático de “Fidel al timón”, reformado pero no abandonado del todo en la presidencia de su hermano menor.

La política cubana del último lustro anticipa al ingeniero Miguel Díaz-Canel como el probable presidente cubano después de abril. Las evidencias de su trayectoria política, como zar provincial partidista en Villa Clara y Holguín, o su paso por el ministerio de Educación superior y la primera vicepresidencia, perfilan a Díaz-Canel como un modernizador dentro de los cánones leninistas del sistema vigente.  El balance de poder que hereda, con Raúl Castro como actor de veto desde su permanencia en la primera secretaria del PCC hasta 2021 y mientras viva por su rol revolucionario fundador del PCC y las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR), la hostilidad anticipada por Estados Unidos bajo Donald Trump y los propios intereses de elite que representa, empujan a Díaz-Canel a la cautela.  En la escala de James MacGregor Burns es de esperar un líder transaccional. A diferencia de uno transformador, estos líderes coordinan soluciones incrementales a los problemas, pero no se propone una transformación sistémica.

 Un civil a la presidencia. La transición anuncia el ascenso de un civil a la primera magistratura.  Es una movida simbólica hacia el ideal republicano de subordinación del fuero militar a las autoridades elegidas. Sin experiencia notable ni una base de poder en las FAR, Díaz-Canel como nuevo presidente de Cuba dependerá  del respaldo de Raúl Castro y de la legitimidad institucional que la presidencia le confiere.

Díaz-Canel no es ajeno al poder de los cuerpos castrenses pero no viene de sus filas. Después de graduarse en la Universidad Central de las Villas,  el actual primer vicepresidente sirvió por dos años como teniente en los cuerpos armados. En su condición de primer secretario del PCC, Díaz-Canel sirvió como presidente del consejo de defensa provincial en Villa Clara y Holguín. Desde allí interactuó con el alto mando en dos regiones militares de las tres en las que está dividida Cuba, el Ejército Central, con sede en Matanzas, y el Ejército Oriental, llamado también el “señor ejército”, con sede en Holguín. El tiempo que sirvió en las dos provincias, su liderazgo partidista coincidió tanto con los generales Espinosa Martín y Quinta Sola, hoy en el alto mando nacional, como con sus relevos, y hoy jefes de Ejército, los generales Onelio Aguilera Bermúdez y Raúl Rodríguez Lobaina, a medio camino entre su generación y la de los fundadores.

Esos contactos mitigan pero no resuelven el déficit de previo control de la maquinaria de seguridad nacional, asiento hoy del  poder último en el sistema político cubano, que adolecerá el nuevo presidente. En el caso de los hermanos Castro existía una jerarquía establecida tanto sobre el PCC como sobre las FAR y el ministerio del Interior. Díaz-Canel será como “un primero entre iguales”. Tendrá que afianzar su liderazgo institucional encabezando el PCC y contar con que Raúl Castro juegue un papel estabilizador, de respaldo a la autoridad nominal del Partido sobre las FAR. El próximo paso, si se trata de apostar por un líder en la cúspide que empuje la reforma, es lograr que el octavo congreso del PCC elija a Díaz-Canel su primer secretario.

Ese camino a la concentración de poder en una sola persona como garante de la supervivencia del sistema parece contradictorio a los casos exitosos de sobrevivencia socialista en el este de Asia con liderazgo colectivo y el contra-ejemplo de poder desmontador desde el centro exhibido por Mijaíl Gorbachov en la URSS.

 Separación de funciones del PCC y el Estado cubano. Después del traspaso de la presidencia, Raúl Castro puede permanecer al frente del PCC hasta su octavo congreso en 2021. Tal dinámica abre un interinato en el que por primera vez desde la adopción de la Constitución de 1976 se separan la autoridad presidencial en el consejo de Estado y de ministros del máximo liderazgo del PCC. Se abre la interrogante si tal situación puede contribuir a clarificar institucionalmente las funciones, contrapesos y controles entre el gobierno y el partido.

Una variante institucional sería una enmienda al artículo 74 de la Constitución de 1976, separando la presidencia de los consejos de estado y de ministros. Tal cambio podría permitir que el presidente del Estado y la primera secretaria del PCC se mantengan en una persona, mientras la presidencia del gobierno, y por ende la responsabilidad en la promoción diaria de la reforma se ubique en un primer ministro, a la manera china. Una diferencia importante es que en el caso cubano, Díaz-Canel tomaría las riendas del Estado primero que las del partido comunista, cuando en el gigante asiático ha ocurrido desde 1989 en un orden reverso.

Queda por ver si la separación entre la presidencia y el liderazgo del PCC puede estructurar una victoria sobre el último obstáculo a una transición intergeneracional suave: el retiro por edad o límites de términos de mandato del grupo octogenario que ha acompañado a los Castro en toda su vida política. Esa gerontocracia, empezando por Machado Ventura y Ramiro Valdés,  ha mostrado un apego por las “mieles del poder”-para usar la expresión fidelista– sin parangón en la historia cubana. Si Raúl Castro no los retira, continuarán obstaculizando la implementación de reformas urgentes.

 La recirculación de las elites. La llegada de un nuevo equipo a los niveles superiores del gobierno, y eventualmente del PCC en 2021, implica una circulación de las redes de tutela y promoción ejercidos por los máximos líderes gubernamentales  sobre grupos y personalidades subalternas dentro del Estado-partido. Al cambiar esas personalidades, por lógica humana, habrá quien tenía más acceso a Fidel y Raúl Castro, que no lo tendrá a Díaz-Canel y el equipo que lo acompaña.

Este cambio en la distribución de influencias a partir de la transición presidencial es de los más opacos, pero a la vez más importante en áreas como la respuesta ante el avance de la corrupción. El unipartidismo cubano no se estructura a partir de un pluralismo de camarillas o facciones al estilo de partidos dominantes como el PRI y el Kuomintang. Como es casi imposible develar los datos claves de esas redes informales de patronazgo al interior de las elites cubanas, me limito a plantear preguntas y aventurar algunos hechos y tendencias.

¿A qué grupos o redes sociales de influencia política favorecerá el ascenso de Díaz-Canel y el equipo que apunta a tomar las riendas del Estado cubano? ¿Qué es lo que esos grupos quieren? ¿Cuáles son sus valores e intereses? ¿Qué lugar en su jerarquía de preocupaciones tienen la defensa de los privilegios monopólicos de grupos corporativos estatales como GAESA, CIMEX o Cubanacan frente a otras metas como la protección de los consumidores cubanos? ¿Qué poderes preservarán los que se retiran y sus protegidos? ¿Aligeraran o aumentaran el fardo fiscal y político de la actual situación de reforma parcial y gradualismo excesivo?

Las preferencias de tres grupos dentro de la política cubana han prevalecido en las dinámicas institucionales post Fidel: los zares provinciales partidistas, el alto mando militar y los gerentes del nuevo sector corporativo. El haber ascendido paso por paso en la economía política del sistema cubana debe servirle a Díaz-Canel para identificar a quienes, dentro de esos generales, gerentes y dirigentes partidistas, debe atraer a su lado, o por lo menos no cruzarse en su camino. Una importante decisión política para el nuevo equipo es presentar muchos de los retos de la transición económica e inserción en un mundo global (acceso a Internet, por ejemplo) no como amenazas sino como oportunidades.

Por último, sería un error fatal concebir la política cubana como un juego de elites. Las reformas de Raúl Castro han provocado cambios relevantes en la sociedad cubana y en su relación con el Estado. Las expansiones de las libertades religiosas y de viaje, el derecho a tener propiedad privada y el acceso incremental a Internet han desatado dinámicas de empoderamiento y pluralización en la sociedad que no son reversibles. Sin la retórica mágica de Fidel Castro ni la legitimidad de fundador del proceso que ha gozado Raúl Castro, el nuevo equipo de gobierno está forzado a mostrar un desempeño eficaz en promover desarrollo económico y bienestar.

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RAÚL CASTRO’S UNFINISHED LEGACY IN CUBA

BY WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE | APRIL 9, 2018

CASTRO’S ATTEMPTS AT REFORM REMAIN UNFULFILLED. WHAT CAN CUBANS EXPECT FROM HIS SUCCESSOR?

 Original Article: Raúl’s Unfinished Legacy

 Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel,

This month, Cuba’s Raúl Castro will leave office at the end of his second term as president, having set in motion changes to the island’s economy, politics and social relations more sweeping than any since the revolution in 1959. As he steps down after a decade at the helm, those changes are still a work in progress. The far-reaching economic reforms he launched in 2011 are at best half-finished and the pace of change has slowed. His efforts to strengthen Cuba’s political institutions are about to face the stress test of a generational leadership transition. And the Cuban public is clamoring for a better life and a greater voice. Will Miguel Díaz-Canel, Raúl’s likely successor, be able to carry these changes through to completion?

Throughout Fidel Castro’s 57 years as Cuba’s líder máximo, Raúl was second in command, in the shadow of his charismatic sibling. But behind the scenes, he proved to be an effective manager, turning the rag-tag Rebel Army into the most effective and respected institution in the country. Cuba’s armed forces scored impressive victories in Africa, and then took on domestic economic responsibilities with an efficiency that surpassed most civilian enterprises.

Raúl recognized the inherent shortcomings of the hyper-centralized socialism Cuba adopted from the Soviet Union. As armed forces minister, he mandated the use of market-oriented business practices in the military enterprises under his command and sent officers abroad to business school. When the collapse of the Soviet Union threw Cuba into deep recession, Raúl pushed for the pragmatic use of market mechanisms to jump-start the economy. He overcame Fidel’s reluctance by framing economic recovery as a matter of national security, declaring, “Beans are more important than cannons.”

Updating the economy

Within months of assuming office as acting president in 2006, Raúl let loose a blistering attack on economic inefficiency. “We are tired of excuses,” he told the National Assembly that December. “No one, no individual or country, can afford to spend more than what they have,” he said repeatedly.

The drumbeat of criticism foreshadowed his most ambitious and potentially transformative initiative, the updating of Cuba’s economy. The reforms sought to transform the economy by unleashing market forces, demanding that state enterprises make a profit or close, promoting a significant private and cooperative sector, and welcoming foreign direct investment (FDI) to stimulate growth. The goal: a model of socialism that combined the efficiency and productivity of markets with the social benefits of free health care and education, and minimized inequality.

The reform process has been slow going. As of 2016, only 21 percent of the 313 reforms adopted in 2011 had been completed. Subsidies to failing state enterprises still consume some 20 percent of the state budget – almost as much education. After a period of rapid growth during which the number of registered private sector businesses expanded five-fold, new state regulationsrecently reined them in. While Cuban officials aspire to attract $2.5 billion annually in FDI, they are still well short of the goal. Progress has been slowed by officials who fear the reforms represent a slippery slope toward capitalism, not to mention a threat to their own job security.

State-building

On the political front, Raúl’s changes have been less dramatic, but equally important for the system’s sustainability. Fidel chaffed at the restrictions formal institutions imposed on his political instincts and impromptu decision-making. Raúl has moved Cuba away from a system built around the charismatic and unquestioned authority of the líder máximo to one that relies increasingly on the strength of institutions and collective decision-making. “It is vitally necessary to reinforce the country’s institutions,” he told the Communist Party’s Central Committee in 2008. Only strong institutions could “ensure the continuity of the Revolution when its historic leaders are gone.”

A central tenet of this project has been to fill leadership positions with people who have proven track records of achievement, rather than following Fidel’s penchant for elevating young, inexperienced protégés who quickly crashed and burned – people Raúl mocked as “test tube leaders.” Miguel Díaz-Canel, Raúl’s likely successor, has a decades-long record of effective leadership within the Communist Party and government at both the provincial and national levels.

To underscore the idea that no one is indispensable, Raúl proposed term limits of no more than two five-year terms for all senior party and government posts. When aging leaders stay in power too long, the results are “never positive,” he observed, pointing to the gerontocracy than ran the Soviet Union into the ground. He set the example himself, declaring in 2013 that he would step down in 2018 at the end of his second term.

Raúl also established a more collective leadership style, inviting debate and seeking to build consensus on major issues. In fact, he may have been collegial to a fault, allowing skeptics to slow the implementation of the economic reforms.

Lacking Raúl’s authority as one of the historic leaders of the revolution, Díaz-Canel will most likely have to give even greater deference to the views of others in the leadership, making it tougher to come to decisions on contentious issues.

The expanding public sphere

For someone who spent most of his life running Cuba’s national security apparatus, and battling U.S. efforts to create a fifth column of internal opposition, Raúl has presided over a significant expansion of personal liberty and access to information that has spilled over into political expression. In his inaugural speech as president, Raúl pledged to do away with the “excess of prohibitions and regulations” through which the state controlled a wide range of social interactions. He legalized personal cell phones and computers. He allowed people to sell their cars and houses without going through the state. He repealed the prohibition on Cubans staying in tourist hotels, and abolished the tarjeta blanca exit permit required every time a Cuban wanted to travel abroad.

In 1961, Fidel defined cultural policy as, “Within the revolution, everything. Against the revolution, nothing.” During Raúl’s presidency, the boundaries of what is “within the revolution” have expanded, allowing more space for critical cultural expression, often with political overtones. The expansion of internet connectivity has given Cubans access to a world of information, with only a few dozen sites blocked by censors. Cuban blogs, discussion forums and independent news services have flourished, initiating vigorous online debates on a wide range of issues.

Some senior Cuban officials have voiced concerns that expanded Internet access poses political risks, especially since the United States has repeatedly tried to use it as a means of waging information warfare. Just two months ago, the Trump administration formed a Cuba Internet Task Force as part of its policy to undermine the Cuban government. Nevertheless, Cuban leaders understand that connectivity is a prerequisite for building a 21st Century economy, despite the risk.

The state still represses small dissident groups that advocate overturning Cuba’s socialist system. Instead of the long prison terms meted out during Fidel Castro’s days, however, the state’s current strategy is harassment and disruption. When dissidents try to meet or demonstrate, they are arrested, held for a few hours, and then released.

Díaz-Canel’s attitude toward critics is uncertain. In 2013, he publicly defended a group of students whose critical blog was banned by a university administration. In February 2017, however, he gave a speech to a closed Communist Party meeting attacking prominent online critics as counter-revolutionary. At the very least, that speech signals the continuing influence of party leaders intolerant of critical expression.

The Washington roller coaster

For the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, it appeared that normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba would be one of Obama’s and Raúl’s most important legacies. After December 17, 2014, when the two presidents made simultaneous television broadcasts announcing they had decided to re-establish diplomatic relations, their governments made rapid diplomatic progress, reopening embassies and signing two dozen bilateral agreements. The number of U.S. visitors to Cuba more than doubled and U.S. businesses lined up to sign commercial deals with Havana.

But President Donald Trump’s announcement in June 2017 that he was canceling Obama’s policy of engagement has cast doubt on the permanence of the new relationship. Last October, the administration used unexplained injuries suffered by U.S. government personnel in Havana as an excuse to reduce staffing at the embassy so dramatically that it can barely function. Then the administration expelled an equal number of Cuban diplomats from Washington.

For Raúl, the decision to normalize relations was driven by economic imperatives. In the past two decades, tourism has become a pillar of Cuba’s domestic economy, and no country sends more tourists to the Caribbean than the United States. Likewise, Cuba needs $2.5 billion a year in FDI to sustain a decent rate of growth, and no country sends more FDI to the Caribbean than the United States.

But Raúl’s decision was not without risk. From the outset, others in the leadership had doubts about the wisdom of it. Suspicious of U.S. intentions, they worried that defending the revolution from Obama’s soft power might be harder than defending it against open hostility. Those worries went public after Obama’s trip to Cuba in March 2016, when Fidel wrote a critical article for Granma, giving political cover for others to articulate an even tougher line against engagement.

The Trump administration’s hostility reinforces Cuban conservatives who argued from the beginning that Washington could not be trusted. That, in turn, makes it harder for the next Cuban president – and the next U.S. president – to get normalization back on track.

Unfinished business

The timely and constitutionally prescribed succession of leaders signals the institutional strength of the Cuban regime. That said, Díaz-Canel inherits a formidable agenda of tough issues: fundamental economic changes that are desperately needed but still incomplete, a rapidly evolving public sphere in which Cubans are better informed and more outspoken but have few ways to hold leaders accountable, and an uncertain relationship with Washington that is likely to get worse before it gets better.

If Díaz-Canel can successfully carry through to completion the transformations Raúl began, Raúl will be remembered as Cuba’s Deng Xiaoping – the revolutionary Chinese founder who achieved détente with the United States and began the transition from a failed centrally planned socialism to an economically viable market socialism. But if relations with Washington remain mired in animosity and the economic reforms fail, Raúl will be remembered as just one more reform communist who could not force the system to change despite his best efforts.

LeoGrande is Professor of Government at American University in Washington, DC, 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 COMMUNIST PARTY ADMITS ERRORS, SLOWDOWN IN REFORMS

HAVANA (Reuters) MARCH 27, 2018

Sarah Marsh

 

Cuba’s Communist Party admitted a slowdown and errors in its implementation of Raul Castro’s market-style reforms, just weeks before he steps down from the presidency, but vowed to continue updating the Soviet-style command economy.

The party central committee held a plenary session to discuss the state of reforms undertaken during Castro’s 10-year presidential mandate to open up the ailing economy and give the private sector and foreign investment greater roles. Castro, who steps down as president on April 19, presided over the plenary which took place this week. The 86-year old will remain head of the party, the country’s guiding political force, until 2021.

“Despite the errors and insufficiencies recognized in this plenary, the situation is more favorable than a few years ago,” Castro, 86, was quoted as saying by party newspaper Granma.

Reforms were implemented swiftly in the first three years since being agreed in 2011, the head of the party’s reform commission Marino Murillo was cited as saying.

The number of self-employed workers in the Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million residents has more than tripled to around 580,000 workers.

But implementation has slowed in the last two years due to the complexity of the process, mistakes in oversight, a lack of financial backing and low engagement of the bureaucracy, Murillo said. The party was also deliberately implementing reforms slowly to ensure they would not marginalize anyone.

The government last year froze the issuance of licenses for an important set of private sector activities as it sought to root out malpractices such as purchases on the black market and to improve regulation.

The 142-member central committee discussed the lack of a fiscal culture and accountancy tools to make a serious economic analysis in Cuba as well as difficulties communicating the complex process.

Many Cubans, whose expectations were raised by Castro’s reforms, have felt frustrated by the slowdown that they believe means Havana is not truly committed to updating the economy.

The government said late last year, for example, it would limit licenses to one per person going forwards – a move that could limit Cubans’ entrepreneurial ambitions.  Yet it did not address key private sector concerns like the lack of a wholesale market or ability to import or export.

Havana has also backtracked on reforms in the key agricultural sector over the last few years, once more assigning resources, setting prices and controlling most distribution.

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AS CASTRO PREPARES TO LEAVE OFFICE, TRUMP’S CUBA POLICY IS A ROAD TO NOWHERE

By Jon Lee Anderson

The New Yorker, March 18, 2018

Original Article: As Castro Prepares to Leave 

The year 2018 is a seminal one for Latin America: two-thirds of the region’s people will choose new national governments, and the citizens of Communist Cuba will be among them. Last Sunday, the island held parliamentary elections to elect a new roster of deputies for the National Assembly of the People’s Power, Cuba’s parliament. It was the penultimate step in a series of complex voting exercises that make up Cuba’s version of political democracy. Twelve thousand ward delegates had already been chosen in a public ballot in November. Next, in a historic final step, scheduled to take place on April 19th, the six-hundred-and-nine-person National Assembly will vote for a leader to replace Raúl Castro, who is now eighty-six and intends to vacate the Presidency. (He has served two five-year terms, which he has declared to be the limit for the office.) Once he does, someone other than a Castro will rule the island for the first time since 1959; In 2006, Raúl succeeded his ailing brother, Fidel, in office, and officially assumed his duties in 2008. Castro’s likely successor is the Vice-President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, a fifty-seven-year-old, second-generation Party stalwart. It’s always possible that someone else will emerge; a number of Castro heirs presumptive have fallen in the past. But it seems improbable now. Díaz-Canel has been in his job for five years, following stints as a provincial Party chief, so his selection would telegraph a message of steadiness to Cuba’s citizens and to the outside world.

In any event, Castro will remain the secretary-general of the Communist Party, meaning that he will continue to be the maximum arbiter of political life in Cuba. Given his age, however, he may not stay in the post for long. He is said to be planning to move to the city of Santiago, on the eastern end of the island, not far from the farmlands where he and his brother were born. Fidel’s ashes are encased in a boulder in a cemetery in Santiago, and Raúl’s final resting place will be in a mausoleum in the nearby Sierra Maestra mountains, where the Castros fought the guerrilla war that brought them to power.

………………………………….

Conclusion:

For much of the past two decades, many of nation’s economic needs were provided for by oil-rich Venezuela, but that supply has been dropping, and, particularly if Maduro loses power sometime soon, Cuba will need a new partner. Coinciding with Trump’s pullback, the Russians, for one, have exhibited a growing interest in revitalizing their own presence on the island. Moscow has resumed oil shipments to Cuba, for the first time this century, and other export and infrastructure deals are under way.

Trump’s bullying only makes it more likely that the Cubans, with or without a Castro, will do what they have done for the past fifty-nine years: exhibit stubborn pride and, if necessary, forge tactical alliances with any of America’s geostrategic foes who might be willing to watch their back.

Continue reading

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New Book: CULTURE AND THE CUBAN STATE: PARTICIPATION, RECOGNITION, AND DISSONANCE UNDER COMMUNISM

YVON GRENIER

Culture and the Cuban State examines the politics of culture in communist Cuba. It focuses on cultural policy, censorship, and the political participation of artists, writers and academics such as Tania Bruguera, Jesús Díaz, Rafael Hernández, Kcho, Reynier Leyva Novo, Leonardo Padura, and José Toirac. The cultural field is important for the reproduction of the regime in place, given its pretense and ambition to be eternally “revolutionary” and to lead a genuine “cultural revolution”. Cultural actors must be mobilized and handled with care, given their presumed disposition to speak their mind and to cherish their autonomy.

This book argues that cultural actors also seek recognition by the main (for a long time the only) sponsor and patron of the art in Cuba: the “curator state”. The “curator state” is also a “gatekeeper state,” arbitrarily and selectively opening and closing the space for public expression and for access to foreign currencies and the global market. The time when everything was either mandatory or forbidden is over in Cuba. The regime seems to have learned from egregious mistakes that led to a massive exodus of artists, writers and academics. In a country where things change so everything could stay the same, the controlled opening in the cultural field, playing on the actors’ ambition and fear, illuminates a broader phenomenon: the evolving rules of the political game in the longest standing dictatorship of the hemisphere.

Author

Yvon Grenier is professor of political science at St. Francis Xavier University.

Table of Contents:

Preface
Acknowledgments
List of Acronyms
Chapter 1: Revolution and Cultural Will
Chapter 2: Don’t Cross This Line
Chapter 3: Jesus Diaz, the Unintentional Deviationist
Chapter 4: The Curator State
Chapter 5: How to Write From Mantilla, Of the Small Heresies of Leonardo Padura
Chapter 6: Faking Criticism
Conclusion
Bibliography

Reviews

Yvon Grenier, a sharp-eyed observer of culture and politics in Latin America, provides an illuminating analysis of the complex relations between Cuba’s intellectuals and the Castro regime. Exceeding the revolutionary rhetoric which has impressed much of the research on Cuba in the past, Grenier looks seriously and rigorously into the state’s cultural policy over time, showing how changes in that policy from repression to liberalization and back have not altered the fundamental position of Cuba’s artists, writers and political scientists, a position marked by fear, censorship, self-censorship, and the need to perform intellectual acrobatics. A must-read for anyone concerned with the fate of creative imagination and critical thinking in authoritarian states.
Michael Keren, University of Calgary

Everywhere in the world intellectuals, writers, and academics are a different breed who seek participation and recognition from their public and peers as well as their state. In his analysis of Cuba’s cultural policy during the Cuban revolution, Yvon Grenier carefully shows that in a communist state that quest is particularly difficult and dangerous. In Cuba, a line was drawn early on between those who work within the revolutionary parameters and gain acceptance, though at times managing to be quite critical (dissonance) and those who work outside of it, meeting rejection and ostracism (dissidence). Yet, through his analysis of the hardships, vicissitudes, and circumstances of the lives of important Cuban intellectuals (such as Jesús Díaz, Tania Bruguera, and Leonardo Padura), Grenier further shows that where the line lies can be rather unclear, leading to some crossing it unwittingly while others place their stories in another century and another place to avoid it. Grenier shows that the political control of the cultural life in a one party state like Cuba results not only in censorship but also in self-censorship. For everyone who cares about the quality of intellectual life in Cuba and elsewhere, this is a book not to be missed.
Silvia Pedraza, University of Michigan

This book is a path-breaking work that convincingly turns the conventional wisdom about the ‘cultural policy’ of the Cuban Revolution on its head. Most compelling and original is the author’s nimble analysis that distinguishes between a set of unwritten but untouchable “primary parameters” and another set of “secondary” and contextually permeable parameters that such cultural actors must constantly negotiate in order to avoid being dealt “out of the game” of Cuban culture as played on the island under the Revolution. The strongest contribution of the book is to change the focus on cultural freedom in Cuba from one that focuses exclusively on the state to one that focuses equally on the ways Cuban writers, artists, and intellectuals negotiate with the state, in search not only of greater creative freedom but also (and ironically) state recognition and promotion.
Ted A. Henken, Baruch College

 

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CUBA’S LEADERS ARE TRAPPED BETWEEN THE NEED FOR CHANGE AND THE FEAR OF IT

A new study shows just how weak the Castros’ economy is

 The Economist. Print edition | The Americas; Dec 7th 2017

Original Article: The Need for Change and the Fear of It

Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel

FOR decades Cuban exiles in Miami dreamed of the day that Fidel Castro would die. They imagined that Cubans would then rise up against the communist dictatorship that he imposed. Yet when, a year ago this week, Castro’s ashes were interred in his mausoleum, it was an anticlimax. His brother, Raúl, who is now 86, has been in charge since 2006. For a while, he seemed to offer the prospect of far-reaching economic reform. Now, as he prepares to step down as Cuba’s president in February, he is bequeathing merely stability and quiescence.

Raúl’s planned retirement is not total—he will stay on as first secretary of the ruling Communist Party for a further three years. He is due to leave the presidency as Cuba is grappling with two new problems. The first is the partial reversal by Donald Trump of Barack Obama’s historic diplomatic and commercial opening to the island, which will cut tourist revenues. The second is the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which in September devastated much of the north coast and several tourist resorts. That has prompted speculation in Miami that Raúl may stay on.

That is to misread the man. In his decade in power Raúl has striven above all to institutionalise the Cuban communist regime, replacing the wayward charisma of Fidel with orderly administration and a collective leadership. He has groomed as his successor Miguel Díaz-Canel, a 57-year-old engineer who has already assumed many public duties. Yet, as president, Mr Díaz-Canel’s autonomy will be limited. He is just one of a group of party bureaucrats and generals who are the real power in Cuba, steadily replacing the generación histórica (those who fought in the 1959 revolution), who are dying off.

The new generation faces an acute dilemma. Despite aid from Venezuela, which has now fallen to half its peak level, Cuba remains unable to produce much of the food it consumes or pay its people more than miserable wages. That is why Raúl embraced market reforms, albeit far more timid ones than those in China or Vietnam. More than 500,000 Cubans now work in an incipient private sector of small and micro businesses or co-operatives.

But these reforms bring inequality and a loss of state control. When Mr Obama visited Cuba in 2016, offering support for entrepreneurs and calling on live television for free elections, the regime appeared to panic. Since then, the government has placed some curbs on small business to stop what Raúl called “illegalities and other transgressions”. In other words, the government wants a market economy without capitalists or businesses that thrive and grow. It seems nowhere near tackling the multiple exchange rates (ranging from one peso to the dollar for official imports to 25 for most wages and prices) that ludicrously distort the economy.

Stalling may leave intact the regime’s political control—its overriding priority. But this ignores a fundamental problem. Since the 1980s the Cuban economy has steadily lost ground in relation to those of other Latin American countries, as a study published last month by the Inter-American Development Bank shows. Its author, Pavel Vidal, was one of Raúl’s team of reformist economic advisers and is now at the Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia. He has devised hitherto unavailable internationally comparable estimates for Cuba’s GDP since 1970 by calculating an average exchange rate which takes into account the weight of the various rates in the economy.

Mr Vidal finds that GDP per person in Cuba in 2014 was just $3,016 at the average exchange rate, barely half the officially reported figure and only a third of the Latin American average. This includes the value of free social services (such as health, education and housing) that Cubans receive. Taking into account purchasing power, GDP per person was $6,205 in 2014, or 35% below its level of 1985. Mr Vidal goes on to compare Cuba with ten other Latin American countries whose populations are similar in size. Whereas in 1970 Cuba was the second-richest, behind only Uruguay, in 2011 (the latest year for which data are available) it was in sixth place in income per person, having been overtaken by Panama, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.

Cuba’s decline is above all because of lack of investment, says Mr Vidal. But a shrinking and ageing population plays a part, too. He finds that the reforms have brought about a modest increase in income and even in productivity. They “go in the right direction but have fallen short”, he concludes.

For Mr Díaz-Canel and his reformist colleagues the message is clear: speeding up change carries political risks, but not doing so involves economic ones.

 

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ORDER FROM CHAOS: WHAT WILL BE RAUL CASTRO’S LEGACY?

Richard E. Feinberg, Nonresident Senior Fellow – Foreign PolicyLatin America Initiative

Brookings, December 4, 2017

Original Article: Order from Chaos
In many ways, Raúl Castro’s 10-year presidential rule, ending in February 2018, has been utterly disappointing. Cuba’s economy is stagnant and economic reform has stalled. Political power remains highly centralized and secluded. The island’s educated youth are fleeing in droves for better opportunities abroad. And the Trump administration is renewing U.S. hostility.

Nevertheless, during his decade in power Raúl Castro oversaw historic shifts in Cuban foreign and domestic policies. Raúl initiated some policy innovations, deepened and consolidated others, and merely watched while forces beyond his control drove other changes. Regardless, these changes have paved the way for the successor generation of leaders—if they dare—to push Cuba forward into the 21st century.

MORE FRIENDS

Fidel’s younger brother, now 86, can be especially pleased with his achievements in foreign affairs. Cuba had been a colony of Spain, a dominion of U.S. capital, a cog within the Soviet-dominated Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) system. Now, for the first time in its 500-year history, Cuba has escaped the grip of a single world power.

Today, Cuban traders circumnavigate the globe, engaging both state-directed and free-market economies. The top trading 10 partners in goods in 2016 were (in rank order): China, Venezuela, Spain, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, Argentina, Germany, and Vietnam. The next tier of merchandise trading partners (between $275 million and $100 million) includes the United States, France, Algeria, the Netherlands, Russia, and Trinidad and Tobago. No single country accounts for more than 20 percent of total merchandise trade.

This trade diversification began in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but Raúl’s economic team extended and consolidated it. Under Raúl, Cuba also expanded the number of countries that purchase its main service export—the labor of educated professionals, especially in the medical field. While Fidel initiated large-scale service exports to Venezuela, Raúl followed suit with Brazil and dozens of other developing countries.

In the last 10 years, Cuba has also diversified the sources of foreign investment. For example, in the economy’s bright spot, international tourism, investors hail from Spain, France, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, China, and Malaysia, among other locations.

A small island economy cannot hope to be fully autonomous; it must adapt to global constraints. But by diversifying its economic partners, Cuba has minimized its vulnerability to external dictates, and maximized its own margin for maneuver. This diversification of economic partnerships has paid handsome diplomatic dividends. Cuba has become an accepted participant in various Latin American forums and diplomatic initiatives; overcame its exclusion from the Summit of the Americas leaders’ meetings; gained membership in the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI); and gained access to resources at the multilateral Andean Development Corporation (CAF). President Donald Trump is alone in his efforts to damage the Cuban economy through comprehensive economic sanctions.

BREAKING IDEOLOGICAL BARRIERS

The slow, halting pace of economic reform has discouraged many Cubans, especially recent university graduates. Conservative forces resisting change remain strong within the Cuban Communist Party. Nevertheless, Raúl leaves a legacy that could greatly facilitate the work of reformers in the future. (I will further evaluate the economic reforms and pathways forward in a February 2018 Brookings policy brief.)

Raúl’s legacy lies not in standard measures of economic performance, such as per capita GDP growth, labor productivity, or investment rates, where results have varied from disappointing to disastrous. Rather, Raúl’s legacy in economic policy lies in breaking once forbidding ideological barriers. True, Raúl’s public statements often have been contradictory and shifting, as he apparently sought to balance conflicting tendencies within the Cuban Communist Party. But in key areas, Raúl demolished or at least cracked these obstacles to change: rejection of globalization (a favorite Fidel bugaboo), fear of foreign investment, and hostility to private business and markets. He also transformed relations with the United States.

In daily life, Cubans have left behind the comfort of social uniformity and relative economic equality for the more tumultuous worlds of greater social heterogeneity and income inequalities.

Raúl is no cheerleader for globalization. But he set aside his brother’s heated denunciations of multinational corporations and “exploitative” markets. Instead, he went about the practical business of building economic relations with a multitude of governments and foreign corporations. Without much pomp and circumstance (although there was the occasional ribbon-cutting), Raúl advanced the process of normalizing Cuba’s integration into global markets.

Raúl’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with “the historic enemy,” the United States, dramatically revised his regime’s foreign policy doctrine. The hegemon just across the Florida Straits was no longer an imminent, existential threat, readily justifying economic deprivations and tight political restrictions. Notwithstanding the altered attitude in Washington today, so far a number of the concrete gains from the Obama era détente remain in place, notably the facilitation of travel (commercial airline flights and cruise ships) and the generous flows of remittances to many Cuban families, whether for household consumption or business start-ups.

Of the reforms most directly attributable to Raúl, the suppression of the special (and expensive) permit to travel abroad was among the most important to many Cubans. As a result, most Cubans can freely leave the island (provided they can acquire an entry visa elsewhere), to be enriched by their contact with foreign lands and ideas. Greater access to mobile technology and rapidly expanding social media, permission to sell homes and cars, and more freedom to stay in once-forbidden tourist hotels have also improved life for many Cubans during his tenure.

De facto, by building commercial partnerships worldwide, and by accepting the freedom to travel, Cuba has now embraced core components of globalization.

OPENING TO FOREIGN INVESTMENT

To stave off complete economic collapse in the early 1990s, Fidel had invited in limited foreign investment. El Comandante en Jefe made these concessions holding his sensitive ideological nose and again closed Cuba’s borders once he felt politically secure. In sharp contrast, Raúl has publicly chastised his ministers for not accelerating foreign capital inflows (although he hesitated to fire them).

Periodically, the government releases a “Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment.” Each edition is fatter and glossier; the 300-page 2017-2018 version features 456 projects with a cumulative price tag of $11 billion. Yes, most projects have remained on paper, victims of bureaucratic foot-dragging and red tape; but these documents are products of an inter-agency process whereby many ministries and state enterprises join in a collective waving of hands to the international commercial community.

In a 2011 official document outlining proposed reforms, foreign investment was derided as “complementary,” a secondary afterthought. In contrast, when addressing Havana’s annual international trade fair in 2017, Raúl’s minister for foreign trade and investment sang a very different tune: “Today foreign investment ceases to be a complement and has become an essential issue for the country.”

Mariel, the new economic development zone facing the Straits of Florida, has gotten off to a slow start, having approved over three years only 26 projects worth about $1 billion. However, 15 of these projects have broken through another ideological barrier: allowing 100 percent foreign ownership.

LEGITIMIZING PRIVATE PROPERTY

Fidel disliked and distrusted private property. In 1968, for example, he nationalized remaining mom-and-pop businesses. In contrast, over the last decade the government has issued hundreds of thousands of licenses to small-scale private businesses. Raúl has also encouraged some 200,000 Cuban families to farm as homesteaders (although not all survived). In addition to these authorized private businesses, many Cubans augment their income in more-or-less tolerated gray-market activities. Altogether, as much as 40 percent of the Cuban workforce have at least one foot in the private sector.

Recently, Raúl criticized private business for illicit activities, and the government halted the granting of new business licenses. Nevertheless, these concessions to anxious Communist Party stalwarts appear to be a temporary pause. The ideological foundations, and public constituency, for the acceptance and eventual expansion of a market-driven private sector have most likely been set too deep for a full-blown counter-revolution to succeed.

SOCIAL RELAXATION

This increase in economic pluralism has unleashed public debates on economic policy. Criticism of government performance is widely voiced with less fear, even if journalists and academics are still careful not to directly confront senior authority.

Another major shift that accelerated during the last decade: the evolution of Cuban society from socialist uniformity toward a more heterogeneous mix of property relations, income levels, and social styles. While legal statutes remain to be written, property can now be private (often in partnership with diaspora capital), cooperative (in numerous variations) and foreign-owned, as well as state controlled.

Income inequalities have become more visible, even if less jarring than in other Latin American and Caribbean nations. Many Cubans still honor social solidarity. But the transition toward a more normal, relaxed, and individualistic society is unmistakable. On Havana’s streets, Cuban youth—increasingly exposed to international tourists, travel opportunities and the worldwide web—sport the variety of hairstyles, tattoos, music, and other signatures of global youth.

These ideological adaptations do not guarantee speedy policy changes, much less their faithful implementation. The Cuban government is grappling with a severe foreign exchange crisis, and the sudden, unanticipated chill in bilateral relations imposed by the United States. All the more reasons for the next generation of Cuban leaders to build upon the diversity of international economic associations and the new ideological currents unleashed during the reign of the second and last Castro brother—and to launch their island state into deeper phases of global integration and economic transformation.

Richard Feinberg

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YOUR MIND IS IN PRISON: CUBA’S WEB OF CONTROL OVER FREE EXPRESSION AND ITS CHILLING EXPRESSION ON EVERYDAY LIFE

Original Document: Amnesty International

Amnesty International, November 27, 2017

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. INTRODUCTION

2. THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG  

[From Amnesty International’s archives: Cuba’s 50-year campaign against freedom of expression and peaceful assembly]

2.1 THE RIGHTS TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND ASSOCIATION

2.2 “EVERYTHING IS ILLEGAL”

2.3 HUMAN RIGHTS STANDARDS AND THE APPLICATION OF THE CRIMINAL LAW

3. SILENCE–A CONDITION OF EMPLOYMENT

3.1 HARASSMENT AND WRONGFUL DISMISSALS IN THE STATE SECTOR

3.2 A VICIOUS CYCLE: HARASSMENT IN THE SELF-EMPLOYED SECTOR

3.3 IMPRISONED AND DISCRIMINATED FOR TRYING TO LEAVE THEIR OWN COUNTRY

3.4 LIMITS ON INDEPENDENT TRADE UNION

3.5 THE APPARENT LACK OF EFFECTIVE RECOURSE FOR DISCRIMINATORY DISMISSAL

3.6 DISCRIMINATION IN ACCESS TO AND AT WORK

3.7 FEAR OF RETURNING TO THEIR OWN COUNTRY

4. BELOW THE SURFACE OF THE ICEBERG

4.1 SELF-CENSORSHIP

4.2 THE CHILLING EFFECT

5. RECOMMENDATIONS

TO THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT

TO THE US CONGRESS

INTRODUCTION

The past few years have been a bitter-sweet period for those hoping for the Cuban authorities to relax their iron grip on people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly.

High-profile visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Pope Francis in 2015, as well as by the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children and the UN Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity in 2017, appeared to herald greater political openness and to offer some hope that Cuba might begin to open itself up to increased international scrutiny by independent human rights monitors. A tourism boom, the expansion of Wi-Fi-internet hotspots, even a first ttime performance by the rock band the Rolling Stones (foreign rock music was deemed subversive in Cuba for decades) were other small signs that Cuba might be releasing its tight control on freedom of expression. The re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the USA starting in December 2014, followed by then President Obama’s state visit to Cuba in 2016 also seemed to promise the beginning of an end to the economic embargo which for decades has perpetuated the Cold War rhetoric of “us” and “them” and undermined ordinary Cubans’ enjoyment of economic and social rights.

This optimism makes the jarring reality all the more marked. Hours before President Obama landed in Cuba, dozens of activists and independent journalists were detained. In a joint press conference with the US President, President Raúl Castro continued to flatly deny that there were any “political prisoners” in Cuba.

In contrast, in the past three years, Amnesty International has named 11 prisoners of conscience in Cuba, and there are likely many more. Further, a national human rights organization, not recognized by the Cuban authorities, reported an average of 762 politically motivated and arbitrary detentions a month between 2014 and 2016.

Human rights lawyers from the organization Cubalex were harassed and intimidated, despite having been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to protect their lives, personal integrity and activities as human right defenders. In May 2017, at least 12 of its members were granted asylum in the USA after the Cuban authorities threatened to bring criminal charges against them related to a tax investigation. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Cuba 10th on its 2015 list of the world’s most censored countries and classified its laws on free speech and press freedom as the most restrictive in the Americas. Amnesty International media remains heavily censored and limited. While an increasing range of autonomous digital media projects has emerged, alternative online news sources operate within a legal limbo that exposes journalists and media workers to the risk of harassment and arbitrary detention. Moreover, their web pages are often blocked by the authorities in Cuba. In early 2017, the expulsion of a journalism student reportedly pushed out of university for being a member of the group Somos, considered a dissident organization by the authorities, received widespread international and independent national media coverage. According to press reports, one of Cuba’s most famous singers, Silvio Rodríguez, called the expulsion an “injustice” and “clumsy and obtuse.”

In June 2017, President Trump’s administration took an almost complete U-turn on US political rhetoric towards Cuba reducing the likelihood that the US Congress will pass legislation to lift the economic embargo on Cuba. Despite the easing of some restrictions by the former Obama administration, which has allowed for increased travel and remittances between the two countries, and annual votes by a majority of UN member states to lift it, the embargo remains in place. Amnesty International has consistently recommended that the US embargo be lifted, based on its negative impact on the economic and social rights of the Cuban population. Meanwhile, a recent poll by the University of Chicago found that many Cubans “feel stuck in the current economic climate.”

Few expect the economy will improve anytime soon and 46% described it as poor or very poor. Cuba’s fragile economy has inevitably been impacted by the ongoing economic and human rights crisis in Venezuela – a provider of significant economic aid to Cuba in recent years. Exceptionally low salaries – the average monthly salary is approximately USD27 a month – are insufficient to cover basic needs. Ordinary Cubans continue to struggle, despite the government’s food ration system, taking additional jobs in the informal sector and receiving remittances from family members living overseas.16 In July 2017, the Secretary General of the Central Union of Cuban Workers (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, CTC), the country’s only officially recognized trade union, stated in an interview that average salaries are unable to meet workers’ basic needs and create “apathy in work, lack of interest and significant labour migration”, an issue that he said is being evaluated by decision-making bodies.

While many Cubans interviewed for this briefing told Amnesty International that they felt Cuba has made important human rights advances in the provision of free health care and access to education and valued the fact that there is little organized crime in the country, many also described the day-to-day struggle of having to make difficult choices between feeding and clothing their families. People interviewed by Amnesty International said that food rations – which have been progressively reduced – are insufficient to last the month. And while education is free, many Cubans find it difficult to buy the things their children need to attend school, such as uniforms, backpacks and other basic supplies. For example, an administrator in a state food factory told Amnesty International she earned USD20 a month at a time when shoes for her child could easily cost USD30. Many people interviewed said they had to break the law to make ends meet. The same administrator also described how one of her job responsibilities was to ensure that workers did not steal bread or other essentials they need to survive.

Former President Fidel Castro’s death in November 2016, and President Raúl Castro’s announcement that he would step down in 2018 continue to fill opinion columns with speculation about Cuba’s future. But while in political quarters and international news rooms Cuba remains a hot topic, tens of thousands of Cubans continue to leave the country. Their individual reasons may vary, but common threads are disillusion with Cuba’s changing international diplomacy, a lack of confidence that salaries will improve18 and scepticism at the idea that a post-Castro administration will do anything to untangle the tight web of control on freedom of expression. Amnesty International’s interviews with Cuban migrants highlight this widespread and profound lack of belief in the prospect of structural change. This briefing examines limitations on freedom of expression that persist in Cuba despite the context of purported political openness, a tourism boom and a changing economic context. It is based on research carried out between December 2016 and September 2017, although Amnesty International´s lack of access to Cuba has posed a significant limitation on providing an analysis of human rights issues in the country. The interviews the organization conducted with Cubans for this briefing have made it possible to identify the impact on a wide range of people of 50 years of serious restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The failure of the authorities to respect and ensure these rights has had an impact far beyond the ranks of those directly targeted for their activism or views and seeped into the everyday experiences and hopes of people from all walks of life.

This briefing focuses on those wider influences and on the human rights advances that those affected would want to see. As Cuba prepares for elections in 2018, the diverse Cuban voices at the centre of this research highlight the need for authorities to promote reforms that ensure the respect and protection of human rights, including a review of criminal laws and practices which are inconsistent with international human rights law and standards and that unduly limit freedom of expression. They also underscore the need for the authorities to adhere to international labour standards which Cuba has undertaken to uphold by ratifying International Labour Conventions. The briefing ends with a set of recommendations calling on the authorities to end unjust restrictions not only on those unfairly deprived of their physical freedom, but also on those who feel their minds are imprisoned and their lives stunted because they are deprived of their right to freedom of expression.

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