Tag Archives: President Raul Castro

VENEZUELA’S SUICIDE: LESSONS FROM A FAILED STATE, With emphasis on Cuba-Venezuela Relations

By Moisés Naím and Francisco Toro

Original Article: Venezuela’s Suicide,  Foreign Affairs, November –December 2018

Consider two Latin American countries. The first is one of the region’s oldest and strongest democracies. It boasts a stronger social safety net than any of its neighbors and is making progress on its promise to deliver free health care and higher education to all its citizens. It is a model of social mobility and a magnet for immigrants from across Latin America and Europe. The press is free, and the political system is open; opposing parties compete fiercely in elections and regularly alternate power peacefully. It sidestepped the wave of military juntas that mired some Latin American countries in dictatorship. Thanks to a long political alliance and deep trade and investment ties with the United States, it serves as the Latin American headquarters for a slew of multinational corporations. It has the best infrastructure in South America. It is still unmistakably a developing country, with its share of corruption, injustice, and dysfunction, but it is well ahead of other poor countries by almost any measure.

The second country is one of Latin America’s most impoverished nations and its newest dictatorship. Its schools lie half deserted. The health system has been devastated by decades of underinvestment, corruption, and neglect; long-vanquished diseases, such as malaria and measles, have returned. Only a tiny elite can afford enough to eat. An epidemic of violence has made it one of the most murderous countries in the world. It is the source of Latin America’s largest refugee migration in a generation, with millions of citizens fleeing in the last few years alone. Hardly anyone (aside from other autocratic governments) recognizes its sham elections, and the small portion of the media not under direct state control still follows the official line for fear of reprisals. By the end of 2018, its economy will have shrunk by about half in the last five years. It is a major cocaine-trafficking hub, and key power brokers in its political elite have been indicted in the United States on drug charges. Prices double every 25 days. The main airport is largely deserted, used by just a handful of holdout airlines bringing few passengers to and from the outside world.

Bottom of Form

These two countries are in fact the same country, Venezuela, at two different times: the early 1970s and today. The transformation Venezuela has undergone is so radical, so complete, and so total that it is hard to believe it took place without a war. What happened to Venezuela? How did things go so wrong?

The short answer is Chavismo. Under the leadership of Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, the country has experienced a toxic mix of wantonly destructive policy, escalating authoritarianism, and kleptocracy, all under a level of Cuban influence that often resembles an occupation. Any one of these features would have created huge problems on its own. All of them together hatched a catastrophe. Today, Venezuela is a poor country and a failed and criminalized state run by an autocrat beholden to a foreign power. The remaining options for reversing this situation are slim; the risk now is that hopelessness will push Venezuelans to consider supporting dangerous measures, such as a U.S.-led military invasion, that could make a bad situation worse.

CHAVISMO RISING

To many observers, the explanation for Venezuela’s predicament is simple: under Chávez, the country caught a strong case of socialism, and all its subsequent disasters stem from that original sin. But Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Uruguay have also elected socialist governments in the last 20 years. Although each has struggled politically and economically, none—aside from Nicaragua—has imploded. Instead, several have prospered.

If socialism cannot be blamed for Venezuela’s demise, perhaps oil is the culprit. The most calamitous stage of Venezuela’s crisis has coincided neatly with the sharp fall in international oil prices that started in 2014. But this explanation is also insufficient. Venezuela’s decline began four decades ago, not four years ago. By 2003, Venezuela’s GDP per worker had already declined by a disastrous 37 percent from its 1978 peak—precisely the decline that first propelled Chávez into office. Moreover, all of the world’s petrostates suffered a serious income shock in 2014 as a result of plummeting oil prices. Only Venezuela could not withstand the pressure.

The drivers of Venezuela’s failure run deeper. Decades of gradual economic decline opened the way for Chávez, a charismatic demagogue wedded to an outdated ideology, to take power and establish a corrupt autocracy modeled on and beholden to Cuba’s dictatorship. Although the crisis preceded Chávez’s rise to power, his legacy and Cuba’s influence must be at the center of any attempt to explain it.

Chávez was born in 1954 into a lower-middle-class family in a rural town. He became a career military officer on a baseball scholarship and was soon secretly recruited into a small leftist movement that spent over a decade plotting to overthrow the democratic regime. He exploded into Venezuela’s national consciousness on February 4, 1992, when he led an unsuccessful coup attempt. This misadventure landed him in jail but turned him into an improbable folk hero who embodied growing frustration with a decade of economic stagnation. After receiving a pardon, he launched an outsider bid for the presidency in 1998 and won in a landslide, upending the two-party system that had anchored Venezuelan democracy for 40 years.

What drove the explosion of populist anger that brought Chávez to power? In a word, disappointment. The stellar economic performance Venezuela had experienced for five decades leading up to the 1970s had run out of steam, and the path to the middle class had begun to narrow. As the economists Ricardo Hausmann and Francisco Rodríguez noted, “By 1970 Venezuela had become the richest country in Latin America and one of the twenty richest countries in the world, with a per capita GDP higher than Spain, Greece, and Israel and only 13 percent lower than that of the United Kingdom.” But by the early 1980s, a weakened oil market had brought the era of fast growth to an end. Lower oil revenue meant cuts in public spending, scaled-down social programs, currency devaluation, runaway inflation, a banking crisis, and mounting unemployment and hardship for the poor. Even so, Venezuela’s head start was such that when Chávez was elected, it had a per capita income in the region that was second only to Argentina’s.

Another common explanation for Chávez’s rise holds that it was driven by voters’ reaction against economic inequality, which was driven in turn by pervasive corruption. But when Chávez came to power, income was more evenly distributed in Venezuela than in any neighboring country. If inequality determined electoral outcomes, then a Chávez-like candidate would have been more probable in Brazil, Chile, or Colombia, where the gap between the well-off and everyone else was larger.

Venezuela may not have been collapsing in 1998, but it had been stagnating and, in some respects, backsliding, as oil prices slumped to just $11 per barrel, leading to a new round of austerity. Chávez was brilliant at mining the resulting discontent. His eloquent denunciations of inequality, exclusion, poverty, corruption, and the entrenched political elite struck a chord with struggling voters, who felt nostalgic for an earlier, more prosperous period. The inept and complacent traditional political and business elite who opposed Chávez never came close to matching his popular touch.

Venezuelans gambled on Chávez. What they got was not just an outsider bent on upending the status quo but also a Latin American leftist icon who soon had followers all around the world. Chávez became both a spoiler and the star attraction at global summits, as well as a leader of the burgeoning global wave of anti-American sentiment sparked by U.S. President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. At home, shaped by his career in the military, Chávez had a penchant for centralizing power and a profound intolerance of dissent. He set out to neuter not just opposition politicians but also political allies who dared question his policies. His collaborators quickly saw which way the wind was blowing: policy debates disappeared, and the government pursued a radical agenda with little forethought and no real scrutiny.

A 2001 presidential decree on land reform, which Chávez handed down with no consultation or debate, was a taste of things to come. It broke up large commercial farms and turned them over to peasant cooperatives that lacked the technical know-how, management skills, or access to capital to produce at scale. Food production collapsed. And in sector after sector, the Chávez government enacted similarly self-defeating policies. It expropriated foreign-owned oil ventures without compensation and gave them to political appointees who lacked the technical expertise to run them. It nationalized utilities and the main telecommunications operator, leaving Venezuela with chronic water and electricity shortages and some of the slowest Internet connection speeds in the world. It seized steel companies, causing production to fall from 480,000 metric tons per month before nationalization, in 2008, to effectively nothing today. Similar results followed the seizure of aluminum companies, mining firms, hotels, and airlines.

Diaz-Canel and Maduro

In one expropriated company after another, state administrators stripped assets and loaded payrolls with Chávez cronies. When they inevitably ran into financial problems, they appealed to the government, which was able to bail them out. By 2004, oil prices had spiked again, filling government coffers with petrodollars, which Chávez spent without constraints, controls, or accountability. On top of that were the easy loans from China, which was happy to extend credit to Venezuela in exchange for a guaranteed supply of crude oil. By importing whatever the hollowed-out Venezuelan economy failed to produce and borrowing to finance a consumption boom, Chávez was able to temporarily shield the public from the impact of his disastrous policies and to retain substantial popularity.

But not everyone was convinced. Oil industry workers were among the first to sound the alarm about Chávez’s authoritarian tendencies. They went on strike in 2002 and 2003, demanding a new presidential election. In response to the protests, Chávez fired almost half of the work force in the state-run oil company and imposed an arcane currency-exchange-control regime. The system morphed into a cesspool of corruption, as regime cronies realized that arbitraging between the state-authorized exchange rate and the black market could yield fortunes overnight. This arbitrage racket created an extraordinarily wealthy elite of government-connected kleptocrats. As this budding kleptocracy perfected the art of siphoning off oil proceeds into its own pockets, Venezuelan store shelves grew bare.

It was all painfully predictable—and widely predicted. But the louder local and international experts sounded the alarm, the more the government clung to its agenda. To Chávez, dire warnings from technocrats were a sign that the revolution was on the right track.

PASSING THE TORCH

In 2011, Chávez was diagnosed with cancer. Top oncologists in Brazil and the United States offered to treat him. But he opted instead to search for a cure in Cuba, the country he trusted not only to treat him but also to be discreet about his condition. As his illness progressed, his dependence on Havana deepened, and the mystery about the real state of his health grew. On December 8, 2012, an ailing Chávez made one final television appearance to ask Venezuelans to make Maduro, then vice president, his successor. For the next three months, Venezuela was governed spectrally and by remote control: decrees emanated from Havana bearing Chávez’s signature, but no one saw him, and speculation was rife that he had already died. When Chávez’s death was finally announced, on March 5, 2013, the only thing that was clear amid the atmosphere of secrecy and concealment was that Venezuela’s next leader would carry on the tradition of Cuban influence.

Chávez had long looked to Cuba as a blueprint for revolution, and he turned to Cuban President Fidel Castro for advice at critical junctures. In return, Venezuela sent oil: energy aid to Cuba (in the form of 115,000 barrels a day sold at a deep discount) was worth nearly $1 billion a year to Havana. The relationship between Cuba and Venezuela became more than an alliance. It has been, as Chávez himself once put it, “a merger of two revolutions.” (Unusually, the senior partner in the alliance is poorer and smaller than the junior partner—but so much more competent that it dominates the relationship.) Cuba is careful to keep its footprint light: it conducts most of its consultations in Havana rather than Caracas.

It did not escape anyone’s attention that the leader Chávez annointed to succeed him had devoted his life to the cause of Cuban communism. As a teenager, Maduro joined a fringe pro-Cuban Marxist party in Caracas. In his 20s, instead of going to university, he sought training in Havana’s school for international cadres to become a professional revolutionary. As Chávez’s foreign minister from 2006 to 2013, he had seldom called attention to himself: only his unfailing loyalty to Chávez, and to Cuba, propelled his ascent to the top. Under his leadership, Cuba’s influence in Venezuela has become pervasive. He has stacked key government posts with activists trained in Cuban organizations, and Cubans have come to occupy sensitive roles within the Venezuelan regime. The daily intelligence briefs Maduro consumes, for instance, are produced not by Venezuelans but by Cuban intelligence officers.

With Cuban guidance, Maduro has deeply curtailed economic freedoms and erased all remaining traces of liberalism from the country’s politics and institutions. He has continued and expanded Chávez’s practice of jailing, exiling, or banning from political life opposition leaders who became too popular or hard to co-opt. Julio Borges, a key opposition leader, fled into exile to avoid being jailed, and Leopoldo López, the opposition’s most charismatic leader, has been moved back and forth between a military prison and house arrest. Over 100 political prisoners linger in jails, and reports of torture are common. Periodic elections have become farcical, and the government has stripped the opposition-controlled National Assembly of all powers. Maduro has deepened Venezuela’s alliances with a number of anti-American and anti-Western regimes, turning to Russia for weapons, cybersecurity, and expertise in oil production; to China for financing and infrastructure; to Belarus for homebuilding; and to Iran for car production.

As Maduro broke the last remaining links in Venezuela’s traditional alliances with Washington and other Latin American democracies, he lost access to sound economic advice. He dismissed the consensus of economists from across the political spectrum: although they warned about inflation, Maduro chose to rely on the advice of Cuba and fringe Marxist policy advisers who assured him that there would be no consequences to making up budget shortfalls with freshly minted money. Inevitably, a devastating bout of hyperinflation ensued.

A toxic combination of Cuban influence, runaway corruption, the dismantling of democratic checks and balances, and sheer incompetence has kept Venezuela locked into catastrophic economic policies. As monthly inflation rates top three digits, the government improvises policy responses that are bound to make the situation even worse.

ANATOMY OF A COLLAPSE

Nearly all oil-producing liberal democracies, such as Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States, were democracies before they became oil producers. Autocracies that have found oil, such as Angola, Brunei, Iran, and Russia, have been unable to make the leap to liberal democracy. For four decades, Venezuela seemed to have miraculously beat these odds—it democratized and liberalized in 1958, decades after finding oil.

But the roots of Venezuelan liberal democracy turned out to be shallow. Two decades of bad economics decimated the popularity of the traditional political parties, and a charismatic demagogue, riding the wave of an oil boom, stepped into the breach. Under these unusual conditions, he was able to sweep away the whole structure of democratic checks and balances in just a few years.

When the decadelong oil price boom ended in 2014, Venezuela lost not just the oil revenue on which Chávez’s popularity and international influence had depended but also access to foreign credit markets. This left the country with a massive debt overhang: the loans taken out during the oil boom still had to be serviced, although from a much-reduced income stream. Venezuela ended up with politics that are typical of autocracies that discover oil: a predatory, extractive oligarchy that ignores regular people as long they stay quiet and that violently suppresses them when they protest.

The resulting crisis is morphing into the worst humanitarian disaster in memory in the Western Hemisphere. Exact figures for Venezuela’s GDP collapse are notoriously difficult to come by, but economists estimate that it is comparable to the 40 percent contraction of Syria’s GDP since 2012, following the outbreak of its devastating civil war. Hyperinflation has reached one million percent per year, pushing 61 percent of Venezuelans to live in extreme poverty, with 89 percent of those surveyed saying they do not have the money to buy enough food for their families and 64 percent reporting they have lost an average of 11 kilograms (about 24 pounds) in body weight due to hunger. About ten percent of the population—2.6 million Venezuelans—have fled to neighboring countries.

The Venezuelan state has mostly given up on providing public services such as health care, education, and even policing; heavy-handed, repressive violence is the final thing left that Venezuelans can rely on the public sector to consistently deliver. In the face of mass protests in 2014 and 2017, the government responded with thousands of arrests, brutal beatings and torture, and the killing of over 130 protesters.

Meanwhile, criminal business is increasingly conducted not in defiance of the state, or even simply in cahoots with the state, but directly through it. Drug trafficking has emerged alongside oil production and currency arbitrage as a key source of profits to those close to the ruling elite, with high-ranking officials and members of the president’s family facing narcotics charges in the United States. A small connected elite has also stolen national assets to a unprecedented degree. In August, a series of regime-connected businessmen were indicted in U.S. federal courts for attempting to launder over $1.2 billion in illegally obtained funds—just one of a dizzying array of illegal scams that are part of the looting of Venezuela. The entire southeastern quadrant of the country has become an exploitative illegal mining camp, where desperate people displaced from cities by hunger try their luck in unsafe mines run by criminal gangs under military protection. All over the country, prison gangs, working in partnership with government security forces, run lucrative extortion rackets that make them the de facto civil -authority. The offices of the Treasury, the central bank, and the national oil company have become laboratories where complicated financial crimes are hatched. As Venezuela’s economy has collapsed, the lines separating the state from criminal enterprises have all but disappeared.

THE VENEZUELAN DILEMMA

Whenever U.S. President Donald Trump meets with a Latin American leader, he insists that the region do something about the Venezuelan crisis. Trump has prodded his own national security team for “strong” alternatives, at one point stating that there are “many options” for Venezuela and that he is “not going to rule out the military option.” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has similarly flirted with a military response. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, however, has echoed a common sentiment of the U.S. security apparatus by publicly stating, “The Venezuelan crisis is not a military matter.” All of Venezuela’s neighboring countries have also voiced their opposition to an armed attack on Venezuela.

And rightly so. Trump’s fantasies of military invasion are deeply misguided and extremely dangerous. Although a U.S.-led military assault would likely have no problem overthrowing Maduro in short order, what comes next could be far worse, as the Iraqis and the Libyans know only too well: when outside powers overthrow autocrats sitting atop failing states, open-ended chaos is much more likely to follow than stability—let alone democracy.

Nonetheless, the United States will continue to face pressure to find some way of arresting Venezuela’s collapse. Each initiative undertaken so far has served only to highlight that there is, in reality, little the United States can do. During the Obama administration, U.S. diplomats attempted to engage the regime directly. But negotiations proved futile. Maduro used internationally mediated talks to neutralize massive street protests: protest leaders would call off demonstrations during the talks, but Chavista negotiators would only stonewall, parceling out minor concessions designed to divide their opponents while they themselves prepared for the next wave of repression. The United States and Venezuela’s neighbors seem to have finally grasped that, as things stand, negotiations only play into Maduro’s hands.

Some have suggested using harsh economic sanctions to pressure Maduro to step down. The United States has tried this. It passed several rounds of sanctions, under both the Obama and Trump administrations, to prevent the regime from issuing new debt and to hamper the financial operation of the state-owned oil company. Together with Canada and the EU, Washington has also put in place sanctions against specific regime officials, freezing their assets abroad and imposing travel restrictions. But such measures are redundant: if the task is to destroy the Venezuelan economy, no set of sanctions will be as effective as the regime itself. The same is true for an oil blockade: oil production is already in a free fall.

Washington can sharpen its policy on the margins. For one thing, it needs to put more emphasis on a Cuban track: little can be achieved without Havana’s help, meaning that Venezuela needs to be front and center in every contact Washington and its allies have with Havana. The United States can cast a wider net in countering corruption, preventing not just crooked officials but also their frontmen and families from enjoying the fruits of corruption, drug trafficking, and embezzlement. It could also work to turn the existing U.S. arms embargo into a global one. The Maduro regime must be constrained in its authoritarian intent with policies that communicate clearly to its cronies that continuing to aid the regime will leave them isolated in Venezuela and that turning on the regime is, therefore, the only way out. Yet the prospects of such a strategy succeeding are dim.

After a long period of dithering, the other Latin American countries are finally grasping that Venezuela’s instability will inevitably spill across their borders. As the center-left “pink wave” of the early years of this century recedes, a new cohort of more conservative leaders in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru has tipped the regional balance against Venezuela’s dictatorship, but the lack of actionable options bedevils them, as well. Traditional diplomacy hasn’t worked and has even backfired. But so has pressure. For example, in 2017, Latin American countries threatened to suspend Venezuela’s membership in the Organization of American States. The regime responded by withdrawing from the organization unilaterally, displaying just how little it cares about traditional diplomatic pressure.

Venezuela’s exasperated neighbors are increasingly seeing the crisis through the prism of the refugee problem it has created; they are anxious to stem the flow of malnourished people fleeing Venezuela and placing new strains on their social programs. As a populist backlash builds against the influx of Venezuelan refugees, some Latin American countries appear tempted to slam the door shut—a temptation they must resist, as it would be a historic mistake that would only worsen the crisis. The reality is that Latin American countries have no idea what to do about Venezuela. There may be nothing they can do, save accepting refugees, which will at least help alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Today, the regime is so solidly entrenched that a change of faces is much more likely than a change of system. Perhaps Maduro will be pushed out by a slightly less incompetent leader who is able to render Cuban hegemony in Venezuela more sustainable. Such an outcome would merely mean a more stable foreign-dominated petro-kleptocracy, not a return to democracy. And even if opposition forces—or a U.S.-led armed attack—somehow managed to replace Maduro with an entirely new government, the agenda would be daunting. A successor regime would need to reduce the enormous role the military plays in all areas of the public sector. It would have to start from scratch in restoring basic services in health care, education, and law enforcement. It would have to rebuild the oil industry and stimulate growth in other economic sectors. It would need to get rid of the drug dealers, prison racketeers, predatory miners, wealthy criminal financiers, and extortionists who have latched on to every part of the state. And it would have to make all these changes in the context of a toxic, anarchic political environment and a grave economic crisis.

Given the scale of these obstacles, Venezuela is likely to remain unstable for a long time to come. The immediate challenge for its citizens and their leaders, as well as for the international community, is to contain the impact of the nation’s decline. For all the misery they have experienced, the Venezuelan people have never stopped struggling against misrule. As of this summer, Venezuelans were still staging hundreds of protests each month. Most of them are local, grass-roots affairs with little political leadership, but they show a people with the will to fight for themselves.

Take Back Venezuela With Votes, Not Violence

Is that enough to nudge the country away from its current, grim path? Probably not. Hopelessness is driving more and more Venezuelans to fantasize about a Trump-led military intervention, which would offer a fervently desired deus ex machina for a long-suffering people. But this amounts to an ill-advised revenge fantasy, not a serious strategy.

Rather than a military invasion, Venezuelans’ best hope is to ensure that the flickering embers of protest and social dissent are not extinguished and that resistance to dictatorship is sustained. Desperate though the prospect may seem, this tradition of protest could one day lay the foundations for the recovery of civic institutions and democratic practices. It won’t be simple, and it won’t be quick. Bringing a state back from the brink of failure never is.

 

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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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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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