Tag Archives: US-Cuba Relations

‘INVISIBLE CAMPAIGN’ AND THE SPECTER OF SOCIALISM: WHY CUBAN AMERICANS FELL HARD FOR TRUMP

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

Miami Herald, NOVEMBER 19, 2020 11:00 AM,

Original Article: Why Cuban Americans Fell  for Trump

Following his surprising victory in 2016, Donald Trump claimed he got 80 percent of the Cuban-American vote in South Florida.

He was exaggerating.

But 2020 was a different story.

Years of courting voters with tough policies toward Cuba and Venezuela, a strong pre-pandemic economy, an unmatched Republican ground game in Miami-Dade and a targeted messaging instilling fear about socialism coming to America helped the president rally Cuban-American voters, part of the reason he carried Florida.

Although Trump lost the election, his inroads into the Cuban-American community in South Florida suggests trouble ahead for the Democratic Party.

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Politics & Policy in the Sunshine State

Definite numbers for 2020 are still in dispute, but estimates reflect the Democratic Party’s poor performance among Cuban Americans, and among Hispanics in general, in Florida.

While Trump won more Cuban-American votes in 2016 than Hillary Clinton in Miami-Dade County, his margin was somewhere between 54 and 57 percent, below Mitt Romney’s 60 percent share in 2012.

Separate analyses of tallies in more than 30 Cuban-majority precincts in Hialeah, Westchester and the suburbs of southwest Miami-Dade by Republican and Democratic strategists suggest that four years later, Trump made double-digit gains, getting as much as 69 percent of the Cuban-American vote. Giancarlo Sopo, a Trump campaign staffer, and Carlos Odio, director of the Democratic research firm EquisLabs, independently concluded that President-elect Joe Biden’s percentage of the Cuban-American vote in Miami-Dade was in the low 30s.

But this might not be the whole picture, said Eduardo Gamarra, a professor and pollster at Florida International University. While Trump undeniably improved his numbers in heavily Cuban areas like Hialeah and Westchester, Gamarra has found less enthusiasm in more wealthy enclaves like Coral Gables and Key Biscayne.

“If you’re going to analyze the Cuban vote, you need to account for the vote in the entire county,” he said. He cited several exit polls and others done close to the election of people who had already voted, including one poll he was involved in, showing that Trump got around 55 percent of the Cuban-American vote.

Fernand Amandi, a long-term Democratic political strategist who runs the firm Bendixen & Amandi International, believes Biden’s share of the Cuban-American vote in Miami-Dade might be about 38 percent, and a bit higher statewide, about 41 percent, according to exit polls and surveys his firm conducted.

But Sopo and Odio disagree with these estimates because many polls proved to be off during this election cycle. If Trump had won only a 55 percent share of the Cuban American vote in Miami-Dade, that number would not reflect the enthusiasm shown by pro-Trump Cuban-American voters nor help explain his overall winning margins in the state, where he got around 371,000 votes more than Biden.

Regardless of the final number, all agree the Biden campaign was not up to the challenge.

“It’s still a poor result,” Amandi said, calling the Biden campaign at times “invisible” in Miami-Dade County. The COVID-19 pandemic had much to do with it, Odio added, since the campaign did not knock on doors till weeks before the election and decided to limit in-person events, and was unable to match Trump’s energetic rallies.

But Trump never really stopped campaigning in Florida. For years now, the Democrats have not been able to match the strong presence of the Republican Party in the community, which has given many Cuban Americans “an identity,” Florida International University professor Guillermo Grenier wrote in a two-part analysis of the Cuban vote. He is the director of the FIU poll that every two years surveys the opinions of Cuban-American voters residing in Miami-Dade.

“The fundamental problem is that the Democrats took their foot off the accelerator from engaging with the Cuban community,” said Amandi, who was part of the team that helped Barack Obama win the support of Cuban and other Hispanic voters in the county. “Meanwhile, the Trump campaign never stopped in its efforts to win the Cuban vote for four years.”

While Cuban Americans have been a reliable Republican voting bloc, supporting the traditional themes of low taxes, small government and family values, there was “a perfect storm” of things particular to this election that ended up helping Republicans, Odio said.

He cites a prosperous economy, the strongman aspect of Trump’s character that apparently appealed to some Cubans and other Hispanics, and the election to Congress of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which further fueled the narrative about the Democratic Party steering to the left. Acts of vandalism amid protests over police brutality and slogans like “Defund the police” were also exploited by the Trump campaign and Trump’s surrogates to instill fear of a progressive left that would dictate Biden’s agenda.

HIALEAH FELL HARD FOR TRUMP

The Democrats also learned the hard way that “demography is not destiny,” as the American political scientist Ruy Teixeira wrote in his influential essay warning that changes in the electorate do not always favor the Democrats.

For many years, Democrats assumed that as older Cuban exiles were being replaced by new Cuban arrivals and younger voters, Cuban Americans would become less Republican. The 2020 presidential election was a surprise: The FIU 2020 poll found that many Cuban immigrants coming after 2010 had been registering Republican and becoming strong Trump supporters.

“We ran an innovative grassroots and advertising effort that directly engaged newer Cuban arrivals — who had been largely ignored by both parties — as well as young U.S.-born Cuban Americans in ways that were culturally relevant to them and different than how you’d engage my abuelos’ generation,” said Sopo, a Miami native who was one of the architects of the messaging targeting Hispanics in Florida.

The campaign ran a Spanish video ad featuring popular Cuban actress Susana Pérez, who is better known among Cubans who came to U.S. after 1980. Another radio ad with fictional characters “Marita y Yesenia” mimics the speaking style and slang used by recent arrivals.

Most observers agree that there is no single issue that could explain why most Cuban Americans mobilized so forcefully this year to support the president.

Take Hialeah, a working-class city with the most Obamacare enrollees in the nation and where many recently arrived Cubans live. The Trump administration asked the courts to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act. Yet, the Democratic Party was unable to exploit this to its advantage, and Trump grew his share of the vote by 18 points in the city, compared to 2016, beating Biden 67% to 32.5%, according to Sopo’s analysis.

There have been several attempts to explain why Cuban Americans in Hialeah would vote for a candidate whose policies could affect their healthcare or have already limited their ability to travel to the island or reunite with family members.

Gamarra believes that working-class Cuban Americans do not behave that differently from non-college-educated white voters, a core group in Trump’s base. And Odio argues that many might be attracted to the image of the successful businessman, who is politically incorrect and stands against Washington’s establishment and the media.

Trump’s nationalist populism also seems to have resonated with many Cuban Americans.

The chorus of a viral song by the Cuban musical group Tres de La Habana that later became part a Trump campaign ad says, “If you feel proud to be Cuban and American, raise your hands!”

But beyond issues of cultural identity and nationalist rhetoric, a lot of the burden for Biden doing poorly among Cuban Americans is on the decisions taken by the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign, most analysts agreed.

Gamarra said besides “being late,” the Biden campaign made other mistakes, like deciding it was not worth investing much in improving their numbers with Cuban Americans and taking for granted that other Hispanic groups, like Colombians, would vote Democratic.

The Biden campaign acknowledged it didn’t need to win the support of a majority of Cuban Americans to win Florida but was hoping to match Clinton’s numbers or compensate for those votes somewhere else, for example, with non-Cuban Hispanics. That didn’t happen either.

“We built a new conservative coalition in South Florida consisting of Cubans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans and other Latinos in Miami-Dade County,” Sopo wrote in a memo obtained by the Miami Herald. ‘This netted approximately 255,657 additional votes for President Trump in Miami-Dade in 2020, which accounted for around 69% of his 371,686-vote victory over Joe Biden in Florida.”

THE SOCIALISM DEBATE IN MIAMI

Amandi was one of the first in sounding the alarm about the Democrats’ problem with Cuban voters, especially regarding their lack of response to attacks portraying their candidates as socialists or communists, which were successfully deployed against Andrew Gillum in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race.

“The biggest mistake was when it was decided that the accusations about socialism and communism were not going to be rebuked because they were considered absurd,” Amandi said.

The Trump campaign made a concerted effort to misleadingly portray Biden as a socialist, posting manipulated images of him embracing Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro and claiming he was “the candidate of Castro-Chavismo” in one of its most viewed ads in South Florida. Such accusations found fertile soil in Miami Cuban media and were amplified on local Miami radio, TV stations, and by social media influencers who had welcomed Trump’s tough talk on Cuba and Venezuela.

Shortly after Trump’s victory in 2016, Cuban exile groups who felt left out from the policy-making process during the Obama administration became more vocal in their criticism of what they saw as Obama’s failed engagement policies with Cuba and concessions made to the Cuban government.

Increased government repression on the island, the Cuban leadership’s unwavering support of Maduro in Venezuela, and Cuba’s reluctance to implement reforms to rescue a rapidly deteriorating economy all reinforced perceptions about the failures of engagement. With its eyes on Florida 2020, Trump vowed in Miami to reverse “the prior administration’s terrible and misguided deal with the Castro regime,” and made Cuba and Venezuela the center of its Latin American policy.

The picture is nuanced: While most Cuban Americans approve of President Trump’s sanctions campaign against the Cuban government, they also support many of Obama’s policies, such as maintaining diplomatic relations or travel to the island, as shown by the FIU 2020 poll. Pro-engagement advocates still contend that Obama’s policies did not hurt the Democratic Party. But others believe that misses a crucial point.

“The weaponization of U.S. policy towards Cuba was the entry point to help cement the idea that the Democratic Party is the party of socialists,” Amandi said.

Then there was the 2020 media environment, with voters watching or reading partisan media, living in information bubbles, and plenty of misinformation circulating among the Hispanic communities, making it difficult for the Democratic campaign messaging to make it through. By the time the campaign started responding to the socialism accusations, it was too late.

Just weeks before the election, Mike Bloomberg financed a round of TV ads featuring members of the Bay of Pigs Brigade and Cuban exile writer Carlos Alberto Montaner pushing back on the accusations that Biden and running mate Kamala Harris were socialists. Internal polling data suggest the ads were able to move the needle in favor of Biden. But the effort came too late to have a larger impact on the race.

However, analysts believe that, with the right strategy, the Democratic Party could again reach the historic support Obama obtained among Cuban Americans in 2012. In that election he won 53 percent of Cuban Americans who cast a ballot on Election Day, and an overall 48 percent of the Cuban-American vote in the state, according to a poll by Bendixen & Amandi.

“It would be a mistake for both parties to believe that these numbers are permanent,” Amandi said.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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CUBA’S ECONOMIC CRISIS IS SPURRING MUCH-NEEDED ACTION ON REFORMS

William M. LeoGrande, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020

Complete Article:  ACTION ON REFORMS

Cuba’s economy was already struggling before the coronavirus pandemic, due to persistently poor domestic productivity, declining oil shipments from Venezuela and the ratcheting up of U.S. sanctions. But now, the closure of the tourist sector due to COVID-19 has thrown Cuba into a full-fledged recession, deeper than anything since the economic crisis of the 1990s that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union—what Cubans know as the “Special Period.”

Perhaps paradoxically, the downturn also appears to have broken a logjam of disagreement among Cuba’s senior leaders and accelerated the implementation of economic reforms. Reforms entail risks, President Miguel Diaz-Canel told the Council of Ministers this summer, but “the worst risk would be in not changing and in losing popular support.”

In 2011, the Cuban Communist Party approved a new economic policy to promote growth by giving freer rein to market forces; requiring unproductive state-owned enterprises to make a profit, even if it means laying off workers; promoting small private businesses; and attracting foreign direct investment. Over the ensuing years, however, implementation slowed to a glacial pace, at least in part because of resistance from some segments of the Cuban political elite who stood to lose from the changes. With the economy buoyed by cheap oil from Venezuela and a booming tourist sector, the need for reform was less urgent.

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Still, economic growth lagged. GDP increased at an average rate of just 2.1 percent from 2011 to 2019, and only 1.3 percent since 2016. The anemic growth in recent years reflects those declining oil shipments from Venezuela, which Caracas provides in exchange for medical services from Cuban doctors and technicians. In 2016, then-President Raul Castro had to declare an energy emergency and begin rationing fuel to state-owned enterprises.

The one bright spot in the domestic economy has been the spectacular growth of Cuba’s tourist sector in the past three decades. From 1991 to 2018, the number of foreign visitors increased more than 11-fold, from just over 400,000 to 4.7 million. The tourist sector got another big boost in 2014, when then-President Barack Obama agreed with Castro to begin normalizing relations, and the Obama administration eliminated most restrictions on U.S. travel. The number of non-Cuban American U.S. visitors jumped six-fold, from 92,325 in 2014 to a peak of 637,907 in 2018. Including Cuban Americans, U.S. visitors in 2018 comprised about a quarter of all foreign visitors to the island.

But President Donald Trump immediately pledged to “cancel” Obama’s opening to Cuba when he took office in 2017. The Trump administration launched a concerted “maximum pressure” campaign, designed to systematically cut off Cuba’s principal sources of foreign currency. To deter foreign investors, Trump activated Title III of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act last year, enabling U.S. nationals who lost property after the 1959 revolution, including Cuban Americans, to sue Cuban, U.S. or foreign companies in U.S. federal court for “trafficking” in their confiscated property—that is, making beneficial use of it.

Faithfully executed, the reforms could boost productivity significantly over the next year or two, but shorter-term relief for Cuba will depend on circumstances beyond its control.

The administration also targeted Cuba’s energy supply by imposing sanctions on companies shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba, aggravating fuel shortages. The State Department pressured other countries to end their partnerships with Cuba’s international medical assistance programs—a major source of foreign exchange earnings for Havana—and conservative governments in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and El Salvador quickly obliged. The Brazilian program, by far the largest, involved over 11,000 medical personnel, generating $250 million in annual revenue for Cuba.

But Trump’s most serious blows have focused on travel and remittances. The administration eliminated the people-to-people category of legal travel, thereby blocking the majority of non-Cuban American travelers; severed commercial and charter air links to all Cubans cities except Havana; and banned U.S. cruise ships, which carried some 800,000 people to Cuba in 2018, from docking there. This campaign led to a 20 percent drop in the number of foreign visitors to the island in the early months of 2020 before the onset of COVID-19.

Remittances, which Obama removed limits on in 2009, were capped at $1,000 per quarter. Then, just weeks before the presidential election, Trump announced new rules prohibiting Cuban Americans from sending remittances through Cuban money transfer companies run by the armed forces, which includes almost all of them. The restrictions, which are set to go into effect later this month, would produce deep suffering among the roughly 60 percent of Cubans who rely on $3.6 billion in cash remittances annually for sustenance.

Then came the pandemic. Although Cuba has had considerable success containing COVID-19, by virtue of a health care system premised on prevention and a disaster response apparatus second to none, the impact on Cuba’s economy has been catastrophic. In March, Cuba closed the island to all foreign visitors and has only gradually begun to reopen some of the more remote tourist resorts in the Cuban Keys. The closure has cost Cuba some $3 billion in lost revenue; estimates are that GDP has contracted by 8 percent this year. The shortages of basic commodities, including food and medicine, are severe due to the shortage of foreign exchange reserves, and Cuba has been unable to meet its debt service obligations.

The severity of the crisis prompted the Cuban government to finally act on potentially significant economic reforms it previously promised, but which were delayed due to disagreements within the leadership. Perhaps most significantly, the government has indicated that it will soon eliminate the dual currency and exchange rate system—which includes Cuban pesos for domestic use and convertible pesos that are roughly pegged to the dollar. The Cuban pesos have a 25:1 exchange rate with the convertible peso in the retail sector, and 1:1 rate between enterprises—a distortion of value that stimulates imports while discouraging exports and aggravating the country’s foreign exchange crisis.

In July, the government announced that private and cooperative businesses would be allowed to hold convertible foreign currency bank accounts and import and export directly, rather than having to go through government agencies. To prioritize food security, the government reduced price and administrative controls on private and cooperative farms. To generate and capture more remittances, it lifted the 10 percent tax on U.S. dollars entering the country and opened dozens of stores that accept payment in convertible currency.

Faithfully executed, these reforms could boost productivity significantly over the next year or two, but shorter-term relief for Cuba will depend on circumstances beyond its control: the speed at which the pandemic subsides, allowing the tourist sector to reopen; and the policies of the incoming U.S. president. Cubans celebrated openly when Joe Biden won this month’s election, and the government has signaled its willingness to improve relations. During the election campaign, Biden promised to reverse Trump’s sanctions that disrupted family ties and imposed economic hardship on the Cuban people, which could mean a reopening of travel and elimination of Trump’s restrictions on remittances. That would measurably improve the standard of living for the Cuban people, but sustainable development for the long run depends on Cuba completing the reforms necessary to build a productive economy.

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JOE BIDEN: “LAS LIMITACIONES A LAS REMESAS SOLO PERJUDICAN A LAS FAMILIAS CUBANAS”

Original Article: BIDEN ON US POLICY TOWARDS CUBA.

CiberCuba,  29 | 02/11/2020 – 9:19am (GMT-4)

El candidato demócrata a la presidencia de Estados Unidos, Joe Biden, dijo a CiberCuba que empoderar al pueblo cubano será el pilar de su política hacia Cuba, y aseguró que si llega a la Casa Blanca eliminará de inmediato las restricciones a las remesas y viajes a la isla.

“Empoderar al pueblo cubano para determinar su propio futuro es fundamental para la seguridad nacional de Estados Unidos (…) y será la pieza central de mi enfoque”, declaró Biden en entrevista exclusiva con CiberCuba.”Seguiré políticas que reconozcan el ambiente de hoy, empezando con la eliminación de las restricciones de Trump a las remesas y los viajes, las cuales perjudican al pueblo cubano y mantiene a las familias separadas”.

El envío de remesas a Cuba se ha convertido en tema de las campañas electorales luego de una reciente sanción de la administración Trump para evitar que las transacciones financieras sean procesadas por entidades vinculadas al aparato militar cubano.

El exvicepresidente manifestó que el mandatario Donald Trump es el peor abanderado para lograr la democracia en Cuba, y aseguró que una administración Biden-Harris restaurará el Programa de Reunificación Familiar Cubano (CFRP),  favorecerá los asilos a refugiados, y limitará las deportaciones a la isla lo antes posible.

“Las políticas de Trump hacia Cuba han sido un fracaso total”, afirmó Biden.

Tanto la entrevista con Biden como la realizada al presidente Trump en CiberCuba, fueron planeadas desde comienzos de septiembre como parte de la cobertura informativa de nuestra publicación sobre las históricas elecciones de este 3 de noviembre en Estados Unidos. Ambos contendientes políticos  recibieron simultáneamente sus respectivos cuestionarios de 12 preguntas sobre temas diversos de la política hacia Cuba y la comunidad cubanoamericana.

Biden accedió a responder cinco preguntas del cuestionario enviado por CiberCuba. Interrogantes sobre la Ley de Ajuste Cubano, la posibilidad de levantar el embargo, los programas federales de ayuda a la sociedad civil y la oposición política en Cuba, y la opción de desactivar los títulos III y IV de la Ley Helms-Burton, quedaron pendientes para un próximo diálogo.

Entrevista en CiberCuba al candidato demócrata Joe Biden

CiberCuba: ¿Cuál será su primer paso respecto a la actual política hacia Cuba si usted llega a presidencia de Estados Unidos?

Joe Biden: Las políticas de Trump hacia Cuba han sido un fracaso total. Las represiones por parte del régimen sólo han aumentado bajo su mandato. Como presidente, mi política se regirá por dos principios: primero que los estadounidenses, los cubanoamericanos en particular, son los mejores embajadores por la libertad en Cuba. En segundo lugar, empoderar al pueblo cubano para determinar su propio futuro es fundamental para la seguridad nacional de Estados Unidos. La situación de hoy en Cuba no es igual a la situación hace cuatro años y yo seguiré políticas que reconozcan el ambiente de hoy, empezando con la eliminación de las restricciones de Trump a las remesas y los viajes, las cuales perjudican al pueblo cubano y mantiene a las familias separadas. También abordaré el atraso de más de 20 mil visas que ha aumentado bajo la administración Trump, exigiré la liberación de los presos políticos y defenderé los derechos humanos en Cuba, tal como lo hice cuando era vicepresidente.

CiberCuba: Una de las sanciones más severas decretadas por Trump han sido las prohibiciones de vuelos regulares y fletados, y la limitación de los envíos de remesas a Cuba. ¿Cuál es su plan para revertir ambas medidas?

Joe Biden: En medio de una pandemia mundial, cuando tantas familias están profundamente impactadas, el presidente Trump le está negando a los cubanoamericanos el derecho a mantener a sus familias en la isla. Una vez más, deja claro que su supuesto “apoyo” al pueblo cubano no es más que una retórica política vacía.

La administración de Trump está deportando a cientos de cubanos de vuelta a la dictadura. Hay casi 10.000 cubanos languideciendo en campamentos de tiendas a lo largo de la frontera con México por culpa de la agenda antiinmigrante de Trump. Y está separando a las familias cubanas mediante restricciones cada vez más severas en cuanto a las visitas familiares y las remesas. Nada de esto ayuda al pueblo cubano. Nada de esto ha avanzado la democracia en Cuba.

Donald Trump es el peor abanderado posible para alcanzar la democracia en Cuba, porque ha consentido a los autócratas en todo el mundo, como Vladimir Putin en Rusia. Durante toda mi carrera he defendido la democracia y los derechos humanos, la libertad de prensa, de reunión y religión, y he luchado contra los dictadores tanto de izquierda como de derecha.

Las limitaciones a las remesas en particular solo perjudican a las familias cubanas, especialmente a los ancianos y más vulnerables, tanto en la isla como en nuestro país. Tanto los estadounidenses como los cubanos no pueden permitirse cuatro años más de liderazgo débil, palabras vacías y promesas incumplidas de Trump.

CiberCuba: Los cambios en la política migratoria han provocado una concentración de cubanos en espera de una audiencia de asilo en México, mientras otras decenas permanecen arrestados en cárceles de inmigración de EE.UU. bajo un trato cuestionable y amenaza de deportación. ¿Qué haría usted  ante esta situación?

Joe Biden: Lo que está haciendo la Administración Trump es inconcebible: deportar a cientos de cubanos a una dictadura y obligar a casi 10.000 cubanos a languidecer en campamentos de tiendas de campaña a lo largo de la frontera mexicana, todo para avanzar en la cruzada anti inmigrante de esta administración. Estados Unidos puede defender tanto la seguridad de nuestra frontera como nuestros valores como nación de inmigrantes. Debemos restaurar nuestro compromiso histórico con las personas buscando asilo y los refugiados. Mi plan de inmigración pondrá fin a las perjudiciales políticas de asilo de Trump, comenzando con los Protocolos de Protección al Migrante [PPM] de Trump, y restablecerá nuestras leyes de asilo para que hagan lo que deberían hacer: proteger a las personas que huyen de la persecución y que no pueden regresar a casa de manera segura. Vamos a poner fin a la detención prolongada y los centros de detención con fines de lucro y reinvertiremos en programas de gestión de casos, que permiten a los migrantes vivir con dignidad y seguridad mientras esperan sus audiencias judiciales, y que son la mejor manera de garantizar que los solicitantes de asilo asistan a todas las audiencias de inmigración requeridas. Además, restauraremos las prioridades de ejecución sensatas para que las personas trabajadoras que nunca han cometido un delito grave no sean objeto de deportación.

CiberCuba: Una de los quejas fundamentales de la comunidad cubana en Estados Unidos es la paralización del Programa de Reunificación Familiar desde hace tres años. ¿Qué puede usted decirle a las familias que reclaman la reactivación de este beneficio migratorio? 

Joe Biden: Una administración de Biden y Harris reabrirá vías para la migración segura y legal de la isla, incluyendo el Programa de Permiso de Reunificación Familiar Cubano (CFRP) y el programa de refugiados cubanos lo antes posible. El opresivo régimen cubano no debería evitar que los estadounidenses –y los cubanoamericanos en especial– ayuden a sus familias y amigos en Cuba.

CiberCuba: La actual administración ha justificado sus sanciones contra Cuba con el criterio de castigar a las esferas militares que controlan turismo y negocios en el país y limitar su apoyo al régimen de Nicolás Maduro en Venezuela. ¿Qué piensa usted sobre estas sanciones? ¿Las levantaría o las negociaría?

Joe Biden: Las políticas de Trump no han tenido éxito. Los dictadores permanecen atrincherados en el poder tanto en Cuba como en Venezuela. Las sanciones son una herramienta importante, pero no son nuestra única herramienta y deben formar parte de una estrategia más amplia para lograr los resultados que queremos. El objetivo es más libertad para las personas que viven bajo regímenes opresivos. Si las sanciones ayudan a avanzar en ese objetivo, las utilizaré. Y a diferencia de Trump, protegeré a las personas que huyen de la opresión de estas dictaduras. Trump ha hecho que sea casi imposible para los solicitantes de asilo, incluso hacer el reclamo legal al que tienen derecho. El presidente Trump y los republicanos del Senado se han negado repetidamente a otorgar el estatus de protección temporal [TPS] a los venezolanos que huyen del régimen de Maduro. Yo se los otorgaré. En Cuba, empoderar al pueblo cubano será la pieza central de mi enfoque. Y me aseguraré de que todos los solicitantes de asilo, incluidos los de Cuba y Nicaragua, reciban una consideración justa.

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WESTERN UNION TO CLOSE 407 OFFICES IN CUBA

WESTERN UNION TO CLOSE 407 OFFICES IN CUBA

TRUMP’S NEW TURN OF THE SCREW TO PUT ECONOMIC PRESSURE ON CUBA OCCURRED JUST OVER A WEEK BEFORE THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.

By OnCubaNews Staff, October 28, 2020,  in Cuba-USA

Original Article: OnCubaNews: Western Union in Cuba

Cuba confirmed that the 407 Western Union payment points in the country will close due to the sanctions recently announced by the Donald Trump administration, which prohibit the sending of remittances from the United States to the island through official channels.

The financial services firm Fincimex denounced in a statement that remittances to Cuba “will be totally interrupted” by closing the Western Union offices, when the ban on sending money to the island through companies controlled by the Cuban Armed Forces comes into force on November 26.

Foreign companies that want to operate in Cuba must have a state counterpart. Western Union has monopolized the cash reception service on the island since 2016 through a partnership with Fincimex, linked to the military conglomerate GAESA.

“The responsibility for the interruption of the remittance service between the two countries falls on the U.S. government,” said the Cuban state financier, after ensuring that the closure of Western Union will harm “the Cuban people and their families in the U.S.”

The interruption of the flow of dollars via Western Union occurs at a particularly delicate moment: the balance of payments crisis in Cuba is today more serious than ever and the State is trying by all means to raise foreign currency to pay its accumulated debts and import the products demanded by its population.

Biden’s campaign criticizes blocking of remittances to CubansOctober 29, 2020

 Elections: Democratic binomial would repeal Trump’s Cuba policiesOctober 27, 2020

In addition, the restriction promises to hit many Cubans hard at a time of increasing shortages of food and basic items due to the pandemic, which forced the country to close its borders to tourism and family travel in April.

When there were daily flights between the two countries, a large part of the dollars arrived in Cuba through informal channels or private agencies, brought directly by relatives from the United States or by Cubans traveling to the neighboring country.

A year ago this type of transaction had already started running into obstacles when Washington vetoed all commercial flights to Cuba except Havana. This informal option disappeared with the closure of airports due to the pandemic, which is why Western Union has gained prominence in recent months as it is the only company that formally processes remittances from the United States to the island.

On the other hand, in recent weeks many Cuban remittance recipients have protested the fact that the dollars that were sent to them from the U.S. reached their hands converted into convertible pesos or CUC, an artificial currency equivalent to 1:1 to the dollar although devalued in the informal market.

This is especially relevant, since Cuba currently applies a “partial dollarization” that forces the payment of part of the goods and services in foreign currency, while Cuban banknotes are not accepted in supermarkets and better-stocked stores.

In its statement today, Fincimex alleged, without further details, that at this time it was immersed in “negotiations” for Western Union shipments to arrive in dollars to bank accounts.

Trump’s new turn of the screw to put economic pressure on Cuba occurred just over a week before the U.S. presidential elections, which is why many consider it part of his campaign to win votes from conservative Cubans in the key state of Florida.

In any case, the president has strengthened the sanctions during his almost four years in office, in which he has reversed the “thaw” policy of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who had opted for rapprochement, softened the embargo and facilitated the reestablishment of bilateral diplomatic relations.

EFE/OnCuba

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CUBA: U.S. POLICY IN THE 16TH CONGRESS

May 14, 2020

Mark P. Sullivan, Specialist in Latin American Affairs

[A useful and bi-partisan summary of US policy towards Cuba that I missed when it came out in May 2020.  Thanks to Mike Wiggin, of Ottawa Canada, for bringing it to my attention.]

Original Report: Cuba: U.S. Policy in the 116th Congress

 

SUMMARY

Political and economic developments in Cuba, a one-party authoritarian state with a poor human rights record, frequently have been the subject of intense congressional concern since the1959 Cuban revolution.

Current Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro in April 2018, but Castro continues to head Cuba’s Communist Party. A new constitution took effect in 2019 that introduced some political and economic reforms but maintained the state sector’s dominance over the economy and the Communist Party’s predominant role.

Over the past decade, Cuba has implemented gradual market-oriented economic policy changes, but it has not taken enough action to foster sustainable economic growth. The Cuban economy is being hard-hit by Venezuela’s economic crisis, which has reduced Venezuela’s support for Cuba and increased U.S. economic sanctions, and by the economic shutdown in response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Cuba’s economy faces a contraction of more than 8% in 2020. The global contraction in economic growth, trade, foreign investment, and tourism likely will slow post-COVID economic recovery.

U.S. Policy

Since the early 1960s, the centerpiece of U.S. policy toward Cuba has been economic sanctions aimed at isolating the Cuban government. Congress has played an active role in shaping policy toward Cuba, including by enacting legislation strengthening, and at times easing, U.S. economic sanctions. In 2014, however, the Obama Administration initiated a policy shift away from sanctions and toward a policy of engagement. This shift included the restoration of diplomatic relations (July 2015); the rescission of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of international terrorism (May 2015); and an increase in travel, commerce, and the flow of information to Cuba implemented through regulatory changes.

In 2017, President Trump unveiled a new policy toward Cuba that introduced new sanctions and rolled back some of the Obama Administration’s efforts to normalize relations. In September 2017, the State Department reduced the staff of the U.S. Embassy by about two-thirds in response to unexplained health injuries of members of the U.S. diplomatic community in Havana. The reduction affected embassy operations, especially visa processing.

In November 2017, the State Department restricted financial transactions with over 200 business entities controlled by the Cuban military, intelligence, and security services; the so-called restricted list has been updated several times, most recently in November 2019.

Legislative Activity in the 116thCongress

The 116th Congress has continued to fund democracy assistance for Cuba and U.S. government-sponsored broadcasting to Cuba. For FY2019, Congress appropriated $20 million for democracy programs and $29.1 million for Cuba broadcasting (P.L. 116-6, H. Rept. 116-9). For FY2020, Congress appropriated $20 million for democracy programs and $20.973 million for Cuba broadcasting (P.L. 116-94, Division G); Division J of P.L. 116-94 includes benefits for U.S. government employees and dependents injured while stationed in Cuba. The measure includes several Cuba reporting requirements in H. Rept. 116-78 and S. Rept. 116-126.

Congress has begun consideration of the Administration’s FY2021 budget request of $10 million for Cuba democracy programs and $12.973 million for Cuba broadcasting.

Among bills introduced in the 116th Congress, several would ease or lift U.S. sanctions in Cuba: H.R. 213 (baseball); S. 428(trade); H.R. 1898/S. 1447 (U.S. agricultural exports); H.R. 2404 (overall embargo); and H.R. 3960/S. 2303(travel). H.R. 4884 would direct the Administration to reinstate the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program. Several resolutions would express concerns regarding Cuba’s foreign medical missions (S. Res. 14/H. Res. 136); U.S. fugitives from justice in Cuba (H. Res. 92/S. Res. 232); religious and political freedom in Cuba (S. Res. 215); and the release of human rights activist José Daniel Ferrer and other Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) members (S. Res. 454 and H. Res. 774). S. Res. 531 would honor Las Damas de Blanco, a Cuban human rights organization, and call for the release of all political prisoners.

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OUTLOOK

When Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro as president in April 2018, a leader from a new generation came to power—Díaz-Canel currently is 60 years old. Nevertheless, Raúl Castro, currently 88 years old, will remain until 2021 in the politically influential position of first secretary of Cuba’s Communist Party.

In February 2019, almost 87% of Cubans approved a new constitution in a national referendum, which included such changes as the addition of an appointed prime minister to oversee government operations; limits on the president’s tenure (two five-year terms) and age (60, beginning first term); and market-oriented economic reforms, including the right to private property and the promotion of foreign investment. The new constitution also ensures the state sector’s dominance over the economy and the predominant role of the Communist Party.

In 2019, pursuant to the new constitution, Cuba’s National Assembly appointed Díaz-Canel as president in October, and Díaz-Canel appointed Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz as prime minister in December. Further implementation of constitutional reforms could be delayed as Cuba confronts the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cuban economy is being been hard-hit by the government’s economic shutdown to stem the COVID-19 pandemic; some observers project a contraction of more than 8% for the Cuban economy in 2020. Moreover, Cuba’s economic recovery is likely to be slow because of the global economic outlook for trade, investment, and tourism. In this environment, reduced support from Venezuela and increased U.S. economic sanctions, which already were negatively affecting the economy, will contribute to Cuba’s bleak future economic prospects.

The Trump Administration’s ramped-up sanctions on Cuba in 2019, aimed at deterring Cuba’s support for Venezuela, have heightened tensions in relations, stymied U.S. business engagement in Cuba, and negatively affected Cuba’s nascent private sector. The 2017 downsizing of the staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, done in response to unexplained injuries to U.S. diplomatic personnel in Cuba, resulted in the suspension of most visa processing at the embassy and reduced other embassy operations.

As in past Congresses, there are diverse opinions in the 116th Congress regarding the appropriate U.S. policy approach toward Cuba, with some Members supporting the Administration’s actions and others preferring a policy of engagement.  Although various legislative initiatives have been introduced to ease or lift various U.S. sanctions, no action has been taken on these measures. With the exception of congressional opposition to funding cuts for Cuba democracy programs and Cuba broadcasting in annual appropriations measures, no congressional action has been taken opposing the Administration’s imposition of various sanctions on Cuba.

 

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TRUMP CONNED MIAMI’S CUBAN-AMERICAN SUPPORTERS WHILE CHASING BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES IN CUBA

By Fabiola Santiago

Miami Herald, September 22, 2020 05:35 PM,
Once again, the truth about what President Donald Trump really thinks about Cuba has come to light.

He may peddle the hard line to his Republican Cuban-American supporters in Miami, but when he looks south of the city, he only sees dollar signs.

He promises that he won’t do business until Cuba is free of the Castro brothers’ regime — and prohibits Americans from traveling to the island — but Trump and his team have been chasing business opportunities in Cuba for the past decade.

A new el Nuevo Herald report has unearthed more proof of how seriously Trump tried to gain a foothold in Cuba, despite the U.S. embargo that’s in place.

Documents show that the president applied to register his Trump trademark in Cuba in 2008 so he could conduct business and invest in real estate. His plans included not only erecting a Trump Tower in Havana and putting a golf course in Varadero and other possible sites, but building casinos as well.

To do so, Trump hired a Cuban lawyer on the island, Leticia Laura Bermúdez Benítez.

A screenshot of the Cuban Industrial Property Office website shows details of the Trump trademark application — which included beauty pageants.

A screenshot of the Cuban Industrial Property Office website showing details of the Trump trademark registered in Cuba. 

Trump plays both sides

To truly gauge Trump’s cretinous hustler nature, you have to go back to 1999 when he was already courting Cuban Americans with anti-Fidel Castro rhetoric and hinting at a presidential run.

He was betting on an aging Castro dying soon. The way Trump saw it, the wealthy members of the Cuban American National Foundation were going to be the ones calling the shots on the island.

“So what Jorge is saying is that when Cuba is free, I get the first hotel? Is that true? Sounds like a good deal to me,” Trump quipped during a CANF speech, referring to Jorge Mas Santos, who had taken the reins of the influential organization after his father died in 1997.

Ever the Conman: Trump courting the Cuban  American National Foundation – while registering his brand in Cuba.

It was a crass thing to say — and harmful to efforts to democratize Cuba, and not install a U.S. puppet government to service the likes of Trump — but Cuban Americans laughed and later applauded him.

That year, Trump also wrote an op-ed in the Miami Herald slamming Castro, which prompted the Brigade 2506, veterans of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, to correspond with Trump and begin a relationship that would culminate with their endorsement in 2016 and again in 2020.
See also: Herald falsely claims as its own, story on Trump and his interest in Cuban hotels disclosed by Progreso Weekly, By Álvaro Fernández Last updated Sep 30, 2020

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THE 2020 FIU CUBA POLL: BEHIND THE PARTISAN NOISE, A MAJORITY OF CUBAN-AMERICANS SUPPORT ENGAGEMENT POLICY.

Read the full 2020 FIU CUBA POLL report here.

The results of the 2020 FIU Cuba Poll suggest the link between political party and Cuba policy preferences among Cuban-Americans is not as clearly defined as it used to be. Put another way, although a majority of Cuban-Americans respond postively to Trump’s anti-socialist rhetoric, most still support engagement policies that help the Cuban people.

To illustrate, when asked to rate Trump’s performance in a host of national issues ranging from his handling of immigration and healthcare to Covid-19 response, responses split along partisan lines, with roughly two-thirds consistently in favor of the Republican president. This was also true when respondents were asked to rate Trump’s handling of “Cuba policy” (66% in favor). But when respondents were asked about support for individual components of Cuba policy without mentioning Trump, political parties or “the embargo,” the partisan lines disappeared and previous trend lines in favor of engagement resurfaced, with U.S.-born Cuban-Americans and recent arrivals leading the way:

  • 56% support diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
  • 57% support the temporary suspension of trade sanctions on Cuba during Covid-19.
  • 69% support the food sales to Cuba by U.S. companies.
  • 71% support the sale of medicine to Cuba by U.S. companies.
  • 58% oppose the suspension of visas services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
  • 58% support the resumption of the Cuban Family Reunification Program (suspended in 2019).

Support for unrestricted travel to Cuba—for Americans and Cuban-Americans alike—did drop below 50% for the first time since the Bush-era, with cruise ship being the least popular (40%). Yet, 62% favor allowing U.S. commercial airlines to re-establish routes throughout the island, not just to Havana. This suggests that while a majority of Cuban-Americans may now favor some restrictions on U.S.-Cuba travel, they remain lenient on what those may be.
Notably, on questions that define U.S.-Cuba policy in terms of “carrots” and “sticks”, strong majorities supported a combined approach: 68% favor policies “designed to put maximum pressure on the Cuban government” while 66% support policies directed at “improving the economic well-being of the Cuban people.” In other words, the Obama-era view that “U.S. policy should be tough on the government but soft on the people” continues to hold firm. So has the shrinking salience of U.S.-Cuba policy among key election-year issues for Cuban-American voters, ranking below the economy, healthcare, race, immigration and even China policy across party affiliation.
Perhaps the most significant number in the poll is the percentage of newer émigrés who identify as Republican: a whopping 76% of those who migrated to the United States between 2010 and 2015. Paradoxically, these are also the Cubans-Americans who most frequently travel to Cuba, maintain relations on the island and favor most of the same engagement policies that their Republican representatives so ardently strive to dismantle. This contradiction is shaped by too many factors to explore here. The appeal of Trump’s strongman/ business mogul persona and anti-socialist bombast is certainly one of them. Yet it is also true that these migrants harbor deep antipathies toward a Cuban government that did precious little to seize the opportunity for reform presented by President Obama’s diplomatic opening. Their party affiliation likely represents a rebuke of the system they left behind more than a defined ideological orientation. Nonetheless, this should serve as a wakeup call for Cuban officials. Those who arrived between 2010 to 2015 aren’t batistianos. They are a direct product of the Revolution. By continuing to resist meaningful reforms, the Cuban government runs the risk of forging a new generation of aggrieved exiles supportive of U.S. presidents who take a hardline approach against Cuba.

Finally, there are important lessons here for whoever wins the White House come November. Should it be Joe Biden, reversing Trump’s most hurtful measures toward Cuba in his first 100 days will be popular among Cuban-Americans. These include the re-establishment of island-wide commercial and charter travel, lifting remittance limits, re-opening consular services and fully staffing the U.S. Embassy in Havana. For Trump, the FIU poll suggests that Cuba sanctions have a political ceiling, which his policies reached long ago. In a second term, Trump could ease harmful restrictions on travel, remittances, and some trade in pursuit of a “better deal” without losing support.

“The poll estimates about 52.6% of Cuban Americans in Florida are registered Republicans compared to 25.8% who are registered Democrats and 21.5% who are registered independent.” (NBC Miami, October 2, 2020)

Read the full 2020 FIU CUBA POLL report here.

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NO MORE RUM OR TOBACCO, NOR HOTEL STAYS: TRUMP IMPOSES NEW SANCTIONS ON CUBA

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

Nuevo Herald  News Sanctions, SEPTEMBER 23, 2020 05:22 PM

Trump honors Cuban-American veterans who served in 1961 Bay of Pigs  invasion - U.S. - Stripes

Trump with Bay of Pigs Veterans

Americans traveling to Cuba will not be able to buy rum or tobacco as souvenirs, nor will they be able to stay in government hotels, according to new restrictions announced by President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

“Today as part of our continuing fight against communist oppression, I am announcing that the Treasury Department will prohibit U.S. travelers from staying at properties owned by the Cuban government,” Trump said in a speech to honor Bay of Pigs veterans at the White House. “We are also further restricting the importation of Cuban alcohol and Cuban tobacco. These actions will ensure U.S. dollars do not fund the Cuban regime.”

The Treasury Department modified the embargo regulations on Cuba to prohibit imports of rum and tobacco, as well as lodging in hotels or properties controlled by the Cuban government, government officials and the Communist Party, or their close relatives.

The properties appear in a new list created by the Department of State. Travel and tourism companies subject to U.S. jurisdiction will not be able to make reservations at these properties.

The list names 433 hotels and properties, including some “casas particulares” (private rentals) that the State Department determined were not independent of the government, said Carrie Filipetti, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, in a call with reporters on Wednesday.

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Among the private rentals included is Casa Vida Luxury Holidays, a property advertised on Airbnb that, according to media reports, is linked to Vilma Rodríguez, granddaughter of Communist Party head and former president Raúl Castro.

The measures will deal a harsh blow to Cuba’s tourism industry because the government owns all the island’s hotels. Many travel companies have operations in the United States and will therefore be affected by the measure. Previously, the administration had banned accommodation in hotels run by military companies, but now the prohibition extends to all state-run properties.

Thousands of Cuban Americans who travel to the island every year usually take their families on vacation at these hotels.

“The prohibition on the use of hotels owned by the government of Cuba will also result in fewer airline flights from the United States to Cuba,” said John Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

Filipetti said the restrictions aim at denying funds to the government, which dominates the hospitality industry as well as tobacco and rum production. She added that the policy intends to benefit owners of private bed and breakfasts.

“The Cuban government profits from properties in the hospitality industry owned or controlled by the Cuban government … all at the expense of the Cuban people, who continue to face repression at the hands of the regime,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. “Authorized travelers should instead stay in private accommodations, or casas particulares, owned and operated by legitimately independent entrepreneurs.”

The Treasury Department also eliminated a general authorization policy for the participation or organization of conferences, seminars, exhibitions and sporting events. Citizens, residents and companies subject to U.S. law must apply for a specific authorization or license for these activities.

Organizations in favor of more engagement with Cuba quickly pointed out that further restricting travel to Cuba could also hurt the private sector the administration officials say the U.S. wants to lift up.

“To continue limiting American citizens to travel to Cuba is to continue to put pressure on Cuba’s growing private sector, which is already hurting from the domestic economic crisis, the impact of U.S. policies, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said María José Espinosa, interim president of Engage Cuba.

The new rules will go into effect Thursday, when they will be officially published in the Federal Register.

MORE SANCTIONS TO CUBA

Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel blasted on Twitter the U.S. “empire” and the new measures “that violate the rights of Cubans and Americans. Its cruel and criminal policy will be defeated by our people, who will never renounce their sovereignty.”

In the last two years, the administration has intensified its “maximum pressure” campaign against the Cuban government, citing human rights violations and its support of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

In June, the Trump administration included Fincimex, a company controlled by the military conglomerate GAESA, on a list of entities linked to the Cuban military. Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are prohibited from direct financial transactions with these entities.

The United States also suspended all charter and commercial flights to Cuba, except for flights to Havana. It also limited per person remittances to $1,000 per quarter. And it has sanctioned companies involved in the shipments of Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

U.S. sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic, and the decline in Venezuela’s oil aid have plunged Cuba’s inefficient socialist economy into a deep crisis. The population suffers from a severe shortage of food, medicine and hygiene products, and although the government has promised some economic reforms, none appear to be immediate.

On Tuesday, Díaz-Canel complained to the United Nations General Assembly about the increase in the “aggressiveness of the U.S. blockade. … Not a week goes by without that government issuing statements against Cuba or imposing new restrictions.”

U.S. officials have rejected the Cuban government’s narrative and have pushed back on criticism that the sanctions may aggravate the situation of ordinary Cubans.

What the Cuban people are “going through, it’s a serious humanitarian concern. The embargo has specific provisions to allow Cuba to import food from the United States; it has exceptions for food and medical supplies,” said Mara Tekach, coordinator for Cuban affairs at the State Department in an interview with the Miami Herald on Wednesday. Citing Cuba’s long-standing inability to feed its population, Tekach added that “the regime is the one that ultimately is failing its people.“

The sanctions and the unrelenting attacks on socialism have secured President Trump the support of a significant portion of Cuban-American voters.

“The Obama-Biden administration made a weak, pathetic, one-sided deal with the Castro dictatorship that betrayed the Cuban people and enriched the communist regime,” Trump said in the White House speech. “Today, we reaffirm our ironclad solidarity with the Cuban people, and our eternal conviction that freedom will prevail over the sinister forces of communism.”

Filipetti denied that the timing of the announcement was linked to the upcoming presidential election, as critics of the administration have suggested.

“This announcement, just weeks before the presidential election, shows what the Trump Administration’s Cuba policy is really about,” said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel. “It’s about South Florida and it places absolutely no importance on the well-being of the Cuban people, democracy, human rights or advancing U.S. national interests in the region.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

 

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CUBA’S ECONOMY WAS HURTING. THE PANDEMIC BROUGHT A FOOD CRISIS.

The island was able to control the coronavirus, but the dearth of tourists in the pandemic’s wake strangled an economy already damaged by mismanagement and U.S. sanctions.

By Ed Agustin and Frances Robles

New York Times, September 20, 2020

Original Article: Cuba’s Economy Was Hurting….

HAVANA — It was a lucky day for the unemployed tourism guide in Havana.  The line to get into the government-run supermarket, which can mean a wait of eight or 10 hours, was short, just two hours long. And better yet, the guide, Rainer Companioni Sánchez, scored toothpaste — a rare find — and splurged $3 on canned meat.

“It’s the first time we have seen toothpaste in a long time,” he said, sharing the victory with his girlfriend. “The meat in that can is very, very expensive, but we each bought one simply because sometimes in an emergency there is no meat anywhere.”

Cuba, a police state with a strong public health care system, was able to quickly control the coronavirus, even as the pandemic threw wealthier nations into crisis. But its economy, already hurting from crippling U.S. sanctions and mismanagement, was particularly vulnerable to the economic devastation that followed.

As nations closed airports and locked down borders to combat the spread of the virus, tourist travel to Cuba plummeted and the island lost an important source of hard currency, plunging it into one of the worst food shortages in nearly 25 years.

What food is available is often found only in government-run stores that are stocked with imports and charge in dollars. The strategy, also used in the 1990s, during the economic depression known as the “special period,” is used by the government to gather hard currency from Cubans who have savings or get money from friends or relatives abroad.

Even in these stores, goods are scarce and prices can be exorbitant: That day, Mr. Companioni couldn’t find chicken or cooking oil, but there was 17-pound ham going for $230 and a seven-pound block of manchego cheese with a $149 price tag.  And the reliance on dollar stores, a move intended to prop up the socialist revolution in a country that prides itself on egalitarianism, has exacerbated economic inequality, some Cubans say.

“This is a store that charges in a currency Cubans do not earn,” said Lazaro Manuel Domínguez Hernández, 31, a doctor who gets cash from a friend in the United States to spend at one of the 72 new dollar stores. “It kind of marks the difference in classes, because not everyone can buy here.”

He left the Puntilla supermarket with a cart full of fruit cocktail, cheese and chocolate biscuits that he loaded into a 1950s Dodge taxi.

Cuba’s economy was struggling before the coronavirus. The Trump administration has worked hard to strengthen the decades-old trade embargo, going after Cuba’s sources of currency. It also imposed sanctions on tanker companies that delivered petroleum to Cuba from Venezuela and cut back on the commercial flights from the United States to the island.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an end to charter flights, too. After the Cuban state energy company Corporación Panamericana faced sanctions, even cooking gas rations had to be reduced.  Then Covid-19 put a stop to tourism. Remittances sent by Cubans who live abroad began to dry up as the illness led to huge job losses in the United States.

That left the Cuban government with far fewer sources of revenue to buy the products it sells in state-run stores, leading to shortages of basic goods throughout the island. Earlier this year, the government warned that personal hygiene products would be hard to come by.

Cuba is facing “the triple threat of Trump, Venezuela and then Covid,” said Ted A. Henken, a professor at Baruch College and a co-author with A. Ritter of the book “Entrepreneurial Cuba.”   “Covid was the thing that pushed them over the edge.”

The pandemic, and the recession that followed, pushed the government to announce that, after years of promises, it would make good on a series of economic reforms intended to stimulate the private sector.

The Communist Party said in 2016 that it would legalize small and medium-size private businesses, but no mechanism was ever set up to do so, thus business owners are still unable to get financing, sign contracts as a legal entity or import goods. Now, that is expected to change, and more lines of work are expected to be legalized, although details have not been announced.

Cuba also has a history of offering reforms only to rescind them months or years later, entrepreneurs said.  “They go back, go forward, then back again,” said Marta Deus, the co-founder of a business magazine who owns a delivery company. “They need to trust the private sector for all its capacity to provide for the future of the economy. We have big ideas.”

The government puts the blame for the current situation squarely on Washington.  “Why can’t we export what we want? Because every time we export to someone, they try to cut off that export,” President Miguel Díaz-Canel said of the United States in a speech this summer. “Every time we are trying to manage a credit, they try to take away our credit. They try to prevent fuel from reaching Cuba. And then we have to buy in third markets, at higher prices. Why is it not talked about?”

Mr. Díaz-Canel stressed that despite the hardships, Cuba still managed a successful battle against the coronavirus: The health system did not collapse, and, he said, no children or medical professionals died of the disease.

With 11.2 million people, Cuba had just over 5,000 coronavirus cases and 115 deaths by Friday, one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. By comparison, Puerto Rico, with 3.2 million people, had five times as many deaths.

People who tested positive in Cuba were whisked away to the hospital for two weeks — even if they were asymptomatic — and their exposed contacts were sent to isolation for two weeks. Apartment buildings, and even entire city blocks, that saw clusters were closed to visitors.

Anyone flying in after March also had to isolate in quarantine centers, and medical students went door to door to screen millions of people daily. Masks are mandatory, and the fines for being caught without one are stiff.

With international flights at a virtual standstill, immigration officers are now assigned to stand guard outside quarantined apartment buildings, making sure no one goes in or out 24 hours a day.

At a quarantined building in Boyeros, a neighborhood near the Havana airport, an immigration officer sat in the shade while messengers and family members of those inside dropped off food. Daniela Llanes López, 21, left vegetables for her grandfather, who was stuck inside because five people in his building had tested positive.

“In Cuba, I don’t know anyone who knows anyone who got the coronavirus,” said Ms. Llanes, who studies German at the University of Havana, noting that she does know people in Germany who contracted the illness.

The strategies worked, although when the authorities started lifting restrictions in July, opening beaches, bars and public transportation, the nation’s capital saw an uptick in cases and a curfew was imposed there.

“Cuba is good in crisis and good in preventive health care,” said Katrin Hansing, a professor at Baruch College who spent the peak of the pandemic in lockdown in Cuba. Support for the government was notable, she said; even if the store lines were long, people felt safe from the virus.

Many Cubans are now hoping the economic reforms will stimulate the private sector and allow independent business operators to kick-start the economy.

Camilo Condis, an electrical contractor who has been out of work for months, said the changes must come quickly, and must allow Cuba to function, whether the United States is under a second Trump presidency, or under Joe Biden.  “Like we private business owners say here: ‘All I want is for them to let me work,’” he said.

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