• This Blog on The Cuban Economy is dedicated to Cuba's Generation "A". Although inspired by Yoani Sánchez' blog "Generation Y" this is not dedicated to those with names starting with the letter "A". Instead, it draws from Douglas Coupland's novel Generation A which begins with a quotation from Kurt Vonnegut at a University Commencement that was brought to my attention by Andrew Johnston of Ottawa: ".. ... I hereby declare you Generation A, as much as the beginning of a series of astounding triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."

    The objective of this Blog is to facilitate access to research resources and analyses from all relevant and useful sources, mainly on the economy of Cuba.

TO BE A WRITER IN CUBA

Yvon Grenier

Literal: Latin American Voices, April 2016

 Original Article: To be a writer in Cuba

Y wwwww wwwwwwThe methodology of Leonardo Padura

Soy un escritor, en lo fundamental, de la vida cubana, y la política no puede estar fuera de esa vida, pues es parte diaria, activa, penetrante de ella; pero yo la manejo de manera que sea el lector quien decida hacer las asociaciones políticas, sin que mis libros se refieran directamente a ella. De verdad, no la necesito ni me interesa, pero, en cambio, me interesa muchísimo que mis libros puedan ser leídos en Cuba y que la gente pueda dialogar con ellos.

 Leonardo Padura Cubaencuentro, 19 December 2008

“People think that what I say is a measure of what can or can’t be said in Cuba,” Leonardo Padura once stated in an interview with Jon Lee Anderson.  In fact, what he says is a measure of what he—along with some other Cuban writers or artists—is allowed to say in Cuba. It is a privilege, not a right.  Lesser authors who don’t enjoy his international fame (and Spanish passport) probably couldn’t have published a book like El hombre que amaba los perros, as he did in 2010, a year after it was edited in Spain by Tusquets. In fact, the book probably wouldn’t have appeared at all in Cuba decades or even years ago, which makes him the beneficiary (and the confirmation) of a recent openness. The government grants Padura some recognition (he won the National Literature Prize in 2012), as well as some privileges commonly bestowed on successful writers and artists: he can travel and publish abroad, and he can accept monetary compensation in foreign currency. But he is kept in a box. His books are nearly impossible to find on the island. The prestigious awards and accolades he is receiving abroad are mostly glossed over by the Cuban media. Finally, his insightful but politically cautious journalism is read all over the world, but not in Cuba (save for a few exceptions).

Numerous times Padura has made clear his desire to live in the house his father built in Mantilla, a working class municipality on the outskirts of Havana. He sometimes signs his articles, “Leonardo Padura, Still in Mantilla.” He also wants to be a “Cuban writer,” and as such, he feels he has “a certain responsibility because our reality is so specific and so hard for many people.” A genuine writer cannot be a mouthpiece for the government. Padura’s success in conciliating these two potentially conflicting ambitions—to be a writer who lives and work in Cuba—is, as John Lee Anderson put it, “a tribute both to his literary achievement and his political agility.” Blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote, “His ‘rarity’ lies fundamentally in having been able to sustain a critical vision of his country, an unvarnished description of the national sphere, without sacrificing the ability to be recognized by the official sectors. The praise comes to him from every direction of the polarized ideological spectrum of the Island, which is a true miracle of letters and of words.” This is why Padura is often seen as a sort of experiment on how to express freedom in a land bereft of freedom of expression.

Conclusion

Rather than pushing for more room for expression, Padura’s method seems to be to occupy all the space available without crossing any red lines. This has allowed him to elude the fate that befell so many writers in Cuba. His criticism of many aspects of Cuban society is achieved without directly addressing the political system in Cuba. This method works, in the sense that it provides him with basic guidelines to practice his métier in Cuba. Padura is not an exponent of the “art for art’s sake” viewpoint. He wants to talk about the “reality” in Cuba, but without acting like an activist for change. He cultivates a “practice of social and human introspection that occasionally reaches politics, but that does not part from there..” But one wonders, what happens when it comes to politics, “cuando llega a la política”? The answer is: not much, because he can’t go there and continue living and working in Mantilla. Living and working in Cuba is most valuable not only for him, but also for his readers. In one of his essays entitled “I would like to be Paul Auster,” he complains that he would love not to be constantly asked about politics in his country and how and why he continues to live there. But this is very much his niche: he is widely seen as the best writer in Cuba. He offers us an off-the-beaten path view of a relatively closed society, one that is free of propaganda if not entirely free tout court. No writer could attain global respectability producing a prose laden with official propaganda. By occupying a small but significant critical space in Cuba, Padura becomes more interesting for Cuba observers and more intriguing for students of cultural and literary trends on the island. In this sense, he may be compared to authors and artists who produce somewhat critical material under dictatorial regimes, like Ismael Kadaré (Albania-France) or Murong Xuecon (China) —he is closer, in fact, to the former than the latter.

In sum, Leonardo Padura found a sweet spot that has allowed him to navigate the tumultuous waters of censorship while searching for (and finding) his own voice. He has managed to become, as one observer wrote, “perhaps the foremost chronicler of the island.” Does he (and do his readers) pay too high a price for his privilege to write “from Mantilla”? Would he be more valuable to us, and a better writer, in exile?

Continue Reading: Yvon Grenier, TO BE A WRITER IN CUBA

Yvon Grenier teaches and writes on Comparative politics, Latin American politics (esp. Cuba, Mexico and Central America), Art /literature and politics, as well as political violence.He is also a Contributing Editor for Literal  as well as an occasional  political commentator for Radio Canada/CBC. His Twitter is @ygrenier1

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INFORME CENTRAL AL 7MO. CONGRESO DEL PARTIDO COMUNISTA DE CUBA, PRESENTADO POR EL PRIMER SECRETARIO DEL COMITÉ CEN¬TRAL, GENERAL DE EJÉRCITO RAÚL CASTRO RUZ, LA HABANA, 16 DE ABRIL DE 2016, AÑO 58 DE LA REVOLUCIÓN

Complete document here: Informe Central al 7mo Congreso del Partido

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RAUL CASTRO PRESENTS GRIM PORTRAIT OF CUBAN REFORMS

By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
Associated Press, April 16, 2016

Original article: Cuban Reforms

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HAVANA (AP) — Cuban President Raul Castro delivered a grim report on the state of the country on Saturday, acknowledging that the communist bureaucracy he oversees has failed to implement most of the hundreds of changes launched five years ago to stimulate the stagnant centrally controlled economy.

In a two-hour address to the twice-a-decade meeting of the Cuban Communist Party, Castro praised a new era of detente with the United States and an ensuing boom in tourism. He lamented that his government remained unable to address a series of deeper structural problems that have left millions of Cubans struggling to feed their families.

Cuba remains saddled by an overdependence on imports, slow growth, a byzantine double currency system, insufficient agricultural production and an inability or unwillingness among state employees to enact guidelines for change approved at the last party congress.

Citing a government statistic that only 21 percent of the 313 guidelines approved in 2011 have been carried out, Castro blamed the government’s inability to turn goals into facts on the ground.

“The obstacle that we’ve confronted, just as we expected, is the weight of an obsolete mentality that takes the form of an attitude of inertia,” he said.

There was some irony to Castro’s complaints. As president of Cuba and head of the party, he maintains near-total control of the country. And the slowness he derided is an essential part of his own policy. Castro repeated Saturday that Cuba’s reforms would be “with neither haste nor pause” and that the country would never feel the “shock therapy” experienced by other socialist states.

But Castro is also confronting problems inherent to the system he helped create. When his brother Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he put in place a state in which virtually every aspect of economic and political life came under control of the Communist Party.

After taking over from Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro began shrinking the state and allowing a private sector to flourish. The number of Cubans working for themselves or other citizens has grown to include nearly a quarter of the working population, or roughly 500,000 people. And as the private sector has grown, members of Cuba’s massive and powerful bureaucracy have begun to treat it as either a resource to be pillaged or a threat to livelihoods long guaranteed by the state.

Newly successful businesses find themselves hit by repeated inspections and long slowdowns in obtaining licenses and permits, problems often resolved with a quiet payoff.

Raul Castro directly addressed the tensions between the socialist state and its new private sector in his Saturday address.

“The recognition of the existence of private property has generated honest concerns among not just a few of the participants in discussions leading up to this congress, who expressed worries that doing so was taking the first steps toward the restoration of capitalism in Cuba,” he said.

“I’m obliged to tell you that this is in no way the goal,” Castro said. “Comrades, it’s precisely about calling things by their name and not hiding in illogical euphemisms in order to hide the reality.”

Many Communist Party members complained that this year’s Seventh Party Congress was cloaked in secrecy and a series of proposals that will be considered over the next three days were not shared with the vast majority of the party’s nearly 700,000 members. Castro and other top party officials said that was because the congress was simply evaluating progress in executing guidelines approved after lengthy internal party debate in 2011.

However, Castro offered a hint that this year’s congress may contain important new measures to jumpstart reform of the economy, which grew 4 percent last year amid a nearly 20 percent surge in tourism and is expected to grow at half that in 2016. Castro said that of 268 measures under consideration, 31 were unchanged from 2011 and 44 were entirely new. He said that 193 had been “modified” but gave no indication about the extent of the changes.

He did speak at length about the need for unifying Cuba’s two currencies and creating a legal framework for small and medium-sized businesses, both changes seen as urgent by outside observers.

Castro spent relatively little time addressing his decision to normalize relations with the United States. In a brief moment of attempted levity, he derided American democracy as a sham, saying he saw no difference between Democrats and Republicans.

“It’s as if we had two parties in Cuba and Fidel led one and I led the other,” he said, prompting laughter from the roughly 1,000 party delegates watching his speech, which was broadcast live on state television. Foreign and independent media were barred from the event.

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CUBANS LOOK TO COMMUNIST PARTY CONGRESS FOR EVIDENCE OF REFORMS; A month after Obama’s historic visit disenchantment over reforms is setting in.

Financial Times, April 15, 2016 10:38 am

Marc Frank in Havana and John Paul Rathbone in Miami

Original article: Communist Party Congress

Oslavi Ramirez wistfully imagines the day when he can freely buy the cheese, tomato paste and disinfectant he needs to run his two cafés in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Havana.

“They made the reforms but forgot the conditions to make them work,” complains Mr Ramirez of Cuba’s missing wholesale markets where restaurateurs in other countries normally buy their food. “It’s as if they made a [toy] doll and forgot the head.”

A month after the euphoria of US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba — which raised hopes of an easing of economic sanctions and greater freedoms — disenchantment and frustration are setting in.

Cubans are now looking to the Communist Party Congress, which begins on Saturday, for evidence of a deepening of economic reforms, and for signs the party’s “historic generation” will begin to hand over the baton of power to younger counterparts.

Few, though, have high hopes.

“There is a lot of discontent,” says Omar Esteban, a 30-year-old Havana taxi driver. “There’s scarcity and it’s getting worse, in the entire economy, in everything you need. I doubt the congress will do anything to improve our situation.”

The four-day congress, the first in five years, comes at a critical juncture for the Caribbean island nation.  It will probably be the last presided over by a Castro brother: President Raúl Castro, 84, has said he will retire in 2018; his predecessor Fidel, aged 89, stepped down in 2006. Many expect the gathering of 1,000 party members will elect a new politburo, rejuvenating the current 14-strong body, which has an average age of 70.

“The historic generation is passing its biological capabilities . . . It has to renovate,” says Reinaldo Escobar, news editor of 14ymedio.com, an independent news website. “But which new faces will appear? They are the new wave. That’s why this Congress is important.”

The congress will also set Cuba’s economic course over the next several years. Reform hopes rose after the last meeting in 2011 liberalised some aspects of Cuba’s Soviet-style system, such as allowing small businesses. Detente with the US has further boosted expectations.

 But economic growth has averaged just 3 per cent since then — well below the more than 5 per cent growth rate the government seeks. One reason for the underperformance is the drop in commodity prices. This has squeezed the sale of Cuban professional services, such as doctors, to countries hit by the commodity price slide such as Venezuela, Brazil, Angola and Algeria. Lower revenues have, in turn, forced Cuba to cut its imports, according to diplomats, leading to growing domestic scarcities.

“Nothing has changed. They say produce more, but there are no resources,” says Ramon, a small farmer in the town of Artemisa, west of Havana. “It’s worse than five years ago.”

During last month’s visit, Mr Obama laid down a gauntlet when he spoke publicly of how Cubans “should not fear change [they] should embrace it.” “Even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realise their potential without continued change in Cuba,” the president added.

But worryingly for Cubans who struggle to feed their families on average state wages of $25 a month, the government has recently back pedalled on liberalisation. It now wants to increase, instead of reduce, its role in food distribution, likely worsening the shortages of supplies small restaurateurs such as Mr Ramirez face.

“Everyone knows that will not work . . . There are already reports of food rotting,” says a Cuban party member and agricultural expert. “It worries me.”

Some blame the reforms’ timidity and slowness on the tension between allowing economic but not political liberalisation. “They [the government] fears a Yeltsin free-for-all,” says one European businessman with long experience of Cuba, referring to the chaotic period following the collapse of communism in Russia. “They are much more impressed by China.”

Others cite stiff bureaucratic resistance to liberalisation.

“Too many people are used to administrating the system in the old way,” says Rafael Hernández, editor of Temas, a reform-orientated cultural magazine. “Too many people have become comfortable in their positions. They do not want to let go, they do not want to change, they do not want to cede their positions.”

Whatever the case, the public mood has soured. A few days after Mr Obama’s visit, the official newspaper of Cuba’s communist party printed a front-page editorial which argued increasingly vocal public dissatisfaction is “a sign of the democracy and public participation that are the intrinsic characteristics of the socialism we are constructing”. It also acknowledged that only 21 per cent of the 2011 reform programme had been implemented.

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FOTOS del VII Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba,

16 de marzo de 2016 (Radio Rebelde)

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CENTRO DE ESTUDIOS DE LA ECONOMÍA DE LA UNIVERSIDAD DE LA HABANA EXPULSA AL PROFESOR OMAR EVERLENY

Diario de Cuba | La Habana | 16 Abr 2016 – 4:54 pm. | 12

Articulo original: Profesor Expulsado

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Omar Everleny, profesor titular en la Universidad de La Habana.

Omar Everleny, profesor titular de Economía Cubana en la Universidad de La Habana, fue expulsado el viernes 8 de abril de su puesto laboral en el Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, según confirmó el propio economista a DIARIO DE CUBA.

“Es cierto”, dijo Everleny interrogado sobre la expulsión. “A través de una resolución del director de mi centro se me informó que fui separado definitivamente de la entidad”, añadió.

La resolución no está firmada por el rector de la Universidad, sino por el director del Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, Humberto Blanco. “Es de suponer que no fue él (Blanco) el que inventó esa historia, pero al firmarla tiene responsabilidad en él”, dijo Everleny.

Consultado sobre las razones dadas para el despido, señaló: “Hablar con la prensa extranjera, dar algunas conferencias o participar en encuentros con personas y haber aceptado remuneración, lo cual es totalmente falso”.

“Yo no cobro esas conferencias. Si después, al final, me hacen un regalo los que participan para que coja transporte… pero yo nunca he fijado ni he firmado ningún documento donde diga que he recibido un monto por dar una conferencia”, aseguró Everleny.

Además de “indisciplina” y “actitud irreverente”, otra causa esgrimida para separarlo de su puesto fue “haber dicho que existe una comisión de Estados Unidos en la Universidad (de La Habana), una cosa que reconoce todo el mundo”, añadió.

“Al final, detrás de eso no es así la cosa, es que yo he hecho algunos escritos, documentos, pero siempre dentro del proceso, no he tenido una posición contraria, lo que he dicho es para mejorar la economía cubana”, afirmó Everleny.

El profesor del Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana manifestó que siempre se ha mantenido “dentro de los parámetros permitidos”.

“Nunca me he salido de una crítica en el área de la economía cubana, que ha sido mi objeto de análisis, nunca he hablado de otro tipo de indicadores políticos. He dicho lo que pienso de la economía, que hay que avanzar más rápido, que la inversión es lenta, ese tipo de cosas”.

En una entrevista concedida en marzo de 2015 a Forbes, Everleny —a quien la revista consideró uno de los economistas más influyentes de la Isla—, decía: “Aunque creo en la gradualidad que el Gobierno de Raúl le ha dado a las reformas estructurales de la economía cubana, pienso que la velocidad podría acelerarse, dado que aún no son perceptibles para una mayoría de la población cubana, los resultados de esas reformas, en términos de bienestar económico”.

Se refería entonces a “salarios desestimulantes para incrementar tanto la producción como la productividad del trabajo”, a la “verticalidad y la centralización de las decisiones”, precios altos mantenidos y “a un incremento del deterioro de la infraestructura física del país” o “deterioro de los servicios sociales”, y añadía también que “estaban en camino soluciones para mitigar estos efectos”.

Omar Everleny declaró a DIARIO DE CUBA que planea presentar una apelación el lunes. “Voy a empezar ante el órgano de justicia de base, que es la propia Universidad, y después puedo ir a tribunales laborales”.

El analista está todavía informándose sobre el camino a seguir ante la separación de su puesto laboral.

 

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WHAT DID OBAMA ACCOMPLISH IN HAVANA?

By Luis Martínez-Fernández

March 4, 2016, INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE, Latin American Advisor

Complete Article here: Latin American Advisor, March 4 2016

Last month, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president in 88 years to visit Cuba. Obama had a one-on-one meeting with President Raúl Castro, and the two held a historic joint news conference from Havana’s Gran Teatro on the importance of democracy and human rights, and later met with dissidents in the U.S. Embassy.

 Was Obama’s trip to Cuba a success?

Did Cuban officials display a willingness to improve relations and advance reforms?

What did Obama and Castro accomplish during the visit?

Will businesses that want to work with Cuba find it easier moving ahead?

Will Obama’s visit win over more congressional support for ending the embargo?

“Barack Obama’s meeting with Raúl Castro last month was yet another step to normalize relations between their respective nations. In spite of their contrasting statements and behavior, both presidents

advanced a common primary agenda, namely the improvement of economic relations to allow the free fl ow of capital, goods and services. While generally deemed a concession to, and a victory for, the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party, the unfolding rapprochement is actually more substantially

benefi cial to large capital, commercial and economic interests, closely aligned with the Republican Party. Back in the 1990s, the push to ease the U.S. embargo produced an unholy alliance of voices as disparate as those of Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters and Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey;  agribusiness tycoon Dwayne Andreas and Dr. Benjamin Spock; and most surprisingly the American Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. Strange bedfellows, to say the least.

In the current context, even formerly rabid anti-Castro voices have joined the end-the-embargo conga line. What passes for the left continues to display a generally festive attitude toward the looming normalization of relations, notwithstanding the fact the success of U.S. capital will hinge on the continuation of a militarized repressive regime that forbids workers from striking and pays them only around 8 percent of what foreign corporations disburse for the permission to hire them. Indeed, very few progressive voices have criticized the continuing violations of human rights and the potential erosion of Cuban sovereignty because of the proposed return to neocolonial enclave capitalism. Surprisingly, many otherwise progressive voices are using the trickle-down argument to sustain that the lifting of the U.S. embargo will benefit all Cubans. Strange argument, given the fact that the much-trumpeted trickle-down effect never materialized in the United States. If anything, the Cuban people are likely to endure a trickle-up effect similar to what has transpired in China, Russia, and Vietnam, with ruling elites amassing prodigious fortunes at the expense of the working population.”

Latin American Advisor. March 4 2016:

zLuis Martínez-Fernández, professor of history at the University of Central Florida

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THE BUSINESS CASE FOR A SUSTAINABLE CUBA

Julia Sagebien

Huffington Post, MARCH 3 – April 13

Original HP articles: Business Case for Cuba

The Business Case for a Sustainable Cuba — Part 2: Leapfrogging Back to the Future

Posted March 3, 2016 | 10:27 AM

Contemplating the fate of a post-embargo Cuba has been a popular pastime for some time. On December 17, 2014, the day that the U.S. and Cuba simultaneously announced their rapprochement, the pastime broke out of the academic and policy…

 Continue Reading: Part 2: Leapfrogging Back to the Future

The Business Case for a Sustainable Cuba — Part I: Five Sectors Ready to Go

March 2, 2016 | 2:58 PM

The Cuba-U.S. commercial rapprochement reached its punto de caramelo (the tipping point where heated sugar and water alchemize into candy) during the week of February 15-19, 2016. Last week saw the visit of a high level Cuban delegation to Washington (received by an equally high level delegation of US counterparts),…

  Continue Reading: Part I: Five Sectors Ready to Go

 

So…You Want to do Business in Cuba? A Mini-Guide For U.S. Businesses, Social Entrepreneurs and NGOs

April 13, 2015 | 11:47 AM

Since the December 17, 2014 joint announcement by Cuba and the U.S.A. that the two nations were re-establishing diplomatic relations, there has been heightened interest in the US over the prospects of developing relations with the island nation. Opportunities between American and Cuban businesses, NGOs, cultural and sports organizations, and…

Continue Reading: Mini-Guide for U.S. Business in Cuba

 

Julia-Sagebien1

Dr. Julia Sagebien is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie University and a former Full Professor at the University of Puerto Rico.

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THE “STONES” IN HAVANA: IS ROCK ’N’ ROLL STILL THE MUSIC OF REBELLION IN CUBA?

IAN BURUMA

The Globe and Mail, Friday, Apr. 08, 2016

Original Article: “Rolling Stones in Havana”

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After U.S. President Barack Obama’s trailblazing visit to Cuba, a free concert by the Rolling Stones in Havana might seem like a relatively minor event. Mr. Obama revived relations with Cuba after more than a half-century of deep hostility. The septuagenarian Stones just played some very loud music.

Yet, symbolically, the concert was not minor at all. To grasp the importance of the Stones’ performance before hundreds of thousands of adoring Cubans, you have to understand what rock ’n’ roll meant to people living under Communist dictatorships.

In the 1970s, for example, Czechoslovakia, like other Communist states, was a dreary, oppressive, joyless place, where mediocre party hacks set the tone, and creativity was stifled under a blanket of enforced conformism. Rock ’n’ roll was considered a noxious form of capitalist decadence. A local rock band named Plastic People of the Universe, performing in English, was arrested in the late 1970s for “organized disturbance of the peace.” Recordings by the Rolling Stones and other Western groups were banned.

And yet records were smuggled into Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European countries, where they were treasured by young rock fans, including dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, who would become the country’s president. The forbidden sounds – loud, anarchic, sexy – offered an escape from the drabness of a tightly policed normality. Rock ’n’ roll allowed people to imagine what it would be like to be free, if only for fleeting moments. For that reason, the authorities viewed it as profoundly subversive.

Rock fans in Western democracies listened to groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, or Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, for pleasure. There was a certain amount of political bluster among rock stars, to be sure, but this was widely regarded as frivolous posturing. Not in countries such as Czechoslovakia, where the music – more than the posturing – was an expression of serious rebellion. The defence of the Plastic People of the Universe became a public cause for dissidents such as Mr. Havel, ultimately giving rise to Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77 movement.

When Mr. Havel offered Mr. Zappa an official role in his democratic government after the Communist regime had fallen, the musician was as astonished as everyone else. But it showed how much his music had meant to people such as Mr. Havel, when they had to listen to it secretly, risking arrest.

The role of rock music in countries behind the Iron Curtain was beautifully dramatized in Tom Stoppard’s 2006 play Rock ’n’ Roll, in which a Havel-like character, named Ferdinand (after characters of the same name in Mr. Havel’s own plays), extols the music as a supreme form of political resistance. Other characters in the play scoff at this notion, treating musical subversion as trivial. Mr. Stoppard, like Mr. Havel, clearly doesn’t agree. The play ends with the Rolling Stones’ historic concert in Prague in 1990.

Rock is ecstatic music. Ecstasy allows people to let go of themselves. This is not always benign. Mass hysteria at Nazi rallies was a form of ecstasy, too. So is the behaviour of soccer crowds, which can sometimes turn violent.

I once witnessed a group of highly respectable Singaporeans letting go of themselves in an evangelical church service. Urged on by an excited Japanese preacher, men in grey suits started writhing on the floor, foaming at the mouth and jabbering nonsense. It was not an edifying spectacle. In fact, it was frightening. But the Japanese preacher was not wrong to say that people – especially, as he put it to his congregation, buttoned-up Japanese and Singaporeans – sometimes need a relief from everyday conformity.

Music-induced ecstasy is not the same as speaking in tongues in a religious frenzy. But the experiences are related. That is why official guardians of social order are so often eager to ban such practices.

As far back as 380 BC, Plato warned against departing from traditional forms of music. Musical innovation, he wrote in The Republic, and especially exciting new sounds, were a danger to the polis. He believed that lawlessness began with unorthodox kinds of musical entertainment and advised the authorities to put a stop to such things.

Last month, Mick Jagger told his Cuban fans, in Spanish, that “finally the times are changing.” Perhaps they are. President Obama struck a similar note in his farewell speech in Havana. He spoke about a new era, “a future of hope.” He told Raul Castro, the stiff-legged Cuban strongman (who is more than a decade older than the Stones frontman and almost three decades older than Mr. Obama) that he should not fear freedom of speech.

These are fine words. But real political freedom in Cuba may be slow to come. And the example of China shows that individual hedonism can be successfully combined with political authoritarianism. (The Stones have already played in Shanghai, even though the Chinese authorities insisted on vetting their songs.)

But it is a start. Rock ’n’ roll has officially come to Cuba. Mick Jagger paid proper respect to Cuba’s own ecstatic musical traditions. Cubans already know how to dance. The next, much bigger step is for the autocrats to get off the floor.

Ian Buruma is professor of democracy, human rights and journalism at Bard College, and author of Year Zero: A History of 1945.

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CUBA’S FUTURE ECONOMIC MODEL IN SPOTLIGHT AT PARTY Congress

By Christine Armario and Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press

HAVANA — Apr 8, 2016,

Original Article: Future Economic Model

 Castro-VI-Congreso-Partido-Comunista_CYMIMA20151220_0001_16-1

President Raul Castro at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party, April 2011.

Victor Rodriguez imagines a future Cuban economy that will let him import large quantities of thread, export the women’s clothing he designs and keep him from worrying about obtuse regulations such as where he can place items on his small retail stand.

“Maybe then I could think about opening a full store,” he said.

One month after President Barack Obama’s visit, islanders are now looking to Cuba’s upcoming Communist Party congress for the clearest picture yet of how far their leaders will open the economy to deeper free-market reforms — if at all.

The congress being held April 16-19 comes at a critical juncture in Cuba’s history, with diplomatic relations with the U.S. generating enthusiasm but bringing limited improvements to the island’s ailing economy. It’s also likely to be the last Communist Party congress with any Castro in power as President Raul Castro has said he intends to retire in 2018 when he will be 85, turning 86 that June. His older brother Fidel stepped aside at age 79 in 2006 in what he said was a temporary move after suffering a serious illness and retired for good two years later.

“This is basically setting the future of Cuba,” said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, an economics professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

The congress has already generated much attention with party members complaining about a lack of the advance debate on economic and social reforms seen in the past. The party’s official newspaper, Granma, published a lengthy article explaining that instead of inviting new public discussion of reforms, this year’s congress will focus on the continued implementation of market-oriented changes enacted in 2011 in Cuba’s most significant economic overhaul to date.

“Everybody’s wondered since 2011, what’s the end game?” said William LeoGrande, an American University expert on U.S.-Cuba relations. “What are they anticipating Cuba will look like when the restructuring is done? Will it look like Vietnam? China? Something else?”

Based on the Marxist-Leninist model, the Communist Party of Cuba is the only legal political party on the island. It holds its congress roughly every five years to map the island’s political, social and economic future — except for a 14-year stretch from 1997-2011.

The latest congress will bring together 1,000 party members from throughout the island to discuss Cuba’s plan going forward. Among the things members will consider this year is a description of the island’s economic development model through 2030.

So far, Cuban leaders have indicated the government intends to maintain strong control of the island’s centrally planned economy. Less clear are the roles the state and private market will play, and how much the non-state sector will be permitted to expand.

Since assuming power in 2006, Castro has instituted scattered free-market reforms to alleviate the island’s deep fiscal woes while preserving the communist system ushered in by the 1959 revolution. In 2010, he announced plans to permit more small businesses and reduce state employment. The 2011 Communist Party congress passed 313 resolutions that included legalizing car sales, encouraging the development of mid-size cooperatives with dozens of employees and eliminating an exit permit all Cubans once needed to travel outside the country.

Cubans were also permitted to buy and sell homes for the first time since the early years of the revolution.

Emilio Morales, an economic analyst who heads the Miami-based Havana Consulting Group, said the reforms to date have encouraged the growth of a small business sector that includes retail enterprises like Rodriguez’s clothing stand, stylish new restaurants and polished 1960 Cadillacs and other old cars serving as taxis. About 500,000 Cubans now run their own businesses, yet total private-sector employment represents just a fraction of the economy — an estimated 23 percent of all employment in 2014, compared to 18 percent in 2011.

There are signs the number of self-employed workers could be leveling off: According to Cuban state figures, there were 496,400 in January, down from 504,600 in May 2015.

To increase that number, Morales said the government must lift restraints on access to wholesale markets and expand private enterprise to fields such as law and engineering, which currently aren’t among the 201 categories of small businesses allowed.

Many Cubans are anxious to see their economy grow; the vast majority struggle to meet daily needs, with state workers earning an average of $20 per month. Many say they want Cuba to preserve universal benefits such as free education and health care.

“We should never lose what we’ve gained,” said Graciela Hidalgo, 67, a retired Interior Ministry worker.

Six Communist Party members interviewed by The Associated Press said they believe the congress will move to expand private businesses but not embark on dramatic reforms. President Castro has cautioned he wants to move “slowly but surely” and that Cuba won’t administer “shock therapy.”

“I think we’ll keep moving in the same direction, enabling small private property, expanding some aspects of commercialization,” said Esteban Morales, one of the party members interviewed and a noted intellectual.

Analysts have viewed China and Vietnam as examples of how Cuba might preserve its socialist system while moving toward a market-driven economy. Yet Cuba scholars say the reforms to date have been relatively minor compared to the early stages of mixed socialist-free market economies in those countries.

“Cuba’s economic situation isn’t one for moving slowly and surely,” said Emilio Morales, the analyst in Miami.

Party watchers will also be waiting to see what the congress says about Cuba’s political future after Castro retires. Many in 2011 expected him to “rejuvenate” the party of 700,000 members by appointing young leaders to key positions. He ultimately named revolutionary figures Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, then 80, and Ramiro Valdes, then 78, as his principal deputies.

Three relatively young politicians were promoted to the 15-member party leadership council in lesser capacities.

Many believe Castro now has no choice but to appoint younger leaders.

“First we have to resolve the economic problem, that’s a priority,” said Carlos Alzugaray, a longtime Cuban diplomat and analyst. “But there is a particular juncture in Cuba right now, which I call a generational transition. And we need to create the institutions that will help that new generation to govern the country effectively.”

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UN ENCUENTRO CON BARACK OBAMA

Miriam Celaya, La Habana | Marzo 23, 2016, 14yMedio

Original article: Encuentro

Miriam Celaya’s account of Obama’s meeting with independent analysts, journalists, and activists.

Seguramente, este martes 22 de marzo de 2016 resultó una jornada memorable para los 13 representantes de una parte de la sociedad civil independiente que tuvimos la oportunidad de reunirnos con el presidente Barack Obama en la embajada de EE UU en La Habana.

Durante los días anteriores, se nos había invitado a participar en una reunión “de alto nivel”, en el marco de la visita del presidente estadounidense a la Isla, y ya en la propia embajada se confirmó lo que todos esperábamos: Obama se encontraría con nosotros a puertas cerradas, lejos de los micrófonos y cámaras de la prensa, que solo estuvo presente para una sesión de fotografías, instantes antes de que comenzara el intercambio off the record entre el presidente y los invitados cubanos.

Estuvieron presentes también otros altos funcionarios estadounidenses, que no intervinieron en el diálogo entre Obama y los activistas y periodistas independientes cubanos.

A lo largo de una hora y 40 minutos se produjo el encuentro, donde todos los invitados tuvimos la ocasión de expresar criterios diversos sobre cuestiones relacionadas con la nueva política de diálogo y acercamiento entre el Gobierno de EE UU y Cuba, así como de sugerir de qué manera consideran algunos activistas que esta nueva relación podría favorecer de una forma más eficaz el avance en materia de empoderamiento de los cubanos y consolidación de la sociedad civil.

Pese a las diferentes posturas y proyectos allí representados por los cubanos, la gran mayoría se manifestó abiertamente a favor de la política de acercamiento y diálogo iniciada por el presidente Obama

Pese a las diferentes posturas y proyectos allí representados por los cubanos, la gran mayoría se manifestó abiertamente a favor de la política de acercamiento y diálogo iniciada por el presidente Obama desde diciembre de 2014. Sin embargo –y desmintiendo lo que pregona el discurso gubernamental en sus campañas difamatorias contra la disidencia interna–, ninguno de los activistas solicitó algún tipo de financiamiento ni apoyo material para su proyecto.

Obama, por su parte, hizo gala de buen talante, inteligencia, sensibilidad y capacidad para escuchar a todos, a pesar de que varios activistas se extendieron en sus presentaciones, lo que limitó la posibilidad de intercambiar más con el mandatario estadounidense, como deseaban muchos de nosotros. No obstante, las intervenciones de éste, en su estilo franco y utilizando su habitual lenguaje directo y alejado de grandilocuencias innecesarias, constituyeron una verdadera lección de política que no dejó lugar a dudas sobre su seguridad en estar transitando el camino correcto.

Esta reunión demuestra la voluntad del Gobierno estadounidense de mantener un canal de comunicación abierto con todos los interlocutores de la sociedad cubana, con independencia de sus ideas políticas, sus ideologías, credos y programas

Obviamente, siempre queda mucho por decir en este tipo de encuentros, pero de cualquier manera esta reunión demuestra la voluntad del Gobierno estadounidense de mantener –como ha sido tradición y práctica política hasta hoy– un canal de comunicación abierto con todos los interlocutores de la sociedad cubana, con independencia de sus ideas políticas, sus ideologías, credos y programas. Esta postura no contradice la importancia de continuar el actual diálogo oficial con las autoridades cubanas y deberían imitarla los gobiernos y funcionarios de todas las sociedades democráticas del mundo, siempre dispuestos a ignorar a la disidencia y a negar el papel que le corresponde en el proceso de cambios que ha comenzado a operarse en Cuba.

Obama honró a los activistas de la sociedad civil independiente al dedicarnos una parte generosa de su tiempo en su breve paso por la Isla y mostró un respeto absoluto por los cubanos, por nuestra soberanía y por los proyectos de los luchadores pro-democracia. Una idea suya resume lo esencial de su política: el futuro de Cuba y la construcción de la sociedad democrática corresponden solamente a los cubanos de la Isla y de la diáspora.

En lo personal, este encuentro con Obama me dejó grabada la impresión del hombre sencillo que es, de su inteligencia extraordinaria y de su conocimiento de la historia de Cuba y de las relaciones entre nuestros dos países. Un hombre grande, cuyo nombre quedará definitivamente relacionado con el proceso de transición cubana, tal como lo conocerán las futuras generaciones de hijos de esta Isla.

z1Miriam Celaya and Barack Obama

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