• 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. It includes analyses and observations of the author, Arch Ritter, as well as hyper-links, abstracts, summaries, and commentaries relating to other research works from academic, governmental, media, non-governmental organizations and international institutions.
    Commentary, critique and discussion on any of the postings is most welcome.
    This Blog on The Cuban Economy is dedicated to Cuba's Generation "A". Although inspired by Yoani Sánchez' original 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:
    "... 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."


Against the Soviet Model

Sam Farber

SPECTRE JOURNAL, January 13, 2021; Original Article

This is a translation of an article that appeared on December 28, 2020 in La Joven Cuba, a left-wing critical blog, one of the most important in Cuba. The article immediately created a stir in social media. The Cuban government has so far failed to entirely control the Internet, which remains the main outlet for critical political views in the island. –SF

There are anti-democratic states that not only repress political opposition, but also criminalize it – a very effective method to avoid the dissemination and discussion of political ideas that diverge from the ideology of the state. That was the case of the Soviet Union and continues to be the case in those regimes that adopted the principal structures of the Soviet model, such as China, Vietnam, and our own Cuba.

That is how, under the direction of the Cuban government, the members of the San Isidro Movement were recently arrested by the police on criminal charges for supposedly having violated “the health protocols of international travelers” adopted by the government to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. In reality, they were arrested for political reasons: for publicly protesting as a group against state repression of one of its members. This is a typical example of how the Cuban government faces its critics: replacing political language with administrative-police language.

Cuba was once part of the longstanding Latin American tradition that sets apart political conduct and avoids reducing it to common crime. That is why this tradition supports the right of political asylum as well as the differential treatment of political and common prisoners.

Batista’s dictatorship, for example, respected the political asylum that hundreds of Cubans opposed to the dictatorship claimed, in order to save their lives, by taking refuge in many of the Latin American embassies in Havana. He certainly violated that right on many occasions, as in the notorious case of the police assault on the Haitian Embassy that he ordered on October 29, 1956, where all his political opponents who had taken asylum there were murdered. The chief of the National Police, Rafael Salas Cañizares, one of the most notorious henchmen of the dictatorship, also died in that incident when one of the asylum seekers shot him to death with a gun he had in his possession.

In the case of Latin America, the most notable exception to the general practice of conceding political asylum was that of the Peruvian Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre, founder and leader of the APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana) who, in order to protect himself from the Peruvian government under the dictatorship of Manuel Odría, obtained asylum in the Colombian embassy at the beginning of 1949. Haya de la Torre remained in that embassy for five years until he finally obtained safe passage from the Peruvian government to leave the country for Mexico, although only after the International Court of Justice rejected Odría’s demand for Colombia to hand over the Peruvian opposition leader.

The revolutionary Cuban government abandoned the tradition of recognizing political asylum when it adopted the Soviet model at the beginning of the sixties. A clear example of that turn were the events that took place in the Peruvian Embassy in Havana in April of 1980, when under the orders of Fidel Castro, the government forces surrounding the periphery of the embassy blocked the entrance of the Cubans seeking asylum there. The only ones who were initially able to enter the embassy were the survivors of an armed clash that ensued with the government guards where several people were killed. The government eventually withdrew the guards from the embassy. It was then that approximately ten thousand Cubans were able to get in and ask asylum in order to leave the country, which they did, along with more than one hundred thousand other Cubans, between April and June of 1980.

Continue reading: The Criminalization of Opposition Politics in Cuba

Sam Farber
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Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent and agencies

Mon 11 Jan 2021 22.30 GMT


Donald Trump has reclassified Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in a last-minute move that could complicate efforts by Joe Biden’s incoming administration to re-engage with Havana.

The controversial step was announced by secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Monday, at the start of Trump’s final full-week in office, and places Cuba alongside Iran, North Korea and Syria.

Pompeo justified the move – which reverses Barack Obama’s 2015 decision to remove Cuba from the list after more than three decades – by accusing Havana of “repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbour to terrorists”.

That is partly a reference to the former Black Panther Assata Shakur who was jailed in the US for the 1973 killing of a police officer and later escaped to Cuba where she was granted asylum by its then leader Fidel Castro. It is also based on Cuba’s refusal to extradite a group of guerrillas from Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) for alleged involvement in a 2019 bomb attack in Bogotá.

Pompeo also alleged Cuba was engaging “in a range of malign behaviour across the region”, highlighting its support for Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro who Trump has unsuccessfully tried to overthrow.

But most observers and many US allies are unimpressed by Trump administration claims that Cuba is guilty of sponsoring terrorism.

“These are trumped up charges,” said Christopher Sabatini, a senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House. “Terrorism as an international definition is committing acts of violence against unarmed civilians intended to frighten the population. Cuba doesn’t do that. Yes, it represses its own people – but so does Saudi Arabia.”

Sabatini said he saw Trump’s move as “a parting gift to hardliners” in Florida and a deliberate attempt to make life difficult for his successor, who takes office on 20 January. The same rationale lay behind the recent decision to lift restrictions on contacts between US officials and their Taiwanese counterparts, a move that angered Beijing and will be awkward for Biden to reverse without appearing soft on China.

“It’s like when departing armies leave scattered mines in a field,” Sabatini added. “They are planting these political mines for the Biden administration that will be very difficult to be rolled back and to lock in, at least temporarily, their policy preferences.”

Havana reacted angrily to what its foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, called a “hypocritical and cynical” move. “The US political opportunism is recognized by those who are honestly concerned about the scourge of terrorism and its victims,” Rodríguez tweeted.

Ricardo Herrero, head of the a US-based non-partisan association called Cuba Study Group, said there was “no factual basis” for Trump’s decision.

“This is a malicious, last-ditch effort to handicap Biden’s foreign policy, and reward Maga supporters in Florida for sticking with Trump even after he incited terrorist attacks against the US Congress,” Herrero tweeted.

The new sanctions will include major restrictions that will bar most travel from the US to Cuba and transfer of money between the two countries, a significant source of income for Cubans who have relatives in the United States.

Removing Cuba from the blacklist in 2015 had been one of Obama’s main foreign policy achievements as he sought better relations with the communist island, an effort endorsed by Biden as his vice-president. Ties had been essentially frozen after Fidel Castro took power in 1959 while Cuba had been on the terror list since 1982 because of its support for guerrilla groups.

As with Iran, Trump has sought to reverse many of Obama’s decisions involving Cuba. He has taken a tough line on Havana and rolled back many of the sanctions that the Obama administration had eased or lifted after the restoration of full diplomatic relations in 2015. Since Trump took office ties have been increasingly strained, with his administration also suggesting Cuba may have been behind or allowed alleged attacks that left dozens of US diplomats in Havana with brain injuries starting in late 2016.

Biden is expected to work to improve ties, although immigration and Venezuela’s economic, political and humanitarian crises are believed to be higher up his agenda.

“He wants to get back to the policies that were in place at the end of Obama’s term. He believes that closer connections in trade and personal connections between the two countries are more likely to lead to political opening and freedoms, as well as giving the US leverage on other issues, including Venezuela,” Sabatini said. “This is going to be much more complicated now.”

In an article last year Biden’s recently appointed chief adviser on Latin America, Juan S Gonzalez, said Trump’s policies on Cuba and Venezuela were based on political self-interest and had failed the people of those countries “by every metric”.

“In Cuba, engagement is not a gift to a repressive regime. It is a subversive act to advance the cause of human rights and empower the Cuban people as protagonists of their own future,” Gonzalez wrote in the Americas Quarterly magazine last July.

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Por Humberto Herrera Carles

Articulo Original: Cuba y la Economía,  EL COVID EN CUBA,  Enero 10 de 2021

Decía Jose Martí, nuestro héroe nacional, que “En prever está todo el arte de salvar “, y además dijo que “Gobernar es  prever”.

Al parecer  los modelos matemáticos de pronósticos publicados por nuestras autoridades,  hasta el presente, han fallado, no se han cumplido y se han ignorado otras recomendaciones a las cuales he tenido acceso producto de las preocupaciones que todos tenemos con esta pandemia, por ejemplo de un INDICE de Alarma Epidemiológica (IAE) que predice mejor el comportamiento que nos presentan, así como el ” Método estadístico matemático para identificar el estado de la COVID-19 con relación al pico epidémico publicado en este sitio ( tomado de la Revista Información Científica)  de la autoría del Profesor Javier Pérez Capdevila.

Ahora bien, no me detendré en las comparaciones, pero evidentemente cuando se introdujo en los modelos oficiales, la variable  exógena que representaban la necesaria apertura de nuestras fronteras y la incidencia de los visitantes externos, al parecer una vez más no fueron correctos los pronósticos.  Se trataba de prever  (ex ante), y las medidas previstas hacerlas cumplir. Sin embargo, con solo observar que desde el 16 de diciembre del 2020, excepto un día, pasaban del centenar  el número de confirmados diarios, y ver que la última semana de diciembre 2020 ya era de 165 confirmados diarios como promedio, era suficiente para adoptar las medidas correctoras días atrás.  Así en los últimos 7 días de este 2021, en cinco días los casos diarios han sido por encima de 300, y los últimos 4 días es de 314, 344, 365 y 388 confirmados, además de los récords lamentables, la cota máxima no sabemos hasta donde llegará. Deberían pedir  colaboración nuestras autoridades a los que tienen otros pronósticos y metodos, para tomar las decisiones correctas en tiempo real.  Las ciencias matemáticas en estos momentos  juegan un papel fundamental, esencial.

Ayer se comunicaron varios retrocesos a diferentes fases en las provincias más comprometidas con el rebrote, la Habana paso a fase I de recuperación , cuando se encontraba en la III. 

El presente escrito solo pretende llamar la atención,  con los gráficos elaborados , de la gravedad en que nos encontramos, porque al final esto es tarea de todos. He vistopor ejemplo,  en otros países en colas a los super  que guarda distancia de 1.5 m para entrar entre las personas, e incluso es uno solo por familia y no pueden entrar los menores. En nuestro país, son “molotes” fuera de las tiendas.¿?

Los gráficos a continuación y tablas son elaboración propia con datos del MINSAP. 

Como se observa en el gráfico # 1 desde el día uno de la pandemia, muestra que este tercer rebrote hasta ayer, es casi 5 veces mayor que el momento peor del primero, y que la línea de tendencia polinómica de grado 4 (roja)  de excel va en  ascenso. Aquí es donde se requieren los “otros” pronósticos. 

Los Activos acumulados diarios ( los que tienen la enfermedad y no se han recuperado) en el gráfico # 2 y su línea de tendencia, se han incrementado desde la anterior cota máxima de 847 activos el 25 de abril del 2020 en el primer brote , en 2.99 veces, significando , al no incrementarse el número de fallecidos, que el tiempo de hospitalización- recuperación es menor ( días) ¿ nuevo protocolo médico  ?. Sin embargo, no se publican los casos activos por provincias como una información oficial del MINSAP.  El día cero de casos activos, parece cada vez más lejos, primero hay que aspirar a casos cero de confirmados durante días, y desde que empezó la Covid en nuestro país solo hemos tenido un día con caso cero, el 19 de julio del 2020, esa es la meta a lograr, otra vez.

Observar que la tasa de incidencia con importados (azul) y sin (azul) del gráfico # 3 del MINSAP , desde que empezó la pandemia eran similares, sin embargo hay una diferencia  que inició  diciembre -enero , y esto demuestra dos cosas 1- la tasa de incidencia con los casos importados es mucho mayor que la  autóctona,y 2- que sin los importados (roja) no obstante, hay igualmente un incremento de la tasa de incidencia, es decir el incremento se dio aunque no se hubieran abierto las fronteras. 

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El secretario ejecutivo de la Comisión Intergubernamental Ruso-Cubana de Comercio, Oleg Kucheriáviy,  lamentó el “silencio” y “dilación” de las autoridades de la Isla.

14ymedio, La Habana | Diciembre 29, 2020

Original Article: RUSIA SUSPENDE

Rusia ha suspendido el proyecto de modernización de los ferrocarriles cubanos “debido a las dificultades económicas y las restricciones de cuarentena en la Isla”, según informó al diario Gudok el director de la empresa estatal de ferrocarriles del país euroasiático (RZD), Serguéi Pávlov.

“Lamentablemente, hemos tenido que suspender nuestro proyecto de modernización integral de la infraestructura ferroviaria cubana debido a las dificultades económicas y las restricciones de cuarentena en la Isla, pero esperamos reanudar las obras después de que la situación se haya estabilizado”, apuntó Gudok.

En octubre de 2019, RZD firmó con la Unión de Ferrocarriles de Cuba un convenio para modernizar toda la estructura ferroviaria cubana, que ha sufrido un profundo deterioro en las últimas décadas. Según el acuerdo, Rusia financiaba completamente el proyecto, valorado en 2.314 millones de dólares.

En los planes iniciales estaban el diseño, la reparación y la modernización de más de 1.000 kilómetros de la infraestructura ferroviaria

En los planes iniciales estaban el diseño, la reparación y la modernización de más de 1.000 kilómetros de la infraestructura ferroviaria con materiales, tecnologías y equipos de producción rusa. También la creación de un centro único de control de circulación de trenes y la formación, en centros educativos rusos, de personal de la Isla.

La noticia llega menos de una semana después de que el ministro de Transportes de Cuba, Eduardo Rodríguez, el embajador de Rusia en La Habana, Andrei Guskov, y el representante comercial ruso en la Isla, Alexander Bogatyr, recibieran en La Habana siete locomotoras, en medio de fuertes dudas sobre el futuro de la cooperación entre los viejos aliados.

“La llegada de estas locomotoras a Cuba coloca al ferrocarril en una mejor posición para enfrentar los retos de transporte del próximo año; vemos a este proyecto, que se ha desarrollado como parte de los acuerdos de la Comisión Intergubernamental Cuba-Rusia con la compañía rusa Sinara, como ejemplar”, dijo entonces Rodríguez a la agencia rusa Sputnik.

Los funcionarios presentes en el acto de recibimiento de los equipos se esforzaron en declarar que la cooperación seguía adelante aunque “los efectos del covid y de esta crisis derivada de la pandemia nos han obligado a extender los plazos y a reorganizar los proyectos, pero la voluntad y continuidad de estos proyectos se mantienen vigentes y continuaremos en 2021 trabajando en esa dirección”, remarcó Rodríguez.

El mensaje apoyado por Bogatyr, que lamentó que fuera “la única entrega de locomotoras este año, pero estamos seguros de que el año próximo será más fructífero (…) así que los planes de colaboración son importantes en la esfera de los ferrocarriles, no solamente con Sinara, sino con otras importantes empresas rusas que tienen proyectos y esperan continuar desarrollándolos”.

Ninguno de los dos hizo alusión a las palabras del secretario ejecutivo de la Comisión Intergubernamental Ruso-Cubana de Comercio, Cooperación Económica, Científica y Técnica, Oleg Kucheriáviy, que unos días antes dejaban entrever una cancelación masiva de inversiones en Cuba por incumplimientos por parte de La Habana.

El funcionario detalló a la prensa rusa que, de los 60 proyectos conjuntos, apenas diez estaban llevándose a cabo

El funcionario detalló a la prensa rusa que, de los 60 proyectos conjuntos, apenas diez estaban llevándose a cabo y señaló en una reunión de la Comisión de Asuntos Internacionales del Senado que la última sesión de la comisión intergubernamental, que debía celebrarse en la Isla, fue cancelada por “silencio” y “dilación” de las autoridades cubanas.

Yuri I. Borisov, viceprimer ministro de Rusia y encargado desde 2018 de las relaciones económicas con Cuba ya dijo aquel año a la televisión de su país, tras un viaje a la Isla, que los funcionarios cubanos no tenían interés en poner dinero para las inversiones necesarias y que en las negociaciones imperaba una mentalidad de la Guerra Fría que en la Rusia postsoviética ya no tiene lugar.

“Son negociantes complicados, no lo voy a esconder, la mentalidad del pasado pesa sobre ellos constantemente. Durante las negociaciones, en las posiciones que llevan, siempre aparece que somos un puesto de avanzada de la revolución mundial y simplemente nos tienen que ayudar”, señaló.

La pausa en el acuerdo llega en un mal momento para el transporte de pasajeros y cargas en la Isla, muy afectado por la obsolescencia tecnológica y los problemas de infraestructura. El total de locomotoras que tenía previsto suministrar Rusia en el marco del acuerdo era de 75, de las cuales ya han llegado 60. Según el ministro de Transportes, muchas de ellas ya “participan en los principales tráficos de transportes del ferrocarril en Cuba”.

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By Sarah Marsh, Nelson Acosta

Reuters, December 2, 2021

Original Article: Cuba’s Looming Monetary Reform

HAVANA (Reuters) – A major monetary reform that will hike prices and state wages in Cuba starting on Friday is sparking widespread uncertainty as the Communist-run island resumes market-oriented changes to its Soviet-style economy after years of flip-flopping.  The reform, announced earlier this month by President Miguel Diaz-Canel, will eliminate a complex dual currency and multiple exchange rate system that masked a host of government subsidies, pegging the remaining peso currency at a single rate.

To reflect the resulting steep devaluation and reduced subsidies, Cuba is raising prices on goods and services ranging from transport to electricity at varying rates. It will also quintuple pensions and wages in the state sector, which employs around two-thirds of the working population, from the current low rates to better reflect the real value of labor.

The measures, which will accelerate the transition from late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s paternalistic model, will bring more transparency to the economy and should help raise competitiveness over time, economists say, albeit only if combined with other reforms. Yet the immediate impact of the changes remains a worrying puzzle to many Cubans already struggling to get by amidst the country’s worst economic crisis in decades, one that has spurred a partial dollarization of the cash-strapped, import-dependent economy.

Hours-long queues outside shops amid shortages of even the most basic goods have lengthened as some Cubans rush to buy what they can before the measures go into effect, the value of the dollar on the black market has risen and banks have been overwhelmed with queries.

Private businesses and foreign investors also are scrambling to gauge the impact on their operations and whether they can adjust prices and wages. “It’s going to be tight, so I’m just buying what I can now,” said Sulema Sotto Rojas, a 57-year-old cleaner for a state firm, as she waited in line to buy cooking oil and tomato sauce at one store after waking up eight hours earlier to queue at another for chicken.

While she could actually stand to gain from the monetary reform, her company has still not confirmed her new wage level and the government has been making last-minute tweaks to some electricity and gas rates in response to widespread consternation that they were too high.


The reform is part of a package of measures Communist Party leader Raul Castro unveiled a decade ago to make the economy self-sufficient after decades of dependence on Soviet and then later Venezuelan aid in the face of domestic inefficiency and a crippling U.S. trade embargo.

The government had stalled or even backtracked on some of the changes due to opposition from entrenched bureaucratic and ideological interests, but a new generation of leaders headed by Diaz-Canel has opted to resume them amid the current crisis. That means, however, more short-term pain will be inflicted on an economy that already has shrunk 11% this year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the tightening of U.S. sanctions.

Many state companies working with an exchange rate of one peso to the dollar likely won’t be able to survive at the new rate of 24 to one. The government says it will give these enterprises a year to become competitive, subsidizing them in the meantime, though that could prove too little, especially given the feeble global economy and Cuba’s lack of capital to upgrade its creaking infrastructure.

“If the government had taken structural reforms to boost the agricultural, private and state sectors first, the economy would be in a much better condition to face this,” said Ricardo Torres, an economist with the Havana-based Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

The Communist Party has resisted such moves because doing so would reduce its political power, said Pedro Monreal, author of a popular blog on Cuban economics. Now it will have to pay the price, Monreal said, as a wage-fueled rise in demand for goods and services in the absence of an increase in supply will lead to inflation and further hardship in an economy with a flourishing black market.

“This is a purgative we need to take,” said Mauricio Alonso, who rents out rooms in his apartment in Havana. “Obviously it will generate inflation.”


While Cubans are still struggling to figure out whether they will be better or worse off, one thing seems clear: those who have savings in a local currency or who work in the non-state sector, which will not automatically hike wages, stand to lose.

The government has set price caps on agricultural produce and said the fledgling private sector cannot raise prices more than threefold, with anything above that considered “abusive” and violators subject to fines.

Several business owners told Reuters they would need time to gauge the compensatory impact of smaller recent reforms, such as being able to import and export via state companies and to offset all costs against their taxes.

“There are many challenges at the same time,” said Liber Puente, the owner of a private tech firm, who hired a financial strategist to help him map a strategy. The entrepreneur, who wants to keep wages competitive vis-a-vis those in the state sector, said he would hold off on developing other projects until the dust settled, predicting six months of uncertainty.

One important unknown worrying all Cubans is the value of the greenback on the black market, as many basic items like shampoo and cheese can now only be purchased with dollars at special stores or with hard currency on the informal market supplied by “mules” from abroad.

The black market dollar rate has appreciated to around 1.5 times the official rate this year, given that it has become almost impossible for residents to acquire dollars through state financial institutions.

“Already prices are rising everywhere and not because of the currency reform, but because of the lack of dollars,” said Maykel Suarez, who owns a private cellphone repair shop.

The government says the controversial dollar stores, which were opened this year, are a temporary solution to its cash crunch. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has said he will loosen the existing sanctions on Cuba, and Cuban officials expect tourism and trade to pick up slightly next year.

Havana has also tinkered with some other minor economic reforms over the past year, including allowing firms to retain a larger share of their export revenue rather than depend on the centralized allocation of hard currency.

Economists, though, are urging the government to quickly enact further-reaching structural reforms like the legalization of small and medium enterprises and the liberalization of the ailing farm sector to solve underlying problems.  “I just hope the measures that need to be taken in parallel to this (monetary reform) to increase production and services will be approved in a short time period,” said Omar Everleny, a Cuban economist.

Banco Central
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South Florida SUN SENTINEL, DEC 28, 2020

Original Article: Cuba’s Digital Revolution

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent global proliferation of new information and communication technologies, including the internet and social media, the Cuban government’s mass media monopoly has progressively eroded and Cuban citizens — working independently of and sometimes in open opposition to the government — have increasingly become active participants in the worldwide digital revolution, remaking the Cuban media landscape in the process.

This second, digital revolution has erupted within the Cuban Revolution, leading to a dynamic and unpredictable struggle over the meaning, impact, scope and direction of both. Who will control Cuba’s digital revolution? Who will benefit from it? To what ends will it be applied? Who will be left behind?

The San Isidro Movement (#MSI), which burst into international notoriety in late 2020 thanks in part to its members’ savvy use of digital technology, is a loosely affiliated group of independent artist-activists that emerged in late 2018 demanding the revocation of Decree-Law 349, a measure that extends Ministry of Culture control over the island’s thriving independent artistic community.

The group’s central figure, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (whose home in the Old Havana district San Isidro doubles as the group’s headquarters), has been detained more than 20 times between 2018 and 2020. This is a result of his often provocative and always unauthorized public art performances, including one in which he paraded around the city wearing a construction helmet to protest a building collapse in Old Havana in January 2020 that killed three young girls.

In early November, rapper and group member Denis Solís was sentenced in a summary trial to eight months in prison on the trumped-up charge of “disrespect” after he broadcast via social media his altercation with a police officer who illegally entered his home. This provoked MSI members to stage a hunger-strike at Alcántara’s home demanding Solís’ release, which state health and security agents raided on Nov. 26 on the pretext of controlling “the propagation of the pandemic.”

Despite government efforts to block access to social media, the real breakthrough of the MSI was its effective breakdown of the government-erected wall of fear and isolation that had previously separated such marginalized “artivists” from Cuba’s state-sanctioned artistic mainstream. After learning of the previous day’s violent raid via their cellphones, on Nov. 27, more than 500 mostly young artists and intellectuals from a broad array of disciplines staged an unprecedented, music-fueled, day-long “clap-in” (giving birth to the moniker, “La revolución de los aplausos”) outside Havana’s Ministry of Culture in solidarity with the MSI.

They demanded a meeting with the cultural minister to address not only the MSI’s original aims but also the more fundamental issues of artistic freedom, freedom of speech and the right to dissent.

While this mass gathering briefly forced Ministry officials to the table, in subsequent weeks they reneged on their promises of open dialogue and safeguards from retribution against the protesters. Instead, the government unleashed a wave of character assassination in the official media against movement leaders as supposed “terrorists” and “mercenaries.”

This is only the latest digital-age ordeal for the Cuban government. Prior to the recent MSI breakthrough, but since the coming of 3G mobile internet in December 2018, Cuba saw several inventive cyber-denunciations of the government that left an impact. Among them:

  • the digital campaign urging Cubans to either vote against (#YoVotoNo) or abstain from voting (#YoNoVoto) on Cuba’s new constitution on Feb. 24, 2019;
  • an independent LGBT march spontaneously organized in spring 2019 via social media after the island’s officially controlled “pride” march was inexplicably cancelled via a Facebook post by Mariela Castro herself;
  • an online demand that Cuba’s telecom monopoly Etecsa lower its costly internet prices (#BajenLosPreciosDeInternet); and
  • a gathering outside the Ministry of Communications together with an expression of digital solidarity (#YoSoySNET) with the netizen founders of Cuba’s SNET (street-net), an enormous unauthorized patchwork of local area networks, after these independent online communities were outlawed and dismantled starting in August 2019.

Both MSI and all of these previous protests have unleashed pent-up netizen demands and eroded two of the key pillars of government information control on the island: fear of the consequences of speaking out of turn and isolation from others who harbor similar complaints.

However, we should not assume that a handful of Twitter hashtags linked tenuously to brief marches and protests by a relative handful of “connected” and politicized Cuban citizens (however unprecedented they may be) amounts to a social movement capable of posing an existential threat to a regime that remains entrenched in power with no well-known or widely credible political alternatives.

Still, one lesson the short-term success of Cuba’s San Isidro Movement teaches us is that national culture and political context matter when evaluating the political impact of new technologies on any given society.

The same digital platforms and social networks that have come under increasing scrutiny and justifiable regulation in the United States and Europe for their monopolistic practices, abuse of user privacy and spread of “fake news,” retain their democratizing and indeed revolutionary potential in the hands of a new generation of artists and activists, facilitating their loss of fear, overcoming isolation and penetrating the information blockade built over the last 60 years by the Western Hemisphere’s oldest gerontocracy.

Ted A. Henken, an associate professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies at Baruch College, City University of New York, is the co-editor of the forthcoming book Cuba’s Digital Revolution: Citizen Innovation and State Policy, to be published in June 2021 by the University of Florida Press.

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By Sarah Marsh

Reuters December 17, 2020

Original Article: Cuba Says Economy Shrank

HAVANA, Dec 17 (Reuters) – Cuba’s already cash-strapped economy shrank 11% in 2020 due to the pandemic and tougher U.S. sanctions but the government thwarted attempts by anti-communists to exploit this momentary weakness in a bid to topple it, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Thursday.

Addressing a year-end session of the Communist-run country’s parliament, Diaz-Canel celebrated Cuba’s successful management of its coronavirus outbreak despite “exceptional economic conditions” and predicted 6% to 7% economic growth next year.

Yet the government’s estimate for this year’s contraction was even more dire than that of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which this week predicted an 8.5% contraction for Cuba compared to a 7.7% regional decline.

Cuba received just 55% of the hard currency it had planned this year, Economy Minister Alejandro Gil told the assembly earlier in the day. Gil did not provide data on the debt, trade or current account but earlier this week had told a parliament commission that imports were down 30% compared to last year.

Cuba imports more than 50% of its fuel, food and many other vital inputs and this decline, coming on top of a 15% drop in 2019, has resulted in a scarcity and long lines for even the most basic products, from food and medicine to fuel.

Diaz-Canel said the government had thwarted attempts by anti-communists to capitalize on this moment of economic weakness to “destroy” the Cuban leftist revolution.

Over the past three weeks, state-run media have run shows on what they say are attempts directed and financed from the United States to create unrest on the island, like attacks on state shops and a hunger strike by an artists collective.

“New provocations are on the way and we will vanquish those too,” the president said.

Critics say the government is trying to undermine legitimate discontent among some Cubans and requests for greater civil liberties underscored by a rare rights protest by artists outside the culture ministry late last month.

Diaz-Canel warned on Thursday of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and said attempts at non conventional warfare and a soft coup by the “industry of counterrevolution” would fail.

Nothing, he said, should distract the country from its “most complex task” of recent decades, pointing to the monetary reform taking place from January including a steep devaluation in bid to revitalise the economy.

Earlier in the day, Gil said a gradual recovery would begin in 2021, based mainly on that reform and a 50% increase in tourist arrivals to 2.2 million in 2021, compared with more than 4 million in 2019.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has also promised to unravel some of President Donald Trump’s sanctions on Cuba aimed at forcing political reform such as restrictions on travel and remittances.

Diaz-Canel said the Trump administration’s attempts had “roundly and notoriously failed”. However, the government remained open to improving relations with the United States, he said, without explicitly referring to the incoming Biden administration. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Bernadette Baum & Shri Navaratnam)

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By Ben Bartenstein

Bloomberg, December 15, 2020, 11:00 a.m. EST

Original Article: Cuba Reset

President-elect Joe Biden’s team plans to bring the U.S. closer to normalized relations with Cuba, reversing many of the sanctions and regulations imposed during the Trump administration, according to people familiar with the matter.

That strategy includes reducing restrictions on travel, investment and remittances for the island nation that are perceived to disproportionately hurt Americans and ordinary Cubans, said the people, who requested anonymity because the new administration is still coming together. Other measures that target Cuba for human rights abuses would remain in place, the people said.

The prospect of a détente between Washington and Havana rekindles memories of the thaw that Biden helped champion during the Obama administration, when the two nations restored diplomatic ties that had been broken for decades following Fidel Castro’s rise to power.

But the president-elect is returning to an even messier scene: the Cuban economy is suffering its worst crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union amid fallout from Covid-19 and U.S. sanctions. At the same time, Cuban intelligence officers have helped prop up Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, allowing his regime to consolidate its grip on power in defiance of demands for free and fair elections.

With a packed domestic agenda, it’s unclear how quickly Biden will move on implementing his Cuba policy. Even if some changes happen early, the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown could delay the benefits of any measures that allow for greater travel to the island. It’s also unclear whether Biden will increase staffing at the U.S. embassy in Havana. The Trump administration pared back diplomatic operations after strange illnesses, including brain trauma, afflicted some U.S. diplomats and their families.

Biden said in October that the U.S. needed a new Cuba policy, though his team has been firm in condemning efforts by Havana to silence dissidents, including a recent raid on a house full of activists and artists.

The president-elect has also denounced Venezuela’s Maduro as a dictator. Just as the Trump administration connected Cuba and Venezuela policy, using sanctions as a tool intended to spur political change, Biden’s team may try to leverage a rapprochement in exchange for the Cubans reducing their presence in Venezuela and supporting a diplomatic resolution to the crisis there, according to the people.

Another complicating factor is Florida. While Biden’s advisers have criticized Trump’s Latin American policies for being heavily influenced by electoral politics, particularly the goal of winning the Sunshine State, they still face a sobering reality: The Democratic Party must defend a narrow House majority in 2022. Any policies that are perceived as easing pressure on Cuba and Venezuela without getting significant concessions from their left-wing governments could risk backlash at the polls.

For their part, investors are showing an early vote of confidence in Biden’s potential Cuba policy. The $43 million Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, which is geared toward Cuba and the Caribbean, has surged since the U.S. election.

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Stefano Pozzebon

CNN, December 18, 2020

Original Article

Shantytowns surround Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, like the walls of a bowl. Little houses pile on each other on the steep hills, some reachable only by vertiginous staircases.

Earlier this month, Ingrid Sanchez tried to rustle up votes here for the ruling Socialist Party in Petare, Venezuela’s largest barrio. As parliamentary elections got underway on December 6, she hired motorcycles and jeeps to ferry poor but faithful voters up steep hills to the polling station.

Sanchez has no money to spare — a former teacher, she lives on a state pension worth just one and a half dollars per month. It was the Socialist Party — the late Hugo Chavez’s party — that gave Ingrid cash to pay for the vehicles. But they weren’t Venezuelan bolivars — they were US dollars. And as she counted it, Sanchez realized that the four $20 bills she held were worth more than 50 months of her pension.

“Everything is in dollars now,” she says ruefully — a sign of monumental change in the country that she says would have Chavez turning in his grave.

Sanchez, 57 years old, is a faithful member of the Socialist Party and believes fiercely in the vision of late president Hugo Chavez, who prophesied a Marxist utopia where the state would look after the needs of the people, raise the quality of life, erase inequality and limit private enterprise to a minor role in the economy. “One never loses hope, and that is a project that I still believe in,” she said.

But Venezuela today hardly resembles the one pictured by Chavez. Hunger is rampant, inequality dizzying, and public hospitals stand derelict as the country deals with the coronavirus pandemic. The US dollar is increasingly taking precedence over the bolivar, and while the Venezuelan minimum wage is the lowest in the region, the country’s stock market is booming. Chavez’s successor, current President Nicolas Maduro, recently inaugurated an ultra-luxury hotel where rooms are the equivalent of $300 per night.

All of which raises a question that Sanchez has clearly been wrestling with: Is socialism still alive in Venezuela? “I don’t know, we are doing things upside down,” she says.

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Halifax ChronicleHerald, Dec 14 at 4:44 p.m.


Original Article: Protest in Cuba

Something extraordinary is happening in Cuba these days — and I am not talking about the absence of Canadians on its beaches.

Hundreds of mostly young artists, independent journalists, and some academics, are raising their voices against censorship. Some of them even call the regime for what it is: a dictatorship.

Discontent has been brewing in the island for some time, especially among young Cubans. But the spark for this rapid escalation was a few arrests too many, as well as the wider availability of social media over the past two years.

First, there was the arrest and imprisonment of an irreverent rapper (Denis Solís) for “disrespecting authority.” Solís is a member of a loose and mostly artist-based collective named the San Isidro Movement. The “MSI” emerged in 2018, to protest against new restrictions on freedom of expression.

Then, Solís’ arrest, the video of which he made available on social media, prompted some of his friends to go on hunger strike in the MSI headquarters, demanding his release and calling peers to join them in protest. It was their turn to be detained, by police in civilian clothes, who illegally broke into their apartment for the alleged misconduct of violating the COVID-19 testing protocol. The websites they were using to call for action were blocked by the government — so much for the public health concern — but, apparently, too late: digital nonconformity was already spreading wide in the community.

Arbitrary arrests are common in Cuba: There were close to 2,000 cases in the first eight months of last year. But this time, a straw broke the camel’s back. On Nov. 27, up to 300 mostly young Cubans turned up in front of the ministry of culture, calling for the release of Solís, greater freedom of expression, and … dialogue with the minister of culture. Many more would have joined had the place not been blocked by security agents.

In a one-party communist state that criminalizes opposition, no collective and public protest of this magnitude was ever attempted or tolerated in Cuba since the revolution — with the possible exception of a repressed LGBTQ parade last year.

This appears to be a wide opposition movement. There are known dissidents (like “artivist” Tania Bruguera), and a few irreverent but institutional cultural figures, like film director Fernando Pérez and beloved actor Jorge Perugorría, who offered support. In between, one finds a whole ecosystem of potential dissidents, who are not (yet) advocating open confrontation with the so-called “revolutionary” (in fact conservative) government. Many of them are independent journalists and bloggers, like Carlos Manuel Alvarez (age 31), who publicly called for “conversation …  not just with a supporting actor like a minister,” but directly with President Díaz-Canel.

Unavoidably, protesters were cheered on by the usual suspects in the U.S. government; no less predictably, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel called the event an “imperialist reality show.” Official media called the protesters “mercenaries,” and even “terrorists”. Two white members of the almost all-white ruling class (Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela, and former Minister of Culture Abel Prieto) indulged in tropical Trumpism, smearing the mostly poor, brown and black crowd as “vulgar, tacky and miserable” (Mariela), and “marginals” and “criminals” (Prieto). Even an occasionally dissonant but mostly official bard of the regime like singer Silvio Rodríguez, whose songs were actually sung by the protesters, publicly said that the government was handling this very badly.

All of this may seem like a footnote compared to massive anti-dictatorial demonstrations and violent crackdowns in Venezuela and Nicaragua — or even anti-neoliberal demonstrations in democratic Chile and Peru. Cuba is a dictatorship, but not one that systematically tortures or opens fire on crowds. (This may change.) In addition to exporting its opposition (about 20 per cent of Cubans live abroad), the government secures compliance most effectively with neighborhood spy networks, public shaming (the infamous “acts of repudiation”) and incarceration. This toolkit has been in full display in the past two weeks.

Change in Cuba?

This may just be a moment, an important one, in the awakening of civil society. Cubans generally toe the line, and know what line not to cross. But the “little police” in each and every Cuban, as they often call this mechanism of self-control, is increasingly disrupted by other voices. Social media is a big factor here, so the Cuban government may crack it down more. But it would be a mistake. Young Cubans are already fed up, and crave change (or exile). If artists can connect with them more broadly, this moment may lead to something bigger.

Yvon Grenier is a professor, department of political science and resident fellow, Mulroney Institute of Government, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish.

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