• 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."

CUBA: FREEDOM ON THE NET. 2020.

FREEDOM HOUSE.

By Ted Henken

Table of Contents

A Obstacles to Access
B Limits on Content  
C Violations of User Rights

Overview

Cuba has one of the lowest connectivity rates in the Western Hemisphere, and while the government has significantly improved technical infrastructure and lowered prices in recent years, regular internet access remains extremely expensive, connections are poor, and authorities both monitor usage and work to direct traffic to the government-controlled intranet. The state engages in content-manipulation efforts while blocking a number of independent news sites. Political dissent is punishable under a wide range of laws, including Decree Law 370, which has frequently been used against online journalists. However, despite heavy restrictions, Cubans continue to circumvent government censorship through grassroots innovations.

Cuba is a one-party communist state that outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2019 that included the introduction of a new constitution.

Complete Article: CUBA: Freedom on the Net, 2020

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¡Cuba Libre!


By James Bloodworth, July 14, 2021

Cubans have been living under dictatorship in some form since 1952. They spent most of the 1950s living under the corrupt rule of Fulgencio Batista, an army colonel who overthrew the last elected Cuban leader, Carlos Prío Socarrás, in a coup d’état. Batista was himself overthrown seven years later, on Jan. 1, 1959, by Fidel Castro’s guerrilla army.

Today Cubans live under the political system imposed by Castro 62 years ago, a tropical version of the state socialist model that prevailed in Eastern Europe until 1989. Roadside billboards still exhort Cubans to build socialism, but the economy has been all but bankrupt since the Soviet Union cut off aid shipments in the early 1990s.

I spent over a year in Cuba in my early twenties. During my stay on the island, I got to see beyond the romantic iconography of “Fidel” and “Che” (for the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara) that are so often synonymous with Cuba. Some days it would be impossible to find soap or toilet paper in the state-run shops. I used to sneak into a hotel on the Malecón, Havana’s iconic seawall, to pilfer breakfast and take it home to the Cubans I was staying with. The monthly Libreta de Abastecimiento, or supplies booklet that Cubans were given by the government, hardly covered a week, let alone a month. Most of my young Cuban friends were plotting their escape from the island, usually via marriage with some love-struck European or Canadian tourist.

When I returned to England, I noticed two things. One, invariably, was the sheer level of material comfort I could enjoy. No more blackouts or whiling away hours every day waiting in lines. No more toilets without a functioning flush. No more waiting outside the police station for friends who had committed the “crime” of fraternizing with tourists.

I was also struck by the stubbornness with which many Western friends would cling to their illusions about Cuba, even though few who actually lived on the island seemed to believe in socialism anymore. While my Cuban friends were seeking a way out of Castro’s dungeon, left-wing companions who lived thousands of miles away behaved as if Cuba remained a tropical paradise.


For those willing to admit that things might not be perfect on the island, the poverty and lack of democracy were usually blamed on Yankee imperialism. The same friends who would raise hell when they heard about any injustice in the West would “suddenly become wise historiosophists or cool rationalists when told about worse horrors of the new alternative society,” as the Polish philosopher and former communist Leszek Kołakowski wrote during the Cold War to the English historian EP Thompson. Thompson had accused Kołakowski of apostasy for abandoning the revisionist communism of his youth.

To be sure, occasionally some better-known admirer of the dictatorship was honest enough to admit that they themselves could never live under the Cuban system. The late Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez once told The New York Times that he would “miss too many things” were he to actually live in Cuba. “I couldn’t live with the lack of information. I am a voracious reader of newspapers and magazines from around the world,” García Márquez said. For the Cubans, however, these apparently were acceptable privations.

The Cuban government and its supporters have a reflexive response to criticism, which is to blame the United States for the situation on the island. Much of the left has responded to the wave of spontaneous protest currently sweeping Cuba by echoing the line from Havana. Cuban protesters have been filmed chanting “libertad”(freedom) and “abajo la dictadura” (down with the dictatorship). Yet according to the Democratic Socialists of America, the largest socialist organization in the United States, what Cubans are really protesting is the “blockade,” which is actually a trade embargo: Cuba is free to trade with anyone in the world except the United States. “DSA stands with the Cuban people and their Revolution in this moment of unrest. End the blockade,” the group’s International Committee tweeted on July 11.

The explicitly Leninist reasoning of this logic—that the Cuban people are represented by the communist dictatorship whether they like it or not—has its roots partly in a crude strain of anti-Americanism that is popular among young, politically active, and left-leaning Americans.

But it also makes a virtue out of self-deception and forgetting. It is now over three decades since the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet archives were prized open, revealing the grisly manner in which Stalinist political systems impoverished and oppressed those unfortunate enough to live under their rule. And yet political convenience—along with tropical sunshine and the romantic iconography of bearded men in olive-green fatigues—is the midwife of historical amnesia. In The God that Failed, an autobiographical essay on his disillusionment and abandonment of Marxism published in 1949, the novelist Arthur Koestler likened communist fellow travelers to Peeping Toms, peering through a hole in the wall at “history” while not having to experience it themselves. In Koestler’s time, one might (just about) have pleaded ignorance as to what was taking place under “actually existing socialism.” No such moral leeway can be granted to their contemporary equivalents.


It is true that the U.S. has long exerted a malign influence over Cuba. It has invaded the island and tried to murder its leaders. Furthermore, it has attempted to subvert the Cuban economy for decades through its trade embargo.

The U.S. has pursued this course not to promote democracy in Cuba. Rather, it decided many decades ago that it was going to squeeze Cuba because the Cubans nationalized American businesses on the island. Before the revolution, the U.S. had more money invested in Cuba than in any other Latin American country except Venezuela. To make the point in a slightly different way, the U.S. maintains cordial relations with countries that have worse human rights records than Cuba, but those countries have not had the temerity to interfere with American business interests.

Yet the situation in Cuba—the poverty, the repression, the top-down Leninist political structure—is as much a product of forces within Cuba as a consequence of U.S. policy. Havana’s Communist Party veterans have no intention of opening Cuba up to the world; that would risk diluting the power they wield over their subjects. Nor are things as simple as saying that the United States “pushed Cuba into the arms of the Soviet Union” during the 1960s, as the popular liberal explanation goes for Cuba’s descent into tyranny. It is more accurate to say that the United States’ belligerence towards Cuba strengthened the hand of those in Castro’s revolutionary movement who already considered the USSR their ideological lodestone. As Che Guevara told the French weekly L’Express in 1963: “Our commitment to the [Soviet model] was half the fruit of constraint and half the result of choice.”

The Soviet model of socialism still exists in Cuba.Elections are a sham. There are no independent trade unions. There is one official newspaper, Granma, and the Communist Party decides what gets published. Speak out against the government and you will lose your job and possibly end up in jail. The exiled Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, who was driven out of his homeland in 1980 for his writing and homosexuality, put it well in his autobiography: “The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream.”

Committees for the Defense of the Revolution exist on every block in every town and city in Cuba to, as Fidel Castro once put it, “know who everyone is, what each person who lives on the block does, what relations he had with the tyranny, to what he is dedicated, whom he meets, and what activities he follows.”

But Cuba’s Soviet-style, state-run economic model does not work even if the U.S. embargo makes the situation worse. Day-to-day macroeconomic policy consists of centralized control of systematically induced shortages. It is no coincidence that Cuba is plagued by the same economic distortions that once beset Eastern Europe’s vanished communist dictatorships. Central planning always turns out like this, which is why countries such as China have long abandoned it.


The wave of protests this past week show that Cuba may soon be approaching its own 1989 moment. Thousands of people marched in cities and towns across the island to protest the conditions imposed on them by the dictatorship. Foreign news organizations have noted the protests over vaccines and blackouts, but in many of the videos that have emerged the Cubans themselves could be heard demanding “freedom.”

For those of us who closely follow events in Cuba, this has been a remarkable and unprecedented development. As Stephen Gibbs writes for the Times of London: “Millions of Cubans who have never seen any significant protest in their lifetimes saw one unrolling live before them. They now know what is possible.”

I have seen the slogan “Hands Off Cuba” being used by sections of the Western left in response to this week’s protests. But if such slogans are to mean anything, they should be directed at the decrepit dictatorship, which right now is the biggest fetter to Cuba’s future.

Cuba is a nation of more than 11 million people who have waited 70 years for the right to interfere in their country’s internal affairs. It is a diverse and complex society; it is more than Fidel and Che. The left should stand with the protesters, even if it means letting go of comforting romantic illusions.

James Bloodworth is a journalist and the author of Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain.

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HOW BIDEN SHOULD RESPOND TO THE CRISIS IN CUBA

Those pushing for regime change should be careful what they wish for.

July 15, 2021


William LeoGrande

The greatest threat to U.S. national interests in Cuba is the possibility, however slim, that U.S. policy there will succeed.

Sixty-two years ago this month, the Eisenhower administration concluded that Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime was incompatible with the national interests of the United States. Washington has been actively trying to destabilize it ever since. Even during the two-year hiatus from 2014 to 2016 when President Obama began normalizing relations, the U.S. government spent millions of dollars on “democracy promotion” programs to bolster the Cuban opposition.

But fostering misery and chaos in Cuba in pursuit of regime change is not cost-free for Washington. Although the Cuban government is not on the verge of collapse, the economic situation on the island is desperate — as bad it has been since the deep depression of the “Special Period” in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The recent anti-government demonstrations in Havana and a dozen other cities, some of which involved violence and looting, are a reminder that many Cubans are deeply discontented with the economic and political status quo. The possibility of further social unrest is real.

In Washington, the protests have given new life to the pipedream that the Cuban regime is on its last legs, prompting calls from various quarters for the Biden administration to administer the coup de grâce. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called on Biden to “challenge” the Cuban regime by appealing to the Cuban military to overthrow it. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned of a “horrific bloodbath” unless Biden toughens his policy toward the island.

The last time the Cuban economy was in such bad shape, regime collapse seemed imminent. An August 1993, a CIA National Intelligence Estimate predicted “a better than even chance that Fidel Castro’s government will fall within the next few years.” But this was no cause for celebration, as the intelligence report explained: “If Cuban authorities lose control, massive, panicky illegal emigration toward the United States will occur,” it warned. “There would also be pressure for US or international military intervention, especially if a large number of exiles became involved on the island.”

The CIA’s dire warning led Rick Nuccio to sound the alarm in a memo to his boss, Assistant Secretary of State Alec Watson. “The fundamental security threat facing the United States in Cuba is a societal crisis that leads to widespread violence. Such a development is the most likely to produce either significant outflows of refugees, or active involvement of U.S. forces and/or Cuban Americans in Cuba.” Another of Watson’s advisers, Phil Peters, tried to jolt the administration into action, writing, “Given the situation on the island, I would argue that policy continuity, or even marginal change, is not the low-risk option. It’s positively scary.”

Nuccio and Peters had different ideas about what ought to be done; Nuccio wanted to focus on building Cuban civil society to promote a peaceful transition to democracy, whereas Peters favored relaxing some sanctions and engaging with the Cuban government. Other State Department officials argued for turning up the heat to accelerate regime collapse.

President Bill Clinton, however, was more focused on politics in Miami than on developments in Havana, so months went by without any coordinated U.S. policy response to the deepening crisis on the island. By the summer of 1994, it was too late. A riot on the Havana waterfront, not unlike some of the demonstrations last weekend, was followed by the “rafters” migration crisis.

Echoes of these dangers can be heard today. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has called for U.S. intervention in response to the protests on the island, while Cuban American demonstrators blocked the Palmetto Expressway demanding an end to the Cuban regime. (They were not arrested, despite violating Gov. DeSantis’ new anti-riot law). Social media spread proposals to open a “humanitarian corridor” into Cuba, even though the Cuban government is already accepting humanitarian assistance. At sea, the U.S. Coast Guard is intercepting a growing number of Cubans trying to reach the United States in small boats and rafts.

Another cost of the sanctions President Trump imposed on Cuba — sanctions Biden has left in place — is a deterioration in counter-narcotics cooperation. Until 1998, Cuban air space and territorial waters were a blind spot that traffickers could exploit to evade the U.S. Coast Guard. But a Clinton era agreement establishing cooperation was so effective that traffickers shifted to routes through Mexico.

For the past decade the U.S. Southern Command, in its annual Posture Statement, has cited transnational crime, especially drug trafficking, as one of the top threats to U.S. security in the Hemisphere. Yet the Trump administration halted consultations between the Coast Guard and Cuban Border Guards, and U.S. sanctions have left the Cubans without the fuel they need to patrol their coasts.

The steps President Biden could take to reduce the danger of worse social unrest in Cuba and to safeguard U.S. security interests would not require any radical new initiatives. The United States and Cuba already have bilateral cooperation agreements on law enforcement, narcotics interdiction, and migration. Biden simply has to reactivate them and hold up Washington’s end of the bargain, especially the U.S. obligation to give Cubans a minimum of 20,000 immigrant visas annually so Cubans have a safe, legal way to emigrate rather than risking their lives at sea.

Cuban Americans have been able to send remittances to family on the island ever since Jimmy Carter was in the White House — until Donald Trump cut them off as one of his final acts in office. President Biden could restore the ability to send remittances with a stroke of the pen, sending urgently needed relief to millions of Cuban families.

The rapid spread of COVID in Cuba is a natural disaster worse than the hurricanes that periodically ravage the island. Previous U.S. presidents, including George W. Bush, who could not be accused of being soft on Cuban communism, have offered Cuba humanitarian aid in the face of such disasters — aid channeled both through non-governmental organizations and to the government directly.

There is no reason President Biden’s pledge to combat COVID globally should exclude Cuba. “This is about our responsibility,” he said in June, “our humanitarian obligation to save as many lives as we can — and our responsibility to our values.” Four U.S. Catholic bishops recently called upon international governments to provide Cuba with the medical supplies they need to cope with COVID, calling it “a moral imperative.” Private humanitarian relief efforts to have been heroic but inadequate. Rather than spending millions to subvert the Cuban government, USAID should be spending the money to help vaccinate the Cuban people.

President Obama made the point succinctly on December 17, 2014 when he announced his decision to shift from a policy of regime change to one of engagement: “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse,” he argued. “Even if that worked – and it hasn’t for 50 years – we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.”

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CUBA STUDY GROUP

July 2021

The Cuba Study Group: A non-profit, non-partisan organization comprised of business and community leaders of Cuban descent who share a common interest and vision of a free Cuba. Washington DC

We call on the #Biden administration to restore support for the Cuban people by prioritizing policies that focus on reinstating travel, reauthorizing remittances, re-opening consular services in #Havana, collaborating on COVID-19 solutions, and supporting #Cuba‘s private sector.

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CUBA: SERVE THE PEOPLE; Cuba Is Facing its Worst Shortage of Food since the 1990s

Government bungling and a shortage of dollars are to blame

The Economist, July 3, 2021

Original Article: Cuba’s Food Crisis

“CUBANS HAVE always been resourceful,” says Ana, the owner of a private farm-to-table restaurant near Havana. “But now we need to be magicians and acrobats.” The communist island is facing its worst shortage of food since the 1990s. Finding ingredients was never easy in a place which imports around 70% of its food. Over the past year it has become nearly impossible. When grocery shops are empty, as is so often the case, Ana tries the internet or the black market, only to find that prices are prohibitively high. Farmers no longer want to sell produce to her, she says, as they need to eat it themselves.

“CUBANS HAVE always been resourceful,” says Ana, the owner of a private farm-to-table restaurant near Havana. “But now we need to be magicians and acrobats.” The communist island is facing its worst shortage of food since the 1990s. Finding ingredients was never easy in a place which imports around 70% of its food. Over the past year it has become nearly impossible. When grocery shops are empty, as is so often the case, Ana tries the internet or the black market, only to find that prices are prohibitively high. Farmers no longer want to sell produce to her, she says, as they need to eat it themselves.

The government blames the shortage of food mostly on sanctions imposed by the United States—sanctions which, on June 24th, the UN General Assembly voted to condemn, as it has done nearly every year since 1992. But since 2001 the sanctions have exempted food. Indeed, the United States is the largest exporter of food to Cuba, though last year those imports were at their lowest level since 2002.

Some external factors have affected the food supply. The jump in global food prices, which in the year to May surged by 40%, the largest increase in a decade, has made imports more expensive. But the main problem is the government’s lack of hard currency. Tourism, normally 10% of GDP, has atrophied because of the pandemic: whereas 4.2m people visited in 2019, just over 1m did last year, nearly all in the first three months of the year. Remittances have also suffered. Before covid-19, commercial airlines would operate as many as ten flights a day between Miami and Havana, all packed with cash-toting mulas. But now only a handful of flights go to Havana each week. In addition, this year’s harvest of sugar—one of Cuba’s main exports—was the worst in more than a century, as a result of drought (the dollar shortage also sapped supplies of fertiliser and petrol).

The government is trying desperately to eke out dollars and skimp on imported goods. Cubans can no longer buy greenbacks from state-operated exchanges at the airport. State-owned bakeries are replacing a fifth of the imported wheat flour they use in bread with substitutes made from home-grown corn, pumpkin or yucca, much to the dismay of consumers, who have complained that bread now tastes like soggy corn. The sale of biscuits has been limited in certain cities to cut back even more on imports of flour.

Since February, in a desperate attempt to collect hard currency, the government has required that foreigners pay for their seven-day mandatory stay in a state-owned quarantine hotel in dollars (since June, this has even applied to some Cubans). To earn more from its diaspora, the state also operates e-commerce sites through which Cubans abroad can pay in dollars or euros for food and gifts to be delivered to people on the island.

Indeed many Cubans abroad are trying to help their family members stave off hunger by sending their own care packages. But even these have become harder and more costly to post. Goods from the United States that once took two weeks to deliver can now take up to four months to arrive, as shortages of fuel and trucks in Cuba make the final leg of the delivery trickier.

Bungled policy responses have made things worse. On June 10th the Cuban central bank announced that, from June 21st, Cubans would not be able to deposit dollars into their bank accounts for an undisclosed amount of time. This is despite the fact that, in order to buy goods in state-owned shops, Cubans need to have a prepaid card loaded with dollars. They will now have to exchange their dollars for euros or other currencies, which involves a fee. Emilio Morales, the head of the Havana Consulting Group in Miami, thinks this was a way to scare people into depositing more before the deadline.

Rather than stabilise the economy, the policy is likely to do the reverse. Some exchange houses in Miami soon ran out of euros. Cuban banks were overwhelmed by queues of panicking people trying to deposit the dollars they needed to buy groceries. “Cuba has 11m hostages and is expecting Cuban exiles to pay their ransom,” says Mr Morales. Ricardo Cabrisas, the deputy prime minister, was recently in Paris negotiating another extension on the roughly $3.5bn of loans owed to foreign governments—the island has been in arrears since 2019. An ultimatum from creditors may help explain the government’s desire to hoover up greenbacks.

Despite making some attempts to liberalise the economy, the government is bafflingly poor at boosting agricultural production or wooing foreign investors. Firms producing food in Cuba earn only pesos, which have little value internationally, but must buy almost all their inputs abroad in a foreign currency. The government requires farmers to sell their harvest to the state at uncompetitive prices and imposes draconian rules on livestock management. Up until last month it was illegal to slaughter a cow before it had reached an advanced age, as determined by the state. Now farmers may kill them either to sell the meat or to eat it themselves. But before they do so, they must jump through a series of hoops, including certifying that the cow has produced at least 520 litres of milk a year. They are also not allowed to let their herd shrink overall, and so can only slaughter one cow for every three calves they add to it—a tall order in the long run, mathematically. As it is, Cuba is having trouble maintaining its existing cattle herd: last year, in the province of Las Tunas alone, more than 7,000 cows died from dehydration. Farmers have to complete paperwork and wait a week for approval, too. “The process of applying to eat a cow is enough to make you lose your appetite,” says a farmer in Bahía Honda.

Rural transportion
Zafra of 2016-20127

Cubans are no strangers to difficult times. Eliecer Jiménez Almeida, a Cuban filmmaker in Miami, was a child during the “special period” of hardship after the fall of the Soviet Union, and remembers how his grandmother sold her gold teeth in exchange for soap, just so that he and his siblings could take a bath. For him and for many Cubans, the question is not how many more of the same indignities their people can endure, but how much longer.

Discontent was slightly less likely when Fidel Castro was in power. He had charisma and mystique that neither his brother and successor, Raúl, nor Cuba’s current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, can replicate. What is more, the Cuban diaspora is larger and wealthier and the internet has shown Cubans that many of their economic difficulties are created by their leaders, not the United States. The best way to stave off popular discontent would be to implement more and bigger economic reforms, at a faster pace, starting with farms and small businesses. It is a measure of Cubans’ disillusionment that the old revolutionary cry of “Hasta la victoria siempre” (On to victory, always) has largely been supplanted by the longsuffering “¿Hasta cuándo?” (How much longer?) ■

Fidel, cutting cane during the Zafra of 1970
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THE PROPHET OF DYSTOPIA AT REST: MARGARET ATWOOD IN CUBA

Yvon Grenier

Quillette.  July 2, 2021

Original Article: Margaret Atwood in Cuba

As a Cuba scholar, a student of literature and politics, and an enthusiastic reader of Margaret Atwood’s work, I have collected articles and media clips over the years related to the Grande Dame of CanLit’s many private and official visits to Cuba. Frankly, the file is thin. Generally, scholars engage with her important body of work (more than 60 books, fiction and non-fiction), without mentioning this topic. It is an interesting footnote, no more. Why interesting? Because it illustrates, in her case and as a pattern, how an inquiring mind sincerely committed to human rights and democratic values can turn off its critical antennae. Atwood allowed herself to become a compliant guest in a country that checks almost all the boxes of totalitarianism, minus extensive terror: a single-party state, no rule of law, arbitrary arrests (2,000 of them during the first eight months of last year), stultifying media (even Raúl Castro says so), and a regime of censorship that allows no freedom of speech, association, and only limited freedom of movement; a country with half-empty bookstores selling the same few official writers and hagiographies of the dear leaders.

I am not saying she ever became an enthusiastic apologist, as many Western writers and intellectuals did during the 1960s until the 1971 Padilla show trial. This is not like, say, a Sartre returning from Russia and announcing that cows produce more milk under socialism. Atwood has hardly said anything publicly about Cuba, as far as I know. Rather, Atwood in Cuba is more like a Sartre under the occupation, blissfully unconcerned about what is going on around her. I suspect that, were she asked if she considers Cuba a dictatorship, she would echo Justin Trudeau’s response to the same question back in 2016, and agree that it is. Maybe, like Trudeau, her answer would follow a pregnant pause, but she would be unlikely to deny that reality when forced to confront it. Nevertheless, with a little work, she has shown that she is able to ignore it.

Atwood travelled to Cuba for the first time in the early 1980s. She and her husband, the writer and avid birdwatcher Graeme Gibson (1934–2019), had been invited to participate in a cultural exchange by her former research assistant, who was then working as a cultural attaché at the Canadian embassy. Atwood tells this story in the introduction to a beautiful coffee-table book, entitled Cuba: Grace Under Pressure, written by Canadian writer Rosemary Sullivan with photographs by Malcom David Batty. Sullivan focuses on the private lives of Cubans, not the regime or its politics—“pressure” here refers to economic hardship, not the kind that results from living in a police state, and “grace” is a compliment to the Cuban nation for remaining fiercely independent. So it is a political book after all, just surreptitiously.

Atwood does not say much, but she does address the political question. “Nothing anywhere is as simple as we would like it to be,” she wisely writes, “but there are two verities that can be counted on: 1) no government is its people, and 2) birds don’t vote.” This is particularly true of countries in which neither birds nor citizens can vote. She also writes this:

Graeme promptly got arrested because he’d gone out early in the morning to watch birds, and hadn’t taken his passport—”We have a lot of trouble with people masquerading as spies,” a Cuban quipped later—and he’d wandered too close to something or other. He was stuck in a police station for hours while they tried to find an interpreter. Thus he was late for the hot-shot cultural lunch, and had to explain why. There were quite a few smiles and chuckles: a lot of the people at the table had themselves been arrested, under one regime or another, or at one phase of the Cuban Revolution or another. The story of Graeme’s arrest is still doing the rounds in Cuba, where they think it’s pretty funny.

Fortunately, Gibson, a prominent Canadian guest with a direct line to the embassy, never felt unsafe. It is a rare privilege to be able to trivialise arbitrary arrest in this way, as mere fodder for dinner party conversation.

In 2017, Canada was the guest country of honor at the Havana International Book Fair. A contingent of more than 30 Canadian authors plus several performing artists were invited. Atwood, for whom it was not a first as a Fair’s guest, was the star of the delegation. The speaker of the Canadian Senate presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening of the Canadian pavilion. Nobody seemed to notice how highly parametered (from “parameter”: a term used in Cuba to designate the lines not to be crossed) this event always is. The stands overflow with children’s books, but critical literature is a rare commodity. Anyone who wants to see a truly international book fair in Latin America, replete with free discussion and vigorous debates about books and authors, should go to the one in Guadalajara, Mexico, and then compare.

The Havana Times journalist Barbara Maseda reported that during one of the official soirées, Atwood was asked about her favourite Cuban writers. Her response: “Carpentier, of course. Martí. Miguel Barnet. Nancy Morejón. Pablo Armando [Fernández]. Abel Prieto.” She knows there are more, but those were the names that came to mind. Maybe that was just an unrehearsed answer. Atwood never writes about Cuban literature, and her non-fiction work includes just one short comment on a Latin American writer—Gabriel García Márquez, the one every educated Anglo-Saxon knows. Her world is Anglo-American literature, and that is surely expansive enough for one person. But as Maseda perceptively remarks, her choices seemed to be “taken out of a manual of officially approved writers.” “The selection,” Maseda adds, “speaks, perhaps, of the nature of the links that she has kept with the country and its culture: ties built around diplomacy and official events, devoid of the restless curiosity one would expect from the talented literary critic.”

Martí is the nation’s “apostle,” not widely considered to be among the best Latin American writers of his time. Carpentier was indeed a great writer. Barnet wrote one memorable book of ethnology and was the boss of the artists and writers “union” (in the Soviet sense); Morejón and Fernández are respected but minor authors, and Morejón also occupied political positions in Cuba’s cultural bureaucracy. Almost nobody read Abel Prieto’s books, but everybody knows Prieto the minister of culture and cultural apparatchik. Last fall he was particularly vocal denigrating the young artists and independent journalists demonstrating for more freedom of expression in Cuba.

According to the Western Canon of literary critic Harold Bloom, five of the 18 greatest modern Latin American writers were Cubans: Alejo Carpentier (1904–80), José Lezama Lima (1910–76), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1929–2005), Severo Sarduy (1937–93), and Reinaldo Arenas (1943–90). Except for Arenas and Cabrera Infante, the others wrote most of their books before the revolution and often abroad (Carpentier and Sarduy). Lezama Lima was censored for decades on account of his homosexuality, as was Arenas and another important Cuban writer, Virgilio Piñera (1912–79). Cabrera Infante (a Cervantes Prize winner, the Spanish equivalent of the Booker Prize) and Arenas remain censored on the island to this day. As were Fernández and Morejón during the 1970s. Arenas and Cabrera Infante were fierce and vocal critics of the dictatorship and died in exile. Until very recently, they were officially and completely ninguneados in the island, meaning they were actively erased from official memory. To put it in the parlance employed by Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale, they were “unpersoned.”

The performing artists who were part of the Canadian delegation may not have known all this (although, when I visit a country, I am always curious to know if people like me are well treated there.) But Atwood is a patron of Index on Censorship, a vocal champion of Amnesty International, and a recipient of the English PEN Pinter prize for her work defending writers’ rights. And, as mentioned, she is a frequent visitor to the island. Imagine visiting Moscow for the nth time during the Cold War, attending some Canadian-Soviet cultural event or other, and announcing that the very best Russian writers were Maxim Gorky, Feodor Gladkov, and Alexander Fadeyev, rather than, say, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Anna Akhmatova, and Vasily Grossman.

One needs to work at ignoring reality because it requires a conscious effort to look the other way. Atwood’s particular brand of imagined dystopia—amplified right-wing fantasies—ruffles no feather in the milieu she navigates. Not much bravery is required—at least, nothing like that mustered by precursors like Yevgeny Zamyatin or George Orwell, who is one of her favourite authors.

From 1984 to The Handmaid’s Tale CONTINUE READING

Yvon Grenier is a Professor of Political Science at St. Francis Xavier University and Resident Fellow at the Mulroney Institute of Government. You can follow him on Twitter @ygrenier1.

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CUBA SAYS ABDALA VACCINE 92.28% EFFECTIVE AGAINST CORONAVIRUS

Mon, June 21, 2021, 8:05 PM·2 min read

Marc Jranjk

Original Article: Abdala Vaccine

HAVANA, June 21 (Reuters) – Cuba said on Monday its three-shot Abdala vaccine against the coronavirus had proved 92.28% effective in last-stage clinical trials.   The announcement came just days after the government said another homegrown vaccine, Soberana 2, had proved 62% effective with just two of its three doses.

“Hit by the pandemic, our scientists at the Finlay Institute and Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology have risen above all the obstacles and given us two very effective vaccines,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel tweeted.

The announcement came from state-run biopharmaceutical corporation BioCubaFarma, which oversees Finlay, the maker of Soberana 2, and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, the producer of Abdala. Both vaccines are expected to be granted emergency authority by local regulators shortly.

Cuba, whose biotech sector has exported vaccines for decades, has five coronavirus vaccine candidates.

The Caribbean’s largest island is facing its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic following the arrival of more contagious variants, setting new records for daily coronavirus cases.

The Communist-run country has opted not to import foreign vaccines but to rely on its own. Some experts said it was a risky bet but it appears to have paid off, putting Cuba in position to burnish its scientific reputation, generate much-needed hard currency through exports and strengthen the vaccination drive worldwide.

Several countries from Argentina and Jamaica to Mexico, Vietnam and Venezuela have expressed an interest in buying Cuba’s vaccines. Iran started producing Soberana 2 earlier this year as part of late-phase clinical trials.

Cuba’s authorities have already started administering the experimental vaccines en masse as part of “intervention studies” they hope will slow the spread of the virus.  About a million of the country’s 11.2 million residents have been fully vaccinated to date.

Daily cases have halved in the capital, Havana, since the start of the vaccination campaign a month ago, using Abdala, according to official data.  Cuba has reported a total of 169,365 COVID-19 cases and 1,170 deaths.

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New Book by Vegard Bye, CUBA, FROM FIDEL TO RAÚL AND BEYOND

I have just read Vegard Bye’s Cuba analysis – a bit late as it was published in mid-2020.  It is indeed an excellent analysis of Cuba’s current situation and prospects.  


This is one of the very best general analyses of the inter-relationships between Cuba’s economic conundrums and reforms, its socio-economic transformationsand the character and functioning of the political system.  Bye has drawn from his own experience in Cuba over a number of decades and from a careful and examination of the broad ranges of literature from within Cuba, from Cuban analysts outside Cuba, and from Cuban-American and international analysts. His chapters on the economic changes since the death of Fidel and their social implications is masterful.  Even better is his analysis of Cuba’s political system in Chapters 4, and 6 to 8.  

This volume is a tremendously valuable resource for a comprehension of Cuba’s current situation and its possible future.  

INFORMATION ON THE BOOK:

Title:               Cuba, From Fidel To Raul And Beyond

Format:           Paperback

Published:       August 14, 2020

Publisher:       Palgrave Macmillan

Language:       English

ISBN –             13:9783030218089

OVERVIEW FROM THE BACK COVER:

This book analyzes the economic reforms and political adjustments that took place in Cuba during the era of Raúl Castro’s leadership and its immediate aftermath, the first year of his successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel. Faced with economic challenges and a political crisis of legitimacy now that the Castro brothers are no longer in power, the Cuban Revolution finds itself at another critical juncture, confronted with the loss of Latin American allies and a more hostile and implacable US administration.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Introduction
  2. Retreat of State as Economic Actor?
  3. Achieving the Required Surge in Investment and Growth?
  4. Political Implications of Socio-economic Changes
  5. T he Evolving International Arena: Fitting into a New Context
  6. More Pluralism or Continued Authoritarianism/
  7. Evolution of Party and State Relations
  8. Towards the End of Gerontocracy
  9. Into the Critical Juncture: Principal Dilemmas and Possible Scenarios

EDITORIAL REVIEWS

“The text that Vegard Bye presents to us summarizes the ideas and visions that he has been developing after years of observing closely the evolution of the Cuban social, political and economic model, especially during the reforms process led by Raul Castro since 2008. His proposals and analysis have the virtue of not falling into common places and stereotypes so usual in the Cuba subject. He found originality from his firsthand knowledge of the Cuban reality, seen from an international perspective and from the prism of modern concepts of political science.” (Pavel Vidal Alejandro, Professor of Economics at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia)

“This is a timely book and a well-informed contribution to the ever-going debate about Cuba’s future. The author has accumulated decades of experience in assessing and living in the Cuban reality, and the book offers just that, a scholarly as much as a personal view of the events in the Island. Whether you share or not his opinions, this piece will greatly contribute to your knowledge about this fascinating country, in a way that is both enjoyable and useful.” (Ricardo Torres, Professor at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, University of Havana, Cuba)

“Displaying an expertise gained through several decades of closely watching developments on the island, Bye delivered a very perceptive and informed analysis of the economic and political changes in the post-Fidel era, the outcomes of Raúl Castro’s reform and the political scenarios for the future. A most-needed assessment of Cuba’s contemporary realities from a political science perspective.” (Nora Gamez Torres, Cuban-American journalist covering Cuba and US-Cuban relations for Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald)

“A timely and thankfully heterodox volume that gives readers a front row seat and fresh and locally informed analysis of contemporary Cuban political economy. The book provides both a sober assessment of Raúl Castro’s 10 years of economic reforms (2008-2018) and an early analysis of the first year of Miguel Díaz-Canel’s―Raúl’s hand-picked successor―government. Its unique perspective derives equally from the author’s immersion in progressive projects of national renovation in Cuba and Nicaragua as a war correspondent, United Nations official, and representative of various Norwegian development agencies. Bye’s ongoing collaboration with various leading Cuban NGOs and civil society groups gives his book an insider’s insight and balance rare for a volume by a non-Cuban about such a controversial topic as Cuban politics.” (Ted A. Henken, Associate Professor of Sociology at Baruch College, City University of New York, USA)

“A study on Cuba focused on its most pressing issues. A must-read for any researcher―carefully researched and accessible to anyone interested in the past, present and future of the Cuban Revolution.” (Harold Cárdenas, co-founder of the Cuban blog La Jóven Cuba)

VEGARD BYE is a Norwegian political scientist, writer, consultant and ex-politician. He has represented the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Angola and Bolivia, written extensively on Latin America, and is a consultant specializing on human rights, democracy, conflict and post-conflict societies as well as solar energy. He served as a Substitute Representative (Vararepresentant) to the Norwegian Parliament for the Socialist Left Party from Oslo (1993-1997), meeting in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs.  He is currently a Partner at Scanteam a.s., an Oslo-based consulting company focusing on international development and responsible business.

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HUMAN RIGHTS WON’T HAPPEN IN A VACUUM IN CUBA

Normalizing relations with the island would go a long way towards promoting one of the president’s “core pillars” of US foreign policy.

June 17, 2021

Original Article: in RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT

William LeoGrande

(Washington Post, December 18, 2014)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made headlines on March 9, when she said that Cuba was “not currently among President Biden’s top priorities.” The second half of her answer got less attention, though it was equally significant: “…but we are committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. policy.” Shortly thereafter, a senior official reaffirmed her comment, saying that the president would “make human rights a fundamental pillar of his foreign policy,” not just in Cuba but across the Americas. 

This is no surprise. Biden has been an advocate for human rights throughout his political career, and this position on Cuba echoes what he said during the campaign. But human rights policies don’t happen in a vacuum; they are one component of a broader bilateral relationship and their effectiveness depends upon that context. 

Biden acknowledged as much when he criticized President Trump for imposing tougher economic sanctions against Cuba, arguing they had “inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.” That was also the central argument President Barack Obama advanced for his 2014 policy of normalizing relations with Havana—that sixty years of trying to promote democracy through coercive diplomacy simply had not worked.

Cuban leaders have always rejected foreign demands that they reform their politics. To them, such demands are an infringement on Cuba’s sovereignty. When U.S.-Cuban relations deteriorate and Washington tightens the embargo, the Cuban government reacts like most governments under attack by foreign enemies. A siege mentality takes hold and internal dissent is regarded as akin to treason — a reaction exacerbated by Washington’s material support for some dissidents, which puts all dissidents under suspicion of being Fifth Columnists. 

But the history of Havana’s relations with both the United States and the European Union also shows that when relations are warming, Cuban leaders have acted unilaterally to improve human rights in order to reinforce the positive momentum. President Jimmy Carter put human rights at the center of his foreign policy, and, when he opened a dialogue with Havana, Fidel Castro released more than 2,000 political prisoners, many jailed since the early 1960s. Castro’s negotiator told U.S. officials the gesture was explicitly a response to Carter’s concern about human rights and his willingness to improve relations.

In President Bill Clinton’s second term, he took steps to reduce tensions by relaxing the embargo on travel and on cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges. In Cuba, the government’s repression of dissidents eased noticeably, prompting the senior U.S. diplomat in Havana, Vicki Huddleston, to describe it as a “Cuban Spring” — an opening that closed again when President George W. Bush returned to a policy of hostility.

When President Raúl Castro was trying to negotiate a new economic cooperation agreement with the European Union in 2010, he responded positively to requests from Cardinal Jaime Ortega of the Cuban Catholic Church and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to release 52 political prisoners jailed since 2003 for allegedly collaborating with the Bush administration’s regime change policy.

As part of Castro’s agreement with President Obama to begin normalizing relations, Castro released 53 prisoners that were of interest to the United States because of their anti-regime political activity. He also kept a promise to accelerate the expansion of Internet access on the island, which fostered the emergence of independent blogs and news services that increased the Cuban public’s access to information unfiltered by state media. Cuban private businesses flourished during this period, something the Obama administration regarded as an important vehicle for expanding economic freedom on the island and freeing Cubans from dependence on a state salary.

The lesson for the Biden administration as it conducts its review of Cuba policy is two-fold. First, not only does heightened coercion not produce human rights gains in Cuba, it makes the situation worse. Second, a policy of engagement that improves bilateral relations overall creates an atmosphere in which human rights progress is more likely — not guaranteed, but more likely. 

By no means does engagement mean abandoning the U.S. commitment to human rights. Administration officials can and should continue to emphasize the centrality of human rights to the president’s overall foreign policy, underscoring that engagement will advance faster and farther if the human rights situation on the island improves. 

A policy of engagement will enable Washington to resume the bilateral dialogue with Havana on human rights that President Obama began and President Trump abandoned. It will also make it possible for the United States to coordinate with our European allies, who have an ongoing consultation with Cuba on human rights issues under the terms of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement the European Union signed with Cuba in 2016. 

No one should expect these conversations to be easy, but they provide a forum in which the United States can directly raise issues of concern, ranging from prison conditions, the harassment of dissidents, and the demonization of independent media, to the conditions under which Cuban medical personnel serve abroad and the discriminatory treatment of Cuban Americans visiting the island.  

In 1975, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the countries of Europe signed the Helsinki Accords aimed at reducing Cold War tensions. Critics argued that the agreement rewarded the Soviet Union because it recognized the political status quo in Europe. But the accord’s real significance turned out to be the human rights provisions. Though unenforceable, they created an ongoing opportunity for human rights discussion and debate among the signatories, and they legitimized the demands of human rights advocates inside individual countries. In short, détente created the conditions that made human rights progress possible. That’s a precedent the Biden administration should keep in mind as it formulates a new policy toward Cuba.

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“EL DÓLAR ES EL DÓLAR, HAY QUE ESPERAR A VER QUÉ PASA EN CUBA”

En medio de la incertidumbre, la población se resiste aún a incorporar el euro a su día a día.

14ymedio, La Habana | Junio 18, 2021

Articulo Original:  14ymedio,

Ya desde hace meses, es casi imposible comprar cualquier divisa extranjera en un banco de la Isla. (14ymedio)

Mientras se acerca la fecha del 20 de junio, a partir de la cual ya no se podrá depositar dólares en efectivo en los bancos, las dudas crecen entre los cubanos a la hora de comprar divisas. En los grupos de Telegram donde se ofrece cambio de monedas, el euro oscila entre los 80 y los 85 pesos y el dólar ronda los 60 pesos, pero pocos usuarios se atreven a dar el paso ante la incertidumbre creada por la decisión del Gobierno.

“Una cosa son los anuncios y otra la realidad. No se está vendiendo ni comprando nada”, asegura a 14ymedio Alejandro Medina, un trabajador privado de 41 años. “Yo puse un anuncio hace como cuatro días en el grupo donde siempre resuelvo para ver si vendía 100 dólares a 60 pesos y nada, nadie me ha escrito. Todo el mundo está aguantado, hay mucha incertidumbre”. Esperan, dice Medina, a ver qué pasa el fin de semana.

“Los cabezones (dólares) cayeron en desgracia”, lamenta Papito, un cambista ilegal que, en apenas unas horas, fue contactado por una decena de clientes que querían deshacerse de sus dólares

Es la recomendación también de los “profesionales” del gremio. “Los cabezones (dólares) cayeron en desgracia”, lamenta Papito, un cambista ilegal que, en apenas unas horas, fue contactado por una decena de clientes que querían deshacerse de sus dólares. “Les dije que no se volvieran locos y esperaran, a mí no me interesa comprarlos ahora, pero el dólar es el dólar, hay que esperar a ver qué pasa”.

Con el rostro enorme de los padres fundadores de Estados Unidos, los más modernos billetes de dólar se han ganado en los últimos años en Cuba el apodo de “cabezón” para distinguirlos de las series anteriores, con la figura central más pequeña. El sobrenombre se suma a una larga lista de apodos que incluye “verdes”, “fulas” y “moneda del enemigo”.

La moneda de la Unión Europea, candidata a ocupar el trono de la divisa estadounidense, es vista con recelo. “El euro no es tan conocido aquí, tiene otro tamaño, algunos billetes ni siquiera me caben en la billetera”, lamenta Papito, que bromea: “Vamos a tener que pasar un curso acelerado para aprender a distinguir los euros buenos de los falsos”.

La dificultad no la tienen solo los cambistas informales. “Hay muchas aplicaciones de envío de comida a domicilio que el cliente puede elegir sin ver el costo total de la compra en pesos cubanos o en dólares, incluso pagar en efectivo con una moneda o con otra. ¿Ahora van a tener que rediseñar toda la aplicación?”, se cuestiona Yunieski, mensajero de uno de estos servicios de entrega a domicilio.

“Por lo menos con los dólares ya la gente sabía que si estaba el viejito arrugado y medio calvo era de 100 y que si te tocaba el de la barba entonces era de 50”, ironiza, “pero ¿quién sabe nada de puertas ni monumentos europeos? Habrá que ponerse a estudiar”.

Eso sí, Yunieski prefiere el euro al peso convertible, ya en extinción en el país. “No acepto propinas en chavitos porque si no después tengo que pasarme tremendas horas en la cola del banco para cambiarlo. En euros, libras esterlinas y yenes, todas las que el cliente quiera darme”, sentencia.

Ya desde hace meses, en cualquier caso, es casi imposible comprar cualquier divisa extranjera en un banco de la Isla. Un joven cubano que prefirió el anonimato contó a este diario que un día en el banco vio a la cajera guardando en una gaveta “tres grandes fajos de billetes” en euros y en dólares. Él, que quería cambiar pesos cubanos, le preguntó por qué no le vendía de esos mismos billetes. “No tenemos disponibilidad”, respondió la cajera sin inmutarse. Sin cejar en su empeño, el muchacho le preguntó que cuándo pensaban vender dólares y euros. “Los puede comprar en la calle”, aconsejó la empleada estatal.

A la vez que el Estado impone férreo control de las operaciones en divisas, en algunos bancos ya se ha vuelto un negocio redondo el cambio de moneda libremente convertible (MLC) ‘por la izquierda’

Así lo explica a 14ymedio un joven programador informático de 28 años que tiene una cuenta en el Banco Metropolitano de La Habana en la que puede recibir moneda extranjera mediante transferencia y que le permite disponer de una tarjeta magnética para comprar en las tiendas en MLC.

Según explica, ha logrado tener un contacto en la sucursal bancaria donde tiene abierta su cuenta en divisa y ahí un empleado, a cambio de recibir un porcentaje del dinero total transferido, le avisa el momento en que la caja contadora o en la bóveda ha acumulado la cantidad de euros disponibles que quiere extraer.

Mientras tanto, si un usuario común y corriente se dirige al banco y pide extraer 100 euros de su cuenta en MLC, seguirá recibiendo la misma respuesta de los últimos meses: “Lamentablemente ahora no tenemos en depósito esa cantidad”.

Los bancos modificarán su horario este fin de semana “para garantizar los depósitos en efectivo en dólares estadounidenses”, informa este viernes la prensa oficial. El Banco Metropolitano abrirá el viernes y el sábado de 8:30 am a 3:30 pm y el domingo, de 8:30 am a 12:30 pm, y el Banco de Crédito y Comercio y el Banco Popular de Ahorro, el viernes, de 8 am a 3 pm; el sábado, de 8 am a 11 am, y el domingo, de 8 am a 12 pm.

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