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

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

CUBA ABRE SU PRIMER MERCADO MAYORISTA DESTINADO SOLO A COOPERATIVAS PRIVADAS

EFE,  17 de marzo de 2018 01:15 PM

Original Article: MERCADO MAYORISTA

LA HABANA

Mercabal, el primer mercado mayorista de Cuba, abrió el sábado sus puertas en La Habana destinado inicialmente solo a cooperativas privadas no agropecuarias y con la promesa de extenderlo a los demás trabajadores autónomos de la isla, informa el diario oficial Granma en portada.

El mercado cuenta ya con 35 clientes, que tienen acceso a un descuento del 20 por ciento del precio de venta minorista en productos como frijoles, cigarros, refrescos, cervezas, azúcar, sal, confituras, hamburguesas y salchichas, muy demandados en los restaurantes, cafeterías y bares del sector privado.

El pollo, uno de los alimentos más consumidos, se rebajará hasta un 30 por ciento respecto a su precio en la red minorista, indica Granma, que reconoce que el gobierno cubano responde así a “uno de los reclamos más reiterados de quienes ejercen las nuevas formas no estatales de gestión en el país”.

Localizado por ahora solo en la capital del país, los próximos mercados mayoristas abrirán “de forma paulatina” en el resto de la isla, “una vez que esta propuesta inicial esté en óptimo funcionamiento y en dependencia de los lugares donde más trabajadores por cuenta propia existan”, señaló la ministra.

En Cuba existen hoy más de medio millón de trabajadores privados o “cuentapropistas”, acogidos a las categorías de trabajo permitidas por el gobierno cubano.

Más de 12,000 son socios de cooperativas no agropecuarias, que ya suman unas 420 en todo el país, en su gran mayoría dedicadas a la gastronomía, el comercio, los servicios, la construcción y la industria.

Ubicado en el municipio habanero de Plaza de la Revolución, Mercabal abrirá de lunes a sábado con productos de diez proveedores directos, que reabastecerán el mercado según los pedidos mensuales de los clientes.

Para poder contratar los servicios de la nueva instalación los autónomos deben tener actualizada su ficha de cliente y poseer una cuenta con tarjeta magnética, emitida por el estatal Banco Metropolitano.

La ampliación del trabajo privado -donde se incluyen las cooperativas no agropecuarias- en el 2010 ha sido una de las reformas clave del gobierno del saliente mandatario cubano Raúl Castro para actualizar el modelo socialista y reducir las abultadas plantillas del sector estatal.

Desde agosto, la isla comenzó un proceso de reordenamiento del “cuentapropismo”, dentro del que paralizó temporalmente la entrega de licencias a restaurantes privados y casas de renta turísticas, entre otras actividades, para frenar ilegalidades, “desviaciones” y “corregir deficiencias”.

Las licencias congeladas son, precisamente, las más demandadas del sector.

A pesar de que prometió que no mantendría “por un período de tiempo muy largo” esta medida, el Gobierno cubano aún no ha retomado la entrega de autorizaciones a los autónomos cubanos, que ya representan el 12 por ciento de la fuerza laboral del país.

  

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CARMELO MESA-LAGO. UNA APOSTILLA SOBRE SALARIOS, PENSIONES Y ASISTENCIA SOCIAL EN CUBA

Original Article:  SALARIOS, PENSIONES Y ASISTENCIA SOCIAL EN CUBA.

ELESTADOCOMOTALMARCH 10, 2018

He leído con interés y provecho el artículo de Lázaro González y Yisel R. Pérez: “El sol no se puede tapar con un dedo,” y concuerdo con la mayoría de sus puntos y recomendaciones. El motivo de este artículo es aportar evidencia estadística que refuerza sus argumentos demostrando el declive en el salario y la pensión reales (ajustadas a la inflación), así como el recorte en la asistencia social en términos de beneficiarios y gastos.

Salario medio real en el sector estatal

 Las estadísticas y la mayoría de los artículos que se publican en Cuba se refieren al salario medio nominal en el sector estatal, no ajustado a la inflación (índice de precios al consumidor: IPC), muy diferente al salario real, ajustado de esa forma. Esto da la ilusión que los salarios han crecido consistentemente desde su punto más bajo en 1993, en el peor año de la crisis económica de los años 90. Si comparamos el salario nominal ese año (182 CUP) con el de 2016 (740 CUP), habría aumentado cuatro veces. A más del problema de la falta de ajuste, este cálculo toma el punto más bajo de la curva y, por supuesto, siempre aumenta. Aunque no exactamente igual, la CEPAL en su último informe regional, comienza la serie del salario medio real en 2010 y Cuba salta 54,8% entre ese año y 2016, con creces el mayor aumento en América Latina. (1). Pero otro resultado se obtendría si se hiciese una comparación mucho más larga, por ejemplo, entre 1989—el año anterior al comienzo de la crisis—y 2016. Esto es lo que justamente hacemos abajo.

 

Aquí mostramos la serie completa del salario real entre 1989 y 2016, el último año en que tenemos el salario nominal medio estatal y el IPC. Puede observarse que en 1993 el salario era un décimo del nivel de 1989; después con la recuperación aumenta consistentemente, pero todavía en 2016 era 39,3% del nivel de 1989, o sea, un 60,7% menor, esto quiere decir que el poder adquisitivo se contrajo en ese porcentaje. Si se observa el año 2010, usado como base por la CEPAL, el salario aumenta de 27,1% a 39,3% pero esta es una visión a corto plazo que no se conforma con una mirada a largo plazo (2). Cuba es el único país en América Latina donde el salario en el sector estatal (la enorme mayoría en el país) se fija centralmente; la ley no estipula su ajuste al IPC y concede gran discrecionalidad al gobierno para hacerlo.

El salario medio estatal mensual de 687 CUP en 2015, equivalía a 27 dólares, insuficiente para cubrir las necesidades básicas (excluyendo educación y salud), mientras que el salario mínimo de 225 CUP era una cuarta parte del ingreso necesario para cubrir necesidades básicas. (3)

Pensión media real

Las mismas observaciones hechas al salario valen para las pensiones. El gráfico abajo presenta la evolución de las pensiones reales.

 

La ley no determina el ajuste de la pensión al IPC (uno de sólo cuatro países en América Latina) y, como en el caso del salario, el gobierno tiene amplia discreción para hacerlo. En 1993, la pensión real era 16% del monto de 1989; 22 años después se estabilizó en la mitad del nivel pre-crisis. La pensión media nominal en 2016 era de 277 CUP mensuales, (4) equivalente a 11 dólares, insuficiente para cubrir las necesidades básicas alimenticias. Los jubilados y pensionados se encuentran entre los grupos más pobres en la población; (5) para subsistir deben recibir remesas, ayuda de familiares o trabajar como cuentapropistas.

Prestaciones de asistencia social

 Aunque ONEI no publica estadísticas de pobreza (el único país latinoamericano que no lo hace), esta ha crecido en el último decenio por varias razones: el salario medio estatal real cayó 61% y es insuficiente para cubrir las necesidades básicas; la pensión media menguó a la mitad y no satisface las necesidades alimenticias básicas; el racionamiento se ha reducido por la extracción de la libreta de bienes a precios subsidiados que se venden en el mercado a un precio dos o tres veces superior; el aumento de precio en las TRD que tienen una ganancia en torno al 200%; el incremento del precio de los servicios públicos (electricidad, agua, gas, transporte), así como de los alimentos en los mercados libres; la eliminación de comidas subsidiadas en cafeterías para trabajadores (los cuales reciben una suma insuficiente para comprar un almuerzo); y el deterioro en el acceso y la calidad de los servicios de salud. (6). Por tanto, la asistencia social debió de expandirse a fin de proteger a la población vulnerable contra esos problemas. Sin embargo, ocurrió lo opuesto como se muestra abajo.

 

Entre 2006 y 2016, el gasto de asistencia social como porcentaje del presupuesto se contrajo a menos de un cuarto, de 2,2% a 0,5%, mientras que el número de beneficiarios como proporción de la población decreció a menos de un tercio, de 5,3% a 1,6%. Esto, en parte, se explica por un “Lineamiento” aprobado en el VI Congreso del PCC en 2011 que terminó la asistencia social a los beneficiarios con una familia capaz de ayudarles. Detectar y eliminar la asistencia a los que no la necesitan es una política universal pero, en el contexto cubano de expansión de la pobreza y un nivel generalizado de necesidad, dicha política no parece razonable. El Cuadro 1 muestra otros recortes en la asistencia social. La asistencia a adultos mayores y discapacitados disminuyó en 62%, a las madres con hijos discapacitados en 51%, y a los que necesitan atención a domicilio en 65%.

¿Por qué estos recortes que provocan efectos tan adversos?

Las autoridades cubanas repetidamente han reconocido que los salarios actuales en el sector estatal, que comprende 75% del empleo, son insuficientes para satisfacer las necesidades de la población. En un intento de paliar este problema en 2010-2011 se estimó el empleo innecesario en el sector estatal (“nóminas infladas”) y se anunció que dicho excedente sería despedido: 500,000 en 2010, 1 millón en 2011 y un total de 1,8 millones en 2015. Los afectados encontrarían empleo en el sector no estatal (cuenta propia, usufructo de la tierra y cooperativas urbanas-CNA) que se extendería. En total se despidieron alrededor de 500.000 empleados estatales superfluos, y en 2016 se anunció oficialmente la terminación de los despidos.  Ocurrió una expansión del sector no-estatal, pero no suficiente para dar empleo a los  desocupados: el cuentapropismo creció de 147.000 a 567,000 entre 2010 y 2017, mientras que los usufructuarios llegaron a 174.000 y los miembros de las CNA a unos 11.000 (no se conoce el número de empleados de los últimos dos grupos, pero no es sustancial), en total no agregaron mucho más de 800.000 nuevos puestos. Por ello queda alrededor de un millón de excedentes. (7). En vez de acelerar el tamaño del sector no estatal, en 2017 se hizo lo opuesto, imponiendo restricciones a su crecimiento. En vista a ello los salarios en el sector estatal siguen a la zaga.

La reducción de las pensiones y la asistencia social es en gran medida el resultado del recorte substancial del gasto social  (pensiones, salud, educación, vivienda y asistencia social). Este alcanzó su cénit en 2007-2008 cuando equivalió a 55,4% del presupuesto estatal y 36,6% del PIB. En 2016 había menguado a 47,1% y 28,1% respectivamente, o sea, un declive de 8,3 puntos porcentuales menos del presupuesto estatal y 8,5 puntos del PIB. El gasto de pensiones también menguó con la reforma de 2008 que aumentó las edades de retiro para ambos sexos en cinco años (de 60 a 65 años para los hombres y de 55 a 60 años a las mujeres), con lo cual atrasó el retiro y mermó el número de nuevos pensionados (el total se ha reducido porque las muertes superan a los nuevos jubilados). Invirtiendo el aumento progresivo de jubilados por decenios y a pesar del agudo proceso de envejecimiento, en 2015 bajó el número de jubilados en 8.358. (8). La disminución del gasto social también afectó a las prestaciones de asistencia social. En este caso ayudadas por la medida explicada de los Lineamientos.

En conclusión, no es posible reducir más los salarios, las pensiones y las prestaciones de asistencia social, por lo que es imprescindible aumentar la producción y la productividad. El único camino es acelerar y profundizar las reformas estructurales (cambiando las restricciones impuestas en 2017),  a fin de obtener los recursos necesarios para implementar políticas salariales y sociales que alivien la situación actual. Este es el reto más serio que enfrentará la nueva dirigencia del país cuando ocurra el cambio generacional el próximo abril.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Catedrático Distinguido Emérito de Economía y Estudios Latinoamericanos Universidad de Pittsburg, profesor/investigador visitante en 8 países y conferencista en 39. Autor de 96 libros/monografías y 318 artículos/capítulos de libros publicados en 7 idiomas en 34 países; fundador y editor de Cuban Studies por 18 años. Libros más recientes: Buscando un Modelo Económico en América Latina ¿Mercado, Socialista o Mixto? Chile, Cuba y Costa Rica (Caracas: Nueva Sociedad, 2002); Cuba en la era de Raúl Castro: Reformas económico-sociales y sus efectos (Madrid: Colibrí, 2012); Sistemas de Protección Social en América Latina: Cuba (Santiago: CEPAL, 2012); coautor de Voces del Cambio en el Emergente Sector No Estatal en Cuba, La Habana, Cuba Posible, 2016).

NOTAS

1 CEPAL, Balance Preliminar de las Economías de América Latina y el Caribe, 2017, Santiago (cuadro A-21).

2 El salario estatal se basa sólo en el peso nacional (CUP) y excluye desembolsos en pesos convertibles (CUC) y otros pagos extra, por lo que subestima el monto. Pero la inflación está también subestimada pues se basa sólo en los bienes y servicios en CUP y excluye el CUC.

3 P. Monreal, “El salario en Cuba: los falsos paradigmas y la terca realidad”, Cuba Posible, enero 2016, p.1-16.

4 ONEI, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2016, Edición de 2017, La Habana cuadro 7.14.

5 M. Espina Prieto, Políticas de Atención a la Pobreza y la Desigualdad. Examinando el Rol del Estado en la Experiencia Cubana, Buenos Aires, CLACSO-CROP, 2008.

6 C. Mesa-Lago, “El estado actual del bienestar social en Cuba”, Cuba Posible, La Habana, 2017.

7 C. Mesa-Lago, R. Veiga, L. González, S. Vera y A. Pérez-Liñán, Voces del Cambio en el Emergente Sector No Estatal en Cuba, La Habana, Cuba Posible, 2016, 2 Vols.

8 ONEI, Anuario Estadístico, 2016, cuadro 7.14.

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CUBAN DRAFT RULES PROPOSE CURTAILING FLEDGLING PRIVATE SECTOR

Sarah Marsh  FEBRUARY 22, 2018 / 7:08 PM

HAVANA (Reuters) – A draft of new Cuban economic regulations proposes increasing state control over the private sector and curtailing private enterprise, a copy of the document seen by Reuters showed.

The tightening may signal that the ruling Cuban Communist Party fears that free market reforms introduced eight years ago by President Raul Castro may have gone too far, amid a broader debate about rising inequality.

The draft document, circulating among Cuba experts and private entrepreneurs, goes beyond proposed restrictions announced in December. For example, it would allow homes only one license to operate a restaurant, cafeteria or bar. That would limit the number of seats per establishment to 50. Many of Havana’s most successful private restaurants currently hold several licenses enabling them to have a seating capacity of 100 or more.

There is uncertainty over the direction of economic policy generally as Cuba prepares in April to mark the end of six decades of rule by Castro and his older brother Fidel, who stood down formally as a leader in 2008. That has been heightened by U.S. President Donald Trump partially rolling back the Obama-era detente with the United States.

The head of the Communist Party’s reform commission, Marino Murillo, announced restrictions on the private sector in December, some of them included in the new document. But the draft regulations go into greater detail and show how far the push back could go.  “The decree strengthens control at a municipal, provincial and national level” over the private sector, according to the 166-page document, dated Aug. 3, 2017 and signed by Marcia Fernández Andreu, deputy chief of the secretariat of Cuba’s Council of Ministers.

The document said resolutions were drafted by the reform commission and were being sent to provincial and national organs of administration for consultation. Reuters could not independently verify its authenticity. Cuban authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some analysts said they suspected the draft was leaked to gauge public opinion and could be revised.

The regulations state that measures that will apply to infractions will be more “rigorous.”

The government has increased criticism of wealth accumulation over the past year and gone on the offensive against tax evasion and other malpractices in the private sector.

The number of self-employed Cubans soared to 567,982 as of the middle of last year, versus 157,731 in 2010 at the start of the reform process designed to boost Cuba’s centrally planned economy.  Private sector workers now make up roughly 12 percent of the workforce, but the prosperity of some Cuban entrepreneurs, particularly those working in the tourist sector and receiving hard currency, has become a source of tension. The average state monthly wage is $30, the same sum a B&B owner can charge for a night’s stay.

The restrictions unveiled by Murillo in December included limiting business licenses to a single activity per entrepreneur.

Some entrepreneurs had hoped they could get around that by transferring business licenses, for activities as diverse as manicures or bookkeeping, to family members.

It was unclear from the draft document whether the measures would be applied retroactively.

Murillo said in December the number of categories in which self employment would be permitted would be reduced and in some cases consolidated. For example, manicurist, masseuse and hairdresser would fall under an expanded beauty salon license.  The draft lists 122 categories, down from approximately 200 previously.

The document calls for a new division under the Ministry of Labour to administer and control self-employed work.

 

 

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DEATH OF FIDEL CASTRO’S SON ‘FIDELITO’ REVEALS A DIVIDED FAMILY

By Will Grant, Cuba correspondent, BBC News February 2, 2018

Original article: Fidelito

Traditionally in Cuba, the first son is named after his father or his grandfather.  When Fidel Angel Castro Diaz-Balart was born in 1949, he was given the names of both: Fidel after his father, then a little-known but politically ambitious lawyer, and Angel for his grandfather, a penniless Spanish immigrant who had become a wealthy landowner in eastern Cuba.

 Mirta Francisca de la Caridad Díaz-Balart y Gutiérrez (born September 30, 1928) and Fidel Castro Ruz,

Fidel, Mirta and FidelitoFidelito, 1959

Fulgencio Batista, Dictator, 1952-1958.

Batista was from the same area of Cuba as the Diaz-Balart and Castro families – Banes and Biran in what is now Holguin Province. The families were friends. It is said that Batista was at the 1948 wedding of Mirta and Fidel, though I have not seen evidence of that. It is also said that Batista gave the couple a wedding gift of $1000.00 for their honeymoon in the United States. However, I have no proof of this neither.  In any case, with the divorce of Fidel and Mirta and the Revolution, the Castro’s and Diaz-Balarts became bitter enemies. Indeed the US-Cuba conflict has been pretty much all in the family. (Arch Ritter)

As Fidel Angel grew up, people just called him affectionately “Fidelito”. The diminutive nickname stuck, even after his father had become one of the most recognisable faces of the 20th Century, a Cold War icon who divided opinion around the world, and Fidelito himself a respected nuclear physicist.

Despite his fame and notoriety, Fidel Castro remained intensely private about his family until his death in 2016.

It was preparing for the revolution in the early days that he made his first decisive act over his son.  Already divorced from Fidelito’s mother, Mirta Diaz-Balart, Fidel arranged for his young son to visit him in exile in Mexico where he was planning the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship in Havana.  Taking a typically uncompromising position on something that mattered to him, Fidel simply refused to send the boy home to his mother.

Tough act to follow

It wouldn’t be the last time Fidel Castro flexed his iron will over family affairs, ensuring that his son would eventually be educated in the Soviet Union rather than reside with his mother in Spain or the US.

It might be hard to recall today just how significant a figure Fidel Castro was at the height of his power and, as such, what it must have been like to be his son.

With Fidelito’s death on Friday, comparisons have been made to being the child of a superstar actor or musician. But the reality goes much further because in Cuba, Fidel was everything.  He was often the first voice people heard in the morning when they turned on their radios and the last one they heard at night before going to bed.  He was involved in every aspect of Cuban life – political, economic and cultural – and he was revered by some almost as a God, if not a kind of prophet.

It was never expected of Fidelito that he would try to fill those enormous guerrilla boots, but the stresses of the constant comparison must have been difficult to live with.  Even when he had become a successful nuclear physicist, he couldn’t shake off Fidel’s shadow.  His father even once sacked him as head of the island’s nuclear programme for “incompetence”, showing he was prepared to wield the axe against his own family if needed when it came to putting the revolution first.

Divided clan

Then there were the other family connections. Never was a family more ideologically split than the Castro Diaz-Balarts.

After his parents divorced, Fidelito’s mother, Mirta, moved to Spain. Her brother, Rafael Diaz-Balart, whom Fidel Castro detested, had been a politician in Batista’s government.  Today, his sons Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart have both been US lawmakers for Florida, representing staunchly anti-Castro positions on Cuba. They have not spoken publicly about the loss of their cousin.  They are Fidelito’s cousins but neither man has offered their condolences so far, at least not in public.

The Castro clan is, at times, as complex as the family whose lives it somehow echoed in Washington: the Kennedys.

Taboo subject

Similarly beset with the pressures and responsibilities of office from a young age, and the years marked with the occasional family tragedy, the two eldest sons, Fidelito and John Jr Kennedy, might have found they had much in common if they’d ever had the chance to drink a rum and smoke a cigar together.

After his long training in the USSR, Fidelito grew into a highly skilled man, fluent in English, Russian, French and Spanish. He was considered one of the best scientists in his field. His tragic end – taking his own life after efforts were made to treat him for clinical depression – comes just over a year after the death of his iconic father.

Suicide is still a taboo subject in Cuba. Once even considered “anti-revolutionary”, it is much more common than generally reported on the island.

Perhaps in the final analysis, Fidelito Castro will be remembered as someone who had tried his best to make his own name, despite the evident weight of the one he was given.

Fidelito Angel Castro Diaz-Balart (left)

 

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CHALLENGES AND REALITIES OF CUBA’S HEALTH CARE SYSTEM

Fernando Ravsberg, enero 25, 2018

Artículos de Fernando Ravsberg, English Version, Política, Salud, Sociales

Last November, “Maria de la Caridad” was admitted into one of the best hospitals in the country, waiting for her knee replacement prosthesis, when she slipped in a puddle of water out in the hospital’s corridor and broke both her arms. Now, she’s back at home in a worse state than before.

It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t Cuban, how a hospital with such high professional standards and so much modern equipment can be lacking in personnel to collect dirty dishes or keep the floor which orthopedic patients walk along, dry.

It’s just as hard as understanding the fact that pharmaceutical employees are dedicating themselves to counterfeit medicines for children so they can be sold secretly via the illicit pharmacy network, as Cuban press reported a few days ago.

How can there be medicine shortages and a black market in a country with scientists capable of inventing innovative vaccines to treat different types of cancer or medicines that prevent diabetes patients from having to be amputated?

There is so much chaos that you can buy any medicine without needing a medical prescription at many pharmacies, as long as you are willing to pay extra on the side. However, all lines are crossed when medicines for children are tampered with.

During the crisis of the ‘90s, I saw a black market seller offering powdered milk to a mother with two small children. She said that it was top quality because it was stolen from the school for children with disabilities. The mother was appalled and refused to buy it.

There are many Cubans like her who clearly know where their boundaries lie, but even they cross these lines when a son is having an asthma attack or their grandfather needs to monitor their heartrate. So they go looking for the medicines they need wherever they may be and they pay whatever is being asked for them.

The black market in Cuba’s public health sector is a death trap. Let’s remember how thirty patients died of cold and hunger at Havana’s psychiatric hospital, when the people who were responsible for protecting them, stole their food and blankets.

We could spend hours talking about how morally bankrupt those who make a business out people’s health are but we can’t explain how these people, who were once young and had the vocation to protect and help others, a pharmacist, a nurse or a doctor, can stoop so low.

Among the causes for this situation, the chronic shortages of medicines and low wages particularly stand out. The combination of both these factors leads to the black market, which we have all been responsible for, some as sellers and others as buyers.

 A few years ago, the government promised that wages would improve in correlation with an increase in productivity. Today, the health sector brings in 70% of the country’s revenue in hard currency but wages continue to be way below what the basic foods costs.

Public health sector workers aren’t even given any perks that wouldn’t cost the State’s coffers a single cent, such as being able to purchase a property for its cost price and in hard currency or being able to freely import a car, after having completed their mission abroad.

And the reality is that if wages of medical personnel don’t increase, the wages of cleaning staff can’t get any better either. Patients will continue to receive “stem-cell” therapy for free while they continue to slip and fall in puddles of water that nobody is cleaning up.’

Many cleaning and technical employees leave the health system looking for a more dignified income in the private sector, that is to say an income that allows them to get to the end of the month without having to steal. Official press “kick the bucket” blaming self-employment for this exodus.

The real problem lies in stagnant reforms, in using the health sector and pharmaceutical industry’s incredible earnings to finance the State’s shortfall companies instead of using them to feed the “hen that lays the golden eggs.”

There are morally bankrupt criminals in the black market but many other people (maybe most of them) only take part so as to meet their family’s basic needs or are forced to because of pressing needs, like the medicines only available from illicit sources.

Ideology awareness classes aren’t enough to stop this loss of values. The answer could once again lie in Jose Marti’s insightful way of seeing things when he explained that “given human nature, one needs to be prosperous to be good.”

In 2017, Cuba reached its record child mortality rate of only 4 per 1000 newborns. Public health needs the financial resources it brings in so as to keep up these levels of efficiency.

Translation: Havana Times

About Fernando Ravsberg: Nacido en Uruguay, corresponsal de Público en Cuba y profesor del post grado de “Información internacional y países del Sur” de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Fue periodista de BBC Mundo, Telemundo de EEUU, Radio Nacional de Suecia y TV Azteca de México. Autor de 3 libros, El Rompecabezas Cubano, Reportajes de Guerra y Retratos.

 

 

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TOURISM BOOMING IN CUBA DESPITE TOUGHER NEW TRUMP POLICY

Published 1:15 PM ET Fri, 19 Jan 2018, The Associated Press

Original article: Tourism Booming In Cuba

  • 2017 was a record year for Cuban tourism, with 4.7 million visitors pumping more than $3 billion into the island’s otherwise struggling economy.
  • But the tourism dollars from big-spending Americans seem to be heading into Cuba’s state sector and away from private business.
  • That’s largely due to tougher Trump policy requiring “people-to-people” travel to take place only in tour groups, which depend largely on Cuban government transportation and guides.

On a sweltering early summer afternoon in Miami’s Little Havana, President Donald Trump told a cheering Cuban-American crowd that he was rolling back some of Barack Obama‘s opening to Cuba in order to starve the island’s military-run economy of U.S. tourism dollars and ratchet up pressure for regime change.

That doesn’t appear to be happening. Travel to Cuba is booming from dozens of countries, including the U.S. And the tourism dollars from big-spending Americans seem to be heading into Cuba’s state sector and away from private business, according to Cuban state figures, experts and private business people themselves.

The government figures show that 2017 was a record year for tourism, with 4.7 million visitors pumping more than $3 billion into the island’s otherwise struggling economy. The number of American travelers rose to 619,000, more than six times the pre-Obama level. But amid the boom — an 18 percent increase over 2016 — owners of private restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts are reporting a sharp drop-off.

“There was an explosion of tourists in the months after President Obama’s detente announcement. They were everywhere!” said Rodolfo Morales, a retired government worker who rents two rooms in his home for about $30 a night. “Since then, it’s fallen off.”

The ultimate destination of American tourism spending in Cuba seems an obscure data point, but it’s highly relevant to a decades-old goal of American foreign policy — encouraging change in Cuba’s single-party, centrally planned system. For more than 50 years, Washington sought to strangle nearly all trade with the island in hopes of spurring economic collapse. Obama changed that policy to one of promoting engagement as a way of strengthening a Cuban private sector that could grow into a middle class empowered to demand reform.

Cuba’s tourism boom began shortly after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December 2014 that their countries would re-establish diplomatic relations and move toward normalization. U.S. cruise ships began docking in the Bay of Havana and U.S. airlines started regular flights to cities across the island. Overall tourism last year was up 56 percent over Cuba’s roughly 3 million visitors in 2014.

While the U.S. prohibits tourism to Cuba, Americans can travel here for specially designated purposes like religious activity or the vaguely defined category of “people-to-people” cultural interaction.

Obama allowed individuals to participate in “people-to-people” activities outside official tour groups. Hundreds of thousands of Americans responded by designing their own Cuban vacations without fear of government penalties. Since Cuba largely steers tour groups to government-run facilities, Americans traveling on their own became a vital market for the island’s private entrepreneurs, hotly desired for their free spending, heavy tipping and a desire to see a “real” Cuba beyond all-inclusive beach resorts and quick stops on tour buses. The surge helped travel-related businesses maintain their role as by far the most successful players in Cuba’s small but growing private sector.

Trump’s new policy re-imposed the required for “people-to-people” travel to take place only in tour groups, which depend largely on Cuban government transportation and guides.

As a result, many private business people are seeing so many fewer Americans that it feels like their numbers are dropping, even though the statistics say otherwise.

“Tourism has grown in Cuba, with the exception of American tourism,” said Nelson Lopez, a private tour guide. “But I’m sure that sometime soon they’ll be back.”

While Trump’s new rules didn’t take effect until November, their announcement in June led to an almost immediate slackening in business from individual Americans, many Cuban entrepreneurs say. The situation was worsened by Hurricane Irma striking Cuba’s northern coast in September and by a Cuban government freeze on new licenses for businesses including restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts. Cuban officials say the freeze was needed to control tax evasion, purchase of stolen state goods and other illegality in the private sector, but it’s had the effect of further restricting private-sector activity in the wake of Trump’s policy change.

Cuban state tourism officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump’s policy changes did not touch flights or cruise ships. Jose Luis Perello, a tourism expert at the University of Havana, said more than 541,000 cruise ship passengers visited Cuba in 2017, compared with 184,000 the previous year. Even as entrepreneurs see fewer American clients, many of those cruise passengers are coming from the United States, he said.

Yunaika Estanque, who runs a three-room bed-and-breakfast overlooking the Bay of Havana, says she has been able to weather a sharp drop in American guests because a British tour agency still sends her clients, but things still aren’t good.

“Without a doubt our best year was 2016, before the Trump presidency,” she said. “I’ve been talking with other bed-and-breakfast owners and they’re in bad shape.”

A Great Casa Particular, my Home for Cuba visits from 1997 to 2017, undoubtedly still thriving due to its excellence.

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LOS EJERCICIOS CABALÍSTICOS DE LOS GESTORES DE LA ECONOMÍA CUBANA

Un rasgo esencial del sistema sociopolítico y económico cubano es la renuencia de la clase dirigente a ofrecer cifras y datos exactos y confiables acerca del desempeño de la economía y las finanzas al cierre de cada año.

Diciembre es para los cubanos “de adentro” –como para toda sociedad fundada sobre la tradición de herencia judeocristiana– un mes de festividades y buenos deseos, pero también una época cargada de incertidumbre tras casi 60 años de un experimento social fecundo en promesas de desarrollo económico y recuperación financiera, cuyo único saldo visible es la eterna prolongación de la espera de tiempos mejores.

Como es habitual, la ambigüedad de los informes presentados por los funcionarios correspondientes en el marco del recién finalizado período ordinario de sesiones de la Asamblea Nacional no permite al común de los mortales hacerse una idea certera sobre cuál ha sido en realidad el comportamiento de la economía, qué estrategias específicas se propone aplicar el Estado-Partido-Gobierno para superar los incontables escollos que siguen surgiendo en el insoportablemente largo camino del “socialismo” o, muy en especial, qué tipo de cálculo aplicaron los expertos en la materia para arrojar como resultado final del año 2017 un milagroso crecimiento del Producto Interno Bruto, pese a los resultados negativos del primer semestre, la contracción de los subsidios petroleros desde Venezuela, el aumento de la presión del embargo estadounidense y los efectos devastadores de eventos naturales como la severa sequía de la primera mitad del año y el paso de un huracán de gran intensidad en septiembre, que provocaron cuantiosos daños económicos.

El único saldo visible de la economía cubana es la eterna prolongación de la espera de tiempos mejores. (14ymedio/Silvia Corbelle)

No obstante, mal que les pese, los informes oficiales están obligados a reflejar al menos algunas cifras. Y es precisamente en este punto donde salen a relucir las costuras del sistema

No obstante, mal que les pese, los informes oficiales están obligados a reflejar al menos algunas cifras. Y es precisamente en este punto donde salen a relucir las costuras del sistema, saltan aquí y allá los deslices y queda expuesta la desnudez del rey. Una cuestión es el alarde de imaginación desplegado desde la facundia oficial y otra bien distinta hacer coincidir esos discursos con la terquedad de los números, que no tienen compromisos con ideologías ni con políticas.

En este sentido, el proyecto de Presupuesto del Estado presentado a la Asamblea por la diputada Lina Pedraza Rodríguez, también ministra de Finanzas y Precios, es quizás el más peliagudo de los ejercicios cabalísticos de los administradores de la miseria.

Pedraza tiene la ingrata tarea no solo de declarar los muy cuestionables resultados del año fiscal que termina en relación con el presupuesto asignado –los ingresos superaron las previsiones en un 2,3%–, sino de anunciar también otras cifras igualmente impugnables, como son las cantidades que se asignarán al llamado Plan de la Economía. Todo esto debe hacerse sin llegar a declarar jamás cuál es el monto del susodicho Presupuesto, para lo cual es habitual que el oficialismo utilice un sencillo truco: algunas cifras que se ofrecen son números porcentuales mientras otras se corresponden a cantidades numéricas exactas.

Es así que, por ejemplo, ya los cubanos sabemos que en el año 2018 el Presupuesto será un 6% superior al del año que termina –cuyo monto nunca conocimos– y que el 55% de los recursos irá en prioridad a los sectores de la Salud y la Educación, como “paradigma de justicia social y de protección de los derechos humanos”.

Ya los cubanos sabemos que en el año 2018 el Presupuesto será un 6% superior al del año que termina –cuyo monto nunca conocimos– y que el 55% de los recursos irá en prioridad a los sectores de la Salud y la Educación

Sabemos también que 8.180 millones de pesos serán destinados a “la educación en general” –que incluye 1.960.000 estudiantes de todos los niveles de enseñanza– y que la Salud Pública recibirá un total de 10.565 millones de pesos para todos sus servicios, desde consultas médicas y gastos por pacientes ingresados hasta el “desarrollo de salas especializadas” y servicios estomatológicos, entre otros.

La Seguridad Social contará con 6.000 millones de pesos para sus gastos (un 5% de crecimiento con relación al año anterior) para garantizar las pensiones de más de 1.700.000 personas y “prestaciones de corto plazo”, como las licencias de maternidad y otros beneficios.

Como botón de muestra de “las medidas que el país viene adoptando para enfrentar el envejecimiento poblacional”, el presupuesto ha asignado una cantidad (no declarada) “para la atención a más de 13.000 personas de la tercera edad que asisten a casas de abuelos y hogares de ancianos, lo que confirma el carácter humanista de nuestro sistema”.

Ahora bien, si se aplica la sencilla regla de tres matemática, fácilmente se puede calcular que esos 13.000 ancianos atendidos en instituciones especializadas estatales –dado que este tipo de servicio no está aprobado en el sector privado– constituyen apenas el 0,76% de los pensionados del país, una cifra ridículamente insuficiente que contradice el aparatoso carácter humanista del sistema político, en un país donde los únicos indicadores que crecen cada año de manera indudable son la pobreza y la cantidad de ancianos.

“Más de lo mismo”, se habrán dicho para sí algunos (…). Se equivocan: es lo mismo, sí, pero con mucho menos

Nótese, además, que los números de referencia corresponden a lo que en Cuba suele llamarse “pesos cubanos”, es decir, moneda no convertible en divisas, y que al existir dos diferentes tasas de cambio –1×1 para personas jurídicas; 1×25 para personas naturales– se crea una vaguedad que impide saber con exactitud de qué cantidades se trata.

No obstante, sí se puede suponer con certeza casi absoluta que las cifras que ofrece el Presupuesto del Estado no son equivalentes a divisas, de manera que se trata de un monto irrisorio, apenas para paliar algunos de los numerosos y acuciantes problemas económicos y sociales que deben enfrentarse.

“Más de lo mismo”, se habrán dicho para sí algunos de los pocos cubanos que tuvimos suficiente salud mental y estoicismo como para sumergirnos en el oscuro dédalo de los informes oficiales. Se equivocan: es lo mismo, sí, pero con mucho menos. Aunque pretendan convencernos de lo contrario.

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CUBA EMBARKS ON A 100-YEAR PLAN TO PROTECT ITSELF FROM CLIMATE CHANGE

By Richard Stone,

Science, Jan. 10, 2018 , 1:24 PM

Original Article: Cuba’s 100-Year Climate Change Plan

On its deadly run through the Caribbean last September, Hurricane Irma lashed northern Cuba, inundating coastal settlements and scouring away vegetation. The powerful storm dealt Havana only a glancing blow; even so, 10-meter waves pummeled El Malecón, the city’s seaside promenade, and ravaged stately but decrepit buildings in the capital’s historic district. “There was great destruction,” says Dalia Salabarría Fernández, a marine biologist here at the National Center for Protected Areas (CNAP).

Havana, San Lazaro at Belascoain

As the flood waters receded, she says, “Cuba learned a very important lesson.” With thousands of kilometers of low-lying coast and a location right in the path of Caribbean hurricanes, which many believe are intensifying because of climate change, the island nation must act fast to gird against future disasters.

Irma lent new urgency to a plan, called Tarea Vida, or Project Life, adopted last spring by Cuba’s Council of Ministers. A decade in the making, the program bans construction of new homes in threatened coastal areas, mandates relocating people from communities doomed by rising sea levels, calls for an overhaul of the country’s agricultural system to shift crop production away from saltwater-contaminated areas, and spells out the need to shore up coastal defenses, including by restoring degraded habitat. “The overarching idea,” says Salabarría Fernández, “is to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities.”

But the cash-strapped government had made little headway. Now, “Irma [has] indicated to everybody that we need to implement Tarea Vida in a much more rapid way,” says Orlando Rey Santos, head of the environment division at Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA) here, which is spearheading the project. The government aims to spend at least $40 million on Project Life this year, and it has approached overseas donors for help. Italy was the first to respond, pledging $3.4 million to the initiative in November 2017. A team of Cuban experts has just finished drafting a $100 million proposal that the government plans to submit early this year to the Global Climate Fund, an international financing mechanism set up under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Many countries with vulnerable coastlines are contemplating similar measures, and another island nation—the Seychelles— has offered to collaborate on boosting coastal protection in Cuba. But Project Life stands out for taking a long view: It intends to prepare Cuba for climatological impacts over the next century. “It’s impressive,” says marine scientist David Guggenheim, president of Ocean Doctor, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that has projects in Cuba. “Cuba is an unusual country in that they actually respect their scientists, and their climate change policy is science driven.”

Rising sea levels pose the most daunting challenge for Cuba. Over the past half-century, CITMA says, average sea levels have risen some 7 centimeters, wiping out low-lying beaches and threatening marsh vegetation, especially along Cuba’s southern midsection. The coastal erosion is “already much worse than anyone expected,” Salabarría Fernández says. Storms drive the rising seas farther inland, contaminating coastal aquifers and croplands.

Still worse is in store, even in conservative scenarios of sea-level rise, which forecast an 85-centimeter increase by 2100. According to the latest CITMA forecast, seawater incursion will contaminate nearly 24,000 square kilometers of land this century. About 20% of that land could become submerged. “That means several percent of Cuban land will be underwater,” says Armando Rodríguez Batista, director of science, technology, and innovation at CITMA.

To shore up the coastlines, Project Life aims to restore mangroves, which constitute about a quarter of Cuba’s forest cover. “They are the first line of defense for coastal communities. But so many mangroves are dying now,” Salabarría Fernández says. Leaf loss from hurricane-force winds, erosion, spikes in salinity, and nutrient imbalances could all be driving the die-off, she says.

Coral reefs can also buffer storms. A Cuban-U.S. expedition that circumnavigated the island last spring found that many reefs are in excellent health, says Juliett González Méndez, a marine ecologist with CNAP. But at a handful of hot spots, reefs exposed to industrial effluents are ailing, she says. One Project Life target is to squelch runoff and restore those reefs.

Another pressing need is coastal engineering. Topping Cuba’s wish list are jetties or other wave-disrupting structures for protecting not only the iconic Malecón, but also beaches and scores of tiny keys frequented by tourists whose spending is a lifeline for many Cubans. Cuba has appealed to the Netherlands to lend its expertise in coastal engineering.

Perhaps the thorniest element of Project Life is a plan to relocate low-lying villages. As the sea invades, “some communities will disappear,” Salabarría Fernández says. The first relocations under the initiative took place in October 2017, when some 40 families in Palmarito, a fishing village in central Cuba, were moved inland.

Other communities may not need to pull up stakes for decades. But Cuban social scientists are already fanning out to those ill-fated villages to educate people on climate change and win them over on the eventual need to move. That’s an easier sell in the wake of a major hurricane, Rodríguez Batista says. “Irma has helped us with public awareness,” he says. “People understand that climate change is happening now.”

Malecon, overlooking Hotel Nacional and Edificio Focsa

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PRIVATE SELF-EMPLOYMENT UNDER REFORM SOCIALISM IN CUBA

Mario A. Gonzalez-Corzo and Orlando Justo, The City University of New York

The Journal of Private Enterprise 32(2), 2017, 45–82

Complete Article Here: 2017_Private Self-Employment under reform Socialism in Cuba Journal_of_Private_Enterprise, 32, 2.

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Abstract

The expansion of private self-employment is one of the main economic measures implemented by the Cuban government since 2010 to update its socialist economy under a unique brand of “reform socialism.” State policies (a “push factor”), as well as economic incentives and the desire for greater economic independence (“pull factors”) have contributed to the remarkable growth of self-employment in Cuba since 2010. While employment in the state sector has declined significantly (13 percent) since 2010, self-employment has grown by more than 187 percent, and its share of total employment has increased from 3 percent to close to 9 percent. Despite these advances, Cuba’s self-employed workers face significant obstacles that limit their growth and potential economic contributions. In addition to addressing these challenges and obstacles, ensuring the success of Cuba’s self-employment reforms requires re-conceptualizing the state’s attitude toward self-employed workers and their potential contributions to economic development and growth.

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New Book: CULTURE AND THE CUBAN STATE: PARTICIPATION, RECOGNITION, AND DISSONANCE UNDER COMMUNISM

YVON GRENIER

Culture and the Cuban State examines the politics of culture in communist Cuba. It focuses on cultural policy, censorship, and the political participation of artists, writers and academics such as Tania Bruguera, Jesús Díaz, Rafael Hernández, Kcho, Reynier Leyva Novo, Leonardo Padura, and José Toirac. The cultural field is important for the reproduction of the regime in place, given its pretense and ambition to be eternally “revolutionary” and to lead a genuine “cultural revolution”. Cultural actors must be mobilized and handled with care, given their presumed disposition to speak their mind and to cherish their autonomy.

This book argues that cultural actors also seek recognition by the main (for a long time the only) sponsor and patron of the art in Cuba: the “curator state”. The “curator state” is also a “gatekeeper state,” arbitrarily and selectively opening and closing the space for public expression and for access to foreign currencies and the global market. The time when everything was either mandatory or forbidden is over in Cuba. The regime seems to have learned from egregious mistakes that led to a massive exodus of artists, writers and academics. In a country where things change so everything could stay the same, the controlled opening in the cultural field, playing on the actors’ ambition and fear, illuminates a broader phenomenon: the evolving rules of the political game in the longest standing dictatorship of the hemisphere.

Author

Yvon Grenier is professor of political science at St. Francis Xavier University.

Table of Contents:

Preface
Acknowledgments
List of Acronyms
Chapter 1: Revolution and Cultural Will
Chapter 2: Don’t Cross This Line
Chapter 3: Jesus Diaz, the Unintentional Deviationist
Chapter 4: The Curator State
Chapter 5: How to Write From Mantilla, Of the Small Heresies of Leonardo Padura
Chapter 6: Faking Criticism
Conclusion
Bibliography

Reviews

Yvon Grenier, a sharp-eyed observer of culture and politics in Latin America, provides an illuminating analysis of the complex relations between Cuba’s intellectuals and the Castro regime. Exceeding the revolutionary rhetoric which has impressed much of the research on Cuba in the past, Grenier looks seriously and rigorously into the state’s cultural policy over time, showing how changes in that policy from repression to liberalization and back have not altered the fundamental position of Cuba’s artists, writers and political scientists, a position marked by fear, censorship, self-censorship, and the need to perform intellectual acrobatics. A must-read for anyone concerned with the fate of creative imagination and critical thinking in authoritarian states.
Michael Keren, University of Calgary

Everywhere in the world intellectuals, writers, and academics are a different breed who seek participation and recognition from their public and peers as well as their state. In his analysis of Cuba’s cultural policy during the Cuban revolution, Yvon Grenier carefully shows that in a communist state that quest is particularly difficult and dangerous. In Cuba, a line was drawn early on between those who work within the revolutionary parameters and gain acceptance, though at times managing to be quite critical (dissonance) and those who work outside of it, meeting rejection and ostracism (dissidence). Yet, through his analysis of the hardships, vicissitudes, and circumstances of the lives of important Cuban intellectuals (such as Jesús Díaz, Tania Bruguera, and Leonardo Padura), Grenier further shows that where the line lies can be rather unclear, leading to some crossing it unwittingly while others place their stories in another century and another place to avoid it. Grenier shows that the political control of the cultural life in a one party state like Cuba results not only in censorship but also in self-censorship. For everyone who cares about the quality of intellectual life in Cuba and elsewhere, this is a book not to be missed.
Silvia Pedraza, University of Michigan

This book is a path-breaking work that convincingly turns the conventional wisdom about the ‘cultural policy’ of the Cuban Revolution on its head. Most compelling and original is the author’s nimble analysis that distinguishes between a set of unwritten but untouchable “primary parameters” and another set of “secondary” and contextually permeable parameters that such cultural actors must constantly negotiate in order to avoid being dealt “out of the game” of Cuban culture as played on the island under the Revolution. The strongest contribution of the book is to change the focus on cultural freedom in Cuba from one that focuses exclusively on the state to one that focuses equally on the ways Cuban writers, artists, and intellectuals negotiate with the state, in search not only of greater creative freedom but also (and ironically) state recognition and promotion.
Ted A. Henken, Baruch College

 

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