• 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.

CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS, ASCE 2014

The papers presented at the 2014 Conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy are now available.

Cuba in Transition: Volume 24: Papers and Proceedings of the Twenty-Fourth Annual Meeting.

The papers listed below are hypewr-linked to directly to their respective file on the ASCE web site.

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CANADIANS SUDDENLY RACING NOT TO SQUANDER HEAD START IN CUBA

Peter Kuitenbrouwer | January 30, 2015, Financial Post

Original here: Canadians Suddenly Racing

Mark Entwistle could not resist a smile at lunch time Tuesday as he gazed out over a packed room at Gowlings’ head office in Toronto’s First Canadian Place office tower. He had not seen some of these lawyers and business leaders in many years.

“In the mid 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba was the new frontier,” Mr. Entwisle, Canada’s ambassador to Cuba from 1993 to 1997, recalls in a later interview. “We had almost an invasion of junior Canadian mining companies. We were doing all kinds of deals. Then Cuba stopped experimenting as much with foreign investment. Bre-X happened on the mining side, and all the juniors left because the money dried up.” The U.S. Helms Burton Act of 1996, which penalized foreign (such as Canadian) companies trading with Cuba, also scared companies off.

The world shifted again Dec. 17, when Raúl Castro, president of Cuba, and Barack Obama, president of the United States, restored diplomatic relations after 55 years. On Bay Street, Cuba is sexy again.

“You can tell Cuba’s kind of moved its way up the food chain,” Mr. Entwistle joked to the assembled at the Gowlings lunch, “The new Cuba equation: the Cuban economy, Canada’s opportunity and America’s new place,” organized by the Canadian Council for the Americas. A think tank with a 40-year history, the council holds events to discuss politics and business in the Western Hemisphere.

On the surface this interest in Cuba seems paradoxical. Canada never broke diplomatic relations with Cuba after its revolution in 1959, and Canadians have longstanding and deep connections with Cuba, as tourists and as investors. Why show interest in Cuba now that the U.S. is thawing relations? To some extent, with the exception of Sherritt International Corp. — which generates about 75% of its income from nickel it mines in Cuba — Canada has squandered its opportunity to solidify its place as the premier business partner with Cuba during the many years when U.S. policy froze out American companies. But that is just half the story.

Cuba has been reluctant to let anyone invest very much in its economy; foreign direct investment in Cuba is less than a tenth of 1% of gross domestic product. That policy of going it alone has kept out many Canadians, too. U.S. laws have also frightened off Canadians. Now, with Cuba and the U.S. playing footsie, investors sense that Cuba may be opening up more generally, offering renewed opportunities for Canadians, who already know Cuba well, to make some money.

“The interest is rising again, getting back on the radar screens where it had been off,” Mr. Entwistle says, sipping an espresso macchiato in Nespresso, a grand coffee shop near his office that feels more like a Mercedes dealership. He arrived home from Havana on the very day of the US-Cuba deal. “I got off the plane on Dec. 17, my BlackBerry was exploding with stuff,” he says.

 TORONTO, ONTARIO: JANUARY 29, 2015--FOREIGN--Former Canadian ambassador to Cuba Mark Entwistle spoke with Financial Post reporter Peter Kuitenbrouwer at Toronto's Nespresso Cafe, Thursday January 29, 2015. Entwistle is now active in advising Canadian companies who may wish to invest in Cuba. [Peter J. Thompson/National Post]    [For Financial Post story by Peter Kuitenbrouwer/Financial Post]  //NATIONAL POST STAFF PHOTO fp013115-pes-cuba

Mark Entwistle

Mr. Entwistle has teamed up with Belinda Stronach, the former MP and Magna International Inc. executive, and Anthony Melman, a former managing director at Onex Corp., among others, to form a boutique merchant bank, Acasta Capital. One investment that interests the firm: Cuba. In the past month Americans have started calling him, seeking his advice on investing in Cuba, he says.

At the Cuba lunch, Mr. Entwistle warned Canadians not to be smug about their connection to that country.

“There is this mythology that we have a special influence with the Cuban government. That does not give Canada a free ride in Cuba. Cuba is already a bustling, crowded place. Canadians will have to compete head-on.” Despite Canada’s world-class expertise in telecom, he noted, Orange SA, the French telecom company active across Europe and Africa, recently signed a deal to help Cuba’s telephone system. “It’s the kind of deal we could have done,” he says. “We just didn’t bother to go there and do it.”

And there was one consensus in the room: Cuba is poised for takeoff. Juan Triana Cordoví, an economist at the University of Havana, spelled out the potential of his country. Cuba’s health care system is among the best in the Americas; its infant mortality rate is below that of the United States. Of its 10.5 million people, 11% have a university education. Cuba has 14 universities. At the same time, he did not seem overly optimistic about the possibility of more foreign investment. Mr. Triana also noted the impressive bond between Cuba and Canada: 1.2 million Canadians visited Cuba in 2014, compared with just 90,000 Americans.

 “That was one of the best things about Cuba,” a lawyer at the lunch in Toronto remarked ruefully. “No Americans.”

Now the Yanks are coming. By one estimate, with the Obama administration relaxing rules on travel, a half-million Americans will visit Cuba this year. “Too many Americans in Cuba,” one Cuban remarked at the lunch.

The Canadian Council for the Americas brought the same panel to a Wednesday event at the Borden, Ladner Gervais law firm in Ottawa. Diplomats from Switzerland, Indonesia, Korea and the Dominican Republic attended. Ken Frankel, who runs the Canadian Council for the Americas out of Washington, D.C., says Canadians’ current interest in Cuba is partly motivated by fear. “Does this mean that U.S. business is going to flood into Cuba and push out the Canadians?” he asks.

Americans are certainly keenly interested. Devry Boughner Vorwerk, vice-president of legal affairs at Cargill, Inc., the agricultural giant, heads the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, and spoke to the Toronto lunch from Washington via Skype.

Agriculture in Cuba has a lot of upside potential, thanks to rich soil and an educated workforce, experts agree. “You throw seeds in the ground and things grow,” says Mr. Entwistle. “You have a professional agronomist class.” However, historically Cuba has focused on growing sugar, and the country has little farm equipment. “Conceivably Cuba could become a major exporter of fruits and vegetables to the U.S.,” he suggests. “There is a perfect storm of untapped ingredients for agriculture.” Brazil has already begun to invest in agriculture in the island nation.

“I am working with people in agriculture,” Mr. Entwistle said, declining to name them. “I think it’s a big strategic sector for Canadian interests.”

Ricardo Alcolado Perez, who grew up in Cuba, runs his own law practice in Toronto and helps Canadian companies invest in Cuba. But many investors are gun shy. Historically, Cuba defaulted on some of its debts to Canadians, he says. U.S. laws pose another obstacle. It may seem odd, given the flood of Canadian tourists, that Canadians have not invested in hotels in Cuba, as the Spanish have. “The Four Seasons are not going to go to Cuba, over fear of losing business with the U.S. They also face the risk of being incarcerated,” he notes.

“I am working on a few projects,” Mr. Alcolado Perez adds. “One is a Canadian company who would like to raise funds in B.C. to build a hotel in Cuba.” He also has U.S. clients who do business in Cuba through Canadian firms. Information technology also offers opportunity, he adds.

“In the last 10 years Cuba has invested in training high-tech specialists. There are a lot of young guys who are very skilled,” says Mr. Alcolado Perez. “Already companies in Canada outsource software development to Cuba.”

In the last 10 years Cuba has invested in training high-tech specialists. There are a lot of young guys who are very skilled

Tom Timmins, a partner at Gowlings, heads the firm’s global renewable energy law practise. Like many Caribbean countries, Cuba produces electricity with generators powered by imported bunker oil, he says — even though wind energy costs 6.7¢ per kilowatt-hour, compared with up to 35¢ for diesel. Mr. Timmins is working with Carbon War Room, a charity founded by Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, to help Caribbean islands generate power from wind, solar and biomass.

“Cuba has a goal of 40% renewables and I think they will exceed that,” he says. “Because of [Ontario’s] feed-in tariff program, we’ve gotten really good at renewable energy and integrating it into the grid. A lot of the solar panels and wind turbines will be coming from China, but we can supply Canadian project developers, Canadian equity and Canadian debt.”

Cuba also has reserves in gold, silver, copper, other metals, as well as oil and gas.

Not much will change overnight, though. Polls show Americans favour lifting the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, but Mr. Obama, a Democrat, will face challenges getting a bill through the Republican-controlled Congress. And Cuba, concerned about social cohesion, will move cautiously to expand its small private sector.

Even so, the stars are aligning for major change in Cuba, and Canada will be there, says Mr. Entwistle.

“This not a hermit kingdom,” he says. “It is not an isolated place, but it’s one of the few markets around with a sense of untapped potential. There are a lot of ingredients for an economic takeoff in Cuba.”

Cuba Mar 2014 011 Cuba Mar 2014 042 Cuba Mar 2014 066

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HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: WORLD REPORT 2015: CUBA

Original here:  HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH 2015: CUBA

The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism. While in recent years it has relied less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and other critics have increased dramatically. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel and commerce with the island in exchange for several concessions by the Cuban government, including a commitment to release 53 political prisoners and to allow visits by international human rights monitors.

Arbitrary Detentions and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN)—an independent human rights group the government views as illegal—received over 7,188 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through August 2014, a sharp increase from approximately 2,900 in 2013 and 1,100 in 2010 during the same time period.

Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify the detention of critics and threaten them with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors can then use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings aim to discourage them from participating in activities seen as critical of the government.

Detention is often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. In the days leading up to the summit meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), for example, which took place in Havana on January 28 and 29, 2014, at least 40 people were arbitrarily detained, and 5 held under house arrest until the conference had ended, according to the CCDHRN.

Members of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—are routinely detained before or after they attend Sunday mass. On May 4, for example, more than 80 women were detained before attending mass throughout the island. On July 13, 129 members of the group were detained as they prepared to attend commemorative ceremonies honoring Cubans who died attempting to leave the island in 1994.

Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours and even days. The former political prisoner Guillermo Fariñas, who was placed under house arrest for the duration of the CELAC conference and then arrested when he attempted to leave home, reported suffering two broken ribs and other injuries as a result of a beating he received while in detention. Yilenni Aguilera Santos, a member of the Damas de Blanco movement in Holguín, reported suffering a miscarriage when security agents subjected her to a severe beating after arresting her on her way to mass on June 22.

Political Prisoners

Even after the conditional release of dozens of political prisoners in December 2014, dozens more remain in Cuban prisons according to local human rights groups. These groups estimate that there are more political prisoners whose cases they cannot document because the government prevents independent national or international human rights groups from accessing its prisons.

Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are “subordinated” to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression. Only a very small fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of, and limited access to, the Internet. While people in cities like Havana, Santiago de Cuba, or Santa Clara have access to the Internet, people in more rural areas are not able to go online.

A May 2013 government decree directed at expanding Internet access stipulates that the Internet cannot be used for activities that undermine “public security, the integrity, the economy, independence, and national security” of Cuba—broadly worded conditions that could be used against government critics.

A small number of independent journalists and bloggers manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. Yet those who publish information considered critical of the government are sometimes subject to smear campaigns, attacks, and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.

In May 2014, blogger Yoani Sanchez launched the website 14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent online newspaper. Within hours, the site was hacked, and visitors were directed to a page dedicated to scathing criticisms of Sanchez. The site was restored the following day, but blocked again several days later, and has remained inaccessible to Internet users within Cuba ever since.

In May 2013, the director of the government-run Casa de las Americas cultural institute, Roberto Zurbano, published an article in the New York Times highlighting persistent inequality and prejudice affecting Afro-Cubans. He was subsequently attacked in the government-controlled press and demoted to a lesser job at the institute.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminate the need for an exit visa to leave the island, which had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government and their families. Since then, many people who had been previously denied permission to travel have been able to do so, including human rights defenders and independent bloggers.

Nonetheless, the reform included very broad discretionary powers that allow the government to restrict the right to travel on the grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest,” allowing the authorities to deny exit to people who express dissent. For example, authorities have repeatedly denied Manuel Cuesta Morúa the right to travel abroad since he attempted to organize a parallel summit to the CELAC conference in January 2014.

The government also continues to arbitrarily deny Cubans living abroad the right to visit the island. In August 2013, the Cuban government denied Blanca Reyes, a Damas de Blanco member living in exile in Spain, permission to travel to Cuba to visit her ailing 93-year-old father, who died in October before she could visit him.

The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217. Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires that Cubans obtain government permission before moving to the country’s capital. It is often used to prevent dissidents from traveling there to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live in the capital.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded, and unhygienic and unhealthy conditions lead to extensive malnutrition and illness. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, and those who criticize the government, or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest, are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.

While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April 2013, it continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government still refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Meanwhile, government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.

Key International Actors

President Obama announced in December 2014 that the US government would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel and commerce with the island. In exchange, the Cuban government committed itself to—among other things— releasing 53 political prisoners and allowing visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN human rights monitors.

President Obama also called on the US Congress to lift the economic embargo on Cuba. For more than half a century, the embargo has imposed indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and has done nothing to improve the country’s human rights record. The UN General Assembly has repeatedly called for an end to the US embargo on Cuba. In October 2014, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the embargo.

The European Union (EU) continues to retain its “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which conditions full EU economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. However, after a meeting in April 2014 in Havana, European Union and Cuban delegates agreed on establishing a road map for “normalizing” relations. EU officials indicated that concerns about civil liberties and democratic participation would continue to influence EU policy towards Cuba.

At the Organization of American States General Assembly in June, governments throughout the region called for the attendance of Cuba at the next Summit of the Americas in Panama in 2015.

In November 2013, Cuba was re-elected to a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), defeating Uruguay for a regional position despite its poor human rights record and its consistent efforts to undermine important council work. As a UNHRC member, Cuba regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of serious human rights situations around the world, opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in North Korea, Syria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Belarus, and Ukraine. Cuba, however, supported the landmark resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity adopted by the council in September 2014.

The text of the online 2015 World Report Cuba chapter has been updated from the print version to take into account events in late 2014.

CUBA-RIGHTS/ 

Cuban security personnel detain a member of the Ladies in White group during a protest on International Human Rights Day, in Havana on December 10, 2014. © 2014 Reuters na on December 10, 2014. © 2014 Reuters

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PERSPECTIVE: OVERCOMING CUBA’S INTERNAL EMBARGO

Published in Current History, February 2015, here: INTERNAL EMBARGO 

See original essay here: Overcoming Cuba’s Internal Embargo

By Ted A. Henken and Archibald R.M. Ritter

In scores of interviews conducted over the past 15 years with Cuban entrepreneurs for our new book, “Entrepreneurial Cuba,” Arch Ritter and I often heard the following two very pregnant Cuban sayings:

El ojo del amo engorda el caballo” (The eye of the owner fattens the horse) and “El que tenga tienda que la atienda, o si no que la venda” (Whoever has a store should tend to it, and if not then sell it”).

The first adage indicates that the quality of a good or service improves when the person performing it enjoys autonomy and has a financial stake in the outcome. The second saying suggests that if the Cuban government is unable to “tend its own stores,” then it should let others take them over.

In essence, this popular wisdom demands that the state turn over to the private sector the economic activities it cannot operate effectively itself—many of which are already widely practiced in Cuba’s ubiquitous underground economy.

In other words, the U.S. embargo – recently dealt a near fatal blow by the joint decision by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro to reestablish diplomatic relations after almost 54 years – is hardly the principal “blockade” standing in the way of Cuba’s economic revitalization. Though the American “bloqueo” has long been the target of withering and well-deserved international condemnation, on the island Cubans themselves are much more likely to criticize what they bitterly refer to as the “auto-bloqueo” (internal embargo) imposed by the Cuban government itself on the entrepreneurial ingenuity, access to uncensored information and open communications, as well as basic civil and political rights of the Cuban people.

President Barack Obama has opened a door to potential U.S. investment in (and import/export to and from) Cuba’s entrepreneurial and telecom sectors. But is Raúl Castro willing to allow U.S. companies to operate on the island? More important still, is his government ready to open up to the Cuban people by beginning to relinquish its tight control over private enterprise and the Internet?

While we believe that it is both good and necessary for the United States to open up to Cuba and vice versa (to paraphrase the late Pope John Paul II), our book argues that little economic progress or political freedom will be enjoyed by Cubans themselves until the Cuban government opens up to its own people, ceases to demand their acquiescence as subjects, and begins to respect them as citizens, consumers, and entrepreneurs with defensible and inalienable economic and political rights of their own.

In fact, two weeks following the historic mid-December Obama-Castro announcement, the Cuban government received its first public test of whether its internal embargo would now be relaxed in light of the sea-change in U.S. policy. On December 30, the internationally renown Cuban artist Tania Bruguera organized a public act of performance art in Havana’s iconic Revolutionary Plaza. Dubbed “#YoTambienExijo,” Bruguera invited Cuban citizens to “share their own demands” on the government and visions for the island’s future for one minute each at an open-mic set up in the Plaza. Predictably, the government responded by arresting and detaining scores of artists, activists, and independent journalists, which amounted to an even more public “performance” of its own typically repressive tactics, as news of the event echoed in the international media on the final day of the year.

Thus, while we can celebrate the fact that the U.S. and Cuban governments have finally agreed to begin respectful, diplomatic engagement, the Cuban government’s failure to respectfully engage with the diverse and often dissenting voices of its own citizens makes us wonder with Bruguera whether “it’s the Cuban people who will benefit from this new historic moment,” as she put it in her previously circulated open letter to Raúl Castro.

Between 1996 and 2006, President Fidel Castro pursued an economic policy retrenchment that gradually phased out the pro-market reforms of the early 1990s, indicating that he was more aware of the political risks that popular entrepreneurship would pose to his centralized political control than of the economic benefits it could provide. Therefore, he was unwilling to transfer more than a token portion of the state “store” to private entrepreneurs.

His brother, Raúl Castro, whose presidency began in 2006, has significantly eased this resistance. While the underlying goal of economic reform is still to “preserve and perfect socialism,” he has started to deliberatively shrink the state “store” and transfer the production of many goods and services to the more than half-a-million new small enterprises, including both private and cooperative ventures.

However, much more remains to be done in reforming policies toward microenterprise so that it can contribute fully to productive employment, innovation, and economic growth. For example, 70 percent of the newly self-employed were previously unemployed, meaning that they likely converted previously existing underground enterprises into legal ones, doing little to absorb the 1.8 million workers slated for state-sector layoffs. Moreover, only 7 percent of self-employed are university graduates, and most of them work in “low tech” activities because almost all professional self-employment is prohibited. This acts a “blockade” on the effective use of Cuba’s well-educated labor force, obstructing innovation and productivity.

A further goal of the tentative reforms to date has been to facilitate the emergence of cooperative and small enterprise sectors so that they can generate sustained improvements in material standards of living. This can only be achieved with additional reforms that effectively “end the embargo” against Cuban entrepreneurs.

Among the necessary changes would be:

1. Opening the professions to private enterprise,

2. Implementing affordable wholesale markets,

3. Providing access to foreign exchange and imports (a fiercely guarded state monopoly),

4. Establishing effective credit facilities,

5. Permitting the establishment of retailing enterprises, and

6. Relaxing the tax burden on small enterprise, which now discriminates against domestic enterprise in favor of foreign investors.

Progress in all these areas would be greatly facilitated by access to U.S. investors and markets (both as a source of desperately needed wholesale inputs and as a place to sell their products), something now possible following the implementation of Obama’s historic policy changes during the coming year.

However, it remains to be seen whether Raúl has the political will to intensify the internal reform process. The outright prohibition of activities the government prefers to keep under state monopoly allows it to exercise control over Cuban citizens and impose an apparent order over society. However, this comes at the cost of pushing all targeted economic activity (along with potential tax revenue) back into the black market – where much of it lurked prior to 2010.

On the other hand, the inclusion and regulation of the many private activities dreamed up and market-tested by Cuba’s always inventive entrepreneurial sector would create more jobs, a higher quality and variety of goods and services at lower prices, while also increasing tax revenue. However, these benefits come at the political cost of allowing greater citizen autonomy, wealth and property in private hands, and open competition against state monopolies.

The viability of Cuba’s reforms also depends on the recently announced changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba and on Cuba’s changing policy toward its émigrés, who already play a major role in the Cuban economy as suppliers of start-up capital via the billions of dollars they provide annually in remittances. Such investment could be expanded if the Cuban government were to deepen its recent migration reforms by granting greater economic rights to its extensive émigré community.

Obama’s relaxation of U.S. policy will inevitably shift the political calculus that underlies economic reform on the island. As external obstacles to Cuba’s economic revitalization are removed, the onus will fall with increased pressure on the Cuban government to broaden and deepen its initial reforms, since it alone will be to blame for poor performance.

For example, organizations like Catholic Church-affiliated CubaEmprende have already begun to offer entrepreneurship workshops to small business owners with the financial backing of Cuban-Americans. Now that they needn’t worry about the threat of U.S. sanctions, will this and other similar projects be provided the legal and institutional space to flourish by the Cuban government?

Despite a continued state monopoly on the mass media and one of the Western Hemisphere’s lowest Internet penetration rates, in recent years Cuba has seen a number of significant developments in information and communication technology (ICT) capabilities, access to uncensored news, and the availability of new dissemination channels for digital data.

These developments include:

1. The spread of the worldwide blogging and citizen journalism phenomena to Cuba;

2. The connection of a fiber-optic Internet cable to the island from Venezuela in 2013, followed by the opening of 118 Internet cafés in June 2013 and access to e-mail via cell phone for the first time in 2014;

3. The appearance of a small number of independent, island-based news outlets – including the news and opinion websites Havana Times, On Cuba, and 14ymedio (launched by pioneering blogger Yoani Sánchez in May 2014);

4. The creation of a number of unauthorized “mesh” networks that use private Wi-Fi networks to communicate and share information, and

5. The emergence of an underground digital data distribution system known as “el paquete” (the packet).

Each of these developments could be accelerated by the new U.S. policy that allows American telecom providers to do business in Cuba, but only if the Cuban government is willing to allow diversification and freer competition in its centralized, monopolistic ICT system.

For example, the so-called “packet” phenomenon currently acts as an alternate, off-line Internet on the island making huge amounts of electronic data (CDs, DVDs, video games, books, “apps,” computer programs, news, and so forth) readily available for purchase in Cuba’s digital “black market.” While much data continues to circulate via thumb-drives, there is also a market for entire external hard drives of data bought and sold not in megabytes or gigabytes, but in terabytes – and all outside the rigid control of the state media production and distribution system – amounting to an indirect but very serious and effective challenge to the so-called “política cultural de la Revolución.”

This digital black market arises from the fact that many products—especially the latest electronic gadgets—are either priced far out of reach for most Cubans in “las tiendas estatales,” not sold at all, or even banned outright. More recently, the small but rapidly growing number of Cubans who have joined the smart phone revolution (often purchasing their Androids or iPhones via the blocked site Revolico.com, a Cuban version of Craig’s List) have benefitted from the proliferation of “apps” especially configured for Cuba’s peculiar off-line environment.

Undoubtedly, such a peculiar digital media environment will be fundamentally transformed if American data, service, and hardware providers were given access to the Cuban market. At the very least, prices are bound to fall, speed increase, and access expand, with the quality and quantity of digital ICT equipment improving.

A key recent development was the June 2014 trip of top Google executives to the island, including company co-founder Eric Schmidt, with the purpose of “promoting a free and open Internet.” To that end, they met both with leading cyber-activist Yoani Sánchez and government officials, while also interacting with students at Cuba’s University of Computer Science. Upon returning to the U.S., Schmidt declared that Cuba was trapped in the Internet of the 1990s and heavily censored, with American-engineered hardware and software losing out to Chinese ICT infrastructure.

He also reasoned that the U.S. embargo “makes absolutely no sense” if Washington’s aim is to open the island up to the freer flow of information. “If you wish the country to modernize,” Schmidt argued, “the best way to do this is to empower the citizens with smart phones and encourage freedom of expression and put information tools into the hands of Cubans directly.”

The greatly expanded telecom opportunities for U.S. companies and the decision to review the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, both included in December’s announcement to normalize relations, indicate that the Obama administration was convinced by Schmidt’s logic.

The slow pace and (so far) only marginally successful results of Cuba’s economic reforms to date has put the Cuban government under rising internal pressure to expand Internet services and from abroad to meet the needs of the new foreign investors it hopes to attract. This eventuality – now with the help of U.S. investment and technology – could positively impact the population’s access to the web.

At the same time, the government is clearly looking to the Chinese example as it contemplates ramping up its own Internet capabilities, hoping to remake the web in its authoritarian image and forestall any of its democratizing impacts.

Still, in the months following the Google visit, the company announced that it was unblocking island access to its free cloud-based Chrome search engine as well as popular applications such as Google Play and Google Analytics – a decision that could not have been made without tacit approval from the Obama administration. Events in 2015 will reveal how much further the Cuban government is willing to allow Google and other Internet and telecom companies to go.

While these digital developments are significant, it remains difficult to determine to what extent they will affect ordinary Cubans, given that the government itself estimates the Internet access rate at an extremely low 26 percent. Even this figure conflates access to the Internet with the island’s limited internal “intranet,” and counts sporadic access to e-mail in the same category as full access to the World Wide Web.

Moreover, while 118 new cyber-cafes opened across the island in June 2013, the service is a state monopoly available only to those able to pay in hard currency. Full access for one hour costs the equivalent of the average weekly salary. Thus, expanded access to ICT in Cuba takes place in a context of a connectivity that can be described as slow, expensive, and censored, with certain sites – such as 14ymedio – blocked outright.

Devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones are scarce and costly; the purchase and importation of key equipment such as routers and other Wi-Fi technology are highly controlled. Indeed, it is still not legally possible for the vast majority of Cuban citizens to obtain a household Internet connection, and there is virtually no legal access on the island to wireless networks and fully functional mobile technology or smart phones with data plans, outside of international hotels and certain government institutions, and select educational facilities.

The government has recognized these limitations and made commitments to remedy them, but there is no clear timeline or way to hold the government or its telecom monopoly Etecsa accountable to citizens, consumers, or Cuba’s emerging class of private entrepreneurs.

Cuban citizens of all stripes are working to overcome the substantial obstacles to entrepreneurship and free expression. This effort, however, takes place in an asphyxiating climate of political polarization, where Cubans have been doubly blockaded by the U.S. embargo on one side and by the ongoing internal embargo on the other.

This is why the recent growth of domestic entrepreneurship and innovative engagement by Internet companies like Google is so significant. This new approach seeks to engage and empower the Cuban people directly while accepting some collateral benefit for the Cuban government, instead of aiming to undermine the government with a ham-handed embargo while accepting the collateral damage that such a policy inevitably has on the people.

Now that this approach has been reinforced by the Obama administration’s momentous decision to diplomatically engage Cuba as a way to further empower the Cuban people (making their lives, in the words of the president, a bit more fácil), the ball is clearly in Castro’s court.

Will he transform his initial economic reforms and marginal expansion of the Internet into change Cubans can believe (and even invest) in?

 

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RAUL CASTRO: US MUST RETURN GUANTANAMO FOR NORMAL RELATIONS

January 28, 2015 – AP – JAVIER CORDOBA AND MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/C/CB_CUBA_US?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — Cuban President Raul Castro demanded on Wednesday that the United States return the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, lift the half-century trade embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two nations re-establish normal relations.

Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that Cuba and the U.S. are working toward full diplomatic relations but “if these problems aren’t resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement wouldn’t make any sense.”

Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that they would move toward renewing full diplomatic relations by reopening embassies in each other’s countries. The two governments held negotiations in Havana last week to discuss both the reopening of embassies and the broader agenda of re-establishing normal relations.

Obama has loosened the trade embargo with a range of measures designed to increase economic ties with Cuba and increase the number of Cubans who don’t depend on the communist state for their livelihoods.

The Obama administration says removing barriers to U.S. travel, remittances and exports to Cuba is a tactical change that supports the United States’ unaltered goal of reforming Cuba’s single-party political system and centrally planned economy.

Cuba has said it welcomes the measures but has no intention of changing its system. Without establishing specific conditions, Castro’s government has increasingly linked the negotiations with the U.S. to a set of longstanding demands that include an end to U.S. support for Cuban dissidents and Cuba’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

On Wednesday, Castro emphasized an even broader list of Cuban demands, saying that while diplomatic ties may be re-established, normal relations with the U.S. depend on a series of concessions that appear highly unlikely in the near future.

The U.S. established the military base in 1903, and the current Cuban government has been demanding the land’s return since the 1959 revolution that brought it to power. Cuba also wants the U.S. to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for losses caused by the embargo.

“The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base,” Castro said. He demanded that the U.S. end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and television broadcasts and deliver “just compensation to our people for the human and economic damage that they’re suffered.”

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Castro’s remarks.

Castro’s call for an end to the U.S. embargo drew support at the summit from the presidents of Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff also praised the effort by the leaders of Cuba and the U.S. to improve relations. “The two heads of state deserve our recognition for the decision they made – beneficial for Cubans and Americans, but, most of all, for the entire continent,” she said.

John Caulfield, who led the U.S. Interests Section in Havana until last year, said that the tone of Cuba’s recent remarks didn’t mean it would be harder than expected to reach a deal on short-term goals like reopening full embassies in Havana and Washington. In fact, he said, the comments by Castro and high-ranking diplomats may indicate the pressure Cuba’s government is feeling to strike a deal as Cubans’ hopes for better living conditions rise in the wake of Obama’s outreach.

“There is this huge expectation of change and this expectation has been set off by the president’s announcement,” Caulfield said. The Cuban government feels “the constant need to tell their people nothing’s going to change … the more the Cubans feel obligated to defend the status quo and to say that’s nothing going to change, the more pressure it indicates to me is on them to make these changes, partly on the economic side but I would also say on the political side.”

US_fleet_at_Guantanamo_Bay_1927

The U.S. Fleet at Guantanamo, 1927

GitmoGuantanamo Today

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U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS: A DOCUMENT ARCHIVE

The Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University in Washington, DC has just created an on-line archive on U.S. Cuban relations focussing especially on the process of normalization.

Its web site is here:

U.S.-Cuba Relations: A Document Archive

At a moment when Cuba is undergoing significant change and Latin America is clamoring for the United States to change its policy toward Cuba, leaders in both Washington and Havana have expressed a desire to move beyond the hostility that has characterized relations for more than half a century. Overcoming the legacy of that hostility is no easy matter; the issues to be resolved are many and complex.

The purpose of this archive is to provide a resource for scholars, researchers, and policymakers interested in U.S.-Cuban relations by creating a single point of easy access to relevant articles, laws, and reports on the full range of U.S.-Cuban issues. From human rights to migration to environmental protection, the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies has assembled the best and most current resource materials available—over 160 documents in all. We hope that this archive will help to better inform the interested public about the interests at stake and the issues to be resolved. We plan to keep the collection current by adding new materials as they become available. As part of the Center’s Cuba Initiative, the U.S.-Cuba Archive is supported by generous funding from the Christopher Reynolds Foundation.

New Picture (1)

Topics

Analysis for Normalization

Commission for Assistance to Free Cuba

Committee on Foreign Relations

Counter-Narcotics Cooperation

Cuban Internal Affairs

Democracy Programs

Economic Opportunity

Economics in Normalization

Environmental Protection

Executive Discretion

Health Cooperation

Human Rights Migration

NGO Responses, Research and Recommendations

Normalizing Relations

Property Claims

Public Opinion

Telecommunications

Terrorism

Travel and Remittances

TV and Radio Martí

U.S. Laws and Regulations

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TED HENKEN’S BOOK LAUNCH PRESENTATION: ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA

239574f3-e049-46c1-8ff7-d5b9e371f096_1320Ted Henken presenting  our book ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA at the Coral Gables cultural institution, Books and Books, with the generous co-sponsorship of Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute.

See Ted Henken’s presentation here: http://elyuma.blogspot.ca/2015/01/from-external-embargo-to-internal.html  starting at minute 5:15

entrepreneurial-cuba

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CUBA WELCOMES “NORMALIZATION,” BUT ONLY ON ITS OWN TERMS

January 26, 2015

By Eric Hershberg

Original here: ON ITS OWN TERMS

Cuba Apr 2012 069.jpgAADown La Rampa, Photo by Arch Ritter.

Cuban President Raúl Castro is undoubtedly as serious about normalizing diplomatic ties as President Barack Obama is, but the island’s government arguably faces more pressing challenges than working out the details of a rapprochement with Washington. Commentators have observed that after the initial euphoria following the December 17 announcement, officials now speak of a long road ahead. Full normalization, while welcome, is not the foremost concern of Cuban policymakers. The paramount objective of Cuban authorities is the survival of the revolution and the one-party state that it engendered. Top diplomats reiterated on January 23, after the first round of talks in Havana, that there will be no concessions to continued American insistence on changes in Cuba’s domestic political arrangements.

Economic revitalization is imperative. Despite the reforms introduced by Castro, the Cuban economy remains woefully unproductive, incapable of meeting the needs of its citizenry or generating the foreign exchange that any small island developing state requires to import goods that it cannot produce domestically. Growth rates are anemic, reaching only 1.3 percent in 2014, and independent projections call into question last month’s official announcements predicting 4 percent expansion during 2015. Agriculture remains stagnant despite reforms aimed at putting fallow lands to productive use, so imports of food account for $2 billion in the extremely tight state budget put forth for 2015. The severe shortage of cash, moreover, impedes public investment in Cuba’s crumbling infrastructure, which hinders autonomous producers from securing vital inputs for their businesses or distributing what they produce. Ideally, foreign investment would supply resources where domestic sources cannot, but for the most part this is not happening either. A 2013 foreign investment law has to date yielded little fresh capital: European and other investors with experience on the island explain privately that the conditions for conducting business are such that they are reluctant to commit good money after bad. The new changes in U.S. regulations may produce some increase in investment flows – primarily in the form of remittances from Cuban Americans to families and friends – and thus continue to provide some economic oxygen, but the likely scale of these flows should not be overestimated. Washington’s new regulations seem likely to continue blocking investments that could increase the Cuban state’s ability to develop the infrastructure necessary to promote economic growth.

Because the intertwined goals of state security and economic revitalization are paramount, Havana’s engagement with the United States will be conditioned on its compatibility with those objectives. Critics of the American opening who lambast Barack Obama for acceding to a deal with minimal Cuban concessions are right that Havana did not abandon its position that its political system is non-negotiable. If by joining the rest of the western hemisphere in acknowledging the Cuban state Washington embarks on a path that will fuel economic activity in Cuba, the two countries will proceed, however gradually, away from confrontation. The trajectory of U.S. relations with China and Vietnam in recent decades offers an instructive precedent for how this can be achieved and be mutually beneficial. But if the Americans perceive greater engagement with Cuba as a tool for regime change, or strive to limit financial flows exclusively to private actors, their Cuban counterparts naturally will limit the scope of interaction. A new round of State Department solicitations for bids to conduct democracy promotion activities in Cuba, like the U.S. negotiators’ insistence last week on getting a photo-op with dissidents before heading back to Washington, suggest that this message has yet to be absorbed by American officials.

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CUENTAPROPISMO EN CUBA Y LAS IMPORTACIONES DESDE EEUU PARA CUBA

By Nora Gámez Torre

elnuevoherald.com, 22 January 2015

Original here: Cuentapropismo, Importaciones, Normalizacóin

La lista que el Departamento de Estado está confeccionando con bienes y servicios ofrecidos por empresarios cubanos privados que podrán ser importados en los Estados Unidos será amplia para estimular la creatividad de los “cuentapropistas” y el interés del gobierno de la isla por ampliar sus exportaciones, dijo una fuente que ha tenido acceso al borrador del documento.

Las nuevas regulaciones que comenzaron a regir el 16 de enero prevén el apoyo a los pequeños negocios, pero el Departamento de Estado debe decidir quiénes estarán comprendidos dentro de este sector privado y cuáles serían los productos a importarse desde la isla.

Una de las mayores limitaciones de la política económica actual respecto al “cuentapropismo”, como se designa el trabajo privado en la isla, es que de las 201 actividades ahora permitidas por el gobierno de Raúl Castro, la mayoría son oficios que requieren poca capacitación e infraestructura tecnológica —“vendedor ambulante de alimentos”, “rellenador de fosforeras” y “barberos” son algunos ejemplos— y el espacio para el empleo de profesionales es mínimo.

Por eso la fuente consultada por el Nuevo Herald cree que el Departamento de Estado no confeccionará la lista a partir de la legislación vigente, sino que intentará “abrir la puerta lo más amplia posible, para que sea el gobierno cubano el que decida si va a eliminar los obstáculos a los empresarios y, si esto no sucede, que ellos sepan que es por culpa del bloqueo interno”.

En la lista, que iría cambiando a partir de las dinámicas en Cuba, estarían incluidos servicios profesionales de traducción, programación o de construcción que no están autorizados actualmente en Cuba, por lo que se trata de “anticiparse un poco al futuro”, agrega.

Consultado al respecto, el profesor de Sociología de Baruch College, Ted Henken, cree que este enfoque es positivo pero “la gran pregunta es si esto tendrá impacto o si el gobierno cubano permitirá este intercambio”.

El profesor de Economía de la Universidad de Carleton en Canadá, Archibald Ritter, comentó a el Nuevo Herald que uno de los principales obstáculos para que Estados Unidos pueda apoyar a la empresa privada es el monopolio que tiene el estado sobre las importaciones y las exportaciones.

En las nuevas regulaciones, también se autoriza la exportación a Cuba de materiales de la construcción, herramientas y maquinaria agrícola a los cuentapropistas, pero según Ritter “esto requiere cambios en el monopolio del estado sobre el comercio exterior”, pues actualmente no existe un mecanismo que permita que los empresarios privados puedan importar o exportar. Tampoco existe un mercado mayorista donde ellos puedan adquirir sus insumos.

En la nota de la Agencia de Información Nacional sobre las nuevas regulaciones, el único reporte que fue publicado en todos los medios nacionales, no se hace referencia a la posibilidad de exportación de productos cubanos hacia Estados Unidos, provenientes del sector privado.

También se hace notar que “se mantienen las restricciones a las exportaciones de Estados Unidos a Cuba, especialmente de productos de alta tecnología, con excepción de limitadas ventas de materiales de construcción, equipos e implementos agrícolas que se permitirán realizar a particulares, al parecer a través de empresas cubanas”.

Y según la fuente consultada por el Nuevo Herald, el Departamento de Estado estaría considerando utilizar a una empresa estatal cubana como intermediaria, si se ofrecen garantías de que los productos y materias primas llegarán a manos de los cuentapropistas.

Presentación de libro sobre cuentapropismo en Cuba

Ritter y Henken son expertos en el tema y publicaron una investigación sobre el cuentapropismo titulada Cuba empresarial: un contexto de políticas cambiantes, que será presentada el viernes en la libraría Books and Books a las 6:30 pm, un evento auspiciado por el Cuban Research Institute de la Universidad Internacional de la Florida.

En el libro, en el que realizan una comparación entre las políticas de Fidel y Raúl Castro sobre la empresa privada, Ritter y Henken hacen un balance del estado de esa actividad en la isla y advierten de los altos impuestos, y la “discriminación” en términos fiscales que favorece a empresas mixtas con capital extranjero.

Si la liberalización del cuentapropismo tenía como objetivo absorber el millón de trabajadores de la economía estatal que Raúl Castro consideró como “redundantes”, a los que se les llama eufemísticamente como “disponibles”, los autores del libro concluyen que esta meta no ha sido alcanzada. Más bien, argumentan, el cuentapropismo ha venido a legalizar muchas actividades que trascurrían en el mercado informal.

Aunque según estadísticas del Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social hasta septiembre del 2014, el número de empleados en estas actividades aumentó a 471,085 en todo el país, cifras de la capital hasta marzo de ese mismo año indicaban que solo 63 de los cuentapropistas registrados habían perdido sus empleos (“disponibles”). El 15 por ciento de los cuentrapropistas habaneros eran también trabajadores estatales mientras que el 63 por ciento, cerca de 80,000, no tenían “vínculo laboral previo”, según publicó el portal oficial Cubadebate.

Los autores señalan que aunque en la prensa se ha comenzado a eliminar el estigma en torno a la empresa privada, el cierre de negocios exitosos, sobre todo paladares, apunta a que la acumulación de capital todavía no es bien vista por las autoridades.

Ritter y Henken concluyen que aunque la reforma de Raúl Castro ha sido significativa, “no es suficiente” para promover el desarrollo económico a gran escala y que medidas que permitan un mayor protagonismo de la diáspora así como mayores garantías y beneficios a la pequeña y mediana empresa son indispensables.

 More Cuenta Propistas

Cuba Mar 2014 036 - Copy Cuba Mar 2014 040 - Copy Cuba Mar 2014 056 Cuba Mar 2014 080 Cuba Mar 2014 096

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U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS: ENTERING A TESTING PERIOD

Arturo Lopez Levy, University of Denver

 Huffington Post, January 19, 2015

Original here: TESTING PERIOD

In August 2010, Cuban Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega went to Washington and shared with many a message he heard directly from Raul Castro:

He repeated to me on several occasions that he is ready to talk to the United States government directly, about every issue.”

This message was music to the ears of many U.S. foreign-policy officials and politicians who were convinced the time had come to bring American relations with Cuba into the post-Cold War 21st century. It took more than four years for the promise of Ortega’s message to be fulfilled.

Last December 16, Raul Castro and Barack Obama had a direct phone call to discuss the general situation of the relations between Cuba and the United States. The two presidents agreed to a spy-swap accompanied by some Cuban humanitarian gestures to release USAID subcontractor Alan Gross and 53 prisoners confined for different reasons in Cuban jails. Most importantly, they also agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations between the two countries. President Obama asked Secretary Kerry to conduct a non-ideological assessment likely to lead to Cuba’s removal from the State Department list of Terrorism Sponsoring Nations. President Obama negotiated with Cuba “chivalrously, not like a shyster” as Henry Kissinger recommended to his diplomats in 1975.

President Obama’s December 17 discourse undermined the basis of the embargo policy. Obama introduced a new American official narrative about Cuba. He discussed Cuba’s situation not as a threat to U.S. national security but as a country in a transition the United States should support. President Obama also acknowledged that “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.” He discussed several initiatives to help Cuba’s growing non-state economic sectors and wide-range civil-society groups, not only those in the political opposition.

This is a significant departure from the course U.S. policy has followed for almost six decades, but actions must now be undertaken by both countries to make these changes durable and real.

A strategic and realistic view of U.S-Cuba engagement

Cuba and the United States need to develop a strategic view of the process their presidents launched on December 17, 2014. A crucial issue, perhaps the crucial issue, is how to neutralize those opposed to the dismantlement of the hostility structures at both sides of the Strait of Florida. There are powerful spoilers in key positions such as Senator Marco Rubio, who will now chair the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Rubio and anti-normalization of relations groups in Miami and Havana are already trying to trigger a crisis to roll back the rapprochement and return to the old patterns of hostility and isolation.

The Obama Administration should not restrain itself from partnering with Cuba to make the agreement stick. Cuban officials have historic reasons to suspect about American intention and see plots everywhere. Good communications from Washington clarifying when plots have nothing to do with the Administration can help to diminish spoilers’ political influence. One big issue to watch is the democracy-promotion program. Washington should not apologize for defending its democratic values but the Secretary of State can provide responsible guidelines to shape these programs into less intrusive practices that are more in line with international law.

On the other side, Cuba has a complex track record of managing thorny provocations by anti-normalization Miami groups. The shooting down of the Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996 demonstrated the Cuban military’s lack of understanding about the U.S. political debate in that electoral year. Bill Clinton wrote in his memoirs: “I later received word from Castro — indirectly of course — that the shoot down was a mistake. Apparently he had issued earlier orders to fire on any aircraft that violated Cuban airspace and had failed to withdraw them when the Cubans knew the Brothers to the Rescue were coming.”

Cuba needs to be pro-active rather than reactive, not only toward the United States actors but also empowering independent civil-society groups. A vibrant autonomous community, separated from U.S. regime-change policy but independent from the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), would be the best alternative to the pro-embargo small opposition groups who count on a Cuban government’s repressive response to their provocations for derailing the process.

It is important to translate into the two societies’ gains, the opening steps taken by their governments. People-to-people exchanges are the most resilient bond connecting two countries. Economic interdependence, educational programs, travel, religious communities’ contacts, and family ties are building blocks of a durable relationship. Whether American and Cuban policymakers can make the December 17 changes irreversible will depend on how their regulations motivate and empower pressures from different U.S. constituencies to liberalize cross-Strait relations.

The best way to reinforce Obama’s discourse about a Cuba in transition is to advance, as much as it is safely possible, toward a more efficient market-based mixed economy and establish economic ties and trade with the U.S. private sector. One important new development is Obama’s announcement of a license to export U.S. agricultural machinery for Cuba’s private sector. The Cuban government should prepare legislation and infrastructure to eliminate red tape and unnecessary regulations of the private sector’s importation of agricultural machinery.

A stable move to a pluralist and open political society is also in line with Cuba’s national interests and international human-rights standards. Cuba’s internal political discussion is today more open than ever since 1961, except on the issue of the one-party system. There is a widely spread civil society of intellectuals, religious communities and second-culture publications, think tanks, and rights advocates interested in responsibly expanding the representation and competitiveness of the political system without opening the door to embargo advocates.

Decentralization — planned by the CCP since 2011 — can be a major democratization step by transferring power from the center to the municipalities and provinces.

There are a few strongly symbolic steps Cuba can take in its foreign policy. Havana could establish diplomatic relations with Israel and South Korea, helping to have a more balanced Latin American attitude toward these two American allies located in key strategic regions. Cuba can also use the Summit of the Americas to join at least some parts of the Inter-American system, such as the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission. These steps are not an abandonment of any nationalist principle but could demonstrate that Cuba is — to use Kissinger’s words about Iran — “more a country than a revolutionary cause.” A nationalist Cuba, focused on economic development, is not incompatible with a U.S.-led world order.

The time between now and the Summit of the Americas in April 2015 is a critical juncture for rapprochement chances. The immoral, illegal and counterproductive U.S. embargo remains in place, harming Cuba’s chances for economic reform and political liberalization. No one expects that Cuba would become a model democracy overnight. The Cuban Communist Party is not committed yet to the universal human rights as they are written in international conventions. But a Rubicon was crossed by the two presidents in December 17, 2014. U.S.-Cuba relations are still far from optimal, but they have never had a more promising framework since President Carter departed from the White House in 1981.

This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called “90 Miles: Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations.” The series puts the spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.

Cuba Mar 2011 111

A New Day Dawns at the US Interest Section Embassy in Havana

Cuban_interest_section_dcAnd at the Cuban Interest Section  Embassy in Washington

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