• 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.

TIME: FIVE FACTS EXPLAINING THE ECONOMIC UPSIDES OF AN OPENED CUBA

Ian Bremmer,  April 20 2015

Original here: The Caribbean country could be the next frontier of global business

Taking Cuba off the list of nations that sponsor terrorism is the latest development that will attract foreign companies to the island. So who wants in? These five stats explain which industries present the most opportunities as Cuba opens for business.

1. Remittances

One of the immediate benefits of renewed relations with Cuba is the increase in permitted remittance flows. The most recent figures put annual cash remittances to Cuba at approximately $5.1 billion, a level greater than the four fastest growing sectors of the Cuban economy combined. Now, permitted remittance levels from the U.S. will be raised fourfold, from $2,000 to $8,000 per year. This will help drive an increase in spending power in Cuba, which is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 4.6% through this decade. For global companies seeking a foothold anywhere they can, more money in the pockets of Cubans means more fuel for expansion. Take Coca-Cola. With an open Cuba, Coke could be legally be sold in every country in the world save one: North Korea.

2. A lot more visitors

Just 110 miles off the coast of Florida, Cuba should be a natural magnet for American travelers. Despite needing to meet special criteria to receive a visa from the State Department—allowable categories include educational and journalistic activities—170,000 Americans visited the country last year. As the restrictions slacken, the sky is literally the limit. JetBlue already charters flights to Cuba from the U.S., but the budget airline wants to start running regular commercial flights. American Airlines Group now flies to Cuba 20 times per week, a 33% increase in flights compared to just a year ago. More flights—and more competition—will make airfare more affordable, driving additional tourist traffic.

Cuba Mar 2014 011April 2014: the Capitolio, under renovation, to be the new home of the National Assembly; the Centro Gallego (old community center for Cubans of Galician origin), being restored to its former glory; a hop-on hop-off Tour bus; 1950s American automotive beauties and a Russian Lada.

Missing from this photo: a Chinese Geely, currently taking over Cuba’s automotive market. 

3. Communication breakthroughs

Only one in ten Cubans regularly use mobile phones and only one in twenty have uncensored access to the Internet. Even state-restricted Internet penetration currently stands at just 23.2%. The telecom infrastructure is so underdeveloped that an hour of regulated Internet connectivity can cost up to 20% of the average Cuban’s monthly salary. There’s serious demand for the major infrastructure investments needed to improve these numbers. Some start-ups are making waves in spite of shoddy internet. Airbnb, a website that lets people rent out lodging, announced that it has started booking rooms in Cuba with over 1,000 hosts. It gets around the lack of Internet by teaming with middlemen who have long worked to link tourists with bed and breakfasts.

4. A cure for Cuba

Cuba has the third highest number of physicians per capita, behind only Monaco and Qatar. They’re even used as an export: Venezuela pays $5.5 billion a year for the almost 40,000 Cuban medical professionals who now make up half of its health-care personnel. Cuban doctors lack access to most American pharmaceutical products and, importantly, to third-generation antibiotics. For its part, Cuba’s surprisingly robust biotech industry makes a number of vaccines not currently available in the U.S. With the normalization of relations, Cuba can look to fully capitalize on its medical strengths.

5. Foreign investment

Cuba currently attracts around $500 million in foreign direct investment (FDI)—good for just 1% of GDP. Given its tumultuous political history and underdeveloped economy, it is difficult to accurately predict how quickly investors will flock once the embargo has been lifted. But a good comparison might be the Dominican Republic, another Caribbean nation with roughly the same size population as Cuba. The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates that Cuba could potentially attract as much foreign capital as the Dominican Republic, which currently receives $17 billion in FDI ($2 billion from the U.S). But this won’t happen overnight—in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Cuba ranks 177th out of 178, ahead only of North Korea.

 

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CUBA SLOWLY BEGINS TO REJOIN THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL SYSTEM

By Mimi Whitefield, Miami herald, April 19, 2015

Original Article here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article18915939.html#emlnl=The_Americas

CAF-Development Bank of Latin America plans a small overture toward Cuba later this month that could be a stepping stone toward the island rejoining the international financial community.

CAF — whose members include 17 Latin American and Caribbean countries, Spain and Portugal and 14 private banks in the region — is planning a conference with the University of Havana to explore economic development in Latin America and Cuba.

While the April 28-29 conference is an “intellectual” rapprochement, Enrique García, the executive president of CAF, said that while in Havana, he also plans to explore the possibility of Cuba becoming a member of the only multilateral bank owned by emerging nations.

CAF’s interest, García said, is improving the quality of life for the Cuban people. The overture responds more to a long-standing desire by Caracas-based CAF to bring Cuba back into the hemispheric fold than to the new U.S.-Cuba policy and President Barack Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, García said. But he added: “The new U.S.-Cuba relationship obviously facilitates the opportunity to do things. We are very pleased to see the way the situation is turning out. It’s very positive for Cuba, for hemispheric relations.”

FacahadaCAF-2012Caracas-based CAF – Development Bank of Latin America

Unlike other regional financial institutions such as the InterAmerican Development Bank, membership in CAF doesn’t require that a member country also belong to the Organization of American States. Although Cuba was one of the founding members of the OAS, it was suspended for nearly five decades after the organization found Cuba’s Marxist-Leninist government incompatible with OAS principles.

The OAS lifted that suspension in 2009 on the condition that Cuba take part in a “process of dialogue” on OAS principles. But that dialogue never took place and so far Cuba has said no thanks.

For decades, Cuban officials criticized the OAS as a tool of the U.S. government and said the organization would “end up in the garbage dump of history.” But that was before the United States and Cuba began the process of renewing diplomatic relations. “My feeling, however, is that Cuba will not return yet to the OAS,” said José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the OAS. “It’s going to wait for some time. I think the issue of the U.S. continues to be very relevant for them. They want to have normal relations with the U.S. first.

“Second, it’s been so many years that probably they would prefer to go to other institutions of the inter-American system,” Insulza said. “The political step will be taken later. After telling your people for 54 years that the OAS is the worst thing in the world, you just don’t come and sit down without explaining.”

Things are percolating on other fronts too as Cuba tries to shore up its troubled finances and rejoin the global economy. In early March, for example, Paris Club Chairman Bruno Bezard met with Cuban finance officials in Havana. Cuba stopped servicing its debt with the Paris Club, a grouping of 20 industrialized nations, in 1987.

The two sides began talking about a year ago after previous Paris Club negotiations in 2000 broke down. “We have moved very quickly. There is plenty of will on the Cuban side and the side of the creditors to begin this work,” Bezard said at a news conference in Havana. During the talks, how much debt and interest are owed to each Paris Club creditor was discussed. France is currently the largest of 15 Cuba creditors.

Bezard, also director general of the French treasury, recently told AFP that in a matter of months, debt negotiations with Cuba might begin over the approximately $15 billion it owes Paris Club members.

In recent years Russia, Japan, China and Mexico have forgiven a portion of Cuba’s debt and given Havana more manageable repayment terms.

García said that CAF has been exploring the possibility of Cuban membership “for quite some time. The question is when and how and also to be pragmatic. Obviously we have to analyze membership very carefully.”

Cuba’s admission to other international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, however, is much more problematic. Not only does the Helms-Burton Act require the United States to oppose Cuban admission to such international institutions but it also requires the United States to reduce its funding to them if Cuba is admitted over U.S. objections.  But the United States isn’t a CAF member.

García said if Cuba were to join the development bank, the goal “at this stage” would be to provide technical assistance to Cuba rather than loans. In CAF’s 45-year history, García pointed out, it has never had a default.

If Cuba were interested, CAF might, for example, provide technical support as Cuba tries to unify its dual currency system, he said.

Now the focus is on the international seminar, “Opportunities and Challenges for Economic Development in Latin America and Cuba,” that will bring about 150 people together later this month. Among those who have been invited are Enrique Iglesias. former president of the Inter-American Development Bank, and Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“We’ll discuss how we approach development issues — how we see the world and how they see things,” García said. “It’s important to engage.”

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Ted Henken: EIGHT QUICK TAKEAWAYS ON FUTURE OF US-CUBA RELATIONS FROM THE SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS

2015-04-11t201325z_1868389586_gf10000056251_rtrmadp_3_panama-usa-summit_x1x_jpg_1718483346Ted Henken has some quick and cogent comments on the Cuba US Mdeetings at the OAS Summit of April 2015. They are presented below.

The original is on Prof. Henken’s Blog here: QUICK TAKEAWAYS ON FUTURE OF US-CUBA RELATIONS
Sunday, April 12, 2015

 1. Embarrassing lack of tolerance and “civility” on part of Cuba’s official civil society delegation (major contrast with Raul Castro’s warm and respectful approach to Obama). Failed the test of tolerance but will have to learn as the days of the exclusive, official “Cuban delegation” representing the island at international events are over since the migration reform of 2013. Question: Cuba can open up to the US (and vice versa) but can it open up to ITSELF – listen to the diverse and often dissenting views and organizations of its emergent civil society?

2. Surprising personal regard Raul Castro expressed for Obama as “an honest man” who has “no responsibility for past US policy” – I loved when Raul admitted he had cut that part from his speech, then put it back, then cut it, & finally decided to include it and was “satisfied” with his decision. History is made in the details.

3. Obama’s clear understanding of the key role of civil society and public support for Cuban civil society – expressed both in his terrific speech at the civil society forum and by meeting with Manuel Cuesta Morua & Laritza Diversent. Obama later stressed that these two leading Cuban dissidents support his “empowerment through engagement” policy.

4. Obama-Castro historic handshakes, joint press conference, & private meeting – “agree to disagree,” “work together where we can with respect and civility,” “everything on the table based on mutual respect,” “patience x 2!” – Obama looking forward and not trapped by ideology or interested in re fighting Cold War battles that started before he was born (but appreciates lessons of history); Raul still passionate (and long-winded) about past US wrongs but admits that can disagree today but “we could agree tomorrow.”

5. Obama’s unequivocal clarification that “On Cuba, we are not in the business of regime change; we are in the business of making sure the Cuban people have freedom and the ability to shape their own destiny,” stressing that “Cuba is not a threat to the United States.”

6. Maduro/Venezuela issue did not steal the show as some had feared (or hoped); Maduro did not get support for his condemnation of US sanctions and even had to endure some countries expressed concern for his own jailing of dissidents.

7. Shift in the region away from ideology toward economic pragmatism fueled in part by China slow-down, Russia nose-dive, & Venezuela implosion. US ready to step in with strategic economic engagement and oil diplomacy – especially to Caribbean Basin (H/T to Andrés Oppenheimer).

8. Also, various economically and diplomatically powerful Latin American nations have big domestic corruption scandals (Brazil, Argentina, Chile) or violence and security issues (Mexico, Central America) that make them wary of any confrontation with the US

111

Ted Henken

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Washington Post: NEW POLL ON CUBAN CITIZENS’ VIEWS ON NORMALIZATION, THE POLITICAL SYSTEM, THE ECONOMIC SYSTEM, THE LEADERSHIP AND MORE

Washington Post, April 8, 2015

By Joshua Partlow and Peyton M. Craighill

Original article here: NEW POLL ON CUBAN CITIZENS’ VIEWS

FULL RESULTS FROM THE CUBA POLL 

MEXICO CITY — The vast majority of Cubans welcome warmer relations with the United States, holding high expectations that closer ties pledged by the two countries will shake up the island’s troubled economy, according to a new survey of Cuban citizens. But they are doubtful that the diplomatic detente will bring political reforms to their Communist country.

The poll of residents on the island shows a people unhappy with the political system, eager to end the U.S. embargo and disenchanted with their state-run economy. More than half of Cubans say they would like to leave the country for good if they had the chance.

The survey, conducted in March through 1,200 in-person interviews by the Miami-based Bendixen and Amandi International research firm on behalf of the networks Univision Noticias and Fusion, is reported in collaboration with The Washington Post.

New Picture (12) New Picture (13) New Picture (14) New Picture (15) New Picture (16)

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Americas Society / Council of the Americas: ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: A DISCUSSION ON CUBA’S EMERGING NON-STATE SECTOR (Web Cast of the Event)

10163_logo_1In 2011, Cuban President Raúl Castro began the process of reforming policies toward entrepreneurs and small, private enterprises. Join Ted Henken and Archibald Ritter as they present their book Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape,* which analyzes the evolution of Cuban policy since 1959.

Henken and Ritter will discuss Cuba’s fledgling non-state sector, the underground economy, the new cooperative sector, Cuban entrepreneurs’ responses to the new business environment, and how Obama’s new policy of entrepreneurial engagement might impact Cuba’s “cuentapropistas.”

Speakers:

  • Ted A. Henken, Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies, Baruch College, CUNY
  • Archibald R.M. Ritter, Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Economics, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
  • Alana Tummino, Policy Director, Americas Society/Council of the Americas; Senior Editor, Americas Quarterly (Moderator)

April 2, 2015, Americas Society, 680 Park Avenue, New York NY USA

Book order form: Ritter-Henken-Entrepreneurial Cuba wdisc pdf

Here is the link to the web cast of the event:   http://www.as-coa.org/events/entrepreneurial-cuba-discussion-cuba%E2%80%99s-emerging-non-state-sector

New Picture (12)Alana Tummino

New Picture (13)Tummino, Henken and Ritter

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ENTERPRISING CUBA: CITIZEN EMPOWERMENT, STATE ABANDONMENT, OR U.S. BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY?

 AU-SSRC Implications of Normalization: Scholarly Perspectives on U.S.-Cuban Relations April 2015

 TED A. HENKEN AND GABRIEL VIGNOLI

Original here: ENTERPRISING CUBA

After cautiously consolidating his new government once becoming president in 2008, Raúl Castro made a series of unprecedented moves in late 2010 to encourage the reemergence of private self-employment (known as trabajo por cuenta propia or cuentapropismo in Cuba)—explicitly ending Cuba’s previous policy under Fidel Castro that, according to Raúl’s own bold assessment, had “stigmatized” and even “demonized” it.

Subsequently, both the number of legally allowed private occupations (up from 178 to 201) and of Cubans licensed to practice them have grown significantly, with the island seeing a veritable “boom” in entrepreneurial activity between 2011 and 2015. Indeed, in that time, the number of Cuba’s cuentapropistas (self-employed workers or micro-entrepreneurs) has more than tripled, growing from less than 150,000 in 2010 to nearly half a million by early 2015. Additionally, 498 new non-agricultural cooperatives have been authorized to operate on the island between 2013 and 2014, with another 300 under review at the start of 2015.

Moreover, on December 17, 2014, as part of a momentous diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana, the Obama Administration announced a new policy of engagement targeted explicitly at “empowering” Cuba’s new class of private entrepreneurs by allowing U.S. companies to “support the emerging Cuban private sector,” in Obama’s historic words.

How might Washington’s new policy of “empowerment through engagement” and the larger bilateral process toward normalization impact the island’s emerging entrepreneurs as well as the emergent “non-state sector” of its economy? While there are many potential economic benefits of concerted U.S. private sector engagement with Cuba’s cuentapropistas, the monopolistic Cuban government poses significant challenges to those who want to do business on the island, reach out to island entrepreneurs, and hire Cuban workers—as many European and Canadian companies can already attest. How will this work in practice, who will be the likely winners and losers (both in Cuba and abroad), and how can the Cuban government deal effectively with the growth in socioeconomic inequality that will inevitably follow an expanded private sector?

Direct U.S. engagement with Cuban entrepreneurs through freer travel and more remittances; access to banking and other financial services; increased exports of badly needed inputs to island cuentapropistas; the import of private or cooperatively produced Cuban goods and services to the U.S.; and technology and know-how transfer are all encouraging elements of Obama’s new Cuba policy. These changes have the potential to both “empower” individual entrepreneurs—the stated goal of the U.S. policy shift—and incentivize the initial, if exceedingly cautious, private sector reforms already begun by the Cuban government.

However, to increase Cuba’s economic independence and overall prosperity, the U.S. should focus on addressing the specific economic needs of Cuban entrepreneurs, rather than framing its engagement as a way to effect “regime change” by other means. That is, given the need to build bilateral diplomatic trust after more than fifty years of mutual antagonism, Washington should eschew any “Trojan horse” approaches to entrepreneurial engagement that aim to empower the Cuban people by undermining the government. Such an antagonistic and divisive approach has not worked in the past and could derail Obama’s promising effort to encourage the incipient pro-market reforms already underway.

At the same time, a U.S. policy based on empowerment through economic engagement—even when motivated by the best and most transparent of intentions—will be a dead letter if the U.S. Congress insists on clinging to the outdated and counterproductive embargo and the Cuban government stubbornly refuses to ease its own auto-bloqueo (or “internal embargo”) against island entrepreneurs. As it implements a self-described economic “updating of socialism,” will Cuba continue to hold fast to its monopolistic “command and control” economic model—one that “ya no funciona ni para nosotros” (“no longer works even for us”), as Fidel Castro himself famously admitted in a rare moment of economic candor in 2010?

Continue reading: AU-SSRC-Henken-Vignoli-Enterprising-Cuba-FINAL 

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Bad News for Cuba: HOW POWERHOUSE VENEZUELA HAS TURNED INTO A PAUPER

Jeff Lewis; The Globe and Mail, Mar. 27 2015

Original article here: VENEZUELA:  POWERHOUSE TO  PAUPER

There are no bursts of colour as fireworks pop high above the Bulevar de Sabana Grande. Only thin wisps of smoke in the azure sky mark the precise time, two years ago, that Hugo Chavez died suddenly, from cancer.

It is 4:25 p.m., and Venezuelans are taking stock of an economy in meltdown.

“I don’t feel good at all,” one man grouses.

“It’s terrible. This is total chaos,” a student adds.

Even once-ardent supporters of the charismatic leader are growing restive with life under his hand-picked successor, President Nicolas Maduro.

For years, Venezuela was a nation on the rise – a founding member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries more than 50 years ago. Decades later, Mr. Chavez was able to lavish oil riches on the poorest residents, providing everything from hospital clinics to hefty food subsidies and free gasoline.

 Today, the country is in the midst of economic and political chaos. Oil prices have fallen by more than 50 per cent since last summer, and so much crude is sloshing around in global markets that even subsidized oil from Venezuela looks relatively expensive. President Maduro is scrambling to meet billions of dollars in debt payments due this year, while struggling to quell violence and manage an increasingly disillusioned population of about 30 million. Meanwhile, Cuba is re-establishing ties with the United States, once a shared foe.

At the same time, years of central planning and rigid price controls have gutted domestic production of many goods, leaving Venezuela completely dependent on imports it can no longer afford. Shortages of food, medical supplies and other staples are widespread and getting worse. Those once-beneficent medical clinics are closing, grocery-store lineups last hours, and violent crime – already among the worst in the world – is on the upswing. The abrupt skid in oil prices and resulting unrest have rapidly transformed the former Latin American powerhouse into a pauper, undermining its regional influence. It is also further weakening a key competitor to Canada’s oil sands.

As conditions deteriorate, Mr. Maduro is lashing out in paranoid fits. In recent weeks, the government has stepped up arbitrary detentions, jailing political opponents on conspiracy charges, and business executives for allegedly hoarding supplies. The aggressive moves have cast doubt on the timing of parliamentary elections set for later this year. They have also stoked fears that Venezuela is in the twilight of an unlikely experiment in democracy. Under the sway of Mr. Maduro, there are fresh anxieties that the country is careening toward some place much darker.

Continue reading: HOW POWERHOUSE VENEZUELA HAS TURNED INTO A PAUPER

VENEZUELA_MADURO_031515.jpg

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CUBA: THE DAY PEACE BROKE OUT

Posted: 03/26/2015 2:17 am;  14 y medio, El Pais  and Huffington Post.

 Yoani Sanchez 

 Original here: CUBA: THE DAY PEACE BROKE OUT

Cuba's best-known dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez listens to a question after she delivered a speech to students of the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City “Peace broke out!” the old teacher was heard to say, on the day that Barack Obama and Raul Castro reported the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. The phrase captured the symbolism of a moment that had all the connotations of an armistice reached after a long war.

Three months after that December 17th, the soldiers of the finished contest don’t know whether to lay down their arms, offer them to the enemy, or reproach the Government for so many decades of a useless conflagration. Everyone experiences the ceasefire in his or her own way, but the indelible timestamp is already established in the history of the Island. Children born in recent weeks will study the conflict with our neighbor to the north in textbooks, not experience it every day as the center of ideological propaganda. That is a big difference. Even the stars-and-stripes flag has been flying over Havana lately, without the Revolutionary fire that made it burn on the pyre of some anti-imperialist act.

For millions of people in the world, this is a chapter that puts an end to the last vestige of the Cold War, but for Cubans it is a question still unresolved. Reality moves more slowly than the headlines triggered by an agreement between David and Goliath, because the effects of the new diplomatic mood have not yet been noticed on our plates, in our wallets, nor in the expansion of civil liberties.

We live between two speeds, beating on two different wave frequencies. On the one hand, the slow routine of a country stuck in the 20th century, and on the other, the rush that seems disposed to mark the whole process of the giant of the north. The measures approved this last 16 January, which relax the sending of remittances, trips to the island, the collaboration in telecommunications and many other sectors, suggest the idea that the Obama Administration seems willing to continue making offerings to the opposing force. Obliging it to hoist the discrete white flag of material and economic convenience.

The feeling that everything can be accelerated has made some within Cuba reevaluate the price per square foot of their homes, others predict where the first Apple Store will open in Havana, and not a few begin to glimpse the silhouette of a ferry linking the island with Florida. The illusions, however, have not stopped the flow of emigrants. “Why should I wait for the yumas to get here, if I can go and meet them there?” a young man said mischievously, as he waited in line for a family reunification visa outside the United States consulate in the Cuban capital at the end of January.

The fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1966 and offers considerable emigration benefits to Cubans, will be repealed has multiplied illegal migration. Those who don’t want to leave are preparing to take advantage of the new scenario.

A few years ago emigration fever led thousands of compatriots to dust off their Spanish ancestors in hopes of obtaining a European Union passport, and now those who have family in the United States sense an advantage in the race for Cuba’s future. From there can come not only the longed-for economic relief, many think, but also the necessary political opening. Lacking a popular rebellion to force changes in the system, Cubans pin their hopes on conditioned transformations from outside. One of the ironies of life in a country whose political discourse has so strongly supported national sovereignty.

Those who have more problems dealing with what happened are those whose lives and energies revolved around the conflict. The most recalcitrant members of the Communist Party feel that Raul Castro has betrayed them. Eighteen months of secret conversations with the adversary is too much time for those stigmatized by a colleague in their workplace because they have a brother living in Miami or because they like American music.

Just outside the United States Interest Section in Havana (SINA), the government has not replaced those ugly black flags that used to fly between the anxious gazes of Cubans and the well-guarded building. No one can even pinpoint the moment in which the billboard boasting, “Gentlemen Imperialists, we are absolutely unafraid of you” was taken down. Even TV programming has a vacuum, now that the presenters don’t have to dedicate long minutes lambasting Obama and the White House.

Miriam, one of the independent journalists who is slammed by government television, wonders if now they are no longer demonizing anyone because of the rapprochement with American diplomats, or in order to cross the feared — but seductive — SINA threshold. Many wonder the same after seeing Cuban officials, like Josefina Vidal, smiling at Roberto Jacobson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere.

In a house in the Cerro neighborhood where they have opened a pizza stand, a man in his 50s turned off the radio so he didn’t have to listen to Raul Castro’s speech on that Wednesday. He clicked his tongue angrily and shouted at his wife, “Look out, afterwards we get screwed!” Santiago, as he is called, couldn’t graduate as a doctor because his whole family left in the Mariel Boatlift in 1980 and he was declared “unreliable.” Although, since the mid-nineties he’s back in touch with his exiled siblings, he still feels uncomfortable because now what was previously forbidden is applauded.

Twenty-four hours after that historic announcement, all around the capital’s Fraternity Park it was like an anthill. Old American cars that operate as collective taxis in Havana converged there. The owner of a 1954 Chevrolet pontificated on a corner that now “the prices of these cars are going to go through the roof.” Surely, the man concluded, “The yumas are going to buy this junk like it’s a museum piece.” A country “for sale” waiting for the deep pockets of those who, until yesterday, were rivals.

This feeling that the U.S. will save the island from economic hardships and chronic shortages underpins an illusion clung to by millions of Cubans. We have gone from Yankee go home! to Yankee welcome!

The blacker official propaganda painted the panorama in the U.S., the more it helped to foster interest in that country. Every attempt to provoke rejection of the powerful neighbor brought its share of fascination. Among the youngest citizens this feeling has grown in recent years, supported also by the entry into the country of audiovisual and musical productions that celebrate the American way of life. “Sometimes, to annoy my grandfather, I put on this scarf with the United States flag,” confesses Brandon, a teenager who greets the dawn on weekends sitting on some bench on G Street. All around him, a fauna of emos, rockers, frikis, and even vampire imitators, who gather to talk loud and sing together. For many of them, their dreams seem closer to materializing after the embrace between the White House and the Plaza of the Revolution.

“We have a group of Dota 2 players,” says Brandon about his favorite pastime, a videogame that’s causing a furor in Cuba. He and his colleagues spent months preparing for a national tournament, but after 17 December they have begun to dream big. “The international championship is in Seattle in August, so now maybe we can participate.” Last year, the Chinese team was crowned champion, so the Cuban gamers haven’t lost hope.

The first Netflix user in Cuba was a foreigner, a European diplomat who rushed to get an account on the well-known streaming service, just to know if it was possible. It costs him just $7.99 a month, but the broadband necessary to reproduce video required him to pay the Cuban Telecommunications Company another $380.00 a month for an Internet connection. Now in his mansion he enjoys the most expensive Netflix in the world.

Baseball games with major league teams; famous rock bands coming to the island; Mastercards that work in ATMs all over the country; telecommunications companies that establish direct calls to the US; Colorado farmers willing to invest in the troubles of Cuban peasants; made in USA TV presenters who come to film their shows in the streets of Havana; and attractive models — weighed down by their own scandals – taking selfies with Fidel Castro’s firstborn. Cuba is changing at the speed of a tortoise that flies by clinging to the legs of an eagle.

Despite everything, the Plaza of the Revolution does not want to acknowledge its failure and has surrounded the reestablishment of relations with the United States with an aura of victory. It claims to have won through surviving for more than five decades, but the truth is that it has lost the most important of its battles. It doesn’t matter that the defeat is now masked with cocky phrases and boasts of having everything under control; as a jaded Santiaguan says, “After so much swimming they’ve ended up drowning on the shore.” Seeking that image of control, Raul Castro has not reduced the repression against dissidents, which in February reached the figure of 492 arbitrary arrests. The Castro regime extends a hand to the White House, while keeping its boot pressed on the non-conformists in its own backyard.

However, the disproportion of the negotiating forces between the two governments has been noted, even in popular jokes. “Did you know that the United States and Cuba broke off relations again?” one of the incautious mocked in December. Before an incredulous, “Noooo?!” the jokester responds with a straight face: “Yes, Obama was upset because Raul called him collect.” There is all the material poverty of our nation contained in that phrase.

While no one believes that the Castro regime will end up crushed by McDonald’s and Starbucks, the official propaganda occasionally revives a cardboard anti-imperialism that no longer convinces anyone. Like that in Raul Castro’s bombastic speech at the 3rd CELAC Summit in Costa Rica, in which he made tough demands for the reestablishment of relations with Washington. Pure fanfare. Or like Fidel Castro’s latest message to Nicolas Maduro, offering him support “against the brutal plans of the U.S. Government.” Or like the calls to defend the Revolution, “before the enemy that tries new methods of subversion.”

The truth is that on December 17 — St. Lazarus Day — diplomacy, chance and even the venerated saint of miracles addressed the country’s wounds. We needed a half century of painfully crawling along the asphalt of confrontation on our knees to bring us a little of the balm of understanding. Nothing is resolved yet, and the whole process for the truce is precarious and slow, but on that December 17th the ceasefire arrived for millions of Cubans who had only known the trenches.

*Translator’s note: This is the longer version of this article originally published in El País Semanal.

14 Y MEDIO14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent daily digital news outlet, published directly from the island, is available in Spanish here. Translations of selected articles in English are here.

Cuba Mar 2014 009 Cuba Mar 2014 046Dreaming of Major Capital Gains!

 

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Book Launch in New York: ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: A DISCUSSION ON CUBA’S EMERGING NON-STATE SECTOR

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Americas Society / Council of the Americas

 

April 2, 2015

AS/COA; 680 Park Avenue; New York, NY    View map

Registration: 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m., April 2, 2015
Lunch and Discussion: 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

In 2011, Cuban President Raúl Castro began the process of reforming policies toward entrepreneurs and small, private enterprises. Join Ted Henken and Archibald Ritter as they present their book Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape,* which analyzes the evolution of Cuban policy since 1959. Henken and Ritter will discuss Cuba’s fledgling non-state sector, the underground economy, the new cooperative sector, Cuban entrepreneurs’ responses to the new business environment, and how Obama’s new policy of entrepreneurial engagement might impact Cuba’s “cuentapropistas.”

*Copies of the book will be available for purchase.

Speakers:

  • Ted A. Henken, Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies, Baruch College, CUNY
  • Archibald R.M. Ritter, Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Economics, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
  • Alana Tummino, Policy Director, Americas Society/Council of the Americas; Senior Editor, Americas Quarterly (Moderator)

Registration Fee:   This event is complimentary for all registrants. Prior registration is required.

Event Information: Sarah Bons | sbons@as-coa.org | 212-277-8363
Press: Adriana La Rotta | alarotta@as-coa.org | 212-277-8384
Cancellation: Contact Juan Serrano-Badrena at jserrano@counciloftheamericas.org before 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 1, 2015

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¿ACTUALIZACIÓN DEL MODELO O REFORMA DEL ESTADO? Una lectura política del cambio económico en Cuba

Pedro Monreal

 Alicia le pregunta al Gato de Cheshire, ¿podrías decirme, por favor, qué camino debo seguir para salir de aquí?

-Esto depende en gran parte del sitio al que quieras llegar – dijo el Gato.

-No me importa mucho el sitio… -dijo Alicia.

-Entonces tampoco importa mucho el camino que tomes – dijo el Gato.

– … siempre que llegue a alguna parte – añadió Alicia como explicación.

– ¡Oh, siempre llegarás a alguna parte – aseguró el Gato -, si caminas lo suficiente!

Alicia en el país de las maravillas, Lewis Carroll.

 La actualización del modelo económico en Cuba, valorada por su efecto sobre los indicadores económicos claves parece ser, hasta ahora, un proceso intrascendente. Juzgada con severidad, pudiera considerársele como un fracaso; evaluada con benevolencia, pudiese ser vista como una asignatura pendiente. Las tasas de crecimiento del Producto Interno Bruto (PIB) durante los tres años posteriores a la aprobación official del proceso, que no han logrado superar el 3% anual, no proporcionan la “velocidad de despegue” que requiere la recuperación del escenario macroeconómico, ni aseguran el progreso del bienestar material de la población(1).

 Pudiera argumentarse que se requiere de más tiempo, pero tres años es un plazo razonable para juzgar un programa económico gubernamental. En muchos países, cuatro años es el tiempo máximo del que dispone un gobierno para dejar su impronta en la economía de una nación. Parecería prevalecer, sobre todo desde la perspectiva de los economistas, el supuesto de que el futuro político del país depende del éxito o del fracaso de la actualización. Si se parte de esa premisa, las perspectivas no parecerían ser halagüeñas para el Gobierno cubano; pero: ¿qué consecuencias tendría para el análisis de la situación cubana la posibilidad de que tal supuesto no fuese válido?

 Supongamos que existiese la eventualidad de que el éxito del programa del Gobierno hasta el año 2018 –momento que parece ser crucial para el futuro de Cuba- no se apoyase  esencialmente en la actualización del modelo económico sino en una reforma del Estado mucho más amplia que, de manera general, estuviese produciendo resultados plausibles. Esa es una dimensión en la que las posibles relaciones de causa y efecto entre programa y  resultados parecerían ser más sugerentes. Después de todo, conindependencia de las insuficiencias de la actualización, y más allá de cualquier consideración doctrinal que pudiera tenerse sobre el actual modelo de Estado cubano, resulta evidente que la medición de la principales variables políticas del  país –cualquiera sea la “métrica” que se utilice- no permite validar una conclusión alarmista respecto a la relativa estabilidad y resolución del Estado cubano, aún en medio de una situación económica que, a duras penas, logra alcanzar el estatus de reproducción simple.(2) No estoy diciendo que no existan áreas problemáticas de gobernabilidad en Cuba ni que las cosas no pudiesen cambiar en el futuro, pero lo que parece relevante subrayar ahora es un dato de la realidad actual de Cuba: existe una desconexión visible entre los resultados económicos del país y la materialización de una rearticulación de la capacidad del Estado cubano que le permita seguir ejerciendo, sin mayores sobresaltos, aquello que –definida de manera un tanto cruda- es la esencia del poder: la capacidad de ejercer “el mando”, la posibilidad de imposición de una voluntad sobre otra, aún contra la Resistencia de la segunda(3). El poder político es esencialmente eso. Cualquier intento de edulcorarlo, a la larga, resulta fútil (4).

Continue reading: Pedro Monreal 2015 Actualización del modelo o reforma del Estado

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