• 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.

WHO OWNS CUBA? AS CUBA-U.S. RELATIONS THAW, THE THORNY MATTER OF PROPERTY DISPUTES HEATS UP

CRAIG OFFMAN

HAVANA — The Globe and Mail, Published Friday, Feb. 13 2015, 3:28 PM EST

Original here: WHO OWNS CUBA?

Tonito Ring Ring was a Latin-looking boy with a dial for a belly and a target on his head. In the 1950s, he was the cartoon mascot of the Cuban Telephone Company, then owned by American firm International Telephone & Telegraph. When the Revolution came in 1959, workers at company headquarters in Havana came looking for him. They tore Tonito down from the wall, thrust him into a coffin, walked him down Calle Aguila to the Malecon, and tossed him into the sea. The Communists, meanwhile, seized the entire Yanqui phone company and, in the ensuring three years, confiscated $1.6-billion worth of U.S property across the island.

Almost six decades later, the United States is intent on making the Cubans pay. Literally.

Now the property of the state-run phone monopoly ETECSA, the telephone company is just one of roughly 6,000 confiscated assets, estimated to be worth a total of more than $7-billion, to which American firms and citizens hold claims. If the Cubans want the United States to lift its gruelling economic embargo – now a possibility, after U.S. President Barack Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations in December – they’re going to have to address the thorny issue of compensation. With Mr. Obama’s presidency winding down, and Cuba’s economy suffering even more than usual thanks to the woes of petro patron Venezuela, pressure is beginning to build to tackle the elephant in the room.

Although Cubans have long considered the embargo a form of slow genocide, America clearly feels differently. In its eyes, Mr. Castro and his comrades took part in nothing less than illegal seizures of property, and should now pay for what they stole if they want to normalize trade. In fact, a two-decade-old American law dictates that there will be no normalization in trade until the claims are settled.

Compensation is a freighted emotional issue for these antagonists, whose mutual antipathy long precedes the revolution. It’s not just about land or assets, communism versus capitalism. It’s about the right to claim victimhood. “Cuba’s crime is not that it’s communist,” political scientist Rafael Hernandez told me as we sat down to talk in his Havana living room last month, the day before Assistant Secretary of State Roberta S. Jacobson made her historic visit to Cuba. “The two countries have a long way to develop a relationship that surpasses a century of mistrust.”

Mr. Obama’s announcement may bring an economic revolution to Cuba. Although the short-term aims include lifting travel and financial restrictions, and even moving toward an exchange of embassies, the long-term goal is to normalize trade.

But Ms. Jacobson has said that the two sides won’t broach the topic of compensation until much further down the road. For the payment issue, even the process is complicated. As previous Cold War-era attempts at land claims have proved, establishing a rate for repayment will be no small feat. For one thing, no one knows whether the United States, which represents all the claims, will seek to settle in one lump sum or want to address each case individually.

q1 001Q4 001Q2 001Tables from Archibald Ritter, “The Compensation Issue in U.S. – Cuba Normalization”, Chapter 16 in A. Ritter and J. Kirk, Editors, Cuba in the International System: Normalization and Integration, Macmillan Press Ltd, 1995 United Kingdom 

Continue Reading: Who Owns Cuba

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CANADIAN CEO RETURNS HOME AFTER IMPRISONMENT IN CUBA

DANIEL TROTTA

HAVANA — Reuters; , Feb. 21 2015, 2:00 PM EST

Original here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/canadian-ceo-returns-home-after-imprisonment-in-cuba/article23139650/

 Cuba has freed Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian after more than three years in jail, his company said on Saturday, resolving a case that had strained Cuban-Canadian relations and alarmed foreign investors.

Tokmakjian, founder of the Ontario-based company, was convicted of bribery and other charges and sentenced to 15 years in September in what the transportation company had called a “show trial” and a “travesty of justice.”

Cuban prosecutors had outlined a pattern in which Tokmakjian wooed Cuban officials and their families with a series of gifts, helping the Tokmakjian Group do business estimated at $80 million annually with Cuba until the company was shuttered and its founder arrested in September 2011.

Tokmakjian “was welcomed home by his family, friends, and thousands of employees,” said the company statement, which also thanked the Canadian government. A spokesman said the 74-year-old was released early Saturday.

The statement made no mention of two Canadian aides from the Tokmakjian Group, Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche, who were also convicted and sentenced to 12 and 8 years. They had been under house arrest pending trial and while their convictions were being appealed.

Fourteen Cubans including the former deputy sugar minister and the former director of the state nickel company were also convicted and sentenced to terms ranging from 6 to 20 years.

Foreign companies and diplomats had raised concerns that Tokmakjian’s case could scare off investors while Cuba was actively seeking foreign capital. It also annoyed Canada, a major trading partner.

“His ordeal is a cautionary tale to any investor who thinks the Cuban playing field is level,” said Peter Kent, Tokmakjian’s member of parliament.

Cuba seized about $100 million worth of company assets including bank accounts, inventory and office supplies, a ruling the company was challenging in international arbitration.

No immediate reason was given for the sudden release of Tokmakjian, whom Cuba had previously hailed as a model business partner over 20 years for supplying crucial transportation equipment during a severe economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The company was later caught up in an investigation of Cuba’s international trading sector, part of a crackdown on corruption.

cy7Cy Tokmakjian

Throughout the time Tokmakjian was tried in June and sentenced in September, the Canadian government was helping the United States and Cuba by serving as host to secret talks on restoring diplomatic ties.

It was unknown whether Canada’s role had any influence on Tokmakjian’s release.

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BAD HABITS CAN DERAIL US-CUBA NEGOTIATIONS

Peter Hakim, President Emeritus, Inter-American Dialogue

Estado de S. Paulo, February 15, 2015.

In a belated response to the December 17 announcements of presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama, Fidel Castro (or at least the message released in his name) tepidly endorsed their historic decision to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba—while rightly emphasizing that reconciliation would surely be a difficult and lengthy process in light of the accumulated distrust of the past fifty years.

But distrust, a predictable element in all negotiations between adversaries, is not the only challenge for US-Cuban diplomacy. What most threatens to derail the two nation’s ongoing talks is a clash of national character flaws: the terrible impatience of Washington in foreign affairs confronting the Havana government’s excessive caution and stubborn resistance to change.

Cuban-American relations since Fidel Castro took power in 1959 have been a narrative of US impatience squaring off against Cuba’s defiance. Although initially tolerant, in less than a year the Eisenhower Administration began efforts to topple the revolutionary regime, and shortly thereafter embargoed commerce with the island. Just months in office, President Kennedy launched the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Among US Presidents, Obama has been unusually cautious overseas, but he is well aware that he has an important stake in the pace of both political and economic reform in Cuba. Washington’s yardstick for judging his new Cuba policy will mostly be progress toward human rights, free expression, and more open politics—and these have appropriately been made a top priority of the US negotiating agenda. White House plans already include reinforcing ties with dissidents and other non-governmental actors, bolstering the incipient private economy, expanding Cuban access to information and opinion, and supporting other democracy-building initiatives. None of this should be a surprise to the Cuban government. Still, suspicious, distrustful Cuban authorities may view even modest new initiatives along these lines as “meddling” and “promoting regime change”. To paraphrase Fidel, if the US is allowed to take a finger, it will soon be after the hand, and then the arm.

Cuba is proud of its success in defying the US for half a century. Even as it seeks improved relations, it is not ready to yield much, if anything, to US pressures. There is little reason to doubt that the Cuban government genuinely wants a sustained thaw in relations with the US, principally to shore up a debilitated economy further jeopardized by a cut-off of support from crisis-ridden Venezuela. But Raul Castro and other Cuban officials have consistently declared their intention to keep Cuba’s political and economic systems intact. The excruciatingly slow process of vital economic reforms over the past eight years underscores the leadership’s resistance to change, to yielding any of its centralized control. At last month’s meeting of Latin American and Caribbean heads of state, Raul Castro demanded, as pre-conditions for normalized relationship, that the US lifts its embargo on Cuba and return Guantanamo Bay to Cuban sovereignty. This is a signal that Cuba’s leaders will not be rushed. They know that the US cannot meet these demands in any short period.

While secret negotiations over many months were needed to mark a path toward reconciliation, sustaining the process now requires transparency from both governments. There should be no surprises from either side. Official lines of communication should be opened at many levels. Both the American and Cuban people should be kept informed of key developments. Covert US operations, like the programs that funded Alan Gross’s internet-related activities and assisted dissident groups, should be replaced by fully public initiatives as the administration has wisely promised. Regime change is off limits.

For its part, the Cuban government should begin respecting international norms regarding human rights and rule of law. That means abandoning such common practices as mass arrests and jailing of opponents, harassment of dissidents whether by police or vigilante groups, cruel treatment of political prisoners, and other denials of basic rights. With Cuba now under an intensive media spotlight, such violations will gain immense attention worldwide. If they intensify, the political recoil in the US might well halt the emerging rapprochement.

It is also critical that the US appreciate the limits of its influence on Cuba’s political evolution. Enduring changes will come only from the actions of the government and people of Cuba. The US should not hesitate to urge Cubans to respect human rights and democratic principles, but it should keep its word to forego heavy handed demands, pressures, and deadlines. These could well backfire, increasing the Havana government’s resistance to change.

With most Latin American countries now committed to democratic politics at home, the region’s governments should be expected to help support political and economic reform in Cuba. Brazil, Mexico, and several other nations have particularly close ties to Cuba and could be instrumental in assisting the country’s transition. But it is only when the Cuban government makes clear that it values such assistance will the other Latin American nations be prepared to act. On this front they will surely not respond to US pressure.

The recipe for Cuban-American reconciliation is straightforward. More caution and patience from the US, along with a willingness to tolerate ambiguity, even inaction, for some time. More flexibility and risk-taking from a Cuba government that needs to accept less control and less certainty about its future. And Latin American nations prepared to show their solidarity by taking on responsibility for helping Cuba through a difficult period of potentially dramatic changes.

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Peter Hakim

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LAS TRD MAL ADMINISTRADAS POR LOS MILITARES

PRIMAVERA DIGITAL, febrero 18, 2015

Ensayo original aquí: Las TRD Mal Administradas por los Militares,

Por Osmar Laffita

Cuba actualidad, Capdevila, La Habana, (PD)

 A los dos años de ejercer Raúl Castro como presidente, enviaba señales de que su política económica se desmarcaba del estatismo que aplicaba su predecesor, Fidel Castro, quien prácticamente había liquidado la actividad privada a pesar de que por ley estaba autorizada.

Como muestra de que su gobierno no iba en esa dirección, la primera medida del gobierno de Raúl Castro dirigida a reactivar los pequeños negocios privados fue la puesta en vigor de la Resolución No. 32 de 7 de octubre de 2010 del Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social (MTSS), en la que se autorizaba nuevamente el ejercicio de178 actividades para ejercer las cuales se podía sacar licencias. Entre ellas estaba la no. 71, de modista y sastre.

El gobierno de Raúl Castro vio inicialmente la ampliación de la actividad privada como una vía para generar empleo para los casi 1 200 000 trabajadores que sobraban en las plantillas de las empresas estatales, resultado de la política voluntarista e irresponsable de pleno empleo que aplicó Fidel Castro.

El 6 de septiembre de 2012 el MTSS puso en vigor la Resolución No. 33, la cual ampliaba a 181 las actividades que se autorizaban a ejercer. En dicha Resolución se mantuvo la no. 71 de modista y sastre.

Tal fue el crecimiento de los pequeños negocios privados, que prácticamente en todas las ciudades y pueblos de la isla, comenzaron a funcionar cafeterías, pequeños restaurantes, pizzerías, casas destinadas al alquiler de habitaciones. En los portales de las casas, así como áreas y locales especialmente habilitados, había pequeños negocios en los que vendían ropa, calzados y bisuterías para el hogar y de uso personal. La mayor parte de estas mercancías eran traída de los Estados Unidos, Ecuador, Panamá y México. Pasaban por la aduana, eran declaradas como artículos sin carácter comercial, hasta un límite de 100 libras, y sus propietarios pagaban los impuestos correspondientes.

Tal fue el incremento de las ventas de productos importados que al finalizar el año 2012 estaban dedicados a este negocio, amparados en la licencia de sastre y modisto, cerca de 90 000 personas. Tal fue la aceptación por el pueblo de estas mercancías, principalmente por mujeres y jóvenes, que dejaron de ir a comprar en las Tiendas de Recuperación de Divisas (TRD). En estos pequeños negocios privados se encontraban mercancías variadas, más modernas y bien confeccionadas. Si bien los precios eran altos, se podía regatear con el dueño.

En las TRD muchas de esas mercancías no se ofertaban, y si tenían la suerte de encontrarlas, estaba pasada de moda, mal confeccionada y con precios muy elevados, que no se correspondían con su mala calidad. Como el dueño es el Estado, en las TRD no se puede regatear: lo tomas o lo dejas.

En el primer trimestre de 2012, con miras a ampliar el control de los militares sobre la economía, el gobierno tomó la decisión de traspasar al Grupo de Administración Empresarial(GAE), perteneciente a las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, la dirección de los diferentes grupos empresariales que se ocupaban de la venta minorista en dólares, léase CIMEX y su red de más de 2000 tiendas, gasolineras, cafeterías, servicios navales, bancarios, inmobiliarias, y CUBALSE, hoy desaparecida, que además de a las actividades que realizaba el CIMEX, también se ocupaba de los servicios al cuerpo diplomáticos y las empresas extranjeras radicadas en Cuba. Esta última actividad se la asignaron al Grupo Palco, junto con todas sus tiendas, hoteles, restaurantes, dulcerías, casas de modas y cafeterías, ahora bajo la dirección del GAE.

El grupo Palco fue liberado de la dirección del Palacio de Convenciones, PABEXPO, EXPOCUBA, el centro de reuniones “El Laguito” y las casas de protocolo, que pasaron a ser dirigidos directamente por el Consejo de Estado.

La Cadena Caracol, que era dirigida y administrada por el Ministerio de Turismo, también pasó a manos de los militares. Todas las tiendas que funcionan en los hoteles y en las diferentes instalaciones de veraneo, las agencias de renta de autos y las bases de ómnibus destinadas al servicio de los turistas nacionales y extranjeros, pasaron al GAE.

Por decisión del director ejecutivo del GAE, el general de brigada Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, los trabajadores de todas las TRD pasaron a ser trabajadores civiles de las FAR y los obligaron a integrarse al sindicato de la Defensa. En una de las tanta reuniones del GAE celebradas en los primeros meses de 2012, su dirección pudo conocer de la caída en las ventas en las TRD y del alarmante crecimiento de los inventarios de los almacenes. Al analizar las causas, detectaron que las pérdidas eran originadas por la proliferación de miles de pequeños negocios privados debidamente autorizados que vendían disimiles artículos importados.

13 23  72Para parar esto de raíz, el gobierno dio instrucciones a la titular del MTSS, Margarita González Fernández, para que sobre la base de argumentos legales, demostrara que la licencia de sastre y modista no facultaba a sus poseedores para importar y comercializar ropa, calzado, bisuterías y otros enseres, porque representaba una violación de lo establecido.

Para aniquilar el floreciente negocio de las ropas y enseres importados que habían sumido en la quiebra a las TRD, el MTSS puso en vigor la Resolución No 42 de 2013, en la que se fijaba el alcance de cada actividad autorizada. A los poseedores de mercancías importadas les dieron un plazo para liquidarlas antes del 31 de diciembre de 2013.

Ahora el GAE tiene el monopolio del mercado minorista de venta en dólares. La vicepresidenta de su principal conglomerado comercial, la corporación CIMEX, anunció que la facturación por las ventas realizadas en 2014 ascendió a una cifra muy cercana al monto total de lo recibido por el país por concepto de remesas recibidas desde el extranjero. Esto da una idea del enorme poder económico del GAE.

Un reportaje realizado por las periodistas Juanita Perdomo Larezada y Betty Beatón Ruiz, del semanario Trabajadores, bajo el título “Hay, pero no me gusta”, publicado el 9 de febrero, se refiere al desastroso estado de desabastecimiento de las TRD de Santiago de Cuba y Matanzas.

No es solo en esas ciudades. En el resto del país se repite similar situación. Cuando la población va a hacer sus compras en las TRD, chocan con un pésimo servicio y productos de la mala calidad. Pero ahora no tienen otra opción estos establecimientos, porque desaparecieron los vendedores particulares. Y los militares son administradores ineficaces e incompetentes. Para Cuba actualidad: origenesmadiba@gmail.com Foto: Osmar Laffita

osmarlaffita-150x150Osmar Laffita

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VENEZUELA: THE REVOLUTION AT BAY with major implications for Cuba!

Mismanagement, corruption and the oil slump are fraying Hugo Chávez’s regime

The Economist Feb 14th 2015 | CARACAS

Original here: Revolution at Bay

zzzON A Wednesday evening around 30 pensioners have gathered for a meeting in a long, brightly lit room in a largely abandoned shopping gallery in Santa Teresa, a rundown and overcrowded district in the centre of Caracas. After a video and some announcements, Alexis Rondón, an official of the Ministry of Social Movements and Communes, begins to speak. “Chávez lives,” he says. “Make no mistake: our revolution is stronger than ever.”

Mr Rondón’s rambling remarks over the next 45 minutes belie that claim. Saying Venezuela is faced with an “economic war”, he calls on his audience to check food queues for outsiders, who might be profiteers or troublemakers, and to draw up a census of the district to identify opposition activists and government supporters. “We must impose harsh controls,” he warns. “This will be a year of struggle”.

About this, at least, Mr Rondón is correct. Sixteen years after Hugo Chávez took power in Venezuela, and two years after he died, his “Bolivarian Revolution” faces the gravest threats yet to its survival. The regime is running out of money to import necessities and pay its debts. There are shortages of basic goods, from milk and flour to shampoo and disposable nappies. Queues, often of several hundred people, form each day outside supermarkets. Ten patients of the University Hospital in Caracas died over the Christmas period because of a shortage of heart valves.

Both debt default and the measures that would be required to avoid one pose risks to the regime. It is on course to lose a parliamentary election later this year, which might then be followed by a referendum to recall Chávez’s inept and unloved successor, Nicolás Maduro. That could bring Venezuela’s revolution to a peaceful and democratic end as early as 2016. But there are darker possibilities. Caracas buzzes with speculation that the armed forces will oust the president.

Venezuela is suffering from the combination of years of mismanagement and corruption, and the collapse in the price of oil, which accounts for almost all of its exports. Chávez, an army officer, was the beneficiary of the greatest oil boom in history. From 2000 to 2012, Venezuela received around $800 billion in oil revenue, or two-and-a-half times as much in real terms as in the previous 13 years. He spent the money on “21st-century socialism”.

Some went on health care and low-cost housing for the poor, who hailed Chávez as a secular saint. Some has gone on infrastructure: a few new roads and metro lines were built, years behind schedule. Another chunk was given away in the form of cheap oil to Cuba and to other Caribbean countries, assuring Chávez loyal allies. Perhaps the biggest slice was frittered away or simply stolen. Filling a 60-litre tank with petrol costs less than a dollar at the strongest official exchange rate. Unsurprisingly, petrol worth $2.2 billion a year, according to an official estimate, is smuggled to Colombia and Brazil, with the complicity of the armed forces.

Continue Reading: VENEZUELA, THE REVOLUTION AT BAY

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LIKELY CASTRO SUCCESSOR KEEPS A LOW PROFILE

Tracy Wilkinson,  Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2015

 Original here: Miguel Diaz-Canel

AA979LxRaul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel

The man expected to run Cuba after Raul Castro steps down is nearly 30 years the president’s junior and is regularly on Facebook in this Internet-starved country. He is considered personable, with a certain charm, but has been careful to keep a low political profile.

Miguel Diaz-Canel’s appointment as first vice president is the most concrete signal that a generational change of leadership may hover on the horizon in Cuba, matching a demographic shift that makes the island’s population one of the youngest in the hemisphere.

Castro, 83, plucked Diaz-Canel from relative obscurity and appointed him to his new position in 2013 as he announced that he planned to leave office in 2018. That set Diaz-Canel up as heir apparent, especially after other possible candidates were unceremoniously dumped when they were secretly recorded talking about their ambitions.

That is still a no-no, and Diaz-Canel has taken pains not to steal the limelight from Castro or the president’s 88-year-old brother, Fidel, the legendary revolutionary commander and former president who has not been seen in public in months amid rumors of failing health. A new set of photographs of Fidel Castro popped up this week in official media.

The circumstances mean Diaz-Canel has yet to make much of a mark. On an island where around 80% of the population has never known a president who wasn’t named Castro, many Cubans are struggling to figure out who he is.

Asked who he thought would be the next president of Cuba, Jose Hernandez, 83, a retired farm worker in the Cuban city of Mariel, said: “It will be Raul.” Diaz-Canel, Hernandez said, “is a good negotiator who will help our community. But Raul is the president. There is nothing but Castro in our heads.”

Cuba’s younger generation is more receptive to new leadership, but many agree that whoever comes next has a herculean task to court the powerful military, restructure the economy and guide the normalization process with the United States that was announced in December.

“We’ve lived many years with a dynasty,” said Katrina Morejon, a health worker in her 20s from Havana. “People are tired of what’s happening.”

Key leaders of the army, of which Raul Castro is still the supreme commander, control several segments of the economy and will have to be carefully cultivated if Diaz-Canel is to work well with them. Diaz-Canel was born more than a year after the Cuban Revolution led by the Castro brothers ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Raul Castro is expected in the final years of his government to continue with slow but important reforms in the economy, allowing a measure of free enterprise and lifting some restrictions on trade and travel. Whether it is enough as relations with the United States change will be the big test.

The goals stated by Cuba and the U.S. after decades of animosity include elevating diplomatic representations in both countries to full embassies rather than the limited “interests sections.” Handling the new relationship will put pressure on whoever is president of Cuba. Castro has made it clear that better diplomatic ties with Washington should not change Cuba’s domestic, political or economic system, nor its intolerance of dissent.

At 54, Diaz-Canel, a trained engineer with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, is the freshest face in the highest echelons of Cuban power. He recognizes the importance of Cuba joining the Internet age, somewhat against the official grain, people who know him say. A 1982 graduate of the Marta Abreu University of Las Villas with an electrical engineering degree, Diaz-Canel essentially paid his dues, putting hard, careful work ahead of the overt ambition that has felled many an up-and-comer on the Cuban political landscape.

His work on behalf of the state has included teaching at the university level, running local governments, serving as a minister of education and holding regional Communist Party leadership posts. He was assigned management of what Cuban officials consider major areas of accomplishment by the revolution: education, sports and biotechnology. He also did an all-important stint in Nicaragua, representing the Communist Party before like-minded Sandinista leaders.

Much of his personal life has been kept private. He is thought to be married with children. Tall, with strong features, he is well-liked by Cubans in the provinces, many of whom see him as down-to-earth and accessible. His Facebook page has photographs of Diaz-Canel with workers, Raul Castro and others during visits to factories in Villa Clara and elsewhere. He is usually shown in a white guayabera, or a sports jacket and open-collar shirt. Someone has posted items calling him MDC, and at one point nominating him to run the country, saying, “MDC rocks!”

“He is well-liked, young, well-educated, and he’s gone through all the different hoops,” said Rafael Betancourt, a professor at the University of Havana. That he is admired in the often snippy world of university circles, Betancourt said, “is very significant” and shows he has talent for handling people.

It appears the Cuban leadership is gradually, gingerly trying to elevate his profile. He has been sent abroad representing Castro, especially to friendly nations like Venezuela and Laos.

It’s always a delicate balancing act, however. In a speech in Mexico in December, he managed to mention both Castros in the first three paragraphs of his comments, then quote Raul twice more.

Communist-controlled press on the island has started to run fairly regular articles about Diaz-Canel’s activities: his trip to Santiago de Cuba, his visit with workers in Santa Clara.

But there are no big billboards promoting Diaz-Canel; most such public advertising is still limited to a Castro or, especially, the five Cuban intelligence agents who were recently released from jail in the U.S., two because they finished their sentences and three as part of the deal to jump-start detente with the U.S. They are regarded as heroes in Cuba; the posters are out-of-date, still demanding freedom for the men. Diaz-Canel is nowhere to be seen.

“He is too much in the shadows of Raul,” said Arturo Lopez Levy, a former Cuban intelligence agent who knew Diaz-Canel in their hometown of Santa Clara and who now teaches in New York. “A good signal to send to the world now that things are changing would be to give him a more prominent role.”

If he were the son of a corporate boss brought into the firm, Diaz-Canel would fit the bill, having been assigned to Communist Party leadership posts in important provinces like Holguin and Villa Clara. There, people who know him say he cultivated good relationships with local military officials, some of whom have recently been promoted to key leadership posts.

His real distinction, people say, has been in social media and computer technology, an area where Cuba lags notoriously behind the rest of the world. Few Cubans have open access to the Internet, but Diaz-Canel knows its importance to any future growth in business, trade, tourism and education, analysts say.

“The development of information technology is essential to the search for new solutions to development problems” in Latin America, Diaz-Canel said in the Mexico speech. “But the digital gap is also a reality among our countries, and between our countries and other countries, which we must overcome if we want to eliminate social and economic inequalities.” Later, however, when he listed Cuba’s successes, he did not return to the theme of information technology.

“He understands that to prevent a brain drain, you have to give [Cubans] an opportunity to participate massively in the expansion of the Internet,” said an American analyst of Cuban affairs who did not want to be quoted speaking about Diaz-Canel. Whether such an expansion project is yet allowed remains unclear.

Diaz-Canel is also often praised as a hands-on problem solver, someone who could get things done at the grass-roots level and understands the politics of persuasion. He once defended a gay theater group against local officials who wanted to shut it down, earning respect among some of Cuba’s most marginalized citizens.

Diaz-Canel’s gradual ascension comes with a little-noticed, still-slight change in the Cuban political hierarchy.

Rafael Hernandez, a political commentator and editor of Temas magazine in Cuba, said conventional wisdom often holds that “the Cuban leadership is the same, you have Fidel and then Raul, and it’s more or less the same thing.” But, he says, closer examination shows a changing leadership that includes more women and Afro-Cubans, long excluded, than ever before.

That may bode well for Diaz-Canel’s future leadership, but many Cuba-watchers agree that it will ultimately be the military that calls the shots. “The military may not be a threat, but it will always be there,” Lopez Levy said. Diaz-Canel “has an arduous road to walk.”

1EEE99A2-305D-4522-BD6C-0E3D48DB2293_mw1024_s_nMiguel Diaz-Canel

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NORMALIZATION OF RELATIONS WITH CUBA MAY PORTEND CHANGES TO U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY

January 13, 2015 Policy Beat

 Original here: US :Cuba Immigration policy

By Marc R. Rosenblum and Faye Hipsman

 The historic December 2014 agreement by President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba may herald revisions to immigration policy and create changes that affect the future migration of Cubans to the United States. The decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with the island nation, severed more than half a century ago after the Cuban revolution in which Fidel Castro seized power and established a socialist government, will prompt a series of sweeping changes. The United States will reopen an embassy in Havana; greatly relax restrictions on trade, travel, remittances, and financial transactions; and re-evaluate Cuba’s decades-old designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The two countries have also agreed to greater cooperation on areas such as counter-narcotics, environmental protection, and human trafficking. Despite the long estrangement, the United States and Cuba have cooperated on migration issues for decades and have agreed to do so in the future. While the United States has stated that its immigration policy toward Cuba—which affords Cubans uniquely favorable treatment—will for now remain unaffected, improved overall relations will make today’s immigration arrangements difficult to sustain.

Currently, Cubans who arrive in the United States, even without proper authorization, are granted entry and benefit from a fast-track process that allows them legal permanent resident (LPR) status after one year in the country. This unique policy, based on a presumption that all Cuban emigrants are political refugees in need of protection, may need revision now that a détente is at hand. As the two countries improve relations and open their travel channels, policies that automatically welcome Cubans—including illegal entrants and visa overstayers—and accelerate their access to a green card may need to be revisited.

A Cold War mentality has dominated the U.S. approach to its small southern neighbor since the Cuban revolution in 1959, focused chiefly on isolating the country through economic sanctions in opposition to Cuba’s socialist model. The United States has also cited major human-rights concerns for maintaining a trade embargo and implementing tough travel and financial restrictions. In his December announcement, President Obama called this approach outdated, saying that five decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba had failed to achieve the objectives of promoting democracy, growth, and stability there.

The U.S.-Cuba Migration Relationship

Fraught political relations between the two countries, combined with their geographic proximity, have afforded Cuba a place that is sui generis in U.S. immigration law and policy. On the one hand, the United States has offered generous refuge to Cubans fleeing communism; on the other, it has discouraged illegal and dangerous boat migration from Cuba, which has occurred in large waves several times in recent decades.

The population of Cuban immigrants in the United States surged after the revolution, rising from under 71,000 in 1950 to 163,000 by 1960. In the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the Fulgencio Batista regime by Castro-led revolutionaries, many wealthy Cubans and other opponents of the Marxist forces fled, particularly as Castro began nationalizing private property. Under Operation Pedro Pan, organized by religious organizations in Miami with the support of the U.S. government, approximately 14,000 unaccompanied children whose parents opposed the Castro regime were flown to the United States between 1960 and 1962. In September 1965, the first Cuban “boatlift” began when the Cuban government announced that people were free to leave for the United States from the port of Camarioca. When thousands sought to take advantage of the opportunity, many in unsafe vessels, the United States and Cuba reached an agreement to instead allow Cubans to fly to Miami on chartered “Freedom Flights;” about 300,000 Cubans arrived this way between 1965 and 1973.

The cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba is the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), which Congress passed to accommodate these flows after amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in 1965 limited the number of Cubans (and other Western Hemisphere immigrants) who could receive visas. Under CAA, all Cubans who arrive in the United States are presumed to be political refugees, and are eligible to become legal permanent residents (LPRs or green card holders) after one year, assuming they are otherwise admissible. Two decades later, when Congress passed the 1980 Refugee Act establishing the current U.S. refugee and asylum system, the CAA provisions were left in place. Under the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, the CAA will sunset once Cuba becomes a democracy.

Following termination of the Freedom Flight program, most Cubans seeking to enter the United States have traveled by sea, and the attempts of hundreds of thousands of Cubans to make the perilous journey across the Straits of Florida have played a large role in shaping U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba. In 1980, maritime departures surged dramatically during the Mariel boatlift, when Fidel Castro opened the Cuban port of Mariel, allowing anyone to depart the country—including several thousand criminals and mentally disabled individuals. In the six months the port remained open, 125,000 Cubans (along with 25,000 Haitians who joined the flotilla) arrived in South Florida. Boat migration again surged in the mid-1990s. U.S. Coast Guard interdictions of Cubans jumped from 2,882 in fiscal year (FY) 1993 to 38,560 in FY 1994.

The 1994 surge prompted a pair of far-reaching migration agreements between Cuba and the United States in 1994 and 1995. Before then, Cuban migrants interdicted at sea by the Coast Guard were admitted to the United States, a practice widely criticized for encouraging more Cubans to attempt the risky journey. Under the 1994 agreement, Cuba agreed to discourage boat departures, while the United States agreed to grant admission to at least 20,000 Cuban nationals annually and to place intercepted Cubans in safe havens to be considered for asylum. Under the 1995 agreement, the United States granted parole status to the roughly 30,000 Cubans awaiting an asylum determination, and changed its policy to returning future migrants interdicted at sea directly to Cuba. Cubans who expressed a fear of persecution upon return and were determined to meet the refugee definition would no longer be eligible for asylum in the United States, but resettled in third countries.

Combined with the CAA, the 1994 and 1995 migration accords set forth the current “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy. Cubans intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba, where the government has pledged not to retaliate against them. Those who successfully reach the United States are permitted to stay, and become eligible to apply for a green card after a year.

Furthermore, to meet the 20,000 admission floor negotiated in the 1994 accords, the United States instituted the Special Cuban Migration Lottery. The lottery, held in 1994, 1996, and 1998, allowed Cuban nationals between the ages of 18 and 55 to register for admission to the United States, provided they possess two of the three following characteristics: a secondary school or higher education, three years of work experience, or a relative residing in the Unites States. Up to 20,000 lottery winners per year (depending on the number of Cubans admitted through regular visa processing) are granted parole status, and may bring their spouse and children. With 541,000 Cubans entering the lottery between 1994 and 1998, Cubans selected in 1998 continue to be paroled into the United States today.

As a result of these policies, and in spite of the hostile relations between the two countries, Cubans represent one of the ten largest foreign-born groups in the United States, with an estimated 1.1 million immigrants (2.7 percent of the foreign-born population). Collectively, Cuban immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants represented a diaspora of 2.1 million in 2011. Cuba also ranks highly as a sending country for new green-card holders, which have numbered in the 30,000s in each of the past five years (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Annual Number of Cubans Gaining LPR Status, 1990-2013

AAASource: Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Immigration Statistics, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2000-2013 (Washington, DC: DHS, Office of Immigration Statistics, various years), www.dhs.gov/yearbook-immigration-statistics.

Loosening Travel Restrictions

Travel between Cuba and the United States has been tightly controlled for much of the last half-century. Americans are only permitted to travel to Cuba for certain authorized purposes, such as educational, religious, humanitarian, or journalism trips. In 2013, Cuba changed a long-standing policy requiring its citizens to obtain an exit permit and letter of invitation from a country abroad in order to travel internationally, even temporarily. Most Cuban nationals now only need a valid passport and visa to depart, although certain skilled workers are excluded from the loosened rules. In response to Cuba’s policy change, the State Department extended the validity of B-2 tourist visas issued to Cubans from six months (single-entry) to five years with multiple entries permitted. Between 2012 and 2013, nonimmigrant visas issued to Cubans jumped 82 percent, from 20,200 to 36,787.

Future Implications

Cuba receives unique treatment under U.S. immigration law. No other nationality is given a blanket right to green-card eligibility, no other country has a floor below which visas may not fall, and no other group of immigrants is guaranteed admission to the United States if they appear at or between ports of entry. In effect, Cuban nationals are exempt from deportation and immigration enforcement policies affecting all other noncitizens. Furthermore, because Cuban arrivals are treated similarly to refugees, many are eligible for federal assistance and means-tested benefits from which most noncitizens are barred.

As the Obama administration and Cuba take steps to normalize their relations, trade and travel between the two countries is only expected to increase. While Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has stated that current immigration policy and law concerning Cuba will remain “for the time being,” expanded travel and trade raise questions about the viability of the wet-foot, dry-foot policy and the Cuban Adjustment Act: As visa issuance to Cuban nationals increases, will a growing number of Cubans overstay their visas in order to obtain green cards? A policy that rewards those who violate the terms of their visas is sure to invite questions of fairness. How will the U.S. policy of automatically treating Cubans who reach the United States as refugees affect bilateral relations once diplomatic ties are restored?

Indeed, the Coast Guard has already reported a spike in interdictions of Cubans at sea since the announcement, with 500 interdictions in December—three times the typical amount. The Coast Guard attributes the spike to fear among Cubans that the United States could soon repeal the wet-foot, dry-foot policy.

However, while improved relations may create a pressing need for normalized immigration policies toward Cuba, both Cuba and immigration are highly polarized political issues. Permanently changing these laws will ultimately require approval by the U.S. Congress, and faces a steep uphill climb.

 Playas deEste, August 1994. Did They Make it?

Cuba-leaving-1 Cuba-leaving-2

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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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