• The objective of this Blog is to facilitate access to research resources and analyses from all relevant and useful sources, mainly on the economy of Cuba. It includes analyses and observations of the author, Arch Ritter, as well as hyper-links, abstracts, summaries, and commentaries relating to other research works from academic, governmental, media, non-governmental organizations and international institutions.
    Commentary, critique and discussion on any of the postings is most welcome.
    This Blog on The Cuban Economy is dedicated to Cuba's Generation "A". Although inspired by Yoani Sánchez' original blog "Generation Y" this is not dedicated to those with names starting with the letter "A". Instead, it draws from Douglas Coupland's novel Generation A which begins with a quotation from Kurt Vonnegut at a University Commencement:
    "... I hereby declare you Generation A, as much as the beginning of a series of astounding triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."

BIDEN PLOTS CUBA RESET IN REBUKE OF TRUMP’S SANCTIONS

By Ben Bartenstein

Bloomberg, December 15, 2020, 11:00 a.m. EST

Original Article: Cuba Reset

President-elect Joe Biden’s team plans to bring the U.S. closer to normalized relations with Cuba, reversing many of the sanctions and regulations imposed during the Trump administration, according to people familiar with the matter.

That strategy includes reducing restrictions on travel, investment and remittances for the island nation that are perceived to disproportionately hurt Americans and ordinary Cubans, said the people, who requested anonymity because the new administration is still coming together. Other measures that target Cuba for human rights abuses would remain in place, the people said.

The prospect of a détente between Washington and Havana rekindles memories of the thaw that Biden helped champion during the Obama administration, when the two nations restored diplomatic ties that had been broken for decades following Fidel Castro’s rise to power.

But the president-elect is returning to an even messier scene: the Cuban economy is suffering its worst crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union amid fallout from Covid-19 and U.S. sanctions. At the same time, Cuban intelligence officers have helped prop up Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, allowing his regime to consolidate its grip on power in defiance of demands for free and fair elections.

With a packed domestic agenda, it’s unclear how quickly Biden will move on implementing his Cuba policy. Even if some changes happen early, the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown could delay the benefits of any measures that allow for greater travel to the island. It’s also unclear whether Biden will increase staffing at the U.S. embassy in Havana. The Trump administration pared back diplomatic operations after strange illnesses, including brain trauma, afflicted some U.S. diplomats and their families.

Biden said in October that the U.S. needed a new Cuba policy, though his team has been firm in condemning efforts by Havana to silence dissidents, including a recent raid on a house full of activists and artists.

The president-elect has also denounced Venezuela’s Maduro as a dictator. Just as the Trump administration connected Cuba and Venezuela policy, using sanctions as a tool intended to spur political change, Biden’s team may try to leverage a rapprochement in exchange for the Cubans reducing their presence in Venezuela and supporting a diplomatic resolution to the crisis there, according to the people.

Another complicating factor is Florida. While Biden’s advisers have criticized Trump’s Latin American policies for being heavily influenced by electoral politics, particularly the goal of winning the Sunshine State, they still face a sobering reality: The Democratic Party must defend a narrow House majority in 2022. Any policies that are perceived as easing pressure on Cuba and Venezuela without getting significant concessions from their left-wing governments could risk backlash at the polls.

For their part, investors are showing an early vote of confidence in Biden’s potential Cuba policy. The $43 million Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, which is geared toward Cuba and the Caribbean, has surged since the U.S. election.

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VENEZUELA IS QUIETLY QUITTING SOCIALISM (A Digression from Cuban Matters)

Stefano Pozzebon

CNN, December 18, 2020

Original Article

Shantytowns surround Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, like the walls of a bowl. Little houses pile on each other on the steep hills, some reachable only by vertiginous staircases.

Earlier this month, Ingrid Sanchez tried to rustle up votes here for the ruling Socialist Party in Petare, Venezuela’s largest barrio. As parliamentary elections got underway on December 6, she hired motorcycles and jeeps to ferry poor but faithful voters up steep hills to the polling station.

Sanchez has no money to spare — a former teacher, she lives on a state pension worth just one and a half dollars per month. It was the Socialist Party — the late Hugo Chavez’s party — that gave Ingrid cash to pay for the vehicles. But they weren’t Venezuelan bolivars — they were US dollars. And as she counted it, Sanchez realized that the four $20 bills she held were worth more than 50 months of her pension.

“Everything is in dollars now,” she says ruefully — a sign of monumental change in the country that she says would have Chavez turning in his grave.

Sanchez, 57 years old, is a faithful member of the Socialist Party and believes fiercely in the vision of late president Hugo Chavez, who prophesied a Marxist utopia where the state would look after the needs of the people, raise the quality of life, erase inequality and limit private enterprise to a minor role in the economy. “One never loses hope, and that is a project that I still believe in,” she said.

But Venezuela today hardly resembles the one pictured by Chavez. Hunger is rampant, inequality dizzying, and public hospitals stand derelict as the country deals with the coronavirus pandemic. The US dollar is increasingly taking precedence over the bolivar, and while the Venezuelan minimum wage is the lowest in the region, the country’s stock market is booming. Chavez’s successor, current President Nicolas Maduro, recently inaugurated an ultra-luxury hotel where rooms are the equivalent of $300 per night.

All of which raises a question that Sanchez has clearly been wrestling with: Is socialism still alive in Venezuela? “I don’t know, we are doing things upside down,” she says.

Continue Reading

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PROTEST IN CUBA: SPREADING NONCONFORMITY IN THE AGE OF COVID AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Halifax ChronicleHerald, Dec 14 at 4:44 p.m.

YVON GRENIER

Original Article: Protest in Cuba

Something extraordinary is happening in Cuba these days — and I am not talking about the absence of Canadians on its beaches.

Hundreds of mostly young artists, independent journalists, and some academics, are raising their voices against censorship. Some of them even call the regime for what it is: a dictatorship.

Discontent has been brewing in the island for some time, especially among young Cubans. But the spark for this rapid escalation was a few arrests too many, as well as the wider availability of social media over the past two years.

First, there was the arrest and imprisonment of an irreverent rapper (Denis Solís) for “disrespecting authority.” Solís is a member of a loose and mostly artist-based collective named the San Isidro Movement. The “MSI” emerged in 2018, to protest against new restrictions on freedom of expression.

Then, Solís’ arrest, the video of which he made available on social media, prompted some of his friends to go on hunger strike in the MSI headquarters, demanding his release and calling peers to join them in protest. It was their turn to be detained, by police in civilian clothes, who illegally broke into their apartment for the alleged misconduct of violating the COVID-19 testing protocol. The websites they were using to call for action were blocked by the government — so much for the public health concern — but, apparently, too late: digital nonconformity was already spreading wide in the community.

Arbitrary arrests are common in Cuba: There were close to 2,000 cases in the first eight months of last year. But this time, a straw broke the camel’s back. On Nov. 27, up to 300 mostly young Cubans turned up in front of the ministry of culture, calling for the release of Solís, greater freedom of expression, and … dialogue with the minister of culture. Many more would have joined had the place not been blocked by security agents.

In a one-party communist state that criminalizes opposition, no collective and public protest of this magnitude was ever attempted or tolerated in Cuba since the revolution — with the possible exception of a repressed LGBTQ parade last year.

This appears to be a wide opposition movement. There are known dissidents (like “artivist” Tania Bruguera), and a few irreverent but institutional cultural figures, like film director Fernando Pérez and beloved actor Jorge Perugorría, who offered support. In between, one finds a whole ecosystem of potential dissidents, who are not (yet) advocating open confrontation with the so-called “revolutionary” (in fact conservative) government. Many of them are independent journalists and bloggers, like Carlos Manuel Alvarez (age 31), who publicly called for “conversation …  not just with a supporting actor like a minister,” but directly with President Díaz-Canel.

Unavoidably, protesters were cheered on by the usual suspects in the U.S. government; no less predictably, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel called the event an “imperialist reality show.” Official media called the protesters “mercenaries,” and even “terrorists”. Two white members of the almost all-white ruling class (Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela, and former Minister of Culture Abel Prieto) indulged in tropical Trumpism, smearing the mostly poor, brown and black crowd as “vulgar, tacky and miserable” (Mariela), and “marginals” and “criminals” (Prieto). Even an occasionally dissonant but mostly official bard of the regime like singer Silvio Rodríguez, whose songs were actually sung by the protesters, publicly said that the government was handling this very badly.

All of this may seem like a footnote compared to massive anti-dictatorial demonstrations and violent crackdowns in Venezuela and Nicaragua — or even anti-neoliberal demonstrations in democratic Chile and Peru. Cuba is a dictatorship, but not one that systematically tortures or opens fire on crowds. (This may change.) In addition to exporting its opposition (about 20 per cent of Cubans live abroad), the government secures compliance most effectively with neighborhood spy networks, public shaming (the infamous “acts of repudiation”) and incarceration. This toolkit has been in full display in the past two weeks.

Change in Cuba?

This may just be a moment, an important one, in the awakening of civil society. Cubans generally toe the line, and know what line not to cross. But the “little police” in each and every Cuban, as they often call this mechanism of self-control, is increasingly disrupted by other voices. Social media is a big factor here, so the Cuban government may crack it down more. But it would be a mistake. Young Cubans are already fed up, and crave change (or exile). If artists can connect with them more broadly, this moment may lead to something bigger.

Yvon Grenier is a professor, department of political science and resident fellow, Mulroney Institute of Government, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish.

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THE UNITED STATES AND CUBA: A NEW POLICY OF ENGAGEMENT

WASHINGTON- The Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for Democracy in the Americas 

December 17, 2020

Today the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) are releasing The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement,” a roadmap for how the Biden-Harris administration can implement a policy of engagement toward Cuba. Six years after President Barack Obama’s December 17, 2014 announcement that he would begin normalizing relations with Cuba, we continue to emphasize the importance of engagement to advance the interests of the U.S. and of the Cuban people. Engagement accomplished more in two years than the policy of hostility achieved in sixty, and is a more effective strategy to advance the cause of human rights, political liberty, and economic reform. Engagement will facilitate family ties, cultural exchange, and commercial relations, expanding the market for U.S. businesses, raising the standard of living for the Cuban people, and encouraging economic reform on the island. A new policy of engagement entails relatively little political risk and has the potential to mobilize a wide variety of constituencies in support. Our report expands on why Cuba should be a priority, why a variety of bipartisan stakeholders including the business community, Congress, and Cuban Americans support policies of engagement. The roadmap lays out a series of sequenced recommendations in three sections “Repairing the Damage: The First Nine Months,” “Taking the Initiative: The Second Year,” and “Finishing the Job: A Legislative Agenda” detailing how the Biden-Harris administration can move quickly to implement much-needed change in U.S.-Cuba policy. 

The Full Report: The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement,”




Finishing the Job: A Legislative Agenda

One lesson from the Obama years is that a policy based exclusively on executive action is notenduring. As we have witnessed, a new administration can quickly dismantle it. If we hope to persuade the Cuban government that a constructive relationship with the United States is possible and will flourish to the extent that Cuba moves toward a more open political and economic system, Cuban authorities must be convinced that U.S. policy is durable. That will require legislative action to remove some of the constraints on engagement that Congress has enacted over the years, first and foremost the embargo. Ending the embargo is Cuba’s highest priority in its relationship with the United States; so long as the embargo remains in place, progress toward a more normal relationship will be limited.

Regardless of which party ultimately holds the majority in the U.S. Senate, the administration should publicly express support for legislation to end the embargo, and work with the bipartisan Cuba Working Group in the House and champions for engagement in the Senate to cultivate congressional leadership on engagement.

First Steps

Two actions that could gain some Republican support are repeal of the Cuba-related sections in the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) that limit travel and agricultural sales.

• Repeal the prohibition on travel to Cuba that is not expressly licensed in the CACR.

• Repeal the limits on the use of credits for financing U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba.

Several additional measures would facilitate commercial ties:

• Repeal Section 211, a special interest provision of U.S. law that invalidates certain Cuban trademarks in the United States and threatens reciprocal protection for U.S. brands.

• Approve an amendment that, notwithstanding any other provision of law, authorizes the United States to provide Cuba with foreign assistance for the purpose of developing  sustainable energy sources and implementing its 100 year plan to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Ending the Embargo

The embargo is a central obstacle to the normalization of relations with Cuba, as President Obama recognized when he called on Congress to repeal it. For Congress to repeal the embargo it would have to amend a number of different statutes in addition to the TSRA.33 The most important:

• Repeal the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, or at least the sections that limit the freedom of U.S. subsidiaries in third countries to do business with Cuba, and that prevent vessels engaged in commerce with Cuba from entering U.S. ports for 180 days.

• Repeal the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, or at least the sections that inscribe the embargo into law, prohibit U.S. support for Cuban participation in IFIs, and impose extraterritorial sanctions on other countries (Titles III and IV).

• Repeal the section of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 that authorizes the president to unilaterally impose a trade embargo on Cuba.

Once the embargo is no longer mandated by law, the President can lift it simply by not renewing the emergency authorities under the Trading with The Enemy Act. If economic sanctions against Cuba are called for in the future, they can be imposed under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

Some legal scholars argue that the President has the authority to end the embargo by executive order. Because the embargo regulations codified by the LIBERTAD Act include the President’s licensing authority without any limitation, there is a legal argument that the licensing power extends to ending the embargo entirely.34 The principal rationale for such a step would be President Clinton’s contention, in his signing statement, that certain passages of the law, including codification, constitute unconstitutional infringements on the President’s authority to conduct foreign policy.35

33 For an effort to compile a complete list of the amendments required, H.R. 403 (Mr. Rangel) 114th Congress 1st Session, January 16, 2015.

34 Robert L. Muse, “The President Has the Constitutional Power to Unilaterally Terminate the Embargo on Cuba,” Global Americans, October 8, 2020, ttps://theglobalamericans.org/2020/10/the-president-has-the-constitutional-power-to-unilaterally-terminate-the-embargo-on-cuba/. For concurring opinions, see Kevin J. Fandl, “Adios Embargo: The Case for Executive Termination of the U.S. Embargo on Cuba,” 54 Am. Bus. L.J. 293; and Pete Jeydel, “How Much of the Cuba Embargo Could the President Unilaterally Lift?” Steptoe International Compliance Blog, October 21, 2016, https://www.steptoeinternationalcomplianceblog.com/2016/10/how-much-of-the-cuba-embargo-could-the-president-unilaterally-lift/.35 William J. Clinton, “Statement on Signing the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996,” March 12, 1996. The American Presidency Project, ttps://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/222515. For the constitutionality of the LIBRTAD Act, see Joaquin Roy, “Lawyers Meet the Law: Critical U.S Voices of Helms-Burton,” Yearbook of International Law, 6, 39 (1997/1998)

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HOW CUBA’S MONETARY REFORM WILL TAKE PLACE AND IMPACT THE ECONOMY

By Marc Frank

Reuters, December 11, 2020

Original Article: Cuba’s Monetary Reform

HAVANA (Reuters) – The Cuban government announced on Thursday it would start a long-awaited monetary reform in January, unifying its dual currency and multiple exchange rate system in a bid to bring more dynamism to its centrally planned economy.

The reforms were first adopted by the Communist Party a decade ago as it moved toward a more market driven system and closer links with the international economy but foundered thanks to bureaucracy and internal divisions.

HOW DOES CUBA’S MONETARY SYSTEM WORK?

For nearly three decades, two currencies have circulated in Cuba: the peso and the convertible peso (CUC), both officially valued at one-to-one with the dollar. Neither are tradable outside the country.  The currencies are exchanged at various rates: one-to-one for state-owned businesses, 24 pesos for 1 CUC for the public and others for joint ventures, wages in the island’s special development zone and transactions between farmers and hotels.  Cuba created the system as part of a package of measures to open up its economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While the system helped Cuba get through the shock of the Soviet collapse, it ended up also hiding the real economic situation.

WHAT CHANGES NOW?

The CUC will be eliminated. President Miguel Diaz-Canel said it would leave the peso at a single fixed rate of 24 to the dollar, scrapping other more favorable rates in the first official devaluation of the peso since Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

GOODBYE CUC, HELLO DOLLAR!

The government has also begun opening stores that sell consumer goods for dollars and other traded currencies, though only with a bank card.

Havana says this is a temporary measure but the partial dollarization will also provide some stability, especially for families who receive remittances.

Meanwhile, state and private companies can now keep tradable currency accounts with up to 80% of their export earnings instead of handing them over to the state.

SHOCK THERAPY?

Devaluation is inflationary, while ending subsidies leads to layoffs, yet the Cuban government says it expects to avoid any “shock therapy” in the economy where the state sets most prices and wages.  Economists expect triple digit inflation, and the government has said the initial devaluation will be accompanied by a five-fold increase in average state wages and pensions even as many state-controlled prices also may rise.

But the wage increase does not apply to around 2 million of the 7 million plus labor force in the private sector, informal sector or who simply do not work.

Meanwhile the government says state-run companies, as a rule, will no longer be subsidized.

Cuban economists estimate around 40% of state companies operate at a loss and though some will benefit with the reform, others will go under. Still, the government says some companies will be given a year to get their books in order before ending subsidies.

The government says residents will be given 180 days to exchange convertible pesos once they are taken out of circulation.

WHY NOW?

Cuba is seeking to reverse its worst crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, with growth seen plummeting more than 8% this year by boosting business conditions and productivity.

The country is dependent on imports for more than 50% of food and fuel, plus inputs for agriculture and pharmaceuticals. Yet a combination of U.S. sanctions, local economic blunders and the COVID-19 pandemic have gutted Cuba’s ability to earn tradable currency.

Cuba has been rapidly piling up debt in recent years, while still being plagued by a scarcity of basic goods, from food and personal hygiene products to medicine and fuel.

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THE ART OF DISSENT: The Movimiento San Isidro challenges Cuba’s regime

The government has responded with repression. But the dissidents’ movement sees signs of progress

The Economist, December 5, 2020

Original Article: The Art of Dissent

THE FRONT door of Damas 855, a ramshackle building in San Isidro, a poor neighbourhood of Havana, snapped like a wishbone when security agents charged through it on the evening of November 26th. The lock and chain tumbled to the ground. The agents, dressed in medical gowns, arrested 14 people (their pretext was that one of the residents had violated a covid-19 testing protocol). They had locked themselves in for eight days to protest against the arrest of Denis Solís, a young rapper who had been accused of disrespecting authority and sentenced to eight months in prison. A few of the Damas 855 denizens were on a hunger-and-thirst strike. Police cars took the detainees away. Facebook, YouTube and Instagram went down on most of the island for about an hour. Connections have been spotty since.

To defenders of Cuba’s 62-year-old revolution, the adherents of Movimiento San Isidro (MSI) are reprobates. On Twitter the country’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, called it an “imperial show to destroy our identity and subjugate us again”. A photo of President Donald Trump accompanied the tweet. State media echoed the message.

Some Cubans take a kinder view of the movement, which includes artists, scholars, journalists, rappers, poets and scientists who advocate freer expression and more democracy than the communist regime allows. Its leaders are Luis Manuel Otero, a performance artist, and Maykel “El Osorbo” Castillo, a musician who sewed his lips shut in prison in August. They gather in a part of Old Havana where the mainly black residents live in rickety housing in the shadows of luxury hotels. When a balcony collapsed in January, killing three girls, Mr Otero wore a hard hat for nine days to honour them. He has been arrested more than 20 times over the past two years. His hunger strike landed him in hospital.

The movement began in September 2018 in response to Decree 349, which proposed to restrict cultural activity that is not authorised by the culture ministry. After a protest that month outside Cuba’s legislature, the government suspended enforcement of the decree. That has not stopped it from silencing voices it doesn’t like.

MSI is not comparable to Belarus’s mass movement to overthrow a dictatorship. Cuba has no such movement, though pro-democracy activists were among the 1,800 people who have been arbitrarily arrested in the first eight months of 2020, according to Human Rights Watch. MSI has more in common with other recent home-grown protests that have wrung small concessions from the regime.

In August 2017 cuentapropistas (entrepreneurs) proposed reforms, such as the right to incorporate, to the labour ministry. Initially they were rebuffed. The government forced the cancellation of events meant to help budding entrepreneurs. When in 2018 it threatened to restrict each entrepreneur to one line of business, cuentapropistas, who run much of the economically vital tourist industry, said they would strike. The rules were eased.

A clash between the gamers who cobbled together SNet, a private intranet, and the communications ministry played out in a similar way, though the government yielded less. On an island with poor and expensive connectivity, the network was a way for gamers to play with one another, often games they had created. When the government restricted the use of such networks and threatened to confiscate the equipment in May 2019, SNet users were devastated. Several dozen gathered at the ministry to protest. Police cars quickly surrounded them. The government eventually decided that SNet and its hardware would be permitted, but under the supervision of the state-run youth computer clubs.

Like the cuentapropistas and the SNet gamers, MSI began in response to a threat to its members’ private pursuits. But it has more potential to grow. On the day after the Damas 855 raid nearly 300 people, many of them supporters of other movements, gathered outside the culture ministry, refusing to leave until the vice-minister, Fernando Rojas, agreed to meet them. Security forces and “rapid-response groups”, trained to shout communist slogans at sceptics, flooded the area. Agents in plain clothes snapped photos and took videos.

Mr Rojas met with 30-odd activists for nearly five hours on November 27th-28th and promised more dialogue. But the government then launched a media campaign against MSI. Police chased Mr Otero after his release from hospital.

Even so, the movement thinks it has made progress. The gathering outside the culture ministry is a sign of an emerging “collective unconformity”, says Carlos Manuel Álvarez, one of the Damas 855 detainees and a co-founder of El Estornudo (“The Sneeze”), an independent online magazine. He sees that as a direct threat to the culture of submission demanded by the regime. Its agreement to meet participants in such a large protest “was unprecedented”, says Camila Ramírez Lobón, a visual artist who joined the meeting with Mr Rojas. Artists who are both popular and acceptable to the regime, like Fernando Pérez, a film director, and Leoni Torres, a musician, have publicly backed MSI.

The internet, unreliable though it is, is making such movements harder to control. More than 60% of Cubans have access to a connection. That has led to “an explosion of civic activism” among groups advocating such causes as feminism, gay rights and animal rights, says José Jasán Nieves, editor of El Toque (“The Touch”), an independent online publication. Some were at the culture-ministry protest. If they joined forces more often, they might challenge the government more effectively.

Cuba’s ruling Communist Party, divided between hardliners who remember the revolution and younger officials who are slightly more liberal, is not about to yield. On December 1st the government released Silverio Portal Contreras, a prominent political prisoner (and supporter of Mr Trump, who has imposed sanctions on the Cuban regime). That is probably not a sign that the regime is growing tolerant of dissent. More likely, it was a way to allay anger about the San Isidro raid.

Most Cubans, who queue for hours for chicken or eggs, often to return home empty-handed, have little interest in the doings of agitators like those of MSI. Their suffering has got worse since the pandemic shut down tourism. But a vaccine, and perhaps a softening of American sanctions by the incoming Biden administration, might eventually ease shortages. More Cubans might then ask why they have so little freedom.

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DAY ZERO FOR CURRENCY REFORM SET AMID WEEKS OF UNREST

CUBA TO BEGIN LONG-DELAYED MONETARY OVERHAUL ON NEW YEAR’S DAY

Ricardo Herrero

Cuban Study Group, 14 December 2020

“Cuba said late on Thursday it would start its long-awaited monetary reform in January, eliminating its dual currency and labyrinthine multiple exchange rate system in a bid to improve business conditions in the crisis-stricken economy. In a televised address to the nation, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the Cuban peso would be fixed at a single exchange rate of 24 per dollar [24 CUP : 1 USD].” (Reuters, December 10, 2020)

For more than three decades, two currencies have circulated in Cuba’s state-run economy: the peso (CUP) and the convertible peso (CUC), pegged to the dollar. These have been exchanged at various rates: 1 to 1 for state-owned businesses, 24 pesos for 1 CUC for the public and others for joint ventures, wages in island’s special development zone and transactions between farmers and hotels.” (Reuters, December 10, 2020)

“The government has said some companies will be given a year to get their books in order before ending subsidies, and it will continue to provide universal and free healthcare and education, some subsidized food and other social gratuities. Cuban economists estimate around 40% of state companies operate at a loss and though some will benefit from the monetary reform, such as those tied to the export sector, others will fail. Some Cubans complain that multiple currencies will still be in use on the island given the government has been opening stores over the past year that sell consumer goods for dollars and other internationally traded currencies, though only with a bank card. The government says this is a temporary measure needed to earn tradable currency to purchase more consumer goods amid dire scarcity as it is all but bankrupt.” (Reuters, December 10, 2020)

Government raises minimum wage to 2,100 pesos and sets pensions cap at 1,528 pesos. “Cuba published the new scale for wages, pensions and social assistance benefits, as part of the monetary ordering process announced last night and which will be in force as of next January 1, determining the economic future of the island. As of that date, the minimum wage rises to 2,100 pesos per month, by public provision since yesterday in the Gaceta Oficial Extraordinaria No. 69. The wage scale is divided into 32 complexity groups, determined by the number of hours worked and the category of who performs them…The wage scales start at 1,910 and 2,100 pesos, for those who work 40 and 44 hours a week, respectively, and rise to 9,510 pesos for those who add 44 hours a week.” (OnCuba News, December 11, 2020)

 

ECONOMISTS EXPECT SURGING INFLATION; WORRY ARTIFICIAL EXCHANGE RATE WILL DRIVE BLACK MARKET FOR FOREIGN CURRENCY

 

“Economists say the reform spells short-term pain for Cubans but is important in the long-term as varying exchange rates have effectively subsidized some sectors and distorted the way economy works. [They] expect triple-digit inflation, and government announcements in recent months suggest it does too. It has said the [new single exchange rate] will be accompanied by a five-fold increase in average state wages and pensions even as many state-controlled prices are increased or allowed to respond to demand. But the wage increase does not apply to around two million of the seven million-plus labor force in the private sector, informal sector or who simply do not work. (Reuters, December 10, 2020)

Carmelo Mesa Largo: “The immediate impact will be that inflation will be unleashed and the purchasing power of the population will drop in parallel.” Mesa Lago says that an exchange rate set at 24 pesos per dollar implies a 2,400% devaluation [for state-run businesses]…’it would be extremely difficult for the government to increase salaries by 2,400 percent in 2021 if the exchange rate is set at 24 pesos per dollar. The government will raise salaries, but by much less than that, like it did between 1989 and 2019, the salaries as well as the pensions will cover even less of the basic necessities,’ he added.” (Miami Herald, December 1, 2020)

“Mesa-Lago said he believes the official figures underestimate the real level of inflation, reflected in the increasingly longer lines of people waiting to buy basic products, the empty shelves and the rising prices. ‘The prices in the open market, where the law of offer and demand rules, have soared in recent months. For example, a carton of 30 eggs cannot be found in state stores” except once per month with a ration card, Mesa-Lago said. ‘In the free market, you could find it years ago for 87 pesos. Now they cost 175 pesos. That means the price has doubled, and that’s happened with other food prices” (Miami Herald, December 1, 2020)

One solution to this dire scenario would be to expand the private sector and micro-enterprises, Mesa-Lago said. The number of employed rose by 102,520 in 2019, with 89 percent of them in the private sector. The government then [announced the elimination of] the list of allowed self-employed jobs in August, and in November, [Reuters] reported that thousands of small government-owned enterprises would be shifted to the private sector. ‘This is something that is positive, if it’s done quickly and without roadblocks,’ Mesa-Lago said. It is expected that with the change in the current exchange rate, many state enterprises will go bankrupt. The government, which already has failed to make some payments on its foreign debt, will allow some of these inefficient enterprises to disappear, officials have said. Economists said part of those enterprises’ employees might shift to the private sector.” (Miami Herald, December 1, 2020)

Mauricio de Miranda Parrondo: “The official exchange rate adopted by the government is, in the face of market conditions, an overvalued exchange rate and an error from the onset. An overvalued exchange rate means that the national currency is worth more than it should be and that affects the competitiveness of exports and makes imports cheaper, so this won’t solve the problems that led to the adoption of the measure of devaluation that, incidentally, should have been adopted many years ago. It is very difficult to determine what the appropriate level of the exchange rate should be, but economic theory suggests that it should be around the equilibrium conditions that allow establishing the relative prices that connect the national economy with the international economy. But the Cuban economy has many price distortions, due to the maintenance for a long time of a totally unreal official exchange rate, also due to the segmentation of the markets and consequently, due to the disconnection of the national economy with the international one. In the absence of this, it would have been advisable to adopt an exchange rate that was close to current market conditions, as happened when the CADECAs were created, after overcoming the very serious devaluation of the peso on the black market when the US dollar It came to be worth between 120 and 130 Cuban pesos in the early 1990s.

“With the current shortage of foreign exchange, and with the impossibility, on the part of the State, of offering US dollars at 24 Cuban pesos, the logical thing is that a parallel market appears in which the dollar is quoted at a higher value, and we continue in the same boat. Dollars will be channeled into the informal market rather than into the formal market channels. Under these conditions, a considerable differential between the official exchange rate and the black market exchange rate can be created, which will benefit the operators of the latter and will create new distortions.” (Mauricio de Miranda Parrondo blog, December 10, 2020)

Prices in private sector to be fixed?: Among multiple price controls expected in attempt to stave off inflation, perhaps the most worrisome according to economist Pedro Monreal is Sunday’s announcement that prices in private sector activity will not be allowed to increase more than threefold regardless of market needs.

 

 

 

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CUBAN GOVERNMENT CALLS OFF TALKS WITH ARTISTS

 Original Article, Havana Times, December 4, 2020

By Circles Robinson

Cuban artists after the late-night encounter and initial accords for dialogue with the vice minister of culture Fernando Rojas early on November 27th. Photo: 14ymedio

HAVANA TIMES – The Ministry of Culture, announced today it would not honor its agreement for a dialogue with Cuban artists. The Communist Party currently carries out a massive media campaign to paint artists critical of government policy as “mercenaries”. They are also holding “seminars” at workplaces to reinforce the accusations.

The government had already backtracked in less than 24 hours on the other accords reached between the vice minister of Culture and hundreds of artists in the wee hours of November 27th. These included a truce in the harassment and criminalizing of independent artists and journalists, and police restrictions on their mobility.

The reasons for reneging on the agreements

The Ministry of Culture said today it would no longer meet with the artists. It alleged: “they have direct contacts and receive financing and logistical support from the US Government and its officials.”

Furthermore, the Ministry blames the artists for its backtracking on the dialogue for including participation of members of the San Isidro Movement (MSI).

It was that Movement, a week long hunger strike, and the nighttime State Security assault on their headquarters on November 26th, which led to a spontaneous day-night sit-in of hundreds of people from the Cuban cultural world the following day at the gates of the Ministry of Culture.

Late that night vice minister Fernando Rojas finally met with a delegation of 30 artists including some MSI members. To diffuse the tense moment, Rojas promised a dialogue for the coming week to discuss issues and concerns.

The Ministry statement published in the official press today justified their reneging on their promise. “The inclusion of persons who for a long time, have violated patriotic symbols, committed common crimes and made direct attacks on the Cuban Revolution under the guise of art, is what led to breaking off any possibility of dialogue.”

The Castro-Diaz Canel government maintains that any criticism of their policies, laws and leaders originates from the United States. According to them, no Cuban has a right to criticize a government that only acts to benefit the people. Furthermore, for decades they maintain that the US embargo is the cause of all their failed economic policies.

The policy of dealing with artists and writers dates back to 1961

The Ministry said its doors were open, “as always”, to those artists who are not committed to the enemies of the Cuban nation.

Back in 1961, Fidel Castro set what is still government cultural policy. He said that all cultural expression that supports the Revolution would be permitted.  In official lingo, the Revolution, Communist Party, leaders and the government are all one and the same.

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AMAURY PACHECO FROM CUBA’S SAN ISIDRO MOVEMENT SPEAKS on the incredible day/night of November 27th at the Ministry of Culture in Havana.

Havana Times. December 8, 2020

Original Article

Amaury Pacheco a founding member of the San Isidro Movement

HAVANA TIMES – After the meeting between Vice-Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas, and 30 representatives of hundreds of people present at the protest outside the Ministry of Culture – on November 27th – Amaury Pacheco, a founder of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), shares his experiences. He explains the meaning recent developments have had for the Movement, Cuban civil society and the future of these interrelationships.

HT: How did this process unfold? What came out of it?

Three vice-coordinators were at our houses under the siege of police patrol cars. Likewise, the people at the Movement’s central point – San Isidro and Damas Streets, in Old Havana.

We circulated information via different channels: Exchanging what was happening to everyone during this home arrest?

Things got heated when the MSI’s base was attacked [on the night of November 26]. Members of the military dressed up as doctors, wearing white coats. They broke into the space. Those present at the Base say that they were beaten. A set-up that nobody sees.

They were removed from the house under the suspicion of having COVID-19, when Carlos Manuel Alvarez, a journalist arrived on the scene, who said he came from the US.

The police withdrew from outside our homes when they went to attack our Base.

We found out that a group of Theater and Movie artists were planning to organize a peaceful protest outside the Ministry of Culture. Creating a powerful critical mass. Calling on people to come.

I said: “… they are coming together for Freedom of Expression, for what happened at San Isidro. Asking to enter a dialogue with the Ministry of Culture. I’m going!”

It was around 5 PM. Over 200 people were shouting in chorus. There was a joyful atmosphere, but there was also a lot of determination.

I was really happy to see this. We realized that what had happened in San Isidro awakened people in a way that was bigger than us.

Seeking connectedness and new spaces

The San Isidro Movement seeks Connectedness. For different spaces to open up. For people to connect with one another based on their personal experiences, techniques and peaceful means of social struggle.

We arrived and there was a list. It included Michel Matos, Aminta D’Cardenas, Claudia Genlui and Catherine Bisquet, who doesn’t belong to the Movement, but was one of the people holding a hunger strike at MSI’s base. I wasn’t included, but because I form part of the Movement, I was added in the end. This was agreed in a democratic way. I didn’t even take part.

I was surprised to see artists linked to state institutions, who don’t normally take part in these things, as it could have repercussions on them.

Some points were written down, from more general to more specific points. We talked about FreeDenis, one of MSI’s main demands, and everybody there agreed. It wasn’t MSI that brought this to the table. We joined and formed part of this Coalition.

#FreeDenis and then calling off the Hunger Strike, were our proposals for the dialogue: following protocol. Getting Luis Manuel Otero back home, his house [the MSI base] is shut off and taken over.

A wide variety of concerns and demands

There were representatives from the different arts and they all had their own struggle. Theater/Movie/Visual artists, were vindicating important agendas for independent spaces. They insisted on the need for structural change in artistic institutions.

Civil demands in general: freedom of speech, the right to dissent, to create freely, the end of state harassment, defamation and no more police violence, no more political hate, and so on.

MSI promotes cultural rights, freedoms, so the dialogue was in sync with our own objectives.

Yunior Garcia Aguilera, somebody with a lot of talent and charisma, managed to organize that conversation and laid the groundwork for the dialogue with the Ministry.

We were there since around 10 AM and we weren’t seen until 11 PM. The Minister never showed.

What happened inside the Ministry

The Delegation went in: 30 people talked to the Vice-Minister. They didn’t want to accept some people, but we really struggled and MSI got its foot in the door.

The dialogue couldn’t be broadcast live, because our cellphones were taken. It became a secret space, but we have different versions of what happened from everybody who was there.

It was a frank, cutting, straight-to-the-point conversation. We told the Government everything that was on our minds, the need for Civil Society, a Constitution and how the Government needs to abide by it. About Decree-Laws 349 and 370, which have created an earthquake.

Decree-Law 349 criminalizes the dissemination and promotion of art. Decree-Law 370 criminalizes social media communication.

Our Movement knew this wasn’t the time to discuss certain issues, but it was an opportunity that had never existed up until now. That the State took upon themselves to open institutions to a dialogue with groups they call counter-revolutionaries, dissidents, but they are just independent in reality.

Letting them know we are not afraid

The Government played this card. They told International Opinion that “there is an ongoing dialogue with the MSI, but not directly.”

The way we shared and responded to the vice-minister was truly impressive. It reminded me of shoals of fish moving altogether at the same pace. There was an inner beating, regardless of our different demands.

A powerful will to tell them that we weren’t AFRAID. That the over 400 people outside weren’t afraid. The people with whom we had reached an agreement for this dialogue and with whom we would have to speak with afterwards.

This generation has shaken off its fear, just like we have to do what we do. It’s a great thing on a national level and proof that there is social discontent in Cuba.

The State isn’t controlling everything that happens, it’s just not true. There is social debilitation, though. We need political change, yes, a strategic change on how to build the nation.

Everything outside was said out loud. Everyone agreed with these demands.

We broke our fear. We looked at each other, acknowledged each other and spoke. That was the power there. We opened the door, so the Government had to sit down and talk under pressure. The people were determined, “We won’t leave until…”.

San Isidro had ignited the flame that connected many people.

Practing what we want for the country

There were many artists, but we were talking about citizenship, individual rights, social rights, human rights, not just cultural rights. Comprehensive issues, but key issues.

We practiced what we want for the country. It was a dangerous action, like the human body: muscles, mind, neurones, everything moving for a specific action. It’s what we practice in San Isidro, and it managed to awake citizens.

Being a person – an important part – practicising citizenship, reflects the other parts. They don’t work on their own. People are the most human thing that exists. Individuals with their own things, own way of doing things, getting places, moving forward with their lives. Citizens facing laws, how it orders them, their place in the current hierarchy, in society.

This point about citizenship and exercising democracy, of reaching a consensus, is very important. It is something that this generation truly has. If you are under the yoke of totalitarianism, a wisp of democracy can appear. We all came to an agreement. Coming up with agendas that we can all push together, and not via a hierarchy or dictatorial space.

There wasn’t a dialogue with MSI. We took part in something a lot larger, civil society speaking, saying: “…we want to take your points to the table because they are important, somebody is dying.”

Filmmaker Fernando Perez was an important witness

Fernando Perez, a well-respected filmmaker, was also at the table. He said that he wouldn’t speak, but watching everyone say their piece, he also decided to say a few words. This was important because it made the involvement of different generations clear. Every generation has its own social history in Cuba, with very specific characteristics.

The Vice-Minister said that they could find a solution for demands within the artistic and cultural sector, but there were other demands that needed to be talked over with other institutions, and he made a note of this. He said that everything depended on processes.

Connections were made for meetings, a platform for dialogue with some of the arts. General issues would be discussed at a later date, when they could be looked over with the Minister.

Press conferences would be held about what happened there because “… we owe it to the people outside.”

Many followers of the tense developments at San Isidro’s base, felt like the Movement had ended and this isn’t true.

Channels of domestic politics in Cuba are very slow. If you don’t have a position in the public space and spaces of pressure, there isn’t anything that allows you to sit down at the negotiations table.

The agreements made

The agreements we made by the time we left, included: A channel of dialogue with cultural institutions. Address the issue of Denis Solis Gonzalez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara “urgently”. Independent artists can meet without being harassed, among other points, such as the safeguard of going home that night without suffering police harassment.

The Government says: “We don’t work under pressure.” So we have to pressure them; they pressure us all the time. In the meeting, a young woman said: “We aren’t here to pressure you, we are here to give you a chance to enter a dialogue and change what’s happening.”

It was like saying: We are giving you a chance to renew your own foundations… because this is going to go ahead regardless. It’s going to be huge… and you won’t be able to stop it. You are rusty as a State. You don’t understand what is happening. New generations don’t understand these dated procedures.

The government will renege on this meeting, but it really has changed Cuban reality. We know that it is being replicated in Matanzas. It could even explode on a national level.

Manipulation and back-tracking

The Government has manipulated everything in its official account of events.

What happened in that room hasn’t had a historic precedent in these past 60 years.

San Isidro has its own list of proposals, which haven’t ended: Luis Manuel and Maykel Osorbo held a hunger strike. San Isidro has very clear strategies. Our reports are clear on our social media pages.

MSI has gained many followers with successful campaigns. Ever since Decree-Law 349 was announced, as well as all of the attacks against Luis Manuel have become successful campaigns, because of what we have done.

I’m grateful to these people – many young people – who said: ENOUGH! and chose to stand outside the Ministry. We know what happens to people who speak openly in Cuba’s public space. The street is the Communist Party’s private property. Public spaces are pretty much closed off.

Recent events have opened-up a space forever. Many other things can be pushed forward. It’s happening as we speak.

Note: *During this interview, we learned that Luis Manuel Alcantara was under arrest in a hospital. His location had been unknown.

Also read this followup article when days later the governernment backed out of future talks.

 

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TANIA BRUGUERA DETAINED AMID PROTESTS OVER ARTISTIC FREEDOM IN CUBA

ARTnews

Alex Greenburger, December 5, 2020 2:21pm

Original Article

Against the backdrop of protests over artistic freedom in Cuba, artist Tania Bruguera, a celebrated figure whose work has frequently spoken out against her country’s government and its policies, was detained on Friday, according to a message posted on social media by her sister, Deborah Bruguera. On Saturday, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, which is currently hosting an exhibition of Bruguera’s work, said the artist had been released.

In a Facebook post, Deborah Bruguera said that her sister had been “kidnapped” by “people in civilian clothes” after attending a party held by artist Sandra Ceballos Obaya. In a follow-up message posted early Saturday morning, Deborah said that multiple officers questioned Bruguera about the push toward artistic freedom that has become a flashpoint in the country, in an attempt to identify the movement’s leaders.

Last week, on November 27, a group of 300 protests gathered outside the Cuban culture ministry in Havana to speak out against governmental control of the country’s artists. Officials met with 30 of the protesters—who are part of a group known as 27N—for several hours and agreed to strive for greater freedom for artists. Then, after the meeting, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel decried the protests, calling them a “farce.” Bruguera was among those to criticize him, telling NBC, “At this point of crisis, an interlocutor with real decision-making power is needed.”

Already, those protests have led to arrests for others. Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara took part in a hunger strike after the rapper Denis Solis was arrested. Alcantara, too, was later detained by Cuban officials. He was released, then placed under house arrested, according to the Art Newspaper.

Coco Fusco, a Cuban-American artist based in New York, also spoke out against the governmental scorn for the protesters, writing in a letter circulated via the platform E-Flux that those in the U.S. need to be paying attention. “Bruguera and [journalist Carlos Manuel] Alvarez are among the best-known Cubans outside the country and are being targeted precisely because they are known in the United States, precisely because they have been supported by the American institutions,” she wrote. “This is indeed an American problem as much as a Cuban one.”

In 2018, Cuba enacted Decree 349, which enables governmental officials to regulate the sale of artworks in the country and to keep artists from addressing various subjects, including the “use of patriotic symbols that contravene current legislation,” violence, and pornography. More recently, the San Isidro Movement, a decentralized push toward freedom that is being led by artistic figures and regular citizens alike, has become the subject of scrutiny from officials in Cuba.

Bruguera’s performance art and social practice work have been sharply critical of the amount of power Cuban politicians exercise for years. Among her most touted works is Untitled (Havana, 2000), a video installation that considered the exploitation of Cubans by Fidel Castro; when the work was shown at the Havana Biennial, it was partially censored. Because of her outspoken political gestures, Bruguera has pitted herself against Cuban officials, who have arrested her several times amid protests.

Tania Bruguera,

TANIA BRUGUERA, COCO FUSCO, MORE PEN OPEN LETTER REGARDING CUBAN DECREE THEY SAY LIMITS ARTISTS’ RIGHTS

ARTnews

 The Editors of ARTnews, August 14, 2018 5:10pm

Original Article

In an open letter posted to the activism website Avaaz, artists Tania Bruguera and Coco Fusco; Laritza Diversent, the director of human-rights organization Cubalex; curator Yanelys Nuñez Leyva; and writer Enrique Risco speak out against Decree 349, which the Cuban government issued in July to address “violations by individuals of the regulations regarding the provision of artistic services.” Their missive, which is addressed to Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, Cuba’s president as of this past April, claims that the decree will “restrict the creativity of the Cuban people and criminalize independently produced art,” and ultimately give way to “the impoverishment of Cuban culture.”

According to a report in the Miami Herald last month, Decree 349 affects artists of all kinds, including musicians, who can no longer be hired to perform in clubs or bars without the permission of the Ministry of Culture or certain agencies, and artists, who aren’t allowed to sell works without state permission. (Fines are imposed on artists who do.) Limitations have also been placed on works that feature “use of patriotic symbols that contravene current legislation,” violence, and pornography, among other forms of imagery.

In a phone conversation, Fusco said that the decree was enacted “without prior conversation with the artist community” in the country, and that it can be situated within a larger culture of governmental surveillance that is well-known to Cubans. “This is an ongoing problem in Cuba—that [artists] are afraid to speak up,” she told ARTnews. With the letter, she went on, she and her co-authors were hoping to start a “public discussion” about the decree.

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