• 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."

NOW WHAT, CUBA?

By Ted A. Henken  /  ElYuma    /  

Global Americans, May 1, 2018

Original Article: Now What?

After the Cuban government’s naming of a new “post-Castro” president on April 19, in the coming months three variables will determine whether this “historic” change will be a mere succession within Cuba’s Communist Party (PCC) or the start of a long-delayed transition to a more open Cuba.

First, an invisible power struggle is currently taking place within the “black box” of the Cuban regime. Second is the unresolved tension between the government and Cuba’s embattled, emerging, diverse, and often fractious civil society. The final complicating factor is the on-again, off-again process of normalization with Cuba’s long-time nemesis to the north: the United States. Each of these key variables is influenced by a fourth, all-important factor:  the stalled process of economic reform—particularly in the area of small private enterprise, or “cuentapropismo”—launched by Raúl Castro in 2008.

The Dynamics of Power

While the Cuban government has long attempted to present a unified front to the world under the fiction that its “partido único,” the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), best represents the diverse interests of the nation, the claim hides a number of fault lines. First, and perhaps most important, is the generational division between “los históricos” (the “founding generation” who established the current system) and those born after the revolutionary triumph in 1959.

The most prominent members of the first group are “retiring” Central Committee stalwarts: 88-year-old former first Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura (who continues to sit on the Council of Ministers); former Minister of the Interior 85-year-old Ramiro Valdés (who will stay on as one of Cuba’s six Vice Presidents); and 86-year-old Raúl Castro himself who, while stepping down as president, will remain as First Secretary of the PCC.

The second group includes the man who had been overseeing the implementation of Cuba’s economic reforms, 57-year-old Marino Murillo (who was surprisingly removed as a Vice President and will exit the Council of State, perhaps indicating his fall from grace), 61-year-old foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez, and Miguel Díaz-Canel himself, who was all but unanimously selected by Cuba’s Parliament as the new president on April 19, the day before he turned 58 years old.

Other potential players in this generational transition include the three most politically engaged younger members of the Castro family: 53-year-old Interior Ministry Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín (Raúl’s only son); 56-year-old psychologist and member of parliament Mariela Castro (Raúl’s eldest daughter); and General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, Raúl’s former son-in-law and long-time president of Gasea, a military-run holding company.

However, while all have held important posts in recent years, none is currently a member of the PCC’s Political Bureau, Central Committee, or Council of State. Still, their family pedigree, combined with their key positions in the state security apparatus, the military, and the National Assembly, gives them unparalleled political capital.

While one might expect that this generational division would be coterminous with the one that separates old-school central planning hardliners from younger, market-oriented economic reformers, this is not necessarily the case with the members of the “successor generation.” Indeed, they all owe their current positions to either their tendency to adhere strictly to the party line on key political and economic issues or to their membership in the Castro clan.

Apart from Mariela’s advocacy of greater tolerance for sexual diversity and some nods from others for allowing greater legal space for Cuba’s non-state economic sector, none has developed any truly reformist agenda that would alter Cuba’s command economy or totalitarian political structure.

While there was never much question whether Díaz-Canel would take power on April 19 (he was the sole official nominee for president), there remain many unanswered questions related to the power struggle among Cuba’s top brass, starting with just how much power and autonomy Díaz-Canel will actually have. He lacks an independent base of popular support given his heretofore low profile and the outlawing of any public campaigning or policy platforms in Cuban elections. Moreover, his presidency marks the first time that the President of the Council of State (Díaz-Canel’s actual title) does not simultaneously hold the position of First Secretary of the PCC, an arguably more powerful post (especially given that Castro himself will remain in that post until 2021).

It’s worth asking whether there are any “Miguelistas” within the government in the same sense that both Fidel and Raúl cultivated a coterie of loyalist “Fidelistas” and “Raúlistas.” And if there are, does any set of shared political and economic policies—such as the deepening and acceleration of Raúl’s stalled economic reforms—tie them to Díaz-Canel?

The jury is still out on Díaz-Canel’s own orthodox vs. reformist orientation. He has made a name for himself in recent years as a down-to-earth and broadminded modernist, given his past tolerance of LGBT cultural expression, defense of some critical-minded bloggers, and advocacy for greater internet access. However, he has also proven himself to be a reliable defender of the revolutionary party-line, evidenced in a (perhaps intentionally) leaked video last year where he railed against independent think tanks, digital media outlets, private sector pioneers, and even the Obama administration’s threatening policy of engagement. His presidential acceptance speech on April 19, which served as his official introduction to the world, reiterated this fiercely defensive posture and lionized the leadership of his predecessor.

The Power of the People

Cuba’s revolutionary government rapidly eviscerated the island’s pluralistic (and often extremely conflictive) civil society in the early-1960s, replacing it with a series of official, para-governmental mass organizations. But recent years have seen a rebirth of a variety of autonomous groups that all seek to actively participate in the resolution of national issues and hold authorities accountable, while preserving their independence from state control.

This set of new civil society actors includes a variety of dissident groups such as UNPACU, Somos +, The Ladies in White, and State of Sats, none of which has been able to develop a mass following on the island due to systematic state repression, internal divisions, and an aversion among most islanders to becoming actively involved in political opposition. However, Cuban civil society cannot be reduced to this small group of valiant dissidents.

One major new element in this autonomous universe is Cuba’s emergent digital media. Among dissident media platforms, Primavera Digital (produced from Cuba), CubaNet (run out of Miami), and Cuba Encuentro (run from Spain) are noteworthy veterans that exist to mainly denounce and expose the undemocratic nature of the Cuban regime. There are also a number of increasingly objective, professional, and credible news outlets such as 14ymedioand Diario de Cuba that combine a critical approach to daily reportage with principled, investigative journalism.

Perhaps the most telling turn in this world of digital independent journalism is the fact that a handful of other sites like El EstornudoPeriodismo de BarrioEl Toque, and OnCuba are staffed not by political dissidents, but by university trained journalists who opt not to work in the constraining and poorly paid state sector. Consulting a cross-section of the above platforms has become essential for citizens and Cuba watchers alike to gain insight into the rich, complex, and changing nature of social and civic life on the island today. A small handful of think tanks like Cuba PosibleConvivencia, and Observatorio Crítico have also established themselves as important players in recent years.

Unfortunately, Cuban state security keeps close tabs on all of the above groups, equating their insistence on critical-minded independence with sedition. Their journalists endure periodic harassment, detentions, jailings, and arbitrary travel bans. While some platforms are repressed more harshly and systematically than others, all have been ridiculed, if not outright defamed, in the official media. The Cuban government has also blocked access to many of their websites.

A final key element of Cuban civil society to emerge robustly over the past decade is what the government continues to insist on euphemistically calling “the non-state economic sector.” Relaunched by Raúl Castro in 2010 after a more than a decade of asphyxiating regulatory policies issued by his brother, the cuentapropista (“self-employed”) sector benefitted from a set of new, more flexible rules that produced a clear quantitative leap from just 150,000 registered cuentapropistas in 2010 to nearly 600,000 today.

However, the almost medieval quality of the vast majority of the roughly 200 allowed private sector occupations acts as an inherent check on their ability to productively contribute jobs and affordable goods and services to Cuba’s sorely needed economic recovery. In August 2017, the government dashed hopes of an impending expansion of legal rights for entrepreneurs when it issued a still-in-effect freeze on the issuance of new licenses in the most popular and lucrative occupations.

In response to this freeze and fearing the implementation of a new, comprehensive slate of even more restrictive laws, a group of 43 successful entrepreneurs sent a private letter to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS) requesting a meeting. They sought to provide critical input before any new major changes in the so-called “perfeccionamiento” of Cuba’s self-employment regulations were issued. Surprisingly, MTSS officials did eventually meet with the group in December 2017. At the meeting, the entrepreneurs made six specific proposals:

  • Greater access to wholesale supplies;
  • The legal ability to import commercial goods essential to their businesses;
  • A more flexible tax system;
  • The replacement of the current limited list of approved occupations with one that would simply prohibit specific activities while allowing all others;
  • The implementation of a clear legal status for small- and medium-sized private enterprises (SMEs); and
  • A commitment to engage members of the private sector in an ongoing dialogue.

Unfortunately, the MTSS has so far given the entrepreneurs no official response, nor has Díaz-Canel made any public commitments to take any of the above proposals into consideration as part of his economic plan.

Cuba and The United States: Still The Closest of Enemies?

While visiting Havana in the days immediately following President Trump’s June 2017 announcement of his new Cuba policy, I spoke with the former Chief of the U.S. Interest Section, John Caulfield (2011-2014), who was himself then visiting the island on business. He summed up the crux of the Trump policy with the incisive words: “Sometimes in politics, what you say is more important than what you do.”

Indeed, despite Trump’s bombastic claims to his domestic, hard-line Cuban-American audience in Miami that he was launching a “complete reversal” of Obama’s “bad deal” with Cuba, initially it seemed that he would leave in place the majority of Obama’s policies— especially those aimed at aiding Cuba’s private sector—while simultaneously targeting a few relatively narrow economic and travel-related areas for modification: the elimination of the category of individual “people-to-people” travel, requiring future U.S. travelers to visit with organized group tours, and the banning of all future financial dealings with entities controlled by the Cuban military, security, or intelligence services.

Still, Trump’s new policy toward Cuba represents a step backward in U.S.-Cuba relations. Apart from injecting a new, unnecessary antagonism and mistrust into an already thorny diplomatic relationship, Trump’s measures will also have negative consequences for the very Cuban entrepreneurs they are presumably aimed at helping. While Trump’s measures may shift some U.S. visitors away from Cuban state- and military-run enterprises and into Cuba’s private sector, this slightly larger portion of private business comes at the price of a major reduction in the overall flow of American travelers. This will choke off the growing confidence and prosperity the private sector had been experiencing due to the influx of new American travelers who had become frequent and enthusiastic patrons of “entrepreneurial Cuba.”

The Cuban government reaction to Obama’s soft power offensive deployed during his historic March 2016 state visit to Cuba indicates that state officials saw even Obama’s much more nuanced, respectful, and sensitive approach as “a deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols,” in the words of Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez.

Indeed, the Cuban government reaction to Trump’s new policy, published as an official state position in June 2017 in Granma, made the argument that U.S. policy under Trump was only rhetorically different from that of Obama. While Trump has reverted to the arrogant past policy of imposing demands on Cuba, the Cuban government portrayed Obama’s more respectful, courteous, and subtle approach as essentially the same “regime change” wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Exacerbating this already extreme level of mistrust, the U.S.-Cuba relationship has suffered from a series of still-unexplained sonic incidents suffered by U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana. Starting in November 2016 and continuing at least until August 2017, more than 22 U.S. diplomats and at least one Canadian diplomat reported experiencing mysterious sonic “attacks” resulting in headaches, dizziness, hearing loss, and even mild brain damage.

Though the incoming Trump administration did not initially blame the Cuban government, by August 2017 both President Trump and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson began suggesting that Cuba was responsible for the incidents, either by commission or omission. For its part, Cuba has repeatedly denied responsibility and even questioned the legitimacy of the symptoms while simultaneously pledging to cooperate with the U.S. in finding the cause.

By September 2017 the U.S. announced that it had ordered a drastic reduction in its Embassy staff as a preventative measure while its investigation was ongoing. Senator Marco Rubio then demanded that the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C. also be reduced by two-thirds as a form of parity. The Trump administration quickly responded by expelling 17 Cuban diplomatsfrom the Cuban Embassy. The State Department also issued a strongly worded official travel warning to all potential U.S. visitors advising them to “reconsider travel to Cuba due to attacks targeting U.S. Embassy Havana employees,” even though no civilians had reported any symptoms and there was no proof that the reported incidents were “attacks” at all.

The consequences of this bizarre and unprecedented series of developments have been to drastically reduce the diplomatic presence and outreach of both U.S. and Cuban officials in their respective diplomatic missions, perhaps giving whoever is ultimately behind the incidents exactly what they were aiming for: a de facto reversion to the status quo ante of minimal and antagonistic diplomatic dealings and minimal mutual trust.

The incidents may have also given the Trump administration the perfect pretext to do what it had not yet dared to do in law: reverse Obama’s diplomatic opening to Havana. In March, six months following the initial diplomatic drawdown, the Trump administration decided to make the Embassy staffing cuts an indefinite feature of its diplomatic mission in Havana, converting the outpost into an “unaccompanied post,” a shadow of its former self with only 10 staff members, all of whom serve without any family members. The skeletal staffing of the Embassy has hamstrung U.S. intelligence, migration, and people-to-people efforts, not to mention the ability of the U.S. to ultimately get to the bottom of the cause of the sonic incidents themselves.

In short, American diplomats have been removed from the field of engagement precisely during a once-in-a-generation moment when Cuba is undergoing a historic governmental transition, limiting U.S. ability to advocate its interests during the transition.

Cuba: Retrenchment, Continuity, or Reform?

Ironically, Trump’s bizarre strategy, which aims to “impoverish the Cuban people, so that they may be freer”, dovetails nicely with the Cuban government’s own political and ideological resistance to a greater economic opening. This helps to justify its economic “pause” on the private sector as a necessary defensive measure in the face of foreign aggression.

Under Raúl Castro, the Cuban government has repeatedly declared that what it insists on calling the “non-state” sector will gradually expand, while remaining a decidedly secondary supplement to what will remain a dominant centrally planned and state-owned socialist economy. While Deng Xiaoping may have kicked off China’s own economic revitalization under the Communist Party with the pungent slogan, “To get rich is glorious!”, Cuba’s own Communist Party continues to explicitly restrict the private concentration of wealth or property.

Thus, while we can expect that an aggressive Trump policy that rolls back or conditions parts of U.S. economic engagement on Havana’s “good behavior” will be counterproductive and indeed hurt Cuban cuentapropistas, it does not follow that more engagement will necessarily increase economic freedoms or produce a “change moment” on the island at least in the short term. This is so because it is Havana’s own continued restrictions on the private sector (not to mention its ongoing suppression of fundamental political rights and civil liberties) that present the greatest obstacle to entrepreneurial success on the island, not U.S. policy embodied in the counterproductive, outdated embargo.

Change in leadership does not necessarily mean change in policies, especially when Raúl Castro’s administration justifies its timid and unfinished economic opening by quoting the largely meaningless if not outright Orwellian words of his big brother Fidel: “Revolution is changing everything that should be changed.” Until this change explicitly includes clear and defensible rights to private property and a recognized “legal personality” (personalidad jurídica) as business enterprises for today’s so-called cuentapropistas, Cuban entrepreneurs will remain largely powerless against arbitrary state power a decade after the start of Raúl Castro’s economic reforms in 2008.

Ted A. Henken is a visiting professor at the Institute of Advanced Latin American Studies (IHEAL), Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3, and Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies, Baruch College, City University of New York

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1968: A DECISIVE TURNING POINT IN THE CUBAN REVOLUTION

JACOBIN MAGAZINE, May 1, 2018

BY SAMUEL FARBER

Original Article: Cuba in 1968

In 1960, less than two years after having overthrown the Batista dictatorship, the Cuban Revolution was well on its way to implementing the Soviet model. Most people at that time still supported the revolution. Notwithstanding the recurring shortages of consumer goods and the housing crisis, most Cubans had benefited from the newly established welfare state, which insured an austere but secure standard of living.

Buoyed by that support and by the people’s enthusiastic response to its resistance to US imperialism, the Cuban leadership pursued its foreign-policy objectives with a revolutionary elan absent in the more cautious and conservative Soviet bloc.

Cuba displayed its anti-imperialism with particular vigor in Latin America, where it supported — and often organized — guerrilla groups set on overthrowing dictatorial governments. Fidel Castro’s government devoted extra attention to countries that had severed their ties with Cuba following Washington’s directives. That is, Castro’s militant foreign policy was based not only on its revolutionary ideas also but on the Cuban state’s interests.

This helps explain why Castro maintained friendly relations with corrupt and authoritarian Mexico, the only Latin American country that refused to break diplomatic relations with revolutionary Cuba. In fact, Castro’s government abstained from criticizing Mexico’s crimes, including the October 1968 Tlatelolco massacre.

Granma, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, adopted a purely “objective” journalistic posture when covering Tlatelolco, allowing it to avoid any critical analysis of the political actors behind the massacre. While the Mexican left was denouncing the murder of hundreds of demonstrators, Granma uncritically reported the “provisional” figures provided by the “official sources”: just thirty dead, fifty-three seriously injured, and fifteen hundred arrested.

Reasons of state also explain why, after a rough start, Fidel established friendly relations with Franco’s dictatorship and why the Cuban revolutionary hierarchy, from its official unions and student organizations all the way to the top, did not support the French May ‘68 movement. Not only did French President de Gaulle refuse to toe the US line against Cuba, but he had also agreed to continue trade, which had became of crucial importance to the island following the American blockade. As with Tlatelolco in Mexico, Granma limited itself to “objectively” reporting the events of May ‘68. It strictly avoided making any political inferences or conclusions.

Despite these contradictions, Castro’s early foreign policy was governed by a set of revolutionary ideas that aimed to establish systems similar to Cuba’s across Latin America. His government supported and organized foco groups on the top-down Cuban model, which produced acrimonious conflicts with the gradualist and pro-Moscow Communist parties in countries like Venezuela and Bolivia. It also caused friction with the Soviet Union itself because Castro’s militancy jeopardized the long-standing agreement between the USSR and the United States, which held that the two imperialist powers and their partners would not intervene in each other’s spheres of influence.

This tension came to a head in 1967, when Moscow began to significantly reduce its oil shipments to Cuba in hopes of pressuring the island into moderating its aggressive foreign policy. But Castro wasn’t swayed. He responded by denouncing the USSR’s friendly overtures to Venezuela and Colombia despite their anti-communist repression. He then refused to send a top Cuban political figure to the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution in November 1967. And, at the celebration of the ninth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in January 1968, he expressly, albeit diplomatically, connected Cuba’s tightened oil rations to the slowdown of Soviet delivery. The USSR then suspended its supply of military hardware and technical assistance.

When conflict simmered between a reform-minded Communist government in Czechoslovakia and Moscow, many wondered what the Cuban response would be. For months, Granma published very little about Czechoslovakia, entirely ignoring the reformist Prague Spring and its impact on the international left. This changed, however, in mid-July, when the paper began covering the growing confrontation between Czechoslovakia and the USSR in depth.

Most likely, Castro recognized that the key dynamics of the Czech events had shifted. Originally, protesters were calling for internal reform and democratization, which Castro would not want to have publicized on the island. (Likewise, Granmadid not cover the student movements in Poland and Yugoslavia that had taken place in March and June of that year.) But by July it had become clear that a confrontation between Czechoslovakia and the USSR was coming, one that would bring the issue of national sovereignty to the fore. US imperialist aggression made this question particularly important to Castro, and the conflict brewing between Cuba and the USSR only made the issue more urgent.

Granma focused on the external USSR-Czechoslovakia conflict, excluding the internal dimension, and wrote in some detail about other Communist parties’ reactions to the developing confrontation, regardless of which side they supported. It was clear that the newspaper — and by inference Fidel Castro, his government, and the Cuban Communist Party — would not take sides. In fact, it was going out of its way to give equal space to both parties.

But this all changed when Fidel, without having said a word about the conflict, came out in support of the Soviet invasion in August. Granma immediately adopted the Soviet line and started publishing statements from Cuban mass organizations praising Fidel’s support of the invasion.Other steps, designed to appease the Soviets and incur favors, followed. Cuba cut back on its support to Latin American guerrillas, and, in the 1970s, it carried out a rapprochement with the pro-Moscow Communist parties in the region by acknowledging that armed struggle represented only one path for revolutionary struggle. In response, these parties recognized Cuba’s vanguard role in the hemisphere’s anti-imperialist struggle.

This was the beginning of what former Soviet diplomat Yuri Pavlov called the “belated honeymoon” between the USSR and Cuba, which lasted well into the 1980s. In June 1969, the Cuban representative at the International Conference of Communist Parties in Moscow joined the pro-Soviet majority in denouncing China’s “sectarian” position. In return, the Soviet Union sent a flotilla of warships to visit Cuba. An exchange of military delegations soon followed. Marshal Andrei Grechko, the Soviet defense minister, went to Havana in November 1969, and Raúl Castro, Cuba’s defense minister, traveled to Moscow in April and October 1970. The flow of Soviet arms resumed and then increased, and Fidel Castro approved the construction of a deep-water base for Soviet submarines at Cienfuegos.

Mutual state visits came soon after, and Cuba joined the Soviet-led Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) in 1972. In that period, Cuba turned to Africa as the main focus of its revolutionary foreign policy. There, unlike in Latin America, it shared Moscow’s strategic interests.

While appeasing Moscow, Castro nevertheless preserved his right to disagree with some Soviet policies, making Cuba a junior partner, rather than a satellite, of the USSR. In fact, Castro had staked out this position from the beginning. In his speech supporting the invasion of Czechoslovakia, he not only criticized Alexander Dubcek’s “liberalism” but also the USSR’s policy of peaceful coexistence with the United States. The Cuban leader sarcastically wondered if the Soviets would dispatch Warsaw Pact troops to help defend Cuba from an attack by the imperialist Yankees.

Full Nationalization

That same year, Castro initiated what he called the Revolutionary Offensive, a project aimed at totally nationalizing the island’s economy. The state had already taken over large and middle-sized businesses in 1960, but family-owned operations remained in private hands.

Within sixteen days of the announcement, the official press reported that 55,636 small businesses had been nationalized, including bodegas, barber shops, and thousands of timbiriches (“hole-in-the-wall” establishments). The Revolutionary Offensive gave Cuba the world’s highest proportion of nationalized property.

According to Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, some 31 percent of these small businesses were retail food outlets, and another 26 percent provided consumer services, like shoe and auto repair. Restaurant and snack shops represented another 21 percent; 17 percent sold clothing and shoes. The rest (5 percent) were small handicraft establishments that manufactured leather, wood products, and textiles. Half of these small businesses were exclusively owner- and family-operated and had no employees.

Shortly after nationalization, the state closed one-third of the small enterprises. The only private activity left in Cuba was small-farm agriculture, where 150,000 farmers owned 30 percent of the land in holdings of less than 165 acres each.

One of the Revolutionary Offensive’s goals was to shut down the many thousand bars in Cuba, both private- and state-owned. The regime wanted them closed not because of opposition to alcohol but because it believed the bars fostered a prerevolutionary social ambiance, antithetic to the Castro government’s militaristic, ascetic, anti-urban campaigns to forge the “New Man.”

These campaigns began in 1963, when Castro attacked homosexuality and cultural nonconformity.. Hoping to emphasize the state’s centrality to citizens’ lives, he also went after religious dissenters, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and followers of the secret Afro-Cuban Abakuá society. Members of these groups were imprisoned in the Units of Military Aid to Production (UMAP), forced labor camps established in 1965 and disbanded in 1968.

The Revolutionary Offensive’s nationalization of all small businesses was also intended to provide the state with complete control over agricultural output. Many of the expropriated merchants bought farm products at high prices, reducing the amount available for the state.

In addition, it granted the state more power over the labor force. Absenteeism and job abandonment, generated by the lack of consumer goods, had become a major problem. To combat it, the Cuban leadership drafted a law against vagrancy, which it enacted on March 28, 1971. The legislation ordered all adult men to put in a full day’s work and established a variety of punishments ranging from house arrest to internment in forced labor rehabilitation centers. Information regarding its enforcement is unknown.

The Revolutionary Offensive exemplifies Castro’s super-voluntarist, “idealist” approach to socialization. The policy equated private property in general with capitalist private property in particular, a misreading of Friedrich Engels’sSocialism: Utopian and Scientific.

There, Engels distinguished modern capitalism, in which individual capitalists appropriate the products of social and collective activity, from socialism, where both production and its appropriation are socialized. Accordingly, productive property involving collective work is the proper object of socialization, not the individual or family productive unit, let alone personal property.

Besides this confusion, the Cuban government was in no position to take over the distribution of goods and services from small businesses — the nationalization program reinforced, instead of ameliorated, the shortage of consumer goods.

The Ten Million Ton Sugar Crop campaign, planned for January 1969 to July 1970, is another example of Castro’s voluntarist orientation. This extravagant effort never achieved its goal. Instead, it diverted scarce production and transportation inputs, causing serious disruptions to the island’s economy.

As historian Lillian Guerra pointed out, the campaign represented far more than an exercise in voluntarism or “idealism.” It aimed not only “to revive the ‘júbilo popular’ (mass euphoria) of the early sixties and thereby restore the unconditional standards of support for government policies” but, more importantly, “to prove the value of labor discipline and enforce it simultaneously.”

Likewise, as Mesa-Lago pointed out, Castro used the Revolutionary Offensive to mobilize as much of the labor force as possible for production, particularly in agriculture, in order to reinforce labor discipline, save inputs, and exhort workers to increase productivity and do unpaid work. In April 1968, the official union confederation recruited a quarter of a million workers to perform farm labor without pay for twelve hours per day over three to four weeks. Some 2.5 million days were “donated” by workers who spent fourteen weeks on coffee plantations.

These campaigns were all launched in response to that decade’s economic crisis, one that became qualitatively worse with the criminal economic blockade established by the United States in the early sixties. But the bureaucratic and chaotic top-down administration of the economy generated that crisis.

As Andrés Vilariño, a Cuban government economist pointed out, investment inefficiency was one of the principal causes of declining economic productivity in the sixties. For example, expensive imported machinery sat in warehouses and ports for so long, most of it rusted over. Meanwhile, the inadequate supply of consumer goods, combined with the lack of worker control of the production process and the absence of independent unions, engendered a sense of apathy among Cuban workers. The lack of transparency in decision making, not to mention the inaccurate economic information coming from a lower management class fearful of reprisals for reporting bad news, produced bad planning and waste, often aggravated by Fidel Castro’s capricious interventions and micromanagement.

In one telling case, he tried to introduce a new breed of cattle, the F1 hybrid, against the advice of British experts that he himself had brought to Cuba. The project wasted millions of dollars.

New Targets

In 1968, Castro shifted the repression already being deployed on his government’s enemies (even critics from the pro-revolutionary left). First, the government eliminated some of the most excessive forms of punishment, closing, for example, the UMAP agricultural labor camps. Second, government policing efforts zeroed in on any political and cultural expression that deviated from the official party line.

A case in point was the old Communist leader Aníbal Escalante. In 1962, he was purged from the government and party and then jailed for his sectarian attempt to accumulate power by excluding revolutionaries who did not belong to the old pro-Moscow Communist Party from government positions. In 1968, he was again purged and jailed, this time on charges of having formed a “micro-faction” within the Cuban Communist Party critical of Castro’s economic policies. He was also accused of meeting with Eastern European diplomats in order to gain their support. For Fidel — and his brother Raúl, assigned to officially charge Escalante — this “micro-faction” jeopardized their efforts to impose a single line in the party.

The affair demonstrates the disproportion between the supposed offense and the punishment. Not only were many of Escalante’s criticisms of Castro’s economic policies correct — especially with regard to the disastrous ten million ton sugar-crop campaign — but no evidence ever indicated that Escalante and his small group were conspiring to remove or overthrow the Cuban government with or without the support of Eastern European diplomats. The group may have been “unpatriotic,” as the government charged, but its activities were peaceful and therefore subject to public political debate. Instead, the regime, following the Stalinist tradition, turned it into a criminal case.

Castro had thirty-five of the thirty-seven members of Escalante’s group tried by a so-called War Council (Consejo de Guerra), which the government assembled specially to impose stiff sentences. Escalante was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, and thirty-four of his associates were sentenced to terms ranging from one to twelve years. The two remaining members belonged to the armed forces and were therefore referred to the Revolutionary Armed Forces’ prosecutor for processing.

By adopting these separate paths, the government implicitly recognized most of Escalante’s group as civilians, who were supposed to be processed differently from, and under less onerous rules than, the military. Despite this implicit difference, they faced a War Council, where they earned harsher sentences than they might have received otherwise.

Castro also turned his attention to Cuban dissenters in the cultural realm. In January, 1968, the government opened the Havana Cultural Congress, inviting more than five hundred intellectuals from seventy countries to attend, including prominent left-wing social scientists and historians such as Ralph Miliband and E. J. Hobsbawm, well-known Caribbean and Latin American literary figures like Aimé Cesaire, Julio Cortázar, and Mario Benedetti, famous European writers such as Michel Leiris, Jorge Semprún, and Arnold Wesker, as well as left-wing politicos such as several leaders of the North American SDS and SNCC. The congress, which focused on the topic of political, economic, and cultural anti-imperialism, was ostensibly carried out in an open manner. According to independent observers, all the presentations and resolutions that participants proposed were included without any interference.

Thanks to this apparent openness, neither the foreign guests nor many of the invited Cuban intellectuals suspected that an important group of black Cuban intellectuals and artists — among them Rogelio Martínez Furé, Nancy Morejón, Sara Gómez, Pedro Pérez-Sarduy, Nicolás Guillén Landrián, and Walterio Carbonell — had been excluded.

According to the Black Cuban author Carlos Moore, the group had been meeting to discuss the Cuban government’s lack of action against racism, a problem that the revolutionary leaders claimed to have solved with the abolition of racial segregation in the early sixties. In response to a rumor that these intellectuals had drafted a position paper on race and culture in Cuba for the congress, Minister of Education José Llanusa Gobel called them in for a private meeting a couple of days before the event began. After listening to their critiques, Llanusa accused them of being “seditious” and told them that the “revolution” would not allow them to “divide” the Cuban people along racial lines. He explained that the very idea of their “black manifesto” was a provocation for which they would have to recant or face the consequences.

He then barred them from the congress. In addition, each member was subjected to various degrees of punishment. The worst was meted to those unwilling to recant, such as Nicolás Guillén Landrián, the nephew of the national poet laureate and then-president of the Cuban writers and artists union. After the congress, he was repeatedly arrested and later left Cuba as an exile.

Walterio Carbonell, one of the group’s leaders, also refused to recant. A Cuban exponent of Black Power politics, he had originally belonged to the old pro-Moscow Cuban Communist Party. Ironically, he had been expelled from that organization for supporting Fidel Castro’s attack on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953. After the revolution, he served as Cuba’s ambassador to the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). In 1961, he published his Critique: How Cuba’s National Culture Emerged, where he argued that black Cubans had played a major role in the war of independence and the establishment of the republic — a fact that the prerevolutionary white racist culture and institutions had erased. Moreover, he claimed that the black Cuban experience was at the heart of the Cuban Revolution’s radicalism — accordingly, the struggle against racism strengthened rather than weakened the revolution.

Walterio Carbonell

Thanks to these arguments, Carbonell endured various forms of detention between 1968 and 1974, including compulsory labor. According to Lillian Guerra, after he was released in 1974, he continued to defend his ideas, so he was interned in various psychiatric hospitals and subjected to electroshock and drug therapy for another two to three years. After that, Carbonell spent his remaining years as a little-known researcher at the National Library.

Unlike Carbonell’s cases, the repression case of Cuban poet and journalist Heberto Padilla became well known very quickly. In 1968, Padilla won was awarded the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba’s (UNEAC) most prestigious prize for his book of poems Fuera del Juego (Outside the Game). But the government objected to Padilla’s critical, nonconformist spirit and condemned the work, forcing UNEAC to change its line on it as well.

Heberto Padilla

Ostracized and unable to publish in Cuba, Padilla was arrested for daring to read several of his new poems in public and trying to publish a new novel. He was compelled to confess, in Stalinist fashion, his political sins in 1971. This provoked an international scandal, and a large group of well-known intellectuals sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Julio Cortazar, protested. In response, the regime banned and withdrew from the country’s libraries the works of any Latin American and European intellectual who objected to Padilla’s treatment.

In 1968, the government began using repressive to enforce a monolithic cultural line. This shift created the foundation of what was later called the Quinquenio Gris, the five-year period from 1971 to 1976 in which the Castro regime brutally repressed nonconformist expression. In 1971, the National Congress of Education and Culture viciously attacked gay artists and intellectuals, banned gays from representing Cuba abroad in artistic, political, and diplomatic missions, and branded the Afro-Cuban Abakuá brotherhood a “focus of criminality” and “juvenile delinquency.” Over those five years, the government imposed “parameters” on professionals in the fields of education and culture in order to scrutinize their sexual preferences, religious practices, and relationships with people abroad, among other political and personal issues.

The late Cuban architect Mario Coyula Cowley insisted that the Quinquenio Grishad in fact been the Trinquenio Amargo (the “bitter fifteen years”), because it had really started in the second half of the sixties. The hope that Castro would have supported Czech national self-determination and the upheavals of revolutionary 1968 to chart an independent, more democratic course for the Cuban Revolution was quickly lost.

 

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THE MAN WHO SAVED HAVANA: EUSEBIO LEAL

AS ITS GREATEST OLD BUILDINGS WERE FALLING DOWN, A FEARLESS HISTORIAN NAMED EUSEBIO LEAL REMADE THE CITY INTO A STUNNING WORLD DESTINATION and WORLD HERITAGE SITE.

Smithsonian, May 2018.
Read more: EUSEBIO LEAL

On a sweltering morning in Old Havana, a courtly figure in a crisp gray guayabera shirt weaves through the Plaza de Armas, the city’s Spanish colonial heart, trying not to attract attention. Although none of the foreigners lolling beneath the banyan trees and royal palms recognize him, a ripple of excitement passes through the Cubans, who nudge each other, smile and stare. Perhaps only on this island obsessed with its operatic past could a historian become a celebrity on a par with a Clooney or DiCaprio. Eusebio Leal is the official historian of the city of Havana, a regal-sounding position that brings with it enormous influence and exposure—he starred for many years in his own TV show where he explored Old Havana’s streets—and he is as far from the cliché of the dusty, isolated academic as it is possible to get. In fact, Leal is credited with almost single-handedly bringing Old Havana from the brink of ruin to its current status as the most ravishing and vibrant architectural enclave in the Western Hemisphere.

Deftly dodging well-wishers, Leal ducks into the Historical Library, where some 50 female workers line up to kiss him on the cheek and offer flustered greetings. In his hectic round of duties, he has come to honor one of Cuba’s countless obscure intellectual champions—a certain Alfredo Zayas Méndez, who founded this archive 80 years ago, an exalted act in a nation with the highest level of education in Latin America. Standing before a plaque, Leal orates off the cuff for 45 minutes about the biblio-hero Zayas, a rhetorical tour de force that includes fond personal anecdotes, philosophical musings on “the importance of memory” and flirtatious exchanges that make the audience collapse into helpless laughter. He then takes questions, poses for snapshots, examines a restoration plan for the Havana Capitol—offering his expert opinion about work on the dome—before dashing off with his minder to a high-level government meeting.

The whirlwind visit leaves everyone a little dazed. At age 75, Leal shows no signs of slowing his notoriously hectic pace. For the last 50 years, almost as long as the Cuban revolution has lasted, his outsized personality has been inseparable from Old Havana itself. Working within the Communist system, he pioneered a capitalist network that would save the district’s architectural heritage at the same time as maintaining its community life so that it would not become a “living museum” like Venice or Old San Juan. A consummate politician, he combined a deft personal touch with the poorest residents while navigating the high corridors of government and hobnobbing with Fidel Castro. Although he has stepped back from direct power in the last couple of years following a serious illness, he is still regularly loaded with international honors, as both Cubans and foreigners—even Miami exiles—fall over themselves to pile him with praise.

“Eusebio Leal is a legendary figure in the preservation world,” says Joshua David, president of the World Monuments Fund in New York, who visited Havana for a workshop on architectural restoration in February 2017. “He pioneered innovative ways to fund restoration in Old Havana, which at the same time supported social programs like health clinics and old age homes.” “He’s an incredibly complex, brilliant man,” declares Gregory Biniowsky, a left-wing Canadian lawyer who has worked in Havana since 1995 and has dealt with Leal and his Office of the Historian (OHC) regularly. “He’s the best of the revolution.” Leal’s own workers are intensely loyal. “He inspires everyone,” says Mariela Mulet, the chief of the Prado Investment Group working on the Capitol. “He saved Old Havana though his own willpower. There won’t be another one like him in a long time.” On the street, the support is even more effusive: “Leal is the only person who Cubans would erect a monument to while he is still alive,” declares Alian Alera, a young librero, or bookseller. “When I was a boy, I was there when he personally came and presented my father with his book-selling license.” “Without Leal, Havana would be nothing like what it is today,” sums up the American historian Nancy Stout, who worked with his office on several books. “A lot of Cubans would do anything for him.”

The original article: : https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/man-who-saved-havana-180968735/#2rcuoRIt648z7XX9.99

Plaza Vieja,  under revival, 2011

Plaza Vieja 2018

But still enough work to do, especially in Central Havana

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CUBA’S NEW GENERATION TAKES THE HELM WITH AN IMMEDIATE TEST: THE ECONOMY

World Politics Review, Tuesday, April 24, 2018

William M. LeoGrande

For a man stepping down after half a century at the apex of Cuba’s government—first as the island’s longtime defense minister and vice president, then as president—Raul Castro was in good humor last week, looking relaxed and happy as he handed the presidency to his designated successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel. Departing from the prepared text of his valedictory speech in Havana, Castro cracked jokes, reminisced about the revolution and quipped that he planned to travel more, “since I’m supposed to have less work to do.”

There were no big surprises at the National Assembly meeting that installed Diaz-Canel as the first non-Castro to lead Cuba in six decades. Raul Castro did not decide at the last minute to stay in office, or sneak his son Alejandro into the presidency, as fevered commentary out of Miami kept predicting  Instead, the central theme of the conclave was continuity.

Continue reading: Leogrqande, April 2018, Cuba,s New Generation Takes the Helm With an Immediate Test: the Economy

Conclusion

But the significance of all the personnel changes and even the constitutional amendments pale in comparison to the urgent need to jump-start the economy, as the speeches by both Castro and Diaz-Canel implicitly acknowledge. Cuba’s younger generations are not just tired of octogenarian leadership; they are tired of economic hardship.

Miguel Diaz-Canel’s ascension to the presidency represents a major step in the generational transition of leadership in the Cuban state. But nothing will improve the prospects for a smooth transition more than a growing economy that finally raises the standard of living and gives young Cubans hope for the future.

Asume Miguel Díaz-Canel presidencia de Cuba

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U.S. – CUBAN RELATIONS ARE ABOUT TO GET WORSE

Ted Piccione, Brookings Institute, April 16, 2018.

Original Article: About to Get Worse

Ted Piccone  Senior Fellow – Foreign PolicyLatin America InitiativeProject on International Order and Strategy

The orchestrated presidential succession underway this week in Cuba, from Raúl Castro to his likely replacement Miguel Díaz-Canel, is prompting a new round of speculation about how the Trump administration should react to the long-awaited departure of the Castro brothers from power. Judging from the heated rhetoric between the U.S. and Cuban delegations at last week’s Summit of the Americas, relations are likely to go from bad to worse.

Shortly before the U.S. presidential election, candidate Donald Trump promised to “cancel” President Obama’s normalization policy. His administration made good on that promise last year with a number of measures rolling back key features of the incipient rapprochement. This included dire travel warnings, a dramatic 60 percent drawdown of U.S. embassy personnel in Havana, and the eviction of 17 staff from Cuba’s embassy in Washington last September in response to unexplained health incidents affecting U.S. diplomats.

These steps loudly signaled the return of Florida’s pro-embargo faction, led by Senator Marco Rubio, at the helm of U.S.-Cuba policy. Now, with the appointment of the more hardline John Bolton and Mike Pompeo to top national security positions, we should expect the White House to double down on its first year’s embrace of punitive regime change.

THE HANDCUFFS OF THE EMBARGO AND DOMESTIC POLITICS

Ever since the nearly six decades of hostilities between Havana and Washington began, the United States has been locked in a narrow band of policy options. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, the engine driving U.S. strategy remained a deep distrust of Cuba’s closed socialist system, fueled by the hundreds of thousands of nostalgic Cuban exiles concentrated in the swing state of Florida. Domestic politics prevails.

The rationale for tightening or loosening the comprehensive embargo established in the Kennedy administration has shifted, depending on the circumstances. The pivotal moment, however, was Congress’ decision to codify the embargo after the Cuban military shot down a plane piloted by Cuban exiles in 1996. This law—with its unilateral demands for the end of communist rule, the removal of the Castros from power, the establishment of free and fair elections, and full respect for human rights—severely handicapped any attempt by U.S. policymakers to adapt to changing circumstances, let alone construct an alternate route toward reconciliation and change.

 

Until the Obama administration. For a short period of two years, it forged a narrow path between a rock and a hard place, encompassing diplomatic recognition, bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest, continued U.S. support for the Cuban people’s claim for more political and economic freedom, and a call for Congress to lift the embargo. Obama took these steps after the Raúl Castro government adopted concrete actions toward reform such as reducing the size of the bloated public sector, opening new avenues for private sector entrepreneurs, and expanding personal liberties for Cubans to buy and sell property, access the internet, and travel on and off the island more freely. These mutually reinforcing dynamics contributed to a flourishing of Cuba’s non-state sector, which grew from a registered 150,000 self-employed workers in 2008 to 580,000 in 2017. Record numbers of Americans began seeing for themselves the realities of Cuban socialism, including thousands of Cuban Americans each year.

Whether or not one agrees with the Obama approach of constructive engagement, it took critics only a few months to declare it a bust for failing to force Cuba to adopt fundamental human rights and market economic reforms. This was, and remains, patently unrealistic. Some progress was made quickly: release of political prisoners; expanded cooperation on matters such as maritime security, drug trafficking, and counterterrorism; new commercial opportunities for American farmers and travel businesses; a significant drop in illegal immigration; and direct support to the Cuban private sector and religious communities.

Beyond these short-term gains, Obama’s strategic gambit was about laying the groundwork for long-term change, especially as a new generation of post-Castro leadership takes the helm this month. It was aimed at removing the Cuban government’s ability to paint the United States as its mortal enemy, a narrative it has used effectively for decades to consolidate its standing at home and around the world. It was also designed to build bridges for dialogue and reconciliation among Cubans on and off the island, which is at the heart of the problem, and triggered a flood of new exchanges and record levels of remittances to struggling Cuban families. Not surprisingly, large majorities in both countries applauded this new approach.

BOLTON, POMPEO, AND RUBIO

For the vocal constituency of Cuban exiles and their families, who bear bitter feelings toward the Castro regime, Obama’s March 2016 handshake with Raúl was sacrilege. They found, among the many Republicans who support their cause, a late convert in Donald Trump who, in the final stretch of his presidential campaign, hardened his position on Cuba, promising a crowd in Miami that he would reverse Obama’s executive orders “unless the Castro regime meets our demands.” The following June, surrounded by veterans of the failed Bay of Pigs operation in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana, President Trump delivered a theatrical rebuke of Obama’s opening toward Cuba and set in motion new rules to restrict individual travel and prohibit any dealings with Cuba’s leadership or military, police, and security officials and their business entities.

For Senator Rubio, the architect of Trump’s hardline approach toward Cuba, this tightening of the screws was not enough. The new rules, for example, allowed any previously negotiated business deals to remain intact, permitted air and cruise ship travel to continue, and kept Cuba off the state sponsors of terrorism list. (Obama’s authorization of unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban Americans, popular in Miami, notably went untouched.) When mysterious ailments affecting over 20 U.S. personnel were reported in the late summer of 2017, Rubio and his allies jumped on the opportunity to demand additional steps to punish the Cuban government for failing to prevent or explain the source of the incidents. Trump ordered diplomats in both countries to go home and issued severe travel warnings. The result: a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans visiting the island, and vice versa. This directly undermines the administration’s purported goal of supporting Cuba’s burgeoning private sector, which U.S. visitors help sustain.

Now, enter John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, stage right. Both have strongly criticized the Castro government and vociferously opposed Obama’s overtures to Havana. Bolton, who was roundly criticized in the 2000s for his unfounded allegation that Cuba was developing biological weapons, wroteas recently as January that “Russian meddling in Latin America could inspire Trump to reassert the Monroe Doctrine (another casualty of the Obama years) and stand up for Cuba’s beleaguered people (as he is now for Iran’s).” Given Russia’s expanding security and economic relationship with Havana, and the general hardening of U.S. policy toward Moscow, this is no longer an abstract notion. Bolton also doubted whether the Cuban regime can survive much longer, a perennial claim used to justify more punitive sanctions, despite Cuba’s ability to withstand five decades of the U.S. embargo, threats, attacks, and assassination attempts.

Pompeo, who initially endorsed Marco Rubio for president, was highly critical of Obama’s visit to the island in 2016 and defended retaining the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Although his Senate confirmation testimony on April 12 promised to improve relations with Cuba and rebuild diplomatic staff, Pompeo made no specific commitments on how or when this would occur.

We should expect a continued mind meld among these three key actors in the U.S.-Cuban drama. Senator Rubio, with colleagues from the Florida delegation, has already called on the White House to “denounce Castro’s successor as illegitimate in the absence of free, fair, and multiparty elections, and call upon the international community to support the right of the Cuban people to decide their future.” Rubio then traveled to the Summit of the Americas in Lima with Vice President Pence, who declared Cuba “a despotic regime” and blamed it for exporting its “failed ideology” to Venezuela and beyond. In response, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez harshly attacked both Pence and Rubio for decades of “U.S. imperialism,” denounced U.S. political corruption, and blamed the Miami “mafia” for hiding terrorists. Not surprisingly, the region remains divided on how to respond.

From a national security perspective, it is hard to understand why Cuba occupies so much high-level attention, given the much more serious security challenges Washington faces. Cuba can barely keep its armed forces trained and equipped, and is falling short on many economic and social fronts as well, prompting thousands of Cubans to vote with their feet every year and risk the perilous journey to the United States or elsewhere. The deterioration in relations also adds pressure on Cuba to turn to Moscow and Beijing for more help, a prospect that directly runs counter to U.S. interests.

In the end, what matters most to this administration is the power many of those same Cubans wield by supporting politicians who want the total collapse of the Cuban regime. The Bolton-Pompeo-Rubio triangle, hand in hand with Trump and Pence, will gladly meet their needs, and then some.

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CUATRO CLAVES DEL CAMBIO PRESIDENCIAL EN CUBA

Esglobal. 19 marzo 2018 

 Arturo López-Levy

 Articulo original: Cambio presidencial en Cuba

El vicepresidente cubano, Miguel Díaz-Canel y el presidente de Cuba, Raúl Castro,

La trascendencia del actual momento político para la isla en cuatro dimensiones: la transición generacional, la llegada de un civil a la presidencia, la separación de las cabezas del partido comunista y el gobierno, y los cambios en las élites cubanas.

El próximo abril se producirá la primera transición intergeneracional presidencial en el sistema político cubano posterior a la revolución de 1959. Raúl Castro, quien ascendió a la presidencia de Cuba con carácter temporal tras la enfermedad de su hermano Fidel Castro en 2006, y con su propio mandato, dos años más tarde, ha dirigido una transformación remarcable de la economía y la política de la isla. Deja un legado inconcluso a su sucesor. Pocas transiciones de liderazgo en la historia de América Latina y los países comunistas han sido tan cuidadosamente diseñadas. Desde ahora hasta el próximo octavo congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) en 2021 corresponderá observar cuán hábil es la elite cubana para ejecutarla.

¿Es esta sucesión presidencial algo más que un cambio de personal? ¿Cómo difiere este traspaso de poder del anterior de Fidel a Raúl Castro en 2006? ¿Qué implicaciones tiene para la política cubana y el curso de las reformas? ¿Se puede esperar algún cambio sistémico como resultado del reemplazo del octogenario Raúl Castro por un líder cercano a los 58 años? Este artículo discute la trascendencia del cambio presidencial cubano que se avecina en cuatro dimensiones: la transición generacional, el primer ascenso de un civil a la presidencia desde 1976, la primera separación de las cabezas del PCC y el gobierno en el sistema político postrevolucionario, y la circulación de las redes de influencia y patronazgo al interior de las elites cubanas como resultado de la llegada al Ejecutivo de un nuevo equipo.

El cambio generacional. En su libro Political Order in Changing Societies, el politólogo estadounidense Samuel Huntington definió el traspaso intergeneracional del poder como la prueba última de la capacidad de un orden político de reproducirse. Ese es el reto mayor del paso de la presidencia del liderazgo que llevó a las guerrillas castristas al poder en 1959 a otras generaciones, nacidas dentro del sistema político desovado por la revolución cubana. Las nuevas elites postrevolucionarias comparten valores nacionalistas con sus antecesores pero han estructurado sus convicciones, intereses, valores y privilegios en torno a experiencias distintas en las últimas seis décadas.

El castrismo original se forjó en la guerra revolucionaria y la toma autónoma de posiciones en torno a la decisión fidelista de adoptar el comunismo como ideología garantizadora del triunfo nacionalista contra la hostilidad estadounidense. Sus herederos han ascendido al poder, no contestando ni compitiendo contra el poder establecido, sino por su lealtad, obediencia y capacidad burocrática para implementar las políticas que los hoy octogenarios les dictaron. En algún momento de la próxima década, esa nueva generación tendrá que abrir su propio debate, no en términos de lo que hubiesen querido Fidel Castro o Che Guevara, sino sobre las políticas óptimas para lidiar con realidades muy distintas a las de la Guerra Fría que sus padrinos ideológicos enfrentaron.

Algunos de los nuevos líderes han combinado distintas funciones a lo largo y ancho del sistema (dirigentes de la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas (UJC), primeros secretarios del PCC en diferentes provincias, miembros de su secretariado, jefes o segundos jefes de departamentos en el Comité Central, ministros en varias carteras o secretarios en los consejos de Estado y de ministros, militares de diverso rango).  Tal multiplicidad de roles y el papel tutelar ejercido en la promoción de otros dirigentes hoy en niveles intermedios, le confiere a esos burócratas una base política más allá de una o dos instituciones específicas. Sin embargo, ninguno de ellos, incluido Díaz-Canel, quien es el mejor situado por su variada trayectoria institucional y geográfica, tiene una penetración social, prestigio y base de poder equivalente a sus predecesores Fidel y Raúl Castro. Por tanto, nadie en las nuevas generaciones de líderes puede aspirar a una presidencia con el mando que los hermanos Castro usaron.

A partir de esa realidad, se aventura el reto de la consolidación de un liderazgo colectivo, ya ensayado en la etapa raulista. Es en esa nueva institucionalidad postotalitaria, con pluralismo burocrático,  menor movilización de masas y un leninismo menos rígido donde descansa la probabilidad realista de una acentuación de las reformas. El nuevo presidente necesitará una gestión colegiada, sensible a la discusión de políticas públicas entre personalidades o facciones dentro de la elite partidista. El cambio de políticas públicas se relaciona no solo con el relevo generacional sino también con el fin inevitable del modelo carismático de “Fidel al timón”, reformado pero no abandonado del todo en la presidencia de su hermano menor.

La política cubana del último lustro anticipa al ingeniero Miguel Díaz-Canel como el probable presidente cubano después de abril. Las evidencias de su trayectoria política, como zar provincial partidista en Villa Clara y Holguín, o su paso por el ministerio de Educación superior y la primera vicepresidencia, perfilan a Díaz-Canel como un modernizador dentro de los cánones leninistas del sistema vigente.  El balance de poder que hereda, con Raúl Castro como actor de veto desde su permanencia en la primera secretaria del PCC hasta 2021 y mientras viva por su rol revolucionario fundador del PCC y las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR), la hostilidad anticipada por Estados Unidos bajo Donald Trump y los propios intereses de elite que representa, empujan a Díaz-Canel a la cautela.  En la escala de James MacGregor Burns es de esperar un líder transaccional. A diferencia de uno transformador, estos líderes coordinan soluciones incrementales a los problemas, pero no se propone una transformación sistémica.

 Un civil a la presidencia. La transición anuncia el ascenso de un civil a la primera magistratura.  Es una movida simbólica hacia el ideal republicano de subordinación del fuero militar a las autoridades elegidas. Sin experiencia notable ni una base de poder en las FAR, Díaz-Canel como nuevo presidente de Cuba dependerá  del respaldo de Raúl Castro y de la legitimidad institucional que la presidencia le confiere.

Díaz-Canel no es ajeno al poder de los cuerpos castrenses pero no viene de sus filas. Después de graduarse en la Universidad Central de las Villas,  el actual primer vicepresidente sirvió por dos años como teniente en los cuerpos armados. En su condición de primer secretario del PCC, Díaz-Canel sirvió como presidente del consejo de defensa provincial en Villa Clara y Holguín. Desde allí interactuó con el alto mando en dos regiones militares de las tres en las que está dividida Cuba, el Ejército Central, con sede en Matanzas, y el Ejército Oriental, llamado también el “señor ejército”, con sede en Holguín. El tiempo que sirvió en las dos provincias, su liderazgo partidista coincidió tanto con los generales Espinosa Martín y Quinta Sola, hoy en el alto mando nacional, como con sus relevos, y hoy jefes de Ejército, los generales Onelio Aguilera Bermúdez y Raúl Rodríguez Lobaina, a medio camino entre su generación y la de los fundadores.

Esos contactos mitigan pero no resuelven el déficit de previo control de la maquinaria de seguridad nacional, asiento hoy del  poder último en el sistema político cubano, que adolecerá el nuevo presidente. En el caso de los hermanos Castro existía una jerarquía establecida tanto sobre el PCC como sobre las FAR y el ministerio del Interior. Díaz-Canel será como “un primero entre iguales”. Tendrá que afianzar su liderazgo institucional encabezando el PCC y contar con que Raúl Castro juegue un papel estabilizador, de respaldo a la autoridad nominal del Partido sobre las FAR. El próximo paso, si se trata de apostar por un líder en la cúspide que empuje la reforma, es lograr que el octavo congreso del PCC elija a Díaz-Canel su primer secretario.

Ese camino a la concentración de poder en una sola persona como garante de la supervivencia del sistema parece contradictorio a los casos exitosos de sobrevivencia socialista en el este de Asia con liderazgo colectivo y el contra-ejemplo de poder desmontador desde el centro exhibido por Mijaíl Gorbachov en la URSS.

 Separación de funciones del PCC y el Estado cubano. Después del traspaso de la presidencia, Raúl Castro puede permanecer al frente del PCC hasta su octavo congreso en 2021. Tal dinámica abre un interinato en el que por primera vez desde la adopción de la Constitución de 1976 se separan la autoridad presidencial en el consejo de Estado y de ministros del máximo liderazgo del PCC. Se abre la interrogante si tal situación puede contribuir a clarificar institucionalmente las funciones, contrapesos y controles entre el gobierno y el partido.

Una variante institucional sería una enmienda al artículo 74 de la Constitución de 1976, separando la presidencia de los consejos de estado y de ministros. Tal cambio podría permitir que el presidente del Estado y la primera secretaria del PCC se mantengan en una persona, mientras la presidencia del gobierno, y por ende la responsabilidad en la promoción diaria de la reforma se ubique en un primer ministro, a la manera china. Una diferencia importante es que en el caso cubano, Díaz-Canel tomaría las riendas del Estado primero que las del partido comunista, cuando en el gigante asiático ha ocurrido desde 1989 en un orden reverso.

Queda por ver si la separación entre la presidencia y el liderazgo del PCC puede estructurar una victoria sobre el último obstáculo a una transición intergeneracional suave: el retiro por edad o límites de términos de mandato del grupo octogenario que ha acompañado a los Castro en toda su vida política. Esa gerontocracia, empezando por Machado Ventura y Ramiro Valdés,  ha mostrado un apego por las “mieles del poder”-para usar la expresión fidelista– sin parangón en la historia cubana. Si Raúl Castro no los retira, continuarán obstaculizando la implementación de reformas urgentes.

 La recirculación de las elites. La llegada de un nuevo equipo a los niveles superiores del gobierno, y eventualmente del PCC en 2021, implica una circulación de las redes de tutela y promoción ejercidos por los máximos líderes gubernamentales  sobre grupos y personalidades subalternas dentro del Estado-partido. Al cambiar esas personalidades, por lógica humana, habrá quien tenía más acceso a Fidel y Raúl Castro, que no lo tendrá a Díaz-Canel y el equipo que lo acompaña.

Este cambio en la distribución de influencias a partir de la transición presidencial es de los más opacos, pero a la vez más importante en áreas como la respuesta ante el avance de la corrupción. El unipartidismo cubano no se estructura a partir de un pluralismo de camarillas o facciones al estilo de partidos dominantes como el PRI y el Kuomintang. Como es casi imposible develar los datos claves de esas redes informales de patronazgo al interior de las elites cubanas, me limito a plantear preguntas y aventurar algunos hechos y tendencias.

¿A qué grupos o redes sociales de influencia política favorecerá el ascenso de Díaz-Canel y el equipo que apunta a tomar las riendas del Estado cubano? ¿Qué es lo que esos grupos quieren? ¿Cuáles son sus valores e intereses? ¿Qué lugar en su jerarquía de preocupaciones tienen la defensa de los privilegios monopólicos de grupos corporativos estatales como GAESA, CIMEX o Cubanacan frente a otras metas como la protección de los consumidores cubanos? ¿Qué poderes preservarán los que se retiran y sus protegidos? ¿Aligeraran o aumentaran el fardo fiscal y político de la actual situación de reforma parcial y gradualismo excesivo?

Las preferencias de tres grupos dentro de la política cubana han prevalecido en las dinámicas institucionales post Fidel: los zares provinciales partidistas, el alto mando militar y los gerentes del nuevo sector corporativo. El haber ascendido paso por paso en la economía política del sistema cubana debe servirle a Díaz-Canel para identificar a quienes, dentro de esos generales, gerentes y dirigentes partidistas, debe atraer a su lado, o por lo menos no cruzarse en su camino. Una importante decisión política para el nuevo equipo es presentar muchos de los retos de la transición económica e inserción en un mundo global (acceso a Internet, por ejemplo) no como amenazas sino como oportunidades.

Por último, sería un error fatal concebir la política cubana como un juego de elites. Las reformas de Raúl Castro han provocado cambios relevantes en la sociedad cubana y en su relación con el Estado. Las expansiones de las libertades religiosas y de viaje, el derecho a tener propiedad privada y el acceso incremental a Internet han desatado dinámicas de empoderamiento y pluralización en la sociedad que no son reversibles. Sin la retórica mágica de Fidel Castro ni la legitimidad de fundador del proceso que ha gozado Raúl Castro, el nuevo equipo de gobierno está forzado a mostrar un desempeño eficaz en promover desarrollo económico y bienestar.

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FINALLY, AN LNG PROJECT FOR CUBA?


By Jorge R. Piñón, Director, Institutional Relations – Mexico, The Office of the Vice President for Research, The University of Texas at Austin.

Personal Communication, 16 April 2018

Is an LNG Floating Storage and Regasification (FSRU) unit in Cuba’s energy future?

Industry press reports indicate that France’s Total is looking at a LNG Floating Storage and Regasification (FSRU) unit able to supply a 600MW power plant in Matanzas, Cuba.

FSRU’s are former LNG carriers capable of transporting, storing, and regasifying LNG onboard and deliver natural gas to on-shore power plants.  They typically cost about 50-60% less than a land based facility.  There are today over 100 FSRU projects in operation, construction or in various stages of development throughout the world; including in the Caribbean –Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

This could be a LNG supply agreement for a reported October 2015 Russia’s Inter RAO $1.4b usd deal with Cuba’s EnergoImport to install four 200 MW power plant units; three (600MW) in the Santa Cruz del Norte power plant and one (200MW) in Mariel.  The Santa Cruz del Norte power plant is 52 kilometers east of the deep-water Matanzas crude oil terminal.  The Inter RAO project financing is reported to be provided by a Russian 4.5 percent interest ten year loan.

France’s Total has been active in Cuba since 1993 in partnership with CUPET (ELF Gas Cuba S.A.) as a distributor of liquid propane and butane (LPG) bottles in Santiago de Cuba, used as home cooking fuel.

Total has two major LNG projects;

  • Russia’s Yamal LNG (20%), one of the largest and most complex LNG projects in the world, where in partnership with Russia’s Novatek and China’s CNPC is developing the enormous South Tambey gas and condensate field.
  • Ichthys LNG project (30%) in partnership with Japan’s INPEX is developing large natural gas and condensate reserves found in deep waters off Australia’s northwest coast.

If the report is correct this could be the best strategic long term decision that the Cuban government has ever made toward a comprehensive National Energy Policy that would allow it to react to changes in price, geopolitical events and or supply-demand disruptions.

A clear road map could finally be emerging toward a balanced energy matrix of renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass; and cleaner burning natural gas (compared to high sulfur fuel oil) for base-load generation, which still would represent 76% of its 2030 energy matrix.

LNG to the FSRU could be supplied from T&T, West Africa or eventually from the U.S….even through Mexico from Altamira.

As far back as 2010 we have been advocating in support of LNG as a fuel for Cuba’s based load needs: https://www.cubastandard.com/?p=3048, and in 2013 in Havana, during the IV Congreso Cubano De Petróleo Y Gas (Petrogas’2013): http://www.cubacienciasdelatierra.com/PROGRAMA

Whether it becomes a reality or another Cuban “pipe dream” we will have to wait and see.

Saludos, Jorge

 

LIQUID NATURAL GAS IS KEY TO CUBA’S ENERGY PLANS

By Jorge Piñón

Cuba Standard, Friday, October 29th, 2010

Cuba produces today approximately 1.155 million m³ of associated natural gas per year, an increase of 55 percent from 2005 levels of .743 million m³. Cuba’s natural gas production is all associated natural gas found within the crude oil reservoirs. The island’s geology to date has not proven to be a major source of dry, non associated natural gas reservoirs.

Associated natural gas production is being used as fuel for onsite power generating plants of 400 mw total capacity owned and operated by Energas, a joint venture between Canada’s Sherritt and Cuba’s Cupet and Unión Eléctrica.

A LNG re-gasification facility to receive Venezuelan-sourced LNG is currently being planned for the southern coast port city of Cienfuegos by CuvenPetrol, a joint venture between Venezuela’s PdVSA (51%) and Cuba’s Cupet (49%). Two 1-million-ton re-gasification trains are planned for 2012 at a cost of over $400 million.  The natural gas is destined as fuel for that city’s thermoelectric power plant, and as a feedstock (hydrogen) for the Cienfuegos refinery and future petrochemical/fertilizer plants.

Liquefied Natural Gas 

LNG is natural gas that has been super cooled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 162 degrees Celsius). At this temperature, natural gas condenses into a liquid taking up to 600 times less space than in its gaseous state, which makes it feasible to transport over long distances.

The chilled natural gas, now LNG, is then loaded onto specially designed tankers where it will be kept chilled until it reaches its final destination. The typical LNG carrier can transport about 125,000-138,000 cubic meters of LNG.

Once the tanker arrives at the regasification terminal, the LNG is offloaded into large storage tanks, built with full-containment walls and systems to keep the LNG cold until it is turned back into a gaseous state and moved into pipelines which will deliver the natural gas to the various end-users.

Venezuela

It is estimated that Venezuela has 176 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven natural gas reserves the second largest in the Western hemisphere behind the United States. Venezuela’s PdVSA plans to build three liquefaction trains at the Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho natural gas complex in Guiria. The project would source gas from the Plataforma Deltana and Mariscal Sucre natural gas projects. Total investment in the three projects could approach $20 billion, with first exports by 2013.

Atlantic Basin LNG exporters such as Trinidad and Tobago (the only country in Latin America with liquefaction facilities), Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Algeria and possibly Angola could supply Cuba with LNG if Venezuela’s supplies are not available at the time of the completion of the Cienfuegos facility.

Cuba’s neighbors, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are the only other Caribbean countries with LNG regasification facilities.

Environment

Natural gas, as the cleanest of the fossil fuels, emits fewer harmful pollutants, and helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury.

Smog and poor air quality is a pressing environmental challenge in Cuba where high-sulfur (3%) crude oil and fuel oil are burned as electric power plant and industrial fuel for the cement, nickel and steel industries. In 2009, high-sulphur fuel oil accounted for 64 percent of Cuba’s petroleum consumption.

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos is fast becoming Cuba’s oil refining and petrochemical center.

The CuvenPetrol refinery is in the process of a $3 billion expansion project which would double its processing capacity to 150,000 barrels per day as well as improving the quality of its refined products production.

The Carlos Manuel de Cespedes electric power plant in Cienfuegos is already in the middle of an upgrading and revamping project which will allow her to burn natural gas in its 158 mw generating capacity unit number 3.

Natural gas will provide fuel to the refinery as well as hydrogen for the upgrading units scheduled to be completed by 2013. Natural gas will also be used as a feedstock for a planned $1.3 billion petrochemical complex which will include ammonia and urea producing facilities which will provide Cuba with much needed fertilizers for its agricultural sector.

All seems to indicate that Cuba is moving forward toward an energy policy which embraces energy conservation, modernization of the energy infrastructure and a balance sourcing of oil and natural gas in a way that protects the island’s environment.

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LATIN AMERICA LEADERS URGE SUMMIT PARTICIPANTS TO REJECT CUBA’S NEXT HANDPICKED RULER

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

Miami Herals, April 11, 2018 06:05 PM

Original Article: Latin America Leaders Urge Summit Participants To Reject Cuba’s Next Handpicked Ruler

LIMA, PERU

Former Latin American presidents on Wednesday urged participants in the upcoming VIII Summit of the Americas to reject the new Cuban government scheduled to take power next week.

The former leaders of Costa Rica, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, and of Bolivia, Jorge Quiroga, issued the statement on behalf of the 37 former heads of state and government that are part of the Democratic Initiative in Spain and the Americas.  They urged summit participants to “reject the presidential elections called by the dictatorship” and “refuse to recognize as legitimate the newly elected members of the National Assembly, the Council of State and its president because they do not represent the will of the people.”

The declaration, read from the halls of the Peruvian congress, also demands an end to the Cuban government’s repression of opponents and the release of political prisoners.

The former government leaders also endorsed a proposal for a binding plebiscite on whether Cubans want “free, just and pluralistic elections” pushed by the Cubadecide coalition headed by Cuban opposition activist Rosa María Payá.  Latin American leaders who will meet at the Summit of the Americas on Friday and Saturday “have a commitment to democratic stability in the region,” Payá said. “It is time for democracies in the Americas to pay their historical debt to the Cuban people.”

Several Cuban opposition activists, including Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, as well as Guillermo Fariñas, Antonio Rodiles and Jorge Luis García “Antúnez,” also urged Latin American governments earlier this week to repudiate “the Castro dictatorship and its dynastic succession.”

They also demanded the release of political prisoners and official recognition of the Cuban opposition as legitimate political players, and asked for more economic and political sanctions against the Cuban government. Quiroga and former Colombian President Andres Pastrana traveled to Havana last month to receive the Oswaldo Payá Liberty and Life prize, but were turned away by authorities at the airport. The prize was organized by the Latin American Network of Youths for Democracy, headed by Rosa Maria Payá, daughter of the late opposition activist.

Cuban activist Rosa María Payá with the former president of Costa Rica, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, in Lima, Peru

The selection of a new Cuban ruler when the island’s National Assembly meets April 19 is nothing but a “dynastic succession … a change of tyrants in a dictatorial system,” Quiroga told el Nuevo Herald. “How can an election be democratic with 605 candidates for 605 seats and a single party?”
Cuban leader Raúl Castro is expected to be replaced next week as head of state and government by First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, although he is also expected to remain head of the Communist Party.
The former Bolivian president added that Peru’s invitation to Castro to attend the summit was “incoherent” because Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s invitation was withdrawn.
“My only complaint to those who decided to exclude Maduro from the upcoming summit is that a narco-tyrant, who has been in power for 18 years and wants another six, is excluded because he’s about to turn Venezuela into a new Cuba, while those who have destroyed democracy in Cuba for 60 years are welcome.”
Before the news conference, Rodríguez, Quiroga and Payá met with the president of the Peruvian congress, Luis Fernando Galarreta Velarde.

“The Venezuelan problem has a starting place that many people at times forget, and that starting place is Cuba, Galarreta said. There’s a risk for the region “if we continue to avoid looking directly at the situation in those countries.”
Asked whether Peru would refuse to recognize the new Cuban government, Galarreta said that the country’s foreign policy was handled by the foreign ministry, not the legislature, but added that Congress would forward the former Latin American president’s petition to the executive branch.

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RAÚL CASTRO’S UNFINISHED LEGACY IN CUBA

BY WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE | APRIL 9, 2018

CASTRO’S ATTEMPTS AT REFORM REMAIN UNFULFILLED. WHAT CAN CUBANS EXPECT FROM HIS SUCCESSOR?

 Original Article: Raúl’s Unfinished Legacy

 Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel,

This month, Cuba’s Raúl Castro will leave office at the end of his second term as president, having set in motion changes to the island’s economy, politics and social relations more sweeping than any since the revolution in 1959. As he steps down after a decade at the helm, those changes are still a work in progress. The far-reaching economic reforms he launched in 2011 are at best half-finished and the pace of change has slowed. His efforts to strengthen Cuba’s political institutions are about to face the stress test of a generational leadership transition. And the Cuban public is clamoring for a better life and a greater voice. Will Miguel Díaz-Canel, Raúl’s likely successor, be able to carry these changes through to completion?

Throughout Fidel Castro’s 57 years as Cuba’s líder máximo, Raúl was second in command, in the shadow of his charismatic sibling. But behind the scenes, he proved to be an effective manager, turning the rag-tag Rebel Army into the most effective and respected institution in the country. Cuba’s armed forces scored impressive victories in Africa, and then took on domestic economic responsibilities with an efficiency that surpassed most civilian enterprises.

Raúl recognized the inherent shortcomings of the hyper-centralized socialism Cuba adopted from the Soviet Union. As armed forces minister, he mandated the use of market-oriented business practices in the military enterprises under his command and sent officers abroad to business school. When the collapse of the Soviet Union threw Cuba into deep recession, Raúl pushed for the pragmatic use of market mechanisms to jump-start the economy. He overcame Fidel’s reluctance by framing economic recovery as a matter of national security, declaring, “Beans are more important than cannons.”

Updating the economy

Within months of assuming office as acting president in 2006, Raúl let loose a blistering attack on economic inefficiency. “We are tired of excuses,” he told the National Assembly that December. “No one, no individual or country, can afford to spend more than what they have,” he said repeatedly.

The drumbeat of criticism foreshadowed his most ambitious and potentially transformative initiative, the updating of Cuba’s economy. The reforms sought to transform the economy by unleashing market forces, demanding that state enterprises make a profit or close, promoting a significant private and cooperative sector, and welcoming foreign direct investment (FDI) to stimulate growth. The goal: a model of socialism that combined the efficiency and productivity of markets with the social benefits of free health care and education, and minimized inequality.

The reform process has been slow going. As of 2016, only 21 percent of the 313 reforms adopted in 2011 had been completed. Subsidies to failing state enterprises still consume some 20 percent of the state budget – almost as much education. After a period of rapid growth during which the number of registered private sector businesses expanded five-fold, new state regulationsrecently reined them in. While Cuban officials aspire to attract $2.5 billion annually in FDI, they are still well short of the goal. Progress has been slowed by officials who fear the reforms represent a slippery slope toward capitalism, not to mention a threat to their own job security.

State-building

On the political front, Raúl’s changes have been less dramatic, but equally important for the system’s sustainability. Fidel chaffed at the restrictions formal institutions imposed on his political instincts and impromptu decision-making. Raúl has moved Cuba away from a system built around the charismatic and unquestioned authority of the líder máximo to one that relies increasingly on the strength of institutions and collective decision-making. “It is vitally necessary to reinforce the country’s institutions,” he told the Communist Party’s Central Committee in 2008. Only strong institutions could “ensure the continuity of the Revolution when its historic leaders are gone.”

A central tenet of this project has been to fill leadership positions with people who have proven track records of achievement, rather than following Fidel’s penchant for elevating young, inexperienced protégés who quickly crashed and burned – people Raúl mocked as “test tube leaders.” Miguel Díaz-Canel, Raúl’s likely successor, has a decades-long record of effective leadership within the Communist Party and government at both the provincial and national levels.

To underscore the idea that no one is indispensable, Raúl proposed term limits of no more than two five-year terms for all senior party and government posts. When aging leaders stay in power too long, the results are “never positive,” he observed, pointing to the gerontocracy than ran the Soviet Union into the ground. He set the example himself, declaring in 2013 that he would step down in 2018 at the end of his second term.

Raúl also established a more collective leadership style, inviting debate and seeking to build consensus on major issues. In fact, he may have been collegial to a fault, allowing skeptics to slow the implementation of the economic reforms.

Lacking Raúl’s authority as one of the historic leaders of the revolution, Díaz-Canel will most likely have to give even greater deference to the views of others in the leadership, making it tougher to come to decisions on contentious issues.

The expanding public sphere

For someone who spent most of his life running Cuba’s national security apparatus, and battling U.S. efforts to create a fifth column of internal opposition, Raúl has presided over a significant expansion of personal liberty and access to information that has spilled over into political expression. In his inaugural speech as president, Raúl pledged to do away with the “excess of prohibitions and regulations” through which the state controlled a wide range of social interactions. He legalized personal cell phones and computers. He allowed people to sell their cars and houses without going through the state. He repealed the prohibition on Cubans staying in tourist hotels, and abolished the tarjeta blanca exit permit required every time a Cuban wanted to travel abroad.

In 1961, Fidel defined cultural policy as, “Within the revolution, everything. Against the revolution, nothing.” During Raúl’s presidency, the boundaries of what is “within the revolution” have expanded, allowing more space for critical cultural expression, often with political overtones. The expansion of internet connectivity has given Cubans access to a world of information, with only a few dozen sites blocked by censors. Cuban blogs, discussion forums and independent news services have flourished, initiating vigorous online debates on a wide range of issues.

Some senior Cuban officials have voiced concerns that expanded Internet access poses political risks, especially since the United States has repeatedly tried to use it as a means of waging information warfare. Just two months ago, the Trump administration formed a Cuba Internet Task Force as part of its policy to undermine the Cuban government. Nevertheless, Cuban leaders understand that connectivity is a prerequisite for building a 21st Century economy, despite the risk.

The state still represses small dissident groups that advocate overturning Cuba’s socialist system. Instead of the long prison terms meted out during Fidel Castro’s days, however, the state’s current strategy is harassment and disruption. When dissidents try to meet or demonstrate, they are arrested, held for a few hours, and then released.

Díaz-Canel’s attitude toward critics is uncertain. In 2013, he publicly defended a group of students whose critical blog was banned by a university administration. In February 2017, however, he gave a speech to a closed Communist Party meeting attacking prominent online critics as counter-revolutionary. At the very least, that speech signals the continuing influence of party leaders intolerant of critical expression.

The Washington roller coaster

For the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, it appeared that normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba would be one of Obama’s and Raúl’s most important legacies. After December 17, 2014, when the two presidents made simultaneous television broadcasts announcing they had decided to re-establish diplomatic relations, their governments made rapid diplomatic progress, reopening embassies and signing two dozen bilateral agreements. The number of U.S. visitors to Cuba more than doubled and U.S. businesses lined up to sign commercial deals with Havana.

But President Donald Trump’s announcement in June 2017 that he was canceling Obama’s policy of engagement has cast doubt on the permanence of the new relationship. Last October, the administration used unexplained injuries suffered by U.S. government personnel in Havana as an excuse to reduce staffing at the embassy so dramatically that it can barely function. Then the administration expelled an equal number of Cuban diplomats from Washington.

For Raúl, the decision to normalize relations was driven by economic imperatives. In the past two decades, tourism has become a pillar of Cuba’s domestic economy, and no country sends more tourists to the Caribbean than the United States. Likewise, Cuba needs $2.5 billion a year in FDI to sustain a decent rate of growth, and no country sends more FDI to the Caribbean than the United States.

But Raúl’s decision was not without risk. From the outset, others in the leadership had doubts about the wisdom of it. Suspicious of U.S. intentions, they worried that defending the revolution from Obama’s soft power might be harder than defending it against open hostility. Those worries went public after Obama’s trip to Cuba in March 2016, when Fidel wrote a critical article for Granma, giving political cover for others to articulate an even tougher line against engagement.

The Trump administration’s hostility reinforces Cuban conservatives who argued from the beginning that Washington could not be trusted. That, in turn, makes it harder for the next Cuban president – and the next U.S. president – to get normalization back on track.

Unfinished business

The timely and constitutionally prescribed succession of leaders signals the institutional strength of the Cuban regime. That said, Díaz-Canel inherits a formidable agenda of tough issues: fundamental economic changes that are desperately needed but still incomplete, a rapidly evolving public sphere in which Cubans are better informed and more outspoken but have few ways to hold leaders accountable, and an uncertain relationship with Washington that is likely to get worse before it gets better.

If Díaz-Canel can successfully carry through to completion the transformations Raúl began, Raúl will be remembered as Cuba’s Deng Xiaoping – the revolutionary Chinese founder who achieved détente with the United States and began the transition from a failed centrally planned socialism to an economically viable market socialism. But if relations with Washington remain mired in animosity and the economic reforms fail, Raúl will be remembered as just one more reform communist who could not force the system to change despite his best efforts.

LeoGrande is Professor of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and co-author with Peter Kornbluh of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

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CUBA’S COMMUNIST PARTY ADMITS ERRORS, SLOWDOWN IN REFORMS

HAVANA (Reuters) MARCH 27, 2018

Sarah Marsh

 

Cuba’s Communist Party admitted a slowdown and errors in its implementation of Raul Castro’s market-style reforms, just weeks before he steps down from the presidency, but vowed to continue updating the Soviet-style command economy.

The party central committee held a plenary session to discuss the state of reforms undertaken during Castro’s 10-year presidential mandate to open up the ailing economy and give the private sector and foreign investment greater roles. Castro, who steps down as president on April 19, presided over the plenary which took place this week. The 86-year old will remain head of the party, the country’s guiding political force, until 2021.

“Despite the errors and insufficiencies recognized in this plenary, the situation is more favorable than a few years ago,” Castro, 86, was quoted as saying by party newspaper Granma.

Reforms were implemented swiftly in the first three years since being agreed in 2011, the head of the party’s reform commission Marino Murillo was cited as saying.

The number of self-employed workers in the Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million residents has more than tripled to around 580,000 workers.

But implementation has slowed in the last two years due to the complexity of the process, mistakes in oversight, a lack of financial backing and low engagement of the bureaucracy, Murillo said. The party was also deliberately implementing reforms slowly to ensure they would not marginalize anyone.

The government last year froze the issuance of licenses for an important set of private sector activities as it sought to root out malpractices such as purchases on the black market and to improve regulation.

The 142-member central committee discussed the lack of a fiscal culture and accountancy tools to make a serious economic analysis in Cuba as well as difficulties communicating the complex process.

Many Cubans, whose expectations were raised by Castro’s reforms, have felt frustrated by the slowdown that they believe means Havana is not truly committed to updating the economy.

The government said late last year, for example, it would limit licenses to one per person going forwards – a move that could limit Cubans’ entrepreneurial ambitions.  Yet it did not address key private sector concerns like the lack of a wholesale market or ability to import or export.

Havana has also backtracked on reforms in the key agricultural sector over the last few years, once more assigning resources, setting prices and controlling most distribution.

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