• 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."

Center for Democracy in the Americas’ STATEMENT: CDA URGES THE BIDEN-HARRIS ADMINISTRATION TO TAKE ACTIONABLE STEPS TO REMOVE SANCTIONS WHICH IMPEDE ITS OWN POLICY OBJECTIVES

Center for Democracy in the Americas, Washington D. C., August 3, 2021

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

WASHINGTON – In response to the ongoing situation in Cuba that began with protests on July 11 throughout the island, and the subsequent announcements made by the Biden-Harris administration, Jorge Quintana, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, released the following statement:

“In the wake of the July 11 protests in Cuba and following six months of inaction on the Cuba policy front, the Biden-Harris administration has finally signaled its intention to engage with the issue. However, while recent statements from the Administration convey support for the Cuban people, current policy is not only incompatible with those sentiments, but counterproductive to them. If the Administration truly wishes to support the Cuban people, it will need to first take concrete actions to remove sanctions that serve to stymie this support. The Biden-Harris administration should stop serving as a roadblock and start serving as a conduit. I urge the Administration to take immediate action toward implementing policies of engagement that benefit the Cuban people. Engaging with a community that continues to suffer the effects of a strenuous diplomatic relationship should be a priority of the United States.
 
Human rights are universal, and the Cuban people deserve to speak freely without fear of retribution and to have a voice in their future. This will happen when Cuba’s government listens to the voices of its people and respects their right to peacefully protest. Protesters throughout Cuba were met with violent confrontation from Cuba’s security forces while calling for an improved COVID-19 response, and relief from food, medicine, electricity and good shortages. Some also called for changes to the island’s economy and for political change. Cuba’s government responded to the demonstrations by preventing internet access to many websites and social media platforms, and with the arrest, detention, and/or disappearance of reportedly more than 700 protesters, activists, and independent journalists thus far. Protesters should not be punished for exercising their rights as set forth in Cuba’s updated 2019 constitution, which include the right to due process in legal proceedings and the right to freedom of assembly. For those protesters who engaged in violence or the destruction of property, prosecutions must be open, transparent, and with guarantees of due process. Cuba’s government has an opportunity, at this critical moment, to steer away from its response of repression and to convene and listen to groups of civil society actors in good faith, actualize the economic changes that have been promised, and respond to the concerns of the Cuban people with openness.
 
While the protesters’ calls were directed at internal grievances and not directly at U.S. sanctions or the U.S. embargo, the U.S. can help facilitate this internal change through lifting sanctions and removing the embargo. Once again, I call on the Biden-Harris administration to prioritize the humanitarian situation in Cuba by suspending regulations that inhibit the flow of humanitarian aid. Specifically, I call on the Administration to remove the specific licenses required to send medical supplies to Cuba, lift restrictions on the percentage of U.S.-made material used in foreign produced medical supplies, remove end-use verification for humanitarian imports, lift restrictions and caps on family and donative remittances, lift restrictions on banking, and remove travel restrictions that prevent this robust and dynamic form of diplomacy from taking place and prevent the Cuban people from receiving necessary humanitarian supplies.
 
The Biden-Harris administration should restore remittance channels, thereby allowing Cuban-Americans to exercise their right to send, or not send, remittances, which help support Cuba’s private sector and offer much-needed start-up capital from relatives abroad. The Administration should not, however, view remittances as an end-all-be-all to financial support. Many protesters on July 11 were Afro-Cuban, who tend to have less family abroad and less access to remittances. The Administration’s newly announced Remittance Working Group will expedite a review of how to send remittances directly to the Cuban people, bypassing Cuba’s government. As it considers this, it should take into account that Cuba’s government no longer captures the amount of revenue from remittances as it has in the past. Since July 2020, Cuba no longer taxes dollar remittances or requires Cubans to convert dollars to local currency, and has significantly decreased hard currency store markups. Much of the government’s revenue from remittances captured from hard currency store sales is channeled to food, fuel, and goods imports. The Remittance Working Group is rightfully operating under a deadline. The Group should be judged on its ability to answer operational issues that serve the goals of supporting small and medium sized enterprises, improving the standard of living of Cuban families, and respecting the rights of Cuban-Americans to support their families.
 
The Administration has expressed interest in exploring ways to support free and effective internet access in Cuba. Images, videos, and accounts of the July 11 protests shared by Cubans on social media were largely made possible by increased internet availability on the island and the introduction of 3G and 4G which occurred over the past few years. Nearly half of the island’s population has a cell phone and 2.5 million have 3G or 4G access. However, internet outages following the protests, allegedly initiated by Cuba’s government, have sparked concern. The Biden-Harris administration does not need to start at square one. The Administration should re-examine the 2019 Cuba Internet Task Force recommendations, including facilitating the export of telecommunications equipment and infrastructure, promoting technological literacy and digital safety education, promoting exchange programs, and empowering local, organic, network growth. Though the telecommunications environment has changed, many of the challenges and opportunities remain the same. It is important that Cuban citizens themselves have both access to and autonomy over their internet. Efforts to weaponize the internet, to use it for the spread of disinformation, or to censor it by any government should not be tolerated.
 
Additionally, the Administration should expedite its review of restaffing the U.S. Embassy in Havana and reinstating consular services, including visa processing and the Cuban Family Reunification Program. Regardless of future actions on the part of Cuba’s government, a fully staffed embassy will allow the U.S. to provide critical support to Cuban civil society, monitor the situation on the ground, initiate a human rights dialogue with Cuba’s government, and advocate against arbitrary detentions.
 
The policy of hostility and isolation is not improving democracy or human rights on the island; rather, it is politicizing a humanitarian crisis and distracting from dynamic and actionable solutions. In order to remedy the inherent disconnect between supportive messaging and punitive policy in the Administration’s response to the current crisis in Cuba, the Biden-Harris administration must change the role that U.S. policies and sanctions have in contributing to the crisis by pursuing a policy of engagement. Engagement is the best way to alleviate the hardships faced by the Cuban people, advance U.S. interests, offer an opportunity for dialogue and cooperation on a wide range of issues, from human rights to national security, and to allow the necessary conditions for Cubans to determine their own future.
 
Pursuing a policy of engagement and removing the current counterproductive policies that only serve to compound hardships faced by Cubans, would allow President Biden to stand with the Cuban people while continuing to condemn any repression of human rights in Cuba. It’s time for the U.S. to support the Cuban people in both spirit and in practice.

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CUBA STUDY GROUP STATEMENT ON THE JULY 30 MEETING BETWEEN PRESIDENT BIDEN AND CUBAN AMERICAN LEADERS

Contact: Ricardo Herrero
Phone: 202-709-8191

August 2, 2021

WASHINGTON D.C. — On July 30th, the Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group, Ricardo Herrero, was among eleven Cuban American leaders invited to meet with President Biden to discuss his administration’s response to the situation in Cuba in the wake of the historic July 11th protests.

We thank the President for his time, for the opportunity to share our views, and for his administration’s commitment to the Cuban people by addressing the island’s ongoing crisis through a “whole-of-government approach.” We encourage his administration to continue to respond to recent events with a sense of urgency and look forward to the prompt reopening of remittance flows, the expansion of internet access and the restaffing of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

We also commend the Biden administration for levying targeted sanctions on those responsible for the repression of peaceful protesters on, and since, July 11th. Targeted sanctions against Cuban government officials send a strong message that their human rights abuses will not be tolerated, even if their practical effect is blunted by the blanket sanctions of the U.S. embargo that already make it unlikely that Cuban officials have significant assets in the United States.

Yet, as the Biden administration seeks to hold the Cuban government accountable, we can and must do more to empower the Cuban people. In fact, we maintain that strengthening the Cuban people, more so than punishing their government, is the key to meaningful change in Cuba.

This is why we ask the Biden administration to empower the American and Cuban American private and NGO sectors to be the driving force in extending support to the Cuban people at this precarious juncture. Not only is it often more efficient to enable private actors to lead the way, but it also undermines the Cuban government’s Cold War-era narrative that their struggle is against the U.S. government, when the truth is that their present-day struggle is with their own people, both at home and abroad.

Covid-related assistance from the United States can help save lives and stem a pandemic that has overwhelmed the Cuban healthcare system. To that end, we ask the Biden administration to lift all restrictions and licensing requirements on donations of food, medicine, and medical supplies to Cuba, thus enabling churches and other NGOs to quickly mobilize.

Secure internet access is indeed crucial to providing Cubans with the unfettered flow of information they deserve and the tools to mobilize for peaceful change. However, there are immediate, practical steps the U.S. government can take to improve the quality of internet access on the island. These include allowing U.S.-based firms to provide cloud-based services like online payment processing and subscription-based platforms in Cuba. Not only are they powerful tools for private sector and civil society development; they also can help get money—including remittances—directly into the hands of the Cuban people.

Finally, open travel remains the best way for Cuban Americans and Americans to serve as ambassadors of our values and provide direct assistance to the Cuban people. Thus, we ask the Biden administration to reinstate travel to all airport destinations in Cuban provinces as Covid-19 restrictions allow.

Ultimately, the best way to “stand with the Cuban people” is for Americans and Cuban Americans to be present on the ground in Cuba. We look forward to an ongoing, fruitful dialogue with the Biden administration in which we intend to continue pressing this case.
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The Cuba Study Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization, comprised of business and professional individuals with a deeply rooted love for Cuba and the Cuban people. We aim to put our collective experience in leadership skills, problem solving, and wealth creation at the service of the Cuban people. We aim to facilitate change, help empower individuals and promote civil society development.
 
Our mission is to help facilitate peaceful change in Cuba leading to a free and open society, respect for human rights and the rule of law, a productive, market-based economy and the reunification of the Cuban nation.


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124 ACTIVIDADES PROHIBIDAS PARA EL TRABAJO POR CUENTA PROPIA EN CUBA / 124 SETS OF ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES PROHIBITED FOR THE PRIVATE SECTOR

El Toque Feb  10, 2021

Complete Listing: from El Toque

Complete listing in PDF format


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WHY CUBANS PROTESTED ON JULY 11. Is this the beginning of the end of fear in Cuba?

Samuel Farber July 27, 2021

Original Article

he street demonstrations that broke out all over Cuba on July 11 are an unprecedented event in the more than 60 years since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. But why now? This essay explores the historic, economic and political factors that help to clarify the causes of Cuba’s July 11, considers the role of the United States, and briefly reflects on Cuba’s future.

On Sunday, July 11, Cuba erupted in street protests. Unlike the major street protest that took place in 1994 and was limited to the Malecón, the long multi-lane Havana road facing the Gulf of Mexico, the July 11 outbreak of protest was national in scope. There were protests in many towns and cities, including Santiago de Cuba in the east, Trinidad in the center of the island, as well as Havana in the west. The growing access to social media in the island played an important role in the rapid spread of the protests; no wonder the government immediately suspended access to certain social media sites and brought all telephone calls from abroad to a halt. 

The street presence and participation of Black women and men was notable everywhere. This should not be surprising since Black Cubans are far less likely to receive hard currency remittances from abroad even though over 50% of the population receive some degree of financial support through that channel. These remittances have become the key to survival in Cuba, particularly in light of the ever-diminishing number of goods available in the peso-denominated subsidized ration book. Cuban Blacks have also been the victims of institutional racism in the growing tourist industry where ​“front line” visible jobs are mostly reserved for conventionally attractive white and light skinned women and men. 

The demonstrators did not endorse or support any political program or ideology, aside from the general demand for political freedom. The official Cuban press claims that the demonstrations were organized from abroad by right-wing Cubans. But none of the demands associated with the Cuban right-wing were echoed by the demonstrators, like the support for Trump often heard in South Florida and among some dissident circles in Cuba. And no one called for ​“humanitarian intervention” espoused by Plattistas (Platt Amendment, approved by Congress in 1901and abolished in 1934, gave the United States the right to militarily intervene in Cuba), such as biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, himself a victim of government repression for his independent ecological activism. The demonstrators did speak about the scarcity of food, medicine and essential consumer items, repudiated President Díaz-Canel as singao—a phrase that in Cuba translates as ​“fucked” but means a wicked, evil person, and chanted patria y vida (fatherland and life). ​“Patria y Vida” is the title of a very popular and highly polished rap song by a group of Cuban Black rappers (available on YouTube.) I have seen and heard the song more than a dozen times to enjoy it as well as to search for its explicit and implied meanings including in its silences and ambiguities.

“Patria y Vida” counterposes itself to the old Cuban government slogan of ​“Patria o Muerte” (“Fatherland or Death”). While that slogan may have made sense in the 1960s when Cuba was faced with actual invasions, it borders on the obscene when voiced by second generation bureaucrats. It is certainly high time that the regime’s macho cult of violence and death be challenged, and this song does it very well.

But what does it mean to implicitly repudiate the year 1959, the first year of the successful revolution, as the song does? There was no Soviet style system in Cuba at the time and the year 1959 is not equivalent to the Castro brothers. Many people of a wide variety of political beliefs fought and died to bring about the revolution that overthrew the Batista dictatorship. The song does express many important democratic sentiments against the present Cuban dictatorship, but it is unfortunately silent about the desirable alternative, which leaves room for the worst right-wing, pro-Trump elements in South Florida to rally behind it as if it was theirs. 

True to form, President Díaz-Canel called on the ​“revolutionaries” to be ready for combat and go out and reclaim the streets away from the demonstrators. In fact, it was the uniformed police, Seguridad del Estado (the secret police), and Boinas Negras (black berets, the special forces) that responded with tear gas, beatings and hundreds of arrests, including several leftist critics of the government. According to a July 21 Reuters report, the authorities had confirmed that they had started the trials of the demonstrators accused of a variety of charges, but denied it according to another press report on July 25. These are summary trials without the benefit of defense counsel, a format generally used for minor violations in Cuba but which in this case involves the possibility of years in prison for those found guilty. 

Most of the demonstrations were angry but usually peaceful and only in a few instances did the demonstrators behave violently, as in the case of some looting and a police car that was overturned. This was in clear contrast with the violence frequently displayed by the forces of order. It is worth noting that in calling his followers to take to the streets to combat the demonstrators, Díaz-Canel invoked the more than 60-year-old notion that ​“the streets belong to the revolutionaries.” Just as the government has always proclaimed that ​“the universities belong to the revolutionaries” in order to expel students and professors that don’t toe the government’s line. One example is René Fidel González García, a law professor expelled from the University of Oriente. He is a strong critic of government policies, who, far from giving up on his revolutionary ideals, has reaffirmed them on numerous occasions.

But Why Now?

Cuba is in the middle of the most serious economic crisis since the 1990s, when, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Cubans suffered innumerable and lengthy blackouts due to the severe shortage of oil, along with endemic malnutrition with its accompanying health problems.

The present economic crisis is due to the pandemic-related decline of tourism, combined with the government’s long term capital disinvestment and inability to maintain production, even at the lower levels of the last five years. Cuba’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) fell by 11% in 2020 and only rose by 0.5% in 2019, the year before the pandemic broke out. The annual sugar crop that ended this spring did not even reach 1 million tons, which is below the 1.4 million average of recent years and very far below the 8 million tons in 1989. The recent government attempt to unify the various currencies circulating in Cuba — primarily the CUC, a proxy for the dollar, and the peso — has backfired resulting in serious inflation that was predicted among others by the prominent Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago. While the CUC is indeed disappearing, the Cuban economy has been virtually dollarized with the constant decline of the value of the peso. While the official exchange rate is 24 pesos to the dollar, the prevailing black market rate is 60 pesos to the dollar, and it is going to get worse due to the lack of tourist dollars. This turn to an ever more expensive dollar, may be somewhat restrained in light of the government’s recent shift to the euro as its preferred hard currency. 

Worst of all, is the generalized shortage of food, even for those who have divisas, the generic term for hard currencies. The agricultural reforms of the last years aimed at increasing domestic production have not worked because they are inadequate and insufficient, making it impossible for the private farmers and for the usufructuarios (farmers who lease land from the government for 20 year terms renewable for another 20 years) to feed the country. Thus, for example, the government arbitrarily gives bank credits to the farmers for some things but not for others, like for clearing the marabú, an invasive weed that is costly to remove, but an essential task if crops are to grow. Acopio, the state agency in charge of collecting the substantial proportion of the crop that farmers have to sell to the state at prices fixed by the government is notoriously inefficient and wasteful, because the Acopio trucks do not arrive in time to collect their share, or because of the systemic indifference and carelessness that pervade the processes of shipping and storage. This creates huge spoilage and waste that have reduced the quality and quantity of goods available to consumers. It is for reasons such as these that Cuba imports 70% of the food it consumes from various countries including the United States (an exemption to the blockade was carved out in 2001 for the unlimited export of food and medicines to Cuba but with the serious limitation that Cuba has to pay in cash before the goods are shipped to the island.)

The Cuban economist Pedro Monreal has called attention to the overwhelming millions of pesos that the government has dedicated to the construction of tourist hotels (mostly in joint ventures with foreign capital) that even before the pandemic were filled to well below their capacity, while agriculture is starved of government investments. This unilateral choice of priorities by the one-party state is an example of what results from profoundly undemocratic practices. This is not a ​“flaw” of the Cuban system any more than the relentless pursuit of profit is a ​“flaw” of American capitalism. Both bureaucracy and the absence of democracy in Cuba and the relentless pursuit of profit in the United States are not defects of but constitutive elements of both systems.

Similarly, oil has become increasingly scarce as Venezuelan oil shipments in exchange for Cuban medical services have declined. There is no doubt that Trump’s strengthening of the criminal blockade, which went beyond merely reversing Obama’s liberalization during his second period in the White House, has also gravely hurt the island, among other reasons because it has made it more difficult for the Cuban government to use banks abroad, whether American or not, to finance its operations. This is because the U.S. government will punish enterprises who do business with Cuba by blocking them from doing business with the United States. Until the events of July 11,the Biden administration had left almost all of Trump’s sanctions untouched. Since then, it has promised to allow for larger remittances and to provide staff for the American consulate in Havana. 

While the criminal blockade has been very real and seriously damaging, it has been relatively less important in creating economic havoc than what lies at the very heart of the Cuban economic system: the bureaucratic, inefficient and irrational control and management of the economy by the Cuban government. It is the Cuban government and its ​“left” allies in the Global North, not the Cuban people, who continue, as they have for decades, to blame only the blockade. 

At the same time, the working class in the urban and rural areas have neither economic incentives nor political incentives in the form of democratic control of their workplaces and society to invest themselves in their work, thus reducing the quantity and quality of production. 

Health Situation in Cuba 

After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the early spring of 2020, Cuba did relatively well during the first year of the pandemic in comparison with other countries in the region. But in the last few months the situation in Cuba, for what are still unclear reasons except for the entry of the Delta variant in the island, made a sharp turn for the worse, and in doing so seriously aggravated the economic and political problems of the country. Thus, as Jessica Domínguez Delgado noted in the Cuban blog El Toque (July 13), until April 12, a little more than a year after the beginning of the pandemic, 467 persons had died among the 87,385 cases that had been diagnosticated as having Covid-19. But only three months later, on July 12, the number of the deceased had reached 1,579 with 224, 914 diagnosed cases (2.5 times as many as in the much longer previous period).

The province of Matanzas and its capital city of the same name located 100 kilometers east of Havana became the epicenter of the pandemic’s sudden expansion in Cuba. According to the provincial governor, Matanzas province was 3,000 beds short of the number of patients that needed them. On July 6, a personal friend who lives in the city of Matanzas wrote to me about the dire health situation in the city with a lack of doctors, tests, and oxygen in the midst of collapsing hospitals. My friend wrote that the national government had shown itself incapable of controlling the situation until that very day when it finally formulated a plan of action for the city. The government did finally take a number of measures including sending a substantial number of additional medical personnel, although it is too early to tell at the time of this writing with what results.

Cuban scientists and research institutions deserve a lot of credit for the development of several anti-Covid vaccines. However, the government was responsible for the excessive and unnecessary delay in immunizing people on the island, made worse by its decision to neither procure donations of vaccines from abroad nor join the 190-nation strong COVAX (Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access) sponsored by several international organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), an organization with which the Cuban government has good relations. Currently only 16% of the population has been fully vaccinated and 30% has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The medical crisis in the province and capital city of Matanzas fits into a more general pattern of medical scarcity and abandonment as the Cuban government has accelerated its export of medical personnel abroad to strengthen what has been for some time its number one export. This is why the valuable family doctor program introduced in the 1980s has seriously deteriorated. While the Cuban government uses a sliding scale (including some pro bono work) in what it charges its foreign government clients, Cuban doctors get an average of 10 – 25% of what the foreign clients pay the Cuban government. Needless to add, Cuban medical personnel cannot organize independent unions to bargain with the government about the terms of their employment. Nevertheless, going abroad is a desired assignment for most Cuban doctors because they earn a significant amount of hard currency and can purchase foreign goods. However, if they fail to return to Cuba after their assignments are over, they are administratively (i.e., not judicially) punished with a forced exile of 8 years duration. 

The Political Context 

Earlier this year, the leadership old guard, who fought the Batista regime and are in their late eighties and early nineties, retired from their government positions to give way to the new leadership of Miguel Díaz-Canel (born in 1960) as president and Manuel Marrero Cruz (born in 1963) as prime minister. This new leadership is continuing Raúl Castro’s policy of economic and social liberalization without democratization. For example, in 2013 the government liberalized the regulations that controlled the movement of people to make it easier for most Cubans to travel abroad. However, at the same time, the government made it virtually impossible for many dissidents to leave the country, by for example delaying their departure so they could not make it on time to conferences held abroad, and by creating a list of some 200 ​“regulados” (people subject to regulatory rules) that are not allowed to leave the country at all. It is important to point out that as in the case of other measures adopted by the Cuban government mentioned earlier, these actions continue the policies of Fidel and Raúl Castro, in which political and administrative decisions are made outside of the regime’s own judicial system. The same applies to the hundreds of relatively brief detentions that the government of Raúl Castro carried out every year, especially to try to impede public demonstrations not controlled by the government (a police method that only works for previously planned political protests, unlike the ones that took place on July 11). 

The One-Party State

The one-party state continues to function as under Fidel and Raúl Castro’s rule. In reality, however, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, its Spanish acronym) is not really a party — that would imply the existence of other parties. Neither is the PCC primarily an electoral party although it does firmly control from the top the periodic so-called elections that always result in the unanimous approval of the political course followed by the authorities.

Sometimes people disillusioned with the existing corrupt parties in Latin America and even in the United States itself, react with indifference if not approval to the Cuban one-party state because they perceive elections as reinforcing corrupt systems. Thus such people think that is better to have one honest political party that works than a corrupt multi-party system that doesn’t work. The problem with this type of thinking is that one-party bureaucratic systems do not work well at all, except perhaps to thoroughly repress any opposition. Moreover, corruption sooner or later works its way into the single party system as history has repeatedly shown. In the case of Cuba, Fidel Castro himself warned in a famous speech on November 17, 2005, that the revolution was in greater danger to perish because of endemic corruption than because of the actions of counterrevolutionaries.

The organizational monopoly of the PCC — explicitly sanctioned by the Cuban constitution — affects far more than elections. It extends its power in a highly authoritarian manner to control Cuban society through the so-called mass organizations that function as transmission belts for the decisions taken by the PCC’s Political Bureau. For example, the CTC, the official trade union, is the transmission belt that allows the Cuban state to maintain its monopoly of the organization of Cuban workers. Beyond enforcing the prohibition of strikes, the CTC is not an organization for the defense of working class interests as determined by the workers themselves. Rather, it was established to advance what the ruling PCC leadership determines are the workers’ best interests.

The same control mechanisms apply to other ​“mass organizations” such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and to other institutions such as editorial houses, universities and the rest of the educational system. The mass media (radio, television and newspapers) continue to be under the control of the government, guided in their coverage by the ​“orientations” of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the PCC. There are however, two important exceptions to the state’s control of media organs: one, is the internal publications of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the Cuban Catholic hierarchy is extremely cautious, and the circulation of its publications is in any case limited to its parishes and other Catholic institutions. A far more important exception is the Internet, which the government has yet been unable to place under its absolute control and remains as the principal vehicle for critical and dissident voices. It was precisely this less than full control of the Internet that made the nationwide politically explosive outbreaks of July 11 possible. 

Where is Cuba Going?

Without the benefit of Fidel Castro’s presence and the degree of legitimacy retained by the historic leadership, Díaz-Canel and the other new government leaders were politically hit hard by the events of July 11, even though they received the shameful support of most of the broad international Left. The fact that people no longer seem to be afraid may be the single largest threat for the government emerging from the events on July 11. In spite of that blow, the new leadership is on course to continue Raúl Castro’s orientation to develop a Cuban version of the Sino-Vietnamese model, which combine a high degree of political authoritarianism with concessions to private and especially foreign capital.

At the same time, the Cuban government leaders will continue to follow inconsistent and even contradictory economic reform policies for fear of losing control to Cuban private capital. The government recently authorized the creation of private PYMES (small and medium private enterprises), but it would not be at all surprising if many of the newly created PYMES end up in the hands of important state functionaries turned private capitalists. There is an important government stratum composed of business managers and technicians with ample experience in such sectors as tourism, particularly in the military. The most important among them is the 61-year-old Gen. Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, a former son-in-law of Raúl Castro, who is the director of GAESA, the huge military business conglomerate, which includes Gaviota, the principal tourist enterprise in the island. It is significant that he recently became a member of the Political Bureau of the PCC. 

Perhaps this younger generation of business military and civilian bureaucrats may try to overcome the rentier mentality that 30 years of ample Soviet assistance created among the Cuban leadership as witnessed the failure to modernize and diversify the sugar industry (as Brazil did) during those relatively prosperous years that ended in 1990. To be sure, the U.S. economic blockade contributed to the rentier mentality by encouraging a day-to-day economic survival attitude rather than of increasing the productivity of the Cuban economy to allow for a more prosperous future. 

Finally, what about the United States? Biden is unlikely to do much in his first term to change the United States’ imperialist policies towards Cuba that were significantly aggravated by Trump. Whether a possible second Democratic administration in Washington beginning in 2025 will do anything different remains an open question.

There is, however, a paradox underlying the U.S. government’s Cuba policy. While U.S. policy is not at present primarily driven by ruling class interests but, rather, by electoral considerations, particularly in the highly contested state of Florida, it is not for that reason necessarily less harsh or, what is more alarming, less durable. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, probably the most politically active business institution in the United States has advocated the resumption of normal business relations with Cuba for many years. Thomas J. Donohue, its long-time director who retired earlier this year, visited Cuba in numerous occasions and met with government leaders there. Big agribusiness concerns are also interested in doing business with Cuba as are agricultural and other business interests in the South, Southwest and Mountain States represented by both Republican and Democratic politicians. However, it is doubtful that they are inclined to expend a lot of political capital in achieving that goal.

This places a heavy extra burden on the U.S. Left to overcome the deadlock, which clearly favors the indefinite continuation of the blockade, through a new type of campaign that both zeroes in on the grave aggression and injustice committed against the Cuban people without at the same time becoming apologists for the political leadership of the Cuban state. 

Be that as it may, people on the Left in the United States have two key tasks. First, they should firmly oppose the criminal economic blockade of Cuba. Second, they should support the democratic rights of the Cuban people rather than an ossified police state, in the same way that they have supported the struggle for human rights, democracy, and radical social and economic change in Colombia and Chile in Latin America as well as Myanmar and Hong Kong in Asia.

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PROTESTAS EN CUBA, CAUSAS Y CONSECUENCIAS PARA UN DEBATE DESDE AMÉRICA LATINA

THE CLINIC, 21 de Julio, 2021

Original Article

Por Arturo López-Levy

*Arturo López-Levy es doctor en estudios internacionales por la Universidad de Denver, y master en relaciones internacionales y economía por las universidades de Columbia (NYC) y Carleton (Ottawa). Se especializa en Cuba, Latinoamérica y política estadounidense.

Para explicar las protestas en Cuba del domingo 11 de julio empecemos por lo que es conocido: la economía y la pandemia. Los manifestantes cubanos no son distintos de los de otros países latinoamericanos. Están asustado y hambrientos por la subida de los precios y carencias de alimentos. Están ansiosos y angustiados por la incertidumbre sobre cuándo terminará la pandemia. Lo sorprendente es que no se haya roto el cántaro después de tantos meses llevándolo a la fuente.

Las raíces

La isla ya venía renqueando por décadas con una crisis estructural del modelo estatista, remendado de vez en vez con algunas aperturas al mercado que en ausencia de una transición integral a una economía mixta orientada al mercado solo producían reanimaciones parciales. Esos cambios segmentados creaban islotes de mercado que demandaban más reformas que el gobierno cubano trataba con la lentitud del que tiene todo el tiempo del mundo. La reunificación monetaria y cambiaria, proclamada como necesaria desde finales de los años noventa, no ocurrió hasta 2020, en el peor momento, en medio de la pandemia.

Por otra parte, la pandemia no solo ha sembrado muertes, y destrucción económica, sino también el miedo y la incertidumbre en una población desesperada que no ve cuando la angustia de vivir en el límite termina. A pesar del conocimiento sobre su deterioro, la población cubana actuó confiada en la capacidad de su sistema de salud en tanto este contuvo el avance del virus y avanzaba en la experimentación para vacunas propias. El hechizo, sin embargo, se deshizo cuando en el último mes se dispararon los casos.

A pesar de un sistema de salud de cobertura universal y su relativo desempeño positivo, información a la población y liderazgo apegado a criterios científicos, la pandemia terminó por exponer con crudeza el mayor problema para el sector de bienestar social cubano: sin una economía que lo respalde ese sistema de salud estará siempre a merced de una crisis que agote sus recursos. Cuba es el único país latinoamericano capaz de producir dos vacunas propias. A la vez su campaña de vacunación ha tenido notables retrasos para implementarse por falta de fondos para comprar sus componentes y otros elementos relacionados. Paradójico.

Las protestas del domingo indican un hartazgo en el que concurre mucha insatisfacción con la arrogancia y gestión gubernamental. Pero ingenuo sería ignorar que el contexto de las sanciones ilegales, inmorales y contraproducentes de Washington contra Cuba han hecho el problema difícil de la pandemia, casi intratable. El lema de “la libertad” suena muy rítmico pero detrás de los que rompen vidrieras, vuelcan perseguidoras, y la emprenden a pedradas contra las autoridades hay mucho del “hambre, desesperación y desempleo” que pedía Lester D Mallory para poner a los cubanos de rodillas.

La pandemia y su impacto económico son los factores que determinan la coyuntura. Son la última gota. Pero en la raíz de las causas que originan la protesta hay factores estructurales que llenaron la copa para que se derramara. Entre esos factores, dos son fundamentales. Primero, el desajuste de una economía de comando nunca transformada a un nuevo paradigma de economía mixta de mercado, atrapada en un nefasto equilibrio de reforma parcial; y segundo, un sistema de sanciones por parte de Estados Unidos que representa un asedio de guerra económica, imposible de limitar al concepto de un mero embargo comercial.

América Latina ante Cuba

Ninguna región del mundo ha sido golpeada por la epidemia de covid-19 como América Latina. Lo sucedido en Cuba tiene características propias pero ya no se trata de la excepción que fue. En términos económicos, quitando el factor estructural del bloqueo norteamericano por sesenta años, Cuba se parece cada vez más a un típico país caribeño y centroamericano con una dependencia notable del turismo y las remesas. En términos de desgaste, la protesta indica a la élite cubana que, pasada la fase carismática de los líderes fundadores, en especial Fidel Castro, la revolución es en lo esencial, una referencia histórica.

El espíritu de la revolución sigue presente en tanto el actual régimen político atribuye su origen al triunfo de 1959, y Cuba sigue siendo objeto de una política imperial norteamericana de cambio de régimen impuesto desde fuera. Fuera de esos dos espacios específicos, particularmente el segundo, todo el manto de excepcionalidad y las justificaciones para evadir los estándares democráticos y de derechos humanos se han agotado. El gobierno de Cuba está abocado, a riesgo incluso de provocar su colapso histórico, a emprender reformas sistémicas de su paradigma.

Se trata de construir un modelo de economía mixta viable en el cual se mantengan las conquistas de bienestar social con un estado regulador, redistribuidor y empresario. En lo político, eso implica un aterrizaje suave y escalonado en un modelo político mas pluralista donde al menos diferentes fuerzas que rechacen la política intervencionista estadounidense puedan dialogar y competir. Una cosa es rechazar que Estados Unidos tenga derecho a imponer a sus cubanos favoritos, otra es asumir ese rechazo como un respaldo a que el PCC nombre a los suyos con el dedo.

Es desde esa realidad, no desde simplismos unilaterales que niegan la agencia del pueblo cubano o el fardo estructural del bloqueo norteamericano que una política latinoamericana progresista puede y debe estructurarse. Las élites cubanas han estado trabajando desde un tiempo atrás (el VI congreso del PCC en 2011) en un modelo de transición más cercano a las experiencias china y vietnamita, de economía de mercado con partido único, que a cualquier precedente occidental. Tal paradigma en lo político rivaliza con los estándares de legitimidad política en la región latinoamericana, donde el derecho a la libre asociación, la expresión y la protesta pacífica van mucho más allá que una simple democracia intrapartidaria leninista.

De igual modo, el paradigma de democracia pluralista hace aguas cuando se pretende defender los derechos humanos desde dobles estándares o la ingenua ignorancia del rol de los factores internacionales y las asimetrías de poder.  Discutir sobre la democracia en Cuba sin mencionar la intromisión indebida de Estados Unidos en maridaje con la derecha anticomunista y la violación flagrante, sistemática y masiva de derechos humanos, que es el bloqueo, equivale a conversar sobre Hamlet sin mencionar al príncipe de Dinamarca. En Miami, los sectores de derecha pro-bloqueo defienden los derechos humanos martes y jueves, mientras el resto de la semana crean un ambiente descrito por Human Rights Watch en el informe “Dangerous Dialogue” como “desfavorable a la libertad de expresión”.  En terminos de transicion a un sistema politico cubano mas abierto, con actores de tan malas credenciales, es imprescindible un proceso pacifico, gradual y ordenado. Esos adjetivos son tan importantes como el proceso mismo.

No solo la izquierda radical, sino importantes componentes moderados de la diáspora cubana y alternativas democráticas dentro de la intelectualidad y la sociedad civil cubana han expresado decepción por segmentos de la comunidad de derechos humanos, como Amnistía Internacional, por su falta de trabajo sistemático en la denuncia del bloqueo norteamericano contra Cuba. Si un opositor de derecha, conectado a la política imperial de cambio de régimen, es detenido en Cuba, la directora Erika Guevara Rosas otorga un seguimiento permanente a su caso. Sus denuncias a la política imperial de bloqueo no lo catalogan como violación sistemática de derechos. Ocurren de vez en vez, y enfatizando que es una excusa del gobierno cubano que debe ser eliminada. ¿Por qué no protestaba cada vez que Trump implementó una nueva sanción que afectaba el derecho de salud, el de educación, y otros más, incluidos los de viaje, de cubanos y estadounidenses?

Las protestas contra el gobierno que salió de la revolución  representan un reto para la discusión del tema Cuba en América Latina que solo podrá madurar desde el entendimiento de su complejidad, sin simplismos ni falsas analogías. En primer lugar, Cuba vive un conflicto de soberanía con Estados Unidos, que marca estructuralmente su vida política y económica. Nadie que quiera contribuir a una solución constructiva de los temas cubanos, latinoamericana para problemas latinoamericanos, puede ignorar ese fardo. La OEA, por ejemplo, es un escenario minado a evitar pues ha sido un instrumento de la política de acoso y aislamiento. Se necesita una visión del siglo XXI, desde la autonomía latinoamericana ante los grandes poderes, incluyendo Estados Unidos, que admita la pluralidad de modelos de estado y desarrollo, sin imponer moldes neoliberales.       

No solo la izquierda radical, sino importantes componentes moderados de la diáspora cubana y alternativas democráticas dentro de la intelectualidad y la sociedad civil cubana han expresado decepción por segmentos de la comunidad de derechos humanos, como Amnistía Internacional, por su falta de trabajo sistemático en la denuncia del bloqueo norteamericano contra Cuba.

En lugar de reeditar los conflictos de guerra fría, esa visión de pluralismo ideológico pondría en el centro de la acción una perspectiva respetuosa de la soberanía cubana, pero concebida de un modo moderno, más allá de la mera defensa de la no intervención. Cuba vive en una región donde la protesta de todos los estados no ha sido capaz de hacer a Estados Unidos entrar en razones sobre la ilegalidad del asedio contra la isla. Exigir una elección pluripartidista en Cuba ignorando las sanciones equivalentes a una guerra económica, donde se violan consideraciones de derecho humanitario, es otorgar a la derecha cubana una ventaja que nunca ha merecido. Como los Borbones franceses, los que se plegaron a la invasión de Bahía de Cochinos, asesinaron a Orlando Letelier, y han construido un enclave autoritario en las narices de la primera enmienda de la constitución norteamericana, no olvidan ni aprenden nada.

A su vez, América Latina es una región que ha cambiado, donde traficar con excepciones al modelo de la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos es inaceptable.  Claro que hay pluralidad de implementación y argumentos de emergencia sobre las que los estados erigen desviaciones más o menos justificadas. Pero el paradigma de un sistema unipartidista leninista que castigue la protesta pacífica por rivalizar con el supuesto rol dirigente del partido comunista es incompatible con la premisa central de que la soberanía está en el pueblo, la nación, no en partido alguno. Una cosa es argumentar que, en condiciones específicas de emergencia, decretadas acorde al modelo de la Declaración Universal, algunos derechos pueden postergarse. Otra, e inaceptable, es el  pretexto de una “democracia” unipartidista que no puede ser tal sin libertad de asociación. Partido, recordemos, viene de parte.

Arturo López-Levy

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THE MANY FACES OF REGIME CHANGE IN CUBA

BY LOUIS A. PÉREZ JR

The Jacobin, July 24, 2021

Original Article.

Cubans confront a host of problems amid a national health emergency — and the Biden administrative is only adding to punitive sanctions with the intent to make everything worse.

Fidel Castro holds up a newspaper headlining a plot to kill him in 1959. (Bettmann via Getty)

After months of casual indifference to conditions in Cuba, the Biden administration reacted with purposeful swiftness to support street protests on the island. “We stand with the Cuban people,” President Biden pronounced. A talking point was born.

“The Biden-Harris administration stands by the Cuban people,” secretary of state Antony Blinken followed. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menéndez also joined to emphasize “the need for the United States to continue to stand with the Cuban people.”

For more than a hundred and twenty years, the United States has “stood with the Cuban people” — or, perhaps more correctly, has stood over the Cuban people. Cuba seems always to be at the receiving end of American history. To stand with the Cuban people has meant armed intervention, military occupation, regime change, and political meddling — all normal events in US-Cuba relations in the sixty years before the triumph of the Cuban revolution. In the sixty years after the revolution, standing with the Cuban people has meant diplomatic isolation, armed invasion, covert operations, and economic sanctions.

It is the policy of economic sanctions — the embargo — officially designated as an “economic denial program,” that gives the lie to US claims of beneficent concern for the Cuban people. Sanctions developed early into a full-blown policy protocol in pursuit of regime change, designed to deprive Cubans of needed goods and services, to induce scarcity and foment shortages, to inflict hardship and deepen adversity.

Nor should it be supposed that the Cuban people were the unintended “collateral damage” of the embargo. On the contrary, the Cuban people have been the target. Sanctions were designed from the outset to produce economic havoc as a way to foment popular discontent, to politicize hunger in the hope that, driven by despair and motivated by want, the Cuban people would rise up to topple the government.

The declassification of government records provides insight into the calculus of sanctions as a means of regime change. The “economic denial program” was planned to “weaken [the Cuban government] economically,” a State Department briefing paper explained, to “promote internal dissension; erode its internal political support . . . [and] seek to create conditions conducive to incipient rebellion.” Sanctions promised to create “the necessary preconditions for nationalist upheaval inside Cuba,” the Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research predicted, thereupon to produce the downfall of the Cuban government “as a result of internal stresses and in response to forces largely, if not wholly, unattributable to the U.S.”

The “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support,” the Department of State offered, “is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. . . . Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba . . . [to deny] money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

The embargo has remained in place for more than sixty years. At times expanded, at other times contracted. But never lifted. The degree to which US sanctions are implicated in current protest demonstrations in Cuba is a matter of debate, of course. But that the embargo has contributed — to a greater or lesser extent — to hardship in Cuba can hardly be gainsaid; that has been its intent. And now that hardship has produced popular protests and demonstrations. That, too, is in the “playbook” of the embargo.

But the embargo has had a far more insidious impact on the political culture of Cuba. The Cuban government is not unaware of the United States’ desired policy outcomes from the sanctions. They understand well its subversive reach and interventionist thrust, and have responded accordingly, if not always consistently.

Such a nakedly hostile US policy, which has been ongoing and periodically reaffirmed over such a lengthy period of time, designed purposely to sow chaos, has in fact served Cuban authorities well, providing a readily available target that can be blamed for homegrown economic mismanagement and resource misallocation. The embargo provides a refuge for blamelessness and immunity from accountability. The tendency to attribute the consequences of ill-conceived policies to the embargo has developed into a standing master narrative of Cuban government.

But it is more complicated still. Not a few within the Cuban government view popular protests warily, seeing them as a function of US policy and its intended outcomes. It is no small irony, in fact, that the embargo has so often served to compromise the “authenticity” of popular protest, to ensure that protests are seen as acts in the service of regime change and depicted as a threat to national security.

The degree to which the political intent of the embargo is imputed to popular protest often serves to drive the official narrative. That is, protests are depicted less as an expression of domestic discontent than as an act of US subversion, instantly discrediting the legitimacy of protest and the credibility of protesters. The embargo serves to plunge Cuban politics at all levels into a Kafkaesque netherworld, where the authenticity of domestic actors is challenged and transformed into the duplicity of foreign agents. In Cuba, the popular adage warns, nothing appears to be what it seems.

Few dispute the validity of Cuban grievances. A long-suffering people often subject to capricious policies and arbitrary practices, an officialdom often appearing oblivious and unresponsive to the needs of a population confronting deepening hardship. Shortages of food. Lack of medicines. Scarcity of basic goods. Soaring prices. Widening social inequalities. Deepening racial disparities.

Difficulties have mounted, compounding continuously over many years, for which there are few readily available remedies. An economy that reorganized itself during the late 1990s and early 2000s around tourist receipts has collapsed as a result of the pandemic. A loss of foreign exchange with ominous implications for a country that imports 70 percent of its food supplies.

The Trump administration revived the most punitive elements of US sanctions, limiting family remittances to $1,000 per quarter per person, prohibiting remittances to family members of government officials and members of the Communist Party, and prohibiting remittances in the form of donations to Cuban nationals. The Trump administration prohibited the processing of remittances through any entities on a “Cuba restricted list,” an action that resulted in Western Union ceasing its operations in Cuba in November 2020.

And as a final spiteful, gratuitous gesture, the outgoing Trump administration returned Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. At the precise moment the Cuban people were reeling from greater shortages, increased rationing, and declining services, the United States imposed a new series of sanctions. It is impossible to react in any way other than with blank incredulity to State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s comment that Cuban humanitarian needs “are profound because of not anything the United States has done.”

Cubans confront all at once a collapsing economy, diminished remittances, restricted emigration opportunities, inflation, shortages of food, scarcity of medicines, all in a time of a national health emergency — and with the United States applying punitive sanctions with the intent of making everything worse. Of course, the Cuban people have the right to peaceful protest. Of course, the Cuban government must redress Cuban grievances.

Of course, the United States must end its deadly and destructive policy of subversion.

Fidel Castro in New York, 1959

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TRUDEAU’S CUBA CONTORTIONS PAINFUL TO WATCH

Yvon GrenierJJuly 19, 2021

“While the nationwide popular protests of July 11-12 in Cuba prompted governments around the world to take clear stands on this unprecedented event, the Trudeau government was hesitant,” writes Yvon Grenier. – Reuters

Original Article: Trudeau’s Cuba Contortions

YVON GRENIER • Guest Opinion

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

That was an interesting week in Canada-Cuba relations! While the nationwide popular protests of July 11-12 in Cuba prompted governments around the world to take clear stands on this unprecedented event, Ottawa was clumsy and hesitant.

As of July 19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had made two short comments, and only when pressed by journalists to speak about Havana’s repression of those protests.

On July 13, Trudeau gave a dry run to a neutral statement: “Canada has always stood in friendship with the Cuban people,” and added: “We have always called for greater freedoms and more defence of human rights in Cuba. We will continue to be there to support Cubans in their desire for greater peace, greater stability and greater voice in how things are going.” 

Couldn’t that comment be applied to almost any country — even democratic and stable ones?

This hesitancy to point the finger at the Cuban regime was not a surprise from this prime minister. He got into trouble for his strange tribute to Fidel Castro in 2016, saying, for instance, that Castro’s “supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people.” No, his detractors will never recognize that. 

That was only days after a gushing speech he delivered at the University of Havana, in which he said, astonishingly, that amicable relations with communist Cuba was “one of the ways we reassure ourselves that we are our own country.” Canada’s national identity must be pathetically weak indeed.

Back to the present. On July 15, as the Cuban dictatorship’s repression could not be denied, came Trudeau’s second statement — again prompted by a pesky journalist (Got to love them!): “We’re deeply concerned by the violent crackdown on protests by the Cuban regime. We condemn the arrests and repression by authorities of peaceful demonstration.” 

He added: “We stand, as we always will, with the people of Cuba who want and deserve democracy, freedom and respect.”

He did not shift the blame to the U.S. embargo, as the NDP and other voices from the left did, in chorus with countries like Iran and Russia. (The NDP statement also mentions the party’s “support for the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly.”)

Meanwhile, Global Affairs Canada went on automatic pilot. On July 13, according to the CBC, a spokesperson described how they were “closely monitoring the situation in Cuba,” and dusted off some boilerplate statements on how “all parties” should “exercise restraint” and “engage in peaceful and inclusive dialogue.” 

Those normally apply to violent conflicts with two or more armed groups, not to a violent government crackdown of peaceful protests. Global Affairs reiterated that “Canada supports the right of freedom of expression and assembly.” But again, absurdly, it called “on all parties to uphold this fundamental right.” 

During that week, Global Affairs made public statements on Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau’s meetings with both the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, both of whom had already made clear and forceful statements on the situation in Cuba. Global Affairs mentions discussions on many countries: Haiti, Afghanistan, Belarus, Venezuela, Nicaragua, others. But not Cuba, even though it was most probably discussed.

In 2016, when a Canadian journalist asked Trudeau point-blank if the regime built by Fidel Castro was a dictatorship, he responded (after a pregnant pause) “yes.” A hint of reason over passion; or at least, over a very Canadian naiveté, afforded by decades of unthinking “engagement” with a repressive regime. Recent developments forced the Trudeau government to turn off the automatic pilot and really think about how Cubans are ruled.

 In all likelihood, Canada will “continue to be there to support Cubans” if and when they undertake a transition to democracy. There might be some muddling through getting to that point, but the arc of Trudeau’s aggiornamento on Cuba now seems to point in the direction of reason governing a more mature policy toward this beautiful country moving forward. It just took a crisis to get out of the comfort zone.

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BIDEN STALLS ON REINSTATING CUBAN REMITTANCES FOR NO GOOD REASON

Excuses for why the US can’t lift Trump restrictions on the cash Americans send their families there are outdated and inaccurate.

July 21, 2021

William LeoGrande

Unprecedented political protests in Cuba on July 11 have forced the issue of Cuba policy to the top of President Biden’s agenda after it languished for months on the backburner. On July 19, the administration announced that it was forming a Working Group on Remittances to explore ways to enable Cuban Americans to help their families on the island. 

However, as a senior official told The Hill, “The administration is focused on only allowing such transfers if we can guarantee that all of the money flows directly into the hands of the Cuban people instead of allowing a portion of the proceeds to be siphoned off into regime coffers.” That echoes what President Biden himself said a few days earlier when he expressed his reluctance to lift President Trump’s sanctions on remittances for fear “the regime would confiscate those remittances or big chunks.”   

Sen. Bob Menendez, an outspoken critic of restoring remittances, has been in direct contact with the White House urging the president not to lift Trump’s sanctions. In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on May 19, Menendez claimed that the Cuban government was “taking 20 percent of remittances to Cuban families, then converting the balance of the remittance to Cuban pesos that are worth a fraction of what Americans send to their families, that can only be used at state-owned stores.” 

That is an inaccurate, outdated account of how the flow of remittances works, who benefits, and how the Cuban government uses the dollars that flow into the country. Before July 2020, the Cuban government did capture the lion’s share of remittances. In 2004, it began charging a 10 percent tax on US dollars coming into Cuba in the form of cash. Cuban officials justified this as necessary to cover the cost of circumventing the U.S. embargo to use dollars in the international financial system. The tax did not apply to wire transfers of dollars, or to other convertibles currencies, so Cuban Americans could avoid it entirely by using these other options. 

From 2004 to 2020, dollars were not legal tender in Cuba, so Cubans had to exchange dollars for Cuban convertible pesos, or CUC, to spend them, an exchange for which the government charged a three-percent fee. A Cuban could then use CUC to buy certain imported goods, mostly durable consumer goods that were only available for purchase in convertible pesos. The mark-ups were notoriously high—upwards of 200 percent.

Adding up all the fees and markups, it was fair to say that the Cuban government was extracting more than half the real value from dollar remittances. But that changed in July 2020.

The Cuban economy was in recession amid the pandemic, and the government was short of foreign exchange currency to import basic necessities. To create more of an incentive for Cuban Americans to send remittances, the government abolished the 10 ten-percent tax on dollars entirely. Today, Cubans can deposit remittances in a debit card account and can use the card in stores that sell goods priced in dollars. There is no 10 percent tax, no requirement that dollars be exchanged for Cuban pesos, and no exchange fee. 

For now, Cubans who have dollars in cash and want to exchange them for pesos cannot do it officially. The banks are not taking cash dollar deposits because the government has trouble spending U.S. currency abroad due to Washington’s unilateral financial sanctions. But Cubans can exchange their dollars for pesos on the street at almost triple the official exchange rate.

Markups in the hard currency stores, especially for basic consumer staples, are much reduced from what they were in the CUC stores. This is the result of market forces, not the government’s benevolence. Before the pandemic, entrepreneurs travelled abroad to buy consumer goods, bringing them back to Cuba and selling them privately at prices below the CUC prices in state stores. An estimated 25 million dollars per month in foreign exchange currency was leaving the country through these private channels. The competition forced the government to reduce prices in the state stores to win back market share. 

As a result of the July 2020 policy changes, the only profit the Cuban government currently makes on remittances wired to Cuba is this markup on goods sold in the hard currency stores.

What does the government do with the money? The dollars it takes in flow right back out to finance imports. First, the government has to import goods to restock the shelves in the hard currency stores. The profit from the stores finances general imports, about a third of which are food and other consumer goods, and another third are fuel. (Cuba imports 70 percent of its food and 59 percent of its fuel.) 

Fifty-six percent of Cuban families received remittances before Trump’s sanctions; the rest depend on social assistance or their ration cards to buy food and other staples at low prices subsidized by the state, a 30 billion peso annual expense for the government (worth about  1.25 billion dollars at the official exchange rate of 24:1). A high-end estimate of the remittances going to Cuba before Trump closed the spigot was 3.5 billion dollars, so whatever profit the government is earning in the hard currency stores is certainly less than what it spends to import the basic goods it provides at subsidized prices to Cubans who don’t receive help from family abroad.

In short, the Cuban government is not gaining windfall profits from remittances. There is no way to prevent the Cuban government from receiving those dollars when Cuban recipients spend them, so if that’s the condition the Biden administration envisions, then nothing will change. But if the goal is simply to assure that the government is not extracting value in excess of normal business expenses, then that condition is already being met. 

President Biden says he “stands with the Cuban people.” Immediately reopening the channel for Cuban Americans to send remittances to their families is the single most important thing he can do to prove it. 

Pro-government counter-protesters in Cienfuegos

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A Revolt Against The Revolution: THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT CRACKS DOWN ON PROTESTERS

The communist island has not seen such big displays of discontent for decades

Original Article: A REVOLT AGAINST THE REVOLUTION

On july 11th thousands of protesters took to the streets spontaneously in more than 50 Cuban towns and cities. They had a long litany of grievances: recurring electricity shortages, empty grocery shops, a failing economy, a repressive government and an increasingly desperate situation regarding covid-19. In a display of discontent not seen on the communist island for perhaps six decades, people of all ages chanted and marched, some of them to the tune of clanging spoons and frying pans. They shouted “Patria y Vida!” (Fatherland and Life)—a riff on the revolutionary slogan “Patria o Muerte” (Fatherland or Death), and the name of a rap song which criticises the government—along with “Libertad!” (Freedom) and “Abajo la dictadura!” (Down with the dictatorship).

Although protests continue, by the next day cities were quieter as the police went from house to house, rounding up the demonstration leaders. Riot police spread out across cities, plainclothes officers took to the streets and pro-government mobs brandishing images of Fidel Castro were called in to chant revolutionary slogans and wave Cuban flags. Miguel Díaz-Canel, the president and first secretary of the Communist Party, appeared on television to declare: “Cuba belongs to its revolutionaries.” Around 150 people have gone missing, and one protester has been killed. There are rumours that young men are being forcibly conscripted into the army.

The big question is how much staying power the protests will have. The coming weeks will show whether the regime’s stock response of swatting down any signs of dissent will work again. The government has little leeway to buy social peace. Cuba has been badly hit by covid-19 and by a precipitous drop in tourism, on which it heavily depends. A lack of foreign currency with which to buy imports has led to acute food shortages and blackouts. Under the administration of Donald Trump, the United States tightened sanctions on Cuba. These have added a little to the island’s longstanding economic troubles.

Cuba’s reluctance to buy foreign vaccines, born of a mix of autarky and a shortage of cash, means that only 16% of the population is fully inoculated. Home-grown vaccines are being developed, but have not yet been fully rolled out; meanwhile, pharmacies are short even of basics like aspirin. Whereas tourism has resumed in nearby places where covid-19 has receded, such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, Cuba is suffering from rising infections. Even the official data show the number of new cases doubling every seven days. In a video posted to Facebook, Lisveilys Echenique, who lives in the city of Ciego de Ávila, described how her brother spent 11 days battling covid-19 without treatment because he could get neither medicine nor a hospital bed. After he died, his corpse remained in her home for seven hours before an ambulance arrived.

The Cuban economy came close to collapse in the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union brought foreign aid to an abrupt halt. There were public protests then, too, which were quickly dispersed. But Cubans now have access to the internet and are adept at using it to mobilise. Videos of police violence and arbitrary arrests have been circulating rapidly in recent days. At one point in the afternoon of July 11th, as the protests reached their height, the authorities appeared to block all internet access. Some social-messaging sites have also been suspended.

But much as the government may wish to turn the internet off, it cannot afford to: the exorbitant access fees charged by the state telecoms monopoly are an important source of foreign exchange. The internet is also a vital conduit for remittances from Cubans abroad. Mobile data and Wi-Fi charges bring in perhaps $80m a month for the government, estimates Emilio Morales of Havana Consulting Group in Miami.

“The government has closed itself up like an oyster,” says José Jasán Nieves Cárdenas, editor of El Toque, a Cuban magazine mostly published online. “Instead of acknowledging that it has to come out and establish a dialogue with its people, it has chosen repression.” Tear gas and rubber bullets were used against crowds, although in some instances security officers were so outnumbered by protesters that they were forced to retreat. As things escalated, police cars were overturned and some dollar stores, symbols of the regime’s economic incompetence, were ransacked.

Mr Díaz-Canel blames Cuba’s troubles on the embargo imposed by the United States, as the government always does. He has ignored the complaints of the protesters, dismissing them as mercenaries, and offered excuses rather than plans for reform. After the president gave a speech on July 12th more protesters gathered outside the Capitol building in Havana. Other than stepping down, there is not much Mr Díaz-Canel could do to make amends to his people, says the owner of a small business. “You can’t cover the sun with one finger,” she says. Rumours are circulating that even members of the police are starting to defy their orders, as some think the protesters have a point.

Alfred Martínez Ramírez, a member of 27n, a group of activists, artists and intellectuals campaigning for greater freedom of expression, joined a protest outside the Ministry of Culture in November. Some 300 people were present, which at the time seemed a huge number. Cubans rarely protest, not least because unauthorised public gatherings are illegal. Seeing thousands of people on the streets of Havana and elsewhere in Cuba gives Mr Martínez Ramírez hope that his group is not alone, and that they may have even helped many others overcome their fear of dissent. “There has been an awakening,” he says.

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THE MASK SLIPS: THE CAUSES OF CUBA’S UPRISING LIE AT HOME

Joe Biden should scrap Donald Trump’s policies and lift the embargo

The Economist, July 15th 2021

Original Article: THE CAUSES OF CUBA’S UPRISING

Thousands of protesters thronged the streets on July 11th. Some stoned the police and looted posh shops. Such outbursts are unprecedented in Cuba since the communists secured their hold on power in the 1960s. “Freedom!” and “Down with the dictatorship!” they chanted, and “Patria y Vida!” (Fatherland and Life), quoting an underground reggaeton song that mocks Fidel Castro’s tired slogan of “Fatherland or Death”.

All this poses an extraordinary challenge to the dull bureaucrats who rule Cuba, after the death of Fidel and the retirement of his younger brother, Raúl, earlier this year. The regime has responded with repression. “Revolutionaries, to the streets,” urged Miguel Díaz-Canel, the president who this year took the helm of the Communist Party, unleashing troops, police and loyalist mobs wielding baseball bats. At least one person was killed. Scores have been detained and the government has sporadically cut access to the internet.

Repression may work in Cuba, as it has elsewhere. But something there has snapped. The tacit contract that kept social peace for six decades is broken. Many Cubans used to put up with a police state because it guaranteed their basic needs, and those with initiative found a way to leave. Now Cubans are fed up. When Mr Díaz-Canel blames the protests on “American imperialism”, all he shows is how out of touch he is. The protesters are young, mainly black and dismiss the Castros’ revolution of 1959 against an American-backed tyrant as ancient history.

They have plenty to complain about. The pandemic has shut off foreign tourism, aggravating the economy’s lack of hard currency. Raúl Castro launched economic reforms, but they were timid and slow, permitting only minuscule private businesses. It was left to Mr Díaz-Canel to take the most momentous step, by ordering a big devaluation in January. Without measures to allow more private investment and growth, that has merely triggered inflation. As its sanctions-hit oil industry collapses, Venezuela, Cuba’s chief foreign patron over the past 15 years, has curbed its cut-price oil shipments, prompting power cuts during the heat of summer. Chronic shortages of food and medicine have become acute. Despite Cuba’s prowess at public health and its development of its own vaccine, the government has failed to contain the pandemic. The sick are dying, abandoned at home or on hospital floors.

Two other factors explain the outburst. One is the change of leadership. The Castros commanded respect even among the many Cubans who abhorred them. Mr Díaz-Canel, without a shred of charisma, does not. And the internet and social media, allowed only in the past few years, have broken the regime’s monopoly of information, connecting younger Cubans to each other and the world. They have empowered a cultural protest movement of artists and musicians. Its message, in the unanswerable lyrics of “Patria y Vida”, is “Your time’s up, the silence is broken…we’re not scared, the deception is over.”

Mr Díaz-Canel faces a choice: to turn Cuba into Belarus with sunshine, or to assuage discontent by allowing more private enterprise and greater cultural freedom. That could weaken the army and the Communist Party, but it would eventually salvage some of the revolution’s original social gains.

Curiously, many Republicans in the United States echo Mr Díaz-Canel’s description of America’s role in the protests. President Donald Trump tightened the economic embargo against Cuba, barring American tourists, curbing remittances and slapping sanctions on state firms, largely reversing Barack Obama’s opening to the island. Like Cuba’s president, Republicans argue that the unrest proves the embargo is working at last.

Not so. True, the embargo has made life harder for the Cuban government. But its restrictions mainly hurt Americans. The regime can still buy American food and medicine and trade with the world. The causes of Cuba’s social explosion lie at home.

Open the windows

Joe Biden should draw the obvious conclusion. So far he has left Mr Trump’s Cuba policy intact, so as not to annoy hawkish Cuban-Americans. Instead he should return to Mr Obama’s approach. The big threat to a closed regime is engagement with the world, especially the United States. Mr Biden should lift the embargo and deprive the regime of an excuse for its own failures. 

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