• 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."

TOURISM BOOMING IN CUBA DESPITE TOUGHER NEW TRUMP POLICY

Published 1:15 PM ET Fri, 19 Jan 2018, The Associated Press

Original article: Tourism Booming In Cuba

  • 2017 was a record year for Cuban tourism, with 4.7 million visitors pumping more than $3 billion into the island’s otherwise struggling economy.
  • But the tourism dollars from big-spending Americans seem to be heading into Cuba’s state sector and away from private business.
  • That’s largely due to tougher Trump policy requiring “people-to-people” travel to take place only in tour groups, which depend largely on Cuban government transportation and guides.

On a sweltering early summer afternoon in Miami’s Little Havana, President Donald Trump told a cheering Cuban-American crowd that he was rolling back some of Barack Obama‘s opening to Cuba in order to starve the island’s military-run economy of U.S. tourism dollars and ratchet up pressure for regime change.

That doesn’t appear to be happening. Travel to Cuba is booming from dozens of countries, including the U.S. And the tourism dollars from big-spending Americans seem to be heading into Cuba’s state sector and away from private business, according to Cuban state figures, experts and private business people themselves.

The government figures show that 2017 was a record year for tourism, with 4.7 million visitors pumping more than $3 billion into the island’s otherwise struggling economy. The number of American travelers rose to 619,000, more than six times the pre-Obama level. But amid the boom — an 18 percent increase over 2016 — owners of private restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts are reporting a sharp drop-off.

“There was an explosion of tourists in the months after President Obama’s detente announcement. They were everywhere!” said Rodolfo Morales, a retired government worker who rents two rooms in his home for about $30 a night. “Since then, it’s fallen off.”

The ultimate destination of American tourism spending in Cuba seems an obscure data point, but it’s highly relevant to a decades-old goal of American foreign policy — encouraging change in Cuba’s single-party, centrally planned system. For more than 50 years, Washington sought to strangle nearly all trade with the island in hopes of spurring economic collapse. Obama changed that policy to one of promoting engagement as a way of strengthening a Cuban private sector that could grow into a middle class empowered to demand reform.

Cuba’s tourism boom began shortly after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December 2014 that their countries would re-establish diplomatic relations and move toward normalization. U.S. cruise ships began docking in the Bay of Havana and U.S. airlines started regular flights to cities across the island. Overall tourism last year was up 56 percent over Cuba’s roughly 3 million visitors in 2014.

While the U.S. prohibits tourism to Cuba, Americans can travel here for specially designated purposes like religious activity or the vaguely defined category of “people-to-people” cultural interaction.

Obama allowed individuals to participate in “people-to-people” activities outside official tour groups. Hundreds of thousands of Americans responded by designing their own Cuban vacations without fear of government penalties. Since Cuba largely steers tour groups to government-run facilities, Americans traveling on their own became a vital market for the island’s private entrepreneurs, hotly desired for their free spending, heavy tipping and a desire to see a “real” Cuba beyond all-inclusive beach resorts and quick stops on tour buses. The surge helped travel-related businesses maintain their role as by far the most successful players in Cuba’s small but growing private sector.

Trump’s new policy re-imposed the required for “people-to-people” travel to take place only in tour groups, which depend largely on Cuban government transportation and guides.

As a result, many private business people are seeing so many fewer Americans that it feels like their numbers are dropping, even though the statistics say otherwise.

“Tourism has grown in Cuba, with the exception of American tourism,” said Nelson Lopez, a private tour guide. “But I’m sure that sometime soon they’ll be back.”

While Trump’s new rules didn’t take effect until November, their announcement in June led to an almost immediate slackening in business from individual Americans, many Cuban entrepreneurs say. The situation was worsened by Hurricane Irma striking Cuba’s northern coast in September and by a Cuban government freeze on new licenses for businesses including restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts. Cuban officials say the freeze was needed to control tax evasion, purchase of stolen state goods and other illegality in the private sector, but it’s had the effect of further restricting private-sector activity in the wake of Trump’s policy change.

Cuban state tourism officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump’s policy changes did not touch flights or cruise ships. Jose Luis Perello, a tourism expert at the University of Havana, said more than 541,000 cruise ship passengers visited Cuba in 2017, compared with 184,000 the previous year. Even as entrepreneurs see fewer American clients, many of those cruise passengers are coming from the United States, he said.

Yunaika Estanque, who runs a three-room bed-and-breakfast overlooking the Bay of Havana, says she has been able to weather a sharp drop in American guests because a British tour agency still sends her clients, but things still aren’t good.

“Without a doubt our best year was 2016, before the Trump presidency,” she said. “I’ve been talking with other bed-and-breakfast owners and they’re in bad shape.”

A Great Casa Particular, my Home for Cuba visits from 1997 to 2017, undoubtedly still thriving due to its excellence.

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LOS EJERCICIOS CABALÍSTICOS DE LOS GESTORES DE LA ECONOMÍA CUBANA

Un rasgo esencial del sistema sociopolítico y económico cubano es la renuencia de la clase dirigente a ofrecer cifras y datos exactos y confiables acerca del desempeño de la economía y las finanzas al cierre de cada año.

Diciembre es para los cubanos “de adentro” –como para toda sociedad fundada sobre la tradición de herencia judeocristiana– un mes de festividades y buenos deseos, pero también una época cargada de incertidumbre tras casi 60 años de un experimento social fecundo en promesas de desarrollo económico y recuperación financiera, cuyo único saldo visible es la eterna prolongación de la espera de tiempos mejores.

Como es habitual, la ambigüedad de los informes presentados por los funcionarios correspondientes en el marco del recién finalizado período ordinario de sesiones de la Asamblea Nacional no permite al común de los mortales hacerse una idea certera sobre cuál ha sido en realidad el comportamiento de la economía, qué estrategias específicas se propone aplicar el Estado-Partido-Gobierno para superar los incontables escollos que siguen surgiendo en el insoportablemente largo camino del “socialismo” o, muy en especial, qué tipo de cálculo aplicaron los expertos en la materia para arrojar como resultado final del año 2017 un milagroso crecimiento del Producto Interno Bruto, pese a los resultados negativos del primer semestre, la contracción de los subsidios petroleros desde Venezuela, el aumento de la presión del embargo estadounidense y los efectos devastadores de eventos naturales como la severa sequía de la primera mitad del año y el paso de un huracán de gran intensidad en septiembre, que provocaron cuantiosos daños económicos.

El único saldo visible de la economía cubana es la eterna prolongación de la espera de tiempos mejores. (14ymedio/Silvia Corbelle)

No obstante, mal que les pese, los informes oficiales están obligados a reflejar al menos algunas cifras. Y es precisamente en este punto donde salen a relucir las costuras del sistema

No obstante, mal que les pese, los informes oficiales están obligados a reflejar al menos algunas cifras. Y es precisamente en este punto donde salen a relucir las costuras del sistema, saltan aquí y allá los deslices y queda expuesta la desnudez del rey. Una cuestión es el alarde de imaginación desplegado desde la facundia oficial y otra bien distinta hacer coincidir esos discursos con la terquedad de los números, que no tienen compromisos con ideologías ni con políticas.

En este sentido, el proyecto de Presupuesto del Estado presentado a la Asamblea por la diputada Lina Pedraza Rodríguez, también ministra de Finanzas y Precios, es quizás el más peliagudo de los ejercicios cabalísticos de los administradores de la miseria.

Pedraza tiene la ingrata tarea no solo de declarar los muy cuestionables resultados del año fiscal que termina en relación con el presupuesto asignado –los ingresos superaron las previsiones en un 2,3%–, sino de anunciar también otras cifras igualmente impugnables, como son las cantidades que se asignarán al llamado Plan de la Economía. Todo esto debe hacerse sin llegar a declarar jamás cuál es el monto del susodicho Presupuesto, para lo cual es habitual que el oficialismo utilice un sencillo truco: algunas cifras que se ofrecen son números porcentuales mientras otras se corresponden a cantidades numéricas exactas.

Es así que, por ejemplo, ya los cubanos sabemos que en el año 2018 el Presupuesto será un 6% superior al del año que termina –cuyo monto nunca conocimos– y que el 55% de los recursos irá en prioridad a los sectores de la Salud y la Educación, como “paradigma de justicia social y de protección de los derechos humanos”.

Ya los cubanos sabemos que en el año 2018 el Presupuesto será un 6% superior al del año que termina –cuyo monto nunca conocimos– y que el 55% de los recursos irá en prioridad a los sectores de la Salud y la Educación

Sabemos también que 8.180 millones de pesos serán destinados a “la educación en general” –que incluye 1.960.000 estudiantes de todos los niveles de enseñanza– y que la Salud Pública recibirá un total de 10.565 millones de pesos para todos sus servicios, desde consultas médicas y gastos por pacientes ingresados hasta el “desarrollo de salas especializadas” y servicios estomatológicos, entre otros.

La Seguridad Social contará con 6.000 millones de pesos para sus gastos (un 5% de crecimiento con relación al año anterior) para garantizar las pensiones de más de 1.700.000 personas y “prestaciones de corto plazo”, como las licencias de maternidad y otros beneficios.

Como botón de muestra de “las medidas que el país viene adoptando para enfrentar el envejecimiento poblacional”, el presupuesto ha asignado una cantidad (no declarada) “para la atención a más de 13.000 personas de la tercera edad que asisten a casas de abuelos y hogares de ancianos, lo que confirma el carácter humanista de nuestro sistema”.

Ahora bien, si se aplica la sencilla regla de tres matemática, fácilmente se puede calcular que esos 13.000 ancianos atendidos en instituciones especializadas estatales –dado que este tipo de servicio no está aprobado en el sector privado– constituyen apenas el 0,76% de los pensionados del país, una cifra ridículamente insuficiente que contradice el aparatoso carácter humanista del sistema político, en un país donde los únicos indicadores que crecen cada año de manera indudable son la pobreza y la cantidad de ancianos.

“Más de lo mismo”, se habrán dicho para sí algunos (…). Se equivocan: es lo mismo, sí, pero con mucho menos

Nótese, además, que los números de referencia corresponden a lo que en Cuba suele llamarse “pesos cubanos”, es decir, moneda no convertible en divisas, y que al existir dos diferentes tasas de cambio –1×1 para personas jurídicas; 1×25 para personas naturales– se crea una vaguedad que impide saber con exactitud de qué cantidades se trata.

No obstante, sí se puede suponer con certeza casi absoluta que las cifras que ofrece el Presupuesto del Estado no son equivalentes a divisas, de manera que se trata de un monto irrisorio, apenas para paliar algunos de los numerosos y acuciantes problemas económicos y sociales que deben enfrentarse.

“Más de lo mismo”, se habrán dicho para sí algunos de los pocos cubanos que tuvimos suficiente salud mental y estoicismo como para sumergirnos en el oscuro dédalo de los informes oficiales. Se equivocan: es lo mismo, sí, pero con mucho menos. Aunque pretendan convencernos de lo contrario.

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CUBA EMBARKS ON A 100-YEAR PLAN TO PROTECT ITSELF FROM CLIMATE CHANGE

By Richard Stone,

Science, Jan. 10, 2018 , 1:24 PM

Original Article: Cuba’s 100-Year Climate Change Plan

On its deadly run through the Caribbean last September, Hurricane Irma lashed northern Cuba, inundating coastal settlements and scouring away vegetation. The powerful storm dealt Havana only a glancing blow; even so, 10-meter waves pummeled El Malecón, the city’s seaside promenade, and ravaged stately but decrepit buildings in the capital’s historic district. “There was great destruction,” says Dalia Salabarría Fernández, a marine biologist here at the National Center for Protected Areas (CNAP).

Havana, San Lazaro at Belascoain

As the flood waters receded, she says, “Cuba learned a very important lesson.” With thousands of kilometers of low-lying coast and a location right in the path of Caribbean hurricanes, which many believe are intensifying because of climate change, the island nation must act fast to gird against future disasters.

Irma lent new urgency to a plan, called Tarea Vida, or Project Life, adopted last spring by Cuba’s Council of Ministers. A decade in the making, the program bans construction of new homes in threatened coastal areas, mandates relocating people from communities doomed by rising sea levels, calls for an overhaul of the country’s agricultural system to shift crop production away from saltwater-contaminated areas, and spells out the need to shore up coastal defenses, including by restoring degraded habitat. “The overarching idea,” says Salabarría Fernández, “is to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities.”

But the cash-strapped government had made little headway. Now, “Irma [has] indicated to everybody that we need to implement Tarea Vida in a much more rapid way,” says Orlando Rey Santos, head of the environment division at Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA) here, which is spearheading the project. The government aims to spend at least $40 million on Project Life this year, and it has approached overseas donors for help. Italy was the first to respond, pledging $3.4 million to the initiative in November 2017. A team of Cuban experts has just finished drafting a $100 million proposal that the government plans to submit early this year to the Global Climate Fund, an international financing mechanism set up under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Many countries with vulnerable coastlines are contemplating similar measures, and another island nation—the Seychelles— has offered to collaborate on boosting coastal protection in Cuba. But Project Life stands out for taking a long view: It intends to prepare Cuba for climatological impacts over the next century. “It’s impressive,” says marine scientist David Guggenheim, president of Ocean Doctor, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that has projects in Cuba. “Cuba is an unusual country in that they actually respect their scientists, and their climate change policy is science driven.”

Rising sea levels pose the most daunting challenge for Cuba. Over the past half-century, CITMA says, average sea levels have risen some 7 centimeters, wiping out low-lying beaches and threatening marsh vegetation, especially along Cuba’s southern midsection. The coastal erosion is “already much worse than anyone expected,” Salabarría Fernández says. Storms drive the rising seas farther inland, contaminating coastal aquifers and croplands.

Still worse is in store, even in conservative scenarios of sea-level rise, which forecast an 85-centimeter increase by 2100. According to the latest CITMA forecast, seawater incursion will contaminate nearly 24,000 square kilometers of land this century. About 20% of that land could become submerged. “That means several percent of Cuban land will be underwater,” says Armando Rodríguez Batista, director of science, technology, and innovation at CITMA.

To shore up the coastlines, Project Life aims to restore mangroves, which constitute about a quarter of Cuba’s forest cover. “They are the first line of defense for coastal communities. But so many mangroves are dying now,” Salabarría Fernández says. Leaf loss from hurricane-force winds, erosion, spikes in salinity, and nutrient imbalances could all be driving the die-off, she says.

Coral reefs can also buffer storms. A Cuban-U.S. expedition that circumnavigated the island last spring found that many reefs are in excellent health, says Juliett González Méndez, a marine ecologist with CNAP. But at a handful of hot spots, reefs exposed to industrial effluents are ailing, she says. One Project Life target is to squelch runoff and restore those reefs.

Another pressing need is coastal engineering. Topping Cuba’s wish list are jetties or other wave-disrupting structures for protecting not only the iconic Malecón, but also beaches and scores of tiny keys frequented by tourists whose spending is a lifeline for many Cubans. Cuba has appealed to the Netherlands to lend its expertise in coastal engineering.

Perhaps the thorniest element of Project Life is a plan to relocate low-lying villages. As the sea invades, “some communities will disappear,” Salabarría Fernández says. The first relocations under the initiative took place in October 2017, when some 40 families in Palmarito, a fishing village in central Cuba, were moved inland.

Other communities may not need to pull up stakes for decades. But Cuban social scientists are already fanning out to those ill-fated villages to educate people on climate change and win them over on the eventual need to move. That’s an easier sell in the wake of a major hurricane, Rodríguez Batista says. “Irma has helped us with public awareness,” he says. “People understand that climate change is happening now.”

Malecon, overlooking Hotel Nacional and Edificio Focsa

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PRIVATE SELF-EMPLOYMENT UNDER REFORM SOCIALISM IN CUBA

Mario A. Gonzalez-Corzo and Orlando Justo, The City University of New York

The Journal of Private Enterprise 32(2), 2017, 45–82

Complete Article Here: 2017_Private Self-Employment under reform Socialism in Cuba Journal_of_Private_Enterprise, 32, 2.

______________________________________________________

Abstract

The expansion of private self-employment is one of the main economic measures implemented by the Cuban government since 2010 to update its socialist economy under a unique brand of “reform socialism.” State policies (a “push factor”), as well as economic incentives and the desire for greater economic independence (“pull factors”) have contributed to the remarkable growth of self-employment in Cuba since 2010. While employment in the state sector has declined significantly (13 percent) since 2010, self-employment has grown by more than 187 percent, and its share of total employment has increased from 3 percent to close to 9 percent. Despite these advances, Cuba’s self-employed workers face significant obstacles that limit their growth and potential economic contributions. In addition to addressing these challenges and obstacles, ensuring the success of Cuba’s self-employment reforms requires re-conceptualizing the state’s attitude toward self-employed workers and their potential contributions to economic development and growth.

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New Book: CULTURE AND THE CUBAN STATE: PARTICIPATION, RECOGNITION, AND DISSONANCE UNDER COMMUNISM

YVON GRENIER

Culture and the Cuban State examines the politics of culture in communist Cuba. It focuses on cultural policy, censorship, and the political participation of artists, writers and academics such as Tania Bruguera, Jesús Díaz, Rafael Hernández, Kcho, Reynier Leyva Novo, Leonardo Padura, and José Toirac. The cultural field is important for the reproduction of the regime in place, given its pretense and ambition to be eternally “revolutionary” and to lead a genuine “cultural revolution”. Cultural actors must be mobilized and handled with care, given their presumed disposition to speak their mind and to cherish their autonomy.

This book argues that cultural actors also seek recognition by the main (for a long time the only) sponsor and patron of the art in Cuba: the “curator state”. The “curator state” is also a “gatekeeper state,” arbitrarily and selectively opening and closing the space for public expression and for access to foreign currencies and the global market. The time when everything was either mandatory or forbidden is over in Cuba. The regime seems to have learned from egregious mistakes that led to a massive exodus of artists, writers and academics. In a country where things change so everything could stay the same, the controlled opening in the cultural field, playing on the actors’ ambition and fear, illuminates a broader phenomenon: the evolving rules of the political game in the longest standing dictatorship of the hemisphere.

Author

Yvon Grenier is professor of political science at St. Francis Xavier University.

Table of Contents:

Preface
Acknowledgments
List of Acronyms
Chapter 1: Revolution and Cultural Will
Chapter 2: Don’t Cross This Line
Chapter 3: Jesus Diaz, the Unintentional Deviationist
Chapter 4: The Curator State
Chapter 5: How to Write From Mantilla, Of the Small Heresies of Leonardo Padura
Chapter 6: Faking Criticism
Conclusion
Bibliography

Reviews

Yvon Grenier, a sharp-eyed observer of culture and politics in Latin America, provides an illuminating analysis of the complex relations between Cuba’s intellectuals and the Castro regime. Exceeding the revolutionary rhetoric which has impressed much of the research on Cuba in the past, Grenier looks seriously and rigorously into the state’s cultural policy over time, showing how changes in that policy from repression to liberalization and back have not altered the fundamental position of Cuba’s artists, writers and political scientists, a position marked by fear, censorship, self-censorship, and the need to perform intellectual acrobatics. A must-read for anyone concerned with the fate of creative imagination and critical thinking in authoritarian states.
Michael Keren, University of Calgary

Everywhere in the world intellectuals, writers, and academics are a different breed who seek participation and recognition from their public and peers as well as their state. In his analysis of Cuba’s cultural policy during the Cuban revolution, Yvon Grenier carefully shows that in a communist state that quest is particularly difficult and dangerous. In Cuba, a line was drawn early on between those who work within the revolutionary parameters and gain acceptance, though at times managing to be quite critical (dissonance) and those who work outside of it, meeting rejection and ostracism (dissidence). Yet, through his analysis of the hardships, vicissitudes, and circumstances of the lives of important Cuban intellectuals (such as Jesús Díaz, Tania Bruguera, and Leonardo Padura), Grenier further shows that where the line lies can be rather unclear, leading to some crossing it unwittingly while others place their stories in another century and another place to avoid it. Grenier shows that the political control of the cultural life in a one party state like Cuba results not only in censorship but also in self-censorship. For everyone who cares about the quality of intellectual life in Cuba and elsewhere, this is a book not to be missed.
Silvia Pedraza, University of Michigan

This book is a path-breaking work that convincingly turns the conventional wisdom about the ‘cultural policy’ of the Cuban Revolution on its head. Most compelling and original is the author’s nimble analysis that distinguishes between a set of unwritten but untouchable “primary parameters” and another set of “secondary” and contextually permeable parameters that such cultural actors must constantly negotiate in order to avoid being dealt “out of the game” of Cuban culture as played on the island under the Revolution. The strongest contribution of the book is to change the focus on cultural freedom in Cuba from one that focuses exclusively on the state to one that focuses equally on the ways Cuban writers, artists, and intellectuals negotiate with the state, in search not only of greater creative freedom but also (and ironically) state recognition and promotion.
Ted A. Henken, Baruch College

 

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U.S. POLICY IS HURTING CUBA’S ENTREPRENEURS

BY NIURIS HIGUERAS, YAMINA VICENTE, JULIA DE LA ROSA QUESADA AND MARLA RECIO

Miami Herald, DECEMBER 11, 2017

Original Article: HURTING CUBA’S ENTREPRENEURS

NIURIS HIGUERAS IS THE OWNER OF ATELIER RESTAURANT; YAMINA VICENTE IS THE OWNER OF DECORAZON, A DECORATING COMPANY; JULIA DE LA ROSA QUESADA IS CO-OWNER OF LA ROSA DE ORTEGA B&B; AND MARLA RECIO IS THE OWNER OF HAVANA REVERIE, AN EVENT PLANNING COMPANY.

It is a tough moment in Cuba for hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs and millions of families with relatives in the United States. President Trump’s new Cuba policy, announced in June and recently written into law, and the partial draw-down of the U.S. Embassy, are hurting the private sector and taking a terrible toll on Cuban families.

As business owners and the heads of our households, we’re saddened by the turn of events that are causing so many of our friends, family and colleagues to suffer. We’re tired of hearing about “support for the Cuban people,” while those very policies take money out of our pockets and food off our tables, and separate us from our families.

The new restrictions on travel are crushing the private sector. Limits on individual travel and calls for stricter enforcement have confused and scared U.S. visitors, many of whom are choosing to go elsewhere or canceling their Cuba travel plans. As a way of kicking us while we’re down, an unjust State Department travel warning and the partial closure of the U.S. Embassy in Havana have further affected U.S. travel and hurt our businesses.

The closure of consular services is dividing families, making reunification and family visits nearly impossible. Hundreds of thousands of Cuban families are suffering, not knowing when they will be reunited with loved ones. It also makes it impossible for entrepreneurs to take part in workshops and training programs, cultural groups to tour the U.S. and Cuban students to get visas to study in the States. The accompanying travel warning, which is completely unjustified, is scaring off American visitors.

Together, the travel warning and new restrictions have had a clear impact: Restaurants are empty, occupancy rates are down, events are canceled and freelance guides and taxi drivers and others roam the streets looking for work. Many of us now must decide which of our workers to lay off.

Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric in U.S. policy about support for the Cuban people and support for the private sector, our reality is not taken into account and our wants and hopes fall on deaf ears. Last year, we went to Washington, D.C., to have lawmakers hear our voices and discuss how a more open policy of trade and travel helps Cuba’s private businesses. The country’s top 100 private businesses sent a letter to President Trump making that case, believing as a business person he would understand.

A group of us, Cuban women entrepreneurs, reached out to Ivanka Trump, assistant to the president, hopeful she would understand the importance of empowering women who are business leaders on the island. Our letters and meeting requests to the administration went unanswered, time and time again.

Sen. Marco Rubio claims to be the leading architect of the administration’s policy toward our country. Facing criticism of how the new travel policy would affect Cuban entrepreneurs, Rubio tweeted: “If Cuban people are hurt it will be because the Castro govt doesn’t allow them to own their own business, not because of the new policy.”

We would like Rubio to know that we do in fact own our own businesses, and we are hurt by the new policy.

We have repeatedly requested meetings with Rubio and his staff to share our knowledge and firsthand experiences as entrepreneurs and community leaders in Cuba. Unfortunately, like administration officials, he has ignored our requests to meet.

Policymakers refusal to meet with us and, more important, take our aspirations and livelihoods into account, is symbolic of decades of U.S. policies that aim to punish the Cuban people because of disapproval of the Cuban government. Not only is this way of thinking and acting ineffective and counterproductive, it is cruel and causes real suffering for the people they’re supposedly trying to help.

We call on Rubio to stop trying to divide and separate our two countries. Stop pushing forward measures that harm families, entrepreneurs and average Cubans. We also call on the State Department to immediately lift the unwarranted and politicized travel warning, fully reopen embassies and make clear that the confusing and convoluted new regulations permit individual travel.

Rhetoric, finger pointing, and restrictions are not the type of “support” the Cuban people want and need. What we want are fully functioning embassies and the freedom of travel for Americans and Cubans alike. We can take care of the rest.

NIURIS HIGUERAS

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CUBA’S LEADERS ARE TRAPPED BETWEEN THE NEED FOR CHANGE AND THE FEAR OF IT

A new study shows just how weak the Castros’ economy is

 The Economist. Print edition | The Americas; Dec 7th 2017

Original Article: The Need for Change and the Fear of It

Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel

FOR decades Cuban exiles in Miami dreamed of the day that Fidel Castro would die. They imagined that Cubans would then rise up against the communist dictatorship that he imposed. Yet when, a year ago this week, Castro’s ashes were interred in his mausoleum, it was an anticlimax. His brother, Raúl, who is now 86, has been in charge since 2006. For a while, he seemed to offer the prospect of far-reaching economic reform. Now, as he prepares to step down as Cuba’s president in February, he is bequeathing merely stability and quiescence.

Raúl’s planned retirement is not total—he will stay on as first secretary of the ruling Communist Party for a further three years. He is due to leave the presidency as Cuba is grappling with two new problems. The first is the partial reversal by Donald Trump of Barack Obama’s historic diplomatic and commercial opening to the island, which will cut tourist revenues. The second is the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which in September devastated much of the north coast and several tourist resorts. That has prompted speculation in Miami that Raúl may stay on.

That is to misread the man. In his decade in power Raúl has striven above all to institutionalise the Cuban communist regime, replacing the wayward charisma of Fidel with orderly administration and a collective leadership. He has groomed as his successor Miguel Díaz-Canel, a 57-year-old engineer who has already assumed many public duties. Yet, as president, Mr Díaz-Canel’s autonomy will be limited. He is just one of a group of party bureaucrats and generals who are the real power in Cuba, steadily replacing the generación histórica (those who fought in the 1959 revolution), who are dying off.

The new generation faces an acute dilemma. Despite aid from Venezuela, which has now fallen to half its peak level, Cuba remains unable to produce much of the food it consumes or pay its people more than miserable wages. That is why Raúl embraced market reforms, albeit far more timid ones than those in China or Vietnam. More than 500,000 Cubans now work in an incipient private sector of small and micro businesses or co-operatives.

But these reforms bring inequality and a loss of state control. When Mr Obama visited Cuba in 2016, offering support for entrepreneurs and calling on live television for free elections, the regime appeared to panic. Since then, the government has placed some curbs on small business to stop what Raúl called “illegalities and other transgressions”. In other words, the government wants a market economy without capitalists or businesses that thrive and grow. It seems nowhere near tackling the multiple exchange rates (ranging from one peso to the dollar for official imports to 25 for most wages and prices) that ludicrously distort the economy.

Stalling may leave intact the regime’s political control—its overriding priority. But this ignores a fundamental problem. Since the 1980s the Cuban economy has steadily lost ground in relation to those of other Latin American countries, as a study published last month by the Inter-American Development Bank shows. Its author, Pavel Vidal, was one of Raúl’s team of reformist economic advisers and is now at the Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia. He has devised hitherto unavailable internationally comparable estimates for Cuba’s GDP since 1970 by calculating an average exchange rate which takes into account the weight of the various rates in the economy.

Mr Vidal finds that GDP per person in Cuba in 2014 was just $3,016 at the average exchange rate, barely half the officially reported figure and only a third of the Latin American average. This includes the value of free social services (such as health, education and housing) that Cubans receive. Taking into account purchasing power, GDP per person was $6,205 in 2014, or 35% below its level of 1985. Mr Vidal goes on to compare Cuba with ten other Latin American countries whose populations are similar in size. Whereas in 1970 Cuba was the second-richest, behind only Uruguay, in 2011 (the latest year for which data are available) it was in sixth place in income per person, having been overtaken by Panama, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.

Cuba’s decline is above all because of lack of investment, says Mr Vidal. But a shrinking and ageing population plays a part, too. He finds that the reforms have brought about a modest increase in income and even in productivity. They “go in the right direction but have fallen short”, he concludes.

For Mr Díaz-Canel and his reformist colleagues the message is clear: speeding up change carries political risks, but not doing so involves economic ones.

 

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ORDER FROM CHAOS: WHAT WILL BE RAUL CASTRO’S LEGACY?

Richard E. Feinberg, Nonresident Senior Fellow – Foreign PolicyLatin America Initiative

Brookings, December 4, 2017

Original Article: Order from Chaos
In many ways, Raúl Castro’s 10-year presidential rule, ending in February 2018, has been utterly disappointing. Cuba’s economy is stagnant and economic reform has stalled. Political power remains highly centralized and secluded. The island’s educated youth are fleeing in droves for better opportunities abroad. And the Trump administration is renewing U.S. hostility.

Nevertheless, during his decade in power Raúl Castro oversaw historic shifts in Cuban foreign and domestic policies. Raúl initiated some policy innovations, deepened and consolidated others, and merely watched while forces beyond his control drove other changes. Regardless, these changes have paved the way for the successor generation of leaders—if they dare—to push Cuba forward into the 21st century.

MORE FRIENDS

Fidel’s younger brother, now 86, can be especially pleased with his achievements in foreign affairs. Cuba had been a colony of Spain, a dominion of U.S. capital, a cog within the Soviet-dominated Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) system. Now, for the first time in its 500-year history, Cuba has escaped the grip of a single world power.

Today, Cuban traders circumnavigate the globe, engaging both state-directed and free-market economies. The top trading 10 partners in goods in 2016 were (in rank order): China, Venezuela, Spain, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, Argentina, Germany, and Vietnam. The next tier of merchandise trading partners (between $275 million and $100 million) includes the United States, France, Algeria, the Netherlands, Russia, and Trinidad and Tobago. No single country accounts for more than 20 percent of total merchandise trade.

This trade diversification began in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but Raúl’s economic team extended and consolidated it. Under Raúl, Cuba also expanded the number of countries that purchase its main service export—the labor of educated professionals, especially in the medical field. While Fidel initiated large-scale service exports to Venezuela, Raúl followed suit with Brazil and dozens of other developing countries.

In the last 10 years, Cuba has also diversified the sources of foreign investment. For example, in the economy’s bright spot, international tourism, investors hail from Spain, France, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, China, and Malaysia, among other locations.

A small island economy cannot hope to be fully autonomous; it must adapt to global constraints. But by diversifying its economic partners, Cuba has minimized its vulnerability to external dictates, and maximized its own margin for maneuver. This diversification of economic partnerships has paid handsome diplomatic dividends. Cuba has become an accepted participant in various Latin American forums and diplomatic initiatives; overcame its exclusion from the Summit of the Americas leaders’ meetings; gained membership in the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI); and gained access to resources at the multilateral Andean Development Corporation (CAF). President Donald Trump is alone in his efforts to damage the Cuban economy through comprehensive economic sanctions.

BREAKING IDEOLOGICAL BARRIERS

The slow, halting pace of economic reform has discouraged many Cubans, especially recent university graduates. Conservative forces resisting change remain strong within the Cuban Communist Party. Nevertheless, Raúl leaves a legacy that could greatly facilitate the work of reformers in the future. (I will further evaluate the economic reforms and pathways forward in a February 2018 Brookings policy brief.)

Raúl’s legacy lies not in standard measures of economic performance, such as per capita GDP growth, labor productivity, or investment rates, where results have varied from disappointing to disastrous. Rather, Raúl’s legacy in economic policy lies in breaking once forbidding ideological barriers. True, Raúl’s public statements often have been contradictory and shifting, as he apparently sought to balance conflicting tendencies within the Cuban Communist Party. But in key areas, Raúl demolished or at least cracked these obstacles to change: rejection of globalization (a favorite Fidel bugaboo), fear of foreign investment, and hostility to private business and markets. He also transformed relations with the United States.

In daily life, Cubans have left behind the comfort of social uniformity and relative economic equality for the more tumultuous worlds of greater social heterogeneity and income inequalities.

Raúl is no cheerleader for globalization. But he set aside his brother’s heated denunciations of multinational corporations and “exploitative” markets. Instead, he went about the practical business of building economic relations with a multitude of governments and foreign corporations. Without much pomp and circumstance (although there was the occasional ribbon-cutting), Raúl advanced the process of normalizing Cuba’s integration into global markets.

Raúl’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with “the historic enemy,” the United States, dramatically revised his regime’s foreign policy doctrine. The hegemon just across the Florida Straits was no longer an imminent, existential threat, readily justifying economic deprivations and tight political restrictions. Notwithstanding the altered attitude in Washington today, so far a number of the concrete gains from the Obama era détente remain in place, notably the facilitation of travel (commercial airline flights and cruise ships) and the generous flows of remittances to many Cuban families, whether for household consumption or business start-ups.

Of the reforms most directly attributable to Raúl, the suppression of the special (and expensive) permit to travel abroad was among the most important to many Cubans. As a result, most Cubans can freely leave the island (provided they can acquire an entry visa elsewhere), to be enriched by their contact with foreign lands and ideas. Greater access to mobile technology and rapidly expanding social media, permission to sell homes and cars, and more freedom to stay in once-forbidden tourist hotels have also improved life for many Cubans during his tenure.

De facto, by building commercial partnerships worldwide, and by accepting the freedom to travel, Cuba has now embraced core components of globalization.

OPENING TO FOREIGN INVESTMENT

To stave off complete economic collapse in the early 1990s, Fidel had invited in limited foreign investment. El Comandante en Jefe made these concessions holding his sensitive ideological nose and again closed Cuba’s borders once he felt politically secure. In sharp contrast, Raúl has publicly chastised his ministers for not accelerating foreign capital inflows (although he hesitated to fire them).

Periodically, the government releases a “Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment.” Each edition is fatter and glossier; the 300-page 2017-2018 version features 456 projects with a cumulative price tag of $11 billion. Yes, most projects have remained on paper, victims of bureaucratic foot-dragging and red tape; but these documents are products of an inter-agency process whereby many ministries and state enterprises join in a collective waving of hands to the international commercial community.

In a 2011 official document outlining proposed reforms, foreign investment was derided as “complementary,” a secondary afterthought. In contrast, when addressing Havana’s annual international trade fair in 2017, Raúl’s minister for foreign trade and investment sang a very different tune: “Today foreign investment ceases to be a complement and has become an essential issue for the country.”

Mariel, the new economic development zone facing the Straits of Florida, has gotten off to a slow start, having approved over three years only 26 projects worth about $1 billion. However, 15 of these projects have broken through another ideological barrier: allowing 100 percent foreign ownership.

LEGITIMIZING PRIVATE PROPERTY

Fidel disliked and distrusted private property. In 1968, for example, he nationalized remaining mom-and-pop businesses. In contrast, over the last decade the government has issued hundreds of thousands of licenses to small-scale private businesses. Raúl has also encouraged some 200,000 Cuban families to farm as homesteaders (although not all survived). In addition to these authorized private businesses, many Cubans augment their income in more-or-less tolerated gray-market activities. Altogether, as much as 40 percent of the Cuban workforce have at least one foot in the private sector.

Recently, Raúl criticized private business for illicit activities, and the government halted the granting of new business licenses. Nevertheless, these concessions to anxious Communist Party stalwarts appear to be a temporary pause. The ideological foundations, and public constituency, for the acceptance and eventual expansion of a market-driven private sector have most likely been set too deep for a full-blown counter-revolution to succeed.

SOCIAL RELAXATION

This increase in economic pluralism has unleashed public debates on economic policy. Criticism of government performance is widely voiced with less fear, even if journalists and academics are still careful not to directly confront senior authority.

Another major shift that accelerated during the last decade: the evolution of Cuban society from socialist uniformity toward a more heterogeneous mix of property relations, income levels, and social styles. While legal statutes remain to be written, property can now be private (often in partnership with diaspora capital), cooperative (in numerous variations) and foreign-owned, as well as state controlled.

Income inequalities have become more visible, even if less jarring than in other Latin American and Caribbean nations. Many Cubans still honor social solidarity. But the transition toward a more normal, relaxed, and individualistic society is unmistakable. On Havana’s streets, Cuban youth—increasingly exposed to international tourists, travel opportunities and the worldwide web—sport the variety of hairstyles, tattoos, music, and other signatures of global youth.

These ideological adaptations do not guarantee speedy policy changes, much less their faithful implementation. The Cuban government is grappling with a severe foreign exchange crisis, and the sudden, unanticipated chill in bilateral relations imposed by the United States. All the more reasons for the next generation of Cuban leaders to build upon the diversity of international economic associations and the new ideological currents unleashed during the reign of the second and last Castro brother—and to launch their island state into deeper phases of global integration and economic transformation.

Richard Feinberg

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NESTLE, CUBA LAY FIRST STONE FOR $55 MILLION COFFEE AND BISCUIT FACTORY

Reuters, November 28, 2017.

Original Article: Cuba Nestle

By Sarah Marsh

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba and Swiss firm Nestle on Tuesday laid the first stone of a $55 million coffee and biscuits factory joint venture in the Mariel special development zone, the latest major foreign investment in the Communist-run island.

Nescor is Cuba’s third joint venture with Nestle and reflects President Raul Castro’s drive to attract international capital to help update the Soviet-style command economy and stimulate growth.

Cuba created the zone around the Mariel port just west of Havana four years ago, offering companies significant tax and customs breaks. Its aim to replace imports with Made in Cuba goods has become all the more pressing because aid from socialist ally Venezuela is falling, resulting in a cash crunch.

Nestle Vice President Laurent Freixe said in an interview after the symbolic stone-laying ceremony that negotiations with Cuban partner Coralsa and Mariel authorities had taken just 18 months, a “record speed”.

The factory would be operating at the end of 2019 manufacturing coffee products, said Freixe, head of Nestle’s Americas division. Biscuits and other culinary products would come later. The company exports goods to Cuba and the other two joint ventures are one producing ice cream and the other bottled water and other beverages.Nescor goods would be destined both for the Cuban market and tourists visiting Cuba, while it could eventually also export Cuban coffee, Freixe said.

Nestle last year already exported Cuban coffee as a limited “Cafecito de Cuba” edition of Nespresso single-use brewer pods, including to the United States.

“It sold at an impressive speed,” said Freixe. “Within a few days that line was sold out, which shows the potential.”

Before being able to export Cuban coffee, Nestle would first need to help Cuba increase its harvest, Freixe said, which has steadily declined since the 1959 revolution.

The new factory could double Nestle’s turnover in the country over the medium term from $135 million currently, he said.

So far, Cuba has approved 31 projects for the Mariel zone including nine with multinationals, Director Ana Teresa Igarza said at the ceremony. There was no longer the same flurry of business interest in the zone as when it was created but the interest that remained was more serious, she said. Mariel was on the list of Cuban entities that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump banned U.S. firms from doing business with.Just one U.S. company, Rimco, the Puerto Rican dealer for heavy machine maker Caterpillar , has signed a deal with Mariel to open up shop there, getting approval just on time before the new U.S. regulations were issued earlier this month.Igarza declined comment on whether Mariel continued to negotiate with other U.S. companies but said it would be open to doing so.

Mariel, April 2015. (Photo by Arch Ritter)

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YOUR MIND IS IN PRISON: CUBA’S WEB OF CONTROL OVER FREE EXPRESSION AND ITS CHILLING EXPRESSION ON EVERYDAY LIFE

Original Document: Amnesty International

Amnesty International, November 27, 2017

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. INTRODUCTION

2. THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG  

[From Amnesty International’s archives: Cuba’s 50-year campaign against freedom of expression and peaceful assembly]

2.1 THE RIGHTS TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND ASSOCIATION

2.2 “EVERYTHING IS ILLEGAL”

2.3 HUMAN RIGHTS STANDARDS AND THE APPLICATION OF THE CRIMINAL LAW

3. SILENCE–A CONDITION OF EMPLOYMENT

3.1 HARASSMENT AND WRONGFUL DISMISSALS IN THE STATE SECTOR

3.2 A VICIOUS CYCLE: HARASSMENT IN THE SELF-EMPLOYED SECTOR

3.3 IMPRISONED AND DISCRIMINATED FOR TRYING TO LEAVE THEIR OWN COUNTRY

3.4 LIMITS ON INDEPENDENT TRADE UNION

3.5 THE APPARENT LACK OF EFFECTIVE RECOURSE FOR DISCRIMINATORY DISMISSAL

3.6 DISCRIMINATION IN ACCESS TO AND AT WORK

3.7 FEAR OF RETURNING TO THEIR OWN COUNTRY

4. BELOW THE SURFACE OF THE ICEBERG

4.1 SELF-CENSORSHIP

4.2 THE CHILLING EFFECT

5. RECOMMENDATIONS

TO THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT

TO THE US CONGRESS

INTRODUCTION

The past few years have been a bitter-sweet period for those hoping for the Cuban authorities to relax their iron grip on people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly.

High-profile visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Pope Francis in 2015, as well as by the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children and the UN Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity in 2017, appeared to herald greater political openness and to offer some hope that Cuba might begin to open itself up to increased international scrutiny by independent human rights monitors. A tourism boom, the expansion of Wi-Fi-internet hotspots, even a first ttime performance by the rock band the Rolling Stones (foreign rock music was deemed subversive in Cuba for decades) were other small signs that Cuba might be releasing its tight control on freedom of expression. The re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the USA starting in December 2014, followed by then President Obama’s state visit to Cuba in 2016 also seemed to promise the beginning of an end to the economic embargo which for decades has perpetuated the Cold War rhetoric of “us” and “them” and undermined ordinary Cubans’ enjoyment of economic and social rights.

This optimism makes the jarring reality all the more marked. Hours before President Obama landed in Cuba, dozens of activists and independent journalists were detained. In a joint press conference with the US President, President Raúl Castro continued to flatly deny that there were any “political prisoners” in Cuba.

In contrast, in the past three years, Amnesty International has named 11 prisoners of conscience in Cuba, and there are likely many more. Further, a national human rights organization, not recognized by the Cuban authorities, reported an average of 762 politically motivated and arbitrary detentions a month between 2014 and 2016.

Human rights lawyers from the organization Cubalex were harassed and intimidated, despite having been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to protect their lives, personal integrity and activities as human right defenders. In May 2017, at least 12 of its members were granted asylum in the USA after the Cuban authorities threatened to bring criminal charges against them related to a tax investigation. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Cuba 10th on its 2015 list of the world’s most censored countries and classified its laws on free speech and press freedom as the most restrictive in the Americas. Amnesty International media remains heavily censored and limited. While an increasing range of autonomous digital media projects has emerged, alternative online news sources operate within a legal limbo that exposes journalists and media workers to the risk of harassment and arbitrary detention. Moreover, their web pages are often blocked by the authorities in Cuba. In early 2017, the expulsion of a journalism student reportedly pushed out of university for being a member of the group Somos, considered a dissident organization by the authorities, received widespread international and independent national media coverage. According to press reports, one of Cuba’s most famous singers, Silvio Rodríguez, called the expulsion an “injustice” and “clumsy and obtuse.”

In June 2017, President Trump’s administration took an almost complete U-turn on US political rhetoric towards Cuba reducing the likelihood that the US Congress will pass legislation to lift the economic embargo on Cuba. Despite the easing of some restrictions by the former Obama administration, which has allowed for increased travel and remittances between the two countries, and annual votes by a majority of UN member states to lift it, the embargo remains in place. Amnesty International has consistently recommended that the US embargo be lifted, based on its negative impact on the economic and social rights of the Cuban population. Meanwhile, a recent poll by the University of Chicago found that many Cubans “feel stuck in the current economic climate.”

Few expect the economy will improve anytime soon and 46% described it as poor or very poor. Cuba’s fragile economy has inevitably been impacted by the ongoing economic and human rights crisis in Venezuela – a provider of significant economic aid to Cuba in recent years. Exceptionally low salaries – the average monthly salary is approximately USD27 a month – are insufficient to cover basic needs. Ordinary Cubans continue to struggle, despite the government’s food ration system, taking additional jobs in the informal sector and receiving remittances from family members living overseas.16 In July 2017, the Secretary General of the Central Union of Cuban Workers (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, CTC), the country’s only officially recognized trade union, stated in an interview that average salaries are unable to meet workers’ basic needs and create “apathy in work, lack of interest and significant labour migration”, an issue that he said is being evaluated by decision-making bodies.

While many Cubans interviewed for this briefing told Amnesty International that they felt Cuba has made important human rights advances in the provision of free health care and access to education and valued the fact that there is little organized crime in the country, many also described the day-to-day struggle of having to make difficult choices between feeding and clothing their families. People interviewed by Amnesty International said that food rations – which have been progressively reduced – are insufficient to last the month. And while education is free, many Cubans find it difficult to buy the things their children need to attend school, such as uniforms, backpacks and other basic supplies. For example, an administrator in a state food factory told Amnesty International she earned USD20 a month at a time when shoes for her child could easily cost USD30. Many people interviewed said they had to break the law to make ends meet. The same administrator also described how one of her job responsibilities was to ensure that workers did not steal bread or other essentials they need to survive.

Former President Fidel Castro’s death in November 2016, and President Raúl Castro’s announcement that he would step down in 2018 continue to fill opinion columns with speculation about Cuba’s future. But while in political quarters and international news rooms Cuba remains a hot topic, tens of thousands of Cubans continue to leave the country. Their individual reasons may vary, but common threads are disillusion with Cuba’s changing international diplomacy, a lack of confidence that salaries will improve18 and scepticism at the idea that a post-Castro administration will do anything to untangle the tight web of control on freedom of expression. Amnesty International’s interviews with Cuban migrants highlight this widespread and profound lack of belief in the prospect of structural change. This briefing examines limitations on freedom of expression that persist in Cuba despite the context of purported political openness, a tourism boom and a changing economic context. It is based on research carried out between December 2016 and September 2017, although Amnesty International´s lack of access to Cuba has posed a significant limitation on providing an analysis of human rights issues in the country. The interviews the organization conducted with Cubans for this briefing have made it possible to identify the impact on a wide range of people of 50 years of serious restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The failure of the authorities to respect and ensure these rights has had an impact far beyond the ranks of those directly targeted for their activism or views and seeped into the everyday experiences and hopes of people from all walks of life.

This briefing focuses on those wider influences and on the human rights advances that those affected would want to see. As Cuba prepares for elections in 2018, the diverse Cuban voices at the centre of this research highlight the need for authorities to promote reforms that ensure the respect and protection of human rights, including a review of criminal laws and practices which are inconsistent with international human rights law and standards and that unduly limit freedom of expression. They also underscore the need for the authorities to adhere to international labour standards which Cuba has undertaken to uphold by ratifying International Labour Conventions. The briefing ends with a set of recommendations calling on the authorities to end unjust restrictions not only on those unfairly deprived of their physical freedom, but also on those who feel their minds are imprisoned and their lives stunted because they are deprived of their right to freedom of expression.

CONTINUE READING

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