• 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."

PAYING FOR THE PORT OF MARIEL: ARE CUBA AND BRAZIL PARTNERS IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

Capitol Hill Cubans – Oct 24, 2014 – By Maria C. Werlau in Spain’s ABC

Original article: http://www.capitolhillcubans.com/2014/10/must-read-are-cuba-and-brazil-partners.html

The Brazilian government has committed huge taxpayer funds —in loans, subsidies, and direct humanitarian assistance— to support infrastructure projects, food exports, and other initiatives in or for Cuba. Brazil has also provided decisive international political backing to the Cuban military dictatorship. This support is nowhere more evident than in the Port of Mariel, refurbished to great fanfare with Brazilian public financing of over one billion dollars.

Brazil’s massive lending for Cuba seems reckless from a financial/due diligence perspective, as Cuba does not meet basic standards of creditworthiness. The island is technically insolvent; it has US$75 billion in external debt, a long history of defaults, and a classification from The Economist Intelligence Unit as one of the four riskiest countries on the planet to invest in. Meanwhile, the port project is apparently not viable, as the two main reasons given to justify the gigantic investment are shaky at best. Several ports in the vicinity look better positioned to take advantage of the Panama Canal expansion and the U.S. embargo does not seem anywhere close to ending.

df919cc65a58e4d82fdff81f6504895e Brazil’s huge government loans and subsidies for Cuba have been granted with unprecedented levels of secrecy and are currently under investigation for allegations of corruption, kickbacks, and favoritism towards the port builder, Odebrecht, which received Brazil´s development bank (BNDES) loans for the port construction and is a large campaign contributor of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (P.T.). Moreover, while Brazil has greatly increased financing for projects of politically-compatible foreign governments such as Cuba’s —growing the deficit to 4% of GDP—, public funding for infrastructure projects within Brazil has been lacking.

The manifest commitment to support Cuba at all costs may seem puzzling, but can be explained by the strong political-ideological alliance of P.T. leaders with the Cuban regime in the pursuit of a radical hemispheric agenda (inspired in the Foro de Sao Paulo). The hyped-up business opportunities surrounding the port seek to exert pressure against the U.S. embargo and attract investors.

While the Mariel port project does not meet standard repayment conditions, Brazilian officials insist Cuba is meeting its financial commitments, presumably the amortization of its own loans from Odebrecth. In fact, it appears that repayment is coming from exploiting Cuba’s citizens as export raw material for goods and services —purchased mostly by public entities in Brazil— in what arguably constitutes a government-to-government collaboration in human trafficking. Referred to as “health cooperation,” these exports consist of:

  • Export services provided by approximately 11,400 Cuban doctors hired out for a Brazilian government program launched in 2013 that generates Cuba estimated annual net revenues of US$404 million.
  •  Export products reported under standard trade codes for blood — including plasma and medicines and other products derived from blood — and for extracts of glands and organs.

Both have grown exponentially since former Brazilian president Lula da Silva launched the Brazil-Cuba alliance in 2003. Blood imports by Brazil from Cuba were only US$570 thousand in 2002, grew to US$16.9 million in 2011, and totaled US$4.8million in 2013; imports of extracts of glands and organs increased phenomenally from almost nothing in 2003 (US$25,804) to US$88.4 million in 2013.

These exports raise serious ethical concerns. The doctors are deployed as “exportable commodities” to remote zones of Brazil in violation of several ILO (International Labor Organization) conventions as well as of international standards and agreements on the prohibition of human trafficking, servitude, and bondage.

Regarding the export products, details are lacking, but if the trade is in products of human origin, as it appears, it would have very troubling implications. In Cuba, blood and organs/tissues/body parts are obtained from voluntary and uncompensated donors unaware of a profit motive by their government and practices involved in their collection —some quite scandalous— are unacceptable by standards of the World Health Organization and other international bodies.

Additional concerns pertain to safety, quality, effectiveness, and the potential political purpose driving the purchases.

While the service of Cuban doctors has raised ample debate and media coverage in Brazil, the import of products purportedly derived from human blood and body parts has, as of yet, remained out of the public sphere.

In addition, while Brazilian authorities move forward with plans to integrate its biopharmaceutical production with Cuba, that this industry is under the absolute control of the secretive Cuban military regime or that it collaborates with rogues states such as Iran and Syria —including with exports of dual-use technology— have yet to raise attention in Brazil. In Cuba, this discussion cannot be had, as all media and mass communications belong to and are run by the state.

Maria WerlauMaria Werlau

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AS CUBAN ECONOMY STAGNATES, ECONOMISTS PRESS FOR DEEPER REFORMS

By Marc Frank HAVANA (Reuters Oct 24 2014) –

Some of Cuba’s best-known economists are openly questioning the very core of the Soviet-style command economy and saying market reforms under way are too modest to boost weak growth.Emboldened by freer debate in the country, they are increasingly vocal in criticizing rigid instructions coming down from the top and the uneven management of policies across the economy, from banking to agriculture. Their influence on government policy-makers is difficult to gauge due to the secretive nature of the ruling Communist Party, but they clearly have been given leeway to call for changes.

Seeking to build a “prosperous and sustainable” socialism, President Raul Castro pushed through a 311-point reform agenda that was adopted by the Communist Party in 2011. It has led Cuba to liberalize farming and retail services by turning much of them over to cooperatives and allowing small private businesses. The Caribbean island is also actively seeking foreign investment. Castro, who took over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, has repeatedly said he despises false consensus and has encouraged debate as long as it takes place within the system.

The economists now talking out are generally members of the Communist Party and some have contact with high-ranking officials, suggesting they may be able to influence the debate inside government on the speed and scope of reforms.They have called for economic reforms for years, but never targeted so sharply the very pillars of the system.

Juan Triana, one of the best-known and most influential economists, says the government’s reforms have signaled a reliance on market mechanisms but officials have still not embraced competition for core parts of the economy and more than 2,000 state companies. “The cost of not recognizing the importance of competition for development are paid in lower rates of growth than the potential, the incorrect assigning of resources, lower than possible rates of productivity and efficiency, and most of all a lack of incentives for innovation, one of the principal motors of development,” he said in a recent presentation to mid-level government officials and peers at a seminar in Havana. The seminar was hosted by the Havana University Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy (CEEC), known for its bold stand for reform over the last 15 years and its criticism of the status quo.

Speaker after speaker joined Triana in urging deeper reform, according to copies of presentations seen by Reuters. Central planning, the government’s sway over strategic company decisions and the state’s monopoly in foreign trade were all criticized.

Frente-CEECCentro de Estudios sobre la Economia Cubana (CEEC), Universidad de la Habana

 “Probably, the so-called state monopoly on foreign trade is a big obstacle to the diversification and growth of exports,” said Miguel Alejandro Figueras, winner of Cuba’s top economics prize in 2007.

While Castro’s reforms have raised the expectations of many Cubans, they have largely disappointed. Public frustration over a lack of well-paid jobs has contributed to a sharp increase in the number of Cubans risking dangerous and illegal journeys on home-made boats in search of better opportunities in the United States. “Most Cubans support the reforms but are coming to realize that much more needs to happen. I think everyone from top to bottom is concerned with the numbers and reality on the ground,” said one Cuban economist, who asked to remain anonymous due to a prohibition on talking with foreign journalists without permission.

The economists generally believe Cuba’s leaders are listening, in part because the reforms so far have failed to lead to growth. They say they hope to reinforce the more reform-minded leaders in closed-door debates at the highest levels. Many liken Cuba’s process to the first years of reform in China and Vietnam, when partial measures proved ineffective and eventually gave way to deeper reforms. But Castro has moved at a deliberate pace, and despite official calls for a more critical press unorthodox views rarely get aired in the state-controlled media. The government revised down its economic growth forecast for this year to 1.4 percent, a second straight year of slowing growth, and food prices are rising on average 10 percent a year. Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of the economy remains in state hands, usually in the form of monopolies.

At the recent seminar, economist Jorge Mario Sanchez criticized state monopolies as out of step with a growing mixed economy and international competition. “The state-centrist culture of production and trade by the state and for the state should begin to transition to another broader mode from and for society,” he said.

Others say harsh U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba are only partially to blame for a lack of state financing and delays in the arrival of supplies and parts, which lead to disruptions in production and shortages. “Our top leaders are very aware of these problems, but unsure how to proceed without creating greater inequality,” said the economist who asked to remain anonymous.

Hal Klepak, a Canadian military historian and author of two books on the Cuban military and Raul Castro, said he thought Castro and other leaders “find criticism welcome not because it is comfortable but because it allows them to push for more and faster movement of a deeply cutting kind.” “There will be more and deeper reform since there is really little hope for any other option,” Klepak said.

Another outside expert differed, doubting that major changes were coming any time soon. “There is still no blueprint as to where the major state-controlled sectors will be in 5 or 10 years time,” said Paul Hare, a former British ambassador to Cuba who now teaches at Boston University.

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Juan Triana, CEEC

Jorge Mario SanchezJorge Mario Sanchez, CEEC

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NEW BOOK BY JOSÉ ÁLVAREZ: FIDEL CASTRO’S AGRO\ICULTURAL FOLIES

[The following materials are from the Press Release accompanying the publication of the book. I will try to review this book later.]

FIDEL CASTRO’S AGRICULTURAL FOLLIES: ABSURDITY, WASTE AND PARASITISM, by Emeritus Professor José Álvarez, documents Fidel Castro’s responsibility for Cuba’s economic disaster. Using the agricultural sector as the analytical framework, the book  evaluates Castro’s absolute power in decision-making.

NEW BOOK FLYER

Oct. 1, 2014WELLINGTON, Fla.Contrary to what the title implies, this book is not about agriculture; rather, the author uses examples from agriculture to make the point that Fidel Castro is a delusional fool, a modern Don Quixote, who has “sunk Cuba into a sea” of misery and despair.

Agriculture in this book is loosely defined.  Can one say that building a room where only the heads of cows are exposed to air conditioning so as to increase their milk production is an agricultural activity? Can one claim that a single cow can provide milk for thousands of people? In fact, one must forgive the reader who concludes that the follies described in this book are the fictional musings of the author. They are not; these follies actually took place and they are very well documented.

It has been said that the problem with a socialist economy is that the leaders eventually run out of other people’s money. However, time and again, as shown in the book, the Castro brothers have managed to find the money to subsidize Fidel’s follies. By theft, charity and defaulted debt, they have kept their failing socialist experiment afloat for over fifty years.

The time has come to evaluate Castro’s performance in the economic field. On July 31, 2006 Vice-President Raúl Castro assumed the duties of President of Cuba’s Council of State in a temporary transfer of power due to Fidel Castro’s illness. On February 24, 2008 the National Assembly of People’s Power unanimously chose General Raúl Castro as his brother’s permanent successor. Although Fidel Castro has partially recovered, he will not resume his former duties. His complete control over the economy in general, and the agricultural sector in particular, during nearly fifty years ended with his illness.

The book contains 12 chapters (under three parts: absurdity, waste and parasitism), an appendix and an afterword. Additional materials have been placed on a website devoted exclusively to the book. (www.cubanquixote.com ).

COMMENTS:

The book, published in paperback and electronic formats by the Amazon Company CreateSpace, has received numerous acclaims from a wide array of Cuba specialists

. Luis Martínez-Fernández, Professor of History at the University of Central Florida, states that the book «is thoroughly researched, written in exquisite prose, and sprinkled with the characteristic irony and irreverent humor of the Cuban intellectual. »

Tom Gjelten believes that, «in choosing Cuba’s disastrous experience with agriculture to illustrate some of Fidel Castro’s bizarre delusions, José Álvarez has found a novel way to tell the familiar story of the failure of Castroism.

Zane R. Helsel, Professor and Extension Specialist in Agriculture Energy at Rutgers University; expressed: « Dr Álvarez’s book is insightful across a broad scale of political, cultural and economic aspects. Aspiring politicians, leaders, and anyone with an interest in understanding Cuba or other attempts at such totalitarian governments will benefit from reading it. »

Juan M. del Águila, Retired Associate Professor of Political Sciences at Emory University believes that «in this appraisal of socialist Cuba’s economic development, Dr. Álvarez shows how and why Fidel Castro’s unbridled megalomania devastated the country’s political economy and stifled its social progress. The interconnectedness of charismatic rule, narcissistic personal traits and autocratic decision-making form the pathological matrix defining Fidel Castro’s behavior. As the cause of colossal blunders and irreversible damage to the economy and social system, that matrix drove Castro’s wretched choices and ignorant decisions while the arrogant leader exercised direct power. And Dr. Alvarez properly attributes Cuba’s economic ruin and descent into insolvency and mendicancy to Fidel Castro’s quixotic fixation with himself. »

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh declares: «This book by one of the world’s experts on Cuban agriculture has an amazing amount of information, but Álvarez manages to make it extremely interesting and with frequent touches of humor. It is a wonderful reading, which I recommend for experts and the general public alike. »

Jose de Cordoba, Latin America correspondent for The Wall Street Journal had the following thoughts: « Most people regard Fidel Castro either as a great revolutionary or a bloody dictator. Few know him as a world-class crackpot inventor and frustrated would-be scientist whose madcap ideas destroyed Cuban agriculture and the island’s economy. During his half century in power, Castro experimented with everything from creating a New Cuban Man to cloning his favorite champion milk cow. None of the experiments worked. Now, thanks to José Álvarez, we have an entertaining and encyclopedic history of Castro’s hair brained efforts to re-engineer the island. This book is must reading for anybody interested in Cuba. »

THE AUTHOR

José Álvarez left his native Cuba in 1969, obtaining a Ph.D. in food and resource economics from the University of Florida, where he finished a productive academic career in 2004, receiving the title of Emeritus Professor. A great deal of his time was devoted to study Cuba’s agricultural sector. He obtained private support and was able to pay several professional visits to the island. For his work on Cuban agriculture, Professor Álvarez received the «National Honor Award for Superior Service», the highest honor conferred by the United States Department of Agriculture to an agricultural researcher. Six of the 16 books he has authored or co-authored have received 17 national or international literary awards and recognitions.

JoseAlvarez_TProfessor José Álvarez

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ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE

ENTREPRENEURIAL CUBA: THE CHANGING POLICY LANDSCAPE

 Archibald R.M. Ritter and Ted A. Henken

 2014/373 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62637-163-7 hc $79.95 $35

A FirstForumPress Book

New Picture (4)

Special limited-time offer!Mention e-blast when ordering

 CLICK HERE TO READ THE INTRODUCTION:  Cuba’s Chabging Policy Landscape” 

“A provocative, compelling, and essential read. The ethnographic work alone is worth the price of admission.” John W. Cotman, Howard University

“A multifaceted analysis of Cuban economic activity…. Ritter and Henken paint a lively picture of daily life in entrepreneurial Cuba.” Julia Sweig, Council on Foreign Relations

 SUMMARY

During the presidency of Raúl Castro, Cuba has dramatically reformed its policies toward small private enterprises. Archibald Ritter and Ted Henken consider why—and to what effect.

After reviewing the evolution of policy since 1959, the authors contrast the approaches of Fidel and Raúl Castro and explore in depth the responses of Cuban entrepreneurs to the new environment. Their work, rich in ethnographic research and extensive interviews, provides a revealing analysis of Cuba’s fledgling private sector.

THE AUTHORS

 Archibald R.M. Ritter is distinguished research professor of economics and international  affairs at Carleton University.

Ted A. Henken is associate professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College, CUNY.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Cuba’s Changing Policy Landscape.
  • The Small-Enterprise Sector.
  • Revolutionary Trajectories and Strategic Shifts, 1959–1990.
  • The “Special Period,” 1990–2006.
  • Policy Reform Under Raúl Castro, 2006–2014.
  • The Movement Toward Non-Agricultural Cooperatives.
  • The Underground Economy.
  • The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Paladar, 1993–2013.
  • The Future of Small Enterprise in Cuba.
  • Appendix 1: Timeline of Small Enterprise Under the Revolution.
  • Appendix 2: 201 Legalized Self-Employment Occupations.

Lynne Rienner Publisher’s page on Entrepreneurial Cuba: https://www.rienner.com/title/Entrepreneurial_Cuba_The_Changing_Policy_Landscape

For order and general inquiries, please contact: questions@rienner.com

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THE CONCEPT OF A “LOYAL OPPOSITION” IN THE CUBAN CONTEXT

By Arch Ritter, November 5, 2014

An earlier version of this note was prepared  for presentation as a discussant at a panel entitled “Estado, sociedad civil y oposición en Cuba” at the August 2014 meetings of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Cuba has had and continues to have a “Loyal Opposition”. It consists of a broad range of independent analysts, many or perhaps most of whom are outside official institutional structure. Included here would independent journalists (14ymedio, many “bloggers” or web-based groupings), activists of many sorts, independent economists, and some academics among others.

But while there has been and is a “Loyal Opposition,” it has been effectively suppressed and un-institutionalized. Virtually all shades of opposition have been prohibited. They were perceived by President Fidel Castro as treasonous since the earliest days of the Cuban Revolution. Divergent views competing with Fidel’s hyper-monopolistic visions, ideas, arguments, and conclusions were considered to be counter-revolutionary. Anyone holding these views was silenced, shunned, fired from any responsible job, incarcerated or pushed into emigration with their property confiscated.

The expression of strong oppositional views led one to being labeled by the regime and the power of the monopoly media as a “gusano” or “worm”. Such de-humanization of citizens was despicable.

Unfortunately the United States provided a handy pretext, fully exploited by Fidel, to characterize all opposition as treacherous support for the overthrow of the regime and the reversal of the “Revolution”.

For a while I thought that the Government of Raul Castro had softened its stance on internal dissent. The “Bloggers” for example had not been imprisoned, though they have sometimes been vilified and harassed. Within academia, some analysts such as Esteban Morales Domínguez had pushed the limits but avoided severe penalty.

However, repressive actions have been building up in the last few years, leading to surprisingly large numbers of preventative arrests. For 2014, the total number of short-term preventative detentions had reached 7.215 by October 2014. Some detail on these arrests during 2014 is presented in Table 1.

New Picture (3)Source: Observatorio Cubano, 2014

In the “Westminster” or Parliamentary systems of the United Kingdom and the “Old Dominions”, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the official opposition to the political party that forms the government is labelled “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.”  While critical of the policies of the government in power and continuously trying to promote its own views, electoral prospects and political fortunes, this opposition is ultimately loyal to the people of the country and its institutions, these being personalized through loyalty to the Queen.

An effective and institutionalized “loyal opposition” performs a number of vital functions. First, it participates in policy formulation, criticizing policy proposals, preventing stupid mistakes and – one hopes – correcting major blunders as soon as possible. Think, for example, of the 10 million ton harvest of 1964-1970 or the shutting down of about half of the sugar agro-industrial complex in 2002 in Cuba. Would these have been adopted and implemented if there were an effective opposition on operation?

Second, an effective opposition can check the tendencies towards the domination, arrogance and corruption that come with the continuing entitlement to power of a single party monopolizing the political system.

Third, an opposition can provide a new governing team, a “government in waiting” with fresh ideas, new vision, renewed energy and strong initiative, ready to form the government.  At some stage, “Old Regimes” become mired in their sense of entitlement, self-importance, paralytic conservatism, sclerosis, irrelevance, entrepreneurial lethargy, and intellectual exhaustion. An opposition can inject new life into governance when it is time to “throw the rascals out.”

It is interesting to note that in two of the “Parliamentary Democracies” namely Canada regarding Quebec and the United Kingdom regading Scotland, there have been “Oppositions” that have wanted to secede from the Unions. Are such “Oppositions” loyal? Fortunately they have been loyal to the institutions of their democracies and have been willing to put decisions on separation to referenda and they have abided peacefully by the results.

The existence and operation of an effective official opposition in a country is messy, preoccupying and controversial, particularly from the standpoint of the governing Party and leadership in power. Such monopoly politics is exceedingly boring and irrelevant, as typified by the meaningless unanimity of the Assemblies of One-Party states.[1]. Open debate and the uncertainty of genuine democratic participation also is more fun ultimately.

In time, Cuba will accept one institution of the Westminster political system, namely the concept and reality of a “Loyal Opposition.” The Government of Raul Castro obviously is not ready for this yet.Governing is easier for those in power when there is no opposition and no-one can challenge the wisdom of their decisions.

One could conclude that the Cuban regime blocks any opening to an authentic pluralistic and participatory democracy because it fears that it would be voted out of office and lose its monopoly of political power and the perquisites of power. But whether Raul’s regime likes it or not, an opposition, though tightly repressed, will strengthen.

If Raul Castro were truly interested in the long term health of Cuba – and his own “legacy” – he himself would make moves towards such political pluralism. Unfortunately, this is improbable though perhaps not impossible.

Bibliography

El Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos, “Continúan las detenciones arbitrarias en Cuba,” Web Site: http://observacuba.org/continuan-las-detenciones-arbitrarias-en-cuba/, Accessed October 6. 2014.

Schmitz, Gerald. The Opposition in a Parliamentary System, Library of Parliament, Political and Social Affairs Division, Government of Canada: Ottawa, December 1988

The Guardian, “Raúl Castro’s daughter first lawmaker to vote ‘no’ in Cuban parliament,” 19 August 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/19/mariela-castro-raul-no-vote-discrimination, Accessed September 23, 2014  

 

Note:

[1] Even the almost unprecedented single dissenting vote to a proposal put forward in the National Assembly caused relative excitement in Cuba and among some observers of Cuba, admittedly partly because the “no” vote was made by Raul Castro’s daughter Miriela. Hers was the lone dissenting vote on a workers’ rights bill that she argued insufficiently prevented discrimination against people with HIV or with unconventional gender identities. (The Guardian)

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Lopez-Levy and Piccone: UNITED STATES, CUBA and EBOLA

Fighting Ebola: A new case for U.S. engagement with Cuba

Original Article: http://tbo.com/list/news-opinion-commentary/fighting-ebola-a-new-case-for-us-engagement-with-cuba-20141028/

BY ARTURO LOPEZ-LEVY
Special To The Tampa Tribune; October 28, 2014

The simple fact that Cuba and the United States are in the same boat fighting the Ebola epidemics in Western Africa demonstrates how the level of conflict between the two countries is irrational. While Havana and Washington have considerable differences — and no parallel efforts against a common enemy as Ebola can bridge them — it is evident that narratives of suspicion and intransigence prevent such joint efforts for the benefit of both countries and the world in general.

But, words matter. The recent statements by John Kerry and Samantha Power praising what Cuba is doing to fight Ebola in Africa on behalf of the U.S. State Department — as well as the declarations by Fidel and Raul Castro that Cuba would welcome collaborative efforts on Ebola with the United States — show that a revision of the bilateral relations is long overdue.

President Obama now needs to apply the dictum of his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and not waste the opportunity presented by the Ebola crisis. Cuba and the United States should advance long-term cooperation in international health efforts under the auspices of the WHO.

Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution would transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation for the advancement of human rights (the right to health is a human right) all over the developing world and the national interests of the two neighbors.

Political conditions are ripe for such turn. Americans strongly support aggressive actions against Ebola and would applaud a president who put lives and medical cooperation with Cuba above ideology and resentment.

As more information comes out about Cuba’s international health effort, it is becoming clearer how unreasonable it is to assume that all Cuban presence in the developing world is damaging to U.S. national interests. The more than 40 000 Cuban doctors and health personnel working in 80 countries are playing a key role to improve human development and protect the world from the spread of Ebola and other contagious diseases.

During the Bush administration and even under Obama, the United States spent lavishly to support groups in Miami that focus on undermining Cuba’s international health presence in Africa and Latin America.

The U.S Cuban Medical Professional Parole Immigration Program (CMPP) is reminiscent of the Cold War. The program encourages Cuban doctors to abandon their contracts in third countries and immigrate to the United States.

Washington’s ideology-driven hostility toward Cuba’s international health efforts has further divided the United States from other democratic countries. The trouble for Miami die-hard Cold Warriors is that examples of how Cuba shares the burden and merits of international health efforts with U.S. allies are expanding. Cuba is cooperating with several institutions of the European Union, Brazil, Canada and Norway in projects of medical education on the island, and in Haiti and other countries. The programs might even grow as result of the current negotiation in Brussels between the EU and Cuba for a comprehensive agreement on cooperation and political dialogue.

The good news is that two former U.S. presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, have talked positively about Cuba’s health achievements and international programs. President Carter and former first lady Rosalyn even visited Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine in 2002. In a meeting with then Cuban minister of health Carlos Dotres, Mrs. Carter mentioned that their presidential center’s Global Health program would like to collaborate with Cuba’s international medical educational assistance. There is no moral, political or national security explanation for why such humanitarian endeavors are not happening already.

As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama was one of the loudest critics of looking at Cuba through the glasses of the Cold War. As a president, it isn’t enough for him just to retune the same policy of embargo implemented by his predecessors. He must adjust the official U.S. narrative about post-Fidel Cuba: It is not a threat to the United States but a country in transition to a mixed economy, and a positive force for global health.

Arturo Lopez-Levy is a visiting lecturer at Mills College in California and a PhD candidate at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

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Ebola Could Bring U.S. and Cuba Together

By: Ted Piccone, Brookings Institution

On October 28, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for the 23rd year in a row to condemn the United States’ tough embargo on Cuba as a unilateral interference in free trade. Coincidentally, the UN system is tackling the devastating spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa and urging states to contribute medical and financial resources to stem the outbreak.

Ironically, Cuba and the United States have led the world in responding to the call for help, rushing hundreds of medical workers, military personnel, equipment, and other resources to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea to treat Ebola’s victims and prevent the epidemic from spreading. Could this be the moment for both countries to set aside their differences and join forces for the greater good?

The answer is a qualified yes. The onerous U.S. embargo poses no obstacles to such cooperation, and in any event, bilateral assistance for humanitarian reasons, including food and medicine, is a well-established exception to the rule. So there is no legal reason why U.S. personnel could not work alongside Cuban doctors and nurses in a third country to provide humanitarian aid to the stricken.

Moreover, there are precedents for this kind of cooperation. In 2010, in response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, American and Cuban personnel worked together to provide emergency care, including the provision of U.S. medical supplies to field hospitals staffed by Cuban doctors.

Cooperation was so positively received that the two sides launched high-level discussions about a joint project to build a new hospital in rural Haiti to be staffed in part by Cuban medical personnel.

Yet, as in so many other instances, cooperation between Havana and Washington broke down. This time, the dispute concerned a Bush-era program allowing Cuban doctors and other health personnel easy immigration into the United States. Cuba insisted that the program be dropped.

Already, nearly 1,600 Cuban health workers have taken advantage of the enticement, which undermines Cuba’s well-regarded health-care system, a pride of the revolution.

Proponents of the expedited visa program, on the other hand, argue that these medical workers are forced to work for Cuba’s public health service under the island’s restrictive labor laws. Given their specialized medical training, they also have a much harder time than other Cubans gaining permission to leave the island, even under the more relaxed travel policies that Cuba adopted in 2012.

U.S. President Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to show the world that the United States can rise above old hostilities for the sake of saving lives. He can immediately use his executive authority to suspend the discretionary parole program for any Cuban medical worker who is deployed to West Africa in response to the Ebola outbreak, and thereby stem Cuba’s professional brain drain.

Cuba has sent more than 50,000 medical personnel to 66 countries (more than those deployed by the G7 combined), and is now the biggest single provider of health-care workers to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. For their part, the Cubans could address concerns about the nature of their highly touted medical missionary work by giving participants in their medical brigades the option of serving abroad as volunteers, not conscripts, at no cost to their careers if they say no, and with higher pay if they say yes.

The timing for such a move is ripe. Since Obama eased the embargo in his first term by allowing more Cuban Americans to visit and send remittances to their relatives, and facilitating other categories of travel to the island, people on both sides of the Florida Straits are reconnecting in myriad ways, slowly rebuilding the bridge that has long divided the two countries.

Both sides have begun cooperating in modest but pragmatic ways, in such areas as counter-narcotics, aviation security, marine environmental affairs, and migration. This would be one additional step on the path toward the reconciliation that a majority of Americans, including Cuban Americans in Florida, want and deserve.

The next steps, however, will be even more important. After the November elections, President Obama should signal his willingness to improve relations with Cuba by ending more travel and remittances restrictions, expanding support to Cuba’s emerging private sector, and engaging in high-level talks to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Action on key cases involving citizens held in prison in both countries should be on the agenda as well, but not as a precondition for talks. And, assuming cooperation in West Africa goes well, President Obama should broaden the scope and timeline of the suspension of the medical parole program.

Now is the time to take these steps, before President Obama travels to the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. There, he and Cuban President Raúl Castro should finally talk face-to-face, without preconditions, and set a path toward reconciliation through dialogue. It would be a great legacy for both presidents as they depart office in just a few years.

This piece was originally published by The Mark.

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CHANGES IN CUBAN LAWS LEAD TO A SURGE OF MIGRANTS ARRIVING IN U. S. BY LAND, SEA AND AIR

24327_1371008405656_1545135432_919318_8061963_nPlayas del Este, August 1994; Did this one make it?

Original: Surge of Migrants

HAVANA (AP) – The number of Cubans heading to the United States has soared since the island lifted travel restrictions last year, and instead of making the risky journey by raft across the Florida Straits, most are now passing through Mexico or flying straight to the U.S.

New U.S. Customs and Border Patrol figures show that more than 22,000 Cubans arrived at the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada in the fiscal year that ended last month. That was nearly double the number in 2012, the year before restrictions were lifted.

The changes in Cuban law eliminate a costly exit visa and make it easier for Cubans to both leave and return to the island legally. Reform of property laws now allows Cubans to sell homes and vehicles, helping would-be emigrants pull together the cash needed to buy airline tickets. With greater access to cash and legal travel documents, the historic pattern of Cuban migration is shifting from daring dangerous voyages at sea to making the journey by air and then land.

The Cuban government is struggling to bolster a dysfunctional centrally planned economy after decades of inefficiency and underinvestment. Recent changes intended to encourage entrepreneurism have borne little fruit and many people are seeking opportunities elsewhere.

While the number of Cubans trying to reach the United States by sea also grew to nearly 4,000 people this past year, the biggest jump by far came from people entering the U.S. by land. And the Cubans flying to Latin America or straight to the United States generally belong to the more prosperous and well-connected strata of society, accelerating the drain of the island’s highly educated.

U.S. officials say that before the recent surge, more than 20,000 Cubans formally migrated to the U.S. every year using visas issued by the U.S. government, while several thousand more entered on tourist visas and stayed. Adding in migrants who entered informally, U.S. officials believe more than 50,000 Cubans were moving to the U.S. every year, leaving behind their homeland of 11 million people.

Many Cubans are using an opportunity offered by Spain in 2008 when it allowed descendants of those exiled during the Spanish Civil War to reclaim Spanish citizenship. A Spanish passport allows visa-free travel to the U.S., Europe and Latin America. The number of Cubans holding a Spanish passport tripled between 2009 and 2011, when it hit 108,000. Many of those Cubans fly to Mexico or the U.S. on their Spanish passports, then present their Cuban passports to U.S. officials.

Thousands of other travelers make their first stop in Ecuador, which dropped a visa requirement for all tourists in 2008. The number of Cubans heading to Ecuador hit 18,078 a year by 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available. From there, many hopscotch north by plane, train, boat or bus through Colombia, Central America and Mexico.

The government last year extended the length of time Cubans can be gone without losing residency rights from one year to two. That means migrants now can obtain U.S. residency and still return to Cuba for extended periods, receive government benefits and even invest money earned in the U.S.

Particularly notable is the departure of young and educated people with the means to leave. In the capital, Havana, it seems most every 20- or 30-something has a plan to go sooner rather than later, mostly to the United States. Nearly everyone has a close friend or relative who already has left for the U.S. in the last few years.

Dozens of Cuban migrants show up every week at the Church World Service office in Miami seeking help. Those without relatives in the U.S. are resettled in other parts of the country, where they are connected with jobs, housing and English classes.

Raimel Rosel, 31, said he left his job at a Havana center for pig genetics and breeding when state security agents began questioning him about extra income he earned from private consulting. He flew to Ecuador in August and then traveled north for 30 days to the Mexican border. “It was really tense,” he said, describing the trip as “utterly exhausting.”

Another man at the church office said “going by boat is madness.” He and his wife and daughter all had Spanish passports, he said. After selling their home in Matanzas province, outside the capital, for $8,000, they flew to Mexico City and then Tijuana, where they crossed into the U.S. He declined to provide his name in order to protect relatives in Cuba from repercussions.

Cubans arriving at a U.S. border or airport automatically receive permission to stay in the United States under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows them to apply for permanent residency after a year, almost always successfully.

While the number of Florida-bound rafters jumped this year, the 2014 figure is generally in line with the average for the last decade. The U.S. Coast Guard says it stopped 2,059 Cuban rafters on the high seas as of Sept. 22, a few hundred more than the average of 1,750 interdicted each year since 2005. Roughly 2,000 more rafters made it to dry land this year. The figure of those stopped was higher from 2005 to 2008, dipped dramatically for three years, then starting climbing again in 2012. Statistics for all Coast Guard contacts with Cuban rafters were not available for years earlier than 2010.

Good weather may have prompted more rafters to attempt the journey this year, said Cmdr. Timothy Cronin, deputy chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Coast Guard district responsible for most interactions with Cuban rafters. “There haven’t been any major storms that have come through the area, no hurricanes,” he said. “We’ve been blessed and in a way cursed by every day being a good day for a mariner to take to the sea, whether for good or for bad.”

Those who reach Florida call home to Cuba, perhaps inspiring others to attempt the trip despite the risks.

Yennier Martínez Díaz arrived in Florida on a raft with eight other people after 10 days at sea in August. The group of friends and neighbors from Camaguey, on Cuba’s northern coast, built the raft with pieces of metal, wood and a motor belonging to an old Russian tractor.

Martínez Díaz, 32, earned about $10 a week cutting brush and sugarcane. He said he wanted to help a brother with cancer by finding a higher-paying job in the U.S. After the motor nearly ran out of gas, the rafters drifted for days in the open water. At one point, they hit a powerful storm and nearly drowned. “I caution everyone not to come by sea,” he said, his face still red from the sun.

24327_1371008365655_1545135432_919317_733453_nHopeful Travelers; Playas del Este, August 1994.

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RAÚL CASTRO Y LA CORRUPCIÓN

Carlos Alberto Montaner | Miami | 7 Oct 2014

Original: http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba

¿Cree Raúl Castro que puede haber un Estado medularmente corrupto con funcionarios honrados que cometen delitos pero no lucran con ello?

Esto es, en síntesis, lo que se ha publicado: Cy Tokmakjian un empresario canadiense de 74 años, presumiblemente de origen armenio, llevaba dos décadas haciendo negocios en Cuba, pero fue condenado a 15 años de cárcel por (supuestamente) sobornar a funcionarios cubanos.

En la redada —de acuerdo con Reuters— fueron apresadas, además, 16 personas. Otros dos canadienses, cinco empleados cubanos y 9 funcionarios del Gobierno. En el grupo hay un viceministro del Azúcar, Nelson Labrada, con el que se ensañaron, seguramente como una advertencia general. Lo condenaron a 20 años.

De acuerdo con el informe a que tuvieron acceso los periodistas, a Labrada le regalaron un televisor de pantalla plana, le pagaron unas vacaciones en Canadá y lo llevaron a un casino en Toronto donde jugó y ganó 2.500 dólares. En Cuba, ya le habían obsequiado una piscina plástica y una parrilla. En el lenguaje coloquial cubano era un “pacotillero”. Si existió corrupción fue de poca monta.

Escarmiento contra la corrupción

En todo caso, Raúl Castro cree en el escarmiento como forma de mantener la autoridad. Utiliza a Labrada para mandar un mensaje. Él y su hijo Alejandro Castro Espín están decididos a terminar con los delitos contra la economía nacional mediante una dosis de terror en el campo administrativo. Son dos versiones tropicales de Maximiliano de Robespierre, pero muy distorsionadas y llenas de contradicciones.

Para ellos ese comportamiento —la corrupción— pertenece a la permisiva era de Fidel. (Fidel se parece más a Georges Danton, de quien se dice que pagó por un cargo en el Consejo del rey Luis XVI, aunque luego pidiera su cabeza.) Los raulistas lo afirman desdeñosamente a media lengua: “Eso ocurría antes”. “Antes” es la palabra clave. “Antes” quiere decir cuando Fidel gobernaba.

El Comandante era más político, más manengue, regalaba vistosos relojes Rolex a sus subordinados, o les daba autos Alfa Romeo, o se hacía de la vista gorda cuando Ramiro Valdés se asignaba una casa con piscina y gimnasio en Santa Fe, o cuando el general Guillermo García Frías utilizaba dos yates suntuosos para sus francachelas.

Si Fidel, gran malversador de los recursos públicos, disfrutaba de 50 residencias suntuosas, coto privado de caza, y yates de lujo para pescar, si la Isla era suya del hocico al rabo, podía entender que la manera de mantener viva la lealtad de sus subordinados era alternando la intimidación con recompensas materiales. Él sabía que el discursito revolucionario del “hombre nuevo” que predicaba el Che Guevara era una tontería.

Esta diferencia entre las posiciones de Fidel y Raúl con relación a la corrupción comenzó desde los primeros días del triunfo de la revolución. En sus memorias inéditas, Benjamín de Yurre, recientemente fallecido, secretario personal de Manuel Urrutia, el primer presidente de Cuba tras la huida de Batista (enero a julio de 1959), cuenta que estaba de visita en el despacho de Camilo Cienfuegos, situado en una suite del hotel Riviera, cuando Raúl entró como una tromba, rodeado por sus guardaespaldas, e increpó al popular comandante echándole en cara sus borracheras y orgías con el dinero de la revolución. Camilo le respondió airadamente y trató de sacar su pistola cuando el capitán Olo Pantoja se interpuso y los guardaespaldas de Raúl y de Camilo los separaron. De Yurre se evadió discretamente de aquella peligrosa trifulca.

imagesCAT03Z4EA Fidel, en cambio, le traía sin cuidado el comportamiento de Camilo. Para Fidel la corrupción era un arma de gobierno y se extendía al campo internacional. Usaba el dinero del país para “hacer revolución”. ¿Qué era eso? Con frecuencia, era expandir su influencia con los recursos de los cubanos. Era darles cientos de miles de dólares a las guerrillas, a los terroristas, o a los candidatos amigos durante los periodos electorales, a sabiendas de que una parte importante de esa plata se quedaba en el camino. Era invitar a 50 diputados mexicanos para que disfrutaran de Tropicana. Era convocar a cientos de personas, con todos los gastos pagados, para alinearlos tras alguna consigna política, o, simplemente, para que lo aplaudieran.

A Fidel le encanta que lo aplaudan. Tiene y alimenta con ese ruido su ego descomunal. Raúl, en cambio, posee conciencia de sus muchas limitaciones y es menos vanidoso. Entre sus defectos, no es de los menores su tosco desconocimiento de la naturaleza humana, lo que le llevó en los años 60 a proponer y llevar a cabo el cruel apresamiento de miles de jóvenes acusados de homosexualismo y “otras conductas antisociales”, formas de corrupción burguesa que él iba a corregir con durísimos trabajos agrícolas en los campos de concentración de la UMAP.

En definitiva, Fidel incurría en el terreno político, y para sus fines políticos, en las mismas prácticas delictivas por las que ahora Raúl acusa a Cy Tokmakjian en el campo empresarial. Sus intereses serían diferentes, pero sus métodos y su burla de las leyes son similares. ¿De dónde salía el dinero para “hacer revolución”?¿De qué presupuesto? ¿Quién lo fiscalizaba? Por la centésima parte de esa retorcida conducta las cárceles de medio planeta están llenas de funcionarios venales que incumplen las leyes.

La corrupción de Raúl

¿Y Raúl? ¿Advierte Raúl que cuando les alquila miles de profesionales de la salud a otros países y les confisca el 90% del salario está incurriendo en una falta tipificada en los acuerdos de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo de donde pueden deducirse consecuencias penales?

Pedirle 55 millones a la familia o a la empresa de Cy Tokmakjian a cambio de su libertad, ¿no es un clarísimo delito de extorsión típico de las mafias?

Quedarse con una parte sustancial de la plata que les produjo a los montoneros argentinos el secuestro de los acaudalados hermanos Born —60 millones de dólares—, ¿no es complicidad con un gravísimo delito?

Amenazar con la cárcel a los empresarios a los que el Gobierno cubano les debe dinero —como sucede con algunos exportadores panameños de Colón— si no les condonan las deudas a la Isla, ¿no es un comportamiento gangsteril?

No es verdad que Cuba le debe 500 millones de dólares a los exportadores panameños de la ciudad de Colón. Son casi 5.000 millones, y algunas deudas se arrastran desde hace más de 30 años, como me contó, indignado, uno de esos comerciantes atrapado entre la deuda, el miedo y la amenazada familia que ya formó en Cuba.

El mecanismo es diabólico: la manera de hacer negocios en Cuba es mediante la trampa y el amiguismo, dos conductas delictivas. Donde las reglas son deliberadamente opacas, en donde los tribunales son un brazo de la policía política, y en donde no funcionan el mercado y la competencia, sino el favoritismo, ¿qué otra forma hay de desarrollar actividades comerciales de una cierta envergadura?

No obstante, esos comportamientos corruptos son bienvenidos… pero solo mientra al Gobierno le conviene. Cuando llega la hora de ajustar cuentas comienza el calvario de los empresarios, a quienes someten a toda clase de chantajes y extorsiones. A fin de cuentas, Fidel y Raúl —en eso coinciden— sienten el mayor de los desprecios por los hombres de empresa que persiguen fines egoístas. Ellos, supuestamente, son revolucionarios puros a los que no les queda otro remedio que admitir a una gentuza deleznable para salvar la revolución

RC

La corrupción cubano-venezolana….

Read More: Raúl Castro y la Corrupción

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IN THE MEDICAL RESPONSE TO EBOLA, CUBA IS PUNCHING FAR ABOVE ITS WEIGHT

4 Octobre 2014 – The Washington Post – Adam Taylor

 Original Here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/10/04 /

10-03-2014Cuban_Ebola While the international community has been accused of dragging its feet on the Ebola crisis, Cuba, a country of just 11 million people that still enjoys a fraught relationship with the United States, has emerged as a crucial provider of medical expertise in the West African nations hit by Ebola.

On Thursday, 165 health professionals from the country arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to join the fight against Ebola – the largest medical team of any single foreign nation, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And after being trained to deal with Ebola, a further 296 Cuban doctors and nurses will go to Liberia and Guinea, the other two countries worst hit by the crisis.

Cuba is, by any measure, not a wealthy country. It had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of slightly more than $68 billion in 2011, according to the World Bank, putting it a few places higher than Belarus. At $6,051, its GDP per capita was less than one-sixth of Britain’s. However, its official response to Ebola seems far more robust than many countries far wealthier than it – and serves as further proof that health-care professionals are up there with rum and cigars in terms of Cuban exports.

Cuba’s universal health-care system enables such an export. The country nationalized its health care shortly after its revolution, ending private health care and guaranteeing free health care in its constitution. The results have been widely praised. In 2008, evaluating 30 years of Cuba’s “primary health care revolution,” the WHO noted impressive strides that the country had made in certain health indicators. “These indicators – which are close or equal to those in developed countries – speak for themselves,” Gail Reed noted, pointing to a huge reduction in number of deaths for children under five years old and Cuba’s high life expectancy of 77 years.

Cuba’s health-care success is built upon its medical training. After the Cuban revolution, half of the country’s 6,000 doctors fled and the country was forced to rebuild its work force. The training system grew so much that by 2008, it was training 20,000 foreigners a year to be doctors, nurses and dentists, largely free of charge.

Ebola isn’t the first time that Cuban health workers have been sent to deal with a global disaster. Even back in 1960, immediately after the revolution, Cuba sent doctors to Chile to help in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, and the practice has continued for decades since. In 2005, Cuba even offered to send medical workers to the United States after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (they were apparently rebuffed). Reuters reports that Cuba currently has around 50,000 health workers working in 66 countries. Despite the high-profile acts of charity, the medical diplomacy more often seemed to serve more practical purposes – an estimated 30,000 health workers are currently in Venezuela as a partial payment for oil, for example. Exported medical expertise is predicted to net Cuba $8.2 billion in 2014, according to a recent report in state newspaper Granma. There are hopes that medical tourism and exported medical technology could one day provide similar figures.

It’s not a simple picture. Critics have complained that Cuba has begun to sacrifice the health of its citizens at home to make money sending medical workers abroad, and the conditions for these medical workers themselves have been criticized – The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year that a significant number of Cuban health-care workers in Venezuela have fled the country to escape “crushing” workloads.

Even so, Cuba’s oversized response to Ebola seems to have brushed aside these criticisms, for now at least. The number of Cuban medical staff in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea looks set to be more than those sent from far-larger countries like China. Israel, a wealthier country with a similar population, caused controversy this week when it rejected calls to send medical teams.

“Money and materials are important, but those two things alone cannot stop Ebola virus transmission,” Dr Margaret Chan, director-general at the World Health Organization, said last month. “Human resources are clearly our most important need.”

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EXCLUSIVE: GIFTS FOR CUBANS END IN 15-YEAR SENTENCE FOR CANADIAN CEO

3 October 2014 – Reuters – DANIEL TROTTA

Original Here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/03/us-cuba-corruption-canada-exclusive-idUSKCN0HS0UG20141003

imagesCy Tokmakjian

Dinners at fancy restaurants, week-long family vacations and a flat-screen TV: the bribes that Cuba accused Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian of giving Cuban officials were modest by corruption standards in many developing nations. But they have cost him dearly.

Tokmakjian, 74, was sentenced last week to 15 years in prison and $100 million of his company’s assets were seized.

A Cuban court ruled that the gifts were used to help direct lucrative contracts to Tokmakjian’s transportation company, which over 20 years became one of the most successful foreign companies on the communist-led island. The 168-page sentencing document, reviewed by Reuters, portrays a pervasive pattern of Tokmakjian wooing public officials and executives of his joint venture partners. The document, signed by five judges of the Cuban court, was based on their findings from a two-week trial in June and provided the basis for punishment.

Tokmakjian, who was arrested three years ago, has denied wrongdoing and, according to his son, refused to consider any deal that might free him in return for admitting guilt. His company, the privately held Concord, Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group, says prosecutors failed to prove any of the charges in what it called a “show trial” and that the company founder was not allowed to mount a robust defense.

The Tokmakjian Group declined Reuters requests to address most of the specific allegations in the court document. But it said it went to trial equipped with witnesses to refute the allegations, audited financial records, Cuban legal experts, and Canadian officials. Then, the company said, it was thwarted by the court.

“Cy never got to defend himself,” said Lee Hacker, vice-president of finance and company spokesman. “Almost all of the witnesses we wanted to call were denied appearance by the Cuban court. We did not have a trial by any standard. Cy was not afforded the opportunity to refute what they have accused him of.”

The investigation into his company’s dealings in Cuba also landed 16 other people in prison, including two Canadian employees, five Cuban employees, and nine other Cubans who were government officials or employees of state enterprises, some of them in joint ventures with the Tokmakjian Group. They received prison terms ranging from 6 to 20 years.

The case has offered a peek into the Cuban government’s view of corruption. It has also strained Cuba’s relations with Canada, a major trading partner, and could deter foreigners from investing in the Caribbean island.

Peter Kent, a member of Canada’s parliament from the Toronto area, called the verdict “outrageous” and a “very strong reminder that international investors should beware” of Cuba.

A number of questions remain unresolved about the case. Chief among them is whether Tokmakjian was guilty as charged or whether Cuba had another agenda in pursuing a case against a businessman previously favored by top Cuban officials.

Tokmakjian’s company says it believes Cuba wanted to destroy the business and take its assets.

Tokmakjian was once hailed as a model business partner who supplied crucial transportation equipment during a severe economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He even received a business award from Fidel Castro.

President Raul Castro launched a crackdown on graft after he succeeded his older brother Fidel in 2008. Dozens of Cubans working at government agencies and state companies, as well as several foreigners, have faced charges of corruption or other economic crimes. Western diplomats and foreign business people say it has been standard practice to offer small cash bribes to get Cuban officials to open a file or move paperwork through the system. The court said individual gifts were just part of a wide-ranging scheme in which Tokmakjian persuaded officials to bend or break the law in his favor. With business flowing his way, he then took measures to cover up his illicit dealings and evade taxes, the court said.

Tokmakjian was found guilty of bribery, damaging the Cuban economy, illicit economic activity, currency trafficking, fraud and tax evasion. Cuba put a number on the damage to its economy: $91 million.

The Tokmakjian Group supplied vehicles, motors, parts and construction equipment to Cuba’s government and had joint ventures with state companies under the direction of the sugar, industry and tourism ministries. The company did an estimated $80 million in annual business in Cuba, one of at least 11 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia where it has operated.

Tokmakjian directed subordinates to pay bribes, the court said, using gasoline and travel expense reports to account for the money. He also allegedly made payments to foreign credit cards held by his Cuban beneficiaries in an attempt to avoid detection.

‘ZERO TOLERANCE’

One Cuban trade official declined to comment on the trial but said investors should not get the wrong message. Cuba, he said, is still open for business.

“What we have is a clear message that in Cuba there is zero tolerance for corruption and illegality,” Pedro Luis Padron, the director of U.S. and Canada trade policy for Cuba’s foreign trade and investment ministry, told Reuters. “This is a battle every country in the world is fighting, including Canada itself.”

Tokmakjian generally aimed higher than common bureaucrats, according to the court’s sentencing document. Even so, higher level officials’ salaries are not more than $25 a month, although like other Cubans they receive cheap housing, subsidized food and other welfare benefits.

Among those the court said received Tokmakjian’s gifts was Cuba’s vice-minister of the sugar ministry, Nelson Labrada. He was the highest-ranking of the 14 Cuban defendants and sentenced to 20 years.According to the court document, Tokmakjian courted him in 2008, paying for a week-long vacation in the Cuban beach resort Varadero that included the official’s wife and children. The vacations were repeated in 2009 and 2010, costing around $1,200 each time.

Sometimes using subordinates to pay for the treats, Tokmakjian would invite Labrada to expensive dinners and take him for a cruise on a yacht. He bought him a plastic pool and a barbecue. When the barbecue broke after three months, he replaced it, the court document said.

It also said Tokmakjian paid for similar vacations for Manuel Fernandez, the vice president of a state company financing Cuba’s sugar industry.

Labrada and Fernandez have not commented publicly on the charges against them. Fernandez’s attorney said he could not immediately comment on the case and Labrada’s lawyer could not be reached.

Tokmakjian’s companies generated $11.7 million in sales to the sugar ministry from 2009 to 2011 plus another $4.7 million in sugar-related business in 2010 and 2011.

The court said that when Labrada went on a trip to Canada, a Tokmakjian subordinate took him shopping, buying him a 24-inch flat-screen television. He took both sugar officials to Niagara Falls and invited them to a casino in Toronto, buying chips for them to play with. Each ended up winning $2,500 at the gaming tables, the court said. Now, like Tokmakjian, they are facing long prison terms.

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