• 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."


By Jorge I. Dominguez

Harvard Business Review, August 17, 2015

Original Article Here: What You Might Not Know AUG15_17_470622111On the front page of a Cuban newspaper recently there was an item about a two-story home in the old city of Havana that crumbled—and that in the course of its collapse, killed four people. This is a harsh glimpse the physical reality facing many of the buildings across Havana and elsewhere in the country. But it’s also a metaphor for much of the Cuban economy. Cuba is, in many ways, an economy stuck in time and at risk of further unraveling.

Cuba’s economy got a jolt in December 2014, when U.S.-Cuban ties were restored. The U.S. embassy in Havana has reopened. Some travel is easing. Pope Francis will visit in September. So on the surface, it might appear to be full steam ahead for business and beyond.

But in order to understand where Cuba may go, we need to understand where its economy, its people, its governance, and its marketplace have been. Cuba’s growth domestic product per capita in 2015 is approximately what it was in 1985. The short version of Cuba’s recent economic history is that it peaked in the last quarter of 1984 and began a slow slide during the second half of the 80s. It then suffered a catastrophic plunge in the first four years of the 1990s. To the extent that we can estimate, a third of the economy disappeared during this time and a slow recovery followed. There was a spike in the 2000s when Venezuela began to provide petroleum at deeply discounted market prices, and that peaked just before the 2008-09 financial crisis. After 2009, the Cuban economy really didn’t recover. For the most part it has remained at the alleged 2% growth rate, but given the unreliability of statistics from Cuba, it’s likely a lot closer to zero. That’s grim.

Cuba’s population, now shy of 11.2 million, is shrinking and rapidly aging. Cuba has been below the demographic replacement age since 1978. This is not a good scenario for productivity and economic growth. For that, you need people who are in the prime of the workforce. That’s not the Cuban demographic story. Cuba is closing primary schools and opening homes for the elderly, closing pediatric wards and opening geriatric wards. That’s a burden for growth, but also creates business activity and opportunity: Cuba suddenly needs to build retirement communities. Cuba projects a population of 10.8 million in 2030. It is about to go from around two million people over the age of 60 to 3.25 million in 2030.

But it isn’t all bleak. Cuban life expectancy is approximately what you would expect in North America and Western Europe. That means levels of education are good. It means there is access to basic, quality healthcare. It doesn’t mean that you can have a banquet every day, but that basic nutritional needs are met. There are opportunities for sports. These are the kinds of things that contribute to well-being and that require lots of effective institutional arrangements.

When you put all these pieces together around education and health care, it’s clear that Cuba is likely a champion of investment in the development of human capital—but for the last 50 years it has an extremely low economic return on this investment. If you invest in human capital, whether in your company or in your country, sooner or later it will pay off if you have the right set of incentives. In other words, you need the right organizational design so that all these well -trained, well-educated people will be able to do their work. That’s what Cuba doesn’t have.

But it does have a colossally well-trained work force. It is probably the best, most well-trained workforce at the cheapest labor-market price that any international investor could find anywhere in the world. You could find such first-rate people in Singapore, but they wouldn’t be cheap.

This is true despite the country’s very poor infrastructure. In Cuba, there are seven computers per 100 people — one of the lowest ratios in the Americas. Internet access in Cuba is very expensive. Consider that the median monthly salary in Cuba, when converted into dollars, is a bit below $20 a month. Then think about what you pay for a service like Netflix. For many Cubans even at a discount, half your monthly income would go to Netflix.

So how does Cuba make money? Its current principal source of revenue is the export of healthcare services by means of sending physicians, nurses, and healthcare technicians to countries like Venezuela and Brazil—an item that it has yet to record in its published official statistics.

Cuba’s main resource to engage in the world is no longer sugar cane. It has tourism—beach and sun and one of the communist world’s last Jurassic political systems—but the real asset is the brains of its people. It could be an ideal location for healthcare organizations, but also for those in applied sciences, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals. We know two things about biotech in Cuba. One is that the quality of applied science seems to be first rate. And secondly, the business model for Cuban biotechnology has been laughably bad. They know how to make new products. They don’t know how to market them effectively. That’s a solvable problem, yet they haven’t been able to do it, and so a partnership with a European or a Canadian or a U.S. pharmaceutical company could be a great asset in the future.

Have the doors opened to U.S. company investment? Well, no. The power to authorize U.S. business investment in Cuba still rests with the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets control (OFAC)—and the fact is this agency’s documentation contains the exact same formulation that it had before December 17. Economic transactions, trade, and investment with Cuba remain prohibited unless they are specifically authorized by OFAC. The Government of Cuba must also authorize each and every foreign investment from any country, and it has yet to authorize one from the United States.

A lot of people get hung up on the issue of travel between the U.S. and Cuba. JetBlue recently launched direct commercial flights from New York. But there have been charter flights from Miami to Cuba since the late 1970s. OFAC has made particular determinations authorizing different airlines as charter flights for many years for various travel programs to Cuba, especially for cultural, educational, and religious groups. There has been a U.S. embargo on economic transactions with Cuba since 1960. There are still restrictions on American tourist travel. Going to the beach is something that the neither the President of the United States nor OFAC can authorize. It requires an act of U.S. Congress. Congress decided in 2000 that it wanted to prohibit beach tourism and it didn’t want the president to have any discretion whatsoever on this point. Now, while more people will be allowed to visit, they still can’t go to the beach.

On the exports side, President George W. Bush authorized U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba in late 2001 under presidential discretion, which exceeded $5 billion between 2002 and 2014. But, oddly, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba declined by over one-third (if you compare January-June 2014 to the same months in 2015) since the President Obama’s announcement. The boom in U.S.-Cuba trade has yet to materialize. Cuba does have a private sector, which it calls it the “non-state sector.” It includes mixed enterprises (foreign firms and state enterprises) and a “self-employment sector.” In a population just shy of 11.2 million, there are over 500,000 people who have self-employment licenses, according to President Raúl Castro’s report to Cuba’s National Assembly in July 2015. The rule of thumb among Cuban scholars who study this is for any one license there are on average four lawfully-hired employees. That would amount to over two million people in the self-employment sector.

One reason why the average number of employees is four is because, once you reach five or more employees, your tax rate goes up. The Cuban government’s tax collection system is primitive. There is no personal income tax in Cuba. There is no corporate tax in Cuba. There is no value added tax in Cuba. There is no sales tax in Cuba. But there is a tax on the number of your employees. This tax system discourages economic and job growth.

The Cuban government has a list of occupations that are authorized by name; everything else is prohibited or reserved for state-run enterprises. Authorized occupations include plumbers or electricians. These are skilled workers, but the list rarely includes those who studied at the university. Thus in a country that has invested so much in the development of a human capital, it says in effect: if you attended university, then you’re going to work for the state. Let’s say you go to the medical school at the University of Havana. Healthcare is a state sector, it’s not private activity. So what if you decide you want to make more money? You might realize that the one useful skill gained from your time at medical school is learning English. So, you quit as a physician and become a maid at a tourist hotel. You earn more money because your most marketable asset turns out to be that you can communicate in English. This is a tragedy for the individual and for the society. It turns incentives about acquiring skills upside down. You do have people with university training in the private sector, but often not working in the profession for which they trained. There are some exceptions—for example you could be a tutor in the private sector, but you cannot be a classroom teacher. You can, in the private sector, teach foreign languages, but you cannot teach mathematics. Thus the private sector is tiny.

There is also foreign investment, although not a lot. The 2014 foreign investment law finally authorized wholly owned foreign enterprises, but thus far without exception they are all joint ventures with the government. Cuba’s trade reveals its international partners. In 2013 in U.S. dollar-equivalents, Cuba exported $343 million to China and imported $1.5 billion from it. In contrast, it exported $81 million to, and imported $614 million, from Brazil. Cuba exported $2.3 billion to, and imported $4.8 billion from, Venezuela, its top partner.

But China matters in one decisive way. The Chinese government strongly advocates that the Cuban government should reform its economy to achieve a faster, wider market opening. That’s not the way you might have guessed China would be advocating, hut in fact China’s role in Cuba is to try to persuade the Cuban government to emulate its own market opening.

The extraordinary competence of Cuba’s political leaders is sometimes easy to miss. They’re colossally impressive in the management of politics. They’ve remained in power. Who would have known that all communist regimes in Europe would collapse, but that only Cuba and four East Asian regimes would survive?

Cuba has a really, really well-educated and cheap workforce, as well as substantial evidence of entrepreneurial potential. If its political leaders can manage to lift constraints on investment, create the right incentives, and reform its tax code, the country could really boom. But that’s a lot of change to expect for the insular government of an island nation that’s otherwise stuck in time.

Jorge Dominquez - Vice Provost for International Affairs (cq)Jorge I. Dominguez is the Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico at Harvard University. He is the lead editor of a special issue on the Cuban economy for the journal Cuban Studies (2016).

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Full Document Here: US-Cuba Agricultural Trade, Past, Present and Perspective, USDA,2015

By Steven Zahniser, Bryce Cooke, Jerry Cessna, Nathan Childs, David Harvey, Mildred Haley, Michael McConnell, and Carlos Arnade, all from the United States Department of Agriculture


Establishment of a more normal economic relationship with Cuba has the potential to foster additional growth in U.S.-Cuba agricultural trade. Prior to the Cuban Revolution of 1959, bilateral agricultural trade featured large volumes of Cuban sugar and smaller volumes of molasses, tobacco, and pineapple from Cuba and rice, lard, dried beans, wheat, and wheat flour from the United States. In 2000, the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba was loosened to allow for U.S. exports of agricultural products and medicine. As a result, the United States soon became Cuba’s leading supplier of agricultural imports. The remaining prohibitions on issuing credit to Cuba, however, give other exporting countries a competitive advantage in the Cuban market, and the United States slipped to being the second leading supplier in 2013 and the third leading supplier in 2014. A more normal economic relationship between the two countries would allow Cuba to resume exporting agricultural products to the United States, while U.S. agricultural exporters would be able to develop commercial ties in Cuba that approximate their business relationships in other parts of the world.

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By REUTERS, AUG. 31, 2015, 6:24 P.M. E.D.T.

Original article here:

Guantanamo Bay PrisonWASHINGTON — The White House is considering a “wide array” of options for closing the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday, declining to rule out executive action as an option.

Earnest said the best route for closing the prison would be winning congressional approval to do so.

The facility, where most detainees have been held without trial for more than a decade, has drawn international condemnation for the harsh treatment of foreign terrorism suspects.  But President Barack Obama, who has repeatedly pledged to close the prison, has faced opposition from congressional Republicans who passed laws blocking any move to transfer Guantanamo inmates to prisons in the United States.

Asked if Obama would consider taking executive action to close the prison if Congress blocks him, Earnest said, “The president and his team are always considering a wide array of options.  “But the fact is the best way for us to do this is for members of Congress of both parties to work effectively with the administration,” Earnest said.

The White House said last month that it would soon be sending a plan to Congress to close the prison. A unilateral move by Obama to close the prison would be sure to set off a firestorm in Congress.  Some Republicans have already begun to push back against suggestions being floated by the administration as possible U.S. sites to house the prisoners.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Aug. 20 that he sent a small team of officials to visit a potential facility in Leavenworth, Kansas, and the group would soon tour the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig at Charleston, South Carolina.

In response, Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley told a news conference, “We are not going to allow any terrorists” to be housed in Charleston.

The prison at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was opened by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to house suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members rounded up overseas. With a current prisoner population of 116, it now holds less than half of the number of prisoners it did when Obama took office in 2009.

One of the main thrusts of Obama’s strategy for closing the prison has been sending home or resettling elsewhere as many as possible of the 52 prisoners who have been ruled safe for release.

Guantanamo-Backpacks-8-13-016(Reporting by Julia Edwards and Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Roberta Rampton aboard Air Force One; Editing by Bill Trott and Tom Brown)

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The new Havana embassy is the last big move left for the White House to make. Any progress after this won’t be so easy.

 Original essay here: Now Comes the Hard Part

 By Carl Meacham

 APTOPIX Cuba US Relations

 In 1961, Washington severed diplomatic relations with Havana. More than 50 years later, embassies in Washington and Havana have officially reopened. And today, Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Havana to raise the American flag over the embassy.

The flag is a powerful symbolic gesture, widely seen as the opening of a new chapter in the complicated, tense relationship between the U.S. and one of its nearest neighbors.

But in the messy universe of Cuban politics and policy, there’s another way to look at it. At least for the short term, Kerry’s ceremony is as likely to be the end of something as the beginning.

Since last December, when President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro announced that they would lead the two countries toward bilateral normalization, events have moved at light speed, at least by diplomatic standards. We’ve had new regulations passed, prisoners released on both sides, and formal channels open for diplomatic negotiations. The Obama administration removed Cuba from the U.S. Government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Travel, money transfers, and bilateral interactions are all easier than at any point since the Cuban Revolution.

A lot has been achieved in very little time, and it’s easy to imagine that the change will only snowball. But so far the momentum has come almost entirely from the White House, and the newly opened embassies mark the final big step that Obama can take by himself. Reopening the embassies, as well as taking Cuba off of the list of terrorist sponsoring countries, were decisions that resided within the jurisdiction of the executive branch. Now the most significant next steps are going to lie with Congress, and get tangled up in the 2016 presidential race. They won’t be so easy.

The issues now hanging between the countries are serious ones with strong constituencies aligned against further movement. The big one is the embargo—or as Cubans call it, “the blockade.” Changing or ending the embargo has the biggest potential to transform the relationship, but it requires Congress to change the laws that put the embargo in place. And the likelihood of Congress moving to change that in the next 18 months is minimal.

A number of senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle are pushing for legislation that would ease elements of the embargo. But the Senate majority leader is set against normalization, so it’s unlikely that he would make time on the Senate floor to discuss measures that would strengthen the new approach.

One of the obstacles is substantive: many in Congress see any normalization as a concession to an authoritarian government with a poor record on human rights. The many outstanding issues between Cuba and the U.S. also include claims on expropriated property from US citizens which have not been settled.

And another obstacle is that in the political landscape right now, Cuba simply isn’t important enough to justify floor time in Congress. This fall’s Congressional agenda is already packed with the nuclear deal with Iran and the fight against ISIL, both of which require urgent foreign policy attention—not to mention ongoing battles over funding the government and the potential for government shutdown, new climate regulations, and government funding for women’s healthcare. Ultimately, these issues all trump maneuvers to lift (or ease) the embargo.

Finally, the window between now and the start of presidential primaries is very short. The Iowa Caucus is scheduled for late January or early February 2016. The Republican base, and the party’s leadership, are deeply divided on Cuba policy. As the primary season heats up and candidates jockey for political positioning, Cuba will only become more controversial and polarizing. All of these factors hamper the potential for any major new Cuba legislation.

So what could come next?

It’s likely that trade measures to facilitate commerce, which don’t require Congressional approval, would be the next meaningful step. By setting ground rules related to trade facilitation through bilateral negotiations, Washington and Havana could start to establish a formal framework for their nascent relationship.

The new embassies will help, though there are still a few key obstacles. The Cuban judicial system, which is far from independent, is a significant hurdle, and the two countries have nothing in the way of a bilateral dispute settlement mechanism. The absence of an independent judiciary poses a big risk for investors and businesses seeking to operate in Cuba. And though Cuba is a member of the World Trade Organization, its government hasn’t historically shown a commitment to attracting foreign investment.

Cuban laws stand in the way of smooth commercial relations. Foreign entrepreneurs, for example, are prohibited from directly hiring Cuban employees—a disadvantage for firms that want to set up shop in Cuba. The size of the Cuban market is challenging, too: Cuba’s GDP per capita is just $5,800—half of the Latin American average. Cuba is a promising market for the United States, but its economy’s capacity is limited—so its impact is limited, in kind.

Whatever happens next, it will have a lot to overcome. The history of the bilateral relationship is complicated and tense: the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs invasion, Guantanamo, Cuban efforts to export its revolution in Latin America and Africa, and its continued role in Venezuela have all played a role. Even after the Soviet Union’s fall, the two countries have remained isolated from one another for decades.

But they also have a long shared history and culture, and even with all these obstacles, we’ve seen some logistical progress in the relationship. March saw the re-establishment of direct telephone links, an important first step in developing infrastructure and communications between the two countries. Stonegate, a small regional bank headquartered in Florida, now works directly with the Cuban government, allowing Cubans to function outside a cash-only basis when operating in the United States.

These steps suggest how the relationship might proceed for now even without doing away with the embargo, and during a very political presidential primary season. Transparency is key. Setting clear rules and regulations that govern how U.S. businesses operate in Cuba (and vice versa) will allow for a boost in confidence—and a parallel boost in investment. And ultimately, this would ideally include a process for settling disputes.

Finally, Washington and Havana can build on the financial reform efforts that have already been implemented. Though banking and financial services are already simpler, further easing the flow of money and investment would go a long way.

There’s a lot left to do. The first act may be over, but Cuba and the United States are slowly but surely just getting started.

Carl Meacham is director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).


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AUGUST 13, 2015; Published in “From The Island.

Complete document in English here:  Cuba’s Labyrinthian System of Imports

Spanish version:       Sistema Importador Cubano


The international market allows countries with limited internal markets, such as Cuba, to take advantage of economies of scale. That means there is a need to harmonize increases in exports with the substitution of imports. As a result, it is important how leading export items in international trade are supported, while at the same time maintaining the necessary flow to guarantee the import of inputs for that balance.

Cuba’s foreign trade sector, which currently maintains trade relations with more than three thousand foreign companies, possesses the characteristics of an open economy. It is thus greatly relevant that trade policy be designed to contribute to a necessary improvement in productivity and to increase economic efficiency. To that end, it is essential that the methods applied match the goals of economic policy.

The international environment, the national economic structure and the regulatory framework are factors with notable impact on the performance of foreign trade. In particular, the role of institutions is especially important to the effectiveness of regulations in this sector of the economy. In the Cuban economy, it should be noted, the only entities that import products into the country belong to the state, despite the stated intent of Cuban authorities of having the non-state sector occupy a larger portion of the economy.

In Cuba, new Resolutions issued by the General Customs of the Republic (Aduana General de la República or AGR) that took effect on September 1st, 2014 have raised a number of concerns among the Cuban people. The following is a brief overview of this controversial issue.




The weakness that currently persists in Cuba’s productivity, such as obsolete technology, insufficient quality, and logistical problems; combined with complexities in the international arena, highlight the urgency to act on domestic conditions and on improving adaptability to external conditions.

It is imperative that the new dynamics of the international context and their impact on the country’s economic and social performance be considered in the gradual changes made to the Cuban economic model.

The development of trade regulations should not lose sight of the significance of achieving the greatest possible consistency between what is required and what the priorities are for the economy, generally, but for the citizens in particular.

The state itself has made it evident that there is a set of activities that should not be administered by the state, but rather in a cooperative way or through the private sector, and it has created the mechanisms to develop it, though in a restricted manner. Thus the question that could be asked of the state is, if these non-state entities create wealth for everyone, why can’t they gain access to inputs through imports that are so necessary for their productivity or services? No doubt the answers they’ll be able to raise are about the lack of foreign currency loans to carry out said imports. Another question could be, why not allow those imports to enter the country with natural persons, and then use the tax system to collect revenue once those services or goods have been provided?

These contradictions should lead to reflection on the part of those who formulate policy. In an economy like the Cuban economy, it is vital to increase imports so that they facilitate the creation and growth of national wealth, independent of the type of property involved. That, in turn, will lead to an improvement in everyone’s well-being.




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August 13, 2015

POLITICO: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/08/obamas-favorite-castro-121342.html#ixzz3jMpKkKZ8

As far back as 1980, Raúl Castro began to harbor doubts about Cuba’s long-term sustainability. By 1990, with the loss of their Soviet patron and its $5 billion annual subsidy, Raúl’s doubts crystallized into alarm even while his brother Fidel hunkered down, resisting reform. And though Raúl took power in 2006, it would be six years before he could finally overrule his ailing brother, who turned 89 years old on Thursday.

 “There has been a sibling tug of war between Raúl and Fidel since childhood,” Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban intelligence officer, tells me over lunch this summer at Versailles, the restaurant that serves as the mecca of Cuban life in Miami. Versailles bills itself as the “most famous Cuban restaurant in the world,” and Amuchastegui is no stranger to its mirrored dining room. Domingo and I had originally met not long after his defection in the 1990s, and I’ve learned over more than two decades of covering Cuba that he has uncommon insights into the Caribbean island that has bedeviled every American president since Dwight Eisenhower. Indeed, he is that rare breed of defector who somehow manages to regularly visit his homeland. As Amuchastegui carefully parses it over lunch, Raúl has always contended with “Fidel as the No. 1 braking system.”

For more than a half century, Raúl Castro, Fidel’s comrade-for-life and chief of the Cuban Armed Forces, lived and worked cheerfully in the shadow of his elder sibling. Not only was Raúl the rare politician contented to be No. 2, he bolted from the limelight—his brother’s oxygen—like a vampire escaping the dawn. “Raúl always consults with me about all the important questions,” Fidel Castro assured an American journalist in 1964, lest anyone doubt who was the boss. “Of course,” he hastened to add, “the constant presence of one outstanding leader tends to obscure the rest.”

And so it was. Or, at least, so it was for most of Raúl’s life.

The chance to override Fidel’s brake finally came last October—amid secret negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba—when a wobbly Venezuela slashed its daily oil subsidy to the island nation. The writing was on the wall: The island was running out of patrons. But the fates once again favored Cuba. President Barack Obama told his negotiating team he wanted a deal (just about any deal, his critics contend).

For 18 months, American and Cuban officials had rendezvoused in cloak-and-dagger meetings in Toronto, Ottawa and the Vatican, pulling off what many believed was unthinkable while the Castro brothers lived—a restoration of relations between the longtime enemies. (Almost as astonishing was that both sides, famously indiscreet, kept their year-and-a-half-long negotiations a secret.) It was a seismic shift in geopolitics, one that awakened an astonished world that had become resigned to frozen non-relations between U.S. and Cuba.

On July 20, the Cuban flag rose over its newly restored Embassy on 16th Street, NW, in Washington with Secretary of State John Kerry among the 500 attendees—a ceremony that will reprise on Friday morning when the American flag will be hoisted over the newly re-christened U.S. Embassy in Havana.

The twin moments highlight the remarkable political transformation of Raúl Castro—a zealot communist (and unrepentant Stalinist) throughout the 1970s who has morphed into a formidable agent of change, deftly negotiating an end to the Cold War with his northern nemesis. “I don’t think we have so much a new Raúl,” says John Caufield, the U.S.’s top diplomat in Havana at the nation’s Interests Section (now the embassy) from 2010 to 2014, “as Raúl being able to be himself, not being in the shadow of Fidel.”

And what a deal he has made with the United States, scoring the big-ticket items on his wish list: the release of the remaining Cuban Five prisoners, an avalanche of American tourists and their cash, a huge uptick in remittances and investment capital, while sliding off the U.S.’s state-sponsored terrorist list.

At the same time, he kiboshed most of the U.S. demands—open elections, human rights’ guarantees, $7 billion in U.S. property claims, an independent media and accessible Internet. Nor will any dissidents be allowed to attend the embassy ceremony on Friday, a move widely viewed as a capitulation. (A senior State Department official explained Wednesday, somewhat improbably, that the absence of dissidents was due to “limited space,” while declining to give the number of invitees.

While America can merely claim that it has finally removed Cuba as a hot potato irritant for itself, its allies and neighbors—and retrieved the hapless USAID contractor Alan Gross—Raúl Castro has rescued his island-nation from bankruptcy, collapse and isolation.

This summer has seen minor and major steps forward in the relationship: Ahead of Kerry’s visit to Havana this week, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, made a call on the Cuban Mission in New York City on August 3. And rumors abound that President Barack Obama has chosen January to become the first sitting American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge disembarked in 1928.

As America grapples with its new relationship with a new Castro and a new Cuba, the kingmakers of Washington and Wall Street are keen to suss out the island’s reigning powers that be. One thing is headline clear: As of December 17, 2014, the Castro to be reckoned with was no longer Fidel. When John Kerry alights in Havana this week for his history-making visit, he will be landing in Raúl Castro’s Cuba.

While lacking his brother Fidel’s gravitas, erudition and ambition, Raúl has proven to be the more complex and less predictable of Cuba’s ruling siblings for 56 years—the most successful political brother act in history. He is a man of two seemingly contradictory impulses: hard-line enforcer and conciliatory pragmatist, a man who has steered Cuba into the future even as he fought fiercely, at times, to keep it in the past.

On one level, Raúl’s power is a logical outcome: For a half-century, he’s held the ultimate trump card, control of the army, the FAR (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios), which has been the single most important organ of the government and a respectable fighting force. “In the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. lost the war in Vietnam and the Soviet Union lost the war in Afghanistan,” points out Jorge Dominguez, Harvard’s resident Cuba scholar. During the same period, however, “the Cuban Armed Forces won the three wars, [that] they fought far from home in Angola and Ethiopia.” Then there are its domestic successes—such as tourism and the farmers markets—that elevate the Army and its myriad divisions—into the most efficient and reliable pillar of Cuban life.

These days, Raúl is building an even deeper legacy, one that will likely outlast both him and his brother—ensuring that the Castro family will hold the reins of power for some years to come.

Partial to practical jokes, rum and cockfighting, Raúl Modesto Castro barely made it through school, earning the nickname—el pulguita—the flea. In 1951, he dropped out of the University of Havana.

In the early 1950s, Raúl, tutored by Fidel, became enamored with left-wing politics. “Fidel was always an influence on Raúl,” their younger sister, Juanita, who—disillusioned with her brothers’ revolution—fled to Miami in 1964, told me at our first meeting in 2000. “They’ve always been very close.”

Fidel often sought to give the impression that his sibling was more of a hard-liner than himself. “Raúl was already quite left-leaning,” he said at one point, then conceding in 2005, “Actually, I was the one who introduced him to Marxist-Leninist ideas.”

In March 1953, a 21-year-old Raúl attended a Communist Party conference in Vienna representing Cuba. Quick to make friends, it was the personable Raúl who lassoed an invaluable contact while there—KGB agent Nikolai Leonov, who would play a central role in the 35-year Cuban-Soviet alliance. Indeed, it was Raúl, not Fidel, who deeply bonded with Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev, the two passing more than one night drowning their enmity to the U.S. in pails of Russian vodka. (Raúl also drank their Cold War Kool-Aid, reportedly telling Life magazine in July 1960: “My dream is to drop three atom bombs on New York”).

Ann Louise Bardach is the author of Cuba Confidential (2002) and Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington (2009), as well as the editor of The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro and Cuba: A Travelers Literary Companion. She interviewed Fidel Castro in 1993 and 1994 and met Raúl Castro in 1994.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/08/obamas-favorite-castro-121342.html#ixzz3jMpKkKZ8

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CubaDebate, 12 julio 2015 | 34

Original Article here : http://www.cubadebate.cu/opinion/vision-externa


 José Luis Rodríguez es asesor del Centro de Investigaciones de la Economía Mundial (CIEM). Fue Ministro de Economía de Cuba.

Algo que sin dudas ha llamado la atención a lo largo de la historia de la Revolución es la proliferación de múltiples interpretaciones externas sobre lo que se hace en el país, especialmente en el orden de la política económica. Desafortunadamente, la cantidad no hace la calidad y muchos de los trabajos que se han publicado adolecen de un mínimo de rigor analítico en sus análisis, en especial, aquellos que parten de una visión anti socialista excluyente de otro modelo que no sea afín a la economía de mercado en las diferentes versiones de la misma.

 En el presente artículo no se pretende realizar un balance exhaustivo de todos estos enfoques, ni siquiera de aquellos que se han producido a lo largo de los últimos cinco años y que se relacionan con la actualización del modelo económico en curso. No obstante, resulta útil destacar algunas tendencias presentes en el ámbito académico y que permiten identificar los principales enfoques acerca de las transformaciones económicas que se desarrollan en Cuba en la actualidad.

Lo primero que valdría la pena subrayar es que no se aprecia una ruptura con paradigmas anteriores que han preponderado a la hora de examinar la realidad económica en Cuba a lo largo de los años. Ello se aprecia en los análisis que se llevan a cabo por la Asociación para el Estudio de la Economía Cubana (ASCE) de Estados Unidos, que se reúne sistemáticamente todos los años desde 1990 y que publica la memoria de sus debates en los que continúa siendo mayoritaria una visión cercana al neoliberalismo más ortodoxo y al mainstream de la cubanología tradicional al evaluar nuestra realidad.

En este sentido destacan –como ejemplo- los numerosos artículos de Luis R. Luis, uno de los editores del blog de ASCE, que se empeña en pintar con los tonos más oscuros posibles la realidad económica en Cuba calificándola como economía arruinada y carente de liquidez internacional, lo cual se aprecia en sus recientes artículos “Cuba’s Feeble International Liquidity” (La débil liquidez internacional de Cuba) publicado en el blog de ASCE el 9 de abril y “Cuba-US Reconciliation and Limited Reforms” (Reconciliación Cuba-EEUU y reformas limitadas) publicado el 22 de mayo pasado. En ambos trabajos se constata la ausencia de un análisis objetivo, que no excluya otros enfoques desarrollados por la academia en los propios EEUU, y que no ignore informaciones oficiales del gobierno cubano tales como el discurso del Ministro de Economía y Planificación Marino Murillo, pronunciado en la Asamblea Nacional en diciembre de 2014, donde se brindan numerosas informaciones sobre la política de financiamiento externo del país, entre otros temas de importancia para el análisis.[1]

Afortunadamente, se pueden encontrar otros enfoques no necesariamente afines a las ideas socialistas, pero que elaboran sus tesis con una mayor seriedad y rigor, aun en el terreno en el que necesariamente se mantienen discrepancias de fondo con los economistas que defendemos la Revolución.

Si se examinan los años transcurridos desde que se aprobaron los Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del país en abril de 2011, se proyecta una valoración crítica de las medidas propuestas en diversos trabajos del profesor Carmelo Mesa-Lago tal y como aparecen en su libro “Cuba en la era de Raúl Castro. Reformas económico-sociales y sus efectos” (Editorial Colibrí, Madrid, 2012), que reseñé en la revista TEMAS Nº 73 de 2013. Su valoración resumió diversos argumentos basados en una ideología keynesiana que sustentaba el análisis de errores que en su opinión llevaban a la inviabilidad del socialismo en Cuba.

Con posterioridad al 17 de diciembre de 2014, Mesa-Lago se ha pronunciado sobre los cambios en Cuba, incluyendo la perspectiva que se abre en las relaciones con Estados Unidos. En un reciente trabajo titulado “Normalización de las relaciones entre EEUU y Cuba: causas, prioridades, progresos, obstáculos, efectos y peligros” (Real Instituto El Cano, Documento de Trabajo Nº 6/2015, 8 de mayo de 2015 disponible en www.blog.rielcano.org ) el profesor Mesa-Lago realiza un interesante análisis de la nueva situación y ofrece una visión notablemente objetiva de muchos temas que atañen a la evaluación de los cambios en Cuba, lo cual resulta destacable en relación a otros trabajos anteriores. No obstante, el documento tiene un enfoque negativo sobre las relaciones de Cuba con Venezuela tomando como válidas informaciones y datos que resultan especulativos, especialmente cuando valora el supuesto impacto sobre la economía cubana de una contracción económica en Venezuela este año y ubica la situación de ese país como un motivo para buscar el acercamiento de Cuba con Estados Unidos, lo cual no se corresponde con la verdad.

Igualmente el documento cierra con lo que el autor denomina como el enigma de la posición cubana frente al proceso de negociación con Estados Unidos, el cual revela un alto grado de especulación y desconocimiento de las razones que asisten a Cuba para fundamentar sus posiciones. A pesar de estos aspectos controversiales, el documento revela un análisis profundo y abarcador de las relaciones posibles entre Cuba y Estados Unidos por parte del autor, que revela el fruto de un trabajo sistemático y serio sobre estos temas durante muchos años.[2]


Un aspecto que es tomado como premisa en el análisis de las transformaciones más recientes de la economía cubana por la mayoría de los autores, es el fracaso del modelo socialista de desarrollo y lo inevitable de la transición a una economía de mercado.

Al respecto se destacan investigadores como Richard E. Feinberg, ex funcionario del gobierno norteamericano, actual profesor de la Universidad de California en San Diego y Senior Fellow de Brookings Institution, uno de los principales tanques pensantes de Estados Unidos. Este analista ha venido publicando sistemáticamente trabajos sobre la economía cubana, entre los que se destacan sus ensayos “Extendiendo la mano: La nueva economía de Cuba y la respuesta internacional” Iniciativa para América Latina, Brookings Institution, Washington, noviembre de 2011, www.brookings.edu y “¿Aterrizaje suave en Cuba? Empresarios emergentes y clases medias” Iniciativa para América Latina, Brookings Institution, Washington, noviembre 8 de 2013, www.brookings.edu.

En el primero de estos trabajos Feinberg defiende la tesis de que constituye una anomalía la no pertenencia de Cuba a organismos financieros internacionales como el FMI y el Banco Mundial, por lo que propone un programa de aproximaciones sucesivas para superar esa situación, tomando como ejemplo los casos de Nicaragua y Vietnam para ello. Sin embargo, esta propuesta no parte de aceptar los cambios que Cuba se planteó en los Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social, sobre los que el autor expresa que “Las pautas están plagadas de contradicciones internas y siguen rindiendo culto a la planificación centralizada, pero las fracciones pro reforma fueron lo suficientemente fuertes para incluir un lenguaje que transformaría la cultura política y la ética social cubana si se lo interpretara y actuara en consecuencia.”

Claramente sale a relucir que la transición al capitalismo es a fin de cuentas lo determinante y para ello se cifran esperanzas en lo que Feinberg denomina como “las fracciones pro reforma”.

Adicionalmente faltaría por demostrar que es posible ingresar al FMI y sostener un programa de desarrollo como al que Cuba aspira, especialmente si se tiene en cuenta el papel que ha jugado este organismo en la aplicación de las recetas neoliberales a toda costa, tal y como se refleja en estos momentos en su posición frente al actual gobierno de Grecia en la Unión Europea.

Acerca de este supuesto papel positivo del FMI, bastaría con examinar su desempeño en la transición al capitalismo en Europa Oriental y la antigua URSS, cuestión abordada muy seriamente por la investigadora del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo Emily Morris en el artículo “Unexpected Cuba” publicado en New Left Review Nº 88, Julio-Agosto 2014 www.newleftreview.org [3].

Un analista que trabaja los temas de la economía cubana desde la década de los años 70 del pasado siglo es el profesor de la Universidad de Carleton Archibald Ritter. Autor de uno de los pocos libros sobre la estrategia de desarrollo de Cuba –“The Economic d=Development of Revolutionary Cuba: Strategy and Performance”, Praeger, New York, 1974- ha incursionado con una visión crítica en distintos aspectos del desempeño económico del país, dedicándole especial atención en los últimos años al desarrollo del sector privado. En este sentido Ritter publicó junto a Ted Henken el libro “Entreprenurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape” que vio la luz en 2014[2], trabajo que aborda desde diferentes ángulos la temática del llamado sector no estatal.

Al igual que otros textos, en este libro se examinan las insuficiencias para el desarrollo sin límites de la propiedad privada y cooperativa, por lo que se deja establecido que solo en una economía de mercado pueden evaluarse sus verdaderas potencialidades, con lo que evidentemente se niega la posibilidad de su desarrollo en los límites que supone una economía socialista.

Finalmente vale la pena destacar otro trabajo que –previo al escenario actual de posibles relaciones con Estados Unidos- se elaboró anteriormente. Este es el caso del ensayo de Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Barbara Kotschwar y Cathleen Cimino “Economic Normalization with Cuba. A Roadmap for US Policymakers” Policy Analysis Nº 103, Peterson Institute for International Economy, 2014 www.piie.com . Siguiendo la línea de otros autores, en este análisis se propone para Cuba un modelo de transición a una economía de mercado siguiendo el modelo de Europa Oriental a través de diferentes pasos, que incluyen la apertura del mercado de Estados Unidos y el ingreso a los organismos del sistema financiero internacional, es decir, al FMI, Banco Mundial y Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo.


Otros análisis de interés sobre la economía cubana en años recientes, que no toman como premisa una transición inevitable a la economía de mercado en nuestro caso, también puede encontrarse en diferentes autores, sin que se pretenda en este breve artículo hacer un listado exhaustivo de los mismos.

Profundo conocedor de la economía cubana a la que ha estudiado durante muchos años, el economista sueco Claes Brundenius, actualmente Profesor Honorario del Research Policy Institute de la Universidad de Lund, elaboró uno de los libros más importantes sobre el desarrollo socioeconómico en Cuba: “Revolutionary Cuba: The Challenge of Economic Growth with Equity” (Cuba revolucionaria: el desafío del crecimiento económico con equidad) Westview Press, Boulder, 1984, al que siguieron numerosos artículos y libros de especial valor –varios de ellos elaborados en esos años con el destacado profesor Andrew Zimbalist del Smith College.  Entre los trabajos más significativos se destaca “Revolutionary Cuba at 50: Growth with Equity Revisited” (Cuba revolucionaria a los 50: crecimiento con equidad revisados) Latin American Perspectives Volume 36, Nº 2, March 2009.

En uno de sus libros más recientes, coeditado con Ricardo Torres: “No More Free Lunch. Reflections on the Cuban Economic Reform Process and Challenges for Transformation” (No más comida gratis. Reflexiones sobre el proceso cubano de reformas y desafíos para la transformación) Springer, London, 2014; Brundenius ofrece una evaluación sobre los cambios en Cuba y las reformas económicas en Vietnam. Sin dejar de plantear ideas que pueden resultar polémicas, Brundenius arriba –como en trabajos anteriores- a conclusiones más objetivas y balanceadas al afirmar en este libro “Es un poco irónico que mientras nosotros hablamos sobe la crisis del modelo socialista en Cuba, el capitalismo en todo el mundo atraviesa su crisis más profunda desde la Gran Depresión (…) Pero claramente, el capitalismo no es “el fin de la historia” y es ahora más que nunca importante buscar modelos alternativos que puedan combinar la eficiencia de la competitividad de los modelos de mercado con sostenibilidad ambiental combinada con equidad, solidaridad y democracia. Modelos cooperativos pueden ser una importante parte de esas soluciones como se discuten en este volumen.”

Además de Emily Morris ya mencionada anteriormente, un grupo de diversos autores se han destacado por aportes puntuales al análisis socioeconómico de la realidad cubana desde posiciones igualmente objetivas y no prejuiciadas de nuestra realidad.

Entre ellos vale la pena destacar la labor de Albert Campbell, Profesor de Mérito de la Universidad de Utah, que durante años ha emprendido estudios sobre Cuba en el campo de la economía política y la filosofía de indudable relevancia y que fue el editor del más reciente libro publicado en Estados Unidos escrito totalmente por autores cubanos residentes en nuestro país: “Cuban Economist on the Cuban Economy” (Economistas cubanos sobre la economía cubana) The University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2013.[4]

En este grupo pueden incluirse con diversos matices, los británicos George Lambie –uno de los editores del International Journal of Cuban Studies, del International Institute for the Study of Cuba- y Mervyn Bein, especialista en temas de relaciones entre Cuba y los antiguos países socialistas; el canadiense John Kirk, durante muchos años estudioso de la colaboración internacional brindada por Cuba en el campo de la salud y editor de la colección Contemporary Cuba de la University Press of Florida; los académicos norteamericanos Nelson Valdés Profesor Emérito de Sociología en la Universidad de Nuevo México profundo conocedor de la realidad cubana, creador de uno de los proyectos de investigación más completo sobre Cuba contemporánea –Cuba-L Direct-; Frank Thompson, profesor de la Universidad de Michigan; Paolo Spadoni, profesor asistente de Georgia Regents University y autor del libro “Cuba’s Socialist Economy Today. Navigating Challenges and Change” (La economía de Cuba socialista hoy. Desafíos de la navegación y cambio) Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 2014, libro en el que se realiza un análisis macroeconómico –no exento de criterios debatibles pero interesantes- acerca de las transformaciones en desarrollo actualmente en Cuba; y Jorge R. Piñón un destacado especialista en temas energéticos y director de Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program en la Universidad de Texas en Austin.

Lógicamente, con posterioridad al 17 de diciembre de 2014 el tema de Cuba y su economía ha pasado a ocupar un destacado lugar en todos los análisis, tanto por los especialistas, como por aquellos que comienzan a enfrentarse al estudio de nuestro país.

Un examen sobre estas nuevas visiones y las diferentes teorías que se enarbolan para sustentarlos, merecerá una evaluación más detenida en la misma medida en que se vayan despejando obstáculos que –como la permanencia del bloqueo norteamericano contra Cuba- no permiten una proyección clara de los posibles derroteros de las relaciones económicas entre nuestros dos países a corto plazo.

Por el momento, resulta de mucha importancia para los economistas cubanos mantener un seguimiento de todos los trabajos que se publican en el exterior, especialmente de aquellos académicos que han demostrado una mayor rigurosidad en sus análisis hasta el presente, tomando en cuenta su posible contribución al debate científico y a profundizar en el  desarrollo de los estudios sobre la economía cubana.


[1] En esta misma línea de pensamiento se incluyen autores como Jorge Sanguinetty, Roger Betancourt, Rolando Castañeda, Joaquín J. Pujol y Ernesto Hernández-Catá todos ponentes regulares de “Cuba in Transition” el anuario que publica la ASCE desde 1990. Ver www.ascecuba.org
[2] En este trabajo no solamente se contrastan críticamente los elementos esenciales de la política económica cubana con la aplicada en los ex países socialistas europeos, sino que se incluye una valoración crítica de los enfoques de la cubanología al respecto, lo cual es un valor añadido muy interesante para el análisis.
[3] Hay una versión disponible en español. Ver “Emily Morris: Cuba ha demostrado que la economía socialista es posible” Cubadebate, noviembre 24 de 2014 en www.cubadebate.cu
[4]La introducción a este libro se encuentra en www.thecubaneconomy.com


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Matt Jacobs / History News Network @myHNN

July 25, 2015, History News Network

To understand the change we need to acknowledge that Castro has always followed a policy of “revolutionary pragmatism”


 The restoration of U.S. and Cuban diplomatic ties is quite an event, particularly given the hostility that defined relations between the two countries for so long. President Obama’s decision to re-open an embassy in Havana and Raul Castro’s agreement to do the same in Washington continues the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations. The steps taken by both countries have generated much publicity over the past few months. Numerous U.S. media outlets have produced stories on the implications for Obama’s legacy and the potential fallout for 2016 presidential candidates. As usual Washington politicians and pundits have focused their attention on the reasons for the U.S. shift. Yet, it is not President Obama’s decision to seek a normalization that warrants the most attention, but rather the Castro government’s reasoning behind their determination to chart a new course in U.S.-Cuban relations. In fact, much more can be learned from concentrating instead on what is behind the Cuban leadership’s thinking.

Havana’s recent decisions are deeply rooted in what can best be termed as Cuba’s “revolutionary pragmatism.” Though the Castro government continually speaks the language of revolutionary change, it also has also taken a sensible view to foreign policy matters when necessary. Such an approach has guided Cuban engagement with the world from the 1960s to the present.

“Revolutionary pragmatism” traces back to the very beginning of the Castro regime. In the years immediately following the Cuban Revolution, for example, a top issue in US-Cuban relations included Fidel Castro’s support for anti-US guerilla movements throughout Latin America. Castro repeatedly challenged Latin Americans and others around the world to stand up to the United States. He famously declared in 1962 that it was “the duty of every revolutionary to make the revolution. In America and the world, it is known that the revolution will be victorious, but it is improper revolutionary behavior to sit at one’s doorstep waiting for the corpse of imperialism to pass by.”

Yet, privately, Castro proved willing to develop a foreign policy based on practical considerations. On a recent research trip to Cuba I gained access to the Foreign Ministry Archive in Havana and was surprised at what I found. Many detailed reports from the early 1960s discussed the prospects for revolution in Central and South America, but concluded that conditions were not ripe in many nations for radical change. This reality led to a more pragmatic position being taken by leaders in Havana as they approached Latin America.

The most documented aid came in the form of training young Latin Americans in guerilla tactics who traveled to Cuba. As historian Piero Gliejeses’s excellent studies demonstrate, Castro turned his attention to Africa as early as 1964. Havana’s decision to abandon any large-scale support for revolutionary groups in Latin America was not made due to a lack of enthusiasm for challenging Washington’s traditional sphere of influence, but owed instead to practical considerations.

Similarly, in the 1980s when the Sandinista triumph in Nicaragua offered Havana an ally in Latin America, Castro held to “revolutionary pragmatism.” He counseled Daniel Ortega not to antagonize elite economic interests too much. On a visit to Managua, Castro even declared that allowing some capitalism in the Nicaraguan economy did not violate revolutionary principles. He bluntly told Nicaraguan leaders that they did not have to follow the path taken by Cuba, “Each revolution is different from the others.”

Perhaps the greatest illustration of Cuban flexibility was the Castro regime’s response to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In June 1990, after receiving word that aid from Moscow would no longer flow to Havana, Fidel Castro announced a national emergency. He called his initiative “the Special Period in Peacetime.” Cuba welcomed foreign investment, tourism, the U.S. dollar, and allowed small-scale private businesses. While many prognosticators predicated a complete collapse of the Castro regime, the revolutionary government endured due to its ability to adapt.

Thus, recent developments must be viewed within their proper historical context. As it has in the past, Castro’s regime is pursuing “revolutionary pragmatism.”

The impetus for changes in Cuba’s approach owes to several reasons. First, since the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013 Venezuela has become a questionable economic ally. Political instability coupled with a crumbling economy has likely caused Havana to view a key economic patron in Caracas as increasingly unreliable. A complete breakdown of order in Venezuela would greatly affect the Cuban economy in a negative way. Thus, a better economic relationship with the United States is one way of protecting the island from a changing relationship with Venezuela.

Other reasons for Cuba’s rapprochement with the United States owe to domestic concerns. Since taking power in 2008, Raul Castro has been open to reforms in an attempt to make socialism work for the twenty-first century. Over the last few years the Cuban government has relaxed controls over certain sectors of the economy, but reforms have been slow and halting. Anyone who has spent time in Havana cannot help but notice the aging infrastructure and inefficient public transportation system. A key to any reform agenda is attracting foreign investment, and the United States stands as an attractive partner.

Furthermore, as Raul is poised to step down from power in 2018, Cuba is starting to make preparations for a successful turnover. An improving relationship with Washington may help his likely successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel, better navigate the transfer. In sum, at this point and time, normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations serves Havana’s best interests.

It remains to be seen just how far the Cuban government will go regarding changes in policy. Going back to 2010, Raul Castro declared during a national address that “we reform, or we sink.” His recent push for renewed relations with the United States will likely create an influx of U.S. tourists and more capital from American businesses. In turn, this could place Cuba down the path of other communist nations who embraced elements of capitalism, China and Vietnam notably. Just how far Raul will go with his reform agenda remains to be seen.

Ultimately, a U.S.-Cuban thaw is a positive step. Antagonism between the two countries serves no one, especially the Cuban people. Yet, we should not see the recent shifts as merely Washington changing course. The steps taken by Havana are equally important and should be viewed as part of a long history of shrewd diplomacy. While Cuban foreign policy has traditionally been revolutionary in rhetoric, it has proven once again to be pragmatic in practice.

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Human Rights Watch, WORLD REPORT 2015: CUBA, EVENTS OF 2014

Original Available In

HRW 2015The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism. While in recent years it has relied less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and other critics have increased dramatically. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel and commerce with the island in exchange for several concessions by the Cuban government, including a commitment to release 53 political prisoners and to allow visits by international human rights monitors.

Arbitrary Detentions and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN)—an independent human rights group the government views as illegal—received over 7,188 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through August 2014, a sharp increase from approximately 2,900 in 2013 and 1,100 in 2010 during the same time period.

Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify the detention of critics and threaten them with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors can then use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings aim to discourage them from participating in activities seen as critical of the government.

Detention is often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. In the days leading up to the summit meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), for example, which took place in Havana on January 28 and 29, 2014, at least 40 people were arbitrarily detained, and 5 held under house arrest until the conference had ended, according to the CCDHRN.

Members of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—are routinely detained before or after they attend Sunday mass. On May 4, for example, more than 80 women were detained before attending mass throughout the island. On July 13, 129 members of the group were detained as they prepared to attend commemorative ceremonies honoring Cubans who died attempting to leave the island in 1994.

Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours and even days. The former political prisoner Guillermo Fariñas, who was placed under house arrest for the duration of the CELAC conference and then arrested when he attempted to leave home, reported suffering two broken ribs and other injuries as a result of a beating he received while in detention. Yilenni Aguilera Santos, a member of the Damas de Blanco movement in Holguín, reported suffering a miscarriage when security agents subjected her to a severe beating after arresting her on her way to mass on June 22.

Political Prisoners

Even after the conditional release of dozens of political prisoners in December 2014, dozens more remain in Cuban prisons according to local human rights groups. These groups estimate that there are more political prisoners whose cases they cannot document because the government prevents independent national or international human rights groups from accessing its prisons.

Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are “subordinated” to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression. Only a very small fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of, and limited access to, the Internet. While people in cities like Havana, Santiago de Cuba, or Santa Clara have access to the Internet, people in more rural areas are not able to go online.

A May 2013 government decree directed at expanding Internet access stipulates that the Internet cannot be used for activities that undermine “public security, the integrity, the economy, independence, and national security” of Cuba—broadly worded conditions that could be used against government critics.

A small number of independent journalists and bloggers manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. Yet those who publish information considered critical of the government are sometimes subject to smear campaigns, attacks, and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.

In May 2014, blogger Yoani Sanchez launched the website 14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent online newspaper. Within hours, the site was hacked, and visitors were directed to a page dedicated to scathing criticisms of Sanchez. The site was restored the following day, but blocked again several days later, and has remained inaccessible to Internet users within Cuba ever since.

In May 2013, the director of the government-run Casa de las Americas cultural institute, Roberto Zurbano, published an article in the New York Times highlighting persistent inequality and prejudice affecting Afro-Cubans. He was subsequently attacked in the government-controlled press and demoted to a lesser job at the institute.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminate the need for an exit visa to leave the island, which had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government and their families. Since then, many people who had been previously denied permission to travel have been able to do so, including human rights defenders and independent bloggers.

Nonetheless, the reform included very broad discretionary powers that allow the government to restrict the right to travel on the grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest,” allowing the authorities to deny exit to people who express dissent. For example, authorities have repeatedly denied Manuel Cuesta Morúa the right to travel abroad since he attempted to organize a parallel summit to the CELAC conference in January 2014.

The government also continues to arbitrarily deny Cubans living abroad the right to visit the island. In August 2013, the Cuban government denied Blanca Reyes, a Damas de Blanco member living in exile in Spain, permission to travel to Cuba to visit her ailing 93-year-old father, who died in October before she could visit him.

The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217. Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires that Cubans obtain government permission before moving to the country’s capital. It is often used to prevent dissidents from traveling there to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live in the capital.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded, and unhygienic and unhealthy conditions lead to extensive malnutrition and illness. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, and those who criticize the government, or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest, are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.

While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April 2013, it continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government still refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Meanwhile, government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.

Key International Actors

President Obama announced in December 2014 that the US government would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel and commerce with the island. In exchange, the Cuban government committed itself to—among other things— releasing 53 political prisoners and allowing visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN human rights monitors.

President Obama also called on the US Congress to lift the economic embargo on Cuba. For more than half a century, the embargo has  imposed indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and has done nothing to improve the country’s human rights record. The UN General Assembly has repeatedly called for an end to the US embargo on Cuba. In October 2014, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the embargo.

The European Union (EU) continues to retain its “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which conditions full EU economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. However, after a meeting in April 2014 in Havana, European Union and Cuban delegates agreed on establishing a road map for “normalizing” relations. EU officials indicated that concerns about civil liberties and democratic participation would continue to influence EU policy towards Cuba.

At the Organization of American States General Assembly in June, governments throughout the region called for the attendance of Cuba at the next Summit of the Americas in Panama in 2015.

In November 2013, Cuba was re-elected to a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), defeating Uruguay for a regional position despite its poor human rights record and its consistent efforts to undermine important council work. As a UNHRC member, Cuba regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of serious human rights situations around the world, opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in North Korea, Syria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Belarus, and Ukraine. Cuba, however, supported the landmark resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity adopted by the council in September 2014.

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By Arch Ritter

Being a numbers junkie, I follow the Pan-American Games results – and those of the Olympics – with keen interest. However, I am always bothered by the commonly-used scoring systems that rank countries either but the total number of medals won, or the number of gold medals won.  Obviously these rankings are biased to the more populous and the wealthier countries and are therefore not all that valid. The bigger and wealthier countries such as the US and Canada can develop expertise in all the rarer and expensive sports like water-skiing, water boarding, sailing, and equestrian. Big countries like Brazil and Mexico, both reasonably well-off and with huge population bases can be expected to do well also.

One surprise outlier is always Cuba, which with its relatively small population achieves a strong medals ranking,  coming fourth in these games

But the real winners have always seemed to me to be the small Caribbean Islands with minuscule populations in some cases, yet with some medals to their credit.


So I decided to recalculate the rankings of countries with respect to the Pan-American Games results. According to my system, explained below, the real winners are:

  1. Bahamas       (2 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze)
  2. Antigua          (1 silver)
  3. St. Kitts and Nevis (1 bronze)
  4. Grenada         (1 bronze)
  5. St. Lucia         (1 bronze)
  6. Cuba                 (36 gold, 27 silver, 34 bronze)
  7. Barbados        (1 bronze)
  8. Trinidad and Tobago (3;3 2)
  9. Bermuda        (1 bronze)

10. Canada                     (78; 69; 70)

22. United States        (103; 81; 81)

24 Brazil                        (41; 40; 60)

The complete spread-sheet on which these rankings are based is here: Pan-American Games Real Results. You can play with them and re-calculate the rankings any way you like.

It is interesting that even using a population adjustment and Human Development Index adjustment, Cuba still performs exceptionally well, ranking 6th in this system despite a population of about 11.6 million.  Congratulations to Cuba. But congratulations also the Bahamas (#1) and the other Caribbean countries that make the top 9.  The countries with large populations such as the US, Brazil and Mexico obviously don’t do so well with this measurement arrangement.

Panamerican Games, The Real Results.METHODOLOGY

The revised rankings here are based on three adjustments to the raw medals data. First, a weight of “3” is given to gold; “2” to silver and “1” to bronze, generating the “weighted” results on the attached table. Second, the “weighted” results are recalculated on a per million population basis, leading to the “Per Capita” Ranking. Third, the “Per Capita” Ranking results are discounted by the UNDP Human Development Index, leading to the Final results and the HDI-adusted Ranking in the last column. The HDI adjustment was made to compensate for the unfair advantage that better-off countries possess, (with higher income levels and better health systems) that can afford to invest in expensive sports programs.

REAL RESULTS Spreadsheet:  Pan-American Games Real Results

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