• 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."

EL COVID EN CUBA , EN LINEA ASCENDENTE E IMPLANTANDO RÉCORDS (GRÁFICOS)

Por Humberto Herrera Carles

Articulo Original: Cuba y la Economía,  EL COVID EN CUBA,  Enero 10 de 2021

Decía Jose Martí, nuestro héroe nacional, que “En prever está todo el arte de salvar “, y además dijo que “Gobernar es  prever”.

Al parecer  los modelos matemáticos de pronósticos publicados por nuestras autoridades,  hasta el presente, han fallado, no se han cumplido y se han ignorado otras recomendaciones a las cuales he tenido acceso producto de las preocupaciones que todos tenemos con esta pandemia, por ejemplo de un INDICE de Alarma Epidemiológica (IAE) que predice mejor el comportamiento que nos presentan, así como el ” Método estadístico matemático para identificar el estado de la COVID-19 con relación al pico epidémico publicado en este sitio ( tomado de la Revista Información Científica)  de la autoría del Profesor Javier Pérez Capdevila.

Ahora bien, no me detendré en las comparaciones, pero evidentemente cuando se introdujo en los modelos oficiales, la variable  exógena que representaban la necesaria apertura de nuestras fronteras y la incidencia de los visitantes externos, al parecer una vez más no fueron correctos los pronósticos.  Se trataba de prever  (ex ante), y las medidas previstas hacerlas cumplir. Sin embargo, con solo observar que desde el 16 de diciembre del 2020, excepto un día, pasaban del centenar  el número de confirmados diarios, y ver que la última semana de diciembre 2020 ya era de 165 confirmados diarios como promedio, era suficiente para adoptar las medidas correctoras días atrás.  Así en los últimos 7 días de este 2021, en cinco días los casos diarios han sido por encima de 300, y los últimos 4 días es de 314, 344, 365 y 388 confirmados, además de los récords lamentables, la cota máxima no sabemos hasta donde llegará. Deberían pedir  colaboración nuestras autoridades a los que tienen otros pronósticos y metodos, para tomar las decisiones correctas en tiempo real.  Las ciencias matemáticas en estos momentos  juegan un papel fundamental, esencial.

Ayer se comunicaron varios retrocesos a diferentes fases en las provincias más comprometidas con el rebrote, la Habana paso a fase I de recuperación , cuando se encontraba en la III. 

El presente escrito solo pretende llamar la atención,  con los gráficos elaborados , de la gravedad en que nos encontramos, porque al final esto es tarea de todos. He vistopor ejemplo,  en otros países en colas a los super  que guarda distancia de 1.5 m para entrar entre las personas, e incluso es uno solo por familia y no pueden entrar los menores. En nuestro país, son “molotes” fuera de las tiendas.¿?

Los gráficos a continuación y tablas son elaboración propia con datos del MINSAP. 


Como se observa en el gráfico # 1 desde el día uno de la pandemia, muestra que este tercer rebrote hasta ayer, es casi 5 veces mayor que el momento peor del primero, y que la línea de tendencia polinómica de grado 4 (roja)  de excel va en  ascenso. Aquí es donde se requieren los “otros” pronósticos. 

Los Activos acumulados diarios ( los que tienen la enfermedad y no se han recuperado) en el gráfico # 2 y su línea de tendencia, se han incrementado desde la anterior cota máxima de 847 activos el 25 de abril del 2020 en el primer brote , en 2.99 veces, significando , al no incrementarse el número de fallecidos, que el tiempo de hospitalización- recuperación es menor ( días) ¿ nuevo protocolo médico  ?. Sin embargo, no se publican los casos activos por provincias como una información oficial del MINSAP.  El día cero de casos activos, parece cada vez más lejos, primero hay que aspirar a casos cero de confirmados durante días, y desde que empezó la Covid en nuestro país solo hemos tenido un día con caso cero, el 19 de julio del 2020, esa es la meta a lograr, otra vez.

Observar que la tasa de incidencia con importados (azul) y sin (azul) del gráfico # 3 del MINSAP , desde que empezó la pandemia eran similares, sin embargo hay una diferencia  que inició  diciembre -enero , y esto demuestra dos cosas 1- la tasa de incidencia con los casos importados es mucho mayor que la  autóctona,y 2- que sin los importados (roja) no obstante, hay igualmente un incremento de la tasa de incidencia, es decir el incremento se dio aunque no se hubieran abierto las fronteras. 

Continue Reading:

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

RUSIA SUSPENDE HASTA NUEVO AVISO LA MODERNIZACIÓN DEL FERROCARRIL CUBANO

El secretario ejecutivo de la Comisión Intergubernamental Ruso-Cubana de Comercio, Oleg Kucheriáviy,  lamentó el “silencio” y “dilación” de las autoridades de la Isla.

14ymedio, La Habana | Diciembre 29, 2020

Original Article: RUSIA SUSPENDE

Rusia ha suspendido el proyecto de modernización de los ferrocarriles cubanos “debido a las dificultades económicas y las restricciones de cuarentena en la Isla”, según informó al diario Gudok el director de la empresa estatal de ferrocarriles del país euroasiático (RZD), Serguéi Pávlov.

“Lamentablemente, hemos tenido que suspender nuestro proyecto de modernización integral de la infraestructura ferroviaria cubana debido a las dificultades económicas y las restricciones de cuarentena en la Isla, pero esperamos reanudar las obras después de que la situación se haya estabilizado”, apuntó Gudok.

En octubre de 2019, RZD firmó con la Unión de Ferrocarriles de Cuba un convenio para modernizar toda la estructura ferroviaria cubana, que ha sufrido un profundo deterioro en las últimas décadas. Según el acuerdo, Rusia financiaba completamente el proyecto, valorado en 2.314 millones de dólares.

En los planes iniciales estaban el diseño, la reparación y la modernización de más de 1.000 kilómetros de la infraestructura ferroviaria

En los planes iniciales estaban el diseño, la reparación y la modernización de más de 1.000 kilómetros de la infraestructura ferroviaria con materiales, tecnologías y equipos de producción rusa. También la creación de un centro único de control de circulación de trenes y la formación, en centros educativos rusos, de personal de la Isla.

La noticia llega menos de una semana después de que el ministro de Transportes de Cuba, Eduardo Rodríguez, el embajador de Rusia en La Habana, Andrei Guskov, y el representante comercial ruso en la Isla, Alexander Bogatyr, recibieran en La Habana siete locomotoras, en medio de fuertes dudas sobre el futuro de la cooperación entre los viejos aliados.

“La llegada de estas locomotoras a Cuba coloca al ferrocarril en una mejor posición para enfrentar los retos de transporte del próximo año; vemos a este proyecto, que se ha desarrollado como parte de los acuerdos de la Comisión Intergubernamental Cuba-Rusia con la compañía rusa Sinara, como ejemplar”, dijo entonces Rodríguez a la agencia rusa Sputnik.

Los funcionarios presentes en el acto de recibimiento de los equipos se esforzaron en declarar que la cooperación seguía adelante aunque “los efectos del covid y de esta crisis derivada de la pandemia nos han obligado a extender los plazos y a reorganizar los proyectos, pero la voluntad y continuidad de estos proyectos se mantienen vigentes y continuaremos en 2021 trabajando en esa dirección”, remarcó Rodríguez.

El mensaje apoyado por Bogatyr, que lamentó que fuera “la única entrega de locomotoras este año, pero estamos seguros de que el año próximo será más fructífero (…) así que los planes de colaboración son importantes en la esfera de los ferrocarriles, no solamente con Sinara, sino con otras importantes empresas rusas que tienen proyectos y esperan continuar desarrollándolos”.

Ninguno de los dos hizo alusión a las palabras del secretario ejecutivo de la Comisión Intergubernamental Ruso-Cubana de Comercio, Cooperación Económica, Científica y Técnica, Oleg Kucheriáviy, que unos días antes dejaban entrever una cancelación masiva de inversiones en Cuba por incumplimientos por parte de La Habana.

El funcionario detalló a la prensa rusa que, de los 60 proyectos conjuntos, apenas diez estaban llevándose a cabo

El funcionario detalló a la prensa rusa que, de los 60 proyectos conjuntos, apenas diez estaban llevándose a cabo y señaló en una reunión de la Comisión de Asuntos Internacionales del Senado que la última sesión de la comisión intergubernamental, que debía celebrarse en la Isla, fue cancelada por “silencio” y “dilación” de las autoridades cubanas.

Yuri I. Borisov, viceprimer ministro de Rusia y encargado desde 2018 de las relaciones económicas con Cuba ya dijo aquel año a la televisión de su país, tras un viaje a la Isla, que los funcionarios cubanos no tenían interés en poner dinero para las inversiones necesarias y que en las negociaciones imperaba una mentalidad de la Guerra Fría que en la Rusia postsoviética ya no tiene lugar.

“Son negociantes complicados, no lo voy a esconder, la mentalidad del pasado pesa sobre ellos constantemente. Durante las negociaciones, en las posiciones que llevan, siempre aparece que somos un puesto de avanzada de la revolución mundial y simplemente nos tienen que ayudar”, señaló.

La pausa en el acuerdo llega en un mal momento para el transporte de pasajeros y cargas en la Isla, muy afectado por la obsolescencia tecnológica y los problemas de infraestructura. El total de locomotoras que tenía previsto suministrar Rusia en el marco del acuerdo era de 75, de las cuales ya han llegado 60. Según el ministro de Transportes, muchas de ellas ya “participan en los principales tráficos de transportes del ferrocarril en Cuba”.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

CUBA’S LOOMING MONETARY REFORM SPARKS CONFUSION, INFLATION FEARS

By Sarah Marsh, Nelson Acosta

Reuters, December 2, 2021

Original Article: Cuba’s Looming Monetary Reform

HAVANA (Reuters) – A major monetary reform that will hike prices and state wages in Cuba starting on Friday is sparking widespread uncertainty as the Communist-run island resumes market-oriented changes to its Soviet-style economy after years of flip-flopping.  The reform, announced earlier this month by President Miguel Diaz-Canel, will eliminate a complex dual currency and multiple exchange rate system that masked a host of government subsidies, pegging the remaining peso currency at a single rate.

To reflect the resulting steep devaluation and reduced subsidies, Cuba is raising prices on goods and services ranging from transport to electricity at varying rates. It will also quintuple pensions and wages in the state sector, which employs around two-thirds of the working population, from the current low rates to better reflect the real value of labor.

The measures, which will accelerate the transition from late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s paternalistic model, will bring more transparency to the economy and should help raise competitiveness over time, economists say, albeit only if combined with other reforms. Yet the immediate impact of the changes remains a worrying puzzle to many Cubans already struggling to get by amidst the country’s worst economic crisis in decades, one that has spurred a partial dollarization of the cash-strapped, import-dependent economy.

Hours-long queues outside shops amid shortages of even the most basic goods have lengthened as some Cubans rush to buy what they can before the measures go into effect, the value of the dollar on the black market has risen and banks have been overwhelmed with queries.

Private businesses and foreign investors also are scrambling to gauge the impact on their operations and whether they can adjust prices and wages. “It’s going to be tight, so I’m just buying what I can now,” said Sulema Sotto Rojas, a 57-year-old cleaner for a state firm, as she waited in line to buy cooking oil and tomato sauce at one store after waking up eight hours earlier to queue at another for chicken.

While she could actually stand to gain from the monetary reform, her company has still not confirmed her new wage level and the government has been making last-minute tweaks to some electricity and gas rates in response to widespread consternation that they were too high.

INFLATION WORRIES

The reform is part of a package of measures Communist Party leader Raul Castro unveiled a decade ago to make the economy self-sufficient after decades of dependence on Soviet and then later Venezuelan aid in the face of domestic inefficiency and a crippling U.S. trade embargo.

The government had stalled or even backtracked on some of the changes due to opposition from entrenched bureaucratic and ideological interests, but a new generation of leaders headed by Diaz-Canel has opted to resume them amid the current crisis. That means, however, more short-term pain will be inflicted on an economy that already has shrunk 11% this year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the tightening of U.S. sanctions.

Many state companies working with an exchange rate of one peso to the dollar likely won’t be able to survive at the new rate of 24 to one. The government says it will give these enterprises a year to become competitive, subsidizing them in the meantime, though that could prove too little, especially given the feeble global economy and Cuba’s lack of capital to upgrade its creaking infrastructure.

“If the government had taken structural reforms to boost the agricultural, private and state sectors first, the economy would be in a much better condition to face this,” said Ricardo Torres, an economist with the Havana-based Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

The Communist Party has resisted such moves because doing so would reduce its political power, said Pedro Monreal, author of a popular blog on Cuban economics. Now it will have to pay the price, Monreal said, as a wage-fueled rise in demand for goods and services in the absence of an increase in supply will lead to inflation and further hardship in an economy with a flourishing black market.

“This is a purgative we need to take,” said Mauricio Alonso, who rents out rooms in his apartment in Havana. “Obviously it will generate inflation.”

BRAVE NEW WORLD

While Cubans are still struggling to figure out whether they will be better or worse off, one thing seems clear: those who have savings in a local currency or who work in the non-state sector, which will not automatically hike wages, stand to lose.

The government has set price caps on agricultural produce and said the fledgling private sector cannot raise prices more than threefold, with anything above that considered “abusive” and violators subject to fines.

Several business owners told Reuters they would need time to gauge the compensatory impact of smaller recent reforms, such as being able to import and export via state companies and to offset all costs against their taxes.

“There are many challenges at the same time,” said Liber Puente, the owner of a private tech firm, who hired a financial strategist to help him map a strategy. The entrepreneur, who wants to keep wages competitive vis-a-vis those in the state sector, said he would hold off on developing other projects until the dust settled, predicting six months of uncertainty.

One important unknown worrying all Cubans is the value of the greenback on the black market, as many basic items like shampoo and cheese can now only be purchased with dollars at special stores or with hard currency on the informal market supplied by “mules” from abroad.

The black market dollar rate has appreciated to around 1.5 times the official rate this year, given that it has become almost impossible for residents to acquire dollars through state financial institutions.

“Already prices are rising everywhere and not because of the currency reform, but because of the lack of dollars,” said Maykel Suarez, who owns a private cellphone repair shop.

The government says the controversial dollar stores, which were opened this year, are a temporary solution to its cash crunch. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has said he will loosen the existing sanctions on Cuba, and Cuban officials expect tourism and trade to pick up slightly next year.

Havana has also tinkered with some other minor economic reforms over the past year, including allowing firms to retain a larger share of their export revenue rather than depend on the centralized allocation of hard currency.

Economists, though, are urging the government to quickly enact further-reaching structural reforms like the legalization of small and medium enterprises and the liberalization of the ailing farm sector to solve underlying problems.  “I just hope the measures that need to be taken in parallel to this (monetary reform) to increase production and services will be approved in a short time period,” said Omar Everleny, a Cuban economist.

Banco Central
Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

WHO WILL CONTROL CUBA’S DIGITAL REVOLUTION?

TED A. HENKEN

South Florida SUN SENTINEL, DEC 28, 2020

Original Article: Cuba’s Digital Revolution

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent global proliferation of new information and communication technologies, including the internet and social media, the Cuban government’s mass media monopoly has progressively eroded and Cuban citizens — working independently of and sometimes in open opposition to the government — have increasingly become active participants in the worldwide digital revolution, remaking the Cuban media landscape in the process.

This second, digital revolution has erupted within the Cuban Revolution, leading to a dynamic and unpredictable struggle over the meaning, impact, scope and direction of both. Who will control Cuba’s digital revolution? Who will benefit from it? To what ends will it be applied? Who will be left behind?

The San Isidro Movement (#MSI), which burst into international notoriety in late 2020 thanks in part to its members’ savvy use of digital technology, is a loosely affiliated group of independent artist-activists that emerged in late 2018 demanding the revocation of Decree-Law 349, a measure that extends Ministry of Culture control over the island’s thriving independent artistic community.

The group’s central figure, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (whose home in the Old Havana district San Isidro doubles as the group’s headquarters), has been detained more than 20 times between 2018 and 2020. This is a result of his often provocative and always unauthorized public art performances, including one in which he paraded around the city wearing a construction helmet to protest a building collapse in Old Havana in January 2020 that killed three young girls.

In early November, rapper and group member Denis Solís was sentenced in a summary trial to eight months in prison on the trumped-up charge of “disrespect” after he broadcast via social media his altercation with a police officer who illegally entered his home. This provoked MSI members to stage a hunger-strike at Alcántara’s home demanding Solís’ release, which state health and security agents raided on Nov. 26 on the pretext of controlling “the propagation of the pandemic.”

Despite government efforts to block access to social media, the real breakthrough of the MSI was its effective breakdown of the government-erected wall of fear and isolation that had previously separated such marginalized “artivists” from Cuba’s state-sanctioned artistic mainstream. After learning of the previous day’s violent raid via their cellphones, on Nov. 27, more than 500 mostly young artists and intellectuals from a broad array of disciplines staged an unprecedented, music-fueled, day-long “clap-in” (giving birth to the moniker, “La revolución de los aplausos”) outside Havana’s Ministry of Culture in solidarity with the MSI.

They demanded a meeting with the cultural minister to address not only the MSI’s original aims but also the more fundamental issues of artistic freedom, freedom of speech and the right to dissent.

While this mass gathering briefly forced Ministry officials to the table, in subsequent weeks they reneged on their promises of open dialogue and safeguards from retribution against the protesters. Instead, the government unleashed a wave of character assassination in the official media against movement leaders as supposed “terrorists” and “mercenaries.”

This is only the latest digital-age ordeal for the Cuban government. Prior to the recent MSI breakthrough, but since the coming of 3G mobile internet in December 2018, Cuba saw several inventive cyber-denunciations of the government that left an impact. Among them:

  • the digital campaign urging Cubans to either vote against (#YoVotoNo) or abstain from voting (#YoNoVoto) on Cuba’s new constitution on Feb. 24, 2019;
  • an independent LGBT march spontaneously organized in spring 2019 via social media after the island’s officially controlled “pride” march was inexplicably cancelled via a Facebook post by Mariela Castro herself;
  • an online demand that Cuba’s telecom monopoly Etecsa lower its costly internet prices (#BajenLosPreciosDeInternet); and
  • a gathering outside the Ministry of Communications together with an expression of digital solidarity (#YoSoySNET) with the netizen founders of Cuba’s SNET (street-net), an enormous unauthorized patchwork of local area networks, after these independent online communities were outlawed and dismantled starting in August 2019.

Both MSI and all of these previous protests have unleashed pent-up netizen demands and eroded two of the key pillars of government information control on the island: fear of the consequences of speaking out of turn and isolation from others who harbor similar complaints.

However, we should not assume that a handful of Twitter hashtags linked tenuously to brief marches and protests by a relative handful of “connected” and politicized Cuban citizens (however unprecedented they may be) amounts to a social movement capable of posing an existential threat to a regime that remains entrenched in power with no well-known or widely credible political alternatives.

Still, one lesson the short-term success of Cuba’s San Isidro Movement teaches us is that national culture and political context matter when evaluating the political impact of new technologies on any given society.

The same digital platforms and social networks that have come under increasing scrutiny and justifiable regulation in the United States and Europe for their monopolistic practices, abuse of user privacy and spread of “fake news,” retain their democratizing and indeed revolutionary potential in the hands of a new generation of artists and activists, facilitating their loss of fear, overcoming isolation and penetrating the information blockade built over the last 60 years by the Western Hemisphere’s oldest gerontocracy.

Ted A. Henken, an associate professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies at Baruch College, City University of New York, is the co-editor of the forthcoming book Cuba’s Digital Revolution: Citizen Innovation and State Policy, to be published in June 2021 by the University of Florida Press.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

CUBA SAYS ECONOMY SHRANK 11% IN 2020, THWARTS ‘SOFT COUP’ ATTEMPTS.

By Sarah Marsh

Reuters December 17, 2020

Original Article: Cuba Says Economy Shrank

HAVANA, Dec 17 (Reuters) – Cuba’s already cash-strapped economy shrank 11% in 2020 due to the pandemic and tougher U.S. sanctions but the government thwarted attempts by anti-communists to exploit this momentary weakness in a bid to topple it, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Thursday.

Addressing a year-end session of the Communist-run country’s parliament, Diaz-Canel celebrated Cuba’s successful management of its coronavirus outbreak despite “exceptional economic conditions” and predicted 6% to 7% economic growth next year.

Yet the government’s estimate for this year’s contraction was even more dire than that of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which this week predicted an 8.5% contraction for Cuba compared to a 7.7% regional decline.

Cuba received just 55% of the hard currency it had planned this year, Economy Minister Alejandro Gil told the assembly earlier in the day. Gil did not provide data on the debt, trade or current account but earlier this week had told a parliament commission that imports were down 30% compared to last year.

Cuba imports more than 50% of its fuel, food and many other vital inputs and this decline, coming on top of a 15% drop in 2019, has resulted in a scarcity and long lines for even the most basic products, from food and medicine to fuel.

Diaz-Canel said the government had thwarted attempts by anti-communists to capitalize on this moment of economic weakness to “destroy” the Cuban leftist revolution.

Over the past three weeks, state-run media have run shows on what they say are attempts directed and financed from the United States to create unrest on the island, like attacks on state shops and a hunger strike by an artists collective.

“New provocations are on the way and we will vanquish those too,” the president said.

Critics say the government is trying to undermine legitimate discontent among some Cubans and requests for greater civil liberties underscored by a rare rights protest by artists outside the culture ministry late last month.

Diaz-Canel warned on Thursday of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and said attempts at non conventional warfare and a soft coup by the “industry of counterrevolution” would fail.

Nothing, he said, should distract the country from its “most complex task” of recent decades, pointing to the monetary reform taking place from January including a steep devaluation in bid to revitalise the economy.

Earlier in the day, Gil said a gradual recovery would begin in 2021, based mainly on that reform and a 50% increase in tourist arrivals to 2.2 million in 2021, compared with more than 4 million in 2019.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has also promised to unravel some of President Donald Trump’s sanctions on Cuba aimed at forcing political reform such as restrictions on travel and remittances.

Diaz-Canel said the Trump administration’s attempts had “roundly and notoriously failed”. However, the government remained open to improving relations with the United States, he said, without explicitly referring to the incoming Biden administration. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Bernadette Baum & Shri Navaratnam)

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

BIDEN PLOTS CUBA RESET IN REBUKE OF TRUMP’S SANCTIONS

By Ben Bartenstein

Bloomberg, December 15, 2020, 11:00 a.m. EST

Original Article: Cuba Reset

President-elect Joe Biden’s team plans to bring the U.S. closer to normalized relations with Cuba, reversing many of the sanctions and regulations imposed during the Trump administration, according to people familiar with the matter.

That strategy includes reducing restrictions on travel, investment and remittances for the island nation that are perceived to disproportionately hurt Americans and ordinary Cubans, said the people, who requested anonymity because the new administration is still coming together. Other measures that target Cuba for human rights abuses would remain in place, the people said.

The prospect of a détente between Washington and Havana rekindles memories of the thaw that Biden helped champion during the Obama administration, when the two nations restored diplomatic ties that had been broken for decades following Fidel Castro’s rise to power.

But the president-elect is returning to an even messier scene: the Cuban economy is suffering its worst crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union amid fallout from Covid-19 and U.S. sanctions. At the same time, Cuban intelligence officers have helped prop up Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, allowing his regime to consolidate its grip on power in defiance of demands for free and fair elections.

With a packed domestic agenda, it’s unclear how quickly Biden will move on implementing his Cuba policy. Even if some changes happen early, the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown could delay the benefits of any measures that allow for greater travel to the island. It’s also unclear whether Biden will increase staffing at the U.S. embassy in Havana. The Trump administration pared back diplomatic operations after strange illnesses, including brain trauma, afflicted some U.S. diplomats and their families.

Biden said in October that the U.S. needed a new Cuba policy, though his team has been firm in condemning efforts by Havana to silence dissidents, including a recent raid on a house full of activists and artists.

The president-elect has also denounced Venezuela’s Maduro as a dictator. Just as the Trump administration connected Cuba and Venezuela policy, using sanctions as a tool intended to spur political change, Biden’s team may try to leverage a rapprochement in exchange for the Cubans reducing their presence in Venezuela and supporting a diplomatic resolution to the crisis there, according to the people.

Another complicating factor is Florida. While Biden’s advisers have criticized Trump’s Latin American policies for being heavily influenced by electoral politics, particularly the goal of winning the Sunshine State, they still face a sobering reality: The Democratic Party must defend a narrow House majority in 2022. Any policies that are perceived as easing pressure on Cuba and Venezuela without getting significant concessions from their left-wing governments could risk backlash at the polls.

For their part, investors are showing an early vote of confidence in Biden’s potential Cuba policy. The $43 million Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, which is geared toward Cuba and the Caribbean, has surged since the U.S. election.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

VENEZUELA IS QUIETLY QUITTING SOCIALISM (A Digression from Cuban Matters)

Stefano Pozzebon

CNN, December 18, 2020

Original Article

Shantytowns surround Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, like the walls of a bowl. Little houses pile on each other on the steep hills, some reachable only by vertiginous staircases.

Earlier this month, Ingrid Sanchez tried to rustle up votes here for the ruling Socialist Party in Petare, Venezuela’s largest barrio. As parliamentary elections got underway on December 6, she hired motorcycles and jeeps to ferry poor but faithful voters up steep hills to the polling station.

Sanchez has no money to spare — a former teacher, she lives on a state pension worth just one and a half dollars per month. It was the Socialist Party — the late Hugo Chavez’s party — that gave Ingrid cash to pay for the vehicles. But they weren’t Venezuelan bolivars — they were US dollars. And as she counted it, Sanchez realized that the four $20 bills she held were worth more than 50 months of her pension.

“Everything is in dollars now,” she says ruefully — a sign of monumental change in the country that she says would have Chavez turning in his grave.

Sanchez, 57 years old, is a faithful member of the Socialist Party and believes fiercely in the vision of late president Hugo Chavez, who prophesied a Marxist utopia where the state would look after the needs of the people, raise the quality of life, erase inequality and limit private enterprise to a minor role in the economy. “One never loses hope, and that is a project that I still believe in,” she said.

But Venezuela today hardly resembles the one pictured by Chavez. Hunger is rampant, inequality dizzying, and public hospitals stand derelict as the country deals with the coronavirus pandemic. The US dollar is increasingly taking precedence over the bolivar, and while the Venezuelan minimum wage is the lowest in the region, the country’s stock market is booming. Chavez’s successor, current President Nicolas Maduro, recently inaugurated an ultra-luxury hotel where rooms are the equivalent of $300 per night.

All of which raises a question that Sanchez has clearly been wrestling with: Is socialism still alive in Venezuela? “I don’t know, we are doing things upside down,” she says.

Continue Reading

Posted in Blog | Tagged | Leave a comment

PROTEST IN CUBA: SPREADING NONCONFORMITY IN THE AGE OF COVID AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Halifax ChronicleHerald, Dec 14 at 4:44 p.m.

YVON GRENIER

Original Article: Protest in Cuba

Something extraordinary is happening in Cuba these days — and I am not talking about the absence of Canadians on its beaches.

Hundreds of mostly young artists, independent journalists, and some academics, are raising their voices against censorship. Some of them even call the regime for what it is: a dictatorship.

Discontent has been brewing in the island for some time, especially among young Cubans. But the spark for this rapid escalation was a few arrests too many, as well as the wider availability of social media over the past two years.

First, there was the arrest and imprisonment of an irreverent rapper (Denis Solís) for “disrespecting authority.” Solís is a member of a loose and mostly artist-based collective named the San Isidro Movement. The “MSI” emerged in 2018, to protest against new restrictions on freedom of expression.

Then, Solís’ arrest, the video of which he made available on social media, prompted some of his friends to go on hunger strike in the MSI headquarters, demanding his release and calling peers to join them in protest. It was their turn to be detained, by police in civilian clothes, who illegally broke into their apartment for the alleged misconduct of violating the COVID-19 testing protocol. The websites they were using to call for action were blocked by the government — so much for the public health concern — but, apparently, too late: digital nonconformity was already spreading wide in the community.

Arbitrary arrests are common in Cuba: There were close to 2,000 cases in the first eight months of last year. But this time, a straw broke the camel’s back. On Nov. 27, up to 300 mostly young Cubans turned up in front of the ministry of culture, calling for the release of Solís, greater freedom of expression, and … dialogue with the minister of culture. Many more would have joined had the place not been blocked by security agents.

In a one-party communist state that criminalizes opposition, no collective and public protest of this magnitude was ever attempted or tolerated in Cuba since the revolution — with the possible exception of a repressed LGBTQ parade last year.

This appears to be a wide opposition movement. There are known dissidents (like “artivist” Tania Bruguera), and a few irreverent but institutional cultural figures, like film director Fernando Pérez and beloved actor Jorge Perugorría, who offered support. In between, one finds a whole ecosystem of potential dissidents, who are not (yet) advocating open confrontation with the so-called “revolutionary” (in fact conservative) government. Many of them are independent journalists and bloggers, like Carlos Manuel Alvarez (age 31), who publicly called for “conversation …  not just with a supporting actor like a minister,” but directly with President Díaz-Canel.

Unavoidably, protesters were cheered on by the usual suspects in the U.S. government; no less predictably, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel called the event an “imperialist reality show.” Official media called the protesters “mercenaries,” and even “terrorists”. Two white members of the almost all-white ruling class (Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela, and former Minister of Culture Abel Prieto) indulged in tropical Trumpism, smearing the mostly poor, brown and black crowd as “vulgar, tacky and miserable” (Mariela), and “marginals” and “criminals” (Prieto). Even an occasionally dissonant but mostly official bard of the regime like singer Silvio Rodríguez, whose songs were actually sung by the protesters, publicly said that the government was handling this very badly.

All of this may seem like a footnote compared to massive anti-dictatorial demonstrations and violent crackdowns in Venezuela and Nicaragua — or even anti-neoliberal demonstrations in democratic Chile and Peru. Cuba is a dictatorship, but not one that systematically tortures or opens fire on crowds. (This may change.) In addition to exporting its opposition (about 20 per cent of Cubans live abroad), the government secures compliance most effectively with neighborhood spy networks, public shaming (the infamous “acts of repudiation”) and incarceration. This toolkit has been in full display in the past two weeks.

Change in Cuba?

This may just be a moment, an important one, in the awakening of civil society. Cubans generally toe the line, and know what line not to cross. But the “little police” in each and every Cuban, as they often call this mechanism of self-control, is increasingly disrupted by other voices. Social media is a big factor here, so the Cuban government may crack it down more. But it would be a mistake. Young Cubans are already fed up, and crave change (or exile). If artists can connect with them more broadly, this moment may lead to something bigger.

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

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

THE UNITED STATES AND CUBA: A NEW POLICY OF ENGAGEMENT

WASHINGTON- The Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for Democracy in the Americas 

December 17, 2020

Today the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) are releasing The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement,” a roadmap for how the Biden-Harris administration can implement a policy of engagement toward Cuba. Six years after President Barack Obama’s December 17, 2014 announcement that he would begin normalizing relations with Cuba, we continue to emphasize the importance of engagement to advance the interests of the U.S. and of the Cuban people. Engagement accomplished more in two years than the policy of hostility achieved in sixty, and is a more effective strategy to advance the cause of human rights, political liberty, and economic reform. Engagement will facilitate family ties, cultural exchange, and commercial relations, expanding the market for U.S. businesses, raising the standard of living for the Cuban people, and encouraging economic reform on the island. A new policy of engagement entails relatively little political risk and has the potential to mobilize a wide variety of constituencies in support. Our report expands on why Cuba should be a priority, why a variety of bipartisan stakeholders including the business community, Congress, and Cuban Americans support policies of engagement. The roadmap lays out a series of sequenced recommendations in three sections “Repairing the Damage: The First Nine Months,” “Taking the Initiative: The Second Year,” and “Finishing the Job: A Legislative Agenda” detailing how the Biden-Harris administration can move quickly to implement much-needed change in U.S.-Cuba policy. 

The Full Report: The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement,”




Finishing the Job: A Legislative Agenda

One lesson from the Obama years is that a policy based exclusively on executive action is notenduring. As we have witnessed, a new administration can quickly dismantle it. If we hope to persuade the Cuban government that a constructive relationship with the United States is possible and will flourish to the extent that Cuba moves toward a more open political and economic system, Cuban authorities must be convinced that U.S. policy is durable. That will require legislative action to remove some of the constraints on engagement that Congress has enacted over the years, first and foremost the embargo. Ending the embargo is Cuba’s highest priority in its relationship with the United States; so long as the embargo remains in place, progress toward a more normal relationship will be limited.

Regardless of which party ultimately holds the majority in the U.S. Senate, the administration should publicly express support for legislation to end the embargo, and work with the bipartisan Cuba Working Group in the House and champions for engagement in the Senate to cultivate congressional leadership on engagement.

First Steps

Two actions that could gain some Republican support are repeal of the Cuba-related sections in the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) that limit travel and agricultural sales.

• Repeal the prohibition on travel to Cuba that is not expressly licensed in the CACR.

• Repeal the limits on the use of credits for financing U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba.

Several additional measures would facilitate commercial ties:

• Repeal Section 211, a special interest provision of U.S. law that invalidates certain Cuban trademarks in the United States and threatens reciprocal protection for U.S. brands.

• Approve an amendment that, notwithstanding any other provision of law, authorizes the United States to provide Cuba with foreign assistance for the purpose of developing  sustainable energy sources and implementing its 100 year plan to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Ending the Embargo

The embargo is a central obstacle to the normalization of relations with Cuba, as President Obama recognized when he called on Congress to repeal it. For Congress to repeal the embargo it would have to amend a number of different statutes in addition to the TSRA.33 The most important:

• Repeal the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, or at least the sections that limit the freedom of U.S. subsidiaries in third countries to do business with Cuba, and that prevent vessels engaged in commerce with Cuba from entering U.S. ports for 180 days.

• Repeal the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, or at least the sections that inscribe the embargo into law, prohibit U.S. support for Cuban participation in IFIs, and impose extraterritorial sanctions on other countries (Titles III and IV).

• Repeal the section of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 that authorizes the president to unilaterally impose a trade embargo on Cuba.

Once the embargo is no longer mandated by law, the President can lift it simply by not renewing the emergency authorities under the Trading with The Enemy Act. If economic sanctions against Cuba are called for in the future, they can be imposed under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

Some legal scholars argue that the President has the authority to end the embargo by executive order. Because the embargo regulations codified by the LIBERTAD Act include the President’s licensing authority without any limitation, there is a legal argument that the licensing power extends to ending the embargo entirely.34 The principal rationale for such a step would be President Clinton’s contention, in his signing statement, that certain passages of the law, including codification, constitute unconstitutional infringements on the President’s authority to conduct foreign policy.35

33 For an effort to compile a complete list of the amendments required, H.R. 403 (Mr. Rangel) 114th Congress 1st Session, January 16, 2015.

34 Robert L. Muse, “The President Has the Constitutional Power to Unilaterally Terminate the Embargo on Cuba,” Global Americans, October 8, 2020, ttps://theglobalamericans.org/2020/10/the-president-has-the-constitutional-power-to-unilaterally-terminate-the-embargo-on-cuba/. For concurring opinions, see Kevin J. Fandl, “Adios Embargo: The Case for Executive Termination of the U.S. Embargo on Cuba,” 54 Am. Bus. L.J. 293; and Pete Jeydel, “How Much of the Cuba Embargo Could the President Unilaterally Lift?” Steptoe International Compliance Blog, October 21, 2016, https://www.steptoeinternationalcomplianceblog.com/2016/10/how-much-of-the-cuba-embargo-could-the-president-unilaterally-lift/.35 William J. Clinton, “Statement on Signing the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996,” March 12, 1996. The American Presidency Project, ttps://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/222515. For the constitutionality of the LIBRTAD Act, see Joaquin Roy, “Lawyers Meet the Law: Critical U.S Voices of Helms-Burton,” Yearbook of International Law, 6, 39 (1997/1998)

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

HOW CUBA’S MONETARY REFORM WILL TAKE PLACE AND IMPACT THE ECONOMY

By Marc Frank

Reuters, December 11, 2020

Original Article: Cuba’s Monetary Reform

HAVANA (Reuters) – The Cuban government announced on Thursday it would start a long-awaited monetary reform in January, unifying its dual currency and multiple exchange rate system in a bid to bring more dynamism to its centrally planned economy.

The reforms were first adopted by the Communist Party a decade ago as it moved toward a more market driven system and closer links with the international economy but foundered thanks to bureaucracy and internal divisions.

HOW DOES CUBA’S MONETARY SYSTEM WORK?

For nearly three decades, two currencies have circulated in Cuba: the peso and the convertible peso (CUC), both officially valued at one-to-one with the dollar. Neither are tradable outside the country.  The currencies are exchanged at various rates: one-to-one for state-owned businesses, 24 pesos for 1 CUC for the public and others for joint ventures, wages in the island’s special development zone and transactions between farmers and hotels.  Cuba created the system as part of a package of measures to open up its economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While the system helped Cuba get through the shock of the Soviet collapse, it ended up also hiding the real economic situation.

WHAT CHANGES NOW?

The CUC will be eliminated. President Miguel Diaz-Canel said it would leave the peso at a single fixed rate of 24 to the dollar, scrapping other more favorable rates in the first official devaluation of the peso since Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

GOODBYE CUC, HELLO DOLLAR!

The government has also begun opening stores that sell consumer goods for dollars and other traded currencies, though only with a bank card.

Havana says this is a temporary measure but the partial dollarization will also provide some stability, especially for families who receive remittances.

Meanwhile, state and private companies can now keep tradable currency accounts with up to 80% of their export earnings instead of handing them over to the state.

SHOCK THERAPY?

Devaluation is inflationary, while ending subsidies leads to layoffs, yet the Cuban government says it expects to avoid any “shock therapy” in the economy where the state sets most prices and wages.  Economists expect triple digit inflation, and the government has said the initial devaluation will be accompanied by a five-fold increase in average state wages and pensions even as many state-controlled prices also may rise.

But the wage increase does not apply to around 2 million of the 7 million plus labor force in the private sector, informal sector or who simply do not work.

Meanwhile the government says state-run companies, as a rule, will no longer be subsidized.

Cuban economists estimate around 40% of state companies operate at a loss and though some will benefit with the reform, others will go under. Still, the government says some companies will be given a year to get their books in order before ending subsidies.

The government says residents will be given 180 days to exchange convertible pesos once they are taken out of circulation.

WHY NOW?

Cuba is seeking to reverse its worst crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, with growth seen plummeting more than 8% this year by boosting business conditions and productivity.

The country is dependent on imports for more than 50% of food and fuel, plus inputs for agriculture and pharmaceuticals. Yet a combination of U.S. sanctions, local economic blunders and the COVID-19 pandemic have gutted Cuba’s ability to earn tradable currency.

Cuba has been rapidly piling up debt in recent years, while still being plagued by a scarcity of basic goods, from food and personal hygiene products to medicine and fuel.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment