• 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."

MEANWHILE: ANOTHER MAJOR “DERRUMBE” IN OLD HAVANA, THIS TIME ALONG THE MALECÓN

Original Spanish Language Article

14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 22 April 2021

At least one man was seriously injured on Thursday when two buildings completely collapsed and part of a third also fell on Havana’s Malecón. The buildings were semi-dilapidated, fenced with metal, uninhabited, and at the time of the collapse they were being demolished by construction workers.

The two buildings and the fragment of a third that collapsed are located on what is officially called Maceo Avenue between Águila and Crespo streets, very close to the Prado de La Habana. According to a nearby resident, “the workers demolishing them were using a jackhammer when what was left of the buildings fell down.”

“At least one man was seriously injured, because he was passing by on the sidewalk and the metal fence gave way with the pieces that fell. Half of his body was buried under the rubble and other people also suffered minor injuries,” detailed the neighbor, who also added: “It was a danger even for the cars passing on the street.”

“There wasn’t any good signage telling people not to pass by,” a neighbor told this newspaper, noting that “not only were the buildings collapsing, but there were electrical cables on the sidewalk and every time I passed by I had to step off the sidewalk, but this a street with fast-moving traffic and every time you step off the sidewalk your life is at stake.”

“Everything around here is grim, the day will come when we will see the entire Malecon collapse,” laments another neighbor. “They don’t fix things here, they just paint them when an important visitor is coming, or tear them down to build hotels,” he complained. “This demolition work should not have been done without closing the block.”

“The east building has just collapsed right now, right here in front of me,” a passerby reported through a live broadcast on the social network Facebook, and who also recorded the moment when the injured man was taken from the place in a vehicle heading to a hospital. “It fell on a man,” he explained in the video.

The images show a group of people trying to rescue the injured man from under the fragments of the building. “The debris reached to the other side of the street,” explained the internet user in a transmission of slightly longer than a minute.

The collapsed building is located in the municipality of Centro Habana, one of the most populated in the capital and which for decades has been an area characterized by the high presence of tenements, with infrastructure problems and overcrowding. Many of the buildings are from the early twentieth century and have not received repairs for more than fifty years, not even painting on their facades.

In the vicinity of the Malecon, the buildings have suffered especially the effects of the salt air which, together with the lack of maintenance, have turned the housing stock in the area into one of the most damaged in the Cuban capital. The successive programs launched by the Government have not resolved the increasingly frequent collapses.

It has been three years since the Government acknowledged a deficit of almost one million homes on the island, a very serious situation that it aspired to alleviate in a period of ten years. However, the shortage of materials due to a persistent crisis exacerbates a problem that continues to leave millions of people in suspense, not knowing when they might see their roof coming down.

According to a report from the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights last October, almost half of the homes in the country need repair, and 11% of families live in places at risk of collapse.

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CUBA AFRONTA EL RETO DE REFORMAR LA REVOLUCIÓN SIN NEGAR SU ESPÍRITU

Una nueva generación de dirigentes se encuentra frente al dilema de cómo reestructurar la economía para hacer el socialismo sostenible en la isla5

Mauricio Vicent, La Habana 

EL PAÍS,  22 ABR 2021 – 19:04 EDT

Continuidad política y reformas económicas de calado, y más lo segundo que lo primero, he ahí donde se juega el futuro de la Cuba tras el VIII Congreso del Partido Comunista, que tuvo lugar el pasado fin de semana en La Habana. El encuentro unificó todo el poder político en el presidente cubano, Miguel Díaz-Canel, y en una nueva generación de líderes nacidos después del triunfo revolucionario. Su principal desafío será realizar una apertura económica e introducir transformaciones profundas, que necesariamente deben ampliar el marco del mercado y de la iniciativa privada, avanzando hacia un modelo mixto, para tratar de hacer sostenible el sistema heredado, sin negar su espíritu..

Es la primera vez que se alinean el Gobierno y las estructuras de la cúpula del partido, hasta ahora encabezado por la vieja guardia, en la figura de un civil que no luchó en la Sierra Maestra, Diaz-Canel, que ya ejercía la presidencia desde 2018. Hasta este jueves el Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) rendía cuentas a Raúl Castro y a los históricos, que ahora abandonan todos los cargos.

Sabido es que el modelo de partido único no va a cambiar, pero mantenerse en el inmovilismo y en las reformas rácanas sería el mejor modo de que la economía se vaya a pique, lo que equivale a decir todo el sistema, dado que la crisis y la situación por la que atraviesa la isla es de extrema gravedad. Los problemas estructurales acumulados y la ineficiencia de la empresa estatal, agravados por la epidemia y el recrudecimiento del embargo norteamericano, no se resuelven con parches, se admite en las altas instancias, y también que las reformas introducidas hasta ahora claramente han sido insuficientes para garantizar un mejor nivel de vida a los cubanos, principal reto de los nuevos dirigentes, que no cuentan con la legitimidad “histórica” sino que la valoración que se haga de ellos dependerán de lo que logren.

“El PCC necesita ampliar las zonas de legitimidad de su mandato con un desempeño económico que lo justifique o se le va a complicar la gobernabilidad”, opina el académico cubanoamericano Arturo López-Levy, señalando que “a mediano plazo, la economía es el primer renglón para medir sus capacidades”. Hay bastante consenso en este punto, y también en otro asunto que menciona López-Levy: “Se necesita orientar prioridades y recursos hacia la seguridad alimentaria, pues sin comida no hay país, por muchos hoteles que se construyan o reparen. Díaz-Canel ha enfatizado el discurso de la continuidad para asegurar la confiabilidad de los que lo han elegido, pero para resolver las demandas y quejas de una Cuba globalizada y signada por una crisis estructural, va a tener que prometer y hacer grandes cambios, tanto sustantivos como en la forma de gobernar”.

¿Qué lectura puede hacerse del VIII Congreso? ¿Defraudó las expectativas de los que esperaban una apuesta decidida por la apertura? ¿O era lo que podía esperarse de un cónclave cargado de simbolismo en el que lo que se escenificaba era la despedida de Raúl y la generación histórica? Hay diversas opiniones. En su informe central, Raúl Castro criticó el “egoísmo” de los que demandan el ejercicio privado de algunas profesiones y reclaman la importación comercial privada para establecer un sistema no estatal de comercio, advirtiendo que hay “límites” que no se pueden rebasar porque implicarían la destrucción del socialismo. La mención cayó como un jarro de agua fría en los sectores que defienden la apertura y en muchos emprendedores, aunque pasados los días, y tras el primer discurso de Díaz-Canel, algunos de los analistas consultados se inclinan a pensar que “la reforma va” y que cada vez será más profunda. Hasta donde se llegará, sea por propia voluntad o por necesidad, es la gran incógnita.

“El VIII Congreso del PCC no ha traído grandes sorpresas, pero tampoco ha significado un retroceso en lo que al sector privado se refiere”, asegura Oniel Díaz Castellanos, fundador de Auge, empresa consultora que brinda asesoramiento a decenas de emprendedores privados. Admite que “ciertas palabras en el Informe Central alarmaron a varios colegas”, entre los que se incluye, pero dice que “una mirada serena” a las intervenciones de Díaz-Canel así como a las resoluciones emanadas de la cita, confirman que “hay una combinación de voluntad política para abrir más espacios económicos, a la vez que se establecen límites que no se deberían pasar según la lógica del PCC”. Su conclusión: “en ninguno de los Congresos anteriores se ha hablado y escrito tanto” sobre el sector no estatal, de las pymes y la iniciativa privada, de lo que deduce que “no hay marcha atrás” en la reforma.

Es de la misma opinión el economista Omar Everleny, que apunta que “el Congreso tiene varias lecturas: podría parecer que no hay cambios ya que se critica a personas que quieren obtener más ingresos y se precisa que Raúl estará presente en la toma de las decisiones fundamentales; pero por otro lado, se ha apelado a hacer ingentes esfuerzos por salir de la crisis económica, de implementar en el corto plazo medidas para potenciar el trabajo, la necesidad de descentralizar decisiones, de utilizar las formas no estatales, de implementar las pequeñas empresas….”. El camino, cree, no es inmovilista sino “reformista, pues si no será complejo producir los resultados económicos que espera la nación”.

En la composición del nuevo Buró Político, destaca Everleny la entrada de dos figuras “con un corte empresarial”: Manuel Marrero, que hoy es primer ministro, “pero que fue presidente de la corporación turística Gaviota”, y Luis Alberto López-Callejas, que al frente de GAESA (el grupo empresarial del ejército) “controla el mayor por ciento de los negocios en divisas cubanos sean tiendas, hoteles, marinas, aviación, y la zona Especial de Mariel, y no es un político al estilo de los que se conocen, sino un hombre de negocios clásico”.

Rafael Hernández, director de la revista Temas y miembro del PCC, consideró fuera de la realidad a los que pensaron que el Congreso iba a “rifar” el sector estatal y que “ahora sí era el turno de la privatización”. “Naturalmente, esos augurios no tenían sustento”, opinó, aclarando que ninguna “las resoluciones aprobadas desandan lo avanzado durante el año y pico de pandemia respecto a la legitimidad y consolidación del sector privado”. “La Resolución sobre la Conceptualización del modelo reitera ‘reconocer y diversificar las diferentes formas de propiedad y gestión adecuadamente interrelacionadas”, asegura.

Diversos economistas han puesto énfasis en que tan relevante como el Congreso fue lo sucedido justo antes de su inauguración, cuando Díaz-Canel presidió un inédito encuentro con emprendedores privados y representantes de la empresa estatal, en el que se habló del necesario impulso a las pymes y el papel creciente que ocupará el sector no estatal. En otra reunión con el sector agrícola, en la que resulto cesado el ministro del ramo, se aprobaron un conjunto de medidas para incentivar a los productores privados y reactivar esta esfera de la economía, vital en estos momentos de crisis, y allí el presidente advirtió de que no había “tiempo para pensar en el largo plazo”.

Sobre los “límites” en la apertura al sector privado de los que habló Raúl Castro —pero que no especificó—, López-Levy considera que no es la cuestión más relevante. “Los límites y las líneas rojas irán moviéndose con la vida. Las reformas traerán más presión de otras reformas, y otro tipo de cambios llegarán por carambola”. Los más escépticos indican que otros intentos de reforma se frustraron en el pasado, cierto, aunque hoy la situación es distinta, el tiempo y el ritmo son ahora vitales, pues la crisis es gravísima y las urgencias son cada vez mayores. Habrá que ver los próximos movimientos de los encargados por los ‘históricos’ en asegurar la “continuidad” y hacer sostenible el socialismo cubano.

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CUBA EMPHASISES CONTINUITY AS IT EXITS THE CASTRO ERA | FINANCIAL TIMES

The Castro era in Cuba came to a carefully choreographed end on Monday, as President Miguel Díaz-Canel was elected head of the ruling Communist party, replacing the retiring leader, 89-year-old.

Marc Frank

Financial Times, April 19, 2021

Original Article: Cuba Exits Castro Era

The Castro era in Cuba came to a carefully choreographed end on Monday, as President Miguel Díaz-Canel was elected head of the ruling Communist party, replacing the retiring leader, 89-year-old Raúl Castro.

The reshuffle in the top ranks also saw the departure from the politburo of the final survivors of the 1959 revolution that brought brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro to power. For those hoping for a significant shift in policy, however, there was little to cheer about.

The changes came at a four-day party congress held largely behind closed doors under the banner of “Unity and Continuity”. During the proceedings, many dissidents found their phone and internet service was cut, and they were not allowed to leave their homes, making it all but impossible to comment.

Among those promoted to the politburo was Brigadier-General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, once married to Raúl’s daughter Deborah and head of the armed forces’ civilian holding company, GAISA, which controls important swaths of the economy such as tourism and the retail trade. Rodríguez López-Callejas is close to Díaz-Canel, who has referred to him as his economic adviser, according to two European diplomats. He is also a competent businessman, according to three foreign counterparts who have worked with him.

“He comes by early in the morning once a week to check on everything and tour the place,” said one manager at the Mariel Special Development Zone just outside Havana, requesting anonymity. He is already under sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

The appointment of the head of the military’s civilian companies will anger hardline Cuban exiles in the US and is unlikely to please the Biden administration, which has already signalled that it does not plan any overtures towards Havana in the near term.

As part of its tightening of restrictions on Cuba, the Trump administration placed sanctions on nearly all military-run companies on the island from hotels to financial services. The Biden administration has given no indication that it plans to lift these.

Monday’s appointment consolidates the power of Díaz-Canel, who has risen steadily through the ranks of Cuba’s bureaucracy with a reputation as a capable but cautious leader focused on economic reform. His Twitter account is peppered with the hashtag #SomosContinuidad (We are continuity).

Raúl Castro said upon stepping down at the weekend that “as long as I live, I will be ready with my feet in the stirrups to defend the motherland, the revolution and socialism with more force than ever”, a remark taken to indicate his continued involvement. Díaz-Canel confirmed this on Monday, saying his mentor “will be consulted about strategic decisions”.

Raúl Castro has been effectively running the country since his ailing brother Fidel handed power to him in 2006. Fidel Castro died in 2016.

One of the new leadership’s first orders of business will be to conduct a nationwide discussion of Raúl Castro’s last central committee report, in which he doubled down on existing foreign policy, the need for a single-party system and cautious market reforms to avoid “a restoration of capitalism and dependence on the United States”.

Nevertheless, many analysts believe the crisis that has led to widespread food shortages and long queues in shops for basic necessities will push forward economic reforms, particularly now that younger generations hold almost all positions.   “A new cohort of leaders will have a much freer hand to implement policies permitting a gradual turn to a more market-driven economy,” said Brian Latell, a former CIA Cuba analyst who followed the Castros for decades.

For example, Raúl Castro in the report castigated party members for their reticence to fully support the integration of small- and medium-sized private business into the national economy, while simultaneously drawing a red line over the extent of changes.

He said allowing private businesses to engage in foreign trade without going through the state was unacceptable.  “There are limits that we cannot exceed because the consequences . . . would lead to . . . the very destruction of socialism and therefore of national sovereignty and independence.”

Similar words were uttered before just about every reform undertaken over the past decade, signalling that serious resistance remains in the ranks.

The party congress spent a great deal of its time on the need to improve cadres and strengthen ideological work as the internet smashes its information monopoly at a time of crisis and destabilising monetary reforms. Opposition to the system was characterised as part of a US plot.

Bert Hoffmann, a Latin America expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, said Cuba’s old guard might remain influential behind the scenes, particularly in the military. He added: “To weather the current crisis, further economic policy change will be imperative for Cuba.”

Brigadier-General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas

President Miguel Diaz-Canel

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EFFICIENCY AND FREER MARKETS FOR CUBA

By Michael Wiggin*

HAVANA TIMES, April 14, 2021

Original Article: Efficiency and Freer Markets for Cuba

There is much to admire in Cuba in its commitment to principles of universal education, health care and equality.  Yet, something is not working well enough and these commitments cannot be adequately supported.  What jumps out is the potential benefits of a self-reorganizing of society made possible by free markets.

This observation became apparent when studying participatory democracy.  It does not seem fair to write off Cuba as non-democratic when certain aspects of Cuban governance involve high levels of engagement of citizens in the elections of representatives at the municipal level and indirect elections at provincial and national levels. 

In describing the activities of elected officials, much of their time seems preoccupied with the central administration of bakeries not working well, deterioration of buildings, lack of local services, line-ups at grocery stores etc. Topics that would rarely, if ever, attract the attention of elected officials in free market societies. 

If a bakery provides poor service, someone establishes another and provides better service.  A lack of local services becomes a recognized need and an opportunity for someone to set up a business to serve that need. 

Local contractors compete based on affordability and quality of service.  There should be no need to wait for the next council meeting in several months with follow-up another six months later.

A freer marketplace allows for timely improvements and creation of new services with little or no effort by government and greater overall efficiency.

I respect that it is not as simple as that.  A bakery unable to get flour is not able to bake bread.  A grocery cannot provide vegetables if they are rotting in the farmers’ field because of transportation problems or fuel shortage.  However, even these difficulties will generate needs that enterprising individuals can address and improve. 

Gradually, the improved efficiency in providing services and products will lead to an improvement in the overall economy.  This is already very evident through the expanding activities of innovative cuenta propistas (self employed).

It is therefore important to look at free markets as an important aspect of how people behave not as ideology – not as capitalism.  Free markets are possible in conjunction with Cuban societal commitments to fairness and equality. 

Keynes observed that while excessive inequality is undesirable, a little inequality is a driver for improvement, a way for people to do a little better. 

Accordingly, the objective should be to limit excessive inequality.  Successful societies apply progressive, but not punitive, income taxes and inheritance or wealth taxes. 

A continued stress on a commitment by individuals to a well-functioning fair society could allow Cuba to benefit from the efficiency of free markets and, at the same time, better support Cuban principles and objectives.

Raul Castro did say that he would move forward, carefully, but without pause.  He also said the Cuba has to learn, even from capitalists.

Unfortunately, it is during times of change that people get dissatisfied as the desire for change outstrips the rate of change.  I think that now is such a time and Cuba should open up more rapidly to free market philosophies without compromising Cuban commitments and principles.

*A Havana Times guest writer from Ottawa, Canada

Photographer, in front of the Capitolio, 2014

Paladar, 2014

Mobile food vender, 2014
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CUBA’S ECONOMIC WOES MAY FUEL AMERICA’S NEXT MIGRANT CRISIS

April 16, 2021

Author: William M. LeoGrande, Professor of Government, American University School of Public Affairs and senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group.

Original Article: Cuba’s Economic Woes May Fuel America’s Next Migrant Crisis

Not all of the migrants hoping to claim asylum in the United States are fleeing Central America’s violence-torn “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, contrary to popular perception.

Of the 71,021 asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico for their applications to be processed in the U.S. as of late February, 16% were Cuban, according to federal immigration data.

That makes Cubans the third-largest group of migrants, just ahead of Salvadorans, and after Guatemalans and Hondurans.

Why Cubans flee

The Cubans at America’s doorstep are mostly economic refugees. But since Cubans no longer have preferential status over other immigrants – as they did until former President Barack Obama stopped automatically admitting Cubans who made it to the U.S. – claiming asylum is now virtually their only hope of winning entry. G

Cubans who can afford it fly to South America or hire smugglers to take them to Mexico in “fast boats” before trekking north to the U.S. border. Those who can’t afford to pay smugglers try to cross the Florida Straits on rafts or small boats called “balsas” – a dangerous 90-mile ocean passage.

So far this year, the U.S. Coast Guard has picked up 180 Cuban “balseros” at sea trying to reach the U.S. The number is modest – but it’s already more than three times the Coast Guard rescues of Cubans made last year. Cubans intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba under the terms of a 1995 migration agreement.

The current uptick recalls the gradual increase in rafters rescued at sea in the spring of 1994, numbers that rose exponentially that summer, culminating in the “balsero” migration crisis.

Triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union – communist Cuba’s main international partner at the time – the 1994 exodus saw 35,000 Cubans arrive in the U.S. in two months.

It was the United States’ third Cuban migration crisis. In 1965, some 5,000 Cubans embarked from the port of Camarioca in small boats, landing in south Florida. In 1980, the Mariel boat crisis brought 125,000 Cuban migrants to the U.S. in the so-called “freedom flotilla.”

These migration waves came when the Cuban economy was in crisis and standards of living were falling. All three occurred when Cubans had few avenues for legal migration. With legal routes foreclosed, pressure to leave built over time as the economy deteriorated, finally exploding in a mass exodus of desperate people.

After studying U.S.-Cuban relations for four decades, I believe the conditions that led to these migration crises are building once again.

Economy in free fall

Hit by the dual shocks of renewed U.S. economic sanctions during the Trump administration and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cuban economy shrank 11% in 2020.

Former President Donald Trump cut off two major sources of Cuba’s foreign exchange revenue: people-to-people educational travel from the U.S., worth roughly US$500 million annually, according to my analysis of data from the Cuban National Office of Statistics, and $3.5 billion annually in cash remittances.

The pandemic hammered Cuba’s tourist industry, which suffered a 75% decline – a loss of roughly $2.5 billion.

These external shocks hit an economy already weakened by the decline in cheap oil from crisis-stricken Venezuela due to falling production there, forcing Cuba to spend more of its scarce foreign exchange currency on fuel. Since Cuba imports most of its food, the island nation has experienced a food crisis.

The result is the worst economic downturn since the 1990s.

Pent-up Cuban demand to emigrate

The 1994 Cuban migration crisis ended when former President Bill Clinton signed an accord with Cuba providing for safe and legal migration. The U.S. committed to providing at least 20,000 immigrant visas to Cubans annually to avoid future crises by creating a release valve.

President Trump replaced President Obama’s policy of normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations with one of “maximum pressure” aimed at collapsing the Cuban regime.

He downsized the U.S. embassy in Havana in 2017, allegedly in response to injuries to U.S. personnel serving there. And he suspended the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which provided upwards of 20,000 immigrant visas annually to Cubans with close relatives in the U.S.

These measures drastically reduced the number of immigrant visas given, closing the safety valve Clinton negotiated in 1994. In 2020, just over 3,000 Cubans immigrants were admitted to the U.S.

Today, some 100,000 Cubans who have applied for the reunification program are still waiting in limbo for the program to resume.

A policy problem

The migration crisis brewing in Cuba has been largely overlooked while the Biden administration focuses on managing the rush of Central American asylum-seekers and caring for unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently said that Cuba policy is currently under review, but that it’s “not a top priority.”

U.S. officials could head off the migration crisis brewing in Cuba by making the changes to U.S.-Cuba relations Biden promised during his 2020 presidential campaign.

Restaffing the U.S. embassy in Havana would make it possible to resume compliance with Clinton’s 1994 migration agreement to grant at least 20,000 immigrant visas annually. That would give Cubans a safe and legal way to come to the U.S. and discourage them from risking their lives on the open seas or with human traffickers.

Lifting Trump’s economic sanctions would curtail the need to emigrate by reducing Cuba’s economic hardship, in part by enabling Cuban Americans to send money directly to their families there.

And reversing Trump’s restrictions on travel to the island would help revitalize the private Cuban restaurants and bed and breakfasts that rely on U.S. visitors.

All these measures would put money directly into the hands of the Cuban people, giving them hope for a better future in Cuba.

Balseros arranging Departure, Playas e Este, 1994
Playas del Este, 1994. Did this one make it?
Launching the balsa (rAFT)
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CUBAN COMMUNISTS UNDER PRESSURE TO ACCELERATE ECONOMIC REFORMS

Reuters, April 15, 2021

Marc Frank

Original Article: Pressure to Accelerate Economic Reforms

Retiring Cuban Communist Party leader Raul Castro promised a decade ago he would transform the Soviet-style command economy into a more mixed and market-driven one “without haste and without pause.”

Now, with the Caribbean country in crisis and even the most basic goods in short supply, the party is under pressure to act faster as it convenes this weekend for its eighth congress since the 1959 Revolution.

The April 16-19 congress comes as Cubans battle worsening shortages of basic goods, including food and medicine. An economic crisis has been exacerbated by a tightening of decades-old U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

“I hope that the congress will take a deep look at our internal problems, not to reiterate promises but to quickly solve them,” said Julian Valdes, a government accountant in Havana.

Most experts say reform has been undermined by vested bureaucratic interests and ideologues within the party. They will be reading the tea leaves as new leaders emerge in the all powerful politburo at the summit.

The congress will mark the end of the Castro era as the 89-year-old Raul Castro – the brother of late revolutionary leader Fidel – resigns as party secretary, the most powerful position in Cuba.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel is widely expected to replace him. “If President Miguel Diaz-Canel is given the post of party secretary, it would strengthen his ability to take decisions and it might augur well for more expansive reforms,” said Carlos Saladrigas, president of the Cuba Study Group, composed of Cuban-American business people in favor of engagement with their homeland.

“If, however, someone else is appointed, especially from the ‘old guard’, it would possibly indicate… continuing economic stagnation,” he added.

A long-time European investor in Cuba agreed, saying the government needed to push ahead with reforms to improve competitiveness, including further devaluation of the peso currency, liberalization of agriculture, and greater incorporation of small- and medium-sized companies into the economy.

The pace of that would be dictated by personnel changes announced at the congress, he said, requesting anonymity.

Diaz-Canel, 60, said at a meeting last week on agriculture that “everything that stimulates production, eliminates red tape and benefits producers is favorable.”  That captures the essence of reforms adopted by the party at its sixth congress in 2011 and again five years ago at the seventh congress, but which have stalled amid resistance from some party members and ideological infighting.

The party has previously pledged to regulate and tax, not administer state-owned businesses; allow markets more sway over the central planning system and agriculture; do more to attract foreign investment; and support private initiative.

PEOPLE DO NOT EAT PLANS

John Kirk, a Cuba expert at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, said there was much more to be done to free up the private sector, agriculture and foreign investment.

“The Cuban government has taken only baby steps in all of these areas, and needs to show greater initiative,” he said.

Over the last nine months, following four years of stagnation and in 2020 an 11% contraction of the economy, the government has made more forceful changes.

It has granted more autonomy to state businesses to earn and spend hard currency and loosened regulations on small private ones. It has also unified its two currencies and devalued the remaining peso, cut utility and other subsidies, and decentralized the pricing and sale of some farm products.

“People do not eat plans,” Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said this month, expressing the new sense of urgency.

That will be the underlying theme of the economic debate at the congress, according to Cuban economist Omar Everleny.

Everleny said Cubans understood U.S. sanctions and the pandemic were partly to blame for the hardships they faced, but also were tired of excuses and foot-dragging by authorities.

“The people demand more concrete actions and results from the party,” he said, using agriculture as an example.  “It is not enough to make an effort: there must be results. Thousands of measures have been taken in agriculture, but the results are not yet on the shelves of the average Cuban,” he said.

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CUBA LOOSENS BAN ON CATTLE SLAUGHTER, SALES OF BEEF, DAIRY

Reuters, April 15, 20212

Marc Frank

Original Article: Cuban Cattle/Beef

Cuba announced that it was loosening a decades-old ban on the slaughter of cattle and sale of beef and dairy as part of agricultural reforms as the Communist-run country battles with food shortages.

Ranchers will be allowed to do as they wish with their livestock “after meeting state quotas and always with a guarantee it will not result in a reduction of the herd,” the Communist Party daily, Granma, said late on Tuesday.

In 1963 the government made it illegal for Cubans to slaughter their cows or sell beef and byproducts without state permission after Hurricane Flora killed 20% of the country’s herd.

The number of cattle and milk production improved through 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Since then, the herd has remained stagnant at around 70% of the 1963 level, and powdered milk imports have increased.

Farmers can be fined for killing their own cows, leading many to have only one for milk, as if another dies by accident, they face an investigation. Others hide calves in the barn. Still others team up with rustlers, though they face up to 15 years behind bars if caught.

This has led to the local joke that you can get more prison time for killing a cow than a human being.

Cuban economists say deregulation of the agricultural sector could help boost production.

The government is expected to announce further agricultural measures in a roundtable discussion on state television as it battles a grave economic crisis that has resulted in food shortages and long lines for even the most basic products such as rice, beans and pork, let alone milk, butter, cheese, yogurt and beef.

The Caribbean island nation imported more than 60% of the food it consumed before new U.S. sanctions on top of the decades-old trade embargo and then the COVID-19 pandemic, which decimated tourism, left it short of cash to import agricultural inputs from fuel and feed to pesticides, let alone food.

Economic growth contracted 11% in 2020 and imports 40%, according to the government.

Agricultural production has stagnated in recent years and declined dramatically in 2020, though the government has yet to publish any data.

Last November, the government said it would allow farmers, private traders and food processors to engage in direct wholesale and retail trade if they met government contracts.

The state owns 80% of the arable land and leases most of that to farmers and cooperatives, and until recently had sold them inputs in exchange for up to 90% of their output plus a set margin.

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BIDEN SHOULD PURSUE A FULL ENGAGEMENT WITH CUBA

Responsible Statecraft, April 15, 2021
By Arturo Lopez-Levy

Original Article: Engagement with Cuba

The United States needs a fundamentally different policy towards a post-Castro Cuba than the one applied for the last four years. Engagement is the best long-term strategy to peel Havana away from Washington’s rivals in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and Caracas. It is also the optimal choice to signal American goodwill to the new leaders of post-Castro Cuba and put the onus on them. 

President Biden should restart normalization efforts not only because the retreat from normalization falls squarely at the feet of the Trump administration, but also because he understands — as his predecessor did not — how to conduct a great power bilateral relationship with a smaller neighbor. Estrangement from the United States was not the Cuban government’s choice, which embraced engagement long before the last embers of the Cold War had cooled.

What Happened after Obama’s opening towards Cuba?

A new and effective engagement policy requires an honest assessment of what happened between Cuba, the Cuban American community, and U.S.-Cuba relations after President Obama launched his full engagement approach in 2014. The Cuban government responded positively to the first African American president’s offers of negotiation. Of course, Cuban officials could have done more, particularly regarding reconciliation with the Cuban American community, but the two countries signed 22 important agreements. President Obama was welcomed in Havana by Raúl Castro. In his memoirs, Ben Rhodes, the architect of Obama’s rapprochement, describes how, in a relative short time, Cuba and the United States built a partnership removing many obstacles to a comprehensive interaction between the two societies.

In 2016, President Obama visited Cuba with a focus on transcending the traumas of history and a policy of sanctions repudiated by the overwhelming majority of the international community. The visit was welcomed by almost every segment of Cuban civil society. During this visit, the widespread hope about a new era rose above the resentment expressed toward President Obama by the most radical elements of the Cuban Communist Party. The Cuban Catholic Church, the main protestant denominations, and the Jewish Community welcomed an approach that improved their chances for close relations with their brothers and sisters in faith in the United States. At the same time, Cuba’s emerging private sectors received tangible benefits and profits from the inflow of American visitors.

Unsurprisingly, Trump and his ally, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), cluelessly deviated from Secretary Henry Kissinger’s golden rule for negotiation with Cuba: “Behave chivalrously; do it like a big boy, not like a shyster.” Most of the new sanctions against Cuba were implemented amid the 2020 electoral race. Distrust in Cuba about Obama’s rapprochement as a mere change of imperial tactics, aired by the most radical Cuban left, was confirmed by Secretary of State Pompeo’s last minute gratuitous return of Cuba to the State Department list of state sponsors of terror. This damage has made engagement considerably more difficult and in need of some dramatic gesture in line with the dignity of a democratic great power.

Trump didn’t achieve anything in Havana, but his supporters’ disinformation campaign presenting President Obama as an appeaser touched some nerves within the Cuban American community. By stigmatizing any supporter of Obama-Biden’s engagement as a Castro sympathizer, Trump and Rubio rang the bells of McCarthyism and conspiracy theories within the Latino community. The Democratic Party was portrayed as a communist beachhead. 

By avoiding the discussion about the merits of Obama’s engagement policies, Florida Democrats surrendered a significant political space to Trump’s narrative. Trump succeeded without easing any migration restriction for Cubans, Venezuelans, or Nicaraguans. Using his stay in Mexico anti-immigration policy, Trump kept thousands of Cuban refugees from entering the United States, while increasing the number of deportations to the same archipelago Senator Rubio compared to Hitler’s Germany in senseless analogies. 

A win-win engagement

There is no rationale to argue in favor of half-measure engagement if the decision is to engage. U.S. sanctions against Cuba are not a human rights policy but a violation of the very human rights principles they purport to support. Biden’s policy towards Cuba must eliminate all the counterproductive sanctions contrary to international law and must attempt to implement full normalization of relations with Cuba predicated on Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive of October 2016. 

Adopting a full package of dialogue and rapprochement will multiply the impact of engagement measures in Cuba. For example, it makes no sense to ease travel to Cuba while preventing U.S. airlines from traveling to other cities but Havana. Moreover, given the notoriously electoral nature of the Trump administration’s hostility towards Cuba, it makes no sense to treat Trump’s actions as standard procedure while trying to change U.S. policies which have applied tightened sanctions for 25-years under the Helms-Burton Act’s imperial image.

In public diplomacy, a drastic cut from Trump’s policies will be better for American interests. U.S. diplomats will be in a better negotiating position if their marching orders are seen by Cubans as reflecting a full commitment to engagement. This perception will allow issue-linkage strategies when dealing with the Cuban government. It will also encourage the Cuban government on the path of reforms that are absolutely needed to overcome the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. A summer immigration crisis with thousands of Cubans trying to reach the American or Mexican shores in road to the U.S. southern border is not improbable. Is this in the interest of the Biden administration?

A Biden’s commitment to normalcy in U.S.-Cuba relations will expose all Cuban government’s self-limitations versus the U.S. government’s propensity to engage and respect international norms. A full engagement disposition will attract to the U.S. side the goodwill of Western allies like Canada, the European Union, and most of Latin America. Such an approach might even have spillovers in Cuba’s attitude towards a negotiated solution to the Venezuelan conundrum. After four years of a policy of America First, translated as America Only, it will be an act of productive humility to show some deference to the U.S. allies.

From a political perspective, President Biden should be reminded about his advice to Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2011 that “there’s no sense dying on a small cross.” The opposition by radical exiles will be the same if the president attempts a partial or a full normalization. Concurrently, the political benefits of engagement would multiply the sooner and the more comprehensive the rapprochement policy is adopted. 

Of course, normalization is a tango for two. If the Cuban government wants to reestablish lasting relations effectively with the United States, it must behave as a country, not as a revolutionary cause. It is in Cuba’s national interest to reduce as much as possible the relevance of the Cuban right-wing radicals in the swing state of Florida. This will be possible by reducing the bases for their grievances and opening economic opportunities for the Cuban diaspora. A mixed economy with rule of law and a more committed Cuban human rights policy is in the interests of Cuban society, regardless of what the United States does or says.

Engaging Cuba is not a favor to the Cuban Communist Party. By opening trade and travel to the island and opening American doors to as many Cubans as possible, the United States will influence how the Cuban people view their society and its place in the world. Developing business ties between the two countries, allowing Cubans to visit, work, and study in the United States, and easing visa restrictions as the Obama administration did, will increase the information flows between Cuba and the outside world.

U.S. interests in Cuba are advancing a gradual, peaceful, and well-ordered transition to a market economy and eventually a pluralistic democracy. Ideology aside, such an outcome is also optimal for the majority of Cubans. If there is a marketization of the Cuban economy, more openness and contacts between the Cuban people and its diasporas, and close ties with the United States, it will most likely happen. Not overnight, but it will happen faster and with better results than 60 years of sanctions and siege.

Arturo Lopez-Levy

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CUBA: WILL POLITICAL CHANGE FOLLOW ECONOMIC LIBERALISATION?

by Tom Arnold , March 28, 2021

In response to crippling economic stagnation, Cuba has passed regulations which hint at a turn towards a more market-driven economy. However, political control over key sectors including education and the media still lies heavily with the state. The most striking policy, which allows thousands of professions to run outside the remit of the state, will change the character of business within Cuba and may lead to increased innovation and interaction with international markets. Could Cuba’s economic liberalisation lead to further political freedoms?

Hints of Change

In 2020, the number of tourists visiting Cuba dropped by 80% and its economy accordingly shrank by 11%. Times are hard for Cubans, with queues growing outside grocery stores and businesses being forced to close. The economic downturn has been lurking for many years. In particular, Cuba has suffered from the Trump Administration’s sanctions, imposed to placate the Republican voter base by designating the Cuban government as a “sponsor of terrorism” from its support for Venezuela’s Maduro. 

In response to economic hardships and US sanctions, Cuba has indicated an intention to liberalise the economy. A strong signal of change to Castroist economic ideas are demonstrated by the Díaz-Canel government’s removal of the somewhat confusing dual currency system in January 1, 2021, previously established in 1994 after the loss of Soviet subsidies. This major change, which led to a surge in inflation and devaluation of the peso, had costly implications for Cubans by placing downward pressure on the purchasing power of salaries and pensions.

A Landmark Shift in Business Privatisation

The currency change is just one part in a series of major reforms. On 6th February, Labour Minister Marta Elena Feito Cabrera stated that the government would allow private participation in more than 2000 professions; a stark contrast to the previous limit of 127 professions. The expansion in private participation means that previously illegal enterprises can now function openly. 

It is hoped that this will unleash a wave of innovation in a wide range of sectors. This could work in tandem with recovery from the pandemic. For instance, there has been encouraging news regarding Cuba’s  own “Soberana 2” Covid-19 vaccine: The government believes that it can administer this vaccine to the whole of Cuba’s population by the end of the year and export the vaccine to Latin America as a source of income.

However, the new private business law does have many caveats: private enterprises lack certain resources and access to supply chains that state-owned enterprises possess. For instance, the government maintains control of all large industries and wholesale shops and monopolises 124 professions, thereby restricting options for obtaining supplies. In the short-term, the large restructuring of the economy will inevitably cause painful effects with bankruptcies and unemployment rising. Yet, in the long-term, opening up may yield positive benefits through increased opportunities for entrepreneurs. The sectors included within the 124 professions remaining under state remit (including law enforcement, defence, the media, education) suggest that Cuba is looking to follow the model of China or Vietnam through the introduction of capitalist economic policies with the maintenance of tight political control.

Could Improved Relations with the US Spur Political Change in Cuba?

One follow-on effect of Cuba’s economic liberalisation could be a strengthening of relations with the Biden administration. Indeed, the recent theme of economic policy changes would require more foreign investments and capital, for which improved relations with the US would be important.

Strengthened ties could have political liberalisation effects in Cuba. The Obama Administration’s relationship with Cuba was emblematic of this trend: Obama’s approach of normalising relations with Cuba, which was designed to “create economic opportunities for the Cuban people”, increased US influence in other spheres of Cuban society. Citizens began to criticise issues such as access to medical care, education, unemployment and domestic media sources while religious leaders and artists started to articulate positions contrary to the official narrative. This suggested that civil society was for the first time open to vocally opposing the political system, despite the government responding with detentions of some dissidents and censorship of blog posts . A similar phenomenon is possible if Havana’s new economic policies leads to a strengthening of economic ties with the Biden Administration.

Is a new Cuba Realistic?

Cuba is ripe for change. The push and pull of reform efforts in recent years suggest disputes between traditionalists and more progressive, youthful factions. In April, Raúl Castro will step down as leader of the Communist party which will see the end of the Castro name in Cuban politics for the first time in over 60 years. This has major symbolic significance: Fidel Castro established the political and economic systems that endure today, such as the characteristics of a one-party state with complete control of the media. Combined with the election of Biden, who will likely take a more lenient approach to Cuba in comparison to Trump, and an array of free market policies in the midst of an economic crisis, it seems a realistic possibility that Cuba could undergo major structural change in the coming years.

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CONVOCATORIA AL VIII CONGRESO DEL PARTIDO COMUNISTA DE CUBA

CubaDebate, 2 diciembre 2020 

“El Congreso de la continuidad histórica de la Revolución Cubana”

Articulo Original: Convocatoria

Después de hacerse pública la decisión de efectuar el VIII Congreso del Partido en abril de 2021, un evento extraordinario marcó de forma crucial la vida de la nación. La pandemia de la COVID-19 puso a prueba la capacidad y la voluntad de la Revolución, y el temple de nuestro pueblo para enfrentar cualquier dificultad, por compleja que esta sea.

Una vez más se mostró ante el mundo la verdad de Cuba, sus valores, su probada vocación humanista, solidaria y de justicia social que, junto a la capacidad organizativa del país y el desarrollo científico alcanzado, nos ha permitido traducir en resultados visibles el compromiso con la vida y el bienestar de nuestros compatriotas y de otros pueblos, a pesar de la constante agresividad del Gobierno de Estados Unidos.

El capitalismo y sus defensores neoliberales demuestran no tener solución alguna ante problemas cardinales de la humanidad. Sus teorías del papel mínimo del Estado y la magnificación del mercado, solo reforzaron su incapacidad para salvar vidas.

Inmersos hoy los cubanos en la superación de los dísimiles obstáculos derivados de la pandemia, en particular los vinculados a nuestra economía, sumados a otros que ya venían gravitando sobre nosotros, el Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba ratifica con esta convocatoria la decisión de desarrollar el VIII Congreso en la fecha prevista.

El Congreso centrará su atención en la evaluación y proyección de asuntos medulares para el presente y futuro de la nación, lo cual incluirá la actualización de la Conceptualización del Modelo Económico y Social Cubano de Desarrollo Socialista, los resultados alcanzados y la actualización de la implementación de los Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución, así como los resultados económico-sociales obtenidos del VII Congreso a la fecha; analizará de igual forma el funcionamiento del Partido, su vinculación con las masas, la actividad ideológica y valorará la situación que presenta la política de cuadros en el Partido, la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas, las Organizaciones de Masas y el Gobierno.

Será un escenario oportuno para la actualización de nuestra estrategia de resistencia y desarrollo. Significará un estímulo a la participación de militantes, revolucionarios y patriotas en las soluciones que se demandan para enfrentar la aguda crisis mundial que nos impacta y continuar las transformaciones que fortalezcan la economía nacional. Para lograrlo contamos con una vasta experiencia de lucha en la construcción del socialismo como única opción de desarrollo, y con el ejemplo imperecedero del Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz.

Digno heredero de la confianza depositada por el pueblo en su líder, nuestro Partido, único, martiano, fidelista, marxista y leninista, asume una alta responsabilidad en la preservación de la unidad, factor estratégico para la victoria.

En estos años el Gobierno de Estados Unidos ha acentuado su hostilidad contra Cuba, arreciando el genocida bloqueo económico, comercial y financiero, y la subversión político-ideológica. A ello se suman las consecuencias de la crisis económica mundial. Frente a estas dificultades, el pueblo ha respondido con firmeza, disciplina y conciencia, lo cual requiere traducirse aún más en aportes de eficiencia y superiores resultados en la economía. Ello implica nuevas formas de pensar y hacer para alcanzar la prosperidad, fruto de nuestro trabajo diario.

En este escenario, la implementación de los Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución enfrenta amplios desafíos. Se afrontan problemas objetivos y subjetivos que influyen en el ritmo de aplicación de las políticas y medidas aprobadas.

La situación actual no puede convertirse en justificante que retarde los procesos; por el contrario, impone la necesidad de dar un impulso a la actualización de nuestro modelo económico y social para cumplir lo que hemos acordado y eliminar las trabas que aún persisten en el desarrollo de las fuerzas productivas y la eficiencia, asunto definido como problema estratégico principal por el General de Ejército Raúl Castro Ruz.

Urge incrementar la producción de alimentos en el país, empleando todas las reservas internas, que incluye, como en el resto de los sectores de la economía y la sociedad, la investigación, la innovación y el desarrollo tecnológico, además de la sistematización de los resultados.

Los vínculos entre el sector estatal y el no estatal de la economía han de seguir desarrollándose, como parte de la estrategia económica definida. La industria nacional deberá responder cada vez más a la demanda interna. Es imprescindible desterrar la inercia, la apatía y explotar con creatividad todas las potencialidades existentes, estimulando el aporte de todo el pueblo, sus ideas e iniciativas.

Debemos avanzar en la eficiencia de los procesos productivos y la calidad de los servicios, así como en el ahorro de los recursos, el incremento de las exportaciones, la sustitución de importaciones y la participación de la inversión extranjera directa. En ese empeño, la empresa estatal socialista está llamada a cumplir el papel principal que le corresponde en la economía nacional.

Nuestro objetivo es llegar al VIII Congreso con definiciones precisas y concretas, que fortalezcan y den continuidad al programa de gobierno emprendido, en cumplimiento de la Estrategia Económico-Social para el impulso de la economía y el enfrentamiento a la crisis mundial provocada por la COVID-19.

La prevención y enfrentamiento constantes a la corrupción, el delito, las indisciplinas sociales y otras manifestaciones negativas incompatibles con las esencias del socialismo que construimos, deberá ser una tarea de todos.

Para alcanzar este y otros objetivos, debemos continuar fortaleciendo el funcionamiento del Partido desde el núcleo hasta las instancias superiores, a partir de la ejemplaridad de quienes militan en sus filas. A la par, resulta imprescindible contar con cuadros que mantengan en todo momento una actitud revolucionaria frente a los problemas, desarrollen la capacidad de análisis en la búsqueda de soluciones, estimulen el diálogo franco y se caractericen por una ética intachable en su actuación cotidiana.

El Partido mantendrá una prioritaria atención a la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas, sus cuadros, militantes y las nuevas generaciones, en cuya formación y educación en valores tiene una responsabilidad especial. Igualmente, apoyará a las organizaciones de masas y sociales, en sus misiones de integrar, movilizar y representar a nuestro pueblo, propiciando una participación superior de sus miembros en los procesos políticos y socio-económicos que deciden nuestro futuro como nación.

Hoy adquiere mayor importancia el trabajo político-ideológico para enfrentar los intentos de restauración capitalista y neoliberal. Las redes sociales e Internet se han convertido en un escenario permanente de confrontación ideológica, donde también deben prevalecer nuestros argumentos frente a las campañas enemigas.

Ante la guerra cultural y de símbolos que se nos hace, la defensa de la identidad nacional, y la cultura, así como el conocimiento de nuestra historia, reafirman nuestra soberanía e independencia.

El imperialismo estadounidense no ha podido cumplir su objetivo de destruir la Revolución Cubana. Insiste en provocar la inestabilidad en el país, legitimar la oposición mercenaria y fracturar la unidad de los cubanos, convertida en valladar infranqueable para garantizar la libertad, la justicia y la democracia socialista que no se negocian.

Ratificamos una vez más la importancia estratégica de mantener la defensa y seguridad nacional del país como asunto de máxima prioridad.

Compatriotas:

En el 64 Aniversario del Desembarco del Granma, fecha que trasciende por mostrarnos el valor del sacrificio, la confianza en el triunfo de las ideas que hace suyas el pueblo y la voluntad de vencer, ratificamos que este será el Congreso de la Continuidad, expresado en el tránsito paulatino y ordenado de las principales responsabilidades del país a las nuevas generaciones, con la certeza de que la Revolución no se circunscribe a quienes la llevaron al triunfo aquel glorioso Primero de Enero, sino a la voluntad y el compromiso de quienes la han hecho suya en todos estos años y los que continuarán la obra.

El VIII Congreso del Partido, que realizaremos del 16 al 19 de abril de 2021, será de todo el pueblo. Como en Girón, 60 años después, frente al imperio que nunca logrará doblegarnos, y ante dificultades presentes y futuras por poderosas que sean, una vez más proclamaremos ante el mundo nuestra convicción irreductible de Victoria.

Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba

See the source image
Primer Congreso
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