• 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."


John-Paul Rathbone

Financial Times, May 21, 2015

Original here: Lady Salsa in Havana


It is a hot day in central Havana and the doorman at the Television Ballet building is asleep in the heat. But upstairs, Toby Gough, a British impresario, is exhorting nine Cuban dancers to work up a deep sweat. The show they are rehearsing, Lady Salsa, opens in Germany in less than two weeks.

“More fighting spirit please!” Mr Gough urges the troupe after they run through the opening number. “Keep your eyes forward! Engage more, por favor!”

The rough-floored studio has seen better days; the barre is worn, the mud-green paint peeling from the walls, and two plastic fans circulate the stale air. It is an unlikely setting for Mr Gough, a globe-trotting promoter who once brought a swimming elephant to spirit pop star Kylie Minogue away from press photographers after a Sri Lanka charity benefit.

Yet, for more than a decade the resourceful 44-year-old from Sussex has made his base here in Havana, source of dance talent for several touring shows. His troupe and Cuba’s broader dance scene provide a telling viewpoint on the changes on this socialist island.

Mr Gough’s first outing of Lady Salsa, a rousing two-hour journey through Cuban musical history, enjoyed a sellout European tour in 2000. Fifteen years later, he is reviving the show, which follows the life story of Siomara Valdes, a 75-year-old chanteuse who performed at the Tropicana nightclub before the revolution and once taught Nat King Cole the rumba.

Mr Gough’s European backers saw the rebirth of Lady Salsa as a chance to cash in on the giddy new interest in all things Cuban. This has exploded since the December 17 announcement by Barack Obama, US president, that after 50 years of cold war enmity Washington now sought detente with Havana.

“We need a new introduction,” says Mr Gough. “Can we still have: ‘Welcome to Cuba, an island shaped like a crocodile, biting the foot of the United States’? How about ‘nibbling’ or ‘kissing’ instead?” At this, the dancers laugh and blow kisses at their reflections in the studio mirror.

High hopes, slow progress

Gentle irony is a common Cuban reaction to the prospect of US rapprochement. “It’s very easy to go slower,” says a foreign ministry official. US officials are also cautious. “There are many suppositions about how far or fast US executive action can go,” says one. “They often do not take into account the comedy of the various arms of our government.”

Yet the anticipated end of the US trade embargo, which requires an act of Congress, has unleashed a carnival of expectations. Major US companies such as Citi, which lost a fortune in Cuba financing the 1920 sugar price boom-and-bust known as the “Dance of the Millions”, have said they want to return. World leaders and foreign businesses have jostled to mark their territory before the supposed American invasion.

This month alone, Raúl Castro, Cuba’s 83-year-old president, has met Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president; Pope Francis; Matteo Renzi, Italian prime minister; and François Hollande, the first French head of state to visit Havana in a century — although likely not the last socialist visitor to leave unsaid Cuba’s human rights abuses. “How many foreign dignitaries . . . have visited? We have lost count,” wrote dissident journalist Yoani Sánchez in a column on her website, 14ymedio.com. “But their illustrious presence has brought little relief to Cuban daily life.”

That is certainly true of Cuba’s economy. Seven years ago Mr Castro began a tentative reform process, which includes allowing self-employment, the sale of cars and homes, and the mooted unification of Cuba’s myriad currency system. Their purpose is threefold: to boost flagging growth; retain disenchanted youth emigrating abroad; and prepare Cuba should Venezuela’s swelling economic crisis end the estimated $1.5bn of aid that Caracas provides Havana each year.

In theory, the inevitable passing of the so-called historic generation, which led the 1959 revolution, adds further urgency. US actuarial life tables suggest former leader Fidel Castro, 88, has a life expectancy of another four years.

But Mr Castro’s measures have failed to lift growth, which slowed last year to 1 per cent. Nor has a revamped law done much to boost the stock of foreign investment, yet. At just $427m in 2011, according to UN estimates, it would count as small potatoes elsewhere.

“There is more willingness among Cubans to open up than five years ago,” says Lord Hutton, a British peer who led 45 UK businessmen on an April trade visit, one of whom closed a deal — years in the making — to sell seed potatoes to a fried-chips factory. “But there is still a long way to go; patience is required.”

Certainly, for a Financial Times reporter returning to Cuba after a decade of annual visits, there is little change on Havana’s streets, except perhaps a sense of hope. The dismal food has improved thanks to new, private restaurants. To cater to tourists, private homes are being refurbished — often funded by the $2bn a year that Cuban-Americans send their relatives. And Mr Obama’s relaxation of travel restrictions has produced a 20 per cent rise in US visitors this year, Cuban officials say.

About 600,000 came in 2014 and, although that includes mostly Cuban émigrés, it is still far short of the 3m US tourists the International Monetary Fund estimates could travel to Cuba should relations normalise. But the increase has already stretched Havana’s tourist industry, and led to some unfortunate misunderstandings: a few US visitors have taken to pocketing Tropicana glassware as mementoes of their trip.

“They don’t understand that the poor waiters have to pay for the missing items,” rues Yolanda, a Tropicana dancer. Average state wages are $20 a month.

There has also been an explosion of touring shows, and freelance dancers can return from a six-month tour with enough saved to buy an apartment or car. Rakatan, a high-octane extravaganza, played in New York in February. Ballet Revolución, a sinuous meld of ballet and Cuban dance styles, tours Australia in June. Others include Soy de Cuba and Havana Queens.

All draw on talent honed by a dance system organised on Soviet lines. “It’s a machine,” says Aaron Cash, co-choreographer of Ballet Revolución. Like all machines, it can be brutally effective at producing technical excellence. Children are funnelled from an early age into one of four categories; ballet, contemporary dance, folklore or cabaret. One star the system has produced is Carlos Acosta, although his career was only saved from obscurity after he was poached by the English National Ballet.

Internal embargo

Like its Soviet-style economic system, Cuba’s dance machine can also be stifling thanks to what is called the “internal embargo”, an official mindset that would bog Cuba down even if the “external embargo” were lifted tomorrow.

“Mental attitudes are a problem,” admits the foreign ministry official.

Its stunting influence is everywhere: at government offices, where bored officials elevate sulkiness to new levels; at state-run clubs such as the Tropicana, where tourists pay $95 to watch dancers run through a stale set; and at the National Ballet, run with an iron grip for over half a century by Alicia Alonso, 93, who is blind but still choreographing. On tour, critics often comment on her dancers’ “artistic straitjacket”.

The internal embargo certainly exists in big business. “My biggest problem is bureaucratic trauma,” says Idermis González, head of co-ordination at Mariel, an $800m free trade zone on Cuba’s northern coast that is the centrepiece of the government’s drive to attract foreign investment.

It also stymies Mr Castro’s tentative reforms, as seen at Zumaya Gutierrez’s small cafeteria. Ms Gutierrez set up the eatery at her village in Mayabeque province a few years ago. She says that she “loves her country”, and that most of her clients are hungry children. “I love them and sometimes give them a break if they do not have money.”

Yet despite this civic sense, her operation is perforce mainly illegal. Shortages and high prices at state retailers mean food supplies can only be sourced on the black market, where Ms Gutierrez, whose name has been changed, also buys fake sales receipts, at $2 a month, so her accounts pass the tax inspectors. Being able to buy supplies legally, and wholesale, would change everything, she says, her eyes brightening. But that is only possible for state companies and sanctioned co-operatives.

Furthermore, eliminating the black market would end a vital cash source for her neighbours, who sell stolen state goods. “Nobody would then have any money to buy my food,” she says. The result, like much else in Cuba, is an apparent impasse.

“Cuba reminds me of our piecemeal reforms before the fall of the Berlin Wall,” says an eastern European diplomat. “Each one requires another to make it effective, and so on. But Havana has not yet realised that, when it comes to the market, you cannot be a little bit pregnant. Some things just don’t work.”

No velvet revolution

Back at the dance studio, Mr Gough has turned to psychodramatic exercises to develop his dancers’ characters and add narrative heft to the show.

“Many Cubans think they can just rock up and dance away and win applause,” he says. “But TV shows like Britain’s Got Talent or Pop Idol have made audiences more demanding. They take slick performances for granted. Technical mastery is not enough. You have to provide drama, the kind that gives the audience a lesson about life.”

Cuba has long provided the world with drama, be it the supposed decadence of pre-revolutionary Havana, or the socialist austerity that followed. What might happen next is only speculation — and most speculations about Cuba have been wrong in the past.

Mr Obama’s move to relax and ultimately end the embargo aims to swivel the spotlight away from Washington’s historic bullying tactics and on to Cuba’s shortcomings. Still, a sudden velvet revolution-style break looks unlikely. Havana also wants to avoid a chaotic Russian-style transition. But China’s example — perestroika over glasnost — while appealing, is contradicted by the slow pace of the reforms.

“The Cubans are in terra incognita, trying to figure it out,” says Pedro Freyre, a Wall Street lawyer with long Cuban experience. “Some of them are very intelligent, but they also have to operate within key intellectual and practical constraints — like going as fast as possible without losing control.”

Next year’s Communist party Congress will be crucial; the reputedly pragmatic Mr Castro, former head of the armed forces, says he wants to deepen the reforms. He has also said he will step down as president in 2018, although he could remain head of the party, where power ultimately resides.

Meanwhile, an army takeover of the economy’s “commanding heights”, the military-tourist complex, is under way. By some estimates, the army controls 60 per cent of the economy, as at businesses like Gaviota, the island’s largest hotel operator. But even military reformers can suffer from the stolid midriff of official inertia.

This became clear when Mr Castro met Pope Francis in Rome. Afterwards, Mr Castro said that, while he remained communist, he was thinking of returning to the church. International media splashed the extraordinary comment, but not Cuba’s state press — thereby censoring the president himself. “The state press is an insult to militants,” as Mr Castro has said.

Mr Gough, like his dancers, has no interest or time for politics; his own show must go on. Sitting on the studio floor, he revises Lady Salsa’s song list. The curtain will drop after Celia Cruz’s “Yo Viveré”, a cover version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will Survive”, while the encore is “Adiós”, a poppy salsa number.

This is a neat way to end the entertainment — but also an ambiguous speculation on Cuba’s future. Who will survive, and goodbye to what?

“The most exciting thing about Cuba now,” Mr Freyre says, “is the unknown.”


John-Paul Rathbone

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SAIRA PONS PÉREZ, CEEC, University of Havana

Cuba Study Group, MAY 20, 2015

Original Article Here: Tax Law Dilemmas for Self-Employed Workers


In2010, a series of regulations were published that allowed for the expansion of self-employment as an alternative to the rationing of employment in the state sector and for the creation of goods and services for the population. In just over four years, the number of private enterprises grew threefold, going from 144,000 in 2009 to 490,000 people by the end of February 2015. Currently, self-employed workers known as “cuentapropistas” represent 8% of employment and generate 5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to data from Cuba’s National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

These changes were accompanied by new regulations in the tax arena1, which is the focus of this article. To understand them, it is necessary to take into consideration at least three basic elements. First, self-employed businesses are not recognized under the law as companies, even while no restrictions exist on the hiring of a labor force. This implies that all income is deemed as personal, and therefore subject to different liabilities than the profits of state or foreign companies, or cooperatives. It also means that it is not possible to apply specific deductions associated to investment, production costs, commercialization expenses or others typically associated with a company’s activities.

The second element is that the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) does not have the resources that would allow it to verify self-employed workers’ income and expenses case-by-case. Because of this, standardized methods are used, which is common around the world for the collection of revenue from small taxpayers.

Lastly, it is a principal objective of this special tax regime to avoid the private accumulation of property, in accordance with Guideline No. 3 of the 6th Party Congress. To put it another way, the tax system is beingused to discourage the growth of companies, imposing a progressive – and excessive- tax burden, as well as penalizing the hiring of more than five employees. These elements will be addressed in further detail ahead.

 The structure of this article will be as follows: after the introduction, a section dedicated to a description of the special tax regime.

Continue reading: Tax Law Dilemmas for Self-Employed Workers

entrevistadas_del_ceec_0SAIRA PONS PÉREZ, CEEC, University of Havana

New Picture (14)

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Ottawa Citizen, May 15, 2015

Original here: Gitmo

Guantanamo_bay_satellite_imageI’ve just returned from a visit to Guantanamo City and its outskirts. It is blistering hot in and around Guantanamo City, which surely doesn’t minimize the harsh prison conditions for the remaining 120 or so detainees at the U.S. naval facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It is not clear what their fate will be if the U.S. base is eventually returned to the Cubans.

Taking up 117 square kilometres, which includes over 1,000 buildings and two airfields, it’s hard to miss in south-eastern Cuba. But will it prove to be a major stumbling block in the way of a normalized U.S.-Cuba relationship?

Interestingly, it is a self-contained U.S. military facility (or reservation) — replete with its own grocery store, movie theatre, church and golf course. It even has its own McDonald’s restaurant, the only one on the island.

The initial 1903 Cuban-American Treaty, which laid out the terms of the lease agreement, put the annual rental fee at 2,000 U.S. gold coins. The 1934 Lease Agreement set the current cost at US$4,085 and essentially gave the U.S. government a lease in perpetuity for the territory around Guantanamo Bay (for use as only a naval coaling station).

It is said in Cuba that the Castro brothers have either sent the lease cheques back to the Americans or left them un-cashed in a desk drawer somewhere. The Castro governments have always maintained that the lease component of the 1934 revised treaty is illegal.

Since the 1959 Cuban Revolution and the coming to power of Fidel Castro, Cuba has seen the U.S. base as “occupied territory” and has consistently demanded its return. To this day, Cuba’s political leadership views Guantanamo as a matter of national sovereignty and as rightful Cuban territory. And just about every Cuban whom I spoke with feels that same ways about the base, its tarnished colonial legacy, and its connection to Cuba’s identity.

Just in case, the Cubans have military bases (at least three) near and around the U.S. naval facility. There are other trenches, prickly cacti, fences and observation/guard posts to repel the Americans — to say nothing of the deadly minefield.

For the U.S. government, the domestic politics of relinquishing control of Guantanamo would suggest an American resistance to even broaching negotiations over its return. It also still has strategic importance in terms of the Caribbean (and China’s growing involvement in the region), value as a naval training facility, and as a means of keeping a watchful eye on Cuba. Notwithstanding a substantial financial operating cost, it will certainly not be easy for the U.S. to walk away from Guantanamo.

That explains why the Barack Obama White House said plainly in early 2015: “The president does believe that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed down. But the naval base is not something that we believe should be closed.”

However, at a regional summit meeting in Costa Rica in late January, Cuban President Raul Castro was adamant about the transfer of Guantanamo back to Cuban hands. He noted that normal bilateral relations “will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base.”

Most Cubans know that the issue of Guantanamo is complicated and not likely to be resolved easily. But they are determined to get it back, which might make it a diplomatic deal-breaker.

Both sides may simply continue to agree to disagree about the base. Or, the prison could be closed down and the U.S. military presence further reduced (or wound down entirely over a set period of time). It is also possible that the stalemate over Guantanamo remains frozen in time — at least in the short to medium term — while an improvement in bilateral relations limps along.

One hopes that a normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations doesn’t get torpedoed by an antiquated lease agreement. But if Cuba and the United States are unable to come to a meeting of the minds on Guantanamo (e.g., essentially a complete transfer back to Cuba), it’s hard to see how a full-fledged rapprochement can take place.

Peter McKenna is professor and chair of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.Aerial-view-bay-ships-bw DN-ST-95-01300 BE070079.


The Washington Post, May 18, 2015

Original here: Us Base at Guantanamo  Probably Doomed

HAVANA — If the United States and Cuba restore diplomatic ties in the coming weeks, as anticipated, the two countries will still be a long way from anything resembling a “normal” relationship, Cuban President Raul Castro has said repeatedly. His list of grievances is lengthy. But this week Castro said it boils down to two big issues.

The first, of course, is the U.S. trade embargo. The other is the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, the oldest overseas American Navy base in the world, which the United States has occupied for 116 years.

That one isn’t up for debate, the Obama administration says. But, one can only wonder, for how long?

Scholars and military experts say it’s difficult to see how United States can overhaul its relationship with Havana while hanging on to a big chunk of Cuban territory indefinitely, especially if relations warm significantly in a post-Castro era.

While there are plenty of examples in the world of disputed borders or contested islands, the 45-square-mile American enclave at Guantanamo is something of a global geopolitical anomaly. There is no other place in the world where the U.S. military forcefully occupies foreign land on an open-ended basis, against the wishes of its host nation.

“It’s probably inevitable that we’ll have to give it back to Cuba, but it would take a lot of diplomatic heavy-lifting,” said retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Stavridis was head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command between 2006 and 2009, putting him in charge of the Guantanamo base, which he said remains a “strategic, and highly useful” U.S asset. “It’s hard to think of another place with the combination of a deep water port, decent airstrip and a lot of land,” Stavridis said.

The controversial American detention camp for global terrorism suspects is just one of the base’s conveniences. It is a logistical hub for the Navy’s Fourth Fleet, as well as counter-narcotics operations and disaster-relief efforts. It also functions as a detention center for north-bound migrants intercepted at sea. The base’s location on Cuba’s south coast allows the U.S. military to project power across the entire Caribbean basin. And it’s strategically located next to Haiti, a place that often needs U.S. help.

As a military installation, though, Guantanamo — Gitmo is its nickname — is no longer essential in a modern era of aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and drones, Stavridis said. “You wouldn’t launch a large-scale military operation from there,” he explained, adding that many of the other uses Guantanamo provides could be fulfilled by existing U.S. military facilities in Puerto Rico or south Florida.

“I don’t think it’s irreplaceable,” Stavridis said.

U.S. warships sailed into Guantanamo Bay in 1898, and together with Cuban rebels, defeated the Spanish fleet. The Americans essentially never left, conditioning Cuban independence on constitutional provisions allowing the U.S. Navy to occupy the area “for the time required.” Rent was set at $2,000 a year, paid in gold.

A new lease increased the amount to $4,000 in 1934, according to this history of the base by scholar Paul Kramer. But there was no cut-off date for the Americans to leave.

The U.S. government still dutifully sends rent checks to the Cuban government, but the Castros don’t cash them. They don’t recognize the lease, and — like landlords in a rent-controlled Brooklyn apartment — want their tenants to leave. Fidel Castro is said to keep the checks piled up in his desk drawer, using them as a kind of political prop. It’s hard to imagine a more ready-made symbol of U.S. imperialism than a military base whose history is so wrapped up in late 19th-century attempts at American empire.

After Castro’s revolution, the United States had no intention of letting the base fall under communist control. At times of peak tensions during the Cold War, such as the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the base’s fences became a front line for the Soviet-American standoff. Volleys of gunfire were occasionally exchanged between U.S. and Cuban troops. One such event was dramatized in the 1992 film “A Few Good Men,” in which an agitated Jack Nicholson memorably told Tom Cruise he wouldn’t be able to handle the pressures of living under constant threat at Guantanamo.

Castro shut off the water and electricity in 1964, and today the base is completely isolated from the rest of Cuba. Visitors say it resembles a small American city, with the island’s only McDonald’s franchise, as well as a Taco Bell, a Subway and other American chains. The divide from the rest of the island is lethally enforced by land mines, concertina wire and thickets of thorny cactus.

In recent years, President Barack Obama’s unsuccessful attempts to close the base’s prison camp have inspired several dream scenarios of a post-military future for the base. One would converted it to a research center and treatment facility for tropical diseases and epidemics. If returned to Cuban control, it could become a second campus of Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine, where students from around the world get free medical training from the Cuban government.

Stavridis said a proposal along these lines to “internationalize” the base that retains its value as a logistical center for humanitarian relief would probably be an acceptable future within the Pentagon — at least in the long run. Other optimists say the base’s transformation could serve as an exercise in trust-building between Cuba and the United States as hostilities ease.

Such a move wouldn’t be without precedent. The U.S. reluctantly gave up the Panama Canal Zone, a place far more strategic to military operations and U.S. commercial interests than Guantanamo Bay. Panama converted the military installations into a “City of Knowledge,” a cluster of research labs and campus facilities in partnership with several U.S. universities.

Miroff is a Latin America correspondent for The Washington Post, roaming from the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to South America’s southern cone. He has been a staff writer since 2006.

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Mauricio A. Font y Mario González-Corzo, Editores, Con la asistencia de Rosalina López

New York: Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, 2015

Documento Completo: Reformando el Modelo Economico Cubano

 New Picture (12)


Introducción, Mario González-Corzo

Del ajuste externo a una nueva concepción del socialism Cubano, Juan Triana Cordoví

La estructura de las exportaciones de bienes en Cuba 29, Ricardo Torres

Relanzamiento del cuentapropismo en medio del ajuste structural, Pavel Vidal Alejandro y Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva

Las cooperativas en Cuba, Camila Piñeiro Harnecker

La apertura a las microfinanzas en Cuba, Pavel Vidal Alejandro

Hacia una nueva fiscalidad en Cuba, Saira Pons


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The Huffington Post | By Erin Schumaker

 Posted: 05/14/2015

Original here: Cuba’s Cancer Vaccine

 When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) headed to Havana on a historic trade mission in April, he returned with the promise of an important commodity: a Cuban-developed lung cancer vaccine.

The vaccine, called CimaVax, has been researched in Cuba for 25 years and became available for free to the Cuban public in 2011. The country’s Center for Molecular Immunology signed an agreement last month with Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York to import CimaVax and begin clinical trials in the United States.

“We’re still at the very early stages of assessing the promise of this vaccine, but the evidence so far from clinical trials in Cuba and Europe has been striking,” Dr. Kelvin Lee, Jacobs Family Chair in Immunology and co-leader of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at Roswell Park, told The Huffington Post.

When President Obama loosened the United States’ 55-year long trade embargo against the island nation in December, he allowed for such joint research deals to be finalized. Similar programs might have been impossible just a few years ago.

Cuba has long been known for its high-quality cigars, and lung cancer is a major public health problem and the fourth-leading cause of death in the country. A 2007 study of patients with stages IIIB and IV lung cancer, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, confirmed the safety of the CimaVax and showed an increase in tumor-reducing antibody production in more than half of cases. It proved particularly effective for increased survival if the study participant was younger than 60.

So far, 5,000 patients worldwide have been treated with CimaVax, including 1,000 patients in Cuba. Lee said the latest Cuban study of 405 patients, which has not yet been published, confirms earlier findings about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. What’s more, the shot is cheap — it costs the Cuban government just $1, Wired reported. And studies have found there are no significant side effects.

“We think it may be an effective way to prevent cancer from developing or recurring, so that’s where a lot of our team’s excitement comes in,” Lee said. “There’s good reason to believe that this vaccine may be effective in both treating and preventing several types of cancer, including not only lung but breast, colorectal, head-and-neck, prostate and ovarian cancers, so the potential positive impact of this approach could be enormous.”

Preclinical investigations of CimaVax at Roswell Park and the unpublished findings of the 405-patient Cuban study are promising, according to Lee. CimaVax works by blocking a hormone that causes lung cancer tumors to grow, a method which has also been shown to be effective in treating colon cancer. That fuels researchers’ hope that the vaccine will be an effective treatment for other types of cancer as well.

Still, he acknowledged that the vaccine needs rigorous testing in each of these different disease areas to know whether or not the drug will work as well as the scientists at Roswell Park hope. To be clear, the CimaVax doesn’t cure cancer. It’s a therapeutic vaccine that works by targeting the tumor itself, specifically going after the proteins that allow a tumor to keep growing. (And as PBS points out, a person can’t just take a shot of CimaVax and continue to smoke without fear of lung cancer.)

“We hope to determine in the next few years whether giving CimaVax to patients who’ve had a lung cancer removed, or maybe even to people at high risk of developing lung or head-and-neck cancers because of a history of heavy smoking, may be beneficial and may spare those people from having a cancer diagnosis or recurrence,” Lee said.

The United States is currently at work developing two lung cancer vaccines of its own, GVAX and BLP 25, though neither has been studied for as long as CimaVax.

How does a tiny island nation with limited economic resources pioneer a powerhouse cancer vaccine? “They’ve had to do more with less,” Candace Johnson, CEO of Roswell Park, told Wired. “So they’ve had to be even more innovative with how they approach things. For over 40 years, they have had a preeminent immunology community.”

Despite decades of economic problems and the U.S. trade embargo, Cuba has been a model of public health. According the New York Times, life expectancy for Cubans is 79 years, on par with the United States, despite the fact that its economy per person is eight times smaller. While many drugs and even anesthesia have been hard to come by over the years, Cuba has one of the best doctor to patient ratios in the world. Moreover, the Cuban government’s investment in primary care for residents and preventative health measures like public education, housing and nutrition have paid huge dividends in the health of citizens, especially relative to similarly poor countries.

Looking forward, ongoing research collaborations between the two nations are almost certainly on the horizon as relations between Cuba and the U.S. continue to thaw. For now, Lee says the researchers at Roswell Park have their eyes trained on about 20 cancer treatment and prevention technologies in Cuba — including another lung cancer vaccine called racotumomab that the group hopes to study in clinical trials at Roswell. Cuba - CIMCentro de Inmunología Molecular – Cuba

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The tricky task of unifying a crazy system of exchange rates

The Economist, May 16th 2015


CUBA has two currencies and a mind-boggling number of exchange rates. So when President Raúl Castro set out four years ago to unify the currency system by 2016, it was not surprising that he gave few details on how he would achieve it. A year in advance, it is still not clear. Nor is there a fixed date. Cubans call the unknown day of reckoning Día Cero (“day zero”).

The main difficulty is not unifying the two currencies per se. They are the Cuban peso, which most people use, and the convertible peso (CUC), worth about $1, which is a dollar substitute used by individuals in tourism, for remittances and in the private sector. It would be relatively easy for the average Cuban to scrap the CUC and conduct all transactions in pesos. Already many goods can be bought with either currency. The exchange rate for the peso is 24 per CUC, a level that has changed little since the CUC was created in 1994.

But for the economy at large what looks like a relatively simple book-keeping exercise could have devastating consequences, because there is a parallel exchange rate, mostly hidden from the public, that is used in accounting by state-owned firms and foreign joint ventures. It is one peso per CUC (or dollar). The massively overvalued rate has been in place since the 1980s, when Cuba was subsidised by the Soviet Union. It creates huge distortions in the economy, allowing importers to buy a dollar’s-worth of goods for one peso, a wheeze that drains precious foreign exchange from the country. Cutting the overvalued rate to the cheaper one would be the equivalent of a 96% devaluation. This could bankrupt many state-owned firms, whose costs have been accounted for at the overvalued rate.

Augusto de la Torre, the World Bank’s chief economist for Latin America, says he doesn’t know of any country that has started unification with such diverse exchange rates, and that it could be “suicidal” to join them in one big bang at 24:1. Vilma Hidalgo, vice-rector of the University of Havana, urges caution. She says many segments of the economy, such as exporters and firms that struggle to compete against subsidised imports, would benefit from devaluation, but others could be devastated.

So Cuba is, typically, treading carefully. The government has started with hotels and the sugar and biotech industries. Though their new exchange rates are far from uniform, the most common is 10:1, which some think may be the target rate for unification. But even if the whole economy were to merge at that rate, it would still represent a 90% devaluation for most.

Typically, a country embarking on such an upheaval would get financial help from the IMF and World Bank. Because of its history of enmity with the United States, Cuba does not have that option. Ms Hidalgo hopes that rapprochement will spur enough trade and financial flows to support the new exchange rate. In the meantime, gradualism will remain the guiding principle, which means the distortions will persist. Expect many day zeroes.

Che Guevara: One of the Architects of Cuba’s Monetary Pathology, immortalized (?) on the three CUP and three CUC bills

CU107Three Peso in Moneda Nacional (CUP),  worth about $US 0.12 in mid-2015. 

Cuban3PesosThree “Convertible Pesos”  (CUCs), now ostensibly worth $US 1.00.

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Despite the thaw with the United States, politics is paralysing the economy.

The Economist, May 16th 2015 | HAVANA


 BY DAY grey-haired Americans trundle through the streets of Havana in pink 1957 Chevy convertibles, klaxons blaring. By night they recline over rum and cigars, tipping generously, listening to hotel salsa and reminiscing about the cold war. Many of the new American visitors to Cuba, whose numbers have surged since a diplomatic detente in December, are old enough to remember life before the internet and relish a few days in one of the world’s last Facebook-unfriendly bastions. What tourists find quaint seems stifling to many Cubans themselves.

For a lucky minority life has improved since “D17” (December 17th), the day Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro, announced that they would seek to end five decades of hostility. Mr Obama’s decision to relax some restrictions on American visitors is expected to push tourism to Cuba up by 17% this year, bolstering foreign exchange by around $500m, or 1% of GDP, estimates Emily Morris, an economist at the Inter-American Development Bank. Visitors spend CUCs (Cuba’s dollar-equivalent hard currency) at a few swanky private restaurants where the quality (and prices) have reached fashionable Florida standards. Cubans are borrowing whatever they can to spruce up accommodation in a city where hotels are now booked up weeks in advance. According to Omar Everleny, a Cuban economist, 18,000 private rooms have become available. That is the equivalent of 31 new hotels the size of the 25-storey Habana Libre.

This activity is expected to boost economic growth from last year’s meagre 1.3%. But there is little sign as yet of the $2.5 billion a year in investment that the government hoped to woo with a new foreign-investment law last year, mostly because it sends mixed signals. It has authorised at most two manufacturing projects at its Mariel port and special economic zone, despite hundreds of applications. It continues to view private business with distaste, and believes socialist state enterprise will remain the core of the Cuban economy. As one economist puts it, “the government wants to create prosperity, but it doesn’t want to create prosperous citizens.”

As a result, it risks creating neither. Some of the 500,000-odd people self-employed in private enterprise—about 10% of the labour force—benefit from earning hard currency, and represent a nascent middle class. Unlike the rest of the labour force, their productivity is improving.

But the majority who work in the state sector earn Cuban pesos, live on ration books and can barely make ends meet unless they receive remittances from abroad or do informal jobs illegally. This produces stark inequality, which is exacerbated by shortages, especially of food. Some of the new restaurateurs admit that they face wrath in Cuban supermarkets when they pull out wads of notes to stock up on scarce beer, milk and cheese, leaving shelves empty and pushing prices higher. They insist it is not their fault; the government has failed to open up well-supplied wholesale markets or allow them to import goods. But that argument counts for little with a hungry public.

What’s more, it exacerbates a vicious circle in which disgruntled government employees slow down at work, further sapping output and causing more shortages. In a bid to counter inequality, the government has raised salaries of favoured state workers such as doctors. It has authorised public entities such as the sugar monopoly to raise pay if productivity improves (this year, sugar production is up 22%). But partly as a result of higher wages, the budget deficit is expected at least to double to above 6% of GDP this year.

All this creates a headache for Mr Castro. He has less than a year before a Communist Party congress next April. There he will have to defend reforms launched at the previous congress in 2011, including a planned unification of Cuba’s two currencies (see article), despite their disappointing results so far. Mr Castro must also worry that a Republican will succeed Mr Obama, who will leave office in early 2017. To forestall a renewed tightening of the American embargo, he will want to show that Cuba is making economic progress.

Next April’s congress could also mark the start of a generational change in Cuba’s leadership. Mr Castro, who took over from his brother, Fidel, in 2008, is expected to step down as president in 2018. He has said that he is keen to promote younger leaders, replacing the “historic generation” of octogenarians who fought under Fidel in the 1959 revolution.

He is grooming Miguel Diáz-Canel, the 55-year-old first vice-president, to replace him. There is a possibility that Mr Castro could step down as head of the party next year. Economists working for the government say some of Mr Diáz-Canel’s peers are receptive to reformist ideas. They are often seen carrying PCs or tablets, suggesting an interest in bringing more internet to Cuba. But they are also reluctant to defend reform publicly, so it is hard to know what they stand for.

Many in the establishment are terrified that change will jeopardise what they see as the main gains of the revolution, such as free education, health care and welfare. “The economy has to become more efficient, but you can’t ignore our principles or you’ll get a tsunami of capitalism washing over the whole island,” says Luis René Fernández of the University of Havana.

Mr Castro may be preparing to take on Communist Party conservatives. The party’s central committee said in February that it would discuss a new electoral law at next year’s congress. It gave no details; no one expects anything like political freedom. The aim may be to pressure mid-level bureaucrats to stop paralysing reform. “Change starts from the top and those at the bottom want it, but it gets stuck in the middle,” says Rafael Hernández, editor of Temas, a social-sciences journal.

Mr Hernández believes that a priority for the government will be a stronger National Assembly that can approve laws to underpin economic liberalisation, such as the right to own a business (currently, private firms, however prosperous, are considered “self-employment”). He also argues that professionals such as lawyers, teachers and doctors should be able to moonlight from their state jobs in private consultancies, consolidating a “socialist middle class” that pushes for further reform. However, he frets that hardship has made ordinary Cubans apathetic about greater political representation. For them “the glass is always half empty.”

Among intellectuals, though, resistance is growing. Dagoberto Valdés, editor of Convivencia, a Catholic journal, says the American thaw has robbed the regime of its ability to cast its neighbour as an “external enemy”, so its own shortcomings have moved into the spotlight.

El Capitolio, a marble landmark in central Havana, modelled on (and with a bigger dome than) America’s Capitol, points to a brighter future. It is being refurbished and is supposed to become the seat of the National Assembly for the first time since 1959. Alberto Pagés, a wiry old man who for 30 years has been operating a homemade box camera for small change on the building’s steps, thinks it will attract more tourists and could become “a symbol of how Cuba and the United States can look more like each other”. But ask him whether it could also become a harbinger of democracy and he clams up. “I know absolutely nothing about politics,” he mutters.

Cuba Mar 2014 002

The Capitolio, Under Repairs.

After 56 years. the prospective home of the National Assembly once again,

Cuba April 2015 212

A rationed food outlet on Calle Jovellar

Cuba April 2015 110.jpg qqqqThe Art and Crafts Retailing Center in a Converted Warehouse, a showcase of Cuban ingenuity and creativity.


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REFORMING CUBA: BE MORE LIBRE. The transformation of the economy needs to happen much faster

The Economist, May 16th 2015

Original Here: Reforming Cuba: Be More Libre

IT HAS been five months since Cuba and the United States announced that they would end their long cold war, but Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, is still basking in the afterglow. On his way home from Russia this week he stopped off at the Vatican to see the pope, and said he might return to the Catholic faith. Later François Hollande paid the first-ever visit to Cuba by a French president; he was granted an audience with Fidel Castro, Raúl’s ailing brother, who led the revolution in 1959 and ruled until 2008.

But beneath the bonhomie lies unease. Cuba’s creaky revolutionaries spent half a century blaming the American embargo for all the island’s woes. Now they resist American capitalism for fear of being overrun. The result for most ordinary Cubans is not too much change but too little (see article). The island is poorer than many of its neighbours. Doctors earn just $60 a month—after a 150% pay rise. Food and other basics are in short supply. Boat people still flee to Florida’s shores.

Cuba deserves a proper democracy and a robust market-based economy. Sadly, that is unlikely to happen soon. Some things are changing. Private guesthouses, restaurants, barber shops and the like have begun to flourish, creating the kernel of an entrepreneurial middle class. But if Cubans are to benefit from the opening with America, their rulers need to reform more boldly and quickly than they have done so far.

A cocktail of reform

Where to start? Cuba should begin by opening up many more sectors to private enterprise. Currently, Cubans can be “self-employed” in 201 activities (including reading Tarot cards), but few that require a university degree. In place of a “positive list” of permitted private activities, the government should publish a negative one that reserves just a few for the state. All others would then be open to private initiative, including professions such as architecture, medicine, education and the law. The new bourgeois are potential customers for professional services; catering to that demand would in turn expand the middle class.

Liberalisation is urgent in wholesale markets. Today enterprises such as restaurants are forced to buy supplies from state-run supermarkets where ordinary people shop, which exacerbates shortages. This undermines popular support for the emerging private sector.

The climate for foreign investment must also improve. Cuba woos foreign investors for the expertise, jobs and currency they bring, but treats them shabbily. Under a supposedly friendly new law, they must still recruit workers through state agencies, to which they pay hard currency; the agencies then pay out miserly salaries in pesos. Imported inputs pass through bureaucratic state-run enterprises. Worst of all, legal codes are vague and their application is arbitrary. In recent years several foreign businessmen have been imprisoned (and later released) with little explanation.

How much of this thicket Mr Castro is prepared to clear away is uncertain. The party’s leadership has hinted that its congress would strengthen the National Assembly, a rubber-stamp body. A proper legislature that could write laws would give security to enterprise. Cuba is also bracing for a painful currency unification, which will end a huge subsidy to state companies.

For many of the revolution’s ageing leaders reform and privatisation are yanqui-inspired dirty words. The regime looks to China and Vietnam, where communist governments have embraced capitalism without yielding power. The Cuban communists are wary: they fear that, if they give up too much economic control, they will be obliterated just like the communists of eastern Europe. Yet the bigger risk would be merely to tinker with a system that keeps Cubans poor at a time when their aspirations are rising.

Cuba April 2015 228A Symbol of Santeria, the meaning of which I do not understand.

Not entirely relevant to this Economist editorial. Photo taken in April 2015 on Calle Animas

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Carmelo Mesa-Lago

 Documento de Trabajo 6/2015

Real Instituto Elcano | DT 6/2015 | 8 de mayo de 2015


Ríos de tinta han corrido desde el 17 de diciembre de 2014 cuando se hizo el anuncio simultáneo del inicio de conversaciones para normalizar relaciones entre EEUU y Cuba después de 55 años de hostilidad. Este ensayo aborda un análisisl de as causas del cambio de política, las posibilidades y obstáculos en el comercio, los sectores económicos prioritarios, la inversión y entrada a organismos financieros internacionales, y las reclamaciones monetarias mutuas.


(1) Introducción

(2) Causas del cambio de política en Cuba y EEUU

(3) Avances y problemas en las relaciones económicas

(4) ¿Habrá un boom en la economía cubana si se levanta el embargo?

(5) ¿Mejorarán los derechos humanos y políticos con la normalización?

(6) Los escollos que afronta el proceso

(7) Los resultados de la Cumbre de las Américas

(8) Posibles explicaciones a un enigma

(9) Apostillas finales

(10) Referencias bibliográficas

 (1) Introducción

Ríos de tinta han corrido desde el 17 de diciembre de 2014 (17D en adelante) cuando se hizo el anuncio simultáneo por los presidentes Barack Obama y Raúl Castro, respectivamente en Washington y La Habana, del inicio de conversaciones para normalizar relaciones entre ambos países después de 55 años de hostilidad, un paso importante y positivo que abre una nueva etapa en las relaciones entre ambos países.

Este ensayo aborda un análisis de dicho proceso de forma abarcadora, documentada y lo más objetiva humanamente posible: las causas del cambio de política, las posibilidades y obstáculos en el comercio, los sectores económicos prioritarios, la inversión y entrada a organismos financieros internacionales, y las reclamaciones monetarias mutuas. También se intenta responder a dos preguntas clave: si el restablecimiento de relaciones tendrá un impacto sustancial en la economía cubana, así como en los derechos humanos y políticos. Por último, se analizan los escollos que afronta el proceso, los resultados de la Cumbre de las Américas, varias explicaciones a un enigma importante, y al final se resumen los puntos principales y se dan algunas pautas para una negociación exitosa.

Me parece justo que de entrada informe a los lectores que desde 1968 he mantenido una posición contraria al embargo de EEUU, por razones que se analizan aquí, a más de ser un partidario de los intercambios académicos y viajes a Cuba, aunque esto no ha impedido tres negativas de visa para ir a mi país de nacimiento a realizar actividades académicas, la última en 2014.

 El Ensayo Completo: Carmelo Mesa-Lago Real Instituto Elcano Normalizacion de Relaciones entre EEUU y Cuba New Picture (6)

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By: Reem Nasr

CNBC, Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Original article here: Airbnb in Cuba

Airbnb Site on Cuba

Tatiana Zuniga started to rent out rooms in her Havana home two weeks into the new year. She had never done it before, but decided, along with her family, that it would be a good way to supplement their income.

Then about three months ago, Zuniga decided to try to attract a new type of visitor—tourists from North America. She connected with Airbnb, the U.S. accommodations broker, and listed her rooms for $33 a night. “They are basically teaching us how to make this a lucrative business,” she told CNBC in a telephone interview. “We are really taught how to reach out to clients and have them come to our home, our neighborhood and our city.”

Zuniga’s rooms are booked through the beginning of June. “It’s very good to get into the North American market, and this is what they seem to be helping us to do,” she said.

“We are an Internet company, and there is a 5 percent Internet penetration in Cuba. We couldn’t expect that hosts would access the site on a daily basis.”-Molly Turner, head of civic partnerships, Airbnb

Zuniga isn’t the only one excited about attracting visitors from the north. Airbnb has taken advantage of an easing of relations between the United States and Cuba since President Barack Obama’s announcement last December that he would seek an opening of links between the countries. Changes to certain trade licenses made it possible for travel services firms, like Airbnb, to finally enter and do business in the long-forbidden Cuban market. It puts the company ahead of most U.S. firms that want to do business there.

“Cuba presented a different case for us because we’ve never launched a market before,” said Molly Turner, global head of civic partnerships at the company. “We had to adapt a lot of our system to the Cuban context.”

The San Francisco-based tech firm launched in late 2008, hoping to link renters and travelers around the world through the Internet. (It is one of Silicon Valley’s many “unicorns,” or start-ups worth more than $1 billion). Travelers can search on the site to rent entire homes or just rooms in 190 countries, most of them at a fraction of the cost of staying in a hotel.

Like many other American companies, Airbnb was banned from doing business in the communist nation until this year. But the company found early success when it launched in Cuba with 1,000 listings on April 2. A month later, it’s consistently adding more listings to the site. It took the company about three months to launch in Cuba because doing business there required a lot of due diligence, Turner said. First, the company had to get in touch with the State Department to make sure it was complying with all U.S. regulations.

“In the beginning, it wasn’t entirely clear to us how the regulations would apply,” Turner said. “We had to work collaboratively with the U.S. government, which meant regular phone calls with them to make sure everything we did was compliant with the law.”

The same applied to figuring out regulations on the Cuba side. That required sending several teams to the island to do research and meet with Cuban officials.

Hagar Chemali, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department and Office of Foreign Assets Contol , which deals with such trade issues, said that the government is doing a lot of private sector outreach to explain sanctions programs for Cuba and other countries. Interested companies should check the department’s website for more information, she said.

She wouldn’t comment on the specifics of working with Airbnb, but said, “it is very common for companies and individuals to reach out to OFAC to figure out sanctions compliance. In fact, we encourage and welcome that.”

Beyond tricky regulations, the company had to figure out how to do business in a country whose technology use lags much of the globe.

“We are an Internet company, and there is a 5 percent Internet penetration in Cuba,” Turner said. “We couldn’t expect that hosts would access the site on a daily basis.”

Because hosts use their listings on the Airbnb site to manage bookings and payments, the company had to reassess its expectations. Internet cafe culture is not big in Cuba, she explained, so people use the Internet at work to manage listings—providing they even have access on the job.

Zuniga is one of the lucky Cubans who can access the Internet at work, although she said the connection is slow. Like many others, she relies on the help of friends who have better connections at their places of work. “One always finds a way,” she said. “And I can’t miss out on the opportunity, so I try to make it work.”

Turner said that several Cuban hosts get help from friends and family in other countries to manager their online presence.

The company partnered with local payment companies that take payments from travelers made on the site, and put straight into the pockets of the hosts. “To the typical Airbnb customer, the website is no different, but we hacked the back end to make that possible,” Turner said. But Airbnb was lucky, said Turner, because it was able to capitalize on an already existing culture of Cubans who have been renting out their homes for years. The company was able to get into the market first and connect those hosts to the outside world.

“Airbnb was the perfect business at the perfect time,” she said. “If Obama’s talk had been five years ago, it would have been a different story.”

For Zuniga, using the site to list her home has been a start for her as a businesswoman—no small accomplishment for a nation where private property is largely forbidden. The company takes 3 percent of the rental fee she charges.

 5d29f7bb_original 5d592a1e_original 9cba793c_original ed044fde_originalSOME AIRBNB RENTAL ROOMS IN CUBA, from the Airbnb web site.

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