• 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."

ON TELEGRAM, CUBANS ARE COMING TOGETHER TO REVOLUTIONIZE THE INTERNET

They might loosen Washington’s tight grip with the help of a powerful ally: Google.

Original Article

By Ricardo Martínez, Rest of World, 5 May 2021 • Mexico City, Mexico

It’s April and the sun rises over Havana at 7:07 a.m. People are already sitting outside their homes chatting about the weather reports coming from a TV that caters to multiple families. Each day, 2 million Habaneros invigorate their city’s economy by running unpaid errands, selling basic goods to people who have received dollars from relatives in Miami, or getting to work for a government-fixed wage in a state-run enterprise.

Until recently, Cuba was mostly stuck in the past. But it’s changing fast. Over the past two years, increased internet access has transformed the lives of Cubans. Cuba has become home to a thriving tech scene featuring YouTubers, influencers, artists selling NFTs, filmmakers making movies about social media, and a large group of local programmers shaping the digital conversation. They gather across dozens of mobile applications, e-commerce outfits, and digital enterprises.

Erich García Cruz is one of them. He is a 34-year-old programmer and pioneering YouTuber who wakes up around 11 a.m. every morning to his two kids and wife at a home in Havana’s Santos Suárez neighborhood. He makes breakfast — and plenty of coffee — while he begins his day by checking his phone. García Cruz is lucky because he’s one of just over 4.4 million people out of Cuba’s 11 million who have accessed the internet on their mobile devices. Mobile data did not exist for the island’s inhabitants until 2019 and SIM cards cost $40, a sum an average Cuban cannot spare. The government-controlled monthly wage is just under $88. 

Cuba’s access to the internet came late compared to the rest of the world. But fast forward to 2021, and these digital pioneers are experimenting with virtual reality and toying with ideas of cyborgs. They are led by people like García Cruz and a growing tech crew of young crypto-users, AI explorers, and experimental techno DJs. They may be over 1,000 miles away from Washington, but this digital lobbying strategy is proving fruitful. It could potentially prompt companies like Google and big tech to seize the opportunity and advance their corporate interests.

While García Cruz chats over buttered toast with his family, a few blocks away, an old-fashioned radio tunes into the Communist Party-run Radio Reloj. The station provides live round-the-clock news updates. “Eleven fifteen minutes

García Cruz has been a digital entrepreneur since 2015, when the internet was barely arriving on the island. Back then, he hacked the state-controlled network through leaky internet protocols and began navigating his very own internet experience. Six years later, he knows this is only the beginning of what could be a massive economic opportunity for the island.

“There is a large segment of people in Cuba, who are seeing the internet as a platform for entertainment and one in which they can chill or simply build human connections. But I see the internet as a very powerful tool for entrepreneurship, to do business, to automate processes in real life, and to make money,” García Cruz told Rest of World. His mission is for everyone in Cuba to prosper financially from the internet instead of being glued to it as if it were a superfluous gaming console or a Facebook feed.”

Despite his optimism, García Cruz is aware of the limitations that he and millions of other internet users on the island face. They cannot fully access an array of virtual products and services provided by American companies — like Venmo or Google Earth — because of restrictions imposed by what they call “counterproductive” U.S. sanctions.

“I was born in 1986 and I never thought I would reach the point in my life where I am at now. I have achieved many things in Cuba and I’ve become an influencer,” García Cruz said. After spending years online, though, he is frustrated with the way that sanctions limit his internet experience. “It’s mind-boggling that I am personally prohibited from accessing hundreds of thousands of resources on the internet because of restrictions imposed in 1962.”

For García Cruz, the equation is simple. The only reason he can’t access a world of resources is because he is a Cuban citizen. When he tries to register for PayPal, Cuba is not among the list of accepted countries. He thinks that’s wrong — and sad. “We’re entrepreneurs, not political activists,” he said.

Unlike previous generations born under the embargo, García Cruz may hold a tool that can pry open the blockade from within the island: his fame. With almost 2.4 million video views and nearly 59,000 followers, his YouTube channel, Bachecubano, is arguably the most-watched tech channel in Cuba. His videos are also featured in the island’s iconic paquete, Cuba’s answer to pre-internet digital multimedia spread across the island through hard drives hand-delivered to subscribers.

Julio Lusson is another influencer in Cuba’s tech scene. He hosts a Telegram channel where thousands of Cubans — both on the island and across the Florida Straits — are planting the digital seeds for the 2020-born generation to reap.

“The internet is the strongest tool I have,” Lusson told Rest of World. “The internet right now means money, it’s investment – I benefit from it.” He lost his job as a DJ during the pandemic and credits the internet to his survival. Lusson hosts a YouTube channel featuring the latest in tech available to Cubans; TecnoLike Plus has over 1.6 million views and over 18,000 followers.

The Telegram group, which Lusson manages, is home to conversations all about the latest tech gadgets popular among young Cubans. They talk about products like the OnePlus Watch, the recent Apple Event, and about sending money to Cuba via ETECSA. There are long audio conversations about how best to make the most of gadgets locally. It’s a side effect of decades of scarcity; Cubans are the ultimate resourceful collaborators. 

his kind of collaboration has led to speedy innovation at scale. In February 2019, Karla Suárez and Rancel Ruana founded Bajanda, a Havana-based ride-sharing app. They launched just two months after the Cuban state internet company ETECSA made data services available to mobile users — before then, Cubans could only access the internet from city hotspots and ETECSA-run internet cafes.

“The Internet is like a Pandora’s box: once you open it, there’s no turning back,” Ruana told Rest of World. “Cubans are seeing the cases of success and saying: If someone like him can develop a ride-sharing app, why wouldn’t I be able to create an app? They are seeing it’s possible to thrive from the internet.”

In less than two years, homegrown apps that are common in most other Western countries — ranging from food delivery to ride sharing — are now available to Cubans. And though Ruana is confident about his business model, he requires better services than the ones provided by ETECSA. “We have the privilege of having home internet services called Nauta Hogar,” he said, “We are lucky to live in an area where we can get that service.”

Unlike Ruana, Adriana Heredia, another Habanera entrepreneur, runs Beyond Roots, her Afro-Cuban products enterprise, solely on mobile data. It is an extremely expensive endeavour for the young Afro-Cuban economist, who promotes Cuba’s Afro-descendant culture and builds on the heritage of 3.8 million Afro-Cubans. Internet prices are a recurrent setback for many, because the price to access the internet bears no correlation when compared to the money an average Cuban can make. Everyone wants cheaper connection prices.

In March, Lusson gauged the opinion of his more than 2,000 Telegram subscribers by asking in a poll: “Do you want the blockade to end so that more of Google’s services can be accessed in #Cuba?” Of the 431 that answered, the overwhelming majority –– 88% of votes –– responded “Yes”, 2% said “No,” and 10% chose “I don’t care!” (Most likely those members residing comfortably in the U.S.).Frustration about the internet access restrictions has boiled into action. Cuba’s tech crew is more cautious about its approach to lobbying than other politically-motivated activists. García Cruz made this clear in a March 23 Telegram message when he wrote: “Politics CANNOT be allowed to go hand in hand with ONLINE BUSINESS.”

In that same post, García Cruz went on to make a digital call-to-arms, asking fellow members of the Cuban tech crew to tweet out against the blockade that left Cubans without online payment solutions. He took special care to ask people to “TAG THE CEOS of big companies, especially @BrettPerlmutter.” The Cuban Twitter community quickly jumped on board and the hashtag #EEUUnblockMe went viral. 

The campaign was a success: Brett Perlmutter, head of Google Cuba, publicly championed it later on Twitter the next day and invited García Cruz to tell him more on 90 Miles, a podcast hosted by Susanna Kohly, co-founder of Google Cuba.

“This is something that’s very painful for me, personally,” Perlmutter told García Cruz on 90 Miles. “I’m sure it’s painful for every Cuban who lives in Cuba and has to face the reality of the fact that many internet services that are available to users around the world are not available to the Cuban people. And they’re not available by way of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, which actually censors information from reaching the hands of the Cuban people.”

Since 2015, Google, along with broader U.S. business coalitions, have been working together with Cuban entrepreneurs to cross this divide. Today, Cuba is connected to the internet thanks to a single submarine cable that runs from Venezuela to the island. Chinese telecoms giant Huawei has provided the government with the majority of the network’s infrastructure, including cell towers and 4G. 

With increased internet access, the tech crew feels their hands would suddenly be let loose to create, innovate, and prosper. Cubans — who are hackers by nature after decades of shortages —  are trusting that the internet will be their endless economic opportunity provider.

While there have been numerous efforts to normalize relations between both countries, including a September 2018 meeting in New York City between Google and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, rapprochement stalled when former president Donald Trump took office.

But Cuba’s tech crew appears to be taking an alternate route. By intensifying their contact with Google via Perlmutter, instead of looking to pressure Washington directly, their hope is that the tech giant will lobby the U.S. on their behalf. It is an effort they will have to continue pushing with the current administration; on April 16, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that President Joe Biden is not considering a change in policy towards Cuba.  

In spite of diplomatic uncertainty between the island and Washington, Google’s annual programming competition, Code Jam, is going forward uninterrupted. “It’s true that Google Code Jam is available in Cuba,” Perlmutter tweeted on March 27. His words were again picked up, disseminated, and praised by the Cuban tech crew, especially because the Head of Google in Cuba had endorsed yet another voice in the local tech scene, Rancel Ruana — the software engineer and founder of Bajanda.

“Hopefully other leaders in the tech world like you [Ruana] and Erich García can share this news,” concluded Perlmutter in his tweet. And he penned the hashtag #CubaIsACountry, which the Cuban Twitter community has made viral in recent weeks.

The pattern has been made clear: The tech crew and the Head of Google in Cuba play off each other in a digital effort to pressure leaders in the U.S. to reevaluate restrictions for the improvement of the island’s internet experience.

If the strategy were to succeed, it would be a win win for Google and local developers. Perlmutter could make his turf the biggest digital market in the Caribbean overnight, and the tech crew would suddenly have access to new content and lucrative opportunities. With the help of big tech companies and coalitions, Cuban developers and entrepreneurs could materialize the momentum they’ve quickly built and are pushing forward. They just don’t want political rhetoric to get in the way. The tech crew is pragmatic and can side with any company out there or even the Cuban government, so long as they are offered the internet access they desire.

Ruana, the software engineer at Bajanda, has never been to the United States, though he lives with the impacts of the sanctions every day. “I can’t access certain platforms. I would like for there to be a relaxation of restrictions to the average Cuban citizen, like me,” he said. 

García Cruz finally goes to bed at 3 a.m. after hours of creative flurry in front of his computer. Just three hours later, Heredia is up brewing coffee while she reaps the digital fruits of her Afro-Cuban startup. Even with its tenuous connectivity, Havana never sleeps — the tech crew can only imagine what full internet access might mean for their island’s future.

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WILL JOE BIDEN CONTINUE AMERICA’S DELUSIONAL CUBA POLICY?

An effective Cuba policy requires a realist mindset that recognizes, once and for all, Washington’s inability to impose its will on Cuba.

by William M. LeoGrande

The National Interest, May 21, 2021.

Original Article

As President Joe Biden considers what to do about Cuba, he should resist the seductive delusion embraced by so many of his predecessors that just a little more U.S. pressure will bend Cuba’s communist regime to Washington’s will. Sixty years of history is evidence to the contrary.

This delusion has a long pedigree. As relations deteriorated in 1960, U.S. Ambassador Philip Bonsal made a pitch for one last attempt at reconciliation. The terse reply from his boss, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Mann: “Our best bet is to wait for a successor regime.”

Washington has been waiting ever since. For decades, successive U.S. presidents have convinced themselves that Cuba is on the brink of collapse and tougher sanctions can push it over. Dwight Eisenhower thought that cutting off U.S. imports of Cuban sugar would roll back the revolution before the end of his term in office. John F. Kennedy thought the Bay of Pigs and the CIA’s secret war would do the trick. Lyndon Johnson hoped to strangle the Castro regime by recruiting Latin America and most of Europe to join the U.S. embargo. Richard Nixon turned a blind eye to terrorist attacks by Cuban exile groups, and Ronald Reagan ratcheted up economic sanctions and put Cuba on the terrorism list—all to no avail.

Despite repeated failures, Washington officials keep convincing themselves that the policy of pressure will work if we just keep at it. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, they were certain that Cuba would be the next communist domino. In August 1993, the CIA concluded, “There is a better than even chance that Fidel Castro’s government will fall within the next few years.” The obvious implication: there was no point in seeking reconciliation with an adversary about to collapse.

When the Cuban regime survived that depression, the rationale shifted: Fidel Castro was the linchpin holding the system together; when he died, the regime would die with him. In 2006, Fidel fell ill and transferred power to his brother Raúl Castro, leading Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state in George W. Bush’s administration, to predict the regime’s imminent end. “Authoritarian regimes are like helicopters. There are single fail point mechanisms,” he explained. “When an authoritarian leader disappears from an authoritarian regime, the authoritarian regime flounders…. That’s what we’re seeing at this moment.”

But the transition from Fidel to Raúl went smoothly, necessitating the invention of yet another rationale for U.S. policy—Venezuela. Cuba was supposedly so dependent on cheap oil from Venezuela that when the inept regime of Nicolás Maduro collapsed (as it surely would under U.S. pressure), the loss of oil would cripple the Cuban economy and bring down the regime. Yet despite a fifty percent decline in oil shipments over the past decade, the Cuban regime is still standing.

Barack Obama was the only president to say out loud what everyone else in the world has known for years—the policy of hostility is an emperor with no clothes. In announcing his new policy of engagement on December 17, 2014, Obama called the old policy, “an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests.”

Supporters of U.S. sanctions are never at a loss for creativity, however. They denounced Obama’s policy for failing to bring democracy to Cuba in the two years before President Donald Trump repudiated it, while celebrating the resumption of sanctions that have failed for sixty years. Their rationale: Cuba is (again) on the brink of collapse. Supposedly, the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the retirement of Raúl Castro (who turned out to be a much more effective leader than U.S. pundits predicted) are the one-two punch that will finally knock out communism in Cuba. If the past is any guide, the odds on this are not good.

President Joe Biden supported Obama’s opening to Cuba and promised during the 2020 campaign to resume engagement. But early signals from administration officials indicate that an internal debate is underway between those who favor returning to Obama’s policy, and those who would continue the policy of pressure, leaving many of Trump’s sanctions in place. There may be domestic political gains to be had by maintaining the status quo, but no one should pretend it will produce anything positive as foreign policy. Meanwhile, the Cuban people are the ones suffering its effects, not the Cuban government.

An effective Cuba policy requires a realist mindset that recognizes, once and for all, Washington’s inability to impose its will on Cuba. Policymakers need to give up the illusion that sanctions will produce victory, and get about the hard work of engaging with a regime that we may not like, but that is not going away any time soon.

William M. LeoGrande is Professor of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and co-author with Peter Kornbluh of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

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SECRECY, INTIMIDATION, AND CRACKING THE ‘IRON WALL’ AROUND CUBA

In this month’s Meet the Investigators, Barbara Maseda tells of the challenges of finding data and documents in Cuba, a country where journalists are threatened and harassed and where information is kept hidden away.

By Sean McGoey

May 18, 2021

Original Article: Cracking the ‘Iron Wall’

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists collaborates with hundreds of members across the world. Each of these journalists is among the best in his or her country and many have won national and global awards. Our monthly series, Meet the Investigators, highlights the work of these tireless journalists.

This month we speak with reporter Barbara Maseda, who is the director and founder of Proyecto Inventario, an open data initiative that helps journalists to find data and documents to support their reporting in Cuba, a country without transparency policies and with very poor internet access. Barbara shares valuable insights into what’s happening behind the “iron wall” that the regime has built around itself, and tells us that even though authorities actively intimidate Cuban journalists — even threatening their families — she believes it’s because the government is afraid of the power of their reporting.

Sean McGoey: Welcome back to the Meet the Investigators podcast from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. I’m your host, Sean McGoey, and I’m an editorial fellow here at ICIJ. This month, my guest is a journalist whose mission is to ensure that vital information is actually available to the public, even when the government tries to prevent that from happening.

Barbara Maseda: My name is Barbara Maseda. I’m a Cuban journalist. And I run a project called Inventario that works with data and information that is very hard to come by in a country as closed as Cuba.

McGoey: Here’s the rest of my interview with Barbara Maseda. What made you want to become an investigative journalist?

Maseda: When you grow up in a country where everything is a secret, it’s not very hard to want to uncover those types of truths that are not out there for you to get to know. When you see what our peers are accomplishing in other parts of the world, you wonder why you don’t have that in your country. And it makes you want to have that for your country, for your people.

McGoey: What are some of the challenges that journalists face trying to do their job in Cuba?

Maseda: What we had was this iron wall that was keeping the island completely isolated in terms of information from the outside world. This absolute control that the government used to have makes it very hard for journalists to have access to the bread and butter of our profession — sources who are going to give you information.

For starters, independent journalism that is not controlled by the government is illegal. You cannot register a news organization. You’re not going to be acknowledged as a reporter who wants access to a source. And if you have a whistleblower in another country, we do not have the culture or history or the condition for the emergence of this particular type of individual, who is going to give you access to something that you’re going to follow and turn into stories.

There are other countries where authoritarian regimes have a very tight grip [on] many things and treat journalists in a similar way. But I think that in the case of Cuba, it’s that the system is very cohesive, and there are no cracks in that system — or we’re starting to see some of those cracks now. It’s a problem that I think has been changing in the last few years with the emergence of the internet.

McGoey: So given those conditions that you describe, what was it like to study journalism in a country that seems to be fairly hostile to the profession?

Maseda: I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Havana, [in] the school of communication. So my degree officially says that I have a bachelor’s in journalism from a Cuban university.

But — and this happens a lot in the Cuban space — we have labels or terms that mean something very different outside of Cuba. So when you go to the school of journalism, you would expect the standard reporting skills that you learn anywhere else. And what really happens is that nobody ever tells you that your role as a journalist is to hold the Communist Party to account.

It’s the contrary, actually. You are trained to be a watchdog, but for the interests of the establishment. And if you never question any of that training, you’re gonna keep doing something for the rest of your life that is labeled as journalism, but that in practice is not working in the public interest — is not work that is holding the powerful to account.

What many people do, is you go outside of the Cuban borders and you try to get some training, or you try to get inspired by the work of others. After you spend so much time isolated, getting exposed to that kind of work can be really powerful.

Continue Reading.

Inventario’s map of clashes between police and protesters in Havana.

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LA INDUSTRIA AZUCARERA DE CUBA: ESPEJO DEL FRACASO

Desde hace 130 año no se producía en la Isla tan poca azúcar. ¿Qué hacer?

Emilio Morales, Mayo 2021 – 12:58

Original Article: La industria azucarera de Cuba

La noticia anunciada por el Gobierno cubano de que la zafra apenas alcanzó 816.000 toneladas de azúcar no constituye sorpresa alguna, sino la confirmación de que el sistema es la estampa misma del fracaso. A esta noticia hay que agregar que seguramente el azúcar comenzará a escasear en la Isla, como lo hacen ya una larga lista de alimentos y productos ausentes no solo en las tiendas en moneda nacional, sino también en las de divisas.

Lo peor de todo es que difícilmente el Gobierno tenga recursos para importar el déficit de azúcar que cubra la demanda interna del país. El régimen ha convertido al que fuera el mayor productor de azúcar del mundo en un país importador.

Sin duda, una mala noticia para una población que siente los primeros embates de una hambruna ya presente en decenas de miles de hogares.

Como suele ser costumbre, el régimen ha achacado la baja productiva al embargo de EEUU. Lo cierto es que apenas 38 centrales participaron en la zafra, lo cual representa el 24.35% del total de los centrales azucareros confiscados en 1959. La cifra de producción alcanzada en 2021 es la menor lograda en más de 130 años.

El vicepresidente de la empresa AZCUBA dijo al diario oficial Granma que los pobres resultados alcanzados en la zafra del 2021 fueron consecuencia de “la crisis económico-financiera y energética, acentuada por la intensificación del bloqueo económico, comercial y financiero del Gobierno de EEUU y los efectos de la pandemia de la COVID-19”.

Cuando en 1959 el Gobierno cubano se adueñó de la industria azucarera más poderosa del mundo a punta de pistola, sin pagar un centavo a los dueños de los 161 ingenios azucareros que fueron confiscados, nadie imaginó que 62 años después, dicha industria se fuera a convertir en un amasijo de chatarra incapaz de alcanzar los valores de producción que se obtenían cuando las zafras se hacían con trapiches.

Fidel Castro no solo robó y arruinó una industria que era la más moderna en aquel entonces, y la que más producía, sino que arruinó la vida y el futuro de millones de cubanos y la economía de un país.

¿Cómo fue posible esta galopante involución en el tiempo?

La génesis de la debacle de la industria azucarera pasa por la combinación de varios factores que han incidido en su desarrollo. En primer lugar, hay que señalar el tema de la propiedad de la tierra y la organización empresarial que rige la industria. En segundo lugar, la base legal, es decir, las leyes que hoy dan soporte al desarrollo de esa industria en la Isla. Y en tercer lugar, la falta de visión estratégica de quienes hoy dirigen la industria; en otras palabras, la falta de visión estratégica del Gobierno.

Hace un siglo Cuba era uno de los productores de azúcar más importantes en el mercado internacional. Sin embargo, el mal desempeño de su industria azucarera acumulado en los últimos 62 años de economía centralizada empujó al país a convertirse en un mercado importador de azúcar.

En 2018, la producción de azúcar en la Isla apenas llegó a 1.1 toneladas métricas. Dicha cifra representó un 16.3% menos que la producción alcanzada en 1905. La producción de 816.000 toneladas lograda en 2021 confirma claramente el impactante declive de la industria.

Figura 1. Serie histórica de la producción de azúcar (TM), 1905-2021.

Fuente:  Havana Consulting Group a partir de los datos publicados por la Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas e Información (ONEI).

Esta figura nos muestra claramente la debacle en la que se ha sumido la industria azucarera cubana en los últimos 30 años, desde que desaparecieron los mercados de la URSS y el campo socialista de Europa del Este.

En 1958 el país tenía 161 centrales funcionando a toda máquina y una fuerte presencia de inversión extranjera, sobre todo norteamericana. Del total de centrales en activo, 36 pertenecían a empresas norteamericanas, 121 estaban en manos de empresarios privados cubanos, tres eran de españoles y uno de franceses.

Para Continuar: La industria azucarera de Cuba

Reparaciones, Central Australia, Noviembre de 1994, Photos por Arch Ritter
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ANALYSIS: SOARING INTERNATIONAL PRICES AGGRAVATE CUBAN FOOD CRISIS

Reuters, May 20, 2021.

Original Article: Cuban Food Crisis

Marc Frank

Waiting. courtesy 14 y medio

Soaring international food and shipping prices and low domestic production are further squeezing import-dependent Cuba’s ability to feed its people.

Cuba traditionally imports by sea around 70% of the food it consumes, but tough U.S. sanctions and the pandemic, which has gutted tourism, have cut deeply into foreign exchange earnings.

For more than a year Cubans have endured long waiting lines and steep price rises in their search for everything from milk, butter, chicken and beans to rice, pasta and cooking oil. They have scavenged for scant produce at the market and collected dwindling World War II-style food rations. 

This month the Communist-run government announced flour availability would be cut by 30% through July.  Diorgys Hernandez, general director of the food processing ministry, said when he announced the wheat shortage that “the financial costs involved in wheat shipments to the country” were partly to blame.  That was bad news for consumers who had been buying more bread to make up for having less rice, pasta and root vegetables at the dinner table.

“People eat a lot of bread and there is concern there is going to be a shortage of bread because that is what people eat the most,” Havana pensioner and cancer survivor Clara Diaz Delgado said as she waited in a food line.

Cuba does not grow wheat due to its subtropical climate. The price of the commodity was $280 per tonne in April, compared with $220 a year earlier.

The government has also said the sugar harvest was short of the planned 1.2 million tonnes by more than 30%, coming in at less than a million tonnes for the first time in more than a century.  Cuba will have trouble making up for a shortage of domestically produced sugar as international prices are around 70% higher than a year ago.

Adding to the pain, the cost of international container shipping is up as much as 50% over the last year and bulk freight more.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported its international food price index was up 30.8% through April compared with the same month last year, and the highest since May 2014.

The Cuban state has a monopoly on foreign trade and purchases around 15% of the food it imports from the United States for cash under a 2000 exception to the trade embargo.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which follows the trade, said sales fell 36.6% last year to $163.4 million, compared with 2019. They recovered in the first quarter, reaching $69.6 million, though that represented less food due to higher prices.

Chicken, Cuba’s most important U.S. import, is badly affected. A U.S. businessman who sells chicken to Cuba said he shipped drumsticks at 24 cents a pound in January and 48 cents in April. He did not wish to be named.  “Resuming global demand, increased prices for product inputs and labor shortages suggest that commodity prices will not decrease soon,” Kavulich said.

The economy declined 11% last year and according to local economists contracted further during the first trimester of 2021 as a surge in the new coronavirus kept tourism shuttered and much of the country partially locked-down.  The government reported that foreign exchange earnings were just 55% of planned levels last year, while imports fell between 30% and 40%.

Incoming container traffic was down 20% through April, compared with last year, according to a source with access to the data, who requested anonymity.

The government has not published statistics for the notoriously inefficient and rustic agricultural sector since 2019 but scattered provincial and other reports on specific crops and livestock indicate substantial declines for rice, beans, pork, dairy and other Cuban fare.  This was confirmed by a local expert who requested anonymity and said output was down by double digits due to a lack of fuel and imported fertilizer and pesticides.

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CUBA DEPLOYS HOMEGROWN COVID JABS BEFORE REGULATORS GIVE GO-AHEAD

Daily U.K. News, 14 May, 2021

DUK Editor Team

Original Article: Cuba deploys homegrown Covid jabs

Cuba has begun a mass Covid-19 vaccination drive using two homegrown shots before they have full regulatory approval, after declaring a health emergency as cases surge.

The government said it aimed to vaccinate the entire adult population with its Abdala and Soberana 2 shots. The programme began in Havana on Wednesday for residents aged 60 years or older, with frontline workers in other provinces also receiving the vaccines.

The Pan American Health Organization said this week that Cuba was driving most new Covid-19 infections in the Caribbean. Although case rates in the communist-ruled nation have been low by international standards, it recorded its worst month for infections in April since the pandemic began, with 31,346 cases and 229 deaths among its 11m population. The number has continued to creep up this month.

José Angel Portal Miranda, public health minister, said he expected full approval for both vaccines in June but that Cuban law allowed the step to be bypassed in an emergency. “This makes it possible to initiate intervention in risk groups and territories with Cuban vaccine candidates,” he said after announcing the emergency last Friday.

Abdala’s phase 3 trials — the final stage before regulatory approval is normally sought — ended on May 1 while those for Soberana 2 will be completed this weekend. More than 300,000 Cubans have been vaccinated to date, including trial participants and frontline workers.

Cuban health authorities say both shots have proved safe and highly effective but have not released trial data.

Cuba opted not to join the World Health Organization-backed Covax vaccine procurement facility or accept jabs from allies such as Russia and China. The island nation has been manufacturing vaccines for years and authorities cite long experience and a policy of not depending on others as behind the decision.

A scientist works on the Abdala vaccine at a Havana biotechnology centre © Ramon Espinosa/AP

All but bankrupted by US economic sanctions and the Covid-induced crisis, Cuba is suffering its worst economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago. The economy declined 11 per cent last year and local economists said it continued to lose ground during the first quarter as the pandemic crippled tourism, which accounts for about 11 per cent of gross domestic product.

Both of Cuba’s vaccines require two doses, and a third booster shot has been added to combat new variants of the virus.

Portal Miranda said 70 per cent of the population would be vaccinated by September and the remainder by the end of the year.

Patients and medics preparing for vaccination on Wednesday expressed confidence in the programme. Physiotherapist Vladimir Lahenes did not believe Abdala, named after a famous poem by national revolutionary hero José Martí, which he was about to receive in the Havana municipality of Playa de Este, would prove unsafe or ineffective.

“Here there’s lots of experience with Cuban vaccines. Everyone knows, everyone is confident,” he said.

Family doctor Yolanda, who asked that her full name not be used, said she had been preparing for weeks. “I have been giving Cuban vaccines forever. I’m already vaccinated and very glad my patients will now be too,” she said.

Eduardo Martínez Díaz, president of BioCubaFarma, the state pharmaceutical monopoly, said last week that Cuba “will probably be the first country to immunise its entire population with its own vaccine”.

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CUBA SUGAR HARVEST PILES ON ECONOMIC WOES

Reuters , May 10, 2021 9:18PM EDT

Original Article: Cuba’s Sugar Harvest

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, May 10 (Reuters) – With Cuba’s sugar harvest poised to draw to a close as the coronavirus pandemic rages, production stands at little more than two-thirds of planned levels, an industry official said on Monday, indicating the smallest crop in more than a century.

In yet another blow to the ailing Cuban economy, Jose Carlos Santos Ferrer, first vice president of state sugar monopoly AZCUBA, told the state Cuban News Agency that as of end-April, production had reached 68% of the Communist-run country’s plan. With the planned target announced earlier this year as 1.2 million tonnes of raw sugar, that means a harvest of 816,000 tonnes – the lowest since 1908.

The harvest was also hit hard by a shortage of foreign exchange to purchase fuel, agricultural inputs and spare parts due to the COVID-19 pandemic and fierce U.S. sanctions. Mills were temporarily shuttered due to fuel and cane shortages, as well as COVID-19 outbreaks, Santos Ferrer said.

Cuba consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes of sugar a year domestically and has an agreement to sell China 400,000 tonnes annually. It was not clear if authorities planned to cut domestic consumption, exports to China or both.

Cuba’s sugar harvest begins in November and usually winds down by May, when yields plummet as the summer heat and rainy season set in. Even if the country manages to reach 900,000 tonnes of raw sugar, that would still mark the lowest since 1908.

Cuba’s output has averaged around 1.4 million tonnes of raw sugar over the last five years, compared with an industry high of 8 million tonnes in 1989.

While no longer a top export, and behind other foreign revenue earners such as medical services, tourism, remittances and nickel, sugar still brings Cuba hundreds of millions of dollars a year from exports, including derivatives. It’s also used to produce energy, alcohol and animal feed at home.

Like other industries, agriculture and cane cultivation face structural problems in the import-dependent command economy which the government is only just addressing.

Over the last six months it has adopted monetary and other market-oriented reforms, but these will take time to kick in.

Cuban economist Ricardo Torres said the measures established a minimum base to relaunch the sugar sector, but were not nearly enough.  “As the overall reform progresses, new opportunities will emerge for the sector, but it requires a fresh look to begin the recovery, possibly with outside advice,” he said.

Cuba’s economy shrank 11% last year and continued its decline through April, local economists said, as a COVID-19 surge gutted tourism and combined with shortages of even the most basic goods to hit retail sales and agriculture in general, as well as sugar.

“The results are not good and we are at the start of the rainy season which effectively ends the harvest,” a local sugar expert said, confirming the country would not reach a million tonnes for the first time in over a century and requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to talk with journalists.

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USAID IN CUBA: CODE NAMES AND COUNTER SURVEILLANCE

TRACEY EATON | MAY 10, 2021

Original Article: USAID in Cuba

For decades now, the U.S. government has carried out democracy projects aimed at undermining Cuba’s socialist government. One deal that has always intrigued me was the $15.5 million, three-year contract awarded to Creative Associates International in October 2008. The fact that Creative Associates ran the program from a secret base in Costa Rica added to the allure.
In 2014, the Associated Press scooped everyone with revelations that Creative Associates had set up a secret Cuban Twitter. USAID protested the story. Still, the AP report triggered a flurry of interest and an Office of Inspector General investigation soon followed.
But ZunZuneo was only the tip of the iceberg, making up $1.7 million of the $5.3 million in projects that Creative Associates funded. A review of 22 Creative Associates reports from 2008 to 2012 provides fresh insight into the NGO’s sprawling program and illustrates its dogged efforts to recruit young people and members of Cuba’s counterculture.
“Travelers” and “consultants” from at least 10 different countries in the Americas and Europe took part in the program. Projects and people were identified by code. USAID sent in supplies using via diplomatic mail service, coordinating closely with the embassy staff.
Download the Creative Associates documents here. Some of the details I found interesting are below:

Continue Reading:  USAID in Cuba

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New Publication, CUBAN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AT 60

Reflections on Global Connections

Edited by Mervyn J. Bain and Chris Walker – Contributions by Mervyn J. Bain; Jeffrey DeLaurentis; H. Michael Erisman; Liliana Fernández Mollinedo; Adrian Hearn; Rafael Hernández; John M. Kirk; Peter Kornbluh; William LeoGrande; Robert L. Muse; Isaac Saney; Paolo Spadoni; Josefina Vidal and Chris Walker

Cuban International Relations at 60 brings together the perspectives of leading experts and the personal accounts of two ambassadors to examine Cuba’s global engagement and foreign policy since January 1959 by focusing on the island’s key international relationships and issues. Thisbook’s first section focuseson Havana’s complex relationship with Washington and its second section concentrates on Cuba’s other key relationships with consideration also being given to Cuba’s external trade and investment sectors and the possibility of the island becoming a future petro-power. Throughout this study due attention is given to the role of history and Cuban nationalism in the formation of the island’s unique foreign policy. This book’s examination and reflection on Cuba as an actor on the international arena for the 60 years of the revolutionary period highlights the multifaceted and complex reasons for the island’s global engagement. It concludes that Cuba’s global presence since January 1959 has been remarkable for a Caribbean island, is unparalleled, and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Scholars of international relations, Latin American studies, and political science n will find this book particularly interesting.

Lexington Books

Pages: 306 • Trim: 6 x 9

978-1-7936-3018-6 • Hardback • May 2021 • $110.00 • (£85.00)

978-1-7936-3019-3 • eBook • May 2021 • $45.00 • (£35.00) (coming soon)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Reflections on Cuba’s Global Connections (1959-2019)

Mervyn J. Bain and Chris Walker.

Part I: Cuban – U.S. Relations

Chapter 1 The Process of Rapprochement Between Cuba and the United States: Lessons Learnt. Remarks at the “The Cuban Revolution at 60” conference. Dalhousie University, Halifax, October 31, 2019.  Josefina Vidal

Chapter 2 US-Cuban Relations: Personal Reflections. Remarks by Ambassador (ret.) Jeffrey DeLaurentis. Saturday, November 2, 2019  Jeffrey DeLaurentis

Chapter 3 Coercive Diplomacy or Constructive Engagement: Sixty Years of US Policy Toward Cuba.  William LeoGrande

Chapter 4 The President has the Constitutional Power to Terminate the Embargo.  Robert L. Muse

Chapter 5 [Re]Searching for the ‘Havana Syndrome’.  Peter Kornbluh

Chapter 6 From Eisenhower to Trump: A Historical Summary of the US-Cuba Conflict (1959-2020).  Liliana Fernández Mollinedo

Part II: Cuba on the Global Stage

Chapter 7 Cuba is Africa, Africa is Cuba.  Isaac Saney

Chapter 8 Cuba-Canada Relations: Challenges and Prospects.  John Kirk

Chapter 9 Cuba-China Relations and the Construction of Socialism.  Adrian H. Hearn and Rafael Hernández

Chapter 10 Cuba-European Union Relations. A Complex and Multifaceted Relationship.  Liliana Fernández Mollinedo and Mervyn J. Bain

Chapter 11 Havana and Moscow; Now, the Future and the Shadow of the Past.  Mervyn J. Bain

Chapter 12 Havana and Caracas: Counter-Hegemonic Cooperation and the Battle for Sovereignty. Chris Walker

Chapter 13 Cuba’s Struggling External Sector: Internal Challenges and Outside Factors.  Paolo Spadoni

Chapter 14 Cuba as a Petropower? Foreign Relations Implications. H. Michael Erisman

Conclusions: Reflections on Cuba’s Global Connections.  Mervyn J. Bain and Chris Walker

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CINCO ASPECTOS PARA ENTENDER LA DEVALUACIÓN DEL PESO CUBANO

By Pavel Vidal, Profesor de la Universidad Javeriana Cali y ex analista del Banco Central de Cuba

Por ahora los errores que se aprecian en el ordenamiento parecen ubicarse dentro del margen esperado, dado el tamaño de la devaluación y las características propias que la corrección de precios relativos tiene en Cuba.

April 26, 2021

Hyperlink to Original Article: Devaluación del Peso Cubano

La devaluación de la tasa de cambio oficial del peso cubano a partir del primero de enero de 2021 es la medida crucial de la reforma monetaria. Ello permite avanzar en la unificación cambiaria, facilita la salida del peso convertible (CUC) de circulación y genera un cambio de precios relativos que promueve la transparencia financiera y reorienta los incentivos económicos a favor de decisiones más eficientes en las familias, las empresas y el gobierno. Estos efectos se potencian con el aumento de los salarios, la rebaja de subsidios y las nuevas reformas estructurales que comienzan a ponerse en práctica.

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Para continuar: Devaluación

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