• 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."

CUBA: CARTERA DE OPORTUNIDADES DE INVERSION EXTRANJERA, 2017-2018

MINCEX, November 2017

Original Document: MINCEX:  CARTERA DE OPORTUNIDADES DE INVERSION EXTRANJERA 2017-2018

Great opportunities for foreign investors in Cuba!

After nationalizing all foreign investment as well as domestic private enterprise – right down to the street vendors and shoe shine boys in the 1960 to 1968 period –  Cuba is now  courting foreign investors.

Here is the current document from MINCEX listing the possiblde investment opportunities for foreign enterprises,. It was sent courtesy of Jose Luis Rodriguez, (former Minister of Economics and Planning, former Director and currently with the CENTRO DE ESTUDIOS SOBRE LA ECONOMIA MUNDIA).

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CUBA STUDY GROUP Press Release: STATEMENT ON THE NEW CUBA REGULATIONS

Original Here: THE NEW CUBA REGULATIONS

November 9, 2017

The regulations announced on November 8 2017 are highly counterproductive.

Instead of supporting the Cuban private sector, as the administration has stated, new travel rules harm Cuban entrepreneurs and their employees by making it more difficult for individual Americans to visit the island and patronize their businesses. Rather than deal a lasting blow to the Cuban military, the ban on U.S. interaction with 180 Cuban state enterprises imposes unwieldly, and arguably unenforceable, regulatory burdens on U.S. citizens. More generally, these measures represent a setback to the broader process of normalization, which continues to be overwhelmingly popular with both the U.S. and Cuban people.

The Cuba Study Group disagrees, in particular, with the Trump administration’s decision to ban non-academic educational and individual people-to-people travel. The free flow of people, ideas, information, and goods helps, rather than hinders, the cause of meaningful reform on the island. Moreover, U.S. travelers frequent privately-owned rooms and other small businesses at a higher rate than visitors from any other country. President Trump’s measures will therefore hit the island’s private sector hardest, not the government, as tourists from other countries will continue to patronize state-owned companies and hotels.

Raúl Castro is slated to step down from the presidency in early 2018. At the same time, the country’s internal economic agenda has stagnated, and Hurricane Irma just devastated wide swaths of the island’s northern coast.

At this juncture of uncertainty and transition, it is in the best interest of the United States to remain engaged as the island confronts multiple challenges. By providing the Cuban government an excuse to revive a siege mentality, the Trump administration’s policies ultimately favor those in Cuba in a position to benefit most from the status quo where essential economic and political reforms continue to be neglected. As in the pre-normalization era, the Cuban people, and not the Cuban government, will most keenly feel the results.

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TRUMP’S NEW CUBA SANCTIONS MISS THEIR MARK

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BY WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE | NOVEMBER 9, 2017

Original Article: SANCTIONS MISS THEIR MARK

REGULATIONS ON TRAVEL AND TRADE WILL LIKELY HAVE LITTLE IMPACT ON CUBA’S GOVERNMENT, HURTING ORDINARY CUBANS INSTEAD.

After two years of restored diplomatic ties, new U.S. regulations on Cuba are bringing back a thicket of travel, financial and trade restrictions – and a tougher stance toward the island. The goal of these restrictions, according to U.S. President Donald Trump, is to starve the Cuban government of money from travel, remittances and commercial ties. But the real victims of the new sanctions will be U.S. residents whose right to travel is curtailed, Cuban families who depend on remittances to survive, the struggling Cuban private sector, and U.S. businesses that will face an even greater disadvantage competing with Asian and European firms.

The regulations issued by the Treasury and Commerce Departments on Nov. 8 re-impose significant limits on educational travel to Cuba that former President Barack Obama relaxed. They also redefine “prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba” expansively, potentially cutting off remittances to hundreds of thousands of Cuban families. Finally, they prohibit anyone subject to U.S. jurisdiction from engaging in any “direct financial transactions” with entities controlled by the Cuban military or security forces that “disproportionately benefits” those entities.

All this marks the implementation of new sanctions Trump announced on June 16, 2017, at a Cuban American rally in Miami. The sanctions were mandated by the National Security Presidential Memorandum the president signed onstage, and included several major changes to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), which spell out the operational details of the U.S. embargo.

Educational travel

In January 2011, Obama relaxed restrictions that former President George W. Bush had imposed on educational exchanges with Cuba – restrictions so onerous they eliminated most U.S. study abroad programs. Trump’s new regulations re-impose the Bush era restrictions, albeit with some exceptions for students accompanied by a representative of their U.S. academic institution. When combined with the State Department’s Sept. 29 travel warning advising people not to visit Cuba at all because of the injuries suffered by two dozen personnel at the U.S. embassy, the new restrictions on educational travel could drastically reduce U.S. study abroad in Cuba, which had been on the upswing since 2014.

U.S. visitors traveling under the “people-to-people” educational license (for educational travel not leading to an academic degree) can no longer travel on their own. They must now travel with organized groups under the auspices of a U.S.-based, licensed travel provider. Obama had lifted the group travel requirement in March 2016, providing an immediate boon to Cuba’s emerging private sector because individual travelers are much more likely to stay at private B&Bs (casas particulares), eat in private restaurants (paladares), take private taxis, and hire private guides. Most organized groups are too large for private rentals and thus have to be booked into government-owned hotels. Consequently, although Trump’s policy purports to boost Cuba’s private sector, the prohibition on individualized people-to-people travel hits the private sector hardest.

Although Cuban private businesses may suffer, the new travel regulations are not likely to put a huge dent in the number of U.S. visitors. The volume of travelers from the United States jumped dramatically in 2015, up 77 percent over 2014, after Obama and Cuba’s President Raúl Castro announced their intention to normalize relations in December 2014. This surge occurred before Obama ended the prohibition on individualized “people-to-people” travel. U.S. visitors are far more likely to be deterred by the State Department’s travel warning. Even then, a significant decline in U.S. visitors will not do serious damage to the Cuban tourist industry, which hosted four million foreign visitors in 2016 and is on track to host 4.7 million this year, of which only seven percent were non-Cuban American U.S. visitors.

Remittances

The new regulations redefine “prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba” to include all employees of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and Ministry of the Interior, thousands of ordinary Cubans who volunteer as leaders of their local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, as well as senior government and party officials. The previous regulatory definition of prohibited officials, put into place by Obama in October 2016, was limited to members of the Council of Ministers and flag officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The new definition encompasses hundreds of thousands of people, since the armed forces manage a significant number of commercial enterprises such as the Gaviota hotel chain and TRD Caribe retail stores, especially in the fast-growing tourism sector.

Cubans who are “prohibited” are not allowed to receive payments from U.S. nationals. That includes remittances and gift packages (Cuban Assets Control Regulations,  §515.570), so the new regulations could potentially deprive hundreds of thousands of Cuban families of support from their relatives abroad. However, the actual impact is harder to predict. There is no way to enforce this prohibition since the U.S. government does not have a list of all the people covered in the expanded definition. Moreover, Cuban Americans can carry funds and gift packages to family when they travel or can wire funds through third countries, just as they did in 1994 when former U.S. President Bill Clinton tried, unsuccessfully, to cut off remittances to punish Cuba for the balsero (rafters) migration crisis.

Apart from whether the new prohibition proves effective, it would seem to run counter to the purported aim of Trump’s policy to empower the Cuban people by directing U.S. funds to them, rather than to the Cuban government. Remittances are by far best way to do that because the dollars go directly to family on the island.

Transactions with military-linked enterprises

The most complex regulatory change is the prohibition on engaging in any “direct financial transactions” with businesses controlled by the Cuban military or security forces if they “disproportionately benefit” those forces. This is a potentially significant prohibition because the Cuban armed forces ministry administers commercial holding companies involved in everything from banking and port management to hotels and retail sales. The presence of military enterprises is greatest in the tourist sector, where both U.S. visitors and U.S. companies are most likely to encounter them.

The U.S. Department of State was tasked with creating a list of prohibited enterprises, which it released along with the new regulations. The list includes 180 entities, 58 percent of which are in the tourist sector, including 84 hotels – by far the largest category of businesses included. Some of the entities listed are holding companies for hundreds of retail outlets, but U.S. travelers and companies can still do business with subsidiaries of prohibited entities so long as the subsidiaries themselves are not specifically listed. Quite reasonably, the State Department took the view that it could not expect travelers to know which retail outlets might be subsidiaries of prohibited entities unless they were specifically named.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Representative Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who were the intellectual authors of the ban on transactions with military-linked enterprises, complained that the State Department’s list was not inclusive enough because “bureaucrats” were “refusing” to carry out Trump’s policy. Rubio wanted to see the entire Cuban tourist sector put off-limits because the Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero Cruz, is a former military officer. According to Rubio, that means the entire sector is controlled by the armed forces.

The Cuban government was not happy with the sanctions either. Josefina Vidal, Director General for U.S. Affairs in the Foreign Ministry, said the new measures “confirm the serious regress of bilateral relations as a result of the decisions adopted by the government of the President Donald Trump,” and called some of them “subversive.”

In truth, the impact of these sanctions on commercial relations with Cuba is likely to be limited. The Cuban government, adept at coping with U.S. hostility for the past half century, may feel the pinch, but it can look elsewhere for trade partners and tourists. Also, in order to avoid disrupting ongoing business relationships, the new regulations exempt existing contracts from the prohibition on doing business with military-linked enterprises. So, for example, Marriott-Starwood Hotels’ contract to manage hotels owned by holding companies administered by the armed forces ministry is not affected by the new regulations. Moreover, even future contracts will be allowed with military-linked businesses involving ports, airports, and telecommunications, which are the three sectors in which most U.S. businesses (cruise ship lines, airlines, and cell phone companies) now operate.

On balance, the regulatory burden falls most heavily on U.S. academic institutions, whose study abroad programs in Cuba will be curtailed; on U.S. travelers who can no longer travel by themselves on a people-to-people educational license; on Cuban-Americans whose families on the island who will no longer be eligible to receive remittances and gift packages; and on U.S. businesses that may want to sell goods to Cuba in sectors where their counterparts are commercial enterprises managed by the armed forces ministry.

The Cubans who will suffer most are small business owners, suppliers, and employees who cater to individual U.S. travelers; employees of state firms managed by the armed forces ministry and their families, who may lose remittances and gifts; and Cubans who might have found employment with U.S. companies whose potential business deals are now blocked.

The Cuban state will suffer only marginally from Trump’s new sanctions – certainly not enough to force it into the sorts of concessions Washington demands.

 

 

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CUBA AFTER CASTRO: THE COMING ELECTIONS AND A HISTORIC CHANGING OF THE GUARD

World Politics Review, October 17, 2017.

 William M. LeoGrande

Historic “Changing of the Guard”: Raul Castro to Miguel Diaz-Canel

On Nov. 26, Cubans will go to the polls to elect delegates to 168 municipal assemblies, the first step in an electoral process that will culminate next February when the National Assembly, Cuba’s parliament, will select a new president. In 2013, when Raul Castro pledged not to seek a third term, he also imposed a two-term limit for all senior government and Communist Party leadership positions.  That means the succession will replace not only Castro but almost all the remaining members of the “historical generation” who fought to overthrow Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship in 1959.

The changing of the guard comes at a delicate political moment. Castro’s ambitious economic reform program, the “updating” of the economy, is still a work in progress and has yet to significantly raise the standard of living of most Cubans. Moreover, it is encountering resistance from state and party bureaucrats who are loath to lose control over the levers of economic power and the perks those provide.

The economy has also been struggling because of declining oil shipments from Venezuela, which sells oil to Cuba at subsidized prices, helping to ease Cuba’s chronic shortage of hard currency. The political and economic chaos engulfing Venezuela has caused oil production to decline, and shipments to Cuba are running 13 percent below last year and 37 percent below their peak in 2008. The resulting energy shortage has forced Cuba to impose drastic conservation measures and pushed the economy into a mild recession last year.

In September, Cuba’s economic woes were exacerbated when Hurricane Irma came ashore, inflicting several billion dollars’ worth of damage as it tracked along the north coast before turning toward the Florida Keys. The storm hit some of Cuba’s most lucrative tourist resorts, cutting into the one sector of the economy that has enjoyed sustained growth in recent years. Most of the major hotels predicted they would reopen for business quickly, but the storm did enormous damage to the power grid, leaving large swaths of central Cuba in darkness.

Popular discontent over the economy and impatience with the slow pace of improvement are both running high. In an independent opinion poll taken in late 2016, 46 percent of Cubans rated the nation’s economic performance as poor or very poor, 35 percent rated it as fair, and only 13 percent rated it as good or excellent. Solid majorities reported not seeing much economic progress in recent years for the country or themselves, and they had low expectations for the future.

The economy is not Cubans’ only source of anxiety. With the election of Donald Trump, Havana’s relations with Washington entered a period of uncertainty. In his speech to Cuban Americans on June 16 in Miami, Trump blasted the Cuban government as a murderous dictatorship, echoing the Cold War rhetoric of regime change. Although the new economic sanctions Trump imposed were surprisingly mild—the result of intense lobbying by the U.S. business community—the prospects for improved relations and expanded commercial ties look dim in the near term.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision to withdraw nonessential from the U.S. embassy in Havana in the wake of mysterious health problems among nearly two dozen staff and family members, the expulsion of most Cuban diplomats from Washington, and the State Department’s decision to issue a travel advisory warning U.S. residents not to travel to Cuba, pushed relations to a low point not seen since December 2014, when then-President Barack Obama’s normalization process began.

Cuba’s new post-Castro leaders will therefore face an imposing array of problems, and they will have to answer to a population that has become more vocal in expressing its discontent. The expansion of internet access, the ability of Cubans to travel abroad without state permission and Raul Castro’s own calls for more open debate about Cuba’s problems have fueled an increasingly robust public sphere.

As the leadership transition gets under way, First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is the likely successor to Raul Castro as president, but little is known about this party veteran’s real views. Until recently, he kept a low profile, but even as his public visibility has increased, his speeches have simply reiterated well established policy, providing little insight into his own thinking.

Continue Reading:

Historic Changing of the Guard

 

Miguel Diaz-Canel

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THE TROUBLE WITH CUBA’S NEW ECONOMY

Why economic opening on the island has been slower  –  and less effective  –  than many hoped.

BY WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE

America’s Quarterly, Cuba’s New Economy, 11 October 2017,

 When Raúl Castro steps down as Cuba’s president in February 2018, he will hand off to his successor the unfinished task of reforming the economy. It is Cuba’s most urgent need and, at the same time, an increasingly controversial one.

Castro succeeded his brother Fidel as president in 2008 amid serious structural economic problems on the island. State salaries were inadequate to cover basic needs, productivity in state enterprises was weak, and foreign reserves were chronically low. Agricultural production was so poor that Cuba had to import 80 percent of its food at a cost of $2 billion annually. The dual currency and exchange rate system produced severe distortions in the labor market and external sector.

Three years later, the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba endorsed the Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution, a document of 313 economic objectives comprising Castro’s plan to “update” the economy. In it, Castro was unsparing in his criticism of the hyper-centralized economic system imported from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. The key problem was low productivity. “No country or person can spend more than they have,” he reminded his comrades. “Two plus two is four. Never five, much less six or seven – as we have sometimes pretended.”

The Guidelines were a blueprint for a new economic policy in which the state’s role would be restricted to strategic sectors, leaving the rest to private enterprise and cooperatives. Decision-making would be decentralized to give managers greater authority, and state enterprises would be required to operate profitably or close. Wage incentives would reward productivity, and market mechanisms would balance supply and demand. Foreign investment would be actively sought. The social programs emblematic of the revolution – free health care and education – would continue, and no one would be left behind.

The pace of change had been intentionally deliberate – “without haste, but without pause,” in Castro’s oft-repeated phrase. But recent signals indicate the reforms may be stalled and that some of Cuba’s leaders are having doubts. At the Seventh Communist Party Congress in 2016, Castro reported that only 21 percent of the guidelines adopted in 2011 had been fully implemented.

The process of rationalizing state enterprises, which produce about three-quarters of GDP, has been especially slow. In April 2010, Castro noted that a million state sector workers – 20 percent of the labor force – were employed unproductively. By 2015, the state labor force had been reduced by 718,000 people and 15 percent of state enterprises had been closed. Nevertheless, productivity remained low and a significant number of firms still operated in deficit.

As workers were laid off from state enterprises, the private sector was expected to provide alternative employment. Although self-employment (cuentapropismo) was first legalized in the 1980s, it was not until Castro’s new economic policy that the state accepted the private businesses and cooperatives as a permanent part the economy. By 2017, some 543,000 people had self-employment licenses, operating a variety of small businesses.

The Seventh Party Congress promised to give private businesses legal status, but the National Assembly has yet to make good on it. Instead, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. In July 2017, Castro criticized the private sector for tax evasion and black-marketeering, though he insisted that private enterprise would remain a permanent part of the economic landscape. On Aug. 1, however, the government suspended the issuance of new licenses for some private occupations, including the most popular – private restaurants (paladares) and bed and breakfast rentals (casas particulares). A number of successful, high-profile businesses were closed for violating their licenses. More ominously, in a private Communist Party meeting, First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Castro’s likely successor, accused some private businesses of being counter-revolutionary.

Ideological suspicion has also hampered Cuba’s search for foreign direct investment (FDI). In 2014, Cuba adopted a new FDI law with competitive tax rates and concessions, hoping to attract $2 billion in FDI annually. By the end of 2016, however, only $1.3 billion had been approved in total. The problem was interminable bureaucratic delays in the approval of proposed projects. “It is necessary to overcome, once and for all, the obsolete mentality of prejudices toward foreign investment,” Castro insisted. “We must rid ourselves of unfounded fears of foreign capital.”

The most difficult task that Cuba’s new president will inherit is the unification of the dual currency and exchange rates. State sector employees are paid an average monthly wage of 779 Cuban pesos (CUP), which is insufficient for a decent standard of living. Convertible pesos (CUC) exchange 1-to-1 with the U.S. dollar and 24-to-1 with the CUP. Some Cubans have access to CUC through remittances or through work in the tourist sector (from tips), the private sector, in joint ventures, or work abroad. The imbalance drives highly skilled professionals out of the state sector and into low-skill jobs paying higher wages in CUCs – what Cubans call the “inverted pyramid.” Among state enterprises, half a dozen different exchange rates between CUPs and CUCs are in effect, ranging from 1-to-1 to 10-to-1, creating disincentives to export at a time when Cuba suffers from chronic balance of payments shortfalls and inadequate foreign reserves.

The government has been promising monetary unification since 2013, but implementation keeps getting delayed. The task is complex, and will reverberate through the economy with effects that are not entirely predictable. The government has little margin for error; it has no significant foreign reserves to cushion dislocations and no access to assistance from international financial institutions. Moreover, Cuba currently faces other serious economic challenges: the decline in shipments of cheap oil from Venezuela; the unprecedented damage from Hurricane Irma; and the unpredictability of relations with the United States.

Finally, while the reform process has had limited success stimulating growth, it has produced a noticeable rise in inequality, price increases that outpace wage growth, and rumblings of political discontent. When food prices surged in 2015-16, the state stepped in, imposing price controls. It did the same to taxi drivers, some of whom resisted by stopping work. The message, Castro made clear, was that markets had a role to play in the new economic policy, but a strictly regulated one, subordinate to political exigencies.

Formidable challenges await Cuba’s new president. He or she will have to hold together a shaky elite coalition behind the economic reform process, push the needed changes through a reluctant bureaucracy while maintaining economic stability, and simultaneously navigate the political shoals of popular discontent over a stagnant standard of living and growing inequality. At stake is nothing less than the future of Cuban socialism.

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)

 

“ACTUALIZANDO” (UPDATING) THE Cuban Economy: An Immense Task

Cuba’s unsung heroes! Professional and amateur car mechanics, keeping the economy ticking over.

Maintenance and repairs: urgent everywhere.

Coffee imports from Vietnam in a quasi-“dollar” store. Cuba provided technical assistance to Vietnam’s coffee sector in the 1970s. Now Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer while Cuba’s coffee production has plummeted.

Photos by Arch Ritter, March 2014

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“IT’S OVER”: HOW I CAPTURED CHE GUEVARA. Fifty years on, Gary Prado Salmón recalls the guerrilla leader’s final hours in Bolivia.

By Clare Hargreaves

‘It’s over’: How I captured Che Guevara“, Financial Times Magazine, 6 October 2017.  (Gated paywall, but with limited access when registered.)

Courtesy of Larry Willmore and his Blog “Thought du Jour” (TdJ)
To visit the TdJ weblog, go to: http://larrywillmore.net/blog/ — To receive TdJ emails, go to: http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/thought_du_jour/join and follow instructions.

October 8th was the 50th anniversary of the capture of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in Bolivia. General Gary Prado Salmón, who was the last person to speak with Che, recalls those final hours in an interview with a Financial Times columnist.

*** I [Gary Prado] asked him [Che]: ‘Why did you come to Bolivia? One of the things you say in your book on guerrilla warfare is that if any country has a democratic government, even with some problems, it’s very difficult to foment revolution there.’ (We had a democratic government in Bolivia — President René Barrientos had been elected one year earlier — and we had a parliament, a free press and so on.) He didn’t reply, so I asked again …. He said: ‘It wasn’t just my decision, it was a decision taken on other levels.’ ‘What levels? Fidel?’ I asked. ‘Other levels,’ …. Of course, it was clear the comand had come from Cuba.

I asked him if he’d heard about the national revolution we’d had in Bolivia in 1952 and he said, ‘Yes, I was here.’ So I asked: ‘Why did you come here to offer people land when we’ve had a very profound land reform already? That’s why no peasants are joining your movement.’ He replied: ‘Yes, we were wrong about that, we had the wrong information.’
[…]
As for Che’s achievements, he committed a lot of mistakes here as a guerrilla leader. He contradicted everything he’d written in his books. That’s what led him to fail. …. He was good at theory but when the chance came to practise his ideas [in Bolivia], he was a total failure.”

Gary Prado Salmón (born 1938) was a captain in Bolivia’s elite US-trained 2nd Ranger battalion. He is author of The Defeat of Che Guevara: Military Response to Guerrilla Challenge in Bolivia (Praeger, 1990) and now teaches international relations at a private university (UTEPSA) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

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IS TRUMP USING ‘HEALTH ATTACKS’ ON US DIPLOMATS IN HAVANA AS AN EXCUSE TO PUNISH CUBA?

Published in The Conversation, October 4, 2017

Original article: An excuse to punish Cuba?

By William M. LeoCrande

In a blow to diplomatic relations with Cuba, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Oct. 3 ejected 15 Cuban diplomats from the United States. The expulsion follows his withdrawal of most U.S. personnel from the embassy in Havana after 22 American diplomats and family members there suffered unexplained health problems.

Last November, some U.S. personnel in Havana began experiencing a range of symptoms, including hearing impairment, nausea, dizziness and mild cognitive impairment. The people affected first and most severely were intelligence officers, but later victims held a variety of positions in the U.S. Embassy. Several Canadian diplomats were also affected.

The United States informed the Cuban government of these incidents on Feb. 17, 2017. Four days later, Cuban President Raúl Castro met with then U.S. Charge d’Affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis and, pledging full cooperation, invited the FBI to investigate.

So far, though, the investigation has been unable to determine the perpetrator or motivebehind the mysterious attacks. Nearly a year after the first incidents, nobody even knows how the attacks were carried out. U.S. officials initially blamed some sort of sophisticated sonic weapon, but scientists have questioned whether sound waves alone could have produced the reported symptoms.

In this context, withdrawing U.S. personnel is arguably a reasonable precaution. But, in my view, expelling Cuban diplomats despite Cuba’s cooperation in the investigation is baseless and counterproductive. During the 40 years I’ve studied U.S.-Cuban relations, domestic politics, rather than foreign policy interests, have often driven U.S. policy, and I believe that’s what is happening now.

Sentence first, trial afterwards

State Department officials doubt that the Cuban government is behind the incidents. No evidence has emerged implicating Cuban officials, and Cuba is cooperating with the investigation.

Nevertheless, opponents of President Barack Obama’s 2014-2016 rapprochement with Cubahave successfully seized upon the mysterious injuries as an excuse to punish Cuba, wreaking havoc on relations that had been improving. As the Red Queen said to Alice in Wonderland, “Sentence first, trial afterwards.”

When the diplomats’ health problems were first reported publicly in August 2017, Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a vociferous opponent of normalizing relations, demanded that President Trump close the U.S. Embassy and expel all Cuban diplomats from the United States.

Instead, on Friday, Sept. 29, Tillerson announced the withdrawal of nonessential personnel, suspended visa processing for Cubans seeking to enter the U.S. and issued a travel warning advising Americans not to travel to Cuba. In a press release, Rubio denounced his actions as “weak, unacceptable and outrageous,” and took to Twitter to demand that Cuban envoys be expelled.

Marco Rubio  ✔@marcorubio
Some at @StateDept want massive drawdown of Americans at @USEmbCuba but allow Castro to keep regime embassy in DC virtually the same 1/2 Marco Rubio ✔@marcorubio
So Castro regime allows attacks on Americans forcing us to drawdown to keep them safe but he gets to keep about same # of people here? 2/2  9:20 AM – Sep 29, 2017

A few days later, on Oct. 3, Tillerson finally did what Rubio demanded. Cuban American U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also a Republican of Florida and an opponent of Obama’s normalization process, pronounced herself “pleased as punch” at the expulsions.

Denormalization

This was not what U.S. diplomats wanted. The American Foreign Service Association, the union representing Foreign Service officers, opposed the withdrawal from Havana as contrary to U.S. interests. “We have a mission to do and we’re used to operating around the globe with serious health risks,” association president Barbara Stephenson told the news network CNN.

The expulsion of its diplomats isn’t the only punishment Washington has inflicted on Cuba. Some half a million Cubans depend on tourism for their livelihood, and it contributes about 10 percent to Cuba’s gross domestic product. The travel warning will deter U.S. visitors from going to the island, hurting the economy at a time when it is already suffering from the damage done by Hurricane Irma.

The sweeping and categorical nature of the travel warning is also unwarranted, considering that the State Department believes U.S. diplomats were the targets of “specific attacks” and no U.S. visitors have suffered any injury.

Canada, by contrast, issued no travel advisory after its personnel were injured, nor did its government withdraw Canadian diplomats from Havana or expel their Cuban counterparts from Ottawa.

Finally, by temporarily suspending visa processing for Cubans seeking to enter the United States, Washington risks violating the 1994 migration accord, which commits the United States to accept a minimum of 20,000 Cuban immigrants annually. That commitment will be almost impossible to meet now.

Predictably, as the United States has ratcheted up these punishments, the tone of Cuba’s response has become defiant. In Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper, the Foreign Ministry on Oct. 3 condemned the expulsion of its diplomats as “unfounded and unacceptable,” and rejected “categorically” any Cuban responsibility for the incidents.

Noting the absence of evidence as to perpetrator or means, Cuba for the first time questioned whether any attacks had even occurred.

The Trump administration has let a legitimate concern over the safety of U.S. diplomats become an excuse for reversing key elements of Obama’s policy of engagement, caving in to the political demands of those who, like Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen, opposed normalizing relations with Cuba from the outset.

By so doing, I think the administration has fallen into a trap. Whoever is responsible for the attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana almost certainly did it to disrupt the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. The U.S. response is handing that shadowy adversary a victory.

Lineup to enter the Consular Service at dawn at the US Embassy in Cuba, March 2011. Presumably the withdrawal of US diplomats will damage the consular service for Cubans wishing to travel to or migrate to the United States. (Photo by Arch Ritter)

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Slim pickings. CLUELESS ON CUBA’S ECONOMY

HAVANA. The communist regime can no longer rely on the generosity of its allies. It has no idea what to do

The Economist.  Print edition | The Americas. Sep 30th 2017

GABRIEL and Leo have little in common. Gabriel makes 576 Cuban pesos ($23) a month as a maintenance man in a hospital. Leo runs a private company with revenues of $20,000 a month and 11 full-time employees. But both have cause for complaint. For Gabriel it is the meagre subsistence that his salary affords. In a dimly lit minimá (mini-mall) in Havana he shows what a ration book entitles one person to buy per month: it includes a small bag of coffee, a half-bottle of cooking oil and five pounds of rice. The provisions cost next to nothing (rice is one cent per pound) but are not enough. Cubans have to buy extra in the “free market”, where rice costs 20 times as much.

Leo (not his real name) has different gripes. Cuba does not manufacture the inputs he needs or permit enterprises like his to import them. He travels abroad two or three times a month to get them anyway. It takes six to eight hours to pack his suitcases in such a way that customs officials don’t spot the clandestine goods. “You feel like you’re moving cocaine,” he says.

Making things easier for entrepreneurs like Leo would ultimately help people like Gabriel by encouraging the creation of better jobs, but Cuba’s socialist government does not see it that way. In August it announced that it will stop issuing new licences in two dozen of the 201 trades in which private enterprise is permitted. The frozen professions include running restaurants, renting out rooms to tourists, repairing electronic devices and teaching music.

This does not end Cuba’s experiment with capitalism. Most of the 600,000 cuentapropistas (self-employed workers), including restaurateurs, hoteliers and so on, will be able to carry on as before. But the government mistrusts them. Their prosperity provokes envy among poorer Cubans. Their independent-mindedness could one day become dissent. Raúl Castro, the country’s president, recently railed against “illegalities and other irregularities”, including tax evasion, committed by cuentapropistas. He did not admit that kooky government restrictions make them inevitable. The government “fights wealth, not poverty”, laments one entrepreneur.

A Santeria Message

Trump’s mouth, Irma’s eye

The clampdown on capitalism comes at a fraught time for Cuba. Mr Castro is due to step down as president in February. That will end nearly 60 years of autocratic rule by him and his elder brother, Fidel, who led Cuba’s revolution in 1959. The next president will probably have no memory of that event. Relations with the United States, which under Barack Obama eased its economic embargo and restored diplomatic relations, have taken a nasty turn. President Donald Trump plans to make it more difficult for Americans to visit the island. Reports of mysterious “sonic attacks” on American diplomats in Havana have further raised tensions.

Hurricane Irma, which struck in early September, killed at least ten people, laid waste to some of Cuba’s most popular beach resorts and briefly knocked out the country’s entire power system. With a budget deficit expected to reach 12% of GDP this year, the government has little money to spend on reconstruction.

These are blows to an economy that was already in terrible shape. Cuba’s favourite economic stratagem—extracting subsidies from left-wing allies—has had its day. Venezuela, which replaced the Soviet Union as its patron, is in even worse shape than Cuba. Their barter trade—Venezuelan oil in exchange for the services of Cuban doctors and other professionals—is shrinking. Trade between the two countries has dropped from $8.5bn in 2012 to $2.2bn last year. Cuba has had to buy more fuel at full price on the international market. Despite a boom in tourism, its revenues from services, including medical ones, have been declining since 2013.

Bound by a socialist straitjacket, Cuba produces little else that other countries or its own people want to buy. Farming, for example, is constrained by the absence of markets for land, machinery and other inputs, by government-set prices, which are often below the market price, and by bad transport. Cuba imports 80% of its food.

Paying for it is becoming harder. In July the economy minister, Ricardo Cabrisas, told the national assembly that the financial squeeze would reduce imports by $1.5bn in 2017. What appears in shops often depends on which of Cuba’s suppliers are willing to wait for payment. GDP shrank by 0.9% in real terms in 2016. Irma and the drop in imports condemn the economy to another bad year in 2017.

The government does not know what to do. One answer is to encourage foreign investment, but the government insists on pulling investors into a goo of bureaucracy. Multiple ministries must sign off on every transaction; officials decide such matters as how many litres of diesel will be needed for delivery trucks; investors cannot freely send profits home. Between March 2014 and November 2016 Cuba attracted $1.3bn of foreign investment, less than a quarter of its target.

Faced with a stalled economy and the threat of shortages, the government is trying harder to woo investors. It has agreed to let food companies, for example, repatriate some of their profits. But anything more daring seems a distant prospect. Cuentapropistaslike Leo are waiting impatiently for a planned law on small- and medium-sized enterprises. That would allow them to incorporate and do other sorts of things that normal companies do. It will not be passed anytime soon, says Omar Everleny, a Cuban economist.

An even bigger step would be a reform of Cuba’s dual-currency system, which makes state-owned firms uncompetitive, keeps salaries in the state sector at miserable levels and distorts prices throughout the economy. Cuban pesos circulate alongside “convertible pesos” (CUC), which are worth about a dollar. Although for individuals (including tourists) the exchange rate between Cuban pesos and CUC is 24 to one, for state-owned enterprises and other public bodies it is one to one. For those entities, which account for the bulk of the economy, the Cuban peso is thus grossly overvalued. This delivers a massive subsidy to importers and punishes exporters.

A devaluation of the Cuban peso for state firms is necessary for the economy to function properly. But it would bankrupt many, throw people out of work and spark inflation. Countries attempting such a devaluation usually look for outside help. But, because of American opposition, Cuba cannot join the IMF or World Bank, among the main sources of aid. Fixing the currency system is a “precondition for further liberalisation”, says Emily Morris, an economist at University College London.

It is unlikely to happen while Cuba is in the throes of choosing a new leader. The process has sharpened struggles between reformers and conservatives within the government. Mr Trump’s belligerence has probably helped the latter. Most Cuba-watchers had identified Miguel Díaz-Canel, the first vice-president and Mr Castro’s probable successor, as a liberal by Cuban standards. But that was before a videotape of him addressing Communist Party members became public in August. In it, Mr Díaz-Canel accused the United States of plotting the “political and economic conquest” of Cuba and lashed out at media critical of the regime. Perhaps he was just pandering to conservatives to improve his chances to succeed Mr Castro. If those are his true opinions, that is bad news for Leo and Gabriel.

State Food Distribution Center:  the rationing system. (2015)

Mobile Self-employed Food Vendor.  (2015)

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HURRICANE IRMA: PHOTOGRAPHS OF DAMAGES IN CUBA

Source: Resumen de afectaciones del huracán Irma en Cuba

Resumen de afectaciones del huracán Irma en Cuba

Resumen de afectaciones del huracán Irma en Cuba

Resumen de afectaciones del huracán Irma en Cuba

 

 

 

 

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WHAT’S BEHIND THE ONGOING CONTROVERSY ABOUT “CENTRISM” IN CUBA?

by Samuel Farber*

Original Article: Controversy About “Centrism” In Cuba. HAVANA TIMES, September 2017.

The editors of Cuba Posible, Roberto Veiga Gonzalez y Lenier Gonzalez Mederos.

As most people know, the Cuban mass media – radio, television, newspapers and magazines – are totally controlled by the state and they exclusively publish or broadcast content that closely follows the “orientations” of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC.) It is through mechanisms such as these that the government’s ordered “enforced unanimity” continues to prevail in the Caribbean island.

Yet, in spite of censorship, there exists a relatively free space created by the Internet. Although in Cuba access to the Internet is expensive and continues to be among the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean, it has nevertheless increased, thus allowing for the existence of many publications and “blogs” critical of the regime from different vantage points.

The most important in Spanish of these publications is Cuba Posible, edited by Roberto Veiga Gonzalez and Lenier Gonzalez Mederos, two Cuban Catholic disciples of the deceased Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y García-Menocal, a progressive priest who was General Vicar of the Archdiocese of Havana. Until a few years ago, Veiga and Gonzalez Mederos were the editors of Espacio Laical, sponsored by the Félix Varela Cultural Center of the same Havana Archdiocese, but they were fired by the Catholic hierarchy that no longer wanted to support the political line of the editors.

Broadly speaking, Cuba Posible could be characterized as social democratic because of its support for a mixed economy, which in reality would end up as a market economy subject to the imperatives of competition and other economic laws of capitalism given the lack of workers’ control and a democratic planning of the economy.

With respect to the political system itself, Cuba Posible presents a pluralist perspective and has occasionally criticized the one party state as a questionable political system without making its opposition to it a central feature of its publication.

For the socialist and democratic left, those politics are troublesome enough in and of themselves. But they become even more problematic when coupled with Cuba Posible’s stated intent to act as a “loyal opposition” to the regime.  In the first place, no such thing as a “loyal opposition” is possible in a system that, as a matter of political principle rejects the mere possibility of an opposition; it is even less possible that such an opposition, however loyal, can come to power through elections or any other peaceful means. Secondly, such intent injects into the publication a conciliatory tone when indignation is the most appropriate response to the government’s abuses.

It should be noted, however, that Cuba Posible continues to include among its collaborators people who represent a broader political perspective than that of its editors. And in any case, Veiga Gonzalez as well as Gonzalez Mederos have the absolute democratic right to submit their views to the consideration of the Cuban people, whether in the Internet or in the mass media, a right that is, of course, rejected by the regime stalwarts who have lately closed ranks against them and their publication accusing them of the sin of what these stalwarts have labeled as “centrism”.

What are those who speak about “centrism” saying? 

Several months ago, a group of writers, who for some time have been agitating, supposedly on their own account, for a “hard line” position in defense of the Cuban regime, began a campaign against Cuba Posible and other moderate critics of the Cuban regime. The most important of those hard line writers has been Iroel Sanchez in his blog La Pupila Insomne (https://lapupilainsomne.wordpress.com), where he recently reproduced a whole book titled El Centrismo en Cuba: otra vuelta de tuerca hacia el capitalismo [Centrism in Cuba: Another turn of the Screw towards Capitalism].

The book includes his contributions as well as those of many of his co-thinkers. It is an open attack against what Sanchez and company call “centrists,” accusing them of using their moderate critique of the government as a mask to subvert and eventually overthrow the “socialist” system in Cuba.

Besides branding that supposed strategy as “right-wing nationalist” and “social democratic,” Iroel and his associates also brandish against those critics the term “third way,” which in reality has nothing to do with right wing nationalism or with social democracy, but refers instead to the policies espoused by Tony Blair, who far from being a social democrat, was a neoliberal trying to subvert the welfare state and the social democratic character of the British Labor Party. For Iroel and his hardliners, however, this doesn’t matter: there is no difference between right-wing nationalism, social democracy, and neoliberalism.

Of all the terms wielded by Sanchez and company against the opposition, the one that they really focused on was “centrism.” They wield it in a purely topographic sense referring to a location in between two extremes, capitalism and communism. Curiously, the supposedly communist Iroel Sanchez seems to ignore that in the political traditions of revolutionary Marxism and Communism, the term “centrism” refers to those political parties that, especially in the period 1918-1923, were more radical and to the left of Social Democracy but kept to the right of the Communist parties.

Among those “centrist” parties were the German Independent Social Democrats – a left-wing split from German Social Democracy (SPD) – and several other European parties that came together in the 1920s to form the so-called “Vienna International,” which, significantly, was also referred to as the “Two and a half International.” For the Communist International, these parties might have talked about socialist revolution, but in reality they were reformists and even counterrevolutionaries.

While centrism within that Marxist tradition referred to a specific phenomenon – left-wing radical groups that broke with Social Democracy but did not become Communist – Sanchez uses the same term to paint over with the same brush the wide political spectrum of political orientations between capitalism and Communism. If you are not 100% with the regime, your actual politics does not matter: and you are, by definition, an anti-revolutionary “centrist.”

Even in purely topographic terms, the characterization of the Cuban opposition and critics as “centrists” is highly questionable, because it assumes, as a political axiom, that the Communist parties in power are in fact left wing. This is how, by definition, Iroel and his people get to identify the left with a system that in reality is a class society based on state collectivism, where the state owns the economy, and manages it through the control mechanisms of the one-party state. To be part of the ruling class depends on the position that individuals occupy in the party-ruled bureaucracy. This type of power is hostile to democracy, civil and political rights, and especially to the working class and popular control of the economy.

Fortunately, there are other far better conceptions of what the left means. For Jan Josef Lipsky, for example, a leader in Poland, of the Workers’ Defense Committee (KOR) in the 1970s, and of Solidarity in the 1980’s, the left is, as he explained in KOR. Workers’ Defense Committee in Poland, 1976-1981, an attempt to reconcile equality and liberty: “…being on the left” is “an attitude that emphasizes the possibility and necessity of reconciling human liberty with human equality, while being on the right…may mean sacrificing the postulate of human freedom in favor of various kinds of social collectives and structures, or foregoing the possibility of equality in the name of laissez faire.” (180)

But Iroel Sanchez and his associates defend the one-party state as the only political system compatible with socialism. They don’t even mention that Raul Castro’s “monolithic unity” proclaimed years ago disregards the profound differences in political power associated with class, race and gender in the “actually existing” Cuban society.

It is precisely because of that power differential, that those groups and individuals without power in society – workers, peasants, Black people, women, and gays among others – need the freedom to organize independently into associations and political parties to struggle for their interests. For this to happen it is necessary to abolish the political monopoly of the PCC, consecrated in the existing Constitution, through its mass organizations like the CTC [Worker’s Confederation] and the FMC [Women’s Federation], which blocks any independent attempt by workers, women and other groups to defend themselves.

Once deprived of its constitutionally mandated monopoly, and thus, of all the privileges it appropriated onto itself during its long lasting control of public life, the PCC could become an authentic political party, a voluntary organization materially supported by the dues and donations of its members and sympathizers. It would then function as one of many political parties representing the conflicts and divisions within Cuban society.  To the extent that these parties represent the interests of the classes and groups that would emerge in a changing society, it would be impossible – and undesirable – to limit their number through legal mandates, or through administrative or police methods.

Who are the people attacking the “centrists”?

Some people in the opposition regard Iroel Sanchez and his stalwarts as “extremists.” But this is not an appropriate term: historically, there have been many “extremists” who did the right thing. The pro-independence Cubans of the War of Independence (1895-1898) could have also been accused of “extremism” since they rejected both the “volunteers” and “guerrillas” who supported Spanish colonialism (equivalent to the Right of those years) and the Autonomists (the moderates of that period).

Instead, Iroel and company are hard line Stalinists, as they clearly demonstrate in their book. Thus, in his contribution titled “Una respuesta para Joven Cuba” [An answer for the Joven Cuba blog,] Javier Gómez Sánchez lashes out against the blog under that title, a blog that has been frequently critical and fairly honest but clearly pro-government, as if they were just another group of “centrists.”

The content and inquisitorial tone of Ileana González in her contribution titled “Al Centrismo Nada” [Nothing for Centrism] does not fall far behind Andrey Vyshinsky’s, the prosecutor of the Moscow Trials from 1936 to 1938. The extremely detailed information about opposition persons presented in various articles in this book also suggests that many of its contributors are State Security agents or close collaborators of that repressive body.

It is worth noting, however, that these Stalinists do not seem to have gelled into a hard line political tendency within the PCC, as was the case, for example, of the “Gang of Four” that attempted to control the Chinese Communist Party after Mao’s death, but was quickly eliminated by Deng’s forces. They don’t even resemble Fidel’s Support Group at the beginning of this century, to which the Maximum Leader conferred a certain degree of operational and administrative power. Iroel and his group are no more and no less than propagandists in the service of the PCC. That is all.

What are the purposes of the campaign against “Centrism”?

The Cuban government initiated and is using this campaign to draw a line in the sand of what is and is not permissible. But it is not doing it itself through its official press and broadcasting stations to avoid sowing more doubts about the authenticity and durability of Raul Castro’s economic reforms and relative political liberalization.

Long term, the regime is using this campaign as an attempt to close the ranks of the party and the country with another call in the style of the “monolithic unity” of former years in preparation for the foreseeable physical disappearance of the historic leaders of the revolution in the next five to ten years, and for the problems that this can create for a fluid transition of power.

The call to “unity” has become ever more urgent with the gradual but definitive increase of Internet access, especially among the youth, the professional and technocratic strata, and among those with a university education who generally have a greater access to the Internet. The information acquired through those channels can potentially undermine the political loyalty to the party and regime. It is not for nothing that practically the entire campaign against “centrism” has been conducted through the Internet, and not in the official press and mass media.

Trump’s repeal of several measures favoring the slow process of relaxation and possible abolition of the economic blockade of Cuba, have not yet eliminated the limited but real softening of the opinion of many Cubans with respect to the United States. This softening was due to Obama’s initiatives easing various restrictions of the US’s criminal blockade, such as increasing the remittances that can be sent to Cuba, resuming regular commercial flights to the Island, and his successful visit to Cuba.

As we know, the official Cuban press has used every means at its disposal to fight that softening of Cuban opinion, which for obvious reasons, the regime considers dangerous to its power. The government’s attack against the so-called “centrist” opposition, is nothing more than another attempt to harden the Cuban people to close ranks around it and to maximize its control through its call to “unity.”

*Samuel Farber was born and grew up in Cuba and has written numerous articles and books about the country. His last book, The Politics of Che Guevara: Theory and Practice was published by Haymarket Books in 2016.       

 

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