• This Blog on The Cuban Economy is dedicated to Cuba's Generation "A". Although inspired by Yoani Sánchez' 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 that was brought to my attention by Andrew Johnston of Ottawa: ".. ... 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."

    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.

A Major Slow-Down for the Public Sector Layoff / Private Sector Job Creation Strategy

Raul Castro and the Council of Ministers, Granma, March 1, 2011

By Arch Ritter I had been looking in vain for any concrete information on public sector redundancies and the granting of self-employment licenses since December 2010.  After some searching in the Cuban press, the foreign press and various blogs, I came up empty handed. I was starting to think that the program had been aborted. Then yesterday, Raul announced in a publicized meeting of the Council of Ministers a major slow-down of the program, noting, in the words of the journalists, that “the up-dating of our model is not the work of a day or even a year but because of its complexity, it will require not less than a five year period to unfold its implementation” (Granma, 1 de Marzo de 2011) As far as I can determine, there have in fact been virtually no lay-offs yet in the public sector, although the original March 31 target for 500,000 fired workers is close at hand. Or at least, none have been clearly reported. The latest numbers for license-granting for the end of December 2010 indicated that some 75,000 new licenses had been issued with another 8,340 still in process – a slow start towards the March 1 target date. Granma, 7 de enero de 2011 The slow-down and delay in implementation is understandable.  Although the original proposal was in the right direction, it was seriously flawed and excessively hurried. The most obvious weakness of the strategy was that it called for lay-offs first, followed by or concurrently with job creation in the micro-enterprise sector which was only slightly liberalized in October 2010. As various critics quickly observed, this was placing the “cart before the horse”. The original time frame for the lay-off process – from July 20, 2010 to March 31, 2011 – became even more condensed as months of inactivity followed months. If implemented, this approach would have amounted to a draconian type of shock therapy. The process of firing workers is not easy under any circumstances. Though the Government stressed repeatedly that those made redundant would be supported by the state, the prospects of being laid off and having to establish one’s own micro-enterprise in a policy environment that is still difficult if not hostile must be unnerving for many people. It was to be implemented during the Cuban recession – (though Cuba is now appears to be in a process of recovery, due to higher nickel prices, increased tourism including US tourism, higher remittances.) Moreover, workers have no independent Unions to defend their rights during such a process of redundancies. (It was the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba that announced the lay-off strategy.) There was a potential for irregularities and perversions in the firing process as well, with redundancy being determined by factors such as Party faithfulness, personality issues,  or friendship with the relevant officials, rather than labor effectiveness, which is usually difficult to determine in any case. Moreover, the strategy, which was to be a defining component of economic reform and structural change, was adopted before the public discussions around the Proyecto de Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución,” There had been no public input or discussion in the media or public forums before this strategywas sprung on the Cuban people. Furthermore, it was clear from the start that the liberalization of self-employment was insufficient for the necessary level of job creation. (See Perez and Vidal, Ritter and Mesa-Lago for example.) There are some measures that are supportive of micro-enterprise expansion. These include a small increase in the permitted range of activities, minor relaxation of regulations and a small modification of the tax regime. More significant and positive are the liberalization of licensing and the “de-stigmatization” of the self-employed by the media and politicians. However, a variety of policies continues to constrain the activities of micro-enterprises and will prevent it from expanding as envisioned by the Government: –        Exceedingly onerous taxation continues. –        The tax on hiring workers will discourage job creation. –        A narrow definition of legal activities will limit enterprise and job creation. –        Exclusion of virtually all high-tech and professional activities blocks development of knowledge-intensive enterprises and wastes the training of the highly educated. –        Bizarre restrictions remain (such as a 20 chair limit on restaurant chairs). –        Restrictions and prohibitions on hiring workers remain. –        Taxes and regulations result in the stunting of enterprises which prolong inefficiencies and promote the underground economy. –        Unreasonable restrictions and heavy taxes breed contempt and non-compliance for the law. Under these circumstances, the necessary expansion of Small Enterprise will be slow and in fact probably would not occur. In this case, the Government will have two basic choices: either it can abort the structural change process or it can further liberalize the micro-enterprise sector in order to permit it to generate jobs for redundant state workers. In order to establish an “enabling environment” for micro-enterprise, here are some of the types of policy modification that would be necessary:

  1. Modify the tax regime: Eliminate the tax on hiring workers and permit all costs to be deductible from gross revenues for calculating taxable income;
  2. Broaden of permitted activities, including professional and high-tech activities;
  3. Relax vexatious regulations;
  4. Liberalize hiring restrictions;
  5. Establish microcredit institutions (international assistance is available for this)
  6. Improve access to wholesale input purchase – not done yet;
  7. Legalize “intermediaries” (permitting specialization between producers and venders)
  8. Permit Advertising
  9. Establish a “Ministry for Small Enterprise”!!!

 

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From The Cuba Standard: “Piñón on Energy: Analyzing Sherritt”

On February 24, The Cuba Standard published an analysis by Jorge R. Piñón by on Cuba’s energy sector focusing in particular on Sherritt International, which has a joint venture in oil extraction and refining, natural gas, electric power and nickel mining, concentrating, refining  and marketing.

The full article can be found here: http://www.cubastandard.com/2011/02/23/pinon-on-energy-analyzing-sherritt/

An introduction to Piñón’s analysis is presented below.

Crude oil: Crude oil prices reached this week a 30-month high of nearly $100 per barrel, with industrial residual fuel oil prices close behind at a 28-month high of $80. These price increases are reflected in Sherritt’s year-end 2010 financial reports released today.

Cuba’s onshore and coastal 2010 crude oil production is estimated at approximately 50,000 barrels per day, of which 11,128 barrels per day represents Sherritt’s net working interest (equity) production. This is an 11-percent decrease from 2009 levels of 12,489 barrels per day.  Sherritt sells this production to state oil company Cupet at a discounted U.S. Gulf Coast residual fuel oil price.

Sherritt and Cuba do not realize the true value of the island’s crude oil production — based on its refined products yield — because Cuban crude is used directly as industrial fuel for electric power plants, instead of optimizing its inherent value by processing it into high-value refined products such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Cuba’s realized crude oil value could substantially rise if it was able to market its crude oil to U.S. Gulf Coast refining companies.Realized prices should also rise once Cuba is able to monetize its heavy-oil production in planned conversion facilities at Cienfuegos and Matanzas.

High oil prices negatively impact Cuba’s balance of payments in two ways: Not only as the value of its crude oil imports from Venezuela under the 2000 Convenio Integral de Cooperación services for oil barter agreement increases, but also as it has to purchase part of its domestic crude oil production from Sherritt. We estimate that the total value of Venezuelan petroleum imports and the purchase of Sherritt equity production for 2010 will be approximately $2.894 billion.

Nickel: The good news is that nickel prices also reached this week a 24-month high of $13 per pound, an increase of 177 percent from a low of $4.50 in February 2009. However, this is still far from the contract record high of $24 a pound in May 2007.

Canada’s Sherritt reported nickel and cobalt revenues for 2010 of $453.1 million, reflecting a 29-percent improvement over 2009 revenues of $350.7 million. The reported figures only reflect Sherritt’s 50-percent interest in the Moa/Saskatchewan nickel joint venture with Cubaníquel; therefore a similar improvement should mirror its Cuban partner operations.

Cuba and Sherritt offset receivables between Sherritt’s nickel and crude oil operations, therefore alleviating Cuba’s crude oil negative cash flow impact on the national balance of payments.

Jorge R. Piñón was president of Amoco Corporate Development Company Latin America from 1991 to 1994; in this role he was responsible for managing the business relationship between Amoco Corp. and regional state oil companies, energy ministries and energy regulatory agencies

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English Version of Partido Comunista de Cuba, “Proyecto de Lineamientos de la Politica Economica y Social”: Viable Strategic Economic Re-Orientation and / or Wish List ?

A complete English translation of the “Lineamientos” has just been published by Walter Lippmann, the Editor-in-Chief of CubaNews , the free Yahoo news group on Cuba.

The “Draft Guide for Economic and Social Policy” for the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party is available here: http://www.walterlippmann.com/pcc-draft-economic-and-social-policy-guidelines-2010.html

What follows here is the Blog entry for November 11, 2010 on the “Guidelines”.

I. “Structural Adjustment” on a Major Scale

On Tuesday, November 9, a major document appeared for sale in Cuba entitled “Proyecto de Lineamientos de La Political Economica y Social” or “Draft Guide for Economic and Social Policy.”  The purpose of the “Guide’ presumably is to spark and to shape public discussion and education on the economic matters that will be the focus of the long-postponed Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party to take place in April, 2011. It also provides the essentials of the new approach that will likely be adopted at the Sixth Congress.

It can be found in its entirety, courtesy of the Blog Caf Fuerte. (http://cafefuerte.com/, here: Projecto de Lineamientos de la Politica Economica y Social,

The “Guide” is a broad-reaching and comprehensive document that puts forward 291 propositions for the improvement of the functioning of the Cuban economy. It signals a break in the four years of near inaction that the Cuban economy endured since Raul Castro took over as acting and then actual President – and the ten years of paralysis from about 1995 to 2006 under President Fidel.  It amounts to a major process of “structural adjustment” of the sort that was begun in 1992-1994, but was then stalled when the Cuban economy appeared to rebound after 1994.  The document is also a contradiction and maybe a “slap-in-the-face” for Fidel Castro, as it indeed indicates that the Fidelista-style Cuban model – his life’s work – is not working. (See “Fidel’s No-Good Very Bad Day” and The “FIDEL” Models Never Worked; Soviet and Venezuelan Subsidization Did.)

II. General Character of the Proposals

The Table of Contents provides a quick idea of the scope of the document:

Introduction

Contours of Economic and Social Policy

I           Economic Management Model

II          Macroeconomic Policies

III        External Economic Policies

IV        Investment Policy

V         Science, Technology and Innovation Policy

VI        Social Policy

VII       Agroindustrial Policy

VIII     Industrial and Energy Policy ix

IX        Tourism Policy

X           Transport Policy

XI         Construction, Housing, and Hydraulic Resource Policy

xii        Commercial Policy.

The Introduction summarizes the basic objectives required to overcome the principal problems of the economy. These include putting into productive use the unused lands constituting almost 50% of total, raising agricultural yields, developing new mechanisms to reverse the process of industrial and infrastructural de-capitalization, eliminating excess and redundant employment, raising labor productivity, recovery of export capacity in traditional exports, undertake studies in order to eliminate monetary dualism, and provide improved capacities for more decentralized regional development.

The “Contour” section then states that “…only socialism is capable of overcoming the difficulties and preserving the conquests of the Revolution, and the implementation of the economic model prioritizes planification and not the market”. However, the next paragraph states “…socialism is equality of rights and equality of opportunity for all citizens, not egalitarianism.” The latter sounds less like “socialism” and more like “social democrat” if not the common approach of most Western countries. The latter quotation makes the former somewhat hard to interpret if not meaningless.

The document then goes on to list the 291 propositions under the 12 different headings. A few of the more interesting propositions are summarized below:

  • Wholesale markets for supplying state, cooperative and self-employment enterprises will be established. (9)
  • State enterprises will decide themselves how to allocate their investment funds, and normally will not receive budgetary support for this. (13)
  • Insolvent enterprises will face liquidation. (16)
  • Workers incomes in state enterprises will be linked to enterprise performance (# 19)
  • Monetary and exchange rate unification will be “advanced” (54)
  • The taxation system will be advanced in terms of progressivity and coverage, and will be based on generality and equity of its structure. (56 and 57)
  • The centralized character of the determination of the planned level and structure of prices will be maintained. (62)
  • Recover the place of work as the fundamental means of contributing to the development of society and the satisfaction of personal and family needs. (130)
  • Modify the structure of employment, reducing inflated staffing and increasing employment in the non-state sector (158-159)
  • Eliminate the ration book as a means of distributing products. (162)
  • Improve agriculture so that Cuba is no longer a net importer of food, prioritizing import substituting activities, reviving citrus fruit production, augmenting sugar production. (166, 174, 179, 194.)
  • Promote export-oriented industry (197)
  • Develop a range of new industries such as tires, construction materials and metallurgy (213, 215, 216)
  • Restructuring of domestic retailing and wholesaling. (283-291)

III. Preliminary Evaluation

This document will receive a great deal of attention inside and outside Cuba. It provides fodder – along with the recent legislation on self-employment – for analysts and observers of Cuba, who have had little of hard substance on which to base their analyses of Cuban policy under the “Raulista” Presidency for some time.

In some senses, this document is remarkable. It sets out an ambitious reform program for much of the Cuban economy. It may indeed constitute a “Wish List” of all the types of policy improvements and changes that would be nice to have. The question is “can and will they be implemented?”

This document also is a major risk for the Raul Castro Administration. It provides a check-list of tasks that will be difficult to achieve. If future implementation and economic performance is far below the expectations that are now being raised to high levels, there could well be a serious fall-out for the Government and the Party.

The document is also broad and ambitious but does not set any clear priorities and does not propose a sequence of actions. Everything can’t be done at once. How should the policy changes be phased or sequenced?

Some observers are skeptical and perhaps cynical regarding the “Guide” – for good historical reasons. In her Blog Entry entitled The Art of Speaking Without Speaking (http://www.desdecuba.com/generationy/?p=2088) Yoani Sanchez states:

When you grow up decoding each line that appears in the newspapers, you manage to find, among the rhetoric, the nugget of information that motivates, the hidden shreds of the news. We Cubans have become detectives of the unexpressed, experts in discarding the chatter and discovering — deep down — what is really driving things. The Draft Guidelines for the Communist Party’s VI Congress is a good exercise to sharpen our senses, a model example to evaluate the practice of speaking without speaking, which is what state discourse is here.

The Guide undoubtedly could be seen as an economic rescue program designed to rescue also the Communist party of Cuba, which faces steady de-legitimation as the economy deteriorates – even as the official GDP statistics appear to rise steadily.

What is missing from the “Guide”? Here is a first brief listing. Further analysis will be incorporated here later.

1.      Nothing is said regarding labor rights. A vital part of the reform approach if labor is to be used effectively would be freedom of association, collective bargaining and the right to strike. In the absence of these, pressures and insights from the grass roots to improve economic policy and its effectiveness are suppressed.

2.      Nothing is said regarding freedom of expression and the right to criticize the policies and institutions openly, honestly and continuously. The absence of this right leads to economic inefficiency and corruption as argued elsewhere. ( Freedom of Expression, Economic Self-Correction and Self-Renewal)

3.      No further elaboration of how the self-employment or micro-enterprise sector is presented, suggesting that the recent reforms are the end of the journey not a first step.

4.      The dedication to centralized determination of prices is problematic. If maintained strictly, it would make the decentralized decision-making allotted to enterprises for investment, the hiring of resource inputs, etc. meaningless, and the problems of trying to run the economy from a few office towers in Havana would continue.

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Espacio Laical, Interview with Pavel Vidal, “Disarticulating the Monopoly of State Centralization”

In its February 2011 issue, Espacio Laical has published an interview with Pavel Vidal by Lenier Gonzalez Mederos on the future of the Cuban economy.

In the interview, Vidal discusses Cuba’s current macroeconomic situation, the structural changes that he considers necessary for Cuba, the dual monetary and exchange rate systems, the Viet Nam mode’s implications for Cuba and the agricultural sector, among other things.

“The change of the planning model must grant a larger space to the market and the signals that it generates for prices, exchange rates and the diversity and complexity of demand. If we do not promote this type of environment for Cuban enterprise, I don’t think that we can improve its efficiency much.  The market has shortcomings and we have to regulate it. But regulation also has shortcomings, and we cannot let the remedy be worse than the sickness. Moreover, what we must try to do is to regulate it intelligently, not to replace it with a centralized system that has demonstrated itself one thousand and one times to be inefficient inside and outside Cuba.”

The interview is available only in Spanish, unfortunately. It can be found here:

Espacio Laical, February 2011, Interview with Pavel Vidal Desarticular el monopolio de la centralización estatal

Retailing a la Central Planning circa 1968, Photo by Arch Ritter

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Economic Analyses Published by Espacio Laical, CONSEJO ARQUIDIOCESANO DE LAICOS DE LA HABANA

Perhaps surprisingly, Espacio Laical, the journal of the CONSEJO ARQUIDIOCESANO DE LAICOS DE LA HABANA, has become a most interesting medium for economic and political and religious analyses and exchanges. Its circulation in digital format within Cuba via the “Intranet” is unclear. However, it has produced a variety of works by some of Cuba’s leading economic analysts including those in the main Research Institute focusing on the on the domestic Cuban economy, namely the Centro de Estudios sobre la Economia Cubana, (CEEC), ttp://www.ceec.uh.cu/. Many of the analysts in CEEC publish their work in Espacio Laical or other sources outside their own institution, which unfortunately has a rather minimalist web site at this time, .

Here is an Index of Economic Articles that have appeared in Espacio Laical, with most of them  hyperlinked to the original source.

Barbería, Lorena – Remesas, pobreza y desigualdad en Cuba. (Año 4 / No.14)

Calvo, Cristina – X Semana Social Católica: Globalización y desarrollo integral inclusivo. (Año 6 / No.23)

Espacio Laical – Economía cubana (portada) (Año 4 / No.14)
Economía cubana: retos y opciones. (Año 4 / No.14)

Everleny Pérez, Omar – Se extiende el cuentapropismo en Cuba. (Año 6 / No.24)

Laborem , boletín del Movimiento de Trabajadores Cristianos (MTC)  – Sin quitarle una letra. (Año I / No.1)

La Quincena. – Textos para la reforma social. (Año I / No.4)

Mesa, Armando – Mercado y solidaridad: ¿un debate intergeneracional? (portada) (Año 4 / No.14)
Mercado y solidaridad: ¿un debate intergeneracional? (Año 4 / No.14)

Mesa-Lago, Carmelo – Posible restablecimiento de relaciones económicas entre Cuba y Estados Unidos: Ventajas y desventajas. (Año 4 / No.14)
La crisis financiera mundial y sus efectos en Cuba (Año 4 / No.16)
¿Se recupera el mundo de la crisis económica global? (Año 5 / No.20)
– X Semana Social Católica: Implicaciones sociales y económicas para el sistema de seguridad social en
El desempleo en Cuba: de oculto a visible. (Año 6 / No.24)

Monreal González, Pedro – El problema económico de Cuba. (Año 4 / No.14)

Pérez Villanueva, Omar Everleny – X Semana Social Católica: Notas recientes sobre la economía en Cuba. (Año 6 / No.23)

Robles, Reydel – X Semana Social Católica: Presentación al panel sobre economía y sociedad. (Año 6 / No.23)

Veiga González, Roberto – Propiedad privada en Cuba: una percepción de futuro. (Año I / No.4)

Vidal Alejandro Pavel – Redimensionando la dualidad monetaria (Año 3 / No.11)
Los salarios, los precios y la dualidad monetaria. (Año 4 / No.14)
El PIB cubano en 2009 y la crisis global. (Año 5 / No.18)
Los cambios estructurales e institucionales. (Año 6 / No.21)
– X Semana Social Católica: La actual crisis bancaria cubana. (Año 6 / No.23)
Se extiende el cuentapropismo en Cuba. (Año 6 / No.24)

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CARMELO MESA-LAGO and PAVEL VIDAL-ALEJANDRO, “The Impact of the Global Crisis on Cuba’s Economy and Social Welfare”

Journal of Latin American Studies. 42, 689–717,  Cambridge University Press, 2010

Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Pavel Vidal have teamed up to produce a fine analysis of the impacts of the world recession of 2009-201o on Cuba,  its macro-economy and its social sectors.  It is certainly encouraging to see such cooperation in the economics discipline! The article can be found here: Pavel Vidal and Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Cuba economic social impact crisis-JLAS-11 (2)

Abstract.The mechanisms by which the world economic crisis has been transmitted from developed to developing economies are conditioned by domestic factors that may attenuate or accentuate external economic shocks and their adverse social effects. Cuba is a special case : it is an open economy and hence vulnerable to trade growth transmission mechanisms, but at the same time, it is a socialist economy with universal social services. This article reviews the literature, summarises Cuba’s domestic socio-economic strengths and weaknesses prior to the crisis, evaluates the effects of the crisis on the macro-economic and social services indicators, assesses the government response and suggests alternative socio-economic policies.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago

 

Pavel Vidal

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Hosni Mubarak, February 11, 2011: The “Writing on the Wall”

Marcos Perez Jimenez (Venezuela)            1958         √

Fulgencio Batista (Cuba)                               1959         √

Francisco Franco (Spain)                              1959           √

Anastasio Somoza (Nicaragua)                    1979          √

Idi Amin Dada (Uganda)                               1979          √

Jean-Bedel Bokassa (Central Af. Rep.)       1979          √

Augusto Pinochet (Chile)                               1989         √

“Baby Doc” Duvalier (Haiti)                          1989         √

Alfredo Stroessner (Paraguay)                     1989          √

The Junta (Argentina)                                    1983         √

Joao Figuieirado (Brazil)                                1985         √

President Leonid Brezhnev (USSR )            1989         √

Erich Honecker (East Germany)                   1989         √

Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski (Poland)             1989          √

Gustav Hudek (Czechoslovakia)                     1989          √

Janis Kadar (Hungary)                                     1988          √

Nicolae Ceausescu (Rumania)                         1989          √

Todor Zhivkov (Bulgaria )                              1989          √

Adil Carcani (Albania)                                     1989           √

Mobutu Sese Seko IZaire / Congo)               1997            √

Charles Taylor (Liberia)                                 2003           √

Fidel Castro (Cuba)                                         2006       Retired

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia)                  2011            √

Hosni Mubarak (Egypt)                                  2011            √

Bashir al-Assad (Syria)                                   20__

Ali Abdullah Saleh (Yemen)                           2011             √

Muammar Al-Gaddafi (Libya)                       2011              √

Raul Castro (Cuba)                                        20__

With Wojciech Jaruzelski

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“The Economist” on Cuba’s Housing Market

Swap shop: Where a beach-front house can be (almost) yours for a snip

Feb 3rd 2011 | HAVANA

CUBA’S government likes to crow that over 85% of Cubans own their homes. The claim is technically correct. However, there is a catch: holding title to a property does not give you the right to sell it. The only legal way to move in Cuba is by swapping residences—a slow, bureaucratic and often corrupt process known as the permuta (“exchange”), which requires finding two roughly similar properties and getting state approval. To avoid this hassle, some Cubans prefer to marry the owner of a property, transfer the deed, and divorce.

Because there is no incentive to build new homes, Cuba suffers from a dire housing shortage. Many buildings have been repeatedly subdivided. In some families three generations share one bedroom.

After replacing his brother as president in 2008, Raúl Castro has legalised and taxed bits of Cuba’s informal economy, like pirated DVDs and used furniture. Now he has turned to housing. In 2010 the government relaxed rules on forming building companies and buying building materials. It is preparing to let foreigners buy property in tourist zones. And in April the Communist Party Congress is expected to allow Cubans to “buy, sell, or swap” their homes.

Havana’s Housing Market, circa 2002: Arranging “Permutas” on Paseo del Prado, Photo by Arch Ritter

The effect of these measures may be limited. Most permutas already involve money under the table—ranging from a few thousand dollars to $40,000 for a smart three-bedroom flat. The market will be heavily regulated: officials say they will ban the (as yet undefined) “accumulation” of property. And buyers may be discouraged if they have to prove that their money did not come from the vast black market.

Even so, allowing selling is risky. It will raise tax revenues, but could belie Cuba’s myth of material equality. If too many luxury homes pop up, the poor may further doubt that America’s trade embargo is the cause of their misery. Already a cluster of sea-front houses west of Havana, acquired via permuta by pop stars and foreigners, is getting its first lick of paint in decades.

The market will probably benefit from Barack Obama’s loosening of the embargo. He has relaxed most limits on visits and remittances, which should increase demand for Cuban homes and the amount buyers can pay. Some Cuban-Americans are even considering returning for retirement. “Now is the time to move”, says Ada Fuentes, who recently came back to Havana after 49 years in New Jersey. “If you have money, life’s good here”.

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Cuba’s Standings in Social, Political, Economic and Environmental Indices in Comparative International Perspective

By Arch Ritter

In the last week of January 2011, the Heritage Foundation (HF), a conservative US “Think Tank”. published its 2011 Report on Economic Freedom. No surprise: Cuba ranks #175 of the 177 countries included in that report, ahead only of North Korea and Zimbabwe.

The concept or definition used for “Economic Freedom” is:

“Economic freedom is the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself.”

The components of economic freedom in the Heritage Foundation’s definition include business freedom, trade freedom; fiscal freedom, government spending, monetary freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, property rights, freedom from corruption, and labor freedom.

What the HF definition misses is the capability to utilize one’s freedom, such as good health, a useful education, and a reasonable income. Presumably the HF types of freedom are more effective when people live longer, have good health so that they can work and appreciate life, and are not mired in poverty. Cuba would score better if life expectancy, health, education and income distributional measures were included in the concept and the index.

Other Measures of Human Achievement or Performance

The HF’s Economic Freedom Index brought to mind some other measures of social, economic, environmental and political performance. A listing of these and Cuba’s place therein is presented in Table 1 and hyperlinks to some basic definitions and methodological sources are summarized in the next section.

Again, it is no surprise that Cuba fares badly on the political and economic freedom rankings, coming at the very bottom in Latin America on the “democracy” and “freedom of the press” rankings.

Cuba’s high ranking for the EIU Political Instability Index – second only to Costa Rica- is unexpected. Cuba would have scored well on “ethnic fragmentation”, labor unrest (no strikes, collective bargaining or independent unions), economic growth in 2009, income inequality (as officially measured), unemployment (at least the official rate) and “status of minorities”.

Cuba’s standing in the “corruption perceptions” listing does not seem unreasonable.

Cuba’s high standing in the Environmental Performance rankings – again second only to Costa Rica-  will be a surprise to those who have spent time inhaling the exhaust of urban traffic in Havana or observing the fumes of the Havana’s thermal electric plant, pictured below.  Indeed, a close study of the Yale-Columbia-World Economic Forum calculations for Cuba would be worthwhile. One suspects some statistical creativity such as has been employed in the area of basic economic measures such as GDP, unemployment and the Consumer price Index.

Data Sources and Methodology

The full sources of the information are hyperlinked below. The methodologies can also be found at these web sites.

UNDP Measures

1, 2, 3, and 4: Human Development Index 2009, HDR 2009 Statistical Tables

Democracy Measures

5.      The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy 2010,  This index is based on electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.

6.      The Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Political Instability Index”. This measure is based on   I. Underlying vulnerability: 1.Inequality Measured by Gini coefficient; 2.State history; 3.Corruption; 4.Ethnic fragmentation; 5.Trust in institutions; 6. Status of minorities; 7.History of political instability; 8.Proclivity to labor unrest; 9.Level of social provision; 10.A country’s neighborhood; 11.Regime type; 12.Regime type and factionalism and II. Economic distress: 1.Growth in incomes Growth in real GDP per head in 2009; 2.Unemployment; 3.Level of income per head

7.      Freedom House, Freedom of the Press index an annual survey of media independence in 195 countries and territories. “The index asesses the degree of print, broadcast, and internet freedom in every country in the world, provides numerical rankings and rates each country’s media as “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free.””  Freedom House, Freedom of the Press, 2010

8. Press Freedom Index 2010, Reporters Without Borders

9. Freedom House, Freedom in the World, 2010, Tables and Graphs measures freedom according to political rights and civil liberties.

(See also Wikipedia’s list of freedom indices.)

10. The 2010 ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE INDEX, of the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, Yale University and Center for International Earth Science Information Network, Columbia University and the World Economic Forum. This measure includes some 25 indicators in 10 categories including Environmental Health. Air Pollution (effects on humans), Water (effects on humans), Air Pollution (effects on ecosystems), Water (effects on ecosystems), Biodiversity and Habitat, Forestry, Fisheries, Agriculture and Climate Change

11. “Index of Economic Freedom” The Heritage Foundation. (See discussion above.)

12. Transparency International. Corruption Perceptions Index Report, 2010

Havana Thermal-Electric Plant, from Edificio Fochsa, Hotel Capri on the left, 1997, Photo by Arch Ritter

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Has the US Tourism Tsunami to Cuba Already Begun?

By Arch Ritter

The Economist noted recently that the number of US tourists to Cuba in 2010 reached about 400,000 (January 20, 2011). Surprisingly, the Cuban Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas did not include the United States in its tourism statistics for 2010. (See Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, Llegada de visitantes internacionales, Diciembre 2010). If the Economist’s number is correct, it represents a huge increase over the 2009 figure of 52,455 tourist arrivals from the United States. The US already appears to be the second source of tourists to Cuba, well ahead of every other country except Canada for 2010.

With the latest easing of travel restrictions for US citizens, one might expect a further large increase in US tourism to Cuba. In 2010, the increase in tourism was likely mainly of a family-reunification character. But in 2011, curiosity tourism will increase dramatically under the new travel rules. Much of this tourism will be in the cities and in Havana in particular – and not in the isolated beach areas where Canadians tend to go. One indeed can expect a surge in tourist services and activities in both the public sector and the reviving private sector. The  Paladares. Casas Particulares and other activities should be in expansion mode and should contribute – along with remittances – to a reconstruction boom in Cuba.

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