• 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."

Espacio Laical, “The Sixth Party Congress and “Lineamientos”: A Turning Point for Cuba?”

Just Published on Espacio Laical, Suplemento Digital No.132 / 16 de Junio 2011
Tomado de la sección Búsqueda (revista 3-2011) Hyperlink here:

The Sixth Congress of the Cuba’s Communist Party will likely be of immense importance for Cuba’s future. The ratification of the revised Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución “by the National Assembly means that it is now politically correct to support, advocate and implement an ambitious reform agenda.  By implication, it also is politically correct to draw the conclusion that a half century of economic experimentation with the lives of Cuban citizens was for the most part misguided, counterproductive, and unsustainable.  Despite attempts to create an impression of historical continuity by referring to the “updating” of the economic model, the old approaches to economic management have been deeply discredited. The shifting climate of opinion regarding how the Cuban economy can best function has been certified as reasonable by the National Assembly.  It now appears that a regression to old modes of economic operation is now highly improbable..

The economic future for Cuba clearly lies in a newly-rebalanced albeit vaguely-envisaged mixed market economy that will be the outcome of the various reforms that are slated to be implemented.  This is a surprising reversal of fortunes. It also constitutes a vindication of the some of the views of the critics of past economic policies.

The “Lineamientos” represent an attempt by President Raul Castro to forge his own “legacy” and to emerge from the long shadow of his brother, as well as to set the Cuban economy on a new course. The ratification of the reform agenda represents a successful launch of the “legacy” project.  President Raul Castro would indeed make a unique and valuable contribution to Cuba and its citizens were he to move Cuba definitively through dialogue and agreement among all Cubans towards a model that guarantees both economic and social rights as well as civil liberties and authentic democracy.

Are moves in these directions likely to happen? Not under current political circumstances. However, there are bottom-up pressures building and some official suggestions that movement towards political liberalization is not impossible. In the meantime, Raul’s de-centralizing, de-bureaucratizing and “market-liberalizing” reforms been launched. This is a good start for the construction of a positive independent “legacy.”

I. Cuba’s Economic Situation

In various speeches since 2006, Raul Castro has indicated that he recognizes the problems that Cuba confronts in terms of the production of agricultural and industrial goods and improvement of Cuba’s infrastructure (despite the ostensibly solid GDP performance from 2005 to 2009 before Cuba was hit by the international recession.) He is well aware of the central causal forces underlying weak Cuba’s economic vulnerabilities and weaknesses such as the unbalanced structure of the economy, the overburden of deadening rules and regulations and a sclerotic bureaucracy and the monetary and exchange rate pathologies and dysfunctional incentive environment that deform the energies and lives of Cuban citizens.

Cuba’s economic plight can be summarized quickly with a couple of illustrations. First, Cuba’s underwent  serious de-industrialization after 1989 from which it has not recovered, reaching only about 51% of the 1989 level by 2009 (Chart 1)

Source: ONE AEC, 2004, Table 11.1 and 2IX.1

Note: Data for 1990-1997 are not available

There are a variety of reasons for the collapse of the industrial sctor:

(a)    The antiquated technological inheritance from the Soviet era as of 1989;

(b)   Insufficient maintenance over a number of decades before and after 1989;

(c)    The 1989-1993economic melt-down;

(d)   Insufficient levels of investment; (The overall level of investment in Cuba in 2008 was 10.5% of GDP compared to 20.6% for all of Latin America  according to UN ECLA, 2011, Table A-4.)

(e)    The dual monetary and exchange rate system that penalizes potential exporters that would receive one old (Moneda Nacional) peso for each US dollar earned from exports;

(f)    Competition in Cuba’s domestic market with China which has had a grossly undervalued exchange rate, coexisting with Cuba’s grossly overvalued exchange rate.

Second, the collapse of the sugar agro-industrial complex is well known and is illustrated in Chart 2. The sugar sector essentially was a “cash cow” milked to death for its foreign exchange earnings, by insufficient maintenance, by insufficient re-investment preventing productivity improvement, and by the exchange rate regime under which it labored.
Source: NU CEPAL, 2000 Cuadro A.86; ONE, 2010 Table 11.4

The consequences of the collapse of the sugar sector include the loss of about US$ 3.5 billion in foreign exchange earnings foregone (generated largely with domestic value added); reductions in co-produced electricity; a large increase in idled farm land; a destruction of the capacity to produce ethanol; damaging regional and local development impacts, and a destruction of much of the “cluster” of input-providing, output-processing and marketing activities related to sugar.

Third, the production of food for domestic consumption has been weak since 1989, despite some successes in urban agriculture.  Food imports have increased steadily and in recent years account for an estimated 75 to 80% of domestic food consumption despite large amounts of unused farm land. Meanwhile agricultural exports have languished,


Chart 3  Cuban Exports and Imports of Foodstuffs, 1989-2009
(excluding Tobacco and Alcoholic Beverages) (Millions CUP)

Source: NU CEPAL, 2000 Tables A.36 and A.37, and ONE, AEC, Various Years.

Fourthly, “inflation-adjusted “ or “real” wages in the official economy collapsed and have not recovered significantly according to estimates from the Centro de Estudios sobre la Economia Cubana (Chart 4.)  This is indeed a major calamity for the official state economy. But though the official 2008 wage rate remained around 25% of its level of 1989, most people had other sources of income, such as remittances, legal self-employment, home produced goods and services, economic activities in the underground economy, income supplements in joint ventures, goods in kind from the state and widespread pilferage.  Those without other sources of income are in poverty.

Chart 4   Cuba: Real Inflation-Adjusted Wages, 1989-2009
Pesos, Moneda Nacional)

Vidal  Alejandro, Pavel, “Politica Monetaria y Doble Moneda”, in Omar Everleny Perez et. al., Miradas a la Economia Cubana, La Habana: Editorial Caminos, 2009

Furthermore, despite the exceedingly low official rates of unemployment – around 1.6 to 1.7%, (far below the “natural rate” of unemployment which represents normal new entrants, job-changers and structural changes in any economy) – underemployment is obviously very high. Presumably the 1.8 million workers considered by the Government to be redundant and subject to probable lay-off and transfer to small enterprise, are “underemployed”, accounting for around 35 per cent of the labor force.

A further dimension of the fragility of Cuba’s economic situation is the dependence on the special relationship with Venezuela that relies upon high oil prices and the presence and munificence of President Chavez.

It is to the credit of President Raul Castro that he has faced these problems directly, diagnosed their sources, and produced the “Lineamientos” to deal with them. The central sources of the difficulties are the general structure of incentives that orients the economic activities of Cuban citizens, this including the dual monetary and exchange rate system, the tight containment of individual economic initiatives, the detailed rules and regulations of the omnipresent bureaucracy. Paradoxically, in attempting to control everything in the past, the government has ended up controlling very little. The effectiveness of stricter state controls actually leads to weaker genuine control due to their promotion of illegalities, corruption and the ubiquitous violation of unrealistic regulations.

II. The Lineamientos

The objective of the “Lineamientos” is “to guarantee the continuity and irreversibility of Socialism” as well as economic development (p.10). This is to be achieved through an “up-dating” of the economic model that should result in utilization of idle lands, reversal of decapitalization of infrastructure and industry, a restructuring of employment, increased labor productivity, increased and diversified exports, decentralized decision-making and elimination of monetary and exchange rate dualism (p. 8.)

But the term “Socialism” remains somewhat ambiguous in the document.  Reference is made to “socialist property” and “preserving the conquests of the Revolution.”  Especially interesting is the statement that

“…socialism signifies equality of rights and equality of opportunities for all the citizens, not egalitarianism” (p.9)

This assertion could be of game-changing significance, as it articulates a fundamental principle of “Social Democracy” more so that a traditional principle of  “Socialism.”  This leaves questions unanswered and doors unclosed.

The “Lineamientos” are in effect an ambitions and comprehensive “wish-list” or statement of aspirations. Many of the 313 recommendations are fairly obvious, trite and general statements of reasonable economic management. Some statements have been made repeatedly over a number of decades, including those relating to the expansion and diversification of exports, science and technology policy, the sugar agro-industrial complex, or the development of by-products and derivatives from the sugar industry (an objective at least since 1950.) Restating many of these as guidelines can’t do much harm, but certainly does not guarantee their implementation.

There are also opaque elements among the guidelines and seeming contradictions as some of them stress continuity of state planning and control while others emphasize greater autonomy for enterprises.  For example, Guideline 7 emphasizes how “planning” will include non-state forms of enterprise and “new methods…. of state control of the economy” while No. 62 states “The centralized character …of the degree of planning of the prices of products and services, which the state has an interest in regulating will be maintained.” But numerous other guidelines spell out the greater powers that state and non-state enterprises will have over a wide range of their activities including pricing (Guidelines 8 to 22 and 63.)

While there are a few gaps and shortcomings in the “Lineamientos” as well as the references to planning and state control, they include some deep-cutting proposals on various aspects of economic organization and policy that represent the inauguration of a movement towards a “market-friendly” economic policy environment. Among these are:

  • Greater autonomy of the enterprise in numerous dimensions, hiring and firing, wage structures, financing, price setting, investing, and also in facing bankruptcy;
  • A phase-out of rationing and the ration book and the more careful targeting of social assistance to those who need it, thereby also strengthening incentives to work (No. 162);
  • The establishment of wholesale markets for inputs for all types of enterprise. (No. 9);
  • Continuing distribution of unused state lands to small farmers (No. 187);
  • Reduction of state controls regarding small farmers and cooperatives regarding producer decision-making, marketing of crops, provision of inputs, and (No. 178-184)

A central policy thrust is the expansion of the self-employment and cooperative sector in order to absorb ultimately some 1,800.000 state workers considered redundant. The legislation already implemented in October 2010 liberalized policy somewhat so as to encourage the establishment of additional microenterprises – especially by the liberalization of licensing, the establishment of wholesale markets for inputs and the recent relaxation of hiring restrictions. However, the limitations of the policy changes are highlighted by the modest increase in the number of “Paladar” chairs – from 12 to 20.

Unfortunately current restrictions will prevent the expected expansion of the sector. These include the heavy taxation that can exceed 100% of net earnings (after costs are deducted from revenues)  for enterprises with high costs of production; the prohibition of the use of intermediaries and advertising, and continued petty restrictions. Perhaps most serious restriction is that all types of enterprises that are not specifically permitted are prohibited including virtually all professional activities.  The 176 permitted activities, some defined very narrowly, contrast with the  “Yellow Pages” of the telephone directory for Ottawa (half the size of Havana) that includes 883 varieties of activities, with 192 varieties for “Business Services”, 176 for “Home and Garden, 64 for “Automotive”  and 29 for “Computer and Internet Services.” Presumably policies towards micro-and small enterprise will be further liberalized in the months ahead if laid-off workers are to be absorbed productively.

One short-coming of the “Lineamientos” is the lack a time dimension and a depiction of how the various changes will be implemented. There are no clear priorities among the innumerable guidelines, no sequences of actions, and no apparent coordination of the guidelines from the standpoint of their implementation. It remains a “check-list” of good intentions, though none-the-less valuable.

The absence of a vision of how change was to occur and the slow pace of the adoption of the reforms so far is also worrisome. However, the Administration of Raul Castro has been deliberative and systematic though also cautious. It is probable that somewhere in the government of Raul Castro there is a continually evolving time-line and master-plan for the implementation of the reform measures.

A careful and well-researched approach to economic reform is obviously desirable. The difficulties encountered in laying off 500,000 state sector workers and re-absorbing them in the small-enterprise sector by March 31, 2011 has probably encouraged an even more cautious  “go-slow” approach.  Perhaps “slow and steady wins the race!”

A process of economic —but not political— reform seems to have already begun following the Congress. Where it will lead is hard to predict. Presumably Raúl Castro’s regime would like the process to end with the political status quo plus a healthy economy. The latter would require a new balance between public and private sectors, with a controlled movement toward the market mechanism in price determination and the shaping of economic structures, and with the construction of a rational configuration of incentives shaping citizens’ daily economic actions so that their private endeavors become compatible with Cuba’s broader economic well-being.

In such a reform process many things would be changing simultaneously with symbiotic impacts and consequences that will likely be painful and are difficult to foresee. Will President Raul Castro have the courage to take the risks inherent in an ambitious process of economic change? This remains to be seen. But the economic and political consequences of inaction are so bleak and the attractiveness of a positive historical “legacy” are so enticing that President Raul Castro will continue.

The economic reform process has been launched. It is in its early stages. It will likely continue under the leadership of Raul Castro. It will proceed far beyond the “Lineamientos” under new generations of Cuban citizens in economic as well as political spheres.


Naciones Unidas, CEPAL, La Economia Cubana: Reformas estructurales y desempeňo en los noventa, Santiago, Chile, 2000, Second Edition.

Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas (ONE), Anuario Estadistico de Cuba (AEC), various years. Website: http://www.one.cu/

Partido Comunista de Cuba,  Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución, Aprobado el 18 de abril de 2011, VI Congreso del PCC

United nations, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean, 2010, Santiago, Chile January, 2011

Vidal Alejandro, Pavel, “Politica Monetaria y Doble Moneda”, in Omar Everleny Perez et. al., Miradas a la Economia Cubana, La Habana: Editorial Caminos, 2009

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Ana Julia Faya, ¿De regreso adonde todo empezó?

“Back to where everything began”Below is a longer version in Spanish of the English version essay by Ana Julia Faya published in English and Spanish on may 30, 2011.

I still remember the very private sea-front golf course, west of Havana, on my way to Jaimanitas, a small public beach where my parents took us in the summer. It was a neat, bright, green course, which contrasted with the deep blue coast. Then, in 59 or so, the “bourgeois” field was swept by “proletarian” Caterpillar tractors. Now, the golf course is being built again by other “bourgeois” companies, for the survival of the elite in power.

After reading about the projects of those big Canadian companies in Cuba, with their luxury hotels, golf courses, villas for… whatever, and don´t know what else, I cannot but feel very frustrated. Fifty years –actually 52!– in the life of a whole country absolutely wasted; almost two million Cubans living abroad, including skilled professionals; families divided, torn apart; thousands of Cubans going through the trauma of changing all their social values twice in a life time; hundreds drown trying to cross the Florida Strait, or having suffered repression, incarceration, harassment in front of their homes and their children; a good portion of the population currently living in rags, and this “socialist” “revolutionary” Government is leading the country back to where everything began in 1959 –except that at that time, the Havana Biltmore green course was owned by Cubans, and now is owned by foreign companies; Cuba was a prosperous small country, and now is in ruins.

¿De regreso adonde todo empezó?Todavía recuerdo el muy privado campo de golf frente al mar, al oeste de La Habana, en mi camino a Jaimanitas, una pequeña playa pública adonde mis padres nos llevaban en verano. Era un campo nítido, de un verde brillante que contrastaba con el azul intenso de la costa. Después, en 1959 o algo así, ese campo “burgués” fue barrido por tractores “proletarios”. Ahora, otras compañías “burguesas” reconstruyen el campo de golf, para la sobrevivencia de la élite en el poder. Y subrayo esto, porque me cuesta trabajo creer que el ridículo listado de trabajos autorizados a los cuentapropistas, más las contradicciones, retórica reiterativa y ausencias en los Lineamientos aprobados por el VI Congreso, conduzcan a otra cosa sino a ganarles a los Castro unos cuantos años más de mala gobernanza.

Es consenso entre toda persona sensata que se dedica a producir análisis sobre Cuba, aconsejar la reedificación del país bajo otro régimen de gobernabilidad diferente al actual. Pero con lo aprobado y anunciado hasta hoy, se trata del inicio de un tránsito a un capitalismo de Estado, sin un plan claro, o al menos confeso, maniatado por la cúpula gobernante, y cerrado a las libertades de los cubanos, tan justas como necesarias incluso para echar a andar las ambiguas reformas que se programan.

Un simple vistazo a los planes de Leisure Canada en Monte Barreto, Jibacoa y Cayo Largo, y al de Standing Feather International con su proyecto de Loma Linda, al que escuetamente denomina “The Plan”, al oeste de La Habana, mueven a preguntarse qué es lo que defienden los actuales seguidores del socialismo y la revolución —esa entelequia en los discursos, que como movimiento radical dejó de existir desde la primera mitad de los años 60—, qué cubanidad se defiende cuando se entrega la nación al mejor postor y a los nacionales se les restringen inversiones, ganancias y derechos.

Los planes todos incluyen la construcción de hoteles de lujo, “para servir a las exigencias de los viajeros internacionales más sofisticados” —dicen los brochures—, villas para propiedad de extranjeros, aledañas canchas de golf, que en el caso de Loma Linda nada más y nada menos resucita el viejo campo del Biltmore Yacht Club. Al menos los socios del Biltmore, construido desde los años 20 del pasado siglo, eran en su mayoría cubanos. Estos nuevos residentes serán extranjeros que podrán disfrutar una contratación de las tierras de la Isla por 99 años, casi el doble del tiempo que hace que esas propiedades les fueran confiscadas a sus antiguos dueños.

The Biltmore Golf and Country Club

Pero no son solo los canadienses, los británicos y firmas mexicanas han declarado estar interesadas en desarrollar al menos ocho campos de golf en Cuba. Me pregunto con qué agua se logrará que la pelotica corra por el verde; cuánta de la que hoy reciben ciudadanos de las afueras de La Habana en días alternos y por breves horas será desviada hacia el nuevo Biltmore, Jibacoa o Varadero; con cuánta agua acumulada en tanques dejarán de soñar los habaneros que desde hace años se bañan con un cubo, latica a latica, sin ver que se hagan inversiones sostenibles para el abasto por tuberías, ni acueductos que puedan emular al de Alberro, bajo justificaciones de implacables sequías —la de hoy puede compararse con la de 2003 y 2004, esta con la de los 90, y así sucesivamente en conteo regresivo.

Pero, sucede que como en Cuba no existe una sociedad civil auténtica y dinámica, ni prensa pública libre e independiente, los cubanos no pueden protestar este nuevo atropello de los Castro, al que una brillante periodista acertadamente calificara como “un cruel experimento social en el que los ratones han sido sustituidos por personas”.

En los años 50 del pasado siglo, por ejemplo, José Antonio Echeverría protagonizó junto a la Federación Estudiantil Universitaria una campaña en todos los medios de prensa del país contra la construcción del Canal Vía Cuba, un proyecto bajo el Gobierno de Fulgencio Batista que atravesaría la Isla de norte a sur, en el cual se conjugaban capitales cubanos y foráneos. Con independencia de cualquier propósito militar que tuviera el proyectado Canal, lo cierto es que la obra le reportaría al país un gran desarrollo industrial y comercial, pero el país quedaba dividido en dos. Y la pelea nacionalista la echó la sociedad cubana: los colegios profesionales de ingenieros, arquitectos, médicos, abogados, los sindicatos, organizaciones políticas y estudiantiles, sociedades culturales, sectores laicos y religiosos, entre quienes descolló la FEU con José Antonio al frente. Fue una campaña nacionalista que ganaron los cubanos organizados en la sociedad civil, mediante presentaciones en el Congreso y entrevistas y artículos en la prensa de entonces.

Pero, ¿qué pueden hacer los cubanos hoy bajo el “socialismo” del General Castro? ¿Qué mecanismos de debate, de confrontación al Estado pueden ser pulsados? ¿A qué instituciones les correspondería recibir las potenciales denuncias?

Cincuenta años —¡en realidad 52!— se han perdido en la vida de la nación. Casi dos millones de cubanos viven en el extranjero, incluyendo a calificados profesionales; miles de familias están divididas o destruidas; cientos de cubanos se han ahogado en el Estrecho de la Florida; por oponerse a las políticas en curso, cientos han sufrido represión, cárcel u hostigamiento frente a sus hogares y a sus hijos; una buena parte de la población vive actualmente en la miseria, y este gobierno “socialista” y “revolucionario” conduce al país de nuevo adonde todo empezó en 1959. Excepto que en aquel tiempo, el verde campo de golf del Havana Biltmore pertenecía a cubanos, y ahora será propiedad de compañías extranjeras; Cuba era entonces un pequeño país próspero, y ahora está en ruinas.
© cubaencuentro.com

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Mark Frank: “Higher prices luring more farmers in Cuba”

*Sugar ministry providing free services to new farmers

*Land lease program prioritizes sector

HAVANA, June 2 (Reuters) – More Cuban farmers are opting to grow sugar cane due to higher prices and other incentives being offered by the Sugar Ministry as part of plans to revive the depressed crop, industry sources said this week.

Sugar may no longer be king on the Caribbean island where it once accounted for 90 percent of export earnings with 7 to 8 million tonne harvests, and today brings in only 5 percent of foreign currency.

But with international prices expected to remain high, the cash-strapped government is showing a new interest in the sector.

“The ministry is clearing and plowing land, providing seed and some other services to individuals who lease fallow state acreage under a government program begun in 2008,” a local sugar expert said, asking his name not be used due to a prohibition on talking with foreign journalists.

“Mills have more than doubled what they pay for cane to 100 pesos per tonne (US$4.00),” he added.

The expert said the price remained too low, but free start-up services put sugar at an advantage over other crops where new farmers were expected to clear and bring land into production with little, if any, government support.

To date, the agriculture ministry has granted 128,000 leases covering 1.2 million hectares (2.9 million acres), with another 700,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) being offered.

The government is expected to liberalize the program this month by expanding the acreage an individual can farm, significantly extending the 10 year lease, and allowing homes and other structures to be built on the land, among other measures.

Output was around 1.2 million tonnes of raw sugar this year, slightly higher than the 1.1 million tonne 2010 season, but still one of the poorest performances on record.

The state owned industry hopes to increase production to 2.4 million tonnes by 2015.

“The agriculture ministry is prioritizing cane and pointing out its advantages when people come in seeking land,” one industry insider said, adding thousands of new farmers were opting to grow sugar and existing ones to switch over or add it, without being more specific.

“Acreage earmarked for sugar cane is 974,000 hectares (2.4 million acres), of which 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) were in production this season,” he said.

Cuba consumes an average 700,000 tonnes of sugar annually; however last year consumption was around 600,000 tonnes due to a reduction in the domestic ration and other measures.

Assuming similar local consumption this year, the industry would be offering around 200,000 tonnes on the market after meeting its 400,000 tonne toll agreement with China.

Ministry officials have said this year’s output was 7 percent above plan, with industry sources reporting at least two extra shipments, totaling 80,000 tonnes, contracted. (Editing by John Picinich)

Transportation  at the Australia Sugar Mill, November 1994, Photo by A. Ritter

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La falta de credibilidad de la prensa oficial ha llegado a niveles insospechados. Hasta el General Raúl Castro, actual Primer Secretario del PCC,  en el Informe Central al VI Congreso   admitió  que “en este frente  [el periodismo] se requiere dejar atrás, definitivamente, el hábito del triunfalismo, la estridencia y el formalismo al abordar la actualidad nacional…”.

En realidad el Presidente al hacer esta acertada afirmación sobre el periodismo cubano solo se refería a lo que puede observarse en la superficie, pero dejó un lado la génesis del problema, la cual es la permanencia por decenios de un régimen totalitario basado en la mentira y la más grosera manipulación de los hechos, a través de un estricto control de toda la prensa, convertida en un dócil instrumento  para servir  loas a los dirigentes y engañar a la población. Los ciudadanos dignos que se han revelado han sido represaliados con saña, convertidos en personas sin derechos y en ocasiones condenados a largas penas de cárcel por querer expresarse pacíficamente y denunciar la  situación en que malvive la mayoría abrumadora de los cubanos.

En este entorno, los periodistas oficiales han sido escogidos por sus dotes de servilismo al estado-partido y no por el talento o dedicación a la hermosa tarea de informar y analizar los problemas de forma honesta. Ha sido la creación de un ejército de propagandistas, personas –salvo contadas excepciones-  mediocres y carentes de ética; formadas para distorsionar la realidad, y actuar en la prensa escrita, televisiva y radial como verdaderos mercenarios. Hasta el  intelectual marxista Alfredo Guevara, al parecer asqueado por este escenario, reconoció hace unos meses en una reunión con estudiantes de periodismo que la prensa cubana “es muy pobre, no es convincente”, y se preguntó “dónde están esos paradigmas en nuestro periodismo; no sé los profesores que estén aquí cuanto trabajo pasarán para citar un paradigma contemporáneo en el periodismo.”

Criterios semejantes han sido vertidos por otros reconocidos intelectuales cubanos, como es el caso del cineasta y escritor Eduardo del Llano, quien llamó a un cambio en la prensa, empezando por la Mesa Redonda a la que critico como el ejemplo “más escandaloso”   de la falta de debate e ideologización de  los medios.  Incluso hasta el periódico Granma se ha tenido que hacer eco del clamor popular por un cambio radical en la prensa cubana, con la publicación de cartas criticas fundamentalmente hacia el mismo programa de televisión abordado por del Llano.

Realmente es escandalosa la utilización de los medios en Cuba.  Se ha perdido la tradición de hacer buen periodismo. La nación en el pasado tuvo órganos de prensa que desde variadas concepciones  eran referencia de magnífico periodismo para todo el continente.  Entre ellos podría mencionarse los periódicos Información, El Mundo, Prensa Libre, Diario de la Marina y Noticias de Hoy, así como las revistas Bohemia, Carteles, Vanidades, Orígenes, Revista de Avance y otras.   No pueden olvidarse plumas tan sobresalientes como las de José Martí, Juan Gualberto Gómez, Don Fernando Ortiz, Manuel Márquez Sterling, Alejo Carpentier, Jorge  Mañach, Enrique José Varona, Ramiro Guerra, Sergio Carbó, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Ramón Vasconcelos, sin soslayar a los comunistas Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, Juan Marínello, Salvador García Agüero, Nicolás Guillén, Jacinto Torras, Mirta Aguirre y otros.


Hoy la prensa sin credibilidad alguna, de forma manipuladora, busca en el exterior cuantos problemas existen para magnificarlos y examinarlos de forma casi siempre superficial, mientras se obvian los problemas de un país que está al borde del precipicio, como ha calificado el General Raúl Castro.  La Mesa Redonda es el ejemplo más prominente de la estafa informativa, con supuestos periodistas y académicos usualmente sumergidos en análisis torcidos y parcializados. No por gusto, este programa a nivel popular es objeto de burlas de toda clase, al mismo tiempo que se bromea con que los noticieros de la televisión nacional y el periódico Granma son los “únicos verdaderos productores agrícolas” en Cuba.

Incluso los sucesos internacionales están sujetos a análisis caprichosos y se ocultan hechos trascendentales, como la matanza de miles de oficiales polacos en el bosque de Katyn por el ejército soviético -horripilantes sucesos reconocidos hoy hasta por Rusia-, los genocidios en el Kurdistán iraquí por Sadam Husein, y el de Bosnia por los serbiobosnios.  La matanza de Srebrenica,  donde  se  ejecutó   8 000 personas en una noche, no existió en la prensa cubana. Los actos terroristas cometidos por Gadafi, como el derribo del avión en Lockhead, Escocia, nunca han sido analizados en la Mesa Redonda ni otros medios.  Pero los terroristas afganos, fieles aliados de Al Qaeda,  con sus manos manchadas de sangre inocente y salvajes opresores de las mujeres, se les llama “insurgentes” y prácticamente se aplauden sus criminales hechos; mientras,  se mantienen “fraternales” relaciones con los despóticos gobiernos de Corea del Norte, Irán y Siria, entre otros por el estilo, conocidos verdugos de sus pueblos.

En realidad es difícil encontrar en el mundo una prensa tan mendaz y periodistas tan oportunistas.  Las palabras del General Raúl Castro, sobre la difusión en la prensa cubana de materiales aburridos, improvisados y superficiales  son ciertas, pero no resolverán el problema, si al mismo tiempo no se avanza en la tolerancia y el respeto a las opiniones diversas, renunciándose al absurdo monopolio de la supuesta verdad por el Partido Comunista.  Un paso indispensable es que los cubanos podamos utilizar Internet libremente, y que puedan surgir otros órganos de prensa con libertad para reflejar con responsabilidad la variedad de opiniones existente en la sociedad cubana.

El Presidente en variadas ocasiones ha expresado estar en desacuerdo con la falsa unanimidad y  favorecer el debate y el libre intercambio de opiniones.  No obstante,  no se ha avanzado en ese sentido.  Incluso se han producido recientemente preocupantes casos de intolerancia y hechos reprobables, como las presiones sobre el renombrado pintor Pedro Pablo Oliva, solo por expresar pacíficamente sus criterios.

El Primer Secretario del PCC también ha manifestado la disposición de realizar cambios económicos para sortear la crisis.  Resulta imposible lograrlos sin una apertura a las libertades y la democracia, lo cual implica abrirse a una prensa dispuesta a analizar y proponer soluciones, de manera plural y seria sobre la implementación de las transformaciones urgentemente demandadas por la nación. Una prensa maniatada y servil como la actual poco podrá contribuir a que Cuba pueda enrumbarse hacia el progreso y el bienestar de su pueblo.

La Habana, 30 de mayo de 2011

Oscar Chepe and Miriam Leiva, February 2010. Photo by Arch Ritter


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Ana Julia Faya: “Back to where everything began”

I still remember the very private sea-front golf course, west of Havana, on my way to Jaimanitas, a small public beach where my parents took us in the summer. It was a neat, bright, green course, which contrasted with the deep blue coast. Then, in 59 or so, the “bourgeois” field was swept by “proletarian” Caterpillar tractors. Now, the golf course is being built again by other “bourgeois” companies, for the survival of the elite in power.

After reading about the projects of those big Canadian companies in Cuba, with their luxury hotels, golf courses, villas for… whatever, and don´t know what else, I cannot but feel very frustrated. Fifty years –actually 52!– in the life of a whole country absolutely wasted; almost two million Cubans living abroad, including skilled professionals; families divided, torn apart; thousands of Cubans going through the trauma of changing all their social values twice in a life time; hundreds drown trying to cross the Florida Strait, or having suffered repression, incarceration, harassment in front of their homes and their children; a good portion of the population currently living in rags, and this “socialist” “revolutionary” Government is leading the country back to where everything began in 1959 –except that at that time, the Havana Biltmore green course was owned by Cubans, and now is owned by foreign companies; Cuba was a prosperous small country, and now is in ruins.

The Varadero Golf Course

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A Further Step in the Liberalization of the Regulatory and Tax Environment for Small Enterprise Has Raul Now Got the “Horse before the Cart”?

By Arch Ritter

On Friday May 27, 2011, Granma, the official Cuban Newspaper announced a number of additional measures that would reduce the restrictions on micro and small enterprise, notably the “paladars” or small restaurants. (Continuar facilitando el trabajo por cuenta propia http://www.granma.cu/espanol/cuba/27mayo-continua.html)

The objective of the policy changes is to facilitate the expansion of employment in the small enterprise, creating new jobs to absorb workers to be declared redundant in the state sector.

The Government seems to now have the “horse before the cart: rather than the “cart befor the horse” in that job creation is being promoted first, with presumably the lay-offs coming afterwards, or perhaps through a normal process of letting those state sector work centers in personal service areas shut down, if they continuously make losses and have to be subsidized by the state.

There are a number of interesting measures:

1.      The most conspicuous measure is to permit the paladares or small restaurants to expand their capacity from 20 to 50 chairs – up from 12 before October.

2.      Loss-making state enterprises, notably state restaurants, may be offered for rental to self-employed individuals and operated as “cuenta-propistas”

3.      The hiring of up to 5 workers has been extended to all self-employment activities.

4.      The “minimum employment requirement” whereby for purposes of paying a tax on each employee a minimum number of employees were required, has been dropped.

5.      An exemption on paying the tax on each employee has been granted for the rest of 2011.

6.      Some additional new activities have been designated for self-employment;

7.      The payment of monthly taxes has been waived for taxi and bed and breakfast operators for up to three months while they repair their vehicles or rental facilities.

8.      The monthly up-front payment for bed-and breakfast operators has been reduced for the rest of 2011 from 200 to 150 pesos or convertible pesos (depending on whether they rented to Cubans in Moneda Nacional or foreigners in Convertible Pesos.

A Great New Paladar, with a Lucky Location on the Callejon del Chorro, Plaza de la Catedral

These changes are all reasonable. The government states that it is “learning from experience” (“rectificar en el camino”.) Pragmatism seems to be the growing vogue in economic management and that can only be positive.

Anothe Great Paladar, 23 y Calle G (Avenida de los Presidentes)

Cuenta Propista

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Up-Date on Canadian-Cuban Economic Relations

By Arch Ritter 1. Canadian Tourism in Cuba Canada continues to be the largest national source of tourists in Cuba, a position that it has had consistently since 1990. Canadian tourists numbered 555,872 out of a total of 1,179.963 from January to April 30, 2011, according to Cuba’s Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas. This is almost 10 times more than the second source country, Britain. Excluded from the ONE Chart are visitors from the United States who have been increasing rapidly and at this time must be a not-too-distant second to Canada Total Canadian tourism to Cuba will likely approach 1 million for all of 2011. It seems almost rare to encounter a Canadian who has not visited Cuba. While many visit only once, many others are repeat visitors, and obviously like their visits to Cuba. Tourism is of course a major source of foreign exchange earnings for Cuba, larger than any single merchandise export but also smaller than other service exports (mainly medical services.)  Foreign exchange earnings from Canadian tourism were likely in the area of US$ 882 million for 2008, (calculated as 37.6% of total tourism earnings of U.S. $ 2,347.  million.) If one takes both Canadian tourism plus Canadian merchandise imports (mainly nickel) from Cuba into consideration, Canada contributed about U.S. $1.6 billion in 2008, a substantial proportion of Cuba’s foreign exchange availability. One partial consequence of the steadily increasing contacts between the citizens of Cuba and Canada is the expansion in Cuban immigration to Canada. This has increased slowly but steadily reaching 1,421 individuals in 2009, up from 845 in 2000. (Citizenship and Immigration Canada www.cic.gc.cahttp://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2009/permanent/10.asp) Chart 1.          Principal Sources of Tourists, January to April 2011 Source: ONE, Turismo. Llegada de Visitantes Internacionales Enero – Abril 2011 2. Canadian Foreign Investment in Cuba. The first trimester of 2011 has been good for Sherritt International, the largest Canadian investment in Cuba by far, as well as for the nickel sector in Cuba. As a result mainly of a 27.5% increase in nickel prices, metals’ earnings from operations were  $57.4 million for January to March 31, 2011 and were $18.6 million higher than in the same period in 2010. Higher operations costs had a small negative impact on metals earnings, however. (Sherritt International Corporation, 2011 FIRST QUARTER REPORT, for the January to March 31, 2011, p.21) Another major Canadian investor in Cuba is Leisure Canada – headed by the legendary Canadian mining financier Walter Berukoff.  This firm is planning the construction of at least three major hotels, namely Monte Barreto in Miramar Havana, Jibacoa between Havana abnd Varadero (with a small “boutique beach”) and Cayo Largo as well as a golf course and a marina.  Perseverance has won out for Leisure Canada which succeeded in obtaining the rights – a 99 year lease presumably – to a 34,000 square meter-oceanfront property in the Miramar section of Havana.

The Monte Barreto Project

Here is some description of the projects from Leisure Canada’s publicity:

“The Monte Barreto site is located on the last significant piece of oceanfront property in Havana’s Miramar business and trade district. The property is 34,500 square metres and sits across from the new Miramar Trade Center, and adjacent to Havana’s National Aquarium. The proposed 716-room hotel project will have a significant retail and convention/entertainment component. With a planned 737-room hotel accompanying significant convention and retail space, Monte Barreto will stand as Cuba’s foremost luxury hotel catering to the world’s most sophisticated traveler. “ http://www.leisurecanada.com/monte_barreto.htm

“Jibacoa – Leisure Canada’s site spans 5.5 square kilometers of oceanfront property, which is located 65 kilometers east of Havana. The site is being developed as the first high-end destination resort in Cuba, and it will host six luxury hotels, two PGA championship golf courses, and timeshare villas.”

Cayo Largo – This small limestone quay, located 50 kilometers south of the main island of Cuba, possesses the most spectacular white sand beaches in all of the Caribbean. Cayo Largo is also rated as one of the world’s best diving sites. Leisure Canada’s project will involve the construction of 900 rooms, and a central pedestrian village that will offer retail and amenity experiences currently not offered on the island.

Another Canadian enterprise Standing Feather International spear-headed by Vincent McComber from the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve outside Montreal, is planning a 36-hole golf course, a beachfront hotel, spas, shopping centres – and, in a first for the island, villas owned privately by foreigners. This will be in a joint venture arrangement. If the foreign ownership of villas is accepted, it will constitute a major change for Cuba.   3. Cuba-Canada Trade Canadian trade with Cuba has begun to recover from the sharp contraction of 2008-2009 that reflected the impacts of the world recession on commodity prices, notably nickel, and on Cuba’s reduced foreign exchange earnings and lower capacity to purchase imports. Cuba’s exports to Canada continue to far exceed Canada’s exports to Cuba largely because of the importation into Canada of nickel concentrate from the Sherritt operation for refining in Fort Saskatchewan Alberta.  

Perhaps Raul Likes Golf


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Mark Frank: “Cuba cracks down on “Guayabera” crime”

One morning this month the nearly half a million inhabitants of Sancti Spiritus, a leafy province in central Cuba, woke up to find their local government had fallen.

Rather than some kind of US-inspired coup, however, the removal and subsequent arrest of five senior provincial officials was part of the increasing drive by Raúl Castro, president, against white-collar corruption – or white “Guayabera” crime as it is called after the distinctive Cuban dress shirt.

The crackdown, launched two years ago, has already cost hundreds of senior Cuban Communist party officials, state managers and employees their jobs and sometimes their freedom, as Mr Castro has struggled to shake-up the country’s entrenched bureaucracy and move the country towards a less centralised and more market-driven economy.

Although such campaigns are not new, the intensity of the current drive is unprecedented, as are the number of high level targets and breadth of their illicit activities, Communist party and government insiders said this week.

As well as Sancti Spiritus’s wayward officials, Havana’s mayor resigned last month after most of the capital’s top food administrators were swept away in another probe.

Last year, in the all-important nickel industry, which exports some $2bn annually, managers from mines and processing plants up to deputy ministers of basic industry were arrested after “diverting resources” and padding export weights, according to industry sources. Yadira García Vera, the minister, was eventually fired.

The drive began in earnest in 2009 when Mr Castro, 84, opened the Comptroller General’s Office, saying it would “contribute to the purging of administrative and criminal responsibility, both the direct perpetrators of crimes and the secondary ones . . . [who] do not immediately confront and report them.”

The move is designed to try and allow state-owned companies to operate more profitably, as Mr Castro wants them to, while also preventing the kind of corruption that marked Russia’s and China’s own moves to the market.

“The creation of the Comptroller General in 2009 was a significant step in the first phase of Cuba’s reform,” said Arturo López-Levy, a former analyst at Cuba’s interior ministry and now a Cuba expert at the University of Denver in the United States.

“East Asia demonstrated the wisdom of creating an anti-corruption agency early in the economic transition from a command economy.”

Cuba is fertile ground for corruption. After 20 years of economic crisis, and with state wages worth around $20 a month – a level that the government admits does not cover necessities – almost all Cubans engage in illegal activities to survive.

At the same time, the government is loosening regulations on small private business even as it cuts subsidies and lays off government workers, thereby requiring more sacrifice from state employees and pensioners.

“Raúl Castro has clearly gone to extraordinary lengths to make it clear that corruption – particularly at the higher levels – will not be tolerated, signalling he means business and higher-ups must sacrifice too,” said John Kirk, a Latin America expert at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

Cuba does not suffer from drug-related corruption like many of its neighbours, said western diplomats and foreign security personnel who work closely with Havana on interdiction.

Rather, according to foreign investors, the biggest problems they face when forming domestic joint ventures are the long delays starting and then operating a Cuban business – in part due to draconian regulations designed to prevent white-collar crime.

That is not the case in the external sector, where foreign trade and off-shore activities make corruption easier.

“The huge disparities between peso salaries, worth just a few dollars a month, and the influx of strong currencies, even in very small amounts, create extremely strong incentives to become corrupted,” said one western manager, who requested anonymity.

Cuban cigars have become the most emblematic case. Distributors in Canada and Mexico had long complained that millions of valuable “puros” – high quality cigars – were somehow making their way to other Caribbean islands and then being smuggled into their franchised territories.

But it was not until last year that the Cohiba-puffing Manuel García, the long-time vice-president of Habanos S.A., a joint venture with London-listed Imperial Tobacco and the exclusive distributor of the island’s famous cigars, was arrested along with a number of other executives and staff.

“Turns out we were complaining to the very people who had set up the sophisticated operation, complete with shell companies and paths to avoid import duties,” one foreign distributor said.

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Arturo Lopez-Levy: “Change In Post-Fidel Cuba: Political Liberalization, Economic Reform and Lessons for U.S. Policy”

Arturo Lopez-Levy

Here is the Hyperlink: Arturo Lopez Levy,Change In Post-Fidel Cuba: Political Liberalization, Economic Reform and Lessons for U.S. Policy” New America Foundation, May 2011,

Executive Summary:

This report explores the historic reform process currently underway in Cuba. It looks first at the political context in which the VI Cuban Communist Party Congress took place, including the Cuban government’s decision to release a significant number of political prisoners as part of a new dialogue with the Cuban Catholic Church. It then analyzes Cuba’s nascent processes of economic reform and political liberalization. To conclude, it discusses the challenges and opportunities these processes pose for U.S policy toward Cuba.

In his essay “Change in Post-Fidel Cuba”, Arturo Lopez-Levy, (a lecturer and PhD Candidate at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and also a graduate of the Carleton University-University of Havana Masters Program in Economics!) presents a wide ranging survey and careful analysis of economic and political changes in Cuba since Raul replaced Fidel in 2006, organizing his analysis around the pivotal Sixth Party Congress of April 2011.  Lopez-Levy tries hard to be even-handed and objective in his analysis. He succeeds well, though virtually no-one anywhere on any of the various political spectrums relevant to Cuba will be pleased with all of his assessments. His knowledge of Cuba at this juncture of its history is deep. He is particularly well qualified for undertaking such an analysis not only on the basis of his knowledge of Cuba and also given his academic work. His examination of Cuba’s political situation, the reform process, and US-Cuba relations is worth serious attention.

On the whole, Lopez-Levy is optimistic that the economic reform process, still in its initial phases, will be pragmatic, deep-cutting and irreversible but possibly excessively gradualistic.  He sketches the various elements of policy change that are slated for implementation and that will lead to a more decentralized and marketized economic framework that should help unleash and harmonize the economic creativity of Cuban citizens.

He is also optimistic that meaningful political liberalization will occur and indeed characterizes the regime under President Raul Castro as “Post-Totalitarian” – following some works of Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan (Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation, Baltimore: John

Hopkins University Press, 1996.) In Lopez-Levy’s words (p. 13), “Totalitarian practices have softened.” This obviously indicates that the author judges that practices indeed were totalitarian under Fidel and that they continue, though now somewhat “lighter”. (Political prisoners were released and independent critics have not been imprisoned.)

Lopez-Levy seems ready to be quite critical of Fidel but tends to give Raul the benefit of the doubt in a number of cases.  His euphemistic characterization of Fidel’s dictatorial rule is in fact damning if also humorous.

“By virtue of his historical leadership, Fidel Castro, in and of himself, embodied the minimum number of votes needed to establish a “winning coalition” in Cuban politics.”

But Lopez-Levy seems to want to find good things to say about Raul. For example,

“As Raul Castro hinted in his inaugural speech to the VI Party Congress2, this reform process will occur in tandem with political liberalization and the emergence of a Cuba more open toward the outside world.”

He also rather generously explains Raul’s selection of Jose Ramon Machado Ventura as First  Vice-President, and Second Secretary of the PCC as follows:

The decision to promote Machado (one year older than Raul)  to the second in command, first in the government, and now in  the Party, can be explained by two factors: 1) the triumph of the alliance of military leaders and provincial party czars as the dominant force in Cuban elite politics (versus government bureaucrats and Fidel’s appointed ideologues), and Raul Castro’s conviction that Fidel’s policy of promotion of young cadres “by helicopter”, not in a step by step Leninist fashion was a mistake.

The author’s own position on the political monopoly of the Communist Party of Cuba, sanctified by Article Five of the Cuban Constitution, does not seem clear. Lopez-Levy does speak supportively of political liberalization and refers to Fidel’s monopoly of the votes. But nowhere that I can see does he raise the over-arching central political issue and confront what he labels Raul’s “softer totalitarianism.”

The New America Foundation’s U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative, directed by Anya Landau French, seeks to take advantage of recent developments to redirect U.S.-Cuba policy towards a more sensible, mutually beneficial relationship. Learn more at http://cuba.newamerica.net


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Special Revista TEMAS Panel on the “Special Period”

TEMAS, Ei Periodo Especial veinte anos despues

TEMAS: no. 65: 59-75, enero-marzo de 2011


A special section of the TEMAS issue of January-March 2011 includes a Panel discussion on the causes, character and consequences of the “Special Period.” This still seems to be the epoch that Cuba is in officially, as there has been no official termination of the epoch nor a declaration of a new label for a new era. The panelists include Mayra Espina, sociologist ath the Centro de Investigaciones Psicológicas y Sociológicas (CIPS). José Luis Rodríguez, once again at the. Centro de Investigaciones de la Economía Mundial (CIEM) but formerly Minister of Finance and Planning,  Juan Triana, an economist at the. Centro de Estudios sobre la Economía Cubana (CEEC) and Rafael Hernández the Director de TEMAS

The questions addressed to the panel by Rafael Hernández include (in paraphrase):

1.      What was the character of the “Special Period” (SP)?

Were its causes essentially external?

Was it predominantly economic in character?

For how long has it continued?

2.      How effective were the policies implemented to deal with ot”

Were the policies based on scientific research?

Were the policies coherent and effective?

Were there unintended consequences?

To what extent did the policies succeed?

3.      Has the SP generated positive or progressive advances?

4.      Questions from the floor.

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