• 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."

Thriller set in Havana captures the wreckage of Cuba’s revolution

JOHN BARBER

The Globe and Mail, Published Friday, Mar. 29 2013

Sitting in a spotless, sunny apartment in Toronto’s immigrant-dense Thorncliffe Park, neatly dressed, fit and clear-eyed at 72, author Jose Latour shares his darkest thoughts. They focus on his native country, Cuba, and the disaster he foresees following the inevitable collapse of its geriatric communism.

“Once we have democracy in Cuba and a multiparty system and human rights, and so on, criminals from everywhere will come to Cuba,” he predicts. “There will be big corruption, a lot of prostitution and drugs.” Any semblance of social order will collapse with the dictators, he predicts.

It’s not that Latour harbours any fondness for the current regime, which effectively hounded him and his family out of the country when his crime novels began reaching an international audience, drawing unwelcome attention to the often harsh reality of life in a socialist paradise. But corruption and criminality are Latour’s métier. And as his latest novel proves, this author can still feel the deepest rhythms of Cuban society virtually in his own pulse.

Set at the climax of the Cold War, Riders of Land and Tide is a Tom-Clancy-style thriller that centres on a drug-fuelled mutiny aboard a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine in the Caribbean. Action, suspense, plot: It delivers all that the genre promises, as one would expect from a veteran once described by The Globe’s Margaret Cannon as “a classic noir writer.”

Jose Latour

But Latour’s latest also offers a revealing portrait of ordinary people in Cuba, based closely on his own former friends and colleagues, struggling to maintain their dignity amid the wreckage of revolution.

In this, Latour says, Riders is his most ambitious novel. “It’s Cuban history through the lives of three families,” he says. “The plot is absolutely fictional,” he adds, but the events and the characters and their struggles are painstakingly real. “Hundreds of thousands of Cubans live lives like these,” Latour says.

But the author has paid for his ambition to stretch genre bounds. “My Canadian publisher, McClelland & Stewart, didn’t want to publish Riders of Land and Tide because they said it dealt too much with the personal lives of people,” he says. “They wanted the book more centred in action, action, action. And I don’t do that kind of book.”

Vampires, zombies and other trendy tropes leave him cold. “That’s not my world,” he says. “I’m a realist, and I don’t believe all endings are happy and the good guys always win.”

As a result, Latour finds himself thrust onto the front lines of the electronic revolution, publishing Riders as an e-book in an exclusive six-month deal with digital bookseller Kobo. It will become available on competing sites beginning in April.

But Latour is no stranger to the vanguard, beginning with his role as an ardent young revolutionary working as a financial analyst in his country’s new government. Making the leap from bureaucracy with the help of three successful novels written in his spare time, Latour was able to quit his day job in 1990 in order to write full-time.

A growing darling of the Havana diplomatic corps due to his international reputation and work as a translator, Latour definitively stepped offside with a novel called The Fool, based on a true story of political corruption involving high-ranking officers in the Cuban armed forces and Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Declared an enemy of the people, Latour was followed in the streets and received threatening phone calls. “So I had a meeting with my family and said, ‘Look, this is going to be a problem. I’m 60 years old. I don’t want to go to a Cuban prison at 60.’”

Cuban prison “is not Canadian prison, just in case you don’t know that,” he adds. “No, no, it’s something very different.”

Using a book tour in Spain as pretext, Latour, his wife Sandra and their two children left Cuba for good in 2002. After two years of living in Spain, they became patriotic new Canadians. None dreams of a return. “Canada is my country,” Latour says. “I’m a Canadian citizen, and this is where I hope to be cremated.”

Both children have since graduated from the University of Toronto and left home to pursue careers. But as much as Latour worries about the future of his native country, he worries that his children dream of becoming writers like him.

“I tell them, ‘Listen, you write a book like you purchase a lottery ticket,’” he says. “’I’ve been purchasing 649 since I got to Toronto and I have never won more than $10. It’s exactly the same with books.’”

So why does he keep doing it himself?

“Because I was born to write,” he answers. “It’s as simple as that.”

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Cubans on the Island and Cubans Around the World: We Are All Just Cubans, Period

Yoani Sanchez

[Text read in an event at the Freedom Tower, Miami, Florida, 1 April 2013]

Years ago, when I left Cuba for the first time, I was in a train leaving from the city of Berlin heading north. A Berlin already reunified but preserving fragments of the ugly scar, that wall that had divided a nation. In the compartment of that train, while thinking about my father and grandfather — both engineers — who would have given anything to ride on this marvel of cars and a locomotive, I struck up a conversation with the young man sitting directly across from me.

After the first exchange of greetings, of mistreating the German language with “Guten Tag” and clarifying that “Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch,” the man immediately asked me where I came from. So I replied with “Ich komme aus Kuba.”

As always happens after the phrase saying you come from the largest of the Antilles, the interlocutor tries to show how much he knows about our country. “Ah…. Cuba, yes, Varadero, rum, salsa music.” I even ran into a couple of cases where the only reference they seemed to have for our nation was the album “BuenaVista Social Club,” which in those years was rising in popularity on the charts.

But that young man on the Berlin train surprised me. Unlike others, he didn’t answer me with a tourist or music stereotype, he went much further. His question was, “You’re from Cuba? From the Cuba of Fidel or from the Cuba of Miami?”

My face turned red, I forgot all of the little German I knew, and I answered him in my best Central Havana Spanish. “Chico, I’m from the Cuba of José Martí.” That ended our brief conversation. But for the rest of the trip, and the rest of my life, that conversation stayed in my mind. I’ve asked myself many times what led that Berliner and so many other people in the world to see Cubans inside and outside the Island as two separate worlds, two irreconcilable worlds.

The answer to that question also runs through part of the work of my blog, Generation Y. How was it that they divided our nation? How was it that a government, a party, a man in power, claimed the right to decide who should claim our nationality and who should not?

The answers to these questions you know much better than I. You who have lived the pain of exile. You who, more often than not, left with only what you were wearing. You who said goodbye to families, many of whom you never saw again. You who have tried to preserve Cuba, one Cuba, indivisible, complete, in your minds and in your hearts.

But I’m still wondering, what happened? How did it happen that being defined as Cuban came to be something only granted based on ideology? Believe me, when you are born and raised with only one version of history, a mutilated and convenient version of history, you cannot answer that question.

Luckily, it’s possible to wake up from the indoctrination. It’s enough that one question every day, like corrosive acid, gets inside our heads. It’s enough to not settle for what they told us. Indoctrination is incompatible with doubt, brainwashing ends at the exact point when our brain starts to question the phrases it has heard. The process of awakening is slow, like an estrangement, as if suddenly the seams of reality begin to show.

That’s how everything started in my case. I was a run-of-the-mill Little Pioneer, you all know about that. Every day at my elementary school morning assembly I repeated that slogan, “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che.” Innumerable times I ran to a shelter with a gas mask under my arm, while my teachers assured me we were about to be attacked. I believed it. A child always believes what adults say.

But there were some things that didn’t fit. Every process of looking for the truth has its trigger, a single moment when a piece doesn’t fit, when something is not logical. And this absence of logic was outside of school, in my neighborhood and in my home. I couldn’t understand why, if those who left in the Mariel Boatlift were “enemies of the State,” my friends were so happy when one of those exiled relatives sent them food or clothing.

Why were those neighbors, who had been seen off by an act of repudiation in the Cayo Hueso tenement where I was born, the ones who supported the elderly mother who had been left behind? The elderly mother who gave a part of those packages to the same people who had thrown eggs and insults at her children. I didn’t understand it. And from this incomprehension, as painful as every birth, was born the person I am today.

So when that Berliner who had never been to Cuba tried to divide my nation, I jumped like a cat and stood up to him. And because of that, here I am today standing before you trying to make sure that no one, ever again, can divide us between one type of Cuban or another. We are going to need each other for a future Cuba and we need each other in the present Cuba. Without you our country would be incomplete, as if someone had amputated its limbs. We cannot allow them to continue to divide us.

Just like we are fighting to live in a country where we have the rights of free expression, free association, and so many others that have taken from us; we have to do everything — the possible and the impossible — so that you can recover the rights they have also taken from you. There is no you and us… there is only “us.” We will not allow them to continue separating us.

I am here because I don’t believe the history they told me. With so many other Cubans who grew up under a single official “truth,” we have woken up. We need to rebuild our nation. We can’t do it alone. Those present here — as you know well — have helped so many families on the Island put food on the table for their children. You have made your way in societies where you had to start from nothing. You have carried Cuba with you and you have cared for her. Help us to unify her, to tear down this wall that, unlike the one in Berlin, is not made of concrete or bricks, but of lies, silence, bad intentions.

In this Cuban so many of us dream of there will be no need to clarify what kind of Cuban we are. We will be just plain Cubans. Cubans, period. Cubans.Freedom Tower, Miami, Florida

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Who’s Afraid of Yoani Sánchez

, Co-organizer, The Revolution Recodified: Digital Culture and the Public Sphere in Cuba, from Huffington Post, 27 March 2013

Yoani Sánchez’s historic visit to New York last week thrust political debates about Cuba into the public arena, exposing their invariably polemical character. During the famed Cuban blogger’s visits to university campuses, the only venues that offered public access to Sánchez, she encountered fans who read her blog Generation Y, Cuban exiles who admire her temerity, and a small but ardent band of protestors. As one of the organizers of the conference featuring Sánchez at The New School and New York University, the institutions that sponsored her visit to New York, I was privy to the challenges involved in bringing her to the U.S. as well as those of managing a volatile crowd. Although the disruptive tactics used by the protestors suggested that they were intent on shutting public debate down rather than engaging with Sánchez, I’d like to take a moment to consider the content of their statements, as well as their form of address.

As a moderator, I reviewed all the questions from the audience. Those coming from Sánchez’s detractors were fairly consistent in content and limited in scope. Her critics asked about money they assumed she receives from the U.S. State Department; they doubted the political effectiveness of blogging; and they demanded to know why Sanchez’s writings did not highlight positive aspects of the Cuban Revolution. They also drew attention to the unjust treatment of immigrant workers in the U.S., as if to suggest either that Sanchez’s calls for democratization in Cuba were tantamount to an embrace of all American policies and practices, or that political change in Cuba would necessarily result in neoliberal style labor exploitation. Although Sanchez was invited to speak about digital cultures emerging in Cuba, the protestors sought repeatedly to sidetrack the discussion by exhorting Sánchez to defend the Revolution and by trying to impugn her credibility.

Sánchez described these protests in Cuban terms as “actos de repudio” — the collective acts of public excoriation aimed at dissidents that are orchestrated by the Cuban government. To her credit, she also responded calmly to many of her opponents’ questions, explaining that she recognizes the limits as well as the benefits of the internet-based movement that she leads; that she visits the U.S. Interests Section to obtain visas just as Cuban officials seeking to travel do; that the translations of her writings into multiple languages are produced by volunteers; that she makes a living from her publications and does not receive funding from the U.S. government; and that she understands her role as an independent journalist to be that of a critical conscience, rather than a promoter of official Cuban policy. Even though the conference organizers explained that Sánchez’s trip to New York was paid for by The New School and NYU, and even though her English translator MJ Porter detailed how the international team of translators had been formed, the protestors continued to accuse her of being a mercenary financed by the CIA, as if repeating unsubstantiated accusations would somehow make them true.

While it is not possible to prove that Sánchez’s protestors in New York took orders from Havana, it does appear that they do not perceive the contradiction involved in exercising their right to express alternative views in order to discredit Sánchez’s attempts to do the same in her own country. The protestors’ raucous behavior was somewhat comic, but sadly, their questions bespeak commonly held assumptions among American progressives about Cuba, Cuban dissidents and Cuban exiles. All too often, progressive Americans maintain their unflinching support of Cuba as an expression of their critical views of U.S. policy, not because of their understanding of Cuban society. Rather than renouncing their political ideals, they seek to silence the messengers who deliver a very different picture of life in Cuba as it is lived, not prescribed by a political apparatus. Unfortunately, the Cuban government makes matters worse through its hegemonic control over academic organizations that support Cuban studies abroad, and by instilling fear in Cuban studies scholars outside Cuba that public criticism of the Revolution will result in their being denied entry to the island. Recent posts from Cuba on government-sponsored blogs raised the issue of whether the presence of Sanchez and fellow blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo on American campuses might have an adverse effect on academic exchange projects between Cuban and U.S. institutions; the very act of releasing such questions can have a chilling effect on public debate about Cuba beyond its borders.

Ardent Cuba-supporters’ tirades against Cubans who publicly expresses criticism of the Cuban Revolution not only mirror the repressive tactics the Cuban government uses to discredit its internal opposition, but also deny Cubans agency as thinking subjects. As Sanchez herself put it, how could it be possible for Cuba to be the only country in the world with a citizenry that agrees with everything that its government does? Might it not be reasonable for Cuban exiles, who send billions of dollars to their island relatives and who function as de facto wholesale suppliers for Cuban small businesses, to have their views be treated with respect too? Don’t Americans deserve access to the diversity of views that exist among Cubans inside and outside Cuba? As a Cuban-American who has conducted research on Cuban culture for three decades, I have had to contend with intimidation from extreme right Cuban exiles, pro-Cuba leftists in the U.S. and Cuban state security because I refuse to stay inside the ideological sandbox created by the Cold War. I find it quite heartening now to witness how Cubans from across the political spectrum are beginning to open themselves to peaceful dialogue with each other thanks largely to the work of writers such as Yoani Sánchez who are creating virtual forums for a plurality of views about Cuba to be shared with the world.

Yoani Sanchez in New York

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“Private sector bites into Cuban state food sales”

* First wholesale market opens in Havana; State share of food sales declines

By Marc Frank, Reuters,  Wed Mar 27, 2013

HAVANA, March 27 (Reuters) – Cubans are building private food distribution networks from the farm through to retail outlets as communist authorities gradually dismantle the state’s monopoly on the purchase and sale of agricultural products.

The country’s first wholesale produce market is up and running on the outskirts of Havana and across the island farmers report they are selling more of their goods directly to customers, ranging from hotels to individual vendors.

Those involved say the change is speeding the flow of food to market, helping end longstanding inefficiencies that often left crops to rot in fields and putting more money in the pockets of producers.

“We purchased two old trucks this year, in part to deliver produce to our state clients in Camaguey,” said the president of a cooperative near the city in central Cuba.

“A few years ago we had to sell everything to the state, which then sold it to our clients a few days later. Now it arrives fresh and we keep the 21 percent profit that went to the state wholesaler,” he said, asking to remain anonymous.

Private trucks, some dating back to the 1950s and beyond, clatter into cities and towns delivering goods to kiosks and stalls run by private farm cooperatives or their surrogates.

In eastern Santiago de Cuba, the trucks roll into retail markets where private food vendors, who roam the streets with horse-drawn wagons, push and tricycle carts, gather to buy.

With the country importing around 60 percent of its food and private farmers outperforming state farms on a fraction of the land, authorities are gradually deregulating the sector and leasing fallow land to would-be farmers.

At the same time private truckers and vendors are being licensed as part of an opening to small businesses, with 400,000 people, including employees, now working in what’s called the “non-state” sector.

SLOW GOING

It is slow going, with farm output up just a few percentage points since President Raul Castro, who replaced his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, began agricultural reforms as part of a broader effort to “modernize” the Soviet-style economy.

Local farmers and experts say resistant bureaucrats, cautious leadership, the state’s continued monopoly on farm inputs and a lack of financing are holding up growth.

Yet, deregulation is gradually taking hold and private supply chains, whose participants were once labeled “parasitic middlemen” and even criminals by authorities, are emerging, now with the state’s blessing.

“The farmers harvest all this in the mornings, put it in sacks and weigh it, then truckers bring it in,” said purchaser Ariel Gonzales, leaning on his tricycle cart loaded with onions, garlic, carrots and other items at the Havana wholesale market.

“The food arrives the same day, it’s all fresh and at 50 percent or less of retail prices,” Gonzalez, who delivers to three small Havana retail outlets, said.

“Of course, when it rains this all turns to mud. You would think the government would pave it,” he said. “After all, we are feeding Havana.”

Five years ago 85 percent of all food produced in the country was contracted and sold by the state. By last year it had fallen to below 60 percent, according to the government. Within a few years it is expected to bottom out at around 35 percent, mainly root vegetables, grains and export crops.

“These are products not included in any contract with the state. You can sell them freely,” said Homero Rivero, a small farmer turned part time trucker and wholesale vendor as he supervised the unloading of sacks of cucumbers, crates of tomatoes and other vegetables from a vintage Ford truck.

Hundreds of purchasers swarm the area bidding for the goods, often accompanied by strapping young men with tricycle carts hired to move the produce to waiting vehicles.

FOOD NO LONGER WASTED

Rivero’s old Ford was one of many similar vintage vehicles piled with fruit, garden and root vegetables late Tuesday afternoon, even as dozens more waited to enter the makeshift market on an unpaved lot at the edge of the Cuban capital.

The market opens in the afternoon and runs into the late evening.

The scene is chaotic and crude and the trucks and carts decrepit, reflecting the precarious state of the country’s agricultural infrastructure.

“The law is that there is no law, you can do what you want with these products,” said Rivero, who is from the adjoining province of Mayabeque.

Cuba’s capital is home to 2.1 million people, 20 percent of the country’s population and is far wealthier than other cities.

Trucks arrived from all over the island, for example hawking pineapples and oranges at 7 pesos and 2 pesos each from Matanzas, 70 miles (112 km) to the east, compared with the local retail price of 15 pesos and 4 to 5 pesos respectively.

Jaimito Alvarez, who comes into Havana every 10 days from Pinar del Rio, 100 miles (160 km) to the west, said before the produce was often wasted.

“Before, if you produced more than planned, you were lucky if the state picked it up. Private food sales were forbidden and usually some of your crop rotted in the fields or was fed to the pigs,” Alvarez said.

State Sector Retailing circa 2000

State Sector retailing, 1969; Photo by Arch Ritter

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Construction trades people to be allowed to form co-ops

Cuba Standard March 27,2013

The government will be allowing the creation of cooperatives for building maintenance and renovation, Cuba’s economic reform czar Marino Murillo announced in a speech  about domestic trade, according to official daily Granma.

In addition, the Domestic Trade Ministry will expand sales of much-needed construction supplies and create more wholesale channels, Vice President Murillo said March 27, without providing any details.

While the government announced last year it will support the creation of urban cooperatives, a body of regulations for the new cooperatives has yet to be published.

In order to be successful, the new cooperatives must be based on the free will and convenience of their members, function independently, be efficient, and offer quality products and services, said University of Havana economist Jesús Cruz at a workshop in the Havana headquarters of Cuba’s official union March 26.

Murillo’s announcement seems to open a window of opportunity for carpenters, electricians, plumbers and painters to get into business for themselves, albeit collectively. While the government allowed private businesses to engage in 178 activities two years ago, some construction trades are not included.

Demand for construction services is high, as Cuba is facing the deep and growing challenge of a neglected and crumbling housing stock. But so are obstacles. In 2012, construction supply sales through government-owned outlets — the only ones that offer the much-needed goods — were more than 20 percent below planned targets, Murillo said.

Last week, the government announced the creation of a wholesale company on the Isle of Youth, an apparent pilot project in the effort to channel affordable supplies to Cuba’s fast-growing private sector.



In Need of Repairs: One hopes that cooperative enterprise can help.

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Raúl Castro crea organismo para combatir la corrupción

Por Redacción CaféFuerte,  25 Marzo 2013

Gladys Bejerano, Contralora General de Cuba

El gobernante Raúl Castro prosiguió su cruzada contra la corrupción y el desorden administrativo en el país con la creación de un órgano estatal de control que estudiará y dictaminará sobre los casos significativos de ilegalidades y las medidas disciplinarias para enfrentarlas.

Un decreto del Consejo de Estado, publicado por la Gaceta Oficial  anunció la designación de la Comisión Estatal de Control (CEC), que funcionará en los niveles nacional y provincial, y tendrá por objetivo “frenar y liquidar la corrupción administrativa”. La CEC  procederá al análisis y estudio de casos en los que se manifiesten “ilegalidades, presuntos hechos delictivos y de corrupción para profundizar en las deficiencias detectadas, los modos de operar, características, causas y condiciones y los efectos producidos”, señala el decreto, publicado el pasado 14 de marzo.

Además buscará “alertar y recomendar medidas de carácter preventivo y de otra índole en el interés de eliminar o disminuir, en lo posible, la reiteración de tales hechos”, y dará seguimiento a las medidas adiministrativas y disciplinarias adoptadas con los responsables directos y colaterales del acto delictivo.

Contralora General al mando

El organismo estará presidido a nivel nacional por la Contralora General, Gladys Bejerano, vicepresidenta del Consejo de Estado, y deberá nombrar como vicepresidente al Primer Vicecontralor General, según el documento.

El resto de los integrantes de la CEC serán los ministros de Finanzas y Precios, Lina Olinda Pedraza, y de Justicia, María Esther Reus; y representantes de la Fiscalía General y los ministerios del Interior, Fuerzas Armadas, Economía y Planificación, Relaciones Exteriores, Comercio Exterior y la Inversión Extranjera, y Trabajo y Seguridad Social, así como del Banco Central de Cuba, la Oficina Nacional de Administración Tributaria y la Aduana General de la República.

La CEC sustituye a una comisión gubernamental con similares fines que había sido instituida en julio del 2008 como órgano asesor del gabinete de Raúl Castro. La creación del nuevo organismo anticorrupción se suma a la batalla declarada por Raúl Castro contra este flagelo, que desangra la vida económica y social del país.

Durante la sesión de la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular del pasado 24 de febrero, Raúl Castro llamó a mantener el enfrentamiento a las indisciplinas e ilegalidades de todo tipo, incluyendo el combate a la corrupción que atentan contra las bases mismas del sistema socialista.

Orden, disciplina y exigencia

“Sin la conformación de un ambiente de orden, disciplina y exigencia en la sociedad, cualquier resultado será efímero”, recalcó el gobernante, que anunció que en la sesión del parlamento del próximo julio se trataría el tema a pronfundidad.

Las indisciplinas sociales e ilegalidades administrativas serán también objeto de análisis en las asambleas provinciales del Poder Popular, previas a la sesión parlamentaria.

A mediados de este mes, en una reunión amplada del Consejo de Ministros, Castro insistió en que trabajar con disciplina y exigencia es imprescindible para restablecer el orden en todos los escenarios de la sociedad cubana. La prensa oficial se ha volcado al combate de las ilegalidades y la corrupción mediante reportes y artículos sobre el tema.

“El control es parte del trabajo y no una tarea adicional”, tituló este lunes el diario Granma una entrevista conDarma Carina Solá, Contralora Jefe de la Dirección Integral de Control de la Contraloría General.

Desde comienzos de año la Contraloría General realiza auditorías en organismos y empresas estatales, lol que ha arrojado múltiples deficiencias en el funcionamiento y control de recursos, así como en el cumplimiento de los contratos.

 

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“ASSESSING THE GOALS AND IMPACT OF THE CUBAN EMBARGO AFTER 50 YEARS”

The Dean Rusk Center for International Law and Policy, University of Georgia School of Law presented a most interesting conference on The Cuban Embargo: Policy Outlook after 50 Years  on March 22, 2013. The principal organizers of the conference were Ambassador C. Donald Johnson, Director, Dean Rusk Center for International Law and Policy and Laura Tate Kagel, Assistant Director, Dean Rusk Center for International Law and Policy.

The Conference included a broad range of views on the issue from Dan Fisk, the major author of the Helms-Burton Bill to Ambassador Jose Cabanas of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, and from Ricardo Torres and Jorge Mario Sanchez of the Center for the Study of he Cuban Economy to Vicky Huddleston, former US Ambassador to Cuba. The Dean Rusk Center will publish a “Conference Proceedings” document in the near future and I will make this available on this site when it appears.

In the meantime, here is the Power Point version of my presentation: “ASSESSING THE GOALS AND IMPACT OF THE CUBAN EMBARGO AFTER 50 YEARS”

Below is the Programme for the Conference

Friday, March 22, 2013,  8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Dean Rusk Hall, Larry Walker Room, 4th Floor

 Program:

8:30 a.m. Registration and Coffee

9:00 a.m. WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION

 Rebecca H. White, Dean, University of Georgia School of Law

 C. Donald Johnson, Director, Dean Rusk Center

 9:15 a.m. PANEL 1— ASSESSING THE GOALS AND IMPACT OF THE CUBAN EMBARGO AFTER FIFTY YEARS

Panelists:

– Archibald R.M. Ritter, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, Carleton University,  Ottawa, Canada

– Ricardo Torres, Deputy Director, Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy (CEEC), University of Havana, Cuba

– Ray Walser, Senior Policy Analyst, Latin America, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.

Moderator: C. Donald Johnson, Director, Dean Rusk Center

11:00 a.m. PANEL 2— EXECUTIVE AND LEGISLATIVE PATHWAYS TO REMOVING SANCTIONS

Panelists:

– Daniel W. Fisk, Vice President for Policy and Strategic Planning, International Republican Institute, Washington, D.C.

– Vicki Huddleston, former Chief of Mission, Interests Section of U.S.A., Havana, Cuba

– Robert L. Muse, Attorney, Washington, DC

Moderator:   Timothy L. Meyer, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia  School of Law

12:45 p.m. KEYNOTE ADDRESS:  José R. Cabañas Rodríguez, Chief, Cuban Interests Section, Washington, D.C.

1:45 p.m. Break

2:00 p.m. PANEL 3— TRADE AND INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES AND THE U.S.-CUBAN ECONOMIC RELATIONSHIP IN A POST EMBARGO REGIME

Panelists:

– Jonathan C. Benjamin-Alvarado, Professor of Political Science, University of Nebraska at Omaha

– Gary W. Black, Commissioner of Agriculture for the State of Georgia

– C. Parr Rosson, III, Professor and Head, Department of Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University

– Jorge Mario Sánchez Egozcue, Senior Researcher and Professor, Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy (CEEC), University of Havana, Cuba

 Moderator:  Marisa Anne Pagnattaro, Professor of Legal Studies, Terry College of Business , University of Georgia

3:30 p.m. CLOSING

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Cubans on the move as new real estate market grows

 

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA | Wed Mar 20, 2013

HAVANA (Reuters) – At an informal housing market on Havana’s historic Paseo del Prado, Renaldo Belen puts the hard sell on a prospective buyer under a tree hung with hand-lettered signs advertising homes for sale.

A house near Boyeros, the avenue to the city’s airport, is being offered for the equivalent of $120,000, with all the amenities.

“The house is beautiful; it has four bedrooms, a pool with a bar and a fountain with a lion’s head on top. Look,” says Belen, pointing to photos on the sign, “water comes out of the lion’s mouth.”

Pausing for dramatic effect, Belen, one of the many touts, or “runners” working at the market, delivers what he hopes will be the coup de grace.

“This place needs no work. It is of capitalist construction,” he says, using a now frequently invoked commendation meaning it was built before Cuba’s 1959 revolution and is therefore of superior quality.

Given that “capitalist” has been a dirty word in communist-run Cuba for the last half century, the description perhaps grates on the nerves of Cuban leaders.

But its widespread usage is a sign of the times on the Caribbean island, where President Raul Castro has loosened things up as he tries to modernize the country’s economy in the name of preserving the socialist system put in place by his older brother Fidel Castro.

HOME SALES REPLACE SWAPPING

In November 2011, the government decreed that Cubans could buy and sell homes for the first time since the early days of the revolution, paving the way for a real estate market that has become an exercise in bare-knuckled capitalism. Previously, Cubans could only do swaps – or “permutas,” in Spanish – with their houses.

“For Sale” signs are now a common sight on homes and apartments across the country, more than 100,000 properties are posted for sale on Internet sites and even state television has gotten in on the act, devoting part of a daily show to sales announcements sent in by viewers.

The government last released figures on the market in September 2012 when it said 45,000 dwellings had changed hands in the first eight months of the year, partly through sales, but mostly through “donations.”

Cubans, accustomed to finding ways around heavy-handed government rules and regulations, say many sales are disguised as donations to avoid paying sales fees and taxes.

The new market, despite its apparent vibrancy, is still sorting itself out and still faces hurdles. The main one is that many people are trying to sell and few Cubans, who receive various social benefits but earn on average the equivalent of $19 a month, have the money to buy.

“With the new law, you can sell your house, but there’s no money, nobody to buy. There’s more being offered than there is demand,” said retired economist and math professor Raul Cruz, who has had his apartment in the Vedado district on the market for five months.

Havana was once considered an architectural jewel with an eclectic mix of colonial homes and modern Art Deco construction, but much of the city outside the touristy Old Havana district is in a dilapidated state after decades of neglect and corrosion from humidity and salty sea air.

A study by a Miami-based group found that asking prices range from the equivalent of $5,000 to $1 million, with a median price range between $25,000 and $40,000. Cuba has two currencies, the peso and the convertible peso, the latter of which is used in most housing transactions and is pegged one-to-one with the U.S. dollar.

FOREIGN BUYERS?

What has developed is a two-tier market, the runners at Paseo del Prado say, with Cubans mostly buying small places for between $5,000 and $10,000 and foreigners with Cuban connections buying the more expensive properties.

Sixty-year-old graphic designer Pepin, who did not want to give his full name, has been trying for six months to sell his nearly century-old Vedado home, two stories and painted blue, for $130,000.

So far almost everyone taking a look has been a foreigner or a Cuban with family abroad providing the money, he said, and all have tried to bargain for a lower price.

“One Chinese man, for example, offered me 80,000, but I’m not desperate or anything. If they give me what I want, fine. If not, I’ll stay here,” he said, relaxing in a chair on his plant-enshrouded front porch.

By law, the market is open only to Cubans on the island or those living temporarily abroad. But foreigners, including Cubans living in the United States or other countries, are buying properties in the names of Cuban spouses, family members or friends.

Companies with offices abroad have sprung up to cater to foreign buyers, posting photographs and descriptions of properties across the country on the Internet. Attempts to speak with one of them, Point2Cuba, went unanswered.

The reasons foreigners buy are varied, said Emilio Morales, president of the Havana Consulting Group in Miami.

“I have heard of people who are buying homes and turning them into businesses,” he said. “Some are looking for an investment, others doing it for their family (in Cuba).”

The Cuban government has laid the groundwork for allowing foreigners to buy property on the island, but only in resort developments for which approval has been pending for years.

It could inject billions of dollars into the cash-strapped economy by opening the real estate market to all in a new foreign investment law, said Morales.

BARGAIN HUNTING

Information on pricing in the real estate market is sketchy, but the general sense among Cubans is that asking prices began high and have come down somewhat.

Most blame the drop on the supply and demand problems, while others point the finger at another Raul Castro reform – a newly liberalized migration law, which took effect on January 14 and makes it easier for Cubans to go abroad.

“Prices have dropped now because there’s a greater incentive after January 14 to sell and abandon the country. Which is to say that people hurry up and want to sell quickly,” said Roberto Perez, who is trying to sell his two-story home near the sea in Havana ‘s Playa district for $200,000.

The prices depend on the necessity of the seller. “Someone who has a visa (to go to another country) and has a house worth 60,000 may sell it for 30,000,” said Belen, the Paseo del Prado runner.

Selling is being driven by Cubans wanting to cash in on the sole major asset most of them have. One of the quirks of Cuban communism is that while most things are property of the state, the vast majority of the country’s 3.2 million homes are owned by the people living in them.

“This is one of the things that gave longevity to the Revolution. They have something that most people in Latin America don’t have and wish for,” said Miami lawyer Antonio Zamora, a Cuban American who visits the island frequently.

While some sellers want to sell so they can leave, many simply want the money so they can live better in Cuba. Most said they would use part of the money to buy a smaller house, then live off the rest or use it to open a business.

Need and the low economic standards on the island have created some incredible bargains for people accustomed to paying high housing prices in other countries.

One woman, who did not want to give her name or the location of her residence, said she had recently sold the six-bedroom penthouse with a sweeping sea view she shared with several family members for the equivalent of $130,000. The buyer was a European with a Cuban spouse.

“I know it’s going to be worth a lot more in 10 years but everybody in the family wanted the money now. When we were moving out, a man came running up and told me he would give me 50,000 more than whatever the sale price was, but we had already signed the contract,” she said with a sigh.

Zamora, the Miami lawyer, predicted that Cuba would one day be a big market for Cuban Americas retirees.

“This is going to be huge,” he said, noting that Cuba has low crime and health costs, as well as good airport connections to the United States and a well developed money transfer industry for remittances.

“$750 in social security in the U.S. is nothing here in Miami but it can go a long way in Cuba,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Rosa Tania Valdes in Havana and David Adams in Miami; Editing by David Adams and Claudia Parsons)

Arranging “Permutas” in Havana’s Pre-2012 Informal Housing Market, on Paseo del Prado 

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Cuba to open state-run wholesaler for private companies

Thursday Mar 7, 2013

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, March 7 (Reuters) – Cuba established on Thursday a state-run wholesale company to sell food products, industrial and other consumer goods to private companies and the state sector, a step aimed at meeting a key demand of local entrepreneurs.

The new company was just the latest indication that President Raul Castro plans to create a strong private sector in retail services and farming as part of a broader reform of the Soviet-styled economy.

Since taking over for his brother Fidel in 2008, he has been lifting some restrictions on civil liberties, such as travel and the sale and purchase of private property, as well as revamping the state-dominated economy into a more mixed and market friendly one.

More than 200,000 small businesses have opened since Cuba liberalized regulations on them in 2010 and the number of entrepreneurs and their employees was 370,000 at last count.

Cuentapropista: now with access to inputs at wholesale prices?

“This step is long overdue and promises to remove a serious disadvantage faced by small entrepreneurs,” said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute who has closely followed the reforms.

“It is the latest sign that the government wants the private sector to grow and needs it to create jobs for its reform program to succeed,” he added.

At the close of 2012 there were 1,736 private restaurants, 5,000 bed and breakfasts, and thousands of cafeterias, pizzerias and snack shops, according to the government.

Business owners have long complained that they must purchase supplies at state retail shops, while their state competitors purchase at more competitive wholesale prices, a problem authorities have repeatedly promised to remedy.

Thursday’s official Gaceta published an internal trade ministry resolution bringing together a number of companies into a new state holding company, the “Food, Industrial and Other Consumer Goods Trading Company.”

The resolution, which when published became law, stated the company would attend to both the state and “non-state” sectors.

State-run companies control all foreign and wholesale trade in Cuba and have been prohibited from selling to the private sector.

It was not clear how long it would take to set up the new company.

On Tulipan Street in the New Vedado district of Havana, a busy area with many private food vendors, no one knew about the new company, but all agreed it would be welcome.

“This is what we have been waiting for and its good they are finally doing something,” said Ofelia Rodriguez, 45, who sells pastries.

“I guarantee you, that if the prices are reasonable I can lower those I put on my products,” she said.

One woman selling soda, sandwiches and snacks nearby, said she would pass judgment once the company was in operation.

“For me, the issue isn’t if they open a wholesale outlet, but what they are going to sell and at what price,” said Eneida, 50, asking that her last name not be published.

“We have to wait and see if this is to help us meet our needs or pick our pockets of the little we make.” (Editing by Jackie Frank)

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Women’s Work: Gender Equality and the Role of Women in Building Cuba’s Future

The Author: Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas has just published a study on gender equity in Cuba.

The complete report is available for download  CDA_Womens_Work[1]   The first part of the Executive Summary is presented below.

Ritter’s comment:

While this is an interesting study, the author seems to studiously avoid even the mention of some of the most courageous women in Cuba who are already having an influence on public policy and will likely play a more important role in building Cuba’s future than any of the women cited or interviewed for the study. I am referring of course to the independent journalists, pro-democracy activists, and those who dare to speak up in support of the genuine respect for the basic human rights that Cuba has signed on to in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

How could an organization labelled the Center for Democracy in the Americas not have spoken to individuals such as Yoani Sanchez, Miriam Celaya, the Ladies in White, or Miriam Leiva?

The immigration reform law would not likely have been passed at this time were it not for the unrelenting pressure of Yoani Sanchez and the international publicity this engendered and the shame the travel restrictions brought on the Cuban government.

Arch Ritter

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women Building Cuba’s Future,” a report by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, examines progress made by Cuban women toward gender equality since the 1950s and discusses how that progress can be sustained in the future.

Cuba is highly ranked by international organizations from Save the Children to the World Economic Forum for the health and well being of its mothers and children; the literacy and educational attainment of its population; and for meeting or progressing toward the Millennium Development Goals.

These accomplishments are  met with skepticism even disbelief by some in the U.S., because Cuba has a tiny economy, it is not capitalist or rich and, by U.S. standards, it is not free. Yet, the numbers speak for themselves.

But, the data also demonstrate, and many Cuban women agree, that measured against key objectives of gender equality – do women have access to higher-paying jobs; can they achieve a fair division of labor at work and home; are they acceding to positions of real power in the communist party or government– Cuba has a long way to go.

Now, as Cuba faces an economic crisis driven by fiscal, competitive, and demographic pressures, the government is trying to update its economic model. But, several actions – such as cutting budgets and controlling costs in its public health and education systems, and shrinking state employment rolls and moving workers into private sector jobs – could put Cuba’s gender equality achievements at considerable risk. Many Cuban women are reluctant to make the transition from the state jobs where they found work and received benefits to private sector employment, because they lack training, job security and benefits, and access to capital.

With ample global evidence that broadening rather than constraining participation by women increases economic growth, social wellbeing, and family formation, Cuba can improve its prospects for addressing the crisis by preserving, and indeed, expanding its commitment to gender equality. Cuban women also want to expand their roles, their power, and their ability to participate in the building of Cuba’s future.

CDA believes it would serve the national and humanitarian interests of the U.S. to help Cuban women achieve greater economic success as their nation undergoes a stressful adjustment to a new economic model, and the report offers recommendations for doing so.

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