• This Blog on The Cuban Economy is dedicated to Cuba's Generation "A". Although inspired by Yoani Sánchez' blog "Generation Y" this is not dedicated to those with names starting with the letter "A". Instead, it draws from Douglas Coupland's novel Generation A which begins with a quotation from Kurt Vonnegut at a University Commencement that was brought to my attention by Andrew Johnston of Ottawa: ".. ... I hereby declare you Generation A, as much as the beginning of a series of astounding triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."

    The objective of this Blog is to facilitate access to research resources and analyses from all relevant and useful sources, mainly on the economy of Cuba.

ONE OF CUBA’S MOST RENOWNED ADVOCATES OF ECONOMIC REFORM HAS BEEN FIRED FROM HIS UNIVERSITY OF HAVANA THINK TANK FOR SHARING INFORMATION WITH AMERICANS WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION, AMONG OTHER ALLEGED VIOLATIONS

Associated Press, April 21 2016

Original Article: Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva Fired

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press

zzzDr. Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva

HAVANA (AP) — One of Cuba’s most renowned advocates of economic reform has been fired from his University of Havana think tank for sharing information with Americans without authorization, among other alleged violations.

The dismissal of Omar Everleny Perez adds to a chillier mood that has settled over much of Cuba as the country’s leaders try to quash the jubilation that greeted President Barack Obama’s historic trip to the island last month.

The Cuban Communist Party’s twice-a-decade Congress ended Tuesday after four days of officials issuing tough warnings about the need to maintain a defensive stance against what they called the United States’ continuing imperialist aspirations. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez described Obama’s visit as an “attack on the foundation of our political ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols.” President Raul Castro described the U.S. as an “enemy” seeking to seduce vulnerable sectors of society, including intellectuals and members of Cuba’s new private sector.

While that was going on, Cuban academics began sharing the news that Perez had been dismissed from his post at the Center for Studies of the Cuban Economy on April 8, less than three weeks after Obama’s visit.

Perez is one of the country’s best-known academics, an expert in developing economies who served as a consultant for Castro’s government when it launched a series of market-oriented economic reforms after he took over from his brother Fidel in 2008. Perez made dozens of trips to universities and conferences in the U.S. with university approval and frequently received foreign visitors researching the Cuban economy.

Reached by The Associated Press on Wednesday, Perez confirmed his dismissal by center director Humberto Blanco for having unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions and informing “North American representatives” about the internal procedures of the university.

The dismissal letter described Perez, 56, as “irresponsible” and “negligent” for continuing to engage in unauthorized activity after warnings from his superiors. It also accused him of receiving unauthorized payments for a study of the South Korean economy and said he was barred from returning to work for at least four years.

Perez said he had appealed his dismissal, and believes Cuban authorities were seeking to make an example of him — not because of the allegations in the letter, but because of his critical writings about the slow pace of economic reforms.

“Sometimes they don’t like what you write or think,” he told the AP.

Cuban government representatives did not respond to request for comment on Perez’s dismissal.

Perez was one of the first state economists to begin publishing in non-government publications, including several run by the Catholic Church. In 2010, he became a key consultant in reforms implemented by Raul Castro that include the legalization of hundreds of new types of private businesses, a loosening of restrictions on foreign investment, the opening of a real estate market and the handing of unused agricultural land to small farmers.

“I’m still a revolutionary and a nationalist and I believe in many of the reforms that Raul Castro is undertaking,” he said.

Cuba’s system is based on the communist government’s total oversight of virtually all elements of society, including the press, arts and academia.

While room for debate has grown somewhat under Raul Castro, and Cubans openly criticize the government in private conversations, intellectuals who publicly offend official sensibilities have found themselves losing their state jobs and other privileges.

“His call to speed up the reforms and make them coherent may have served to frighten some of the forces of immobility in the bureaucracy,” said Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban political scientist based at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico. “It’s a terrible message to economists that will affect the government’s own capacity to hear feedback about its reforms.”

Political scientist Esteban Morales was expelled from the Communist Party in 2010 for two years for denouncing corruption. Sociologist Roberto Zurbano lost his job at a state cultural center after discussing racism in Cuba in an editorial published in The New York Times. In 2013, musician Roberto Carcasses was temporarily barred from cultural institutions after criticizing the government during a concert, and director Juan Carlos Cremata was prevented last year from putting on a production of Eugene Ionesco’s “Exit the King,” a play about a once-powerful dying leader.

Pavel Vidal, a former colleague of Perez now working in Colombia, said the University of Havana was taking limits on academic work to an extreme.

“The public work of academics has been coming under increasingly greater control,” he said, even as Castro’s reforms make it more urgent for the country to have “new ideas and an open and honest debate about the future of the country.”

 

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UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL TRADE COMMISSION, OVERVIEW OF CUBAN IMPORTS OF GOODS AND SERVICES AND EFFECTS OF U.S. RESTRICTIONS

March 2016 Publication Number: 4597 Investigation Number: 332-552

Complete document is here:  US Exports to Cuba after the Embargo is Lifted

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Executive Summary

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 2 Cuban Imports of Goods and Services

Chapter 3 Current U.S. Restrictions on Trade with and Travel to Cuba and Their Effects on Cuban Imports of U.S. Goods and Services

Chapter 4 Possible Cuban Barriers to U.S. Exports and Investment in the Absence of U.S. Restrictions .

Chapter 5 Agricultural Products

Chapter 6 Manufactured Products

Chapter 7 Services

Chapter 8 Modeling the Effects of U.S. Restrictions and Cuban Barriers on U.S. Exports to Cuba

 Appendix A Request Letters

Appendix B Federal Register Notices

Appendix C Hearing Calendar

Appendix D Written Submissions

Appendix E List of Authorized Cuentapropistas

Appendix F Regulatory and Legislative Framework of the U.S. Restrictions on Trade with and Travel to Cuba

Appendix G Cuban Intellectual Property Laws

Appendix H HS Codes Contained in Each Sector

Appendix I Description of Empirical Methodology

Appendix J Tables to Support Figures

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CUBA’S AGING LEADERS TO REMAIN IN POWER YEARS LONGER

zzqqFidel Castro is applauded by his brother, Cuba’s President Raul Castro, right, and the second secretary of the Central Committee, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, left, during the closing ceremonies for the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 19, 2016.)

By Michael Weissenstein | AP April 20, 2016

Original article: Cuba’s Gerontocracy Continues

 HAVANA — The former guerrilla fighters who founded Cuba’s single-party government will hold power for years to come after a twice-a-decade Communist Party congress kept President Raul Castro and his hardline deputy in the top leadership positions.

Fidel Castro, who held power for nearly five decades before ill health led him to make way for his brother, delivered a valedictory speech to the congress Tuesday and called on it to fight for his communist ideals despite the fact that he is nearing the end of his life.

“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Castro said in his most extensive public appearance in years. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without a truce to obtain them.”

Raul Castro, 84, said he would remain the party’s first secretary and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 85, would hold the post of second secretary for at least part of a second five-year term.

Castro currently is both president and party first secretary. The decision means he could hold a Communist Party position at least as powerful as the presidency even after he is presumably replaced by a younger president in 2018. Castro indicated that he and Machado may also step down before the next congress in 2021, saying this year’s session was the last to be led by Cuba’s revolutionary generation.

Machado Ventura, who fought alongside the Castro brothers to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, is known as an enforcer of Communist Party orthodoxy and voice against some of the biggest recent economic reforms.

Despite the ascension of five younger party officials, including three women, to the party’s powerful 17-member Political Bureau, the day’s events disappointed many Cubans who had been hoping for bigger changes at the top of the single-party state.

“I would have liked younger people with fresh minds,” said Luis Lai, a 31-year-old printing-company worker. “The same party, but able to articulate ideas of people of my generation. Older people should retire.”

Fifty-five years after Fidel Castro began installing a single-party system and centrally planned economy, younger Cubans complain bitterly about low state salaries of about $25 a month that leave them struggling to afford food and other staple goods. Cuba’s creaky state-run media and cultural institutions compete with flashy foreign programming shared online and on memory drives passed hand-to-hand. Emigration to the United States and other countries has soared to one of its highest points since the revolution.

Limited openings to private enterprise have stalled, and the government describes capitalism as a threat even as it appears unable to increase productivity in Cuba’s inefficient, theft-plagued networks of state-run enterprises.

The ideological gulf between government and people widened last month when President Barack Obama became the first U.S. leader to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. He gave a widely praised speech live on state television urging Cubans to forget the history of hostility between the U.S. and Cuba and move toward a new era of normal diplomatic and economic relations.

The Cuban government offered little unified response until the Communist Party’s Seventh Party Congress began Saturday, and one high-ranking official after another warned that the U.S. was still an enemy that wants to take control of Cuba. They said Obama’s trip represented an ideological “attack.”

Shortly after the congress ended, government-run television showed rare images of 89-year-old Fidel Castro seated at the dais in Havana’s Convention Palace, dressed in a plaid shirt and sweat top and speaking to the crowd in a strong if occasionally trembling voice. State television showed at least one delegate tearful with emotion, and the crowd greeting the revolutionary leader with shouts of “Fidel!”

“This may be one of the last times I speak in this room,” Fidel Castro said. “We must tell our brothers in Latin America and the world that the Cuban people will be victorious.”

 

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DID OBAMA CHANGE CUBA?

By Joel Simon

Columbia Journalism Review, April 19, 2016

Original article: Did Obama Change Cuba?

When President Obama made his historic visit to Cuba last month, the US media followed. At a joint press conference on March 21 with Cuban president Raúl Castro, Obama called on CNN’s Jim Acosta, who asked the Cuban leader if he would be willing to release political prisoners. A flustered Castro sputtered and demanded a list of those imprisoned. Obama directed aknowing wink at the assembled journalists.

Obama’s implication was that by maneuvering to force Castro to respond live in front of the Cuban people and the world, he had bolstered the power of the press. Indeed, one of the key goals of Obama’s Havana trip was to create more space for critical expression in a country that until recently was one of world’s most censored. Among the 13 dissidents Obama invited to meet with him at the US Embassy in Havana on March 22 were several independent journalists. He insisted that his joint news conference with Castro be broadcast live.

While it’s too early to assess the overall impact of Obama’s visit, it seems the right moment to ask a more basic question: Has anything changed for journalists on the island in the month since Obama departed?

Miriam Leiva, an independent  journalists and blogger who met with Obama, sees the presidential visit as accelerating trends already under way. “The Cuban government is losing credibility day after day,” Leiva noted by phone from Miami, where she was visiting relatives. “President Castro made many promises and has not been able to fulfill those promises.”

Leiva has been a leading voice of independent journalism in Cuba since 2003, when her husband, economist turned journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, was arrested as part of a sweeping crackdown known as the Black Spring. Espinosa Chepe was released after two years due to poor health (he died of a liver ailment in 2013). But many of those detained along with him were not freed until 2010, in a deal brokered by the Spanish government and the Cuban Catholic Church.

By far the favored strategy employed by the Cuban government against dissident journalists has been organized stigmatization and isolation. Independent journalists have been confronted by screaming mobs, denounced in the state media, and relentlessly tracked by state security.

That is why Leiva is so heartened by the fact that  her neighbors now greet her in the street and even occasionally read her stories, which are distributed by email. “People are now more open, they feel less fear,” she says. “We ourselves have gained spaces.”

Indeed, Cuba’s media landscape is no longer static. While the stale state media predominates, there are over 3,000 blogs. Some espouse dissidence and resistance; others express support for the government and the Communist Party while highlighting shortcomings by local officials. “I wanted something small that wouldn’t be seen as a threat by the state media,” said blogger Elaine Díaz Rodríguez in arecent CPJ report. Díaz was the first Cuban journalists to receive a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University.

For Yoani Sánchez—another leader in the independent media—Obama’s visit had tremendous symbolic value. When Obama arrived in Havana in the middle of a rainstorm, he carried his own umbrella. Cuban functionaries had aides hold theirs. Obama is youthful; Cuba’s leadership is decrepit. Obama is black; Cuba’s leadership is white (despite the fact that Cuba is a majority black country); Obama shows off his family; Cuban leaders hide theirs.

Speaking this weekend at the International Symposium of Online Journalism, an annual media confab in Austin, Sánchez said the primary impetus for change in Cuba has been technology. Only 5 percent of the Cuban population has access to the internet (according to Sánchez; other sources say it’s higher). Cubans must use creative means to access information, including emailed PDFs and flash drives, which are easy to hide and distribute. More recently, Cubans have been flocking to a handful of expensive WiFi hotspots set up around Havana.

“We thought the Cuban people would take to the streets to topple the government, but instead they have done so to get online,” Sánchez quipped.

Sánchez, who started out posting an irreverent personal blog, is now essentially a publisher. She employs a regular staff that puts out a online newspaper, 14YMedio, that provides comprehensive coverage of daily events. “I’m worried less about who will be our next president, and more about who will our next citizens,” Sánchez explained. “As citizens become empowered, they need more information to make decisions. We want to be the newspaper of the Cuban transition.”

While the changing environment for news and information in Cuba is exciting, it is important to keep in mind that is still for the most part taking place within limits set by the Cuban Communist Party, which while no longer monolithic, is still firmly in control. Its reasons for opening Cuba are complex, but they are largely dictated by pragmatic concerns and a desire for self-preservation.

Even as it ceded the limelight briefly to Obama during his trip, the government made a point of consistently affirming the limits of dissent. Dissidents were roughed up and detained prior to and following Obama’s visit; the state media, which operates in accordance with Communist Party dictates, published identical headlines; Fidel Castro lashed out at Obama as soon as he departed the island; the Communist Party Congress, which ends today and will set the stage for transition from nearly six decades of rule by the Castro brothers, has been a particularly opaque affair, even by Cuban standards. Raúl Castro emphatically rejected new reforms during his opening speech, which only state media were invited to cover.

In visiting Havana, the gambit for Obama was that his mere presence could accelerate the opening in Cuba; the gambit for Raúl Castro was that he could gain international credibility and legitimacy without making political concessions. With his press conference wink, Obama implied that he had gotten the upper hand, but that is far from clear. While the press conference showed that Raúl Castro doesn’t like answering tough questions, there is no real evidence that he will be forced to do so again anytime soon.

After all, as 14YMedio photojournalist Luz Escobar pointed out, no independent Cuban reporters were present. “Cuba continues to be hostile for journalists” she says. “What gives me hope is the changing attitudes of the Cuban people.”

Joel Simon is a CJR columnist and the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. His second book, The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, was published by Columbia University Press in November 2014.

 

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CUBA CALLS OBAMA VISIT ‘AN ATTACK’ AS COMMUNISTS DEFEND IDEOLOGY

By Frank Jack Daniel and Nelson Acosta

Original Article: Communists Defend Ideology

Reuters, Mon Apr 18, 2016 3:59pm EDT

HAVANA U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Communist-led Cuba was an “attack” on its history and culture aimed at misleading a new business class, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Monday, the latest sign of blow-back after the ground-breaking trip last month.

“In this visit, there was a deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols,” Rodriguez said at the Communist Party congress.

Cuban leaders have hardened language against the United States since Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years, with Fidel Castro accusing him of sweet-talking the people.

President Raul Castro referred to the United States as “the enemy” in the opening speech of the party congress over the weekend and told Cubans to be alert to U.S. attempts to weaken the revolution.

The congress, held every five years, must make decisions about the future of Cuba’s elderly leadership and the progress of market-style economic reforms adopted in 2011 that allowed more small businesses.

The measures have been only partially implemented, amid resistance from hard-liners who distrust market economics and fear detente with the United States at a time when Cubans are increasingly vocal about their needs.

“The harsh rhetorical push-back by the ideological wing of the Communist Party suggests their heightened sense of vulnerability,” said Richard Feinberg, a former national security adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Rodriguez accused Obama of coming to “dazzle” the private sector, highlighting concern U.S. promises to empower Cuban entrepreneurs were aimed at building opposition to the single-party system in office since 1959.

“Socialism and the Cuban revolution are the guarantees that there can be a non-state sector that is not that of big North American companies,” he told state television.

Cuba has struck deals with U.S. companies such as hotel chain Starwood (HOT.N) and is in talks with others including Google-parent Alphabet (GOOGL.O). On May 1, Carnival (CCL.L) is to become the first U.S. cruise company to sail to Cuba, but the trip is in doubt over a ban on Cuban-Americans sailing.

Cuba believes “the interest in the country of 11.3 million and its tourism potential will overshadow any political decisions,” said John Kavulich, head of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York-based non-profit organization.

The United States and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations after Castro and Obama announced in December 2014 the two countries were seeking to normalize ties.

Despite the rhetoric, U.S. musicians Smokey Robinson, Usher and Dave Matthews were in Havana on Monday as part of a delegations representing Obama’s arts and humanities committee. A group of U.S. architects also visited on Monday.

PANAMA-AMERICAS-SUMMIT-CUBA-US-OBAMA-CASTRO

 

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ASSOCIATION FOR THE STUDY OF THE CUBAN ECONOMY, PAPERS AND PROCEEDINGS OF THE TWENTY-FIFTH ANNUAL MEETING, JULY 30-AUGUST 1, 2015

ASCE: Cuba in Transition: Volume 25

Papers and Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting,  July 30-August 1, 2015

All papers are hyperlinked to the ASCE Website and can be seen in PDF format.

wwwPreface

Conference Program

Table of Contents

Reflections on the State of the Cuban Economy Carlos Seiglie

¿Es la Economía o es la Política?: La Ilusoria Inversión de K. Marx Alexis Jardines

Los Grandes Retos del Deshielo Emilio Morales

Preparing for a Full Restoration of Economic Relations between Cuba and the United States Ernesto Hernández-Catá

Economic Consequences of Cuba-U.S. Reconciliation Luis R. Luis

El Sector Privado y el Turismo en Cuba Ante un Escenario de Relaciones con Estados Unidos José Luis Perelló Cabrera

The Logical Fallacy of the New U.S.-Cuba Policy and its Security Implications José Azel

Why Cuba is a State Sponsor of Terror Joseph M. Humire

The National Security Implications of the President’s New Cuba Policy Ana Quintana

Factores Atípicos de las Relaciones Internacionales Económicas de Cuba: El Rol de los Servicios Cubanos de Inteligencia Enrique García

Entrepreneurship in Post-Socialist Economies: Lessons for Cuba Mario A. González-Corzo

When Reforms Are Not: Recent Policy Development in Cuba and the Implications for the Future Enrique S. Pumar

Revisiting the Seven Threads in the Labyrinth of the Cuban Revolution Luis Martínez-Fernández

La Economía Política del Embargo o Bloqueo Interno Jorge A. Sanguinetty

Establishing Ground Rules for Political Risk Claims about Cuba José Gabilondo

Resolving U.S. Expropriation Claims Against Cuba: A Very Modest Proposal Matías F. Travieso-Díaz

U.S.-Cuba BIT: A Guarantee in Reestablishing Trade Relations Rolando Anillo, Esq.

Lessons from Cuba’s Party-Military Relations and a Tale of “Two Fronts Line” in North Korea Jung-chul Lee

The Military, Ideological Frameworks and Familial Marxism: A Comment on Jung-chul Lee,“A Lesson from Cuba’s Party-Military Relations and a Tale of ‘Two Fronts Line’ in North Korea” Larry Catá Backer

Hybrid Economy in Cuba and North Korea: Key to the Longevity of Two Regimes and Difference Young-Ja Park

Historical Progress Of U.S.-Cuba Relationship: Implication for U.S.-North Korea Case Wootae Lee

Estimating Disguised Unemployment in Cuba Ernesto Hernández-Catá

Reliable Partners, Not Carpetbaggers Domingo Amuchástegui

Foreign Investment in Cuba’s “Updating” of Its Economic Model Jorge F. Pérez-López

Global Corporate Social Responsibility (GCSR) Standards With Cuban Characteristics: What Normalization Means for Transnational Enterprise Activity in Cuba Larry Catá Backer

Bienal de la Habana, 1984: Art Curators as State Researchers Paloma Checa-Gismero

Luchas y Éxitos de las Diásporas Cubana Lisa Clarke

A Framework for Assessing the Impact of U.S. Restrictions on Telecommunication Exports to Cuba Larry Press

Measures to Deal with an Aging Population: International Experiences and Lessons for Cuba Sergio Díaz-Briquets

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TO BE A WRITER IN CUBA

Yvon Grenier

Literal: Latin American Voices, April 2016

 Original Article: To be a writer in Cuba

Y wwwww wwwwwwThe methodology of Leonardo Padura

Soy un escritor, en lo fundamental, de la vida cubana, y la política no puede estar fuera de esa vida, pues es parte diaria, activa, penetrante de ella; pero yo la manejo de manera que sea el lector quien decida hacer las asociaciones políticas, sin que mis libros se refieran directamente a ella. De verdad, no la necesito ni me interesa, pero, en cambio, me interesa muchísimo que mis libros puedan ser leídos en Cuba y que la gente pueda dialogar con ellos.

 Leonardo Padura Cubaencuentro, 19 December 2008

“People think that what I say is a measure of what can or can’t be said in Cuba,” Leonardo Padura once stated in an interview with Jon Lee Anderson.  In fact, what he says is a measure of what he—along with some other Cuban writers or artists—is allowed to say in Cuba. It is a privilege, not a right.  Lesser authors who don’t enjoy his international fame (and Spanish passport) probably couldn’t have published a book like El hombre que amaba los perros, as he did in 2010, a year after it was edited in Spain by Tusquets. In fact, the book probably wouldn’t have appeared at all in Cuba decades or even years ago, which makes him the beneficiary (and the confirmation) of a recent openness. The government grants Padura some recognition (he won the National Literature Prize in 2012), as well as some privileges commonly bestowed on successful writers and artists: he can travel and publish abroad, and he can accept monetary compensation in foreign currency. But he is kept in a box. His books are nearly impossible to find on the island. The prestigious awards and accolades he is receiving abroad are mostly glossed over by the Cuban media. Finally, his insightful but politically cautious journalism is read all over the world, but not in Cuba (save for a few exceptions).

Numerous times Padura has made clear his desire to live in the house his father built in Mantilla, a working class municipality on the outskirts of Havana. He sometimes signs his articles, “Leonardo Padura, Still in Mantilla.” He also wants to be a “Cuban writer,” and as such, he feels he has “a certain responsibility because our reality is so specific and so hard for many people.” A genuine writer cannot be a mouthpiece for the government. Padura’s success in conciliating these two potentially conflicting ambitions—to be a writer who lives and work in Cuba—is, as John Lee Anderson put it, “a tribute both to his literary achievement and his political agility.” Blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote, “His ‘rarity’ lies fundamentally in having been able to sustain a critical vision of his country, an unvarnished description of the national sphere, without sacrificing the ability to be recognized by the official sectors. The praise comes to him from every direction of the polarized ideological spectrum of the Island, which is a true miracle of letters and of words.” This is why Padura is often seen as a sort of experiment on how to express freedom in a land bereft of freedom of expression.

Conclusion

Rather than pushing for more room for expression, Padura’s method seems to be to occupy all the space available without crossing any red lines. This has allowed him to elude the fate that befell so many writers in Cuba. His criticism of many aspects of Cuban society is achieved without directly addressing the political system in Cuba. This method works, in the sense that it provides him with basic guidelines to practice his métier in Cuba. Padura is not an exponent of the “art for art’s sake” viewpoint. He wants to talk about the “reality” in Cuba, but without acting like an activist for change. He cultivates a “practice of social and human introspection that occasionally reaches politics, but that does not part from there..” But one wonders, what happens when it comes to politics, “cuando llega a la política”? The answer is: not much, because he can’t go there and continue living and working in Mantilla. Living and working in Cuba is most valuable not only for him, but also for his readers. In one of his essays entitled “I would like to be Paul Auster,” he complains that he would love not to be constantly asked about politics in his country and how and why he continues to live there. But this is very much his niche: he is widely seen as the best writer in Cuba. He offers us an off-the-beaten path view of a relatively closed society, one that is free of propaganda if not entirely free tout court. No writer could attain global respectability producing a prose laden with official propaganda. By occupying a small but significant critical space in Cuba, Padura becomes more interesting for Cuba observers and more intriguing for students of cultural and literary trends on the island. In this sense, he may be compared to authors and artists who produce somewhat critical material under dictatorial regimes, like Ismael Kadaré (Albania-France) or Murong Xuecon (China) —he is closer, in fact, to the former than the latter.

In sum, Leonardo Padura found a sweet spot that has allowed him to navigate the tumultuous waters of censorship while searching for (and finding) his own voice. He has managed to become, as one observer wrote, “perhaps the foremost chronicler of the island.” Does he (and do his readers) pay too high a price for his privilege to write “from Mantilla”? Would he be more valuable to us, and a better writer, in exile?

Continue Reading: Yvon Grenier, TO BE A WRITER IN CUBA

Yvon Grenier teaches and writes on Comparative politics, Latin American politics (esp. Cuba, Mexico and Central America), Art /literature and politics, as well as political violence.He is also a Contributing Editor for Literal  as well as an occasional  political commentator for Radio Canada/CBC. His Twitter is @ygrenier1

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INFORME CENTRAL AL 7MO. CONGRESO DEL PARTIDO COMUNISTA DE CUBA, PRESENTADO POR EL PRIMER SECRETARIO DEL COMITÉ CEN¬TRAL, GENERAL DE EJÉRCITO RAÚL CASTRO RUZ, LA HABANA, 16 DE ABRIL DE 2016, AÑO 58 DE LA REVOLUCIÓN

Complete document here: Informe Central al 7mo Congreso del Partido

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RAUL CASTRO PRESENTS GRIM PORTRAIT OF CUBAN REFORMS

By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
Associated Press, April 16, 2016

Original article: Cuban Reforms

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HAVANA (AP) — Cuban President Raul Castro delivered a grim report on the state of the country on Saturday, acknowledging that the communist bureaucracy he oversees has failed to implement most of the hundreds of changes launched five years ago to stimulate the stagnant centrally controlled economy.

In a two-hour address to the twice-a-decade meeting of the Cuban Communist Party, Castro praised a new era of detente with the United States and an ensuing boom in tourism. He lamented that his government remained unable to address a series of deeper structural problems that have left millions of Cubans struggling to feed their families.

Cuba remains saddled by an overdependence on imports, slow growth, a byzantine double currency system, insufficient agricultural production and an inability or unwillingness among state employees to enact guidelines for change approved at the last party congress.

Citing a government statistic that only 21 percent of the 313 guidelines approved in 2011 have been carried out, Castro blamed the government’s inability to turn goals into facts on the ground.

“The obstacle that we’ve confronted, just as we expected, is the weight of an obsolete mentality that takes the form of an attitude of inertia,” he said.

There was some irony to Castro’s complaints. As president of Cuba and head of the party, he maintains near-total control of the country. And the slowness he derided is an essential part of his own policy. Castro repeated Saturday that Cuba’s reforms would be “with neither haste nor pause” and that the country would never feel the “shock therapy” experienced by other socialist states.

But Castro is also confronting problems inherent to the system he helped create. When his brother Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he put in place a state in which virtually every aspect of economic and political life came under control of the Communist Party.

After taking over from Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro began shrinking the state and allowing a private sector to flourish. The number of Cubans working for themselves or other citizens has grown to include nearly a quarter of the working population, or roughly 500,000 people. And as the private sector has grown, members of Cuba’s massive and powerful bureaucracy have begun to treat it as either a resource to be pillaged or a threat to livelihoods long guaranteed by the state.

Newly successful businesses find themselves hit by repeated inspections and long slowdowns in obtaining licenses and permits, problems often resolved with a quiet payoff.

Raul Castro directly addressed the tensions between the socialist state and its new private sector in his Saturday address.

“The recognition of the existence of private property has generated honest concerns among not just a few of the participants in discussions leading up to this congress, who expressed worries that doing so was taking the first steps toward the restoration of capitalism in Cuba,” he said.

“I’m obliged to tell you that this is in no way the goal,” Castro said. “Comrades, it’s precisely about calling things by their name and not hiding in illogical euphemisms in order to hide the reality.”

Many Communist Party members complained that this year’s Seventh Party Congress was cloaked in secrecy and a series of proposals that will be considered over the next three days were not shared with the vast majority of the party’s nearly 700,000 members. Castro and other top party officials said that was because the congress was simply evaluating progress in executing guidelines approved after lengthy internal party debate in 2011.

However, Castro offered a hint that this year’s congress may contain important new measures to jumpstart reform of the economy, which grew 4 percent last year amid a nearly 20 percent surge in tourism and is expected to grow at half that in 2016. Castro said that of 268 measures under consideration, 31 were unchanged from 2011 and 44 were entirely new. He said that 193 had been “modified” but gave no indication about the extent of the changes.

He did speak at length about the need for unifying Cuba’s two currencies and creating a legal framework for small and medium-sized businesses, both changes seen as urgent by outside observers.

Castro spent relatively little time addressing his decision to normalize relations with the United States. In a brief moment of attempted levity, he derided American democracy as a sham, saying he saw no difference between Democrats and Republicans.

“It’s as if we had two parties in Cuba and Fidel led one and I led the other,” he said, prompting laughter from the roughly 1,000 party delegates watching his speech, which was broadcast live on state television. Foreign and independent media were barred from the event.

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CUBANS LOOK TO COMMUNIST PARTY CONGRESS FOR EVIDENCE OF REFORMS; A month after Obama’s historic visit disenchantment over reforms is setting in.

Financial Times, April 15, 2016 10:38 am

Marc Frank in Havana and John Paul Rathbone in Miami

Original article: Communist Party Congress

Oslavi Ramirez wistfully imagines the day when he can freely buy the cheese, tomato paste and disinfectant he needs to run his two cafés in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Havana.

“They made the reforms but forgot the conditions to make them work,” complains Mr Ramirez of Cuba’s missing wholesale markets where restaurateurs in other countries normally buy their food. “It’s as if they made a [toy] doll and forgot the head.”

A month after the euphoria of US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba — which raised hopes of an easing of economic sanctions and greater freedoms — disenchantment and frustration are setting in.

Cubans are now looking to the Communist Party Congress, which begins on Saturday, for evidence of a deepening of economic reforms, and for signs the party’s “historic generation” will begin to hand over the baton of power to younger counterparts.

Few, though, have high hopes.

“There is a lot of discontent,” says Omar Esteban, a 30-year-old Havana taxi driver. “There’s scarcity and it’s getting worse, in the entire economy, in everything you need. I doubt the congress will do anything to improve our situation.”

The four-day congress, the first in five years, comes at a critical juncture for the Caribbean island nation.  It will probably be the last presided over by a Castro brother: President Raúl Castro, 84, has said he will retire in 2018; his predecessor Fidel, aged 89, stepped down in 2006. Many expect the gathering of 1,000 party members will elect a new politburo, rejuvenating the current 14-strong body, which has an average age of 70.

“The historic generation is passing its biological capabilities . . . It has to renovate,” says Reinaldo Escobar, news editor of 14ymedio.com, an independent news website. “But which new faces will appear? They are the new wave. That’s why this Congress is important.”

The congress will also set Cuba’s economic course over the next several years. Reform hopes rose after the last meeting in 2011 liberalised some aspects of Cuba’s Soviet-style system, such as allowing small businesses. Detente with the US has further boosted expectations.

 But economic growth has averaged just 3 per cent since then — well below the more than 5 per cent growth rate the government seeks. One reason for the underperformance is the drop in commodity prices. This has squeezed the sale of Cuban professional services, such as doctors, to countries hit by the commodity price slide such as Venezuela, Brazil, Angola and Algeria. Lower revenues have, in turn, forced Cuba to cut its imports, according to diplomats, leading to growing domestic scarcities.

“Nothing has changed. They say produce more, but there are no resources,” says Ramon, a small farmer in the town of Artemisa, west of Havana. “It’s worse than five years ago.”

During last month’s visit, Mr Obama laid down a gauntlet when he spoke publicly of how Cubans “should not fear change [they] should embrace it.” “Even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realise their potential without continued change in Cuba,” the president added.

But worryingly for Cubans who struggle to feed their families on average state wages of $25 a month, the government has recently back pedalled on liberalisation. It now wants to increase, instead of reduce, its role in food distribution, likely worsening the shortages of supplies small restaurateurs such as Mr Ramirez face.

“Everyone knows that will not work . . . There are already reports of food rotting,” says a Cuban party member and agricultural expert. “It worries me.”

Some blame the reforms’ timidity and slowness on the tension between allowing economic but not political liberalisation. “They [the government] fears a Yeltsin free-for-all,” says one European businessman with long experience of Cuba, referring to the chaotic period following the collapse of communism in Russia. “They are much more impressed by China.”

Others cite stiff bureaucratic resistance to liberalisation.

“Too many people are used to administrating the system in the old way,” says Rafael Hernández, editor of Temas, a reform-orientated cultural magazine. “Too many people have become comfortable in their positions. They do not want to let go, they do not want to change, they do not want to cede their positions.”

Whatever the case, the public mood has soured. A few days after Mr Obama’s visit, the official newspaper of Cuba’s communist party printed a front-page editorial which argued increasingly vocal public dissatisfaction is “a sign of the democracy and public participation that are the intrinsic characteristics of the socialism we are constructing”. It also acknowledged that only 21 per cent of the 2011 reform programme had been implemented.

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FOTOS del VII Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba,

16 de marzo de 2016 (Radio Rebelde)

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