• 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."

THE MASK SLIPS: THE CAUSES OF CUBA’S UPRISING LIE AT HOME

Joe Biden should scrap Donald Trump’s policies and lift the embargo

The Economist, July 15th 2021

Original Article: THE CAUSES OF CUBA’S UPRISING

Thousands of protesters thronged the streets on July 11th. Some stoned the police and looted posh shops. Such outbursts are unprecedented in Cuba since the communists secured their hold on power in the 1960s. “Freedom!” and “Down with the dictatorship!” they chanted, and “Patria y Vida!” (Fatherland and Life), quoting an underground reggaeton song that mocks Fidel Castro’s tired slogan of “Fatherland or Death”.

All this poses an extraordinary challenge to the dull bureaucrats who rule Cuba, after the death of Fidel and the retirement of his younger brother, Raúl, earlier this year. The regime has responded with repression. “Revolutionaries, to the streets,” urged Miguel Díaz-Canel, the president who this year took the helm of the Communist Party, unleashing troops, police and loyalist mobs wielding baseball bats. At least one person was killed. Scores have been detained and the government has sporadically cut access to the internet.

Repression may work in Cuba, as it has elsewhere. But something there has snapped. The tacit contract that kept social peace for six decades is broken. Many Cubans used to put up with a police state because it guaranteed their basic needs, and those with initiative found a way to leave. Now Cubans are fed up. When Mr Díaz-Canel blames the protests on “American imperialism”, all he shows is how out of touch he is. The protesters are young, mainly black and dismiss the Castros’ revolution of 1959 against an American-backed tyrant as ancient history.

They have plenty to complain about. The pandemic has shut off foreign tourism, aggravating the economy’s lack of hard currency. Raúl Castro launched economic reforms, but they were timid and slow, permitting only minuscule private businesses. It was left to Mr Díaz-Canel to take the most momentous step, by ordering a big devaluation in January. Without measures to allow more private investment and growth, that has merely triggered inflation. As its sanctions-hit oil industry collapses, Venezuela, Cuba’s chief foreign patron over the past 15 years, has curbed its cut-price oil shipments, prompting power cuts during the heat of summer. Chronic shortages of food and medicine have become acute. Despite Cuba’s prowess at public health and its development of its own vaccine, the government has failed to contain the pandemic. The sick are dying, abandoned at home or on hospital floors.

Two other factors explain the outburst. One is the change of leadership. The Castros commanded respect even among the many Cubans who abhorred them. Mr Díaz-Canel, without a shred of charisma, does not. And the internet and social media, allowed only in the past few years, have broken the regime’s monopoly of information, connecting younger Cubans to each other and the world. They have empowered a cultural protest movement of artists and musicians. Its message, in the unanswerable lyrics of “Patria y Vida”, is “Your time’s up, the silence is broken…we’re not scared, the deception is over.”

Mr Díaz-Canel faces a choice: to turn Cuba into Belarus with sunshine, or to assuage discontent by allowing more private enterprise and greater cultural freedom. That could weaken the army and the Communist Party, but it would eventually salvage some of the revolution’s original social gains.

Curiously, many Republicans in the United States echo Mr Díaz-Canel’s description of America’s role in the protests. President Donald Trump tightened the economic embargo against Cuba, barring American tourists, curbing remittances and slapping sanctions on state firms, largely reversing Barack Obama’s opening to the island. Like Cuba’s president, Republicans argue that the unrest proves the embargo is working at last.

Not so. True, the embargo has made life harder for the Cuban government. But its restrictions mainly hurt Americans. The regime can still buy American food and medicine and trade with the world. The causes of Cuba’s social explosion lie at home.

Open the windows

Joe Biden should draw the obvious conclusion. So far he has left Mr Trump’s Cuba policy intact, so as not to annoy hawkish Cuban-Americans. Instead he should return to Mr Obama’s approach. The big threat to a closed regime is engagement with the world, especially the United States. Mr Biden should lift the embargo and deprive the regime of an excuse for its own failures. 

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LAS RAZONES DEL 11-J Y LAS OPCIONES POSIBLES.

julio 17, 2021

Autor: Mauricio de Miranda

Original Source: Las razones del 11-J y las opciones posibles.

En días pasados estallaron protestas sociales en diversas localidades de Cuba. Para los dirigentes cubanos y los medios oficiales de prensa que responden al gobierno cubano, se trata de “disturbios, desorden, causados por una operación comunicacional que se prepara desde hace tiempo”, propiciados por “mercenarios al servicio del imperialismo”. Sin embargo, más allá de una retórica que se basa en el no reconocimiento de la realidad política, económica y social que vive el país y en achacar la responsabilidad de las protestas, denominadas desórdenes -aunque los hubo como en todas las protestas-, a agentes al servicio de intereses extranjeros, Cuba enfrenta desde hace muchos años una crisis económica y social de graves proporciones que se ha transformado en una crisis política. Es imprescindible debatir acerca de las causas pero también abrir un debate sobre las alternativas y posibles soluciones, con el objeto de evitar que el país llegue a un callejón sin salida.

Las razones económicas.

La situación económica actual de Cuba es la más terrible desde el llamado Período Especial de los años noventa del pasado siglo. En 2020, el Producto Interior Bruto (PIB) cayó un 11,3% pero ya en 2019 se había producido una caída del 0,2% y el crecimiento promedio anual entre 2015 y 2019 fue de solo 1,7%, lo cual es insuficiente para asegurar una senda de desarrollo económico. El gobierno cubano ha insistido en responsabilizar al bloqueo estadounidense y a los efectos de la pandemia con la situación económica del país. El recrudecimiento de las sanciones económicas durante la administración de Trump y la aparición y ahora el empeoramiento de la pandemia han tenido efectos nocivos indudables en la economía cubana, sin embargo, no son los responsables de los graves problemas estructurales que ésta padece.

A lo largo de más de seis décadas se han ido acumulando serios problemas que dependen, principalmente, de los sucesivos errores de política económica cometidos por la dirección del país, que han conducido a un incremento de la vulnerabilidad externa de la economía cubana y han dificultado el desarrollo de la producción nacional, debido a la excesiva centralización de las decisiones económicas, a la incapacidad para generar suficientes estímulos al desarrollo productivo y a los frenos que se han impuesto al emprendimiento.

Las reformas económicas que se han realizado desde los años noventa han sido parciales e insuficientes, no han abordado los cambios estructurales de forma sistémica y no han apuntado a la promoción del emprendimiento empresarial. La mayor parte de las ramas de la industria nacional y varias de las más importantes producciones agropecuarias en 2019 tenían niveles inferiores a los de 1989. A partir de la crisis de los noventa el gobierno optó por el desarrollo del turismo. Fue una decisión parcialmente correcta pero lo que no debió ocurrir es que ese desarrollo obviara las necesidades del desarrollo industrial y agrícola del país.

La excesiva dependencia respecto al turismo es una causa estructural fundamental en la debacle actual de una economía que prácticamente carece de reservas y de alternativas productivas, con una industria azucarera que está produciendo a niveles de principios del siglo XX, con el resto de la industria prácticamente colapsada y con una agricultura afectada por una estructura de precios y excesivos controles que desestimulan el desarrollo de la producción de alimentos y de materias primas.

Con campañas políticas no se resuelven los problemas de la producción. El país está importando gran parte de los alimentos que podría producir y carece de las divisas necesarias para importarlos. Para colmo, se insiste en el control monopólico estatal del comercio exterior. Sigue sin dar los pasos necesarios para promover la legalización de pequeñas y medianas empresas privadas que promuevan el emprendimiento y canalicen el empleo superfluo que es una excesiva carga al presupuesto del Estado. Persisten en la planificación centralizada en condiciones de una inmensa escasez y no generan otras alternativas. En los años noventa el turismo fue una alternativa y a comienzos del siglo XXI, la exportación de servicios profesionales, principalmente a Venezuela, se convirtió en otra opción muy importante de ingresos en divisas. Estos junto a las remesas, aseguraron la subsistencia económica del país.

En la actualidad, el turismo está en niveles mínimos, las remesas afectadas por las limitaciones de sus fuentes debido a problemas económicos de los remitentes y al endurecimiento de las sanciones durante la era de Trump, mientras que los ingresos por exportaciones de servicios están afectados por su cierre en ciertos países pero sobre todo por la terrible crisis económica venezolana. Entonces, el gobierno no ha querido salirse del guión que ha determinado la política económica, ha actuado con muchísima lentitud y ha adoptado medidas económicas equivocadas.

Los errores más recientes de política económica.

A lo largo de estas décadas se han acumulado una serie de errores de política económica, pero en las condiciones actuales quisiera concentrarme en dos: 1) la llamada Tarea Ordenamiento y 2) la apertura de tiendas en monedas libremente convertibles (MLC) para la venta de productos que originalmente se describían como “suntuarios” pero que en realidad resultaron de primera necesidad, no solo para las condiciones de la vida moderna sino incluso para la subsistencia.

El llamado Ordenamiento monetario no fue tal. Desde hace tiempo muchos economistas hemos destacado la necesidad de abolir la dualidad monetaria por el desorden en los sistemas de costos, en el funcionamiento de las empresas y en el establecimiento de precios relativos respecto a la economía internacional. Adoptaron la unificación monetaria y cambiaria como un lineamiento del 6º Congreso del PCC en 2011 y finalmente en 2021 decidieron unificar los tipos de cambio a una tasa sobrevaluada, a la cual el Banco Central no puede asegurar la venta de la divisa extranjera, con lo que, inmediatamente, se desarrolló el mercado negro de divisas en el que el dólar se cotiza a varias veces por encima del valor oficial.

En lugar de establecer la soberanía del peso cubano como moneda nacional, crearon tiendas en MLC, re-dolarizando parcialmente la economía y vendiendo en ese mercado bienes a los cuales no tiene acceso la población que carece de remesas o de opciones de ingresos en divisas, generando un grave problema social debido a la marginación de un sector considerable de la población en la capacidad de adquirir dichos bienes.

La unificación cambiaria llegó acompañada de un incremento de salarios en el sector estatal y de pensiones en niveles claramente inferiores a los incrementos reales en los precios, producidos por una estampida inflacionaria, lo cual ha causado gran insatisfacción en una parte considerable de la ciudadanía que continúa sin asegurar sus necesidades básicas a partir de sus ingresos debidos al trabajo.

Los problemas sociales.

La insatisfacción creada por los errores de política económica y la persistencia de los mismos a veces ha podido canalizarse por los mecanismos controlados por el poder pero ni esas ni aquellas que ni siquiera han podido ser planteadas oficialmente sino que se expresan en redes sociales, han tenido una respuesta creíble más allá de achacar al bloqueo de todo cuanto no funciona. No se trata de anexionistas, ni de delincuentes, ni de agentes de alguna potencia extranjera. Se trata simplemente de ciudadanos cubanos que necesitan satisfacer aspiraciones en la única vida probada que tienen y que sienten que el gobierno del país no está siendo capaz de ofrecer las alternativas de solución necesarias.

La sociedad cubana de hoy es claramente diferente a la que decidió permanecer en el país tras el triunfo revolucionario. Existe un porcentaje creciente de jóvenes, que están a dos o tres generaciones de la que hizo la Revolución y que tiene esperanzas de vida, intereses, aspiraciones y proyecciones políticas y sociales propias y muy probablemente diferentes y a las que incluso la Constitución actual les priva del derecho a definir el tipo de Estado y de sociedad que prefiere. Y dentro de este grupo, existe una parte considerable de personas que viven en condiciones de subsistencia y no ve opciones de mejoramiento de las mismas.

En otras oportunidades, la emigración, incluso con cierto nivel de masividad, como ocurrió en los primeros años sesenta, en 1980 y en 1994, ha actuado como válvula de escape para solucionar las insatisfacciones individuales, pero también para reducir el factor de oposición social interna. En esta ocasión esta posibilidad está claramente muy limitada.

La emigración carece de derechos políticos, pero a ella se ha apelado, una y otra vez, para que haga valer sus derechos al envío de remesas familiares pero sin reconocerla socialmente como un factor importante para la solución de los problemas económicos del país y sin integrarla políticamente en un sistema democrático. La emigración es un factor decisivo en la solución de muchos de los problemas económicos del país y también debería ser un importante actor político a partir de su experiencia en otras realidades.

En la sociedad cubana existe una parte considerable que carece de opciones y de perspectivas, que vive en una situación de pobreza que no es reconocida públicamente por las autoridades cubanas. En consecuencia, gran parte de esa población salió a las calles como explosión de una situación de hastío. Sin embargo, hay que tener en cuenta que antes de eso ya se habían producido una serie de indicios de protesta pacífica en diversos sectores sociales, incluidos los artistas, reclamando espacios de diálogo que solo han encontrado la intolerancia y el rechazo como respuesta.

Los problemas políticos.

Todo este conjunto de cuestiones ha llevado a una crisis política de la cual estas protestas públicas han sido solo un primer momento, si consideramos su capacidad de difusión y su masividad. Sin embargo, existe una parte de la sociedad cubana inconforme con la situación del país que no se expresa por miedo a las consecuencias negativas que pueden sufrir debido a una cultura arraigada de exclusión de las opciones políticas diferentes a las defendidas desde las estructuras de poder. El gobierno cubano debería considerar esta realidad política y actuar en consecuencia si realmente quiere evitar que la fractura social y política en la sociedad cubana se profundice y supere el nivel de polarización que ya es gravísimo.

En 2019 se adoptó una nueva Constitución que establece en su artículo 1 que “Cuba es un Estado socialista de derecho y justicia social, democrático, independiente y soberano, organizado con todos y para el bien de todos como república unitaria e indivisible, fundada en el trabajo, la dignidad, el humanismo y la ética de sus ciudadanos para el disfrute de la libertad, la equidad, la igualdad, la solidaridad, el bienestar y la prosperidad individual y colectiva”. Sin embargo, existen ejemplos que demuestran que muchos de esos preceptos no reflejan la realidad política del país.

El artículo 5 de la carta magna le otorga al Partido Comunista de Cuba, la condición de “fuerza política superior de la sociedad y del Estado”, lo cual, en la práctica, coloca al Partido por encima de la sociedad. Esta realidad no tiene nada de democrática, toda vez que tampoco el Partido Comunista es una organización democrática en su vida interna.

En esa misma Constitución se garantizan el derecho a la vida, la integridad física y moral, la libertad, la justicia y la seguridad …. (artículo 46); el derecho a que se respete su intimidad personal y familiar … (artículo 48); a la inviolabilidad de su domicilio (artículo 49); a la inviolabilidad de la correspondencia y demás formas de comunicación (artículo 50); las personas no puede ser sometidas a desaparición forzada, torturas ni tratos o penas crueles inhumanas o degradantes (artículo 51); el Estado reconoce, respeta y garantiza a las personas la libertad de pensamiento, conciencia y expresión (artículo 54); se reconoce la libertad de prensa (artículo 55); los derechos de reunión, manifestación y asociación, con fines lícitos y pacíficos, se reconocen por el Estado siempre que se ejerzan con respeto al orden público y el acatamiento a las preceptivas establecidas en la ley (artículo 56); se reconocen a las personas los derechos derivados de la creación intelectual (artículo 62); los ciudadanos cubanos tienen derecho a participar en la conformación, ejercicio y control del poder del Estado, lo cual implica: estar inscriptos en el registro electoral, proponer y nominar candidatos, elegir y ser elegidos, participar en las elecciones, plebiscitos, referendos, consultas populares y otras formas de participación democrática, pronunciarse sobre la rendición de cuenta que le presentan los elegidos, ejercer la iniciativa legislativa y de reforma de la Constitución, desempeñar cargos públicos y estar informados de la gestión de los órganos y autoridades del Estado (artículo 80).

La mayor parte de estos artículos, relacionados con derechos humanos y políticos está sin reglamentar, pero al margen de esto, la propia Constitución contradice algunos de esos derechos. Por ejemplo, la libertad de elegir y ser elegidos, mediante el voto de los ciudadanos es restringida por el inciso “c” del artículo 205 que establece como excepción a “los que no cumplan el requisito de residencia en el país previstos en la ley”. Es decir, a los cubanos residentes en el exterior, que constituyen más de un 20% de la población actual del país y cuyas remesas han contribuido a la subsistencia del país, se les niega ese derecho elemental que está consagrado en la mayor parte de las constituciones de las repúblicas latinoamericanas. De igual forma, la iniciativa legislativa y la reforma de la Constitución, contenidas también en el artículo 80 son restringidas por el artículo 227 que trata sobre la iniciativa para promover reformas a la Constitución, porque la iniciativa de los ciudadanos debe ser “mediante petición dirigida a la Asamblea Nacional, firmada por un mínimo de 50.000 electores”, además de que la Constitución solo puede ser reformada por la Asamblea Nacional en una “votación nominal no menor a dos terceras partes del número total de sus integrantes”, es decir, que no permite que la Constitución sea reformada o elaborada por una Asamblea Constituyente, elegida libremente por la ciudadanía, tal y como ocurrió en 1940. Si la Asamblea Nacional es elegida con base a una lista única que responde a las orientaciones del Partido Comunista, es fácil intuir que sería imposible contar con ella para reformar una constitución hecha a la medida de los intereses de la dirigencia de dicho partido, que no necesariamente se corresponde con los intereses reales de parte de su membresía.

A diferencia de la mayor parte de los países latinoamericanos, los ciudadanos cubanos carecen del derecho a elegir, mediante sufragio universal y directo, entre varias alternativas, al Presidente y Vicepresidente de la República, a los diputados a la Asamblea Nacional, y a las autoridades de gobierno provinciales y municipales.

Las leyes cubanas posteriores a 1959 no han permitido el derecho a la huelga, ni a la formación de asociaciones sociales, profesionales o políticas que estén por fuera del control del poder político, con lo cual se conculcan los derechos proclamados en los artículos 54 y 56 de la Constitución.

Así, en las cuestiones relativas a los derechos políticos, la Constitución de 2019, al igual que la de 1976, retroceden respecto a la de 1940 que, dicho sea de paso, fue el resultado de una Asamblea Constituyente, elegida democráticamente, en la que también participaron delegados comunistas junto a otros del amplio espectro de fuerzas políticas que caracterizaba a la sociedad cubana de entonces.

La Constitución de 2019 fue aprobada en referendo nacional por una mayoría significativa de la población, pero en su proceso de discusión y debate, solo tuvo cabida la pedagogía del SI y en dicho referendo no se permitió votar a la población cubana residente en el exterior que aun ostenta un pasaporte cubano. Hasta en el régimen pinochetista en Chile se permitió la pedagogía del NO.

En los tiempos recientes han ocurrido varios episodios en los que autoridades cubanas han violado la Constitución aprobada por esa inmensa mayoría alcanzada entre aquellos que tuvieron la oportunidad de ejercer su derecho al voto. Se han producido detenciones de ciudadanos por el simple hecho de caminar por una calle portando un cartel que exige la libertad para alguna persona detenida; han sido detenidas personas por expresar su inconformidad y rechazo al sistema político; fuerzas de la policía han obligado, de forma ilegal, a ciudadanos que no están condenados judicialmente, a permanecer en sus casas en contra de su voluntad y cuando éstos se han negado alegando su derecho a la libre movilidad, han sido detenidos; no se han atendido solicitudes de hábeas corpus, a pesar de que esta figura jurídica está presente en la nueva Constitución y es un derecho universalmente reconocido en las sociedades civilizadas; se mantiene la práctica de expulsar de ciertos centros de trabajo a personas que expresan opiniones contrarias a las que se sostienen desde el poder político, incluso cuando en algunos casos esas opiniones ni siquiera han cuestionado la esencia del sistema político y social; se ha promovido y en otros casos, permitido situaciones de hostigamiento a personas identificadas como desafectas al gobierno del país; para solo mencionar algunos ejemplos de violaciones de la ley suprema de la República, generadas desde las estructuras de poder, que deberían ser sus garantes ante la sociedad.

Desde las estructuras de poder se ha dicho que las manifestaciones del 11-J han sido orquestadas desde el exterior. Es cierto y además público que algunos llamados “influencer” de ciertas redes sociales ha realizado llamados a la desobediencia civil y a la insurrección. Sin embargo, si fuera cierto que estas protestas fueron el resultado de estos llamados y de la labor de zapa del gobierno de los Estados Unidos, esto podría significar que el Partido Comunista carece del liderazgo y la influencia que en Cuba que se establece como precepto constitucional. Argumentar que las protestas fueron orquestadas desde el exterior es un insulto a la ciudadanía y a su derecho a expresar un descontento que antes no ha encontrado otras vías de canalización, debido a la soberbia, al autismo y al escaso espíritu autocrítico de muchos de los que ejercen responsabilidades de dirección en el país y que mantienen un discurso alejado de la realidad del país.

Las protestas sociales, a diferencia de lo que se sostiene desde el discurso oficial, fueron el resultado de la combinación de todos esos factores a los que se suma el hastío de muchos ciudadanos que no encuentran una salida esperanzadora a una situación de crisis que persiste en la sociedad cubana desde hace varias décadas pero que en las circunstancias actuales ha cobrado una gravedad extraordinaria.

En las protestas hubo saqueos y destrucción de propiedad pública y privada, que no fueron masivos. ¿En cuáles protestas no ocurren? Es lamentable y condenable. Sin embargo, vale la pena llamar la atención sobre cuales han sido los objetos de estos actos deplorables. En unos casos, fueron algunas tiendas en MLC, que son un símbolo evidente de la diferenciación social establecida en Cuba entre los que tienen acceso a ellas y los que no, por el solo hecho de no disponer de cuentas en una moneda que no se obtiene como resultado del trabajo sino que proviene de remesas desde el exterior. Se produjo el volcamiento y destrucción de algunos automóviles de la policía y de instituciones oficiales. También se produjeron enfrentamientos entre fuerzas antimotines y de policía, tanto uniformados como vestidos de civil y los ciudadanos que protestaban. Las imágenes de supuestos civiles, perfectamente organizados, transportados en vehículos públicos y armados de palos y bates de béisbol para golpear a quienes protestaban son una muestra del insulto que ese día se profirió contra el ideario de la Revolución Cubana. Y la orden fue proferida desde el más alto nivel de dirección del país. No es la primera vez que esto ocurre, sin embargo, si es la ocasión en la que alcanzó las mayores proporciones.

Las opciones.

A pesar de la profundidad de la fractura social y política del 11-J y del nivel de polarización que ha alcanzado la sociedad cubana, para bien del país, la política debería imponerse a la golpiza.

Me opongo a los llamados a una intervención militar extranjera que solo causaría sangre y dolor a las familias cubanas y también en las de quienes, eventualmente, pudieran intervenir. Y me opongo a la represión militar, policial y paramilitar ejercida por quienes tienen el deber de proteger la seguridad del pueblo y no mancillarlo. La vida y la dignidad deben ser preservadas.

Siento un profundo compromiso con la idea original que inspiró la Revolución Cubana, es decir, la democracia y la justicia social. La democracia nos ha sido confiscada y la justicia social se despedaza en cada medida que crea excluidos en nuestra Nación.

Una opción que parece imponerse en el discurso oficial es la de reprimir a quienes han sido identificados como participantes de las protestas y hacer caer sobre ellos el peso de cuestionables figuras jurídicas, y de paso, amedrentar a quienes pudieran protagonizar eventos similares en el futuro con medidas ejemplarizantes. Esta opción solo profundizará la fractura de la sociedad y solo postergaría una futura crisis política y social que podría tener gravísimas consecuencias.

Otra opción, que considero necesaria, sería liberar a todas las personas que han sido detenidas por las protestas y antes de las mismas, por expresar su desacuerdo con el gobierno o con el sistema político actualmente vigente. A fin de cuentas, ellos no realizaron un asalto armado a un cuartel del ejército. No hay que reprimir al descontento sino crear las condiciones para que el descontento pueda ser convertido en satisfacción y esperanza o que al menos ese descontento tenga vías legítimas de expresión, y ello pasa necesariamente por una reconfiguración pacífica de nuestro sistema político.

La Constitución actual no satisface las aspiraciones democráticas de todo el pueblo, precisamente porque excluye a una parte del mismo en el derecho a ejercer su soberanía por lo cual debe ser enmendada, aunque en mi opinión debería ser elaborada una nueva que garantice el establecimiento de un sistema democrático. Para esta enmienda, el elemento inicial debería ser la reforma de los artículos 205, 226 y 227.

En el 205 debería eliminarse la excepción en el derecho al voto de los ciudadanos cubanos residentes fuera del país. En el 226 debería permitirse que la Constitución sea reformada por una Asamblea Constituyente, elegida libremente por la ciudadanía, mediante sufragio universal, además de la actual facultad de la Asamblea Nacional. En el 227 debería modificarse el inciso f que le otorga iniciativa a la ciudadanía para la reforma constitucional solo como petición a la Asamblea Nacional, mediante la recolección de 50.000 firmas, y permitir que estas firmas puedan ser válidas para la convocatoria de una Asamblea Constituyente.

En tales circunstancias y para hacer valer el carácter democrático del Estado que define el artículo 1 de la Constitución, debería convocarse a una consulta nacional vinculante, en la que puedan participar todos los ciudadanos cubanos sin distinción de lugar de residencia e identificados con un pasaporte cubano válido vigente y en la que los electores puedan escoger una de dos alternativas que podrían ser: a) Desea Usted que la Constitución vigente se mantenga como está y que su posible reforma posterior solo sea una facultad de la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular; y b) Desea Usted que se convoque a una Asamblea Constituyente, elegida mediante sufragio universal directo y secreto con candidatos nominados o auto-nominados libremente, que elabore una nueva Constitución.

Lo verdaderamente revolucionario, lo verdaderamente progresista, no solo es la urgente necesidad de liberar las fuerzas productivas y el emprendimiento productivo que pueda iniciar la recuperación de la economía y encauzar el proceso de desarrollo, sino también resulta urgente la construcción de un nuevo consenso político, sobre la base del establecimiento de una sociedad verdaderamente democrática en la que tengan cabida las diferencias políticas y el imperio de la ley y de la justicia social.

mauriciodemiranda

La Habana, 1 de abril de 1958. Doctor en Economía Internacional y Desarrollo, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, España. Licenciado en Economía, Universidad de La Habana, Cuba. Profesor Titular del Departamento de Economía de la Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Cali, Colombia. Ver todas las entradas de mauriciodemiranda

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BIDEN ORDERS REVIEW OF REMITTANCES TO CUBA

By Kevin Liptak and Paul LeBlanc,

CNN, July 19, 2021

Washington (CNN)President Joe Biden has directed his administration to examine remittances to Cuba in the wake of protests on the island to determine ways for those residing in the US to send money to the country, a senior administration official told CNN.

“At President Biden’s direction, the United States is actively pursuing measures that will both support the Cuban people and hold the Cuban regime accountable,” the official said.

The “Remittance Working Group” will work to “identify the most effective way to get remittances directly into the hands of the Cuban people,” the official said.

Biden had said last week he believed that under the current circumstances, remittances — the practice of Americans transferring money to their Cuban relatives — would end up in the hands of the regime. But since then he’s faced pressure to show solidarity with protesters.

Cuba’s government controls the financial sector on the island and all communications. Getting around the government to send money or improve internet access is a challenge other US administrations have tried and failed to overcome.

But the issue has taken on increased urgency in recent days alongside the largest protests on the island in decades. Thousands of Cubans took to the streets across the nation this month to protest chronic shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the government’s handling of a worsening coronavirus outbreak, marking the most significant unrest in decades.

The State Department also is reviewing its plans to bolster staffing at the US Embassy in Havana “to facilitate diplomatic, consular and civil society engagement, and an appropriate security posture,” the official said.

The White House is exploring whether to sanction “Cuban officials responsible for violence, repression and human rights violations against peaceful protesters in Cuba,” the official said. The US will “intensify diplomatic engagement with regional and international partners to support the aspirations of the Cuban people.”

Last week, Biden said he was looking into the potential for restoring internet access to Cuba. The official said Monday that the US would “work closely with the private sector and the US Congress to identify viable options to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people.”

Since Biden’s arrival in office, Cuba policies have remained in review.

Under the Obama administration, Cuba oversaw the reopening of embassies and relaxing of many restrictions long in place since the embargo. But the Trump administration enacted some of the toughest economic measures against Cuba in decades, reinstated travel restrictions and — before leaving office — named Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism.

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CUBA: POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES

Freedom House

By Ted Henken, 2021

Overview

Cuba’s one-party communist state outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2019 that included the introduction of a new constitution.

Key Developments in 2020

  • The government achieved some success in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting just 145 deaths to the World Health Organization by year’s end, but the global crisis took a heavy toll on the economy. In July, partly in response, the government announced that it would liberalize rules regulating the tiny private sector, including by allowing private businesses to trade more freely and obtain legal status as enterprises, eliminating the restrictive list of permitted occupations for self-employment, and expanding experiments with nonagricultural cooperatives.
  • The government at times cited the pandemic to justify crackdowns on dissident gatherings. In November, when members of the Movimiento San Isidro (MSI)—a collective of dissident artists—gathered and went on hunger strike to protest the arrest of rapper Denis Solís, police violently detained them on the pretext of controlling the spread of the coronavirus. This led to a sit-in by numerous artists and intellectuals at the Ministry of Culture. While the government initially agreed to negotiate with the group, protest participants later reported police harassment, intimidation, and charges of violating health restrictions.
  • During the year, the government continued to expand its list of so-called regulados, the more than 200 Cuban citizens who are not allowed to travel abroad due to their dissident political activities, human rights advocacy, or practice of independent journalism. The government also stepped up interrogations, threats, detentions, raids, and exorbitant fines targeting independent journalists and activists who publishing critical stories on foreign websites or social media.

Complete Article: CUBA: Political Rights and Civil Liberties[AR1] 


National Assembly Session, April 2018

 


 [AR1]

 


 [AR1]

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CUBA: FREEDOM ON THE NET. 2020.

FREEDOM HOUSE.

By Ted Henken

Table of Contents

A Obstacles to Access
B Limits on Content  
C Violations of User Rights

Overview

Cuba has one of the lowest connectivity rates in the Western Hemisphere, and while the government has significantly improved technical infrastructure and lowered prices in recent years, regular internet access remains extremely expensive, connections are poor, and authorities both monitor usage and work to direct traffic to the government-controlled intranet. The state engages in content-manipulation efforts while blocking a number of independent news sites. Political dissent is punishable under a wide range of laws, including Decree Law 370, which has frequently been used against online journalists. However, despite heavy restrictions, Cubans continue to circumvent government censorship through grassroots innovations.

Cuba is a one-party communist state that outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2019 that included the introduction of a new constitution.

Complete Article: CUBA: Freedom on the Net, 2020

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¡Cuba Libre!


By James Bloodworth, July 14, 2021

Cubans have been living under dictatorship in some form since 1952. They spent most of the 1950s living under the corrupt rule of Fulgencio Batista, an army colonel who overthrew the last elected Cuban leader, Carlos Prío Socarrás, in a coup d’état. Batista was himself overthrown seven years later, on Jan. 1, 1959, by Fidel Castro’s guerrilla army.

Today Cubans live under the political system imposed by Castro 62 years ago, a tropical version of the state socialist model that prevailed in Eastern Europe until 1989. Roadside billboards still exhort Cubans to build socialism, but the economy has been all but bankrupt since the Soviet Union cut off aid shipments in the early 1990s.

I spent over a year in Cuba in my early twenties. During my stay on the island, I got to see beyond the romantic iconography of “Fidel” and “Che” (for the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara) that are so often synonymous with Cuba. Some days it would be impossible to find soap or toilet paper in the state-run shops. I used to sneak into a hotel on the Malecón, Havana’s iconic seawall, to pilfer breakfast and take it home to the Cubans I was staying with. The monthly Libreta de Abastecimiento, or supplies booklet that Cubans were given by the government, hardly covered a week, let alone a month. Most of my young Cuban friends were plotting their escape from the island, usually via marriage with some love-struck European or Canadian tourist.

When I returned to England, I noticed two things. One, invariably, was the sheer level of material comfort I could enjoy. No more blackouts or whiling away hours every day waiting in lines. No more toilets without a functioning flush. No more waiting outside the police station for friends who had committed the “crime” of fraternizing with tourists.

I was also struck by the stubbornness with which many Western friends would cling to their illusions about Cuba, even though few who actually lived on the island seemed to believe in socialism anymore. While my Cuban friends were seeking a way out of Castro’s dungeon, left-wing companions who lived thousands of miles away behaved as if Cuba remained a tropical paradise.


For those willing to admit that things might not be perfect on the island, the poverty and lack of democracy were usually blamed on Yankee imperialism. The same friends who would raise hell when they heard about any injustice in the West would “suddenly become wise historiosophists or cool rationalists when told about worse horrors of the new alternative society,” as the Polish philosopher and former communist Leszek Kołakowski wrote during the Cold War to the English historian EP Thompson. Thompson had accused Kołakowski of apostasy for abandoning the revisionist communism of his youth.

To be sure, occasionally some better-known admirer of the dictatorship was honest enough to admit that they themselves could never live under the Cuban system. The late Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez once told The New York Times that he would “miss too many things” were he to actually live in Cuba. “I couldn’t live with the lack of information. I am a voracious reader of newspapers and magazines from around the world,” García Márquez said. For the Cubans, however, these apparently were acceptable privations.

The Cuban government and its supporters have a reflexive response to criticism, which is to blame the United States for the situation on the island. Much of the left has responded to the wave of spontaneous protest currently sweeping Cuba by echoing the line from Havana. Cuban protesters have been filmed chanting “libertad”(freedom) and “abajo la dictadura” (down with the dictatorship). Yet according to the Democratic Socialists of America, the largest socialist organization in the United States, what Cubans are really protesting is the “blockade,” which is actually a trade embargo: Cuba is free to trade with anyone in the world except the United States. “DSA stands with the Cuban people and their Revolution in this moment of unrest. End the blockade,” the group’s International Committee tweeted on July 11.

The explicitly Leninist reasoning of this logic—that the Cuban people are represented by the communist dictatorship whether they like it or not—has its roots partly in a crude strain of anti-Americanism that is popular among young, politically active, and left-leaning Americans.

But it also makes a virtue out of self-deception and forgetting. It is now over three decades since the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet archives were prized open, revealing the grisly manner in which Stalinist political systems impoverished and oppressed those unfortunate enough to live under their rule. And yet political convenience—along with tropical sunshine and the romantic iconography of bearded men in olive-green fatigues—is the midwife of historical amnesia. In The God that Failed, an autobiographical essay on his disillusionment and abandonment of Marxism published in 1949, the novelist Arthur Koestler likened communist fellow travelers to Peeping Toms, peering through a hole in the wall at “history” while not having to experience it themselves. In Koestler’s time, one might (just about) have pleaded ignorance as to what was taking place under “actually existing socialism.” No such moral leeway can be granted to their contemporary equivalents.


It is true that the U.S. has long exerted a malign influence over Cuba. It has invaded the island and tried to murder its leaders. Furthermore, it has attempted to subvert the Cuban economy for decades through its trade embargo.

The U.S. has pursued this course not to promote democracy in Cuba. Rather, it decided many decades ago that it was going to squeeze Cuba because the Cubans nationalized American businesses on the island. Before the revolution, the U.S. had more money invested in Cuba than in any other Latin American country except Venezuela. To make the point in a slightly different way, the U.S. maintains cordial relations with countries that have worse human rights records than Cuba, but those countries have not had the temerity to interfere with American business interests.

Yet the situation in Cuba—the poverty, the repression, the top-down Leninist political structure—is as much a product of forces within Cuba as a consequence of U.S. policy. Havana’s Communist Party veterans have no intention of opening Cuba up to the world; that would risk diluting the power they wield over their subjects. Nor are things as simple as saying that the United States “pushed Cuba into the arms of the Soviet Union” during the 1960s, as the popular liberal explanation goes for Cuba’s descent into tyranny. It is more accurate to say that the United States’ belligerence towards Cuba strengthened the hand of those in Castro’s revolutionary movement who already considered the USSR their ideological lodestone. As Che Guevara told the French weekly L’Express in 1963: “Our commitment to the [Soviet model] was half the fruit of constraint and half the result of choice.”

The Soviet model of socialism still exists in Cuba.Elections are a sham. There are no independent trade unions. There is one official newspaper, Granma, and the Communist Party decides what gets published. Speak out against the government and you will lose your job and possibly end up in jail. The exiled Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, who was driven out of his homeland in 1980 for his writing and homosexuality, put it well in his autobiography: “The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream.”

Committees for the Defense of the Revolution exist on every block in every town and city in Cuba to, as Fidel Castro once put it, “know who everyone is, what each person who lives on the block does, what relations he had with the tyranny, to what he is dedicated, whom he meets, and what activities he follows.”

But Cuba’s Soviet-style, state-run economic model does not work even if the U.S. embargo makes the situation worse. Day-to-day macroeconomic policy consists of centralized control of systematically induced shortages. It is no coincidence that Cuba is plagued by the same economic distortions that once beset Eastern Europe’s vanished communist dictatorships. Central planning always turns out like this, which is why countries such as China have long abandoned it.


The wave of protests this past week show that Cuba may soon be approaching its own 1989 moment. Thousands of people marched in cities and towns across the island to protest the conditions imposed on them by the dictatorship. Foreign news organizations have noted the protests over vaccines and blackouts, but in many of the videos that have emerged the Cubans themselves could be heard demanding “freedom.”

For those of us who closely follow events in Cuba, this has been a remarkable and unprecedented development. As Stephen Gibbs writes for the Times of London: “Millions of Cubans who have never seen any significant protest in their lifetimes saw one unrolling live before them. They now know what is possible.”

I have seen the slogan “Hands Off Cuba” being used by sections of the Western left in response to this week’s protests. But if such slogans are to mean anything, they should be directed at the decrepit dictatorship, which right now is the biggest fetter to Cuba’s future.

Cuba is a nation of more than 11 million people who have waited 70 years for the right to interfere in their country’s internal affairs. It is a diverse and complex society; it is more than Fidel and Che. The left should stand with the protesters, even if it means letting go of comforting romantic illusions.

James Bloodworth is a journalist and the author of Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain.

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HOW BIDEN SHOULD RESPOND TO THE CRISIS IN CUBA

Those pushing for regime change should be careful what they wish for.

July 15, 2021


William LeoGrande

The greatest threat to U.S. national interests in Cuba is the possibility, however slim, that U.S. policy there will succeed.

Sixty-two years ago this month, the Eisenhower administration concluded that Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime was incompatible with the national interests of the United States. Washington has been actively trying to destabilize it ever since. Even during the two-year hiatus from 2014 to 2016 when President Obama began normalizing relations, the U.S. government spent millions of dollars on “democracy promotion” programs to bolster the Cuban opposition.

But fostering misery and chaos in Cuba in pursuit of regime change is not cost-free for Washington. Although the Cuban government is not on the verge of collapse, the economic situation on the island is desperate — as bad it has been since the deep depression of the “Special Period” in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The recent anti-government demonstrations in Havana and a dozen other cities, some of which involved violence and looting, are a reminder that many Cubans are deeply discontented with the economic and political status quo. The possibility of further social unrest is real.

In Washington, the protests have given new life to the pipedream that the Cuban regime is on its last legs, prompting calls from various quarters for the Biden administration to administer the coup de grâce. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called on Biden to “challenge” the Cuban regime by appealing to the Cuban military to overthrow it. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned of a “horrific bloodbath” unless Biden toughens his policy toward the island.

The last time the Cuban economy was in such bad shape, regime collapse seemed imminent. An August 1993, a CIA National Intelligence Estimate predicted “a better than even chance that Fidel Castro’s government will fall within the next few years.” But this was no cause for celebration, as the intelligence report explained: “If Cuban authorities lose control, massive, panicky illegal emigration toward the United States will occur,” it warned. “There would also be pressure for US or international military intervention, especially if a large number of exiles became involved on the island.”

The CIA’s dire warning led Rick Nuccio to sound the alarm in a memo to his boss, Assistant Secretary of State Alec Watson. “The fundamental security threat facing the United States in Cuba is a societal crisis that leads to widespread violence. Such a development is the most likely to produce either significant outflows of refugees, or active involvement of U.S. forces and/or Cuban Americans in Cuba.” Another of Watson’s advisers, Phil Peters, tried to jolt the administration into action, writing, “Given the situation on the island, I would argue that policy continuity, or even marginal change, is not the low-risk option. It’s positively scary.”

Nuccio and Peters had different ideas about what ought to be done; Nuccio wanted to focus on building Cuban civil society to promote a peaceful transition to democracy, whereas Peters favored relaxing some sanctions and engaging with the Cuban government. Other State Department officials argued for turning up the heat to accelerate regime collapse.

President Bill Clinton, however, was more focused on politics in Miami than on developments in Havana, so months went by without any coordinated U.S. policy response to the deepening crisis on the island. By the summer of 1994, it was too late. A riot on the Havana waterfront, not unlike some of the demonstrations last weekend, was followed by the “rafters” migration crisis.

Echoes of these dangers can be heard today. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has called for U.S. intervention in response to the protests on the island, while Cuban American demonstrators blocked the Palmetto Expressway demanding an end to the Cuban regime. (They were not arrested, despite violating Gov. DeSantis’ new anti-riot law). Social media spread proposals to open a “humanitarian corridor” into Cuba, even though the Cuban government is already accepting humanitarian assistance. At sea, the U.S. Coast Guard is intercepting a growing number of Cubans trying to reach the United States in small boats and rafts.

Another cost of the sanctions President Trump imposed on Cuba — sanctions Biden has left in place — is a deterioration in counter-narcotics cooperation. Until 1998, Cuban air space and territorial waters were a blind spot that traffickers could exploit to evade the U.S. Coast Guard. But a Clinton era agreement establishing cooperation was so effective that traffickers shifted to routes through Mexico.

For the past decade the U.S. Southern Command, in its annual Posture Statement, has cited transnational crime, especially drug trafficking, as one of the top threats to U.S. security in the Hemisphere. Yet the Trump administration halted consultations between the Coast Guard and Cuban Border Guards, and U.S. sanctions have left the Cubans without the fuel they need to patrol their coasts.

The steps President Biden could take to reduce the danger of worse social unrest in Cuba and to safeguard U.S. security interests would not require any radical new initiatives. The United States and Cuba already have bilateral cooperation agreements on law enforcement, narcotics interdiction, and migration. Biden simply has to reactivate them and hold up Washington’s end of the bargain, especially the U.S. obligation to give Cubans a minimum of 20,000 immigrant visas annually so Cubans have a safe, legal way to emigrate rather than risking their lives at sea.

Cuban Americans have been able to send remittances to family on the island ever since Jimmy Carter was in the White House — until Donald Trump cut them off as one of his final acts in office. President Biden could restore the ability to send remittances with a stroke of the pen, sending urgently needed relief to millions of Cuban families.

The rapid spread of COVID in Cuba is a natural disaster worse than the hurricanes that periodically ravage the island. Previous U.S. presidents, including George W. Bush, who could not be accused of being soft on Cuban communism, have offered Cuba humanitarian aid in the face of such disasters — aid channeled both through non-governmental organizations and to the government directly.

There is no reason President Biden’s pledge to combat COVID globally should exclude Cuba. “This is about our responsibility,” he said in June, “our humanitarian obligation to save as many lives as we can — and our responsibility to our values.” Four U.S. Catholic bishops recently called upon international governments to provide Cuba with the medical supplies they need to cope with COVID, calling it “a moral imperative.” Private humanitarian relief efforts to have been heroic but inadequate. Rather than spending millions to subvert the Cuban government, USAID should be spending the money to help vaccinate the Cuban people.

President Obama made the point succinctly on December 17, 2014 when he announced his decision to shift from a policy of regime change to one of engagement: “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse,” he argued. “Even if that worked – and it hasn’t for 50 years – we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.”

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CUBA STUDY GROUP

July 2021

The Cuba Study Group: A non-profit, non-partisan organization comprised of business and community leaders of Cuban descent who share a common interest and vision of a free Cuba. Washington DC

We call on the #Biden administration to restore support for the Cuban people by prioritizing policies that focus on reinstating travel, reauthorizing remittances, re-opening consular services in #Havana, collaborating on COVID-19 solutions, and supporting #Cuba‘s private sector.

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CUBA: SERVE THE PEOPLE; Cuba Is Facing its Worst Shortage of Food since the 1990s

Government bungling and a shortage of dollars are to blame

The Economist, July 3, 2021

Original Article: Cuba’s Food Crisis

“CUBANS HAVE always been resourceful,” says Ana, the owner of a private farm-to-table restaurant near Havana. “But now we need to be magicians and acrobats.” The communist island is facing its worst shortage of food since the 1990s. Finding ingredients was never easy in a place which imports around 70% of its food. Over the past year it has become nearly impossible. When grocery shops are empty, as is so often the case, Ana tries the internet or the black market, only to find that prices are prohibitively high. Farmers no longer want to sell produce to her, she says, as they need to eat it themselves.

“CUBANS HAVE always been resourceful,” says Ana, the owner of a private farm-to-table restaurant near Havana. “But now we need to be magicians and acrobats.” The communist island is facing its worst shortage of food since the 1990s. Finding ingredients was never easy in a place which imports around 70% of its food. Over the past year it has become nearly impossible. When grocery shops are empty, as is so often the case, Ana tries the internet or the black market, only to find that prices are prohibitively high. Farmers no longer want to sell produce to her, she says, as they need to eat it themselves.

The government blames the shortage of food mostly on sanctions imposed by the United States—sanctions which, on June 24th, the UN General Assembly voted to condemn, as it has done nearly every year since 1992. But since 2001 the sanctions have exempted food. Indeed, the United States is the largest exporter of food to Cuba, though last year those imports were at their lowest level since 2002.

Some external factors have affected the food supply. The jump in global food prices, which in the year to May surged by 40%, the largest increase in a decade, has made imports more expensive. But the main problem is the government’s lack of hard currency. Tourism, normally 10% of GDP, has atrophied because of the pandemic: whereas 4.2m people visited in 2019, just over 1m did last year, nearly all in the first three months of the year. Remittances have also suffered. Before covid-19, commercial airlines would operate as many as ten flights a day between Miami and Havana, all packed with cash-toting mulas. But now only a handful of flights go to Havana each week. In addition, this year’s harvest of sugar—one of Cuba’s main exports—was the worst in more than a century, as a result of drought (the dollar shortage also sapped supplies of fertiliser and petrol).

The government is trying desperately to eke out dollars and skimp on imported goods. Cubans can no longer buy greenbacks from state-operated exchanges at the airport. State-owned bakeries are replacing a fifth of the imported wheat flour they use in bread with substitutes made from home-grown corn, pumpkin or yucca, much to the dismay of consumers, who have complained that bread now tastes like soggy corn. The sale of biscuits has been limited in certain cities to cut back even more on imports of flour.

Since February, in a desperate attempt to collect hard currency, the government has required that foreigners pay for their seven-day mandatory stay in a state-owned quarantine hotel in dollars (since June, this has even applied to some Cubans). To earn more from its diaspora, the state also operates e-commerce sites through which Cubans abroad can pay in dollars or euros for food and gifts to be delivered to people on the island.

Indeed many Cubans abroad are trying to help their family members stave off hunger by sending their own care packages. But even these have become harder and more costly to post. Goods from the United States that once took two weeks to deliver can now take up to four months to arrive, as shortages of fuel and trucks in Cuba make the final leg of the delivery trickier.

Bungled policy responses have made things worse. On June 10th the Cuban central bank announced that, from June 21st, Cubans would not be able to deposit dollars into their bank accounts for an undisclosed amount of time. This is despite the fact that, in order to buy goods in state-owned shops, Cubans need to have a prepaid card loaded with dollars. They will now have to exchange their dollars for euros or other currencies, which involves a fee. Emilio Morales, the head of the Havana Consulting Group in Miami, thinks this was a way to scare people into depositing more before the deadline.

Rather than stabilise the economy, the policy is likely to do the reverse. Some exchange houses in Miami soon ran out of euros. Cuban banks were overwhelmed by queues of panicking people trying to deposit the dollars they needed to buy groceries. “Cuba has 11m hostages and is expecting Cuban exiles to pay their ransom,” says Mr Morales. Ricardo Cabrisas, the deputy prime minister, was recently in Paris negotiating another extension on the roughly $3.5bn of loans owed to foreign governments—the island has been in arrears since 2019. An ultimatum from creditors may help explain the government’s desire to hoover up greenbacks.

Despite making some attempts to liberalise the economy, the government is bafflingly poor at boosting agricultural production or wooing foreign investors. Firms producing food in Cuba earn only pesos, which have little value internationally, but must buy almost all their inputs abroad in a foreign currency. The government requires farmers to sell their harvest to the state at uncompetitive prices and imposes draconian rules on livestock management. Up until last month it was illegal to slaughter a cow before it had reached an advanced age, as determined by the state. Now farmers may kill them either to sell the meat or to eat it themselves. But before they do so, they must jump through a series of hoops, including certifying that the cow has produced at least 520 litres of milk a year. They are also not allowed to let their herd shrink overall, and so can only slaughter one cow for every three calves they add to it—a tall order in the long run, mathematically. As it is, Cuba is having trouble maintaining its existing cattle herd: last year, in the province of Las Tunas alone, more than 7,000 cows died from dehydration. Farmers have to complete paperwork and wait a week for approval, too. “The process of applying to eat a cow is enough to make you lose your appetite,” says a farmer in Bahía Honda.

Rural transportion
Zafra of 2016-20127

Cubans are no strangers to difficult times. Eliecer Jiménez Almeida, a Cuban filmmaker in Miami, was a child during the “special period” of hardship after the fall of the Soviet Union, and remembers how his grandmother sold her gold teeth in exchange for soap, just so that he and his siblings could take a bath. For him and for many Cubans, the question is not how many more of the same indignities their people can endure, but how much longer.

Discontent was slightly less likely when Fidel Castro was in power. He had charisma and mystique that neither his brother and successor, Raúl, nor Cuba’s current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, can replicate. What is more, the Cuban diaspora is larger and wealthier and the internet has shown Cubans that many of their economic difficulties are created by their leaders, not the United States. The best way to stave off popular discontent would be to implement more and bigger economic reforms, at a faster pace, starting with farms and small businesses. It is a measure of Cubans’ disillusionment that the old revolutionary cry of “Hasta la victoria siempre” (On to victory, always) has largely been supplanted by the longsuffering “¿Hasta cuándo?” (How much longer?) ■

Fidel, cutting cane during the Zafra of 1970
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THE PROPHET OF DYSTOPIA AT REST: MARGARET ATWOOD IN CUBA

Yvon Grenier

Quillette.  July 2, 2021

Original Article: Margaret Atwood in Cuba

As a Cuba scholar, a student of literature and politics, and an enthusiastic reader of Margaret Atwood’s work, I have collected articles and media clips over the years related to the Grande Dame of CanLit’s many private and official visits to Cuba. Frankly, the file is thin. Generally, scholars engage with her important body of work (more than 60 books, fiction and non-fiction), without mentioning this topic. It is an interesting footnote, no more. Why interesting? Because it illustrates, in her case and as a pattern, how an inquiring mind sincerely committed to human rights and democratic values can turn off its critical antennae. Atwood allowed herself to become a compliant guest in a country that checks almost all the boxes of totalitarianism, minus extensive terror: a single-party state, no rule of law, arbitrary arrests (2,000 of them during the first eight months of last year), stultifying media (even Raúl Castro says so), and a regime of censorship that allows no freedom of speech, association, and only limited freedom of movement; a country with half-empty bookstores selling the same few official writers and hagiographies of the dear leaders.

I am not saying she ever became an enthusiastic apologist, as many Western writers and intellectuals did during the 1960s until the 1971 Padilla show trial. This is not like, say, a Sartre returning from Russia and announcing that cows produce more milk under socialism. Atwood has hardly said anything publicly about Cuba, as far as I know. Rather, Atwood in Cuba is more like a Sartre under the occupation, blissfully unconcerned about what is going on around her. I suspect that, were she asked if she considers Cuba a dictatorship, she would echo Justin Trudeau’s response to the same question back in 2016, and agree that it is. Maybe, like Trudeau, her answer would follow a pregnant pause, but she would be unlikely to deny that reality when forced to confront it. Nevertheless, with a little work, she has shown that she is able to ignore it.

Atwood travelled to Cuba for the first time in the early 1980s. She and her husband, the writer and avid birdwatcher Graeme Gibson (1934–2019), had been invited to participate in a cultural exchange by her former research assistant, who was then working as a cultural attaché at the Canadian embassy. Atwood tells this story in the introduction to a beautiful coffee-table book, entitled Cuba: Grace Under Pressure, written by Canadian writer Rosemary Sullivan with photographs by Malcom David Batty. Sullivan focuses on the private lives of Cubans, not the regime or its politics—“pressure” here refers to economic hardship, not the kind that results from living in a police state, and “grace” is a compliment to the Cuban nation for remaining fiercely independent. So it is a political book after all, just surreptitiously.

Atwood does not say much, but she does address the political question. “Nothing anywhere is as simple as we would like it to be,” she wisely writes, “but there are two verities that can be counted on: 1) no government is its people, and 2) birds don’t vote.” This is particularly true of countries in which neither birds nor citizens can vote. She also writes this:

Graeme promptly got arrested because he’d gone out early in the morning to watch birds, and hadn’t taken his passport—”We have a lot of trouble with people masquerading as spies,” a Cuban quipped later—and he’d wandered too close to something or other. He was stuck in a police station for hours while they tried to find an interpreter. Thus he was late for the hot-shot cultural lunch, and had to explain why. There were quite a few smiles and chuckles: a lot of the people at the table had themselves been arrested, under one regime or another, or at one phase of the Cuban Revolution or another. The story of Graeme’s arrest is still doing the rounds in Cuba, where they think it’s pretty funny.

Fortunately, Gibson, a prominent Canadian guest with a direct line to the embassy, never felt unsafe. It is a rare privilege to be able to trivialise arbitrary arrest in this way, as mere fodder for dinner party conversation.

In 2017, Canada was the guest country of honor at the Havana International Book Fair. A contingent of more than 30 Canadian authors plus several performing artists were invited. Atwood, for whom it was not a first as a Fair’s guest, was the star of the delegation. The speaker of the Canadian Senate presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening of the Canadian pavilion. Nobody seemed to notice how highly parametered (from “parameter”: a term used in Cuba to designate the lines not to be crossed) this event always is. The stands overflow with children’s books, but critical literature is a rare commodity. Anyone who wants to see a truly international book fair in Latin America, replete with free discussion and vigorous debates about books and authors, should go to the one in Guadalajara, Mexico, and then compare.

The Havana Times journalist Barbara Maseda reported that during one of the official soirées, Atwood was asked about her favourite Cuban writers. Her response: “Carpentier, of course. Martí. Miguel Barnet. Nancy Morejón. Pablo Armando [Fernández]. Abel Prieto.” She knows there are more, but those were the names that came to mind. Maybe that was just an unrehearsed answer. Atwood never writes about Cuban literature, and her non-fiction work includes just one short comment on a Latin American writer—Gabriel García Márquez, the one every educated Anglo-Saxon knows. Her world is Anglo-American literature, and that is surely expansive enough for one person. But as Maseda perceptively remarks, her choices seemed to be “taken out of a manual of officially approved writers.” “The selection,” Maseda adds, “speaks, perhaps, of the nature of the links that she has kept with the country and its culture: ties built around diplomacy and official events, devoid of the restless curiosity one would expect from the talented literary critic.”

Martí is the nation’s “apostle,” not widely considered to be among the best Latin American writers of his time. Carpentier was indeed a great writer. Barnet wrote one memorable book of ethnology and was the boss of the artists and writers “union” (in the Soviet sense); Morejón and Fernández are respected but minor authors, and Morejón also occupied political positions in Cuba’s cultural bureaucracy. Almost nobody read Abel Prieto’s books, but everybody knows Prieto the minister of culture and cultural apparatchik. Last fall he was particularly vocal denigrating the young artists and independent journalists demonstrating for more freedom of expression in Cuba.

According to the Western Canon of literary critic Harold Bloom, five of the 18 greatest modern Latin American writers were Cubans: Alejo Carpentier (1904–80), José Lezama Lima (1910–76), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1929–2005), Severo Sarduy (1937–93), and Reinaldo Arenas (1943–90). Except for Arenas and Cabrera Infante, the others wrote most of their books before the revolution and often abroad (Carpentier and Sarduy). Lezama Lima was censored for decades on account of his homosexuality, as was Arenas and another important Cuban writer, Virgilio Piñera (1912–79). Cabrera Infante (a Cervantes Prize winner, the Spanish equivalent of the Booker Prize) and Arenas remain censored on the island to this day. As were Fernández and Morejón during the 1970s. Arenas and Cabrera Infante were fierce and vocal critics of the dictatorship and died in exile. Until very recently, they were officially and completely ninguneados in the island, meaning they were actively erased from official memory. To put it in the parlance employed by Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale, they were “unpersoned.”

The performing artists who were part of the Canadian delegation may not have known all this (although, when I visit a country, I am always curious to know if people like me are well treated there.) But Atwood is a patron of Index on Censorship, a vocal champion of Amnesty International, and a recipient of the English PEN Pinter prize for her work defending writers’ rights. And, as mentioned, she is a frequent visitor to the island. Imagine visiting Moscow for the nth time during the Cold War, attending some Canadian-Soviet cultural event or other, and announcing that the very best Russian writers were Maxim Gorky, Feodor Gladkov, and Alexander Fadeyev, rather than, say, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Anna Akhmatova, and Vasily Grossman.

One needs to work at ignoring reality because it requires a conscious effort to look the other way. Atwood’s particular brand of imagined dystopia—amplified right-wing fantasies—ruffles no feather in the milieu she navigates. Not much bravery is required—at least, nothing like that mustered by precursors like Yevgeny Zamyatin or George Orwell, who is one of her favourite authors.

From 1984 to The Handmaid’s Tale CONTINUE READING

Yvon Grenier is a Professor of Political Science at St. Francis Xavier University and Resident Fellow at the Mulroney Institute of Government. You can follow him on Twitter @ygrenier1.

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