• 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."

WESTERN UNION TO CLOSE 407 OFFICES IN CUBA

WESTERN UNION TO CLOSE 407 OFFICES IN CUBA

TRUMP’S NEW TURN OF THE SCREW TO PUT ECONOMIC PRESSURE ON CUBA OCCURRED JUST OVER A WEEK BEFORE THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.

By OnCubaNews Staff, October 28, 2020,  in Cuba-USA

Original Article: OnCubaNews: Western Union in Cuba

Cuba confirmed that the 407 Western Union payment points in the country will close due to the sanctions recently announced by the Donald Trump administration, which prohibit the sending of remittances from the United States to the island through official channels.

The financial services firm Fincimex denounced in a statement that remittances to Cuba “will be totally interrupted” by closing the Western Union offices, when the ban on sending money to the island through companies controlled by the Cuban Armed Forces comes into force on November 26.

Foreign companies that want to operate in Cuba must have a state counterpart. Western Union has monopolized the cash reception service on the island since 2016 through a partnership with Fincimex, linked to the military conglomerate GAESA.

“The responsibility for the interruption of the remittance service between the two countries falls on the U.S. government,” said the Cuban state financier, after ensuring that the closure of Western Union will harm “the Cuban people and their families in the U.S.”

The interruption of the flow of dollars via Western Union occurs at a particularly delicate moment: the balance of payments crisis in Cuba is today more serious than ever and the State is trying by all means to raise foreign currency to pay its accumulated debts and import the products demanded by its population.

Biden’s campaign criticizes blocking of remittances to CubansOctober 29, 2020

 Elections: Democratic binomial would repeal Trump’s Cuba policiesOctober 27, 2020

In addition, the restriction promises to hit many Cubans hard at a time of increasing shortages of food and basic items due to the pandemic, which forced the country to close its borders to tourism and family travel in April.

When there were daily flights between the two countries, a large part of the dollars arrived in Cuba through informal channels or private agencies, brought directly by relatives from the United States or by Cubans traveling to the neighboring country.

A year ago this type of transaction had already started running into obstacles when Washington vetoed all commercial flights to Cuba except Havana. This informal option disappeared with the closure of airports due to the pandemic, which is why Western Union has gained prominence in recent months as it is the only company that formally processes remittances from the United States to the island.

On the other hand, in recent weeks many Cuban remittance recipients have protested the fact that the dollars that were sent to them from the U.S. reached their hands converted into convertible pesos or CUC, an artificial currency equivalent to 1:1 to the dollar although devalued in the informal market.

This is especially relevant, since Cuba currently applies a “partial dollarization” that forces the payment of part of the goods and services in foreign currency, while Cuban banknotes are not accepted in supermarkets and better-stocked stores.

In its statement today, Fincimex alleged, without further details, that at this time it was immersed in “negotiations” for Western Union shipments to arrive in dollars to bank accounts.

Trump’s new turn of the screw to put economic pressure on Cuba occurred just over a week before the U.S. presidential elections, which is why many consider it part of his campaign to win votes from conservative Cubans in the key state of Florida.

In any case, the president has strengthened the sanctions during his almost four years in office, in which he has reversed the “thaw” policy of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who had opted for rapprochement, softened the embargo and facilitated the reestablishment of bilateral diplomatic relations.

EFE/OnCuba

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CUBA: CRISIS ECONÓMICA, SUS CAUSAS, EL COVID-19 Y LAS POLÍTICAS DE RESCATE

 

 

 

 

 

Carmelo Mesa-Lago,  10/6/2020

Tema1

¿Cuál es el estado de la economía cubana en tiempos del COVID-19 y qué políticas de recuperación se prevén?

Resumen

Este documento se divide en cuatro partes: (1) un análisis de la crisis económica en Cuba, con indicadores macroeconómicos internos y externos; (2) una examen de las cuatro causas de la crisis, una interna y tres externas (persistencia de la planificación central, recorte en la ayuda económica venezolana, sanciones de Trump y COVID-19); (3) una descripción de la evolución y efectos en la salud de la pandemia; y (4) una revisión de las potenciales opciones para afrontar el COVID-19 y salir de la crisis económica, así como recomendaciones de organismos regionales para hacer frente a la recesión en América Latina y su potencial aplicabilidad en Cuba.

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Conclusiones

Cuba está sufriendo una severa crisis económica y parece haber muy pocas políticas (internas o externas) capaces de generar una reactivación. Hay un consenso entre la mayoría de economistas académicos cubanos (y también extranjeros) de que la única salida está en retomar las reformas estructurales interrumpidas y acelerarlas y profundizarlas. Ricardo Torres (2020) apunta que: “… una situación extrema como esta debería servir de catalizador de las transformaciones que requiere el modelo cubano… es hora que se reconozca que el esquema de producción y distribución actual es un rotundo fracaso y requiere ser revisado desde sus fundamentos. En esa revisión el sector privado y cooperativo debe ser empoderado”.

También sugieren un grupo de economistas cubanos (entere los que se encuentra el autor) tres medidas que Cuba podría adoptar internamente, sin necesidad de ayuda internacional, para salir de la crisis y propiciar el desarrollo económico-social (véase Mesa-Lago et al., 2020).

Escasez de alimentos

Para aumentar la producción agrícola, Cuba debería seguir las políticas de China y Vietnam: autorizar a todos los productores agrícolas a que determinen por sí mismos qué sembrar, a quién vender y fijar los precios en base a la oferta y la demanda. Estas políticas terminaron con las hambrunas periódicas en los dos países asiáticos, ahora autosuficientes. Hoy Vietnam es un exportador neto de productos agrícolas y envía a Cuba 350.000 toneladas de arroz anuales, que la isla podría producir. Esto requiere eliminar el ineficiente sistema de acopio. Las compras estatales obligatorias de la mayoría de las cosechas a precios fijados por el Estado, inferiores al precio de mercado, son un desincentivo. Si Cuba siguiera las reformas sino-vietnamitas, con las adaptaciones necesarias, podría alcanzar autosuficiencia alimentaria en cinco o seis años, terminar con la importación por valor de 1.800 millones de euros anuales de productos agrícolas y convertirse en exportador neto.

Desempleo visible y oculto

Es esencial expandir el sector no estatal, particularmente el trabajo por cuenta propia y pymes, muy dinámico antes del COVID-19 y esencial en la recuperación con creación de empleo productivo y eliminación del empleo estatal innecesario. Para ello se recomienda: (a) reemplazar la lista de actividades por cuenta propia autorizadas por una lista de actividades prohibidas; (b) autorizar a los profesionales a trabajar por cuenta propia y eliminar las barreras en el sector no estatal; (c) terminar la etapa experimental de las cooperativas de producción no agrícolas y de servicios y aprobar más de ellas; (d) establecer mercados al por mayor para suministrar insumos a todo el sector no estatal; (e) establecer bancos –incluyendo extranjeros– que provean microcréditos; (f) permitir al sector no estatal importar y exportar directamente; (g) eliminar los impuestos más gravosos al sector no estatal; (h) imponer el impuesto a las ganancias en vez de al ingreso bruto y permitir la completa deducción de gastos; (i) empoderar a una asociación independiente de microempresas para negociar condiciones con el gobierno y envolverse en la legislación pertinente; y (j) crear una vía para denunciar a funcionarios estatales corruptos que cobran sobornos a los trabajadores del sector no estatal (Díaz, 2020).

Inversión extranjera

Todos los economistas cubanos la consideran fundamental. Para aumentarla es necesario implementar ciertas reformas, como: (a) autorizar a las compañías extranjeras a contratar y pagar directamente a todos sus trabajadores; (b) aprobar la inversión de capital extranjero (incluyendo a los cubanos en el exterior) en todos los sectores económicos, así como en las microempresas y cooperativas de producción no agrícolas y de servicios; y (c) publicar estadísticas actualizadas en áreas clave en que hay vacíos para infundir confianza en el exterior, como la deuda externa total (no sólo la negociada), la forma de calcular el IPC, incluyendo las operaciones en CUC que ahora se excluyen, y cifras más detalladas de las finanzas públicas.

Estas reformas y otras ayudarían a Cuba a salir de la recesión actual y generarían recursos para poder refinanciar los servicios sociales erosionados y establecer una red mínima de protección social para los sectores más vulnerables a la crisis.

Dos semanas después de un seminario virtual dictado por el autor, patrocinado por las universidades de Harvard, Columbia, Florida Internacional y Miami donde se propusieron dichas medidas, el periódico oficial Granma tildó dichas propuestas (y otras similares, como Monreal, 2020) de “neoliberales” (Luque, 2020). Sin embargo, un par de días después, en una reunión extraordinaria del Consejo de Ministros se exhortó de manera urgente a “cambiar todo lo que debe ser cambiado”, aunque dentro de los parámetros de la planificación central y en un mercado estrictamente regulado. Se ha especulado mucho acerca de dichos cambios, sólo el tiempo dirá si se harán y si finalmente Cuba toma el camino exitoso de la recuperación y el desarrollo sostenido.

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CUBA: ENVEJECIMIENTO DEMOGRÁFICO Y DESARROLLO HUMANO; CUBA: DEMOGRAPHIC AGEING AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT

Economía y Desarrollo

Econ. y Desarrollo, vol.164 no.2 La Habana Jul.-dic. 2020  Epub 31-Jul-2020

Juan Carlos Albizu-Campos Espiñeira,  Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana (CEEC), Universidad de La Habana, Cuba.

Artículo Original: Cuba: envejecimiento demográfico y desarrollo humano

An excellent demographic analysis of Cuba’s aging population and its socio-economic impacts, also using a range of novel graphics to summarize demographic phenomena\ and data.

RESUMEN

El artículo analiza el estado del proceso de envejecimiento demográfico en Cuba y su impacto en la estructura de edades de la población, así como el efecto que ha producido sobre la disponibilidad de recursos laborales el bono demográfico y el bono de género e igualmente aborda las causas que llevaron a la extinción de ese primer bono demográfico. El texto finaliza con una propuesta de política integral de población enfocada hacia el alcance de objetivos explícitos de desarrollo humano.

Palabras clave: bono de género; bono demográfico; envejecimiento demográfico; recursos laborales

ABSTRACT

The article analyses the state of the demographic ageing process in Cuba and its impact on the age structure of the population, as well as the effect it has had on the availability of labour resources the demographic bonus and the gender bonus, and also addresses the causes that led to the extinction of this first demographic bonus. The text ends with a proposal for a comprehensive population policy focused on achieving explicit human development objectives.

Keywords: gender bonus; demographic bonus; demographic ageing; labour resources

INTRODUCCIÓN

La comprensión de la dinámica demográfica cubana actual pasa necesariamente por la explicación de cada uno de sus componentes, en estrecha interrelación con la población y el desarrollo. El debate en torno a la fecundidad y su evolución, a la variabilidad de las migraciones o a la convergencia de perfiles epidemiológicos que inciden sobre los niveles de mortalidad determina hoy posicionamientos también desde la política. Es una excelente oportunidad de diálogo ciencia-política, de forma tal que la primera aporte insumos y recomendaciones al modo en que se trazan e implementan acciones y a su vez a las posibilidades de monitoreo sistemático a los procesos.

El contexto social, económico y político actual abre una oportunidad al binomio ciencia-política en esta y en otras ramas del conocimiento. En el campo de la demografía de lo que se trata es entonces de contribuir a posicionar las características de su dinámica y desde el contexto de lo que expone la política hoy proponer ajustes e inclusiones en su concepción.

Artículo Original: Cuba: envejecimiento demográfico y desarrollo humano

CONCLUSIONES

Lo hasta aquí expuesto muestra que no existe escasez alguna de fuerza de trabajo en el país y que la solución no sería en ningún caso el facilismo de la visión simplista del pronatalismo. Es decisivo que se abandone la percepción de que el desarrollo humano es solo el mejoramiento de la extensión de la esperanza de vida al nacer y de las condiciones educacionales de la población. Es inexorable la adopción de una visión en la que el mejoramiento de las condiciones de vida y de la calidad de la supervivencia ocupen un lugar central, en el que el mejoramiento de los salarios, en particular, y de los ingresos, en general, de la población, ocupen ese lugar central que necesitan entre los objetivos de la política.

En todo caso, y como se muestra en la Tabla 2, el país lograría un puntaje en el índice global de 0,844, algo superior a la cota máxima, 0,823, alcanzada en 2007 cuando se ocupó el puesto 57. Cuba se situaría entonces en el lugar 44 del ranking de países que conforman la franja de muy alto desarrollo humano, junto a Chile, que ocupa hoy ese puesto, Argentina (47), Uruguay (56) y Barbados (58) que son, en la región, los que lo han logrado y se han consolidado en esa franja. Nótese además que lo que se propone es retornar a valores de los índices en las distintas dimensiones de desarrollo humano que fueran conseguidos por nuestro país en el pasado reciente y ahora serían las metas que, en un lapso de 12 años, hacia 2030, se proponen como objetivos de política bajo este enfoque; y para ello el crecimiento económico es imperioso. No más una posibilidad ni un lujo intelectual. Sin los recursos que aporta el crecimiento sostenido de la economía, es poco probable evitar que se siga retrocediendo en materia de desarrollo humano.

Cuando eso suceda, ya se verá que aquello que percibimos hoy como necesidades de la población de Cuba habrá desaparecido en buena medida y habrá sido sustituido a su vez por otras demandas. Pero, eso sí, el envejecimiento demográfico, el decrecimiento del número de habitantes, la fractura ideológica que representa la desvalorización del trabajo (manifestada a través del casi millón y medio de personas con edades entre 15 y 59 años aptas y calificadas que ni siquiera se plantean la búsqueda de un empleo formal y sí la búsqueda de un canal migratorio de salida), el casi un cuarto de la población urbana que tiene ingresos por debajo del valor de la canasta básica (en un contexto en el que el salario medio representa apenas un tercio de la línea de pobreza), así como muchos otros rasgos que hoy causan tanto desasosiego dejarán de ser percibidos como «problemas de población» -que en realidad no son tales- y quién sabe, quizás hasta pueda Cuba convertirse en un espacio de atracción y se detengan los éxodos. Ese es el verdadero reto desde la perspectiva del desarrollo humano. He ahí una verdadera política de población.

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CUBA URGES CALM AS OVERHAUL OF MONETARY SYSTEM LOOMS

Reuters, October 12, 2020

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s economy minister on Monday urged calm as the government prepares to unify its dual currency system and multiple exchange rates in hopes of improving economic performance.

The Caribbean island nation is undergoing a crisis caused by an onslaught of new U.S. sanctions on top of a decades-old embargo, the pandemic and its inefficient Soviet-style command economy.

Alejandro Gil, speaking during a prime-time broadcast on state-run television, said the country could not overcome the crisis without unification which he said included wage, pension and other measures to protect the population.

“It is a profound transformation that the economy needs that will impact companies and practically everyone,” Gil said.  “It is for the good of the economy and good of our people because it creates favorable economic conditions that will reverberate through more production, services and jobs,” he added.

The monetary reform, expected before the end of the year, will eliminate the convertible peso while leaving a devalued peso, officially exchanged since the 1959 Revolution at one peso to the dollar.  The soon to be removed convertible peso is also officially set at one to 10 pesos to the dollar for state companies and 24 pesos sell and 25 pesos buy with the population.

The government has stated numerous times that residents will be given ample time to exchange convertible pesos at the current rate once it is taken out of circulation and banks will automatically do the same with convertible peso accounts.  President Miguel Diaz-Canel said last week the country would end up with a single currency and exchange rate with the dollar but did not say what that rate might be or the date devaluation would happen.

Foreign and domestic economists forecast the move will cause triple digit inflation and bankruptcies while at the same time stimulating domestic economic efficiency and exports over imports.

The state controls the lion’s share of the economy and sets most wages and prices. Neither domestic currency is tradable outside Cuba.

“There will be no shock therapy here, the vulnerable will be protected. At the same time, it will favor motivation to work and the need to work to live,” Gil said.

Diaz-Canel announced in July that market-oriented reforms approved by the Communist party a decade ago and never implemented, including monetary measures, would be quickly put in place in response to the crisis. He said last week that monetary reform had now been approved by the all-powerful politburo.

Cuba, dependent on food, fuel and other imports has been caught short of cash as sanctions hit its foreign exchange revenues and the pandemic demolishes tourism and undermines remittances, creating food, medicine and other shortages.  Last year, the government began opening better stocked foreign exchange stores for people with access to dollars or a basket of other international currencies from remittances and other sources. However, all transactions must be electronic, for example through debit cards.

Foreign and local economists forecast economic activity will decline at least 8% this year, with trade down by around a third.

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WEALTHY NATIONS DEFY TRUMP WITH DEBT LIFELINE TO AILING CUBA

Bloomberg, Updated on October 16, 2020, 5:39 a.m. EDT

By Alonso Soto, Ben Bartenstein , and Alessandra Migliaccio

 Original Article: Debt Lifeline to Ailing Cuba

  • Most Paris Club members accept delaying Cuba’s obligations
  • Trump officials tried to bar relief as Nov. 3 election nears

Members of the Paris Club, an informal group of rich nations, are close to suspending Cuba’s debt obligations for this year, in a move that defies U.S. attempts to block any financial relief to the communist island.

A group of over a dozen countries at the Paris-based creditor group will likely agree to a request from Cuba to delay a debt payment with these nations due at the end of October, according to three people familiar with the negotiations. The decision seeks to help the Caribbean nation to mitigate the fallout of the pandemic, the people said, declining to be named because talks are private.

Neither the total amount of the relief nor the length of the moratorium was immediately available. Cuba, which owed $5.2 billion to the Paris Club as of December 2019, initially requested a two-year suspension on payments. Schwan Badirou-Gafari, secretary-general of the Paris Club, declined to comment.

The pandemic’s devastating effects over the economy this year have increased the pressure on rich countries to pardon or reschedule obligations from poorer nations. Earlier this week top economies agreed to renew a debt-relief initiative for the low-income countries through at least the first half of 2021. Cuba doesn’t qualify for that relief.

The U.S., which has lobbied against the suspension, cannot veto the moratorium efforts because approval doesn’t require the consensus of all the 22 members of the club, the people said. Talks are carried out separately between Cuba and a group of 14 creditors, which includes the U.K., Spain, Japan and Canada, they said.

The administration of President Donald Trump earlier this year contacted Paris Club members to try to bar the deferral, according to two people familiar with the matter. The White House is putting pressure on its former Cold War foe in a stance that’s popular with conservative Hispanic voters in Florida, a key battleground state in the upcoming Nov. 3 presidential election.  The White House declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg News.

Trump’s push to unravel the rapprochement with Cuba started by his predecessor Barack Obama has hindered the recovery of the island’s state-driven economy, which continues to survive on tourism and remittances from workers abroad despite attempts to open up. While the government has largely contained the coronavirus from spreading, the pandemic has ravaged its tourism industry and its economy is expected to shrink nearly 4% this year, according to the United Nations.

Investment firm CRF I Ltd. in February sued Cuba in a London court to force the country to repay debt it defaulted in the 1980s. CRF is one of three funds and commercial banks that holds Cuban debt representing a face value of $1.4 billion.

To counter the downturn, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel unveiled a reform package last week that ends the country’s dual currency system and scraps key subsidies.

Already short on cash, Cuba signed a deal with its Paris Club creditors in 2015 to write off $8.5 billion in outstanding debt and repay the remaining obligations annually during a period of 18 years. The U.S. was not included in that agreement.

U.S. officials have argued that the debt relief wasn’t merited and that the Cuban government could have repaid its arrears if it hadn’t squandered funds from ally Venezuela, two of the people said.

The Paris Club has joined the Group of 20 leading economies in delaying a potential $12 billion in debt payments from 73 of the world’s poorest countries.

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REFORMS IN CUBA: WILL THE THIRD TIME BE THE CHARM? LAS REFORMAS EN CUBA: ¿A LA TERCERA VA LA VENCIDA?

 Cuba Study Group, October 7, 2020
Aldo Alvarez

On July 16th, 2020, Cuban authorities announced a New Economic Strategy planned for the next few years, initiating a new period of reforms promoted by the Cuban government. Taking this into consideration, it is worthwhile to establish a general guide explaining the reform periods that have occurred—including the counter-reforms that preceded them—during the last 30 years in our nation, beginning with the Cuban crisis post-1991. Understanding these reform processes can serve as a tool to better explain where, presumably, the country is headed.

A partir de los anuncios realizados por las autoridades cubanas el pasado 16 de julio de 2020 sobre la Nueva Estrategia Económica prevista para los próximos años, se inicia un nuevo período de reformas en Cuba promovido por el Gobierno cubano. En este sentido, consideramos que es relevante establecer una guía general de los períodos de reformas – precedidos de períodos de contrarreformas – que se han sucedido durante los últimos 30 años en nuestra nación – a partir de la crisis cubana Post-1991. El entendimiento de dicho proceso de reformas por parte de la ciudadanía bien puede servir como herramienta para entender de mejor manera hacia donde, presuntamente, se dirige el país.

Aldo Alvarez is an attorney and Young Professional member of the Cuba Study Group. He lives in Havana, Cuba. Aldo Alvarez es un abogado y miembro «Joven Profesional» del Cuba Study Group. Vive en La Habana, Cuba.

 

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CUBA: FREEDOM ON THE NET 2020

Ted Henken

Freedom House, Freedom on the Net, October 16, 2020

A.  Obstacles to Access 5 / 25
B.  Limits on Content 10 / 35
C . Violations of User Rights   7 / 40

LAST YEAR’S SCORE & STATUS: 22 /100 Not Free

Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free)

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.

Key Developments, June 1, 2019 – May 31, 2020

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Continue Reading,  CUBA: FREEDOM ON THE NET 2020

Maker:S,Date:2017-2-2,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

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CUBA: U.S. POLICY IN THE 16TH CONGRESS

May 14, 2020

Mark P. Sullivan, Specialist in Latin American Affairs

[A useful and bi-partisan summary of US policy towards Cuba that I missed when it came out in May 2020.  Thanks to Mike Wiggin, of Ottawa Canada, for bringing it to my attention.]

Original Report: Cuba: U.S. Policy in the 116th Congress

 

SUMMARY

Political and economic developments in Cuba, a one-party authoritarian state with a poor human rights record, frequently have been the subject of intense congressional concern since the1959 Cuban revolution.

Current Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro in April 2018, but Castro continues to head Cuba’s Communist Party. A new constitution took effect in 2019 that introduced some political and economic reforms but maintained the state sector’s dominance over the economy and the Communist Party’s predominant role.

Over the past decade, Cuba has implemented gradual market-oriented economic policy changes, but it has not taken enough action to foster sustainable economic growth. The Cuban economy is being hard-hit by Venezuela’s economic crisis, which has reduced Venezuela’s support for Cuba and increased U.S. economic sanctions, and by the economic shutdown in response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Cuba’s economy faces a contraction of more than 8% in 2020. The global contraction in economic growth, trade, foreign investment, and tourism likely will slow post-COVID economic recovery.

U.S. Policy

Since the early 1960s, the centerpiece of U.S. policy toward Cuba has been economic sanctions aimed at isolating the Cuban government. Congress has played an active role in shaping policy toward Cuba, including by enacting legislation strengthening, and at times easing, U.S. economic sanctions. In 2014, however, the Obama Administration initiated a policy shift away from sanctions and toward a policy of engagement. This shift included the restoration of diplomatic relations (July 2015); the rescission of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of international terrorism (May 2015); and an increase in travel, commerce, and the flow of information to Cuba implemented through regulatory changes.

In 2017, President Trump unveiled a new policy toward Cuba that introduced new sanctions and rolled back some of the Obama Administration’s efforts to normalize relations. In September 2017, the State Department reduced the staff of the U.S. Embassy by about two-thirds in response to unexplained health injuries of members of the U.S. diplomatic community in Havana. The reduction affected embassy operations, especially visa processing.

In November 2017, the State Department restricted financial transactions with over 200 business entities controlled by the Cuban military, intelligence, and security services; the so-called restricted list has been updated several times, most recently in November 2019.

Legislative Activity in the 116thCongress

The 116th Congress has continued to fund democracy assistance for Cuba and U.S. government-sponsored broadcasting to Cuba. For FY2019, Congress appropriated $20 million for democracy programs and $29.1 million for Cuba broadcasting (P.L. 116-6, H. Rept. 116-9). For FY2020, Congress appropriated $20 million for democracy programs and $20.973 million for Cuba broadcasting (P.L. 116-94, Division G); Division J of P.L. 116-94 includes benefits for U.S. government employees and dependents injured while stationed in Cuba. The measure includes several Cuba reporting requirements in H. Rept. 116-78 and S. Rept. 116-126.

Congress has begun consideration of the Administration’s FY2021 budget request of $10 million for Cuba democracy programs and $12.973 million for Cuba broadcasting.

Among bills introduced in the 116th Congress, several would ease or lift U.S. sanctions in Cuba: H.R. 213 (baseball); S. 428(trade); H.R. 1898/S. 1447 (U.S. agricultural exports); H.R. 2404 (overall embargo); and H.R. 3960/S. 2303(travel). H.R. 4884 would direct the Administration to reinstate the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program. Several resolutions would express concerns regarding Cuba’s foreign medical missions (S. Res. 14/H. Res. 136); U.S. fugitives from justice in Cuba (H. Res. 92/S. Res. 232); religious and political freedom in Cuba (S. Res. 215); and the release of human rights activist José Daniel Ferrer and other Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) members (S. Res. 454 and H. Res. 774). S. Res. 531 would honor Las Damas de Blanco, a Cuban human rights organization, and call for the release of all political prisoners.

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OUTLOOK

When Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro as president in April 2018, a leader from a new generation came to power—Díaz-Canel currently is 60 years old. Nevertheless, Raúl Castro, currently 88 years old, will remain until 2021 in the politically influential position of first secretary of Cuba’s Communist Party.

In February 2019, almost 87% of Cubans approved a new constitution in a national referendum, which included such changes as the addition of an appointed prime minister to oversee government operations; limits on the president’s tenure (two five-year terms) and age (60, beginning first term); and market-oriented economic reforms, including the right to private property and the promotion of foreign investment. The new constitution also ensures the state sector’s dominance over the economy and the predominant role of the Communist Party.

In 2019, pursuant to the new constitution, Cuba’s National Assembly appointed Díaz-Canel as president in October, and Díaz-Canel appointed Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz as prime minister in December. Further implementation of constitutional reforms could be delayed as Cuba confronts the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cuban economy is being been hard-hit by the government’s economic shutdown to stem the COVID-19 pandemic; some observers project a contraction of more than 8% for the Cuban economy in 2020. Moreover, Cuba’s economic recovery is likely to be slow because of the global economic outlook for trade, investment, and tourism. In this environment, reduced support from Venezuela and increased U.S. economic sanctions, which already were negatively affecting the economy, will contribute to Cuba’s bleak future economic prospects.

The Trump Administration’s ramped-up sanctions on Cuba in 2019, aimed at deterring Cuba’s support for Venezuela, have heightened tensions in relations, stymied U.S. business engagement in Cuba, and negatively affected Cuba’s nascent private sector. The 2017 downsizing of the staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, done in response to unexplained injuries to U.S. diplomatic personnel in Cuba, resulted in the suspension of most visa processing at the embassy and reduced other embassy operations.

As in past Congresses, there are diverse opinions in the 116th Congress regarding the appropriate U.S. policy approach toward Cuba, with some Members supporting the Administration’s actions and others preferring a policy of engagement.  Although various legislative initiatives have been introduced to ease or lift various U.S. sanctions, no action has been taken on these measures. With the exception of congressional opposition to funding cuts for Cuba democracy programs and Cuba broadcasting in annual appropriations measures, no congressional action has been taken opposing the Administration’s imposition of various sanctions on Cuba.

 

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Welcome to Queueba: WITH SHOP SHELVES BARE, CUBA MULLS ECONOMIC REFORMS

The government hints it may scrap its dotty dual-currency system

The Economist, Oct 10th 2020

Original Article: Cuba Mulls Economic Reforms

LONG QUEUES and empty shelves are old news in Cuba. Recently, though, the queues have become longer and the shelves emptier. Food is scarcer than it has been since the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, which supported the island’s communist regime. Now shoppers queue twice: once for a number that gives them a time slot (often on the next day). They line up again to enter the store.

Once inside, they may find little worth buying. Basic goods are rationed (for sardines, the limit is four tins per customer). Shops use Portero (Doorman), an app created by the government, to scan customers’ identity cards. This ensures that they do not shop in one outlet too often. Eileen Sosin recently tried but failed to buy shampoo and hot dogs at a grocery store near her home in Havana. She was told that she could not return for a week.

Queues at grocery stores are short compared with those outside banks. They are a sign that, under pressure from food shortages and the pandemic, the government is moving closer towards enacting a reform that it has been contemplating for nearly two decades: the abolition of one of its two currencies. In July state media began telling Cubans that change was imminent. Cubans are eager to convert CUC, a convertible currency pegged to the American dollar, into pesos, which are expected to be the surviving currency. If they do not make the switch now, Cubans fear, they will get far fewer than 24 pesos per CUC, the official exchange rate for households and the self employed.

Cuba introduced the CUC in 1994, when it was reeling from the abrupt end of Soviet subsidies. The government hoped that it would curb a flight into dollars from pesos, whose worth plunged as prices rose.

The system created distortions that have become deeply entrenched. The two currencies are linked by a bewildering variety of exchange rates. Importers of essential goods, which are all state-owned, benefit from a rate of one peso per CUC. That lets them mask their own inefficiencies and obtain scarce dollars on favourable terms. This keeps imports cheap, when they are available at all. But it also discourages the production of domestic alternatives. Foreign-owned earners of hard currency, such as hotels, do not profit from the artificial gap between revenues and costs. That is because instead of paying workers directly they must give the money to a state employment agency, which in turn pays the employees one peso for every CUC (or dollar). The rule is, in effect, a massive tax on labour and on exports.

The dual-currency regime is an obstacle to local production of food, which already faces many. Farmers must sell the bulk of their output to the Acopio (purchasing agency) at prices set by the state. It gives them seeds, fertiliser and tools, but generally not enough to produce as much as their land will yield.

A farmer from Matanzas, east of Havana, recently complained on social media that the Acopio, which required him to provide 15,000lbs (6,800kg) of pineapples, neither transported them all the way to its processing facility nor paid him. Instead, they were left to rot. When the Acopio does manage to provide lorries, it often fails to deliver boxes in which to pack farmers’ produce. They can sell their surplus to the market, but it is rarely enough to provide a decent income. No wonder Cuba imports two-thirds of its food.

It is becoming more urgent to free the economy from such burdens. Although Cuba has done a good job of controlling covid-19, the pandemic has crushed tourism, a vital source of foreign exchange. The Trump administration, which imposes sanctions on Cuba in the hope that they will force the Communist Party out of power (and, perhaps more important, that they will please Cuban-American voters in Florida), recently tightened them. In September the State Department published a “Cuba prohibited accommodations list”, which blacklists 433 hotels controlled by the regime or “well-connected insiders”. Venezuela, Cuba’s ally, has cut back shipments of subsidised oil. The economy is expected to shrink by around 8% this year.

As it often does when times are tough, Cuba is improvising. To hoover up dollars from its citizens, since last year the government has opened many more convertible-currency shops. As these usually have the best selection of goods, demand for dollars has rocketed. Banks have none left. Cubans either get them from remittances, sent by relatives abroad, or on the black market, where the price can be double the official rate of one per CUC.

The government is now sending signals that it wants to scrap the economy-warping dual-currency regime. “We have to learn to live with fewer imports and more exports, promoting national production,” said the president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, in July.

But it has signalled before that such a reform was imminent only to decide against it. That is because the change, when it comes, will be painful. Importers with artificial profits may lay off workers en masse. If they have to pay more for their dollars, imports will become more expensive, sparking a rise in inflation. Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist at the Pontifical Xavierian University in Cali, Colombia, expects the value of Cubans’ savings to drop by 40%. The government has said that it will raise salaries and pensions after a currency reform, but it has little cash to spare. This year’s budget deficit is expected to be close to 10% of GDP. That could rise when the government is forced to recognise costs now hidden by the twin-currency system.

The government may yet wait until it has built up bigger reserves of foreign exchange to help it cushion the shock. It may hope that Joe Biden will win the White House and reverse some of the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. That would boost foreign earnings.

The economic crisis makes other reforms more necessary. Under Raúl Castro, who stepped down as president in 2018 (but still heads the Communist Party), a vibrant private sector started up. It has gained more freedoms, but at a slow pace.

The government has recently promised faster action. It said it would replace lists of the activities open to cuentapropistas, as Cuba’s entrepreneurs are called, with negative lists, which specify in which sectors they cannot operate. The new rules have yet to be published. The government recently let cuentapropistas import supplies through state agencies, but prices are prohibitive. In July it opened a wholesale market, where payment is in hard currencies. Firms that use it no longer have to buy from the same bare shops as ordinary citizens.

Cuentapropistas have been lobbying since 2017 for the right to incorporate, which would enable them to sign contracts and deal normally with banks, and to import inputs directly rather than through state agencies. The government has yet to allow this. Until it frees up enterprise, Cubans will go on forming long queues outside shops with empty shelves. ■

 

Street Vendor , 2015

State Food Distributer, 2015

State Vendor, ANAP (Asociacion Nacional de Agricultores Pequenos)

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WHY FLORIDA’S CUBAN POPULATION IS SUSCEPTIBLE TO TRUMP’S PROPAGANDA

Opinion by Alexandra Martinez

CNN, Updated 6:32 PM ET, Wed September 30, 2020

Original Article: Cuban-American Susceptibility to Trump’s Propaganda

Why Florida is a battleground state like no other

Alexandra Martinez is an award-winning Cuban American writer based in Miami, Florida. Her work has appeared in Vice, Catapult Magazine, and Miami New Times. Find her at alexandra-martinez.net. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.

 

Alexandra Martinez

On a blistering August morning in 1973, my grandparents, mom and aunt left Cuba. My maternal grandparents had met as a result of the Revolution; my abuela (grandmother) was a volunteer teacher in the literacy movement, and my abuelo (grandfather) was a technician and organizer who helped remove the previous dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and was exiled to Venezuela.

After 1959, he was allowed to return and was celebrated by the Revolution. As the years passed, their living conditions and civil liberties withered. It became abundantly clear that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro would not uphold the rights of the people they had fought for. They spent five years being called gusanos (worms) while my abuelo labored in a forced-work agricultural camp to earn his family’s exit. When they were granted permission to leave, they left behind everything they had ever known: generations of family, their homes, and a bittersweet love for their island. Their only solace was the flickering thought that their young daughters would have a better life.

Today, my 80-year-old abuela lives in her dream home in the predominantly Latino suburb of Miami, Kendall, a house she and my late abuelo built as the fruit of their decades of labor, wistful regret, and trauma after leaving their homeland. Her story is not unlike those of others in Miami’s Cuban-born community, which in 2017 accounted for more than a quarter of Miami-Dade County’s population and six percent of Florida’s voting power, according to 2016 exit polls.

Continue Reading: Cuban-American Susceptibility to Trump’s Propaganda

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