• 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."

Cuba: When Bureaucrats Attack

Cuba: When bureaucrats attack

The abrupt closing of a popular Havana business tests Raul Castro reforms.

Ulises Aquino

Original here:  Cuba: When Bureaucrats Attack

Nick Miroff, July 31, 2012 08:44

HAVANA, Cuba— In the new Cuba, the one President Raul Castro and his team of reformers say they’re building, the hard-working entrepreneur is a patriotic figure, a job-creator who’s helping to lift up the island’s feeble economy.

That’s the Cuba where Ulises Aquino thought it would be a good idea to start a business.

With funds earned abroad as an award-winning opera singer, Aquino opened a restaurant and cabaret last year where the company he founded, Opera de la Calle (Opera of the Street) could perform.

He called it “El Cabildo” (roughly, the “meeting place”), transforming a trash-strewn lot into a lively entertainment venue, with an open-air stage, restaurant and bar. Aquino offered free children’s theater and other community activities on weekend mornings, and kept his prices low, charging $2 admission to Opera of the Street shows that feature as many as 80 singing-and-dancing performers.

Aquino was a good socialist businessman too, sharing profits with his 130 employees and paying wages that were three or four times the $20 average monthly Cuban government salary.

More from GlobalPost: Cuba mute in the time of cholera

El Cabildo was so innovative that Aquino and his new model of socialist enterprise were featured in a July 12 Reuters article titled “In Cuba, an opera singer builds an empire.”

And that’s when the bureaucrats attacked.

“It may have been the last straw,” said Aquino, of the article. “But they had their eye on me for a while.”

The following Saturday night, on July 21, a team of city government inspectors arrived at El Cabildo and interrupted the show, “like a team of commandos,” said Aquino, a barrel-chested bulldog of a man, who trembled with anger as he re-told the story.


The inspectors ordered Aquino off the stage as the audience looked on in shock. Then they shut down the kitchen and froze the cash register for a four-hour inspection.

By the following Monday El Cabildo was closed and Aquino had an order from local Havana officials stripping him of his business license for two years.

The inspectors had determined El Cabildo to be in possession of “more chairs than the permitted number,” and “products whose origin could not be determined” – ie lacking receipts. Two prep cooks who Aquino says were there on a trial basis were found to be “illegal workers.”

Worst of all, Aquino was accused of “enrichment” because he was charging a $2 cover “for personal benefit,” something he was not specifically authorized to do—even though entertainment venues all over Havana routinely charge $5 to $10 at the door.

There was no fine, no appeals process, no legal recourse. It didn’t seem to matter that Aquino had more than $100,000 of his savings invested in the business, or that 130 families would lose their income.

This was the old way in Cuba, where bureaucrats rule.

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Aquino, for one, doesn’t blame Raul Castro. “This goes completely against everything that the government has been telling us,” he said.

“The people who are behind this are the mid-level bureaucrats who know the status quo is endangered by all these new opportunities that offer a change from all the old taboos and prohibitions,” said Aquino.

On Monday, officials from Cuba’s Ministry of Culture issued a statement offering their support for Aquino’s Opera company and its ability to continuing performing at El Cabildo. But they said nothing about his dispute with city authorities and the fate of the businesses that make Opera of the Street possible.

“This place is dead right now,” said Ruben Rodriguez, the opera company’s choreographer, covering up the sound board and lighting controls opposite an empty stage. “Everything’s paralyzed.”

The fate of El Cabildo will be closely watched in Cuba, where Raul Castro’s economic reform process has lost momentum in recent months and Cubans’ initial enthusiasm for starting small businesses has faded.

Officials announced a new pilot program last week that will convert state-run companies into employee-run cooperatives, but the experiment will be limited to just 222 firms.

Meanwhile, a vast state apparatus of government officials who produce nothing of value remain ready to prey upon those who do.

Castro and other Cuban officials have repeatedly said that recalcitrant bureaucrats will not be allowed to stand in the way of economic change. If they intervene to help re-open El Cabildo, they will send a clear signal that Cuba’s new small businesses deserve encouragement, not strangulation.

But if El Cabildo stays closed, it can send a different message about Cuba’s incipient capitalism in Cuba: that new entrepreneurs here should not be too ambitious with their plans or too proud of their success. And any business, no matter how big, can be shut down on a whim, if a local official orders it so.

In that case, Aquino said, “the loser here won’t be me. It’ll be our country.”

Opera de la Calle

See also Havana Times July 27, 2012,  Cuba Closes ‘Street Opera’ Project

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Yoani Sanchez on Raúl Castro’s 26th of July Speech: “The Table Is Set for the United States”

Original article from Huffington Post  here: Raul Castro’s 26th of July Speech, 2012

On Thursday morning, the 26th of July was celebrated in Gunatanamo province. The 59th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes barracks went according to script with no great surprises. In Mariana Grajales Plaza in this eastern city, members of the government, local authorities and thousands of local people gathered. The main speech was delivered by José Ramón Ventura, first vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers. His words were marked by calls for anti-imperialism and calls for efficiency.

He delivered them like a man of the old guard, an octogenarian leader emphasizing the need to meet production plans and insisting on the Guidelines of the Sixth Communist Party Congress. His allocution was free of announcements, although popular rumor suggested — weeks in advance — the possibility of a decree regarding travel and emigration reform. A change longed for by Cubans who could travel outside the island without needing a permit to leave, what we call the “white card.”

Instead, the statements made at the ceremony focused more on the continuation of the current process. Only in the final minutes did Raúl Castro take the microphone and improvise a speech. From experience, Cubans know that unscripted words are often the most momentous. The general boasted that the ceremony had lasted only “55 minutes,” a clear contrast to the long events organized in the past by his brother, Fidel Castro.

He also stressed the need to raise productivity, without which it will not be possible to improve the current wage scales. Historical references also salted his time in front of the microphone. Meanwhile, the sun rose in the sky over one of the hottest areas of the country and the people remained standing before the words of the current president. This was the first 26th of July that was commemorated under the new rules of the Raúl regime, with the site chosen not in a contest between provinces but in their geographical order. The 60th anniversary, next year, will take place in Santiago de Cuba, where the Moncada Barracks is located.

The most controversial statement in Raúl’s speech was that if the United States wants “to talk, the table is set… If they want to talk about the problems of democracy, of freedom of the press, of human rights… we will discuss it… but under conditions of equality,” affirmed the man who for almost 50 years was minister of the Armed Forces.

This assertion comes at a time when the opposition has lost, physically, one of its main leaders, the layman Oswaldo Payá. Many of the dissidents surveyed by this writer for El Pais newspaper, expressed their displeasure with the fact that the Cuban authorities are disposed to talk about internal matters with a foreign government and not with the nonconformists in their own backyard.

But this is not the first time the current Cuban president has spoken of a possible dialog with his neighbor to the north. In reality, however, the official discourse continues to feed off confrontation with the White House.

This was, without a doubt, a 26th of July that will pass with neither pain nor glory.

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Mark Frank: “Cuba broadens economic reforms, plans new measures”

By Marc Frank

HAVANA | Thu Jul 26, 2012 8:07pm EDT

(Reuters) – Cuba adopted a new tax code this week and said it would loosen regulations on some state companies while turning others into cooperatives, as one of the world’s last Soviet-style economies moves in a more market-friendly direction.

The plans were announced at a session of the National Assembly, which passed the country’s first comprehensive tax code since the 1959 revolution on the communist-ruled island. Foreign journalists were barred from Monday’s meeting, only portions of which were later broadcast by the official media.

President Raul Castro, 81, has liberalized regulations for small businesses and farming, and begun leasing small state retail outlets to employees since taking over for his ailing older brother Fidel in 2008. But he now appears ready, says Cuba expert Phil Peters, “to put some meat on the bone.”

Marino Murillo, head of the Communist Party commission responsible for implementing reforms approved at a party Congress last year, characterized the tax law as providing the basis for ““bringing up to date the economic model,” while releasing few details of the code.

The new law takes effect next year and is scheduled for publication next month.

Castro’s point man for reform said it would gradually replace an old Soviet-style system and eventually require everyone to pay income and property taxes for the first time since the 1960s.

Murillo, in a two-hour presentation to the National Assembly, announced that an unspecified number of state companies would be partially deregulated by the end of the year. He said the companies, previously part of various ministries, would be able to make day-to-day business decisions without waiting for government approval, manage their labor relations and set prices. After meeting state contracts, they will also be able to sell excess production on the open market. The companies will be self-financed, including through bank credits, and expected to cover their losses, versus handing over all profit to the state and receiving financing and subsidies from the treasury. Instead of being micro-managed by the ministries, Murillo said the companies would be evaluated by “four or five indicators” such as earnings, the relation of productivity to salaries and their ability to meet the terms of state contracts.

Murillo also announced that 222 small to medium-sized state businesses were preparing to become cooperatives, ranging from restaurants and produce markets to shrimp breeding and transportation. The cooperatives will lease state property and equipment at 10-year renewable intervals, operate on a market basis, pay taxes like other companies and divide profits among members as they see fit, Murillo said.


“They have been rolling things out one by one on a slow but steady timetable and my guess is they will continue to do so. It’s a timeline that goes to 2015,” Peters, a vice president of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, said. “Now they are getting to the things that really have the ability to increase the size of the private sector and create the savings in the state sector that they say are their targets,” he said.

Cuba, with a foreign debt of more than $22 billion according to Reuters’ estimates and still mired in a post-Soviet crisis after 20 years, has no choice but to change its inefficient ways, government insiders say.

Marino said as much during the National Assembly meeting. “We are not calling for turmoil … but the reality of life shows we cannot maintain (a command economy),” he said.

The five-year reform plan calls for moving from government administration of just about the entire economy to managing it through “”indirect” means such as taxes and bank credits.

Most retail services and minor production and farming are scheduled to go over to a “”non-state” sector that will account for more than 40 percent of the labor force, compared with the current 15 percent.

At the same time, the Communist Party plans to move away from a paternalistic state system of collective work and consumption to one where individual effort is better rewarded. Across the board subsidized goods and services are to be replaced by targeted welfare.

Castro, who closed the National Assembly meeting, said the new measures would “”permit the state to forget about the administration of a set of secondary services and productions and concentrate on improving the management of the basic means of production which will remain as socialist state companies.”

Murillo also announced that the government would lease to its employees more than 1,000 small cafeterias, following in the footsteps of barbershops, hairdressers and a host of other minor services let go over the last few years. The former state establishments now must compete head to head with a burgeoning small business sector of more than 300,000 mom-and-pop operations, including restaurants and other small companies.

Murillo said the new tax code would cut small business taxes on average by between 3 and 7 percent and provide other benefits for start-ups, such as eliminating the labor tax for those with five employees or less. The new law will also benefit small farmers, he said.


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Dissidents arrested at Paya funeral in Cuba

Radio Netherlands Worldwide, July 24, 2012

Cuban police arrested dozens of dissidents Tuesday after the funeral of Oswaldo Paya, a political activist whose sudden death in a road accident triggered grief and suspicion, AFP reporters said. Those arrested included Guillermo Farinas, a leading rights activist, who was held for questioning by plainclothes police deployed outside the Havana church where Paya’s funeral was held.

At the Funeral of Oswaldo Paya

Farinas, known for hunger strikes that drew attention to the plight of political prisoners in Cuba, and about 50 others were stopped by police after emerging from the funeral mass shouting slogans against the government.

They were forced onto two buses that the church had provided to take people to the cemetery where Paya was to be buried.

Two of Paya’s children have questioned the official account of how their father was killed.

Authorities said Paya, 60, died along with another dissident, Harold Cepero Escalante, on Sunday when their rental car went off the road and struck a tree in southeastern Cuba.

Separately, a Spanish national who was driving the car in which Paya was killed was taken into custody by Cuban police for questioning after being released from a Havana hospital on Monday, a Spanish embassy source said.

The source said Angel Carromero Barrios, a 27-year-old activist with the youth wing of Spain’s ruling Popular Party, was being held in Bayamo, 744 kilometers (462 miles) southeast of Havana.

“He is still in Bayamo, in a detention center,” the source said.

A Swede, 27-year-old Jens Aron Modig, also was in the car at the time of the crash. He was treated at a local hospital and released. The Swedish embassy would not comment on his situation.

Paya, winner of the European Union’s Sakharov prize for human rights in 2002, is best known for confronting the Cuban parliament that year with a petition signed by 11,000 people demanding political change in Cuba.

Known as the “Varela Project,” the initiative was instrumental in opening debate in Cuba on the direction of a communist regime dominated for more than half a century by Fidel Castro and his brother Raul.

Paya was eulogized Tuesday by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana and a key intermediary with Cuba’s ageing leadership, as a man whose political activism was rooted in his Christian faith.

“Oswaldo had a clear political vocation and, as a good Christian, this did not distance him from his faith or religious practice,” Ortega said.

“On the contrary, he always looked to his Christian faith as inspiration for his political options.”

His death brought a flood of reaction praising his courage and dedication to human rights.

Pope Benedict XVI extended condolences to Paya’s family in a statement that Ortega read at the funeral service.

In Chile, two lawmakers complained that they had been denied visas to attend Paya’s funeral. Senator Patricio Walker and congressman Juan Carlos Latorre, both members of Chile’s Christian Democratic party, had applied for the visas Monday at the Cuban consulate in Santiago.

“They had given me the visa, the truth is I was bit surprised,” Walker told reporters. “The consul called me and said that it was a mistake, that tourist visas could not be given to holders of diplomatic passports.”


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Cuba economy czar says cooperatives by year-end

By PETER ORSI Associated Press; July 23, 2012

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba’s economy czar said Monday that plans are in place to begin an experimental phase of non-state cooperatives in sectors ranging from food services to transportation by the end of the year.

While cooperative farming has already begun, Cubans have been waiting for regulations allowing them to form worker-owned co-ops in other sectors. The pilot program announced by Marino Murillo in a session of Cuba’s parliament will include 222 cooperatives.

The creation of midsize cooperatives is a long-promised lynchpin of President Raul Castro’s economic reforms, and Cuba’s economy czar promised state support to jump-start the pilot program. Murillo said some will be converted state-run enterprises, and co-ops will be given preference over private single-owner businesses.

“For these cooperatives and the non-state entities, in the coming year $100 million is being budgeted which is the financing necessary so they can be assured production, because if we create them and there is no financing, they won’t work,” Murillo told lawmakers in one of the parliament’s twice-a-year sessions.

He also reiterated that Cuba must also make its state-run enterprises more efficient and productive, since they will continue to dominate.

“The most important part of our economy will be the socialist state enterprise,” Murillo said. “Don’t think that all of a sudden the private-sector workers will generate $40 billion, $50 billion in GDP.”

Castro’s five-year plan to overhaul the economy has already legalized the sale of homes and cars and swelled the ranks of private-sector entrepreneurs by a quarter-million since 2010. Nearly all are small mom-and-pop shops, however, the likes of restaurants, cell-phone repair shops and jewelers.

Cuba insists that the reforms are not are not a wholesale embrace of capitalism but rather an “updating” of the nation’s socialist model, and most key sectors will remain under government control.

Other than a statute on taxation, no new laws were announced Monday. Foreign journalists were not allowed access to the session of the National Assembly, but state television aired Murillo’s speech in the evening. For islanders wondering whether the assembly would take action on long-promised reform of travel restrictions, it was another disappointment.

Early this year, Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon said in an interview that a “radical and profound” change to the rules, which keep most Cubans from leaving the country, was imminent.

There has been no word since then about scrapping the much-loathed “tarjeta blanca,” or “white card,” which islanders must apply for to travel abroad. Speaking to parliament, Castro repeated that the government still intends to reform the migratory rules, but did not say when it might happen. “It has not been relegated. On the contrary,” Castro said. “We have continued working toward its gradual relaxation, taking into account the associated side-effects.”

The pace of Castro’s reforms has slowed this year with no blockbuster changes announced since December, leading many economists to question whether Cuba can meet its own targets for reducing bloated state payrolls by 1 million workers, and shifting 40 percent of the economy into non-state control.

Last week, the island’s burgeoning small business class was dealt a blow with the low-key announcement of new, stiff tariffs on imported goods. The entrepreneurs say that without access to wholesale markets, the only way they can supply their businesses is through “mules” who transit between Cuba and places such as Miami, Ecuador and Panama with their bags stuffed with food, spices, clothing, electronics, diapers and other items tough to come by on the island.

On Monday, Cuban state media published an article seeking to quiet what it called the “numerous comments and anxieties” about the new customs duties. It made no mention of the small businesses, however, and insisted that the measures were necessary because excess baggage is slowing down service at the airport, making it resemble a cargo terminal.

Murillo said Monday that Cuba is studying how to establish wholesale markets, but did not announce specific plans.

Economists say it’s clear that Castro’s changes are here to stay, but change is happening slowly and measures to stimulate the private sector come with other decisions throwing up obstacles in entrepreneurs’ paths. “It’s very confusing because they are really sending mixed signals,” said Sergio Diaz-Briquets, a Cuba analyst based in the Washington area.

Castro also reiterated that the government will not be pressured into hurrying. “On a national level and above all in the exterior, there has been no lack of appeals, not always well-intentioned, to accelerate the pace of transformation,” Castro said. “It is a matter of such scope upon which the country’s socialist and independent future depends, that there will never be space for the siren calls that call us to immediately dismantle socialism and impose so-called shock therapies on the people.”

Cuba celebrates Revolution Day on Thursday. The date is sometimes used to make major announcements, though less so in recent years since Castro replaced his older brother Fidel as president.

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Canada Offers Condolences on Death of Cuban Activist


July 24, 2012 – The Honourable Diane Ablonczy, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs), today issued the following statement on the death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas:

“I was saddened to learn of the tragic death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.

“Mr. Payá dedicated his life to defending civil liberties and human rights, and he was one of Cuba’s most prominent voices for democratic change. He received the Sakharov Prize in 2002. In 2005, and again in 2011, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“His commitment to dialogue and non-violence and his support for a vibrant civil society in which religious organizations play an important role stand out as a positive example for the continued development of democracy in Cuba. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of this tireless champion of freedom and democracy.”

– 30 –

For further information, media representatives may contact:

Gemma Collins
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs)

Foreign Affairs Media Relations Office
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada


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Omar Everleny Pérez and Pavel Vidal, “Relanzamiento del cuentapropismo en medio del ajuste estructural”

Below is a Power Point Presentation prepared for the “Seminar on Prospects for Cuba’s Economy” at the Bildner Center, City University of New York, on May 21, 2012 by Pavel Vidal Alejandro and Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva. Unfortunately Omar was unable to make the CUNY session himself due to visa and flight delays and complications.

The full presentation can be found here: Pavel y Omar Relanzamiento del Cuentapropismo en medio del ajuste estructural

Pavel Vidal Alejandro and Omar Everleny Pérez


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Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects in a Changing Geo-Economic Environment

By Arch Ritter

Below is a Power Point Presentation made at the “Seminar on Prospects for Cuba’s Economy” at the Bildner Center, City University of New York, on May 21, 2012.

The full presentation can be found here: CUNY Bildner Presention, Arch Ritter on Cuba’s Economic Problems and Prospects….”, May 21 2012

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Yoani Sanchez, “Should the U.S. raise a fist or offer a hand to Cuba?”

July 10, 2012

Yoani Sanchez, CNN

Havana, Cuba (CNN) — In the nineties a certain joke became very popular in the streets and homes of Cuba. It began with Pepito — the mischievous boy of our national humor — and told how his teacher, brandishing a photo of the U.S. president, launches into a harsh diatribe against him.

“The man you see here is the cause of all our problems, he has plunged this island into shortages and destroyed our productivity, he is responsible for the lack of food and the collapse of public transport,” the teacher says.

After these fierce accusations the teacher points to the face in the photo and asks her most wayward student, “Do you know who this is?” Smiling, Pepito replies, “Oh yes … I know him, it’s just that without his beard I didn’t recognize him.”

The joke reflects, to a large measure, the polarization of national opinion with regard to our economic difficulties and the restrictions on citizens’ rights that characterize the current Cuban system. While the official discourse points to the United States as the source of our greatest problems, many others see the Plaza of the Revolution itself as the root of all the failures of the last 53 years.

True or not, the reality is that each one of the eleven administrations that has passed through the White House since 1959 has influenced the course of this island, sometimes directly, other times as a pillar of support for the ideological propaganda of Fidel Castro’s government (and now that of his younger brother Raúl).

Hence the growing expectations that circulate through the largest of the Antilles every time elections come around to decide who will sit in the Oval Office. Cuban politics depends so greatly on what happens in the ballot boxes on the other side of the Florida Straits — and some share the view that we have never been so dependent on our neighbor to the north.

Cuban diplomacy seems more comfortable contradicting America than seeking to solve the problems between the nations, which is why many analysts agree it would be easier for Raúl Castro to cope with an aggressive policy from Uncle Sam than with the more pragmatic approach of Barack Obama.

Obama’s easing of the rules on family remittances, reestablishing academic travel, and increasing cultural exchanges add up to an unwieldy formula difficult for the Castro regime’s rhetoric to manage. But the regime has also tried to wring economic and political advantages from these gestures from Washington.

The real question in this dispute is which approach would more greatly affect democratization in Cuba — to display a fist? Or to offer a hand? To recognize the legitimacy of the government on the island? Or to continue to treat it as a kidnapper holding power over 11 million hostages?

When the Democratic party, led by Barack Obama, came to the White House in January 2009, our official press was faced with a dilemma. On the one hand the newly elected president’s youth and his African descent made him immediately popular with Cubans, and it was not uncommon to find people walking the streets wearing a shirt or hat displaying the face of the former senator from Illinois. It was the first time in decades that some compatriots dared to publicly wear a picture of the “enemy” (the U.S. president) himself.

For a population that saw the top leaders of our own government approaching or passing 80, the image of a cheerful, limber, smiling Obama was more consistent with the myth of the Revolutionary than were the old men in olive green standing behind the national microphones.

Obama’s magnetism also captivated many here as well, and disappointed, of course, those who hoped for a heavier hand toward the gerontocracy in Havana.

Farewell socialism … hello to pragmatism

Beyond the political issues, the measures undertaken by the Obama administration were felt quickly in many Cuban families, particularly in their economy and relations with their exiled relatives in America.

With the increased cash from remittances, the small businesses that emerged from Raul Castro’s reforms were able to use the money coming from the north for start-up capital and to position themselves. Meanwhile, thousands of Cuban-Americans arrived at José Martí airport every week loaded with packages, medicine and clothes to support their relatives on the island.

Those who see the Cuban situation as a pressure cooker that needs just a little more heat to explode feel defrauded by these “concessions” to Havana from the Democratic government. They are the same people who suggest that a hard line — belligerence on the diplomatic scene and economic suffocation — would deliver better results.

Sadly, however, the guinea pigs required to test the efficacy of such an experiment would be Cubans on the island, physically and socially wasting away until some point at which our civic consciousness would supposedly “wake up.” As if there are not enough historical examples to show that totalitarian regimes become stronger as their economic crises deepen and international opinion turns against them.

No wonder Mitt Romney is a much talked about figure in the official Cuban press. His strong confrontational positions feed the anti-imperialism discourse like fuel to a fire. The Republican candidate has been the focus of numerous articles in the official organ of the Communist Party, the newspaper Granma. His photos and caricatures appear in this same daily that was stymied when trying to physically mock Obama. Given the high rate of mixed marriages among Cubans, it’s quite sensitive to enlarge the ears and fatten the lips of the U.S. president without it reading as racist ridicule.

If, in the eighties, the media’s political humor was honed in the wrinkled face of Ronald Reagan, and later the media had a field day with the physique of George W. Bush, for four years it has been cautious with the current resident of the White House. All this graphic moderation will go by the wayside if Mitt Romney is elected as the next president of the United States. There are those who are already laughing over the possible jokes to come.

But whoever scores the electoral victory will find Cuba in a state of change. The reforms carried out by Raúl Castro lack the speed and depth most people desire, but are heading in the irreversible direction of economic opening. Havana is full of private cafés and restaurants, we can now buy and sell homes, and Cubans are even managing to sell the cars given to them during the era of Soviet subsidies in exchange for political loyalty. The timid changes driven by the General President are threatening to damage the fundamental pillars of Fidel Castro’s command. Volunteerism at any cost, coarse egalitarianism, active adventures abroad, and a country kept in a state of constant tension by the latest economic or political campaign appear to be gradually fading into things of the past.

On the other hand, citizens themselves have begun to experience the most definitive of transformations, that which occurs within. Public criticism is on the rise, although it has not yet found ways to be heard in all its diversity, but every day the fear of police reprisals diminishes.

The official media have unquestionably lost a monopoly on the flow of information and thanks to illegal satellite dishes Florida television now comes to Cuba. Alternative news networks circulate documentaries, films, and articles from independent journalists and bloggers. It’s as if the enormous ocean liner of Revolutionary censorship was taking on water through every porthole.

Young people are finally pushing to have Internet access, while the retired complain about their miserable pensions and almost everyone disagrees with the travel restrictions that prevent our leaving and returning to our own country. In short, the illusion of unanimity has fallen to pieces in Raúl Castro’s hands.

To this internal scenario, the result of the American elections could be a catalyst or obstacle for changes, but it is no longer the most important factor to consider. Although the billboards lining the streets continue to paint the United States as Goliath wanting to crush little David who represents our island, for an increasing number of people the metaphor doesn’t play out that way. They know that in our case the abusive giant is a government that tries to control the smallest aspects of our national life, while his opponent is a people who, bit by bit, is becoming more conscious of its real stature.

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Rapid Expansion of Private Restaurants

From Trabajadores, June 27, 2012

Iliana Hautrive / 27-06-2012

Courtesy of Ted Henken, author of El Yuma.

Original here: Mantienen estabilidad los elaboradores-vendedores de alimentos y bebidas que prestan servicio gastronómico por cuenta propia en La Habana.

Paladar “Dona Eutimia” Callejon del Chorro Plaza de la Catedral, opened February 2010

Hal Klepac at another fine paladar, 23 y Calle G (Avenida de los Presidentes)

De excelentes restaurantes se califican los conocidos paladares que hoy funcionan en La Habana, la capital de Cuba, con una cifra de 376 al cierre de mayo último.

Isabel Hamze Ruíz, directora provincial de Trabajo y Seguridad Social en el territorio, confirmó que esta actividad de trabajo no estatal mantiene una línea ascendente, desde octubre de 2010, cuando en el país se amplió y flexibilizó el quehacer por cuenta propia, y en La Habana prestaban servicio entonces unos 74 de estos centros.

Dijo que esos lugares no son mayoritarios dentro de la rama de elaboradores-vendedores de alimentos, pues los que ejercen al detalle en sus domicilios o de forma ambulatoria sobrepasaron los 10 mil 900, y quienes tienen cafeterías (puntos fijos) llegaron a dos mil 567 cuando finalizó el quinto mes del presente año.

Sin embargo, comentó, es una fuerza laboral estable, que a no ser en casos puntuales de solicitud de bajas, como en otras actividades, se consolida tras haber realizado importantes inversiones e, incluso, estudios de mercado, por parte de sus titulares.

En esos restaurantes es apreciable una variedad de ofertas y elevada calidad del servicio, dentro de un espectro que va desde pequeñas fonditas para pocos comensales, hasta aquellos que cuentan con las 50 capacidades autorizadas en cada uno de esos centros gastronómicos.

Para la población y los visitantes extranjeros es una opción que complementa a la red de restaurantes estatales que se mantiene funcionando en La Habana, tal como sucede en el resto del país.

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