• 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."

Special Section of the Journal “Canadian Foreign Policy”: The Politics of Canada-Cuba Relations: Emerging Possibilities and Diverse Challenges,

A publication appeared in 2010 on Canda-Cuba Relations. It is now hyper-linked in this Special Edition of Canadian Foreign Policy Volume 16 Issue 1; Spring 2010 edited by Professor Lana Wylie. Political Science, McMaster University, Hamilton Canada. The journal is produced by the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa. This issue is a bi-national production with Cuban authors as well as Canadians. Summaries of the articles are summarized below. The complete essays are available in the hyper-linked source above.

SPECIAL SECTION – The Politics of Canada-Cuba Relations: Emerging Possibilities and Diverse Challenges

 

INTRODUCTION

SHIFTING GROUND: CONSIDERING THE NEW REALITIES IN THE CANADIAN-CUBAN RELATIONSHIP

The articles in this issue of Canadian Foreign Policy consider the current relationship as well as survey the history of Canada’s association with Cuba, touching on the highs and lows of the relationship and making suggestions about the future direction of Ottawa’s policy toward the island state. In selecting the articles that would appear in this issue, the editorial team at the journal and myself, as special editor for this issue, strove to ensure that the issue reflected a range of approaches and perspectives. The nine scholars who penned the following articles thus write from the perspective of six different disciplines: Geography, Political Science, History, Spanish and Latin American Studies, Business, and Economics. Even more interestingly, they tackle the relationship from both the Canadian and the Cuban perspectives, and bring fresh epistemological approaches to the study of the issues.

Peter McKenna, John Kirk, and Archibald Ritter are well-established Canadian scholars with careers that have been  devoted to the relationship. Not only have each of them spent much time in Havana, but they have done so in many capacities, from being visiting scholars at the University of Havana to advising the Canadian government about the direction of policy. In this issue they give us important perspectives on how the history of Canada’s approach toward Cuba is likely to shape the current direction of policy. The various approaches taken by Heather Nicol, Calum McNeil, and Julia Sagebien and Paolo Spadoni both challenge established ways of making sense of the relationship and complement the perspectives taken in other articles of the issue.  Each of these scholars has contributed much toward our knowledge  of Cuba, and in this issue they make crucial observations about the  various ways in which we have to come to understand the relationship. However, it was especially important that an issue devoted to furthering our understanding of the Canadian-Cuban  relationship reflect on it from both the Canadian and Cuban  perspectives. Luis René Fernández Tabío and Raúl Rodríguez help  us appreciate the view from Cuba. The two articles by the Cuban  contributors further demonstrate that what Canadians take as  given facts about Cuba, or about Cuba’s relationship with Canada, are notsettled at all.

CANADA AND THE CUBAN REVOLUTION: DEFINING THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT 1959-1962 RAÚL RODRÍGUEZ RODRÍGUEZ

The triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 was a turning point in the history of the Cuban republic; a new Cuban government started a process of socio-economic and political transformations. The initial reaction of the United States government—with the additional support of the Cuban propertied class—led to the deterioration of  the United States-Cuba bilateral relation.

As the US economic sanctions were instituted, the Cuban government turned to other Western states, Canada among them, to try to minimize the economic impact of US policy. Canada’s export-oriented economy was poised to benefit from the new  opportunities offered by the Cuban market, and Cuba offered  Canada a means to assert its sovereignty by forging an independent  foreign policy stance. Canada was forced to observe  restraint and allegiance to its NATO partners, and especially to its closest ally, the United States—the state most hostile to the outcome of the Revolution in the context of Cold War. This complex scenario started to unfold in 1959, and was fraught with challenges and opportunities for Canada Cuba bilateral relations.

THE CHRÉTIEN YEARS:EVALUATING ‘CONSTRUCTIVE ENGAGEMENT’     PETER MCKENNA AND JOHN M. KIRK

For most of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s ten years in office, his approach toward revolutionary Cuba was predicated on a policy of constructive engagement, or principled pragmatism. The piece begins by outlining the nature and extent of Canada-Cuba engagement, exchange, and dialogue during the Chrétien period. The article will then identify what worked in terms of bilateral relations and what did not, and in light of the Chrétien highs and lows, it will highlight the key lessons learned and explain why. Lastly, it will conclude with a series of policy recommendations for Canadian governments (current and future) to contemplate if Ottawa—especially given the changing United States-Cuba dynamic—hopes to enhance and strengthen ties with a post-Fidel Cuba.

CANADA-CUBA RELATIONS: AN AMBIVALENT MEDIA AND POLICY     HEATHER NICOL

This study examines Canadian newspapers and Parliamentary texts dating from 2000 to 2009. It suggests that there is, and has been, a consistent relationship between media portrayal of Cuba issues since the mid-1990s, but that in recent years as Canada’s  certainty of, and support for, Cuba has declined, a contradictory press facilitates an ambivalence towards Cuba that reflects the current state of Canada-Cuba relations.

Since 2000, less than one percent of all newspaper articles published in all Canadian major dailies have discussed Cuba. This lack of media coverage is striking, considering that Canadian companies have invested largely in Cuba and that Canadians have been among the largest groups of vacationers to the island for quite  some time. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has invested millions in official development assistance, while the current Conservative Government plays upon human rights issues on the island and the inherent failures of former rounds of Canadian constructive engagement to resolve these. The maintenance of normalized relations with Cuba has been  consistently challenged in Parliamentary debates by Conservative MPs. The latter have linked human rights abuses on the island with an increasingly critical approach to Canada’s traditional policy of constructive engagement.

CANADA’S ECONOMIC RELATIONS WITH CUBA, 1990 TO 2010 AND BEYOND     ARCHIBALD R. M. RITTER

During the Colonial era, from Independence to 1959 and throughout the regimes of Presidents Fidel and Raúl Castro, Canada and Cuba have maintained a normal and mutually beneficial economic relationship. During the first half of the 1990s, this relationship was invaluable for Cuba as it adjusted to the loss of Soviet subsidization and to its disconnection from the former Soviet Bloc. In these years, Canadian participants were enthusiastic and optimistic about future economic relations. However, in the 2000s this was replaced by greater realism and some skepticism concerning the possibilities for deepening economic interaction.

Following a brief review of the evolving relationship from 1959 to 1990, the nature of the economic relationship between Canada and Cuba is analyzed in more detail for the 1990 to 2009 era. The future economic relationship is then explored, focusing on Cuba’s economic recovery and policy environment, and the probable impacts of normalization with the United States.

CANADIAN–CUBAN ECONOMIC RELATIONS: THE  RECOGNITION AND RESPECT OF DIFFERENCE      LUIS RENÉ FERNÁNDEZ TABÍO

Despite geopolitical and ideological obstacles, the economic relationship between Canada and Cuba has, for the most part, been characterized as a prosperous and positive exchange for the two countries and its people over time. This paper suggests that Canadian-Cuban relations hold the potential to function within a different framework as a kind of new paradigm for North-South relations in the Western hemisphere in the face of US hegemony and its confrontational policy toward Cuba. With Canada and Cuba having benefited from a practice of good business, perhaps this exchange has provided a stable and prosperous base for the two nations to critically analyze structures to build upon for future relations. The significance of this relationship could be explained as a kind of mutual understanding the two have in the making of a new history, the outcome of the two countries having shared a common geographic position in relation to the United States.

TO ENGAGE OR NOT TO ENGAGE: AN (A) EFFECTIVE ARGUMENT IN FAVOUR OF A POLICY OF ENGAGEMENT WITH CUBA     CALUM MCNEIL

This paper seeks to explore the role of emotion in Canadian and American policy toward Cuba, with specific consideration of the emotional and normative dynamics associated Canadian-Cuban policy during the 1990s, and with the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996. A key point of comparison of this analysis is the assumption shared by both Canadian and American policy toward Cuba that regime change is inevitable, and that it will invariably correspond to the norms predominant in the domestic political systems of both states. It is my contention that a consideration of emotion allows us to gain insight into the decision-making behaviour in both states—and amongst the mass publics contained within them. It also allows us a means to more fully understand the possible particularities that distinguish the rational calculus of one state’s policies from another. By broadening our understanding of these, I illustrate how a policy of engagement is preferable to either embargo or constructive engagement.

THE TRUTH ABOUT CUBA?    JULIA SAGEBIEN AND PAOLO SPADONI

The search for truth in and about Cuba is an elusive and puzzling pursuit primarily affected by: 1) competing narratives of contested events; 2) the emotional distress that accompanies the experience of cognitive dissonance; 3) the Cuban cultural propensity towards vehement disagreement; and 4) the syncretic capacity of Cubans to inhabit several worlds at the same time. Canadian Cuba observers must strive to develop a balanced understanding of these competing narratives about Cuba and of the people

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Arturo Lopez-Levy and Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, “A Clash of Generations: U.S. 50 Year Old Embargo Meets Scarabeo 9”

Original from Infolatam: http://www.infolatam.com/2012/02/13/cuba-choque-de-generaciones-la-scarabeo-9-y-el-embargo-de-50-anos/

Scarabeo 9, the semi-submersible oil rig contracted by the Spanish company Repsol completed its journey from Singapore to Cuba. Repsol’s rig will explore Cuba’s exclusive economic zone, an area in the Gulf of Mexico of about 112000 square kilometers. Oil exploration in the zone is being contracted to several foreign companies such as Venezuela’s PDVSA, Malaysia’s Petronas, and Vietnamese PetroVietnam. Cuba’s Ministry of Basic Industry estimates the oil reserves in the zone are between 5 billion to 9 billion barrels of oil. CNN GPS host Fareed Zakaria referred to Cuba’s total oil potential as between 5 billion and 20 billion barrels of oil.

The start of the oil exploration will not derail Raul Castro’s reform program. At a minimum, oil will not come from the offshore wells soon enough, while the reforms are needed immediately. The Cuban government needs to create jobs for the million and half workers that are supposed to leave the government sector in the next two years as part of the reforms program proclaimed last April by the Cuban Communist Party in its VI Congress. It must also alleviate critical situations of poverty in the five most eastern provinces, where unrest has been rising. With or without oil, the Cuban economy sorely needs to develop an environment in which businesses and individuals feel confident to invest.

The development of an oil based economy also poses a challenge for the anti-corruption policy President Raul Castro claims to support. The risk of potential backdoor deals and traffic of influence associated with the volume of oil profits cannot be contained without more transparency to hold corrupt or incompetent officials to account. To improve the quality of governance, the Cuban government must accelerate its opening to the best monitoring world practices and the training of its project managers, accountants, economists, and regulators. It must also lessen controls over the media and nongovernmental activities in ways that they can monitor and identify negligent and corrupt officials.

The impact on U.S.-Cuba relations:

In the early 1990’s, several studies of Cuban future scenarios (Edward Gonzalez and David Rondfelt’s “Cuba Adrift in a Post-Communist World”

of the Rand Corporation for instance) warned that a discovery of oil in Cuba would be a game changer for U.S-Cuba relations. Given the expectation that it will find oil in Cuba’s waters; the mere arrival of Scarabeo 9 strengthens Havana’s position versus Washington’s policy of isolation.

One must add that oil offshore exploration in Cuba has important implications in terms of U.S. national security, energy and environmental policies. Facing the danger of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Cuban American oil expert Jorge Piñón, associated with the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geo-sciences, recommended an industry wide license “allowing U.S. oil equipment and services companies to provide goods, services and personnel to oil companies operating in Cuba in the event of an emergency”.

At a minimum, Piñón suggested that CUPET, Cuban oil company be allowed to join the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) “in order to gain experience in deep-water drilling by the sharing of industry health, safety and environmental best practices through IADC conferences, training seminars, and technical publications in areas such as drilling and completion technology; standards, practices, legislation and regulations which provide for safe, efficient and environmentally sound drilling operations”.

The activation of the American business and environmental community about oil exploration in Cuban waters is already in motion. In December 2011, a joint delegation of the International Association of Drilling Contractors and the Environmental Defense Fund visited Cuba to explore ways to cooperate with Cuba beginning by common responses to potential spills. Last fall Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Mary Landrieux

(D-La) sponsored a bill to allow “U.S. citizens and residents to “engage in any transaction necessary” for oil and gas exploration and extraction in Cuba — “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” The bill passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with the support of The Petroleum Equipment Suppliers Association (PESA).

Even in the “worst case scenario” for Cuba of a Republican victory in 2012, historical precedents such as the lifting of the embargo against Vietnam allow us to predict that the pro-embargo lobby doesn’t have the spine to stop the push of the American petroleum lobby. The opening of Agricultural trade with Cuba in 2000, showed how a mobilized and well-funded American farmers community defeated the pro-embargo lobby in a matter of two years. In the last decade, food sales to Cuba averaged $350 million a year. The trade peaked in 2008 at $ 700 million. If Scarabeo 9 discovers oil, the potential profits of American trade and investment in Cuba will easily exceed the agricultural trade revenues.

The Way Forward:

Sooner or later, we will read an op-ed by a pro-embargo lobbyist explaining that all this is a campaign by the Cuban government to entice the American business community, and that the only way forward is for the United States to fight with the companies that dared to explore oil fields next to our shores, respecting international laws and showing goodwill to our government but refusing to go along with the Cuban American right wing lobby in Southern Florida. It will insist that there are neither reforms nor reformist elements to nurture by engaging Cuba.

Here is a better course: The Obama Administration, which wasted a year since Repsol-YPF contracted the platform in China, should instead include Cuba in all regional cooperation efforts to design mutually beneficial hemispheric energy and environmental protection policies. To pursue such a goal and protect Florida and Gulf coast, the American and Cuban government should begin negotiations to train their officials for coordinated responses against accidents in the Florida Straits and protect their installations against any potential terrorist attack, from enemies of the United States or violent Cuban exile groups.

 

To nurture economic reform and anti-corruption initiatives in Cuba’s dealing with the oil industry, is clearly in the national interest of the United States. Since American companies contracting overseas are regulated by the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, by far a more restrictive anti-corruption legislation than any of the countries involved in Cuba’s oil industry, President Obama can argue that it is in U.S. national interests to license American oil companies to contract any oil related activity in Cuba, beginning by environmental protection. This is legal within the framework of the Helms-Burton law.

A secure and stable world oil market is a fundamental United States national security interest. All serious predictions by American academic and intelligence community are forecasting the globalization of energy demand and an increase in world demand for oil by 20% or more over the next two decades, mainly in emerging markets. The risks of disruptions of oil extraction, refining or transportation, and oil spills are always present. Washington should not postpone anymore an urgent discussion about the convenience and the opportunity costs of refusing to engage Cuba’s oil industry.

Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado

Arturo Lopez-Levy

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

New Publication, CUBA: PEOPLE, CULTURE, HISTORY

A near-encyclopedic volume on Cuba was recently published by Charles Scribner’s Sons but has received surprisingly limited publicity- at least from my perspective up here in winter-time in the True North. I have not yet seen the volume myself nor have I even seen the Table of Contents. However, the description of the substance of the volume below looks interesting.

If my finances were infinite, I would certainly buy a copy, even though the price ranges from $284.44 to $454.95, depending on the seller.

I contributed two essays on the Cuban economy. These are available here:

Archibald Ritter  “The Cuban Economy, Revolution, 1959-1990”

Archibald Ritter, “Cuba’s Economy During the Special Period, 1990-2010”

Here is a brief description of the volume:

Editor in Chief: Alan West-Durán, Northeastern University

 Associate Editors: Victor Fowler Calzada, Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC); Gladys E. García Pérez, Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC); Louis A Pérez, Jr., University of North Carolina; César Salgado, University of Texas; Maria de los Angeles Torres, University of Illinois, Chicago

Charles Scribner’s Sons,  An Imprint of Gale, Cengage Learning 2011

 INTRODUCTION

In an exceedingly complex and changing global situation,  understanding Cuba is an important and challenging task. The Scribner CUBA: People, Culture, History is a reference work that goes beyond a mere presentation of facts, biographies, and “ready reference” information, which is widely available on the Internet, to offer deep interpretation. The book will offer on the one hand, twenty-one interpretative essays on major topics in Cuban history, culture and society, as well as over one hundred twenty-five shorter essays on artistic, literary, and nonfiction works; major events and places of cultural significance.

The major essays will not only cover Economics, Sugar, Tobacco, Religion, and Food, but also Cuba and its Diasporas, Ecology and Environment, Sexuality, Gender, Race and Ethnicity, the Arts, Language, Sports and Cuban Ways of Knowing and Being, among others.

The short essays will focus on specific literary works, photographs, paintings, political documents, speeches, testimonies, historical dates, key places and cities on the island and abroad. For example:  literary works include “Los Versos sencillos”; “Paradiso”; and “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love”; works of nonfiction include: “Cuba: Azúcar y Población”; “Indagación del choteo”; and La historia me absolverá”; works of visual art: “La Jungla”; and “Los Hijos del agua conversando con un pez”; works of music: “Guantanamera”; “Misa cubana”; and “Mambo #5”; cinema: “Lucía”; and “Fresa y chocolate”; events: “Violence and Insurrection in 1912: A Racial Conflict”; and “January 1, 1959”; and places of cultural significance: “Baracoa”; “Holguín”; “Isla de Pinos”; “Spain”; and “New York,” to name a few examples.

By combining longer overview pieces with short and focused descriptive and analytical ones, CUBA  aims to give the curious and interested reader a way to comprehend the country by presenting the major forces that have shaped the island historically and culturally. Rather than overwhelm the reader with thousands of entries and biographies, CUBA offers a close look at major themes that are emblematic to the country’s unique history. CUBA is a reference guide for readers undertaking a journey of comprehension; it is not a work that presumes to have all of the answers.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baranyi and Legler: “Canada’s long engagement with Cuba: paradoxes and possibilities”

By Thomas LEGLER y Stephen BARANYI, Universidad Iberoamericana (México) y Universidad de Ottawa (Canadá)

América Latina Hoy, 52, 2009, pp. 131-146; Canada’s long engagement with Cuba, paradoxes and possibilities

Professors Legler and Baranyi have produced an interesting analysis of Canadian relations with Cuba and the possible implications for the European Union and the United States which somehow I missed a few years ago. A Spanish language version of  full document is hyper-linked above. Unfortunately it is not available in English.  Here is the Abstract in English however.

ABSTRACT: The European Union, Latin America and even the United States have each initiated distinct processes of dialogue with Cuba. What relevant lessons can be drawn from Canada’s long history of engagement with the Revolution? This article documents the evolution of Canada-Cuba relations since the 1940s, focusing on the ups and downs of these relations since a policy of «constructive engagement» was launched in the mid-1990s. It argues that this approach (in its many guises) has not had a major influence on the liberalization of Cuban politics. Moreover, what little influence Canada had during the «Special Period» has diminished with the economic recovery and the diversification of Cuba’s external relations over the past decade. As such, the authors conclude that the most appropriate strategy for Canada and other «engagers» is to take a coordinated, long-term approach of supporting a variety of endogenous change processes inside Cuba. A realistic strategy should include ongoing but low-profile dialogue with the current regime, cooperation with a wide range of possible reformers within and beyond the state, and support for broader social changes through trade, foreign investment, tourism, academic and cultural exchanges.


ThomasLegler

Stephen baranyi

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Reporters Without Borders: Again Cuba’s “Freedom of the Press” is the Worst in the Henmisphere

No surprises here. Once again, Cuba unfortunately comes last in the Hemisphere in a ranking regarding human rights. In this case. Reporters without Borders annual Freedom of the Press Report for 2011 comes to the conclusion that observers of Cuba are familiar with, namely that freedom of expression in Cuba exists only in the minds of the members of the Politburo of the  Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

The full report can be found here: Reporters without Borders, Press Freedom Index, 2011-2012. The Website for the Report is here: http://en.rsf.org/. The Reporters without Borders coverage on Cuba is here: Cuba Page.

Below is a quick summary of the methodology used by RWB for the calculation of its index.

“The ranking reflects the situation during a specific period. This year’s index takes account of events between 1 December 2010 and 30 November 2011. It does not look at human rights violations in general, just press freedom violations.

To compile this index, Reporters Without Borders prepared a questionnaire with 44 main criteria indicative of the state of press freedom. It asks questions about every kind of violation directly affecting journalists and netizens (including murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment). And it establishes the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these press freedom violations. It also measures the level of self-censorship in each country and the ability of the media to investigate and criticize. Financial pressure, which is increasingly common, is also assessed and incorporated into the final score.

The questionnaire takes account of the legal framework for the media (including penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly for certain kinds of media and how the media are regulated) and the level of independence of the public media. It also reflects violations of the free flow of information on the Internet.

Reporters Without Borders has taken account not only of abuses attributable to the state, but also those by armed militias, clandestine organizations and pressure groups.”

.



Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Jeff Franks: Key political risks to watch in Cuba

By Jeff Franks, for Reuters; HAVANA | Fri Feb 3, 2012 10:57am EST

HAVANA Feb 3 (Reuters) – Cuba is opening the door to private management of some state-run cafes and food service outlets in an apparent test of further reforms aimed at keeping the island one of the world’s last communist countries.

The government said food prices rose nearly 20 percent in 2011 in a warning sign that economic change will not be painless.

Spain’s Repsol YPF brought the massive Scarabeo 9 drilling rig into Cuban waters and began drilling what Cuba hopes will be the first of many wells in its untapped offshore oilfields.

ECONOMIC REFORMS

In eastern Holguin province, officials said 211 state-owned cafeterias would be leased to employeesin a semi-privatization similar to what has been done nationally with barber shops and beauty salons the past year and recently expanded to other service businesses such as watch repair and carpentry shops. The Holguin program has not been mentioned in national media, but is likely a trial run before it becomes generalized, as was done with the other services.

The government, which wants to slash a million jobs from its payroll and encourage more private initiative, has said it will turn many small businesses, nationalized since the 1960s, over to employee cooperatives. It is encouraging self-employment, with more than 362,000 people now working for themselves. Economy Minister Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez told the National Assembly in late December that 170,000 state jobs would be cut in 2012 and as many as 240,000 new non-state jobs added. The government’s goal is to have up to 40 percent of the island workforce of 5.2 million in non-state jobs by 2015.

President Raul Castro has made reform of Cuba’s lagging agricultural sector a top priority and the Cuban state, which owns 70 percent of the country’s land, has leased 3.5 million acres (1.4 million hectares) to 150,000 private farmers since he succeeded older brother Fidel Castro as president in February 2008. In some areas, the state has increased the land farmers can lease to 165 acres (67 hectares), extended their leases to 25 years, allowed them to build homes on the land and will let them pass the leases on to family members. Yet food output was up just 2 percent in 2011 and still below 2005 levels.

That, reduced food imports by the cash-strapped government and reforms allowing farmers to sell more of their production for market prices combined to make food prices shoot up in 2011. The National Statistics Office reported that meat prices rose 8.7 percent while produce prices increased 24.1 percent, for an average of 19.8 percent on the year..

At the same time, the average monthly salary inched up only a few percentage points to the equivalent of $19 a month, the government said. The statistics stated what Cubans already knew — their buying power has shrunk under Castro’s reforms.

President Castro told the National Assembly that Cuba still expected to spend $1.7 billion on food imports in 2012.

He also emphasized at a Communist Party conference the importance of an ongoing crackdown on corruption, which already has shuttered three foreign firms and sent executives of some of Cuba’s biggest state-run firms to prison. He said the party would implement term limits for the country’s leaders, but he gave no details.

What to watch: The pace of reforms and their consequences; The development of small businesses; Agricultural production and food prices.

FINANCIAL HEALTH

Castro said the economy grew 2.7 percent in 2011 and was expected to rise 3.4 percent in 2012. Cuba said it drew a record 2.7 million tourists in 2011, bringing in revenues of about $2.3 billion.

Travel industry experts say tourism has boomed this winter as the Arab Spring scared Europeans away from northern Africa, relaxed U.S. regulations made it easier for Americans to visit the island and Castro’s reforms drew visitors curious to see the effects of changes. They said Cuba needs more hotels to accommodate its growing tourism industry, which is a top hard currency earner for the country.

Cuba is heavily indebted and still recovering from a liquidity crisis that led to a default on payments and freezing of foreign business bank accounts in 2009. Castro told the National Assembly that accounts for foreign suppliers to Cuba had been unfrozen and steps taken to prevent the problem from happening again.

Hopes that reforms would bring more foreign investment have been slow to materialize, but Brazilian company Odebrecht said it would sign a contract to help Cuba improve its troubled sugar industry. One executive said the deal would include ethanol production. Long-awaited golf course developments, aimed at attracting wealthier tourists, remain on hold.

What to watch: Resolution of outstanding short-term debt; Signs of increased interest in foreign investment; Growth of tourism and Cuba’s ability to handle it

OIL PLANS

The Chinese-built Scarabeo 9 arrived in Cuban waters and at January’s end began drilling the first of three exploration wells in Cuba’s part of the Gulf of Mexico. Spain’s Repsol YPF and its partners plan to drill two of the wells and Malaysia’s Petronas and its partner, Russia’s Gazprom Neft, will drill the other, all this year and with the same rig.

The project has drawn opposition in the U.S. Congress, but, to allay safety concerns, Repsol allowed U.S. experts to inspect the Scarabeo 9 in Trinidad and Tobago. They said it met all international engineering and safety standards.U.S. companies are forbidden from operating in Cuba by the U.S. trade embargo.

Cuba depends on imports from its oil-rich ally Venezuela, but says it may have 20 billion barrels of oil offshore. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated 5 billion barrels.

What to watch:  Results of Repsol’s exploratory well;  U.S. pressure to stop the drilling.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

A planned Papal visit in Marchimproved ties with Brazil, whose President Dilma Rousseff paid an official visit in January,are bright spots even as Cuba faces a more hostile Spanish government elected in November.

A major concern for Cuba is the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a loyal ally whose government provides 114,000 barrels of oil a day and investment to Cuba. He underwent chemotherapy in Cuba and has declared himself cancer free, but experts say it is too soon to tell. If he were unable to continue in office, it would be a big blow to Cuba.

U.S.-Cuba relations, which thawed briefly under President Barack Obama, have been frozen by the imprisonment of U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross.He is serving a 15-year sentence for providing Internet gear to Cuban Jews under a U.S. program promoting Cuban political change. A document reported to be the court’s sentence said Gross knew the political aims of his work and tried to hide it from Cuban authorities despite his claims to the contrary.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Spain’s Repsol begins Cuba offshore drilling-sources

By Jeff Franks | Reuters – 17 hrs ago; HAVANA (Reuters)

Spanish oil company Repsol YPF has begun drilling the first well in Cuba’s long-awaited exploration of offshore oilfields that the communist country says hold both billions of barrels of oil and the key to greater prosperity, industry sources told Reuters on Thursday.

The massive Scarabeo 9 drilling rig, which arrived in Cuban waters two weeks ago, began drilling into the sea floor about 30 miles northwest of Havana on Tuesday night, the sources said.

A Repsol spokesman said the company could not comment on “operational details.”

The newly built, high-tech rig is operating in 5,600 feet of water, or what the oil industry calls “ultra-deep water,” in the Straits of Florida, which separate Cuba from its longtime ideological foe, the United States.

Sources close to the project said such wells generally take about 60 days to complete.

Repsol, which is operating the rig in a consortium with Norway’s Statoil and ONGC Videsh, a unit of India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp, has said it will take several months to determine the results of the exploration.

The well is the first of at least three that will be drilled in Cuban waters with the Scarabeo 9, which was built in China and is owned by Saipem, a unit of Italian oil company Eni.

Sources have said that Repsol will drill the first well and then the rig will go to Malaysia’s Petronas in partnership with Russia’s Gazprom Neft and then back to Repsol for the third well.

It is not clear what happens after that, although some sources have said Repsol, which is leasing the Scarabeo 9 from Saipem at a rate said to be more than $500,000 a day, will move the rig to Brazil for exploration there.

Cuba has said it may have 20 billion barrels of oil in its northern waters, which are its part of the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated it may have 5 billion barrels of oil, but its study does not include the entire Cuban gulf zone.

EASE FINANCIAL WOES

Cuba, which is in the midst of reforming its Soviet-style economy, is hoping oil will ease it chronic financial woes and bring energy independence from its socialist ally Venezuela. It receives about 115,000 barrels daily from the oil-rich South American country.

But if oil is found, experts say it could take five years or so to begin production because more drilling will be needed and production infrastructure put in place.

Repsol drilled the only previous offshore well in Cuba in 2004 and said it found oil but that it was not “commercial.”

It has been difficult to find a rig for more drilling because of the 50-year-long U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, which limits the amount of U.S. technology that can be used.

The Scarabeo 9, which is of Norwegian design, has only one piece of American equipment – the blowout preventer, a key part that failed in the 2010 blowout of a BP well in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

The BP well, which was in more than 5,000 feet of water and spilled 5 million barrels of oil, stained hundreds of miles of U.S. coastline.

In Florida, 90 miles north of Cuba, the Cuba offshore project has raised fears that a similar accident could damage the state’s beaches and coral reefs.

Drillers in Cuban waters could get within 45 miles of Florida, while in the U.S. gulf no exploration is permitted within 125 miles of the state.

At Repsol’s invitation, a team of U.S. experts inspected the rig in December in Trinidad and Tobago and said it complied with all existing engineering and safety standards.

But the United States, which has no official diplomatic relations with Cuba, has only made safety preparations from afar and has not been otherwise involved in the project.

Countries such as Norway and Brazil have helped lead an international effort to get Cuba ready for oil exploration and the possibility of an oil spill.

The project has gone forward despite opposition in the United States from Cuban exile leaders, who have proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress to try to stop Repsol.

They fear that oil will enrich and assure the survival of the Communist government they have long opposed.

“We need to figure out what we can do to inflict maximum pain, maximum punishment to bleed Repsol of whatever resources they have if there’s a potential for a spill that would affect the U.S. coast,” U.S. Rep. David Rivera from Florida told a congressional subcommittee in Miami on Monday.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, 2011 Conference Proceedings

ASCE, the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy has just published the Proceedings of its 2011 Conference. The Proceeding include a wealth of information and analyses. All articles for 2011 and indeed all the Conference proceedings for the last 21 years are freely available on the ASCE Web Site

Below is the Table of Contents for the 2011 Proceedings with all articles hyper-linked to the original ASCE source.

Preface

Conference Program

Table of Contents

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, “Cuba’s Collapsing Capital”

January 31, 2012 |  Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

HAVANA TIMES, from Cubaencuentro, Jan 30 — The recent collapse of a building in the Centro neighborhood of Havana is sad news that speaks to us of dead, injured and homeless – tragic losers of the nation’s “updating” of its model.

But the news isn’t surprising.

The only surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often.

In fact, if this doesn’t happen every day in the Cuban capital, it’s because our architects and engineers left us with a solid housing stock, one proven by the test of time and generations of occupants.

The condition of housing has been complemented by of our fellow citizens, whose one-thousand-and-one ways of shoring up those crumbling buildings will someday have to be chronicled. They somehow manage to continue living in these structures until gravity finally catches up with them, these defiant challengers.

I’m not going to dwell on a balance of accomplishments and failures of the city over this long post-revolutionary era. I’m just saying that, even considering the usual benefits, the city lost much more than what it should have lost to achieve more balanced regional development across the nation as a whole.

It’s missing a lot because it lost the most dynamic segment of its middle and intellectual class; it lost its excellent infrastructure in the heat of neglect and carelessness; and finally it lost its particular metropolitan character due to the mediocre plebeian stoicism of its post-revolutionary political class.

To compensate themselves for their revolutionary efforts, a new leadership layer took special care to redistribute the best homes in the best places and to reserve exceptional sites for their own recreational pleasures.

Havana was sacrificed by a post-revolutionary elite who understood the change as anti-urban stubbornness and who saw the “new man” (to quote Emma Alvarez Tabio) as the noble savage laying constant siege to the city.

We still recall the Havana invaded by farmers, cattle fairs on the grounds of the Capitolio, Fidel’s failed coffee belt around Havana and his ridiculous idea of moving the capital to the small eastern town of Guaimaro.

However, the city ultimately suffered the conversion of architectural gems into rooming houses and government offices, to which were added makeshift garages, sheds in gardens and terraces, rooms where once existed gates and balconies, and the famous “barbacoas” (second floor additions), which have all pushed these buildings to the extreme limits of their physical tolerance.

Restored Old Havana Building. Photo: Caridad

If from the early revolutionary years we can point to a respectable architectural legacy along with achievements on behalf of the urban majority (as evidenced through accomplishments such as the Habana del Este planned community), the Pastorita city-garden, Cubanacan art school), what followed was pathetic: formalized overcrowding (whose most well-known expression is the Alamar “projects”) and one of the most ghastly buildings in the world: the Soviet Embassy.

Due to policing that prevented the growth of slums on the urban periphery, as occurs in almost all Third World cities, the city ended up swallowing its marginality. This is manifested in unprecedented overcrowding that gives life to about 10,000 tenements in which their occupants live in some of the most subhuman conditions.

My fear is that we are beginning to experience another phase of the history of this city. The  “socialist” city (mediocre and boring) is giving way to another city whose “brand” is precisely the metropolitan situation that was denied for five decades – with its glamor, mysteries and nights of sequins and sex.

This is precisely the Havana that City Historian Eusebio Leal restored to the extent of both his own Hispanophile and courtesan inclinations as well as to the present and potential tastes of consumers.

The Havana that’s being designed will lie along the coast with its extensive golf courses and exclusive marinas. It is a Havana that will have little to do with the poor people who lost homes and family members in the recent Infanta and Salud building collapse.

Havana is beginning its gentrification process in the heat of the legalized housing market, which while still lukewarm is nevertheless inexorable. Elegant Havana will again take shape where now live the old political elite and increasingly the new emerging elite, intimately tied together, in the metamorphic process given to us by the general/president with his “updating.”

This is the Havana of future Cuban capitalism.

“Havana A” will bypass those people who — like the victims living on Infanta and Salud — every night fear a disaster. For these people, like for the thousands of victims who exist in shelters, like the hundreds of thousands waiting for a new home or the repair of an already existing one in the capital, what will remain is “Habana B”: a city of the poor and impoverished, one with the worst services and the worst environmental conditions.

They no longer even have hopes for units in Alamar. The Cuban government, in the process of abdicating its social responsibilities, has left only one option to those who live on the island: cheap loans for housing repairs. What’s more, access to this assistance is only possible through this system of shared misery and monopolized power that the degraded Cuban elite insist on presenting as an option for the future.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Brazil’s President Flexes Clout in Cuba Trip

Rousseff Offers Closer Economic Ties, Reflecting Nation’s Bid for Greater Regional Leadership; Human Rights Remain Issue

By JOHN LYONS And JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA

Wall St. Journal, 1 February 2012

SÃO PAULO, Brazil—President Dilma Rousseff offered closer economic cooperation to Cuba during a visit to the communist island on Tuesday, marking Brazil’s highest-profile bid to transform its growing economic might into diplomatic leadership in Latin America.

Brazil’s state development bank is financing a $680 million rehabilitation of Cuba’s port at Mariel. Work on the port is being managed by the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht SA, which may also provide support for Cuba’s sugar industry, Brazilian officials have said.

CUBA

Cuban President Raúl Castro, left, and his Brazilian counterpart, Dilma Rousseff, review the honor guard at Revolution Palace in Havana on Tuesday.

Ms. Rousseff’s closer engagement of Cuba—she is visiting the island before a trip to the White House— is the latest example of Brazil’s strategy to expand its regional influence by offering subsidized loans to poorer nations. In recent years, Brazil has disbursed tens of billions of dollars around Latin America, and as far away as Africa.

But none of these efforts have the same symbolic resonance as in Cuba, which has opposed the U.S. since shortly after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution and remains a lightning rod in U.S. domestic politics and a sticking point for U.S. relations with other Latin nations.

“This is about growing Brazil’s soft power on the international scale and raising Brazil’s role in the world,” said Matthew Taylor, a Brazil specialist at the American University’s School of International Service. “Brazil is taking on a bigger role in the hemisphere in terms of aid and finance, and by helping out Cuba they really draw attention to this new role they are playing.”

Although the U.S. has been the predominant power broker in Latin America since the introduction of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, experts say the U.S. doesn’t oppose Brazil’s bid for regional influence. Many analysts say they believe Brazil could become a stabilizing force in a region known for political and economic volatility.

In Cuba, for example, Brazil may provide a more moderate alternative to the impoverished island’s main economic benefactor, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Mr. Chávez, a self-described foe of the U.S., delivers some 100,000 barrels of oil and refined products to Cuba a day in exchange for the services of Cuban doctors for Venezuelans in poor neighborhoods, along with other barter arrangements.

Cuba, meanwhile, is desperate for economic lifelines. Raúl Castro, who has taken over the presidency from his ailing brother Fidel, has experimented with limited economic overhauls in order to bring life into a moribund economy, where citizens are still issued ration books that allow them access to some basic foods at subsidized prices.

“The more normal Cuba’s economic relations are, the easier normalization with the U.S. will be in the future,” said Archibald Ritter, an expert on the Cuban economy at Canada’s Carleton University.

“I would imagine that the U.S. would privately hope that Brazil will play a mediating role in issues that concern us, like human rights,” said Cynthia Arnson, the director of the Latin American program at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Still, during Tuesday’s visit, Ms. Rousseff criticized the existence of the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, where terror suspects are held, and the U.S. trade embargo, which she said contributes to poverty on the island.

And it is unclear how far Ms. Rousseff might go to nudge Cuba toward a more democratic society. She declined requests for meetings by Cuban dissidents, and has said she won’t press the Castro brothers on the island’s human-rights record.

“Human rights aren’t a stone to be thrown from one side to another,” she said in Havana on Tuesday. This week, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said human rights aren’t an “emergency” issue in Cuba. Last month, Cuban political prisoner Wilmar Villar died in jail after a 50-day hunger strike. Activists said he was protesting being jailed for taking part in a political demonstration. The Cuban government has said Mr. Villar was a common prisoner and wasn’t on a hunger strike when he died of complications from pneumonia.

As a young woman, Ms. Rousseff participated in a Marxist guerrilla group in Brazil that was inspired by the Cuban revolution. But the fact that she was jailed and tortured by Brazil’s military dictatorship had raised hopes that she might be more sympathetic to the plight of political prisoners than her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who over the years disparaged Cuban hunger strikers.

Observers said the case of Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban blogger who criticizes the Castro regime, may offer clues to changes in Brazilian human-rights policy. Brazil granted Ms. Sánchez a visa, and observers said if Cuba allows her to visit, then Ms. Rousseff may be using engagement to yield some human-rights advances.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Ms. Sánchez said she hoped Ms. Rousseff would meet with human-rights activists in Cuba and in so doing keep faith with “the many voices of democracy rather than opt for a complicit silence before a dictatorship.”

For generations, Brazilian leaders have yearned for prominence in foreign affairs commensurate with its population of 190 million and sprawling geography. The country has lobbied, unsuccessfully, for decades for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Such aspirations were the butt of jokes during generations of economic and political turmoil. That started to change a nearly a decade ago, when Brazil began an economic expansion that lifted millions out of poverty and transformed the resource-rich nation into what some economists estimate is the world’s sixth-largest economy—a notch ahead of the U.K.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment