• 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."

Oscar Espinosa Chepe, “SECRETISMO ESTADISTICO AL DESCUBIERTO”

La Habana, 16 de enero de 2012

En una sorprendente nota del periódico Granma del 14 de enero, las autoridades cubanas informaron que concluyeron la publicación digital del Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2010, con los capítulos sobre Cuentas Nacionales y el Sector Externo, así como datos faltantes de Finanzas Internas.  No se aclaró si también los cubanos tendremos derecho a conocer los montos de las zafras azucareras de 2009-2010 y 2010-2011, entre otros datos de suma importancia todavía omitidos en las estadísticas oficiales.

Se señala que en el capítulo Sector Externo se publicarán datos sobre la Balanza de Pagos y la Deuda Externa solamente hasta 2008, por tanto los cubanos seguiremos ignorando el estado de las relaciones económicas y comerciales con el exterior; un factor importante para saber que nos depara el futuro.  Por tanto, habrá que continuar procurando información mediante publicaciones extranjeras sobre lo acontecido en nuestro país. Una situación que está en franca contradicción con las reiteradas condenas de las autoridades a  las prácticas de ocultamiento de la información, el llamado “secretismo”.  Un tema hasta incluido para discutir  en el Proyecto de Documento Base para la Primera Conferencia Nacional del Partido Comunista de Cuba, Punto 66, donde se plantea suprimir “ …las nocivas manifestaciones del secretismo”.

Además del ocultamiento sistemático, las estadísticas cubanas adolecen de distorsiones y contradicciones que le restan credibilidad.  En ese sentido, el gobierno incluso ha adoptado métodos de cálculo del Producto Interno Bruto (PIB) alejados de los internacionalmente utilizados, o sea  el Sistema de Cuentas Nacionales de la ONU.  Así se dan cifras de crecimiento económico carentes de sustentación,  una sobrevaloración de los sectores de servicios en particular en lo referente a educación y salud pública, y son manipulados regularmente algunos indicadores, como los relativos a la  inflación y el desempleo para tratar de mostrar equilibrios inexistentes.

Después de sostener durante años la existencia de increíbles tasas de desempleo inferiores a 2,0%,  el gobierno se ha visto forzado a  reconocer que sobran más de 1,3 millón de trabajadores en el sector estatal, y que de 358 000 cuentapropistas existentes hoy, el  66,0% no tenía vínculos laborales anteriores. En Cuba se da la paradoja de que en el período 1996-2010 la economía ha crecido con una tasa promedio anual del 4,60%, mientras el consumo de energía eléctrica total lo ha hecho al 2,0%.  Si es tomada para el cálculo solo la energía eléctrica consumida en los sectores productivos y de servicios, la tasa de crecimiento promedio anual resulta de 0,6%, o sea 7,7 veces inferior al citado aumento promedio del PIB.   En el colmo del absurdo, en algunos años como 2005 se publicó un crecimiento del PIB nada menos que de 11,2%, “a nivel chino”,  y la disminución del consumo de energía eléctrica  en 1,9%, algo insostenible.  Como se conoce existe una correlación entre el crecimiento de la economía y el consumo de electricidad, que se modifica en función de una mayor o menor eficiencia,  pero nunca a los absurdos niveles de disparidad que muestran las estadísticas oficiales cubanas.

El gobierno en ocasiones ha señalado que el ocultamiento de los datos económicos responde al interés de no brindar elementos al  enemigo externo.  En realidad daña al país y resta credibilidad, el ocultamiento de la información u ofrecer datos no fiables. Difícilmente alguien se arriesga a otorgar créditos, si no conoce la situación financiera real del posible prestatario.  Mucho menos un país podrá atraer inversiones en esas condiciones.  Una nación con poca credibilidad si  logra financiamiento es en condiciones duras, con tasas de interés elevadas y condiciones de pago sumamente estrictas; y  cuando recibe inversiones, debe conceder enormes garantías.

Asimismo, el ocultamiento y la falsificación de la información no tiene sentido en un mundo tan interconectado, pues todo o casi todo se conoce más tarde o más temprano. Cuba ha ocultado durante años el monto de su Deuda Externa y sus Reservas Internacionales de Divisas, pero sólo se requiriere consultar algunas publicaciones serias, como The Economist Inteligence Unit (EIU), para conocer estimados bastantes cercanos a la realidad, realizados con datos no obtenidos mediante espionaje,  sino captados de las estadísticas u otras informaciones de los socios comerciales de Cuba.  El EIU ha situado la Deuda Externa de Cuba en 2011 -sin incluir la contraída con la URSS y otros países del este de Europa- en 21,0 miles de millones de USD, y ha señalado los intereses que deberían haberse pagado, con una proyección para esos datos  hasta 2013.

En conclusión puede decirse que continuar el ocultamiento es inútil.  Sólo conduce al descrédito.   En el actual mundo interconectado, la transparencia es mucho más ventajosa, a la par que resulta contraproducente mantener el afán de engañar al pueblo, ya escéptico ante tantas promesas incumplidas.

Oscar Espinosa Chepe

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Marc Frank: US Frets at Cuba Oil Exploration

Financial Times, January 18, 2012

By Marc Frank in Havana

A huge oil drilling platform will sink deepwater wells off Cuba next week in a move that has caused angst in the US at the prospect of significant oil discoveries that could alter Cuba’s economic future and Havana’s relations with Washington.

Cuba’s largely unexplored share of the Gulf of Mexico is thought to contain billions of barrels of oil and gas equivalent and has already drawn more foreign investment than any other sector of the economy.

“The discovery of even modest amounts of oil would be significant for Cuba,” said Ricardo Torres Perez, deputy director of Havana University’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

“Cuba would become less energy dependent and might eventually become an energy exporter; new credit and foreign investment would materialize, along with refining and service jobs.”

A significant discovery would almost certainly buy time for President Raúl Castro, as he works to reform the Soviet-style economy. In addition to environmental worries – as the drilling would unfold about 70 miles from Florida’s coast – this possibility has prompted vehement criticism from some US conservatives.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House foreign relations committee, has sought to introduce legislation that would place sanctions on participating foreign companies.

“A state sponsor of terrorism is poised to achieve a tremendous economic boon by entering the oil business and endangering US waters to boot,” the Republican congresswoman said this month.

“It is deeply disappointing that the Obama administration appears content to just watch that happen,” she added. Adding extra piquancy to the controversy is its timing: the Republican party’s Florida primary election take place on January 31.

The $750m platform is owned by Italian oil giant Eni’s offshore unit Saipem and assembled in China using less than 10 per cent of US technology to accommodate sanctions that also bar US companies from participating. It is contracted for at least six months.

A first consortium grouping Spain’s Repsol, Norway’s Norsk Hydro and India’s ONGC Videsh will drill two wells. A second consortium, made up of Malaysia’s Petronas and Russia’s Gazprom, will drill subsequent wells.

Despite the sanctions, Washington has engaged both with these foreign companies and the Cuban government after the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling recommended such co-operation to protect “fisheries, coastal tourism and other valuable US natural resources”.

US officials inspected the rig in Trinidad and Tobago this month before it left for Cuban waters, and in December held talks with Cuba, Mexico and the Bahamas in Nassau on emergency planning in the gulf. A second round of talks is scheduled for February.

Experts are divided on whether significant oil discoveries would spur or slow Cuban economic reforms.

“With or without oil, the Cuban economy sorely needs an environment in which businesses and individuals feel confident to invest,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban academic at the University of Denver.

But most agree the prospect has brought Havana and Washington closer as they look to safeguard their mutual economic and environmental interests.

“The meeting between US and Cuban officials on environmental co-operation … is an example of new bridges of communication, which if it wasn’t for oil and gas development would not have happened,” said Jorge Piñón, former president of Amoco Corporate Development Company Latin America and now a research fellow at Florida International University.

Just as “ping-pong diplomacy brought the US and China together, oil might very well bring Cuba and the US together”.

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Wikileaks on Canadian Relations with Cuba

Embassy of Canada in Cuba

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FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA

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INFO ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 000845

SENSITIVE   SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CAN AND WHA/CCA

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PREL [External Political Relations], ETTC [Trade and Technology Controls], ETRD [Foreign Trade], CU [Cuba], CA [Canada]

SUBJECT: Canadian Relations with Cuba

1. (SBU) Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) interlocutors tell us that Canada continues to promote the advancement of democracy, good governance, and human rights in Cuba. Canada shares the U.S. goals of promoting democracy and human rights in Cuba, while maintaining its self-described policy of “principled engagement” with both the Cuban government and dissident elements. The GOC believes its approach allows it to have a positive impact on human rights and democracy in Cuba. Canada maintains a diplomatic presence in Havana and conducts aid programs worth about C$10 million/year.

2. (SBU) DFAIT Officials said that Canada has engaged and intervened on behalf of human rights and the advancement of democratization in Cuba a number of times over the past six months. According to DFAIT: — Canadian and Cuban officials meet regularly to discuss the harsh treatment of dissidents. Conversations were reportedly “firm and frank.” DFAIT officials said that meeting with dissidents is a normal part of Canadian diplomatic work in Cuba, with everyone from the ambassador downward engaging in human right outreach. DFAIT contacts assert that “Ambassador Juneau and other Embassy staff meet regularly with dissidents, journalists, economists” and that “the Ambassador also discusses human rights in his meetings with the Cuban government.” DFAIT contacts pointed to a Canadian embassy presence on the scene monitoring of “the siege of the house of dissident Vladimiro Roca” by a “Cuban government associated crowd” as typical of their on-going and continuous human rights outreach. DFAIT contacts did not have information on the status of the journalists and economists (independent versus government-affiliated) with whom embassy officers meet regularly. — The Canadian Embassy in Havana had been scheduled to open its eighth Canadian Studies Center in Cuba in July, but did not do so for budgetary reasons. These centers, funded by Canada and run by the Cuban Ministry of Education, reportedly inform the general populace about life in a democratic country with a market-based economy. The Canadian Government also regularly sends speakers to these venues, as well as funds economics professors teaching modern economic theory at the University of Havana. — the Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL), a Canadian government-funded think tank, runs a series of programs (in Canada) on Cuba that focus on support for dissidents and democratization. FOCAL documents all Cuban government actions against dissidents, supports an active dialogue on planning for the post-Castro area, and assists civil society programs on human rights and democracy.

3. (SBU) According to DFAIT officials, high-level diplomatic visits between Cuba and Canada over the past six months have included a visit to Cuba by the Canadian Minister of State for the Americas Peter Kent. The Government of Cuba cancelled his previous visit, planned for mid-May, after Kent told reporters that he aimed to use his scheduled meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro to raise democratic reform and human rights. DFAIT contacts say the Cuban government had also taken offense at that time to strong pro-human rights statements by Prime Minister Harper.

4. (SBU) Kent visited Havana November 12-14, meeting with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Trade and Foreign Investment Minister Malmierca, and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Dagoberto Rodriguez, and the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Ortega. He did not meet with dissidents because the Cuban government would not have permitted his visit to go forward if he planned to do so, according to DFAIT contacts. DFAIT contacts say Kent did engage in lengthy discussions on human rights with all three of the senior Cuban government officials as well as the Archbishop. DFAIT contacts described the discussions as “good, substantive” ones, covering the need for Cuba to release all political prisoners, accede to a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and sign on to the two primary UN human rights covenants.

OTTAWA 00000845 002 OF 002

5. (SBU) Minister Kent also met with representatives of Cuban government-sanctioned civil society organizations, including the Centro Felix Varela, Inter Press Service, and the Centro Nacional de Educacion Sexual (the organization head by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela).

6. (SBU) DFAIT interlocutors decline to provide us with information on specific Canadian companies operating in Cuba or confirm open source information about them. Media reports indicate that Canada remains Cuba’s third largest trade partner, with trade growing by 9.4% in 2008. Canadian companies operate in a variety of sectors of the Cuban economy, including tourism, construction, agriculture, bio-technology, and mining. According to Canadian Government statistics, annual two-way trade between Cuba and Canada was C$1.66 billion in 2008. Canadian exports to Cuba in 2008 were worth C$768,389,688. Canadian imports from Cuba amounted to C$895,242,425. Canadian merchandise exports to Cuba rose 36.3% in 2008 to $768.1 million and included machinery, inorganic chemicals, cereals, and vegetables. Imports from Cuba decreased 15.3% in 2008 to $895.2 million and included mineral ores, copper, tobacco, beverages, fish and seafood. Tourism is Cuba’s largest source of foreign exchange and Canada is Cuba’s largest source of tourists, with 818,000 Canadians visiting in 2008, nearly 35 per cent of all visitors to Cuba. Media reports indicate that leading Canadian firms doing business with Cuba: Sherritt International, Pizza Nova, Labatt. Sherritt is the largest foreign investor in Cuba, according to press reports.

7. (SBU) Canada has no bilateral trade agreements with Cuba. According to DFAIT, Canada and Cuba held exploratory talks on a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) in February 2009. Canada is currently consulting with Canadian investors in Cuba before deciding whether to go ahead with further negotiations. In November 2009, Canada and Cuba concluded an expanded air transport agreement. The new agreement provides for up to five designated Canadian airlines (an increase from two) and unlimited points of destination in Cuba, an increase from four points previously available to scheduled carriers. On April 22, 2008, Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and his Cuban counterpart renewed an MOU on agricultural cooperation. This involves Canadian technical assistance in various areas of Cuba’s agricultural sector, for example providing Canadian expertise to train Cubans in livestock production practices and animal genetic techniques, as well as the management of irrigation systems.

8. (U) Canada has no formal exchange programs specific to Cuba. Canada has initiated academic exchanges, including scholarships for Cuban students under the hemisphere-wide C$18-million Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program (ELAP) announced by Prime Minister Harper at the Summit of the Americas in April. In the first ELAP competition, Canada awarded scholarships to 11 Cuban students for study or research in Canada. Selected ELAP students will have the opportunity to attend a Canadian government designed “Democracy Study tour” in Ottawa to expose students to Canadian models of good governance, including the rule of law, human rights, government accountability, freedom of the press, and multiculturalism. In addition, many exchanges occur informally between organizations such as high school sports teams and cultural groups.

JACOBSON

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Poor Fidel: Repudiated by his Own Brother and Reduced to Playing “Chicken Little’”

 

Fidel Castro and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
Holding Hands, January 12, 2012:

By Arch Ritter

I almost feel sorry for Fidel – but not quite.

His own brother Raul, the National Assembly, and the last Party Congress have repudiated the various economic programs, policies and institutional structures that he implanted in Cuba for almost half a century. The Communist Party Conference on January 28 will implicitly reiterate what the Congress has already approved. Raul Castro’s economic reform agenda is steadily, inexorably and permanently reversing Fidel’s economic heritage – though not his political institutions.

If Fidel Castro understands what is going on, he can’t be too happy that a major part of his life’s work is being cancelled. On the other hand, he likely is pleased that the political system that he imposed on Cuba remains pretty much intact. There is virtually no sign that political reform may be forthcoming.

Fidel Rejected; Critics Vindicated

For almost half a century, Fidel constructed dysfunctional institutions and pursued counterproductive economic policies. (See Fidel’s Phenomenal Economic Fiascoes: the Top Ten) Worse still, he implanted and maintained an authoritarian regime that denies authentic participatory democracy and fundamental human rights to Cuban citizens. One result has been poverty for most Cubans by any international standard, though obscured by creative statistics.  Moreover, two million Cubans have left Cuba and many have made fine contributions to their new countries.

While Fidel’s economic visions, strategies and policies are being continuously repudiated by the current economic reform process, many of his critics have been vindicated. In the past, Fidel responded to criticism by incarcerating the critics (e.g. Oscar Chepe.) Others were demoted, fired, shunned, ostracized and pushed into exile. But the ongoing reform process is an official Cuban certification  that many of the critics were on the right track while Fidel was taking Cuba down a blind alley. Silencing criticism and commentary damaged economic policy and the Cuban economy, because errors could not be “nipped in the bud” or reversed quickly.

If only Fidel had taken and understood an “Economics 100” explanation of how markets operate and can serve as a mechanism for the social control of economic activity, Cuba’s economic experience surely would have been much better.

“Henny Penny” the Blogger

At this time, fortunately for Cuba, Fidel seems to have been pushed aside into a role where the real economic damage he can do is minimized. His principal activity now is to write “op-eds” or “Blog entries” or as he calls them, “Reflections”. (See Reflections of Fidel Castro) Fidel seems to be trying to reinvent himself as a seer or clairvoyant pronouncing sagely on the future of the human species and the significance of the events of the day. Though excluded from domestic governance and policy making, his ego perhaps may be assuaged by having his “Reflecciones” widely distributed through all the media which are still monopolized by the Communist Party. Following 50 years precedence, no-one else has access to the media in order to contradict or criticize his assertions or to make alternate arguments and analyses.

Fidel has made himself a prophet of doom – or perhaps an re-incarnation of “Chicken Little” or “Henny Penny”, running to tell the world “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Why is the world headed for disaster and the human race bound for extinction? Well, financial crisis, nuclear war, global warming, NATO, the G20 and now, Fidel’s latest concern, “fracking” (or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil.) Who is responsible for all of this? Why of course the United States.

Fidel also comments on issues of the day such as the high quality of Hugo Chavez speeches and the perversions practiced especially by the United States but also the G20. While his commentaries have been “over the top” for a long time, they now seem to be increasingly incomprehensible. His latest Reflection for example (See The Best President for the United States) argues that a robot would do a better job than Obama as President. It includes the following sentence:

“I imagined Obama, very articulate with words, for whom, in his desperate attempt to be reelected, the dreams of [Martin] Luther King are more light years away than the closest inhabitable planet.”

This is not a mistranslation. At least Fidel could be provided with better editors. Otherwise, it will seem to readers that he may be losing out to Father Time rather quickly.

See also: Fidel’s Phenomenal Economic Fiascoes: the Top Ten

Cuba’s Achievements under the Presidency of Fidel Castro: The Top Ten

Fidel’s No-Good Very Bad Day

The “FIDEL” Models Never Worked; Soviet and Venezuelan Subsidization Did

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Yoani Sánchez on the January 28 Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba

Original Essay in Generacion Y here:  “Conference Rhymes With Patience” (…well in Spanish it does…)

This January seems like an October, a July, a November, anything other than the first month of the year. If anything characterizes beginnings it is making plans, projecting what is to come, outlining proposals even later if they aren’t completed. But because we grew up among so many slogans forecasting the future, today we resist talking about tomorrow. Exhausted from imagining a distant future that could be delayed five years or a decade, we no longer want to even predict the coming week. So we focus on this minute, on an immediacy that doesn’t allow us to raise our sights to look ahead. We live in the moment, because for too long they made us wish for a far off time that existed only in their speeches, in the pages of their books.

The next Communist Party Conference is also marked by this skepticism toward the future. Not surprising, then, are the low expectations Cubans show regarding a party meeting on January 28, the little that is said about it in the streets. The trifling comments are limited to an assurance that “this isn’t going to change anything,” or the glimmer of hope that “this will be the last chance for the ‘historic generation’.” Less than three weeks before it begins, even the official television isn’t showing any enthusiasm for the event. In the ranks of the Party itself there are many illusions and more than one militant will turn in his or her party card if the meeting ends with poor results. The time “purchased” last April during the Party Congress is about to end. The political reforms are urgent and even the system’s most faithful have begun to despair.

The most improbable, and yet the most desired, is that in this conference the first priority would be to put the nation ahead of partisan interests. But this would be asking the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) to commit suicide… and they are not going to do that. They are not going to open themselves to citizen participation without exclusions, nor are they going to dismantle the criminalization of disagreement. They bet their power on it. The reforms would have to be so clear, the change in discourse so marked, that instead of simple adjustments they would need to erase the slate and start again… and most likely they will refuse to do that. So, for a long time January hasn’t seemed like January, the Revolutionaries don’t behave that way and the future is a subject only for soothsayers and fortune-tellers.

Yoani Sánchez

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From Canada’s Conservative Government: More “Constructive Engagement”

The Canadian Press, 9 September 2012

OTTAWA — The Conservative minister for Latin America is softening some of the Harper government’s previous tough talk on Cuba.

This week, Diane Ablonczy, the junior foreign minister for the Americas, visits the communist Caribbean island — which, at 135 kilometres from the southern tip of Florida, is both the closest sworn enemy of the United States and the favoured vacation choice of a million sun-seeking Canadians each year.

Ablonczy praises the ongoing economic reforms that Cuban President Raul Castro has instituted — opening up private property ownership, new opportunity to hold select private sector jobs, the right to sell a used car — since he took over the country from his legendary and ailing brother, Fidel, almost four years ago. “We see a very significant process of economic reform and liberalization in Cuba,” Ablonczy told The Canadian Press in a pre-trip interview.

Ablonczy does not necessarily believe this will lead to greater democratic freedoms any time soon in a country where the government exerts Soviet-era control over its 11 million citizens. “Political change is not what Cuban leadership has in mind,” she said. “There’s a lot of debate around these things and there’s a lot of caution too. But Canada, as an investor in Cuba, with lots of people-to-people contact, wants to play as positive and constructive role as possible.”

Ablonczy said Canada stands ready to share experiences and best practices “as Cuba moves forward, very gradually, towards some needed changes and modernization.”

Her comments are a marked departure from the language employed by one of her predecessors in the portfolio, Peter Kent, who publicly chided the Castro regime on its human rights record almost three years ago. His comments prompted Havana to rescind an invitation to visit in the spring of 2009. Kent eventually travelled to Cuba in late 2009, and he reported a successful visit that included discussions on trade and human rights.

Cuba is Canada’s largest market in the Caribbean and Central American region, with two-way trade topping $1 billion in 2010. A Canadian oil and gas company, Sherritt International, is the largest foreign investor in Cuba.

Ablonczy, who has travelled widely in the region since her appointment last May, said she wants to form meaningful working relationships with her Cuban counterparts. She said it’s important to be very respectful of her hosts and “what they want to achieve and their own goals and objectives.”

A leading voice in Canada’s non-governmental agency community agreed there is opportunity for the government to have a meaningful impact on reform in Cuba. Robert Fox, head of Oxfam Canada, recently concluded his own working tour of projects in Cuba and said there is good progress being made in municipal governance and in opening up the farming sector to more local participation. That might not sound like much, but both are significant developments in Cuba, where the Castro regime allows no political dissent and virtually no capitalism.

Municipal councils are meeting and coming up with ideas on how they want to live in their communities, within the constraints of the central government’s edicts, said Fox. “In a country like Cuba, a decentralizing dynamic is also a democratizing dynamic.”

Meanwhile, Cuban farmers are working on ways to grow and sell local products locally — a significant step in a country that, despite massive swaths of fertile countryside, still imports most of its food. “Canada continues to be seen in a positive way in Cuba. Canada has never conditioned its aid to Cuba. Cubans are very aware that there are a million Canadians who come to their country every year,” said Fox.

“When we look to the changes in Cuba in terms of opening up to local markets and opening up to global markets, when we look to women’s leadership and gender equality, when we look to municipal governments and local authorities, when we look to the co-op movement — which are all areas that Cubans are taking to a new level — those are all areas where Canada has huge strengths, huge capacity.”

Canadian embassy diplomats in Havana expressed interest to Fox about strengthening municipal authorities and the agricultural sector. Ablonczy said Canada does have expertise to offer in those areas but she said she would wait to see what topics her Cuban hosts raise with her. Canada, she said, does not have all the answers and won’t “take a lecturing approach.”

Ablonczy is expected to have meetings with Cuba’s ministers for foreign affairs, trade and tourism, as well as paying visits to Canadian-funded aid projects. She will also visit Panama and Guatemala in the coming week as well.

Overall, Ablonczy is a staunch defender of her government’s efforts to open up economic opportunities throughout the region, even if it means trading and doing business with governments that have less-than-stellar rights records.

She said engagement can contribute to “important human rights advancement in these countries, providing the economic opportunity that is often key for people breaking free from tyranny and oppression… “We’ve taken a very strong stand on wanting to be an active and positive force while being very clear about our concerns and our desire to see human rights continually addressed and advanced in all countries, including our own.”

Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy

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Espacio Laical: Debate on the Future of the Communist Party of Cuba

Espacio Laical has published a debate on the future of the Communist Party in Cuba. The full document is located here: Espacio Laical, EL PRESENTE Y EL FUTURO DEL PARTIDO COMUNISTA DE CUBA.

This discussion is courageous and challenging, as it pushes the realm of public discussion of political issues further along. Espacio Laical makes a valuable contribution to political discussion in Cuba. The concluding commentary and some questions from Lenier Gonzalez are included below as well. It is worth a careful reading., but unfortunately it is available only in Spanish at this time.

A DEBATE EL PRESENTE Y EL FUTURO DEL PARTIDO COMUNISTA DE CUBA

Próximamente se celebrará la Primera Conferencia Nacional del PCC, institución que tiene a su cargo, según la constitución vigente, orientar y dirigir al Estado y a la sociedad. Este acontecimiento ocurrirá en un momento de especial trascendencia para la nación cubana, porque de sus entrañas –hoy mismo- emanan los más diversos imaginarios acerca de hacia dónde, y de qué manera, se deben conducir los destinos del país. Por esta razón, la revista Espacio Laical ha convocado a un grupo de analistas para que ofrezcan sus criterios al respecto. Estos son: Víctor Fowler, poeta y ensayista; Orlando Márquez, director de la revista Palabra Nueva; Ovidio D´Angelo, investigador social; Alexis Pestano, miembro del Consejo Editorial de la revista Espacio Laical; Ariel Dacal, educador popular; y Lenier González, vice-editor de la revista Espacio Laical.


Lenier González,, Ariel Ducal, Ovidio D´Angelo, Orlando Márquez y Víctor Fowler

Lenier González:

Si nos atenemos a las contradicciones, dogmatismos e incongruencias contenidas en el Documento Base, no creo que la Conferencia esté en condiciones de replantearse el papel del PCC de cara al presente y al futuro de Cuba. Sin embargo, seguramente de la Conferencia saldrán líneas de acción para perfeccionar algunos aspectos del funcionamiento del PCC, pero sin constituir cauces programáticos para reconstruir y relanzar su hegemonía política.

Esto sería realmente lamentable, pues la llamada generación histórica que hizo la Revolución cubana, y específicamente el presidente Raúl Castro, tienen las condiciones materiales y simbólicas necesarias para desatar y llevar a vías de éxito un proceso de este tipo. Toda reforma que aspire a ser exitosa necesita de una fuerza política que cumpla el cometido de construir consensos en torno a un proyecto común. El éxito de las reformas del presidente Raúl Castro y su continuidad en el tiempo dependen de la capacidad que tenga el actual gobierno de concertar a toda la diversidad nacional en su seno. Un partido político renovado, inclusivo y aglutinador de los más amplios intereses nacionales sería una garantía para la estabilidad nacional y el éxito de las transformaciones en curso. El redimensionamiento y democratización interna del PCC -con el consecuente ensanchamiento de la participación ciudadana- es el gran tema pendiente en la agenda del presidente Raúl Castro. Y en ello podría radicar el éxito de su mandato.

Además, no podemos desestimar el gran costo político que tendría para el gobierno no atender de manera suficiente el anhelo generalizado de democratización del sistema político. Un amplísimo sector nacional percibe a la Conferencia del PCC como la última oportunidad de la generación histórica para moverse en ese sentido. Por tanto, desestimar este anhelo de seguro impactará con fuerza sobre el campo político cubano. Es muy probable que de no darse cambios en ese sentido, el amplio sector moderado-reformista, cansado ya de esperar hasta la eternidad, verá cómo se vacían sus filas definitivamente. Ello quizá no provocará un fortalecimiento de la disidencia interna, pero sí propiciará gran frustración, apatía y distanciamiento en las fuerzas vivas nacionales del gobierno cubano. Para ese entonces, al gobierno le será ya muy difícil reconectarse nuevamente con estos sectores.

¿Será capaz el gobierno cubano de propiciar un debate abierto y horizontal donde las fuerzas patrióticas puedan consensuar libremente un “proyecto de país” en el que quepamos todos?

¿Será capaz la Conferencia del PCC de reinventar, con creatividad, la rigidez actual de los marcos que dictan qué es revolucionario y qué contrarrevolucionario?

¿Podrá el gobierno cubano implementar reformas modernizadoras que conjuren definitivamente la posibilidad de un escenario de desestabilización interna y una potencial (e inaceptable) intervención militar extranjera en Cuba?

¿Seremos capaces los cubanos de acompañar un camino de reformas graduales y ordenadas si el actual gobierno cubano (o sus sucesores) iniciasen esta gestión de forma seria y responsable?

Como ciudadano comprometido con los destinos de mi patria, aspiro a que la Conferencia del PCC y el presidente Raúl Castro asuman sin dilaciones esta responsabilidad histórica y salden este desafío (enorme) satisfactoriamente, por el bien de Cuba y de los todos los cubanos.

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Cuba in the Economist Intelligence Unit, “Democracy Index 2011: Democracy Under Stress”

The Economist intelligence Unit recently published its annual White paper on Democracy in the World. The full report is available here: Economist Intelligence Unit, Democracy_Index_December_2011

As expected, Cuba fares poorly in this international comparison of participatory democracy, placing last in Latin America and #126 of 167 countries internationally, with an “authoritarian” label, the only one in Latin America.

The EIU Index is about as rigorous as they come, including 60 indicators five general dimensions, namely electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The basic EIU definition of democracy and methodology is outlined below together with a description of the results for Latin America and a Table of the Latin American results.

The Economist Intelligence Unit measure

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The five categories are inter-related and form a coherent conceptual whole. The condition of having free and fair competitive elections, and satisfying related aspects of political freedom, is clearly the sine quo none of all definitions. All modern definitions, except the most minimalist, also consider civil liberties to be a vital component of what is often called “liberal democracy”. The principle of the protection of basic human rights is widely accepted. It is embodied in constitutions throughout the world as well as in the UN Charter and international agreements such as the Helsinki Final Act (the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe).

Basic human rights include the freedom of speech, expression and the press, freedom of religion; freedom of assembly and association; and the right to due judicial process. All democracies are systems in which citizens freely make political decisions by majority rule. But rule by the majority is not necessarily democratic. In a democracy majority rule must be combined with guarantees of individual human rights and the rights of minorities. Most measures also include aspects of the minimum quality of functioning of government. If democratically-based decisions cannot or are not implemented then the concept of democracy is not very meaningful or it becomes an empty shell. Democracy is more than the sum of its institutions. A democratic political culture is also crucial for the legitimacy, smooth functioning and ultimately the sustainability of democracy. A culture of passivity and apathy, an obedient and docile citizenry, are not consistent with democracy. The electoral process periodically divides the population into winners and losers. A successful democratic political culture implies that the losing parties and their supporters accept the judgment of the voters, and allow for the peaceful transfer of power.

Participation is also a necessary component, as apathy and abstention are enemies of democracy. Even measures that focus predominantly on the processes of representative, liberal democracy include (although inadequately or insufficiently) some aspects of participation. In a democracy, government is only one element in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political organisations, and associations. Citizens cannot be required to take part in the political process, and they are free to express their dissatisfaction by not participating. However, a healthy democracy requires the active, freely chosen participation of citizens in public life. Democracies flourish when citizens are willing to participate in public debate, elect representatives and join political parties. Without this broad, sustaining participation, democracy begins to wither and become the preserve of small, select groups. At the same time, even our “thicker”, more inclusive and wider measure of democracy does not include other aspects–which some authors argue are also crucial components of democracy–such as levels of economic and social well being. Thus our Index respects the dominant tradition that holds that a variety of social and economic outcomes can be consistent with political democracy, which is a separate concept.

Methodology

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of democracy, on a 0 to 10 scale, is based on the ratings for 60 indicators grouped in five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Each category has a rating on a 0 to 10 scale, and the overall index of democracy is the simple average of the five category indexes. The category indexes are based on the sum of the indicator scores in the category, converted to a 0 to 10 scale. Adjustments to the category scores are made if countries do not score a 1 in the following critical areas for democracy:

1. whether national elections are free and fair

2. the security of voters

3. the influence of foreign powers on government

4. the capability of the civil service to implement policies.  …..

Full democracies: Countries in which not only basic political freedoms and civil liberties are respected, but these will also tend to be underpinned by a political culture conducive to the flourishing of democracy. The functioning of government is satisfactory. Media are independent and diverse. There is an effective system of checks and balances. The judiciary is independent and judicial decisions are enforced. There are only limited problems in the functioning of democracies.

Flawed democracies: These countries also have free and fair elections and even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties will be respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.

Hybrid regimes: Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. Government pressure on opposition parties and candidates may be common. Serious weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies–in political culture, functioning of government and political participation. Corruption tends to be widespread and the rule of law is weak. Civil society is weak. Typically there is harassment of and pressure on journalists, and the judiciary is not independent.

Authoritarian regimes: In these states state political pluralism is absent or heavily circumscribed. Many countries in this category are outright dictatorships. Some formal institutions of democracy may exist, but these have little substance. Elections, if they do occur, are not free and fair. There is disregard for abuses and infringements of civil liberties. Media are typically state-owned or controlled by groups connected to the ruling regime. There is repression of criticism of the government and pervasive censorship. There is no independent judiciary.

Latin America

There was little change in this region between 2010 and 2011. The average score for the region declined slightly in 2011 as rampant crime in some countries—in particular, violence and drug-trafficking—continues to have a negative impact. In most countries free and fair elections are now well established. The recent evidence from surveys on attitudes towards democracy is mixed. In some countries, surveys indicate a slow shift in public attitudes on many issues in a direction that is conducive to democracy. However, a recent UNDP report (UNDP 2011) found that the sustainability of democracy in Latin America is being endangered by the concentration of power, the world´s highest social and economic inequalities, and mounting insecurity and violence. While most Latin American countries (14 out of 24) fall within the flawed democracy category, there is wide diversity across the region. For example, Uruguay is a full democracy with an index score of 8.17 (out of 10) and a global ranking of 17th, while Cuba, an authoritarian regime, ranks 126th.

Although the region was adversely affected by the 2008-09 recession—with the US-dependent

Central American and Caribbean sub-regions hit particularly badly—most countries avoided social unrest and a rolling back of democracy. However, a key issue that is undermining democracy in much of the region is an upsurge in violent crime, linked in large part with the drug trade. The corrupting influence of organised crime and its ability to undermine the effectiveness of the security forces and the judicial authorities are a serious problem.

Electoral democracy, for the most part, remains firmly entrenched in Latin America, but media freedoms have been eroded in recent years in several countries. Aside from Cuba (the only state in the region without any independent media), Venezuela has been the worst offender. The failure to uphold press freedom in some countries in the region in part reflects inadequate oversight bodies—a symptom of broader institutional weaknesses in Latin America. The executive remains very strong in many countries, the legislature is comparatively weak in many cases and most judiciaries suffer from some degree of politicization.

National Assembly, Cuba

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Melissa Lockhart, “After dramatic 2011 in Cuba, will US-Cuban policy shift in 2012?”

Melissa Lockhart reviews a year of what she calls big change in Cuba, little change in US policy. From the Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/ December 29, 2011

This year in Cuban history will be viewed as a significant one, having seen more economic change and reform on the island than some entire decades. Yet Washington’s response has been minimal.

Let’s start with a brief summary of the past year. In January 2011, the executive branch of the US government announced and published new travel and remittance rules with respect to Cuba, which increased possibilities for people-to-people travel. The effect has been gradual (OFAC in the Treasury is under-staffed and really quite slow), but greater numbers of cultural travel groups have received the necessary licenses and are leading trips to the island because of the new rules.

February and March saw the trial of the infamous violent Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles, and a historic step in the US to prosecute him for terrorist acts in Cuba (he was later acquitted, to the chagrin of many Cuba-watchers). Alan Gross, the USAID contractor who remains in jail in Cuba, was ultimately sentenced in March to 15 years in prison — a relationship-damaging development that has continued to be a point of great contention between Washington and Havana.

In April, the Cuban Communist Party held their Sixth Party Congress and reviewed the terms of a great number of economic reforms whose implementation has proceeded during the course of the year. Yet in the fall, the US stood nearly solo at the United Nations as the world voted against the US embargo on Cuba. Washington put Cuba again on its list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” though the evidence to support the designation has withered.

This week, President Castro pardoned 2,900 prisoners in advance of the Pope’s visit to the island in 2012, noting that many of the pardoned were first-time offenders, youths, or inmates over 60 or suffering from illness. Yet here we are at the close of the year, and the Obama administration is still apparently convinced that the release of political prisoners in Cuba and the drastic economic changes underway are not enough to qualify as the “change” that would merit a significant bilateral discussion.

Asi es la vida for Cuba-watchers. The most unexpected event of this year was not a “happening” at all: it is the lack of movement forward in Washington on Cuba issues, and the continuing age-old tendency to cater to the conservative Miami Cuban-American base — a demographic that is changing and adapting its views to new developments in Cuba more so than Congress and the current administration, it seems. We expected more this year, despite the myriad of other global challenges faced by the US. Washington has found time recently to take a fresh look at Myanmar, but still not at our close neighbor Cuba.

With all of the events of the last year, here in the US the individual whose name has received the most airtime – and who therefore receives our designation of person of the year – is Alan Gross. Mr. Gross has been held in Cuba since December 2009 for distributing communications equipment illegally on the island. His sentence of 15 years in prison for crimes against the Cuban state was upheld by the Cuban Supreme Court in August. US officials have tried unsuccessfully to argue for his unilateral release; many experts have unsuccessfully argued for a prisoner swap (modeled off of the Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange of Gilad Shalit for hundreds of Palestinians — but in this case just one for five). Mr. Gross remains imprisoned, and as he was not one of the recently pardoned 2,900, Washington has continued to ignore other signs of significant change within the Cuban state. As long as Gross remains imprisoned, it appears there can be no progress.

Are you up on Latin American news? Try our quiz. Christmas In Havana: President Obama prevails on Cuban family travel rules For Cubans, new property rights – and the return of an old anxiety Topics

The forecast for 2012 is unfortunately only a tick higher than bleak in terms of the US-Cuba relationship. 2012 is a US election year, and Cuba policy remains a contentious political issue. Even just in the last few weeks, Cuba-watchers cringed (and spoke out) as a small faction of House representatives sought to fold an amendment into the 2012 spending bill that would change US regulations on Cuban-American family visits to Cuba, rolling this policy back to the Bush era. Fortunately, the White House took a stand and threatened a veto if the amendment was not removed. But many had feared that the administration would not spend the political capital to step in, and this was on an issue that simply maintained the status quo. There is very little reason for an administration seeking re-election to take the kind of political risk that more significant (necessary) Cuba policy changes entail.

However, the island’s future looks positive, at least for the moment. The population is testing out new economic reforms, the reforms are pressing ahead to the long-run benefit of a troubled economy, and foreign businesses and investors remain interested in Cuba (despite recent crackdowns on corruption that have affected foreigners as well as Cubans). Pope Benedict XVI will visit Cuba in March, and the state appears to be taking a look at its prison system in advance of that visit and making the largest number of pardons and releases of prisoners in recent history. These are positive developments that likely will not receive much acknowledgement from Washington, but for now, Havana does not appear to need our stamp of approval.

Melissa Lockhart Fortner is Senior Programs Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy and Cuba blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. You can read her blog here.

 

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Updating re Economics Essays from TEMAS

Below are a series of hyperlinks to articles on economic reform in Cuba. Unfortunately the essays are available only in Spanish.

Economía y política

Richard Levins y Aurora Levins Morales, Respondiendo a Ricardo Torres

Omar Álvarez Dueñas, A propósito de la controversia sobre la «inviabilidad del socialismo»

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Sobre la «inviabilidad del socialismo», pero ¿qué tipo de socialismo? (Observaciones a los comentarios de José Luis Rodríguez en Temas)

José Luis Rodríguez, A propósito del socialismo, ¿de qué inviabilidad se habla?

Luis Marcelo Vera ¿Cuál es el problema estratégico principal de la economía cubana?

LArmando Nova González, La propiedad en la economía cubana

Ricardo Torres Pérez, La actualización del modelo económico cubano: continuidad y ruptura

Julio Díaz Vázquez, Es aplicable el modelo chino o vietnamita en Cuba?

Rafael Betancourt, Observaciones en torno al Proyecto de Lineamientos

Fernando Barral, Aproximación sociológica al problema de la corrupción en Cuba

Armando Nova González, El papel estratégico de la agricultura: problemas y medidas

Omar Everleny Perez, Cuba: ¿por dónde va la economía?

Pavel Vidal Alejandro, La estabilidad monetaria en Cuba: una síntesis

Ramón de la Cruz Ochoa, Acotaciones al texto del Dr. Fernando Barral sobre la corrupción en Cuba

 

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