BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
Sixteen retired senior military officers are asking the Trump
administration to continue the process of normalization with Cuba for
the sake of U.S. national security and stability in the region.
"The location of Cuba in the Caribbean and proximity to the US make it a
natural and strategically valuable partner on issues of immediate
concern, including terrorism, border control, drug interdiction,
environmental protections, and emergency preparedness," the retired
officers stated in a letter that was for National Security Adviser Lt.
Gen. H.R. McMaster and made public on Thursday.
The retired officers indicated that ensuring economic stability on the
island was beneficial to the United States for security reasons.
"We acknowledge the current regime must do more to open its political
system and dialogue with the Cuban people. But, if we fail to engage
economically and politically, it is certain that China, Russia, and
other entities whose interests are contrary to the United States' will
rush into the vacuum," the letter said. "We have an opportunity now to
shape and fill a strategic void."
Six of the 16 letter-signers traveled to Havana from March 14-17 at the
invitation of the Cuban government and met with officials from the
Foreign Ministry as well as representatives from the Energy,
Agriculture, Trade, and Foreign Investment ministries. The group also
visited the Port of Mariel and met with 12 Ministry of Interior
officials — a gathering not previously disclosed. The MININT is in
charge of domestic security but also of the Cuban intelligence services.
The Cuban officials provided "a significant hour and a half Power Point
brief on their security concerns and their thoughts on cooperation with
the United States," Stephen A. Cheney, a retired brigadier general in
the U.S. Marine Corps, said. "A pretty interesting group of active
"Some questioned why we did not meet with dissidents, but this was not
the purpose of this trip but to listen to government people, have an
idea of how it works and what their concerns are."
The letter seeks to influence the administration while it is still
reviewing Cuba policy, an exercise spearheaded by the National Security
Council. The Trump administration "must take into account all national
security factors under consideration" and not look at the current policy
"simply as something that Obama did and because Obama did it, you hate
it," Cheney said.
The main concern from the national-security standpoint, he added, is a
migration crisis if the island's economy worsens, a possibility that "at
90 miles from our coasts, does not do us any favors."
"If they feel desperate, they are going to reach out to those we would
rather not want," added retired Brig. Gen. David McGinnis, in reference
to the growing role of China, Russia, and Iran in the region.
Cheney highlighted the level of cooperation with Cuba on issues like
anti-drug efforts but said that part of the "frustration" of the Cuban
government is that the routine meetings to continue these mechanisms of
cooperation have been canceled by the Trump administration, "not out of
a policy change but because the people are not there."
Cheney also said the Trump administration could lift trade and financial
restrictions, such as in agriculture, to the benefit of U.S. companies.
"Clearly the embargo has not worked. We have to look for new actions if
we want to increase our security," said retired Lt. Gen. John G. Castellaw.
The trip and the missive were coordinated by the American Security
Project (ASP), a non-partisan organization of which several of the
retired officials who signed the letter are members of — Cheney is its
executive director. According to an ASP statement, the trip was
organized by Scott Gilbert, a member of its board and a lawyer of
contractor Alan Gross, who was jailed in Cuba for five years and
released on Dec. 17, 2014.
Among those who signed the letter are retired Gen. James T. Hill, who
headed the U.S. Southern Command from 2002-2004 and retired Admiral
Robert Inman, who held senior positions in the intelligence services
under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Several signers of the letter including, McGinnis; retired Major Gen.
Paul Eaton; retired Rear Admirals Jamie Barnett and Michael Smith; and
retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis publicly supported Hillary Clinton
during the presidential campaign.
Source: Retired military officials ask Trump to continue normalization
process with Cuba | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article145847939.html Continue reading
14ymedio, Miami, 17 April 2017 — Cuban professional services abroad are
the main source of foreign exchange for the government and represent an
estimated 11.543 billion dollars annually, according to an article
published in the official press by the island's former Minister of the
Economy, José Luis Rodríguez.
Most of the income comes from the more than 50,000 healthcare
professionals who work in some sixty countries around the world, nearly
half of whom are doctors and specialists in different branches of medicine.
The recently published Health Statistics Yearbook 2016 reveals that
Cuban professionals are in 24 countries in Latin America and the
Caribbean, in almost three dozen African countries, and in the Middle
East, East Asia and the Pacific. In Europe they are present in Russia
In 2014, the Cuban government said that the country obtained 8.2 billion
dollars for the provision of health services abroad, a figure that would
have declined after the fall in oil prices and the crisis in
Venezuela. It also maintains other cooperation programs from which it
receives dividends, such as the export of professionals in education,
technicians, engineers and athletes.
Venezuela is the main market for Cuban professionals. In the health
sector alone it is estimated that more than 28,000 Cuban professionals
remain in that country as a part of the agreements that the government
of Hugo Chaves and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, pay for with oil.
According to Maduro, Venezuela has invested more than 250 billion
dollars in health agreements between both nations since 1999. More than
124,000 Cuban professionals in that sector have worked in Venezuela,
said the president.
The second country in terms of numbers of Cuban professionals is Brazil,
which since the beginning of the More Doctors program, in 2013, has
contracted through the Pan American Health Organization for 11,400 Cuban
Following the ousting of President Dilma Rousseff, Cuba renegotiated the
contract and gained a 9% increase in the salaries of professionals. The
country also renewed the contract for the island's professionals for
three more years. However, the thousands of Cubans who have contracted
marriages with Brazilians to obtain permanent residence, and the more
than 1,600 who are in the process of validating their credentials in
Brazil and separating themselves from the guardianship of Havana, have
caused Cuba to suspend the sending of new doctors to Brazil to avoid
The Cuban government, through the Cuban Medical Services Dealer, offers
workers on the island, whose salary is around $40 a month, some benefits
and better remuneration if they will agree to go on the missions. In no
case do the professionals negotiate their contracts directly with the
employer, which is why the Cuban authorities keep between 50 and 75% of
Family members are not allowed to stay for more than three months with
the professionals on "medical missions," who must return to the island
when they finish their contracts. If they do not, they are prohibited
from returning to Cuba for eight years, according to the current
Some organizations like Solidarity Without Borders, which helps Cuban
doctors who decide to defect from government missions, denounce these
contracts as "the greatest human trafficking case in modern history."
Until January 12th of this year, the United States maintained a special
welcome program known as Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) to
welcome health professionals who escaped medical missions.
The CMPP, established in 2006 under the administration of George Bush,
was a point of friction with Havana, which called for its
elimination. More than 8,000 professionals took advantage of this
program. Cuban-American members of Congress from Florida have vowed to
work for its reinstatement.
The health system on the island is free, state-run and universal. A
total of 493,368 people work in the system, of which 16,852 are
dentists, 89,072 are nurses and 63,471 are technicians.
After the end of the Soviet subsidy the quality of the healthcare system
collapsed. Cubans often complain about the absence of the specialists
who have been sent to third countries. Recently the government began to
deliver symbolic bills to remind citizens that "public health is free,
but it costs."
Source: Ex-Minister: Cuba Earns $11.5 Billion From Export of
Professional Services – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/ex-minister-cuba-earns-11-5-billion-from-export-of-professional-services/ Continue reading
Years back what they call "civil society" became part of my life through my early engagement in a combination of community activism and links to the few NGOs working in Cuba, followed by participation in Latin American social movements and organizations that defend an ethical economy, the environment and human rights. Thus, as an activist and analyst, I can say something about the matter.Continue reading
Paul R. Pillar
April 16, 2017
A week-long visit to Cuba reveals a tropical country of 11 million
people that is stuck in a kind of time capsule. The anachronistic
aspects of the country are symbolized by the 1950s-era U.S.-made
automobiles that cruise city streets—and the resourcefulness of Cubans
is symbolized by whatever they do to keep those old cars running.
Also within the time capsule are long-obsolete ideas of Fidel Castro
that continue to shape Cuba's economy. Salaries are meager and not
linked to productivity. People commonly work multiple jobs to get by.
Many well-educated professionals spend less time on their professions
than on something else, such as driving a bus, that pays better. Some
basic consumer items are heavily subsidized but not in the necessary
quantities. A system of two different currencies, one convertible and
the other not, adds to the jury-rigged quality of the economy.
Comparisons between Cuba and the United States provide some
illustrations of the strengths and limitations of, on one hand,
collective endeavors mounted through government and, on the other hand,
reliance on free markets. In making such comparisons, however, one must
be aware of other factors in determining relative performance.
Transportation infrastructure, for example, is in bad shape in both
countries, but for different reasons. In the United States, it is
largely because of anti-government sentiment that affects the allocation
of resources to what is inherently a public endeavor that requires
government. In Cuba, where problems of transportation infrastructure
include bone-jarring pavement even on major highways, the cause is
simply not enough resources to allocate in the first place.
The most revealing contrasts involve not potholes but people, and the
attitudes and energy that the systems in which they live inculcate. In
Cuba it is easy to find examples of unmotivated workers, in situations
where one could say that some more market incentives could do a lot of
good. But in contrast there are the positive outlooks and abilities
produced by Cuba's comprehensive system of public education, which is
one of the success stories of the revolution.
Cubans do not exhibit any widespread and unsettling discontent. Maybe
this is partly because they just don't know of any better alternatives,
with at least two generations having come of age since Castro took
power. But with much less inequality than in the United States, even
the more ambitious and upwardly mobile Cubans define their aspirations
in terms of what is realistically attainable through hard work in school
and university, however different the end goal may be from the kind of
wealth that many better educated Americans crave. With most basic needs
met, the most talented Cubans find satisfaction and self-realization in
things such as arts and sports, both of which are areas of emphasis in
the educational system. The enthusiasm of young people participating in
the performing arts is obvious and infectious.
Related to all this is a near absence of expectations for major
political change, and of any appetite for the kind of political activism
designed to produce such change. In short, no counterrevolution is in
sight, and not just because of the current regime's use of its coercive
power to ensure that it stays out of sight. Cuba's modern political
history is a factor. The nation achieved independence later than most
other Latin American states, (and when it did get independence, it was
with the U.S.-imposed, sovereignty-compromising Platt Amendment that
went along with it) and has not had as much time to work through stages
of political development as, say, Mexico. Most Cuban presidents in the
first half-century after Spanish rule ended were not commendable
leaders, with Fulgencio Batista being the last of a corrupt and
ineffective lot before Castro ousted him.
But the popular attitudes involving personal fulfillment are a factor as
well. Along with the instances of insufficient motivation it also is
easy to find Cubans who throw themselves into their work with energy and
commitment, whether the work is bartending or city planning. On the
Isle of Youth (which sees very few tourists), in the island's only city,
Nueva Gerona, is a beautiful pedestrian boulevard which makes creative
use of the marble that is extracted from nearly quarries. The park
benches in the town are made of marble. Someone with the drive and
leadership ability that in other circumstances may have been applied to
making a political revolution instead applied those talents to
beautifying the city, even though he or she probably was paid only a
pittance for doing so.
The external influences of globalization can greatly change attitudes
and aspirations in any country, but for Cuba the biggest single external
reality is the anti-globalization U.S. embargo. With the embargo having
been in effect for half a century and with it not leading to even the
possibility of significant political change in Cuba, one can safely
declare the embargo to be a complete and utter failure. All it has done
is to embarrass the United States each year with United Nations
resolutions condemning it, in which every member of the General Assembly
joins the condemnation except for the United States, Israel, and usually
a couple of the Pacific micro-states.
If the embargo were to end—and this would be a major economic event for
Cuba, given the size and significance of the colossus to the north—this
would inevitably mean significant change in Cuban attitudes and, because
of that, Cuban policies. Whoever was ruling Cuba at the time would
almost be forced to pull a Deng Xiaoping regarding modernization and
freeing of the economy, because the ineffective anachronisms could not
survive either the direct competition or the competition in the minds of
Cubans who would see a new range of possibilities.
If significant political change were to come to Cuba in our time, this
is the route it would take. There are no guarantees, of course, and
Castro's heirs, like rulers in a lot of other countries, would look to
the China model with the hope of loosening the economy while maintaining
tight political control. But it is too early to tell whether that sort
of dichotomy between the economic and the political can endure.
Source: Cuba Frozen in Time | The National Interest Blog -
http://nationalinterest.org/blog/paul-pillar/cuba-frozen-time-20217?page=show Continue reading
By Stephen Kinzer APRIL 14, 2017
SANTA CLARA, Cuba
THIS PROVINCIAL CAPITAL in central Cuba throbbed with life on a recent
Saturday night. In one plaza, a Beatles cover band sang "Ticket to Ride"
for an enthusiastic crowd. Exuberant groups of gay men made their way
toward a club that stages drag shows and welcomes patrons of all sexual
orientations. In an evangelical church, dozens of young people were
being driven to near-ecstasy by a young preacher shouting, "We need the
voice of God now!" Many kids wore T-shirts featuring the American flag.
None of this would have been possible or even imaginable at the height
of Fidel Castro's power. Beatles music was banned in Cuba. Gays were
arrested. Public displays of religiosity were forbidden. Police would
have viewed wearing the American flag as nearly equivalent to wearing
the swastika. Cubans now enjoy more cultural freedom than at any time
since the Castro movement seized power 58 years ago.
Economic progress has been more fitful, but still significant. Small
businesses have sprouted across the island. By some estimates, as many
as half a million Cubans are now self-employed. That is a remarkable
change in a country where private enterprise was demonized for
generations. It has whetted the appetite of many shopkeepers,
beauticians, and restaurant owners to expand beyond tight legal limits.
As for political change, it remains beyond a distant horizon. President
Raul Castro is expected to retire next year. No one I met imagines that
this transition will lead to serious changes in the ruling system. This
is today's Cuba: remarkable cultural opening, growing economic opening,
no political opening.
Cuban leaders fear that allowing unrestricted business growth would
strengthen the wealthier class that is already emerging, give enemies in
the United States new ways to subvert the revolutionary project, and
ultimately lead to the collapse of their government. They are right.
Capitalist economics might make Cuba rich, but it would also create a
new version of the class society that revolutionaries have devoted their
lives to wiping away. This is their dilemma. In recent years they have
allowed Cubans to become more prosperous, but that has led to widening
social divisions. How far should they allow the process to go?
Booming tourism is among the forces that have created both new
possibilities and new frictions. Tourists — and Cubans with relatives
abroad — use a different currency from the one most Cubans use. It
allows them to buy many products that are beyond the reach of those who
earn local pesos. Worst of all, tourist demand sucks large amounts of
food out of the market. That leaves even less for Cubans. Many spend
hours every day trying to find food they can afford on government
salaries that often hover below $25 per month.
Cuba has large amounts of fertile and uncultivated land. Selling it to
agro-business conglomerates would produce more than enough food for
every citizen. It would also, however, mark a return to the era when
rich outsiders controlled Cuba's economy. Determined to avoid this, the
government is taking half-steps instead. Private farmers may now sell
their produce more freely. Some state-run cooperatives have become
independent. Good food, though, remains beyond the reach of many Cubans
who must shop in ill-supplied government markets.
Havana, the capital, used to be famous for its fleet of sputtering,
broken-down American cars, all imported before the 1959 revolution. Many
of them have been refitted, polished, and turned into taxis that take
tourists on pricey city tours. Not all Cubans appreciate this. "Those
cars look different to us than they look to you," one man told me as he
pointed to a glistening 1939 Ford Deluxe convertible, complete with
rumble seat. "To you, they're a cute way to have fun. To us, they
symbolize our backwardness. We're stuck in time, back in the days when
those cars were made. We're not getting anywhere."
One sign of the frustration many Cubans feel is the remarkable aging of
the population. Young people have flooded out, leaving parks and plazas
in many towns full of old people. This adds another burden to the
already inadequate welfare system, and poses serious challenges for
future growth. "Before, there were lots of grandchildren to take care of
grandparents," said Juan Carlos Alfonso Fraga, an official at the
national statistics bureau. "Now, we sometimes have more grandparents
Cuba's long century of repression and upheaval famously began with the
US intervention of 1898. A commanding monument on the Malecon, the long
seaside boulevard that anchors Havana, commemorates the explosion of an
American warship, the USS Maine, that became the pretext for
intervention after newspapers and politicians falsely claimed that it
was the result of an enemy attack. In 1899, the US government decided to
renege on its pledge to grant Cuba full independence, and installed a
puppet regime instead. That led to dictatorships, deepening anger, the
Castro revolution, and decades of Communist rule.
President Obama's visit last year, and his modest loosening of the US
trade embargo, momentarily raised hopes for a deep change in US-Cuba
relations — and possibly deep changes in Cuba itself. That has not
happened. Cuban leaders are working quietly to assure that President
Trump does not revert to the bitterly anti-Cuba policies of the
pre-Obama era. Many ordinary Cubans, however, worry more about getting
through each day.
Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for
International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Follow him on
Source: In the twilight of the Castros - The Boston Globe -
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/04/14/twilight-castros/95OdHKELKcSeu8NfrnyFxJ/story.html Continue reading
Cubalex, 30 March 2017 — Because there is no democracy or rule of
law. Nor do the conditions exist to exercise civil, political, economic,
social and cultural freedoms. The elite of the Communist Party of Cuba
(PCC), maintains power through the structures of the State and the
Government with repressive methods.
Workers have no right to strike nor can they freely create trade
unions. The government refuses to legalize any social organizations that
do not share the policies of the party elite. Dissidents and human
rights defenders are stigmatized, harassed and ultimately imprisoned.
Opposition to the government can not be organized. There are no legal
mechanisms for the existence of political parties. The PCC is the only
party recognized in the National Constitution, which was drafted by the
founders of this political organization, senior military commanders who
have remained in power for almost 60 years; almost sixty years with two
presidents, brothers named Castro.
This military elite, does not tolerate opposition, nor pay any political
or economic price for harassing and repressing it. They are not open to
public debate. Through the Law they harass people who openly criticize them.
They count on making an example of those who oppose them. The rest of
society refrains from expressing their political preferences. They fear
negative consequences in their lives. They are controlled by social and
The electoral law does not allow political parties to participate in the
elections, but the PCC participates in them, through the mass
organizations. They control the electoral process. They avoid
competition and ensure that the members of this political organization
are elected and appointed to hold office in government. Their leaders
occupy positions in the highest party and state structure.
As a consequence, people with citizenship and residence on the island
cannot run on equal terms. Nor do they have the mechanisms to
participate in political and economic decision-making. The election of
the members of parliament does not depend on their votes and political
They are excluded from intervening in the national economy, a privilege
only allowed to foreigners. While the country's economic situation is
precarious and worsens, the State limits its ability to generate
income. It obliges them, through the exercise of self-employment, to
carry out non-professional economic activities with only minimum profit
If Cubans dramatically flee the country, it is to seek better
opportunities for their lives, but also to seek freedom. "When the
people emigrate, the rulers are superfluous," is a phrase of José
Martí's that today is fully in force.
Source: You Know Why Cubans Flee Cuba En Masse… / Cubalex – Translating
http://translatingcuba.com/you-know-why-cubans-flee-cuba-en-masse-cubalex-hemosoido/ Continue reading
By ANNIKA HERNROTH-ROTHSTEIN • 4/10/17 8:00 PM
HAVANA — The young woman sees me watch in amazement as she gets up from
her seat and attempts to carry the four bags with her through the aisle
of the plane, and she gestures at them and shrugs.
"There is nothing in Cuba, so whatever we can, we bring."
It took me a few days to fully grasp what she had told me, being a
first-time visitor in a country entering its 58th year of communist
dictatorship, and its very first without Fidel Castro. I came here to
find out what had changed since his passing, and what was next for the
island regime, but to my great surprise it was business as usual, in
more ways than one.
On my way from the airport I ask my cab driver if things feel different
since Castro's death. He shakes his head and tells me that even on the
night of his passing there was little movement in the streets or
commotion through Havana.
"I was impressed, actually. Fidel has been everything, you know? He is
the father of the revolution and when he dies – nothing – not a word.
They were able to control everything, even then."
By "they" he means the regime, now taking orders from Fidel's brother
Raoul Castro, and the security apparatus attached to it, with its
infamous security service, Direccion General de Intelligencia (DGI)
making sure the wheels turn smoothly. It is a simple yet brilliant
scheme, where every neighborhood has an informant, reporting to the
Comites de Defensa de la Revolution (CDR), a secret police in charge of
keeping tabs on counter-revolutionary activity, and every infraction or
sign of disloyalty is met with stern and immediate consequences. Given
the dire straits of the people in Cuba, the regime is not willing to
take any chances, having experienced revolutions in the past it knows
not to allow the flame of change to be ignited.
With a monthly salary of $30 USD per person, supplemented with a fixed
portion of rice, eggs and beans, the people of Cuba have been forced to
use every opportunity to make some money on the side in order to avoid
starvation. This has resulted in a shadow-society to take shape within
communist Cuba, a society that is highly capitalist in every single way.
I get evidence of this en route to old Havana one day, when my driver
stops for gas and is told there is none left, only to leave the car with
a fistful of cash and return later, car filled-up and ready.
"This is what we call the Cuban way. You see, the gas station belongs to
the government, so the only way for these men to earn something extra is
to sell gas to the highest bidder and deny those who can't pay. I call
it communist capitalism."
The same is true everywhere you go: people cooking the books to fill
their plates and fight their way out of desperation, and as a tourist
you accept it and move on, constantly struggling with the guilt of
living here in a bubble that everyday Cubans will never be privy to. To
outsiders, the combination of poverty and oppression and the recent loss
of the symbol of the revolution would inevitably result in a turn toward
democracy and capitalism. But as the regime does its best to convey,
very little has been buried with Fidel.
The Cubans I have spoken to are proud of their country. Even though they
criticize the regime, under promise of anonymity, they are quick to add
that they don't necessarily want Cuba to become the United States or
just any other country in the West. When I ask them if they believe that
democracy and capitalism will come to Cuba now that Fidel has left and
Raoul is on his way out, they respond in the negative, saying that
whatever will come next will be a Cuban version of those things, an
adaptation from what it is now.
And the way things are looking, they may be right. Rumor has it Raoul
Castro has already reshuffled the government, replacing generals and
ministers with his personal confidants so that he will remain the
unofficial leader even after his assumed successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel,
is sworn in as president in 2018. This ensures that even though Fidel is
dead, the spirit of the revolution lives on, and the Cubans I've spoken
to fear that the regime will take steps to emphasize the status quo by
tightening its grip on the population.
It is not an improbable scenario, but rather a common tactic for
totalitarian regimes when dealing with dramatic shifts, as most recently
seen in Iran after the nuclear deal, where executions and imprisonments
have risen dramatically during and after the rapprochement with the
West. There is an important difference, however, and that is that Cuba
is unlike many other countries of its kind, and that difference may
actually be a hindrance in its journey toward democracy.
One thing that sets Cuba apart from other totalitarian regimes is the
romance that surrounds it, still, despite the thousands of extrajudicial
executions and arbitrary imprisonments, a ruined national economy, and
denial of basic freedoms of association, religion, movement, and speech
having taken place in the past 58 years. Even those who do not hold an
ideological torch for the communist revolution are still enchanted with
the country's beauty, charm, and lust for life, making it easier to
disregard the daily crimes committed against its people and quell the
international community's instinct to intervene.
Cuba is truly magical, and yes, it is full of life, but once you step
outside of the lush hotel garden you see that it is life on the brink of
death, magic existing in a state of suspended animation.
There are several shadow-societies existing side by side in Cuba, and
through these the population has come to function and survive, with very
limited resources and freedoms.
This is made possible by the geographical and cultural proximity to the
U.S., loosening of sanctions and the idea of Cuba being kept alive
through and by the booming Cuban tourism industry. This process is
quietly supported by the regime itself because, ironically, the only way
for the communist revolution to survive is by covert capitalism, keeping
the population from starvation, and turning a blind eye to this keeps
the oppressive communist regime from having to admit defeat.
There were no rallies through Havana on the eve of Fidel's death and
now, almost 4 months later, he has already moved from leader to martyr,
cementing a well-directed legacy. Life goes on for the Cubans, with or
without the father of the revolution, as they watch tourists flood their
Island paradise, hoping to benefit from some of the overflow.
Cuba is lively and loud – full of life for days of play. But when it
really matters, it is quiet – its people's fate decided in silence,
without so much as a word.
Annika Hernroth-Rothstein (@truthandfiction) is a journalist and author,
based in Stockholm, Sweden.
Source: Cuba after Fidel Castro: Full of life, but it is life on the
brink of death | Washington Examiner -
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/cuba-after-fidel-castro-full-of-life-but-it-is-life-on-the-brink-of-death/article/2619841 Continue reading
AFP April 12, 2017
Havana (AFP) - Cuban dissidents planning to run in the communist
country's local elections in November have been arrested, threatened and
otherwise harassed by the authorities, one of their leaders said Tuesday.
At least five would-be candidates have been charged with crimes such as
robbery, had their property seized, or been threatened with losing their
jobs, said Manuel Cuesta Morua, spokesman for the opposition Unity
Roundtable for Democratic Action (MUAD).
"They (the authorities) are taking preventive measures so that no
independent citizen who doesn't fit their agenda can run," he told AFP.
The local elections in November kick off an electoral cycle that will
ultimately decide the successor to President Raul Castro.
The next step will be the election of the 612-member National Assembly,
which chooses the all-powerful Council of State, which in turn chooses
Opposition parties are banned in Cuba, but dissident groups are trying
to sneak the maximum number of Castro opponents into the local polls.
Two opposition candidates managed to stand in the last local elections
in 2015. Neither won.
This year, 109 opposition candidates are prepared to run, according to
Castro, 85, took over in 2006 from his brother Fidel, Cuba's leader
Raul Castro has steered Cuba toward a very gradual economic opening and
restored ties with its old Cold War enemy the United States.
But opponents say the only communist regime in the Americas still
controls most of the economy, and muzzles free speech and political dissent.
Source: Cuba opposition candidates say targeted for reprisals -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/cuba-opposition-candidates-targeted-reprisals-224942848.html Continue reading
Apr 11, 2017 Latin America North America
When the Obama administration reestablished U.S. diplomatic relations
with Cuba in December 2014, many experts predicted that it would bring a
flood of new money to the island, transforming its economy and political
culture for the better. Almost two-and-a-half years later, U.S. trade
with Cuba continues to languish, and a handful of executive orders on
the part of President Donald Trump could soon set back the clock to the
days when hardline opposition to ties with Cuba's communist regime was
the norm in Washington. What is the future of U.S.-Cuba ties now that
the honeymoon that began under Obama is over? Which aspects, if any, of
the Obama administration campaign to open up Cuba are most likely to
On the one hand, during his presidential campaign, "Trump certainly
talked about repudiating what Obama has done with Cuba," says Stephen
Kobrin, Wharton emeritus management professor. "Clearly, with the stroke
of a pen, he could eliminate a lot of the liberalization that occurred
under Obama," which was enacted as executive orders, not congressionally
sanctioned legislation. On the other hand, "the streets have not exactly
been paved with gold in Cuba," Kobrin notes. "There hasn't been a great
rush to do business in Cuba. Right now, there is not a huge amount of
interest." Of the dramatic rapprochement with Cuba undertaken by
President Obama, Kobrin adds: "It was an historical event that seems to
have come and gone."
Cuban-American attorney Gustavo Arnavat, senior adviser at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies, notes, "One of the missed
opportunities is that not as many deals were done" as anticipated.
"That's bad for a number of different reasons. One, I think U.S.
companies have missed out. I think the Cuban people and the Cuban
government have missed out on great U.S. products and services." He adds
that now — just as the Trump administration is reviewing its Cuba policy
— instead of having 100 U.S. companies advocating for liberalization by
going to their congressional representatives and saying, 'Look, we have
this business now in Cuba,' "you only have 25 or 30 or so." (Editor's
note: Arnavat, who recently returned from Cuba, addressed this topic at
the 2017 Wharton Latin American Conference, where Knowledge@Wharton
interviewed him. The interview will be published soon.)
Uncertainty and Disappointment
"The impact of Donald Trump's victory can be defined by one word:
'uncertainty,'" notes John Kavulich, president of the New York-based
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "That uncertainty has negatively
impacted interest by U.S. companies [in Cuba]."
In both countries, disappointment has been fueled by misunderstanding of
the potential impact of their mutual ties. Charles Shapiro, president of
the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, says that "U.S. business people
thought that they were going to go to Cuba and see hundred dollar bills
floating down the streets. Just as Americans thought that Cuba was going
to change pretty quickly after December 2014, individual Cubans also
thought that their standard of living was going to change [right away] …
[that] their lives were going to get better. Both of those expectations
were wrong; real life is more complicated."
Many Americans imagined that the Cuban government would soon liberate
political prisoners and make political reforms. When that didn't happen,
critics argued that the U.S. was making all the concessions, but the
Cubans were doing nothing to open their economy. Notes Kavulich,
"Basically, an overall negative narrative has been created."
And while uncertainty is growing over which measures Trump might take to
unwind the Obama administration's efforts, "the Cuban government is not
doing its part to mitigate any of the uncertainty," Kavulich notes.
"What it could do would be to allow more U.S. companies to have a
presence in Cuba, more U.S. companies to directly engage with the
licensed independent sector in Cuba. They are not allowing that." Adds
Arnavat, "If you look at Cuba's plan for economic development, [foreign
direct investment] just doesn't quite fit into their priorities. And
then even if it's the right kind of company, and the right opportunity,
they still blame the embargo, right?"
It's not just the Americans who aren't investing in Cuba now, notes
Shapiro. "The Chinese are not investing in Cuba," nor are the
Brazilians or the Europeans. "It's because you can make more money
investing in Singapore or Atlanta, Georgia" or many other places under
the current system in Cuba. He adds, "One gets the sense that the
government of Cuba doesn't understand that foreign direct investment is
a competition — that the investor gets to decide where he is going to
get the best return on his money. There are not people out there wanting
to throw their money at Cuba in a way that doesn't allow them to make a
competitive return on their investment. That's the issue."
In the travel sector, explains Kavulich, "The airlines, in their
exuberance and enthusiasm to get as many routes as possible, far
exceeded what the reality was going to be. All the airlines asked for
far more seats than they were going to be able to fill. They asked for
approximately three million seats, when the agreement with the Cubans
was for about one to 1.2 million. From the beginning, it was out of
whack, but the airlines were all trying to grab as many of the routes as
As international hotel companies signed building contracts, U.S.
arrivals in Cuba ballooned 34% between 2015 and 2016. Hotel rates soared
by between 100% and 400%, with rooms previously priced at $150 per night
skyrocketing to $650, according to New York-based tour operator Insight
Cuba. American Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit and other carriers started
operating daily flights to 10 cities, including airports that hadn't
welcomed U.S. airlines in decades. But the novelty has worn off, and
hotel rates have normalized. Airlines that overestimated demand for Cuba
are cutting back on their routes and using smaller planes.
Two major factors have changed since the high-profile restoration of
diplomatic ties during the Obama administration, says Wharton management
professor Mauro Guillen. "The first is the change in the U.S.
administration. The second is that Raul Castro has said that he will
step down in a couple of years. There is a power struggle going on in
Cuba between those who are traditional and others who believe, like
Raul, that there should be a change towards more freedoms in Cuba. Both
factors are making it difficult to get things moving in that direction."
Guillen adds: "Trump has not been president for even 100 days yet; we're
going to have to wait and see. It's not so much that [everyone has] lost
interest, but that there are so many other things going on that require
the attention" of lobbyists and policy makers in the U.S.
Travel: 'A Bad Telenovela'
Trump's first statement about changes in U.S. policy is expected soon,
but no one knows for sure what to expect. The Trump administration is
"not going to sit around with a majority in the [U.S.] House, Senate and
… the Supreme Court — and not do anything. They're taking their time
until they think the President and people around him have time to act,"
says David Lewis, president of Manchester Trade, a Washington
consultancy. "My view is that they are not going to leave this
[situation] as it is." That doesn't necessarily mean that Trump will
undo every policy change made by Obama, he adds.
According to Kavulich, "If they decide to go with increased enforcement
[of the travel rules] — which it seems they will do — that could lead to
the demise of the 'self-defined trips' that have become a popular way
for Americans to visit Cuba," despite the official ban on tourism. "One
change the Obama administration made was to allow people to go to Cuba
on their own. They didn't have to go with a group, and they could
self-certify. It was the honor system on steroids."
Lewis argues that the changes made in the travel sector "are going to
remain as is — not because [the Trump administration] thinks it's good,
but because to try and reverse travel is going to be a major quagmire, a
whirlpool, like a bad telenovela that will never end. You're going to
have to start fighting with the nuns who go to Cuba, with the college
kids who go to Cuba, with the NGOs. It will be a never-ending mad house,
which could engulf [the administration's] limited bench."
However, in order to pressure the Cuban government to liberalize its
economy, the Trump administration could tighten the screws on U.S.
visitors in various ways. Kavulich notes that it may try to make travel
harder for U.S. visitors to Cuba who don't comply with the official
rules, which make it impossible for Americans to visit as a tourist, by
requiring them to go through several inspections at customs. Overall,
the Trump administration "can do a lot without seeming as though they
are being punitive, simply by enforcing the regulations."
The Trump administration could also "make it clear that no further
licenses will be given to any [U.S.] company that wants to engage with
the Cuban military, which controls the Cuban hospitality sector," adds
Kavulich. "If they act retroactively, that means the Sheraton [in
Havana, the first hotel to operate under a U.S. brand since the 1959
revolution] gets closed; U.S. cruise ships can't dock at the ports; and
U.S. [air] carriers can't land at the airports because the Cuban
military controls all of it."
"With Trump, you're reading tea leaves," says Kobrin. "You never know
what's real and isn't. But he is not viscerally anti-communist. He isn't
part of the old Republican Cold War establishment. He doesn't seem to
have trouble dealing with Hungary, for example, and his problems with
China have more to do with what he perceives as 'American first' and
U.S. interests, rather than their political system." Moreover, "the
opposition to establishing relations with Cuba comes especially from
Congress and Cuban-American members of Congress, who are concerned about
the political system."
Reasons for Optimism
Originally, the expectation was that an announcement by the
administration regarding Cuba would be made in early February and then
March. "It seems as though the announcement is being held hostage to
whatever events are happening each day," Kobrin says. "It could end up
that the decision could be a tweet that is a response to something the
Cuban government does that we don't know about yet."
Overall, Kobrin says, "I've always felt that once liberalization occurs,
Cuba is just another island in the sun. It has some advantages in terms
of its medical system, the education of the populace, and so forth, but
then it has to compete with every other Caribbean island, once the
novelty has worn off. Cuba is not a logical place to put much in the way
of manufacturing or other sorts of industry, [except] maybe some health
Shapiro is more optimistic. "The private sector in Cuba is growing.
Cubans call [self-employed workers] cuentapropistas — which means they
are 'working on their own account.' And they are [becoming] a larger
percentage of the work force. Lots of people in Cuba have their
government job, but they are doing other things as well. They can't
exist on a government salary.… Everybody in Cuba is working a deal."
Internet access has actually skyrocketed, he adds, with Wi-Fi hot spots
available in parks around the country. "Lots of people use them, and
they are owned by the government. Unlike the case in China, you can
access The New York Times in Cuba, and more importantly, El Pais from
"I'm still a little bit hopeful and optimistic," Guillen says. "At
least, a framework has been established for the basic relationships….
Now we have cruise ships going through Havana, we have regularly
scheduled flights, and we have some broadening of the kinds of trade
that can be done. Let's give this first round of reforms some time to
sink in. Then, the [Trump] administration will have a better idea of
what it wants to do."
Source: What the Future Holds for U.S.-Cuba Relations -
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/future-holds-u-s-cuba-relations/ Continue reading
April 10, 2017
By Lilibeth Alfonso (La Esquina de Lilith)
HAVANA TIMES — Staying in Cuba is reason to be asked one fine day why
you didn't leave, and it's asking yourself what would have happened if
you had left. This "what if" is the father of all absurdity and
uncertainty for what never happened, not because you lacked
opportunities, not because you didn't want to prove something to
somebody, just because that's the way you wanted it to be.
Staying is a choice, and choices have consequences. It implies a life
without any obvious uprooting but its roots have been fleeing
nonetheless. You might have the most important but you're missing the
peripherical, because while you decided to stay, almost all of your
family, your best friend, your life-long neighbor, different lovers, the
boy who you always swore to yourself that you'd kiss one day… all of
It's having to bite your tongue when you feel like complaining to your
colleagues abroad about your salary, about being over 30 years old and
the closest you've ever been to being in a foreign country is when you
visit those places in Guantanamo province which somebody has called
Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador, New York…, because you know you'll get a
"I told you so" and you don't want to argue.
Staying is missing what you love about Cuba without going anywhere, and
having your very heart split into two by people who leave, because a
country isn't only its land and architecture, a country is the scents
you love, the trips you made, the people you met along the way, and a
lot of this no longer exists in this day and age.
Staying is living between two worlds: the reality you love and hate,
weighing up your words and actions, carefully choosing your emotions,
the ones you share on Facebook, what you like and what makes you sad,
what makes you angry…, because they are watching you, they are judging
you, and you know it.
Staying in Cuba is corroborating the fact that the people who leave will
never be the same, or almost never the same; it's getting used to
flexible morals and radical changes, and convincing yourself that the
coke that makes one forget exists.
Staying in Cuba is watching, like a spectator, the great theater of
unfulfilled dreams, watching the journalist who left because she used to
say that she didn't fit into the politics of official media and its
promise of music always being produced on a conveyor belt, and in spite
of this, not being able to define, for certain, the feeling of the moment.
Staying in Cuba is experiencing the violent dichotomy of working in the
field you studied, but having to do a juggling act to get to the end of
the month, and not judging somebody who chose to do anything else, but
they have the house you don't, the car you don't and the financial
security that you can't even imagine.
Staying in Cuba is dreaming of a better country in spite of all of the
bad omens, in spite of the fact that the economy shows signs but almost
never advances, and therefore you have to dream alone a lot of the time,
It's watching how people who swore you would leave have their
predictions proved wrong, and you see them leave one day, from the other
side of security control at airports.
Staying in Cuba is a choice, and like every choice you have to live with
it. It isn't easier than leaving. Sometimes staying can also be a pile
Source: Why Did I Stay in Cuba, Why Didn't I Leave? - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=124644 Continue reading
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
Two months after the Trump administration announced a total review of
U.S. policy toward Cuba, several controversial proposals are being
circulated at the White House with no clear front-runner on the issue.
But Sen. Marco Rubio says he has spoken with Trump three times about Cuba.
"We've been walking through all these issues with the president and his
team, figuring out the right steps to take and when," Rubio told el
"I am confident that President Trump will treat Cuba like the
dictatorship it is and that our policy going forward will reflect the
fact that it is not in the national interest of the United States for us
to be doing business with the Cuban military," he added.
The Miami Republican of Cuban descent declined to say whether the
president had made any commitments to him on Cuba policies. But a Rubio
spokesman told el Nuevo Herald that the senator and his staff "have been
working behind the scenes" on Cuba policy.
The Cuban government has taken notice of Rubio's rising voice in U.S.
policy toward Latin America, and the state-run Granma newspaper recently
criticized his efforts to have the Organization of American States
condemn Venezuela's human rights record.
But the Granma article carefully avoided insulting Trump. And the Raúl
Castro government, in a rare show of restraint, has said little about
the Trump administration as it waits for the ongoing review of overall
U.S. policies toward the island.
Spokespersons for the White House and the State Department have said
that the National Security Council (NSC) has the lead in the
multi-agency review. Several knowledgeable sources have said that Jill
St. John, a low-level NSC staffer, is coordinating the work. The White
House did not immediately reply to el Nuevo Herald questions about St. John.
The review requires an initial examination of current policy and
regulations. But whoever is gathering that information "has no
directions on what to do about that," said one source who favors
improved relations with Havana.
Several key jobs in the State Department and other agencies also remain
unfilled by officials "who usually would be the ones you could approach
to talk about Cuba," said one pro-embargo source frustrated by the
But "treating Cuba as a dictatorship" does not necessarily entail
reversing all of President Barack Obama's measure to improve bilateral
relations. Rubio said he favored tougher policies toward Cuba, a
strategy favored by some dissidents on the island. But he did not reply
directly to a question on whether he favors a total rollback of the new
regulations, as proposed in a memorandum making the rounds on Capitol
Hill and the White House that is believed to have been crafted by staff
members for Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
The memo proposes imposing new sanctions within 90 days unless Cuba
meets a string of requirements contained in the Helms-Burton law and
takes action toward the return of U.S. fugitives and compensation for
confiscated U.S. properties.
Several proposals circulating
However, the memo is just one of many proposing different policies,
according to several sources.
A White House official said in a statement of the Diaz-Balart memo:
"This appears to be an unofficial DRAFT memo which is not consistent
with current formatting and may be a Transition document.
"Some of the language is consistent with what the President said during
the campaign, which is guiding the review of U.S. policy toward Cuba,"
the official said. "The review is not complete and therefore there is no
further comment at this time."
Trump promised during the presidential campaign to "reverse" all the
pro-engagement measures approved by Obama unless the Cuban government
bows to his demands. These days, the phrase making the rounds within
political circles in Washington and Miami is "treat Cuba like a
"Cuba must be treated for what it is and not, as the Obama
administration did, what it wished Cuba were. Cuba remains a Communist,
totalitarian police state that allies itself with American adversaries
and enemies, including state sponsors of terror and terrorist
organizations," said attorney Jason Poblete of the Washington-based
PobleteTamargo LLP. His wife Yleem Poblete was appointed to the Trump
Other proposals floating around Washington would reverse only parts of
the Obama changes, because doing more would disrupt the market and risk
lawsuits from U.S. companies that have already signed deals with Cuba.
The recommendations in the presumed Diaz-Balart memo would cost U.S.
tourism and service companies about $2 billion during the remaining
years of the Trump administration, said John Kavulich, president of the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
Turning back the clock even further, to the tight restrictions on travel
and remittances imposed by former President George W. Bush — a
possibility that had frightened many people — seems even less likely now.
Several sources who requested anonymity in order to speak frankly on the
issue said that among the proposals submitted to the Trump
administration is one that would eliminate the self-guided trips to Cuba
under the so-called "people to people" travel category, described as
"tourism on steroids" or a thinly-veiled way to sidestep the U.S. ban on
Another would impose targeted sanctions on Cuban military or Interior
Ministry officials. And a third would deny further licenses to U.S.
companies that do business with enterprises run by the Cuban military,
which controls at least an estimated 60 percent of the island's economy.
"They are 100 percent looking into this," said one source close to the
business sector with ties to Cuba. One pro-engagement source said that
the proposal to deny licenses — perhaps the most detrimental for Cuba —
would be difficult to implement.
"How's OFAC going to determine which companies are connected to the
Cuban military?," said the source.
He also cautioned that such harsh measures could strengthen the most
conservative sectors within Cuba, at a time when the Venezuelan crisis
is growing worse and Castro's deadline for retiring from power in 2018
Rubio's statements, nevertheless, hint that Trump policies may target
the Cuban military. House Speaker Paul Ryan last year also proposed
banning U.S. companies from doing business with Cuba military enterprises.
At the same time, groups that support improving relations with Cuba have
not stopped their lobbying efforts, and continue "strategizing about how
to influence the Trump administration, although the window of
opportunity is closing," said Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at Brookings
Institution who specializes in U.S.-Cuba relations.
Piccone said that maintaining the current policy toward Cuba would be in
the best interest of the United States, not just because of the economic
benefits but also because of national security concerns. He said Trump
administration officials such as Jason Greenblatt at the NSC, Treasury
Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are
"open to this argument."
U.S. companies doing business with Cuba also have been sending messages
to the Trump administration in support of a pro-business agenda.
"With the new administration's desire to grow our economy, we are
hopeful that both governments will continue the momentum to work to open
the door for commerce to flourish between our two countries," said
Vanessa Picariello, Norwegian Cruise senior director of public relations.
"Business and civic leaders from the American Farm Bureau, the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce and Republican members of Congress also have been
encouraging President Trump to shake up our failed embargo policy with
Cuba," said James Williams, director of Engage Cuba, a coalition of
businesses and organizations lobbying to eliminate economic sanctions to
Cuba. "President Trump can create billions of dollars in trade and tens
of thousands of American jobs by expanding trade with Cuba."
Letters in support of the current pro-engagement policy have been sent
to the Trump administration by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Catholic
Church leaders, the American Farm Bureau, Cuban-American organizations
like the Cuba Study Group and members of Congress like Minnesota
Republican Rep. Tom Emmer, who has submitted a bill to lift the U.S.
trade embargo on Cuba.
Piccone said that on balance the pro-engagement camp feels "positive,
although realistic that certain promises were made to senators like Rubio.
"It is up for grabs, what is happening at the end."
Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres
Source: Marco Rubio: 'Trump will treat Cuba like the dictatorship it is'
| Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article142898404.html Continue reading
By Cate McQuaid GLOBE CORRESPONDENT APRIL 06, 2017
CAMBRIDGE — The Afro-Cuban painter Juan Roberto Diago came of age in the
1990s in the midst of a firestorm. The collapse of the Soviet Union
devastated Cuban trade and the island's economy suffered a teeth-jarring
blow. Famine followed. Social unrest was inevitable.
Hardship wrenched open racial divides. Still, as late as 1997, President
Fidel Castro said that in Cuba — a country that until 1886 had benefited
from slavery — racial discrimination had been eradicated.
"Diago: The Pasts of This Afro-Cuban Present," at Harvard's Ethelbert
Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, charts the career of
an artist who decries racism in a country that has largely denied it exists.
Fury drives the early works. That's understandable in the face of
stonewalling, and Diago was hollering into a void. He used simplified
figures, graffiti, and aggressive marks to get his message across. The
painting "Aquí Nadie Gana (Nobody Wins Here)" (at right) depicts a
figure outlined in red and yellow with one eye in the shape of a cross.
The background looks scorched; the piece reads like a sizzling brand.
The artist matured and his message deepened, thanks to an increasingly
poetic use of materials. In slats of found wood covering the entryway to
the gallery, the installation "De la Serie El Rostro de la Verdad (From
the series The Face of Truth)" lucidly summons the textures of
shantytowns where many poor black Cubans live.
The more abstract Diago's work gets, the more power it carries. In the
minimalist "De La Serie La Piel que Habla, No. 4 (From the Series: The
Skin that Speaks, No. 4)" he binds a black canvas in strips of pale
fabric, which might represent scars, barbed wire, or bandages.
If Diago's earlier, more expressionistic art has the immediacy of blood
on the canvas, his later evocation of scars is more poignant. Covered up
or not, oppression leaves an indelible mark.
DIAGO: THE PAST OF THIS AFRO-CUBAN
At Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African &
African American Art, Harvard University,
102 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge, through May 5. 617-496-5777,
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her
on Twitter @cmcq.
Source: Cuba sí, racism no! - The Boston Globe -
https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/2017/04/05/cuba-racism/c6eI4x3GMk0J8bT6DZ0WTO/story.html Continue reading
2 APRIL 2017 • 7:00AM
The Cuban conundrum is that little is what it seems. The mojitos flow,
the Buena Vista tribute acts play and the tropical sun shines
magnanimously on the tourists: the pasty Canadians, Britons and now –
thanks to Barack Obama – Americans.
My mother, on her first visit to the island a few years back, remarked:
"It's so strange, because when you think of Stalinist dictatorships you
think of grey, North Korean-style misery, and Cuba doesn't feel like
that." I'm going to buy her Stephen Purvis's book.
In Close But No Cigar, Purvis, a 52-year-old London architect who moved
to Cuba in 2000, reveals a rather different side to the Castros' fiefdom.
His shocking memoir recounts being locked up for more than a year,
initially for "spying", then for "economic crime", without ever being
told the details of the allegations against him. "It's Alice in
Wonderland for sociopathic commies," he writes.
In 2012, Purvis was seized from his home in Havana by the much-feared
"When they come for you, they mostly come either to your workplace and
march you out of the front door for maximum public humiliation, or they
grab you off the street like the Gestapo and throw you in the back of
the car so no one knows," he writes.
"But sometimes they appear like phantoms at your house just before dawn,
politely dismember your family and dismantle your life forever." So it
was for Purvis. In the early hours, he was bundled into an ageing Lada,
and went on to spend 16 months trapped in Cuba's Kafka-esque justice system.
The frightening thing is just how unwittingly he had been caught in the
spider's web. Having arrived from London with his wife and four children
aged between six months and six years, his decade in Cuba had been, on
the whole, tropical and bright: a whirl of diplomatic socialising and
business schmoozing, with weekend sorties to the beach.
He made Cuban friends, and took up painting and boxing; he was on the
board of the international school, and co-produced the Sadler's Wells
dance show Havana Rakatan.
Things began to sour in October 2011 when his boss, overseeing the
$500 million construction of the Bellomonte golf course and club, was
arrested. As the web tightened around Purvis, his diplomat friends
became concerned. But Purvis, with what he now sees as naivety, believed
that even the Cubans couldn't invent charges. After all, he said, he had
done nothing wrong. But he underestimated the danger.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Fidel Castro realised that he had to
open up the island to the outside world to survive. It was a reluctant
engagement: Castro was horrified by memories of a visit to China, and
determined that the communist grip would not slip. He and his brother
Raúl had a tiger by the tail; capitalism was ushered in, but kept on a
At times, when it served their interests, business freedom was
increased. When it got too much, it was abruptly curtailed.
"Having allowed foreign capitalism in to rescue the collapsed economy,
they now want to behead it before it becomes too powerful," Purvis
writes. "They have watched the piggy get fat and now they want to steal
the piggy before it goes to market. It's a Stalinist purge for the
After his arrest, Purvis endured eight months of daily interrogation in
Havana's notorious Villa Marista prison, sharing a fetid cell no larger
than a king-size mattress with three others, the rancid roof six inches
from his nose. He was kept in that darkness apart from 15 minutes each
week, when he was ushered into a cage open to the sky. He was not
physically tortured, but felt his mind slipping away. To cope, he
relived in his mind childhood escapades to the Norfolk coast.
Then he was transferred to the dog-eat-dog world of La Condesa, 40 miles
outside the capital, a prison for foreign inmates, where he found
himself with Latin American drug traffickers, European paedophiles and
what he terms "business class passengers" – those, like him, locked up
for falling foul of some economic rule they never knew existed.
The heat was unbearable, the boredom stifling, the food inedible – and
meagre, tithed first by the deliverers, then by the guards, then by the
"My Friday supper club for business-class passengers is going well," he
jokes. "Last night I did Chinese, although to be fair the only Chinese
thing about it was that it was cooked in a communist country."
He spent his time playing chess with an Algerian inmate, and carved out
a niche painting fellow inmates' wives from photos. He gave classes on
architectural design, and helped Jamaican drug smugglers draw up
business plans for boat repair shops.
One evening, he came across a group of Yardies, sobbing during a
screening of the film Mamma Mia! Prison football teams played
tournaments: São Paulo Dealers vs Juarez Rapists, Napoli Smugglers vs
Montego Bay Murderers. "It's like being retired except without the
G&Ts," he says.
But his humour cannot hide the horror. Purvis lost 50lbs in weight, and
his wife had to be sectioned. The ordeal of finding psychiatric care for
her in Cuba was a nightmare all of its own.
After his family left for Britain, Purvis struggled to mask despair in
his letters home – with good reason. In July 2012, the redoubtable
British ambassador Dianne Melrose was succeeded by Tim Cole, about whom
Purvis is scathing. The Foreign Office mantra that Britain cannot
interfere in another country's judicial system – a line parroted to
journalists – still drives him to rage.
In its tragic absurdity, Close But No Cigar reads like a Graham Greene
story, with a cast of characters to make Hemingway proud. Purvis
describes it as "an attempt to shine a tiny light into the broken
heart of Cuba". His tale should be read by anyone who wants to
understand what lies beyond the beaches and Bacardi.
After an absurd trial, Purvis was released in 2013 with a
two-and-a-half-year custodial sentence, then driven by a cheerful guard
to the house of a friend. The driver sauntered off with the words: "I
hope you have enjoyed your stay in Cuba."
Purvis, turning, replied: "You are all totally f------ mad."
Close But No Cigar by Stephen Purvis
272pp, W&N, £18.99, ebook £9.99. To order this book from the Telegraph
for £16.99 plus £1.99 p&p, call 0844 871 1515 or visit
Source: Locked up for 16 months: how a British architect discovered
Cuba's dark side -
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/locked-16-months-british-architect-discovered-cubas-dark-side/ Continue reading
The revolutionary economy is neither efficient nor fun
Apr 1st 2017 | HAVANA
TOURISTS whizz along the Malecón, Havana's grand seaside boulevard, in
bright-red open-topped 1950s cars. Their selfie sticks wobble as they
try to film themselves. They move fast, for there are no traffic jams.
Cars are costly in Cuba ($50,000 for a low-range Chinese import) and
most people are poor (a typical state employee makes $25 a month). So
hardly anyone can afford wheels, except the tourists who hire them. And
there are far fewer tourists than there ought to be.
Few places are as naturally alluring as Cuba. The island is bathed in
sunlight and lapped by warm blue waters. The people are friendly; the
rum is light and crisp; the music is a delicious blend of African and
Latin rhythms. And the biggest pool of free-spending holidaymakers in
the western hemisphere is just a hop away. As Lucky Luciano, an American
gangster, observed in 1946, "The water was just as pretty as the Bay of
Naples, but it was only 90 miles from the United States."
There is just one problem today: Cuba is a communist dictatorship in a
time warp. For some, that lends it a rebellious allure. They talk of
seeing old Havana before its charm is "spoiled" by visible signs of
prosperity, such as Nike and Starbucks. But for other tourists, Cuba's
revolutionary economy is a drag. The big hotels, majority-owned by the
state and often managed by companies controlled by the army, charge
five-star prices for mediocre service. Showers are unreliable. Wi-Fi is
atrocious. Lifts and rooms are ill-maintained.
Despite this, the number of visitors from the United States has jumped
since Barack Obama restored diplomatic ties in 2015. So many airlines
started flying to Havana that supply outstripped demand; this year some
have cut back. Overall, arrivals have soared since the 1990s, when Fidel
Castro, faced with the loss of subsidies from the Soviet Union, decided
to spruce up some beach resorts for foreigners (see chart). But Cuba
still earns less than half as many tourist dollars as the Dominican
Republic, a similar-sized but less famous tropical neighbour.
With better policies, Cuba could attract three times as many tourists by
2030, estimates the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. That would
generate $10bn a year in foreign exchange, twice as much as the island
earns now from merchandise exports. Given its colossal budget deficit,
expected to hit 12% of GDP this year, that would come in handy. Whether
it will happen depends on two embargoes: the one the United States
imposes on Cuba and the one the Castro regime (now under Fidel's
brother, Raúl) imposes on its own people.
The United States embargo is a nuisance. American credit cards don't
work in Cuba, and Americans are not technically allowed to visit the
island as tourists. (They have to pretend they are going for a family
visit or a "people-to-people exchange".) Mr Obama allowed American hotel
chains to dip a toe into Cuba; one, Starwood, has signed an agreement to
manage three state-owned properties.
Pearl of the Antilles, meet swine
But investment in new rooms has been slow. Cuba is cash-strapped, and
foreign hotel bosses are reluctant to risk big bucks because they have
no idea whether Donald Trump will try to tighten the embargo, lift it or
do nothing. On the one hand, he is a protectionist, so few Cubans are
optimistic about his intentions. On the other, pre-revolutionary Havana
was a playground where American casino moguls hobnobbed with celebrities
in raunchy nightclubs. Making Cuba glitzy again might appeal to the
former casino mogul in the White House.
The other embargo is the many ways in which the Cuban state shackles
entrepreneurs. The owner of a small private hotel complains of an
inspector who told him to cut his sign in half because it was too big.
He can't get good furniture and fixtures in Cuba, and is not allowed to
import them because imports are a state monopoly. So he makes creative
use of rules that allow families who say they are returning from abroad
to repatriate their personal effects (he has a lot of expat friends).
"We try to fly low under the radar, and make money without making
noise," he sighs.
Cubans with spare cash (typically those who have relatives in Miami or
do business with tourists) are rushing to revamp rooms and rent them
out. But no one is allowed to own more than two properties, so ambitious
hoteliers register extra ones in the names of relatives. This works only
if there is trust. "One of my places is in my sister-in-law's name,"
says a speculator. "I'm worried about that one."
Taxes are confiscatory. Turnover above $2,000 a year is taxed at 50%,
with only some expenses deductible. A beer sold at a 100% markup
therefore yields no profit. Almost no one can afford to follow the
letter of the law. For many entrepreneurs, "the effective tax burden is
very much a function of the veracity of their reporting of revenues,"
observes Brookings, tactfully.
The currency system is, to use a technical term, bonkers. One American
dollar is worth one convertible peso (CUC), which is worth 24 ordinary
pesos (CUP). But in transactions involving the government, the two kinds
of peso are often valued equally. Government accounts are therefore
nonsensical. A few officials with access to ultra-cheap hard currency
make a killing. Inefficient state firms appear to be profitable when
they are not. Local workers are stiffed. Foreign firms pay an employment
agency, in CUC, for the services of Cuban staff. Those workers are then
paid in CUP at one to one. That is, the agency and the government take
95% of their wages. Fortunately, tourists tip in cash.
The government says it wants to promote small private businesses. The
number of Cubans registered as self-employed has jumped from 144,000 in
2009 to 535,000 in 2016. Legally, all must fit into one of 201 official
categories. Doctors and lawyers who offer private services do so
illegally, just like hustlers selling black-market lobsters or potatoes.
The largest private venture is also illicit (but tolerated): an
estimated 40,000 people copy and distribute flash drives containing El
Paquete, a weekly collection of films, television shows, software
updates and video games pirated from the outside world. Others operate
in a grey zone. One entrepreneur says she has a licence as a messenger
but wants to deliver vegetables ordered online. "Is that legal?" she
asks. "I don't know."
Cubans doubt that there will be any big reforms before February 2018,
when Raúl Castro, who is 86, is expected to hand over power to Miguel
Díaz-Canel, his much younger vice-president. Mr Díaz-Canel is said to
favour better internet access and a bit more openness. But the kind of
economic reform that Cuba needs would hurt a lot of people, both the
powerful and ordinary folk. Suddenly scrapping the artificial exchange
rate, for example, would make 60-70% of state-owned firms go bust,
destroying 2m jobs, estimates Juan Triana, an economist. Politically,
that is almost impossible. Yet without accurate price signals, Cuba
cannot allocate resources efficiently. And unless the country reduces
the obstacles to private investment in hotels, services and supply
chains, it will struggle to provide tourists with the value for money
that will keep them coming back. Unlike Cubans, they have a lot of choices.
Source: Sun, sand and socialism: What the tourist industry reveals about
Cuba | The Economist -
http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21719812-revolutionary-economy-neither-efficient-nor-fun-what-tourist-industry-reveals-about Continue reading
Glenn Farley, KING 7:30 PM. PDT March 30, 2017
As Cuba develops its ports, the Port of Seattle hopes to be a role model.
In January, Port of Seattle commissioners and its then chief executive
met with Cuban transportation officials in Havana. The occasion was the
opening of the first direct west coast service to Cuba by SeaTac based
"I think there's a real opportunity to bring executives from Cuba to
Port of Seattle to learn best practices, to learn about the airport, the
seaport, and the cruise business," said Port Commissioner Stephanie
Bowman. "A little known fact people don't really recall...Cuba was the
number one importer of peas and lentils before the embargo."
The Port of Seattle considers itself to be unique with a cargo seaport,
cruise ship terminals, and a large airport all under one government
entity. The Port of Seattle says it can offer help and guidance in any
one of those areas.
"They're looking to becoming a major trans shipment point for the
Caribbean. And that's where we can offer our expertise, on the marine
cargo side of the business," Bowman said.
"They're in a very tough place. They're dying for foreign investment,"
said Commissioner Fred Felleman, who was also on the trip. "They want to
open their doors, and we want to help them do that. Meanwhile, they
don't have the infrastructure in place to absorb that crush."
The crush Felleman and many Cubans are concerned about is what if the
nearly six decade old series of economic embargoes placed on the
regime of Fidel Castro were to quickly go away and open the island's
economy to an on rush of American tourists. Politically, the U.S. and
Cuba have been on opposite poles since the 1959 communist revolution,
even though the island is just 90 miles away from Florida.
Felleman, a longtime Seattle-based environmentalist, particularly in the
area of marine mammals, says the Port of Seattle's environmental
initiatives could help the Cubans manage that impact.
"Sustainable development is the only way these guys can prosper for the
long haul," Felleman said. "I think they understand they have something
very special. The question is, can they get in front of the curve?"
In 2014, relations between Cuba and the United States grew closer with
the re-establishment of embassies in both capitals and installations of
ambassadors. The so called "embargo," which is actually a series of
sanctions, is still in place, but with special permissions and licensing
arrangements issued by the U.S. government. There has been growing
levels of business interaction with Cuba.
Now, what will the new administration of President Donald Trump do?
Thus far, the administration has said little about Cuba other than
it's being studied. During the campaign, candidate Trump made statements
that ranged from vowing to undo the Obama administration's opening to
saying that 50 years of sanctions was enough.
Source: Port of Seattle hopes to help out Cuban ports | KING5.com -
http://www.king5.com/money/port-of-seattle-hopes-to-help-out-cuban-ports/427038904 Continue reading
Islanders mystified as 'economic tsar' Marino Murillo not heard in
public for a year
Cuban president Raúl Castro is preparing to step down next year,
Venezuela has cut millions of dollars in aid and Donald Trump's election
has cast a shadow over the nascent US-Cuba detente. Unnerved by the
changes, Havana has allowed its domestic reform drive to grind to a halt
as the Communist party battens down the hatches.
Marino Murillo, the senior official leading Cuba's reforms, has not been
heard in public for almost a year. His absence has mystified Cubans and
dented the high expectations Mr Castro's liberalising drive once
fomented, both at home and abroad.
"There are three reasons for the pause in the reforms — and I say pause,
because inevitably reforms will continue at some point," says Richard
Feinberg, a Cuba scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"Senior leadership is focused on managing austerity and preparing the
succession as Raúl steps down . . . They are also managing a backlash
over emerging inequality, low state wages and inflation."
Mr Castro made reform the hallmark of his presidency when he formally
took over from his elder brother Fidel Castro in 2008. He sought to
decentralise the economy and boost productivity by allowing
self-employment, slashing state bureaucracy, welcoming foreign
investment and unifying Cuba's dual currency system.
Mr Murillo, who became known as Cuba's "economic reform tsar" when he
was appointed minister of planning and the economy in 2009, was the
technocrat in charge of implementing the changes. In some ways, he and
Mr Castro made up a tag team that repeatedly cajoled Cuba's stolid
bureaucracy to reform.
While Mr Castro's revolutionary stature provided moral cover, Mr Murillo
gave lengthy PowerPoint presentations to party and government members
that explained the changes. His talks, usually an hour long, were later
broadcast on state television, sometimes more than once.
By contrast, Mr Murillo has not uttered a word in public since last
July. At the same time, price controls have been slapped on burgeoning
private sector businesses in agriculture and transport.
The reversal comes as Mr Castro, 85, prepares to carry out his pledge to
step down as president on February 24 next year. If he does so, 2018
will be the first time in six decades that Cuba has not been ruled by a
Castro — although he is expected to remain head of the Communist party
and armed forces. Fidel Castro died last November.
"In a way, the reforms have not gone far enough but at the same time too
far," says Bert Hoffman, a Cuba expert at the German Institute of Global
and Area Studies. "Not far enough to . . . lift up growth [but] too far
in that social inequalities are widening, the cost of living is rising
and the Communist party fears the discontent this produces."
These tensions became clear at a party congress in April 2016, which
admitted that reforms had failed to meet popular expectations in terms
of economic growth, supplies of goods and higher wages. At the same
time, a debate on state television showed party delegates fuming over a
private onion farmer who had earned enough money to buy a car and fix
In many ways, Cuba has been here before. Reformist officials have often
had their wings clipped after liberalising drives were stifled by
hardliners who feared loss of control. One famous case is that of Carlos
Lage, Fidel Castro's "economic fixer" in the 1990s, who was
unceremoniously dismissed in 2009 and now works as a paediatrician.
One difference today is that Mr Murillo still seems to enjoy official
blessing. He was promoted to the powerful politburo in 2011 and remains
chairman of the government's economic policy commission.
The slowdown in domestic reforms suggests the orthodox wing of the
Communist party is strengthening, says Carmelo Mesa-Lago, professor
emeritus of economics at Pittsburgh University and a long-time Cuba
watcher. He sees reform opponents using Mr Murillo as a scapegoat to
strengthen their position before Mr Castro steps down.
"All this has been a severe blow to Murillo, although the main problem
is the deterioration of the Venezuelan economy," he says.
Caracas has long supplied Havana with 100,000 barrels per day of
subsidised oil, but Venezuela's economic and political crises have
forced it to cut shipments by as much as 40 per cent. Largely as a
result, Cuba's economy shrank by almost 1 per cent in 2016, entering its
first recession since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In another setback for reformists, Mr Trump has promised to re-examine
the detente begun under his predecessor Barack Obama — although the US
president has taken no concrete steps since his election last November.
His state department has yet to appoint an official in charge of Latin
Some US businesses have scaled back their initial euphoria about
opportunities in Cuba. Although 615,000 Cuban-Americans and US tourists
visited the country last year — of a total 4m foreign visitors —
Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways cancelled scheduled US flights on
March 13, citing lack of demand and market saturation. American Airlines
and JetBlue have also reduced their schedules.
"They [the Cubans] have managed quite well to dampen reform
expectations," says a senior European diplomat, referring to Mr
However, the corollary of prioritising political stability over economic
reforms, at least for now, is that complaints about government inertia,
low wages, high prices, shortages and deteriorating services have become
One clear sign of that came in a rare private survey carried out in Cuba
late last year by the independent NORC research group at the University
of Chicago, in which 46 per cent described the country's economy as
"poor or very poor". A similar number said they expected it to stay the
same while only three in 10 expected it to improve. Remarkably, half of
polled Cubans said they wanted to leave the country.
Source: Cuba's communists dig in as Castro's reform drive hits the sand
- https://www.ft.com/content/c84eb5a2-0fe3-11e7-b030-768954394623 Continue reading
The best way to appreciate how that Cuba's economy today depends on the US more than ever before in its history is to engage in a very simple mental exercise: imagine that Washington banned travel, remittances and packages to the island, except for medicines and special visits by Cubans to see very sick relatives.Continue reading
Reuters March 24, 2017
By Marianna Parraga and Alexandra Ulmer
HOUSTON/CARACAS (Reuters) - A gasoline shortage in OPEC member Venezuela
was exacerbated by an increase in fuel exports to foreign allies such as
Cuba and Nicaragua and an exodus of crucial personnel from state-run
energy company PDVSA, according to internal PDVSA documents and sources
familiar with its operations.
Leftist-run Venezuela sells its citizens the world's cheapest gasoline.
Fuel supplies have continued flowing despite a domestic oil industry in
turmoil and a deepening economic crisis under President Nicolas Maduro
that has left the South American country with scant supplies of many
That changed on Wednesday, when Venezuelans faced their first nationwide
shortage of motor fuel since an explosion ripped through one of the
world's largest refineries five years ago. At the time, the government
of then-President Hugo Chavez curbed exports to guarantee there was
enough fuel at home.
This week's shortage was also mainly due to problems at refineries, as a
mix of plant glitches and maintenance cut fuel production in half.
Unlike five years ago, Caracas has continued exporting fuel to political
allies and even raised the volume of shipments last month despite
warnings within the government-run company that doing so could trigger a
domestic supply crunch.
Shipments from refineries to the domestic market needed to be redirected
to meet those export commitments, the internal documents showed.
"Should this additional volume ... be exported, it would impact a cargo
scheduled for the local market," read one email sent from an official in
the company's domestic marketing department to its international trade unit.
Venezuela last month exported 88,000 barrels per day (bpd) of fuels -
equivalent to a fifth of its domestic consumption - to Cuba, Nicaragua
and other countries, according to internal PDVSA documents seen by Reuters.
That was up 22,000 bpd on the volumes Venezuela had been shipping to
those two countries under accords struck by Chavez to expand his
diplomatic clout by lowering their fuel costs through cheap supplies of
crude and fuel.
The order to increase exports came from PDVSA's top executives,
according to the internal emails seen by Reuters.
Venezuela's oil ministry and state-run PDVSA, formally known as
Petroleos de Venezuela SA, did not reply to requests for comment for
FUEL STRAIN, BRAIN DRAIN
The strain on the country's fuel system has been worsened by the
departure of staff in PDVSA's trade and supply unit who are key to
ensuring fuel gets to where it is needed and making payments for
imports, three sources close to the company said.
The unit has seen around a dozen key staffers depart since Maduro shook
up PDVSA's top management in January. Among those who left was the head
of budget and payments, two sources said.
"Every week someone leaves for one reason or another," said a PDVSA
source familiar with the unit's operations.
Some have been fired, while others have left since the shake-up inserted
political and military officials into top positions and bolstered
Maduro's grip on the company that powers the nation's economy.
The imposition of leaders with little or no experience in the industry
has further disillusioned some of the company's experienced
professionals and accelerated an exodus that had already taken hold as
economic and social conditions in Venezuela worsened.
A recent internal PDVSA report seen by Reuters mentioned "a low capacity
to retain key personnel," amid salaries of a few dozen dollars a month
at the black market rate.
The departure of staff responsible for paying suppliers, as well as a
cash crunch in the company and the country, have led to an accumulation
of unpaid bills for fuel imports into Venezuela.
Had those bills been paid, the supply crunch would have been less acute,
the company sources said.
About 10 tankers are waiting near PDVSA ports in Venezuela and the
Caribbean to discharge fuel for domestic consumption and for oil blending.
Only one vessel bringing fuel imports has been discharged since the
beginning of the week, shipping data showed.
PDVSA ordered some of the cargoes as it prepared alternative supplies
while refineries undergo maintenance.
The tankers sitting offshore will not unload until PDVSA pays for their
cargoes, said shippers and the company sources.
Should PDVSA pay - up to $20 million per cargo - shortages could blow
over relatively soon.
The cash-strapped company has struggled since the global oil price crash
that began in 2014 cut revenue for its crude exports. PDVSA is tight on
cash as it prepares for some $2.5 billion in bond payments due next month.
While the vessels sit offshore, lines of dozens of cars waited at gas
stations in central Venezuela on Wednesday and Thursday. The shortages
angered Venezuelans who already face long lines for scarce food and drugs.
PDVSA blamed the supply crunch on unspecified problems for shipping fuel
from domestic refineries to distribution centers. The company said it
was working hard to solve the gasoline situation by boosting deliveries
to the worst-hit regions.
A shortage of trucks to move refined products has also caused
bottlenecks, oil workers told PDVSA President Eulogio Del Pino during a
visit to a fuel facility this week, asking for help. Trucks are in short
supply because the country does not have enough funds to pay for imports
of spare parts.
It was unclear when fuel supplies would return to normal, although by
late Thursday PDVSA appeared to have distributed some fuel from storage
to Caracas and the eastern city of Puerto Ordaz. Lines to fill up at
gasoline stations shortened in both cities, according to Reuters witnesses.
Workers at the 335,000-bpd Isla refinery on the nearby island of Curacao
operated by PDVSA said on Friday that the refinery had begun restarting
its catalytic cracking unit, which could boost fuel supplies in the
(Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo and Maria Ramirez
in Puerto Ordaz; Editing by Simon Webb and Marguerita Choy)
Source: Exclusive: Venezuela increased fuel exports to allies even as
supply crunch loomed -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/exclusive-venezuela-increased-fuel-exports-173255182.html Continue reading
By Neal Simpson
The Patriot Ledger
HAVANA - At a small beach town on the Bay of Pigs, 27-year-old Kenny
Bring Mendoza approached to see if we needed a taxi.
We didn't, but Kenny was happy to show off his proficiency in English
and even willing to answer a few of my questions about recent economic
policy changes in Cuba, things as basic as buying cars or renting out
rooms. But Kenny wanted me to know that one of the biggest changes was
that we were talking at all.
"A couple of years ago, I couldn't be sitting here, speaking with you,"
he told me.
The fact that citizens and tourists now mingle more or less freely in
Cuba, an ostensibly socialist country 90 miles off the U.S. coast, is
just one sign that this island nation is increasingly opening itself up
to the world and, in particular, to the U.S., its longtime archenemy.
U.S. airlines now fly direct from New York to Hanava, cruise ships tower
over the city's aging piers and Americans are increasingly easy to find
among the Canadian and European tourists who have been visiting the
island for decades. Travel agents on the South Shore say they're
fielding a growing number of calls from people who want to know how they
can get to Cuba before the rest of the tourists arrive.
"It's still the unknown for people," said Susan Peavey, whose agency has
offices in Marshfield and Harwich Port. "Everybody is really interested."
I was one of those tourists last month, exploring the island nation in
the tradition of a Ledger photojournalist and editor who had visited
every decade or so to try to understand life in a place that was largely
off-limits to Americans.
What I found was a Cuba that looked much the same as it would have in
decades past despite profound economic changes that are lifting the
fortunes of some Cubans while leaving many behind. Cuba's socialist
government, under pressure to spur growth in a stagnant economy still
recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union more than 25 years ago,
has begun to tear down many of the barriers that have separated Cubans
from the outside world. Residents can now rent out rooms to tourists,
open a limited number of privately owned restaurants, access the
internet and stay at resorts that were previously reserved for
foreigners. From Havana to Playa Girón, there's ample evidence of
President Raul Castro's effort to grow the economy's private sector,
which largely takes the form of self employment, not companies.
But some Cubans I talked with told me that thawing U.S.-Cuba relations,
and the growing number of American tourists visiting the island in the
last two years, has meant more for their personal livelihood than the
loosening of laws on personal property. They told me they'd welcome more
Americans and seemed to harbor no resentment over the Cold War-era
embargo that the U.S. continues to enforce against its Caribbean
neighbor after more than half a century.
"For me," Junior Fuentes Garcia, a 42-year-old Cuban selling books and
watches in Habana Vieja's Plaza De Armas, told me in Spanish, "the
economy is more important."
Cuba opens its doors
Arriving in old Havana at night, the city can look to American eyes like
the set of a post-apocalyptic movie set on a Caribbean island some 50
years after catastrophe cut it off from the rest of civilization. The
streets of Habana Vieja are dimly lit, narrow and filled with people who
are quick to get out of the way whenever a big 1950s Chevy or Ford comes
around a corner. The architecture, hauntingly beautiful but often gutted
and abandoned, recalls a time when Havana was the playground of wealthy
American gangsters and known as the Paris of the Caribbean despite the
extreme poverty and illiteracy most Cubans lived with before the revolution.
Havana by day is a different place, and much more difficult to
understand. Tower cranes rise over government-funded construction
projects along the Paseo de MartÍ while in the adjacent borough of
Habana Centro men labor with 5-gallon buckets and rope to keep up
dilapidated buildings that pre-date the revolution. A fellow traveler
and I walked around a gleaming white hotel that had risen on the site of
a former school building, then toured the nearby Museum of the
Revolution, where the paint was peeling off the terra cotta tiles of
what was once a presidential palace.
And of course, there were the big, beautiful mid-century American cars
that have become inextricably associated with modern-day Cuba even
though they share the country's roads with at least as many newer
Volkswagens, Kias and a variety of makes I had never seen. They are
truly everywhere, though many have been pressed into service as taxis
It's easy to understand why Cubans fortunate enough to have a car would
be tempted to spend their days driving tourists around. Under the Cuban
government's confounding dual-currency system, tourists use one kind of
peso pegged to the American dollar while Cuban citizens mostly use
another kind of peso that's worth closer to 4 cents each. The system,
which is meant to give the government control over American dollars
coming into the country, means that taxi drivers can charge foreigners
rates not far below what they'd pay in the U.S. and make far more than
the average Cuban wage of less than $200 a month, according to a survey
conducted last year by Moscow-based firm Rose Marketing Limited.
I talked with one taxi driver who spoke gleefully about the flood of
Americans he had seen over the last two years and the many more he hoped
were on their way. His mother and sister had moved to the U.S. in recent
years, but he said life in Cuba was too good for him to follow.
Tourism 'brain drain'
Grant Burrier, an assistant professor at Curry College in Milton who has
been visiting Cuba regularly since 2005, told me that the money-making
potential in tourism is actually becoming a problem for the Cuban
government, which has announced but not followed through with plans to
consolidate its two currencies. Burrier said the lure of the tourist
economy has created an internal "brain drain" in Cuba, tempting
engineers and other high-skill workers to leave their government jobs to
seek work in the tourism sector.
In that sense, he said the tourist trade has fueled "severe inequality"
between Cubans who have access to the tourist currency and those who do not.
"Those kinds of issues will be really problematic for the long-term
future of the Cuban economy," he said.
The socialistic ideal of economic equality is clearly far from achieved
in Cuba, but there were no signs of extreme poverty during my brief time
there. Despite its stagnant economy, the Cuban government continues to
provide its citizens with free health care and education as well as
subsidies for food. The country's infant mortality rate is lower than
that of the U.S., and its literacy rate is 99.8 percent, according to
the CIA World Factbook.
But even with all that, it's not clear whether the Cuban government can
maintain the ideals of the revolution as a younger generation comes into
power and gains a better understanding – thanks in part to the internet
– of the lifestyles and consumer goods available outside the confines of
socialism. The median age in Cuba is now 41, according to the CIA World
Factbook, meaning most Cubans were born more than a decade after the
Cuban Revolution and the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion two years
later. The median-aged Cuban was a teenager when the Soviet Union
collapsed and Cuba was left in the lurch.
"That's going to be the key struggle for the revolution going on," said
Burrier, who visited Cuba with 17 Curry students earlier this year.
"Most people you talk to in Cuba, they just want opportunity. They want
economic opportunity, they want economic stability."
Many people in the United States are betting on economic opportunity in
Cuba as well. Last month, a delegation that included U.S. Reps. Jim
McGovern and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts visited Cuba and met with
representatives from Northeastern University and the Massachusetts
Biotechnology Council to discuss opportunities in the agriculture and
health sectors. Former U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat and
longtime advocate for a more open Cuba, is adamant that the island will
soon open its doors wide to American business.
"They obviously have tremendous needs and those need are going to be met
by American capitalism," said Delahunt, whose next trip to Cuba in May
will be aboard a cruise ship. "That's just what's going to happen."
But Delahunt and most Cuba watchers don't expect change to come quickly
to one of the world's last remaining Marxist-Leninist countries. The
country's leaders only need to look to their former ally, Russia, to see
what happens when a country pulls out of a communist economy too quickly.
"I wouldn't be surprised if every year we hear about one or two little
changes," said Javier Corrales, a son of Cuban exiles who teaches
political science at Amherst College, "but they're not interested in
Neal Simpson may be reached at email@example.com or follow him on
Source: Change is coming to Cuba, but how quickly and for whom? -
http://www.patriotledger.com/news/20170324/change-is-coming-to-cuba-but-how-quickly-and-for-whom Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2017 at 2:58 PM
Updated Mar 24, 2017 at 9:54 PM
1959 – After years of fighting, Fidel Castro succeeds in overthrowing
the authoritarian government of Fulgencio Batista. Castro launches a
series of reforms, including the nationalization of private property and
business and improvements to health, education and infrastructure.
1960 – The U.S. imposes an embargo on all exports to Cuba except food
1961 - Around 12,000 Cuban exiles backed by the CIA land in the Bay of
Pigs in a bid to overthrow the Castro government. The invasion fails
almost immediately and Cuba eventually sends more than 1,100 captured
militants back to the U.S. in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine.
2008 – An ailing Fidel Castro announces his resignation as president.
His brother, Raul, takes over, promising in his inauguration speech to
lift some restrictions on freedom. The same year, Cubans are allowed to
use cellphones and send text messages for the first time.
2010 – Raul Castro announces the elimination of 500,000 government jobs
and promises to allow more private business licenses, signaling a shift
toward a more significant private economy.
2011 – Cuba legalizes private sale of homes and used cars for the first
time in half a century. President Barack Obama loosens restrictions on
travel to Cuba.
2013 - Cuba ends a longstanding policy requiring any citizen wishing to
travel abroad to obtain a government permit and letter of invitation.
Cuban passports are still expensive, though, leaving them out of reach
2014 - Cuba and the U.S. agree to exchange prisoners, re-establish
economic ties and begin easing some elements of the embargo. Cuba takes
steps to open the country for foreign investment.
2015 – Cuban and the U.S. reopen embassies in each other's countries.
2016 – Fidel Castro dies at the age of 90.
2017 – U.S. ends the "wet-foot-dry-foot" policy that had allowed Cuban
exiles who reached American soil to seek permanent residency.
2018 – Raul Castro is due to step down as president. His expected
successor, Miguel DÍaz-Cane, was born the year following the Cuban
Source: From revolution to Raul: A brief history of Cuba -
http://www.patriotledger.com/news/20170324/from-revolution-to-raul-brief-history-of-cuba Continue reading
March 23, 2017
By Fernando Ravsberg
HAVANA TIMES — Dozens of tons of tomatoes are rotting in Guantanamo
because nobody is collecting them, according to what journalist Lilibeth
Alfonso tells us on her personal blog. Apparently, there isn't any
diesel for private trucks who could distribute them to the population.
However, fuel shortages haven't affected the supply needed for the
Agriculture Ministry's four-wheel drives or the modern 4×4 Korean cars
that the leaders of the National Association of Small Farmers in Cuba
(ANAP) use, which continue to run on and consume diesel on Havana
streets, traveling from office to office.
Fellow journalist Singh Castillo wrote in that "Tomatoes are rotting in
the Caujeri Valley. This is happening because of the fault of all of
those involved in the matter, starting with farmers, agricultural
cooperatives, the state company, municipal and provincial Agriculture
He also adds that "the yield of this harvest had been underestimated (…)
there weren't enough boxes and transport was insufficient and, the main
thing here, there weren't enough destinations." And he ends by claiming
that "this harvest is the paradigm to follow in the future," as if this
is the first time that this has happened.
Agricultural engineer Fernando Funes has stated that, every year, 50% of
harvests are lost in Cuba because of poor collection systems, a lack of
storage spaces, the inability to process these crops, insufficient
transport systems and an awful distribution system.
An ANAP leader told me that they had fixed the problem of food rotting
when nobody can distribute it. They force farmers to take out an
insurance policy which then pays them for everything they lose. They
turn the mattress over without really solving the problem at the heart
of this situation.
Farm sector bureaucrats aren't worried about losing dozens of tons of
tomatoes, they don't care if the country pays 2 billion USD a year to
import food or that ordinary Cubans have to pay more than what they earn
in order to take food home.
They don't seem to take into account the fact that the agricultural
sector consumes 60% of the water at a time when Cuba is experiencing
full-on drought. How much water is wasted on watering tomatoes which
then rot in the fields of Guantanamo and other crops which are then lost
across the entire island?
The expense of the agrarian bureaucracy's "lack of foresight" doesn't
stop there. Now, when the government is looking for a way to save fuel
in every sector, we should also calculate how much oil was imported to
drive the water used for watering these fields for no reason whatsoever.
They have been giving different excuses for poor harvests for decades.
Generally-speaking, it was the climate, the drought or heavy rains that
were to blame. Now, the harvest has exceeded estimates, and they blame
the good weather and explain that they "underestimated the yield of this
How can you explain the fact that Cuba is never "taken by surprise" by a
hurricane but it is unable to foresee a good harvest? It's simple, Civil
Defense troops don't leave anything to chance, they are always ready to
take on any variables and use all of the resources that might be
necessary, which is why they save lives.
But do we have to alert every farmer that the weather is good, that
there are enough seeds, that pests are under control and that by working
hard, they can end up causing a crisis for our officials? Is there
anything else more ridiculous than talking about overproduction in
The large Cuban Agricultural Ministry building is a kind of living
bureaucratic monument. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
You don't have to be Einstein to know that you don't get different
results in agriculture by keeping the same governing institutions, the
same men leading them and by using the same methods which have failed
time and time again for decades.
My colleague Singh Castillo claims that tomatoes being wasted are "the
responsibility of everybody involved." This is a foolproof analysis so
that at the end of a meeting nobody is to blame, just like a song from
the duet Buena Fe says.
In the face of situations like this one, which affects the national and
local economy, you can't divide the blame up between everyone. The old
principle of "collective work and individual responsibility" is the one
which allows the most incompetent leaders to shake off their blame and
focus on everyone else instead.
They can continue to call for meetings to make analyses of the
situation, but this chaos will continue to take place while officials
get away with their inefficiency and don't pay for it by losing their
jobs and the privileges that these give them: air-conditioned offices,
cars, fuel, internet, allowances and trips.
Source: Cuba and Its Rotting Tomatoes - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=124319 Continue reading
Tiny pensions must be supplemented by whatever work is available
Mar 23rd 2017 | HAVANA
NORBERTO MESA, a 66-year-old grandfather, stands in the hot sun 11 hours
a day, six days a week, guiding cars in and out of the parking spaces in
front of a bustling farm stand. The 4,000 Cuban pesos ($170 at the
official exchange rate) he earns each month in tips is more than ten
times his monthly old-age pension of 340 pesos. Without it, the retired
animal geneticist could not afford fruit and meat, or help his children,
who work for low salaries, to feed his four grandchildren.
Though revolutionary Cuba had one of the region's earliest and most
comprehensive pension systems, in recent years retirement has almost
vanished. Without further economic reform, and the cheap oil that used
to come from Venezuela, the economy has stalled. Pensions have been
frozen, and their value eaten up by inflation. According to the most
recent government statistics, from 2010, a third of men past retirement
age are working. Three-fifths of older people say they often have to go
The insular socialist paradise supposedly offers a social safety-net,
cradle to grave. But it is full of holes. Medical care is free, but most
medicine is not. Retirement homes are scarce, and rules that mean
residents must give up their pensions and homes put off many, since
these are often a lifeline for younger relatives in equally distressed
So old people can be seen on the streets of Havana selling newspapers
and peanuts, or recycling cans. They are scrubbing floors in affluent
homes or cooking for a growing number of private restaurants and
bakeries. Ernesto Alpízar, an 89-year-old former agronomist, goes
door-to-door selling strawberries and flowers. Even so, he remains an
ardent "Fidelista", grateful to the island's late dictator for the free
cataract surgery that saved his eyesight.
For even as the island's old and infirm must hustle to survive, they
have benefited from its success at providing health care. Life
expectancy at birth is 79, not far short of most developed countries,
and widely available birth control helps explain why family size has
fallen further and faster than in most other countries (see chart). The
flip side, though, has been a breakneck demographic
transition—exacerbated by the large share of young and middle-aged
Cubans who have fled to America. Over-65s now make up 14% of the
population. The national statistical office estimates that the total
number of pensioners will overtake the number of state-sector workers by
A few churches and charities, mostly funded from abroad, are trying to
fill the gap. Rodolfo Juárez, a pastor of the International Community
Church, a Protestant congregation, helps 60 indigent elderly people in
Havana. His scheme provides fruit, vegetables and beans to supplement
government rations of a daily piece of bread; and 7lb of rice, 2lb of
sugar, five eggs and a piece of chicken a month. Although running it
costs just 18,000 pesos a month, funding is a constant problem.
Mr Juárez and his wife, at 80 and 75, are older than many of those they
help. Between their church duties and his teaching at a seminary, they
make 3,600 pesos a month. Though that does not go far, it dwarfs Mr
Juarez's pension. As long as Cuba's economy flat-lines, its elderly will
have no rest till they drop.
Source: Hustling, cradle to grave: As Cuba's economy flat-lines,
retirement has become notional | The Economist -
http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21719482-tiny-pensions-must-be-supplemented-whatever-work-available-cubas-economy-flat-lines Continue reading