February 2017
« Jan    

We run various sites in defense of human rights and need support in paying for servers. Thank you.

Cubaverdad on Twitter


Countdown begins for Raúl Castro's retirement next year

A year from now — on February 24 — something is expected to occur in
Cuba that hasn't happened in more than 40 years: a non-Castro will
occupy the presidency.

The coming year will be one of definitions in Cuba. But right now there
is only uncertainty — not only about how the transition will proceed but
also about the future of Cuba's relationship with the United States with
President Donald Trump at the helm.

In 2013, Raúl Castro told Cuba's National Assembly of People's Power,
the parliament, that he planned to retire from the presidency of the
Council of State and the Council of Ministers on Feb. 24, 2018. His heir
apparent became Miguel Díaz-Canel, a party stalwart who at the time was
promoted to first vice president of both councils.

When Castro retires as president, the Cuban Constitution also calls for
him to relinquish his post of commander in chief of Cuba's armed forces.
A Cuba without a khaki-clad Castro commanding the Revolutionary Armed
Forces is something many younger Cubans have never experienced.

Díaz-Canel's ascension next Feb. 24 — a date that has long had resonance
in Cuba history — is not assured, but most observers believe that a new
National Assembly that will be seated then will rubber stamp him as
Cuba's next president and he will replace the 85-year-old Castro.

Even with a successor, Castro is still expected to retain consider
clout. He has said nothing about stepping down as chief of Cuba's
powerful Communist Party and Cuba's military leaders are solid Raúlistas.

The power-behind-the-throne is not an unknown formula in Cuba. From 1959
to 1976, Osvaldo Dorticós formally served as president of the republic,
even though the true power was wielded by the late Fidel Castro, who was
then prime minister. From 1976, the posts associated with the presidency
have been occupied first by Fidel and then by Raúl Castro, who took over
on a provisional basis in 2006 when Fidel fell ill and then officially
in 2008.

Díaz-Canel represents a break from the revolutionary old guard and the
passing of the torch to a new generation of leaders. At age 56, he
wasn't even born when the revolution triumphed.

But there is also a school of thought that if Cuba's relationship with
the Trump administration goes badly, or if Trump yanks back most or all
of the changes under the Obama administration, it will provide a reason
for Castro to extend his tenure as president or at least to hang on to
his post as head of Cuba's Communist Party indefinitely.

"A lot of people in Havana are saying that if Mr. Trump and company
return to confrontational policies, backtracking on everything that was
done by Obama or most of it, the situation in Cuba would be to say,
'Let's circle the wagons,'" said Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban
intelligence analyst who now lives in Miami.

"In the middle and older generations there was the feeling that Raúl
should not step down until the new administration comes to terms with
the normalization process or that if he steps down, he should stay as
first secretary of the party," said Amuchastegui, who spent the month of
December in Cuba. "What I found every day I was there were conversations
about what the new president [Trump] is going to do, will he be moving
back or going forward on normalization."

Cuba's Communist Party generally convenes a Congress every five years,
meaning it could be 2021 before a new party chieftain is named —
although a change could occur at any time if Castro decides to retire
from his party post.

At last year's party congress, Díaz-Canel wasn't promoted to second
secretary as some had anticipated. Instead, Castro's second in command
remained octogenarian, José Ramón Machado Ventura. If he succeeds Castro
as party chieftain, it wouldn't do much to promote the idea that space
is opening for new Cuban leaders or that, in Castro's words, a
"rejuvenation" is taking place. The 86-year-old Machado Ventura. joined
the revolutionary movement in 1952 when he was still a medical student
and fought alongside the Castros in the Sierra Maestra.

"If Cubans believe that [Castro] and his aging cohort of 1960s
revolutionaries remain the real power behind the throne, that would
suffocate and delegitimize the emerging, younger generation of leaders,"
said Richard Feinberg, a professor of international political economy at
the University of California, San Diego.

But Antonio Rodiles, a member of the opposition movement, fears that is
exactly what will happen.

"Power is going to continue as it is now in the hands of the military
and the heir clearly is Alejandro Castro Espín (son of Raúl Castro, a
colonel in the Interior Ministry, and a national security adviser),"
Rodiles said, "No doubt about it, Díaz-Canel would fulfill a function
similar to that carried out by Osvaldo Dorticós."

Feinberg said that managing U.S.-Cuba relations, once the White House
sets its course, will be less important in the next year "than managing
the historic transition to a post-Castro era on the island."

Rodiles, on the other hand, thinks the Trump presidency could
significantly alter succession plans on the island, especially if the
intention is to have Castro Espín as "the person behind the scenes who
is at the controls."

At this point, Díaz-Canel is still in the shadow of Raúl Castro.

"Cuba is a country that has been governed by a strong-man system," said
Arturo López-Levy, a lecturer at the University of Texas Rio Grande
Valley, former analyst with Cuban intelligence and cousin of a Castro
son-in-law in charge of military-owned companies on the island. "At
least I would have expected Raúl to give him more authority by now."

A review of Díaz-Canel's recent appearances on the front page of Granma,
the official newspaper of Cuba's Communist Party, shows him taking part
in local education, literacy and journalism events while Castro has
received a delegation from Iran and the president of Ireland. And it was
Machado Ventura who recently welcomed a communist leader from Vietnam.

Still, López-Levy said Díaz-Canel appears to be "the right candidate for
the job. He's well-traveled, experienced in leadership in the party, has
been a provincial leader, has good connections with the military. He
sounds good on paper, but at this point he looks too weak to be taking
on such an important role."

It is still Castro who makes the major pronouncements, including
recently extending an olive branch to the Trump administration, saying
he wants to pursue a "respectful dialogue."

The official media also is treading lightly when it comes to Trump. "You
have to notice how cautious and how much discretion the Cuban media is
taking when dealing with the new administration," said Amuchastegui.

Key to watch in the coming year is whether Díaz-Canel begins to play
more of a role in the relationship with Cuba's benefactor Venezuela and
in U.S.-Cuba relations once Trump policy toward the island is defined.

Some observers say in his last year in the presidency, they expect
Castro to concentrate on two things: taking further steps to unify
Cuba's unwieldy dual currency system and managing the relationship with
the U.S. The other pending reforms he will leave to Díaz-Canel.

"Raúl will have to concentrate on managing an economic recession at a
delicate moment of rising expectations, and most importantly, preparing
the terrain for the post-Castro era and a new generation of younger
leaders," said Feinberg. He "will struggle to maintain some degree of
systemic unity within the increasingly fractious ruling Communist Party
while allowing the new leadership sufficient room for maneuver, to set a
clearer vision for Cuba's future — a new more defined economic model, a
new social contract that preserves" revolutionary gains but allows "new,
more decentralized political arrangements."

There are several important economic challenges beyond uniting the
currency: trying to raise salaries, stimulating growth, managing the
relationship with Venezuela, which is in a financial free fall, and
trying to boost foreign investment.

Most are inter-related and may be difficult for Castro to take on over
the next year because of the complexity of Cuba's current economic
problems, said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, professor emeritus of economics at the
University of Pittsburgh.

While Castro has more political clout to undertake tough economic
reforms than a successor, "the timing is not good," he said.

"This is a very complicated moment in Cuba," said Enrique López Oliva, a
retired University of Havana professor. "People are disoriented. They
aren't sure what they should do. There's lack of clarity on what the
transition will bring as well as what the ongoing relationship with the
United States will be.

"If Trump tries to bring change in Cuba by pressure or by forcing it,"
said López Oliva, "all it does is reinforce the intransigent sectors
that don't want change."

Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi

2008-present: Raúl Castro (acting president 2006-2008)

1976-2008: Fidel Castro

1959-1976: Osvaldo Dorticós

1959-1959: Manuel Urrutia

1955-1959: Fulgencio Batista

▪ Feb. 24, 2013: Cuba's National Assembly elected Raúl Castro to his
second term as president of Cuba.

▪ Feb. 24, 2008: Fidel Castro officially retired as president, although
illness prompted him to cede power to his brother Raúl in 2006.

▪ Feb. 24, 1996: Two U.S. civilian aircraft were shot down by aircraft
operated by the Cuban armed forces. Four South Florida men were killed.

▪ Feb. 24, 1976: The Republic of Cuba adopted its constitution.

▪ Feb. 24, 1895: The beginning of Cuba's War of Independence.


Source: Countdown begins a year out from Raúl Castro's retirement |
Miami Herald - Continue reading
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 February 2017 – People say that when an event happens repeatedly it stops being an accident. The fire that took place on Monday, February 20th, 2017, in “La Mezclilla” store, in the neighborhood of San Leopoldo (Municipality of Centro Habana) is the third one in less than a month in … Continue reading "Set Fire To Havana In Order To Hide The Body? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya" Continue reading
The energy that Castroism is stifling
ROBERTO ÁLVAREZ QUIÑONES | Los Ángeles | 21 de Febrero de 2017 - 09:05 CET.

In recent weeks the regime of General Raúl Castro has "spooked," and is
now galloping in the wrong direction, in defiance of time and history.
The economic crisis is compounded daily, and the dictator and his
military junta, far from taking steps to unshackle Cuba's productive
forces, are restricting and choking them more and more.

Price caps on taxi drivers, prohibitions against street vendors hawking
fruits and vegetables, the nationalization of agricultural markets based
on supply and demand, and bans on the self employed in Varadero, are
just some of the Stalinist measures exacerbating the severe economic crisis.

Turning its back on the people, the Government is thus recklessly
staving off the emergence of a massive and vibrant private sector, the
only force that can rescue the country from this crisis, and that will
be, necessarily, that which rebuilds the devastated Cuban economy.

Meanwhile, poverty, despair and unhappiness grow amongst Cubans. The
economic, social, political, moral and even anthropological cataclysm
caused by Castroism is now of such a magnitude that it is difficult to
assess the disaster. Yet, this diagnosis is the first thing that must be
done to rebuild the country.

It is a historical shame that Cuba is the only Western country that is
actually less advanced than it was in the mid 20th century. The same
cannot even be said of Haiti. Many Cubans on the island would be happy
if the country enjoyed the same standard of living it did 60 years ago
today, when it was one of the highest in Latin America.

So, although it seems a Kafkaesque absurdity, Cuba today is
socioeconomically below zero, which it needs to get back to, going on to
build a future. The situation is that serious.

The Castroist higher-ups are trying to ignore the fact that it was
European entrepreneurs in the 16th through the 18th century who made
possible the emergence of a large private sector based on free
enterprise. Private property and economic liberalism were what brought
and end to the ancien régime; that is, the absolute monarchies like
those under Louis XIV, and the enlightened despotism embodied by
Catherine the Great of Russia, with her policy of "everything for the
people but without the people," which, by quashing individual liberties,
prevented the development of productive forces and the creation of
widespread wealth, leading to uprisings like the French Revolution.

Entrepreneurs paved the way to modernity

It was the sector of entrepreneurs that rapidly grew and shaped the
modern world we know today. Traders, artisans, innovators, investors and
enterprising people in multiple activities, in a spirit of laissez faire
(live and let live), encouraged by French physiocrats and English
liberalism, took the baton of capitalism and changed the face of the planet.

This possibility is what the Castro dictatorship is denying the Cuban
people. These are freedoms and rights enshrined in the UN's Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in Paris in 1948, and instituted
through a series of political, civil, social, cultural and labor rights,
none of which are respected in Cuba.

It is no coincidence that the 35 most developed countries in the world,
members of the OECD, enjoy all of these individual economic freedoms and
democratic systems. Nor is it a coincidence that these freedoms do not
exist in any of the 41 poorest countries (according to the UN), or in
dozens of other Third World nations.

General Castro and those who maintain him in power must be aware of two

The more they tighten the political screws on Cuba, and hound the
private sector, the less able they will be to resolve the national
crisis in a humanitarian fashion.
The more restrictions there are on the self-employed, the more poverty
and shortages there will be throughout the country, and the longer, more
difficult, and more expensive will be its economic reconstruction.
A secret source of funding?

Hence, it is scandalous, and suspicious, that in response to the near
collapse of the Venezuelan economy, and all its political tribulations;
the lack of subsidies from Brazil, Beijing's and Moscow's refusals to
send aid to Havana, and a new administration in Washington that is not
leftist or pro-Castro, the regime is not only refusing to promote
economic freedom, but is increasingly curtailing it. Is the regime
concealing some source of financial support that it cannot divulge?

After not paying a penny for the servicing of its foreign debt for 30
years, the regime announced recently that in 2016 it paid the enormous
sum of 5.299 billion dollars to its short and long- term creditors. And
it is surprising, to say the least, that the payment of such a sum of
money, so disproportionate to the small size of the Cuban economy, came
precisely during the year in which, for the first time, the Government
admitted to a drop in the GDP and a deteriorating economic crisis.

Is it possible that the Castro regime has links to high-ranking members
of the Venezuelan government who are, effectively, drug kingpins? Is it
receiving "donations" from the FARC in Colombia in exchange for the
peace agreement, favorable to it, forged in Havana?

The military and younger members of the dictator's leadership are
determined to remain in power and to establish, starting next year, a
kind of neo-Castroist model of authoritarian and militarized capitalism
under which only they, the military, the Castro family, and some
civilian members of the Communist Party (PCC) will be able to do serious
business and make big money.

A right of all

The struggle of the Cuban people, political dissidents and human rights
activists, journalists and independent trade unionists, the
self-employed, and all democrats and anti-Castro elements inside and
outside Cuba, necessarily hinges on preventing the perpetuation of the
dictatorship. Opposing this is a natural right of all Cubans.

Cuba also needs international support, particularly from the US, as the
policy of former President Barack Obama politically fortified the Castro
regime and opened to it the doors of the world.

From the existential point of view, that of daily subsistence, everyday
Cubans need the dictatorship to loosen its grip over economic matters
and to let the self-employed off their leash. Economic freedom is
essential to save the people from their appalling poverty.

Raúl Castro and his military junta must legally recognize private
property, and Cubans' right to hold it, and to invest and create their
own businesses. They cannot continue to limit and even strangle the
private sector, the only economic force that the nation can count on.

If they fail to do this everything will be increasingly difficult, not
only for the people they claim to represent, but for them too.

Source: The energy that Castroism is stifling | Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
Tampa cruises will add millions to Cuban economy
Paul Guzzo, Times Staff Writer
Sunday, February 19, 2017 9:12pm

TAMPA — Major cruise lines will start sailing from Port Tampa Bay to
Havana in the coming months, with possibly more than 40,000 passengers
spread out over 22 voyages who could add more than $5 million to the
Cuban economy this year and next.

These statistics are from a new report by the New York-based U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council, which crunches numbers on business between
the two nations.

John Kavulich, president of the council, said he based his figures on if
the ships are at full passenger capacity.

For 2017, Royal Caribbean Cruises has 10 cruises from Tampa scheduled
onboard its 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas with a stop of one day
and night in Havana. The first departs on April 30.

Last week, Carnival Corp. announced it will have 12 cruises from Tampa
for 2017 and 2018 that offer one day and night in Havana. The first
departs on June 29 and all will sail on the 2,052-passenger Carnival

Cruise passengers typically spend $75 per day on things like meals and
souvenirs, Kavulich said.

In Cuba, these expenditures can be done with private or state-run

More than 40,000 passengers can be brought to Cuba on these cruises out
of Tampa.

"Added to this is the berthing fee for the vessel, which varies
depending upon size, and then payments for tours," Kavulich said.

The porting costs are paid to the Cuban government. Educational
sightseeing tours are conducted in partnerships with state-run agencies.

It is against U.S. law to visit Cuba purely for tourism. Instead, the
trip must fall under one of 12 legal reasons such as research, sports
competition or education. Cruise passengers will fit under education.

So, while passengers on these 22 cruises from Tampa can partake in
touristy activities such as snorkeling or lying on the beach during
other stops on their journey, including Cozumel and Key West, their
experience in Havana must include a learning component.

Carnival's website, for instance, says passengers will visit Havana's
Central Park and the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary built in the 1700s and
then see a cabaret show.

Whether one day is enough time to learn about the nation is up to the
passenger, said Tom Popper, president of New York-based InsightCuba,
which has been leading American tour groups there since 2000.

"How many questions will they ask? How closely will they listen and
watch?" Popper said.

"Havana is not a typical Caribbean destination, where larger ships often
visit for a day. It has a rich cultural heritage."

Passengers will also have free time to explore Cuba, or they can return
to the ship for cruise activities.

In 2015, President Barack Obama restored diplomatic ties with Cuba for
the first time in five decades. Air travel has resumed between the
nations, and now cruise lines give travelers another way to visit.

Whether Americans' ability to travel to Cuba is temporary or permanent
remains unknown. President Donald Trump has stated he will roll back
Obama's Cuba initiatives if he doesn't get a better deal out of Cuban
President Raúl Castro. Trump has yet to provide specifics.

In late January, Gov. Rick Scott threatened to cut funds from any
Florida port that enters into a business agreement with the Cuban

In response, ports that planned on signing memorandums of understandings
with Cuba to seek out future business possibilities decided against
doing so.

However, this threat has no effect on cruise lines, which are private
businesses that lease space from ports.

When the more than 30 cruise ships to Cuba out of Miami for 2017-2018
are added to those sailing from Tampa, more than 110,000 such passengers
and an $11 million economic impact could be brought to the island,
according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Source: Tampa cruises will add millions to Cuban economy | Tampa Bay
Times - Continue reading
Bogota, February 20 (RHC)-- Colombia has announced that 10,000 families that have abandoned coca cultivation will be granted land titles in the country’s southwest region as part of the transition to peace and as a way to support the rural economy.  … Continue reading
… costs are paid to the Cuban government. Educational sightseeing tours are … Key West, their experience in Havana must include a learning component … instance, says passengers will visit Havana's Central Park, the … signing memorandums of understandings with Cuba to seek out future business … Continue reading
The Crisis Of The 'Boteros': The First Bean To Burst Into The Pot /
14ymedio, Pedro Campos

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 17 February 2017 – The ending of the
United States' Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy – that allowed Cubans who
touched American soil to stay – crushed the hopes of many Cubans of
being able to achieve the American dream, that is equality of
opportunities and the freedom to allow all citizens to achieve their
goals in life through their own effort and determination. More than
something unique to the United States, it seems a dream for anyone.

When the policy was cancelled, many warned that closing one of the
valves of pressure cooker that state-socialism has made of Cuban
society, is a total contradiction.

Today with the crisis affecting Havana's private taxi-drivers – known as
"boteros" or "boatmen" – the first bean in the pot is about to burst,
under the stimulus of a senseless and traditional state policy of
resolving socio-economic problems with repression and extra-economic
constraints, a la Robin Hood, taking from those who have to give to
those who have less.

All Cubans know that with the unreliable schedules of state
transportation, some of us need to get places more quickly than we could
by waiting for the bus, and we are forced at times to take an
"almendron" – or an "almond", named after the shape of the classic
American cars often used in this shared fixed-route taxi service – where
we talk about everything for 20 minutes, with the advantage that no one
knows each other.

A couple of young drivers that I talked to before the ending of the
Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy, confessed to me that the cars they drove were
not theirs and that they were working as "boteros" to try to get the
money needed to leave the country. One of them had already tried, by
sea, with other friends, and after spending all they had to build a raft
with an engine, they were caught by the US Coastguard and returned to
Cuba. The next time would be by land and that is what he was working for.

I never learned if these young men were among those who managed to reach
the US before the crisis caused by the closing of the Nicaragua border,
which was resolved in favor of the Cuban emigrants crossing through the

It is likely that these boys, in their late thirties, were not the only
ones who were driving for that reason.

The cancellation of the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy may be one of the
factors of the current crisis, in addition to the problem of the capped
prices that the Government had already tried, as there is now one less
incentive to encourage the drivers to comply with the absurd state

Such causality can also manifest itself among other self-employed
workers who do not undertake a line of work as a way of life, but as a
means to make enough money to leave the country.

I imagine that there were also many of the young truckers, new
retailers, who were making fast and abundant money due to the absurd
state policies of imposing prices on farmers and truckers and preventing
them from selling directly in the city.

When emigration is the reason a person is working, they may be willing
to ensure fines, mistreatment and the stupid fees as long as it doesn't
endanger their final goal. As soon as they take off, all the reasons
they had to put up with it end.

They say that "revolutionaries" who are trying to control the markets
for transport, farm products and housing construction through price
controls, are contributing greatly to the pressure in the pot. Mainly
due to voluntarism and ignorance of the economy and the dialectic.

This is the natural result of the contradictions of the statist,
directed and centralized economy and policies, imposed in Cuba in the
name of socialism.

When Obama, a few days before the end of his term, decided to end the
Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy, he left a poisoned gift to Raul Castro, who
was not able to respond to everything the former US president did to
improve relations with Cuba.

Apparently, the closing of that escape valve, along with the stupidities
of the bureaucracy of the Cuban government, already caused the first
bean to explode. The leaders of the island do not have the capacity to
reverse the US presidential order, but they could stop further
imposition of absurd regulations.

Will the Cuban repressive bureaucracy have the ability to lower the heat
under the pot? Or will it continue to keep the gas on high? For me, in
truth, I only see the right hand continuing to turn the gas all the way up.

Source: The Crisis Of The 'Boteros': The First Bean To Burst Into The
Pot / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 17 February 2017 – The ending of the United States’ Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy – that allowed Cubans who touched American soil to stay – crushed the hopes of many Cubans of being able to achieve the American dream, that is equality of opportunities and the freedom to allow all citizens to achieve … Continue reading "The Crisis Of The ‘Boteros’: The First Bean To Burst Into The Pot / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos" Continue reading
Athens, February 16 (RHC)-- A new report says Greece's economy has contracted in the fourth quarter of 2016 as the debt-laden country faces stalemate in negotiations with its creditors.  According to the report by the national statistical service of … Continue reading
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. —  Shortly after working on their sliders, fastballs and changeups during a morning bullpen session here Tuesday, Rockies pitchers moved to the diamond for PFP — pitchers fielding practice. They handled bunts and made throws to first, … Continue reading
… ;s republic of Korea and Cuba signed Monday a protocol on … Economy Kim Yong Jae, and Cuba's ambassador to the … Continue reading
Taxi Prices: Raul's Reform Is Not Working
ORLANDO FREIRE SANTANA | La Habana | 13 de Febrero de 2017 - 22:04 CET.

When a society manages to liberalize prices – that is, they are
determined by the relationship between supply and demand – they
constitute an indicator of economic health.

This is so because a freely-set price is a function of consumers'
tastes, the state of competition, the necessary levels of production, as
well as a proper allocation of resources towards certain sectors of the

In this regard the perspectives of renowned economists like Ludwig von
Mises and Friedrich von Hayes, prominent members of the Austrian School,
are salient, as they insisted on the non-viability of socialism due to
this social system's absence of market prices. Because of this, they
argued, there was no accurate information about what was really
happening in the economy.

In state-controlled economies that introduce market reform, the
liberalization of prices generally marks one of the climactic moments of
that process. Cases in point: the European nations that belonged to the
former Soviet bloc, and also the economic reform measures implemented in
China and Vietnam.

Of course, at times the conditions do not yet exist to carry out the
liberalization of prices. If a country begins with depressed production
levels, a premature liberalization of prices could be interpreted as a
kind of shock treatment that could affect the society's poorest
citizens. However, the trend in cases of successful reforms is to move
towards the establishment of market prices shaped by fluctuations in
supply and demand.

The opposite is what is currently occurring with the economic reform
measures implemented by the President Raúl Castro. Almost one decade
after the initiation of the "updating of the economic model," the
tendency observed is inverted: several market prices have been adopted
by the governmental bureaucracy and established as official.

First we see this in the commercialization of agricultural products,
with the closing of several supply and demand markets and the
proliferation of state markets that employ price caps.

And now it is happening with the government's intervention to set the
prices applied by private transport providers. Last Thursday the
newspaper Granma published an announcement by the Council of the
Provincial Administration of Havana setting the rates that must be
offered by taxi drivers working as independent professionals. In almost
every case the prices are lower than those existing prior to state

For example, there are some routes henceforth to be charged at 5 pesos,
half of what self-employed drivers used to. Other longer routes that
used to cost 20 pesos have now been set at 15. It is also stressed that
"violations, whether complaints received from the population, or the
result of oversight actions, entail the cancellation of one's Transport
Operation License; or, depending on the nature of the complaint and its
corresponding processing, the potential seizure of the vehicle."

It goes without saying that, in the case of agricultural products, and
private taxi drivers, the price ceilings set by the Government result in
the demoralization of producers, marketers and service providers.
Therefore, the purported protection of the population cited by the
regime as a pretext for its policies, is soon belied by the damage they
do to everyday citizens. The shortages suffered by state markets are now
coupled with a drop in the number of almendrones (as private taxis are
called) on Havana's streets.

In any case, the situation that has spurred the authorities to meddle in
the reformulation of prices and fees, which used to be freely
determined, is viewed by many as just the tip of the iceberg, revealing
the serious problems underlying the Cuban economy.

Source: Taxi Prices: Raul's Reform Is Not Working | Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
… to Cuba — journalists included. Reporter Deepa Fernandes, however, lived in Cuba two … friends, a rich cross-section of Havana’s cultural, intellectual and marginalized … in Cuba. But often her work takes her outside of Havana for … Havana. As the Cuban economy opened up, and it became legal for CubansContinue reading

When a society manages to liberalize prices – that is, they are determined by the relationship between supply and demand – they constitute an indicator of economic health.

This is so because a freely-set price is a function of consumers' tastes, the state of competition, the necessary levels of production, as well as a proper allocation of resources towards certain sectors of the economy.

leer más

Continue reading
When it comes to Cuba, the world’s media tends … , the multiple difficulties faced by Cuba’s over-centralised planned economy, or … challenges facing Cuban society, or try to see change through Cuban eyes … Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — There are few things that spontaneously bring Cubans on the island together. For example, if the provincial team is crowned champion in the national baseball series, where, in between the infamous beer and a noisy reggaeton, in Communist Party-arranged pachangas, people celebrate at the tops of their voices. It’s also … Continue reading "Cubans Wanting To Emigrate See The United States As First Option" Continue reading
… along a street of Havana. Nearly one-fifth of Cuba's population … demographic problem Cuba faces: Some 60,000 to 80,000 Cubans emigrate … pool of Cuban workers to keep the state-run economy afloat. Cuba’s … also reduce daycare costs for Cuban parents with multiple children, and … Continue reading
… demographic problem Cuba faces: Some  60,000 to 80,000 Cubans emigrate … , dry foot’ policy for Cubans] The Cubans who stay behind are going … pool of Cuban workers to keep the state-run economy afloat. Cuba… also reduce day-care costs for Cuban parents with multiple children, and … Continue reading
Cuba: It Might Seem Stupid but…
February 9, 2017
By Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban economy would be on the increase if half of the
Revolution's guardian angels – those who dedicate themselves to
monitoring what is written on every blog – spent their time chasing
corrupt and incompetent officials who steal and destroy the wealth that
other Cuban people generate.

This isn't my idea but that of one of Cartas desde Cuba's readers and it
stems from the fact that the Comptroller General of Cuba reported that
there were "losses" worth around 90 million pesos and 50 million USD, in
some companies that had been inspected in Havana.

During the debate that then kicked off on the blog, many people asked
why names of corrupt and incompetent officials weren't made public or
why we weren't informed of the dismissal of company leaders or those
sectors affected, just like the blog La Joven Cuba was "reported" in the
press, for example.

Cuba can't get rid of the blockade because that depends on the US
Congress. However, a lot could be done to counteract State company
"losses" in the millions, without which we will never reach the
productivity needed in order to raise wages.

The country's national economic situation is no joking matter. In 2016,
over 5 billion USD were paid on the country's foreign debt and, I
imagine, that this year this expenditure will be similar. If the
payments aren't made there are few credits available and those which
come, are loaded with huge interest rates.

As if that wasn't enough, Venezuela has cut oil exports to Cuba, which
the government pays for with medical services. Last year, only 55,000
barrels were delivered per day, around half of the amount that Cuba used
to receive when things were going well, when they were able to use,
refine and resell oil.

The situation needs to be changed urgently. In 2016, Cuba couldn't pay
some medium and short-term debts because they didn't have liquid funds.
The national economy needs to grow and in order for that to happen,
foreign investment is vital; about 2.5 billion USD per year, according
to Cuban economists.

However, these investments don't come or, rather, they do appear but
they get stuck in the marshy labyrinth of Cuban bureaucracy. And this is
how foreign businessmen spend their days in Cuba, losing hope while
they're told perhaps, perhaps perhaps…

Last year was very hard and this year looks like it will be too.
However, it could be a lot less difficult if things were handled more
decisively against incompetent and corrupt officials that squander
Cuba's scant resources and possibilities for development, as Vietnamese
economic advisers suggested to government officials.

Or maybe these officials are being dealt with and what Cuban citizens
are missing is transparency to explain why provincial leaders are being
arrested for having kept money from grants meant for home building or
those who sell official passports.

Lisandro Otero said that capitalism is so uncertain that the population
never knows what will happen, while in socialism, they never find out
what happened. Maybe if we were told a little more about some of these
cases, people would think twice before putting their hands in the State

There are some people who oppose the idea that there should be greater
transparency because that way it would be public which leader "messed
up" and why. With such information we could save ourselves at least from
letting some known corrupt official, from a new government post, give us
lessons on revolutionary honor.

"When they steal from the State they are stealing from you."
To nobody's surprise, there are a group of "super-revolutionaries" who
dedicate their lives to blocking this information from ever reaching the
general population. They fight against blogs, websites and within the
national media against all of those who try to practice better journalism.

Their enemies aren't those who – from a ministry – take part in people
trafficking scams, or those who put a halt to foreign investment.
Likewise, they don't report those who rob social security funds or State
company managers who lose millions of dollars.

According to them, the greatest danger that the country faces today are…
bloggers. That's why they dedicate article after article to attack any
non-governmental statement in the blogosphere. They seek to convince the
Cuban people that wiping the bloggers out of cyberspace is a matter of
life and death for the Revolution.

With the very real problems that the economy is suffering, with the most
powerful country in the world's blockade still present, with hundreds of
thieves diverting resources and with incompetent bureaucracy hindering
the reforms process, looking for imaginary enemies might seem stupid and
it really is.

Source: Cuba: It Might Seem Stupid but… - Havana - Continue reading
Cuba experiencing an economic crisis
By Nora Gamez Torres
El Nuevo Herald Published Feb 7, 2017 at 12:02AM

MIAMI — The Cuban government reportedly paid $5.2 billion in 2016 to
meet its commitments after an extensive restructuring of its foreign
debt in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis not likely to improve
this year.

Despite growth in tourism — with a 15 percent increase in revenues for
the first half of 2016 that amounted to some $1.2 billion — the Cuban
economy will remain in the red this year, dragged down by foreign debt
obligations and the economic crisis in Venezuela, which provides
significant oil subsidies to the island nation.

While the Cuban government and the Economic Commission for Latin America
and the Caribbean, which uses the same official figures, predicted that
the gross domestic product will grow by 2 percent this year, economist
Pavel Vidal predicts a decrease of between 0.3 and 1.4 percent,
according to the latest report by the Cuba Standard Economic Trend Index.

The economic reforms undertaken by Cuban leader Raul Castro "had
promised a GDP growth of 5.1 percent, which was then adjusted to 4.4
percent. But the true average growth from 2008 to 2016 was barely 2.3
percent," the report states. "The ending couldn't have been any more
discouraging, with a recession in 2016 (-0.9 percent), and very
uncertain projections for 2017 in terms of a rapid reemergence from the
crisis and of what could happen with the Trump administration."

Vidal, a professor at the Javeriana University in Colombia and a former
official at the Cuban Central Bank, is the creator of the CSETI, an
index to measure the Cuban economy — published quarterly by Cuba
Standard — that correctly predicted the economic contraction in 2016.

Vidal estimates the Cuban government missed a payment of nearly 800
million dollars to providers and short-term debt contracts last year.
However, the government did pay the annual amount agreed after the
restructuring of its external debt with several members of the Paris
Club, according to former Cuban Minister of Economy, Jose Luis Rodriguez.

"To attract important volumes of foreign investment and new credits in
more favorable conditions, it was planned to pay around 5,299 million of
dollars ($5.2 billion) last year, a figure that according to the
information provided in the ANPP (National Assembly of People's Power)
was fulfilled, although a share of the short-term trade credits could
not be paid," Rodriguez said in an article posted on the Cuban website

Castro assured the Assembly at the end of last year that there would be
a "strict fulfillment of the obligations incurred as a result of the
rearrangement of the Cuban external debt," without providing figures. He
added that it was not possible to "overcome the temporary situation that
we are going through in the delay of payments to providers."

The reported foreign debt payment would have far exceeded revenue from
tourism last year, which Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa Lago estimates at
nearly $3 billion, as the official numbers have not yet been released.
The government provides no official figures of remittances from Cubans
abroad to relatives on the island, another important source of revenue
that could amount to another $3 billion, according to the Havana
Consulting Group.

But oil supply from Venezuela significantly decreased to 55,000 barrels
per day in 2016, as reported by Rodriguez — from 120,000 during the best
of times. Cuba has also lost around $1.3 billion in revenue from exports
of medical and other services to Venezuela, according to projections
made by island-based economist Omar Everleny Perez.

Source: Cuba experiencing an economic crisis; - Continue reading
The Cuban hustle: Doctors drive cabs and work abroad to make up for
meager pay
FEBRUARY 8, 2017

HAVANA — He knew as a child that he wanted to be a doctor, like his
father. He went to medical school, became a general surgeon and
ultimately a heart specialist. He practiced at Cuba's premier
cardiovascular hospital, performed heart transplants, and published
articles in medical journals.

For this, Roberto Mejides earned a typical doctor's salary: about $40 a

It wasn't nearly enough, even with the free housing and health care
available to Cubans, to support his extended family. So in 2014, Mejides
left them behind, moving to Ecuador to earn up to $8,000 a month working
at two clinics and performing surgeries.

It's a common story here, where waiters, cabdrivers, and tour guides can
make 10 to 20 times the government wages of doctors and nurses — thanks
to tips from tourists.

"Doctors are like slaves for our society," said Sandra, an art student
and photographer's assistant who makes more than her mother, a
physician. "It's not fair to study for so many years and be so underpaid."

Cuba is proud of its government-run health care system and its skilled
doctors. But even with a raise two years ago, the highest paid doctors
make $67 a month, while nurses top out at $40. That leaves many feeling
demoralized — and searching for ways to improve their lives.

Some enter the private economy — by renting rooms to tourists, driving
cabs, or treating private patients, quasi-legally, on the side.
Thousands of others accept two-year government assignments to work as
doctors abroad, collecting higher salaries for themselves and earning
billions for the state, which helps keep the stagnant economy afloat. In
fact, health workers are Cuba's largest source of foreign exchange.

A few doctors, like Mejides, arrange foreign employment on their own,
putting at risk their future ability to return to a government job in
the health system back home.

"It's hard to migrate and be alone," Mejides said in Spanish, during a
video phone call from Ecuador to a reporter visiting Havana in October.
"It's stressful. I am in the wrong place. I should be with my family in
my country, working and being rewarded properly."

Still, with his Ecuador earnings, he was able to buy his wife, two
daughters, and two stepdaughters a $23,000 apartment in Havana, and he
sends them $300 to $500 a month.

Renting out rooms to make ends meet

While doctors back in Cuba grumble about their low pay, they usually
find ways to make do.

Sandra's mother, Nadia, a genetics researcher, earns about as much as
she pays a cleaning woman to maintain her three-bedroom Havana
apartment. Whenever she can, she rents one of those rooms to tourists
for $40 a night, making more in two nights than she does from her
monthly earnings as a doctor. She asked that her full name not be used
to avoid any problems with the government.

The rental income allows Nadia to have a modestly comfortable life and
to be able to buy fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. But a
restaurant meal is a rare treat, and traveling abroad is impossible.

Still, she loves her work and the intellectual challenge of her research
into genetic diseases. She said many Cuban doctors are committed and
provide excellent service, in part because of the ways they have learned
to overcome shortages of equipment and technology.

"We don't have all the electronic tools, so we have to learn to do
things other ways, to diagnose just by external examination," she said,
over a dinner of fish and rum at her apartment.

She'd like to earn more money, of course, and she understands why so
many doctors, including many she knows, have chosen to leave Cuba.

"I'm not ambitious for money," she said. "I get rent from visitors, and
I get to live in Cuba. I have a nice house, and I'm happy with what I
have. But I'm not a millionaire."

Cecilia, a 60-year-old former nurse who also asked that her full name
not be used, spent 25 years working in government hospitals and clinics.
To adapt to the shortages, she learned to make inventos medicos —
medical inventions — using a chair or bench to raise the back of a
patient's bed, for example, or cutting the tip off an intravenous line
to fashion an oxygen feed to a patient's nose.

But she became disillusioned by the chronic shortages and the stress she
saw in both her patients and colleagues.

"The material scarcity is so overwhelming that it keeps people from
dedicating all the passion, love, and brain power that they should to
their patients in need," she said, sitting in a rocking chair in her
third-floor Havana apartment. "I was the one who had to face the
patients and tell them we don't have the drug that you need. It was very
common. And I didn't want to do that any more."

Doctors and nurses "have the best intentions, but they face so many
obstacles, there are so many things on their mind," she added. "The
doctor might be treating a patient but they are actually thinking: 'When
I get home, at God knows what time, what am I going to feed my kid?'"

She quit nursing in the early 2000s and later began to pursue her
passion, doing hands-on alternative medicine that combines techniques of
massage, kinesiology, magnetic therapy, and so-called floral therapy,
which uses extracts of flowers and herbs as healing agents.

Her work with private clients, who come to her apartment, is permitted
under a license for massage, the only form of healing work included on a
list of government-approved private services and businesses. Working
three days a week, she earns almost $120 a month "if all my appointments
show up," she said. "I use to make that in six months working at the

A surplus of doctors

In the years after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, Cuba invested
heavily in education and science, training tens of thousands of doctors,
nurses, and scientists. As a result, Cuba, a country of 11.2 million
people, today has 90,000 doctors, the most per capita in the world.

About 25,000 of these doctors, along with 30,000 Cuban nurses and other
health professionals, are working in 67 countries around the world. They
earn about $8.2 billion in revenue for the government, according to a
recent article in Granma, the official paper of the Cuban Communist Party.

The bulk of the doctors, about 20,000, are in Brazil and Venezuela. Over
the last three years they provided treatment to 60 million Brazilians,
mostly the rural poor, said Cristián Morales Fuhrimann, the Pan American
Health Organization's representative in Havana.

Cuba receives about $5,000 a month per doctor from Brazil, pays each
doctor about $1,200, and banks the rest, said John Kirk, a professor of
Latin American studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, who
has researched Cuba's program of medical missions. Most of the doctors'
shares are deposited in their Cuban bank accounts, requiring them to
return home to collect it.

"Cuba has too many doctors, so their main source of hard currency is to
rent out medical services," Kirk said.

Once close allies of Havana, Brazil and Venezuela have been engulfed in
political and economic crises that will cause them to reduce their use
of Cuban doctors in the coming years.

That may lead Cuba to redeploy some doctors to other parts of the world,
including the Middle East. In Qatar, an oil-rich emirate about as far
from Cuba geographically and culturally as any place in the world, the
so-called Cuban Hospital is fully staffed by 400 Cuban doctors, nurses,
and technicians.

Cuba's dispatch of doctors not only generates revenue, it is also an
exercise in soft power that allows the country to spread its influence
around the globe.

"It's a major contribution to the health of the world," said Morales.
"They made a big difference in fighting Ebola in Africa, in the
aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti."

Some Cuban doctors working overseas have defected to the United States,
aided by a policy launched during the administration of George W. Bush
that permitted Cuban medical personnel to go to the US with their
spouses and children. In its last weeks in office, the Obama
administration announced it was ending the program.

Since the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program began in 2006, more
than 9,000 medical professionals and their family members were approved
for admission to the US. In the past four years, the number of entrants
spiked, reaching almost 2,000 for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

The Cuban government and the Pan American Health Organization protested
the policy as a form of poaching that undermined Cuba's health system
and impeded newfound cooperation between the US and Cuba. In a
statement, Obama acknowledged that the program "risks harming the Cuban

Cuban doctors are in demand internationally because they come cheap, are
well-trained, and work in a public health system that is highly
organized and well-run. In Cuba, primary care clinics are available in
every neighborhood. Specialists in cancer, immunology, genetic medicine,
and cardiovascular disease staff the hospitals. Life expectancy rates,
which two generations ago were at Third World levels, are today roughly
equal to those in the United States.

But the absence of so many doctors also provokes complaints from
patients, who say it keeps them from getting the best care. They also
grouse that they have to bring their own food and bedsheets, wait for
appointments or medications — and provide gifts to doctors to ensure
good treatment.

When the 61-year-old father of Concepcion, a young Cuban professional,
was diagnosed with prostate cancer last summer, she used personal
connections to enable her father to see a specialist promptly.

Concepcion, who asked that her full name not be used to avoid reprisals
or damage to her professional standing, also provided daily gifts of
food, cosmetics, and sometimes cash to doctors, nurses, and technicians
while her father was hospitalized for a month in Holguin, a city in
eastern Cuba.

"Doctors are used to receiving gifts," she said. "You give the gift and
the attention starts getting better. If you stop and the attention goes
down, you go back to handing out gifts. You feel sorry for the doctors
because they work really hard under bad conditions and you always feel
like they're not being rewarded."

She estimated she spent about $500 on gifts and food, an amount she said
would have doubled had he been hospitalized in pricier Havana.

Jose dos Santos, a Cuban journalist who needs regular treatment for his
diabetes, said the care he receives is excellent. Bringing gifts to
doctors "has become a habit because we know that the job doctors do
needs to be better rewarded," he said. "We don't produce oil," he added,
"but we produce talent, and it makes sense that that talent is
acknowledged and rewarded."

In December, Roberto Mejides moved again, this time to Merida, Mexico,
where he plans to work for the next four years. His income will be
roughly the same as in Ecuador, but now he's just 90 minutes by air from
Havana. He hopes to bring his family to join him in the coming months,

"My hopes have always been the same, to work honestly and to provide my
family with an adequate life," he said. Someday, he added, he wants to
return to Cuba: "It's my country, my homeland."

Rob Waters can be reached at
Follow Rob on Twitter @robwaters001

Source: Cuban doctors drive cabs and work abroad to compensate for
meager pay - Continue reading
HAVANA, Cuba, Feb 7 (ACN) Cuban Vice-President and Minister of Economy … government and its ambassador to Havana for having signed the debt … between the European Union and Cuba. Both parties assessed the growing … Slovak companies to invest in Cuba, motivated by the facilities offered … Continue reading
Maderas Mayarí: how a company is destroyed
OSMEL RAMÍREZ ÁLVAREZ | Holguín | 6 de Febrero de 2017 - 23:30 CET.

One of the landmark companies in Mayarí, Holguín, is MADEMA (Maderas
Mayarí), among the largest of its kind in the country. It boasts a
combine that processes wood, workshops that turn out rustic-style
finished products, along with coffee plantations, and timberlands in the
mountains of Nipe and Cristal, with about 1,000 employees working the land.

A plant to produce artificial wood from waste remains unfinished, its
construction paralyzed since the early 90s. This is just one more
investment at a standstill for decades that nobody understands, because
the product would have a definite market in the country.

Five years ago at Maderas Mayarí (the trade name of Forestal Integral
Mayarí) a period of apparent economic prosperity came to an end.
Although its coffee business was already sagging, wood was booming. Upon
receiving new equipment and implementing "corporate fine-tuning,"
spearheaded by the ousted Carlos Lage (with result-based payments and
other reform measures) it saw a boom in production. And that upturn, to
an acceptable extent, ended up economically benefitting its workers and
meant more comfortable conditions for managers (cars, renovated and
climate-controlled offices, protein-rich lunches, etc.).

Everything seemed to be rosy, and droves of young people aspired to work
at the company. But, even at that time, some signs suggested that it was
not as solid, sustainable and efficient as it seemed.

Its main timber reserve was the Pinares de Mayarí, and the logging and
extraction process was clearly outpacing reforestation efforts, with no
effective replantation plan. Wood was being processed from forests that
were the result of the massive reforestation effort undertaken during
the first decades after the Revolution. And that preceding, almost
always volunteer labor was logged on the company's books as an
investment. It was pure profit.

When those easily-accessed forests on the Pinares de Mayari plateau ran
out, MADEMA management had to resort to other forests, natural or
reforested, in more difficult areas. New equipment was then needed. But,
in accordance with the regime's iron-fisted central control model, it
was not company representatives that travelled to Russia in search of
new equipment, but rather Foreign Commerce officials.

The machinery they bought was useless under its new conditions, and this
was another factor leading to the company's decline. Moreover, the new
plantations took a long time to replace the deforested lands, due to the
absence of a well-structured investment strategy. The scenario worsened,
and the company began to cut wages and benefits.

That is when its weaknesses came to the surface and the company's
profits began to dwindle. The coffee line was a disaster: after the
State appropriated (stole) tens of thousands of acres from their owners
under Land Reform and nationalization, most of the mountain farms ended
up overgrown with foliage and were abandoned. It was only in Pinares de
Mayari, under pine forests and on terrain that was flat and easy to
work, that they planted coffee. However, when logging began and
intensified, the coffee plants were not protected, destroyed due to a
myopic fixation on profitable timber.

The locals view the destruction of the coffee plantations as a crime
equal to that of the town (Guatemala) sugar mill, and the nickel
processing factory in Nicaro (west of the city). The latter company, now
defunct, left a veritable fortune in the pine groves, as under the roots
of the pine and coffee trees lie huge deposits of unexploited iron,
nickel, cobalt and chromium.

MADEMA is no exception, a company typical of Cuban socialism in that it
is not headed up by a logical and natural leadership team, but rather
one imposed by the Government. Like any business in Cuba, it enjoys no
autonomy, nor does it manage its budgets or decide its investments.
Rather, it must await orders and resources, allocated at the central level.

Even when making millions, a Cuban company can grind to a halt due to
something that costs a relative pittance, and have to wait another year
for funds to be assigned it for that purpose. If it has surplus funds in
a certain area, it cannot transfer them to others that lack them and
have problems to be solved, as the most basic logic would dictate.

Far from being a rarity, Maderas Mayarí constitutes a case
representative of the Cuban economy, in which stagnation is the order
of the day.

Source: Maderas Mayarí: how a company is destroyed | Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
The Cuban government reportedly paid $5.2 billion in 2016 to meet its commitments after an extensive restructuring of its foreign debt in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis not … Click to Continue » Continue reading
Trump's warnings grow, but so are travelers and flights to Cuban soil
Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC

Last week, the newly inaugurated Trump administration warned it was in
the middle of a "full review" of U.S. policy toward Cuba—prompting new
questions about how committed President Donald Trump will be to the
political and cultural thaw began under his predecessor.

However, uncertainty over Trump's Cuba policy did not prevent American
Airlines from opening a ticket office in Havana this week, a mere two
months after the carrier flew the first scheduled commercial flight from
the U.S. to Havana since 1961.

American's new outpost in Cuba underscores how both U.S. fliers and air
carriers are rushing to make the most of the first real opening between
the two countries in decades—despite lingering questions about whether
that thaw will continue in the Trump era.

"We cannot speculate about what [Trump's] next step will be, but I can
assure you that we are moving our machine forward," said Galo Beltran,
Cuba manager for American Airlines told the Associated Press, "You are a
witness to the investment and how important Cuba is to American as a
U.S. entity doing business."

American began flying to Havana from Miami and Charlotte in late
November, and from Miami to five other Cuban cities in September. After
a mid-February 'schedule adjustment' that drops one of two daily flights
between Miami and three cities (Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero),
American will be operating 10 daily flights to six Cuban cities.

Other U.S. airlines competed for the go-ahead to offer service to Havana
and other Cuban cities. These include Delta (which in November was the
first U.S. airline to open a ticket office in Havana), Spirit, United,
Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest, all of which are sticking with their
original flight schedules.

"Myriad external forces govern the climate in which we operate – prices
of energy, labor," said Brad Hawkins, spokesman for Southwest Airlines,
which currently operates a dozen daily roundtrips between Cuba and the
U.S.. As of right now, "Our Cuba flights are performing in-line with our

JetBlue reported the same.

"Cuba routes are performing as expected," said JetBlue spokesman Philip
Stewart, "As has been the case since we completed all of our route
launches last fall, we continue to operate nearly 50 roundtrips between
the U.S. and Cuba every week on six unique routes."

As one would expect from tourists prohibited from visiting a cultural
Mecca for decades, many U.S. visitors who now fly to Havana join walking
tours through the city's old quarters, take rides in restored vintage
cars and visit the Presidential Palace (home of the Revolutionary
Museum), Hemingway's House and the studios of local artists.

Members of a 50-person delegation of political, business and cultural
leaders who joined Seattle-based Alaska Airlines in January, as part of
the first regularly scheduled flight between Los Angeles and Havana,
indulged in the same.

At the same time, they engaged with their Cuban counterparts, exchanging
ideas and business links.

Stephanie Bowman and other commissioners from the Port of Seattle, which
operates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and an assortment of
cruise and marine terminals, met with the Cuban Minister of Trade and
Foreign Investment and the Cuban Port Authority.

"We learned that with the lessening of trade restrictions and the
increase in tourism they have huge challenges in infrastructure
development, everything from roads and hotels to being able to provide
enough food for everyone," said Bowman. She suggested the Port of
Seattle host some Cuban executives in Seattle "so they can observe our
cruise and airport business and take some best practices back."

'I want to have a horse to ride'

Kevin Mather, president & COO of the Seattle Mariners, didn't meet with
Cuban baseball officials or players while in Havana. However, he did
bring a suitcase full of t-shirts, whiffle balls and other Mariners
promotional items to hand out to baseball fans in a downtown Havana plaza.

Mather recognized that scouting for potential players in Cuba is a
touchy subject right now, but he's confident that eventually Cuban
baseball leagues and the American Major League Baseball will have an

"And when the gate opens and the race starts, I want to have a horse to
ride," said Mather. He instructed his office to retain scouts and people
well-versed in the Cuban economy "so that when the day comes we can react."

That "hurry up and wait" lesson is being learned by members of cultural,
business, tourism and trade missions heading to Cuba from a variety of
U.S cities, said Janet Moore, president of Distant Horizons, which
organizes the on-the-ground details for many delegations.

Once in Cuba, "They quickly realize that it's not quite so
straight-forward and that until the Trade Embargo is lifted, doing
business with Cuba comes with an enormous set of regulations," said Moore.

"So feelers are being put out there and relationships forged, but at
this point concrete steps are more difficult," she added.

—Harriet Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden
Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the
Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas . Follow Road Warrior at

Source: Trump's warnings grow, but so are travelers and flights to Cuban
soil - Continue reading
Cuba Does Not Need US Investment To Develop Its Economy / 14ymedio,
Pedro Campos

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 2 February 2017 – A previous article
addressed the economic policy of the current Cuban government to hinder
the private economy – forbidding investment from Cubans on the island
and abroad – and favoring foreign investment, mainly from the United
States, which could lead Cuba to a situation of virtual annexation to
the United States. Meanwhile it appears that allowing free investment,
and allowing employers to hire workers directly, versus requiring them
to contract only through the state, is something that the
state-socialist system is not willing to accept.

But, does it have to be like this to develop the country? Does Cuba have
to depend on US and foreign investment in general?

My clear answer is no. Cuba does need investment and the international
market for its development, but it does not have to rely on US
investments or foreign capital to develop its economy.

An analysis of four basic elements suggests that Cuba could solve its
investment needs without having to turn to US or foreign capital in
general, as the government, official Cuban economists and others
suggest, who do not imagine the island anything but subject to the US.

1. Due to the lack of transparency in the government's economic data
it is unknown what is or could be invested, how much is squandered in
the bureaucratic treasury at all levels, how much is wasted in the bad
paternalistic-populist democracy, or where that money goes. There is
such a lack of transparency about the investments and payments of the
nation, no one explains what so much money from taxes of all kinds,
remittances, the sale of medical and professional services abroad, or
tourism, is spent on, and the national investment is so low.

A change from the current hyper-centralization to democratic control of
revenues and budgets should shed light on the existence of the enormous
amount of capital currently wasted that could increase the amount to be
invested from the nation's own resources. We are thinking about the
necessary reduction in the Armed Forces, the apparatus of State
Security, the enormous services abroad, the big bureaucracy lazing
around in all the ministries and their provincial and municipal
branches, the outreach and propaganda apparatus, and the costs of the
system of organizations of the "dictatorship of the proletariat." How
much money could be freed up for investments through these reductions?

2. There are enormous fortunes within Cuba that do not display their
possibilities due to the current limitations and their fears of being
audited. If the inviolability of private capital and property were
guaranteed by law and clear relations of free trade were established,
this internal capital could be developed, private banks could be
generated to facilitate loans to private entrepreneurs and associates,
to import the means and resources necessary for internal development and
economic movements and associations could strengthen their
opportunities. There are imprecise calculations of the thousands of
millions of dollars, Cuban convertible pesos, Cuban pesos, stored in
banks and mattresses awaiting changes in Cuba.

3. According to different sources, Cuba is receiving between three and
five billion dollars a year from remittances, sent back to the island by
Cubans abroad. Much of that revenue is being invested in private
businesses and another part in using the services they generate. So
there is a positive predisposition in the diaspora to support
micro-enterprises with micro-investments. If conditions were established
in Cuba for the development of free enterprise, this small capital could
grow enormously, multiply and expand in a few years.

4. There is a great deal of capital in the hands of Cuban Americans in
the United States, a part of which they would be willing to invest in
Cuba if a new system of laws, in a State of law, guaranteed private
property and free markets, independent of a future analysis of
nationalization and compensation*. Because of their Cuban origin, and
for some because of their historic ties with specific production sectors
on the island, they would be in better conditions than any foreign
capital to engage in the Cuban economy and push its development. They
bring capital, techniques, knowledge, markets and transportation systems.

Thus, by simply facilitating the internally accumulated Cuban capital,
reorganizing that of the government, and favoring that of emigrants –
large, medium and small – with full guarantees, Cuba could receive a
large injection of capital of national origin, capable of changing the
economic landscape in a few years.

It would not be necessary to have investment from the United States or
from other foreign countries. There would be no dependence on American
capital. It would not be necessary to be virtually annexed to the United
States. Cuba would trade with the United States like the rest of the
Caribbean, the American continent and the world.

The interaction of these four factors would enable a self-sufficient
economy, capable of generating, itself, the means and resources to
resolve the needs of the population with domestic products, exchanged or
acquired in the international market. This should not be confused with
the absurdity of an autarchic economy that tries to survive without an
external market.

How to do this will be the subject of another article.

*Translator's note: "Nationalization and compensation" refers to the
nationalization of private businesses and property in the early days of
the Revolution, and the demands on the part of some for compensation for
what was taken from them.

Source: Cuba Does Not Need US Investment To Develop Its Economy /
14ymedio, Pedro Campos – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Colombia Sugar Mill, A Giant That Is Slow To Wake Up / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar 14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2017 — Colombia’s sugar mill whistle sounded again at the end of January, like a giant awakened from a seven-year-long lethargy. The residents in the area breathed a sign of relief: the driving force […] Continue reading
The Struggle for Freedom Continues in Cuba
by MARIO T. DE LA PENA February 5, 2017 4:00 AM

Fidel Castro is dead, but Castroism still needs to be defeated

Fidel Castro died on November 25, but Castroism — the one-party,
neo-Stalinist system that has tyrannized Cuba for more than half a
century — still needs to be defeated.

Fidel's brother, Raúl, "president" of the island nation for most of the
last decade, has shown no signs of ending the political oppression and
human-rights violations that define the regime. To be sure, Raúl has
made a few minor reforms out of necessity, to open up the economy. But
those changes have not been accompanied by political reforms.

The Obama administration restored diplomatic relations with the Cuban
government and made it easier for Americans to travel and do business
there. On January 12 of this year, the administration announced that it
was ending the longstanding "wet foot, dry foot" policy that grants
permanent-resident status to any Cuban who makes it to the U.S. shore.
And back in October, the Obama administration announced the
implementation of Presidential Policy Directive 43, which directs the
Department of Defense to expand its relationship with Havana.

Other changes include permitting Americans to bring back as much Cuban
rum and cigars as they like from Cuba. "Already we are seeing what the
United States and Cuba can accomplish when we put aside the past and
work to build a brighter future," U.S. National Security Adviser Susan
Rice said at the time. "You can now celebrate with Cuban rum and Cuban

But Cubans aren't celebrating. Under Castroism, Cuba's main
accomplishments have been the highest per-capita rates of suicide,
abortion, and refugees in the Western Hemisphere. Cuba has the oldest
population in Latin America. Cuba ages and withers away, strangled by
Castro's tyranny.

The problem with Obama's overtures is that they have not been
reciprocated by the Cuban regime. There is still no respect for human
rights or political freedom. As Amnesty International put it recently:

Despite increasingly open diplomatic relations, severe restrictions on
freedoms of expression, association and movement continued. Thousands of
cases of harassment of government critics and arbitrary arrests and
detentions were reported.

But the situation is not hopeless. Cubans of different generations and
backgrounds are committed like never before to working for a free Cuba.

There are many things Cubans, Cuban Americans, and other people of
goodwill can do. They can support the resistance by encouraging those
who are involved in direct civic action on the island. For instance, the
Ladies in White, a group of wives, mothers, and sisters of jailed
dissidents, continue to suffer beatings, harassment, and jailing at the
hands of the government for their silent, non-violent marches. Such
protests are an indispensable means through which Cubans' rights will be

What must happen for Cuba to be free? The regime must give general
amnesty for all political prisoners. That means full rights to free
expression, access to information, assembly, association, peaceful
protest, profession, and worship.

Other essential rights include the right to collective bargaining, the
rule of law, checks and balances, and the balance of power, including an
independent judiciary.

A free Cuba will be realized only when multi-party elections are held
and the right to vote and the privacy of the ballot are respected. For
that to happen, a constitutional process must take place that includes a
constitutional convention and a referendum on a new constitution.

Many Cuban Americans hope that President Trump will be a stronger
advocate for human rights than Barack Obama was. During the campaign,
Trump promised to "stand with the Cuban people in their fight against
Communist oppression" and criticized the "concessions" that Barack Obama
made to the Castros. He promised to secure a "better deal" between the
two countries than the one Obama negotiated.

Trump should make it clear that he will sever diplomatic relations with
the Cuban government unless it makes progress to end political
repression, opens its markets, protects freedom of religion, and
releases all political prisoners.

The public may believe that, now that Fidel and Obama are gone, Cuba is
well on its way to being free. But Castroism didn't die with Fidel. The
repression and violence against the Cuban people continues. Economic
changes alone will not bring about democracy. They are important, but
only respect for human rights and political liberty will truly make Cuba

— Mario T. de la Peña is an advocate for a free and democratic Cuba who
has lived in the United States since 1962.

Source: Cuba Post-Castro: Repression Continues | National Review - Continue reading
14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 2 February 2017 – A previous article addressed the economic policy of the current Cuban government to hinder the private economy – forbidding investment from Cubans on the island and abroad – and favoring foreign investment, mainly from the United States, which could lead Cuba to a situation of virtual annexation … Continue reading "Cuba Does Not Need US Investment To Develop Its Economy / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos" Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2017 — Colombia’s sugar mill whistle sounded again at the end of January, like a giant awakened from a seven-year-long lethargy. The residents in the area breathed a sign of relief: the driving force behind the local economy seems to be the sugar mill, but technical and organizational problems … Continue reading "Colombia Sugar Mill, A Giant That Is Slow To Wake Up / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar" Continue reading
The Internet In Cuba: Strict Control And Excessive Prices / Iván García

Iván García, 30 January 2017 — Five or six abstract oil paintings are
tastelessly jumbled together in the living room of a house in the west
of Havana, next to a collection of laptops and ancient computers
waiting to be repaired. We can call the owner Reinaldo.

A clean-shaven chap, who has fixed computers, tablets and laptops for
twenty years and also, quietly, provided an internet service on the side.

"I have two options. Dial-up internet at 50 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC
– roughly $50 US) a month. And via ADSL at 130 CUC. The transmission
speed of the modem is between fifty and seventy kilobytes a second.
With ADSL, the speed is two megabytes. It has the advantage of being
free (i.e. unlimited), as it is rumoured that two MB connections will be
marketed by ETECSA, the government-owned telecoms company, at 115 cuc
for 30 hours," Reinaldo explains.

No-one is surprised by anything in Cuba. Clandestine businesses are
always two steps ahead of what the state comes up with. Many years
before the olive green people legalised private restaurants and
lodgings, people had been taking the chance of running such businesses

And something similar is happening with internet business. The spokesmen
for the ETECSA monopoly — the state run telephone and communications
company — strongly deny it.

When, on 4 June 2013, the government opened 118 internet rooms all over
the country, Tania Velázquez, an executive in the organisation,
announced that "by the middle of 2014, we will start to market the
internet for cellphones and, by December, at home."

It was a bluff. While we are waiting for ETECSA to get the internet for
cell phones started, what we have now is ETECSA's Nauta email for cell
phones, running on out-of-date 2G technology, too many technical
problems, and initially they were charging 1 CUC a MB.

Just over a month ago, they lowered the price to 1.50 CUC for five MB,
calling it Bolsa Nauta. But the service is dreadful. "You wait five or
six hours to send an email, and the message never leaves the outbox.
They are robbing you, as they sometimes charge your account without
having offered any service. My advice is to disconnect Nauta from your
cell phones as quickly as possible," says Marlén, who opened an account
two years ago.

Marketing the internet at home service is two years behind what Tania
Velázquez promised. Just after Christmas 2016, ETECSA started to provide
free internet via ADSL to two thousand families with fixed residential
phones around the Plaza Vieja, in Havana's colonial quarter, as a pilot,
until the month of March.

"The connection is better than the wifi hotspots. Although it sometimes
runs slowly. You need to have a conventional phone to receive the
internet service. It isn't true that you have to belong to the CDR, or
Committee for the Defence of the Revolution, or be working. I don't know
if dissidents will be able to opt for the service when they start to
sell it. Although the prices will be "thank you and goodnight."

An ETECSA engineer, working in an internet distribution centre in the
capital states that "the prices for internet at home are bollocks.
Saying that they will charge 30, 70 and 115 CUC, the dearest tariff, for
30 hours, and depending on the bandwidth, is unofficial. They are
looking at setting up a flat charge and also a charge per hour. The
prices will be high, but not what the foreign press claims, because an
hour at two MB would cost nearly three CUC, and users of half that would
prefer to connect to a wifi point. There will be various speed options.
The highest will be two MB," says the engineer.

The military dictatorship has designed a structure capable of
controlling the internet. Before the internet landed in the island,
where previously the finca rusa, a Russian-built electronic spying base,
known as the Base Lourdes, operated. Fidel Castro inaugurated the
University of Information Science on the San Antonio de los Baños
highway on 23 September 2002. In addition to exporting software, its
functions include the rigorous monitoring of internet traffic in the

The internet started to operate in Cuba in September 1996. One of the
first public internet rooms was located in the National Capitol
building, charging $5 an hour. The connection was painfully slow and was
not provided by ETECSA, but by CITMA, the present Ministry of Science,
Technology and Environment.

The internet was also offered in four and five star hotels, at between
$6 and $10 an hour. In the winter of 2011, the coaxial network on the
island was connected to a submarine cable, at a cost of $70 million, and
jointly planned with Venezuela and Jamaica.

"The cable was quite a story. It had everything. Embezzlement, poor work
quality, various company officials jumping ship. Leonardo, one of the
people implicated in the misappropriation of funds, stayed in
Panama. The Obama administration authorised a Florida-based company to
negotiate with ETECSA. The proposal was to renovate an old underwater
cable. The project cost about $18 million. But the government, citing
digital sovereignty, opted to do the cable with Venezuela. It is that
cable which is providing the present service," explains an engineer who
worked on the ALBA-1 project.

The Cuban secret services have tools for hacking into opposition
accounts and spying on the emails of the embassies in the island,
including the US one.

"You must not under-estimate the technical capacity of the
counter-intelligence. Almost nothing works in Cuba, but they have the
latest technology for their work. Since the time of the EICISOFT (Centre
of Robotics and Software) at the end of the '80's, the Ministry of the
Interior has had specialists in new technologies. Maybe they can't get
into Apple systems, but the rest is easy peasy. They now have advice
from Russia and China, which is amongst the best in the world when it
comes to hacking," says an ETECSA specialist who prefers to remain

According to our informant, "Nothing gets past them. They have a
complete arsenal of spy programs and an army of information analysts to
crack dissidents' accounts and keep an eye on social networks like
Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Everybody who travels the
information highway is under their microscope. Whenever ETECSA opens a
new internet service, the State Security monitoring tools are already in

For Cubans whose breakfast is just a coffee, account privacy doesn't
matter much. It's normal for people to lend their cellphones
to strangers. Or to give out their passwords to show how to work their
emails. "I don't care if the State Security is watching me. What
interests me is getting off with girls on Facebook, arranging to get
out with the help of workmates who have already got to the US, and
finding out stuff about CR7, as Cristiano Ronaldo is known, and Real
Madrid," says Saúl, undergraduate.

The thing is, in Cuba, the internet is, with few exceptions, a means of
communicating with your family "across the Pond" (i.e. in Florida). You
will see that when you go to any wifi hotspot. "Hey guys, look at the
new car Luisito's just bought," a kid shouts to a group of friends in
the Parque Córdoba hotspot in La Vibora.

"Look, what matters for most people is asking for money by email,
talking to family and friends by IMO, the Cuban equivalent to WhatsApp,
using the internet to read about famous artists and sport personalities,
and other unimportant stuff like that. Not serious media or websites
published abroad about Cuban issues," is the realistic view taken by
Carlos, a sociologist.

You can read periodicals from Florida, the New York Times in Spanish,
and dailies like El País and El Mundo, without any problems. But not
sites like Martí Noticias, Cubanet, Diario de Cuba, Cubaencuentro or

"But you can reach them with a simply proxy," says Reinaldo, who, as
well as repairing computers, sells internet service on the side. And he
takes the opportunity to explain the technical features of a gadget he
has for sale, which lets you connect to the internet via satellite,
without using ETECSA's servers.

How do such gadgets get to Cuba? I ask him. "Through the ports and
airports. The government controls the state economy and also the black
market", he tells me. And I believe it.

Photo: The wifi hotspot outside the old El Cerro Stadium is one of the
few where you can calmly and comfortably connect to the internet, due to
the park they put up because of the presence of Barack Obama at a
baseball game, when the US ex-president visited Havana on 20, 21 and
22nd of March, 2016. Taken by the New Herald.

Translated by GH

Source: The Internet In Cuba: Strict Control And Excessive Prices / Iván
García – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Iván García, 30 January 2017 — Five or six abstract oil paintings are tastelessly jumbled together in the living room of a house in the west of Havana, next to  a collection of laptops and ancient computers waiting to be repaired. We can call the owner Reinaldo. A clean-shaven chap, who has fixed computers, tablets and laptops … Continue reading "The Internet In Cuba: Strict Control And Excessive Prices / Iván García" Continue reading
An Audit Reveals Millions In Losses In Havana Businesses / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 1 February 2017 — The latest audit carried out by
Cuba's Office to the Comptroller revealed losses of more than 90 million
Cuban and more than 51 million Cuban convertible pesos in public
enterprises and non-agricultural cooperatives in Havana, a situation
that contributes to the failure to meet economic plans in the state
sector, according to Miriam Marbán González, the chief comptroller for
the capital.

The results of the Eleventh National Assessment of internal control,
which were presented Tuesday at a press conference at the Ministry of
Energy and Mines, show a disturbing picture for the Cuban economy
because of poor management efficiency and lack of integrity in planning.

The main objective of the analysis, carried out between 31 October and 9
December 2016, was the decentralization of administrative
decision-making, the operation of non-agricultural cooperatives and the
application of systems of payment for results.

In Havana, 67 inspections were carried out in which 301 auditors had to
confront "the lack of reliability of the primary documentation or the
lack thereof."

Non-agricultural cooperatives also revealed worrying results for this
form of business management that has been expanding since its adoption
in 2012. The inspection detected "ineffectiveness in information
mechanisms, the existence of some individualistic behaviors, lack of
foresight and surveillance and little cooperative culture." The island
currently has a total of 397 of these companies, mainly linked to food,
personal and technical services.

In total, the Comptroller's Office has examined 346 economic entities
throughout the country, with the exception of Guantánamo Province, which
was excluded because of economic damages caused by Hurricane Matthew.

The results of the assessments in the provinces of Cienfuegos, Matanzas,
Pinar del Río, Villa Clara and Holguín have also been alarming. In this
last province, the Comptroller General of the Republic, Gladys María
Bejerano, was blunt: "If there is no organization, discipline and
control, it is impossible to achieve the prosperous and sustainable
development that we have set ourselves."

The state, which seeks to stop, with these controls, the administrative
disorder that prevails in the business sector of the island, has been
attacked especially against idle inventories, criminal acts and corruption.

The national report could be presented mid-year at the next session of
the National Assembly.

Source: An Audit Reveals Millions In Losses In Havana Businesses /
14ymedio – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Inspections and Fines in Cuban Private Restaurants / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 30 January 2017 — A fine that is stranger than
fiction. More than 400,000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly the same in
dollars), is the astronomical figure set as a penalty for La
California restaurant, a palader (private restaurant) a few steps from
Cuba's Malecon.

Established in abeautifully restored 18th century building at 55 Crespo
Street between San Lazaro and Refugio in Central Havana, La California
restaurant-bar offers Italian and Cuban-international fusion food, as
well as exquisite service, attractive and entertaining, where the
customer can enter the kitchen and prepare their own delicacy. Part of
what is consumed in this agreeable place is grown on the private estate
of a Cuban farmer, and the rest — according to co-director Charles
Farigola — is imported.

"During the plenary session of the National Assembly Cuban vice
president Machado Ventura referenced the food in the paladares, making
particular note of the products offered that are not acquired in the
national retail network," began an explanation of a Cuban entrepreneur
passing through Miami to buy supplies for his restaurant in Havana.

"The reality," he continued," is that the paladares import very little,
most of the food and drink comes from the hotels*, especially those that
offer 'all-inclusive' plans. Vacuum-packed filets, serrano ham, fresh
vegetables, salmon, sausages, octopus, squid, etc. Almost everything
comes from Matanzas Province, where tourism is concentrated. There are
police checkpoints to search vehicles coming from the resort town of
Varadero to Havana; but almost everything is transported in tour
vehicles and they avoid the controls, because the national police don't
want to bother the tourists.

"The strategy, in response, was to inspect the paladares that boast
about having these kinds of imported products, and La California fell.
They also say that the inspection report specified that the sales report
didn't match observed reality. Parameters and factors that seem subjective."

Can a Cuban paladar pay such a huge fine?

"I don't think so. Look, the inspectors collect a percent of every fine
they impose, and the private businesses offer the inspectors a greater
percentage than they would receive. So that's how we all survive because
it's a game of give and take.

"It could be that La California didn't want to play this game, they
could have accepted an arrangement to pay in installments, they could
default and accept an ugly penalty, they may fight the fine in the
courts. Anything can happen.

"No, we self-employed are not criminals, we are a social group that
makes things and not communist dreams nor libertarian utopias; we are
the part of civil society most dedicated to work, to generating income,
jobs, and bringing money to the national economy, and even so the policy
of the government is to push us toward crime," concludes the
entrepreneur before boarding his plane to Cuba, the island that, with a
certain euphemism, he calls the "Barracks."

*Translator's note: That is, it is "diverted" (the term Cubans prefer
rather than "stolen") and sold to private businesses by a chain of state
workers that can range from the highest to the lowest levels.

Translated by Jim

Source: Inspections and Fines in Cuban Private Restaurants / Juan Juan
Almeida – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
… providing an update on its Cuban Block 9 onshore oil acreage … ventures in international companies with Cuban ties, that are well positioned to grow with the Cuban economy. Sectors include the following … Continue reading
Billion-dollar Odebrecht scandal engulfs Latin America
AFP February 3, 2017

Montevideo (AFP) - For years, Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht
landed huge public works contracts by paying hundreds of millions of
dollars in bribes.

Now, the company's dirty dealings have caught up with it -- and the
fallout is spreading across Latin America, where the scandal has left a
trail of abandoned mega-projects, high-profile probes and outraged
citizens in its wake.

In December, Odebrecht agreed with the US Justice Department to pay a
world record $3.5-billion fine after admitting it paid $788 million in
bribes to win fat construction contracts in 12 countries.

The biggest payouts were for contracts with Brazil's state oil company,
Petrobras -- the focus of a massive pay-to-play scandal that has upended
Brazilian politics, landing a laundry list of powerful people in jail,
including Odebrecht's boss, Marcelo Odebrecht.

But the company's reach spans far beyond Brazil -- and now, so does the

Odebrecht, the biggest construction firm in Latin America, paid bribes
in nine other countries across the region -- Mexico, Argentina, Peru,
Venezuela, Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic
-- as well as Angola and Mozambique in Africa.

Most of those countries have now opened investigations of their own,
asking Brazilian prosecutors to share information on dirty deals in
their jurisdictions.

Billions of dollars' worth of infrastructure projects are meanwhile

After the scandal broke, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) -- which
funded many of Odebrecht's international ventures -- froze $3.6 billion
for 16 projects across Latin America.

In Venezuela, six mega-projects being built by Odebrecht have ground to
a halt, including an expansion of the Caracas subway.

In the Dominican Republic, which received $2.5 billion from BNDES,
unfinished roadworks and a thermoelectric power plant are now in doubt.

In Peru, where Odebrecht says it paid $29 million in bribes from 2005 to
2014, the government sacked the company from a $7-billion gas pipeline
project that is less than one-third complete.

That and other aborted Odebrecht projects will likely shave 0.5 to one
percentage point off Peru's economic growth this year, the economy
minister said last month.

- Heads to roll -

Investigators across Latin America now have some heavy-hitting
politicians in their sights.

In Peru, a congressional commission has summoned President Pedro Pablo
Kuczynski to testify, along with former presidents Alejandro Toledo and
Ollanta Humala, plus Humala's powerful wife, Nadine Heredia.

In Panama, ex-president Ricardo Martinelli's son and brother are under

Likewise Argentina's intelligence chief, Gustavo Arribas, who is close
to President Mauricio Macri.

In Colombia, a former deputy transport minister and ex-senator have been

The Venezuelan National Assembly, where leftist President Nicolas
Maduro's opponents hold a majority, has launched a probe into the $98
million in bribes that Odebrecht admitted to paying there -- the biggest
payoff outside Brazil.

And Mozambican prosecutors are investigating who received $900,000 in
bribes to green-light an airport for the northern city of Nacala.

State news agency AIM condemned the project, completed in 2014, as an
"embarrassing flop," an "international airport with no international

More explosive revelations are likely on the way: Marcelo Odebrecht and
76 other current and former executives have signed tell-all plea deals
with Brazilian prosecutors in exchange for lighter sentences.

- Mounting backlash -

Corruption-weary Latin Americans are meanwhile taking to the streets.

After two weeks of violent protests in Peru, authorities there scrapped
plans for Odebrecht-operated toll roads.

In the Dominican Republic, tens of thousands of people protested last
month to demand public officials be held to account for taking bribes.

Odebrecht, meanwhile, is still paying the price.

Several countries have banned it from bidding for projects or signing

And the $3.5 billion it has agreed to pay Brazil, the United States and
Switzerland under the US Justice Department deal may be just the beginning.

It has also agreed to pay $59 million to Panama and $189 million to the
Dominican Republic. And more fines could be on the way.

Odebrecht, which had $39.1 billion in revenue in 2015, is now in
survival mode.

It has put 12 billion reals ($3.8 billion) in assets up for sale, and
laid off 60,000 employees in the three years through 2015, according to
Bloomberg News.

The company itself confirmed to AFP it had laid off 40,000 from late
2014 to late 2015.

Source: Billion-dollar Odebrecht scandal engulfs Latin America - Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 1 February 2017 — The latest audit carried out by Cuba’s Office to the Comptroller revealed losses of more than 90 million Cuban and more than 51 million Cuban convertible pesos in public enterprises and non-agricultural cooperatives in Havana, a situation that contributes to the failure to meet economic plans in the state … Continue reading "An Audit Reveals Millions In Losses In Havana Businesses / 14ymedio" Continue reading
… to the communist nation via Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale … ;If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban … diplomatic relations with Cuba. If Scott is angling for Cuban American votes … in Cuba. The United State first imposed an embargo on all CubanContinue reading
Economist sees East, Gulf coasts served by Cuba, Nova Scotia
transshipment hubs

The U.S. East and Gulf coasts can expect to be significantly served by a
pair of transshipment hubs – ideally in Cuba and Canada's province of
Nova Scotia – a leading port industry economist said today [Feb. 2].

Robert W. West, Waltham, Massachusetts-based chief senior consultant for
the Colombia-based DUAGA consulting firm and former Worley Parsons Group
principal ports and marine strategist, offered the theory in the opening
presentation of the 10th annual Planning for Shifting Trade Conference
in Tampa, Florida.

West said Cuba's Port of Mariel is "in many ways the most ideal
location" for a major Caribbean transshipment center, while he expects
one or more of a trio of Nova Scotia port developments serving as a
northern hub. In response to a question from the American Journal of
Transportation, West expressed uncertainty regarding the potential
impact upon future Cuba transshipment prospects of Trump administration
policies and the recent threats by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to pull
funding from Sunshine State ports engaging in commerce with Cuba.

"The point here is not a political point," West said. "The point is an
economic point.

"As we know, politics can mess things up, but I'm not saying it's going
to happen here," he continued. "To me, Cuba looks like a great
opportunity for transshipment."

West said Nova Scotia transshipment opportunities include at the
Macquarie Group's Halifax undertaking, facilities being developed by DP
World at Saint John and/or the future Novaport project in Sydney in
which Ports America has recently expressed interest.

He said new leadership in Washington does combine with factors such as
consolidation of global containership capacity to create a future
outlook he termed "certainly uncertain."

Noting that nearly half of all the world's containership capacity is in
the hands of the three biggest shipping lines – Maersk/Hamburg Süd,
Mediterranean Shipping Co. and CMA CGM/APL – West said he anticipates
that three or four major alliances will ultimately control between 75
percent and 80 percent of global container volume.

West said he believes 2017 freight rates "will remain lower than we
would want them to be, with too much capacity chasing too little demand."

Of the 325 ships, representing 8 percent of world fleet capacity,
currently not in operation, West said, "It's too much. We really need to
squeeze that out."

West said that, with the Transpacific Partnership having been torpedoed,
he sees potential for expansion of the Pacific Alliance, which currently
includes Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile and is likely to soon add
Costa Rica and Panama, as well as Asian nations. But West said his
suspicion is that the United States will not join the Pacific Alliance.

The overall 2017 economic outlook for the Western Hemisphere is seen by
West as improving over 2016, including with 2.9 percent U.S. growth
compared with 1.6 percent last year.

"We're pretty optimistic; I can't say we're exuberant," he said. "2017
should be an up year for cargo, for consumers, for government
expenditures, all of which should stimulate the economy."

The Feb. 2-3 conference, hosted by Port Tampa Bay, is presented by the
American Association of Port Authorities and the Transportation Research
Board in partnership with the Florida Chapter of the American Planning
Association and in cooperation with the U.S.; Maritime Administration.

Comprehensive coverage of the conference is slated to appear in the Feb.
13 edition of the American Journal of Transportation.

Source: Economist sees East, Gulf coasts served by Cuba, Nova Scotia
transshipment hubs | AJOT.COM - Continue reading
Meet the Entrepreneurs Breaking Into This Long-Forbidden Market
Less than 100 miles south of Key West sits a socialist country forbidden
from doing business with the U.S. for 57 years. Now it's on the brink of
being opened to American entrepreneurs. Meet the ones hoping to cash in
By David Whitford

The Friday before Halloween, Josh Weinstein was set to take his first
trip to Cuba: bags packed, visa in hand, leased Beechcraft turbo-prop
booked for Sunday pickup at Sarasota Bradenton International. Then the
dispatcher called. We have verbal approval to fly to Havana, he told
Weinstein, but we're still waiting on one last stamp from the Cuban
government. Don't worry, he explained, this happens all the time.
Unfortunately, the government offices were now closed for the weekend.
"we'll keep pushing," he promised.

Weinstein is president of Witzco Challenger, a $12 million family
business that builds heavy-haul trailers in Sarasota, Florida, and ships
them all over the world. Witzco lost about half its sales in '08 and '09
during the Great Recession. That was not long after Weinstein, former
treasurer of his local stagehands union and grandson of Witzco's
founder, took over the company from his aunt and uncle, and he's been
scrambling to recover ever since. Exports are a big part of his
business, about 35 percent, but they've been slipping lately. The
stronger dollar hasn't helped.

His unlikely solution: Cuba. The forbidden market less than an hour's
direct flight from Witzco's central Florida factory is suddenly bursting
with pent-up demand. Tourism in Cuba is soaring, on pace to exceed
2015's record 3.5 million visitors, including a growing number of
Americans who find a way to qualify for one of 12 exceptions to the
Treasury Department's limits on travel. (U.S. tourism is technically
still banned.) Weinstein's betting on a construction boom, spurred by
the Cuban government's plan to double the number of hotel rooms in the
country by 2020, in pursuit of economic growth. "The first thing they're
going to have to do is infrastructure," Weinstein says excitedly.
"Water, septic, cable, electricity, communications. They're going to
need heavy equipment. My trailer moves the heavy equipment." Not exactly
a Cuba expert, Weinstein wants to see for himself. "I don't really know
the market, only what I've been able to Google," he says. So he booked a
booth at Cuba's international trade show, slated for the fall.

Sunday night, the stamp came through. Monday morning, he was on his way,
a day later than hoped. (The first lesson anyone learns when dealing
with Cuba: It'll happen when it happens.) Forty-five minutes across the
Everglades to Miami to top off the tank--gas is much cheaper in the
U.S.--and then another 45 minutes across the Straits of Florida to
Havana. Upon landing at José Martí International Airport, Weinstein and
his posse of two--all wearing khakis and Witzco golf shirts--were met in
an otherwise deserted terminal by unsmiling customs officials, who
opened one of Weinstein's bags. In it was a stash of trade-show
paraphernalia--candy, logoed pens, and sales pamphlets in Spanish,
English, and Russian (in case there were any Russians left in Cuba,
Weinstein figured). The pamphlets raised eyebrows. Propaganda, declared
one of the officials. Where is your approval? A discussion ensued.
Weinstein turned on his charm. Maybe a little bit of money changed
hands. "It's the cost of doing business," Weinstein says. "I'm OK with it."

And the Witzco delegation was in.

When President Obama flew to Havana last March, it marked the first
visit to Cuba by a sitting American president since Calvin Coolidge in
1928. His posse numbered more than 1,000. Among them: Brian Chesky,
founder of Airbnb, Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal, and Fubu founder and
Shark Tank judge Daymond John. The president drove straight to the Meliá
Habana Hotel, where he addressed the staff of what used to be the United
States Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana (it's a
long story) but is now a full-fledged U.S. embassy. There he spoke of
his desire to "forge new agreements and commercial deals" with Cuba, in
line with the main thrust of U.S. policy as of December 2014, when the
current wave of reforms began.

A lot's happened since then, including the death of Fidel Castro; the
removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism; the
restoration of full diplomatic relations; the resumption of regularly
scheduled flights by U.S. airlines, including American, Delta, United,
and JetBlue; authorization for U.S. hoteliers Marriott and Starwood to
pursue Cuba deals; service agreements involving U.S. cell-phone
providers; and glory, hallelujah, the granting of permission for
American visitors to bring home Cuban rum and cigars.

But that doesn't mean Cuba is open for business. There's still the
nettlesome matter of the embargo--a dense web of constraints,
restrictions, and outright prohibitions, some in place since 1960, that,
despite the recent thaw, prevents anything approaching normal business
relations. Most commerce between the United States and Cuba is banned
outright. Everything else is a hassle. For instance, while U.S.
companies have been permitted to sell food and medicine to Cuba since
the Clinton administration, the U.S. government often requires Cuban
customers to pay the full amount up front. (That, in a nutshell, is why
Cuba buys nearly all its rice from Vietnam, rather than from nearby U.S.
growers.) And if you're an American trying to do anything in Cuba, you
had better bring plenty of cash, which is all anyone accepts. Unless you
happen to have a credit or debit card from Stonegate Bank--a Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, institution that has a temporary continental
American monopoly on Cuba-ready cards--plastic credit is worthless, and
ATMs barely exist.

The embargo is like an argument that's been going on for so long, nobody
remembers anymore how or why it started. Initially, under President
Eisenhower, it banned only sugar imports. After Cuba responded by
confiscating the assets of U.S. companies, it was broadened to cover
nearly all trade between the nations. Soon it morphed into a Cold War
weapon to punish Castro for aligning with the Soviet Union, and
supporting communist-led insurgencies in Nicaragua and Angola. Cuba's
dismal record on human rights didn't help.

But attitudes toward the embargo have changed. In a CBS News/New York
Times poll conducted on the eve of Obama's Cuba visit, more than half of
Americans (55 percent) said they supported doing away with it. A more
recent Florida Inter­national University poll of Cuban Americans living
in Miami-Dade County--traditionally ground zero for the no-compromise
camp--found an even bigger majority who would be happy at this point to
move on. But we're still stuck.

Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Muse has been advising U.S. companies
on Cuba for 25 years. He says that lifting the embargo is up to the
United States. He equates Cuba's position to that of an abused wife
whose husband says he'll stop beating her if she'll start putting dinner
on the table: "Her attitude, quite rightly, is, 'It's you attacking me!
You have to stop. Then we can have normal relations.' "

If and when the embargo is lifted, American companies need to remember
what kind of market they're dealing with. Cuba indeed dominates the
Caribbean, by landmass (it's roughly the size of Virginia) and by
population (11.3 million). But it's poor. The average state salary is
$25 a month. In 2010, according to the CIA's latest estimate, its gross
domestic product per capita was $10,200, one rung up on the world ladder
from Swaziland's. That's partly why John Kavulich, longtime head of the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, sees "a lot of inspiration and
aspiration chasing very little reality" in Cuba. Americans assume, not
unreasonably, that Cubans "need everything, they want everything, and
they put a period there," Kavulich says. "But there's a next sentence:
Do they have the resources to purchase everything? Dubai isn't 93 miles
south of Florida. Cuba is."

Even so, Weinstein and other eager Americans are stubbornly optimistic.
Entrepreneurs like Saul Berenthal, for instance, a 72-year-old in
Raleigh, North Carolina, who wants to sell small tractors to Cuban
farmers. And Darius Anderson, a political consultant, lobbyist, and
investor who's been visiting Cuba since he was a college student, and
now has a scheme to sell California wines to Cuban restaurateurs.
Everybody wants to believe that we're at the beginning of the end of an
era; that no one--not unforgetting Cuban émigrés in Miami, not Fidel's
ghost, not a brash and unpredictable President Trump--can halt the
momentum now. That the embargo must be, will be, swept aside, and the
rivers of commerce will flow.

But Cuba is not for innocents or neophytes. "People get besotted with
Cuba," Muse warns. "If you're a little guy, you might think that because
the big guys aren't there, you can play in those waters. It's exotic.
You're a pioneer! All these things combine to make some people abandon
basic business principles."

The fairground for Cuba's international trade show is 12 miles south of
central Havana. It's a slow cab ride, on crowded roads filled with
mid­century Fords, Chevys, and Cadillacs, many of them refitted with
diesel motors, not one of which would pass a U.S. emissions inspection.
A mural of Che Guevara hovers omnisciently over the Plaza de la
Revolución, while billboards flaunt slogans like socialismo o muerte
("Socialism or Death") and normalizar no es sinónimo de bloquear
("Normalization and Blockades Don't Go Together"), a blunt reminder of
Cuba's all-or-nothing stance on the embargo, which Cubans call "the

The American pavilion is a hike from the trade show's main entrance, in
the farthest corner of the grounds, beyond the scattered remnants of
past exhibitions--a petrified pump jack, a stilled windmill, a parked
Air Cubana airliner repurposed as a restaurant. JetBlue banners flank
the entrance. Inside, ordinary Cubans who have managed to snag coveted
trade show credentials graze the American booths, scooping up free hats,
pens, and pistachios. Perhaps because there is no conventional
advertising in Cuba (it's illegal), Cuban consumers are adept at
ferreting out whatever's available, wherever it can be found.

The National Auto Parts Association has a booth, looking toward the day
when it can begin populating Cuba with its stores. So do a smattering of
state-sponsored trade delegations representing poultry farmers, soybean
growers, and the Port of Virginia; and all manner of small and midsize
U.S. manufacturers, displaying motors, electronic controls, and other
industrial gear, none of which are yet on the list of permissible
products. The U.S. embassy's chargé d'affaires, Jeffrey DeLaurentis,
roams the aisles in a seersucker suit, chatting up exhibitors and
awkwardly ducking reporters. ("There is still an embargo," his aide
explains apologetically.)

Overall, attendance by American exhibitors is lower this year than last,
when Obama's first round of reforms created a kind of euphoria that has
since dissipated. Those who have returned see the potential but
understand the need for patience. Among them is investor Noel Thompson,
decked out in a blue blazer advertising his ties to the U.S. Olympic
Committee. Thompson is a former Goldman Sachs banker now running his own
hedge fund in New York City. He's been coming down to Cuba every few
months for the past couple of years, working his way into the culture,
gathering intel, developing contacts. He imagines doing a lot of
business in Cuba one day-trading currencies, advising on deals, helping
privatize government assets, and otherwise capitalizing on the explosion
he thinks will surely come when the embargo lifts and America fully
engages with Cuba's suppressed capitalist passions. It won't happen
tomorrow, he knows, or even next year, but one day. "Maybe it's my
Goldman training," Thompson says. "When you see a butterfly flap its
wings ... "

Manning a nearby booth with sunglasses propped on his forehead and an
unlit cigar clenched in his teeth, another American, Darius Anderson,
presides over a winetasting led by his pal Fernando Fernández, Cuba's
preeminent blender of rums and cigars. Anderson first visited Cuba in
1986 as a student at George Washington University, where he had a poster
of Che Guevara on his dorm room wall. When his pals went to Florida for
spring break, he went north to Toronto, from which he was able to get to
Havana. His total visits since then: "Somewhere in the mid-60s," he
guesses. Every time the border agents run his passport, they ask, "Why
so many times?"

Originally, he went because it was forbidden, Anderson says, and now
it's because he's long since fallen in love with "all things Cuban: the
music, the culture, the cigars, the baseball." After college, Anderson
worked for a Democratic congressman on Capitol Hill, was an advance man
for Bill Clinton in California, and apprenticed seven years at the right
hand of super­market billionaire Ron Burkle--a useful résumé for
navigating a market in which business and politics are inseparable.

With his company U.S. Cava Exports, Anderson, 47, is trying to bring
expensive wines from Napa Valley to Cuban consumers. He's been laying
the groundwork for years, hosting a seven-day tour of Napa and Sonoma
wineries for his Cuban friends, and leading a party of more than 100
California vintners on an educational mission to Cuba, where they met
with chefs and sommeliers. Like Weinstein, Anderson is hoping to make
money on tourism. Unlike Weinstein, he's peddling an embargo-exempt
agricultural product that's not contingent on new construction. This
should be easy.

And yet, 2,500 miles northwest of Havana, in a refrigerated warehouse
near Napa County Airport, sits a shipping container filled with
Anderson's stranded inventory: 1,200 cases of carefully curated
California sauvignon blanc, zinfandel, pinot noir, cabernet, and
chardonnay. Total value, just under $400,000. It's been there all fall,
costing him at least $500 per month, and not for want of a buyer. In
fact, Anderson has one all lined up, a Cuban state-owned distri­butor
willing to pay full price in advance, per U.S. law. But there's a
holdup. Anderson is waiting on final approval from the highest levels of
government--in this case, Cuba's foreign ministry.

U.S. Cava Exports is only one of Anderson's ventures at the moment, so
he has the luxury to wait this bureaucratic purgatory out. He still sees
a chance to have "a real, viable business and grow it over time." The
rest of the world is already here, he points out. Not just Cuba's
biggest trading partner, China, and Spain--it's oldest--but also Brazil,
Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands. The list goes on. "A whole litany of
countries are here doing business," Anderson says. "They trust the
system well enough to invest hundreds of millions of dollars. This idea
that it's not happening? It's happening, but it's happening without us."

Saul Berenthal went to high school before the revolution. He was born in
Havana, where his parents met after fleeing the Nazis in Eastern Europe.
His father worked his way from Holocaust refugee to sole GM parts
supplier for Cuba, which helped land Saul at the elite Havana Military
Academy. In 1960, his parents sent their 16-year-old son to study in the
United States. They visited him the following year, expecting to stay
for a few months. Then came the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Suddenly,
they were unwilling to return to Cuba, refugees once again, this time in

Bespectacled and trim, still at home in a loose-fitting guayabera,
Berenthal has a complicated relationship with his birthplace. He belongs
solidly to the generation of exiles whose grim resolve and political
clout have defined U.S. aggression toward Cuba. But he's also become a
full-fledged American, having had spent 18 years at IBM, where he met
Horace Clemmons, his future business partner. They bonded over their
frustration with IBM's stubborn attachment to proprietary product lines
when the future was all about open-source computing. "We worked hard,
lived the American dream, created three companies and sold them, and set
ourselves up for a nice retirement," says Berenthal.

But, a couple of years into retirement, Cuba beckoned, and starting in
2007, Berenthal was finding excuses to visit his birthplace. "It was
curiosity more than anything," he says. The surprise was that he felt
instantly at home. The language, the mannerisms, the customs, the
operating in a culture where it's hard to make appointments ("You'll be
here next week? Look me up") and a meeting might not happen because
somebody's car won't start or he can't find gas. Where checking email on
the fly means locating a Wi-Fi hotspot and making sure you've got enough
minutes left on your government-issued access card. "Not very well
organized, but I understand why," says Berenthal, revealing a trace of
his native Spanish. "People take care of things as they come up. They
don't know where they'll be at any time until it's that time."

Berenthal still knew people who knew people in Havana. He was introduced
to professors in the economics department at the University of Havana,
organized academic exchanges, and got involved in studies that led to
Cuba's accelerated reengagement with the global economy in 2011. But it
was Obama's dramatic announcement on December 17, 2014--"Today, the
United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of
Cuba"--and the policy changes that followed that convinced Berenthal it
was time to reunite with his old partner, Clemmons, and come up with a
business idea for Cuba.

Berenthal knew that an American company could succeed in Cuba only if it
was sensitive to the socialist country's motivations for doing business
with outsiders. Cuba is not interested in inviting foreign companies in
to make a few players wealthy. If Cuba is to embrace capitalism, it will
be on socialist terms: to generate revenue and become less dependent on
imports, and so protect what Cubans consider the lasting achievements of
the revolution--free education, free medicine, subsidized housing, and
subsidized food.

Clemmons, a farm boy from Alabama, thought of tractors. Inexpensive
tractors designed to meet the needs of small farmers in a poor country
that's rich in arable land but where many still work the land barefoot,
behind a mule or an ox, without basic equipment. An alternative to a
company like John Deere, which could come into Cuba with an expensive,
proprietary product. Instead, Cleber, as their company is called, would
assemble tractors according to open-source manufacturing principles,
using standard components, making them easy to maintain and infinitely
customizable. By creating an opportunity for Cubans to build an
ecosystem of products around Cleber's tractor, they would help
kick-start the creation of a homegrown agricultural manufacturing industry.

Berenthal and Clemmons proposed building their tractor factory in
Mariel, a planned economic development zone about an hour west of
Havana. When Cuban officials expressed support, the pair began working
to persuade their own government to create an opening in the embargo
that would allow them to proceed. "We spent a lot of time in the Office
of Foreign Assets Control and the Department of Commerce, trying to get
it through," says Berenthal. In February 2016, after months of meetings,
they succeeded. Cleber won U.S. approval to build the first
American-owned factory on Cuban soil since the revolution. It was a
happy story, shot through with hopeful symbolism, coinciding perfectly
with the Obama administration's initiatives. They even got a shout-out
in a White House press briefing.

But they still needed final approval from Cuba, and by last summer,
Berenthal didn't like the signals being sent from officials at Mariel:
pushback on environmental standards and workplace safety, and worrisome
doubts about whether Cleber fit with the development site's larger goal
of promoting high-tech manufacturing. Berenthal was baffled. None of the
other projects in the Mariel pipeline--cigarettes, cosmetics,
meatpacking, none of them U.S. backed--were obvious ways to achieve that
goal. Here he was, trying to persuade higher-ups who opposed a simple,
practical idea that somehow threatened them. He had flashbacks to his
time at IBM. "Everybody is acting in their own best interests," says
Berenthal. "IBM wanted to protect the proprietary lab where they were
building the proprietary technology and not accept change, because that
would mean loss of power or prestige or even their jobs."

In late October, Berenthal drove to Mariel for a meeting with
development zone officials. "They were very cordial," Berenthal says.
Then they proceeded to tell him that after much consideration, they had
decided not to approve Cleber's proposal after all.

Weinstein had a good trade show. He didn't arrive until late on the
first day--after the delay at customs, and an errant cab ride to the
wrong fairground--but he hit the ground running. Within an hour, every
bottled-water peddler in the building had a Witzco bumper sticker on his
cooler, and most were wearing Witzco baseball caps. He made no actual
sales to actual Cubans, of course. The embargo forbade him, which he
knew going in. But he met a lot of people there, and went home happy at
the end of the week with a long list of proposals to prepare for buyers
from Canada, Panama, Mexico, Belgium, and Spain.

Then history happened. Days after the trade show ended, Donald Trump was
unexpectedly elected president. Then Fidel Castro died. Suddenly
American entrepreneurs with dreams of doing business in Cuba were forced
to reevaluate everything.

When it comes to Cuba, Trump the politician appears to have a different
mind than Trump the entrepreneur. At least twice since the late '90s,
emissaries associated with Trump companies have visited Cuba to scope
out investment opportunities for hotels and golf courses--acts that may
well have violated the embargo. Since the election, however, Trump's
been all bluster and ill will. When the news broke of the former
dictator's passing, he tweeted gleefully: "Fidel Castro is dead!" He
soon followed up with, "If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for
the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I
will terminate deal."

In reality, Trump's tough talk is off base. As attorney Muse points out,
there is no Obama-era "deal" between the nations. Only a "series of
rolling measures" issued from various realms of the federal government
that would be next to impossible to untangle one by one, and which few
Americans object to anyway. But what Trump could do, says Muse, is "go
big and go unilateral," in a way that plays to his strength. That is, he
could leapfrog Obama's measured steps toward normalization by announcing
his willingness to negotiate America's $1.9 billion in outstanding
property claims against the Cuban government as a "necessary predicate"
to ending the embargo once and for all. "Where the embargo began is
where the embargo should end: With a resolution of the certified
claims," Muse says.

After the Cuban government derailed Berenthal's factory plans, he was
discouraged but not devastated. He understands why his company, in which
he and Clemmons have invested $5 million, was used as a political pawn:
Cuba wants the embargo gone; as long as it remains in effect, Cuba has
little incentive to grant piecemeal exceptions that reduce the pressure
on Congress to demolish it once and for all. At least, that's the best
explanation he or anyone else can come up with to justify what happened.

So Berenthal and Clemmons have shifted plans. Now they're building
tractors for export at a factory in Paint Rock, Alabama. Clemmons, the
more frustrated of the two, is focusing his energy on selling them to
other markets--small farmers in Australia, Ethiopia, and Peru.
Meanwhile, Berenthal's contacts at Mariel have told him, "Commercialize
your tractor and your products, and bring them to Cuba," and he's taking
them at their word. Cleber's new business model may in the end be more
lucrative, albeit less transformational for Cuba than Berenthal had
hoped for.

Still, there's one more wild card. Cuba's current president, Fidel's
brother Raúl Castro, is scheduled to end his term in 2018. "In my
opinion," says Berenthal, "this will trigger the final removal of the
embargo." Castro's likely successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel, was born nine
months before the revolution. If there's going to be real
change--generational change--in U.S.-Cuba relations, that'll be the
turning point. "I hope others will take the long view and continue the
efforts to bring the two countries together through commerce," Berenthal
says. He understands, as best as anyone can, how it works in Cuba. That
things happen when they happen. But, eventually, they do happen.

Source: Meet the Entrepreneurs Breaking Into This Long-Forbidden Market
| - Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 30 January 2017 — A fine that is stranger than fiction. More than 400,000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly the same in dollars), is the astronomical figure set as a penalty for La California restaurant, a palader (private restaurant) a few steps from Cuba’s Malecon. Established in abeautifully restored 18th century building at 55 Crespo Street between … Continue reading "Inspections and Fines in Cuban Private Restaurants / Juan Juan Almeida" Continue reading
… bipartisan task force called Engage Cuba, convened to build economic ties … attention. “What separates us from Cuba and from many other countries … hello,” he said. “But in Cuba, when you hear this,” and … McAuliffe wants to connect with Cuba to help Virginia’s economy … Continue reading
Voices Of Official Journalism Strike Against A Foreign Correspondent /
14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 30 January 2017 — The controversy between
the most radical wing of Cuban officialdom and the correspondent of
Uruguayan origin resident in Cuba, Fernando Ravsberg, is rising in tone.

The latest blasts from the most orthodox defenders of "revolutionary"
journalism call out nine alleged false pieces of news from the
communicator. The list is preceded by a phrase resuscitated from former
leader Fidel Castro, who in 2006 called the then BBC correspondent in
Havana "the greatest liar," for daring to question his energy revolution
in the midst of blackouts.

The animosity toward Ravsberg is not new; he was fired from the BBC and
is now a correspondent for the leftist Spanish publication Publico. Last
August the vice president of the Journalists and Writers Union (UPEC),
Aiza Hevia, launched the first darts against the journalist for his
defense of the ousted official journalist José Ramírez Pantoja, of Radio
Holguin. On that occasion she even floated the idea of ​​expelling him
from the country.

"The pack is coming, hungry for revenge," said Ravsberg through his
blog, Letters from Cuba.

"They shout that I am part of conspiracy of the international
information monopolies against the Cuban Revolution but they omit that I
work on a leftist publication because it doesn't help their defamation
campaigns," he said

The latest controversy arose when Ravsberg published a critical note
about the Cuban economy on his blog, accompanied by a caricature of a
tortoise leaving a trail with the colors of the Cuban flag. This led to
several official journalists feeling especially offended.

Carlos Luque Zayas launched the first stone from a blog. Under the title
"Ravsberg: From Insult to Manipulation," the journalist wrote an article
to "protest" the use of national symbols. Next, from Granma, the
official organ of the Communist Party, Pedro de la Hoz wrote, "You can
agree or disagree with the contents of the controversial note, but the
grotesque manipulation of one of our patriotic symbols cannot be

Ravsberg counterattacks saying that in the Cuban media the image of the
flag is used indiscriminately. He offers as an example the case of the
"thousands of flags" which everyone walks over in every parade organized
by the authorities in the Plaza of the Revolution.

For the Uruguayan journalist, who spent more than 20 years working on
the island as a correspondent for foreign media, "there is a lot more
than offended patriots" behind the attacks on his work.

"There is a campaign organized by the extremists," he says, with the
Cuban government's intention "for years" to expel him from the country.

"They do not support a different voice, nor different optics. For
extremists the only truth is 'their truth' and all other criteria must
disappear or at least remain in a fearful silence while they become the
only voice, "he adds.

In the revolutionary blogosphere, there are those who even questioned
his seriousness as a journalist. Iroel Sánchez, one of the most
sectarian (and official) bloggers on the island and also a staunch
critic of Ravsberg, accuses him of being "promoter of apocryphal
interviews with anonymous subjects."

Ravsberg, who was criticized in the past for his closeness to the
regime, defends himself by saying that "no matter how much the
obscurantist forces do," Cuba advances.

According to the journalist, with regards to the alternative digital
media that has emerged during recent years on the Island, "a way of
doing a journalism has emerged that is already far removed from the
infantile topics of the extremes."

"They call on the government to use force because they know they are
incapable of participating in a battle of ideas, where they would have
to fight with arguments and proposals."

Source: Voices Of Official Journalism Strike Against A Foreign
Correspondent / 14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 30 January 2017 — The controversy between the most radical wing of Cuban officialdom and the correspondent of Uruguayan origin resident in Cuba, Fernando Ravsberg, is rising in tone. The latest blasts from the most orthodox defenders of “revolutionary” journalism call out nine alleged false pieces of news from the communicator. … Continue reading "Voices Of Official Journalism Strike Against A Foreign Correspondent / 14ymedio, Mario Penton" Continue reading
Why We Don't Have A Lech Walesa In Cuba / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 January 2017 — I recently had the
opportunity to participate as guest in a forum held at Florida
International University. Among other topics, the issue of labor rights
in Cuba and the role of journalism in the defense of these rights were

At first glance, the proposal does not seem incongruous. The
relationship between journalism and workers in the struggle for the
exercise of labor rights in Cuba had its beginnings as far back as the
second half of the nineteenth century, when the first trade union
periodicals of the region were founded in Cuba – La Aurora and El
Artesano – (Castellanos, 2002), an indication of both the worker's
recognition of the importance of the press and the timely proficiency
they developed in union organization.

On the other hand, labor rights of domestic workers is one of the most
recurrent and polarized issues of current official and independent Cuban
journalism, though from two opposite ends. Contrary to the official
monopoly of the press, in charge of praising the supposed guarantees of
the State-Party-Government labor rights – though the new Labor Code does
not even recognize such universal achievements as the right to strike,
free recruitment and free association – the independent, press denounces
the constant violations of all rights, including the most basic one:
earning a deserved living wage.

Numerous independent journalists have addressed the issue of labor
rights. Among them are the articles of historical analysis on the Cuban
trade union movement, its achievements and errors, developed by the
researcher Dimas Castellanos, some of which are cited here.

However, while the independent journalism sector has had the most
sustained growth within the Cuban pro-democratic civil society in the
last decade, its scope and real possibilities should not be
overestimated. Much less can we hope that the press works the miracle of
transforming society separate from the human beings who compose it.

Journalism can support and complement the actions of individuals in
their struggle for the full exercise of their most legitimate rights,
but it cannot assume the functions of the institutions that those same
individuals must create. Neither is it capable of changing reality all
on its own. Thus, just as the triumphalist discourse of the official
press does not turn into practice the rights it touts as "conquests of
the Revolution," neither is the independent press able to function as an
intangible union, apart from the collective workers.

Unions, as organizations created to defend workers' interests from
employers (State, managers, companies), cannot be replaced by the press
or, as in the case of Cuba, by the State. It is worth noting that nor is
it the role of the (marginal) political parties of the opposition is not
to assume such a demanding mission, especially considering that, under
the Castro regime, opponents don't usually have any labor ties nor have
they have successfully influenced large sectors of the population, and
even less so in workers' State or private labor collectives.

In other words, the demand for labor rights is the responsibility, first
and foremost, of the workers themselves within the extent of their
groups, as subjects with the capacity to organize spontaneously and
autonomously in defense of their interests as a group, developing a
strong trade union movement capable of dealing with the powers that
restrain those rights. It is the essential premise for the press – in
this case, the independent press – to expand, thus increasing the effect
of the workers' labor demands or for the opposition to rely on trade
union movements.

The working social base is so significant in mobilizing changes that a
prominent union leader who counts on its support could become a
political leader, such as the well-known case of Lech Walesa, or the
well-known union leaders of the Latin American left, Lula Da Silva and
Evo Morales, who eventually reached the presidency of their respective
countries. But the inverse does not take place: political leaders do not
usually become trade union leaders.

In fact, the powerful Solidarity trade union, with its effectiveness in
overthrowing the puppet government of Moscow in Poland and putting an
end to the so-called "real socialism" in that country, is an essential
reference point when we are talking about which path the Cuban
transition should follow: A great working organization with strong
leadership, able to face and bend the Power.

Regrettably, such practice is not possible in Cuba, where sufficiently
strong or autonomously organized labor groups in key positions in the
economy do not exist, where the relatively better paid jobs are in the
hands of joint venture foreign capital companies and in those of local,
dominant military caste where, in addition, the deep national and civic
feeling characteristic of the Polish peoples has never existed.

This leads directly to the historical fragility of the civil society in
Cuba, demolished completely, especially in the 60 years after the
arrival of the Castros to power, and hijacked by the leaders of the
Revolution to put it at their service, subordinating it to the ideology
of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

The official policy of manipulating the different social organizations,
which operated autonomously and were self-financed before 1959, has
abolished the possibility of the existence of true trade unionism in
Cuba, whose dependence on the political will of the Government is
equally evident, since numerous calls for plenary meetings and "workers"
congresses stem from the Political Bureau of the PCC and not from
so-called trade union organizations, and the workers' laws and "rights"
are also stipulated by the political power.

But even though political manipulation of Cuban trade unionism became
absolute after the "revolutionary triumph," pre-1959 alliances of some
trade union leaders with political parties had already strongly
undermined the trade union movement, detracting from its autonomy,
undermining its foundations and fragmenting it into its structures.

This is how Castellanos summarizes it in one of his writings on the
subject: "The subordination of trade union associations to political
parties, which began in 1925, intensified in the 1940's with the
struggle between workers in the Authentic and Communist Parties for
control of the labor movement. In 1952, when Eusebio Mujal, then General
Secretary of the labor movement, after ordering the general strike
against that year's coup d'etat, ended up accepting an offer from
Batista in exchange for preserving the rights acquired by the CTC*."
(Castellanos, 2013)

The death of Cuban trade syndicates was sealed in 1959, when the CTC was
dissolved and replaced by the (CTC-R). The 10th Congress of the workers'
organization took place that year, and its Secretary General, David
Salvador Manso, said during his speech that "workers had not attended
the Congress to raise economic demands but to support the Revolution."
At the 11th Congress, held in November 1961, the loss of autonomy of
trade unionism was enshrined, when delegates renounced almost all the
historical achievements of the labor movement, among others, the 9 days
of sick leave, the supplementary Christmas bonus, the 44-hour work week,
the right to strike and a raise of 9.09%. The CTC became, in fact, a
mechanism of government control of the workers. (Ibid)

Needless to say this has been maintained until now, with the aggravating
fact that the Cuban autocratic regime has achieved the positive
recognition of all the international organizations responsible for
ensuring compliance with labor rights, which increases Cuban workers'

In fact, far from improving the situation, the exploitation of Cuban
workers has diversified and consolidated since the arrival in Cuba of
foreign-funded enterprises – which employ Cuban workers indirectly,
entirely through contracts signed with the State rather than with the
workers themselves – and with the leasing of professionals, especially
health workers, who are sent abroad under collaborative projects in
countries allied to the Castro regime.

Raúl Castro's rise to the head of the government, as successor to his
brother, the so-called historic leader of the revolution, seemed to open
a brief period of expectations, encouraged by a reformist speech
followed by a set of measures meant to bend the extreme centralism in
Cuba's domestic economy.

Such measures allowed for the emergence of small sectors of private
entrepreneurs, grouped under the generic name "self-employed," which
have faced a number of constraints – such as high taxation, harassment
by corrupt inspectors, absence of wholesale markets to provide their
businesses, among others – and initially constituted an opportunity to
encourage autonomous venues that could eventually pave the way for the
emergence of groups of workers organized in defense of their interests,
independent of the State.

However, the private workers were quickly absorbed by the government's
political officials who run the sole Cuban workers pivotal labor shop.
The self-employed also meekly accepted the official "unionization" that
represents the interests of the boss: the tower of power.

Thus, though Cuba has been a signatory of the United Nations Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights Covenants since 2008 – which recognize, among
others, the right to work and the choice of employment – and the Civil
and Political Rights Convenants – whose written text includes freedom of
the Press, expression, association and assembly, which are also
essential for the existence of trade syndicates – there are no real
trade union organizations in the country or areas of freedom to make
them possible. The Cuban government has not ratified the signatures of
these Covenants, and United Nations officials responsible for ensuring
compliance with their contents are often extremely complacent with the
Cuban authorities.

A long road traveled and a longer one yet to go

In spite of the historical shortcomings of Cuban civil society, the
reality is that labor movements demanding workers' rights began
relatively early in Cuba. The strength achieved by the workers during
the Republican period, organized and grouped in unions, determined
political transformations as important as Gerardo Machado's departure
from power after a powerful workers strike that paralyzed the country.

During the same period, collective bargaining was another struggle
method that gave trade unions the ability to influence the enactment of
laws based on workers' demands. Politicians recognized in the working
masses a social fiber so powerful that the governments of Grau San
Martin, Carlos Mendieta, and Federico Laredo Bru promoted labor
legislation that included such rights as the eight-hour day, labor
striking, paid and maternity leave, and collective bargaining. (Decrees
276 and 798 of April of 1938). (Castellanos, 2002)

Later, the 1940 Constitution legally recognized the results of previous
years' union struggles by dedicating 27 articles of Title VI to the
collective and individual rights of workers. These ranged from the
minimum wage to pensions due to the death of the worker. Paradoxically,
once the government "of the poor, with the poor and for the poor" came
to power, not only were unions lost by a stroke of the pen and absorbed
by the new dictatorship of a supposed military "proletariat",
but Chapter VI of the 1976 Constitution reduced labor rights to six
minimal articles, omitting almost all the gains of the trade union
movement of the previous periods, endorsed in the Constitutions of 1901
and 1940.

Currently, the Cuban socio-political and economic situation is extremely
complex. Not only because an economic crisis has taken root permanently,
but there has been a wave of layoffs and no salaries in Cuba are
sufficient to even acquire basic foodstuffs. Social actors capable of
reversing that scenario cannot be found in our country.

The opposition has proposed a few attempts for independent unions.
However, such proposals have not made progress, not only because of the
repression that is exerted against any manifestation of dissidence
within Cuba, but because these alternatives have no social bases or real
support. In fact, since they are marginalized by the system, Cuban
opponents do not usually have any labor ties – if they had held a state
job they would generally have been fired — so they have no chance of
representing Cuban workers.

The constant Cuban exodus, mainly composed of working age individuals,
is another factor that contributes to the weakening of the work force,
the result of the system itself but one whose solution is already beyond
the reach of a government to which any deep change might cost the loss
of its power.

So far, it does not seem that the vicious circle that keeps Cuban
workers and the whole of society in a motionless state will be broken in
the short term. The road to recovery will be long and tortuous, and will
only begin when the omnipotent power that has hijacked the nation for
almost 60 years disappears. Because without rights, there will be no
unions, and without unions there will be no force capable of
legitimately representing the interests of that endangered species that
was once called "the Cuban workers."

*(CTC): The Central Union of Cuban Workers [Central de Trabajadores de
Cuba] originated as the Confederation of Cuban Workers [Confederación de
Trabajadores de Cuba] in 1939. The original leaders of the organization
were forced to flee after Castro's seizure of power in 1959.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Why We Don't Have A Lech Walesa In Cuba / 14ymedio, Miriam
Celaya – Translating Cuba - Continue reading