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Economy

Havana, March 27 (RHC-ACN)-- European Union ambassador to Cuba Hernan Portocarrero … weekend at the University of Havana, marking the 60th anniversary of … efficient and sustainable economy,” said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez during … the University of Havana, the EU ambassador to Cuba said that “despite … Continue reading
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 March 2017 – It is almost noon on Sunday and a young couple, with their two young children in their arms, stops frustrated in front of the closed gate of the Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center. For a moment they are confused, they consult the clock and immediately become inquisitive … Continue reading "The Enigmatic Closing Of Plaza Carlos III Causes Discomfort" Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 25 March 2017 – Maria, 59, has a daughter in Miami she hasn’t seen for six years. Her visa applications have been denied three times and she promised herself that she would never “step foot in” the US consulate in Havana again. Cuba is the country with the most denials … Continue reading "Cuba Holds World Record For Visa Applications Rejected By The United States" Continue reading

The best way to appreciate how that Cuba's economy today depends on the US more than ever before in its history is to engage in a very simple mental exercise: imagine that Washington banned travel, remittances and packages to the island, except for medicines and special visits by Cubans to see very sick relatives.

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Exclusive: Venezuela increased fuel exports to allies even as supply
crunch loomed
Reuters March 24, 2017
By Marianna Parraga and Alexandra Ulmer

HOUSTON/CARACAS (Reuters) - A gasoline shortage in OPEC member Venezuela
was exacerbated by an increase in fuel exports to foreign allies such as
Cuba and Nicaragua and an exodus of crucial personnel from state-run
energy company PDVSA, according to internal PDVSA documents and sources
familiar with its operations.

Leftist-run Venezuela sells its citizens the world's cheapest gasoline.
Fuel supplies have continued flowing despite a domestic oil industry in
turmoil and a deepening economic crisis under President Nicolas Maduro
that has left the South American country with scant supplies of many
basic necessities.

That changed on Wednesday, when Venezuelans faced their first nationwide
shortage of motor fuel since an explosion ripped through one of the
world's largest refineries five years ago. At the time, the government
of then-President Hugo Chavez curbed exports to guarantee there was
enough fuel at home.

This week's shortage was also mainly due to problems at refineries, as a
mix of plant glitches and maintenance cut fuel production in half.

Unlike five years ago, Caracas has continued exporting fuel to political
allies and even raised the volume of shipments last month despite
warnings within the government-run company that doing so could trigger a
domestic supply crunch.

Shipments from refineries to the domestic market needed to be redirected
to meet those export commitments, the internal documents showed.

"Should this additional volume ... be exported, it would impact a cargo
scheduled for the local market," read one email sent from an official in
the company's domestic marketing department to its international trade unit.

Venezuela last month exported 88,000 barrels per day (bpd) of fuels -
equivalent to a fifth of its domestic consumption - to Cuba, Nicaragua
and other countries, according to internal PDVSA documents seen by Reuters.

That was up 22,000 bpd on the volumes Venezuela had been shipping to
those two countries under accords struck by Chavez to expand his
diplomatic clout by lowering their fuel costs through cheap supplies of
crude and fuel.

The order to increase exports came from PDVSA's top executives,
according to the internal emails seen by Reuters.

Venezuela's oil ministry and state-run PDVSA, formally known as
Petroleos de Venezuela SA, did not reply to requests for comment for
this story.

FUEL STRAIN, BRAIN DRAIN

The strain on the country's fuel system has been worsened by the
departure of staff in PDVSA's trade and supply unit who are key to
ensuring fuel gets to where it is needed and making payments for
imports, three sources close to the company said.

The unit has seen around a dozen key staffers depart since Maduro shook
up PDVSA's top management in January. Among those who left was the head
of budget and payments, two sources said.

"Every week someone leaves for one reason or another," said a PDVSA
source familiar with the unit's operations.

Some have been fired, while others have left since the shake-up inserted
political and military officials into top positions and bolstered
Maduro's grip on the company that powers the nation's economy.

The imposition of leaders with little or no experience in the industry
has further disillusioned some of the company's experienced
professionals and accelerated an exodus that had already taken hold as
economic and social conditions in Venezuela worsened.

A recent internal PDVSA report seen by Reuters mentioned "a low capacity
to retain key personnel," amid salaries of a few dozen dollars a month
at the black market rate.

UNPAID BILLS

The departure of staff responsible for paying suppliers, as well as a
cash crunch in the company and the country, have led to an accumulation
of unpaid bills for fuel imports into Venezuela.

Had those bills been paid, the supply crunch would have been less acute,
the company sources said.

About 10 tankers are waiting near PDVSA ports in Venezuela and the
Caribbean to discharge fuel for domestic consumption and for oil blending.

Only one vessel bringing fuel imports has been discharged since the
beginning of the week, shipping data showed.

PDVSA ordered some of the cargoes as it prepared alternative supplies
while refineries undergo maintenance.

The tankers sitting offshore will not unload until PDVSA pays for their
cargoes, said shippers and the company sources.

Should PDVSA pay - up to $20 million per cargo - shortages could blow
over relatively soon.

The cash-strapped company has struggled since the global oil price crash
that began in 2014 cut revenue for its crude exports. PDVSA is tight on
cash as it prepares for some $2.5 billion in bond payments due next month.

While the vessels sit offshore, lines of dozens of cars waited at gas
stations in central Venezuela on Wednesday and Thursday. The shortages
angered Venezuelans who already face long lines for scarce food and drugs.

PDVSA blamed the supply crunch on unspecified problems for shipping fuel
from domestic refineries to distribution centers. The company said it
was working hard to solve the gasoline situation by boosting deliveries
to the worst-hit regions.

A shortage of trucks to move refined products has also caused
bottlenecks, oil workers told PDVSA President Eulogio Del Pino during a
visit to a fuel facility this week, asking for help. Trucks are in short
supply because the country does not have enough funds to pay for imports
of spare parts.

It was unclear when fuel supplies would return to normal, although by
late Thursday PDVSA appeared to have distributed some fuel from storage
to Caracas and the eastern city of Puerto Ordaz. Lines to fill up at
gasoline stations shortened in both cities, according to Reuters witnesses.

Workers at the 335,000-bpd Isla refinery on the nearby island of Curacao
operated by PDVSA said on Friday that the refinery had begun restarting
its catalytic cracking unit, which could boost fuel supplies in the
coming days.

(Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo and Maria Ramirez
in Puerto Ordaz; Editing by Simon Webb and Marguerita Choy)

Source: Exclusive: Venezuela increased fuel exports to allies even as
supply crunch loomed -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/exclusive-venezuela-increased-fuel-exports-173255182.html Continue reading
Change is coming to Cuba, but how quickly and for whom?
By Neal Simpson
The Patriot Ledger

HAVANA - At a small beach town on the Bay of Pigs, 27-year-old Kenny
Bring Mendoza approached to see if we needed a taxi.

We didn't, but Kenny was happy to show off his proficiency in English
and even willing to answer a few of my questions about recent economic
policy changes in Cuba, things as basic as buying cars or renting out
rooms. But Kenny wanted me to know that one of the biggest changes was
that we were talking at all.


"A couple of years ago, I couldn't be sitting here, speaking with you,"
he told me.

The fact that citizens and tourists now mingle more or less freely in
Cuba, an ostensibly socialist country 90 miles off the U.S. coast, is
just one sign that this island nation is increasingly opening itself up
to the world and, in particular, to the U.S., its longtime archenemy.

U.S. airlines now fly direct from New York to Hanava, cruise ships tower
over the city's aging piers and Americans are increasingly easy to find
among the Canadian and European tourists who have been visiting the
island for decades. Travel agents on the South Shore say they're
fielding a growing number of calls from people who want to know how they
can get to Cuba before the rest of the tourists arrive.

"It's still the unknown for people," said Susan Peavey, whose agency has
offices in Marshfield and Harwich Port. "Everybody is really interested."

I was one of those tourists last month, exploring the island nation in
the tradition of a Ledger photojournalist and editor who had visited
every decade or so to try to understand life in a place that was largely
off-limits to Americans.

What I found was a Cuba that looked much the same as it would have in
decades past despite profound economic changes that are lifting the
fortunes of some Cubans while leaving many behind. Cuba's socialist
government, under pressure to spur growth in a stagnant economy still
recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union more than 25 years ago,
has begun to tear down many of the barriers that have separated Cubans
from the outside world. Residents can now rent out rooms to tourists,
open a limited number of privately owned restaurants, access the
internet and stay at resorts that were previously reserved for
foreigners. From Havana to Playa Girón, there's ample evidence of
President Raul Castro's effort to grow the economy's private sector,
which largely takes the form of self employment, not companies.

But some Cubans I talked with told me that thawing U.S.-Cuba relations,
and the growing number of American tourists visiting the island in the
last two years, has meant more for their personal livelihood than the
loosening of laws on personal property. They told me they'd welcome more
Americans and seemed to harbor no resentment over the Cold War-era
embargo that the U.S. continues to enforce against its Caribbean
neighbor after more than half a century.


"For me," Junior Fuentes Garcia, a 42-year-old Cuban selling books and
watches in Habana Vieja's Plaza De Armas, told me in Spanish, "the
economy is more important."

Cuba opens its doors

Arriving in old Havana at night, the city can look to American eyes like
the set of a post-apocalyptic movie set on a Caribbean island some 50
years after catastrophe cut it off from the rest of civilization. The
streets of Habana Vieja are dimly lit, narrow and filled with people who
are quick to get out of the way whenever a big 1950s Chevy or Ford comes
around a corner. The architecture, hauntingly beautiful but often gutted
and abandoned, recalls a time when Havana was the playground of wealthy
American gangsters and known as the Paris of the Caribbean despite the
extreme poverty and illiteracy most Cubans lived with before the revolution.

Havana by day is a different place, and much more difficult to
understand. Tower cranes rise over government-funded construction
projects along the Paseo de MartÍ while in the adjacent borough of
Habana Centro men labor with 5-gallon buckets and rope to keep up
dilapidated buildings that pre-date the revolution. A fellow traveler
and I walked around a gleaming white hotel that had risen on the site of
a former school building, then toured the nearby Museum of the
Revolution, where the paint was peeling off the terra cotta tiles of
what was once a presidential palace.

And of course, there were the big, beautiful mid-century American cars
that have become inextricably associated with modern-day Cuba even
though they share the country's roads with at least as many newer
Volkswagens, Kias and a variety of makes I had never seen. They are
truly everywhere, though many have been pressed into service as taxis
for tourists.

It's easy to understand why Cubans fortunate enough to have a car would
be tempted to spend their days driving tourists around. Under the Cuban
government's confounding dual-currency system, tourists use one kind of
peso pegged to the American dollar while Cuban citizens mostly use
another kind of peso that's worth closer to 4 cents each. The system,
which is meant to give the government control over American dollars
coming into the country, means that taxi drivers can charge foreigners
rates not far below what they'd pay in the U.S. and make far more than
the average Cuban wage of less than $200 a month, according to a survey
conducted last year by Moscow-based firm Rose Marketing Limited.

I talked with one taxi driver who spoke gleefully about the flood of
Americans he had seen over the last two years and the many more he hoped
were on their way. His mother and sister had moved to the U.S. in recent
years, but he said life in Cuba was too good for him to follow.


Tourism 'brain drain'

Grant Burrier, an assistant professor at Curry College in Milton who has
been visiting Cuba regularly since 2005, told me that the money-making
potential in tourism is actually becoming a problem for the Cuban
government, which has announced but not followed through with plans to
consolidate its two currencies. Burrier said the lure of the tourist
economy has created an internal "brain drain" in Cuba, tempting
engineers and other high-skill workers to leave their government jobs to
seek work in the tourism sector.

In that sense, he said the tourist trade has fueled "severe inequality"
between Cubans who have access to the tourist currency and those who do not.

"Those kinds of issues will be really problematic for the long-term
future of the Cuban economy," he said.

The socialistic ideal of economic equality is clearly far from achieved
in Cuba, but there were no signs of extreme poverty during my brief time
there. Despite its stagnant economy, the Cuban government continues to
provide its citizens with free health care and education as well as
subsidies for food. The country's infant mortality rate is lower than
that of the U.S., and its literacy rate is 99.8 percent, according to
the CIA World Factbook.

But even with all that, it's not clear whether the Cuban government can
maintain the ideals of the revolution as a younger generation comes into
power and gains a better understanding – thanks in part to the internet
– of the lifestyles and consumer goods available outside the confines of
socialism. The median age in Cuba is now 41, according to the CIA World
Factbook, meaning most Cubans were born more than a decade after the
Cuban Revolution and the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion two years
later. The median-aged Cuban was a teenager when the Soviet Union
collapsed and Cuba was left in the lurch.

"That's going to be the key struggle for the revolution going on," said
Burrier, who visited Cuba with 17 Curry students earlier this year.
"Most people you talk to in Cuba, they just want opportunity. They want
economic opportunity, they want economic stability."


American business

Many people in the United States are betting on economic opportunity in
Cuba as well. Last month, a delegation that included U.S. Reps. Jim
McGovern and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts visited Cuba and met with
representatives from Northeastern University and the Massachusetts
Biotechnology Council to discuss opportunities in the agriculture and
health sectors. Former U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat and
longtime advocate for a more open Cuba, is adamant that the island will
soon open its doors wide to American business.

"They obviously have tremendous needs and those need are going to be met
by American capitalism," said Delahunt, whose next trip to Cuba in May
will be aboard a cruise ship. "That's just what's going to happen."

But Delahunt and most Cuba watchers don't expect change to come quickly
to one of the world's last remaining Marxist-Leninist countries. The
country's leaders only need to look to their former ally, Russia, to see
what happens when a country pulls out of a communist economy too quickly.

"I wouldn't be surprised if every year we hear about one or two little
changes," said Javier Corrales, a son of Cuban exiles who teaches
political science at Amherst College, "but they're not interested in
going fast."

Neal Simpson may be reached at nesimpson@ledger.com or follow him on
Twitter @NSimpson_Ledger.

Source: Change is coming to Cuba, but how quickly and for whom? -
http://www.patriotledger.com/news/20170324/change-is-coming-to-cuba-but-how-quickly-and-for-whom Continue reading
From revolution to Raul: A brief history of Cuba
Friday
Posted Mar 24, 2017 at 2:58 PM
Updated Mar 24, 2017 at 9:54 PM

1959 – After years of fighting, Fidel Castro succeeds in overthrowing
the authoritarian government of Fulgencio Batista. Castro launches a
series of reforms, including the nationalization of private property and
business and improvements to health, education and infrastructure.
1960 – The U.S. imposes an embargo on all exports to Cuba except food
and medicine.
1961 - Around 12,000 Cuban exiles backed by the CIA land in the Bay of
Pigs in a bid to overthrow the Castro government. The invasion fails
almost immediately and Cuba eventually sends more than 1,100 captured
militants back to the U.S. in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine.
2008 – An ailing Fidel Castro announces his resignation as president.
His brother, Raul, takes over, promising in his inauguration speech to
lift some restrictions on freedom. The same year, Cubans are allowed to
use cellphones and send text messages for the first time.
2010 – Raul Castro announces the elimination of 500,000 government jobs
and promises to allow more private business licenses, signaling a shift
toward a more significant private economy.
2011 – Cuba legalizes private sale of homes and used cars for the first
time in half a century. President Barack Obama loosens restrictions on
travel to Cuba.
2013 - Cuba ends a longstanding policy requiring any citizen wishing to
travel abroad to obtain a government permit and letter of invitation.
Cuban passports are still expensive, though, leaving them out of reach
for many.
2014 - Cuba and the U.S. agree to exchange prisoners, re-establish
economic ties and begin easing some elements of the embargo. Cuba takes
steps to open the country for foreign investment.
2015 – Cuban and the U.S. reopen embassies in each other's countries.
2016 – Fidel Castro dies at the age of 90.
2017 – U.S. ends the "wet-foot-dry-foot" policy that had allowed Cuban
exiles who reached American soil to seek permanent residency.
2018 – Raul Castro is due to step down as president. His expected
successor, Miguel DÍaz-Cane, was born the year following the Cuban
Revolution.

Source: From revolution to Raul: A brief history of Cuba -
http://www.patriotledger.com/news/20170324/from-revolution-to-raul-brief-history-of-cuba Continue reading
“El éxito de un negocio garantiza el éxito del negocio vecino” Entrevista a Gilberto ‘Papito’ Valladares, líder del proyecto habanero Artecorte elogiado por Barack Obama en su visita a Cuba TED HENKEN, La Habana | Marzo 24, 2017 Casi exactamente un año atrás, el 22 de marzo de 2016, durante su histórica visita a Cuba, […] Continue reading
El dilema de Airbnb BERNADETTE PARDO En la Inglaterra del siglo XVII surgió el concepto de que “la casa de un hombre es su castillo” y que por ende el que manda allí es él, o ella. En Estados Unidos el derecho a la propiedad privada está enérgicamente protegido por la ley y para muchos […] Continue reading
Cuba and Its Rotting Tomatoes
March 23, 2017
By Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — Dozens of tons of tomatoes are rotting in Guantanamo
because nobody is collecting them, according to what journalist Lilibeth
Alfonso tells us on her personal blog. Apparently, there isn't any
diesel for private trucks who could distribute them to the population.

However, fuel shortages haven't affected the supply needed for the
Agriculture Ministry's four-wheel drives or the modern 4×4 Korean cars
that the leaders of the National Association of Small Farmers in Cuba
(ANAP) use, which continue to run on and consume diesel on Havana
streets, traveling from office to office.

Fellow journalist Singh Castillo wrote in that "Tomatoes are rotting in
the Caujeri Valley. This is happening because of the fault of all of
those involved in the matter, starting with farmers, agricultural
cooperatives, the state company, municipal and provincial Agriculture
offices."

He also adds that "the yield of this harvest had been underestimated (…)
there weren't enough boxes and transport was insufficient and, the main
thing here, there weren't enough destinations." And he ends by claiming
that "this harvest is the paradigm to follow in the future," as if this
is the first time that this has happened.

Agricultural engineer Fernando Funes has stated that, every year, 50% of
harvests are lost in Cuba because of poor collection systems, a lack of
storage spaces, the inability to process these crops, insufficient
transport systems and an awful distribution system.

An ANAP leader told me that they had fixed the problem of food rotting
when nobody can distribute it. They force farmers to take out an
insurance policy which then pays them for everything they lose. They
turn the mattress over without really solving the problem at the heart
of this situation.

Farm sector bureaucrats aren't worried about losing dozens of tons of
tomatoes, they don't care if the country pays 2 billion USD a year to
import food or that ordinary Cubans have to pay more than what they earn
in order to take food home.

They don't seem to take into account the fact that the agricultural
sector consumes 60% of the water at a time when Cuba is experiencing
full-on drought. How much water is wasted on watering tomatoes which
then rot in the fields of Guantanamo and other crops which are then lost
across the entire island?

The expense of the agrarian bureaucracy's "lack of foresight" doesn't
stop there. Now, when the government is looking for a way to save fuel
in every sector, we should also calculate how much oil was imported to
drive the water used for watering these fields for no reason whatsoever.

They have been giving different excuses for poor harvests for decades.
Generally-speaking, it was the climate, the drought or heavy rains that
were to blame. Now, the harvest has exceeded estimates, and they blame
the good weather and explain that they "underestimated the yield of this
harvest."

How can you explain the fact that Cuba is never "taken by surprise" by a
hurricane but it is unable to foresee a good harvest? It's simple, Civil
Defense troops don't leave anything to chance, they are always ready to
take on any variables and use all of the resources that might be
necessary, which is why they save lives.

But do we have to alert every farmer that the weather is good, that
there are enough seeds, that pests are under control and that by working
hard, they can end up causing a crisis for our officials? Is there
anything else more ridiculous than talking about overproduction in
Cuba's fields?


The large Cuban Agricultural Ministry building is a kind of living
bureaucratic monument. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
You don't have to be Einstein to know that you don't get different
results in agriculture by keeping the same governing institutions, the
same men leading them and by using the same methods which have failed
time and time again for decades.

My colleague Singh Castillo claims that tomatoes being wasted are "the
responsibility of everybody involved." This is a foolproof analysis so
that at the end of a meeting nobody is to blame, just like a song from
the duet Buena Fe says.

In the face of situations like this one, which affects the national and
local economy, you can't divide the blame up between everyone. The old
principle of "collective work and individual responsibility" is the one
which allows the most incompetent leaders to shake off their blame and
focus on everyone else instead.

They can continue to call for meetings to make analyses of the
situation, but this chaos will continue to take place while officials
get away with their inefficiency and don't pay for it by losing their
jobs and the privileges that these give them: air-conditioned offices,
cars, fuel, internet, allowances and trips.

Source: Cuba and Its Rotting Tomatoes - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=124319 Continue reading
As Cuba's economy flat-lines, retirement has become notional
Tiny pensions must be supplemented by whatever work is available
Mar 23rd 2017 | HAVANA

NORBERTO MESA, a 66-year-old grandfather, stands in the hot sun 11 hours
a day, six days a week, guiding cars in and out of the parking spaces in
front of a bustling farm stand. The 4,000 Cuban pesos ($170 at the
official exchange rate) he earns each month in tips is more than ten
times his monthly old-age pension of 340 pesos. Without it, the retired
animal geneticist could not afford fruit and meat, or help his children,
who work for low salaries, to feed his four grandchildren.

Though revolutionary Cuba had one of the region's earliest and most
comprehensive pension systems, in recent years retirement has almost
vanished. Without further economic reform, and the cheap oil that used
to come from Venezuela, the economy has stalled. Pensions have been
frozen, and their value eaten up by inflation. According to the most
recent government statistics, from 2010, a third of men past retirement
age are working. Three-fifths of older people say they often have to go
without necessities.

The insular socialist paradise supposedly offers a social safety-net,
cradle to grave. But it is full of holes. Medical care is free, but most
medicine is not. Retirement homes are scarce, and rules that mean
residents must give up their pensions and homes put off many, since
these are often a lifeline for younger relatives in equally distressed
circumstances.

So old people can be seen on the streets of Havana selling newspapers
and peanuts, or recycling cans. They are scrubbing floors in affluent
homes or cooking for a growing number of private restaurants and
bakeries. Ernesto Alpízar, an 89-year-old former agronomist, goes
door-to-door selling strawberries and flowers. Even so, he remains an
ardent "Fidelista", grateful to the island's late dictator for the free
cataract surgery that saved his eyesight.

For even as the island's old and infirm must hustle to survive, they
have benefited from its success at providing health care. Life
expectancy at birth is 79, not far short of most developed countries,
and widely available birth control helps explain why family size has
fallen further and faster than in most other countries (see chart). The
flip side, though, has been a breakneck demographic
transition—exacerbated by the large share of young and middle-aged
Cubans who have fled to America. Over-65s now make up 14% of the
population. The national statistical office estimates that the total
number of pensioners will overtake the number of state-sector workers by
2025.

A few churches and charities, mostly funded from abroad, are trying to
fill the gap. Rodolfo Juárez, a pastor of the International Community
Church, a Protestant congregation, helps 60 indigent elderly people in
Havana. His scheme provides fruit, vegetables and beans to supplement
government rations of a daily piece of bread; and 7lb of rice, 2lb of
sugar, five eggs and a piece of chicken a month. Although running it
costs just 18,000 pesos a month, funding is a constant problem.

Mr Juárez and his wife, at 80 and 75, are older than many of those they
help. Between their church duties and his teaching at a seminary, they
make 3,600 pesos a month. Though that does not go far, it dwarfs Mr
Juarez's pension. As long as Cuba's economy flat-lines, its elderly will
have no rest till they drop.

Source: Hustling, cradle to grave: As Cuba's economy flat-lines,
retirement has become notional | The Economist -
http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21719482-tiny-pensions-must-be-supplemented-whatever-work-available-cubas-economy-flat-lines Continue reading
Print section Print Rubric:  As the island’s economy stalls, retirement has become notional Print Headline:  Hustling, cradle to grave Print Fly Title:  Cuban pensioners UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Amazon’s empire Fly Title:  Hustling, cradle to grave Location:  HAVANA Main image:  20170325_amp501.jpg NORBERTO MESA, a 66-year-old grandfather, stands in the hot sun 11 hours a day, six days a week, guiding cars in and out of the parking spaces in front of a bustling farm stand. The 4,000 Cuban pesos ($170 at the official exchange rate) he earns each month in tips is more than ten times his monthly old-age pension of 340 pesos. Without it, the retired animal geneticist could not afford fruit and meat, or help his children, who work for low salaries, to feed his four ... Continue reading
The tourists are still jamming Havana’s Cathedral Square and jostling to get into the popular private restaurants. But not too much is going right with the rest of the economy, … Click to Continue » Continue reading
'When I'm 64': Beatlemania blooms belatedly in Cuba
Carlos BATISTA
AFP March 22, 2017

More
Havana (AFP) - While their American and European peers twisted and
shouted to The Beatles in the 1960s, in Cuba childhood sweethearts
Gisela and Hector kept their Beatlemania a naughty secret.

Now, still Beatles-crazy after all these years, but with the communist
island's Cold War-era censorship of rock music a thing of the past, they
are making up for lost time.

"We are very happy that Cuba is becoming reconciled to the Beatles,"
says Gisela, 64.

She and Hector, 65, have decorated their home with pictures, posters and
souvenirs dedicated to the British band.

Whenever they can, they join crowds of fellow Cubans in their 60s and
70s, singing and dancing at the Yellow Submarine bar -- El Submarino
Amarillo -- in downtown Havana.

"This is not nostalgia," says the artistic director of the club,
journalist Guillermo Vilar, 65.

"This is about them claiming their right to experience what they could
not experience before because of all the contradictions of the time."

- You Can't Do That -

Fidel Castro's revolutionary regime banned songs in English, the
language of its enemy the United States, for fear such music would spawn
ideological deviance.

Gisela Moreno and Hector Ruiz would listen to The Beatles on US radio
stations they captured on short-wave radios.

Records lent by the occasional returning traveler were copied in state
recording studios, with the complicity of staff, onto low-quality metal
discs.

"You put it on the record players we had back then and you just heard
noise with the music in the background," Ruiz recalls.

"It was terrible, but hey, at least it was The Beatles."

At their high school, skinny-leg trousers, miniskirts and long hair were
also banned.

But times have changed. The Yellow Submarine, opened in 2011, is one of
at least six Beatles tribute bars across the island -- all of them run
by the culture ministry.

One of them, in the eastern city of Holguin, is said to be an initiative
of ruling party leader Miguel Diaz-Canel -- widely touted as the
country's possible next president.

- I Should Have Known Better -

On a bench near the Yellow Submarine sits a bronze statue of late Beatle
John Lennon.

Fidel Castro himself inaugurated the statue in 2000. In footage of the
ceremony, the late leader can be heard bewailing the former censorship
of Beatles songs.

"I greatly regret not having met you sooner," Castro told the statue.

The censorship was not his idea, Castro went on: he delegated cultural
policy to underlings while he was busy leading Cuba through the Cold War.

Fidel Castro's death last November marked the end of an era in Cuba. His
brother Raul, in charge now for more than a decade, has been gradually
opening up the economy and foreign relations.

The bronze Lennon has become an attraction for locals and the growing
number of foreign tourists visiting the island.

The statue's spectacles have been stolen several times and a guard has
been appointed to take care of them, getting them out for passers-by
when they want to take photos.

- From Me To You -

Fans trace the rise of Beatlemania in Cuba to 1990, when Vilar organized
a tribute concert to mark the 10th anniversary of Lennon's murder.

For many Cubans, that marked the belated birth of rock on the island --
for the old generation and the new.

At the Yellow Submarine, gentlemen's bellies bulge under black Beatles
t-shirts and grey ponytails, while the ladies show off their miniskirts
and long boots.

On stage, Cuba's top Beatles tribute singer Eddy Escobar, 46, plays the
band's hits for scores of ageing revelers.

This ponytailed rocker was not yet born when The Beatles lit up the
counter-culture movement before they broke up in 1970.

But he discovered the music, like younger Cubans are doing now.

"Good music will always last as long there is someone who somehow
appreciates it, right?" says Escobar.

"The Beatles are here to stay," he says. "I give the bug to anyone I can."

Source: 'When I'm 64': Beatlemania blooms belatedly in Cuba -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/im-64-beatlemania-blooms-belatedly-cuba-155002022.html Continue reading
Cuba official: Mich. could be trade partner, investor
Charles E. Ramirez, The Detroit News 3:17 p.m. ET March 21, 2017

Detroit — Michigan and Cuba could be great business partners, Cuba's
ambassador to the U.S. said Tuesday.

"I think (like Cuba,) your main asset here is the people," José Ramón
Cabañas Rodríguez said after his keynote address to the Detroit Economic
Club. "We probably should think about how we can compliment each other.
No doubt agriculture is one field, but there are many others."

Cabañas, who is based in Washington, D.C., and has been Cuba's
ambassador to the U.S. since 2015, spoke to a crowd of about 200 people
at the club's luncheon.

"I invite all of you to come to Cuba and see what we have done over the
last few years," he said.

He was visiting Michigan and Detroit to discuss America's embargo on the
communist Caribbean island nation and future investment opportunities
there. The U.S. has maintained a 59-year-old trade embargo on Cuba and
formal ban on Americans engaging in tourism on the island. But the ban
on trade with Cuba softened in 2014, when then-President Barack Obama
announced the U.S. would re-establish diplomatic relations with the
small nation.

Cabañas said the blockade on Cuba continues to have profound
repercussions on the country's economy and called members of the
audience at the economic club luncheon to urge elected officials to lift it.

"The U.S. has been wasting money, many, many millions of dollars in the
last 20 years in order to reach and influence the Cuban people," he
said. "Our suggestion is: Let's stop all of that. Let's use that money
in a productive way, and let's do business with Cuba the same way we do
with everyone else."

Kimberly Hairston, 52, of Southfield said she was excited to hear the
ambassador's speech Tuesday.

"I think it's very encouraging and very promising," said Hairston, who
attended the luncheon with a group of students from the Wayne County
Community College District, where she works in student services. "I hope
relations between Cuba and the U.S can become stronger."

Cabañas speech at the Detroit Economic Club comes a day after he spoke
to the board of directors of the Michigan Farm Bureau.

Kevin Robson, horticulture specialist with the bureau, said Cabañas
spent about 90 minutes talking to board members about normalizing trade
relations between Cuba and the U.S through bilateral agreements and
potential opportunities for Michigan's farmers to export dairy and fruit
to the island Latin American country.

Michigan and Metro Detroit have small populations of people with Cuban
ancestry.

Am estimated 10,000 people of Cuban descent, or about a tenth of one
percent of the state's total population, call Michigan home, according
to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Metro Detroit, those of Cuban ancestry
account for about 3,000 — or .06 percent — of the area's 4.2 million
people, the agency reports.

cramirez@detroitnews.com

Source: Cuba official: Mich. could be trade partner, investor -
http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2017/03/21/cuba-detroit/99459650/ Continue reading
Rare poll finds Cuban citizens favor better U.S. relations
UPDATED: TUESDAY, MARCH 21, 2017, 9:28 P.M.
By Emily Swanson and Michael Weissenstein
Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A rare poll of Cuban public opinion has found that most of
the island's citizens approve of normal relations with the United States
and large majorities want more tourists to visit and the expansion of
private business ownership.

In a poll of 840 people taken in Cuba late last year by the independent
research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, 55 percent said
normal relations with the U.S. would be mostly good for the country.

"I'd love for the two peoples to be even closer," Rebecca Tamayo, an
80-year-old retired museum worker, said Monday in Havana. "If there were
better relations, more products would be entering the country. There'd
be more opportunity to buy things."

Among Cubans ages 18-29, approval of closer relations with the U.S. rose
to 70 percent. An overwhelming 8 of 10 respondents said they believed
tourism to Cuba should be expanded.

President Donald Trump has pledged to reverse former President Barack
Obama's 2 1/2-year-old opening with Cuba, which restored full diplomatic
relations and allowed a dramatic expansion of U.S. travel to the island.
Trump has said little about the matter since taking office, but his
administration says it is conducting a full review of Cuba policy with
an eye toward possible changes.

Critics of Obama's policy hope Trump will reinstate regulations limiting
the ability of Americans to travel to the island. U.S. travel to Cuba
has roughly doubled every year since the declaration of detente in
December 2014. Critics of closer relations argue the added revenue has
funded a repressive single-party system without helping ordinary Cubans.

The reality is more complex. New tourism revenue is being captured by
government-run tourism businesses, often controlled by the military. At
the same time, thousands of new private enterprises, primarily
bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants, are allowing many Cubans to forge
livelihoods independent of the state. Meanwhile, a drop in aid from
Cuba's main patron, Venezuela, helped push the country last year into
its first recession since 1993, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The poll reflects this complex reality, with Cubans expressing pessimism
about the government's management of the economy while supporting better
ties with the U.S. and hoping for increased privatization.

"Tourism is improving the country's economy, but it's still not enough,
because people aren't seeing a better quality of life," Jorge Beltran, a
66-year-old retired accountant said Monday in Havana.

Forty-six percent of Cubans say the island's economic performance is
poor or very poor, and most said the country's economic fortunes haven't
changed significantly over the past three years. Still, Cubans are
nearly unanimous in saying more tourism would be good for the economy,
and nearly 9 in 10 say it would result in more jobs for local workers.

Sixty-five percent of Cubans said there should be more private business
ownership and 56 percent said they wanted to start their own business
over the next five years.

"It's been demonstrated that the market economy is more efficient than a
centralized economy," Beltran said. "People who've started private
businesses, you can see that they're happier, they have more access to a
lot of things. It's a tremendous benefit for them."

The NORC survery was conducted via in-person interviews of adults across
Cuba in October and November of last year. The survey has a margin of
sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Seventy-six percent said they had to be careful about expressing
themselves freely. Over half of Cubans said they would move away from
the country if given the chance. Of those, 70 percent said they would
head to the United States, where many respondents said they had relatives.

Nearly half of respondents said they received remittances from family or
friends overseas.

Seventy-seven percent had a positive view of the U.S.

UPDATED: MARCH 21, 2017, 9:28 P.M.

Source: Rare poll finds Cuban citizens favor better U.S. relations | |
The Spokesman-Review -
http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2017/mar/21/rare-poll-finds-cuban-citizens-favor-better-us-rel/ Continue reading
How the Black Market Keeps Cuba's Private Restaurants in Business
The challenge of running a restaurant "a la izquierda"
by Suzanne Cope Mar 21, 2017, 2:02pm EDT

On a recent January evening, tourists and a few Habaneros sat under a
palm frond canopy sipping rum cocktails, listening to a live band
playing Cuban folk songs — and eating notoriously difficult-to-procure
lobster, a special of the day.

California Cafe, a paladar, or newly legal, privately owned restaurant
in a country where the state has controlled almost all businesses for
the past half century, is owned by a couple who met in San Francisco.
Paver Core Broche is Cuban, Shona Baum is American, and they decided to
return to Havana to open a restaurant in February 2015, not long after
the regulations for private businesses started loosening.

"In some ways it was really easy," Baum says about the process of
opening a paladar in Havana. "You can't even open a coffee cart in San
Francisco without a million permits and tons of money, and here… we
bought the space, and applied for a license, and it didn't take that long."

But in Cuba, most businesses can't simply call up a bulk vendor or
wholesaler purveyor to place a produce order, since most means of
production are controlled by the government. The country uses two
currencies, Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs) and Cuban pesos (CUPs), the
former tied to the U.S. dollar and known as the "tourist currency," the
latter, valued at 1/25th of the CUC, used by the government to pay its
oversized labor force. (Paladares and private businesses might charge in
either.) Running a restaurant can be complicated in the best of
situations, but it's especially challenging in a country where most
aspects of daily life are tightly regulated — and where much of the
economy operates a la izquierda, or "on the left."

As California Cafe grew, both Baum (who works the front of the house)
and Broche (who cooks) had to learn to navigate the labyrinth of
sourcing food and supplies in a place where the state-run corner bodega
might have 100 imported fruit cakes on the shelf but no toilet paper.
Baum says the reality in Cuba is that product availability is sporadic.
"When they have mayonnaise, they have three million [jars of]
mayonnaise, and then it's gone and they have three million of something
else," she says.

To find many necessary items — from condiments to serving plates — one
has to travel around the city visiting various markets. That process can
quickly become time-consuming, and Broche and Baum hired a full-time
person to help with sourcing. They also rent a storeroom to stockpile
enough nonperishables to last a few weeks of service, and they plan
their menu around ingredients that are usually available. The result is
a style they call "Californian-Cuban fusion," with vegetable-heavy
dishes like pork and vegetable "California" skewers.

But the inconsistent availability of products is only one aspect of
sourcing that makes operating a paladar a complicated endeavor in
Havana. The other is the persistence of a la izquierda — the Cuban black
market. There are many ingredients and products needed by restaurants
that are either illegal to buy or else often expensive or scarce, such
as lobster or non-processed cheese. And staples like toilet paper,
vinegar, and beer can also suddenly become hard to find, or "esta
perdido," (literally "it's lost"), Baum says. Numerous restaurant owners
note that if they want to stay in business, they have to buy certain
things a la izquierda.

Alexi, a paladar owner near Cuba's second-largest city, Santiago de
Cuba, worked for many years in the state-owned hotel industry before
opening his own open-air restaurant with tented tables right on the
Caribbean. "You must be enterprising to get all of the things you need
for your restaurant," he says. "Today we have something, but tomorrow it
will be quite difficult to get that same thing … and it is illegal to
buy some things. For example, the government has made all kinds of
seafood illegal to buy. So sometimes I have to buy products other ways."

The Cuban black market works in many ways to circumvent the government's
control of goods. One is the common — and complicated — practice of
state-owned-store employees holding back certain goods to sell a la
izquierda, while accepting pay-offs for other goods — procured illegally
by individuals — to be sold in their shop instead. The government has
strict regulations on the sale of almost every food sourced, from
seafood to coffee to tomatoes, setting the harvest goals and prices for
each farmer or fisherman and prohibiting the sale of excess through
private channels. To make extra money, almost any person within the
supply chain might reserve products to be sold at a price he or she
dictates.

Buying products a la izquierda is so integrated into daily Cuban life
that it often does not look much different than most other transactions
to the average non-Cuban — these sales aren't all happening in dark
alleys with secret handshakes. Rather, there is a complex system of
bribery and separate record-keeping that many employees of both state-
and private-run businesses take part in.

Both Alexi and a former military cook, Marcus, who lives in Santiago de
Cuba, attribute this in part to the government prioritizing state-run
restaurants and hotels when they distribute the best-quality food. "If I
have a good paladar, then that means people are going to eat at my
paladar and they are not going to be a good customer for the
government," Marcus says. "That's [the government's] loss, and they
don't want that." Marcus is currently attending a military cooking
school, but hopes to soon work in a tourist hotel and eventually own his
own restaurant, a dream that wouldn't have been possible just a few
years ago.

Paladares were technically legalized in the 1990s, partially in reaction
to a mass poisoning in an illegal restaurant, when a cook accidentally
added rat poison to the food. However, they were highly regulated, and
it was difficult to obtain their required permits until the 2011
economic reforms under Raúl Castro's leadership. These reforms made
opening paladares much easier — and in 2016, the government announced
plans to ease other private ownership laws as well, paving the way for
individuals to open a variety of private businesses.

These changes, along with the revised laws allowing United States
citizens to more easily travel and send money to the island, have helped
the number of paladares swell. After President Barack Obama restored
diplomatic relations with Cuba in mid-2015, U.S. tourism to the country
hit an all-time high, with 615,000 travelers visiting Cuba from the U.S.
in 2016.

However, the support for this quickly growing class of business has not
been enough to sustain them, particularly as competition increases.
There have been reports of food shortages for locals in part due to the
demand of private restaurants (although some Cubans are equally quick to
blame farmer strikes and government disorganization over the emerging
private sector). Leo, one of the owners of the popular Havana paladar
Havana Blue, has noted the number of paladares that have already come
and gone in his quickly changing city. "There are some that open and
then close," he says. "Not because of lack of demand. It's also bad
management. Many people don't have the foggiest idea because they have
never run a restaurant before."

The government, for its part, has made some effort to support paladares,
at least in gesture. It opened a version of a wholesale market, but
multiple paladar owners question its usefulness. The prices aren't any
cheaper than a retail market, and availability is still often
unpredictable. "People pull up and the beer is gone in two minutes,"
Baum says.

Baum also says that the national bank reached out to small business
owners in the last two years to offer loans. While commonplace in the
United States, this kind of credit is mostly unheard of in Cuba. Yet
when Baum asked about interest rates, the bank associate was vague.
"'Don't worry, we'll give you a good rate!'" was the answer.

Ministry of Agriculture journalist Jose Ignacio Fleitas Adan says the
government is working to do better. "There's an intention, and also
projects and plans, to increase food production and availability," he
says, echoing the official government response. "Es complicado," he adds
with a laugh.

And that seems to be the one truism about food sourcing in Cuba,
particularly when one is running a business. Baum mentions two
restaurants nearby that were shut down recently. "They just
disappeared," she says. "Basically, they were doing illegal things. So
there's a lot of fear around what's going to happen next." She questions
whether more crackdowns are coming for those who buy goods a la izquierda.

What were those shuttered restaurant doing that was more illegal than
what anyone else is doing? Baum pursed her lips. This answer, too, was
complicado. "I spoke with someone who ate there, and they had dried
cranberries on their salad. Which is great, but clearly dried
cranberries aren't available here." She pauses. "What you realize over
time is that there are people who are really well connected, so it's
hard for the regular people like us, and all the other people in our boat."

Still, the opportunities for business owners are lucrative. A Cuban
working in the growing service industry — as a taxi driver or a
restaurant host — can earn exponentially more than the average state
wage of around 20 to 40 CUCs per month. Many educated young Cubans are
thus leaving professions like teaching or medicine to work in the
emerging private sector. When I walked into a new Mediterranean-themed
paladar with Habanero food writer Sisi Colomina, the first question she
asked the host was, "What did you do before?" The answer: psychology.

This wage disparity also makes it easy to understand why so many people
risk buying and selling a la izquierda, or starting their own businesses
in an uncertain market, to supplement their meager income. What
successful paladares demonstrate is that capitalism can work in a
country where almost all aspects of (legal) businesses have being
tightly controlled by the state for more than 50 years.

Yet while many come to the restaurant business for monetary reasons, for
others, opening a paladar is a chance to follow their passion. "It was
always my dream — illegal or legal," Alexi says. "Cooking is an art." He
also called paladars the most popular private businesses in the country
by almost any metric: They're "the most important window for showing the
possibilities to other Cubans."

And while the challenges of food sourcing can make running a private
business in a communist state complicated, Baum does appear to love her
work. We finished our cocktail as she sang along to the band and then
did a sweep of the patio to help her servers deliver food and greet
customers she had met earlier in the week. When she sat back down, she
admitted that the business had a rocky start. But now, she says, she is
"slowly falling in love with Cuba."

Suzanne Cope is the author of Small Batch and an upcoming book on food
and revolution.
Editor: Erin DeJesus

Source: How the Black Market Keeps Cuba's Private Restaurants in
Business - Eater -
http://www.eater.com/2017/3/21/14946146/cuba-paladar-private-restaurant-black-market Continue reading
Congratulations To Cuban Socialists - 95% Of Cubans Want Economic
Growth, 13% Think They Have It
Tim Worstall , CONTRIBUTOR
I have opinions about economics, finance and public policy.

Other than the very few remaining deluded lefties out there there's no
one who thinks that the Cuban government has done a good job these past
6 decades so this finding shouldn't be all that much of a surprise. Said
government, that Castroite revolution, managing to fail in the basic
mission of all governments everywhere, to produce whatever it is that
the population would actually like. It's also not that much of a
surprise what the Cubans themselves would like, a bit of economic
growth. For one thing we've noted about humans over the millennia is
that they rather like full bellies, sound roofs over their head and a
sense that things will be even better for their children. Again, not
things known to be in great supply these past 6 decades in Cuba.

"...a rare survey of 840 Cubans conducted in the country late last year
by an independent research group, asking for opinions on topics from
free speech to diplomatic ties to crime."

Not what the government says people should want, not what the government
says the people are going to get, but what do the people actually want?
You know, the sort of things we get to impress upon our rulers at
election time in a free country. And what is it that Cubans would like?

"What emerges most clearly from those interviewed is a desire to enjoy a
more certain, and robust, economic future."

We might even say that they'd like to have an economy and the hell with
the perils of capitalist exploitation in fact:

"And yet Cubans seemed to have little faith in their government's
capacity to deliver on those goals. Only three in 10 felt the economy
would improve in the next three years. And just 13 percent said the
current economy was good or excellent."

Or as the headline puts it, 95% of Cubans want economic growth, only 13%
think they're getting it and only 30% think they will get it. This is
not a great vote of confidence in Raul now, is it?

The fuller survey results are here.

"Many Cubans feel stuck in the current economic climate. Overall, just
13 percent of Cubans describe the condition of the Cuban economy today
as good or excellent, 35 percent say it is fair, and 46 percent say it's
poor or very poor."

Few Cubans think the economy is going to improve anytime soon. Three in
10 say the condition of the economy is going to get better over the next
three years, 8 percent say it is going to get worse, and 47 percent say
the economy will stay about the same.

Yes, yes, we all know, the Cubans are different. They've not got that
same greed for personal comfort as the rest of us and what about that
free health care!

The correct answer to which is that all of Europe now has free health
care for those who need it and none of us had to shoot the bourgeoisie
(even though several places did that's not where we've got the health
care from) nor ship hundreds of thousands on tire tubing through shark
infested oceans to get it. So perhaps there's something wrong with the
justification of the poverty, mass emigration and shootings by that
Cuban health care. Just a possibility, eh?

As to why what was a relatively rich part of the world in the 1950s is
now one of the poorest places in the Western Hemisphere that's
easy--truly foul economic policy. Cuba tried to operate with a planned
and priceless economy. This does not work. The only economics we have
available to us which does actually work--work in the sense of providing
full bellies, roofs and the possibility of a better tomorrow for the
children--is a market economy using prices to guide resource
allocations. There are different flavours of this available to us, most
assuredly, from Hong Kong's laissez faire through to Swedish social
democracy but it's worth noting that Sweden is actually more free market
than the US or UK.

And yes, there is a lesson here for the rest of us. We can indeed have
interesting discussions about what sort of free marketry we wish to be
but we're not going to have a functional economy if we're not some
version of that market economy.

Source: Congratulations To Cuban Socialists - 95% Of Cubans Want
Economic Growth, 13% Think They Have It -
https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2017/03/22/congratulations-to-cuban-socialists-95-of-cubans-want-economic-growth-13-think-they-have-it/#15a7d0f67c58 Continue reading
The future of Cuba is capitalism
By Nicolas Briscoe | 03/20/2017 7:42pm

The greatest blessing of my life has been my Cuban heritage. The warmth,
love and fun that accompany every aspect of Cuban family and culture are
incomparable forces for good in my life. In my hometown of Miami, there
is a neighborhood referred to as "Little Havana," named such because it
was one of the first outposts of Cuban life in the United States
following the Cuban revolution of 1959. Now, however, the neighborhood
serves as much purpose as a little Italy in Rome, or a Chinatown in
Beijing. All of Miami is Little Havana, and we Miamians wouldn't have it
any other way. Miami is a city more alive than any other, as the vibrant
tapestry of Hispanic culture is interwoven in every colada, cortadito,
and café con leche. It is a town that is totally unique and unrivaled.
One might imagine, then, that I have special insight into the suddenly
red-hot issue of Cuban-American diplomacy. Unfortunately, I have little
more insight than any other American watching the news.

What I do possess, however, is a glimpse into pre-revolution Cuban life.
I recently returned from a family reunion back home in Miami (quick tip
from the author: if you are ever extended an invitation to a Cuban
family reunion; GO). The reunion was filled with loud conversation in
Cuban (a separate language from Spanish altogether), laughter, plenty of
flowing alcohol, delicious food and a radiant joy that was likely
unimaginable to much of the family in the throws of the 1959 revolution.
Inevitably, story time began.

The stories of my grandfather always leave me beaming with pride. In his
youth, his story reads like that of Roy Rogers, walking into town with
his spurred boots, guitar and Smith and Wesson six-shooter, ready to
tame the Wild West. Though he passed when I was just six years old, he
remains forever etched in my memory as an amazing man, respected and
adored by all. Using sorcery referred to by some as "Google Maps," we
were able to locate the ranch in Santiago de Cuba where the entire
family lived. Just down the street from the original Bacardí ranch, it
was an enormous piece of land, tended to and cared for by the family. It
was at this moment that the tone began to change. A silence wholly
uncharacteristic of Cubans washed over the room, as those who recognized
the land gazed at the television screen. This was the land they had
lost. This was the land that was taken. The memories come flooding back,
and the jovial mood turns angry as they recall what was, and what should
be still. Inevitably, the suggestion at storming the island with a
single rifle and re-conquering the land is made, an idea that sounds
entirely reasonable with the trusty assistance of enough rum. At once,
however, it is understood that the time to be angry is over, and the
party resumes.

The essence of the Cuban people, wrapped in one rambling anecdote, is
resilience. The resilience to pack up their entire life, get on a plane,
move to a new country, learn a new language, understand a new culture,
live as outcasts and still enjoy life to the absolute fullest. The Cuban
community has since begun to thrive in the United States. Cubans are
influential in business (Roberto Goizuetta, Jorge Perez), entertainment
(Andy Garcia, Pitbull, Gloria Estefan, etc), politics (Marco Rubio, Ted
Cruz, Bob Menendez), diplomacy (Lino Gutierrez, Alabama alumnus), and
the list goes on. The Cuban people thrive no matter where they are, or
in what conditions they find themselves. In Cuba, on an unlivable wage
and with rationing of every human necessity, they display incomparable
resourcefulness and unflappability. They are ready, willing and able to
fight for themselves. They will be ready, willing and able to fight for
their country. They need only a spark.

There is an old story about the Soviet Union involving an ill-fated
advertisement about American poverty. As the story goes, the Soviet
Union was beginning to internally acknowledge that socialism leads to
overwhelming poverty, and decided to rely on their own propaganda rather
than trying to fix the problem. As such, they distributed flyers and ran
advertisements on radio and television of a Great Depression-era family
in a tiny home huddled around a television in the dead of winter,
clearly in the depths of extreme American poverty. The Kremlin was
confident that this would prove that even in the wealthy and
capitalistic glory of the United States, poverty was equally as
prevalent and intolerable. The attempts backfired, however, when the
Soviet citizens began noticing that even in the direst of circumstances,
the Americans could still afford a television, an almost unattainable
luxury in the Soviet Union.

This is what capitalism is capable of. It is capable of lighting a spark
that pushes the people to, for lack of a better phrase, cast off the
chains of tyrannical oppression. Cuba is now nearing a defining moment
in its history. Following the death of Fidel, the last truly visible and
noteworthy revolutionary, there is little to remind younger generations
of his revolution. Raúl Castro never had the popularity or charisma of
his brother, or his associate Che Guevara. As such, his stranglehold and
that of the Castro regime is fraying. He has allowed telephone services
into Cuba. He has allowed limited Internet access. He has greatly
relaxed his grip on all media, even allowing certain publications aside
from the state-censored Granmá. He has even begun to privatize certain
sectors of the economy on a case-by-case basis, namely in the restaurant
and entertainment industry. While he still rules with an iron fist,
imprisoning and very recently murdering dissidents, he is well aware
that a new post-Castro age is coming. His actions are those of a worried
dictator attempting a crash landing rather than a nosedive. In other
words, he is the 21st Century's Gorbachev.

Whether Cuba will fall as the Soviet Union did is difficult to predict.
On one hand, authoritarian socialism is now and will forever be doomed
to fail. On the other, Cuba is a relatively irrelevant state on the
world stage, and lack of international pressure could allow it to
smolder in its current state for decades. The only thing that is
inarguable is that capitalism will pave the way for a new Cuba. Whether
this means lifting the Cuban embargo is up for debate. To lift the
embargo without any form of reparation claims service for those Cubans
exiled for what is now approaching 60 years would be a travesty. But to
condemn the Cuban people to an eternity of socialistic, tyrannical
misery would be a tragedy.

Nicolas Briscoe is a is a senior majoring in history. His column runs
biweekly.

Source: The future of Cuba is capitalism | The Crimson White -
http://www.cw.ua.edu/article/2017/03/the-future-of-cuba-is-capitalism Continue reading
Tourists, private enterprise give Cuba much needed boost
Posted: Monday, March 20, 2017 11:30 am
By David Bordewyk

Running an Italian restaurant plus a small bed and breakfast keeps owner
Yucimy on her feet from sunrise to well past sunset. It's 7 a.m., and
she is already preparing omelets for her five B&B guests. Her cheerful
greeting helps everyone shake off a night's sleep.
Meanwhile, Yucimy's employees are busy moving tables and chairs to the
sidewalk outside the restaurant, which fronts the town's main avenue,
and are inviting passerbys to stop in for breakfast.
Late afternoon will have Yucimy and staff, some of whom are family, busy
pouring drinks and planning dinner menus for the B&B guests. At night's
end, Yucimy can be found with her feet up in the small living room just
off the restaurant's kitchen, catching a few minutes of TV.
All in a day's work for this privately owned business. Welcome to
Vinales, Cuba.
In Havana, Rosana Vargas welcomes visitors to her jewelry store, where
she shares her small business story. She started making fine silver
jewelry five years ago in her small apartment. Today she has more than
40 people employed in her stylish, privately owned shop along a busy
capital city street.
How much does she pay in taxes to the government for her small business
success, she is asked.
Too much," Rosana says, sounding ever like a well-seasoned capitalist.
Except this isn't Wall Street or Main Street. This is Cuba.
Along with 28 other Americans from the Midwest, I traveled to Cuba for
seven days last week on a people to people tour, a kind of
educational/tourism tour of the island nation that has the approval of
both countries. An employee of a tourism company run by the Cuban
government was our guide.
The trip gave a view of a country with compelling contrasts and
day-to-day economic struggles for many Cubans that dropped our jaws. It
also introduced us to some wonderful, inspiring Cuban people.
To be sure, Cuba remains very much a country ruled by leaders who belong
to the Communist Party. Repression of speech, assembly, and the press
remain very much in play in Cuba today. The government pulls and pushes
the levers that control much of Cuba's way of life. It's been that way
since soon after Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista regime in 1959.
Yet, doors are opening. Capitalism, entrepreneurship, and self-reliance
are no longer negatives in Cuba. They are happening today in Havana and
other parts of the country.
It will be difficult for the government to put the brakes on this
growing capitalistic wave. President Raul Castro or the next leader may
decide to encourage even more of this kind of growth. Who knows?
This is a country where the average official salary of a state
government worker is the equivalent of about $25 per month. By the way,
most Cubans work for the government or government-owned enterprises.
Teachers, lawyers, and other professionals can make more money tending
bar or waiting tables in a restaurant than they can in the jobs they
were trained and educated to do.
There is a saying in Cuba that "if you pretend to pay me, I will pretend
to work."
Pretending to work for pretend pay is nothing new in Cuba. That's been
going on for many years.
What's new is the rapidly burgeoning capitalism.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Cuban economy went into a
free fall. Within a few years, the Cubans realized that growing tourism
was necessary to help stave off collapse.
Tourism in Cuba has indeed accelerated the past 20 years. Canadians,
Germans, British, Chinese, among others, travel to Cuba. They come for
the rum, cigars, salsa music, and the sun. The number of foreign
tourists coming to Cuba has risen from about 750,000 in 1995 to 3.5
million two years ago.
And now the Americans are coming. The warming of relations between the
two countries put in motion by the Obama administration means more and
more American tourists are wanting to go to Cuba. We bumped into fellow
Americans most everywhere we went during our week-long trip.
Cubans on the street we met cheer what Obama did. They express anxiety
about President Trump.
Which takes us back to the small town of Vinales, in the heart of Cuba's
tobacco-growing region. The town has been a tourist destination for many
years with bed-and-breakfasts throughout. Today, you see construction in
much of the town. Residents are adding a room or two where they can to
their small homes to accommodate the growing tourist tide.
Will growth in tourism pull Cuba out of its many economic problems?
Probably not. Economic stability likely will take much more, given the
scope of challenges.
A personal observation that overrides the nuts and bolts of Cuba's
wobbly GDP is this: My travel experience was that Cubans are genuine,
friendly, and welcoming. They smile wide and extend a hand when you tell
them where you are from. They are willing to chat, even if language is a
barrier. (Although almost no one seemed to know where South Dakota was
located in America. The closest point of reference that rang a bell with
Cubans was the Minnesota Twins. Cubans love baseball.)
More than once I heard Cubans on the street tell me they are eager for
the day when the embargo imposed on their country by the United States
will end. They believe such a move would make lives better for average
Cubans.
In the meantime, they keep building B&Bs (casa particulares), opening
privately-owned restaurants (paladares), and welcoming more American
tourists.
David Bordewyk is executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper
Association, Brookings. He participated in a people to people tour of
Cuba along with journalists and others from the Midwest March 5-12.

Source: Tourists, private enterprise give Cuba much needed boost - Black
Hills Pioneer: Opinion -
http://www.bhpioneer.com/opinion/tourists-private-enterprise-give-cuba-much-needed-boost/article_ffbe4ce2-0d76-11e7-8f17-73c0b08841d7.html Continue reading
How Can You Fight Injustice in Cuba?
March 20, 2017
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES — A political system which doesn't have feedback, nor is
founded on democratic elections, will never be able to truly fight
injustice, anywhere! If those who rule the country and decide for the
rest of us what will happen to the economy and society make a mistake,
we have no way of urging them to rectify their wrongs; and even if they
are resolved to do so one day, it won't happen with the speed which
these things deserve.

This happens in every aspect of Cuban life: let's remember that it took
them decades to rectify the aberrant ban on selling your own home or
car; or being able to walk inside a hotel and be served; or talking to
foreigners; or traveling freely.

In this article, I will give you a more current example of this,
relating to tobacco production; which directly concerns me, as I am a
producer. A very strange situation has come about due to a green stain,
of an unknown origin, which affects tobacco plants but only reveals
itself when the leaf is dry (once it has been cured). Nothing can
conciously be done to prevent it and it depends on the harvest's luck or
not, as it appears for no logical reason whatsoever. We all guess it
must be related to the environment.

However, it just so happens that this stain only affects the quality of
tobacco, which cuts back on the production of outer wrappers. Wrappers
are healthy, thin and Carmelite colored leaves which are used to wrap up
a cigar. Logically, a stain or two will affect the traditional aesthetic
of Cuban cigars. However, a cigar has three ingredients: fillers,
binders and wrappers; and it's only the wrapper that has to be flawless;
and all three are important, you need all of them to make a cigar.

100 lbs of tobacco with green stains (which we call pintadilla here),
gives very few wrappers, but a lot of binders and filler. Of course this
means that it still maintains great commercial value not only in cigar
manufacture, but cigarette manufacture too. According to the CUBATABACO
spreadsheet, producing 100 lbs costs us 750 regular pesos or CUP (which
is about 30 CUC or 35 USD); however in reality it's another story, and
can cost us up to 1000 CUP. There is a system of separate payment
according to the percentage of wrappers produced, in order to stimulate
production, but the worst thing is that the price for 100 lbs of tobacco
which doesn't produce wrappers is 300 CUP, even though it is all made
use of and still has great commercial value.

Thanks to pintadilla, we have uncovered this injustice. To give you an
idea: 5000 packs of cigarettes, which are sold on the domestic market
for 7-15 CUP, depending on whether they are sold in CUC or CUP, and
their packaging, are made from 100 lbs of supposedly "affected" but not
"rotten" tobacco which the governemnt pays 300 CUP for (a third of the
production price). If it was sold in CUC, this would bring in a net of
35,000 CUP and if it was sold in CUP, 75,000. Investments made in
industry and salary are minimal when you take into account just how much
they reap in profits.

Before pintadilla came onto the scene, we didn't notice this injustice
because we always produced a good percentage of wrappers and the price
they paid us was around 2000 CUP. It's still a relatively low price
considering the State monopoly's high return, but we have seen more
scope for financial gain in this business than working elsewhere and so
there were no problems. Now, after the disaster of this so-called
"stain", they want to pay us 300 CUP, as has been established, and make
millions out of our sweat and hard labor; leaving us indebted to the
state bank and without food on the table for our families.

We have been demanding a meeting with managers involved for over three
months and we finally were able to sit down and talk, although a lot of
important figures were missing. A committee of experts came and
explained that this was the price that they should pay "because skilled
people had determined that this was the fair price." Many farmers
protested and put forward their arguments. I raised my voice on many an
occasion to reveal the injustice and lies of the company's arguments, as
well as how preposterous it was for them to pay for a "useless" product
which creates plentiful earnings.

Our President of the local People's Power took the tobacco farmers' side
and agreed that this price was outrageous, pressuring them to come up
with a solution. The Cooperative President also cooperated and made a
joint agreement that stated that tobacco would not be handed over until
a satisfactory solution was proposed. A report will be carried out by
the Communist Party municipal Secretary, who already knows about this
situation and has called for it urgently. This is unprecendented in
Mayari and is worrying the government/Party, because the issue is so
serious that it has made people lose their fear and stand up firm
against the state company. Nevertheless, we still have very little hope
of changing the situation and we feel like we're just throwing stones at
the hill: we have very little power and the government's indifference is
huge.

The saddest thing though is that the local tobacco company (UEB-Mayari),
which belongs to the national CUBATABACO Company, doesn't have the power
to decide anything, because everything is centralized and controlled by
the State. A solution would take a very long time via the Cuban
bureaucracy system and there's also the fact that they never give into
the working population's demands, but rather decimate and scare us by
giving our struggle ideological and political hues. However, I don't
know how they'll rise above such a touchy subject like the current one,
which affects the pockets of thousands of families who have no other way
of getting by.

Marti once said: "We will win every kind of equality." I don't know the
context of this quote, but it is used a lot in official propaganda; so
it must be true. I voided the company experts' arguments, which were in
favor of abusing tobacco farmers, with this same phrase because it's
never too late to right an injustice. However, the Revolution doesn't
give us space to do this: it's a sad fact and this is just another
example. We will see how things turn out for our struggle; things are
gradually changing and our people need to learn, tripping and tripping
again, to fight for their rights.

Source: How Can You Fight Injustice in Cuba? - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=124261 Continue reading
Biotech Mission to Cuba
BETC director Kamal Rashid hopes to develop collaborations in
biomanufacturing
March 20, 2017

As the 1950s vintage cars course through city streets seemingly frozen
in time, a vibrant biopharmaceutical sector flourishes in Cuba,
supplying most of the country's essential medicines and exporting
life-saving vaccines to developing countries.

"It was not what I expected to find," says Kamal Rashid, PhD, director
of WPI's Biomanufacturing Education and Training Center, who was part of
a Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) delegation that
traveled to Cuba in February.

The MassBio group, which also included research and business development
leaders from several companies, Harvard University, Massachusetts
College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and Massachusetts Biomedical
Initiatives, joined Bay State congressmen Jim McGovern of Worcester and
Seth Moulton of Salem for the three-day mission.

"With the new openness between the United States and Cuba, we want to
seize the opportunity to explore mutually beneficial collaborations in
both biologics research and biomanufacturing," Rashid says.
"Massachusetts is a world leader in biopharmaceutical development and
manufacturing, so it makes sense for both sides to begin building
relationships. And having the two Congressmen with us was very important
in terms of access and respect from the Cuban leadership. Their presence
elevated our mission."

In addition to his work at WPI, Utah State, and Penn State, Rashid has
led biotechnology research, education, and biomanufacturing workforce
training programs in 15 countries and territories, including multiple
projects in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Based on his
experience, Rashid says Cuba is "the clear biotech leader in Latin America."

"I was quite impressed with the scale of their capabilities and their
research in several programs," he says. "The Cuban government made an
early commitment to investing in biotechnology in the 1980s and they
have followed through, in spite of a very difficult economy and the
impact of the U.S. trade embargo."

BioCubaFarma is the government run umbrella organization for the
industry. It has 31 affiliated entities and 62 production centers. It
has a staff of over 22,000 people and manufactures 525 of the 849 drugs
in Cuba's catalog of essential medicines.

Rashid and the delegation met with BioCubaFarma leaders and visited
research scientists at Cuba's Center for Genetic Engineering and
Biotechnology. That center has developed 21 products, including cancer
immunotherapies, a hepatitis B vaccine, and therapies for macular
degeneration.

Rashid and colleagues also met with scientists and leaders at Cuba's
Institute of Tropical Medicine "Pedro Kouri" (named for its founder),
which has operated continuously since 1937. The institute houses a World
Health Organization (WHO) and Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO)
collaborative center for the study of viral diseases, with a current
focus on dengue fever, Zika, and measles.

Rashid says he saw strengths in vaccines, cancer therapies. and
medicinal plants that U.S.-based companies could help advance to larger
scale clinical trials. What the Cubans need are partnerships and access
to U.S./Western research funding, technology, and investments in
production capabilities, he notes.

"It was a first step and I believe we started some important
conversations," Rashid says. "The next step is for a group of Cuban
scientists and biotech leaders to travel here to Massachusetts. I hope
that will happen within the year."

- By Michael Cohen

Source: Biotech Mission to Cuba | News | WPI -
https://www.wpi.edu/news/biotech-mission-cuba Continue reading
The Day Castro Buried Capitalism / Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro

Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro, 13 March 2017 – This 13 March is the 49th
anniversary of the Great Revolutionary Offensive, that economic project
that emerged from the little brain of the "Enlightened Undefeated One,"
to ruin the Cuban economy even further.

Although each year the so-called Castro Revolution was a real disgrace
for all Cubans, the worst of all was the day that Fidel Castro did away
with more than 50,000 small private businesses: establishment where
coffee with milk and bread with butter was served, high quality
restaurants mostly for ordinary Cubans; expert carpentry workshops; the
little Chinese-run fritter stands; fried food stalls which, for those
who don't remember, used prime beef; shoe shiners who plied their trade
along the streets; people who sold fruit from little carts; milkmen who
delivered to homes, etc. A project that caused unemployment among
workers with long experience and that upset people.

Under the slogan of creating "a New Man," something that today inspires
laughter, the Great Revolutionary Offensive is no longer mentioned. Not
even one more anniversary of that nonsense is mentioned in the media, as
if nobody remembers the great mistake of the Commander in Chief.

The "New Man," proposed as a part of this, ended up losing his skills
and trades forever: cabinetmakers, turners, gypsum and putty
specialists, blacksmiths, longtime carpenters, tailors, seamstresses,
book restorers and many others, were forced to give up their work and
take up screaming "Homeland or death, we will win!" Over the years,
between the invasive marabou weed and the "magic" moringa tree, they
were converted into the now well-known undisciplined, lazy, lethargic,
absent, stealing in their workplaces and dreaming of working outside
their country. A kind of worker who, it is true, thanks to the crazy
economic juggling of Fidel Castro, is inefficient even faced with
cutting-edge technology.

A recent example has been widely commented upon by Havanans: two hundred
Indian workers have been hired for the construction of the Gran Manzana
Kempinski Hotel, under the argument that Cuban workers cannot deliver
the same performance.

Those who ask whether this is appropriate, seem to have forgotten that
Cuba still suffers the great drama of lost trades.

The elders of today, who analyze everything through the great magnifying
glass of time, come to the correct conclusion that these workers have
been not only victims of the economic disaster that the country suffers,
and then converted by force into members of a first opposition against
the regime, an opposition that has done a lot of damage and the result
of which has been to live in a country lacking development and
technology for decades and, therefore, instead of good pay they receive
alms, as a punishment to shame them.

Raúl Castro said it recently: "We have to erase forever the idea that
Cuba is the only country in the world where it is not necessary to
work." Would it not have been more accurate to say: "the only country
where people do not want to work, so that the socialist dictatorship
will end?"

That would be the real solution.

If Raul does not say it, it is because he is afraid to be
sincere. Miguel Díaz Canel, his first Vice-President, may say it through
his always lost looks, as lost as those trade that reigned in a Cuba
that was not Fidel's.

Source: The Day Castro Buried Capitalism / Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-day-castro-buried-capitalism-cubanet-tania-diaz-castro/ Continue reading
Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro, 13 March 2017 – This 13 March is the 49th anniversary of the Great Revolutionary Offensive, that economic project that emerged from the little brain of the “Enlightened Undefeated One,” to ruin the Cuban economy even further. Although each year the so-called Castro Revolution was a real disgrace for all Cubans, … Continue reading "The Day Castro Buried Capitalism / Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro" Continue reading
Illinois Eyes Expanded Trade With Cuba
Alex Ruppenthal | March 13, 2017 4:55 pm

Relaxing trade barriers between the U.S. and Cuba could unlock millions
of dollars in exports for Illinois agriculture producers, estimates
show, and industry advocates are optimistic such a change is coming.

In January, U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas introduced a resolution
called the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, which would allow U.S.
agricultural exporters to extend credit to Cuban buyers. Currently, U.S.
companies are prohibited from offering credit to Cuban entities under
the U.S. embargo, which has been in effect since 1960.

In 2000, Congress passed the Trade Sanction Reform and Export
Enhancement Act, opening trade of certain agricultural commodities and
medicinal products. The U.S. has since authorized $4.5 billion in sales
of agricultural goods to Cuba, according to U.S. Census Bureau Foreign
Trade Reports, with a significant portion from Illinois.

According to the Illinois Soybean Growers, at least 20 percent of Cuba's
soy and corn imports from the U.S. come from Illinois. At the peak of
U.S. corn and soy exports to Cuba in 2008, ISG estimates Illinois
provided $66 million in corn and soy exports to the Caribbean island.

"I look at Illinois as one of those states that could be a driver in
Cuba's economy," said Paul Johnson, executive director of the Illinois
Cuba Working Group, which formed in 2013 at the request of the Illinois
General Assembly to strengthen trade relations with Cuba.

On Monday, members of the Illinois Corn Growers Association – which is
part of the working group – were scheduled to meet with officials at the
Cuban Embassy in Washington to discuss trade opportunities.

According to the Illinois Farm Bureau, also part of the working group,
Illinois ranks sixth among U.S. states for lost opportunities to its
agriculture sector because of the U.S. embargo with Cuba.

The proposed legislation comes at an important time for the agriculture
industry. U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba fell to $148.9 million in
2015, the lowest since 2002, according to ISG. Industry advocates say
trade is held back by a U.S. rule requiring Cuba to pay cash in advance
of any deals.

Previously proposed legislation to expand U.S.-Cuba trade has stalled,
in part because of opposition from members of Florida's Congressional
delegation. Many of the Cuban exiles who moved to South Florida after
Fidel Castro's rise to power remain opposed to normalizing relations
with their home country.

But Johnson said he is optimistic about the newly introduced bill.

"It's fairly narrow. It just focuses on credit/finance," Johnson said.
"I think it's got a good shot of passing."

Four U.S. representatives from Illinois have signed on as cosponsors of
the bill: Robin Kelly (D-2nd District) of Matteson, Rodney Davis (R-13th
District) of Taylorville, Cheri Bustos (D-17th District) of East Moline
and Darin LaHood (R-18th District) of Dunlap.

If trade regulations are relaxed, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba
could exceed $1 billion annually, according to an estimation provided by
Texas A&M University economist Parr Rosson to the U.S. Senate in 2015.

Ultimately, industry advocates hope Congress will end the U.S. embargo
with Cuba, which they say makes it difficult for U.S. agricultural
exporters to compete with competitors in South America and other regions.

The embargo also does not allow U.S. companies to bring shipments back
from Cuba, driving up their costs.

"We've been to Cuba 10 times," said ISG President Daryl Cates in a press
release last year. "We've listened to Cuban officials and hosted them in
Illinois. We believe that the embargo needs to end. We believe that the
improvement of economic trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba is the
foundation for future success between the two countries.

"We believe that the development of the Cuban economy is as beneficial
to Cuba as it is the U.S. and our Illinois soybean farmers," Cates said.

In 1999, Illinois became the first state to have a sitting governor lead
a delegation to Cuba since the country's 1959 revolution.

The state then established the Illinois Cuba Working Group in 2013 to
work toward a number of goals, including expanding the list of exports
licensed for sale to Cuba, permitting food companies to negotiate trade
terms with Cuba and opening a trade office in Cuba to facilitate market
entry and exchanges between the two countries.

"I think we're getting closer," Johnson said about the office. "I'm
confident that we're going to have it someday."

Johnson said action on the newly proposed bill could come as soon as April.

"I think this [legislation] does get us closer to our goal of ending the
embargo," he said. "What [Cuba has] been asking for all along is
normalized relations. They want to be treated like any other trading
partner."

Follow Alex Ruppenthal on Twitter: @arupp

Source: Illinois Eyes Expanded Trade With Cuba | Chicago Tonight | WTTW
-
http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2017/03/13/illinois-eyes-expanded-trade-cuba Continue reading
State of the Cruise Industry: Trump Effect, Cuba and More
by Susan Young | Mar 15, 2017 9:32am


"Demand for cruising in the last 10 years has increased 62
percent," Cindy D'Aoust, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International
Association (CLIA), told thousands attending the Seatrade Cruise Global
conference's "State of the Industry" general session at Port Everglades,
FL, on Tuesday.

Some 25.3 million ocean passengers will sail on CLIA lines in 2016, she
said, noting that more than $50 billion in new cruise ship orders are on
the books right now. That's twice as many new ship orders than what the
industry had a decade ago, emphasized D'Aoust.

What's Driving Business?

The four major cruise company executives then sat for a "State of the
Industry" discussion with reporter Susan Li of MSNBC, the session's
moderator. "What's driving business?" she asked.

"All of us have great experiences onboard our very differentiated
brands," said Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival
Corporation. "People love cruising, they see it as a great value and
they can't stop talking about it to all their friends and relatives and
we all do a reasonably good job of now promoting [the experience]."

"Customers are happy, the economy is doing well and we've had the Trump
effect," said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line
Holdings,who said the stock market is at an all time high.

Dio Rio continued: "We haven't had any external shocks to the system, so
all systems are go and I think all of us are seeing that in bookings and
pricing. It's going to be a good year."

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman, MSC Cruises, focused on the
ability of cruising to give people the freedom to travel -- to go to
places in the world they might not go to on land.

Vago said the cruise industry's focus on safety and security makes them
feel cocooned and confident to travel: "Customers think, 'I can visit
that part of the world and I can do it in a safe mode. I can explore,
and I can 'touch' places."

From the perspective of Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean
Cruises Ltd.: "For a long time, we've really been expecting this – [a
strong surge in demand for cruise vacations] -- and in the last few
years, we've had a lot of things that retarded this, but all of a
sudden, I think the understanding of what a cruise offers, seems to have
taken hold."

He said it's almost as though someone released it from a bag. "We're
seeing it in the United States, which is a tremendous market because of
consumer confidence and the economy doing well," said Fain, but added
"actually we're [also] seeing it in Europe and Asia is just exploding."
Donald added that part of the burgeoning demand is because "we've
invested a lot to create demand." He said there's "no big correlation
between economic growth and demand. One factor? The industry is all over
the world, so it has the ability to weather any recession that hits one
region or economy.

The Trump Effect

What about the Trump effect? Li asked. "What about policies that U.S.
President Donald J. Trump's administration may take that could have an
effect on corporations, such as border taxes, corporate taxes that may
be cut?"

"It's too early to tell," said Donald. "We just have to wait to see what
the taxes are." He said his company pays taxes everywhere in the world
and operates in lots of political environments…so the industry
just has to wait for specifics of any policy changes.

Donald noted that the cruise industry pays lots of taxes that other
industries don't pay, and in some cases, there are taxes the industry
doesn't pay.
Vago emphasized that it wasn't Washington as much as Brussels [the
European Union] that was impacting the cruise industry. "From the
regulatory side, Brussels sometimes is certainly more the driver for our
industry," Vago stressed.

"One of the things that is very heartening to me…is that people do
understand the economic benefit that we all contribute to the local
society," Fain said, pointing to CLIA's release of annual numbers and a
thorough economic analysis that show the local economic impact in jobs
and other factors.
For example, Fain noted that CLIA's recent numbers show the cruise
industry is responsible for 350,000 jobs, just in the United States, and
there are many more across the globe.

"When you have that kind of economic impact, governments tend to want to
help [the industry involved]," Fain said. "While nobody can predict the
future, we have some really good reasons to believe that maybe we're not
as vulnerable than some."

Del Rio said "most businesses today recognize that the Trump
administration is a pro-business government and we're all going to
benefit from a basket of initiatives, whether it's infrastructure,
whether it's less regulations, tax reform that could put more money in
consumers' pockets, and that's good for all businesses."

Today, the industry carries 25 million people across all social/economic
levels, Deo Rio noted: "So everyone is going to benefit if it's true
that these kind of initiatives come to fruition."

"I agree we have to wait and see," he added, "but at least we're talking
about the right things and that puts a bounce in everybody's step, and
has triggered the Trump Effect."

He said the stock market is up nearly 13 percent since the beginning of
the year "and that's...great for business."

But What About Cuba?

Del Rio, a Cuban American who emigrated to the U.S. when he was seven,
is now head of a company that sails to Cuba and has publicly expressed
his delight at that development. All three of his line's brands are
sailing there this year.

So Li asked Del Rio about President Trump's potential "revisiting" of
the Cuba situation – with the potential for Trump to roll back existing
policies put in place by former President Obama allowing the cruise
industry to begin service.

"Let's hope he revisits it in a positive way," said Del Rio. "I'm all
for lifting the embargo. It's been a failed policy for 57 [or so]
years." He said that after that time frame, "you'd think someone wants
to try something new."

Del Rio continued: I salute President Obama for starting that process.
All of us are going to Cuba or have already gone. It's a major market
that could develop over time."

He noted that "Cuba has infrastructure limitations today but certainly
Cuba can be a major force in the cruise business for years to come, and
I hope the administration sees that potential. They are business oriented."

As for discussing the issue, "I think it's in the best interest always
to just bring people together," said Donald. "Who knows what the
administration is going to come up with. I have no particular insight on
that."

Donald said that as long as the Cuba policy that impacts cruise travel
isn't rolled back, "we'll continue to forge forward." He agreed with Del
Rio that the embargo being lifted would be the best policy for Americans
and for the Cuban people.

"But the powers that be will discuss that," Donald stressed. "We're just
privileged and honored to be able to sail there."

He said Cuba is a beautiful country with beautiful people and "so many
Americans want to go there."

Fain found it interesting that the cruise industry is so much in the
center of the discussion about Cuba, and says it demonstrates the
industry's advantage: "Nobody's talking about, 'oh, this is great for
the hotel industry.' Nobody is talking about, 'oh, this is great for the
airline industry.'"

Cruising offers an opportunity to visit ports of call or places that
would be a little more difficult to visit, said Fain. Even though Cuba
is a fairly insignificant part of any cruise line's business right now,
"I think it says something about one of the great attributes of
cruising, which is that we bring that infrastructure with us."

China Potential

Li asked if the administration would opt to label China a currency
manipulator, what effect that would have? Doesn't that hurt businesses
that do business in China?

"China one day – it's inevitable -- will be the largest cruise market in
the world," said Donald. Probably, larger than the entire cruise
industry is today and it's just sheer numbers of people."

He added that the China market will take a long time to develop, the
industry has to build ships to serve it, and there isn't enough shipyard
capacity to make it happen in a short time frame.

"But for us again, we're in the business of travel and we can connect
people," said Donald, adding that currency manipulation as a topic for
cruise leaders to weigh in on, "is kind of beyond us."

Vago emphasized that "our assets are movable," referring to the ability
of ships to be moved to markets, based on global conditions. "The world
is the oyster," he said, pointing to the industry's three percent market
penetration, which reveals great potential.

Whether executives are talking about China or Cuba, Vago said it's
important to remember that the cruise industry's assets can move as
needed. Still, he's excited about the potential for those markets and
others across the globe.

Source: State of the Cruise Industry: Trump Effect, Cuba and More |
Travel Agent Central -
http://www.travelagentcentral.com/cruises/state-cruise-industry-trump-effect-cuba-and-more Continue reading
… Wood. 'Opening up the Cuban market to Kansas wheat and … ; economy and the Cuban people,' said Engage Cuba President James Williams … emerging Cuban markets.' 'The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba … food companies to efficiently address Cuban citizens' food security needs … Continue reading
It's time for brands to invest in Cuba
13 March 2017

HAVANA: Although the US trade embargo on Cuba still exists, a new report
from Kantar Millward Brown advises international brands to take a
serious look at the opportunities the country presents.

WPP's global research agency, which produces the respected BrandZ
studies, has now released a BrandZ Spotlight on Cuba report, which
highlights the potential for local and international brands to grow in
this market of 11m educated consumers.

Focusing on 43 brands in four key categories – covering coffee, spirits,
beer and tobacco – the report found that Cuba has one of the highest
rates in the world for brands dubbed "clean slates".

Kantar Millward Brown said these "clean slates" are brands that most
people don't know exist, or people recognise the name but don't know
what the name stands for.

The proportion of "clean slates" stands at 38% in Cuba, compared to a
global average of 14%, and the report said "this gap represents a huge
opportunity for brands in Cuba".

Furthermore, the report's personality analysis revealed that Cuba hosts
a high proportion of brands which are perceived to be "sexy",
"desirable" and "rebellious".

Elsewhere, Havana Club rum is seen as the most innovative brand in Cuba,
while Cristal beer is the most loved brand, closely followed by Heineken
and Café Serrano coffee.

Havana Club also tops the BrandZ measure of Brand Power, which assesses
how meaningfully different and well known a brand is.

"Cuba is an island paradox and a market like no other in the world. A
standard 'fast-growing markets' strategy just won't work here," said
David Roth, CEO of The Store WPP, EMEA and Asia.

"Negotiating the nuances of working and building brands in this country
– and navigating apparent contradictions – requires local insight and a
lot of patience, but now's the time to invest that energy and those
resources," he added.

"As Cuba continues to transform, there is a clear opportunity for local
and international brands to play a part in the development of its
economy – and grow their business in the process."

Data sourced from Kantar Millward Brown; additional content by Warc staff

Source: It's time for brands to invest in Cuba| warc.com -
https://www.warc.com/LatestNews/News/Its_time_for_brands_to_invest_in_Cuba.news?ID=38336 Continue reading
The first Cuba tourism boom is over. Here comes the next wave: cruises
BY CHABELI HERRERA
cherrera@miamiherald.com

Havana was exploding in yanqui frenzy. Seven hundred Americans streamed
across its streets one steamy May 2016 morning on an expedition of
rediscovery. They were the first to arrive via sea since John F. Kennedy
was president.

The wave of change was crashing over Cuba.

For passengers on this historic voyage, the visit included hours of
tours through the city's highlight reel. Dinner at a private Cuban
restaurant, un paladar. Rides in classic — Cubans would call them rustic
— 1950s cars, los almendrones. Strolls through the centuries-old Spanish
squares of La Habana Vieja.

But for Miami cruise expert Stewart Chiron and his son Bryan, then 13,
Cuba's unique allure really came to life when they walked into a Havana
historical powerhouse: el Hotel Nacional.

Built in 1930 by a U.S. firm and U.S. architects, el Nacional was a
haven for American mobsters and starlets. It also was the scene of a
bloody siege key to the eventual rise of former dictator Fulgencio
Batista. A bunker on the grounds dates to the Cuban Missile Crisis — the
threat that eventually prompted Kennedy to sign the Cuba trade embargo
that banned most trade and travel between U.S. citizens and the
Communist island.

The embargo is still in place. But rules relaxed in 2014 by the U.S.
government that allow its citizens to visit for cultural exchanges
brought about 615,000 U.S. tourists last year to taste the
long-forbidden apple in the Caribbean's Garden of Eden. This year, an
estimated 172,000 tourists will come via nine ships from eight
U.S.-based cruise lines.

Until now, other travel sectors, such as airlines and hotels, have
struggled to satiate a massive American appetite to see Cuba while
dealing with the island's antiquated infrastructure. Airlines have
reduced flights and hotels have lowered their inflated prices. The
cruise lines are expected to face that conundrum too, but to a much
lesser degree because their unique form of accommodation offers a
protection from the island's shortage of modern hotels and efficient
highways — for now.

"Everybody knows, both here and there, that there will have to be
infrastructure development to support the onward growth," said Adam
Goldstein, president and chief operating officer of Royal Caribbean
Cruises, whose lines Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club
Cruises will sail to Cuba this year. "Those are just the realities of
going to a place that is super interesting and has limitations [and]
constraints." Over time, Cuba's restaurants, ports, roads, hotels and
other tourist facilities will improve, he believes. "But all of that is
[still] totally in its infancy."

In the travel boom spurred by former President Barack Obama's 2014
announcement of detente, international hotel companies signed building
contracts and airlines scrambled to earn a chunk of the 110 available
daily flight slots. U.S. arrivals in Cuba ballooned 34 percent between
2015 and 2016, according to Josefina Vidal, Cuba's chief negotiator with
the U.S. Hotel rates soared between 100 and 400 percent, with rooms
previously priced at $150 per night skyrocketing to $650, according to
New York-based tour operator Insight Cuba. American Airlines, JetBlue,
Spirit and others started operating daily flights to 10 cities,
including airports that hadn't welcomed U.S. airlines in decades.

As the dust has started to settle, hotel rates have normalized. Airlines
that overshot demand for Cuba are cutting back on routes and using
smaller planes. The reason: Cuba can be comparatively expensive and
traveling there is sometimes cumbersome.

The average round-trip airfare for Cuba from the U.S. was about $342 in
February, according to data from Airlines Reporting Corp. While less
than the Caribbean round-trip average that month of $594, the fare is
relatively high for travel to an island that has a limited number of
hotel rooms — only 64,231 in 2015, according to a December Florida
International University report on tourism in Cuba, or about 10,000 more
than in Miami-Dade — meaning travelers may be hard pressed to find
accommodations in their budget. Even taxi drivers, classic car drivers
and paladar owners have increased their prices, sometimes doubling or
tripling them, according to Insight Cuba.

But many of those challenges don't exist on a cruise ship. So while
airlines have cut back, cruise lines have pushed forward, adding
itineraries through the end of the year. By the end of 2017, eight U.S.
lines — seven based in Miami — will offer Cuba itineraries. Sailings
aboard Carnival Corp.'s pioneering Fathom, which inaugurated U.S. cruise
service, will be discontinued after June, but only because demand for
its every-other-week trips to the Dominican Republic didn't match the
strength of its Cuba component.

"The cruise industry is pretty well contained, so we bring our own food,
we bring our own garbage disposal systems, we want to leave as little
footprint as possible but add to the economic prosperity that tourism
overall brings," said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian
Cruise Line Holdings, which will sail to Cuba on all three of its lines:
Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas.

Ships also bring their own accommodations, skirting hotel infrastructure
limitations, and set up the excursions to ensure travelers follow U.S.
guidelines. The trips are paid for ahead of time. (Hotel rentals and all
purchases on the island are cash transactions.)

"There's less hoops people have to go through," said Debbie Fiorino,
vice president of Fort Lauderdale-based travel agency CruiseOne/Dream
Vacations and Cruises Inc. "You don't have to worry if everything in
Cuba is built up."

That's why Olga Cormier, who lives in Miramar, is visiting Cuba via a
ship. The avid cruiser, who is of Cuban heritage, has plans for a fall
trip on Norwegian Cruise Line's 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky, one of
the largest American ships sailing to the island, because the ship has
an overnight stay in Havana.

"It's just with all the time and limitations and everything else, I
don't know that I'm ready to go via plane ride and do the whole tourist
thing that way," Cormier said. "One of the advantages of cruising is
that it is sort of a sampler platter — you see a place and then decide
if you want to go and stay."

Managing massive growth
On the wall behind Del Rio's desk in his Miami office are two large,
slightly yellowed, black-and-white photographs of cruise ships entering
Havana Harbor in the 1930s. The space next to it is blank, ready to
welcome an image shot last week, when Oceania's Marina sailed into Havana.

"I've said for many years that in my upper right hand drawer there are
itineraries ready to go and they were ready the day I launched Oceania
back in 2003," said Del Rio, who emigrated from Cuba in 1961 at age 6.

That was the same year American cruise ships stopped calling in Cuba.
Then, thanks to financial support from the Soviet Union, Cuba stopped
relying on tourism. That was in stark contrast with the 1950s, when
cruising to Cuba from the U.S. was a staple, said Christopher Baker, a
Cuba expert and travel writer.

Then in 2014, some European lines began calling in Cuba on their weekly
winter sailings, Baker said. Those included Greek line Variety Cruises,
French lines Le Ponant and Club Med, Swiss line MSC and British line
Noble Caledonia.

The small ships of those European lines have "not put undue stress" on
Havana, Baker said. The port there features a modest air-conditioned
terminal and space for a medium-sized cruise ship (no bigger than
Norwegian's 850-foot long Sky) on one side and a small vessel on the other.

The Oceania ships are considered small compared to some of the world's
largest; the 1,250-passenger Marina and 684-passenger Insignia, which
will both go to Cuba, are a fraction of the size of Royal Caribbean
International's 6,000-passenger plus ships. But Norwegian Cruise Line's
2,004-passenger Sky is slated to overlap on its trips to Havana with
Royal Caribbean International's 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas
nearly a dozen times this year. That will dump more than 3,000 tourists
into the Cuban capital at once.

That volume is more than four times the number of passengers Fathom was
unloading in Havana on a bimonthly basis last year when it was the only
American line in Cuba. Through the end of the year, cruise ships will be
in Havana about five days a week, according to the line's announced
itineraries.

"It has been rare to find more than one cruise ship at a time berthed in
Havana," Baker said in an email. "I expect that the arrival of larger
ships will begin to test the infrastructure. More buses and guides will
be required to ferry passengers once ashore; lunchtime restaurants will
be squeezed to accommodate all the passengers; and the plazas of
colonial Habana Vieja are already crowded."

Baker said the cruise influx has displaced U.S. tour operators, which
have been operating people-to-people trips in Cuba for several years,
from restaurants, leading tour companies to complain about getting
crowded out of popular venues.

And cruise ship passengers, unlike land-based travelers, are less likely
to financially support the country's growing roster of private
homeowners who rent their homes or run restaurants, Baker said.

"Cruise ship passengers are less likely to contribute directly to the
local economy, as their spending is typically relegated to the purchase
of souvenirs; the key benefit will be to the Cuban state for berthing
fees and charges for the use of state-employed guides and buses," Baker
said.

Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, which has been leading U.S. tours
on the island since 2000, said the cruise influx creates challenges for
on-the-ground tour operations — but only for short periods and for a
worthy payoff, he said.

"Any kind of opportunity for Cuba to get into the 21st century and be a
viable tourist destination is going to involve these things and involve
change," Popper said.

Still, there is a chance President Donald Trump may throw a monkey
wrench into the situation.

Politics play a large role in Cuba's decision to make large
infrastructure changes or approve additional tourism into the island,
Popper said.

"It's just the way their apparatus works — with extreme caution. They
have limited resources and the embargo has a very cataclysmic effect on
their economy," he said. "Their philosophy has always been, 'When we see
it, we will build it.'"

The Cuban government's only announced tourism goal is to add 108,000
hotel rooms to the existing stock of three-star or better accommodations
by 2030. That objective would require a $33 billion investment,
according to the FIU study. The study predicts it is unlikely Cuba will
meet that goal unless the embargo ends.

That possibility remains unlikely under Trump, who has previously warned
that if the U.S. can't strike a better deal that includes political
concessions from the Cuban government, he may reverse Obama's softened
travel restrictions.

Worried about a potential change, more than 100 Cuban entrepreneurs sent
Trump a letter in December detailing the importance of tourism, among
other things, for economic growth on the island.

"An influx of American and Cuban-American visitors stimulates growth for
our businesses, directly and indirectly," the letter read. "Increased
interaction and business dealings with U.S. travelers and U.S. companies
has had important economic benefits, the exchanges of ideas and
knowledge, and offered much hope for the future."

A tearful welcome
In the grand scheme of Caribbean cruise travel, Cuba's impact is
limited. Only Norwegian has weekly trips to the island beginning in May,
while the other lines have scattered trips scheduled around port
availability.

"In terms of the materiality to our overall business portfolio, [Cuba]
is de minimis — much less than 1 percent," said Royal Caribbean's
Goldstein. "[Still], for many many years, there has been a pent-up
demand to be able to cruise to Cuba."

Eventually, the lines foresee participating in infrastructure changes,
said Norwegian Holdings' Del Rio.

"[Improving port infrastructure] is something the cruise industry
routinely does around the world to help the local authorities improve
the cruise infrastructure faster than it otherwise might and my guess is
that Havana and the other Cuban ports will be no exception when we are
allowed to do so," he said.

Bookings for sailings featuring Cuba are strong, travel agents said,
albeit less robust than at the height of the Cuba rush in 2015. Now, the
cruise lines are entering the scene during Cuba's "new normal" of
heightened travel interest, Popper said.

"Cuba is going to remain one of those destinations for Americans for
years because millions of people want to visit and they will over time,"
he said. "If you're Cuban and you live in Havana, you're happy."

For U.S. visitors like Chiron and his son, Cuba's history will continue
to be a lure. For them, the time at Hotel Nacional brought alive a past
they had long heard about in Miami.

"There's a window with a phone that dates back to the Cuban Missile
Crisis, large cannons that were used to defend the port when they
attacked the USS Montgomery [during the Spanish American war]," Chiron
recalled. "[Later,] we went back to the bar to have our first mojito and
you look at the pictures of the people on the wall, there are
celebrities, but you had these big pictures of the president of China
and you have [Russia's] Vladimir Putin on the wall.

"It was interesting to see history from a different perspective."

For their part, Cubans have welcomed American travelers with unexpected
openness, said Baker, the Cuba expert.

"Cubans gave [Fathom's] Adonia a tearful welcome," Baker said. "It was
immensely symbolic. Cubans love Americans and U.S. visitors are often
surprised at the degree to which Cubans on the street display their open
affection for Americans."

Del Rio experienced that openness when he visited his former elementary
school, now a middle school, in Havana during one of his business trips
to the island. While there, he spoke to about 40 students.

"I asked them all sorts of questions and the overwhelming general
consensus is that they as the youth, they're very proud of their country
but they would really like to reengage with America," Del Rio said. "I
asked them point blank, 'Do you see America as an amigo, or an enemigo'
— friend or foe?

"And unanimous, it was friend."

THIS ARTICLE INCLUDES COMMENTS FROM THE PUBLIC INSIGHT NETWORK, AN
ONLINE COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE AGREED TO SHARE THEIR INSIGHTS WITH
THE MIAMI HERALD AND WLRN. BECOME A SOURCE AT
WLRN.ORG/TOPIC/PUBLIC-INSIGHT-NETWORK

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

THE EIGHT U.S. CRUISE LINES GOING TO CUBA
Norwegian Cruise Line on the 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky

Royal Caribbean International on the 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas

Carnival Cruise Line on the 2,052-passenger Carnival Paradise

Azamara Club Cruises on the 690-passenger Azamara Quest

Oceania Cruises on the 1,250-passenger Marina and 684-passenger Insignia

Regent Seven Seas on the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner

Pearl Seas Cruises on the 210-passenger Pearl Mist

Fathom on the 704-passenger Adonia

Source: The first Cuba tourism boom is over. Here comes the next wave:
cruises | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/tourism-cruises/article137848828.html Continue reading
Cuba's nascent tech industry is growing fast
As icy U.S.-Cuba relations begin to thaw, Cuba's knowledge economy is
waking up. But it's a delicate process

Like many Cubans, Ubaldo Huerta left his homeland during a time of deep
economic crisis following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989,
which decimated Cuba's economy and sent tens of thousands of Cubans
looking for better opportunities abroad. The 47-year-old electrical
engineer quickly found his way to Silicon Valley, where he worked as a
software developer for numerous startups and gained his U.S.
citizenship. Later he relocated to Barcelona, founded a Craigslist-like
online classified website and sold his venture to eBay in 2005.

But despite these accomplishments, Huerta never lost sight of his
homeland. He began splitting his time between Spain and Cuba and three
years ago co-founded Fonoma.com, a small startup that enables people
outside of Cuba to make payments to prepaid cell phone and WiFi accounts
used by friends and family in Cuba. The business employs 15 people,
including seven in Havana.

"I want to be in Cuba," Huerta told Salon. "I cannot find better
developers than the ones that I've found here. I used to work in Silicon
Valley so I don't really need the money. I'm doing this because it makes
economic sense, and it's fun."

Cuba is in a better economic position today than it was when Huerta left
25 years ago. Huerta said that he amount of cell phone and WiFi account
deposits Fonoma processes grew by 40 percent last year amid Cuba's
nascent WiFi revolution. Today, the startup handles hundreds of
thousands of dollars' worth of transactions, half of them from the
United States — an online venture that would have been unheard of a
decade ago.

Huerta isn't alone. Last year, computer engineer Bernardo Romero
González came up with an idea to develop an online ordering system that
allows people outside of Cuba to pay for gifts purchased from local
Cuban businesses to be delivered to friends and relatives on the island.
"This platform helps other entrepreneurs in Cuba to grow their
market," Romero told Salon. "Businesses in Cuba are limited to their
town or city because they don't have access to e-commerce. This creates
the financial platform that allows them to put their products on the
Internet."

Expected to go live before the end of the year, Cubazon will process
credit-card payments outside of Cuba and then wire money through the
same network used by Cubans abroad to send money to relatives back home
to pay the local Cuban business, such as a flower shop or bakery, to
make and deliver the gift. This system legally circumvents current U.S.
Treasury Department restrictions on payment processing in Cuba. Romero
expects 80 percent of his business to come from consumers in the United
States.

Romero was one of 10 winners of last year's 10x10kCuba, a contest
sponsored by U.S. groups promoting Cuban tech innovation that includes
the University of Stanford's School of Engineering. The 33-year-old
programmer recently completed an intense two-week program at Colorado's
Boom Town Accelerator, a Boulder-based tech innovation incubator
participating in the program.

Planting seeds for success

Since Cuba and the United States began the process of thawing their icy
Cold War-era relations, highly educated Cubans like Huerta and Romero
have become two of a small number of tech-industry pioneers cautiously
planting their stakes on their country's future relations with the
United States. Former U.S. President Barack Obama's efforts to promote
private-sector engagement, along with a series of reforms in Cuba that
allows small businesses to operate, has made it easier for Cuba's
tech-startup economy, though many challenges still remain.

Proponents of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba argue that
promoting the tech industry in Cuba would unlock a lot of unused
potential, and help prevent Cuba's young tech talent from leaving the
island. Cuba needs these innovators at home to help figure out a way to
support its increasingly aging population.

Tres Mares Group, a Miami-based private equity investment firm that
follows business activity in Cuba, estimates that about 3,000 Cubans
currently work as freelancers in the local knowledge economy — many of
them doing work for companies in Canada and Spain — and as many as
50,000 qualified university-trained computer science engineers are
sitting on the bench, unable to fully utilize their skills. Most of
these computer science degree holders are graduates of the University
Campus José Antonio Echeverría (CUJAE by its Spanish acronym) or the
Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas, which is often compared to MIT.

On the U.S. side, companies are also starting to pay more attention to
the potential pool of Cuban talent.

"There are at least a half dozen firms [in the U.S.] who are working
with Cuban coders and programmers already," James Williams, president of
Engage Cuba, a Washington D.C. nonprofit coalition of private companies
working to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations, told Salon. "The challenge is
that since we're in this new period, they're not promoting these
activities yet and keeping them quiet until this becomes more normalized
and routine. But it's something that's already happening."

Indeed, there is still a lot to be done, and a lot that can be undone,
which is why many stakeholders on both sides of the Florida Straits are
being cautious about promoting their activities.

Suspicions abound

On the Cuban side, many hardliners in Cuba's Communist government are
suspicious of U.S. efforts to promote greater Internet access,
suspicions that were confirmed in 2014 when reports emerged that the
U.S. Agency for International Development was secretly funding a project
that used social media to try to foment an Arab Spring-like revolution
in Cuba. Though the failed project ended in 2012, whispers among people
who declined to speak to Salon on the record because of the sensitivity
of the issue claim similar efforts persist through other web-based front
organizations backed by the U.S. government.

On the U.S. side is an 800-pound gorilla in the White House known as
President Donald Trump. On the campaign trail Trump criticized Obama's
Cuba policy and promised to terminate his predecessor's efforts to
normalize relations with Cuba. The president also installed Mauricio
Claver-Carone, an active supporter of the 56-year-old U.S. embargo
against Cuba, to his transition team. Congress, too, is still reticent
to remove the embargo that would be perceived to empower Cuba's
authoritarian regime with a history of human rights violations — despite
the glaring fact that Congress accepts trade and diplomatic ties with
other authoritarian governments like China and Saudi Arabia. Another
concern among proponents of closer U.S.-Cuba trade ties is the fact the
China and Cuba trade ties are growing.

Many, including Huerta and Romero, are watching to see the direction the
president will take, and they're hoping that his business-focused
disposition will encourage him to avoid disrupting efforts to promote
Cuban entrepreneurship.

Romero said he hopes that at worst Trump doesn't upend efforts begun by
Obama three years ago to help him and other Cubans grow a local tech
industry. At best he said he would like to see better access to U.S.
banking services and to be able to market his apps on sites like the
Apple Store.

"After December 2014, when closer relations began between both
countries, I had the opportunity to come to the United States to make
connections and find people to help me to develop my ideas," he said. "I
think that the United States is naturally the country that should do
this work with Cuba."

Source: Cuba's nascent tech industry is growing fast - Salon.com -
http://www.salon.com/2017/03/11/cubas-nascent-tech-industry-is-growing-fast/ Continue reading
Buenos Aires, March 9 (RHC-Xinhua) – Argentinian Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra described China as a “significant player in the world” and said the Asian giant is also bound to have an important role in Argentina's relations with the world. Malcorra … Continue reading
Cuba: Renting Out Medical Specialists / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 4 March 2017 — Twenty years later, Nivaldo (names changed),
43, an orthopedist, still remembers the hot morning when his parents
said goodbye to him in the old train station in a small village in the
depths of Cuba.

The economy of his native village, with narrow streets of cracked
asphalt and the small of cane juice, revolved around the sugar mill and
the usual thing was that grandfathers, fathers and grandsons worked in
the sugar industry.

It was a sugar mill town like many others. Squat brick houses half
plastered, a handful of white wood houses, guarded by five or six grungy
prefabricated buildings, built after Fidel Castro's Revolution.

The present and future of the village was to drink alcohol distilled
from cane, playing baseball on scrub ground and taming some lost mare
around some stinking green creek.

But Nivaldo wasn't a cane cutter nor a worker at the mill. He graduated
as a doctor on a rainy night in 1997 and after completing his social
service in a mountainous area of Santiago de Cuba, specialized in
orthopedics.

When he stepped in Havana for the first time, like almost all the
country people, he took a photo at the base of the Capitol, and used a
finger to count the number of floors in the Habana Libre Hotel or the
Fosca Building.

"My dream was to be a doctor. Have a family and live according to my
professional status. I'm a specialist, I have a marvelous family, but in
order to maintain it I do things I'm not proud of."

"I have been on international missions in South Africa, Pakistan and
Venezuela. Not out of conviction but simply to earn money and repair and
furnish my house. In Cuba it's hard to find a doctor who hasn't violated
the Hippocratic oath, and accepted gifts or money to maintain his
family. In the countries where I have worked, I've seen patients under
the table who have paid me. In Cuba I have groups of patients who've
given me gifts, a box of beer that costs sixty Cuban convertible pesos,
according to the seriousness of their suffering."

On the Castro brother's island a lot of things don't work. You can wait
an hour and a half to get from one part of town to another because the
chaos that is public transport.

From the time you get up in the morning the problems accumulate.
There's no water in the tank. There's no money to buy a pair of shoes
for the kids. Or you have to eat whatever there is, not what you need or
desire.

Let's not even talk about other things, also important for human beings,
like freedom of expression, the right to join a party other than the
communist party, or to elect the president of the Republic.

But healthcare, universal coverage, was the pride of the autocrat Fidel
Castro. It worked well as long as the former USSR was sending checks
worth millions and connected a pipeline of petroleum coming from the
Caucasus.

Later with the fall of Soviet Communism the deficit came. Ruined
hospitals, nurses looking like police agents and missing medical
specialists. The Raul Castro regime tried to keep the the flagship of
the Revolution afloat, but it was taking on water everywhere.

The first ones who become fed up are the doctors. If not all of them, at
least a broad segment. The causes vary, but the keys are the low
salaries and the lack of recognition for their work.

Migdalia, a dermatologist points out that "for six years I earned 700
Cuban pesos — about 35 dollars — and the salary was barely enough for me
to buy fruits and vegetables at the market. Now I get 1,600 Cuban pesos
— almost 75 dollars — and it's not enough either. So I accept patients
who give me bread and ham, or a piece of clothing, or money in cash, and
I give them personalized attention."

Joel, an allergist, wonders why, if what the international media says is
true and the government gets between 7 and 8 billion dollars from the
sale of medical services, "they don't pay us salaries consistent with
the inflation in the country. I was in Venezuela two years. The
neighbors gave me food and gave me gifts of clothing and things. Rather
than a doctor, I looked like a merchant buying stuff to sell when I came
back. I got to Cuba, after three years on a mission, between business
and the money I saved I had some four thousand dollars, not even enough
to rebuild my house. Now I'm chasing a mission in Trinidad and Tobago or
Qatar, but to get it you have to pay some official at the Ministry of
Public Health (MINSAP) some 400 or 500 bucks for them to put you on the
list. For these reasons, among others, many doctors decide to emigrate."

If we credit the statistics, a little more than three thousand doctors
have deserted in the last seven years. Venezuela is a destination that
puts their lives at risk. The delirious criminality in the South
American country has provoked, according to a statistic from 2010, the
deaths of 67 Cuban health professionals.

The lack of high-quality specialists makes it difficult to care for
patients in Cuba. Daniel has been looking for an ear specialist for six
months to diagnose and treat a problem.

"They only treat you as am emergency in a hospital if you're dying.
Diseases and symptoms that require lab tests, exams with equipment such
as cat scans or x-rays. can only be obtained quickly by paying with
money or gifts. Preventive medicine on the island is in crisis," Daniel
affirms.

Twice a month, Marta pays 10 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) to the
dentist who sees her daughter. "It's the only way to get high quality
care. If you don't pay, and try to work through the system, they don't
fix your mouth or they do it badly."

Aida, who works for a bank, waited almost a year to get an appointment
with an allergist. "Her appointment at the polyclinic was once a month.
But she never went. With two little bites of ham, two soft drinks and 5
CUC I was able to get an allergist to see me. Then, if they see that you
have resources, then they stretch out the attention to get more money
out of you. Some doctors have become hucksters. It's painful."

When you go to appointments at hospitals, you see that the majority of
patients are bringing gifts for the doctor. But it can be a gift in
kind. Though many prefer cash.

Source: Cuba: Renting Out Medical Specialists / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-renting-out-medical-specialists-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 4 March 2017 — Twenty years later, Nivaldo (names changed), 43, an orthopedist, still remembers the hot morning when his parents said goodbye to him in the old train station in a small village in the depths of Cuba. The economy of his native village, with narrow streets of cracked asphalt and the … Continue reading "Cuba: Renting Out Medical Specialists / Iván García" Continue reading
Repression in Cuba Comes in Many Forms
March 7, 2017
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES — Every Sunday, there is the "Los Chinos" agro-market fair
in the city of Holguin in eastern Cuba. Trucks loaded with produce come
from all over the country, mainly from its central provinces. As there
is competition and since the sellers can bulk buy on the farms, there
are lower prices than normal, which doesn't exactly mean that it's cheap.

Of course, the trucks have been rented out, the real owners of this
produce are the merchants known as "intermediaries". These trade
operators play an essential role in the development of agriculture
because they stimulate production by creating confidence in
commercialization. They logically make nice profits, maybe more than
what would be fair; but the problem here doesn't lie in their existence
as such, but in the many knots in the Cuban system which make balanced
regulation almost impossible.

In the 1980s, the government experimented with the so-called Farmers'
Free Markets (MLC) and then it was shut down by Fidel himself, who
couldn't stand the idea that some Cubans were "getting rich". In order
to cure his headache, he destroyed the emerging semi-free market.

In the '90s, a Party leader from Pinar del Rio spoke about reviving the
MLC in a televised Congress session (perhaps the IV Plenary session of
the Cuban Communist Party in 1991), where the idea alone unleashed
Fidel's rage on the spot and on live TV (I watched this) and then rumors
went round from Pinar that the person who dared share his opinion had
been dismissed of his responsibilities.

When hunger took its hold of Cuba, he sent brother Raul Castro to
announce "the same dog but with a different collar": the Agro-Market. I
remember that this was announced in an interview granted to Luis Baez
and was published in Granma and then repeated across the media. The
government journalist began his article by saying that he had been
looking for that interview with Raul for some time and that Raul had
finally taken some time out for him: it was pure theater! Both of them
knew what the objective was. Fidel never spoke about the subject.

Today, criminalizing the private sector because of its high prices
continues to be a subject of debate in Parliament, especially against
the famous Intermediaries; who are restricted or prohibited at times and
have their merchandise seized resulting in great losses. However, the
truth is that they don't dare to ban them because without them
completely because there wouldn't be commerce or stable farming production.

However, these are the larger merchants, who, even though they pay for
the same license as smaller ones, have completely different functions.
Small traders who sell at a higher price are the ones who mainly
purchase their products from the larger Intermediaries. Here in the
Holguin province, hundreds of small traders (push cart or bike sellers)
travel on Sundays to the capital city and they buy their produce from
the trucks at the Los Chinos market.

Every one of them with two or three sacks also provide work for horse
drawn cart drivers and bici-taxis operators who transport them to bus
and train stations paying for every sack. A lot of people benefit from
this trade, especially the government which charges them for the
license, taking 10% of gross sales, social security payments and fines
for any silly mistakes. All of this translates into the product's final
price, which reaches customers in urban neighborhoods where it often
costs double or triple the initial price.

However, the private sector in Cuba isn't only sentenced to having these
restrictions on growth which our laws impose on them; they are also
treated like a necessary evil, harassed by whimsical regulations. They
don't have a transparent and secure supply chain, nor do they have the
legal freedom to seek it out. They do this but they take risks.

On Sunday February 5th, at the Los Chinos market, dozens of
self-employed resellers had their sacks filled with produce bought from
equally legal intermediaries. A group of inspectors approached them and
they wanted to confiscate their purchases for having violated the
"anti-hoarding law". It seems outrageous but it's true. A great
discussion broke out and the police in charge of keeping order at the
market, intervened. In the face of the resistance that had been created
by those accused and others who were doubtful in helping the inspectors,
the police called for the Head of the Unit, a Major, who turned up on
the scene.

There were several people from my town of Mayari among the traders who
had their purchases taken away. One of them, Jose Ramon, usually sells
on my street and he told me the whole story. Then I confirmed what he
told me with another seller, not without first asking several others,
among the many who pass by here every day offering their garlic,
peppers, onions or bijol under the scorching sun.

The story goes that the Major arrived arrogantly and ordered those who
wouldn't stop protesting to shut up. He was met with: "You like getting
your hands on ham a lot. Ham is what the inspectors get, who make a
living by fining us for no reason; we work really hard to earn our
pesos," one of the boldest protestors said.

After a lot of wasted time (held for over three hours under the risk of
having their things confiscated and bad times), the police finally
guided the inspectors in their conversation with them to release the
purchases. Common sense won out, but this was just one more example of
government resistance to how the private sector runs in Cuba, even at
these incipient times.

Tradesmen didn't have so few rights even in medieval hamlets!" They had
unions and brotherhoods which united and protected them, Cuban
self-employed merchants don't.

There are many forms of repression, not just political repression. This
budding private sector, which has appeared with the self-employed, is
the seed to opening up our economy more, which is fundamental so that we
can reach economic and social progress. Repressing them and prohibiting
their development with laws and individual actions is just another way
to delay this essential path: it's another form of repression in Cuba.

Source: Repression in Cuba Comes in Many Forms - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=124021 Continue reading
Paris, March 7 (RHC-Agencies) -- The world economy is expected to slightly pick up in 2017, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said Tuesday, warning that increasing protectionism and divergent financial policies are likely to … Continue reading
14ymedio, Carmelo Mesa Lago, Miami, 5 March 2017 — In his speech to Congress last Tuesday, Donald Trump was magically transformed into a statesman and looked “presidential” for the first time. He offered something for every member of society: new infrastructure, one million jobs, paid maternity leave, cutbacks in the high cost of medicines, special education … Continue reading "After Trump, the Deluge / 14ymedio, Carmelo Mesa Lago" Continue reading
Caracas, March 6 (RHC)-- Cuban President Raul Castro emphasized the … control the world economy. The Cuban Chief Executive recalled the brotherhood … the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, and the … the standard of unity. The Cuban Head of State also noted … Continue reading
Pennsylvanians make a rum run to Cuba
March 5, 2017 12:33 AM
By Brian O'Neill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HAVANA, Cuba — Pennsylvania legislators flew to Havana last month with a
simple idea for getting around the 55-year-old embargo against Cuba:
Trade our agricultural products for rum.

Two days in, the plan got even simpler: just buy a boatload of rum for
state liquor stores and forget the embargo. Republican state senate
leaders say the 21st Amendment, which ended Prohibition 30 years before
the embargo began, gives each state absolute control over alcoholic
beverages.

"You can't just suspend the federal constitution," said Sen. Chuck
McIlhinney, R-Bucks County and chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee.

A Pennsylvania play for Cuban rum would be an extraordinary move at a
time when eased Cuban-American relations under President Barack Obama
have given way to mostly guesses about President Donald Trump's stance.
In the mid-1990s, Mr. Trump put out feelers for an investment in Cuba
once the restrictions were eased, but while the Pennsylvanians were away
on the island, Mr. Trump announced that he and Sen. Marco Rubio,
R-Florida, "have very similar views on Cuba.''

Mr. Rubio has been a vocal critic of Mr. Obama's Cuba policy. Toss in
conservative Keystone Republicans venturing into one of the last
outposts of socialism — and finding bureaucrats who have their own spin
on the art of the deal — and the plot is as thick as Cuban molasses.

If Mr. McIlhinney is right, and Pennsylvania has a winning
constitutional argument to bypass the embargo, it's one that might have
worked years ago. The Liquor Control Board is consulting its lawyers and
planning a strategy that could end with Pennsylvania being the only
place to buy Cuban rums — though likely not before a court battle.

Federal impoundment of cases of Cuban rum at the Philadelphia docks
until the case is decided in court wouldn't be the worst publicity; that
surely would make national news and increase the appetite for the
long-taboo spirits. But it's doubtful any ship owner would take that
risk. Ships docking at Cuban ports aren't allowed to dock at U.S. ports
for six months.

It seems more likely Pennsylvania would seek a declaratory judgment. A
federal judge could issue a legally binding decision before any rum
leaves Cuba.

The irony of the state Liquor Control Board being the vehicle for reform
is lost on no one. Senate President Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said with
a smile that this transaction would be "from one controlled state to
another." But such a deal "will do more to help capitalism, and
capitalism breeds democracy," than the embargo ever did, Mr. McIlhinney
said.

"The Russians are gone,'' he said after five days and four nights in
Cuba. "I didn't see any."

If this deal moves on fast-forward, the multi-day talks Pennsylvania
state officials had with a tag team of Cuban government operatives in
around Havana may come to be seen as one uncommonly quiet revolution.

Three of the four minority and majority chairs of the Pennsylvania
legislative committees overseeing liquor, and two of the three LCB board
members, made the stops with other legislators, and they ran into
surprises from the get-go.

Tuesday morning, Feb. 21, AZ Cuba (Cuban Sugar Group)

Rafael Suarez Rivacoba, director of international relations for the
sugar group, asked through an interpreter why all these visitors were
there. When he heard "rum," Mr. Rivacoba shared a story familiar to
every Western Pennsylvanian: the sudden collapse of a single-product
economy.

Before the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Mr. Rivacoba said, Cuba
produced seven to eight million tons of sugar a year. The implosion of
the Soviet bloc meant the disappearance of Cuba's principal sugar
market. One hundred sugar mills shut down.

The 1990s were known as Cuba's "Special Period." When the Russians left,
so did their oil, and that left Cuba reeling. By 2004, the country was
producing only 1 million tons of sugar per year, Mr. Rivacoba said. Now
it's about twice that but there's capacity to double production again —
if there's a market.

Meantime, his colleague Rodrigo Diaz Sandoval, director of the group's
division of logistics and exports, said, "We think we have the rum that
an American citizen deserves to drink."

When LCB board member Mike Negra said the Pennsylvanians came seeking to
buy, Mr. Rivacoba then broke in with a question that might as well have
been translated as "so what's taking you?" He had a meeting that
afternoon with the rum group, and it would be a technical detail to
create 750-milliliter bottles for the U.S. market.

Later Tuesday morning, Cuba Chamber of Commerce

Cuba's promoters offered a power-point presentation, touting the
country's central location in the Caribbean in the same way
Pennsylvania's promoters do when promoting the commonwealth's proximity
to U.S. population centers. The visual message: You could do well here.

Cuba trades with more than 75 countries and trade has tripled in the
past 10 years, the island's boosters said. By the time they showed
slides of the Mariel Special Development Zone, "the most modern
container port in the Americas," they were sounding more like students
of Alexander Hamilton than of Karl Marx.

Cuba seeks foreign investment, they said. It doesn't have enough
domestic savings to provide enough capital. They called it "updating of
the Cuban economic model."

So when the Pennsylvanians raised the idea of bartering agricultural
products in exchange for rum, they were told that in bygone days Cuba
sent tons of sugar, rum and citrus fruits to socialist countries in
exchange for oil, equipment and food. They're past that now. They like
to be paid in cash.

Each time the Pennsylvanians tried to talk up a creative international
deal, the Cubans steered attention to the tax breaks for joint ventures
with the Cubans in Mariel, a port made famous by the 1980 boat lift.

"We want to end that blockade," Orlando Hernandez Guillen, president of
the chamber, said.

Afterward, Mike Diven, the former state legislator from Brookline who
organized this trip as a combined amateur boxing exhibition/trade
mission, betrayed no discouragement.

"I didn't hear a solid no," Mr. Diven said. "I hear it's complicated."

Tuesday afternoon, Food Industry Ministry

Juan B. Gonzalez Escalona, president of CubaRon, could match a football
coach at halftime with his enthusiasm for his product. He told
Pennsylvanians that he's sure Americans sometimes smell Cuban rum
wafting across the Straits of Florida. He'd like to end our frustration
"for humanitarian reasons.

Constellation Brands, the Fortune 500 company based in western New York
that imports beers, wines and liquors, has visited a couple of times, he
said, and was expected back in a few days. (A spokesperson for
Constellation Brands said in an email Wednesday, "We don't comment on
rumor or speculation.")

Cuba's message was clear. The island may have problems, but their rum
has international appeal. Cuba, in a joint venture with Pernod Ricard of
France since 1994, sells rum in more than 100 countries.

Pennsylvanians touted their uncommon buying power with $2.4 billion in
LCB sales last year (including taxes, which they didn't mention). Nearly
$147 million of that was in rum.

Betsy Diaz Velasquez, the deputy minister of the food industries, seemed
unimpressed. She replied that Pennsylvania is only seventh among the 50
states in rum consumption. Still, she said, she'd like Cuban products to
be on Pennsylvania's list of more than 100 rum labels.

When Mr. Gonzalez said the rum is aged in American oak barrels, Rep.
Mark Mustio, R-North Fayette, asked where they got them.

American barrels "come every year to Cuba and we don't know how," Mr.
Gonzalez said slyly.

Mr. Scarnati, whose sprawling district in the state's northwestern tier
has a battered timber industry, said he'd love to have a new trading
partner for Pennsylvania oak.

"We'll all go home and be ambassadors for Cuba and encourage our
government to end this unjust embargo," Rep. Adam Harris, R-Juniata
County and chair of the House Liquor Committee, said.

After samples of rum were offered and swallowed,Ms. Velazquez predicted
that Cubans would defeat the visiting Americans in the next afternoon's
boxing tournament in Pinar del Rio. "Our boxers will have rum in their
blood," she said and, sure enough, the Cubans took six of the nine bouts.

Thursday morning, Feb. 23, Matanzas Province Government Building, Matanzas

"Our eyes continue to be opened," Mr. McIlhinney told provincial
leaders. "We wonder out loud why we are continuing with this boycott
when the threat to the U.S. ended a long time ago."

Mr. Scarnati said Tuesday it's pretty clear the embargo has devastated
Cuba but has done nothing to help the U.S. He'll have to gauge whether
there's an appetite in Harrisburg for a legislative resolution to ask
Congress to end the embargo proclaimed by President John F. Kennedy in
February 1962.

John Nichols, a Penn State professor emeritus of communications who has
been making trips to Cuba for 40 years, said before anyone even got on
the plane, "Things work slowly in Cuba. Progress has to be built over a
number of years through a lot of personal relationships."

If Pennsylvania does get Cuban rum into the state stores, it will be
from a scouting mission that used no taxpayer money. All seven
legislators, four Republicans and three Democrats, used either personal
or campaign money to pay for their trips, they said in individual
interviews. Two LCB board members, Mike Negra and Michael Newsome, each
used $4,600 from the State Stores Fund to cover expenses. That comes
from liquor sales and is commonly used for buying trips.

Neither the rum nor any domestic monopoly on its sales would last long
if Pennsylvania gets Cuban rum first. Seventeen states control wholesale
spirits. If Pennsylvania's constitutional argument prevails, Mr.
McIlhinney expects the entire embargo to be broken.

"I'm not trying actually to be bootlegger," he said. "I would like the
question raised and settled.''

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947 or on Twitter
@brotheroneill

Source: Pennsylvanians make a rum run to Cuba | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
-
http://www.post-gazette.com/news/state/2017/03/05/Pennsylvanians-make-a-rum-run-to-Cuba/stories/201703050065 Continue reading
… work break in San Luis, Cuba's western province Pinar del Rio, Cuba. The drying sheds are full … country, a welcome development for Cuba's ailing economy. (AP … Continue reading
Havana, March 3 (RHC)-- The Cuban Council of Ministers met Thursday in Havana, presided over … the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party. The aim is … in all spheres of the Cuban economy and improve peoples… Continue reading
Ten Years of Raulism: From "Reformism" to the Abyss / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 February 2017 — As the second month
of 2017 comes to a close, the Cuban panorama continues to be bleak.
Material difficulties and the absence of a realistic economic recovery
program – the ineffectiveness of the chimerical Party Guidelines has
been demonstrated in overcoming the general crisis of the "model" – in
addition to the new regional scenario, the socio-political and economic
crisis in Venezuela, the leftist "allies" defeated at the polls, the
repealing of the "wet foot/dry foot" policy of the United States and,
with it, the closing of Cubans' most important escape route, Donald J.
Trump's assumption of the US presidency, and his having already
announced a revision and conditioning of the easing of measures of the
Embargo dictated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, are increasing the
fears for an eventual return to the conditions of the 1990s, after the
collapse of the USSR and the end of the so-called "real socialism."

At the social level, one of the clearest indicators of the deterioration
and inability to respond on the part of the government is, on the one
hand, the increased repression towards the opposition, and, on the other
hand, the increase of controls on the private sector (the self-employed)
while the economy and services in the state sector continue to collapse.
The most recent example is in the area of passenger transportation, one
of the most active and efficient in the non-state sector; the State's
response to this efficiency has been to impose a cap on fares, which now
cannot exceed 5 Cuban pesos for each leg of the trip.

Weeks after this measure was implemented, transportation in the Cuban
capital has plunged into a lamentable crisis, demonstrating the great
importance of the private sector for this service. The measure has
resulted in not only a noticeable decrease in the numbers of cabs for
hire – the "almendrones" as they are called, in reference to the
'almond' shape of the classic American cars most often used in this
service – in the usual or fixed routes formerly covering the city; but
also in their refusal to pick up passengers in mid-points along their
routes, which could be interpreted as a silent strike of this active
sector in response to the arbitrariness of the government's measure.

As a corollary, there has been increasing overcrowding in the limited
and inefficient state-operated buses, and the resulting discomfort for
the population, which now must add another difficulty of doubtful
solution to the long list of their pressing daily problems.

Far from presenting any program to improve its monopoly on passenger bus
service, the official response has been the threatening announcement
that it will launch its hordes of inspectors to punish with fines and
appropriations those private sector drivers who intend to conspire to
evade the dispositions of the Power Lords.

For the olive-green lords of the hacienda, the "cabbies" are not even
independent workers who are part of a sector to which the State does not
provide any resources nor assign preferential prices for the purchase of
fuel or spare parts, but simply driving slaves: they and their two-wheel
open carriages are at the service of the master's orders.

The infinite capacity of the Cuban authorities to try to overcome a
problem by making existing ones worse and more numerous is the paroxysm
of the absurd. For, assuming that in the days to come a true avalanche
of inspectors is unleashed on the hunt for private carriers who don't
comply with the established prices, the outcome of such a crusade cannot
be less than counterproductive, since, as is well-known, the inspectors
constitute a formidable army of corrupt people who, far from guarding
the funds of the public coffers, the fulfillment of the service of each
activity and the health of the tax system, find the possibility of
lining their own pockets in every punitive action of the State against
every "violation," through the extortion of the violators.

For its part, the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) which serves as
"support" to the inspectors, is another leech also dedicated to bleeding
the private workers dry, who are, in fact, the only useful and
productive elements in this chain. So, every governmental offensive
against "the private ones" means a juicy harvest for the pairing of
inspectors-PNR, who usually feed like parasites on the most prosperous
entrepreneurs and, invariably, the final harvest results in the
deterioration of services and an increase in their prices – because
whatever the private workers lose in compensation paid as bribes must be
made up for by an increase in prices – and the "normalization" of the
corruption in the whole society, generally accepted as a mechanism of
survival in all spheres of life.

The cycle is closed when, in turn, the passenger, that is, any common
Cuban, is forced to perfect his mechanisms of resistance that will allow
him to equate the increase in the cost of living, and seek additional
income sources, probably illegal, related to contraband, thievery, or
"diversion of resources" (a fancy term for stealing) from state-owned
enterprises and other related offenses. Anything goes when it comes to
surviving.

And, while the economy shrinks and the shortages increase, the
General-President remains alien and distant, as if he had no
responsibility for what happens under his feet. Cuba drifts in the
storm, with no one in command and no one at the helm, approaching, ever
so close, to the much talked about "precipice," which Raúl's reforms
were going to save us from.

Paradoxically, given the weakness of civil society and the lack of
support for it by most of the democratic governments of the world, busy
with their own internal problems, the salvaging of Cubans depends
fundamentally on the political will of the dictatorship in power.

But Castro II is silent. Apparently, he has virtually retired from his
position as head of government well before his announced retirement date
of 2018, and after the final death (as opposed to the many announced but
not real deaths) of his brother and mentor, has only loomed from his
lofty niche from time to time, not to offer his infamous directions to
the misguided "ruled" of the plantation in ruins, but to serve as host
at the welcoming ceremonies for distinguished foreign visitors. At the
end of the day, he is another native of these lands, where almost nobody
cares about the fate of one another… Isn't it true that, for many
Cubans, the world begins beyond the coral reefs?

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Ten Years of Raulism: From "Reformism" to the Abyss / Cubanet,
Miriam Celaya – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/ten-years-of-raulism-from-reformism-to-the-abyss-cubanet-miriam-celaya/ Continue reading
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 February 2017 — As the second month of 2017 comes to a close, the Cuban panorama continues to be bleak. Material difficulties and the absence of a realistic economic recovery program – the ineffectiveness of the chimerical Party Guidelines has been demonstrated in overcoming the general crisis of the “model” … Continue reading "Ten Years of Raulism: From “Reformism” to the Abyss / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya" Continue reading
Why Foreign Investments Don't Work in Today's Cuba / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 17 January 2017 — By 2007, after forty-eight years of
revolutionary rule, inefficiency and a lack of productivity had turned
state-run farmland into fields infested with marabú weed. Meanwhile,
food prices were increasing on the world market. In light of this
situation, General Raúl Castro proposed "changing everything that needs
to be changed."

Fast forward five years to May 2013 when the vice-president of the
Council of State, Marino Murillo Jorge, publicly acknowledged that the
methods used for decades to manage agricultural lands had not led to the
necessary increase in production.

The inefficiency was reflected in the gross domestic product (GDP),
which fell regularly for years until reaching 1% during the first
quarter of 2016 before falling to 0.9% at year's end. In other words,
Cuba entered into recession, a period of negative growth, in 2017. The
result made the need for foreign investment a priority, a need from
which no nation can escape, much less an underdeveloped country in a
state of crisis.

In 1982 Cuba passed Decree-Law No. 50, which legalized foreign
investment. At the time, the prevailing attitude towards investors in
those parts of the world which received Soviet subsidies was hostile.
But the dissolution of the Soviet Union made it imperative in 1995 for
the government to enact Law No. 77, a statute with many restrictions and
an absence of legal protections for investors, who suffered the negative
consequences.

Of the roughly 400 joint venture firms that began operation in 2002,
half ended up leaving the country. In spite of the negative result, the
government did not repeal the statute until it became clear that
investors were showing little interest in the Mariel Special Development
Zone.

Law No. 118 was passed in March 2014 but, though more flexible than its
predecessor, it too proved to be inadequate. According to Cuban
authorities themselves, the country needed sustained GDP growth of 5% to
7%. Achieving this would have required income and investment rates of at
least 25%, which would have meant annual investment figures of between
2.0 and 2.5 billion dollars.

Last year, foreign investment did not exceed 6.5% of these figures.
Under current conditions the only way of even getting close to this
target would be to implement a series of measures, including the following:

1. Allow Cubans — both those living on the island as well as those
living overseas — to directly invest in the economy.

2. Acknowledge the social purpose of property and private propeerty.
Abolish prohibitions against its concentration in the hands of
individuals or legal entities, the only purpose of which is to exclude
Cubans from economic enterprise.

3. Allow Cubans to engage in all manner of private sector manufacturing
and customer service, and grant them legal status.

4. Provide investors with legal guarantees that allow them to settle
disputes with their Cuban business partners before a judicial body that
is not subordinate to the party or the state, which otherwise would make
the government both judge and plaintiff.

5. Allow employers to freely hire their own employees.

6. Eliminate the dual currency system and its different exchange rates,
which would provide for the emergence of a domestic consumer market and
which would, in turn, encourage investment.

7. Recognize the right of workers to organize and form labor unions, a
principle enshrined in Convention 87 of the International Labor
Organization, to which Cuba is a signatory; in the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, of which Cuba was one of the promoters in 1948; and in
the UN's Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant of
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Cuba has also signed but has
not ratified.

These obstacles arise out of a history of antagonism towards investors
and a failure to pay creditors. Therein lies the main cause of the
country's poor foreign investment climate, not the US embargo, which was
relaxed under President Barack Obama. The level of Cuba's state
imvolvement in investment is uncommon for companies which operate in a
market economy. Until that changes, the results will remain the same.

In a meeting of the Cuban parliament on December 27, the head of the
Economic and Planning Ministry, Ricardo Cabrisas, observed, "Foreign
investment continues to be quite low. It is not yet playing a
significant role in economic development."

Meanwhile, the president of the Council of State, Raúl Castro, stated,
"Reinvigorating foreign investment in Cuba is of great importance… It is
necessary to overcome, once and for all, the outdated and pervasive
prejudice against foreign investment. We must divest ourselves of
unfounded fears of capital from overseas."

Therefore, if reviving a stagnant economy is impossible without a strong
injection of capital and if "changing everything that needs to be
changed" is more than mere rhetoric, then either a new investment law is
needed or the current one needs to be substantially overhauled. In
either case the word "foreign" should be dropped, making it simply the
Investment Law.

Cuba is the only country in the region whose residents lack a right as
basic as being able to participate fully in economic activity in spite
of ample business opportunities and the professional training to do so.
If this problem is not resolved, it will not only be a denial of our
economic history but also of our social struggles and José Martí's
republican principles, which envision equality before the law for all
those born in Cuba and for its many small property owners.

Besides being harmful to the nation, this prohibition violates the
current constitution, which in Article 14 states, "The economy is based
on socialist ownership by all the people of the fundamental means of
production." In other words the people, the supposed owner, has no right
to participate in the investment process, a status contrary to law,
western culture, of which we are a part, our economic history and human
dignity.

A new investment law, one without qualifiers, would be an important,
necessary and long-awaited sign of change. Proof that, despite long
delay, the government is really willing to change everything that needs
to be changed.

Source: Why Foreign Investments Don't Work in Today's Cuba / Dimas
Castellano – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/why-foreign-investments-dont-work-in-todays-cuba-dimas-castellano/ Continue reading
Dimas Castellanos, 17 January 2017 — By 2007, after forty-eight years of revolutionary rule, inefficiency and a lack of productivity had turned state-run farmland into fields infested with marabú weed. Meanwhile, food prices were increasing on the world market. In light of this situation, General Raúl Castro proposed “changing everything that needs to be changed.” … Continue reading "Why Foreign Investments Don’t Work in Today’s Cuba / Dimas Castellano" Continue reading
Weakness, Fear And Inability Erode The Cuban Government / 14ymedio,
Pedro Campos

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 23 February 2017 — The recent
"diplomatic" action by the Cuban Government to try to prevent the
presence of foreign personalities in a private event in Havana to
receive a symbolic prize bearing the name of the late regime opponent
Oswaldo Payá, denotes the weakness, fear and incapacity that
characterize its actions since the visit of Barack Obama to Cuba and the
subsequent death of Fidel Castro.

According to the declaration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX)
in the newspaper Granma, the plan was to mount an open and serious
provocation against the Cuban government in Havana, generate internal
instability, damage the international image of the country and, at the
same time, affect the good progress of Cuba's diplomatic relations with
other states.

According to MINREX, Almagro himself and some other right-wing
individuals had the connivance and support of other organizations with
thick anti-Cuban credentials, such as the Democracy and Community
Center, the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America
(CADAL), the Inter-American Institute for Democracy, and a person they
call a CIA terrorist and agent, Carlos Alberto Montaner.

In addition, says MINREX, since 2015 there has been a link between these
groups and the National Foundation for Democracy in the United States
(NED), which receives funding from the US government to implement its
subversive programs against Cuba.

The dictatorship of the proletariat, which prevailed in Cuba 57 years
ago, has thus invented an "anti-Cuban" (against Cuba or against
themselves?), "imperialist", "counterrevolutionary" and "CIA" hoax
behind what could have been a small and simple limited ceremony; in
short, if they had been allowed to hold it without the presence of
foreign guests it would have served the Government to improve its image
with respect to the rights of Cubans as citizens and shown some tolerance.

Their response to this assessment is given by the MINREX note: "Perhaps
some misjudged and thought that Cuba would sacrifice its essence to
appearances," as if appearances are not an example of essence. It is the
ignorance of the dialectic relationship between form and content.

But in short, not one step back. According to MINREX the military state
is in danger from this provocation, without arms, without masses,
without leaders who enjoy wide support among Cubans on the island. We
cannot give ground to the "counterrevolution," — they say — as if it
were not precisely the defenders of the indefensible regime themselves
who prevented the revolutionary changes that would lead us to
prosperous, democratic Cuba, free of authoritarian hegemonies, with all
and for the good of all.

It is weakness, fear and incapacity that led the government to put its
repressive character on full display and to miss the opportunity to have
been hospitable to the Secretary General of the Organization of American
States and to have discussed with him the conditions for possible ties
to that Inter-American body.

If they were a little bit capable they could have "stolen the show," but
we already know that in Cuba 'counterintelligence' dominates in its
broadest sense.

The organizations and individuals who prepared the event have a vision
different from the government's on the ways in which politics and the
economy should be conducted in Cuba and, of course, it was an opportune
moment to promote the positions of change previously promoted by the
Leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Payá, who died in
circumstances demanding further explanation.

But if something like this can destabilize the regime, it should do the
same!

The government's actions provoked exactly what it was trying to avoid,
creating more interest among Cubans and international opinion in the
Varela Project and in how Oswaldo Paya died, a man who might not have
been to the liking of the government and other cities, but who lived on
the island, worked there and from from within promoted a peaceful and
democratic change of the system, with all his rights as a Cuban citizen.
Something to respect.

The Cuban government's action, vitiated by extremism, Manichaeism,
intolerance and repression, favored what the organizers of the event
ultimately wanted to demonstrate: the absence of space in Cuba for
different thinking, the existence of a tyrannical regime that impedes
freedom of expression and association, and that it intends to continue
to govern based on jails, police and repressive security agents.

The repression of the opposition, socialist dissent and different
thinking, pressures against the self-employed, the stagnation of the
reforms proposed by the Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba itself,
the voluntary efforts to try to control the widespread corruption
generated by statist wage system, in short, everything that is being
done by the senior bureaucratic hierarchy is generating chaos that
undermines and will burst the system from within from ignorance of the
laws of economic-social development.

They don't know where they stand! Don't try to put the blame on others
later.

This service against a "socialism" that has never existed will perhaps
be the best historical legacy left to us by these 60 years of
voluntarism, populism and authoritarianism of Fidel Castro communism,
such that the most retrograde forces of international reaction will
eternally thank the "Cuban leadership."

Source: Weakness, Fear And Inability Erode The Cuban Government /
14ymedio, Pedro Campos – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/weakness-fear-and-inability-erode-the-cuban-government-14ymedio-pedro-campos/ Continue reading