Un artículo del diario español El País, bajo el título "España no puede perder Cuba dos veces", analiza los intríngulis de las políticas de los últimos gobiernos españoles hacia Cuba y señala que "el Gobierno de Rajoy parece decidido a recuperar el tiempo perdido con La Habana".Continue reading
By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN Published April 26, 2017
HAVANA – Refineries have gone dark. Gas rations have been slashed for
hundreds of thousands of state workers. Construction materials are
nearly impossible to find.
But Cuba's hotels and restaurants are packed, major U.S. airlines are
adding flights and government stores are full of frozen American chicken
and U.S.-made candy. So far, Cuba is weathering the storm as Venezuela's
economy craters and protesters fill its streets to denounce Cuba's
greatest socialist ally.
A much-feared return to Cuba's post-Soviet "Special Period" of food
shortages and blackouts has yet to materialize as energy conservation
and a boom in tourism and overseas remittances cushion the blow of a
roughly 50 percent cut in Venezuelan oil aid worth hundreds of millions
of dollars a year. Interminable bus lines and long hunts for products
like milk, paint and cement seem manageable by comparison with the
hunger and hardship of the early 1990s that followed the drastic loss of
Soviet bloc aid and subsidies that had propped up Cuba's economy for
The boom set off by the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with
the U.S. in 2015 shows no signs of slacking: About 285,000 American
tourists visited in 2016, up 76 percent from 2015, and the Cuban
government says U.S. visitors increased 125 percent in January. The
number of visitors from all countries topped a record 4 million last
year and appears on track to top that in 2017.
"So far we aren't living in the Special Period again and I don't think
we will be," said Ramon Santana, a 52-year-old bicycle taxi driver.
"Before, we depended on a single country but now we're trading with
many. Before, the Soviet Union fell and everyone thought we would die.
But we didn't die. We're still here."
Still, Cubans are nervously watching Venezuela for signs of a deeper cut
in oil shipments, which are paid for with the services of Cuban state
doctors on "missions" in poor Venezuelan neighborhoods. So far, the
Cuban government has funneled nearly all the cuts into the state sector,
cutting air conditioning and summer work hours at government offices
and, most recently, eliminating the supply of higher-octane "special"
gasoline for state employees.
The special gas is entirely imported while regular is maintained through
the small but steady domestic oil production on Cuba's north-central
coast, which touches the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico. Owners of modern,
fuel-injected cars buy special if they can afford it to prevent the
lower-octane fuel from damaging their engines.
High-ranking Cuban public officials often get both government cars and a
monthly gasoline ration; their pay of $30 to $40 a month makes it
impossible otherwise to afford gas that costs more than $4 a gallon. As
in virtually every aspect of the Cuban economy, special gas cards
provided to state employees to buy the fuel fed a thriving black market.
Throughout the day, state officials can be seen filling the tanks of
their government car, then popping the pump nozzle into a used 2-liter
soft drink bottle and filling it with gas to be sold at a discount to
Starting April 1, state gas stations were instructed to stop selling
special gas to card-holders, a move that sent state employees to regular
pumps, forced business people and diplomats to buy special gas with cash
and set off shortage fears and panic buying that created several days of
Many gas stations around the capital appear to have permanently stopped
selling even regular gasoline, their pumps blocked off by orange traffic
cones. The column of black smoke from one of Cuba's main refineries, the
Nico Lopez facility overlooking Havana Bay, has disappeared without
explanation, leaving the skies clearer but residents worried about
Cuba's future energy supplies.
The replacement of oil money with tourism dollars has accelerated both
the decline of Cuba's ailing state-run businesses and the growth of its
small private sector. Whereas oil money went entirely to the Communist
state, much of the tourism is going to private enterprise — taxi
drivers, private restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts that provide higher
value service to tourists trying to avoid the high prices and poor
service at state-run eateries and hotels.
"Those who work in the private sector have, in one way or another, seen
improvement in their quality of life," said Omar Everleny Perez, a Cuban
economist and expert on the private sector. "The state worker on a
salary hasn't seen that."
There's also a geographic disparity, with rural areas and towns that
don't draw tourists seeing deeper, more protracted shortages.
In Cuba, there's a widespread sense that deeper cuts in Venezuelan oil
would push the entire country over the edge into intolerable economic
A near-constant refrain is that Cubans can tolerate deep deprivation,
but would not stand for a repeat of the Special Period. On Aug. 5, 1994,
at the depth of post-Soviet crisis, Havana residents clashed with police
around the Malecon seaside promenade in civil unrest that only subsided
after Fidel Castro rushed to the scene and called for the protests to end.
Fidel's brother and successor, President Raul Castro, has announced that
he will step down from the presidency in February 2018. His most likely
successor appears to be his first vice-president, 56-year-old Communist
Party official Miguel Diaz-Canel, but the government has said nothing
about the handover process. Cubans are highly skeptical that a new
leader without the credibility conferred by the Castros' founding role
in the Cuban revolution will be able to guide an increasingly
well-informed and worldly population through a new period of profound
"If Venezuela falls, if Venezuela changes and they don't send Cuba any
more oil, it's going to be like it was, in 1991, '92, '93. It's going to
be hard," said Li Nelson Florentino Abreu, an 80-year-old retired
electrical engineer. "And Cubans aren't sheep. They aren't going to put
up with everything. Cubans today, they know how to defend their rights."
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein
Source: Cuba weathers storm in Venezuela but future looks uncertain |
Fox News -
http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/04/26/cuba-weathers-storm-in-venezuela-but-future-looks-uncertain.html Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 17 April 2017 — Money is no object. When it comes to
thwarting, harassing and repressing intellectuals or journalists, there
are always enough funds in military's coffers to write a blank check.
Solid numbers are hard to come by but, according to conservative
estimates, Cuba's special services and armed forces account for roughly
35% of the nation's paltry GDP.
There is never a shortage of fuel, guesthouses, vacation homes, medical
clinics or surveillance equipment for monitoring alleged
It is mistakenly believed that the top priority of the Special Services
is the fragmented domestic opposition, which can never turn out more
than a few followers for any public gathering. Meanwhile, the brave
fighters at the barricades are kept in line by punches, karate chops and
detention in damp, filthy jail cells.
The real danger for the government, and for counterintelligence as well,
are high-level officials. "They are like laboratory guinea pigs, always
under observation. Their phone calls, internet traffic, contacts with
foreigners, sexual preferences and personal tastes are monitored. They
cannot escape electronic surveillance even in the bathroom," says a
former intelligence officer with experience listening in.
As in the German film The Lives of Others, people with meaningful
positions in government, the armed forces, international trade and the
foreign ministry are under tight scrutiny. The next most heavily
monitored group of individuals — more closely monitored even than
dissidents — are those in the world of arts and letters and the sciences.
"The method for dealing with outspoken opposition figures is to
intimidate them, pressuring them with physical and psychological abuse,
or simply incarcerating them. We know how they think. But individuals
such as writers, musicians, scientists, researchers and
government-employed journalists are like a knife with two edges. Many
are silent dissidents. They often lead double lives. In assemblies,
government offices and newsrooms they appear to be loyal to the system.
At home they are budding counterrevolutionaries," observes the former
According to this source, agents are well-trained. "They focus on
managers, officials and employees of important state institutions.
Recent graduates of the Higher Institute of the Ministry of the Interior
are assigned to dissidents and independent journalists. They are more
adept at using physical and verbal violence than intellectual arguments."
In my twenty-years working as an independent journalist, State Security
has summoned me for questioning five or six times. On other occasions
the interviews were more casual. A guy would park his motorcycle outside
my building or near my house, as though he were a friend, and calmly
chat with me or my mother, Tania Quintero, who now lives in Switzerland
as a political refugee and who was also an independent journalist.
He said his name was Jesús Águila. A blond, Caucasian young man, he had
the air of an Eton graduate. When he became annoying, as when he would
call or visit us to discuss our case or would harass my sister at work,
Tania would threaten him with a ceramic mug and he would flee the scene.
One afternoon in the late 1990s I was questioned at a police station by
a high-ranking, rather refined official. Then, on an unbearably hot
morning in 2010, I was questioned at a branch of Special Troops near the
Reloj Club on Boyeros Avenue by officials from Military Counterintelligence.
The site where I was interviewed was an interrogation cubicle located in
a holding area for inmates. I had written a couple of articles for the
Americas edition of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo on meddling by senior
military officers in businesses and corporations. According to my
interrogators, the Cuban armed forces did not like the image these
articles created of military institutions. In a hollow threat, they told
me that I could charged with violating a law — I do not remember which
one — against disrespecting the "glorious and undefeated revolutionary
But ultimately it only amounted to intimidation. For six years they did
not bother me. They denied me access whenever I tried to cover something
at which operatives from State Security were present but they never
detained me. Then, three weeks ago, they questioned a few of my friends
whom they suspected of being sources for my articles.
I wrote one piece in which I said that, if they wanted to know anything
about me, they could call me in for questioning. Apparently, they read
it because on April 4 they summoned me to appear the next day at a
police station in Havana's Lawton district.
There I encountered two pleasant, mixed-race and educated young men. I
cannot say much else about them. I told them that what is needed — once
and for all and by everyone — is open dialogue, to acknowledge the
opposition and to try to find a solution to the national disaster that
is Cuba today by following the path of democracy. While the officers did
not promise tolerance, they did remain silent.
Three days later, one saw the flip side of the coin. As had happened for
ninety-seven Sundays, a mob dressed in civilian clothes was incited by
State Security to stage a verbal lynching of the Ladies in White House
near the police station in Lawton where I had been questioned.
From January to March of 2017 the political police made 1,392 arrests
and in some cases confiscated work materials and money from independent
journalists and human rights activists.
They harass people with little rhyme or reason. A group of reporters
from Periodismo del Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), an online journal
which focuses on environmental issues and vulnerable communities, or a
neo-Communist blogger like Harold Cardenas are as likely to be targeted
as an overtly anti-Castro figure like Henry Constantin, regional
vice-president of the Inter-American Press Society.
With ten months to go before Raul Castro hangs up his gloves, the
Special Services' game plan is poised to undergo a 180-degree
turnaround. Using its contacts, it could establish a channel of
communication between dissidents and the government, which could serve
as a first step towards the ultimate legal resolution of Cuba's
But I fear that democracy is not one of the Cuban regime's top priorities.
Source: Cuban Counterintelligence Plays Hardball with Journalists / Iván
García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-counterintelligence-plays-hardball-with-journalists-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 April 2017 — In the palace of the
Captains General in Havana there is a throne awaiting its king. It was
prepared when Cuba was still a Spanish colony and a monarch has never
sat in its imposing structure. The visit of Spain's King Felipe VI visit
may end such a long wait, but the Island needs more than gestures of
symbolism and protocol.
The king and the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, will arrive in the
country a few months before Raul Castro leaves power. The official
visit, long prepared for, has all the traces of a farewell. It will be
like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across
the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a
part of a rigid dynasty.
The visitors will arrive in the middle of "the cooling off of the thaw"
between Washington and Havana. The expectations that led to the
diplomatic normalization announced on 17 December 2014 have been diluted
with the passage of months in the absence of tangible results. More than
two years have tone by and the island is no more free nor has it
imagined to merge from its economic quagmire.
US airlines have begun to reduce the frequency of their flights to Cuba,
discouraged by low demand and the limitations that remain on Americans
traveling to Cuba as tourists. Castro has not withdrawn the ten percent
tax he keeps on the exchange of dollars, and connecting to the internet
from the island is still an obstacle course. All this and more
discourages travelers from the country to the north of us.
The photos of building collapses and old cars fill the Instagram
accounts of the Yumas (Americans) who tour the streets, but even the
most naïve get tired of this dilapidated theme park. Cuba has gone out
of style. All the attention it captured after the day Cubans refer to in
shorthand as "17-D," has given way to boredom and apathy, because life
is not accompanied by a comfortable armchair to support this incredibly
long move where almost nothing happens.
Last year tourism reached a historic record of 4 million visitors but
the hotels have to engage in a juggling act to maintain a stable supply
of fruit, beer and even water. Between the shortages and the drought,
scenes of long lines of customers waiting for a Cristal beer, or
carrying buckets from the swimming pool to use in their bathrooms are
Foreign investors also do not seem very enthusiastic about putting their
money into the economy of a country where it is still highly centralized
and nationalized. The port of Mariel, tainted with the scandals of the
Brazilian company Odebrecht, and with activity levels far below initial
projections, seems doomed to become the Castro regime's last pharaonic
and useless project.
But Donald Trump's arrival in the White House hasn't meant an iron fist
against the Plaza of the Revolution as some had prophesied. The new US
president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now
seems more focused on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the
anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.
The Havana government lost its most important opportunity by not taking
advantage of the opening offered by Barack Obama, who hardly asked for
anything in return. Right now there hasn't even been start on the
drafting of the new Electoral Law announced in February of 2015. Was
that news perhaps a maneuver so that the European Union would finally
decide to repeal the Common Position? Fake news that sought to convince
the unwary and fire up the headlines in the foreign press with talk of
To top it off, they have increased the level of repression against
opponents, and just a few days ago a journalism student was expelled
from the university for belonging to a dissident movement. A process
in the purest Stalinist style cut off her path to getting a degree in
this profession that, decades ago, officialdom condemned to serve as a
spokesperson for its achievements while remaining mute in the face of
Take care. The visit of King Felipe and Queen Letizia is inscribed in
times of fiascos. Failures that include the economic recession that
plagues a country with a Gross Domestic Product that closed out last
year in negative numbers, despite the usual make-up the government
applies to all such figures. And the Venezuelan ally unable to shake off
Nicolas Maduro, increasingly less presidential and more autocratic. The
convulsions in that South American country have left Cuba almost without
premium gas and with several fuel cuts in the state sector.
These are not the moments to proudly show off the house to visitors, but
rather a magnificent occasion for the highest Spanish authorities to
understand that totalitarianism never softens nor democratizes, it just
changes its skin.
The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit
of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system. The royals
will be surrounded by the attentions of officials who are trying to
avoid, fundamentally, their stepping a single decorated millimeter
beyond the careful preparations that have been underway for months. As
was once attempted during the 1999 visit of Juan Carlos de Borbón to
participate in an Ibero-American Summit.
On that occasion, and during a stroll with Queen Sofia through the
streets of Old Havana, officialdom blocked access to the neighbors,
emptied the sidewalks of the curious and worked the magic of converting
one of the most densely inhabited areas of the city, with the most
residents per acre in all of Cuba, into a depopulated stage where the
royal couple walked.
Their successors, who will travel to the island "as soon as possible,"
could do worse than to study the ways in which Barack Obama managed to
shake off the suffocating embrace in March of 2016. The American
president handled himself gracefully, even when Raul Castro – with the
gesture of a conquering guerrilla, fists raised – tried to trap him in a
snapshot. But the White House tenant relaxed his hand and looked away. A
defeat for the Revolution's visual epic.
Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official
press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and
negative news about his Party. He does not enjoy sympathies among the
circles of power in Havana despite having reduced the degrees of tension
that reached a peak during the term of Jose Maria Aznar. But on the
island there are more than 100,000 Cubans who are nationalized Spanish
citizens, also represented by that nation's leader and who are, in the
end, his most important interlocutors.
Felipe VI and Rajoy have in their favor that they will no longer be
bound by the protocol to be photographed with Fidel Castro in his
convalescent retirement. The king declined his father's participation in
death tributes for the former president last November in the Plaza of
the Revolution. Thus, the young monarch managed that his name and that
of the Commander in Chief do not appear together in the history books.
However, he still has to overcome the most difficult test. That moment
in which his visit can go from being a necessary approach to a country
very culturally familiar, to become a concession of legitimacy to a
Meanwhile, in the Palace of the Captains General, a throne awaits its
king, and in the Plaza of the Revolution a chair awaits the departure of
Editorial Note: This article was published in the original Spanish
Saturday 22 April in the Spanish newspaper El País.
Source: The King, The President and The Dictator – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-king-the-president-and-the-dictator/ Continue reading
It ain't what you don't know that hurts you. It's what you think you
know that just ain't so ... Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige
paraphrasing Mark Twain.
It's called fake news. For decades, Cuba has promoted a false narrative
regarding its revolution. A receptive media have dutifully perpetuated
this lie and Americans remarkably suspend all critical thinking
regarding Cuba, accepting this deception categorically.
What Americans think they know about Cuba just ain't so. Here's the
Cuba is a socialist country. Wrong. Cuba is a totalitarian white male
military dictatorship that insulates itself from accountability to the
Cuban people through the enormous bureaucracy of the Cuban government.
The Cuban government "owns" Cuba's industries. No, the military owns
these, particularly the tourist industry run by Raul Castro's son-in-law
(a general). Virtually every aspect of licensed travel by the U.S.
Treasury to Cuba is controlled by the military (who are white). Tourism
funds the repression.
There is social justice in Cuba. Nope. The dictatorship has
institutionalized an apartheid between foreigners and Communist Party
elites — Cuba's 1 percent — and "ordinary" Cubans. How? Through two
currencies, a valuable one for the former and a worthless one for the
latter, who are mostly black and brown.
Tourists use one currency (CUCs) pegged to the U.S. dollar. Cubans are
paid (by law) in the second worthless currency. The latter can pocket
tips in CUCs. Consequently, neurosurgeons rush through brain surgeries
to park cars, drive taxis and bus tables for tips. Most doctors,
lawyers, teachers and engineers leave their professions altogether. This
slavery few Americans even notice. It's disgraceful.
There is no racism in Cuba. Ha! As one white regime official put it on
page 119 of UCLA professor Mark Sawyer's book, "Racial Politics in
Post-Revolutionary Cuba," "It is simply a sociological fact that blacks
are more violent and criminal than whites. They also do not work as hard
and cannot be trusted." This was 2003; enough said.
Free health care and education for all. Sorry. University professors and
managers in tourism are overwhelmingly white and connected to the
generals. Most university students must join the communist party.
There are hospitals for foreigners and Communist Party elites and those
for everyone else. The former are for medical tourism with Cuba's best
doctors. The latter have no sheets, soap, toilet paper, electricity,
medicines or even Cuban doctors — they are imported from Africa.
Where are Cuba's doctors? Those not driving cabs are "rented" to foreign
countries for $10,000 monthly. The chattel slave doctors are paid a few
hundred CUCs while their families are held in Cuba. Ditto for thousands
of Cuban nurses, social workers and teachers. Human trafficking is the
dictatorship's largest source of hard currency — by far.
Opening Cuba represents a tremendous business opportunity. Really? Cuba
is bankrupt. Moreover, everything in Cuba is stolen: land, homes, rum,
cigars, even old American jalopies — in many cases from Americans. Every
enterprise in Cuba will involve trafficking in stolen property. This
isn't a business opportunity; it's criminal and immoral behavior.
The intent of U.S. law is to protect, not disenfranchise claimants as
President Obama has done by allowing select companies to "do business"
and traffic in stolen property. Sustaining this requires protection by
the dictatorship and a U.S. administration that disregards property
rights and the rule of law. It's politically sanctioned organized crime.
History is replete with examples that economic engagement will not bring
political liberalization or change (e.g., China). See Cuba before 1959,
when American cronyism brought corruption and three dictators — Batista
and the Castro brothers. Why would U.S. businesses "invested" in Cuba
property want change? A democratic government will return property to
the legitimate owners and these "investments" will be lost. Investment
The embargo is "failed" policy. The teeth of the embargo, the ability to
prosecute traffickers in stolen property, has been waived since its
inception to "expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba," a
justification that is conclusively false.
It's the definition of insanity: capitulating with another dictatorship
and perpetually violating existing sanctions while expecting change.
Here's a novel approach to Cuba policy: Enforce the law.
Javier Garcia-Bengochea, a Jacksonville neurosurgeon, is a certified
U.S. Claimant for The Port of Santiago de Cuba.
Source: Social justice in Cuba? No racism? #FakeNewsCuba - Orlando
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-cuba-fake-news-20170424-story.html Continue reading
Apr 20, 2017
President Trump's government has yet to reveal its hand on the issue of
reconciliation with Cuba. There had been a lot of progress towards
greater ties following President's Obama's overtures in December 2014:
Some cooperation agreements were signed – particularly in aviation and
communications — and Google and Airbnb now have a presence on the island
nation. But only about two dozen U.S. companies have taken early steps,
and there has been limited progress on other fronts, such as the
reconciliation of Cuban-Americans with the Cuban people.
And while President Trump had supported more economic ties with Cuba in
the past, just before the presidential election he reversed course. That
makes it unclear what business should expect going forward.
The overarching issue is the ongoing U.S. economic embargo, noted
Cuban-American attorney Gustavo Arnavat at the recent 2017 Wharton Latin
American Conference. Arnavat, now a senior adviser at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, had a front-row seat on U.S.-Cuba
policy as an advisor to President Obama's team on the issue. He also
represented the U.S. in 2009 at the Inter-American Development Bank
(IDB), the largest provider of development finance in Latin America.
"It would be crazy for anyone right now to be trying to invest in Cuba,
even in those areas we can invest, because at any moment, the Trump
administration may come out and totally reverse what was done
previously," he said. Adding further to the uncertainty, Cuban President
Raul Castro is scheduled to leave office in February 2018, with no clear
successor in the wings.
Arnavat took stock of the emerging state of U.S.-Cuban ties in a
discussion with Knowledge@Wharton at the recent Wharton Latin American
conference. An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.
Knowledge@Wharton: It was a historic time in the Winter of 2014 when the
U.S. government decided that a policy that had been in place for 50
years was no longer working, and that it was time to rethink how the
U.S. and Cuba were engaging with one another, and try to normalize
relationships at whatever level was possible. Could you describe why and
how you got involved in U.S.-Cuba relations before President Obama's
policy shift on December 12, 2014?
Gustavo Arnavat: The greatest variable contributing to my interest in
Cuba has to do with the fact that I was born in Cuba. I grew up in a
very conservative, Republican household in Hialeah, Florida, and there
wasn't a day that went by that a family member, or friend or visitor
didn't criticize some element of the Cuban revolution or talked about
Cuba. So, it was impossible for me not to be interested in Cuba and
U.S.-Cuba relations as I grew up. Later, I came to understand that the
world was not black and white, and that realization and complexity made
me even more interested in the topic.
After law school, I was a lawyer focusing on sovereign finance and
corporate finance, and eventually went over to investment banking on
Wall Street. I worked on many deals, but Cuba was never part of that,
for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, there was always a part of me that
wanted to be involved, somehow. Eventually, I became involved in several
projects examining U.S policy toward Cuba, but all of that came to an
end when I joined the Obama Administration because I was at the IDB, and
Cuba wasn't a member of the IDB, and I otherwise wasn't involved in
setting Cuba policy while I worked in the Obama Administration.
Knowledge@Wharton: The major policy shift occurred in December 2014.
What do you think motivated President Obama to make such a major change?
Arnavat: The primary reason is that this was something that I think
President Obama wanted to do for a long time. When he was a senator in
Illinois, he spoke about the futility of the embargo. At the annual
luncheon of the Cuban-American National Foundation in Florida in May
2008, he said that if Cuba began to open up, starting with releasing all
political prisoners, he would begin a dialogue that could lead to
normalized relations. This was startling and unprecedented for a
presidential candidate of either political party. Anyone from Miami
knows that advocating "normalized" relations and a "dialogue" with the
Cuban government just 15 or 20 years ago was a very dangerous thing to do.
He also faced pressure from other Latin American countries, particularly
in the context of the Summit of the Americas. A number of the countries'
presidents told President Obama during the Summit in Cartagena, Colombia
in 2012, that for the next summit (in Panama City in 2015, if Cuba is
not invited, they were not going to participate. That also weighed on
the White House
Related to this, there was a growing consensus in the region – and U.S.
foreign policy –that the primary issues affecting Latin America were not
the same ones from 20, 30 or 40 years ago, which chiefly included
unstable and undemocratic governments, drug trafficking, corruption,
etc. Instead, the focus has been on trade and economic development
through integration. If you are the U.S., it's difficult to make a case
for global economic integration and certainly regional economic
integration, when Cuba is prevented from being fully integrated from an
economic perspective. Finally, President Obama felt that since the
elections of 2014 were over, he had nothing to lose from a political
perspective, and the timing was right to do what he wanted to do all along.
But very little could be done while Alan Gross remained in Cuban
custody, and the Cubans knew this to be the case. [Editor's note: Alan
Gross, a U.S. government contractor employed by the United States Agency
for International Development (USAID), was arrested in Cuba in 2009.]
Knowledge@Wharton: What was your reaction to the policy shift and what
steps did you take?
Arnavat: I was shocked. After I left the IDB, I became aware of a
growing number of Cuban Americans, particularly in Miami, who were
successful lawyers, businesspeople and bankers, who wanted to promote
engagement between the U.S. and Cuba in order to help the Cuban people
more directly. We thought, what can we do? How can we try to convince
the White House to go in a different direction? But we were extremely
pessimistic because we had witnessed very little interest on the part of
the White House, especially because of the situation with Gross.
With the 2016 presidential election on the horizon, we thought U.S.-Cuba
policy would once again be the victim of domestic political
considerations. That was despite the fact that Hillary Clinton in her
book (titled Hard Choices, published in 2014), criticized the embargo in
a very open way, and in a way that was unexpected. Some of us in
retrospect thought that was her signal to the White House to encourage
it to pursue engagement.
When the announcement was made, the thinking was, we were finally going
to be able to sit down with the Cubans, and talk to them about all the
issues that two normal countries should want to engage in, on areas of
mutual interest. Little did I know that in fact, they had been
negotiating for about 18 months, but this was an opportunity to test the
waters and see to what extent it made sense to engage diplomatically and
commercially in ways that would benefit both countries.
So a number of us provided the White House with our insights, though few
of us had very high expectations over the short-term effects of an
opening toward Cuba, especially with respect to political matters.
Knowledge@Wharton: How would you assess the progress since the winter of
2014? Has there been real progress, or as somebody once said, is it a
triumph of hope over experience?
Arnavat: I break it down into three buckets. Let's call the first bucket
official U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations. The second bucket is commercial
relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The third is Cuban-American
On the official bilateral bucket, a lot has been accomplished. After
more than 50 years of acrimony between the two countries, diplomatic
relations were reestablished. Embassies were reopened. As part of that
process, Cuba was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism,
based on an analysis conducted by the State Department with input from
our intelligence community. Regular mail service was established between
the two countries.
Migration talks were regularized, and they've become much more
substantive and more meaningful. Agreements were entered into with
respect to cooperation in law enforcement, environmental disasters and
other areas. I believe close to two dozen such agreements were reached.
A lot was accomplished given the relationship the two countries had.
However, I know that Obama Administration officials were frustrated that
more wasn't accomplished on the human rights front, although the belief
is that civil society in general has benefited because of the new policy
On the other hand, the biggest issue is the embargo, which is still in
place. Another issue relates to property claims that U.S. citizens have
against Cuba for property that was expropriated in the first few years
of the revolution. Those have still not been resolved, and they're far
from being resolved. Keep in mind, this was the primary reason why the
U.S. broke off diplomatic relations in the first place. So in that
sense, very little progress has been made.
As far as the commercial relationship is concerned, the assessment
depends on whom you talk to; the Cubans believe that a lot of progress
was made given that the embargo remains in place. On the bilateral
front, commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba were reestablished.
U.S. Airlines, as part of a process led by the Department of
Transportation, competed for those routes, and six or seven airlines won
A number of mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon have entered into
roaming agreements with the Cuban government. You may not think that's a
big deal, except that before, there were no such roaming agreements and
it made mobile phone communications very difficult. Airbnb is there,
which is very helpful for travelers who don't want to pay for relatively
expensive hotels in Havana. Google has a presence now, and U.S. cruise
ships are sailing into Havana and bringing Americans.
However, a lot more could have been done. One of the missed
opportunities is in fact that not as many deals were done. That's bad
for a number of different reasons. One, U.S. companies have missed out.
The Cuban people and the Cuban government have missed out on great U.S.
products and services. While the Trump administration is reviewing the
policy, instead of having a hundred companies advocating, you only have
25 or 30 or so going to their congressional representatives and saying,
look, we have this business now in Cuba.
When you ask the Cuban government, they will grant that a lot of
proposals were presented to the Cuban government. The pushback came for
a variety of reasons. In some cases, the companies were too small or
were startups. They want to be able to deal with the major players. The
problem with deals that were proposed by major global corporations was
that those proposals didn't necessarily fall into one of the priority
areas in Cuba's plan for economic development.
Then, even with the right kind of company, in a priority area, they
would site the embargo. They would say that even if we wanted to do
this, we couldn't, because there's no way that U.S. companies could pay
for a service or the other way around. They are right to an extent,
because of the continuing restrictions on financial transactions, but
more important, the way those restrictions and regulations have been
interpreted by legal counsel and compliance officers at major financial
institutions around the world, especially in the U.S. They're very well
aware that if you run afoul of those regulations, you get hit with a
multi-billion-dollar fine, as has happened, even recently.
At the same time, investment conditions in Cuba are very challenging for
U.S. companies that are not accustomed to working with foreign
governments in transactions normally involving private sector companies
as counterparts. But the reality is that doing business in Cuba
necessarily means doing business with the government, and not all U.S.
companies are prepared to do that at this point.
So those are in the first two buckets. In the third bucket, on
reconciliation, Cuban-Americans are going to play some role, just as
they have played an important role in shaping U.S.-Cuba policy in the
past. I know that many Cuban government officials are not comfortable
with that involvement, but the sooner we can start to engage from that
perspective and have reconciliation, the better it is both for Cubans in
the U.S. as well as Cubans on the island. Very little has been done, or
has occurred, on that front because of the lack of mutual trust.
Knowledge@Wharton: You've just returned from Cuba. Looking at things
right now, what are the biggest opportunities in Cuba, and what are the
biggest challenges or the biggest risks?
Arnavat: Imagine you discovered a country that you didn't know existed.
You realize that less than 100 miles away from the U.S. is a country
that, if it were a U.S. state, would be the eighth-largest in
population, right after Ohio, for example. It has 11 million people who
are very well educated, despite all of the challenges in Cuba, and lack
of resources. It has software engineers, for example, who graduate from
some of the best technology universities in Cuba, but they're
underemployed. A lot of people code quite a bit in Cuba. So from a human
capital perspective, it's a country that is enormously resourceful, and
this presents a huge opportunity for U.S. companies that will invest
when they are able to do so.
From a natural resource perspective, it's a very large Caribbean
island, so it will be an important destination for tourism, or for
second homes for Americans, whenever that becomes a possibility. It's
got a health care system that is, again, very poorly resourced, but
there is a high level of training on the part of medical staff there,
and access to knowledge and technology. Some presidents in Latin America
from the ALBA countries (the 11-member Bolivarian Alliance for the
Peoples of Our America), when they get seriously sick, they go to
Havana. Medical tourism would be of great interest as an area to invest
in if that were possible.
It is also a country that has tremendous needs from an infrastructure
perspective. The roads are quite better than a lot of places I've been
in the Caribbean, and certainly Central America. But it's a country that
needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. The question, of course, is
going to be how do you pay for it? That brings us to the challenges.
There is no access to capital. It has a legal system that was set up to
support a socialist economic model, which is anachronistic and foreign
to U.S. investors. They're beginning to figure that out, and are
struggling with how to emerge and how to evolve from that. But even
those who recognize the need for change don't want that change to be
forced on them from abroad. This is an essential point to keep in mind.
Cubans are increasingly getting comfortable referring to non-state
employees or entrepreneurs as the private sector, although officially
it's called the non-state sector. I am certain that when things do open
up, and the right incentives are in place, the human capital there is
going to be such that Cuba is going to be well-placed as a market for
Americans to investment.
I'm not sure how independent the judiciary is to resolve disputes
between, let's say a foreign company, a foreign investor and an entity
where the Cuban government may have an interest. So that's obviously a
risk for any U.S. company to consider. It's a risk in any country, but
especially in a country where the government plays such an important
role in the running of the society. There is also the political risk
associated with the fact that [President Raul] Castro is supposed to
leave office on February 24 of next year, and it's always unclear as to
who's going to take over and in what direction the country will go.
If you have to put a bet, Cuba is likely to continue on a socialist
trajectory for an indefinite period of time. You also have the immediate
risk of the Trump administration in trying to decide what to do. So it
would be crazy for anyone right now to be trying to invest in Cuba, even
in those areas we can invest, because at any moment, the Trump
administration may come out and totally reverse what was done previously.
Knowledge@Wharton: How do you think U.S. policy towards Cuba will evolve
under President Trump? You were very complimentary about President
Obama, very optimistic about reading Hillary Clinton's book and what she
said about Cuba. What's your assessment of what President Trump will do,
and what that will mean for Cuban-American relations?
Arnavat: I honestly have no idea. And I don't think anyone has any idea.
People in Cuba have no idea. It could go in lots of directions. It seems
that President Trump is not going to come out any time soon and say
we're going to continue to engage without the Cubans making any
Trump has said very little about Cuba in his career. He appeared to
entertain launching a potential campaign in the 1990s, I believe it was
in Miami he talked about how he was such a strong supporter of the
embargo and he would never do business in Cuba while the Castro brothers
were in place, etc.
Two years later, as it turns out, he sent a consultant to Cuba — a paid
consultant, to figure out how to do business in Cuba. Beginning about
six years ago up until sometime last year, people in the Trump
organization had visited Cuba, exploring opportunities in golf and
hotels, hospitality, that sort of thing. So we know that from a
commercial perspective, he definitely has been interested in doing so.
And, it makes sense, given his investments in China and other countries
that don't adhere to U.S. standards of human rights and democracy.
When President [Obama] announced the policy shift, on a few occasions,
[Trump] said that he supported the engagement. One time, I think he was
in a debate in Miami, a primary, and he said something along the lines
of, "Come on, folks, it's been over 50 years. We've got to move on.
We've got to try something else." But then about six weeks before the
election, he began to tailor his message much more to the conservatives
and the hardliners in the community. He said, "Unless the Cubans take
steps to," and I think he said, "to provide for more political freedoms
and religious freedoms, then I'm going to reverse everything." Mike
Pence said that as well shortly before and maybe after the election.
But having said that, [Trump's policies regarding Cuba are] just not
clear. There are a number of individuals who worked on [Trump's]
transition team, who are involved in the administration, who have been
very focused the last 15-20 years on enforcing the embargo, on
tightening the embargo, on making life as hard and difficult for the
Cuban government. Those people are certainly weighing in very heavily on
the policy. A policy review is ongoing, but it is unclear when they'll
be done with that and what the outcome will be. I imagine an important
consideration will be the change in government that I mentioned previously.
Knowledge@Wharton: When you met people in Havana, what did you hear from
them about how they expect relations with the U.S. to shape up?
Arnavat: Shortly after the announcement of the policy shift, something
like 97% of the Cuban people expressed they were in favor of the
engagement, and of reestablishing diplomatic relations, etc. This makes
sense, because the more Americans that travel to Cuba and invest in
Cuba, the greater the economic benefits to the Cuban people in general.
Everyone is concerned that in fact, the policy will reverse, that there
will be fewer people visiting, fewer people making investments, as a
result of a decrease in remittances that are used as seed capital to
start new businesses on the island. Even if you stay at a state-owned
hotel, you hire private taxis, and you eat in private restaurants that
are allowed under Cuban law. So a lot of people who are private
individuals are in fact benefitting because of the increase in travel
between the U.S. and Cuba. And they're very concerned about that not
Source: Should U.S. Companies Hit 'Pause' on Doing Business in Cuba? -
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/why-business-should-hit-pause-on-new-u-s-cuba-ties/ Continue reading
Mariela Moco Pegado es hermana de El Tuerto y tía de El Cangrejo, todos ellos descendientes de la dinastía fundada por Bola de Churre, que así le decían a Fidel Castro Ruz, no en la Sierra (donde el no ducharse podría explicarse mejor), sino en pleno Vedado, en la Universidad de La Habana.
Mariela Moco Pegado, sobrina de Bola de Churre, se ríe en Madrid de lo bien que le va la vida y demuestra en el trato con la prensa ser hija de su madre.Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 11 April 2017 — Right now the most closely guarded secret
in Cuba is the protocols for succession of the nation's president, army
general Raul Castro, after his retirement in February 2018.
I will tell you what is rumored among some officials close to the
tight-lipped team of advisers and influential relatives in the Council
A well-informed source claims, "The man is desperate to retire. He wants
to spend more time with his children and grandchildren and travel around
the world. He's really going to retire. And it seems to me that he will
probably pass his job on to the first party secretary. He has always
preferred to be in the background."
A technocrat with connections to powerful elites states, "The succession
is not happening at the best time but Raul is serious when he says he is
leaving. I have it on good authority that Miguel Diaz-Canel and his wife
Lis Cuesta, around whom the media has been creating a presidential image
in recent months, are studying English in depth and preparing to lead
A former personal security officials says, "Resources have been put at
Diaz-Canel's disposal, the kind of communication technology and
logistical support that a president would have."
Meanwhile, as the official media has been inundating us with reports of
economic successes and the alleged loyalty of the population to Raul
Castro and his deceased brother, the countdown to the succession continues.
There is only a little more than ten months until D-Day. At midnight on
February 24 the republic will presumably be governed by a civilian
president without the last name Castro.
One of the sources consulted for this article believes that "after his
own retirement, Raul will force the retirement of several longtime
revolutionary officials such as Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and Ramiro
Valdes.* His son Alejandro, who is a colonel in the Ministry of the
Interior, will retain a certain degree of power while his daughter
Mariela will continue promoting an image of tolerance towards
homosexuality but will no longer hold any really significant positions.
"The power behind the throne will be the military. Everything has been
arranged. There will be major economic changes. If the purchasing power
of the population does not increase, consumer spending will be
encouraged while the monetary and intellectual capital of the exile
community will be tapped.
"If not, Cuba will never get out of the swamp. Political exhaustion and
systemic failures have created conditions conducive to the emergence of
an acute social crisis whose outcome no one can predict. That is why
there will be changes."
In Cuba, where the state press's greatest strengths are saying nothing
and masking daily reality, rumors within the halls of power carry more
credibility than the official news.
Raul Castro is a perpetual schemer. Let the analyst or journalist who
foresaw the secret negotiations with the United States and the
reestablishment of diplomatic relations on December 17, 2014 raise his hand.
Prognosticating in such a secretive country can be disastrous but there
have been some signals. During the the monotone National Assembly's 2015
legislative session a gradual rollback of Raul's reforms began. And
Marino Murillo, the czar of these reforms, disappeared from official photos.
In response to the Venezuelan crisis, which led to cuts of 40% in fuel
imports, the economic initiatives promoted by Raul Castro came to an
Barack Obama's visit to Cuba in March 2016 was the final straw. The
regime's most conservative factions began changing the rules of the game.
While lacking the charisma or stature of his brother, Castro II has
proved to be more effective at putting together negotiating teams and
has had greater successes in foreign policy. They include reestablishing
diplomatic relations with the United States without having to make many
concessions in return, acting as mediator in the meeting in Havana
between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, facilitating the peace
agreement in Colombia and securing the cancellation of a considerable
portion of the nation's financial debt.
His agricultural reforms have failed. People are still waiting for that
glass of milk he promised them in a speech given in Camaguey on July 26,
2007. On that day Raul Castro said, "We have to erase from our minds
this limit of seven years (the age at which Cuban children are no longer
entitled to receive a certain ration of milk). We are taking it from
seven to fifty. We have to produce enough so that everyone who wants it
can have a glass of milk."
The Foreign Investment Law has not been able to attract the roughly 2.5
billion dollars expected annually. The sugar harvest and food production
have not gotten off the ground, requiring the regime to import more than
two billion dollars worth of food every year.
Except for tourism, the profitable foreign medical assistance program
and other international missions, and remittances from overseas, all
other exports and economic initiatives have decreased or not shown
Vital industrial sectors are not profitable and its equipment is
obsolete. Problems in housing, transportation and public service
shortages are overwhelming. The price of home internet service is
outrageous. Official silence has surrounded recent restrictions on the
sale of gasoline** while public speculation about a return to the
"Special Period" has not been discussed by the executive branch.
Raul Castro barely appears in the public anymore. Aside from attending
Fidel's funeral in November 2016, presiding over parliament last
December and sporadic appearances at the Summits of the Caribbean and
the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, his presence is
He is governing in hibernation mode, on automatic pilot. There is no
word on currency reform. The vaunted Economic Guidelines, only 21% of
which have been carried out, seem to be dead in the water.
According to a former journalist who now lives in Miami and who dealt
closely with Raul in the late 1980s, his seemingly erratic behavior
could be interpreted in several ways.
"Raul is not doctrinaire like his brother. Nor does he leave tasks half
done like Fidel used to do. I supposed he has his hands full preparing
Diaz-Canal so he can finish the job and implement good, effective
reforms. I think Diaz-Canal will play an important role in Cub's future.
Reporters should start lining up their canons now," says the former
The sense on the street is that the island is going to hell. The outlook
does not look good. The future is a question mark. The pathways to
emigration are closing. And the average person's salary remains a bad joke.
The optimists, who are in the minority, are praying the general has an
emergency plan in his desk drawer. The pessimists, who are in the
majority, believe that life in Cuba will go on as it has, whether under
Raul, Diaz-Canal or any other members of the Communist praetorian guard.
*Translator's note: Vice-president of the Council of State and
governmental vice-president respectively.
** Though no public announcement has been made, as of April 1 sales of
so-called "special gasoline" have been restricted to tourists with
Source: Is Raul Castro in Hibernation Mode? / Iván García – Translating
http://translatingcuba.com/is-raul-castro-in-hibernation-mode-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
By Stephen Kinzer APRIL 14, 2017
SANTA CLARA, Cuba
THIS PROVINCIAL CAPITAL in central Cuba throbbed with life on a recent
Saturday night. In one plaza, a Beatles cover band sang "Ticket to Ride"
for an enthusiastic crowd. Exuberant groups of gay men made their way
toward a club that stages drag shows and welcomes patrons of all sexual
orientations. In an evangelical church, dozens of young people were
being driven to near-ecstasy by a young preacher shouting, "We need the
voice of God now!" Many kids wore T-shirts featuring the American flag.
None of this would have been possible or even imaginable at the height
of Fidel Castro's power. Beatles music was banned in Cuba. Gays were
arrested. Public displays of religiosity were forbidden. Police would
have viewed wearing the American flag as nearly equivalent to wearing
the swastika. Cubans now enjoy more cultural freedom than at any time
since the Castro movement seized power 58 years ago.
Economic progress has been more fitful, but still significant. Small
businesses have sprouted across the island. By some estimates, as many
as half a million Cubans are now self-employed. That is a remarkable
change in a country where private enterprise was demonized for
generations. It has whetted the appetite of many shopkeepers,
beauticians, and restaurant owners to expand beyond tight legal limits.
As for political change, it remains beyond a distant horizon. President
Raul Castro is expected to retire next year. No one I met imagines that
this transition will lead to serious changes in the ruling system. This
is today's Cuba: remarkable cultural opening, growing economic opening,
no political opening.
Cuban leaders fear that allowing unrestricted business growth would
strengthen the wealthier class that is already emerging, give enemies in
the United States new ways to subvert the revolutionary project, and
ultimately lead to the collapse of their government. They are right.
Capitalist economics might make Cuba rich, but it would also create a
new version of the class society that revolutionaries have devoted their
lives to wiping away. This is their dilemma. In recent years they have
allowed Cubans to become more prosperous, but that has led to widening
social divisions. How far should they allow the process to go?
Booming tourism is among the forces that have created both new
possibilities and new frictions. Tourists — and Cubans with relatives
abroad — use a different currency from the one most Cubans use. It
allows them to buy many products that are beyond the reach of those who
earn local pesos. Worst of all, tourist demand sucks large amounts of
food out of the market. That leaves even less for Cubans. Many spend
hours every day trying to find food they can afford on government
salaries that often hover below $25 per month.
Cuba has large amounts of fertile and uncultivated land. Selling it to
agro-business conglomerates would produce more than enough food for
every citizen. It would also, however, mark a return to the era when
rich outsiders controlled Cuba's economy. Determined to avoid this, the
government is taking half-steps instead. Private farmers may now sell
their produce more freely. Some state-run cooperatives have become
independent. Good food, though, remains beyond the reach of many Cubans
who must shop in ill-supplied government markets.
Havana, the capital, used to be famous for its fleet of sputtering,
broken-down American cars, all imported before the 1959 revolution. Many
of them have been refitted, polished, and turned into taxis that take
tourists on pricey city tours. Not all Cubans appreciate this. "Those
cars look different to us than they look to you," one man told me as he
pointed to a glistening 1939 Ford Deluxe convertible, complete with
rumble seat. "To you, they're a cute way to have fun. To us, they
symbolize our backwardness. We're stuck in time, back in the days when
those cars were made. We're not getting anywhere."
One sign of the frustration many Cubans feel is the remarkable aging of
the population. Young people have flooded out, leaving parks and plazas
in many towns full of old people. This adds another burden to the
already inadequate welfare system, and poses serious challenges for
future growth. "Before, there were lots of grandchildren to take care of
grandparents," said Juan Carlos Alfonso Fraga, an official at the
national statistics bureau. "Now, we sometimes have more grandparents
Cuba's long century of repression and upheaval famously began with the
US intervention of 1898. A commanding monument on the Malecon, the long
seaside boulevard that anchors Havana, commemorates the explosion of an
American warship, the USS Maine, that became the pretext for
intervention after newspapers and politicians falsely claimed that it
was the result of an enemy attack. In 1899, the US government decided to
renege on its pledge to grant Cuba full independence, and installed a
puppet regime instead. That led to dictatorships, deepening anger, the
Castro revolution, and decades of Communist rule.
President Obama's visit last year, and his modest loosening of the US
trade embargo, momentarily raised hopes for a deep change in US-Cuba
relations — and possibly deep changes in Cuba itself. That has not
happened. Cuban leaders are working quietly to assure that President
Trump does not revert to the bitterly anti-Cuba policies of the
pre-Obama era. Many ordinary Cubans, however, worry more about getting
through each day.
Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for
International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Follow him on
Source: In the twilight of the Castros - The Boston Globe -
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/04/14/twilight-castros/95OdHKELKcSeu8NfrnyFxJ/story.html Continue reading
Era el 7 de julio de 2013, transcurría la Primera Sesión Ordinaria de la VIII Legislatura de la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular en el Palacio de Convenciones y Raúl Castro leía un discurso sui géneris. La prensa cubana lo reproduciría dos días después con el título "La pérdida de valores éticos y el irrespeto a las buenas costumbres puede revertirse mediante la acción concertada de todos los factores sociales".Continue reading
AFP April 12, 2017
Havana (AFP) - Cuban dissidents planning to run in the communist
country's local elections in November have been arrested, threatened and
otherwise harassed by the authorities, one of their leaders said Tuesday.
At least five would-be candidates have been charged with crimes such as
robbery, had their property seized, or been threatened with losing their
jobs, said Manuel Cuesta Morua, spokesman for the opposition Unity
Roundtable for Democratic Action (MUAD).
"They (the authorities) are taking preventive measures so that no
independent citizen who doesn't fit their agenda can run," he told AFP.
The local elections in November kick off an electoral cycle that will
ultimately decide the successor to President Raul Castro.
The next step will be the election of the 612-member National Assembly,
which chooses the all-powerful Council of State, which in turn chooses
Opposition parties are banned in Cuba, but dissident groups are trying
to sneak the maximum number of Castro opponents into the local polls.
Two opposition candidates managed to stand in the last local elections
in 2015. Neither won.
This year, 109 opposition candidates are prepared to run, according to
Castro, 85, took over in 2006 from his brother Fidel, Cuba's leader
Raul Castro has steered Cuba toward a very gradual economic opening and
restored ties with its old Cold War enemy the United States.
But opponents say the only communist regime in the Americas still
controls most of the economy, and muzzles free speech and political dissent.
Source: Cuba opposition candidates say targeted for reprisals -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/cuba-opposition-candidates-targeted-reprisals-224942848.html Continue reading
Apr 11, 2017 Latin America North America
When the Obama administration reestablished U.S. diplomatic relations
with Cuba in December 2014, many experts predicted that it would bring a
flood of new money to the island, transforming its economy and political
culture for the better. Almost two-and-a-half years later, U.S. trade
with Cuba continues to languish, and a handful of executive orders on
the part of President Donald Trump could soon set back the clock to the
days when hardline opposition to ties with Cuba's communist regime was
the norm in Washington. What is the future of U.S.-Cuba ties now that
the honeymoon that began under Obama is over? Which aspects, if any, of
the Obama administration campaign to open up Cuba are most likely to
On the one hand, during his presidential campaign, "Trump certainly
talked about repudiating what Obama has done with Cuba," says Stephen
Kobrin, Wharton emeritus management professor. "Clearly, with the stroke
of a pen, he could eliminate a lot of the liberalization that occurred
under Obama," which was enacted as executive orders, not congressionally
sanctioned legislation. On the other hand, "the streets have not exactly
been paved with gold in Cuba," Kobrin notes. "There hasn't been a great
rush to do business in Cuba. Right now, there is not a huge amount of
interest." Of the dramatic rapprochement with Cuba undertaken by
President Obama, Kobrin adds: "It was an historical event that seems to
have come and gone."
Cuban-American attorney Gustavo Arnavat, senior adviser at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies, notes, "One of the missed
opportunities is that not as many deals were done" as anticipated.
"That's bad for a number of different reasons. One, I think U.S.
companies have missed out. I think the Cuban people and the Cuban
government have missed out on great U.S. products and services." He adds
that now — just as the Trump administration is reviewing its Cuba policy
— instead of having 100 U.S. companies advocating for liberalization by
going to their congressional representatives and saying, 'Look, we have
this business now in Cuba,' "you only have 25 or 30 or so." (Editor's
note: Arnavat, who recently returned from Cuba, addressed this topic at
the 2017 Wharton Latin American Conference, where Knowledge@Wharton
interviewed him. The interview will be published soon.)
Uncertainty and Disappointment
"The impact of Donald Trump's victory can be defined by one word:
'uncertainty,'" notes John Kavulich, president of the New York-based
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "That uncertainty has negatively
impacted interest by U.S. companies [in Cuba]."
In both countries, disappointment has been fueled by misunderstanding of
the potential impact of their mutual ties. Charles Shapiro, president of
the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, says that "U.S. business people
thought that they were going to go to Cuba and see hundred dollar bills
floating down the streets. Just as Americans thought that Cuba was going
to change pretty quickly after December 2014, individual Cubans also
thought that their standard of living was going to change [right away] …
[that] their lives were going to get better. Both of those expectations
were wrong; real life is more complicated."
Many Americans imagined that the Cuban government would soon liberate
political prisoners and make political reforms. When that didn't happen,
critics argued that the U.S. was making all the concessions, but the
Cubans were doing nothing to open their economy. Notes Kavulich,
"Basically, an overall negative narrative has been created."
And while uncertainty is growing over which measures Trump might take to
unwind the Obama administration's efforts, "the Cuban government is not
doing its part to mitigate any of the uncertainty," Kavulich notes.
"What it could do would be to allow more U.S. companies to have a
presence in Cuba, more U.S. companies to directly engage with the
licensed independent sector in Cuba. They are not allowing that." Adds
Arnavat, "If you look at Cuba's plan for economic development, [foreign
direct investment] just doesn't quite fit into their priorities. And
then even if it's the right kind of company, and the right opportunity,
they still blame the embargo, right?"
It's not just the Americans who aren't investing in Cuba now, notes
Shapiro. "The Chinese are not investing in Cuba," nor are the
Brazilians or the Europeans. "It's because you can make more money
investing in Singapore or Atlanta, Georgia" or many other places under
the current system in Cuba. He adds, "One gets the sense that the
government of Cuba doesn't understand that foreign direct investment is
a competition — that the investor gets to decide where he is going to
get the best return on his money. There are not people out there wanting
to throw their money at Cuba in a way that doesn't allow them to make a
competitive return on their investment. That's the issue."
In the travel sector, explains Kavulich, "The airlines, in their
exuberance and enthusiasm to get as many routes as possible, far
exceeded what the reality was going to be. All the airlines asked for
far more seats than they were going to be able to fill. They asked for
approximately three million seats, when the agreement with the Cubans
was for about one to 1.2 million. From the beginning, it was out of
whack, but the airlines were all trying to grab as many of the routes as
As international hotel companies signed building contracts, U.S.
arrivals in Cuba ballooned 34% between 2015 and 2016. Hotel rates soared
by between 100% and 400%, with rooms previously priced at $150 per night
skyrocketing to $650, according to New York-based tour operator Insight
Cuba. American Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit and other carriers started
operating daily flights to 10 cities, including airports that hadn't
welcomed U.S. airlines in decades. But the novelty has worn off, and
hotel rates have normalized. Airlines that overestimated demand for Cuba
are cutting back on their routes and using smaller planes.
Two major factors have changed since the high-profile restoration of
diplomatic ties during the Obama administration, says Wharton management
professor Mauro Guillen. "The first is the change in the U.S.
administration. The second is that Raul Castro has said that he will
step down in a couple of years. There is a power struggle going on in
Cuba between those who are traditional and others who believe, like
Raul, that there should be a change towards more freedoms in Cuba. Both
factors are making it difficult to get things moving in that direction."
Guillen adds: "Trump has not been president for even 100 days yet; we're
going to have to wait and see. It's not so much that [everyone has] lost
interest, but that there are so many other things going on that require
the attention" of lobbyists and policy makers in the U.S.
Travel: 'A Bad Telenovela'
Trump's first statement about changes in U.S. policy is expected soon,
but no one knows for sure what to expect. The Trump administration is
"not going to sit around with a majority in the [U.S.] House, Senate and
… the Supreme Court — and not do anything. They're taking their time
until they think the President and people around him have time to act,"
says David Lewis, president of Manchester Trade, a Washington
consultancy. "My view is that they are not going to leave this
[situation] as it is." That doesn't necessarily mean that Trump will
undo every policy change made by Obama, he adds.
According to Kavulich, "If they decide to go with increased enforcement
[of the travel rules] — which it seems they will do — that could lead to
the demise of the 'self-defined trips' that have become a popular way
for Americans to visit Cuba," despite the official ban on tourism. "One
change the Obama administration made was to allow people to go to Cuba
on their own. They didn't have to go with a group, and they could
self-certify. It was the honor system on steroids."
Lewis argues that the changes made in the travel sector "are going to
remain as is — not because [the Trump administration] thinks it's good,
but because to try and reverse travel is going to be a major quagmire, a
whirlpool, like a bad telenovela that will never end. You're going to
have to start fighting with the nuns who go to Cuba, with the college
kids who go to Cuba, with the NGOs. It will be a never-ending mad house,
which could engulf [the administration's] limited bench."
However, in order to pressure the Cuban government to liberalize its
economy, the Trump administration could tighten the screws on U.S.
visitors in various ways. Kavulich notes that it may try to make travel
harder for U.S. visitors to Cuba who don't comply with the official
rules, which make it impossible for Americans to visit as a tourist, by
requiring them to go through several inspections at customs. Overall,
the Trump administration "can do a lot without seeming as though they
are being punitive, simply by enforcing the regulations."
The Trump administration could also "make it clear that no further
licenses will be given to any [U.S.] company that wants to engage with
the Cuban military, which controls the Cuban hospitality sector," adds
Kavulich. "If they act retroactively, that means the Sheraton [in
Havana, the first hotel to operate under a U.S. brand since the 1959
revolution] gets closed; U.S. cruise ships can't dock at the ports; and
U.S. [air] carriers can't land at the airports because the Cuban
military controls all of it."
"With Trump, you're reading tea leaves," says Kobrin. "You never know
what's real and isn't. But he is not viscerally anti-communist. He isn't
part of the old Republican Cold War establishment. He doesn't seem to
have trouble dealing with Hungary, for example, and his problems with
China have more to do with what he perceives as 'American first' and
U.S. interests, rather than their political system." Moreover, "the
opposition to establishing relations with Cuba comes especially from
Congress and Cuban-American members of Congress, who are concerned about
the political system."
Reasons for Optimism
Originally, the expectation was that an announcement by the
administration regarding Cuba would be made in early February and then
March. "It seems as though the announcement is being held hostage to
whatever events are happening each day," Kobrin says. "It could end up
that the decision could be a tweet that is a response to something the
Cuban government does that we don't know about yet."
Overall, Kobrin says, "I've always felt that once liberalization occurs,
Cuba is just another island in the sun. It has some advantages in terms
of its medical system, the education of the populace, and so forth, but
then it has to compete with every other Caribbean island, once the
novelty has worn off. Cuba is not a logical place to put much in the way
of manufacturing or other sorts of industry, [except] maybe some health
Shapiro is more optimistic. "The private sector in Cuba is growing.
Cubans call [self-employed workers] cuentapropistas — which means they
are 'working on their own account.' And they are [becoming] a larger
percentage of the work force. Lots of people in Cuba have their
government job, but they are doing other things as well. They can't
exist on a government salary.… Everybody in Cuba is working a deal."
Internet access has actually skyrocketed, he adds, with Wi-Fi hot spots
available in parks around the country. "Lots of people use them, and
they are owned by the government. Unlike the case in China, you can
access The New York Times in Cuba, and more importantly, El Pais from
"I'm still a little bit hopeful and optimistic," Guillen says. "At
least, a framework has been established for the basic relationships….
Now we have cruise ships going through Havana, we have regularly
scheduled flights, and we have some broadening of the kinds of trade
that can be done. Let's give this first round of reforms some time to
sink in. Then, the [Trump] administration will have a better idea of
what it wants to do."
Source: What the Future Holds for U.S.-Cuba Relations -
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/future-holds-u-s-cuba-relations/ Continue reading
April 11, 2017
By Eileen Sosin Martinez* (Progreso Semanal)
HAVANA TIMES — In my neighborhood, the story about Juan the butcher, who
took a detour with a truck full of minced meat, sold it and then left
the country, is famous. "It's a good thing he left," a neighbor warns,
"because if he was still here, people would have got their hands on him…
and they would have killed him." But, Juan's story belongs to a greater
Days later, several markets in the city closed, among them the
Almendares Shopping Center (on 41 and 42 Streets) and the one on 51 and
26 Streets. Salespeople responded "Inventory check" or "Public Health
inspection" in a bad mood, and it's hard to believe them. For example,
at the Carlos III shopping mall, the rumor mill has it that the
inspection found adulterated and repackaged products, expired food items
on sale, price distortion… the real reason why these places have been
closed. The shit hit the fan, people usually say.
In late January, some results from the latest National Check of Internal
Controls were published, namely, losses of over 51 million CUC and over
90 million CUP (Adding up to over 55 million USD), just at
government-run busniesses in Havana alone.
The numbers come with exclamation marks: 51 million CUC and 90 million
CUP, lost or undeclared, in a country which came face to face with a
recession (-0.9% of GDP) last year, something which hasn't happened in
It's barely reassuring that the capital's Head Comptroller, Miriam
Marban, explained that not everything is a result of crime, and adds
other reasons for the missing revenue, such as "production and sale
targets not being met" and "accounts for charging and paying."
Regardless, the statistics are scandalous.
The anti-corruption fight in Cuba took center stage with the opening of
Cuba's Comptroller General Office several years ago, one of the first
steps in updating the economic model. According to lawyer Michel
Fernandez Perez, its creation is the most important structural change in
the Cuban political system after the 1992 reforms.
"This institution will play an essential role in upholding order,
economic discipline, internal controls and tackling any cases of
corruption head-on, as well as the causes and conditions that might
encourage any leader or public servant's negligible and criminal
behavior," President Raul Castro stressed at the Cuban Parliament in
August 2009, when Cuba's Comptroller General's Office was approved.
This institution responds directly to the National Assembly of the
People's Power and the State Council, and its purpose is to help them in
carrying out "the highest supervision of State and Government bodies."
Taking this concept into account, Fernandez notes that the authority of
the Cuban Comptroller General's Office is above the government and every
executive-administrative apparatus; it is only subordinate to the most
important institutions of power.
In spite of this hierarchy, the Comptroller Office doesn't form part of
the country's constitutional framework. "Maybe from a legal-formal
viewpoint, it would have been better to have reformed the Constitution
(so as to introduce it)," the lawyer highlighted. This plus the
existence of the self-employed, non-agricultural cooperatives, dual
citizenship and other economic and political realities, remind us that
the Constitution does indeed need to be changed.
Cuba's armed forces may be audited, complying with a special disposition
in the law governing the Comptroller's Office, if the country's
president requests it and when he deems it to be timely.
Meanwhile, they are governed by their own internal control regulations,
and need to inform the Comptroller General about their activities at
least once a year.
[Editors Note: Much of Cuba's tourism industry is run by the Armed
Forces or contracted out to foreign companies. The same goes for
Something similar happens in the case of the Communist Party
organizations and its related social and mass organizations; as well as
the National Assembly, State Council and Council of Ministers; the
Supreme Court and the Attorney General's Office. Their economic and
administrative dependencies are auditable, provided that the highest
authorities from these same institutions, or the State Council, request it.
When an audit ends, a document is drawn up which is then made public to
employees. That is to say, they only receive information about what has
happened. The Comptroller's Office complies with the functions that it
has been assigned, according to the law. However, dialogue and worker
participation don't really work in practice.
Cuba is a signatory of the United Nations Convention against Corruption,
a document it signed in 2005 (two years after it was created) and
ratified in 2007. Cuban Audit Regulations are in sync with International
Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI).
However, the critical factor which distinguishes the National
Comptroller's Office from its equivalents across the world is its lack
of public information. While in other countries it's normal for these
institutions to put up the findings of their investigations on their
website, here ordinary citizens don't find out anything, only skeleton
reports in the media, which lack statistics and are all too general.
This results in the inspection process being incomplete. By law, the
Comptroller is obliged to inform those who were subject of the
inspection, labor unions and high-ranking figures of its results and
recommendations. That's been made explicitly clear. So who is
responsible for informing the general public?
We're talking about monitoring the State's resources – read here, our
resources. As such, the logical thing is that we know, in excruciating
detail, the inspections findings and what measures were taken. Without
detailed and timely information there isn't any popular control or real
Real public participation
One of the alleged causes of irregular accounts lies in the impoverished
economic situation Cuba is experiencing. "When workers are paid a
dignified salary which they can live off, I'm sure many of these cases
of corruption will disappear," claimed somebody in the comments of
Nevertheless, "although you can understand that we have problems which
affect Cuban people's everyday lives, as a matter of principle, we
cannot accept that this leads to people committing illegal activities,"
stressed Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel, during the closing ceremony
of the first International Audit and Control Workshop (2014) in Havana.
On the other hand, there are also those who have just wanted to get
rich. The Comptroller General, Gladys Bejerano, has stated that the key
motive continues to be "deviating resources" to sell them illegally for
In both cases, the moral crack of those who say they are "fighting"
(luchando), "inventing" "resolving" as if that was positive… when they
should be saying that they are stealing, is commonplace.
Not by chance, the last two Internal Control inspections focused on the
extremely important sectors and processes for current change:
decentralizing State business operation, measures to "tackle" the aging
population, granting subsidies to the population, non-agricultural
cooperatives and the application of performance based salaries at State
businesses. Going beyond companies, the Comptroller Office is
responsible for verifying the ethical conduct of State managers and leaders.
We don't know much else about the millions lost at the beginning of this
article: "severe measures" were applied to nine managers; and 114
officials and employees were sanctioned with "lesser disciplinary
measures", because of their collateral responsibility. That's it.
The fact that the law has a chapter called "About popular participation"
gives us some hope. "It's society who has to control the public budget,
because we are the ones controlling what we spend," commented the
director of Budget Implementation at the Ministry of Finance and Prices,
He's right; I completely agree. However, for that to happen we need
information, transparency and the real capacity to involve ourselves and
participate. There can't be socialism (much less a prosperous and
sustainable socialism) if workers don't participate.
Source: Cuba Searches for its "Lost" Money - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=124670 Continue reading
La situación en Venezuela sigue estando dirigida por enviados del régimen cubano, que en los últimos años han contado con la información obtenida por el Centro Estratégico de Seguridad y Protección de la Patria (CESPPA), reveló un exfuncionario chavista de alto rango citado por el diario español ABC.Continue reading
By: Mario J. Penton and Luz Escobar
Posted: 04/2/2017 4:00 AM
Miami Herald/Tribune News Service
HAVANA — At 67, struggling against the challenges that come with aging
and a meagre pension, Raquel — an engineer who in her own words was
"formed by the Revolution" — survives by sifting through garbage every
day in search of recyclable products.
Hands that at one time drew plans and measured distances now pick up
cardboard, cans and other discarded containers.
"My life is a struggle from the moment I wake up," Raquel said.
"My last name? For what? And I don't want any photos. I have children,
and I once had a life. I don't want people talking about me," she said
after agreeing to tell her story.
Digging through garbage as a way to make a living was not part of
Raquel's plan, but she is not alone. Many within the island's growing
aging population are struggling with survival in their twilight years.
Cuba has become the oldest country in the Western Hemisphere, according
to official figures, amid an accelerated process that has even surprised
specialists who had not expected the phenomenon to become apparent until
Facing a pension system that is increasingly nonviable, a harsh economic
recession and an expected impact on social services as a result of the
aging population, the island is confronting one of the biggest
challenges of its history, experts say.
Almost 20 per cent of Cubans are older than 60 and the fertility rate
stands at 1.7 children per woman of child-bearing age.
To counter the aging population, the fertility rate would have to rise
to 2.4 children per woman of child-bearing age. Cuba's economically
active population shrank for the first time in 2015, by 126,000 people.
"The population aging that is affecting the country leads to a
significant increase in public spending as well as a drop in the
population of the fertile age, which in turn leads to a decrease in the
fertility rate," said Juan Valdes Paz, a Cuban sociologist who has
written several books on the issue.
Valdes said no government can be prepared for the kinds of demographic
problems Cuba has.
"If there's no harmony between demographic progress and economic
development, the latter is impacted," he said.
Government spending on public health per capita in 1999 was 21 per cent
lower than in 1989, economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago said. Official Cuban
figures show that category of spending dropped from 11.3 per cent of the
country's gross domestic product in 2009 to eight per cent in 2012.
Although Raquel is retired, government pharmacies do not subsidize the
medicine she needs for her diabetes and hypertension. State social
service programs do not serve elderly Cubans who live with relatives or
other presumed caretakers.
"I get a pension of 240 pesos a month," said Raquel, the equivalent of
less than US$10. "From that money, I have to pay 50 pesos for the Haier
refrigerator the government forced me to buy and 100 pesos to buy my
Cuba has about 300 daytime centres for the elderly and 144 nursing
homes, with a total capacity of about 20,000 clients. Officials have
acknowledged a significant portion are in terrible shape and many
elderly prefer to go into one of the 11 homes across the country run by
They operate thanks to foreign assistance, such as the Santovenia asylum
in the Cerro neighbourhood of Havana.
The state-run daycare centres charge 180 pesos per month and the nursing
homes charge about 400 pesos. Social security subsidizes the payments
when social service workers determine the clients cannot afford to pay
Cuba once had one of the most generous and broadest social security
systems in Latin America. But that was largely possible because of the
massive subsidies from the Soviet Union, calculated by Mesa-Lago at
about US$65 billion over 30 years.
"Although the pensions were never high, there was an elaborate system
established by the state to facilitate access to food and other products
at subsidized prices," the economist said.
"After the Soviet subsidies ended in the early '90s, pensions remained
at about the same level, but their purchasing power collapsed. In 1993,
a retired Cuban could barely buy 16 per cent of what he could afford in
By the end of 2015, the purchasing power of retirees remained at barely
half of what it was when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba entered
into the so-called Special Period."
Raquel is a product of that reality.
"It bothers me when I hear talk of the good services for the elderly,"
she said. "I don't get any subsidies because I live with my son, his
wife and my two grandchildren. But they have their own expenses and
can't afford to also pick up all of mine.
"I need new dentures," she added, "and if you don't give the dentist a
little gift, they take months or come out bad."
Other elderly residents on the island echoed Raquel's sentiments.
"We are two old people living alone, we have no one overseas, so we
receive no remittances," said Andres, a former cartographer who lives
with his wife Silvia in the central city of Cienfuegos, and now sells
homemade vinegar and other products to make ends meet. "It's very hard
to get old and live off a US$10 pension when four drumsticks of chicken
"Last year, I was awarded with a lifetime achievement recognition at
work and then I was laid off," he said. "I was already retired but
continued to work because we could not live on my pension."
After Fidel Castro left power in 2006, following a health emergency, the
Raul Castro government began drastic cutbacks in social security
benefits under the rubric of "the elimination of gratuities."
From the 582,060 Cubans who were receiving social assistance benefits
in 2006, such as disability or special diet funds, the number was
slashed to 175,106 by 2015.
Castro also removed several products from the highly subsidized ration
card, such as soap, toothpaste and matches, forcing everyone to pay far
more for those products when they bought them on the open market.
The government has launched some new programs for the elderly. The
Sistema de Atencion a la Familia (System to Help the Family), for
example, allows more than 76,000 low-income elderly to obtain food at
subsidized prices. That's a tiny number compared to Cuba's elderly
population, estimated at more than 2 million in a nation of about 11
Some elderly Cubans also receive assistance from churches and
"People see me picking up cans, but they don't know I was a
prize-winning engineer and that I even travelled to the Soviet Union in
1983," Raquel said.
After retirement, she had to find other ways of making ends meet. She
cleaned the common areas of buildings where military officers lived near
the Plaza of the Revolution until she got too old to handle the work.
"They wanted me to wash the windows of a hallway on the ninth floor.
That was dangerous and I was afraid of falling. I preferred to leave,
even though they paid well," she said.
Raquel was earning 125 pesos (about US$5) per week — more than half her
monthly pension of 240 pesos.
Raquel said she sells the empty recyclable containers she collects to
state enterprises but would love to be able to sell them to a private
company, instead, to avoid bureaucratic problems and delays.
In the patio of her home, she has created a homemade tool to crush the
empty cans she finds on the streets.
The work can be profitable but competition is stiff and physically
tougher for the elderly and disabled who have to wait in long lines to
sell their products at state enterprises or pay someone else to hold
their spot in line.
"In January, I made 3,900 pesos on beer bottles. But I paid 500 pesos to
hold my spot in line because I can't just lay down on the floor while I
wait," she said. "Aluminum also pays well. They pay 40 pesos for a sack
of cans. It's eight pesos per kilogram."
Cuba does not have official statistics on poverty.
A 1996 government study concluded 20.1 per cent of the two million
people in Havana were "at risk of not being able to afford a basic
A poll in 2000 found 78 per cent of the country's elderly complained
their income was not enough to cover their expenses.
The majority of the elderly polled said their main sources of income
were their pension benefits, assistance from relatives on the island and
remittances sent by relatives and friends abroad.
Many elderly now walk the streets in Havana and other cities, selling
homemade candy or peanuts to make ends meet.
Others resell newspapers or pick through garbage for items to sell. The
number of beggars on the streets of Cuba's main cities has visibly
For Raquel, the daily struggle is but another chapter of her life.
"I have always been a hard worker because the most important thing is my
family," she said. "It doesn't bother me to wear old clothes while I
collect the cans. The one who has to look good is my grandson, who just
started high school.
"The kids in school sometimes make fun of him, but my grandson is very
good and he's not ashamed of me, at least not that he shows," she said.
"He always defends me against the mockery."
— Miami Herald
Source: Cuba's elderly adrift on the streets - Winnipeg Free Press -
http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/world/cubas-elderly-adrift-on-the-streets-417886713.html Continue reading
By Sarah Marsh | CIRO REDONDO, CUBA
Cuba, battling a chronic energy deficit, has all the sunshine, wind and
sugar to fuel what should be a booming renewables sector - if only it
could find the money.
The country's first utility-scale renewable energy project, a biomass
plant in Ciro Redondo, is finally under construction thanks to an
injection of funds from China, a socialist ally and in recent years, the
communist-led island's merchant bank of last resort.
Turning Cuba's renewables potential into reality has become a state
priority over the past year since crisis-stricken ally Venezuela slashed
subsidized oil shipments to Cuba that were supposed to help power its
Some foreign players in green energy, such as Spain's Gamesa and
Germany's Siemens, have shown early interest in the country. But the
overall paucity of foreign financing means that this project, being
carried out by Cuban-British joint venture Biopower, is still the
exception rather than the rule.
The financing puzzle is a crucial one to solve if cash-strapped Cuba is
to hit its target of renewables filling 24 percent of its energy needs
by 2030, up from 4 percent today, a strategy that would require billions
of dollars in investment.
The government announced last July it was rationing energy, raising
fears of a return to the crippling blackouts of the "Special Period"
after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The energy shortage comes at a
time when growing tourism and private business creation are generating
"The most challenging thing we have had to deal with in the last six
years of developing this project has been the financing," said Biopower
President Andrew Macdonald, while touring the site of the Ciro Redondo
The Scotsman, who has been doing business with Cuba for more than a
decade, said the U.S. blockade had "strangled" funding from Europe "and
other obvious sources", with banks afraid of sanctions.
His start-up Havana Energy joined forces with a subsidiary of domestic
sugar monopoly Azcuba to create Biopower in 2012, with a contract to
build five plants attached to sugar mills.
The plants are projected to use sugar cane byproduct bagasse and
fast-growing woody weed marabu as biofuels, costing around $800 million
to add some 300 MW to the grid.
Biopower was finally able this year to start building the first one,
thanks to a decision by China's Shanghai Electric Group Ltd to buy an
equity stake in Havana Energy. The JV is now looking for external
financing for the next four plants.
"We have to check whether the funders are open for the Cuban market or
not," said Zhengyue Chen, former investment manager at Shanghai Electric
and current Biopower chief financial officer.
Some international companies have shown an interest in gaining a
foothold in the slowly opening Cuban market, encouraged by a three-year
old investment law that allows full foreign ownership of renewables
Cuba last year signed a deal with Spain's Gamesa for the construction of
seven wind-powered plants and with Siemens for the upgrade of the
creaking power grid.
These are just preliminary agreements, however, which may not become
concrete contracts, Western diplomats based in Havana say, given
difficulty agreeing on a financing framework and actually securing the
On top of the U.S. trade embargo, which frightens banks from offering
Cuba loans, Cuba's payment capacity is questionable. While it has
improved its debt servicing record under President Raul Castro, it is
falling behind on paying foreign providers.
And it has little to offer as payment guarantees in hard currency. Its
state electricity utility generates revenue in Cuban pesos, which are
not traded internationally, only into convertible Cuban pesos at a
state-fixed rate. The government has promised to unify those two
currencies, but it is unclear how.
"If no currency indexation is provided from the government, significant
devaluation poses a great threat to investors' revenue," said World Bank
renewable energy expert Yao Zhao.
Moreover Cuba does not belong to multilateral institutions like the
Inter-American Development Bank that could provide external guarantees.
That is likely to force further reliance on China, already Cuba's top
creditor in recent years, having offered loans as a way to hike trade
with the island. Shanghai Electric is importing and building the Ciro
Redondo plant, as well as helping finance it.
Project Manager Li Hui, already directing excavators shifting earth on
site, said he will stay on after the factory is built as the head of the
company's first branch in Cuba.
"We will hand them over a fully-functioning power plant," he said,
adding that Shanghai Electric had to bring over new building equipment
because the Cuban ones were antiquated and lacked spare parts.
But even Chinese largesse may have its limits. Chen said Biopower was
now in discussions with overseas funders, mainly from Europe, and hoped
to secure commercial funds for the second plant by the end of this year.
Macdonald said he hoped his project would be part of the launch of many
foreign participations in the energy sector.
"But today, we are still pioneers," he said.
(Editing by Christian Plumb and Edward Tobin)
Source: Lack of cash clouds Cuba's green energy outlook | Reuters -
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-energy-idUSKBN1720EB Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 27 March 2017 — At age 85, infirm, and ten months
from his much trumpeted retirement, Raul Castro directs the Minister of
the Revolutionary Armed Forces to modify Order Number One of the
deceased Commander in Chief.
According to an unexpectedly transparent account from a corpulent and
not very young Cuban official, "Cuba has a rusty army that, taking into
account all its forces — land, sea and air — as well as reservists,
exceeds 700,000 troops [in a country of just over 11 million people].
Every unit, regiment or battalion chief dictates an Order One, that
rules the behavior of the men under his command.
"For his part, the Commander in Chief, which in Cuba is the same person
as the head of state, decrees an Order One, that governs the conduct of
the members of all institutions, be they military or not, charged with
the defense and security of the state.
"To violate this precept, as many of us know, could be considered an act
of high treason and imply a penalty that ranges from a warning to the
death penalty. It is so stipulated in martial law.
"But Fidel is water under the bridge, he's dead, and although Raul has
chosen not to call himself Commander in Chief out of respect for the
memory of the leader of the Cuban Revolution, the reality is that when
he inherited the post of head of state, he also inherited that
'honorific rank.' So now, that he is the Commander in Chief should he
change the Order? Not necessarily."
"The Order One," he continues, "obliges all the military, among other
things, not to have relations with foreigners, counterrevolutionaries or
emigres, and to endure with stoicism the rigors of service. That has to
change, not because the Commander died, it is transformed because the
operative situation changed, the world scenario and the sociopolitical
conditions of Cuba.
"We see," he reflects, "Today, there are fewer trees among the so-called
Amazons, family and friends of Cuban leaders, officials, military and
revolutionaries living outside this country. Some are coming back,that's
great; but it is not fair, nor ethical, nor moral, that so long as it is
forbidden for many, some, I among them, have an exemption to engage with
our exiled relatives, which, to a large extent, I must admit, left
because of us. That is why the law changes, by the force that, with
great dignity, some officers are doing that which we don't want to call
"The other reason is more obvious," he adds. "At the time that mandate
arose, back in the 60s, there was no economic conglomerate of Cuban
soldiers with the force today held by the military run GAESA Group
(Business Administration Group SA). The negotiations of this group, or
of the Universal Stores, the Mariel Special Economic Zone, or ANTEX,
ALMEST, GEOCUBA, GAVIOTA, TECNOTEX, any of the 57 companies owned by the
Armed Forces or other civilian companies run by the military are carried
out with foreigners, or with emigrant Cubans who now reside abroad. The
order fell into obscurity, so that, following it closely, even Luis
Alberto Rodríguez Lopez-Callejas [Raul Castro's son-in-law] should be
tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment for violating the regulations."
"We have to change things," he tells me like a punch line, "but
modifying Order One is only one part of an integrated agenda that
includes repealing outdated laws and instituting others that don't
hinder the transition to a more democratic, more participate and open
society, without abandoning our principles."
Source: Raul Castro Modifies His Brother's Orders / Juan Juan Almeida –
Translating Cuba -
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14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 March 2017 — Just a month ago his
face disappeared from the Cuban government's family photo. The last time
he was seen, Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura handed out orders
in an extensive agricultural area of Pinar del Río. Four weeks later,
no official media has offered an explanation for the absence of the
second most powerful man on the island.
Now 86, this man born in Villa Clara's San Antonio de las Vueltas, has
stood behind Raul Castro for more than five years, in his position as
the second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which the
Constitution of the Republic consecrates as the "the highest leading
force of society and the State."
The man who was never absent from our television screens and newspaper
pages for more than 48 hours has failed to appear since 27 February. An
absence that feeds rumors among a people accustomed to giving more
importance to a lack of news than to the news itself. But above all, it
is a disappearance that comes at a bad time for the Plaza of the Revolution.
It is less than a year before Raúl Castro leaves his office as president
and every day the uncertainty of who will relieve him in his post
increases. Machado Ventura's departure from the game would force the
hurried naming of a second secretary of the PCC and put a face to one of
the most jealously guarded mysteries of recent years.
The next few weeks could be of momentous importance for clearing up this
question. If the first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, assumes the
second position in the Party it will prolong the tradition of
concentrating in a single person the highest positions in the
country. To choose among other names, such as Bruno Rodríguez, Lázaro
Expósito or Salvador Valdés Mesa, could open a bicephalic route,
unprecedented in communist regimes.
For decades, all power was concentrated in Fidel Castro, who placed his
brother in the rearguard of his countless positions. In 2006, already
with serious health problems, the Maximum Leader had to step away from
public life and Raúl Castro inherited that conglomerate of faculties
that placed him at the head of the Party and the State.
Nevertheless, during the Raul era "second positions" have
bifurcated. The first vice-president is no longer the same person as the
second secretary of the PPC, among other reasons so that no one person
could completely replace the General-President. A measure of protection,
but also an evidence of the lack of confidence of the historical
generation in its relief team.
In this new structure, Machado Ventura remained second in the
Party. Machadito, as his friends call him, has cultivated a public image
as the ayatollah and custodian of ideological purity. An orthodoxy that
in the Cuban case does not cling to the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism but
to the voluntarist* doctrine of Fidelismo.
Analysts blame this iron-fisted goalkeeper's presence at the top of the
pyramid on Fidel Castro's express wish, placing him behind his brother
to prevent the latter from veering from the path. This is how a man who
once qualified in medicine became, according to Soviet terminology in
the times of perestroika, the "braking mechanism" on the reforms Raul
Castro might have pushed.
Machado Ventura earned his reputation for immobility through
prohibitions and punishments. He was in charge of leading the provincial
assemblies prior to the last Communist Party Congresses, confabs where
the principle agreements were hatched, the delegates chosen and where
the key points of the Party Guidelines that today are the "sacred
commandments" of Raulismo were committed to.
However, that role seems to have come to its end. The man who ordered
the dismissal of high-level cadres and for decades banned Christmas
trees in public establishments has left the scene. Missing with him are
his harangues calling for efficiency and his visits to workplaces where
he advocated greater discipline and sacrifice.
It remains possible that Machadito – the guardian of orthodoxy – will
reappear at any moment like the phoenix, and leap between the furrows to
explain to farmers how to plant sweet potatoes or arrive to instruct
the engineers of some industry how to make better use of their
resources. The followers of the hard line would receive that return with
Translator's note: Voluntarism is the view that revolutionaries can
change society by means of will, irrespective of economic conditions.
Source: David Priestland, Stalinism and the Politics of Mobilization.
Source: A Month Without Machado Ventura – Translating Cuba -
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AFP March 24, 2017
Havana (AFP) - Cuban President Raul Castro's son, Alejandro, was the
communist island's envoy for secret negotiations with the United States
that led to the countries' historic rapprochement, a cardinal close to
the talks said.
Speculation had long swirled that Alejandro Castro Espin, the
president's 51-year-old son, headed up the secret talks.
But the confirmation from Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the former archbishop
of Havana, is the most official namedrop to date -- and further boosts
the profile of Castro Espin, who is touted as a possible future
president of Cuba.
Castro Espin was "at the head of the Cuban delegation," Ortega said in a
speech to a conference in the United States that was published in the
latest issue of Cuban Catholic magazine Secular Space (Espacio Laical).
Ortega, who recently stepped down as head of the Cuban Church,
represented the Vatican at the talks, which Pope Francis played a key
part in brokering.
The US delegation was led by Ricardo Zuniga, a top adviser to then US
president Barack Obama.
The negotiations led to the announcement of a rapprochement in December
2014 after more than half a century of Cold War hostility.
Castro Espin, an army colonel, is an international relations expert.
The president's only son, he kept a low profile for years. But he was
present when his father and Obama held their first-ever talks in Panama
in April 2015.
Many observers now tip him to be a major player in the power transition
due next February, when Castro is due to step down.
Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 56, is seen as Castro's heir apparent.
But Castro Espin is increasingly viewed as a president-in-waiting.
Ortega also unveiled another mystery of the US-Cuba talks, saying the
date of the rapprochement announcement -- December 17 -- was chosen
because it is Pope Francis's birthday.
Source: Cuba's secret negotiator with US was president's son: cardinal -
https://www.yahoo.com/news/cubas-secret-negotiator-us-presidents-son-cardinal-212705806.html Continue reading
By Neal Simpson
The Patriot Ledger
HAVANA - At a small beach town on the Bay of Pigs, 27-year-old Kenny
Bring Mendoza approached to see if we needed a taxi.
We didn't, but Kenny was happy to show off his proficiency in English
and even willing to answer a few of my questions about recent economic
policy changes in Cuba, things as basic as buying cars or renting out
rooms. But Kenny wanted me to know that one of the biggest changes was
that we were talking at all.
"A couple of years ago, I couldn't be sitting here, speaking with you,"
he told me.
The fact that citizens and tourists now mingle more or less freely in
Cuba, an ostensibly socialist country 90 miles off the U.S. coast, is
just one sign that this island nation is increasingly opening itself up
to the world and, in particular, to the U.S., its longtime archenemy.
U.S. airlines now fly direct from New York to Hanava, cruise ships tower
over the city's aging piers and Americans are increasingly easy to find
among the Canadian and European tourists who have been visiting the
island for decades. Travel agents on the South Shore say they're
fielding a growing number of calls from people who want to know how they
can get to Cuba before the rest of the tourists arrive.
"It's still the unknown for people," said Susan Peavey, whose agency has
offices in Marshfield and Harwich Port. "Everybody is really interested."
I was one of those tourists last month, exploring the island nation in
the tradition of a Ledger photojournalist and editor who had visited
every decade or so to try to understand life in a place that was largely
off-limits to Americans.
What I found was a Cuba that looked much the same as it would have in
decades past despite profound economic changes that are lifting the
fortunes of some Cubans while leaving many behind. Cuba's socialist
government, under pressure to spur growth in a stagnant economy still
recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union more than 25 years ago,
has begun to tear down many of the barriers that have separated Cubans
from the outside world. Residents can now rent out rooms to tourists,
open a limited number of privately owned restaurants, access the
internet and stay at resorts that were previously reserved for
foreigners. From Havana to Playa Girón, there's ample evidence of
President Raul Castro's effort to grow the economy's private sector,
which largely takes the form of self employment, not companies.
But some Cubans I talked with told me that thawing U.S.-Cuba relations,
and the growing number of American tourists visiting the island in the
last two years, has meant more for their personal livelihood than the
loosening of laws on personal property. They told me they'd welcome more
Americans and seemed to harbor no resentment over the Cold War-era
embargo that the U.S. continues to enforce against its Caribbean
neighbor after more than half a century.
"For me," Junior Fuentes Garcia, a 42-year-old Cuban selling books and
watches in Habana Vieja's Plaza De Armas, told me in Spanish, "the
economy is more important."
Cuba opens its doors
Arriving in old Havana at night, the city can look to American eyes like
the set of a post-apocalyptic movie set on a Caribbean island some 50
years after catastrophe cut it off from the rest of civilization. The
streets of Habana Vieja are dimly lit, narrow and filled with people who
are quick to get out of the way whenever a big 1950s Chevy or Ford comes
around a corner. The architecture, hauntingly beautiful but often gutted
and abandoned, recalls a time when Havana was the playground of wealthy
American gangsters and known as the Paris of the Caribbean despite the
extreme poverty and illiteracy most Cubans lived with before the revolution.
Havana by day is a different place, and much more difficult to
understand. Tower cranes rise over government-funded construction
projects along the Paseo de MartÍ while in the adjacent borough of
Habana Centro men labor with 5-gallon buckets and rope to keep up
dilapidated buildings that pre-date the revolution. A fellow traveler
and I walked around a gleaming white hotel that had risen on the site of
a former school building, then toured the nearby Museum of the
Revolution, where the paint was peeling off the terra cotta tiles of
what was once a presidential palace.
And of course, there were the big, beautiful mid-century American cars
that have become inextricably associated with modern-day Cuba even
though they share the country's roads with at least as many newer
Volkswagens, Kias and a variety of makes I had never seen. They are
truly everywhere, though many have been pressed into service as taxis
It's easy to understand why Cubans fortunate enough to have a car would
be tempted to spend their days driving tourists around. Under the Cuban
government's confounding dual-currency system, tourists use one kind of
peso pegged to the American dollar while Cuban citizens mostly use
another kind of peso that's worth closer to 4 cents each. The system,
which is meant to give the government control over American dollars
coming into the country, means that taxi drivers can charge foreigners
rates not far below what they'd pay in the U.S. and make far more than
the average Cuban wage of less than $200 a month, according to a survey
conducted last year by Moscow-based firm Rose Marketing Limited.
I talked with one taxi driver who spoke gleefully about the flood of
Americans he had seen over the last two years and the many more he hoped
were on their way. His mother and sister had moved to the U.S. in recent
years, but he said life in Cuba was too good for him to follow.
Tourism 'brain drain'
Grant Burrier, an assistant professor at Curry College in Milton who has
been visiting Cuba regularly since 2005, told me that the money-making
potential in tourism is actually becoming a problem for the Cuban
government, which has announced but not followed through with plans to
consolidate its two currencies. Burrier said the lure of the tourist
economy has created an internal "brain drain" in Cuba, tempting
engineers and other high-skill workers to leave their government jobs to
seek work in the tourism sector.
In that sense, he said the tourist trade has fueled "severe inequality"
between Cubans who have access to the tourist currency and those who do not.
"Those kinds of issues will be really problematic for the long-term
future of the Cuban economy," he said.
The socialistic ideal of economic equality is clearly far from achieved
in Cuba, but there were no signs of extreme poverty during my brief time
there. Despite its stagnant economy, the Cuban government continues to
provide its citizens with free health care and education as well as
subsidies for food. The country's infant mortality rate is lower than
that of the U.S., and its literacy rate is 99.8 percent, according to
the CIA World Factbook.
But even with all that, it's not clear whether the Cuban government can
maintain the ideals of the revolution as a younger generation comes into
power and gains a better understanding – thanks in part to the internet
– of the lifestyles and consumer goods available outside the confines of
socialism. The median age in Cuba is now 41, according to the CIA World
Factbook, meaning most Cubans were born more than a decade after the
Cuban Revolution and the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion two years
later. The median-aged Cuban was a teenager when the Soviet Union
collapsed and Cuba was left in the lurch.
"That's going to be the key struggle for the revolution going on," said
Burrier, who visited Cuba with 17 Curry students earlier this year.
"Most people you talk to in Cuba, they just want opportunity. They want
economic opportunity, they want economic stability."
Many people in the United States are betting on economic opportunity in
Cuba as well. Last month, a delegation that included U.S. Reps. Jim
McGovern and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts visited Cuba and met with
representatives from Northeastern University and the Massachusetts
Biotechnology Council to discuss opportunities in the agriculture and
health sectors. Former U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat and
longtime advocate for a more open Cuba, is adamant that the island will
soon open its doors wide to American business.
"They obviously have tremendous needs and those need are going to be met
by American capitalism," said Delahunt, whose next trip to Cuba in May
will be aboard a cruise ship. "That's just what's going to happen."
But Delahunt and most Cuba watchers don't expect change to come quickly
to one of the world's last remaining Marxist-Leninist countries. The
country's leaders only need to look to their former ally, Russia, to see
what happens when a country pulls out of a communist economy too quickly.
"I wouldn't be surprised if every year we hear about one or two little
changes," said Javier Corrales, a son of Cuban exiles who teaches
political science at Amherst College, "but they're not interested in
Neal Simpson may be reached at email@example.com or follow him on
Source: Change is coming to Cuba, but how quickly and for whom? -
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Posted Mar 24, 2017 at 2:58 PM
Updated Mar 24, 2017 at 9:54 PM
1959 – After years of fighting, Fidel Castro succeeds in overthrowing
the authoritarian government of Fulgencio Batista. Castro launches a
series of reforms, including the nationalization of private property and
business and improvements to health, education and infrastructure.
1960 – The U.S. imposes an embargo on all exports to Cuba except food
1961 - Around 12,000 Cuban exiles backed by the CIA land in the Bay of
Pigs in a bid to overthrow the Castro government. The invasion fails
almost immediately and Cuba eventually sends more than 1,100 captured
militants back to the U.S. in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine.
2008 – An ailing Fidel Castro announces his resignation as president.
His brother, Raul, takes over, promising in his inauguration speech to
lift some restrictions on freedom. The same year, Cubans are allowed to
use cellphones and send text messages for the first time.
2010 – Raul Castro announces the elimination of 500,000 government jobs
and promises to allow more private business licenses, signaling a shift
toward a more significant private economy.
2011 – Cuba legalizes private sale of homes and used cars for the first
time in half a century. President Barack Obama loosens restrictions on
travel to Cuba.
2013 - Cuba ends a longstanding policy requiring any citizen wishing to
travel abroad to obtain a government permit and letter of invitation.
Cuban passports are still expensive, though, leaving them out of reach
2014 - Cuba and the U.S. agree to exchange prisoners, re-establish
economic ties and begin easing some elements of the embargo. Cuba takes
steps to open the country for foreign investment.
2015 – Cuban and the U.S. reopen embassies in each other's countries.
2016 – Fidel Castro dies at the age of 90.
2017 – U.S. ends the "wet-foot-dry-foot" policy that had allowed Cuban
exiles who reached American soil to seek permanent residency.
2018 – Raul Castro is due to step down as president. His expected
successor, Miguel DÍaz-Cane, was born the year following the Cuban
Source: From revolution to Raul: A brief history of Cuba -
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