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​Cuba's economic reforms: Socialism with neoliberal characteristics?
Nile Bowie is a political analyst and photographer currently residing in
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached on Twitter or at
nilebowie@gmail.com
April 16, 2014 11:26
Reuters/Enrique de la Osa

Havana has prioritized foreign investment and private enterprise,
slashed state-sector jobs, while seeking closer cooperation with the
European Union. Will Cuba's latest market-based reforms undermine the
social gains of the 1959 Revolution?

Times are complicated in revolutionary Cuba. President Raúl Castro is
well into his second term and plans to officially step down in 2018; he
is now laying the groundwork for a new generation of leaders to take the
reins of the island nation.

In an effort to address the stagnating economic conditions that have
burdened the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union, President
Raúl unveiled reforms in 2010 aimed at moving the island's outdated
command economy toward a mixed economy with greater emphasis on market
mechanisms and self-employment.

Cuban authorities have acknowledged the difficulties posed by
maintaining massive subsidies across various sectors, and plan to
transfer up to 40 percent of the workforce into the private sector by
2015, where workers will be expected to pay taxes on their income for
the first time.

The state has laid off some 500,000 workers, in addition to eliminating
more than 100,000 non-essential jobs in the nation's national health
service to cut costs. Havana has simultaneously relaxed prohibitions on
small business activity and the individual hiring of labor. Former
state-employees are now encouraged to start small businesses by driving
taxis, opening barbershops, clothing shops and restaurants.

The state employs around 79 percent of the 5 million-strong labor force,
while around 436,000 Cubans currently work in the private sector,
according to government figures. Reforms are becoming bolder and Cuban
politicians have recently approved a new law to draw in greater amounts
of foreign investment, while tax-free special development zones have
also been introduced. In these zones, foreign companies will be able to
transfer their tariff-free profits abroad, receive contract extensions
for up to 50 years, and retain full ownership entitlements, a drastic
departure from decades of Soviet-style central planning.

Public health indicators suggest that Cuba has some of the highest
quality health services in the developing world, which is provided to
citizens free of charge. Despite a severe lack of resources due in part
to decades of being under an economic embargo imposed by the United
States, the country has one of the highest literacy rates in the world
and free universal education for its citizens; it has also become one of
the world's leading exporters of teachers and doctors.

Cuban leaders have acknowledged how the country's traditional state-run
economic model can no longer support the across-the-board subsidies that
fuel socialist programs and welfare services, giving rise to new
legislation that would make the country much more reliant on market
mechanisms and foreign capital.

Reagan's ghost in Havana?
It may be seen as ironic that Cuba, with its history of sweeping
nationalizations of corporations that dominated the economy before the
revolution, is now sacking masses of state-sector workers and adopting a
capital-friendly growth model intent on cutting down the public sector
in favor of private enterprise and profit.

Cuba's decision to break from its traditionally closed economy and
toward a free market system with neoliberal characteristics is not a
signal that the country plans to yield toward unhinged capitalism. In
the view of pragmatic thinkers in the Communist Party, these reforms
represent an attempt to update the economic model, allowing Cuba to
define its own distinct system appropriate to modern developments and
external circumstances.

In essence, the Cuban leadership is attempting to develop a different
model of market-socialism better suited to advancing the ideals of the
revolution: egalitarianism, social justice, and resistance to
imperialism and US dominance. Cuban leaders have acknowledged the
negative features of market reforms, which can often exacerbate income
disparities and entrench cronyism, and have pledged to maintain its
public health services, universal education systems, and other features
that do not adhere to the ideology of free market capitalism.

Cuban workers will have three main avenues of employment to choose from.
While the largest portion of workers will run small businesses and
shops, the government has prioritized the agricultural sector to promote
food self-sufficiency. The state subsidizes land, seeds, and
chemical-free fertilizer for farmers and vegetable growers, and
agricultural collectives are also seen as a viable career path.

Other workers will find employment in sectors that rely on foreign
investment. Cuba's newly-passed foreign investment law, which comes into
effect in June, offers attractive incentives to foreign companies. Taxes
on profits have been reduced from 30 to 15 percent, and companies will
be exempt from paying taxes for the first eight years of operation;
foreigners doing business on the island would be exempt from paying any
personal income tax.

An exception remains for companies that exploit the country's natural
resources, such as nickel or fossil fuels, which will pay taxation rates
as high as 50 percent. Foreign investment will reportedly be allowed in
all sectors, however investment and marketization will be barred in all
fields related to medical services, education and national defense to
safeguard the country's socialist system.

Ending the embargo
The US unilaterally imposed a near-total embargo on Cuba in 1962
following the nationalization of properties belonging to US citizens and
corporations, which remains in place to this day. Washington has kept
Cuba on a list of 'state sponsors of terrorism' since 1982, while the
embargo has been consistently strengthened under several US
administrations despite the United Nations calling for its end for 22
consecutive years.

Cuban authorities claim that the economic damages accumulated after half
a century as a result of the implementation of the blockade amount to
$1.126 trillion, and President Raúl knows he needs erode the foundations
of the embargo before significant economic growth can take place. Havana
believes that getting the European Union into its corner is the best way
to move forward, and negotiations with representatives from Brussels are
set to begin in late April. Havana will try to overturn the EU's 'common
position' on Cuba enacted in December 1996, which calls for greater
human rights and democratic conditions in exchange for improved economic
relations.

The recent visit by French FM Laurent Fabius, the highest-ranking French
official to visit the island in 31 years, should be seen in this
context. According to diplomatic sources, Fabius was testing the waters
prior to the negotiations with EU members.

France has interests in winning contracts in markets where French firms
are traditionally weak, and understands the regional importance of Cuba
as investment pours in from both Brazil and Mexico, who are increasing
their presence in the country.

Normalizing trade relations with the EU would qualify as a major step
forward toward bolstering foreign investment, but the alignment of
business interests is not expected to have major reverberations on
Havana's positions on global political issues, where it is aligned
closely to Russia and China.

On the eve of Fabius' visit, state-owned media in Cuba published
critical commentary of the French municipal elections, criticizing
President François Hollande for doing "exactly the opposite" of what was
promised during his election campaign, and for conciliating "the
neoliberal demands of Berlin and Brussels." The editorial could be seen
as subtle way of the Communist Party reinforcing its political
nonalignment, or as a way of deflecting criticism from hardliners who
would prefer that Cuba maintains its distance from Western powers.

As more emphasis is placed on making Cuba an attractive destination for
foreign investment, Europe is expected to become more vocal in
supporting a change in US policy toward the island nation.

Cuba's diversification of trade relations also comes at a time when the
leftist government of Venezuela faces protests and serious economic
difficulties. The leadership in Caracas supplies cheap oil to Cuba and
also pays for Cuban doctors and other medical specialists sent to
Venezuela, while some economists claim that Cuba receives over $6
billion per year from this arrangement, representing a more significant
subsidy than that which the island received from the Soviet Union, which
paid above-market prices for sugar and other goods.

If attempts to enact regime change in Venezuela are realized, it will
have detrimental short-term effects on Cuba, which the leadership in
Havana seems to be well aware of. Much like other socialist governments
that survived the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba is now reforming its
economy to conform to global capitalism, but unlike other countries that
have empowered their oligarchical elite through marketization, leaders
in Havana claim that the primary objective of attracting foreign capital
is to support social programs, the socio-economic development of the
country, and the distribution of wealth among all Cuban citizens.

Marketization may likely exacerbate income inequality and spur elite
corruption in the early stages, and these negatives features of
capitalism should be kept in check. If state-linked cronies are
perceived as being the most advantaged by foreign investment without
earnings being adequately channeled to social welfare programs and
development, it will have negative political ramifications.

If the new economic system can be leveraged to maintain socialist
benefits and bolster Cuba's biotechnology, pharmaceutical and renewable
energy sectors, the country may be in a position to assert its
independence more effectively through a mixed-development model that can
be replicated elsewhere.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely
those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Source: ​Cuba's economic reforms: Socialism with neoliberal
characteristics? — RT Op-Edge -
http://rt.com/op-edge/cuba-economic-reforms-market-852/ Continue reading
Iranian Firms Invited to Cuba Industrial Fair
April 15, 2014 - 19:21

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – The Cuba Chamber of Commerce invited the Iranian
companies to participate in a major industrial exhibition, due to be
held in the Latin American country in the near future.

Cuba's Ambassador to Tehran Vladimir Andres Gonzalez Quesada on Monday
delivered a letter from the Latin American country's Chamber of
Commerce, according to which, companies from the Islamic Republic have
been invited to take part in the 32nd industrial exhibition in Cuba.
The upcoming exhibition is accounted Cuba's most significant fair,
Quesada said in a meeting with Gholam Hossein Shafiei, head of Iran's
parliament of private sectors, in Tehran.
The Iranian official, for his part, pointed to the commonalities between
Iran and Cuba, but noted that Tehran-Havana trade ties are not at a
desirable level now.
He stressed that the obstacles in the way of trade between the two
nations should be removed with a new attitude.
In a similar development in January, Cuban deputy minister for foreign
trade and investment said Tehran is Havana's strategic partner in every
field, and called for the further expansion of Iran-Cuba cooperation in
economic fields.
Antonio Caria Carte Corona had made the remark in a meeting with Iranian
Deputy Foreign Minister for American and European Affairs Majid Takht
Ravanchi in Cuba.
The Cuban diplomat had also praised Iran's progress in various
scientific, technological, and economic fields, and voiced his country's
readiness for evermore expansion of economic and trade ties in bilateral
and multilateral fields.

Source: Tasnim News Agency - Iranian Firms Invited to Cuba Industrial
Fair - http://www.tasnimnews.com/English/Home/Single/339334 Continue reading
Mariel workers to keep most of what employers pay

CUBA STANDARD — Although foreign investors at the Mariel Special
Development Zone (ZEDM) will still have to hire employees through a
state agency, they will be able to negotiate salaries, contract
self-employed Cubans, and hire as many foreign workers as they want, and
workers will pocket most of what their employers pay the agency.

Speaking at the FECONS construction fair in Havana, Mariel Zone chief
executive Ana Teresa Igarza said that workers at Mariel will receive 80%
of what employers pay the agency, and employers will freely negotiate
salaries with the agency, without having to adhere to any fixed tariffs.

Previously, foreign joint ventures paid salaries under to a fixed scale
in convertible pesos (CUC) to state agency ACOREC, which passed on only
a fraction to workers, in non-convertible Cuban pesos (CUP). Under that
arrangement, foreign companies had few means to provide incentives to
Cuban employees; in a legal gray zone, "many employers" have been paying
hard-currency "gratifications" to good workers, Igarza recognized.

Igarza didn't say whether under new regulations the state agency will
offer employers a choice of workers. However, the new rules do not put
any limits on hiring foreign workers, and the new foreign investment law
also allows contracting self-employed Cubans through the state agency,
according to reports in official media.

The state agency is designed to help foreign investors, because "many
don't know the country, and they will be offered suitable workers,"
Foreign Trade and Investment Ministry official Deborah Rivas defended
its continued existence in a press conference with local media last week.

Igarza said the new employment agencies' main aim, according to the new
foreign investment law passed in March, is not to collect, but to "offer
a service" — "to supply and facilitate the personnel best qualified for
the activity."

"This will make investors feel motivated because they have to pay less,
and workers as well because they receive larger salaries than those
before, and therefore productivity is incentivized," Igarza said,
according to official news reports.

In negotiating salaries, employers must consider the high level of
education among Cuban workers, Igarza said during her speech. The
Foreign Investment Ministry's Rivas said that negotiations will be based
on comparable salaries in Latin America and average salaries in Cuba. If
an example cited by Igarza is an indication, Mariel jobs could pay more
than 10 times as much as the median salary in Cuba. The 20% fee will go
towards the cost of providing services, such as maintaining offices,
Igarza said.

In a hint of how the government is planning for a currency merger,
Igarza said that during the transition the workers will be paid in
soft-currency CUP, at a rate of 10:1 for each hard-currency CUC the
employer pays the agency. Observers have predicted a CUC devaluation in
that range as part of the ongoing currency reform; the current exchange
rate is 25 CUP per CUC. The CUC will eventually be pulled out of
circulation.

Regulations about contracting and paying personnel will soon be
published in the Gaceta Oficial, Igarza said. The new foreign investment
law, passed by the National Assembly March 29, has yet to be published.

During the same speech, Igarza said the Mariel Zone administration is
working closely with foreign investors on 15 projects, which could
materialize as early as this year.

Source: Mariel workers to keep most of what employers pay « Cuba
Standard, your best source for Cuban business news -
http://www.cubastandard.com/2014/04/15/mariel-workers-to-keep-most-of-what-employers-pay/ Continue reading
April 15, 2014 5:49 pm

Cuba fed a president's fears and took over Venezuela
By Moisés Naím

Caracas is paying the price for Chávez's misplaced trust, writes Moisés Naím

The enormous influence that Cuba has gained in Venezuela is one of the
most underreported geopolitical developments of recent times. It is also
one of the most improbable. Venezuela is nine times bigger than Cuba,
three times more populous, and its economy four times larger. The
country boasts the world's largest oil reserves. Yet critical functions
of the Venezuelan state are either overseen or directly controlled by
Cuban officials.
Venezuela receives Cuban health workers, sports trainers, bureaucrats,
security personnel, militias and paramilitary groups. "We have over
30,000 members of Cuba's Committees for the Defence of the Revolution in
Venezuela," boasted Juan José Rabilero, then head of the CDR, in 2007.
The number is likely to have increased further since then.
A growing proportion of Venezuela's imports are channelled through Cuban
companies. Recently, Maria Corina Machado, an opposition leader,
revealed the existence of a large warehouse of recently expired
medicines imported through a Cuban intermediary – drugs allegedly
purchased on the international market at a deep discount and resold at
full price to the government.
The relationship goes beyond subsidies and advantageous business
opportunities for Cuban agencies. Cuban officers control Venezuela's
public notaries and civil registries. Cubans oversee the computer
systems of the presidency, ministries, social programmes, police and
security services as well as the national oil company, according to
Cristina Marcano, a journalist who has reported extensively on Cuba's
influence in Venezuela.
Then there is military co-operation. The minister of defence of a Latin
American country told me: "During a meeting with high-ranking Venezuelan
officers we reached several agreements on co-operation and other
matters. Then three advisers with a distinctive Cuban accent joined the
meeting and proceeded to change all we had agreed. The Venezuelan
generals were clearly embarrassed but didn't say a word . . . Clearly,
the Cubans run the show."
Why did the Venezuelan government allow this lopsided foreign
intervention? The answer is Hugo Chávez. During his 14-year presidency
he enjoyed absolute power thanks to his complete control of every
institution that could have constrained him, from the judiciary to the
legislature. He could also use Venezuela's oil revenues at will.
One of the most transformational ways in which Chávez used the complete
power he wielded was to let the Cubans in. He had many reasons to throw
himself into the arms of Fidel Castro. He felt a deep affection,
admiration and trust for the Cuban leader, who became a personal
adviser, political mentor and geopolitical guide. Mr Castro also fed
Chávez's conviction that his many enemies – especially the US and the
local elites – were out to get him and that his military and security
services could not be trusted to provide the protection he needed. But
the Cubans could reliably offer these services. Cuba also provided a
ready-to-use international network of activists, non-government
organisations and propagandists who boosted Chávez's reputation abroad.
In return, Chávez instituted a programme of financial largesse that
keeps Cuba's economy afloat to this day. Caracas ships about 130,000
barrels of oil a day to the island on preferential terms – a small part
of an aid programme that remains one of the world's largest.
The extent to which Chávez was beholden to the Cuban regime was
dramatically illustrated by the way in which he dealt with the cancer
that would eventually kill him last year: he trusted only the doctors
whom Mr Castro recommended, and his treatment mostly took place in
Havana under a veil of secrecy.
Chávez's successor, Nicolás Maduro, has deepened Caracas's dependency on
Havana even further. As students have taken to the streets in protest
against an increasingly authoritarian regime the government has
responded with a brutal repression that relies on many of the tools and
tactics perfected by the police state that has run Cuba for too long.

The writer, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, is a former Venezuelan
minister of industry and trade

Source: Cuba fed a president's fears and took over Venezuela - FT.com -
http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/b7141b78-c497-11e3-b2fb-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2z2qp2P2O Continue reading
THE CUBAN government is currently pursuing bold new initiatives to combat the destructive effects of the unprecedented 50-year-old trade and economic blockade against it by the United States of America. Continue reading
GENEVA Tobacco -producing nations Cuba and the Dominican Republic have stepped up their fight at the World Trade Organisation to sink Australia's landmark plain packaging laws for cigarettes and cigars. Continue reading
Driving in Reverse / Miriam Celaya
Posted on April 13, 2014

(Originally published in Cubanet the April 11, 2014 , titled " Raul
Castro Goes in Reverse")

Clearly, the new Foreign Investment Law "approved" by the usual
parliamentary unanimity last March 29, 2014, has been the talk of the
town on the topic of "Cuba", for the Island's official as well as for
the independent and foreign press.

With the relaxation of the existing law–enacted in 1995–the new
regulation is aiming to throw the ball to the opposite field: if Cuban
residents of the US cannot invest in Cuba currently, it would no longer
be because the regime bans it, but because of the shackles imposed by
the embargo, a trick of the elderly olive green crocodile that continues
with its wiles and snares despite the collapse of the system.

Amid the expectations of the government's and of aspiring investors,
there stretches a wide tuning fork of the ever-excluded: the common
Cubans, or the "walking Cubans" as we say, whose opinions are not
reflected in the media, magnifying their exclusion.

This time, however, the cancellation of the innate rights of Cubans is
causing social unrest to multiply, in a scenario in which there are
accelerated shortages in the commercial networks and persistent and
increasing higher prices and a higher cost of living.

Rejection of the Investment Law

Shortages, as well as inflation, indexation and bans for certain items
of the private trade, have caused many family businesses to close since
January 2014 due to the uncertainty surrounding the heralded–and never
properly explained–monetary unification.

In addition to the lack of positive expectations, these are the factors
that thin out the social environment and lead to generally unfavorable
reviews of the new law and its impact within Cuba.

An informal survey I conducted in recent days in Central Havana after
the March 29th extraordinary session of parliament shows rejection of
the new Law on Foreign Investment, almost as unanimous as the "approval"
that occurred in the plenary: of a total of 50 individuals polled, 49
were critical of the law and only one was indifferent.

In fact, the issue has been present with relative frequency in many
cliques not directly surveyed–uncommon in a population usually apathetic
about laws–in which the dominant tendency was to criticize various
aspects of the law.

The main reasons for the people's discontent are summarized in several
main points: the new law excludes, arbitrarily and despotically, Cuban
nationals, which implies that the lack of opportunities for the Island's
Cubans is being maintained.

Foreign investors will not only have great advantages and tax
considerations which have never been granted to the self-employed,
tariff concessions with respect to imports (which is just what traders
in imported items asked for and was not granted); the State will remain
the employer of those who will labor in foreign-funded enterprises,
implying consequent hiring based on Party loyalty–be it real or fake,
and taxed wages; widening social gaps between sectors with higher levels
of access to consumption and the more disadvantaged sectors (the latter
constantly growing).

At the same time, many Cubans question the vagaries of government policy
which, without any embarrassment, favors the capital of the expats-–the
former "siquitrillados*, the bourgeoisie, gypsies, worms, traitors,
scum, etc."–over those who stayed behind in Cuba.

The logical conclusion, even for those who stayed relatively associated
with the revolutionary process, or at least those who have not openly
opposed the regime, is that leaving the country would have been a more
sensible and timely option to have any chance of investing in the
current situation. There are those who perceive this law as the regime's
betrayal to the "loyalty" of those who chose to stay, usually Cubans of
lesser means.

Another topic that challenges the already diminished credibility of the
government is the very fact of appealing to foreign capital as the
saving grace of the system, when, the process of nationalization of
1959, it was deemed as one of the "fairer measures" and of greater
significance undertaken, to "place in the hands of the people" what the
filthy bourgeois capital had swiped from them.

Cubans wonder what sense it made to expel foreign capital and 55 years
later to plead for its return. It's like going backwards, but over a
more unstable and damaged road. Wouldn't we have saved ourselves over a
half a century of material shortages and spiritual deprivation if we had
kept companies that were already established in our country? How many
benefits did we give up since the State, that unproductive, inefficient
and lousy administrator, appropriated them?

What revolution are you taking about?

At any rate, the majority has a clear conscience that the revolution and
its displays of social justice and equality are behind us, in some
corner of the twisted road. "Do you think this new law will save the
revolution?"

I provocatively ask an old man who sells newspapers in my neighborhood.
"Girl! Which revolution are you referring to, the one that made Batista
flee or the one that is making all Cubans escape? The 1959 revolution
was over the moment 'this one' handed over the country to the Russians,
now the only thing the brother wants is to give it back to the Americans
and to keep himself a nice slice."

I probably never before heard such an accurate synthesis of what the
history of the Revolution means today to many a Cuban.

*Translator's note: Those who lost investment and personal property when
companies were nationalized in 1959 and early 1960's. From one of
Fidel's speeches, "we broke their wish bone and we will continue to
break their wish bone".

Translated by Norma Whiting

11 April 2014

Source: Driving in Reverse / Miriam Celaya | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/driving-in-reverse-miriam-celaya/ Continue reading
(Originally published in Cubanet the April 11, 2014 , titled ” Raul Castro Goes in Reverse”) Clearly, the new Foreign Investment Law “approved” by the usual parliamentary unanimity last March 29, 2014, has been the talk of the town on … Continue reading Continue reading
Why Congress must rethink sanctions on Cuba
By Reihan Salam APRIL 11, 2014

Alan Gross, the 64-year-old American who has been imprisoned by Cuban
authorities since 2009, is an unremarkable man on the surface. He could
be a friend or colleague, or an uncle you've been meaning to call.

Yet what distinguishes Gross from most of the rest of us, myself
included, is his courage. As a sub-contractor for the U.S. Agency for
International Development, Gross traveled to Cuba to help private
citizens gain access to the Internet, and thus to news and information
not managed or manufactured by the Cuban government. Gross likely knew
that his work was dangerous, but he may have underestimated the risk he
was taking. In a heartbreaking letter to President Obama, Gross
recounted the many ways his wife and daughters have suffered in his
absence. He beseeched the president to intervene in his case.

And so Gross, a husband and father from Maryland who seems to want
nothing more than to be reunited with his family, has reignited the
decades-long debate over how the United States should deal with Cuba, a
rogue state that continues to adhere to Marxist-Leninist one-party rule
long after the collapse of its Soviet patron.

While some lawmakers, including Cuban-American Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), have urged the Obama administration not to
negotiate — but instead to demand Gross's unconditional release — Sen.
Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has led the chorus of those calling for the
president to play ball with Cuba's rulers, or rather to "not shrink from
the obligation to negotiate for his freedom."

What the Cuban government wants most is a relaxation of the economic
sanctions the U.S. government first imposed on the island nation in
1963, when it became clear that Fidel Castro intended to align his new
regime with the Soviet Union and to have Cuba serve as a staging ground
for armed insurgencies throughout Latin America.

In the decades since then, the sanctions regime has evolved in various
ways. There are now a number of licensed exemptions that allow Americans
to provide humanitarian assistance in Cuba, or that allow academic
researchers to travel there. Cuban households receive $2.6 billion in
remittances from Cuban immigrants and people of Cuban origin living
abroad, most of which comes from the United States. And as Emily Parker
observed earlier this week, for example, the Obama administration made
it somewhat easier for U.S. telecom providers to do business with Cuba
in 2009, in an effort to encourage the free flow of information in and
out of the country.

So should the U.S. government ease economic sanctions even further? The
plight of Alan Gross represents an opportunity to rethink the sanctions
regime. One widely held view is that U.S. sanctions actually serve to
entrench the current Cuban government, as they allow Cuba's rulers to
tightly control the flow of resources in and out of the island, and also
to blame the United States for the poverty and deprivation that plagues
Cuban society. The problem with this line of thinking, as Mauricio
Claver-Carone, director of Cuba Democracy Advocates and a proponent of
sanctions, notes, is that foreign trade and investment in Cuba is the
exclusive domain of the state.

Whereas the Chinese government offers wide latitude to private
enterprises, both domestic and foreign-owned, to operate on Chinese
soil, the Cuban government severely limits the scope for private
economic activity. This is one reason why China "feels" like a freer
society than Cuba, despite the fact that the Chinese government
maintains a large and expensive repressive apparatus. To grow the
Chinese economy, China's rulers have had little choice but to relax
their grip on investment and entrepreneurship.

In recent years, the Cuban government has allowed for the emergence of a
small-scale "self-employment" sector. Yet this sector shouldn't be
mistaken for private enterprise, as self-employed individuals are barred
from building their own independent businesses. If sanctions are lifted
without conditions, it seems more likely than not that the Cuban
government would insist that all U.S. trade and investment be channeled
through state-owned entities. Given Cuba's parlous fiscal state, this
would be an enormous boon.

Rather than lift sanctions unilaterally, the U.S. ought to consider
modifying the approach it has taken since passage of the Helms-Burton
Act of 1996. Under Helms-Burton, the U.S. is prepared to lift sanctions
if and when Cuba releases political prisoners and allows for the
inspection of its prison facilities, legalizes political activity and
opposition parties, and abolishes its secret police. Essentially, the
law insists on immediate regime change, and it is easy to see why Cuba's
rulers find its conditions unacceptable.

Congress ought to consider a new approach: the U.S. will relax sanctions
if Cuba allows its citizens greater scope to build their own private
businesses, which will have the right to engage in foreign trade,
receive foreign investment, and employ workers. The Cuban government
will, of course, be allowed to tax and regulate these private
businesses, but it will have to offer its citizens at least some
economic liberty, so that an influx of U.S. trade and investment won't
simply bolster the Cuban state and Cuba's repressive apparatus.

Yes, Cuba's propagandists will characterize this deal as yet another
example of Yankee meddling. It is also true, however, that this approach
would offer Cuba's rulers a meaningful alternative to Regime Change Now
while also allaying the concerns of Americans who fear that easing
sanctions might strengthen the current regime. And by loosening the
economic stranglehold of Cuba's state-owned monopolies, we can give
Cubans the breathing room they need to start building a free society.

Source: Why Congress must rethink sanctions on Cuba | Reihan Salam -
http://blogs.reuters.com/reihan-salam/2014/04/11/congress-sanctions/ Continue reading
PriceSmart and Cuba in 'shopping' dispute
By rickey singh
Story Created: Apr 12, 2014 at 8:40 PM ECT

International ware­house shopping company PriceSmart, which operates
in vari­ous Caribbean Com­mu­nity (Caricom) states, is under sharp
criticisms for now involving Cuba's diplomatic mis­sions in the region
in the more than half-cen­tury of America's trade, economic and
financial blockade of that Caribbean nation.
Immediately affected Cuban missions include Barbados, Jamaica, and
Trinidad and Tobago where accredited diplo­mats, their families and
staff have been in­formed by PriceSmart management of the sus­pension of
busi­ness ac­counts after being ad­vised by the parent company of
possible vio­lations of the US embargo in trans­acting business with
Cu­bans without "per­manent residency" in countries of their opera­tions.
In a mixture of hila­ri­ty and strong warning, current Caricom chairman
Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Gre­na­dines Dr Ralph Gon­salves
said in a telephone interview yesterday that the US government should be
"mindful of the implications of Price­Smart's action".
He pointed out while at first, he could not resist "laughing at this
infantile political move", he was never­theless mindful that PriceSmart
is in­corporated into the laws of sovereign Carib­be­an states, and now
enga­ging in "unnecessary, unprovoked acts" against Cuba's diplomatic
per­sonnel and other Cuban nationals who are wor­king in various
regional sectors, including doctors and nurses.
The Vincentian prime minister said neither the US government nor owners
and operators of corporate enterprises like PriceSmart could be
unmindful of the historic role initially played by Caricom countries to
bring Cuba out of the "dip­lo­matic isolation" to which the US economic
embargo had assigned it, following its Fidel Cas­tro-led 1959 revolution.
Further, of the com­mu­­nity's continuing involve­ment with the rest of
the international commu­nity, minus the mi­nis­­cule exception of three,
in passage year after year, resolutions denouncing the "archaic law"
gover­ning the embargo which has "miserably failed to destabilise" the
govern­ment in Havana or to "quench the revolution­ary spirit of the
Cuban peo­ple...".

'Criminal act'

Criticisms of Price­Smart's suspension of bus­iness accounts for
Cu­­bans have come from
Cuba's embassies in Ja­mai­ca, Barbados, and Trini­dad and Tobago,
headed respectively by ambassadors Bernardo Guanche Hernandez, Lis­ette
Perez Perez and Guit­termo Vazquez Moreno.
For ambassador Her­nan­dez, the decision by PriceSmart constituted "a
criminal act, based on an anachronistic law" which violates the Vienna
convention.
In Barbados, ambas­sa­dor Perez disclosed a representative of the local
PriceSmart turned up to inform the embassy about the suspension of
business transactions while, he explained, they invest "effort, time
and resources" in pursuing lawful channels in the US which "may enable
us to reactivate those accounts…".
The resident Cuban diplo­matic missions in Barba­dos, Jamaica, and
Trini­dad and Tobago have pointed to "unne­ces­sary inconveniences" to
non-embassy staff like Cuban doctors and teachers.
According to ambassador Pe­­rez, there seems to be an "un­derlying
intention to en­courage defec­tions" by Cubans, in favour of having
per­manent resident status that would enable them to do "membership
busi­ness" with PriceSmart.
"This is the sort of con­tempt by those", she said, "who do not really
understand what the Cu­ban revolution and Cuban patriotism mean for us...".
Ironically, the move by Price­Smart to suspend busi­ness tran­sactions
with Cu­ban di­plo­matic missions and Cubans who do not have permanent
work­­ing status in Caricom states came against the backdrop of approval
last month by the Cuban National Assem­bly of a ground-breaking
for­eign-investment law to en­cou­rage a new "development partner­ship"
that would be exten­ded also to overseas-based Cubans.

Source: PriceSmart and Cuba in 'shopping' dispute | Trinidad Express
Newspaper | News -
http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/PriceSmart-and-Cuba--in-shopping-dispute--255047631.html Continue reading
Family, friends of US contractor held in Cuba plead for US to do more to
secure release
By Barnini Chakraborty Published April 13, 2014FoxNews.com

WASHINGTON – For Alan Gross, the American contractor locked up in a
Cuban prison on spying charges, the road to freedom seems increasingly
out of reach.

The Maryland resident, who repeatedly has denied working for any
intelligence agency, was arrested by Cuban authorities in 2009, stripped
of his rights and thrown into a foreign prison.

Since then, his family has worked tireless – and unsuccessfully -- to
bring him home.

Gross currently is being held at the Carlos Finlay Military Hospital in
the Havana Providence in Cuba where he spends 23 hours a day in a small
cell with two other men. He is let out of his cramped quarters for an
hour each day, led to a small courtyard with high walls and if he is
lucky, he gets to catch a glimpse of the sun.

After his 60 minutes are up, the 64-year-old man who is facing another
long decade behind bars heads back to his cell.

The details of Gross' daily routine were relayed to FoxNews.com by his
legal team. With Gross starting, and recently ending, a one-week hunger
strike, he and his supporters are trying to draw more attention to his
case and urge the U.S. government to do more to help.

In December -- the four-year anniversary of his imprisonment – Gross
wrote President Obama a letter pleading for the White House to get
involved and negotiate his release.

So far, Gross hasn't heard back, his camp tells FoxNews.com. But that's
where the stories start to blur.

The White House is on record multiple times calling on the Cuban
government to let Gross go. Gross was working at the time of his arrest
as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development on
expanding Internet access.

In December, around the same time Gross sent the letter to the
president, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Gross
was a "dedicated professional with a long history of providing aid to
underserved communities in more than 50 countries" and called for his
release.

In the past, the Obama administration has called Gross' case a sticking
point in improving ties with Cuba but has rejected any prisoner trade
for Gross.

In March 2011, following Gross's sentencing, Philip Crowley, the
assistant secretary in the bureau of public affairs at the State
Department, issued a statement: "We deplore this ruling."

"Alan Gross is a dedicated international development worker who has
devoted his life to helping people in more than 50 countries," Crowley
said. "He was in Cuba to help the Cuban people connect with the rest of
the world."

Still, while U.S. officials say they're pressing his case, it's unclear
to what lengths they have gone to pursue his release. Attorney Scott
Gilbert said: "We really hope that the two governments can work
something out and do what it takes. He wants to come home ... the only
way that will happen is if Obama gets involved, and that hasn't happened."

Gross, a native New Yorker, moved south where attended school at the
University of Maryland and at Virginia Commonwealth University in
Richmond, Va., where he studied social work.

In 2001, Gross formed the Joint Business Development Center -- a Chevy
Chase, Md.-based company that works to increase Internet connections abroad.

As the boss, his career took him around the world. His passport has been
stamped in Africa, Europe, Afghanistan and Iraq.

His friends and family describe the 64-year-old, white-haired contractor
as a gentle humanitarian, a loving husband and father of two girls, now
grown up and living in Oregon and Israel. His wife, Judy, a social
worker, is still by his side and lobbying for his release.

"I've been begging our government for more than four years to bring Alan
home," she said in a written statement. "I'm worried sick about Alan's
health, and I don't think he can survive much more of this."

Gross has lost 110 pounds in prison. He has a growing list of health
problems and is considerably weaker, his camp says.

It's been hard on Judy, too. In the four years her husband has been in a
Cuban prison, she has been forced to sell their Maryland home, unable to
afford the mortgage in the upscale Potomac, Md., neighborhood.

Last week, Gross announced through his attorney Gilbert that we was
going on a hunger strike, "enraged" over recent reports about the
controversial "Cuban Twitter" project, first reported by The Associated
Press.

The project, a communication network called ZunZuneo, was reportedly
built to stir unrest on the island. USAID, the same agency Gross was
working for when he was arrested in 2009, was behind the now-defunct
project. Gross and his supporters voiced concern that the project could
have put him at additional risk.

"I am fasting to object to mistruths, deceptions and inaction by both
governments, not only regarding their shared responsibility for my
arbitrary detention, but also because of the lack of any responsible or
valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal," Gross said via a
telephone conversation he had with Gilbert.

By Friday, Gross had called off the strike.

Disheartened, his friends, family and legal team say they'll push even
harder for his release, especially in light of the ZunZuneo report. They
argue the government has put his safety at risk and continues to do so
every day he is in Cuba. They also blame his employer – USAID. "Once
Alan was arrested, it is shocking that USAID would imperil his safety
even further by running a covert operation in Cuba," Gilbert said in a
statement.

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said earlier this week he's gotten
emails from USAID employees "all over the world" asking "how could they
do this, to put us in such danger?"

At issue are a range of secretive USAID programs the agency claims are
not "covert" – but aren't widely publicized either. Having them outed,
some argue, leaves contractors like Gross in danger.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said the responsibility for Gross'
imprisonment lies with Cuba.

"The State Department has led an aggressive effort to help Alan secure
his release," Shah said at the same Senate subcommittee.

Source: Family, friends of US contractor held in Cuba plead for US to do
more to secure release | Fox News -
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/04/12/family-friends-us-contractor-held-in-cuba-pleads-to-obama-for-his-release/ Continue reading
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius talks to Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade and Commerce Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz. Photo: Reuters The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, has met his Cuban counterpart, Continue reading
Cuba protests PriceSmart’s suspension of memberships in Jamaica By Aileen Torres-Bennett KINGSTON, April 11 (Reuters) – Cuba is protesting the decision by PriceSmart Inc, a major U.S.-based bulk-shopping warehouse, to suspend memberships of shoppers from the communist country at its Jamaica subsidiary, Cuban officials said on Friday. PriceSmart took the action this week, citing the […] Continue reading
Cuban authorities invited foreign entrepreneurs in the construction field to invest at the Mariel Harbor Special Development Zone. Argentina: Cuban Trade Mission Meets with FM and Officials During Continue reading
A Cuban trade mission, headed by Antonio Carricarte, first deputy minister of Foreign Investment and Trade, is in Argentina to boost bilateral economic and commercial relations and to meet with government Continue reading
Cuba Opens the Gates to Foreign Capital / Ivan Garcia
Posted on April 10, 2014

When a government's financial figures are in the red, everything takes
on new urgency. By now the formulas to address the problem are
well-known. Often new tax measures are imposed while bloated public
spending is slashed.

But if the goal is to attract American dollars, euros or other forms of
hard currency, then any reforms must tempt likely foreign investors and
Cuban exiles alike.

The situation is pressing. Venezuela, the spigot from which Cuba's oil
flows, is in a firestorm of criminal and political violence and economic
chaos. China is an ideological partner but only makes loans if it can
reap some benefit.

The Cuban government does not have a lot of room to maneuver. Its
solution has been to open things up a little but not completely. Except
in the areas of health, education and defense, Cuba is for sale.

The communist party's propaganda experts have been trying to sugarcoat
the message to its audience. In recent months government officials have
been working to attract foreign capital by offering investors a more
important role in the Cuban economy.

"Foreign financial resources would do more than provide a complementary
role to domestic investment initiatives and would play an important
role, even in areas such as agriculture, where foreign investment has
been rare," said Pedro San Jorge, Director of Economic Policy at the
Ministry for Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, in January.

In an interview with the newspaper Granma on March 17, José Luis Toledo
Santander, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly
of People's Power for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, said the new law
"will also provide for a range of investments so that those who wish may
know the areas of interest in the country."

"This action will also be a breakthrough in terms of the paperwork
required to make an investment by creating a more streamlined process,"
the official added in response to a common complaint by business people
that the Cuban bureaucracy is too slow.

Toledo Santander said the new law "also includes incentives and tax
exemptions in certain circumstances, as well as an easing of customs
duties to encourage investment."

He stressed that "the process of foreign investment will be introduced
without the country relinquishing its sovereignty or its chosen social
and political system: socialism. This new law will allow foreign
investment to be better targeted so that it serves the best interests of
national development without concessions or setbacks."

On Saturday March 29 the national television news broadcast reported
sometime after 1 PM that the single-voice Cuban parliament had
unanimously passed a new foreign investment law without providing more
details

The new law provides for an exception to one passed in 1995 which
assigned foreign capital a "complimentary" role in Cuban state
investments. This meant that foreign investors could hold no more than a
50% stake in any joint venture.

The proportion was higher when it came to technology and retail
businesses but only because of a strong interest in these sectors on the
part of military autocrats. Between 1996 and 2003 roughly 400 firms in
the mining, hospitality, food, automotive and real estate sectors were
created in Cuba with foreign capital.

All were small-scale and supervised closely by authorities. Now it's a
choice of life or death. Fidel Castro's revolution generated many
promises and speeches, but these did nothing to foster the economic
development that the country needed.

Cuba imports everything from toothbrushes to ball-point pens. Large
areas of arable land are overrun with the invasive Marabou weed, and
produce little or nothing. In 2013 the government imported almost two
billion dollars worth of food.

Since 1959 government leaders have continuously promised ample harvests
of malanga, potatoes and oranges coffee as well as a glass of milk per
person per day, but the inefficient economic system hampers any such
nationial initiatives.

Finally the last trump card was played. It involved opening the gates by
luring foreign investors with generous tax exemptions. They included
Cubans living in the United States and Europe but not virulent
anti-Castro Cuban-Americans from Florida.

If they toned down their strident anti-Castro rhetoric, then perhaps
Alfonso Fanjul, Carlos Saladrigas and company might come under
consideration also.

Of course, it is not all clear sailing. The U.S. embargo presents a
powerful obstacle to any business venture on the island. And the Castro
brothers are not serious business partners.

On the contrary. They have changed or corrected course at whim in
response to shifting political dynamics. Of the roughly 400 foreign
firms that existed in 1998, only about 200 remained in operation as of
spring 2014.

Several foreign businessmen, including Canadians, have been threatened
with imprisonment while others, like Chilean Max Marambio*, have had
arrest warrants issued against them by Cuban prosecutors.

Raul Castro, who inherited power by decree from his brother Fidel in
2006, has tried to clean up government institutions and establish more
legal coherence, abolishing absurd laws that prevented the Cubans
renting hotel rooms, having mobile phones and selling their own homes
and cars.

In January 2013 a new emigration law was adopted that made it easier for
Cubans, including dissidents, to travel abroad. Internet access became
available, though at jaw-dropping prices, and Peugeot cars went on sale,
though priced as if they were Lamborghinis.

For many European and American politicians, Cuba is in the process of
becoming a modern nation whose past sins as well, as it's the lack of
democracy and freedom of expression, must be forgiven. Others say it's
just a ploy to buy time.

The average Cuba, whose morning coffee does not include milk, who has
only one hot meal a day and who wastes two hours a day commuting to and
from work on the inefficient public transport system, is not likely to
be impressed with the much hyped opportunities.

Those who open private restaurants or receive remittances from overseas
can weather the storm. Those who work for the state — in other words,
most people — are the ones having it the worst.

Although the regime may try to camouflage its new policies by resorting
to various ideological stunts, the person on the street realizes that
the new Cuban reality is nothing more than state capitalism painted over
in red.

For a wide segment of the Cuban population, the new investment law is a
distant echo. It is yet to be see if it bring them any benefits.

Ivan Garcia

*Translator's note: In 2010 Cuban prosecutors accused Marambio and his
firm, Río Zaza, of corruption. Marambio claimed the actions were
retribution on the part of Fidel and Raul Castro for his support for
Marco Enríquez-Ominami, a candidate in Chile's 2009 presidential
election. Marambio filed suit with the International Court of
Arbitration in Paris against his Cuban business partner, Coralsa, a
state-owned juice and dairy company. On July 17 the court found in favor
of Marambio and ordered Coralsa to pay over $17.5 million dollars in
damages "for refusing to cooperate in good faith" in the process of
liquidating Rio Zaza.

30 March 2014

Source: Cuba Opens the Gates to Foreign Capital / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-opens-the-gates-to-foreign-capital-ivan-garcia/ Continue reading
BUENOS AIRES, April 10 (NNN-Prensa Latina) -- Argentina and Cuba wants long term strategic relations based on complementary and mutually beneficial economic and trade opportunities, says Antonio Carricarte, Continue reading
Prensa Latina Thursday 10th April, 2014 Buenos Aires, Apr 10 (Prensa Latina) Argentinian Foreign Minister Hector Timerman meets today Cuban First Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Continue reading
When a government’s financial figures are in the red, everything takes on new urgency. By now the formulas to address the problem are well-known. Often new tax measures are imposed while bloated public spending is slashed. But if the goal … Continue reading Continue reading
APRIL 10, 2014 4:00 AM

Sending Ideas to Cuba
The Castro regime appreciates that Communism cannot survive the free
flow of communication.
By Mike Gonzalez

Cubans have lived on an information desert island for more than 50
years. Ten million people, once a vibrant part of the world — in tune
with it and contributing to it, receiving information and even
immigrants — were cut off soon after Fidel Castro took over in 1959.
That the world has done nothing to help them after five decades of
oppression is an outrage.

What is not an outrage is that the United States Agency for
International Development tried four years ago to circumvent Communist
censorship in Cuba by setting up a text-messaging network that Cubans
could access. This "Cuban Twitter" was a ray of hope that should be
celebrated.

Not apparently by the Associated Press and others who have cried foul.
The news agency exposed the program last week under the headline "US
secretly created 'Cuban Twitter' to stir unrest." This week the U.S.
Senate got in on the act with a hearing at which Democrats took the
agency to task. It is passing strange that journalists and legislators
whose trade depends on a free flow of information should get a bad case
of the vapors when Cubans are given access to each other and the outside
world. Let's concentrate, however, on why USAID's action should be
applauded, not denigrated.
Cubans have no independent press. The three national newspapers and
eight television stations are under the control of the Communist party.
Only 5 percent of Cubans have access to the Internet, according to the
watchdog group Freedom House. This 5 percent is presumably the
percentage the regime thinks it can count on.

What Cubans have, in other words, is 24/7 Castro propaganda. The reason
is very simple. As with all totalitarian regimes, Communism cannot
survive the free flow of ideas. If people under Communism were exposed
to alternative viewpoints, not even the most ruthless police state could
hold them back.

Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) put it succinctly at an event, on the
Internet and Cuba, that the Heritage Foundation hosted with Google two
years ago: "The regime is so afraid of sharing information because they
can't survive it."

Communist governments must rely on a mixture of state terror,
information blackout, and constant propaganda. It's no coincidence that
Cubans share their fate with North Koreans and the Chinese, whose
countries also ban an independent press, or that the Communist party in
Beijing is busily squelching the last few remnants of the free press in
Hong Kong and putting pressure on bankers to stop advertising in the
last truly free newspaper, Apple Daily.

I know whereof I speak. Today I take for granted my information-rich
environment, my drives to work in the morning as I toggle between NPR,
talk radio, and C-SPAN Radio, and my office decked out with two screens,
one on which I typed this article, the other devoted to Tweet Deck,
which I think of as my personal wire-service newsroom.

As a child I wasn't as fortunate, and neither was my father. As a young
Cuban in the 1960s, I saw him huddle in the evenings around the
pre-Castro shortwave radio he used to receive information from abroad,
his ear pegged to it because he had to keep the volume low lest he be
overheard by neighborhood snitches and instantly arrested. Owning such a
device was illegal, so we hid it during the day.

Even my father's father was luckier. He could use his radio show to
fulminate against the dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1940s. Sure, my
grandfather had to avoid Batista's thugs from time to time, and once
they tried to force him to drink a bottle of airplane fuel to intimidate
him.

But my father under Castro had no recourse to his father's "luxury." He
had no independent media he could use to communicate with thousands or
even millions of other Cubans. Had father taken to our porch to give his
thoughts an airing, he would have been heard by only a handful of people
before being arrested and probably later shot.

The difference between the three generations of my family is the
difference between authoritarian regimes, totalitarian ones, and
freedom. Venezuela has demonstrators in the streets because there is
still some vestige of independent media there. If its goonish
authoritarian regime succeeds at quashing that rebellion, it will try to
turn Venezuela into a version of Cuba and North Korea.

It was precisely that totalitarian control on the flow of ideas that
USAID was trying to sidestep. It was trying to give Cubans access to
ideas from outside and, more important, let them communicate with one
another.

Was that subversive? Yes, I suppose it was. But was it noble? Yes, very
much so. That 10 million Cubans today should suffer the same fate as my
father 50 years ago is a tragedy.

— Mike Gonzalez is vice president of communications at the Heritage
Foundation. His book on Hispanics will be out in September.

Source: Sending Ideas to Cuba | National Review Online -
http://www.nationalreview.com/article/375454/sending-ideas-cuba-mike-gonzalez Continue reading
Prensa Latina Thursday 10th April, 2014 Havana, Apr 9 (Prensa Latina) The Brazilian group Engpiso, specializing in solutions for floors and industrial coverings, is participating for the first time Continue reading
Cuba promises to offer internet to all citizens — with restrictions
More and more Cubans have access to cellphones and email accounts
JUAN JESÚS AZNAREZ Havana 8 ABR 2014 - 19:19 CET

The Cuban government has promised that it will allow its citizens to
access the internet from their homes – something that can currently only
be done at state-run internet cafés – but it said it would not permit
them to access "counter-revolutionary" sites financed by Washington.

Cuba has recently made inroads into opening up its society and allowing
people to connect with the outside world. But according to dissidents,
new technologies are still restricted in many ways because Cuban
Communist Party (PCC) leaders fear that more openness will lead to them
losing their hold on absolute power.

At the same time, Havana angrily lodged a protest with Washington last
week over its promotion of an ambitious cellphone texting service
designed to bombard users with anti-Castro messages.

On a recent day when Cuban authorities denied to EL PAÍS that they were
restricting access to global networks, dozens of young people interested
in purchasing a cellphone, opening an email account and surfing the
internet could be seen crowding in front of the state-run ETECSA
communications office in Havana's El Vedado district.

An estimated two million Cubans, out of a total population of 11
million, own a cellphone – a growing number, but still miniscule
compared with other Latin American nations. Around 330,000 islanders are
also permitted to surf the internet through government-approved
accounts. Cubans can check their emails at cybercafés and by cellphone
through a new state domain: name@nauta.cu.

They don't want everyone using Facebook or Twitter"
Another undetermined number use pirated internet signals or email
accounts opened by friends abroad.

"There is no censorship but we lack the technical capability to offer
more than what we can offer with the budget we have," explains Tania
Velázquez, an ETECSA official. The state communications agency runs 118
internet centers for the public across the island, containing a total of
520 computers running on slow 2G networks. Government officials have
their own internet service.

"We need to invest more, in the manner in which we can, to obtain more
technical capacity but there are no regulatory or commercial barriers.
Our objective is to reach all households," says Luis Manuel Díaz,
another ETECSA official.

But sources say the government has no intention of allowing this to
happen. The connectivity is there: an underwater fiber optic cable
linking Cuba with Venezuela has been in operation for about a year now.

"They don't want everyone using Facebook or Twitter, and allowing people
to always be connected, which could lead to an eventual mobilization,"
says one businessman, who describes himself as "interested" in President
Raúl Castro's economic reforms.

An estimated two million Cubans, out of a total population of 11
million, own a cellphone
But the Cuban government also has other reasons. On Thursday, the Cuban
Foreign Ministry lodged an official complaint over a plan by agencies
and private companies with links to the Obama administration "to promote
subversion" on the island.

The complaint came after the Associated Press reported earlier this
month that the United States tried to initiate a "Twitter-like" Cuban
messaging service called Zunzuneo to offer news, sports and
entertainment to thousands of subscribers on the island. According to
the plan – supported by documents and interviews obtained by AP – once
the service reached a certain number of subscribers, political messages
would be transmitted in the hope of mobilizing the people to push for
change.

According to AP, the system was developed in Barcelona. The Obama
administration defended the program and said it complied with US
anti-espionage and trade laws but there are critics who believe otherwise.

Two years ago, the US Treasury Department imposed a $1.75 billion fine
on Ericsson, the world's biggest cellphone company, for doing business
with Cuba and violating the 1962 US embargo with the island.

And there have been ways to circumvent US laws. In 2007, Cuba and
Venezuela signed an agreement for a fiber optic cable that connected the
island with the South American nation, which went into operation last
year and has given the island better connectivity.

Source: Cuba promises to offer internet to all citizens — with
restrictions | In English | EL PAÍS -
http://elpais.com/elpais/2014/04/08/inenglish/1396975288_827346.html Continue reading
Alan Gross, the American government contractor imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, received wide media coverage on Tuesday after he announced he had started a hunger strike to demand that Cuba and the United States negotiate his release. If only Vladimir... Continue reading
HAVANA, Cuba (ACN) -- The Havana-based Association of Spanish Entrepreneurs (AEEC) has expressed its willingness to foster bilateral trade and economic relations with Cuba and increase investment in areas Continue reading
CUBA STANDARD — French Foreign Minster Laurent Fabius will arrive in Cuba this Saturday, becoming the highest-ranking French visitor to the island in three decades. Fabius’ visit comes as Cuba and the European Union have agreed to begin talks about fully normalizing their relations, and as Cuba is seeking to attract foreign investment. Fabius will witness the [...] Continue reading
By Vito Echevarria CUBA STANDARD — As the government lets Cubans set up their own micro businesses, launches an export processing zone at Mariel, and passes a new foreign investment law, at least three U.S. trade groups and think tanks, including the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC), are planning trips to Havana this spring. While U.S. [...] Continue reading
CUBA STANDARD — U.S. food and agricultural sales to Cuba continued their downward trend in 2013, with a 23.7% drop, according to U.S. trade data. U.S. agricultural and food sales totaled $348.75 million last year, down from $457.3 million in 2012, according to statistics prepared by the New York-based  U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. U.S. sales to [...] Continue reading
Apretaste! A Craigslist for the Island of the Disconnected / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on April 7, 2014

Tatania wants to sell a stroller, Humberto is interested in some
sneakers, and the retired woman on the corner is offering a mahogany
desk. Individual barter and buying-selling alleviates the shortages in
state markets. So it's become common to see walls plastered with ads
offering houses for sale or the services of someone who repairs
furniture. The classified sites on the Internet also trade in anything
you can imagine, from an illegal satellite dish to birdseed.

Despite the poor connectivity, Craigslist-style sites are very popular
on the Island. Some of them have developed strategies to reach Cuban
readers, such as the distribution of classifieds via email. This is the
case with Apretaste! which offers the service of sending and receiving
information via email for users on our "Island of the Disconnected."
Winner of a hackathon held in Miami this February, the site has great
potential and boasts a simple design that loads quickly.

Visiting Apretaste!, I remember a phrase I always repeat when I
encounter something hard. "Creativity is the capacity to open a window
when the door is closed," I tell myself, like a mantra in complex
situations. And this classified portal is a diminutive and promising
window that has opened in the iron wall of disconnection. A breath of
air flows through it.

I hope that one day Tatiana, Humberto, and the retired lady on the
corner can not only use the powers of Apretaste! through email, but also
enter it on the web, click, enter a phrase into its simple search engine
and find, in this way, whatever they need.

7 April 2014

Source: Apretaste! A Craigslist for the Island of the Disconnected /
Yoani Sanchez | Translating Cuba -
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Vladimir Morera The Castro dictatorship is at war with political prisoner Vladimir Morera. In its latest move to turn up the pressure, guards on Friday severely beat Morera and tied him to a hospital bed for having the gall to... Continue reading
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Tampa investors long to reconnect with Cuba
By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff
Published: April 6, 2014

TAMPA — Few lost more than the Lykes family of Tampa when Fidel Castro
came to power in 1958 and nationalized Cuba's private property.

Their 15,000-acre spread in Oriente province had been identified by
Fortune magazine a few years earlier as one of the most productive
cattle ranches in the Western hemisphere.

"Breathtaking," said John Parke Wright, grandson of patriarch Dr. H.T.
Lykes, of its landscape. "It's a gorgeous part of the island."

Recent signs of improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations have rekindled
Wright's hopes that his family will do business on that land again. He
talks of a cattle ranch on the property, as well as a nature preserve
and a five-star hotel.

Just last week, Cuba took new steps to encourage foreign investment. It
eliminated its labor tax, cut its profit tax in half from 30 percent to
15 percent while exempting most companies from paying it for eight
years, and authorized joint ventures with foreign interests.

But without moves on the U.S. side to soften a travel and trade embargo
now half a century old, Wright and businessmen like him can only watch
as nations such as Brazil capitalize on Cuba's ovations.

"I have tw\o hats here," Wright said during an interview in Tampa last
week, holding a Cuban military cap in one hand and a rancher's hat in
the other. "The question I pose to you is which one do we prefer?"

Carlos Saladrigas of the Cuba Study Group, U.S. business leaders of
Cuban descent, says it another way: "The embargo would force Americans
to lose first-comer advantage and that is a big economic negative."

❖ ❖ ❖

Saladrigas said he doesn't expect the business floodgates will open in
Cuba just yet. There are still roadblocks. Every foreign investment, for
example, needs government approval and businesses must use a
government-run employment agency in hiring.

What's more, he said, the Cuban government has been promising the world
for years that it would allow companies that are 100 percent foreign
owned to set up shop there. Not one has yet.

The first foreign investors will serve as guinea pigs, closely watched
by other potential investors, said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Cuban-born
economist and University of Pittsburgh economics professor.

"Cuba needs to reverse the bad image it has had for foreign investment,"
Mesa-Lago said.

Wright is resolved that in socialist Cuba, he cannot buy back the ranch
once owned by his family but he does hold out hope of forming a joint
venture and leasing the property. It is used now as a cooperative farm.

It's not the perfect solution, he said, but as a businessman he knows
there is rarely such a thing.

Like his ancestors, Wright has earned his living through the cattle
industry. He also has a flair for drama and storytelling that has helped
him navigate the political side of international trade. Most of his
business is in nations such as China, Saudi Arabia and Cuba.

His cousin, Arthur Savage, president of a Tampa-based shipping company,
is more to the point when he describes what U.S. business needs from its
political leaders to make the most of Cuba.

"You don't go to war," Savage said, "with your top business partners."

And that's just what Cuba could be some day, he said.

❖ ❖ ❖

Still, it may take a while for the Lykes family.

Even if the embargo were lifted today, Wright said, he would need to see
growth first in a high-end tourist trade interested in meals of fine beef.

That would come if U.S. tourists flocked to the island, he said.

Wright and Savage already do limited business in Cuba, taking advantages
of changes through the years in the embargo.

Wright trades cattle semen to Cuban farmers. Savage's company is a
shipping agent whose clients include cargo vessels travelling to Cuba.

It's just a shadow of the bustling business their family did with the
island in the days before Castro.

Savage is part of Tampa's McKay family, which made its fortune in the
Cuban cattle industry. The Lykes family did the same after marrying into
the McKay family.

When the Lykes and McKays arrived Tampa in the 1800s it was wild and
undeveloped. Using the fortune they made in Cuba, they turned it into a
bustling city, said Rodney Kite Powell, curator at the Tampa Bay History
Center.

Powell credits the two families with Tampa's early successes as a port
and banking center, earning them status as the founding families of the
community.

Wright said Tampa could grow again with the money it earns from doing
business with Cuba, either through investment or trade at its port.

Savage is focused on how ports can take advantage of the new foreign
investment laws.

New investor-funded development in Cuba will require supplies, he said.
And any money the Cuban government makes off these investments can go
toward improving an infrastructure that's crumbling from years of isolation.

"When I am in Cuba, I get fixated on the lights being too dim," Savage
said. "That is not just a problem that can always be fixed with new
bulbs. Often it would need new bulbs, wiring and switches. Cuba is a
country the size of Florida and near everything needs to be replaced."

U.S. businesses could supply these necessities to Cuba. And he and
others like him could transport them.

Under current U.S. law, such trade is forbidden. But as with trade in
agriculture, the government could approve it without lifting the embargo.

❖ ❖ ❖

Cuba already uses American construction supplies, but purchases them
from the Dominican Republic, said Cuban native Arturo Lopez-Levy, a
former policy advisor for the Castro regime who now lives in Denver.

"I think they would prefer to purchase them right from the U.S.,"
Lopez-Levy said.

History backs such a claim.

Since 2000, the U.S. has allowed the export of agricultural products to
Cuba as long as payments are made with cash upfront rather than on credit.

According to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, total
agricultural exports to Cuba from 2001 through February 2012 amount to
$3.5 billion. The figure has shrunk toward the end of the period,
though, to just half of what it was annually at its peak in 2008.

Savage blames the decline on the cash requirement. Cuba has grown tired
of it.

The government agreed to it, thinking it was a step toward normalizing
relations with the U.S. When that did not happen, it began taking its
business elsewhere.

In a normal trading atmosphere, Cuba would receive 50 percent of its
exports from the U.S. simply because of proximity, said Al Fox of Tampa,
president of the Alliance for a Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation,
which lobbies for open relations with Cuba. The island lies just 90
miles off Florida's shores.

Savage said Cuba used to purchase the bulk of its rice from Louisiana
but now buys from Vietnam because it provides a line of credit. The trip
from southeast Asia is so far that some of the shipment is ruined by the
time it reaches its destination.

Under the new foreign investment law, Wright said, Brazil is poised to
become a major player in Cuba as a developer and trading partner. Among
Brazil's top exports, said Wright, are cattle, citrus and sugar — all of
them major Florida exports, too.

❖ ❖ ❖

Leaders from Tampa have already begun establishing a relationship with
Cuba. A delegation from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce traveled
to the island nation in 2013 and in January, José Ramón Cabañas
Rodriguez, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.,
attended a Tampa chamber event as a guest.

But many still see the risk of doing business with Cuba as too great
because they say its government has proven it cannot be trusted.

A host of examples are cited by Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of
U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, a Washington, D.C., lobbying group promoting
democracy in Cuba.

Cuba froze more than a billion dollars in foreign assets in 2009,
imprisoned businessmen from Canada and England without due process, and
has failed to pay a number of trade debts with other countries,
Claver-Carone said.

This, coupled with the difficulty of working with the Cuban government,
is why foreign ventures in Cuba have dropped from 400 in 2000 to 190
today, he said.


Lopez-Levy, the former Castro adviser, disagrees with that assessment.
The businessmen were jailed for corruption and their crimes would have
warranted similar reaction anywhere in the world, he said. Further, he
said, Cuba has bilateral agreements in place with its trading partners
and could have its international assets frozen if it makes unlawful
seizures.

Savage said trust in the Cuban government should not be the issue
keeping U.S. business from investing or trading there. Risk is always a
part of business, especially internationally, he said.

Russia is an example.

❖ ❖ ❖

U.S. businesses that invested in Russia are concerned the nation will
freeze their assets in retaliation against economic sanctions imposed in
response to its invasion of neighboring Crimea, said Bill Reinsch,
president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based
business organization advocating a rules-based world economy.

When some of those investments were made, Russia and the U.S. were on
friendlier terms.

But for Claver-Carrone, it's not just about business but about bringing
democracy to an island ruled by what he calls an oppressive government.
He said at some point dollars and cents need to take a back seat to decency.

Cubans, he said, receive an average wage of only about $20 a month.

"That's like slave labor," he said. "And because U.S. companies would
have to hire through the government, they would be employing them at
that wage. How is that OK?"

Cuba, he added, is desperate. Its patron the Soviet Union is long gone.
It risks losing the $3.5 billion a year in oil supplied by Venezuela in
return for the skilled workers it sends to Venezuela. And the economy is
growing at a rate of just 2.7 percent a year when it needs a rate of 7
percent.

The new investment laws adopted last week are an effort to save the
Castro brothers' failing socialist government, Claver-Carone said.

"The problem is they are serial monopolists," he said. "They have a very
hard time letting go. They only relax laws when they need to and then
when things turn around, they tighten control again."

If restrictions are tightened rather than loosened, he added, the
government may topple.

Tampa shipper Savage scoffed at this idea.

"Remember what Einstein said about insanity," he said. "It's doing the
same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We've
tried suffocating Cuba for years and it has not worked. Let's try
something different."

pguzzo@tampatrib.com

Source: Tampa investors long to reconnect with Cuba -
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Cuban Investment And Competition
Published: Sunday | April 6, 2014
David Jessop, Contributor

On March 29, Cuba's National Assembly passed a new foreign investment
law. Its content has far-reaching implications for the future economic
organisation of the country.

It has also stimulated a lively public and private debate in the rest of
the Caribbean about whether it represents a new economic challenge to
the rest of the region.

Unusually, the changes that the new law contains had been widely trailed
in Cuba's national and provincial media before its passing. This was
because of its contentious nature within Cuba and the challenge it
offered to many Cuban conservatives' belief in the need to maintain full
control over national sovereignty and economic decision making.

The result was the slow progress, as sometimes challen-ging political
and technical discussions took place in provincial assemblies and in
consultations with mass organisations such as the trades unions.

At these meetings, various concerns were expressed. Particularly
contentious was whether the same investment rights would be granted to
Cuban Americans; who, having left the island, significant numbers of
Cubans believe, should not be able to benefit.

There were also voices at the liberal end of the debate questioning
whether the law should enable investment by a small group of
increasingly wealthy Cubans living in Cuba and paying taxes.

The passing of the new investment law marks a clear victory for
President Raul Castro, and those at high levels within the Cuban
Communist Party who recognise the need for change.

It reflects, too, a view that fundamental reforms within Cuba are more
likely to take place during the period up to 2018, while Raul Castro
remains as president and retains the moral authority to argue for and
ensure change.

The lengthy debate speaks also to the fault lines that continue to exist
between those who are seeking to maintain a more pure socialist line and
those who believe Cuba has no option but to reform and modernise.

Details of the new law have been well publicised, but in essence the new
legislation will modify the existing foreign investment law that dates
back to 1995, bringing it in line with the government's broader project
of updating its socialist economic model.

According to a front page article in Granma, the official newspaper of
the Cuban Communist Party, the legislative proposal is intended to
increase the rate of economic growth and increase funds for investment
so as to 'accelerate the development of prosperous and sustainable
socialism'. It allows for foreign investment in all sectors except
education, health and 'armed institutions', and will offer tax
exemptions to overseas companies.

In a break with the past, the new law establishes foreign investment as
a priority for the future development of Cuba; aiming to revive local
industry and making Cuban goods competitive on the world market through
new financing, and access to advanced technology and know-how in key
areas, such as agriculture, industry, tourism, biotechnology and
renewable energy.

Under the new law, investors will be exempted from paying tax on profits
for eight years upon the signing of an agreement; investors will be
exempted from income tax; 100% foreign ownership will be allowed, but
such companies will be denied the same tax benefits afforded to joint
ventures with the Cuban state or associations between foreign and Cuban
companies; the new law does not specifically exclude Cubans living abroad;

and state-run companies, private farm and non-farm cooperatives can be
authorised to form ventures with foreign investors.

One of the interesting side effects of the law's passing has been a
debate in parts of the rest of the Caribbean about the possible negative
effects of Cuba's emergence at some future date as a significant
beneficiary for foreign investment and its potential to outcompete near
neighbours.

The comments, while understandable, perhaps say more about much of the
region's continuing failure to understand that competition is not a zero
sum game, that the rest of the region has had more than 50 years to
prepare while Cuba has been economically isolated; the lamentable
failure of Caricom to create a viable single economy or to address the
economic imbalances between its smaller and larger members; and many
nations' continuing failure to recognise that to succeed it is first
necessary to identify where future competitive advantage might lie.

Cuba's unusual process of trying to adapt market economics reality to
the needs of its unique social model should therefore be a moment not
for handwringing in the Caribbean, but a change to be welcomed if, as
seems likely, it portends further gradual and stable change.

Whether what has been agreed will transform Cuba or, as seems more
likely, as with much of the Cuban economic reform process, this may
involve a kind of learning through doing process rather than planning,
remains to be seen, but it should be welcomed.

As the year goes on, at least two leading US private-sector associations
are expected to take high level delegations involving a number of major
US corporations to Cuba.

Although many pressures still surround the process of US economic
re-engagement, it is clear that US business is acutely aware of the
potential opportunity now opening up.

This seems to have spawned an increasingly aggressive approach on the
part of the US Treasury by placing pressure on the international banking
system and individuals in Europe and elsewhere to reserve the future
Cuban market for US business alone.

For its part, Europe is in the process of re-engagement through
negotiations for an association agreement that could lead eventually to
a freer trade and development relationship. The first formal exchanges
on this are expected to take place very soon.

That said, the biggest challenge now lies within Cuba itself as it
weighs how flexibly and rapidly it will implement its new law, and how
its seeks to balance competing interests between a future improved
relationship with Washington, which it genuinely wants, a closer
relationship with Europe, an interest in resuming a closer relationship
with Russia, and its desire to see stability return to Venezuela.

David Jessop is director of the Caribbean
Council.david.jessop@caribbean-council.org

Source: Cuban investment and competition - Business - Jamaica Gleaner -
Sunday | April 6, 2014 -
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Posted on Thursday, 04.03.14

'Cuban Twitter' raises question: Is it OK for U.S. to help Cubans?
The USAID programs are branded as subversive by critics, and by others
as support for democracy
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
JTAMAYO@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM

Does the U.S. government have the right to circumvent a dictatorship's
controls on information? And if Washington tries to help foster
democracy in a country ruled by a dictator, is it pushing for "regime
change?"

Those are the fundamental questions raised by an Associated Press report
Thursday that the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID,
financed a "covert" Twitter-like system for Cubans "designed to
undermine the communist government."

Replies predictably ranged from a rotund no to a flat yes, largely
reflecting the divisions over U.S. policies on Cuba and the more than
half-century of animosity between the two nations.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the AP was wrong in branding
USAID's "Zunzuneo" program as covert. In "non-permissive environments"
it is "discreet" to "protect the practitioners and the public," he said.
"This is not unique to Cuba."

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf took aim at what she called the
"misconceptions" in the "breathlessly written" AP report and said, "The
notion that we were somehow trying to foment unrest … nothing could be
further from the truth."

But Max Lesnik, a Miami radio commentator who supports the government of
ruler Raúl Castro, called Zunzuneo "an operation aimed at changing the
Cuban government — regime change. This is a covert aggression through
social networks."

Cuba's government has outlawed the USAID programs as subversive and
calls all dissidents "U.S. mercenaries." The agency says its programs
promote democracy and support civil society, and notes that Congress
approved $20 million for them this year alone.

USAID subcontractor Alan Gross is serving a 15-year sentence in Havana
for giving Cuban Jews sophisticated communications equipment that would
have allowed them to sidestep government controls on the Internet and
telephone connections.

Ninoska Perez Castellon, a Miami radio commentator and Castro critic,
said the USAID programs are needed. "Cuba is a dictatorship, and any
program that helps a country where there is repression and censorship is
justified," she said.

She added that Cuba's complaints that Washington is promoting subversion
on the island are "total hypocrisy" because the Castro government
trained and armed leftist guerrillas from throughout Latin America in
the 1970s and '80s.

But Washington should be careful in how it supports civil society in
repressive countries, said Emily Parker, author of a book on Internet
controls in Cuba, China and Russia and advisor on digital diplomacy to
former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"The U.S. needs to tread very carefully in countries like Cuba because
to directly support [dissidents] makes it easy to call them
mercenaries," Parker said. "That sometimes does more harm than good."

There are other ways for Washington to support the Internet in Cuba, she
said, such as eliminating U.S. obstacles to access that are sometimes
created by the trade embargo. Her book, Now I Know Who My Comrades Are,
was published early this year.

Cuba democracy advocate Mauricio Claver-Carone, meanwhile, said it was
no surprise for the U.S. media and some politicians to complain about
U.S. policies in Cuba but praise the same policies when they are applied
to other countries.

A global outcry followed Turkey's ongoing attempts to cut off Twitter
amid the ongoing anti-government protests, he said, and USAID runs
similar programs to expand the flow of information in dictatorships such
as Syria, North Korea and Iran.

"That's not controversial. Everybody supports that. But it seems Cuba is
the only place where we have to accept a totalitarian government's
control over communications," said Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.
Cuba Democracy political action committee.

Cuba's communist government controls all newspapers, radio and TV
stations, makes access to the Internet very expensive and and blocks
access to many web pages and the transmissions of the U.S. government's
Radio/TV Marti stations.

"The story that needs to be told is the lack of access to the Internet
and Twitter in Cuba," said Marc Wachtenheim, a Washington consultant who
has been involved with the Cuba programs. "All efforts to overcome that
information blockade are valid and moral."

Cuba blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo said his complaint about the
Zunzuneo program was that it was so ineffective in reaching Cubans —
40,000 in a nation of 11 million — that he only heard about it from a
government supporter a few years back.

But he supports the goal of promoting democracy on the island.

"The U.S. government, and many democratic governments, have a moral debt
with countries ruled by dictatorships," he said. "They talk about a debt
with slavery, a debt with colonies, but not a debt with despotic countries."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said USAID's Cuba programs are not
secret but have to keep a low profile to protect people in Cuba from
government retaliation.

While bags of U.S. food sent to Haiti carry a U.S. stamp, Ros-Lehtinen
said, a U.S. government program that sends books to independent
libraries in Cuba does not put U.S. stamps on the books.

What's more, the objective is not to change the Cuban government, she
added in an interview with El Nuevo Herald, "but to provide information
to an oppressed people."

"And we will keep doing these programs," she vowed. "We are trying every
which way to penetrate Cuba's hold on information, to foster a hunger
for democracy. But in no way are we calling for regime change."

Source: 'Cuban Twitter' raises question: Is it OK for U.S. to help
Cubans? - Cuba - MiamiHerald.com -
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On April 1, Chinese defense officials converged at La Paz, Bolivia, for a grand ceremony to deliver the ground station for a Chinese-launched communications satellite. Chinese officials represented the Continue reading
02 de abril de 2014, 15:51 Havana, Apr 3 (Prensa Latina) Over 115 union organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean will attend an international meeting to be held here in early May, organizers Continue reading
Potatoes, Food and Condoms: The Shortages Diversify
Posted on April 1, 2014

Chronic shortages in Cuba are extending their tentacles with renewed
vigor. The cycles of absence of numerous products are ever more
frequent, even in the markets that trade "in hard currency." Lately
toilet paper has disappeared (for the umpteenth time in recent months),
and similarly there have been short "gap" periods in which there have
been no toothbrushes, toothpaste, wheat flour, powdered milk, soaps and
detergents, sanitary napkins, etc. Nothing seems to be safe from the
black hole that is Castro's socialism, in which life is reduced to
"not-dying," while running a perennial pilgrimage after those articles
which, anywhere in the civilized world, are a part of the most common
reality.

With regards to food, it's better not to talk about it. It's enough to
see the Dantesque scenes offered to us by the lines that form at dawn
whenever someone announces that this or that farmers market "is going to
have potatoes." The police in Central Havana are practically on a war
footing attending to the brawls that occur in the crowds who aspire to
buy the longed-for tuber.

Now it turns out that the shortages have reached condoms, those
attachments needed for the safe practice of what some call "the national
sport." Things have reached such an extreme that it has come to the
point where drugstores and pharmacies have mobilized staff to change the
expiration dates that appear on this product–already expired–to "update"
it and be able to sell it. There is testimony that in some of Cuba's
interior provinces this task has been assigned to recruits doing their
military service: a strategy of total combat in the face of the alarms
set off by this small and humble latex object. According to the
authorities, this is being done "because the dates on the containers
were wrong."

Consumers, however, are wary. In a country where corruption and deceit
are part of the reality, no one feels safe. Some paranoiacs go to the
extreme of suspecting it's part of an official conspiracy to promote
births in Cuba… What it really does is lead to an increase in abortions.

At the moment, a friend tells me, half-amused half-worried, that if in
the 90s she had buy condoms to use as balloons at her son's birthday
party–today a young man of twenty-something– now she will have to buy
balloons to practice safe sex.

31 March 2014

Source: Potatoes, Food and Condoms: The Shortages Diversify |
Translating Cuba -
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Cuba: obstacle course for foreign investors
By Carlos Batista | AFP

Foreign investors still face an obstacle course in Cuba despite the
passage of a new, more liberal law aimed at attracting capital from
outside the communist-ruled island.
Cuba's National Assembly unanimously approved the law on Saturday,
offering tax and other incentives to foreign investors, who are seen as
crucial to reviving the country's stagnant economy.
But even as he pitched the new law, Foreign Trade and Investment
Minister Rodrigo Malmierca acknowledged to lawmakers many impediments to
foreign investment remain.
He ticked them off in a speech to the assembly: "The economic,
commercial and financial blockade imposed by the American government,
the foreign debt situation, the past errors in terms of investment and
the restrictions imposed by the lack of foreign currency."
The US embargo, in place since 1962 and denounced daily by Havana and
annually by an immense majority of the UN General Assembly, is solidly
embedded in US law.
It prohibits Americans and Cuban residents of the United States from
investing in Cuba and threatens sanctions against companies who do
business in Cuba, whether they are US subsidiaries or foreign companies
that also operate in the United States.
Nevertheless, US President Barack Obama "holds out the possibility of
creating licenses to allow particularly Cuban-Americans to invest in and
promote the nascent Cuban private sector," says Arturo Lopez-Levy, a
Cuban academic at the University of Denver.
There are some exemptions to the embargo, obtained notably by the
powerful American agro-business lobby, and some Cuban exiles have
expressed interest in investing in sugar production in Cuba.
"The American government should seriously think about it, because Cuba
is a market that some Americans greatly wish to reconquer," said Esteban
Morales, of the University of Havana.
- Inertia and bottlenecks -
The high cost of servicing Cuba's foreign debt is another problem
limiting the island's capacity to borrow and adding to its need for
direct foreign investment.
The last official figure put Cuba's foreign debt at $13.6 billion in 2010.
Since then, Cuba has managed to cancel part of its foreign debt with
Russia, Japan and Mexico.
While Malmierca did not explain what he meant by "the errors of the
past," Lopez-Levy said that the new law faces many of the same pitfalls
as the 1995 foreign investment law it replaced.
"The 1995 law was never applied in full because of inertia on the part
of the administration and because of several bottlenecks," he told AFP.
For example, the old law like the new one authorized the creation of
enterprises with 100 percent foreign capital.
But in practice every foreign company operating in Cuba does so through
joint ventures in which the state has a majority stake.
To these problems, the Cuban government adds another: the hiring of
personnel.
Under the new law, as in the old, foreign investors have no direct
control over their personnel, who must be hired through a state-run agency.
"This measure should have been eliminated," said Morales, because it
both goes against workers' rights and undermines productivity and
healthy management.
Lopez-Levy, for his part, regrets that the new law fails to specifically
allow remittances from Cubans living abroad to be used and treated as
foreign investment.
The remittances amount to about $2.6 billion a year, making them Cuba's
second most important source of foreign revenues, on a par with tourism.
The nascent private sector, which today employs some 450,000 people --
compared to four million in the public sector -- benefits hugely from
remittances.
Addressing them in the new law would have created a legal framework for
business associations between the Cuban diaspora and those on the
island, he said.
"All these businesses should receive breaks and incentives, notably in
terms of taxes, because of their positive social impact," said Lopez-Levy.
Addressing them in the new law would have created a legal framework for
business associations between the Cuban diaspora and those on the
island, he said.
"It is a simple economic reform which incomprehensibly has been put
off," said Lopez-Levy.

Source: Cuba: obstacle course for foreign investors - Yahoo News Maktoob
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In Cuba, Unequal Reform
By JULIA COOKE
APRIL 1, 2014

I caught a cab in Havana one afternoon a few years ago when I lived in
Cuba. It was a gypsy cab, which is to say a man with a car who'd accept
money to give me a ride. We settled on $3, and I slipped into the front
seat of the Russian Lada next to the driver, a stern, tall, 50- or
60-something black man in a suit. Cuban taxi drivers are notorious
busybodies, but this man was silent until we approached my apartment.

"I am a doctor," he finally said. "Cardiólogo. I did some of the first
pediatric open-heart surgeries in Havana."

This sort of interaction is familiar to anyone who's spent much time in
Havana. Highly trained Cubans doing tasks far beneath their intellectual
capacity for extra cash — whether moonlighting or full-time — are the
inheritance of the Castro regime. As so much changes in the country
under Raúl Castro, this remains the same.

The last three years have brought tremendous economic reforms to Cuba,
particularly in terms of opening up the tourism and small business
sectors. The National Assembly has legalized the purchase and sale of
property and cars, granted licenses to small businesses and
nonprofessional independent contractors, and done away with the exit
permits that have restricted Cubans' travel and migration since 1961.
Just last weekend, it slashed government taxes on foreign companies
operating in Cuba.

And yet one group of Cubans has been systematically excluded from these
transformations: professionals, like my gypsy-cab-driving doctor. Until
this changes, the country, and the foreign investment it hopes to lure
with reforms like this most recent one, will stagnate.

It is still illegal for professionals, ranging from engineers to doctors
to lawyers to architects, to practice independently. Cuba's free,
meritocratic educational system has made them, the rationale goes, and
so their human capital should benefit the state. But in return, they
earn paltry state paychecks that hover around $18 to $22 per month. To
make ends meet they drive taxis after hours or quit the jobs they were
trained for altogether in order to work at restaurants, bars or
privately owned shops.

There has been some loosening in certain fields. Last month, the
government announced that medical professionals would see steep raises
in their salaries, offering — on the high end of the spectrum — a doctor
with two specialties $67 monthly. And last fall, a new law began to
allow Cuban professional athletes to sign contracts with foreign leagues
and compete for pay abroad. Still, a Cuban can go into business as a
party clown but not a lawyer; she can open a bar but not a private clinic.

The newest chapter in the reshaping of Cuba's economy is the law passed
on Saturday, which lowers total taxes on foreign businesses from 55
percent to 15 percent (businesses headquartered anywhere but the United
States, that is, because of our trade embargo). But Cuban workers don't
stand to benefit much from the change. Should foreign companies be lured
to Cuba by better deals, they would not be able to hire professionals as
they see fit. Rather, they would still have to contract labor through
the Cuban state.

This is not to say that independent practice does not happen — it does.
Web programmers take on freelance assignments paid in cash, writers sell
books in Spain, architects quietly make renderings for a well-connected
family's new restaurant. Yet these professionals work in the underground
economy, without legal protections. Five years ago, before Raúl Castro's
reforms came into effect, the current generation of entrepreneurs
selling religious paraphernalia or spa services were doing the same. Now
they are able to be openly compensated for their work.

Younger generations of Cubans are daring and savvy; they're used to a
legal landscape that changes monthly. But many young professionals
aren't willing to wait. Too often, they complete the two to three years
of social service required to "pay for" their degrees and then leave the
country, often for Europe, Latin America or the United States. In 2012,
migration statistics shot as high as in the early 1990s, when Cuba
plunged into a post-Soviet economic crisis. And the ranks of migrants
were bloated with professionals.

Back home, an older and more experienced generation, like the
cardiologist who picked me up, drives taxis. Cuba's brain drain doesn't
just cross borders, pushing skilled locals into other economies;
necessity, too, forces professionals out of their fields on the island
itself. This diminishes the country's appeal to some of its best
citizens, yes — and to foreign investors as well.

To be a professional in Cuba today is still a grim prospect. And until
this changes, economic reforms or no, Cuba won't change much, either.

Julia Cooke is the author of "The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the
New Cuba."

A version of this op-ed appears in print on April 2, 2014, in The
International New York Times. Order Reprints|Today's Paper|Subscribe

Source: In Cuba, Unequal Reform - NYTimes.com -
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