The prohibition on Cuban citizens staying in Cuban hotels, often called “tourism apartheid” here, ended at last night. AFP story here.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
The USAID Cuba program got a new black eye as White House aide Felipe Sixto resigned because of alleged improprieties involving USAID money during his three years working at the Center for a Free Cuba, where he worked as chief of staff until last July.
Sixto resigned March 20. The White House held the story until late Friday afternoon, the time when bad news is released to minimize coverage.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel, quoted by AFP, said: “Our understanding is that Mr Sixto allegedly had a conflict of interest with the use of USAID funds by his former employer.” Stanzel says the matter has been referred to the Justice Department.
A more informative statement came from an unidentified White House official who told the Washington Post that Sixto had “misused federal grant money for personal gain.”
USAID, as usual, provided the least information of all.
Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba gave an interview to the left-of-center blog Talking Points Memo, which reported:
Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for A Free Cuba, told me that the center “became aware of the allegations weeks ago, and we informed USAID immediately.” He said that the USAID inspector general had been investigating Sixto’s possible misuse of the funds. He said he had “no idea” how much money was missing, but that “we’re anxious to cooperate in any way shape or form to get to the very bottom of it. We expect that all funds in question will be returned to the American taxpayer.”
Miami Congressional candidate Joe Garcia issued a statement saying that the incident highlights “the fundamental flaws of a policy designed to win votes in Miami and patronize partisan supporters – not bring freedom to Cuba…millions of dollars intended to fuel a democratic change in Cuba are ending up in the hands of Bush/Diaz-Balart cronies and never makes it to the island.”
Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart said in a joint statement they were “deeply disturbed by any allegation of misuse of taxpayer funds” and urged the Department of Justice and the Inspector General of the USAID “to move thoroughly and swiftly in investigating all the facts in this matter.”
Last June, Garcia and Calzon tussled on the Miami television program Polos Opuestos, hosted by Maria Elvira Salazar. Calzon departed the set when Garcia used the verb “take” to refer to the receipt of USAID grants by Calzon’s organization.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Another “prohibition” bites the dust: Cuban citizens will now be allowed to have cell phones.
Actually, a great many Cubans already have cell phones. The catch has been that cell phone accounts for individuals have been offered to foreigners only. As a result, many Cubans get a foreigner to open a contract for them; the Cuban pays to open the account and then pays the ongoing charges for airtime to keep the account active.
Today’s decision, then, legalizes what was already a widespread reality. But it’s a positive step and we can expect it will lead to more Cubans subscribing to the service.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
should get rid of the tarjeta blanca exit permit for citizens who wish to travel abroad, allow Cubans to stay in Cuban hotels, and “resolve” the dual currency, says Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Raul Castro. AP Spanish story here. Cuba
- “It’s like the microwaves fell from the sky,” said a beneficiary of a pilot program in Las Guasimas, where microwaves were distributed in December. AP’s Will Weissert reports here. Great quote at the end from a local CDR member: “Everyone here is Fidelista. But with Fidel, they never brought us microwaves.”
- At HDNet, “Trade Winds,” a Dan Rather documentary on the situation in
today. The 52-minute program starts with an interesting look at agriculture, focusing on a teacher who moonlights (and earns his real living) as a farmer. The State Department declined to provide someone to talk on camera, and Cuba ’s Cuban American Congressional representatives declined too. State Representative Marco Rubio gave the pro-embargo point of view, quite effectively. Miami
- Check out these videos of recent man-on-the-street (and Carlos Varela on the sofa) interviews in
, from the Center for Democracy in the Havana . Americas
, an expression of interest in oil and gas exploration in Turkey . Cuba
, Reuters’ Marc Frank looks at Raul Castro’s actions and “discreet” style of governing. Havana
- I missed this from last week’s meeting between Cuban officials and emigrants: Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said that “the definition of Cuban is not the land where we live in, but the decision to defend the nation’s integrity and be willing to defend it at any cost.”
Atlantictakes a fanciful look at ’s future, with illustrated map. (H/T Penultmos Dias.) Havana
A recent essay by Granma editor Lazaro Barredo, a regular on the Mesa Redonda television program, took Cubans to task for expecting something for nothing.
Economic improvement will only come when Cubans work more and
He went on to note the complexity of ending
Is the problem really that Cubans don’t want to work? Or is it that, responding to incentives and disincentives like people in any economy, they put their effort where it brings them a good return? I think it’s the latter. At any rate, a much more informative article in Barredo’s paper, one week later, put a spotlight on this very issue.
This second article makes Barredo’s point that Cubans have to join the workforce so that production can increase: “On the field, and not from the stands, we will solve the basic economic and financial problems that plague us.”
But the main thrust of the article is a description of an official study that found that one fifth of the labor force in
Why is that? Those who administered the study got these typical responses: “I don’t work because they don’t pay me well,” “My Mom and Dad take care of me,” or the “business pays me more,” the latter an apparent reference to the black market.
“It hurts to think,” the article states, that the state provides education “without limit,” yet society does not receive the full benefit of the trained workforce. In the past year, 3,015 of
Even jobs with modest incentive packages are hard to fill. The article gives the example of bus drivers who are paid 315 pesos per month, plus bonuses based on performance, plus 13 convertible pesos. Still, some of these jobs go unfilled.
In looking at the Raul Castro period, one has to note that there has been a change in the media. It’s still state-controlled, the droning Randy Alonso still reads Fidel’s commentaries word for word on the Mesa Redonda, and there are articles such as Lazaro Barredo’s. But there are also articles such as the one cited above, that explain the real problem confronting Cuban policymakers, and admitting truthfully that there is vast underemployment in the Cuban labor force.
How the government will deal with this problem is not yet clear. I’m sure Cubans will appreciate removal of each and every “prohibition” and regulation that Raul decides to remove, but those under discussion so far are not going to generate new jobs, nor are they going to change the incentive structure that keeps Cubans out of the formal labor force.
[Update: AFP reports on a Juventud Rebelde story (which I can’t locate) on a 2007 survey that found that 282,000 Cuban youth are neither studying nor working. One of the reasons was that job offers don’t meet their “hopes and needs” or don’t correspond to their educational background.]
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
But how far will he go, and how fast? That question leads to all kinds of speculation, similar to the speculation before last month’s leadership decisions. But as in that situation – did anyone on earth predict that Machado Ventura would be the new number two? – those who say, don’t know, and those who know, don’t say.
The most tangible change so far involves public investment in transportation. The camellos that dominated public transit for the past 15 years – two Hungarian buses with their noses sawed off, the bodies welded together, the whole contraption pulled by a belching tractor-trailer cab – are nearly gone. On a recent trip I saw only one in
And what about the famous “prohibitions?”
There are rumors aplenty – that Cubans will be able to have cell phones in their own names instead of having a foreigner sign the contract for them, that they will be able to stay in hotels, and the tarjeta blanca exit permit and similar restrictions will be dropped.
So far, there have been some moves in the agriculture sector (more on that later), a decision to allow Cubans to get medicines at any pharmacy, not only their own, and a decision to sell computers in the state’s hard currency stores beginning next week, along with other appliances that will be rolled out over the next few years.
In the coming months, we’ll find out just how many of
The report’s definition of the informal market encompasses the sale of goods and services from non-state sources, which includes quite a mix of sources: legal sales at the farmers markets, legal sales of goods and services by licensed entrepreneurs, plus black-market sales by unlicensed entrepreneurs, and sales of goods that are pilfered from state sources or legally obtained from state sources and then resold.
The report includes month-by-month national data from February 2007 to February 2008, and data from the provinces that compare January 2008 and February 2008 prices. Prices were relatively stable with the exception of powdered milk, which jumped about 30 percent in price between January and February 2008.
The most interesting thing about the report may be that it was published at all. If ONE continues to publish these data series, it will give us a benchmark to measure changes in the agriculture sector, where efforts are under way to boost output.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
- Generacion Y, Yoani Sanchez’ blog written from
, was reported yesterday by Yoani to have been blocked to readers trying to gain access from inside Havana . This morning, the Spanish newspaper ABC reported that the site was blocked, then “a slow access” was permitted. A friend in Cuba said the same to me late yesterday. Havana
- There were rumors that changes in Cuban migration regulations – such as the end of a requirement for the tarjeta blanca exit permit for Cubans wishing to travel abroad – would be announced at a meeting last week in
between Cuban government officials and a group of Cubans living abroad. Didn’t happen. The meeting turned out to be a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Antonio Maceo brigades and a discussion of common strategies on political issues such as the Havana embargo and the cause of Los Cinco. Granma published a concluding statement from the group, expressing its “commitment” to the “work of the Revolution,” its support for the results of the recent “free and transparent elections” in U.S. , and its view that Cuba policy is the “greatest obstacle” to “the normalization of ties between the nation and its emigration.” As for Cuban restrictions on citizen travel, the group seemed to allude to this issue by expressing “our confidence that measures will continue to be applied as circumstances permit, without affecting the security of the country.” Freedom to travel, it would seem, is an unalienable right when it comes to U.S. law, and a privilege to be accorded as “circumstances permit” when it comes to Cuban law. “You will always be our Comandante,” they said in a separate message to Fidel, also published in Granma. U.S.
- Stop the presses: The Washington Times cites former
and Cuban intelligence officials saying that U.S. will continue to gather intelligence in the Cuba , probably has “at least one intelligence officer” under diplomatic cover at its UN and United States missions, and will continue to keep an eye on Washington . “They always wanted to know about those that dictated Miami policy on U.S. ,” the former Cuban official said. Cuba
Friday, March 21, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
- The Washington Post interviews a Cuban “psychologist-turned-restaurateur” who interviewed American POW John McCain in
in 1970. Hanoi
- Reuters photographers in Havana have a terrific slideshow of their work. I may never post another one of mine again.
- Speaking of photos, Rui dug up a good one of his demonstrative self, making a point to his colleagues at El Nuevo on a historic day.
- At least they didn’t call it “stalemate:” a 1-1 tie between Cuba and the United States in the first game of an Olympics qualifying round in
Monday, March 10, 2008
EU aid chief Louis Michel wants to end
One could say that Michel wants the EU to give up something for nothing, but these sanctions were a nothingburger anyway – they were in effect for two years and were suspended since 2005. When in effect, they involved a ban on high-level visits by EU officials, a requirement that dissidents be invited to EU embassies’ national day receptions, and similar measures.
Michel discussed human rights on the visit, but you have to dig deep down in the joint communiqué to learn that fact.
Michel’s reasoning, from the Reuters report:
Michel found that economic and political changes, including advances in human rights, are in the pipeline, though they may take time and are not being publicly broadcast by the new leadership, Manservisi [his aide] said.
”Michel is more than ever convinced that a situation of political immobility by the European Union in this context of underground movement would be a big mistake," Manservisi said.
Michel may be in a special hurry to convince EU member states to take this step, considering that the
[Update: Dissidents told EFE they were disappointed in the visit. If Michel’s ideas represent the future EU policy, Oswaldo Paya says, then “it would be abandoning an ethical path and ignoring the rights of Cubans.” In yesterday’s election in Spain, the Zapatero government was re-elected. This means no change in
Are Cuban Americans hypocrites for wanting to return to
That suggestion is part of the current argument against liberalizing rules for Cuban American family visits, an issue that is likely to be debated a great deal this year.
The idea is that there’s a real inconsistency if you claim to be a refugee fleeing communism, and then turn around and visit the country you fled. I have heard Reps. Diaz Balart and others make variations of this argument.
The problem is that in proportion to all Cubans who immigrate, relatively few come here as refugees in a legal sense – that is, relatively few are admitted by establishing a credible claim that they would be persecuted if they return.
The vast majority enter as normal immigrants, or by winning the visa lottery, or they arrive without a visa and are admitted once they reach a
The average annual number of refugees admitted from
But there’s more to the argument, beyond the false notion that Cuban Americans who want to visit the island are contradicting claims they made in order to get into the country. Where this gets interesting, and what brought me to the subject, is where it touches the issue of Cuban American identity.
If you look at the first comment to this post, I have placed an exchange that followed a February 29th post. A reader argued that Cuban Americans are exiles and, essentially, that all should behave as such.
Nothing could be more obvious than that some Cuban Americans see themselves as exiles, unwilling ever to return until socialism is gone. But others, often younger or more recent arrivals, wish to visit
Why one group’s views should be imposed on the behavior of another is beyond me.
- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited
after attending a summit in Cuba where last week’s Andean border crisis came to an anticlimactic end. He spent time with Raul and Fidel but most interesting of all, he arrived with the mother of FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt and a Colombian senator who are both working for Betancourt’s release. Raul greeted all three at the airport. AP Spanish here. Santo Domingo ’s population declines for the second year in a row, an ominous demographic trend caused in part by emigration. El Nuevo Herald’s detailed report is here. Last year’s summary of official population data is here. Cuba
- If you’re in
, Rep. Jeff Flake speaks on Washington policy Wednesday night. Cuba
- In the New York Times, Cuban immigrants in
confronting myths about their own country. New York
Friday, March 7, 2008
President Bush spoke about
He praised Eastern European countries but said nothing about recent human rights statements by
The Bush Administration apparently lobbied in European capitals to block the visit to
Michel arrived yesterday.
The EU’s representative in
My bet is that EU member states themselves aren’t in agreement on that, although they would all want “to advance a peaceful process of transition toward a pluralistic democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental liberties,” as Michel’s spokesman said last week.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
From White House Press Secretary Dana Perino’s briefing today:
MS. PERINO: No, in fact, the President continues to be disappointed that the people of
Q And those who say that the beginning of a democratic transition might be encouraged by lifting the American embargo?
MS. PERINO: The President spoke to that last week, and he said that one of the things that he will not do is lift an embargo so that people who are the elites in Cuba, who are repressing everybody else, would benefit from that, and that the people who are the workers in the country would continue to be repressed. And the President just cannot accept that. Remember, this embargo, it's not the President's policy, it's longstanding
- The power of the flash drive: The New York Times reports on a new news network in
, a “growing underground network of young people armed with computer memory sticks, digital cameras and clandestine Internet hookups.” Cuba
- The EU’s top aid official visits Havana.
, a lawsuit is brought against the Bush Administration’ 2004 rule limiting Cuban American family visits to immediate family only, and once every three years. Vermont
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
With CubaNews’ kind permission, here’s a pdf of the article by reporter Ana Radelat.
The point of the shift, a State Department spokeswoman says, is to “give the money to organizations that can best address the needs on the ground.” A prominent
A shift to the NED and IRI would not necessarily cut
The article also includes debate about the form of aid given to dissidents. Direct cash aid to dissidents is not barred by law, but it has not been allowed because of a decision by USAID that was taken during the Clinton Administration. That decision has stood all through the Bush Administration, in spite of complaints that cash is the most effective aid.
My thanks to CubaNews for permission to link to this article. For more about this fine monthly, check out the website where back issues are posted, along with subscription information.
● The EU Council, led by
● The long arm of OFAC: an English travel agent’s websites are shut down, according to this blog, because they discuss
● From a new report on telecoms in
● This instructive essay by Raj Desai of the Brookings Institution looks at options for Cuban economic reform and argues that the chances for reform would be enhanced if American sanctions were dropped. It assumes a Cuban government interested in far-reaching economic policy decisions, which is not quite the case today. And I’ll quibble with one thing: it is not the case that Cubans jeopardize their housing or access to health care if they move to the private sector, such as a person who leaves a government or state enterprise job and moves into self-employment. But that’s a very small point; the essay’s great strength is the way it uses many examples from China’s and Eastern Europe’s economic reform experiences to put Cuba’s choices in context.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
In the spat between Colombia and its neighbors following Colombia’s raid last Saturday on a FARC camp just across the Ecuadoran border, Fidel takes the same line as Chavez by blaming the “Yankee empire.” But he notes in his “Reflection” that
The Cuban government, meanwhile, has made no statement.
The big news in all this was Chavez’ order to his defense minister to move tank units to the Colombian border. But have any Venezuelan forces actually moved? This Reuters report says that as of yesterday, units were getting ready and awaiting a deployment order, but none had moved.
What I really should do is a little research about this building, then write an informative caption. Instead, I’ll put the picture here and see if readers will fill us in. It’s a big imposing thing, as incongruous as can be in its setting on top of the mountain just northwest of
Monday, March 3, 2008
- Tonight at on the Sundance Channel (late notice, sorry), “638 Ways to Kill Castro,” a 2006 British documentary about attempts over the years to do away with Fidel.
Times review here. The subject brings to mind this item in a Newsweek obituary of William F. Buckley: “After a coup plot against Indonesian strongman Sukarno failed in 1957, Buckley wrote in the National Review, ‘The attempted assassination of Sukarno last week had all the earmarks of a CIA operation. Everyone in the room was killed except Sukarno.’” New York
- In the Wall Street Journal, Brian Latell speculates about the relationship between Fidel and Raul, leadership politics, and challenges ahead.
- The Herald covered Cardinal Bertone’s interview and interpreted it as meaning an exchange of dissidents – as opposed to fugitives or anyone else – for Los Cinco. The inference is not so clear to me, and it’s “cryptic” to an Italian friend who did me the favor of reading it, but fortunately you can look for yourself. The Vatican’s English version is here; the omitted question to the Cardinal was, “Public opinion was expecting some step in favor of the political prisoners. Did you talk about it?” Ernesto, at Penultimos Dias, sees things differently; the Cardinal was “scandalously clear,” he said. If the Cuban government ever raises the issue of an “exchange” in public, we’ll find out.