● Cardinal Jaime Ortega and bishops and clerics from all
● A story in Mexico’s El Universal, based on Mexican foreign ministry sources, adds to the rumor that
● Cardinal Jaime Ortega and bishops and clerics from all
● A story in Mexico’s El Universal, based on Mexican foreign ministry sources, adds to the rumor that
Meanwhile, a friend sent this item from the Charlie Rose Show – former Secretary of State George Shultz, from the Reagan Administration, on
Raul Castro announced yesterday that a communist party congress, the first since 1997, will be held in the second half of 2009. Also, from the Reuters story: “He said an executive body, made up of the same seven officials who hold the Council of State presidency and six vice presidencies, and with an average age of more than 70, would make day-to-day decisions for the Political Bureau until the Congress. This would imply that Fidel Castro is no longer active in party affairs, though the two brothers insist he is still consulted on all important matters of state.” In addition, he announced that some death sentences are to be commuted, although the death penalty remains on the books. See coverage from Reuters here and here, and from AP.
[Update: It’s hard to envision that the naming of the “executive body” mentioned above will have an impact on decisionmaking, considering that it’s the same seven individuals who are already at the top of the council of state. But this morning I left out something that is at least of symbolic importance: the creation of this group puts an end to Fidel Castro’s July 2006 ad hoc designation of specific officials to supervise specific policy areas during his illness. Raul Castro’s statement is here.]
Separately, modest increases were announced in pensions, social assistance payments, and salaries of court and justice ministry employees, and a five percent social security tax will “gradually be extended” to workers who do not now pay the tax. Granma (English) here.
The Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) has issued a thorough report (pdf, 22 pages) on the USAID Cuba program. It traces the history and original purposes of the program, and it calls for major changes in the program at a time when its funding is increasing and USAID is reportedly considering a shift away from Miami groups that have received most of its grants.
The key issue it discusses is the decision made by a USAID official in 1996, at the program’s inception, to prohibit cash assistance to people and organizations in
This decision, not required by law, has remained in place all through the Clinton and Bush Administrations. CANF wants it reversed; it says it is the “single most direct cause of the substantive failures of
By “substantive failure,” CANF mainly means the fact that a minority of USAID program funds result in resources that reach
CANF examined four grantees that received $24.5 million from USAID between 1998 and 2005 – the Center for a Free Cuba, the Directorio Democratico Cubano, the Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia, and Accion Democratica – and found that 36 percent of funds were spent on resources that reach Cuba; the rest are spent off the island, an “egregious misdirection of resources,” CANF says. The percentage of funds reaching
USAID probably sees things otherwise. One of the goals of the funding, CANF notes, is to “build solidarity with
One can debate whether political activity in third countries has any impact, or is a good use of taxpayer money, but it is within the scope of the program. The law authorizes “support for democratic and human rights groups in
The USAID program deserves to be debated, and CANF’s report and recommendations, which go far beyond the points I summarized here, deserve attention.
Many of the policy changes made so far under Raul Castro involve public investment (the new bus fleet), ending nuisance regulations (pharmacies), or allowing Cubans to buy things previously off-limits (cell phones, hotels, computers, dvd’s). I don’t scoff at these changes, but they are not big economic policy measures geared to generating increased output, jobs, and incomes.
Agriculture seems to be a different story, where the “structural” changes called for by Raul Castro may indeed come into being.
Right up front, one has to say that Americans – with our agricultural subsidies, government-driven land allocations, and distortion of market signals through tariffs, ethanol mandates, and other measures – are not in the best position to discuss “socialist” farm policies in
Since the economic crisis of the early 1990’s,
These are the changes under way:
● Idle lands are being distributed to private farmers – the most productive of all
● The agriculture ministry bureaucracy is being reorganized, and decisionmaking is being decentralized. Offices are being created at the municipal level, with the promise that decisions once made by central authorities will be made in
● Producers are increasingly selling directly to local state institutions (schools, hospitals, businesses) instead of selling to a state enterprise that would then distribute the product. This report says that the “intermediary enterprises” will “become providers of services” to cooperatives. This article discusses the same thing. (It used to be that discussion of eliminating “intermediaries” meant going after those Cubans who earn a living by transporting produce and re-selling it to vendors in the farmers markets. There has never been a real crackdown on these alleged profiteers, surely because the markets would grind to a halt without them.)
● Stores are being created where farmers can buy tools, and farmers are being given credit to make purchases at these stores. This is a small step to reverse an absurd, decades-long policy where the state distributed supplies of its choosing, when it chose, to whom it chose – and farmers’ actual needs were not a driving factor.
● On a lighter note, when it comes to getting rid of marabu, the bush that takes over idle fields, Granma reports that two guys in Las Tunas have found a great way to kill it: flood the fields for 72 hours, clear the field, then plant something else.
If you sum this all up, it looks promising. One step alone, the distribution of additional land to private farmers, is almost guaranteed to raise production and put
The key to the incentive structure for all agricultural producers in
Finally, there has been talk of eliminating the libreta, the ration book that is the mechanism for distributing heavily subsidized staples to every Cuban household. And we are seeing reports that there is a decreasing reliance on the state as the buyer, transporter, and distributor of food, and increasing use of direct sales to end-users. If the result of all this is elimination of the huge state distribution system in agriculture (the acopio) and a new policy where the state abandons mass rationing and instead targets food aid to those in need, that would mark a very large “structural” change, one that could point to later policy moves in other economic sectors.
And a BBC report from
I’m sure that many will read that as criticism, but Ravsberg is leading to an interesting question. If changes in
Wilfredo Cancio’s story in Sunday’s El Nuevo Herald claims that more reforms are in store. His reporting is based on anonymous government sources in
According to the article, other ideas are under study, such as increasing the Cuban peso’s value against the convertible peso, from 24:1 to 19:1, easing restrictions on
Pedro Riera Escalante, a former Cuban intelligence official, last week submitted a petition to the National Assembly in which he seeks a national referendum on a proposal to change Cuban law. His proposal includes, among other provisions, abolishing the exit permit so Cubans can travel abroad freely, eliminating barriers to Cubans returning to
AFP describes Riera Escalante’s proposal and his personal history here in English. El Nuevo Herald’s treatment is more detailed and links to a pdf of the proposal itself. The proposal, of course, comes amid rumors that the government has already decided to abolish the exit permit requirement.
It’s an interesting proposal for a radical change in Cuban policy, and it does not come from the opposition composed of dissident groups. Riera Escalante frames his proposal by favorably citing Raul Castro’s calls for strong debate and by applauding the government’s signing of the UN human rights conventions. He refers to
If there’s one thing that’s clear about the changes taking place in
One example came last week. Salary ceilings are being lifted and workers are going to be able to earn more, according to their output. But how much more? In Cuban pesos or in hard currency? And what will the incentive structure be? In time, we’ll find out.
And then last Friday came news of a change in housing policy.
Maybe it’s the start of a broader reform that will someday allow Cubans who hold title to their homes to price and sell them. According to AP, two housing officials said that more changes in housing policies are to come.
But the action taken last Friday was narrow. It affects Cubans who are by law entitled to gain title to their homes after paying rent for 20 years. The change streamlines the bureaucratic process for acquiring title.
It is not, as I thought when I first heard the report, a decision to allow Cubans who have rented properties – and had no prospect of owning them – to become owners. That decision was made long ago. What changed is the procedure by which certain renters can become owners.
This new procedure is related to a 1987 resolution and a 1988 law that govern housing that is “vinculada,” i.e. linked to a government entity that rents housing to its workers. Examples include members of the military, sugar workers, and others.
That law and resolution established that after 20 years of paying rent, the workers are entitled to own the property. Since the entitlement was established 20 years ago, large numbers of Cubans are now at the point where they can claim ownership.
The new procedure sets forth how the workers’ “right to transfer” – or that of their heirs – is to be exercised. Workers can start the process without waiting for the employer to start it, the municipal housing office (rather than a provincial or national bureaucracy) can carry it out, and once a document is delivered indicating that the process is complete, that document serves as title to the property.
With title, Cubans can bequeath property to heirs or seek a license to rent it in national or convertible currency. They cannot sell it, but in fact there is a real estate market of sorts. Legally, they trade properties, and under the table they transfer money that makes up for the difference in value.
The decision, a resolution issued by the housing institute and published in the Official Gazette, is here. Reuters coverage here. AP coverage here. (Correction: I'm told that family doctors' housing is not in the category covered by the resolution, and deleted that from the post.)
Reuters’ Marc Frank reports on a statement on Cuban television announcing that ceilings on Cuban state-sector salaries will be removed, and workers’ earnings will increase with their productivity.
This seems to be less than the comprehensive new salary policy that was to be formulated some time ago. But it’s another sign that in order to increase output, more incentives will be employed and more inequality will be accepted. From the same reporter, a second story on the income inequality in
Raul Castro says
There are three ways to get it.
It seems that the last option is being followed. La Jornada reports on a press conference by foreign investment minister Marta Lomas, where she says the “fundamental effort” in agriculture remains Cuban alone, but points to the possibility of joint ventures to increase rice and cattle production.
La Jornada also says there are proposals circulating that would create joint ventures to supply the tourism sector. This would reflect an admission that the current system, where a few state enterprises are assigned the task of supplying food to the tourism sector – and tourism businesses cannot contract directly with farmers or cooperatives – has failed. After more than a decade of tourism development,
A second report (in English) on Lomas’ comments is here.
● Speaking of Generacion Y, a newsletter last week from the Center for Democracy in the Americas carried a comment from a reader with an idea why Yoani’s blog had severe access troubles: “because the ones who maintain that website changed the pages from .sthml to .php. If you type http://www.desdecuba.com/generaciony/index.shtml you get the ‘Not Found’ error message. If you type the same address but ending in index.php there is no problem (http://www.desdecuba.com/generaciony/index.php). This is why some people both in and outside of
● At Penultimos Dias, a link to what purports to be a price list for items newly approved for sale to Cubans in state retail stores. Markup: 130 percent.
● A new blog of Cuba photos from
● In Diario las
[Photo of Yoani Sanchez on her balcony.]
I go away for a few days and come back to find the Orioles in first place, and a document posted by Henry Gomez on Babalu where a Washington lawyer describes me (in what looks like a memo to his client) as a former CIA employee. Not so – my work in the executive branch, long time ago, was in the State Department. For some readers that may have worse connotations, and I understand.
Regarding the other questions Henry raises, I’ll say the following.
Ever since the Cold War ended, and long before I started working at
My work is supported by private donors; my agenda is my own. (Your donations are tax-deductible, by the way.)
I have sponsored Congressional trips funded by private foundations, and I have assisted with other trips where the legislators’ travel was paid for by the
These Congressional trips have indeed included conversations with foreign investors who do business in
The Congressional trips have also led to Oswaldo Paya’s living room, where I have translated his views on foreign investment and other topics for U.S. legislators; to conference rooms for talks with Cuban officials (including Fidel Castro on a few occasions); to talks with vendors in farmers markets, entrepreneurs in their places of business, U.S. diplomats, foreign diplomats, reporters, and academics; to the little pharmacy upstairs in the synagogue in Vedado, where the congregation distributes medicines (many donated by Americans) to Cubans who need them; to the provinces to see how the Catholic charity Caritas works; to farms and a sugar mill south of Havana; to meetings with Cardinal Ortega; to a church service in Havana’s outskirts with one Congressman who met Cubans who share his faith and I was the privileged translator; to talks with American students studying at the University of Havana; to a March 2003 meeting in a hotel with dissidents, some of whom were arrested weeks later; to a meeting with the wife of one of the arrested, in her home. And to retail stores, and a
Now back to regular blogging.
I don’t know if the UNEAC conference (artists and writers union) now under way in
Just 3 percent of the 400 participants in the congress were under 40.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” the article said.
“The average age of the membership is 60 years,’ filmmaker and writer Victor Casaus was quoted as saying. “Where is the continuity of Cuban culture?”
Yes, and no, depending on who is talking.
Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon says that recent changes in
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, meanwhile, says the changes are “cynical.” The ban on hotel stays used to be a staple of Gutierrez’ speeches, however, such as in February 2007: “And the resorts, which cater to foreign tourists, are off limits for most Cuban nationals – in essence, a ‘tourism apartheid’ that reinforces the repression of the Cuban people.” Or last September, when he asked rhetorically when Cubans will be allowed to visit “any hotels or resorts or other tourist areas they wish in their own country.”
Frank Calzon weighs in with another article, this time in English in the Herald. He again discusses the resignation of Felipe Sixto, his organization’s former employee, from a White House job he took last year. The irregularities that are alleged against Sixto are not known, but Calzon corrects a misstatement in his Diario Las Americas article – that USAID funds cannot be spent in the
Granma is now running letters to the editor. In the March 28 on-line edition, there are three letters responding to the article by Granma editor Lazaro Barredo, discussed in this blog last week. Barredo’s message was that if Cubans want more, the first step is for them to work more.
The first thing one notices about the letters is that neither the writers nor the editors aim for a crisp 250 words.
As for substance, one writer agrees with Barredo that more work must precede material benefits.
Another expresses understanding of Barredo’s point but concludes that “it should be our government that takes the pertinent steps so that salaries correspond to the individual’s output as a basic step to increase production.”
Another writer argues that no “substantial change in the economy” and no solution to the dual currency problem can be achieved unless
In a Diario las
Calzon goes on to describe how USAID funds are used, making the amazing claim that USAID funds, “by law, cannot be used in the
In the article, Calzon goes on to settle scores with a series of unnamed adversaries in debates. He recalls the physical attack he suffered at the hands of a Cuban diplomat in