Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Today's McCain speech is here. Then there's a long document prepared by the Democratic National Committee, that seems to contain everything Senator McCain has ever said about Cuba. And here's a link to some Obama comments in an interview today; his jab at Senator McCain for "flip-flopping" is based on some of the comments in the DNC document.
The Cuban government’s accusations against the U.S. Interests Section in
Monday, May 19, 2008
▪ A Miami Herald reporter, in
▪ Sun-Sentinel correspondent Ray Sanchez writes about American fugitives living in Cuba; he interviews one (Charlie Hill) and reports that another, Joanne Chesimard, has “gone into hiding.”
▪ Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, writing in
Senators Obama and McCain will be in Florida this week and will give speeches about Cuba; the Bush Administration is planning to highlight the plight of political prisoners in Cuba, and the Cuban foreign ministry kicks things off tonight with a television program where they will reportedly present accusations that U.S. diplomats are delivering private funds to dissidents.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
- Cuban and Nicaraguan police are in
to train Venezuelan police, the Herald reports. Venezuela
- El Nuevo Herald covers the Cuban American National Foundation’s report on the USAID Cuba program.
- McCain and Obama will give
policy speeches as they campaign in Cuba next week, the Herald reports. The same article links to the Foundation’s report and to a response by the Directorio Democratico Cubano, one of the orgaizations discussed in it. Florida
- Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura is leading Cuba’s delegation to the Lima Ibero-American summit.
A Council on Foreign Relations task force report on U.S. relations with Latin American and the Caribbean, released yesterday, calls for renewed engagement with the region centered around “four critical issues” – “poverty and inequality, public security, human mobility, and energy security.” It also focuses on “four strategic relationships,” calling for “the deepening of the
The report is here (pdf, 96 pages).
These are the task force’s recommendations for
• Permit freer travel to and facilitate trade with
• Reinstate and liberalize the thirteen categories of licensed people-to-people “purposeful travel” for other Americans, instituted by the
• Hold talks on issues of mutual concern to both parties, such as migration, human smuggling, drug trafficking, public health, the future of the Guantánamo naval base, and on environmentally sustainable resource management, especially as
• Work more effectively with partners in the western hemisphere and in
• Mindful of the last one hundred years of U.S.-Cuba relations, assure Cubans on the island that the
• Repeal the 1996 Helms-Burton law, which removed most of the executive branch’s authority to eliminate economic sanctions. While moving to repeal the law, the U.S. Congress should pass legislative measures, as it has with agricultural sales, designed to liberalize trade with and travel to
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
From Jorge Pinon, a former Amoco executive now at the
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
…national security advisor to the first President Bush, thanks to Steve Clemons, The Washington Note, who asked the question and recorded it.
Note: This video has apparently been removed from YouTube. Here is what Scowcroft said:
“My answer on
Last Friday AP’s
Based on the AP’s account (English here, Spanish here; there is different information in the two articles) the message seems pretty clear: a) the party recognizes that Cubans want the dual-currency system to end, b) it wants the public to understand that change will be gradual, and c) the key is increased productivity.
The paper is based, AP says, on the Central Bank’s view of the situation. It recommends gradually increasing the pesos’s value relative to the convertible peso, with gains in productivity, not a pre-cooked timetable, setting the pace.
Moving gradually, the central bank figures, it can avoid setting off inflation or a run on merchandise in stores.
“The elimination of the dual currency will lead to better measurement of economic efficiency and will be a positive factor to promote our development…but it is not a measure that will in itself create wealth,” the paper says.
So the bottom line in terms of the party’s message is that action on the peso will be gradual, and the faster production increases, the faster it will happen – similar to messages we have seen in articles such as this. And in policy terms, the bottom line seems to me to be that the government is setting the bar high for its own action in raising production throughout the economy.
What interested me more was a secondary point: the Central Bank wants to see a reduction in “indiscriminate” subsidies, because a reduction in government spending will make its currency transition easier.
There are a number of “indiscriminate” subsidies in Cuba, but my guess is that this is a reference to the biggest of all, the distribution of food to every household on the island through the ration book (libreta de abastecimiento), regardless of income.
As discussed here, if
The agriculture ministry enterprises that collect, warehouse, and distribute products that are the state’s exclusive domain – potatoes, dairy products, etc. – would have no more reason to exist.
So what would be in play would be a more rational approach to public assistance, a big reduction in the agriculture ministry bureaucracy, and a reduction of the state’s role in that sector as these intermediary enterprises disappear.
Is this kind of “structural change” possible? Maybe so – officials have talked about the possible disappearance of the libreta, the central bank seems to be voting in favor of it now, and stories from the agriculture sector hint in that direction. Like this one, about how milk producers in
Finally, the paper contained this nugget: 59 percent of Cubans’ bank savings are in pesos, 36 percent in convertible pesos, and five percent in dollars. So if you exclude mattress money, the action taken by the Central Bank in 2004 succeeded in soaking up dollar liquidity.
- EFE interviews a vice minister of communications: wider Internet access for Cubans will have to wait;
lacks resources and bandwidth; poor-quality phone line connections to many homes is another impediment. But a future fiber optic cable link to Cuba may help. Venezuela
- At Los Miquis, a video of a son returning to his Havana home after 13 years living in
. And a very rough dinner table conversation. With English subtitles; decide for yourself if it's a dramatization. New York
- A tribute to the Cuban Adjustment Act, in El Nuevo Herald.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Cuban television ran a story about the Bush-dissidents teleconference and reportedly included video that was portrayed as showing a
Martha Beatriz Roque, interviewed by Radio Marti, says there’s always a reason for attacks like this and is waiting for the other shoe to drop (story here with link to two minutes of audio from her). AP coverage here, AFP in Spanish here.
- Mariela Castro, daughter of Raul Castro, in an interview in
’s La Vanguardia: “It is not necessary to deprive people of their right to leave. I think we should grant permission to all those who want to leave. People can leave, but with a great amount of difficulty.” Interesting that she calls it a “right” as opposed to a privilege. (As reported in the Sun Sentinel.) Spain
- From Mike Williams of Cox News Service, a report on Cuba’s Jewish community, based on a visit to the synagogue in Vedado. He mentioned the religious services and the synagogue’s library; there’s also a pharmacy upstairs, full of medicines donated by visitors from abroad, where doctors, nurses, and patients come twice weekly to get medicines they can’t otherwise find.
- This guy thinks he found “a volcano in eruption somewhere in
.” (On Google maps, on the coast south of Ciego de Avila.) Cuba
- A photo essay on the Malecon from a student recently returned from study in
Friday, May 9, 2008
- Radio silence: Radio Marti covered the Bush-dissidents videoconference, but neither the story on the website nor the story broadcast on the air, which featured interviews with the three
participants, mentioned Martha Beatriz Roque’s request to President Bush that he ease travel and remittance restrictions. Story here, with link at bottom to the audio. Havana
- Yoani takes it with a grain of salt, calling the government’s refusal to allow her to travel to
to receive her award a “second decoration.” Spain
- From the world of sports: The Herald covers the Cuban judo team competing in Pan American championships in Miami, and The New York Times on the Cuban soccer players who stayed in the United States a few months ago and are trying to break into major league soccer. (Speaking of Generacion Y, the players include Yenier and Yordany.)
- The European parliament calls on the Cuban government to allow the Damas de Blanco and Oswaldo Paya to travel to
, respectively to collect their 2005 human rights award and to provide briefings on the situation in Brussels . Cuba
Thursday, May 8, 2008
President Bush gave a speech on Latin America yesterday and began with a discussion of
In contrast to his last speech where he said we are seeing “the dying gasps of a failed regime” in
Also in contrast to his last speech where he valued freedom over stability and seemed indifferent to the possibility of violent confrontation, yesterday he called on the Cuban government to “begin a process of peaceful democratic change.”
He dismissed recent changes in
And this: “Until there's a change of heart and a change of compassion, and a change of how the Cuban government treats its people, there’s no change at all.”
“No change at all?” I could understand “limited change.” Or “changes that are irrelevant to most Cubans.” Or “changes that do not affect the fundamental human rights situation.”
But this seems to be an effort to dismiss reality. Improved public transit, an end to “tourism apartheid,” sales of DVD players and computers, an end to cell phone restrictions, and especially the distribution of additional land to private farmers, are real changes, with real political impact inside
President Bush placed
Without fanfare, the Raul Castro government is renovating its international relationships with nations large and small, whether we like it or not. The latest example involves the relationship with
Most intriguing was the President’s statement about his videoconference with dissidents the day before: “It reminded me about how much work the
In that conversation, President Bush was asked to ease restrictions on family visits and remittances. Which leads me to wonder – beyond moral and material support for the dissidents, does the “work the
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
In an item below, I cited a Reuters story from
An AP story, including reporting from
Some of what Bush heard echoed the challenges to his
The U.S. Interests Section in
For Roque, this is a new position. In general she has been in favor of American sanctions against
If this is Roque’s position, it is fair to ask: Can there be a single Cuban in
A sign of the trouble that Roque’s statement is already causing was reported by Alejandro Armengol on his Cuaderno de Cuba blog. He says that the videoconference received scant mention on Radio Mambi, and that Roque is barely mentioned on that station since April, when she joined other dissidents in a call for a Cuban transition that takes place in “an atmosphere of national reconciliation.”
Armengol says Roque now suffers “double censorship” – from the
Update: The dissidents’ press release about the videoconference said nothing about
Here, from AP, is how Berta Soler (one of the participants in the videoconference) described it:
“Ella (Roque) le pidió que fuera flexible sobre las visitas (de cubanoamericanos) a
“She [Roque] asked him to be flexible regarding visits [of Cuban Americans] to
What would you expect to see in a Cuban newspaper article that rounds up man-on-the-street opinions on workplace issues?
Maybe opinions like these: that
Those views, all somewhat predictable and in line with messages that officials are delivering, were indeed stated in a long Juventud Rebelde article that sampled youth opinions across the island on the occasion of the May 1 workers’ holiday.
Maybe less predictably, the article also cited Cubans’ opinions such as these:
- Labor unions are ineffectual and don’t serve as counterweight to company management.
- Food served at workplace cafeterias is not good.
- Hours are wasted in “excessive meetings.”
- Productivity is impeded by lack of equipment and supplies.
- Labor discipline – showing up for work on time – can’t be achieved where public transportation is not reliable.
The article cited a Pinar del
The same [recognition] was asked by Avilio
When it came to pay, and the need to achieve compensation levels that are in line with Cubans’ true cost of living, Jose Antonio Martin of Ciego de Avila was one of many who called for a link “between the effort one makes and the money one receives.” “It cannot be,” Martin said, “that someone who doesn’t work as hard as others, and is not disciplined, earns the same.” The article cited a few workers from enterprises that do offer pay incentives because they are in a reform program (perfeccionamiento empresarial) that requires pay scales that vary with workers’ output and the enterprise’s profitability.
And there were several comments that touched on a real long-term cost that the dual currency system imposes on the Cuban economy: economic incentives that cause people to abandon fields where they have high levels of training, and to opt for anything that earns hard currency. One sugar industry employee worried about the “migration of professionals” away from jobs for which they were trained: “People are moving over to jobs in the economía emergente [hard-currency sector] because they are paid more.”
What does this all mean?
Your guess is as good as mine, but I can easily see a return under Raul Castro to the perfeccionamiento program to shape up state enterprises, and also some more moves to improve purchasing power.
The favorable mention of private entrepreneurs is unusual in Cuban media – recall Fidel Castro’s 2006 speech where he all but called them cheats, parasites, and energy hogs – but it would be an encouraging sign if we see similar press coverage, and new policies that would allow this sector (study here, pdf) to expand. An opening to greater self-employment and entrepreneurship is probably the most rapid, no-cost option for generating new jobs and higher family incomes in
- In 2005, amid a retrenchment in several areas of economic policy,
’s state enterprises were required to get the approval of a Central Bank committee to spend more than $5,000 in hard currency. El Nuevo Herald covers a decision to double that amount (to 10,000 convertible pesos, about $10,800), and links to the April 14 Central Bank resolution that made it official. It’s a small step that would take on greater importance if it means that more steps to decentralize decisionmaking are on the way. Cuba
- Blogger Yoani Sanchez won the prestigious Ortega y Gasset prize; the ceremony in
is today, but the Cuban government won’t let her go pick it up. Madrid
- Another report on changes in the USAID Cuba program, this one from the Los Angeles Times: there will be a new emphasis on competitive bidding and grants to Eastern European and Latin American groups. Also a hint that there may be a positive response to the Cuban American National Foundation’s call for prohibition on cash assistance to be dropped.
- “It won’t be easy” for the Democratic challengers to
’s three GOP incumbents, reporter David Adams concludes in his St. Petersburg Times coverage. But it will be an interesting spectator sport. Miami
- President Bush spoke with three Cuban dissidents yesterday via a videoconference link to the U.S. Interests Section in
. In this Reuters Spanish story based on dissidents’ account of the conversation, Martha Beatriz Roque is said to have asked for a change in regulations governing remittances from the Havana . White House photo here. United States
- 23 indicted for alien smuggling by a
grand jury, El Nuevo Herald reports. Key West
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
● A new role for
● “El Duque” Hernandez gave an interview last weekend that sounded like a retirement announcement, effective at the end of this season. He’s backtracking now, saying his arm just might give him another year.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Among the issues raised by Pope John Paul II with the Cuban government during his 1998 trip was the construction of a new seminary for the training of Cuban priests.
John Paul II went so far as to bless the cornerstone of this future seminary in his open-air mass in
For years, this inscribed cornerstone sat on display in a hallway of the offices of the Archdiocese of Havana, and for years it seemed it would sit there forever.
At least it seemed that way to outsiders like me who missed the news in 2005 that a project to build a new seminary was being launched. In a ceremony that year, Cardinal Ortega placed the cornerstone at a site east of
Inside the offices of the Archiocese, there is now an architect’s scale model of the new Seminario Arquidiocesano San Carlos y San Ambrosio, which is being built on 22 hectares of rural land, enough for the seminary’s buildings, sports fields, and agriculture. A story in Palabra Nueva describes the project’s history and its progress to date. I’m told it will be done in time for seminarians to begin studying there late next year.
The current seminary building, built in the 18th century and connected to
Meantime, Pope Benedict XVI last week took up another item on his predecessor’s agenda from 1998: “normal access to the media” for the Cuban Catholic church.
Friday, May 2, 2008
The arrangement is working, but Izquierdo is homesick.
In an interview with Wilfredo Cancio of El Nuevo Herald, Izquierdo says that as soon as the two years expire, “I don’s want to be here even one hour more. What I want is to be in Cabaiguan, where my world, my family, my people are…”
His current wife, pregnant with their son, returned to
“I have nothing to do with the Cuban government…politics does not interest me, I don’t know about politics and I am not interested in the news from anywhere,” he continued. “I’m just a guajiro from Cabaiguan who misses the tamal with the scent of fresh corn [maiz tierno], having coffee in my neighbor’s house, working the land and caring for animals: that is my world, and I’m proud of it.”
- An IPS story covers the recent Council of State decision to commute death sentences and gives some Cubans’ reactions; according to Elizardo Sanchez, the number of death row inmates affected is about 30.
- Tourism is up, the Cuban government says: a 15 percent increase in the first quarter of 2008 over last year’s performance.
- The Herald ran a story about raids on houses where marijuana is grown hydroponically; 135 were arrested in
and across Miami . El Nuevo has a longer story that quotes a federal drug official claiming that “there are activities in Florida to recruit those who work in these growing houses.” A second official says Cuban immigrants were among those arrested; they are paid up to $2,000 per month to tend the plants, then a $25,000 lump sum at harvest time. The second official said he had no proof regarding recruitment of these workers in Cuba , but said the leaders of these businesses in Miami-Dade are Cuban Americans. What I don’t understand is, with that kind of money to pay, why would they have to leave Miami-Dade, much less go all the way to Cuba , to find workers? Cuba
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Apparently in response to a 2006 GAO report that the USAID Cuba grant program was operated in a closed manner, and where 95 percent of funds were awarded without competition, USAID seems to be opening up its grantmaking process.
The agency has issued an open invitation to a May 14 conference for anyone interested in applying for a
The goal is to aid the development of “independent civil society in
There’s lots of interest inside Cuba, USAID says: “Despite continuing political oppression, Cubans are increasingly aware of the promising possibilities for broader social and economic advancement and many are seeking sustained USG [U.S. government] encouragement and support during this critical juncture in their country’s history.”
But what to make of this sentence from the “overview” section, describing
“Increasingly active, vibrant and modern day factors are permeating the fabric of Cuban society.”