Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Travel bill advances

The House Agriculture Committee just approved H.R. 4645, the bill that ends Cuba travel restrictions. It is unclear whether it will be considered in other committees (it is also referred to the Banking and Foreign Affairs Committees) or on the House floor.

Stretch time

With the Cuba travel debate heating up, new arguments are popping up to support the status quo, sometimes stretching credulity and the truth a little bit.

The thinking behind U.S. economic sanctions began 50 years ago. A State Department memorandum from April 1960 suggested that Washington adopt “a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” This was based on an assessment that Cuba’s government, then barely a year old, enjoyed “majority” support and faced “no effective political opposition.” Economic pain, the memo concluded, was “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support.”

It is now 2010 and Cuba’s socialist government has been in power 51 years, enduring the U.S. embargo and related sanctions, the devastating sudden loss of Soviet aid and trade, and the economic deprivation caused by socialism itself. Yet Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida argues that the “Castro regime is on the ropes,” and Cuba’s current economic troubles are “putting Castro’s rule in jeopardy.”

Moving from speculation to reporting, he writes: “Cuban citizens cannot enter the hotels, resorts, beaches, restaurants and stores where foreign tourists visit.” This is blatantly false. This so-called “tourism apartheid” ended in April 2008 and as travelers to Cuba have witnessed ever since, Cubans are indeed staying in tourist hotels and resorts. As noted here, the Cuban government even offers cut-rate package deals to Cubans to keep occupancy up in low seasons.

Rep. Rooney also contends: “The Castro-run tourism industry also openly promotes child prostitution, a horrible abuse heaped on Cuba’s children.” Note that he’s not saying that this crime exists, but rather that Cuba’s government promotes it – no evidence offered – and that U.S. travel rules should therefore not be liberalized. This is an indirect but pretty clear smear on the Americans who would travel to Cuba if they were permitted to do so. I’ll take the contention seriously on the day when Rep. Rooney tries to discourage the Cuban Americans from his own state from traveling to Cuba. They fill about 50 flights a week from Miami.

Then our friend Mauricio Claver-Carone stretches halfway around the world to urge us to use the relationship between the Koreas as a guide to our relationship with Cuba. Read it for yourself.

Finally, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart wrote an article in El Nuevo Herald examining another model: Europe’s relationship with post-Franco Spain. He applauds the withholding of Spain’s EU membership until democratization was complete, and says that in the case of Cuba it is “absolutely critical that there be some form of external pressure for a democratic transition to occur in Cuba once the tyrant [Fidel Castro] is no longer on the scene.” Of course, the parallel is a little imprecise; in Spain’s case it had to do with withholding of the benefits of EU membership and never had to do with restrictions on trade itself, much less an embargo or travel restrictions that would impede citizen contact.

But on one point the Congressman deserves credit: he makes clear that for him, the purpose of the embargo is not to effect change now in Cuba, but rather to be used as a lever for change when Fidel Castro passes away, whenever that may be. That’s an argument that can justify maintaining the status quo for a long, long time.

Odds and ends

  • The Hill: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce indicates it may “score” the vote on ending Cuba travel restrictions, i.e. include it in the list of votes used to calculate the percentage of each legislator’s voting record in support of free enterprise principles.

  • Granma: Damar Maceo Cruz, 47, is the new minister of light industry, replacing José Hernández Bernárdez.

  • The Herald rounds up opinion on Cuba’s church-state dialogue.

  • Canada’s CTV reports on a 19-year-old from Ontario who was behind the wheel of his family’s rented car in Cuba, was involved in an accident April 29, and remains stuck in Cuba awaiting trial.

  • Notimex: Hunger striker Guillermo Farinas, said by his family to be in a “critical” state, receives a visit from the local bishop.

  • EFE: A Cuban-Venezuelan joint venture has broken ground on a new nickel plant in Holguin.

  • The Herald’s Jordan Levin interviewed Silvio Rodriguez before his Orlando concert.

  • Reuters: Cuba’s reduction in international trade is reflected in shipping data for 2009.

  • The Russian state enterprise Zarubezhneft opens an office in Havana and is working on secondary recovery efforts at oil fields east of Havana. AFP Spanish here, English language report from Voice of Russia here.

Going home

Monday, June 28, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Cardinal George of Chicago, head of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, made a short visit to eastern Cuba only, visiting Santiago and environs. CNS story here, a note at Palabra Nueva here.

  • AP: Cuba continues its program of distribution of idle state lands to private farmers, with 110,000 individual recipients and 1,715 cooperatives receiving nearly 2.5 million acres.

  • Diario de Cuba catches a Cuban television discussion that broaches the idea of lowering the convertible peso exchange rate in order to stimulate tourism. The idea is prompted by the dollar’s recent appreciation against the Euro, which makes Cuba more expensive for Europeans since the CUC is pegged to the dollar. It doesn’t seem to have been prompted by the relatively high prices in Cuba’s tourism sector, regardless of the stronger dollar.

Next step for travel bill

The House Agriculture Committee will consider H.R. 4645, the bill that ends Cuba travel restrictions and changes two aspects of the rules governing U.S. farm sales to Cuba, this Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Darsi Ferrer released

I’ll let things speak for themselves.

Darsi Ferrer, 40, a physician and human rights activist, was jailed last July and went to court yesterday. He faced charges related to purchase of building supplies on the black market, was convicted, received credit for time served and will end his sentence by serving three more months under house arrest. Reuters report here.

“I would like to think that [my release] is a result of the Catholic Church’s effort,” Ferrer told El Pais from his home. He continued: “What should be the solution in Cuba? Dialogue: the dialogue of the Church and civil society; between the people and the government; between the diaspora and Cuba; the dialogue between the European Union and the Cuban government…that is the solution for the Cuban people.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Off the deep end

Usually, the rap against the Catholic Church in Cuba is that it lacks courage, and doesn’t use its position to push for change on fundamental issues such as human rights.

Now, the Church is engaged in a dialogue with the government precisely about human rights issues. And the Cuban government has recognized in its own media that this dialogue, about those issues, is taking place.

Still, it’s not enough. The shots are coming from Oswaldo Paya in Cuba, and from Mauricio Claver-Carone in Washington.

The message is simple: Do it my way or don’t do it at all.

To be sure, the results of the dialogue so far are modest – one political prisoner freed, about a dozen moved to jails nearer their homes and families, and lots of talk of more moves ahead. (Yoani Sanchez is reporting that Darsi Ferrer, jailed last year and finally tried today, is home, and AP is reporting the same.)

If you want to read the darkest possible perspective on these talks, check this out from French author Bertrand de la Grange, who sees pure opportunism. He quotes Oswaldo Paya saying that the Church should not “accept the role of being sole interlocutors with the government.” Which means, in effect, that if the dissidents can’t be present, then the Church should not proceed to talk about prisoners of conscience. “Cubans should not be left as spectators” to these talks, Paya says, as if Cuba’s clergy are not themselves Cuban.

I’m all for the Cuban government meeting with Cuban citizens of every stripe, dissidents included. But are Cubans who are not dissidents – clergy or any others – to hold back from talks on any topic if the dissidents aren’t included? Can Paya possibly mean that?

Closer to home, our friend Mauricio derides what he calls the Church’s “exclusionary tactics” because it is meeting with authorities without dissidents present.

He argues that instead of facilitating a political dialogue between the Castro regime and the Cuban people, the Church has decided to “take the place of dissidents.”

Frankly, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, for – repression aside – both the Castro regime and the Catholic Church are essentially non-democratic, non-representative entities,” he writes.


Odds and ends

  • Here are statements from the United States and Cuba on the migration talks held in Washington last week. Portia Siegelbaum of CBS adds background, including that the number of non-immigrant visas granted by the U.S. consulate in Havana more than doubled in 2009 to 20,000.

  • Granma: Cuba has been elected vice president of the UN Human Rights Council.

  • Oswaldo Paya writes that Cubans should unite in demanding an end to the travel restrictions the Cuban government imposes on them.

  • CBS on the economic policy discussion at last week’s Catholic Church conference.

  • Reuters: Waiting for golf – or more precisely, waiting for decisions – in Cuba. Also from Reuters: tobacco production and exports are down, as is land devoted to tobacco cultivation.


Francisco Chaviano is one of the 74 who signed the letter supporting an end to U.S. travel restrictions. (Uncommon Sense wrote about him here when he was released from jail in 2007.) For signing that letter, he and the others were attacked and their intentions questioned. Chaviano responds here to Zoe Valdes, who questioned whether the 74 are really dissidents, and called them sellouts (“vendepatrias”) and worse.

Meanwhile, blogger Reinaldo Escobar looks at the issue a little more philosophically: “The sharpest internal contradictions come about when foreign interests appear.” Absolute unity among opponents of the Cuban government may be a bridge too far, he argues, and perhaps should be sacrificed in the interest of progress on the issues on which all agree.

And Carlos Saladrigas surveys the reaction to the letter in a Miami Herald op-ed and concludes, hopefully, that Cuban dissidents may get more respect now than before.

Plaza Vieja

Monday, June 21, 2010

Silvio takes Washington (Updated)

I don’t know much about Silvio Rodriguez or his music, so I attended his concert here Saturday night to take things in. (EFE story here; New York Times review of his Carnegie Hall concert here.)

He played in Washington’s DAR Constitution Hall (DAR as in Daughters of the American Revolution), an airplane hangar-like venue where, giving credit where it’s due, the sound engineers did a terrific job.

If you don’t know him, he’s a singer, songwriter, and guitarist comparable – very loosely – to Bob Dylan in that his poetry, not simply his music, draws you in. And if you were as clueless as I was, you would have learned Saturday night that the guy is a cultural icon in our hemisphere.

Rodriguez led a fine sextet that included a young, spectacular tres player who was given too few chances to shine, and who I’m sure would have sold the place out if it had been announced that he would headline a concert the next day.

In the event, Saturday’s crowd half-filled the hall, perhaps – with all due respect to the artists – because ticket prices were through the roof.

When it came to the crowd’s emotions, it was standing-room only. There were Cubans there, but also people from throughout Latin America; if there were 3,000, it was this casual observer plus 2,999 who were, to put it very mildly, in the palm of his hand for more than two hours. The closest I can come to describing it is emotional clamor for a long-lost friend. Their connection to the music was intense; their applause drowned it out many times when particular verses or lyrics struck emotional chords. At times nearly all were singing along, so Rodriguez playfully rested and conducted the crowd to complete a verse, which it did in perfect unison.

Others can sort how much of Rodriguez’ appeal has to do with politics. He did call on President Obama, short and sweet, to free the Cuban Five.

There were shouted requests from the audience for all kinds of songs, including about love and breakup and nostalgia. Rodriguez obliged generously. With many old chestnuts out of the way, he closed with a number from his latest recording, titled Demasiado.

I found the lyrics on-line, and here they are:


Demasiado tiempo,
Demasiada sed
Para conformarnos
Con un breve sorbo
La única vez
Demasiada sombra,
Demasiado sol
Para encadenarnos
A una sola forma
Y una sola voz

Demasiadas bocas,
Demasiada piel
Para enamorarnos
De un mal gigantesco
Y un ínfimo bien
Demasiado espacio,
Demasiado azul
Para que lo inmenso
Quepa en un destello
Solo de la luz

Demasiado polvo,
Demasiada sal
Para que la vida
No busque consuelo
En el más allá
Demasiado nunca,
Demasiado no
Para tantas almas,
Para tantos sueños,
Para tanto amor

[EFE photo.]

Update: A translation, with an assist from a reader:

Too much

Too much time,
Too much thirst
To satisfy ourselves
With a brief sip
Only one time
Too much shade,
Too much sun
To chain ourselves
To a single way
And a single voice

Too many mouths,
Too much skin
To fall in love
With a gigantic evil
And a tiny good.
Too much space,
Too much blue
For immensity
To fit in one single flash
Of light

Too much dust,
Too much salt
For life
Not to seek consolation
In the hereafter
Too much never,
Too much no
For so many souls,
For so many dreams,
For so much love

Friday, June 18, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Secretary of State Clinton met yesterday with the family of USAID contractor Alan Gross and issued a statement calling again for his release and pointing out that his “continued detention…is harming U.S.-Cuba relations.”

  • Cuban media report that one of the “Cuban five,” Ramon Labanino whose sentence was recently reduced, has been transferred from a high-security prison to a medium-security prison.

  • La Jornada interviews economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, who is participating in the Catholic Church’s conference this week in Havana.

  • Reuters: new Cuban data show “little Internet and telecom progress.”

  • AP: Tampa’s mayor wants Cuba flights from Tampa’s airport.

Letter #2

A group of 494 Cubans, including many in prison, has written a letter to the U.S. Congress that Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart describes as “asking them [Congress] to maintain current U.S. travel and trade restrictions.” Babalu has the Congressman’s press release along with the letter in English and Spanish.

Meanwhile, two signers of the first letter, bloggers Claudia Cadelo and Reinaldo Escobar, respond to critics and explain their reasons for supporting a change in U.S. policy. And Rick at South Florida Daily Blog looks at both letters and the reaction to both, and concludes that the Cuban government has scored a win.

Mostly, the new letter says things with which nearly everyone agrees: the Cuban government should respect human rights, Washington should press it to do so, American policy regarding Americans’ travel is not the central issue in Cuba, foreign travelers are not going to change the political order in Cuba.

The closest the letter gets to a direct Congressional request is this:

“We believe that initiatives such as the one this letter is responding to, even with the best of intentions, tend to deviate focus and attention from what is happening on the island. For that reason we suggest that you maintain a firm and coherent policy of pressure and condemnation toward the tyranny in Havana.”

It’s beyond me why they would write elliptically instead of just saying, “please oppose the bill.” At any rate, if you believe that maintaining a “firm and coherent policy of pressure” necessarily means cutting off travel, then bingo. If you think of American policies toward the Soviet bloc, where there was trade and unrestricted citizen contact but plenty of pressure on human rights, then it’s less clear.

On a positive note, not a soul has questioned the authenticity of the second letter or the good faith of those whose names are on it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oil spill preparedness

Cleaning out some very old files, I came across this briefing paper from 2001, “Protecting U.S. National Interests in the Event of a Major Oil Spill in the Straits of Florida.”

The paper, written for Georgetown University by Coast Guard officer Victoria Huyck, notes the risk posed by tanker traffic in the Florida Straits. Since then, many have thought about the risk of Cuban offshore drilling, and now of course we face the nightmare of failure of U.S. safeguards in drilling operations in our own Gulf waters.

The Administration is passing information to Cuba, and it has given an American oil drillers’ association a license to travel to Cuba to talk with Cuban officials – measures that are fine, but minimal.

The paper points out that a normal set of preparedness measures would include exchanges between officials about marine environment issues, designation of officials to be contacted in case of emergencies, plans for action and identification of resources to be employed in case of emergency, and simulation exercises where officials test plans and procedures against a fictional scenario.

These would be good issues to discuss tomorrow when U.S. and Cuban officials meet in Washington to discuss the migration accords. AFP report on those talks here; Guardian report on Cuba bracing for damage from the current spill here.

More on the Church's Semana Social

  • The webpage of Havana archdiocese magazine Espacio Laical has the program (pdf) of the Church’s Semana Social conference (see column at right) and promises to publish the texts of presentations at the conference.

  • A reflection on the Church’s current activities by Tom Garofalo appears at the Havana Note. Which leads me to a correction: the conference is taking place not in the aula magna of the University of Havana, but at that of the University’s Colegio San Geronimo, just off the Plaza de Armas.

  • According to La Jornada, Archbishop Mamberti’s opening remarks at the conference were about the “laity of the state” and had a “doctrinaire tone, without allusions to the situation of the local Church.” [Note: A reader tells me the topic is better translated as "The Secularism of the State" and says the Archbishop was referring to Cuba's secular state "as distinct from the previous atheist state."]

Odds and ends

  • The State Department issued its annual human trafficking report, again placing Cuba in its lowest category, Tier 3, along with the Dominican Republic. Cuba’s reaction: “shameful defamation.” The report covers the United States for the first time, ranking our country in Tier 1, but with problems – thousands in “sexual slavery.”

  • A Granma headline, for the guys at Babalu: “Wearing a Che T-shirt a Crime in Poland.”


…and condemnable:

“The hatred felt by the State of Israel against the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send the one and a half million men, women and children of that country to the crematorium where millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazi.”

– Fidel Castro in a June 10 newspaper commentary; English here, Spanish here

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Church conference this week (Corrected)

Cuba’s Catholic Church has been in the headlines for its efforts regarding political prisoners (AP story here), but an event beginning in Havana today shows another interesting aspect of the Church’s activity.

This is the week of the Semana Social. I’m told that this conference, involving clergy and laity, usually involves a discussion of the Church’s social and pastoral work.

This week, it is taking place as the Vatican Secretary of State, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, visits Cuba to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Cuba’s diplomatic relations with the Holy See. (Today’s AP story here.)

Unlike on past occasions, the conference agenda “includes issues that go beyond Church questions, such as the economy, migration and the relations between Cubans at home and abroad,” as IPS reports here. For the first time it is being opened to non-Catholics. Several professors from the University of Havana will participate, as will prominent Cuban American scholars. And it will kick off in a space provided by the government, the Aula Magna ceremonial lecture hall of the University of Havana. (Correction: It's at the lecture hall of the University's Colegio San Geronimo. Full program here.)

Aurelio Alonso, a Cuban participant, is interviewed here in La Jornada.

Arturo Lopez Levy, a Cuban who formerly belonged to and worked at the Jewish synagogue in Vedado and now studies and teaches in Colorado, is also participating. He wrote an article on reconciliation among Cubans; it was published in the Havana Archdiocese publication Espacio Laical and he kindly sent an English version, which I’m publishing here (pdf). Reading it, I realize it has ideas and formulations that probably challenge and displease just about all of us in this debate, which is why it’s worth reading.

The credit myth

It is being claimed that the bill pending in Congress to end Cuba travel restrictions, H.R. 4645, gives credit to the Cuban government to buy American farm products, or opens the door for such credits.

That is simply false. I have never even heard of an attempt to add such a provision to this bill.

What the bill actually does with regard to U.S. exports of agricultural products is as follows.

First, it restores a pre-2004 definition of the “cash in advance” requirement, so that Cuba’s payment has to arrive before goods are transferred in a Cuban port, as opposed to before the goods leave a U.S. port. Not an earth-shaking provision, and “cash in advance” obviously means “no credit.”

Second, it allows Cuba to send its payments by direct wire transfer to U.S. banks, ending the requirement that the payments go through third countries. That’s Cuba’s money coming to the United States, not the other way around, and again, this has nothing to do with providing loans to Cuba, public or private.

Dentro del embargo, todo...

There is a practice of exclusion in Cuban political culture that is really remarkable.

When I see it, I recall the remark often attributed to President Reagan, that an 80 percent friend is not a 20 percent enemy. The practice of descalificación turns that idea on its head, where disagreement in one area can become the basis for never talking to, listening to, or dealing with a person ever again.

Certainly the Cuban government has long engaged in this form of symbolic banishment by claiming that its opponents represent a foreign agenda, a foreign enemy, and are barely Cuban.

Sometimes its opponents (both on and off the island) engage in a variation of the same thing. The political risk would seem to be higher for opponents who, after all, have not been in power for five decades and whose success must depend on processes of addition rather than subtraction and exclusion.

These thoughts came to mind last spring when I read perhaps the loopiest thing ever written about the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. In this column, political scientist Carlos Moore dumps on a number of Cuban Americans who lamented Zapata’s death. Using not one iota of evidence, Moore links them to racism in Cuba before 1959 and alleges that they want to return Cuba to a “neo-colonial, segregationist and subservient past.”

Read it for yourself. In the end the column isn’t very instructive, except perhaps to explain why a single party has been comfortably in power in Havana since 1959.

The same applies to much of the reaction to the very interesting letter that those 74 Cubans, including leading dissidents, bloggers, and civil society figures, wrote in support of an end to U.S. travel restrictions (English here, Spanish here).

You have seen the reaction from Miami – that the signers were manipulated, that they can’t possibly have known what they were doing, that it is unfair that they were asked to give an opinion on U.S. policy, that they may be agents of the Cuban government because the Cuban government also wants travel restrictions lifted. In this excerpt from Maria Elvira Salazar’s program, Hector Palacios notes that fellow signers of the letter received phone calls exerting “enormous and abusive pressures” but not one of the 74 has withdrawn a signature.

In this radio interview, talk show host Ninoska Perez hammers Guillermo Farinas, a signer of the letter, about his support for a bill that would, in addition to permitting travel, extend loans to the Cuban government. She returns to this point time and again, and Farinas isn’t prepared for it, because it is a complete falsehood. (More on that here.)

Taken together, it’s a mix of repudiation and condescencion at Cubans who expressed an opinion contrary to what seems to be part of the civic religion of hard-line Miami, i.e. loyalty to every aspect of the U.S. embargo, travel restrictions included.

Even though much of the dust has already settled, I’ll add a few things.

  • If the point of U.S. policy is to help Cubans, what could possibly be wrong with learning what Cubans in Cuba think?

  • In the past, the line has been that dissidents themselves can decide on the risks they take when it comes to political activity, accepting resources from the United States, appearing on Radio Marti, etc. Now that they are speaking out in favor of freedom to travel, we are told that they should be shielded from discussions of American policy. Give me a break.

  • If unrestricted travel is such a bad thing, why is there no effort – none whatsoever – by the Cuban American community or its representatives to stop their own people from traveling to Cuba?

  • Why should it be surprising that Cuban dissidents, who view freedom to travel as a universal right, would argue that no government – in Havana, Washington, or anywhere – has any business abridging that right?

  • And why should it be surprising that dissidents would argue that an end to U.S. restrictions would destroy the “spurious justification” that Cuban officials use to support Cuba’s restrictions?

  • Politics aside, can anyone imagine any group of Cubans, open and friendly by nature, saying they want foreign visitors kept out of their country?

  • Are we to expect that Cubans, alone in history among all peoples who have lived under communism, yearn for their country to be cut off from the outside world?

My guess is that part of the sting of this letter comes from the fact that hunger striker Guillermo Farinas is among the signatories. Farinas, who reportedly stopped eating in February and has been in and out of hospitals ever since, is pressing for release of political prisoners. Internationally, he has been a hero and the rallying point for that cause ever since the death of Zapata Tamayo. As soon as suggestions were being made that some of the signers didn’t know what they were signing, Farinas gave El Nuevo Herald a very clear explanation of his reasons. In the interview with Ninoska Perez cited above, he also stuck to his guns. One of his reasons was that if Americans are allowed to travel freely to Cuba, it will “knock down one of the paradigms of castrismo” – an idea that matters to those who live in Cuba, and doesn’t click with those who don’t.

On top of that, there are the bloggers who have provided minute-by-minute information about Zapata and Farinas. They signed too.

So did many others whose bona fides as defenders of human rights is beyond question. Gisela Delgado comes to mind, a woman whose Vedado home housed an independent library; she was left alone in it one morning in the spring of 2003 when the library was ransacked and her husband Hector Palacios taken away to jail.

An important sector of Cuban Miami now seems to be telling people like these to take a hike.

The clash with el exilio has overshadowed the purpose of the letter, which was directed at American legislators, whose reaction remains to be seen.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cuban media on economic reform: the barbershops

To my knowledge, this article from Ciego de Avila is the first mention in Cuban media of the reform that is turning barbers and beauticians from employees to contractors who pay fixed monthly fees to the government and keep their profits for themselves.

The article explains how the system works; the monthly fees cover rent, taxes, and retirement contributions, and they vary by municipality. The barbers buy their own supplies and set their own prices. The article refers to “leasing” on an individual basis, not the creation of cooperatives. It’s not clear if these people will now be counted as trabajadores por cuenta propia (self-employed).

It says that 108 workers in 65 locations in the province are in this new system, which “for now” has been implemented only in shops with three or fewer seats.

Mainly, the article describes benefits of the new system: big savings for the government, better earnings for the barbers and beauticians, and better service for consumers. One barber complains that his contract is for one year only, not for a longer term.

The kicker: The article calls the new system “an important step in the current economic adjustment that has as one of its main goals relieving [the state] of the heavy load brought about by the excessive paternalism in which it has engaged for more than half a century.”

Important, yes, in that it breaks new ground, and very important if it is applied far beyond barbershops and beauty parlors with three seats or less. In that regard, this passage from a Reuters report on Raul Castro’s birthday stands out:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cuba’s closest ally, said on Venezuelan television last week that Castro confided to him – as a warning not to do the same thing – that Cuba had “committed many errors” in its development of communism. Chavez quoted Castro as saying: “Here we nationalized even the funeral home, the barber shop, the sale of ice cream. That doesn't have any reason to belong to the state.”

Thanks to the reader who passed the article on.

Cuban media on economic reform: sugar

There have been several reports in recent weeks about Cuba negotiating with potential foreign partners who would invest in the sugar industry. A report from Reuters yesterday again cites “sources close to the industry” saying that such investments will take place.

The report also says that Cuban television broached the idea for the first time; it quotes analyst Ariel Terrero saying during a broadcast that sugar revenues should be reinvested in the industry, and “the other factor that should not be forgotten is foreign investment, due precisely to the attractive figures of the industry.”

Raw sugar was selling for 7.33 cents per pound in May 2002, when the dramatic downsizing of Cuba’s sugar sector was announced. The price averaged 18.72 cents last year and 25.86 cents in the first quarter of this year. (See Table 3 here.)


“To continue working in a sustained and irreversible manner to solve the complex economic problems that the nation faces.”

– The first in a list of five “vital issues” presented by Raul Castro to an “expanded meeting of the National Defense Council” on May 28; Granma reports that he reiterated his view that the “sustainability and preservation of our social system” depend on the “economic battle.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Supporting her brother

Fidel Castro’s sister Emma speaking at a 1957 anti-Batista rally in Miami, from the book Historic Photos of Cuban Miami.

Odds and ends

  • EFE: The Posada Carriles trial will begin January 11, 2011 and the judge says it will not be postponed again. Tracey Eaton recently looked at issues related to evidence in the case here and here.

  • The New York Times on Alicia Alonso, visiting New York to receive an award tonight from the American Ballet Theater.

  • Cuba: Waiting for a Revolution: This 22-minute video takes a look at contemporary Cuba with good street interviews; from reporter Adrian Baschuk for Vanguard.

  • AP: Cuba’s trade with China fell by nearly one third in 2009.

  • Time to lecture the Cubans: Brian Petty of the International Association of Drilling Contractors tells National Journal, “The Cubans are going to develop their offshore oil…They’re going to be aggressively going after their offshore resources, and they need to be trained so they don’t mess it up.”

Why productivity matters

Cuba’s National Statistics Office has published its data for 2009; here’s the table of contents with links to Excel spreadsheets of all the data. A few nuggets:

  • The population chart shows very slight growth in 2009 (6,529 people) and projects slight negative growth through 2020. The chart’s data begins in 1774.

  • There are 534 youth and retirees for every 1,000 Cubans in the labor force. This “dependency ratio” is projected to grow to 578 in 2020.

  • Average salary is 429 pesos.

  • There are 143,800 self-employed, up from 138,400 in 2007 but short of the 2006 total of 152,600.

La Jornada reports on the foreign trade statistics, where trade volume with Canada fell by nearly one half, and fell by more than one third in the cases of Italy, Spain, and Venezuela.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Odds and ends

  • AP: Seven political prisoners have been moved to prisons close to their homes and families. It remains to be seen whether this presages release of these or others, pursuant to the government’s discussions with the Catholic Church. The Archdiocese of Havana released a statement with prisoners’ names and destinations; Prensa Latina transmitted it, and Cuban Colada translates it here.

  • La Razon publishes a short excerpt from a new biography of Raul Castro by journalist Vicente Botin.

  • Kendry Morales, formerly of Sancti Spiritus and until last week the hottest hitter on the Angels, broke his leg Saturday while celebrating a walk-off grand slam honron.

  • Cuban phone monopoly Etecsa’s new rates for cellular calls are now in effect. It’s a “simpler” scheme, the announcement says. Decide for yourself.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


“I oppose those who defend…the production and organizational schemes that have exhausted their role in history. For example, those who believe that all [small shops] must be maintained at all costs because that’s socialism…Lies. Socialism is the [state] control over the means of production, but not all, only the main ones, those that really define the economy of a country…I disagree with those who believe socialism will collapse just because a group of bricklayers form a cooperative to build a house, or a plumber fixes a plugged drain or a mechanic fixes a car…I disagree with those who believe that…any change will result in [socialism’s] destruction…It’s the other way: The socialism that does not change, that does not adapt to new situations, is condemned to failure. Remember the socialism of [eastern] Europe.”

A. Ríos Hernández, in a letter to the editor of Granma, cited in this Herald story on the remarkable letters appearing in that paper. Other notes on these letters here, here, and here. Last Friday’s letters are worth checking out too, including the first, from R. González Arango, who says it’s high time that Cuban officials say where they stand on the issues under discussion in the letters column.