Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A heads-up on currency reform

The process of unifying Cuba’s two currencies is set to begin, according to a Nota Oficial in today’s Granma. 

But no details about the process were given.

A timeline of actions that will lead to monetary unification was approved last Saturday by the Council of Ministers, the note says.  As steps are taken in the process, the public will be informed.  The initial changes will affect mainly businesses and other institutions, which seems to imply the use of interim exchange rates among state enterprises and government units.  The purpose, the note says, is to re-establish the “value of the Cuban peso and its monetary functions as a unit of account, means of payment, and store of value.”  It also assures Cubans that the changes will not harm those who earn an honest living in either currency.

In that the details are not known, it is impossible to figure the economic impact of today’s announcement.  But Cuba has a lot to gain by ending its dual-currency system.  It creates two tiers of wage-earners and distorts incentives in the labor market.  In Cuban businesses, it creates an accounting fiction that favors imports penalizes exports.  And in general, it denies all actors in the economy the clear price signals that are necessary to make sound economic decisions.  Fixing the currency is only one part of a puzzle that also includes wage and salary policy, price policies in the state retail sector, and a decision on whether or not to allow state enterprises to import and export without prior permission from the government.  Those details will tell whether there are winners and losers in this process, and who they are.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Odds and ends

·         As the 15th round of Colombia peace talks proceed in Havana, Juventud Rebelde gives ample coverage to the Colombian government’s complaint that the guerrillas are dragging their feet and trying to add extraneous items to the agreed agenda.  Cuba acts as “guarantor” in the talks.

·         Herald: Panamanian officials say that some of the aircraft engines on the North Korean freighter seized in Panama were “brand new.”  They also say that “friends overseas” tell them that Cuba and North Korea have an arms trade agreement of uncertain scope; that the North Korean crewmen in detention are happy campers (air conditioning, clothes, food, cigarettes, time for soccer every day); and that while the crew have spoken to investigators they have declined to sign statements.

·         An “updating” of Cuba’s criminal justice procedures took effect October 1 and was explained by officials on a Mesa Redonda program.  Relatively minor offenses that had been handled in provincial courts will now be heard in municipal courts.  For certain minor offenses prosecutors will have discretion to impose administrative penalties (fines) rather than go to court to seek a prison sentence, although a defendant can insist on a court trial if he wishes.  The impact seems to be a streamlining and a shift of caseload to lower courts and, depending on how prosecutors use their discretion, lesser penalties for minor criminal offenses.

·         Canadian professor Steven Kimber makes the case for the Cuban Five in the Washington Post.

·         AP on the clash between el exilio and more recent Cuban immigrants.

·         Who’s investing in Cuba?  A smart B-School student figures it out at the bar at the Hotel Nacional.

·         Granma on the art of base stealing through the years.

·         EFE: The family of Oswaldo Paya, now living in Florida, acquires Spanish citizenship.

·         AP: A ceremony in the Colon cemetery in Havana to commemorate the terrorist downing of the Cubana airliner in Barbados in 1976.

·         In the National Interest, a look at the past and the future of Cuba’s intelligence services, “punching above their weight.”  The authors link to this interesting U.S. assessment (pdf): “Cuban Subversive Activities in Latin America, 1959-1968.”

·         In an advice column for Congress, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson owns up to his bumbling in Havana in 2011.

From someone who should know

“In Havana, paradoxically, the FARC are making proposals that are out of proportion both to their strength and to a reality wherein the violence they practice no longer generates power, but rather eliminates it.  They have made more than 200 ‘minimal’ proposals – they want a constituent assembly, changes in the economic model, and deep reforms of the state.  They are negotiating as if they had the support of multitudes and 50,000 combatants at the gates of Bogota, when in reality their only option is to disarm rapidly and to engage in politics.

“In Colombia there is no military stalemate nor is the negotiation between equals.  The FARC leadership is elderly, they are considered terrorists by the international community while Venezuela, Ecuador, and Cuba no longer support armed struggle and instead support peace.  They have gone from having 25,000 men to having 8,000; their military activity is sporadic, irrelevant, and distant from vital centers; they have lost their territorial strongholds; they suffer numerous desertions that they replace by recruiting boys; they have more combatants disarmed than active; their strategic commanders have been eliminated and those that remain inside Colombia are besieged and in danger of dying in combat.

“Time is against the FARC but they negotiate slowly and complain that the government is in a hurry.  However, the correlation of forces favoring the state will continue to improve and the FARC’s situation will continue to worsen.  Prolonging the negotiations under these conditions will onle serve to demoralize the troops.  It is no coincidence that the talks have increased the desertions.  In war no one wants to be the last to die.  For the FARC combatants, the more than 30 leaders who make up the peace delegation are exiles living comfortably and risk-free in Havana, while they could be the last to die in a war that is already condemned to end.”

– Joaquin Villalobos, former Salvadoran FMLN guerrilla commander, in El Pais.  The FMLN fought a decade-long guerrilla war and converted to a political party when a peace agreement was reached in 1992.

Irrepressible Puig

In American baseball, there’s such a thing as The Way the Game is Played, which doesn’t include celebrating your own home run exuberantly, thereby showing up a pitcher, disrespecting him, and making him a little sharper or angrier for your next at-bat.

So what?

Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers broke out of an 0-for-10 series slump with a drive to deep right last night, which he celebrated exuberantly as a home run as he made his way slowly to first.  When it didn’t clear the wall he turned on the jets and made it to third standing up in about two seconds, there to celebrate his RBI triple. 

There’s a lot of harrumphing going on about Puig’s antics in the baseball world today, which LA Times writer Bill Shaikin puts in very good perspective here.  I think you have to be a Cardinals fan or a real grump to be down on this kid from Cienfuegos today. 

Look at the video below, taken from the stands, and ask yourself who wouldn’t want to be a Dodger fan today? 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Trouble on Calle Ocho

Decisions on which drugs should be available to the American public should be up to the Food and Drug Administration, but since everything regarding Cuba is political, there is politics involved in the possibility that a new Cuban drug could become available for prescription here.

The drug is Heberprot, a medication developed in Cuba for injection in diabetes patients to prevent leg amputations.  The issue that will come before our government is whether Heberprot can be submitted to clinical trials in the United States to test its safety and efficacy.

Rep. Joe Garcia supports the idea, alone among South Florida legislators.  Good for him. 

Predictably, there’s opposition from his Cuban American colleagues and silence from Rep. Wasserman Shultz, for whom foreign policy outweighs a potential benefit in the care of diabetes patients. 

Most interesting of all, President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, is working for the company that would conduct the trials and market the drug if they are successful.

Herald coverage here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Le ronca...

Deemed essential to U.S. foreign relations and national security, the broadcasts of Radio Marti and the unseen TV Marti are going to continue even as the federal government shuts down for lack of appropriations, Miami New Times reports.