Thursday, January 17, 2019

MLB's good baseball deal


The opposition to MLB’s deal that will allow Cuban pro ballplayers to sign with big league clubs without fleeing Cuba and without the need to establish residency elsewhere, is in part understandable: If you support the embargo, you want to limit any financial flows to Cuba.

But I suspect there’s more to it. In Miami, some are surely rubbed the wrong way at the idea that Cuban players could play here without emigrating, without effectively breaking with the system, without joining el exilio.

It certainly shows that those who want to block the deal are not interested in encouraging some positive changes in Cuba that made it possible: the ability for Cubans to travel and return, and the ability of pro athletes to earn market-based pay abroad and return to Cuba with those earnings. They are not being called desertores anymore.

How do Cuban ballplayers see the deal that Senator Rubio wants to block?

Look at the math from a Cuban player’s point of view. Say he signs a one-year, $2 million deal (half the MLB average).

A “release fee” of $400,000 goes to Cuban baseball – paid by the club, not the player.

If IRS applies U.S. tax (30%), that’s $600,000 to Uncle Sam, and the player pockets $1.4 million.

Cuba decided recently to tax that income at 4%, not the 50% marginal rate applied to, say, a private restaurant or bed-and-breakfast with taxable income above $2000.

Senator Rubio complains about the “new tax” Cuba is imposing (4%), but if it applied the 50% rate on the books since 1996, the player would pay more than ten times more!

After paying the 4%, the player is left with $1.344 million – more than 2,600 times his salary in the Cuban national league.
More on all this in this column in Cuba Standard.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Helms-Burton threat


In Cuba Standard, a column of mine on the Administration’s consideration of allowing Title III of the Helms-Burton law to go into effect next February. Spoiler: It’s a bad idea.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Radio/TV Marti in the news


The Washington Post and New York Times have stories today on Radio/TV Marti and, in the Times’ case, on U.S. international broadcasting in general. Both are worth reading. From them, some items of note:

The report on the investigation of the Soros program is “due out in early January,” according to the Times.

The anti-Islam article on the Radio/TV Marti website (now withdrawn but cached here), first reported in El Nuevo Herald, was published in September. Unlike the Soros content, this was published months after the current director Tomas Regalado came on board.

The Times story is inaccurate in saying that Judicial Watch was “relied on” for material in the Soros program. The program gives that impression by mentioning Judicial Watch repeatedly, but no one from that organization is interviewed, nor are they or their work cited specifically. The Post interviewed Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who says his organization was not contacted as the program was being prepared. This, and Regalado’s comment that Judicial Watch is a “good source,” is one of the strangest aspects of the program.

Neither article gets at the question of the Soros program’s origin. Maybe someone at Radio/TV Marti thought it up, but I doubt it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Radio/TV Marti in action (corrected)


(This was posted 12/13; see correction below, posted 12/17.)

Last week I attended the second public meeting of the State Department’s Cuba Internet Task Force. I didn’t intend to write about it until I saw the coverage from Radio/TV Marti.

At the meeting, two items of business were accomplished. The task force heard from two organizations that were charged with developing recommendations: Freedom House and the Information Technology Industry Council. Then the task force gave the State Department’s Cuba desk the job of writing its report. The report will contain recommendations to the Secretary of State based on its views, the ideas submitted by these organizations, and public comments.

Radio/TV Marti director Tomas Regalado is a member of the task force, and Radio/TV Marti’s story on the task force meeting is all about him. I don’t have verbatim notes, but I think it’s fair to say that he objected to some of the recommendations that were put forward because they involved dealing with the Cuban government and enterprises, and could involve commercial activity.

He moved to have some of these ideas stricken from the report that will go to the Secretary of State, and he announced portentously that if they were not stricken then he would resign from the task force, pick up his marbles, and go home.

He didn’t seem to understand no such motion could be entertained because no such report had been written; there was no draft in front of the members that could be amended. There were two reports from outside groups, that’s all. The deliberation and drafting is about to begin. This was explained by the State Department’s press office here.

This never sunk in with Mr. Regalado, however. Even after the meeting, in the video accompanying the story (at 1:10), he is talking about report already drafted, destined for the Secretary of State and the President.

It’s pretty obvious that this story was pre-planned. The fact that its premise was wrong didn’t stop Radio/TV Marti from running it.


What does this say about the journalism that Radio/TV Marti is practicing?

They didn’t send a reporter to cover a public meeting that was open to press coverage – and if they sent a reporter, either that reporter didn’t understand what was going on, or decided to go with Mr. Regalado’s misrepresentation. The facts were set aside in favor of the pre-cooked story. Pathetic.

The story covered only Mr. Regalado – nothing on the statements of the government officials present, nothing on the representatives of Freedom House and the Information Technology Industry Council who presented their interesting reports, nothing on the discussion that ensued. Real journaIism would present the content of those groups’ presentations, in addition to Mr. Regalado’s criticism – to say nothing of giving a complete sense of what happened at the meeting beyond one person’s interventions. This is more like propaganda.

Mr. Regalado is certainly a qualified commentator. But his personal involvement in a misleading story like this shows he has no place running a news organization.

The story linked above is introduced by two anchors and then cuts to a report from a reporter in the Miami newsroom. The reporter is Mr. Regalado’s son. This isn’t nepotism because the son was there long before the father was hired. But apparently, Radio/TV Marti has no editor to point out that it’s wrong to assign a reporter to cover a story about an immediate family member, in this case his father.

In the video, Mr. Regalado says he felt a responsibility to speak as “the only Cuban voice of the exile community.” It was important to note, he said, that “with the Cuban government one can’t negotiate, with the Cuban government one can’t talk, that the Cuban government is the problem, not the solution, and that in the United States there are brilliant minds, there are people who can design a series of projects to give free Internet to the Cuban people.”

Therein lies the real story from the meeting that Radio/TV Marti completely blew. Current Trump Administration regulations provide ample space for American companies to be involved in Internet and telecommunications, including selling equipment to businesses and consumers and, should Cuban officials and enterprises agree, to help extend the network. Mr. Regalado has a different idea: for the U.S. government to involve itself in “a series of projects” to expand access independent of Cuban networks. Haven’t we seen that movie before?

Some may think I’m writing as part of a campaign to bring down Radio and TV Marti. Not quite. Realistically speaking, I will sooner become President of the United States than Congress will end this waste.

But Congress could do us a favor: divorce them from the Voice of America and call them the Voice of El Exilio. That would end the association with poor Jose Marti and diminish the association with us.


Correction (12/17):

In fact there were two stories on this meeting. There was the one that centered on Mr. Regalado, discussed above, which was the front-page story on the Radio/TV Marti website, and there was another that I missed.

The other story is based in part on reporting from the meeting – so I was wrong to say they didn’t send a reporter.

How did this story cover the meeting?

It notes that recommendations were presented at the meeting and it describes some of them, but for some reason it fails to note that they were presented by representatives of Freedom House and the Information Technology Industry Council. Isn’t it a basic task for a reporter covering a public meeting to identify who said what?

The story notes that “some of these recommendations were rejected by the audience” but it fails to report that some in the audience supported them. What do you call journalism that reports one point of view and omits its opposite?

The story omitted other aspects of the discussion. There was a suggestion that current Treasury regulations should be maintained so as to enable U.S. companies to try to get involved commercially in expanding the Cuban network, and there was another suggestion that the United States use technologies that can expand Internet access in Cuba without any connection to the Cuban network. Neither was mentioned.

It does not report on Mr. Regalado’s confusion, discussed above.

So that’s the correction. I stand by the rest of what I wrote.

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In the farm bill, a small step forward


Congress will soon vote on the 2018 Farm Bill, which authorizes agricultural and food assistance programs. The final version, released yesterday, includes an amendment by outgoing Senator Heitkamp of North Dakota, to end the prohibition on the use of the Department of Agriculture’s export promotion programs in Cuba. Her amendment passed the Senate unanimously after Senator Rubio threatened to remove it, but soon retreated and accepted it.
To my knowledge, Cuba was the only country where our Department of Agriculture was barred from promoting U.S. exports. By itself, this move will not add hundreds of millions to U.S. exports, but it is a sensible step forward and it will help. The text of the bill is here; Heitkamp’s amendment appears on page 130 and the explanation of its meaning is on page 614.
President Trump has plenty of grievances with Cuba, and some make sense. Hopefully he will remember how, as a businessman, he explored Cuba’s potential for his hotel/resort business, and see the country as a place where more U.S. economic engagement could benefit both peoples.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

An apology to Mr. Soros


More reporting on the TV Marti program on George Soros:

OnCuba reports that John Lansing, head of the U.S. agency that oversees Radio/TV Marti, has apologized to George Soros and to the head of his foundation for the program that he judges to be “utterly offensive in its anti-Semitism and clear bias.” His letters, embedded in the article, are not your typical U.S. government statement; they are a strong and complete rejection of the product that TV Marti purveyed. Here’s hoping that Lansing’s attitude permeates the investigation. He has ordered Radio/TV Marti to hire a Standards and Practices Editor, and he is having a third-party contractor conduct an audit of the past year of Radio/TV Marti’s output.

El Nuevo Herald reports that a total of four employees of Radio/TV Marti have been suspended as the investigation continues, and that the investigation revealed that the Radio/TV Marti webpage had published “excessive attacks on the Quran,” according to director Tomas Regalado. Regalado made that statement in a Miami radio interview last week. The article also mentions a web article based on Judicial Watch materials that was removed from the Radio/TV Marti site but is cached here.

Monday, November 5, 2018

TV Marti Soros program, subtitled



Here’s a friend’s translation of the TV Marti program on George Soros.

Three errata: at 3:50 it should be “Popper’s liberalism” (reference to Karl Popper); at 9:08 the word “NSA” was omitted from the presentation of Madsen; at 12:08 it should be “exercise of eight months.”

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Sunday, November 4, 2018

Mr. Regalado adapts


The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Radio/TV Marti which oversees the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), is investigating the TV Marti Soros program, and from this Herald story we learn it’s a 10-day investigation.

While the investigation proceeds, OCB Director Tomas Regalado has been commenting and seemingly trying to find safe political ground.

He began by half-embracing the program, saying that Judicial Watch is a “good source” but should not have been the only source, and that the program fell short because it was “not precise” and lacked “balance.” As if the program contained an actual story that was not properly told.

By last Wednesday he was saying the program “looks like an anti-Semitic report” and he made the ridiculous suggestion that the Radio/TV Marti staff needs diversity training.

In his statement yesterday, he flatly called the program anti-Semitic and called for “ethics and standards training,” which presumably includes the basics of journalism.

I suppose it’s good that Regalado is adapting. The program was produced and aired before he assumed his duties, but his initial reactions to it set a terrible example for his newsroom.

He also told the Herald – again, before the investigation is complete – that two people, and two people alone, are responsible for this fiasco. They were “the only two people who had anything to do with the report coming out on the air,” he said. That statement strains credulity and looks like an effort to limit and isolate the damage. Fire two people, case closed, everybody moves on.

Regalado also told the Herald another interesting detail. Reporter Isabel Cuervo, he says, did no on-camera interviews for the program. That means that Cuervo lied on the Levantate Cuba program when she said that she herself interviewed Lia Fowler, whose comments appeared to be from a Skype interview. (I would post the clip but TV Marti removed it from YouTube, and appears to be purging everything on its website and elsewhere that refers to the Soros program.)

Meanwhile, Senator Menendez wrote to the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) to set some expectations for the investigation and to demand information. Good for him.

You're welcome, Vladimir


It was apparent that some of the video material in the TV Marti Soros program was drawn from other sources. Some, it turns out, was lifted from an RT program and included on the TV Marti broadcast, without attribution.

I’m referring to comments by Michele Steinberg, editor of a magazine affiliated with Lyndon LaRouche. She is interviewed extensively in this Spanish-language RT program about Mr. Soros, titled “Who is George Soros Really?” Part of her interview with RT and other footage from the RT program appear in the TV Marti program, with the RT logo erased from the screen.

If you want to see for yourself, the RT footage here at 4:20 was clipped and used by TV Marti here at 5:26.

The RT program features Ms. Steinberg’s discussion of the links between Mr. Soros and the Rothschilds. So two of three people cited in the TV Marti program turn out to be exponents of one of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes in the world.

As a friend points out, the U.S. government used Russian anti-Semitic propaganda to make American anti-Semitic propaganda for broadcast to Latin America.

"Anti-Semitism and clear bias" at TV Marti...



...a statement in Spanish and English from the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Tomas Regalado, on the Radio/TV Marti website.

Monday, October 29, 2018

"Apparent misconduct" at TV Marti...


…and an investigation launched by the body that oversees Radio/TV Marti, the U.S. Agency for Global Media. A forthright statement from its CEO, John Lansing, was issued today.

TV Marti and "balance" (link restored)



Tomas Regalado, director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting that houses Radio and TV Marti, is a rare Trump appointee who strongly opposed President Trump’s candidacy. He was mayor of Miami and before that, a prominent radio journalist. Recalling a feature of his own radio program, he has brought a fact-checking feature (Detector de Mentiras) to the Martis’ website.

When Mother Jones wrote last Friday about the TV Marti program that smeared George Soros, Regalado responded directly: “Judicial Watch is a good source, but having said that, it should not have been the only source. The two part series was not precise and did not have on the record sources to balance the story…To be fair and to show that we in the new administration are committed to journalistic integrity, the stories have been pulled out of the digital page, not because we want to hide anything, but because we want to be transparent if we say that the story did not have the required balance, then it should not be on the air.” By “new administration” he means his own stewardship because he started in his job shortly after the Soros program aired.

It is good that he responded personally and critically. But while he stands up for “journalistic integrity,” he whitewashes the problems with the program. A few things need to be pointed out.

“Judicial Watch is a good source,” Regalado says, but what is he talking about? One of the strange aspects of the program is that the narrator repeatedly mentions Judicial Watch but no one from that organization is quoted, none of its work is cited, none of its people appear on camera. (Fox News, by the way, dumped Judicial Watch’s research director last weekend for statements about Soros’ secret control of the State Department, but the organization is a “good source” for Radio/TV Marti.)

This idea that the program lacked “balance,” additional sources, or on-the-record statements misses the mark. What it lacked was truthful information to support its wild assertions – for example that Soros was the “architect” of the financial crisis in 2008 and that he is now making money from his political activism. Or, as persons quoted in the program assert, that he financed Gorbachev, has destabilized countries, and seeks to undermine democracies and turn Latin American countries into satellites of Cuba. Reporting a series of blatant falsehoods is not remedied by “balance.” You don’t have to be a journalist to realize this.

The program was thoroughly promoted by TV Marti. For example, there’s the Levantate Cuba morning program, where host Maite Luna interviews Isabel Cuervo, the narrator of the Soros program who claims to have conducted the “investigation” of the subject matter.

The passage beginning at 5:06 here and in the clip above is emblematic. (Sorry for the audio, it's my own recording of the video that was pulled from the government site.) At this point they are running an excerpt from the Soros program. Over scary sound effects, the narrator explains that Soros spends millions in “hundreds of countries” and is “accused thus of influencing, with his fortune, in their political and social destinies, in order to later take out revenue in the millions.” (Accused by whom, she doesn’t say.) Lia Fowler then appears very briefly on camera saying it is “much easier to work with a dictator than in a democracy and an open market.” Then with Fowler no longer on camera, the narrator attributes to her the idea that “behind the magnate is a hidden craving for global power.” Then the narrator mentions Soros’ support for communications media and nongovernmental organizations on five continents and says: “Latin America does not escape his spell.” During this, on the screen are images of a wall being spraypainted, street demonstrations, a burning effigy of President Trump, and a line of masked demonstrators hurling projectiles. The excerpt ends; back in the studio, the host Maite Luna says that Soros engages in philanthropy, “but he is also very dangerous, that he is giving and offering money where it can end up being a danger – that government – for the society.”

This is not journalism, it is a smear; none of the accusations are supported. No “balance” can improve it. Worse, it touches on all the themes that have been central to anti-Semitic screeds throughout history.

I assume that many of the journalists at Radio/TV Marti are repulsed by this program and the stain it puts on their organization and U.S. international broadcasting. Neither Radio/TV Marti nor its governing body have addressed a word to their audience, to say nothing of Mr. Soros. The silence is deafening.
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Friday, October 26, 2018

“George Soros, the multimillionaire Jew” (video link restored)




Radio and TV Marti, the U.S. government’s Miami-based broadcast operation to Cuba, joined the anti-George Soros gang with a series of broadcasts last June.

A 15-minute program is here (original video was pulled from the government site; this is an inferior recording.) It was edited into two segments and presented on the TV Marti newscast, where the anchor began his lead-in to Part I with the phrase, “George Soros, the multimillionaire Jew of Hungarian origin…”

The program repeatedly mentions the U.S. organization Judicial Watch, but it doesn’t clearly cite any of its work. If you search, you see that Judicial Watch is concerned about U.S. aid agencies funding foreign organizations that are also supported by Soros, in Colombia and elsewhere.

Throughout, the program’s cheesy sound effects are like those used in horror movies when the villain begins reaching for the knife.

Some notes on the 15-minute program:

0:20 –Narrator Isabel Cuervo makes her first reference to Judicial Watch: “George Soros has his eye on Latin America. But Judicial Watch, a legal research group in the United States, has its eye on Soros, and on what it views as his lethal influence in undermining democracies.”

0:40 – The narrator says that Soros uses his business profits “to finance anti-system [political] groups that fill his pockets.”

1:10 – The narrator makes a reference to Soros’ infamous, lucrative 1992 bet against the British pound, and continues: “It is said that Soros made billions of dollars manipulating the fall of Asian currencies in 1997. And he was the architect of the financial collapse of 2008.”

1:40 – The narrator calls Soros a “generous philanthropist” active in more than 100 countries, then cuts to Lia Fowler, described on the screen as a “former FBI agent,” who says: “And the things that he finances around the world do nothing more than to destabilize countries, cultures…”

2:10 – The narrator calls Soros a “non-practicing Jew of flexible morals.”

3:30 – The narrator discusses the work of Soros’ Open Society Foundation, noting that “some” – she doesn’t say who – describe it as “a façade for investing and looting countries.”

Thursday, August 23, 2018

New Cuba travel advisory


The State Department has downgraded its Cuba travel advisory, urging travelers to exercise “increased caution” and no longer recommending that Americans “reconsider” travel to the island.

In the advisory, the State Department continues to say that “attacks” against U.S. diplomats took place in Cuba even though officials have arrived at no explanation for the harms that befell our personnel. Diplomats at multiple posts in China reported similar symptoms, but no attacks have been alleged there.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A conviction in Havana with "due process" (Updated)


To its credit, the Trump Administration has maintained law enforcement cooperation with Cuba, holding regular dialogues and even building on some of the work of its predecessors. This fits with its border control/homeland security emphasis, and it surely rubs some of its political supporters the wrong way.

We now have details on the most notable instance of this cooperation, thanks to this Miami Herald story on the conviction of a defendant for a 2015 murder in Palm Beach. What is unusual is that while the crime took place here, and local prosecutors amassed evidence against the accused, the trial took place in a Cuban court, with Cuban prosecutors presenting evidence gathered in Palm Beach.

This is apparently due to the fact that the defendant, a Cuban national, was arrested in Cuba at the request of the United States through Interpol, but the Cuban government would not turn him over because of his Cuban nationality.

At some point, Cuba offered and the United States agreed to “transfer the prosecution” to Cuba, as the Herald puts it (on this part of the story, no details have emerged). A conviction was obtained in late May, and the convict is serving 20 years in a Cuban jail.

There has never been a case such as this, where U.S. authorities provided evidence that allowed Cuban prosecutors to bring a case in Cuban court for a crime committed outside Cuban territory – and in so doing, confiding in the Cuban judicial process to render a fair verdict.

To make it explicit, the Justice Department told the Herald something you would never expect from a Republican Administration: “The defendant was provided the procedural and due process rights afforded to criminal defendants under Cuban law, to include the right to counsel and cross-examination, and to review the evidence against him.”

The U.S.-Cuba Memorandum of Understanding on law enforcement, signed just days before President Obama left office, expresses a mutual intention to collaborate in the prosecution of a list of specific crimes and of “other transnational or serious crimes under jurisdiction of the Participants” (see Section III.1).

It’s hard to imagine a new, full-blown U.S.-Cuba extradition agreement that would replace the 1904 treaty that has never been abrogated, but has been a dead letter for six decades. In this case, with its very particular circumstances, the cooperation arrangements now in place yielded a result.

Which leads me to wonder if the Administration views this as a special action for this specific case, or if there is a policy decision that could lead to similar actions in the future. If it’s the latter, and if Cuba is on board, it could lead to trials of Medicare scammers who have fled to Cuba.

The State Department’s July 10 statement made a brief reference to this case, and I wrote about it here.


Update:

The Palm Beach Sherriff’s office issued a statement saying that county prosecutors traveled to Cuba to work with Cuban prosecutors, and one of its detectives testified at the Havana trial. It is the first time that “a Cuban citizen was put on trial in Cuba for a murder committed in the United States,” the statement says. 

And in another Florida case, this one involving vehicular manslaughter, a Cuban witness was allowed to provide video testimony from Cuba, where he exculpated the defendant and inculpated himself (Herald).
 
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Friday, August 3, 2018

"Private property" in the constitution


Before and since the proposed new Cuban constitution (pdf) was released, there has been lots of talk about how it “could permit owning private property,” as a Washington Post editorial put it.

Sure enough, it deals with private property – but not exactly in that new-dawn-of-private-property way, which wouldn’t make sense because it is already permissible for Cubans to own private property, as we use the term. The vast majority of Cuban homes are owned outright with property titles and since 2011, residential properties are bought and sold on the open market. Many but not all individual farmers own their land and homes outright. Cars are owned and traded. Personal effects, of course, are privately owned.

What the new constitution does is to enumerate different kinds of property – and among these, to draw a distinction between personal property and private property. (See paragraphs 93 and 94 in the text linked above.)

The distinction is immaterial to a capitalist but significant to Marxists, and it goes like this: “personal property” refers to personal effects that have no economic purpose, while “private property” is defined as private ownership of means of production.

Hence a socialist constitution that stresses the state’s predominant economic role will also enshrine this concept of property, and with it the private sector’s role in the economy.

A narrow way to view this is that the constitution is catching up with reality, because private entities, both individuals and cooperatives in farming and other sectors, already own their means of production.

Another way to view it is as a more solid legal foundation for future legislation governing the private sector, such as the pending laws on enterprises and cooperatives.

If, that is, the Cuban government decides to take advantage of it when it comes time to write those laws.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The proposed new constitution


Cuba’s National Assembly hashed through and approved the draft of a new constitution last weekend, its discussion guided by Homero Acosta, a sort of Publius-without-the-pseudonym who chaired the group that researched and studied constitutional issues and produced the draft. His day job is executive secretary to the Council of State.

Acosta’s title-by-title discussion of the draft is summarized briefly in Granma and can be seen in two long videos here and here.

The draft has not yet been published, and there are, according to Acosta, more than 50 new “norms” that will have to be legislated to accompany it once it is approved.

Starting with the presidency, what’s clear is that with the Castro era ended, the Cuban leadership has decided that it wants no one older than 60 assuming that office, it wants no one in it for more than two five-year terms, and it wants executive functions distributed between a president and newly created prime minister.

These conditions would have ended Fidel Castro’s presidency in 1986 and prevented Raul’s altogether.

Beyond that, not much is clear. Why was it decided in the first place that a prime minister is needed? Will the president’s power be limited, or will the prime minister be sort of a minister of the presidency who handles day-to-day functions such as overseeing executive agencies? Will the prime minister be subordinate to the president? Perhaps the full text will answer these questions when it is published. Perhaps they will be answered once a prime minister is in office. Or perhaps we will be guessing for years, because this is a political system where very little is known about high-level decisionmaking, and there’s no evidence that this is likely to change.

In the meantime, note that the incumbent president is second-in-command of the Communist Party and the prime minister is not; the president nominates the prime minister; the president can propose legislation and the prime minister cannot; the president has the power to promote and remove high-ranking military officers and the prime minister does not; the president has exclusive pardon power; and changes in the composition of the cabinet are initiated when the prime minister proposes changes to the president. In addition, there are unspecified powers that rested with the Council of State that now go to the president. None of this fits the thesis that the new structure is intended to clip the president’s wings.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A win for the control freaks


Cuba has legalized the operation of private bars where a maximum of 50 customers can enjoy alcoholic beverages “in their natural state or in cocktails,” and there can be recorded music, or live performances as long as the artists are hired in full compliance with Ministry of Culture regulations.

This is a trivial aspect of Cuba’s new small business regulations, and like many over the years it legalizes something that has been going on already.

But it makes you think back to March 1968 when Fidel Castro railed against private bars and other businesses during his Ofensiva Revolucionaria (see speeches here and here). He professed shock that there were 955 bars in Havana. He disclosed that undercover investigations found that 72 percent of their patrons “maintain an attitude contrary to our revolutionary process” and 66 percent “are anti-social elements.” He didn’t like other private businesses either, nor the people who ran them. His speeches often included the descriptor “lumpen.”

So he closed virtually all Cuba’s remaining private businesses, tens of thousands of them, including all the bars, because of a perception that they weren’t needed and they engendered the wrong kind of thinking.

So if you root for the privados, 1968 is the low point in the Cuban government’s long struggle to figure out how much private property and private enterprise are to be permitted in the socialist system.

And 1968 is why Cuba had just a few thousand private businesses when it opened up trabajo por cuenta propia in 1993, and it’s why when Raul Castro took office a decade later and took a fresh look at the economy, he noted that the government was unnecessarily and badly running state enterprises to provide almost every service: repair services of all kinds, worker cafeterias, beauty and barber shops, etc.

No one ever made a speech that explicitly threw the thinking of 1968 out the window, but that is what happened when small enterprise regulations were significantly liberalized in 2010. Individual entrepreneurship has since quadrupled in Cuba, from about 150,000 to nearly 600,000, now comprising 12 percent of a labor force where about one in three persons is employed outside the state. These entrepreneurs are essential sources of job creation, tax revenue, and services. Their bed-and-breakfasts sustain tourism centers such as Trinidad and Vinales where hotel capacity is minimal. They are in every city and dusty small town, with the common characteristic that they improve family income, usually quite a lot.

The new regulations (linked here), a package of new norms signed by Raul Castro and various ministers between February and July, are advertised as “updating, correcting, and strengthening” trabajo por cuenta propia.

Actually, “controlling” might be a better word.