Friday, January 29, 2010

Casa de tabaco

Conference in Havana

Cuba's foreign ministry held a conference this week with more than 450 Cubans who live abroad. I haven’t seen reporting on the exchanges at the conference – from reports so far it looks like officials delivering their message to a supportive audience – but some news has come out of it.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said that 296,000 Cuban émigrés visited Cuba last year, but didn’t specify how many came from the United States. (See AP story.) He suggested that this level of visitation is hard to square with the image of political refugees (Prensa Latina), an argument one hears around here sometimes.

Rodriguez announced that a U.S. delegation would come to Havana February 19 for the next round of consultations on the bilateral migration accords (AP) but the State Department would not confirm that. Alien smuggling will be on the Cuban agenda, whenever the talks occur.

He also mentione the case of Alan Gross, the USAID contractor detained by Cuba last month, noting that he remains under investigation (Reuters).

As for the conference itself, Miami New Times has a wry take, and Yoani Sanchez discusses issues that she thinks should be on the agenda (English here).

If anyone knows of substantive exchanges that took place on Cuban immigration policy or anything else, I’m all ears.

Odds and ends

  • Juventud Rebelde: free music downloads until February 25 at the new website of EGREM, the Cuban music recording and production company.

  • AFP Spanish on the Internet in Cuba, with a story about a Cuban who used his position as the IT guy in a state enterprise to sell black-market Internet access. He earned $500 per month until he got caught.

  • Diario de Cuba: Cuban ballplayers will play a benefit for Haiti relief February 6 at the University of Miami.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Congressman will not attend

Via Babalu, here’s a statement from Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart opposing the Obama Administration’s decision to allow “the Castro regime representatives ‘Van Van’ to perform in the United States” starting with concerts this week in Key West and Miami. He also called the band the “group of musicians known as ‘Van Van.’”

Personally, I prefer the orchestra known as Aragon, pre-’59 of course.

Mambi Watch has more on Miami and the band in question, then (1999) and now.


To boost job creation, President Obama announced a National Export Initiative to boost American exports during last night's State of the Union address. He says he won’t settle for second place when it comes to revamping our economy.

That’s good, because preliminary data from last year are showing that the United States, long the world’s greatest exporter, is now in third place behind China and Germany.

The President seems serious, even mentioning the Doha negotiations and trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama that are anathema to protectionists in both parties.

He is unlikely to drop the Cuba embargo for obvious reasons, even though that would open an export market that we have blocked unilaterally.

So here’s a more modest idea. Since President Obama made special mention of American farmers, and since farm income was down by one third last year, why not change American policy to expand agricultural exports to Cuba?

To do this, he could take a few steps – and protectionists can relax, since none involve opening the U.S. market to imports from Cuba.

Since 2002, Cuba has spent an average of $373 million per year on American grain, poultry, cattle, products for Cuban grocery stores, even telephone poles and newsprint. This is a big exception to the overall U.S. trade embargo that was enacted in 2000.

But our exports suffer from self-imposed restrictions. Cuba is required to pay cash for our goods, but we don’t allow Cuba to wire its payments directly to U.S. banks – payments have to be sent through third countries. This makes European bankers happy as they collect fees for handling the transactions and changing money from one currency to another. We also require Cuba to pay before the shipment leaves a U.S. port, rather than before goods are turned over in a Cuban port.

And American companies are not permitted to extend credit to Cuba. Given Cuba’s debt troubles and payment record, it is questionable how much private credit would be extended, and it would be wrong to risk U.S. taxpayer dollars in Cuba through loans or export insurance. But why shouldn’t Americans be free to engage in normal export financing, at their own risk?

These are all policies that, to date, President Obama has preserved even though he says he wants to “recast” our relations with Havana.

He has also preserved President Bush’s travel restrictions, with the exception of allowing Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba as they please.

If President Obama were to end travel restrictions, American travelers – religious and civic groups, sports teams, universities, and even tourists – would create a flow of information and ideas between our countries and correct a mistaken foreign policy that pretends to extend American influence while building a wall between our peoples.

An open travel policy would affect agriculture too: the revenues from American travelers will lead to increased purchases of our farm products.

Together, these measures would make the United States a more competitive vendor and Cuba a stronger customer.

Cuba spent $1.8 billion on agricultural imports in 2008 – more than three times the amount it spent in 2000.

About one third of those imports come from America. The U.S. International Trade Commission estimated last June that Cuba would buy one half to two thirds of its agricultural imports from the United States if we drop the cumbersome rules governing transactions with Cuba, end travel restrictions, and allow private credit.

That translates to half-billion dollar boost in American farm exports.

Is that what you’re looking for, Mr. President?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Reuters: An American art collector donates more than 100 works to Cuba’s Bellas Artes museum, including some by Picasso, Miro, and Pissarro. The donor, Gilbert Brownstone, went whole hog, dedicating the donation to Los Cinco and receiving a decoration from the Council of State. Granma story here.

  • Mambi Watch says everyone, including yours truly, jumped the gun last week when outlandish reports were appearing in Latin American media about the cause of the Haiti earthquake.

  • A Tampa business group returns from Cuba, urges Florida medical schools to build links with Cuban counterparts, and wants approval for Tapa-Havana flights.

  • And here’s an account of the visit to Cuba of softball players from Massachusetts, age 55-80.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Secretary Clinton, Internet freedom champion, call your office

With Bush policies cruising ahead on auto-pilot, the Obama Administration is forcing Sourceforge, an American provider of open-source software, to block access to Cubans.

Here’s coverage from the Register (UK) and ZDNet.

Supporters and opponents of U.S. sanctions have plenty of legitimate and irreconciliable disagreements, but I wonder if there isn’t agreement on the foolishness of this measure, which hurts only the Cuban people.

If the Cuban government wants to obtain open-source software, it will find a way to obtain it.

The effect of this sanction, which blocks Cuban IP addresses in Cuba, is to hurt the Cuban individual who arranges to have Internet access, stays up until 3:00 a.m. when Cuba’s bandwidth is not so jammed and downloads are faster, and tries to get software from a U.S. site.

The U.S. government action against Sourceforge seems inept in that there are other repositories of open-source software, including Google. Dana Blankenhorn writes at ZDNet, “Will the U.S. government now censor Google while it ostensibly fights alongside it against Chinese censorship?”

Similar Treasury follies discussed here.

Odds and ends

  • AFP: Cuba signs an agreement with the Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation to collaborate on restoration of Hemingway’s house in Cuba.

  • Herald: The USAID Cuba program, at an impasse.

  • Reuters: Russia will donate 100,000 tons of wheat to Cuba.

  • Yoani Sanchez says that one foreign business that had its account frozen is being paid in convertible peso vouchers, which it is redeeming as best it can. In English at the Huffington Post.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Los Van Van on tour

Los Van Van, the very popular Cuban band, is starting its U.S. tour with concerts in Key West on Thursday and in Miami next Sunday.

When the band last toured the United States in 1999, there were arguments and legal action over the venue. Miami’s mayor called the concert promoter “Havana Debbie,” neatly mimicking those in Havana who say if you’re not with me, you’re on the side of the foreign enemy. There were protests at the concert where some threw bottles, rocks, and eggs at concertgoers.

Call me a crazy optimist, but I’ll bet that this time, those who use the occasion to express their opposition to the Cuban government will do so peacefully.

A completely unscientific sampling of news clips and commentary on the 1999 saga is here (pdf). The Herald’s excellent Saturday story looks at Miami politics then and now. It’s here, with ticket information.

(Photo from

Boat repair

Fidel's Haiti politics

Fidel Castro publishes an article where he complains about the presence of so many American troops in Haiti – they have “occupied the territory of Haiti,” he says – and asks why “neither the United Nations nor the United States government have offered an explanation of these troop movements to world public opinion.” AP coverage here, Spanish text here.

That’s demagoguery, it’s par for the course, and it has been echoed by Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales.

In the article, Fidel also seems to respond to Washington, saying Cuba doesn’t need U.S. supplies for now. He writes that any significant aid that may be offered to Cuba’s contingent in Haiti “will not be rejected” out of hand, and would only be accepted if it fits the needs of the Cuban mission.

Until now, he says, “our modest aircraft resources and the important human resources that Cuba has put at the disposition of the Haitian people have not had any difficulty in arriving at their destination.”

This small part of the Haiti equation has been pretty simple: Haiti has huge emergency medical needs, Cuba has doctors and clinics in place, and the United States and others arrived with supplies and delivery capacity.

The Obama Administration set aside political considerations and offered to cooperate with Cuba in anything that would improve the relief effort. Extraneous Obstacle #1 averted. Extraneous Obstacle #2 is Cuban pride, and judging from Fidel’s article, that one still seems to be in play.

But Cuba has accepted a Norwegian donation to buy supplies for its doctors in Haiti, so let’s hope the point is moot.

Odds and ends

  • Baylor’s baseball team is in Cuba to carry out humanitarian projects and hold some baseball clinics. The team won’t play any games, this article says, because NCAA rules won’t allow it.

  • More on Cuban doctors from NPR.

  • Along the Malecon reports on the run-up to the Posada Carriles trial; the judge threw out a defense pre-trial motion to dismiss one perjury charge. With links to various documents from the proceeding.

Friday, January 22, 2010

U.S. offer to supply Cuban doctors (Updated x2)

State Department spokesman Mark Toner, in this interview with CBS radio: “We, the United States, have communicated our readiness to make medical relief supplies available to Cuban doctors who are working on the ground in Haiti as part of the international relief effort there.”

[Update: “We have offered medical supplies, but the Cubans have not formally agreed to such assistance, nor have any materials been provided as yet,” a State Department spokesman tells the Herald.

“Cuban doctors save lives in Haiti” is the headline of an El Nuevo Herald article that covers the work at Haiti’s La Renaissance hospital. English version here.

And a reader poll on El Nuevo’s front page asks, “Do you believe the United States should give supplies to Cuban doctors?” As of 11:00 a.m. Saturday, 92 percent of the responses are “yes.”]

[Update: A Voice of America editorial on Cuba’s work in Haiti and its U.S.-Cuba cooperation.]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It all started with Hugo

Cuban Colada followed up on the story on Radio Reloj’s website that I noted yesterday – the one that says that the United States caused the Haiti earthquake – and finds that the Russians are saying they had nothing to do with it.

“Science fiction,” a Russian navy spokesman says. Three Russian media sources tracked the story to comments made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Venezuelan television, based on his conversation with a few Russian sailors.

Details here.

Cooperation in Haiti

I like reading Mauricio Claver-Carone’s blog because it’s link-free, so you never have to click through to read about any of the people or content he refers to. Mauricio tells you everything you need to know.

At any rate, he’s upset that some “advocates” want to use the Haiti relief effort as “a springboard for bilateral relations.” (Boldface in original, as are all the important parts.)

I agree with Mauricio. In my view, the only reason for the United States to cooperate with Cuba on Haiti relief is to improve the speed, quality, and effectiveness of the relief effort.

One example would be if the U.S. military were to speed delivery of medical supplies – surgical equipment, painkillers, antibiotics – to the hospitals where doctors of all nationalities are working so desperately and facing shortages. If someone were to check in advance to find out what the Cuban doctors need the most, so much the better.

But Mauricio seems to go further, saying that “U.S.-Cuba relations should be about the Cuban people and the abuses, injustices and deprivations that they are subject to -- in other words, Cuba's own tragedy. Therefore, it’s absolutely shameless to try to use the Haitian tragedy as an excuse to promote U.S.-Castro relations.”

Does that mean that the United States should not cooperate with Cuba at all in Haiti, and our relations should focus exclusively on Cuba’s political system? Is there a single Cuban in Cuba who would agree with that?

Odds and ends

  • Cuban Colada: Chile’s President-elect has been flexible with regard to Cuba.

  • CNN’s Shasta Darlington reports on the work of Cuban doctors at a Port-au-Prince hospital; text here, video here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sancti Spiritus

Odds and ends

  • Reuters: Cuba’s top independent human rights monitor reports that the Cuban government is using more intimidation and harassment, and less long-term detention, against political opponents. The number of political prisoners dropped from 208 in mid-2009 to 201 now.

  • Magnitude 5.9 earthquakes shook Haiti and the Cayman Islands today, with some vague press reports indicating that the latter one was felt in Cuba. The U.S. Geological Survey’s map of the past week’s many quakes in the region is here.

  • “Russians Affirm that U.S. Caused Haiti Earthquake:” Cuba’s Radio Reloj runs a story on its website from a news service in Ecuador, claiming that Russia’s navy is linking Haiti’s earthquake and others to “shock wave bombs” developed by the U.S. Navy. This poorly written story refers to “these reports” and “the report” but doesn’t cite anything. It would be interesting to know if any such statement or report from the Russian military really exists. Sounds like Moscow’s old disinformation department, and its network, are still in business.

  • The U.S. travel industry and Cuban officials will meet at a March conference in Cancun, just announced.

  • A discussion of information technology and social media in Cuba was held in New York last week; here are comments from two participants, Ted Henken and Irving Wladawsky-Berger.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More on the Cuban doctors in Haiti

More news coverage is mentioning the Cuban doctors in Haiti. It seems that they are doing what all the other foreign doctors are doing – working like crazy under terrible conditions, with the advantage that they were already established in the country and were able to get started immediately. Many foreign doctors are working alongside the Cubans. Here are stories from Irish Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles ABC television affiliate, and the New York Times.

Where Virginia apples go...

…to Old Havana, apparently, near the old American Embassy where they are sold at a sidewalk stand for 0.45 CUC apiece. They also go down Calle Obispo on a bike with other cargo, destination unknown.

Odds and ends

  • Marti Noticias: In a Havana press conference, Silvio Benitez announces that his opposition Liberal Party will field 20 candidates at the local level in this year’s elections. (The story links to audio.) The goal, he says, is “to get to the place from which the law can be changed peacefully.” One candidate in a district with about 1,100 voters says he is running on local issues – bad housing, bad roads, etc.

  • From Galveston, Texas, a call to end the embargo and help the local economy.

  • As Luis Posada Carriles’ February 5 trial date approaches, Tracey Eaton reports on the prosecution’s successful motions to keep many trial documents from public view.

Monday, January 18, 2010

More cooperation with Cuba on Haiti?

After Cuba allowed the use of its airspace for medical evacuation flights from the Guantanamo naval base to Miami, Secretary Clinton said, “We very much appreciate the Cubans opening their air space for medical evacuation and emergency flights, and we would welcome any other actions that the Cuban Government could take in furtherance of the international rescue and recovery mission in Haiti.”

Here’s a simple, practical suggestion from Gary Maybarduk, formerly the political counselor in the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. He suggests in a letter to the Washington Post that the United States agree to provide supplies to the Cuban doctors working in Haiti.

I wonder if there would also be some benefit in cooperation on logistics. The aid effort is being hampered by the limited capacity of Haiti’s damaged airport and by the destruction of the port facilities in Port-au-Prince (USA Today story here).

The French and others are upset about aid flights that have been turned away. Peru’s health minister noted on Saturday that two Peruvian planes were unable to land in Haiti, and he suggested that airport and seaport facilities in Cuba be used as a staging area for aid flowing to Haiti. An airlift and sealift “bridge” could then deliver materials to Haiti and perhaps solve the airport bottleneck. (Some flights turned away from Port-au-Prince are landing in the Dominican Republic and moving their shipments overland.)

Certainly there are capable airports in eastern CubaSantiago, Holguin, the Guantanamo naval base. If this option makes logistical sense, all that would be needed would be an agreement between Cuba and the United States, or the United Nations, to make it happen.

And some related items:

  • CNN reports on a hospital where Cuban and other doctors are working; video here. Fidel Castro’s latest reflection contains an excerpt from a report from the Cuban medical mission in Haiti, and it mentions the hospital that CNN filmed. A Cuban news agency report, summarized in English here, has more details.

  • An effort was announced in Miami “to airlift possibly thousands of Haitian children left orphaned in the aftermath of Tuesday's horrific earthquake,” according to this Herald article. The idea is based on the Peter Pan operation that brought more than 14,000 Cuban children to the United States under the Catholic Church’s auspices in the early 1960’s – but those children were not orphans, they were sent by their parents. This is a compassionate idea, but it’s not clear that anyone has considered that Haiti’s battered government would have to approve adoptions. As is pointed out here in the LA Times, the process is quite long. More here from the Sun-Sentinel.

  • In El Nuevo Herald, experts discuss the geology and history of eastern Cuba and the possibilities of major earthquakes there. The U.S. Geological Survey has tons of information on earthquakes worldwide, including this note on a 2008 earthquake centered in the Caribbean between Jamaica and Cuba (see depiction of the fault along Cuba's southern coast near Santiago). Also, not for the faint of heart, there’s this map of all the world’s quakes in the past seven days.

Odds and ends

  • Granma publishes a health ministry note confirming the death of 26 patients in a psychiatric hospital in Havana during the recent cold snap and pointing to negligence on the part of hospital authorities. An investigative commission has been set up, the note says, and those responsible will end up in court. AP story here.

  • Here’s a story of a Unitarian Universalist Church group that was turned away from Cuba in late December, despite having made many trips there before.

  • Alejandro Armengol notes at Cuaderno de Cuba that there’s a private gymnasium in Santiago too, and he wrote about it in 2006. My earlier post here.

  • The Wilson Center summarizes (pdf, nine pages) a conference it held last November: “Engaging Cuba: Policy Options for the United States, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere.”


Friday, January 15, 2010

Cuba allows U.S. overflights

Cuba has agreed to allow the United States to send medical evacuation flights from the Guantanamo naval base to Miami to fly directly over Cuban territory. That avoids the need to fly south then around Cuba’s eastern tip to avoid Cuban airspace, and it cuts 90 minutes off the flight. USA Today story here.

No comment

I’m done with the comments on this blog, sorry to say.

I posted an item this week on Cuban doctors in Haiti and the comments soon took a very ugly turn. Some weeks ago, I got complaints about some of the insults, which are ample, and go in all directions. On top of that, there’s the fact that many of the comments have nothing to do with what I have written – nothing wrong with that, but there are plenty of other places where people can engage in those anonymous spats.

I could set up a system of moderating comments, where I read and screen them before they are posted, but I am not interested in being a gatekeeper. So I have thought about all this and decided that this is a party that I no longer want to host, and I’m shutting the comments section down.

What I regret is that some comments have contributed interesting information, questions, and arguments about the topics I discussed, and about some that I didn’t. Readers can continue to send me feedback by e-mail (in my profile); I’ll read them all, I’ll answer them as I can, and I’ll make use of good questions and comments and suggestions.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Odds and ends

  • El Mundo reports on the result of Ecuador’s easing of its visa requirements: a huge increase in the number of Cubans (and others) in Ecuador.

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington is holding a forum on January 22: “Opportunities for Improving U.S.-Cuba Engagement on Health Policy.” Description here (pdf).

  • In response to the Obama Administration’s decision to subject travelers from Cuba to extra security measures upon arrival in the United States – part of the U.S. government’s response to the underwear bomber – Cuba’s foreign ministry issued a rebuttal to Washington’s “state sponsor of terrorism” designation.

  • Speaking of extra security measures to protect us from state sponsors of terror, I wonder if Homeland Security is changing its treatment of Cubans who arrive without visas on Florida beaches or Texas border crossings. Or is this just about airports and aviation security?

  • Tom Garofalo of the New America Foundation looks at the choice the U.S. government has made in Cuba: unleashing the USAID bureaucracy rather than unleashing American civil society. He references his experience working with Caritas Cubana.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cuban doctors in Haiti

If there’s one small hopeful note in Haiti’s tragedy it’s that the country is already host to a substantial UN mission and many humanitarian organizations, all of which will make the massive relief and recovery operations work better.

To the subject of this blog, these include Cuban medical missions with 344 doctors and paramedics that have, according to news reports, set up field hospitals and started attending to victims. Cuban authorities have announced that 30 more doctors, including orthopedists and blood transfusion specialists, are on the way.

All the coverage, so far, is in Spanish; from EFE, AFP, and Radio Havana Cuba.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

“In life you take risks or you lose…

…and I took a risk.”

That’s how Omar Francisco Rico Granados summed up his decision to use his own money and sweat to fix up a building’s second-floor apartments in the hope that he would get permission to set up a gym and charge admission in the unused space downstairs.

His gamble paid off.

Rico, once of the Cuban national soccer team, now runs the Gimnasio Sol y Cuba in Old Havana, a few steps southwest of the Plaza Vieja.

The building, according to a plaque outside, was a Masonic lodge from 1809 to 1869.

The ground floor space was full of discarded junk, the upstairs had ten apartments. Rico, proud and talkative, says he invested 34,000 pesos to fix up the apartments, beginning in 2008 and finishing last March.

I didn’t go up to see the apartments, but from downstairs you see repaired floor joists and a new pvc sewer line that he installed. In his project file, there’s a letter signed by the ten families upstairs supporting his proposal to use the downstairs as a community gym.

The rest of his file shows the results of his bureaucratic odyssey. The local government liked his project at first, then turned against it. But he went also to the Havana historian’s office, which is in charge of all planning, land use, construction, and restoration in Old Havana. “They were my support,” Rico says, showing approvals from the historian’s master planning office, a variety of permits, and a document that gives him use of the first floor for two years with possible renewals, and marks his status as “PRIVATE.”

He opened the gym last September. He’s got a sound system, home-made weightlifting equipment, wooden crates for step aerobics classes, and three instructors whom he pays. Kids and retirees enter free; 100 pesos a month gets you unlimited use of the gym, 60 pesos a month gets you in for a daily 90-minute slot.

Rico pays about 250 pesos per month in tax, and uses the rest to pay expenses and recoup his investment.

He wants more exercise equipment, and the big item on his to-do list is the carpentry, ironwork, and glass to fix the front façade according to his plan (see photo).

Rico doesn’t own the property outright, and he realizes that as the restoration of Old Havana progresses, authorities may want to put the site to a different use.

That prospect doesn’t seem to bother him, and one imagines he would land on his feet even if that did come to pass.

[A story of another gym in Centro Habana is here.]

Repsol renegotiating its exploration contract

A friend passed along this article (pdf) from Platts news service about an energy bill pending in the Senate that contains a Cuba provision.

What caught my eye was something I hadn’t seen reported before – that Repsol, the leading company in the consortium that drilled for oil in Cuban territorial waters in 2004 and is expected to drill again, is in the midst of negotiations with Cuba. Its exploration contract expired last year and a spokesman says the company is “renegotiating the conditions” with Cuban autorities.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Jobs, anyone?

In his end-of year speech to Cuba’s National Assembly, Raul Castro said that employment would be a priority for economic policy this year. There are too many workers on government and state enterprise payrolls, he said. He noted that the expanding agriculture sector is one source of new jobs, but apart from that he didn’t offer much detail on how jobs could be created.

Raul recognized “expectations and honest concerns expressed by deputies [legislators] and citizens with regard to the pace and depth of the changes that we have to introduce into the functioning of the economy” and justified his slow pace as a hedge against the risk of “improvisation and haste.” He even pulled out a quote from Jose Marti: “What has to last a long time has to be made slowly.”

So what’s the next step?

A hint may have been provided by economy minister Marino Murillo in his December 21 speech to the legislature. His ministry and others are studying employment policy, he noted, then he said this: “Experiments have been initiated and others are being worked on to lighten the state’s burden in the provision of some services.”

There’s no date there, and certainly no detail, but that sounds like the kind of language that officials have used in the past to explain the expansion of self-employment – a realization on the government’s part that it doesn’t need to provide every single service in the economy, and some can be left to the private sector.

I find that Cubans are speculating that the government’s next step in economic policy will be to convert dysfunctional state enterprises – small ones such as restaurants, cafeterias, and repair shops – into urban cooperatives. The Cuban media long ago documented the problems in these businesses, many of which are functioning only because the workers take matters into their own hands (see articles in Juventud Rebelde in 2006, discussed here).

The speculation has been fueled by citizens’ suggestions that have appeared in the letters-to-the-editor section of Granma.

Here’s one from last November from J.R. Cuesta Tapia, an engineer and party member writing from South Africa, where he’s working on a construction project. He supports elimination of the libreta, the household food ration book, and says the government should at the same time provide cash assistance to those who really need it to buy essential products. He says that it’s natural for Cubans to wonder what would come next, given the ingrained habit of thinking that “the state will solve our problems.” He calls for allowing more private providers to supply food products, along with state inspectors to ensure food hygiene and to levy taxes. Also: “Small cooperatives could be created with the workers of cafeterias, restaurants, small industrial articles stores, the options are many…”

In the following week’s issue, there’s a supportive response from H. Palacios Alvarez, a doctor and “militant of the glorious Communist Party of Cuba.” He recalls how he went out to the streets to support the state’s takeover of small businesses in 1968. He now confesses that he “didn’t imagine, amid that revolutionary fervor, the burden that it would be for the state to take over control of that economic activity.” He agrees with Cuesta that the state should regulate rather than control small-scale food service operations, and he urges the state to create wholesale supply outlets for the self-employed who provide these services. That, he says, will allow providers to make a profit, it will keep prices low, and it will reduce theft of state resources.

The government would not have to break new ideological ground to put these ideas into practice. Self-employment, while limited, is already a reality in every neighborhood in Cuba. And cooperatives exist (and are expanding) in the farm sector.

So the people are calling for it, their calls are being published, and the government is hinting vaguely. We’ll see where it goes.

Odds and ends

  • Sports Illustrated: Aroldis Chapman has a five-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds, to be announced today. And another Cuban southpaw, Noel Arguelles, was signed by Kansas City.

  • Uncommon Sense on the passing of Gloria Amaya, the mother of two political prisoners. Her sons, Ariel and Guido, were let out of jail to attend her wake, but not at the same time.

  • The New York Times’ Jon Pareles reviews a Charanga Habanera performance last Friday night.

  • Juventud Rebelde: Vice President Machado Ventura attends a Communist youth meeting in Cienfuegos and reaffirmed the leadership’s confidence in the younger generation’s ability to take over.

  • The New York Times Magazine has a long look at the Republican Senate primary race in Florida between Governor Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

  • Ted Henken discovers a Facebook group that calls for elimination of Cuba’s tarjeta blanca exit permit, which Cubans must obtain from their government to travel abroad.

The weather outside is frightful...

...and they were bundling up even in Havana, last week.