Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In El Pais, the first USINT Havana cable

The 2009 cable is written by the U.S. Interests Section’s security officer in response to a questionnaire that apparently asks for an assessment of the local security environment.

Considering that Cuba is designated a “state sponsor of terrorism” by the Obama Administration, these judgments from the cable stand out:

· ELN, FARC and ETA have a presence in Cuba but “are unlikely to conduct terrorist operations in Cuba.” Also: “There is little chance of any operational activity given the need for safehaven.”

· USINT has “seen no evidence that the GOC allows hostile intelligence service to plan terrorist, anti-U.S. operations in Cuba…Moreover, the GOC guards its own prerogatives jealously and would not want a foreign service or organization operating on its soil even if relations between the GOC and that organization or service were excellent. Post gauges the most immediate threat from hostile intelligence services to be from a counterintelligence perspective.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

29,038 new entrepreneurs

Since late October, 29,038 licenses have been granted for trabajo por cuenta propia, according to Granma. That is a 20 percent jump in the size of the sector.

That number, calculated on November 19, will surely grow. According to the article, labor ministry and other offices have responded to 81,498 people who have expressed interest in working on their own.

Retirees account for 43 percent of new licensees.

Among the 45,000 who have licenses or have applied (16,265), 56 percent have no “vinculo laboral,” which is to say that they were not working, were working informally, or were laid off. One fifth will work in food service, and 12 percent will be “contracted,” which sounds like they will be hired by entrepreneurs who already have a license.

In recent weeks I had the opportunity to visit some of the offices where Cubans are applying for licenses in and out of Havana. There were lines of applicants, harried officials managing the lines and answering questions, people leaving with licenses in hand, and many citizens intently studying bulletin boards with information about how to apply.

Workers at several offices told me that they were not working against a numerical limit; if applicants’ papers are in order, they get the license. That is a change from the previous rules, where each municipal government was able to set ceilings on the number of cuentapropistas in each line of work. In the municipality of Sancti Spiritus alone, an official told me that 720 licenses were issued between October 29 and November 15.

Cuban media are reminding the public of the new policies. The non-stop news programming of Radio Reloj (definitely an acquired taste!) is regularly explaining aspects of the new regulations and application procedures. Today’s Granma has a story that re-explains the new policies on rental of rooms, entire homes, or spaces for entrepreneurs to use to house their businesses.

Photos: a new sandwich stand in Sancti Spiritus, an electoral commission office that the labor ministry is using to take applications in the Centro Habana municipality, and one of the bulletin boards at that office.

Fiscal conservatism in Cuba

“It would not be ethical to increase unproductive expenditures at the cost of contracting debts that our children and grandchildren would have to pay.”

That is a headline on the front page (pdf) of Saturday’s Granma, and it’s a quote from a 2008 Raul Castro speech. The communist party newspaper has lately been making a practice of highlighting passages from this and other speeches that explain current economic policies. The headline over today’s speech excerpt: “There will not be spectacular solutions.”

Not quite what Raul had in mind

Friday’s Granma reports on citizens using ingenuity and personal effort to build housing, but not exactly according to the book.

About 300 houses were built in Corralillo, mostly replacing summer homes wrecked by hurricane Michelle in 2001, according to the article. The construction materials include steel rails from dismantled railroad lines that belonged to the sugar ministry – 9,631 meters’ worth, according to “specialists” in the local prosecutor’s office – plus roofing material that was designated for post-hurricane housing reconstruction. None of the materials were authorized, however.

The article details a large-scale scandal of misappropriated resources, unauthorized construction, and officials who were at minimum asleep at the switch. “Where were the leadership of the Party and Government in this territory,” it pointedly asks, and notes also that the local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution took no action either.

(Photo from Granma; the article has many more.)

Wikileaks keeps us waiting

Wikileaks’ huge, consequences-be-damned dump of U.S. diplomatic cables has nothing on Cuba for now, as best I can tell from searches of the cables’ “tags” and countries of origin. But it looks like some are coming – 507 to be exact, from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, according to this document that Tracey Eaton found. Wikileaks plans to release the 251,287 cables “in stages over the next few months.” Here’s information from Wikileaks, a map of the cables’ countries of origin from the Guardian, and coverage from El Pais.