Friday, March 29, 2013

Economics roundup

  • IPS: Cuban computer science graduates have a hard time finding meaningful jobs in their field.  I wonder how many will propose starting their own operations under the new law that allows private cooperatives to be formed in sectors other than agriculture.

  • EFE: Echoing other officials’ statements, Vice President Diaz-Canel says the hard part of the reforms is yet to come.  He described the purpose of the reforms as eliminating the “prohibitions that have held back productive forces.”  More here from Nick Miroff.

  • Café Fuerte: Etecsa once again reduces the initiation fee for cell phone accounts, to 30 CUC.  Before the cuts began in 2008, it was 120 CUC.

  • Reuters: Venezuelan opposition leader Capriles would end subsidies to Cuba.

  • CubaEncuentro: Economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago looks at the opaque Cuba-Venezuela economic relationship and concludes that if it is curtailed or ended, the blow to Cuba would be “powerful” but not as severe as the loss of Soviet-bloc support and trade two decades ago.

  • Reuters: Following last year’s deal on commercial debt with Japan, Cuba struck a deal with Russia over the island’s Soviet-era debt.

  • The average income in Cuba is $20 per month…that’s a constantly cited statistic that accurately describes the average state salary.  But it doesn’t describe reality.  Many who work in the state have other sources of household income, and many (in hard currency-producing industries and in joint ventures) have higher incomes.  Increasing numbers of Cubans, in agriculture and small enterprise, don’t work for the state at all.  AFP examines the impact of this income on consumption.

Odds and ends

  • Cuba’s Cardinal Ortega was impressed with statements that Cardinal Bergoglio made about the state of the Cathilic church just before he was elected to the papacy; he asked for a written version and the Argentine obliged him the next morning, saying Ortega could make the remarks public.  He reiterated that permission days later as pope.  Cardinal Ortega released the text in a mass in Havana, and Palabra Nueva tells the story.  See also EFE, Café Fuerte.

  • Rep. Cathy Castor of Tampa on the futility of U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba.

  • Roberto Zurbano in the New York Times on Afro-Cubans’ unequal opportunities in an era of reform.

  • From strategist Steve Schale, a sober look at the numbers in Miami-Dade – registration, demographics, and recent voting behavior.

  • Writing in CubaEncuentro, sociologist Haroldo Dilla supports the call for an independent investigation of the death of Oswaldo Paya but is less than impressed with the Spanish Partido Popular activist who drove the car in which Paya died: “Carromero was, and continues to be, a joke in bad taste for the European right.  He was a toxic gift that came at a high price: the death of two opposition activists, including one of its most renowned leaders.”

  • Granma runs a post-mortem on Cuba’s elimination from the World Baseball Classic and concludes that Cuban players have skill but need more nerve.  Conclusion: more high-stakes tournament play needs to be built into Cuba’s baseball program at all age levels.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The opposition on tour

Blogger Yoani Sanchez meets privately with Senators Menendez and Rubio in Washington and complains in Europe that activists from other countries don’t empathize with Cubans.  Blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo is falling in love with New York.  The daughter of Oswaldo Paya appears before a UN body and goes on Spanish television criticizing the Spanish government’s handling of the case of Angel Carromero, who drove the car in which her father died.  Berta Soler of the Damas de Blanco gives interviews (here and here) in Spain slamming the Cuban government.  And young activist Eliecer Avila, visiting Stockholm, declares his intention to start a political party when he returns to Cuba.  There’s lots more where all of that came from – press conferences, panel discussions, press coverage everywhere.

The Cuban government surely didn’t set out to do a favor for the Cuban opposition when it made citizens’ travel abroad easier by eliminating the exit permit requirement.  But that is a prominent by-product – a small exodus of political opponents who are touring capitals on both sides of the Atlantic, criticizing the Cuban government, meeting friends, allies, and the curious, and surely making it easier for those who support them to learn, strategize, and provide assistance.

Yoani Sanchez believes that the Cuban government had no choice but to let her travel.  She told CNN that “the political cost of leaving me on the island was becoming pretty difficult to bear,” and “maybe they thought if I left I wouldn’t return.”  As for the new travel policy, “more than a show of reform it was a show of weakness,” she said. 

Maybe so, although I don’t think it would be particularly hard for a government that had restricted travel for 50 years to do so for several more, notwithstanding its promise to include travel among the “excessive prohibitions” being lifted as part of its reform program. 

It’s quite possible that the government decided to open up travel for reasons having nothing to do with its political opponents.  According to press reports since the reform was enacted, the government has barred travel by denying passports in very few cases – dissidents who were released from jail conditionally and whose sentences have not expired, and personnel of key economic importance. 

We’ll see if this practice continues.  If so, it could represent a different calculation on Havana’s part about the political opposition, that its members’ ability to circulate and speak outside Cuba will not alter their political fortunes inside Cuba. 

In Yoani Sanchez’ appearances in New York and Washington, her views on the U.S. embargo were front and center.  At times she expressed her opposition based on the political value it holds for the Cuban government.  Other times she differed with the “pressure cooker” logic of the embargo, that its aim is to create misery and drive the miserable to revolt.  That theory doesn’t sit well if you live in Cuba, she points out.  Shortly after her meeting with Senators Rubio and Menendez, she in part adopted their position and appeared to place herself in a “process of debate” – with whom, she didn’t say – that could lead to change.  From an interview with TV Marti:

Q.  Are you in favor of lifting the embargo unconditionally?

A.  I am not in agreement with that.  I believe that, clearly, at this time there have to be conditions and above all I believe that it is a long process of debate that has to take place beforehand.  We are already taking the first steps and I believe we have to continue on that path.

Surely the topic will come up when she visits Miami.


Author Zoe Valdes, as ever, less than impressed with Yoani Sanchez.

Clarinet/saxophone virtuoso Paquito D’Rivera is one of many who argues that Yoani Sanchez should be treated respectfully even by those, like himself, who disagree with her on the embargo.  Mambi Watch has an interesting post on this development.

Tracey Eaton on Yoani’s New York visit.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A new Alan Gross statement

Jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross, who is suing the U.S. government and his employer DAI, has submitted an affidavit in federal court detailing some of his history working in Cuba.  It was posted by Tracey Eaton on his blog.


  • He “has always disputed, and continues to dispute” the Cuban criminal conviction that resulted in his 15-year sentence.

  • He says he never obtained any SIM cards for his satellite Internet installations from any agency of the U.S. government.  (His September 2009 memo indicates that he planned to do so; discussion here.)

  • He says that his proposal to DAI, which won him the contract, “responded to all aspects” of the company’s request for proposals.  Nonetheless, his motivation for working in Cuba was his “personal passion” for helping Jewish communities around the world.

  • He says he was unaware that his work implementing the USAID program in Cuba could run afoul of Cuban law.  He only learned this after his arrest.

  • His project manager at DAI told him to focus exclusively on setting up the equipment and making it work and “not to worry” about “content” to be conveyed; DAI would handle that.

  • He says he made no attempt to conceal the equipment that he carried into Cuba from Cuban Customs or from anyone else.

  • Recipients of his equipment appreciated it and said it was more useful than anything they could set up on their own, even if funds were unlimited.

  • He once saw a Cuban government van equipped with an antenna in a neighborhood where he had installed satellite Internet equipment.  He surmises that it was searching for his equipment’s signals.

  • His expectation was that if Cuban authorities were to crack down on his activities, they would take his equipment and expel him.

  • Before his last trip to Cuba, DAI asked him to propose expanding his activities to “African-Cubans, women, youths, and other religious groups,” and to see if members of Cuba’s Jewish community would provide technical support.  The latter request made him “very uncomfortable.”

  • Days after his arrest, DAI asked his wife to hand over his laptop so information could be deleted from it.  Mrs. Gross agreed and handed it over.

Monday, March 11, 2013

How to get a U.S. visa

If memory serves, not since 1994 have Cuban media given space to a U.S. official to explain migration procedures; in 1994 it was an appearance on Cuban television by Joseph Sullivan, then chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. 

Today, Granma’s fifth page is devoted entirely to an interview with U.S. Consul General Timothy Roche, who explains visa procedures.  With the end of Cuba’s exit permit requirement, the key issue for Cubans is how to get a visa to visit a foreign country or to emigrate.  Granma said that the U.S. Interests Section requested the interview.