Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Odds and ends

·      Student Emma Gonzalez is attacked for having a Cuban flag patch on her sleeve at the March for Our Lives. “Idiots” is the right word, from New Times.

·      Granma: a deal to bring Cuba’s diabetes drug Heberprot-P to the United States for clinical trials.

·      From Larry Press, interesting speculation on future steps in Internet development. In Granma, an outline of what is being done now (English here).

·      Granma: In Fort Lauderdale, a U.S.-Cuba dialogue on oil spill response.

·      Cuba’s likely next president calls on the press to, as this article paraphrases, “stand up to the imposition of a standardized culture that breaks with the historical memory of peoples and fractures identities, also as a method of domination.” Elsewhere, he calls for emphasis on learning English, “in spite of the opposition by some.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

New rules coming for Cuba's entrepreneurs

The news starts about ten paragraphs into this Granma story on a Central Committee meeting on economic policy. New “legal norms” affecting Cuba’s more than 580,000 cuentapropistas have been signed and will soon be issued, and there will be some kind of “training” for them and 30,000 officials, presumably to promote tax and regulatory compliance.
Apart from that, monetary unification remains a high priority, there are plans to continue investing in the industries (construction materials, etc.) that enable improvement of housing stock, and work continues on constitutional reform to make Cuba’s constitution reflect “the principal economic, political, and social transformations” resulting from the last two party congresses. No mention of term limits or new laws governing the election process, comminications media, or non-government entities, all of which have been said to be under consideration.
Reuters story here.

Friday, March 23, 2018

John Bolton on Cuba

John Bolton, President Trump’s new national security advisor, has some history on Cuba.

In the year before the United States launched the 2003 Iraq war, which was predicated on erroneous (and some would say politicized) intelligence assessments about Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction, John Bolton was trying to make the same allegation about Cuba.

The problem was that Bolton’s allegation about Cuba – that it had a biological weapons “program” – was not supported by the U.S. intelligence community. When State Department analyst Christian Westermann corrected a 2002 Bolton speech draft to reflect then-current assessments, Bolton tried to have the analyst relieved of his duties. To their credit, Westermann and his superiors held firm. (See coverage here and here.)

Later, in 2004, the U.S. intelligence community re-assessed the Cuba situation in light of the Iraq debacle. The new assessment noted the obvious – that Cuba, with its substantial biotechnology industry, had the technical capacity to engage in weapons research – but held that the intelligence agencies’ unanimous view was that “it was unclear whether Cuba has an active biological weapons effort now, or even had one in the past.”

Apart than that, he has conventional views on Cuba among many Republicans. When President Obama announced his opening to Cuba, he called it an “unmitigated defeat for the United economic lifeline to the regime precisely at the time when we should be increasing pressure.”

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A wholesale market!

Granma reports that the first wholesale food market has opened in Havana, fulfilling a longstanding policy commitment to create wholesale supply outlets for the growing private sector.

For now, the clientele will be restricted to non-farm cooperatives (former state restaurants converted into private cooperatives). Later, it will serve entrepreneurs renting space in state facilities, and it makes no mention of serving the thousands of private paladares and cafeterias that also need access to these supplies – not to mention their customers who would appreciate lower prices, and Cuban consumers who don’t enjoy seeing entrepreneurs at their local food store buying 12 cases of beer or 10 kilos of cheese at a time.

Every time the subject comes up, Cuban officials speak of the need to move gradually, and they express worry about the cost of excess inventories in their retail system (for example, here and here and here). So it’s not surprising that stores will only open in other provinces after this one in Havana is in a state of “optimal functioning,” an official explains in the article.

But it’s a start.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Another Elian?

The elements are all there in this Herald report: the child is in the United States, the mother deceased, the father in Cuba and described in the press as the mother’s husband, he wants custody and a Miami relative has it temporarily. One difference is that the child, born in the United States, can become a U.S. citizen by birth and a Cuban citizen by parentage. Another difference may be that the father would rather live here than there; from the Herald story, it seems that a visa application was in the works.

The Elian case turned into a political battle, but what mattered in the end was the principle – which the U.S. government asserts all around the world when American parents are separated from their kids – that if a minor child has one fit parent, then parent and child should be united.

We’ll see how this one turns out.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The transnational opposition

“Cuba se transnacionaliz√≥” in recent years, a friend of mine said, referring to all the cross-border activity that before was rare or impossible but is now routine: Miami Cubans investing in businesses and real estate in Cuba; Cubans maintaining roots, livelihoods, and legal residency inside Cuba and out; emigrants returning to start businesses; etc., etc.

I thought of this when I saw today’s news about an event in Havana organized by dissident Rosa Maria Paya, who lives in Florida since 2013, admitted as a refugee. She returns to Havana from time to time to engage in politics or to tend to the family home, a sort of visiting dissident. She is far from the first in Cuban history to engage in political activism from abroad – it’s a tradition that spans centuries, with activists over the years reflecting the possibilities of their time. Whether it’s possible to move beyond media events and gain traction as a political leader with occasional visits is an open question, but times are changing, and we’ll see. Cuba’s political opposition, such as it is, is transnational now.

Here’s Reuters on the Cuban government blocking some foreign participants from attending the event, and here’s Prensa Latina gloating about it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

An opening to apps developers? (Updated)

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The February 26 issue of Cuba’s Gaceta Oficial contains a September 2017 resolution from the communications ministry (No. 256/2017) that appears to allow both enterprises and entrepreneurs who are licensed to work as programmers to develop and sell applications under that license, if they apply for a separate permit for that purpose.

I say “appears” because it would be nice to have some coverage in Cuban media or a policy statement that explains the intent. But the resolution’s language is clear, and it looks like a positive step at a time when the wind is blowing in the opposite direction. Cuba’s IT sector is proficient but its commercial activity has been restricted to state enterprises. If this is a recognition of the value of young UCI grads developing apps on their own, then it’s a sign that someone is doing something about a self-imposed obstacle to innovation, economic development, and smart young Cubans staying in Cuba. Let’s hope it continues.

Update: The Ministry of Communications published the resolution here.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The embassy decision: keep it small

So here’s Secretary Tillerson’s verdict: the U.S. Embassy in Havana will operate with a staffing level “similar to” the minimal presence we have now, and diplomats will not be accompanied by family. Right now there’s no political section, no economic section, no human rights officer, and a consulate that handles American citizen emergencies but issues no visas (except for health emergencies and officials). There is still no conclusion as to what happened; maybe things will change when investigations conclude. The travel warning remains intact. In the meantime, private sector engagement will continue – regular travelers, exchanges, business visits – while we wait for the government to sort things out.

Regarding the scientific article cited yesterday, here’s a worthwhile (and plain English) discussion by two of its authors.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Odds and ends

·      Just in: an academic paper that speculates on the possible cause of the sounds heard by U.S. diplomats in Havana, but not on the cause of the harms.

·      Cuba turns to SES Networks of Belgium to expand its connection to the global Internet and to improve connectivity internally. The contract is described in the company’s press release and in Granma.

·      Dissident Eliecer Avila, on extended stay in the United States, praises the U.S. health care system after his first child was born in a Virginia hospital. Medicaid covered all the costs.

·      From Max Boot’s new biography of the CIA’s Edward Lansdale, an excerpt on Operation Mongoose and the “remote, romantic myth” of creating a Cuban opposition movement from the outside. It turns out that Lansdale hated the Cuba assignment and wanted out the whole time.

·      A sharply written first-person article in Granma on a section of Cuba’s central highway in Villa Clara that is in disrepair and causing fatal accidents.

·      A new anglicism, “buldoceada,” in a Granma story about the war against marabu. The Real Academia doesn’t recognize it, but it means “bulldozed.”

·      In Cubadebate, a progress report on the Mariel economic zone.

·      As we debate Russian interference in the 2016 election, Granma scoffs that we’re getting a taste of our own medicine.