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.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

“New bilateral cooperation” in law enforcement

Well this is interesting, and good news: The United States and Cuba held a fourth set of talks in Washington on law enforcement, after which the State Department’s statement mentioned “new bilateral cooperation that resulted in the conviction of a Cuban national who murdered an American citizen and who had fled prosecution in the United States.” Cuba’s statement was less specific, referring to cooperation that has enabled the “prevention of crime and the prosecution of violators of the law.”

For some time there has been discussion in Havana of a person who fled to Cuba after being accused of committing a murder in Miami. After talks between the two governments, the story goes, it was decided that the person would be tried in Havana; he was tried with evidence provided by U.S. authorities, and was convicted in May. I have found no confirmation of these details, nor any court documents. But with the U.S. statement, it seems that the story is starting to come out.

There are several points of interest here.

Law enforcement cooperation has been going on for decades, mainly involving drugs and alien smuggling cases. The Obama Administration brought greater structure and regularity to these contacts, and the Trump Administration has continued this process and built on it, noting that “new bilateral cooperation” made the conviction possible.

It would be good to get legal records or some official account of the legal process in Cuba to see how U.S. evidence was employed in the prosecution, and how the defense functioned. Also, is it possible under Cuban law for a Cuban to be tried in Cuba for a crime committed abroad, or was it necessary to bring charges for related crimes committed in Cuban territory?

There are many obstacles to establishing functioning extradition agreements between the United States and Cuba. Among these are U.S. distrust of Cuba’s court system, and U.S. reluctance to assume a commitment to send persons to a place where they will not get a fair trial. The obstacles are not going away soon, so extradition agreements remain a distant prospect. But in this case, the U.S. side is clearly pleased at a conviction obtained in a Cuban court. Will this be a precedent, and could it lead to action against Medicaid scammers and others who have fled charges in the United States?

In related news, deportations to Cuba are up under Trump, according to New Times.