Venezuela forces Cuba's pace of change
By Marc Frank in Havana
Hugo Chávez's death, the narrow election victory of Nicolás Maduro, his
chosen successor, and Venezuela's stuttering economy are forcing Cuba,
the country's closest regional ally, to pick up its reform heels.
In 2011, before Mr Chávez's failing health potentially imperilled
Caracas' annual supply of $3.5bn of subsidised oil to Havana, Cuba's
Communist party adopted plans to "update" its stalled socialist model.
But two years later, Cuba remains only part way through that
transformation process, as even Miguel Díaz-Canel, the new
vice-president, admitted recently on state television.
"We've made progress on the issues that are easiest to solve, that
require decisions and actions that are less complex," said the 52-year
old. "Now what's left are the more important choices that will be more
decisive in the development of our country."
To date, measures under Raúl Castro, 81, the president, have bettered
everyday life but failed to improve Cuba's underlying performance,
critics say. For the regime, it is a balancing act: change too fast and
the regime could unravel; change too slow and the economy will
deteriorate and undermine the Castro brothers' legacy anyway.
Mr Castro, who was quick to congratulate Venezuela's president-elect on
his victory, which should ensure that Cuba has five more years of cheap
oil, has three main goals, says Bert Hoffmann, a Cuba expert at the
German Institute of Global and Area Studies: "Avoid splits in the elite,
and also social unrest; organise a succession; and get gradual economic
reforms started to secure the regime's survival."
At least one part of the juggling process, the organisation of a
potential succession, has happened after Mr Díaz-Canal was appointed
vice-president in February, putting him a heart beat away from the
The former electrical engineer and party official, known as more of a
technocrat than a political firebrand, has already taken over some of Mr
Castro's ceremonial functions – such as travelling to Rome for the
election of the Pope.
This has been accompanied by a slight softening towards some of the
regime's internal critics. Yoani Sánchez, the pro-democracy blogger who
operates despite general government restrictions on internet access, and
Berta Soler, leader of the "Ladies in White", can travel abroad after
new rules that allow all Cubans to leave and return.
The appearance of the economy is also changing. Often funded by exile
remittances, which have doubled in two years to $2bn, once barren city
streets are clogged with private taxis and small businesses that employ
about 400,000 in total. Some 1,700 restaurants and 5,000 bed and
breakfasts are operating, against a few hundred in 2010.
Sloppy Joe's, a Havana haunt once famous among tourists in pre-US
embargo days, even reopened last week – too late for Beyoncé and Jay-Z's
recent controversial trip but not for the growing stream of American
visitors, over 90,000 last year, that have followed looser US restrictions.
Farmers are selling almost half of their produce directly, bypassing a
state monopoly. Demand for paint, plaster and skilled tradesmen has
mushroomed after Cubans were allowed to buy and sell their homes.
Nonetheless, those changes are only around the edges of what remains a
centrally-planned economy that needs to attract foreign investment and
grow by more than 5 per cent a year if it is to have any hope of
rebuilding crumbling infrastructure and create sufficient jobs to absorb
the bulk of Cubans who work for a state that barely pays a living wage.
Since 2008, when Mr Castro became president, economic growth has
averaged just 2 per cent.
"The macroeconomic trend does not support such gradual reform," said
Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist teaching at Cali's Pontificia Universidad
Javeriana in Colombia.
Officials admit the most dramatic measures are still wanting: eliminate
excessive subsidies; allow farmers to purchase inputs; make state
enterprises autonomous and efficient; provide true incentives for
foreign investment; and eliminate a dual currency system.
"The reforms are afflicted by inner contradictions in their design: a
positive step is taken but then excessive controls and restrictions are
introduced, generating disincentives that conspire against their
success," said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, author of Cuba Under Raúl Castro:
Assessing the Reforms.
"This 'compromise' . . . results in a hybrid that does not bear the
expected fruits. More daring measures are needed."
Mr Castro begs to differ. "We are moving forward at a good pace," he
said this month. "We must resist the pressure of those who insist we
need to move more rapidly."
But Mr Castro may not really have a choice, especially if Venezuela,
which suffers a gaping fiscal deficit, finds it can no longer afford to
subsidise the island. Henrique Capriles, Venezuela's opposition leader,
has said he wants to cancel Caracas' oil subsidy and slammed
president-elect Mr Maduro as a Havana puppet.
"Havana has failed to find oil offshore and, in terms of financial
support, the new Maduro government in Venezuela only creates
uncertainty," a European diplomat in Cuba said. "It must pick up the
pace, like it or not."
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/62ceb23a-a698-11e2-95b1-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2QhcbdDsm Continue reading
Castro wants money, not a dialogue
BY FRANK CALZON
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died, and Raúl Castro is searching for
"investors" in Cuba. Chávez spent billions of Venezuela's petro-dollars
shoring up Cuba's economy but Venezuela's new leaders may not be as
beneficent. Venezuela may cut off its Cuban subsidy, just as new Russian
leaders did after the Soviet Union's demise.
American taxpayers are at the top of Castro's list, but can the Cuban
communist government cash in on its years of political theater
proclaiming itself the victim of American economic aggression while
running its own economy into the ground and training and financing
anti-American insurgencies around the world?
Perhaps it can, given that the collective U.S. memory is rather short if
not wholly forgiving.
Earlier this year, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy visited the Cuban dictator
and returned home saying this is the time "to overcome continuing
obstacles" and " to improve relations" because that would be in the
"best interests of both countries." The senator means well, but his
statements cry out for a more detailed appraisal of U.S.-Cuban relations.
The real questions are: Improve relations for what purpose? And under
what conditions? It might be in America's best interests to improve
relations with North Korea, Syria and Iran too, but the obstacles
standing in the way are similar to those in Cuba. There is no quid pro
quo their leaders are willing to offer.
Granted that while in Cuba, Sen. Leahy managed to wrangle permission
from Gen. Castro to visit Alan Gross, a subcontractor with the
U.S.Agency for International Development, who is serving a 15-year
prison sentence. Gross after-the-fact "crime" was giving a laptop
computer and satellite telephone to a Jewish organization seeking access
to the Internet.
Gross is innocent and also quite ill. Amnesty International reports he's
lost more than 100 pounds in prison, and he has developed a growth that
may be cancerous. Havana won't allow an American physician chosen by his
family to see him.
There are others. Amnesty International says that Calixto Martinez, a
Cuban independent journalist — a reporter not working for state-run
media — was jailed when he went to Havana's international airport to ask
about a shipment of cholera medication sent by the World Health
Organization. He has not been charged nor had a trial. Havana does not
want tourists to hear about a cholera outbreak.
But, back to the benefits of lifting what remains of the U.S. embargo
against the Castros' dynasty: Cuba is broke and has suspended payments
to many creditors.
There is no ban on American companies selling foodstuffs or medicines to
Cuba, which they do on a "cash-and-carry" basis. But Washington won't
provide credit to Cuba, i.e., absorb the loss if the regime fails to pay
its suppliers. Thus American companies selling to Cuba get paid and
American taxpayers aren't on the hook when the regime fails to pay what
Individually, Cubans have no "purchasing power" to speak of. The
government is the island's only "employer" and pays workers the
equivalent of $20 a month. Except for cigars, Cuba now has very little
to sell to anyone. For 200 years, the engine of Cuba's economy was its
sugar industry. It is now in shambles due to "state planning."
Lastly, the United States lists Cuba as a state-sponsor of international
terrorism. It does so, despite the best efforts of Ana Belen Montes, a
high-ranking Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, who presented Havana
as peace-loving and no threat to anyone. Montes was a spy for Cuba. She
pleaded guilty and is now in a federal penitentiary. Her "reports" are
still used by Castro's advocates.
It is difficult to improve relations with dictatorships that deny human
rights, ban labor unions and abuse and jail peaceful dissidents for
talking about democracy. Visiting members of European parliaments have
been arbitrarily arrested in Cuba.
President Obama tried unilaterally to extend a "hand of friendship"
without success. Today Havana wants money, not a meaningful dialogue
that might lead to a "transition."
Like Sen. Leahy, I wish things could be different, but that requires a
demonstrable Castro initiative to change the nature of his rule in Cuba.
Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in
http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/14/3340674/castro-wants-money-not-a-dialogue.html Continue reading
By Greg Gilman | Reuters – Fri, Apr 12, 2013
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - Jay-Z responded to critics of his Cuba trip
with a song called "Open Letter" and now "21 Jump Street" director Phil
Lord has responded to the song with an open letter of his own, blasting
the rapper for "being a bad artist."
Although Jay-Z's Cuban excursion with his wife, Beyoncé, and both their
mothers was approved by the U.S. Treasury Department, Lord - the son of
a Cuban refugee - told the Huffington Post that the rapper's newest
single upset him to the point where he had to speak his mind.
Read the entire letter below:
An Open Letter to Jay-Z
Dear Mr. Z,
I just heard your new track, "Open Letter," released today. It's got
everything I love about your music: looping internal rhymes, an
infectious beat, and imagery that draws me into a kind of swaggering,
Speaking of defiant fantasies, I've been following news of your recent
trip to the island nation of Cuba. As the son of a Cuban refugee, and
cousin and nephew to many Cubans on the island, I cringe when Americans
visit Cuba for a fun island vacation. For one thing it's illegal (which
nobody seems to care about), but more importantly, it's either ignorant
of or calloused to the struggles of Cubans on the island. I actually
encourage my friends to travel to Cuba, to bear witness to one of the
great tragedies of our time, to learn about the real Cuba, to put a
human face on the caricature of Americans that the Castros propagate.
Exchange and travel between our two nations should be a catalyst for
change, as it has been even in my own family. But for me, Cuba is not
the place to have a fun, sexy, vacation. Because for Cubans on the
island and living elsewhere, it's not.
So when I heard of your visit, I thought to myself, Jay Z seems like a
smart, thoughtful guy. He doesn't realize what he's walking into. He
probably just thinks Cuba is a chic place to relax with the family. He
probably just doesn't know the things I know.
He likely doesn't know that the Cuban tourism industry is run by the
Cuban military, so when he spends money at an officially sanctioned
hotel, or restaurant, he is directly funding the oppressors of the Cuban
He doesn't know that most Cubans have poor access to independent news
sources, the internet, books, and food.
He doesn't know that Cuba has two health systems, one for the
well-connected, and one for everyone else.
He doesn't know that before Castro, the Cuban peso traded one-to-one
with the dollar, and that since then, the Castros have raided the
nation's coffers and introduced widespread poverty to a once prosperous
He doesn't know that my ancestors fought to free Cuba from Spain, and to
set up a democracy to ensure that they would always be free.
He doesn't know that in spite of those dreams, my mother and her family
fled for their lives from this regime way back in 1960, as did *two
million* other Cubans.
He doesn't know about the thousands of people executed by firing squads
led by sexy t-shirt icon Che Guevara.
He doesn't know about the dissidents, artists, and librarians that
currently rot in Cuba's prisons, and the thousands more who live in fear.
He doesn't know about Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an Afro-Cuban dissident who
died in a Cuban prison in 2010 after an 80-day hunger strike.
He doesn't know that a U.S. Citizen, Alan Gross, is currently serving a
15-year sentence in a Cuban prison for providing phones and computers to
the members of the Cuban Jewish community.
He doesn't know that all attempts by our government and private citizens
to secure his release have been scoffed at.
He has likely forgotten about all those who have died in the Florida
Straits, trying to float on makeshift boats to freedom.
He doesn't know that contrary to popular understanding, Amnesty
International reports that repression of dissidents in Cuba is actually
on the rise.
He doesn't know that when an international music luminary shows up in
Cuba, his presence is unwittingly used as propaganda to support the regime.
He doesn't know that artists in Cuba, with whom he was supposedly having
a cultural exchange, serve under the close supervision of the
government, and don't enjoy the freedom to defiantly name check the
President, call out a few senators, threaten to buy a kilo of cocaine
just to spite the government, or suggest that they will follow up their
purchase with a shooting spree, as rapped about in "Open Letter."
He doesn't know that just because our country applies a different, some
say hypocritical policy to China, it doesn't make either regime any less
oppressive, or any more acceptable.
He doesn't know that when people say "I've got to visit Cuba before it
gets ruined," I think to myself, "It's already ruined. And by the way,
ruined by what? freedom of speech? walls that don't crumble? shoes? Do
you mean ruin Cuba? Or ruin your fashionable vacation in Cuba?"
He doesn't know that when I really start to think about all this, I get
so mad I can't sleep.
He doesn't know that when he's wearing that hat, smoking that coveted
contraband cigar, he looks like a dupe.
He doesn't know how much good he could be doing in Cuba, for Cubans,
instead. Bearing witness, supporting artistic freedom, listening.
He doesn't realize that as someone privileged to be born in a free
society, one in which someone could come from nothing and become a
celebrated music, sports, fashion, business and political mogul, it's
not only his good luck to be able to bring to light the needs of the
less fortunate, it's his obligation.
But then, Jay-Z, I heard your new song, and paid attention to the lyrics.
I heard you bragging about your "White House clearance."
I heard you talk about how much you enjoy Cuban cigars.
And I heard you tell the President I voted for, "You don't need this
shit anyway, chill with me on the beach."
You reject the responsibility to speak up for an oppressed people, even
while you take up your own cause with gusto.
Then I figured it out.
You actually know all of this stuff, you just don't care.
That's not just being a bad citizen, or a bad neighbor.
It's being a bad artist.
It's Nihilism with a beat.
http://news.yahoo.com/jay-z-blasted-21-jump-street-director-over-202918787.html;_ylt=A2KJ2PZacWpRjHwAcrjQtDMD Continue reading
Catholic Archdiocese of Havana
Posted on April 8, 2013
Site manager's note: This document/proposal, published by the Catholic
Archdiocese of Havana, is generating discussion among the bloggers and
is posted here for the convenience of our readers.
The following translation is taken from the Havana Times. The document,
in English, can be downloaded here.
A Dreamed of, Possible and Future Cuba
The sovereignty of the country is only the unrestricted exercise of all
the rights of human dignity throughout the territory of our country for
Cuba is experiencing a new era. This imposes on us the urgency of
ensuring the sovereignty of our country. Concerned about the present and
the future, we wish to make proposals to be studied and debated
publicly, about how a process of economic renovation might develop
alongside a renewal of the Cuban social order.
We in the Laboratorio Casa Cuba*, of dissimilar ideological provenance,
start from a consensus on five pillars that we deem crucial and
indispensable for the present and future of Cuba: Advocate the
realization of human dignity, which is specified by non-violent exercise
of freedom, equality and brotherhood, for the socialization of spiritual
and material wealth to be able to create, for the achievement of full
democracy, for the pursuit of greater stability in this process of
change and solved by the rejection of foreign powers meddling in the
affairs of Cuba.
In proposing (never imposing) a minimal definition of Republic and some
possible tools to achieve it, we don't want to promote private agendas,
but Cubans', with different opinions and beliefs, among all of us to
realize, broaden and deepen these criteria, we aspire to be the basis of
our coexistence in the near future.
A public order with a universe of attitudes, commitments and rules
guaranteed to every human being to enjoy all the capabilities needed to
perform their share of sovereignty. The exercise of citizen sovereignty,
which requires a democratic order must be based on human virtues, as the
principal means mutual support, and the goal of building justice.
Instruments to strengthen the Republic of Cuba today and tomorrow:
I. Ensure the enjoyment of civil, family, political, cultural, social,
labor and economic rights.
II. Implement effective mechanisms through which every citizen can
equally enjoy these rights, and to empower the disadvantaged.
III. To ensure the right to universal information that is free and
diverse, broad and deep, interactive and critical, without censorship or
monopolization. This is especially essential to ensure transparency in
governance and participatory mass access to the Internet.
IV. Ensure the social and political multiplicity of the nation the right
to choose different ways to self-organize in order to promote their
goals, influence opinion and act in society and participate in governance.
V. Allow believers and practitioners of different religions,
spiritualities and worldviews that exist in Cuba to publicly promote
their identities, feel respected, and self-organize into communities
with legal status.
VI. Establish diverse ways to enable citizens to actively monitor
compliance with the Constitution, and the performance of all official
VII. To seek the greatest possible autonomy for local institutions,
understood as community spaces, resources and decision-making
capabilities on these, to exercise the role of solidarity and citizen
VIII. When a problem can be solved at the grassroots level, locally,
community wise or in the workplace, the higher courts should not
intervene in the solution; communities, associations, companies and
groups of workers must be able to freely cooperate with each other to
solve their problems together.
IX. Repeal all rules that establish discrimination between citizens
according to their places of origin or residence, including those that
favor foreigners' over Cubans. Likewise, repeal laws providing the
possibility of criminal sanctions for those who didn't commit criminal
acts (charged with pre-criminal dangerousness: the "dangerousness" and
"pre-criminal security measures").
X. Establish mechanisms of mutual control between the various public
functions. Separate legislative, executive, judicial and electoral
functions and outline the cooperation that should exist between them.
XI. Each taxpayer should be involved in the development and approval of
the use of funds coming into the treasury, and accountability for use in
well-defined social purposes.
XII. Choose any public office representative, through direct elections,
free, secret and periodic and competitive among candidates nominated
directly by citizens.
XIII. Likewise, the above rules should apply to the election of the
highest executive positions of the Republic and of each locality.
XIV. Limit to two periods remaining in the popularly elected executive
positions, and set age limits for such functions as well as determine
the incompatibility of positions to be held by the same person.
XV. Enforce the periodic interactive public accountability of all public
XVI. Ensure the right of the people to revoke all mandates.
XVII. Make full use of the referendum and the plebiscite, in all areas
XVIII. Effectively ensure the right to work and employment guarantees,
as well as the needed economic freedoms, and make the management of the
economy subject to enforceable social and environmental commitments.
XIX. Keep as law, universal and free access to health care, through
various forms of social organization as well as fair remuneration
according to professional performance.
XX. Ensuring universal and personalized access to a democratic,
humanistic and diverse education, with fair pay for educators and the
active involvement of teachers, students, families and communities in
the management of the school facilities and the definition of curricula
as well as a free and responsible cultural development.
XXI. Academic and university autonomy, with academic freedom and of
research, and an active participation of all stakeholders.
XXII. Ensure effective ways to ensure a balanced participation of the
Cuban diaspora in the country's life.
XXIII. All social activity must comply with the principles of legality,
justice and constitutional supremacy. Constitutional provisions should
be developed and adopted with the participation of the general population.
With this we add our modest effort to the unforgettable efforts of those
who have fought and worked for the triumph of love in our land, a choir
of plural and diverse voices, which we join in a common redemptive password.
Comments, analysis and proposals can be sent to the following email
(*) The Laboratory Casa Cuba is a newly created team for social and
legal research, recently created by Espacio Laical, a publication of the
Roman Catholic archbishopric of Havana. It includes professors and
researchers of diverse ideologies (Catholics, critical Marxists,
republican-socialists and anarchists), whose critical contribution will
attempt to provide tools that can help to continue the dialogue and
consensus building for a Cuba with dignity, solidarity and citizen
http://translatingcuba.com/a-dreamed-of-possible-and-future-cuba-laboratorio-casa-cuba-proposal-catholic-archdiocese-of-havana/ Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 02.17.11
Vegetarians push soy, but Cubans prefer pork
By JENNY BARCHFIELD
HAVANA — Juicy hamburgers and sandwiches stuffed thick with sausage
aren't your typical vegetarian fare – but that's what is on the menu at
El Carmelo, a state-run restaurant that promoted healthy, meat-free eating.
"Meat-free" is not a phrase that… Continue reading
Minister scolds rice producers
Due to "disorganization", Cuba must import more rice than planned this
year — twice as much than it produces — official weekly Trabajadores
In a meeting with rice farmers, Deputy Agriculture Minister Juan Pérez
Lamas said a lack of resources, combined with passivity among growers
has produced "deplorable losses," the newspaper… Continue reading
Cuba: Bread running short at bakeries
Entrepreneurs may be buying up flour on the black market, causing bread
By Nick Miroff
Published: February 9, 2011 08:33 ET in The Americas
HAVANA, Cuba — Like air and water, or free health care and education,
state-subsidized bread is regarded as a natural right in socialist Cuba.
Neighborhood… Continue reading
Cuba to import in 2011 twice the rice it produces
Published December 13, 2010
Havana – The Cuban government will have to import in 2011 double the
amount of rice it produces in order to meet domestic demand, the
official weekly Trabajadores said Monday, citing the island's deputy
minister of agriculture.
"Again in 2011 the… Continue reading
Lesbians Demand Fair Treatment from Health Providers
By Dalia Acosta
HAVANA, Nov 25, 2010 (IPS) – Lesbian and bisexual women's groups in
Cuba, which welcome anyone who wishes to participate "with solidarity
and in a respectful, friendly and healthy manner," point to the need to
sensitise health personnel to the issue of female sexual diversity.… Continue reading
Ciencia y salud
Más enfermedades venéreas en Cuba
Crece la alarma en Cuba ante aumento de las enfermedades de transmisión
sexual como el SIDA y la sífilis.
Crece la alarma en Cuba ante el aumento de las enfermedades de
transmisión sexual como el SIDA y la sífilis.
El doctor Ismely Iglesias, del colegio médico de esa… Continue reading