Monday, January 31, 2011

Cuba: A Socialist Look at the Economic Reforms

While there have been many hopeful, critical, skeptical, even cynical assessments of Cuba's unfolding economic reforms, few writers other than Pedro Campos (also here), Samuel Farber (Spanish), and other writers associated with Kaos en la Red and Havana Times have critically assessed the changes from the democratic socialist (or Trotskyite) left.

The young Cuban scholar Armando Chaguaceda (who is currently studying in Mexico) and his Mexican co-author Ramón I. Centeno attempt just that here (.doc).

Have a read and decide for yourself whether they succeed.

Cuba: A Socialist Look at the Economic Reforms
By Armando Chaguaceda and Ramón I. Centeno [1]

How Cuba is (and is not) like Egypt (III) - Ross Douthat, NYT - "The Devil We Know

Normally, one of my least favorite NYT columnists is named Ross Douthat. He took over soon after neo-con William Kristol was show the door. However, Douthat really hit the nail on the head with his column this morning, "The Devil We Know: Weighing the Unknowns in Egypt."

Here's an excerpt (H/T to WNYC where I heard the column quoted while I drank my cafe con leche this morning):

"But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.


"Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic. History has its upward arcs, but most crises require weighing unknowns against unknowns, and choosing between competing evils.


"The only comfort, as we watch Egyptians struggle for their country’s future, is that some choices aren’t America’s to make."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Is Aristide in Cuba?

I just received a report from Free Haiti via Google Alerts that former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide is in Cuba receiving medical treatment.

Can anyone confirm or deny this? And does anyone have more information on this?

The report follows below:

How Cuba is (and is not) like Egypt (II)

Thousands of anti-government protesters confronted 
police officers in Cairo on Friday. Stones were met by rubber bullets, 
tear gas and water cannons (Photo Victoria Hazou).

Today's New York Times has a number of provocative articles in its "Week in Review" section that shed further light on the Cuba/Egypt comparison I made in my last post.

Helene Cooper makes the point that regardless of what different U.S. administrations SAY (pronouncements), it is what they actually DO (policy) that matters - and that has not changed much in Egypt (or Cuba) in decades.

How Cuba is (and is not) like Egypt

Egyptian protesters prayed Saturday in front of a military vehicles in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo on Saturday. (Photo: Scott Nelson, New York Times)

Like most Cuba-watchers, for me the scenes playing out in Egypt, Yemen, and previously in Tunisia, can't but make me wonder if something similar will or could happen in Cuba.

As I read the following three articles in Saturday's New York Times (along with one from the Miami Herald appended to the end of this post), I played a game:

Each time the word "Egypt" appeared I replaced it with "Cuba," each time "Cairo" popped up, I inserted "La Habana," and each time the name "Mubarak" appeared I replaced it with "Castro."

Try it yourself over the next few days and see what fits and what doesn't.

Here are a few quotes from the articles to give you an idea:

Friday, January 28, 2011

You've heard of "La Yuma"; Get ready for "El Yuma"!


Cafe Fuerte is reporting that the actor Benicio del Toro is heading to Cuba in late February to begin directing a 15 minute portion of a larger documentary project that will include a total of seven different directors from around the world.

The project director and screenwriter is none other than Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura, whose screenplay for the film is entitled Seven Days in Havana.  Del Toro's part of the documentary is to be entitled "El Yuma."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

CNBC/AP on Cuba's new entrepreneurs

This is a rich, extensive article on the 1,001 ways that Cubans are reacting to the new self-employment regulations.

Cuba's economic changes create new entrepreneurs
The Associated Press | January 27, 2011

When Julio Cesar Hidalgo looks past the rotten window frame and the coarsely-laid concrete, he envisions his shabby living room as a standup pizza joint, with the rich smell of garlic and oregano wafting out onto a warm Havana street.

He sees a gleaming white countertop laid with sandwiches, pastries and balls of yeasty dough; a gas oven in the corner bakes mouthwatering pizza.

After Cuban authorities announced last September that they were opening the island's closed Marxist economy to a limited amount of private enterprise, Hidalgo was one of the first to line up for a new business license. In a land of modest dreams, the 31-year-old baker says his is simple: to be the master of his own labor.

"It's not going to make me rich," he laughs, adding that he may make only a little more than he does now in a $12-a-month job at a state-run bakery. "But I'll be working in my own home and I'll be my own boss."

Preview of New Cuba Travel Regulations

Along the Malecon just posted that the new OFAC regulations to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow are now available on line.

The Wall Street Journal blog Corruption Currents first broke the news earlier today.

I have yet to go through the 37-page document (available at the links above) in detail myself, but at first glance I have the three following observations:
  • You've got to hand it to the Obama administration in terms of timing and keeping its word.  They said the new regs would be ready "in two weeks" in the announcement on Friday, January 14.  Tomorrow is Friday, January 28.  Exactly two weeks.
  • The regulations seem to stick closely to the details of the previous announcement, with no real surprises (further expanding or more intently policing travel and remittances).
  • However, in my quick once-over of the new regs, I found the following interesting tid-bit on pages 18 and 20 that seems to now make it possible to legally "sponsor" and "pay" Cuban scholars a "stipend or salary" when they visit the U.S. "to teach or engage in other scholarly activity at the sponsoring U.S. academic institution."  Can anyone confirm opr deny my interpretation? 
§ 515.565 Educational activities.
(a) General license. Accredited U.S. graduate and undergraduate degree-granting academic institutions, including faculty, staff, and students of such institutions, are authorized to engage in the travel-related transactions set forth in § 515.560(c) and such additional transactions that are directly incident to:
[...]
(5) Sponsorship, including the payment of a stipend or salary, of a Cuban scholar to teach or engage in other scholarly activity at the sponsoring U.S. academic institution (in addition to those transactions authorized by the general license contained in § 515.571). Such earnings may be remitted to Cuba as provided in § 515.570 or carried on the person of the Cuban scholar returning to Cuba as provided in § 515.560(d)(3)

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Although my last name is Henken, I do not read (or speak) German.  However, the following very brief translation of the attached article drew my attention.  Can anyone help me find an English version of the article or verify what this snapshot translation says?

"German newspaper Die Welt covers cables re: Cuba and U.S.  My associate Kevin Gosztola reports that the Google translaton:

"Cuba seeks 'normal relations' with U.S. Raul Castro quoted saying, 'The snappy sarcastic language of the older Castro is really a personal rage and do not necessarily reflect the real state of US-Cuban relations. The diplomats reported that critical bloggers are now considered to be the 'most serious challenge to the regime:'' The old dissident groups have been largely isolated from the rest of the island - they have no resonance in Cuba and only a limited international response."


Wikileaks-Enthüllung - Author: Hildegard Stausberg, 22.01.2011
 
Castros Kuba und die USA – eine heimliche Liebe?
 
Wenn man die US-Depeschen liest, wirkt die Beziehung der offiziellen Todfeinde vielversprechend. Kuba sucht seine Feinde eher im Innern.

Tributin (II): World's Most Boring Video Game

Cuba To Teach Youngsters About Taxes With World's Most Boring Video Game

By Tim Elfrink, Miami New TimesThursday, Jan 27, 2011

There's one hitch in Fidel [Raul?] Castro's plan to lug the Cuban economy closer to capitalism by laying off 500,000 state workers so they can start private businesses: None of these people have ever paid taxes before.

So how to teach a new generation Cubans that government tithes come hand-in-hand with free enterprise?
Obviously, you indoctrinate their children with a (horribly, horribly boring) video game about how cool it is to pay Uncle Castro!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tributin

Cuba plans children's video game to promote taxes
Game is meant to support economic reforms by president

By Esteban Israel, Reuters

HAVANA - Socialist Cuba, where most people have never had to pay taxes, is developing a video game to teach school children the importance of contributing to the public purse.

Since revolutionary leader Fidel Castro nationalized the economy in the 1960s, most Cuban workplaces have belonged to the government, which considered it senseless to pay people money then take it back again in the form of taxes.

Dubbed "Tributin," or "Little Tax," by its creators at the Superior Pedagogic Institute of Holguin, 455 miles east of Havana, the game is meant to support economic reforms by Fidel Castro's brother, President Raul Castro, who is expanding Cuba's tiny private sector. The game is expected to roll out in October.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Inside Cuba, small businesses ramp up tourism offer

Reuters, Mon, Jan 24
By Marc Frank (Version en Espanol)

CIENFUEGOS, Cuba (Reuters) - Communist Cuba's recent easing of red tape for private enterprise is improving services for tourists in provincial towns on the Caribbean island, with hundreds of new restaurants and lodgings opening up.

"Mom-and-pop" small businesses have begun to boom in Cuban cities and towns following reforms by President Raul Castro to boost private enterprise and lay off state workers to improve efficiency in one of the world's last Soviet-style economies. In the quaint south coast port city of Cienfuegos, the number of private restaurants has jumped from two to 16 in just a few months.

There are now more than 100 home-based 'bed and breakfast' lodgings, local entrepreneurs say. That is a welcome relief for visitors to the town, nestled between the foothills of the Escambray mountains and a palm-lined bay.

Quotable: Of the cable, a fiber

La Flaca gives her dos centavos on the new fiber optic cable being laid from Venezuela to Cuba.

"At a cost of 70 million dollars, this underwater connection seems destined more to control us than to link us to the world, but I am confident we will manage to upset its initial purposes."  

Exclusive: Yoani@HuffPo - "Rediscovering Lost Flavors"

Readers should know that apart from her own famous blog, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez also blogs at Huffington Post.  These English language articles are posted by the mysterious "Maria," Yoani's intrepid accomplice and expert translator, and often include longer, more analytical posts not found on her blog.  
What follows is, in my estimation, one of Yoani's best and most timely.  
Titled, Rediscovering Lost Flavors, the post recounts a bit of the historic struggle of Cuba's long-suffering but never-say-die entrepreneurs.  Also while far from naive, the post is tinged with a silver lining of hope and an undeniable admiration for Cuba's blossoming, burgeoning "cuentapropistas."
* * * 
Timid colored awnings spring from nowhere and under newly opened umbrellas fruit smoothies and pork rinds are sold, while the doorways of some homes are turned into improvised snack bars with striking menus. All this and more is growing in the streets of my city because of the new flexibility for self-employment. Some of my neighbors are making plans to open a shoe repair, or a place to repair fridges, while avenues and plazas are being transformed by the efforts of private initiative. Some remain cautious, however, waiting to see if this time the economic reforms will really take hold and not be shut down as happened in the nineties.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Somos ladrones por cuenta propia"

Ladrones por cuenta propia

"Two government markets and various cafeterias were robbed during the night. The thieves stole packets of coffee, bags of rice, and bottles of vegetable oil for cooking. Cuban independent journalist, Ainí Martín Valero, reported to Radio Martí that the robbers left behind a sign that read: We have neither work nor food for our children, we are self-employed thieves."

To hear the complete report (in Spanish) click here (H/T Penultimos Dias).

WikiLeaks: "Self-Employment" for Castro's Elite? - Capitol Hill Cubans


I think I'm the "American specialist" mentioned in this new WikiLeaks file: "Power and Position" Paragraph 11 (C) (also quoted below).

Indeed, in the 90s there was a fairly clear hierarchy of paladares with a number of them I called "untouchable" violating virtually every established rule with impunity.

However, that fact does not necessarily make all self employment then or now a mere "charade," as the Capitol Hill Cubans insinuate below.

As always, it's more complicated than that...

***

"Self-Employment" for Castro's Elite
Capitol Hill Cubans, Saturday, January 22, 2011

Please read the following excerpts very carefully. They are from a recently-released State Department cable on Cuba's corruption. Then, ask yourself -- who benefits from Castro's "self-employment charade"? It's simply a two-bit military dictatorship.

WikiLeaks Documents Discuss Generalized Corruption in Cuba - LAHT

Latin American Herald Tribune
Caracas, January 23, 2011

MADRID – Corruption in Cuba has become a generalized phenomenon that reaches into the top leadership of the Communist Party as well as into the ranks of professionals without any political affiliation, cables from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana released by WikiLeaks say.

The newly released cables, which were written in 2006, show that the impoverished regime is "rife" with corrupt practices, the Madrid daily El Pais, which in Spain has the exclusive right to examine the information leaked by the Web site of Julian Assange, reported.

"Corrupt practices also include bribery, misuse of state resources and accounting shenanigans. In its post-Soviet incarnation, Cuba has become a state on the take," the cables say, going on to mention the purchase of jobs for hundreds or thousands of dollars, jobs that later often result in lucrative opportunities for influence peddling.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

El Yuma travels "The World," from Camuri, Venezuela to Siboney, Cuba

PRI's The World

GEO QUIZ: Connecting Venezuela and Cuba
By The World ⋅ January 21, 2011

Listen to the 5 minute show here.

An undersea fiberoptic cable runs through today's Geo Quiz. This weekend, an operation begins in Venezuela to lay down a fiberoptic cable all the way to Cuba.

That means Cuba is about to get plugged in to high-speed Internet for the first time. But it's not clear how that will affect regular people in Cuba.

We want to know where in Venezuela will the undersea cable start its journey and where will it come ashore in Cuba?

Geo Answer: Camuri, Venezuela and Siboney, Cuba are the answers to our quiz.

Anchor Marco Werman discusses the future of high-speed internet in Cuba with Ted Henken, professor of Latin American Studies at Baruch College in New York City. Henken writes about Cuban culture on his blog El Yuma.

Lina Ben Mhenni and Yoani Maria Sanchez Cordero

Revolutionary Blogger and Freedom Fighter in Tunisia Lina Ben Mhenni
Sat, 01/22/2011, Story from mjperry@umich.edu (Mark J. Perry)

Cuba's got a revolutionary blogger and freedom fighter - Yoani Sanchez, who blogs at "Generacion Y," and has been frequently featured on Carpe Diem. This morning I heard about Yoani's counterpart in Tunisia - 22-year old Lina Ben Mhenni (pictured above), who blogs at "A Tunisian Girl," and who was featured on NPR this morning on NPR.

Guajiro and Good Ole Boy: An Unlikely Pair Pictures Havana - NPR

My parents are from Mobile, Alabama, so this growing artistic and economic connection between that southern port city and Havana is particularly poingant for me.

***

An Unlikely Pair Pictures Havana
6 min 0 sec » listen now (some of their work is available at NPR also)

January 22, 2011 by Debbie Elliott, NPR

Nestor Marti (left), 38, is a photojournalist in Cuba's bustling capital city. Chip Cooper (right), 60, is known for artistic, composed shots of the Alabama countryside. Both of them typically work alone, but for the past two years they've had the rare opportunity to work as a team, walking the narrow streets and wide plazas of Old Havana.  (They are pictured together here at their joint showing in Alabama).

Their collaborative project grew out of the Alabama-Cuba initiative, an academic exchange program at the University of Alabama, where Cooper is a teacher and artist in residence. About 200 of their images have been combined for an exhibit, Havana — Side by Side, which has been on display in both Cuba and Tuscaloosa, Ala. And they are now working on a book that will be published later this year.

Macho, varón, masculino - Julio Cesar Gonzalez Pages

My good friend and Cuban brother, an inspirational University of Havana professor and cutting edge scholar on all things related to gender and sexuality studies, Julio Cesar Gonzalez Pages is releasing his latest book next month at Havana's Book Fair (Feb. 10-20, 2011).

It is titled:


He has been busy over the last few years as a pioneer establishing Cuba's first group of young Masculinity Studies researchers.

This book is part of the fruits of those efforts.

What follows is a description of the book in Spanish.

Enjoy.

Gay rights and Cuba's bloggers - Achy Obejas

Cuba Goes Both Ways on Gay Rights
By Achy Obejas, Friday, January 21, 2011

'The most important thing for me is to see how forceful the gay movement has become,' says Alejandro Armengol. 'Gays in Cuba have demanded their rights and been heard.' In its 52 years, the Cuban Revolution has had a less than stellar queer history, complete with on-the-record anti-gay statements by Fidel Castro, sanctioned anti-gay persecutions and purges, and labor camps in the 1960s created specifically for LGBT people.

Officially, all that has changed. Fidel Castro apologized for the persecution of gays on his watch, there are no explicitly anti-gay laws on the books, and LGBT rights have found an unlikely champion in Mariela Castro, President Raul Castro's daughter, a sexologist who runs the National Sex Education Center (CENESEX, as its known by its Spanish acronym).

But, unofficially, there's still plenty of police harassment of LGBT people (documented by both pro- and anti-government bloggers, mostly for foreign readers), and no recognition of LGBT citizens and their families, which effectively frustrates, if not denies, access to housing, certain medical services, adoption and travel.

Cuba's split personality on LGBT issues came onto the international stage at the United Nations in November, when it was the only Latin American country that voted to have "sexual orientation" removed from a list of discriminatory motivations for extrajudicial executions. The amendment would have changed the LGBT-specific language to the vague phrase, "for discriminatory reasons, whatever they may be." Citizens around the globe raised such an outcry that, a month later, the international body reversed itself and passed an inclusive resolution.In a second round of voting, to re-insert the original inclusive language, Cuba abstained.

"Yoani" by Paola Prestini

YOANI is a 30′ multimedia song cycle scored for mezzo, electric guitar, and cello.  Composed by Paola Prestini, with lyrics by Royce Vavrek, starring jazz sensation Sofia Rei Koutsovitis.

Singer Sofia Rei Koutsovitis

The first installment of Yoani – a new evening length multimedia work to premiere in 2011/2012 at the Kitchen, is based on the real life story of Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban philologist and blogger. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Political Power of Social Media - Clay Shirky at PRI's "The World" and in Foreign Affairs


The Political Power of Social Media

As Tunisia has shown recently, the use of social media provides a lot of benefits to those challenging the status quo. However, there are limits to what social media can accomplish in the political sphere. Anchor Marco Werman talks with Clay Shirky (pictured to the left), the author of ‘The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change’. It’s an essay that appears in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. Shirky is also Professor of New Media at New York University.  Go to PRI's "The World" for more.

Ancho de Banda

I'm thinking of starting up a new musical act.

It will be called:

Ancho de Banda!
(Broad Band)

You can read more about "Ancho de Banda" at the Washington Examiner here:

"Work set to begin on Venezuela-Cuba undersea cable."

No es facil! Julia Stiles on trying to find an internet connection (sin chavitos) in Cuba

Quotable: Julia Stiles gets nominated for a Golden Globe but can't get cab fare! (Wall Street Journal)

(Photos courtesy of Ms. Stiles)

I needed to access my email in order to have a glimmer of hope that my group might learn of my dilemma, which was unlikely, considering virtually no one has internet access in their home. Even the controversial blogger Yoani Sanchez uses a flash drive to upload her blog posts at hotel kiosks. When I met her days before, I noticed paint on her hand and asked if she was a painter as well as a writer. Chuckling, she told me she was doing construction on her house—literally, as in she was doing it herself. She told me that every Cuban has to be resourceful in order to survive.


I knew that the painfully slow connection at a hotel was too expensive for me at this point, but I was told of a student's residence hall that had a computer room. I snuck in and logged on to their ancient PC. Of course I got caught, but pleaded with the attendant to just give me five minutes. Before I was able to address my cash situation, an email from friends back in the States sidetracked me, congratulating me on a Golden Globe nomination. There I was, thrilled to have received such a professional honor, yet still unable to barter it for cab fare.
[...]
With all of its crumbling beauty, Havana taught me the true value of a dollar. It also taught me that the people you know, and the ways in which you rely on one another, are more valuable than any paper currency.

El sabelotodo senor Noriega: Nullification and Interposition

My editorial comments first and then Roger Noriega would like to give Obama some advice...


Noriega, a former U.S. State Department official who had ample opportunity to make Cuba "freer, faster" himself (and failed) now wants to arrogantly give Obama advice.

He proudly identifies himself as someone whose past job description included the Orwellian task of "monitoring travel to Cuba" by Americans and he wants to lecture us about freedom!

Por favor!

Can someone please explain his awkward mugger money analogy to me? I don't get it - and if I were Cuban I would frankly find it insulting. I sure hope he's not suggesting that we cut Cubans off from any "mugger money" so that they get desperate and revolt.

There's no "dishonesty" or "loopholes" in the new travel opening. Obama's policy simply lets people more freely travel, collaborate, lend support, build relationships, send money, support civil society and small businesses, bring in cell phones and lap tops to your favorite father-in-law, uncle, blogger, dissident, or Communist party member, learn to play the conga drums, or give proper respect to Yemaya, San Lazaro, or Caridad de Cobre without Uncle Sam getting in the middle.

Also, Noriega is WRONG when he claims that "bona fide humanitarian, educational, or religious travel was legal even before the changes announced last week."  I wonder what his definition of "bona fide" is...

As he well knows, literally scores of American universities (especially with students who can only afford a short 3-6 week winter or summer trip like mine) have been prevented from freely operating study abroad programs in Cuba as a direct result of the Bush-era restrictions that Noriega celebrates.

Now, after the new Obama regulations take effect, I can and will proudly lead a group of my own students down to Cuba to learn about Santeria and salsa, human rights and imperialism, political economy and poetry, bloggers and bongos...

And while Noriega seems to think he knows all about "the best we can do," he fails to provide any concrete examples of a more effective policy.

We've tried isolaton and it has utterly failed.

Is Yoani Sanchez being dishonest when she advocates for more people-to-people contact and an end to the travel ban? Just today she wrote movingly (see the photo above) about the kind of people-to-people relationships that can develop with more freedom to travel (in both directions), whether its a Hollywood star on a humanitarian mission (see here and here) or a jazz orchestra celebrating a little common culture with the Cuban people.

If anything the Cuban governments' own violation of its citizens' right to travel (as in Yoani's case) should be an object lesson in what NOT to support as members of a free society.

***

January 20th, 2011
How Obama Can Make Cuba Freer, Faster

Those of us responsible for monitoring travel to Cuba before the rules were tightened recall an incident where a church-sponsored travel license was misused to sponsor a golf outing to the island.
By Roger F. Noriega.

You should be dancin - PlazaCuba is back in business!


In 2003 I helped lead two amazing trips to Cuba co-sponsored by CubaNola and PlazaCuba.

One trip was centered around Havana's Jazz festival "Jazz Plaza" while the other took us to Santiago to learn about that city's history, culture, and carnival tradition.

As many of the participants hailed from New Orleans, there was special emphasis on that city's shared cultural and musical heritage with Cuba.

Santiago has a conga line.
New Orleans has a second line.


'Nuf said!

I even happened to meet the postmambo and ethnomusical guru Ned Sublette on that trip to Santiago.

Well, thanks to the Obama administrations new travel regulations that allow for much expanded cultural, educational, religious, and other people-to-people contacts, these kinds of programs are back on the front burner.

Go here to see what CubaNola has planned in terms of any upcoming trips to the island.

After the break there's some info about PlazaCuba from an e-mail I just received from them.

Nos vemos en la casa de la musica!

Tio Sam or Big Brother: Who's to blame for Cuba's Cyber Woes?

Traffic jams unlikely on Cuban data highway
Jan 20, 2011 - By Esteban Israel

HAVANA (Reuters) - A Venezuelan fiber optic cable should plug Cuba into high-speed Internet within months, but it may not immediately bring an explosion in connectivity to inhabitants of the communist-ruled Caribbean island. Virtual highways in Cuba, known for its 1950s autos and low car ownership, are also dated and the small number of individuals logged on makes it one of Latin America's least wired nations. This weekend, a unit of the French company Alcatel-Lucent is due to start laying a 1,000-mile, $70 million submarine fiber optic cable from Venezuela, and it is due to reach Cuba's southeast coast in February.

See related article, Cubans with phone line will have right to internet at home.

Keep reading this article below.

Magnificent? Raising and lowering expectations in Havana

Can anyone explain what this phrase in the middle of the following article means?

"...officials say the link-up may not provide internet-starved Cubans with greater access to the world wide web..."

Why not?

FINANCIAL TIMES
Venezuela clicks in for web-starved Cubans
By Marc Frank in Havana, January 19, 2011

It has been said that the only things the Cuban government can do nothing about are the hurricanes that lash the island every year and the inexorable march of the new economy.

Cuba is the least connected country in the hemisphere. So the prospect of a fibre optic cable linking Cuba to the rest of the world, which will dramatically boost internet capacity, is potentially as big a change as Raúl Castro's new efficiency drive, which will see half a million state employees, one in 10 of the labour force, laid off this year.

Although officials say the link-up may not provide internet-starved Cubans with greater access to the world wide web, the Venezuela-sponsored link is due to reach Cuba in February and be operational by July.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Helping Cubans help themselves - The Economist

The worm that turned: Helping Cubans to help themselves
Cuba and the United States
The Economist, Jan 20th 2011 | HAVANA

AMERICAN presidents tend to be very cautious when it comes to policy toward Cuba. True to form, Barack Obama's latest directive relaxing the rules on travel and remittances to the communist island was released late on January 14th, just before a long weekend. The directive makes it easier for religious, cultural and educational groups to visit, widens the number of airports which can apply to host charter flights and allows all Americans to send up to $2,000 a year to ordinary Cubans.

The broader economic embargo against Cuba stands. Only Congress can scrap it, and many in the new Republican majority still support it. But the administration has taken a further step in reversing George Bush's tightening of the embargo.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Phil Peters: Cuban Entrepreneurs - From Necessary Evil to Strategic Necessity

Late last year, Cuba watcher Phil Peters decided he needed to make a trip down to the island to see for himself how serious economic reforms in self-employment were and to get the pulse of both citizens and officials.

A brief but quite well informed report on his trip just went up this morning at "The American," the journal of the American Enterprise Institute.

You can read it here: Cuban Entrepreneurs - From Necessary Evil to Strategic Necessity.

Here are two key excerpts:

State media that often portrayed entrepreneurs as ingrates or pilferers are now repeatedly explaining how to apply for a license. A December 28 article in Communist Party daily newspaper Granma chided the bureaucracy for blocking the “expeditious issuing of licenses.” And Cuban President Raul Castro told government and party officials in a December 18 speech that it is necessary “to change the negative views that more than a few of us hold toward this form of private work.”


Two critical changes—creating wholesale supply stores and providing bank loans for entrepreneurs—have been promised but not delivered. A new tax system took effect recently; its design is simple for one-person businesses, less so for those with employees, and its real impact on business incentives remains to be seen. In the Catholic Church’s publications and occasionally in the official press, economists have argued that stronger reforms are needed to meet job creation and deficit reduction goals.

Obama Takes A Positive Step on Cuba, Michael Shifter - Inter-American Dialogue

Obama Takes A Positive Step on Cuba
El Colombiano, January 18, 2011

[Una versión de este articulo en español está disponible aquí en el sitio de Inter-American Dialogue].

Just before he left office, Brazil's president Lula said in an interview that he was disappointed in President Obama's Latin American policy during the first two years of his term.   Nothing much had changed from the Bush era, Lula complained.  

Although he didn't say so explicitly then, it is reasonable to assume that what Lula also meant is that Obama had not made any progress in dismantling the 50 year-old US embargo against Cuba.  
This issue has long irritated Latin American governments – and divided the region from Washington.  The policy is widely seen as anachronistic, and hostage to US domestic politics. 

That is why Obama's decisions on Cuba policy announced on January 14th are significant.

Nick Miroff, NPR: Cuba Issues Thousands Of New Self-Employment Licenses

Cuba Issues Thousands Of New Self-Employment Licenses
January 18, 2011

Cuban leader Raul Castro is pushing to reform his country's state-run economy. He plans to lay off half a million government workers in the coming months. To help offset those cuts, communist authorities have issued more than 75,000 new self-employment licenses.

But as Nick Miroff reports from Havana, its not clear if they can create jobs fast enough.

Listen here (4 min 1 sec).

DVD pirates were the first to emerge from the shadows of Cuba's underground economy. They've set up homemade display racks all over the city, blasting bootlegged CDs at pedestrians like street vendors in any other Latin American capital.

They have reggaeton music, Harry Potter movies and nature shows lifted off the Discovery Channel -- and they're now licensed by the Cuban state, which cares far more these days about job creation than copyrights.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Blog: U.S.-Cuba people-to-people partnership


Yesterday, John McAuliff launched a new and very informative blog, U.S.-Cuba people-to-people partnership, covering the nuances of the Obama administration's new opening in people-to-people travel between the U.S. and Cuba.

I recommend that Cuba-watchers follow it - especially over the next few weeks as OFAC (the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control) translates Obama's executive order into actual law.

In a post yesterday at The Havana Note, McAuliff asks a good question:


Will OFAC function as a traffic cop or an enabler of travel?

Other important nuances and "devil-in-the-details" questions are laid out here.

McAuliff is the tireless executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, an organization that advocates for the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba (growing out of a similar push to normalize relations with Vietnam).  There's not a lecture, concert, open forum, or conference concerning Cuba in the past 5 years where I haven't run into him promoting freedom of travel and an end to the embargo.

It seems his efforts (and those of others) are bearing some hard-earned fruit despite the tough political environment.

Monday, January 17, 2011

More on educational travel from "Inside Higher Ed"

Obama Eases Cuba Rules
Inside Higher Education
January 17, 2011

WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Friday lifted a series of rules imposed by the Bush administration that have eliminated the ability of most American colleges to run exchange programs in Cuba.

Lifting these rules has been a major goal of educators who promote study abroad. Victor C. Johnson, senior adviser for public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators, called the move "a very big deal" in that "our colleges once again will be able to exercise whatever free choice they want to make about whether students can study in Cuba or not."

An October letter from college and university presidents, organized by NAFSA, cited statistics showing that only about 250 students from the United States are currently able to study in Cuba each year. That compares to about 2,100 before the Bush administration imposed the rules that are now being lifted. Reverting to a system similar to the rules in place during the Clinton administration will mean the following changes:

Doctors for Dollars

World News from GlobalPost
Cuba trades doctors for dollars
By Nick Miroff

HAVANA, Cuba — "$100 a barrel oil in sight," read a recent headline in Granma, Cuba's communist party newspaper, and not long ago, such news would likely have been followed by hand-wringing admonitions to conserve electricity or brace for transportation cuts and rolling blackouts.

Not anymore.

In today's Cuba, climbing oil prices are channeling much-needed cash into government accounts, even though the island is years away from commercially developing its own offshore reserves or becoming a significant energy exporter.    

Instead, Cuba is turning a tidy profit on other nations' crude.

Over the past decade, in a feat of political and diplomatic ingenuity, Cuba's leaders have transformed the country from a place hurt by high oil prices into one that rides their rise straight to the bank. Through service agreements that send Cuban doctors, nurses and other skilled professionals to energy giants like Venezuela, Angola and Algeria, the Cuban government is compensated on a sliding scale pegged to the price of oil.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Leading exiled economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago publishes an article in Cuba's leading journal, Temas

"Cincuenta años de servicios sociales en Cuba"
Carmelo Mesa-Lago

Readers can find this article on the Temas website here or click on this PDF.

Economía: Mesa-Lago: Los servicios sociales sólo podrían mantenerse si se aplican a fondo las reformas
Agencias, | La Habana, | 11-01-2011

El académico exiliado publicó un estudio en la revista oficial 'Temas'.

Los servicios sociales, estandartes del régimen, son insostenibles en el actual modelo económico y sólo podrían mantenerse si se aplican a fondo las reformas propuestas por Raúl Castro, según un estudio publicado este martes, reportó AFP.

Pissing off the hardliners on both ends of the political spectrum (CNN and Financial Times)

When a new policy provokes impassioned protest from BOTH Ileana AND the Cuban government, you know you're doing something right!  (Also see these criticisms of Obama's changes from blogs on the right and the left - H/T to Roque Planas at Cuban Colada for the head's up).

Adelante Obama!

********************

Cuba calls U.S. measures positive, but far from enough
By Shasta Darlington, CNN

On Friday, the White House announced it would allow more academic, cultural and religious travel to Cuba.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
• President Obama announced easing of some restrictions on Cuba
• The U.S. will allow more travel and non-family remittances to Cuba
• The U.S. also will allow more U.S. airports to service flights to Cuba
• Cuba calls the moves "positive" but "they fall short of justified demands"

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Cuba on Sunday called President Barack Obama's latest easing of travel restrictions to the island nation "positive" but accused Washington of continuing its policy of "destabilization."

(Financial Times article below)

Economist editorial: Score 2 for Obama and 0 for Congress

Obama eases travel to Cuba
An easier, and better, way to Cuba
The Economist, Jan 16, 2011

CONGRATULATIONS to Barack Obama for easing travel restrictions to Cuba. But will this presidential decision be followed by a quick end to America's embargo of Cuba, instituted in 1962 and—given the longevity of Cuba's communist regime—a spectacular exercise in futility? Almost certainly not.

Mr Obama's decision is an executive order, enabling the White House to circumvent any opposition from Congress and essentially restoring Cuban-American travel conditions to the level they enjoyed under President Bill Clinton, before George W. Bush imposed extra restrictions.

To go further and end the trade and investment embargo would need the approval of Congress—which looks very unlikely since the House of Representatives is controlled by the Republican Party and the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee is chaired by the Cuban-born and vehemently anti-Castro Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Yet advocates of better Cuba-USA relations should not lose hope. As The World in 2011 points out, change is afoot in Cuba, with state encouragement this year for modest steps of private enterprise. Fidel Castro may dislike the process, but he is not immortal and long ago ceded day-to-day power to the current president, his younger brother Raúl—who, at the age of 79, is also not immortal.

In other words, the post-Castro era approaches.

Whatever that will mean in terms of political and economic reform, it will surely give America the perfect excuse to end the embargo.

More Glasnost, Less Perestroika?: An Extended Interview with Circles Robinson, Havana Times Founding Editor

"More glasnost, less perestroika"
Weekly Worker, January 13, 2011

Maciej Zurowski interviews Circles Robinson of 'Havana Times', a web magazine that features critical writing from Cuba

Ever imagined a post-revolutionary scenario where Socialist Worker becomes the only widely available source of information? Well - that vision is very much a reality in Cuba, where Granma, the organ of the Communist Party since 1965, relentlessly hammers home the central committee's line with little regard for discussion, controversy or stimulating thought. Fidel Castro's increasingly surrealistic editorials might lift Granma a notch above the drabness that plagues its cousins Trabajadores and Juventud Rebelde, but many would argue that the paper's relationship with the truth is ambivalent at best.

Publications that serve the cultural needs of the country's intelligentsia do contain some critical thought. Cine Cubano, for instance, is a glossy film magazine that takes the liberty of castigating the "artistic straitjacket of socialist realism",[1] while enriching its reviews and discussion pieces with eclectic quotations, from Jean-Paul Sartre to Slavoj Zizek. But beyond the three officially approved national dailies, there has been a distinct lack of critical everyday reporting and analysis of Cuba's political, economic and social spheres throughout the country's 50-odd year revolutionary history.

In 2008, a group of Cuban residents founded Havana Times,[2] an internet magazine that prides itself on "open-minded writing from Cuba". A Cuban news and opinions website that neither consists of sycophantic Castro apologetics nor of its mirror image - the rabid anti-communism peddled by Florida-based Cuban exiles - will come as a surprise to many. Broadly socialist in its outlook and critically supportive of the revolution, it gives a voice to those who are not content to let untouchable leaders do the thinking.

As we interview the editor of Havana Times, Circles Robinson, a wind of change is blowing through Cuba, though hardly the wind of progress. Raúl Castro has announced massive layoffs, employing rhetoric that eerily echoes David Cameron's talk of a 'big society', while paying limp lip service to the paternalistic 'socialism' of the past. Meanwhile, foreign investors have been touting Cuba as a potential new emerging market for some time.

Against the background of growing class divides and a bureaucratic Communist Party (redefined as the "party of the Cuban nation" rather than a "party of the working class" since 1991), it is high time that Cuban workers began the fight for independent political organisation to defend and advance their interests.

In our interview with Circles Robinson, we spoke about the Havana Times project, the imminent changes in Cuban society, and the Cuban revolution more broadly.

#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*

Weekly Worker: Please tell us in brief the story of Havana Times. I understand that you used publish it from mainland Cuba, but have emigrated to Nicaragua more recently. What were the reasons for your move?

Negotiations and Love Songs: Cuban Doctors at Home and Abroad (WSJ)

New Prize in Cold War: Cuban Doctors
The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2011

Nearly 1,600 Cuban doctors have defected to the U.S. since 2006 under the little-known immigration program that targets Cuba's overseas medical "brigades." (The on-line version of this article at the WSJ website has some great multimedia content).

By Joel Millman (Write to Joel Millman at joel.millman@wsj.com )

Dr. Felix Ramírez in The Gambia in 2008.

Felix Ramírez slipped into an Internet cafe in the West African nation of The Gambia, scoured the Web for contact information for U.S. diplomats, then phoned the U.S. embassy in Banjul, the capital.

He told the receptionist he was an American tourist who had lost his passport, and asked to speak to the visa section. As he waited to be connected, he practiced his script: "I am a Cuban doctor looking to go to America. When can we meet?"

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Talented Mr. Rubio Responds

The talented Mr. Rubio's statement:

"It is unthinkable that the administration would enable the enrichment of a Cuban regime that routinely violates the basic human rights and dignity of its people."

Though he's just 39, on Cuba policy he seems committed to an approach of pinishment and isolation that's been in place, and ineffective, since before he was born.

Let the debate begin...

I say: Instead of focusing solely on the "enrichment of the Cuban regime," why not focus on the empowerment of the Cuban people?

Jan 15, 2011
Obama opens up U.S.-Cuban contacts
By David Jackson, USA TODAY

President Obama is opening up American contacts with Cuba.

Obama is easing restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba, visas, and remittance of money from Americans to Cubans, according to orders issued Friday evening.

"These measures will increase people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities," the White House said in a statement.

The new policies are being criticized by some Cuban-Americans, including new U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Quotable: Daddy State and His Frightened Children

From Yoani with hope and scepticism:

"It is also time to open their eyes to a different Cuba, where the promise of full-employment is no longer proclaimed to the four winds, and where working for yourself is a bleak and uncertain option. Some will exchange the white coat for a barber's scissors, or an oven where they will bake pizza and bread. They will learn that economic independence inevitably brings political independence, they will fail or prosper, lie on their tax declarations or honestly report how much they have earned. In the end, they will embark on a new path, a difficult one, where Daddy State will not sustain them, but neither will he have the power to punish them."

Go to Huff Post or Translating Cuba to read this entire post.

Reactions to Travel Reforms from Airports, Ileana, CANF, the Catholic Church, and the (wo)man on the street in Little Havana (AP)

Obama to ease Cuba travel restrictions (AP)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — President Barack Obama plans to loosen Cuban travel policy to allow students and church groups to go to the communist country, the administration announced Friday.

Students seeking academic credit and churches traveling for religious purposes will be able to go to Cuba. The plan will also let any American send as much as $500 every three months to Cuban citizens who are not part of the Castro administration and are not members of the Communist Party.

Also, more airports will be allowed to offer charter service. Right now, only three airports — in Miami, Los Angeles and New York City — can offer authorized charters to Cuba. That will be expanded to any international airport with proper customs and immigration facilities as long as licensed travel agencies ask to run charters from the airport.

NYT: Restrictions on Travel to Cuba are Eased

By GINGER THOMPSON
January 15, 2011

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration on Friday eased restrictions on Americans' travel to Cuba in an effort to encourage more contact between people in both countries, while leaving intact the decades-old embargo against the island's Communist government.

White House officials said they were lifting travel restrictions imposed by President George W. Bush and expanding the so-called people-to-people provisions created under President Bill Clinton. The changes provide broad opportunities for travel to Cuba by academic, religious and cultural groups and allow charter flights from more American airports.

The new measures also permit Americans to send money to Cuban citizens - except for members of the Castro government and the Communist Party - and to religious organizations to support "private economic activity."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Quotable - The Cuban Triangle

I couldn't have said it better myself!
"The increase in contact between Americans and Cubans will expand the flow of information and ideas, and it will increase the income of Cubans in the country’s expanding private sector. It will expand American institutions’ contacts with Cuban counterparts – churches, universities, professional associations, and more. It is only common sense that American influence in Cuba will expand if we open doors rather than build barriers to citizen contact."
To read the entire commentary, go to Phil Peters' blog - The Cuban Triangle.

BREAKING: Gracias Senor Presidente - Ahora, si, vamos a Cuba!


Breaking news today at Cuba Central, Cuban Colada, The Latin American Working Group, and Along the Malecon, that the Obama administration has announced a new opening in "purposeful" travel to Cuba.

Phil Peters has placed the full White House announcement on his blog The Cuban Triangle.

American tourists should not pack their bags just yet, as the opening seems to revert to the Pre-Bush policy of expanding broad engagement and "people-to-people" contacts. 

This means that US government issued licenses will still be required for most types of travel.  However, legal travel and engagement will expand greatly in the areas of religious, educational, and cultural contact.

Some of the key elements of the changes are:
  • A resumption of university-led study abroad trips to Cuba (beyond the current requirement that students remain an entire semester).  In other words, it seems that the 3-6 week study programs that multiplied during the late 1990s will be allowed once again.  This presumably goes also for other types of cultural travel through licenced programs and agencies who cater to "life-long learners."
  • The allowance of all Americans to send financial support to the Cuban people.  This change is particularly important given the Cuban government's recent encouragement of the expansion of micro-enterprise.  Essentially, Americans are being allowed to "invest" in these new micro-enterprises (but only at the rate of $500 per quarter).
  • The allowance of all US international airports to apply for licenses to set up charter flights to the island.
The announcement also stated that the specific rules explaining each of these changes will be issued in a matter of weeks.

So, who's going to join me and my students for April's party!? 

That is the Sixth Communist Party Congress coming in April, 2001.  It just so happens that it falls during my spring break and coincides with the 50th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. 

How appropriate!  I'll bet that the Cuban people will welcome this new American invasion 50 years later!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reinvención verbal de la infancia

Cuban Research Institute cordially invites you to:

Reinvención verbal de la infancia en dos libros de memorias: Nieve en La Habana de Calros Eire y El Mañana de Mirta Ojito

A lecture by Vitalina Alfonso Torres Editor and Literary Critic

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 |12:00 pm
FIU Modesto A. Maidique Campus
LACC Conference Room, DM 353

Part of the CRI Lunchtime Lecture Series

Vitalina Alfonso Torres (Havana, 1960) studied philology at the University of Havana with a specialization in Latin American literature.

She is currently the editor of Ediciones Bologna. She is co-author of the anthology, Cuentos para ahuyentar el turismo, 16 autores puertorriqueños (1991) and author of Narrativa puertorriqueña actual: Realidad y parodia (1994) and Ellas hablan de la Isla (2002).

Lunch will be provided, but space is limited. Please RSVP to the Cuban Research Institute at 305.348.1991 or e-mail cri@fiu.edu. Lecture will be in Spanish.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Rubio: Obama quietly seeking Cuba changes - Ben Smith, Politico

January 11, 2011

Rubio: Obama quietly seeking Cuba changes

In a Spanish-language interview with WAQI, Sen. Marco Rubio said that the Obama administration was quietly talking to some on the Hill about lifting some of the economic and travel restrictions on Cuba.

But the feelers won't go anywhere, Rubio said, because he and other like-minded senators and House members will educate their colleagues on the political reality in Cuba, including telling them about political prisoners like American Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned for more than a year.
A lot of elected officials don't know about the political reality in Cuba, Rubio said, not because they're Communists but because they come from states where the issue isn't discussed -- or where agricultural interests persuade them to let them sell their goods on the island.
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Monday, January 10, 2011

El Yuma ya regreso


Faithful readers of El Yuma will have realized that I took the month of December off from the blog what with final papers, exams, and holiday travels to New Orleans, Louisiana, Mobile, Alabama, and Miami, Florida.

I'm now back in the driver's seat and catching up on all things Cuban.

My trip down to The Big Easy reminded me once again of the many wonderful connections that exist between the history, culture, and rhythms of that fair city and those of Cuba.

Apart from the work of CUBA-NOLA guru Ned Sublette, I don't think I've ever seen anything quite as astounding as the following musical comparison between Cuba and New Orleans by Jazz icon Wynton Marsalis:



If you like this, there's a BUNCH more video and interview from 60 minutes here and here.

(H/T to the good people at Cuba Central and Penultimos Dias for giving me a heads-up on the CBS 60 Minutes segment on Marsalis' trip to Cuba.)


PS: Though I think it might have closed yesterday, for a "colorful" night at the theater that will take you to the New Orleans of the turn of the 18th century (1700-1800) just as the city becomes part of the USA (for better or worse), I recommend A Free Man of Color at the Lincoln Center's Beaumont Theater staring the talented actor Jeffrey Wright.

Tell your friends!