Tuesday, November 29, 2011

MinRex Conference on the rise of Digital Media

A notable conference is taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week at Havana's Centro de Convenciones. It is titled, "Alternative media and social networks" [Taller Internacional sobre los Medios Alternativos y Redes Sociales], and is being sponsored by Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Relations (MinRex).

However, as this final paragraph from the Prensa Latina news report indicates, there are many, wildly different understandings of the term "alternative."

"The agenda includes the increasing importance of alternative media and social networks in the media battle Cuba and the so-called Third World countries are carrying out to include it in the international communicative scenario, states the website."

In other words, the conference seeks to discover how Cuba and other developing countries can use digital media and social networks to win the "media battle" against the dreaded "corporate Western mainstream media."

That's all well and good, but of course, the word "alternative" can also describe Cuba's own cyber-activists who seek to critically counter the official, state-run mass media in Cuba, otherwise known as propaganda.

Not all of these cyber-activists and bloggers are "dissidents," but most of them do seek to establish an autonomous space of independent, critical dialogue, debate, and sometimes dissent through the strategic use of these very same "alternative media and social networks."

For example, here's Yoani Sanchez's own take on the event and what she sees as the highjacking of the word "alternative" by the official organizers (as reported by Marti Noticias).

“The first thing that surprised me was the use of the word 'alternative.' Being an alternative is always understood as a way to confront officialdom and the status quo of the mechanisms of state information. Then you have the Cuban government organize an event which calls itself 'social networks and alternative spaces' but refuses to invite or is simply ignorant of the existence of a truly alternative community that uses social networks in Cuba.”

“It is quite curious how they try to appropriate the term 'alternative' and make us think that being an alternative is synonymous with 'party' or 'government.' No, the real alternatives are we who have no Internet connection, no one pays us a salary for tweeting, no one orients us about what we have to do; the real alternatives are we who risk our lives, our credibility, and our freedom by narrating what we narrate.”

Keep reading below or the full Prensa Latina article, "Cuba Looks at Alternative Media, Social Networks" (though you won't learn much from it).

You can read more at the Marti Noticias article cited above which is entitled, "Figuras cubanas del ciberespacio: grandes ausentes en evento de redes sociales."

Finally, Penultimos Dias also has a note on the event that includes a pair of photos, one of which features Cuban agent Raul Capote and Jean Guy Allard, and another that shows bloggers Elaine Diaz, Sandra "negra cubana tenia que ser" Alvarez, and Paquito "el de Cuba."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pallí: The loans are coming!

Here's a good assessment of Cuba's new real estate and loan provisions from José Manuel Pallí (H/T EthnoCuba).

"The Loans Are Coming" - The Cuba Standard

"A sip of chamomile tea to go with the Valium."

Since Cuba published the recent changes to its housing laws allowing resident citizens to sell their homes, the talk in Miami — especially among those who feel an urgent call to give a negative spin to any news from Cuba — has turned around questions like, 'Where are the home sellers going to live?'

So when I heard about Cuba's new lending system, while waiting in line for the doors to one of our glorious bazars to open up this abbreviated Thanksgiving Day, the first thought that came to my mind was we now had yet another reason to worry: Where will those Cubans who lose their homes to the bank go?

Of course, the geography around me helped dispel most of my own concerns: Here we are, in Miami — a city which has a legitimate claim to be the natural host for our next reality TV show, 'Foreclose America,' in a state of Florida where our courts of law are hooked to a life support system dependent on foreclosure filing fees, where jobs are ever more scarce, and yet nobody is deprived of his/her constitutional right to shop, maxed credit card or not. And obviously, they must have some place to keep all this new stuff they are buying — with even some space to spare for a bed or sleeping bag.

Go here for the rest of the story...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

IRI: Cuban Public Opinion - Not so fast!

Here's another survey report about Cuba, this time from the IRI - International Republican Institute.

It found much less enthusiasm and much more skepticism about the economic reforms so far enacted under Raul Castro.

Here's a pull quote:

"There are a lot of headlines here in the U.S. about changes coming to Cuba, but IRI's survey shows that the Cuban people themselves are not necessarily seeing it so far. They remain skeptical that the Cuban government can improve their lives."

More here and here.  The report is also available in Spanish here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

AP: Small-farmer and micro-enterprise loans on the way in Cuba

Cuba to launch bank loans for farmers, small-business owners, others in December

HAVANA — Cuba is announcing a new credit system that will begin offering loans to small-business owners, private farmers and other citizens beginning next month.

It is a key step that economists say is necessary to support independent workers and allow President Raul Castro's economic reform package to be effective.

The government's Official Gazette says loans will also be made available to people looking to purchase building materials, to pay for labor associated with home construction, and other needs.

The Gazette says the system will be rolled out "progressively, as the country's economic and financial conditions permit."

The rules announced Thursday take effect Dec. 20.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Padurisima (4): "¿Para qué (no por qué, sino para qué) se escribe una novela?

El Yuma's favorite Cuban writer Leonardo Padura has just won the 2011 Roger Caillois Literary Prize for his novel 'El hombre que amaba a los perros' (2009) and in recognition of the entirety of his work as a novelist. He is the first Cuban writer to receive the award in its 20-year history.

"El hombre" was published in a French translation earlier this year and is set to some out in English in 2012.

The prize is sponsored by the Casa de América Latina of Paris, the Society of Readers and Friends of Roger Caillois, and the Pen Club of France.

Wilfredo Cancio Isla of the web site Cafe Fuerte has published a detailed story on the prize, giving an update on Padura's current projects.

These include a sneak preview of the new film "Siete Días en La Habana" at the 33rd Festival of New Latin American Film in Havana in December. Padura was one of the screenwriters for the seven-part film and worked together with director Benicio del Toro on the short entitled, "El Yuma," earlier this year.

Cancio also reports on Padura's latest work-in-progress, "Los Herejes" (The Heretics), the seventh title in his ongoing Mario Conde noir fiction series, which he expects to have finished by early 2012. This ambitious new installment in the hardboiled series is a "story about freedom as a human condition and need" and, as all of Padura's novels, is set in contemporary Cuba. However, the story begins in the 1640s in Amsterdam in the private library of Rembrandt!

Below is a brief embedded video of Padura speaking with from Madrid. Here is also a link to a talk he gave at Casa de America Latina in Paris last year.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

NPR: Operation Peter Pan, 50 years later

Children Of Cuba Remember Their Flight To America

5 min 24 sec
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Operation Pedro Pan Group
At Miami's airport, children from Cuba meet George Guarch, who worked for the Catholic Welfare Bureau in the city. Guarch took displaced children to temporary camps in Miami.
Published: November 19, 2011
by Greg Allen
Operation Pedro Pan shaped the lives of a generation of Cuban-Americans. Between 1960 and 1962, the program airlifted more than 14,000 Cuban children from Havana to the U.S. Fifty years later, those children are recalling how that flight changed their lives.

In Miami this weekend, a group of Cuban-Americans — now in their 50s and 60s — are gathering to commemorate the flights that took them from their homeland to America.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cuban Barbers to Gain More Freedoms

Cuban Barbers to Gain More Freedoms

Cuban Barber (Photo: flickr.com/photos/carlo-arioli/)

They won’t suddenly be coming out with new outlandish styles and coifs. No.
It’s a much more basic freedom: they’ll simply be able to run their own barber shops, and work outside of state control. It’s part of a trend in this city: more and more of this city’s residents are becoming self-employed.
The Communist government here is cash-strapped, and wants to slash a million jobs from its payrolls. We hope the answer to this Quiz is coming into focus now.
We’re going to turn to Ted Henken for the answer. He’s professor of Latin American Studies at Baruch College in New York. And he writes about Cuba on his blog El Yuma.
The answer to our Geo Quiz is Havana.

Freedom House, CDA, and now Brookings: Reaching out to Cuba

The past month has seen the appearance of three special reports from Washington think tanks, all of which recognize the significance (if still the insufficiency) of the economic reforms being implemented over the past year in Cuba.

First was this report from Freedom House, which indicated that Cubans are hopeful about the pace, scope, and direction of reforms to date - likely the most surprising given that institution's regular criticism of the lack of both economic and political freedoms on the island.

Then came a report from The Center for Democracy in the Americas which declared that Cuba's reforms are "real, irreversible, and merit U.S. support.

Finally, today appeared the Brookings report, "Reaching Out: Cuba’s New Economy and the International Response," written by Richard Feinberg, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at that institution.

Both Along the Malecon and Penultimos Dias have already commented on the Brookings report. While I haven't read the entire thing (PDF) yet myself, I have reviewed this executive summary and can say I agree that U.S. policy should be based on empowering the Cuban people (even if it helps the government), rather than punishing the government (even if it harms the people).

Feinberg's findings:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hipoteca, no; compra y venta, si: 50 years after urban reform, a paradigm shift

Surfing around the Internet the other day trying to get some background on the history of urban reform and housing law in Cuba over the last 50 years, I can upon a very timely and original scholarly article by Erich Trefftz, "50 Years Since the Urban Reform Law in Cuba: On the Anniversary of the Paradigm Shift"(PDF), published in August in the Revista INVI (Vol. 26, No. 27, 2011) at the Universidad de Chile.

The article is available in both English and Spanish.  The Spanish title is: "50 AÑOS DE LA LEY DE REFORMA URBANA EN CUBA. EN EL ANIVERSARIO DEL CAMBIO DE PARADIGMA."

The article is noteworthy for two things...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are cooperatives next?

Cuban Co-operatives Set to Expand [?]
By Patricia Grogg (IPS)

HAVANA, Nov 14, 2011 (IPS) - The creation of co-operatives forms part of the current "updating" of the Cuban economy, even though no official information has been provided about the expansion of this form of business management, which has already been tested, with mixed results, in agriculture.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Decree Law 288 updating Cuba's "General Housing Law"

Here's the official PDF of Cuba's new housing law set to take effect next week.

Let the games begin!

My take on Cuba's real estate reforms

This is from Damien Cave at the NYT.

This is from Paul Haven at AP and an update here.

And here's the Granma announcement in Spanish.

My quick take:

This is a very positive step in the right direction toward greater economic freedom and individual and family rights of private property. It will immediately increase the personal wealth of millions of Cubans as it restores to them one of the fundamental rights of private property - that of buying and selling it freely.

However, as with all of Raul's reforms to date and especially with the automobile flexibilizations - the devil is in the details. There are at least two key restrictions still in place here as I understand the announcement:

1) Sales are only allowed among Cuban citizens resident on the island (or to and from foreigners with permanent residence - which is understandable at this point and clearly designed to prevent a "giant sucking sound" of the transfer of title to foreigners with much much more cash than the average Cuban property owner). But of course Cuban émigrés will get around this by giving money to friends and relatives resident in Cuba so that they can purchase property for them.

2) Cubans are still limited to owning just two pieces of property: a home and a vacation home. This is clearly designed to prevent the accumulation of wealth - a constant concern of the government of Raul over the last year as he moves to "mix up" and "modernize" Cuba's rigid, inefficient statist economy.

Stay tuned...

Real estate reform comes to Cuba

But how real is it?

Here's the Granma announcement.

And here's AP's take:

HAVANA (AP) -- Cuba announced Thursday it will allow real estate to be bought and sold for the first time since the early days of the revolution, the most important reform yet in a series of free-market changes under President Raul Castro.

The law, which takes effect Nov. 10, applies to citizens and permanent residents only, according to a red-letter headline on the front page of Thursday's Communist Party daily Granma.

The brief article said details of the new law would be published imminently in the government's Official Gazette. Authorities have said previously that sales will be subject to taxes and the rules will not allow anyone to accumulate great property holdings.