Thursday, February 19, 2015

La nueva política de Internet del gobierno cubano: Del "potro salvaje" al "caballo de Troya"?

En @14ymedio Renaldo Escobar (@rescobarcasas) escribe lo siguiente sobre la nueva política de Internet del gobierno cubano:

"La inmensa mayoría de los informáticos cubanos son jóvenes inclinados a la modernidad y se preocupan más por estar actualizados con las últimas novedades que de los potenciales peligros de que este 'potro salvaje' sea finalmente el caballo de Troya que permita a los cubanos acceder libremente a cualquier información y poder interactuar con el mundo exterior, sin intermediarios y sin miedos."

Friday, February 13, 2015

FAQs from the DOS "Cuentapropista List" (Update)

Goods (few) and Services (many) Eligible for Importation to the United States from Cuba's Nascent Private Enterprise Sector

The "Cuentapropista Importation List" itself (technically known as the U.S. Department of State Section 515.582 List), is currently more a "list of exceptions" to the list of importable goods than a list of permissions (see below). On the bright side, the list of "importable" services is much more open-ended. A helpful Fact Sheet is also available at the DOS site.

Here is my favorite Q&A from the FAQs sheet:
Q: Will the Cuban government allow independent entrepreneurs to export to the United States?

A: We cannot predict what the Cuban government will or will not allow, but we sincerely hope that it makes this and other new opportunities available to Cuba's nascent private sector. This is another measure intended to support the ability of the Cuban people to gain greater control over their own lives and determine their country's future.

Indeed, the ball is now in Raúl's court and we will see if he can take this preliminary "yes" for an answer.

Mimi Whitefield has a good write up on the new list at the Miami Herald: "New import rules for Cuba represent historic change." Despite the hopeful title of the article, Whitefield does not ignore the unfortunate, "underwhelming" caveat that this opening is riddled with exceptions:
"But forget the artisanal cigars, home brew or even refurbished vintage cars. Tobacco, spirits and machinery are among the exceptions not eligible for import under the new rules.  
"Prepared food and beverages, textile and textile articles and animal products also aren’t eligible for import, cutting out important potential sales opportunities for Cuba’s cuentapropistas, the self-employed. For the record, imports of live animals, vegetables, chemical and mineral products, electrical equipment, telecom parts, articles made from nickel, zinc, copper and other non-precious metals and mechanical appliances aren’t permitted either.  
"Items that aren’t on the list of exceptions may be imported."  
For me, the three big takeaways are:

1. The list is purposely a "negative" one meaning that instead of listing what is permitted in exhaustive detail (as the GOC does with its list of licensable self-employed occupations), the DOS only lists what the exceptions are - hoping that this approach sends a message to Cuban entrepreneurs that they should use their imaginations, be encouraged to be creative, and think outside the box.

2. However, a big problem is that all imports into the U.S. are subject to tariffs and those from Communist countries like Cuba even more so, plus there are tons of things that remain off limits as indicated in the quote from Whitefield's article above. This part is quite disheartening. Along with the fact that agriculture is more or less off the table (for now). American companies may advocate for the ability to sell their wares and foodstuffs to Cuba, but few are demanding the right of Cuban entrepreneurs to compete as sellers in the U.S. market.

3. There is much more space in this opening for "importable" Cuban services and even products produced by Cuba's new non-agricultural co-operatives (note the "entities" language in the list). Also, those returning from Cuba to the U.S. with goods can go beyond the previously established $400 limit as long a the other goods were acquired from the private sector (and under a $800 total since that's when steep tariffs would kick in).

So while important in making a historic crack in the wall of the U.S. embargo, challenging the Cuban government to respond by broadening and deepening its initial micro-enterprise reforms between 2010-2014, and facilitating some trade with Cuba's emergent private sector, this is still quite a small, symbolic step that will have little impact on the ground in Cuba in the short term.

This is due to (1) the Cuban government's continued monopoly over imports and exports and (2) the limited authority the Obama administration has vis-a-vis trade since much of the economic embargo (and tariff restrictions for imports) remain in place preventing full engagement with Cuba's emerging private sector.

One silver lining is that the DOS sees this as a "living document" that they expect to expand over time as they get feedback from Cuba's private sector.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Baruch Journalism Students Cover Entrepreneurial #Cuba (Updated)

Four of the 11 Baruch College journalism students who joined Professor Andrea Gabor on a January 2015 enterprise reporting trip to Cuba.  

Last month, 11 Baruch College journalism students, led by Prof. Andrea Gabor (Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism), left for Havana as part of a January-term class on Covering Emerging Entrepreneurship in Cuba. Professor Gabor has just published a fascinating post on her own blog about their life-changing educational adventure. The students spent eight days in Cuba and reported on the recent economic changes instituted under President Raul Castro, especially in the growing small-business sector of so-called cuentapropistas, which now includes close to 500,000 Cubans, triple the number in 2010. The class arrived just weeks after President Obama and President Castro announced their historic détente, which will open Cuba to more American goods and visitors and establish formal relations between the countries.

The students met with a wide range of experts on Cuban business and culture, including Univ. of Havana academics, filmmakers, and Cuba Emprende, a private non-profit that helps train new entrepreneurs in Cuba. They also interviewed over a half-dozen small-business owners about the new opportunities and challenges they face. The students produced a rich trove of stories—in both print and multi-media—about the rise of women entrepreneurs in Cuba; an experimental, sustainable farm just outside Havana that supplies the burgeoning sector of paladares, or independent restaurants; the gray market in information entertainment distributed via computer memory devices; and much more. 

To see the stories, please click on HERE

The trip took a year to plan and involved the help of many people both at Baruch and in Cuba. At Baruch, special thanks go to Prof. Joshua Mills and the Journalism Department; Dean Jeff Peck and Boo Choi; Dr. Richard Mitten and his colleagues in study abroad; and Prof. Ted Henken.


Monday, February 9, 2015

La red de la calle cubana (Snet o RoG)...

To read the entire post on the Snet (Street Net) or RoG (Republic of Gamer) phenomenon in Cuba (which begins with a long, detailed list of rules), go the the blog Cubano 1er Plano.

However, below I have extracted what I think is the crux of the article:

1) What's taking the GOC so long to set up its own national wifi network?
2) What became of the famed fiber optic cable from Venezuela? What are we waiting for?
3) Snet is a living, breathing example of what is possible when the is a will (ie, where there's a will, there's a way). 
4) "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
5) And none of this considers how the change in US telecom regs will impact internet access and price on the island. 

Here's an excerpt of the last three paragraphs of the article, which zero in on some of these points rather eloquently:
"Estamos esperando aún, a 15 años después de haber comenzado el siglo XXI, que él país ponga en funcionamiento una red WiFi nacional, que de acceso a conectarse a Internet pagando un precio acorde al salario que devengan los cubanos. Dejar atrás estudios, y estudios y más estudios, y experimentos y luego más estudios de algo que en el mundo entero (incluyendo países como Argentina, Venezuela, Brasil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile y otros del tercer mundo (muchos miembros de la CELAC) ofrecen de forma gratuita o a un costo mínimo.
Ya tenemos el famoso cable de fibra óptica (hace varios años) ¿Ahora que esperamos? ¿Qué Internet pase de moda, o comience la era de la web 10.0, para dar acceso a la población de nuestro país a la 2.0? Un amigo siempre me dice cuando hablamos de estos temas, que en Cuba hay acceso masivo a las tecnologías de punta, de la punta de atrás de la flecha…
SNET es el vivo ejemplo que cuando se quiere se puede, sin complicaciones y con una estructura organizada y con reglas éticas y técnicas que han permitido su supervivencia. Cada persona que integra esta red, pasó de la palabra al hecho, de las ideas a la realidad, de lo insipiente a la experiencia… pues como dijera la milenaria sabiduría China: "El camino más largo de todos, comienza dando el primer paso"

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Dos amigos cubanos cruzan palabras: Miriam Celaya & Antonio Rodiles

Over the past week an important debate has surfaced among two of the most eloquent (and sharp-tounged!) dissidents in Cuba's diverse opposition:

Miriam Celaya and Antonio Rodiles.
(pictured together to the left)

Why is this important? Well, to the extent that Cuba's dissidents and civil society leaders will have any influence upon the pace and scope of the US-Cuba engagement, what those dissidents think, how they express themselves, and interact with one another will impact the diplomatic opening.

Also important - as we saw during the Congressional hearings last week - is how various US business groups, members of Congress, and pro-engagement and pro-embargo lobbies position themselves vis-a-vis the dissident community on the island.

Remember that the Cuban activists invited to speak or share statements at the hearings (Rosa María Payá, Miriam Leiva, Berta Soler, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Dagoberto Valdés, and Antonio Rodiles) did not speak with a single voice, and their competing comments, criticisms, and praises of U.S. policy were later highlighted by US lobbying groups to justify and reinforce their own positions: See #Cuba_Now and Capitol Hill Cubans for two examples.

The Rodiles-Celaya debate dates back to late December when two different groups of dissidents issued two very similar statements (Espacio Abierto de la Sociedad Civil - here; and Foro por los Derechos y Libertades - here), weighing in on the Obama-Castro deténte.

Among other things, this back-and-forth is about whether Cuba's opposition can properly be described as having become "divided" into two opposing poles following "D-17" (the new Cuban term for the shift in U.S. policy from isolation to engagement). Also important is the question of whether (and which) Cuban dissidents and civil society leaders will be included in future diplomatic negotiations.

Rodiles outlines what he sees as a split in the dissident community.  On one side are those who see Obama's move as an "abandonment" or "betrayal" of the Cuban opposition, and providing diplomatic legitimacy and a much-needed economic lifeline to the Cuban government.

According to him, on the other side are those who see Washington's move as a (golden?) opportunity for the dissident movement to occupy new space and engage more directly with the mass of the population, now that it won't be so easy for the government to dismiss them as "mercenaries."

His first statement is at Diario de Cuba: "Hablar con la misma voz." He thinks that this split is not a good one as it dilutes the message of the dissident community, which should speak "with a single, unified voice."

He does grant that it's to be expected that the dissident community sound like a "jazz combo" (where clashing, discordant views are enriching), but he also insists that the differences among them be clearly laid out making the implications of those differences transparent as well.  He gives a very clear (though perhaps debatable) point-by-point listing of those differences.

However, where Rodiles sees a split, Celaya sees a rich and healthy diversity of opinion. Her first response to Rodiles is at 14ymedio: "Una confrontación esteril." She also argues that what Washington does is much less important than what Cubans themselves do with this changing and challenging scenario.

Rodiles response to her is here: "Notas sobre una polémica," and Celaya's response to him is on her blog, A pie y descalzos: "Réquiem por un debate."

Interestingly, Rodiles also recently challenged Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, and Dagoberto Valdés (who seem to share Celaya's point of view) to join the debate.

Both 14ymedio and Estado de Sats have catalogued this developing polémica at their sites.

Friday, February 6, 2015

"Cuba's Perplexing Changes": #Cuba in Transition: Volume 24 - All papers now live and available in PDF!

Papers and Proceedings of 
the Twenty-Fourth Annual Meeting of
The Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy
The Hilton Miami Downtown Hotel
Miami, Florida
July 31-August 2, 2014 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Overcoming Cuba's Internal Embargo

Click HERE to read our article!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

When @Malinowski talks, you should listen

As the administration's human rights point-man Tomasz Malinowski - born in Communist Poland - said in his Senate testimony, U.S. policy isn't about waiting on the whims of the Castro government anymore:

"[The] Cuban government has succeeded in making our embargo and its isolation from the United States a bigger issue than its own repression, making it difficult to mobilize international pressure to improve respect for human rights on the island. To its own people, the government has justified Cuba's isolation, poverty and lack of democracy as being a result of American hostility. These were bad excuses; they justified none of what the Cuban people have suffered all these years. But we have to acknowledge that, over the years, shifting the blame to America has worked for the Castro government.

It is not going to work any more.

Now, every country in Latin America and the Caribbean, and indeed around the world, knows that the United States is not the obstacle to Cuba's integration with the hemisphere and its prospects for economic development. Cuban policies are the obstacle. Now every citizen of Cuba knows that the U.S. is willing to have improved relations with their country, to support private business on the island and to help connect them to the world. These steps have raised the Cuban people's expectations, and shifted the burden of meeting those expectations back upon the Cuban state."

H/T @Cuba_Now #Cuba_Now

Update on self-employment & non-agricultural cooperatives in Cuba

(...along with a cautionary tale about La Fontanella pastry shop)

@yoanisanchez: En #Cuba se han autorizado 498 #cooperativas de las cuales 329 ya están funcionando y "están en estudio" 300 más

Trans: In Cuba 498 (new non-agricultural) cooperatives have been approved, 329 of which are open. 300 more are "under review".

@yoanisanchez: A principios de #2015 las cifras oficiales aseguran que 483.000 cubanos ejercen el trabajo por cuenta propia en #Cuba

Trans: At the start of 2015 official figures assure us that 483,000 Cubans are licensed to work "on their own account" in Cuba. (Up 12,000 from August 2014).

Also of import are the following 3 stories about the entrepreneurial triumph and bureaucratic tragedy of Nuevo Vedado's La Fontanella pastry shop:

Here's a recent story in Spanish from @diariodecuba: "Auge y caída de La Fontanella""

Here's an excellent reflection on the story (in English): "The Crime of Prosperity in #Cuba" from Havana Times - Entrepreneurial triumph & bureaucratic tragedy of Fontanella pastry shop

Finally, my friend and colleague Regina Coyula reported on this "clipping of wings" back in March 2014 on her blog La Mala Letra (Bad Handwriting):