Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cuba reports largest outflow of citizens since 1994

By Marc Frank HAVANA (Reuters) - The number of Cubans leaving their country has increased steadily in recent years, the government reported on Wednesday, reaching levels not seen since 1994 when tens of thousands took to the sea in makeshift rafts and rickety boats. Separately, the U.S. State Department on Wednesday announced it is lengthening most visitor visas for Cubans from six months to five years, allowing them to make multiple U.S. visits over the five-year period instead of repeatedly applying and paying the $160 fee for the privilege. Cuba liberalized travel restrictions in January, making it much easier and less expensive for residents to travel and to return after they emigrate, and eliminating the confiscation of property of migrants, perhaps in hopes of slowing the outflow. The new Cuban travel measures extend to 24 months the amount of time Cubans can be out of the country without losing rights and they can seek an extension of up to 24 months more. In theory, the changes on both sides of the Florida Straits should make it easier for Cubans not only to travel but to work in the United States and return home when they want. According to Cuba's annual demographic report for 2012 (, 46,662 Cubans migrated permanently in 2012, the largest annual figure since more than 47,000 left the communist-ruled island in 1994 after what international observers dubbed the "Rafter Crisis." Over the last five years, Cubans have been emigrating at an average annual rate of more than 39,000, the report said, higher than in any other five-year period since the earliest years of the revolution. The figures are not good news for a government facing a demographic crisis similar to some developed countries where fewer young people must support a growing elderly population. The report did not break down migration by age, but it is common knowledge that many leaving the country are young and educated and a large proportion eventually wind up in the United States where they are quickly granted residency even if they entered illegally. The U.S. announcement followed the resumption of immigration talks earlier this month after a two-year suspension. The Obama administration believes the visa extension "will increase people-to-people contact, support civil society in Cuba; and enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people," a State Department spokesperson said. It would also help to further reduce the wait time for visa interview appointments at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Since 1994 when the last mass immigration wave increased tensions between the two ideological foes, on-again-off-again immigration talks have led to a more orderly, safe and legal flow of Cubans to the United States, though thousands still arrive by crossing the Mexican and Canadian borders and some still perish at sea. Over the past half century, thousands of Cubans have died trying to cross the treacherous Florida Straits in flimsy boats and homemade rafts, while hundreds of thousands more have completed the journey, many of them in the mass migrations in 1965, 1980 and 1994. The United States now accepts about 20,000 Cubans annually via legal immigration, as well as family members seeking reunification, and also takes in those who manage to reach U.S. shores without being intercepted. Under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, it turns back Cubans picked up at sea. Almost 1,300 Cubans were repatriated to Cuba in 2012 after failing to make it to U.S. soil. (Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Ken Wills)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rosa Maria Paya Interview, PART 4/4

Rosa Maria Paya Interview, PART 3/4

Rosa Maria Paya Interview, PART 2/4

Rosa Maria Paya Interview: PART 1/4

"The Economist" journalists discuss the Cuban Economy in 2013

The official word: Cuba's economic performance in 2012

A Challenge of Enormous Magnitude
Recently, the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) published a digital version of the Economic and Social Outlook for 2012, a document it publishes regularly as a preview of the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba (AEC). [1]
The first thing that stands out in the published information is the adjustment in growth figures for last year, which were previously reported in the National Assembly of People’s Power in December 2012. Once the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy at the end of the year were estimated and which – according to estimates – cost 6.9 billion pesos, [2] the GDP growth figure for 2012 was calculated at 3% as compared with the 3.1% previously announced and was lower than the projected 3.4%. [3]
There were other figures that had to be adjusted by sectors. Economic performance was negative in the agricultural sector, decreasing 1.2% during the year compared with the 2% positive growth previously announced; there was an important deceleration in manufacturing where growth dropped from 4.4% to 2.3%; and the transportation and communications sector declined from 5% to 2.8%. On the other hand, construction showed favorable growth of 18% compared with the 12.4% previously estimated, while domestic trade rose from 5.9% to 6.4%.
In general, since 2009, the Cuban economy has been growing very modestly from 1.4% in that year, 2.4% in 2010 and 2.8% in 2011 for an annual average up until 2012 of 2,4%. Except for 2010, these figures have remained slightly lower than projected. Furthermore, these results compare favorably with Latin American and the Caribbean in 2009 and 2012 but are below the regional figures in 2010 and 2011.
In any case, a balanced evaluation of the country’s economic performance cannot be made without taking into account the process of transformation that has taken place since the approval of the new economic and social policy in April 2011, which assumed profound changes in the Cuban economy and its management system, all of which also has effects on the pace of the country’s growth.
In this sense, the current performance of the Cuban economy stems from a socialist economic strategy centered on the creation of conditions for sustainable development in the medium term.
To reach this objective, it is especially important to have a process for improving the balance of payments, which in the short term, is a high priority element in the Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy. [4]
This policy calls for an updating of commitments for payment of the foreign debt as an indispensable requirement for achieving an expansion of the economy taking into account the need for a greater flow of external financial resources including greater foreign direct investment.
In pursuing these priorities we have increased foreign exchange earnings through growth of more than 100% in the value of exported goods, while imports increased by only 54% between 2009 and 2012 resulting in a decrease in the current account balance in relation to GDP of -4.2% in 2008 to an estimated -0.6% in 2012. [5]
Furthermore, we have made significance advances in revising foreign financial commitments. By 2010, an agreement had been reached for the renegotiation of 2 billion dollars in foreign debt payments. [6] Likewise, in February 2013, an agreement was reached with Russia for debt forgiveness with the old Soviet Union. [7]
All of this has made possible a strict compliance with foreign financial obligations, which should result in greater credibility at the international level. Also, in relation to this issue, it is important to emphasize that the prioritized payment of contracted obligations basically has been backed by a reduction in the nation’s expenditures. State spending dropped in relation to GDP from 78.1% in 2008 to 67.4% in 2011; the fiscal balance dropped from -6.9% to -3.8%; liquidity in the hands of the population fell from 41.5% to 38.6%; and a process of restructuring basic social services was carried out to reduce costs without affecting essential benefits.
Along with the reduction in external financial tensions, economic efficiency must be increased through greater growth in labor productivity, a process that focuses on a gradual reduction in underemployment in the state sector, increasing activities in the cooperative, private and mixed sectors, [8] while reorienting investment to favor the productive sphere. In this sense, there was an 8.1% growth in labor productivity between 2009 and 2012, but the pace was still insufficient although it was in harmony with the increase in median salary.
In this regard, it is worth noting that, as a consequence of the scarcity of financial resources, investment funds are still limited [9], and with low levels of efficiency in their management. All of which constitutes an obstacle to reaching higher levels of productivity in the midst of a process of real-wage depression that, in comparison with 1989, has still not recovered. [10]
The results that were achieved in 2012 can be said to be in line with what can be expected of a process of changes that substantially alters the economic management system of the country creating conditions for sustainable development while having to face a complex international economic situation and the consequences of the U.S. economic blockade.
This year and 2014 should see a change in the quality of state economic management with a greater level of decentralization, growth in economic efficiency and a gradual increase in worker income, which, along with an increase in the level of investment, will allow an increase in the pace of economic growth in a more favorable environment for external finances.
The challenge is clearly of enormous magnitude, but there are conditions to successfully face it.
Dr. José Luis Rodríguez is Cuba’s former economics minister and an advisor to CIEM.

[1] See “Panorama Económico y Social. Cuba 2012,” in
[2]Information from the Ministry of Economy and Planning, Granma, June 6, 2013, p. 3.
[3] See, Yaima Puig and Leticia Martínez “Economía cubana creció un 3% en 2012,” Cubadebate, 06/06/13,
[4] ”Starting with the current conditions and the foreseeable international scenario, economic policy is directed at addressing the problems of the economy by applying two kinds of solutions that require mutual consistency: short-term solutions directed at eliminating the deficit in the balance of payments, which will promote foreign earnings and import substitution and at the same time responding to the problems of greater immediate impact on economic efficiency, worker motivation and income distribution, and creating the necessary infrastructural and productive conditions to permit a transition to a higher state of development.” VI Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba “Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución,” Havana, April 18, 2011, p. 10.
[5] Cuba Country Forecast, Economist Intelligence Unit, March, 2013.
[6] Information from Marino Murillo to the National Assembly of Peoples’ Power, Granma, December 20, 2010, p. 10.
[7] See Granma, February 21, 2013, p. 2. According to Russian sources, this debt reached 35 billion dollars. “Russia to write off 35 billion of Cuba’s debt,” Pravda (English version), February 22, 2013 .

From, July 24, 2013

In memory of Osvaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, July 2013

Cuba's Economy Tzar Marino Murillo: Press conference, March 2012

Cuba still allergic to private property as reforms creep forward

Reuters, July 22, 2013 - Every Monday in the bowels of Cuba's Palace of the Revolution, a group of men and women charged with revamping the island's moribund economy meets to review progress in building what they have dubbed "a prosperous and sustainable socialism." They have their work cut out for them, as demonstrated by the recent discovery by Panama of decrepit Cuban weaponry on its way to North Korea for repair, a walk down any potholed Havana street or the Cuban government's admission that 58 percent of water pumped from reservoirs is lost to leaky pipes.

The men and women are members of a Communist Party commission charged with carrying out a 313-point, five-year plan to modernize the economy that was adopted in 2011. First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, in a recent interview with Cuban journalists, said the weekly gathering was chaired by the man he is in line to succeed, 82-year-old President Raul Castro, and reviewed "all the advances in terms of designing policy." Talk of selling the state's more than 90 percent stake in the economy is apparently not on the agenda of the Monday meetings, according to the head of the party's reform commission, Marino Murillo.

Murillo told National Assembly deputies earlier this month that those outside and inside the country who thought his commission was restoring capitalism or planning a fire sale were terribly mistaken. "You can't confuse transformation of property with modernization of its management; they are two different things," Murillo said in a two-hour speech. "It (modernization)... does allow for new actors in the non-state sector (farms, small businesses, cooperatives and joint ventures)," Murillo said.

The non-state sector, which includes employees of small businesses and many people "working for themselves," such as taxi drivers and produce vendors, currently comprises 23 percent of the 5.1 million member labor force, according to Carlos Mateu Pereira, an adviser to the minister of labor and social security. Murillo said central planning still ruled but would become more of a "regulator, not administrator" as the market was given more sway in pricing and other business decisions.

Murillo used agriculture to illustrate what he meant. He said 70 percent of the land is leased to co-operatives and small farmers while 20 percent is owned by private farmers and their cooperatives. State companies occupy 10 percent of the land. Murillo said an increasing amount of what the farms produce was being sold on the open market, about 47 percent currently, bypassing the state's wholesale trade monopoly. To those who believe modernizing the economy is moving too slowly halfway through the five-year Party plan, Cuba's president at the July parliament meeting said, "There will be no shock measures here like in Europe."

Economic growth in recent years has averaged around 2.5 percent despite reforms, compared with the 5 to 7 percent economists believe is needed for development. Achieving that will require significant foreign investment, they say. No speaker at the week-long National Assembly meeting dedicated to the economy mentioned foreign investment. None of the foreign companies managing and participating in joint ventures in Cuba, 190 at last count, own any property outright, nor do they have the right to sell shares except with the authorization of their state partner.

According to Diaz-Canel, reform is indeed a painstaking process as it moves from lifting prohibitions on personal property, travel, minor economic activity and farming, to "a crucial and defining stage" where such thorny issues as the island's dual monetary system and the inefficiency of state companies are the focus. Since the fall of the Soviet Union Cuba has had two currencies in circulation - the peso, valued at 25 to the dollar, and a dollar equivalent called the convertible peso, making accounting, budgeting and other matters extremely cumbersome.

Policies are proposed at the Monday meetings by commission subcommittees, he said, and then experiments launched to prove their efficiency, with studies to examine the impact of cutting subsidies and unleashing market forces on a society unaccustomed to living this way for the past 50 years. There are many pilot projects these days. For example, a wholesale market where farmers can buy supplies, instead of the inputs being assigned by the state, or an experiment in two provinces aimed at downsizing government.

At the same time, earlier pilot projects are now being generalized, such as the leasing of thousands of tiny state retail services to employees and larger ones to cooperatives, or allowing state companies to sell excess product on the market and keep 50 percent of their profits after taxes. "This is very much like the early days of reform in Asian communism, when the Communist Parties tried to hold on to everything and restrict all investment," a western diplomat said. "They soon learned that it wouldn't work and opened up further."

(Editing by David Adams and Cynthia Osterman)

Lawsuit seeks $12M from Dodgers’ Cuban star Yasiel Puig: "Plan to smuggle YP out of Cuba got me in big trouble!"

Follow this link to read all about it!

Cuba's 1% is not who think it is!

by Michelle Caruso-Cabrera for The Daily Beast on July 22, 2013

In most parts of the world, artists struggle to make a living. In Cuba, they're part of the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.
Cuba Art
Artist Nelson Dominguez moves a painting at his studio in Havana on September 14, 2012. (Franklin Reyes/AP)

Two quirks of fate have led to an explosion of well-paid artists on the island: an exception to the U.S. embargo on Cuban goods that allows Americans to spend money on Cuban art, and an accident of Cuban history that lets artists keep the money they earn. Dionel Delgado, 29, is emblematic of financially successful Cuban artists. His new gallery is in an apartment he just bought in a prime ground-floor location in old Havana that gets lots of tourist foot traffic. As he painted a large, lush landscape of the Cuban countryside, he told CNBC, "A big part about my work is about the landscape. The love of my country, my space, my dream space." Don't try to buy the work however—it's already sold to a Mexican gallery for $10,000. He said that, on average, he sells a painting every two months.
Thousands of Americans travel legally to Cuba every year under what the Treasury calls "people to people" licenses. Remember Jay-Z and Beyoncé's trip? On such junkets, American tourists are prohibited from buying any kind of souvenir—except for books, music, and art. As a result, as one moves through old Havana, some of the most prevalent items for sale aren't T-shirts, hats, or magnets, but paintings. In fact, the government put up a new building a few years ago expressly for art vendors. Vendors there don't have to be as successful as Delgado to make a good living. Most of the paintings for sale to tourists are $100 or less. Selling just one a month, a painter makes more than double the average Cuban, who earns only $19 in a government job.
Artists have held a special place in the Cuban economy since the early 1990s—an extremely difficult period in which the Soviet Union cut off the billions of dollars in subsidies it had supplied to Fidel Castro's government. Even food was hard to come by. During that time, the government carved out a special exemption for musicians and artists, allowing them to travel freely in and out of the country and, more importantly, to be self-employed as artists and to keep the money they made. The exemptions made them rich compared with other members of Cuban society, as well as more cosmopolitan.
Though Cuba is allowing a small private sector to exist, Ted Henken of Baruch College discusses whether the nation is really on the verge of change. Abel Barroso Arencibia, 46, who specializes in wood carvings, agrees that artists are lucky to hold a special place in the Cuban economy. Barroso is in the middle of a major renovation on his apartment. Two museums in New York—the Whitney Museum of American Art and Museum of Modern Art—hold his pieces in their collections. He has traveled all over the world, from the U.S. to Japan, and was able to do so long before other Cubans, who received that right only at the beginning of this year. Also remarkable is that the Cuban government seems willing to tolerate art that could be interpreted as critical of it. Barroso, for example, is working on a woodcut of a tablet computer. It obviously doesn't work, but the "apps" on the wooden machine are all related to emigrating from Cuba. Barroso makes many woodcuts of communication devices. He calls the work an "ironic" commentary on technology. When asked if it's a criticism of the government—given that most Cubans don't have a cellphone or access to the Internet—he responds, "How it's interpreted is up to the viewer."
Besides landscapes, Delgado has created a series of large-format paintings that depict fake magazine covers. He said he was inspired by Norman Rockwell, famous for painting real magazine covers that portray an idyllic American life. One of Delgado's magazine cover paintings shows people preparing to jump over the malecón—the famous seawall in Havana—in inner tubes. It's a scene repeated by thousands of Cubans who, desperate to leave, took to the open ocean. When asked if the painting is intended as a criticism of the government, Delgado said no, adding that "it talks about the troubles of Cuba."
"It's normal for all the Cubans to have this constant on our minds," he said. For a Cuban, the sea means "one way to take his dreams out there, the American dream," he added. "It's a reflection of ... how many people take this option, you know? For finding a way, you know?"