Category: Latin America
Cuban Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola
| November 19, 2014 | 8:33 pm | International, Latin America | No comments

Cuban Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola
Published 19 November 2014
Cuban Doctor Felix Baez will be sent to Geneva for treatment.

Cuban doctor Felix Baez, who was treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, tested positive for the disease and was being sent to Geneva for treatment, said officials on Tuesday.

Baez, who is a specialist in internal medicine, had a fever on Sunday and tested positive on Monday after being taken to the capital Freetown, according to news site Cubadebate. He is the first Cuban known to have contracted the disease.

World Health Organization (WHO) urged to send Baez to a university hospital in Geneva, where he would be treated by experts in infectious diseases.

“Our collaborator is being tended to by a team of British professionals with experience in treating patients who have displayed the disease and they have maintained constant communication with our brigade,” said a statement of Cuban Health Ministry.

Baez is part of the 165 Cuban doctors and nurses treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone that were deployed in the country since October, with another 53 in Liberia and 38 in Guinea.

Cuba sent a team of 256 medical staff to West Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 5,000 people in the region.

Another 205 have undergone three weeks of training, with extensive practice in using protective full-body suits, and are ready to receive an Ebola assignment.

The Cuban commitment to treating Ebola patients in West Africa has won international praise as more substantial than contributions from many wealthy countries.

The island is known for the expertise of its doctors and their great efforts in humanitarian missions. More than 50,000 Cuban medical personnel are posted in 66 countries.

In the Cuban medical culture there is popular slogan: “We do not give what we can spare. We share what we have.”

Cuban brain drain, courtesy of the USA
| November 18, 2014 | 10:19 pm | Analysis, International, Latin America, National | No comments
NYTimes: A Cuban Brain Drain, Courtesy of U.S.

Secretary of State John Kerry and the American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, have praised the work of Cuban doctors dispatched to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sent an official to a regional meeting the Cuban government convened in Havana to coordinate efforts to fight the disease. In Africa, Cuban doctors are working in American-built facilities. The epidemic has had the unexpected effect of injecting common sense into an unnecessarily poisonous relationship.

And yet, Cuban doctors serving in West Africa today could easily abandon their posts, take a taxi to the nearest American Embassy and apply for a little-known immigration program that has allowed thousands of them to defect. Those who are accepted can be on American soil within weeks, on track to becoming United States citizens.

There is much to criticize about Washington’s failed policies toward Cuba and the embargo it has imposed on the island for decades. But the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which in the last fiscal year enabled 1,278 Cubans to defect while on overseas assignments, a record number, is particularly hard to justify.

It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy.

American immigration policy should give priority to the world’s neediest refugees and persecuted people. It should not be used to exacerbate the brain drain of an adversarial nation at a time when improved relations between the two countries are a worthwhile, realistic goal.

The program was introduced through executive authority in August 2006, when Emilio González, a hard-line Cuban exile, was at the helm of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Mr. González described the labor of Cuban doctors abroad as “state-sponsored human trafficking.” At the time, the Bush administration was trying to cripple the Cuban government. Easily enabling medical personnel posted abroad to defect represented an opportunity to strike at the core of the island’s primary diplomatic tool, while embarrassing the Castro regime.

Cuba has been using its medical corps as the nation’s main source of revenue and soft power for many years. The country has one of the highest numbers of doctors per capita in the world and offers medical scholarships to hundreds of disadvantaged international students each year, and some have been from the United States. According to Cuban government figures, more than 440,000 of the island’s 11 million citizens are employed in the health sector.

Havana gets subsidized oil from Venezuela and money from several other countries in exchange for medical services. This year, according to the state-run newspaper Granma, the government expects to make $8.2 billion from its medical workers overseas. The vast majority, just under
6,000, are posted in Latin America and the Caribbean. A few thousand are in 32 African countries.

Medical professionals, like most Cubans, earn meager wages. Earlier this year, the government raised the salaries of medical workers. Doctors now earn about $60 per month, while nurses make nearly $40. Overseas postings allows these health care workers to earn significantly more. Doctors in Brazil, for example, are making about $1,200 per month.

The 256 Cuban medical professionals treating Ebola patients in West Africa are getting daily stipends of roughly $240 from the World Health Organization. José Luis Di Fabio, the head of the W.H.O. in Havana, said he was confident the doctors and nurses dispatched to Africa have gone on their own volition. “It was voluntary,” Mr. Di Fabio, an Uruguayan whose organization has overseen their deployment, said in an interview. “Some backtracked at the last minute and there was no problem.”

Some doctors who have defected say they felt the overseas tours had an implicit element of coercion and have complained that the government pockets the bulk of the money it gets for their services. But the State Department says in its latest report on human trafficking that reported coercion of Cuban medical personnel does “not appear to reflect a uniform government policy.” Even so, the Cuban government would be wise to compensate medical personnel more generously if their work overseas is to remain the island’s economic bedrock.

Last year, the Cuban government liberalized its travel policies, allowing most citizens, including dissidents, to leave the country freely. Doctors, who in the past faced stricter travel restrictions than ordinary Cubans, no longer do. Some 20,000 Cubans are allowed to immigrate to the United States yearly. In addition, those who manage to arrive here in rafts or through border crossing points are automatically authorized to stay.

The Cuban government has long regarded the medical defection program as a symbol of American duplicity. It undermines Cuba’s ability to respond to humanitarian crises and does nothing to make the government in Havana more open or democratic. As long as this incoherent policy is in place, establishing a healthier relationship between the two nations will be harder.

Many medical professionals, like a growing number of Cubans, will continue to want to move to the United States in search of new opportunities, and they have every right to do so. But inviting them to defect while on overseas tours is going too far.
Venezuela: Nicolás Maduro anuncia promulgación de cinco nuevas leyes
| November 16, 2014 | 7:27 pm | International, Latin America | No comments

The New York Times Admits US Interference in Cuba
Washington, Nov 10 (Prensa Latina) For the fifth time in less than a month, The New York Times published a long editorial on Cuba, in which it listed the countless destabilizing efforts by the United States to overthrow the Cuban government.

In an article entitled “In Cuba, Misadventures in Regime Change”, the Editorial Committee of the influential New York-based newspaper on Sunday reviewed Washington’s countless plans against national stability in Cuba since the approval of the Helms-Burton Act in 1996 to date.

The New York Times notes that these subversive plans only served as the foundation for the US government to spend 264 million dollars over the past 18 years, in an effort to instigate alleged democratic reforms on the island.

The newspaper admits that far from having achieved their goals, the initiatives were counterproductive, as those funds “have been a magnet for charlatans, swindlers and good intentions gone awry”.

“The stealthy programs have increased hostility between the two nations, provided Cuba with a trove of propaganda fodder and stymied opportunities to cooperate in areas of mutual interest,” adds the newspaper.

It accuses the US Agency for International Development (USAID) of carrying out cloak-and-dagger missions to implement illegal projects in Cuba.

The editorial notes how “spending on initiatives to oust the government surged from a few million a year to more than $20 million in 2004″, during the first years of the George W. Bush administration (2001-2009), when “most contracts were awarded, without much oversight, to newly formed Cuban-American groups”.

The New York Times explains how one of those groups invested the money “on a legally questionable global lobbying effort to persuade foreign governments to support Americaâ�Ös unpopular embargo” (blockade), which the United State has imposed on Cuba since 1962.

Another group sent loads of comic books to the American diplomatic mission in Havana, bewildering officials there, says the newspaper, adding that “the money was also used to buy food and clothes, but there was no way to track how much reached relatives of political prisoners, the intended recipients”.

According to a report published in November 2006 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “one contractor used the pro-democracy money to buy ‘a gas chain saw, computer gaming equipment and software (including Nintendo Game Boys and Sony PlayStations), a mountain bike, leather coats, cashmere sweaters, crab meat and Godiva chocolates,’ purchases he was unable to justify to auditors.”

The New York Times adds that despite the results of the GAO probe in 2006, Congress appropriated $45 million for the programs, a record amount, in 2008.

“In December 2009, Cuban authorities arrested an American subcontractor who traveled to the island five times on USAID business, posing as a tourist to smuggle communication equipment,” notes the newspaper.

After that, “senior officials at USAID and the State Department were startled by the risks being taken, and some argued that the covert programs were counterproductive and should be stopped. But Cuban-American lawmakers fought vigorously to keep them alive”, says the editorial.

“After Mr. Gross’s arrest, the aid agency stopped sending American contractors into Cuba, but it allowed its contractors to recruit Latin Americans for secret missions that were sometimes detected by the Cuban intelligence services.”

The newspaper recalls that “an investigation by The Associated Press published in April revealed a controversial program carried out during the Obama administration. Between 2009 and 2012, Creative Associates International, a Washington firm, built a rudimentary text messaging system similar to Twitter, known as ZunZuneo, Cuban slang for a hummingbird’s tweet.”

“A second AP report revealed in August that USAID had been sending young Latin Americans to Cuba to identify ‘potential social change actors,’ under the pretext of organizing gatherings like an HIV prevention workshop,” points out The New York Times.

The editorial notes that instead of stealth efforts to overthrow the government, American policy makers should find ways through coordination with the Cuban government.

“Washington should recognize that the most it can hope to accomplish is to positively influence Cuba’s evolution toward a more open society. That is more likely to come about through stronger diplomatic relations than subterfuge,” concludes The New York Times.


Modificado el ( lunes, 10 de noviembre de 2014 )
Ricardo Alarcon on NYT & the Cuban 5
| November 6, 2014 | 8:43 pm | Analysis, Cuban Five, International, Latin America | No comments

Ricardo Alarcón on NYT & the Cuban 5.
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The New York Times Breaks the Media Blockade

Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

November 6, 2014

In my article currently circulating in Nueva Réplica I regretted that the New York Times had not raised the case of Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio in its editorial last October in which the paper called for ending the US blockade against Cuba.

When I wrote it, I did not imagine that with that document, the New York paper would start an important debate, which has lasted a month and includes several editorials advocating a substantial change in the relations between the two countries. The latest one, published Sunday, November 2, proposed that the three be released and that in exchange, Cuba for humanitarian reasons would free Alan Gross who was sentenced here for participating in illegal activities to overthrow the revolutionary government.

This is a fair and reasonable position. The paper is right when it defines the release of three Cuban heroes as a vital step towards civilized coexistence between two countries that are and will always be neighbors.

It should be added to the arguments of the Times that none of the Five were accused of espionage and therefore were not “spies”. As was demonstrated at the trial in Miami, none of them had access to secret information related to the national security of the United States. Neither had been given directions to look for that kind of information. This was acknowledged under oath by Gen. James R. Clapper who was a government witness whose testimony appears on pages 13089-13235 of the trial transcript. It’s the same Clapper who today is the Director of National Intelligence in the Obama Administration.

It is also necessary to remember that the mission of the Five was to try to thwart terrorist plans against Cuba which more than once have caused death and damage also to people living in United States.

But, in any case, this editorial from the New York Times should be hailed as an event of transcendental importance. The wall of silence surrounding the case of the Five has received a devastating blow which hopefully is final.

A CubaNews translation by Walter Lippmann.


The New York Times rompe el bloqueo mediático

Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

6 noviembre 2014

En mí artículo que aparece en la Nueva Réplica actualmente circulando reproché al New York Times que no hubiese planteado el caso de Gerardo, Ramón y Antonio en su Editorial del pasado octubre en el que se pronunció por la eliminación del bloqueo norteamericano contra Cuba.

Cuando lo escribí no imaginaba que con ese documento el diario neoyorquino iniciaba un importante debate, que dura ya un mes, e incluye varios editoriales abogando por un cambio sustancial en las relaciones entre ambos países. El más reciente del domingo 2 de noviembre, propone que los tres sean liberados a cambio de que Cuba por razones humanitarias ponga en libertad a Allan Gross sancionado aquí por participar en actividades ilegales destinadas a derrocar al Gobierno revolucionario.

Se trata de una posición justa y razonable. Tiene razón el periódico cuando define la liberación de los tres Héroes cubanos como un paso indispensable para avanzar hacia la convivencia civilizada entre dos países que son y serán siempre vecinos.

Debería agregarse a los argumentos del Times que ninguno de los Cinco fue acusado de realizar espionaje y por tanto no eran “espías”. Como se demostró en el juicio de Miami ninguno de ellos accedió o buscó informaciones secretas relacionadas con la seguridad nacional de Estados Unidos. Tampoco recibieron orientaciones para buscar ese tipo de informaciones. Así lo reconoció, bajo juramento, el General James R. Clapper quien fue testigo del Gobierno y cuyo testimonio aparece entre las páginas 13089 a 13235 de las Actas Oficiales del Tribunal. Es el mismo Clapper que hoy es el Director Nacional de Inteligencia de la Administración Obama.

También es necesario recordar que la misión de los Cinco era tratar de frustrar los planes terroristas contra Cuba que más de una vez han causado muerte y daños también a personas residentes en Estados Unidos.

Pero, en todo caso, este Editorial del New York Times debe ser saludado como un hecho de importancia trascendental. El muro de silencio que rodeaba el caso de los Cinco ha recibido un golpe demoledor que ojalá sea definitivo.


Le New York Times brise le blocus médiatique

Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

Dans mon article qui paraît actuellement dans la Nueva Réplica, je déplorais que le New York Times n’ait pas évoqué le cas de Gerardo, Ramón et Antonio dans son éditorial d’octobre dernier dans lequel le journal appelait à rompre le blocus des États-Unis contre Cuba.

Quand je l’ai rédigé, je ne soupçonnais pas qu’à partir de cet article, le journal new-yorkais lancerait un important débat, lequel a duré un mois et inclus plusieurs éditoriaux préconisant un changement majeur dans les relations entre les deux pays. Le dernier, publié le dimanche 2 novembre, suggérait que les trois hommes soient libérés et qu’en échange, Cuba, pour des raisons humanitaires, libère Alan Gross condamné ici pour avoir participé à des activités illégales visant à renverser le gouvernement révolutionnaire.

C’est un point de vue honnête et équitable. Le journal a raison de considérer la libération des trois héros cubains comme une étape essentielle vers une coexistence harmonieuse entre les deux pays qui sont et seront toujours voisins.

Il faut ajouter aux arguments du NYT qu’aucun des Cinq n’a été accusé d’espionnage et qu’ils ne sont pas, de ce fait, des « espions ». Comme il l’a été prouvé au procès à Miami, aucun d’entre eux n’a eu accès à des informations secrètes liées à la sécurité nationale des États-Unis ni non plus reçu de mandat pour chercher ce type d’information. Ceci a été reconnu sous serment par le général James R. Clapper, témoin officiel du gouvernement étasunien, dont le témoignage apparaît aux pages 13089-13235 du compte rendu du procès. Clapper est aujourd’hui directeur des Services de renseignements nationaux (National Intelligence) de l’administration Obama.

Il convient également de rappeler que la mission des Cinq était de déjouer des plans terroristes contre Cuba, lesquels ont plus d’une fois entraîné des décès et des destructions, y compris aux États-Unis.

En tout état de cause, cet éditorial du New York Times devrait être salué comme un évènement d’importance capitale. Le mur de silence qui a entouré le cas des Cinq a reçu une onde de choc dévastatrice qui, espérons-le, aura été décisive.

Traduit par Anne-Marie Deraspe, assisté par Arnold August, Montréal

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson Sends Letter to Obama in Support of the Five

Readers: Please use this as a model for sending your own letters to President Obama!

From the: International Committee for the   Freedom of the Cuban 5

Lawrence Wilkerson is Distinguished Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

His last position in government was chief of staff to Colin Powell at the U.S. Department of State (2002-2005).  He served 31 years in the US Army (1966-1998).

Here is his letter to President Obama:

November 5, 2014

President Barack Obama
The White HouseFree the Cuban 5
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC  20500

Dear Mr. President,


It is time to correct an injustice that is in your power to amend. This injustice mars majorly the American system of justice, the U.S. record on human rights and, as importantly, the lives of five men whose dedication to the security of their own country against terrorist attack should be admired and respected, not punished. No doubt you have heard of these men: Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labaniño Salazar, Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, Fernando González Llort, and Rene González Sehwerert. The world knows them as The Cuban Five.


Two of these men are today out of prison, two more might be out in the far future, and one might never see the dawn of a free day.  This latter individual, Gerardo Hernández, I tried to visit-unsuccessfully-in the maximum security prison in Victorville, California.  Though I was unable to visit him, a true and trusted colleague who accompanied me, the late Saul Landau, was able to do so and reported to me that Gerardo remains as courageous and undaunted as ever yet still puzzled over the failure to act of what is supposed to be the world’s greatest democracy.


The Cuban Five suffered a gross injustice when they were arrested in 1998. After their arrests they spent 17 months in solitary confinement. Their trial took place in Miami, Florida and in 2001 they were sentenced to long prison terms. At a legal minimum, the trial through which they suffered in Miami should have been moved to another location, as change-of-venue arguments alone were not only persuasive they were overwhelming, testified to amply when the appeals court in Atlanta, voting in a three-judge panel, supported a change of venue. Later, however, this decision was reversed when the political power of George W. Bush’s administration-an administration in which I served-compelled the court, voting in its entirety to reconsider the three-judge panel’s decision and vote differently; they ratified the sentences of two of them, and the case of the other three were sent back to the court in Miami for re-sentencing. The court recognized that the guide of sentencing were wrongly applied and as a result reduced their prison terms.


But there is more, much more. In fact, there is the now-indisputable fact that the five were not guilty of the substantive charges brought against them in the first place. The politics surrounding the trial were in the hands of hard-line Cuban-Americans in Florida, as well as in the US Congress. Without their blatant interference with the course of justice, the trial never would have taken place. Moreover, these people spent taxpayer dollars to enlist journalists in Miami to write condemnatory articles, to influence the jury pool for the trial, and to predispose public opinion to a guilty verdict. This trial was a political payoff to hard-line Cuban-Americans and every person in the United States and across the world who pays attention to these matters, knows it. Indeed, you know it, Mr. President. This kangaroo-court trial is a blemish on the very fabric of America’s democracy. It sends a clear signal to all the world-who judge us not as we judge ourselves, by how we feel about issues, but by our deeds.


You, Mr. President, cannot erase this blemish; it has lingered too long and too many years have been stolen from these men’s lives by it.  But you can mitigate it, you can make it less formidable. And, vitally, you can clean the reputation of our justice system, and, in the case of Gerardo and the other two men still in prison, you can free them.


The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, in May of 2005, declared the imprisonment of the Cuban Five to be a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, placing the United States alongside some of the most heinous countries on earth. The Working Group requested that the U.S. take action to remedy the situation. You, Mr. President, can do just that.


Mr. President, you said that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” But in certain instances, that is wrong and you know it. Would you have us not look back to our Civil War? To the depredations of Black slavery that led to it? To the century-long economic slavery that followed that war? To the racism of our past-a racism that still plagues us today? I think not. And you should not deny the need to look back, review and reverse this mockery of a trial.


Take action, Mr. President. Release immediately the three remaining imprisoned members of the Cuban Five. Admit publicly the gross injustice done to all of them and elaborate the reasons. Apologize to the Cuban people and to our citizens and, most of all, to the Cuban Five and their families. Listen to “the better angels of our nature” and put the United States back on the side of justice.zzz-cuban5



Very Respectfully,


     Lawrence B. Wilkerson

Colonel, US Army (Retired)

Is Cuba turning back to capitalism?
| July 28, 2014 | 9:38 pm | Analysis, International, Latin America | No comments

Is Cuba Turning Back to Capitalism?

July 2014

By Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny

In 2011, Cuban authorities adopted bold new Guidelines (Lineamientos) to deal with Cuba’s economic problems. Modified by pubic debate and adopted by Cuba’s parliament, the Guidelines now have the force of law and are embodied in regulations. In May 2011, after a visit to Cuba, we published an article, “Whither Cuba?” in which we argued that in spite of certain similarities between the Cuban problems in 2011 and the Soviet problems in 1985 and in spite of certain similarities between the solutions pursued by Mikhail Gorbachev known as perestroika and the Cuban reforms (actualizacion, or update), the differences in the two situations and the two sets of reforms were much greater than the similarities. Therefore, little reason existed to suppose that Cuba was heading down the path that ultimately destroyed Soviet socialism.

In February 2014 we visited Cuba again. This time we interviewed or re-interviewed workers, journalists, union officials, intellectuals, and academics. These discussions along with an examination of written material have not caused us to change our conclusion, but they have deepened our appreciation of the problems Cuban faces and the challenges faced by the new reforms and the differences with Soviet history. In this essay, we will revisit the question of whether the reforms signal a return to capitalism in Cuba and add some new insights.

The Problems

By nationalizing virtually all productive property and regulating economic activity by centralized planning in place of the market, competition, exploitation, and the pursuit of profit, Cuban socialism has achieved monumental gains for working people, including economic growth, full employment, free health care and education, housing, nutrition, and a high cultural level. Socialism, however, does not automatically produce a utopia.

State ownership and centralized planning engendered their own problems. Without the fearsome discipline of the market, socialism faces problems of motivation, productivity, efficiency and the quality of goods and services. Providing all people with employment can lead to overstaffing and inefficiency. Administering a large state fairly according to rules can lead to bureaucracy, red tape and delays. Ensuring all people of the basics of a decent life can lead to rationing, lines, and limitations on the quality and variety of consumer goods. Rationing and shortages can lead to corruption and a black market. Centralized planning can lead to a lack of initiative and responsibility at the local level.

Though such problems may be inherent in the nature of socialism, they have been exacerbated by the conditions of its birth. Never has a socialist revolution had the privilege of developing freely on its own terms. No socialist country could avoid imperialist attempts to suffocate it by invasion, diplomatic isolation, economic warfare (sanctions, blockade, sabotage, and military pressure), émigré terrorism, assassination, psychological warfare, and more recently the encouragement of “democratic movements,” and the use of cyber warfare and social media. Socialist states have always had to maneuver in a hostile world, a world even more hostile after the disappearance of the socialist bloc in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe.

In dealing with its economic problems, Cuba has always faced two disadvantages that did not pertain to the Soviet Union or China.

First, aside from abundant arable land, beautiful beaches, forests and nickel ore, Cuba does not possess abundant natural resources. It has lacked gas, oil, coal, iron, tin, and most other resources. (Though recent discoveries of offshore oil reserves may address one of these deficiencies in the future.)

Secondly, it has had to endure the fifty year U.S. blockade that deprived Cuba of export and import markets and greatly added to cost of imported medicine, food , capital goods, and consumer goods. According to some estimates in half a century the blockade has cost Cuba $975 billion, and without the boycott the Cuban standard of living might well equal Western Europe.[1]

None of these problems offset the unmistakable advantages of socialism for the mass of people, and none of them doomed the socialist project. Nonetheless, they did and do require constant attention and creative solutions. Cuba has revised its socialist model several times in attempts to deal with its economic challenges. Sometimes, the new models have had to correct deficiencies engendered by earlier ones.

1. First Model, 1960-1970. In the first period of the revolution, Cuba nationalized the big foreign companies, distributed land to the landless, developed a planning system, and coped with the U.S. blockade by developing trade with socialist countries. In this period, Cuba emphasized moral incentives over material incentives and set ambitious goals for rapid industrialization to be financed by the intensive production and export of sugar.

2. A Model Like Eastern Europe, 1970-1985. In this period Cuba joined the CMEA (the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, an organization of European socialist states designed to coordinate economic activities and develop economic, technical and scientific cooperation. In this period, Cuba developed its first Five-Year Plan that stressed the production of sugar and that placed more emphasis on material incentives in the pattern of other Eastern European socialist countries.

3. Rectification, 1985-1990. In this period, Cuba attempted to rectify the mistakes of uncritically applying Soviet economic recipes to the Cuban situation. Cuba abandoned some market mechanisms it had tried and enhanced economic centralization. It also tried to diversify the economy away from sugar by developing biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, tourism and nickel production.

4. The Special Period, 1991-2010. The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe meant the sudden loss of over two-thirds of its exports and a drastic contraction of its whole economy. The economic crisis was exacerbated by the intensification of the U.S. blockade by means of the Torricelli Act (1992) and the Helms-Burton Act (1996). In response, Cuba devised a new model that enforced belt-tightening, conserved foreign exchange, turned state farms into co-ops, allowed limited private enterprise in the retail sector, allowed remittances from Cuban exiles, and stressed the rapid build-up of tourism. To ensure that the remittances and tourism would bring in desperately needed foreign exchange, Cuba instituted a dual currency system.

The Special Period proved to be a very resourceful way of countering the extremely grave crisis posed by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the intensification of the blockade. With the policies of the Special Period coupled with the help of loans from China and oil from Venezuela, Cuba managed to bring its economy and standard of living back to pre-crisis levels.

Meanwhile, however, several new economic problems emerged. First, the world economic recession of 2008 hammered Cuban export markets, and this remains a problem. Moreover, in 2007-2010, several hurricanes caused widespread destruction. On top of these problems, the Special Period policies resulted in some unintended and unwelcome consequences related to the dual currency system.

Because of the difference between the Cuban Universal Currency (CUC), (which was used by tourists and those sending remittances from abroad) and the Cuban peso was roughly 1 to 25, Cuba was able to take in much needed foreign exchange. This difference in value also made access to the CUCs extremely desirable and gave its recipients considerable advantages.

Consequently, work in restaurants, hotels, taxis, and other parts of the tourist industry with access to payment or tips in CUCs became in many cases more attractive and more lucrative than work in the professions for which people were freely educated. There was thus a demoralizing and inefficient “brain drain” from teaching and other professions to tourism.

It also contributed to inequality, the black market, and corruption. For example, since the preponderance of the two million Cuban-American living in the United States are Cubans of European or mixed-race background, the preponderance of the billions of dollars of remittances went and are going to their relatives of European or mixed-race backgrounds in Cuba. This has exacerbated racial economic differences.

The only way out of these difficulties required eliminating the dual currency. Without causing tremendous economic dislocation, the dual currency could only be eliminated gradually by increasing Cuban wages and reducing the need for foreign exchange. This in turn required increasing productivity and efficiency to make Cuban products more competitive and to reduce the need for imported energy and raw materials. It also required increasing self-sufficiency particularly in food, since Cuba spends about $1 billion annually to purchase food abroad. Similarly, recouping export markets lost in the 2008 downturn required increasing productivity and efficiency.

All of these considerations—addressing some the endemic problems of socialism and combating problems caused by the 2008 downturn as well as those generated by the Special Period—provided the impetus for the “update” reforms inaugurated in 2011. Another circumstance that makes the reforms pressing is the uncertainty of the international situation.

Because of China, the Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, and progressive, social democratic governments in Brazil, Bolivia and elsewhere, Cuba now has more friends and support abroad than in the recent past, but none of these was guaranteed to last. China’s support for fraternal socialist lands has wavered before. The Bolivarian Revolution is not consolidated. And social democratic governments come and go.

Both Fidel Castro and Raul Castro have underscored the urgency of the reform. Fidel said, “the Cuban model doesn’t work for us anymore.”[2] In December 2010, Raul Castro said, “We either rectify things, or we run out of time to continue to skirt the abyss [and] we sink.”[3]

Understanding the nature and gravity of the problems faced by Cuba is an important component of making a political assessment of the Cuban reforms. The essence of opportunism as defined by Lenin is not in making compromises or concessions to the class enemy but in making unnecessary compromises and concessions.

In our view, the crux of the problem with Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost was that that they involved unnecessary concessions to American imperialism and compromises with capitalist ideology and practices. Gorbachev’s policies were less a requirement of the objective situation than of the class interests of a petty bourgeois sector that had developed in Soviet society rooted in years of growth of the second economy.

Though the Soviet system had problems that needed to be addressed. Gorbachev’s policies involved five unnecessary policies of opportunist retreat:

*The liquidation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,
*The handover of the media to anti-socialist forces,
*The unleashing of nationalist separatism, and
*The surrender to U.S. imperialism,
*The wholesale privatizing and marketizing of the socialist economy.

Though the first four of these processes is not going on in Cuba, a certain reduction of the state’s role and a certain augmentation of private economic activity and the market is occurring.

Though the Cuban reforms today may be cheered by those connected to the Cuban second economy and by those who desire to undermine socialism, they are a response to very real problems that if unaddressed threaten the future of Cuban socialism. To the extent that the reforms are compromises with the market and capitalist ideas, they are necessary compromises. The short term goal is to eliminate the balance of payments deficit, enhance flows of external income, substitute domestic produce for imports, and increase economic efficiency, work motivation, and income. The long -term goal is to achieve food and energy self-sufficiency, the efficient use of human resources, a greater competitiveness and new forms of production.[4]

The Policies of Actualizacion

Still, the question arises: even if the Cuban reforms today are more necessary than the Gorbachev reforms of the late 1980s, are not the Cuban moves themselves similar in many ways to Gorbachev’s and do they not pose the same danger to socialism as Gorbachev’s reforms?

Many of the guidelines do bear a resemblance to Gorbachev’s policies, and these have drawn the most attention. Unquestionably, many of the guidelines aim to increase the role of the market, private enterprise and local autonomy, and hence to reduce the role of state planning, state employment, and state subsidies.

A course that increases the size of petty bourgeois interests does pose dangers. Invariably, voices will arise that want to push things faster and further toward capitalism. In the prologue to the Spanish translation of our book, Socialismo Traicionado, Ramon Labanino, one of the imprisoned Cuban Five, speaks of the need at this moment to “be alert and vigilant in order to avoid errors and weaknesses that could bring us to failure.”

Many things about the handling of the updating so far, not the least that men like Labanino are aware of the Soviet history, give confidence that Cuba can avoid the pitfalls that doomed Soviet socialism.

Most importantly, in adopting the Cuban Communist Party Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) affirmed that the government’s commitment to socialism and to preserving the livelihood, security and standard of life of the Cuban people. In the PCC’s words, the government will “continue preserving the achievements of the Revolution, such as access to medical attention, education, culture, sports, recreation, retirement pensions and social security for those who need it.”

Also, of crucial importance, the formulation and implementation of the guidelines occurred and are occurring in a process that differed widely from what happened in the Soviet Union. The Cuban “updating” emerged from a highly democratic process and the mass participation rank and file Communists and workers.

In Cuba, the development of the guidelines in 2010 through their ongoing implementation in 2014 embraced popular consultation and discussion and the building of mass consensus. The process began in December 2010 through February 2011 with discussions by the people as a whole, followed by discussions by the party in every province, and then by discussions at the Sixth PCC Congress in April. In total 163,079 meetings occurred in which 8,913,838 people participated.

These discussion modified or incorporated 68 percent of the original 291 guidelines, modified 181 others, and created 36 new guidelines. Discussion of the guidelines also occurred in the letter pages of Granma, radio phone-ins, internet blogs, and the trade unions. One observer noted: “A key point here is that the drafting of new employment law involves a process of consultation with the CTC (the Central Confederation of Trade Unions) so detailed and extensive that unions have a de facto veto.”[5]

Because of this mass involvement, the Cuban people are united and confident about the direction of the updating. The question of whether Cuba is going back to capitalism is more prevalent outside Cuba than inside. No one with whom we spoke expressed the slightest fear that the updating would hurt the interests of workers or threaten the future of socialism.

The Cuban “updating” is a multifaceted and sweeping effort that involves 291 guidelines touching nearly every corner of economic life. In another difference from Gorbachev’s approach, the Cuban reforms are almost exclusively geared to economic changes, not changes in politics, ideology, the media, and foreign policy.

Moreover, many of the guidelines are geared to peculiar Cuban conditions and have no resemblance to Gorbachev’s perestroika. For instance, some of the guidelines have to do with encouraging the cultivation of currently unused land and developing rural areas by giving unused state farmland in usufruct to those who can produce food for national consumption. Some of the guidelines have to do with a return to the socialist principle of distribution — “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work,’’— that is to say, rewarding workers for their productivity, from which the Cubans had moved away during the Special Period.

To increase productivity and efficiency, the responsibility for various national enterprises will devolve to the provinces and municipalities. These lower levels will acquire control over their own revenues and are expected to operate on the basis of financial profitability. The sugar industry for example will reduce the number of personnel and each mill will become a separate enterprise.

Decentralization involves a departure from central planning, and this can cause complications for what centralized planning remains, and it can also introduce inequalities as some localities enjoy more favorable conditions than others. Still, decentralization does not necessitate tampering with the fundamentals of socialist ownership and the provision of social needs. All socialist countries have experimented with various mixes of centralization and decentralization.

The state plans to reduce other activity including as many as a million or more jobs. The state will also eliminate workers’ cafeterias with subsidized meals or will transform them into commercial eateries. The state will limit number of months of eligibility and the size of unemployment benefits. The state also plans to eliminate the subsidized ration book for those who can afford to buy food. The idea is to do these changes in a gradual and systematic way, so that those losing state jobs find employment in an invigorated private sector.

Though the reforms involve an expansion of private enterprise and thus capitalist relations of production, the expansion is highly regulated. According to one estimate, as of 2014, 450,000 Cubans work in the private sector in farms, cooperatives and small firms.[6] As of December 2013, 78 percent of the workforce was in the public sector and 22 percent in the private sector. The goal of the updating is sixty percent in the public sector and forty percent in the private sector.[7] The private and cooperative sector will embrace almost half of the workforce by 2015. In this process, the state will lease to private individuals such enterprises as in-home restaurants (paladares) , bakeries, barber shops, beauty salons, watch, bike and auto repair shops. The state is raising the number of permissible customers for in-home restaurants from 12 to 50 and suspending taxes for a year for those paladares that employ up to 5 persons.

Market relations are expanding. People with access to foreign exchange will be able to use the tourist facilities and purchase cell phones, telephones and computers. People will be able to buy and sell automobiles, houses and apartments and to build private homes and hire private building crews.

The guidelines attempt to handle such controversial aspects as privatization and foreign investment in ways that guarantee the living standards of workers and the future of socialism.

For example, the expansion of cuentapropistas (workers on own account or the self-employed) is being done not only to absorb those displaced from state employment but also to encourage workers in the illegal second economy to become part of the legal economy.

A trade union official told us about a relative who had worked as an illegal taxi driver, where he was often arrested, paid no taxes and had no social benefits. Now as a cuentapropista he drives a cab legally, pays taxes, and receives social benefits, including eventually a pension.[8] Moreover, all of the cuentapropistas are eligible to join trade unions. The unions are devising strategies to recruit them and to offset the petty bourgeois thinking that could arise with the expansion of self-employment.

The updating seeks to expand foreign investment, beyond what was allowed by a 1997 law. Already in the plans is a new Mariel container port financed by Brazil. At the same time, the updating seeks to minimize the potentially harmful consequences of foreign investment.

For example, the law creates incentives for joint ventures. It excludes investment from Cuban exiles. It requires joint ventures and other forms of enterprise to hire labor through the state-run Cuban agencies.

It requires foreign investors to follow the labor code in terms of environmental, health and safety protections and social security. With the exception of high-level management, companies must employ Cuban citizens and residents for all positions.

Though all of these changes are breathtaking in their sweep and aspirations, Raul Castro and the PCC are implementing them cautiously with an eye to thwarting unintended consequences. At the Sixth Congress of the CPP, Castro said, “The challenge is clear: higher output levels in material production, by volume and efficiency are essential; but have to be made in the context of socialist relations of social production, socialist property relations.”[9] On the licensing of cooperatives, Castro said, “We cannot hurry in the constant approval of these cooperatives. We shall go at a suitable pace.” In 2013, Castro issued a stern warning to entrepreneurs against rushing headlong in violation of the guidelines.[10]

In a similar vein, the party has warned people not to expect the updating to lead to privatizing the economy. In 2010 the PCC declared: “In the new forms of non-state management, the concentration of ownership in legal or natural entities shall not be permitted.”[11]

In July 2013, Marino Murillo, a top economics official in the Cuban government, reinforced this idea before the National Assembly of People’s Power: It is not correct to say that in Cuba today a transformation of property into private property is taking place. Do not mistake the transformation of property for the modernization of management. They are two different things….[12]

What is being transferred into private hands is not ownership but the management of socially owned property.[13]

Clearly, the path ahead is not without danger. Referring to the Paris Commune, Karl Marx said, “World history would indeed be very easy to make, if the struggle were taken up only on condition of infallibly favorable chances.”[14] So it is with the Cuban actualizacion. The Cubans are undertaking a course with certain risks and with no infallibly favorable chances, but they are doing so gradually and cautiously with their eyes wide open and with the entire population involved. It is a course that is contradictory, but necessary. They are doing so with the understanding that, as Raul Castro said, to do nothing risks falling into the abyss.

Those in the United States who are watching the Cuban developments with intense interest and boundless hope, could give concrete aid to the Cuban updating process by redoubling the effort to free all the Cuban Five and to end the criminal U.S. blockade.

[1] Interview of Manuel Yepe, Havana, Cuba, February 18, 2014. Yepe is a former diplomat and now a journalist. As a young man he was an assistant to Che Guevara. See also: Cuba vs Bloqueo: Cuba’s Report on Resolution 65/6 of the United Nations General Assembly entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (July 2011), 54.
[2] Quoted by Anton L. Allahar and Nelson P. Valdès://, 36.
[3]<> , March 24, 2012 .
[4] Allahar and Valdès, 41.
[5] Steve Ludlam, “Cuba’s Socialist Development Strategy,” Science & Society 76, no. 1 (January 2012), 2.
[6]The Economist, Feb. 15, 2014.
[7] Interview of Marta Nunez, Havana, Cuba, February 18, 2014.
[8] Interview of Lic. Anibal Melo Infante, Department of International Relations, Centro De Trabajadores de Cuba, (CTC) Feb.17, 2014.
[9] Raul Castro, at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.
[10] “Cuba: Raul Castro Issues Stern Warning to Entrepreneurs,” Associated Press (December 21, 2013).
[11] Quoted by Allahar and Valdès, 41.
[12] .
[13] Letter, Marce Cameron, Green Left Weekly, July 1, 2012. Marce Cameron has produced a useful blog, “Cuba’s Socialist Renewal.”
[14] Marx to L. Kugelmann, April 17, 1871 in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works in Two Volumes, Vol. II, (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), 464