CUBA BRIEF: Economic crisis deepens. Castro’s protégé ordered Senator Rubio killed. Cuba spends less on healthcare despite aging population.

In this CubaBrief: 

  • Cuban economic crisis deepens, Raul Castro reneges on some reforms.

  • Raul Castro’s protégé ordered Senator Rubio killed.

  • Cuba Spends Less on Healthcare Despite the Aging of the Population.   

  • The Spurious Goals of Cuba’s ‘Free’ Health And Education

Will UM President help college student expelled by regime from Cuban school after speaking at UM?

Felix Llerena (age 20) spoke at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami in March. He was expelled from a Cuban university due to his political beliefs. The Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies distributed an urgent action appeal recently and the Center for a Free Cuba called on Dr. Julio Frenk to urge General Raul Castro to stop punishing Felix Llerena and to allow him to continue his studies. Felix Llerena said in an interview a few days ago that while he was being interrogated at a police station they arrested his mother who was insulted and threatened. He said that his mother was told that he was a traitor and a mercenary at the service of a foreign power and if Cuban peasants, angry at him, were to attack him brandishing machetes there was nothing the police could do to protect him. In addition to Dr. Frenk’s appeal, UM faculty could contact the Cuban embassy in Washington [202-797-8518] to express concern and write to General Raul Castro, Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana, Cuba urging the General to allow Felix back in school.


The Hill, August 15, 2017

Cuba’s Castro faces tough choices on the island’s fledgling economy

By John Caulfield, opinion contributor – 08/15/17

As the Trump administration rewrites the rules on Cuba’s economic sanctions, President Raul Castro and other senior officials addressed Cuba’s National Assembly on the economic challenges their country faces. Castro reviewed progress on the “lineamientos,” or guidelines on Cuban economic reforms he launched after he was elected president in 2010. The guidelines are a document of the Cuban Communist Party proposed by himself and other top party leaders to rescue the Cuban economy from the Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy imposed by former president Fidel Castro that replicated the economic system of the former Soviet Union.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of its subsidies to Cuba, the failure of that model became apparent. The election of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998 brought a new patron and delayed the inevitable abandonment of the Soviet model. As Venezuela endures its own crisis, it has cut oil shipments in half and abandoned economic joint ventures between the two countries.

The guidelines allow private Cubans to own and sell their personal residences and cars, and to become self-employed in a number of blue-collar and service jobs, but not professions. The formation of private companies was not authorized, although successful self-employed restaurant, beauty salon, and other business owners hired employees to help them. This business creation was viewed suspiciously by the party, but it was tolerated. Later, Cuba authorized the formation of “cooperatives” at former state-owned companies.

Some farmers were authorized to cultivate small plots and to sell their produce at market prices, although citizen complaints of rising prices led to the imposition of price controls. Cuba’s fledgling economic changes coincided with the easing of restrictions on travel and remittances by Cuban Americans during the Obama administration. Seeing a new source of relatively affluent customers, many self-employed Cubans positioned themselves to supply services to these new customers and prospered. The vast majority of Cubans continued to be employed directly by the Cuban government or by state-owned enterprises at salaries under $25 a month.

The authorization for the sale and purchase of personal residences in 2011 created an opportunity for Cubans to draw on the capital from their homes to start businesses, and it attracted investment from Cuban Americans in residential real estate. Although only Cuban citizens residing on the island were authorized to purchase homes, hundreds of millions of dollars flowed from Cuban Americans into the market through close relatives in Cuba who acted as the legal owners of these properties. Many of these properties were turned into private lodging businesses facilitated by Airbnb and similar services.

For decades the only route to economic security and social standing in Cuba was through the Communist Party. Even star athletes and entertainers had only modest earnings and limited housing options. Suddenly, a new class of Cubans with modest jobs or small businesses had incomes several times those of party bureaucrats. These newly affluent Cubans are exhibiting consumption patterns that make them the envy of their fellow citizens. They own personal vehicles, frequent restaurants and clubs, and have purchased and remodeled residences. This appears to have caused a backlash among the Communist Party rank and file.

In his speech to the National Assembly on July 14, Castro rebuked the restaurant owner who had branched out to operate five restaurants in Havana, own several automobiles, and frequently travel abroad. “Where did this money come from?” he demanded. Although Castro defended his reforms, calling it absurd that the state should run a three-chair barbershop, he acknowledged that he and other leaders had made mistakes.

As an example, he said the state had authorized small construction cooperatives, but suddenly these had proliferated in response to the residential real estate boom. He admonished his government to proceed cautiously with implementing economic reforms to avoid these types of problems. He also quoted from an update on the guidelines warning that “the concentration of property and material and financial wealth will not be allowed to go against the principles of our socialism.”

Ironically, in reviewing the government budget, Finance Minister Lina Pedraza pointed to the positive impact of increased revenues coming from taxes on the self-employed and private businesses, despite tax evasion. She also described the continuing drain on the budget of money-losing state enterprises due to inefficiency and corruption.

Here lies the contradiction in Cuba’s economic reforms. People are permitted to work independent of the state, as long as they do not become too successful. The generation of wealth, and the associated employment and consumption, challenges the role of the Communist Party as the ultimate arbiter of the distribution of economic benefits to the citizens. Private workers and business owners are now asking themselves what exactly constitutes “wealth.” Meanwhile, plans to expand are on hold and purchases are deferred.

A new generation of Cuban leaders will take office in 2018, following the retirement of President Castro. They will face the dilemma of allowing the private sector to grow the economy and produce revenues to support government services, or to maintain the failed state-dominated economy that cannot support the basic needs of the citizens. Either way, the Communist Party will see its total control challenged.

Permitting the private sector to grow will allow Cuba to evolve as a modern Latin American state along the lines of Chile or Uruguay. Following the increasingly unpopular Marxist-Leninist model will require an even more repressive state that will make a much more difficult transition to the 21st century. As the U.S. revises its rules on Cuba, we should be doing everything possible to support Cuba’s nascent private economy.

John Caulfield is the former chief of mission of the U.S. Special Interests Section in Havana and co-founder of the Innovadores Foundation, an American nonprofit that supports private sector technology and design entrepreneurs in Cuba.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.



National Review, August 15, 2017

The Corner The one and only.

Trouble from Latin America

by Jay Nordlinger

August 15, 2017

A little news from Latin America (affecting the United States, as so often): Some of our diplomatic personnel in Cuba have come home, because they have been physically harmed — deafened. By what? A covert sonic device, apparently. The same thing happened to some Canadian personnel. Did the Cuban government do this? If not, who did?

Washington normalized relations with Havana about two seconds ago. If Havana can be determined to have deafened our diplomats, we should cancel normalization immediately.

Indeed, these attacks would amount to an act of war.

Turn, now, to Venezuela, one of whose bigs has apparently ordered a hit on — the assassination of — Senator Marco Rubio (one of the Venezuelan regime’s most forthright critics). That is no trivial action. It amounts to a declaration of war on America. Doesn’t it? Some people, on left and right, are always accusing other people of looking for trouble. The problem is, trouble often comes looking for you, whether you like it or not. And how you respond to it makes a great deal of difference. It affects how much trouble you’ll face in the future. In other words, the event at hand is not necessarily about the event at hand — it’s about the future as well.

P.S. The Cuban government would have to be insane to attack American diplomats — and the Castro regime is not insane, but rather evil. Also, the Canadian government is exceptionally warm to the Castro regime. So who deafened these diplomats? I hope that we will know, however unwelcome the answer — that these attacks will not remain one of those mysteries, to be interpreted by John le Carré and his heirs.



14ymedio, August 14, 2017

Cuba Spends Less on Healthcare Despite the Aging of the Population

By Mario Penton Martinez

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 10 August 2017 – The Cuban population is aging at an inverse ratio to the investment required to support this share of the citizenry. Almost 20% of Cubans are over 60, and a recent government study sees aging as “the nation’s biggest demographic challenge.”

Health spending fell from 11% of GDP in 2009 to 8% in 2012, according to data from the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba. The investment in social programs affecting the elderly has been reduced since Raúl Castro initiated timid reforms in the country’s economy.

The economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago has calculated that the number of hospitals in the country has decreased by 32% since 2007, while personnel engaged in public health has fallen by 22%. Despite the steady increase in the number of elderly people in the country, there are only 20,000 places in some 300 grandparents’ homes (for day care) and 144 nursing homes.

According to sociologist Elaine Acosta, there is evidence that a significant share of Cuba’s 2,219,784 people who are over 60 “lack effective opportunities to enjoy a dignified old age.”

In addition, the expert believes that “the difficulty of social policy to anticipate and plan the resolution of problems related to old age only aggravate the crisis of care that faces Cuban society.”

In the face of what could be the end of trade with Venezuela, the aging population of the island, which has seen the purchasing power of its pensions reduced by almost 50% since 1989, is facing an unsustainable pension system in the medium term, Mesa-Lago explains.

The situation is complicated, because Raul Castro’s government eliminated many of the goods and services formerly provided ‘free,’ drastically reducing the items covered by Social Assistance, as well as the number of beneficiaries.

In 2016, 54,968 older adults received social security pensions, some 8,415 fewer than in 2011. This population segment has also been hit in recent years by the elimination of subsidies for several products in the ration book, and the resulting quadrupling of prices.

A study published by Cuba’s National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI), reports that 79% of Cuba’s elderly live in urban areas, while the remaining 21% live in rural areas. Women make up just over half of the island’s aging population, at 53%, with men accounting for 47%.

The phenomenon of aging generally occurs in societies that have achieved a high rate of human development. Among the elements that influence a country’s aging statistics are migration, fertility rate and mortality.

In the case of Cuba, life expectancy was 79.5 years in 2015, one of the highest in the Americas. However, the low level of fertility – 1.6 children per woman, closer to European figures – and a steady migration have contributed to raise the average age of the country, which in 2016 reached 40 years.

The impact of the aging of the population reaches all spheres of society and has repercussions on the economy, because an important segment of society ceases to produce and has to be sustained by an ever smaller population or workers, notable in the Cuban case. Social services face an increase in the demand for services to the elderly and there is also a direct impact on the pension system.

Relative to population, Cuba’s oldest provinces are Villa Clara, Havana and Sancti Spíritus, in which the population over 60 is 23%, 21% and 21% of the population, respectively. The youngest province on the island is Guantanamo, followed closely by Artemis and the Isle of Youth.

In the case of municipalities, the youngest are Yateras and Caimanera, both in Guantanamo province, with only 13% of the population over age 60. Those with the highest proportion of elderly are Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution municipality – the location of the headquarters of Cuba’s octogenarian rulers – where 27% of residents are over 60, followed by Placetas and Unión de Reyes, both with 25% elderly populations.

“According to estimates by the United Nations Population Division, Barbados and Cuba will be the most aged countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the immediate perspective,” the ONEI reports.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which funded part of the study, notes in its research that in 2025, 25% of the Cuban population will be over 60, a figure that will reach 33% of the population by 2050.


14ymedio, August 12, 2017

The Spurious Goals of Cuba’s ‘Free’ Health And Education

By Pedro Campos

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 12 August 2017 — The Government of the Castro brothers has always maintained that their fundamental social achievements have been “free” health and education, available to all people, which became an international calling card, to try to counter criticism of their massive, flagrant and systematic violations of the political, civil and economic rights of the Cuban people and, in passing, to seek outside influence and obtain economic benefits.

That these achievements have not been “free” is more than proven by the fact that the regime has never been able to hide that it appropriates the results of the production of all the state enterprises, the majority of the country, and it deprives employees of most of their salaries. Everyone knows that Cuba, along with Venezuela, has the lowest minimum ($10) and average ($23) monthly salaries in Latin America.

Today, although Cuba has more doctors per inhabitant than any other country in the region, the truth is that more than 50,000 of them, particularly the specialists, are carrying out “missions” abroad. In addition, the conditions and technical resources of neighborhoods clinics, polyclinics and hospitals, which serve the population, do not support stable and quality services, while appointments for exams, admittance to a hospital or surgery can come when the patient is already beyond hope.

A very different situation is presented by the clinics and special hospitals for the top leaders and for the rest of the high military and political bureaucracy that is attended in exclusive facilities, such as the clinic for Security Personnel, the CIMEQ Hospital and some floors of the Hermanos Ameijeiras National Hospital. Another privileged segment is foreigners who pay with foreign currency and who are seen at the Cira Garcia Clinic, all in Havana.

With regard to education, the material situation of primary and secondary schools and higher education institutions is deplorable; they do not have the necessary materials for an average international quality education. Due to the low salaries in the teaching profession, many educational institutions at all levels never have a complete team of teachers. Worst of all, since there is no internet access, modern education, which in most Latin American countries is based on this medium, is practically absent, with only limited availability in universities.

But most importantly, the fundamental, undeclared goals of the “free” health and education services are not to maintain a healthy and educated population capable of meeting life needs. Rather, the first goal is to try to guarantee a working population with a high technical and professional level and in good health that can be exploited in state-owned enterprises and international services, particularly medical services, which bring in foreign currency for the Cuban government. Secondly, the goal is to guarantee, through this patronage blackmail, a people who are committed to continuing to thank the “revolutionary government” for those benefits.

State-ownership, which is now predominant, until recently controlled all sources of labor and income, except for the exploitation of the approximately 20% of land in private hands. That situation has changed, but still today most of the workforce is engaged in state, military and para-state enterprises.

Nevertheless, the systematic deterioration of the health and educations services, as a result of the system’s inability to produce and manage resources, worsened since the fall of the USSR and the “socialist camp,” which aid from Venezuela is not making up for, has generated corruption and widespread discontent in the population.

Another important result of this deterioration is that the most vulnerable sectors such as the elderly, single mothers and the disabled have faced large cuts in the social assistance system, precisely because they contribute the least to the state coffers.

Such that, today, it is no longer even possible for the system to guarantee the control of a prepared and healthy labor force, to hyper-exploit in the generalized slavery frameworks of state-socialism, nor to guarantee the support of the majority of the population for the “free” services. And the state’s international goals are also affected since the countries receiving Cuban doctors are diminishing with the fall of the populist-state wave in Latin America and because, as the Cuban reality becomes better known abroad, there is more rejection.

If this is how “fundamental achievements” perform, we can imagine how the remainder do.


14ymedio, August 14, 2017

The Teachings of ‘Don Castro’

By Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 14 August 2017 — With so much secrecy, so much myth and legend, it is not even known for sure if this August 13 was the actual date of the 91st anniversary of Fidel Castro’s birth. His life was so surrounded by exaggerations and lies that even the moment he was born and the name with which he was registered are open to question.

However, beyond any doubt, the day was propitious to reflect on the legacy of the former Cuban president, an imprint that has been reduced in officialdom’s Conceptualization of the Socialist Model to “his concept of Revolution” and the stubborn “conviction that yes we can achieve victory” with our own efforts.

That concept of “Revolution” – which is presented as his political will – is so ambiguous that it can be taken both as a result obtained and as a goal to be achieved. This theoretical hodgepodge is evidence of the lack of depth of the author’s thinking and his tendency to political opportunism, which allowed him to create slogans to encapsulate different moments.

Official media reproduce such a definition as a method for achieving dissimilar goals, the final fruit of a process or a tangle of moral values lose to the commandments of good behavior. However, in the absence of the violent component – which typifies any academic definition of Revolution – lies its main failure, to which is added the absence of the class approach that could be expected from a Marxist-Leninist.

The main teaching Fidel Castro has left us, which teachers warn their students they should pay attention to because “it will be on the test,” is voluntarism. The Commander-in-Chief instilled the idea that whomever is willing to defend a position at the risk of his own and others’ deaths, becomes invincible.

It does not matter if the cause to be defended is erroneous or valid. The cardinal rule, according to this theorem, is to accept a goal with unlimited enthusiasm and persevere in its realization at whatever price necessary.

Examples are the eradication of all vestiges of private property during the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968, the 1970 sugar harvest which attempted to yield 10 million tons of sugar, the idle effort to genetically transform livestock,or the purpose of combining study with work in the forgotten Schools in the Countryside. Along with these is a long list in which we should mention the energy revolution, the municipalization of universities and the extension of the cultivation of moringa.

Intensive grazing brought to Cuba by a French scientist, construction ‘microbrigades’, consecration in scientific research centers, special programs of rabbits, geese or buffalo, the doctor for 120 families, all called by the name ‘Plan Fidel’ and many other initiatives carried the personal imprint of one who considered himself an indisputable specialist on any subject he was superficially interested in.

Nothing and no one could stop Fidel Castro, except his own indiscipline and the sudden reluctance that came over him when he discovered some new object of obsession.

A monument recently erected in Crimea to his memory says that “victory is perseverance,” a bitter reminder that Fidel Castro was the worst disciple of his own teachings. He was only consistent in the act of never admitting that he was defeated, as defined in his favorite motto: “turning the setback into victory.”

Athletes may be able to inherit their legacy to win a competition seemingly against them, but in politics and economics it is nefarious to obsess over an apparently miraculous solution.

One should not persevere in the error, is also what we learned from Fidel Castro.