CubaBrief: State Capitalism for the Castro dictatorship, communism for the Cubans. Pope Francis disappoints. Cuban Archbishop Dionisio García asks Virgin Mary to intercede for jailed Cubans.

The dollar is “back,” but was it ever really gone?

Adjustments to the internal blockade

Nora Gámez Torres in her article “Cuba to allow foreigners to invest in private businesses, will restart dollar exchanges “ published today in the Miami Herald reports on the communist regime’s latest economic repositioning.

“Facing a humanitarian crisis that threatens to set off new protests on the island, the Cuban government is taking the unprecedented step of authorizing foreign investment in its emerging private sector and will resume an official exchange market for the dollar, among 75 measures authorities said Thursday are meant to boost the country’s economic recovery. Authorities will also cut custom fees and lift restrictions on some goods travelers can bring to the island, Economy Minister and Vice President Alejandro Gil said in a National Assembly meeting on Thursday. “

One year and one month ago on June 21, 2021 the Cuban dictatorship stopped accepting cash bank deposits in dollars, claiming tighter U.S. sanctions were “restricting its ability to use greenbacks abroad, although it will still accept transfers.”

This blog expressed its skepticism at the time observing that if “Havana were awash in U.S. dollars that it cannot spend,” … “then why did the Cuban dictatorship on May 21, 2021” announce that it was closing the airport departure lounge exchange booths “that had allowed travelers to change up to $300 at the official rate of 24 Cuban pesos to the dollar — about double the black market rate inside the country.” This was an avenue for officials to get rid of those supposed excess dollars at a favorable rate of exchange.

Cuban Economist Elias Amor Bravo, of the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) in a June 11, 2021 essay “The real reason: why the regime is going against the dollar” published in Cubanet revealed that “the regime wants to control and drain the remittances in dollars received by Cubans, and divert them to GAESA, State Security and the hole in the fiscal deficit that does not stop growing.”

This is part of the internal blockade that the totalitarian dictatorship has imposed on Cubans to maintain absolute control over them. Cuba, prior to the arrival of the Castro regime in 1959, was able to feed itself from its own domestic production. Like both the Soviet Union and Mao’s China that ended with the imposition of communist centralized planning applied to agriculture. This created widespread misery that persists to the present, but also centralized control.

Havana does not allow Cuban farmers to sell their goods directly to other Cubans. They must sell it to the state company, called Acopio. The Acopio fails to pick up crops in time in Cuba, and they rot. 50% is lost before it reaches consumers.

This misery can end immediately through unilateral actions by Havana: lift the internal blockade on Cubans being able to produce and conduct business in the island, end the price gouging on food imported through monopoly regime control and sold to Cubans, and finally stop seizing and rejecting humanitarian shipments from Cubans abroad for their compatriots in the island.

There is a method to this madness. Cubans can no longer grow and sell chickens to other Cubans, but the Castro dictatorship purchases chicken at a dollar per kilo and turns around and sells it to Cubans at seven dollars per kilo. This is order of magnitude beyond what Cubans can afford with their meager earnings. Cubans in the island must appeal to their families abroad to send remittances so that they can afford to eat the chicken imported from the United States. Cubans without families in the exterior do without. Meanwhile, the dictatorship makes hundreds of millions off this arrangement. This is the perverse incentive that maintains the current arrangement.

Western Union was in business with Fincimex, an entity of the Cuban military, used an official exchange of $1 to 24 Cuban pesos, when the real exchange was about $ to 100 Cuban pesos. This means that for each 100 dollars a Cuban abroad sends to a relative in the island the Cuban military took a little over half $52.00, and the remaining $48.00 that the Cuban living on the island received was used to purchase food at the inflated prices described above that also goes to the dictatorship’s coffers.

Chicken imported from the United States continues to feed Cubans across the island.at exorbitant prices.

Today, 80% of Cuba’s food is imported, and much of it from the United States. In the first five months of 2022 the Cuban government purchased $126 million in U.S. exports.The top three U.S. exports, by tonnage, in May 2022 “were (1) Chicken and other poultry, (2) Corn, and (3) Soybeans. “

Cubans feel alone, and the lack of solidarity with those who engage in profiting off the suffering of the Cuban people to divide up profits with the Cuban military dictatorship. This was the system overseen and managed by Cuban General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja who died on July 1, 2022.

On the spiritual plane, Pope Francis has been a disappointment and Cubans around the world, including in Canada are expressing their disappointment.

However, some Cubans drew comfort from Archbishop Dionisio García of Santiago de Cuba who “asked the Virgin Mary to move the hearts of those who can determine the fate of the Cubans imprisoned for demonstrating on July 11, 2021, and that they be released from jail.” The Archbishop cited the declaration by Cuban bishops on the second day of nationwide protests in Cuba last year.

Archbishop García recalled the statement published by the Cuban bishops on July 12, 2021, the day after the demonstrations, in which they affirmed “that every person is free, with rights and duties, because he is a creature of God, made in the image and likeness of God, and that everyone has the right to express himself and give an opinion on situations that concern us all.”

In that spirit, on July 21, 2022 in a Tweet the Center for a Free Cuba invited Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to ask the Cuban government “to allow: 1) Cuban farmers to sell their produce directly to Cubans in local markets. 2) End price gouging of Cubans. (Ex: Havana buys chicken for $1/kg from U.S. Ag businesses and sells it to Cubans for over $7/kg).”

Miami Herald, July 21, 2022

Cuba to allow foreigners to invest in private businesses, will restart dollar exchanges

By Nora Gámez Torres

Updated July 21, 2022 6:07 PM

Facing a humanitarian crisis that threatens to set off new protests on the island, the Cuban government is taking the unprecedented step of authorizing foreign investment in its emerging private sector and will resume an official exchange market for the dollar, among 75 measures authorities said Thursday are meant to boost the country’s economic recovery.

Authorities will also cut custom fees and lift restrictions on some goods travelers can bring to the island, Economy Minister and Vice President Alejandro Gil said in a National Assembly meeting on Thursday.

[ Full article ]

https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article247772460.html

National Catholic Register, July 21, 2022

Archbishop Asks Virgin Mary to Intercede for Release of Jailed Cubans

The prelate made his petition to the Mother of God after Mass on July 17 in the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, patroness of the country.

The statue of the Virgin El Cobre, patroness of Cuba, is seen at the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Santiago de Cuba on Sept. 22, 2015, during Pope Francis’ apostolic journey to Cuba. (photo: Eduardo Berdejo / CNA)

CNA Staff World July 21, 2022

Archbishop Dionisio García of Santiago de Cuba asked the Virgin Mary to move the hearts of those who can determine the fate of the Cubans imprisoned for demonstrating on July 11, 2021, and that they be released from jail.

Thousands of Cubans took the streets of major cities that day demanding freedom and protesting the unprecedented scarcity of basic necessities as well as the death rate due to the regime’s poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The regime responded with a brutal crackdown, arresting many demonstrators. Trials followed with harsh prison sentences.

The prelate made his petition to the Mother of God after Mass on July 17 in the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, patroness of the country.

The archbishop recalled that, approximately a year ago, “we lifted up our prayers in a special way for the events that had happened the previous Sunday, July 11, when in many cities of our country there were demonstrations, people who wanted to express their views.”

“Like all human things, the majority were very peaceful, and, unfortunately, some were violent; some violence, violence in which many families suffered and in which a person died,” he said.

Archbishop García said that one year after those events, “that situation still has consequences. The harshest consequences are for the detainees.”

“Therefore, Mother, we beg you to move the hearts of all Cubans and of all those who have it in their power to change the situation, to take a step forward, so that all sentences are reviewed again, and so that all those who wanted to express their opinion on the situation can be released,” he said.

The archbishop said that in addition to this suffering is the migration of many Cubans who, due to the conditions in the country, have left the island.

“Added to this is also the exodus. Could it be called that? Well, each one of us experiences this situation in a different way, but many thousands of Cubans have decided to leave their country, their homeland,” he said.

Archbishop García said that these Cubans “feel that conditions don’t exist to be able to fully develop their potential; they feel that, and there are many thousands of them. And there are many thousands of separated families, and there are many thousands of elderly people who are left alone. Many families … are suffering because some have died on the journey, either at sea or by land.”

The archbishop pointed out that Cuba “is the homeland of all and for the good of all.”

“Although there are many Cubans, like [those] from so many other countries who have left, people want to live in their land, the one where they were born,” he said.

The prelate asked Cubans to make every effort “so we can all live as brothers even if we think differently, because it will never be possible to make everyone think the same way, but we can in fact think differently and respect each other. No one [is] imposing himself.”

Archbishop García recalled the statement published by the Cuban bishops on July 12, 2021, the day after the demonstrations, in which they affirmed “that every person is free, with rights and duties, because he is a creature of God, made in the image and likeness of God, and that everyone has the right to express himself and give an opinion on situations that concern us all.”

He then asked the Virgin Mary “that the necessary changes be made so that we can feel happy and safe here. The Cuban person feels that he is in his land, he feels that it belongs to him; but we Cubans need the conditions to be met.”

He prayed: “The necessary changes have to be made, they have to be made … so that we Cubans may not be enemies of one another. May all our differences be able to be resolved through dialogue and mercy and forgiveness, and never with violence and intolerance,” he prayed.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

https://www.ncregister.com/cna/archbishop-asks-virgin-mary-to-intercede-for-release-of-jailed-cubans

The Catholic Register, April 21, 2022

People in Havana shout slogans against the government July 11, 2021, after thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest a lack of food and medicine as the country was undergoing a grave economic crisis. The protests were quickly shut down. Cuban ex-pats in Canada have condemned Pope Francis, right, for not rebuking Cuban authorities for cracking down on the protests. CNS photo/Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters

Ex-pats critical of Pope Francis’ silence on Cuba

By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register

Edmonton-based Cuban Catholics Eickerman Campos and Yanet Rodriguez Herrero said the people of their birth country and fellow emigrants residing in a new homeland are feeling largely disregarded by the global community a year after protests raged in Cuba against the communist authorities. 

“At this point as Cuban Catholics, we feel like we are in a fight where we are very alone,” said Herrero. “We have asked the United Nations and the Canadian government to strongly condemn the communist dictatorship, and to stop relations that power its economy. But they are very light in their statements.

“It feels like if there will be change in Cuba, it will have to be done by Cubans ourselves.”

Economic turmoil and entrenched authoritarianism from the Communist Party of Cuba kindled a flame of revolution throughout the island country last summer. Multiple street rallies broke out on July 11, 2021 in San Antonio de los Baños near Havana and soon the protests spread like wildfire to other municipalities. 

The early days of the struggle did attract worldwide media attention. Soon marches of solidarity cropped up around the world. Campos and Herrero, who departed Cuba in 2006, engaged in many demonstrations for several months. They carried posters bearing “Libertad” — a Spanish chant for freedom. Others read “Patria y Vida,” meaning “Homeland and Life” — a symbolic rejection of the 1960 Cuban Revolution official motto “Patria o Muerte, Venceremos,” — “Homeland or death, we shall overcome.”

The Cuban protests were quickly quelled by military force, hundreds of arrests and telecommunications blackouts soon after they began, however.

Still, the Edmonton couple are not giving up on their homeland. Herrero, a University of Alberta PhD student, and her husband Campos, an architect, voraciously scour the Internet for as much on-the-ground intel as possible. They say the subjugation of the populace is unyielding. Food, fuel and electricity shortages are rampant. Law enforcement brigades sweep main roads and neighbourhoods to dissuade future protests. Suspected political dissidents are monitored on social media and sometimes summoned for exhaustive police interrogations.

Spanish non-government organization Prisoners Defenders reported at least 200 citizens disappeared without a trace in the early days of last summer’s turmoil. In the following months, over 700 people — thus far — have been imprisoned between five and 30 years. As of yet, no family member or friend of Herrero and Campos have been incarcerated. To protect their loved ones, fearful of government surveillance, they do not attempt contact.

The Catholic Register first spoke to Campos and Herrero in August 2021. During that interview they said they were “so disappointed” with the remarks Pope Francis delivered shortly after the unrest began. The Pontiff said, “I am near to the dear Cuban people” and he prayed “the Lord might help the nation build a society that is more just and more fraternal through peace, dialogue and solidarity.”

Campos criticized the statement for “being very soft,” failing to condemn the regime and not commenting “about the people who disappeared or the people who were jailed.”

It led them to reach out to multiple Canadian religious institutions for weeks last autumn, urging Church leaders to press the Pope for a proclamation outright denouncing the government.

Days before the one-year anniversary of the protest, Pope Francis was questioned about Cuba during an interview with Reuters. He said, “Cuba is a symbol, Cuba has a great history.” He also spoke of the people and leaders he had built relationships with, including Raul Castro, the president from 2011 until he stepped down in April 2021.

“Unsurprising” to Campos and Herrero, the leader of the Catholic Church did not rebuke the Communist Party of Cuba for acts of oppression.

“The Cuban Catholics in Edmonton are very disappointed in the Pope for his position,” said Campos. “He said he has a close relationship with the dictatorship that is persecuting the Cuban people who he said he is close with and loves. As a representative of God, there is something wrong there.”

Without diving into specifics, Campos said the Pope “will see from far away how disappointed we are” during the Edmonton leg of the papal visit July 24-26. He responded, “I don’t know, maybe,” when asked if they would stage a protest at one of the events open to the public.

Campos is also urging Canadians to once again renew focus on the Cuban situation and resist gifting the regime with tourism dollars. Canadians make up the largest number of tourists that visit the island nation.

“Canadians should not go for a vacation in Cuba, as their tourism dollars only strengthen the dictatorship,” said Herrero. “Tourism money does not get funneled to critical institutions such as hospitals and schools.” Instead, it will “go towards building more hotels, and fueling the police, repression and dictator.”

As for the current situation in Cuba, media outlets reported that the government anticipated protests to reignite on the anniversary date, though there has been no news on that front in world media. Still, it’s only a matter of time until a renewed push for “libertad” rises again, said Herrero.

“The economic situation is not getting any better. The only people who can emigrate have a lot of money. Inside the country, the situation is becoming like a pressure cooker. I think at any moment, at any time, we will see protests like the ones that happened last year.”

https://www.catholicregister.org/item/34613-ex-pats-critical-of-pope-francis-silence-on-cuba