Doing it differently in Cuba, Florida, Europe

Dear Friend:

In Europe, they do it differently….Cuba policy, we mean.

The European Union is having a real debate about whether their regime of sanctions should be replaced by a policy of engagement, with advocates arguing that diplomacy produces results.

In Cuba, they’re doing it differently, too.

A significant reform that will raise wages, first announced last February, is now being implemented in Cuba. Under the new system, pay will be linked to performance, with Cuban officials arguing that “egalitarianism has not worked for production.”
But in Florida, some things never change.

Florida’s governor is nearing a decision to sign legislation that will make it more difficult and more expensive for travel companies to arrange trips for Cuban-Americans to visit their families on the island. And one presidential candidate is running a “get-tough” advertising campaign, trolling for votes in the Cuban-American precincts of Miami.

Here at the news summary, we’re doing it all over again! It’s another week in Cuba news….


Production based pay with no salary cap

Cuba has reformed its salary system in what the state newspaper Granma called a “new pay system for results.” Now workers in production and service areas will get paid based on the production that they are responsible for or the quality of the service they provide.

According to Carlos Mateu Pereira, the Vice Minister of Work and Social Security, the new system “will guarantee that workers earn salaries according to what they are capable of producing.” He related it to the socialist principle, where each person receives in correspondence with their contribution. He said that there has been a tendency for everyone to receive the same amount, but that egalitarianism has not worked for production. “It’s harmful to give a worker less than he deserves, it’s also harmful to give him what he doesn’t deserve,” the article said.

Under the new system, “laborers working on a pay system tied to the direct results of the production of goods and services, do not have a salary limit.” Just for meeting quotas, workers are eligible for up to 5% bonuses. The boss will determine the bonus size, but it will be based on production compared to the previous year. Employees that are not linked to direct production (managers, inspectors, technicians, specialists, human resources, etc) can receive up to a 30% bonus for increased production in their workplace. Workplaces have until August to adjust their pay systems but can implement the changes immediately if they are ready.

On February 24th, Raul Castro vowed to restructure the pay system. “It is our strategic objective today to advance in an articulate, sound and well thought out manner until the wages recover their role and everyone’s living standard corresponds directly with their legally earned incomes,” he said. The government recently increased pensions and court system employee salaries.

According to a BBC News report on purchasing power will be limited but it is a more fundamental challenge to Marxist economic orthodoxy. Even before the recent sharp rise in oil and food prices Cuba was spending billions of dollars on imports, and that bill is likely to rise sharply. Similar to structural changes in the farming sector, the new wage system is aimed at improving domestic production and services.

You can read the Granma article here (in Spanish)

You can read the BBC News article here

Provincial Communist Party Meeting

A provincial Communist Party meeting on Sunday focused on domestic food production, but party members also announced the replacement of the party’s national secretariat, discussed production based salaries and echoed Fidel Castro’s words that the Revolution could “self-destruct,” reported the Granma.

Ulises Guilarte D’ Nacimiento was named First Secretary, replacing Iván Ordaz Curbelo, who was removed from his position for committing “errors and indiscipline incompatible with his responsibilities.” Maria del Carmen Concepcion, a member of the party’s national secretariat, called on citizens to “work with urgency in order to achieve better results in the economy, mainly in food productions, and elevate saving, efficiency and the substitution of imports.”

“We resolve the problems or we ourselves will destroy the Revolution that has cost us so much blood and sweat,” she warned. In 2005 Fidel Castro also warned that the “Revolution can destroy itself, not because of the United States, but by us Cubans.”

In the same meeting, according to a report of the Spanish news agency EFE, Vice-President José Ramón Machado Ventura advised participants not to “be scared of high salaries and apply experience wherever it is possible, and especially when it translates into concrete results.” He also explained the necessity to exploit lands with efficiency and to leave volunteerism and irrational practices to the side in favor of what are more intelligent, advisable and useful.

You can read the Granma article here (in Spanish)

You can read the EFE article here (in Spanish)

EU Sanctions

The European Union is still debating whether to remove diplomatic sanctions on Cuba, El País reported. The twenty-six member countries will decide next Monday, but the preparatory debate has demonstrated that there is a clear majority in favor of a changed approach to Cuba. Countries such as Sweden and the Czech Republic oppose the complete elimination of the sanctions.

The Czech Republic has echoed the Bush administration’s claim that changes in Cuba are “cosmetic” and wants the EU to take a “dual-track” approach under which high-ranking delegations would be obliged to raise human rights and democracy concerns during any visits and to meet opposition groups.

The existence of a new government in Cuba, which in the eyes of many European diplomats stationed in Cuba, “has initiated a real dynamic of change,” and the possibility that Barack Obama could win the White House and improve relations with Cuba, favor those that are pushing for normalization. Some European diplomats argued that the “Obama effect” means that US policy today could be the opposite in 2009. “If that occurs, it’s obvious that countries that oppose normalization today will change their stance tomorrow,” affirmed European diplomats.

Spain and the other countries that favor normalization argue that maintaining frozen relations does not lead to anything, while it is dialogue that can contribute to change and improvement to the situation of political freedom in Cuba. A recent report sent from EU chiefs of mission in Havana outlines some advances in human rights – like the recent signing of UN human-rights treaties and the release of four political prisoners – and their approval of some new measures introduced by Raul Castro’s government.

In the recent summit between the European Union and Latin America, Brazil, Mexico and other Latin American countries informally expressed their opposition to the sanctions. Speaking with high level European diplomats they argued that the EU should “accompany the process of change” in Cuba.

According to a report by the Reuters news agency, the discussions come just after President Bush told leaders at the EU-U.S. summit that they should not remove the sanctions. “If the Castro administration really is different, the first way to show their difference to the world is to free the political prisoners,” he told a joint news conference with EU officials.

In May, Caleb McCarry, the so-called Cuba Transition Coordinator, visited several European countries to urge them not to end the sanctions. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez made a similar trip last week.

Many of the EU diplomats hinted that they would make decisions based on what’s best for the EU. “Sanctions could possibly be lifted… but linked with dialogue, with a review. We are working on finding the exact formula,” said one EU diplomat.

You can read the El País story here (in Spanish)

You can read the Reuters story here

World food and oil prices affect Cuba

International factors that Cuba cannot escape have hurt Cuba’s economy at a time when President Raul Castro has pledged to improve the material needs of Cuba’s citizens, reported the Reuters news agency. Soaring fuel and food import costs due to “the blind laws of the market” have forced Cuba to reduce some of the main investment projects “and further reductions will be necessary,” said Cuba’s Vice President Carlos Lage over the weekend.

Cuba imports about 50 percent of its minimum fuel and food requirements, but efforts to increase food production and the lifting of some restrictions on daily life have fueled expectations among the population that the economy will improve.

“The country spent $1.47 billion last year to import 3.423 million tonnes of food and to import the same amount this year at current prices will cost $2.554 billion, a billion dollars more,” Lage said.

“The 158,000 barrels of oil per day that we consumed last year cost $8.7 million per day and this year costs 32 percent more, or $11.6 million per day,” he said.

Domestic gasoline and food prices have remained relatively unchanged in Cuba this year due to state-control of the economy and prices, forcing the government to spend more on subsidies. At the same time recent prices for its most important export, nickel, have fallen.

You can read the Reuters story here

You can read Vice President Lage’s speech here (in Spanish)


McCain targets Cuban Americans in Florida
Republican presidential candidate John McCain has begun to target Cuban-Americans in South Florida, the Washington Post reported. The 60-second radio ad titled “Cuban Prisoners” will be aired on Radio Mambi and is voiced by Roberto Martin Perez, who was imprisoned by the Cuban government for 24 years, until his exile in 1988.

In the ad, Martin Perez relates his decades as a political prisoner in Cuba to McCain’s half decade as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “The harsh reality is that millions of my fellow Cuban citizens are prisoners in their own country,” says Martin Perez in the spot.

He then takes a shot at Senator Barack Obama’s proposed strategy of engagement and dialogue.

“John McCain knows that Raul Castro is, like his brother, a man that does almost anything to stay in power, violating the fundamental rights of Cubans… While some support a dialogue with Raul Castro, John McCain believes we should support the courageous men and women who continue to stand up for freedom in Cuba.”

The ad continues: “As someone who has survived the harsh conditions of the Vietnamese prisons, John McCain knows that freedom in Cuba won’t be achieved with concessions.”

According to a New York Times article from 1987, Roberto Martin Perez was jailed in 1959 because of his involvement in a conspiracy against Fidel Castro organized by the Dominican dictator, Leonides Trujillo. He was a police sergeant prior to 1959 and is the son of a high-ranking officer in the army of the former Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Cuba’s government accuses him of financing and giving logistic support to paramilitary organizations in Miami and being involved in various assassination plots against Fidel Castro since his release.

You can see the ad here

You can read the Washington Post story here

Cuba oil plans could put hole in U.S. embargo

Prospective oil drilling close in the Florida straits could grease the wheels for change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, the Reuters news agency reported. With gas topping $4 a gallon and environmentalists wary of non-U.S. oil companies drilling so close to the coastline, the decades-old embargo is being called into question.

“This is the first time that maintaining the embargo actually costs the United States something. And we need oil. We need it from wherever we can get it,” U.S.-Cuba Trade Association founder Kirby Jones said.

Many Republicans claim that China is drilling 60 miles off the coast of Florida. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt wrote that “even China recognizes that oil and natural gas is readily available off our shores.” According to the Miami Herald, many experts, including Jorge Piñón from the University of Miami’s Center for Hemispheric Policy, China does not hold a lease to drill offshore Florida. The Chinese have an agreement with the Cuban government to develop onshore resources, he said.

Florida Republicans remain staunchly opposed to cooperating with Cuba in prospective oil drilling. Senator Martinez told an audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that “any talk of using some fabricated Cuba-China connection as an argument to change U.S. policy has no merit.”

Cuba’s state oil company has issued exploration contracts to seven companies in India, Canada, Spain, Malaysia and Norway, but drilling has been delayed due to undisclosed factors that U.S. experts say likely include the lack of refinery capacity in Cuba as well as the possible effects of the U.S. embargo.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, who has introduced bills to lift the embargo for oil companies, cited the environmental argument as key to the current debate. “If there are going to be oil rigs off of Florida, I think most American would be more comfortable if they were U.S. oil rigs,” he said.

You can read the Reuters story here

You can read the Miami Herald story here

Dissidents in Cuba prefer Obama to McCain

Some in Cuba’s internal opposition are hoping that Senator Barack Obama triumphs over Senator John McCain in this year’s U.S. presidential contest, EFE reported.

Economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe believes a new approach from the U.S. would have a positive effect on more moderate officials and citizens. “A flexible attitude like Obama’s could encourage the reformist sectors existing within the government, in the (communist) party and in Cuban society,” the former political prisoner said.

Another prominent dissident, Vladimiro Roca, told EFE that McCain would offer nothing new. “McCain would help the hard line (in Cuba)… to maintain the approach that they are besieged by the greatest power in the world,” he said.

Another opposition figure, Manuel Cuesta Morua agreed that Obama would present a different image of the Untied States for many Cubans and force the Cuban government to react. “I think that the pressure from Obama would be much greater because the (U.S.) ’empire’ would lose visibility for the Cuban people,” he added.

You can read the translated article here

Cuban Americans rally against new travel restrictions

A group of Cuban-Americans from South Florida rallied at the Florida state Capitol yesterday against a bill that will make it a lot harder to travel between Florida and Cuba, the Miami Herald reported. The group of 120 people was made up of families, travel agents and activists who made the trip to Tallahassee to ask Governor Charlie Crist to veto the proposed law that will impose new regulations on the companies that provide travel services to Cuba. The bill, introduced by Miami representative David Rivera, will require companies authorized to provide travel services to Cuba to pay an annual registration of $2,500 and submit a deposit of $300,000.

The higher costs imposed on travel companies will, in turn, make it harder for many families to travel to Cuba to see their families. They are also concerned it will force many travel companies out of business because of the increased fees and bonding requirements.

The protesters met with Townson Fraser, Governor Crist’s top aide, and said they were able to get their point across during the meeting.

You can read the Miami Herald story here

Recommended Reading:

CUBA: A City Drinks in Change

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Until next week,

The Cuba Central Team

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