In Cuba: Back to the Land, Back to the Classroom, and Back to what Socialism Means

Dear Friend:

Cuba is taking decisions now to cope with problems like the high cost of imported food and fuel – the problems of today – while it also faces challenging, long-term issues like the aging of its population and the need to provide better education and a more hopeful future for its youth.

These are the kinds of actions, large and small, that we have been covering with increasing intensity since Raúl Castro was elected president in February 2008.

· In an address last week before the National Assembly, President Raúl Castro described changes in what we might call Cuba’s social contract with its people, saying “Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income.”

· In a decree published days ago, land that is owned by the state that has been left idle is being turned over to private farmers and state cooperatives as part of Cuba’s continuing effort to boost the production of food. Praising the efforts of these small producers, President Castro also said, “These are all forms of property and production that can coexist harmoniously because none are antagonistic to socialism.”

· In an effort to revitalize public education, the government announced plans to change the pension system to allow retired teachers who want to return to the classroom to collect both their salaries and retirement benefits.

· In a strategy designed to capitalize on its energy assets, Cuba announced a three-four year plan to work with Venezuela to increase its domestic refining capacity to a goal of 350,000 bbl a day.

· In keeping with its effort to stabilize its foreign relations, Cuba announced new agreements with Mexico in the area of health care.

Some of these steps represent departures from the path that Cuba has taken since its revolution; others simply represent efforts to modernize the country and offer its people a better future.

As President Castro noted in his remarks, the chorus of carping critics in the United States continues to raise its voice calling the changes cosmetic, even though, he said, “nobody here asked for their opinion.” That may be true. But some of us who live on this side of the Florida Straits wouldn’t mind if someone in a position of responsibility in our government acknowledged that these changes are taking place, and offered Cuba the same kind of encouragement it has been receiving from our allies in the region and elsewhere. Now that would be reform, in our opinion.

This week, in Cuba news…

REFORM

“Equality is not egalitarianism”

In a speech to the National Assembly last week, President Raúl Castro warned Cubans to prepare for a “realistic” brand of communism that is economically viable and does away with excessive state subsidies designed to promote equality on the island, the Associated Press reported.

“Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income…equality is not egalitarianism,” said President Castro.

Castro reminded delegates that Cuba was not immune from the effects of high global food and oil prices and Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez warned that “inevitable adjustments and restrictions” for Cuba’s economy would need to be implemented.

Castro said that in “the matter of salaries, we’d all like to go faster, but it’s necessary for us to act with realism.” In order for everyone to be “paid according to their performance” he said that workers would need to continue working hard, theft and indiscipline would need to be controlled, subsidies would need to be analyzed and a tax system would need to be introduced.

Speaking of subsidies, Castro did not specifically mention la libreta, the ration card, but suggested strongly they would analyze the cost and effect of all subsidies. “The elimination of unwarranted handouts and excessive subsidies…and an adequate tax and contribution system so that we all contribute to support services that are provided free of charge or at highly subsidized prices,” said Castro.

Castro also advocated support for a proposal to push back gradually the retirement age by five years, to 65 for men and 60 for women warning that “by 2025 we will have about 770,000 fewer workers.” The move, which parliament will consider in December, is part of an effort to soften the blow of a disproportionately elderly work force, the AP said.

He urged retired teachers to return to their field, offering to push for legislation so they can receive salaries and continue to be paid their pensions.

Castro also took aim at the United States for constantly criticizing recent reforms in Cuba.
“Recently, each time our country has adopted a measure, some US official – whether an ambassador or the president -has called it insufficient and cosmetic, though nobody here asked for their opinion. I reiterate that we will never make even the smallest decision as a result of pressure or extortion, whatever the source: whether a powerful country or an entire continent.”

Castro will address the nation again on July 26th from Santiago, Cuba in the annual speech to commemorate the July 26, 1953 attacks on the Moncada Barracks by Fidel and Raul Castro and their followers.

You can read the English version of the speech here.

You can read the AP article here.

More land to farmers

A decree printed in Friday’s Granma announced that the state has approved turning over more idle land to private farmers and state cooperatives, reported El Universal Venezuela.

The decree says that private farmers that currently do not have land are eligible for up to 13.42 hectares, and those that already possess land are eligible for up to 40.26 hectares more. The land will be given to individuals for a period of ten years at which point they can apply to renew it. Cooperatives are eligible for 40.26 more hectares with a twenty five year lease, which is also renewable.

The text explained that for various reasons a considerable percentage of state lands is idle and that turning the lands over to producers is necessary to increase domestic food production and reduce imports. With elevated world food prices, Raúl Castro has classified food production as a national security issue and his number one priority.

The decree says that the land is “not transferable and cannot be turned over or sold to third persons, and that the beneficiary must pay a tax.” It did not elaborate on the amount of the tax or how it would be determined.

In his speech before the National Assembly, Raúl Castro argued that small farmers and cooperatives have produced efficiently and should not be viewed as a threat to socialism.

“I recognize and admire the great socialist state enterprise, and we will not renounce it. I know of many enterprises that produce efficiently. However, this in no way contradicts the role of the cooperative in its various forms and the small farmer, notable examples of which I could also cite. These are all forms of property and production that can coexist harmoniously because none are antagonistic to socialism.”

You can read the Universal article here (in Spanish)

You can read an AFP article here.

Retired teachers will receive salary plus pension to return to schools

Retired teachers who return to teaching will receive their salary and pension as Cuba’s government tries to confront the deficit of experienced educators, the Reuters news agency reported.

With the new school year starting in just a few weeks, the change was authorized in “exceptional form” by President Raúl Castro so the changes can take place immediately. They will be incorporated in the new Social Security Law to be debated at the end of the year which will also likely increase the retirement age by five years.

In a recent study by UNESCO, Cuba’s primary education system had the best results in math, science and other categories.

However, in the open debates that took place last fall to analyze problems in the country, the education system received much criticism about the lack of experienced teachers and the quality of the classes.

The Juventud Rebelde has published several investigative reports criticizing outlining deficiencies and shortages in the education system as well.

Raúl Castro requested approval of the initiative from the Council of State in his speech to the National Assembly.

“In the case of retirees, those who are still capable of offering their professionalism and experience in a classroom, we would like to propose to the Council of State that before the new school year begins in September and before the new social security law is ratified at the end of year, to provisionally and exceptionally authorize them to receive in full, upon their return, the salary assigned to that job without taking away their pensions, so that they can get the two in full.”

You can read the Reuters report here.

Cuba and Mexico continue to improve relations

Cuba and Mexico continue to work on their bilateral relations, developing cooperation in various areas including health with the visit of Mexico’s Health Minister to Havana, reported Cuba state media.

José Angel Córdova, Mexico’s Health Minister was in Cuba this week and said that relations between the two countries are “splendid,” and that he believes the two countries “can do many things together,” according to the Granma.

Relations between Cuban and Mexico deteriorated under Mexican President Vicente Fox, who recalled the Mexican Ambassador in Havana and expelled the Cuban Ambassador in Mexico. However, relations have improved between Presidents Raúl Castro and Felipe Calderon and, in March, the two countries described relations as “completely normal” and reactivated ten bilateral mechanisms that were frozen.

Thomas A. Shannon, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs testified in a hearing before the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere this week that “countries like Brazil, Uruguay and Mexico have recently improved relations with Cuba and offered Raúl Castro an alternative to Venezuela and Hugo Chavez.”

The two countries are also negotiating an immigration agreement in order to slow the increase in Cuban immigrants using Mexico as an entrance point to the United States.

According to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the trip led to negotiations for Cuba to begin buying the pentavalente vaccine from Cuba and the trade of other medicines and sanitary products. Pentavalente is the second vaccine of its type in the world and serves as an immunization against tetanus, hepatitis-B and other infections. Córdova also delivered assurances that Mexico will recognize the medical degrees of Mexicans who study in Cuba.

You can read the Jornada article here (in Spanish).

Cuba sets goal of refining 350,000 barrels per day

Cuba hopes to increase its oil refining capacity through “solidarity, integration and cooperation” with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Juventud Rebelde reported.

Yadira García Vera, Cuba’s Minister of Basic Industry, speaking at the Petrocaribe Summit, said that a three-four year project between Cuba and Venezuela to increase the refining capacity of existing facilities in the Cuban provinces of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba “is being done because oil refining is now one of the most attention-demanding topics worldwide and in the region, given the current prices of crude oil.”

The first phase of Cienfuegos refinery’s modernization was completed in December giving it a capacity of refining 65,000 barrels daily. The second stage aims to increase capacity to 150,000 barrels. The plan for the Santiago de Cuba project is to increase capacity to 50,000 barrels per day and to build a new refinery with a capacity of 150,000 barrels.

The completion of all projects would up Cuba’s total refining capacity to 350,000 barrels per day.

According to Garcia, Cuba’s capacity would be beneficial to the whole region in facing possible production increases, but also keeping in mind the “great potential for production out of the Gulf of Mexico.”

You can read the Juventud Rebelde article here.

FLORIDA’S FOREIGN POLICY

Contracting Violations with Radio and TV Marti

A new report by the Government Accountability Office found that the Office of Cuba Broadcasting has violated several rules by awarding contracts to local TV and radio stations to broadcast to Cuba, the Associated Press reported. Noncompetitive contracts were awarded to local Miami stations in 2006 even though the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau, which oversees the broadcasts, is generally not allowed to air its programs within the United States to prevent the domestic broadcast of propaganda.

The contracts were awarded around the time Cuban President Fidel Castro became ill and the Bush administration pushed for stepped up broadcasts to Cuba.

The report concluded that “IBB’s approach for awarding the Radio Mambi and TV Azteca contracts did not reflect sound business practices,” and GAO encouraged improved oversight by the IBB of the contracting process.

IBB officials explained that they did not publicly seek competitive offers because they did not believe they would get satisfactory responses from other potential providers and they feared announcements would alert the Cuban government.

They also said that they chose one of the stations, Radio Mambi, known for its virulent anti-Castro rhetoric, the AP said, because it was the station with the strongest AM signal to reach as much of Cuba as possible. However, the report found that Radio Mambi airs on the same frequency as a Cuban government-run news station in Havana and is one of the most commonly jammed stations.

“With millions of taxpayer dollars spent on these programs it is critical that they be managed with full transparency and accountability — to do otherwise opens the door to waste, fraud, and abuse,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass, who requested the review.

You can read the AP report here.

Recommended Reading:

Cubans eye U.S. elections, MSNBC

Recommended Action:

Youth Baseball Team Authorized by OFAC to Travel to Cuba is Seeking Donations

The Twin State Peregrines, a youth baseball team of 11 and 12 year-olds from New Hampshire and Vermont, received a specific license from the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to travel to Cuba for a round of games against Cuban teams.

The Baltimore Orioles traveled to Cuba to play the national team in 1999 and several amateur teams have received OFAC approval to play there in the last several years as well. The Peregrines will be the first youth team to have received approval from OFAC to travel to Cuba since the U.S. embargo on Cuba was first imposed by President Kennedy in 1963.

The team is soliciting donations to offset the cost of the trip for the players and their families, which is estimated to be more than $40,000. As of July 1st, the team had raised only about $13,000. Donations can be sent to the following address:

Hanover Baseball Association
Cuba Trip Fund
2 Freeman Rd
Hanover, NH 03755

This is a really useful development and the team needs financial support. If the facts here aren’t enough, let’s remember that Babalu Blog in June 2008 condemned the trip and said the adults who planned it were “useful idiot Little League coaches.” Just as President Nixon authorized what became known as “Ping Pong” diplomacy as a prelude to the warming of relations between the United States and China, so too will a little baseball be a good next step for cooperation and confidence building between our two countries, whether the hard-liners in Miami like it or not.

Cuba Central encourages its readers to consider making a donation to this worthwhile cause. According to the team’s website, the donations are tax-deductible.

International Trade Law News published the article about the team and its fundraising which you can read here.

DNC “listening to voters”

Last week the Democratic National Committee and Obama for America unveiled Listening to America, “a bold new initiative to involve the American people in the development of the Democratic National Platform, giving Americans the opportunity to organize and engage in Platform Meetings in all 50 states.

According to the DNC announcement, “Democrats are showing up in every state, listening to voters, and asking for their votes.” The Platform Meetings will take place in all 50 states from July 18th to July 27th and policy representatives from the Obama campaign and the DNC will be on hand.

Information about locations of platform meetings can be found at http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/listening/.

We encourage you to register and let the campaign know about what you think about Cuba policy. We have contacted the McCain campaign and we will inform you about similar events with his campaign.

Until next week,

The Cuba Central Team

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