We hope you and yours are safe and healthy.
The beloved Havana City Historian, Eusebio Leal Spengler died this morning at 77 after a long battle with cancer. For decades, he advocated for and oversaw the restoration of Old Havana, transforming the city; in 1982, he helped make Old Havana a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Eusebio will be missed in Havana and throughout the island and the world. Our sincerest condolences to his family.
This week we are continuing our interview series with Cuban experts and their reactions to the recently announced economic reform measures in Cuba. This week we are interviewing Oniel Díaz Castellanos. He is a co-founder of AUGE, a Cuban business development and communications team. Throughout his career, he has held executive positions in political organizations, state-owned companies, private companies, and international firms in the biotechnology, consultancy, and communication sectors. He has an M.A. in International Relations from Cuba’s Higher Institute of International Relations.
Before this week’s news, an interview with Cuban Oniel Díaz Castellanos
CDA: In May, AUGE, in collaboration with Cuban economist Ricardo Torres, put together a set of recommendations to support Cuba’s private sector during the pandemic. In the report, you concluded that the pandemic is the greatest threat that Cuban entrepreneurs have faced since the government authorized their activity in 2010. Moreover, the report recommended similar measures to those announced by the government two weeks ago. What was your initial reaction to the reforms announcement?
Oniel: My initial reaction was satisfaction and joy. Together with several colleagues, we have spent a lot of time since 2015 insisting on the need to undertake reforms in the directions announced by the Cuban government. Therefore, listening to the authorities talk about opening up more space for the private sector in the national economy and finally implementing several measures that had been pending approval for years makes us feel that the effort to make our voices heard has not been in vain.
However, the details of how expanding self-employment and allowing the creation of private small and medium-sized companies will be implemented are still unknown. In the coming weeks, the new regulations will surely be published and we will be able to have a much clearer vision of how profound the announced transformations will be. For now, at AUGE, we are working hard to visualize the future scenario and define how we can take advantage of what is coming.
CDA: In an interview last week, Dr. Torres noted that the lack of domestic demand and scarcity of inputs will inhibit the robust growth of the sector. What other factors may inhibit the growth of private businesses despite these proposed changes? What additional actions would you recommend?
Oniel: The truth is that these measures have taken place at the worst possible moment, during an unprecedented global crisis that is going to sink the Cuban economy much more. But on the other hand, this same crisis seems to be the decisive element for the government to mobilize to implement many of the changes that have been urgently needed for years.
The fall in remittances to Cuba, the tourist crisis that the entire world is suffering from, and the regulations still in place for the sector are difficulties that represent immense obstacles not only for the growth but for the survival of thousands of businesses. Some of them have already reopened their doors and a level of consumption is resuming, but it will take a couple of months to understand how the market is reacting.
To continue reading the full interview with Oniel Díaz Castellanos, go to the “In Cuba” section of our news brief.
Cuba experienced an increase in COVID-19 infections this week, reaching 163 active cases at the time of publication. The island seems to have contained deaths, reporting no COVID-19 related losses in almost three weeks.
CDA is seeking two fall interns! Interns work in three key areas: Policy and Advocacy; Communications and Social Media; and Nonprofit Development. The deadline to apply is August 5. Visit our website to learn more about the internship and to read reflections from past interns.
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