Monday, December 26, 2011

Retail Sector Reform

11:32 26Dec2011 RTRS-Cuba makes more reforms to retail sector

* Thousands of service outlets to be leased to workers

* In 2012, Cubans will be able to operate repair shops

* Reforms part of Cuban plans to "update" economy

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Cuba will open up more of the country's retail services to the private sector next year, allowing Cubans to operate various services such as appliance and watch repair, and locksmith and carpentry shops, official media reported on Monday.

The measures are the latest by President Raul Castro in his attempt to reinvigorate Cuba's struggling Soviet-style economy by reducing the role of the state and encouraging more private initiative.

A resolution published in the official gazette on Monday said the new reforms would take effect on Jan. 1.

Earlier this year, the Cuban government turned over some 1,500 state barbershops and beauty parlors to employees.

Former state employees now pay a monthly fee for the shop, purchase supplies, pay taxes and charge what the market will bear.

Shortly after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, all businesses in Cuba were taken over by the state. But since the former leader handed power to his brother in 2008, the policy has been openly criticized as a mistake.

Ordinary Cubans have long complained about dismal state services, including small retail services, which they say have deteriorated because of a theft of resources and a shortage of sufficient supplies from the government.

Cuba has been moving over the last year to liberalize regulations over private economic activity. Since then, tens of thousands of Cubans have taken out licenses "to work for themselves," a euphemism used by the government to describe operating mom-and-pop businesses.

Cuba plans to have 35 percent to 40 percent of the labor force working in the "non-state" sector by 2016, compared with 15 percent at the close of 2010.

Raul Castro, faced with stagnating production and mounting foreign debt, has made clear the economy must be overhauled if the socialist system he and his ailing brother Fidel installed is to survive.

Moving most retail services to the "non-state" sector is one of more than 300 reforms approved by the ruling Communist Party earlier this year to "update" the economy.

The measures aim to introduce market forces in the agriculture and retail services sectors, cut subsidies and lift restrictions on individual activity that once prohibited the sale and purchase of homes and cars.

On Monday, the Communist Party daily Granma said the moving of thousands of state retail services to a leasing arrangement would be done gradually throughout 2012.

Economy Minister Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez told a year-end session of the National Assembly last week the number of state jobs would be reduced by 170,000 next year, with 240,000 new jobs likely to be added to the "non-state" sector.

Thousands of state taxi drivers are expected to move to leasing arrangements next year. Some state food services are also expected to be allowed to form cooperatives.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Eric Beech)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Land leases extended plus inheritance rights

Cuba sweetens pot for new private farmers

WASHINGTON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - * Size of leased plots increased five fold

* Leases lengthened from 10 to 25 years

* Land and improvements may now be passed on to family

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Cuba, trying to lure people back to the land and lift food production, has modified a land lease program so that private farmers can rent more land and keep it in their family as if they owned it, farmers said over the weekend.

The measures, adopted at a recent Council of Ministers meeting and not yet announced, are the latest loosening of the doctrinaire communism that has ruled Cuban agriculture policy for decades and were hailed by farmers as a step forward.

Farmers said in telephone interviews they were told in local meetings they will be able to lease up to 165 acres(67 hectares) from the state beginning in January, compared with the current maximum of 33 acres (13 hectares) mandated in a program

begun in 2008 .

They said the leases will extend for up to 25 years, compared with the current 10 years, and can be renewed and passed on to family members and in some cases laborers.

Farmers also will be allowed for the first time to build homes on the leased land and make other improvements under a regulation that guarantees the state will reimburse them if they lose their lease.

They had complained that the small size of the plots, short leases and other restrictions hampered production.

"These measures deal with many of the problems we face and give us security in terms of our work," Anselmo Hernandez, one of 150,000 people who have leased 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of land, said from eastern Cuba.

"Twenty-five years is a life-time of work and faced with whatever problem the family will be the benefactor of what we have done," he added.

Cuba nationalized most property after the 1959 revolution and the state owns more than 70 percent of the arable land on the Caribbean island. Private farmers, using only 24 percent of the land, were responsible for 57 percent of the food produced in Cuba in 2010, a local agricultural expert said.

The expert, asking for anonymity, said the new changes "amount to the state granting land to the private sector indefinitely under the guise of leasing, and no doubt most farmers expect that well before their lease is up they will get title to it."


President Raul Castro has made agriculture the centerpiece of his efforts to reform the stagnating, Soviet-style economy in favor of more local and private initiative, but food production has increased only slightly since he replaced his brother, Fidel Castro, in 2008 and remains below 2005 levels.

The country imports a budget-busting 60 percent to 70 percent of the food it consumes and the average age of farmers and laborers is now 50 years old.

Castro has decentralized decision-making on agricultural policy, increased prices paid for produce and promised farmers more freedom to grow and sell their crops.

In November new measures were announced making it easier for farmers to get bank credits and allowing them to sell produce directly to the tourism sector, bypassing the state.

They are all part of more than 300 reforms adopted by the ruling Communist Party at an April congress to "update" the economy.

Oscar Palacios, president of the "Antonio Briones Montoto" agricultural cooperative in the central town of Florida, said the new farming measures were "of enormous importance."

"Now producers will feel much more motivated and secure that the fruit of their labor will be theirs," he said.

"They bring farmers and their families closer to the land they work. They make them feel the land is really theirs."

(Editing by Jeff Franks and Anthony Boadle)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Government to Contract to Private Sector

Cuban government to contract with private sector

* New bank rules open door to private contracting
* Measure seen as key to consolidating new private sector
* Could lead to larger businesses

By Marc Frank
HAVANA, Nov 28 (Reuters) - The Cuban government will begin contracting out some services to the private sector next year in a break from the state-dominated past aimed at helping small business develop, government insiders said on Monday.
They said food and cleaning, construction and some transportation services, all of which are currently done by government workers, were among those that would be contracted out in the future as Cuban leaders push ahead with more than 300 reforms to modernize the island's Soviet-style economy.
President Raul Castro is encouraging private sector growth to create jobs for the one million employees he hopes to slash from bloated government payrolls over the next few years. His goal is to strengthen Cuban communism to assure its future.
More than 350,000 people are now self-employed, more than double the number of two years ago, although most are small operations based in homes.
Their ability to grow has been hindered partly by a lack of capital and access to government business, which is significant because the state controls most of the economy.
But new credit and banking regulations that take effect Dec. 20 will allow small businesses for the first time to obtain loans and, along with private farmers, to open commercial accounts, a prerequisite for doing business with the state.
The measures also lift a 100 peso- (roughly $4-) cap on business between state enterprises and private individuals.
"It is very positive for the development of the non-state sector that it now has at its disposal new financial instruments that before were available only to state companies and joint ventures with foreign companies," said a local economist, requesting anonymity due to a ban on talking with foreign journalists.
"It paves the way for business between the new non-state sector and the state."
Cuba expert Phil Peters at the Lexington Institute think tank in Arlington, Virginia, said the measures, in addition to helping the private sector, should make the government more efficient and were indicative of a larger change.
"It is another sign that the socialist state is shedding longstanding prejudice against private enterprise," he said.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Farm Sales Reformed

Cuba OKs direct farm sales to tourism sector

By: The Associated Press | 11/21/11 12:20 PM

The Cuban government is authorizing farmers to sell their products directly to state-run tourist hotels and restaurants, eliminating the need to go through a government redistributor, authorities said Monday.

The measure also lets buyers and sellers negotiate their own prices, according to the Official Gazette, a government publication that disseminates new laws.

The latest in a series of economic changes pushed by President Raul Castro, it aims to "reduce losses by simplifying the links between primary production and the final consumer," according to the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

Beginning Dec. 1, independent growers, rural co-ops and state-run agribusinesses will be able to sell "agricultural products without industrial processing, rice for consumption and charcoal to hotel and restaurant establishments in the tourism sector," the Gazette said.

Payments will be collected in Cuban pesos, valued at 24 to the U.S. dollar, rather than the convertible currency, currently one-to-one with the greenback.

The measure does not authorize direct sales to the growing ranks of private restaurants and other small businesses that have mushroomed across the island as part of Castro's economic overhaul.

The government also recently legalized the sale of homes and automobiles for the first time since shortly after the 1959 revolution and is planning to slash state payrolls. Last week, the government reported a major reorganization of the sugar industry to eliminate bureaucracy.

Tourism is one of Cuba's top sources of foreign income, bringing in about $2 billion a year.

Read more at the Washington Examiner:

Ownership and Sale of Homes

Cuba's Real Estate Law Shows a Changing Island
Published November 04, 2011
| Associated Press

The lot in teeming Central Havana used to be the neighborhood eyesore: The shattered ruins of an abandoned building was a breeding ground for mosquitoes and rats before it was cleared in favor of a dreary parking lot and government-run food stand.

Today, all of that is gone. Independent sellers hawk brightly colored clothing, wristbands and earrings as salsa music booms and a line of bicycle taxi drivers forms at the gate to wait for fares among the customers.

Newly empowered entrepreneurs, long held back by the socialist government, speak excitedly of changes that will allow them to buy and sell their homes and cars, and say the emerging new Cuba is here to stay.

This week's announcement establishing a real estate market for the first time in 50 years comes just a month after a similar opening for vehicles, and it is convincing even the island's many cynics that President Raul Castro's economic reforms, after decades of false starts and false hopes, are here to stay.

"I've been an independent worker two times, once before in the 1990s," said Andres Lambreto Diaz, a 38-year-old clothing seller at the Central Havana bazaar who has seen earlier free-market openings abruptly slammed shut when Fidel Castro reversed course. "I think this time it's for real."

Many of the reforms merely acknowledge what had long been black-market realities, and they still fall short of the fundamental free-market transformations seen in other communist countries such as Vietnam and China. But collectively, the changes have loosened the government's iron grip over all aspects of the economy and touched the lives of millions of islanders.

"The recent announcement that Cubans will be able to sell and buy houses and their used cars underscores how important the changes are," said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban-born economist who teaches at the University of Denver. "This is one of the most visible economic reforms, with a direct impact on Cuban lives.

A little over a year has passed since the government declared that many more people would be allowed to go into business for themselves and even hire employees. Some of the announced changes have been delayed, must notably a plan to eliminate 500,000 government jobs, extend bank credits and allow for mid-sized cooperative companies, but the housing and automobile laws have come in on schedule.

Officials have also shown some sensitivity to popular feedback, modifying the tax code to make things easier for new entrepreneurs and repeatedly changing laws to help new private restaurants be more profitable.

That kind of flexibility has been rare during Cuba's half-century-long embrace of Marxist theory.

Agricultural reform in the 1960s redistributed land from massive farms to medium-size ones and it enjoyed moderate success before being abandoned by the government, said economist Rafael Romeu.

In the 1980s a six-year experiment with private farmers' markets was scrapped, as Fidel Castro complained that unscrupulous middlemen were buying up the food and reselling at higher prices.
Castro grudgingly allowed independent workers to begin doing business for themselves after the collapse of the Soviet Union brought Cuba to the brink of economic ruin, then taxed and regulated them nearly into extinction in the late 1990s when the worst of the crisis was over.
But Fidel is no longer in charge. His brother Raul Castro has repeatedly said that while he has no intention of scrapping Cuba's socialist model, there's no turning back from his reforms.
Analysts say the changes so far do not do enough on a macroeconomic level. For example the housing law's immediate aim is to help redistribute existing stock among the population, allowing big families crammed into tiny apartments to move into larger homes currently occupied by just a few people. But without significant improvements in investment, supplies of construction materials and incentive to make money, it's not clear that there will be much new construction to solve the underlying problem: a housing deficit estimated at between 500,000 to 1.6 million units on an island of 11 million people.

"So far there hasn't been an all-embracing change in philosophy by the government in Cuba. What they're doing is really tinkering with sectors," said Paul Hare, a lecturer in international relations at Boston University and British ambassador to Cuba from 2001-2004. "Certainly the real estate and the car laws are major changes but there will be a lot of people wondering how they follow up. There is no philosophy of 'To get rich is good,' which is the philosophy in China and Vietnam."

Other reforms that were floated are still no more than ideas, such as proposals to relax travel restrictions and create a system of credit for the private businesses. Likewise there has been little visible progress on a wholesale market to supply the entrepreneurs, though officials said from the beginning that that would take years.

"The current reforms will deliver relief and are positive, but ... these are 'low hanging mangoes,'" said Romeu, head of the Washington-based Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. "The real challenge is to deliver long-term sustainable growth."

Economists say it's not easy to right an economy that's been listing for decades. the 80-year-old Castro is walking a tightrope, eager to reform the country before it is too late, but cautious to not move so fast that the state loses control over the process, as happened in the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations.

He has said repeatedly that the country would change "without pause, but without haste."
Nonetheless, several Cuba observers said that once started, reforms tend to snowball and could spill beyond the realm of pure economics.

"The liberalization of these markets will ignite new demands for reforms," Lopez-Levy said. "In the long run, the question will be: How long can the economic genie be out of the bottle without people asking for more substantive political reform?"

Read more:

Thursday, Nov. 03, 2011
Cuba to Allow Sale of Real Estate

(HAVANA) — Cuba announced Thursday it will allow real estate to be bought and sold for the first time since the early days of the revolution, the most important reform yet in a series of free-market changes under President Raul Castro.

The law, which takes effect Nov. 10, applies to citizens living in Cuba and permanent residents only, according to a red-letter headline on the front page of Thursday's Communist Party daily Granma and details published in the government's Official Gazette. (See TIME's video: "Eyeing a Cuba Travel-Policy Shift.")

The law limits Cubans to owning one home in the city and another in the country, an effort to prevent the accumulation of large real estate holdings. It requires that all real estate transactions be made through Cuban bank accounts so that they can be better regulated, and says the transactions will be subject to bank commissions.

Sales will also be subject to an 8 percent tax on the assessed value of the property, paid equally by buyer and seller. In the case where Cubans exchange homes of equal value in a barter agreement, each side will pay 4 percent of the value of their home. "This is a very big step forward. With this action the state is granting property rights that didn't exist before," said Philip J. Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia. "If you think about it from the point of view of a Cuban family, it converts their house from a place to live into a source of wealth or a source of collateral. It's an asset that can now be made liquid."

While the Gazette was available online, few Cubans have access to the Internet and most were waiting for the booklet to go on sale at kiosks around the country. A handwritten sign posted at Havana's main distribution center Thursday advised that the law booklet was not yet on sale.

On the streets of Havana, residents said they were thrilled by the news but anxious to see the fine print. "This is going to help me because I have some money and now I will be able to buy a better house," said Oscar Palacios Delgado, a 68-year-old office maintenance worker, adding he hoped the government would enact other changes to make it easier for Cubans to find building materials for home repairs. "This law will benefit many Cubans."

Cuban exiles will not be allowed to purchase property on the island since they are not residents. Still, they will be able to send money to help relatives buy new homes, and there was speculation some might try to buy homes themselves through frontmen, something the government would likely try to prevent.

The change follows October's legalization of buying and selling cars, though with restrictions that still make it hard for ordinary Cubans to buy new vehicles.

Castro has also allowed citizens to go into business for themselves in a number of approved jobs — everything from party clowns to food vendors to accountants — and has pledged to streamline the state-dominated economy by eliminating half a million government workers.

Cuba's government employs more than 80 percent of the workers in the island's command economy, paying wages of just $20 a month in return for free education and health care, and nearly free housing, transportation and basic foods. Castro has said repeatedly that the system is not working since taking over from his brother Fidel in 2008, but he has vowed that Cuba will remain a socialist state. (See TIME's Cuba covers.)

Cubans have long bemoaned the ban on property sales, which took effect in stages over the first years after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. In an effort to fight absentee ownership by wealthy landlords, Fidel enacted a reform that gave title to whoever lived in a home. Most who left the island forfeited their properties to the state.

Since no property market was allowed, the rules have meant that for decades Cubans could only exchange property through complicated barter arrangements, or through even murkier black-market deals where thousands of dollars change hands under the table, with no legal recourse if transactions go bad.

Some Cubans entered into sham marriages to make deed transfers easier. Others made deals to move into homes ostensibly to care for an elderly person living there, only to inherit the property when the person died.

The island's crumbling housing stock has meant that many are forced to live in overcrowded apartments with multiple generations crammed into a few rooms. Even divorce hasn't necessarily meant separation in Cuba, where estranged couples have often been forced to live together for years while they worked out alternative housing.

According to the Gazette, the new law will eliminate the need for approval from a state housing agency, meaning that from now on sales and exchanges will only need the seal of a notary.

Cubans will also now be allowed to inherit property from relatives without having to live in it first, and they will be able to take title of property of relatives or others who emigrate. Previously, such properties could be seized by the state.

Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez and Peter Orsi contributed to this report.,8599,2098614,00.html

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Reforms proceed: Loans for Self Employed, Brazilian Building Materials

* Loans to provide much-needed capital to self-employed

* Latest reform in government effort to modernize economy

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Cuba's growing number of self-employed may get bank loans starting next month as the government tries to inject capital into efforts to reform the island's communist economy, according to a decree published on Thursday.

The new regulations, put out in Cuba's Official Gazette, create a loan program that goes into effect on Dec. 20 and also will be available to small farmers and those who want to improve or construct their own homes.

The intent is to "stimulate national production of generators of foreign exchange or import substitutes," said Communist Party newspaper Granma.

Credits for farmers and home projects have been available previously but are new for the self-employed, a sector the government is trying to stimulate for the first time since the difficult economic times of the 1990s.

A recent media report said there are now 364,000 self-employed in Cuba, more than twice the number two years ago, but most are engaged in low-level street sales of food and items such as toys, pirated DVDs and plumbing supplies.

Lack of capital has been one factor preventing them from improving their business and dissuaded others from getting started.

"I've been waiting for this new credit system to have the opportunity to open a small place offering fast foods," said Eugenio Sanchez, as he read the news in Granma.

The loan program is one of 300 reforms approved by the ruling Communist Party in April with the goal of strengthening Cuban communism to assure its future.

It gives heft to state support of the self-employed, known in Cuba as "cuenta propistas," who have become critical to President Raul Castro's campaign to restore the country's debt-ridden economic modeled on the old Soviet Union.

He wants to cut a million workers from the bloated payrolls of the state, which controls most of the economy and employs most of the workforce.

But he needs jobs for them to go to and therefore is encouraging private job creation.

It remains to be seen how much impact the program will have because it will be administered by Cuba's state-owned banks, which are widely viewed as inefficient.

The decree requires that the self-employed take out loans of at least 3,000 Cuban pesos, equivalent to $125, with lower limits for farmers and home projects.

Cuban seeking loans will be evaluated by the banks for how much money they should receive and can be expected to pay back, Granma said.

In recent weeks, the pace of implementing the reforms approved in April has picked up, including recent decrees liberalizing the buying and selling of cars and houses for the first time in five decades.

Brazilian home improvement chain TendTudo plans to open in Cuba because the reforms there that permit the buying and selling of homes for the first time in decades may mean a strong market for its products.

Brazilian retailer takes first steps into Cuba
Wed Nov 23, 2011 7:10pm EST

* Company will export building materials to Cuba

* Reforms expected to increase Cuban demand

By Esteban Israel

SAO PAULO, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Brazilian retail chain TendTudo, which sells home improvement products and construction materials, has taken the first steps into what it believes could be a $400 million a year market in communist Cuba.

The company recently signed a contract to start supplying in the first half of 2012 a Havana store for Cuban state company Palco, modeled on TendTudo's "home center" stores in Brazil though much smaller.

TendTudo's interest in part lies in the prospect of a strengthening market for its products after a recent reform by the Cuban government to allow the buying and selling of homes for the first time in decades, said Carlos Christensen, president of TendTudo's international unit.

"Cuba has an important demand for tools, construction materials and articles for the home," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"There are important challenges but for us it's a long-term objective. The idea is to start small and go accompanying the changes in the Cuban market," he said.

Cuba, a country of 11 million people, is in the midst of reforms liberalizing its troubled Soviet-style economy with the goal of assuring the survival of the communist system put in place after the 1959 Cuban revolution.

The housing reform is expected to increase demand for building materials, not only because the country has a housing shortage of more than 600,000 units but because so many of the existing homes are in bad shape after years of economic crisis and neglect.

Christensen believes that purchases just by the Cuban state, which controls 90 percent of the island's economy, would exceed $400 million annually for the electrical supplies, tools, paint, bathroom fixtures, tiles and myriad other products TendTudo sells.

Cuba's retail sector is still off-limits to private companies, but its opening would add to the island's potential, he said.

"But what happens if we establish ourselves there with a long-term vision, first looking at the corporate sector and then eventually the retail sector?" Christensen said. "The challenges are important but we are patient." (Reporting by Esteban Israel; Editing by Jeff Franks and Christopher Wilson)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Espacio Laical Editorial Urging Party to Consider Substantial Change

Digital supplement No. 153/ November 2011

Editorial: Rectify the Course

For many years now the Cuban people have demanded substantial changes that would make life more prosperous and balanced. In this sense, the country has expected much of its authorities and has been quite generous. However, although there have been important changes, like the disbursement of land, the establishment of self employment, and the recent reforms related to the sale of automobiles and housing, the people feel like nothing significant has happened, capable of renewing livelihood and extinguishing hopelessness.

Important economic, social, political, spiritual, and even symbolic changes are lacking in Cuba. Such reforms, logically, must be done in an orderly way, which requires a degree of gradualism. However, we cannot give ourselves the luxury of confusing such gradualism with a lack of clarity and swiftness. The transformations must be orderly, unhurried, but without pause, that is, step-by-step without losing control, as urgently and a comprehensively as possible. It would be a shame for the current generations of Cubans to have to suffer the pain of seeing their aspirations truncated by a lack of opportunities for living a full life.

We reiterate: reforms have been made and we expect there are more to come. But so far the most important one is missing: the recasting of citizenship. It is essential that all Cubans can, and want, to participate in the promotion of proposals for national change, in the debate surrounding them, in the approval of those brought forth by consensus, and in the execution of the policies intended to implement them. In this way, change will be built upon the renewal of our social pact, and both (the pact as well as the overall changes) will be founded in citizen participation, in popular sovereignty.

Exercising said citizenship, we wish to emphasize that certain adjustments cannot wait. Among those are the institutionalization of all kinds of cooperatives as well as small and medium size businesses, along with everything that implies in terms of the market, infrastructure, and finances; and authorization for self employment in professional fields. These measures would be very effective in accelerating creativity and growth of production and services. However, this will not be enough. It will still be necessary to promote the participation of civil society by recognizing the autonomy of social organizations as well as by opening up the mass media to the nation's diverse opinions. We need to restructure the mechanisms of popular power so that each one of the institutions of public power possesses the authority that corresponds to it and so that the sovereignty of the country radiates out to the people in an increasingly effective way. The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) needs to be renovated and its relationship to society, the State, and the government redefined.

Many Cubans have expected, with demonstrated patience and certain confidence, that such measures along with the institutionalization of citizen participation and social dialogue will be announced. However, symbolic moments that could've launched -with the necessary intensity-a process of this nature have passed by without the expected changes. Historic dates that could've served to call for a reorientation of the nation's course have slipped by, such as the 26th of July celebrations or the Party Congress, where important but limited proposals for change were approved. Currently the First National Conference of the Cuban Communist Party is being organized to be held in January. A significant segment of society has great expectations for this event. But the publication of the Base Document, which is intended to orient the preparatory and the Conference discussions, have left those with hope of renewal a bit concerned.

The Base Document lacks numerous topics that the people had hoped to see on the agenda. On the contrary, it reveals a Party attached to dogmas that have failed on other occasions and clinging to a very vertical relationship with society. In Cuba, in order for any reform to become reality, political innovation is needed, and that will not happen if it doesn't begin with the CCP -the organization responsible for leading the changes that we want to see. Without a political will that demonstrates a commitment to building true national consensus, no reform can be successful, even if it is borne of the conviction of the highest authorities of government.

We urge the so-called historical generation to not miss their last opportunity, presented by the First National Conference of the CCP, to support substantial changes and to summons the people to carry them out. It would be disadvantageous to put the hope for important changes on hold and let time pass leaving it to others, in the future, to carry them out.

(Unofficial translation by Dawn Gable)

Suplemento Digital No.153 / Noviembre 2011
Rectificar el rumbo

Desde hace años la sociedad cubana demanda grandes cambios que puedan hacer más prospera y equilibrada la vida nacional. En ese sentido, el país ha esperado mucho de las autoridades, con bastante generosidad. No obstante -aunque se han logrado cambios importantes, como la entrega de tierra y el establecimiento del cuentapropismo, así como las recientes reformas relacionadas con el traspaso de propiedad de los automóviles y las viviendas-, el pueblo siente que no ocurre algo grande, capaz de renovar la vida y desterrar la desesperanza.

En Cuba hacen falta importantes cambios económicos, sociales, políticos, espirituales y hasta simbólicos. Estas reformas, como es lógico, tendrán que ser ordenadas y esto exige de cierta gradualidad. Sin embargo, no podemos darnos el lujo de confundir tal gradualidad con falta de claridad y de celeridad. Las transformaciones deberán ser ordenadas, sin prisa pero sin pausa, o sea, paso a paso y sin perderse el orden, pero con el mayor apremio y hacia la mayor integralidad posible. Sería penoso que las actuales generaciones de cubanos tuvieran que sufrir el dolor de ver sus aspiraciones truncadas por la falta de oportunidades para acceder a una vida plena.

Reiteramos, se han hecho reformas, y suponemos que se efectuarán otras, pero hasta ahora falta la más importante: la refundación de la ciudadanía. Se hace imprescindible que todos los cubanos puedan –y quieran- participar en la promoción de propuestas de cambios nacionales, en el debate sobre los mismos, en la aprobación de los que resulten consensuados y en la ejecución de las políticas que pretendan concretarlos. De esta manera, el cambio se estructuraría sobre la base de la renovación de nuestro pacto social y ambas realidades (tanto el pacto social como el cambio en todos los ámbitos) se fundamentarían en el desempeño de la ciudadanía, en la soberanía popular.

Haciendo ejercicio de dicha ciudadanía, deseamos exponer que ciertos ajustes no deben esperar. Entre ellos se encuentran la institucionalización de las cooperativas de todo tipo, así como la pequeña y la mediana empresa, con lo que esto implica en materia de mercado, de infraestructura y de finanzas; y la autorización para el desempeño autónomo de las profesiones. Estas medidas serían muy efectivas para acelerar la creatividad y el crecimiento de la producción y de los servicios. Sin embargo, con esto no bastaría. Haría falta también promover el desempeño de la sociedad civil y para ello se hace necesario conseguir la autonomía de las organizaciones sociales, así como la apertura definitiva de nuestros medios masivos de comunicación a la diversidad de criterios de la nación. Requerimos de una reestructuración de los mecanismos del poder popular, para que cada una de las instituciones del poder público posea la autoridad que le corresponda y radique en el pueblo, de forma cada vez más efectiva, la soberanía del país; así como la renovación del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) y el replanteamiento de su relación con la sociedad, el Estado y el gobierno.

Muchísimos cubanos han esperado, con demostrada paciencia y cierta confianza, que sean anunciadas mediadas como estas y que se convoque a institucionalizar la participación ciudadana y el diálogo social. No obstante, han ido pasando los momentos simbólicos que hubieran podido desatar –con la intensidad requerida- un proceso de esta índole, sin que ocurra lo esperado. Han quedado atrás fechas que históricamente sirvieron para convocar al pueblo a reorientar el camino nacional, como por ejemplo las celebraciones por el 26 de julio y VI Congreso del PCC, que aprobó importantes pero limitadas propuestas de cambios. Ahora se organiza la Primera Conferencia Nacional del PCC, que deberá celebrarse el próximo mes de enero. Grandes han sido las expectativas de un sector significativo de la sociedad en relación con este evento, pero la publicación del Documento Base, que pretende orientar las discusiones preparatorias del encuentro y las de la Conferencia misma, han dejado preocupados a muchos que poseían alguna esperanza de renovación.

En dicho Documento Base faltan innumerables temas que el pueblo esperaba que aparecieran en la agenda del evento. Por otro lado, presenta a un PCC apegado a dogmas fracasados en otras experiencias, y aferrado a una relación muy vertical con la sociedad. En Cuba, cualquier reforma que aspire a trascender tiene que pasar por la innovación política, y esta última no ocurrirá si no comienza por el PCC, organización llamada a liderar los cambios que hemos de realizar. Sin una fuerza política que despliegue el quehacer de construir consensos a partir del país real, no hay reforma que pueda tener éxito, aunque la misma sea una convicción de las más altas autoridades del gobierno.

Instamos a que la Primera Conferencia Nacional del PCC, último momento de la llamada generación histórica para aportar cambios sustanciales y convocar al pueblo a realizarlos, no pierda esta oportunidad. Sería inconveniente contener la esperanza en los grandes cambios y dejar pasar el tiempo para que otros, más adelante, sean quienes los lleven a cabo.

La revista Espacio Laical puede ser vista en
o adquirida en la Casa Laical, sita en Teniente Rey #152 (tercer piso) e/ Bernaza y Villegas, La Habana Vieja.

Equipo de redacción: José Ramón Pérez, Roberto Veiga, Lenier González y Alexis Pestano.// Diseño: Ballate

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Co-ops to engage in food distribution

In a partial step to unclog the food distribution bottleneck in Cuba, the government is preparing cooperatives to participate in an activity that has been a state monopoly for more than four decades, according to a Cuban expert on cooperatives.

The expansion of cooperatives beyond farming, into food distribution, gastronomic services, transportation, production of construction materials, art, trades and fishing is in a phase of “analysis, planning and training,” Alberto Rivera Rodríguez, an economist and director of a center for the study of cooperatives at the University of Pinar del Río, told Prensa Latina. ”Currently, we are creating the necessary framework.”

As part of a large economic reform package, the Communist Party Congress in April decided the government ought to promote the expansion of member-owned cooperatives beyond agriculture, but no framework regulations have been published yet. Under the outline of reform agreed by the Party, “secondary cooperatives” — subsidiaries of member-owned primary cooperatives — will be allowed to perform activities related to their original activity.

Meanwhile, the Party document passed in April only talked in broad terms about “transforming” food distribution.

Jumping into the breach, the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) — the Communist Party-affiliated private farmers’ association which also represents member-owned cooperatives — has been advocating a breakup of Acopio, the state food distribution monopoly.

Acopio remains an “unresolved topic,” ANAP President Orlando Lugo Fonte said in May. “If in Cuba there is private and diversified production, you can’t have monopolized distribution. We have to look for many ways of buying and selling.”

“If a cooperative wants to sell products and wants a sales point, let them have it,” Lugo said in May, referring to the state quota. “If a hotel wants to buy a product from a cooperative, why can’t it do so? Why do they have to do it forcedly through a company?”

Acopio, the state monopoly that buys and distributes food, is increasingly being blamed for the spotty recovery of Cuba’s food production after the government boosted the role of private farmers in production. Last year, the government rescued the organization from technical default with a cash infusion. Even so, farmers have been complaining about Acopio’s continued shortcomings, including late payments, and persistent lack of containers, trucks and fuel.

Farmers must sell their state quota — the bulk of their production — to Acopio. Producers can sell the crops they produce in excess of the state quota directly at roadside stands and on state markets; selling to private middlemen is not allowed, but the practice is widespread.

“The cooperative, as a form of socialist social property, together with state-owned enterprises, must turn into an element that speeds up the Cuban economic model,” Rivera, the economist, said. “It will contribute to reduce government expenses and increase the life quality of the population.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cardinal Hails Improved Relations with Cuban Government

HAVANA – Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega said that the dialogue with President Raul Castro’s government remains open, that it affects all areas of national life including the process of economic reforms on the island, and that the Catholic Church has a “new relationship” with the state and the people.

In a statement Friday to reporters, Ortega also announced that Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed him as archbishop of Havana (he recently presented his resignation as canon law requires upon reaching age 75) and commented that “the door is not closed” on the possibility of a future papal visit to the communist-ruled island.

Cuba’s Catholic primate said the dialogue continues with the Cuban government that began last year to discuss the fate of the island’s political prisoners, though that chapter was closed when the process of freeing them was considered completed.

“There is always a dialogue about the role of the church with its pastoral activities and about the life of the nation under the economic changes planned for Cuba, changes that society is waiting for, that every Cuban hopes for and that the church has also encouraged, supported and wished for,” the cardinal said.

About these changes and the plan of economic reforms promoted by President Raul Castro, Ortega admitted that they could “go a little faster,” but said that the important thing is to aim for “sustained” adjustments and that they be “expanded” in the future and not restricted.

“It’s good that nothing goes back to what it was before but that every step leads to a new opening – that is my hope and my belief,” he said.

This October marks one year since the new regulations went into effect expanding self-employment on the island as part of President Raul Castro’s plan to “modernize” the socialist model.

Unlike the temporary character and ideological stigmatization that self-employment had in the 1990s, private employment is now encouraged in a wider range of activities and, more importantly, allows individuals to hire workers, which in turn has led to the rise of small businesses.

Over the last year the government granted some 190,000 new licenses for small businesses to make up for the drastic cuts in public workforces planned by Gen. Castro to trim inflated state payrolls.

Cardinal Ortega said that in Cuba the Catholic Church is in the process of “a new relationship, not only church-state but also between the church and the Cuban people.”

“The old relationship is being renewed and that is made possible thanks to the new climate that we also breathe in our pastoral affairs,” he said.

As for his continuing as head of the Archdiocese of Havana, he said it was an “honor” that the pope has confirmed him in the post, and explained that his work remains unchanged because there is no new mandate.

Asked if Benedict XVI will visit Cuba, he said “the door is not closed” on that possibility.

“It is neither affirmed nor announced, but a ‘no’ has never been said about such a trip,” he said.

Ortega recalled that he saw the pope in Rome last August while on a pilgrimage with a group of Cuban priests and laity, and that they asked the pontiff about the possibility of his visiting Cuba, to which Benedict XVI replied “If God wills it, if God wills it...”

Ortega made his statement after presenting in Havana several prizes awarded by the Catholic magazine Palabra Nueva.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Globe & Mail on Agricultural Reform

Fifty years later, an agricultural revolution
SAN ANTONIO, CUBA— From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 8:26PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 11:08PM EDT

For years the land lay fallow, swallowed by thorny weeds. Strangers called it a lost cause. Armando Aroche saw a golden opportunity.

It was 2008 and Raul Castro, in his first major speech as Cuban President, made a shocking admission: 50 years of state-controlled agriculture had failed, resulting in chronic food shortages. The island was importing 80 per cent of the food it subsequently rationed for public consumption.

Mr. Castro offered free, 10-year leases on idle land to anyone willing to try their hand at farming.

Mr. Aroche, a rotund, 53-year-old peasant, was among the first to queue in San Antonio, a small municipality a half-hour drive from Havana.

“I was not afraid of anything,” he recalled. He had a faint childhood memory of a well on the southwest corner of a particular stretch of land, which he requested. He was awarded 7.28 acres and named his farm “San Juan.” He borrowed his neighbour’s tractor and irrigation system and, against all odds, managed to coax 68 tonnes of sweet potatoes and tomatoes from the earth that year, which he sold back to the state at a profit.

Today, he gazes out on his fields from beneath his sunhat. Too much rain means his tomato plants are flowering. His 1952 Ferguson tractor is on its last legs. A team of oxen plow the land as if in slow motion.

But despite these hardships, farmers such as Mr. Aroche are being held out as shining examples of the new face of Cuban socialism. The cabbage, onions, carrots and lettuce he cultivates are described by government officials as the fruits of their “new and improved system” that has boosted food production by awarding more land to peasants who farm it for a profit.

Since Decree No. 259 was passed in 2008, 170,000 peasants across Cuba have been granted land. In San Antonio alone, 410 people have applied for land with 283 of those applications granted.

“Pretty soon we will run out of lands to grant,” confessed Georgina Gutierrez Jimenez, president of the local chapter of the National Association for Small Farmers.

Each farmer can apply for a land grant of 13.48 acres. If the farm proves successful, they can apply for another. Farmers can also use their profits to buy their own equipment, insecticides and fertilizer – something the state used to strictly control. Each farm owner pays a 5-per-cent income tax to the state, and 3 per cent to the local agricultural co-operative.

Mr. Aroche, a trained mechanic, used to work at the “state enterprise of assorted crops,” and earned the equivalent of $9 a month. He demurred when asked about his income today, but acknowledged it is exponentially higher. For the past few years, his family has been able to afford long holidays on the beach.

He employs six workers, who are each paid a monthly wage of $12, plus a yearly bonus. They help themselves to food grown on the farm and often receive a small cash “tip” at the end of each day.

The new agricultural policy has succeeded in boosting food production, officials say.

“There has been an enormous impact,” said Arturo Aleaga Cespedes, a lawyer with the National Farmer’s Association. He cites a 60-per-cent increase in the production of rice, milk, vegetables and root vegetables.

However, it’s still not enough to satisfy Cuba’s food needs.

“We produce a lot, but the demand and consumption are always increasing,” Ms. Jimenez said.

Another challenge is persuading a younger generation of Cubans to take up their leaders’ challenge and return to the land. Many, like Mr. Aroche’s own children, were educated for urban jobs in state offices that are under enormous pressure to trim their bloated payrolls.

The country’s public service is set to lose up to half a million jobs over the next five years.

Mr. Aroche’s 26-year-old daughter, Joseline, quit her job as an economist when her son was born three years ago. Now, as she contemplates returning to the work force, she faces “not a lot of options,” she said.

Her father believes the future of his family, and that of his country, lies in the land: “To work in the field is very hard. It’s something most people don’t like, but it’s work that needs to be done,” he said.

The agricultural reforms – considered radical at the time – have proved to merely foreshadow larger changes sweeping through Cuba as the government relaxes its communist grip on everything from private enterprise to real estate in an attempt to generate revenue.

“The only problem is that all of this should have been done sooner,” Mr. Aroche added.

Globe & Mail Analyzes Economic Changes

Small acts of free enterprise attest to reform looming large in Cuba


HAVANA— From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 9:53PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 11:10PM EDT

Just off the Malecon, Havana’s famous seaside corniche, Omar Gatierrez strikes a deal to sell his ’56 Oldsmobile for the rough equivalent of $14,500. It’s the most money he’s ever made.

At a burger joint not far from there, Alfredo Garcia, an economist, shells out twice as much as he normally would for a strawberry milkshake just because it tastes good. Around the corner, Lazaro Rafael, a mechanic, haggles over the price of repairing an infirm Peugeot on the street near the sea where he lives.

These small acts of free enterprise would have been inconceivable in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Under his younger brother, Raul, however, they add up to dramatic economic reform that is quietly reconfiguring the country into something altogether different. Cuban authorities are careful to depict this restructuring as upgrading the revolution rather than forsaking it, yet underpinning it all is an overriding sense of urgency to change.

Floated by fickle Chinese credit and Venezuelan oil, the regime can no longer afford to finance the socialist ideals upon which it was founded. With Cuba at a crossroads, the future remains unclear. One path appears to lead to nowhere, should the regime prove too brittle to allow private enterprise to truly flourish. The alternative route, others worry, would morph the island into something resembling a Floridian mega-mall.

Both outcomes would be disastrous. Most analysts believe the country's true destiny lies in becoming a mixed economy where the state loosens its grip over some sectors but maintains leverage over others. The aim, Cuban sources said, is to have 35 per cent of the economy privatized by 2015. Achieving this elusive balance, however, will prove exceedingly difficult. The reforms that have been rolled out so far – such as allowing cars to be sold and licensing small businesses – have been relatively painless, eclipsing more agonizing ones that lie ahead.

For Cubans, many of whom have virtually no memory of life before the revolution, the reforms are confusing and their consequences unknown. The regime has vowed to implement a progressive tax structure to avoid a Russian-like result where vast amounts of wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few. But a schism of class – however minor – would symbolically violate Mr. Castro's symbolic contract with his people.

Over the next five years, for instance, the regime intends to lay off up to a million public-sector workers, equalling 10 per cent of its work force. Food rations, for which many Cubans rely on for their daily sustenance, are also due to be phased out. Betting on an increase in productivity, the government has promised to boost wages, but economists doubt it will be enough to keep pace with a rising cost of living, as goods are removed from the ration card.

“These larger state-led reforms are going to be wrenching,” said Christopher Sabatini, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly. One of the biggest obstacles to real change in Cuba, he argues, is the awkward paradox the regime finds itself in: Downgrading its leverage in order to save itself from ruin.

“There’s an inherent tension in any economic reform that involves the Cuban state reducing its own authority over the economy, which is [Fidel] Castro’s real legacy,” Mr. Sabatini explained.

Another problem is that while Cuban authorities seem to have a clear idea of the main focus of the restructuring – reducing the state payroll, nourishing the private sector, boosting food production – the government is vague on its timeline for implementing the changes and even more so on how it plans to deal with any fallout. The haphazard transition means that whenever one of the 311 new decrees issued by the Communist Party at its April Congress becomes law, few people on the street in Havana seem to notice or understand why they should care.

Josefina Vidal, director of the North America Department for Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the protracted rollout is deliberate: “It’s a slow process because we are very much interested in avoiding any kind of social impact. We don’t want anybody to be abandoned or left behind,” she said in a recent interview with The Globe And Mail. Some measures, she acknowledged, were easier to implement than others.

When it comes to defining Cuba’s end goal, officials are equally open-ended, maintaining the state is not trying to emulate other countries – such as China or Vietnam – but rather aiming to pursue an entirely unique set of reforms. Observers, however, disagree.

“They want this to be a made-in-Cuba type of economic system. But if it is made in Cuba it certainly resembles the Chinese approach, and it’s moving more and more in that direction,” said Arch Ritter, an economist at Carleton University who specializes in Cuba.

As he points out, Cuba’s economy is nowhere near China’s in terms of scale or scope. Also, China’s ruling Communist Party is less ossified than Cuba’s, which is still dominated by octogenarians. The recent death Cuba’s minister of defence, Julio Casas Regueiro, at the age of 75, highlighted the frailty of the state’s older generation of leaders who are still firmly in charge.

Without political renewal, analysts say Cuba’s economic reforms are doomed. “They are trying to let the economic genie out of the bottle while keeping the political genie in. That’s not going to work,” predicted Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former political analyst in the Cuban Interior Ministry and a lecturer at the University of Denver.

Meanwhile it remains unclear how Cuban society, much less the regime, will deal with social changes that will inevitably follow the economic ones. How will the state prevent Cuba’s new generation of entrepreneurs from accumulating the kind of wealth that could give rise to a new upper class? How will it ensure all Cubans have access to capital, not just the ones with relatives in Europe or Miami? How will it provide incentives for productivity and initiative if it plans to heavily tax the rewards of that?

“Don’t be fooled,” Mr. Sabatini says. “They want to preserve the system in many ways ... at least the perks of the system.”

As sweeping as Cuba’s current economic reforms are, key enterprises such as mining, oil and sugar production will remain in the hands of the state. Cuba’s health system and its lucrative tourist industry will also remain unchanged, at least for now. The rebranding of the revolution, Mr. Sabatini argues, is still very much a work in progress.

“What was Castroism anyways? It was really about survival. Cuba’s future will boil down to whatever it needs for political and economic survival, rather than any principled commitment to the revolution,” he said.

More Land to Private Farmers

Cuba to grant much larger plots to farmers

Reuters - Oct 19

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will greatly expand the amount of land granted to private farmers, an agriculture official said on Wednesday, as the Communist-run country struggles to boost productivity in the sector.

Under new regulations expected to be approved this year, productive farmers will be eligible for temporary land grants covering as much as 165 acres (67 hectares), up from the current maximum of 33 acres (13 hectares) mandated in a 2008 decree, said William Hernandez Morales, the top agricultural official in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.

"Those persons or lease holders that have really shown they can produce will be able to increase their land to five caballerias," he said on state-run radio. A caballeria is an old land measure still used in Cuba equivalent to 33 acres (13 hectares).

The state owns more than 70 percent of the arable land on the Caribbean island, of which some 50 percent lies fallow and the remainder produces less than the private sector.

A local agricultural expert said private farmers produce 57 percent of the food on only 24 percent of the land.

President Raul Castro has made increasing food production a top priority since taking over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008, but with poor results.

In one of his key reforms, the government has turned over 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of land to 143,000 farmers and would-be farmers since October 2008, but farmers have complained that the small size of the plots and other restrictions hampered production.

They said bigger plots and a recent measure that makes it easier to employ laborers were positive steps.

"This is special. They should redistribute all the fallow land that's been overrun with brush," Roberto Hernandez, a farmer who leased 33 acres in 2009, said in a telephone interview.

"Now the land produces nothing, when it should be producing root vegetables, beans, rice or what have you," he added.

Central Camaguey farmer Jorge Echemendia agreed.

"This is what they have to do without waiting any longer. I don't know how they do it, but when the state gives the land to the people they manage to clean it up, even if with their fingernails, and put it into production."

Castro has also decentralized decision-making, increased prices paid for produce, opened stores where secondary farm supplies such as clothing and tools are sold and promised farmers more freedom to grow and sell their crops.

Agriculture output increased 6.1 percent through June, compared with the same period in 2010, a year that saw a 2.5 percent decline despite the reforms.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NPR report on emerging private sector

Entrepreneurs Emerge As Cuba Loosens Control

by NICK MIROFF, National Public Radio

September 20, 2011

Since Cuba's communist government loosened its grip on the economy, thousands of small private businesses have sprung up.

It's a new frontier for budding capitalists, but competition is fierce and advertising is still tightly restricted.

Snack bars and food stalls are now all over Havana, but there aren't many as distinctive as Tio Tito, or Uncle Tito. The first thing you notice is the uniformed employees, scrambling to serve up Hawaiian pizzas and fruit drinks as music videos play on a monitor behind the counter.

The napkins and the to-go containers carry the Tio Tito company logo, and there's even a slick website, which is hosted abroad. The red-and-gold color scheme is no coincidence either, says proprietor and would-be Cuban fast-food king Ivan Garcia. If those colors can work for McDonald's, he says, they just might work for him.

"Those are the colors that stimulate the appetite," Garcia says. "I didn't make that up, it's what the research shows."

Garcia's business is one of only two start-up food stands to make it in his Havana neighborhood. Six others have already gone under since last fall, when President Raul Castro let more Cubans go into business for themselves.

The Perfect Play, a baseball-themed snack bar, is quickly becoming famous among fans of Havana's beloved team, the Industriales. On the menu: coffee, milkshakes and sandwiches such as the "Dead Ball" (tuna).

Competing With The Government

These days it's no longer enough to hang a sign outside and sell sandwiches and coffee out the front door. Ismael Bello, another Havana entrepreneur, says the city has too many vendors trying to sell the same things, so he's trying something different.

With a new copy machine brought in from abroad, Bello and his family have started a printing and copy service called Avana, with an attractive, freshly painted storefront. He's competing directly with the Cuban government, setting prices at half of what state-owned copy shops charge.

"In five years, we could be a pretty big company," Bello says. "Next month we'll have our website, and if we keep adding products and services, we can grow."

It's not clear how big Cuban authorities will let these new businesses get as they try to build their brands and open new locations. The government's political messages and propaganda must now compete with more and more commercial signage, but advertising is still essentially banned.

So Cubans like Yanet Alvarez have found other ways to stand out. Her baseball-themed snack bar, the Perfect Play, is quickly becoming famous among fans of Havana's beloved team, the Industriales, attracting crowds to her converted garage.

Everything on the menu is named for something in the game, including a few rather unappetizing-sounding dishes like the Dead Ball and the Squeeze Play. But after toiling for years in drab state-run restaurants, Alvarez says it's exhilarating to be making her own business decisions.

"If a customer orders a sandwich, you have the freedom to say, 'Sure, I'll make it however you want it,' " Alvarez says.

That kind of choice is something of a novel concept in a country where nearly everyone still gets an identical government food ration. And the have-it-your-way ethos isn't the only formula being copied.

One new Havana establishment is calling itself Burger Rey — rey means "king" in Spanish. For now, with the U.S. embargo still firmly in place and no Whoppers to compete with, the market is wide open.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Globe & Mail Report on Emerging Private Sector

CAPITALISM In Cuba, it's Viva la evolucion!
HAVANA— From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011 8:42PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 9:21PM EDT

Barbershops, beauty salons, restaurants and car washes have sprung up across Cuba in the year since the Communist Party allowed citizens to open small, private businesses in an effort to save the country from ruin.

The government says more than 157,000 people have qualified for business permits and are currently self-employed. This new generation of Cuban entrepreneurs is quietly reshaping the island’s stagnant revolution in a way that was inconceivable when Fidel Castro was in control. The economic changes brought about by his brother Raul, however, are proving slow to take hold.

Many are being implemented by young Cubans with virtually no memory of life before communism. Some new entrepreneurs are struggling to understand how to pay small-business taxes or navigate the country’s labyrinthine bureaucracy. With virtually no access to bank loans or credit, most are relying on family living abroad to float their new ventures.

Still, Cuba is buzzing with new energy as people attempt, for the first time in their lives, to make money outside of the underground economy. Business owners are experimenting with novel concepts, such as advertising and open competition. It’s unclear, however, how far the Cuban authorities will allow the reforms to go – whether small business owners will be permitted to accumulate vast amounts of wealth, for example, or build empires.

At the moment, however, these new entrepreneurs seem content enough to turn a profit they can officially pocket.


His idea for a restaurant might ring a bell: a fast-food joint with a red and yellow colour scheme where, for a couple of bucks, clients get a meal deal.

Mr. Pena, 39, spent a decade of his life as a poorly paid information officer in Cuba’s tourism department before he decided to open Tio Tito’s in January. He siphoned his savings, hawked his personal gym equipment and sold his mobile phone to finance the construction of a modest grill in his front yard, borrowing refrigerators and Tupperware from friends.

“Some of my friends thought I was crazy. Others encouraged me,” recalled Mr. Pena, his voice partially drowned out by the song Stand By Me blasting from a super woofer on a shelf, next to the mustard.

With no restaurant experience to speak of, he relied on what he gleaned as a customer from previous trips abroad, to Spain, Chile and Portugal. An American friend offered to design and build a website, which is hosted in Miami. He hired six employees, including his brother, Tito, who works as head chef, paying them the equivalent of $25 a month, plus a commission.

His inspired colour scheme? “If it works for McDonald’s it can work for me,” he reasoned.

The family has yet to recover their initial investment of $3,000. Business is brisk, however, and Mr. Pena is hopeful that soon he will turn a profit.

“I want Tio Tito franchises all over Havana,” he said.

He prefers the life of an entrepreneur to his previous existence as a bureaucrat.

“You’re obtaining profit from your own work. If you work more you will earn more. The disadvantage is that this is much more work than being an information officer.”


He’s led a double life since officially entering Cuba’s work force: During the day, he worked construction for a government ministry; by night he worked as an underground mechanic, fixing cars for friends and relatives at an unofficial workshop.

Between his two gigs, he earned about $15 a month.

His fortunes, however, changed in December when he quit his day job and applied for a business licence to open his own garage. Since officially opening shop, his income has tripled.

“I still have the same clients, but now I can do the work in the open,” Mr. Rafael, 31, said standing in the shade outside his seaside apartment in Havana’s quiet Miramar neighbourhood.

His wife, Rachel, is an economist in the provincial Communist Party office. Under Cuba’s new economic plan, her job could be in jeopardy as the country seeks to drastically trim its public service by half a million workers over five years.

With his own thriving business for them to fall back on, Mr. Rafael isn’t particularly worried. His biggest problem at the moment is finding a garage to rent – or even buy – when Cuba changes the law to allow people to purchase private property in the coming months.

For now he works on the street, which is strewn with cables and car parts.

Today, he is trying to coax an aging Peugeot to start. Five more cars await service with troubles ranging from a trunk failing to open to a broken headlight.

A team of government inspectors has paid a visit to demand proof he has paid his last instalment of taxes.

Mr. Rafael produced a bank receipt showing he paid the $40, but the inspectors said the government has not received it, and ordered him to pay it again.

“The system is not yet perfect,” he says, “but at least we are moving in the right direction.”


When she worked as a cook in a state-run cafeteria, her kitchen was fully stocked when she arrived at work each morning. Now, as her own boss, she scrambles to find basic supplies in the shops.

“This is very hard,” the mother of two teenagers said, standing behind the counter of La Jugada Perfecta, her baseball-themed restaurant dedicated to the Industriales, Cuba’s wildly popular baseball team that was founded 50 years ago in the wake of the revolution. The restaurant name translates as A Perfect Play.

“We are not used to this and we have to go out and find everything we need. It’s not like working for the state,” she added.

Sometimes she comes up short. Unable to source proper kitchen appliances, she appealed to relatives in Miami who sent a brand-name blender and two bright orange coolers from Home Depot.

Ms. Alvarez’s husband, an accountant, helped set up the books, but the restaurant is women-owned and women-run.

Most days, clients line up all the way to the sidewalk to order an Extra Base (hamburger with fries) or a Strike (bacon burger). The prices are roughly twice that of a state-run cafeteria.

“I don’t mind paying for quality,” said a 26-year-old economist named Alfredo Garcia, sipping on a strawberry milkshake.

Ms. Alvarez used to earn the equivalent of $80 dollars a month. Now she pays $16 tax every month, as well as about $4 in social security for each of her two employees, both cousins.

She is ploughing all her profits back into the restaurant, and hopes to one day pay back the relatives in Miami who floated her.

“Up to this point I believe we made the right choice,” Ms. Alvarez said.

“This is a new thing for us, but as time goes by I hope we are going to be well,” she said.


She’s a life-long bureaucrat who currently presides as director of the office for work and social services in Havana’s Plaza Revolucion.

She harbours no ambition to start her own business, but anyone in the neighbourhood who does must first receive the blessing of her staff, which issues all permits for the district.

Since the new law came into effect, about 40 people file through this crumbling building each day, searching for door No. 6, where a handful of state workers surrounded by broken filing cabinets sort through applications. The process takes about eight minutes.

Applicants submit their identity cards with two pictures and a written application. Five days later, they come back to pick up their permits. The process has been simplified from a few months ago, when applications had to be reviewed by the neighbourhood Committee to Protect The Revolution before permits could be issued.

On this day, Nara Creas, a 63-year-old who constructs costumes and pinatas for children’s birthday parties, has come to renew her license. Nelson Cruz, a 26-year-old taxi driver, is also applying for a permit, to turn his illegal taxi business into something official.

“Our department rarely takes five days to complete the application process. We can do it in one or two days,” Ms. Legra said with pride. Her office has processed roughly 6,000 applications since last October, when the decree came into effect.

Permit in hand, entrepreneurs then proceed to the local tax office for an assessment of how much they will pay per month.

After that, they can officially open for business.

Farmers Frustrated by Pace of Reform

28Sep2011 RTRS-Cuban farmers impatient with pace of reform

* Farmers charge local bureaucrats undermine reform
* Land lease program proves insufficient
* State maintains monopoly on key farm inputs and sales

By Marc Frank
HAVANA, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Cuban farmers are frustrated with the pace of reform under President Raul Castro, charging that bureaucratic bungling and self interest are undercutting efforts to increase production, according to a telephone survey by Reuters this week.
They said some of the hallmark reforms they once applauded, such as a land grant program and decentralization of agricultural management, were turning out to be woefully insufficient in practice.
Decentralization had become a double-edged sword as some local officials protect their interests and undermine a pledge by Castro to lift the state's monopoly on farm inputs and the purchase and sale of what they produce, farmers said.
Castro began leasing fallow state lands soon after taking over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.
He also decentralized decisionmaking away from the central government, increased prices paid for produce, opened stores where secondary farm supplies such as clothing and tools are sold and promised farmers more freedom to grow and sell their crops.
But the communist-run country's agriculture remains in crisis and the state monopoly remains in place more than three years after the reforms began.
In recent speeches, Castro himself has expressed growing impatience with bureaucrats hindering the implementation of wide-ranging reforms he says are needed to ensure the survival of Cuban socialism.
"It is a diabolical system that will drive you crazy," Arsenio, a farmer in Holguin province said of the state's food contracting system.
"You first sign a contract covering when and what you are going to plant in exchange for supplies. Later, you have to confirm and ratify how much you will produce, something that's just about impossible," he said, like others requesting that his full name not be used.
"And if you come up short, they demand compensation and if you produce more, they don't come get your produce because it wasn't contracted," he said.

Ninety-seven of Cuba's 169 municipalities are rural, where those who control agriculture control the only business and money flow in town.
The farmers charged that Castro's reforms were being sabotaged by these local power structures.
"Agriculture officials at the intermediary levels think that if they apply these reforms they will lose their own importance, lose their power and the advantages and privileges they now enjoy," said a retired president and still active member of a cattle cooperative in central Camaguey.
"That is why they keep looking for ways to limit reform: yes the contracts, yes centralized supplies, defining the quality of products and many more measures they take to force the producer to come to them, to depend on them," he said.
Agriculture output increased 6.1 percent through June, compared with the same period in 2010, a year that saw a 2.5 percent decline despite the reforms. But food production remains below 2005 levels and food prices at farmers markets have increased 7.8 percent this year, according to the government.
The state owns more than 70 percent of the arable land on the Caribbean island, of which some 50 percent lies fallow and the remainder produces less than the private sector.
"Private farmers currently produce 57 percent of the food on only 24.4 percent of the land," a local agricultural expert said.
The cash-strapped government imports 60 percent to 70 percent of the population's food.
Some 4 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of land have been granted to 143,000 farmers and would-be farmers since the land lease program began in October 2008, according to the Agriculture Ministry, around 50 percent of what is available.

Farmers said the numbers were deceptive because there was little financing to put land into production and the time, size and conditions of the leases undercut their purpose.
"The government says they have issued 13,000 bank credits, but the credits are very narrow, for example to buy livestock but not clear the land, purchase milking supplies or fencing," said Alfredo, a farmer in eastern Guantanamo province.
Plots of no more than 33 acres (13.42 hectares) are leased for ten years to new farmers under the land grant program, with the option to renew, but building homes on the land is prohibited.
Under Cuban land reform put in place after the revolution farmers could own up to 165 acres (67 hectares) of land, five times that offered under the land lease program.
"Only someone sitting in an office in Havana with no idea what goes on in the countryside would lease land for just ten years and prohibit building permanent structures on it," Jorge, the president of a group of private farmers in Camaguey who collectively receive credits and services from the state, said.
The Camaguey farm leader said the government should authorize building homes on the land and at the same time increase the size of land grants and make them indefinite.
Alfredo in Guantanamo agreed.
"It is absurd to try to work a plot of land and when the night arrives leave it till the following day. Who is going to protect your animals and crops?" he said.
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Jackie Frank)

MBA Program launched by Catholic Church linked NGO

Cuba opens doors to MBA studies
By Marc Frank, Reuters

In what may well signal a slight political and economic thaw in the communist-run country, Cuba has opened its first MBA programme.

The part-time programme is an educational initiative of the Roman Catholic Church. Small businesses and the church’s educational mission have traditionally been thwarted in the country and the programme, by Cuban standards, is a remarkable event.

The MBA is being run from the 18th-century San Carlos y San Ambrosio Seminary in Havana, home to the Felix Varela Cultural Centre, which sponsors the MBA. Plans for the centre originated at the Pontifical Council for Culture at the Vatican, which wants similar centres to be built in other big cities.

Outside the seminary, on Chacón Street, private taxi drivers trawl for fares and snack and artisan shops compete with the state for tourist dollars, attesting to the changing retail scene on Cuba’s streets.

“Private business was not favourably looked upon in Cuba just a year ago. An entrepreneur was even viewed as a criminal, a delinquent,” says Father Yosvani Carvajal, director of the centre. “Today businessmen are viewed as contributing to society and the economy, but with what tools? We are going to provide those tools ... how to start and run a business, marketing and the like.”

Fidel Castro, the former president, took over the country’s retail sector in 1968 in what he called the “Revolutionary Offensive”. Raúl Castro, who replaced his older brother in 2006, recently described that decision as a “mistake that was perhaps unavoidable at the time”, and has repeatedly stressed the need for the state to withdraw from secondary economic activity.

Professors from the San Antonio Catholic University of Murcia in Spain will teach the MBA classes for a week each month, with students studying the curriculum under the direction of Cuban economists for the remainder of the time.

Father Carvajal, a lean, soft-spoken man with a serene and seemingly permanent smile, says the MBA programme is the first of its kind in Cuba and marks an important milestone for the church.

“The MBA is just the first course [that] the centre’s new Institute for Ecclesiastic Studies will offer, mainly in the humanities and theology, for example psychology, in conjunction with foreign universities and Cuban professors,” he says.

“We are not questioning the state’s role in education, but the church, as part of its calling, has always been a teacher and this is now seen as something positive.”

Esade business school in Barcelona, Spain is part of a project led by the European Foundation for Management Development and financed by the EU, aimed at improving the management skills of Cuban executives. The project was due to start last year but is currently on hold.

In recent months, Cuba has lifted a myriad of restrictions on what it calls “working for oneself”, a euphemism in many cases for running a small business. Working for oneself was first introduced during the 1990s, but subsequently regulated by Fidel Castro to the point of extinction.

Last year there were about 150,000 “self-employed” out of a workforce of about 6m. Today, the “non-state sector” consists of 350,000 licensed tradesmen, small businesses and their employees, according to the government, which plans to move 35 per cent of the labour force into such activities and private farming in the next few years.

When the MBA students gathered last week for their first classes, their dreams were of bigger ventures than the family operations on Chacón Street. Local economists believe competition and market forces will eventually lead to more sophisticated businesses in retail services, small-scale manufacturing and construction.

“These students will certainly emerge with more than a diploma. They will have the knowledge they need to compete and that’s what this country needs,” one economist said.

. . .

Sceptics however, wonder if Mr Castro’s reforms will be shortlived, given the fate of less comprehensive reforms in the past.

“These are surprising, really unthinkable changes for someone who has always lived in Cuba, so I understand the sceptics,” says Father Carvajal. He points to reforms that make it easier to go into business on a limited scale and include the right to hire workers, seek bank credit and do business with the state. “I think this time the door has been opened and will never again close. That is why we are offering the MBA course.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cuba designing management courses for private sector workers

Havana – Cuba's ANEC economists association is designing a training program directed at private sector workers so that they can broaden their knowledge of basic principles of accounting, expenses, costs and taxes.

Official media outlets reported Thursday that the project takes into account the "needs" of the private sector, which includes more than 333,000 people and has been growing since in October 2010 the government of Raul Castro broadened opportunities for self-employment and small business.

ANEC Vice President Maria Victoria Berrace told the state-run AIN news agency that the aim of the training course will be "to contribute to the development and better performance" of people in the expanding private sector.

Berrace emphasized that entrepreneurs must "understand the laws, contribute to the state that which is established and achieve dividends that will return profits to them."
ANEC says that some surveys show that private sector workers face "the greatest difficulties" at the time they pay taxes, and the group emphasizes that "Cubans have very little (knowledge)" of those subjects.

The government broadened the scope of private employment last October as part of a package of economic reforms, a plan that also includes labor adjustments in the state sector and forecasts in the first phase the elimination of half a million state jobs to reduce bloated government payrolls.

As per a decision by the Cabinet, this month the number of activities that one can pursue privately to earn a living will be expanded to 181, and the hiring of people in all those areas has already been approved.

According to government figures, currently 10 percent of the workers in the private sector are employees.

The majority of the business licenses awarded since October have been in activities such as food preparation, passenger transport and the sale of "household items."

Read more:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Growth of private business

New entrepreneurs on the rise in socialist Cuba

Tue, May 24 2011
By Jeff Franks
HAVANA (Reuters) - The salvation of socialism in Cuba is taking some odd turns, with words like "competition," "marketing" and "opportunity" being heard for the first time in decades on the communist-led island.
Under reforms by President Raul Castro, a new entrepreneurial class is developing and with it some new ways of thinking in a country that has long resisted economic change.
The government reported recently that 310,000 Cubans are working legally for themselves, of whom 221,000 have received their licenses for self-employment since last fall, when Castro announced an expansion of the private sector.
The move was part of a broad package of reforms to modernize Cuba's sluggish Soviet-style economy with the goal of saving socialism, installed after the country's 1959 revolution, for future generations.
U.S. President Barack Obama recently dismissed the changes as too small, but on the island 90 miles from the United States many Cubans welcome them and believe they are just the first of many to come.
The reforms are "an opportunity for Cubans, they are a start," said Giselle Nicolas at her new paladar, or private restaurant, La Galeria in Havana's Vedado district.
"I think Cuba is already changing for the better," she said.
In Havana and elsewhere, there is no question the economic landscape is changing.
People are setting up shop in doorways and on sidewalks, selling a variety of items ranging from food to household goods and offering repairs on shoes, cell phones and watches.
They are giving haircuts on their front porches and walking through neighborhoods hawking flowers, pastries and farm products. State-run press reported this week there are now 1,000 independent retailers of construction materials.
The Council of Ministers recently expressed concern about the number of vendors clogging sidewalks and taking away from the beauty of Cuba's historic architecture. They may have to move off main streets and into rented spaces now occupied by moribund state-run businesses, it said.
The government said 49,000, or 22 percent, of the new self-employment licenses have gone to food vendors, which has touched off a boom in the number of paladares and growing competition among them.
Alejandro Robaina, owner of La Casa, one of Havana's oldest paladares, said the newly crowded market makes it necessary to offer new services and do as much marketing as possible in a country where traditional advertising is almost non-existent.
Since January, he has opened a website for his restaurant (, a blog and a Facebook account to reach out to the privileged few in Cuba with Internet access and to international visitors.
He gives regular customers a discount on their meals and is offering Cuban cooking classes to foreign tourists.
On the blog, he has a photo at La Casa of him, his mother, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and British actor Clive Owen.
Other paladares are offering 24-hour service, home delivery and frequent-diner plans -- once you've had $1,000 worth of meals, you get a free one worth $100.
"You always have to be one step ahead so the competition doesn't catch up to you," Robaina said. "Let the competition come."
Castro's reforms also aim to infuse new thinking in state-run enterprises.
The government recently took foreign journalists to state-owned plants and agricultural operations in central Ciego de Avila province where workers were paid based on production, not the usual state-set salary given to all whether they worked or not.
Most said they earned double or triple the country's average monthly salary equivalent to $20 and were pleased about it.
"I'm working six days a week, but I am very happy," said one female worker as she cleaned a recently harvested red cabbage.
"The key thing is that the one who works hard gets the benefits," said Jorge Felix Martin Iglesias, overseer of agricultural production for the provincial Communist Party.
If all this smacks vaguely of capitalism, there are reminders that Cuba is still communist.
Nelson Blanco, chief executive of a large state-run farming and food processing operation, said his monthly pay was equivalent to about $40, which was less than most of his workers. It was only fair, he explained.
"The worker that does the most physical labor, the most work, is the one that earns most ... the one that's on the land under the sun with his hoe," Blanco said. "I am very much in agreement."
Cuba's malaise is tied in part to state domination of all aspects of the economy, so Castro hopes greater emphasis on private initiative will increase productivity and prosperity.
Castro has said it planned to hand out 250,000 self-employment licenses, but as that number quickly approaches it looks likely to go beyond it. Castro wants to cut 1 million workers, or 20 percent of the workforce, from government payrolls and needs something for them to do.
Whether his reforms will be sufficient to keep socialism afloat is unknown but a Cuban psychologist who asked not to be identified said they had had a positive effect on the population.
"People were dead before," he said. "Now at least they are thinking, trying to come up with ideas for businesses, even if they are small ones."
Government opponents complain that bigger economic changes are needed, along with political reform away from the one-party state now in place.
But there has been little talk of the latter by Cuban leaders and, according to Richard, a newly licensed shoe repairman, no need for it.
"The Cuban cares about partying, dressing well and enjoying life," he said as he worked on a pair of women's shoes. "The Cuban doesn't care about politics or things like freedom of the press."
(Editing by Jane Sutton and Cynthia Osterman)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bishops see democratic evolution in Cuba

Emilio Aranguren y Juan de Dios Hernández, que se mencionan como posibles sucesores del cardenal Ortega, elogiaron en Uruguay los 'cambios' de Raúl Castro.


El obispo de Holguín, Emilio Aranguren, afirmó en Montevideo que percibe determinados cambios y situaciones en el Gobierno de Raúl Castro, que tiende a una progresiva evolución hacia un Estado más democrático, informó el diario uruguayo La República.

"El país va dando pasos que no son exactamente iguales a los de antes. Esto es un indicador de que es posible que lleguemos hasta una democracia con nuestras características, con un modo de gobernar...", señaló Aranguren al término de la 33ª Asamblea Ordinaria del Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano (Celam), donde se renovaron las autoridades del organismo.

A la reunión también asistió Juan de Dios Hernández, obispo auxiliar de La Habana, delegado de la Iglesia cubana ante el Celam.

Aranguren y Hernández se mencionan como posibles sucesores del cardenal Jaime Ortega al frente del Arzobispado de La Habana. Ortega debe renunciar en octubre por límite de edad, aunque se desconoce si el Papa le mantendrá más tiempo en el cargo.

Según el diario uruguayo, Hernández habló con periodistas sobre la celebración del VI Congreso del Partido Comunista.

"Hay un sólo Partido y permanece un solo Partido. Cuando se habla de que en esta democracia tiene que haber diferentes partidos. Entonces, ¿cómo se va caminando hacia allá? Hace cinco años no se escuchaba mucho a quienes opinaban de manera diferente, y hoy se escucha, y se tiene en cuenta, en lo que opina una persona o algún grupo de personas", dijo el obispo auxiliar de La Habana.

'Cambios lentos'

Según los prelados, en la Isla "se vienen implementando cambios, lentos, pero cambios al fin".

Aranguren aclaró que la relación de la Iglesia con el gobierno de los hermanos Castro no comenzó hace un año, sino que en los últimos tiempos se ha dado de diferente manera.

"Esto fue caminando y fueron diferentes encuentros paulatinos. Fue caminando la situación de los presos, siempre con algunos puntos a superar, y a la misma vez se fueron conversando otros temas desde la visión de la Iglesia a través de la doctrina social, y de nuestra permanencia en Cuba en los últimos 500 años", afirmó el obispo de Holguín.

El religioso sostuvo que todavía quedan algunos presos, los que están sujetos al tratamiento del Estado y de la propia Iglesia.

Los dos obispos explicaron que la participación de la Iglesia en el intercambio con el Estado "es algo novedoso, en cuanto a que no se realizó antes de una manera, sobre todo con las máximas autoridades".

Hernández aclaró que la Iglesia viene desarrollando la función de "siempre tirar puentes, procurando para que la diversidad llegue también a los niveles de base. Esto es fruto de la postura que ha tomado la Iglesia en los últimos 50 años".

Uno de los obispos, que no fue identificado por La República, dijo que la población tomó el relevo de Fidel Castro "como algo normal, sin ningún tipo de estridencias", pues "no extraña esa manera de entregar el poder a su hermano Raúl, amén de que está avalado por el Parlamento".

También catalogaron de "inmoral y éticamente inaceptable" el embargo económico de Estados Unidos y señalaron que durante años la Iglesia hizo sentir su voz ante las autoridades norteamericanas para que levantaran la medida, pero sin una respuesta afirmativa del otro lado.

En la Asamblea Ordinaria del Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano (Celam) participaron 5 cardenales y 50 obispos de todo el continente.

'Cuando la fe es cultura no se puede aniquilar tan fácilmente'

En una entrevista con el diaro local El País, Juan de Dios Hernández señaló que "el sistema marxista cubano trató de buscar un modelo estalinista que está muy lejos de nuestra cultura, evidentemente".

"Durante décadas ese modelo se impuso a la población y con ello el ateísmo teórico y práctico. Ahí se observa que cuando la fe es cultura no se puede aniquilar tan fácilmente. Al darse una coyuntura favorable todo eso emerge, como está sucediendo en este momento", apuntó el obispo auxilar de La Habana.

Dijo que cada vez la Iglesia tiene "más libertad" en su acción pastoral.

"Ciertamente no es la que quisiéramos, aspiramos a más, ellos lo saben. Pero apostamos por la gradualidad, pienso que en el futuro habrá más posibilidades de que la Iglesia pueda estar en espacios", añadió.

Reiteró lo dicho por el cardenal Ortega en ocasiones anteriores: "La Iglesia no es un partido político, es una servidora del pueblo", y dijo que "ellos (los gobernantes) han captado la importancia del valor espiritual que la Iglesia puede dar en la población"

Hernández negó que actualmente la feligresía sea reprimida por su condición católica. "No, hubo momentos difíciles que en este momento no se producen. No hay represión por la fe. Ellos y el pueblo van dando posibilidades que, según como se expresen las cosas, se van a realizar".

A la pregunta de si los cubanos de a pie están pidiendo más espacios de libertad, contestó que "la gente lo va diciendo de una manera u otra. El mismo presidente ha pedido que la gente se exprese y que lo hará, a veces coincidiendo y otras disintiendo".