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.