Elias Amor Bravo

Distribution of Donations: Bread for Today, Hunger for Tomorrow

A Youth Labor Army market in Havana lists few foods for sale while empty stalls predominate. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, July 29, 2021 — The Cuban communists announced in the State newspaper Granma that they have begun the distribution of food products that have come from international donations (Russia, Mexico, etc.) into the network of state warehouses.
An insistent rumor had been circulating on social media: the products will end up for sale in the MLC stores — which take payment only in foreign currencies — in order to obtain foreign exchange at a crucial time for the regime. But this has been flatly denied by the Minister of Internal Trade, Betsy Díaz, who took the opportunity to link the distribution of donations with the rollout of the August standard family basket – in the ration stores — in 98% of the country’s municipalities, another way for the regime to appease the social unrest that led to the explosion of July 11th.
Under the communist regime, the regulated basket continues to be the only option for those Cubans who don’t have dollars, and therefore can’t shop in MLC stores, or informal markets, where it’s easier to find essential products, but at greatly inflated prices.
This perverse mechanism, which eliminates at its roots Cubans’ right to free choice, has been in force for more than 60 years. Never before in history has a scarcity-based rationing system lasted so long in a country. In Spain, it did so for almost two decades after the civil war. In Cuba there have been no wars, no climatic or natural disasters. Only the express will of a communist regime for controlling the population from the point of view of consumption.
Now, at a critical moment when Cubans’ blindfolds have completely fallen off their eyes, and they’ve identified the communist government as responsible for the national economic disaster, the authorities have once again trotted out the standard family basket in an attempt to sidestep the protests. They have a difficult task.
Basically because when you look closely behind the standard basket, you realize how perverse the mechanism is. Let’s take an example: each Cuban receives from the “ration book” a total of 7 pounds of rice per month. This amount is set by central planning because rice is a product in high demand in Cuba. And they may be right, but what about those Cubans who don’t like rice and would rather eat, say, cookies, or taro, or potatoes? That doesn’t matter to the planner. Cubans, all Cubans, regardless of their tastes and preferences, have to eat rice. And whoever doesn’t like it can do whatever they want with their 7 pounds. But can you come up with a stupider mechanism for regulating consumer choice? It’s hard.
Even more so when, as a result of the donations received, it’s announced that those 7 pounds for the month will be increased by an additional 3,  so that if you don’t like rice, the regime will now give you 10 pounds. The book and its political regulation are above individual preferences. No free choice is possible. Well, a solution may be for you to sell your monthly ration to a neighbor, or give it to someone. But it doesn’t matter what individual Cubans do with the rations that the state gives them. All that matters is the need to deliver that rice, in this case 7 pounds plus another 3.
Who can get their head around this distribution mechanism, with arbitrary allocation, perverse in the 21st century? When will the Cuban communists realize the uselessness of the basket and all the instruments they have to control the population? Someone will say that they have been a success, in view of the last 62 years in which they have done and undone whatever they wanted in Cuba. And therein lies the quandary, that this is over, that there is no way to continue deceiving and manipulating Cubans, and that either they change, or they are going to have a very bad time.
The communist planners know more than we think. If that economic intelligence had been put in the service of a rational and efficient functioning of the economy, it would be a different story.
The Minister of Internal Trade explained that, thanks to donations and the existence of large volume of a certain group of products, food modules have been designed with rice, pasta, grains, and sugar, which will be delivered at a rate of one per household, to all Cuban families, gradually. The territorial sequence established for deliveries is Havana, Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Guantánamo and the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud, giving priority to the most densely populated areas where the social explosion of 11-J was most intense.
In addition, she said that products arriving in the country through donations that cannot be “confirmed for all the households on an equal basis” (without explaining very well what this confirmation consists of) will not be included in the distribution; and this is where the logical doubts arise about what is going to happen to these “non-approved” products and where they are going to go.
Meanwhile, canned meat delivery is announced in specific places; oil in other areas; cans of tuna, in others; beans; powdered milk to those over 65 in other areas, and thus, by means of a light rain the authorities intend to put out the fires of social protest and at the same time announce that, if you behave well, you will have powdered milk or tuna. A series of political arbitrariness that confirms the perverse nature of the system of the regulated basket, the old ration book.
There are those who think that the regime is going to take advantage, for its own benefit, of the international donations in order to calm the social protests and buy time. Bread for today and hunger for tomorrow. The underlying problems are not solved with donations, but by changing the productive structure of the nation so that Cuba, the Cubans, can be more efficient and productive. Moreover, there are those who think that these donations will merely act as a palliative of the most intense pain that the nation is suffering, and as soon as they are used up, which will surely happen, the discomfort will return because then there will be no one to stop it.
If the regime wanted to buy time with this distribution of products in order to promote structural reforms, its action would be correct. But we fear that the necessary 180-degree turn towards economic freedom that Cuba needs doesn’t enter into its plans. The donations will be bread for today and hunger for tomorrow.
Translated by Tomás A.
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Cuban President Diaz-Canel Hides Behind “Voluntary Work”

Miguel Díaz-Canel has tried to present an image of a modern president close to the people.
14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, July 27, 2021 — They say that the Díaz-Canel government is not responsible for the national economic disaster. But every day they give us evidence of it. The State newspaper Granma now echoes a report of the communist leader’s day of “voluntary work” in the Havana neighborhood of Fontanar, in the Base Business Unit (UEB) Granja Boyeros, belonging to the Metropolitan Agricultural Company.
Díaz-Canel turned up there to celebrate his own July 26, and to send a message to “the generations of living Cubans whose working days at the foot of the furrow during those seasons we will never forget. They are at the center of all nostalgia, the time to remind us that working with our own hands is a necessity and a privilege that Cuba deserves to have.”
Tremendous. If he believes that, he’s lost. If he doesn’t believe it, he’s a great actor. Those of us who are Díaz-Canel’s age think of volunteer work with anything but nostalgia. It was a coercive nightmare of a regime that forced everyone to think and act in the same way.
Volunteer work was a communist instrument of social coercion implanted at the very beginning of the revolutionary process to divide Cubans. Those who went to volunteer work were the favorites, the ones who deserved praise and rewards. Those who freely showed their disagreement were classified as ‘gusanos‘ (worms), enemies of the revolution, and were professionally and socially punished. Castroism was very simple in mechanisms of punishment and reward. Either you were with him, or against him. There was nothing in between.
Voluntary work, linked to the land, failed to increase productivity and procure more food. Quite the opposite. Requiring people lacking agricultural knowledge to work in various tasks, many of them specialized, caused production yields to plummet.
Any responsible politician would have immediately put a stop to volunteer work by observing those indicators, but Fidel Castro, who already had millions of dollars in Soviet subsidies at that time, thought otherwise. And volunteer work was not only maintained, but the specialized Schools in the Countryside were established for high school youth, and UMAP (“Military Units to Aid Production’) farms for homosexuals.
Those were the years of the communist regime’s greatest cruelty, so I don’t know how nostalgically Díaz-Canel should remember those dramas unless he has a masochistic bent.
Granma’s chronicle doesn’t hold back, and presents Díaz-Canel’s workday as a gondola ride through the canals of Venice. Yes “a heartwarming morning . . . closing with a relaxed meeting, marked by music, photographs that many young people took with the president, and a joy that is born of mutual understanding, of feeling that they had celebrated, in the best way, a special day in the country’s history.” A way of hiding from the reality of arrests and very summary trials of those who peacefully protested in the demonstrations.
Also, volunteer work is not your thing. And immediately the act came truffled with corporate elements of the regime that is currently immersed in a serious crisis. It is not surprising that the National Coordinator of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and Hero of the Republic of Cuba, the former spy, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, passed by. Whose presence should be interpreted as reinforcing the most hardline wing of the regime to Díaz Canel, the encouragement he needs to continue with the arrests and summary trials of the protesters. There were, of course, allusions to Fidel “who from being an accused went on to become a defender of the people through ‘History will Absolve me’” in an interpretation of historical events as always manipulated and uncertain.
But the best of the gondola ride came when Díaz-Canel wanted to talk about the future.
And that set off alarms, due to its dangerous distancing from reality. The pact with the hardline sector has worked. And instead of Díaz-Canel talking to the Cuban people to resolve the crisis, he shut himself up in the postulates that have led him to disaster. Maybe from sunstroke during the short day of volunteer work. These things happen.
The most surprising thing was that he then mentioned the entrepreneurship of young people, as well as continuing to promote more spaces for dialogue. The usual dialogue, that of “inside the revolution everything, outside the revolution nothing.” He questioned “the difficulties they have been facing in the midst of Covid-19” without providing solutions to them, and proposed “increasing the legal foundation for everything that society undertakes; and continuing to improve our concepts, our culture of public and business administration.”
From so much talk about companies and entrepreneurs, some were left waiting for an allusion to volunteer work, but there was only a reference to “community work that has always been developed in the revolution; to make the socialist state enterprise more efficient; to renew the ways of participation of the population; to renew the role of mass organizations,” while insisting on “eliminating the causes of marginalization, of crime, of vulnerable people and families.”
Then he talked about preventing children from dropping out of school, so that they don’t become criminals, so that young people disengaged from study and work don’t become criminals, adding that “if someone commits a crime, that we have a social program in prison that is capable of transforming them, so that after they leave prison the society is able to assimilate them and they can feel that they are advancing in society and not regressing.”
After citing the features that distinguish us, he introduced the concept of “creative resistance,” not understood as overwhelming, but quite the opposite: “to resist and see how I advance, how I rip a bit out of each problem every day, how I multiply myself, how I grow, how I find prosperity faster for myself and for everyone.”
They have no remedy.
According to Díaz-Canel, creative resistance and unity “are the two conquests that want to fragment us, if they promote hatred, division, if they take away our ability to resist creatively, then they colonize us because we lose our identity.”
Obsessive and outdated ideas that have very little to do with the reality of the times and the demands of a society that is fed up with so much talk, and wants actions, like those demanded by the protesters in the streets of San Antonio de los Baños.
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Social Protests, the Embargo, and the Cuban Communist Regime

The Cuban dictatorship has militarized the streets of the island to prevent the protests from multiplying. (Twitter)
14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, July 26, 2021 – It’s easier to blame the US embargo or ’blockade’ for all the ills of the Cuban economy. And also to believe it. But this is nothing more than an irresponsible attitude, which has reached its end.
The Cubans who came out to protest on July 11, and who will do so again at another time, know that the problems in the economy are due to poor management by their leaders. they are through with excuses, and blaming others.
The propaganda of the regime through its media, sometimes suffocating, doesn’t get through to Cubans, who are ready to demand accountability as soon as the right moment arrives. People turn off the television when the “Roundtable” comes on. A program lacking in credibility.
The demand for holding the rulers responsible begins to take shape. Responsibility for having created an economic system that restrains existing productive potentials, that just seeks to appropriate the latest hard currency entering the country in order to spend it on the objectives of that system.
Responsibility for having frustrated for 63 years the aspirations of several generations of Cubans to have their own private assets, to be owners of the means of production, and to use them according to criteria of profitability.
Responsibility for installing a distribution mechanism based on rationing and scarcity, eliminating the efficient action of the market in driving the economy.
The list of responsibilities is so extensive that we could occupy a good part of this blog space, and all of them could be summarized in one: the communist social model does not work.
It has not worked, nor can it be expected to do so in the future. Its days have come to an end, and Cuban society wants change. This can be done in one of two ways: either through a rupture that puts and end to a stage that can be classified as permanently lost; or through government negotiation and dialogue with society to promote an orderly transition.
Of course there are numerous intermediate positions between these two, and nothing is yet to be written about the future of Cuba, but there is no doubt that the people spoke very clearly on July 11, and the regime should take note.
Clearly a change is coming, and a profound one. Even within the regime there is no room for inflexible positions, since many leaders have become aware that things are really very bad, so that there is no place for superficial changes or cosmetic patches, but rather more profound changes and changes must be made, and quickly, with positive expectations for the future. There are many leaders who know that this chimera of a “prosperous and sustainable socialism” will never be achieved because the model itself prevents it.
Despite this perception of reality, the Cuban communists continue to delay any structural change that modifies the fundamental aspects that prevent the economy from improving. In the current situation, they rely on the effects of the pandemic and the loss of income from tourism, among others, but in reality they are fleeing from assuming responsibilities, and that behavior is not the most appropriate.
Cubans increasingly disbelieve the story of the sanctions against Cuba and that the interference of the United States complicates the process from within, and they see it as a permanent excuse, aimed at avoiding necessary changes that, moreover, are urgent.
Perhaps for this reason the recent sanctions against members of the regime have not provoked a reaction similar to previous times, largely because many Cubans know that these measures have a limited duration and appear more as symbolic reprimands than anything else.
The authorities look askance at the neighbor to the north because what really worries them is that there will be a final cut in remittances. Much more than a denunciation of members of State Security (known as black berets) or a high-ranking military officer, as has happened. The serious thing about the situation is that while this was happening, hundreds of very summary trials were being conducted against the participants in the social protests on the island without procedural guarantees, sending people to prison.
The time has come to speak accurately. Cuba is neither blockaded nor embargoed by thousands of ships that surround the island. That image is absurd and really only existed for a few days when the Soviets tried to turn the island into a base to launch their nuclear missiles at cities in the United States.
The blockade does not exist; Cuba trades with, and receives investments, tourists, and capital from 192 countries of the world, with absolute freedom. As long as there are analysts and observers who entertain themselves in codifying something that does not exist, it is not helpful.
The debate must be about the problems and solutions that are within Cuba, and which have to be resolved among Cubans. Thinking about Obama, Trump, or Biden, believing that they are worried about losing votes, and that therefore they act in one way or another because of  electoral pressure, is a misconception.
Relations between the United States and Cuba are well defined by a partisan consensus that has much to do with the inability of the Cuban authorities to resolve a dispute that, moreover, was originally caused by Cuba, and not by the United States.
The Havana regime holds the key to resolving this dispute between the two countries. The Cuban people during their peaceful protests on July 11 said this very clearly.
But the regime’s wanting to do it or being interested in doing it is another thing altogether. To conduct a debate about concessions by the United States to soften these measures is to waste time.
The hunger and desire for democracy in Cuba have less and less to do with the alleged embargo/blockade, no matter how much the regime pretends otherwise. The solution to end it all is in the hands of the regime. It is past time to get to work.
 Translated by Tomás A.
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Cuba’s State Newspaper Doesn’t Know What Democracy and the Rule of Law Are

Fidel Castro speaking to the multitudes. Among his famous pronouncements: “Within the Revolution, everything, against the Revolution, nothing.” and “Elections? What for?”
14ymedio, Elias Amor Bravo, Economist, 24 July 2021 — The Cuban communists believe so little in democracy that they go so far as to explicitly insult democrats with the things they say and do. Only a completely ignorant person who despises government of and for all people, can say in a headline of Granma, the official newspaper that expresses the opinion of the regime, “the people of the United States send syringes in order to save us, while their government seeks to sow chaos in Cuba.”
This distinction between the people and the government in democratic countries  makes no sense, since in a democracy, the sovereign people elect their government, which, once it assumes authority, directs the affairs of the nation serving the interests of everyone. Understanding these principles isn’t easy for those who have spent 63 years making and unmaking the destinies of the nation at will, so that later, Spanish or Italian deputies will have doubts about whether the Cuban communist regime is a dictatorship.
At Granma they are surprised that in the United States there can be a difference of opinion between a government and the society it represents. But clearly that’s the case. In a democracy, all ideologies coexist without a second thought. Coexistence allows societies to advance from a plurality of opinions. Fortunately, in democracies, there is no Fidel Castro who proclaims to the world “Within the revolution, everything, against the revolution, nothing.” Or the even more insulting, “Elections? What for?”
In a democracy, it is even legitimate for the government to have a different opinion from that of other social sectors; but there is no repression or torture, there are no political crimes. The important thing is compliance with the Law, which arises from popular sovereignty represented in a legislature in which all voices fit. Justice dictates sentences based on these laws, regardless of political power. In a democracy, there are no enemies, only adversaries, and differing political options are measured in the electoral arena, where all parties compete for maximum social support.
I insist that those writing for Granma at the dictates of the regime should not be surprised that the US solidarity movement with Cuba announces the shipment of six million syringes for vaccination against COVID-19, and, at the same time, that “the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) shouts from the rooftops that now, in order to give the counterrevolution access to the latest two million dollars destined for subversion, it must adapt its proposals to what happened after July 11.”
This difference in positions between civil society and government is what the communists don’t acknowledge. When they rule, the Bolshevik hierarchy prevails: you are either with them or against them. Intermediate positions are not valid. Adversaries must be eliminated or demonized as despicable “gusanos” (worms), who are not given the slightest opportunity for involvement. Those who survive the degrading political repression have no choice but to flee to other countries. Cuba has 2.2 million natives abroad, many of them people who want to live on the island, but are not allowed to.
The Cuban communists cannot understand this. It doesn’t fit with their obtuse, Cold-War-era thinking, that in a democratic country a government agency makes rules and acts according to the guidelines of the government on which it depends. Its operation is regulated and subject to periodic audits. It responds to a legislature that demands accountability, and if the taxpayer’s money is not spent correctly, responsibilities are assessed. This procedure is unknown in Cuba and goes in other directions. USAID, like all U.S. government agencies, works like this.
But at the same time, in free societies there may be associations, organizations, and entities in civil society and the private sector that hold positions different from those of the government. They finance themselves with their own resources, design their plans independently of political power, and answer to their owners. In Cuba, obviously, these types of entities are prohibited by the communist regime, except for mass organizations that act as conduits of communist power.
Returning to the issue at hand, the Cuban communists are obsessed with everything that threatens their imposed position of authority. Justifying whatever they need to, they don’t care about clandestine arrests, the absence of habeas corpus, and slapdash summary trials that condemn even minors. For this reason, USAID announced a few days ago that it would grant financing of up to two million dollars to those projects that promote democracy and human rights in Cuba. What’s wrong with that? If the Cuban communists don’t voluntarily take steps toward democracy, this type of strategy seems to be the most successful way to help the Cuban people.
It is logical that they attack the government of the United States and its institutions, describing their programs as “one of the most obvious interventionist strategies of the United States around the world, and historically used against the Cuban revolution,” and although there is some truth in this, there is no doubt that if this “strategy” were successful, many problems would be solved that do not seem to have a solution, but that the Cuban people demand, whether you see the proclamations of July 11 or not.
There is nothing wrong with the solidarity movements of the United States, Spain or Mexico sending syringes or whatever else is needed to Cuba. Hopefully the regime would act with greater flexibility in all international cooperation programs directed at the island, and not only with those that benefit its interests. In the different democratic countries, pro-Castro associations operate with absolute freedom, exert pressure on governments, and keep an active watch on the most active opponents and dissidents. In Cuba, no one thinks of the operation of organizations that are contrary to the regime. They are all outlawed.
This is reality, and we are not inventing anything new. Cuban democrats want the best for Cuba and we are not going to question the shipments of syringes, medicines, antibiotics, etc., that Cuban industry does not produce or that it sells abroad before delivering them to its citizens, if this can help our fellow citizens who live on the island.
But what we will never question are the legitimate actions of a democratic government, because that would be throwing stones at our own roof. The governments of the United States, Spain, and Mexico, are entitled to follow the political actions that they understand to be the most appropriate to promote peaceful changes to democracy in Cuba.
And the same can be done by the European Parliament, the OAS and any democratic organization or country that sympathizes with the Cuban people, subjected to a one-party dictatorship which has remained in power for 63 years without allowing free and democratic elections.
Confrontation against the people and government of the United States is a failure of responsibility, a shame that reveals the true face of the Cuban communist regime. They are running out of ammunition.
Translated by Tomás A.
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Cuba: There is No Time Left, You Have to Act

Pre-Covid, tourists take pictures in the Havana’s Plaza Vieja. (EFE)
Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, July 22, 2021 – No one should be deceived. The Spanish or Italian tourist who travels to Cuba for pleasure and vacation has as much interest in the current political situation on the island as those legendary Swedes who came to Spain in the 60s in search of sun, sand, and the “macho Iberian.”
Those Scandinavian women didn’t know who Franco was, didn’t give a damn that freedom fighters in the cities were being arrested by the secret police, or that the trade unionists were seeking sanctuary in churches to claim holy ground and avoid repression by secret police.
They were going to spend a week or two in Benidorm, the Costa Brava, Marbella, or Mallorca; in short, more or less the same thing that happens with Italians and Spaniards in Cuba, who choose Varadero, María La Gorda, or Holguín to enjoy paradise.
Since the “Special Period,” tourism trends to the Island have been adapting to the times, but rarely does a tourist seek out activists or dissidents, and in many cases they even reject them. Here we also find no differences with the “Swedish”.
I remember not long ago that some Spanish friends who visited Cuba told me that when they saw the Ladies in White marching with their gladioli near the church of Santa Rita, the tour guide informed them that they were crazy, or rather, mentally ill, and simply recommended ignoring them, let alone approaching them. When they returned to Spain and learned who those brave women were, they couldn’t believe it.
The same thing happens with foreign investors. Spaniards, Canadians, Italians, or Dutch come to Cuba to do business, involving very large sums of money, deal with people who are Party leaders holding positions in the Administration bureaucracy. They are trapped in a vicious circle that they escape at the earliest opportunity. Even those who try to take advantage of the benefits offered by the Government for those doing business in the Port of Mariel  Special Benefits Zone, find that they cannot freely hire the most qualified workers, but must resort to a state entity which, at its discretion, supplies them with the employees that they designate. And they leave.
In Spain, the manufacturers of capital equipment and intermediate goods established during the Franco dictatorship continued to expand their scale of production during the democratic stage, and few if any businesses left the country forced by political change and supposed situational requirements.
One might think that tourism and foreign investment could open for Cuba an opportunity for growth and development similar to the one that Spain experienced for decades in order for it to reach its current levels of prosperity. It’s not advisable to think that it’s the same. Because it’s not.
There are very important differences that explain why those small coastal hotels on beautiful Mediterranean beaches could be transformed into international hotel chains with thousands of well-managed and profitable shopping districts. Or, that the small open-air cafes could evolve and end up obtaining several Michelin stars. Similarly, car and truck manufacturers and foreign companies established in the 60s and 70s did not leave the country during democracy–quite the opposite–and reached significant levels of development.
In Cuba, no one should wait for these processes. Where does the fault lie? Of course, it’s not necessary to think about the blockade or embargo, which is always the standby argument of the communists. The responsibility is much closer than what is believed, and has to do with the economic and social model that governs the country, based on the Marxist-Leninist ideology that turns the human being into a slave of state political power. A system that has proven to be a failure, and for this reason it has been disappearing in all the countries of the world where it was implanted by force, allowing economic capabilities to appear that have improved the quality of life and prosperity of their inhabitants.
Cubans see that the years pass, and that the communist ideological obsession prevents things from improving. Tourism, which set the goal of 5 million travelers years ago, struggles to survive the Covid-19 pandemic without approaching the figures cited in any year. Foreign investment stagnates and, what is worse, decreases, not only because of the global economic crisis, but because the regime does not offer attractive alternatives, nor does it allow international entrepreneurs to do business freely with self-employed workers.
If the economy prospered in Spain, yet doesn’t in Cuba, despite both betting on similar drivers, it’s necessary to wonder why. And it’s not necessary to go very far to discover that Cuba’s 2019 constitution maintains a Marxist-Leninist model in which ownership of the means of production is in the hands of the state, and the market as an instrument of allocation is subject to government intervention.
And that this model is precisely what prevents the Cuban economy from loosening up and improving the living conditions of the people. This model is a backwardness, an anachronistic element that no one wants to maintain, as the Chinese or Vietnamese have done, and that Cuba, its authorities, will have no choice but to do the same, and more drastically and without so many detours.
Social protests throughout Cuba have clearly indicated which path the communist authorities should follow: negotiate and disappear. Nobody wants communism, nobody wants it to continue the same as it is now. Cubans want change, and they are willing to fight for it. The way is clear. You have to get to work as soon as possible. One minute wasted in this process can be terrible.
Translated by Tomás A.
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