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In Cuba: Change? No, more state controls than ever before

Reuters

A draft of new Cuban economic regulations proposes increasing state control over the private sector and curtail1ing private enterprise, a copy of the document seen by Reuters showed.

The tightening may signal that the ruling Cuban Communist Party fears that free market reforms introduced eight years ago by President Raul Castro may have gone too far, amid a broader debate about rising inequality.
The draft document, circulating among Cuba experts and private entrepreneurs, goes beyond proposed restrictions announced in December.
For example, it would allow homes only one license to operate a restaurant, cafeteria or bar. That would limit the number of seats per establishment to 50. Many of Havana’s most successful private restaurants currently hold several licenses enabling them to have a seating capacity of 100 or more.
There is uncertainty over the direction of economic policy generally as Cuba prepares in April to mark the end of six decades of rule by Castro and his older brother Fidel, who stood down formally as a leader in 2008.
That has been heightened by U.S. President Donald Trump partially rolling back the Obama-era detente with the United States.
The head of the Communist Party’s reform commission, Marino Murillo, announced restrictions on the private sector in December, some of them included in the new document. But the draft regulations go into greater detail and show how far the push back could go.

“The decree strengthens control at a municipal, provincial and national level” over the private sector, according to the 166-page document, dated Aug. 3, 2017 and signed by Marcia Fernández Andreu, deputy chief of the secretariat of Cuba’s Council of Ministers.
The document said resolutions were drafted by the reform commission and were being sent to provincial and national organs of administration for consultation. Reuters could not independently verify its authenticity. Cuban authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some analysts said they suspected the draft was leaked to gauge public opinion and could be revised.

The regulations state that measures that will apply to infractions will be more “rigorous.”
The government has increased criticism of wealth accumulation over the past year and gone on the offensive against tax evasion and other malpractices in the private sector.
The number of self-employed Cubans soared to 567,982 as of the middle of last year, versus 157,731 in 2010 at the start of the reform process designed to boost Cuba’s centrally planned economy.
Private sector workers now make up roughly 12 percent of the workforce, but the prosperity of some Cuban entrepreneurs, particularly those working in the tourist sector and receiving hard currency, has become a source of tension.

The average state monthly wage is $30, the same sum a B&B owner can charge for a night’s stay.
The restrictions unveiled by Murillo in December included limiting business licenses to a single activity per entrepreneur.
Some entrepreneurs had hoped they could get around that by transferring business licenses, for activities as diverse as manicures or bookkeeping, to family members.

It was unclear from the draft document whether the measures would be applied retroactively.
Murillo said in December the number of categories in which self employment would be permitted would be reduced and in some cases consolidated. For example, manicurist, masseuse and hairdresser would fall under an expanded beauty salon license.
The draft lists 122 categories, down from approximately 200 previously.
The document calls for a new division under the Ministry of Labor to administer and control self-employed work.

Cuba has more than $1 billion in unpaid commercial debt

CNBC

Creditors hope to begin negotiations with Cuba on more than $1 billion in unpaid commercial debt from the 1980s.Settling the debt is a key hurdle for the country if it ever hopes to attract large-scale foreign investment.

Signaling the seriousness of its intent, the Cuban London Club creditors committee has retained high-powered American attorney Lee Buchheit.

A creditors group wants Cuba to begin talks on more than $1 billion in unpaid commercial debt from the 1980s — a key hurdle if the country ever hopes to attract large-scale foreign investment.

Signaling the seriousness of its intent, the Cuban London Club creditors committee has retained high-powered American attorney Lee Buchheit of the Cleary Gottlieb law firm.
Buchheit, who is well known for international debt restructurings such as the one for Greece, said Cuba “will need to clean those Augean stables” before major investors will consider putting money into the island.

Julian Adams of Adelante Asset Management, head of the ad hoc London Club Committee of investors who own defaulted Cuban debt, said creditors prefer a negotiated settlement. However, if that does not happen, they could resort to the courts. Measures they could pursue include seizing assets and interrupting Cuba’s international payments and trade.
Adams said the committee put “a good faith offer” on the table in January in an effort to resolve the long-standing issue, which prevents Cuba’s re-emergence into international capital markets. The island has been given 50 days from Feb. 5 to respond.
A representative of Raul Castro’s government did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Cuba accumulated billions in unpaid loans and debts under the late Fidel Castro. Mexico, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Japan and in particular the former Soviet Union, all lent millions, if not billions to the Castro regime in the ’70s and ’80s. Much of it went unpaid for four decades.

About five years ago, the Cuban government began steadily restructuring those loans with creditor countries and received large debt forgiveness. Mexico wrote down 70 percent of nearly half a billion dollars in debt in November 2013. The same year, Russia forgave 90 percent of the $32 billion it said Cuba owed for financial support provided by the then-Soviet Union during the Cold War.

A major achievement was Cuba’s agreement in 2015 with the Paris Club, an organization headquartered in the French Ministry of Finance and made up of officials from creditor countries who negotiate with nations that can’t pay their bilateral loans.
The Paris Club announced an additional 14 countries, mostly European, had agreed to massive debt forgiveness for the island. Cuba owed those countries roughly $11.1 billion in debt, including past due interest. The amount was written down to only $2.5 billion.
According to Reuters, under the terms of that deal, Cuba’s repayment schedule was backloaded through 2033, with no money due during the first year. In addition, many of the countries agreed to discount the debt even further in exchange for the potential profits stemming from future joint business ventures.

The commercial creditors say their offer to the Cuban government is even more generous than that agreed to by the Paris Club. Adams says the offer made to the Cubans gives them even more time before they make the first payment, and that creditors may be willing to change their debt holdings for future equity investments.

Many of the London Club members have held this debt for decades. Spending money on expensive attorneys signals they believe now is the time that a deal might actually be achieved.

Due to the ongoing U.S. embargo against Cuba, Buchheit had to obtain a special license from the U.S. Treasury because he is an American.
Cuba’s commercial debt, issued by European banks in the ’80s, has traded at 6 to 8 cents on the dollar for much of the last 10 years. Deals like this are now without precedent.

Liberian debt traded for 3 cents on the dollar in the 1990s, and creditors eventually received 21 cents on the dollar in a 2008 deal. Creditors told CNBC in 2015 they believed the debt would be settled at 27 to 49 cents on the dollar. They declined to say now what their offer is.

Whether the Cuban government actually wants large-scale foreign investment is unclear. During the thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba under the Obama administration, hundreds of international companies, many of them American, went to Cuba looking for opportunities. The number of deals achieved was few; mostly tourism deals that would bring much-needed foreign exchange to the cash-crunched communist regime.

 

Fidel Castro’s firstborn joined a long list of suicides in Cuba

Clinica de Seguridad Personal, a military hospital in the Kohly neighborhood, where Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart was reportedly getting treatment for depression.

The Miami Herald

Fidel Castro’s eldest son has joined a long list of public figures who have taken their own lives in a country with one of the highest rates of suicide.

In a rare exercise of transparency, the Cuban official press on Thursday reported that Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, 68, committed suicide after suffering from deep depression for months.

According to various versions, which el Nuevo Herald has not been able to confirm, his death occurred under circumstances that would be difficult to hide.

Rumors ranged from Castro Díaz-Balart shooting himself to jumping off the building in the Kohly neighborhood where he was receiving treatment.
Neighbors said there was a flurry of security activity around the Clinica de Seguridad Personal, a pink and buff colored military hospital in the Kohly neighborhood, on Thursday and Friday morning. But by Friday evening the neighborhood, where many military families live, was quiet. There is always tight security in Kohly with police posted on many corners.

One neighbor said Castro Díaz-Balart locked himself in a fourth-floor room at the clinic and wouldn’t let doctors enter, before throwing himself through a window and landing in front of the building not far from the Cuban flag, which remained at full staff Friday.

Another neighbor said that about two months ago, he saw Castro Díaz-Balart waiting at a bus stop in the neighborhood, and another saw him walking around Kohly.
If any of the death versions are true, it would help explain why the official press reacted so quickly to announce the suicide and share details about his depression with the population.

Reached by phone in Havana, Fidel Antonio Castro Smirnov — the son of Castro Díaz-Balart with first wife Olga Smirnova — said he would not make statements to the press and asked for “respect for the privacy of the family at this time.”

In Miami, Juanita Castro, sister of the current ruler Raúl Castro and the late Fidel Castro, said she did not know the details of her nephew’s death. Mirta Díaz-Balart, Castro Díaz-Balart’s mother and Fidel Castro’s first wife, lives in Spain but travels to the island frequently and was “on her way to Cuba and probably already there,” Juanita Castro said Friday. She said she lamented the death of her nephew but would not be attending the funeral. According to the official announcement and a statement by the Cuban Foreign Ministry, the funeral will be strictly family, not a state ceremony.

On the island, news of the suicide did not raise eyebrows.

Cuba has one of the highest rates of suicide in Latin America with 17 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the World Health Organization. According to Cuba’s most recent statistics, in 2015 there were 2,535 deaths “due to self-inflicted injuries,” the eighth cause of death that year, above diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver.

Fidel Castro Diaz Balart committed suicide

Fidel Castro Diaz Balart (Fidelito), oldest son of Cuba’s dictator Fidel Castro committed suicide on Thursday.

The news was confirmed by Cuba’s official press on Thursday Evening.

According to news reports, he had tried to commit suicide three months ago using a pistol but was stopped by his bodyguards. This time he jumped from a high floor of the hospital where he was being treated for depression.

He was 69 years old.

 

 

 

 

19 U.S. travelers to Cuba report strange symptoms

The Miami Herald 

The State Department has received complaints from several U.S. travelers, who describe symptoms similar to those suffered by diplomats.
Nineteen American citizens have reported symptoms similar to those suffered by U.S. diplomats who had been identified as victims of alleged attacks in Cuba.
“Since September 29, the Department of State has been contacted by 19 U.S. citizens who reported experiencing symptoms similar to those listed in the Travel Warning after visiting Cuba,” a spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs told the Miami Herald in an email.
“We continue to urge U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to Cuba,” she added.
In late September, the State Department issued a travel warning advising Americans not to travel to Cuba because they could become victims of mysterious attacks such as those suffered by 24 diplomats and their families while they were stationed in Havana. The U.S. also removed most of the staff at its embassy in the Cuban capital.
Among the symptoms described in the travel warning are: “ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping.”
In January, the State Department changed the wording and currently recommends “reconsidering” traveling to Cuba. However, officials stressed that the situation on the island had not changed, nor their message to American travelers. The list of possible symptoms remained unchanged in the new travel advisory.
“Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk,” the latest advisory says. “Attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and at Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana.”
The State Department did not say whether the U.S. citizens reported hearing strange noises — as some of the 24 diplomats did — nor whether they stayed at the Nacional or Capri hotels. The State Department also did not clarify whether U.S. doctors and investigators have determined that these travelers had suffered the same kind of attacks as the diplomats.
“We are not in a position to medically evaluate or provide individual medical advice,” the spokesperson said. “However, we encourage private U.S. citizens who have traveled to Cuba and are concerned about their symptoms to seek medical attention.”
The State Department representative said they still don’t have “definitive answers” about these attacks and that the investigation continues. U.S. officials, however, have addressed the issue at several bilateral meetings held in Washington this month with members of the Cuban government.
“We take advantage of every opportunity to remind the Cuban government of its obligations under the Vienna Convention to take all appropriate steps to protect our diplomats,” she said.
The Cuban government, which has emphatically denied any responsibility and called the attacks “science fiction,” is trying to counteract the travel alert with a message of its own. In an event titled CubaMediaDay on Monday in Havana, representatives of U.S. travel agencies reiterated to the invited foreign press that Cuba is “one of the safest tourist destinations in the world.”

Provision that allows Cuban Americans to sue for confiscated property in Cuba is suspended

The new administration still refuses to enforce the embargo. Allowing Shannon, who is a friend of the Cuban and Venezuelan dictatorship, to make the decision proves that nothing has changed at the State Department.

The Miami Herald

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suspended — for another six months — a provision in the Helms-Burton Act that would allow more Americans, including nationalized Cubans, to sue those on the island who have been “trafficking” in private properties confiscated decades ago by the Cuban government.
According to a State Department notice, Tillerson, not President Donald Trump, notified Congress on Jan. 12 of his decision to temporarily suspend “the right to bring an action” under Title III of the so-called LIBERTAD Act starting Feb. 1. The State Department has had the authority to make a determination on Title III since January 2013, when former President Barack Obama delegated the matter to the Secretary of State.
The first time that the Trump administration had to weigh in on the issue, Tillerson, in turn, delegated authority to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon who finally decided last July to suspend Title III for six months.
Since the enactment of the law (also known as the Helms-Burton Act) in 1996, all subsequent U.S. administrations have suspended the controversial provision, considered extraterritorial by close allies and commercial partners with investments in Cuba, such as the European Union and Canada.
Under the Obama administration, the governments of the United States and Cuba sat down to discuss how to settle the pending claims on American property confiscated after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 and now valued at $8 billion. But the negotiations resulted in no agreement.
The idea of ​​maintaining Title III in force emerged again after the election of Donald Trump, who promised to take a tougher stance with Havana. The section would expand the group of people who could sue, in U.S. courts, companies and citizens of any country — including the United States — allegedly “trafficking in stolen property” on the island. So far, the government has certified nearly 6,000 claims filed by people who were U.S. citizens at the time their properties were confiscated by the Castro regime.
But the risk of alienating allies, setting legal precedents that contradict other principles of U.S. or international law and opening the door to a potential flood of claims has led each administration to opt for suspension.
Cuban-American politicians have asked Trump to do more to solve the thorny issue. A congressional hearing last week in Miami — attended by Florida Republican members of Congress Marco Rubio, Mario Díaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — had a neurosurgeon as oU.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suspended — for another six months — a provision in the Helms-Burton Act that would allow more Americans, including nationalized Cubans, to sue those on the island who have been “trafficking” in private properties confiscated decades ago by the Cuban government.
According to a State Department notice, Tillerson, not President Donald Trump, notified Congress on Jan. 12 of his decision to temporarily suspend “the right to bring an action” under Title III of the so-called LIBERTAD Act starting Feb. 1. The State Department has had the authority to make a determination on Title III since January 2013, when former President Barack Obama delegated the matter to the Secretary of State.
The first time that the Trump administration had to weigh in on the issue, Tillerson, in turn, delegated authority to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon who finally decided last July to suspend Title III for six months.
Since the enactment of the law (also known as the Helms-Burton Act) in 1996, all subsequent U.S. administrations have suspended the controversial provision, considered extraterritorial by close allies and commercial partners with investments in Cuba, such as the European Union and Canada.
Under the Obama administration, the governments of the United States and Cuba sat down to discuss how to settle the pending claims on American property confiscated after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 and now valued at $8 billion. But the negotiations resulted in no agreement.
The idea of ​​maintaining Title III in force emerged again after the election of Donald Trump, who promised to take a tougher stance with Havana. The section would expand the group of people who could sue, in U.S. courts, companies and citizens of any country — including the United States — allegedly “trafficking in stolen property” on the island. So far, the government has certified nearly 6,000 claims filed by people who were U.S. citizens at the time their properties were confiscated by the Castro regime.
But the risk of alienating allies, setting legal precedents that contradict other principles of U.S. or international law and opening the door to a potential flood of claims has led each administration to opt for suspension.
Cuban-American politicians have asked Trump to do more to solve the thorny issue. A congressional hearing last week in Miami — attended by Florida Republican members of Congress Marco Rubio, Mario Díaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — had a neurosurgeon as one of its witnesses. Javier García-Bengochea holds a certified claim and says he is the true owner of the port of Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city.
“The Castro dictatorship still owes us, the port owners, many hundreds of millions… and benefited from our properties over this period without any compensation or consideration to us. Foreign entities have similarly trafficked in our stolen properties for decades,” said García-Bengochea, emphasizing that the U.S. government needs to “enforce existing law.”
ne of its witnesses. Javier García-Bengochea holds a certified claim and says he is the true owner of the port of Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city.
“The Castro dictatorship still owes us, the port owners, many hundreds of millions… and benefited from our properties over this period without any compensation or consideration to us. Foreign entities have similarly trafficked in our stolen properties for decades,” said García-Bengochea, emphasizing that the U.S. government needs to “enforce existing law.”

Trump admin creates ‘Cuba Internet Task Force’

UPI

The U.S. Department of State on Tuesday announced the creation of the Cuba Internet Task Force aimed at increasing web access and independent media in the island nation.
The task force is part of a directive on Cuba issued by President Donald Trump June 16.
The group will include U.S. government and non-governmental representatives “to promote the free and unregulated flow of information in Cuba,” the State Department said.
Details about the members of the group and its budget have not yet been disclosed. The group’s first public meeting is scheduled for Feb. 7.
The State Department currently operates a radio and TV broadcasting station aimed at the Cuban audience out of Miami with an annual budget of $28 million, El Nuevo Herald reported.
Although there has been some increases in recent years, Cuba is one of the least connected nations in the world, with only 31 percent of the population having access to the web, according to a 2016 Freedom House report.
But the number of people who actually connect to the Internet is even lower.
In a nation of more than 11 million people, only about 100,000 log on daily.
The Cuban government began a pilot program last year to put Internet access in a few select homes, but the price of the service is slow at 2 megabyte per second, which is fast enough for email and general web browsing. It’s also expensive — as high as $115 for 30 hours of access in a country where the average monthly salary is $25.

Canada sent doctor to Cuba to examine diplomats after sound attacks

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA—The federal government sent a doctor to Cuba to examine Canadian diplomats who suffered everything from nosebleeds to short-term memory loss amid concern about mysterious acoustic attacks, newly declassified memos show.
In August, Ottawa acknowledged that an unspecified number of Canadians in Cuba had been affected, but Global Affairs has said little about the events.

The June visit to Havana by Dr. Jeffrey Chernin of Health Canada revealed symptoms similar to those experienced by U.S. personnel in Cuba, the internal Global Affairs Canada notes say.
Word of the perplexing phenomenon — which remains unexplained — emerged during the summer, prompting the United States to bring many diplomats home from Havana and to expel Cuban representatives from Washington.

In August, Ottawa acknowledged that an unspecified number of Canadians in Cuba had been affected, but Global Affairs has said little about the events.
The newly disclosed records, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, show that as early as May, Canada’s mission in Havana was seeking help in working out “next steps” for Canadian staff having problems.
“Many of the symptoms are similar to signs of extreme stress, and there is the possibility that there could be mental health effects caused by the fear of being targeted,” wrote diplomat Karen Foss. “Either way, testing should help to rule out cases and reassure personnel that we have the means to be able to provide duty of care.”
Symptoms included headaches, dizziness, nausea, hearing loss, nosebleeds and cognitive issues including loss of short-term memory.

But Canadian officials were puzzled about who or what might have been behind the purported attacks.
“There are no answers,” Foss wrote in a May 28 email. “We are left to (sift through) what we know about … the targets and possible suspects.”
About a week later, Foss advised that the head of Canada’s mission in Cuba had called a meeting of staff to advise of the “increased threat level.”
A security situation overview noted a need to review who in the mission “is most vulnerable because of any pre-existing condition or other consideration that means they are at greater risk if they are targeted.”
Canadian officials quietly began drafting statements in case the “situation is leaked to the press” — noting there were hints the issue was being discussed at a Virginia school.
By June 9, the mission was underscoring the need for help from a federal medical adviser and stressing that new diplomatic personnel bound for Cuba should be made aware as soon as possible of the strange ailments affecting staff.
Local guards were asked to increase their patrols around the residential properties of Canadian staff and to be extra vigilant in reporting.
Dr. Chernin arrived in Havana on June 18 to meet concerned staff individually and take part in a townhall-style meeting a few days later. The doctor found that symptoms, experience and recovery varied, but he seemed to rule out viral causes such as the flu or hearing loss due to age.
Privy Council Office and Global Affairs Canada officials held a subsequent meeting with Cuban counterparts to encourage “closer collaboration” on fact-finding, explore the possibility of greater security in areas where Canadian diplomats were living “to discourage further attacks” and express Canada’s ongoing commitment to good relations.
All Canadian personnel experiencing symptoms have undergone testing in Canada or the U.S., Global Affairs spokeswoman Sujata Raisinghani said Thursday.
However, she declined to say how many diplomats and family members have been affected.
“The government of Canada continues to work closely with Cuban authorities to ascertain the cause of these unusual symptoms.”

Cuba doesn’t need a Castro clone

The Washington Post

In Havana on Dec. 20, a group of artists and activists were preparing to perform a piece titled “Psychosis.” The plot revolves around a person enclosed in a very small space, showing signs of madness, who wants to leave. The play was inspired by events in 2010 at a psychiatric hospital in Havana, where 26 patients died of hunger and cold. The story is obviously a metaphor about the regime of Fidel and Raúl Castro, who have ruled the island for nearly six decades, intolerant of dissent and free speech. In the performance, there were to be allusions to Raúl Castro and terms such as “dictatorship.”

Predictably, before the performance, the authorities swooped in and made arrests. The director was detained temporarily, as well as the chief actor. Also arrested was activist Lia Villares. When released Dec. 22, she said she had scratched a message on the prison cell walls: “Art Yes, Censorship No. I am free.” She was fined for defacing the walls. The authorities warned her sharply against any activity on behalf of Cuba Decide. The movement advocates a plebiscite for free elections and free speech in Cuba and is led by Rosa María Payá Acevedo, whose father, Oswaldo Payá, championed the Varela Project seeking these goals in earlier years. Clearly, the Castro regime does not like the idea that Cubans could “decide” anything about their own destiny.

Oswaldo Payá, who was killed in a suspicious 2012 car wreck, founded the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba. The movement’s current national coordinator, Eduardo Cardet, a doctor, was arrested in November 2016 for criticizing Fidel Castro a few days after his death. Recently, he was moved to a notorious prison in Havana and then beaten brutally.