Dr.C Juan Triana Cordoví

Dr.C Juan Triana Cordoví

Donald Trump yesterday in Washington DC. Photo: Shawn Thew.

What is the price of the uncertainty?

  The image of Donald Trump throwing rolls of toilet paper to Puerto Rico’s population and the news that the Department of State will appropriate (much more than wrongly) the moneys of many Cubans who paid for their right to an interview to try to get a U.S. visa, made me change the theme of my column of this week, which was practically written. It was my friend Goyo who definitively drove me to do so with an apparently naïve question: “Hey, prof, what’s that about the essence, because I believe there are people who seem to only live in that place?” While after December 17, 2014 the debate in Cuba about relations between our country and the United States became more open and undoubtedly more acute and diverse, after Obama’s visit to Cuba that debate took on colors and tones that were frequently very harsh. For a part of those who participated in that debate Obama had barely introduced some small variation that in no way changed the “last essence” of the already historic and well-known U.S. policy toward Cuba. Others perceived it as the possibility of starting a sort of honeymoon with that large neighbor. Among both positions...

Vedado, days after Hurricane Irma’s passage. Photo: Buen Ayre Visual.

Irma and sustainable development

  For many the coincidence of three hurricanes and an earthquake, almost all of them at the same time and in the same region, is the result of what we call global warming and which is none other than the cost of a very irresponsible way of development, a certainly old way, and out of context, that emerged at that period in which homo sapiens still thought their presence in nature barely had minimal effects and that all the natural resources would never be a restriction to their hopes of becoming God. That period in which the “dominion of nature” was the phrase in vogue and demonstrating the capacity of “dominating nature” was one of the keys to demonstrating the power countries had. Making the world’s largest reservoir, or the largest hydroelectric plant, having bigger and the biggest extensions of cultivated land at the expense of every living being, razing thousands of hectares of forests or contaminating hundreds of kilometers of rivers or entire bays, was almost always praised as one more demonstration of the power of homo sapiens. What’s interesting is that all the countries and perhaps also a great deal of the politicians, independently of their ideological creed,...

Photo by Claudio Pelaez Sordo

Our everyday “self-employment”

“And so: yes or no? Do you remember when the fried food stalls disappeared?” Those were my friend Goyo’s welcome questions when he intercepted me after the news about the “temporary suspension” of the granting of permits to a group of activities of the so-called self-employment and of the new regulations about this that at some moment will be issued. For those – like me – who are on the optimistic side of the equation, there are numerous reasons why the non-state sector in Cuba must be better regulated and better motivated. Following I’ll mention some of them: Our entire practice of building socialism has demonstrated – and at the same time allowed us to understand – that they are necessary sectors, in the same way that that practice has demonstrated that the State cannot take care of everything and that, when it does, it generates failures that are more costly than those that are generated in the “non-state” sector. There are persons who maintain that if the practice demonstrates that the theory is not correct, well then what has to be done is rectify the practice. In the end the practice is the criterion of the truth. Its ability...

Photo by Trabajadores.cu

Cuban science and development

At the recent first session of the National Assembly of People’s Power, one of the relevant issues was related to the “activity of science, technology and innovation.” This was so given Cuba’s characteristics, its relatively little amount of natural resources – even when the few we have are not well used -, having a highly qualified workforce and because the tendencies of our demographic evolution fully show that our population is aging. Because of all those reasons, the role of science, technology and innovation is decisive. Moved by this topic, I am listing some proposals to use more efficiently the human resources in favor of Cuba’s development. Without good schools and good professors at all levels, we won’t be able to have a good science or good technology or be good at innovation. Schooling is basic, from elementary education – and especially in those three first grades – up to the universities. That is the first thing we have to recover. If today we still have a good scientific plant it is because thanks to the educational policy of the Cuban Revolution we had good schools and very good teachers. By guaranteeing this first step, then it obviously it is...

Photo: Roberto Ruiz

The wished-for economic growth

The growth goal (2 percent) is again becoming a focal point at the recently concluded first half of the year. I’m advancing some ideas about those factors that could have a positive impact on the economy’s growth. Growing a 2 percent over a 0.9 decrease last year and in such difficult conditions is really a very optimistic goal, taking into account the current situation of the Cuban economy and also the persistent structural long-term failures that have not been resolved. To this one would have to add an international environment that doesn’t help. I’m referring to the characteristics of the world economy’s growth as well as the uncertainty that the current U.S. administration generates for the world and especially for Cuba. Our country continues – and it seems it will continue – being a blockaded country, subject to the ups and downs of U.S. domestic politics (Mr. Trump is the palpable demonstration), but that threat must be turned into the opportunity to be able to diversify our economic relations and achieve a more balanced foreign situation. This means a greater opening to foreign investment, a radical modernization of the state sector and the expansion of the non-state sector. There are...

Inauguration of FIHAV 2016. Photo: Jesús Rodríguez.

Foreign direct investment also needs Cuba

Do not interpret the title as it is, this has nothing to do with the size of the Cuban market, with how decisive our economy is in the world or regional sphere, or with an enormous availability of natural resources or cheap labor force. Nothing of the kind. It is the other way around, because achieving a flow of stable foreign investment, and above all relevant, for the purpose of growth and development, requires that a country (institutions, infrastructure, productive system, a business culture, etc.) make it easier to be able to make an investment in that country. That is why FDI needs Cuba. The incentive behind these lines has been the recent exchange about this issue that has emerged between a group of Cuban economists, especially the work that Miguel Alejandro Figueras sent me a week ago. But I would lie if I were to say that it is the only incentive, the other one that spurred me on to write these lines is the recent approval by the country’s two topmost authorities (the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and the National Assembly) of three documents that must be the foundations, but also the roadmap and...

Havana’s Malecón seaside drive. Photo: Desmond Boylan.

The Cuban economy’s roadmap

The news that the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party had approved the documents that have been discussed throughout the country for almost a year is undoubtedly very good news. More than a million persons have debated those documents, which is also magnificent news. The documents approved are “the Conceptualization of Socialist Development of the Cuban Economic and Social Model; the bases of the National Plan for Economic and Social Development up to 2030: Vision of the Nation, Strategic Cores and Sectors; and new modifications to the Party and Revolution’s Economic and Social Policy Guidelines.” The three have been the center of a great effort at interpreting our reality and above all of exercising the projection of the future of the country we want. It is probable – from my point of view, desirable -  that those documents won’t get to meet 100 percent of the Cuban population’s expectations and also that they won’t get to meet 100 percent of the expectations of all Cubans. But it is also true that it is an unquestionable advantage to have today a group of documents of reference for what we want to do and above all that those...

Photo: José Luis Medina (IPS)

Speaking of enterprises and entrepreneurs (II)

Our entrepreneurial world of today is surprisingly diverse, in the types as well as the size of the enterprises and in the regulatory systems they are subordinated to. We have everything, from the big enterprises to the personal endeavors that are barely enterprises, and from the foreign enterprises to the family enterprises. My friend Goyo, who doesn’t know about enterprises, gave me his own classification, very distant from academia, but also legitimate, and he defines them as follows: wishful enterprises, quasi enterprises, enterprises, non-enterprises, anti-enterprises, superenterprises and omnienterprises. His explanation of each one of them would fill many pages. He doesn’t make distinctions regarding forms of ownership or origin of the capital, it is about what is understood by the matter of “aptitude and attitude,” although appealing to theory we could say it is about matters associated to entrepreneurial culture, leadership and the environment. In fact, Goyo is capable of explaining how some of those existing today in our country have several types of the attributes he has invented; for example, he tells me, there are non-enterprises that are omnienterprises and superenterprises that are also anti-enterprises. We have gotten to this colorful and also mixed entrepreneurial world after a long...

 The reform of the socialist state enterprise is a fundamental component in the updating of the economic model. Photo: Roberto Ruiz.

Speaking of enterprises and entrepreneurs (I)

The Cuban entrepreneurial world has experienced a significant diversification in recent years. For some that diversification is the logical way for the Cuban economy to adapt to the new conditions in which it has to live and develop; in the extreme and very extreme are those who think that that diversification is a symptom of Cuban socialism’s weakness which they have already imagined, frequently, a copy of that which we tried to build from the time of the socialist camp and the Soviet Union. In that wide-ranging framework of discussions and diverse opinions, there are also those who attribute a part of the evils afflicting our socialist state enterprises to the emergence and expansion of a non-state sector (cooperative, national and foreign private) brought about by our government as necessary elements of the indispensable transformation. And before this sector emerged and expanded, what was the cause of the inefficiency of our socialist state enterprises? There are also those others who understand that there is no sense to continue endeavoring to maintain a socialist state enterprise sector. And then how are we able to build a socialist society? And of course, there are those who – and now I include myself...

When water returns to the ground

When water returns to the ground

Cuba has no water problems. That affirmation, just like that, in such a categorical way, is by someone some time ago. What called attention is that who affirmed something like this was an educated person, someone who had studied and was a graduate. He said this to me after walking with me one night through the streets of my hometown and seeing the rivers of potable water running through the side of the sidewalks and no one doing anything to avoid it. It was the same person who once speaking about the food rationing affirmed to me that in Cuba there was more than enough food, after seeing the enormous amounts that were thrown out, as waste (leftovers?) in my workplace’s canteen. He was a European survivor of World War II and those conversations took place many years ago, during the time when we also had “more than enough” oil. What to me is almost surrealistic is that so many years later the water continues running through the same streets, the canteen continues generating as many leftovers and for some there is still more than enough oil. I remembered the issue after reading and hearing several weekly news items from...

The science making machine (II)

The science making machine (II)

A few days ago baseball player Alfredo Despaigne batted a homerun that allowed Cuba to classify for the second round of the World Baseball Classic. Despaigne, luckily for the Cubans living in Cuba, has a contract with Japanese teams and the new regulations allow this great baseball player to enjoy a high percentage of the value of that contract and to continue playing in and with the national teams. I believe 100 percent that he deserves it. Some years ago, a magnificent Cuban scientist was able to synthesize a product to produce a vaccine decisive for the immunological system, of course, a discovery that can also be a high-tech export good. In the field of science that was a homerun. Our regulations, however, prevent this scientist and his team from enjoying a minimum percentage of the results of their work. I believe 100 percent that he does not deserve it. Despite this, our science and technology system and those who work in it (I include the Universities) continue working and generating products, services, solutions, improvements that contribute to the country’s development, even when in many cases our enterprises are not interested in those products, services, solutions and improvements. When seeing...

Photo: Ismario Rodríguez

Major U.S. Companies in Cuban Market

It is true that several U.S. companies have signed agreements with Cuban state enterprises. Some of them are in the front line of their business sector. This group of new agreements can be viewed from many angles. I will try to analyze some of them. The moment in which these agreements were signed is perhaps what calls the most attention. It would seem that this goes against all rational expectations in terms of business strategy. They have been signed after an election where a future U.S. president does not offer any security to “continue” the road undertaken by the Obama administration, rather the contrary. Thus it calls attention that despite the supposed relative irrelevance of the Cuban market (and compared to other markets in which those companies are involved) they have risked doing something that seems to go against the political line of the new administration. Cuba is barely a decimal point in the global markets of companies like Google, Caterpillar, General Electric or Good Year. It could be and in fact is different for the cruise companies. There could be diverse speculations but facts are facts, they have signed agreements when expectations don’t seem promising. The “symbolism” of the...

Mariel Special Development Zone, in Artemisa, Cuba, during its inauguration on January 27, 2014. Photo: Adalberto Roque / AFP.

The gerund and the economy

Time is very important, perhaps the most important of all the magnitudes. Even for the economy. Moreover, we Cubans have adopted a special way of referring to time through gerunds, that is, with the “ing” ending. Actually, it wasn’t in Cuba that I heard for the first time that ending with the aim of indicating something with an indefinite duration. It was in an African country, where a local colleague said to me: “Comrade Juan, here we say that work is not to do it, but that “to be doing it.” More than 30 years later I was surprised to see that the use of the gerund has flourished in Cuba, especially in the economy. Expressions like “we’re doing,” “we’re working,” “we’re studying,” “we’re proposing,” “we’re seeking”…fill all types of reports and public expressions. They have become a sort of fashion, actually a plague. For the economy, just as like for life, time is the most limited factor. It is intangible, it does not return and, generally, not taking it into account in an appropriate way costs. The gerund, however, gives us the idea of continuity, it makes us feel that time does not go by, that we are in...

Photo: Kaloian

Foreign investment, open the other leaf

It was Goyo who called my attention about a very interesting daily event when he said to me: “Have you noticed that the P route buses have a front door that has two leafs and the drivers almost always keep one of them closed or have it closed down?” Then the real question came: “And how is it possible if what’s convenient for them is that the people get on? How contradictory, brother, to make those who help them carry out their purpose go through so much trouble!” The same occurs with investment. In 2016 the planned growth for investment (13 percent) was lower than that for 2015, when it grew 24 percent. We had a hard time materializing our investment plans. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as well as national investment. It has to do with many things, from the still not overcome structural deformations to a culture and regulations that frequently do not adequately accompany the purpose and limit completing the investment process or hinder and delay it too much. At times a project of dozens of millions stops because of a product or an equipment that barely costs a twentieth of the amount the process is worth, and...

Photo: Claudio Pelaez Sordo

Cuba’s economic growth does not depend on Washington

Just some days ago the Emily Morris Academy published an article sustaining that Cuba is not facing a failure, but rather a challenge. The challenge is the currency reform. In its text it also defended the thesis that the Cuban government had waited for an improvement in relations with the United States to take the step, announced a long time ago, but Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House is straining that expectation. Right or wrong, the thesis had a rationality difficult to contradict. What I’m interested in highlighting today is what we necessarily have to learn from the U.S. presidential succession. I also advance that Cuba is not the country that can come out most affected with this new U.S. political reality that we could call TRUMPVOLUTION (TRUMP- REVOLUTION, TRUMP-EVOLUTION, TRUMP-INVOLUTION). The marked protectionist propensity of the almost already president places many dark clouds over the future of many countries, especially in our region. Meanwhile, his genetic xenophobia, of which in addition he boasts, is turning the life of millions of persons in the United States and outside that country into a headache. To place things in their historical order I feel obliged to say, first of all, that...

Photo: Miguel Ángel Romero

Can the Cuban economy grow 2 percent in 2017?

President Raúl Castro said so himself on December 2015, and later during the second session of the National Assembly in June 2016: that the year that has just closed would be the worst of the last five years in terms of economic growth. Finally, and before the deputies, Minister of Economy and Planning Ricardo Cabrisas announced the 0.09 percent decline in the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Despite the fact that a part of the conditions and characteristics of the national economy that caused that decrease have not substantially changed, the Cuban government has set itself the goal of growing 2 percent in 2017. Compared to other forecasts, like that of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), that expectation is much more optimistic. Not much can be said about 2016. Firstly, the effort to avoid cuts in the programs that benefit the entire population in a context of material and financial restrictions was important. Secondly, in the midst of those same conditions notable amounts of resources were used for the recovery of Guantánamo province after the passage of Hurricane Matthew. But one would also have to think that the opportunities were not efficiently used and the integration...

Stiglitz and the Cuban economy

Stiglitz and the Cuban economy

We economists once again had the luck and the privilege of having in Cuba U.S. economist, professor in diverse universities and Nobel Economic Sciences Laureate Joseph Stiglitz. Fourteen years ago, invited to one of the events on Globalization and Development summoned by the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba, Stiglitz placed emphasis on the inequality of the process of globalization and how the underdeveloped countries, those that were globalized, would be the losers in this new characteristic of the world economy’s development. For me, his time in the World Bank as chief economist perhaps was the most relevant, especially because it marked new tendencies in that organization and under his direction one of the most notable Development Reports of the 1990s was published, where an in-depth analysis was made of the role of knowledge in development and economic growth. Already by that time – we’re talking of 20 years ago – several Cuban economists had carried out works where the importance of that factor for Cuba’s economic development was demonstrated and also, as a leading factor of those researches, that Cuba had to promote economic policies that would make that advantage really effective. Again in Cuba, Stiglitz reiterated...

Photo: Miguel Ángel Romero

I’ve learned how to read and write

He actually didn’t know what all that meant. The uniform, the beret, the lantern, all that seemed as big as the very sun to him. She, on the other hand, was the same sister as always, but now wearing attire very different from the Sunday clothes to go to church. The days prior to this image had been an almost all-out war at home. She had set her mind on leaving to go teach how to read and write, she didn’t know who or where, while her mother tried to show how hard it would be for her and the father listed once and again the tremendous dangers of that different and faraway world. Then I saw her return. She was the same but thinner, with many necklaces made from strange seeds that hung from the neck where the chain with the crucifix and Our Lady of Charity medallion continued tangled. She came with a thick notebook full of words of thanks and love, written in large letters. She came with the same eyes, with another light. Neither the sister nor he understood what was happening that year. Both of them didn’t find out until much later the transcendental meaning...

The miracle of the Vietnamese

The miracle of the Vietnamese

“They work. They resemble fine silversmiths in everything they do, in wood, in mother-of-pearl, as gunsmiths, in textiles, in painting, in embroidery, in ploughs.” José Martí wrote this about the Vietnamese. There are reasons to believe that the Vietnamese carry Cuba in their hearts. And it’s difficult for us Cubans to not have them in ours. For an entire generation, like mine, they were a living example of the capacity to resist and of the will to win in an unequal battle, where the United States used for the first time its weapons of extermination, never seen before. With a decimated population, whole families who disappeared or died, a territory devastated by gunfire and chemical weapons, and its economy practically destroyed, the Vietnamese reached peace in the mid-1970s. From that point on they faced the task of rebuilding the country. Vietnam’s recovery is not a miracle; or better said, the miracle of Vietnam is not having been the product of a miracle, but rather of the virtue of work and the subsequent application of a program of transformations that drove it to growing prosperity year after year. Today, Vietnam displays impressive statistics: Date / GDP Millions...

Photo: Kaloian

The machine for the production of scientists and science

Three apparently indirectly related news items motivated these lines. Not too long ago the magazine Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific publications in the world, published an article where it affirmed that Cuban science can be “Global.” On Wednesday it was published in Cuba that UNESCO is forecasting a deficit of teachers worldwide for the next decade. But in September of this year, when the school year was inaugurated in Cuba, it was also announced that we already have a deficit of teachers. The “machine for the production of scientists,” a decisive part of the “science-making machine,” which has been one of the best achieved creations of the Cuban socialist project since 1959, is today facing practically unprecedented challenges. It’s not that we didn’t have important scientists before 1959. It would be false to affirm something like this, but what we did not have before that year was a system capable of massively producing high-quality scientists. The University we have today is the direct product, but evolved, of the University Reform approved on January 10, 1962, a reform carried out to put that University inherited from the underdeveloped capitalism in tune with the development effort the country needed. Two...

The Damned Blessing of Sugar Cane

The Damned Blessing of Sugar Cane

Some historians say that sugar entered Cuba by Puerto Güincho, in Nuevitas, Camagüey, coming from the neighbor island Hispaniola. It came to stay, even in spite of ourselves. In a month or a little more, the sugarcane harvest will start again in the country. The sugar industry (today still based on the production of sugar crystals and some syrup’s by-products) will have to become our “sugarcane industry” sometime, and eventually, we will be able to profit from all the potential of the grass. Sugarcane—either starting from the plant or as a final destination—perhaps represents one of the biggest chances the archipelago has to boost a productive transformation process that may help us to live in a prosperous country. This achievement will depend on a lot of factors, but mainly on the change of many “settled mind-sets” used to their way of thinking and doing in the industry. Cuba has a relation of love and hate, enthusiasm and frustration with sugar; this is no doubt an almost fetishist perception of the product. All our history, our culture, and a good deal of the Cuban imaginary have revolved around the cane juice, the sugarloaf, the syrup, the spirits, and, of course, the...

Photo by Jorge Luis Baños (IPS)

Oil and our daily dependence

The news that the intricate village of Motembo, in Villa Clara, could rise up out of anonymity and play a decisive role in the Cuban economy over the coming years, hit the press over the last few days. Estimates of probable oil stocks announced by the Australian company MEO in the area called Block 9 have rescued Motembo from the oblivion of 100 years, because it was there, in the nineteenth century, where the first well of light crude oil Cuba was discovered. Many expectations and new hopes were created following the announcement, in times in which the reduction of oil supplies from Venezuela has raised in many the spectre of the Special Period. However, the news that it brought to my mind was the once more the reality of the evil that we have suffered for most of our history as a country: the energy dependence we have carried from the early twentieth century. In Economics, dependence has many dimensions: energy, food, technological, financial, commercial ... Cuba suffers them all. Some have also increased in these times, the result of the long crisis that we suffered from the early nineties of the last century and which we have not...

The situation and development in Cuba

The situation and development in Cuba

Having a development plan that runs until 2030 does not mean that in 2030 Cuba will be a developed country. Now that the archipelago has begun to discuss the documents from the Seventh Party Congress, where the development model that we want to achieve is set out. In order for it to be prosperous; I think that the topic of the moment, or that of time management, is decisive. Advancing along the path of development with a plan (I would have preferred to call it a program) means that we work together in a coordinated and determined way looking for that plan. It also means that this plan will have to undergo constant updates throughout the years, right up until 2030. The first step with then be to agree about what development we want and what is the standing of the development that we can aspire towards, being, as we are, a poor country, still subject to an embargo, whose population is ostensibly decreasing and aging. We cannot take a great leap forwards in development because we have many accumulated deficits. In essential areas (like that of computerisation) we are advancing at a speed which is slower than the rest...

Photo by Yander Zamora

The urgency of infrastructure for development in Cuba

If we could calculate how much, in terms of lost revenue, services no longer lent, and interrupted labour, we would have in our hands a very illustrative resource to help understand just how important it is to rely on a good, modern, and efficient ‘infrastructure’. In the documents approved in the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, and whose discussion, who for all those who want to participate in life in the island, it has already begun: a group of ‘strategic areas’ with which to reach development, are described . What is infrastructure, economically speaking? It is a group of sectors and activities, that provide services or guarantee access to services that facilitate people’s daily life. As much in their productive tasks as when they are quietly watching TV. A simple example of sectors of infrastructure are those of energy, transport, communications, water and sanitation. Obviously if we want to productively transform the country and insert ourselves, with real profits, into the global economy, infrastructure is decisive.  But infrastructure is also essential if we want to achieve a sustainable development, if we really want to be prosperous, if we aspire to greater equality. Including, if Cuba wants to be...

Now that Obama has returned to the U.S.

Now that Obama has returned to the U.S.

Cuba did not arrive at Obama’s presidential visit with its head bowed and hands supplicating. It arrived, that’s correct, with clothes stained with the vicissitudes of 56 years of self-abandonment and of resisting the jostling of a neighbour… a neighbour that became an enemy because of the decisions of many former president elects before Obama came. It seems that this neighbour understood that force and anger only generates more force and anger. The visit and its results have generated all kinds of impressions and positions. Back in his country many have criticised the American leader for daring to take this step. From this side of the Florida Straits some are more focused on highlighting the threats than the opportunities arising from this visit. It would seem that the critics here and there would prefer another 56 years of embargo instead of trying the path to normalisation. These are the paradoxes of a reality that seems to change more quickly than some of its protagonists. From my perspective the outcome of this visit for Cuba is very positive. Augustín Lage has listed the outcomes and I agree wholeheartedly. The President of the United States did not come here to demand submission,...

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