lunes, 22 de diciembre de 2014

Eliminar la doble moneda, una reforma clave para Cuba

Eliminar la doble moneda, una reforma clave para Cuba
MIMI WHITEFIELD MWHITEFIELD@MIAMIHERALD.COM
12/20/2014 7:51 PM 12/20/2014 8:10 PM

Unificar el torpe sistema de doble moneda de Cuba ocupa el primer lugar
en la lista de reformas que el gobierno afirma llevará a cabo, pero
según los analistas otros cambios —desde medidas para acelerar la
inversión extranjera hasta una nueva estructura de impuestos— son
absolutamente importantes para poder profundizar y ampliar estas reformas.

Con el anuncio la semana pasada del restablecimiento de las relaciones
diplomáticas entre Estados Unidos y Cuba, es muy temprano para saber si
este acercamiento ayudará a acelerar las reformas económicas en materia
de inversión y unificación de la moneda.

Los cubanos usan un tipo de dinero, el peso cubano, para las compras
diarias y para pagar la mayor parte de los salarios. Sin embargo, por lo
general los turistas utilizan otro tipo de moneda, el peso convertible,
que también hace falta para comprar los artículos de consumo que más
falta hace.

Para que la confusión sea aun más grande, hay también una tasa de cambio
para las empresas estatales y otra para los incipientes negocios
privados de Cuba. La tasa de cambio oficial es de 25 pesos cubanos (CUP)
por un peso cubano convertible (CUC), pero para las empresas estatales
el CUP está a la par con el CUC. Basta decir que CUC es igual a un dólar
norteamericano.

Primero el gobierno dijo que planeaba eliminar el improductivo sistema
en el 2013 y trabajar para lograr un solo tipo de dinero, el peso
cubano, pero esta unificación continúa siendo la pieza más importante
dado que Cuba busca revisar y reparar su depauperada economía.

"Esta es probablemente la más difícil de todas las reformas. Es muy
compleja, pero a la vez es una reforma clave, sobre todo en un momento
en que Cuba intenta atraer la inversión extranjera", dijo Carmelo Mesa
Lago, economista cubano que ha escrito extensamente acerca del tema.

No solamente el CUC esta sobrevalorado sino que crea distorsiones en la
economía cubana. La tasa de cambio de 1-1, por ejemplo, hace que resulte
difícil determinar la verdadera productividad de las empresas estatales.
La mayor parte de los precios mayoristas y minoristas en Cuba están
fuera de balance y el sobrevalorado CUC tiende a hacer que las
exportaciones cubanas resulten menos competitivas.

"Las frena y deforma el comportamiento económico de cualquiera", dijo
Arch Ritter, economista y profesor de la Universidad Carleton en Ottawa.

El sistema de moneda doble también ha causado graves disparidades de
salarios en Cuba. Los cubanos que trabajan para compañías extranjeras y
reciben propinas en CUC les va mucho mejor que aquellos que trabajan
para el Estado y cobran sus salarios en CUP.

El mes pasado, Marino Murillo, ministro de Economía de Cuba, dijo que
eliminar este sistema es la tarea más importante tarea que tiene el
gobierno y que ciertos pasos hacia la transición ya están en camino.

Se ha especulado de que la unificación podría causar una gran conmoción,
pero en la actualidad parece que el gobierno está dando pasos
escalonados. Las tiendas que antes aceptaban sólo CUC han empezado a
aceptar ambas monedas, y en la actualidad los precios se señalan en las
dos monedas en tiendas selectas. La práctica está siendo puesta en vigor
gradualmente por toda la isla.

El gobierno también está realizando experimentos a pequeña escala con
diferentes tasas de cambio —10 CUP por un CUC, por ejemplo— en algunas
industrias estatales, dijo Mesa Lago.

Según los analistas, una tasa de intercambio realista y unificada podría
llevar a la economía cubana a ser más competitiva, pero el proceso
conlleva riesgos, y hay ganadores y perdedores durante la transición.
"Tienen que tener mucho cuidado, ya que podría haber una revuelta
social", dijo Richard Feinberg, profesor de Economía Política
Internacional de la Universidad de California, en San Diego y miembro de
la Institución Brookings.

Sin embargo, funcionarios del gobierno han tratado de tranquilizar a la
población diciéndole que la unificación del dinero se hará de una forma
que no afectaría a las personas que han mantenido sus ahorros en bancos
cubanos en CUC o en pesos.

"No sé cómo irían a hacer esto", dijo Mesa Lago. "Existe igualmente la
posibilidad de que provoque una inflación. Pero si esto ocurre, a la
larga sería beneficioso".

Feinberg y un grupo de estudiosos y economistas de Estados Unidos, Cuba
y otros países latinoamericanos se reunieron a lo largo de un año para
examinar cómo darle forma a las reglas económicas cubanas de una forma
que entusiasme un crecimiento sostenible .

"Queremos ver un país que está en plena transición de un tipo de
economía central a una economía más orientada al mercado", y estudiar la
situación desde el punto de vista de las economías que ya han pasado por
este proceso, dijo Feinberg. "No estamos diciendo que se tomen las
lecciones aprendidas y se copien al pie de la letra, pero lo cierto es
que no tiene sentido repetir los mismos errores", dijo.

La colaboración trajo como resultado un informe de Brookings que llegó a
la conclusión que ahora es el momento en que Cuba acelere sus reformas y
priorice la expansión del sector privado, así como la inversión
extranjera y el compromiso gradual con instituciones financieras
internacionales.

Phil Peters, presidente del Centro de Estudios Cubanos, son sede en
Alexandria, Virginia, coincide con que el gobierno cubano tiene que
tomar una postura que le permita a abogados, ingenieros, arquitectos,
consultantes y otros profesionales trabajar por su cuenta. Algunos se
las arreglan para trabajar de forma privada y escapar de la prohibición.
Un arquitecto, por ejemplo, podría sacar una licencia como trabajador de
la construcción, apuntó Peters.

"Pero si no encuentran una forma de permitirle trabajar a profesionales
capacitados, estarían perdiendo mucho dinero", dijo.

Hay otras piezas sueltas —tanto grandes como pequeñas— en el proceso de
reformar la economía de Cuba. En caso que se implementen, los
cubanólogos dicen que los empresarios de la isla tendrían más éxito y
podrían ayudar a revivir el crecimiento económico.

El viernes, cuando la Asamblea Nacional se reunió para discutir el
presupuesto del 2015, el ministro de Economía y Planificación Marino
Murillo anunció que Cuba prevé un crecimiento económico de 4% para 2015,
después que en el 2014 el Producto Interno Bruto (PIB) sólo aumentó
1.3%. También, la cifra de crecimiento en 2014 quedó por debajo del
2.2%, anuncio Murillo.

Una interrogante es la habilidad de Cuba para atraer inversión
extranjera, que según han dicho diversos funcionarios, es algo esencial
para los planes de desarrollo de la isla.

Este otoño, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, ministro de Comercio Exterior,
anunció 246 proyectos que se agregan a una inversión de $8,700 millones
abierta a la inversión extranjera. El gobierno espera atraer entre
$2,000 y $2,500 millones anualmente de inversionistas extranjeros.

Entre los proyectos en la lista hay 86 en la industria del petróleo, 56
proyectos turísticos, entre otros planes para construir condominios y
campos de golf y 21 nuevos hoteles, una planta para producir botellas y
otra para fabricar latas de aluminio, procesar camarones y proyectos de
granjas de manís y fincas eólicas en los que se permitirá un 100% de
inversión extranjera.

La salud, la educación, los medios de prensa y las fuerzas armadas
siguen estando muy cerca de las inversiones extranjeras.

Los cubanos esperan que su lista de inversiones extranjeras junto a la
nueva ley de inversiones extranjeras y una zona económica especial
ligada a la expansión del Puerto de Mariel, atraiga a los inversionistas.

Malmierca dijo que la economía cubana debe crecer al nivel alto del 7%
anualmente para el tipo de desarrollo que el país necesita y que la
inversión foránea desempeñará un papel importante en dicha ecuación.

Las leyes de inversión extranjera eximen a los inversionistas de pagar
impuestos durante ocho años y reduce los impuestos de 30% a 15%. Sin
embargo, las firmas extranjeras no tendrán la libertad de contratar y
pagarle directamente a los trabajadores.

"Muchos potenciales inversionistas extranjeros se preguntan si habrá
suficiente libertad, rentabilidad y seguridad para sus inversiones",
dijo Feinberg.

Source: Eliminar la doble moneda, una reforma clave para Cuba | El Nuevo
Herald -
http://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/mundo/america-latina/cuba-es/article4745412.html

Las confiscaciones, un escollo para la reconciliación Cuba-EEUU

Las confiscaciones, un escollo para la reconciliación Cuba-EEUU
MARTHA BRANNIGAN MBRANNIGAN@MIAMIHERALD.COM
12/20/2014 8:01 PM 12/20/2014 11:50 PM

Si es cierto que el diablo se esconde en los detalles, como dice el
dicho, un problema infernal en la vía de la normalización de relaciones
entre Estados Unidos y Cuba será encontrar una manera de resolver las
reclamaciones de compañías e individuos estadounidenses que perdieron
propiedades en la revolución cubana hace ya más de medio siglo.

Luego de que Fidel Castro bajara de las montañas para asumir el control
de la isla, el nuevo gobierno, mayormente entre 1959 y 1961, expropió la
mayor parte de los activos corporativos y personales de EEUU en ese
país. Eso incluyó unos dos millones de acres de tierras, por ejemplo de
cañaverales, además de fábricas, compañías de servicios básicos, de
operaciones mineras y puertos.

Ciudadanos estadounidenses han presentado reclamaciones certificadas por
alrededor de $7,000 millones en contra del gobierno cubano, en base a
las actas de la Comisión de Resolución de Reclamaciones en el Extranjero
de EEUU (FCSC), una sección del Departamento de Justicia autorizada a
resolver ese tipo de asuntos.

Entre los reclamantes están Exxon Corp., Texaco, Coca-Cola Co. y
Colgate-Palmolive Co., además de otras compañías norteamericanas de
primera línea, pero además incluyen a muchos individuos con
reclamaciones de menor escala, que llegan hasta la pérdida de una bicicleta.

"Buscar la manera de resolver esas reclamaciones va a ser un proceso
sumamente complicado, porque Cuba no tiene $7,000 millones", dijo
Mauricio Tamargo, asociado del bufete legal PobleteTamargo LLP, quien
dirigió la Comisión de Resolución de Reclamaciones en el Extranjero del
2002 al 2010. "Hará falta mucha creatividad para resolver esta deuda".

Muchos reclamantes han muerto, o en el caso de las compañías, han sido
adquiridas o se han fundido con otras entidades.

Entretanto, el gobierno cubano tiene presentadas reconvenciones contra
Estados Unidos por daños económicos derivados del prolongado embargo.

Tras el histórico anuncio del presidente Obama sobre sus planes de
normalizar las relaciones diplomáticas, Roberta Jacobson, subsecretaria
de Estado de EEUU para asuntos el Hemisferio Occidental, hizo referencia
de pasada al asunto de las reclamaciones en una entrevista con la prensa
el jueves. Jacobson dijo que habrá que resolver ese tema, pero sugirió
que eso ocurriría probablemente después de que se reanuden los lazos
diplomáticos.

Al esbozar el proceso que se avecina, Jacobson dijo que representantes
de ambos gobiernos comenzarán pronto a trabajar en los detalles de modo
en que EEUU puede hacer la transición a tener una embajada en la isla.

"Pero hay otras cosas que se tienen que acordar que siempre han sido
parte de la discusión de relaciones diplomáticas con Cuba, tales como
las reclamaciones registradas contra el gobierno cubano", afirmó
Jacobson. Ella agregó: "No creemos que esas son cosas que puedan
resolverse antes de que se reanuden las relaciones diplomáticas, pero
consideramos que deberían ser parte de la conversación".

Expertos están de acuerdo en que si el esfuerzo de la administración de
Obama por reanudar lazos diplomáticos evoluciona hacia la terminación
del embargo, el asunto de las reclamaciones será seguramente parte de
ese proceso.

La Ley Helms-Burton, que define particularidades del embargo, establece
como una condición esencial de la reanudación de plenas relaciones
económicas y diplomáticas que esas reclamaciones tienen que resolverse.

Pero todavía está por verse cómo y cuándo ambos gobiernos abordarán el
tema tras las históricas decisiones tomadas esta semana.

"Antes de que podamos llegar al tipo de relaciones que tenemos con
China, por ejemplo, el asunto de las reclamaciones tendrá que resolverse
de un modo o de otro", dijo Patrick J. Borchers, director y profesor de
leyes del Instituto Werner en la Universidad Creighton en Omaha,
Nebraska, el cual encabezó en el 2007 un estudio sobre las reclamaciones
a Cuba.

La Comisión de Resolución de Reclamaciones en el Extranjero, establecida
en 1964, ha certificado 5,913 reclamaciones, de acuerdo con Timothy
Ashby, abogado de la Florida radicado ahora en Londres que ha trabajado
además extensamente en el tema. La comisión completó su proceso inicial
en 1972, y luego añadió dos reclamaciones adicionales en el 2005.

Las reclamaciones eran originalmente de $1,700 millones, pero aumentaron
en valor a alrededor de $7,000 millones al calcularle un interés simple
anual del 6 por ciento.

El proceso de la FCSC se ocupa de las reclamaciones de ciudadanos
estadounidenses. Las de los cubanoamericanos y cubanos todavía en la
isla que perdieron propiedades no se incluyen.

Cuba ha llegado a acuerdos anteriormente con respecto a reclamaciones de
toda una serie de países, como España, Canadá, Francia y Suiza,
relacionadas con la expropiación de activos.

Con el tiempo, se han expresado diversas ideas sobre cómo llegar a un
acuerdo en el caso de la gigantesca disputa con firmas y ciudadanos
estadounidenses.

En el 2006, Ashby, quien estaba entonces radicado en Miami, creó una
compañía que se dedicó a adquirir reclamaciones certificadas a precios
descontados. Ashby dijo que el gobierno cubano "estaba dispuesto a
establecer empresas de capital de riesgo y otras empresas mixtas" a
cambio de satisfacer la deuda.

Pero sus esfuerzos, dijo, se vieron frustrados por la administración del
presidente George W. Bush, quien dijo que el proceso requería una
licencia de la Oficina de Activos Extranjeros del Departamento del
Tesoro, la cual nunca les fue entregada.

"Era un círculo vicioso", dijo Ashby. "Ellos nos paralizaron al
establecer la necesidad de una licencia, y la compañía quedó inactiva".

Un estudio del 2007 de la Universidad Creighton, financiado por USAID,
desarrolló un modelo para resolver las reclamaciones que incluiría
brindar a los reclamantes oportunidades económicas en la isla, tales
como derechos de construcción o zonas libres de impuestos en lugar de
dinero.

"El mayor problema práctico es que Cuba ciertamente no cuenta con las
divisas fuertes para pagar ninguna proporción sustancial de estas
reclamaciones", afirmó Borchers, el profesor de leyes de Creighton.

Brindar oportunidades para el desarrollo económico "ayudaría a la
economía cubana y al pueblo cubano", añadió.

Source: Las confiscaciones, un escollo para la reconciliación Cuba-EEUU
| El Nuevo Herald -
http://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/estados-unidos/article4746540.html

Los cambios que vienen de Cuba

Los cambios que vienen de Cuba
El petróleo de Texas y los saudíes ha hecho lo impensable: abrir el
cerrojo castrista
JORGE CASTAÑEDA 20 DIC 2014 - 00:00 CET

La liberación por el gobierno de Cuba del preso/espía/rehén
estadounidense Alan Gross, y la de los tres espías/héroes/agentes
encubiertos cubanos en Estados Unidos, junto con los anuncios
respectivos de Raúl Castro y Barak Obama, y su conversación telefónica
de ayer, marcan el momento más importante en la historia de las
relaciones de Estados Unidos y la isla desde 1977. Como se recordará,
ese año Jimmy Carter y Fidel Castro llegaron a varios acuerdos entre
ambos gobiernos que permitieron la apertura de dos oficinas de intereses
en cada capital. La intervención del Vaticano, y de Canadá, uno de los
gobiernos más anti-castristas del mundo democrático, fue decisiva y
asegura el cumplimiento de todas las etapas del acuerdo. La valentía de
Barack Obama y de Raúl Castro garantizan lo demás.

No es el fin del embargo; eso solo lo puede cambiar el Congreso
norteamericano. No es una normalización plena: habrá embajadas pero no
embajadores. Pero sí es un avance notable: podrán viajar mas fácilmente
los norteamericanos sin ascendencia cubana a La Habana; se liberarán las
transacciones bancarias entre ambos países; algunos temas comerciales se
abrirán; y Cuba será retirada de la lista de países que apoyan al
terrorismo por el Departamento de Estado.

A primera vista, esto sugiere un gran triunfo cubano, una reculada y
rectificación norteamericana, tardía pero bienvenida. Parece una
confirmación de las posturas más pro-cubanas y anti-yanquis en América
Latina. A cambio Cuba entrega muy poco: Gross, liberar a 53 presos
políticos, permitir la entrada de observadores de la Cruz Roja
Internacional y relatores de Derechos Humanos de Naciones Unidas (lo que
pedimos nosotros hace catorce años) y la ampliación del acceso a
Internet en la isla. No es gran cosa, en vista de lo obtenido: el
restablecimiento de relaciones diplomáticas al cabo de más de medio
siglo de ostracismo.

Falta una variable en la ecuación. ¿Dónde encontrarla? La respuesta se
halla en Caracas, en Moscú y en los yacimientos de gas y crudo shale en
Dakota del Norte y en Eagle Ford en Texas. Me explico. Debido al
incremento espectacular de la producción petrolera de Estados Unidos, a
la recesión europea y japonesa, aunado a la decisión sáudi de reventar a
gobiernos poco afines a Riyadh, y al enfriamiento de las economías china
e india, los precios del petróleo se han desplomado. El gobierno
mexicano se ha cubierto para el año entrante. Pero hay dos gobiernos que
no pudieron: el ruso y el venezolano. Son precisamente aquellos que, en
el segundo caso, mantenían a flote la inexistente economía cubana, y en
el primero, se constituyeron en la esperanza de recambio cuando Nicolás
Maduro y los restos del chavismo no pudieran salvar a la isla.

El caso de Venezuela es el más importante. No sólo se han desplomado los
ingresos del estado venezolano y de la economía en su conjunto. El tipo
de cambio negro se encuentra a 30 múltiplos del oficial; la
hiperinflación acecha; las escaseces se generalizan; y los países
beneficiarios de anteriores subsidios venezolanos en materia petrolera
recompran su deuda con Caracas a 40 centavos por dólar. Para cualquiera
que vea las cosas de frente, es obvio que Venezuela no podrá seguir
subsidiando al régimen castrista con hasta 100,000 barriles de petróleo
diarios; es cada vez más probable que se produzca un cambio político
importante en Venezuela, en un sentido u otro, que imposibilite
perpetuar la tabla de salvación para Cuba.

Así se cierra el círculo. Todos los economistas que han estudiado las
llamadas reformas cubanas reconocen que no han surtido el efecto
deseado; la economía isleña está desahuciada. Todos admiten que sin la
subvención venezolana, Cuba se encontrará de nuevo en una crisis como la
de los años 90. Y todos saben que la única posibilidad de éxito de
dichas de reformas radica en una normalización plena con Estados Unidos.
Pero a pesar de la mejor voluntad de Obama, y de muchos Demócratas en
Washington, sin algún tipo de concesión cubana de fondo en materia de
democracia y derechos humanos .... esa normalización es imposible

Como lo demuestra el libro Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of
Negotiations Between Washington and Havana, publicado hace unas semanas,
los cubanos siempre se han negado a negociar su régimen político contra
el fin del embargo o una normalización con EU. Por tanto, eso no fue
incluido en los anuncios de hoy. Pero apuesto doble contra sencillo que
muy pronto veremos cambios políticos y en materia de derechos humanos de
gran envergadura en Cuba. No es comprensible que Obama le haya dado
tanto a Raúl, a cambio de tan poco. La correlación de fuerzas es la que
es, y el hasta ahora inexistente pragmatismo cubano se le ha impuesto al
régimen por necesidad. Quien hubiera pensado que petroleros tipo James
Dean en Dakota del Norte y Texas, junto con príncipes de la familia
Saud, lograran abrir el cerrojo castrista, cuando nadie mas había podido.

Jorge G. Castañeda es analista político y miembro de la Academia de las
Ciencias y las Artes de EE UU.

Source: Los cambios que vienen de Cuba | Opinión | EL PAÍS -
http://elpais.com/elpais/2014/12/19/opinion/1418983356_928259.html

Raúl - Levantamiento del embargo requerirá movilización internacional

Raúl: Levantamiento del embargo requerirá movilización internacional
Martinoticias.com
diciembre 20, 2014

Tres días después de haberse hecho público el acuerdo entre el
presidente estadounidense y el gobernante de Cuba, Raúl Castro se ha
referido al restablecimiento de las relaciones diplomáticas y a la
posición del presidente Barack Obama, en sus palabras de clausura de la
Asamblea del Poder Popular este sábado.

"El pueblo cubano agradece esta justa decisión del presidente de los
Estados Unidos", dijo, y puntualizó que con ello se ha eliminado un
obstáculo en las relaciones entre ambos países, según cita el periódico
Granma.

En reconocimiento del presidente Obama dijo que sabe de las críticas que
enfrenta "por parte de fuerzas que se oponen a la normalización".

"La lucha será larga y difícil, y requerirá de la movilización
internacional y de la sociedad norteamericana para lograr el
levantamiento del bloqueo", ha afirmado.

Raúl Castro sostiene que "para mejorar las relaciones Cuba no renunciará
a las ideas por las que ha luchado durante más de un siglo, 'por la que
su pueblo ha derramado mucha sangre y ha corrido los mayores riesgos'".

Source: Raúl: Levantamiento del embargo requerirá movilización
internacional -
http://www.martinoticias.com/content/raul-explica-acuerdo-diputados-asamblea-nacional/82714.html

5 ways Cuba-US agreement will make waves

5 ways Cuba-US agreement will make waves
The historic opening between the two countries could have an impact on
travel and business in the long-term, though changes are likely to
happen gradually.
By Whitney Eulich, Staff writer DECEMBER 19, 2014

MEXICO CITY — US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro
made history this week in announcing a plan to restore diplomatic ties
for the first time in more than half a century. "We will end an outdated
approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and
instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,"
President Obama said Dec. 17. But what will these changes look like for
both Cubans and US citizens?

What makes this historic?
In 1961, the United States cut off diplomatic ties with Cuba and
announced an economic embargo that restricted travel and trade. The
blockade has outlasted the cold war, a nuclear crisis, and mass Cuban
emigration. For the past 50-plus years, relations between the Communist
Castro government and the US have largely been hostile, marked
particularly in the early years by invasion attempts and assassination
plots, and refugee crises.

For now, the economic embargo still stands, but this week's change is a
"crucial first step," says Daniel Sachs, Cuba analyst for Control Risks.
"Without this, [the US and Cuba] can't move on to discussing the embargo."

The US will also review Cuba's listing on the State Sponsors of
Terrorism index, which could pave the way for easing other economic or
political sanctions.

This week's announcement, which came after 18 months of secret talks, is
life-changing for those residing in Cuba, says Rafael Hernandez, editor
of the Cuban quarterly cultural affairs magazine Temas.

Mr. Hernandez, who is in his late 60s and spoke by phone from Havana,
says he's in the minority of Cubans who can recall life in the country
before the embargo and cutting of ties.

"People were hugging and congratulating each other after [President
Castro's] announcement," Mr. Hernandez says. "For us, it is wonderful
that finally a US president has been able to understand that any kind of
relations between these two countries must not be under the auspices of
war and confrontation, but dialogue and diplomacy."

Whom does this affect the most?
A prisoner swap saw the release of US aid worker Alan Gross after five
years in Cuban jail for espionage. The three remaining members of the
"Cuban-five," convicted of spying in Miami in 2001, were also freed.
Cuba has agreed to release an additional 53 political prisoners.

"This has been a bothersome pebble in the shoe of US-Latin American
relations for some time now," said Peter Schechter, director of the
Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. "And for
all intents and purposes, that pebble is gone."

Those with family members in the US are also likely to feel a change,
analysts say. "The tangible concessions are the prisoner exchange and
the easing of some sanctions, like increasing limits on remittances,"
says Mr. Sachs.

More broadly, Hernandez in Havana argues that a weight has been lifted
for many Cubans. "This isn't about the government. This isn't about the
political system. This is about us, [regular] Cubans," he says. "The
perception that the US is no longer a threat, that foreign policy is not
aimed to undermine the economic, social, and political system, but to
try and influence those changes in diplomatic ways – it makes a lot of
difference for us."

Did any outside factors play a role?
Yes. Both Castro and Obama thanked Pope Francis and the Canadian
government for their roles in the breakthrough. Canada hosted seven
meetings in Ottawa and Toronto over the past year and a half, and the
Vatican hosted secret talks between Cuba and the US in October.

"The deal reached between Havana and Washington has to be seen in the
context of a long process," a senior Vatican insider told The Christian
Science Monitor. "Pope Francis really made it happen, but the Holy See
has always had relations with Cuba; not always great relations – Castro
was not exactly friendly to the church – but we always kept the lines open."

Venezuela played a part as well, analysts say, though indirectly. For
more than a decade, it has propped up Cuba's struggling economy with oil
and money in exchange for Cuban doctors and the provision of security
intelligence. But Venezuela is facing its own problems, with inflation
of more than 60 percent and a currency that has lost more than 30
percent of its value.

Cuban leaders were already familiar with the pain of losing a
benefactor: After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s,
Cuba went through what was known as the "special period." The economy
crashed and food shortages were common.

Christopher Sabatini, policy director for the Americas Society in New
York, says that it's difficult to overstate the importance Venezuela's
troubles have had on the recent Cuba-US announcement.

Does this mean US tourists can head to Cuba?
Havana's historic architecture, classic cars, nearby beaches, and unique
propaganda plastered along buildings and highways loom large in the
minds of many an American tourist. Travel restrictions for US citizens
remain, but the policy changes will relax them. Lifting all travel
restrictions will require congressional approval.

US citizens are not allowed to travel to Cuba and spend money without a
license from the US government. Specific rules will be announced in
coming weeks, but it appears that general licenses covering 12
categories – including visiting family, conducting official business, or
participating in humanitarian work – will be expanded.

Last year some 170,000 US citizens traveled to the Caribbean island
legally. Many others go under the radar, frequently flying through
Canada or Mexico.

Will the business and investment climate improve?
In the short run, not a lot. "There's a deeply entrenched bureaucracy,
rampant state corruption, and legal and contractual uncertainty," says
Sachs. If a foreign company that isn't held back by the US embargo
invests now, its project is a joint venture with the Cuban government.

The Cuban economy is expected to grow only about 1.3 percent this year,
with similar results in 2015.

The government's willingness to open up has to do with its desire for
"long-term survival of the regime," says Sachs.

There is however, expected to be increased interest in investment –
businesses looking to learn more about tourism, telecommunications, and
automobile industries, perhaps preparing for any future signs of
economic opening in Cuba.

The changes announced this week will authorize expanded trade in a small
number of goods and services, such as exports of building materials or
services like business training to help boost the fledgling private
sector in Cuba. An estimated 450,000 small-business owners on the island
have started private businesses since Cuba began easing restrictions on
ownership over the past several years.

Source: 5 ways Cuba-US agreement will make waves - CSMonitor.com -
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2014/1219/5-ways-Cuba-US-agreement-will-make-waves

What Washington’s Policy Shift Means for Cuba’s Awful Internet Service

What Washington's Policy Shift Means for Cuba's Awful Internet Service
Alex Fitzpatrick @alexjamesfitz Updated: Dec. 19, 2014 10:17 AM

Part of the new deal involves efforts to literally bring Cuba up to speed

About a quarter of Cubans have Internet access, according to the
International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency that
oversees global communications. One in four may seem decent, especially
compared to other isolated nations like North Korea, where its netizens
are its most elite. But it turns out that 25% figure doesn't tell the
whole picture.

Most connected Cubans only have access to a Balkanized,
government-approved version of the Internet, more akin to a heavily
restricted web portal than the open browser you and I use. Freedom House
describes the typical Cuban connectivity experience as "a tightly
controlled government-filtered intranet, which consists of a national
email system, a Cuban encyclopedia, a pool of educational materials and
open-access journals, Cuban websites, and foreign websites that are
supportive of the Cuban government."

Maps of undersea communications cables tell the story of Cuba's Internet
another way. Only one major submarine cable connects Cuba's
telecommunications networks to the outside world: ALBA-1, owned by a
state-run Venezuelan telecom and connecting southeastern Cuba to
Venezuela and Jamaica. That cable could be in pretty bad shape, says
Fulton Armstrong, a research fellow at American University's Center for
Latin American and Latino Studies, but Armstrong added that he couldn't
verify that first hand.

Tellingly, cables that connect the southeastern U.S. to Central, South
and Latin America completely bypass the island nation.

From an engineering perspective, it makes perfect sense to have routed
those cables through Cuba. But geopolitics got in the way: the U.S.
trade embargo with Cuba meant American companies couldn't lay pipe into
the island, leaving it off the grid as neighbors got online. Cuba has
for decades been a member of Soviet/Russian satellite service
Intersputnik, but the country didn't get Internet access until the
American telecom provider Sprint set up shop in 1996. Sprint provided a
dedicated line connecting the Cuban state Internet provider to Sprint's
U.S. network at 64kbps — just a bit faster than dial-up when running
full throttle.

Sprint was able to set up that line thanks to 1992's Cuban Democracy
Act, which authorized American companies "to provide efficient and
adequate telecommunications services" between the U.S. and Cuba." The
idea was to ensure that Cubans wouldn't be entirely cut off from notions
of free speech and democracy. But Cuba's web censorship, combined with
its slow speed and high cost, means the Internet hasn't had a massive
impact on its society.

"Only foreign nationals and Castro can afford [Cuba's Internet]," says
Larry Press, a researcher and blogger who covers technology in Cuba. In
lieu of the Internet, he says, Cubans buy and sell USB drives loaded
with media like American movies and TV shows on the secondary market.
New drives with fresh content pop up weekly, Press says. He isn't sure
where the drives come from, but one theory he relayed is that the Cuban
government could be allowing them as a means to profit from them. Some
Cubans also use illicit Wi-Fi networks to share information locally, but
those networks aren't connected to the wider Internet.

Nevertheless, Cuba's Internet could be about to get a whole lot better.
President Barack Obama unexpectedly announced a new chapter in
U.S.-Cuban relations Wednesday, and part of that deal involves new
efforts to literally bring Cuba up to speed. Under the policy change,
American companies will be able to not only sell some hardware and
software to Cuban customers, but they could be encouraged to make
investments in infrastructure, too, whether that means building undersea
cables or rolling out mobile broadband across the country. Cuba's
Internet, Press says, is a "greenfield," meaning whatever networks are
built won't be encumbered by pre-existing infrastructure, because so
little of it exists. That means Cuba could bypass older, slower
technologies and leapfrog right to ultra-fast fiber, for example,
provided the will and the funds are there.

"I hope they consider a wide range of infrastructure ownership and
control models, looking toward Europe, China, Singapore, South Korea,
Google (free DSL or paid fiber), et cetera," says Press. American
University's Armstrong, meanwhile, says bringing faster Internet to Cuba
will "take some time," with the speed depending on "how fast [the
telecoms] and the Cubans negotiate deals and get them off the ground."

The White House said its new policy will help Cubans communicate more
freely, which could accelerate societal change in the Communist country.
But it remains to be seen just how much Cuban officials will be willing
to open up. China, in particular, has proven that it's possible to have
a flourishing technology sector while still keeping a tight lid on what
citizens search for, say and do online. Still, if Congress approves
normalizing trade ties with Cuba, that could give Washington economic
leverage to make sure Cuba keeps its Internet open. And there's a
chance, however small, that would mean changes offline, too.

"With greater opening and exposure of the Cubans to American culture,
music, movies and way of life, I think there might be more demand for
greater freedom, which might then encourage the government to loosen up
its practices," says Sanja Kelly, project director at Freedom on the
Net, Freedom House's Internet freedom project. However, she cautioned
that Cuba's fate remains in its leaders' hands: "[Cuba's] future will
ultimately depend on the government's willingness to change its
repressive practices."

Source: What Washington's Policy Shift Means for Cuba's Awful Internet
Service | TIME - http://time.com/3640269/cuba-internet-washington-policy/

Cuba's oil a new frontier, surrounded by hopes and doubts

Cuba's oil a new frontier, surrounded by hopes and doubts

MIAMI -- One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits
just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the
United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the
action.

It's a prospect welcomed by Cubans desperate for economic growth yet
deeply concerning for environmentalists and the tourism industry in the
region.

But a Cuban oil boom is unlikely anytime soon even if restrictions on
U.S. businesses are relaxed because of low oil prices and far better
drilling opportunities elsewhere.

"(Cuba) is not going to be the place where operators come rolling in,"
says Bob Fryklund, chief strategist for oil and gas exploration and
production at the analysis firm IHS.

Although Cuba's oil and gas industry has long been open to foreign
investment, the U.S. embargo has denied it some of the world's best
deep-water drilling technology and expertise. As a result, Cuba produces
just 55,000 barrels of oil per day. About one-third of that is produced
by a Canadian firm called Sherritt International.

Cuba needs 155,000 barrels per day, and it fills the gap with oil from
Venezuela, part of a trade agreement established under former Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez. By comparison, a single large oil platform in the
deep water U.S. Gulf of Mexico can produce 200,000 barrels per day.

The few major exploration projects in Cuba in recent years have had
little success. Most recently, the Spanish company Repsol abandoned a
yearslong exploration project in 2012 when an offshore exploratory well
failed to find much oil.

Fryklund says that U.S. oil services firms, which have been prevented
from working in Cuba, could provide technology to operators in Cuba to
help increase production somewhat. Also, U.S. refiners could find a new
market in Cuba for gasoline and diesel or refining technology. Cuba has
been struggling to find a partner to finance an upgrade an expansion of
its largest refinery, in Cienfuegos.

But a factor that helped push Cuba to seek closer ties with the United
States also could impede major oil exploration there: low oil prices.

A plunge of nearly 50 percent in the global price of oil has crushed the
oil-dependent economies of Venezuela and Russia, threatening aid from
Cuba's biggest benefactors.

"None of Cuba's friends have the financial capability to throw a safety
net or a safety line to Cuba," says Jorge Pinon, former Amoco Oil Latin
America president now at the University of Texas. Cuba suffered
enormously when foreign aid dried up after the fall of the Soviet Union,
and it wants to avoid similar economic pain now that Venezuelan aid is
uncertain.

Low oil prices also force drillers to shy away from risky projects
because the potential for a big financial return is so much smaller.

Even though Cuba sits relatively close to some of the biggest deep-water
oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico, the geology under Cuba's waters is
drastically different from that of the rest of the Gulf.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there are 4.6 billion barrels of
undiscovered oil in Cuba -- a substantial but not enormous amount
because not all of that oil could possibly be produced. The U.S. Gulf of
Mexico contains an estimated 10 times that much.

Also, there are also bigger and better-known fields in Mexico, which
recently amended its constitution to allow foreign investment in its oil
industry.

Cuba could offer very favorable terms to entice drillers to come,
however, and smaller firms willing to take bigger risks may give Cuba a
shot.

A major concern for environmentalists and the tourism industry in the
region is Cuba's ability to drill at international safety standards,
including its response to any spill, according to Bob Graham, who
co-chaired the national commission on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
They fear a spill could quickly spread to ecologically rich and
economically important reefs and beaches in nearby Florida and
throughout the Caribbean.

Under the U.S. embargo of Cuba, which remains in place, anything
comprised of more than 10 percent U.S. parts cannot be sold to Cuba or a
Cuban contractor. That covers almost all modern drilling systems, Graham
says. "It's going to require some modification of the embargo to allow
state-of-the-art equipment to be used for Cuban drilling."

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has been working
with the U.S. Coast Guard and other state and federal agencies to study
the possible threats posed by offshore oil drilling near the Florida
Straits and the Bahamas, says NOAA spokesman Ben Sherman. The agency
also shares technical expertise on oil spill planning and response with
Caribbean nations, including Cuba, Sherman says.

When William Reilly, Graham's co-chair on Deepwater Horizon spill
commission and head of the EPA under President George H. W. Bush,
presented the commission's final report to Cuban regulators in Havana,
he found they had already made plans to follow the commission's
recommendations with the resources they had. That included sending staff
to Canada to learn English to improve communications in the event of an
oil spill.

Reilly says Cuban officials had high hopes for their oil industry. A
delegation had a telescope trained on an offshore rig that was exploring
for oil and gas, though it could be seen without a telescope. "It was
like a beacon of economic hope to Cubans in Havana," he says.

___

Story by AP writers Jonathan Fahey and Jennifer Kay.

Source: Cuba's oil a new frontier, surrounded by hopes and doubts |
NOLA.com -
http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2014/12/cubas_oil_future_surrounded_by.html

One Big Risk for Cuba-U.S. Relations: Moving Too Fast

One Big Risk for Cuba-U.S. Relations: Moving Too Fast
DEC. 17, 2014 Neil Irwin

A normal economic relationship between the United States and Cuba has
been a long time coming; the strict trade embargo with the island nation
has been in place longer than the current president of the United States
has been alive.

But if Cuba and the United States are one day to become allies with the
deep economic interconnections you might expect of two countries
separated by only 90 miles of sea, one of the biggest risks might be
moving too fast.

That is a conclusion of some scholars who very much favor economic
liberalization of Cuba — but want it done right. Gary Clyde Hufbauer and
Barbara Kotschwar, scholars at the Peterson Institute for International
Economics, published a book this spring looking at the hard task of
reintegrating the two economies as Fidel and Raúl Castro fade from the
political scene. Their conclusions suggest it would be foolhardy to
imagine a rapid return to the days when American tourists frequented the
Tropicana, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta had an office in Havana.

There is, they argue, a model for how not to make the transition, a
prime example being Russia's "shock therapy" approach to privatizing
industries and introducing democratic government after the demise of the
Soviet Union.

"The world has already witnessed Russia's headlong rush into capitalism,
and the terrible consequences when an economy is captured by oligarchs
and overrun by corruption, with only a veneer of democratic
institutions," write Mr. Hufbauer and Ms. Kotschwar in their new book,
"Economic Normalization With Cuba."

"For many Russians, the transition from Communism to capitalism was a
disaster," they wrote. "Without a proper institutional framework, much
the same could happen in Cuba, given its huge portfolio of state-run
companies closely tied to the military and its entrenched bureaucracy."

Cubans — and Americans wanting to do business there — will be better off
if they instead emulate Vietnam and China, two countries that have
migrated from Communism to a hybrid system that is nominally Communist
but practices free-market capitalism to a large degree. That has allowed
them to become more fully integrated into the global economy and helped
millions of their citizens escape poverty over the last generation
without bloodshed or revolution.

How might that strategy of gradualism play out in Cuba?

Mr. Hufbauer and Ms. Kotschwar envision liberalization proceeding step
by step, with each step matched by greater integration in the
American-led economic and political system.

"if the United States allows Americans to freely travel to Cuba for
tourism, Cuba should commit to allowing American hotel chains to operate...

For example, they write, if the United States allows Americans to freely
travel to Cuba for tourism (a step that the Obama administration stopped
short of in the series of steps toward liberalization announced
Wednesday), Cuba should commit to allowing American hotel chains to
operate on equal footing with Cuban and European-owned resorts.

Or if the United States allows Cuba to join the International Monetary
Fund, Cuba should commit to complying over time with the trade
liberalization rules of the World Trade Organization.

And to the degree Cuban firms are allowed to export cigars and other
goods to the United States, American firms should be granted freedom to
invest in Cuba on terms comparable to that of other international ventures.

For two countries that have barely talked to each other for nearly three
generations, there is a long way to go to build the kind of trust that
the United States enjoys with most of its neighbors. The approach that
Mr. Hufbauer and Ms. Kotschwar (who were both traveling Wednesday and
thus unavailable to be interviewed) outline a way to build that trust
step by step. One imagines the negotiations that led to the new thaw,
which reportedly took place in Canada and at the Vatican, being first
steps toward that kind of mutual back-and-forth you see in normal
diplomatic and trade relationships.

One thing is for sure, though. Given how hostile United States relations
with Russia are more than two decades after the fall of the Soviet
Union, Americans have a strong rooting interest in avoiding a Putin-like
leader of Cuba 90 miles from its shores.

Source: One Big Risk for Cuba-U.S. Relations: Moving Too Fast -
NYTimes.com -
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/upshot/one-big-risk-for-cuba-us-relations-may-be-moving-too-fast.html?abt=0002&abg=1

Cuban economic reforms spur talk of race

Cuban economic reforms spur talk of race
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES NGAMEZTORRES@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM
12/20/2014 8:39 AM 12/20/2014 4:43 PM

As Cuba prepares to enter its fifth year of sweeping economic reforms to
jump-start its lumbering economy, many say the changes have had an
unintended effect: drawing attention to the thorny subject of race.

A recent rally on racial discrimination in Cuba, sponsored by the
Ministry of Culture, was dubbed "Talking about discrimination hurts. Not
talking about it, divides us."

The government-sanctioned dialogue organized by the Regional Chapter of
Afro-descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean (ARAAC) has taken on
an educational tone in the form of book presentations, academic
discourse and even music concerts.

Another event, the two-day public forum — entitled "Race and Cuban
Identity: Cuba's Past, Present and Future" — was organized by the
opposition's Committee for the Racial Integration of Citizens (CIR). It
focused on inequality of Afro-descendants in Cuba "in the midst of
economic adjustments."

Among the topics: lack of equity for the island's black community,
increased levels of poverty and vulnerability, and the meager number of
Afro-Cubans in managerial jobs.

Black Cubans are trapped between "an economy of survival" and "the
informal economy," opposition leader Manuel Cuesta Morúa said during the
forum.

Reaction to the historic announcement this week that the U.S. and Cuba
plan to normalize relations reflected the sharp divisions within the
Afro-Cuban community, with some supporting the deal and others opposed.

"The problem is not the embargo or the U.S. government. The problem is
the system in Cuba that does not work," said Berta Soler, leader of the
Ladies in White dissident group. "There is no benefit for the Cuban
people in this deal, only for the government."

For decades, Cuban officials resisted talk about racism on the island,
saying that such a debate could weaken "the nation's unity" and
undermine the revolution. But economic reforms pushed by Cuban leader
Raúl Castro have laid bare vast racial inequities. Now, the government
has signaled that it's acceptable to talk about race and has even
initiated some of the conversations.

But CIR's leader, Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna, said that the ARAAC event
was "a political response" to the dissident's forum, "orchestrated by
those same authorities who oppose talking about racism and who try to
suppress our initiatives."

"They're the same authorities who demonize us as the 'Afro-right' and
categorize us as instruments of North American politics," he said.

However, the government's official support of the ARAAC rally is viewed
by some as a positive outcome for activists, especially because it came
after its founder, Roberto Zurbano, criticized the organization for
lacking public support.

In an editorial in The New York Times headlined, "For Blacks in Cuba,
the Revolution hasn't begun," Zurbano also criticized the government for
not allowing racial prejudice to be publicly debated. Instead, it has
tried to pretend as if it doesn't exist, he said.

"Before 1990, black Cubans suffered a paralysis of economic mobility
while, paradoxically, the government decreed the end of racism in
speeches and publications," Zurbano wrote. "To question the extent of
racial progress was tantamount to a counterrevolutionary act. This made
it almost impossible to point out the obvious: Racism is alive and well."

After the article appeared last year, he was fired as editor of
publications for Casa de las Américas, a cultural institution in Havana.

Cuba began showing deep inequality during the 1990s so-called "Special
Period" that saw a severe economic crisis and it has increased over the
last decade, said Alejandro de la Fuente, director of Institute of
Afro-Latin American Studies at Harvard University.

De la Fuente, who has written A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and
Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba, said the social and racial equality
gap among black and white Cubans widened after the welfare state — which
distributed goods in a way that was largely egalitarian — disappeared
with the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, Cuba's former benefactor.

"Those elements haven't been restored," de la Fuente said. "It's
doubtful that they'll ever be."

Remittances sent by relatives abroad also contribute to inequality
because the funds mostly land in the hands of the island's white
population. While reforms aren't racially defined and aren't policies
that hold racial biases, they do carry racial implications, he said.

"That's where we circle back to the issue of remittances and the access
to housing and decisions about which buildings and homes will be open
for tourists," de la Fuente said.

Those are, to a greater extent, also in the hands of the white
population, he said.

Since the 1990s, the racial consequences of economic policies enforced
during the "Special Period" have been debated. Expert recommendations
haven't translated into concrete policy changes. And Raúl Castro's
economic reforms have done nothing to bridge the economic gap among the
races, de la Fuente said.

Part of the problem, he said, is the lack of recent data.

According to official statistics provided in 2002, unemployment was 3
percent higher among blacks and mulattos. Whites were 8.3 percentage
points above average among the self-employed, and more whites — between
4 and 4.9 points above average — were employed in managerial, scientific
and intellectual jobs.

"In the 90s, there were many studies that at least demonstrated that
there was a problem, and I think that should be revisited again," de la
Fuente said. "Political debate about this is very important but in order
to design concrete policies, we need more extensive information about
this and we've been lacking in that department."

Sandra Alvarez, a black activist and author of a blog titled, Negra
Cubana tenía que ser (it had to have been a black Cuban woman) said more
support is needed for organizations like ARAAC. She also pointed to
limited Internet access and the absence of laws allowing incidents of
racial discrimination to be reported as examples of obstacles to equality.

"We need things to run more fluidly," she said. "We can't let ignorance
and fears drain our energies."

Madrazo, leader of the opposition CIR group, said he mistrusts ARAAC and
other organizations with ties to the government.

"It's only through autonomy that citizen activism can move forward,"
Madrazo said. "Empowerment and citizen activism scare Cuba's powerful."

Despite ideological differences, activists from all sides of the
political spectrum have reached agreement about the need to create
"specific" and "affirmative" policies.

What Cuba lacks in order to "dethrone colonial patterns and behaviors of
exclusion" is a "change in mentality," said Leonardo Calvo, a member of CIR.

Calvo called for the implementation of effective means of empowerment
and adoption of laws to promote justice for Afro-descendants.

"Affirmative policies can play an enormous role in giving society what
it needs," he said. "People's self-esteems have to be lifted and social
environments created. Without these, it will be impossible for the
fractured nation to be complete again."

FOLLOW NORA GÁMEZ TORRES ON TWITTER @NGAMEZTORRES

Source: Cuban economic reforms spur talk of race | The Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article4725627.html

Castros the beneficiaries of perilous policy shift

Castros the beneficiaries of perilous policy shift
BY HELEN AGUIRRE FERRÉ HAGUIRREFERRE@GMAIL.COM
12/20/2014 2:00 PM 12/20/2014 7:00 PM

President Obama just blew oxygen into the moribund Cuban economy — and
its governing elite — by announcing the reestablishment of full
diplomatic relations and economic concessions, a dramatic shift in
diplomatic relations between the two countries. The change is huge, but
not for the rank-and-file in Cuba who are denied basic human rights,
free elections, the rule of law and free speech.

Raúl Castro did have to return American aid worker Alan Gross, who was
imprisoned for helping Cuban Jews. This cost him five years of freedom
and as many teeth, which says something about life in a Cuban prison.

Gross' release is celebrated, especially by Cuban exiles, who know all
too well what it means to be a political prisoner. Four other families,
however, whose loved ones were murdered when their planes were shot down
over international waters by Cuban MiGs in 1996 feel betrayed; Raúl
Castro supervised that military operation, and a Cuban spy involved in
the operation was set free. Three of the dead were American citizens;
one was a legal resident.

Obama released three Cuban prisoners who received a hero's welcome in
Havana, including Gerardo Hernandez, who was found guilty of some of the
most egregious crimes, including penetrating U.S. military
installations, espionage and involvement in the shootdown of three
American airplanes. For these crimes, he received two life sentences;
today, he is free. The story gets worse.

In dual speeches to the world, in what President Cristina Fernández de
Kirchner of Argentina cooed was a "romantic day," Castro and Obama spoke
about this new relationship, which includes the reestablishment of
diplomatic relations; the opening of embassies in both Havana and
Washington D.C.; the loosening of regulations by the Treasury Department
to get licenses to do business in Cuba and to travel to the island; the
ability of U.S. banks to facilitate debit- and credit-card purchases in
Cuba; and increased remittances to Cuba up to $8,000 a year, a huge
source of income for the government.

These are extraordinary giveaways to a country that is a state sponsor
of terrorism, according to the State Department. Apparently, even that
status is negotiable for Obama.

The president has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to review
Cuba's status as a terrorist state, even though it was caught red-handed
sending military armaments to North Korea, violating international law.
The regime is desperate to be removed from the list in order to be able
to access certain international credits, which terrorist states are
rightly denied. What does Cuba pledge in return? Very little.

Cuba says that it will release 53 political prisoners (whom Castro will
likely re-incarcerate), increase Internet access (which dissident
blogger Yoani Sánchez will tell you will not amount to much — if
anything) and allow U.N. officials and the International American Red
Cross to return to the island.

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio rightly calls Obama the worst negotiator
in his lifetime, and what Rubio says about this issue matters. Come
January, Rubio will the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee's Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.

It is no secret that President Obama is struggling worldwide where
adversaries such as Russia, Iran and Syria regularly cross his red
lines. He badly wants a victory in foreign policy, but Obama won't find
it with the Castro regime. If the embargo is a failed policy, as the
president says, what can be said of a band of brothers that has led the
island to ruin for more than five decades and are directly responsible
for countless human-rights abuses — and outright murder?

The Obama administration's concessions fly in the face of history and
political reality, and the Castro regime is the beneficiary. It is also
an assault on American values as communist dictators are rewarded.
Castro is given an economic lifeline just when Venezuela's significant
economic support is challenged by falling oil prices and bad policies.

This all comes at a time when the Obama administration has strengthened
sanctions against Venezuelan officials.

President Obama can't seem to get his story straight.

A number of opposition leaders in Cuba feel betrayed by Obama. "I feel
like I am a soldier that has been abandoned on the battle field," said
human-rights advocate Oscar Elias Biscet, who spoke from Cuba on
Univision's popular Radio Mambi.

Too many feel the same way.

Source: Castros the beneficiaries of perilous policy shift | The Miami
Herald - http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article4700424.html

Lifting the Embargo Means Cuba Can No Longer Play Victim

Lifting the Embargo Means Cuba Can No Longer Play Victim
Jose Miguel Vivanco Dec. 19, 2014

The status quo has allowed the Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy
to garner sympathy abroad

Some critics contend that President Obama's decision to re-establish
full diplomatic relations with Cuba means that the United States has
abandoned its commitment to protect human rights in the island. Some
even argue that Obama's new approach actually rewards Cuba, giving up
leverage the United States allegedly had against the Cuban authoritarian
government. This view is profoundly mistaken.

The confusion arises from the U.S. government's own misguided rhetoric
to maintain a costly embargo. For decades, U.S. authorities stubbornly
held that the embargo was necessary to promote human rights and
democratic change in the island. In fact, though, the embargo did
nothing to improve human rights in Cuba. Instead, it imposed
indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole, and provided
the Cuban government with an excuse for its problems and a pretext for
its abuses.

Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States,
enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad while
simultaneously alienating Washington's potential allies.

Not surprisingly, advocates in Cuba and abroad, as well as a majority of
countries in the UN General Assembly —188 out of 192 in an October
resolution — have repeatedly called for an end to the U.S. embargo.

Meanwhile, despite some positive reforms in recent years, the Cuban
government continues to engage in systematic abuses aimed at punishing
critics and discouraging dissent.

In 2010 and 2011, Cuba's government released dozens of political
prisoners on condition that they accept exile in exchange for freedom.
Since then, the Cuban government has relied less on long prison
sentences to punish dissent and has relaxed draconian travel
restrictions that divided families and prevented its critics from
leaving and returning to the island.

But the Cuban government uses other tactics to repress individuals and
groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights.
Arbitrary arrests and short-term detention have increased dramatically
in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders,
independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about
freely. Detention is often used pre-emptively to prevent people from
participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics.
Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours
or days.

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts
access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of
expression. Only a very small fraction of Cubans are able to read
independent websites and blogs because of limited access to – and the
high cost of – the Internet.

Let's be clear: the responsibility for the crackdown on dissent in Cuba
lies with the Cuban government. Yet, the status quo has allowed the
Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy to portray itself as a victim.

Empirical evidence shows that it was irrational to continue insisting on
a policy that never achieved its proposed objectives. The unilateral
approach, a relic of the Cold War, has been ineffective for decades, and
that's precisely why this new policy by the White House provides a
golden opportunity.

To promote human rights, judicial independence, free elections,
independent unions, and free expression in Cuba, the U.S. government
must understand that a multilateral approach is necessary. Involving key
democracies in the region in reaching out to Cuba is much more likely to
move the Cuban government toward respecting fundamental rights. It seems
that Obama gets it.

No one should be under the illusion that the human rights situation in
Cuba will improve overnight. On the contrary, it will be a long and
frustrating process. But there is no doubt that with Obama's new
approach toward Cuba we are in much better shape to go in the right
direction.

Jose Miguel Vivanco is the Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

Source: Lifting the Embargo Means Cuba Can No Longer Play Victim | TIME
- http://time.com/3642109/us-cuba-embargo/

El empresario expropiado Max Marambio ve a Cuba como el futuro 'dragón' económico del Caribe

El empresario expropiado Max Marambio ve a Cuba como el futuro 'dragón'
económico del Caribe
AGENCIAS | Santiago de Chile | 19 Dic 2014 - 5:32 pm.

Dice que el camino de la Isla hacia el libre mercado 'es un cauce
incontenible'.

El empresario y exguerrillero chileno Max Marambio, de quien se dice que
amasó una fortuna en Cuba, cree que con el acuerdo para normalizar las
relaciones con Estados Unidos, la Isla marchará inevitablemente hacia el
libre mercado y se convertirá en el "dragón" del Caribe.

Según Marambio, exjefe de los escoltas de Salvador Allende y ahijado de
Fidel Castro, acusado hace algunos años de delitos económicos en Cuba y
con sus empresas expropiadas, el camino de Cuba hacia el libre mercado
"es un cauce incontenible", reporta EFE.

Los ojos de los inversionistas "deben estar puestos en la mano de obra
profesional y técnica de Cuba, que es "de muy alto nivel", subrayó
Marambio en una entrevista que publica el periódico financiero chileno
Pulso.

El chileno, que fue condenado en ausencia a 25 años de prisión en Cuba,
pero le ganó a La Habana un millonario juicio de indemnización en un
tribunal internacional, cree que, aunque inevitable, el camino cubano
hacia el capitalismo no será corto.

"No va a ser de manera instantánea, que haya un anuncio no quiere decir
que cambie la realidad antes que esto se concrete", dijo.

Consideró que "una vez que estén claras las reglas del juego, hay que
mirar las oportunidades que se van abrir y probablemente va a haber muchas".

"¿Qué tiene Cuba para que en un futuro se pueda explorar ese mercado?
Cuba puede ser una muy buena mano de obra, no de clase obrera, sino de
profesionales y técnicos de muy alto nivel en distintos terrenos", aseguró.

A su juicio, hay mercados en el Caribe que se podrían alcanzar con Cuba
como concentrador, porque tiene puertos de gran calado, puertos de
combustible y una refinería que produce gasolina.

"Una industria de transformación en Cuba, como de paso al mercado
norteamericano, a lo mejor sería atractivo para Chile, complementando
determinados productos y terminarlos en Cuba, quién sabe", consideró.

Para Marambio, autor del libro de memorias Las armas de ayer, prologado
por Gabriel García Márquez, de quien fue amigo, el acuerdo entre Cuba y
Estados Unidos "no tiene parangón", pero está convencido de que La
Habana deberá modificar su legislación porque actualmente "es muy
complicado" hacer negocios allí.

"Cambiaron la ley de inversión extranjera hace unos meses y remitieron
los conflictos que se puedan presentar en la inversión extranjera a
tribunales revolucionarios dentro de Cuba. ¿Cómo le van a explicar al
inversionista que no tiene alternativa fuera de los tribunales cubanos?,
se preguntó.

A su juicio, cuando se toman relaciones diplomáticas con otro país como
Estados Unidos, "y supongo que lo saben bien, esto te impone derechos y
obligaciones. Las obligaciones son que el país recupere su Estado de
Derecho y honre su compromiso, y no convierta esto en una especie de
tregua para tener inversionistas", consideró.

Insistió, empero, en que Cuba irá hacia el sistema de mercado, aunque no
cree que "el Gobierno vaya a reconocer que conoce ese riesgo (...), o
sea, aunque no se planifique de esa manera, va a terminar de esa manera".

"Cuando tú abres una puerta es como cuando se dice 'los animales están
medio preñados', y no es así, están o no están, es una cuestión de
término absoluto", concluyó.

Source: El empresario expropiado Max Marambio ve a Cuba como el futuro
'dragón' económico del Caribe | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1419006775_11918.html

El Instituto de Recursos Hidráulicos dice que en 2015 invertirá 300 millones en varias ciudades

El Instituto de Recursos Hidráulicos dice que en 2015 invertirá 300
millones en varias ciudades
AGENCIAS | La Habana | 19 Dic 2014 - 1:40 pm.

Irán a redes de abastecimiento y plantas potabilizadoras.

El Gobierno prevé invertir 300 millones de dólares durante 2015 para la
ejecución de obras hidráulicas en varias ciudades del país, informó la
principal responsable del sector, citada por medios oficiales, informa EFE.

La presidenta del Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos (INRH),
Inés María Chapman, dijo que la financiación estará dirigida a las obras
que se llevarán a cabo en las redes de abastecimiento y plantas
potabilizadoras.

El programa de 2015 es "bastante ambicioso", admitió Chapman. El
Gobierno incumple sus planes rutinariamente.

Anunció que ya existe un presupuesto inicial, resultado de créditos y
donaciones, además de una financiación aprobada por el Gobierno para
comenzar las obras, informa la agencia estatal Prensa Latina.

La funcionaria indicó que entre los territorios beneficiados por las
inversiones estarán las ciudades de Manzanillo y Bayamo (Granma),
Camagüey, La Habana, Cárdenas (Matanzas), e Isla de la Juventud.

Precisó que en cada una de las provincias se dará mantenimiento a
conductoras y redes, para dar solución a problemas existentes en cada área.

La infraestructura hidráulica de Cuba arrastra décadas de falta de
inversiones y deterioro de las redes, derrames y mal estado de tuberías
y desagües domésticos.

En la actualidad la Isla dispone de 240 presas y 805 micropresas, 16
grandes estaciones de bombeo, 2.416 acueductos y más de 22.500
kilómetros de redes de acueductos, según datos del INRH.

El Gobierno ha reconocido que más de la mitad del agua que se bombea en
la Isla se pierde en salideros.

Source: El Instituto de Recursos Hidráulicos dice que en 2015 invertirá
300 millones en varias ciudades | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1418993743_11915.html

domingo, 21 de diciembre de 2014

El incipiente sector privado de Cuba mira con esperanza la apertura con EE UU

El incipiente sector privado de Cuba mira con esperanza la apertura con
EE UU
La Habana | Diciembre 20, 2014

(EFE).- El incipiente sector privado que se abre en Cuba, inmersa en un
proceso de reformas económicas, confía en que las medidas anunciadas por
Estados Unidos que alivian el embargo sobre la isla, sirvan de impulso a
sus negocios al facilitar el acceso a productos y la entrada de remesas.

Varios expertos consultados por Efe aseguran que, con el acuerdo para
restablecer relaciones entre Cuba y Estados Unidos, se abren para la
isla "posibilidades económicas infinitas", que podrían acelerar las
reformas emprendidas por Raúl Castro, que tiene uno de sus ejes en el
impulso al "cuentapropismo" o trabajo privado.

"Creo que el cambio va a ser mucho más rápido de lo que pensamos, porque
las posibilidades son ilimitadas, principalmente porque se va a
desbloquear uno de los principales problemas de Cuba, que es la entrada
de divisas", dijo a Efe el economista Omar Everleny, del Centro de
Estudios de la Economía Cubana (CEEC).

Aunque no hay cifras oficiales, se calcula que cada año entran a Cuba
unos 1.700 millones de dólares en remesas, flujo de dinero que ha
contribuido notablemente a la apertura de negocios privados, que suman
ya unos 480.000 "cuentapropistas".

"Un número significativo de estos negocios abrieron gracias a las
remesas enviadas por familiares en el exterior", indicó Everley, quien
considera que a partir de ahora, las remesas "se van a multiplicar
exponencialmente"

Según lo anunciado por la Casa Blanca, se van a aumentar los niveles de
remesas que se pueden enviar a Cuba de 500 dólares a 2.000 dólares por
trimestre; además de autorizar la exportaciones de "bienes para el uso
del sector privado de empresarios cubanos", lo que permitirá mayor
acceso a insumos y a mejores precios.

El economista también se refirió a las posibilidades que se abren para
la Ley de Inversión Extranjera, aprobada en marzo, que "gracias al
acuerdo con Estados Unidos atraerá a firmas extranjeras que antes no se
atrevían a invertir en la isla por miedo a sanciones".

Según Everleny, los 2.500 millones de dólares que necesita Cuba para
sostener sus reformas económicas "podrían llegar casi íntegramente para
2015".

En este diagnóstico coincidió el experto y diplomático cubano Carlos
Alzugaray, quien dijo a Efe que el reinicio de los vínculos diplomáticos
entre Cuba y Estados Unidos abre "una ventana de oportunidad económica"
para ambos países, que todo el mundo va a querer aprovechar, incluida la
comunidad del exilio en Miami.

En este nuevo escenario, la relación Cuba-Miami se va a incrementar, lo
que "que implica no sólo flujos de gente, sino también flujos de
dinero", precisó.

En la isla, los trabajadores por cuenta propia también ven con esperanza
las posibilidades que ahora se abren para sus negocios, especialmente en
lo que se refiere al suministro de productos en un país que, aunque cada
vez menos, periódicamente sufre problemas de desabastecimiento y escasez
de insumos.

"Espero que con este cambio sea más sencillo comprar todos los productos
y poder contar con una línea estable de suministro", dijo a Efe Ana
MaríaOchoa, dueña de un salón de belleza en el barrio habanero de Miramar.

Ochoa también confía en que la apertura económica hacia la isla
anunciada por el presidente estadounidense Barack Obama facilite el día
a día de su trabajo, ya que a veces "pasa mucho sufrimiento" para
obtener los productos que necesita, especialmente tintes.

"En Cuba siempre hemos tenido problemas de abastecimiento porque los
productos no llegan a las tiendas, porque escasean. A partir de ahora
supongo que eso irá a menos y entrarán más cosas a la isla"; dijo a Efe,
Pilar Fernández, empresaria española que regenta un restaurante en La
Habana.

Entre los sectores que más ansían que se alivie el "bloqueo", como se
llama la isla a la política de embargo vigente desde 1962, es el de las
tecnologías y las telecomunicaciones, muy atrasado respecto al resto del
mundo.

Adrian Pérez, dueño de una pequeña tienda de telefonía móvil,
aplicaciones y accesorios tecnológicos, se queja de las dificultades que
existen en Cuba para acceder a software y aplicaciones que en el resto
del mundo son gratuitas, ya que la mayoría pertenecen a compañías
estadounidenses, como Apple o Microsoft, que no operan en Cuba.

Este cubano, formado en informática, deseó que el alivio del "bloqueo"
sea un primer paso para que en la isla "se mejoren las
telecomunicaciones, los servicios de correo electrónico y quizá,
incluso, se llegue a tener internet en el móvil".

Las medidas anunciadas por la Casa Blanca también se comprometen a
facilitar el acceso de Cuba a las tecnologías de la comunicación e
internet en la isla, que tiene una de las tasas de penetración más bajas
del mundo.

Source: El incipiente sector privado de Cuba mira con esperanza la
apertura con EE UU -
http://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/incipiente-Cuba-esperanza-EE-UU_0_1691830802.html

Thinking About a Trip to Cuba? 5 Things You Should Know

Thinking About a Trip to Cuba? 5 Things You Should Know
Kristen Bellstrom @kayelbee Dec. 18, 2014

Yesterday's announcement that the U.S. will loosen restrictions on
visiting Cuba has some travelers in tizzy. By all means, pack your
bags—but read this first.

Why Smart People Send Stupid Emails That Can Ruin Their Careers
Did you hear that noise yesterday afternoon? It was the collective
squeal of travelers around the country, upon learning that President
Obama had announced the resumption of U.S diplomatic relations with
Cuba. For many American vacationers, Cuba—with its classic cars,
mojitos, and fine cigars—is a dream destination, but one that rigid
travel restrictions have made difficult to visit. Yesterday's
announcement didn't remove those strictures, but it did promise to relax
them.

1. Don't expect anything to change overnight

While the new policy won't allow unrestricted tourism to Cuba (which
would require an act of Congress), it will loosen restrictions on
certain types of trips, according to a White House statement. So what
exactly does that mean? There's plenty of speculation, but no one really
knows the details just yet. On Wednesday afternoon, the Office of
Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of the Department of the Treasury,
announced that it expects to issue its revised travel rules in "the
coming weeks." No changes will take effect until those new rules are
released.

Currently, U.S. citizens who want to visit Cuba have a few options.
Cuban-Americans with close family in the country can visit as often as
they like, while other people may be permitted to go for professional,
religious, or educational purposes. However, for the typical traveler,
the most viable option is a "people-to-people" trip. These are
super-regulated group tours, which must focus on educational and
cultural interactions with Cubans. Many industry experts expect that the
new rules will focus on loosening the restrictions around these existing
forms of travel.

2. Some prices may fall…

According to Collin Laverty, president of trip provider Cuba Educational
Travel, the typical cost of a group tour to Cuba is around $4,000 to
$5,000. One reason prices are so steep, he explains, is that
people-to-people trips must be highly scheduled, meaning they include
all meals, guides, transportation, activities, and more. Plus, tour
providers must stay on top of their permits and licensing, which
requires manpower and lawyers' fees. (Katharine Bonner, who oversees
travel to Cuba for Tauck, says it took six months for the company to get
its paperwork renewed.) Tom Popper, president of operator insightCuba,
adds that Cuban travel suppliers tend to charge American firms a
premium, which drives up the price of the tour.

If the new rules allow less rigorously structured tours, prices are
expected to come down. And, should they allow for independent travel to
the country, vacationers will likely be able to choose their lodging and
itinerary, giving them more control over what they pay.

3. …but demand is likely to pick up quickly.

Travel to Cuba is already pretty popular. According to the Associated
Press, 170,000 Americans visited the country legally last year, while
Quartz reports that the island was the second most popular Caribbean
destination for international travelers during the first nine months of
2014. As U.S. travel restrictions ease, trip providers say they expect
demand to surge. For people who've always wanted to go but never managed
to pull the trigger, the idea that massive cruise lines could soon be
adding Cuba to their itineraries may be what it takes to get them to
book. "People want to go before it changes," says Popper. "The
collective travel consciousness says this isn't going to last forever."

4. The infrastructure isn't there yet.

For Canadians and other international travelers, Cuba is often seen as a
sun-and-sand getaway rather than a cultural destination, says Laverty.
As a result, "there are a sufficient amount of hotels by the beaches,
but once you get into Havana, there aren't enough rooms," he says. Until
the country's tourism infrastructure has a chance to catch up, Americans
looking to stay in the cities or countryside may have a tough time
finding accommodations. Flights are also tricky. Right now, the only
domestic commercial options are charters, all of which fly out of Florida.

5. New options are coming.

Under the current system, travel companies that are licensed to take
Americans to Cuba have something of a monopoly, says Laverty. While the
new rules are unlikely to completely erode that advantage, they should
make the industry more competitive and fuel new options for travelers.
In the case of Cuba Educational Travel, that may mean adding some more
independent, less full-service options. Says Laverty: "We're ready to
help people navigate these uncharted waters."

Source: Thinking About a Trip to Cuba? 5 Things You Should Know |
Money.com - http://time.com/money/3637911/cuba-travel-new-policy/

Historic agreement expands visiting rights to Cuba — and more

Historic agreement expands visiting rights to Cuba — and more
BY AMY SHERMAN POLITIFACT FLORIDA
12/19/2014 1:08 PM 12/19/2014 1:08 PM

In a historic move, President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that the
United States will begin talks with Cuba on normalizing relations after
five decades and re-open an embassy in Havana.

The announcement included Cuba releasing USAID worker Alan Gross and a
CIA agent who had been jailed in Cuba for nearly 20 years. Meanwhile,
the U.S. released three Cuban spies imprisoned in Florida.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama promised to grant Americans unrestricted
rights to visit family in Cuba and send money. It is one of hundreds of
promises PolitiFact has tracked on our Obamameter.

In April 2009, Obama announced that he had taken steps to increase
remittances and make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba to see
relatives. We gave Obama a Promise Kept for those key developments at
the time, but his latest announcement takes that a step further.

Obama's recent announcement increases the allowable amount of non-family
remittances from $500 to $2,000 per quarter to any Cuban national, with
the exception of Cuba government officials or communist party officials.
Also, remittances for humanitarian projects and development of private
businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license. Remittance
forwarders will also no longer be required to hold a specific license.

In 2009, Obama made it easier for family members to travel; in 2011 he
expanded travel in several other categories, including for educational,
cultural or religious reasons and for journalists.

With the more recent announcement, the White House said it will expand
travel under the licenses for the 12 existing categories. (However, it
will remain illegal for tourists to travel to Cuba because it is banned
in federal law.) The change also means that Americans can use their
credit cards in Cuba and bring back $400 worth of goods from Cuba,
including up to $100 of cigars and alcohol combined.

"We are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of
information to and from Cuba," Obama said. "This is fundamentally about
freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of
people-to-people engagement. With the changes I'm announcing today, it
will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba."

Under the new policy, all categories will have general licenses which
means people won't have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government.
The .U.S. Treasury will release more details in the coming weeks.

"The Administration is signaling that it wants more of these visits
approved," Boston University Professor Paul Hare told PolitiFact. "But ,
that said, the prices of these visits are still high, and the control of
where people stay and what they see will still be in place. … But
permission for the use of U.S. credit cards and U.S. bank arrangements
in Cuba will make it much easier for NGOs (nongovernmental
organizations), universities, etc. to run fuller programs in Cuba and
for visitors to spend more beyond the cost of their formal visit
arrangements."

Obama's actions — increasing the amount of remittances and making it
easier to travel to Cuba -- mean that this remains Promise Kept.

HIGHLIGHTS OF OBAMA'S U.S.-CUBA REGULATIONS
In announcing this week that the U.S. and Cuba would resume diplomatic
relations for the first time since 1961, President Barack Obama eased
restrictions on a host of activities that include travel to Cuba, use of
credit cards in Cuba, remittances, to name a few. Below, some key
changes in U.S.-Cuba regulations:

▪ Increases the allowable amount of non-family remittances from $500 to
$2,000 per quarter to any Cuban national, with the exception of Cuba
government officials or communist party officials.

▪ Remittances for humanitarian projects and development of private
businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.

▪ Remittance forwarders will also no longer be required to hold a
specific license.

▪ Expands travel under licenses for 12 existing categories. (However, it
will remain illegal for tourists to travel to Cuba because it is banned
in federal law.) All categories will have general licenses which means
people won't have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government. The
U.S. Treasury will release more details in coming weeks.

▪ Americans can use their credit cards in Cuba and bring back $400 worth
of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 of cigars and alcohol combined.

Source: Historic agreement expands visiting rights to Cuba — and more |
The Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article4676661.html

Q&A - Understanding new U.S.-Cuba rules

Q&A: Understanding new U.S.-Cuba rules
BY AMY SHERMAN ASHERMAN@MIAMIHERALD.COM
12/19/2014 6:11 PM 12/19/2014 10:00 PM

President Barack Obama announced this week a reset in the United States'
relations with Cuba, including establishing full diplomatic relations
and easing travel restrictions, among other things. None of the new
rules about Cuba take effect until they are published in the federal
register in the coming weeks. But based on information released so far
by the White House, the State Department and Treasury Department, here
are some initial answers to questions:

Does this mean anyone can travel to Cuba now?

Technically no — tourism is still banned according to federal law. The
12 categories of allowed reasons for travel — which existed before
Obama's announcement — are still in effect. Some of those reasons
include to visit family or for educational, religious or humanitarian
activities. It will be easier to travel to Cuba because none of those
categories will now require a general license, which means people won't
have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government (previously some of
them did). The Treasury Department will release more details in the
coming weeks.

How many cigars and bottles of rum can I bring back if I travel to Cuba?

Visitors can bring back $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to
$100 of cigars and alcohol combined.

Can I use my American Express or Mastercard when I go to Cuba?

Yes. The federal government will release rules about this in the next
few weeks, but Obama's announcement will allow U.S. travelers in Cuba to
use American credit cards. None of the announced changes takes effect
until the new regulations are issued.

Is there a limit on how much money I can send to Cuba?

Obama raised the limit from $500 to $2,000 for nonfamily remittances per
quarter to any Cuban national, with the exception of Cuba government
officials or communist party officials.

Why can't President Obama lift the trade embargo on Cuba?

Under the federal law known as Helms-Burton, it would require a vote by
Congress to lift the embargo. The law says embargo stays in place until
Cuba holds free and fair elections, releases political prisoners and
guarantees free speech and workers' rights. The embargo has existed in
some form since 1960 but it was under the president's purview until
Congress, with the advocacy of Miami U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and
Lincoln Diaz Balart, passed Helms-Burton in 1996.

However, while the embargo will remain, the U.S. will allow many items
to be exported, including certain building materials for private
residential construction, goods for use by private-sector Cuban
entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.

"The embargo the last 50 years as a concept is an eggshell. It's just
becoming more and more empty, but it's still a shell," said John
Kavulich, senior policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic
Council.

Can Americans open businesses in Cuba?

No, that is not allowed under U.S. law. (Though in reality some
Americans are de facto business owners in Cuba because they fund
businesses that are run by relatives there.)

However, Florida businesses in banking, shipping, trade,
telecommunications and travel are positioned to reap benefits — over
time — depending on how our government writes the rules.

American exports for cuentapropistas — the self-employed — will be
allowed, along with farming supplies and building materials intended for
the Cuban populace.

However, the details about exactly how exporting will work remains to be
seen.

Can a U.S. citizen buy a home in Cuba? Can Cubans buy homes in Cuba?

Americans are not allowed to buy homes in Cuba under Cuban or American
law, and nothing in Obama's announcement changed that. Again, in
reality, some Americans are de facto owners by providing the money to
relatives in Cuba.

A 2011 law permits Cubans to buy and sell residential real estate,
according to a February 2014 paper written by Philip Peters, president
of the Cuba Research Center. But that law only allows the purchase and
sale of residential property by Cuban nationals who reside in Cuba and
foreigners who are legal residents of Cuba.

Will Cuba have a consulate in Miami?

Miami boasts the country's largest Cuban population, so Miami would be a
logical choice for Havana to have a consulate. Miami Mayor Tomás
Regalado has said he would be concerned that it would create a safety
problem, but he added Miami would have no say on where Cuba might want
to establish consulates, "but we certainly would not support it."

Will we build an embassy in Havana?

A few things have to happen before they can change the sign from U.S.
Interests Section to embassy on the door. First, the two countries need
to establish full diplomatic relations through a series of letters or
notes (no formal treaty or agreement is required). Then the U.S. would
transition to having an embassy. Appointing an ambassador would be a
longer process subject to Senate approval.

The workers, about 350 of them, will stay in the same building — which
is the former U.S. embassy, built in 1953. (The six-story building was
reopened in 1977.)

The biggest distinction between an interests section and an embassy is
that the relationship will be directly with the Cuban government and not
under the protection of the Swiss.

Information was taken from Miami Herald articles, a factsheet from the
White House, a transcript from a State Department press conference,
information from the Treasury Department, a paper by the president of
the Cuba Research Center commissioned by Brookings Institute and
interviews with Philip Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center;
Kirby Jones, president of Alamar Associates which consults with
businesses that want to do business with Cuba, and John Kavulich, senior
policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council and
administration officials.

Source: Q&A: Understanding new U.S.-Cuba rules | The Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article4694163.html