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Biden’s Boycott of Cuba Is “A Failure at Regional Diplomacy”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/05/2022 - 2:03am in

On May 16, the Biden administration announced new measures to “increase support for the Cuban people.” They included easing travel restrictions and helping Cuban-Americans support and connect with their families. They mark a step forward but a baby step, given that most U.S. sanctions on Cuba remain in place. Also in place is a ridiculous Biden administration policy of trying to isolate Cuba, as well as Nicaragua and Venezuela, from the rest of the hemisphere by excluding them from the upcoming Summit of the Americas that will take place in June in Los Angeles.

This is the first time since its inaugural gathering in 1994 that the event, which is held every three years, will take place on U.S. soil. But rather than bringing the Western Hemisphere together, the Biden administration seems intent on pulling it apart by threatening to exclude three nations that are certainly part of the Americas.

For months, the Biden administration has been hinting that these governments would be excluded. So far, they have not been invited to any of the preparatory meetings and the Summit itself is now less than a month away. While former White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesman Ned Price have repeated that “no decisions” have been made, Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said in an interview on Colombian TV that countries that “do not respect democracy are not going to receive invitations.”

Biden’s plan to pick and choose which countries can attend the Summit has set off regional fireworks. Unlike in the past, when the U.S. had an easier time imposing its will on Latin America, nowadays there is a fierce sense of independence, especially with a resurgence of progressive governments. Another factor is China. While the U.S. still has a major economic presence, China has surpassed the U.S. as the number one trading partner, giving Latin American countries more freedom to defy the United States or at least stake out a middle ground between the two superpowers.

The hemispheric reaction to the exclusion of three regional states is a reflection of that independence, even among small Caribbean nations. In fact, the first words of defiance came from members of the 15-nation Caribbean Community, or Caricom, which threatened to boycott the Summit. Then came regional heavyweight, Mexican President Manuel López Obrador, who stunned and delighted people around the continent when he announced that, if all countries were not invited, he would not attend. The presidents of Bolivia and Honduras soon followed with similar statements.

The Biden administration has put itself in a bind. Either it backs down and issues the invitations, tossing red meat to right-wing U.S. politicians like Senator Marco Rubio for being “soft on communism,” or it stands firm and risks sinking the Summit and U.S. influence in the region.

Biden’s failure at regional diplomacy is all the more inexplicable given the lesson he should have learned as vice president when Barack Obama faced a similar dilemma.

That was 2015, when, after two decades of excluding Cuba from these Summits, the countries of the region put down their collective feet and demanded that Cuba be invited. Obama had to decide whether to skip the meeting and lose influence in Latin America, or go and contend with the domestic fallout. He decided to go.

Oabam a visit to CUba

Cristobal Marquez, owner of “Cristobal’s,” the restaurant where Michelle and Barak Obama had lunch during their visit to Cuba in 2016, shows the book made by White House photographer Pete Souza, in Havana, Cuba. Ramon Espinosa | AP

I remember that Summit vividly because I was among the bevy of journalists jostling to get a front seat when President Barack Obama would be forced to greet Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, who came into power after his brother Fidel Castro stepped down. The momentous handshake, the first contact between leaders of the two countries in decades, was the high point of the summit.

Obama was not only obligated to shake Castro’s hand, he also had to listen to a long history lesson. Raúl Castro’s speech was a no-holds-barred recounting of past U.S. attacks on Cuba—including the 1901 Platt Amendment that made Cuba a virtual U.S. protectorate, U.S. support for Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the scandalous U.S. prison in Guantanamo. But Castro was also gracious to President Obama, saying he was not to blame for this legacy and calling him an “honest man” of humble origins.

The meeting marked a new era between the U.S. and Cuba, as the two nations began to normalize relations. It was a win-win, with more trade, more cultural exchanges, more resources for the Cuban people, and fewer Cubans migrating to the United States. The handshake led to an actual visit by Obama to Havana, a trip so memorable that it still brings big smiles to the faces of Cubans on the island.

Then came Donald Trump, who skipped the next Summit of the Americas and imposed draconian new sanctions that left the Cuban economy in tatters, especially once COVID hit and dried up the tourist industry.

Until recently, Biden has been following Trump’s slash-and-burn policies that have led to tremendous shortages and a new migration crisis, instead of reverting to Obama’s win-win policy of engagement. The May 16 measures to expand flights to Cuba and resume family reunifications are helpful, but not enough to mark a real change in policy—especially if Biden insists on making the Summit a “limited-invite only.”

Biden needs to move quickly. He should invite all the nations of the Americas to the Summit. He should shake the hands of every head of state and, more importantly, engage in serious discussions on burning hemispheric issues such as the brutal economic recession caused by the pandemic, climate change that is affecting food supplies, and the terrifying gun violence–all of which are fueling the migration crisis. Otherwise, Biden’s #RoadtotheSummit, which is the Summit’s Twitter handle, will only lead to a dead end.

Feature photo | President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden wave to reporters before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., May 17, 2022. Gemunu Amarasinghe | AP

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK. She is the author of ten books, including three books on Cuba—No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba, The Greening of the Revolution, and Talking About Revolution. She is a member of the Steering Committee of ACERE (Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect).

The post Biden’s Boycott of Cuba Is “A Failure at Regional Diplomacy” appeared first on MintPress News.

KEI letter to Brian Nelson, Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, regarding exceptions to sanctions for medical products

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/12/2021 - 3:27am in

KEI is sending this letter to the Administration today, regarding measures we would like to see undertaken to make the humanitarian exceptions to sanctions work better.  This is a neglected area of policy failure, although there is evidence that the Biden administration is both fixing some issues and open to more reforms.

BrianNelson-Treasury-sanctions-8Dec2021

December 8, 2021

Brian Nelson
Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20220

Re: Request for meeting to discuss sanction exceptions for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.

Dear Under Secretary Nelson,

Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) is a non-profit organization with offices in Washington, DC and Geneva, Switzerland. Among our activities are efforts to make access to medical technologies more equal. Our organization and body of work is described in extensive detail at https://keionline.org, https://keionline.org/about and https://www.keionline.org/ourwork.

KEI is concerned that U.S. trade sanctions have created barriers to the development of COVID-19 vaccines and access to a broader set of vaccines and drugs. This letter provides some context, and concludes with a request for a meeting to discuss efforts to make the U.S. sanctions program humanitarian exceptions for medicines and vaccines work better.

Cuba. On July 1, 2021, we sent a Memorandum to Gayle E. Smith (State), Eric Lander (OSTP), Loyce Pace (HHS) and Samantha Power (USAID) asking the U.S. government to clarify that its sanctions against Cuba do not extend to activities and agreements related to the development, manufacturing, distribution and sale of its COVID-19 vaccines. The Cuban vaccine program, which seems quite important, has faced barriers as a number of businesses and nonprofit organizations have been reluctant to work with the Cuban vaccine program, because of the U.S. sanctions. Cuba has an advanced and well regarded capacity to develop and manufacture vaccines, and in the past has worked with third parties to sell FDA approved vaccines in the United States. Cuba is working on several vaccine candidates, including a three dose recombinant protein subunit vaccine named Soberana (which has reported a 92.4 percent efficacy), Soberana Plus (based on the RBD protein alone, being tested as a vaccine booster), as well as other candidates. The Cuban vaccines are using technology that has a favorable safety profile and works with modest cold chain storage (see: Sara Reardon, “Cuba’s bet on home-grown COVID vaccines is paying off”, Nature, November 22, 2021). The sanctions have made it difficult to scale the manufacturing and distribution of the Cuban vaccines.

Iran. We subsequently were in contact with Vaxine, a company in Australia founded by Nikolai Petrovsky, a professor of medicine at Flinders University. The Australian company has worked with CinnaGen, a company in Iran, to undertake clinical trials of Vaxine’s recombinant protein subunit vaccine for COVID-19. The affiliation with the Iranian company may have led to delisting of stock exchange offering and losing funding, among other things. More recently, KEI has been approached by an Iranian student and a U.S. NGO working on U.S.-Iran relations, both describing the broader impact in Iran of the sanctions on access to medicines, including off-patent generics and cancer treatments. We have also reviewed the academic commentary on the negative impact of the sanctions on access to medicine in Iran (including: Setayesh, S., Mackey, T.K. “Addressing the impact of economic sanctions on Iranian drug shortages in the joint comprehensive plan of action: promoting access to medicines and health diplomacy.” Global Health 12, 31 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-016-0168-6).

Venezuela. Venezuela has registered a number of complaints that sanctions have made it difficult to obtain medical products. For example, one recent report describes delays in deliveries of syringes and vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, polio and yellow fever, when $12.7 million in funds to purchase the products were frozen by the Portuguese bank Novo Banco. This case also involved the Pan American Health Organization (see: Cole Stranger, “U.S. Sanctions Blamed As Venezuela Laments Frozen Order For Medicine”, The Intercept, September 29, 2021).

North Korea. More recently, KEI was asked about the challenges in supplying COVID-19 vaccines or drugs to North Korea, leading us to examine the provisions in two Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) licenses to manufacture COVID-19 therapeutics.

MPP Licenses. The MPP is a respected non-profit organization operating from Geneva, Switzerland that negotiates voluntary licenses to use patented inventions and manufacturing know-how and rights in regulatory data for a variety of medical technologies, including drugs and diagnostic tests related to COVID-19, viral hepatitis (HCV and HBV), tuberculosis, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Historically the MPP has negotiated licenses that include a licensed territory of roughly 95 to 115 lower and middle income countries, representing more than half of the world’s population, as well as a collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) for global licenses for COVID-19 technologies. The MPP has recently announced licenses with Merck and Pfizer for COVID-19 therapeutics. Both licenses have a licensed territory consisting of LMICs where sales are authorized, and both authorize global manufacture with some restrictions. Among the restrictions are those relating to any operations involving the countries, persons, businesses or other entities that are the target of U.S. sanctions.

The Pfizer/MPP license. A license between the MPP and Pfizer for the COVID-19 combination drug PF-07321332+ritonavir has 45 mentions of sanctions. The sanction target countries are identified as including, without limitation, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria and the territory of Crimea. The license requires the MPP to comply with all applicable economic sanctions and export control laws in the performance of the agreement, including those administered by:

  • the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), and
  • the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”) administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”).

The MPP must receive permission from Pfizer before it can be involved with persons or entities that are the target of sanctions administered or enforced by:

  • the U.S. Government, including OFAC,
  • the governments of Switzerland,
  • the EU,
  • the United Kingdom, or
  • any country listed on any denied party lists maintained by OFAC, BIS or on the European Union’s Consolidated List of Persons, Groups and Entities Subject to EU Financial Sanctions.

The MPP is also required to obtain prior authorization, in the form of general licenses, specific licenses, and/or other authorizations, from OFAC and/or BIS, before any engagement with sanction targets.

The Merck/MPP license. The license between the MPP and Merck for the therapeutic molnupiravir has similar restrictions, and also makes reference to several OFAC licenses that appear to expire on June 16, 2022, less than one year from now.

  • Iran General License N,
  • Syria General License No. 21, and
  • Venezuela General License No. 39.
  • It is our impression that the U.S. sanctions program has both a legal impact, that includes importantly, the possible exceptions for drugs, vaccines and other medical supplies, and a practical impact, which is much larger.

    The larger impact is related to the uncertainty and costs of compliance with the U.S. sanction program, which are a significant deterrent for many businesses and other entities that would otherwise be working to make, supply or sell needed drugs, vaccines, equipment or inputs to making drugs or vaccines, or other related health products in the sanctioned countries. Moreover, entities that decide to face such risks and costs of compliance often supply sanctioned countries at prices that are higher than would be available if the sanctions were less risky and easier to navigate.

    KEI has also experienced first hand and heard from other non-governmental organizations that many charitable organizations have placed restrictions on grants that no money be spent in sanctioned countries, or in some cases, that the grant recipient simply has no operations at all in sanctioned countries, even if those activities are funded by other donors.

    We are aware that the January 21, 2021 National Security Memorandum 1, on the International COVID-⁠19 Response has called for an interagency review of sanction policies and practices. KEI requests a meeting with your office to discuss measures that can better clarify and simplify the sanctions program so that the humanitarian exceptions work better. These measures would include but not be limited to:

    • A web page relating to health care products with plain language guidance that clarifies the scope of sanctions that can be understood by persons who are not experts on the legal issues.
    • Expanded use of “white lists” for products that are not subject to sanctions.
    • A program of working with trusted organizations and businesses to fast track and facilitate the granting of required permissions.
    • Comfort letters to reassure third parties such as financial institutions that certain activities are not subject to sanctions.
    • Best practices for providing drugs, vaccines, and other related products and services within the humanitarian exceptions.

    Sincerely,

    James Love, Director
    Knowledge Ecology International
    110 Maryland Avenue, NE, Suite 511, Washington, DC 20002
    https://keionline.org, james.love@keionline.org
    Cell: +1.202.361.3040

    Cc:
    Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator;
    Loyce Pace, Director of the Office of Global Affairs within the United States Department of Health and Human Services;
    Erik Woodhouse, Deputy Assistant Secretary For Counter Threat Finance And Sanctions;
    Samantha Power, Administrator, United States Agency for International Development;
    Jeremy Pelter, Deputy Under Secretary for Industry and Security, Department of Commerce;
    Congressman Andrew Levin, US House of Representatives (MI-09).

    ANNEX: NATIONAL SECURITY MEMORANDUM – 1

    National Security Memorandum on United States Global Leadership to Strengthen the International COVID-⁠19 Response and to Advance Global Health Security and Biological Preparedness, January 21, 2021.

    (c) COVID-19 Sanctions Relief. The Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the Secretary of HHS and the Administrator of USAID, shall promptly review existing United States and multilateral financial and economic sanctions to evaluate whether they are unduly hindering responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and provide recommendations to the President, through the APNSA and the COVID-19 Response Coordinator, for any changes in approach.

    ANNEX: ACTIVE SANCTIONS PROGRAMS

    Source: US Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, “Sanctions Programs and Country Information”. Accessed December 8, 2021. https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/sanctions-programs-and-country-information

    Balkans-Related Sanctions
    ​Belarus Sanctions
    Burma-Related Sanctions
    Central African Republic Sanctions
    Chinese Military Companies Sanctions
    ​Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA)
    ​Counter Narcotics Trafficking Sanctions
    ​Counter Terrorism Sanctions
    ​Cuba Sanctions
    ​Cyber-Related Sanctions
    ​Democratic Republic of the Congo-Related Sanctions
    Ethiopia-Related Sanctions
    ​Foreign Interference in a United States Election Sanctions
    ​Global Magnitsky Sanctions
    Hong Kong-Related Sanctions
    ​Iran Sanctions
    ​Iraq-Related Sanctions
    ​Lebanon-Related Sanctions
    ​Libya Sanctions
    Magnitsky Sanctions
    Mali-Related Sanctions
    ​Nicaragua-Related Sanctions
    ​Non-Proliferation Sanctions
    ​North Korea Sanctions
    ​Rough Diamond Trade Controls
    Russian Harmful Foreign Activities Sanctions
    ​Somalia Sanctions
    ​Sudan and Darfur Sanctions
    ​South Sudan-Related Sanctions
    ​Syria Sanctions
    Syria-Related Sanctions
    ​Transnational Criminal Organizations
    ​Ukraine-/Russia-Related Sanctions
    ​Venezuela-Related Sanctions
    ​Yemen-Related Sanctions
    ​Zimbabwe Sanctions

    The post KEI letter to Brian Nelson, Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, regarding exceptions to sanctions for medical products appeared first on Knowledge Ecology International.

    Cuban Communist Party to launch post-Congress debate

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/06/2016 - 9:02am in

    In the wake of Obama’s historic visit, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) held its 7th Congress on April 16-19 in the Havana Convention Centre. Beneath a backdrop featuring a huge likeness of Fidel Castro, PCC secretary Raul Castro delivered the main report on behalf of the Central Committee.

    Fidel being Fidel, many Cubans would have been reassured by his surprise appearance at the closing session on the eve of his 90th birthday. Traditionally, PCC congresses are the culmination of a months-long process of consultation with the Party’s activist base and the wider Cuban society.

    By contrast, an air of secrecy and anticlimax hung over the 7th Congress. Fidel’s brief valedictory address, which moved some in the audience to tears and was received with a thunderous and prolonged ovation, served to stamp the Congress with a legitimacy that only Fidel can confer.

    While Fidel’s appearance at the Congress and the content of Raul’s report may have unruffled some feathers, the PCC’s central leadership must now strive to reconnect with the Party’s grassroots so that a disconnect doesn’t harden into a dangerous rift. Having received a sharp rebuke from the party base, it seems the leadership has got the message.

    Fidel (left) and Raul (centre) at the 7th Congress

    Controversy

    The disconnect between the Central Committee and the PCC base is evident in the preparatory process for the 7th Congress. The 6th Congress, held in April 2011, was preceded by a three month process of PCC-wide and public consultations on the draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines.

    While critics have noted the democratic deficiencies of that consultation—such as the fragmentary nature of the local debates, which hindered the emergence of possible alternative platforms for the election of delegates—the Guidelines adopted by the Congress bore the imprint of public opinion.

    Initially, the PCC leadership gave every indication that there would be a comparable consultation prior to the 7th Congress. Soon after the 6th Congress, the Central Committee began work—behind closed doors—on two strategic and programmatic documents to be presented to the 7th Congress.

    These two documents, the 2016-30 Plan and the ‘Conceptualisation of the Cuban socio-economic socialist development model’, would complement the Guidelines. As a set of concrete objectives based on certain principles, the Guidelines are neither a programmatic vision nor a socialist plan.

    As the 7th Congress approached, it became apparent that the drafting process was well behind schedule. Either the anticipated public consultation would have to be abandoned, or the Congress would have to be postponed. As late as February 23, the Central Committee’s Tenth Plenum reiterated its commitment to a public consultation on the draft documents prior to the Congress.

    On February 14, Esteban Morales, a prestigious and outspoken Cuban intellectual whose party loyalty is beyond reproach, circulated an acerbic commentary on the Congress process. In 2010, Morales’ PCC membership was suspended—one step short of expulsion—for warning that high-level corruption (and not US-sponsored ‘dissident’ grouplets) was “the real counterrevolution” in Cuba. He was eventually reinstated after receiving numerous public gestures of solidarity.

    Morales complained that “for months” he’d been asking for the Congress documents, to no avail. This would be a congress of party functionaries rather than the grassroots “which I consider to be the real party”, he added. He suggested the PCC was regressing in terms of party democracy, and described the mood among the party base as justifiably “indignant”. That perception was anchored in his “broad and continuous contact with Cuban society” as an intellectual and an ordinary citizen.

    In a similar vein, on March 27, PCC activist Francisco ‘Paquito’ Rodriguez published an Open Letter to Raul Castro on his personal blog. Rodriguez is an academic, a journalist for the Cuban trade union confederation’s Trabajadores newspaper and a prominent gay rights activist. As a gay rights activist he is said to be close to Mariela Castro, Raul Castro’s daughter.

    Rodriguez objected to “the lack of discussion of the key Congress documents—which are still shrouded in secrecy—in both the grassroots Party committees and among the rest of the citizenry”.

    He proposed that the Congress be postponed till late July to allow for a PCC base and public consultation during April and May. He noted that Raul Castro himself had often insisted that the reform process underway in Cuba must proceed ‘without haste’, and “I see no reason to rush so decisive a political process … if its preparation has not yet reached maturity”.

    Granma responds

    Also on March 27, the PCC daily, Granma, acknowledged the controversy in an editorial: “The Granma editorial board has received, through various means, concerns of Party activists (and non-members) who question the reasons why, on this occasion, no public discussion process has been planned, such as that carried out five years ago on the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines.”

    Granma made no mention of the Central Committee’s earlier commitment to a public consultation. Its core justification for not holding such a consultation was that only 21% of the 2011 Congress Guidelines had been fully implemented, so the 7th Congress would be effectively a continuation of the 6th. The implication is that this is for the Central Committee, not the party as a whole, to decide.

    The Granma editorial, which expressed the opinion of the Central Committee, did not discuss the possibility that that same statistic (21%) might call into question the viability of the course set at the 6th Congress, or the party leadership’s approach to its implementation. It suggested the leadership can assume an indefinite popular mandate until it decides a new course is desirable:

    [R]ather than launch a new society-wide debate process in the throes of implementation, we need to finish what we have begun, continuing to carry out the popular will expressed five years ago and advancing along the course set by the Sixth Congress.

    The 1000 Congress delegates elected by the Party base, the 612 National Assembly deputies and some 3500 other selected consultants had contributed to the elaboration of the two key documents, Granma stressed. Put another way, less than 0.05% of Cuban citizens had access to them prior to the Congress. No timeframe has been announced for their wider availability.

    As usual, readers submitted comments to the online version of the Granma editorial. Most touched on the controversy. A reader identifying themselves as ‘Leandro’ argued that a dangerous precedent is being set: a new generation of PCC leaders that lack the legitimacy of the historical leadership “would feel they have the right to hold Congresses without popular participation”.

    Cuban philosopher Jose Ramon Fabelo opined that the Conceptualisation of the Cuban socialist model aspired to “is not a task for experts and social scientists alone”. The most important congress “is that which takes place in the streets and workplaces of revolutionary Cuba. Let’s not pass up the opportunity to give another lesson in democracy—genuine democracy, Cuban style—to Obama and all those who want to throw their discredited models in our faces”.

    Ernesto Estevez stressed the question of representation. How, he asked, can Congress delegates be said to represent the PCC membership when the vast majority of party members are unaware of the content of the draft documents? Delegates’ opinions and votes should “reflect the consensus of those that elected them from the grassroots”. For that, the membership must have the documents.

    Estevez urged his party to “learn from the errors of the former Soviet Union”. All party members “should zealously uphold the democratic side of centralism, so that democracy operates in the right way and doesn’t end up being held hostage to centralism, albeit with the best of intentions”. The lack of consultation is a regression, and “there should be no attempt to compensate after the fact”.

    Congress shift

    Clearly in response to the rumblings of discontent from the party base, Raul proposed in his Congress report that the documents be adopted by the Congress only “in principle” rather than definitively. They would then be the basis for a “profound and democratic process of analysis by the membership of the Party and the Communist Youth, as well as by broad sectors of our society.”

    This wider consultation would be aimed at “improving and enriching” the documents. Raul further proposed that the incoming Central Committee be empowered to approve the final versions, which would be subsequently submitted to the National Assembly. Both proposals were adopted.

    Like the Granma editorial, Raul’s report did not acknowledge the leadership’s earlier commitment to a broad consultative process. It merely stated that there was no such process “given that what is involved is the confirmation and continuity of the line adopted five years ago”. Incongruously, it also said that given the theoretical intricacy of the draft Conceptualisation of the socialist model “and its importance for the future”, it should not be adopted by the Congress.

    What’s missing from Raul’s report is a logically consistent and persuasive explanation for the leadership’s abandonment of the foreshadowed pre-Congress PCC base and public consultation process. That explanation can be inferred from Raul’s account of the drafting process.

    Raul reported that the Conceptualisation document had been drafted no less than eight times. Work on the 2016-2030 Plan began four years ago. It was initially hoped a complete draft would be ready for the Congress, but due to its “great technical complexity” only its bases have been elaborated. A complete, final version is not expected till 2017.

    In December and January, the Central Committee redrafted the Congress documents on the basis of some 900 opinions and suggestions submitted by Central Committee members, Raul reported. If, as the Granma editorial claims, “the basis of these [two] documents is the content of the Guidelines”, why has it taken the Central Committee five years to draft them?

    Divergent visions

    In reality, the Guidelines and their implementation open the door to not one, but several distinctly different socialist models and corresponding medium-term plans. They leave unresolved the vital question posed in 2011 by Havana University planning specialist Oscar Fernandez:

    From the traditional state socialism that characterises Cuba today, is it moving towards a more decentralised state socialism? An Asian-style market socialism? A self-managed socialism of the Yugoslav variety? To the so-called participatory socialism of the 21st century? There is an urgent need for a debate aimed at a consensus on the key features of the vision of the future society.

    Cuba’s Marxist intelligentsia perceives competing poles of socialist thought in Cuba today. Each polarity corresponds to divergent conceptions of the socialist transitional society in general and in Cuba’s conditions. Each is seen as influencing the evolution of Cuba’s emerging socialist model, and each polarity is reflected to some degree in the content of the Guidelines.

    Veteran Cuban sociologist Juan Valdes and Cuban cooperatives proponent Camila Piñero both perceive essentially three such polarities: state socialism, market socialism and ‘socialisation’.

    The first pole tends to view the socialist transition through the prism of state power; the second, through the lens of economic development, i.e. GDP growth; the third views progress towards socialism in terms of the socialisation (i.e. democratisation) of party-state power and property.

    The Central Committee’s glacial progress in drafting the two key documents suggests that it has tried to reconcile, behind closed doors, divergent conceptions of the new Cuban socialist model that is aspired to. They had to be reconciled if the leadership were to present a more or less coherent programmatic vision to the party as a whole—rather than strive to involve the party as a whole in developing that vision from the outset over the five years since the 6th Congress.

    Leaving the realm of speculation, opting for secrecy over transparency relegated the vast majority of the PCC’s 680,000 members to the role of spectators rather than participants in the 7th Party Congress. Having won the right to be consulted on the socialist model that is aspired to, the party base has—consciously or instinctively—shifted the balance of forces a little towards the socialisation pole.

    ***
    This commentary was written for Australia’s Green Left Weekly. It draws together the threads of my previous blog posts on the Cuban Communist Party’s 7th Congress and also appeared on Cuba’s Socialist Renewal.

    The post Cuban Communist Party to launch post-Congress debate appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

    Cuba: Building on Sugar or Sand?

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 20/03/2016 - 10:57pm in

    Guevara

    With the first visit to Cuba in 88 years by a sitting U.S. president unfolding this week, this co-authored piece with Chris Hesketh – stemming from a joint visit to the island in 2013 – is offered as a snapshot reflecting on the changing dynamics facing revolutionary politics in Latin America.  

    In Memorias del subdesarrollo [1965, available in English Memories of Underdevelopment], the novelist Edmundo Desnoes captures the idée fixe of uneven development in Cuba by noting that the people of Latin America have often been confronted with ‘nothing but a bad imitation of the powerful, civilised countries, a caricature, a cheap reproduction’. Clearly, the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and its series of cycles since broke with that pattern of imitation. The mass mobilisation and structured participation of the Revolution has meant that Fidel Castro has survived nine U.S. presidents, one U.S.-backed invasion, various assassination attempts and the longest sanctions in history. Talking about revolutionary processes, Che Guevara once declared in his famous statement to the Tricontinental: “Either a socialist revolution or a caricature of revolution”.

    More than half a century after their imposition, U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba are estimated to have cost more than $751 billion, undermining a functioning health system on the island and leading to a state of siege, or blockade. As Salim Lamrani details in The Economic War Against Cuba, the United States has pursued the extraterritorial application of economic sanctions that affects the citizens and companies of third countries operating in Cuba. This has resulted in the prevention of the treatment of children suffering from cancer and diverse ophthalmic conditions. Meanwhile the Barack Obama administration has continued to apply the extraterritorial measures of the blockade, imposing a fine of $575 million on the Australia and New Zealand Bank Group, Ltd. for transacting with Cuba in dollars and punishing the Dutch bank ING with a fine of $619 million for the same reason, resulting in the largest penalty since the inception of the economic siege against Cuba in 1960.

    IMG_03570037Meanwhile, the social gains of the Revolution have been well documented, including education, employment, land reform, housing, gender equality, and the development of the arts and culture alongside an expansive foreign policy abetting social revolution. For example, in 1961, the Literacy Campaign brought the illiteracy rate in Cuba down in less than one year from 23.6 percent to 3.9 percent. The land reform of 1963 nationalised 10,000 properties and placed some 70 percent of Cuba’s arable land in the state’s hands. Revolutionary mobilisation witnessed the creation of the Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (CDRs: Committees for the Defence of the Revolution), established in 1960, numbering approximately 800,000 to 1.2 million members that rallied against invasion. As such, mobilisation became replaced by institutional structures in the 1970s and the guerrilla ethos of the Revolution dwindled in preference for an apparatus of political representation and formalised institutional participation. The Revolution has since evolved from the “special period” of austerity in the 1990s and the collapse of the Soviet Union to witness a complex mix of cubanía (“Cuban-ness”), a particular manifestation of revolutionary nationalism, in combination with demands for egalitarian social revolution.

    From the viewpoint of Cuba specialist, Antoni Kapcia, in his excellent book Cuba in Revolution:

    despite appearances of Cuba as an enclosed, militantly defensive community, the Revolution has more often than not (except at moments of national crisis or perceived or real external threat) operated as a system with a surprisingly high degree of leeway and space being given to those who, though not fully committed, are nonetheless passively supportive of the aims and meaning of something which they see as “the Revolution” . . . That is not to say that the political system has not been tolerant; at certain times greater or lesser levels of coercion, peer pressure or harassment have ensured a conformity that can be stultifying and oppressive, leading to excesses of intolerance.

    One such historical manifestation would include the rise of the Unidades Militares para Ayuda a la Producción (UMAP: Units to Aid Military Production), or work camps, that targeted sexual, religious, and political dissenters in the 1960s to provide cheap labour for the state. In 2010, Fidel Castro admitted responsibility for such imprisonments committed during the revolutionary period, as detailed in the Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada. For Samuel Farber, in Cuba since the Revolution of 1959, this evidences how Cuba has been organised along a Soviet-type system where the dull compulsion of economic relations has been replaced with more direct coercion and the militarisation of labour. However, Kapcia’s stress on avoiding a petrified Cold War framing of Cuba, as simply the reproduction of a Caribbean version of the Socialist Bloc, is astute. Concurrent with Kapcia, ‘one constant in the understanding of Cuba’s complex system has been the need to eschew the paradigm of the Socialist Bloc and, in fact, to focus on Cuba’s differences’.

    IMG_03560036One of these differences is Cuba’s emergence in the context of global capitalism or what George Lambie details in The Cuban Revolution in the 21st Century as ‘market socialism’ in which the state retains firm control over key sectors of the economy while allowing private enterprise and foreign capital to enter the country alongside participatory democracy. This is the most fascinating aspect of Samuel Farber’s book Cuba since the Revolution of 1959 in detailing how, since the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), the ‘statification’ of the Cuban Revolution is leading to a form of capitalist restoration. The renovation of Old Havana, through the ubiquitous tourist-oriented Habaguanex, directed by Eusebio Leal, is one expression of this form of economic development. Cuba, an island the size of England, and with a current population of some eleven million people is attracting over 2 million tourists annually. Indeed, walking around Old Havana it is impossible not to notice both the gentrification of the city and the rise of private markets, sometimes initiated by a hiss and whisper of ‘Cigar? Cigar my friend? Cohiba?’ (Cohiba being the premier brand of Cuban cigar once smoked by Fidel Castro himself). It is with a certain irony that a Revolution inspired by the excesses of US-based interests and the regime of Fulgencio Batista, now seeks to precisely utilise such symbolic capital as a form of branding alongside the old classic cars of Havana excitedly touted as ‘American taxis’. 

    IMG_03220005Today, along with the liberalisation of rules governing small businesses and foreign investment we are witnessing the emergence of civilian and military joint ventures with foreign capital and economic enterprises, administered for example through the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA). As a result, Farber’s book is highly useful in delineating the emergence of what he refers to as a ‘reconstituted ruling class’ in Cuba, through enterprise improvement.

    The official organ of the Central Committee of the CCP, Granma, indicated as recently as 22nd November in an article entitled ‘Continúa el fortalecimiento de la empresa estatal socialista’ that the strengthening of state socialist enterprises would continue into 2014. Under the application of the new concept of ‘Encargo Estatal’ [State Order], specific enterprises and products notably linked to the ministries of industry, construction, energy and mining sectors would be gradually included in the policy of commercial strengthening of state socialism. ‘The implementation of this project’, as stated in Granma, ‘will allow enterprises to increase their sales and profits, which is a source for recapitalisation and increased incomes for workers’. Here, the concept of ‘the state as the centre of accumulation’ begins to enter the picture, as detailed by David Ruccio in Development and Globalization.

    RuccioIn Cuba as elsewhere across Latin America, there is a return to a conception of the role of the state in planning and controlling economic surplus, through the ‘new extractivism’, so that the state becomes the centre of accumulation by centralising the so-called surplus and thereby planning the use of that surplus in accumulation. The state can therefore ‘siphon off’ surplus realised in nonstate enterprises that could then be used for the reactivation and restructuring of the economy on the basis of state investment. However, these attempts then position the state in a wide range of political and economic class struggles and tensions: the elimination of subsidies and social benefits (food, education), attempts to lower real wages (to increase the amount of surplus extracted), or increase taxes on joint-venture capitalist enterprises in order to direct the surplus into fiscal revenues could all generate conflicts threatening the central role of the state in accumulation.

    In 1960, as relayed in Eduardo Galeano’s classic book Venas abiertas de América Latina [1971, available in English, Open Veins of Latin America], Jean-Paul Sartre apparently asked about Cuba, ‘Is building on sugar better than building on sand?’ With sugar production falling from 7.2 million to 4.5 million tons in the 1950s and then rising to a high of 7 to 8 million tons in the 1980s to fall to 1 and 1.5 million tons more recently, it seems that Cuba is building less on sugar and more on sand in the form of tourism with the state as the centre of accumulation. Struggles from below, meaning the democratic self-management of the Cuban economy and the fight for the self-emancipation of the working classes against capitalist priorities might be one outcome, as argued by Farber. Resolving popular demands through new forms of co-option within state institutions and retaining the state as a centre of accumulation within a form of capitalist restoration might of course be another outcome. It is too early to say whether Cuba is now nothing but a caricature of socialism. Nevertheless, rather than talking about a revolution, it does indeed sound more like a whisper of ‘Cigar? Cigar my friend? Cohiba?’.