CFR’s Castro Apologist Foresees Free Economy Within Five Years 2

The Post-Castro Era Is Today

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies

January 30, 2013, Folha de Sao Paulo

The post-Castro era in Cuba has arrived. But its main architect is Raul Castro. His reform agenda does not have the formulaic recitations of a political science textbook or the guidelines of an IMF structural adjustment program. No multiparty elections. No Starbucks, Walmart, or Burger King. Not much independent media. But little by little Cuba is undergoing a significant transformation in the basic expectations Cuban citizens have of the state, and vice versa. Lula’s visit this week may focus on Venezuela, but all around him Cuba is becoming a freer, more open, and yes, more democratic society.

Earlier this month, a new law took effect that eliminates restrictions on travel for almost everyone: Cubans no longer need pay exorbitant fees or await the “tarjeta blanca”—state permission—to travel. Now, they need only a visa, like the rest of the world. And if they want to live and work abroad, Cubans will no longer lose their property or residence status: a big step forward for freedom and human rights, and a potential economic boon as well.

Business and profit are no longer dirty words. Senior officials project that with new laws and regulations empowering small businesses, within five years fully 50 percent of the economy will be in private, non-state hands. Under the new rules, individuals and cooperatives can now hire employees, obtain bank financing, procure inputs from wholesale markets, and turn a profit. There are myriad problems for sure: but these are increasingly of a practical, not ideological nature, more about the need to build capacity and experience, whereas before the private sector was viewed as a necessary evil. Now this new space has legitimacy and legality.

A progressive tax system is also taking shape. This is not a mere technical adjustment. With the new decentralization, state and municipal government will raise and spend their budgets from tax revenue collected at the base, with the federal government paying a much reduced slate of costs—mainly education, health and defense. Cubans are used to getting everything for free. The notion that they will work, pay taxes, and receive health, education and a pension but not much more, represents a radical political shift.

Next month Raul Castro begins his second and very likely final five-year term as president of the Cuban republic. The slate of candidates represents a big demographic and political step forward. Some 67 percent of the candidates for 612 seats are completely new picks, and of these, more than 70 percent were born after 1959. Women comprise 49 percent of the candidates and Afro descendants 37 percent. Cuban voters will be asked to check yea or nay from this new list, so it’s not a direct competition. But if you want to understand where the successors to the post post-Castro era may come from, I’d look at this new group.

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Alan Gross: Boca Raton Jews Hope to Bring Cheer to Jailed Humanitarian 1

Boca Raton Jews to Visit Alan Gross

Trip planned to visit Alan Gross in Cuban prison

By: Marissa Bagg

BOCA RATON, Fla. – In Boca Raton, a small delegation is on a mission, determined to visit a Cuban prisoner. Alan Gross is an American Jew, jailed for bringing communication equipment to the Cuban community. He’s three years into a 15 year sentence, but some fear he may not survive. Members of the Boca Raton Synagogue learned of his plight last year. “He’s being kept in prison unjustly and there’s no evidence in the trial of the accusations against him,” says Rabbi Efrem Goldberg.

Rabbi Goldberg and Dan Kaskel want to do something about it. Gross described prison life in a recent interview with CNN. “We’re not allowed to see other people. I get to go outside every day during the day now. That’s an improvement, I didn’t see the sunlight for my first year and a half here,” says Gross.

Countless politicians have pleaded with the Cuban government to release Gross. But he remains in a cell. Now Kaskel and Rabbi Goldberg are working to visit him in person. “The Cuban government has been challenging to work with because we don’t have official diplomatic ties with Cuban,” says Kaskel. But that isn’t stopping them. In 60 days the United States has agreed to issue the group a permit to travel to Cuba. “The extended Jewish community is our family, and if this was our brother, father or son, we’d go to the ends of the earth to help him. We hope to give him energy and courage to get through everything until he is able to get released,” says Rabbi Goldberg.

Expelled Senior Spy Assails Washington’s Unchanging Foreign Policy 2

Cuba Criticizes President Obama, Says Island is Changing While US Policy is Not

AP Updated: Friday, February 1, 2:58 PM

HAVANA — A senior Cuban official sharply criticized U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday for suggesting Cuba was stuck in the past, saying the only anachronistic element of the relationship is Washington’s half-century-old economic embargo.

Josefina Vidal, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs division, said Obama was poorly informed if he thought Cuba had not changed in recent years. She said her country has always been willing to negotiate improved relations with the U.S.

“It’s unfortunate that President Obama continues to be poorly advised and ill-informed about the Cuban reality, as well as the sentiments of his own people who desire normalization of our relationship,” Vidal said in a statement sent to foreign media on the island. She said Cuba was “changing and advancing,” a reference to economic and social reforms enacted in recent years under President Raul Castro.

In an interview with the Spanish news channel Telemundo broadcast Wednesday, Obama said his administration is open to better ties but that “it’s got to be a two-way street.” He said Cuban jails are still filled with political prisoners and that the island’s leaders are clinging to a failed model. “It’s time to join the 21st century,” he said. “It’s one thing to have cars from the 1950s. It’s another thing when your whole political ideology .. is 50 years or 60 years old and it’s been proven not to work.”

In recent years, Cuba has allowed for limited capitalism and legalized the real estate market, among other reforms, while insisting the changes did not constitute a break from its socialist model. Among the measures getting the most attention was last month’s lifting of a longstanding requirement that islanders ask the government’s permission to travel abroad.
Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez’s request for a new passport was granted on Thursday. Last year she was denied a “white card,” or exit permit, when she tried to travel to Brazil for a film festival, something she says has happened to her about 20 times in recent years. “Visas for (hashtag)Brazil and for the (hashtag)Schengen agreement nations arranged, they will be delivered to me next week,” Sanchez said on Twitter on Friday. The “Schengen area” is a region in Europe within which there are little or no border or visa controls between Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and France.

But Sanchez and others bemoaned the denial of passports to two other government opponents. Dissidents Angel Moya and Jose Daniel Ferrer were turned down under a clause that lets the government withhold travel papers to people facing legal cases, or for reasons of national security or public interest. The men were among the 75 activists jailed in the 2003 “black spring” crackdown on dissent. While they were later freed, their release was conditional and technically are still serving long sentences.

Mixed in with the mutual recriminations between Obama and Vidal were the usual conditional affirmations of openness to dialogue. In her rebuttal of Obama, Vidal says America “can always count on the willingness of the people and government of Cuba to work to advance bilateral relations.” Obama, in his Telemundo interview, said that he could foresee improved ties during his second term if Cuba meets him half way.

Editor’s Note: Josefina de la C. Vidal Ferreiro left the US in May 2003 when her husband, Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera; and 13 other spy-diplomats were thrown out of the United States. Vidal and Maria Cristina Delgado Suarez (wife of expelled spy Raul Rodriguez Averhoff) both left the country voluntarily. That said, both women were known to US authorities as Cuban intelligence officers and this fact played into the selection of their husbands for expulsion.