WHAT HAPPENED TO RAUL CASTRO’S REFORMS? TheFinancial Times reports today that “Havana has allowed its domestic reform drive to grind to a halt…” FT says “Raul Castro sought to decentralize the economy and boost productivity by allowing self-employment, slashing state bureaucracy, welcoming foreing investment and unifying Cuba’s dual currency system.” But the promises made by General Castro when he inherited power have come to naught.
FINANCIAL TIMES, March 28, 2017
Cuba’s communists dig in as Castro’s reform drive hits the sand
Islanders mystified as ‘economic tsar’ Marino Murillo not heard in public for a year
Reforms initiated by Raúl Castro have failed to meet popular expectations © Getty
Cuban president Raúl Castro is preparing to step down next year, Venezuela has cut millions of dollars in aid and Donald Trump’s election has cast a shadow over the nascent US-Cuba detente. Unnerved by the changes, Havana has allowed its domestic reform drive to grind to a halt as the Communist party battens down the hatches.
Marino Murillo, the senior official leading Cuba’s reforms, has not been heard in public for almost a year. His absence has mystified Cubans and dented the high expectations Mr Castro’s liberalising drive once fomented, both at home and abroad.
“There are three reasons for the pause in the reforms — and I say pause, because inevitably reforms will continue at some point,” says Richard Feinberg, a Cuba scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Senior leadership is focused on managing austerity and preparing the succession as Raúl steps down . . . They are also managing a backlash over emerging inequality, low state wages and inflation.”
Mr Castro made reform the hallmark of his presidency when he formally took over from his elder brother Fidel Castro in 2008. He sought to decentralise the economy and boost productivity by allowing self-employment, slashing state bureaucracy, welcoming foreign investment and unifying Cuba’s dual currency system.
Mr Murillo, who became known as Cuba’s “economic reform tsar” when he was appointed minister of planning and the economy in 2009, was the technocrat in charge of implementing the changes. In some ways, he and Mr Castro made up a tag team that repeatedly cajoled Cuba’s stolid bureaucracy to reform.
While Mr Castro’s revolutionary stature provided moral cover, Mr Murillo gave lengthy PowerPoint presentations to party and government members that explained the changes. His talks, usually an hour long, were later broadcast on state television, sometimes more than once.
By contrast, Mr Murillo has not uttered a word in public since last July. At the same time, price controls have been slapped on burgeoning private sector businesses in agriculture and transport.
The reversal comes as Mr Castro, 85, prepares to carry out his pledge to step down as president on February 24 next year. If he does so, 2018 will be the first time in six decades that Cuba has not been ruled by a Castro — although he is expected to remain head of the Communist party and armed forces. Fidel Castro died last November.
“In a way, the reforms have not gone far enough but at the same time too far,” says Bert Hoffman, a Cuba expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies. “Not far enough to . . . lift up growth [but] too far in that social inequalities are widening, the cost of living is rising and the Communist party fears the discontent this produces.”
These tensions became clear at a party congress in April 2016, which admitted that reforms had failed to meet popular expectations in terms of economic growth, supplies of goods and higher wages. At the same time, a debate on state television showed party delegates fuming over a private onion farmer who had earned enough money to buy a car and fix his house.
In many ways, Cuba has been here before. Reformist officials have often had their wings clipped after liberalising drives were stifled by hardliners who feared loss of control. One famous case is that of Carlos Lage, Fidel Castro’s “economic fixer” in the 1990s, who was unceremoniously dismissed in 2009 and now works as a paediatrician.
One difference today is that Mr Murillo still seems to enjoy official blessing. He was promoted to the powerful politburo in 2011 and remains chairman of the government’s economic policy commission.
“All this has been a severe blow to Murillo, although the main problem is the deterioration of the Venezuelan economy,” he says.
Caracas has long supplied Havana with 100,000 barrels per day of subsidised oil, but Venezuela’s economic and political crises have forced it to cut shipments by as much as 40 per cent. Largely as a result, Cuba’s economy shrank by almost 1 per cent in 2016, entering its first recession since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In another setback for reformists, Mr Trump has promised to re-examine the detente begun under his predecessor Barack Obama — although the US president has taken no concrete steps since his election last November. His state department has yet to appoint an official in charge of Latin American affairs.
Some US businesses have scaled back their initial euphoria about opportunities in Cuba. Although 615,000 Cuban-Americans and US tourists visited the country last year — of a total 4m foreign visitors — Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways cancelled scheduled US flights on March 13, citing lack of demand and market saturation. American Airlines and JetBlue have also reduced their schedules.
“They [the Cubans] have managed quite well to dampen reform expectations,” says a senior European diplomat, referring to Mr Murillo’s muting.
However, the corollary of prioritising political stability over economic reforms, at least for now, is that complaints about government inertia, low wages, high prices, shortages and deteriorating services have become routine.
One clear sign of that came in a rare private survey carried out in Cuba late last year by the independent NORC research group at the University of Chicago, in which 46 per cent described the country’s economy as “poor or very poor”. A similar number said they expected it to stay the same while only three in 10 expected it to improve. Remarkably, half of polled Cubans said they wanted to leave the country.
WILL OBAMA DO IT? WHEN PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA , AT THE TIME OF HIS JOURNEY TO HAVANA WAS TOLD ABOUT INCREASING BEATINGS AND POLITICAL REPRESSION ON THE ISLAND HE SAID EVERYTHING TAKES TIME, THAT CUBANS NEEDED TO BE PATIENT. TIME HAS PASSED, WILL SOMEONE WITH ACCESS TO MR. OBAMA SEND HIM THIS AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL APPEAL AND URGE HIM TO CALL ON RAUL CASTRO TO RELEASE DR. EDUARDO CARDET WITHOUT FURTHER
Caribbean team | Equipo del Caribe | Equipe de la Caraïbe
Americas Regional Office | Oficina Regional para las Américas | Bureau Régional des Amériques
International Secretariat | Secretariado Internacional | Secrétariat International
Defender sentenced after criticizing Castro
Cuban authorities sentenced human rights defender Eduardo Cardet to three years in prison after holding him in provisional prison in Holguín, south-east Cuba, since November 2016. He is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally.
Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, MCL) since 2014 was sentenced to three years in prison on 20 March. He was arrested in Holguín on 30 November 2016, five days after the death of the former leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro. He has since been held in the provisional prison (prisión provisional) of Holguín and will remain there while he carries out the appeals.
Eduardo Cardet was charged with attacking an official of the state (atentado) after he publicly criticized Fidel Castro a few days after his death. Prior to his arrest, Eduardo Cardet had given interviews published in international media in which he had been critical of the Cuban government. In an interview with Madrid-based radio station esRadio, aired two days before his arrest, he described the mourning in Cuba following the death of Fidel Castro as imposed, and said: “Castro was a very controversial man, very much hated and rejected by our people”. His lawyer has until 31 March to file an appeal.
Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:
Calling on the authorities to release Dr. Eduardo Cardet immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;
Calling on them to guarantee the peaceful right to freedom of expression, assembly and association including for dissident, opponent or activist voices and to repeal all legislation which unduly limits these rights;
Urging them to ensure that, pending his release, he is provided with any medical care he may require; that he is not tortured or otherwise ill-treated; and that he is granted regular access to family and lawyers of his choosing.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 8 MAY 2017 TO:
President of the Republic Raúl Castro Ruz
Presidente de la República de Cuba, La Habana, Cuba
Email: email@example.com (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Your Excellency
Dr. Darío Delgado Cura
Fiscal General de la República
Fiscalía General de la República
Amistad 552, e/Monte y Estrella
Centro Habana, La Habana, Cuba
Salutation: Dear Attorney General/ Señor Fiscal General
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:
Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation
Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. This is the first update of UA 32/17. Further information:www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr25/5601/2017/en/