Cuba reforms are stalling

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.


The slowdown in domestic reforms suggests the orthodox wing of the Communist party is strengthening, says Carmelo Mesa-Lago, professor emeritus of economics at Pittsburgh University and a long-time Cuba watcher.


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.

Here is the full FT piece by Marc Frank and John Paul Rathbone.  Here is my earlier Bloomberg column on Cuba.


The Communists do this all the time. They lie when they need the support of the Useful Idiots. But they don't mean it. So they wanted the sanctions lifted. They promised reforms. Sanctions were lifted - without the Boy Wonder in the White House asking for anything in return. And the Communists remain Communists.

Plus ca change.

You would think that liberals would learn. After Ho Chi-minh swore blind he was really a Nationalist and a type of reformer, after Mao swore he wasn't really a Communist, after Castro swore that he had never heard of this Communism thing. But no, they are fooled every time because they want to be.

The 50+ years of sanctions had almost gotten Cuban to change. I swear, communism would have fallen if we'd given it another couple years. Don't worry, I'm sure Jared Kushner and Rex Tillerson have it all figured out.

This would be more impressive as an argument if it wasn't inherently dishonest. If you want to argue that American foreign policy ought to be changed to enable Stalin-nostalgics and/or pedophiles to travel to Cuba freely, by all means, do so. But don't pretend that you are helping the people of Cuba or making some sort of moral statement.

The fact that your side needed to falsely sell the end of the embargo as somehow enabling Raul to be Deng Xiaoping shows how weak your argument is.

Some times even a completely pointless gesture is worth doing. Not that it is. After all, the Cuban regime is much worse than Apartheid-era South Africa. I bet you supported sanctions on them.

The sanctions are working!

How many Cubans do you think Trump plans to help by facilitating their immigration and settlement in the US? I think the number of refugees we are taking from Cuba is currently 0. Does allowing US investment help or hurt Castro long-term?

The question is whether you do something useful or something that is symbolic and stupid.

But please, scream pedophiles, because that is an exclusively Cuba issue. #Pizzagate.

So there are some illegal immigrants you oppose moving to the US? How interesting.

The question is whether or not removing the sanctions was something Raul wanted bad enough that he would make concessions. Probably not as they are not especially harmful. But it is worth finding out. So if Trump insists on some sort of reform as a price of not re-imposing the embargo, it is only for the better for the Cuban people.

Investment helps the Castros of course.

And I can understand why you are sensitive about pedophiles. And why you do not want to talk about Stalin-worshippers.

So is he sensitiva about pedopholes because he talked about them or about Stalin-worshippers because he did not talk about them? The Stormfront gets funnier and funnier.

Pedholes... :) OK, there are holes involved, but pedophiles, anyway.

"But don’t pretend that you are helping the people of Cuba or making some sort of moral statement."

Also don't pretend that you are helping the people of Cuba by restricting Americans' freedom to travel.

Decent people oppose Stalinist butchers. Why aren't you decent?

Yeah, it is the Stalinists who are starving. As we know, dictators love to share the burden of their subjects. I really love how one declares war to the Cubans and then says it is justmoppising their government (maybe there is already too much people, the Communists for example, trying to protect the Cubans from themselves). And helping to starve the Cubans is the right thing. It is the only case in which we must have nothing to do with a dictatorship even if could lessen the suffering of thenCuban people instead of wasring another 50 years. The Cubans must suffer for the cause (it is funny the Stormfront do not like Raul Castro better, they have exactly the same plans for the Cubans)

If you oppose them then join a boycott

Just be brave enough to say you believe American foreign policy should defer to the desires of Stalinist cliques.

Just be brave enough to say that you think American foreign policy should be recycling failed, toothless signaling that ignores the actual plight of people living in repressive regimes.

It is not failed or toothless. If it was either you would not care. When the Left opposes a policy it must be working.

The Cuban people need an end to their totalitarian mass murdering Communist government. Ending the sanctions does nothing to that end. If you cared about them you would support the embargo.

"The Cuban people need an end to their totalitarian mass murdering Communist government."

Thanks, Obama! The sanctions were working so well for the Cubans. The Castro Brothers would never be able to survive another sixty years of sanctions (unless Cuban medicine is even better than the Cuban propagandists say it is). Victory was so close! Just another half-century or two. Make it three just to be safe.

Opposing Stalinist cliques is ipso facto the right thing to do. Again there are countless interventionist policies your defend with blustery, flustered rage from any kind of scrutiny based on them being "the right thing to do."

Denying legitimacy to blood thirsty Stalinist is what decent people do.

To clarify the odious support for bloody thirsty Stalinist that Jan and Hua Wei demonstrate: both of these Stalinist shills clamor with spittle flecked rage for sanctions against North Carolina, but not Cuba.

A certain segment of the hard left only takes off the white gloves against rival American tribes.

"Opposing Stalinist cliques is ipso facto the right thing to do"

So is nuking those Fascists Japs, for their own good, you know (yeah, the Hiroshima guys would have voted otherwise, but anyway...). Well, it is wonderful to find the only dictatorship the far-right has an issue with. Just another fifty years of sanctions and Raul Castro won't be around anymore. Cross your fingers, Cubans.

Say it with me "I Hua Wei agressively support the policies of Stalinist dictators."

Really enjoyed Sam's retort wrt. South Carolina, it did a great job of show the left for what it is.


We can see how beaten the "Stalinist" (you probably mean Marxist, Communist or Leninist, but without evoking Stalin, you would risk not being able to make Castro look worse than your totalitarian Saudi friends - can't have people remembering the word Wahhabism and asking why aupport a totalitarian dictator and not the other one) dictators have been - despise the sanctions, they have had more time in charge than most Latin Americans have life expectancy. Hey Raul Castro can't survive another 60 years of embargo, can he? Athought: after he dies, can we declare vitory and start acting like adults and adopting a policy that harm the Cubans the least?

Is it coincidence that the Stormfront champions a policy that makes some "Brown" people even poorer than they would have been if this policy was not in place?

"Denying legitimacy to blood thirsty Stalinist is what decent people do."

And this why we are breaking up with the Saudi terrorist regime. Sorry, wrong totalitarian regime. So we learn that using the American state to make the Cuban citizens poorer (but not the Gulf kings) than they would otherwise be is the "right thing" to so. It has worked so well for the Cubans...

Hua is an embarassing mess. Apparently sex tourism is a stormfront conspiracy, giving usd to the castros will help Cubans, and being non-aggressive to Sauds is indicative of racism.

So Much,

I agree with Jan. However, progress will be slow, for many reasons.

We just went to Cuba. About 30-40% of the workforce now is outside of the government employment. Those who work in the tourist sector, younger and able to speak English, or former university physics professors who drive antique automobiles for tourists, actually do quite well, with tips.

The economy is crazy. Ration cards which assign you to a ration store...even though everyone gets the same rations, some get better stores than others. If you want to build a hotel, the government becomes half owner. People have an informal exchange economy...if you want your TV set repaired, you ask a friend who has a friend who repairs TVs and who owes him a favor, etc., etc. The railroads don't work, literally.

If you judged things on the optimism and determination of the people, you would yourself be optimistic, but, I am not. The military owns or manages a good portion of the businesses in the country. Unlike Eastern Europe when the economy collapsed and enterprises were sold off (primarily to managers who had access to capital from state controlled banks) those in power will probably be too threatened with change if it happens quickly for change to occur quickly.

For a country which prides itself in literacy, there are no bookstores, and you see no one reading.

It's doubtful that BO has any interest in the internal situation in Cuba or any sense of how policy changes are likely to have an impact. Indulgent attitudes toward Cuba are part of the identikit of a certain sort of bourgeois, as are indulgent attitudes toward Wm. Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. Everything BO does indicates he's a replaceable part.

Art, I am trying to figure out what substantive thoughts you had in your comments so that I could respond. If you are saying that one group has an Identikit, perhaps you should ask whether you have one as well because I think the substance of your comment is to describe your own identikit.

Art, I am trying to figure out what substantive thoughts you had in your comments so that I could respond.

Sorry. Can't pee for you.

If you are saying that one group has an Identikit, perhaps you should ask whether you have one as well because I think the substance of your comment is to describe your own identikit.

Well, your thinking isn't perspicacious, because I made no explicit or implicit references to myself, nor is my assessment of BO the mode anywhere (though it's common enough).

It's amazing, the right is obsessed with the short game. Sanctions on Cuba, of course, was short game not for the people of Cuba but for winning votes for the GOP in Florida.

Long game is the sanctions failed in Cuba. End of story. Ohhh what about North Carolina's LGBT law? So what? Sometimes sanctions work sometimes they don't. North Carolina isn't Cuba.

I think it is only fair then to evaluate the new policy by giving it 30 years. That's only half the time the right demanded for their policy to be evaluated.

Again sanctions against North Carolina good. Sanctions against a Stalinist prison camp bad.

The hard left in this country isn't mature enough for to hold political power.

Actually boycott, not sanctions. I have no problem with someone visiting Cuba and instead of spending their money at a Party run resort opt instead to stay with a family and share their money with them.

But what's your point? That sanctions either work all the time or none of the time therefore we should run a sanctions regime against everyone on earth who isn't perfect or abolish all sanctions everywhere? So if you think 'sanctions' on North Carolina are a bad idea you also think you should be allowed to buy black market oil directly from ISIS or sell your newly invented 3-D printed rigged to make nuclear warheads to North Korea?

Hahaha. Any time soon starving the Cubans will make them freer, any time soon. Just give the sanctions more 50 years and Raul Castro will fall... Who said the Stormfront needs an excuse to defend starving Brown people

The hard left in the US has never held political power.

Do you actually desire the end of communist dictatorship in Cuba? Does Obama? Does Keith Ellison? If not, what is your short-game retort but a lie?

I'm going to give a massive tax cut to billionaires and convince the middle class that they will end up better for it.

Case a) The present billionaire tax rate is 90%.

Case b) The present billionaire tax rate is 50%.

Case c) The present billionaire tax rate is 15% because their marginal income is often capital gains.

In which of these scenarios is the middle class likely to end up better when cutting taxes for billionaires, in consideration of a) their net taxes paid relative to public services accessed and b) total distributive effects considering that tax cuts for billionaires does not leave much room for middle class tax cuts?

(On the subject of (potentially) useful idiots.)

More than US politics, Cuba's future is completely in the hands of Partido Comunista Cubano and namely its leader Raul Castro who is too proud to blatantly recognize the failure of their decades long experiment and fully embrace a liberal reformist agenda aimed at giving Cuban people more liberties both in economic and civil fronts.

Commies did give their people respectable formal education (though in need of adjustments too) but training engineers who would rather drive taxis is not going to take you anywhere. However, I don't think isolating Cuba will work like Trump predicts, maybe engagement and open contact between US and Cuba will lead to louder demands for reform in both sides though both approaches can fail, at least we should give the new one a try after so many years of failing to crack the regime via sanctions.

Cuba is peculiarly retrograde in a Latin American context, just as Albania was in Europe. It's a reasonable wager that when the geezer board finally shuffles off, the next generation will attempt to take the country back toward a regional norm.

"Cuba is peculiarly retrograde in a Latin American context"
Most Latin American countries are not ruled by Communist parties, so even after the Methuselahs go, if the party remains in charge, it is hard to know how close the country will get to Latin American norms. North Korea experienced two generation transitions at top and it didn't seem to help much. To be frank, the Communist Party self-imposed task of balancing economic reform and the survival of the regime is not an enviable one.

Which aspects of regional norms in particular do you think would appeal to them?

I think those who think the Long Game in Cuba is in the hands of Raul Castro are somewhat mistaken.

It seems entirely rational of the Cuban leaders to "battens down the hatches" and just keep things stable for the next 4-8 years. Pro-US reforms are unlikely to be reciprocated anyway.

No, it's not 'rational'. It's just all they know how to do.

"Marino Murillo, the senior official leading Cuba’s reforms, has not been heard in public for almost a year."

I take it you somehow missed this part. How, exactly, does this have anything to do with Trump?

Meanwhile, life goes on...

Cuba is a wreck, but not yet a North Korean class wreck. If the rulers are determined enough, they can hold the people down for a long time, sanctions or no sanctions. Cuba could trade with the rest of the world anyway, but had little to offer, other than misery.

There only hope is tourism and exporting doctors, who are likely to be offered citizenship in the country they are exported to, which explains why the family is required to remain in Cuba.

US Cubans send remittances back to their Cuban relatives who use the money to fix up or acquire the family properties. The fixed up properties become mini B&B's operated by the Cuban family members who can make a decent living leasing out a room to a tourist who found it on Airbnb.

Airbnb is the disruptive technology in Cuba.

What about medical tourism? Much nicer than Tijuana.

As the only country in the hemisphere sanctioned by the US, somehow ... I wonder if being sanctioned by the largest economy on the planet, which also just happens to be right next door and the number one trading partner of just about all your trading partners ...

I dunno, do you think that might be relevant to the cross-country comparative situation?

Cuba makes peoples' minds turn to mush. Engagement is the path to a better Cuba, a Cuba that is an ally and business partner rather than an enemy. Is China building a wall with its neighbors? Is China discouraging the flow of people and commerce with its neighbors? China is building high speed rail to connect China with its neighbors, including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore. America is stuck in the past, while the world looks to the future.

America: the Grievance Nation. It seems everyone in America has grievances, grievances with black people, grievances with brown people, grievances with yellow people, grievances with Cubans, grievances with Mexicans, grievances with Chinese, grievances with immigrants, grievances with the poor, grievances with the sick. The problem with Americans isn't that they are complacent, it's that they are whiners.

Fifty years into the future, 2017, most of the grievances are with white cis guys. There is no stagnation!

I think the progress we would have with Cuban reforms would come through tourism and more person to person engagement. But, if you do have more tourism, it should be accompanied by a reduction in US business restrictions, both here and in Cuba. Right now, the Chinese and Koreans are the beneficiaries of US tourism dollars likely to be spent on infrastructure improvement. So, if we are going to have US tourism, we should work out rules where there is also US investment; otherwise, we are just supporting Chinese and Korean businesses.

Just why would anyone else in the world travel to Cuba. Cuba is a good tourist destination for exactly two countries Canada and the US. Every other country has underdeveloped beaches far closer to them. And as the data shows Americans really don't care to visit Cuba- which makes sense because again all it has are beaches. Mexico at least has pyramids and somewhat interesting Mexico City. Cuba is just a time warp.

Is something stopping you from building a hotel in China or Korea?

You're planning on staying there for the long term or maybe selling to a local later after building it up real good or something, right?

Anyways, you'd need to have a convincing reason to justify such a state intervention to manage quotas of who can invest how much where depending on how much tourism dollars are going where. This is the kind of thing that stuffs up things, leading to less efficient economies and very likely lots of pork and abuse of state powers in the long run.

So how about if you really want to go open up a hotel there, why not take your investors over with you and start building partnerships? It's not a sure thing, for example, that a Chinese firm can just show up in NY with a stack of money to buy a property, and think that this therefore means that NYC will give all permissions it seeks. The world just doesn't work that way. But it's a two-way street.

Perhaps press for a more independent judiciary as a means of facilitating more predictable decisions with reduced political dimensions? Well, good luck with that conversation.

"Engagement" will have no appreciable effect whatsoever.

That's what a North Korean dictator would also say.

Doesn't it make you pause for even ten seconds to consider that you sound just like a Castro loyalist.

Just kidding. Hard left gonna hard left.

Sam, Get help for your reading problem. Or, is it a comprehension problem. It's pretty clear that dictators do not want their citizens to meet persons whom they claim are evil, so that they do not discover the truth. Nor do they want their citizens to be able to travel to find out for themselves.

Talk about an evergreen headline. Not to worry, a new five-year plan is on the way. Viva la revolucion!

On the topic of Cuba, here's the tweet of the year for 2014:

It's a tough decision to normalize relations with a country whose police force routinely murders civilians, but Cuba made the right choice.

Have you considered improving the quality of public discussion by putting a bullet in your own head?

Insightful comment. Compelling and rich.

Reminiscent of Buckley, but less erudite.

So I assume you're American? ;-)

Art is very sensitive about the notion that some of the 300,000-odd police officers in the USA might ever have done anything that can be portrayed in a negative light.

The video that (never mind what, Art will just stick his fingers in his ears shouting "la la la la la!" and come back and call people delusional) shows it pretty clearly. There are at least five bad apples with badges in the USA.

Statistically, across 300,000, I'd put a wager on somewhere in the range of 10,000 cops whose immediate and forced early 'retirement' would make the streets a safer place for everyone.

For Art's sake, let's take an absurd assumption that this might only be 1,000.

Art thinks you're a revolutionary idiot if you think the number could be as high as 1.

But suggesting to put a bullet in your head? He must have been in special need of a deterrent. That's pretty extreme for him. I try to explain to people here that this is not an uncommon view in the world. But you have the Art's, plausibly some of whom well intended, who try to silence any domestic awareness of what people outside of fortress America think about stuff.

China has a set of policies and practices which amount in sum to rotation-in-office and mandatory retirement. Members of the cabinet, the Communist Party politburo, and the council supervising the military tend to be in their middle 60s, with hardly anyone over 70 and no one under 50. Cuba, by contrast, is a gerontocracy top heavy with contemporaries of Raul Castro. I'd wager the actuarial tables will have to clean-out the leadership stratum before you see any policy changes of note.

In China, it was the revolutionary days' relic Deng who started the economic reforms. North Korea saw two transmissions of power at top and it did not help. The task (self-imposed of course) of balancing the regime's economic interests and remaining in power is difficult.

Deng was a decade younger than Raul when he manuvered into power. And for background he was twice purged functionary who was not Mao's designated successor.

Curious if you can point to anyone like this in Cuba's leadership.

1) Deng was over 70 when Mao died - OK, a boy according to Cuban practices, but., still...

2) Deng was always a reformist, it was exactly what put him in troble with Mao. So it is not the age problem.

3) To be frank, I can not point that many Cuban leaders at all - and probably neither can most Cubans, the country has been an one-man ideological show for so long. But what I am pointing is, the problem is not the old guard, the problem is the party itself. I doubt there is much pressure among the younger apparatchiks to change the system (but maybe you can point us to the young reformers who are just waiting in the wings Death do her job). If the Cuban Communist Party knew how to balance economic openness with political control, they would have done that by now.
4) One can suppose Zhou Enlai would have adopted the Deng route had he survived, he was even older than his protegé. And as I said, North Korea has experienced two generational changes at the top.

So basically just a Wikipedia barf up. These are the worst kind of posts.

You may need to look up those things at Wikipedia, I do not. Sorry if I am better than you are. But I really loved you "ignorance is strength" position, it is kinda cute.

If there is someone like that in Cuba's leadership, I doubt we'd really know until Cuban Deng comes out of the shadows.

After all, it's supremely oppressive there right?

Still waiting for TC's latest thoughts on Brexit.

Cuba won't get substantially better until they get rid of Communism. They can take the Russian approach and refute it or the Chinese approach and pretend it still exists. The root cause to Cuba's poor economy is and always was the shitty policies of full state Socialism.

No one has mentioned Cuban confiscation of U.S. property following the revolution in 1959. This was a major reason for the embargo. So I think a lot of you are getting it wrong when you say that the sanctions aren't helpful to Cubans. As if the idea was to bleed the Cubans for a short while to topple the regime and eventually benefit the Cubans. The sanctions are, in large part, meant to be helpful to Americans whose property was stolen. Maybe the regime doesn't topple or there is still no money around to repay the $6B owed. Still, you send the message to other would-be thieves that there will be consequences to such theft.

No risk no reward?

Imagine if the USA was held to pay the full cost of damages any time it imposed a damage on some foreign country.

Remember that nonsense about how Obama gave Iran a bunch of money? But actually it was Iran's money in the first place?

The positions are inconsistent in ways that make it easy for non-Americans to question motives in a fairly generalized sense. I being less deluded in this sense in recent years, it seems that maybe Americans have also tilted in a direction consistent with that kind of problem.

I love these Cuba posts because so many butt-hurt conservatives start taking positions against free trade and economic growth. Why does America have open trade with Communist China and Communist Vietnam but not Communist Cuba? Apparently the best answer conservatards came up with is Stalin and pedophiles? Bosh!

You left out Pol Pot.

Cambodia under Pol Pot had almost no foreign trade of any kind.

Well if the alt-left could figure out that they are not right wing, maybe there could be more consistent thinking on that front.

But they are so programmed against the word "left" or others, that this may not ultimately be possible. Among other things, the left does not welcome them, while it seems the right will court any vote just so long as they can pass some billionaire tax cuts.

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