|Pix Cuban Dons Full Body Cardboard Shield|
|Pix credit: Marc Frank:|
7. But scarcity and challenge also appears to bring out the fundamental cultural character of states--sometimes to the shame of their richer and humorless neighbors. And that is the last, and perhaps most important lesson, that might be offered by vibrant, and neglected, peripheral states.
“I was worried about the asymptomatic cases who could cough just as I passed,” she said. “So I thought: I’ll do a little house with a cardboard box and wear it.” The retired Cuban nurse salvaged the box from the pharmacy in her Palatino neighborhood and cut arm holes and a window for her face that she covered in clear plastic.** * While her mobile home may be less necessary as Cuba’s outbreak appears to have come under control, Rojas said it still provided necessary comic relief. “In the midst of this pandemic, this stress and anxiety all the time, my little home makes people laugh,” she said. (Cuban dons full-body cardboard shield, supra)8. That challenge is compounded by the challenges of a fragile state controlled wholesale distribution network already strained by a lock down of the country even after it was eased the third week of June (except in Havana and Matanzas provinces). Easement of restrictive measures will not immediately restore the operation of a state whose supply and distribution chains were challenging even in the best of times. "In Artemisa, the capital of Artemisa province, several owners of private businesses, which in Cuba do not have access to wholesale stores, complained of a lack of supplies, hampering a return to normality. Raul Jimenez said his private cafeteria lacked staple items like ham and bread for sandwiches so was limited largely to selling fresh fruit juices. “We have basically nothing to offer,” he said." (Cuba starts easing lockdown but shortages hamper businesses) COVID-19's effects will linger long after the immediate threat of the virus recedes.
Cuba cancels economic fair as imports plummet
Marc Frank for Reuters
12 June 2020
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cash-strapped Cuba has canceled its annual international trade and investment fair slated for November due to the pandemic, state-run media reported on Friday, even as fallout from the novel coronavirus hammers revenues and imports.
Container traffic at the port of Mariel, responsible for 90% of containers entering the country, was down between 20% and 25% through May, compared with the same period last year, according to a shipping source with access to the data.
Cuba does not reveal key economic information in a timely manner, saying the information would be used against the country in applying U.S. sanctions.
The country, which depends on foreign exchange to import more than 50% of the food and fuel it consumes, and raw materials and packaging for just about everything else, shuttered tourism, a key foreign exchange earner, in March and has been in partial lockdown since.
Food, hygiene and medicine shortages due largely to U.S. sanctions have become much worse, leading to waits for hours to purchase basic goods when available.
Among the Communist-led country’s top five commercial partners, China reported exports to Cuba fell 55% through April compared with the same period last year, while Spain and the European Union reported exports through March down a bit less than 30% through March.
Among the Caribbean island’s top 10 commercial partners, the United States reported food sales for cash, allowed under the trade embargo, were down 48% through April, while Canada reported a 17.5% decline.
Outside analysts such as the United Nations and the Economist Intelligence Unit have forecast a recession of around 4% to 6% after 0.5% growth in 2019.
“I think the drop in gross domestic product will be around 8% to 10%,” said Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist who teaches at Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana Cali.
3 June 2020
WASHINGTON/HAVANA (Reuters) - The Trump administration expanded on Wednesday its list of Cuban entities that Americans are banned from doing business with to include the financial corporation that handles U.S. remittances to the Communist-run country.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. and Cuban flags are seen before a ceremony in Havana, Cuba, December 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Military-owned Fincimex is the main Cuban partner of foreign credit card companies and money transfer firm Western Union, which Cubans in the United States have used for two decades to send money back to their loved ones on the Caribbean island.
Those remittances are all the more needed now as the coronavirus pandemic is worsening Cuba’s already grim economic outlook, grinding the key tourism industry to a halt.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said the move was designed to stop the flow of remittances through military-controlled financial institutions and the flow of hard currency to the government.
The Trump administration was challenging Cuba to identify another company not affiliated to its military that U.S. financial companies could work with, or to create one, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
“If Cuba refuses, the Trump administration is prepared to cease remittances,” he said.
He noted a senior official had quipped to him that the sanction was “a birthday present to Raul Castro,” the leader of the Cuban Communist Party, who turned 89 on Tuesday.
New regulations implementing the sanction will be closely watched. There is the possibility existing U.S. business with Fincimex could be grandfathered in.
A Western Union spokeswoman said the company was looking into the measure but could not immediately comment.
“The U.S. government continues to act as a rogue state,” the general director for U.S. affairs of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, said on Twitter.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump says it is tightening the decades-old trade embargo on Cuba, unraveling the 2014-16 detente of his predecessor Barack Obama, to pressure the government to carry out democratic reform.
In private, officials say they see this tough approach to Cuba as a means of currying favor with the large Cuban-American community in south Florida, a state considered vital to Trump’s re-election chances in November.
But this action could backfire, say analysts, as it will so openly hurt the relatives of Cuban-Americans, ordinary Cubans, more than the Communist government.
“It is lamentable and counterproductive for U.S. sanctions to also include remittances,” said Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist who teaches at Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana Cali.
Cubans could in normal times at least rely on money brought into the country in person but the government suspended air travel in March in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Marc Frank and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Leslie Adler
Trump administration orders Marriott to cease Cuba hotel business
5 June 2020
HAVANA (Reuters) - The Trump administration has ordered Marriott International to wind down hotel operations in Communist-run Cuba, a company spokeswoman told Reuters, extinguishing what had been a symbol of the U.S.-Cuban detente.
The hotel Four Points by Sheraton is seen in Havana, Cuba, June 5, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Starwood Hotels, now owned by Marriott, four years ago became the first U.S. hotel company to sign a deal with Cuba since the 1959 revolution amid the normalization of relations pursued by former President Barack Obama.
But the administration of President Donald Trump has unraveled that detente, tightening the decades-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and saying it wants to pressure the island into democratic reform and to stop supporting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The approach could help Trump bolster support in the large Cuban-American community in Florida, a state considered vital to his re-election chances in November.
A company spokeswoman said the U.S. Treasury Department had ordered the company to wind down its operation of the Four Points Sheraton in Havana by Aug. 31. It would also not be allowed to open other hotels it had been preparing to run.
A U.S. Treasury Department spokesperson said it could not comment on specific licensing matters, but that the administration aimed to prevent Cuba’s military from using revenue from tourism to “oppress its own people”,
The Four Points Sheraton in Havana, like swaths of the tourism sector and economy at large, is controlled by the commercial arm of the Cuban military.
“In 2017, Trump promised he would not disrupt existing contracts U.S. businesses had with Cuba,” wrote William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at American University in Washington, on Twitter. “Promise made, promise broken.”
The news comes two days after the U.S. State Department expanded its list of Cuban entities with which Americans are banned from doing business to include the military-owned financial corporation that handles U.S. remittances to Cuba.
U.S. sanctions have further crippled an economy already struggling with a decline in aid from leftist ally Venezuela and the end of hard-currency generating Cuban medical missions in Brazil and elsewhere.
Philip Peters who runs the FocusCuba business consultancy and has advised Marriott, said no good had come from a lifetime of U.S. sanctions that separated the U.S. and Cuban peoples, harmed Cuba’s economy, and limited American influence in Cuba.
“Marriott .. will hopefully return to do business in Cuba, along with others, to encourage American travel and to help Cuba prosper and integrate into the global economy,” he said.
Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Additional Reporting by Marc Frank in Havana and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, David Gregorio and Tom Brown.
Online shopping highlights Cuba's inequality in time of coronavirus
4 Min Read
HAVANA (Reuters) - The coronavirus pandemic is highlighting growth in inequality in Communist Cuba as worsening shortages force most citizens to spend hours in line to purchase basic goods while the better-off are shopping online.
FILE PHOTO: People line up to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in downtown Havana, Cuba, May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
The disruption from the pandemic has plunged Cuba into its worst economic crisis since the fall of its former benefactor, the Soviet Union in the 1990s, but economic liberalization over the past three decades means not all Cubans are equally affected.
For more than a year, shoppers had already faced long lines for some staple goods as Cuba’s economic situation worsened due largely to the implosion of Socialist ally Venezuela and tougher U.S. sanctions under President Donald Trump.
Now, the pandemic has halted tourism, slowed remittances and increased shipping costs.
Shortages have become more generalized even though decisive government action has reduced new coronavirus cases to less than 15 per day.
To counter the lines, the Cuban state, which has a monopoly on telecommunications and retail services, is seeking to encourage online shopping. Yet many Cubans simply cannot afford the service.
Reuters estimates you would need the equivalent in local currency of $10 per month to shop online, given the time it takes and cost of internet service in a land where the average monthly wage is equivalent to $45.
Moreover, 40% of the population does not have cellphone service, let alone the internet, according to the government.
“I do not have the internet. I do not earn the money to be able to get any type of food through the internet,” said José Ángel González, a young man scouting Havana for a store without too long a line.
The government says it is protecting the vulnerable even as it tries to meet better-off citizens needs online.
Authorities have added some scarce goods onto Cuba’s World War Two-style ration system and imposed price controls and purchase limits on many agricultural and other products.
State employee Yainelis, a single mother of three children in eastern Granma province, said she supported those measures but always had problems making ends meet on her monthly salary of 500 pesos.
“I used to have some chickens in the back yard for eggs, but now we have eaten them all,” she said in a telephone interview. “Now, some days, it is just rationed rice and lentils for me.”
The import-dependent nation begrudgingly opened the door to rising levels of inequality, which its 1959 revolution sought to eliminate, when it started attracting hard currency to purchase food and fuel during the post Soviet-era depression. Before that, only pesos were legal tender, everyone worked for the state and received relatively similar incomes.
Cuba developed international tourism, opened up to foreign investment, approved some small business and encouraged Cubans abroad to visit and send money to relatives.
Simultaneously, the government began selling imported consumer goods for dollars or the local equivalent, the convertible peso.
Cuban currency has no value outside the country.
“I receive money from my sister in Miami. It is a great relief these days because you have to look hard for food,” grammar school teacher Imilsis Labrada said, as she stood in line at a Western Union office in Havana.
Apart from their scarcity, some items like pork have seen high mark-ups on the informal market.
Cuba experts estimate at least 40% of the population receives cash remittances from abroad, amounting to a few billion dollars annually that greatly increase their purchasing power.
These Cubans, and those working in the more lucrative private sector, account for most online shoppers.
State employees, 70% of the workforce, as a rule cannot afford the service unless they receive remittances.
Reporting by Marc Frank; additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Reuters TV; Editing by Sarah Marsh, Dan Flynn and Tom Brown
Cuba starts easing lockdown but shortages hamper businesses
18 June 2020
HAVANA (Reuters) - In much of Cuba, restaurants welcomed back customers on Thursday while families escaped cities for the beaches as the government started to ease the Caribbean island’s three-month-old lockdown restrictions after curbing the coronavirus outbreak there.
People wait in line to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Artemisa, Cuba, June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Only the capital and neighboring Matanzas province have reported new cases in recent weeks.
The government has authorized activity to resume in the rest of the country, to the delight of Cubans tired of staying at home, although some businesses complain that shortages of basic goods that worsened in the wake of the pandemic are hampering a return to normal.
“It’s a relief to be able to go out, especially for the children who worried me the most,” said Lisandra Hernandez, on a beach in Artemisa, the province just west of Havana, with her husband and two young children. “We go to the supermarket, run errands but the kids have been stuck indoors for three months, without setting foot outside.”
Cuba closed its borders, suspended public transport and schools, and banned onsite dining at restaurants when the novel coronavirus started to spread there. Citizens were ordered to stay at home except for work or essential tasks.
Last week, the government said it would start to ease its lockdown although face masks would remain mandatory in public spaces and schools would only resume in September.
On Wednesday, it said international tourism, a key source of hard currency, would re-start in July albeit only with travelers arriving via charter flights and tested upon arrival for the coronavirus.
The absence of tourism has further dented an economy already struggling with a decline in Venezuelan aid and tighter U.S. sanctions. Shortages of even basic goods have worsened.
In Artemisa, the capital of Artemisa province, several owners of private businesses, which in Cuba do not have access to wholesale stores, complained of a lack of supplies, hampering a return to normality.
Raul Jimenez said his private cafeteria lacked staple items like ham and bread for sandwiches so was limited largely to selling fresh fruit juices.
“We have basically nothing to offer,” he said.
Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Christopher Cushing
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