Thursday, November 05, 2020

ASCE-CPE Interview Series: Economic Data, Analytics, and Cuba's Macro-Economic Policies, a Conversation with Rafael Romeu


The Association for the Study of the Cuba Economy (ASCE) with the support of the Coalition for Peace and Ethics (CPE), has undertake an interview series. The object of this series is to draw attention to the work of leading scholars and actors involved in the examination of Cuban society, culture, politics, law, and economics from a national, regional or international perspective.

For the ASCE Series' next interview, Larry Catá Backer had the great pleasure of speaking with Dr. Rafael Romeu, who is the President and CEO of DevTech Systems, Inc., (DevTech). He holds a Ph.D. in international finance from the Department of Economics of the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Romeu joined DevTech from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where he worked since 2001. From 2010 on, he served in the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department, as the fiscal economist assigned to Spain. Prior to the European Financial Crisis, Dr. Romeu worked on a number of other IMF country assignments including Armenia, Venezuela, Uruguay, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Panama, and Cuba, among others. In addition to direct work on country assignments, he carried out IMF multilateral surveillance and research in the Research Department, the International Capital Markets Department, and the Western Hemisphere Department Regional Surveillance unit. Prior to joining the IMF, Dr. Romeu held positions at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve and the Central Bank of Venezuela. He has been consulted by the US Department of State and the US Department of the Treasury on economic issues relating to Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2007, he taught financial theory as a visiting lecturer at the Department of Economics at Yale University (on leave from IMF), and from 2010-12 he was president of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. Dr. Romeu’s research has focused on fiscal policy sustainability, economic development in Latin America and the Caribbean and financial market microstructure. Dr. Romeu co-led the development of the IMF’s flagship Historical Public Finances in Modern History project, which documented two-hundred years of the history of budget deficits and government debts over the period 1800-2011. He has published numerous peer reviewed journal articles, and several chapters in books. In 2001, he published two books on the emergence of retail equity trading platforms with direct access to information on the Nasdaq order book. Dr. Romeu is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.

Our topic for this conversation centered on Dr. Romeu's consideration of Cuban macro-economic planning.  We considered a host of relevant challenges--from the approach to the development and utilization of data, to the underling premises for judging Cuban economic performance. We considered the US Embargo and the effect of Cuban internal economic controls on internal economic opening for domestic activity and foreign direct investment. And lastly on the problems of capacity building, monitoring and assessment in the construction of viable economic structures designed t alleviate poverty.

Our conversation revolved around four thematic questions:

1. Please tell us a little about yourself  and your interest in Cuba and ASCE. Here we spoke to the emigration of his family from Cuba in 1980 and lofe growing u in upstate New York, and the way that helped shape both is academic interests and the focus on Cuba.

2. It is hard to assess national performance in the absence of consistent and robust data, and yet where data is understood in its political dimensions that may be difficult to acquire. Could you speak to this issue as well as to a consequence—Cuba’s comparative economic policy management performance (for example against that of Argentina and Venezuela and to a lesser but still relevant extent Ecuador)? And could you speak a their consequences? Here the conversation turned to issues that while of general application t developing states plays a quite particular role in Cuban economics. The focus on data and analytics. A basic issue that one encountered with developing states, and traditionally Marxist Leninist states as well is the absence of empirical, evidence based analysis. In the case of Cuba this takes on a special context, presenting a Caribbean expression of the development/ socialist version of the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. Cuba has been something of a poster child of this challenge almost from the time of the establishment of the current political-economic system. It is hard to assess national performance in the absence of consistent and robust data, and yet where data is understood in its political dimensions that may be difficult to acquire. The conversation was wide ranging from rent seeking behaviors to the commodification of political ideology and the economics of markets for ideology in the form of state and international aids.  Comparisons with Argentina and Vietnam and Venezuela were also covered.

3. It is common to speak about the US embargo on Cuba; but Cuba's system of internal controls is sometimes characterized as a secondary embargo, but one maintained  by the state apparatus itself? Could you speak to that issue? Here the conversation turned to institutional factors and a comparison  between the effect of external versus internal embargoes.  The role and character of internal regulation as both a tax  and as a political strategy were considered. 

4. I would like to turn to your USAID work. In that context I was wondering if you might speak to the way that DevTech pairs its methodological capabilities in economics, data analytics, finance and social sciences with technological solutions in developing and designing projects, implementing, and carrying out performance monitoring and evaluation, especially as contributes to sustainable and lasting solutions to policy challenges? Here the conversation turned to accountability structures, capacity building and the role of foreign aid.  The relevance of these methodologies and accountability-capacity building structures to the improvement of conditions in Cuba (as they might be defined by the Cuban state or outsider) was also considered.

We hope you find the discussion interesting and thought provoking We welcome your views. The video is posted to the CPE YouTube Channel (ASCE Interview Series Playlist) and the specific interview may be accessed HERE.

No comments: