Cuban Entrepreneurs Issue Policy Recommendations to Trump Administration  

On July 18, a group of eight Cuban entrepreneurs held a press conference in Washington, D.C. to announce that they had written to the U.S. Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce saying that they were “encouraged to read in President Trump’s June 16 National Security Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba that the President wishes to encourage the growth of the Cuban private sector.” Therefore, these entrepreneurs asked the Trump Administration to consider and adopt recommendations regarding U.S. travel to the island, U.S. remittances to Cubans, U.S. banking services for such Cuban enterprises and continued U.S.-Cuba discussions and negotiations.[1]

U.S. Travel to Cuba

The group first asserted: “U.S. travel to Cuba directly benefits private entrepreneurs. The vast majority of U.S. individual travelers (vs. groups) frequent private restaurants and lodging. Fewer travelers will have a direct negative impact on businesses in the hospitality sector as well an indirect negative impact on both forward and backward linkage enterprises.” Therefore, the group recommended the following:

  • “Restore the ability of individuals to engage in self-directed People-to-People educational travel.”
  • “Issue guidance to clarify that individuals who support the Cuban private sector by using private lodging or restaurants are eligible, by general license, for individual travel under the Support for the Cuban People category by virtue of supporting civil society.”
  • “Clearly define new regulations so as not to deter would-be travelers; produce informational materials for public.”

U.S. Remittances to Cubans

Again the group started with a factual background: “Remittances are essential to Cuba’s private sector, providing the financing to begin, and the working capital to sustain, businesses. Remittances also provide Cuban consumers with the ability to patronize private businesses. A U.S. policy of not restricting remittances is therefore critical to the health of the private sector.” The following were the recommendations:

  • “The Department of Commerce should adopt a favorable disposition to approving those exports to Cuba likely to benefit Cuban private sector individuals and/or companies
  • “Allow maximum remittance flows to increase liquidity for private sector and Cuban families; exempt remittance from the prohibition on payments to ‘prohibited officials’ of the Cuban government.”

Banking

The following was the factual background: “Many Cuban entrepreneurs purchase goods and services in the [U.S.] to help run their businesses. Cubans are legally permitted to open bank accounts in the U.S., but there are restrictions on the allowable transactions, and limited and uncertain account services, impairing businesses in both countries.” Therefore, these were the recommendations:

  • “Expand the allowable transactions for Cubans holding bank accounts in the U.S. to include business-related transactions including the acquisition of goods for business use.”
  • “Do not close, and allow access to, U.S. bank accounts held by Cubans when the Cuban individual is not present in the U.S.”
  • “Make public statements clarifying the intent of the Administration to allow Cubans to open bank accounts in the U.S. (limiting risk for banks).”

Bilateral Dialogue and Cooperation

 “Most Cuban entrepreneurs view improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba as a net positive for their businesses, and many developed their business model on this premise.” Therefore, the following recommendations were made:

  • “Continue bilateral engagement on issues of mutual interest to build respect and confidence.”
  • “Continue outreach to U.S. banks and businesses to clarify regulations so allowable engagement continues and expands.”
  • “Engage directly with the Cuban private sector; [Cuban sector] leaders have written two letters to the Administration (one to the President-elect, another to Ivanka Trump Kushner) with no response.”

Conclusion

This letter and its recommendations are wholeheartedly endorsed by this blogger. Cuba’s private sector is a positive development for the Cubans directly involved in that sector, all other Cubans and the U.S., and President Trump’s June 16 announcement already is having negative effects on that sector and needs to be reversed.[2]

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[1] Letter, Acosta, et al. to Secretaries Tillerson, Ross and Minuchin (July 18, 2017); Policy Recommendations [to Trump Administration]: Support to Cuba’s Private Sector (July 18, 2017).

[2] Here is another report of those negative effects: Zanona, In Cuba, Trump’s policy shift casts dark shadow, The Hill (July 19, 2017).

President Raúl Castro Affirms Importance of Cuba’s Private Sector       

President Raúl Castro

On July 14, Raúl Castro Ruz, Army General, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, addressed a session of Cuba’s legislature (the National Assembly of People’s Power).[1]

He first noted that despite “difficult circumstances, encouraging, modest [economic] results have been achieved. The Gross Domestic Product grew by 1.1% in the first half of the year, which indicates a change in the economy’s direction as compared to last year. Contributing to this result were agriculture, tourism, and other exports of services, construction, sugar production, and the transportation and communications sectors.”

Castro then affirmed the importance of the private sector of the Cuban economy in these extensive remarks.

He reported that the Council of Ministers recently had authorized “the expansion of self-employment and the experiment with non-agricultural cooperatives . . . with the purpose of gradually freeing the state from responsibility for activities that are not strategic, creating jobs, supporting initiative, and contributing to the national economy’s efficiency in the interest of developing our socialism.”

This “past June, these forms of property management were recognized as among those operating within the Cuban economy, in an extraordinary session of Parliament dedicated to analyzing and approving programmatic documents for our Economic and Social Model.”

“We currently have more than half a million self-employed workers and more than 400 non-agricultural cooperatives, which confirms their validity as a source of employment, while contributing to an increase and greater variety of goods and services available, with an acceptable level of quality.”

On the other hand, there have been “violations of the legal regulations in effect, such as the utilization of raw materials and equipment of illicit origin, under-declaration of income to evade tax obligations, and insufficient state control at all levels.” To meet these problems, the Council of Ministers has adopted measures that soon will be announced.

The Council, however, has “not renounced the expansion and development of self-employment, or the continuation of the experiment with non-agricultural cooperatives. We are not going to draw back or stop, nor will we allow the non-state sector to be stigmatized or face prejudice, but it is imperative that laws be respected, progress consolidated, positive aspects – which are more than a few – generalized, and illegalities and other deviations from established policy resolutely confronted.”

The “pace and scope of the changes we need to make to our model must be conditioned by the capacity we have to do things well and rectify any misstep in a timely manner. This will only be possible if adequate prior preparation is ensured – which we haven’t done – training and comprehension of established regulations at every level, follow-up and guidance of the process – aspects marked by a fair dose of superficiality, and an excess of enthusiasm and desire to move more rapidly than we are truly capable of managing.”

“What is a state, especially a socialist state, doing administering a barbershop with one chair, or two or three, and with one administrator for a certain number of small barber shops – not many. I mention this example because it was one of the first steps we took.”

The errors of implementation of these changes are mainly “ours, we leaders who developed this policy. . . . This is the reality. Let’s not try to block the sun with a finger. Mistakes are mistakes. And they are our mistakes, and if we are going to consider hierarchies among us, in the first place, they are mine, because I was part of this decision. This is the reality.”

Conclusion

As has been noted in previous blog posts, the Cuban government and people have recognized that entrepreneurs in the private sector are playing increasingly important roles in the Cuban economy and society and that developing a mixed economy is not an easy project.[2]

This is why it is so important for the U.S. Congress to adopt bills confirming the freedom for Americans to travel to Cuba on individual person-to-person trips that are important customers for businesses owned by Cuban entrepreneurs.[3] 

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[1] Castro Ruz, We will continue to advance along the path freely chosen by our people, Granma (July 17, 2017) (official English translation of the original Spanish).

[2] See posts listed in the “Cuban Economy” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] See This Blogger’s Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 23, 2017); Open Letter to U.S. Congress About U.S. Freedom To Travel to Cuba (July 16, 2017).

Open Letter to U.S. Congress About U.S. Freedom To Travel to Cuba

To: Senator Flake: As an U.S. and Minnesota citizen, I thank you for sponsoring legislation to grant U.S. citizens freedom to travel to Cuba (S.127 Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act). I also thank and copy my Minnesota Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, for joining 52 other senators in co-sponsoring this bill.

To: Representative Mark Sanford: I thank you for sponsoring a similar bill in the House (H.R.351—Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2017). I also thank and copy the three Minnesota representatives (Tom Emmer, Erik Paulsen and Rick Nolan) who have joined 21 other representatives in cosponsoring the bill. By copies of this open letter, I urge the other Minnesota representatives (Timothy Walz, Jason Lewis, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison and Collin Peterson) to join the ranks of cosponsors.

Now is the time to push these bills forward for votes in the two chambers before the Trump Administration comes forward with proposed regulations to implement the President’s intention to eliminate individual person-to-person travel to the island. (A copy of this open letter is also being sent to President Trump.)

In addition to the arguments already advanced for supporting these bills, I submit that the new Trump policy is internally inconsistent for the following reasons:

  • The ban on individual person-to-person travel, by all accounts, will reduce the overall amount of U.S. travel to the island and thereby have substantial negative effects on Cuba’s emerging private sector, which has improved the living standards of many Cubans and is a force for change in Cuba and for friendlier relations with the U.S. Remember that President Trump favors measures to improve the lives of ordinary Cubans.
  • Forcing Americans who want to have a person-to-person experience in Cuba to do so only with established tour groups will mean “large tour groups [that] are too big for smaller bed-and-breakfast rentals, and their [Cuban] government-appointed guides tend to ply the well-trodden routes that bypass the new galleries, restaurants and night spots opened by enterprising Cubans and others.” This is a direct negative effect on Cubans’ standard of living, which President Trump does not want.
  • According to Andrea Gallina, an Italian entrepreneur who last year opened a high-end boutique hotel, Paseo 206, with his Cuban spouse, “If independent American travel is cut off, you won’t only hurt the bed-and-breakfasts. It’s also the construction crews, the private tour guides, the taxi drivers, the restaurants and the artists selling handicrafts.” Again, the Cubans now engaged in these private enterprises will be substantially disadvantaged.
  • The larger groups will by necessity have to stay in hotels, most of which are state-owned, rather than individually owned b&bs, and travel in tour buses (again, state-owned), rather than individually owned taxis. The large-group U.S. visitors also probably will be provided with government-provided guides rather than private guides used by people traveling by themselves or in small groups. All of these consequences are contrary to the President’s intent to stop or limit U.S. persons from doing business with enterprises owned or controlled by the Cuban military or security services.
  • The ban on individual person-to-person travel will increase the cost for Americans’ traveling to the island and thereby reduce the amount of such travel. As a result, the U.S. will lose the impact on Cubans of ordinary Americans, who often are the best ambassadors for the U.S., its government, people and values.

====================================================For more details, see This Blogger’s Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 23, 2017).

President Trump’s New Policy on Cuba Could Substantially Reduce U.S. Remittances to Relatives in Cuba         

President Donald Trump’s June 6 National Security Presidential Memorandum on Cuba, upon implementation, could deprive over a million Cuban families of access to remittances from their relatives abroad. This was the conclusion of William M. LeoGrande, Professor of Government, and Marguerite Rose Jiménez, Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, both at American University, in their article in Huffpost.[1]

This Presidential Memorandum that was referenced in an earlier post “redefines ‘prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba’ expansively, potentially including almost a quarter of Cuba’s entire labor force. Cubans who are ‘prohibited’ are not allowed to receive payments from U.S. persons, and that includes remittances.”

“The [current] regulatory definition of prohibited officials was very narrow, limited to members of the Council of Ministers and flag officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The new definition proposed [in the Presidential Memorandum] . . . includes hundreds of senior officials in every government agency, thousands of ordinary Cubans who volunteer as leaders of their local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and—most importantly― every employee of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR) and Ministry of the Interior (MININT).”

This change is contrary to Trump’s stated policy of empowering the Cuban people by directing U.S. funds to them, rather than to the Cuban government. Remittances are the very best way to do that because the dollars go directly to family on the island, at a rate of about $3 billion annually.

Moreover, those remittances often are used as capital by Cubans to start and augment their private businesses and thereby improve the standard of living of their owners and employees and enhance the emerging private sector as a counterweight to the state-owned businesses. In addition, this proposed change could adversely affect Cuban-Americans if they are providing capital to their Cuban relatives on condition that the latter share profits with those in the U.S.

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[1] LeoGrande & Jiménez, Trump Policy Could Cut Remittances To A Million Cuban Families, HuffPost (June 20, 2017).