Economist Critiques Cuban Economy

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a professor emeritus of economics and Latin American studies at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of 45 books on Cuba, recently delivered his critique of the Cuban economy in the New York Times.[1]

He opens with the assertion, “For the past 60 years, Cuba has been unable to finance its imports with its own exports and generate appropriate, sustainable growth without substantial aid and subsidies from a foreign nation. This is the longstanding legacy of Cuba’s socialist economy.” These foreign nations were Spain in the colonial era, the U.S. (circa 1903 -1958), the Soviet Union (circa 1959-1988) and Venezuela (21st century). Yet “despite the staggering foreign aid subsidies it has received, [Cuba’s] . . . economic performance has been dismal.”

“In the past seven years, growth has been a third of the officially set figure needed for adequate and sustainable growth, while investment has been one third of the required rate. Industrial, mining and sugar production are well below 1989 levels, and the production of 11 out of 13 key agricultural and fishing products has declined. Cuba is now facing its worst economic crisis since the 1990s.”

According to Mesa-Lago, “Cuba’s woes are a result of the inefficient economic model of centralized planning, state enterprises and agricultural collectivization its leaders have pursued despite the failure of these models worldwide. In his decade in power, President Raúl Castro tried to face his brother Fidel’s legacy of economic disaster head on by enacting a series of market-oriented economic structural reforms. He also opened the door to foreign investment, but so far, the amount materialized has been one-fifth of the goal set by the leadership for sustainable development.”

Although Cuba has adopted some reforms to allow some private enterprise, Mesa-Lago says Cuba needs “to accelerate and deepen reforms. China and Vietnam’s market socialism model under Communist Party rule could provide a way forward.”

If such reforms are carried out and foreign investors are allowed to hire and pay a full salary directly to their employees, he concludes, “there will be a significant improvement in the economy and the government can undertake the desperately needed monetary unification that will attract more investment and eliminate the economic distortions that plague the economy.”

As noted in a recent post to this blog, the Cuban economy also faces the challenges of an aging, declining population with the latter being caused, in part, by the limited opportunities for economic success, especially for younger Cubans. [2]

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[1] Mesa-Lago, Cuba Can Move From Foreign Economic Dependence, N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2019).

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

 

New Yorker Report on Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

The November 19, 2018, issue of The New Yorker has a lengthy article about the medical problems experienced by some U.S. diplomats in Cuba starting in late 2016 (and after the U.S. presidential election). [1]

The conclusion, however, is the same as previously reported: some U.S. personnel did suffer injury and the U.S. Government has publicly stated it does not know the cause or perpetrator of these injuries.[2]

But the article does provide greater details about many of the victims having been CIA agents and about the U.S.-Cuba interactions over these incidents.

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[1] Entous & Anderson, Havana Syndrome, New Yorker at 34  (Nov. 19, 2018).

[2] See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

Medical Report on U.S. Diplomats with Health Problems Occurring in Cuba 

Since late 2016, some U.S. diplomats, now numbering 24, have suffered various medical problems while stationed in Cuba. Perplexingly investigations by the FBI and other U.S. agencies as well as Cuban investigators over nearly the last 16 months have failed to ascertain the cause or the culprit, if any, of the cause of their problems.[1] On February 14 a new medical report was released on these individuals.

The Medical Report [2[

U.S. physicians at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) have published the  preliminary results of their examination of 21 of these 24 individuals. Here are the key findings of their report:

  • The patients “appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks.”
  • The patients have experienced “persisting disability of a significant nature” involving “hearing, vision, balance and brain symptoms similar to the brain dysfunction seen with concussions, but without histories of head trauma.”
  • In most cases, the affected diplomats reported hearing a loud, painful noise that they later associated with their symptoms, but the physicians concluded, “There is no known mechanism for audible sound to injure the brain” and “it is currently unclear if or how the noise is related to the reported symptoms.”
  • “Viruses or chemical exposures are unlikely,” but could not be “systematically excluded.”
  • “Advanced MRI scans spotted a few changes in some patients in what are called white matter tracts,” but these might be attributed to previous events.
  • “Several of the objective manifestations consistently found in this cohort,” including vision and balance abnormalities, “could not have been consciously or unconsciously manipulated.”

The study’s lead author, Dr. Douglas H. Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, said, “This is a preliminary report.We thought it was important to get it out from a public health standpoint.” Nevertheless, “Uniformly, everyone who saw these patients was absolutely convinced. It looked like concussion pathology. Processing speed, inability to remember — those are such classic symptoms we see in concussion. We all believe this is a real syndrome.This is concussion without blunt head trauma.”

JAMA Editorial About the Report [3]

An accompanying JAMA editorial by Drs. Christopher C.Muth and Steven L. Lewis emphasized caution in interpreting the data of this report. It stated, “although the patients were united to some extent by the common locations in which their symptoms first developed, there was some variability between patients in terms of the symptoms that each experienced. The precise time course over which each individual’s symptoms evolved was not provided. Given that evaluations were conducted a mean of 203 days after onset, it remains unclear whether individuals who developed symptoms later were aware of the previous reports of others. Furthermore, the quantitative results for specific tests (eg, neuropsychological tests) are not yet available for all affected patients, so independent assessment as to the scope and severity of deficits among all individuals remains challenging.”

This JAMA editorial also listed several limitations in this case study that “should also urge caution in interpreting the findings.” It concluded, “Before reaching any definitive conclusions, additional evidence must be obtained and rigorously and objectively evaluated.”

Another Reaction to the Report [4]

Another medical expert offered comments. C. Edward Dixon, a professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the research, said, “The study was conducted by the top concussion research team in the world utilizing state-of-the-art methods” and the findings suggest “a significant brain insult.”

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[1] The problems of these diplomats have been discussed in previous posts listed in the “ U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016-2018” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA

[2] Drs. Swanson, Hampton, McKenzie, et al., Neurological Manifestations Among U.S. Government Personnel Regarding Directional Audible and Sensory Phenomena in Havana Cuba, JAMA (Feb. 15, 2018); Assoc. Press, Report Details Harm to Cuba Diplomats, but Offers No Cause, N.Y. Times (Feb. 14, 2018); DeYoung, Doctors find neurological damage to Americans who served in Cuba, Wash. Post (Feb. 14, 2018).

[3] Drs. Muth & Lewis, Editorial: Neurological Symptoms Among U.S. Diplomats in Cuba, JAMA (feb. 15, 2018). 

[4] Kolata, Diplomats in Cuba Suffered Brain Injuries. Experts Still Don’t Know Why, N.Y. Times (Feb. 15, 2018). 

A New Travel Warning for Americans Traveling to Cuba 

 Last Wednesday (September 13), the U.S. State Department issued a warning about Americans traveling to Cuba that was discussed in an earlier post.

On September 18, the Department updated its Cuba Travel Warning after Hurricane Irma had hit and damaged the island.[1] It stated the following:

  • “The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to Cuba while Hurricane Irma recovery efforts are underway.  Major roads are now open in Havana and power and water service has been restored in most of the city, but some parts of the country may be without power and running water. North central Cuba suffered severe damage and should be avoided until further notice. On September 6, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members due to Hurricane Irma.”
  • “Travelers should apprise family and friends in the United States of their whereabouts, and keep in close contact with their travel agency, hotel staff, and local officials.”
  • “U.S. citizens in Cuba in need of emergency assistance should contact the Embassy by telephone at +53- 5280-5791 or the Department of State at 1-202-501-4444. At this time, U.S. citizens should not attempt to go to the U.S. Embassy in Havana as it suffered severe flood damage.”

Meanwhile the Cuban government announced that it would help its citizens recover from Hurricane Irma’s devastating swipe at its north coast and rebuild their homes. The plan would have the government finance 50 percent of the cost of construction materials for such rebuilding. Defense councils will certify the extent of damages and the resources necessary to make repairs.[2]

For homes that collapsed or lost their entire roofs, the state will take over interest payments. Defense councils also will consider subsidies for victims whose incomes are too low to purchase all the required construction materials, and those who still owe money on previous construction loans may be granted subsidies.

Hurricane Irma will have a major negative effect on Cuba’s economy. Economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, is convinced that GDP will decline over the last six months of this year. Another Cuban economist, Pavel Vidal, who is a professor at Javeriana University in Colombia, thought the hurricane damage “may pump up inflation” and cause ‘financial complications.”

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Cuba Travel Warning (Sept. 18, 2017); Rosenberg, US warns would-be Cuban travelers: consider the risks following Hurricane Irma, Miami Herald (Sept. 18, 2017)

[2] Information for the population, Granma (Sept. 18, 2017); Whitefield & Torres, Cuba announces program to repair Irma-damages homes as experts assess damage to economy, Miami Herald (Sept. 18, 2017).