Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cuba's International Medical Assistance

Cuba-trained doctors making difference around the world

Nabeel Yar Khan, a fourth year student of medicine, looks after Paulina Sarduy in the Jose Luis Miranda hospital in Santa Clara, Cuba, March 31.
Nabeel Yar Khan, a fourth year student of medicine, looks after Paulina Sarduy in the Jose Luis Miranda hospital in Santa Clara, Cuba, March 31.
By Catherine PorterColumnist
SANTA CLARA, CUBA—Every morning, on the edge of town, you can witness a spectacular migration. Hundreds of students in white lab coats pour from a squat university building on to the street, around the line of horse-drawn wagons, and into nearby hospitals.
You can play a game, watching from your perch beneath a flowering flamboyant tree: where do you think the guy with dreadlocks is from? What about the girl with a hijab? Some have telltale signs — an Argentinean or Angolan flag stitched over their medical uniforms.
They are international students at the world’s largest medical school, the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina — ELAM.
To put the school’s size in perspective: the University of Toronto has 850 medical students and Harvard University has 735. ELAM has twelve times more students than those two schools combined: 19,550. And, despite being a poor country, every single one of those students is on full scholarship.
Nabeel Yar Khan rushes among them, his stomach growling from missing a miserable mess-hall breakfast, glasses gleaming, short hair gelled to a peak like an angry bird from the popular video game. Most locals guess from his brown skin that he is one of the 906 Pakistani students granted scholarships since the deadly 2005 earthquake. But, peer closely at the back of the grey knapsack strapped over his shoulders and you see a small red maple leaf pin.
Yar Khan is from Scarborough — Malvern, to be precise.
He is rushing toward the low-slung, pink pediatric hospital — a place where the third and first worlds collide. Here, he can learn how to transplant a kidney, but patients bring their own buckets and kettles to heat water for baths.
For the past week, Yar Khan, 25, has been caring for 8-year-old Paulina, a girl with long curly hair tied loosely into a ponytail and a half-naked Cabbage Patch doll beside her in bed.
She is here for a urinary tract infection, her eighth this year. She smiles warmly as he checks her abdomen. The hospital’s head of nephrology, Dr. Maria Del Carmin Saura, joins him and class begins.
“When is a urinary tract infection considered chronic?” she asks Khan in Spanish.
“When there are more than three in a year,” he replies.
“What are the causes?” she asks. “What is the treatment?”
Satisfied with his answers, she steps back and Yar Khan continues his examination.
“He is a very good student,” Del Carmin confides before blowing a kiss to Paulina and leaving the room. “He’s really curious and part of a group of students that help one another a lot, which is important. . . . Canada will have a good doctor.”
Yar Khan is the first Canadian student at ELAM. Chances are, he will be the last.
Like most things in today’s Cuba, Fidel Castrol gets credit for starting ELAM.
In October 1998, he dispatched a team of doctors to the Central American countries that were being pounded by Hurricane Mitch. In a matter of days, more than 11,000 people died in the resulting floods and mudslides. Upon arriving in the mostly rural areas, the Cuban doctors discovered that many people suffered chronic, long-term illnesses. Instead of broken bones, they were treating river blindness and stunted growth. In places like the Mosquito Coast of Honduras, the Cubans were the first doctors the patients had ever seen.
Castro came up with a variation on the “teach-a-man-to-fish” theory: instead of leaving Cuban doctors in disaster areas indefinitely, he would teach locals to become their own doctors.
A naval academy on the outskirts of Havana was reclaimed and, at a speed perhaps only achievable under communism, the last naval students were shipped out by January. The next month, the first busloads of Nicaraguan students pulled up.
Half a year after the hurricane, ELAM’s initial 1,932 medical students began their classes in a six-year program. Raul Castro, Fidel’s younger brother who replaced him as president in 2008, opened the school.
“He said that this was a school to graduate the doctors for all the world,” says Eladio Valcarcel Garcia, one of the school’s founders, who had helped run the naval academy. The memory makes him weep. “He told me I’d no longer be preparing children for war, but to heal the world.”
The school quickly expanded to include students from more than 110 countries, from Mozambique and Yemen to Cambodia and East Timor. According to the school, more than two-thirds come from poor, rural families. Many represent first nations — the Kiche of Guatemala or Igbo of Nigeria.
Most could never afford medical school — or even access one.
Here, they study for free. They are given a bed in a dorm room, three basic meals a day, textbooks and a monthly stipend of 100 pesos — enough for a bottle of shampoo and one beer. (That’s about $3.90, or four days’ pay for a Cuban doctor.)
The only anomaly on the list of recipient countries, until recently, was the United States — Cuba’s bitter enemy. Sixty-seven Americans have already graduated from the school, and another 116 are currently enrolled — all from poor communities that rarely produce doctors, Garcia says.
“It is not a political idea,” he says, adding in the next breath: “They blockade us from medicine that could save children’s lives.” (After our interview, ELAM announced the school would not accept any more American students because of the American embargo.)
The school was supposed to close after 10 years, when enough new doctors would have graduated to replace the Cubans in the students’ home villages. But, as ELAM’s reach expanded to include the entire developing world, the end date has been pushed back indefinitely.
“We created this school to provide health for all,” Garcia says. “It’s 2012 and we still don’t have health care for everyone. So we have to continue working on this.”
Given ELAM’s mandate, you might presume Yar Khan comes from the troubled Kashechewan reserve in Northern Ontario or a rundown apartment at Jane and Finch.
But his family lives in a neat, four-bedroom home on a leafy suburban street in Scarborough.
His parents are immigrants of Indian descent. His father works for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. His mom answers the phone at a food distribution company.
Yar Khan worked throughout high school and his two years at York University, but he didn’t have to. His parents paid his tuition and living costs.
They aren’t wealthy by Canadian standards. But compared with most students at ELAM, Yar Khan is well-off. His closest friend, Carlos Roberto Perez, hasn’t flown home to El Salvador for two years because of the cost — not even when his mother died.
How Yar Khan became the school’s first Canadian student is a story of a little chance and a lot of perseverance.
During his second year at York, Yar Khan wandered through a campus international development fair and learned about Canada World Youth, a non-profit organization that sends young Canadians abroad on exchanges. He applied and was sent to rural Cuba.
He describes a party at his Cuban friend Eykel’s one-room concrete house to describe how the experience changed him. After dinner, Eykel turned on the stereo and the entire family — mother, father, grandmother — danced together.
“It made me look at life differently,” says Yar Khan. “You can have little but still be happy. Money can’t buy happiness. Even though I wasn’t with my family, I still felt love and affection here.”
While in Cuba, Yar Khan phoned the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa to ask about ELAM. Their response: the school wasn’t open to Canadians. Upon his return to Toronto, he launched a letter and telephone campaign, which also proved fruitless.
After Christmas 2007, he flew back to Cuba and camped out in the Foreign Affairs Ministry building — to no avail.
Two days later, the phone rang back in Scarborough. It was the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa. He had been accepted.
“I was jumping around, banging on the walls, I was so excited,” he recalls.
Less than a month later, he started classes in Cuba.
Along with sugar, cigars, 1950s cars and Fidel Castro, Cuba’s health-care system is the country’s pride and defining characteristic.
Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, recently praised the Cuban medical system as a model for the world. “People in this country are very fortunate,” she said.
Cubans have more doctors per person than anyone else on the planet. Most residential blocks still have a local medical consultorio — a doctor’s office with the doctor living upstairs on call. (This has been changing, as many doctors have been sent on missions to Venezuela over the past decade.)
Medical treatment is more hands-on and less technology-driven, mostly because MRIs and lab tests are expensive. They call it preventive — meaning people see their doctor regularly, before there is a crisis. The results are stellar: Cuba was the first country in the world to eliminate polio and measles. According to a 2006 journal of epidemiology, it has the lowest rate of AIDS in the Americas. Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than Canada and the United States. The average lifespan, at 78, is just three years lower than Canada’s.
None of this is an accident. From the beginning, Fidel Castro set out to make Cuba an international medical superpower, according to Julie Feinsilver, author of Healing the Masses: Cuban Health Politics at Home and Abroad.
When a 9.5-Richter earthquake struck Chile just a year after the Cuban revolution in 1959, Castro sent a medical team even though half of Cuba’s 6,000 doctors had fled the country. Three years later, when Algeria’s independence led to a similar brain drain, Cuba provided 56 doctors for 14 months.
“They believed Cuba owed a debt to humanity for assistance the nation received during the revolution,” says Feinsilver.
Cuban doctors have also been sent on development missions around Latin America and Africa: starting vaccination campaigns in Angola and Ethiopia, working in rural South Africa and starting and staffing medical schools in a half-dozen countries like Yemen and Ghana where doctors are scarce. (In Ghana, local newspapers report that citizens are more likely to see a Cuban doctor than a local one.)
Since 2006, Cuban doctors have restored vision to 2.2 million Latin Americans through simple eye surgeries.
Today, the tiny country of Cuba, population 10 million, sends more doctors to assist in developing countries than the entire G8 combined, according to Robert Huish, an international development professor at Dalhousie University who has studied ELAM for eight years .
There are 68,600 Cuban doctors now and more than 20 per cent of them — or 15,407 — are on missions in 66 countries.
They have saved 4 million lives over the past five decades, they say.
“We are the army of doctors in the world,” says Dr. Jorge Juan Delgado Bustillo, the country’s deputy director of medical co-operation, standing in front of a giant map on which almost every country in Africa and Latin America sports a little Cuban flag. “We don’t fight with guns. We fight with our knowledge and hands to assist people.”
Most Cubans I spoke to call these medical missions a gesture of solidarity. More than once, I heard the same phrase: “We don’t have much. But what little we have, we share.”
But there is a business model here, too. More than two-thirds of the medical internationalistasare in Venezuela, which repays the Cuban government with cheap oil.
Cuban medical teams are in other rich countries, like Qatar, where they are paid $1,000 a month — more than 30 times their regular salary of $35. About 40 per cent of the Qatari wage goes to the Cuban government, Delgado says. “Every student studies medicine here free. It’s their responsibility to their society.”
Critics of the system call this modern slavery. Dr. Julio Cesar Alfonso runs Solidaridad Sin Fronteras (Solidarity without Borders), a Miami-based charity that assists Cuban doctors get their American accreditation. Since the George W. Bush administration created a special visa program for Cuban medical internationalistas in 2006, about 800 Cuban doctors have defected from international missions, he says.
“They work long hours and receive tiny salaries while the Cuban government makes good money,” says Alfonso. “Doctors in Cuba won’t tell you the truth. They are scared to speak openly about this.”
Statistics are hard to get in Cuba. But author Feinsilver estimates Cuban medical exports surpassed the $2.3-billion tourism industry earnings of the early 2000s.
If the money is big, the political returns are even bigger. Cuban doctors have earned their country many international allies, essential in Cuba’s long, cold fight with the United States. In April, most Latin American and Caribbean countries at the Summit of the Americas rejected the American demand that Cuba not attend the next forum.
Experts call this “medical diplomacy.” ELAM fits neatly into it. Most countries that receive Cuban doctors send students to the school. In 2004, Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte Frutos said he would not support another American anti-Cuba resolution because of Cuban doctors in his country and the 600 Paraguayan students at ELAM.
“Dimi Chocolito,” Yar Khan says to a passing South African.
Que tal mi hermano?” he asks an East Timorese.
Next is a guy from Paraguay before he finally settles into conversation beside the line of coches— horse-drawn carriages that are Santa Clara’s version of buses — with a student from Guinea Bisau.
“I’ve learned so much about the world here,” Yar Khan says, as we clip-clop toward the city centre. “Did you know Nicaragua is the only country in the world that has sharks in lakes?”
Back in Scarborough, Yar Khan’s parents thought of him as their reserved, driven, middle child. He has always worked hard, signing himself up for Kumon classes in Grade 7 because he thought he needed help with math. He volunteered a lot, running a kids’ soccer team and helping at the local hospital. But he wasn’t super social. He kept to his close friends from grade school.
Four years in Cuba have transformed him.
The Cuban Yar Khan is short and funny — “I’m 5-foot-4, hopefully,” he says — and outgoing. He kisses his teachers on the cheek goodbye and strokes the arms of patients while talking to them. He talks to strangers on the street in an easy Spanish, which he taught himself.
“At the beginning of the year, he told me he wanted to be paired with a Spanish-speaking student,” recalls Gloria (Prof Katty) Catalina Bacallao Martinez, who taught Khan semiology (the science of symptoms) last year. Yar Khan missed the intensive Spanish classes most foreign students receive during their first six months at ELAM. He was admitted too late, thrown directly into pre-med sciences. He wanted the Spanish-speaking partner to do the bedside talking.
“I told him ‘No. You must acquire the ability to speak good Spanish for your patients,’” Bacallao continues. “When he finished, he spoke more fluently than the Spanish students.”
Yar Khan lives at the top of a mottled, four-storey building, in a room with six other men. They each have a mattress on a bunk bed, a wooden locker and a miniature desk. Amazingly, another six men were billeted here, but they sleep at their girlfriends’ places. The room is so small, it’s hard to imagine how they would fit. As it is, Yar Khan has to move desks to make enough room to unfurl his prayer rug.
There are no bedside lamps. The last one to bed turns out the fluorescent lights. There was no electricity at all between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. during Yar Khan’s first two years here.
The men share one toilet and one shower, when it works. Most of the time they bathe from a bucket of water.
The food served in the gloomy canteen below is predictably terrible — mostly rice and black beans.
Yar Khan’s father sends him $150 every month to buy essentials, when he can find them. Santa Clara has been out of toilet paper for about a week — rumour has it the factory shut down.
“There were two hurricanes during my first year here,” he says. “You couldn’t find fruit or vegetables in town for four weeks. Or eggs.”
Last year, after Yar Khan’s Canadian bank changed its credit cards, he went four months without being able to access money. His friends paid for his beer and the odd dinner out with what little they had. When he was recovering in hospital from an appendectomy, Perez — his poor Salvadoran friend — brought him green mangoes and tamarind fruit that he had picked.
Yar Khan has learned first-hand that Cuban motto: “We don’t have much, but what little we have, we share.”
“This program has changed me into a better person,” he says.
ELAM students don’t sign formal contracts promising to use their free degrees in poor, rural communities. The hope is that the school experience will inspire them to do that. According to ELAM’s administration and international scholars, about 80 per cent follow through.
“Many have made efforts toward humanitarian outreach rather than hightail it into radiology or some specialization that sees the top pay scale,” says Dalhousie’s Huish.
He is talking particularly about the American graduates who would have incurred huge debts had they studied medicine at home.
“Many of them are in self-organized health brigades. Some went to New Orleans to do community-based care with other physicians. Others have gone to work in Oakland, the Bronx, and one grad set up an NGO to promote safe maternity in Ghana.”
At ELAM’s main campus near Havana, Eladio Valcarcel Garcia, the teary administrator who helped found the school, says the 2010 Haitian earthquake, which killed up to 300,000, was a perfect test case. The Cuban government tapped ELAM to gather 356 graduates to join the large contingent of Cuban emergency doctors heading to help. “We had to stop calling. All of them said yes. They came from Guatemala and Mali and Nigeria, Morocco. We still have 102 graduates there.”
Yar Khan has two more years of medical school and likely a residency program in Canada before he decides where he will practice. He is certain he wants to be a pediatrician. From there, he is wavering between working in a developing country with Doctors Without Borders or heading to Canada’s north, where doctors are rare.
“This is survival of the fittest. I’ve gone through so many obstacles to get here,” Yar Khan says with a smile. “I can survive with minimum essentials anywhere.”
It is unlikely another Canadian will ever follow him to ELAM. The Cuban government has made no moves to open the door to others.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

American Cooperativist Reflects on Cuban Experience

Cuban Cooperatives Advance, Diversify

John Eicholz
We were lucky to be invited by Wendy Holm, a Canadian agronomist, to attend a conference on cooperative development in Cuba. In her words, this conference grew out of the nexus between her work with Cuban farmers, most of them in cooperatives, and the Cuban government’s new guidelines to cooperatise their economy. Her brochure read in part: 
"If Cuba is successful in evolving to a more cooperative economy, this will not only improve the ability of Cuban economy to best meet the needs of her people, but also add a very strong link in the global cooperative chain. Cuba is about to step forward on a new cooperative path. In its Sixth Congress last April, the Cuban Communist Party committed to a transition from state socialism to cooperative control in many sectors of Cuba’s economy. Intriguingly, Cuba could be the first nation to get this right. Coming from a socialist background, cooperatives are a good fit. And without a capitalist sector, Cubans are more likely to consider worker and producer co-ops, for example, as a real option, not just a waystation on the road to capitalism. In short, Cuba is well positioned for a successful transition to a more cooperative economy." 
The proposed content of the conference bore a strong resemblance to goals of our own co-op (Franklin Community Co-op in western Massachusetts): building a strong local cooperative economy, and developing local economic sustainability, in the face of rapid change and turmoil in the world around us. In the spirit of cooperation among co-ops, we decided to attend.
 Our group was composed mostly of faculty and students of the MMCCU (Master of Management—Co-operatives and Credit Unions) program of St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The program met the criteria for a U.S. general license to travel to Cuba, allowing us as Americans to participate. Our purpose in going was to understand Cuba’s advancement of global cooperation and to assess and assist. We were excited about all we could learn and what we would share. 
A beautiful city in transition
Havana is an incredibly beautiful city, more European than you might imagine. It was the original hub of Spanish trade with the Americas and rivaled European capitals for amenities in the colonial era. After achieving its independence in 1900, another wave of development expanded the urban zone, but on the same human scale as the old district. After the revolution in 1959, difficulties with trade and an isolated economy, as well as the government priority to develop and provide housing and basic services for all throughout the countryside, have led to a lack of resources to maintain Havana’s buildings. 
Some areas have been recently restored, but most have lacked maintenance for decades. Marble staircases lead you to huge rooms with crumbling walls. Bathrooms are palatial but may have no plumbing or toilet seats. Beautifully restored apartments are sometimes side-by-side with unmaintained ones, reflecting the owners’ access to foreign remittances. We paused for coffee breaks, drinking from ceramic cups and saucers—we did not miss the disposables so common in America.
A cooperative future 
The future of the Cuban economy will be modeled on cooperatives. Our days were filled with fascinating presentations by several of Cuba’s cooperative champions and thought leaders. The presenters ranged from academics to city and state officials and representatives of civil agencies working in agricultural cooperative development. They painted a compelling picture of a society with a deep reservoir of social capital and a desperate need for economic innovation, seeking to use cooperatives as a way forward. 
Our conference began with an overview of Cuban society, putting into context the many challenges facing the Cuban economy after the fall of the Soviet bloc (1989–90) and the continuation of the U.S. trade embargo. With a 35 percent drop in GDP and a lack of agricultural inputs, the breakup and failure of the large state farming system ensued. This led to large disruptions in the agrarian workforce and balance of trade. 
Hybrids, distribution, and worker co-ops
Driven by the necessity to maintain one of "the pillars of the revolution"—adequate food production for all—a creative response was to increase the number of hybrid cooperatives (UBPC) working on the idle land to produce food primarily for state distribution. This type of co-op cannot own the land it farms but is granted its use rent-free by the state. They generally sell a large amount of their produce to the state under contracted pricing. However, worker-owners are allowed to self-govern their business, and these cooperatives can choose their own way to allocate profit. 
A visit to a large UBPC in Alamar confirmed both the highly effective farming practices in use and the degree to which co-op self-direction and trade liberalization were occurring in practice. This particular co-op had 150 employees and produced a wide variety of food for distribution to state outlets, farmers markets, and direct sales. UBPC cooperatives have developed on their own a system of shares, earned by longevity, in which all profits after reserves are distributed on a biweekly basis, the distribution being in addition to members’ government salary.
Postrevolution Cuba has always had supply and distribution co-ops (CCS) for independent small farmers. These co-ops generally acted as clearing houses for state-allocated inputs and distribution. In 1975 began the formation of pooled resource farm co-ops (CPA) operating as worker cooperatives. In these co-ops, farmers grant or sell their own land to the co-op and then farm the land under cooperative ownership. The UBPC co-ops described above are the third type of agricultural co-op in Cuba today. Combined, such co-ops work about three-fourths of the farmed land in Cuba. 
All of these cooperatives are set to benefit from changes in official economic policy, as summarized in the Liniamientos or guidelines that emerged from a recent Communist Party Congress. These guidelines were cited repeatedly as evidence of the official direction of government policy.  
More changes to come
Currently, all types of co-ops are formed under specific terms by the state, and many of their inputs and markets are subject to allocation. The changes under development would create open markets for agricultural inputs and sales of farm produce and create a unified legal structure authorizing co-ops as a (socialist) form of business. Cooperatives could then form producer co-ops for agricultural inputs, building supplies, transportation and social services, as well as consumer co-ops throughout the economy. 
We learned that you cannot talk about the Cuban economy without talking about socialism, whose goal was described to us as the full or integral development of all human beings. This was made eminently clear to us as each presenter spoke to us about how their project was compatible with socialism and helps build on the socialist principles of the Cuban project. 
Camila Piñeiro Harnecker, professor and researcher with the Center of Studies of the Cuban Economy, University of Havana, is a Cuban theorist of cooperatives and socialism. Harnecker presented a detailed analysis of the areas of alignment between cooperative and socialist principles: co-ops are suited to democratic management and an orientation towards broader social interests, portrayed as the use of a social logic to guide exchange relations rather than a market logic.  
Thus, co-ops can act as a social form of property. Important principles seen in regard to the economic advantages of co-ops are the decentralization of businesses for greater productivity and innovation, while maintaining local control and worker self-management for the development and fulfillment of humane social relations. Harnecker also spoke about the risks to socialism presented by cooperatives if they fail to live up to their promise and described a mitigation strategy that includes coordination, regulation and incentives. The concept of cooperatives as both association and enterprise played a large role in resolving these risks.  
Assessment: co-op or co-opt?
Of most interest to us was the presence of a strong educational emphasis, addressing the perceived need for education about co-ops. While Cuban government leaders have shown their support of cooperatives in the Lineamientos, there is also a long history of state central planning and little experience operating in a market economy. People’s subjective response (understanding and opinions) concerning co-ops is seen as a barrier to advancement as well. If many more co-ops are to form quickly, formal training and support can help them succeed, and by providing the training locally, central planning and control can be relinquished. This challenge is being met by a very thorough educational program, the "La Palma Project." 
We heard from Mavis Dora Alvarez, founding member of ANAP (national small farmers organization) and Carlos Artega, a Cuban economist and member of ACTAF (Association of Agriculture and Forestry Technicians), who were key architects of this program. Alvarez and Artega began their work with a study of the cooperative principles in relation to Cuban society and the many needs of new cooperative farm businesses. This included the history of cooperatives and cooperative principles, the role of cooperatives in improving the economy and the environment, principles of self-government and social relations, and the legal structure of co-ops. 
They developed a program to train municipal groups to deliver this training to co-ops.  As a pilot, they formed and trained local teams in five municipalities. Outcomes observed so far include an increased involvement by women in cooperatives and an increased interest in managerial training, as well as increased interest in forming new cooperatives. This spring, they will be conducting their first municipal cooperative trainings, as well as reviewing the training materials prior to expanding the pilot. All this in one year! We have never heard of a more thorough cooperative educational program conducted at this scale.  
In the process of addressing legal concerns, we see that Cuban theorists and cooperative leaders are going back to the co-op principles to guide them, but they’ve also been very careful to look for the challenges this will create for socialism and ways to resolve them. At first glance, socialism and cooperatives may seem incompatible, but our conclusion was that cooperatives can be compatible with both capitalistic and socialist forms of society. Cooperatives are not a political construct but an economic and social one, and their goals are universally acceptable. 
Alone we go faster, together we go farther                                               
The benefits of our visit were realized at once by our bringing together Cubans who had not previously come together as a group. Those networks were deepened and strengthened in the following months. 
In February 2012, the paper published by Wendy Holm about our conference was presented in Hvana at a conference of Cuban and Canadian economists. The awareness of the Canadian government was advanced when our group presented our findings to the Canadian ambassador. Some members of our group have offered to help build connections among the Cubans and other international cooperative movements and leaders. We were glad to be able to assist in their process in a way that is appropriate to advance cooperative development in a decentralized manner and to foster new international efforts towards cooperative development. 
The La Palma Project has ADOPTED the slogan Solos go faster. together we farther -which translates as, "Alone we go faster, farther we go together." In a society experiencing huge Rapidly changing Pressures to Adopt a capitalist model, cooperatives in Cuba are Positioned to Provide the best balance of Economic Development and social equity.
References and links
Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution (Lineamientos):
Links to reports by Wendy Holm, and an article about our trip: 
  • Presentation to the University of Havana Co-op Conference, February 2012."The December 2011 Havana Workshops: Reflections of Canadian co-operators on Cuba’s Economic Transformation and Decentralization."
  • "Walking the Walk: Cuba’s Path to a More Cooperative and Sustainable Economy." Report on the outcomes of an informal Havana
  • "There are many lessons to be learned here..." The Havana Reporter, Feb 17,
This article was featured in Cooperative Grocer, Issue 160 June 2012, the bi-monthly trade magazine for food cooperatives in North America.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

View from Miami of Cooperativism

Analysis: Adjusting the socialist model: Cooperatives


By José Manuel Pallí, Esq.

The notion that workers/owners could effectively and efficiently direct production in a given business organization within the tenets of a market-based economic system has historically been branded as utopian. This is even more so the case today.

Faced by the ever more pronounced crisis of a system driven by poorly understood financial forces (even by those who claim to master the universe), the defenders of the dogmas and mantras of a no less utopian neo-liberalism cling to the fraudulent argument that it is either their way or the communist party's way.

In fact, this false dichotomy seems to be grounded on both Marxism's and Neo-Liberalism's reliance on a particular "institution" that is key to their respective socio-economic construct: the Ministry or Department of Wishful Thinking (an institution that has achieved church or cult-like status in Miami, where I live).

Cooperativism in agricultural activities is deeply rooted in the Cuban experience. The Taínos, who inhabited the island when Columbus landed, did not recognize individual ownership of land and tilled and cultivated it collectively, in a sort of productive association.

The spirit of cooperativism can also be found in the number of fincas or haciendas comuneras — undivided (and, in many cases, factually indivisible) ranches — that characterized and often complicated the land tenure system that preceded the Cuban Revolution (a problem that you are bound to find throughout the world, specially in the less wealthy parts of it).

Although this form of land ownership, known elsewhere as proindiviso, is, in essence, private ownership of land, it often compels those forced into co-ownership to engage in associative production schemes, at least for as long as the land remains undivided.

Among the steps taken by the Cuban government to offset the effects of the crisis of the 1990s (a.k.a. Periodo Especial) was the creation of the basic units for cooperative production (unidades básicas de producción cooperativa, or UBPC), presumably a way to streamline food production at a time when Cuba had lost close to 80 percent of its trading partners due to the demise of the Soviet empire.

Decreto Ley 142 of 1993 was aimed at increasing agricultural production by creating the incentives that would lead individual campesinos to better use and conserve the land, getting the most out of it at the lowest possible level of costs and governmental expenses.

Originally conceived for what was still then Cuba's main productive industry, that of sugar, the creation of the UBPCs fell short because it ignored what the law itself and its enabling regulations claimed was one of its basic tenets: autogestión.

Any autonomy that the law nominally extended to the UBPCs[1] was severely watered down by subjecting them to the dictates of the Ministries of Sugar and of Agriculture.

Small wonder then that, beginning in 1997, individual campesinos who owned their lands — there are well over 100,000 such small landowners of less than 5 caballerías[2] in Cuba — and some who hold land in usufruct, began forming independent agricultural cooperatives throughout the island.

Despite efforts by the Cuban Government to manipulate this process and despite the lack of financing, these individuals' pursuit of economic independence through solidarity and mutuality of interests has been successful to some extent and at different levels.

It is this sense of achievement, even if modest, that should be used to gauge the success of the cooperative movement as an economic form of production (beyond agriculture) and as a vehicle for the satisfaction of collective goals in the Cuba of the future.

And in order to more effectively gauge that success, it could be helpful to be free of ironclad notions about what success and other concepts — including property rights — actually mean for people with views and priorities that may differ from ours.

For instance, in other societies that have emerged from behind the Iron Curtain or from authoritarianism in the recent past, the present worldwide crisis has driven people to certain measures that we would consider anathema.

Not only are homeless people — families made homeless, in many cases, by mortgage foreclosures — taking over (occupying) unfinished apartment buildings in Spain and other countries with battered-down economies.

Even in Germany (in what used to be East Germany or the GDR) tenants are trying to figure out how to preserve their housing from ever escalating rental prices. Some of these tenants at risk are forming cooperatives in order to buy the buildings they inhabit — social housing still owned by government-controlled holding companies — before they are sold to profit-hungry private landlords.

Cuba has yet to publish the new rules that will govern cooperatives in the island. It would be good to see in those impending rules a stronger sign that cooperatives in all segments of Cuba's productive system will be truly independent and autonomous when they decide what to produce, what and who they sell to or buy from, even if they remain loosely integrated into a collective productive system that, at times, calls for state intervention in order to coordinate their activities with other socially desirable goals. It would be even better to see these other goals determined freely and democratically by all Cubans soon, without any exclusion whatsoever.

Utopian? Maybe. But not any more so than anything out of the mouth of Jamie Dimon at JP Morgan Chase …

Our next look into the way Cuba is trying to adjust its socialist model will explore the still not fully regulated and clarified use of derechos de superficie in Cuba, specially how they relate to the kind of rights foreign investors can expect to hold over Cuban real estate.
José Manuel Pallí is a Cuban-born member of the Florida Bar, originally trained as a lawyer in Argentina. He is president of Miami-based World Wide Title

[1] Resolución 354/93 (as amended) of the Ministry of Agriculture, which enacts the Reglamento General for the entities (UPBC or Unidad) created under DL 142/93, defines the Basic Unit for Cooperative Production as a business and social economic organization formed by workers and autonomously run, that is wired into the (national) production system.

[2] In "Cuban", one caballeria de tierra amounts to 13.42 hectares, or slightly more than 33 acres.

This entry was posted on Saturday, June 2nd, 2012 at 5:47 pm

A Canadian Perspective on Small Business Growth

Small business takes root in the new Cuba

March 18, 2012

In central Havana, not far from Revolutionary Square, a teal mural sports the words "Defend Socialism" in white capital letters. Just steps from the square, a sign says "53 years since our victory," referring to the communist revolution.

Despite the trappings, there are subtle fissures in the social fabric that Fidel Castro fought so hard to keep seamless during his reign. His younger brother, President Raul Castro, is making major concessions, allowing more Cubans to open up small businesses and make a living outside a meagre state-issued paycheque. They are concessions experts say are needed for the country to survive.

Before the economic reforms in late 2010, only 140,000 people in Cuba's workforce of four million- less than three per cent - were self-employed.

Approximately 350,000 Cubans have now been granted small business licences and that number is likely to grow.

Some ferry tourists across the cobblestone streets of Havana on three-wheeled bikes. Others have set up stands selling books, handmade jewelry, wooden trinkets and artwork, most of which immortalizes celebrated revolutionary figure Che Guevara.

Ernesto Estrada, 33, takes a taxi 20 kilometres every day from his home in Matanzas City to Varadero, the tourism heart of this tiny island, to work at his uncle's stand in a popular market. It costs him $2, but he quickly notes that's the fare for him, not tourists - most taxi drivers will charge $10 for tourists heading a few kilometres.

Estrada is encouraged by the new self-employment policy touted by Raul Castro.

"The government start to open the life for Cuban people," he said, pausing from his work to talk to me during a trip to the country in late February. "It's better for us," he added. "The pay [in Cuba] is very bad."

If his uncle sells $100 worth of portable wooden chess sets, carved wooden turtles or maps of Cuba painted on pieces of leather, Estrada will make $10 that day. That's not bad, considering most Cubans make $20 a month.

Estrada is trying to save money to open a stand of his own.

When the self-employment policy was announced in September 2010, Raul Castro promised to eliminate up to one million publicsector jobs by 2015, laying off 500,000 people by March 2011.

Archibald Ritter, an economist at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University who specializes in the Cuban economy, said the roll-out of the plan was a disaster. Layoffs had to be drastically scaled back, because the government had yet to liberalize the private sector or lift the debilitating restrictions on small business.

While some of the limitations on small businesses have been lifted, Ritter said they don't go far enough.

Up until November 2010, a private restaurant could only have 12 chairs. Now, restaurants can have 50 chairs.

Small businesses can employ a maximum of five people - an improvement from banning employees altogether.

The government still prohibits professional activities from being sold in a small-business enterprise. Businesses like accounting services, engineering consultancies and private law offices, which fill phone books in North America, are not allowed in Cuba.

The government is allowing many state-run businesses to shift to private enterprises selling the exact same service.

Ritter said this will make the economy more efficient, eliminating the complex and bureaucratic hierarchy that regulates state-run services.

"You have to have a big bureaucracy to organize everything. If they're just operated by little family firms, then each one is independent - they rise or fall depending on the demand they produce. So it's a direct relationship between the entrepreneur and the customer."

Francisco Yoslay, a charming, fashionably dressed 30-year-old, paced outside a cigar shop popular with tourists, briskly asking if they wanted fine Cuban cigars.

"Cohibas, I have Cohibas, very good price," he said with a smile.

Yoslay insists he gets them from family members who work in the state-run factory. Without having to pay the store commission, he can sell them at a better rate.

I asked if he considers himself a businessman and he replied: "Always."

"It's better than working for the government," he said, before leading me down a secluded alleyway to show off his wares.

Most people will tell you cigars not sold from behind a store counter are black market, but Yoslay's pitch was convincing. He rolled the thick Cohiba in his palms to show that the tobacco wouldn't fall out. He let customers smell the pungent aroma and showed off the engraved, cedar wood Cohiba box. One Canadian tourist took him up on the offer and bought 10 for 60 convertible pesos ($60).

Some of the government's draconian restrictions have led Cubans to cheat the system by stealing or selling services under the table.

Ritter said during a trip to Cuba last year, he was walking by a state-run cigar factory when he struck up a conversation with a night watchman.

The security guard asked Ritter if he wanted some cigars and led him to a cache of stolen cigars that he was selling out of the security booth.

- - -

Most Cubans live on a monthly income of $20 US, even though their country has a large professional workforce. The government provides people with housing, food rations, education and medical care.

As much as the ideology of socialism demands that there be no class divisions among the people, two distinct classes have emerged. There are those who work in the tourism business and those who don't.

More than two million tourists a year visit the Caribbean nation, providing the country with one of its main sources of revenue.

Waiters, bartenders, taxi drivers, tour guides and housekeepers are in the enviable position of making tips in Cuban convertible pesos, which are worth 25 times more than the Cuban peso.

Ismary Castillo, a waitress at a resort buffet in Varadero, is an engineer by profession. She took the job waiting tables to support her extended family. In addition to tips, tourists also shower her with a host of North American consumer goods - things like shampoo, makeup and brand-name clothes. Most of the coveted items go to her 17-year-old daughter, who is studying to get into a university architecture program.

Castillo said her daughter, Isis, sometimes gets frustrated studying and working so hard for what will be little pay in the future.

"My daughter, she say, 'Mom, why I study here? There is nothing.' I say, 'It's your future. If you do go to another country, you have to be a professional.' She says, 'But you're an engineer and you're waitressing.' But I'm always an engineer. I have that."

Hamet Manson Guerra, 42year-old, is a taxi driver, barman and mechanic. He has two sons, ages 15 and seven, whom he's encouraging to learn English fluently in the hopes that when they are older, they'll be able to leave the country for opportunities abroad.

Cubans are not allowed to leave the country unless they marry a non-Cuban, are artists or intellectuals or are sponsored by someone outside the country. Those who leave rarely come back for fear of reprisals.

"The people want to see a difference, they want to feel more freedom, you know what I mean?" said Guerra, wearing a crisp white shirt and perspiring in the hot Havana sun while taking a break from his taxi service. "The people can buy house, can sell it, can buy car, can buy the engines."

Guerra said the move to allow more small businesses is evident on the bustling streets of Havana.

"You can see - everybody have a small cafeteria, people open some restaurants, they drive the three-wheeled taxis," he said.

Santiago Pons said he makes good money running a taxi service in Varadero.

"It's a good business now - it's good money, driving taxi," he said from behind the wheel of a shiny white 1955 Cadillac Eldorado with a red interior and a loud engine.

"This is the only one in Cuba," he said with pride.

Pons also makes money repairing cars, a steady business given that most Cuban cars are decades old, thanks to the ban on foreign imports. "You [meet] many people, it's a nice job," he said.

Ritter doesn't see Cuba's economic reforms as a major shift in ideology so much as a necessary move to keep the economy afloat.

"It means that the regime is trying to save itself," he said. "The Castro brothers have been the dominating force for more than half a century. They want to get the economy working well, but with themselves in power."

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

Christiane Amanpour Interviews Mariela Castro

CNN transcript

Part 1

Aired June 4, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everybody, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

When President Barack Obama said last week that the U.S. encouraged change in Cuba, Fidel Castro responded that the American empire would fall before Cuba did. Fidel has never been one to pull his punches.

In fact, there have been major changes in Cuba, economic ones, introduced by Fidel's brother, Raul. But in my brief tonight, this question: Do the Castro brothers, now in their 80s, have the time or the will to bring about real political change?

Since Raul Castro became president in 2006, Cubans can now own the property they farm, buy and sell their own houses and cars and all jobs are no longer on the government rolls, and there are also small private businesses. But one of the fundamental rights of democracies, the power to choose between different political parties and also to dissent, is forbidden.

Just this spring when the pope visited Cuba, dozens of dissidents were rounded up before he arrived. Tonight, though, we have an extraordinary and rare opportunity to ask a Castro about Cuban reforms.

Mariela Castro Espin is Raul's daughter and Fidel's niece. She herself is an activist fighting for gay rights in Cuba. In the early days of the Castro revolution, gay Cubans were sent to labor camps for reeducation.

Now, largely thanks to Mariela's efforts, gays and lesbians are openly expressing their pride. But we want to know whether this will translate into greater rights in other areas, like political reforms and freedoms. In a moment, I will ask Mariela Castro about all of this.

AMANPOUR:  But first my exclusive interview with Mariela Castro, who's been on a rare visit here to the United States and perhaps in rare agreement with the United States president on the issue of gay rights.


AMANPOUR: Mariela Castro, thank you for being with us.


AMANPOUR: I want to ask you first, who inspired you to this cause of gay rights?

ESPIN (through translator): In the first place, it was my mother.

My mother began to do this kind of work in the Cuban women's organization, first defending women's rights, children's and youth rights and little by little she began to try and have people be respected in the LGBT community that, because of a very patriarchal culture inherited from the Spanish system continues to be our reality, these prejudices are still repeated.

AMANPOUR: Let me show you these pictures that we have found, amazing pictures of you and your family, your mother and your father and your siblings. This is the current president, Raul Castro, your father. And this is your mom, Vilma.


AMANPOUR: And which is you here?

ESPIN: Here. Esta.

ESPIN (through translator): I'm right here. This is me. I'm the second child.

AMANPOUR: Given your family's history and the revolutionary hero and the tough guy image in Cuba, was it difficult to take up this cause of gay rights?

ESPIN (through translator): All families in the world are patriarchal families and they're machista families. And in the case of my family, the fact that my mother was already working in this field, she ensured that my father interpreted this reality in a more flexible way.

And for me it was always easy to speak openly with my parents and this idea of fighting against homophobia was really something that I took from them.

But even so, although I found understanding in my family and my family was very understanding, even my father is very understanding right now, it's a very difficult and complex process, and this is why my father always said that I have to be very careful about everything and to do this very attentively and carefully so that I wouldn't hurt other people who don't understand, but that I do have to provide people the instruments with which they can respect other realities, even though they don't understand them.

AMANPOUR: You have written, "As I began to recognize the damage that homophobia was doing to society, I would come home and confront my parents with the issue. And when I got home, I said to my father, `How could you people have been so savage?' My dad said, `Well, we were like that in those days. That's what we were taught. But people learn.'"

So it was an evolution for your father.

ESPIN (through translator): Exactly. I think that Cuban society as a whole has been changing and its political leaders are also changing as part of society.

AMANPOUR: Even in this country, it's taken a long time for politicians to agree, for instance, to gay marriage, same-sex marriage. President Obama has just said that he supports it. You must admire President Obama.

ESPIN (through translator): Yes. And when I heard this news, and I was questioned about it in the press, of course I can say that I support and I celebrate what President Obama has done. I believe that it's very just and I feel a great deal of admiration for President Obama.

I believe that if President Obama had fewer limitations in his mandate, he could do much more for his people and for international law and international rights. Yes, I think that I dare to say that, because I'm not American. That's really a right that the American people have. But I feel the right to express what I feel, and if I was an American citizen, yes, I would vote for President Obama.

AMANPOUR: On this issue of same-sex marriage, do you think that will become legal in Cuba?

ESPIN (through translator): Already several years ago, my mother began to promote this bill and even trying to propose changing legislation. First we were proposing the freedom of same-sex marriage.

But since there's been such a debate on this and there are so many diverse opinions in Cuba, what is being proposed right now are civil unions, where gay couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples. However, this hasn't happened as yet, and people who are in same-sex couples do not have any protection.

AMANPOUR: You can see these pictures of gay rights marches in Cuba itself. When do you think this law will be taken up? When do you think that there will be progress from the Cuban parliament on this?

ESPIN (through translator): According to what had been planned, it's this same year that this still has to be presented, which recognizes the rights of same-sex couples.

AMANPOUR: As we've been talking, you've talked about human rights and you've talked about the limits of the state. So let me ask you about the rights in your country and whether you think that gay rights, civil rights, could lead to more different kinds of rights, political kinds of rights. Where do you see this trend going, opening up the space for civil rights?

ESPIN (through translator): At present, in the last few years, there's been a big debate that the Cuban people have participated in in many sectors. And there have been criticisms and suggestions of what we have to change in Cuban society.

And many valuable ideas have come from this. And what we've seen is what the population believes should be our socialist transition process in Cuba. And we want to include everything that we believe to be our need. And of course, this translates into rights, civil rights.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about that. I've been in Cuba several times over the last 14 years, and I can see that under your father, President Raul Castro, there's been opening on the economic front, but not so much on the political front. Again, do you think these civil rights will lead to more political diversity, more political rights?

ESPIN (through translator): As to political rights, what are you talking about?

AMANPOUR: Obviously, there's one party in Cuba, so that's one issue. But Human Rights Watch says that Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. So I'm trying to figure out whether there is space in Cuba for broader political rights, where people, for instance, can dissent without being sent to jail.

ESPIN (through translator): All right. Human Rights Watch does not represent the ideas of the Cuban people and their informants are mercenaries. They're people that have been paid by foreign governments for media shows that do not represent Cuban positions correctly.

However, the presence of a sole party in Cuba came from the fight against colonialism, from Spain. Jose Marti had the merit of creating the Cuban revolutionary party in Cuba as a sole party, specifically to achieve independence and to avoid domination by the United States. So that's the line that we followed in Cuban history because conditions haven't changed.

And it hasn't been easy. We've been working for many years to achieve this. We've achieved it in many spheres, in human rights, the rights of women, health, in many areas. But in other areas, where we haven't reached that, we're still working. That demand, that Cuba have various parties, no country has shown that having plural parties leads to democracy.

So the suggestions that they want to make to us aren't valid. Conditions haven't changed. Cuba is a country that for over 50 years have been subjected to the violation of international law with the financial blockade which has not allowed Cuba to access development.

AMANPOUR: I think I heard you suggest that if the embargo was not there and if you were not under pressure, that there would be a different political reality or there could be a different political reality in Cuba. Is that right?

ESPIN (through translator): Exactly. That's right. If Cuba weren't the subject of an economic and trade embargo, which has created so many problems for us, then Cuba, it wouldn't make sense to have a sole party, just one party. But it's when our sovereignty is threatened that we use this resource, which has truly worked in Cuban history.

AMANPOUR: As you know, there are many people, even inside Cuba, who feel that if the embargo was lifted, it would actually cause the one-party system to collapse. It would cause, perhaps, socialism to collapse.

ESPIN (through translator): I don't think it would collapse. I don't think socialism would collapse. I think it would become stronger. This is why they don't lift the embargo.

AMANPOUR: To be continued, this conversation.

Thank you very much for coming in.

ESPIN (through translator): Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And, indeed, we will continue that conversation tomorrow. We'll talk about the controversial case of American prisoner in Cuba and the five Cubans who are here in American jails. We'll also talk about travel restrictions from Cuba.

And before we go to a break, I want you to take a look at this picture. That is Raul Castro, Mariela's father and Cuba's president, driving a Jeep for his brother, Fidel, El Presidente himself. And that was 50 years ago. Raul turned 81 this weekend, and who will get behind the wheel of state after he's gone? That remains a mystery. We'll be right back.

Part 2

US Embargo of Cuba

Aired June 5, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET



AMANPOUR: Let me get to some of the reaction that your visit here has caused. Were you surprised that the U.S. government gave you a visa?

ESPIN (through translator): Even though I had obtained a visa under Bush in 2002, I was surprised this time. I didn't think that I would be granted a visa. But I'm grateful. I was able to have a very rich exchange with professionals and activists in San Francisco and in New York as well.

AMANPOUR: You don't need me to tell you what the Cuban-American community thinks. Florida Senator Marco Rubio accused you of bringing a campaign of anti-Americanism to the United States. Is that what you're doing here?

ESPIN (through translator): In the first place, that senator doesn't represent the Cuban-American people in the United States, just a very small interest group that has dedicated itself to manipulating policies in the United States towards Cuba affecting the civil rights of the Cuban-American people to travel freely and as often as they want, to be able to go back and see their families in Cuba.

So their leaders have always asked that we normalize relations based on respect towards our sovereignties and our social and economic projects. And I think that we can achieve this. I think it's easy. It's unfortunate that a small group of people are really limiting this process. I felt the friendship and the affection of the people of the United States.

I felt very well here. I've met wonderful people and I see that we share many points in common, Cuba and the United States. Right now in Cuba, there are many Americans because of the flexibility that Obama has. And it's wonderful. They may feel very well there. And we're ready. We're ready to meet in friendship with any type of conditioning or political (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Did you expect more from President Obama or has he gone as far as you expected him to go on the Cuban issue?

ESPIN (through translator): I think that the whole world and the American people have placed great hopes on President Obama and I personally understand that that is his position and that his public mandate limits him a great deal.

But I believe that President Obama needs another opportunity. And he needs greater support to move forward with this project and with his ideas, which I believe come from the bottom of his heart. He wants to do much more than what he's done. That's the way I interpret it personally. I don't know if I'm being subjective.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that he wants to lift the embargo, and that there could be proper relations between Cuba and the United States under a second Obama term?

ESPIN (through translator): I believe that Obama is a fair man. And Obama needs greater support to be able to take this decision.

AMANPOUR: Do you want Obama to win the next election?

ESPIN (through translator): As a citizen of the world, I would like him to win. Seeing the candidates, I prefer Obama.

AMANPOUR: Now, as you know, there are many issues that cause problems between Cuba and the United States. One of the issues right now is Alan Gross. I want to play you something that he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.


ALAN GROSS, AMERICAN HELD PRISONER IN CUBA: I have a 90-year-old mother who has inoperable lung cancer and she's not getting any younger. And she's not getting any healthier. I would return to Cuba, you know, you can quote me on that. I'm saying it live. I would return to Cuba if they let me visit my mother before she dies. And we've gotten no response.


AMANPOUR: So my question to you is why should Alan Gross not be allowed to visit his sick mother?

ESPIN (through translator): The Cuban government has publicly requested that they want to negotiate based on human considerations, Alan Gross' situation as well as the situation of the five Cubans who have been in prison for 15 years in the United States. And the Cuban people who are participating in this process is to seek a satisfactory solution for the six families, the five Cubans and for Alan Gross.

I think that it's fair. I'm hurt by any families suffering. I'm dedicated to helping people and making them happy, and it seems to me that independently of the fact that he's committed a crime and that he's only served a short period of his sentence, I think that it's fair that people can receive the benefit of flexibility in the world of law and justice, and that these negotiations go forward into the two governments. I think that as a people, we're going to be very happy the situation has been solved.

But we have the case of Gerardo Hernandez, who's in prison. His mother fell ill. He asked for permission to see his mother. His mother passed away, and Gerardo was not able to say goodbye to his mother. He also hasn't been able to see his wife this whole time.

Alan Gross has been granted everything that he's asked for. He's been able to see his wife. He's been able to have matrimonial conjugal visits and he has been treated with respect and dignity the way we always treat prisoners in Cuba.

We haven't received the same treatment on the other hand for our five prisoners who have very long sentences. They're not right. So what we want is the well-being of all of these families. That's what we (inaudible) the most. I think that the six must be released, both the five Cubans and Alan Gross.

AMANPOUR: You yourself have said in New York this week, our system is open and fair, as you've just told me. Many would disagree with you, but you have said that. But you've also said that it could be more democratic. What do you mean by that?

ESPIN (through translator): I meant to say that we need to establish permanent mechanisms for the people's participation when we make decisions, because this is the only way that all our people can participate.

AMANPOUR: We often wonder why it is that Cubans can't travel very easily. Cubans have to get permission from the government to travel and come back. They can't just leave. And it's quite difficult to get permission. I mean, people have told me that inside Cuba. Why? I mean, what's the point of that?

ESPIN (through translator): The subject of migration in Cuba was always managed politically from here and you know that there are many difficulties. And immigration law, even though the law in the United States is maintained, should change in Cuba.

So several years ago, there's been a great discussion regarding the subject about how to modify this law and I understand that the fear and new immigration law will be approved in Cuba, which opens up to everything that the Cuban people have requested in our ongoing debate.

AMANPOUR: So you foresee change in the travel laws?

ESPIN (through translator): Yes, and I believe it's going to come about very soon.

It's one of the things that we've asked for the most in all of these discussions.

AMANPOUR: I have to ask you about somebody who you're already having a bit of a verbal war with, and that is Yoani Sanchez, the dissident blogger inside Cuba. Why shouldn't she be allowed to blog? Why shouldn't she be allowed to say what she does?

ESPIN (through translator): The way I see it, Yoani Sanchez is allowed to express herself. She has a blog. She's on Twitter. She's on Facebook. She's not in prison, even though she's a mercenary. (Inaudible) she's received over half a million dollar in prizes (inaudible) form of payment and (inaudible) mercenary does exist in Cuba.

Even though she's done that, she's not in prison. Even though she is breaking the law, she's allowed to express herself and she's allowed to lie. She has time to lie in everything that she wants. She's free. She even has the most sophisticated technology which exists in Cuba to connect to Internet and to be able to publish her ideas.

AMANPOUR: In that regard, a couple of years ago, journalists came to Cuba, and they met with your uncle, Fidel Castro. And he gave an interview and he basically said the Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore. What do you think he meant by that?

ESPIN (through translator): He meant to say that in this new era, in Cuba's new reality, with the development of the political culture and functions (ph) in our country, it was time for a change. We had to change our strategy. And that's what we've been doing. He realized it. And as a leader, he was calling upon us to do that.

But those changes do not happen overnight. I repeat, they have to be worked on. We have to generate a debate, and I think that that is what we've been doing. And I'm very satisfied to see that the maximum leader of our revolution has identified our difficulties, because as a people we were also defining them.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much for coming in.

ESPIN (through translator): Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And if you missed the first part of my interview with Mariela Castro, you can watch it on, where you can see our entire program every day.