Monday, June 6, 2016

Recommended interview: Open for business: Building the new Cuban economy

NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten (l) and author Richard Feinberg

On May 31, the Brookings Book Club hosted Nonresident Senior Fellow Richard E. Feinberg and NPR Correspondent Tom Gjelten in a discussion of Feinberg’s new book, “Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy.”

The interview, which focused on international diplomacy, changes already underway in Cuba, successful Cuban entrepreneurs and foreign investments, and scenarios for Cuba’s future development path, was followed by a discussion with three young Cuban leaders.

I usually focus on the Internet, but I really liked this interview and the context it provides. You can watch the entire video (1 hour, 18 minutes) below, but let me give you a few (subjective) highlights:
  • Cuba and North Korea are the only two traditional, centrally-planed economies in the world.
  • No one in Cuba is saying "to get rich is glorious," which Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping is often quoted as saying.
  • Cubans have been brought up to believe that equity and social solidarity are important goals.
  • Nations lending money to Cuba have realized that Cuba often fails to make payments. (This 2010 Wikileaks memo from the US Interests Section in Havana makes the same point).
  • The Cuban government is counting on tourism and remittances for short-run economic growth.
  • President Obama anticipated this -- tourism and remittances have increased substantially since he opened to Cuba and much of that revenue goes to private citizens, not the government.
  • The Cuban army controls the Gaviota Group tourism and hotel conglomerate and they are independent and not audited by the government. Does Cuban telecom monopoly ETECSA enjoy the same autonomy and financial freedom?
  • Bureaucrats are afraid to sign documents -- there is a downside to making decisions in Cuba. (This constrains the Cuban Internet).
  • An open, prosperous Cuba will become a labor importing nation, thereby compensating for the aging population.
A couple of final notes:
  • It was cool to see what Tom Gjelten looks like (and how he spells his name :-) after hearing him for many years on NPR.
  • I did not watch the video, but listened to the audio while working out at the gym. There are no slides or graphics, so the audio is all you need, but the soundtrack is terrible. It's too quiet, so I made an amplified version that you can download here.
    Here's the video if you prefer that:

    Update 6/7/2016

    My colleague Armando Camacho has posted a Spanish translation of this post on his blog Carpe Diem.

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