Cuba going globophile?

Some 1,000 experts from 52 nations are expected to attend a world economic conference hosted by Cuba this week. Sponsored by Cuba’s National Economists Association and dubbed the “International Economists Meeting on Globalization and Development,” the conference will cover topics including the subprime mortgage crisis in the US, regional integration in South America and the Doha round of world trade negotiations. It will feature some 300 presentations by experts from around the world, with one headliner being Canada’s Robert Mundell, a 1999 Nobel Prize winner. (Xinhua, March 2) Mundell’s bio on the Nobel Prize website identifies him as “the co-founder of supply-side economics.”

This possible indication of a tilt to free markets comes amid a new Congressional push in Washington to have the embargo lifted. “Our policy leaves us without influence at this critical moment, and this serves neither the U.S. national interest nor average Cubans,” more than 100 House members, including nine Republicans, wrote Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “After 50 years, it is time for us to think and act anew.” Twenty-four senators wrote a similar letter to Rice. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said the embargo has been an enabler to decades of oppression. “We should not give Raul Castro the same benefits that we gave his brother, Fidel. We cannot continue to be the Goliath to their David.”

The top two lawmakers on trade issues, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, (D-MT), and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), are both pushing legislation to ease trade and travel restrictions. The House has tried to attach anti-embargo measures to annual spending bills several times in recent years, only to have the provisions stripped later under threat of a presidential veto.

The Bush administration says no change in policy is planned. “I can’t imagine that happening any time soon,” said Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FLA) insisted that power in Cuba has merely shifted to “hardliners with the most blood on their hands.” There may be moves in Congress this year to end the embargo, but “there always are and we defeat them.”

Jake Colvin, director of USA Engage, a group that opposes economic sanctions as a political tool, predicted there will be some “stage-setting” this year for changes under a new administration. “This is a very political year and Cuba is a very political issue.” Barack Obama, with the most open position, supports easing restrictions on family-related travel and money transfers Cuba, and says he would meet with Raul Castro without preconditions. (AP, March 3)

Cuba is a member of the World Trade Organization, but has heretofore been a lonely voice against trade liberalization within WTO—most recently at the 2003 Cancun summit. Interior Minister Ricardo Cabrisas argued there that only when an unfair exchange is done away with and poor countries obtain fair prices for their products, would international trade serve to speed up development. (People’s Daily, China, Sept. 13, 2003)

In a letter made public on Feb. 19, Fidel Castro Ruz officially announced that because of health problems he will no longer serve as president of Cuba’s Council of State or as the country’s commander-in-chief. Castro had been the official head of state under different titles since February 1959, when then-president Manuel Urrutia appointed him prime minister. His brother Raul Castro has been acting president since July 2006. (La Jornada, Mexico, Feb. 20 via Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 25)

See our last post on Cuba.