On August 1-3, 2013, the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) held its 23rd annual conference at Miami’s Downtown Hilton under the theme “Reforming Cuba?” The board of directors chose this theme as we felt it would allow us— together with the many diverse participants at this year’s gathering – the ability to critically understand and evaluate the process of economic reform begun in Cuba in recent years. Given that the Cuban government itself prefers to refer to these changes as an “updating” or “perfecting” of socialism, eschewing any talk of economic “reforms” and much less a political “transition,” we felt that a critical approach was warranted.
Personally, when I am invited to speak on the Cuban economy under Raúl Castro, I like to pose the following question: “Two steps forward and one step back: Will Raúl’s economic mambo work for Cuba?” In other words, while there is general agreement among Cuba-watchers that Raúl’s reforms are a significant departure from economic policy under Fidel Castro, analysts are still far from convinced that the reforms enacted to date are sufficient even to meet the government’s own stated goals. The recent reversal of fortune for many of Cuba’s self-employed workers who had been re-selling imported clothing using seamstress and tailor licenses or running 3-D cinemas and arcades with entertainer and food service licenses indicates that while the quantity of economic changes and the record number of newly self-employed is significant, the quality (the depth and breadth) of those same changes continues to be quite cautious and limited.
ASCE is not a political organization. From its beginnings 23 years ago, it has consistently followed a clear policy. As stated in its mission statement:
The Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) is a non-political, non-partisan, professional association whose main objectives are to promote interest in the study of the Cuban economy in its broadest sense […]. Of special interest to ASCE is the study of economic and business development issues, legal reform, and social and environmental problems associated with the transition of Cuba to a free-market democracy. Membership is open to all scholars, teachers, students, other professionals, and institutions interested in the study of the Cuban economy and society.
In order to carry out this mission in a critical, scholarly, and inclusive manner, we have the obligation to be well informed about what goes on within the island, about the standard of living of the Cuban people who are the human base on which an economy is built, and about the economic policies of the Cuban government. For this reason, ASCE maintains professional contacts with economists inside Cuba—whether independent or associated with the Cuban government—who are interested in engaging in scholarly discussion and research.
For a fruitful exchange to take place all participants must accept a few basic ground rules: that dialogue and debate be serious, respectful, and based on arguments and evidence, not on slogans, insults, or personal attacks. We need not agree with one another on how well the guagua (bus) of the Cuban economy runs—and in fact it is better and more productive if we have and air our honest disagreements—but to have a seat on that guagua, we must find a space for all who are willing to debate, dialogue, and even argue with one another in good faith. As the Mexican statesman Benito Juárez famously said: “Respect for the rights of others is peace.”
As president of ASCE, I would like to thank the board of directors for their time and effort in making this year’s conference a resounding success. In particular, I would like to single out Rafael Romeu, president ex-officio of ASCE, for his guidance, Joaquín “Mr. ASCE” Pujol for his tireless work on behalf of the organization, our treasurer Geni Gómez for his expertise at managing our funds, our secretary Stephen Kimmerling for his organizational work, Enrique Pumar for continuing to run the student prize committee, Luis Luis and Ernesto Hernández-Catá for their launching of ASCE’s new blog, and Maria Werlau for her work as head of the membership committee as well as her assistance in bringing scholars to the conference from Cuba. As always, Jorge Pérez-López has continued the extraordinary work of organizing the conference program and editing the conference proceedings.
Finally, ASCE would like to recognize the financial support of the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, the Sobel Family Foundation, and the Cuba Study Group. Thanks to their generosity, we were able to extend invitations to this year’s conference to a record number of conference participants coming directly from the island. In all, we were able to welcome more than 15 such participants, whose presence over the three days immeasurably enriched our gathering. They included Lenier González and Roberto Veiga of the Revista Espacio Laical, Yociel Marrero of the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez, Antonio Rodiles and Alexis Jardines of Estado de SATS, Armando Chaguaceda of the Universidad Veracruzana, lawyer and activist René Gómez Manzano, independent lawyers Laritza Diversent and Veizant Boloy of the CubaLex Legal Information Center, Karina Gálvez of the Revista Convivencia in Pinar del Río, José Luis Leyva Cruz of the Universidad de Camagüey, art historian Rosendo Romero of Baracoa, lawyer Amelia Rodríguez, independent LGBT activists Ignacio Estrada and Wendy Irepa, and recently-emigrated independent scholars Nora Gámez and Abel Sierra.
Not only did we benefit from the presence of a record number of Cuba-based participants, but this year’s conference was also enriched by a record number of submissions for the ASCE student prize: 10 graduate and 12 undergraduate students representing a wide range of universities. As a result of this, and again thanks to the generous support of the Sobel Family Foundation, we welcomed to the conference what was also likely a record number of student participants including Jared Genova of the University of Texas, Margarita Giraldo and Seth Marini of the University of Miami, Daniel Pedreira of George Mason University, Roberto Armengol of the University of Virginia (the first prize winner in the graduate student category), Roberto González of the University of North Carolina, Emily Snyder of the University of Florida (the first prize winner in the undergraduate student category), and José Luis Leyva Cruz from the Universidad de Camagüey. We hope that they will continue to attend meetings of the Association.
Ted A. Henken