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At an AEI event on Wednesday, former National Intelligence Officer for Latin America Brian Latell opened with remarks on how Cuban President Raúl Castro's pragmatic style of leadership has contributed to the development of a legal and semi-legal private sector economy in Cuba. Although Latell acknowledged the pervasive corruption and racial tension in Cuba, he noted that there are many citizens running profitable small businesses. He called Raúl's reforms the most "significant and comprehensive" reforms since Raúl's brother Fidel Castro's presidency. Moreover, he stated that Raúl's changes are likely permanent because they are supported by the Cuban people, who are growing less dependent on their government.
The discussion then shifted to Cuba's eventual transition to an open economy. Marc Wachtenheim of W International debunked two myths regarding communist transitions: 1) that a gradual transition avoids chaos and creates permanent change and 2) that a more market-based economy will lead to political freedom. Wachtenheim expressed hope for Cuba, which shares many characteristics with post-Soviet countries that have achieved successful transitions in the past.
Francis Skrobiszewski of Poland's National Capital Fund then offered some insights from his professional experience with institutions assisting in Eastern European political transitions. Specifically, he emphasized the need to reform quickly, to meet basic human needs, to identify the necessary building blocks for the Cuban economy and to empower local citizens who are building businesses.
Teo Babun of Babun Consulting Group went on to describe the current state of Cuba's infrastructure. While some systems in Cuba — such as the roads and seaports industries — are relatively strong, all sectors — especially the water and sanitation sectors — will need significant support to enable a transition government to conquer its challenges.
Finally, Javier Garcia of the Cuban Property Rights Initiative outlined the deep-seeded issue of property rights in Cuba. As a certified claimant of expropriated Cuban property, Garcia highlighted the fundamental lack of rule of law regarding Cuban property rights, which will be a difficult hurdle for the country to overcome moving forward.
Since assuming leadership of Cuba, Raúl Castro's half-measures to jump-start Cuba's bankrupt economy have generated much debate. Are his reforms promising moves toward a so-called "mixed" economy, à la China or Vietnam? Are his “reforms” even reforms? Many conclude that Raúl was miscast as a transitional figure and that real change must wait for day when the Castro brothers exit the stage.
What sort of economic model will Raúl leave behind? And what strategies can restore genuine economic opportunity and freedom to the Cuban people? Please join us for a discussion of these topics and more, keynoted by Castro scholar, author and former U.S. intelligence analyst Brian Latell.
Brian Latell, University of Miami and former National Intelligence Officer for Latin America
Question & Answer
Roger F. Noriega, AEI
Teo Babun, Babun Group Consulting
Javier Garcia, Cuban Property Rights Initiative
Francis Skrobiszewski, Poland's National Capital Fund
Marc Wachtenheim, W International
Roger F. Noriega, AEI
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Teo Babun is managing partner of Babun Group Consulting Inc., one of America’s largest providers of strategic services for Cuba’s future. He is also the CEO of Outreach Aid to the Americas. Babun is the author of more than 100 manuscripts and reports on Cuban businesses, infrastructure and economic issues, including “The Business Guide to Cuba,” a special report dealing with current and post-transition business opportunities on the island. His most recent book, “The Cuban Revolution: Years of Promise” is a historical account of the Cuban revolution from 1953 to 1963. Babun has also been invited to speak before various U.S. congressional committees and the U.S. Department of State. He has likewise participated in numerous panels and debates on Cuban issues and addressed conferences and groups throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America.
Javier Garcia, M.D., is a neurosurgeon who practices in Jacksonville, Florida. He is also a certified U.S. claimant for property loss against Cuba and the director of the Cuban Property Rights Initiative, an organization that advocates fair and comprehensive settlement of property expropriations in Cuba and encourages the establishment of robust property rights as the essential catalyst for strong economic growth and as the basis for the rule of law in Cuba.
Brian Latell serves as senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami, where he writes a regular column on Cuba and teaches as an adjunct professor. During his 35 years of service in the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Intelligence Council, he has advised White House and other ranking American officials and members of Congress on Latin American developments. Latell has published opinion and feature articles in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, Time Magazine, the New York Daily News, the Washington Quarterly and other major publications in North America, Europe and Latin America. In 1985-1986, he was a senior associate at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Later, he was a staff member for several years at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. From 1990-1994, Latell served as National Intelligence Officer for Latin America. Before retiring from government service in 1998, he was the director of the Center for the Study of Intelligence, serving also as chairman of the editorial board of Studies in Intelligence.
Roger F. Noriega is a visiting fellow at AEI and the founder and managing director of Visión Américas LLC, which advises U.S. and foreign clients on international business issues. He served as the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs (Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean) from July 2003 to October 2005 and as the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States from August 2001 to July 2003. Noriega currently serves as vice chairman of the board of directors of the Congressional Award Foundation and as a member of the advisory boards of the Canadian American Border Trade Partnership and The Americano, an online forum reaching out to Latino voters.
Francis Skrobiszewski is a director of U.S.-Polish Trade Council in Silicon Valley, facilitating linkages between Polish and U.S. high-tech businesses. He is also a director of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce. Upon the collapse of communism in Central Europe in 1989, Skrobiszewski was called to the White House by then-President George H.W. Bush to discuss private strategies for the redevelopment of the Polish economy. In early 1990, Skrobiszewski prepared a forward-looking U.S. Department of Labor strategy for the Soviet Bloc in anticipation of the collapse of the remaining communist regimes. He was then recruited to draft the business plan for the $240 million Polish-American Enterprise Fund (PAEF). Over the next 15 years, Skrobiszewski served initially as an officer of the PAEF and later as an officer of its sister organization the Enterprise Fund in Hungary. Today, he serves on the investment committee of the $300 million Polish National Capital Fund financing development of new high-tech venture funds in Poland and as operations adviser to the Serbian Innovation Fund supporting high-tech startups.
Marc Wachtenheim is founder and president of the international consulting firm W International, founder and president of the Center for Freedom and Democracy and a democracy activist. For a decade and a half, Wachtenheim has designed and led international development programs focused on building democratic institutions and local capacity in complex social and political environments, including as a staff member of the World Bank in two continents and on multiple United States Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of State-supported projects internationally. For approximately 10 years, Wachtenheim served as director of the Cuba Development Initiative. Wachtenheim is “ambassador” for the Alliance of Youth Movements, a U.S.-Spain Council Fellow, member of the board of advisers of EXPLICO Historical Research Foundation, guest lecturer at the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business and program mentor at Georgetown University’s Global Competitiveness Leadership Program. Wachtenheim has served as Adviser on Human Freedom to a former U.S. president, has spoken frequently on democracy, governance, and human rights internationally and has published multiple articles on these issues.