The former chair of Harvard University’s Academy for International and Area Studies, Jorge Dominguez retired from active teaching after more than 45 years at the University. Jorge Dominguez has written extensively about US relations with Cuba, specifically on the improved relations the two countries have had since former President Barrack Obama took office.
Obama was keen to improve relations between the United States and Cuba. He first made known his willingness to engage in dialogue with Cuba during the 2007 Democratic Primary Debate. After winning the party ticket and consequently the presidency, he made a concerted effort to engage with the island nation. He lifted restrictions on remittances and facilitated easier travel between the US and Cuba, slowly chipping away at an economic embargo that had been in place for decades.
However, it was not until his second term that he pushed to normalize relations between the two countries. Through a raft of bilateral agreements that began in 2014, former President Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro negotiated a historic prisoner swap and further eased restrictions on travel between the two countries. The new push for normalized relations saw the Cuban government open a bank account in the United States, US companies begin operating in Cuba, and postal services between the two countries resume. Cuba was removed from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List in 2015, and, months later, Obama became the first sitting US president to set foot on Cuba in 88 years.
Most recently serving as Harvard University’s Department of Government Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico, emeritus, Jorge Dominguez focused on Latin America. Jorge Dominguez recently edited The Cuban Economy in a New Era: An Agenda for Change Toward Durable Development and was interviewed in-depth by Readara on the subject.
With Cuba under president Miguel Diaz-Canel having made moves to increase foreign direct investment (FDI) and authorize private businesses in some areas of the economy, there are still major challenges. Beyond the inherent inefficiencies of most of Cuba’s state run sectors, there are no officially sanctioned wholesale markets or international supply chains for imported products, which would allow critical supplies to be accessed at competitive prices.
As Professor Dominguez describes it, ordinary people must do “crazy and illegal stuff” to access needed supplies. The government on some level recognizes the necessity of this, as tourism is a positive area in the Cuban economy that would be hurt if those entrepreneurs who do access supplies illegally were shut down.
If the system whereby private restaurants are allowed to operate within the law was extended to other parts of the Cuban economy “it would make a great deal of sense.” Unfortunately, there is a lingering fear among the leadership that things might get out of control and their primacy would be threatened by U.S. government pressure.
A Harvard University professor emeritus, Jorge Dominguez, PhD, has a research focus on Latin America. Speaking on his edited volume The Cuban Economy in a New Era: An Agenda for Change toward Durable Development, Dr. Jorge Dominguez brought focus to one potential pathway of growth for Cuba in boosting exports of agricultural products worldwide.
As part of a foreign direct investment (FDI)-centered effort led by President Miguel Diaz-Canel, this could bypass the trade embargo placed on it by the United States by centering on high-value Canadian and European markets. In addition, there are stateside efforts, led by organizations such as the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, underway to change the status quo.
With one-third of the island nation currently operated by private farmers, areas of Cuban export expansion potential include tropical fruits and the tobacco used in its top-quality cigars. Unfortunately, the state-owned agricultural enterprises that are a legacy of communism are not modern or efficient enough to allow major export growth to happen. For this reason, FDI needs to be sought to finance the major upgrade in equipment necessary to achieve a competitive international Cuban market presence.
Interviewed on The Cuban Economy in a New Era: An Agenda for Change toward Durable Development, a work he co-edited, Harvard professor Jorge Dominguez in July 2018 brought focus to the economic underpinnings that impelled Cuba to expand its tourism and services export sectors over the past decade. Jorge Dominguez also explored the nation’s three-decades-long efforts to create a world-class biotechnology sector.
With Cuba’s applied science program operates at the highest level, the business side of its biotech endeavors has been underwhelming. For instance, there is not enough client-informed knowledge of how to accomplish tasks such as producing deliverables on time. With efforts underway to improve business practices, whether it will ultimately be successful is still unclear.
Another major thrust in Cuba’s strategy is obtaining needed capital through attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), which was not encouraged under former president Fidel Castro. With Castro’s son Raul, his successor, having made forays into FDI, it remains to be seen whether new president Miguel Díaz-Canel can make good on his promise to accelerate FDI. Areas in which the impact could be felt significantly include agriculture and biotech, with partnerships in the latter area potentially bringing about improvements to business practices.
An alumnus of Harvard and Yale, Professor Jorge Dominguez is a retired Harvard University faculty member. A member of the Latin American Studies Association, Jorge Dominguez has authored numerous publications on Cuba’s foreign policy, one of which was published in Foreign Affairs. It discussed Cuba’s involvement in Africa in the 1970s.
In 1978, Cuba, a small country in the Americas, had as many as 35,000 troops in Africa, a huge number that caused significant tension between Havana, under President Fidel Castro, and Washington, under President Jimmy Carter. At the time, it was widely believed that Cuba’s foreign policy was an indirect hand played by the Soviet Union. However, this may have not been entirely the case.
In the early 1960s, Cuba’s communist leadership under President Castro generated a hostile reaction from the United States. Suspicions between the two ideologically opposite states were already rife, and disputes over serious issues only made the tensions worse. The Cuban regime’s survival, in the wake of such hostility, was critical, necessitating the administration’s dalliance with the Soviet Union. In fact, the Soviet Union’s financial assistance propped up Cuba’s economy and redistribution programs for a long time.
However, things changed when the United States’ economic embargoes went global. That’s when some foreign nations and multinationals restricted trade with Cuba. Foreign support from the USSR also waned in the late 1960s because of geographical distance, disagreements between them, and inefficiencies at both ends, prompting Cuba to look for partners elsewhere. It developed relations with China and Morocco, but it later sought new ties with African countries to change the anti-Cuba narrative that was quickly spreading. Cuba thus became a small country with a big foreign policy footprint, especially in Africa.