Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Raúl in 2008: Hasty currency merger could trigger inflation, shortages

Raúl in 2008: Hasty currency merger could trigger inflation, shortages

Raúl Castro in 2008 expressed concern that merging Cuba's two currencies
too fast would trigger inflation and food shortages, a Brazilian
diplomat told U.S. officials in Havana two years ago, according to a
U.S. State Department cable published by Wikileaks.

Castro, according to the U.S. report, told Brazilian officials at the
time that no significant change to Cuba's dual-currency system had been
in the works, even though it created deep divisions in Cuban society.
Any rise in the exchange rate of the non-convertible peso (CUP) over the
convertible peso (CUC) would spike inflation and lead to devastating
food shortages, Castro said in May 2008.

Cubans' salaries are paid in CUP, but many goods and services are only
available in CUC, at prices out of range for salary earners. Castro has
said repeatedly that merging the currencies was part of a long-term plan.

Castro, according to the U.S. report signed by then-Interests Section
chief Michael Parmly, made the remarks during a "social" meeting with
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim May 31, 2008. The classified
cable was based on a briefing by Vilmar Coutinho, then Minister
Counselor of the Brazilian embassy in Havana, to the political officer
of the U.S. Interests Section. Coutinho had not participated in the
meeting between Castro and Amorim, but the Brazilian ambassador had been

Also, Raúl Castro, who had just formally assumed his post as president,
said during the May 2008 meeting that he was not planning to lift exit
permit requirements for Cuban citizens because it could lead to an
exodus of Cubans to Mexico, which in turn could trouble relations with
the neighbor, according to the Brazilian diplomat.

After the meeting, Amorim said in a press conference that Brazil wanted
to become Cuba's biggest trade partner. Coutinho, according to the U.S.
cable, told U.S. diplomats that the remark was "unrealistic," and that
it was mainly meant as a symbolic statement to express the Brazilian
government's seriousness.

Brazil, according to Coutinho, seeks political rather than economic
benefits from close ties: Cuba can facilitate Brazilian interests within
international organizations such as the Non-Aligned Movement and be key
to Brazil's interest in gaining a permanent seat in the UN Security
Council. Also, Cuba serves as a stepping stone into the Caribbean for
Brazil, in its aspirations to become a power beyond South America.

Even so, in the two-and-half years since Coutinho's statement, Brazil
has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to investments in
infrastructure and agriculture in Cuba.

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