By Dawn Gable
HAVANA TIMES, Nov 21 — “Cuba has no principled position against relations with the IMF or World Bank,” a senior Cuban diplomat told Dr. Richard Feinberg, former special assistant to President Clinton and senior director of the National Security council’s office on inter American affairs, adding that Cuba does not necessarily need to agree with all of the activities of an international organization in order to be a member of it, the UN and the WTO being two examples.
While researching his new report Reaching Out: Cuba’s New Economy and the international Response for the Brookings Institution, Feinberg found that while on the U.S. side few officials have any real knowledge of the Cuban economy, the executive branch understands that it is in the U.S. best interest for Cuba to be admitted to the international financial institutions (IFIs).
Feinberg’s report, which was presented to the public on November 18th in Washington DC, cleared up many misconceptions about why Cuba is not part of the three main multilateral IFIs: IMF, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank. The facts are:
- IFI’s can and do provide technical assistance and financial Resources to nonmembers.
- Nonparticipation in the Organization of American States has no bearing on membership to the IADB.
- No country has veto power over membership in the IFIs.
- The Helms-Burton law requires the US to vote against Cuba as membership in IFI’s.
- The Helms-Burton violates the IFIs charters.
- With 33% of the vote, the U.S. cannot block Cuba’s membership in the IADB.
- With 17% of the vote, the U.S. cannot block Cuba’s membership to the IMF or WB.
- The Helms- Burton does not require the U.S. to vote against loans to Cuba.
- Disputes between the IMF and Cuba that led to Cuba’s withdrawal in 1964 have been long settled.
The author emphasized that admission to IFI’s does not imply accepting Cuba’s policies anymore than it means accepting the policies of Burma, Iran, or any of the 186 member states. Moreover, the U.S. government need not do anything other than remain passive and “not throw a temper tantrum” when Cuba’s membership comes to a vote.
He clarified that contrary to popular depiction, the current Cuban government is not monolithic, but rather there is an epic struggle going on between those who defend the status quo and reformers. He urged the U.S. to support the latter, which he would not consider interfering with national sovereignty because the reformers are within the government.
Although, in the past Cuba has criticized the policies of the IFI’s, Feinberg explains that the IFIs have changed and are no longer steeped in neoliberal market fundamentalism that does not take into account the specific needs and characteristics of a country. In fact he uses the examples of Nicaragua and Vietnam to illustrate that the IMF has dropped its ideological bent and is flexible enough to work with leftist and socialist countries. Thus, there is nothing holding Cuba back from applying for membership except uncertainty. Fienberg feels that Cuba will not ask for something it is not sure to get. A private signal to Cuba from IFIs would go a long way.
University of Havana professor Dr. Carlos Alzugaray Treto, who is currently serving as a visiting professor at Queens College in New York shared the stage with Feinberg and provided the audience a Cuban perspective. Regarding the report specifically, Dr. Alzurgaray assured that most Cuban economists are in agreement with it.
He also talked about the unavoidability of the process of change happening in Cuba now, emphasizing that “the market exists independently of our consciousness.” He said, “The world and Cuba have changed” and he mentioned other updated models of socialism: Vietnam, China and Venezuela, and identified three pro-reform sectors in Cuba: the artists and intellectuals, the Catholic Church, and the Army. He acknowledged that Armies are not usually known for their progressiveness, but assured that Cuba’s Army is not typical; it is very open-minded, full of technical engineers, and has a lot of managerial experience.
Like Feinberg, Alzurgaray insisted that change must be gradual and following a well thought out path. Nobody wants instability, he warned, and as long as the U.S. insists on a “regime change” policy, no initiative from the U.S. will be accepted by Cuba. He noted that every step of the process thus far has been made with the input of the people and has been transparent. He contrasted this with the past when everything was held secret for “security reasons”.
During the Q&A, Dr. Julie Feinsilver reminded the panel and audience that Cuba has a few things to teach the IFIs regarding promotion of health and education and disaster mitigation.
In closing Dr. Feinberg mentioned the political climate in the US and informed that he would be meeting with representatives of the executive branch next week to discuss his report. He will offer them a bottle of calcium tablets to help strengthen their backbone so they can stand up to the dictatorship of the minority in Congress so that the U.S. can “be part of history in the making.”