November 27, 2001

US recession hurting Cuba, experts say

WASHINGTON (AP) --Declining economic fortunes in Florida and New Jersey
have affected cash transfers by Cuban-Americans to friends and relatives in
Cuba, contributing to a sharp deterioration in the island's economy in recent
months, a conference on Cuba was told Tuesday.

The two states are the major sources of these transfers because of their large
Cuban-American populations.

Jorge Perez Lopez, an international economist, said unemployment, partly related to
a tourism slump, is approximately at double digit levels in South Florida, almost
twice the national average.

He said Cuban statistics show that the island received $842 million in these transfers,
or remittances, from the United States during a recent year but he acknowledged
that he had little faith in accuracy of such estimates.

The day-long conference was sponsored by the Rand Corporation, a research group;
and the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

The acting assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, Lino Gutierrez,
said declining remittances have had a far smaller impact on the Cuban economy than
Hurricane Michelle, which struck the island earlier this month.

Gutierrez cited Cuban estimates to show that half the country's 11 million people
were affected by the storm and that much of the sugar and citrus crops were lost.

He noted that although Cuba has rejected a U.S. offer to provide emergency
assistance, the offer remains on the table. His dismissed speculation that the
administration may be amenable to a softening of the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

As exceptions to the embargo, Cuba has the right to buy food and medical supplies.
Days after Hurricane Michelle struck, Cuba opened talks with the administration on
the cash purchase of goods in these categories.

Gillian Gunn, a Cuba specialist at Georgetown University, expressed doubt that
Castro would liberalize the Cuban economy as a means of confronting the current
crisis. Castro authorized limited reforms in the early 1990's when the economy was
in steep decline but halted them in 1994. Gunn says that Castro apparently believes
that economic reforms may provide some benefits but would carry an unacceptable
political cost.

Jaime Suchlicki, of the University of Miami, said he believes Castro may respond to
the changed situation by engaging in a Cuban-style "cultural revolution," with a new
emphasis on nationalism and anti-Americanism.

Suchlicki said that Castro's fortunes internationally could receive a boost if Brazilian
presidential candidate Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, a leftist, wins that country's
elections next year. Polls show Lula with a comfortable lead.

 Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.