Marking its 23rd consecutive year as a staple of Miami summers, the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) held its annual conference a few weeks ago. As usual, it provided a roundup of the latest news and thoughtful analysis of what goes on in the economy of Cuba as well as in other fields.
I confess that I have often felt that this type of exercise may be perceived as both futile and somewhat conceited, to the extent that some (specially in Cuba) might feel that we Cubans outside Cuba consider ourselves better suited to explain Cuba and prescribe solutions for its problems than those in the island, who live closer to those problems and suffer them first-hand.
But this year’s conference had a different twist: The presence of a large number of Cubans (most of them young) from the island, or else residing abroad but maintaining strong contacts with the island. This allowed for a series of dynamic exchanges and interactions among the youngsters themselves and between them and the ASCE regulars, most of them prominent economists who are still, or were once, associated with the largest of international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Many of these youngsters from Cuba were visiting the United States for the first time, and some were even traveling abroad for the first time. All of them gave us a fresh and immediate sense of what Cuba (specially their own generation of Cubans) is going through, and of what we can expect to see happening in Cuba in the near and medium term. And what they showed and transmitted to us should fill us with renewed hope for a much brighter future for the chastised island than I, for one, thought possible.
The so-called legal panel — not being an economist myself, my association with ASCE has been through this panel on legal issues and Cuban laws — was the best I ever saw at ASCE. Not just because of the presence on it of Laritza Diversent, a brilliant lawyer and blogger from Havana who is a sharp and eloquent critic of the Cuban legal environment and made a simply fantastic dissection of the new Cuban immigration laws that facilitate Cubans’ travel abroad (something we citizens of other countries in the world take for granted), but also because of the high quality of every other presentation in the panel and the lively and rich debate they generated. As a lawyer, it is comforting to see how more of my neighbors in Miami are coming around to realize the importance of keeping abreast of legal developments in the island.
The theme of this year’s conference was built around a quizzical question, “Reforming Cuba?” The best answer was given, in my humble opinion, in a presentation by Karina Gálvez, a young Cuban economist from Pinar del Río. Her conceptual clarity in analyzing the incipient though fast-growing cuentapropismo, the self-employed private sector of the Cuban economy, was an ode to the need we all have to focus on what opportunities reality often places in front of us, while at the same time acknowledging and hedging — where possible — against its drawbacks (the reality being that the Cuban government is still pretty much in control, given the absence of strong and unassailable property rights). Wishing hard for a different reality, Miami-style, is not what these Cuban kids are all about.
Hopefully, the 24th ASCE Conference next year will be able to take this exhilarating experience to the next stage, which would be to incorporate to its panels economists, lawyers and professionals from other walks of life who represent the official party line from Cuba. ASCE appears to be ready for this. But it takes two to tango … or maybe three, if our powers that be were to try to disrupt such plans by urging the U.S. government to deny the required visas to Cuban officials invited to the conference, or even try to veto the conference as some tried to do with a presumably less “threatening” baseball game this summer. But mostly, it is up to the Cuban government to decide whether it is ready to participate in the kind of give-and-take I witnessed in this last ASCE conference. No more and no less than the birth of a healthy and prosperous Cuban society may depend on our ability to generate more encounters or experiences like this one.
José Manuel Pallí is president of Miami-based World Wide Title. He can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.