CUCs and CUPs – know your pesos

Monetary reform rarely gets the pulse racing. But on the colonial streets of old Havana, Cuba’s pending monetary reform is one of the hottest topics around.

“My parishioners talk about it all the time,” says one local priest. Even World Bank officials are excited. Augusto de la Torre, the bank’s chief Latin America economist, has just penned a learned article on the subject. There are two reasons why everyone is getting worked up. Read more

By Christopher Sabatini of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas

Last week, President Barack Obama accomplished a minor (and, judging by recent events, rare) diplomatic and political victory. At a fundraiser in Miami, the President reinforced his commitment to updating US policy toward Cuba, attributing some of the positive changes in the growth of entrepreneurship to the administration’s loosening of restrictions on travel and remittances, and hinted at more to come. The novelty wasn’t just that he trumpeted the success of the administration’s steps to liberalize the embargo on Cuba; it was that the President made his comments and promises of more change to Cuban-Americans in Miami – and was warmly received. Read more

A significant step in Cuba’s long march to market-orientated economic reform is about to begin next week, when a unit of Brazil’s Odebrecht reopens a shuttered sugar mill in the southern province of Cienfuegos.

Sugarcane was an icon of the island’s economy both before and after the 1959 revolution, but since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has dropped out of the Premier League of the world’s sugar exporters. Read more

Cuba has found itself between a rock and a hard place in its quest to find oil in its territorial waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Several rocks and several hard places, in fact.

After a discovery that failed to reach commercial proportions and a dry hole, both drilled by Spain’s Repsol, Malaysia’s Petronas and Russia’s Gazpromneft brought more bad news on Monday. Read more

“They are zombies! They are the living dead!” explains a mysterious preacher towards the end of Cuban zombie comedy flick Juan of the Dead. It is only at this late stage that the zombies, by now thick on the streets of Havana, are identified as such. During most of the film, the increasingly ubiquitous undead are referred to as “dissidents”, backed, says the television news, by the US government. Read more

Thriving restaurants, property deals, even golf courses and MBAs. The pace of change in Cuba is picking up.

At the end of this month the Pope will do his bit for economic reform as he makes the first Papal visit to the island since 1998. In isolation, the visit presents little threat to the status quo. But it will give a big boost to those members of the Catholic Church taking an increasingly active part in Cuba’s second revolution. Read more

President Raúl Castro wants the recent liberalisation of small businesses to bolster Cuba’s sagging economy and absorb the 1m state workers he says will eventually be laid off.

But Cuba’s budding micro-entrepreneurs – over 350,000 had registered as of November 2011 – lack almost everything that start-ups need, from premises and relevant skills to capital. Will they ever really get off the ground?

A bustling restaurant in Havana’s colonial centre – which opened in January 2011, is appropriately called “La Moneda Cubana”, the Cuban coin, and is run by Miguel Ángel, a 37-year old entrepreneur - suggests some answers. Read more

Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad is assured, quite literally, a warm Latin American welcome during his tour of the region this week. When Iran’s president left Tehran, the temperature was in single digits. In Caracas, Havana and Managua, by contrast, it will be in the balmy high teens (although Andean Quito is a chilly 10). Read more

China loves shale gas. Just this week a Chinese company spent $2.5bn on US shale oil and gas assets, in part to help meet the country’s voracious appetite for energy. Gas demand is estimated to grow 15 per cent a year.

But a close friend of Beijing’s has joined those criticising the controversial energy source: Fidel Castro. Read more

If policymakers in the US were already irked by China’s growing influence in a region they traditionally considered their “backyard”, news on Monday will only have contributed to their unease.

Caribbean countries, however, will be delighted that the state-run China Development Bank is to lend them some $1bn to finance infrastructure projects, given that economic troubles in their traditional sources of investment like the US and Europe are hampering growth. Read more

Cuba’s great age of sugar has passed, so too its wealth and with it, now, one of the island’s most astute observers. Jerry Hagelberg – sometimes known as “Mr Sugar” and a frequent visitor to the island’s plantations in the 1960s with Che Guevara when he worked in Havana with “El Che” as economics editor of the government newspaper Granma – died this week. He was 86. Read more

Brics and mortarThe developers of what will be the Cuban Revolution’s first private golf and residential complex are claiming a hole in one.

Sceptics have long questioned the Cuban government’s reluctance to grant full property rights to foreigners who invest in real estate. But all these doubts have been quashed, said Chris Nicholas, managing director of Ottawa-based Standing Feather International, which is due to sign on a golf and residential development in eastern Cuba with the Cuban state company Palmares. Read more

Even as the Cuban president, Raúl Castro, fumes over stumbling blocks placed by his own party bureaucracy to economic reforms, the internet is beginning to remove them one by one.

Castro appears to be meeting resistance from communist diehards – or more likely old-fashioned stick-in-the-muds – to his proposals that would allow private ownership in homes and cars, for example, on the Communist island.

That simply is not a problem for a handful of internet sites that are, in effect, putting the reforms into practice. Read more

Havana may not yet rival Harvard, but an MBA course is shortly to be launched in the communist-ruled Cuban capital. Che Guevara might be turning in his grave.

The invitation to the MBA course has been extended by the Archdiocese of Havana, in conjunction with the San Antonio Catholic University of Murcia in Spain. Only 40 places are available. The course will form cadres for a still tiny private sector in Cuba that is expected to grow rapidly under reforms announced recently by President Raúl CastroRead more

By Girish Gupta in Caracas

Switch on the television in Venezuela and more often than not, the face of president Hugo Chávez will peer out, speaking of the ills of capitalism and the success of his own government.

But for nearly two weeks now, the president has remained uncharacteristically quiet – not even updating Twitter – as he lies in a Cuban hospital bed recovering from a pelvic abscess operation. Read more

When it comes to natural resources, Cuba is small fry compared to its southern neighbours Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Yet that has not stopped China from knocking at its doors.

Xi Jinping, the Chinese vice-president who is expected to become the country’s next president when Hu Jintao steps down in 2013, has been in the Communist island over the past three days shoring up budding Chinese-Cuban relations. Read more