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Renowned Cuban pro-reform economist fired as chill sets in

Renowned Cuban pro-reform economist fired as chill sets in
4:25 PM Thursday Apr 21, 2016

HAVANA (AP) ” One of Cuba’s most renowned advocates of economic reform
has been fired from his University of Havana think tank for sharing
information with Americans without authorization, among other alleged
violations.

The dismissal of Omar Everleny Perez adds to a chillier mood that has
settled over much of Cuba as the country’s leaders try to quash the
widespread jubilation that greeted President Barack Obama’s historic
trip to the island last month.

The Cuban Communist Party’s twice-a-decade Congress ended Tuesday after
four days of officials issuing tough warnings about the need to maintain
a defensive stance against what they called the United States’
continuing imperialist aspirations. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez
described Obama’s visit as an “attack on the foundation of our political
ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols.” President Raul Castro
described the U.S. as an “enemy” seeking to seduce vulnerable sectors of
society, including intellectuals and members of Cuba’s new private sector.

While that was going on, Cuban academics began sharing the news that
Perez had been dismissed from his post at the Center for Studies of the
Cuban Economy on April 8, less than three weeks after Obama’s visit.

Perez is one of the country’s best-known academics, an expert in
developing economies who served as a consultant for Castro’s government
when it launched a series of market-oriented economic reforms after he
took over from his brother Fidel in 2008. Perez made dozens of trips to
universities and conferences in the U.S. and frequently received foreign
visitors researching the Cuban economy.

Reached by The Associated Press on Wednesday, Perez confirmed his
dismissal by center director Humberto Blanco for having unauthorized
conversations with foreign institutions and informing “North American
representatives” about the internal procedures of the university.

The dismissal letter described Perez, 56, as “irresponsible” and
“negligent” for continuing to engage in unauthorized activity after
warnings from his superiors. It also accused him of receiving
unauthorized payments for a study of the South Korean economy and said
he was barred from returning to work for at least four years.

Perez said he believed Cuban authorities were seeking to make an example
of him not because of the allegations in the letter, but because of his
critical writings about the slow pace of economic reforms.

Perez was one of the first state economists to begin publishing in
non-government publications, including several run by the Catholic
Church. In 2010, he became a key consultant in reforms implemented by
Raul Castro that include the legalization of hundreds of new types of
private businesses, a loosening of restrictions on foreign investment,
the opening of a real estate market and the handing of unused
agricultural land to small farmers.

“I’m still a revolutionary and a nationalist and I believe in many of
the reforms that Raul Castro is undertaking,” he said.

Cuba’s system is based on the communist government’s total oversight of
virtually all elements of society, including the press, arts and academia.

While room for debate has grown somewhat under Raul Castro, and Cubans
openly criticize the government in private conversations, intellectuals
who publicly offend official sensibilities have found themselves losing
their state jobs and other privileges.

“His call to speed up the reforms and make them coherent may have served
to frighten some of the forces of immobility in the bureaucracy,” said
Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban political scientist based at the University
of Guanajuato in Mexico. “It’s a terrible message to economists that
will affect the government’s own capacity to hear feedback about its
reforms.”

Political scientist Esteban Morales was expelled from the Communist
Party in 2010 for two years for denouncing corruption. Sociologist
Roberto Zurbano lost his job at a state cultural center after discussing
racism in Cuba in an editorial published in The New York Times. In 2013,
musician Roberto Carcasses was temporarily barred from cultural
institutions after criticizing the government during a concert, and
director Juan Carlos Cremata was prevented last year from putting on a
production of Eugene Ionesco’s “Exit the King,” a play about a
once-powerful dying leader.

Pavel Vidal, a former colleague of Perez now working in Colombia, said
the University of Havana was taking limits on academic work to an extreme.

“The public work of academics has been coming under increasingly greater
control,” he said, even as Castro’s reforms make it more urgent for the
country to have “new ideas and an open and honest debate about the
future of the country.”

___

Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report.

___

Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARrodriguezAP

Source: Renowned Cuban pro-reform economist fired as chill sets in –
World – NZ Herald News –
www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11626527&ref=rss

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