Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cuban Transnational Economic Activity and Human Rights: Complementarity or Conflict?

The Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) will beholding its 20th annual meeting this coming July 28-Aug. 1, 2010 in Miami, Florida. As usual, the program is varied and informative, combining representatives from a broader spectrum of opinion than is common in meetings associated with the study of Cuba. "The main theme for the meeting will be “Cuba at the Crossroads in the 21st Century" focusing on Cuba's existing economic and social conditions, recent Cuban policies to address the impact of the world economic and financial crises, Cuban policy shortcomings, and needed structural reforms. " ASCE XXth Annual Meeting

For that conference I will be presenting a short and preliminary study of some of the collateral effects of Cuba's recent efforts to theorize and implement a new form of transnational trade, one founded on socialist principles.  For that purpose Cuba has challenged the dominant form of global trade--based on a privileging on free movements of capital and restricted movements of labor,and centered on private market activity with a residuary regulatory role for states.   In its place Cuba would see substituted a system of trade grounded in the role of the state as both regulator (internal) and market participant (external) with a residuary role reserved for private enterprises.  In place of a system that privileges the unimpeded flow of capital, Cuba would see  flows of both capital and labor, directed by states, to maximize the welfare of national populations through bilateral and multilateral trade and commercial transactions effected among like minded states. Cuba has begun to implement this model among its partners in ALBA, the Alternativa Bolivariana Para los Pueblos de Nuestra América.  A number of projects established under this framework involve barter transactions.  In the case of the Misión Barrios Adentro, focused on the provision of medical services, Cuba agreed to supply medical personnel (and other serviced and products) to Venezuela in return for discounted prices on Venezuelan petroleum.  This transformative system of trade, however, may raise issues of compliance with global human rights norms conventionally understood. In the case of the MBA program, the issue involves the characterization of the labor barter transactions as voluntary in character or as forced labor, compelled by the state to further its trade and political objectives.  It also suggests that as Cuba emerges as a more active player in global trade and commercial markets, it may be exposed generally to liability on these grounds, and subject its trade partners to liability as well on theories of complicity.    The preliminary conference paper can be accessed here: Cuba's Grannacional Projects at the Intersection of Business and Human Rights.   

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