The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) is expected to begin its sixth party congress tomorrow – its first in 14 years and an event at which the nature and scope of proposed economic reforms are expected to be unveiled.
IPS has a good look at some of the issues at play during the four-day congress. The news service says a 32-page document – the so-called “Draft Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy” – has been discussed and debated in small meetings around the country by 7 million of Cuba’s 11.2 million people in recent months. As it now stands, the document calls for a greater private sector role in the economy, a major expansion of the cooperativism to include the industrial and service sectors, and potentially new rules on self-employment, first introduced during Cuba’s Special Period and expanded again last year. IPS also highlights the announced elimination of Cuba’s ration card system provides staple foods at subsidized prices. Arturo Lopez-Levy tells IPS the most important thing the PCC leadership could do is actively embrace certain notions of private property so as to move toward a “mixed” economic model.
AP notes that reforms have already allowed Cubans to petition for special licenses to work in 178 approved private enterprises. With those reforms, the country’s Labor Minister, Jose Barreiro tells AP 180,000 Cubans have started their own businesses. If that figure’s accurate, Cuba is, in AP’s words, “on pace to shatter its stated goal to issue a quarter of a million new licenses by the end of 2011.” Without going into specifics of what will be discussed during this weekend’s meetings, Barreiro says the Congress will make clear that socialism and private enterprise can be “compatible.”
Also to watch: who is selected as the PCC’s second secretary position. It’s widely believed that Raúl Castro will officially assume the post first secretary, long-held by his elder brother, Fidel. But figuring out who replaces Raúl in the second slot could be an indication of what a post-Castro future will look like, at least politically.
Interestingly, the beginning of the party congress comes during the 50th anniversary of the US-led Bay of Pigs invasion. As proof that the history of that event is not yet passed, the US House and Senate decided to honor those Cuban exiles who participated in the invasion earlier this week. A handful of surviving vets were brought to Washington for the event.
For its part, the National Security Archive is marking the anniversary by suing the CIA over its failure to respond to a Freedom of Information Act petition requesting the agency release its full history of the Bay of Pigs operation. Peter Kornbluh, director of the the archive’s Cuba Documentation Project, says “fifty years after the invasion, it is well past time for the official history to be declassified and studied for the lessons it contains for the future of U.S.-Cuban relations.” Only one of five known Agency volumes documenting the “Official History” of the Bay of Pigs invasion has ever been released.
Today’s bullet points:
· A series of reports this morning report on the 16 San Fernando municipal police officers who have been detained by authorities in Tamaulipas for allegedly protecting the Zetas. The New York Times says “the arrests…suggest how it was possible for the gang to operate for months in San Fernando.” Amnesty International, in a statement released yesterday, urges a complete and thorough investigation into the links between criminal gangs and public officials. “It is vital that there are wider investigations to expose the collusion between security forces and criminal gangs in other areas of the country and prevent such grave abuses occurring again,” the human rights group says. Meanwhile, the body count from what is now a total of 26 graves around San Fernando rose again Thursday after the discovery of over 20 new corpses. The total number of bodies now stands at 145, according to AP. Investigators say at least 23 of the bodies were killed at least one month ago – that is to say, before the beginning of bus abductions on the “Highway of Death.” Meanwhile, Narco News reports on a major anti-drug war demonstration that is being organized in Mexico City for May 8. The call was made this week by a group that includes a number of Mexican religious figures and poet and journalist, Javier Sicilia.
· The LA Times reports on the latest revelations in the Project Gunrunner scandal. A congressional investigation into the ATF program revealed this week that when an Arizona gun dealer expressed worries that weapons were falling into the wrong hands in Mexico, he was encouraged by federal agents to continue selling.
· The Economist this week has another long and quite comprehensive report on organized crime and violence in Central America.
· Tim Rogers for TIME looks at the arrival of “white lobsters” on the shores of Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast – more commonly known as blocks of cocaine ditched by smugglers pursued being pursued by the Nicaraguan Coast Guard.
· Congressman Connie Mack (R-FL) is alleging the Obama administration turned down an offer from Colombia last fall to extradite Walid Makled to the US. He offers no specifics about what he is actually referring in making the allegation but writes about his outrage in a new press release. Meanwhile, Colombia’s Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras said yesterday that US agents are welcome to interview Makled before his extradition to Venezuela goes through. Apparently the interview process is already underway.
· AP reports that 66 pounds of cocaine were found on a bus transporting members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian militias to a demonstration yesterday.
· In Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski looks to have struck some sort of pact with Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza 2011 party, although the details are unclear. La República reports. On the other side, sociologist Javier Diez Canseco, one of the most recognized figures on the Peruvian Left and a recently elected congressman for Humala’s Gana Perú party, speaks with Argentina’s Página 12 about round-two. Among other things, Diez Canseco mentions the importance of forging an alliance with Alejandro Toledo’s Perú Posible.
· Uruguay’s El País looks at the fallout from Frente Amplio’s decision to push for the annulment of a 1986 amnesty law – most notably the resignation from the Senate of longtime frenteamplista Senator and Tupamaro leader Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro.
· On the Duvalier case in Haiti, Human Rights Watch has released a new report calling for the former dictator to be prosecuted for rights abuses committed under his rule. Press release here, full report here, and AP coverage here.
· Finally, in international news, IPS looks at the “no strings attached” alternative aid/development model that the new India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Fund for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation is championing. Mercopress reports on the BRICS meeting in China. At Foreign Policy David Rothkopf has some interesting commentary on those meetings – a stark contrast, he says, to the images of the old world order embodied in this week’s contentious NATO meetings over the next steps in Libya. Complimentary to that, political scientist Steve Ellner, at In These Times, is the latest to highlight the United States’ waning influence in its former backyard.