Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The party conference

Cuba’s Communist Party met over the weekend and decided that top party and government officials will be limited to two five-year terms, which would have put Fidel and Raul Castro themselves into retirement decades ago.

If you are among who might have been anticipating major political reforms or even the dismantling of the socialist system, Raul Castro’s message is that you are confusing your “most intimate hopes with reality.” Clear enough.

The President and party chief also made a frank admission that the party and government do not have a cohort of new leadership ready to take over from his own generation of historicos. But the only decision I see to address this is to replace one fifth of the Central Committee’s membership over the next five years, which sounds like a pace that is only marginally quicker than natural attrition.

His discussion of corruption happened to put U.S. democracy promotion programs into perspective. He said that corruption is “far more damaging than the programs of subversion and interference of the United States government.” He also signaled that major corruption prosecutions are forthcoming, and that legislators have been briefed on the results of investigations that are soon to come to light.

Here’s coverage from the Herald and La Jornada.

Odds and ends

· More on the case of deceased prisoner Wilman Villar: His widow appeared at a press conference at the home of human rights monitor Elizardo Sanchez and said that Villar’s legal troubles began in a domestic dispute between the couple where he had been drinking, and things ended with her mother going for police assistance. After that, she said, Villar joined a dissident group. She has now joined the Damas de Blanco. There is a lot more back-and-forth among family members and others about who hit or did not hit whom, and more. Sanchez says that this is a moment where “the truth has to be brought to light” because either the government or the dissidents “are lying.” See stories from AP and AFP Spanish.

· The Herald takes an interesting look at the evolution of church-state relations in Cuba since the 1980’s.

· Cuba flights are about to begin from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

· New Times, the Miami weekly that is really one of the best newspapers in America, gave me honorable mention in a recent blog ranking for being the “only blogger in Miami reporting on the Cuban economy.”

· In the comments, a reader pointed out an essay by Cuban blogger Ivan Garcia on Fidel Castro’s experiments and failures over the years. It’s here in English and Spanish. Not to be pigeonholed, he is also in favor of taking Bush, Blair, and Aznar to the Hague for starting the Iraq war (here and here).

Foreign investment in sugar sector

Reuters reports that the Brazilian corporation Odebrecht is going to enter Cuba’s sugar sector with a 10-year contract to operate and modernize a mill in Camaguey. An executive said the company will also build a distillery to produce ethanol.

Ethanol production itself is a breakthrough, as is the entry of foreign capital into sugar production itself.

This appears to deliver on the commitment made last April to admit more foreign investment in Cuba by making Cuba’s selection criteria broader and more flexible.

The announcement could come during the Brazilian president’s visit. More on that here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Communist Party conference begins

Cuba’s national Communist Party conference begins today and Granma, the official party daily, sets the stage with a short editorial.

The “essential purpose” of the confab, the editorial says, is “to deepen party work to accelerate the development of society and to guarantee the economic and social policy guidelines (Lineamientos) approved by the sixth Party Congress, based on the concept that there can be no ideology without an economy.”

It also rails against “bureaucratic schemes and attitudes, and old vices such as improvisation, formalism, false unanimity, and opportunism.” It cites the need “to leave behind prejudices against the non-state sector of the economy.” And it cites Raul Castro’s admonition that the hardest “psychological barrier” that party members will need to overcome is that of “being tied to obsolete dogmas and points of view.”

The conference has the power to make changes in party leadership but there is no hint that it will do so.

The party discussion document for the conference is here (pdf).

A critical editorial on that document in Catholic media is noted here.

Here’s coverage from Reuters and NPR.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Republicans in Florida

Let’s start with Ron Paul who, asked in last night’s debate what he would say if he found himself talking to Raul Castro in the Oval Office, responded: “I’d ask him what he called about.”

Apart from that, the Brian Williams question about Fidel Castro’s death in the first debate has continued to frame what has become an odd discussion.

The question focused on what will surely be a big moment in history, but one that I do not believe to be foremost in people’s minds in Cuba, or in Miami for that matter. On Calle Ocho, after all, they celebrated Fidel’s death five years ago only to find that our Maker had a different plan.

Nonetheless, we have had days of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney talking about Fidel meeting his Maker, or not, verging on pop theology.

Here’s Romney at a Miami event on Wednesday:If I’m fortunate to become the next President of the United States it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet. I doubt he’ll take any time in the sky. He’ll find a nether region to be more to his comfort…We’ve waited a long, long time for the opportunity that is represented by a new president, and by new leadership, or by old leadership finally kicking the bucket in Cuba. And I want to take advantage. I want to be the American president that is proud to be able to say that I was president at the time that we brought freedom back to the people of Cuba.”

With that, Romney also released a policy paper. Lifting a phrase from President Obama, who said in 2009 that freedom in Cuba is “our lodestone, our North Star,” Romney’s paper declares: “The North Star that guides Mitt Romney’s policy toward the island is the realizable dream of a free Cuba.”

Romney sees Gingrich on the issue of travel (back to the Bush rules), Helms-Burton (allow Title III to go into effect), and looking into the possibility of indicting Messrs. Castro, and raises him on a few scores:

· Romney will “fully fund and effectively implement” U.S. government democracy promotion programs

· He will beef up broadcasting, Internet, and social media communications

· He will “publicly identify by name those police officers, prison officials, judges, state security personnel, and regime officials who mistreat, torture, and oppress the Cuban people so they know they will be held individually accountable.”

Gingrich, is you’re still with me, elaborated on his earlier tough talk. From AFP:

Mr. Gingrich was asked to explain comments that if elected, he would “not tolerate four more years of a Cuban dictatorship.”

If the US planes bombed Libya, should they do the same with Cuba?

“If there was a genuine, legitimate uprising, we would, of course, be on the side of the people,”Mr. Gingrich told Spanish-language network Univision.

“In that sense, I don’t see why Cuba should be sacrosanct, and we should say, ‘Oh, don't do anything to hurt’ - you know, we’re very prepared to back people in Libya. We may end up backing people in Syria. But now Cuba? Hands off Cuba. That’s baloney.

“People of Cuba deserve freedom.”

The audience at the Miami venue where Univision held the interview broke into applause.

Ernesto Hernandez Busto, Spain-based editor of Penultimos Dias, is following it all in Miami and attended the Romney event. He liked Romney’s remarks and those of his wife, he found Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen “enthusiastic and predictable,” but found something lacking in the whole lineup and in all the other candidates: “an understanding of the Cuban situation that goes beyond the traditional topics.”

Welcome to the club, Ernesto.