Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cuba Approves Economic and Travel Reforms

As noted in Monday's brief, the Cuban National Assembly held one of its hectic biannual meetings yesterday, and today’s headlines are full of reports that the legislative body has passed a number of wide-ranging reforms on the island. According to Granma, the Assembly endorsed and approved the Guidelines for the Economic and Social Policy of the Communist Party and the Revolution, which were outlined in last April’s Communist Party Congress.

As BBC News reports, these include increased freedoms for small businesses, a relaxation of Cuba’s ban on housing and automobile sales, and measures intended to reduce bureaucratic waste. Additionally, the Communist party is expected to adjust the country's controversial travel and emigration regulations. Although the nature of these migration reforms is still unclear, AP quotes President Raul Castro as saying that changes are necessary in light of recent changes to migration patterns.

According to him, the controls were needed in order to maintain security in the years following the revolution, but the fact that most Cubans who flee the island today do so for economic reasons means that the government must re-examine these policies. "We take this step as a contribution to increase the nation's ties to the community of emigrants, whose makeup has changed radically since the early decades of the revolution," Castro said. "The country is (now) on a path of modifying decisions that played a role in their time and endured unnecessarily."

AFP offers an interesting look at opposition to the proposed reforms, which is coming mostly from the orthodox elements of the Party. In a speech that was broadcast on state television yesterday, Castro lashed out at these critics, claiming that the “greatest obstacle” ahead of the reforms is the “psychological barrier formed by inertia, inaction, false claims or double standards and insensitivity."

Although Assembly meetings usually last up to three to four days, this session lasted just one day, coming to a close Monday evening. Another one is scheduled for later in the year, and given the slow nature of reform in Cuba, it is quite possible that analysts will have to wait until then for more specifics of the reforms to be announced.

News Briefs

·         Fifty years after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA has released a series of secret files which detail the preparation process of the failed operation. The Miami Herald reports that the documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the National Security Archive’s Peter Kornbluh. The CIA files include a section of the official internal history of the invasion, entitled "Participation in the Conduct of Foreign Policy," which describes the agency’s efforts to negotiate support for from the governments of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama and Great Britain. This report has been split into two parts, and is available for download on the CIA website (Part 1 and Part 2)

·         Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Consejo Nacional de Evaluación de la Política de Desarrollo Social - CONEVAL) has released new poverty statistics for the country. According to El Universal, the report found that the number of people living below the poverty line in Mexico increased by 3.2 million between 2008 and 2010, and is now at 52 million. This figure amounts to more than 46 percent of the country's 112 million inhabitants. Meanwhile, the number of those living in extreme poverty (defined as earning less than 2,114 pesos in urban areas and 1,329 in the countryside) remained at 11.7 million over this time period. In addition to being extremely disheartening, this report directly contradicts optimistic accounts in the U.S. media which imply that increasing standards of living are cutting down on immigration, such as recent articles in the Sacramento Bee and New York Times. While CONEVAL notes that some states (notably Puebla, Coahuila and Morelos) have made inroads against poverty, Mexico does not possess a “middle class society” by any means.

·         The L.A. Times informs that 21 senior federal prosecutors in Mexico have resigned following a major purge by recently-appointed Attorney General Marisela Morales. Although the Mexican media reported last month that 462 prosecutors and other officials had been dismissed, Milenio calls the resignations “unprecedented.” Still, it is unclear whether the 21 officials stepped down in protest of Morales’ controversial efforts or whether they were asked to leave office.

·         Reuters reports that five Colombian oil workers who were kidnapped by the FARC last week in the department of Arauca have been freed. According to InSight Crime, such short term kidnappings are on the rise in the country, as pressure from military patrols rebels force the rebels to stay on the move.

·         The Atlantic’s Elizabeth Dickinson has written an interesting piece on the Colombian conflict, focusing on the disparity between official statistics and the actual security situation, which she refers to as a “War Without Corpses.”

·         Prensa Libre reports that Guatemala is preparing a new security plan to minimize the influence of drug trafficking organizations on the upcoming September elections. According to Interior Minister Carlos Menocal the country’s east, north and northwestern regions are those with the most risk, and have been most affected by political violence in the past few months.  

·         Meanwhile, Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz has announced that the country has arrested a third suspect linked to the murder of folk singer murder. According to the AP, police are still looking for two more Guatemalan suspects, in addition to a Costa Rican who is believed to have organized the killing.

·         According to El Comercio, some elements of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s Nationalist Party have said they would support an official pardon of the leader’s brother, who masterminded an armed coup in 2005. So far, it seems that such is unlikely, as it would represent a major break with Humala’s carefully groomed moderate image.

·         InSight Crime’s Hannah Stone takes a look at the challenges that Humala faces in combating the small but persistent Shining Path in Peru. As she mentions, analysts should view Humala’s links to coca growers as an opportunity to pursue “more realistic and sensitive policy towards coca growth,” rather than automatically dismissing them as an indication that he is “soft” on drug trafficking.

·         Reuters reports that Paraguayan President Lugo - who canceled plans to visit Peru for Humala’s inauguration because of health concerns – is merely suffering from the flu and not a resurgence of lymphatic cancer, as some media outlets reported. His doctors say that his body is so far free of malignant cancer cells.

·         Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has also taken measures to assure the press that his cancer treatment has been successful. As the Guardian notes, Chavez appeared on Venezuelan television yesterday sporting a shaved head, which he jocularly referred to as his “new look.” The president is expected to lose all of his hair is in the coming weeks as a result of chemotherapy, but insists that the process is working.

·         Bolivia’s Pagina Siete reports that a disagreement over the terms of U.S. aid is holding back an agreement that would normalize U.S.-Bolivia relations. President Evo Morales has said he wants more say in the design and function of U.S. development projects in his country, and has requested the U.S. to allow him to determine which organizations will carry them out.