This weekend in Havana, Cubans commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion by the United States, choose a new Communist Party leadership, and chart a new direction for the nation’s economy.
This juxtaposition of past and future – a merging of two stories about how Cuba survived and outlasted a military threat in the last century and must now reform its economic model to continue its system in this century – frames the important news we’re reporting.
Cuba’s Communist Party meets in Havana this weekend – with approximately one thousand delegates in attendance – to ratify hundreds of reforms proposed by President Raúl Castro to address Cuba’s economic crisis.
Ratification by the Sixth Party Congress will accelerate changes in benefits, assumptions, and rules that have largely guided Cuba’s economy since 1959. As experts in Cuba and elsewhere debate whether they are far-reaching enough – or will be implemented fast enough – these reforms have unlocked an impassioned debate and unleashed great feelings of apprehension among Cubans across the island.
Three and a half years ago, on July 26, 2007, then Acting-President Raúl Castro made his first major policy speech as head of the Cuban government. In his address, Castro dissected the nation’s inability to efficiently produce and distribute milk, and used this example to expose and acknowledge the shortfalls of Cuba’s economic model. The urgency of these problems increased dramatically after hurricanes battered the island and the global economy convulsed in recession.
The process began with reforms in agriculture, followed by changes in wages, the elimination of caps and the tying of pay to productivity. Fidel Castro’s economic cabinet was sacked. A heightened crackdown on corruption took place. Spaces for entrepreneurship opened, state-run cafeterias were closed, and long-treasured benefits were eliminated.
By the end of 2010, the state announced plans for massive layoffs of state sector employees, the issuance of new licenses for 178 forms of self-employment, and the first meeting of the Communist Party Congress since 1997. The decision to hold the long-delayed Congress was accompanied by the release of a 32-page document broadly outlining proposed changes to the economic system that were debated in meetings across Cuba.
In early March, President Castro, addressing a joint meeting of his cabinet and the Council of State, insisted that the planned economic changes would “leave nobody behind.”
Over the next four days, the Party will adopt these ideas in an effort to move Cuba forward without sacrificing this aspiration, while many Cubans live more independent lives and seek their livelihoods in the emerging private economy.
As a prelude to the Party Congress, a military parade in Havana’s Revolutionary Square will mark Cuba’s victory in the Bay of Pigs, when it defeated a U.S.-backed invasion by exile forces trained and supported by the CIA.
The Bay of Pigs happened because U.S. government officials in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations decided that the U.S. simply could not coexist with a communist Cuba, and that Fidel Castro’s government had to be overthrown.
On April 15, 1961, after more than a year of planning, eight B-26 planes carried out airstrikes designed to destroy the Cuban Air Force. The mission was not successful. Two days later, an invasion from sea followed and Cuba’s army promptly fought back in battles that killed 118 exiles, four U.S. pilots, and 176 Cuban soldiers, with 1,180 members of Brigade 2506 taken as prisoners on the island. They remained in captivity until secret negotiations undertaken by the Kennedy Administration led to the exchange of the prisoners for millions in cash and medicines.
It was, in the words of the Miami Herald, one the United States’ biggest strategic blunders. As an emblem of U.S. policy toward Cuba, it irreparably harmed our country’s reputation in Latin America. It also froze our country and Cuba into an angry rivalry that has waxed and waned but persisted for more than five decades, along with an untamed thirst among many in Washington for regime change in Havana, no matter the cost.
In fact, Members of the Senate and House paused this week to commemorate the anniversary of the invasion and to commend what they called the bravery of the veterans of Assault Brigade 2506. Senators Rubio, Menendez, Inhofe, Nelson, McCain and Lieberman introduced Senate Resolution 140 which honors the exiles who joined the invasion and calls on the United States to continue to apply the same “change-inducing pressure” against Cuba’s government that has failed in its objective for more than 50 years.
Is keeping up the pressure really the right historical lesson?
We asked several scholars to think about this anniversary, and want to share what Louis A. Pérez, Jr. of the University of North Carolina and Bill LeoGrande of American University said the Bay of Pigs meant for Cuba and means for us.
Lou Perez: The Bay of Pigs must be understood as a watershed occasion. Its political repercussions endured long after military operations ended, and indeed acted to cast the die in which Cuba-U.S. relations subsequently developed. Everything was different afterwards. By the end of April 1961 an estimated 100,000 persons were imprisoned or otherwise detained. Few suspected opponents of the government remained free. On April 16, Fidel Castro proclaimed the socialist character of the Cuban revolution. Weeks later, in “words to the intellectuals,” the Cuban leader was categorical: “Within the revolution, everything; outside the revolution, nothing.” About this time, too, plans for the installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba began to take shape. Only days after the Bay of Pigs, the National Security Council met in the White House and vowed to continue “all kinds of harassment to punish Castro for the humiliation he has brought to our door.” Thus began decades of sabotage, subversion, and sanctions.
To the extent that the United States contributed to the very conditions it professed to abhor, the Bay of Pigs must be understood as a defining moment, the point at which the call to support a government was transformed into a summons to defend the nation. The United States unwittingly challenged Cubans on the grounds that the leadership was best prepared to defend: the ideal of a nation, free and sovereign, the defense of which the Cuban leadership could claim a historic mandate to uphold–at whatever cost, and thereby setting in place the very raison d’être of the revolution. Within the context of Cuban historic sensibilities, U.S. policy not only contributed to Cuban intransigence but, more importantly, it lent credibility to that intransigence; rather than weakening Cuban resolve, it acted to bring out some of the most intransigent tendencies of Cuban leaders in the defense of some of the most exalted notions of Cuban nationality.
Bill LeoGrande: Fifty years after the Bay of Pigs invasion failed to dislodge Cuba’s revolutionary government, the United States has yet to reconcile itself to coexisting with Cuba on anything approaching normal terms. The explicit aim of U.S. policy is still to change the Cuban regime by overt economic sanctions and semi-covert “democracy promotion” programs. No other country in the world supports this policy or thinks it wise. As Cuba undertakes major economic restructuring, the United States stands on the sidelines, disengaged and increasingly irrelevant. In 1960, when U.S. Ambassador Philip Bonsal argued for negotiations with Cuba’s brash young revolutionary leaders, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Mann rejected the idea, declaring, “Our best bet is to wait for a successor regime.” Fifty years later, Washington is still waiting.
After what happens in Havana this weekend, we will probably be waiting for a good while longer.
This week in Cuba news…
Cuba’s Sixth Communist Party Congress, its first in 14 years, assembles tomorrow to debate and ratify the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines (original Spanish here) that embody the government’s economic reforms. The Guidelines offer 291 general goals and objectives toward modernizing and reorganizing the Cuban economic model, but do not provide specifics as to how reforms will be sequenced or implemented. However, the focus of the Congress and its guiding document is clear: reducing the role of the state and increasing the role of private enterprise in providing work for Cubans.
The Guidelines have been debated in small meetings across the island by 7 million of Cuba’s 11.2 million people in recent months.
Many have expressed their predictions and hopes about what new reforms will be approved at the Party Congress. Cuba’s Labor Minister, Jose Barreiro told the Associated Press that the Party Congress will make clear that socialism and private enterprise can be “compatible.” One economist notes the signs that Cuba is on its way to unifying its dual currencies: the national peso which is used by most Cubans, and the convertible peso which is used in the tourism industry by foreigners and to buy luxury or imported items, El Boletín reports. Many Cubans have additionally expressed their desire for further loosened regulations on the purchase and sale of homes and automobiles, Reuters reports.
This article from Reuters outlines the most significant reforms that have taken place thus far under the leadership of Raúl Castro. CNN interviews newly self-employed Cubans about their experience thus far and expectations for the future. IPS offers a helpful review of some of the issues at play for the Party Congress. Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations puts the reforms in the larger context of U.S.-Cuba relations.
And, finally, Cuba-watchers are also keeping a keen eye on who is selected as the Communist Party’s second secretary. Many believe that Raúl Castro will officially assume the first secretary post, long-held by his elder brother, Fidel. But determining who will replace Raúl in the second slot could be an indication of how Cuba will look, politically, post-Castro.
According to the Miami Herald, CNN en Español will provide live reporting on the events of the Party Congress, so stay tuned.
Cuba’s National Institute of Water Resources reported this week that fresh water supply levels to Havana may be at their most critical state in the past 50 years, BBC reports. In recent years, droughts have caused the amount of water from rainwater collection that supplies the city to decrease exponentially. State newspaper Granma cites the main causes behind current water shortages as “the combined effect of more than two consecutive years of below-average rainfall, the prolonged deterioration of piping networks and water supply systems, coupled with the erosion of household infrastructure and the lack of a culture of conservation.”
The shortages have become particularly drastic in the capital of Havana, where there is currently a deficit of 519,307 cubic meters of water per day, affecting the supplies to about one million people, according to Europa Press. Many Cubans depend on mobile water distribution tanks, which have recently had problems with irregularities in their delivery schedules, adding to the hardship of thousands of residents.
Experts predict that even if it were to rain throughout the month of April, accumulated rainfall would not amount to enough to replenish reserves and relieve the current water shortage.
On a delegation to Cuba last month, the Center for Democracy in the Americas interviewed a farmer from the agricultural province of Viñales. In this video, the farmer discusses the most pertinent challenges facing farmers today. Of specific concern to him are persisting droughts and the lack of a dependable water source. Another video from BBC features interviews with Havana residents and reports on more details about the water shortage.
The Cuban International Airport in Varadero, a key tourism port, is expanding its services and dedicating $35 million to improve infrastructure in order to accommodate the growing number of visitors expected to arrive there in coming years, reports Radio Nacional de Venezuela.
Plans include an expansion of the main terminal by about 7,000 square meters. According to the Deputy Director of the Airport, Manuel Vásquez, these efforts are especially necessary with increased flights arriving from Canada and Europe.
In the first quarter of 2011 Cuba has already seen an estimated 1 million tourists, a 10.4% increase from the same quarter last year, reports Xinhua. A significant portion of this new tourism has come from the newly-resumed operation of cruise ships. The small island nation predicts that it will be seeing an estimated 200,000 more tourists in 2011, than in 2010.
Tourism is a leading Cuban export and a source of needed foreign exchange.
Two House subcommittees heard testimony this week concerning funding for Cuba programs.
First, Rep. Donna Edwards (MD-4), who recently participated in a delegation to Cuba led by the Center for Democracy in Americas, offered testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs and urged its members to consider defunding “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba.
In her testimony, Rep. Edwards said that the way these programs operate, which are illegal under Cuban law, places Cubans and American citizens at risk, citing the case of fellow Marylander and USAID contractor Alan Gross, who is currently imprisoned on the island. Instead of continuing to fund the controversial USAID programs, Congresswoman Edwards offered her support for increased people-to-people contact and cultural and educational exchange as democratic means for improving relations and supporting the Cuban people.
Second, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing this week titled “Priorities for U.S. Assistance in the Western Hemisphere.” In his remarks, Congressman Albio Sires (NJ-13) defended the USAID “democracy promotion” funds in Cuba. Rep. Sires, a Cuban-American, called the State Department’s Human Rights Country Report on Cuba for 2010 a “Handbook of oppression and tyranny” and suggested that discontinuing the funding for USAID would constitute “turning our backs on the Cuban people.”
Witnesses at the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee hearing included Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; Mark Feierstein, Assistant Administrator at the USAID Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean; Adolfo Franco, Vice President for Global Regulatory Affairs at the Direct Selling Association; and Mark Schneider, Senior Vice President at the International Crisis Group.
Assistant Secretary Valenzuela used his opening statement to defend the $1.98 billion FY 2012 budget for Foreign Assistance in the Western Hemisphere, according to Caribbean 360. But, on the topic of Cuba, under intense questioning from Rep. David Rivera (FL-25) about whether Cuba should stay on the list of the state sponsors of terrorism, Valenzuela confirmed that the administration has no intention of removing Cuba from the list, and that there is no consideration being given to releasing Gross in exchange for Cuba’s removal from the list.
Mark Feierstein, of USAID, reported that the FY 2012 budget maintains support for strengthening the capacity of national and local institutions to provide services. According to Feierstein: “Our democracy work also extends to support civil society and political parties in countries where political space is narrowing, or in the hemisphere’s remaining dictatorship, [where political space is] nonexistent.” He continued to state that the U.S.’ commitment to other countries in the Western Hemisphere will be “shaped by [those countries’] commitment to democratic practices and their commitment to human rights.”
According to Feierstein, democracy programs are the largest part of USAID’s FY 2012 budget for the Western Hemisphere, and USAID has requested $20 million this year for its Cuba program, the same amount as last year’s request.
The acquittal of anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles on eleven charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in an El Paso, Texas courtroom last week has inspired an outcry in the region.
Cuba’s government released a statement condemning the verdict and accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy for harboring Posada while professing an antiterrorism policy. Cuba’s government took its complaint to the UN this week, where they circulated a document calling the trial a “judicial farce,” adding that “The acquittal of Posada Carriles is an insult to the children without parents, widows and mothers crying for the trail of death left by that terrorist,” Caribbean 360 reports.
The Venezuelan government added its voice to the chorus, expressing indignation at the verdict and communicating their plan to reiterate a standing extradition request to the U.S. government for Posada based on his involvement in a 1976 plane bombing that killed all 73 people on board, CNN reports. In its statement, the Venezuelan government affirms:
He was accused and now declared innocent in the trial for the unusual criminal charges of obstruction of justice and illegal immigration, when in fact his guilt has to do with proven terrorist acts. The U.S. government protection of Posada Carriles has become an emblematic case of the U.S. double standard in the international fight against terrorism. Luis Posada Carriles is a terrorist, a fugitive of the Venezuelan justice system. The U.S. government has no other alternative than fulfilling its international obligations, since otherwise it would be once again responsible for abetting terrorism.
The U.S. has, to date, rejected Venezuela’s extradition request, citing Posada’s fear that he would be tortured in Venezuela.
Posada, on the other hand, enjoyed a hero’s welcome home to Miami, where his return was celebrated at a $40/plate gala attended by more than 600 members of the Cuban-American exile community and their friends, AP reports. At the dinner, Posada spoke briefly, affirming that he remains a “soldier” for the U.S. and that the “fight continues” for Venezuela, Cuba and America.
This week, parties in Cuba and the U.S. have taken time to acknowledge the approaching anniversary that will mark 50 years since the U.S. invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961.
In Cuba, this anniversary has been marked by several pieces in state news sources CubaDebate, Escambray, and Granma which evoke the Cuban military’s defeat of U.S. invading forces as a heroic triumph of the Cuban revolution.
Eight surviving veterans of the U.S. offensive were honored in Washington with a Senate resolution and remarks on the floor of the House, the Miami Herald reports. An article from AFP remarks on how little relations between the two countries have changed in the half century since the invasion, as neither side has been willing to “bury the hatchet,” and another article takes a look at the steps Cuba is taking to move forward at this weekend’s Communist Party Conference, which was symbolically scheduled to fall on the anniversary.
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 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.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar invited representatives of 13 countries and the European Union to meet in Washington this week to discuss how to reduce risks in deepwater drilling, Jorge Piñon reports for Cuba Standard.
According to Secretary Salazar:
Just as we share oceans with our neighbors, we have an interest in sharing best practices for how all of us can develop our resources safely and responsibly. Those of us engaged in offshore energy exploration and production have a collective responsibility to strengthen our capabilities for containing potential deepwater blowouts and promoting international collaboration, research, and development going forward.
But missing from the meetings is Cuba, despite its plans to begin drilling just 50 or more miles off the coast of the U.S. later this year. In any discussion of safety, as Mr. Piñon, an expert on the oil industry and Cuba’s energy program points out:
Cuba should not be kept out of these important meetings as the debate and solutions offered by the Interior Department’s new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement to tighten standards for well design, drilling equipment, safety certification, emergency response and personnel training are discussed. It is in the United States’ best national interest for Cuba to participate in these important conversations as a full-fledged partner.
Secretary Salazar expressed concern about Cuba’s plans for offshore drilling in remarks following the conference, stating: “For us it is an issue of concern. We’re watching it closely,” The Hill reports. He added, “What we will do is within the framework of our national policy to make sure that it is done in as safe a way as possible. That’s something that we are working on with the State Department and BOEM [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management].”
Salazar, however, gave no details on current or future dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba. But the Director of BOEM Regulation and Enforcement, Michael Bromwich, did tell the press that U.S. officials have met with executives of Repsol, the Spanish company working with Cuba in their first offshore drilling venture, to discuss drilling plans and indicated that they plan to continue discussions.
A report published earlier this year by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, offers further information about Cuba’s plans to drill in the Gulf of Mexico and how the embargo harms the U.S. national interest by limiting U.S. government cooperation with Cuba and U.S. industry involvement in safety and drilling.
President Obama announced this week that he intends to nominate Jonathan D. Farrar, the current head of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, as the new Ambassador to Nicaragua. Farrar, a career diplomat, has served in his position in Havana since 2008.
Prior to his assignment in Cuba, Farrar served for three years as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. He has also served positions in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Belize. Thus far there has been no announcement as to who will replace Farrar in Havana.
Another former head of the Interests Section in Havana, James Cason, was elected Mayor of Coral Gables, FL, the Miami Herald reports. Cason’s hard line on U.S.-Cuba policy, criticism of Fidel Castro, and strong opposition to loosening the embargo most likely won him significant support from the Cuban exile community living in the city.
A group of Irish-American musicians wishing to travel to Cuba for this month’s 2nd Annual Irish Music Festival were denied visas to travel by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Irish Central reports. According to OFAC’s response, the festival was “beyond the scope of what was authorized” by current regulations on travel. The organizers of the event lamented that travel restrictions impede “purposeful travel” and cultural interchange between people of Irish descent in Cuba and the U.S.
Though President Obama announced loosened regulations for “purposeful travel” and remittances from U.S. citizens to non-family members on the island early this year, but OFAC has still not issued guidelines to implement them or issued any new licenses.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
A Spanish official indicated this week that the prisoner releases resulting from negotiations with Cuba’s government and the Catholic Church have come to an end with the arrival in Madrid of 37 former political prisoners and about 200 of their family members, the Miami Herald reports. The announcement gave no further details. However, the Office of the Archbishop of Havana subsequently released a press statement clarifying that they had not received any notification from Cuba’s government that the prisoner release process had ended.
In related news, an Amnesty International report provides an account of the negotiations and prisoner releases as a part of Spain’s efforts to promote human rights internationally.
Thousands of Cubans are currently living in a “migratory limbo” in Ecuador, after losing their residency in Cuba for overstaying 11-month visas, EFE reports. The current situation stems from a 2008 law in Ecuador that allowed Cubans to enter the country simply with a written request by an Ecuadoran citizen, for the period of 11 months. Cubans remaining longer than that period have now lost their right to residency in Cuba, and are also not recognized as legal residents by the Ecuadoran government.
An increasing number of Cubans have attempted to obtain legal status in Ecuador by applying for refugee status. Ecuador’s government has recently denied almost all of these requests, however, stating that most do not fulfill the requirements to be considered. José Sandoval, Ecuador’s Director of Refugees of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, stated that the current situation of these Cubans was their personal responsibility, adding: “If there is a determined date that these citizens should have been out of the country, nobody impeded them from returning home on time or from obtaining another visa in Ecuador.”
Around the Region:
A negotiation effort launched by president Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia united Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Porfirio Lobo of Honduras last Saturday in Cartagena, Colombia with ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya joining the meeting by phone from Venezuela.
If successful, negotiations could potentially lead to the reintegration of Honduras into the OAS. The meeting represented a significant gesture from President Chávez, who had previously denounced Lobo as an illegitimate leader. His decision to meet officially with Lobo was strongly criticized by members of the resistance movement in Honduras who refuse to recognize the Lobo government and were not informed of the meeting. Zelaya, in a public statement, assured his supporters that the negotiation process would be transparent.
Zelaya, according to Lobo, outlined four key requirements for moving forward: that pending legal charges against Honduras’s former president be dropped, that Lobo support the formation of a Constitutional Assembly, that the human rights situation in the country be addressed and improved, and that a solution be sought for Hondurans who went into exile after the coup.
The Venezuelan and Colombian governments plan to draft an agreement with the goals of solving Zelaya’s legal problems and reintegrating Honduras during the OAS General Assembly that will take place in El Salvador this June. Secretary General of the OAS José Insulza, who has been a part of the effort to reintegrate, expressed his “satisfaction” regarding the meeting. The head of the OAS-sponsored Honduran Truth Commission, Eduardo Stein, publicly announced that their final report will be released one or two weeks after the OAS General Assembly to “avoid interfering” with the ongoing negotiation process.
Also in Honduras, German Bank DEG announced the cancellation of a $20 million loan previously granted to powerful landowner Miguel Facussé. The bank cited the agrarian conflict in the Bajo Aguán region, where several farmers have been killed by private guards and state agents due to conflict arising from unresolved land disputes, as the cause for the cancellation.
Finally, President Obama announced this week that he will be nominating Lisa Kubiske as the new U.S. Ambassador to Honduras. Kubiske is currently the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Brazil.
A helpful timeline outlining some of the reforms that have been made in Cuba leading up to this week’s Communist Party Conference.
Losing Latin America, In These Times
“America’s ‘backyard’ has never been so united and independent of U.S. influence.”
A new project for a socialist country?, Progreso Weekly
“In a few hours, the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba will go into session. This event assumes the highest importance, because the idea is to discuss and approve the guidelines of the nation’s economic and social policy, the whole of which is officially called An Actualization of the Existing Model.”
This video and accompanying article take a look at the experiences of newly-self-employed Cubans working under recent economic reforms.
SAVE THE DATE! Cuban artists performing in DC:
For our readers living in the DC Metro area, there are at least a couple of upcoming performances by groups of Cuban artists which you might find of interest:
At the end of April, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, an Afro-Cuban percussion and dance ensemble will be performing at the George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium. Los Muñequitos were founded in 1952 and the group currently spans three generations of an extended family of musicians, singers and dancers. Tickets are available here.
In addition, the internationally-recognized Ballet Nacional de Cuba will be performing at the Kennedy Center from May 31st-June 5th. They will be performing two shows: The Magic of Dance, a compilation of some of the most famous ballet pieces, and Don Quixote, based on Cervantes’s classic novel. Tickets are available here.
And mark your calendars! June 20th: The Center for Democracy in the Americas’ 5TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION will feature Cuba’s Carlos Varela and other special guests. For tickets and more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.