Thursday, April 2, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 2, 2015


Airbnb has added private homes in Cuba to its listings starting today (Thursday), according to the Associated Press, the Miami Herald and a blurb on the Airbnb blog. This could be "the most significant development in terms of putting money in the pockets of entrepreneurs," according to the AP story. Airbnb offers "the perfect business model" since it manages to skirt the 'who owns the property' issue, according to an enthusiastic report in the Atlantic's Qz. The BBC offers several skeptical voices including one wondering how Cuban entrepreneurs can confirm reservations without internet connections. There are already more than 1,000 homes listed on the site, and average under $40 a night, according to the website.

The elimination of Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism “could occur in the near future,” according to a U.S. Dept of Commerce official, cited in the Miami Herald (4/1) and "should be completed well before the President’s deadline of June," according to Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who spoke at the Cuba Opportunity Summit (4/1).

Jacobson, who returned to Twitter after a 2-week absence, spoke at length about each country's take on human rights at the Wharton sponsored 'Opportunity Summit:
The two sides have met on the issue of human rights, but discussions have centered more on “methodology and form” instead of “substantive” conversations, she noted. One hindrance is that the U.S.’s concept of human rights and international obligations differs from the Cubans’ definition. Jacobson pointed out that the U.S. believes freedom of speech, of the press and assembly are universal rights. As for the Cubans’ criticism that the U.S. has committed human rights violations as well, “our response to that has never been defensive. Quite the contrary,” Jacobson said. “We are the first to acknowledge our own shortcomings, [but] Americans have the right to speak out about those shortcomings and to seek remedies.”  
Earlier in the week, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said she is planning a trip to Cuba as soon as diplomatic ties are renewed, according to a talk she gave to the Tampa Chamber of Commerce  reports the Miami Herald.  The Secretary explained that exports to Cuba will focus on private individuals rather than any commercial exchange with the government. 

As Cuba continues opening up, there were a few reports on continued discriminatory practices. Lesbian and bisexual women in Cuba "face unequal treatment from public health services", according to Inter Press Service (4/1) which interviews several women as well as Cuban psychiatrist Ada Alfonso who says, "if we look at women’s health through the lenses of inequality, the gap between lesbians and heterosexuals in regard to health services has a lesbophobic subtext hidden behind the discourse on ‘social needs’." Alfonso is the author of a report on “Salud, Malestares y Derechos Sexuales de las Lesbianas.”

Finally, the BBC offers a story on what it means to be a Muslim in Cuba (4/2), a country with no mosque - yet.


  • Colombian military commanders reiterated the military’s support for ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC, according to Radio Caracol and Colombia Reports (4/1), declaring at a news conference this week, "we will never be an obstacle to peace. ... Victory for any soldier and policeman undoubtedly is peace.”  Pres. Santos spoke at a military base saying that there are those who don't want peace, according to Semana but declared, "you go to war to achieve peace. And you have to know to make war to maintain the peace."  Separately, the government's talks with the ELN have been going on for 15 months with less progress than expected, according to El Espectador (4/1). They have said that "a peace that doesn't profoundly change the country and Colombian society is not a true peace."
  • Mexican's sense of "insecurity" is the main obstacle to economic growth according to the latest Bank of Mexico (Banxico) survey, which showed a slightly slower economy, reported Proceso (4/1).
  • Brazil's Pres. Rousseff is conditioning her visit to the U.S. on having the N.S.A. stop spying on her, according to the Folha de Sao Paulo (4/1). She wants to be removed from the list of those being monitored, as Germany's Angela Merkel was, according to reports last year. She will probably formally confirm her U.S. visit when she meets with Pres. Obama next week at the Summit of the Americas, according to the Miami Herald. The newspaper gives Brazil a strong show of confidence saying, that the country's corruption comes "with an optimistic irony: What’s known so far is largely because the country’s independent judiciary and related institutions are doing their jobs, unimpeded." (Conversely, Forbes 'contributor' Ken Rapoza says that Brazil is "going to hell in a hand basket.")
  • Residents of Vila Autodromo, a Brazilian favela marked for demolition to make way for the Olympic Park, protested against eviction by blocking a main road into Rio de Janeiro during morning rush-hour traffic, according to Reuters (4/2).  Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes signed decrees calling for the urgent removal of the remaining properties on a site he has declared a public utility ... rais[ing] the prospect of a forcible removal," according to The Guardian. The 2012 documentary 'Before The Party' was a critical look at how mega sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics shape the life in the favelas like Vila Autódromo.
  • Johns Hopkins University and the Rockefeller Foundation are facing a $1 billion suit over its role in a series of medical experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s and 1950s during which subjects were deliberately infected with venereal diseases without their consent, according to The Baltimore Sun (4/1) and a press release from the attorneys. President Barack Obama called these experiments "clearly unethical" and apologized for them in 2010. (See JHU's previous response to this situation.) 
  • Venezuelans' daily drama of buying food and medical essentials now includes bachaqueros, according to the LA Times (4/1). "They are the foot soldiers in a new and highly mobile black market relying on social media, strength in numbers, motorbikes and the convenience — at a price — of home delivery." 
  • Several sources want to give advice to Venezuela and/or to Latin American governments on their relationship to Venezuela. Former Amb. to Venezuela Patrick Duddy makes a series of recommendations, including "the U.S. should leverage Department of Defense connections with militaries around the region to stress to the Venezuelan security forces their obligation to uphold the constitution," in a Council on Foreign Relations blog.  Eric Fansworth's (Council on the Americas) wonders why Latin American leaders can't have "a more judicious approach toward the U.S." and its policies on Venezuela, in an op-ed in the Financial Times (4/1).  Separately, Venezuela's government remains more militarized than ever including the control over eight of the country's 29 ministries, according to an investigative piece in Ecuador's El Comercio.
  • The 'Biden Plan' for Central America is harshly condemned as "an attack on both child welfare and human rights," in an essay by Laura Carlsen (CIP Americas Program) in Upside Down World (4/1). "Rather than focusing on a response to the humanitarian crisis of child refugees, it serves as a vehicle for deepening the drug war and “free-trade” agendas that have contributed to the crisis." 
  • Is the OAS losing its clout?, asks an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor (4/1). (The tone of the article suggests the answer is 'yes'.) The U.S. provides "substantially more funding for the OAS’s general fund ... than any other member state" which forces some alignment between their priorities. But this outsized U.S. influence is what makes CELAC and UNASUR more appealing to most Latin American countries.

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