Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, May 6, 2015

Ferries to Cuba

Passenger and cargo ferry service between Florida and Cuba could soon resume, after a 50 year hiatus.

The U.S. government granted licenses Tuesday to at least five companies -- Airline Brokers Co. of Miami, Baja Ferries USA, Havana Ferry Partners, United Caribbean Lines and America Cruise Ferries of Puerto Rico -- to begin offering ferry service, reports the Miami Herald.

Now the companies must negotiate access with the Cuban government.

The United States still doesn't allow Americans to go to the island for tourism, but it does allow family visits and educational, professional and other purposeful travel as long as it falls into 12 approved categories.

Reviving this previously popular mode of travel is an example of the people-to-people contact that is the cornerstone of Obama's engagement policy, according to the Wall Street Journal. Since travel restrictions were loosened several years ago, Americans have been able to take charter flights to Cuba. The ferry service would be offered at about a third of the cost, according to one potential operator.

Unlimited luggage allowances could be another lure for travelers who regularly lug cargo to the island -- including televisions, mechanical parts, paint and food -- paying hundreds of dollars in overweight fees, notes the New York Times.

Cubans born on the island cannot arrive or depart by sea, according to Cuba government regulations. However, the Miami Herald says there are indications that regulation might soon be changed.

Tampa is a potential U.S. port for the new ferry services. Unlike the hard-line Miami Cuban community, the Tampa Cubans are friendlier towards rapprochement with the Castro government. The Miami Herald explains that Cubans in Tampa pre-date the revolution, leading to a distinctly different view. Tampa could become the new gateway to Cuba, and some Tampa leaders are even angling for a Cuban consulate.

The Washington Post has a feature on the decayed Cuban town of Hershey (renamed Camilo Cienfuegos by the revolutionary government), which was founded a century ago by the American chocolate magnate of the same name, and has since fallen into complete disrepair.

News Briefs

  • One protestor was killed and two more were wounded yesterday in ongoing protests against the Tía María copper mining project in Peru's Islay province. Anti-mining activists and local politicians have blocked roads with rocks to impede traffic and held marches for the past month and a half, in an attempt to block Southern Copper Corp.'s $1.4 billion project. Protests have led to two deaths already, 75 civilian wounded and 111 police, reports the Wall Street's editor, Javier Torres Seoane, says the "conflict is out of control," and blames the government for its management of the protests. "Three thousand police in a valley is a de facto state of emergency," he said. The project was put on hold in 2011 after protests left three dead, but a revamped environmental impact study was approved by the government last year. Locals say the mine will use scarce water supplies and emit crop-harming dust. Souther Mining Corp's representatives say they will only use desalinated water and that the dust won't reach crops in the mine's adjacent valley.
  • A gang boss related to the newly notorious Jalisco New Generation cartel will be extradited to the U.S., Mexican authorities announced yesterday. Reuters reports that Abigael Gonzalez is the leader Los Cuinis, an ally of the cartel and its leader's brother-in-law. The Jalisco New Generation cartel is responsible for a series of violent encounters last Friday that included the downing of a military helicopter and 15 deaths.
  • Brazil's government is investigating whether the former Finance Minister misled investors by subsidizing domestic fuel prices as the chairman of the state oil firm, Petrobras. The probe, led by the country's securities regulator, is separate from the ongoing Petrobras graft investigation. This case is not criminal in nature, but looks into whether the subsidies, which cost about $20 billion between 2011 and 2014, made the company unlikely to meet its debt targets, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Colombian authorities will investigate alleged sexual abuses of children by U.S. contractors and military staff. Historian Renan Vega claimed that 53 minors were sexually abused by US troops in a report on talks between the government and leftist FARC guerrillas in Cuba. The report was part of a series on the history of the conflict, put together at the request of negotiators by historians of various political leanings. Vega's report says the abuses took place in the towns of Melgar and Giradot, reports AFP. Argentina's Página 12 covers the story more in-depth, going into the case of a 12 year old who was allegedly raped by two U.S. troops in 2007. 
  • Two more officials were arrested in the Guatemalan "La Línea" tax and customs fraud investigation, bringing the total of arrests to 24.
  • Amnesty International opened a new Mexico office, dedicated to tackling the region's "hidden crisis" in human rights, reports the Global Post. Issues include economic inequality, indigenous exclusion from political rights, violence and racial and gender discrimination, according to the organization's head.
  • New-vehicle sales in Brazil fell by 25 percent in April, reports the Wall Street Journal. Falling sales has pushed some auto makers in Brazil to lay off employees, implement voluntary severance programs and force mandatory vacations. Brazil’s economy is expected to contract 1.18% this year.
  • Venezuelan troops found seven corpses only 4km from the Colombian border. The bodies were reportedly found tied together with barbed wire and had gunshot wounds, according to theBBC. Paramilitary groups and drug traffickers operate in the area, where several mass graves have been found.
  • The Los Angeles Times has a feature on Chile's decaying Chincorro mummies. Believed to be the oldest in the world, the mummies are the victims of climate change, according to an expert called in to analyze the situation. Higher humidity in northern Chile has allowed common microorganisms to consume the mummies' skin.
  • Rio's Styrofoam artisans are showcased in a new museum exhibit, where they are creating sculptures using the same techniques employed for the Carnaval parade floats, reports theNew York Times.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's encounter with a mango -- tossed by a supporter who was asking him for help obtaining housing -- is the inspiration for a mobile game that has been downloaded by 10,000 people in the week since its debut. In "Maduro Mango Attack" players throw tropical fruit at the leader, as well as National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and a bird version of late President Hugo Chavez, according to the AP.

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