Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Castro at the U.N. -- calls for end to the embargo and return of Guantanamo (Sept. 29, 2015)

Cuba will continue to raise a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo on the island until the "economic blockade" is lifted, said President Raúl Castro yesterday in his first ever address to the U.N. General Assembly.

He said true normalization of relations between the two countries -- which in July reestablished diplomatic relations after a 54 year gap -- can only occur when a series of conditions are met: the end of the embargo; the return of the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay; the end of "destabilizing" activities against the Cuban government sponsored by the U.S., such as Radio and TV Martí; and reparations for the Cuban people for the damages caused by the long-standing embargo, reports theMiami Herald.

Castro said this weekend at the U.N. that the embargo has caused Cuba an estimated $1.1 trillion in damages and is the primary obstacle to developing Cuba’s economy, reports the Wall Street Journal.

But Castro also commented on world issues, saying the Iran nuclear deal is proof "that engagement and negotiation are the only effective tools to settle disputes" among nations. He also demanded the European Union take responsibility for the "human crisis it helped generate" in Syria by taking in refugees from there.

U.S. President Obama also mentioned the Cuba rapprochement in his speech to the GA earlier yesterday, saying the former U.S. policy towards Cuba failed to improve Cubans' lives, and that that has now changed. He said the U.S. will "continue to stand up for human rights."

In his speech Castro emphasized human rights as well, but not the civil and political rights Obama was referring to, according to the Miami Herald. Castro mentioned the right to live in peace and the right to a better standard of living, noting that just a fraction of the $1.7 trillion spent worldwide for military purposes could help the 795 million who suffer from hunger and 781 million illiterate people in the world.

Obama and Castro are scheduled to meet today for their first formal summit since diplomatic relations were restored in July.

Last year only the U.S. and Israel voted against the measure condemning the embargo, with a final vote of 188-2 in favor of demanding the policy's end. The U.S. is debating whether to abstain from voting on the measure this year, depending on what language is included in this year's version, according to the WSJ.

A number of leaders, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Chilean President Michele Bachelet mentioned their approval of the new relationship between Cuba and the U.S. Rousseff said she hoped the process would culminate in the end of the embargo, ending the Cold War-related dispute between the two countries.

Rousseff focused her speech on environmental issues, pledging to reduce Brazil's greenhouse emissions by 43 percent by 2030. (See yesterday's briefs.) Brazil is the first major developing country to promise an absolute reduction over the next 15 years, in line with a climate pact to be signed in December in Paris, reports the New York Times.

"We will aim for a proportion of 66 percent of hydropower in our electricity generation output; a share of 23 percent of renewable sources, including wind, solar and biomass power," Rousseff said.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto also mentioned migrants in his speech yesterday, emphasizing that the world migrant experience has been one of risks, discrimination, and abuse, made worse by ignorance, racism or pure political opportunism. He called on the U.N. to create a global scheme to protect migrants' rights.

He also mentioned the need for a more just and humane international response to the international drug problem, calling for more people-centered policies ahead of the Assembly's special session next year. 

News Briefs
  • The Bolivian Legislative Assembly approved a bill amending the national constitution in order to permit presidents to run for three consecutive terms. The change, which was pushed through on Saturday in a marathon session, will have to be ratified by voters in a national referendum, which will likely happen in February. The change will permit President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term (supporters say his first term doesn't count as it was under the previous constitution), which would allow him to govern until 2025, reports the Wall Street Journal. He won his third term by a landslide last year.
  • Venezuela will permit more than 1,500 Colombians to return as legal residents after they were deported during a border smuggling crackdown over the past month and a half, reports theAssociated Press. The U.N. estimates that 20,000 more Colombians left voluntarily fearing security forces actions.
  • The outlook is gloomy for Brazil concludes the Associated Press. The piece reviews the litany of bad news of the past few months: plunging currency, rising unemployment, low consumer spending and a political crisis that has tied the government's hands with respect to economic measures to fight the recession. Not to mention, of course, the ever-persistent rumors of President Dilma Rousseff's possible impeachment amid the corruption scandal that has engulfed Brazil's political elite.
  • Dilma's low point might mean heightened ambitions for her coalition partner the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB). The centrist party has long been Brazil's kingmaker, explains the Wall Street Journal, trading support for the ruling party in exchange for offices an influence. But now experts note how Vice President Michael Terner, a member of the PMDB is taking on a more prominent role in Brasilia, and could potentially become president if Rousseff is ousted. But the piece also notes that critics say the party lacks a clear ideology or agenda.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is suing Brazil's Petrobras and its auditor in a New York court, claiming a vast corruption scheme centered on the state-run oil company caused the charitable organization to lose tens of millions of dollars, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A clash between police and farmers protesting a $7.4 billion Chinese-owned copper mining Las Bambas project resulted in three deaths and 17 wounded reports the Associated Press. Police apparently fired on the protesters and medical help was delayed when they shot at the vehicle carrying doctors to the site as well. Protesters were demanding that the owner company, MMG Ltd, revise its environmental plan and hire more locals, as the company finishes the construction of the mine that is expected to extract 400,000 tonnes per year, reports Reuters. Over 1,500 security officials were sent to the site ahead of rallies that started on Friday.
  • According to an anonymous source from Honduras' security forces, there hasbeen a 72 percent drop in drugs moving through the country. The source, quoted in El Heraldo, says the reduction is thanks to an improved ability to act on intelligence from the US and Colombia, as well as increased maritime and land patrols, and use of radars to track drug flights. InSight Crime notes that though El Heraldo's piece is based on somewhat flimsy evidence, its joins multiple claims that drug trafficking in Honduras has dropped significantly. However, while the country's criminal organizations are currently in flux, potentially contributing to this decrease, that creates a dangerous opening for MS-13, warns the piece.
  • TeleSur has a more in-depth report on Honduras and this week's announcement that the U.N. will be setting up a local human rights monitoring office (see yesterday's briefs). Human rights organizations have reported increased violations since the 2009 coup that deposed President Mel Zelaya. And a hybrid military police force launched in 2013 has lowered the country's sky-high murder rate (according to the president), but has been very criticized by rights groups. Honduran soldiers were accused of at least nine murders, over 20 incidents of torture, and some 30 illegal detentions between 2012 and 2014, according to numbers compiled by Reuters. President Juan Orlando Hernández plans on expanding the force, though the U.N. has urged the government to put a time limit on the military's security activities.
  • Panama has had success in reducing its homicide rate this year: it's gone down by over 21 percent in the first nine months of this year, and it's most violent city, Colón, has seen it's murders nearly halved, reports the BBC. Officials attribute the improvement to gang member rehabilitation programs.

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