Thursday, December 17, 2015

A year of rapprochement with Cuba (Dec. 17, 2015)

One year after the U.S. and Cuba announced a diplomatic rapprochement, the process has yielded concrete results -- notably the reopening of embassies in each others capitals -- but has had a far more gradual result on changing reality on the ground, reports the New York Times in a long analysis piece. (See Monday's post.)

There have been important symbolic advances and expectations on both sides of the Florida Straights were high -- which is perhaps why there's a perception of failure to achieve the promised change, explains the Miami Herald. Experts say that gradual change is more realistic and is taking place.

Tens of thousands of Cubans have fled to the U.S., afraid that beneficial immigration policies will draw to a close, and critics of the process say the U.S. has made key concessions and gotten little in return. Such frustration belies the sea-change the policy represents, however, explain sources in the piece. Several experts caution against believing that the U.S. alone can or should shape Cuban domestic policy.

On that note, President Barack Obama is welcome to visit the island, but not to meddle in its affairs, said Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs in the Cuban foreign ministry. She was responding to an interview Obama gave earlier this week, saying he'd like to visit the island but only if he could meet with political dissidents. (See Monday's post.)

A shared goal, however, is to ensure that the process moves far enough along to ensure its continuity after Obama's term in office ends, notes Reuters. And in about two years President Raúl Castro will also hand over power to a new leader.

Nonetheless, the trickle of stories from Cuba reflecting small changes continues on a daily basis. This week Cuban baseball stars who defected to the U.S. are teaching baseball clinics in Havana (see yesterday's briefs), a dramatic shift in Cuban policy towards the hundreds of players who have fled, reports the Associated Press in a separate piece.

Yesterday officials from both countries said they are on the verge of reaching an agreement to reestablish regular airline flights, a major breakthrough in the ongoing detente, reports theAssociated Press. It would be the biggest business development over the past year and could bring thousands more visitors a day to the island. Most of the leading U.S. carriers have said publicly that they are interested in offering service to Cuba as soon as they're allowed to do so, notes the Washington Post.

In a NACLA piece, historian Louis A. Pérez, Jr. looks at the history of U.S. relations with Castro led Cuba, noting that for fifty-five years the U.S. had committed to a policy of regime change in Cuba, "or perhaps more correctly, ... to the creation of conditions that would produce the overthrow of the Cuban government."

News Briefs

  • A Brazilian Supreme Court judge, Luiz Fachin, said yesterday that a controversial secret congressional vote that stacked an impeachment committee with opponents of President Dilma Rousseff was legitimate, reports Reuters. Today the full court will vote on the issue. If Fachin's view is adopted, the Senate will have to open an impeachment trial right after the house approves the charges. A move to trial would suspend Rousseff for up to six months, with Vice President Michel Temer taking over as Senators debate to remove her permanently or clear her, returning her to office. The impeachment proceedings are based on allegations that Rousseff's administration violated fiscal responsibility laws by using money from state-run banks to fill budget gaps and pay for government social spending. (See Dec. 3rd's post.)
  • In a parallel move, the country's top prosecutor asked the Supreme Court to remove House Speaker Eduardo Cunha from the Chamber of Deputies, for allegedly using his position to obstruct an investigation into a corruption probe in which he has been implicated, reports the Wall Street Journal. Cunha, an enemy of the Rousseff administration, began the impeachment proceedings. Earlier this week his house was among dozens raided by police looking for evidence in the corruption case. 
  • The economic and political crisis besieging Brazil took further toll yesterday when it lost its investment-grade rating after Fitch became the second credit agency to downgrade the country's debt to junk status, reports Reuters. The decision came less than a day after Rousseff moved to loosen strict budget targets in order to protect social welfare programs. Though expected, the decision raised fears that further ratings cuts could hit other developing economies, according to the Wall Street Journal. "The downgrade is nevertheless a crushing blow to a country that first achieved the investment grade status in 2008 after a long struggle for credibility in the eyes of financial markets. The loss of that seal of approval shows just how much the country’s political situation is hurting the economy, and Brazilians," notes the Wall Street Journal in a separate piece.
  • The São Paulo student protests against school consolidations and closings (see Dec. 2nd's post) have been successful to a point: Last week, officials of the state government said they would postpone the school closings for one year and the education secretary has resigned. But student protestors continue to occupy about 100 schools, and are being met with aggression by the state government, which met protests last week with riot police, writes OSF fellow Pablo Ortellado in a New York Times op-ed. But he makes the case that the situation is part of a wider problem in which Brazilian authorities are unresponsive to social demands, creating protest movements that spiral out of control as in the 2013 transportation fare protests or the 2014 World Cup eviction protests. "One begins to wonder whether it will always take a major national crisis initiated by street protest for the Brazilian people’s voices to be heard."
  • And in another New York Times op-ed, Vanesa Barbara writes about the aftermath of the collapsed Sanmarco mine in Minas Gerais. Though Brazilian authorities have vowed to make mine owners pay for the mineral-waste sludge that has caused environmental and human disaster across two states, she writes that "Brazilians have good reason to be skeptical. According to government statistics, environmental lawbreakers in Brazil paid less than 3 percent of fines levied against them over the past five years. Many people suspect that Vale and BHP will go unpunished and that safety regulations for the mining industry won’t be updated in light of the disaster."
  • A local São Paulo judge ordered a 48 suspension of the Whatsapp messaging service in Brazil, after it refused to cooperate with a criminal investigation. The measure disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of Brazilians who use the application for communicating, reports the Wall Street Journal. Roughly half of the country's 200 million people use its free text and voice messaging functions regularly and poorer Brazilians depend on it exclusively for day-to-day communications.
  • Argentina is abuzz with an anticipated 40 percent devaluation today, after the government announced the lifting of currency controls yesterday evening. The move is aimed at boosting a stagnant economy, but will likely cause hardship for Argentines as prices rise accordingly, reports the New York Times. While economists have long said the tightly controlled peso was overvalued, there has been debate regarding a sudden devaluation like the one announced yesterday, or a more gradual process. The short-term risks are great, notes the Wall Street Journal, but are balanced by potential rewards such as increased investment and improved exports.
  • Argentina's new president, Mauricio Macri, brings a technocratic bent to governance. In a great piece for the New Yorker Graciela Mochkofsky notes that the "self-declared right-wing, pro-business" leader has "put together an administration that is largely devoid of career politicians." She makes the case that he might represent the new crop of right-wing leaders replacing the left-wing governments in the region. Post-neoliberals, they have incorporated social concerns into their discourse and in some cases -- such as gay marriage for Macri -- tend to follow the polls more than a specific ideology. But Macri faces a difficult political situation, having won by a very narrow margin, lacking majority in both chambers of Congress and with a difficult economic situation ahead that will require real choices: unpopular measures that will cause hardship for locals but will prove popular for investors.
  • Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul is recommending the creation of an electoral commission to guarantee the integrity of the upcoming Dec. 27 run-off elections to select the country's next president, reports the Miami Herald. The commission would be given 72 hours to make recommendations to the government and the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). But amid widespread accusations of fraud, protests and the possibility that the second-place candidate won't even participate, it's not at all clear that the election will take place. Yesterday the Haitian Senate called on President Michel Martelly and the CEP to stop the release of final election results until a commission can be put together to audit the results. The request comes the day before the final results of the Oct. 25 election are schedule to be released, and amid stories from legislative candidates who say they were asked to pay thousands of dollars of bribes to electoral judges and members of the CEP, reports the Miami Herald in a separate piece.
  • Néstor Reverol, the former head of Venezuela's antidrug unit, has been accused by American prosecutors of taking bribes from the trafficking groups he was supposed to demolish. He's the latest high level Venezuelan official accused by the U.S. of drug trafficking associations, but, in a curious twist, the some of the information that led to his indictment this week in a federal court in Brooklyn (see yesterday's briefs) may have come from Colombian traffickers extradited by Venezuela, reports the New York Times. The piece quotes InSight Crime's co-director Jeremy McDermott, who says American prosecutors may be focusing more intensely on Venezuela because drug trafficking there has changed. They are moving from facilitating Colombian trafficking to buying and selling their own shipments of cocaine, he says.
  • Mexico hiked up its minimum wage by about four percent this week, but the increase is only enough for a half-pound of tortillas, reports VICE. An estimated seven million Mexicans struggle to get by on the minimum wage that is among the lowest in Latin America.
  • U.S. Treasury officials announced sanctions yesterday against a Mexican businessman and two newspapers controlled by his family, claiming they are linked to narcotics traffickers, reports the Wall Street Journal. Office of Foreign Assets Control has accused businessman Naim Libien Tella and his Unomasuno newspaper of furthering the drug trafficking activities of a cartel known as Los Cuinis, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Cuinis are aligned with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, thought to be the fastest-growing and one of the most aggressively violent criminal organizations in Mexico.
  • Colombia's Supreme Court threw out the conviction of an army colonel who had been found guilty of forcibly "disappearing" several people taken alive during a 1985 army raid on the high court after it was seized by guerrillas, reports the Associated Press. The justices ruled that there wasn't enough evidence that now retired Col. Alfonso Plazas was responsible for the disappearance of two people who were escorted alive from the building during the 48-hour standoff and never seen again. Twelve people disappeared in the episode, and this year President Juan Manuel Santos officially apologized for it, in accordance with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling.
  • The International Court of Justice ruled yesterday that Nicaragua violated Costa Rica's  territorial sovereignty by establishing a military camp and digging channels near the mouth of the San Juan River, and it ordered Nicaragua to pay compensation, reports the Associated Press.
  • Apparently toilet paper price-fixing is a regional issue. Peruvian antitrust regulators are considering fining Kimberly-Clark up to 12 percent of its earnings for allegedly conspiring to set prices for toilet paper and other products, reports the Associated Press. Last month Chilean authorities also denounced a decade long collusion case involving toilet paper, (see Nov. 2nd's briefs). 

No comments:

Post a Comment