Passengers of the Carnival Corp cruise ship arriving in Havana from Florida yesterday were warmly greeted by residents, a symbolic moment in the ongoing rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S., reports Reuters. The arrival of 700 passenger signifies the reestablishment of commercial travel on the Florida Straits and could be a harbinger of thousands more cruise ships to come, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)
Legal skirmishes ahead of the trip, due to a Cuban policy prohibiting island-born people from arriving or leaving by sea, led to an unusual backing down by the Communist government. The unusual concession is likely due to diplomatic considerations, rather than concern over incoming tourist dollars, according to the New York Times.
Nonetheless, U.S. cruises are expected to bring Cuba tens of millions of dollars, most of which goes to government coffers, notes the WSJ. The government is attempting to keep tourism, especially newer luxury resorts and cruise ship contracts in a vise, reports the Guardian.
The Guardian piece has an interesting comparison between Puerto Rico and Cuba, examples of two Cold War models. While many make the case for the long-term failure of the Communist model in Cuba, the piece points to the dismal situation in Puerto Rico, which yesterday defaulted on nearly $400 million in bond payments. (See yesterday's briefs.)
Glamour and Cuba: The French fashion house Chanel will hold its first Latin American fashion show in Havana today. It will present the latest collection by German designer Karl Lagerfeld, inspired by the colors of the Caribbean and classic "aesthetics of Cuba," reports AFP. Its the latest in a stream of international cultural events that includes a recent Rolling Stones concert and the shooting of the latest Fast and Furious action movie in the streets of Havana. El País notes that the island is also trending among fashion magazines, with recent articles in Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, W and Porter.
- Honduran authorities arrested four men in connection with the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres in March. Two of those arrested are linked to the company building a hydroelectric dam which Cáceres had campaigned against, reports the Guardian. The arrests were made after police carried out 10 simultaneous early morning raids in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and the coastal cities La Ceiba and Trujillo. They come amid mounting international pressure on the Honduran government to authorize an independent international investigation into the activist's murder. The arrests are not persuading critics however. Her family and the indigenous rights organization co-founded by Cáceres, COPINH, denounced their exclusion from the investigation and called on the public ministry to permit the participation of an independent panel of international experts, said CEJIL in a press release. The New York Times notes that "a steady drumbeat of assassinations of journalists, lawyers, labor and peasant leaders and environmental activists has come to mark Honduran politics ever since a 2009 coup," in addition to gang and drug violence.
- The Venezuelan opposition announced yesterday that they turned in 1,850,000 signatures supporting a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro to the Electoral Board (CNE), reports El País. It's the first in a series of complicated steps that must be fulfilled if the opposition is to attain its objective of a recall vote before January of next year, which, if successful, would trigger a new election to select Maduro's successor. If the recall effort succeeds after that deadline, the rest of the presidential mandate would be fulfilled by the government's vice president. (See last Thursday's and Wednesday's posts.) Now the government is demanding the right to audit the signatures, reports El País. At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights Hugo Pérez Hernaíz analyzes the complicated process ahead, which is regulated by at least three different CNE resolutions issued since 2007. Adding to debates over the timing required for official turnaround of the petition, is whether deadlines will be affected by a new government announcement limiting the workweek to two days. "Government media has been claiming that the opposition has been deceiving its supporters in the matter and that it is outright impossible to do so before January 10. But pro-opposition analysts claim that if the deadlines of the process are thoroughly respected, it is perfectly possible to hold the referendum before the critical deadline."
- Venezuelan government inspectors, accompanied by National Guard troops, inspected two beer plants owned by Empresas Polar to verify the lack of malted barley for brewing put forth as a reason by the country's largest private company to close down the plants in recent days. All four of the company's beer plants have closed over the past couple of weeks, raising questions about the future of Polar’s large-scale food production operations, reports the Wall Street Journal. Company execs say the operations lose money because of stringent price controls.
- Sometimes it seems all the news out of Mexico involves body counts, but there's not nearly enough attention being paid to the violence besieging the country, argues El Daily Post columnist Alejandro Hope, who points to government statistics showing showing that some 2000 people were murdered in the country in March. "That's broadly equivalent to ten times the number of victims in the Paris terrorist attacks last November. And yet, no seems to care in this country. With a few exceptions (such as our friends from Animal Político), violence has simply dropped off the radar of most media outlets. Except for really high profile incidents (e.g., Iguala), most outlets will not cover crime stories."
- Journalists are particularly at risk in Mexico -- the most lethal country in the region for the profession -- reports El País.
- The left in Peru is facing an unpleasant choice between supporting a presidential candidate they perceive as representing the "neoliberal model" and casting blank votes that could usher in rightwing presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's disgraced authoritarian former President Alberto Fujimori, writes Gustavo Gorriti in an op-ed in El País. To avoid a Fujimori win will require a massive mobilization of the center and left democratic supporters, he argues, a task as difficult as "convoking the working masses to a May Day rally presided by Scrooge McDuck."
- An Argentine federal prosecutor asked a judge to investigate former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her son for possible illegal enrichment in connection to two businessmen accused of money laundering and tax evasion, reports the Associated Press. A witness released from jail last month, said he helped launder millions of dollars on behalf of a leading government contractor and business associate of the Kirchner family, reports the Wall Street Journal. Kirchner recently said that current President Mauricio Macri is behind judicial probes into her business dealings, an attempt to tarnish her name as a distraction from rising inflation, poverty, and layoffs. (See yesterday's briefs.)
- The Olympic flame arrived in Brazil today. President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing impeachment proceedings in Congress, was due to attend the lighting of the Olympic torch at the presidential palace, though she will likely be removed from office before the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro on April 5, reports Reuters.