Sunday, November 27, 2016

"Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me." Castro dies at 90 (Nov. 27, 2016)

Iconic Cuban leader Fidel Castro died on Friday at 90 years old. A master of stagecraft till the very end, his Nov. 25 death occurred on the sixtieth anniversary of the evening he boarded the Granma yacht along with Ernesto "Che" Guevara and started a guerrilla war that led to revolution in Cuba, notes the Miami Herald. He lived to see the many tributes carried out in his honor this year to celebrate his ninetieth birthday in August.

He "was at once idealistic and pragmatic, sharply intelligent and reckless, charismatic and intolerant," writes Reuters.

The New York Times obituary calls him "the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war ..." It notes that he stayed in power longer than any other living national leader, with the exception of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Guardian's editorial calls for context, arguing that"one should situate him in the political and intellectual setting of 20th-century Latin American anti-colonialism rather than seeing him through the eyes of the 21st century. Castro’s passing sees the departure of one of the giants of the cold war era and a revolutionary guerilla leader. He must be judged by the conditions that made him possible, but not indulged by them. He emerged victorious in a battle against a brutal and corrupt US-friendly regime at a time when democracy had yet to reach most of the Caribbean or indeed what we now know of as the developing world."

The government declared nine days of mourning, which will conclude on Dec. 4 with a burial in Santiago de Cuba. A two day memorial starting Monday will give Cubans a chance to pay their last respects. In the meantime, Cuban exiles literally danced in the streets of Miami.

In Havana reactions were more muted and uncertain, according to the New York Times. Cubans have been in a "collective haze" since receiving the news, reports the Wall Street Journal.  El Estornudo has a more local, colorful account of how the news hit. And the Guardian has pictures.

Castro's death comes two years after a historic change in U.S.-Cuba diplomacy -- in which a half-century of Cold War policies were rolled back to permit incipient investment on the island and broadened opportunity for travel. But the election of Donald Trump earlier this month throws that legacy in question. He has rhetorically opposed the rapprochement, and the language used by the president elect and his transition team suggests he might be serious about rolling back the executive actions that have been the primary vehicle for changing U.S. policy in this area over the past two years, reports the Miami Herald. Trump called Castro "a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades."

He named a prominent critic of rapprochement to his Treasury Department transition team, but has not yet named a secretary of state, who would play a major role in developing Cuba policy, according to Reuters.

Castro's death puts pressure on Trump to follow through with his campaign promises to unravel diplomatic advances, reports the Wall Street Journal. Top aides said on Sunday that that he would demand the release of political prisoners held in Cuba and push the government to allow more religious and economic freedoms. Nonetheless many analysts say a full roll-back of relaxed regulations is unlikely, reports the Guardian.

On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times argues that the death is likely to shield the Obama reforms, giving the incoming Trump administration a politically acceptable way to maintain them.

And while the Financial Times notes Trump's desire to pander to anti-detente Republicans in Florida, it also notes the U.S. business sector that wants to pursue opportunities in Cuba.

Read more here:

In anycase, Cuban leaders say they've already weathered countless other political upheavals in other countries, notes the New York Times. The revolutionary leader's death comes a decade after he stepped down from the presidency, ceding power to his brother Raúl. Since the government has slowly transformed the island in many ways -- while still maintaining  a firm grip on power. It means his passing will have more of an emotional than policy impact, according to the NYT.

Yet his legacy will continue to loom large on the island, emphasizes the Wall Street Journal -- though there are no statues of him on it.

(More interesting memories of Castro by Reuters correspondents ...)

"Fidel Castro’s impact on Latin America and the Western Hemisphere has the earmarks of lasting indefinitely. The power of his personality remains inescapable, for better or worse, not only in Cuba but also throughout Latin America," notes the NYT obit.

And the outpouring of tributes from the regions' leftist leaders, and criticisms from the right, show the divisive nature of his legacy, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Sunday's Página 12, for example.) Around the world, leaders of all political stripes praised the man who championed the cause of anti-colonialism and backed the sentiment with troops and medics, reports the Guardian.

It's the climax to a year of change, in which the political left has ceded to the right around the world, writes the Financial Times' John Paul Rathbone.

News Briefs
  • In Venezuela, Castro's death was mourned by the government, but celebrated as a potential sign of a further shift rightward internationally by the opposition, reports Reuters.
  • Civil society groups in Guatemala called on Congress to approve judicial and constitutional reforms, set for a third legislative debate today. In a press release, JusticiaYa voiced fears that lawmakers would attempt to water down the provisions aimed at strengthening institutions, judiciary independence, and permitting investigation of public officials. The initiative under consideration is the result of a seven month long "national dialogue" that took into account over 245 proposals from diverse citizen groups, academic institutions, think tanks, and organizations. The reforms are critical to preserving the anti-corruption achievements of 2015, argues JusticiaYa on Nómada. Another Nómada piece has details on the reform itself. And in a broader analysis, Martín Rodríguez Pellecer has a column in Nómada that argues the heads of Guatemala's executive, judiciary and legislative branches are well intentioned, but allied to corrupt and criminal groups that represent a danger to the ongoing work of the CICIG and Public Ministry. He also emphasizes the critical importance of the proposed reforms to create an independent judiciary capable of building on the CICIG and Public Ministry work.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer promised to veto any bill passed by lawmakers seeking to grant themselves amnesty from corruption investigations, reports the Wall Street Journal. Congress is set to vote this week on legislation that could grant amnesty to politicians who accepted campaign funds stemming from Petrobras corruption. (See Sept. 21's post.)
  • Temer himself is in the corruption crosshairs, after a former colleague said the president pressured him to bend regulations in order to give a construction in Salvador the greenlight, reports the Guardian. The scandal led to the resignation of a top aide, and the opposition is threatening to use the case for impeachment proceedings, though it's unlikely the move would prosper. Still, the controversies could affect Temer's push for reforms aimed at pulling the economy out of recession, according to the Financial Times.
  • Protesters gathered on Sunday in Sao Paulo demanding Temer's ouster, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil's anti-corruption judicial crusades have created utter upheaval in the country's political class. But with plea deals taking down an ever widening web, a music icon argues that innocent people are being caught up, John Neschling told the New York Times.
  • FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño promised to back a presidential candidate who would seek to defend the peace accord with the guerrilla group, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Christopher Dickey has a piece in the Daily Beast on how Salvadoran death squads started targeting Americans during the Carter-Reagan transition --"It’s a cautionary example now as we look at the kind of Neo-Nazi crazies who claim to have found in President-elect Donald Trump a kindred soul, and the tyrants (Assad, Putin) who may think Trump will give them a pass on their ferocious repression."
  • Should Trump follow his campaign promises with regard to Mexico -- to build a wall between the countries and make them pay for it; rip up NAFTA; and intercept the remittances that give many families a lifeline -- the effects could be disastrous for Mexico, reports the Guardian.
  • An Argentine media report that Trump asked President Mauricio Macri for help obtaining permits for a luxury project in Buenos Aires doesn't appear to have any factual basis -- but the case Trump's family business ties in Argentina, show how his election could help favor partners, even without actual requests for favors, reports the Washington Post.

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