Thursday, June 1, 2017

Trump wants to rollback Cuban rapprochement (June 1, 2017)

U.S President Donald Trump is considering reinstating limits on travel and business with Cuba. The administration would cite human rights abuses by the Cuban government as justification for the rollback of the signature Obama administration policy, reports the New York Times. The announcement could come early this month, though aides cited by the NYT say there is internal disagreement within the government over how far to unravel the rapprochement.

Trump finds himself divided between campaign promises to conservative Cuban-American constituency and lawmakers and a bureaucracy and business community that support maintaining the new rules which have permitted a measure of trade, travel and commerce, and also cooperation in intelligence-sharing, drug interdiction, scientific research and other areas, according to the NYT.

Trump is considering tightening travel restrictions on Americans, eased a year ago, which would likely affect the tourist boom to the island and affect the airlines offering direct flights from the U.S. He is also debating increasing USAID funds for promoting democracy in Cuba, efforts the Castro government considers covert coup promotion. (Though the State Department budget proposal for 2018 submitted last week would cut USAID programs on the island, see May 25's briefs.)

An announcement on Cuba was expected for Cuban Independence Day, on May 20, but was postponed due to lack of consensus within the administration. (See May 23's briefs.)

Earlier this week 55 Senators from both parties supported a bill that would eliminate all travel prohibitions to Cuba. (See Tuesday's briefs.)

A letter last week signed by 40 U.S. travel companies urged Trump to rollback the new travel regulations, pointing to the "benefits of increased travel to Cuba to both the American and Cuban private sectors." (See May 25's briefs.)

News Briefs
  • U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly was non-committal yesterday in Haiti over whether he'd extent a temporary program providing refuge to Haitians in the U.S. past the January end-date. He apparently left the door open for future discussions, reports the Miami Herald, despite indications over the past week that seemed to point to the end of the Temporary Protected Status program. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • An OAS foreign ministers meeting yesterday on the Venezuelan crisis ended without agreement, reports the BBC. A declaration calling for an end to the violence, liberation of political prisoners, and respect for human rights and the rule of law failed to obtain two-thirds support. After five hours of discussion, the member states agreed to postpone the meeting until later this month. The declaration proposed by Canada, Mexico, Panama, Peru and the United States also called for the Venezuelan government to stop efforts to rewrite the constitution through a Constituent Assembly. The Caribbean Community played a key role in opposing the proposal, according to TeleSUR. Another draft declaration, promoted by the Caribbean Community made less concrete demands, according to Deutsche Welle. That proposal also asked Venezuela to reconsider pulling out of the OAS, reports the Los Angeles Times. When the meeting was announced in April, Venezuela said it would withdraw from the regional body, though that process will take two years. Venezuela considers the OAS efforts to be meddling in sovereign affairs. (See April 27's post.)
  • As the OAS met in Washington, tens of thousands of opposition protesters were dispersed with water cannon and tear gas, reports Reuters. Clashes have taken place nearly every day over the past two months, and over 60 people have died so far in the unrest. Local rights group Penal Forum said nearly 3,000 people have been arrested, of whom 1,351 remain in custody, reports Deutsche Welle. Yesterday's protesters were aiming for the foreign ministry, and demanded elections, freedom for jailed activists, and foreign humanitarian aid.
  • The clashes between protesters and security forces in Venezuela are part of a Cuban proxy war, according to Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady. "More than a dozen high-ranking Cuban officers are said to be in Venezuela, along with thousands of Cuban intelligence agents. Their job is to keep Venezuelan army officers under constant surveillance to prevent the feared military uprising to restore democracy. If the international community wants to head off disaster, a good place to start would be in Havana," she wrote last week.
  • Members of the MUD opposition coalition said they'd boycott the constitution rewrite process, calling it an illegal scheme to for the unpopular government to cling to power, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Earlier this week, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said that Venezuela lacks democracy, it's government is veering towards authoritarianism and the country poses a threat to the rest of the region, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Mexico and the U.S. are headed for a sugar wars stand-off. The U.S. threatens to impose duties unless a deal is struck by next Monday while Mexico vows retaliation, reports the Financial Times. (See March 9's post.)
  • The holding company of meat-packing giant JBS agreed with Brazilian prosecutors to pay $3.16 billion in fines over corruption allegations, reports the Financial Times.
  • News about Operation Car Wash is so frequent and the web of corruption uncovered in Brazil and the world so vast, that it's hard to keep the bigger picture in mind mostly. A Guardian long-read reviews the three year history of the landmark graft probe that leveraged Brazil's relatively new plea-bargain measures into cases shaking the country's political system. "Launched in March 2014, the operation had initially focused on agents known as doleiros (black market money dealers), who used small businesses, such as petrol stations and car washes, to launder the profits of crime. But police soon realised they were on to something bigger ..."
  • Land conflicts have led to 37 deaths so far this year, reports the Associated Press based on figures compiled by the Pastoral Land Commission of the Catholic Church.
  • Nicaragua's mega canal seems increasingly unlikely. Instead the country is looking for more traditional development projects to bring funding, economic growth and tourists to the country's east, reports the Financial Times.
  • USAID is under scrutiny for nearly $1 billion in loans to renewable energy projects in Chile, reports Reuters.
  • A council of Mexican indigenous groups, backed by Zapatista rebels, chose Maria de Jesus Patricio to be the country's first female indigenous presidential candidate last weekend, reports the Associated Press.
  • If the U.S. leaves the Paris climate agreement it will join Syria and Nicaragua, the only other two countries that do not form part of the accord. But the reason Nicaragua refused to sign on in 2015 is because the plan hinged on voluntary pledges and includes no punishment for failing to meet them, reports the Washington Post. Nicaragua also argued that rich countries should pay more, as they have historically caused more environmental damage.
  • Striking images in Latin America's POY Latam contest, reports the New York Times.
  • A new Trump branded toilet paper in Mexico offers "Softness without borders." Packages are expected to begin rolling off production lines later this year, with 30 percent of the profits promised to programs supporting migrants, reports the Associated Press.

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