The U.S. government announced new restrictions how citizens can travel to and trade with Cuba. The new rules, which take away permission for most individual travel to the island and bar citizens from staying patronizing a long list of hotels and restaurants linked to the Cuban security forces, represent a roll-back from the Obama administration's focus on normalizing relations. Most U.S. citizens will have to travel to Cuba as part of organized groups.
They are in line with U.S. President Donald Trump's promises five months ago to reverse his predecessor's policy, reports the Washington Post. The regulations aim to cut off cash from President Raul Castro's government and pressure it to move towards "greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people," Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.
In recent months then the U.S. has also pulled out a significant part of it's diplomatic staff and in the wake of alleged "sonic attacks." Cuban officials have accused the U.S. of lying about the attacks as an excuse to unravel relations. The bilateral relationship has now slumped to its lowest point since the George W Bush presidency, according to the BBC.
After Trump's June speech about Cuba, analysts noted that the changes were not nearly as profound as they could have been, and largely left in place the fundamentals of the Cuba-U.S. rapprochement. (See June 19's post.) These new regulations are in keeping with that stance, according to the Miami Herald. Nor is it clear how closely the U.S. government will enforce the new regulations that include bans on specific stores.
The new rules have been criticized for not going far enough to rollback Cuba normalization, notes the Financial Times. Marco Rubio, Republican senator for Florida, accused State Department "bureaucrats" of refusing to fully implement Trump's policy.
Though the new regulations are applicable starting today, they are not retroactive, and companies that already have contracts on the island -- including John Deere and Caterpillar -- will be allowed to proceed. A new Sheraton hotel in Havana, carried out with a Cuban military-linked entity, will also be grandfathered in, a move criticized by Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
More than 180 entities, including dozens of hotels and the new Manzana de Gomez luxury shopping mall are on the list, reports NPR. So is the Zona Especial de Desarrollo Mariel (ZEDM).
- The European Union is set to impose an arms embargo on Venezuela and will consider further sanctions, reports Reuters. The measures, in response to Venezuela's political crisis, bring Europe more in line with the U.S. stance. Sources say the turning point for the EU, which had resisted a tougher approach until now, were last months regional elections, in which pro-government candidates won in almost all the races.
- Argentine President Mauricio Macri urged the U.S. to impose a full oil embargo, and said the move would enjoy widespread support in Latin America. He made the comments in an interview with the Financial Times, which notes he is the first Latin American leader to advocate such a tough step.
- In the meantime, Russia agreed to restructure roughly $3 billion in loans to Venezuela, a lifeline for the country on the brink of default, reports the New York Times. (See last Friday's post.)
- The U.S. Treasury has warned Venezuelan bondholders that dealing with the country's chief debt negotiators could lead to stiff penalties under U.S. sanctions, as both are blacklisted by the U.S. Last week President Nicolas Maduro invited bondholders to a meeting next week in Caracas, a proposal many are resisting due to concern over U.S. sanctions and a deteriorated local security situation, according to Reuters.
- Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly (ANC) passed a law yesterday punishing the the spreading of messages instigating hatred toward people or groups due to their race, class or political ideology punishable. The punishment is up toto 20 years of jail, and media outlet found to be promoting these types of crimes will have their licenses revoked, reports EFE.
- A Brazilian congressional committee voted to ban abortion in all cases, including rape or danger to the pregnant woman's life. Abortion is available only in limited circumstances in Brazil, where more than a million clandestine abortions are carried out each year, leading to thousands of hospitalizations due to complications. The move to totally ban the procedure has been led by the growing Evangelical caucus in Congress, but will have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of lawmakers in both chambers to pass, reports Reuters.
- The Mexican government reaffirmed its commitment to human rights and said it has already started on reforms that address impunity for violations committed by security forces, highlighted in a WOLA report this week, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.)
- Independents are technically allowed to run for president in Mexico for the first time this year, but would-be candidates are forced to use a smartphone app that critics are calling "faulty at best, and downright racist at worst," reports the Associated Press. Problems collecting signatures using the application are particularly acute for candidates in the country's rural areas. Maria de Jesus Patricio is the country's the first independent indigenous candidate -- her support base is in Chiapas, where many communities lack phone lines, much less good cell coverage. "Our campaign is being run primarily in the 'deep Mexico,' where no other candidate goes, where there is no cell coverage, where there are no copy machines, where there often isn't even electrical power," the campaign supporters wrote.
- Haiti topped the list of countries worst hit by extreme weather last year in the Climate Risk Index, published annually by research group Germanwatch. The report noted that some countries, including Haiti, are repeatedly hit by extreme weather, leaving them with little time to recover in between catastrophes, according to Reuters. About 46,000 Haitian migrants in the U.S. have Temporary Protected Status, granted after a 2010 earthquake. The Trump administration is evaluating whether to prolong the immigration program. (See Tuesday's post.)
- Ecuador's attorney general's office said it plans to charge Vice President Jorge Glas with criminal conspiracy in connection with the bribery case involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, reports EFE. Glas has been in jail since Oct. 2, in preventive detention pending a possible indictment. If the trial proceeds, Glas will become the highest-ranking politician to face justice in the Odebrecht case. But critics say the judicial onslaught is part of a political persecution in relation to a power struggle between President Lenín Moreno and his predecessor, Rafael Correa.
- Earlier this week the prosecutor's office also announced it will press tax fraud charges against Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht, reports AFP.
- Uruguay's landmark cannabis legalization public policy experiment is barely up and running, but it already provides important lessons for activists seeking more human drug policies around the world, argues Sebastian Sperling of the Friedrich-Eberts-Stiftung in International Politics and Society. He highlights the importance of regulating the entire value chain, as well as a focus on "responsible regulation" rather than "careless liberalization."
- Human rights organizations in El Salvador are supporting a push for reparations for victims of the country's civil war. The project proposes the creation of a Reparations Fund, a registry of victims and various measures for symbolic and material reparations, including preferential access to the public education system and a free psychological support program, reports Inter Press Service.
- Upside Down World interviews eco-feminist Vidalina Morales and her struggle against mining in El Salvador. In the wake of activists' success in banning metallic mining, The National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador (MESA), which she leads, will focus on defending the new law. "In addition, MESA is advocating for water protection laws to protect the vulnerable water basins. There are still many communities that do not have water. MESA hopes to combat water privatization efforts. Private powerful industries are against such water protection laws in El Salvador, as they seek to profit from bottling water for sale as is currently being done."
- Colombian police have seized more than 12 tonnes of cocaine from the Gulf Clan, the country's largest drug trafficking cartel, reports Reuters. The U.S. market value would be approximately $360 million according to President Juan Manuel Santos.
- Bogotá neighborhoods are officially classified into six strata, denoting housing quality as a proxy for income. But the system, intended to charge wealthier people more for municipal services and thus subsidize poorer citizens, "now stands accused of fueling social segregation," reports the Guardian. Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, along with U.N.-Habitat and the utility companies proposes replacing strata and using new technology to assess individuals, rather than properties.
- A new film from the tiny Colombian outpost of Old Providence is the first ever written and produced in San Andres-Providencia creole, the distinct variant of Caribbean English spoken on Providence and its larger sister island, San Andres. Colombian director Samir Oliveros, hopes "Bad Lucky Goat" -- about a brother and sister who accidentally kill a goat with their parents car -- can serve as a testament to the island’s language and culture, reports the Guardian.