Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Castro demands more executive actions to chip away at the U.S. embargo

U.S. and Cuban Presidents Barak Obama and Raúl Castro met yesterday and discussed Pope's visit and efforts to keep improving ties between the two countries. But Congress is unlikely to approve further steps, including lifting the embargo, without signs of clear political change in Cuba, reports the New York Times.

According to White House officials Obama reviewed recent regulatory changes aimed to loosen the embargo, and urged Castro to implement policies in order to maximize their impact, reports the Wall Street Journal

Castro asked Obama to continue weakening the embargo through decrees, as he's done over this year, allowing increased trade and travel with the island, according to La Nación. After the meeting Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez affirmed that normalization of relations between the two countries will depend on Obama weakening the embargo through executive decree, reports the Wall Street Journal. The steps taken so far do not amount to "substantial changes" in the Cold-War era policy, Rodriguez said.

The next test for the thawing relations between the two countries will come on October 27, when Cuba puts its anual anti-embargo resolution to vote in the U.N. Cuba has obtained overwhelming support for its condemnation of the U.S. policy for years, and Rodriguez said Castro's administration is eager to see how the U.S. votes, according to the Miami Herald. Last year only the U.S. and Israel voted against the motion. Diplomats have hinted that the U.S. is considering an abstention from the vote, a break in longtime U.S. policy.

News Briefs

  • The leader of Colombia's rebel group, the FARC, Rodrigo Londoño (known as Timochenko), gave a rare television interview in which he ratified the group's commitment to leave the battlefield, though he said the six month deadline agreed on last week might be too short a timeframe. "If there's political will, we can do it earlier, but six months may also be too short," he said. The interview is significant more for its existence -- Londoño is known for being secretive -- than for any revelations he made, according to the Associated Press.
  • The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency in the regions of Cusco and Apurimac after three people died protesting a Chinese owned mining project, reports Reuters. (Seeyesterday's briefs.) The martial law means civil liberties such as freedom of association and movement are restricted, military patrols are permitted and police can enter homes without search warrants, reports the Wall Street Journal. The protests against the $7.4 billion Las Bambas copper mining project are the latest in a wave of unrest that has led to the suspension of several large projects. Mining accounts for 50 percent of Peru's exports. 
  • The Brazilian government's unemployment survey found that joblessness increased to 8.6 percent in May through July, up from 8 percent in the previous three month period. And average monthly wages, adjusted for inflation, are at their lowest point since November 2014, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Back in the U.N., Guaya's President David Granger used his address to the General Assembly yesterday to blast Venezuela, accusing the neighboring country of "intimidation and aggression." "There has been a series of acts of aggression by presidents of Venezuela against my country," Granger said, citing actions from 1968 through the present. In May of this year Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro laid claim to a long disputed piece of territory adjudicated to Guyana in 1899. Exxon Mobile Corp announced that it had found oil in the area under a license granted by the Guyanese government. The speech comes just two days after the two countries agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties, reports Reuters
  • As if there was any doubt left regarding the scandalously tainted investigation into the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students: Animal Político reports that the four alleged hitmen whose confessions led to the official version that the students were killed by gang members and cremated in the Cocula town dump were picked up drunk on the street, with supposedly self-inflicted beatings and "spontaneously confessing." The piece is based on transparency requests that permitted reporters access to the prosecutors' investigation (declassified last week) and questions the sources of the official story, which has been cast into doubt by independent investigators.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto presented a proposal yesterday to create special economic zones in the country's poorer southern states. GDP growth in the region in recent years lags far behind that of the more industrialized north. The plan would include tax incentives for companies investing in the designated areas, trade facilities and duty-free customs benefits, as well as streamlining of regulatory processes, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The much anticipated opening of Mexico's oil industry to foreign companies -- after nearly eighty years of state exclusivity -- has been thwarted by global plunge in crude oil prices, reports the Wall Street Journal. Today the Mexican government will auction off nine fields in the Gulf of Mexico. After the first oil auction this year, in July, came up very short, the government has sweetened the terms of the deal: the blocks are bigger, the financial terms less rigid and the government’s slice of the profits smaller, reports Bloomberg.
  • The Associated Press has a feature on a Mexican woman who was abducted by a drug gang last year, and whose husband is one of the thousands of disappeared in Mexico.
  • Haitian politicians will court Florida's growing Haitian community -- the presidential candidates running for office in October 25's elections will be debating in north Miami, reports the Miami Herald. Similar forums were already held in New Jersey and Washington earlier this month. 
  • The Miskito tribe in northern Nicaragua has taken up arms against settlers from the country's west, a clash that has left at least 9 dead and forced hundreds to flee their ancestral lands, reports the Associated Press.
  • And Reuters has a feature on Colombia's nomadic Nukak tribe, which was forced out of its jungle territory by the FARC in 2005. In the midst of an uncomfortable culture clash, some members hope to return to their lands, but that possibility depends on the outcome of the Havana peace talks.
  • International and regional leaders used this week's U.N. General Assembly forum to applaud the advances in the Colombian government's peace negotiations with the FARC. But not so fast, argues Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald, reviewing various potential obstacles the agreement must overcome. The preliminary deal may stall in the Colombian Congress, for example, Oppenheimer notes that opposition legislators say it would require a constitutional reform in order to permit former FARC commanders to run for office. He also brings up human rights organizations' criticisms of the deal that would allow those who committed war crimes alternatives to jail time.

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