Monday, November 2, 2015

Human traffic jams in and out of Cuba (Nov. 2, 2015)

A quiet Cuban exodus to the U.S. is underway, as migrants rush to get out before restored diplomatic relations between the two countries brings about the end of a policy that grants residency to most who manage to make it across the border. The new route they are taking comes through Mexico, causing a "migration crisis" that is adding to the problems already caused by Central Americans fleeing their homes, reports the Miami Herald.

Many come from Ecuador or another third country, to which they have traveled as tourists. According to the latest numbers, at least 27,400 Cubans have entered the U.S. through the Mexican border over the past year, and another 9,000 have arrived at the Miami airport without visas.

Some Cubans -- those living on the forlorn Isla de la Juventud off the main island -- are taking an even more difficult path. They push off in boats aiming for Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, hoping to then make a dash for the U.S. border, reports the Washington Post. The newspaper goes into the unusual situation of the Cuban outpost island, where the Cuban government is working hard to convince the 80,000 residents to stay in a place where there is little to keep them.

While Cubans are trying to head out, everybody else is trying to visit "before everything changes." The Guardian reports that hotel rooms in Havana are selling out at a record pace, and that already it's difficult to get availability before April of next year. Tourists are trying to get there before restrictions on U.S. travelers are lifted, and before the charm brought on by the embargo and the difficulty in obtaining goods is "lost."

But fear not, the Cuba of shortages and poverty is alive and ready to receive them. The island's infrastructure is unprepared for the influx of visitors -- and even less so for the estimated 10 million Americans who are expected to visit yearly as soon as they can."ATMs are rare and often empty, and food shortages are common, with restaurants running out of ingredients. Most crucially, there is a lack of hotel accommodation."

For those who can't make it in person, check out this photo-series at The Guardian.

News Briefs

  • The Washington Post has an interview with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. He speaks about the upcoming peace deal with the FARC -- which he has staked his political career on. Colombians must ratify an eventual deal, and though many are skeptical of a deal that will permit guerrilla commanders to avoid prison and even run for office, Santos says they will back a truce agreement in the name of ending the fifty year conflict which has killed more than 200,000 Colombians and driven 7 million from their homes. " The political costs have been enormous," said Santos. "They warned me five years ago that making peace was totally different from what I had been doing as minister of defense. When I was defense minister I was very popular, and now that I’m president I’m unpopular because I'm trying to make peace. It's much easier to make war and get trophies. But this is a more fulfilling path."
  • But not so fast. The FARC is saying it's three-month-old unilateral ceasefire might be at risk because of a rise in military actions against its fighters, reports Reuters. Last week, just after Santos offered to enter a bilateral New Years' ceasefire, the army announced it had killed four FARC fighters in an operation against a rebel unit allegedly involved in extortion and drug trafficking in southwestern Colombia, reports AFP. Last week, FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez, accused the government of escalating its campaign against the group. 
  • Reuters has a pretty trite overview of the Argentine political situation ahead of the November 22 run-off election between Daniel Scioli -- representing the Frente para la Victoria party of current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner -- and conservative candidate Mauricio Macri. The review general Argentine politics doesn't add anything, but it does make the valid point that "the candidates' mounting attacks on each other look set to transform the rather dull campaign ahead of the first ballot into a bruising brawl." With three weeks to go the candidates are looking to differentiate themselves. The campaigns are going door to door to spread their key messages: change, in the case of Macri, and continuity of the social gains of the past decade in the case of Scioli
  • Argentina's Supreme court created a judicial commission focused on legal cases pertaining to drug trafficking and organized crime last week, and called for the creation of a registry of drug trafficking cases, as well as an observatory "to monitor the evolution of this criminal phenomenon" in the legal sphere. InSight Crime reports that the decision "comes amid growing frustration over perceived inaction by officials from the executive branch to confront security issues."
  • Advocates of human rights in Chile are racing to try Pinochet dictatorship-era crimes before the deaths of witnesses, victims and the accused makes such legal maneuvers impossible. Led by Supreme Court President Sergio Munoz, the push for justice is unprecedented in Chile where conservative sympathies for the military even after the return of democracy has blocked attempts to deal with its crimes, reports Reuters. During Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship, an estimated 3,200 people were murdered and another 28,000 tortured by the state. In July President Michelle Bachelet called on citizens to end their silence regarding human rights violations in that period (see July 29th's briefs) and a judge ordered the arrest of two former army officers and five former noncommissioned officers accused of burning an activist alive while he was photographing a political protest in 1986 (see July 22nd's briefs). Polls show support for Pinochet has declined in recent years and there is little vocal opposition to the pursuit of ex-military personnel accused of human rights violations, according Reuters.
  • Two companies colluded to fix toilet paper -- and other paper product -- prices for over a decade in Chile. The scandal -- the largest collusion case ever uncovered in the country -- was announced last week by the Minister of Economy, who said it was outrageous and disproportionately affected the country's poorest social groups, reports the Associated Press.
  • The International Criminal Court's prosecutor says she has decided against opening a full investigation into allegations of crimes following a 2009 coup in Honduras, reports theAssociated Press. The decision comes after a three year probe concluded that human rights violations did happen in the aftermath of the coup but did not amount to crimes against humanity that fall within the court's jurisdiction.
  • A proposed gang rehabilitation law in El Salvador is unlikely to provide a viable solution to the rapidly increasing rates of gang violence there, reports InSight Crime.
  • Bolivia announced plans to plans to build a $300m nuclear complex, including a research reactor, using Russian technology and Argentine help, reports AFP. Despite fears about the environmental impact, the government insists it poses no risks.
  • Outgoing cabinet members in Haiti will be issued lucrative departure packages, worth more than $50,000 per minister, reports the Miami Herald. The new measure, announced by outgoing President Michel Martelly prompted outrage in the country where teachers and civil servants often go without salaries for months on end and about 60 percent of the population is unable to meet basic food needs. The measure is being sold as an anti-corruption initiative, but seems more like mishandling of scarce resources according to experts.
  • Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Mexico in February of next year. According to the Associated Press, migrant rights could figure in the trip, as well as the issue of violence in Mexico. The Pontiff reportedly wanted to enter wanted to enter the U.S. from Mexico in a sign of solidarity with migrants during his recent U.S. trip but that the schedule didn't allow for it.
  • Bad news is always good for somebody? The Wall Street Journal reports that in a difficult year for emerging markets some of the most "treacherous trades" --including Latin American oil company bonds -- actually paid off.
  • Back to the Brazilian disaster bandwagon, the Miami Herald has a piece on the perfect storm facing the country: recession, plummeting currency, two presidential corruption investigations, a divided and fighting Congress and several impeachment proposals.
  • In the meantime, individuals and companies involved in the wide-ranging Petrobras kickback scheme have agreed to pay the government close to $622 million reports Bloomberg, based on O Globo.
  • A forest fire has been blazing in the northern Brazilian state of Maranhão -- devastating some of the last Amazon rainforest there, including part of the territory of an uncontacted tribe, reports The Guardian. Some environmentalists and officials believe it may have been started intentionally by illegal loggers, amid high tensions between them and indigenous "forest guardians."
  • Brazilian federal police will question one of the sons of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as part of an investigation into whether companies bribed Brazilian tax officials, reports the Wall Street Journal. This comes after they searched the offices of Luis Claudio Lula da Silva last week.
  • Preparations for next year's Olympics are providing cover for forced evictions and increased segregation in Rio de Janeiro, according to a piece in The Guardian. "Wherever there is an Olympics, the level of transparency goes way down," says Theresa Williamson, the executive director of the Rio-based NGO Catalytic Communities. "Whether it’s for the new BRT [the Bus Rapid Transit system] or the evictions at Vila Autódromo, the Olympics is the context for all of these resettlements." (See Sept. 10th's post.)
  • The so-called "Air Cocaine" French pilots who escaped from the Dominican Republic after being convicted of drug smuggling were arrested in their homes in France earlier today, reportsFrance 24. However France has previously said they will not be extradited. (See lastWednesday's briefs.)
  • The Guardian has a photo-essay of the Day of the Dead celebrations across the region.

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