Thursday, February 25, 2016

Cuba gives some political dissidents one-time travel permission (Feb. 25, 2016)

The Cuban government has given some prominent political dissidents permission for one trip overseas, ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit, reports the New York Times

Members of a group of 11 dissidents imprisoned in 2003 said yesterday that officials have told seven of them that have a one-time travel permission as a reward for good behavior. Four, more politically active members of the group remain unable to travel, reports the Associated Press.

The move is an apparent overture towards Obama, who has expressed concern regarding the government's human rights record, reports Deutsche Welle. The move serves several purposes, explains the BBC: it is both an example of fairer treatment of political dissidents, and could lead them to permanently relocate. 

The 11 dissidents were imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown known as the Black Spring, in which 75 people were arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. The dissidents were freed in 2010, under pressure from the Catholic Church and from Spain, Cuba freed the dissidents on the condition that they leave the country permanently. The 11 decided to stay anyway.

But one of the dissidents emphasized to DW that the overture is nothing concrete, when the dissidents return they'll still be in legal limbo. Another told the AP that it could be an attempt to spur them to move away.

When the diplomatic rapprochement began in Cuba and the U.S. about a year ago, the Cuban government released 53 people considered by Washington as political prisoners.

But, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (an independent human rights organization considered illegal by the Cuban government), Cuba has resumed detentions, reports the BBC. The Commission says on average more than 700 people were detained temporarily each month in 2015.

Ben Rhodes, Assistant to Obama and Deputy National Security Advisor, told journalists that Obama will be meeting with dissidents during his visit to Cuba next month. Counterpunch reviews a Feb. 18 Press Briefing by Rhodes and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, in they say there will be no change to the Wet Foot-Dry Foot policy that gives Cuban migrants a fast-track to legal U.S. residency. (See post for Nov. 25, 2015.)

Rhodes also expresses that the Obama Cuba policy is part of a wider goal of improving relations with Latin America: "The Cuba opening also has to be seen as part of an effort by the United States to significantly increase our engagement in the hemisphere. This is a region that had long rejected our Cuba policy. Our Cuba policy had, in fact, isolated the United States more than it had isolated Cuba in the hemisphere."

Yesterday Obama renewed a 20-year-old state of national emergency to enforce a blockade that prohibits U.S.-registered vessels and aircraft from entering Cuban waters or airspace without authorization, reports USA Today. However the administration softened the language used by previous administrations to justify the emergency, and expressed a desire for "a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Cuba."

Even as the thaw continues between the two countries, the U.S. continues to enforce the economic embargo against Cuba with fines levied against companies, reports the Miami Herald. The U.S. Treasury says about $5 million in fines have been imposed since rapprochement began a year ago. But the Cuban government says the number is $2.84 billion and says it shows the extent of the embargo's deterrent effect on business with the island.

News Briefs
  • The Chinese spurred commodities boom that has created economic growth across Latin America has been accompanied by protests by locals affected by mega projects. Clashes that have led to deaths in Honduras, Ecuador and Peru, which is the focus of a Los Angeles Times piece that looks at resistance to Chinese owned La Bamba mine.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto visited Iguala yesterday, 17 months after 43 teachers' college students disappeared following their abduction by local police. He avoided meeting with missing students' families though, and made only brief references to the case, reports the Guardian. Since the attack and probable massacre, Peña Nieto's aloof response to the tragedy has generated widespread anger and sent his popularity plummeting. Yesterday, Peña Nieto said those events showed the necessity for Mexico to continue advancing on a road pegged to the rule of law and institutions and said that the government has sought justice "through a deep, transparent and open investigation, including with the collaboration of international entities," reports the Associated Press. But international experts continue to question the official investigation into  the case and earlier this week denounced difficulties in conducting a probe in collaboration with authorities. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Mexican journalist Moisés Dagdug Lutzow, media company owner and former politician, was stabbed to death in his home this weekend. Though police believe he was the victim of a robbery, colleagues say he had previously received threats and that he'd been critical of the Tabasco state government and its governor, Arturo Nuñez Jimenez, reports the Guardian. Earlier this year a report by the International Federation of Journalists put Mexico in third place world wide for murdered journalists. About 2,300 journalists have been killed in the past 25 years, reports the Associated Press.
  • Jamaicans head to the polls today. The ruling party is widely expected to be re-elected, after a successful economic austerity plan restored growth to the heavily indebted country, reports Reuters. Nonetheless, unemployment is high, especially for youth, and the incumbent People's National Party must fight off opposition promises of job creation and tax cuts. The election comes months early and in the midst of rising violent crime, reports the Miami Herald. The campaign has been marred by several shootings that have killed two people and left dozens injured at campaign events.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales conceded defeat yesterday in a referendum that would have allowed him to run for a fourth term in office. He said he would use the four years left of his current mandate to advance his Socialist-inspired agenda, reports the New York Times. Articles earlier this week pointed to the result as part of a broader ideological shift in the region. But the Guardian says it probably has more to do with specific scandals, voter fatigue, rising expectations and deteriorating economic prospects. (See Monday's and Tuesday's posts and yesterday's briefs.)
  • World Health Organization head Margaret Chan praised the Brazilian government's respond to the Zika virus outbreak. She emphasized the government's commitment, transparency and willingness to collaborate at both national and international levels, reports the Associated Press.
  • Moody's Investors Service became the third major firm to downgrade Brazil's sovereign-credit rating to junk status, yesterday, reports the Wall Street Journal. Though the move was widely expected, it adds to a desolate political and economic scenario for the country, reports the Guardian.
  • Urban unemployment in Brazil increased last month and wages continued to drop, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The arrest earlier this week of a prominent electoral consultant associated with President Dilma Rousseff (see Tuesday's briefs) means a new turn for the worst for Brazil's political and economic crisis, argues Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald. Specifically it raises more possibilities for Rousseff's impeachment or an early election, he says.
  • A new bill passed by Brazil's Senate yesterday could open up oil exploration off the country's coast, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A planned $250 million submarine cable linking Brazil directly to Europe aims to avoid U.S. electronic espionage. Google and Facebook have already expressed interest in using it, according to the Brazilian Communications Minister Andre Figueiredo, reports Bloomberg.
  • Hundreds of young Salvadorans seeking refuge from rampant gang violence volunteer in a long-standing EMT group, the Comandos, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Nobel Peace Prize nominated group was established during the country's civil war and won respect from all sides by treating soldiers, guerrillas and civilians. Now it gives youths an alternative to gang recruitment.
  • A coalition of U.S. Latino organizations will release a set of policies they recommend for politicians seeking to court the growing group of voters, reports Reuters. They will recommend policies on everything from economic security, education and comprehensive immigration reform to the environment and health.
  • The scientific quest to determine the cause of Chile's Nobel laureate poet Pablo Neruda continues. An international team of genomics experts and forensic specialists will study the bones and teeth of Neruda, reports the Associated Press. The poet was exhumed in 2013, but tests showed no toxic agents in his bones. He died in 1973, after a military coup by Augusto Pinochet. Foul play has long been suspected, though he ostensibly died of natural causes.

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