Friday, March 11, 2016

Baseball instead of dissidents for Obama's Cuba visit (March 11, 2016)

U.S. President Barack Obama's upcoming Cuba trip moves the focus of American policy towards the island away from dissidents, according to the Associated Press. After decades of backing dissidents aiming for regime change in Cuba, Obama's visit marks a 180-degree turn, a bet that closer links and warmth will do more for reform on the island than 50 years of hostility have.

Though Obama's trip will include private meetings with dissidents, that will not be the focus of his trip.

A primary feature of the two day trip will be an exhibition game between the Cuban national baseball team and the Tampa Bay Rays, only the second such game played on Cuban soil since the Cold War.

"The fact of the matter is we don't have any expectation that Cuba is going to transform its political system in the near term," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, one of the architects of Obama's Cuba policy, told the AP. "Even if we got 10 dissidents out of prison, so what? What's going to bring change is having Cubans have more control over their own lives."

The Cuban government is taking pains to communicate that closer relations with the northern "imperial" neighbor doesn't mean leaving ideological differences behind.

Instead the U.S. focus since announced diplomatic détente has been on economic reform, explains the AP.

For its part, the Cuban government is focusing on baseball diplomacy to breakdown economic trade barriers with the U.S., reports the Washington Post. The two governments have been talking privately with Major League Baseball to figure out how to allow Cuban players to come to the United States legally to play in the big leagues.

The two country's shared love of the game could provide momentum to a move that would help cement normalization of relations ahead of a new administration in the U.S. 

An interesting note in the AP piece focuses on the disconnect between Cuban dissidents and the general population. "What's clear is that the dissidents have not built up broad-based sympathy in much of the country and are often met with criticism and even anger."

Washington Post editorial criticizes the focus on baseball diplomacy instead of human rights. Obama's "visit will be an ignoble failure if he does not have a meaningful encounter with the island’s most important human rights activists." The piece notes that repression of protests has not gotten better (and possibly it's worst) in the fifteen months of rapprochement with the U.S. (The AP piece gives more details on the temporary detention policy.)

The Washington Post editorial calls on Obama to cancel his trip if he cannot secure meetings with prominent dissidents.

Though relations between Cuba and Europe have been far less contentious, there too diplomats are leaving behind a focus on human rights and political freedom in favor of cementing cooperation in several areas, reports CNN. Today the E.U. foreign policy chief meet with her Cuban counterpart to finalize a deal that officials have negotiated for the past two years to improve relations.

As the U.S. and Cuba normalize economic relations, American book publishers have signed a petition urging the White House and Congress to end the Cuba trade embargo for books and educational materials, reports the Wall Street Journal. The group, which includes Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and the Author's Guild, said the embargo runs counter to American ideals of freedom of expression. 

Curious aside: Mashable reports on a Florida mayor who plans to build and ride a homemade raft from Cuba to Florida, to experience firsthand the perilous journey undertaken by many Cuban migrants.

News Briefs
  • Ahead of a planned protest march in Caracas tomorrow, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said yesterday that the opposition will fail in its attempts to oust him before the end of his term. Maduro called his foes divided and corrupt and said he was the right choice to lead the country out of its crushing economic crisis, reports Reuters. (See Wednesday's post.)
  • The Venezuelan crisis is affecting landmark medical exchange programs with Cuba, reports the BBC.
  • Julio Guzmán, the Peruvian presidential candidate polling second for next month's election, said he will seek international support to reinstate his bid after the electoral board barred him on a technicality this week. Guzmán told Reuters he had started talks with four foreign governments - from Latin America and "other continents" - about the board's move, which prompted concern from a U.S. lawmaker and the Organization of American States. The move is expected to bolster right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori's change of winning. Guzmán alleges she and former President Alan García, who is seeking a third term, pressured the board to block his candidacy, charges they both deny. Speaking to the Guardian, Guzmán accused the electoral body of inconsistency, "changing its mind in a matter of days." It had initially forgiven the technical error but then opted to bar him when he surged in the polls to second place, he said. (See yesterday's post.)
  • A request by Brazilian prosecutors to place former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in preventative detention will likely push an already tense political situation to boiling point, reports the Guardian. "If approved, it would be an arrest of historic proportions, equivalent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigations jailing George Bush or British police taking Tony Blair or Gordon Brown into custody." If convicted on all counts he could face as many as 13 years in prison, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Monday's post, and Wednesday's and Thursday's briefs.)
  • Anti-government demonstrations are planned in Brazil for Sunday. Just the latest in a seemingly endless spiral of political crisis, reports the Washington Post
  • The investigation into Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres' killing has been mishandled from the start, according to her nephew. He told the Guardian that the atmosphere in the country is "terrifying." (See last Friday's post and Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Six weeks ahead of Haiti's much rescheduled presidential run-off elections seem to be again threatened by a political standoff. This time around it's between provisional President Jocelerme Privert -- who was chosen to lead a 120 day caretaker government last month -- and Martelly-loyal lawmakers who oppose his selection of a Prime Minister and accuse him of angling to stay in power beyond the designated term, reports the Miami Herald.
  • An Argentine federal judge refused to reopen a criminal complaint against former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner that was first brought by prosecutor Alberto Nisman who died under mysterious circumstances last year, reports the New York Times. While prosecutors said they had new documents that warranted reviving the case against Fernández and political supporters, judge Daniel Rafecas said they were insufficient and his determination that there was no evidence of a crime. (See post for May 14, 2015.)
  • Amnesty International says five Mexican marines have been arrested in relation to the 2013 disappearance of Armando del Bosque Villarreal in Mexico's Nuevo Leon state, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Chilean army general who led the helicopter-borne killing squad known as the caravan of death under dictator Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s died this week in Santiago, reports the Washington Post.
  • A 16-year investigation into the death of a U.S. citizen who disappeared in Chile 32 years ago, during the country's military rule, was closed this week who applied a statute of limitations on the case. The move cleared the retired police and military officers who were indicted with his abduction in 2012, denies the family any compensation and means the ultimate fate of Boris Weisfeiler will remain a mystery, reports the New York Times.
  • Most of the panic over the Zika outbreak in Latin America has focused on the microcephaly birth defect it is believed to be causing in Brazilian pregnancies. But in Colombia a sharp increase in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause severe paralysis, has been a more pressing concern, reports the Wall Street Journal.

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