Monday, March 28, 2016

From baseball diplomacy to rock and roll: The Cuban times are a changing? (March 28, 2016)

Closing off a week of firsts for Cuba, on Friday Mick Jagger addressed a crowd of nearly half a million at the Rolling Stone's first concert on the island where their music was once forbidden, reports the Wall Street Journal. "We know that years ago it was difficult to hear our music here in Cuba, but here we are, playing in your beautiful land," Jagger said in excellent Spanish. "I think that finally times are changing. It's true, no?"

"It was the closest to an overt political statement in the two-hour concert, which some democracy activists feared would be used by the one-party state to perpetuate its hold on power," according to the Guardian.

(A separate Guardian piece has a brief history of rock and roll and the Cuban revolutionary government.)

Among the many contrasts on display last week when U.S. President Barack Obama visited Cuba, one of the most striking was the generational gulf separating him from Cuban President Raúl Castro. The divide was stark: Obama spoke of burying old wounds, the very same that are Castro's "defining grievances," notes the New York Times. Obama spoke to a younger cohort, on the island and off, who are more willing to leave behind the disputes that have kept both countries separate for over 50 years.

The stories of migration between the two countries has also rapidly changed, notes another New York Times piece. Whereas before migration was an exile, a permanent journey, now young people talk of going and returning.

Not so fast though. Fidel Castro responded to Obama's speech last week (see last Wednesday's briefs) with a long letter released to Cuban media this morning. He reviews Cuba's history, starting with Spanish colonialism up to the Bays of Pigs invasion, reports the Associated Press. He says of Obama "My modest suggestion is that he reflects and doesn't try to develop theories about Cuban politics."

Since Obama's trip, the Cuban government has released a long series of arguments countering his message of change, including a litany of complaints about what he forgot to do, such as asking "forgiveness for the crimes committed against our people," reports the Miami Herald.

"We don't need gifts from the empire," he wrote in the article published in Granma, reports El País.

Seven Cuban migrants were interdicted at sea on the way to Florida with gunshot wounds. Earlier this year, authorities said Cuban migrants desperate to reach US shores were increasingly violent and noncompliant with coast guard crews who detained them at sea, citing reports of attempted poisoning and self-inflicted wounds as rumors swirl that the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy will soon be abandoned, reports the Associated Press.

News Briefs
  • Obama's Latin America visit, could mark the start of a cycle of closer ties between the U.S. and the region, argues Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald. But it has a lot to do with the changing political cycle in the region. "There is growing speculation in diplomatic circles that by January 2017 when Obama leaves office, Latin America's political map may be dominated by pro-investment, U.S. friendly governments in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and several other countries."
  • Israel backed out of a seven-month diplomatic spat with Brazil over an ambassadorial nominee to Brasilia with ties to occupied West-Bank settlements. Brazil's government, which has backed Palestinian statehood, had balked at accepting the appointment as envoy in August of former settler leader Dani Dayan, reports Reuters. Rejection of a proposed ambassador is extremely rare and had drawn considerable attention to the Dayan case, notes the Guardian.
  • Brazilian authorities have cracked down on shipments of abortion inducing drugs, sent by an international advocacy group to expectant mothers who requested them in fear of potential severe birth defects caused by the Zika virus, reports the Los Angeles Times. Such medicines are banned in Brazil, authorities say. Women on Web, a Canadian group that is based in the Netherlands, said in February that it had sent "dozens of packages" to women in Brazil but only two packages had arrived. 
  • The (fallen?) super hero judge in Brazil's Operation Lava Jato corruption investigation proved no crime by releasing wire taps of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and instead did democracy a disservice by taking a political step that threw the already embattled government into full on crisis, argue politics and international affairs professors Daniela Campello and Cesar Zucco in the Washington Post. (See Friday's post.)
  • Brazil's boiling hot political crisis is mirrored by economic woes, reports the Wall Street Journal. It appears to be headed for one of its worst recessions ever that could turn into a depression. The economy shrank by nearly 4 percent last year, is predicted to do the same this year, as unemployment rises and wages fall. (Part of the death of the BRICS bubble, reports the Guardian.)
  • But economic woes are hardly restricted to Brazil this year. The world financial crisis has affected the 15 countries of Caricom, reports the Miami Herald, slowing growth and putting financial strain on governments.
  • And U.N. ECLAC estimates for Latin America predict a mere .2 growth this year, although growth will be stronger in Mexico, Central America and some South American nations, reports the Miami Herald in a separate piece.
  • Honduran police arrested a suspect in the murder of Nelson García, an environmental rights activist and colleague of recently slain award-winning indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, reports Reuters. (See March 17's post.)
  • The lawyer representing the only witness to Cáceres' murder in early March (see March 4's post) says he might be framed, reports the Guardian. Mexican environmental activist Gustavo Castro Soto was wounded during the attack in which she was killed. Since then Honduran authorities have prevented him from returning home and he's been staying at the Mexican ambassador's residence for his own protection. Rights groups have voiced concern over his detention and the impartiality of the investigation into the murder, but the Honduran government has rejected calls for an independent international investigation.
  • Mexican authorities detained a man who allegedly laundered money for Sinaloa cartel drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, reports Reuters. Juan Manuel Alvarez, who was arrested in Oaxaca state, has ties to an international money-laundering network that spans Mexico, Colombia, Panama and the United States, Mexican police said via their official Twitter account. He was arrested on a provisional extradition warrant from the United States, where he is wanted on money laundering charges, reports in the Associated Press. "King Midas" is suspected of laundering $4 billion, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil's political crisis is drawing frequent comparisons to "House of Cards" (see March 21's post), closer to home it's inspired a dark comic strip featuring a former soldier turned masked vigilante who kills venal politicians, reports the Guardian.
  • On the subject of superheroes, El País has a feature on several Latin American masked avengers.

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