Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump threatens a Cuba détente rollback (Nov. 29, 2016)

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump reiterated threats to rollback the Obama administration's relaxing of regulation on trade with Cuba. He tweeted yesterday that "If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal," reports the Guardian

The first scheduled commercial flight between Miami and Havana landed yesterday. Passengers applauded and Cubans welcomed the plane with water from firetrucks, reports the Associated Press. Though it was a moment of celebration of renewed relations between the two countries, but the American Airlines flight landed in a capital subdued by mourning, reports the Guardian

The threat comes two days after Fidel Castro's death, and as experts debate to what extent Trump would be willing to jeopardize businesses who invested time and money in Cuba based on the current administration's policies. (See yesterday's post and Nov. 11's.) 

Obama's signature foreign policy initiative was carried out largely by executive action, making it vulnerable to reversal. But changes stemming from relaxed restrictions and a focus on engagement have been widespread and won't be easily undone, say others. Yesterday Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary pointed to concrete business deals, including 110 daily flights between the two countries and investments by cruise, tour and hotel operators. It could be legally difficult to reverse the policies which permitted these investments.

And business leaders have asked for a more measured stance, reports the Financial Times.

But Trump's words could restart the hostilities between the two countries that engagement aimed to end, reports the New York Times.

Trump's stance could also drive a wedge between Latin American leaders and the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. Undoing the detente would be negatively viewed by the region's conservative governments as well as leftists and could complicate regional cooperation, according to the piece. A history of U.S. interference in the region has fostered resentment and solidarity among Latin American countries, and many could view a rollback as offensive to countries that promoted normalization.

Additionally, the tactic of demanding more of Cuba has traditionally backfired on the U.S., Eric Olsen, Associate Director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center told the WSJ.

Henry Godinez defends engagement as the best way to help Cubans in a New York Times op-ed, and calls on Cuban Americans to let go of demands for reparations for properties confiscated in the Revolution. "Nothing is more threatening to a totalitarian regime than the unfettered flow of information and ideas."

Castro's death occurs just as the incoming Trump administration is expected to throw regional policy for loop. The fraught waters promise to challenge Cuban President Raúl Castro. But the younger Castro brother has shown his own distinctive brand of leadership over the past decade of rule, notably maintaining Communist Party control despite a program of economic reforms, reports the Guardian.

Castro's upcoming funereal presents a diplomatic dilemma for world leaders -- with the exception of Latin American leftist governments, most are sending mid-level delegations to represent them, reports the Guardian. In the U.S., Republican leadership is pressuring Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to skip the event. On a broader level, world leaders have struggled to find words honoring Castro's legacy yet condemning his human rights record, reports the Financial Times

Castro is iconic in Latin America, but his legacy is increasingly mixed and fading, argues John Paul Rathbone in the Financial Times.

Dignitaries expected to participate and arrive later today include Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto and Spanish King Juan Carlos, reports the Miami Herald.

Tens of thousands of Cubans have lined up in Plaza de la Revolución in Havana to pay their final respects, and the mood yesterday was sombre and respectful, according to the Miami Herald. The ashes will remain there till Tuesday night, when they will be taken on a three day procession east across the island until reaching Santiago de Cuba, their final resting point. 

The government has banned sales of alcohol and closed down the Havana nightlife scene, reports the Wall Street Journal.

And while Fidel long handed over the reigns of government, an entire generation of Cubans has never known a world without him. "Fidel embodied the best and worst of us. We loved his smarts. And his defiance. And when he imagined our tiny little island as a continent, we shared his delusion. We hated his ambitions and loved that he had them. Hang out with a bunch of Cubans, and the minute someone gets imperious, someone else will call her out for “the little Fidel” in her; in all of us, really," writes Achy Obejas in a New York Times op-ed.

"There has been plenty of history in Castro’s Cuba since 1959, much of it deplorable," writes Roger Cohen in another NYT op-ed. "Fidel was a flawed giant. By the end the only idea of his still standing was the anti-American nationalism taken on by the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. However, this is certainly not the moment to say his stand for the disinherited of the earth was unimportant. Nor, at a time when the United States has elected a charlatan as president, is it the moment to overlook the fact that Fidel was a serious and uncorrupt politician. Nor to leave unsaid the suffering he inflicted."

News Briefs
  • Preliminary results in Haiti declared Jovenel Moïse the outright winner of the Nov. 20 presidential election, reports the Wall Street Journal. Moïse was the candidate of former President Michel Martelly's Tet Kale party, and obtained 55.6 percent of the vote according to yesterday's results. He is a banana plantation owner with no political experience, reports the Miami Herald. Should the results hold, it will mean the country will have an elected president for the first time in a year -- without the need for a second round of voting. But three of the nine members of the provisional electoral council refused to sign off on the results. There have been violent clashes in the wait for results, notes the BBC. Some experts say a second round would permit greater political stability. Second-place candidate Jude Célestin of the Lapeh political party had 19.5 percent in the preliminary count announced by electoral officials. The third place finisher, Moïse Jean-Charles, got 11 percent.
  • Mexico's Colima state, specifically Manzanillo, has the dubious distinction of being the country's "murder capital." The violence marking relatively small population of 700,000 is part of a national realignment of organized crime, and a struggle between the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels to control the biggest port on the country's Pacific coast, reports the Guardian.
  • Strong private-sector growth in Mexico has pushed the country's unemployment to its lowest level in nine years, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil's opposition sought yesterday to have President Michel Temer investigated and impeached for pressuring a former minister to override preservation rules in Salvador to favor another cabinet member with interests in a luxury apartment development. (See yesterday's briefs.) The demand is unlikely to advance, nor will it likely affect the approval of a signature Temer proposal to cap government spending -- due for Senate consideration today. But it has cost his government a cabinet member and adds to the country's political uncertainty, according to Reuters.
  • A charter plane carrying the Brazilian Chapecoense soccer team crashed on the outskirts of Medellín crashed killing 76 people, authorities said earlier today. Search and rescue operations have been hampered by low visibility, reports the Associated Press. The team was traveling from Bolivia to play in the final of Copa Sudamericana, which has been suspended, reports the New York Times.
  • As Trump gears up to fight free trade, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski promises to fight back against protectionism, reports the Financial Times. As an alternative to the U.S., the country's main trading partner, PPK is looking to deepen ties with Beijing.
  • The drought that currently has Bolivia in a state of emergency is due to rapidly shrinking glaciers that supply the country with water, a sign of how climate change is already affecting one of the region's poorest countries, according to the Guardian.
  • Five new national parks in some of the wildest parts of Chile and Argentina will be created within the next year or so, thanks to the joint conservation efforts of former outdoor-clothing giants Doug and Kris Tompkins, reports the Guardian. The two bought up 2.2 million acres of land and have modeled their conservation efforts on the U.S. national park system.
  • Liberal democracies around the world may be at serious risk for decline, according to political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa. Their early-warning system uses the case of Venezuela to demonstrate indicators of deconsolidating democracies, reports the New York Times.

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