Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Irma in Cuba (Sept. 13, 2017)

At least 10 Cubans were killed in Hurricane Irma, belying initial reports that the island had fared the intense storm relatively well, reports the Guardian. It's the worst hurricane toll since 2005. (See Monday's post.) Most of the fatalities were in Havana, where crumbling buildings proved lethal in several cases. Wide swathes of the country have been left without power, and there are water shortages in Havana and the central and western provinces, reports the Miami Herald.  Coastal flooding was extensive, and reached nearly 5 feet in areas, including Havana neighborhoods. Waves in Havana reached 30 feet. 

Nonetheless, the island is far better prepared to deal with natural disasters than other countries in the region, in part because three-quarters of the workforce is employed by the state, explains the Guardian. Extensive rebuilding needed will be made harder by ongoing U.S. embargo, which makes it difficult to obtain building supplies. "With macabre comic timing, Donald Trump renewed the US embargo on Cuba for another year just hours before the Irma made landfall. While the island’s faltering economy goes some way to explaining the condition of housing stock the embargo makes matters worse."

News Briefs
  • U.S. Virgin Islanders complain that they have been ignored in media coverage of Irma's impact and in official storm response, reports the Miami Herald.
  • bipartisan group of 116 U.S. lawmakers called on the Trump Administration to extend temporary protections for Salvadorans and Hondurans living in the United States. There are currently approximately 200,000 Salvadorans and 61,000 Hondurans shielded by TPS in the U.S. Another bipartisan group of lawmakers are asking for TPS to be extended to citizens of Caribbean countries affected by Irma already in the U.S., reports the Miami Herald.
  • Haitian demonstrators protesting tax hikes burned cars and tires in Port-au-Prince yesterday, blocking key intersections and paralyzing the city. The protest -- the largest and most violent since President Jovenel Moïse took office in February -- was aimed at the $2.2 million budget approved days earlier by Parliament, explains the Miami Herald. Lawmakers passed the budget just hours before Hurricane Irma hit the island -- in addition to steep hikes in government fees, it includes a 74 percent increase in salaries, cars, staff and travel per diem for members of parliament.
  • Venezuelan opposition leaders denied reports that they would meet with government representatives for formal talks today, reports the BBC. They said the opposition MUD coalition would not enter into talks until the government agreed to address Venezuela's humanitarian crisis and to release all political prisoners, among other issues.
  • Members of Brazil's political establishment are quaking at the possibility that jailed former House speaker Eduardo Cunha might trade information on corruption in exchange for a reduction in his 15-sentence, reports the Washington Post. Prosecutors rejected a plea-deal last month, saying Cunha's testimony was too inconsistent. But there is speculation that Cunha intentionally sabotaged the process in order to deal with an incoming prosecutor general who might offer more favorable terms. Though such a move would be unpopular, it could also incriminate top politicians, including President Michel Temer.
  • In fact, the Supreme Court just approved a new investigation into Temer, in an alleged graft case related to a decree on port concessions, reports the Financial Times. The president slammed the judiciary and accused it of using allegations of corruption to destroy reputations, reports the BBC.
  • But don't get distracted by the corruption headlines -- in the meantime Temer's pushing through his radical reforms that could drastically change how the country does business, notes Daniel Gallas in Americas Quarterly.
  • A right-wing activist campaign forced a multinational bank's cultural center in Porto Alegre to shut down an art exhibit. Protestors from the Free Brazil Movement, supported by evangelical Christians, accused the Queermuseu – Queer Museum – exhibition of promoting blasphemy, pedophilia and bestiality. The artistic community says the protests are a dangerous form of censorship, and the curator strenuously denies the campaign's accusations, reports the Guardian
  • The Movimento das Capelinhas, or "small chapel movement," in Brazil centers on the circulation among Catholic households of small sanctuaries containing a Virgin Mary statuette. But "these peripatetic chapels do more than just physically circulate – their travels actually create profit and value for participants," write Bernardo Figueiredo and Daiane Scaraboto in the Conversation. "The end result is a de facto local Catholic “economy,” one based on shared values rather than money."
  • New efforts by civil society in Argentina are advancing towards identifying over a hundred fallen soldiers in the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war. Though the overarching issue of the islands' sovereignty is stalled diplomatically (and will likely remain so), the British acted with great respect and solicitude in the case of the unidentified dead, who were buried in 1983 and are just now going to be identified using DNA testing, writes Teresa Sofía Buscaglia in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean are increasingly connected to the web -- and so are the region's criminal networks which are taking advantage of growing connectivity to expand illicit activities, reports InSight Crime. To address the rising cyber threat environment, the UNODC recommends a four-point approach rooted in "prevention, partnerships, protection and investigation."

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