Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Another Setback for U.S.-Cuba Relations (Oct. 3, 2017)

After withdrawing family members and non-essential personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, the U.S. will now expel two-thirds of the Cuban Embassy from the United States, reports McClatchy DC and the Associated Press. The move is meant to ensure that both Cuba and the U.S. have a "similar" number of diplomats in their respective capitals, but may actually be intended -- or at least, it will almost certainly be perceived -- as "punishing" Cuba for unexplained "sonic attacks" that have affected nearly two dozen U.S. diplomats. (See Friday's brief). 

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is supposed to make a formal announcement later today. Florida Senator Marco Rubio -- who reportedly has President Donald Trump's ear when it comes to Latin America policy -- tweeted praise of the move early this morning. Last week, Rubio tweeted that the U.S. should “should expel a Cuban diplomat for every U.S. diplomat" who evacuates Cuba due to safety concerns. Bipartisan initiative the Cuba Working Group in the U.S. House of Representatives took a different position, issuing a statement last Friday that asserted: "Calls to sever all diplomatic ties or travel, or encourage retaliatory efforts without identifying the responsible parties are misguided and do nothing to ensure the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel moving forward." 

The mystery remains over who is perpetrating the attacks and why -- McClatchy DC reports there are some officials within the State Department who do believe that a third-party actor is responsible. Another unnamed source told McClatchy that Cuba has failed to uphold its commitment to protect foreign diplomats under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. CBS News quoted an unnamed source as saying most of the Cuban diplomats who were asked to leave are "known intelligence officers." (This follows AP's report from yesterday, which said that the U.S. officials most affected by the attacks were intelligence officers). 

Elsewhere, independent Cuban news outlet 14 y Medio has a dispatch from Havana, reporting on shocked Cubans who've seen their U.S. visa application process come to a sudden end. In an editorial, the news outlet asks President Raul Castro to publicly explain what happened to the U.S. diplomats who were apparently injured by "sonic attacks" on Cuban soil, adding, "It's difficult to believe that something like this could happen without official knowledge." 

So far, no U.S. civilians have been known to be affected by the so-called "sonic attacks," which have left U.S. diplomats with ailments ranging from hearing loss to concussion-like symptoms. Canadian diplomats and their family members have also been affected, although officials haven't confirmed the exact number. “I think you had a surveillance operation that technologically went wrong, some sort of equipment malfunction, some mistake,” an unnamed Canadian diplomat told The Star.

News Briefs 
  • Ecuador's vice president was arrested in connection to Brazil's massive Odebrecht scandalreports The Associated Press. Jorge Glas is the latest of "once seemingly untouchable politicians" who "have been charged or are under investigation for purportedly taking bribes or illegal campaign contributions from Odebrecht as part of the construction company's rapid expansion across the region the past decade," the AP notes. Glas is the highest-ranking official in Ecuador yet arrested in the Odebrecht probe. 
  • Also in Ecuador, President Lenin Moreno said he will seek to amend the country's Constitution via a referendum, in order to keep presidents from serving an unlimited number of terms if re-elected. From Reuters. Elsewhere, Ecuadorian news outlet Expreso has reported that under former President Rafael Correa, intelligence agencies monitored members of the political opposition, journalists, indigenous groups, and other civil society groups. El Pais summarizes the story's main findings. 
  • Caracas Chronicles profiles the "endlessly memeable" mayor  of Venezuela's Puerto Cabello, who may be one of the few "Chavista" politicians who has a future because he's actually popular (and a skilled politician who makes a point of distancing himself from Maduro).  "Lacava is also a reminder of two things we can’t bring ourselves to acknowledge: first, that chavismo won’t go away..." writes Cesar Crespo. "Secondly... the opposition can’t just ask people to vote for a bunch of mostly deadbeat candidates... just because they are not chavistas."
  • Human Rights Watch has asked UN member states to continue pressuring Venezuela, so as to eventually establish an international investigation into human rights abuses committed by President Maduro's government.
  • The Guardian reports on how Mexico City's "invisible army of informal workers" were affected by the Sept. 19 earthquake, focusing on the collapse of a factory building that employed Asian migrants in a working class neighborhood. At least 21 people were killed after the quake flattened the building. 
  • In an op-ed for the Spanish-language edition of The New York Times, historian and journalist Pedro Reina Perez argues, "It is urgent for U.S. Congress to directly intervene [in Puerto Rico] to help create a solution for the fiscal and political problem that they themselves helped create." A previous op-ed includes a striking infographic showing just how badly Puerto Rico's hurricane devastation has affected the island's economy, compared to other economic disasters. (For more intriguing charts, see FiveThirtyEight's comparison of how the U.S. media covered Hurricane Maria compared to storms that hit the continental United States). 
  • Quartz has a brief report on how Mexico City residents used an online tool to coordinate a grassroots emergency response to the Sept. 19 earthquake. Usage of these "citizen-led, online tools" is indicative of how "civil society can in some ways be more adept at emergency management than elected officials—in particular, at preventing false information from spreading," the article states. 
  • New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg argues that a slow-to-react Trump administration exacerbated the effects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. "Maria should be a lesson: We need a working executive branch," she writes. 
  • Bolivia is preparing an official ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Ernesto "Che" Guevera, who was captured and shot by Bolivian troops aided by the CIA. According to local media, Bolivian army officials aren't happy about what's planned for the Oct. 6 events, reports the BBC
  • The New York Times Daily 360-degree video takes viewers inside a nursery in a women's prison in Lima, Peru. 
  • International football governing body FIFA has fined six Latin American football federations because fans chanted homophobic slurs during World Cup qualifiers, reports AFP
  • Yesterday was a rough day. Here is a Wall Street Journal article about the cute dog who helped search for survivors in Mexico City after the Sept. 19 earthquake. Also, the dog wears booties. Yes, there's a video. 
-- Elyssa Pachico

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