Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Díaz-Canel to succeed Castro (April 18, 2018)

Cuba's National Assembly -- a group of 605 handpicked politicians who ran unopposed in March's elections -- nominated vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canel to assume the presidency today. The occasion is momentous, as it will be the first time somebody other than Fidel or Raúl Castro leads the island since the Cuban Revolution in 1959. (Confused by Cuba's opaque government system? 14ymedio has a quick guide to what's going on.)

But Cubans are greeting the handover with a shrug, reports the Guardian14ymedio concurs, saying Cubans on the street are indifferent. It is expected that Castro's successor will continue the system Cubans currently live in, though tweaks at minimum will be necessary. Nor will Castro and other members of the revolutionary generation disappear. Castro will stay on as first secretary of the Communist party until 2021 and will retain significant influence. He will also stay on as head of the armed forces, notes Christopher Sabbatini in a New York Times op-ed. Family members hold key posts in the country's police, intelligence and military, making them a force to be reckoned with.

Díaz-Canel will look after the day-to-day decisions, while Castro will retain influence and decision on broader policies, according to the BBC.

Sabbatini also questions a narrative making rounds, that Díaz-Canel is a friendly moderate, saying it is likely at least in part due to propaganda. (See yesterday's post.) Over at El Estornudo Juan Orlando Pérez isn't optimistic that Díaz-Canel will be a force for change, saying the so-called lost generation taking over from the aged revolutionaries is known for its "shameless mediocrity." 

But the change-over still meaningful, and Díaz-Canel will be forced to respond to heightened expectations, according to El País. "... The new government must face anxiety for change, not only related to economic reform."

Fidel Castro sought to avoid a personality cult, and forbade streets being named after him before his death in 2016. Perhaps in keeping with this, the state press has not made a bid deal about Castro stepping down, according to the Washington Post.

News Briefs

Demagoguery on the Rise
  • Foreign Affairs piece by Michael Camilleri analyzes whether anti-establishment sentiment in the region will lead to a rise in demagoguery, both from the left and the right. Though there are some arguments for favoring stability over anti-corruption efforts, such thinking cannot guide policy, he argues.
  • Though regional leaders last week's Summit of the America's focused on the Venezuelan crisis, the situation provided little space for real headway, writes David Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. He did however criticize the conservative Lima Group's push to isolate the government, arguing that Venezuela needs engagement now. And no amount of international pressure can provoke democratic change on its own, he argues. For that the country will need an effective opposition.
  • Smilde points out that having Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro present at the Summit would have been more effective than disinviting him. In a New York Times Español op-ed Alberto Tyszka agrees, adding that the Summit's statements both on corruption and Venezuela were toothless and served only to express good intentions. Instead he calls for a reinvention of politics, noting the dangerous tendency towards "anti politics" in the region.
Venezuelan elections
  • Venezuelans subdued about their upcoming elections. Some polls put opposition candidate Henri Falcón, who has defied the opposition party coalition's call to boycott the election, ahead. But they also point to widespread abstention which will hurt Falcón, reports Reuters. And critics say irregularities in the system make the whole exercise a farce, and that Maduro's government is not prepared to relinquish power.
  • The Miami Herald cites surveys that found Venezuelans are too despondent to vote, but a new poll shows there’s still a core group of voters who believe that elections are their only option, a potential ray of hope for Falcón.
The FARC's conflict-laden inheritors
  • Colombia's Norte de Santander province has declared a state of emergency in the midst of a clash between rival rebel groups seeking to control former FARC coca-growing territory, reports the BBC.
  • Ecuadorean authorities identified two citizens kidnapped by a dissident FARC group operating in the Ecuador-Colombia border area. It's the same group that abducted and killed three press workers earlier this month, reports the BBC.
  • Afro-Brazilian community leader and anti-palm campaigner Nazildo dos Santos Brito was killed this weekend. It was the third assassination in four weeks in the north-eastern corner of Para state, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil's Supreme Court accepted corruption charges against Senator Aecio Neves yesterday, accused of receiving $580,000 from businessman Joesley Batista. Neves, who came in second by a close margin in the 2014 presidential election, is also accused of obstructing justice, reports El País. The ruling was a major step in the country's anti-corruption crusade and will likely be welcomed by the left which has accused prosecutors of bias in favor of conservative politicians, according to the Associated Press.
From the U.S.-Mexico border
  • The Trump administration has quietly reversed a policy that children under the age of 21 who have been abused, abandoned or neglected by one or both parents obtain a green card, reports the New York Times.
  • A three-episode trilogy by Radiolab explores the effects of the U.S. Border Patrol's "Prevention Through Deterrence" policy, which has been linked to a dramatic increase in migrant deaths along the border.
Mexico's election
  • The newest Reforma poll has presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador ahead by 22 points over his nearest rival, with the projected support of nearly half the country's voters, reports Reuters.
  • At least 82 candidates and office holders have been killed since the electoral season kicked off in September, casting a pall over the national elections in July where voters will choose a president and a slew of local posts, reports Reuters.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's government insists that extraordinary security measures in effect since 2016 are responsible for lowering the country's homicide rates, but fly in the face of the country's violent reality and international criticisms of the human rights violations associated with the policy, reports InSight Crime.
  • Salvadoran police arrested 200 alleged gang members in a sweep following a journalists murder, reports AFP. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • A Salvadoran court ordered the reopening of a case against the alleged masterminds of the massacre of six jesuit priests and two civilians in 1989, reports El País.

Historical urbanismo
  • An exhibition on six Latin American capitals in the 19th century shows that these cities "were laboratories for experiment and risk," reports the New York Times. "Architects often mixed indigenous, colonial and Beaux-Arts tropes in the service of new national ambitions. Those were also expressed through new public monuments, including humorously near-identical equestrian statuary."

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take?  Let me know ... 

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