Monday, July 23, 2018

Cuba's new constitution (July 23, 2018)

Cuban lawmakers approved a draft constitution that aims to modernize the island -- including the right to private property and potentially gay marriage. The Magna Carta, as it is dubbed, it would encourage -- and guarantee --foreign investment. (Washington Post) It would also implement judicial reforms, such as recognizing the presumption of innocence. (New York TimesMany of the economic reforms included in the new document would provide a legal framework for market reforms that have already taken place, but also seek to limit the impact of capitalism on the island.

WOLA's Geoff Thale told the Washington Post that the project ratifies economic and political reforms that have been debated for years, but maintains the slow pace and government control that has defined the process until now.

The new Magna Carta, that would replace the current Soviet-era constitution from 1976, will be presented to citizens in meetings around the country until November and eventually voted on in a national referendum. "Every Cuban will be able to freely express his opinions and contribute to reach a constitutional text that reflects the today and the future of the country," said Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel. "There is not much left to say, but to do, correct and create." (Miami Herald) Nonetheless, major changes are not expected to emerge in the public debates, which will likely only ratify the proposal. The process will unify Cubans and strengthen the country's democracy, according to Díaz-Canel. Already some observers have emphasized that the document is the result of legitimate debate in the Cuban National Assembly, itself an innovation.

Addressing the National Assembly yesterday, Díaz-Canel called on citizens to join in the battle against corruption -- in particular the widespread practise of government employees who sell scarce goods in the black market, increasing prices. He also focused on the country's weak economic growth, which will entail belt-tightening he said. (EFE and Reuters)

The new constitution will maintain the substance of a one-party socialist state. However, in a semantic twist, the new Constitution eliminates an old objective of achieving a Communist society. (AFP) A radical change in-and-of itself, writes Reinaldo Escobar in 14 y Medio

The new bill would create the post of a prime minister who would share power with the president, and head the council of ministers. And the National Assembly president will head the council of state. The new constitution would also limit the age of incoming presidents to 60, a bid to maintain generational turnover.  (Reuters)

The new council of ministers approved this weekend includes nine new members, but also maintains members of the old-guard, indicating continuity with the Castro governments, reports the Miami Herald.

The same-sex marriage issue led to rare, open political debate on the island, with campaigns both for and against, reports the Guardian. The pro-gay marriage campaign was led by Mariela Castro, the director of the National Centre for for Sex Education (CENESEX), a lawmaker, and daughter of former President Raúl Castro. Its inclusion in the new constitution is an important about-face in a regime that was characterized by hostility towards gay people in previous decades, notes the Miami Herald.

Even as politicians debated extending rights to LGBTs, activists have taken on a hip Havana bar that allegedly kicked out a gay couple who took a selfie of themselves kissing there. (14 y Medio and El Estornudo)

The old Cuba is alive and well though -- El Estornudo brilliantly covers a recent meeting of the country's journalists union. "The Cuba that Fidel created was a copy of the real European socialist states, and Cuban journalism is still, structurally and ideologically, on a fundamental level, similar to that of the Soviet Union in the Brezhnevian sunset, pre-glasnost."


Battling Latin America's Homicide Epidemic - Americas Quarterly

The newest issue of Americas Quarterly focuses on strategies to lower the murder rate in the region -- which accounts for eight percent of the world's population but a third of its homicides. And the rate of 21.5 per 100,000 people could double by 2030 if the current trends continue, according to the Igarapé Institute -- though innovative policies implemented in cities point to democratic and relatively simple ways to revert the tendency.

Another piece reviews key strategies and their track record for effectiveness -- especially military intervention's negative impacts.

  • Colombian homicide prevention protocol helps evacuate citizens at risk from criminal organizations, targeting victims of gang violence who often know in advance that they are in danger.
  • Richard Lapper profiles a Ceará state congressman battling against mano dura policies to combat violence.
News Briefs

  • In Nicaragua the Roman Catholic church is increasingly on the front-lines of the battle between the government and opposition activists -- initially as mediators, but increasingly as defenders of the protesters who have been targeted by lethal repression. It's a risky strategy given the high regard the Episcopal Conference has in Nicaragua, note some observers. On Sunday, in response to a request from the Council of Latin American Bishops, priests around the hemisphere led the faithful in a day of prayer to express solidarity with Catholics in Nicaragua.  (New York Times and Miami Herald)
  • Brazilian right-wing firebrand Jair Bolsonaro formally kicked off his presidential campaign yesterday, criticizing the political center but avoided previous incendiary comments on blacks and gays, reports Reuters.
  • After 30 years of staying out of politics, retired military officers are mounting a broad campaign to take power through the ballot box -- backing about 90 military veterans running for an array of posts, including Bolsonaro's run for presidency, in October. The move is causing discomfort for many Brazilians who are protective of the separation of politics and the military, especially in light of the country's long history of military dictatorships, reports the New York Times. The move comes as support for democracy is increasingly eroded in a country hard hit by corruption scandals. Already President Michel Temer has given military officers unusual power in his cabinet, a reflection some say of citizens' favorable view of the armed forces.  (See June 1's briefs on a poll demonstrating support for military intervention and what a military incursion through the ballot box might look like.)
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri announced changes to regulations limiting military deployment for internal security this morning, pushing forward with a reform that has been criticized by human rights organizations. (Clarín)
  • Argentine judicial authorities are investigating campaign donations to the ruling Cambiemos party in the past two electoral cycles, after an investigation by online newspaper El Destape found hundreds of beneficiaries of social programs figured as donors in the 2017 Buenos Aires province campaign. Since then, the number of "donors" surprised to find themselves listed as campaign financiers has only grown. (Perfil) An earlier Chequeado investigation found that Macri's successful 2015 campaign received significant funding from individuals working for Buenos Aires contractors. Horacio Verbitsky susses out the nitty gritty detail -- including how municipal officials around the province "donated" identical sums based on their hierarchical position -- in El Cohete a la Luna.
  • Peru is in the midst of a judicial corruption crisis, after secret audio tapes revealed high-level corruption and influence trading. Bloomberg notes that secret recordings are a perennial source of scandal in Peruvian politics.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed former FARC members who assumed seats in Congress on Friday. (BBC)
  • The border between Mexico and Guatemala is relatively porous. Thousands of people cross illegally each day -- though some are day laborers and undocumented migrants, most are people looking to buy and sell merchandize without going through customs and immigration, reports the New York Times.
  • A fifteen-month-old boy was reunited with his parents in Honduras, five months after being separated from his father when the two entered the U.S. illegally. The case came to symbolize the cruelty of the Trump administration's family separation policy, since suspended, reports the Guardian.
  • Meanwhile, hundreds of parents suddenly find themselves debating whether to prioritize reunification with their children or permitting them to stay alone in the U.S. (Washington Post)
  • President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador pulled out of a an international trade meeting being held this week in Mexico. Representatives of the Latin America bloc of the Pacific Alliance -- Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru -- are gathered in Puerto Vallarta. But AMLO ducked out from his international debut, reports AFP.
  • AMLO called on U.S. President Donald Trump to pursue renewed North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations aimed at a final agreement including all three countries in the pact. The message was delivered in a letter handed to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this month, and read out loud in a press conference by proposed foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard  yesterday. (Bloomberg)
  • Though AMLO was chosen by voters seeking a solution to rampant violence, corruption and economic inequality, he could also catapult the country to leadership in renewable energy, argue Lisa Viscidi and Nate Graham in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • "Some presidents of the United States talk about peace, but they never speak about social justice. Peace without social justice is not peace," Bolivian President Evo Morales told former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on an RT program.
  • Ecuador is in negotiations with Britain to withdraw asylum protection from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the country's London embassy since 2012, reports The Intercept.
Fake News
  • In El Cohete a la Luna, Argentine freedom of speech experts Damián Loreti and Diego de Charras review the legislative difficulties in addressing freedom of speech and combating misinformation.  "Independently of technological change, the answer is the balance found long ago by human rights protection systems: more sources, more digital alphabetization and media education, more public media, more right to rectification, more government support to diversity, more pluralism. Less concentration and monopolies, less government or private Ministries of Truth ..."

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