Thursday, April 18, 2019

New U.S. sanctions against "troika of tyranny" (April 18, 2019)

The U.S. imposed new restrictions on travel to Cuba, limits on remittances that can be sent there, and will permit exiles to sue for property seized by the revolutionary government. Such lawsuits against foreign companies that use properties nationalized by the Castro government after 1959 were technically permitted by the Title III of the 1995 Helms Burton act, but have been waived by every president since. The Trump administration's move is expected to unleash a slew of complicated suits worth tens of billions of dollars. Canada and European Union representatives lobbied against permitting them in recent weeks, and said the shift was "regrettable." Companies from those countries have significant investments in hotels, distilleries, tobacco factories and other properties on the island.

The shift announced yesterday is a decisive end to the Obama administration's detente policy. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the previous government of playing  a "game of footsy with the Castros’ junta." The moves limiting tourism and remittances will significantly affect the Cuban economy and efforts to increase foreign investment.

The changes are part of a broader set of sanctions that also target the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan governments. U.S. national security advisor John Bolton announced new sanctions on the Central Bank of Venezuela and Nicaragua’s Bancorp, as well as Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's son Laureano.

“The ‘troika of tyranny’ — Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua — is beginning to crumble,” said Bolton in a speech yesterday. “The United States looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid triangle of terror fall.”

The new sanctions against Venezuela's Central Bank cut off its access to United States currency and limiting its ability to conduct international financial transactions. All Central Bank assets in the United States will be frozen, and U.S. residents and citizens are barred from doing business with the organization and one of its directors, Iliana Josefa Ruzza Terán. The sanctions target the payment process Venezuela's trade, investment, and banking industries need -- and close off a few remaining critical paths for financing for the Venezuelan government. However, Treasury said it is making exceptions so that regular debit and credit card transactions can take effect, and personal remittances and humanitarian assistance can continue.

News Briefs

  • Nicaraguan security forces prevented large-scale demonstrations against the government yesterday -- the one year anniversary of a brutally repressed protest movement against President Daniel Ortega. About 200 protesters were blocked by police in riot gear in Managua, reports Reuters. Deployments filled the main avenue and side streets where the march was to take place, as well as a nearby mall and businesses. Officers prevented smaller groups of protesters from merging, reports the Associated Press. Police beat and harassed citizens who attempted smaller scale demonstrations yesterday -- in many cases taking away their cell phones, reports Confidencial. The opposition Unidad Nacional coalition said at least 60 people were detained illegally, but by evening believed that most had been released. Artículo 66 journalist Abixael Mogollón was among the citizens beat by police and illicitly detained temporarily. (See yesterday's post.)
  • More than 200 political detainees remain in jail in Nicaragua, reports Al Jazeera.
  • The Red Cross faces significant challenges in distributing humanitarian aid in Venezuela's violent and politically polarized situation, reports the New York Times. While the organization, along with other international aid groups, have emphasized the need to keep assistance neutral, both Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó claimed the arrival of 24 tons of supplies as a victory this week. The piece quotes Human Rights Watch's Tamara Taraciuk, who notes the man-made nature of the crisis. "This is a pretty unique situation with no precedent in modern Latin American history," she said.
  • Colombian criminal groups are now major employers along the Venezuelan border. Guerrilla groups like the ELN, the EPL, FBL and FARC dissidents have jointly recruited more than 15,000 Venezuelans to help further criminal economies at the Colombia-Venezuela border, according to a new report by Fundación Redes. (InSight Crime)
Regional Relations
  • Latin America unity remains an unachieved dream -- "The continent has seen a seemingly endless series of regional groups, some dismantled, others still in existence, that read like an alphabet soup of dreams, ideologies and geopolitical side effects," writes Frida Ghitis in World Politics Review. Though the latest attempt, Prosur, bills itself as anti-political, its largely born of rejection of the pink-tide governments and Venezuela in particular. 
  • The Miami Herald's Andrés Oppenheimer regrets that Bolivia isn't included in the U.S. troika of tyranny -- though he admits "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
El Salvador
  • Sexual violence rates rose last year in El Salvador -- teenage girls have been particularly affected. Experts say many sexual attacks -- which have increased by 31 percent since 2017 -- are gang related, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's promise to allocate unlimited resources for the search of approximately 40,000 disappeared people raises questions over how the program will be implemented, reports InSight Crime.
  • AMLO's consistent criticism of journalists is worrisome in a country that is one of the world's deadliest for reporters, writes Jorge Ramos in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Former Peruvian president Alan García committed suicide as security officials attempted to detain him on corruption charges -- a tacit admission of guilt for many, and a sign abuse for his supporters, writes Renato Cisneros in a New York Times Español op-ed. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's government is divided into warring factions, with vice president Hamilton Mourão playing an unexpected opposition figure to the controversial leader. (Americas Quarterly)
  • Critics of Ecuador's decision to rescind WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's asylum say he was traded in for debt relief. But, ultimately, shielding Assange "was politically costly and brought no benefits to a government that’s too weak to waste political capital on an international troublemaker," argues John Polga-Hecimovich at the Aula blog.
  • In a New York Times Español op-ed, María Sol Borja takes a different view, and argus that a harsh U.S. sentence against Assange could potentially backfire against Moreno.  
  • Argentina's government announced a slew of price controls, in the midst of accelerating inflation, poor economic indicators, and -- of course -- a heated electoral year. It's a sign of significant concern coming from a government that has shown commitment to free market policies, say experts. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The murder of a drug trafficker and the arrest of a high level cop in Argentina's strategically located Cordoba province shows the evolution of criminal groups in the country, reports InSight Crime.
  • A unique school in Buenos Aires offers the trans-community the opportunity to obtain high school degrees. Argentina has some of the most progressive gender identity policies in the world, but trans people still face prejudice and violence. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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