Monday, January 4, 2021

U.S. could designate Cuba state sponsor of terrorism (Jan. 4, 2021)

The outgoing U.S. Trump administration could designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. The New York Times reported last week that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is evaluating the move, which would hog-tie the incoming administration's goal of rapidly rolling back President Donald Trump's harsh policies towards Havana.

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden reportedly plans to reverse many of the Trump administration's Cuba policies, pushing for more normalized relations with the island. That strategy includes reducing restrictions on travel, investment and remittances for the island nation that are perceived to disproportionately hurt Americans and ordinary Cubans, reported Bloomberg in December. The approach would leave measures that target Cuba for human rights abuses.

But adding Cuba to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism -- joining Iran, North Korea and Syria -- automatically triggers U.S. sanctions against its government. And removal under the incoming administration would require a formal State Department review, a process that might take several months.

The designation would impose restrictions on US foreign assistance, a ban on defense exports and sales, certain controls over exports and various financial restrictions. It would also result in penalization against any persons and countries engaging in certain trade activities with Cuba, reports CNN.

On Friday, the U.S. added the Cuban Banco Financiero International SA (BFI) to its restricted entities list, alleging that the financial institution has ties to the Cuban military and its profits help fund the country’s “interference” in Venezuela. Anyone subject to the U.S. jurisdiction is prohibited from engaging in financial transactions with institutions on the list. (Al Jazeera)

More Cuba
  • The Cuban government formally ended its dual currency system on Friday. The government has set the exchange rate at 24 Cuban pesos to $1, and the convertible Cuban peso, known as the CUC, will be phased out completely by June. (Al Jazeera)


Argentina closed off 2020 with a green glitter-painted victory for human rights: legalization of abortion through week 14 after conception. It is now the largest Latin American country to allow elective abortion -- following the footsteps of Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana. It's a triumph for Argentina's strong grassroots feminists, who have pushed for the measure for years. It is also an achievement for President Alberto Fernández who put his political weight into convincing senators to vote for the measure on Dec. 30. (New York Times, Guardian)

Advocates framed the issue as one of public health and social justice, an approach that helped convince reluctant senators. While legal abortion has long been a demand among feminists, the push gained significant traction with the movement against femicides, Ni Una Menos. Women's rights activists are broadly challenging machista paradigms that exact a lethal toll in the region, I argue in a New York Times Español op-ed.

A breakdown of the vote in Argentina's Congress shows that female lawmakers -- from most of the political spectrum -- overwhelmingly supported legalizing abortion, while men were more evenly split. The numbers demonstrate the relevance of measures like gender quotas for political parties and Congressional seats. The breakdown also demonstrates the generational shift on abortion -- younger senators overwhelmingly supported the measure, while a greater percentage of older senators opposed it. (Parlamentario)

Rights activists are hoping for an inspirational effect in the rest of the region -- similar to the spread of Ni Una Menos, which has had a strong effect in Latin America since starting in Argentina in 2015. In recent years Chile rolled back one of the world's strictest abortion bans, but efforts to broaden reproductive rights have failed in El Salvador's congress, and before Brazil's and Colombia's highest courts. (Washington PostNew York Times)

News Briefs

  • Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly voted to extend its term -- which ends tomorrow -- after a disputed December legislative election to replace current lawmakers. Most opposition parties boycotted the Dec. 6 vote, which failed to meet minimum free and fair standards. Lawmakers' move establishes that a small group of lawmakers will continue to carry out the National Assembly's functions, and will further confuse the legitimacy standoff in Venezuela, which starting tomorrow will have two bodies claiming legislative powers, reports Bloomberg. But the move by opposition parties also paves the way for opposition leader Juan Guaidó to argue he retains his role as the parliament’s speaker, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuela's Maduro government is planning a shift to a fully digital economy. Already hyperinflation has made Bolivar banknotes worthless and dollars are used for nearly 20 percent of commercial transactions, reports Bloomberg.
  • A committee of National Assembly lawmakers raised questions about “administrative irregularities” regarding a plan for the Guaidó government to seize Venezuelan government assets in the Caribbean, reports the Washington Post
  • Indigenous environmentalist Félix Vásquez was killed on Dec. 26, the latest activist victim in Honduras, the deadliest place in the world to defend land and natural resources from exploitation, reports the Guardian.
  • The U.S. Trump administration was a strong advocate of deporting immigrants, but ultimately removed fewer people than that of the preceding Obama administration, reports the Washington Post. The current government removed about 935,000 people over the past four years, compared with nearly 1.6 million during former President Barack Obama’s first term, according to figures from the Migration Policy Institute. In fiscal year 2020, federal immigration officials deported about 14,500 migrant family members, returning more parents and children in a single year than they did during the first three years of President Donald Trump’s term combined.
  • A U.S. college student was sentenced to four months in jail for violating coronavirus quarantine rules in the Cayman Islands. The sentence was later reduced to two months. (New York Times, Washington Post)
  • Brazil is best known for flouting lockdown recommendations -- due to economic necessity in many cases. But the country's "deliver-anything culture has enabled a minority of people to achieve an extraordinary degree of isolation," reports the Washington Post.
  • U.S. citizens looking to flee lockdowns at home are flocking to Mexico City, where some locals consider the move irresponsible as many Mexican hospitals are at capacity. (New York Times) With Covid fatalities soaring, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been criticized for inaction, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexico is marketing itself as a desirable tourism destination in the Covid world, but a surge of parties in Quintana Roo has led to more coronavirus cases, reports the Washington Post.
  • Seizures of the synthetic opioid fentanyl by Mexican security forces increased by at least 486% in 2020, reports the Guardian.
  • Major drug cartels in Latin America deployed creative tactics to rebound quickly after the initial coronavirus lockdowns last March brought operations to a sudden standstill, reports the New York Times. Some traffickers have increasingly relied on newer tools like drones and cryptocurrency, and there has been a growing recruitment of impoverished or drug-addicted Americans to smuggle drugs in their body cavities.
  • Mexico is set to become the world’s largest legal cannabis market in February, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A dozen municipalities in Argentina's Buenos Aires province are moving forward with public cannabis projects after a national law permitting medicinal use passed a month and a half ago. (Tiempo)
Regional Relations
  • The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, has warned that the EU risks being displaced from its role in Latin America by China if it does not establish better and more extensive ties in the region, reports EFE.
  • Volcanoes that have been quiet for decades are rumbling to life in the eastern Caribbean -- officials have issued alerts in Martinique and St Vincent and the Grenadines. (Guardian)
  • British Conservative MP Richard Drax added a plantation he inherited in Barbados to the parliamentary register of members’ interests after the media revealed omissions and errors in his declaration in December. (See Dec. 16's Caribbean News Updates.) Leading figures from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Reparations Commission insist that Drax must acknowledge the wealth brought to his family from slavery and make reparations, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazilians are worried their government is fumbling the coronavirus vaccine -- critics say the Bolsonaro administration's political machinations and reliance on military officials in the health ministry has left the country behind in the vaccine race. (Guardian)
  • Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa said Saturday it had approved the import of 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, though the vaccine has not been approved for use in the country, reports Reuters.
  • A government plan to bulldoze a 94-mile highway through a corner of the Amazon rainforest threatens at least three indigenous communities. The project, which is backed by President Jair Bolsonaro, has raised environmentalist hackles. An 80-mile stretch of pristine forest would need to be felled to build the road, which would cut through the center of the protected Serra do Divisor national park, reports the Guardian.
Welcome to Latin America Daily Briefing 2021 -- as always, comments and critiques are welcome. I'll be playing catch up for a few days, but let me know if I've missed something.

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