Monday, April 19, 2021

Cuba's leadership changeover (April 19, 2021)

 Cuba's Communist Party congress -- held every five years -- will conclude today. Raúl Castro already announced he would be stepping down from the party chairmanship. The move does not signal immediate political change, in fact, the meeting's theme this year is "continuity." But Castro's stepping down has strong symbolic significance: it will be the first time in 60 years that there isn't a Castro leading the country.

Castro will likely be succeeded by Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel. The generational changeover of Cuba's leadership that likely to have more economic significance than political. "The founding generation had a kind of iconic status," said William LeoGrande, professor of government at American University and an expert on Latin America. "Now, you have a new generation who were not the heroes of the triumph of the revolution. They’ve got to sort of prove their legitimacy by performance. And in Cuba, the performance is making the economy better." (Miami Herald)

The transition comes at what may be a tipping point for the island, according to the New York Times.

The issues discussed in the closed-door meeting also show some of the challenges to "continuity": The Congress passed a resolution yesterday that, among other things, denounced the effects of social media, which it claims is part of a “program of ideological and cultural influence deployed by the enemy” — the United States, reports the Miami Herald. During a speech opening the congress on Friday, Castro warned the "counterrevolution" lacked popular support or leadership but was adept at manipulating the web. (Reuters)

Díaz-Canel allowed Cubans to access the internet from their phones in 2018, and in their homes the following year — changes many feel helped fuel protests and demands for greater political freedom.

Social media has become a crucial space for protests against the government, for everything from gay rights to animal protection and the expansion of civil rights. The San Isidro Movement, a collective of artists, activists and independent journalists, has also organized rare public protests — leading to widely condemned crackdowns by Cuban authorities. Cuban dissidents accused authorities of keeping them offline and preventing them from leaving their homes during the party meeting. (Reuters and Miami Herald)

News Briefs

  • Cubans are the third-largest group of migrants waiting in Mexico to obtain asylum in the U.S., just ahead of Salvadorans, and after Guatemalans and Hondurans. Most are economic refugees. The dual shocks of renewed U.S. economic sanctions during the Trump administration and the Covid-19 pandemic have only worsened the crisis, writes William LeoGrande in the Conversation.
  • The crisis at the U.S. border exceeds the Trump legacy: "The border by its very design creates crisis," argues Todd Miller in a Guardian opinion piece. "This design has been developed and fortified over the span of many administrations from both political parties in the United States, and now involves the significant participation of private industry.
  • Mexico increased detentions and deportations of migrants in March. Detentions of Central American migrants jumped 32% to 15,800 in March from February, and more than doubled compared with March of last year, reports the Wall Street Journal. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to travel to Mexico and Guatemala in coming weeks to address the root causes of the migrant surge.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants the U.S. to extend a Mexican social program -- Sembrando Vida -- to Central America as part of ongoing efforts to stem migration to the United States. (Al Jazeera)
  • Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo -- a socially conservative union leader -- is leading in polls for June's presidential runoff against right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori. (Reuters)
  • Nobel prize-winning Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa said Fujimori is the "lesser of two evils" for the June presidential runoff. Vargas Llosa's support is particularly significant as he has spent year's denouncing the Fujimori family's politics. (Guardian) In 2010 he said that Keiko Fujimori would be a "catastrophe" for Peru. But, in El País this weekend, Vargas Llosa said Castillo would undermine democracy.
  • Haiti's Catholic Church has waded into the country's political crisis, speaking out against violence after a high profile kidnapping at a Church captured seven Catholic clergy. A Mass held last week to protest violence and kidnappings ended with police teargassing participants (see last Friday's briefs), but some opposition politicians are hopeful the Church could play an influential role, reports AFP.
  • Nearly 800 people were killed by police in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro in the past nine months. Police raids in favelas remain terrifyingly regular, despite a supreme court ruling to halt incursions during the coronavirus pandemic. Since October, the communities of Greater Rio saw an average of nearly one raid every day, according to a report by Geni, a research group at the Federal Fluminense University (UFF). (Guardian)
  • More than a dozen U.S. Democratic senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to condition support for Brazilian environmental efforts on significant progress reducing deforestation, reports the Associated Press. The 15 senators, who also include former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, said they support cooperation on the Amazon between the U.S. and Brazilian governments, but questioned Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s credibility. (See last Tuesday's post.)
  • The senators referenced a 2019 Human Rights Watch report, Rainforest Mafias, to note how “deforestation was driven largely by powerful criminal networks that use intimidation and violence – with near total impunity – against those who seek to defend the rainforest”. (Al Jazeera
  • Brazil had been angling for a deal that would give environmental aid upfront, but reports indicate that the United States is insistent on seeing results first. (Reuters)
  • Brazil's environment minister, Ricardo Salles, told Reuters on Friday that Brazil would need to receive $10 billion annually in foreign aid in order to reach economy-wide net zero carbon emissions by 2050. (See last Thursday's post on the government's new plan to (somewhat) limit deforestation.)
  • Buenos Aires mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta challenged the national government's Covid-19 restrictions, which include a 2-week school shutdown for the Buenos Aires metropolitan region, where coronavirus cases have hospitals near collapse. A lower court decision yesterday ordered schools in the national capital to open today, in defiance of President Alberto Fernández's emergency decree last week. (Cronista, Infobae
  • Like everything else in Argentine politics, the case has fed into the "grieta," the country's deep political schism. Rodríguez Larreta a leader of the opposition Cambiemos alliance, has tapped into an issue important to parent groups, exhausted after a full school year of distance learning. Supporters of the government point to overloaded hospitals and deep inequalities in this year's return to in-person schooling. Public school teachers in Buenos Aires are striking in response to the decision and the disagreement between the city and national government will escalate legally. (Infobae)
  • The pandemic has deepened Argentina's pre-existing economic crisis -- and "hanging over national life is an inevitable renegotiation later this year with the International Monetary Fund," reports the New York Times. Though it is IMF under new management, with less of a focus on harsh austerity measures than in the past, the issue looms large ahead of midterm elections in October.
El Salvador
  • Reproductive rights activists hope a case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will result in a dramatic easing of abortion restrictions in El Salvador, where women are draconianly punished for suspected abortions. (Los Angeles Times, see March 12's post on the Manuela v El Salvador case before the court.)
  • A new bill approved by Mexican lawmakers last week would create a registry storing biometric data for cell phone users aimed at cracking down on extortion and kidnapping. The new registry, which rights groups have objected to, would place Mexico in a smaller club of countries that collect biometric data including China, India, and Pakistan, explains Boz at the Latin America Risk Report. (See last Thursday's briefs.)

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