Monday, November 15, 2021

Cuban dissidents to rally (Nov. 15, 2021)

 A group of Cuban dissidents hope to reignite anti-government protests with marches today calling for civil liberties and human rights. But the Cuban government has clamped down on activists ahead of the demonstration, which officials say is backed by the U.S. and aims for regime change. (See last Thursday's post.)

Archipiélago, a Facebook group of about 35,000 members that promotes discussion and debate, is the main promoter of rallies scheduled to take place in cities around the country today. Yunior García, a playwright who has become one of the movement's most visible leaders, had announced he would march alone through Havana yesterday, to represent those who wouldn’t be able to today. But plainclothes police swarmed his block and besieged his building before he could set out -- a common tactic the Cuban government uses to prevent activists from demonstrating, reports the Washington Post

Several government critics, including Abraham Jiménez Enoa, said that security forces were preventing them from leaving their homes. Archipiélago moderator Daniela Rojo reportedly vanished. Security forces detained another leader of the site, Carlos Ernesto Diaz Gonzalez. The government suspended the credentials of several Havana-based reporters working for EF Independent journalists throughout the island have also reported being under house arrest today. Cuban dissident, journalist and human rights campaigner Guillermo Farinas was detained Friday. (NBCAl JazeeraAssociated Press)

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it is following the situation involving independent media and demanded respect for journalists that “resists censorship and harassment.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday condemned Cuba’s “intimidation tactics.”

The question remains whether ordinary Cubans will attend Monday’s protest, considering the government declared it illegal. Organizers urged supporters to hang white sheets outside their homes, applaud at 3 p.m. and find other creative ways to demonstrate today if they do not feel comfortable taking to the streets, given the likelihood of repression, reports the New York Times

But even a smaller turnout could indicate that Cuba’s communist system is facing a new and unpredictable challenge to its legitimacy. Experts agree that Cuba is on the cusp of something important, even if the movement behind the protests is unlikely to bring down the Communist Party.

Supercharged US sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic, a surge in social media use and a younger generation hungry for change have left the Communist party reeling, reports the Guardian. The U.S. maximum pressure policy against Cuba -- developed by the Trump administration and continued by the current Biden government -- has pushed the country into an economic crisis that rivals the so-called Special Period, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Largely peaceful protests in July demanding freedom for political prisoners, as well as food, medicine and electricity which have been particularly scarce this year in Cuba, were brutally repressed. A Human Rights Watch report found that Cuba's government "systematically engaged in arbitrary detention, ill-treatment of detainees, and abuse-ridden criminal prosecutions." Some 1,000 people were arrested and 659 remain jailed, according to a count by the civil rights group Cubalex.

Cuban officials, including President Miguel Díaz-Canel have insisted that protesters are spurred by a U.S. plot. State-run television has dedicated programming to García in recent weeks, accusing him of being financed by the U.S. But Archipiélago members interviewed by the New York Times denied receiving any money from the U.S. government and emphasized that Cuban problems are for Cubans alone to solve.


Argentine gov't loses midterms

The Argentine governing Frente de Todos coalition lost its ability to command Senate quorum (a first for a Peronist government) in yesterday's midterm elections, a loss that forms part of a broad expression of anger at President Alberto Fernández's government, besieged by an economic crisis compounded by pandemic and international debt. The government maintained its position as first minority in Congress' lower Chamber of Deputies. (InfobaeEl PaísPrimera Mañana)

The results will force Fernández to make concessions to the opposition during the last two years of his mandate in order to pass laws or make key appointments, including to the judiciary, reports AFP. In his post election speech last night, Fernández called for dialogue with the opposition. "We need to prioritise national agreements if we want to resolve the challenges we face," he said. Argentina's government faces an acute social crisis -- both high poverty and inflation -- and is in the midst of debt refinancing negotiations with the IMF. (Associated Press)

Over 70 percent of eligible voters participated, an increase of five points over the open primaries in September that first indicated a probable government loss. The Frente de Todos obtained 33 percent of the vote while the main opposition coalition, the right-wing Juntos por el Cambio, obtained nearly 42 percent. It remains to be seen whether the government will pursue further cabinet changes in response to the results, as occurred in September, when the ballot box loss unleashed a political crisis within the governing coalition.

In the Peronist bastion of Buenos Aires province the governing coalition narrowed the loss to the opposition, 38.53 percent to 39.81. In Buenos Aires city, alternative forces increased their support: libertarian candidate Javier Milei obtained 17 percent of the vote -- which means his ultra-right wing Avanza Libertad party will have two seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The force's position as the third strongest in the district feeds Milei's hopes for a presidential run in 2023. (El PaísInfobaeTN) Leftist Myriam Bregman obtained a seat in the lower house as well. (La Izquierda Diario)

Moving forward, economic concerns will dominate Argentine politics. Looking to cool public anger ahead of the ballot, the government increased social spending and froze the prices of more than 1,400 household items. Fernández's speech last night reiterated support for a rescheduling of a $44 billion debt IMF, but emphasized that any agreement must be sustainable, and will not include austerity policies. (Financial TimesTiempo Argentino)

For the opposition, the strong showing puts renewed focus on internal battles for the presidential candidacy in 2023. 

News Briefs

  • The Organization of American States "is no longer a credible observer of democracy in the Americas – particularly under present leadership of Luis Almagro," write David Adlerand Guillaume Long in a Guardian op-ed that echos increasingly persistent criticism of the OAS, which critics view as subservient to U.S. interests. Instead there are calls for an international electoral observatory, that former Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim said could "fill an important gap in defense of democracy and human rights."

  • The General Assembly of the Organization of American States voted to condemn Nicaragua’s Nov. 7 presidential vote, saying the elections “were not free, fair or transparent, and lack democratic legitimacy.” Twenty-five countries voted in favor of the resolution, while seven — including Mexico and Bolivia — abstained. In a switch, Argentina supported the resolution. Only Nicaragua voted against it. (Associated Press, see last Tuesday's post)
  • The world’s approach to the Amazon rainforest must be transformed to avoid an irreversible, catastrophic tipping point, according to a comprehensive study of the region carried out by a new Science Panel for the Amazon. More than 200 scientists collaborated on the report, which finds that more than a third of the world’s biggest tropical forest is degraded or deforested, rainfall is declining and dry seasons are growing longer, reports the Guardian.

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's "apparent about-face on climate could be indicative of a broader trend: As more and more far-right nationalists recognize the futility of denying climate change outright, many have opted for a different approach, positioning themselves as skeptics not of human-induced climate change, but rather of the elite’s proposed solutions to address it," writes Yasmeen Serhan in the Atlantic. But "without proper enforcement mechanisms, nationalist leaders will continue to drive climate change with impunity," she warns.
  • Honduran politician Francisco Gaitan, mayor of the municipality of Cantarranas and member of the opposition Liberal Party, was shot to death on Saturday night after a political rally. Honduran police said they had arrested a suspect in the killing, reports Reuters.

  • Outgoing Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández  reaffirmed his support for Taiwan ahead of this month's presidential elections in which his successor may switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing. (AFP)
  • Six U.S. oil executives detained in Venezuela for four years on corruption charges have been granted a hearing before an appeals court, a rare decision by the country's judicial system, reports the Associated Press. They had been placed under house arrest earlier this year, and were subsequently returned to jail after the U.S. obtained the extradition of Maduro ally businessman Alex Saab. (See Oct. 18's post.)
  • Peruvian Defense Minister Walter Ayala resigned amid a scandal over allegations of government interference in the military, reports Bloomberg.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said e was postponing an event to launch his re-election bid in affiliation with the Liberal Party after talks with the party's leader, reports Reuters. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • At least 68 prisoners have been killed and 25 injured in an Ecuadorean jail massacre. Fighting broke out Friday night between rival gangs in Guayaquil's Litoral penitentiary, where at last 119 inmates were killed in a prison violence just over a month ago. This weekend's outbreak was reportedly triggered by a power vacuum after a gang leader’s release. (Guardian) Videos on social media showed burned and wounded bodies, and inmates pleading with police for protection, reports the Washington Post

  • Ecuador's Attorney General's Office said Friday that through a local court it had frozen the bank accounts of many business leaders and former government officials, including former president Rafael Correa. (Reuters)
  • Bolivian President Luis Arce announced the repeal of a law aimed at combating money laundering that sparked a six-day general strike, marches and blockades across the country by unions and civic committees. (EFE)
  • A painstaking new translation of letters penned in 1645 by leaders of the Potiguara Indigenous nation, trapped in a war between Dutch settlers and the Portuguese empire over the sugar plantations of north-east Brazil, casts new light on these unique sources written by a native people. (Guardian)
  • The past decade has been somewhat of a golden period for Uruguayan futbol -- but some think it might be ending, reports the New York Times.

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

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