The framework of U.S.-Latin American relations, including relations with Cuba, has grown more complicated following the death of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Even if Nicolás Maduro remains the Venezuelan president after his controversial victory over Henrique Capriles, it is not likely that oil-rich Venezuela will continue subsidizing the economies of Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and various Caribbean states. Chávez’ largesse helped buy friends for his government, but Venezuela now has its own pressing needs.
At the same time, Cuban President Raúl Castro is searching for U.S. dollars just to avoid economic reforms. For 30 years, the Castro brothers depended on the Soviet Union to keep their communist government afloat with an estimated $5 billion in annual subsidies. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chávez became Cuba’s patron benefactor.
As U.S. National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper put it in testimony on March 12, 2013, to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Cuba’s leaders are urgently trying to attract foreign investment” now that Chávez is gone.
For investors, Cuba is not a good bet. It has no oil or other significant natural resources—with the exception of nickel, which has been set aside for the Canadian Company Sherritt International. Moreover, “investing in Cuba” means dealing with the Castro government. There’s no such thing as private enterprise in Cuba. And if things turn sour between a foreign investor and the Cuban state, there’s no independent judiciary to which to appeal. On the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Cuba ranks ahead of only North Korea, and is listed 176th of 177 countries.
Havana has waged a prolonged public relations effort to convince Washington to lift U.S. trade sanctions and to extend it credit despite the Castro regime’s history of unpaid bills. The campaign was predicated on Cuba’s expectation that off-shore drilling would strike oil, but the joint ventures between Havana and oil companies based in Venezuela, Malaysia, Spain, and Brazil have all come up dry.
Illiquidity makes things worse in Cuba today. Foreign investors operating on the island are not being allowed to withdraw their money from Cuba’s banks and some investors are being given vouchers that can only be spent in Cuban government-owned enterprises, such as the Tropicana nightclub in Havana.
Nicolás Maduro’s election victory was certified by the National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral—CNE) on Monday in the midst of claims by the Venezuelan opposition of electoral fraud during Sunday’s presidential election. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has refused to recognize the outcome of the election and thousands of opposition members are protesting the results.
CNE President Tibisay Lucena declared the outcome of Sunday’s election “irreversible,” but opposition leaders, led by Capriles, have called on their followers to protest peacefully and demand the electoral authority’s total recount of the votes. “This is the moment of reason, not of emotion,” Capriles said, after Maduro accused the opposition of trying to undo the will of the country’s democratic majority.
Sunday’s elections gave Maduro—Hugo Chávez’s handpicked successor—a victory by a slim margin of 234,935 votes. On Monday, the CNE released a second report which revealed a slight increase in the number of votes obtained by Maduro—from 7,505,338 to 7,559,349 votes. This raises his margin of victory to 262,473 votes.
The international community has also weighed in on the results of Sunday’s election, and several prominent public figures have called for a recount. Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza expressed concern for the deep political polarization in Venezuela and offered the OAS’ institutional support to conduct a recount process. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Garcia-Margallo also called on Venezuelan election officials to conduct a rapid recount
On Monday afternoon, thousands of young protesters clashed with National Guard troops, who blocked them from marching in the streets of Caracas. Protests are continuing today with rival rallies expected to take place in Caracas and other provincial cities. Tomorrow, Capriles’ followers are planning to march to the CNE headquarters in the capital to demand a recount.
A petition on whitehouse.gov was started on Monday to “call upon the International Community to urge that a full recount of votes be done in Venezuela’s presidential elections.” It has collected 72,000 signatures of the 100,000 required before the Obama administration is required to produce a formal response. Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Monday that a recount is "an important, prudent and necessary step.”
After narrowly defeating Henrique Capriles in a hotly-contested presidential election (Capriles is demanding a recount), Venezuelan President-elect Nicolás Maduro will soon have to turn to a more threatening foe: the nation’s economy.
In a time of high commodity prices, why is one of the world’s top oil exporters facing such dire straits?
A lot of it has to do with Hugo Chávez’s socialist legacy.
For years, Venezuela has had a fixed exchange-rate regime. The Chávez administration, eager to control every aspect of life in Venezuela, decided who got how many dollars, and at what prices. Currently, the fixed exchange rate is 6.3 bolívars (BsF) per dollar. A parallel “auction” system is selling dollars at BsF 12, and the black-market rate currently hovers around BsF 23 per dollar.
These deep distortions are the reason why Venezuelans are suffering some of their worst shortages in years. Long accustomed to subsidized greenbacks for importing nearly everything, Venezuelans now find dollars harder to come by. However, the government has other priorities: oil production is stuck or declining, and with the nation’s refineries in bad shape, Venezuela needs to import refined products such as gasoline, which the government practically gives away for free.
Importers lucky enough to access dollars at the BsF 6.3 rate find it very tempting to sell the same dollars at the black market rate instead of using them for their intended use—importing basic staples. That is one of the main reasons why Venezuelans´ shelves are empty.
Untangling this economic crisis will require the skills of a deft politician—something Maduro clearly is not. Likewise, doing away with the regressive gasoline subsidies that threaten to bring down the state’s finances will require a national consensus that seems impossible right now. Meanwhile, generating enough confidence to spruce up private investment is simply not in the cards for Venezuela.
Mr. Maduro is likely to find that Mr. Capriles and the pot-banging opposition are the least of his problems.
In Colombia, the country’s second edition of the “Slutwalk”—known in Spanish as “La Marcha de las Putas”—took place recently in several cities around the country. The Slutwalk originated in Toronto in 2011 to protest rape and sexual violence after a Canadian police officer suggested that women should avoid “dressing like sluts” to stay safe. The Slutwalks are public demonstrations where some participants dress provocatively to raise consciousness about sexual violence and respect for women’s right to dress and act as they choose.
The protest in Canada quickly spread around the world and Colombia held its first Marcha de las Putas last year. This year, however, the march stirred controversy from within Colombia’s feminist movement, leading many prominent feminists to refuse to participate.
The dispute started when the leader and spokesperson of Colombia’s Marcha de las Putas, Mar Candela, decided to register the name “Marcha de las Putas” as a nonprofit corporation dedicated to fighting violence against women. The corporation changed the word “putas” (Spanish for “whores”) to an acronym that stands for “for an authentic social transformation” (“por una transformación auténtica y social”—P.U.T.A.S.)
Some feminists have been critical of Candela’s decision, claiming that her action has privatized and monopolized decades of feminist efforts. They are concerned that the new nonprofit has appropriated the social movement that inspired it, turning a political struggle into a registered brand. Furthermore, they contend that Candela’s decision to change the word “putas” to “P.U.T.A.S.” strips the name of its controversial potential, replacing it with an acronym that says absolutely nothing.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Maduro narrowly wins Venezuela elections; U.S. Senators to release immigration legislation; Guantánamo prison standoff escalates; Mexican teachers plan more protests this week; Chile’s Michelle Bachelet begins her campaign.
Venezuela elections: Venezuelan voters narrowly elected Nicolás Maduro as president on Sunday in a highly contested election in which the results are currently being challenged by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. Venezuela’s Consejo Electoral Nacional (National Electoral Council—CNE) reported that Maduro won 50.7 percent of the vote and Capriles won 49.1 percent. As the polls closed on Sunday amid violence, supporters of both Maduro and Capriles claimed electoral fraud. Maduro's lead in opinion polls before the elections suggested that he would win, but Capriles rapidly gained ground with Venezuelan voters in the last two weeks. Capriles has demanded a recount, but it is unclear whether this will take place.
Gang of Eight to release immigration plan: The bipartisan "gang of eight" group of U.S. Senators will unveil a proposal to overhaul the U.S. immigration system on Tuesday, according to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). The proposal is expected to step up enforcement and border security, create a new guest worker program and provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of the authors of the proposal, strongly endorsed the bill on Sunday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the bill on Wednesday.
Guantánamo prison protest escalates: Prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay prison clashed with prison guards on Saturday. At least 43 of 166 prisoners have continued a hunger strike to protest prison conditions that include separating inmates in communal housing and putting them in individual cells. The Pentagon reported that 11 inmates are now being force-fed after going on strike as a response to invasive searches and other controversial security measures. Some of the inmates have been imprisoned at Guantánamo for over a decade without being charged with a crime.
Mexican teacher protests continue: The Mexican government sent federal police to Guerrero state last week to confront teachers that have been protesting Enrique Peña Nieto's recently-introduced education reforms by creating roadblocks on the highway between Mexico City and Acapulco. The reforms include the implementation of a requirement that teachers pass a standardized test to teach, which many protesters fear will cause them to lose their jobs. The protesters have teamed up with local militias, such as the 1,200-member Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities, and say that they are planning more protests on Monday.
Michelle Bachelet hits campaign trail: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet officially launched her presidential campaign on Saturday, promising education and tax reforms if she is re-elected president. Bachelet’s possible opponents in the upcoming election include Andrés Allemand, a former defense minister, and Laurence Golborne, a former public works minister who led the rescue of 33 trapped miners in 2010. Though Bachelet left office with an 84 percent approval rating, she faces challenges. Tens of thousands of students took to the streets on Thursday, demonstrating that education will likely play a major role in the country's November 17 elections.
Durante la última década los venezolanos han vivido cada contienda electoral como una batalla en la que se juegan la vida o la muerte. Tal vez influenciados por el peso del pasado libertario, o por continuar bajo la mirada de una docena de próceres cuyas efigies aún se alzan en la explanada militar que antecede al principal fuerte de la capital, en la Venezuela de estos días los ciudadanos están inmersos en “una lucha” o “una cruzada”, dependiendo de la tendencia política de preferencia.
Este domingo 14 de abril, casi 15 millones de electores decidieron quien gobernará el país por los próximos seis años. A 39 días de la muerte del ex presidente, Hugo Chávez, los venezolanos se debatieron entre continuar el legado del polémico líder, dando un voto de confianza en su “hijo” político, o iniciar un viraje de la mano del opositor Henrique Capriles Radonski, quien ya fuese derrotado por Chávez en los pasados comicios presidenciales de octubre de 2012.
Durante la frenética campaña electoral de 10 días, ambos candidatos recorrieron el país, visitando hasta tres estados diferentes por día. El discurso, centrado en ataques de índole personal e invocaciones emocionales, careció de propuestas para temas centrales que afectan a la Venezuela contemporánea: inseguridad, desabastecimiento de alimentos y productos, inflación y fallas en los servicios.
De lejos, es la inseguridad el principal reclamo de los venezolanos. El año pasado, de acuerdo con cifras del Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia—ONG especialidad en criminalidad— 21.692 personas fueron asesinadas en el país, elevando la tasa de homicidios a 73 por cada 100 mil, casi el triple de países como México o Brasil. Por su parte, el Ministerio de Interior y Justicia habla de 16 mil.
Desde que inició el proceso de paz del gobierno colombiano con las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) en la Habana, es innegable que el tema de encontrar una salida política al conflicto ha hecho que muchos coincidan o discrepen sobre los posibles escenarios. Como todo en política.
En la marcha del pasado martes fue inevitable que amigos y enemigos de la paz se sentaran en diversas orillas según sus nuevas apuestas. De un lado, el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, el alcalde de Bogotá Gustavo Petro, el movimiento Marcha Patriótica liderado por Piedad Córdoba e Iván Cepeda—quienes recientemente recibieron un reconocimiento en Copenhague—, indígenas, campesinos, afrocolombianos, policías, soldados y las mismas FARC desde la Habana, coincidieron en que es necesario que los colombianos blinden el esfuerzo de los negociadores en Cuba. Durante años, estos personajes tuvieron visiones aparentemente irreconciliables y se denunciaron unos a otros sin tapujos sobre temas de alto calibre, tales como la responsabilidad del Estado en relación a los llamados falsos positivos.
Del otro lado se encontraron quienes han hecho un ruido permanente en el proceso: los sectores más ultraconservadores encabezados por el ex presidente Álvaro Uribe y recientemente por el ex mandatario Andrés Pastrana—quien durante su gobierno no logró alcanzar los acuerdos pretendidos con la guerrilla—acompañados por el Polo Democrático Alternativo, uno de los partidos más antiuribistas de Colombia. A pesar de sus diferentes matices, a todos en este grupo les preocupa que la paz se convierta en una campaña por la reelección—un escenario absolutamente obvio para Santos en el contexto en que se juega todo su capital electoral.
The whirlwind presidential campaign between Nicolás Maduro and Henrique Capriles Radonski is now officially over in Venezuela. After a rapid 10 days of marches and packed political rallies, the campaign closed Thursday night as hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans gathered in streets across the country in massive displays of support for each of the rival candidates.
Maduro, the chosen successor of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez who inherits Chávez’s ruling political party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), closed his campaign in Caracas, filling seven of the largest avenues in the capital city with supporters from all over the country.
Capriles, the former governor of the state of Miranda and now the unrivaled leader of the Venezuelan opposition, finished his race in Barquisimeto, the capital of one of three states currently held by the opposition, in what was the largest public event to ever take place in that part of the country.
Now the campaign is over and Venezuelans around the world wait anxiously to vote on Sunday.
El 8 de diciembre de 2012, algo cambió en Venezuela. En una alocución pública nacional, Hugo Chávez anunció al país su partida a Cuba para someterse a una operación delicada, justo dos meses después de haber sido reelecto como presidente. Intuyendo lo que podría suceder ante su ausencia, designó como candidato presidencial de su partido a Nicolás Maduro, quien en ese momento fungía como vicepresidente de la República.
Todo parecía indicar que pronto habría nuevas elecciones. Tres meses después, el 5 de marzo de 2013, se anunció el fallecimiento de Hugo Chávez y el inicio de un nuevo período electoral presidencial en menos de 12 meses.
La nueva campaña electoral tuvo una característica inusual: se produjo tras la muerte de un presidente, hecho no antes visto en la historia democrática de Venezuela. Los días de funeral y entierro se utilizaron como el inicio de una campaña que busca conectar sentimentalmente a la base chavista con el candidato Nicolás Maduro, quien a pesar de ser designado personalmente como el sucesor, carece del carisma y el discurso de Hugo Chávez. La promesa de campaña ha sido la de mantener el legado revolucionario y apoyarse en el culto naciente, casi religioso alrededor de la figura de Chávez.
El gran reto de ambos sectores es el de movilizar a las bases del 7 de octubre. El candidato que logre esto con mayor eficiencia, será el ganador de esta contienda, pues en una campaña tan corta no hay mucho tiempo para convencer con propuestas, sino de utilizar elementos que reflejan el “todo o nada.” En solo 10 días de campaña, el esfuerzo comunicacional de ambos comandos a través de los medios de comunicación será determinante para llevar sus mensajes lo más lejos posible.
This week marked several milestones in the immigrants’ rights movement. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies descended on Capitol Hill to demand a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The “Rally for Citizenship” was held on the forty-seventh anniversary of the first farmworker march in Sacramento led by Dolores Huerta, who celebrated her 83 birthday the same day. And sources announced yesterday that the bipartisan immigration bill will include a major merit-based program for foreigners to become permanent legal residents based on their work skills.
The labor provision of the bill aims to shift immigration policy’s focus from family ties to work skills that meet the U.S. market demands at all skill levels. Today’s announcement is due in part to an agreement reached last month between top business and labor groups on a year-round guest worker program for blue collar workers. The deal established the pay level and creates a pathway to citizenship for these workers. At Wednesday’s rally, “Gang of Eight” member Senator Robert Menendez said of sweeping reform, “It is in the nation’s interest, in the economic interests of the United States and in the security interests of the United States.”
Over her half-century-long career as a labor leader, Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers of America (UFA), along with the deceased labor rights activist César Chávez has worked to organize agricultural workers and protect their rights. While the guest worker provision of the forthcoming reform bill appears promising, the Senate announced today that proposed reform would bar anyone who arrived in the U.S. after Dec. 31, 2011, from applying for legal status and ultimately citizenship. The bipartisan group of senators is putting the final details on the bill and will unveil the details early next week.
As the U.S. Senate “Gang of Eight” prepares to unveil their comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill, tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies marched on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to demand a pathway to citizenship.
The same day, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) held a closed-door meeting with his Republican colleagues in the senate to assure them that the overhaul will amount to the “toughest immigration enforcement laws in history.” A number of Democrats will have to be convinced of the same before they vote in favor of the bill.
In order to secure bipartisan support for the bill—which is crucial to its eventual passage by a divided Congress—any proposed pathway to citizenship will clearly be accompanied by stepped-up enforcement. This is not inherently a bad thing. With 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.—most of whom overstayed their visa, rather than crossing one of our two borders—there is a clear need for a legal framework that enforces the law, while also honoring the economic contributions that immigrants make and creating mechanisms for naturalization and integration. The framework must also recognize that immigration-related violations are civil charges, not criminal ones.
Unfortunately, our current immigration enforcement system couldn’t be farther from that reality. The status quo of enforcement is overly punitive and grossly expensive, making the prospect of a significant increase through CIR worrisome.
Chile’s congress took a first step toward legislating rights for same-sex couples on April 10. If passed, President Sebastián Piñera’s Acuerdo de Vida Común (Life Partner Agreement—AVP) would allow same-sex couples to register their partnerships with notaries, granting them many of the same legal rights as married couples, such as shared health benefits, pensions and inheritances. The legislation stops short of permitting gay marriage, explicitly reserving that for heterosexual couples. Currently, Chile does not legally recognize gay couples.
President Sebastián Piñera sent the bill to Congress in August 2012, but it sat latent until Wednesday, when the Senate’s Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Committee approved the initiation of debate.
Chile, one of the more socially conservative countries in the region, has traditionally been among the last Latin American countries to adopt progressive social legislation. Only in 2004 did it legally permit divorce, and it still prohibits all abortions. Chile has been similarly slow to debate and enact gay rights laws, compared to its neighbors. Only in 1999 did Chile decriminalize gay sex, compared to Argentina and Brazil, which have allowed it since the nineteenth century.
Yet, in the past year, Chile’s gay rights movement has surged ahead. When the 2012 census gave Chileans the opportunity to declare living in a same-sex relationship for the first time, nearly 35,000 Chileans, or 0.5 percent of the population, did so—higher than in Uruguay and Argentina, both of which recently legalized gay marriage.
In early 2012, the government changed the rules on blood donation to prevent potential donors from being turned away for being gay and, in March 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ordered the state to pay compensation to a lesbian mother who had been denied custody of her daughters by Chile's supreme court because she lived with a woman. The IACHR went further, instructing the Chilean government to educate its judiciary about gender issues. In May, Congress passed anti-discrimination legislation—often referred to as the Zamudio law, after Daniel Zamudio, a young gay man whose violent killing because of his sexual orientation propelled the law’s passage.
These consecutive milestones instigated the largest gay rights march in Chile’s history in June and put pressure on Congress this week to move toward legally recognizing gay couples.
YoSoy132 nació como un movimiento universitario en mayo de 2012, en oposición a la entonces candidatura presidencial del ahora presidente de México Enrique Peña Nieto.
Rápidamente se extendió, no sólo en el ámbito nacional, sino también en el ámbito internacional con la formación de grupos de mexicanos radicados en muchas ciudades del mundo. Los vimos organizar grandes manifestaciones en las que su poder de convocatoria—especialmente en la capital del país—llegó a reunir a miles de opositores al Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Sin embargo, después de las elecciones de julio de ese mismo año, pudimos ver con tristeza cómo el movimiento comenzó a perder, poco a poco, su gran fuerza inicial. Dejó de ser novedad y muchos simpatizantes perdieron el entusiasmo cuando vieron que no se pudo impedir que Peña Nieto se impusiera en los comicios presidenciales.
Y llegó el 1 de diciembre, fecha en que el nuevo presidente tomaría posesión de su cargo. Se preveían grandes manifestaciones de protesta por todo el país, que en muchos lugares terminaron en tragedia y represión, especialmente en la ciudad de México y en Guadalajara, donde hubo muchos heridos y detenidos. Mientras los medios de comunicación linchaban a los jóvenes, éstos denunciaban la presencia de policías y militares infiltrados en las marchas y a quienes acusaban de incitar a los disturbios. Pero aun así Peña Nieto tomó posesión de su cargo.
Y ahora cabe preguntarse ¿qué ocurre con Yosoy132? Ya casi no se habla de él en la televisión, la radio o los periódicos. ¿Dónde están? ¿Qué hacen?
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos joined hundreds of thousands of Colombians in a march through Bogotá on Tuesday to support the peace negotiations between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government.
The march drew together an estimated 800,000 people across Colombia and 200,000 in Bogotá alone, making it the largest demonstration to take place in Colombia’s capital city. Similar demonstrations took place in Cali, Barranquilla, and Santander. In an address to the crowd, President Santos urged unity and said that “All conditions are set…[for] an end to the conflict.”
Since peace talks began in Oslo in October, the Colombian government and representatives of the FARC have been negotiating a peace treaty that is expected to address agrarian reform, a top priority for the FARC. The president and his team have also addressed the demilitarization and disarmament of the rebels and explored ways to integrate the FARC’s leadership into the political system. In addition to agrarian reform and demobilization, social development—health, education, housing, and poverty eradication—have been a top priority for both sides.
However, Santos announced last week that the government would not negotiate a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC until the two sides reach a final agreement. Without ceasefire in place, some Colombians fear that there will be no end to the conflict which has killed at least 600,000 people and displaced another three million.
Political opponents of the current administration, including former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, refused to participate in Tuesday’s march. Uribe and other politicians have argued that the march supports the FARC, rather than victims of violence and kidnappings.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala concluded a five-day visit to the People’s Republic of China after meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and representatives of top corporations on Monday. The objective of the meetings is to boost bilateral relations and attract strategic Chinese investments in Peru.
China is Peru’s main source of foreign investment, and the two countries signed a Free Trade Agreement on April, 2009. For Peru, increasing trade with China is a key way of diversifying its export economy. For China, Peru is an important source of minerals, primarily copper. Noting the mutual interests of the two countries, Li Keqiang called on the Peruvian leader to enhance collaboration in fields such as trade and investment, finance, infrastructure, technology and human resources.
Peru still has a lot of room to grow in terms of non-traditional exports such as squid, grapes, seaweed, wood, liver and frozen foods. According to the Chamber of Chinese-Peruvian Commerce (Capechi), Peruvian exports to China are expected to increase by 25 percent in 2013. China’s growing demand for energy has led to plans to build and operate a natural gas pipeline—the Southern Peruvian Gas Pipeline—which will provide gas to Cusco, Arequipa, Puno, Moquegua and Tacna.
A stronger partnership with Peru is part of a greater Chinese effort to consolidate its presence in Latin America. During his tour through Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile in 2012, former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao advocated for the creation of a China-Latin America cooperation forum, a platform to improve market conditions and increase political trust between China and Latin American nations. Today, China is the leading commercial partner of Brazil, Chile, Peru and Argentina; and the second of Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay.
It is often stated as conventional wisdom that the United States is a right-of-center country and Canada, with its state-supported healthcare system and greater state-run operations, is left-of-center. In real life, it is far more complex—as we saw when U.S. President Barack Obama handily won reelection last November while the right-wing Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has won the last three general elections in Canada.
Occasionally, a book surfaces about a new political paradigm, leading many to question existing conventional wisdom. One such book has just hit the newsstands in Canada. It is called The Big Shift, co-authored by the CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, Darrell Bricker, and the respected Globe and Mail newspaper columnist John Ibbitson. I happen to personally know both authors and can attest to their impeccable professional credentials. Their book covers new ground, challenges existing conventions and offers a highly provocative treatise about the new politics in Canada.
The book’s basic thesis deals with an emerging new coalition of voters—anchored in resource-rich western Canada and in suburban Toronto—who share more conservative values and views about the role of government, the economy and law and order. Using recent census data, they point to a fluid demography where many new immigrants are arriving in Ontario and western Canada from East Asia and South Asia. Ibbitson and Bricker speak of an immigration inflow that is equivalent to the size of Canada’s largest city, Toronto, every ten years. The result is a new, more Pacific-oriented Canada that is more polarized along the conservative-progressive divide than ever in its recent history.
Given Cuba’s imminent loss of subsidies and other types of donations from Venezuela, various media outlets have broadcast the Castro regime’s supposed strategy to attract foreign investments to the island. Like actors in a road movie, the authorities of the Cuban regime have gone on a crazed search for investments as if time were running out.
To develop their projects, private businesspeople who invest in Cuba are obliged to accept conditions that do not correspond broadly with those established by international law in most other parts of the world. In Cuba, the lack of concrete opportunities to invest exacerbates the risk already associated with any investment.
This risk is rooted in the Stalinist nature of the regime, a system that penalizes property rights and the way resources are assigned to the market. State intervention substitutes for economic planning and tries to determine the areas where the international private investor can operate.
Face the facts: the regime that directs the lives and the destinies of Cubans wants to impose its own criteria on decisions made by foreign investors. It amounts to a kind of capitalist-monopolist socialism, in which the rationale for investment is systematically reduced.
In the globalized world of the twenty-first century, it makes sense to try to attract foreign investment. In fact, the modernization of any economy—including its opening to the world, its competitiveness and its capacity to generate employment and wealth—depends in large measure on doing just this.
But what can the Castro regime offer foreign investors?
Top stories this week are likely to include: U.S. Senators hope to introduce immigration reform bill this week; the Brazilian Federal Police will investigate whether Lula had a role in the mensalão scandal; Pablo Neruda’s body will be examined for signs of poisoning; Venezuela’s opposition rallies in Caracas; and the FARC bring extra peace negotiators to Cuba.
“Gang of Eight” Hoping for Immigration Bill by End of the Week: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday that the bipartisan group of senators working on a comprehensive immigration reform bill may have legislation ready to present to lawmakers by the end of this week. The bill is expected to provide for a wide range of reforms, including strengthened border security, a new guest-worker program and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Schumer said a best-case scenario could bring the bill up for a vote as early as May after it goes through the Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday, April 10, a rally in support of immigration reform is expected to draw tens of thousands to the U.S. Capitol. http://www.voxxi.com/unprecedented-rally-immigration-reform/
Lula to be investigated in Mensalão scandal: Brazil’s Federal Prosecutor has ordered an investigation into allegations by businessman Marcos Valério that former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was involved in the mensalão scandal, a 2005 vote-buying scheme involving members of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) and others. Valério was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison last year for his role in the scandal. This weekend, the Federal Prosecutor ordered the Federal Police to investigate Valério’s accusation. Lula has denied all involvement in the scandal.
Pablo Neruda’s Body to be Examined: Chilean forensic investigators will exhume the body of Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda today to determine whether Chile’s military regime had eliminated Neruda when he died in 1973. Neruda, a communist, allegedly died of cancer just 12 days after the September 11, 1973, coup that installed Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. However, his former driver, Manuel Araya, claimed that a doctor gave Neruda a lethal injection on the day of his death. In February, a Chilean court ordered that Neruda’s body be examined for signs of poisoning. Results are not expected for another three months.
Venezuelan Opposition Rallies in Caracas: Tens of thousands of Venezuelans marched in Caracas on Sunday to express their support for opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles in the lead-up to Venezuela’s April 14 presidential election. Polls indicate that Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro, enjoys a 10-percentage point lead over Capriles. Over the weekend, Maduro made headlines in Amazonas state when he invoked the “curse of Maracapana” on those who vote for his rival, and also accused “Central American mercenaries” of plotting to kill him.
FARC Negotiators Bring in Reinforcements: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announced Sunday that rebel leader Pablo Catatumbo (Jorge Torres Victoria) arrived in Havana with other members of the guerilla group to reinforce the negotiating team during peace talks with the Colombian government. Catatumbo has allegedly been critical of leading FARC negotiator Iván Marquez (Luciano Marín Arango). Last Thursday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that the government would not engage in a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC until the two sides reach a final agreement. The next round of peace talks is scheduled to begin on April 18.
Yesterday, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced the names of her campaign team for the upcoming presidential elections on November 17. Among them are Rodrigo Peñailillo, Bachelet’s former chief of staff that will assume the role of executive secretary; Alvaro Elizalde, who will resign as the general secretary of the Partido Socialista (The Socialist Party - PS) and assume the role of head of communications; Senator Ricardo Lagos Weber, Bachelet’s former minister spokesperson who will be campaign team leader; Paula Walker, head of press; Alberto Arenas, Bachelet’s former budget director; and Orieta Rojas who will be head of the campaign.
The remaining members of the team will be representatives from other political parties and civil society leaders such as former student leader Karina Delfino, a pioneer in the "revolución pingüina” who will oversee youth initiatives, and Javiera Parada, a close friend to Bachelet’s daughter who will oversee culture. Rodrigo Peñailillo relied on Osvaldo Andrade Lara of the Partido Socialista (The Socialist Party - PS) and former minister of Labor and Social Security under Bachelet’s administration, and former Senator Jaime Quintana and founder of the Partido por la Democracia (Party for Democracy – PPD) to create a short list of candidates.
In addition to establishing her political campaign staff, Bachelet will also create a "political advisory council" that will provide a space for conversation and reflection for experienced political leaders to offer their opinion leading up to the election.
Her 84 percent approval rating when she left office in 2010 suggests that she will win her party’s June primary with ease. In the succeeding election, in November, she will face a candidate from the governing centre-right Coalition, either Laurence Golborne, who as mining minister was in charge of the rescue of 33 miners trapped underground in 2010, or Andrés Allamand, a former defense minister.
Jamaicans often purport, in defense of their homophobia, that as long as gays and lesbians keep “it” to themselves, they have no problem with homosexuality. According to this logic, if a gay person affirms and accepts his or her sexual orientation, he or she is forcing “it” on others. What exactly constitutes “forcing” is quite subjective, and barely anything can be deemed as such.
As a consequence, the vast majority of gays and lesbians in Jamaica live their lives in secret for reasons that include fear of discrimination, violence or harassment, fear of unemployment or eviction from their homes, or even the fear of simply “offending” someone with their homosexuality.
The ironic thing is that these gays and lesbians (many of whom finally decide that being open about their sexuality is not necessarily important) are routinely scrutinized and policed as they go about their daily lives—by the very same people who asked them to keep “it” to themselves.
For more than a decade, Cuba’s Castro brothers (Fidel and Raúl) and their U.S. advocates have lobbied Congress to lift U.S. trade sanctions. Finally recognizing that Congress isn’t likely to do so, the focus of the Castro lobby has now shifted to getting Cuba removed from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
There are two ways Cuba, which has been listed since 1982, could be removed from the list:
The first is for President Obama to certify to Congress that there has been a fundamental change in Cuba's leadership and policies and that it disavows support of international terrorism now and for the future. No serious observer of Cuba will argue there has been any "fundamental change" in the Castro dictatorship, which has ruled Cuba with an iron-fist for 54 years.
The second is for the president to vouch to Congress that Cuba hasn’t provided any support to international terrorism in the preceding six months and has provided "assurances" to the United States that it won’t in the future. This was the vehicle used by the Bush Administration in 2008 to mistakenly remove North Korea from the list. As has now been proven with the Kim family, to rely on assurances of better behavior from the Castro brothers would be to commit foreign-policy malpractice. The Castro dictatorship brutally continues its repression of the Cuban people, routinely foments anti-Americanism around the world, and since December 2009 has held American aid worker Alan P. Gross for the crime of helping members of Cuba’s Jewish community connect to the Internet. Moreover, the Castro government has made it clear that Gross will stay in its prisons until the United States releases five convicted Cuban spies—an act of political coercion ("terrorism" as defined under U.S. law).
On the heels of Uruguay’s Congressional decision on Tuesday to legalize gay marriage, the country embarks on another bold decision today as it begins a three-month public debate over legalizing marijuana. President José Mujica presented a bill to Congress in November that will be voted on in June, after both proponents and opponents have made their cases to the public.
The bill would allow Uruguayans to possess and cultivate, sell and distribute established amounts of marijuana from their homes or places of work and would set up a government office to issue licenses to do so. In addition to regulating medicinal and recreational marijuana use and distribution, The National Cannabis Institute—as the office would be called—would grow and sell marijuana on its own, introducing a new source of government revenue and becoming the first government in the world to distribute marijuana to its citizens.
The bill is expected to pass easily since Mujica’s allies dominate Congress, yet hesitant public opinion prompted the President to slow down the voting process and establish the public debate period that begins today. According to observers, 64 percent of Uruguayans maintain reservations about such a radical liberalization of marijuana laws. While Congress debates the issue over the next three months, advocates on both sides of the debate will launch campaigns to sway the public.
Uruguay already boasts lax laws that permit both possessing and using marijuana. Proponents of the bill hope that even greater relaxation of the law will drive big drug traffickers out of the market and enable people to smoke marijuana without nourishing the violent, illegal drug trade.
The debate over marijuana legalization has simmered throughout the region over the last several years, but no country has put forth a plan as ambitious as Uruguay’s. Presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, and Costa Rica have called for a broader debate on relaxing regional drug laws, and other regional leaders have lightened sentences on people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana. The Brazilian and Argentine legislatures have even broached legalizing small quantities of other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine—but all save Uruguay have stopped short of proposing and debating bills to enact real changes.
In a 23 to 8 vote, the Uruguayan Senate approved a bill on Tuesday that brings the country one step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage. If passed, the bill would implement gender-neutral terms in marriage licenses and change the definition of civil marriage to "the permanent union, under the law, of two people of different or the same sex."
The 23 senators who voted in favor of the bill include all of the Broad Front (Frente Amplio—FA) lawmakers, as well as seven opposition senators from the National Party (Partido Nacional) and the Red Party (Partido Colorado). The House of Deputies approved a similar bill last December. Before the bill can become law, the lower chamber will have to ratify the senate amendments.
While the measure has been sharply criticized by the Catholic Church, the bill fits into Uruguayan President José Mujica’s left-leaning policies. President Mujica supports the bill and has committed to signing it into law once it passes the legislature.
If the bill becomes law, Uruguay would become the second Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage after Argentina
The day Steve Jobs died after a much-publicized battle with cancer, Apple’s shares rose in what analysts called “a tribute” to the company’s late founder. The next year, Apple’s stock continued its climb, making Apple the most valued company ever as a measure of market capitalization. Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook, had long been preparing for this moment, assuring the market that he could handle the company after Jobs was gone.
Yet, as time goes by, Apple, its shareholders, Cook, and millions of Apple customers around the world are painfully reminded that there can only be one Steve Jobs.
This lesson could be instructive to Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro, as he faces the daunting task of preserving the Bolivarian revolution without the charisma of its colorful founder.
Maduro’s short-term strategy may seem obvious: win the elections against a confused opposition and extend the life of la revolución, using the Chávez brand in a sort of political halo-effect. The long-term strategy is less clear, however. Even if Maduro wins and the government’s popularity increases in the near future, Maduro must eventually face the harsh realization that he is not Chávez, and that pretending to be him is easier said than done.
This does not need to be a tragedy for the Venezuelan government. It can be viewed as an opportunity to upgrade the revolution, as Deng Xiaoping once did with China. Meanwhile, the opposition must also learn to manage the revolution, instead of simply fighting it. If not, animosity will once again cloud rational judgment.
Tuesday marks the official start of Venezuela’s 10-day campaign ahead of the April 14 presidential election. The election will be a choice between interim President Nicolás Maduro and Miranda State Governor Henrique Capriles—both of whom have been unofficially campaigning for weeks.
Maduro, Chávez’ political heir, has vowed to honor the late president’s socialist legacy and is campaigning on a spiritual message, committing to follow the steps of his “father.” This election poses a new challenge for chavismo, which for the first time will attempt to retain the presidency without the charismatic presence of its late leader.
Capriles, the candidate of the Coalition for Democratic Unity (Mesa de la Unidad Democratica—MUD), is basing his campaign on the premise that “Maduro is not Chávez.” He is associating Maduro with the country’s corrupt and unstable environment and is criticizing the government for having to implement two currency devaluations in less than 60 days.
Both candidates were expected to kick off their respective campaigns today in Barinas state, where Chávez was born in 1954. On Sunday, after Maduro accused Capriles of seeking to provoke violence by cheduling his first rally in the same state, Capriles announced that he would move the rally to Monagas state. He will campaign in Barinas on Wednesday. Capriles also joined thousands of his followers in a nighttime walk on Monday night to protest against violence and insecurity in Caracas.
In less than two weeks, 18.9 million Venezuelans are eligible to vote for a second time in six months. Although much has changed since Chávez’ victory in October, chavismo is still leading the polls. Local polling firms Datanalisis and Hinterlaces give Maduro a more than 10 percentage point lead over Capriles; other studies indicate that Capriles is trailing by a smaller gap than what was observed in the October presidential election.
“Pese a casi dos años de reflexión y discusión, los países de la región llegaron sin un acuerdo a la Asamblea General de la OEA convocada para definir el futuro de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH)”. Así encabezaron distintos medios de comunicación su cubrimiento de la maratónica reunión de cancilleres realizada el 22 de marzo en Washington DC.
Esta presentación, sin embargo, no captura del todo su compleja realidad. En primer lugar, si bien es cierto que no existía acuerdo total en todos los países, es innegable que existía una inmensa mayoría que consideraba que la CIDH había respondido satisfactoriamente sus dudas y que, por tanto, querían dar por terminado este largo proceso.
Por el contrario, en una posición aislada y minoritaria, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua y Venezuela (los llamados bloque Alba), pese a que sus propuestas habían sido derrotadas, insistían en mantener abierto un debate sobre las funciones y límites del órgano de derechos humanos. No existía entonces un riesgo de división hemisférica. Se trataba de un grupo radical y minoritario frente a un amplio consenso regional.
En segundo lugar, la entrada no da cuenta de que a esta posición se llegó tras un gran esfuerzo. No hay que olvidar que en la Asamblea General de Cochabamba las tímidas voces de defensa de la CIDH de Estados Unidos, Canadá y Costa Rica fueron literalmente acalladas por la euforia colectiva de un grupo de países que pedía a gritos una reforma. Fue gracias a que la prensa independiente y la sociedad civil de las Américas, que se dieron a la tarea de defender al sistema de protección del juego político de conveniencia de los gobiernos, que se llegó a esta posición mayoritaria del viernes. Los progresistas y protagónicos discursos de los cancilleres en la Asamblea General guardan muy poca relación con los ataques de hace no muchos meses.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Nicolás Maduro and Henrique Capriles kick off their campagins; U.S. business and labor leaders reach an agreement on immigration; Argentina faces a court ruling on its debt; Brazil faces more stadium-related woes; and Venezuela auctions $200 million in foreign currency.
Maduro and Capriles Face Off: Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro, said Saturday that opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles was trying to incite violence by scheduling his first campaign rally in Barinas state, the birthplace of the late President Hugo Chávez. Maduro and Capriles had both scheduled rallies on Tuesday to kick off their respective campaigns in Barinas state. On Sunday, Capriles announced that he would move the kickoff of his campaign to Monagas state on Tuesday, and campaign in Barinas on Wednesday.
Business and Labor Groups reach Agreement on Immigration: U.S. business leaders and labor groups have reportedly reached an agreement to implement a guest worker program that would introduce a new type of visa – the “W” visa – for low-skilled, year-round temporary workers. The deal was reached during a conference call on Friday between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO that was convened by Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), who is one of eight senators negotiating an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system. Friday’s deal is a positive sign that the bipartisan group of senators will introduce a broad immigration reform bill within the next few weeks.
Argentina’s Day in Court: A New York court is set to rule at any moment on whether Argentina must pay $1.4 billion to holders of its defaulted debt. Argentina submitted a proposal last week to pay back the debt at a discounted rate. If Argentina is forced to pay the holdout bondholders immediately, the country would owe $43 billion in additional claims. Argentina may still appeal to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law that limits suits against foreign governments.
Another Setback for Brazil’s 2016 Olympics: Brazilian officials suddenly closed Rio de Janeiro’s Engenhão stadium last weekend after declaring the structure unsafe, cancelling a scheduled match between the Botafogo and Vaco da Gama soccer teams in the process. Engenhão is scheduled to host the track and field events in the 2016 Olympic Games, but authorities have said there is a danger that the roof of the stadium could blow off. Meanwhile, Rio officials must find an alternate location for the Confederations Cup in June if repairs to the stadium aren’t completed before then.
Venezuela Auctions Foreign Currency: The Venezuelan government’s decision to auction $200 million in foreign currency to a group of chosen companies last week has triggered a de facto currency devaluation, according to analysts. According to the government, 383 companies participated in an auction under the government’s new Sistema Complementario de Administración de Divisas (Complementary System of Currency Administration—SICAD) plan. The official exchange rate is currently 6.3 Venezuelan bolivars per dollar, but the government did not name the sale price of the dollar in the auction. Investment bank Barclays Capital has said that the government’s decision not to publicize the sale price of the dollar in the auction was a way of “avoiding the political cost of the announcement of a second devaluation.” Venezuelan Finance Minister Jorge Giordani said that the SICAD program will make it possible for individuals to obtain foreign currency with transparency.
Thousands of high school and university students protested in the Chilean capital of Santiago yesterday to demand education reform. The students denounced the country’s exorbitant university tuition fees—which represent 40 percent of the average household’s income—demanding an overhaul of the country’s higher education system and a guarantee to free, equal and high-quality public education.
Protests quickly turned violent, however, with hostility between the authorities and students beginning only 20 minutes after the protest was underway, when students were forced to change the agreed upon route for the march. Students reacted by tossing Molotov cocktails at authorities; police used tear gas and water for crowd control. Authorities reported 60 arrests and one policeman injured.
Minister of the Interior Andrés Chadwich responded to the situation: “Once again a group of students feels entitled to generate chaos, damage public property, interrupt transportation and generate violence in Santiago.” The student union spokesman, on the other hand, accused the police of using “excessive, repressive action.”
A series of large student demonstrations began in Chile in 2011. Despite the continued protests over the past two years, there has yet to be a government overhaul of the education system. The principal student-led organization, The Confederation of Chilean Students (La Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile—CONFECH), confirmed another protest for April 11.
The White House announced on Wednesday that U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Mexico and Costa Rica in the first week of May to “reinforce the deep cultural, familial and economic ties that so many Americans share with Mexico and Central America.” Among other issues, Obama plans to discuss immigration, citizen security and economic development.
Obama has not visited Mexico since Enrique Peña Nieto assumed the Mexican presidency on December 1, 2012; the president’s last visit to the country was to participate in the G20 summit in Los Cabos in June 2012. This trip presents an opportunity for Obama to continue the work he started with Mexico’s previous administration, particularly on border security issues. According to a statement from Obama on Wednesday, “There’s so much more to the relationship—in terms of commerce, in terms of trade, in terms of energy. And so we want to highlight some of the close cooperation that’s already been taking place and to continue to build on that, so that we’re creating more jobs and more opportunity on both sides of the border.”
In Costa Rica, Obama will meet with President Laura Chinchilla and other leaders of the Central American Integration System (SICA)—over which Costa Rica currently presides—to discuss collective efforts to promote economic development in Central America and collaborate on citizen security. This will be the first visit to Costa Rica by a sitting U.S. president since Bill Clinton’s visit in 1997.
Immigration reform is a top issue for Mexico and Central America. The Senate Gang of Eight is expected to share a draft immigration reform bill in early April, with the expectation that a bill could be passed by the end of the summer. Read AS/COA’s Get the Fact series for more on immigrants and the U.S. economy.
Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is expected to announce her candidacy for president in the November election when she returns from the United States this morning, Chilean newspaper La Tercera reported on Tuesday.
Bachelet, who served as president from 2006 to 2010, resigned from her position as under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women last week. The Party for Democracy (Partido Por la Democracia) and Socialist Party (Partido Socialista de Chile) are expected to announce her as their parties’ candidate on April 13.
Former President Eduardo Frei feels confident in Bachelet’s bid. “Everyone [in Chile] talks about her,” he said, “her friends and her enemies alike have made her campaign for her, they’ve paved the way.” A Centro de Estudios Públicos (CEP) poll is already predicting a Bachelet victory. Still, she would encounter her first challenge on the road to La Moneda on June 30—the date of the primaries to select the opposition coalition’s presidential candidate. Other candidates include Claudio Orrego of the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócratico Cristiano) and José Antonio Gómez of the Social Democracy Radical Party (Partido Radical Socialdemócrata).
Presidential elections are scheduled for November 17. If no candidate secures an absolute majority in the first round, a runoff election will be held on December 15.
With March 20, 2013 representing the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, historians and journalists in both Canada and the United States have been assessing the wisdom of this historic decision. The Iraq War, due to its enormous costs in human, financial and material terms, has long fallen out of favor with the American people and the political class. Even the Republican Party has taken some distance from the major architects of the war—former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney. Neither has addressed a Republican National Convention since 2004.
In Canada last week, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien made all the media rounds and was strongly commended for refusing to go along with the so-called “Coalition of the Willing” in 2003 after the UN Security Council refused to sanction the U.S.-led invasion. It was the first time that Canada said “no” to a U.S. president about to enter a war. It was a defining moment because Canada was a faithful U.S. ally in World War II, in the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, the 1950-53 Korean War, and throughout the Cold War. Moreover, Canada was very supportive of the invasion of Afghanistan after September 11, 2001.
The decision to go to war in Iraq was never popular in Canada, despite the initial support of the opposition Conservative party leader, Stephen Harper. The case for weapons of mass destruction and the links between Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, and Al Qaeda were never convincing to the general population. The Canadian government of the day, led by Prime Minister Chrétien, had large-scale support for saying “no,” and this support was especially vocal in Chrétien’s home province of Québec. Even Conservative leader and current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper later recanted, saying the war was a mistake.
More prisoners have joined a hunger strike that began on February 6 at the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay. Striking prisoners say they are protesting more intrusive searches of their cells and open-ended confinement without charge.
According to Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the prison, 28 out of 166 prisoners are on strike, marking one of the most sustained protests the base has had in several years. The prison’s medical staff is closely monitoring the health of all prisoners, and ten of the strikers are being force-fed to prevent dangerous weight loss.
Differences in the notion of what constitutes a “hunger strike” have provoked sharp disagreement between the military and the detainees’ lawyers about how many prisoners are participating. Under the U.S. military’s formal definition, developed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, being on strike includes missing nine consecutive meals—in other words, abstaining from eating three days in a row. Lawyers for detainees claim that the military is significantly undercounting the number of strikers and say that the majority of the detainees in Camps Five and Six have been refusing to eat for weeks.
In response to these claims, Durand said that some prisoners who are refusing their meals have been observed eating food provided by other sources, and that others have covered up the security cameras in their cells to make it more difficult to track their eating.
The reasons for the strike are also in dispute. Lawyers say their clients’ complaints are motivated by an intrusive cell search in early February in which guards touched and inspected their Korans for contraband—an act that is considered a religious desecration. Detainees are also protesting the uncertain legal status of the majority of the prisoners, as well as restrictions on transfers, which have nearly halted any departures from the base. Military officials say there has been no change in the way searches are conducted at Guantánamo and that the hunger strike is an attempt to attract media coverage.
Hunger strikes have occurred at Guantánamo since shortly after it opened in January 2002. The largest one began in the summer of 2005 and reached a peak of 131 prisoners, when the facility held about 500 detainees. A delegation from the International Committee for the Red Cross made an urgent visit to Guantánamo this week to meet with hunger strikers and determine the gravity of the situation on the ground.
Across Latin America and the Caribbean, the trend is an increasing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people. Recent years have seen important strides toward attaining marriage equality, educational access and public visibility for LGBTI people throughout the region.
Despite these advances, a recent report by the Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Personas Trans (Network of Trans People of Latin America and the Caribbean—REDLACTRANS) highlights the challenges that remain for protecting the fundamental rights of trans people.
Undoubtedly, violence poses the gravest challenge to trans people in the region today. According to the 2011 Trans Murder Monitoring Project, 80 percent of trans murder victims worldwide between 2008 and 2011 were from Central or South America, amounting to a staggering total of 643 homicides. Police impunity and brutality further exacerbate violence against trans people by allowing frequent killings, arbitrary detentions, degrading treatment, and threats and extortion by public security officials. The absence of legal protections that explicitly prohibit violence and discrimination committed on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity limits access to justice and public protection.
Moreover, trans people face countless obstacles to attaining employment and basic public services, including health care and education. Berenice Bento, a prominent researcher on trans rights in Brazil, estimates that 90 percent of trans women in her country are functionally illiterate due to social exclusion in schools, a figure likely matched throughout the region.
Havana's bustling streets offer a wide variety of transportation options. In the old city overcrowded public buses and state-owned yellow taxis (usually Soviet-era Ladas or more recent Korean and Japanese imports) jostle with bicycle taxis, horse-drawn carriages, and cocotaxis—three-wheeled mopeds where the two rear passenger seats are half-enclosed in a garish yellow coconut-shaped plastic shell.
But many foreign visitors, particularly Americans, are fascinated by the ubiquity of the 1950s American cars roaring up and down the city's main thoroughfares. A few of these classics, painstakingly restored in bright blue, pink or white, serve as open-top touring cars for hire, operated by multilingual guides who offer a trip back in time to experience a bit of the romance of pre-Revolutionary Havana.
The vast majority of the old behemoths, however, fill a much humbler, though more important, niche, playing an essential role in the city's transportation network. These are the taxis colectivos, commonly known simply as máquinas, the uniquely Cuban collective taxis with a form and function that embodies much of the best and the worst of recent Cuban history.
During the so-called "Special Period" of hardship after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, fiscal austerity and shortages of fuel and vehicles forced the communist government to cut the state-subsidized network of city buses and individual taxis, the latter of which used to take a passenger across town for a few Cuban pesos. Public buses continue to service regular routes around the city at the rock-bottom price of 40 Cuban centavos (less than $.02). But individual state taxis charge 5-10 convertible pesos ($5-$10) for a cross-town ride, well beyond the reach of most Cubans in a country where the state salary even for professionals seldom exceeds $30 per month. So for Cubans whose schedule and destination make the city buses inconvenient, but who lack access to the convertible-currency economy, a demand emerged for a means of transport that bridged the gap between the affordability of the public buses and the frequency and convenience of the individual taxis.
Las propuestas actuales de cambios económicos en Cuba han abierto una ventana inédita para discutir y eventualmente empezar a corregir algunas de las desproporciones más recurrentes en el devenir económico del país en las últimas décadas. Por primera vez en mucho tiempo, se ha hecho evidente la necesidad de prestar mayor atención hacia problemas estructurales y consecuentemente concebir políticas con una mayor orientación estratégica, de largo plazo.
Ello requiere identificar algunas de las brechas de desarrollo más importantes que tiene la nación. Estas se presentan en forma de contradicciones en ámbitos específicos, de gran impacto en la concepción de un proyecto viable de desarrollo. Esto nos remite a una incompatibilidad entre los requerimientos del desarrollo contemporáneo y la trayectoria económica de un país. En el caso cubano, algunas tienen que ver con el uso de los recursos naturales y las características de la fuerza de trabajo mientras que otro grupo se vincula con los medios para utilizar esos recursos en beneficio del país.
En términos del planteamiento convencional, Cuba aparece como un país pobre en recursos naturales, sin embargo, en algunos ámbitos de gran impacto en el desarrollo como alimentación y energía, la dotación natural de la isla y la maduración de nuevas tecnologías abren oportunidades insospechadas. Esto implica que en un marco regulatorio mejor estructurado, se podrían mejorar tanto la utilización de las tierras (áreas ociosas, bajos rendimientos) como el aprovechamiento de la biomasa cañera, y las fuentes eólica y solar para garantizar un mayor acceso doméstico y reducir la dependencia externa. La agroindustria cañera ha experimentado un desarrollo tecnológico notable, impulsada por las políticas tecnológica y energética de Brasil, líder indiscutible en este campo. Ya no se trata de una rama “tradicional,” expresión de estancamiento e ingresos decadentes. Esto requeriría nuevas y cuantiosas inversiones que no se podrían financiar con recursos domésticos, lo que llevaría necesariamente a ampliar el espacio para la inversión extranjera, en un grado mucho mayor que hasta el presente.