This Week in Latin America: U.S. and Cuba Establish Ties—Venezuela's Opposition Blocked—Another FARC Ceasefire—Argentina's Elections
Here's a look at some of the stories we're following this week:
U.S. and Cuba Establish Ties: The U.S. and Cuba re-established official diplomatic relations today for the first time since 1961. Bruno Rodríguez, Cuba's foreign minister, is in Washington DC to mark the occasion, and will meet with Secretary of State John Kerry following the inauguration of Cuba's embassy there. Kerry will travel to Cuba later this summer for the opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana. While historic, the degree to which the diplomatic breakthrough will improve relations between the two countries is open to debate. Several prominent members of the U.S. Congress have expressed opposition to the opening, and Cuban President Raul Castro reiterated to state media last week that the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, which remains in place, is causing “damage and hardships for [the Cuban] people.”
FARC Ceasefire Takes Effect: A unilateral ceasefire by Colombia’s FARC guerilla group went into effect this morning, after a series of violent confrontations with government forces threatened to bring ongoing peace talks to a halt. President Juan Manuel Santos says the government will draw down operations against the group in response. The ceasefire—the sixth since talks began in 2012—comes at a critical time for negotiations. Santos has broached the possibility of a deadline to resolve outstanding issues, and says he will evaluate the process in November. Public support is dwindling. Earlier this month, a gallup poll showed that, for the first time since negotiations began, more Colombians favor a military solution to the conflict (46%) than prefer a negotiated settlement with the group (45%). Thorny issues, such as the question of transitional justice, have yet to be resolved. Still, Santos and the FARC leadership will be hoping that the ceasefire leads to a breakthrough—this may be the last chance for the two sides to come to an accord.
Venezuelan Opposition Blocked: The Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition coalition in Venezuela said it plans to hold protests this week after a third politician in 10 days was barred from holding public office. Pablo Pérez, a former state governor, says he was disqualified from government service for 10 years by the state prosecutor's office. The grounds for the decision are unclear. Pérez said the move was the latest attempt by President Nicolas Maduro to weaken the opposition ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for December 6, which polls suggest Maduro's United Socialist Party may lose. Pérez was not running in the December elections, but the two other opposition members who have been barred in recent days, Maria Corina Machado and Vicencio Scarano, planned to seek office. They were both banned for 12 months.
Argentina Election a Mixed Bag for Opposition: Horacio Rodríguez Larreta of the center-right PRO party won a narrow victory in mayoral elections in Buenos Aires, Sunday. Larreta, the former cabinet chief to outgoing mayor Mauricio Macri, defeated his rival Martin Losteau by three points. Buenos Aires has long been an electoral strongold for the PRO, and the vote was closer than many expected. That could spell trouble for Macri, who will run in presidential elections this fall. Early polling shows Daniel Scioli, a former vice-president and vocal member of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s ruling coalition, as the comfortable favorite. Still, with several months to go before the first round of voting in October, and amid growing dissatisfaction with Fernández de Kirchner's management of the economy, there's plenty of time for Macri to make a move.
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