Likely top stories this week: Gay marriage begins in Uruguay; Venezuela is not invited to the Paraguayan president’s inauguration; Amnesty International demands the release of Cuban prisoners; U.S. House of Representatives Republicans reject Senate approach to immigration reform; Brazilian police officers are sentenced for the 1992 Carandiru massacre.
Same Sex Marriage Starts in Uruguay: The first gay couple was registered for marriage on Monday morning in Uruguay, 90 days after Uruguayan President José Mujica signed a law legalizing same-sex marriage that was passed by the Uruguayan Senate in April. Rodrigo Borda and Sergio Miranda, a gay couple that has been together for 14 years, were the first to sign their names on a waiting list of couples to be married officially, and will be able to determine the date of their wedding by August 16. When the law was signed, Uruguay was only the second Latin American country after Argentina to make same-sex marriage legal nationwide, followed one month later by Brazil. Uruguay also allows adoption by gay couples and permits openly gay people to serve in the country’s armed forces.
Venezuela Left Out At Cartes Inauguration: The Paraguayan government has not invited Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to the inauguration of Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes, set for August 15. Venezuela is the only country in the region that has not received an invitation, and both countries have recalled their respective envoys to Caracas and Asunción. Paraguay and Venezuela's relationship has worsened since Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur in June 2012, following the controversial impeachment of Paraguay’s then-president, Fernando Lugo. Following Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur, Venezuela was incorporated as a full member without the approval of the Paraguayan government.
Amnesty International Calls for Release of Cuban Prisoners: New York-based human rights organization Amnesty International designated five Cuban prisoners being held in eastern Cuba "prisoners of conscience" and demanded their immediate release. Rafael Matos Montes de Oca, Emilio Planas Robert and brothers Alexeis, Diango and Vianco Vargas Martin all belong to the Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Patriotic Union of Cuba—UNPACU), an organization that advocates for greater civil liberties on the island, and are considered dissidents. Planas and Matos were convicted of "dangerousness" last September, while the Vargas Martin brothers, who are accused of violence or intimidation against a state official, were arrested in November and December and have not been formally charged with a crime. The Cuban government says that it is not holding any political prisoners.
Republicans Offer Own Approach to Immigration Reform: Members of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives indicated on Sunday that they have no intention of taking up a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate in June, indicating that representatives would instead opt to take a piecemeal approach to tackling immigration reform rather than addressing the issues of border security, workplace enforcement, and citizenship all at once. Saying that a separate bill on border security should come before any other bill, Rep. Paul Ryan proposed that the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants undergo "probation" in order to "get right with the law." House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised that "we will have a vote on a series of bills at some point." This month, lawmakers are returning to their home districts for a five-week summer recess.
Brazilian Police Sentenced for Carandiru Deaths: Twenty-five Brazilian police officers who were involved in the October 1992 massacre of 111 inmates at São Paulo's Carandiru prison were each sentenced to a 624 years in jail, yet each would serve no more than 30 years in prison according to Brazilian law. The sentences were part of an ongoing trial to investigate the deaths of 52 of the murdered prisoners, and the process is not expected to be finished until January 2014. At that point, the defense is expected to appeal the police officers' sentences. The police officers, most of whom were convicted of the prisoners’ deaths in April, are currently free and nine of them remain on active duty. O Globo newspaper reported that the nine officers will now lose their jobs. Carandiru prison was closed in 2002 and has been demolished.
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) concluded their eleventh, and shortest, round of peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba, on Tuesday. This round of talks focused on whether to allow the guerillas to hold political office—one of the most contentious points in the five-point peace agenda.
This round of negotiations lasted only eight days and focused on guaranteeing the right of political opposition, particularly after a peace agreement is ultimately signed. And while the talks, which were launched in Oslo in October 2012, have yet to reach a consensus on the FARC’s participation in the political system, both sides did reach a partial agreement on the critical issue of agrarian reform in May.
President Juan Manuel Santos hopes to wrap up peace talks by November. Negotiators will also tackle the illicit drug trade, demilitarization and reparations for the victims of the nearly half-century armed conflict, which has claimed over 600,000 lives and displaced millions of civilians since the 1960s. The Colombian government and FARC will return to the table for the twelfth round of negotiations on July 22.
Likely top stories this week: Michelle Bachelet wins Chile’s opposition primaries; Cuban state-run produce markets go private; President Rousseff’s popularity dips; U.S. immigration reform moves to the House of Representatives; Edward Snowden stuck in Moscow.
Bachelet Wins Chilean Opposition Primaries: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet won a landslide victory on Sunday in Chile’s primary elections, paving her way to run as the Concertación candidate in the November presidential election. Bachelet received 73.8 percent of the vote, while her nearest rival, Andrés Velasco, earned only 12.5 percent of voter support. The ruling coalition's candidates were much closer, with Pablo Longueira getting 51.1 percent of the vote to Andrés Allemand's 48.9 percent. Longueira will face Bachelet on November 17.
Cuban State-Run Co-ops Go Private: One hundred state-run produce markets in Cuba are scheduled to become private cooperatives on Monday as the country moves ahead with economic reforms. The private co-ops will create an alternative to small and medium-sized state-run businesses, and will be able to set prices and divide profit as they see fit. The co-ops can also purchase produce from individual farmers as well as state farms and wholesale markets. According to the Cuban government, more than 430,000 people now work in the non-state sector, not counting agricultural cooperatives and small farmers.
Protests at Brazil's Confederations Cup Final: Several thousand Brazilian protesters marched outside Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã stadium on Sunday as Brazil's national soccer team won the Confederations Cup 3-0 over Spain. The protests for improved public transport and services that started over a month ago show no sign of abating, while President Dilma Rousseff's approval rating has plummeted from 57 percent to 30 percent during the month of June. More than 80 percent of the 4,717 respondents in the poll by Datafolha, conducted on the June 27 and 28, said that they supported the protests in Brazil.
Immigration Reform Moves to the U.S. House: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer predicted on Sunday that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill approved by the Senate last Thursday, despite resistance from House Republicans. Schumer said he believed the House would pass the bill "by the end of this year," due to concerns about the party's future in an increasingly diverse country. However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said that the preference is to “examine each of these issues separately,” rather than take up the Senate legislation.
Edward Snowden Still Stuck in Moscow: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that former U.S. contractor Edward Snowden "is in the care of Russian authorities" and reprimanded an Ecuadorian government official who provided Snowden with a travel document that Correa said had been issued without consulting officials in Quito. Correa spoke to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on the phone on Saturday about Snowden, whose U.S. passport has been revoked. Correa said that Snowden’s asylum request would only be considered if he enters Ecuador or an Ecuadorian embassy.
It’s not uncommon for the Castro regime to accuse dissidents of being CIA agents or puppets of the U.S. government. Viral media attacks on Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez are not unique. However, the manner in which they attack Sánchez and other female dissidents, compared to their male counterparts, does seem unique.
Initially, the Cuban government didn’t pay much attention to Sánchez and her blogging. Not really understanding the medium, the government wrote her off as a non-threat because of her gender and ultimately gave Sánchez the space to become the international figure she is today.
Once the regime had become aware of blogging’s influence, it initiated an online civil war between independent Cuban bloggers and the government. The government blocked all of the unauthorized blogs and began a defamation campaign against the independent bloggers—who are officially referred to as “cyber mercenaries” and enemies of the revolution. Cuba’s version of Wikipedia, EcuRed, describes Sánchez as “Cibermercenaria y bloguera cubana” next to a menacing-looking photo of her.
Numerous websites exist solely to insult and question Sánchez’s legitimacy as a renowned journalist, writer and blogger. These insults and accusations are mostly gender-based. Male bloggers’ accomplishments and awards are rarely questioned. Instead, they are labeled (if at all) with epithets associated with a dominant form of masculinity, such as “terrorist” and “traitor.” Meanwhile, the language used to attack Sánchez focuses mainly on her appearance and stereotypes associated with being female.
Each spring, the U.S. State Department releases a report indicating which countries the United States considers “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” Currently the list consists of four countries: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. This year, John Kerry’s ascent to U.S. Secretary of State generated a discussion about taking Cuba off the list. Given Kerry’s generally reasonable position on Cuba in the past, it was perhaps not surprising that he considered this option.
Nonetheless, on May 1, the U.S. State Department announced that Cuba would remain on its list. It's a serious mistake.
State Department reports from the last decade have provided no substantive evidence to justify keeping Cuba on the list. In fact, the country’s inclusion is based on dubious allegations. The reports allege that Cuba has provided medical treatment and refuge for terrorist groups from the FARC in Colombia to the ETA in Spain. However, the reports do not acknowledge that the governments of both countries have expressed appreciation for Cuba’s cooperation in this arena.
The reports mention some fugitives from American justice who live in Cuba, but neglect to say that the United States stopped honoring the 1904 extradition agreement between the two countries in early 1959. Cuba has sent back most U.S. fugitives and has generally recognized the validity of U.S. courts, but has occasionally offered asylum to people it considers victims of "political persecution," including former Black Panther Assata Shakur, accused of killing a New Jersey highway trooper in 1973.
Shakur’s asylum in Cuba has precedent in international law, as well as in decisions by U.S. Courts that have determined that not all violent political acts are terrorism. Her case constitutes a reason to raise the issue diplomatically and negotiate a new bilateral extradition treaty, but it is not sufficient motive to keep Cuba on the list. It is no coincidence that those Cuban-American politicians who demand that Cuba unilaterally return these few U.S. fugitives are the same ones who have advocated providing refuge for anti-Castro terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles—who in 1976 was responsible for a bomb that took 73 lives (including the Cuban national fencing team) on a Cuban civilian plane. Posada lives freely in Miami.
It’s not hard to imagine what was behind Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota’s announcement yesterday that Brazil will hire 6,000 Cuban doctors to work in rural parts of Brazil.
As the situation in Venezuela continues to teeter in uncertainty, the Brazilian government has thrown the Cuban government another lifeline. Doing so provides a cushion for a sinking Castro regime that has been kept afloat by the roughly 100,000 barrels of oil per day that Venezuela has sent to Cuba since 2005.
In return, the Cuban government has provided over 30,000 doctors, sports trainers, and advisors at terms very favorable to Cuba. (You think U.S. healthcare costs are high? Imagine the cost of Cuban doctors. Assuming 30,000 of them at $100 per barrel of oil, those guys are worth the equivalent of $333 per day!) The artificially-inflated cost of doctors aside, it’s the sports trainers and advisors that are the concern. I must confess, I have no idea what a Cuban sports trainer is (though I assume he would look something like this.) In reality, they likely provide a service very similar to the advisors: the political counseling, intelligence and military training, propaganda dissemination, and intelligence gathering that has been key to the chavista government’s ability to consolidate its power.
For those advisors, President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro’s unexpected poor showing in the election presents a zero-sum game. If they cannot shore up the anointed heir of former President Chávez, they may very well lose their lifeline. For that reason, many have speculated that the Cubans are working overtime to help President Maduro. (Though, quite frankly, Maduro’s recent vitriolic attacks on the opposition and the United States seem more like those of a wounded animal than an expression of the subtle, strategic advice one would expect from seasoned intelligence agents.)
A few weeks ago, a member of the House of Representatives wrote to President Obama to urge him to delete Cuba from the list of countries supporting international terrorism. In her appeal, Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) included text from a discredited report prepared by Ana Belén Montes, a confessed spy for Havana who was arrested in September 2001 and who is now serving a 25-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.
Several days ago, the Justice Department announced the indictment of another former American official charged with spying for Cuba, Marta Velázquez. Velázquez allegedly took Montes to Havana for spy training, but when Montes was reported to be cooperating with the authorities after confessing, Velázquez resigned from her job at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and fled the country. In 2004, a grand jury in Washington DC issued an indictment against Velázquez (also known by her aliases “Marta Rita Kviele” and “Barbara”), but it remained under court seal until a few days ago.
That few American policy makers are aware of the great harm done to the United States by Montes, Velázquez and other spies working for the Castro brothers can be explained by the fact that when both stories broke, more significant stories were being covered by the American press: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and last month’s terrorist attack in Boston.
Be that as it may, congresspeople are not supposed to send disinformation from the Cuban government to the U.S. president.
Some ignore the stories of Ms. Montes and Ms. Velázquez because they raise questions about an innocent, non-threatening narrative about Cuba. In order for that narrative to be credible, the Velázquez and Montes stories—as well as Cuba's current role in the Venezuelan electoral crisis and Havana's strong ties to Iran, Syria and North Korea—need to be discussed as little as possible.
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.
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?
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).