U.S. President Donald Trump's expected announcement on Cuba will likely leave much of the current opening in place, albeit tightening newly relaxed rules on trade and travel in ways that are likely to complicate each, according to the Washington Post. Newly reestablished diplomatic relations are likely to be maintained as well, though with less emphasis. The U.S. embassy in Havana is expected to remain open, but without an ambassador. Restrictions on business dealings with the Cuban government -- especially the military -- will be made firmer. And some restrictions on travel and remittances could be reinstated. (See Tuesday's post and yesterday's briefs.)
Increasing regulations could affect a nascent middle class of Cubans benefiting from private businesses catering to tourists, reports the Guardian. John Kavulich, president of the independent US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, warned that almost all US business in Cuba would be shut down if Trump imposed a ban on dealings with Gaesa, the economic wing of the country’s military government that controls 60 percent of the island’s economy, including state-owned hotels, restaurants, banks and gas stations.
Human Rights Watch also opposes a rollback. “The previous administration was right to reject a policy that hurt ordinary Cubans and did nothing to advance human rights,” said Daniel Wilkinson, HRW’s managing director for the America.
And the Center for Democracy in the Americas joined the chorus, saying "“To reverse course would threaten our national security, damage American businesses that are already working in Cuba, discount the rights of U.S. travelers, and hurt the Cuban people, especially entrepreneurs whose businesses are thriving because of increased travel and contacts with the U.S."
Even if the measures don't affect the island's economy much, they will give the Cuban government "new ammunition to proclaim itself a victim of 'U.S. aggression.' They will also give the Cuban regime a new excuse to postpone democratic changes even beyond the end of 86-year-old Cuban President Raúl Castro’s term in February 2018," argues Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald.
- A group of Venezuelan human rights groups, led by Paz Activa, are promoting a "transitional justice" model to guide the country out of the current crisis. They propose creating support for a legal escape hatch that would enable President Nicolás Maduro and high-level officials to step down, reports the Miami Herald.
- And 66 Venezuelan civil society groups published a statement calling on their peers in the region to speak out for democracy and human rights in Venezuela, notes Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. They urge calls for dialogue to "advocate for serious negotiations with deadlines, agenda and guarantees, which serves to build a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis, within the framework of the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999. Facilitating that the government use the dialogue in a misleading way as a strategy to gain time and legitimacy means to remove the possibilities of solution to the crisis and to continue to lose lives and suffer irreparable damage in a confrontation provoked by the leadership in power, which also undermines the region’s stability."
- Trump apparently called on Colombia to lift a ban on aerial fumigation of illegal coca crops. He brought the subject up directly with his counterpart, President Juan Manuel Santos, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress. Colombia prohibited the aerial spraying of glyphosate -- which had major U.S. backing -- in October 2015, due to concerns that the substance causes cancer in humans. U.S. officials have been pushing for it to resume, but have not addressed longstanding concerns that the strategy is ineffective at controlling coca cultivation, argues InSight Crime.
- An in-depth report from InSight Crime looks at the Colombian department of Nariño, where coca production is a cornerstone of the local economy. Based on a field investigation earlier this year, InSight Crime analyzes how the FARC demobilization has led to an increase in violence and homicides, with armed criminal groups attempting to fill the power vacuum left by the guerrillas. "This issue is at the heart of post-conflict Colombia: the economies of important rural sectors that depend almost exclusively on the cultivation of coca leaf. The major challenges the Colombian state will face in trying to convince tens of thousands of peasants in the coming months to give up coca cultivation is very evident in Nariño as well as in the neighboring department of Putumayo."
- The head of the Inter-American Development Bank Luis Alberto Moreno called on Central American business leaders to help create economic opportunities in the region with an investment "shock," reports the Miami Herald. He spoke at an event in the lead up to the Conference on Prosperity and Security with Mexico which starts today. (See yesterday's post.)
- At the summit, which starts today, U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence will urge leaders from Mexico and several Central American countries to prevent their citizens from migrating to the United States, reports the Los Angeles Times.
- The U.N. is seeking creative ways to fund efforts to eliminate cholera in Haiti -- this week U.N. Secretary General António Guterres asked member countries to voluntarily turn over $40.5 million that will be left over when the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti ends in October, reports the Miami Herald. The appeal comes as UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization face a $15 million funding shortage for this year, which would affect their efforts to stem the disease in Haiti.
- U.S. immigration authorities arrested 39 members of MS-13 in New York. Most of the members of the brutal Salvadoran gang were detained on Long Island , where the authorities have attributed 17 murders to MS-13 since January of last year, reports the New York Times. Most of those arrested come from El Salvador and Honduras. Five others are from Mexico, and two are from Guatemala. (See May 23's briefs on a Vice piece examining gang presence in the U.S.)
- A group of 18 U.S. lawmakers called on the governors of four U.S. states on the southern border to do more to stop illegal gun trafficking into Mexico. "Sales of firearms without a background check pose a threat not only to peaceful civilian life in America but also claim thousands of innocent Mexican lives every year."
- Brazil has the sixth highest homicide rate in the region, according to an InSight Crime tally. A new from the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada - IPEA) takes apart the statistics and points to a shift in homicides from the traditionally violent densely-populated southeast region to the more rural northeast and midwest regions. Black youths are among the most affected by homicides -- representing 71 out of every 100 victims according to the report.
- In fact, homicide is a central problem within Brazil's current political and economic crisis, argues Renato Sérgio de Lima of the Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública in the Conversation. "The social hysteria caused by Brazil’s homicide crisis, combined with growing disillusionment with politics, is giving rise a markedly undemocratic strain of politics. Today, public officials regularly invoke sexist, racist and xenophobic discourses to justify punitive policies that criminalize huge swaths of society, from gang members to drug users and ethnic minorities."
- Brazil's refugee policy is in urgent need of reform in response to the Venezuelan crisis, argue Igarapé Institute researchers Maria Beatriz Nogueira and Maiara Folly in a Guardian opinion piece. They call the situation "one of the most serious forced migration crises in decades." More than77,000 Venezuelans poured into Brazil between 2015 and 2016 and many are seeking asylum. There are already 8,231 Venezuelans who have officially claimed asylum in 2017 and another 5,000 others waiting for an appointment. But the Brazilian system is ill equipped to deal with the influx. "At a time of increasing reactionary nationalism, in which border walls and security fences continue to be built to control migration, it is imperative that Brazil updates its approach to forced migration. It needs to match the rhetoric of an open-door policy with real improvements in the institutionalisation, coordination and management of refugee protection and resettlement. The crisis affecting its Venezuelan neighbours provides an opportunity to make the necessary changes and honour its tradition as a defender of the poor and vulnerable," they write.
- A year after Brazil's Congress impeached President Dilma Rousseff, her successor Michel Temer has implemented a concerted effort to shift the country in a more conservative political and economic direction. His austerity reforms have been broadly rejected by the population, though embraced by markets. And the organized left is "divided about how to harness this discontent and collectively act to stop these reforms from being implemented," writes Rebecca Tarlau for the Center for Latin American Studies at University of California, Berkley. Some factions believe former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is the best option, and are pushing his candidacy for next year's presidential elections. "The other major left-coalition is the “People without Fear,” which also includes several grassroots social movements, as well as many other political groups that have broken with the PT over the previous two decades. Many of these organizations dismiss the Lula-as-savior strategy and are attempting to organize what they refer to as a “left front” that will promote a more radical transformation of the capitalist system, not a series of reforms through political alliances. What exactly this would look like is unclear."
- The recent Mexico state election -- narrowly won by the traditional PRI party -- shows the strength of the upstart Morena party led by leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will almost certainly run for president next year. Though he is favored in polls, he's lost narrowly in two previous presidential elections. This time around he's favored by a Trump-pushed boost in Mexican nationalist sentiment, but could be hindered by Mexican fears of his firebrand attitude, argues Salvador Vázquez del Mercado in the Conversation.
- Last week dozens of Paraguayans protested ahead of the five year anniversary of the Curuguaty Massacre, which is today. They called for the release of 11 activists detained in the case of a land occupation that was violently repressed leading to 17 deaths, reports TeleSUR.
- Former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner created an electoral front to compete in October's mid-term elections. Candidacies don't have to be made official until later this month, but she would presumably run for senator in the province of Buenos Aires. The "Unidad Ciudadana" front excludes the official peronist party, an attempt by Kirchner to avoid a primary competition with her former Minister of Interior, Florencio Randazzo. They have until June 24 to agree to run together or on competing lists, reports La Nación.
- A new Colombian telenovela is a story about Colombia’s grinding violence and how once-bitter enemies — left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, rural poor and urban elite — have to learn how to live together. The RCN Television series called “No Olvidarás Mi Nombre,” is partly financed with $1 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development, reports the Miami Herald. Colombia’s Agency for Reintegration, which helps ex-combatants re-enter society, also participated in the project along with the National Center for Historical Memory. Fernando Gaitán, the show’s creator, said he wanted to tell a nuanced story about the nation’s decades-long violence and provide something of a road map for the war-torn nation.