Tag Archive | "cuba"

Latin America News Roundup: 4th April 2014


ZunZuneo logo CubaCuba – US Government Secretly Funds Social Network: A report by news agency Associated Press (AP) revealed that the US government funded a social network called ZunZuneo between 2010 and 2012, “aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.” According to the AP article, the SMS-based social network was secretly funded through aid agency USAID, which channelled U$S1.6m hidden behind a “byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account.” Through it, the US government would initially spread “non-controversial content” such as information on sports, hurricanes, and music, with the intention to later on “introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs’ (…) that might trigger a Cuban Spring.” On a press briefing yesterday, Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the US Department of State, acknowledged the involvement of USAID in funding the ‘Cuban Twitter’, as it was known, however she stated that “there was nothing classified or covert about this program. Discreet does not equal covert.” She also argued that “we [the US government] were not generating political content of any kind on this platform. We were letting the Cuban people do that themselves.”

Chile – Overfishing Leaves Half of Species in Crisis: A report by the Secretariat of Fishing has revealed that over 40% of the country’s major fisheries are under threat from overfishing. According to the 2013 review of resources, 16 of the 33 main fishing grounds are classed as either ‘over exploited’ or ‘exhausted’. Among the most vulnerable species are the anchovy, golden kingklips, skate, and alfonsin. “The situation is critical,” said Undersecretary of Fishing and Agriculture Raúl Súnico. “This report imposes on us a great challenge to recover the over-exploited and exhausted fisheries and create a more sustainable future for our fishing industry.” Years of poorly regulated industrial fishing have been blamed for the current shortages, with artisanal fishermen critical of authorities for favouring large-scale operations under a new Fishing Law that came into force last year. Fishing is one of the most important industries in Chile, which has the world’s seventh-largest commercial catch.

Mexico and Panama Sign Free Trade Agreement: The governments of the two countries formalised a free trade agreement (FTA) yesterday, which brings Panama closer to joining the Pacific Alliance. The FTA, which was 15 years in the making, is expected to benefit companies which will use Mexico as a manufacturing base and Panama as a gateway for global distribution, according to experts consulted by Mexican newspaper El Financiero. Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli also highlighted that, once the FTA is approved by the congresses of both countries and the Colombian congress, his country will be able to join the Pacific Alliance. “The incorporation of Panama to the Pacific Alliance Group will be greatly beneficial to all Panamanians. [Mexican] President [Enrique] Peña Nieto has promised he will support us in this undertaking,” he said, adding that “Panama would be the natural seat of the Pacific Alliance, being in a middle point between Mexico and Chile.” The Pacific Alliance is a trade bloc made up of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. New members must sign FTAs with all existing members in order to join in; in the case of Panama, the country only needs to finalise its FTA with Mexico.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Latin America News Roundup: 31st March 2014


Bolivian National Assembly (photo: Wikipedia)

Bolivian National Assembly (photo: Wikipedia)

Bolivian Miners Protest New Law: Mining cooperatives have blocked major roads in Bolivia, including accesses to La Paz, in protest again a modification to the Mining Law passed by the Chamber of Deputies. The new law, which must still be voted in the Senate, establishes that only the Bolivian state can sign contracts with private investors to exploit natural resources, effectively banning cooperatives -which have special tax benefits- from doing so. “If mining cooperatives sign contracts with private parties, they will become companies and will lose their ‘cooperative’ category,” said Mining Minister Mario Virreira, who justified the amendment to the law by explaining that “there is the risk that, once again, multinational capitals will enter Bolivia without any state control.” The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives, however, oppose the modification and threatened to paralyse the country “until we achieve our aim, which is to have a mining law consistent with our daily work,” said its president Alejandro Santos. The independent mining sector, made up of approximately 100,000 miners, is a traditional ally of the Bolivian government.

Cuba Approves New Foreign Investment Law: The National Assembly in Cuba approved on Saturday a new foreign investment law to attract international investment and encourage development. The law will come into force in 90 days, and includes cuts and exemptions in taxes on profits, legal guarantees, and speedier processes for new foreign investors. The government said it would initially target investment in industrial infrastructure, agriculture, and energy production, and claimed that the country needs US$2.5bn in foreign investment a year to achieve its growth targets. Presenting the bill at the Assembly, Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca said foreign investment was fundamental to the country’s development, but assured that the new law would not undermine sovereignty over resources. “We will not return to the past or hand over our riches. We will never again sell our country,” he said. The law comes as part of a series of gradual economic reforms introduced by President Raúl Castro, including a plan to end of the dual currency system, announced in October last year.

Chile – President Bachelet Introduces Tax Reform Bill: President Michelle Bachelet today sent a comprehensive tax reform bill to the National Congress, with the hope of boosting tax revenues by 3% of GDP. The four main objectives of the reform are to provide permanent income stream to cover spending requirements, encourage a more equitable distribution of wealth, incentivise savings and investment, and reduce tax evasion. “Today more than ever we need to decisively and responsibly use this powerful instrument of development, on the one hand, and justice on the other,” said Bachelet. The bill includes a proposed increase in corporate taxes and reduction in income taxes for individuals, except for politicians. It also provides specific benefits for small and medium sized enterprises and incentives to encourage the use of clean technology. The tax reform is the first of three major policies promised by Bachelet, the other two being education reform and an updated constitution.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Latin America News Roundup: 28th February 2014


The 'Cuban Five' (photo: Wikipedia)

The ‘Cuban Five’ (photo: Wikipedia)

‘Cuban Five’ Member Returns to Cuba: Cuban intelligence agent Fernándo González, a member of the ‘Cuban Five’, was released from prison in the US and deported back to Cuba. González left the Arizona prison where he completed his sentence on Thursday, and was immediately turned over to the Immigration Department. He was deported and arrived at Havana’s international airport this morning. González was arrested in Florida in 1998 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2001 after being found guilty of conspiracy charges and for failing to register as a foreign agent in the US. Both the ‘Cuban Five’ and the government have admitted they were intelligence agents, but claimed to have been informing on terrorist groups within the exiled community in Miami which were planning attacks on the island. González is the second of the ‘Cuban Five’ to have completed his sentence. René González was released in 2013, whilst Antonio Guerrero will be released in 2017, and Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labañino are serving life terms. Cuban authorities have indicated their willingness to carry out a prisoner exchange, swapping the remaining members ‘Cuban Five’ for US State Department contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence on the island.

Agreement Reached on Panama Canal: The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced the end of talks with construction consortium GUPC over the conclusion of the canal’s expansion project. The talks resulted in a “conceptual agreement,” which is still “subject to documentation, review and final signature by the parties.” As the agreement does not modify the price or the terms of the contract, the project – which involves the construction of a set of locks – must be completed by December 2015. It was also agreed that GUPC will pay US$100m and ACP will advance US$100m, which will enable works to return to a normal pace in March. APC administrator, Jorge Quijano, said that “We have reached a conceptual agreement that protects the interests of the Panama Canal, within the terms of the contract and respecting our position.” The conflict broke out when the ACP refused to pay cost overruns of US$1.6bn, which it deemed “exorbitant and unjustified,” and the consortium ordered its sub-contractors to abandon the work sites. GUPC resumed work on the project on 20th February.

Brazil – Supreme Court Reduces Corruption Sentences: Eight people who had been found guilty of corruption in Brazil’s ‘trial of the century’ had their sentences reduced by the Supreme Court, including Lula Da Silva’s former Chief of Staff José Dirceu. Six out of the eleven court judges, including two of its newest members, voted to acquit the accused of the charges of conspiracy, which will see their jail terms reduced, and will also exempt them from serving them in a closed prison, doing it instead in a ‘semi-open’ jail in Brasilia. Supreme Court president Joaquim Barbosa said that a “circumstantial majority” was formed specifically “to undermine all the great work carried out by this court on the second semester of 2012.” “It is a sad afternoon for the Supreme Court,” he lamented.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Latin America News Roundup: 3rd February 2014


Salvador Sánchez Cerén, El Salvadorian presidential frontrunner (photo: wikipedia.org)

Salvador Sánchez Cerén, frontrunner in the El Salvadorian presidential elections (photo: wikipedia.org)

El Salvador Presidential Elections go to Second Round: With nearly all the votes counted, results indicate yesterday’s presidential election in El Salvador will go to a run-off on 9th March. Current vice president Salvador Sánchez Cerén from the governing left-wing FMLN party received 48.9% of the votes, and will face conservative Norman Quijano from the Nationalist Republican Alliance, ARENA, who took 38.9% in the first round. The winner will take power on 1st June and will govern the country for the next five years. Both candidates accepted the results and announced their willingness to form alliances with other political parties. Sánchez Cerén has already reached out to the UNIDAD movement’s candidate, Elías Antonio Saca, to work together in the next government. Sunday’s election had a turnout of just 53%, according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, almost ten percentage points lower than the 2009 elections.

Costa Rica Elections: Residents of Costa Rica also went to the polls yesterday to vote in the country’s general elections, choosing new representatives in congress, new governors, and a new president. With no outright winner, the two leading presidential candidates will face a run-off on 6th April. The governing Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN)’s candidate, Johnny Araya, who obtained 29.5% of the vote, will face Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC)’s Luis Guillermo Solís, who obtained 31% of the vote. Neither candidate has so far spoken of potential alliances, but it seems likely the winner will have to form some kind of coalition to govern, as they will face a divided congress when they take power on 8th May. PLN received 18 of the 57 legislative seats, PAC took 13, with the remainder divided between five other parties.

Honduras – Diplomatic Relations Re-established with Latin American countries: The governments of Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador officially recognised Juan Orlando Hernández’s government in Honduras at last week’s Celac summit in Cuba. Following this, the three countries announced at the weekend they would re-establish diplomatic ties with the Central American nation after almost five years, when a coup ousted democratically-elected Juan Manuel Zelaya, leading to a political crisis in the country, and a diplomatic crisis in the region.

Cuba has Highest Literacy Rate in Latin America: According to a UNESCO report published on Saturday, Cuba has the highest literacy rate in Latin America. The annual report, entitled ‘Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All‘, highlighted the Caribbean island’s achievements, noting that 13% of the country’s GDP goes towards education, compared to a regional average of 5.5%. The report looked at countries’ progress under the Education for All global commitment to provide basic education for all children, youth, and adults, as agreed at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000. At the forum, 164 governments pledged to work towards six goals to be met by 2015, and are working with development agencies, civil society, and the private sector to achieve the targets, under the coordination of UNESCO. In Latin America, around 10% of children of school age are not achieving basic standards in reading and writing, and 30% are lacking in mathematics. Standards varied widely by country, and within social groups within national borders, with the poorest often faring the worst. For example, in Haiti only 42% of young people from a poor background know how to read and write, compared to 92% of their better off compatriots. The report highlighted that if current trends continue, developing countries will not achieve their targets until 2072.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Latin America News Roundup: 30th January 2014


Opening of Celac II summit in Cuba (photo courtesy of casarosada.gov.ar)

Opening of Celac II summit in Cuba (photo courtesy of casarosada.gov.ar)

Second Celac Summit Ends in Cuba: The second summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) ended last night with a declaration of the region as a ‘Peace Zone’. The meeting saw heads of state from 33 nations meet over two days in Havana, the capital of the country presiding over the summit: Cuba. In the closing declaration, Cuban President Raúl Castro spoke of the region’s commitment to deepen regional integration and of the “inalienable respect for each state to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system”. He went on to pledge that the region would resolve issues in a peaceful way “banishing forever” the use of force in the region, and fulfilling its obligation to not intervene directly or indirectly in other country’s internal affairs. The rotating presidency was then handed over to Costa Rica.

Brazilian Foreign Minister in Washington for NSA Talks: Brazil’s foreign minister, Luis Alberto Figueiredo, has travelled to Washington to meet with national security advisor Susan Rice, and receive explanations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying on his country. It is hoped that the countries will be able to reestablish ties, which broke down after it was revealed by documents leaked by Edward Snowden that the NSA had spied on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her chief advisors, as well as Brazilian corporations such as the state oil company Petrobras. Rousseff’s government has said that the explanations given by Barack Obama’s administration were not satisfactory, and that the country was still awaiting an official response from the US. Rousseff cancelled a trip to Washington, set for last October, as a result of the spying scandal. The Brazilian government is organising a conference in São Paolo in April on internet governance, and the US has confirmed attendance.

Mexican Leftist Movement Aims to Become Political Party: The Mexican National Regeneration Movement (Morena) today presented a formal request to the Federal Electoral Institute to become a registered political party. The movement is headed by former mayor of Mexico City Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who ran for president in 2012 as a candidate for the PRD. Last Sunday, the movement overcame the last hurdle in their formation as a party, by celebrating their National Constitutive Assembly. It has also hosted assemblies in 30 of the 32 federal states, and registered 500,000 members. A commission will evaluate Morena’s request and decide if the left-wing movement is to become Mexico’s newest political party within 120 days.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Latin America News Roundup: 28th January 2014


CELAC (photo: Wikipedia)

CELAC (photo: Wikipedia)

Cuba: President Raúl Castro inaugurated the second summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) today in Havana with a call for the region to tackle “poverty, hunger, and inequality.” After holding a minute silence in memory of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, Castro spoke of the need for greater cooperation to ensure lasting peace in the region and to use the abundant natural resources to eliminate poverty. The Cuban president also reiterated his support for Argentina in the dispute over the sovereignty of the Falklands/Malvinas, calling on the UK government to enter into dialogue. The CELAC summit will continue tomorrow with further meetings between the heads of state of the 33 members, who are expected to sign a joint declaration on dozens on regional issues before the rotating presidency is handed over to Costa Rica at the closing ceremony.

Nicaragua: The National Assembly of Nicaragua today approved reforms to the country’s constitution. The changes, voted for by 64 of the 92 deputies, include a removal of presidential term limits and redraws the country’s maritime territorial boundaries in accordance with a 2012 Hague ruling. “The constitutional reforms deepen democracy and the political participation of families and communities,” declared deputy Edwin Castro of the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN). Opposition legislators, meanwhile, criticised the reforms, saying they were designed only to extend the power of President Daniel Ortega.

Brazil: FIFA president Joseph Blatter reiterated concerns today about delays in construction ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, though added that he was “confident” everything would be ready on time. “It’s the first time a country has had seven years to prepare for the World Cup and there are delays,” said Blatter. Last week, FIFA gave the host city of Curitiba an ultimatum to accelerate the construction of the new stadium in the coming four weeks or face being excluded from the tournament. Meanwhile, social tensions have increased again following a protest over the high cost of hosting the tournament turned violent in Sao Paulo on Sunday. Protest groups have called for another rally in the city on 22nd February.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Latin America News Roundup: 10th January 2014


President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Venezuela: President Nicolás Maduro announced yesterday that his entire cabinet handed in their resignation in order to allow for a reshuffle. Seven changes have already been confirmed in the ministries of University Education, Industry, Education, Youth, Sports, Presidency, and Labour. Many of the new ministers simply switched positions, thus providing an element of continuity in the cabinet despite the changes. Maduro said that “within the next few days” he will announce more changes “[to fight] the economic battle.” The cabinet reshuffle comes two days after the murder of a former Miss Venezuela and her husband, which highlighted the serious public safety problems facing the country.

Colombia: Thousands of people are expected to gather today in the capital of Bogotá in support of deposed mayor Gustavo Petro. The demonstration, called for 4.30pm (local time), has been organised via social networking sites and is expected to attract as many as 140,000 people. Protesters will meet at Plaza Nacional and march towards Plaza Bolívar. As the protest was being organised, it became known that Gerson Martínez, a 29-year old human rights activist who campaigned against the removal of Petro and for today’s protest, was murdered on Monday. Whilst his family denounced irregularities in the investigation, Petro went as far as to say that Martinez’s death was “a political murder.” Petro was removed and banned from running for office for 15 years by Colombia’s Inspector General on 9th December.

Brazil: The protest organised by favela residents facing eviction in Rio de Janeiro was ended last night after the military police intervened in order to avoid the protesters blocking a major road and a metro line. The police informed that no arrests were made and that the situation is “under control.” The protest came amid fears by the Brazilian government about possible demonstrations during this year’s football World Cup. In that regard, President Dilma Rousseff told some of her ministers that she is willing to call in the army if the police is unable to guarantee public safety during the sporting event. The government is also in talks with different social organisations which are planning to hold protests on 25th January under the banner “There will be no World Cup” in at least 35 Brazilian cities.

Cuba: Fidel Castro made his first public appearance in nine months on Wednesday night. The former president attended the opening of an art studio in Havana, as reported by the Cuban press yesterday. His appearance coincided with the 55th anniversary of the day in which he led the Rebel Army into Havana during the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Castro, 87, retired from the presidency in 2006 due to ill health, at which time his brother Raúl Castro took over. Some pictures showing him next to Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet were published last month, however he had not been seen in public since April. The frequency of his regular columns on Granma newspaper, ‘Fidel’s Reflections’, decreased in the last couple of years. The latest one, which paid homage to the late South African president Nelson Mandela, was published on 19th December 2013.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Latin America News Roundup: 7th January 2014


Augusto Pinochet and his wife Lucía Hiriart (photo: Chilean Congress Library)

Augusto Pinochet and his wife Lucía Hiriart (photo: Chilean Congress Library)

Chile: A judge has ordered the arrest and prosecution of nine former members of the air force for the 1973 disappearance of Etienne Pesle de Menil, a French former-priest and activist of the Socialist Party. Pesle de Menil disappeared on 19th September 1973 from the city of Temuco, around 800km south of the capital Santiago. He was picked up from his work by a patrol from Maquehue air base, which is now known to have functioned as a clandestine detention centre from the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet on 11th September 1973 until the end of the year. The nine defendants have been detained in a Santiago air base whilst they await trial.

Venezuela: Actress and former Miss Venezuela, Mónica Spear, was killed yesterday in a shooting, in what appears to have been a robbery that went wrong. Her husband, Irishman Henry Thomas Berry, was also killed in the incident, and their five-year-old daughter was injured. All were shot inside their car, which investigators believe had pulled over because of car trouble. Spear, who resides in the US, won Miss Venezuela in 2004, and was in Venezuela on a visit when the incident happened. Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with 45 deaths per 100,000 citizens.

Cuba: Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, has called on the European Union to ‘update’ its relationship with Cuba on a visit to the Caribbean island. Cooperation between the two sides was suspended in 2003 after the arrest of 75 opposition activists on the island. Dialogue began again in 2008, and Cuba has signed bilateral accords with some European countries, although the bloc as a whole maintains its ‘Common Position’ adopted in 1996, which conditions ties with Cuba to advances in human rights. Trade between Europe and the island has continued, however, with both the Netherlands and Spain being major trading partners, and such commercial transactions between Cuba and the EU increased 8% in the first half of 2013.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Cuba: Car Import Ban Lifted


Cubans now able to acquire cars built after 1959 without permits (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Cubans now able to acquire cars built after 1959 without permits (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

This week the controversial 50-year car import ban in place in Cuba was lifted, allowing Cubans much more freedom in purchasing vehicles. Cuba’s official government newspaper Granma reported that Cuba’s council of ministers approved the change on Wednesday.

The changes are a part of a series of reforms which has opened up the country to foreign trade and modernised the island’s economy.

Although Wednesday’s reforms are popular with Cubans, they will likely see an end to the tradition of the 1950s vintage cars around Cuba, held up by Cubans and tourists alike as one of the most charming aspects of the country.

Before 2011, Cubans could only trade cars built before the 1959 revolution, as the island does not have any car factories. Since 2011, Cubans could buy and sell used cars freely but needed government permission to trade new, imported cars.

Government permission was granted in the form of permits which were only available after a long, difficult application process and was said to have prioritised those in positions of benefit to the government, such as doctors and politicians.

The text in Granma acknowledged that the so-called “letters of authorisation” had generated “resentment” and “dissatisfaction” and cited them as occasionally “a source of speculation and enrichment”.

Now, Cubans no longer need these permits to buy new, foreign-made cars, although cars will still have to be purchased from state-run sellers. Those with permits will still be given priority.

Granma stated that the new regulations “eliminate existing mechanisms of approval for the purchase of motor vehicles from the state” and as a result “the retail sale of new and used motorcycles, cars, vans, small trucks and mini buses for Cubans and foreign residents, companies and diplomats is freed up”.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Cuba Reaches Landmark Debt-Restructuring Deal with Russia


Cuban president Raúl Castro (photo: Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr)

Cuban president Raúl Castro (photo: Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr)

Russia and Cuba have announced a landmark agreement to write off 90% of Cuba’s US$32bn debt, which dates back to the Soviet era. The agreement marks an important breakthrough in a 20-year dispute between the two countries, and paves the way for greater bi-lateral trade and investment.

Under the terms of the new deal, which was finalised in October 2013 but made public earlier today, Cuba will have to pay the remaining US$3.2bn debt to Russia in equal annual installments over a 10-year period. The agreement still has to be approved by the Duma, the lower house of Russian Parliament.

Plans to restructure Cuba’s external debt became known last February, after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvédev visited the Caribbean island. The two countries are still ironing out the details of how Cuba will pay the remainder of its debt. According to diplomatic sources even the reduced debt represents a heavy burden for the island, which also owes between $US5bn and 6bn to members of the Paris Club, an informal group of creditor nations.

The Paris Club has a Cuba focus group, which the United States is not a part of. According to some sources, Russia’s decision to reduce Cuba’s debt has caused unrest within the Paris Club because it is incompatible with the collective stance of the organisation. However, a Russian diplomat highlighted that, “ The Paris Club should be thankful because [this agreement] takes a large amount of money off the table and makes an eventual agreement [between Cuba and the Paris Club] more likely”.

Cuba has been re-negotiating its debt with other countries for several years. In 2010, the country reached an agreement with China to restructure almost US$6bn, and in 2012 negotiated an 80% reduction of its US$1.4bn external debt with Japan. The island also reached an agreement with Mexico in November 2013 to eliminate 70% of Cuba’s almost US$500m debt, which as been accumulating interest over the last 15 years.

The restructuring of Cuba’s debt comes at a key moment as the country is preparing to eliminate its dual currency system.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Follow us on Twitter
Visit us on Facebook
View us on YouTube

Five years on from the death of ex president Raúl Alfonsín, we look back at those emotional days in 2009 and reflect on the legacy left by 'the father of democracy'

    Directory Pick of the Week

Magdalena's Party in Palermo

Magdalena’s Party has daily 2 x 1 Happy Hour specials til midnight, and the "best onda".
Sign up to The Indy newsletter