Monday, February 17, 2014

WNU #1209: Will the US Normalize Relations With Cuba?

Issue #1209, February 16, 2014

1. Cuba: Will the US Normalize Relations?
2. Brazil: Police Repress Landless Protest
3. Honduras: Aguán Campesino Convicted of Murder
4. Mexico: US Planned Bailout Before NAFTA Vote
5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

*1. Cuba: Will the US Normalize Relations?
Some 56% of US adults support normalizing relations with Cuba or engaging more directly with the island’s Communist government, according to an opinion poll released on Feb. 10 by the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, DC. Support for normalization was at 63% among Florida residents, significantly higher than in the country as a whole, while 62% of Latinos backed normalization. Even among Republicans the majority, 52%, wanted to improve relations; the number was 60% for Democrats. The poll, which claimed a 3.1% margin of error, was conducted in January among 1,024 US adults; the pollsters were Paul Maslin, who has polled for Democratic candidates, and Glen Bolger, a three-time winner of the “Republican Pollster of the Year Award.”

The polling results contradict the conventional wisdom that US policies like the 52-year-old economic embargo against Cuba are dictated by US politicians’ need to placate the Miami-based Cuban American right in order to win votes in Florida. According to José Pertierra--a DC-based attorney who has represented the Venezuelan government and is active in work for the release of the “Cuban Five,” five men sentenced to long prison terms in the US for alleged espionage [see Update #1160]—US Cuban policy has in fact always originated with the US government, which has simply employed the Cuban American right to support this policy. But the US position is shifting, Pertierra told the Mexican daily La Jornada. “[W]e have already turned the page of the Cold War, except for individuals in Miami, where support for the blockade is an industry,” he said. But Pertierra warned that “the White House doesn’t necessarily want to lift the blockade but instead to relax, to normalize some things.” (Huffington Post 2/11/14; LJ 2/11/14 from correspondent, 2/12/14 from correspondent)

The release of the Atlantic Council’s poll coincides with other signs that US forces are interested in improving relations with Cuba. On Feb. 2 the Washington Post revealed that Cuban American sugar magnate Alfonso “Alfy” Fanjul has visited Cuba twice recently and has met with Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez; the industrialist is now “open to investing in Cuba under the right circumstances,” the newspaper wrote. Meanwhile, former Republican governor of Florida Charlie Crist, who now running for governor as a Democrat, has noted that the embargo has failed to change Cuba’s government and suggested that it should be dropped.

It seems likely that US business interests see opportunities in the new economic policies promoted by the Cuban government, which is drastically cutting back the public sector [see Update #1128]. There is also concern that US firms are losing opportunities in Cuba while other countries are taking advantage of the absence of US competition. On Feb. 10 the European Union (EU) agreed to new negotiations with Cuba over increases in trade and investment; according to the Reuters wire service, the EU “is Cuba's biggest foreign investor and second biggest trading partner after Venezuela.” Brazil is also investing in Cuba; it financed an upgrade of the Mariel harbor, near Havana, which was inaugurated in January.

Any improvement in Cuba-US relations would still face strong opposition from much of the Cuban American establishment and from influential politicians in the two major parties. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, remains an embargo supporter, as does Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Another sticking point is the continuing detention of US Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor Alan Gross in Cuba and of four of the Cuban Five in the US--although one of the prisoners, Fernando González, is scheduled to be released this month. (Reuters 2/6/14; New York Times 2/10/14 from Reuters; LJ 2/11/14 from correspondent)

There are also questions on the left. Michael Bustamante, a blogger for the progressive North American Council on Latin America (NACLA), notes that Alfonso Fanjul’s family business, the Fanjul Corp., has holdings in the US and the Dominican Republic that include Florida Crystals, the La Romana International Airport and the Casa de Campo resort. “In the Dominican Republic, the Fanjuls have been subject to repeated allegations of labor exploitation, particularly of undocumented Haitian migrant workers,” Bustamante wrote. “The US Department of Labor includes sugar from the Dominican Republic—much of which comes from Fanjul-owned plantations or is imported to Fanjul-owned refineries—on its annual ‘List of Goods Produced by Child or Forced Labor.’” The Fanjuls also acquired Domino Foods, Inc., in 2001, shortly after the previous owners broke a notoriously bitter 20-month strike in Brooklyn. “So why is a government in Havana that still deems itself socialist flirting with such an alleged abuser of workers' rights?” Bustamante asked. (NACLA 2/6/14)

*2. Brazil: Police Repress Landless Protest
More than 15,000 Brazilian campesinos marched some 9 km from a meeting at the Nilson Nelson Gymnasium stadium in Brasilia to the Plaza of the Three Powers on Feb. 12 to protest the slow pace at which the center-left government of President Dilma Rousseff is implementing agrarian reform. The protesters had been attending the Sixth Congress of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), the largest of the Brazilian groups organizing landless campesinos. Kelli Marfort, from the MST’s Gender sector, called the government’s policy an “embarrassment.” “Last year 7,000 families were settled,” she charged, saying that the MST alone has 90,000 families living in encampments and waiting for land. “A total of 150,000 families are in encampments in Brazil, many of them for more than 10 years. We’re here to announce that we’re not satisfied, and we’re asking for a people’s agrarian reform.”

The march’s first stop was at the US embassy, where protesters attached signs calling for the release of the remaining four alleged Cuban agents still imprisoned in the US. “Terror’s flag is here, sowing hatred in the entire world,” MST director Enio Bonenberg said. “They’re the real terrorists.” The marchers proceeded to the Federal Supreme Court (TSF), where they protested the failure of the court system to prosecute murders and other crimes in the countryside in a timely manner, and especially the attitude of TSF president Joaquim Barbosa. Agents of the military police met the crowd with tear gas and pepper spray. “This sort of attitude is typical of the TSF’s behavior,” said Fabio Tomas from the São Paulo. “Twenty police agents act with brutality in the midst of 15,000 people to create a political fact and legitimize the violence against us.”

Some of the demonstrators remained at the TSF while others crossed the Plaza of the Three Powers toward the Planalto Palace, which houses the presidential offices. The MST set up an encampment outside the building, along with banners calling on President Rousseff to cut her ties with agribusiness and asking: “Dilma, where is the Agrarian Reform?” Police used pepper spray on the protesters as they advanced on the palace, and about 15 agents beat and fired rubber bullets at a group of demonstrators who were getting out props for a street theater performance. A total of 12 protesters were injured during the day’s events, according to the MST, while the police claimed that 30 agents were injured. João Paulo Rodrigues, a national MST leader, blamed the military police for the confrontation: “We have a police force that’s unprepared [for protests]--or very well prepared for generating a conflict.”

The president met with MST leaders on Feb. 13. Alexandre Conçeicão, the group’s national coordinator, told reporters after the meeting that the activists had complained to Rousseff about the concentration of land in big estates and the heavy use of pesticides and had pushed for land grants for 100,000 families. “This is going to be a great year of struggles and mobilizations to settle all those families,” he said. According to Agrarian Development Minister Pepe Vargas, the government may distribute land to 30,000 families this year and will see about speeding up the process for the future.

The MST action was the latest in a series of demonstrations over the past year protesting what is seen as the Rousseff government’s failure to meet basic needs while spending massively on preparations for this summer’s World Cup soccer championship and the 2016 Olympics. “While Dilma doesn’t pay attention to the landless,” the MST’s Marfort said on Feb. 12, “she gives money with full hands to agribusiness and the FIFA”—the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). (Adital (Brazil) 2/13/14 from the MST; AFP 2/13/14 via 7 News (Australia))

Santiago Andrade, a TV camera operator injured during a transit protest in Rio de Janeiro on Feb. 6 [see Update #1208], died from his injuries on Feb. 10. Police agents arrested protester Fabio Raposo Barbosa, who admitted on Feb. 8 that he had carried the fireworks bomb that hit Andrade, although he said someone else threw it. The police said they were seeking the second person. (Latin American Herald Tribune 2/10/14 from EFE)

*3. Honduras: Aguán Campesino Convicted of Murder
In a retrial held on Feb. 7, a court in La Ceiba, in the northern Honduran department of Colón, convicted campesino José Isabel Morales (“Chavelo” or “Chabelo”) [see Update #1167] on one count of homicide; the judges are expected to sentence him to 20 years in prison. Morales, a resident of Guadalupe Carney community in Trujillo municipality, Colón, belongs to the Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MCA), one of several grassroots organizations in the Lower Aguán River Valley demanding land that campesinos say wealthy landowners acquired illegally. He was first arrested on Oct. 17, 2008, in connection with an incident in which 10 people were killed, including Carlos Manrique Osorto Castillo, a member of a landowning family and the nephew of a local police agent, Henry Osorto. Prosecutors charged Morales on 14 counts, 10 of them for homicide. Morales was acquitted of 13 counts in the first trial, but the court convicted him of Manrique Osorto’s death.

Campesino organizations and human rights defenders challenged the conviction, saying that there was no credible evidence against Morales and that the court relied on suspect testimony from Henry Osorto. Morales’ lawyers appealed and his supporters organized protests and a phone-in and petition campaign, with responses coming from as far away as Australia and Taiwan. Morales won a partial victory on Nov. 5, 2013, when the Supreme Court of Justice threw out the conviction and sent the case to the La Ceiba court for a retrial. Morales’ supporters plan to appeal the new conviction. (Upside Down World 11/18/13; Adital (Brazil) 2/12/14)

*4. Mexico: US Planned Bailout Before NAFTA Vote
According to a Feb. 8 article in the online magazine Salon, officials of the Federal Reserve, the de facto central bank of the US, were planning to arrange for a bailout of the Mexican peso in November 1993 to ensure that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would be ratified by the House of Representatives. While the US media and government officials—including Federal Reserve Board of Governors member Jon LaWare—were assuring Congress and the public of Mexico’s financial stability, top Reserve officials were concerned that the peso might be facing a devaluation. In a Nov. 9 conference call that one official described as “of a sensitive international nature,” Fed leaders discussed arranging a US-sponsored bailout if the currency failed.

Participants in the conference call were explicit about their concern that instability in the peso could affect the upcoming vote NAFTA. Fed official Richard Syron said he was normally “skeptical” about bailouts. “But it seems to me that if one were to look for a case that falls out of the traditional norm… this would be the one. It is one where in some sense the United States is in the process of entering into this treaty and a lot of confusion has been created about it. It is an extraordinarily political issue.” He added that “[t]here are a lot of things going on here that are not fundamental economics.” The officials didn’t actually set up a bailout mechanism, but they discussed the possibility with Mexican officials, and the next day the peso stabilized. The House approved NAFTA on Nov. 17, and the peso maintained its value for a little more than a year. It finally collapsed starting on Dec. 20, 1994, and Mexico required a US-sponsored bailout of about $40 billion in January 1995 [see Updates #256, 259].

US president Barack Obama is currently seeking fast-track authority to get congressional approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations, including Mexico and Chile, which opponents describe as “NAFTA on steroids.” However, the New York Times reported on Feb. 15 that the administration now feels it won’t be able to win fast-track authority for another unpopular trade pact at least until after the November elections. (Salon 2/8/14; NYT 2/15/14)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

Chile-Peru border dispute: back on

“Just another gang?” Rio’s Favelas and the Pacification Police (Brazil)

Police Repression Legalized as Mining Protests Grow in Peru

Peru: mine engineer held by indigenous protesters

Military Recruitment Breeds Inequality for Colombia's Teenage Boys

The Peace Dividend and Post-Conflict Criminalization in Colombia

Colombia: cops seize ton of para cocaine

Colombia: military, CIA spying on peace talks

Colombia: FARC transcripts leaked by military

Sabaneta to Miraflores: Afterlives of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela

Opposition Violence Continues in Some Venezuelan Cities, Attacks on Journalists

Venezuela: Right-wing Provokes Violence in Time-worn Practice

Third Day of Protests in Venezuela Sees Lower Turnout, Calls for Peace

Costa Rica to sue Nicaragua over offshore oil blocs

FMLN Likely to Retain Salvadoran Presidency

Confronting the Narrative: Gladys Tzul on Indigenous Governance and State Authority in Guatemala

Mexico Medical Tourism Thrives

Zapatista Support Bases Under Attack: Call for a Week of National and International Solidarity (Mexico)

Communities in Veracruz, Mexico Resist Plans to Build 112 Dams

Mexico: paramilitarization of 'community police'?

Blood avocados: Michoacán cartels co-opt ag-biz (Mexico)

Mexican feds race vigilantes to crush cartels (Mexico)

Michoacán: army clashes with 'community police (Mexico)
Michoacán: 'community police' open war on narcos (Mexico)

Human Rights Leader Killed in Haiti

The Deportee Chronicles: The Girl from Guajajalmiton (US/immigration)

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