Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cuba to Lift Migration Restrictions?

After decades restricting travel for its citizens, the Cuban government is rumored to be on the verge of drastically altering its migration policies. In addition to sharply limiting access to exit visas, the country strips most of the citizenship rights of individuals once they have been out of the country unlawfully for 11 months. Last month, Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon announced in an interview that the government is working towards “a profound radical reform of emigration that in the months to come will eliminate these kinds of restrictions.”

While Alarcon did not specify the nature of this reform, the Associated Press reports today that this has raised hopes that the Cuban government will do away with its unpopular travel controls, a move which would have considerable economic and social effects on Cuban society.

Other state officials have been less than amenable to this notion, however, casting doubt on rumors of a wholesale eradication of migration restrictions. In a Cuban government-sponsored teleconference in Washington with some 115 Cuban exiles last weekend, Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez cautioned expatriates not to get their hopes up. Rodriguez claimed the island would likely keep at least some visa controls in place for the foreseeable future, saying “reasonable countermeasures will be imposed to preserve the human capital created by the revolution."

Still, as the AP notes, even limited reform – like lowering the costly fees associated with obtaining an exit visa or making it easier for Cubans to live or work abroad longer without penalties – would be a major human rights concession from the Cuban government, and could potentially set the stage for greater US-Cuba engagement. While some longtime anti-Castro politicians like Republican Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have downplayed the significance of the move, officials in the Obama administration have been more receptive. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the US "would certainly welcome greater freedom of movement for the Cuban public," although an anonymous official told the AP that the Obama administration couldn’t promise a reciprocal move without knowing the full extent of the policy changes to come.

News Briefs 

·         Bolivian President Evo Morales marked International Workers’ Day yesterday by expropriating the assets there of Red Electrica de EspaƱa, a Spanish power company. La Opinion reports that the move began with Bolivian soldiers marching peacefully into the headquarters of the company’s offices in Cochabamba and hanging a flag across its entrance. The announcement marks a continuation of Morales’ bid to nationalize Bolivia’s electric, water and telecommunications services, a hallmark of his administration. Although this has drawn comparisons to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez’s recent expropriation of Spanish-controlled oil company YPF, analyst Joao de Castro Neves of the Eurasia Group told the AP that Morales is far more economically practical than Fernandez. "He knows his limits, The Bolivian state doesn't have the capacity to take over all these sectors (including mining) and maintain the high levels of investment they need," Castro Neves said.

·         The LA Times’ World Now blog on indigenous groups’ resumed protest march against a proposed highway through the TIPNIS nature reserve in the Bolivian Amazon region. Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera reportedly characterized the protest as “the first march in the history of Bolivia against democracy.”

·         The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency in the province of Huehuetenango, along the border with Mexico, after some 200 people armed with machetes and guns overran an army base last night in order to protest the death of a man killed hours before. The AP says the residents are against the proposed construction of a hydroelectric plant in their town and believe the individual was murdered for his activism.

·         With Guatemalan President Otto Perez vowing to tackle poverty, a new UNDP report has found that the number of people under the poverty line in the country has increased by 3 percent since 2006, and that one of every five Guatemalans live in extreme poverty.

·         One day after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos blamed FARC rebels for kidnapping French journalist Romeo Langlois, a woman claiming to represent the guerrillas told reporters by phone that they were holding him as a “prisoner of war.”  Langlois was embedded with a Colombian military unit when it was ambushed on Saturday, but the government rejects assertions that he had a military role, according to El Tiempo. The FARC have yet to make a statement about Langlois’ whereabouts on their official website.

·         Mexico presidential frontrunner Enrique Pena Nieto’s 20-point lead over her rival has stayed steady, suggesting he will be the likely winner in the July elections barring a major campaign disaster. The Miami Herald notes that he has given few clues as to what his presidency would look like.

·         Both the Washington Post and Spain’s El Pais take a look at the life of the late Tomas Borge Martinez, the last surviving founder of the Sandinista political movement. As the first Sandinista interior minister, he oversaw the creation of the Sandinista Defense Councils, community-based political groups which now exist as Citizen Empowerment Councils. InSight Crime has previously credited these structures with safeguarding Nicaragua’s low level of street violence compared to other countries in the region.

·         The AP profiles emerging cracks in Rio de Janeiro’s “pacification” strategy, noting rising reports of police corruption and violence in the supposedly pacified favelas. Perhaps the best known case is the Rocinha favela, where the police presence was doubled this month in response to a wave of killings.

·         Nora Lustig writes on the difficulties of measuring income inequality in Latin America for Americas Quarterly.

·         The New York Times reports on the growing popularity of soccer in Cuba, a country where baseball has long been the dominant sport amongst youths. Some on the island feel that the shift is due to a recent decline in the quality of national baseball, while others chalk it up to the comparatively less amount of necessary equipment to play soccer. 

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