Monday, October 22, 2012

No, Fidel Castro is Not Brain Dead

Once again, rumors that Cuban leader Fidel Castro is on his deathbed or in a “neurovegetative state” have proven to be false.  After a letter he had written that was published in state-run newspaper Granma on Thursday failed to stop the rumor mill, the Cuban leader responded directly to the claims in another Granma article published early this morning.

In it, he criticizes the mainstream media for repeating the claims of Venezuelan Doctor Jose Rafael Marquina, the source of the latest round of rumors, and claimed to be doing well despite his advanced age, saying “I don't even remember what a headache feels like.” He also compared the false claims to those made by the Western press during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, when news agencies erroneously reported that the U.S.-backed invasion force was on the verge of reaching Havana when in fact the operation was a massive failure.

The article is accompanied by photos taken by Fidel’s son Alex Castro, which show the former Cuban leader standing with a cane outside in a colorful shirt and straw hat, holding up Friday’s issue of Granma as proof of their date.

Rumors of the retired president’s ailing health were further dispelled yesterday when former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua told reporters he had met with him for five hours on Sunday, and showed pictures to prove it.

Fidel’s dismissive response contrasts significantly to the reaction of state media website Cubadebate during the most recent round of health rumors in January, when the site accused Twitter itself as having a role in spreading the gossip, because it allowed “#fidelcastro” to become a trending topic.

With any luck this will discourage U.S. media from repeating claims made by Dr. Marquina (who was also one of the most widely-cited sources of “inside information” that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was close to death back in April) and others regarding the imminent death of leftist leaders, but the fact that these rumors circulate on such a regular basis suggests this may be too much to hope for.

News Briefs
  • Millions of Cubans (including Fidel) voted in the country’s municipal elections yesterday, electing members to the municipal assemblies in charge of local governments. As the AP notes, the island generally sees near 100 percent participation in these elections, and they foster “heated debate and criticisms about local problems such as slow police response, poor water supply and garbage pickup or unauthorized vending stands that block sidewalks.” Critics, however, argue that the fact that citizens cannot vote to remove the Communist Party from power makes these local elections little more than a sham.
  • The New York Times takes a look at the controversy surrounding the recent death of several indigenous protestors by members of the military in Guatemala. The incident caused the administration of President Otto Perez to reevaluate its reliance on the army for internal security, a pillar of Perez’s “mano dura” security policies. In a timely op-ed for Al Jazeera English, Lauren Carasik, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England University School of Law, argues that the deaths are an indication that the Central American country has not yet grappled with the legacy of its bloody 1960-1996 civil war. Still, as the AP reports, the arrest of nine members of the military charged with the shooting is a positive step forward for Guatemala’s rickety judicial system.
  • The New York Times highlights a developing corruption case in the popular Guatemalan tourist destination of Antigua, in which ten government officials have been accused of fraud ad money laundering.
  • In their first attack on security forces since peace talks formally began last Thursday in Oslo, FARC guerrillas killed five Colombian soldiers near the border with Ecuador on Friday night, reports El Tiempo. The rebels have repeatedly called on the government to agree to a ceasefire, which President Juan Manuel Santos has rejected.
  • New evidence has emerged to support the theory that Haiti’s devastating cholera outbreak was introduced by UN peacekeeping troops from Nepal. According to U.S. cholera specialist Dr. Daniele Lantagne, who has studied the molecular composition of the cholera strain in Haiti, the disease corresponds directly to a strain common in Nepal.
  • Clarin reports that the government of Argentina has ordered the evacuation of more than 300 sailors who had been manning the naval training ship Libertad when it was seized on October 2nd by the government of Ghana at the behest of U.S.-based creditors. BBC notes that sailors from Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and South Africa are also reportedly on board.
  • Panama City has been hit by a wave of protests against a new law which will allow the Panamanian government to sell state-held land to foreign companies in a duty-free zone on the Panama Canal. La Estrella reports that demonstrations organized by unions and student groups have nearly paralyzed the port city of Colon, despite the government’s attempts at holding a dialogue with protestors. EFE claims that a 10 year-old child was killed during riots on Friday following the law’s passage, and 13 others were injured.
  • With Brazil’s municipal elections out of the way and the “mensalão scandal” drawing to a close, the Wilson Center’s Paulo Sotero offers a summary of the state of Brazilian politics for FT’s Beyond BRICS Blog, offering an optimistic but measured forecast for democracy in the country.
  • The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticized U.S. Border Patrol officers for demonstrating “excessive use of force” last Thursday after agents shot and killed a teen who allegedly threw rocks at them near the Arizona border town of Nogales last week. Mexican officials say they are planning on filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government in response to the killing.
  • Although Uruguay has a reputation as a bastion of liberalism in Latin America -- which has seemingly been bolstered in recent weeks by the passage of a bill decriminalizing abortion the government’s proposal to legalize marijuana sales -- BBC Mundo’s Gerardo Lissardy questions the country’s record on other liberal issues such as gay rights and drug consumption laws. 

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