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The Economist

Print section Print Rubric:  What the tourist industry reveals about the communist countryPrint Headline:  Stuck in the pastPrint Fly Title:  Cuba UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  Britain’s brutal encounter with realityFly Title:  Sun, sand and socialismLocation:  HAVANAMain image:  20170401_AMP002_1.jpgTOURISTS whizz along the Malecón, Havana’s grand seaside boulevard, in bright-red open-topped 1950s cars. Their selfie sticks wobble as they try to film themselves. They move fast, for there are no traffic jams. Cars are costly in Cuba ($50,000 for a low-range Chinese import) and most people are poor (a typical state employee makes $25 a month). So hardly anyone can afford wheels, except the tourists who hire them. And there are far fewer tourists than there ought to be. Few places ... Continue reading
Print section Print Rubric:  As the island’s economy stalls, retirement has become notionalPrint Headline:  Hustling, cradle to gravePrint Fly Title:  Cuban pensioners UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  Amazon’s empireFly Title:  Hustling, cradle to graveLocation:  HAVANAMain image:  20170325_amp501.jpgNORBERTO MESA, a 66-year-old grandfather, stands in the hot sun 11 hours a day, six days a week, guiding cars in and out of the parking spaces in front of a bustling farm stand. The 4,000 Cuban pesos ($170 at the official exchange rate) he earns each month in tips is more than ten times his monthly old-age pension of 340 pesos. Without it, the retired animal geneticist could not afford fruit and meat, or help his children, who work for low salaries, to feed his four ... Continue reading
Print section Print Rubric:  On the communist island, app stores pay rentPrint Headline:  Real virtualityPrint Fly Title:  Technology in Cuba UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  An insurgent in the White HouseFly Title:  Real virtualityLocation:  HAVANAMain image:  20170204_amp503.jpgCUBANS, like citizens of most countries in the digital age, are familiar with app stores. But theirs have actual doors, windows and counters. Los Doctores del Celular, a mobile-phone repair shop a few blocks from Havana’s Malecón seaside promenade, is one example. Inside, a Super Mario effigy, kitted out with lab coat and stethoscope, keeps vigil while technicians transfer apps to customers’ smartphones via USB cables attached to the shop’s computers. Although the United States’ embargo on Cuba makes it hard ... Continue reading
Print section UK Only Article:  standard articleFly Title:  Special no moreLocation:  HAVANA and MEXICO CITYMain image:  20170121_blp901.jpg AMONG a group of young men gathered in a tin-roofed telephone repair shop in Havana, the topic of conversation is how to leave Cuba. The easiest way, they now reckon, is to marry a European woman. That is because on January 12th, in one of his final acts as president, Barack Obama ended the 20-year-old “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which allowed Cubans who land on American soil to stay in the country; those caught at sea were sent home. That shuts off the main escape route for Cubans in search of a better life. Mr Obama’s decision looks like an attempt to protect one of his few clear-cut foreign-policy successes: his agreement with Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, in December 2014 to restore diplomatic relations and loosen an economic embargo imposed on the island by the United States in 1960. Donald Trump, who will become the American president on January 20th, has said contradictory things about Mr Obama’s ... Continue reading
Print section UK Only Article:  standard articleFly Title:  Podcast: The week aheadByline:  Economist.comMain image:  20161203_mma905.jpgRubric:  Our Bello columnist Michael Reid discusses Cuba's future under Raúl and the remaining Castros. Also on the show: Assad’s forces make a crucial advance in Aleppo. And do want your cheating spouse to come back? There’s an agency for that - in China.Published:  20161202Source:  Online extra Enabled Continue reading
Print sectionPrint Headline:  Politics this week UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economyMain image:  20161203_WWP003_290.jpgFidel Castro, who led a revolution in Cuba and ruled as a communist dictator for 47 years, died at the age of 90. He was an unyielding antagonist of the United States, which tried many times to assassinate him. In 1962 Mr Castro helped bring the world to the brink of nuclear war by inviting the Soviet Union to station missiles in Cuba. His brother, Raúl, formally replaced him as president in 2008, but he was the symbolic leader of the Latin American far left until his death. See article.  Colombia’s congress ratified a revised peace agreement with the FARC, an insurgent group with which the government has been at war for 52 years. Legislators opposed to the deal walked out before the vote. Colombians rejected the original agreement in a plebiscite in October. To avoid a second vote, President Juan Manuel Santos submitted the new deal to congress for ratification.A plane ... Continue reading
Print section Print Rubric:  The transition to a better Cuba will not be easy. Donald Trump could make it harderPrint Headline:  After FidelPrint Fly Title:  Latin America UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economyFly Title:  After FidelMain image:  20161203_LDP002.jpgFIDEL CASTRO was many things to many people (see article). As Cuba mourns him, his fans offer praise for how he stood up to the United States in the name of Cuban independence and provided world-class health care and education to poorer Cubans. But his achievements were outweighed by his drab legacy. Much of that human capital was wasted by his one-party system, police state and the stagnant, centrally planned economy. Cubans say Mr Castro was “like a father “ to them. They are right: he infantilised a nation. Anyone with initiative found ... Continue reading
Print section UK Only Article:  standard articleFly Title:  Cuba after Fidel CastroMain image:  20161203_blp904.jpgESTELLE has never been a supporter of Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution. The poverty, the restrictions on freedom, the false promises—she despises all of it. But when the 78-year-old accountant awoke on November 26th, switched on her radio and learned that the Maximum Leader of the revolution had died overnight, she cried. “Whatever you feel about Fidel, he was always there,” she explained.   Estelle’s ambivalence is shared by many Cubans as they begin to get used to life without the man who dominated the country for more than half a century. “He was a good president”, said Yusi, a housewife in Old Havana, but “nobody’s perfect”.   The government has banned all public music performances during the nine-day official mourning period, a directive that has enveloped Havana in gloom. A much-heralded concert starring Placido Domingo, an opera singer, has been cancelled. Nightclubs are closed.   Unlike leaders of other successful communist revolutions, Mr Castro will not have an embalmed afterlife. The body ... Continue reading
Print section UK Only Article:  standard articleFly Title:  The death of a revolutionary iconMain image:  20161126_amp505.jpgTHE statement was terse but its import was great. In the early hours of November 26th in Havana, Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, announced that his elder brother, Fidel, “commander-in-chief- of the Cuban revolution”, had died at the age of 90. Cubans woke up to the prospect of life without the man who dominated them and their country for more than half a century. In Miami, the dwindling hard core of anti-Castro exiles took to the streets of the district known as Little Havana in celebration. They had done so several times before over the past decade on rumours of his death. This time it was real.   Fidel’s death will be marked by nine days of official mourning in Cuba and by recognition around the world of his extraordinary achievement in turning his small country into a pocket superpower that defied the United States for decades. Many others will hope that Cuban communism will die with Fidel. For all its achievements in health care and education, it has impoverished the island and deprived ... Continue reading
Print section UK Only Article:  standard articleFly Title:  The will to powerMain image:  20161126_amp503.jpgTO MEET Fidel Castro was to notice, first of all, his sheer physical presence. He was tall, erect and had a high, domed forehead that made him look naturally imperious. He was strong: as a youth he was awarded a prize as the best all-round sportsman in Cuba. He was brave to the point of recklessness; as a boy, he once rode a bicycle straight into a wall to prove his mettle. And he was determined, absolutely convinced of his own rightness, intolerant of contradiction and immune to compromise. These characteristics he had inherited from his father, a Spanish migrant who brought with him to Cuba the innate stubbornness of the gallego and who became a prosperous landowner. The son, who was born illegitimate in Birán, in rural eastern Cuba, in 1926, added a prodigious ambition for power. Even the Jesuits who taught him saw danger coming in the big, headstrong boy, whose country slang from the cane fields of Oriente marked him out among his urban classmates. The Cuban revolution as it turned out—though not as many of its ... Continue reading
Main image: FIDEL CASTRO has died, aged 90. He ruled Cuba for 47 years, ceding power to his brother Raúl in 2006 before officially resigning in 2008. Revered on the anti-imperialist left, the Communist revolutionary survived numerous American assassination attempts and ten presidents. His rule was notable for world-class health care and education, political repression—and marathon speeches, including a record four hours 29 minutes at the UN.Further readingObituary: The life and times of Fidel CastroThe transition to a post-communist Cuba will now begin in earnestThe mood in Havana 20161126 08:58:08Comment Expiry Date:  Sun, 2016-12-11 Continue reading
Print section UK Only Article:  standard articleFly Title:  Tasting menuMain image:  20161022_mma905_107.jpgRubric:  This week: Bhutan’s surprising success, experiments in automated consumption and why clowning is on the rise in CubaPublished:  20161024Source:  Online extra Enabled Continue reading
Print section Print Rubric:  There’s money to be made wearing floppy shoesPrint Headline:  The red-nosed gold rushPrint Fly Title:  Clowns in Cuba UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  The threat from RussiaFly Title:  Clowns in CubaLocation:  HAVANAMain image:  20161022_AMP002_0.jpgONE recent Saturday afternoon three performers, dressed in clownish finery, clambered out of a rusty 1950s pickup truck in a suburb of Havana and spent the next hour cavorting, breakdancing and sashaying for the amusement of a dozen children. One of the troupe, Ángel Kike Díaz, a cartoon-voice star and stage puppeteer, is a Cuban celebrity. As a clown employed by the state, he makes a salary worth $30 a month. A single children’s birthday party will pay him nearly that much. With inducements like that, ... Continue reading
Print section Print Rubric:  The agony of natural disasters is deepened by human failurePrint Headline:  Matthew’s furyPrint Fly Title:  Haiti after the hurricane UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  The debasing of American politicsFly Title:  After the stormLocation:  PORT-AU-PRINCEMain image:  Livelihoods blown awayLivelihoods blown awayTHE scene is appallingly familiar: entire towns in ruins; thousands of people without food, water or shelter; clothes and belongings strewn across the landscape; the dead buried in mass graves. Nearly seven years after an earthquake wrecked Haiti, killing perhaps 200,000 people, disaster has struck again. This time it was wind and waves that brought devastation. Hurricane Matthew made landfall close to Haiti’s westernmost point, ripping across the ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  The road to BrexitFly Title:  BelloPrint sectionMain image:  20161008_AMD001_0.jpgRubric:  Anti-yanqui feeling is in remission in Latin America. Could Donald Trump revive it?“YOU are the United States, you are the future invader of the guileless America of Indian blood, which still prays to Jesus Christ and still speaks Spanish.” So goes the ode “To Roosevelt” of 1904 by Rubén Darío, a Nicaraguan writer. His poem was occasioned by the seizure of Cuba and Puerto Rico by the United States in the Spanish-American war of 1898, in which Theodore Roosevelt played a minor role that helped him win the presidency, and by his subsequent grabbing of Panama, a province of Colombia. Darío was prescient: in the next three decades there would be more than 30 military interventions by the United States in the Caribbean basin, in the name of what Roosevelt called “the exercise of an international police power”. These events, and the asymmetry of power and wealth ... Continue reading
Print section UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  UberworldMain image:  20160903_WWP005_168.jpgBrazil’s senate decided to remove the country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, from office by 61 votes to 20, after finding that she had tampered with government accounts to conceal the size of the budget deficit. Ms Rousseff’s successor is Michel Temer, who has been serving as interim president since May. In his first address as president he promised to reduce the deficit and restore the health of the economy, which is in a deep recession. See here and here.  A ceasefire between Colombian security forces and the FARC, a left-wing guerrilla group, came into effect, ending a 52-year-old war. The FARC will now begin the process of handing over its weapons within six months. Its political wing is to get a guaranteed ten seats in congress. Three people were charged with murdering a government minister in Bolivia. He had tried negotiating with miners who were blocking roads as part of a protest against working conditions. The accused killers are all officials in a local mining union.   The first commercial airliner to fly from the ... Continue reading
Print section UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  Erdogan’s revengeFly Title:  Cuba’s economyLocation:  HAVANAMain image:  Haircuts all round in HavanaHaircuts all round in HavanaQUEUES at petrol stations. Sweltering offices. Unlit streets. Conditions in Cuba’s capital remind its residents of the “special period” in the 1990s caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, the benefactor in trouble is Venezuela. For the past 15 years Venezuela has been shipping oil to Cuba, which in turn sends thousands of doctors and other professionals to Venezuela. The swap is lucrative for the communist-controlled island, which pays doctors a paltry few hundred dollars a month. It gets more oil than it needs, and sells the surplus. That makes Cuba perhaps the only importer that prefers high oil prices. Venezuelan support is thought to be worth 12-20% of Cuba’s GDP.Recently, the arrangement has wobbled. Low prices have slashed Cuba’s profit from the resale of oil. Venezuela, whose oil-dependent ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  How to measure prosperityFly Title:  BelloMain image:  20160430_AMD001_0.jpgRubric:  The Cuban Communist Party blocks changeWHEN Fidel Castro made a brief appearance at the Cuban Communist Party’s seventh congress on April 19th he was greeted with prolonged applause. “Well, let’s move to another subject,” he eventually said, his stentorian voice distorted by age. It was a joke. But he might as well have been turning the page on the historic visit to Havana by Barack Obama in March and the expectations it generated among Cubans of speedy changes. Having reminded his audience that he would soon turn 90 and that death comes to all, Fidel went on: “The ideas of Cuban communists will endure.” No serious student of Cuba imagined that Mr Obama’s visit and his televised call for free elections would prompt overnight change. But the party congress proved to be a disappointment even by the cautious standards of the reforms that Raúl Castro, Fidel’s slightly ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  The new normalFly Title:  The United States and CubaMain image:  20160326_amp501.jpgRubric:  Barack Obama brings a message of friendship and human rightsFOR more than half a century Fidel Castro ordered Cubans to be prepared to resist an American invasion. When it finally came this week it took the peaceful and friendly form of President Barack Obama, his wife and daughters, nearly 40 members of Congress and some top business leaders. Even so, many residents of Havana, Cuba’s capital, had to pinch themselves when they saw Air Force One fly over the city on March 20th and the “Beast”, as Mr Obama’s armoured limousine is dubbed, ply the streets. Cubans turned out spontaneously to greet him. Mr Obama’s visit could truly be called historic. It set the seal on his dramatic move to restore diplomatic relations with the communist island and to loosen the economic embargo imposed in 1960 after Fidel Castro’s revolution.In 48 hours of walkabouts, meetings and ... Continue reading
Print section UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  The new normalMain image:  20160326_wwp002_290.jpgSuicide-bombers attacked the check-in area at Brussels international airport and a train at a metro station, killing more than 30 people and injuring hundreds of others. Belgium declared three days of national mourning; the authorities carried out raids and a manhunt. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault, which came a few days after the arrest at a flat in the Belgian capital of Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in last November’s attacks in Paris, which were also claimed by IS. See here and here.  Nadia Savchenko, a Ukrainian army pilot accused of directing artillery fire which killed two Russian journalists, was given a 22-year prison sentence by a Russian court. Her supporters say the charges are nonsense and the trial a farce. Asked if she understood the sentence, she sang the Ukrainian national anthem.The EU agreed to provide €6 billion ($6.8 billion) and political concessions, including accelerated talks on visa-free travel, in return for Turkey accepting the return of migrants from Greece. The EU will ... Continue reading
HE MAKES quite a warm-up act. The Rolling Stones will play a free concert in Havana on March 25th in front of an expected audience of 400,000. Five days earlier Barack Obama arrived for a short state visit. Whatever he says, whatever he does, this is a momentous trip—the first by a sitting American president since 1928, when Calvin Coolidge sailed from Prohibition-era America for the Pan-American Conference in Havana. Mr Obama can expect a warm welcome in Cuba. According to a poll last year he is more popular than either Raúl Castro, the president, or Fidel, his brother and the father of the Cuban revolution. Many Cubans have spoken of their enthusiasm for the arrival of a mixed-race president in their country, where non-white citizens are in the majority.The visit pours more balm on a Cuban-American relationship whose troubles stretch back to the start of the 20th century. The island was put under American military occupation at the end of the Spanish-American war, in 1898, and became independent four years later. But it had to grant the Americans the right to intervene militarily whenever they saw fit. It was a right they used to secure possession of a naval base at Guantánamo Bay at the south-eastern tip of the island. American investment in Cuba, particularly in agriculture, grew over the next decades and tourism flourished—until the takeover by Fidel Castro and his ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleFly Title:  The week aheadByline:  Econo... Continue reading
ON MONDAY March 21st Barack Obama begins his official visit to Cuba. In the process he becomes the first sitting American president to do so since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Mr Obama’s trip is a symbolic culmination of a process of rapprochement that he and Raúl Castro, Cuba’s president, began in December 2014. Since then the United States has eased the half-century-old trade and travel embargo on Cuba, removed the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and restored diplomatic relations, cut in 1961. America’s government eased restrictions further on March 15th, allowing its citizens to travel to Cuba on their own for “educational” purposes and Cubans to be paid salaries in the United States. Mr Obama argues that such interchange will do more to hasten the liberalisation of Cuba’s repressive socialist regime than continuing to isolate it.On arrival, he will find modest grounds for hope. Cuba is visibly changing, in part because of economic reforms begun by Mr Castro before his accord with Mr Obama. But the changes so far have done more to enhance the lifestyles of a few than to bring freedom and opportunity to the majority of Cubans. They are most palpable for the half-million who have registered as self-employed, especially those who cater to tourists. Guesthouse owners, restaurateurs and taxi drivers are profiting from a rise of close to 80% ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  A hollow superpowerFly Title:  BelloMain image:  20160319_AMD001_0.jpgRubric:  Latin America’s armed forces have accepted democracy but remain a law unto themselvesON MARCH 24th 1976 a military junta ousted Isabela Martínez, Argentina’s president and the widow of Juan Perón, and took power in order to “put an end to the lack of government, the corruption and the scourge of subversion”. What followed was state terror, aimed not only at murderous left-wing guerrilla groups but also at harmless dissidents. At least 8,960 people were killed. In Buenos Aires memories of the coup remain raw. Barack Obama planned to be in town on the anniversary, and wanted to show his support for democracy and human rights by visiting a torture centre that is now a museum of memory. That annoyed activists—at the time, the United States had endorsed the coup. Mr Obama will play golf in Patagonia instead.Few would have imagined so at the time, but it was to be the last time ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  A hollow superpowerFly Title:  The United States and Latin AmericaLocation:  MIAMI AND WASHINGTON, DCMain image:  20160319_AMD003_0.jpgRubric:  After Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba, regional relations may deteriorateFIVE years ago, if Barack Obama had announced a trip to Havana, Cuban-American demonstrators would have filled Miami’s streets, suggests Carlos Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade County. Now that Mr Obama is about to pay the first visit to Cuba by a sitting president since 1928, on March 21st and 22nd, the dominant mood in Miami is one of resignation, says the mayor, an urbane, silver-haired Republican who left Cuba as a boy the year after Fidel Castro took power. True, the “pretty universal” sentiment among Florida’s 1.4m Cuban-Americans is that Mr Obama has extracted too few concessions from the government of Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother, in exchange for relaxing restrictions ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  A hollow superpowerFly Title:  Barack Obama in CubaLocation:  HAVANAMain image:  20160319_AMP002_0.jpgRubric:  The promise and perils of a historic visit. The first of three stories on the United States and Latin America“THIS country will rock when he arrives,” predicts Leo, a taxi driver in Havana. He is not talking about Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, who will perform in the city on March 25th for an audience of perhaps 400,000 fans. He means Barack Obama, who four days earlier will become the first sitting United States president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. When Leo was 14 years old, in the 1980s, his teacher ordered him and his classmates to throw eggs and shout abuse outside the home of a schoolmate whose family had emigrated to the United States. “Now, thank God, the hate is over,” he says. Mr Obama’s trip is a symbolic culmination of a process of ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  A hollow superpowerFly Title:  Barack Obama visits CubaMain image:  20160319_lcd002.jpgRubric:  The United States and Latin America can profitably draw closer, but only if the next president agreesCAUTION has been a watchword in the foreign policy of Barack Obama. But in one part of the world he has been adventurous. For any of the nine preceding American presidents, his planned visit to the Cuba of Raúl and Fidel Castro, on March 21st and 22nd, would have been unthinkable (see article). It crowns a bold gambit in which Mr Obama has restored diplomatic relations, frozen for 54 years, and begun to loosen the economic embargo against the island. He is betting that engagement with one of America’s neighbours will do more than isolation to bring its Communist regime to an end. Moreover, engagement with Cuba will lance a boil that has poisoned relations between the United States and the whole of Latin America. After a period in which China appeared to be ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  The future of computingFly Title:  ... Continue reading
IF ANY moderate Republicans appalled by Donald Trump tuned in to the Democratic presidential debate held in Miami on March 9th, what they heard cannot have made it easier for them to consider lending their vote—for one election at least—to Hillary Clinton. From the start Mrs Clinton was under pressure to tack to the left and woo her party’s core supporters in this, her last scheduled TV debate with her populist rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. On some big questions, and especially on immigration, she gave in to that pressure and staked out radical positions which she can expect to see played in Republican attack ads again and again, once the general election is under way.Some of the pressure on Mrs Clinton was exerted by recent events. Just 24 hours earlier she had suffered a surprise defeat in Michigan’s presidential primary election, with Mr Sanders notably buoyed by support from voters who told exit polls that they think free trade costs America jobs. Though the former first lady, senator and secretary of state is still on course to be her party’s nominee, her underwhelming performance in a big, Midwestern rustbelt state underlines her weakness among the trade-union members and working-class white voters who have been drifting away from the Democrats for years.Some of the pressure came from the debate’s main host, Univision. A Spanish-language television ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  The right way to do drugsFly Title:  How the White House race looks from CubaLocation:  HAVANAMain image:  At least Cuban-Americans can voteRubric:  Cubans are not keen on a president from the diasporaAt least Cuban-Americans can voteNEITHER Ted Cruz nor Marco Rubio fared as well in the hills of New Hampshire on February 9th as they did in the plains of Iowa a week earlier. Even so, the two Republicans (pictured) are both closer to winning the White House than any Cuban-American has come before. You might expect the citizens of the country from which their parents emigrated to take an interest in their political fortunes, and they do. But it is not a friendly one. “I’d rather vote for Donald Trump,” harrumphs a professor in Vedado, part of Havana. To judge from informal conversations and press chatter (nobody is systematically canvassing opinion) Cubans are underwhelmed by the ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  Migrant men and European womenFly Title:  Cuban migrantsLocation:  HAVANA AND LA GARITA, COSTA RICAMain image:  20160116_amp001.jpgRubric:  The urge to leave is strong, but the opportunity is diminishing“HE’S probably the youngest Cuban in Costa Rica,” reckons Elisabet, as her son nuzzles close for an afternoon feed. With some 8,000 Cubans in the country, many camped near the border with Nicaragua, that would be quite a distinction. She and her husband are typical of the throng. They flew from Havana to Quito in February 2015 when she was six months pregnant. When their son was strong enough, they journeyed north by bus, lorry and boat. Nicaragua, a friend of Cuba’s communist government, blocked their further progress. Now Elisabet, who would not give her surname, waits with about 100 compatriots in the village of La Garita—watched over by three laid-back policemen and a couple of ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  Star Wars, Disney and myth-makingFly Title:  Sport and diplomacyLocation:  HAVANAMain image:  20151219_CBP001_0.jpgRubric:  The downside of warming relations with AmericaLOOK for the Che Guevara mural on a pitch-black street corner in Lawton, a run-down district on the outskirts of Havana. Turn left, walk up the concrete steps and give the password (today it’s “I sell green dwarfs”). Inside, around 20 Cuban men sit silently. Despite the humidity, the ceiling fan is still, allowing puffs of sweet tobacco smoke to hover in the flickering fluorescent light. The newcomers are asked for a “solidarity contribution” of 25 Cuban pesos, or $1. After the customary first drops are spilled to sate the thirst of the saints, a $3 bottle of clear rum makes its way around. It could easily be a clandestine political gathering. But this group has far more important business: the first game in the Major ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  Playing with fearFly Title:  BelloMain image:  20151212_AMD002_0.jpgRubric:  The fruits of a historic year for the United States and CubaON DECEMBER 17th 2014 Barack Obama and Raúl Castro surprised the world by announcing that the United States and Cuba had agreed to restore diplomatic relations, frozen since 1961. In Havana the news was greeted with euphoria—some residents unfurled the Stars and Stripes alongside the Cuban flag, and church bells rang out. Across the Florida Strait, the excitement was almost as great: businesses of many descriptions announced breathless plans to penetrate a long-forbidden market. A year on, the excitement is tempered by realism. On the diplomatic front, progress has been significant. After the reopening of embassies, talks have begun on substantive issues, ranging from law-enforcement co-operation to human rights, organised under the aegis of a new Cuba-United States steering committee.On December 8th officials from ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  Clear thinking neededFly Title:  Contemporary artLocation:  HAVANAMain image:  Sign of the timesRubric:  Interest in Cuban art is taking offSign of the timesTHE dingy back alleys of Havana are a far cry from the city’s middle-class Vedado district and its Hotel Nacional, and an unlikely home for a hip international art gallery. But on November 27th Galleria Continua, an avant-garde group from San Gimignano in Tuscany that shows Anish Kapoor and Michelangelo Pistoletto and has offshoots in Beijing and Boissy-le-Châtel, an hour’s drive south of Paris, opened its newest space in the renovated Águila de Oro cinema. The chunky Soviet-era projectors have been left in place on the top floor, and the detritus of film canisters and decaying seats has been whipped into a floor-to-ceiling hurricane installation by José Yaque, a young Cuban artist. Continua’s opening is just the latest sign that ... Continue reading
THE SENTENCING of Venezuela's opposition leader, Leopoldo López, to nearly 14 years in prison, on top of the 18 months he has already spent in mostly-solitary confinement, triggered a range of different reactions. Amnesty International, a global human-rights lobby, said of the verdict: “The charges against [him] were never adequately substantiated and the prison sentence against him is clearly politically motivated. His only ‘crime’ was being leader of an opposition party in Venezuela.”  Human Rights Watch, another international watch-dog, spoke of "egregious violations" of due process. Mr López himself sent a hand-written note from jail saying that he had been fully aware of the consequences when he defied pressure from the regime to leave the country. "My soul, my ideals and my love for you are flying high in the skies above our beautiful Venezuela," he wrote to his wife and two children.What about the Vatican? Considering that this is an overwhelmingly Catholic country where the Holy See has strong connections (its secretary of state Pietro Parolin was serving there till 2013) and that Mr López himself is Catholic, people might have expected Pope Francis or at least a senior Vatican spokesman to issue an instant condemnation of the verdict. But for better or worse, that is not the current papacy's way; it prefers to make its feelings known more discreetly, and ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  Xi’s history lessonsFly Title:  BelloMain image:  20150815_AMD001_0.jpgRubric:  More is changing in Cuba than meets the eyeSUCH is the power of a symbol. A planeload of American journalists was due to fly to Cuba for the day on August 14th to watch John Kerry raise the Stars and Stripes and formally reopen his country’s embassy in Havana after 54 years. Yet should the secretary of state look eastwards along the Malecón, the seafront of crumbling, salt-scarred buildings, towards Old Havana, his view would be obstructed by a forest of flagpoles and an open-air stage adorned with the slogan: ¡Patria o Muerte, Venceremos! (“Fatherland or death, we shall win”). Used over the past 15 years or so for anti-imperialist rallies, there are no immediate plans to dismantle this theatre of agitprop. The official portrayal in Cuba of the decision by Barack Obama and Raúl Castro to restore diplomatic ties is that it was a victory for Cuban communism’s half-century of ... Continue reading
UK Only Article:  standard articleIssue:  Xi’s history lessonsFly Title:  America and CubaLocation:  CHICAGORubric:  Despite the embargo, America exports plenty of goods to its erstwhile enemy“WE LEARNED that the steps taken by President Obama to re-engage with Cuba have launched a bit of a global race […] to leave as little as possible for American business when the restrictions are lifted altogether.” Arne Sorenson, the boss of Marriott, a hotel chain, sounded frustrated after he returned from his first trip to Cuba last month. American business is losing out, he says, because European and Latin American companies can cater to the millions of American tourists who are expected to travel to Cuba soon, whereas Marriott and other American companies are still barred by law from doing business there. Before the Cuban revolution in 1959, the island’s farm exports to America amounted to $2.2 billion a year (at current commodity prices) while American agricultural exports to Cuba stood at $600m, ... Continue reading
A CURIOUS asymmetry exists across the 90-mile (150km) Straits of Florida that divide Cuba from the United States. This month American businessmen won permission from their government to start plush new ferry services to Cuba for the first time since the United States trade embargo was imposed in 1960. Moving in the other direction are thousands of impoverished Cubans in makeshift boats and rafts, risking their lives to flee the communist island despite a five-month-old thaw in relations with America that both governments hope will bring more prosperity to Cuba. In the first quarter of the year the number of Cuban migrants arriving in America more than doubled, and 2,460 have been apprehended at sea since October. Why this gap between rhetoric and reality?The exodus is probably being stirred by American immigration policy itself—or more precisely by the fear that it will change if rapprochement continues. As a legacy of the strident anti-communism of past American policy towards Cuba, Cuban immigrants to the United States are treated more leniently than those of other countries. If they touch dry land in America, they can automatically apply for permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship. But in order to prevent a flotilla of Cuban “boat people” (such as the Mariel boatlift of 1980), the Coast Guard returns almost all those it catches at sea to Cuba. The ...<div class="og_rss_groups"></div> Continue reading
UK Only Article:&nbsp; standard articleIssue:&nbsp; The great distortionFly Title:&nbsp; Cuba’s economy (1)Rubric:&nbsp; Despite the thaw with the United States, politics is paralysing the economy. The first of two storiesLocation:&nbsp; HAVANAMain image:&nbsp; 20150516_AMP002_0.jpgBY DAY grey-haired Americans trundle through the streets of Havana in pink 1957 Chevy convertibles, klaxons blaring. By night they recline over rum and cigars, tipping generously, listening to hotel salsa and reminiscing about the cold war. Many of the new American visitors to Cuba, whose numbers have surged since a diplomatic detente in December, are old enough to remember life before the internet and relish a few days in one of the world’s last Facebook-unfriendly bastions. What tourists find quaint seems stifling to many Cubans themselves. For a lucky minority life has improved since “D17” (December 17th), the day Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro, ...<div class="og_rss_groups"></div> Continue reading
UK Only Article:&nbsp; standard articleIssue:&nbsp; The great distortionFly Title:&nbsp; Cuba’s economy (2)Rubric:&nbsp; The tricky task of unifying a crazy system of exchange ratesLocation:&nbsp; HAVANACUBA has two currencies and a mind-boggling number of exchange rates. So when President Raúl Castro set out four years ago to unify the currency system by 2016, it was not surprising that he gave few details on how he would achieve it. A year in advance, it is still not clear. Nor is there a fixed date. Cubans call the unknown day of reckoning Día Cero (“day zero”). The main difficulty is not unifying the two currencies per se. They are the Cuban peso, which most people use, and the convertible peso (CUC), worth about $1, which is a dollar substitute used by individuals in tourism, for remittances and in the private sector. It would be relatively easy for the average Cuban to scrap the CUC and conduct all transactions in pesos. Already many goods can be bought with either currency. The exchange rate for the peso is 24 per ...<div class="og_rss_groups"></div> Continue reading
UK Only Article:&nbsp; standard articleIssue:&nbsp; The great distortionFly Title:&nbsp; Reforming CubaRubric:&nbsp; The transformation of the economy needs to happen much fasterMain image:&nbsp; 20150516_LDP003_1.jpgIT HAS been five months since Cuba and the United States announced that they would end their long cold war, but Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, is still basking in the afterglow. On his way home from Russia this week he stopped off at the Vatican to see the pope, and said he might return to the Catholic faith. Later François Hollande paid the first-ever visit to Cuba by a French president; he was granted an audience with Fidel Castro, Raúl’s ailing brother, who led the revolution in 1959 and ruled until 2008. But beneath the bonhomie lies unease. Cuba’s creaky revolutionaries spent half a century blaming the American embargo for all the island’s woes. Now they resist American capitalism for fear of being overrun. The result for most ordinary Cubans is not too much change but too little (see article). The ...<div class="og_rss_groups"></div> Continue reading
IN THE early hours of April 29th, Indonesia executed eight convicted drug traffickers. Seven of the eight were foreigners: two Australians, a Brazilian, a Filipina and four Nigerians. The sentences have provoked outrage from the prisoners’ home countries, none of which hands down the death&nbsp;penalty to drug offenders. Brazil and the Netherlands had already&nbsp;withdrawn their ambassadors, following an earlier round of executions&nbsp;in January. Indonesia is rare in executing drug smugglers, who in most&nbsp;of the world are condemned only to long stretches in prison. Where&nbsp;else does trafficking earn a death sentence?Thirty-two countries, plus Gaza, have the death penalty for drug smuggling,&nbsp;according to Harm Reduction International (HRI), a drug-focused NGO.&nbsp;All but four (America, Cuba, Sudan and South Sudan) are in Asia or the Middle&nbsp;East. But in most of them executions are extremely rare. Fourteen, including America and Cuba, have the death penalty on the&nbsp;books for drug traffickers but do not apply it in practice. Only in six countries—China, Iran,&nbsp;Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore—are drug offenders known&nbsp;to be routinely executed, according to HRI’s most recent analysis.&nbsp;(Indonesia will soon join this list, following its recent executions.)&nbsp;In Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria ...<div class="og_rss_groups"></div> Continue reading
UK Only Article:&nbsp; standard articleIssue:&nbsp; Europe’s boat peopleFly Title:&nbsp; Elections in CubaRubric:&nbsp; But in a big municipal poll, the losers also have something to celebrateTHE most interesting thing about Cuba’s municipal elections on April 19th was not who won. It was who lost, and who did not even turn up. Four months after a historic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, for the first time two openly declared dissidents made it onto the ballot among more than 27,000 candidates competing for 12,589 municipal posts around the country. Predictably, they were defeated. But their participation was an unusually open act of defiance, not just by the two men but also by ordinary citizens who proposed them in a show of hands before the elections.What is more, the turnout on voting day fell by almost six percentage points compared with the previous poll in 2012, to about 88%. Some claimed rising absenteeism was a crack in monolithic support for the Communist Party. The opposition candidates, Hildebrando Chaviano, a lawyer and journalist, and Yuniel López, a ...<div class="og_rss_groups"></div> Continue reading
UK Only Article:&nbsp; standard articleIssue:&nbsp; DynastiesMain image:&nbsp; 20150418_wwp001.jpgHillary Clinton announced that she is running for the White House in 2016. She vowed to get&nbsp;“unaccountable money” out of politics “once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment”. Her campaign is expected to raise at least $1 billion. On the Republican side Marco Rubio, a Florida senator, joined a field that is fast becoming crowded. See here&nbsp;and here. A Florida doctor, Salomon Melgen, was indicted for defrauding Medicare, the government health scheme for the old, which he had billed for $105m over six years. Earlier this month Mr Melgen and Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, were indicted for trading gifts for favours. Both men deny wrongdoing. The sidelining of Mr Menendez, a foreign-policy hawk, made discussions between Barack Obama and Congress over Iran a bit easier.Five more glorious years Sudan held a presidential election and, though the results will not be announced until April 27th, most believe President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is sure of another term in office. Opposition groups boycotted the poll. ...<div class="og_rss_groups"></div> Continue reading
UK Only Article:&nbsp; standard articleIssue:&nbsp; DynastiesFly Title:&nbsp; Religion in CubaRubric:&nbsp; A religion brought over by slaves from Africa is becoming more popularLocation:&nbsp; HAVANAA SHARP-EYED visitor to Havana and other Cuban cities will notice some odd things: the carcasses of birds strewn at intersections, insignias consisting of a single eye and dagger affixed to doorways and displayed in taxis, people dressed head to toe in white. All are emblems of Santería, a religion with roots in the culture of Yoruba slaves who came to Cuba from Nigeria from the early 18th century. After a period of suppression, it appears to be making a comeback. Santería is a blending of the Yoruba religion, which acknowledges 401 orishas, or deities, with the Catholicism of the Spanish colonisers. Although at least 60% of Cubans today call themselves Catholics, far fewer are regular churchgoers. Many see no reason not to incorporate Santería rituals into their spiritual lives. A Catholic priest will marry a couple, but a ...<div class="og_rss_groups"></div> Continue reading