Wednesday, December 31, 2014

VOXXI: Mexico: Another priest murdered in Guerrero

"Mexico: Another Priest Murdered in Guerrero"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
December 30, 2014
Originally published:
As Mexican society continues to be in upheaval due to the missing 43 students, a new victim highlights how no one, regardless of their occupation, is safe from violence in the country. The body of Father Gregorio López Gorostieta, a Catholic priest, was found this past Christmas, out of all days, four days after he disappeared.
In spite of the arrest of high-profile cartel leaders violence continues to be rampant, and the country ends 2014 with the sad reminder that neither student uniforms nor clerical clothing are effective deterrents against narco violence.
Religious Targets
Father López Gorostieta, also known as “El Padre Goyo” was kidnapped on Sunday, December 21, from the “La Anunciación” seminary, where he taught. The facility is located in Ciudad Altamirano, in Guerrero (south of Mexico), the same state where 43 students went missing and are generally presumed dead (the remains of one have been identified).
It’s known that Father López Gorostieta arrived to the seminar around 11:30 on Sunday night after celebrating mass and helping with a communal party to collect donations for the seminary. Unknown individuals then took the priest from “La Anunciación,” forced him into his van and drove away. His body was found on Christmas day.
It’s believed that the Guerreros Unidos cartel, which operates in the area, may be behind this heinous act. Father Gregorio López Jerónimo, who manages the church in Apatzingán, also in Guerrero, has declared that López Gorostieta was murdered because he spoke out against this particular cartel, which is believed of having abducted the aforementioned 43 students.
The murder of yet another priest has caused the Catholic Church in Mexico to protest and demand government action. In a press release, the country’s bishops promptly stated, “Enough! We do not want more blood. We do not want more deaths. We do not more disappeared.”
While well intentioned, this statement will certainly not bring about an end to violence. Even more, the aforementioned Father López Jerónimo declared that the leaders of the Mexican church must “take more decisive actions,” as “they have been prudent rather than brave” when it comes to openly critiquing the murder of “Father Goyo.”
This is not the sole case this year of a murdered priest in Guerrero. This past September, the body of Father José Ascención Acuña Osorio, the priest at the San Miguel Totolapan church, was found floating in the Balsas River. He was kidnapped on the afternoon of September 21 by two unknown individuals who forced him into a taxi.
Authorities declared that the motive for the kidnapping was not robbery as the body had signs of torture, but it is unclear who was responsible.
Furthermore, foreign priests have also been targeted: the body of the Ugandan Father John Ssenyondo was found in a mass grave this past October (he went missing in April). Father Ssenyondo had spent six years working as a missionary in Mexico, and he had just celebrated mass in a village by Nejapa, in Guerrero, when he was abducted. Like with the previous examples, the murderers are thought to be narcos but no arrests have been made so far.
The aforementioned examples do not constitute the full list of members of the clergy that have been killed in Guerrero, much less in all of Mexico, in recent years.
Sadly, Latin American internal conflicts dating back to the ideological wars throughout the Cold War are known for gross human rights violations.
Case in point, the civil war in El Salvador started with the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. That conflict is also known for the massacre of six Jesuits priests, a housekeeper and her daughter, in the University of Central America in 1989.
Another important, and tragic, example is Peru; the country experienced a bloody civil war throughout the 1980s until the early 1990s, which pinned government forces against two insurgent movements, the Shining Path and the MRTA. An important development happened in November: three priests, two Polish and one Italian, which were assassinated by the Shining Path in 1991 will become martyrs. It is expected that Pope Francis will travel to Peru in 2015 to carry out the ceremony.
While it is positive that Archbishop Romero in El Salvador and the three priests in Peru will rightfully be beatified, it is tragic that a trademark of Latin American internal conflicts is their disrespect for non-combatants, particularly members of the clergy.
As for Mexico, the three recently murdered priests highlight the violence that the country continues to experience, particularly in the state of Guerrero. If a couple of years ago the state of Michoacán was regarded as the most violent state of the country, Guerrero arguably holds this title nowadays.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


"An Unknown Unit"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Short Story - Military Fiction
Center for International Maritime Security
December 30, 2014
Originally published:

This piece by W. Alejandro Sanchez is  part of our Future Military Fiction Week for the New Year. The week topic was chosen as a prize by one of our Kickstarter supporters.
Waking Up
Jesus, Maria y Jose, this heat is impossible,” I said at around 5am. The sun had yet show up in the dessert but it was hot enough. Well maybe not too hot, it was an acceptable 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit to the uneducated) but you know, I was born in the Andes so I am not used to the heat. “Why couldn’t we start this war in the winter? Everyone would be miserable except me at least,” I said to whatever ghost still inhabited this abandoned room.
Then again, I was still mostly in my uniform: the standard desert-pattern cargo pants, my belt, socks. I was even wearing still those damn boots that, while resilient, made my feet hurt. It was common sense to sleep all dressed up in the battlefield, with your rifle next to you, in order to be ready if (or more like when) the enemy showed up.
With that said, I did make the executive decision to take off my jacket and t-shirt. I have never been able to sleep with a t-shirt on and it was the first time in like three weeks that we had been able to sleep with an actual roof on our heads.
A nice roof, mind you. “I wonder whose house this had been,” I had said, again out loud, when I camped here last night. Then again, I rather not know. I made sure I did not look at the pictures of this nice little two-story home in this mid-sized town that my unit had been sweeping the day before.
From what I could tell from the corner of my eye when I looked at the pictures as I walked by, this had been the home of a 7-person family. “The spoils of war,” I thought as I peeked through the window, pulling the curtain aside just a bit to see that, indeed, the only source of light from anywhere in the horizon came from the moon.
Prior to the war this town had been the home of some five thousand people. Now it was the home of at least five thousand stray dogs, cats and rats.
I bent over, which made my poor back crack. Carajo! I cursed and then grabbed my FN Herstal. I liked this rifle, my government had bought a few thousand of them from the Belgians a few years ago and it had paid off. It was a good weapon, light but the bullets packed a good punch.
It had taken me longer than I cared to admit to get used to it instead of the old-school FAL rifle that the army had used for generations. My father, uncle and other relatives had trained with it when they were soldiers and still joked about how the damn thing was taller than some recruits.
But the change to a younger, sleeker weapon had been worth it. This efficient little rifle was the cornerstone of why the army had been so successful in the first months of the war. Well that, some good strategy and a successful surprise attack that had taken the enemy, our perpetual southern neighbors, by surprise.
I drank a big gulp of water from my canteen and briefly considered following it with a gulp of pisco from my flask, nicely hidden in one of the inside pockets of my jacket, but decided against it. It wasn’t even 6am and I figured I should be fully sober for a couple of hours more.
I stood on the edge of the door for a moment, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness and then began walking downstairs. I could easily distinguish the shapes that constituted the other soldiers of my unit, part of the 13th Counterinsurgency Regiment.  We were a ragtag bunch, remnants from the original unit from when the war began plus new recruits. Not to mention the really green recruits and paramilitaries that had joined as time passed. In my early 30s, I was already regarded as a veteran simply because of having survived longer than most others around here.
I walked down the stairs, and only then proceeded to put on my t-shirt, Kevlar vest and jacket, enjoying the last moments of freedom from all that extra weight. Sergeant Juan Jose Gambini, mi Segundo, walked up to me, already in full uniform (did he sleep in that thing?). He gave me a sharp salute, with a broad grin. “Nothing to report, señor. The Western scouts came back a while ago, no sightings of rotos.”
Everyone has a nickname for the “enemy,” the Allies called the Germans the “gerries” and we called ours either “los rotos” or “los vecinos”.
“Vanessa must have been upset that she did not get to unleash Marta on anyone,” I said with a little mischievous smile.
“Correct señor, she was a bit grumpy, but you know her, she’s quite the optimist.”
At this point in the war, neither side could afford to stick to that old, silly, machistaculture that Latin Americans are known for. Even though we were winning, we could not afford to keep our female soldiers serving “support” roles. We needed everyone who wanted to fight and could fight in the front lines.
Unsurprisingly there had been the standard sexist comments when female soldiers began fighting in the front lines. “Can they shoot?”; “What if they get hurt?”; “Can they carry all that equipment?”; and the ever-present “No necesitamos mujeres.” I am sad to say that not all in my unit had been as welcoming to female fighters as I had wished.
Nevertheless, the addition of a female component only increased our efficiency. Vanessa is a person mind you, but Marta is the name of M82A1 rifle that she used with deadly efficacy. That is not the rifle she was originally given at the start of the war, she had lost that one during the Battle of Tarapaca in an amusing hand-to-hand combat. She found Marta a few days ago and her new rifle already had five notches.
If nothing else, this war had proven that both genders could be just as deadly and effective in combat as the other.
Mi segundo left to wake up the rest of the troops as I walked throughout the rest of the house. I got on knees when I got to the kitchen and crawled my way out into the dark backyard and from there across to the neighboring also two-story house.
I believed Gambini when he told me that there were no enemy combatants in sight, but I was just as sure that the enemy probably had their own version of our 5 foot and 5 inches-Vanessa: a sniper in some roof just waiting as patiently as a hungry serpent for some silly officer to stick his head up just a centimeter too high over a fence.
Eventually I crawled the 30 meters, more or less, of backyard to the next house and entered through the kitchen. I could smell some rotting food on the table and I tried not to throw up. The smell of rotting food always got to me.
Lying on the ground by a hole in the wall was Corporal Humberto, holding, caressing one would say, his trustworthy ZH-05 grenade launcher. The launcher was Chinese and it had a wicked kick to it. It was also deadly effective.
Humberto held it securely but also with pride while he admired his work: some three hundred feet away lay the remains of a Leopard tank. Their enemy’s bought a couple hundred of those tanks years ago. This particular Goliath had been deployed here with around a dozen supporting troops to stop our forces from taking over the town.
It had been a difficult fight the night before but my unit had prevailed and we had Humberto, his grenade launcher, and two fallen comrades to thank for that. Vanessa had scratched Marta twice that night. The two had taken the tank’s gunner as well as a lieutenant who was hiding behind what looked like a Mercedes (that’s as far as my knowledge of cars goes). If the troops had any problems with having any female in our unit, these reservations died that night.
Funny how sexism and racism can evaporate in extreme circumstances if you show how much of a badass you are.
I spoke with Humberto for a few moments. Unsurprisingly, nothing had happened for the past few hours, but we were certain that the enemy had noticed that one of their patrols, including one of those impressive and expensive tanks, were missing.
I sat next to my comrade, whispering a carajo as my back cracked again. I saw across the room and saw two of our paramilitaries sitting there. Their uniforms were… well they were not uniforms. More like a combination of military pants and black sweaters.  “Rimaykullayki ¿Allillanchu?,” one of them said at me, with a friendly wave. Humberto frowned as there was no “sir” in their greeting, but I did not care. We were not a priority unit so we got paramilitaries to refill our ranks. They cared little for military discipline and hierarchy… and they spoke Quechua and very little Spanish, but they were good fighters. And I was going to need more good fighters.
Finally I saw our pirate’s booty. Across the floor was a little amalgamation of weapons we had collected from the deceased. Our prized trophy was the Rheinmetall MG 3 machine gun that we had managed to save from that enemy tank before the fire took it.
At this point I had plenty of weapons at my disposal, enough to take a small regiment, but alas I did not have enough fingers to pull all the triggers (I made a mental note of asking the captain for more paramilitaries).
Humberto handed me some grapes that we had picked up from the trees around the house and I tried to not wolf them down in one handful. El desayuno.
I took this moment to pick out a couple of papers from my backpack. They were some commentaries I had printed weeks ago from some American think tanks about our little conflict. The gringo scholars were trying to figure out why this war had come to be and who was behind it.
I could not help grunting a bit in disgust. Yes, my country had bought tanks and helicopters from the Soviet Union and, yes, we had bought new Russian tanks in the past years. But really, does this made my government, and the army I was part of, Moscow’s client state? Was it so unconceivable to believe that countries could still go to war with each other not because the powers-that-be decided it, but because of our own national interests… or because we just did not have anything better to do on a Tuesday?
We already knew the reasons for the war, I thought as I drank more water, wishing it was alcohol, after I had finished with the grapes. El Presidente had gone on TV, radio, print media and social media (he loved to tweet) to make his predictably nationalistic speeches about us fighting the good fight. “Los rotos no son de confiar,” he had boldly proclaimed during a speech in one of our big southern cities. I guess he picked the place so the city’s volcano (an active one) would appear in the shots, making him appear even more defiant. “Si no atacamos, sera como en la guerra del siglo 19,” He also said, which was true. We had been attacked first in the 19th century and we were ever-weary of them attacking us first again.
But it quickly became clear that we had started this war for resources: lithium and copper. Bolivia, our other neighbors, were known as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium,” but the “rotos” had recently located some big veins of lithium, which, combined with their already vast copper industry (the biggest one in the world), would make it a regional economic powerhouse.
And we could not let that happen.
Lucky for us the enemy was in disarray, university students and some indigenous groups were protesting again. Hence, the government had been more focused on internal security rather than checking on what neighboring militaries were up to. I know, gulping more water (que sed!), sneak attacks are not particularly brave things to do, but we were going for victory here, not heroism.
Suddenly my earpiece came to life. “We got company señor, a column of five-six humvees are approaching. They look gringo made, there are a couple of trucks behind,” said my second in command. This was obviously the enemy we were expecting as my army did not have any humvees in our arsenal.
For the fifth time in 25 minutes I considered taking quick gulp of the pisco for my nerves but decided against it, once again. I turned around to face Humberto and the paramilitaries. I felt bad that I have yet to learn their names – not that it mattered, everyone looks the same with a black ski mask on anyways.
Out of habit, I checked that my Herstal rifle was still hanging from my shoulder and, also out of habit and because I did not want to make an ugly corpse, I checked myself on a broken mirror that I found on the ground. Sadly, I still had greasy bed hair. I unceremoniously dropped the mirror, making it break a couple of more times, and nodded at my soldiers, “vamos, the barbarians are at the gates.”
Humberto smiled and stood up, carrying his trusty grenade launcher. He and the others grabbed the machine gun and some of the rifles that littered the room. I cursed at myself, “I should have spread this around to everyone else last night.” I helped by grabbing a couple of Makarov pistols and some ammo for the machine gun.
“Russian pistols, Chinese grenade launchers, German tanks, American jeeps… I’m fairly sure our uniforms are from India…there is not one ‘made in your homeland’ product here is there?” Humberto said to no one in particular as he briskly walked to the kitchen door. No one shot him so I figured that, indeed, there was no enemy sniper out there.
The two other Quechua-speaking paramilitaries followed him, not saying a word. I stood by the door for a moment, trying to see anything as the day dawned. I saw Vanessa and Marta leave the house rapidly making their way across the street. There was a 4 story-building not far which I guess would be her new location to greet our incoming guests.
I was in the process of multitasking again, walking and sneezing (guess sleeping shirtless was not such a good idea in spite of the heat), when a small ghost tackled me to the ground.
Carajo, I guess there was a sniper out there after all.
The year is 2021.
This is the story of the second War of the Pacific.
This is not a story about heroes and villains, but a story about an unknown war fought by unknown soldiers.
The author would like to thank M.M. and S.D. for their invaluable editorial suggestions.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This story is a complete work of fiction. In no way does it represent the points of view of any of the organizations that this author is affiliated with.

Quoted in: Taiwan losing ground to Beijing in the Caribbean

"Taiwan losing ground to Beijing in the Caribbean"
By Natalia Bonilla
EFE (Spanish News Agency)
December 10, 2014
Originally published:
Taiwan is losing ground in the Caribbean, one of its traditional strongholds, as global economic powerhouse China expands its presence in the region, experts told Efe on Wednesday.
"Globalization has changed the rules because the financial capabilities of each country are like night and day," University of Puerto Rico economist Paul Latortue said in an interview.
The interest of China and Taiwan in the Caribbean region goes back to the decolonization of the islands in the 1970s, as Beijing and Taipei vied for diplomatic recognition from the newly independent countries.
The Chinese government will not maintain diplomatic ties with countries that recognize Taiwan, which Beijing officially regards as a rebel province of China.
Peruvian researcher Alejandro Sanchez told Efe that Taiwan identifies with the Caribbean islands, whereas China sees the region almost exclusively in economic terms.
Latortue said China's construction of large ports in the Bahamas and Jamaica is a sign that Beijing wants to expand trade in the region and with the U.S. East Coast.
"China thinks more about economic development rather than to dominate politically and territorially," he said, noting that Taiwan is primarily moved by a concern to maintain diplomatic recognition.
Sanchez, a specialist in international relations for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, said China aims to expand its economy and invests large sums of money to achieve that goal.
As explained by Sanchez, Caribbean nations' stance on the China vs. Taiwan diplomatic dispute typically fluctuates with how much money they get from Beijing and Taipei to finance projects.
A clear example is a loan Taiwan gave to Grenada to finance infrastructure, according to a report published in 2012 by Sanchez. In 2005, the Caribbean island, saying that it could not repay Taiwan, chose to recognize China in exchange for financial assistance to prevent the closure of an airport.
"The Caribbean is easily susceptible to China's cash," Council on Hemispheric Affairs director Larry Birns said in a phone interview.
Birns, an expert on Latin America, spoke of "a huge amount of corruption happening in the Caribbean" and said the tendency to play off one country against another is part of a "game of extortion."
Another case in point is St. Lucia, which established ties with Taiwan in 1984, but recognized China in 1997, only to switch back to Taipei a decade later.
According to a May 2014 report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, China's aid to the Caribbean is "modest" because "the region does not have the potential to directly affect China's primary security interests in Asia."
"Nevertheless," the report added, "Beijing likely views the Caribbean as strategically important by virtue of its proximity to the U.S."
Birns predicts that "Taiwan is going to be eliminated as a key player" in the region mainly because "it is not able to keep up with China in terms of high-cost subsidies as well as financial grants."
Sanchez and Latortue agreed that Caribbean countries will prefer to recognize China diplomatically, turning away from Taiwan.
"These leaders know how to be pragmatic and they know they can win more with China than with Taiwan," Sanchez said.
Latin America and the Caribbean accounted for 12 of the 22 nations that maintained diplomatic relations with Taipei in 2013, according to Taiwan's foreign ministry. EFE

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Interview: Iran-Latin America Relations

Show: "Florida Caribe"
96.5 WSLR (Florida)

Topic: Iran-Latin America Relations
Aired: Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Available at:

Over the last decade, the Islamic Republic of Iran vigorously increased ties with governments in the Americas. Now, after the departure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the death of Hugo Chavez, many are wondering if a new era has commenced in Iran-Latin America relations. The new president, Hassan Rouhani -- a self-described reformer and political moderate, has voiced his interest in strengthening ties with Latin American nations, while also improving Iran’s economy and international reputation first.

On the next Florida Caribe show, we speak to Alejandro “Alex” Sanchez Nieto, a senior research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) about the complicated and evolving relationship between Latin America and Iran.

VOXXI: Improving U.S.-Cuba relations: Bad for the Dominican Republic’s tourism industry?

"Improving U.S.-Cuba Relations: Bad for the Dominican Republic's Tourism Industry"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
December 19, 2014
Originally published:

The world continues to analyze and ponder the future of U.S.-Cuba relations following President Obama’s landmark decision to seek the normalization of relations with the Caribbean state. However, there is another factor to keep in mind: how will improved U.S.-Cuba relations and the now realistic possibility that the embargo will be lifted in the near future affect the Caribbean and, in particular, the Dominican Republic?
By focusing on the present and futures status of Caribbean tourism, one could argue that a Washington-Havana rapprochement may not be beneficial for everyone.

Bad for tourism?

The State Department has published a fact sheet of the key points of President Obama’s December 17 speech. One section discusses an expansion of travel to the island, stating that U.S. travelers will now be able to go to Cuba for family visits; journalistic activities; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions; and exhibitions, among others.
To phrase this another way, there are now more options that U.S. citizens can use to travel to Cuba. Simply travelling to the island for tourist purposes is still an issue, but we can expect to see more U.S. colleges open study-abroad programs in the island (for the record, several universities already have them, including American University).
The issue here is that Americans will now want to take their dollars to spend in exotic Cuba, instead of visiting other Caribbean states. After President Obama gave his speech, the news website posted a short story which argued that the changes between Washington and Havana “will likely affect Dominican Republic in sensitive economic areas such as tourism, as local industry leaders have for years cautioned that a Washington-Havana thaw would surely siphon off the number of visitors to the Caribbean’s biggest economy.”
The aforementioned article does not mention which “local industry leaders” have warned about this possibility, but this issue does deserve greater discussion.

Facts and the future

The Dominican Republic and Cuba were the two major beneficiaries of tourism in the Caribbean throughout most of 2014. According to a December report by the Caribbean Tourism Organization, some 4.2 million tourists traveled to the Dominican Republic between January and October, while Cuba received 2.2 million between January and September. Jamaica comes at a slightly distant third place with 1.7 million.
These numbers make Cuba and the DR adversaries, as they are the two major destinations for tourists (i.e. Americans, Canadians or Europeans). Nevertheless, a 2005 study on Caribbean tourism muses that when the status quo changes between the U.S. and Cuba it is feasible to foresee a dramatic change in the U.S. market which “will change the rules of the game of Caribbean tourism.”
Given President Obama’s recent speech, it does seem like the rules of the game are about to change. The Dominican Republic’s newspaper Diario Libreexplains how companies like the cruise line Carnival Corp., the discount airline JetBlue and even Orbitz are now ready for the embargo to be fully lifted in order to begin offering deals for American tourists to travel to Cuba. What this means regarding revenue loss for the Dominican Republic remains to be seen.
It is worth highlighting that it is not just the possibility of Cuba opening for business that may threaten tourism to the DR in the near future. Other Caribbean states are also receiving more visitors; case in point is Haiti, which received over 362 thousand tourists in the first nine months of 2014 – this is a 21% increase from the same period in 2013. Likewise, Venezuela is turning to its Caribbean beaches in order to jumpstart its flagging economy. Hence, while Cuba is the DR’s major tourism adversary, we should not forget other nations that are also promoting tourism to enrich their coffers.
As a final point, it is important to remember that if American tourists choose to visit Cuba instead of the DR (whenever the embargo is lifted) this will not be solely because of the chance to visit an exotic location like Cuba, which has been closed to Americans for decades – although this is an obvious reason. If tourism to the DR were to decrease, it would be also because of internal issues that the DR government has yet to fix, such as citizen insecurity.
As we continue to discuss the future of U.S.-Cuba relations after December 17, it is similarly important to keep in mind what this rapprochement will mean for the Caribbean region. The effect of closer U.S.-Cuba relations on tourism to the Dominican Republic may not have an obvious connection at first sight, but if the embargo is lifted and Americans do begin pouring into Cuba, the coffers of the various Caribbean states that depend on tourism revenue, including the DR, will take a big hit.

VOXXI: US-Cuba relations after President Obama’s speech

"US-Cuba Relations After President Obama's Speech"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
December 17, 2014
Originally published:

Today, Wednesday 17, US-Cuba relations were shaken down to their core due to two recent events.
First there was a prisoner swap between Washington and Havana, which saw the release of U.S. citizen Alan Gross, detained in Cuba, and three Cubans detained in the U.S. Secondly, President Barack Obama gave a speech at noon which charts a new roadmap for US-Cuba relations.
Nevertheless, as is the nature of Washington-Havana relations over the past decades, how much of this is hyperbole and how many objectives ultimately materialize remains to be seen.
Alan Gross spent nearly five years as he was accused by the Cuban government of being a U.S. spy while he was working in Cuba for USAID. Similarly, the three Cubans are part of the “Cuban 5,” an alleged spy network set up by the Cuban government in the U.S. The five were arrested in 1998 and convicted in 2001, two were released years later but three remained in prison.
It’s not the objective of this article to discuss whether either Gross or the Cubans were actually involved in any kind of espionage activities. Unsurprisingly, both Havana and Washington argue that their citizens were wrongfully arrested.
The deal comes as a shock to everyone, as it was generally believed that neither government would release their respective prisoners anywhere in the near future.
Obama’s Speech
Shortly after the announcement of the Gross-Cuban 5 deal was made public, President Obama gave a brief but historical speech in which he outlines his vision for the future of US-Cuba relations.
The key word is that he seeks to “normalize” relations between the two governments.
The State Department has released a fact sheet of the speech’s key points, and we will briefly discuss a few important issues:
1. President Obama plans to participate in the 2015 Summit of the Americas, which will take place in Panama.
Historically, Washington has opposed Cuban participation in this summit. Case in point, the 2012 Summit in Colombia was generally an embarrassment for the host nation as the Colombian leadership had to “uninvite” Cuba in order to accommodate to Washington, which did not want a Cuban delegation present.
Meanwhile, throughout his speech, President Obama did not directly address the participation of the Cuban government in Panama, but rather said that “Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate […] consistent with the region’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”
In other words, Washington could still potentially block a Cuban official delegation from going to Panama.
2. President Obama managed to ease travel and trade restrictions to Cuba in 2011, however, only the U.S. Congress can terminate the embargo.
The fact to keep in mind is that after the recent Midterm elections, both chambers will now be controlled by the Republican Party. With conservatives like Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) among the Republican ranks, it is doubtful that this will happen. President Obama’s speech successfully placed pressure on the U.S. legislative body post-2015 to act on the future of US-Cuba relations.
3. Given the promises made by President Obama, which include that “licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba,” one must now ask, what will be the Cuban government’s next move?
Almost parallel to Obama’s speech, President Raul Castro also took to the airwaves to address his nation. First and foremost he praised the release of the Cuban 5 prisoners and he congratulated President Obama’s decision to agree to the swap.
He also “proposed” to the U.S. to adopt initiatives to improve relations in the spirt of the Charter of the United Nations. Nevertheless, Castro mentioned that in spite of the prison swap and renewed diplomatic ties, “the problem has not been solved.” The Cuban leader was referring to the embargo, which Castro said hurts Cuba’s economy and population.
While President Castro’s speech is similarly important, as it is not often that a Cuban leader praises a U.S. president, it remains to be seen if Havana will carry any new initiatives in the near future to keep the momentum going forward.
Relations between Cuba and the U.S. have been at a standstill for years and it seems that whenever there is a positive development, some kind of crisis occurs – case in point, the 2011 lifting of some restrictions was followed by the 2013 incident in which Cuba shipped weapons to North Korea.
For those who want to see US-Cuba relations improve, hopefully 2015 will be a year of positive breakthroughs between the two neighbors.

Quoted in: Obama láme kubánske ľady

Obama láme kubánske ľady

By: Andrej Matisak
Pravda (Slovakia)
December 18, 2014

Kuba a Spojené štáty včera oznámili výmenu niekoľkých väzňov. Zároveň budú krajiny rokovať o nadviazaní plných diplomatických stykov, čo by sa mohlo udiať už za niekoľko týždňov. Havana je v nemilosti Washingtonu od revolúcii v roku 1959. Ľavicové povstanie zvrhlo diktátora Fulgencia Batistu. Autoritárskeho lídra nahradil komunisti. Ich diktatúru odvtedy viedol Fidel Castro, ktorého od roku 2008 nahradil brat Raúl. Proti Kube už viac ako polstoročie platí americké ekonomické embargo.
"Opustime dedičstvo kolonializmu aj komunizmu,“ vyhlásil v stredu americký prezident Barack Obama. Raúl Castro potvrdil nadviazanie diplomatických vzťahov, ale uviedol aj to, že názorové rozdiely medzi Havanou a Washingtonom pretrvávajú.
Kuba z väzenia prepustila Američana Alana Grossa, ktorého Havana označovala za špióna. USA zároveň poslali domov troch Kubáncov, ktorých v osemdesiatych rokoch odsúdili v Miami za špionáž.
Americký prezident Barack Obama podľa agentúry AP hovoril v utorok 45 minút s Raúlom Castrom. Je to prvý takýto kontakt lídrov USA a Kuby od roku 1961. Tajné rokovania o zmenách vo vzťahoch dvoch ideologických nepriateľov už bežia niekoľko mesiacov. USA však všetko podmieňovali prepustením Grossa.

Zmiernenia embarga

  • americké ekonomické embargo proti Kube platí od roku 1960
  • Biely dom niektoré jeho časti zmierni, úplne zrušiť ho však môže len Kongres
  • Američania budú môcť jednoduchšie cestovať na Kubu
  • budú si môcť priviezť tovar v hodnote 400 dolárov a alkohol a tabakové výrobky do hodnoty 100 dolárov pre vlastnú potrebu
  • po desaťročiach sa tak v Amerike legálne objavia slávne kubánske cigary
"Obama vždy podporoval oteplenie vzťahov, ale politické okolnosti mu to nedovoľovali,“ povedal pre Pravdu Carlos Seiglie, odborník na kubánsku ekonomiku a politiku z Rutgersovej univerzity.
Podľa experta si zase Kuba uvedomuje, že v budúcnosti bude čeliť ešte náročnejšej ekonomickej situácii. "Cena ropy klesá a Venezuela tak zásadným spôsobom znižuje finančnú pomoc pre Kubu. Havana stráca najsilnejšieho spojenca. Preto je ochotná pristúpiť na zmierenie sa s USA,“ uviedol Seiglie.
Nadviazanie diplomatických vzťahov však neznamená koniec ekonomického embarga. Obama zmierni niektoré jeho vplyvy, zrušiť ho však môže len Kongres, kde sa proti tomu určite postaví veľká časť republikánov.
"Mojím záujmom je, aby Kuba urobila kroky k demokracii a slobode. Nič, čo dnes prezident oznámil, k tomu nesmeruje,“ povedal pre televíziu Fox News vplyvný republikánsky senátor Marco Rubio. Pochádza z Floridy, kde žije početná kubánska menšina.

Embargo USA sa ešte nekončí

Alejandro Sanchez z Rady pre hemisférické vzťahy pripomína, že výmena väzňov a kroky vedúce k znormalizovaniu vzťahov medzi Havanou a Washingtonom automaticky nepovedú k ukončeniu amerického embarga. "Verím, že kubánska vláda bude čoraz otvorenejšia,“ povedal tiež pre Pravdu expert na Latinskú Ameriku.
Čo bude teraz hlavnou výzvou pre vzťahy Kuby a USA?
Bude to Summit amerických štátov v Paname v roku 2015. Na zatiaľ poslednom v Kolumbii v roku 2012 Američania trvali na tom, aby sa na ňom Kuba nezúčastnila. Takže Bogota Havanu nepozvala, hoci všetci ostatní z Latinskej Ameriku ju tam chceli mať. Spojené štáty už povedali, že odmietajú účasť Kuby aj v Paname. Zmení sa to teraz? Uvidíme.

Smeruje Amerika aj k zrušeniu viac ako 50-ročného embarga?
Len americký Kongres ho môže úplne zrušiť. Ten však budú od roku 2015 ovládať republikáni. Preto nepredpokladám, že dôjde k dohode na ukončení embarga.

Čo sa dá teraz očakávať od kubánskej vlády v politickej rovine?
Dúfajme, že bude čoraz otvorenejšia. Bol by to dobrý argument pre tých z medzinárodného spoločenstva, čo presadzujú zrušenie embarga. Vláda už dovolila disidentke Yoani Sánchezovej aj iným Kubáncom cestovať bez špeciálneho povolenia. Sánchezová môže tiež publikovať noviny 14ymedia v digitálnej forme. Verím, že tento trend bude pokračovať. Musíme si však počkať aj na to, kto bude Kubu riadiť, keď Raúl Castro skončí.

AU IR Blog:Diplomatic Crossroads: A look at U.S.-Ecuador Relations

"Diplomatic Crossroads: A Look At The U.S.-Ecuador Relations"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
American University - International Relations Online
December 15, 2014
Originally published:

For almost a decade, U.S.-Ecuador relations have either been in a downward spiral or a tense standoff, and new diplomatic initiatives as well as sharing the same currency are factors that may lead to a strain in U.S.-Ecuador relations. This does not mean that the U.S. State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson’s trip to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is not symbolically important. Recent initiatives, including the Deputy Secretary’s visit, show that mending the strained political and economic relationship between the two countries will require continued, diplomatic engagement.
A Plethora of IncidentsIn 2005, President Alfredo Palacio came to power in Ecuador and Rafael Correa was named minister of the economy—he was subsequently elected to the presidency two years later in 2007. This was an important development because it marked a new phase of Quito-Washington relations as the two leaders, particularly Correa, worked toward reducing U.S. influence on the South American nation.

One decision that highlights Correa’s foreign policy vision occurred in 2009 when he chose not to renew an agreement with Washington over the U.S. military facilities in the coastal city of Manta. The decision impacted Washington’s ability to rely on Manta for various drug trafficking and security initiatives in the region.

In 2013, the Ecuadorian government left the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which enabled the United States to provide customs benefits to Ecuador. Quito intended to show its displeasure of the U.S. decision to pressure Ecuador not to give asylum to Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower. While Snowden ultimately stayed in Moscow, the Snowden-ATPDEA incident highlighted the Correa Administration’s willingness to forfeit $23 million to demonstrate its unhappiness with U.S. policy.

Ecuador “will not be pressured or blackmailed by anyone,” Correa said. Policy decisions made in Washington have also contributed to strained relations. 
The Washington Post revealed External link in 2013 that the CIA aided the Colombian military in carrying out air strikes against FARC insurgents, including one in 2008, which took place in Ecuadorian territory without Quito’s permission. Additionally, when Quito declared its interest in harboring Snowden, several Washington policymakers supported revoking the aforementioned ATPDEA to punish Ecuador.

Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its national currency. Given the aforementioned incidents, it is notable that the Correa Administration continues to use the dollar in lieu of its previous currency, the sucre, which was used until 2001.

As recently as this past August, Correa announced that the dollarization of the country’s economy would continue, as the costs of leaving it would be “disastrous,” which demonstrates that Ecuador recognizes its own economic limitations.


It is because of these complex economic and political circumstances that diplomatic initiatives by Deputy Secretary Jacobson are especially noteworthy. 
President Correa himself External link welcomed Jacobson as Washington’s foreign affairs minister for Latin America.
While in Ecuador on November 2–5, 2014, Jacobson discussed topics like education, security, trade, and clean energy. Additionally, she met with local industrialists, journalists, and civic society leaders. Ecuador’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Patiño said that he and Jacobson discussed sensitive extradition cases of Ecuadorians currently in the U.S. that are wanted by Quito. Jacobson signaled a willingness to work toward mutual interests.

Washington recognizes that Correa has firm control of the country—violent 
2010 police protests notwithstanding. He was easily re-elected in 2013 and it is generally believed that the constitution will be modified so that he can run again in 2017. If this occurs, his popularity may help him win the next election. The likelihood that Correa will continue to remain in power demonstrates the need for ongoing diplomatic engagement between his administration and the United States.
Recent incidents between the U.S. and Ecuador would indicate the two countries’ relationship is tenuous and declining. However, despite the political and economic circumstances surrounding severed trade agreements, unsanctioned U.S. air strikes, and Ecuador’s continued use of the U.S. dollar as its currency, neither country has gone so far as to disengage diplomatically. For Deputy Secretary Jacobson and for the Correa Administration, both will need to employ thoughtful leadership in order to mend this important relationship.