Latin America

Consequences of the US-Cuba rapprochement
Following president Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States will begin normalising relations with Cuba, John Paul Rathbone, Latin America editor, joins Gideon Rachman to examine how quickly the island state’s Soviet-style economy is likely to change and the implications for the wider region.

US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy signs the order of naval blockade of Cuba, on October 24, 1962 in White House. Getty.

It was on February 7 1962 that John F Kennedy signed the US policy now known as the Cuban embargo into law. The day before, the US president had ordered an aide to buy him 1,000 Petit Upmanns cigars. It was only after Kennedy got word that his request had been carried out that he authorised the new regulations that banned Cuban imports and would have made the purchase illegal.

Today, 52 years later, Barack Obama has partially reversed that law. The changes he has made do not amount to a full repeal of the embargo – that requires an act of Congress. Nonetheless, the changes are profound. They recognise that US policy towards the island has failed to achieve its objective of change – Mr Obama is, after all, the 11th US president to face a socialist Cuba. They recognise that the embargo has often poisoned US diplomacy in the broader region. And the changes recognise that, for over half a century, the US embargo has been emblematic of Washington’s bully-boy approach to the socialist island, which has won Cuba international sympathy that the dictatorship of the Castro brothers would otherwise not have enjoyed. Read more

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  • A sea patrol to help cope with a surge in the number of migrants heading for Italy via the southern Mediterranean was launched this month, but at least 100 miles of dangerous water between Lampedusa and Libya will be unpatrolled
  • The apparent murder of 43 students has turned Mexico into a tinderbox of volatile and increasingly violent protests, as scandal fuels a sense of things spinning out of control for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration
  • Ahead of this weekend’s G20 summit, policymakers are competing to describe the global economy in the most apocalyptic terms. Instead they should address big issues like exchange rate management and rising protectionism
  • Mikhail Gorbachev is wrong about a new cold war – unlike Communism, Vladimir Putin’s Russia does not have an alternative ideology to sell. But cold war lessons of patience and resolve should be relearnt, for they add up to deterrence
  • In Venezuela, a crackdown on the black market in regulated goods – which include eggs, powdered milk, detergent and baby diapers – risks alienating some of the poor Venezuelans who were long loyal to President Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez (Washington Post)

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  • After a bitter election campaign in which she eschewed market economics and painted her main opponent’s party as bloodsucking bankers, Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff is now adopting the more orthodox economic policies of her defeated rival
  • The “disappearance” and presumed murder of 43 students in Mexico, along with claims of impropriety surrounding president Enrique Peña Nieto, has raised doubts over his ability to deliver much-needed reform
  • Asia cannot replace the west as a source of financing for Russia’s sanctions-hit economy, according to a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, who downplayed Moscow’s attempt to pivot east as Russian companies seek to refinance $40bn in debts maturing this year
  • Turkey must continue the peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party to prevent sectarian and ethnic bloodshed from spilling over from neighbouring Syria
  • A landmark climate change deal will cut China’s emissions for more than a decade and it is going to be tough for the US to meet its requirements. But it is a good start (Foreign Policy)

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Mexican president under fire
Until recently Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was getting a great press, with the Mexican economy going well and important reforms pushed through, but now he seems to be in serious political trouble. Gideon Rachman is joined by John-Paul Rathbone and Jude Webber to discuss what has gone wrong.

After changing the constitution so he could run again, Evo Morales has just won another term as president of Bolivia – his third – in a landslide vote. The former union leader won majority control of the Congress and the Senate. He also dominates the judiciary. He now has consolidated control of the country. Any successes or failures over the next five years will therefore be Morales’ alone. The biggest question is if this will be it – or, in five years time, if he will seek a fourth term. Read more

In the land where everything is possible – except often finding toilet paper or medicines – the politically novice daughter of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s late socialist leader, was appointed recently as deputy ambassador to the UN.

Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled president (centre), made his UN debut on Wednesday, and some said the presence of María Gabriela Chávez (right) in New York may help Caracas’s efforts to lobby for a non-permanent seat in the Security Council. Others noted the pressing need to shift Ms Chávez out of the official residence of La Casona, where she has continued to live since her father’s death more than a year ago. Read more

In July 1990, a controversial late penalty by Andreas Brehme won the World Cup for Germany and snatched the title from Argentina. As a boy growing up in Buenos Aires, I can still remember vividly Diego Maradona’s inconsolable tears as the selección limped off the pitch of Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.

Those were my tears too. But 24 years later, there is a chance finally to erase that childhood trauma. On Sunday, Argentina faces Germany in a World Cup final once again.

As a fan of la albiceleste I can’t really complain. During my lifetime Argentina have won two World Cups, including beating West Germany in the 1986 final, and produced some of the finest players in recent years, from Maradona to today’s hero, Lionel Messi.

I was a year old, and living relatively close to the River Plate stadium, when Argentina beat Holland in the 1978 World Cup final. When they did it again eight years later in Mexico, I was old enough to realise what it meant and to feel the country’s intoxicated joy as Maradona raised the trophy above his head in the sunny Estadio Azteca. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Two national tragedies struck Brazil late last week. In the city of Belo Horizonte, an overpass collapsed, killing two people. The following day, Brazil played Colombia in the quarter final of the World Cup. Brazil won the match – but Neymar, the team’s star and national posterboy, suffered a back injury that will keep him out of the rest of the tournament.

It was a fateful moment in Colombia’s long and troubled history of drug-fueled violence. On July 2 1994 Andrés Escobar, captain of the national football team, was shot six times in the chest in the parking lot of a bar in Medellín.

The killing was supposedly retribution for Escobar scoring an own goal days earlier, which hastened the team’s departure from the World Cup in the US. As a historian friend says, there was always a lame excuse to kill someone in Colombia in those days. Read more

Brazilian players listen to their national anthem before a Group A football match between Brazil and Mexico in the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza during the 2014 FIFA World Cup

(Photograph: AFP)

By Thalita Carrico

One week after the start of the World Cup, there seems little doubt

about where Brazilians’ loyalty lies. On days when the Seleção – the national team – is playing, São Paulo comes alive with people wearing their yellow and green jerseys and the streets are filled with the noise of horns used by soccer supporters.

After Brazilians staged massive protests last year during the
Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal event for the World Cup, the country put on hold any excitement over the 2014 tournament. As demonstrations this year against government spending on the World Cup allegedly at the expense of social services became more violent, people began to question whether Brazil was still the country of soccer. Read more

Uruguay's Luis Suarez celebrates scoring his team's second goal against England during their 2014 World Cup Group D soccer match at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo June 19, 2014

Credit: Reuters

By Simon Kuper in São Paulo

England deserve to go home early. A poor witless team was undone by Luis Suarez, who only a month ago was in hospital having a cartilage operation. After England’s defeat to Italy in Manaus on Saturday, they now have no points from two games. Even a thumping win against little Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday – of which this team do not look capable – would probably not be enough to save them. Read more

Such is the power of incumbency, that over the past decade no Latin American president who has run for re-election has lost. Juan Manuel Santos, re-elected Colombia’s president on Sunday, has just re-confirmed that trend, although it was close. (An aside:Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, who are also aiming for re-election this year, will be relieved.)

The clinchers for Santos, who won with 51 per cent of the vote in a presidential run-off against Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who took 45 per cent, were threefold. All of them have implications for Santos’ next term. Read more

 

Colombian soccer team fans sleep on Copacabana beach while waiting for the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup (Getty)

Colombians will elect a president on Sunday in an election widely seen as a plebiscite on talks with Farc rebels that could end a five-decades guerrilla insurgency.

But polls are so tight that they have failed to predict a clear winner between centrist President Juan Manuel Santos and conservative candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who won the first round. Some believe it will take something momentous to produce a runaway winner. Like football.

Colombians are among the world’s biggest football fans, and they will either be cheering or sobbing as they head to vote after the country’s first World Cup match the day before against Greece, its first Cup match in 16 years. Read more

Brazil 3 (Neymar Jr 29, 71 penalty; Oscar 90)

Croatia 1 (Marcelo own goal 11)

By Simon Kuper in Sâo Paulo

This was the joyous start the World Cup needed. After all the Brazilian anger about wasteful spending, and Fifa’s anger at Brazil’s tardy preparations, this was a surprisingly attacking, open, cheering game.

It was also played in perfect conditions: the stadium looked ready, the weather handily cooled off just before kickoff, and Brazil’s players and crowd got us into the mood by continuing to belt out the national anthem for half a minute after the music had stopped. Read more

At a recent show at the British Library in London showcasing pre-Columbian gold, a Colombian diplomat noted that his countrymen were “very concerned about their image and public relations.”

Until a decade ago, Colombia was mostly associated with guerrillas and drug kingpins such as Pablo Escobar. All of that has changed.

But the country still suffers from a public relations failure at the local level. As Colombia’s image abroad continues to improve, thanks in large part to the main players in the current election campaign, the view Colombians have of their own nation is growing ever more negative, partly because of those same men. Read more

In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip.

In this dispatch, Andres Schipani, the FT’s Andes correspondent, gives his account of a visit this month to Venezuela, where protests over the past month against the socialist regime of president Nicolás Maduro have left at least 33 people dead. Read more

The turmoil in Venezuela
While the crisis in Ukraine has grabbed the headlines, Venezuela, once the toast of the radical left around the world, has also been in the grip of a violent political crisis. In the last three weeks, protests have left at least 20 dead. Gideon Rachman is joined by Latin American editor John Paul Rathbone, and correspondent Andres Schipani to discuss the background to the situation, and where the country goes from here.

“We could turn Venezuela into Ukraine!” a student protester shouted in Caracas this weekend. It is striking how similar the situations are in the two countries, despite the significant differences.

There have been many tragic deaths in both countries – although about 100 people have died in Ukraine, versus “only” around ten in Venezuela. This difference is one reason why the troubles in Venezuela has not yet captured the same attention as the protests in Ukraine.

Just because Venezuela lacks Ukraine’s immediate geo-political heft – there are no borders in question in Venezuela; Europe’s energy security is not under threat; nor is the reach of Russia’s power or Vladimir Putin’s reputation – does not mean it lacks wider significance.

Caracas provides important economic assistance to Havana, without which Cuba’s economy would sink. Communist Cuba therefore has a vested interest in what happens in Venezuela, just as Russia does in Ukraine – a situation ripe for Cold War style comparisons. Read more