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.

John Paul Rathbone

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.

John Paul Rathbone

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.