Blog Post Three: March 2-March 18, 2016

Cuba and the US:

Barack Obama became the first US president to visit Cuba in 88 years, the first one to visit the socialist government which has been in power for 56 years. This is remarkable given the acrimonious history between the two countries going back to the triumph of Fidel Castro over US-supported Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

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Foto: Anthony Behar-Pool/Getty Images

Cuba had been the playground for the rich and famous, the mafia and Hollywood stars, a place where there were no sins and lots of oppression. Fidel Castro’s assembled popular movement and staged a guerrilla war in which, against incredible odds, he ousted Batista’s execrable regime.

Castro visited the US in 1959 four months after his successful revolution but US president Eisenhower refused to see him, and after Cuba nationalized US assets with no pledges of compensation and declared itself a socialist state, the US imposed an economic embargo. This led Cuba into a tight relationship with the Soviet Union and was therefore seen by Washington as the enemy within the context of the Cold War. The Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis symbolized the explosiveness of this hostile relationship. And virulently anti-Castro Cuban exiles, becoming a strong political force in the US, thwarted attempts to normalize the relationship between the two countries long after Communism fell.

Obama was determined to break this risible diplomatic impasse and has opened a new chapter in these two countries’ relationship. Interesting will be to see whether, with the Castro brothers gone, the socialist government will survive or if capitalism will sweep its remnants under the carpet as happened in Eastern Europe 27 years ago.

US Election:

Finally, the Republican establishment has woken up to the fact that a man, Donald Trump, spouting ideas that would resonate with Hitler, could become the party’s nominee. Their cowardliness in not confronting him earlier might be too late. He has harnessed deep anger about societal change and those being left out of it. Despite being born a millionaire, he tries to come off as the average Joe and incredibly, gets away with it.

The process of choosing the nominee for the Republican party has been hijacked by people with extreme views, so people with more moderate ideas about society have no chance. For Democrats, this internecine war is welcome news, though many harbor suspicion of Hillary Clinton, because of her close ties to Wall Street and her sometime skirting of the truth.

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The world should be pulling for Hillary since Trump would be a global disaster. If Trump wins the nomination, responsible Republicans should vote for Clinton and copy the left wing parties in France who advised their supporters in 2002, when declared fascist Jean-Marie Le Penn faced Jacques Chirac, someone the left abhorred, to nonetheless hold their nose and vote for Chirac. Chirac won with 80% of the votes.

Syria:

Russia announced the withdrawal of its troops just after the enactment of a cease fire almost a month ago. This surprised many governments, but was seen as a positive step to put an end to the war causing unimaginable human suffering and strains on the structures of the European Union. Russia has historical ties to Syria, dating from the 1960s and Bashar’s father Hefez Assad, an ally during the cold war, fraternal religious ties to the Orthodox Christians (10% of Syria), an air force base and a naval base that gives it access to the Mediterranean.

Turkey:

Bombs have gone off in Turkey as the battle between the country’s government and Kurdish separatists has exploded again, this time within the context of the Syrian conflict, the refugee crisis spawned by it, the Islamic civil war and a Turkish government loathed by many of its own people. A deal between the EU and Turkey to deal with the refugee crisis was recently struck, and Turkey received US$6 billion as well as visa-waivers for its citizens to travel to Europe and new negotiations about becoming a member of the EU. Turkey is the bridge between east and west and its instability has much wider implications.

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Blog Post Two: February 24, 2016- March 2, 2016

This year’s Academy Awards ceremony was hailed as Hollywood tackling serious issues. There was first the Oscarssowhite twitter campaign decrying the lack of diversity in Hollywood. For the second year running, there were no blacks in any of the acting categories, something that generated boycotts by prominent African Americans such as film director Spike Lee and Will Smith and his wife. The show’s host, black comedian Chris Rock, made poignant jokes about the ‘whiteness’ syndrome of Hollywood. (Brazil should take note.)

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The film that won, Spotlight, highlighted gross abuse by the Catholic Church. The best director winner, Mexican Alejandro Inarrito , insisted on the ridiculous notion of race itself, which he deemed should be considered as important as the length of someone’s hair. The song was won by Sam Smith, who declared his sexuality and pined for true equality, Lady Gaga sang for the victims of sexual abuse. Was Hollywood getting serious about being a responsible corporate citizen? Probably until the next mega-production bonanza where the main characters will be white males, white girls perhaps have leadership roles but always a peg down from the white males, minorities splashed around for color. Maybe people in Budapest or Calcutta wouldn’t go to see a film with too many black people. It is all about money after all, no matter how concerned you want to look!

Syria: A former US Congresswoman, Jane Harmon described the situation in Syria:

– Four wars going on at the same time. There is the fight against Bashar-al-Assad (supported by Russia), whose brutality rivals his father’s, president before him and supported by the Soviet Union during the cold war, and who is an Alawite, a branch of Shia. They are minority in Syria.
– There is basically a civil war going on within religion, and Syria is the main arena. The Sunni factions (some of whom are fighting against each other: ISIS is Sunni) are being supported by their co-religionists in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, while Assad’s main benefactors are Iran and Iraq, the two largest Shiite countries.
– There is now basically a war between the Turks and the Kurds, an ethnic group that spreads across four countries with significant minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Kurds are considered mountain Turks by the Turkish government who historically have oppressed them and tried to squelch their culture. No one wants them to have independence except them.

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The proxy war between the US and Russia: During the cold war this was common, proxy meaning using someone else, the indirect confrontation between the two superpowers, who gave weapons to opposing sides in global conflicts. This happened all over Africa, Asian and Latin America for forty years, since they couldn’t confront each other for fear of nuclear oblivion (MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction). Russia, sidelined for 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, wants to be a player and with its 10,000 nuclear warheads, it can be. The US is not liking this. Another cold war near?

The fight against ISIS. Everybody says they are fighting ISIS, but there are so many internal conflicts and factions that US and Russian bombing, and arming of the respective sides is just throwing petrol on the fire. Perhaps ISIS cannot be destroyed completely and we will be living with this threat that can strike so randomly. An element of fear creeps into Europeans and North American people’s daily lives. When people are afraid, they do dangerous things like vote for fascists in Europe or someone like Donald Trump in the US. The only ones fighting ISIS on the ground are the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia group who want more autonomy for themselves. How complicated is that?

Blog Post One: February 11, 2016- February 23, 2016

The world these weeks has, as always, been filled with genuine news, i.e. things that have just happened at that moment, and news relating to existing situations and conflicts where ongoing developments warrant concern. This will be a bi-weekly series considering what has occurred throughout the world over the previous seven days.

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Foto: Agência Reuters

Refugees: Depressingly, Syria is a latter case, where the misery of human suffering the war generates assaults our senses, and the desperation of the people’s flight haunts our television sets. Particularly wrenching are the images of children, whose comprehension of what is going on is limited. The fact that the UN has been able to do nothing, not even human aid corridors within Syria where people are starving at this very minute, towards a political solution for the conflict is an indictment of the international cynicism of the major powers, and with all the weapons they sell, their apparent connivance as well. Cease fire is agreed on for next Saturday. We shall see.

NATO has now sent forces to apparently combat human trafficking but which will almost certainly involve turning back boats landing in Turkey and Greece to the conflict zones from where they came (Syria and Libya principally, but also Eritrea). Again, why aren’t the international power brokers scrambling to end this conflict? An outright civil war within Islam between Shiites and Sunnis, involving direct armed conflict between Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shiite), is not untenable but must be stopped at all costs.

Natural Disasters: An earthquake in Taiwan felled a building that was shown to be held together by empty cans of paint. Someone made money off of that, human greed and duplicity are pretty omniscient all over the place. It’s always interesting and depressing to see the difference in casualty numbers when earthquakes occur in rich or poor countries. It can be the difference between 12 (Japan, 2008) and 200,000 (Haiti, 2010). A cyclone in Fiji on February 20 caused extensive damage. These tropical storms in the Pacific are called Cyclones or Typhoons whereas in the western hemisphere they’re called hurricanes. But they are the same thing.

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Brazil is all over the global media for the wrong reasons perhaps, with the outbreak and the Zika virus, and its apparent uncontrollability. Kenya is saying it might not send its athletes, what a blow to long distance running races that would be. With a vaccine three years away coupled squalid living conditions full of stagnant water pools, perfect breeding grounds for the dreaded Aedes aegypti mosquito, things don’t look great. In El Salvador, they have found a small fish that can live in water tanks that eats the larva and has been effective where tried. The Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo is extremely close to a dengue vaccine, and the projection for a Zika vaccine has almost halved from 3 years to 18 months according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention located in Maryland.

The rhetoric is heating up once again between North and South Korea. The former performed a test of a nuclear rocket and the latter had pulled out of the Kaesong industrial center located on the border where North and South Koreans worked together. This relationship has been unstable and toxic for almost sixty three years and any diminution of this hostility appears unlikely.

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Two weeks ago, Donald Trump and Bernie Saunders won the New Hampshire Primary throwing open the race entirely. It is not unfeasible that these two might become the nominees of the two major parties, even though their ideology (Trump’s unclear, Saunders socialist/democratic) is far from the conventional thinking of the Republican and Democratic establishment. People are mad and are going for the outsider. Last week, Hillary Clinton won in Nevada, a state she really had to win. Donald Trump easily won South Carolina. It’s going to be hard to stop him. Bernie Saunders is fading.

Car Wash Operation (Lava Jato): Yesterday was the 23rd round of arrests, this time the main trophy for the Federal Police was Joao Santana, Dilma and Lula’s campaign strategist who has also organized numerous other successful presidential campaigns throughout Latin America. The PF allege that a private company, Odebrecht, paid for his services in the last campaign. Overseas bank accounts show a transfer of 7.5million dollars. This guy Santana’s patrimony went from R$1.5million in early 2000s to R$73 today. A remarkable increase.

Brexit – Great Britain will hold a referendum to decide on whether the country will remain within the European Union or opt out of it. Britain’s prime-minister David Cameron negotiated with Brussels to gain more independence from the organization before putting the plebiscite before his people vote. It seems at this point that the majority will vote to stay in, but it is certainly not guaranteed. Britain is an island and so always has been somewhat removed from the continent. Many British people feel the imposition of rules from outside entity as infringing on their sovereignty. They stayed outside the Eurozone, keeping their own currency, but still resist too much interference from Brussels.