According to Mexico's national statistics institute, just 1.8 percent of the homicides registered in 2012 have resulted in a sentence, a grim reminder of the challenges that Mexico faces in speeding up its judicial process.
As Animal Politico reports, sentences have been issued in just 523 of the 27,500 homicides registered in Mexico last year, according to statistic agency INEGI.
The numbers show that in two states, Hidalgo and Tlaxcala, no homicide cases from last year resulted in sentences.
Things aren't much better in some of Mexico's most crime-racked regions, including San Luis Potosi (where 99.6 percent of homicide cases have not been resolved), Sinaloa (99.2 percent), Chihuahua (98.3 percent), Tamaulipas (97.5 percent), and Michoacan (96.8 percent).
The state with the highest rate of sentencing is the Federal District, although 81.4 percent of cases here remain unsolved.
As noted by Animal Politico, local governments have misleadingly registered some murder cases as "processed" – meaning that a suspect was presented before a judge – even though they ultimately did not result in a sentence. In Hidalgo, for example, 106 people were reported as having been "processed," although none of the cases saw convictions.
InSight Crime Analysis
The challenges facing Mexico's judiciary are well noted. It is not just a matter of stalled homicide cases – last year, the Attorney General's Office reported that only 30 percent of those detained on drug trafficking charges between 2007 and 2011 were convicted. The United Nations has said that 90 percent of those arrested during the first five years of President Felipe Calderon's administration eventually went free.
Improving the efficiency of the judiciary remains one of the major challenges facing President Enrique Peña Nieto, as it was under Calderon, who oversaw a series of dramatic reforms in 2008. One issue is the number of public servants who still need to trained in Mexico's new accusatorial trial system. The US is helping with this, but the process is moving slowly.
The image of old, rickety Mexican buses chugging two-lane roads in Hollywood films might have rung true in another era. But in modern Mexico, the bus system is an efficient, comfortable and inexpensive way of getting around the country.
I first traveled long distance on Mexican buses more than 10 years ago, when my husband and I flew from Phoenix to Mexico City and, after spending some time in the capital, hopped on a bus to Querétaro and Guanajuato in the central region. On each leg of our trip, we encountered a luxurious bus with comfortable reclining seats, air conditioning, several screens to watch movies and ample overhead space. We gave kudos to our travel agent.
The country's bus system is even better now, though safety concerns linked to organized crime are now part of the traveling equation. But Mexico is a big country, something the State Department now acknowledges in travel warnings that point to specific trouble spots.
With that in mind, in early July I boarded a bus with my 12-year-old son bound for the Guanajuato state capital, which I fell in love with all those years ago. We were the only members of our family with the time and inclination to go on a long bus ride from the border town of Nogales, Sonora to colonial Mexico. We usually travel south of the border by car or plane, so this would be an adventure.
My son, who had been exposed to the more basic US bus travel at least once before, was impressed to discover Wi-Fi and a screen right in front of him when we got on a bus headed for Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora state. Much to his delight the familiar "Iron Man 2" was the featured movie.
As Robert Downey Jr., rambled on in Spanish, my thoughts wandered to the story about the Arizona woman who spent several days in jail after being accused of smuggling marijuana under the seat of a Sonora bus headed for the border. Although we were going in the opposite direction, I instinctively checked under our seats. All clear.
Three hours of riding and a couple hours' waiting at the central de autobuses in Hermosillo later, we transferred to another bus that would take us to Guadalajara, Jalisco. This was the longest part of the trip, about 850 miles.
I started to wonder if traveling through Sinaloa at night would be a good idea. The state is, after all, home to Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán's powerful drug-trafficking organization. Even before leaving Arizona I had mulled over the idea of staying overnight in Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city. I decided against it. After all, incidents involving Mexican buses in recent years had happened in the northeastern region, not on the west coast.
My son and I slept through most of Sinaloa as the bus rolled through toll roads, considered safer both for buses and cars. Sinaloa's cornfields gave way to Nayarit's majestic mountains and about 22 hours later, the vibrant sights and sounds of Guadalajara came into view. Buses leave so frequently in this major hub that we quickly found a connection to Guanajuato, about 180 miles away.
This, according to my son, was the "best bus ever." Here, passengers not only got lunch but also had access to the Internet and individual screens where each could watch various movies or listen to music in English or Spanish. Oh, and you could play video games, which explained my son's pleasant mood after so many hours on the road - and a few more at bus terminals.
Some 1,200 miles and 30 hours after leaving Nogales, we arrived safely in Guanajuato and handed a bus attendant the ticket we'd been issued for our luggage.Though I'd heard the infrastructure is dismal in some parts of Mexico, the roads we traveled were robust. Bus drivers were courteous and professional.
In all, the fare for both of us totaled about $220, with my son getting the usual 50 percent discount for minors. Our Guanajuato host picked us up, but bus terminals throughout the country are centrally located and finding a cab nearby is easy.
Two sites to explore long-distance bus travel in Mexico:
Last weekend Caracas saw opposing marches by university students and faculty. One march [was] in support of the indefinite strike called by faculty from the “autonomous" universities. The other [was] in support of the government’s efforts to expand access to higher education.
After several rounds of meetings with pro-government unions of professors and university workers, Minister of Universities, on June 14 Pedro Calzadilla announced that an agreement had been reached that will include both workers and professors in a single common contract and include average pay raises of 130 percent for all public universities personnel. However, faculty of the biggest independent professors union Federación de Asociaciones de Profesores de Venezuela (FAPUV) have declared that the indefinite strike which began on May 30 will continue. In this post we explain why the crisis has not abated even after the announcement of seemingly significant salary raises.
The problem lies in the nature of the rapid expansion of the university system in the past 14 years and in the government’s strategy of creating parallel institutions.
Free higher education was guaranteed under the 1961 Constitution. And indeed in the ensuing decades the government expanded existing institutions (Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), Universidad de los Andes (ULA), Universidad de Zulia (LUZ)), and created new public universities (Universidad del Oriente (UDO), Universidad Simón Bolívar (USB)).
But the deterioration of the primary and secondary education system at the same time led to a situation in which admission to these public universities became highly regressive. Low quality public schooling meant that a high percentage of those who benefited from free higher education were middle class and wealthy students from private high schools. Public universities reached high academic and research standards during the 1970’s and 80’s relative to the region, but often seemed distant from the situation and needs of the rest of the country.
Furthermore, demand for university education expanded much faster than the system, meaning many young people who wanted to, could not attend.
The 1999 Constitution reaffirmed the right of free higher education for all. The Chávez government made serious attempts to comply with this obligation and to expand what it regarded as an elitist system. But since existing public universities have far reaching administrative and academic autonomy, and were reticent to rapid expansion plans, they moved at their own pace.
This same autonomy has meant that the autonomous universities are the one part of the public sector that the Chávez government was not able to gain control over. Indeed Venezuela’s autonomous universities are still the most important source of informed criticism of the government.
With its plans impeded by the autonomy of existing universities, the government has progressively developed a parallel system of higher education that it could more closely control, both economically and ideologically.
The government created several new national universities (such as the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela UBV, and the Universidad de Nacional Experimental de las Fuerzas Armadas UNEFA), or joined existing institutions into new national universities (such as the Universidad Nacional Experimental de las Artes UNEARTE, a fusion of existing music and arts schools across the country). A total of 29 new higher learning institutions have been created since 2000. Most of these new institutions incorporate in their statute an “experimental” character, which means they enjoy only limited autonomy: their authorities are not directly elected by the university community but directly appointed by the government.
The Venezuelan government says this expansion has increased the number of university students by 170 percent since 1999 and increased the budget by 800 percent (calculated in official rate dollars. At the parallel rate it would be closer to 200-300 percent). But critics claim that these new universities lack minimum academic standards and are only universidades de carton (cardboard universities).
Of course the increase is not only in the number of university students but also of faculty size (even if in most of the new universities teaching is done by temporary adjuncts on an hourly basis). Because professor’s salaries are equal by law, according to rank across the public university system, this expansion of faculty size means that it is almost impossible to raise faculty and staff salaries without straining the education budget.
A stagnation of salaries has ensued in which a full time Profesor Titular (highest faculty rank), even after a previous rise of 40 percent announced in September 2011, earned an average monthly salary of around Bs. 5,000 (less than $900 at the current official exchange rate. Less than $200 at the current parallel rate). The salary of an Instructor was close to minimum wage.
In February this year faculty began protesting their low wages with a series of one day strikes which eventually led to the indefinite strike ongoing since May (a timetable of the protests can be read here).
The government began a round of negotiations in February, but again relying on its institutions paralleling strategy, announced it would talk to the pro-government union which includes both professors and university workers in a single organization, Fetrauve (Federación de Trabajadores Universitarios de Venezuela).
FAPUV was invited to the negotiations, but refused to attend upon learning that it would be only one of the negotiating actors together with the government backed union and that single negotiations would be conducted with professors, administrative personnel, and workers lumped together.
The government has argued that the strike only affects 15 percent of the universities, but at other times has said that “the conflict has put at risk the continuity of studies of an important sector of students of university education in Venezuela.”
Striking professors have been recurrently accused in state media of denying students their constitutional right to education, of being coopted by the “right,” and of having an “electoral/political” agenda.
The agreement reached by the Ministry and the pro-government unions is unlikely to quell the crisis for three reasons:
First, even if the salary increase announced seems significant in nominal terms (a Titular will now earn 10,645Bs.), the increment will only be progressively paid in parts: a 25 percent increase retroactive from January 2013, a 25 percent increase starting September 2014, and a 25 percent increase to take effect in January 2014. Faculty and workers fear that high inflation will eat up most of their raises by January 2014.
Second, and more importantly, university workers and professors feel that the way the government refused to even acknowledge its legitimately elected unions, and instead negotiated with a parallel pro-government union, will seriously break faculty and workers negotiation power in the future. The agreement on a single proposal was reached by government appointed union leaders and not by elected representatives of workers, administrative employees, and professors.
A third issue source of faculty discontent is that the collective contract includes both professors and university workers. The government claims this makes the agreement different form previous negotiations and, in words of Minister Calzadilla “truly fair:” “For the first time in Venezuela’s history, workers, administrative employees, and professors, reached an agreement and made a single proposal, and this is an accomplishment.” From the faculty perspective a unified agreement threatens their negotiating power vis-à-vis the stronger university administrative and workers personnel unions.
The NBA announced this week that two games during the 2013-2014 season will be played internationally – one in London and another in Mexico City, where the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves are likely to receive a warm welcome.
Basketball is the country’s second most-practiced sport – after much-adored soccer – according to Mexico’s National Professional Basketball League, or LNBP. People play in the thousands of courts that anchor schoolyards, gyms, and public parks.
When indigenous Zapatista communities in Chiapas gather for a celebration, the festivities often open on a basketball court. Women play fierce games, sometimes in skirts, frequently preferring bare feet to sandals.
Tournaments for both men and women take over public parks in Mexico City on Sunday mornings. And Mexico’s northern states, where people are known for their height, have produced three NBA players.
NBA is coming
Luis Balmore ignores an impending rainstorm as he dribbles and shoots hoops in a Mexico City park. He plays in a local league and says he practices every day – and he’s excited to hear the NBA is coming.
Ever since Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls, he’s been a San Antonio Spurs fan.
“There are a lot of Mexicans over there,” he says. “Plus, it’s an international team with players from France and Argentina.”
The one Mexican currently in the NBA, Gustavo Ayon, plays for the Orlando Magic. But there were two others before him, Horacio Llamas who played for the Phoenix Suns during the 1990s and Eduardo Najera who played for the Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets, among other teams, during the 2000s. All three men top 6 feet, 8 inches.
The LNBP was founded in 2000 and, according to its retired president Modesto Robledo, it has become, “in a very short time, one of the three most important [leagues] on the continent,” after the NBA and Argentina’s professional league.
The Dec. 4, match-up will be only the second regular-season NBA game played in Mexico City; the last was in 1997. It will be the league’s 21st game played in Mexico.
The NBA has been working to reach more fans internationally, especially in the Spanish-speaking world. It started a website in Spanish, éne-bé–a, in 2009. The two teams slated to play in Mexico City feature well-known Spanish speakers, including the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili from Argentina and the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio from Spain.
“Given the deep-rooted Mexican heritage of San Antonio and our proximity to the Mexican border," said Rick Pych, the Spurs' president of business operations, in a statement, "Mexico City is an ideal location for us to play our first regular-season game outside of the United States and Canada.”
US lawmakers are considering extending the border fence as part of the added security measures that would accompany plans to provide legal status to more than 11 million immigrants, the majority of them Mexican.
Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade said the legislation would benefit Mexico’s countrymen in the US. But he also warned that the proposed fence extension could impact commerce, and the enormous legal flow of products and people across the border each day.
“Walls aren’t the solution to the migratory phenomenon, and they aren’t congruent with a modern and secure border,” he told media on Tuesday. “They don’t contribute to the development of the competitive region that both countries want to encourage.”
Seventy percent of bilateral commerce happens over the border via trucks, and it’s worth $1 million per minute, Mr. Meade said. More than 1 million people cross the US-Mexico border legally every day.
Mexico has been publicly quiet in recent years on the US debate over immigration reform after former President Vicente Fox's vocal push for US reform appeared to some to be an overreach. He made specific demands, including wanting to see reform by "year end." That was in early September 2001, days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks that would set the country on a new course and see immigration reform fall by the wayside.
During the current US debate, the Mexican government has kept mum – at least publicly – on the legislation, saying the debate is an internal domestic issue. But Meade said that Mexico has sustained a “permanent dialogue” with everyone involved since lawmakers began crafting the bill.
“Our country has let the United States government know that measures that could affect links between [border] communities detract from the principles of shared responsibility and neighborliness that both nations agreed upon.”
On the issue of shared responsibility: Over the past year, Mexico has found itself in the uncomfortable position of deterring increased illegal immigration through its own territory.
Illegal immigration between Mexico and the US fell to net zero last year, meaning that the number of crossers and returnees roughly canceled each other. However, in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, US authorities saw an increase in apprehensions of migrants – the vast majority from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, according to a report by the Washington Office on Latin America. Mexico recently announced that Marines would take over securing its southern border.
As the US debate over the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 gains steam, Meade noted Mexico’s requests are rooted in its desire for stronger economic development. These include the modernization of the infrastructure and administration of border ports of entry and measures that better facilitate the transit of products and people.
During last month’s meeting in Mexico, Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama promoted the idea of a unified economic region saying they could better compete globally, together.
A new study highlights the uncertainty surrounding Haiti’s decision to prioritize tourism as a part of its development agenda.
The assessment, conducted by the Igarapé Institute in Brazil, says that more visitors come to Haiti “to see family and friends,” or volunteer in aid or development projects than for the sort of recreation that draws tourists to upscale Caribbean beach resorts. The study notes that the Haitian government may need to rethink its current hard-sell of Haiti as a leisure destination.
“The government hopes that an influx of foreign currency can help lift the country out of aid-dependency. Yet the prospects for tourism are still highly uncertain,” the study says.
More than 70 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 a day. Since the 2010 earthquake, it’s more common to see missionaries and aid workers here than beach-bound vacationers.
Haiti’s tourism minister Stephanie Villedrouin disagrees with the idea that travel that focuses on volunteering for a charitable cause is more suitable for Haiti than a recreation-focused tourism industry. Though the study doesn’t say the two approaches are mutually exclusive, it does emphasize that instead of focusing on high end hotels and resorts, Haiti should keep its attention on serving the majority working- and middle-class visitors that travel there each year.
Two tourism training institutes opened recently with support from the Haitian government, which is also developing an eco-friendly resort on an island, Île á Vache.
Tourism "will create jobs, directly and indirectly," says Ms. Villedrouin. "Though it will take time," tourism has the potential to change Haiti's prospects.
Jean Lionel Pressoir, who runs Tour Haiti says the country cannot compete with other Caribbean destinations on the bland 3-S (sun, sea, and sand) quotient. However, it can hold its own as an alternative tourism destination because of its unique history and culture.
Jacqualine Labrom runs the tourism company Voyages Lumière and was not interviewed for the Igarapé Institute study, which cites interviews with 2,231 tourists and 390 tourism professionals. Ms. Labrom says via email that her tour company has been around for 15 years, and is “looking after ‘real’ tourists, who are coming in purely to see the country and get to know Haiti.”
Labrom says tourists are drawn to Haiti’s “wonderful beaches and beautiful mountains as well as the most magnificent fort, which is the only fort in the whole of the Caribbean not built by Europeans, but by ex-slaves.” She says her tourists “absolutely love Haiti and have gone back home, either to Europe, or the US, to Japan, or to Australia saying that they were going to encourage all their friends to come.”
But Haiti’s more recent history of political violence and frequent natural disasters decisively ended its 1970s and 1980s image as the celebrated destination where Bill and Hillary Clinton honeymooned. In 2012, just 950,000 visitors entered Haiti on tourist visas, compared to 4.6 million in the neighboring Dominican Republic.
The study highlights the potential that exists for the tourism industry in Haiti – but says it will take time. Crime is a big concern for many visitors, however, the study notes that petty theft of items of low monetary value was far more common than kidnappings, and that tourists interviewed for the study cited having a changed perception of crime from when they arrived to when they left. Furthermore, infrastructure projects are starting to move forward, and some foreign investors have invested in hotel and resort options across Haiti.
The study concludes that instead of focusing on high-end hotels and resorts, Haiti should keep its attention on serving the working- and middle-class visitors that make up the majority of visitors that travel there each year. “Efforts to improve the tourism infrastructure in Haiti should be mindful of the fact that few tourists come to Haiti solely for recreational or leisure purposes - even if wealthy tourists are desirable market segment from a foreign exchange perspective,” the study says.
Editor’s Note: This story has been modified to include more context for or from the study. A previous version misstated which institute published the report.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, thehavananote.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor on the run who leaked information about top secret surveillance activities at the NSA, didn't board the Aeroflot plane headed for Havana this morning.
Mr. Snowden, who flew from Hong Kong to Moscow last weekend, was expected to transit Havana next, en route to either Venezuela or Ecuador (and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa is considered likely to accept him – afterall, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after more than a year now).
Snowden's transit through Havana seemed obvious to many, given the decades-long tensions between the US, which is seeking Snowden's return and has charged him with espionage. And Havana has accepted US fugitives since the 1960's – the most notorious of whom has recently been added to the FBI's most wanted list, Joanne Chesimard, a former Black Panther member who killed a New Jersey State Trooper. Many of these fugitives remain on the island today and their status is expected to be addressed in the course of any normalization of relations. So imagine the world's surprise when Snowden didn't turn up for the Havana-bound flight for which he was reportedly booked.
But perhaps not everyone was surprised that Snowden didn't board that flight. In the State Department's 2006 report detailing why it would continue to list Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, it noted that Cuban authorities had given assurances they would no longer accept "new" US fugitives (whether their crimes were considered political or not). Allowing Snowden to transit Cuba would be a break of faith from that assurance given. Allowing a fugitive to transit your territory is tantamount to giving refuge, as the fugitive wouldn't be able to reach their ultimate destination without the transit stop.
My guess is that the message somehow got to Snowden that if he traveled through Cuba he would be detained and possibly even returned to the United States (I suppose an immediate return wouldn't be certain; he would be the highest value fugitive to pass through in quite some time, for sure, and I imagine the Cubans might be tempted to consider whether they could trade him for one or all of their remaining Cuban Five. But such a strategy might backfire, of course).
Perhaps I'll be proven wrong in the days ahead, but I doubt we'll see Edward Snowden turn up in Havana any time soon.
– Anya Landau French is the editor of and a frequent contributor to the blog The Havana Note.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, riorealblog.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
When I first came to Brazil, in 1981, hit parade American songs took six months to show up on the radio here. When I first came, working-class people over 30 had false teeth. Now, they sport braces.
Last year, I tried to explain to Alessandra Orofino, the young co-founder of the successful new Meu Rio digital activism group, how much the country has changed.
“I don’t care about that,” she said. “I wasn’t here to see it and I’m here now, and I want change now.”
Who are these young people?
Who are the protesters, people who have taken to the streets all over the country, at long last? There’s great variety. [Earlier this week] on television, I saw teachers in Juazeiro do Norte whose wages had been cut 40 percent. Discovering their mayor at a bank branch making a deposit (!), they surrounded him. Hours later, the police safely escorted him out.
From what I’ve watched on TV, read on Facebook, and, last Monday night, seen on the streets of Rio myself, the protesters are mostly young men in their twenties, students. Not workers. So why are they protesting?
I bet the mayors of Rio and São Paulo rue the day this past January, when they bowed to President Dilma Rousseff’s request that they put off the bus fare hike for six months, to help her keep inflation down. If the fare hike had taken place then, the students would have been on vacation…
As I said in my last post, the fare hike is a painful reminder of Brazil’s two-tiered socioeconomic structure, where rich and poor each have their own health care, schools, transportation, and public safety solutions. Many of the protesters may not use the public health system and may have gone to private schools. But they take buses. And though they may not make the hours-long commute of a maid, waiter or gas-station attendant, they also feel the oppression of a system that provides poorly-managed, inadequate service at a real cost unknown to passengers.
The fare hike reminded them that this is the case in every aspect of life here. And, while workers, especially those with the long commutes, don’t have time to march in the streets, the students do.
I’m not saying they’re a bunch of altruists, marching for workers.
They just feel the inequality in their own skin – and they know, consciously or not, that a country with a system like this one won’t go far. That makes a difference in their futures.
Why didn’t bus-riding students speak up before? Brazil has become a middle-class country. When it was a country of haves and have-nots, what was the use of complaining about injustices? Now, when Brazilians feel more alike than ever before, the system’s logic looks more skewed than ever before. No one invests in change until change begins to look possible.
What will come of all this?
President Rousseff’s government, and every one that preceded hers, probably back to colonial times, is stitched onto the top of a society where you don’t know the real costs (nor the real back-room deals) of poorly managed, inadequate public services. She’s said the protesters’ gripes are legitimate and deserve to be heard – and this is the right thing to say.
But … how is she going to fix, as fast as Alessandra Orofino would like, the nations’s schools, hospitals, police, buses, trains, highways, and metro systems? Not to mention airports.
Her government is built on shaky political alliances that involve a lot of bone-tossing, and I imagine she and many other politicians, at all levels, will try tossing bones to the protesters. Already, some mayors have lowered bus fares.
It’s not about twenty centavos
The world holds many surprises for us: who ever thought it possible to take down the Berlin Wall in 1989? Who ever thought that hundreds of thousands of Brazilians would wake up to the inequities and injustice in their country? In the 30-plus years I’ve lived here, until last week, I thought change would continue to occur gradually. But you can download a song almost instantaneously now, and you can get a movement going without using personalist politics – collaboratively. Leadership is no longer as crucial as it once was.
So maybe, just maybe, the dialogue that comes out of the unrest will get us somewhere, a little less slowly than I thought. #CHANGEBRAZIL
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, thehavananote.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
As Republican Senator Mike Enzi likes to say about US-Cuba policy, if you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've already got. And yet, waiting is the predominant American viewpoint when it comes to Cuba; nothing can or should change until Fidel goes. But that is no solution at all.
Fidel Castro has been out of power (if not influence) for seven years now. In order to try to right his sinking ship, Raul Castro has steadily been dismantling many of the economic – and even some political – policies that his older brother either endorsed or neglected. Does anyone truly believe that anything will change either in Cuba or in the bilateral relationship as a result of his exit from the scene? Surely not; whatever change his exit might have ushered in, that moment came and went in 2006 when he gave up the reins of power for the first time since gaining them a half a century ago.
Both the US and Cuban governments have botched this thing over and over, and, arguably, haven’t always wanted reconciliation or normalization or any other nuanced form of moving on. Over the last several years, the Obama administration’s policy toward Cuba has been something of a work in progress. Openings to travel and exchange have been slow, at times arbitrarily approved, but in the end, have proliferated. The president’s call for a new beginning in the relationship was followed largely by more of the same when it came to USAID programming, which is not your usual development programming in partnership with the host country. And when the US had the opportunity to send a message, a gesture, by sending one of the Cuban Five who was released on parole back to Cuba instead, we didn’t. (Did we really want him on US soil, anyway?)
Plenty has gone awry on the Cuban side too, starting and ending with the vague and changing approach taken concerning an American USAID sub-contractor who has served more than 3 years in Cuban prison now. He’s become essentially a bargaining chip, like it or not, intended or not, in a negotiation that never took place. And for all the constructive proposals Cuban diplomats insisted they were putting on the table, everyone on both sides knew the US was unwilling to budge without Alan Gross back home.
Both sides seemed to be waiting for something that just wasn’t happening.
But something is happening now. It appears that Sec. of State John Kerry doesn’t want to wait anymore. Where his predecessor allowed talks on several fronts to stall – insisting no further progress could be made without movement on the Gross case – Kerry has chosen to move ahead with them again. Who can say whether restarting talks on migration and direct mail this summer was intended to convince the Cubans to release Mr. Gross (I doubt it’s enough, if he must be traded), or whether they went back to the table because that’s what diplomats do. Either way, it’s a small but welcome step forward.
One more thing: As I prepared to post this piece, I remembered that the US has just let Rene Gonzalez, the first of five Cuban intelligence agents to be released on parole from US prison, go to (and stay in) Cuba, about a year before his parole was to have ended. Whereas the Justice Department opposed letting Mr. Gonzalez remain in Cuba when he was first released, it has reversed itself, now saying it better serves US national security for him to be outside of the United States.
I expect Cuban government officials were quick to make clear that this is in no way equal to sending Gross home (he has served perhaps 20 percent of his total sentence so far, and this issue of parity is something Cuban officials have raised in public and private). But coming as it does at the beginning of a new Secretary of State's tenure, one who has historically been in favor of a fresh approach to the US-Cuba conflict, I expect they may still have taken the development as a gesture of good faith from Sec. Kerry (surely he weighed in with the Justice Department on the potential foreign policy implications of opposing or supporting Gonzalez's request). It's now up to both sides to keep the ball rolling.
– Anya Landau French is the editor of and a frequent contributor to the blog The Havana Note.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.
Now that numerous cities have decided to cancel transportation fare hikes as a result of the protests, the question remains if Brazil's protests will find a new course, and if they will have a long-term impact.
There's a lot in the media, both domestic and international, that Brazilians surprised political leaders with the demonstrations. But the truth is, I think they surprised themselves. After putting up with so much for so long, the spell was finally broken: The spell of bread and circuses, of soccer and novelas. They were capable all along of putting aside the homem cordial and the culture of compromise, and turning daily complaints into action. When police attacked innocent people, and importantly, members of the media, it was the final straw.
The shift in public opinion was swift, and critically, even Globo – the dominant news network – changed its tune to some degree. And attempts by soccer heroes Pelé and Ronaldo to appeal to protesters by telling people to "forget" the protests and saying that the World Cup cannot be held in hospitals, have backfired spectacularly in a testament to how deeply people relate to demonstrators' demands.
Until now, complaining has served as one of the most common outlets for dealing with realities like high crime, corruption, and poor public services. "Wake up, Brazil!" was a frequent lament. A typical example is that of a viral video earlier this month featured a Brazilian visiting the United States and noting the differences in prices and quality of life. It made a lot of people angry, though it garnered fans, too. In the video, he complains Brazilians "fight for stupid rights, but don't fight for the basics, like the right to health, quality of life." While one can argue that no rights are "stupid," these protests have certainly brought things back to the basics.
But now, many wonder where this is going, especially given that leaders conceded on bus fares in the country's two biggest cities that saw the largest protests. And with an explosion of international coverage, there seem to be more questions than answers.
Here, I think, are some of the important questions to think about going forward.
Will this morph into a movement, or something more concrete?
Will it translate, for example, into votes during next year's election?
Maybe, maybe not. But perhaps that matters less than people think. The fact that the protests have started a dialogue means there's a chance that Brazilians have a greater stake in public policy moving forward, and that maybe government accountability – sometimes woefully lacking – will improve. By talking about the varied demands of protesters, there's a chance more people will feel they have a greater stake in what's happening in politics. “Democracy is noise,” wrote Vladimir Safatle, a philosophy professor at the University of São Paulo, in Folha this week. “Those who like silence prefer dictatorships.”
On his blog, Carioca Roberto Cassano wrote that it doesn't matter that protesters don't have unified demands, or a leader. "We've created a collective Batman," he wrote, "of whose mere memory of sudden attacks and bat wings make the bad guys think twice." Politicians will now have the symptoms of those who have had their homes broken into, Cassano said. (And in a way, they did, given the protest on the roof of Congress.) They'll always be wondering if it could happen again.
Also, given that the protests did have a concrete result with a reduction in transportation fares in numerous cities, it sets a precedent that stimulates new demands, said Maurício Santoro, a Rio-based adviser to Amnesty International.
What does this mean for Brazilian politics?
It means that not only do individual politicians need to regroup in the short-term, but political parties may need to try to build more concrete, action-based platforms ahead of next year's elections, rather than depending on charismatic leaders. "For decades, the military dictatorship forced political groups into a two-party system," wrote Brazilian journalist Mauricio Savarese on his blog. "It still takes its toil on our democracy. That is because leaders still seem to be much more important than sets of ideas – that is how politicians would stand out in the middle of the crowd then." It also means that despite historically high approval ratings, President Dilma Rousseff may have more formidable contenders next year.
On the other hand, some still doubt the protests present a threat to political parties and leaders. "At least for now, the movement appears to be far more 'Occupy Wall Street' than 'Arab Spring' in terms of its motives, demographics and likely outcome," says the latest from Reuters.
What does this mean for the rest of Latin America?
One of the really interesting things about the protests is that it has implications for the acclaimed Lula model. Many outsiders perceive Brazil as a success story, not only for the region but for the world: low unemployment, rising wages, reduced inequality, lots of foreign investment, and a growing middle class. In spite of rising inflation and sluggish growth, the overall big picture has been a good one in recent years. Much of Latin America has tended to look to Brazil as the star of the region, and to Lula as the inspiration for leaders, combining social inclusion with business-friendly policies.
"The ascent of the middle class, combined with social programs promoted by President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio 'Lula' Da Silva, seemed secure," said a Bloomberg piece yesterday. If voters take heed that Lula's policies – continued by Dilma – worked to lift people out of poverty but ultimately failed to address long-neglected problems like public services and high levels of violence, what does that mean for other Latin American countries following this model? It's particularly interesting for countries like Peru and Colombia that have also had economic growth with Lula-esque leaders, working on policies to benefit the poor but also attracting foreign businesses, but struggling with some similar challenges.