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U.S. to partially lift Cuba sanctions (May 17, 2022)
The U.S. Biden administration announced a partial lifting of sanctions on Cuba yesterday. Changes will include restoring flights to Cuban cities other than Havana and reestablishing a family reunification program suspended for years. The changes also include relaxing the ban on remittances. A ban on non-family remittances will be eased to allow payment to independent Cuban entrepreneurs, and the Treasury Department has issued at least one license to allow direct equity investment in a private Cuban firm. The Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which has not taken new cases since 2016 and left 22,000 pending applications in limbo, will also be reinstated.
The new policies follow the recommendations of a long-anticipated review of U.S. policy toward Cuba, launched after a Cuban government crackdown on widespread street protests on the island last summer, reports the Washington Post. The moves are part of U.S. President Joe Biden's campaign promise to return to the Obama administration's diplomatic thaw with the island, after a significant reversal by the Trump administration. However, the Biden administration’s policy review concluded that the best way to bring about change in Cuba was direct engagement with its people — not its government — which had also been the underlying logic of President Barack Obama’s opening to Havana, reports the New York Times.
“Fundamentally, these policies are ones that are designed to advance our own national interests” rather than establish any new relationship with Cuba’s communist government, one U.S. government official told the Washington Post.
Cuba is facing the worst economic crisis since the Soviet Union collapsed, with widespread shortages of food and medicines, and thousands of Cubans trying to reach the United States, notes the Miami Herald.
Other Obama-era policies, like Individual "people-to-people" travel will not be reinstated, for example. A senior administration official said the U.S. also would not remove entities from the Cuba Restricted List, the list of Cuban government- and military-aligned companies that U.S. companies are blocked from doing business with, reports NPR.
The United States will use "electronic payment processors" for remittances to avoid funds going directly to the Cuban government, officials said, adding that the United States had already engaged with the Cuban government "about establishing a civilian processor for this." (Reuters)
The changes elicited immediate backlash from U.S. politicians who believe that choking off the Cuban government's revenue is the best way to bring about democratization and respond to human rights violations.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguezcalled the Biden administration move "a limited step in the right direction." He added that the decision doesn’t change the embargo nor most of Trump's measures against the island. (Associated Press)
A ransomware gang that infiltrated some Costa Rican government computer systems has upped its threat, saying its goal is now to overthrow the government, reports the Associated Press. The Russian-speaking Conti gang tried to increase the pressure to pay a ransom by raising its demand to $20 million.
Brazilian Senate leaders are stepping up support for the country's Supreme Court, which has been repeatedly attacked by President Jair Bolsonaro who questions the integrity of the court-run voting system ahead of October's elections. A group of senators has arranged meetings between lawmakers and senior justices, successfully pressing Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco to take a more forceful public stand, reports Reuters.
"There is little doubt in Brazil that the upcoming elections are the most momentous since the military dictatorship ended almost four decades ago," reports El País, describing "a duel of epic proportions" between incumbent Bolsonaro and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Presidential front-runner Lula has launched a charm offensive aimed at winning over Brazil's business community, with delegates emphasizing in dialogues with executives that Lula is a known quantity whose tenure in government was good for financial markets and the broader economy, reports the Financial Times.
The U.S. has barred Guatemala's Attorney General Consuelo Porras from entering the country, accusing her of being involved in corruption, reports the BBC.
Guatemalan judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez received death threats after he ruled to send 9 military officials to trial in the 1980s "Death Squad Dossier" case, write Jo-Marie Burt y Paulo Estrada in El Faro, delving into the many details of the case and how it affects one of Guatemala's most powerful families.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will receive a delegation from the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas organizers, in which his government will set out why it wants all countries in the region to take part. A chorus of voices in Latin America and the Caribbean has spoken out against U.S. plans to exclude Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. (Reuters)
López Obrador has too often overlooked the most basic steps necessary to ensure women’s safety – and in some cases has undermined them entirely, writes Cecilia Farfán-Méndez in Americas Quarterly. "The good news is that evidence-based solutions do exist, and there are steps the administration can take immediately to start to correct course."
Mexico will waive import duties for one year on a range of household staples, mostly food, in a bid to curb inflation, reports Reuters.
The U.S. Coast Guard announced yesterday that it suspended the search for potential survivors of a capsized boat near Puerto Rico after finding 11 bodies and rescuing 38 migrants from a vessel that had carried an estimated 60 to 75 passengers. (Associated Press)
The Venezuelan Unitary Platform opposition faction announced plans to hold a primary contest next year to choose a presidential candidate for the planned 2024 election. (Associated Press)
Ecuadorian gangs are stepping up targeted killings of police officers in drug trafficking hotspots, reports InSight Crime. "Ecuador’s criminal violence is rapidly outpacing law enforcement capacities, while bringing to light painful truths about corruption within their ranks."
Peru risks losing out on billions of dollars of mining investment if the government fails to defuse protests that are hitting the industry and denting production, according to Reuters.
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