The World Today for March 22, 2016

March 22, 2016


Obama in Cuba: Not US and Them

OK, so it was awkward.

The first visit by a US president to Cuba in 88 years culminated in a sort of high-five-hand-shake-limp-wrist-grab-thing Monday rather than a firm handshake. Not even US President Barack Obama could make that look cool.

Predictably, everybody wrangled about Cuba’s dodgy track record on human rights – partly because Cuban President Raul Castro had 300-odd human rights protesters arrested on the eve of Obama’s arrival.

Give me a name or names, and if there are political prisoners, they will be free by tonight,” said Castro, who says Cuba’s alleged political prisoners are in jail for ordinary crimes.

But here’s the thing. Even though US public opinion will impact whether Congress moves to end the trade embargo put in place by President John F. Kennedy back in 1962, Cuban exiles in Florida and other US voters aren’t really the most important audience for this dog and pony show. The real target is the rest of Latin America. (By the way, an end to the embargo is very unlikely as long as the Republicans control both the House and the Senate).

Not long after Obama’s moves to normalize relations began, a top official said the reversal had already removed a thorny obstacle to America’s goals for the region.  “A key factor with any bilateral meeting is, ‘When are you going to change your Cuba policy?'” the official told the New York Times.

One reason: US voters may think of Fidel Castro’s Cuba as the big human rights violator, but Latin Americans are more apt to put some other names at the top of that list. Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Brazilian dictator Emílio Médici and the Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador, for example, jailed dissidents, assassinated left wing leaders and sponsored death squads – with the backing of Washington.

Obama is banking that finally acknowledging that the Cold War is over in Cuba, too, will pay dividends in problem countries (for the US) like Venezuela and Colombia. It’s no accident that US Secretary of State John Kerry scored an “unprecedented” meeting with leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, as part of his visit to Havana on Monday.

One of Cuba’s big plays in the region has been its support for Farc — which has been fighting Colombia’s government for decades and is designated a terrorist organization by US. But the current ceasefire could turn into a full-on armistice if Washington gains a little influence on both sides of the conflict.

Not too bad for a weird high five thingy.


Explosions at Brussels Airport, Metro

Multiple explosions hit the departure hall of Brussels airport and a major metro station in the Belgian capital on Tuesday morning, killing at least 21 people and injuring at least 35 others.

Coming in the wake of the arrest of a suspect in the Paris attacks named Salah Abdeslam on Friday, the explosions are feared to be part of a terrorist attack, though authorities have not confirmed that so far.

A local broadcaster reported that shots were fired and there was some shouting in Arabic before the explosion at the airport, which may have targeted the American Airlines desk in the departure area.

I could feel the building move. There was also dust and smoke as well… I went towards where the explosion came from and there were people coming out looking very dazed and shocked,” said British Sky News television’s Alex Rossi, who was at the airport when the blasts occurred.

Brazil: Bribe for Bribe

Brazil’s beleaguered President Dilma Rousseff hopes to offer state governments a 20-year extension on debts owed to the federal bean counters in a move to stymie ongoing impeachment proceedings against her.

Some may find the (metaphorical) payoff ironic, considering that Rousseff and her predecessor, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, are under investigation in the $2 billion Petrobras bribery scandal. And Rousseff will have to convince the same Congress that’s mulling her impeachment to pass the $12.6 billion debt-relief bill.

But if it goes through it could counter criticism that austerity policies have worsened Brazil’s ongoing recession and spur state governors to vote against impeachment.

War Crimes: Congo Leader Guilty

The International Criminal Court found former Democratic Republic of Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba guilty of war crimes committed in the Central African Republic in the early 2000s.

Bemba had led soldiers of his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) to help put down a coup in the Central Republic of Africa in 2002.

The militia perpetrated a horrifying list of rapes and atrocities, according to the ICC. In one incident, MLC soldiers raped three generations of the same family at gunpoint, forcing relatives to watch the ordeal.

The case was the ICC’s first attempt to focus on rape as a weapon of war, and the verdict marks the first time a leader has been convicted for crimes perpetrated by soldiers under his command.

Bemba is expected to appeal.


Coal’s Bad for Water, Too

The world’s 8000-odd coal-based power plants use as much water as a billion people, and that amount is set to double if various countries around the world proceed with their plans to expand coal-fired energy production.

Worse, about half of those proposed plants are planned for areas that already face high water stress, according to a report issued by Greenpeace in connection with the United Nations’ World Water Day.

The big hit is to come from China and India. Already, China uses most of the world’s coal, and about half of its planned expansion will come in areas where fresh water is disappearing faster than it can be replenished.

But China’s not necessarily the main target. The US would reduce its industrial use of water by a whopping 74 percent if it shuttered coal-fired plants that are more than 40 years old, as Greenpeace recommends.

–Today's DailyChatter was compiled and written by Jason Overdorf

Tue, 03/22/2016 – 05:49

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