November 28, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

A Seismic Moment

Fidel Castro’s death is likely to usher forth a slow, simmering political revolution that stands in stark contrast to the tectonic shift that his passing symbolizes.

But that won’t happen anytime soon. Remember that his 85-year-old brother, Raul, has been running the country since Fidel fell ill a decade ago. In 2008, Fidel formally gave up power after ruling the country for almost 50 years.

“The passing of former President Fidel Castro will neither have immediate or consequential impact upon the lives of the 11.3 million citizens of Cuba,” US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council President John Kavulich told the Miami Herald on Sunday.

Still, change is undoubtedly in the air.

Raul has eschewed the imprisonment and torture that marked his brother’s rule, instead opting for short-term arrests designed to harass and stymie democratic movements, the Associated Press reported.

Cubans now consume foreign news and entertainment online, the Washington Post said. The Telegraph noted that foreign tourism – the rest of the world has not erected American-style embargoes against Cuba – and a surprising surge of entrepreneurism is transforming the island, too.

And analysts say the younger Castro’s rule is unsustainable.

That’s because even Cuba’s erstwhile admirers like US Senator Bernie Sanders admit that the country’s economy is a disaster. Fidel’s fire-and-brimstone, anti-imperialist rhetoric could mobilize Cuban nationalism and help people forget their empty stomachs. His brother lacks that gift, however.

So Cuban-Americans exiled from their ancestral homeland might be dancing in the streets. But it appears that Castro’s departure is more like a dynastic succession than a regime collapsing.

The Cuban people aren’t rising up. Raul has already said he’ll resign as president in 2018 and pass the torch to Miguel Díaz-Canel, his 56-year-old first vice president. However, Raul has not said whether he’ll give up his duties as head of the Cuban armed forces of the Communist Party.

Kavulich believes Havana could “retrench” in the wake of Castro’s death and maintain its anti-American stance to demonstrate the lasting power of the 1959 revolution.

The extent of that retrenchment, then, may depend on Washington’s response to Cuba’s transition.

President Barack Obama reopened diplomatic relations with Cuba two years ago. According to Fox News Sunday, President-elect Donald Trump would be willing to “roll back” Obama’s normalized relations unless Cuban officials showed “movement,” including more respect for human rights and open markets.

Purportedly a master in the art of the deal, Trump has leverage as Cuba enters uncharted territory. But for decades, the US has achieved little by making demands on Havana. There’s little sign the future will be any different.

But some say, as Fidel’s presence will linger on, it too will fade in time, and change will come to the small, troubled island. What that means is anyone’s guess.

Holiday Promo

WANT TO KNOW

French Twist

Francois Fillon won France’s center-right primary by a landslide, setting up a showdown with the far right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the presidential election coming this spring.

Fillon thrashed Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé with a majority of 66.5 percent of votes in the runoff of the Républicains’ primary late Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Two weeks ago, polls had shown Juppé with a comfortable lead. The reversal has added another element of uncertainty to the liberal effort to block Le Pen, particularly following the surprise victory of the Leave campaign in the UK’s Brexit vote and the stunning success of Donald Trump in the recent US elections.

Fillon will likely face both Le Pen and current President Francois Hollande of the Socialist party, though Prime Minister Manuel Valls may oppose Hollande in the Socialist party primary, according to Reuters. The Wall Street Journal suggested that Fillon’s victory would put more pressure on the Républicains to attract voters from further right of center.

Passing the Baton

Though many say it’s the army, and not the government, that runs Pakistan, the troubled country’s prime minister successfully selected a new army chief over the weekend.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that he had named Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, a career infantry officer, to replace Gen. Raheel Sharif – who had last week touched off a rash of speculation about his possible replacement when he tweeted a casual remark about beginning “farewell” visits to military units around the country, the Washington Post reported.

It was the first time in 20 years that one of Pakistan’s military leaders quit his post as planned and turned his job over to a successor named by the prime minister. Most notably, Gen. Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999 and exiled Nawaz Sharif – who was prime minister at that time as well. But Musharraf’s successor, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, also requested and was granted an extra three-year term by then-Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani in 2010.

Analysts say this week’s smooth transition doesn’t mean the balance of power has shifted to the civilian government. But some, at least, are hoping that a 2014 statement attributed to Bajwa that extremists, rather than India, pose the greatest threat to Pakistan’s survival still reflects his focus.

Legalize It

Iraq’s parliament voted to legalize Shiite militias that have long been accused of abusing the country’s Sunni minority, in a move that opposition leaders said proved that the majority Shiite government was a dictatorship in the guise of democracy.

The law, which was supported by 208 of 327 members, transforms the militias into a government force empowered to “deter” security and terror threats facing the country, such as the Islamic State, the Associated Press reported. Importantly, the militias remain an independent force instead of being integrated into the military or police.

Sunni legislators criticized the move as undermining the effort to guarantee the participation of all Iraq’s religious and ethnic factions in the political process. “The legislation aborts nation building,” said one such lawmaker.

The Shiite militias are mostly backed by Iran and have swelled since Iraq’s most prominent Shiite cleric called for a jihad against IS in 2014. But Sunni Arabs and human rights groups have alleged that the militias have executed and abused civilians and stole and destroyed property in Sunni neighborhoods during the ongoing war.

DISCOVERIES

Becoming a Spider

Alain Robert, the French daredevil climber frequently called “Spiderman,” just added another trophy to his list of gravity-defying climbs: the Torre Agbar, one of Barcelona’s highest skyscrapers.

Known for his harness-free approach to scaling up famously tall buildings, Robert earned his heroic nickname crawling up man-made structures ranging from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to the Sydney Opera House.

In Barcelona, Robert completed his climb and descent of the 38-story skyscraper in less than an hour – with nothing more than climbing shoes and chalk on his hands – as bystanders and police watched, the latter waiting to arrest him.

Check out a video of Robert’s death-defying stunt here.