The World Today for January 03, 2017


Tourism and Tyranny

The communist-style military parade that Reuters covered in Havana on Monday was a fitting symbol of the anachronism of Cuba. It was a heady show, but it wasn’t clear what lessons an observer might take from it.

Even as the United States and Cuba have reached a rapprochement that brought President Barack Obama to the island in March, Cuba is arguably struggling more than ever economically and socially.

More than 3.5 million tourists poured into the still-communist island last year, Cuban officials said recently. An ABC affiliate’s story about direct flights between Charlotte, North Carolina and Havana ran with the headline “Traveling to Cuba is Easier and Cheaper than Ever.”

The traffic brought much-needed foreign cash into the country. But The New York Times reported that Cubans were going hungry to cater to their new visitors. The country can’t handle the influx.

The dilemma evokes the privation Fidel Castro sought to end when he overthrew the pro-US Batista government in 1959. It also reveals a failure: From the moment he took over to the day he died in November at age 90, Castro failed to deliver the prosperity he promised, especially when support from the Soviet Union dwindled at the end of the Cold War.

Yet today many Cubans are whimsical about the island’s past, even those now profiting from tourism. “Cuba’s tranquility will end, I’m sure of it,” Mayuri Sanabria, a literature professor who gave up her university job to run a beachside hotel on the island, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Cuban government still maintains its capacity to oppress its citizens, as well.

According to the Austin-American Statesman, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz recently said Cuban authorities conducted 10,000 political arrests this year, five times as many as in 2010. Cruz cited the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Cruz called on President-elect Donald Trump to take a harder line on Cuba. Trump has said he could reverse Obama’s policies but that some sort of arrangement could be reached between the countries.

In a pettier sign of the Cuban authorities’ will for power, they recently banned a feature film – a love story – “touching” on Fidel Castro’s intolerance of homosexuals. Agence France Presse quoted the “all-powerful” Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry in its story about the decision.

“The film presents an image of the revolution that reduces it to an expression of intolerance and violence against culture and makes irresponsible use of our patriotic symbols and unacceptable references toward comrade Fidel,” said the Institute’s statement.

That’s hardly the voice of a new Cuba.


In the Net?

Israeli police questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “under caution” for three hours on Monday on suspicion that he took illicit gifts and favors from business executives.

The phrase “under caution” implies the police suspect the prime minister might have committed a criminal offense, the New York Times reported.

Netanyahu was questioned by Lahav 433, a police fraud investigation and prosecution unit, with the authorization of the attorney general, the paper said.

According to a police statement, investigators have gathered documents and testimony from dozens of witnesses over several months. Some aspects of the inquiry did not yield evidence of crimes, the statement said. But other parts warranted a deeper probe.

Serving his third consecutive term, Netanyahu remains popular despite controversy over his support for Jewish settlements in the West Bank – which a UN resolution condemned in December.

He has faced such inquiries before, but none have resulted in charges against him. This time, too, he said, “This will come to nothing, because there is nothing.”

Prison Break

Brazilian police are searching for dozens of inmates who escaped from prison during a riot that killed 56 people over the weekend.

Fighting between rival gangs at the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Center, the largest prison in Amazonas, escalated into the deadliest prison riot in Brazil in recent years on Sunday, the BBC reported. So far, officials say 40 out of 87 fugitives who escaped during the violence have been recaptured.

Shortly after the riot began, six headless bodies were thrown over the perimeter fence of the prison, the news agency said. The chaos ended on Monday, when the inmates surrendered their weapons and freed the last of 12 guards they had taken hostage.

Brazil has the world’s fourth-largest prison population, with some 600,000 inmates – compared with around 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States. Overcrowding is a serious problem and violent riots are frequent.

Broken Truce

Rebels fighting against the Syrian government threatened to withdraw from the planned peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan later this month, accusing the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of “many and large violations” of an ongoing ceasefire.

“The regime and its allies have continued firing and committed many and large violations,” the BBC cited a statement signed by a number of Syrian rebel groups as saying on Monday. “As these violations are continuing, the rebel factions announce… the freezing of all discussion linked to the Astana negotiations.”

Brokered by Russia and Turkey, the planned peace talks will exclude the US. But the United Nations Security Council nevertheless voted unanimously to welcome the efforts to end the Syrian fighting on New Year’s Eve.

However, since the ceasefire began last week, the rebels have accused Assad of trying to recapture the rebel-held region of Wadi Barada near Damascus, which supplies water to the capital. Syrian government warplanes resumed their bombardment of the area on Sunday after nearly 24 hours with no air raids, Reuters reported.


The Spice of Life

Monotony is a part of life.

But researchers are pinpointing what controls our feelings of boredom by measuring levels of satiation, or satisfaction, in the brain.

According to NPR, University of Georgia researchers have concluded that satiation is always in the brain.

But the key to prolonged satisfaction with monotonous behaviors isn’t about what people have done, said NPR’s Shankar Vendantam, “but about what you think you’re going to do.”

If cognizant of the fact that a task must be repeated, we’ll be less satisfied, researchers discovered. Conversely, if we’re aware that there’s variance in future tasks, we may find pleasure in the boredom.

But researchers say there is an exception to the rule: Variety may overwhelm traditional romantic relationships that might otherwise persist under monotony.

“Maybe thinking about different people, for example, may actually tempt you,” said University of Georgia Marketing Professor Julio Sevilla.

So, while variety is the spice of life, use with caution.

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