The World Today for April 23, 2018



The Ties That Bind

When the Washington Post’s reporter asked Cubans about their hopes for the nation after the announcement last week that 57-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel was poised to become the first non-Castro leader of the island in nearly 60 years, many had trouble even imagining the possibility.

“For me, not having a Fidel or Raul, it’s almost impossible to conceive of,” said Giraldo Baez, a 78-year-old former factory administrator. “It’s almost out of my realm of understanding.”

Diaz-Canel has supported LGBT organizations in the past and is often seen poking away at his tablet. But it’s unlikely that this trained engineer, long-groomed by the Castros as a possible successor, will deviate from the policies that have made Cuba one of the world’s most enduring communist systems.

Even so, Diaz-Canel is of a slightly different breed from the Castros, Reuters reported.

He’s advocated for broader internet access on the island, which remains one of the least-connected places in the world. And he sported long hair and listened to rock music during his early years as a provincial party head.

But his recent rhetoric still mirrors that of his Castro predecessors. A leaked video from a closed-door party meeting last year showed him espousing the ills of the imperial West and condemning Cuban dissidents critical of the Castros.

In this respect, Diaz-Canel is certainly no reform candidate.

And even if he were, the Castro family tree is still deeply rooted in the Cuban government, Christopher Sabatini, executive director of the think tank Global Americans, wrote in the New York Times. Raul Castro’s son is a prominent figure in the Ministry of Interior, while his former son-in-law runs one of the nation’s largest military holding companies.

Still, reform is exactly what Cuba needs to survive, writes Bloomberg View.

Exports are down in Cuba. The nation is dealing with some $13 billion in damage from last year’s Hurricane Irma. A dual system of currency is deterring foreign investment and domestic growth. And erstwhile economic partners in the region are cutting off their supply of aid, including Venezuela – though Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro rushed to Havana to meet with Diaz-Canel to underscore the importance of their bilateral alliance on Saturday, Reuters noted.

And then there are the tensions with the US, which took on a new tenor with the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Former President Barack Obama’s détente with Cuba has been all but forgotten in favor of a hardline approach that denounces any regime change without free and fair elections, wrote Ted Piccone with the Brookings Institution. It’s safe to say this won’t change under Diaz-Canel, especially since he was groomed by the Castros.

The question then remains: What’s next for Cuba without the Castros?

There are options for opening up the economy while retaining a communist ideal, wrote John Caulfield in the Hill. One only has to look to Vietnam.

And ushering in a new era of liberal market and democratic reforms is the only viable option, wrote the Havana Times, an online publication based in Nicaragua.

Even so, it’s unclear if Diaz-Canel will take the risk to cut the branch on the Castro family tree on which he firmly stands.



Crime Scene Cleanup?

International chemical weapons experts finally gained access to the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack on Douma that killed 43 people April 7. But the delay has already prompted concerns about a possible effort to cleanse the site of evidence.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its experts had reached the Damascus suburb of Douma and collected samples for analysis on Saturday, the New York Times reported.

Both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia, his main ally, have refuted Western accusations blaming Syrian forces for the alleged chemical attack, both by denying it took place and blaming the strike on the rebel forces fighting for Assad’s ouster. And the Russian foreign ministry on Saturday said that the Syrian regime was not responsible for the delay in accessing the site, saying both Syria and the Russian military had earlier guaranteed the experts’ safety.

Even if the OPCW experts determine that chemical weapons were indeed used on Douma, their brief doesn’t include trying to ascertain who was responsible for the attack.


A New Cash Crunch

India’s ATMs are running dry again, nearly 18 months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi unleashed chaos by suddenly declaring most of the country’s paper currency null and void.

Economists blame the shortfall in part on a government decision not to replace all the bank notes it removed from circulation – a bid to stimulate cashless transactions, which are easier to monitor and tax. But depositors are also hoarding cash due to weakening faith in the banking system, the New York Times reported.

After removing 1000 and 500 rupee notes from the system overnight in November 2016, Modi last fall pledged $32 billion in taxpayer funds to bail out weak lenders in response to worry reports about the level of bad loans carried by state-owned banks. But the announcement came with a proposed legal change that could force depositors with more than $1,500 in an account to take a loss if their bank failed.

It’s unlikely the government would allow that to happen. But the news that jeweler Nirav Modi allegedly stole as much as $1.8 billion from state-owned Punjab National Bank – facilitated by lax monitoring standards – has people looking to their mattresses.


Europe’s Answer to NAFTA

As President Donald Trump wrangles for US-friendly revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the European Union and Mexico on Saturday revamped a decades-old free trade pact to allow for the duty-free trade in almost all goods, including agricultural products.

Yet to be formalized, the deal is expected to increase trade in dairy, pork, services, digital goods and medicines between Mexico and the EU, the New York Times reported. But with the US snapping up roughly 80 percent of Mexican exports, the message written between the lines may be equally important.

“Trade can and should be a win-win process and today’s agreement shows just that,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement. “With this agreement, Mexico joins Canada, Japan and Singapore in the growing list of partners willing to work with the EU in defending open, fair and rules-based trade.”

Some technical details still need to be ironed out, but the parties said they hope to finalize the pact by year’s end, after which it must be ratified by the European Parliament and the Mexican Senate.


Aerial View

Peruvian archaeologists were studying previously known geoglyphs, or “ground drawings,” in Peru’s southern Palpa province when they made a surprising discovery.

Using a drone, they spotted 25 additional geoglyphs previously unknown to even local populations, National Geographic reported.

The new geoglyphs depicted varying geometric shapes, like humans, apes and even a whale. Researchers believe they were carved into the earth by the Paracas and Topara peoples between 500 BC and AD 200, making them older than Peru’s Nazca lines, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.

The new massive drawings show “a tradition of over a thousand years that precedes the famous geoglyphs of the Nazca culture, which opens the door to new hypotheses about its function and meaning,” Johny Isla Cuadrado told Deutsche Welle.

Unlike the Nazca lines, which require an aerial view to be taken in, the Palpa geoglyphs were made on the region’s sloping hills and could be observed from the ground at the right vantage point.

Click here to take a look for yourself.


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