Raúl Castro steps down as Communist Party head
April 19, 2021 By Staff
THIS WEEK IN LATIN AMERICA
CUBA: Raúl Castro announced that he will step down as leader of the Communist Party of Cuba, bringing to end an over 60-year period where a member of the Castro family held a leadership role in the country’s political system.
Castro made the announcement at the opening of the Party’s eighth congress on Friday.
The 89-year-old politician fought in the Cuban Revolution and held several high-level positions in the post-revolutionary state led by his older brother Fidel, including Minister of Defense, vice president and second secretary of the Communist Party. He took over as president after Fidel retired from that role in 2008, and as first secretary in 2011. Raúl passed the presidency on to Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018, but remained leader of the Party. Díaz-Canel is expected to succeed Raúl as first secretary as well.
At the congress, which coincided with the 60th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the Party has also approved a resolution “reaffirming the leading role of the Communist Party of Cuba” and another to “recognize and diversify different forms of property and management.”
BRAZIL: The Supreme Court voted Wednesday 10-1 to approve a Senate investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic. Brazil’s death count surpassed 362,000 this week, making it the second-highest in the world. On Tuesday, the country’s daily death count peaked at over 3,800. Reports also emerged this week that a medication shortage further threatens Brazil’s already overwhelmed health system. Throughout the pandemic, Bolsonaro has downplayed the situation and refused to impose restrictions like lockdowns to decrease the virus’ spread. As a result, his approval rates have plummeted. Also last week, former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” Da Silva announced that he is willing to run for president in 2022, if his candidacy is necessary to keep Bolsonaro from winning another term.
CHILE: Chile announced Wednesday that it has vaccinated more than 60% of the population, making it one of the countries with the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world. Over 7.5 million people have received their first dose, and 5.2 million have received both doses, out of a total population of about 19 million. Despite the success of its vaccination campaign, the country has been experiencing a worrying surge in COVID-19 cases recently, with intensive care units near capacity and most of the population back in lockdown. Critics say that the surge is related to premature optimism over the early success of the vaccine campaign, which pushed the country to open up too quickly. In December, the government relaxed travel restrictions and began allowing local and international tourism in time for the southern hemisphere summer holidays, even though most people had not yet been vaccinated. Health experts also believe that the variant of the coronavirus first detected in Brazil last November has contributed to the rise in cases.
BOLIVIA/VENEZUELA: Venezuela and Bolivia announced plans this week to acquire doses of the Soberana 02 COVID-19 vaccine produced by the Cuban government. The Bolivian government began negotiations with Cuba to buy the jab, which is in phase 3 trials and will be ready this summer. Bolivia hopes to vaccinate its entire population by September, and is in discussion with multiple pharmaceutical companies around the world about purchasing doses. In Venezuela, a state laboratory in Caracas has been approved to begin producing Cuba’s Abdala COVID-19 vaccine, which is still in phase 2 trials. Cuban and Venezuelan officials inspected the plant together, but did not specify when production would begin or speculate about monthly production rates.
VENEZUELA: The Venezuelan army announced this week that they have captured several members of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel along the Colombian-Venezuelan border. The alleged cartel members were participating in the armed conflict that has ravaged the border between the countries over the last three weeks. The violence has displaced 5,000 Venezuelans, who were forced to seek refuge across the border in Colombia. Previously, Venezuela had avoided naming the armed groups involved in the conflict, which are presumed to include dissident members of the FARC who did not lay down their arms after the 2016 peace agreement.
HAITI: President Jovenel Moïse announced that he had accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Josephe Jouthe last week, and that he had nominated Foreign Minister Claude Joseph to lead the government on an interim basis. In a tweet, Moïse said that the reshuffling will allow the country “to address the growing problem of insecurity.” Jouthe had served as prime minister since March 2020. Claude Joseph is the sixth person to serve in the role under President Moïse.
HONDURAS: Presidential candidate Xiomara Castro and her husband former President Manuel Zelaya are struggling to unite a divided field of opposition candidates for the presidential election in November. Castro, who will represent the LIBRE party, hopes to bring together candidates Yani Rosental, of the Liberal Party, and Salvador Nasralla, of the opposition Salvador Honduras Party, to create a united front against Nasry “Tito” Asfura, of the ruling Nationalist Party. The candidates will meet on Monday to discuss the possibility of joining up.
Nasralla, who ran for president in 2017 in an election marred by fraud accusations, expressed his skepticism last week about the attempt to form a coalition, predicting that it will fail because Zelaya is a “poor interlocutor.”
Meanwhile, three candidates who lost primary elections for opposition parties plan to form an alliance called “Los Honestos.”
HONDURAS/GUATEMALA/MEXICO: The United States government announced last week that it had reached agreements with the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico for military and police action against migration. Under the agreements, the countries will station thousands more soldiers and police on their borders to stop illegal crossings. According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “the objective is to make it more difficult to make the journey, and make crossing the borders more more difficult.”
MEXICO/UNITED STATES: The United States Treasury included Mexico in a “monitoring list” of countries that will face enhanced scrutiny for possible currency manipulation in a report released on Friday. The report noted that Mexico meets two of the three criteria to be declared a currency manipulator: a material account surplus of at least 2% of GDP, and a bilateral trade surplus with the United States of at least $20 billion. To be declared a currency manipulator, Mexico would also need to be shown to have made net purchases of foreign currency totaling at least 2% of GDP. Mexico is the only Latin American country to be included on the list.
MEXICO/UNITED STATES: President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will propose to U.S. President Joe Biden that a Mexican green jobs program be extended to Central America as part of an aid package aimed at reducing emigration from the region when the two presidents meet on Thursday.
The Sembrando Vida program, which subsidizes small-scale agriculture and the planting of fruit and timber trees, was set up by López Obrador as a program to address rural poverty and environmental degradation, and has over 420,000 beneficiaries. In a video ahead of his meeting with Biden, López Obrador said that such a program could employ as many as 1.3 million people in Central America and southern Mexico. He also said that he will suggest to Biden that beneficiaries of the program be given temporary work visas to the United States and a path to citizenship.