On day two of his visit to Havana, former US President Jimmy Carter met with Cuban President Raul Castro Tuesday. Although there are few details yet about the specifics of those talks, Cuban state television, according to Reuters, reported yesterday that Castro repeated an offer both he and his brother, Fidel, have made on numerous past occasions: that Cuba was willing to hold talks with the United States on any issue, so long as those talks occurred on “equal terms” and with “absolute respect” for Cuban independence and sovereignty.
Reuters says there was no immediate indication whether or not Carter and Castro took up the issue of Alan Gross’s imprisonment, or, in what way the matter might have been discussed. While there’s been significant speculation about the matter in recent days Carter indicated Tuesday that he was “not [in Cuba] to take [Gross] out of the country.”
“We are here to visit the Cubans, the heads of government and private citizens,” Carter said. “It is a great pleasure for us to return to Havana. I hope we can contribute to better relations between the two countries.”
A press conference is scheduled for later today before President Carter and his wife Rosalynn return to the United States.
In a series of meetings this morning, the former president is also expected to meet with a group of Cuban dissidents – among them bloggers Yoani Sanchez and Claudia Cadelo, members of the Ladies in White, and twelve members of the recently released “Group of 75.” That decision was with words of praise by rights activist on the island. Elizardo Sanchez, among those getting face with the former president, said Carter was “acting with coherence” by agreeing to meet with dissidents before leaving. On her Generación Y blog, Sanchez thanked Carter for his “deference and respect.” She tells Reuters that by meeting with critics of the government, Carter was “inviting the great plurality and diversity of voices that…are in the country.”
Today’s bullet points:
· Across the way in Haiti, the preliminary release of election results was delayed on Tuesday. Election officials say the discovery of “irregularities and fraud” at several vote-counting centers mean Haitians will have to wait a few more days for word about who their next president might be. AP: “While not disclosing specifics, Gaillot Dorsinvil, the president of the Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, issued a brief statement saying officials found a ‘high level’ of fraud and irregularities of various kinds at the tabulation center in the capital, Port-au-Prince.” Previously, election monitors had praised the March 20 process for its lack of disorganization and far fewer allegations fraud than in November. Final results are still not expected to be issued until April 16.
· Also in Haiti, the Miami Herald reports on a Korean textile magnate’s plans for a new garment factory to be built in Haiti’s Northeast. The Herald:
“A major supplier to U.S. retailers Target, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and GAP, Sae-A is expanding its garment-making operations to Haiti as the anchor tenant in a new 617-acre industrial park being created in the country’s underdeveloped northern region. For the first time, Haiti’s 2 million-a-week T-shirt-stitching industry will also include the country’s only knit and dyeing mill with Sae-A pumping 6,000 tons of ground water a day for its export operations.”
The report says that the factory comes as part of a $300 million Haiti-US-Inter-American Development Bank job-creation plan. Under the terms of the package Haiti provides land for the factory; the US builds worker houses, an electricity grid, and waste treatment facilities; and the IDB contributes money for road building and infrastructure. The factory is expected to create some 20,000 jobs in the region, and Sae-A has made an initial promise to pay assembly line workers at least four times Haiti’s current average per capita GDP of $640. The new factory plans to open in March 2012.
· Visiting Guatemala this week, Deputy US Assistant Secretary for Central America and the Caribbean, Julissa Reynoso, announced the creation of a new, admittedly “small,” US anti-crime assistance fund for Central America. Prensa Libre reports on the announcement of the “Challenge Grants” program in which Central American countries who demonstrate a commitment to building capacity will be eligible to compete for additional US security assistance. Reynoso said the fund would be in addition to the $200 million the State Dept. allocated earlier this year for regional anti-crime/anti-drug initiatives through CARSI.
· Also in Guatemala, new poll numbers from the firm Borge y Asociados this week show Otto Perez Molina with a commanding 47.2% to 13.7% early lead over first-lady and soon to be ex-wife of Alvaro Colom, Sandra Torres.
· And from IPS, another excellent report on the recent mass eviction of some 3000 campesinos in the Polochic Valley in Guatemala’s northern province of Alta Verapaz. At least one individual was killed during the evictions which wre carried out by private security forces hired by sugar planters who have entered Guatemala en masse since 2005 seeking to get rich on the ethanol boom.
· In Honduras, the FNRP is going forward today with a national strike, according to La Tribuna and others. It seems unclear what sort of participation there will be. As El Heraldo reports, some leaders in the teacher’s movement began meetings with members of Congress late Tuesday evening to discuss differences over the proposed education reforms that have caused much of the recent protest.
· Erin Rosa at Narco News has a critical report of last week’s 10-point “Mexico Initiative” re: reporting on the country’s drug wars.
· The Guardian reports on the murder of two Mexican journalists in Nuevo Leon this week, one from Televisa and one from the daily La Prensa.
· The US may soon not be the only country flying anti-drug drones in foreign airspace. AFP reports that Brazil and Bolivia were expected to make official yesterday a new agreement that would bring unmanned Brazilian aircrafts into Bolivian skies for the first time. The agreement is part of on-going joint counternarcotics efforts between the two countries.
· Reuters reports on the Univ. of La Plata’s decision to give Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez its Rodolfo Walsh journalism award for promoting popular media in Venezuela. Journalist and author John Dinges comments: “For a journalism school to give (Chavez) a prize setting him up as a model seems to be a contradiction or it means the La Plata journalism school has adopted the view of communication viewed by Chavez: that ... state-controlled, direct communication is preferable to independent media and journalism as we know it.”
· Mercopress has more on a series of bilateral agreements signed between Chavez and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on Tuesday. Chavez is in Uruguay today where UNASUR is expected to be the major topic of discussion.
· And finally, Roque Planas at AS/COA with a good look at the changes and continuities in Brazil’s foreign policy under Dilma Rousseff – specifically how Brazil has voted at the UN in recent weeks. If Lula and Dilma’s joint visit to Portugal this week is any indication, one notable continuity appears be in charting an economic path which remains critical of international financial institutions like the IMF.