SAO PAULO — It’s the image that became the symbol of Nelson Mandela’s memorial in Soweto: the handshake between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. And it's only fitting that this is the image that remains.
The United States and Cuba have been living in open animosity since the Cold War. From the end of the 1960s, Washington has been imposing a commercial and financial embargo on the island that turned Communist after the movement led by Fidel Castro took power in 1959.
But Obama’s gesture was not unprecedented. Before him, other U.S. presidents have met with leaders of hostile countries without those confabs leading to bilateral relations. In the gallery of these historical meetings there are, for example, pictures of Harry Truman greeting Joseph Stalin at the 1945 Potsdam Conference, and others of Bill Clinton shaking Fidel Castro’s hand at the United Nations in 2000.
Winston Churchill, Truman, and Stalin at Potsdam Conference (Truman Library)
U.S. officials have said that the encounter between Obama and Raul Castro hadn’t been planned. Even so, a handshake between leaders of enemy nations always arouses curiosity and inevitably sparks speculation.
The recent rapprochement between the United States and Iran reinforces the idea that a similar path could be found with Cuba. But what really foments speculation that the American embargo could be lifted is the very anachronism of these sanctions.
According to the Cuban Democracy Act that the U.S. Congress passed in 1993, the blockade is to be maintained until the island agrees on democratic reforms. Today, however, the embargo actually slows down this process more than it encourages it.
There are also emphatic signs that the Castro influence may be reaching its end. With the extinction of the Soviet bloc, the island lost its geopolitical importance and has since been suffering from an excruciating economic crisis. Increasingly criticized, both inside and outside the country, the dictatorship has had no choice but to make compromise after compromise.
Maintaining the embargo only punishes the Cuban population and supplies the regime with easy anti-American propaganda.
The presence of the United States in a process of economic reconstruction would be more productive. A gesture of reconciliation from the American government would probably be met with internal obstacles, but these also seem minor when compared to the opportunities such a move would create.
All would gain if the handshake between Obama and Castro — in the same spirit of reconciliation Nelson Mandela will be remembered for — represented a real first step on the road to a normalized relationship between the two countries.
Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.
• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.
• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.
• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.
• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.
• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.
• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.
• Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.
Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.
Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping
"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.
🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.
📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.
⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."
— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."
Why this Sudan coup d'état is different
Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.
Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:
"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.
Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.
True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
471 million euros
Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.
✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! firstname.lastname@example.org!
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