Top stories this week are likely to include: Cubans apply for foreign visas; Nicolás Maduro, Diosdado Cabello and Latin American leaders visit Chávez in Havana; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner travels to Asia; and Barack Obama begins his second presidential term.
Cuba Loosens Travel Restrictions: The directive announced last October to relax regulations on Cuban travel overseas goes into effect today. The measure eliminates the requirement for Cubans to have a government permit and an invitation letter from abroad when applying for a passport. However, the Cuban government still reserves the right to refuse passports “to those deemed risky to public security, national defense or for other reasons, and limit travel by professionals considered ‘vital’ to Cuba,” according to MercoPress. The Associated Press is reporting long lines forming outside travel agencies, migration offices and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana today in response to the policy.
Chávez Remains in Havana: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ health remains uncertain following his December 2012 surgery in Havana on an unspecified form of cancer—causing him to miss his own inauguration last week. Now that Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice has delayed Chávez’ swearing-in until an indefinite, ambiguous date when Chávez recovers, many Venezuelans are questioning who is in charge. Over the weekend, Vice President Nicolás Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello traveled to Havana to meet with Cuban President Raúl Castro. Former Vice President Elías Jaua has said that Chávez is “fighting for his life” while Information Minister Ernesto Villegas asserts that the Venezuelan leader is responding to treatment. Pay attention this week to see if more information is revealed about the state of Chávez’ health.
CFK in Asia: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner departed Cuba yesterday, where she was meeting with Raúl and Fidel Castro, and continued to the Middle East and Asia for a three-country tour through next Monday. She arrived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, yesterday to speak at the World Future Energy Summit and will leave tomorrow for Jakarta, Indonesia, for a visit that will focus on advancing bilateral cooperation with the world’s fourth most populous country. Fernández de Kirchner will depart Jakarta on Friday for Vietnam, where she will visit Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. The president’s visit follows a trade mission last October led by Secretary for International Trade Beatriz Paglieri.
Obama’s Inauguration: U.S. President Barack Obama begins his second term on Sunday. However, since the January 20 date falls on a Sunday, the public ceremony on the National Mall in Washington DC will be pushed back one day to Monday, January 21. Obama will be sworn in on Sunday at a small, private gathering.
The following is not yet another tirade against President Hugo Chávez. Instead, it is a warning: recent developments suggest that, in the case that Chávez does not manage to survive his illness, his successors could turn Venezuela into a narco-autocracy run by corrupt military officers who care more for money and riches than ideology or revolution. This would be of great concern for my country, Colombia.
When it was first announced that Chávez was suffering from cancer, conjectures started to arise as to who could succeed him in case he died, or he had to step aside. Two sides were identified. First, a group of high-ranking government officials, all civilians, who are very loyal to Chávez, apparently favored by the Cubans and strictly committed to the ideology of the revolution. The feisty Nicolás Maduro, minister of foreign affairs, and the left-wing intellectual and activist Elías Jaua, vice-president, were seen as the captains of such group. Initially, my own bet was that they would be picked by Chávez, with the blessing of the Castro brothers, given the likely potential that they would continue the revolution.