Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Monday Memo: Cuban Missile Crisis – FARC Peace Talks – Chávez’ Cabinet and more



Top stories this week are likely to include: 50-year anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis; Colombia-FARC peace talks begin in Oslo; U.S. presidential candidates square off in their second debate; chatter surrounds Hugo Chávez’ latest appointments; Enrique Peña Nieto continues his European tour; and Cubans elect new municipal leaders.

Cuban Missile Crisis Anniversary: Tuesday marks 50 years since the confrontation between Soviet-backed Cuba and the United States on October 16, 1962, a date known as the closest the world has ever been to a nuclear war. Last week, declassified Kennedy Library documents revealed further details of a clandestine U.S. effort to reach an accord with communist Cuba to avoid war. According to Peter Kornbluh, the National Security Archive’s Cuba analyst, lessons are still being learned. The documents “reinforce the key historical lesson of the missile crisis: the need and role for creative diplomacy to avoid the threat of nuclear armageddon,” Kornbluh notes.

Colombia, FARC negotiate in Oslo: After a half-century of armed conflict and many attempts to secure peace with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), the Colombian government led by President Juan Manuel Santos will inaugurate the latest round of peace talks on Wednesday. Despite qualms about the outcome, Santos has expressed “moderate optimism” about the process. The negotiations will begin in Oslo, Norway, this week and future rounds will continue in Havana, Cuba. Venezuela and Chile are acting as observers. AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak warns about inflated expectations: “Don’t expect any major breakthroughs this week. The success of this process will require a long-term commitment to the process that is not derailed by the hiccups that will inevitably occur along the way.” Already, the Colombian government is concerned by last minute changes to the FARC negotiating team.

Extra: Read AQ’s exclusive interview with Sergio Fajardo Valderrama, governor of Colombia’s Antioquia state, on his views and expectations of the peace process.

U.S. Presidential Debate: President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney will meet on Tuesday for the second of three presidential debates in the lead-up to the November 6 election. The debate will be held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, in a town-hall style format of undecided voters. Topics will range from foreign to domestic issues. The third and final debate will take place on Monday, October 22.

 

Chávez Appoints New VP and Cabinet: Following his re-election last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez made a series of appointments in recent days—tapping six new cabinet members over Twitter. These officials will head the ministry of domestic affairs and justice, ministry of communication and information, ministry of the environment, ministry of agriculture and land, and the office of the president. Before the weekend, Chávez also appointed Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro to be vice president, where he will also retain the foreign affairs portfolio. Analysts believe these measures serve a strategic purpose: to prepare for the upcoming regional elections scheduled for December 16. Pay attention this week for debate in Venezuelan media about the rationale for these new ministerial selections, as well as their strategic implications in Venezuelan politics. For editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly Chris Sabatini, “The question too about Maduro’s appointment is whether he would have the authority and blessing of the president to resolve disputes within the PSUV and the government should President Chávez’ cancer take a turn for the worse.”

 

Peña Nieto Visits Europe: Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto continues his European tour this week, which began last Friday when he landed in Germany. The purpose of the trip is to strengthen Mexico’s economic ties with the European private sector. While in Germany, Mexico was ranked as the fourth-best investment destination by German magazine WirtschaftsWoche. Peña Nieto will arrive in Spain today where he will hold meetings with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and investors, and will be greeted by King Juan Carlos I. Peña Nieto will round out his continental tour in the United Kingdom on Tuesday and France on Thursday.

Cuban Municipal Elections: This Sunday over 8 million Cubans will elect delegates to the Asambleas Municipales de Poder Popular (municipal assemblies)—the bodies that are responsible for selecting part of the National Assembly. Assembly members serve two-and-a-half year terms. To guarantee that the voting infrastructure is working appropriately, an election drill was carried out yesterday in about 29,500 polling stations throughout the country. For Rafael Hernández, editor of the Cuban magazine Temas, the presence and participation of young Cubans in municipalities and provinces has decreased from 22 percent in 1987 to 16 percent in 2008, one of many aspects that reflects Cuba’s aging population. If no candidate obtains more than 50 percent in a given municipality, then a runoff election will be held on October 28.

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