Wednesday, March 30, 2016

EU-Peru Visa Waiver

High representatives of Peru and the EU signed the 14 March in Brussels an agreement for short-stay visa waiver. The agreement, that is applied from March 15 on a provisional basis until voted by the EU Parliament, provides visa free travel for EU citizens when travelling to the territory of Peru and for the citizens of Peru when travelling to the EU territory for a period of 90 days.
The provisions apply for valid ordinary, diplomatic or special passports, for all category of persons on any purpose - tourism, cultural visits, family, business - except for carrying a paid activity. Through this agremeents, both part hope to improve cultural connections, as well as political and economic improvement of the bilateral relations. 
EU is Peru's third trade partner after the US and China, and the largest foreign investor, with a 50% share of the total foreign investments. Between the two parts there are several cooperation programmes ongoing. During the 2007-2013 programe of 135 million Euro, Peru was supported to reduce the children malnutrition in remote and poor areas, to fight against illegal drugs and to create alternative development solutions and encourage ecological trade. During the various elections taking place in Peru, EU deployed Electoral Observation Mission.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Voices of conscience in the Middle East: Raif Badawi

Raif Badawi is famous for a sinister occurence: he was condemned by the Saudi Arabia authorities to 10 years of prison and 1000 lashes - yes, we are still in the 21st century - plus fines of an amount of the equivalent of 194,00 Euro, for his texts published on his blog. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, who is a strong militant for his release, run the country together with their 3 kids and is a Canadian resident. 
His only guilt is to have been approached sensitive issues for the theocractic Saudi Arabia, such as secularization, need to get rid of religious extremism, liberalism, pluralism, respect for diversity of religions and freedom of thought. The texts published on his blog between 2010 and 2012 were erased by the high tech authorities who are meanwhile maintaining a strict control of the www, in order to prevent any actions or writings against the predominant Islam. Some of the short written interventions were gathered in a thin book. Pledging for the adoption of a secularist model similar to that introduced in France after the French Revolution, he approaches various issues at stake in the Middle Eastern and particularly Saudi society: the contradictions between religious assumptions and scientific reality, the chutzpe of wanting a mosque close to the ruins of the WTC destroyed during the terrorist attacks of 9/11, equality between men and women, the rejection of autocratic movements such as Hamas. He also warned about extremists and the danger of the 'Caliphate'. There are a lot of interesting ideas and concepts outlined but unfortunately this is only the beginning of a larger discussion and clarification of concepts that as long he is in prison cannot be continued or developed. The original texts were published in Arabic, but translated in several languages. Personally, I've read the German version.
In December 2015, Badawi was awarded the prestigious European Sakharov prize by the European Parliament for freedom of thought. His condemnation is going on, with the last January 50 of the 1,000 lashes being done, although medical warning about Badawi's health situation were issued. At the end of the last year, he went on hunger strike for a short while.
He is not the only member of the family persecuted by the authorities. His sister, Samar Badawi, a human rights avocate was shortly detained this January. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Meir Dagan, almost the end of an era

The picture of his grandfather before death used to be in his office
The death of the former cheif of Mossad for nine years, Meir Dagan, can be almost the end of an era, of an old generation of public personalities in Israel whose personalities were defined by the World War II. Dagan, born as Huberman, on the train between Soviet Union and Poland in 1945, used to have in his office the picture of his grandfather down on his knees before being killed by Nazis, made a life mission that Holocaust 'will never happen again'. 
Dagan served as director of the Israel's most powerful intelligence agency beetween 2002 and 2011, under three prime-ministers: Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu. He ended his mandate on medical reasons, although during the exhange of declarations during the last years elections, Netanyahu affirmed that in fact he refused to extend his mandate. Dagan offered to the media the proof of his letter resignation letter where he requested the replacement. 
Officer of the Israeli Defense Force - IDF - he fought during the Yom Kippur War and the 1982 Lebanon War. As chief of Mossad, he ordered several operations, some of them together with other secret services, aimed at killing terrorists who put in dangerous the state of Israel. During one of them, for instance, operated together with the CIA, was killed Imad Mughniyeh, the so-called Minister of Defence of Hezbollah. After becoming a public figure, he often criticised Netanyahu for the way in which he managed the Iran problem and was a harsh opponent of the idea of an Israeli attack against Tehran. In Dagan's opinion, the then and current prime-minister turned Iran into an Israeli problem, thus limiting the interest of the rest of the world in the issue. During the last elections, he supported Isaac Herzog, part of a tandem with Tzipi Livni that used to work for the Mossad during his mandate.
Dagan was also active in the business sector, and was an amateur painter and a vegetarian too. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Obama in Cuba: why and what to expect

President Obama's visit to Cuba between 20-22 March, the first in almost 90 years, will probably bring a lot of hopes and possible deals for US companies, but will not change too much the massive human rights violations on the island. After decades of economic and political isolation, Cuba is progressivelly opening to businesses, but the high number of arrests among dissidents in the last weeks - around 2,555 in the first months of the year according to local and international human rights NGOs - shows that there is a very long way till the country will achieve democratic standards, if ever.
Obama is accompanied by a massive delegation of business people, among which representatives of AT&T, Xerox, Marriott and Starwood hotel chains, as well as bi-partisan senators. In the next months it is expected that US airlines will start commercial flights to Cuba. A full lifting of the embargo is not possible too soon, given the strong opposition of the Republican-dominated Congress, many of them strongly opposing this visit. Over the years, the Congress created exceptions to embargo, allowing, among others, US companies to sell construction materials, or agricultural and telecommunications equipment. White Houe is considering revising various regulations to allow American dollars to be used in transactions with Cuba and give green light to Americans to travel individually in Cuba. As for now, after decades long when visiting the Caribbean island was definitely forbidden, American can visit only part of groups. 
Compared with Nixon's visit to China - except that Obama does not have a smart help as Kissinger - the coming agenda includes meeting with Raul Castro, the brother of the Fidel who used to throw diatribes against the US, a possible attendance of a US-Cuba baseball game - Major League Baseball is part of the delegation too looking for deals for getting easily Cuban players -, a public speech at the University of Havana and a meeting with dissidents, most probably carefully chosen by the authorities. What will be avoided at any price will be a photo opp with Fidel, but do not forget that Raul was comrade in arms with his brother and part of the same system. 
US consulting companies warn that given the difficult legal and economic environment in Cuba, it will be quite complicated for American firms to operate in the communist country, but probably there was little choice left to the US given the high interest of countries like France, Japan and Russia to start serious businesses with Havana government. If we think about the good Cold War relations between Havana and Moscow, it is hard to believe that Russians ever left, with many elites well trained in the Soviet institutions.
The official publication Granma, who over the years made a hobby from publishing many pages anti-American propaganda announced in one of its last issues that Cuba will not cede 'one inch' in its 'unconditional commitment to its revolutionary and anti-imperialist principles'. On the other side, Obama also announced in December, during a Yahoo interview, that he will not visit the island if the human rights conditions will not improve. It is hard to say now who won, but democracy and human rights did not for now it seems. 
The warming up of the relations started in September 2014, when Castro and Obama met during the UN General Assembly. According to the diplomatic practices, an official visit of Raul Castro to Washington may follow, but it is hard to say if it will happen during the mandate of the current president. 
To be continued...