Critiquing the emerging Cuba policy

Harold Trinkunas and Richard Feinberg, longtime observers of US-Latin American relations, have a blistering op-ed about the foolishness of the emerging Trump policy towards Cuba, in particular, and the administration’s appreciation for diplomacy, in general.

Here’s the money quote:

this White House and its pro-embargo allies in Congress have opportunistically seized on these mysterious illnesses affecting U.S. diplomats to overturn the pro-normalization policies of a previous administration, using bureaucratic obstruction and reckless language when they cannot make the case for policy change on the merits alone.

As usual with the current presidential administration, there is no larger plan but simply an intent to undo as much as possible the work and advances of the previous one.


US to cut embassy staff in Cuba

The US State Department is going to slash the number of diplomats stationed at our embassy in Havana and will also warn US tourists about possible attacks at hotels in the Cuban capital. The US will also stop processing visa requests by Cubans.

Much mystery around the sonic attacks that have injured – some quite severely – members of our and the Canadian diplomatic corps endures.

This story is developing but it is unclear if any new information about the source of the sonic attacks has emerged. Regardless, this is a setback for the rapprochement between the two historic adversaries.

North Carolina Latin American Film Festival

The annual North Carolina Latin American Film Festival in Durham, NC begins next week on September 28 and runs through Wednesday, November 8.

North Carolina Latin American Film Festival (youtube clip)

The lineup of movies looks outstanding. Highly recommended.



TH. SEP. 28 | Pleasants Family Assembly Room. Wilson Library, UNC-CH. 5:00pm.
Maestra. Catherine Murphy (Cuba), 2012. 33min.

*Preceded by a reception.

La Jaula de Oro / The Golden Dream. Diego Quemada Diez (Mexico, Guatemala), 2014/15. 90min.

*Preceded by a Brunch.

SUN. OCT. 1 | SILVERSPOT CINEMAS, Chapel Hill. 7:00pm (Ticketed event: please reserve HERE)
Tata Padrinos / Godparents. Dignicraft (Mexico-USA), 2017. 62min.

*Followed by a reception. *With presence of the filmmakers. Special event thanks to RTI Latino Diversity Group.

Boi Neon / Neon Bull. Gabriel Mascaro (Brazil), 2015. 91min.

Finding Oscar. Ryan Suffern (Guatemala/US), 2017. 90min.

El Aula Vacia | The Empty Classrom. Gael García Bernal, et all. (Mexico), 2015. 111min.
O custo da oportunidade | The Cost of Opportunity. Dudu de Morro & Stephanie Reist (Brazil), 2017. 30min.

*Preceded by a reception. With presence of the director The Cost of Opportunity.

TH. OCT. 5 | CAROLINA THEATRE, Durham. 7:00pm.

Short animations by Walter Tournier: Chatarra/Junk (2015) 5min; Alto el Juego/Cease the Game (2016) 6min.
El botón de nácar / The Pearl Button. Patricio Guzmán (Chile), 2016. 82min.

FRI.  OCT. 6 | Frank Porter Graham Elementary, Chapel Hill. 7:00pm.
Children’s programming: animations by Walter Tournier, Uruguay.

Chatarra/Junk (2015) 5min; Alto el Juego/Cease the Game (2016) 6min.
Main program: Selkirk, el verdadero Robinson Crusoe | Pirates of the Seven Seas. Walter Tournier (Uruguay) 2012. 65min.

*Popcorn and beverages will be offered. *With presence of the filmmaker.


Short animations by Walter Tournier: Chatarra/Junk (2015) 5min; Alto el Juego/Cease the Game (2016) 6min.

Sin nombre. Cary Fukonagua (Honduras, Mexico, USA), 2009. 96min.


ARTEMIO. Sandra Luz López Barroso (México). 2017. 50min.

*With presence of the producer.

SUN.  OCT. 8 | SILVERSPOT CINEMA, Chapel Hill. 7:00pm. (Ticketed event: please reserve: HERE)
Neruda, Pablo Larrain (Chile). 2016. 107min.

Tempestad | Tempest. Tatiana Huezo (Mexico), 2016. 105min.

Salero. Mike Plunket (Boliva) 2016. 116min.
Narrating Nature (three Shorts)

El Acompañante | The Companion. Pavel Giroud (Cuba), 2016. 104min.

Truman. Cesc Gay (Argentina, Spain), 2015. 108min.

Strange and stranger – sonic weapon attacks in Cuba

The list of American diplomatic personnel suffering symptoms from purported sonic attacks in Cuba has grown to 21. At least 10 Canadian diplomats were targeted and injured too. American and Canadian officials and investigators have confessed publicly to being perplexed. Scientists are puzzled by how a sonic weapon could do this sort of damage.

In short, no one is certain what in the world happened.

In this The Guardian story, an important take away is that the US government is not yet convinced the Cuban government was intentionally involved. That, of course, may change, but since there has been no further punitive actions by the Trump administration one can surmise that we still do not have a clear idea of what took place.

Strange and stranger, indeed.

Pope Francis and his psychoanalyst

Anyone familiar with Argentina’s Dirty War from 1976 to 1983 understands the savagery that the military dictatorship meted out on the civilian population. Suspicion was enough to get one disappeared.

During this moment, Pope Francis, known then as Fr. Jorge Bergoglio, served as the Superior of Argentina’s Jesuit priests, many of whom were strong critics against the crimes and violence committed by the regime. Two Jesuit priests were terribly tortured on the Pope’s watch.

As a result, Pope Francis visited a psychologist weekly for a year, surely seeking guidance, understanding and perhaps assurance for his actions. For those familiar with Argentina, visiting an analyst/counselor is a River Plate tradition. It makes perfect sense that one would seek help in a moment of national tragedy and trauma.

Here’s the news story and a sympathetic op-ed from The Guardian.

Welcome to the class blog of HIST 317 – Modern Latin America

Hello world!

We are resurrecting this blog and attaching it to HIST 317 – Modern Latin America. Students will be responsible for posting news articles of interest. Links to the articles will be preceded by a summary of the article and how it links to the course themes of 1) politics and rights (civil, human, environmental, etc.), 2) the economy and society, and 3) relations among Latin American nations and with the broader international community.

Looking forward to the semester.

– el Profe

Rebranding the class blog and introducing Latin American Reflections

OK, now the semester is upon us, I am reviving the blog. I think it worked well last semester.

We focused on the relationship between Latin America and the US last spring. This fall we examine popular politics and social revolution in 20th century Latin America and the Caribbean.

I am excited. There is much to discuss as the region is pockmarked with social unrest from Guatemala to Brazil, from Argentina to Venezuela. Folk are rejecting the impunity of the political classes throughout the region.

These contemporary cases invite us to look at the development of politics – broadly conceived to go far beyond electoral politics – among historically marginalized sectors of Latin American and Caribbean societies.

Students will be blogging on this page throughout the course. Feel free to comment as you see fit.


Vatican to open its archives related to Argentina’s military dictatorship, 1976-1983

In a very important move, Pope Francis has instructed his Secretary of State to begin declassifying Vatican reports and diplomatic correspondence from the era of the Dirty War in Argentina, during which more than 20,000 people were disappeared.

The potential for more fully understanding this period of Argentine history cannot be understated.

Lita Boitano, president of the human rights group Familiares, had this to say:

“In 1979 I was in Rome and had asked for a meeting with Pope John Paul II, which I didn’t get, but I got a meeting with a Vatican official. When I gave him my name, he left and quickly returned with a file card with my name on it. It had all the details of my two kids and the exact dates of their kidnappings, they knew exactly who I was.”

This is potentially a massive find that may help bring closure to many families who still yearn for knowledge about the disappearance and demise of their sons and daughters, husbands and wives.

An example of adverts in Argentine newspapers commemorating

the disappearance of loved ones.Source: Pagina 12

For its part, Monsignor Laterza of the Vatican’s State Department declared, “The collection of the material has been concluded and there is a system to scan and digitize it. It could be available to the public in one year.”

For families and historians, this is an important development that is vital to claiming a fuller understanding of a dark moment in Argentina’s recent past.

Yes! Think of Undocumented Immigrants as Parents, not Problems

Excellent op-ed in today’s New York Times by Roberto Suro and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, both long-time observers of the phenomenon of Latin American immigration into the U.S.

Effectively, they are asking the public and policymakers to humanize these immigrants, but the authors also point out the consequences of inaction. The evidence is clear. The effect on children is detrimental, and this has a direct consequence to the strength of our communities.

Some selections from the op-ed:

  • More than 11 million unauthorized immigrants settled into our communities; many formed families and had children. Now at least one of every 15 children living in the United States has an unauthorized parent, and nearly all of those children are native-born United States citizens.
  • In a recent report, we assessed more than 50 research studies of the children of unauthorized immigrants conducted by scholars in a variety of fields. This growing body of work shows that fear and uncertainty breed difficulties that manifest themselves in delayed cognitive development, lower educational performance and clinical levels of anxiety.
  • In the universe of manufactured disadvantage, we cannot think of many instances in which sitting judges, with the stroke of a pen, can bring immediate and measurable relief to millions of children.

While many opponents of immigration reform will cry foul about these parents suborning US law, the fact is these families are here and are part of our communities. Their kids go to our schools, these families shop at our grocery stores, they seek solace at our spaces of worship. The authors are correct that Americans have long held the idea that children can not bear the burden of their father’s sins.

It’s time for policymakers to realize this sentiment.

Think of Undocumented Immigrants as Parents, Not Problems –

“In defence of Cuba’s strange revolution” – Castro’s trip to the US 56 years

The Guardian newspaper has a great feature that pulls an article from its archive relating an important historical event. One can find, for instance, the account of Nelson Mandela’s famous speech and conviction at the Rivonia trial in 1964.

Today marks the day 56 years ago, The Guardian reported on the arrival of Fidel Castro to the US at the invitation of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The rhetoric in the report is fascinating, as the battle lines were drawn very early and thus the arcs of the relationship cast.

Looking like a football player though he is really a baseball fan, wearing the fatigue dress of a soldier and carrying a book in his left hand, surrounded by security police but proclaiming his love of mankind, Fidel Castro arrived in Washington last night, more like a picturesque paradox that the hero of Cuba’s revolution.

Even before he stepped from his plane controversy broke over his head. A specialist in Latin American affairs, Senator Smathers of Florida, arose in the Senate to send a ponderous poisoned spear in Castro’s direction. With a strange lapse from the traditions of senatorial courtesy, the Senator told his colleagues that the Castro Government was giving its support to movements which were trying “to invade the shores of other Latin American countries.” Still another charge was flung by Raphael Del Pino who described himself as the head of an “anti-communist movement of the Americas.” He accused Castro of being the “new dictator” of a “Communist-controlled beach head within 90 miles of the United States mainland.”

These charges of communism do not really touch the American peoples’ concern about Castro. They do not think he is an agent of Moscow. But they are troubled about his ruthless executions and his known ambitions. Is this young man of 32 a dedicated hero of a peoples’ revolution or is he the creature of accident and the victim of forces he started but no longer can control? Will he try to nationalise the sugar industry of Cuba and confiscate American profits and investment? Is he a blood-stained tyrant driving men to their executions with patriotism and revolutionary tribunals? Or is he merely exacting delayed retribution, on Cuba’s behalf, for the catalogue of crimes and blunders committed by the Batista regime?


Ever unorthodox, Fidel Castro soaked up his time in the US by defying the security concerns of his handlers:

During his visit, Castro will be in Washington, Princetown, New York, Boston, and Montreal, and will also appear on “Meet the Press” on radio and television on Sunday night. His security guards are in for a hard task. Both at the airport and later at the Cuban Embassy he broke through all the official precautions for his safety. On his arrival he brushed aside the police, allowed himself to be surrounded by 1,500 excited and shouting Cuban admirers. Then at the Embassy, as he was getting ready for bed, he suddenly changed his mind, ran out of doors, and mingled informally with a group of some fifty people who had gathered on the side-walk opposite the Embassy.

Castro has brought his technical advisers with him. He is ready to talk to the American Government about the economic and political problems of his country, if the State Department is interested in them. Certainly the American people are eager to hear him in his defence of Cuba’s strange revolution.

Now that the relations are moving in a positive direction at the same time the Castros are nearing the ‘biological solution’ (a euphemism used on the island), it will be vital to strip this issue of the rhetoric of a bygone era.

Read the article here:

Fidel Castro visits Washington: from the archive, 17 April 1959 | World news | The Guardian