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Way open for Cuba to come in from the cold

Oliver Scanlan
17 April 2009

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said on Thursday that the United States is ready to talk to Cuba. Speaking the day before the Summit of the Americas, which will be attended by the representatives of 34 nations, excluding Cuba, Clinton went on to say that any such dialogue is likely to be dependent on improvements in openness and democracy in the one-party island state. Earlier in the week, President Barack Obama eased certain restrictions of the embargo on the island, in place now for 47 years.

The toD verdict: A key plank in Obama's foreign policy in his first term will be the rescuing of relations between the US and the other American nations from the nadir reached during the Bush administration. The Summit of the Americas due to be held on 17-19 April could be a pivotal moment in this process. In the days leading up to the conference, however, it has become clear that the lifting of the Cold War-era trade embargo will be a vital step in the rehabilitation of Cuba.

Speaking after talks with Clinton on Thursday, Haitian President Rene Preval may well have been speaking for many other stakeholders when he called for the lifting of the embargo and the inclusion of Cuba at subsequent summits between the American countries. Clinton's caveats at this point make it uncertain whether a breakthrough in this key area is imminent. However, the decline in recent years of the anti-Castro lobby's influence in Washington's halls of power, combined with the more conciliatory approach taken by the Obama administration in regards to foreign policy, may make this summit the best chance in nearly fifty years for Cuba to be brought in from the cold. 

Foreign nationals implicated as Bolivian assassination plot thwarted

According to Bolivian security forces, an attempt on the life of Bolivian President Evo Morales was foiled on Thursday. Three alleged conspirators were killed and two arrested in a gun battle with police that took place in a hotel in the city of Santa Cruz. According to Bolivian police Chief Hugo Escobar, the dead included two Hungarians. Speaking in Venezuela, where he is holding talks with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, President Morales also said that an Irish citizen may be involved. Alvaro Garcia, the vice-president, and another cabinet minister were also reportedly targets of the plot.

Thai crisis continues as "Yellow Shirt" leader shot

Sondhi Limthongkul, the leader of the People's Alliance of Democracy, has been shot and injured in Bangkok while travelling in car in the early hours on Friday. Nick-named the "Yellow Shirts" because of their apparel, the PAD's demonstrations in 2006 led to the downfall of then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his replacement by Abhisit Vejjajiva. Shinawatra's own "Red Shirt" supporters have been behind the recent demonstrations against Vejjajiva, though he himself has denied actively instigating the unrest.

The attempted assassination of Limthongkul, who is now out of danger after a successful operation, will almost certainly spark fears that the violence in Thailand, which looked to be abating with the surrender of red shirt leaders to police on Tuesday, may soon be rekindled.

China to stress "naval preparedness"

In an interview with China's Xinhua News Agency, People's Liberation Army Navy commander Wu Shengli has said that China's Navy needs to boost its ability to fight in regional seas. Listing plans to acquire "large surface ships" and "supersonic cruise aircraft", Wu also said that plans are in place to incorporate "non-military" options into the PLAN's abilities, including large scale rescue and off-shore construction.

The mention of "large surface ships" may be a reference to China's acquisition of its first aircraft carrier, long postponed for budgetary reasons. The acquisition of an aircraft carrier is considered by many military analysts to be a sine qua non for the defence of China's interests in the contested waters of the South China Sea, including its disputes with Japan over the Ryuku Islands and several other nations over the potentially oil-rich Spratly archipelago.   

Indian voters undaunted by terrorist violence

In the first day of voting in the Indian elections, Naxalite insurgents have killed at least eighteen people, including seven paramilitary troops and a policeman. The attacks took place in three restive states: Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. Despite this, voter turnout has been steady with millions of Indians going to the polls. The overall turnout rate is estimated to be over 50 percent. In this, the world's most populous democracy, 714 million people are eligible to vote.

Amnesty for CIA operatives implicated in torture

On Thursday, the US Justice Department made public memos detailing so-called "enhanced" interrogation methods used on suspected members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations during the Bush administration. These techniques, which many authorities, including current US attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr, consider to constitute illegal torture, included sleep deprivation, placing detainees in stress positions and waterboarding.

However, Obama has resisted calls for an independent inquiry into the CIA's activities, saying that "nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." Although he has banned the use of such measures, the president has said that CIA operatives who carried out such activities in the past will be exempt from prosecution.

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