Yes, I know Central America isn’t a “country.” Here’s Zach Rosenberg with our second set of briefs on places that I’ve otherwise neglected in my coverage:
Central America is dominated economically, militarily and socially by the United States, which has historically used its leverage to great effect, having actually invaded many of these countries at one time or another. The latest and greatest issue for the region is DR-CAFTA, a free trade bill which virtually eliminates tariffs on trade between the U.S. and Central America (and the Dominican Republic). While it sounds simple, free trade is a contentious issue on all sides. Free trade itself won’t be discussed here, it’s just too much (go here for the rough guide), but rest assured that it’s given rise to a enormous backlash against free trade, multinational corporations and unbridled capitalism in general and the biggest supporter of all these policies, the United States.
Now, there have long been movements opposing such capitalism in Central America, but (much to the surprise of many Americans, who took for granted that the whole thing was settled with the demise of the U.S.S.R.) what was a strong grassroots movement is now gaining power: the best example in the region is Nicaragua’s election of Daniel Ortega, a former Sandanista leader who stands strongly against U.S. policies. Ortega has oriented Nicaragua’s foreign policy towards cooperation with ideological allies like Venezuela and Cuba, and argued for caps on free trade. Although this has scared the Hell out of some people, the Nicaraguan economy does not seem to be suffering greatly because of it.
In the Caribbean there are big happenings. Fidel Castro, who has led Cuba for damn near 50 years, has resigned from power and installed his brother Raul. Raul has staunch Communist credentials, having served as Defense Minister for years upon years. (Cuban soldiers pictured.) But now that he’s in charge, Raul seems to be loosening things up a bit economically. Cubans are now allowed to freely buy cell phones and computers, own their own homes and run small businesses. It’s open to debate how far the reforms will go and whether they indicate a real transformation to a capitalist economy – while the experts are divided, everybody is keeping a close eye on the situation.
The U.S., much to the annoyance of other nations, has had a strict economic and travel embargo on Cuba since Fidel took power, which, though designed to hasten Castro’s fall from power, has been largely ineffective. There has been some support for lifting the ban, but the political clout of exiled Cubans in the U.S. means any policy change will be a long and bitter process.
Leonel Fernandez has just been reelected as President of the Dominican Republic. Despite rampant corruption, the Dominican Republic ranked 2nd highest in satisfaction with government, with 49 percent of the population approving of their democracy, which, frankly, is surprising given the recent history of massive corruption and astounding mismanagement there. The Dominican Republic also displays above average levels of approval for their elected officials and political parties (~45 percent and 30 percent, respectively), well above the Latin American average of 20 percent (Latinobarometro 2007 results).
(Photo: Galerie Photos)