Tuesday Headlines

Cubans Fleeing Island As Obama Prepares For Historic Visit
As President Barack Obama prepares to make a historic trip to Cuba at the end of the week, statistics show that in the last three months of 2015, 1,536 Cubans were returned to Cuba after unsuccessfully attempting to reach the US. A total of 4,473 Cubans sought refuge in the US in fiscal year 2015, according to The Latin Post.

The spike in Cubans fleeing their homeland since the US normalized relations with the dictatorship is not terribly surprising. Andres Oppenheimer, a Miami Herald columnist, notes that political repression has increased in recent months. The number of arbitrary detentions of peaceful oppositionists reached a record 1,447 in November, according to the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

“A presidential visit should occasion a broader progress on the human-rights agenda. And I haven’t seen any changes on that front,” Christopher Sabatini, an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, told Bloomberg News.

And the free market is hardly bustling. Cuba’s government-run weekly Trabajadores reported that the number of self-employed workers in Cuba has dropped from 504,600 to 496,400 over a six-month period, according to a January 12 report.

While the administration contends the visit will include meetings with opposition leaders, the editorial board of the Washington Post asks skeptically whether Obama will “address Cubans directly, in places where thousands of ordinary people — not hand-picked party cadres — can see and hear him? Will he visit private businesses? Will he give an interview to Yoani Sánchez, the country’s renowned independent journalist?”

Time will tell.

Former British PM Blair To Lead Counter-extremism Commission Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta today spoke at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event previewing the launch of a commission on violent extremism.

The goal of the effort is to assist U.S. and European governments in crafting counter radicalization programs and will gather experts to “study extremist groups like the Islamic State and recommend ways to blunt their appeal among disaffected youth,” reports The Washington Post.

A report is scheduled to be released in July.

UN Expert Says Religious Extremism Is Far More Complex Problem In a recent interview, United Nations Special Rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt addresses the link between religion and extremism and argues that in order to effectively combat religious extremism analysts should recognize the problem is far more complex than violence inspired by a particular religion.

“Given the manifold root-causes and factors underneath violence and terrorism in the name of religion, no one has an easy recipe,” he says, adding that religious or sectarian dimensions of the conflicts should be taken seriously, but not focused upon in isolation.

“Most of the factors of escalation do not just stem from religious struggles that allegedly have existed since time immemorial, but rather have to do with more recent developments and failures, such as a total disenchantment with government institutions in large parts of society, the every-day experience of rampant corruption and cronyism, loss of trust in the fair functioning of public institutions, even of the judiciary,” he adds.


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