Cameroon: Conflict with U.S. Ambassador and  Reported Extrajudical Executions 

Cameroon has emerged again in international news coverage over conflict with the U.S. Ambassador and reported extrajudicial executions of two women, a child and a baby in the northern part of the country.

Conflict with U.S. Ambassador

This coming October 7 Cameroon will hold its presidential election, and the only viable candidate is the 85- year-old  Paul Biya, who has been President for the last 36 years.[1] Recently Cameroon has accused the U.S. Ambassador Peter Henry Barlerin, a career diplomat, of improper meddling in this upcoming election.

The problem arose on May 17,  when the U.S. Ambassador, released a press statement about his meeting that day with President Biya. The last point of that statement asserted that “the President and I discussed upcoming elections.  ‎I suggested to the President that he should be thinking about his legacy and how he wants to be remembered in the history books to be read by generations to come, and proposed that George Washington and Nelson Mandela‎ were excellent models.”[2] Each of them, of course, left their countries presidencies after only one term.

This comment by the  Ambassador’s “caused an uproar among officials in Cameroon and in the local media, which accused him of trying to influence a foreign election. Mr. Barlerin even received death threats.[3]

Five days after the Ambassador’s comments, May 22, Cameroon’s Minister of External Relations, H.E. Mbella Mbella, summoned the Ambassador to the Ministry and told him that the Cameroonian government strongly disapproved of his statement as flouting all diplomatic practice, civility and the law. Discussions between an ambassador and a head of state, according to the Minister, are privileged and confidential. The Minister also said that the Cameroonian people had fairly elected and re-elected Mr. Biya as their president, that Cameroon would not tolerate any foreign interference or meddling in its elections and that the Ambassador’s allegations regarding conduct of Cameroon’s defense and security forces were unfounded.[4]

Late last month, the Ambassador’s “photo was plastered across the covers of at least three local newspapers, which accused him of paying nearly $5 million to opposition candidates in the presidential race.” The U.S. Embassy released a statement calling this story  “entirely false.”

This diplomatic spat occurs while the country is going through a violent conflict between the majority of the population who speak French (the Francophones) and the minority who speak English (the Anglophones).[5]

Reported Extrajudicial Executions[6]

The country also has been battling Boko Haram extremists in its northern region. The latest in this conflict was a July 12 Amnesty International (AI) report of a grainy video on social media showing two women — one with a baby on her back and another holding hands with a young child — walking across a dirt patch. Armed men walk behind them, and one yells in French “You are B.H. [Boko Haram], you are going to die.” The men blindfold them and force them to kneel. Then they raise their rifles and shoot them.

According to AI , its experts have “gathered credible evidence that it was Cameroonian soldiers depicted in a video carrying out the horrific extrajudicial executions of two women and two young children.” The human rights group says the video was probably shot in Cameroon’s far north region, where Cameroonian forces have been fighting to push back Boko Haram extremists over the past several years. The Cameroonian government said it would investigate, while expressing skepticism about this analysis of the video.

On July 16, the U.S. State Department stated it was “gravely concerned” over this incident and called on “the Government of Cameroon to investigate thoroughly and transparently the events depicted in the video, make its findings public, and if Cameroonian military personnel were involved in this atrocity, hold them accountable.” This was necessary because “all countries, including Cameroon, must uphold their international and national commitments and obligations to protect the human rights of their residents and promote accountability.‎”

 

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[1] In a July 13, tweet, Biya announced that he was running for re-election. He said, “”I am willing to respond positively to your overwhelming calls. I will stand as Your Candidate in the upcoming presidential election.” (Reuters, Cameroon’s Veteran President Makes bid for Seventh Term, N.Y. Times (July 13, 2018).)

[2] U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, Ambassador Barlerin’s Statement to the Press (May 17, 2018).

[3] Searcey & Essomba, In Troubled Cameroon, U.S. Envoy Is Accused of Election Meddling, N.Y. Times (July 12, 2018).

[4] Mbella Mbella, Cameroon: Accusations By U.S. Ambassador—Government Expresses Strong Disapproval, allAfrica (May 22, 2018).

[5] See List of Posts in dwkcommentaries—Topical: CAMEROON.

[6] Amnesty Int’l, Cameroon: Credible evidence that Army personnel responsible for shocking extrajudicial executions caught on video (July 12, 2018);  O’Grady, Video appears to show Cameroonian soldiers executing women and children, Amnesty says, Wash. Post (July 14, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Statement: Video of Executions in Cameroon (July 16, 2018)

 

New Cuba Constitution Draft Recognizes Right to Private Property

Since Cuba’s election of a new president this past April, an official commission has been drafting a new constitution for the island nation. Recently, the commission presented the draft to the 7th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party and the Council of State, in which each of its precepts was “deeply analyzed.” On July 21-23 the draft will be presented for approval to Cuba’s national assembly (the National Assembly of the People’s Power), and later this year to the people in a national referendum.[1]

On July 14, an official website of the Communist Party of  Cuba, published a summary of the current draft of the new constitution that said it recognized both a free market and private property. More specifically, it said the draft “ratifies constitutionally the importance of foreign investment for the economic development of the country, with due guarantees. Regarding private property on the land, a special regime is maintained, with limitations on its transmission and the preferential right of the State to its acquisition through its fair price.”

On the other hand, this summary reaffirmed that state enterprise and central planning are the pillars of the economy and that the Communist Party would remain as the dominant political force.

Cuba expert Luis Carlos Battista at the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas cautioned that the acknowledgement of private property did not mean the government wanted to give private enterprise a greater role. Last week, he noted, the government published a set of regulations tightening control on the self-employed and hiking possible fines to include property confiscation.[2]

Other changes in the draft are the creation of the position of prime minister as the head of government, making the president the head of the national assembly with a limit of two consecutive five-year terms and creating a new presumption of innocence in the criminal justice system. It will maintain religious freedom.

In addition, the draft expressly calls for “the promotion of respect for international law and multipolarity among States; the repudiation of all forms of terrorism, particularly State terrorism; the rejection of the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons, of mass extermination or others with similar effects; the protection and conservation of the environment and the fight against climate change, as well as defends the democratization of cyberspace and condemns its use for subversive and destabilizing purposes of sovereign nations.”

The proposed new constitution, according to Cubadebate, was made necessary by “the experience of the years of the revolution [since 1959], the new directions drawn from the implementation of the guidelines for Economic and Social Policy approved by the Sixth Party Congress [in 2011], the objectives emanating from the First National Conference [of the Party in 2012], as well as the decisions adopted in the Seventh Party Congress [in 2016].”[3]

The commission is headed by Raúl Castro while one of its members is the new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.

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[1]  Know the main aspects of the Draft of the new Constitution, Cubadebate (July 14, 2018); Reuters, Communist-Run Cuba to Recognize Private Property in New Constitution, N. Y. Times (July 14, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuba to Reshape Government With New Constitution, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2018).

[2]  See these posts and comments on dwkcommentaries.com: Cuba announces New Regulations for Private Business (July 10, 2018); More Details on New Cuban Regulations on Private Business (July 11, 2018);  Comment: Yet More Details on New Cuban Regulations on Private Business, (July 13, 2018).

[3] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Raúl Castro Discusses Cuba-U.S. Relations in Report to Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (April 18, 2016); Raúl Castro Discusses Scio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (April 19, 2016); Conclusion of Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 20, 2016).

New Perspective on Different Social Class Attitudes Toward Immigrants

A  new perspective on different attitudes towards immigrants by U.S. elites and non-elites has been provided by Joan C. Williams of the University of California-Hastings College of Law.[1]

Williams’ Thesis

“As recently as the 1990s, Harvard sociologist Michèle Lamont found that working-class men in the New York City area held generally positive attitudes toward immigrants, describing them as ‘family oriented’ and ‘hard workers, just like us.’”

“More recently, however, many working-class men express different attitudes towards immigrants.” Williams attributes this to stagnant real wages. She says “real wage growth for the working class has been abysmal for a generation, and for many native-born blue-collar workers the culprit seems obvious—immigration. “My fiancé’s worked at the same company for 21 years and it’s a union [job], and they are hiring Mexicans,” one Trump voter told the Public Religion Research Institute. “And I don’t want to be racial, but that’s all they’re hiring. He makes like $31 an hour, and they’re coming in at making like $8 an hour.”

Although “economists have demonstrated immigration’s positive effect on gross domestic product, . . .that misses a crucial point: People don’t live the averages. They live where they live, and see what’s in front of them. In 2016 Donald Trump won far more counties than Hillary Clinton did—but Mrs. Clinton’s roughly 500 counties represented two-thirds of GDP. Mr. Trump won in regions left behind.”

Today , Williams continues, “less than half of Americans born in the 1980s earn more than their parents did, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty. Antitrade and anti-immigrant voices offer a clear explanation of why good jobs left the U.S. (free trade), and why the jobs that replaced them pay less (immigrants).”

“Those who believe otherwise need to communicate an alternative explanation and recognize that anti-immigrant fervor reflects cultural as well as economic divides.” These people primarily are what she calls “global elites, “ who “pride themselves on their cosmopolitanism. Some younger elites reject the notion of national borders entirely.”  Indeed, many of these people “seek social honor by presenting themselves as citizens of the world. And many are, with membership in global networks dating to their college years or earlier.”

Such attitudes or beliefs are rejected by “many blue-collar whites [who] interpret this as a shocking lack of social solidarity. They are proud to be American because it’s one of the few high-status identities they can claim.” They “tend to stay close to home because they rely on a small circle of family and friends for jobs, child care and help patching that hole in the roof.”

“Driven in part by their contrary lifestyles and networks, elites and non-elites hold radically different core values. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that elites focus on achievement and individuality, while the working class prizes solidarity and loyalty—values that bind members to their communities.”

“This class culture gap is also fueled by what sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild calls ‘feeling rules’ in her book, ‘Strangers in Their Own Land.’ These unwritten rules govern who deserves sympathy and who doesn’t. Elites’ feeling rules mandate empathy for immigrants, viewed as vulnerable people separated from their families or fleeing persecution, gangs or conflict. This empathetic human-rights lens contrasts sharply with the neoliberal lens elites use for blue-collar Americans, who are often viewed as dimwitted and fat. Homer Simpson is emblematic.”

“All this has created a toxic environment in both the U.S. and Europe.”

Williams’ Suggested Remedies

Williams provides three suggestions for members of the elite class to try to turn things around.

“The first is to recognize that the nation-state matters greatly for non-elites in developed countries. . . . Dismissing national pride as nothing more than racism is a recipe for class conflict and more racism. Better by far to embrace national pride, balance it with concern for those outside the nation, and refuse to allow racism to pose as national pride.”

“The second, . . .highlight the ways President Trump’s immigration and trade policies are hurting red-state constituencies that voted for him. Critics can point to farmers unable to find farmworkers, small-business owners unable to find dishwashers, and construction workers hit hard by steel tariffs.”

“The third step is to fight the scapegoating of immigrants by ensuring that hardworking Americans without college degrees can find good jobs. Economist Branko Milanovic has found that people in the bottom half of rich, developed countries’ income distributions have seen ‘an absence of real income growth’ since 1988. What’s happening, Mr. Milanovic argues, is the ‘greatest reshuffle of individual incomes since the Industrial Revolution.’ [Indeed,] the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that average wages fell last year for nonsupervisory workers in the U.S.”

“There’s no inherent reason why native-born blue-collar workers should be anti-immigrant. They often hold similar attitudes toward hard work and family values. Elites who sympathize with immigrants do themselves no favors by dismissing the working class as too bigoted or too stupid to recognize the economic benefits of immigration. Instead they should actually try to make the case and address the causes of anti-immigrant scapegoating.”

Conclusion

These suggestions make sense although I would add the following as elements to ameliorating the class divide: publicizing the many ways that today’s immigrants enhance the life and economy of the U.S.; emphasizing the need for immigrants in the many parts of this country with declining, aging populations; and reminding everyone of the many injustices that faced prior immigrants who are our ancestors.

There also is a profound need, especially for members of the elite and for individuals in both camps to find ways to meet and have respectful conversations about these problems.

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[1] Williams, The Elites Feed Anti-Immigrant Bias, W.S.J. (July 9, 2018).  Williams is a  Distinguished  Professor of Law  at the University of California, Hastings College of Law, Chair of the UC Hastings Foundation and the Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law. She also is the author of “White Working Class” (Harvard Business Review, 2017). She has degrees from Yale University (B.A., History), MIT (M.A., City Planning) and Harvard Law School (J.D.).

 

 

U.S. and Cuba Continue To Hold Dialogues on Common Issues

On July 10 and 11, 2018, the U.S. and Cuba in Washington D.C. continued to hold bilateral meetings. On July 10, the subject was law enforcement. On the 11th, migration. As was true for other such meetings, each country released statements about the meetings. Here is a summary of those statements.

Law Enforcement Dialogue[1]

U.S. Statement

According to the U.S. State Department, the two countries  “addressed topics of bilateral interest on national security matters, including fugitives and the [U.S.] return [to Cuba] of Cuban nationals with [U.S.] final orders of removal.” They also “reviewed recent progress in the law enforcement relationship, such as new bilateral cooperation that resulted in the [U.S.] conviction of a Cuban national who murdered an American citizen and who had fled prosecution in the [U.S.], as well as areas where there is more work to be done, such as trafficking in persons.”

The U.S. also said there was discussion about “the health attacks against diplomatic personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, including two recent cases. The U.S. delegation reminded the Cubans of their responsibility to protect U.S. diplomats from harm.”[2]

Cuban Statement

The Cuban Foreign Ministry’s statement had these words about the medical issues of certain U.S. diplomats in Cuba: “The Cuban delegation urged the U.S. government to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health incidents that became a pretext to adopt new unilateral measures that affect the operation of the respective embassies, particularly, the rendering of consular services depended upon by hundreds of thousands of people.”

“The investigations carried out by specialized agencies and experts from Cuba and the United States for more than one year confirmed that there is no credible evidence or hypothesis or science-based conclusions that justify the actions taken by the U.S. government against Cuba to the detriment of bilateral relations. Last June 5, U.S. Secretary of State himself affirmed that ‘the precise nature of the injuries suffered by the affected personnel, and whether a common cause exists for all cases, has not yet been established.’”

Nevertheless, the Cuban delegation “reiterated its unchanged commitment to cooperate with the U.S. authorities to clarify this situation. Ensuring the health and security of Cubans and foreign citizens is and will be a priority of the Cuban government. “

In addition, the Cuban statement said, “The purpose of these exchanges is to coordinate the bilateral cooperation in the field of law enforcement and to advance in the combat against the different crimes that threaten the security of the two countries such as terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, cybercrimes, among others.”

Cuba added, “While reviewing the exchanges on the different areas of security, the Cuban side made reference to the concrete results of this bilateral cooperation, which has contributed to prevent crimes and prosecute offenders. The Cuban delegation also made emphasis on the information and requests for cooperation [while still waiting for a U.S. response] to further advance in the implementation of this mechanism.”

“Both sides agreed to continue with this dialogue and to keep holding the technical meetings between the law enforcement agencies from both countries to bring bilateral cooperation to fruition.”

Migration Dialogue[3]

U.S. Statement

“The delegations discussed the significant reduction in irregular migration from Cuba to the [U.S.] since the implementation of the [January 12, 2017 Joint Declaration]. Apprehensions of Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry decreased by 88 percent from fiscal year 2017 to 2018. The [U.S.] again raised the need for increased Cuban cooperation in the [U.S.] return of Cubans with final orders of removal from the [U.S.]”[4]

The [U.S.] also reiterated that until it is safe to fully staff our Embassy, we are able to adjudicate only official and emergency visas in Havana.”

“A strong migration policy is vital to the [U.S.’] national security. The Migration Talks, which began in 1995, provide a forum for the [U.S.] and Cuba to review and coordinate efforts to ensure safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the [U.S.].”

Cuban Statement

Both “parties acknowledged the benefits of the Joint Declaration of January 12, 2017, in particular the elimination of the policy of “Dry feet-wet feet” and the “Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals,” in the decrease of irregular emigration.”

“They also agreed on the usefulness of the exchange between [U.S.] Coast Guard Troops and the [Cuban] Coastguard Service held in January 2018, and the technical meeting on trafficking in persons and immigration fraud carried out in December 2017.”

In addition, “compliance with bilateral agreements was reviewed, in order to guarantee a regular, safe and orderly migration; discourage irregular migration, and prevent and confront associated illicit acts. Cuba demonstrated that it rigorously fulfills its obligations, and reiterated its willingness to maintain and expand bilateral cooperation in this area.”

“The Cuban delegation urged the government of the [U.S.] to fully comply with its commitments to issue visas for migrants, in accordance with the Migration Agreements. . . . [The U.S.] decision to suspend visa processing services at its embassy in Havana directly affects migratory relations and family ties, damaging institutional exchanges and travel between the two countries.”

The Cubans also “expressed concern about the [U.S.’] Cuban Adjustment Act, which, together with other US regulations, encourages the irregular emigration of Cubans and exposes them to becoming victims of illegal traffickers and gangs associated with organized crime.”

Conclusion

Despite the Trump Administration’s continued hostile rhetoric and actions regarding Cuba, it is reassuring that the two countries are continuing to have respectful dialogue on many common issues and reaching agreement on some of these problems. May it continue!

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[1]  U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Fourth Law Enforcement Dialogue in Washington, DC (July 10, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States hold fourth meeting on law enforcement dialogue, Minrex (July 11, 2018); Washington once again reminds Havana of its responsibility in the protection of its diplomats, Diario de Cuba (July 11, 2018). The most recent prior meeting was in September 2017. (U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Third Law Enforcement Dialogue in Washington, D.C. (Sept. 15, 2017).) This blog has commented on prior bilateral meetings. E.g., Cuba and U.S. Continue To Hold Bilateral Meetings on Various Issues (Jan. 18, 2018).

[2]  On July 11, 2018, the issue of the medical problems of the U.S. diplomats cane up at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Kenneth Merten, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified, “We don’t know who is responsible and we don’t know what is responsible for this. . . . We have taken this … very seriously, both in the Cuba context and the China context which is, frankly, still very much evolving.” At the hearing, Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) — the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and ranking member, respectively — said they planned to meet with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan on Wednesday afternoon and would discuss the health incidents with him.”  (Reuters, State Department Still Investigating Diplomats’ Illnesses in Cuba, China, N.Y. Times (July 11, 2018); Greenwood, State Dept: No answers in sonic attacks in Cuba, China, The Hill (July 11, 2018).) Prior posts about these medical problems are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, U.S. and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks in Washington, DC (July 11, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Migratory Round Held between Cuba and the United States (July 11, 2018); Celebrated Migratory round between Cuba and the United States, Cubadebate (July 11, 2018). Two days before the latest migration meeting, a Cuba Foreign Ministry official in an  interview asserted that Cuba  has “rigorously” complied with its migration agreements with the U.S. despite the U.S. creation of “obstacles to the fulfillment of its obligations.” (Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba strictly complies with migration agreements with the US, MINREX (July 9, 2018).)

[4] The January 2017 Joint Declaration eliminated the U.S. policy of admitting into the U.S. Cubans who arrived on land with “dry feet” and the U.S. Program for Parole for Cuban Medical Personnel. See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans (Jan. 13, 2017); Additional Reactions to End of Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans (Jan. 14, 2017); Other Current Developments Regarding Cuban Migrants to U.S. (Jan. 15, 2017).

 

More Details on New Cuban Regulations on Private Business

A prior post discussed Cuba’s new regulations for the self-employed sector (the private sector) of the economy. More details on these new regulations are provided by Nora Gámez Torres in the Miami Herald.[1]

She says that he new regulations limit a Cuban to owning only one private enterprise and impose higher taxes and more restrictions on many self-employment endeavors, including the arts. All of these measures are designed “to limit the accumulation of wealth by Cubans.”

As a result, a Cuban who runs a private restaurant (a paladar) will not be able to rent a room in his or her home. The Cuban Vice Minister for Labor and Social Security, Marta Elena Feitó Cabrera, explained that owning more than one business “is not the essence and the spirit of the TCP [self-employment], which consists of workers exercising their daily activities.”

The government also stated it would eliminate the tax exemption for businesses that have up to five employees and would instead impose a tax on a sliding scale that increases with each worker hired. It also ordered an increase in the required minimum monthly taxes of businesses in various categories. Economists, however,  have warned that more taxes on hiring employees could dramatically hamper the development of the private sector at a critical moment.

To increase state controls, each authorized activity will be under the supervision of a state ministry, in addition to the municipal and provincial government entities, which can intervene to set prices. The level of control reaches such extremes that the Official Gazette published a table with classifications on the quality of public restrooms and the leasing rates that would have to be paid by “public bathroom attendants,” one of the authorized self-employment categories. Some public bathrooms are leased by the state to individuals who then are responsible for upkeep and make their money by charging users a fee.

The new regulations also could have a significant impact on the cultural sector with the Ministry of Culture empowered to increase control over artists and musicians and impose more censorship in the country.

For example, there now are fines and forfeitures, as well as the possible loss of the self-employment license, to those who hire musicians to perform concerts in private bars and clubs as well as in state-owned venues without the authorization of the Ministry of Culture or the state agencies that provide legal representation to artists and musicians. Many artists in urban genres such as reggaeton and hip-hop, who have been critical of the Cuban government, do not hold state permits to perform in public. However, many usually perform in private businesses or in other venues. Painters or artists who sell their works without state authorization also could be penalized.

Even books are the target of new censorship: private persons, businesses and state enterprises may not sell books that have “contents that are harmful to ethical and cultural values.”

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[1]  Gámez, Cuba imposes more taxes and controls on private sector and increases censorship of the arts, Miami Herald (July 10, 2018).

Cuba Announces New Regulations for Private Business

On July 10, Cuba announced new regulations, effective December 7, 2018, designed to allow new private restaurants, bed-and breakfasts and transportation services.[1]

The new regulations are designed to control such growth and to collect more tax revenue from these businesses by requiring them to move all of their cash through state-run banks. A related objective is to reduce tax evasion and illegal purchase of stolen state materials.

The government also recognized that the work of the self-employed workers (TCP) has increased the supply of goods and services to the population with acceptable levels of quality, together with the payment of taxes, which are a source of income for the municipal budgets in pursuit of local development. In addition, the TCP sector has facilitated the reordering of the national labor supply and the reduction of inflated staff in the state sector and freeing the State of some productive activities and non-strategic services for the development of the country.

Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Security, Marta Elena Feitódo Cabrera, said, “there is no going back on work on its own; we must preserve this economic activity, but in an orderly manner.” She noted that while there were 157,351 registered self-employed workers in 2010, now there are 591,456, which constitutes 13% of the country’s employment.

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[1] Yudy Castro, Tax adjustments: Official Gazette publishes new regulations on self-employment, Granma (July 9, 2018); Yudy Castro, What changes with the new rules? (+ Videos), Granma (July 9, 2018); Update, correct . . . strengthen self-employment (July 9, 2018); The government decrees new taxes for the private sector in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (July 10, 2018); The authorities will lift the ban on the most coveted licenses of the Cuban private sector, Diario de Cuba (July 10, 2018); Issue New Provisions for Self-employment (+ PDF), Cubadebate (July 10, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuba unfreezing growth of private tourism businesses, N.Y. Times (July 10, 2018).
Previous posts about Cuba’s private sector are listed in the “Cuban Economy” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

Spectacular “West Side Story” at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater

Last night I saw a spectacular production of “West Side Story” at the Guthrie Theater. The wonderful singing and dancing made this the best production I ever have seen in nearly 50 years of seeing plays at this theater. It runs through August 26, 2018. I strongly urge you to go!

As you may recall, the original play–with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents–is set in 1957 on Manhattan’s West Side. Two rival gangs, the white Jets and the Puerto-Rican Sharks, are prowling the streets. When Tony falls for Maria, the sister of a rival gang member, a rumble is planned. Like Romeo and Juliet they’re caught in an ongoing feud with no escape, even as they pledge their love for each other.  It features incomparable songs like “Maria,” “Tonight,” “Cool” and “I Feel Pretty” that are merged with the greatest love story ever told in this larger-than-life musical. (This production reinterprets the clash as between the Puerto Rican Sharks  and the Jets as a pluralistic group of contemporary Americans.) Here are two photographs from this production:

 

 

 

 

The program has an interesting article, “On Reimagining a Classic,” by Joseph Haj, the play’s Director and the Theater’s Artistic Director. He reports that his research for directing this play “uncovered reports from government agencies regarding districts with solidly immigrant populations.” One such report stated the following:

  • “The tenants seem to wholly disregard personal cleanliness, and the very principles of decency, their general appearance and actions corresponding with their wretched abodes. This indifference to personal and domiciliary cleanliness is doubtless acquired from a long familiarity with the loathsome surroundings, wholly at variance with all moral and social improvements.”

Haj continues, “But this report wasn’t about New York City’s Puerto Rican population in the 1950s–it was filed in 1864 about a district with a predominantly Irish population. . . .”

This report from 1864 should be a strong warning to those in America today who feel and express great anxiety over today’s immigrants.[1]

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries: White Anxiety and Fearing Immigration (June 25, 2018); More Voices on White Anxiety and Immigration (June 26, 2018). Fear Driving U.S. and European Clamor Over Immigration (July 3, 2018).