The week at a glance ... Americas



Communist correction: In a rare, tacit acknowledgment that something is awry with government policy, Communist Party officials this week announced that up to a million jobs were to be cut from the bloated public payrolls. Full employment has long been a cornerstone of Cuba’s system, and almost everyone works in some capacity for the government. But Cuba has been carrying a massive budget deficit, and officials said the state could no longer afford to pay the one in five state workers who do practically nothing. “We know that there are hundreds of thousands of unnecessary workers on the budget and labor books,” President Raúl Castro said. Layoffs will be phased in gradually over several years, and will be cushioned by Cuba’s extensive social benefits. All Cubans will still receive free health care and education, as well as subsidized utilities, rent, and food.

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

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Now, car bombs: Mexico’s drug war entered a grim new phase last week when a drug gang successfully exploded a car bomb. A gang allied with the Juárez cartel tied up a wounded man dressed in a police uniform next to a car loaded with explosives, then called in a false report of an officer shot. When police and rescue crews arrived, the gang remotely detonated the car, killing three people, including one federal officer. The car bomb “may represent a different tactic,” said U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “Unfortunately, these drug cartels, they have an enormous amount of resources at their disposal.” The FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are assisting Mexican officials with the investigation.

Paramaribo, Suriname

Coup leader elected: Suriname’s parliament has elected local strongman Desi Bouterse, a convicted drug trafficker who is currently on trial for multiple murders, as its new president. Bouterse seized power in the former Dutch colony twice through military takeovers, in 1980 and 1990. In 1999, the Netherlands convicted him in absentia of drug trafficking, and he is now being tried in Suriname for the 1982 murders of 15 political opponents. Still, Bouterse is one of Suriname’s most popular—and wealthiest—politicians. He compared himself this week to Nelson Mandela, saying he was being persecuted because he “fought for the poor.”

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Gay marriage legalized: After a stormy Senate debate, Argentina this week became the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage nationwide. The bill, backed by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government, was approved by a vote of 33–27 after 15 hours of impassioned speeches on both sides by the mostly Catholic lawmakers. Ahead of the vote, Catholic Church leaders had declared a “war of God” over the legislation, condemning priests and politicians who supported gay marriage. Argentine business leaders, though, welcomed the law, saying it would increase gay tourism. “From today onward,” said Maria Rachid, president of the Argentine Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender federation, “Argentina is a more just and democratic country.”

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