Where is everybody? The number of people visiting Canada dropped to its lowest level since the government began keeping track in 1972, Statistics Canada reported this week. Just over 2 million foreign tourists entered Canada in March, the government agency said, a decline of 12.6 percent from the previous March. A drop in U.S. tourism was the main culprit: Only 730,000 Americans made day trips into Canada in March, down 24 percent from 2007. Analysts blamed the weak U.S. dollar and the high price of gas. The strong Canadian dollar, however, has encouraged Canadians to travel. “The level of Canadian travel to the United States in the past six months has been the highest since 1998,” the agency said.
A push for gay rights: Cuba last week took its largest step yet toward accepting gay and lesbian rights with a government-sponsored conference on homophobia and a gay pride celebration. Cubans, who have traditionally scorned homosexuality, are being pushed by the government to accept homosexuals in the name of social justice. “For the first time, we can gather in this way and speak profoundly and with scientific basis about these topics,” said Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raúl Castro and director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. Following the event, which spilled out into the street in an impromptu celebration, Cuban state television broadcast the American gay cowboy film Brokeback Mountain.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
President re-elected: President Leonel Fernandez was elected to a third term last week, on a wave of support from poor people who credited him with saving the country from financial ruin. His platform included a promise to build a subway system in Santo Domingo—which would be the only one in the Caribbean outside of Puerto Rico. “Leonel grew up in New York and has a fascination with the place,” said Eduardo Gamarra, one of Fernandez’s campaign consultants. “For him, the Metro is part of that, a way to make this city modern and boost national pride.” Fernandez’s opponents had attempted to defeat him by handing out gifts to voters and raising the specter of former strongman Joaquín Balaguer, the last president to win two consecutive terms.
Setback for the rebels: A top commander of the Colombian revolutionary organization FARC turned herself in last week, in a move widely interpreted as a sign that the group is dwindling. Nelly Avila Moreno surrendered to authorities after 24 years on the run, saying the government had destroyed her unit, and she called on other rebels to lay down their arms and “do something for peace.” Separately, Colombia said it had discovered computer files showing that Venezuela had provided guns, ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenades to the FARC, further jeopardizing the shaky relationship between the neighboring countries. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the files were “imbecilic” fakes, a charge refuted by Interpol.