As North Korea celebrates Victory Day, the 68th anniversary of the Korean War, its leader Kim Jong Il appears to be girding the nation, as well as the rest of the world indirectly, for what might lay ahead. At an address made before thousands of North Korean citizens Kim compared the global pandemic’s effect on the country to what it experienced during the war years of the early 1950s. “We are faced with difficulties and hardship caused by the unprecedented global health crisis and prolonged lockdown no less challenging than how it was during the war.” He then went on to assure the populace that the future will bring better days. “Just like the generation of victors… our generation will continue this beautiful tradition and turn this difficult decisive period into an even greater new victory.”
In recent months, Kim Jong Un has not shied away from pointing out the urgency of the current situation for North Korea. As was the case yesterday, he has used his speeches to acknowledge the situation in his country. Part of this has stemmed from a desire to prepare the populace for more stringent times ahead. Along with this, Kim is also attempting to warn the world that without the suspension of economic sanctions North Korea faces a tumultuous future which could hold ramifications for the rest of the world.
South Korea has recognized the writing on the wall and extended an olive branch to Pyongyang. On Tuesday, Seoul announced that the Koreas have agreed to restore inter-Korea communications channels as the first step towards improving relations. Observers believe the North is also maneuvering to use the move as a stepping-stone to obtain aid to deal with COVID-19. In the past, the South Korea has expressed a willingness to provide vaccines to North Korea if requested. No such request has come from Pyongyang yet. However, with Kim likening current conditions in his country to what they were at the height of the Korean War, it might only be a matter of time before he reaches out.
Protest rallies broke out in Cuba today as citizens took to the streets and voiced their discontent with the current government, as well as shortages of food and medicine that have grown significantly worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a nation where dissent is often dealt with swiftly and brutally, the protests appear to have taken the government by surprise. The protest rallies took place in cities and towns around the country. Santiago, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Holguín all saw protests, as did a number of smaller towns. Eventually, they came to Havana where a strong police presence was waiting. Thousands of people took part nationwide, making today’s protests the largest in Cuba since the Balsero crisis in 1994.
A shortage in COVID-19 vaccines seems to have been a contributing factor for today’s events too. Cuba has been setting record highs in the number of COVID cases of late. Efforts to control transmission of the virus have not kept up with the rise in cases. Cuba’s economy is also in the midst of a contraction. Economic sanctions and multiple layers of bureaucracy have combined to bring production in agricultural and essential food sectors to a near standstill. Of course, these problems are all symptoms of the main ailment facing Cubans: the authoritarian government in Havana.
It did not take very long for the Cuban government to lay blame for the protests at the feet of the United States. The next step in the government’s response will be watched closely by the US and other nations in the region. This is the first major test for Cuba’s leader Miguel Díaz-Canel since he assumed power in April of this year.
For the US, the Cuba demonstrations could serve to bring about another test for the Biden administration which is now contending with Haiti and the aftermath of its president’s assassination last week.
Author’s Note: Just a short post this evening, but I will get back on track tomorrow or Wednesday. –Mike
2021 is less than two months old and already, the European Union has been made painfully aware (once again) of its limitations. So far, 2021 has highlighted the deep divide between the grandiose designs of the EU and its limited capabilities. Even more urgent for Brussels has been the sudden lack of design or guidance from the executive EU’s executive arm.
The COVID-19 vaccines scandal is becoming the straw that could, potentially, break the bloc’s back. In short, the EU has been overconfident about vaccine production and costs. The rollout process has been slow and disorganized. Meanwhile, in Great Britain 12 million citizens have received their first dosage of vaccine, surpassing the EU in number of shots given as well as distribution time.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has come under increasingly heavy fire over the EU’s stuttered vaccine rollout. She has admitted being overconfident about production targets, and the original timelines, but that is where the mea culpa stops. She has failed to accept responsibility for the foul ups or present a realistic plan to the governments and people of member-states. In other words, von der Leyen has left much of the continent hanging in the breeze as she tries to craft a patch for this particular crisis.
If this weren’t enough, two weeks ago the EU announced its intention to invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocols. Fortunately, saner head prevailed. That’s a topic worth discussing more in the near future when more time is available.