By Felix Zheng
Ever since 1961, relations between the United States and Cuba have been severed as a result of various events in history. This began during the Civil War when Fidel Castro overtook Fulgencio Batista’s regime in Havana and increased trade with the Soviet Union and taxes on American imports. Soon after, the embargo on Cuba that created the detached relations began when the US stopped Cuban sugar imports and nearly all exports to the country. However, conflict did not cease there and the Cuban Missile Crisis soon arose, where the United States government tried to topple the Cuban government with the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, creating widespread Cuban distrust and nationalism. This mistrust fueled the Cuban motivation to allow the Soviets to build a missile base on their island. In the end, Cuba removed the missile base in return for United States’ promises not to invade the country. Afterwards, the US mainly maintained a policy of isolationism in regards to Cuba, continuing the discontinuity between the two countries.
Today, the relations between the two countries is quickly changing. Barack Obama and Raul Castro made an announcement on December 17 of 2014 that the two countries would attempt to fully restore diplomatic ties. This process began with the mutual release of prisoners, with three members of the Cuban Five released from United States possession in exchange for Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a US intelligence agent. In addition, the US has eased its embargo and lessened travel and banking restrictions while Cuba has released an additional 53 US political dissidents. Now, US citizens may also travel to Cuba without obtaining a government license prior. Certain economic sanctions have been lifted by Congress but certain parts of the restriction have been kept in place. Regardless, these changes mark a major step towards restoring relations and display the efforts of both countries in the process.
These improved ties are expected to bring positive changes to Cuba as a country as well. Many regional powers have predicted that the new policy of engagement, in contrast to isolation, will benefit Cuba’s human rights situation. Cuba’s participation in the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 2015 hinted towards new, more open relations with the country. This idea leads many to believe that the United States should act further and remove the economic sanctions placed on Cuba. Despite the progress, Congress is in strong disagreement with this idea and such an action is very unlikely to happen in the near future. Obama is expected to continue to use his executive power to improve relations, however, and most likely open communications, trade, banking, etc. In fact, the US has been Cuba’s fifth largest trading partner since 2007, marking considerable progress in the economic relations of the two. This progress can very possibly persuade Congress in the future to shift their position and eventually remove the remaining sanctions on Cuba and finally fully open the US-Cuban relations. The future between these two powers seems bright and appears to only be getting better and better.
By Brandon Lu
Recently, the FCC voted to approve new rules regarding Net-neutrality. The new rules will regulate ISPs, such as Comcast, more than the previous rules they announced last year. Previously, ISPs were able to charge companies more for “preferential service,” which can be abused. That is not going to happen anymore. This vote happened after 4 million people wrote to the FCC asking for greater neutrality of the internet . The 3-2 decision enforces more rules than ever before for ISPs.
Net-neutrality has been an extremely controversial topic, with strong opinions on both sides. It has also been a hot topic in politics, with many Democrats in favor of net-neutrality and many Republicans against it. The vote also broke down on party lines: the three commissioners who are Democrats voted for, while the two Republican commissioners voted against. . Many high profile businesses such as Amazon and eBay lobbied in support of net-neutrality, while ISPs such as Comcast want paid-prioritization to exist . The FCC has voted to implement stronger rules, however, Congress can still overturn the ruling . Net-neutrality has been an ongoing battle which still rages on.
Net-neutrality has many benefits but also many detriments. Supporters of net-neutrality say it keeps the internet free from interference by ISPs. That means all data is treated equally through the internet, and nobody can pay to have their data prioritized by ISPs. It also allows for greater innovation because companies cannot pay to have their data treated better than their competitors. Additionally, ISPs cannot stop data they do not like that is going through their networks. For example, Comcast, who owns NBC News, can give priority to its website while slowing down competitors. With Net-neutrality, this will not happen. On the other hand, opponents of Net-neutrality say the websites that clog up the cables will have to pay more for their data to be prioritized. When they pay more, ISPs can improve their networks so everyone benefits. Also, ISPs can shut out illegal data, such as from BitTorrent users, who use the internet to illegally download music and video games. ISPs do not want to strike down Net-neutrality to shut out competitors’ data; they do it so that they can make money from websites that pay for prioritization of their data . The debate about Net-neutrality rages on and does not seem to be winding down anytime soon.
Some people accuse ISPs of backing Net-neutrality for their own purposes. Last year, they spent a total of $44.2 million on lobbying the government on mainly Net-neutrality . On the other side, other people are accusing the White House and the Obama Administration for interfering with the FCC. Republicans in Congress are launching an investigation on the White House’s interference on the FCC . They are also drafting a bill that would replace the current FCC rules with weaker rules . Other companies are also raising money to support Net-neutrality. For example, AOL and Google lobbied in support of Net-neutrality. But, the amount anti Net-neutrality groups have raised is 3 times greater than the amount pro net-neutrality groups have raised .
All-in-all, Net-neutrality has been an ongoing debate that is divided on party lines. The final decision may change the internet as we know it. Current Net-neutrality rules do not change anything in the status quo, but if weaker rules are enforced, the internet may greatly change. One thing is for certain: Comcast isn’t very happy right now.
By Wei Wen
Remember the days of $4/gallon gas? Fortunately for consumers, oil prices have drastically plummeted in the past few months, reducing the costs to never-before-seen digits. While the oil price drop may warrant a celebration for the laymen consumers of the road, political and economic analysts are finding the price dive quite concerning. With surplus oil production and continuously declining prices, the bottom for oil seems to be non-existent. But who’s to blame?
The answer presents itself twofold; OPEC’s tenacity and America’s boldness has equally led oil in its dive down the price abyss. Tired of its dependence on Middle Eastern Oil, the US recently chartered an exploration of its shale shelves. US oil companies struck gold, finding a small fortune of oil within the shale clusters; output of domestic oil exploded, entering the international market in unprecedented numbers. Half-way across the globe, OPEC leaders met in Vienna and confirmed their response to American oil. Instead of maintaining oil prices by cutting production, the Middle Eastern oil giants decided to wage war against the rookie, expediting oil drilling and increasing production. As a result of a massive surplus, oil prices dropped like a stone, from a consistent $110/barrel to only $70/barrel.
Low prices and cheap oil may turn out to be more of a detriment than a godsend for the international sphere. With revenue at a low, incomes for Middle Eastern countries are diminished, threatening the stability of many major exclusive exporters. What’s truly scary is that the price decline symbolizes a power shift; OPEC no longer has a monopoly over the world’s oil supply. The balance has been disrupted, the equilibrium shifted. Each country now produces to benefit not the international community, but each individual. Without a guardian over the supply of oil, the future for barrel prices appears unclear, unpredictable, and extremely volatile. However, the economic blow isn’t unique to the Middle East; American oil companies (non-shelf drilling companies based in Texas, etc.) are watching prices commit suicide as other domestic drillers relentlessly purge the shelves of their crude oil. Consumers may find a few extra bucks in their pockets, but the collective whole has lost something invaluable.
Bleak hope lines the horizon; 2015 prices have yet to increase significantly and the supply still severely outweighs the demand. Despite the aforementioned, the market is fortunately showing signs of decline; American rigs are dismantling and prices are stabilizing. OPEC may not be the king, but it still sits on the pricing throne. At long last, the price for oil may have hit rock bottom. Or has it?
By Noah Smith
If you’re talking domestic policy, you’re talking Keystone. The Keystone XL pipeline expansion has made a big splash in the political sphere, with the Republican party being for the pipeline and the Democratic party being against it. Much of the controversy surrounding the Keystone pipeline is simply unwarranted, however. It’s impact on the job growth in America will be minimal, the estimated number of jobs created is only one tenth of the number of jobs that the United States would naturally create in a month. Environmentalists overplay their hand as well; stopping the construction of the pipeline will in no way hinder oil being extracted in the Canadian reserves. Instead the oil is simply being transported by train and by truck, creating a much higher spill risk than there would be with a pipeline.
The mutual overstatement of the proposed pipeline’s effects between both the Democratic and Republican party is because both use it as a symbol to craft a political stance on climate change. The only official candidate seeking the Democratic nomination with much political clout, Hillary Clinton, has not been vocal with her stance on the Keystone pipeline. This prompted the environmental group 350 Action to stage protests outside her campaign headquarters. The same environmental group brought the Keystone pipeline to the attention of the public, and now hopes that Clinton will join the majority of Democrats in the disapproval of the pipeline. Clinton is likely to oblige them, if not simply for party solidarity, then for the fact that fifty nine percent of voters want a president concerned about climate change.
The Republican Party has plans with the Keystone pipeline in the upcoming election as well, although it is much more in-depth than the jobs against the environment debate that is ongoing. While making speeches during trips to Mexico City and Alberta Chris Christie, one of the potential Republican candidates, talked about Keystone being the centerpiece for an international plan. His plan involved using resources from all three nations to create a North American energy powerhouse. This is intended to alleviate the dependence on nations in the MIddle East as well as Russia and China, simultaneously challenging the latter two in energy superiority. Many other Republicans have a plan like this in mind, and it is likely an integral factor of their 2016 campaign.
Yet throughout all this a third party seems to be largely ignored. A total of 16 Native American tribes have protested the construction of the pipeline. They contest that the pipeline will harm their right to the land and water in the area. Further, they contest that many culturally sacred resources will be compromised by the pipeline’s construction, including a spirit camp that was constructed in the planned route of the pipeline in protest. While TransCanada has taken many steps with the tribes in order to make the pipeline less objectionable, the Native Americans protest still stands, and has the potency to destroy the Keystone expansion altogether.
Keystone means many different things depending on who you ask. As to whether its national effects will be as monumental as the parties claim, well, it won’t be. Still, the pipeline serves as an extremely potent political tool that will be frequently in the hands of candidates in the 2016 presidential election. Given the conflict that has already cropped up around the expansion, it is easy to see that Keystone XL will be the cornerstone of American politics in the coming years.
By Jacob Clott
On February 24, Kluiverth Roa, a 14 year old Venezuelan boy, was killed while demonstrating in San Cristobal (1). The death outraged the community, who were shocked that armed forces would kill a young boy (2).
Roa was a part of the protests that had been taking place in Venezuela for over a year. The protests began in February 2014, when students protested for better security after someone attempted to rape a classmate. These protests from students led to more and more people protesting about security (3). The public was dissatisfied with the economy and the security of Venezuela and felt the the government had not done enough to resolve the issue. The protestors, made up of people such as students, middle-class citizens, and members of the political group called the Table for Democratic Unity, also wanted the government to take action and make Venezuela more secure. These desires make sense, as when the protests started in February 2014, Venezuela had the fifth highest murder rate in the world, and ended the previous year with inflation at 56.2% (4). However, the problem hasn’t been resolved. Last year, the Venezuelan economy shrunk by 4% and the price of oil continues to decrease, which is a problem as oil makes up 95% of Venezuelan income. Furthermore, as of January 2015, there is a shortage of many important goods, such as food, soap, diapers, and milk, leading many needy Venezuelan citizens to wait in line for hours at a time in order to gain access to the materials that they need. All of this hasn’t improved the support of the government, as the approval rate for Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela, is at a low 22% (5).
Kluiverth Roa’s death led to further protests, with the protesters now further enraged about Resolution 8610, the resolution allowing law enforcement to use deadly force on protestors (1).
Resolution 8610 was passed by the Venezuelan Ministry of Defense in late January. As stated above, it allows armed forces to use potentially lethal force to stop protests. However, the resolution violates the Venezuelan Constitution, which says that “the use of firearms and toxic substances in the control of public protests” (6). In January, when the resolution was created, it was met with backlash, but after the death of Kluiverth Roa, the protests against it increased. In response to Roa’s death, which was the first death during a protest after Resolution 8610 was created, many people began petitioning the resolution and people like professors and human rights activists spoke out against it. This led to a government response, when Governor Jose Vielma Mora, who belongs to the same party as Nicolas Maduro stated that “Decree 8610 presents the use of weapons as a last resort, and requires the written permission of the defense minister. What’s happening is that the government hasn’t explained it well”. Maduro himself also responded, simply saying that “armed repression is not allowed in Venezuela” (7).
Now, after about two months, the man responsible for Roa’s death has been arrested. Javier Mora Ortiz, a 23 year old police officer, was found guilty of murder on May 8, and was sentenced to 18 years in prison (8).
By Albert Wu
The UN has been successful for decades since its creation, solving conflicts, providing humanitarian aid, and solving poverty. The United Nations was an organization created after the failure of the League of Nations after World War 2. After seeing so much violence and terror in the period of World War 2, the world wanted to eliminate war and create eternal peace throughout the world. To do this they decided to create a global multinational organization in which all of the problems that existed within the League of Nations did not exist. However, before the UN could actually start their mission, they needed some sort of army. The army they built up was named the UN Peacekeepers. The UN Peacekeepers was a military force made from the donations of all the countries among the organization. Its mission was to settle conflicts around the world and to protect civilians in danger. The peacekeeping organization has been growing immensely. The organization has received a huge increase in money since the 1990s, with its funding growing by almost four times(1). The amount of personnel serving the UN peacekeepers have also grown immensely with the total count of military, civilian, and police staff at 124, 000 in 2010(2). This growth should mean that operations will go more effectively right?
Wrong. Despite the huge growth in budget and troops of the UN peacekeepers, recently, they just have not been able to work productively and efficiently in their peacekeeping missions. In the recent decades, peacekeepers have done poorly and ineffectively in missions. Two of the most prominent examples that show this are their failures in Rwanda and Bosnia. In Rwanda, U.N Peacekeepers stood around and did nothing to defend the Tutsis, as Hutus came in and started massacring Tutsis. Due to the Peacekeepers ineffectiveness, the Rwandan genocide costed the lives of 800, 000 Tutsis(3). In addition, the Bosnian failure, shows the UN peacekeepers’ inability to be effective. In Bosnia, the UN declared multiple safe zones where Muslims could stay safe in, however, after declaring the safe zones, UN peacekeepers just stood by as they allowed Serbs to enter and slaughter thousands of Muslims(3). Thats not all. Not only did Peacekeepers fail to be effective, they ended up being captured and used as hostages. This just further shows how weak and ineffective the organization is. Now, you must be wondering how exactly the UN Peacekeepers could have failed with their increased strength and budget.
Despite their high amount of troops and high supplies, peacekeepers are still unable to carry out their missions effectively. Being a peacekeeper is a very dangerous job as peacekeepers are sent to areas of high conflict and risk. Thus, the death and injury rate for this job is quite high. Foreign Policy reported that, “The Sudanese government and rebel groups are trading accusations over responsibility for the recent deadly attack on the U.N. peacekeepers. Seven U.N. personnel were killed, and more than a dozen were injured in the attack, which took place… as a U.N. convoy moved between two bases” (4). It is no surprise, why such high fatalities exist among the Peacekeepers. Peacekeepers are entering a conflict in which two sides are engaging in armed combat with each other and are at risk of being attacked by either sides. This is due to their neutrality in the conflict. This means that peacekeepers do not join either side of the conflict until one side steps over the line (5). Peacekeepers follow this code in order to create a situation in which they can follow their rule of using minimum force in their missions. Peacekeepers are only allowed to engage in combat and use their weapons in the case of self defence(5). This may be the actual reason behind the recent failures and high fatality rates among UN Peacekeeping mission. Peacekeepers are forced to wait for the enemies to come to them and are forced to stick to the defensive. This causes huge unpredictability in the missions that they take and cause ineffectiveness.
So if defensive operations are not going as well as the UN needs them to, should we go for the opposite spectrum? That is exactly what the UN Security Council has been thinking in the present. They are deciding to test out a new style of operations that they have never tested before, one that is far different from their usual style of defensive operations. In 2013, the Security Council has authorized the creation of a task force specific to these new offensive operations. According to the UN, this task force, known as the “The international brigade—the muscular element, dubbed the “peace enforcer”—will use weapons and equipment that include attack helicopters to mount offensive operations and unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to gather intelligence”(6). These new forces are now able to do what the past Peacekeepers could not have done since their creation, to target dangerous rebel groups and to eliminate them before they can cause a huge amount of fatalities and damage. This force that was created has already shown the huge potential in its operations. According to the International Peace Institute, the intervention brigade in Congo has already seen results in disarming and defecting rebel groups just upon creation(7). The first actual success of the brigade is their defeating of the rebel group M23, which has been causing havoc in Congo for around 20 months(8). This shows the true capability of offensive operations and their ability to solve conflicts. This new reform might be the key to solving the ineffectiveness of defensive operations. Was the success in the offensive operation just a fluke, or was it actually the answer to fixing the UN Peacekeeping Organization? We can only find out, by looking at what the future has to hold for the UN Peacekeepers.