Yesterday saw the largest protest in Belarus’s history, with tens of thousands of demonstrators turning out in Minsk. Yesterday’s event reportedly had a more festive vibe than recent rallies, and security forces weren’t as brutal as they’d been before about suppressing agitators. That sounds like a step in the right direction, since many of the new demonstrators said they came out yesterday because they were upset about the prior use of violence against protesters.
Pres. Lukashenko is still stubbornly clinging to power, though. He claimed that Russia promised him security assistance to protect him (not clear whether that’s true—Russia hasn’t commented on it), and vaguely threatened to take his country down with him if ousted: “If you destroy Lukashenko, it will be the beginning of the end for you.”
Mozambican government forces have now surrounded the port town of Mocimboa de Praia, which Islamist militants captured last week, and they’re poised to retake the town now that sufficient reinforcements have arrived. The port is important because it serves Mozambique’s nascent natural gas projects.
The Guardian says “expensive foreign mercenaries” haven’t been effective in northern Mozambique: the Russian Wagner Group withdrew its ~150 men last year after suffering extensive casualties, and the South African Dyck Advisory Group has a “handful of light helicopters” (Gazelles or Bat Hawks?) but couldn’t scramble them to Mocimboa de Praia in time to intervene.
Meanwhile, Mozambique’s government can’t even agree internally on which government segment should be fighting this war: both the Ministry of Interior (and its police) and the Ministry of Defense (and its army) want to lead it. It sounds like the MOI is currently in charge, though.
Four Al Shabaab militants attacked the Elite Hotel in Mogadishu, killing 10. Security forces killed all four attackers after a four-hour siege.
Turkey and Qatar’s Defense Ministers and Germany’s Foreign Minister visited Tripoli today to try to find a path to a ceasefire. Turkey and Qatar both support the Tripoli-based GNA, while the UAE, Egypt, and Russia back the rival LNA. Germany has been involved as more of a mediator: Chancellor Merkel hosted the LNA’s Khalifa Haftar in Berlin in March, and also held peace talks that both Haftar and PM Fayez al Serraj attended earlier in the year (although the two didn’t meet face to face there).
New U.S. intelligence suggests that Iran—like Russia—paid bounties to the Taliban for targeting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. CNN says Iran rewarded Haqqani militants for at least six attacks in 2019 alone.
NPR reports that government-Taliban negotiations could start “any day now,” although an analyst it interviewed says some Afghan officials seem to want to delay talks until after the Nov. 2020 U.S. elections, in hopes that a Biden administration would help the government boost its leverage (vs. a Trump one that would withdraw U.S. forces).
A Miami Herald columnist penned an op-ed for AP that called Cuba out for denying “regulated persons”—i.e., dissidents—passports to leave the country even for short trips abroad, essentially as punishment for criticizing the regime. A YouTuber quoted in the article said she was told to “fix her status” before applying again, which she says “really meant that she had to stop criticizing the regime and join the Communist Youth.” See below.
DRC reopened its airspace to commercial passengers after closing for five months because of coronavirus. Passengers said airport wait times are even longer than usual for DRC.
A NYT investigation found that Greece has been quietly abandoning asylum seekers at sea, dropping at least 1,072 of them off just outside Greek waters in at least 31 unique expulsions. Such expulsions would be illegal under international law, but the Greek government denies any wrongdoing.
The U.S. military probably used another R9X Hellfire missile—the one dubbed the “ninja bomb” that deploys blades rather than explosives to kill its target but mitigate civilian casualties—in Idlib, Syria. This one took out Abu Yahya al Uzbeki, a military trainer linked to Al Qaeda.
Cuba labels opponents 'regulated persons,' denies right to travel abroad (AP)
By Andres Oppenheimer, an Argentinian Latam correspondent for the Miami Herald
Cuba’s six-decade dictatorship has come up with a new way of intimidating critics. It looks as if it were lifted out of Netflix’s “Black Mirror,” a dystopian science-fiction television series. It is classifying government critics as “regulated persons” and denying them passports to leave the country.
I first heard about this designation from a 21-year-old Cuban YouTuber named Ruhama Fernandez, who, on Aug. 3, announced that she had been denied a passport to receive an international award and visit her parents in the United States. She said that she had gone to the Cuban Interior Ministry’s passport office to get one and learned that she is a “regulated person” and therefore couldn’t travel abroad.
I talked to her via Zoom from her home in Palma Soriano, in the Santiago de Cuba province. She is a well-spoken and courageous young woman who tells her story with a mixture of amazement, humor and horror.
Fernandez told me that when she went to the passport office this past week, the clerk who searched her file in the computer told her that she could not get a passport because she was listed as a “regulated person.” That’s a category that long has been used to prevent Cuban physicians from leaving the country. Now it increasingly is being used to punish government critics, including journalists and YouTubers like herself.
The Cuban regime argues that it can’t allow doctors to leave the country because they received a free education. Therefore, they have to serve their country. It’s a ridiculous argument because, among other things, most Latin American and European countries also provide free university education to their physicians without taking away their right to travel abroad.
Fernandez told me that she was preparing to travel to the United States to receive an award for influencers from the Red Cuban Power social club platform and to see her parents, who had moved to the U.S. three years ago.
The migration office clerk told Fernandez that she needed to “fix her status” before applying again for a passport. That was code that, Fernandez said, really meant that she had to stop criticizing the regime and join the Communist Youth.
“Any person who thinks differently from what the revolution dictates, what the system dictates, can become a ‘regulated person’ or suffer any other kind of human-rights violation,” she told me. “That’s something normal in my country, and it shouldn’t be.”
She added that, “I speak out freely in my YouTube Channel, and anybody who speaks his or her mind in this country is branded by the government as a mercenary — or a ‘worm,’ as they say — to try to denigrate people who think on their own.”
According to the independent Cuban website 14ymedio, which broke the story about Fernandez being prohibited from traveling abroad, at least 150 Cuban citizens were listed as regulated persons by September 2019.
While Cuba’s 2013 immigration reform significantly had weakened the need for Cubans to get state-issued “exit permits” to leave the country, growing numbers of government critics have been denied their right to travel abroad under the new system of “regulated persons,” the 14ymedio said.
Human-rights groups say this is a flagrant violation of the right of free movement established both by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Cuban Constitution.
Asked about Fernandez’s case, Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch told me that, “Cubans, like any other people, have the right to leave their country of origin, despite the Cuban dictatorship’s efforts to treat them as if they were of its private property.”
That’s true. It’s hard to understand how any government in the 21st century can dare to arbitrarily decide who among its citizens can travel abroad. And it’s even harder to understand why democracies around the world are not raising their voices to condemn one of the world’s oldest and most retrograde dictatorships, which has been denying fundamental human rights for more than 60 years.