Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: Cuba’s Evolution, Senegal’s Election, and More

by Isobel Coleman
March 30, 2012

A man pushes his cart with vegetables and fruit for sale on a street in Havana, Cuba, March 14, 2012 (Desmond Boylan/Courtesy Reuters).


Charles Landow focuses on Africa and Latin America in this week’s Missing Pieces. Enjoy!

  • Cuba’s Evolution: An Economist special report examines Raúl Castro’s reforms in Cuba. It first reviews the decline of the country’s vaunted equality and social services since the Soviet Union’s collapse. One arresting illustration: in real terms, today’s average wage is only a quarter of 1989’s. Castro is trying to unleash growth by allowing a nascent private sector, though the report argues that reforms have a long way to go. Politically, “change can come only from the Communist Party itself” for now, since the opposition is small and divided. Possible futures include China-style reforms, a Putin-like strongman, or a party-led quasi-democracy. Or, someday, Cubans could take matters into their own hands. CFR’s Julia Sweig analyzes developments in Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations in a recent interview.
  • Senegal’s Election: President Abdoulaye Wade jeopardized his and his country’s reputation for democracy with his fight for a constitutionally questionable third term. But he salvaged his standing by swiftly conceding to Macky Sall after Sunday’s election. The margin of Sall’s victory, 66-34 percent, left no doubt about Senegalese sentiments. Praise for Wade and Senegal has been widespread, for example in articles from GlobalPost and Al Jazeera. On his blog, CFR’s Elliott Abrams calls the election a reminder that the desire for democracy is not limited to wealthy countries. But Sall faces daunting challenges, as Harvard professor Calestous Juma writes on a Guardian blog. With 44 percent of the population under age 15, infrastructure, job creation, and food security loom large.
  • Mali’s Coup: West Africa suffered a democratic setback when a group of Malian soldiers deposed President Amadou Toumani Toure. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it “strongly condemns this usurpation of power from a democratically elected government.” The United States suspended aid, as did the World Bank and African Development Bank. On Wednesday, the coup leaders announced a new constitution pledging elections on an unspecified date. Five ECOWAS presidents tried to visit Bamako for talks, but their plane could not land after coup supporters swarmed the runway. Back in Côte d’Ivoire, the ECOWAS presidents today gave Mali’s leaders 72 hours to cede power or face financial and other sanctions.
  • Brazil’s Booming Culture: A New York Times piece explores a little-known beneficiary of Brazil’s boom: SESC, a nonprofit organization that supports culture and recreation, from centuries-old music to avant-garde theater. Though private, SESC is financed by a payroll tax. With Brazil’s economy and workforce expanding, so is the organization’s ample budget. Its goals are to bring cultural and recreation opportunities to Brazilians and promote Brazilian culture abroad. As an American arts official says in the piece, “The Brazilians are rolling in money… it’s their turn, their time.”

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