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Cuba Lifts Import Restrictions on Essential Goods After Largest Protests in Decades

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The protests have continued despite a brutal police response, which has likely left hundreds arrested and more facing fines that far outpace their monthly wages.


Cuban Protests Continue

Cuba has temporarily lifted restrictions on imports by international travelers as an apparent concession to anti-government protesters, authorities announced Wednesday.

For decades, Cuba has imposed high customs duties on goods brought onto the island by international travelers in an attempt to bolster government revenue. Some of the most affected items were essential goods, such as food, medicine, and hygiene products. The restrictions have partially aided in a severe shortage of goods across Cuba and helped fueled the largest anti-government protests since 1994.

Like many countries around the world, Cuba is also facing increased hardships because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to even further restrictions on when people can go out and attempt to procure elusive goods.

The protests began on Sunday and were met with a severe government crackdown. Exact numbers in the reclusive country are hard to verify, but multiple outlets reported that hundreds have been detained by police Independent journalists are allegedly also being systematically targeted.

In response to the growing protests, Cuban authorities largely shut off the internet. By Thursday, services were mostly restored, with videos showing that anti-government protests continued across the island and that the concession to ease restrictions on imported goods likely didn’t address the core issues for many Cubans.

Blaming the Embargo

The Cuban government has long blamed the island’s chronic shortages on the decades-long trade embargo imposed by the United States. It has attempted to paint the recent protests as a product of the embargo despite rhetoric from protesters demanding political freedom. On Thursday, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez tweeted, “The blockade surpasses any desire, it delays us, it does not allow us to advance.” He added that the problems caused by it compound, leading to Cuba’s current predicament.

Without a doubt, the embargo has aided in shortages throughout Cuba as it places restrictions on ships from coming to U.S. ports if they wish to go to Cuba as well, effectively restricting trade to the island from international partners unless the ship is willing to skip the U.S. completely. However, it doesn’t completely cut off trade, and many of the shortages on the island have been blamed on government mismanagement, as nearly the entire Cuban economy is centrally controlled.

Regardless, the Cuban government’s anti-embargo messaging has been partially supported by some U.S. politicians and organizations. Black Lives Matter wrote on Instagram, “The people of Cuba are being punished by the U.S. government because the country has maintained its commitment to sovereignty and self-determination. United States leaders have tried to crush this Revolution for decades.

“Since 1962, the United States has forced pain and suffering on the people of Cuba by cutting off food, medicine and supplies, costing the tiny island an estimated $130 billion,” the post continued. “Now, we look to president Biden to end the embargo, something Barack Obama called for in 2016. This embargo is a blatant human rights violation and it must end.”

The statement has received widespread pushback from across the political spectrum, with one user writing “Shame on you BLM. Sharing awareness on Cuba’s fight for freedom is appreciated, but your message is all wrong.

By and large, Cubans and Cuban-Americans have been angry with messaging such as that by Black Lives Matter for failing to consider that protesting Cubans rarely mention the embargo in their chants or demands, but rather call for widespread political changes, decreased civil repression, and anger at government policies that lead to widespread shortages of goods that are normally widely available.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also partially blamed the embargo in a statement, but also made sure to acknowledge abuses by the Cuban government, writing in an accompanying tweet, “We stand in solidarity with the Cuban people and condemn the suppression of the media, speech, and protest.”

“We also call for an end to the U.S. embargo and additional Trump-era restrictions that are profoundly contributing to the suffering of Cubans,” Ocasio-Cortez continued.

Protests have continued despite the eased restrictions on customs duties, and there are fears that another wave of Cuban migrants may come to the U.S. by traveling on sea, an extremely dangerous route. To discourage this, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas warned would-be refugees on Tuesday, saying, “Allow me to be clear: if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United StatesTo those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking.”

“The United States stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights. We call on the government, the government of Cuba, to refrain from violence and their attempts to silence the voice of the people of Cuba,” he added.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Miami Herald) (BBC)

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Gang That Kidnapped American and Canadian Missionaries in Haiti Seeks $17 Million Ransom

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The incident has fueled calls for the government to take action against gangs, which control many territories in the country and have repeatedly carried out large-scale abductions for ransom


Missionary Abduction

The gang that abducted 17 American and Canadian missionaries in Haiti on Saturday is demanding $17 million for their safe release, Haitian officials said Monday.

The group, which consists of one Canadian and 16 Americans, are all part of Christian Aid Ministries, an Amish and Mennonite charity based out of Ohio with a long history of working in Haiti.

While on their way to visit an orphanage in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince, the group’s bus was stopped at gunpoint by the 400 Mawozo gang. The gang is known for being one the most dangerous in the area, reportedly having about 150 members.

Multiple outlets, including CNN and Reuters, report that during the gang’s confrontation with the missionaries some victims managed to get messages out to associates to let them know what was going on. One even managed to drop a pin location on his mobile phone, helping authorities get a better idea of where exactly this happened.

By 4:53 p.m on Saturday, the kidnappers contacted Christian Aid Ministries to make their steep demands. According to authorities, the request is a noticeable jump from the thousands to tens of thousands the gang typically asks for.

Lack of Government Control

While Haitian authorities are involved in the investigation to free the missionaries, they actually have little power in the area. Croix des Bouquets is largely out of the government’s control and is instead run by 400 Mawozo. Government authority being replaced by gang activity isn’t uncommon in Haiti, and in some places, government control is almost completely lacking. This was highlighted on Sunday when Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to turn back from a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of revolutionary war hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines due to its placement in gang territory.

The issue makes recovering the missionaries far more complex, but Haitian authorities aren’t alone. The FBI has been involved in the investigation and is continuing to help Haitian authorities.

“The FBI is part of a coordinated US government effort to get the Americans involved to safety. Due to operational considerations, no further information is available at this time,” The agency said in a statement to Reuters.

Reports indicate that the hostages are being held in some kind of safe house for the gang. Currently, no one is believed to be physically hurt. The gang has warned against harming the hostages, although according to a Haitian security forces member who spoke with CNN, the group didn’t seem too worried about those threats.

Haitians Call for Changes

Abductions in Haiti have always been an issue, but the problem has become particularly bad lately. In 2020, the Haitian National Police reported 234 kidnappings. In the first eight months of this year, there have been at least 328.

Some organizations claim that number is actually low. In fact, the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights reported that at least 600 people have been abducted this year. The center said that much of the increase was caused by 400 Mawozo, who have figured out that kidnapping busloads of people is more profitable than just taking individuals.

The issue is so prolific that just before the kidnapping on Saturday, a Haitian transportation union called for an indefinite strike starting Monday, with its president further justifying the move in a written statement a day later.

“We call on the government to put an end to the kidnappings and provide us safety or for them to resign immediately. We are the most victims; the transportation sector is an easy target for kidnappers all over the country,” Union President Méhu Changeux wrote. “We lost many members to the insecurity and dozens of members have been kidnapped. The latest tragedy of the kidnapping of the American missionaries shows no one is safe in this country.” 

Since Monday, many parts of the country have come to a standstill amid the strike, putting increased pressure on a government with little resources to handle the underlying cause of discontent: gang activity and government instability.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (Associated Press)

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5 Dead, 2 Injured After Bow and Arrow Attack in Norway

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Police have called the incident a terror attack, though exact details regarding the suspect’s motives remain unclear.


Super Market Attack

The Norwegian town of Kongsberg is reeling from a deadly incident at Coop Extra supermarket on Wednesday that police are treating as “an act of terrorism.”

Shortly before 6 p.m., a 37-year old Danish man entered the market, armed with a bow and arrow, along with other weapons. He then began firing at those inside the building.

Authorities quickly responded and were on the scene within five minutes. Despite a police confrontation with the suspect, the attack continued. Four women and one man were ultimately killed while two others were left injured.

The suspect initially avoided arrest after managing to flee the scene. Police Chief Ole Bredrup Sæverud told reporters Thursday that it took 35 minutes to catch the attacker.

Unclear Motives

While police described the incident as a terror attack, they refused to specify a motive. Officials did hint that the rampage might have been religiously motivated by revealing that police had previously been in contact with the suspect due to his conversion to Islam and possible connections to radical content and teachings. Still, Sæverud clarified that the perpetrator hadn’t been actively investigated at all in 2021.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was just hours away from leaving office after she was ousted in recent elections, described reports of the scene as “horrifying” on Wednesday. Incoming Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said in a Facebook post from Thursday morning that the attack was a “cruel and brutal act.”

Norway’s King Harald expressed his sympathies to the mayor of Kongs-berg, telling the country, “We sympathize with the relatives and injured in the grief and despair.” 

And we think of all those affected in Kongs-berg who have experienced that their safe local environment suddenly became a dangerous place. It shakes us all when horrible things happen near us, when you least expect it, in the middle of everyday life on the open street.”

Attacks of this nature are rare in Norway. In 2019, a right-wing gunman tried to enter a mosque before being overpowered and hitting no one. Wednesday’s attack is the most deadly since July 2011, when a far-right extremist killed 77 people at a Labour party summer camp.

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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Protests Erupt in Italy Over World’s Toughest Vaccine Mandate

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The violence is believed to have been instigated by far-right groups that oppose COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic-related safety measures.


Green Pass Pushback

Demonstrators gathered in Rome over the weekend to protest against Italy’s plans to require a coronavirus “Green Pass” for all workers starting Oct. 15.

The Green Pass is a European Union initiative that shows whether someone is vaccinated, has recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, or has received a negative COVID test in the past 48 hours.

Since August, Italy has required the pass for entry at restaurants and use of long-distance trains, along with nearly every other activity that involves interaction with others or use of a public space. Now, the pass will be required to enter a workplace, which critics argue is particularly harsh.

Individuals who can’t produce a valid Green Pass will be suspended without pay, making it the most extreme of any COVID-19 mandate in the world.

The weekend protests started out peaceful, with people chanting “Liberta,” which means freedom. However, the scene turned violent by Saturday when a group of protesters affiliated with the far-right Forza Nuova party decided to storm the headquarters of the CGIL, Italy’s biggest and oldest labor union.

Protesters then marched towards the Prime Minister’s office, prompting police to respond with anti-riot measures like tear gas, water cannons, and shield charges.

It’s unclear how many protesters were hurt in the ongoing fighting, but dozen of police officers were reportedly hurt in the scuffle. By Sunday evening. at least 12 protesters were arrested, many of who are members of Forza Nuova, including its leader Roberto Fiore. Authorities also indicated in a press conference on Monday that it had identified at least 600 other people who took part in illegal activities during the demonstrations.

Fiore was unapologetic about the rioting, and Forza Nuova said in a statement, “The popular revolution will not stop, with or without us, until the Green Pass is definitively withdrawn. Saturday was a watershed between the old and the new. The people decided to raise the level of the clash.”

Fascist Banning

Saturday’s events have led many of the country’s largest political parties, including the 5Star Movement and the Democratic Paty, to support a motion calling for Nuova Forza and similar groups to be dismantled in line with a constitutional provision from 1952 that bans fascists parties.

While that motion is still going through the legislative process, prosecutors have already seized the group’s website in line with a 1988 law that bans inciting violence through public communications.

The events [on Saturday] take us back to the darkest and most dramatic moments of our history and they are an extremely serious and unacceptable attack on democracy,” Valeria Fedeli, a senator with the center-left Democratic Party, said on Monday.

The violence from the weekend may make it seem like a sizeable chunk of Italians are against the vaccine; however, over 70% of all Italians are already vaccinated, making it one of the highest rates in the world.

According to polling from the summer, most Italians think the new rules will help in the long run and prevent another catastrophe like last year when the country ran out of room to bury the dead due to the number of deaths caused by COVID-19.

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (NPR) (Politico)

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