- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 13, 2010

CUBA

State hands over shops to workers

HAVANA | Communist Cuba is turning over hundreds of state-run barber shops and beauty salons to employees across the country in what appears to be the start of a long-expected revamping of state retail services by President Raul Castro.

The measure marks the first time state-run, retail-level establishments have been handed over to employees since they were nationalized in 1968.

Barbers and hairdressers in telephone interviews from a number of cities during the weekend said they would now rent the space where they work and pay taxes instead of receiving monthly wages.

Employees who do not wish to rent are being offered other jobs or retirement.

Cuba and North Korea are the world’s only remaining Soviet-style command economies in which the state controls more than 90 percent of economic activity. Other communist countries, such as China and Vietnam, have long since liberalized retail trade, services and small business.

The measure, which is subject to adjustment and local conditions, sets a monthly fee for each person based on 15 percent of the average revenue generated by haircutting and styling in each area.

They will be able to charge whatever the market will bear and expect to make good money for Cuba, where the average monthly wage is about $20.

BRAZIL

Mudslide threat forces out more 2,600 families

RIO DE JANEIRO | The threat of new mudslides forced Rio de Janeiro officials to begin removing 2,600 families from at-risk areas Monday and prompted the closure of the trolley ride that leads tourists to the Christ the Redeemer statue.

The trolleys have been kept from taking tourists up the mountain where the statue stands because there is a chance of slides along the rails, said Daniele Wall, a spokeswoman with the Rio Health and Civil Defense Ministry.

She said the trolley rides were halted Saturday, but the statue remains open to visitors. Tourists can climb the mountain by car but will not get the kinds of views that are available from trolleys that circle their way to the top.

Earlier Monday, the Rio city government said in a statement that the 2,600 families being evacuated from risk areas will receive stipends to pay for housing until they are relocated to new homes provided by the government.

Nearly 13,000 families are living in homes at risk for slides and will have to be relocated.

Firefighters said the death toll from flooding and landslides last week reached 229 in and around Rio.

Most deaths happened in nearby Niteroi, a city of about 500,000 people across the bay from Rio, where up to 60 houses that had been built atop a giant, unstable landfill were destroyed in a single slide.

MEXICO

Cartels team up against hit men

MEXICO CITY | Two Mexican drug cartels have joined forces to destroy a feared gang of hit men along the border with Texas, a shift in allegiances that is fueling drug-war violence, federal police said Monday.

Intelligence reports indicate the Gulf and La Familia cartels — formerly bitter rivals — have formed an alliance to fight the Zetas gang in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, said Ramon Pequeno, the head of the anti-narcotics division of Mexico’s federal police.

It was the first official confirmation of the alliance, which has been rumored since banners appeared throughout the region announcing the pact and warning residents not to leave their homes, saying the conflict would get worse. E-mails also were sent with the same message.

The campaign to wipe out the Zetas has raised fears of open warfare in Tamaulipas, with armed men throwing up roadblocks around army garrisons and ambushing military patrols, brazen tactics that analysts say are meant to get soldiers out of the way of the turf war.

Mexico has deployed tens of thousands of troops to the border and other regions to combat drug trafficking groups, an effort backed by U.S. intelligence work and aid. Gang violence has surged despite the 3-year-old deployment, claiming more than 18,000 lives since 2006.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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