- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Peso makes a comeback

SANTIAGO DE CUBA | Retail outlets selling everything in Cuban pesos are popping up across the country in what may be the government’s first steps toward phasing out its unpopular two-currency system.

The establishments opened the past year in a reversal of two decades of national policy that priced most goods and services in a dollar-linked convertible peso widely known by its acronym, the CUC.

“They have opened restaurants, pizzerias, cafeterias and pastry shops and set up areas across the city where they sell sandwiches, snacks and soda,” said retiree Pedro de la Fuente from Guantanamo, the capital city of Cuba’s easternmost province.

The change appears to be part of President Raul Castro’s plan to make more goods and services available in pesos in a gradual transition away from the two-currency system, which he has pledged to eliminate.

Cuba adopted the dollar as its second currency to prop up its economy, which spiraled into a deep depression after the Soviet Union, the island’s benefactor for 30 years, collapsed in 1991. The dollar was eventually replaced by the CUC, which is pegged at a value of $1.08 to one.


Lula aide gains in presidential race

BRASILIA | President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s likely candidate in this year’s presidential race in Brazil is narrowing the gap on the leading opposition candidate, an opinion poll showed Monday.

Dilma Rousseff, Mr. Lula da Silva’s chief of staff and the likely candidate for the ruling Workers’ Party, jumped to 27.8 percent of voter intention from 21.7 percent in November, according to a survey by the Sensus polling firm.

Sao Paulo state Gov. Jose Serra of the opposition PSDB party had 33.2 percent, compared with 31.8 percent in November, according to the poll commissioned by Brazil’s National Transportation Confederation.


Drive to legalize unregistered guns

HAVANA | Cuba has declared a two-month amnesty for citizens to register unlicensed guns, and says those passing aptitude and psychological tests will be allowed to keep their weapons.

The move is unusual in a state where almost no one except some active military personnel and plain-clothed state security agents are allowed to possess weapons.

Even most police officers are required to leave their pistols at the station or in a regional barracks when on vacation or leave, and young men participating in mandatory military service are given unloaded firearms for most exercises.

Starting Feb. 12, Cubans will have the “exceptional and one-time only” chance to register their guns with police, and will be allowed to keep them provided they are over 18 and have passed the proper tests administered at police stations.

There was no explanation for why the drive to legalize unlicensed weapons is coming now, though the state-run news agency Prensa Latina said the move grew out of a November 2008 law regulating possession of guns and ammunition.


Campaign to fight record child obesity

MEXICO CITY | Mexico’s rich diet of tacos, tortillas and tortas (large sandwiches), which is jokingly nicknamed “Vitamin T,” has steered its children to the top of world obesity charts.

The concerned government last week launched a new campaign to battle obesity, which it estimates to cost the health system some $3.2 billion per year.

“Obesity and excess weight are one of the biggest health challenges that Mexico is facing today,” President Felipe Calderon said as he introduced the national public-private plan to improve eating habits, mainly among children.

Mr. Calderon admitted that Mexico had the highest number of overweight adults in the world, which means a body mass index — a statistical measure that compares weight and height — of more than 25.

Its children had the highest rates in the world for obesity, which means a BMI of more than 30.


Author Martinez dies at age 75

BUENOS AIRES | Tomas Eloy Martinez, an Argentine author and journalist famed for his writings about former President Juan Domingo Peron and his glamorous wife Eva, died Sunday. He was 75.

Mr. Martinez died in Buenos Aires after a long battle with cancer, family friend Carlos Diuk said.

Mr. Martinez was a columnist for the New York Times, Spain’s El Pais newspaper and Argentina’s La Nacion daily.

He lived a large part of his life in the United States, where in the late 1990s he headed the Latin American Studies program at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Some of his best-known works include “Santa Evita,” “The Flight of the Queen” and “The Peron Novel” — combining fiction and reality about Argentina during and after the rule of the Perons, the glamorous power couple that dominated the nation’s politics in the 20th century.


Target trimmed for greenhouse gas cut

OTTAWA | Canada has trimmed its goals for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases and made clear it will follow the U.S. lead on fighting climate change, a move that prompted fresh criticism from green groups.

In a letter sent to the United Nations on Saturday, Canada committed to a 17 percent cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020. This is identical to the U.S. target but less than the 20 percent cut from 2006 levels that Ottawa previously promised.

The letter said the 17 percent cut would “be aligned with the final economy-wide emissions target of the United States in enacted legislation.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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