Americas - Issue 12 - Magazine | Monocle

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Tense trade-off

China is not happy with Canada. Beijing is upset at Ottawa’s refusal to extradite Lai Changxing, wanted on charges of smuggling (he is claiming refugee status). They are also miffed about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s meeting last autumn with the Dalai Lama, an honorary Canadian citizen. To top it off, new rules on the purchase of Canadian firms were proposed — a move seen by many as a bid to keep the Chinese out. Perhaps this explains why China has been cool to Canada’s efforts to attract investment in its oil sector. Chinese companies have invested $300m (€202m) in Alberta’s massive oil sands deposits, but that is a fraction of the $90bn invested in the region.

A visit by Harper to Beijing could help patch things up. Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, who visited China six times while in office, has called on Harper to make a trip. “Everybody is looking for Harper to go,” says Yuen Pau Woo, president and co-CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a think-tank in Vancouver.

Touchy subject

Mexico City
Whether young, old, pretty, plain, showing some leg or covered up in a full-length coat, Mexican women say it is impossible to avoid groping, verbal abuse and lewd looks on Mexico City’s overcrowded public transport network.

With rush-hour buses and subway cars stuffed to bursting, avoiding contact is almost impossible and it is sometimes hard to tell whether touching is deliberate. But in response to complaints over inappropriate male behaviour on public transport, city authorities have come up with a daring solution in a country where machismo rules – women-only buses.

The buses with large pink signs declaring “ladies only” have launched on two routes, and the city hopes to expand the single-sex service to 15 of its 88 routes in the coming months. The (male) driver is a barrier to men who try to gain entry, whether deliberately or in confusion. The mood on the buses is jubilant as, unheard of in rush hour, all the ladies get seats.

The decision to provide women-only buses was inspired by Mayor Marcelo Ebrard’s (see Monocle, issue 9) goal to improve the lot of women. It is the latest in a line of measures to make life better for the average Mexico City resident.

Cuban healing

Cuban exiles and their offspring in Miami are drawing up a comprehensive blueprint to redevelop Havana and restore its former glory should the Caribbean island make a transition to democracy. Cuban-Americans constitute a significant economic force that could rapidly transform Havana if they were to be given the chance – and perhaps not entirely for the better.

“We are preparing a series of recommendations for the future, so that it isn’t converted into another cybercity,” says Nicolas Quintana, a former member of Cuba’s National Planning Board who fled in 1960. Now professor of architecture at Florida International University, he has been working on the blueprint for the past three years with financing from two Cuban-American developers.

The project involves a thorough technical documentation of Havana, based on maps, photos and satellite images. Quintana has voiced scepticism that Fidel Castro’s replacement by his brother Raúl would lead to improvements for Havana, such as a revitalisation of its decrepit housing stock.

“It can’t be done under the present system or the one that Raúl Castro would like to establish,” Quintana tells Monocle. “Their only objective is to retain power. Our project only fits into a world of freedom.” But in a world of freedom, would developers preserve the rich architectural legacy of a city whose heart has been named a Unesco World Heritage Site?

Olympics: gold standard
At the 2004 Olympics, the island nation managed to win one medal per 150,000 of its people. That meant a modest total of two.

Also rans
Meanwhile the Mexicans were less waving than drowning with one medal per 26.2 million of their population. Total medals: four.

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