Wednesday. 21/7/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Lucinda Elliott

Cuba in crisis

Driving an old Chevy under Havana’s neon lights with no mobile internet as a distraction has been the picture-postcard image sold to millions of potential visitors to the island of Cuba; a regional utopia that’s free from outside influence (especially the reach of the big bad USA). That vision has been abruptly replaced this month with one of officers wielding batons and state security storming ordinary Cuban homes.

The pictures have drawn outrage from across Latin America. From Buenos Aires to Bogotá, rallies in support of Cuban protesters took place last weekend in an unusual expression of solidarity. While the continent is known for its heavy-handed policing – most recently in Colombia where at least 44 people have been killed in anti-government demonstrations – this reputation had excluded Cuba (at least as seen by those living on the outside; most Cubans were well aware that they’ve been living in a communist police state). Now Havana feels more isolated from the region than ever.

On top of the protest footage are substantial reasons why Cubans took to the streets in the first place. For weeks they have suffered 12-hour power cuts, faced humiliating queues and endured shortages of even basic medicines and food, all while the country struggles to contain one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. A homegrown vaccine is being rolled out but the decision not to import any jabs from abroad earlier this year has set the island back even further. “Cuba’s PR problem has gone through the roof; the government made a massive mistake,” one businessman from São Paulo, who has worked in Cuba, tells me. “What happened Sunday means it’s no longer appealing to be involved with a country like that and I’m certain that other foreigners feel the same.”

What happens next? Optimists say that the reformers within Cuba’s high ranks will look to address the protesters’ grievances. A more probable scenario is that they are sidelined by the old guard and the regime will crack down harder on dissidents. Sadly, I expect Cuba might look to follow the lead of Venezuela and Nicaragua rather than some of its more enlightened Latin American neighbours.

Elliott is Monocle’s Latin America correspondent. Hear more of her take on Cuba on ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Alamy

Politics / Philippines

Beat to the punch

Rodrigo Duterte delivers his sixth and final state of the nation address before lawmakers on Monday but the controversial president of the Philippines appears in no rush to bow out. Momentum is building for Duterte to run for the vice-presidency in next year’s elections, circumventing constitutional term limits by joining a family ticket headed by his daughter, Sara. Double Duterte could be a winning combination with voters, according to a recent opinion poll. But the proposal has split the ruling PDP-Laban party into two factions, pitting Duterte against senator Manny Pacquiao (pictured), a boxer and former loyalist who harbours his own presidential ambitions. Duterte’s camp landed a heavy blow this weekend, ousting Pacquiao as party leader and installing a Duterte supporter in his stead. “Pacman”, as Pacquiao is affectionately known, is currently in the US preparing for a world title fight against Errol Spence; a win against the highly rated American fighter might help to get his presidential ambitions off the ropes.

Image: Alamy

Theatre / UK

Curtain call

London’s West End is back in full swing (at least in theory) as the easing of lockdown rules in England means that live performances can return at full capacity from this week. But in reality it has been far from a smooth revival. Multiple shows have launched only to be quickly cancelled due to performers and staff being forced to self-isolate; the opening night of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella has been scheduled and pulled three times.

The upside? Matt Wolf, theatre critic of The International New York Times, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist that the added anticipation could give shows like Lloyd Webber’s an even bigger hit at the box office when they can finally push through the challenges. He recommends that shows maintain multiple casts of actors to avoid cancellation. What’s clear is that the West End is a testing ground. “Broadway is watching nervously in advance of its own reopening in the autumn,” says Wolf.

Listen to more of Wolf’s take on the West End reopening in today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Housing / USA

Homing instinct

California governor Gavin Newsom signed a funding package this week that put $12bn (€10.2bn) toward tackling homelessness in the state. It includes funds for 42,000 new residential units to start redressing the affordable housing shortage that has led to rising numbers of rough sleepers in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the state. Newsom has been criticised for doing too little in the past and, facing a possible recall election, the issue has taken on new political urgency. But it’s also true that strides have been made during the height of the pandemic. In Monocle’s Quality of Life issue we cover a scheme called Project Roomkey, run by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the state, which placed thousands of homeless people in hotel rooms that had been left vacant due to the precipitous drop in tourists. The Golden State has a real chance to address the deeply entrenched issue – but providing dignity for those in need shouldn’t just be a policy that leaders reach for at election time.

Image: Thea van den Heuvel

Urbanism / Amsterdam

Printer’s link

The world’s first 3D-printed stainless-steel bridge (pictured) has opened in Amsterdam. The project, by Dutch technology company MX3D, took more than four years to complete before Queen Máxima of the Netherlands declared it open last week by directing robotic arms to cut the ribbon. The steel structure will stand for two years, replacing the previous bridge as it undergoes repairs. The crossing has been hailed as cost effective and quick to build, producing minimal waste material in the process. But the undertaking has not been without its setbacks: some people have questioned the use of data collected by a sensor system that’s embedded in the bridge to analyse footfall and maintenance issues. Additionally, the canal walls surrounding the bridge had to be renovated in order to support the structure. Adding such technology-driven solutions to our cities remains a tricky prospect – this is one project that will be closely watched before consideration is given to whether it can be replicated elsewhere.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Sophie Taeuber-Arp was an artist at the forefront of the 20th-century avant-garde. She was also a craftswoman, a graphic designer, a poet, an interior designer and a performer. The Tate Modern has put on a major retrospective of Taeuber-Arp’s vast amount of work. Robert Bound, Ossian Ward and Amah-Rose Abrams review it in this week’s episode, discussing the links between Africa and the dada movement, the readdressing of the traditional art canon and the seriousness with which decorative art forms are considered.

Monocle Films / France

Building safer cities

Monocle Films travels to Paris to bear witness to the French capital’s efforts to mitigate terrorism through smart design and architecture.

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