Connect with us

WORLD

FirstFT: Today’s top stories | Financial Times

FirstFT: Today’s top stories | Financial Times


The Biden administration has proposed a new model for taxing multinational corporations, calling for the world’s biggest businesses to pay levies to national governments based on their sales in each country as part of a deal on a global minimum tax.

In documents sent to the 135 countries negotiating international taxation at the OECD in Paris and obtained by the Financial Times on Wednesday, the US Treasury laid out a plan that would apply to the global profits of the largest companies, including big US technology groups, regardless of their physical presence in a given country.

The goal of the plan is to catalyse negotiations at the OECD, the international organisation of wealthy countries, with the promise of a more stable international tax system that would stop the proliferation of national digital taxes and break the mould of tax avoidance and profit-shifting by many multinationals. 

At home, Biden said he was open to compromise on his $2tn infrastructure plan after a backlash from businesses over a proposed $2.5tn increase in corporate taxes to fund it. (FT)

Coronavirus digest

  • The UK changed its guidance over the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, recommending that people aged 18-29 be offered alternative jabs. The move comes as the European Medicines Agency announced a link between rare blood clots in the brain and the AstraZeneca shot. (FT)

  • Spain has banned the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people under 60, and Italy appears set to follow suit.

  • The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, will resume exports of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in June but only if domestic coronavirus cases decline.

  • The G20 has extended its offer of temporary debt relief to low-income countries in the latest effort to ward off a pandemic-induced debt crisis in the developing world.

  • The IMF has proposed a “solidarity tax” on high earners and companies that prospered in the coronavirus crisis to help reduce the social inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic. (FT)

Follow our live blog for the latest Covid-19 news and sign up for our Coronavirus Business Update email.

In the news

UK jobs rebound The UK labour market is starting to thaw, with recruiters reporting the strongest rebound in permanent hiring for six years in March as businesses prepared for the lifting of lockdown measures. A monthly survey pointed to the first upturn in permanent staff appointments since December. (FT)

A London store worker prepares a shop window for next week’s reopening as lockdown rules ease
A London store worker prepares a shop window for next week’s reopening as lockdown rules ease © Andy Rain/EPA/Shutterstock

Fed officials say inflation risks are ‘broadly balanced’ Federal Reserve officials said the danger of unexpectedly high inflation was roughly equal to that of unexpectedly sluggish inflation, shrugging off fears of a rapidly overheating economy after Joe Biden’s $1.9tn fiscal stimulus. The rise in US government spending will boost the world’s largest economy over at least the next two years, said the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase. (FT)

Myanmar ambassador locked out of London embassy Kyaw Zwar Minn, Myanmar’s ambassador to the UK, has been shut out of the country’s embassy in London. The ambassador has spoken out against a military coup in Myanmar and has called for the release of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (BBC, Reuters)

Myanmar’s ambassador to the UK, Kyaw Zwar Minn, said a Yangon military-linked figure had “occupied” the embassy in London © AFP via Getty Images

India’s ShareChat valued at $2bn in wake of TikTok ban Indian social media group ShareChat has raised more than half a billion dollars to grow its popular short-video app Moj, just months after the Indian government banned ByteDance-owned rival TikTok from the country. (FT)

King of Jordan says attempt at sedition contained King Abdullah said on Wednesday that he had quashed an attempt at sedition. The feud within one of the Arab world’s most respected royal families has been years in the making. (FT)

US seeks to restore aid to Palestinians The Biden administration plans to restart aid to the Palestinians, rolling back a 2018 Trump suspension in a move set to trigger new tensions with Israel, a close US ally. The state department said on Wednesday that it was seeking to “restart US economic, development and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people”. (FT)

The day ahead

Holocaust Remembrance Day At a Holocaust ceremony on the eve of the April 8 day of commemoration, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a nuclear deal with Iran that “threatens our destruction, will not obligate us”. (Haartez)

ECB meeting minutes released Minutes of the last European Central Bank Governing Council meeting are set to be released on Thursday. At the meeting on March 11 the central bank promised to accelerate its bond-buying programme. (FT)

What else we’re reading

The case for the next generation of batteries Solid-state batteries are safer and use fewer raw materials than lithium-ion batteries that drive the modern world. Are they the answer to technology’s power problem and a threat to Tesla’s dominance? (FT)

Biden should reverse course on China The US administration is making a strategic mistake in carrying on with Donald Trump’s hardline policies towards China, writes Kishore Mahbubani, distinguished fellow at the National University of Singapore. A fear of being seen as “soft” on China stands in the way of economic and diplomatic progress. (FT)

Burnout: the next health crisis? Both the coronavirus pandemic and arduous work hours are taking their toll. This series provides analysis of one of the biggest problems facing businesses and their employees and includes personal stories and tips on how to avoid it. (FT)

How Ken Griffin rebuilt Citadel’s ramparts In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Citadel was on the brink of collapse. Today, after navigating the market fallout from the pandemic, the Chicago-based hedge fund has cemented its reputation as one of the industry’s titans. (FT)

Ken Griffin © FT montage; Reuters
Ken Griffin © FT montage; Reuters

The world’s wealthiest Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person for the fourth year running, according to Forbes’ annual billionaires list. Four people on the list top $100bn or more in net worth. Explore the list here. (Forbes)

Covid has upended the out-of-office email. Hooray! Unusual out-of-office messages Pilita Clark has seen over the past 12 fraught months tell a story of a year of working life that no one expected to start, and which sometimes seems as if it will never end. The humble auto-reply has come into its own now that time off really has to mean time off. (FT)

Video of the day

How Covid has strained the world’s ports The FT’s Trade Secrets editor Claire Jones says few places of business have faced the pressures of the pandemic quite as much as the world’s ports. (FT)

Thank you for reading. Send your recommendations and feedback to firstft@ft.com



Source link

Advertisement
Click to comment

WORLD

Queen Sits Alone at Funeral for Prince Philip to Set Example

Queen Sits Alone at Funeral for Prince Philip to Set Example


WINDSOR, England — Queen Elizabeth II is sitting alone in the quire of St. George’s Chapel during the funeral of Prince Philip, the man who had been by her side for 73 years.

Philip, who died April 9 at the age of 99, was being laid to rest in the Royal Vault at Windsor Castle after a funeral service steeped in military and royal tradition — but also pared down and infused with his own personality. People across Britain have observed one minute of silence in honor of Philip just before his royal ceremonial funeral got under way.

Following strict social distancing rules during the pandemic, the queen set an example even in grief, sitting apart from family members arrayed around the church. Just 30 mourners were allowed to attend the service at St. George’s on the grounds of Windsor Castle, where the queen has stayed to avoid getting COVID-19.

Other royals who are in family bubbles are sitting together.

The service began with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby entering the chapel ahead of the coffin, followed by Philip’s children and three of his eight grandchildren, as a four-member choir sang “I am the resurrection and the life.”

His coffin emerged from the State Entrance of Windsor Castle as those taking part in the ceremonial procession for his funeral took their places. It was loaded on a specially adapted Land Rover, designed by Philip himself, for the eight-minute journey to St. George’s Chapel. Senior military commanders lined up in front of the vehicle, with members of the royal family following behind.

The queen rode in a state Bentley at the rear of the procession. The entire procession and funeral was taking place out of public view within the grounds of the castle, a 950-year-old royal residence 20 miles (30 kilometers) west of London. It will be shown live on television.

Under spring sunshine, some locals stopped outside the castle to leave flowers on Saturday, but people largely heeded requests by police and the palace not to gather because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Philip’s coffin coffin was draped in his personal standard, and topped with his Royal Navy cap and sword and a wreath of flowers.

The funeral will reflect Philip’s military ties, both as a ceremonial commander of many units and as a veteran of war. More than 700 military personnel are taking part, including army bands, Royal Marine buglers and an honor guard drawn from across the armed forces.

Those marching into place included soldiers of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, who were firing a gun salute, Guards regiments in scarlet tunics and bearskin hats, Highlanders in kilts and sailors in white naval hats.

Philip was deeply involved in the funeral planning, and aspects of it reflect his personality, including his love of the rugged Land Rover. Philip drove several versions of the four-wheel drive vehicle for decades until he was forced to give up his license at 97 after a crash. His body will be carried to the chapel on a modified Land Rover Defender that he designed himself.

The children of Philip and the queen — heir to the throne Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward — will walk behind the hearse, while the 94-year-old queen will travel to the chapel in a Bentley car.

Grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry will also walk behind the coffin, although not side by side. The brothers, whose relationship has been strained amid Harry’s decision to quit royal duties and move to California, will flank their cousin Peter Phillips, the son of Princess Anne.

The moment is likely to stir memories of the image of William and Harry at 15 and 12, walking behind their mother Princess Diana’s coffin in 1997, accompanied by their grandfather Philip, in a London ceremony televised around the world.

Armed forces bands played hymns and classical music before the funeral service, which was being preceded by a nationwide minute of silence.

Inside the Gothic chapel, the setting for centuries of royal weddings and funerals, the service was to be simple and somber. There will be no sermon, at Philip’s request, and no family eulogies or readings, in keeping with royal tradition. But Dean of Windsor David Conner will say the country has been enriched by Philip’s “unwavering loyalty to our queen, by his service to the nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith.”

Philip spent almost 14 years in the Royal Navy and saw action in the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific during World War II. Several elements of his funeral have a maritime theme, including the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” which is associated with seafarers and asks God: “O hear us when we cry to thee/For those in peril on the sea.”

As Philip’s coffin is lowered into the Royal Vault, Royal Marine buglers will sound “Action Stations,” an alarm that alerts sailors to prepare for battle — a personal request from Philip.

Former Bishop of London Richard Chartres, who knew Philip well, said the prince was a man of faith, but liked things kept succinct.

“He was at home with broad church, high church and low church, but what he really liked was short church,” Chartres told the BBC. “I always remember preaching on occasions which he was principal actor that the instruction would always come down: ‘No more than four minutes.’”

Along with Philip’s children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests include other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to a thicket of European royal families.

Mourners have been instructed to wear masks and observe social distancing inside the chapel, and not to join in when a four-person choir sings hymns. The queen, who has spent much of the past year isolating with her husband at Windsor Castle, will sit alone.

Ahead of the funeral, Buckingham Palace released a photo of the queen and Philip, smiling and relaxing on blankets in the grass in the Scottish Highlands in 2003. The palace said the casual photo was a favorite of the queen.

For decades, Philip was a fixture of British life, renowned for his founding of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards youth program and for a blunt-spoken manner that at times included downright offensive remarks. He lived in his wife’s shadow, but his death has sparked a reflection about his role, and new appreciation from many in Britain.

“He was a character, an absolute character,” said Jenny Jeeves as she looked at the floral tributes in Windsor. “He was fun, he was funny. Yes, he made quite a few gaffes, but it depends which way you took it really. Just a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather, and a good example to all of us, really.”

___

Jill Lawless reported from London.

___



Source link

Continue Reading

WORLD

Antoine Frérot, the victor in Veolia’s bitter battle for Suez

Antoine Frérot, the victor in Veolia’s bitter battle for Suez


Only days after Veolia finally sealed a deal to buy arch-rival Suez, Antoine Frérot feels relaxed enough to describe himself in Machiavellian terms. 

“Machiavelli said that he who wants the end, accepts the means . . . I am rational like Machiavelli,” the Veolia boss told the Financial Times. 

But wry comments aside, Frérot dismisses suggestions — both from around Suez and more broadly in Paris — that he was too aggressive in the fight for his company’s water and waste competitor.

“There wasn’t a question of morality in what happened. There were just two incompatible objectives,” he said. “Faced with deviousness . . . I am straightforward. I hit back with what I call firmness, not violence.”

The battle ended in a very Parisian way: in the top-end Bristol hotel after a three-star chef had provided room service.

Across the table from Frérot was Philippe Varin, Suez chair and elder statesman. Alongside them was a board member from each side, a court-appointed observer and Gérard Mestrallet, the former Suez boss who had been called in to mediate. 

The French state, which had already tried and failed to end the fight, was not present. According to people familiar with the matter, Frérot insisted Suez chief executive Bertrand Camus not be in the room. 

The two CEOs had barely spoken since October, when Veolia bought 29.9 per cent of Suez from French energy group Engie and pledged to snap up the rest. Suez fought back, with Camus fierce in his fight to stay independent. 

Despite promises to convince the board of Suez, a hostile bid was finally launched in February and Veolia piled pressure on its target. Board members were threatened with criminal lawsuits. And a deal was only announced this week as pressure mounted on both sides.

Last Sunday, after long negotiations, Suez agreed to be bought by Veolia, which raised its price from €18 to €20.50 a share. Veolia said it would sell back a chunk of Suez, including assets that would have been sold to get past competition regulators, to create a smaller competitor. Legal threats are to be stood down. Shareholders on both sides are happy.

The price, Frérot told the FT, was “very close to the ceiling” of what they were prepared to pay. He also stressed that the governance of the new Suez was critical because if it “falls apart in a few years, I will be held responsible”, and that he had insisted on management pay limits at the new Suez and lockups before assets could be sold. 

Varin and Frérot decided to split 80 per cent of the capital of the new Suez between private equity groups allied to both sides. Ardian, which was aligned with Suez and wants control of the new group, is not happy, say people briefed on the matter. 

For 62-year-old Frérot the deal, which has been in the back of his mind for years, is a chance to create the “champion of the ecological transition” by combining the world’s two largest water and waste groups. 

Suez and Veolia, each with long histories, had come close before. In 2012 Suez tried to snap up Veolia three years into Frérot’s tenure. 

Coming out of the financial crisis, Frérot had to reduce debt and change strategy, earning the enmity of Henri Proglio, who had appointed him. The lessons he learnt facing down boardroom challenges have been put to use.

“When it comes to big changes . . . you have 20 per cent of people who agree and want to go for it, 20 per cent of people who are against it and want to slow you down. And there are 60 per cent waiting to see who will win,” he said. “It is therefore necessary, unfortunately, to get rid of the 20 per cent pulling the brakes and convince the 60.” 

If competition hurdles are cleared, Frérot will lead a group with €37bn in revenues from his office in a northern suburb of Paris. It is a far cry from when his father, a country doctor, “took a gamble” sending the 15-year-old Frérot to school at the famous Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. 

From there he followed a well-trodden path of the French elite, through France’s École Polytechnique, an engineering college that churns out top executives.

Divorced and father to three daughters, Frérot now lives in the wealthy 3rd arrondissement but stands somewhat outside the Parisian set.

A private man, he resists sharing too much of himself in the office, not wanting his decisions to be influenced by personal factors. That means, according to one former colleague, he has depths most do not get to see. 

A student of philosophy and sociology, he re-read a biography of Claude Lévi-Strauss during his war with Suez. He smokes Craven cigarettes and collects “outsider art”. The first time he bought a painting was when he was on military service in Germany for 100 Deutschmarks.

Another former colleague said Frérot had “a long memory” and “does not forgive easily”. But he may need to show a different side to himself as he looks to integrate a bruised Suez. A man who has vocally supported a more inclusive form of capitalism must shrug off accusations he went too far. 

“Opinion on Frérot is going to stay divided,” said one banker advising Suez. “He was a good battlefield general, he told people to go out and kill, and they did it. But is violence the best way to get a good outcome? Integrating these companies is not going to be easy.”

But Frérot backs himself to bring the groups together and has one eye on his legacy. More so, his bet is that “if you don’t change your goal, people end up believing you.”



Source link

Continue Reading

WORLD

Street Artists Come Up With Heartening Way To Socially Distance During Pandemic

Street Artists Come Up With Heartening Way To Socially Distance During Pandemic



Parks in Bristol, southwest England, have been covered in hearts so people can socially distance within them as coronavirus restrictions are eased.

Artists involved with Upfest, the city’s live street art festival, painted 365 hearts ― spaced more than 2 meters apart ― in eco-friendly chalk line paint on the grass at College Green, Queen Square and Castle Park.

They also painted “#LoveBristol” murals in the parks and on the city’s streets.

The artworks were unveiled Monday, when nonessential stores were allowed to reopen following a three-month national lockdown. They form part of the yearlong #LoveBristol campaign — led by the nonprofit Bristol City Centre BID — which is working to help businesses recover from the pandemic.

The group also painted hearts in the parks last summer, when restrictions from the first national lockdown were being eased, and projected festive song lyrics onto buildings in the run-up to Christmas.

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus



Source link

Continue Reading

WORLD

Republicans loyal to Donald Trump set fundraising records in first quarter

Republicans loyal to Donald Trump set fundraising records in first quarter


Republicans loyal to Donald Trump raised record sums of money in the first three months of this year, even as US corporations said they would pause or stop political giving in the wake of the January 6 siege on the US Capitol.

The latest filings from the Federal Election Commission show Republican members of Congress — including Missouri senator Josh Hawley, Texas senator Ted Cruz and Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene — raised millions of dollars in campaign contributions in the first quarter, driven in large part by small-dollar donations.

Hawley brought in more than $3m in the three months ending March 31, compared to some $120,000 in the first quarter of last year. Cruz raised $3.6m, compared to the $1.6m he raked in at the same time last year. Neither senator is up for re-election until 2024.

At the same time, Taylor Greene, the representative from Georgia who was ejected from her congressional committee assignments in February over her endorsement of conspiracy theories, raised $3.2m in the first quarter — a staggering sum for a first-term congresswoman.

Matt Gaetz, the Republican congressman from Florida under investigation for alleged involvement in a child sex-trafficking ring, brought in $1.8m. Jim Jordan, the Ohio congressman and another vocal Trump ally, brought in $2.1m — about three times what he raised in the first quarter of last year.


$1.5m


the amount raised in the first quarter by Liz Cheney, the Wyoming congresswoman who voted to impeach Donald Trump over his role in the January 6 riots

Meanwhile, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s former press secretary who is now running for governor of Arkansas, said she had raised $4.8m in the first quarter, more than any candidate in the state’s history. About three-quarters of the donations came from out of state, according to her campaign. Huckabee Sanders was the first politician Trump endorsed through his “Save America PAC” after he left office.

The figures underscore the enduring enthusiasm of Trump’s supporter base and the Republican grassroots. It also highlights the increasing power of small-dollar donors at a time when corporations have withheld political spending over the US Capitol attacks, which interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college victory and left five people dead.

Many of America’s largest companies — including Facebook, Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase, as well as the US Chamber of Commerce, a big lobby group — said they would pull or review political donations in response to the January 6 riots, which were led by Trump supporters.

Several companies specifically said they would not give to Republicans who opposed the certification of Biden’s presidential win, although a few have broken their pledges.

But the latest filings show that small-dollar donations from individuals, many made online through the Republican party’s WinRed platform, have more than made up the gap for GOP candidates, especially those loyal to the former president. Hawley, Cruz, Greene, Gaetz and Jordan all voted against certifying Biden’s electoral college victory.

Marimekko chart showing campaign contributions to Senators and House members who voted to overturn the election results and who raised around $2m or more in Q1 2021. Most of the money has come from individual donors who gave less than $200 in total donations, highlighting the increasing importance of small-dollar money for both parties.

The filings also signal how the amount of money in US politics continues to trend upward, even in a year with no major elections on the calendar. The next big political event in the US will be next year’s midterm elections, when all of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, a third of the 100-member Senate and a spate of governor’s mansions will be up for grabs.

At the same time, the latest FEC filings show that a small number of Trump’s most prominent critics from within his own party were able to fundraise off the back of their opposition to the former president.

Liz Cheney, the Republican congresswoman from Wyoming who was the most senior GOP House member to vote to impeach Trump over his role in the January 6 riots, raked in more than $1.5m in the first quarter. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois who also voted to impeach and has set up a political action committee to raise funds for anti-Trump Republican candidates, brought in $1.1m in the first three months of the year, including transfers from other Republican fundraising committees.

However, Cheney and Kinzinger were among just a handful of anti-Trump Republicans who bucked the trend of more muted donations for those who have shown less fealty to the former president, including the seven GOP senators who voted to convict him at his impeachment trial.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who is up for re-election next year, raised almost $379,000 in the first quarter, while Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who will not face re-election until 2026, raised just under $130,000. Mitt Romney of Utah raked in about $75,000.

Taken as a whole, the first-quarter fundraising numbers put next year’s midterms on track to be among the most expensive congressional races to date, and provide early signs that Republicans are catching up with Democrats when it comes to harnessing the power of small-dollar donors through WinRed. Democrats have raked in huge sums in recent election cycles through their own online fundraising platform, ActBlue.

The latest FEC filings show Democrats continued to raise large numbers of campaign contributions in the first quarter of this year.

Raphael Warnock, the Democratic senator from Georgia who won one of two hotly contested Senate run-offs in the southern US state in January, will be up for re-election in next year’s midterms because he won his seat in a special election. According to the latest filings, he raised more than $4.5m in the period between January 26 and March 31.

Mark Kelly, the Democratic senator from Arizona, another key swing state, also won a special election in last year’s cycle and will therefore defend his seat next year. Kelly reported receipts of more than $4.4m in the first quarter.



Source link

Continue Reading

WORLD

Fidel Castro’s brother Raul, 89, relinquishes Cuban presidency to Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60

Fidel Castro’s brother Raul, 89, relinquishes Cuban presidency to Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60


Cuba’s leadership is passing to a younger generation, with the final Castro leaving office and ending a 60-year family monopoly – but there is little other change as power remains firmly with the Communist Party.

At a four-day party congress starting on Friday, 89-year-old Raul Castro will relinquish the country’s most powerful position – that of party first secretary – to 60-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s president.

It officially ends six decades of the Castros dominating Cuban politics – first by Fidel, who ruled for nearly half a century from 1959 to 2006 and is widely revered as the country’s father and saviour, and subsequently his brother Raul.

However, some observers have already speculated that Raul is unlikely to completely relinquish his power and could continue to pull the strings from behind the scenes.

Raul Castro, 89, will relinquish power to the younger generation

Current President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60, will take over leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba

 Cuba’s leadership is passing to a younger generation, 89-year-old Raul Castro will relinquish the country’s most powerful position – that of party first secretary – to 60-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s president

This officially ends six decades of dominion over Cuban politics by Castro and his brother Fidel (pictured), who ruled for nearly half a century from 1959 to 2006 and is widely revered as the country's father and saviour

This officially ends six decades of dominion over Cuban politics by Castro and his brother Fidel (pictured), who ruled for nearly half a century from 1959 to 2006 and is widely revered as the country’s father and saviour

Diaz-Canel will be only the third-ever first secretary of the all-powerful Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), while still retaining the presidency.

He also becomes Cuba’s first civilian leader since the Castro-led revolution of the 1950s deposed dictator Fulgencio Batista, which happened before he was even born.

But while the suit-and-tie wearing, tech-savvy Beatles fan may be more modern in some ways than his predecessors – both of whom were fond of donning military garb – he remains first and foremost a party disciple. 

‘He is part of the political struggle, the ideological struggle,’ said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban diplomat.

‘The absence of a Castro at the helm doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to be an abrupt change in the Communist party’s style,’ added Norman McKay, an analyst with The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Diaz-Canel will be only the third-ever first secretary of the all-powerful Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), while still retaining the presidency

Diaz-Canel will be only the third-ever first secretary of the all-powerful Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), while still retaining the presidency

Diaz-Canel will take over from Raul Castro who had ruled Cuba since taking over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008

Diaz-Canel will take over from Raul Castro who had ruled Cuba since taking over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008

A new constitution passed in May 2019 made it clear that the country’s commitment to socialism was ‘irrevocable.’

Yet many Cubans pay little heed to politics, preoccupied as they are by the worst economic crisis in 30 years, sky-high inflation, biting food shortages, snaking queues for basic necessities and limited freedoms.

‘I hope the congress will lead to an improvement because the prices are too high,’ said pensioner Maria Martinez, 68.

‘There is nothing to hope for,’ added Sergio, a 44-year-old cook who declined to give his full name in a country where speaking out against the government can land you in trouble.

‘Salaries are a problem, they are not enough. There are problems with food, the lines are long,’ he said.

Diaz-Canel also becomes Cuba's first civilian leader since the Castro-led revolution of the 1950s, which happened before he was even born

Diaz-Canel also becomes Cuba’s first civilian leader since the Castro-led revolution of the 1950s, which happened before he was even born

Miguel Diaz-Canel: ‘Ruthless’ leader who swore to defend Cuba’s socialist revolution 

Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60, is a Cuban politician who has served as the country’s president since October 2019. 

He will become the leader of the Communist Party of Cuba in April 2021, when Raul Castro steps down. 

Diaz-Canel has been rising through party ranks for more than 30 years and had a reputation as a meek, orderly man, until 2017 when footage ‘leaked’ of him launching a ruthless verbal assault on dissident Cubans and the US.  

He gained prominence in central Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor.

People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services.

He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving to the vice presidency. 

He has been a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Cuba since 2003.    

Cuba’s economic crisis is caused in part by its own management failures, worsened by US sanctions ramped up under Donald Trump and the coronavirus pandemic, which dried up tourists – a key income source for the island.

The economy plummeted by 11 per cent in 2020, the worst decline since 1993 in the country of 11.2 million.

Economic reforms to phase out the US dollar-pinned ‘convertible’ peso, leaving only the less valuable official peso in place, saw salaries increased by the state, but not enough to make up for the resulting price inflation.

Many stores now accept only US dollars and these are better stocked than others, but few people can afford to frequent them.

The PCC has said its congress would ‘review core issues of the political, economic and social life of the country.’ 

There are signs that Cuba’s leadership will have little choice but to increasingly balance the interests of the old guard with a clamour for more rights and better quality of life from younger generations.

In February, it opened the bulk of its government-monopolised economy to entrepreneurs in the private sector.

There have also been small nods to social liberalisation by Havana, under sanctions from the United States since 1962.

In recent months, the government held its first-ever talks – though short-lived – with pro-free speech protesters, after authorising Cuba’s first non-political demonstration, by animal rights activists, in 2019.

‘Raul Castro stepping down as head of the Communist Party in #Cuba isn’t real change,’ tweeted US senator Marco Rubio, who is of Cuban origin. ‘But real change is already underway nonetheless.’ 

The arrival of the internet on mobile phones at the end of 2018 has made for a paradigm shift in Cuba, with never-before-seen access to information and new forums for expression. 

Raul Castro will officially hand over the leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba to Miguel Diaz-Canel during the Congress

Raul Castro will officially hand over the leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba to Miguel Diaz-Canel during the Congress

Cuba in crisis? How the country is facing debilitating economic woes

Raul Castro’s decision to hand over leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) comes as the country is facing a debilitating economic crisis, growing dissent, and struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The country has been devastated by the loss of tourism, as the pandemic all but shut down global travel, causing the economy to shrink by 11 per cent in 2020.

Economic reforms to phase out the US dollar-pinned ‘convertible’ peso, leaving only the less valuable official peso in place, saw salaries increased by the state, but not enough to make up for the resulting price inflation.

Many stores now accept only US dollars and these are better stocked than others, but few people can afford to frequent them.

Cuba is currently holding its VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba being held between April 16 and April 19

Cuba is currently holding its VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba being held between April 16 and April 19

A liquidity crisis, exacerbated by a tightening of decades-old US sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic, has also created widespread shortages of basic goods, including food and medicine. 

The crisis has pushed the government to resume economic reforms, most notably a painful monetary overhaul, but the pace of change is extremely slow.  

Discontent over the island nation’s stagnant economy has been brewing for years, especially among younger Cubans, and the advent of mobile internet has made it increasingly easy for residents to organise protests.   

Cuba has also struggled with a surge in Covid-19 cases in early 2021, recording after managing to keep the virus at bay through 2020.  

Last year, the country was hailed for its high number doctors, dubbed the ‘white coat army’, who were sent out to assist domestic populations in more than 40 countries worldwide. 

However, the government failed to secure vaccine contracts in 2021 and is still conducting trials on five potential jabs developed domestically before an official roll out. 

People are even organising demonstrations in a country where protests are rare.

In response, the PCC has said its congress would be ‘confronting political and ideological subversion, which has made internet and social media its principal field of operations.’

Control over information has always been a key tool of PCC rule. 

Castro has said he plans to read and take care of his grandchildren after retiring. But there are those who think he may hover in the background.

‘Raul will be there,’ said former diplomat Alzugaray, in a system that may resemble ‘the one in China when Deng Xiaoping had no position but… everything had to be discussed with him. He had the last word.’

The reign of the Castros: How brothers Fidel and Raul led a revolution and controlled Cuba for decades

As Raul Castro passes the leadership of the PCC on to President Miguel Diaz-Canel, it marks the end of the reign of Castros at the helm of politics in Cuba.

Raul became the first secretary in 1965, when his older brother, Fidel Castro, founded the party.  

The brothers overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, were exiled in Mexico and survived a disastrous start to their rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana on January 1959.

The brothers overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, were exiled in Mexico and survived a disastrous start to their rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana on January 1959

The brothers overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, were exiled in Mexico and survived a disastrous start to their rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana on January 1959

At age 32, Fidel became the youngest leader in Latin America and put his younger brother Raul in charge of the armed forces

At age 32, Fidel became the youngest leader in Latin America and put his younger brother Raul in charge of the armed forces

At age 32, Fidel became the youngest leader in Latin America and put his younger brother Raul in charge of the armed forces.

Despite initial setbacks, the bearded guerrillas, operating in the eastern mountains, steadily gained support across the country.

On January 1, 1959, Batista fled and Fidel became the unquestioned leader of Cuba, with his younger brother put in charge of the armed forces.

Fidel’s government initially executed or imprisoned many foes, and veered to Soviet-backed socialism in the early 1960s.

Cuba backed revolutions across Latin America, and while most of those failed, the Castros’ resistance to U.S. domination inspired millions across the continent and beyond.

Cuba backed revolutions across Latin America, and while most of those failed, the Castros' resistance to U.S. domination inspired millions across the continent and beyond (pictured, Castro with Commanders Antonio Nunez Jimenez, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Juan Almeida and Ramiro Valdes in Havana)

Cuba backed revolutions across Latin America, and while most of those failed, the Castros’ resistance to U.S. domination inspired millions across the continent and beyond (pictured, Castro with Commanders Antonio Nunez Jimenez, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Juan Almeida and Ramiro Valdes in Havana)

Fidel’s control survived repeated U.S. plots to overthrow or kill him, and even the hardships that followed the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which had kept the island’s economy afloat.

But illness finally forced Fidel to turn over power in 2006 to Raul, who formally became president two years later.

Raul announced that he will step aside as president in April – though he plans to remain in what is probably a more important position: head of Cuba’s lone permitted party, the Communist Party.



Source link

Continue Reading

WORLD

How Covid is driving an unlikely renaissance of the British retail park

How Covid is driving an unlikely renaissance of the British retail park


On a frosty spring afternoon this week, cars were queueing down the North Circular ring road around London, waiting to enter the Friern Barnet retail park. Just days after lockdown rules eased in England, allowing non-essential shops to reopen, the traffic provided evidence of an unexpected boost the pandemic has given to a retail format often derided as dull and soulless.

A renaissance for traditional British retail parks — out-of-town open air clusters of big household chains — would have seemed unlikely before Covid struck. Many were hit by closure programmes or had suffered ever since the collapses of chains such as Comet, Toys R Us and Blockbuster and the emptying out of food outlets such as TGI Fridays.

But these car-dependent arrays of boxes have hung on for their moment during the pandemic. Data from retail adviser Springboard showed footfall in such parks was the only part of the retail market to grow compared with pre-pandemic levels after the two 2020 lockdowns on non-essential retail ended.

On Monday — the day the latest restrictions were relaxed — footfall in retail parks across the UK was almost 8 per cent higher than on the equivalent day in 2019. In comparison, it was down more than a quarter on high streets and 16 per cent lower in shopping centres.

Vacancy rates are still increasing in retail parks, up slightly to 10 per cent in the final quarter of 2020, according to the British Retail Consortium and Local Data Company. But they are still lower than the 17 per cent of units that are empty in shopping centres and 13 per cent on high streets.

Lucy Stainton, head of retail and strategic partnerships at the Local Data Company, predicted that retail parks “should see a reprieve in coming quarters” as units became “more attractive to retailers who are looking to expand and make the most of the availability of space”.

Fashion chain Next, for whom retail parks account for three-fifths of selling space, said in its recent full-year results that sales in those stores were consistently up to 20 per cent higher than stores in other locations.

John Lewis’s stores in shopping centres and on the high street have been hit hard; Average change in footfall each year between 2008 and 2020 by destination type (%)

The size of these outlets is part of their appeal in a Covid-19 world. They offer more space and air for shoppers nervous about crowds. Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, also pointed to the ease of access by car for those still wary of travelling on trains, buses or the Underground and who now rarely venture into city centres to shop.

“Offering easy access by car, free parking and more open space, consumers feel safe and know they can enjoy their shopping experience,” said Helen Dickinson, head of the British Retail Consortium.

Martin Supple, head of out-of-town retail at property agents Cushman & Wakefield, said the units were “typically large with clear-span trading floors allowing retailers to adapt more readily to social distancing measures, such as wider aisles and increased till circulation areas”.

On Wednesday, property group British Land said it wanted to acquire more out-of-town retail parks, hoping to tap into the rush of consumers to “open-air locations” that “facilitated click-and-collect, returns and shipping direct from store”.

Retail park tenants are also often in the “right” sectors for the pandemic.

Sumpter pointed out that the supermarkets, bargain stores and DIY sheds that often anchor estates were deemed essential retail businesses during lockdown, helping sustain footfall.

In Friern Barnet, queues of people snaked from Pets At Home to pick up supplies for their pandemic puppies. B&Q, Dunelm and Sports Direct had people waiting patiently to improve their homes and fitness with cash they might once have spent on holidays or meals out.

The resilience of retail parks has also attracted new occupiers. Five Guys, a fast-growing burger chain, has agreed to open half a dozen since the start of this year and plans more in the next months. All are on retail or leisure parks close to former commuter towns and cities that have been the beneficiaries of working from home. 

Charles Dunstone, the entrepreneur who co-owns Five Guys in Europe, said that such locations were the fastest-growing within the burger chain and that the failure of other casual dining businesses had left plenty of available space.

Commercial real estate agents said companies such as Tim Hortons, Greggs and Starbucks were in the market for sites, both for sit-down dining and “drive-through” operations.

Even retailers usually associated with high street locations are now chasing sites on retail parks, including variety discounters such as Home Bargains and Poundland, cut-price trainers merchant Sports Direct, greetings card group Card Factory and budget footwear chain Shoe Zone — which closed 40 smaller shops in the year to October but opened 10 out of town.

Supple said the resilience of retail parks had been reflected in rent collection rates, with landlords reporting an average range of 65-75 per cents, which is typically higher than elsewhere in the industry.

Will Andrews, a director of KLM Retail, a retail and leisure property adviser, predicted that retail parks would have a role in acting as showcases for goods for customers to buy online, to allow for click-and-collect services and provide an easy place for returns.

He added that investors were again interested in acquiring retail parks after slowing activity during the lockdown, with consumers embracing the “chance to take themselves and their social bubble to the shop door”. 



Source link

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Recent Posts

Advertisement
Advertisement

Popular

close