Year of historic deals, racial strain, elections in Americas

This year US, Cuba reopened embassies; Colombia reached deal with FARC rebels; Argentina, Venezuela and Canada held game-changing elections; racial tension rose in US; and candidates emerged for next year’s US presidential elections

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jan 1, 2016

The year in Americas was marked with historic deals, racial tension and game changing elections.

An informal meeting between US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on the sidelines of an Americas summit in April signalled a new era for US-Cuban relations.

The cold war foes reestablished diplomatic ties after 54 years, opening embassies in Washington and Havana over the summer.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Timoleon Jimenez shook hands in Cuba to end the armed conflict between Colombia and FARC rebels that claimed more than 200K lives in over 50 years.

Racial tension continued to rise in the US as more black people were killed at the hands of the police. Protests against police brutality turned into riots in Baltimore.

There were game-changing elections in Canada, Argentina and Venezuela, where opposition parties or candidates defeated incumbents.

The 2016 US presidential election also kicked off with candidates on both parties announcing their bids, but media mogul Donald Trump captured the spotlight and caused much controversy with his comments about Mexican immigrants and Muslims.

Start of new era in US-Cuba relations

An informal meeting between US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on the sidelines of an Americas summit in April signalled a new era for US-Cuban relations.

“Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and reopen embassies in our respective countries,” US President Barack Obama said on July 1.

With the hoisting of the Cuban flag in Washington on July 20 and raising of the US flag in Havana on August 14 along with the opening of corresponding embassies, diplomatic relations between the two countries were reestablished after 54 years.

However, the two countries are far from fully normalising relations as US keeps its embargoes on Cuba.

Colombia-FARC rebels agree to peace deal

Another historic deal was reached between the Colombian government and leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels with the mediation of Cuban President Raul Castro.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez reached a breakthrough on the matter of peace in September with the decision to end the conflict that claimed more than 200,000 lives in over 50 years.

“The leader of the FARC and I have agreed that in 6 months maximum, 6 months, we will conclude these talks and sign the peace agreement,” Santos said in Havana after signing the deal.   

In December the government and rebels reached a further agreement on reparations for war victims and started to deliver victim’s remains to their relatives.

Game-changing elections

There were three game-changing elections in three countries which are Canada, Argentina and Venezuela.

The Liberal Party, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, ended almost a decade of conservative government in Canada.

Trudeau appointed the first gender balanced cabinet which is also young and ethnically diverse. He was also praised by many from around the world for welcoming thousands of Syrian refugees.

In Argentina, right wing candidate Mauricio Macri won the presidential elections beating the ruling governing party’s candidate and ending more than a decade of leftist leadership under former presidents Nestor and Cristina Kirchner.

One of the first things Macri did after assuming office was slashing taxes on agricultural products to reverse Kirchners’ economic policies from moving to a free market economy.

In Venezuela, parliamentary elections resulted in the opposition’s landslide victory, bringing an end to Socialist dominance after 16 years.

Opposition Democratic Unity coalition won a supermajority in parliament and are planning to amnesty political prisoners and change the constitution while Socialist president Nicolas Maduro vowed to stop their attempts.

Racial tension in US

Racial tension continued to rise in the US as more black people continued to be killed at the hands of police, leading to mass protests across the country.

Protests turned into riots in Baltimore in April after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Tension remained high for a long time and eased only after 10 days of a state of emergency.

A 21-year-old white man, Dylann Roof killed nine people in an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina in June with the aim of starting a “race war.”

Roof’s many photographs featuring the Confederate Flag, which many Americans consider as a racist symbol, sparked nationwide protests calling for its removal from the South Carolina State Capitol.

Trump dominates US presidential race

The race for the 2016 US presidential election kicked off with candidates announcing their bids.

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders emerged as two clear frontrunners from the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, the field of Republican candidates is exceptionally crowded, yet one man, real estate mogul Donald Trump captured much of the spotlight.

He was criticised when he called Mexicans “rapists” during his announcement speech but drew the most criticism after calling a US entry ban against all Muslims.

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Trump sparking an international outcry, including a petition to ban him from the UK which was signed by more than half a million Britons.

Despite all the criticism, Trump is leading the polls among Republicans and the year of 2016 will show whether he will be the next president of the United States.