Josep Borrell’s first trip to Havana as high representative of Foreign Policy for the European Union began on Thursday with a clear show of support to the increasingly important Cuban private sector and a message to the authorities that Brussels is willing to collaborate in the deepening of the economic reform taking place on the island, as the country is going through one of the worst crises in its history, which has resulted in unprecedented social unrest. Borrell’s visit, which will last until Saturday, comes at a particularly complex moment for the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel, which in recent months has exponentially increased its economic and political rapprochement with Russia. Given this situation, European diplomacy is trying to keep the channels of dialogue and influence open, preserving the spaces created since 2017 with the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and the EU, which put an end to the two decades of estrangement that involved the so-called European common position promoted by former Spanish President José María Aznar.
Within this dialogue, of utmost importance for the EU, is the always delicate issue of progress in the field of human rights, which will be discussed on Friday in the official talks and which generates quite a few frictions on the Cuban side, although at least now it can be officially discussed. For Havana, one of the key issues is the European condemnation of the U.S. embargo and support for its diplomatic efforts to get the Biden Administration to remove the island from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, something that Borrell has already raised in the past with his Washington counterparts, although nothing has moved so far. The image in Cuba, basically, continues to be that of a cold war, with Russia ever closer and immersed in the war in Ukraine and the Cuban government entrenched against U.S. policy, which it considers the cause of all its ills. In this scenario, Europe is playing its cards, which are of “constructive” but at the same time “critical” engagement on various issues; that is, not to break the deck and little by little to achieve progress.
In the midst of the current galloping crisis, the green light given in 2021 to the creation of private MSMEs (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises), with legal personality and up to 100 workers, has opened a new scenario on the island. Nearly 8,000 have already been created, and although they still operate with many bureaucratic obstacles, they have changed Cuba’s economic panorama -one out of every three Cubans now works in the private sector, which contributes almost 12% of the GDP, a reality unthinkable just a decade ago.
Precisely, Borrell’s first public act in Cuba was a meeting with representatives of the new MSMEs, who explained to him the potential of this opening and the problems they face for their businesses to prosper. “We know that the current context is full of challenges for MSMEs and new economic actors, but also of formidable opportunities,” said the head of European diplomacy, noting that the EU was at their service “to support them and work with the authorities in the search for solutions to make their contribution to society more viable.”
The EU is committed to working with the relevant Cuban ministries to exchange “best practices and experiences” in terms of legislation that contribute to the modernization of the economy and stimulate MSMEs in various ways – with training courses, technical support, advice, access to financing, etc. – and also contribute to greater legal certainty, said Borrell. In the afternoon, he was scheduled to meet with European businessmen – the EU is a leader in investment and trade with the island – to also express their support and backing. In the period 2021-2024, the EU plans to invest 91 million euros in various collaboration agreements, of which 14 million euros are earmarked for the emerging MSME sector, a figure that could increase in the coming years.
On his first day in Cuba he also held a meeting with the Cuban episcopate, and on Friday he will meet with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to hold the third EU-Cuba Joint Council, as part of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and the European Union. The last physical meeting of this format was held in September 2019, when EU diplomacy was still in the hands of Federica Mogherini. A month later, Borrell traveled to Havana, albeit in his capacity as Spanish foreign minister, on one of his last missions before taking over the diplomatic portfolio from the Italian, in December of that year. Two years later, in 2021, with Borrell at the helm, the appointment was limited to a mere informal meeting by videoconference, due to the pandemic.
Prior to Borrell’s trip to Cuba several NGOs asked him to address in his high-level talks the issue of the more than 700 prisoners from the massive demonstrations of July 11, 2021 -something Borrell already condemned at the time- and to demand their release. How the issue will be touched upon, and whether the head of European diplomacy will ask for some kind of “gesture” from the Cuban side, is not known. It is presumable that it will happen, but in any case it will be in a discreet way, since the current European position is to keep the channels of communication open in order to exert influence, besides the fact that Borrell’s visit must also be read in a multilateral key, as part of the approach of the EU to the Latin American and Caribbean countries on the eve of the next EU-CELAC summit, to be held in Brussels on July 17 and 18. European sources point out that Cuba is an “important voice” among developing countries as president pro tempore of the group of 134 developing countries that make up the G-77+China. And if Cuba asks Europe to become more actively involved in getting the U.S. to change its policy of suffocation and remove the island from the list of countries that do not collaborate in the fight against terrorism, the old diplomatic dilemma of “help me and I will help you” is there again.
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‘You’re looking to die’: the Brazil river where illegal fishing threatens lives | Brazil
José Maria Batista Damasceno weeps as he describes his decades dodging death in the Brazilian Amazon.
There was the time, along the Japurá River, that an illegal fisherman threatened to butcher him if he didn’t get out of town. “You’d better leave or we’ll harpoon you,” Damasceno remembers being told.
A few years later he narrowly escaped being ambushed and murdered in another remote corner of the rainforest – just as Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips were last year.
“It was really, really heavy,” Damasceno says, breaking down as he describes how the failure of his boat’s engine saved him from running into a group of heavily armed assassins who were lying in wait.
Damasceno isn’t an Indigenous activist or journalist, like Pereira and Phillips, whose killings exposed the environmental battle raging deep in South America’s rainforests.
He is a fishing engineer who has dedicated his life to convincing small riverside communities that sustainable fishing programs will benefit them more than the quick, short-term profits offered by the illegal fishing mafias that pillage the region’s rivers and Indigenous lands.
Those efforts to encourage green living have put Damasceno on the wrong side of environmental criminals, yet he insists on fighting on.
“I’ve always relied on God to protect me from evil – and here I am carrying on with my mission,” says the softly spoken sustainable fishing evangelist, who recently travelled to the region where Pereira and Phillips were killed hoping to promote sustainable fishing there.
In the wake of last year’s killings, members of Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government portrayed the crime as the fruit of a local conflict unconnected to the devastation inflicted on the Amazon by his anti-environmental policies and dismantling of Indigenous protections.
But the killings exposed a far uglier reality: the rampant and highly lucrative illegal trade in fish and wildlife that plagues Brazil’s isolated and lawless tri-border with Colombia and Peru.
At the centre of that trade is Atalaia do Norte, the shabby, poverty-stricken river town where Pereira and Phillips began their final journey on 2 June last year.
As the nearest town to the entrance of the Javari valley territory, Brazil’s second largest Indigenous reserve, Atalaia serves as a base for the Indigenous activists on whose work Phillips was reporting when he was killed. Its potholed streets offer an astonishing snapshot of the cultural and linguistic diversity of a region which is home to six Indigenous peoples, including the Matis and the Marubo, as well as 16 groups with little or no contact with the outside world.
After visiting Atalaia last year, congressional investigators concluded that “heavily armed and wealthy criminal associations” and “highly dangerous criminals” had set up camp in the region, bankrolling groups of illegal fishermen who plunder the protected waters and forests of the Indigenous reserve where wildlife is more abundant.
“We are certain that illegal fishing in the Javari valley region isn’t about river-dwellers trying to make a living but actually much larger organizations, making sizable investments and outrageous profits,” the investigators wrote.
Bruno Pereira’s attempts to fight that illegal trade by organizing Indigenous patrol teams put him on a collision course with such criminals. “It’s because of this that Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira were killed,” a friend and former colleague, Armando Soares, told Forbidden Stories, the Paris-based non-profit coordinating the Bruno and Dom project. Earlier this year police named an alleged local illegal fishing boss as the mastermind behind the crime.
The Javari valley’s most prized asset is the arapaima, a giant air-breathing fish which Brazilians call the pirarucu and Peruvians know as paiche. One of the world’s largest freshwater fish, the arapaima can grow up to three metres (10ft) in length and often weighs about 90kg (200lb). It is considered a delicacy in major Latin American cities such as Lima, São Paulo and Bogotá.
Years of unregulated overfishing have pummeled arapaima stocks in the waters outside the Javari’s protected Indigenous lands – which outsiders are forbidden from entering without permission and where commercial fishing is banned. As a result poachers have increasingly taken to invading the territory to extract huge boat-fulls of the fish, as well as a river turtle called the tracajá.
“They use small boats and travel in small groups,” said Orlando Possuelo, an Indigenous expert who is continuing Pereira’s work with the patrol groups battling to thwart such invaders. “They are specialists in the area. Many of them were born in there [before the territory was officially created in 2001] so it’s not easy to find them.”
After being smuggled out of the Indigenous territory in wooden barges packed with ice, the fish are sold in a constellation of border towns including Leticia in Colombia, Islandia in Peru and Benjamin Constant, an edgy river town near Atalaia named after one of the founders of the Brazilian republic.
A year-long investigation by Forbidden Stories found that the illegal trade continues to flourish in the tri-border region between Brazil, Colombia and Peru, despite government pledges to stamp out environmental crime following last year’s killings. None of the three countries there have rigid controls over the origin of the arapaima being sold.
Brazil has yet to reopen the offices of its environmental agency, Ibama, in Tabatinga, the city nearest to the Javari, after it was shut down in 2019. Peru’s regional production department has no fishing inspectors in Santa Rosa de Yavarí, the Peruvian town across the river from Tabatinga. And Colombian authorities do not control the quantity of fish being caught by the 40 companies registered to operate in Leticia, on the Colombian side of the border.
Outside scrutiny is unwelcome. “There’s nothing here. You’re looking to fucking die,” one man warned a reporter from Peru’s OjoPúblico, one of 16 media outlets involved in the Bruno and Dom project, when he visited a riverside fishing warehouse in the Colombian border town looking for illegal fish.
Activists say the almost complete lack of controls means the illegal fishing trade continues to thrive despite the international scandal caused by the killings of Pereira and Phillips.
“I don’t think anything has changed,” said Possuelo, remembering how Indigenous activists received reports of illegal poachers operating within the Javari territory even in the days after the two men vanished on 5 June last year.
Despite the risks, Damasceno said he was determined to continue with his crusade to bring sustainable fishing to some of the most isolated and dangerous corners of the Brazilian Amazon, where he was born and raised.
Now 65, the fishing engineer plans to retire after what will be his last – and perhaps most difficult – assignment: implementing such projects in São Rafael, São Gabriel and Ladário, the three fishing communities from which the alleged killers of Pereira and Phillips came.
Doing so involves helping those communities set up three different kinds of lakes that will help local pirarucu stocks recover and, hopefully, stop fishermen invading Indigenous lands: “permanent protection lakes” where fishing is forbidden, “maintenance lakes” which local families can fish to feed themselves, and “management lakes” where a quota of up to 30% of adult fish can be legally extracted after their numbers have reached certain levels. “So if there are 100 fish you can take 30, so stocks can recover,” Damasceno said.
The fishing engineer argued sustainable fishing was the only way to avoid further violence along the Itaquaí River and help deprived local families resist the temptation of supplying fish for organized crime. As proof that it was possible, he remembered how the fisherman who once threatened to harpoon him had since embraced sustainable fishing and become a close friend.
“I always say that sustainable fishing is the way out of this kind of conflict. It unites people. It raises awareness. It opens the door to equality, rights and acceptance,” insisted Damasceno, who hopes to retire to write a book about the pirarucu once his mission is complete. He plans to call it: “The union of people and sustainability in the Amazon.”
On a recent trip to the fishing villages near where Pereira and Phillips were killed, Damasceno urged locals to embrace the idea of legal, long-term survival rather than short-term, illegal gain.
“Lift up your heads. You must carry on,” he told them. “Think of your kids.”
Additional reporting by Ana Ionova (The Guardian), Rodrigo Pedroso (OjoPúblico) and Cécile Andrzejewski and Mariana Abreu (Forbidden Stories)
Prof Saurabh Bagchi from Purdue University explains the purpose of AI black boxes and why researchers are moving towards ‘explainable AI’.
For some people, the term ‘black box’ brings to mind the recording devices in airplanes that are valuable for postmortem analyses if the unthinkable happens. For others, it evokes small, minimally outfitted theatres. But ‘black box’ is also an important term in the world of artificial intelligence.
AI black boxes refer to AI systems with internal workings that are invisible to the user. You can feed them input and get output, but you cannot examine the system’s code or the logic that produced the output.
Machine learning is the dominant subset of artificial intelligence. It underlies generative AI systems like ChatGPT and DALL-E 2. There are three components to machine learning: an algorithm or a set of algorithms, training data and a model.
An algorithm is a set of procedures. In machine learning, an algorithm learns to identify patterns after being trained on a large set of examples – the training data. Once a machine-learning algorithm has been trained, the result is a machine-learning model. The model is what people use.
For example, a machine-learning algorithm could be designed to identify patterns in images and the training data could be images of dogs. The resulting machine-learning model would be a dog spotter. You would feed it an image as input and get as output whether and where in the image a set of pixels represents a dog.
Any of the three components of a machine-learning system can be hidden, or in a black box. As is often the case, the algorithm is publicly known, which makes putting it in a black box less effective. So, to protect their intellectual property, AI developers often put the model in a black box. Another approach software developers take is to obscure the data used to train the model – in other words, put the training data in a black box.
The opposite of a black box is sometimes referred to as a glass box. An AI glass box is a system whose algorithms, training data and model are all available for anyone to see. But researchers sometimes characterise aspects of even these as black box.
That’s because researchers don’t fully understand how machine-learning algorithms, particularly deep-learning algorithms, operate. The field of explainable AI is working to develop algorithms that, while not necessarily glass box, can be better understood by humans.
Thinking Outside The Black Box
In many cases, there is good reason to be wary of black box machine-learning algorithms and models. Suppose a machine-learning model has made a diagnosis about your health. Would you want the model to be black box or glass box? What about the physician prescribing your course of treatment? Perhaps she would like to know how the model arrived at its decision.
What if a machine-learning model that determines whether you qualify for a business loan from a bank turns you down? Wouldn’t you like to know why? If you did, you could more effectively appeal the decision, or change your situation to increase your chances of getting a loan the next time.
Black boxes also have important implications for software system security. For years, many people in the computing field thought that keeping software in a black box would prevent hackers from examining it and therefore it would be secure. This assumption has largely been proven wrong because hackers can reverse engineer software – that is, build a facsimile by closely observing how a piece of software works – and discover vulnerabilities to exploit.
If software is in a glass box, software testers and well-intentioned hackers can examine it and inform the creators of weaknesses, thereby minimising cyberattacks.
Saurabh Bagchi is professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of corporate partnerships in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University in the US. His research interests include dependable computing and distributed systems.
In today’s competitive job market, attracting and retaining top talent has become a crucial priority for organizations. One way companies can set themselves apart and create a positive work environment is by offering perks for parents in the workplace.
Recognizing the unique challenges faced by working parents and providing them with support can lead to increased employee satisfaction, improved work-life balance, and ultimately, higher productivity.
In this article, we will explore the compelling case for offering parental perks and discuss the benefits they bring to both employees and organizations.
1. Enhanced Work-Life Balance:
The demands of juggling work and parenting responsibilities can be overwhelming for working parents. By offering parental perks, employers can help alleviate some of the stress associated with managing these dual roles. Flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options or flexible schedules, allow parents to better manage their time and fulfill both their professional and personal obligations effectively. This flexibility promotes a healthier work-life balance and enables parents to be more present and engaged at work and home.
2. Increased Employee Satisfaction and Loyalty:
When companies demonstrate a commitment to supporting working parents, it fosters a sense of appreciation and loyalty among employees. Parental perks send a clear message that the organization values and respects the challenges faced by parents. This recognition leads to higher job satisfaction, increased morale, and a stronger sense of loyalty to the company. Satisfied employees are more likely to remain with the organization long-term, reducing turnover and recruitment costs.
3. Improved Productivity and Performance:
Studies have consistently shown that employees with a good work-life balance are more engaged, motivated, and productive. By providing parental perks, employers create an environment that enables parents to focus on their work without the distractions and worries associated with managing family responsibilities.
When employees feel supported, they are better equipped to perform at their best, leading to improved productivity and overall organizational performance.
4. Attraction and Retention of Top Talent:
In a competitive job market, companies must offer attractive benefits to attract and retain skilled professionals. Offering parental perks sets an organization apart as an employer of choice, particularly for working parents. Prospective candidates will be drawn to companies that prioritize work-life balance and demonstrate a family-friendly culture. By providing parental perks, organizations can attract top talent and retain employees who value the support offered by the company.
5. Positive Company Image and Employer Branding:
In today’s socially conscious world, a company’s reputation and image play a crucial role in attracting customers and top talent. By prioritizing parental perks, organizations can enhance their employer branding efforts and cultivate a positive company image. Demonstrating a commitment to supporting working parents not only improves the company’s reputation but also helps in attracting diverse and talented individuals who value a family-friendly work environment.
We can conclude that offering perks for parents in the workplace is not just a gesture of goodwill; it is a strategic investment in employee well-being, satisfaction, and overall organizational success. By recognizing the unique challenges faced by working parents and providing them with support, employers can create a positive work environment that fosters work-life balance and enhances employee productivity. As companies compete to attract and retain top talent, offering parental perks sets them apart as employers of choice, ultimately contributing to a more engaged and loyal workforce.
Investing in parental perks is a win-win situation for both employees and organizations, leading to happier, more productive employees, increased retention rates, and a positive company image. By embracing a family-friendly culture and prioritizing work-life balance, organizations can create a workplace where employees feel supported and empowered to thrive in their professional and personal lives.
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