President Obama has announced that after more than half a century, the United States and Cuba will reopen embassies in each other’s capitals and formally re-establish diplomatic relations.
President Obama: "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. This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas."
Secretary of State John Kerry said he will travel to Havana to open the U.S. Embassy there. In a statement, the Cuban government said relations with the United States cannot be considered normalized until trade sanctions are lifted, the naval base at Guantánamo Bay is returned, and U.S.-backed programs aimed at "subversion and internal destabilization" are halted. But in a letter to Obama on Wednesday, Cuban President Raúl Castro acknowledged much progress has already been made, and confirmed the openings of permanent diplomatic missions later this month. We’ll have more on Cuba after headlines.
Talks between Greece and its European creditors have ground to a halt ahead of a Greek referendum Sunday on whether to accept an austerity package of budget cuts and tax hikes. Earlier this week, Greece missed a $1.8 billion payment to the International Monetary Fund, bringing it to the edge of a financial meltdown. Greece’s left-wing Syriza-led government has urged residents to vote "no" in this weekend’s referendum, rejecting the latest bailout proposals from European creditors. Speaking to Bloomberg TV earlier today, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he would resign if Greeks vote to embrace a deal he says would only extend the current crisis.
Yanis Varoufakis: "We’ll find a way of signing this. Maybe we will change the configuration of the government, because some of us may not be able to stomach it. Personally, I won’t sign another extend and pretend. I’m allergic to extending and pretending. But I will not scupper it. I will not scupper it. I will do, and I’m sure the prime minister will do, and everybody in the government will do, what we must do in order to respect the 'yes' verdict of the Greek people. But there won’t be a 'yes' verdict. I’m quite confident that the Greek people have had enough of extending and pretending, like the rest of the world, by the way."
Guy Johnson: "Just to nail you down a little bit more."
Yanis Varoufakis: "Please do."
Guy Johnson: "So, if there’s a 'yes' vote, come Monday night, you will not be finance minister?"
Yanis Varoufakis: "I wouldn’t."
In Puerto Rico, the government and the power authority have avoided default by paying more than $1 billion due to creditors on Wednesday. But the payments represent a small fraction of the more than $73 billion in total debt Puerto Rico owes. Governor Alejandro García Padilla has warned the debt is not payable, leading Puerto Rico to be dubbed "America’s Greece."
In Egypt, the military says more than 100 people have died in clashes between the army and militants in the Sinai Peninsula. On Wednesday, the self-proclaimed Islamic State launched one if its widest attacks in the region to date, raiding military checkpoints and a police station. Egypt’s military said it had regained control and killed more than 100 people it described as militants.
A record number of migrants from the Middle East and Africa have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in the first half of this year. According to the United Nations, a total of 137,000 people arrived in Europe, an increase of 83 percent from last year. The U.N. said the large majority were refugees fleeing war or persecution, including many from Syria. "Europe is living through a maritime refugee crisis of historic proportions," the report said.
Dozens of people have been killed after a ferry sank off the coast of the Philippines. Authorities said at least 34 people died, while 118 have been rescued.
In Indonesia, the death toll from a military plane crash in the city of Medan has topped 140. More than 120 military officers and their family members were on board the plane when it crashed Tuesday, slamming into businesses and killing at least 20 people on the ground.
In the United States, Bree Newsome, who scaled the flagpole at the South Carolina State Capitol and took down the Confederate flag, has spoken out for the first time since her arrest. Early on Saturday morning, Bree Newsome shimmied up the flagpole, reciting scriptures as she brought the flag down. Her actions came a day after the funeral for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of nine people massacred by racist alleged shooter Dylann Roof at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. Newsome spoke in an interview with Good Morning America which aired this morning.
Bree Newsome: "The majority of people in this nation are good. The majority of people in this nation want peace. We want to eliminate racism. We want to have more equality."
Tune into Democracy Now! tomorrow for a description of Bree Newsome’s protest and on Monday for our interview with Bree Newsome and James Tyson, who was arrested alongside her for standing at the base of the flagpole. For a 20-minute sneak preview of Monday’s interview, click here.
In the latest sign of rising opposition to the Confederate flag, the Daytona International Speedway has announced it will conduct a flag exchange this weekend, offering NASCAR fans the chance to swap out their Confederate flags for U.S. flags. NASCAR bans the Confederate flag from official materials and race cars, but has not blocked fans from raising it over campsites and motor homes in the infield of racetracks. Many have criticized NASCAR for not simply banning the flag altogether.
In Tennessee, more than 5,000 people have been evacuated after a train carrying a flammable, poisonous chemical derailed and caught fire near Knoxville. The train was reportedly carrying liquified petroleum gas and a toxic product used to make plastics. Seven firefighters were hospitalized after breathing in the fumes.
The Obama administration has launched an antitrust investigation into airlines in the United States. The Justice Department is looking into whether the airlines colluded to limit seating and thereby increase fares. Following a series of mergers which were approved by the Justice Department, about 80 percent of air traffic in the United States is now controlled by just four airlines.
As Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has raised a record of at least $45 million in its first quarter, another Democratic candidate has broken a different record. Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders drew the largest crowd of any presidential candidate so far this election season when he spoke to 10,000 people in Madison, Wisconsin.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: "Tonight we have made a little bit of history. You may know that there are some 25 candidates running for president of the United States. But tonight, we have more people at a meeting for a candidate of president of the United States than any other candidate."
In other news from the campaign trail, Macy’s has become the latest company to cut ties with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after he called Mexican immigrants criminals and "rapists." After more than 700,000 people signed a petition urging Macy’s to sever ties with Trump, the retailer said Wednesday it would phase out its Donald Trump menswear line. NBC and Univision have also cut ties with Trump over his comments, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is reviewing its contracts with Trump.
The Intercept news site has published one of the largest releases of documents from Edward Snowden to date, revealing new details about the National Security Agency’s program XKEYSCORE. Described as "the NSA’s Google for the world’s private communications," the program sweeps up emails, voice calls, webcam photos, web searches, logged keystrokes and more. The program is fed by fiber-optic cables which form the "backbone of the world’s communication network," with hundreds of servers around the world. The system includes traffic from Americans and allows the government to easily make queries based on criteria like nationality or the websites people have visited. One document shows government analysts used XKEYSCORE to obtain U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s talking points before a meeting with President Obama.
WikiLeaks has published the secret core text of a massive trade pact called the Trade in Services Agreement, which is currently being negotiated by more than 50 countries encompassing two-thirds of the global GDP. The publication comes ahead of the next round of negotiations next week. While it has received less attention, WikiLeaks called the Trade in Services Agreement the "largest component" of the U.S. trade agenda, which also includes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact, or TTIP. Critics of the deal say it would severely restrict governments’ ability to regulate and expand corporate power. Meanwhile, WikiLeaks has also published documents showing the United States did not just tap German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, it also targeted scores of German officials and their aides, including Merkel’s personal assistant.
A federal judge has invalidated a ban on the cultivation of genetically modified crops passed by voters in Maui County, Hawaii. Passed in November, the ballot measure called for a complete suspension on GMO crop cultivation until studies prove it is safe. Maui County is often called "GMO Ground Zero" because multinational seed producers test products there. Both Monsanto and Dow filed suit against the ban, and on Tuesday a judge ruled Maui County lacked the authority to impose it. Critics of GMOs say they will appeal.
A Girl Scouts chapter in Western Washington has rejected a $100,000 donation because the donor said it couldn’t be used to help transgender girls. Using the hashtag "#ForEVERYGirl," the Girl Scouts launched a crowdfunding campaign to recoup the donation they sent back. So far about 6,000 people have donated nearly $300,000, triple the original amount.
And Ramsey Orta, the man who says he has been harassed by police constantly since filming the fatal New York City police encounter with Eric Garner, has been arrested again. Orta’s video shows police in Staten Island wrestling Eric Garner to the ground in a chokehold, then piling on top of him. Garner said he couldn’t breathe 11 times before he died. Last summer, the day after Garner’s death was declared a homicide, Orta was arrested on a gun charge. His wife was arrested days later on an unrelated assault charge. In February, Orta was arrested again along with his mother and brother on drug charges. While he was in jail, his aunt Lisa Mercado told Democracy Now! about the harassment he and his family faced from police.
Lisa Mercado: "It’s just, ever since the film, the filming that Ramsey did, it was a constant harassment every day, on a daily basis, within the day hours, and it could be 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the morning. Policemen would ride by the home and put spotlights into the windows of the home."
Ramsey Orta was arrested yet again on Tuesday, accused of selling $40 worth of the drug MDMA to an undercover officer. To see our interview with Lisa Mercado and Orta’s attorneys, you can go to democracynow.org. Eric Garner died a year ago this month. A grand jury declined to indict the officer who used the fatal chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo.