From the Beeb, two items of note. First, from Cuba:
Frail Cuban leader Fidel Castro has stayed away from the opening ceremony of his 80th birthday celebrations in Havana on doctors’ orders.
A message apparently written by Mr Castro was read out saying he was not yet strong enough to attend the event.
President Castro underwent emergency intestinal surgery at the end of July and has not been seen in public since.
He then temporarily handed over power to his brother Raul, and was last seen in a video on 28 October.
Since falling ill, he has only been seen in officially-sanctioned photographs and videos.
Reports in the US suggest that officials in Washington now believe Mr Castro is suffering from terminal cancer and may never recover.
It would be just like the old boy to keep ’em guessing…and trip them up. Sick or well–don’t underestimate Fidel!
Then, from Bolivia:
The Bolivian Senate has approved a controversial reform bill proposed by President Evo Morales to redistribute under-used land to rural communities.
A week-long stand-off ended when three opposition senators broke ranks with their conservative parties to vote in favour of the bill.
Thousands of indigenous protesters had marched on La Paz on Tuesday to put pressure on the senate to pass the law.
It could lead to the redistribution of up to 20m hectares of land to the poor.
News that the law had finally been approved late in the evening surprised even the president’s own supporters camped outside the senate, the BBC’s Damian Kahya in La Paz says.
Shortly after signing the bill into law, Mr Morales told a jubilant crowd that it was “not possible to have so much land in so few hands”.
“This is the struggle of our ancestors, the struggle for power and territory,” he said. “Now, the change is in our hands.”
The new law states that only unused or corruptly obtained land will be targeted.
The government argues too much land is owned merely as security on loans or to be re-sold.
A recent survey by the Catholic Church found that just 50,000 families own almost 90% of Bolivia’s productive land.
Opponents accuse Mr Morales of trampling on democracy in his desire to advance his reform agenda.
Meanwhile, not a peep out of them on how many people they trampled to get so much land into so few hands. Astonishing!
But what gets me the most about this is Evo’s capacity for building consensus, and getting even critics and opponents onside. Anyone who thinks he’s just a simple farmer who landed the presidency by accident had better think again. Behind that gentle exterior lies a fierce will and a persistence not to be underestimated. Remember, he helped lead the water protests that drove Bechtel out of Bolivia. He will drag the landed oligarchy kicking and screaming towards progress, and there won’t be a damn thing they can do that they’re not doing already.
I wonder if he’ll end up being too busy to attend Fidel’s official birthday party as planned!