April 11, 2012Read More Tags: Summit of the Americas, Colombia, Counternarcotics
Que la Cumbre de las Américas, un encuentro continental donde se reúnen 33 presidentes, sea el escenario para que temas de largo alcance pretendan ser discutidos, es una obviedad. La pregunta es si de la ambición no quedará solo el cansancio y si la promesa de la canciller colombiana, María Ángela Holguín, de que los alcances de la declaración final no se conviertan en saludos a la bandera, puede ser real.
Si bien es cierto que el debate sobre la política antidroga ha ocupado la mayoría de los titulares no es el único que quiere ser metido en la agenda. Sobre este hay que decir que busca abrir horizontes más allá de las directrices estadounidenses pro fumigación y entre las propuestas se han colado desde un impuesto a la legalización (hecha por el propio presidente Juan Manuel Santos), hasta el reconocimiento a la hoja de coca como sagrada tal y como sucede en Bolivia (hecha por los indígenas) pasando por el tratamiento de los consumidores como un problema de salud pública (hecha por Ong de siete países).
El secretario general de la OEA, José Miguel Insulza, reconoció que hay la necesidad de que el hemisferio tenga su propia “estrategia” y el gobierno colombiano quiere que al menos de la Cumbre salga una comisión de expertos, sin hacer la claridad de que eso esté en el documento final. Es más desde el principio, diplomáticamente, le está haciendo el quite a que el tema aparezca en los compromisos. De las múltiples propuestas habrá que ver si hay una real voluntad política para ejecutar una nueva política antidroga y no solo declarar que la necesitamos.
April 11, 2012Read More Tags: Bolivia, Panama, Venezuela, Barbados, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Haiti, U.S. Department of State, Roberta Jacobson
On March 29, the U.S. Senate confirmed several of President Obama’s diplomatic nominations, many of whom were tapped to serve in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA). Here’s a brief rundown of the confirmed WHA officials and their new positions: Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; Larry Palmer, Ambassador to Barbados; Pamela White, Ambassador to Haiti; Phyllis Powers, Ambassador to Nicaragua; Jonathan Farrar, Ambassador to Panama; and Julissa Reynoso, Ambassador to Uruguay.
Not only do these confirmations provide a celebratory sense of relief, as many of these officials waited months for their nominations to proceed through the Senate, but the timing could not be better as the U.S. delegation prepares to depart for Cartagena, Colombia, to attend this weekend’s Sixth Summit of the Americas.
Jacobson was nominated in late September after becoming acting assistant secretary in July 2011 when her predecessor, Arturo Valenzuela, returned to academia. It’s both notable and laudable that a woman is leading WHA for the first time.
Jacobson’s candidature was challenged by Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who placed a hold on her nomination last November with a call to the Obama administration to “review abuses in the people-to-people Cuba travel policy.” Rubio dropped his hold on March 22 following guarantees from the State Department that it would require “applicants to demonstrate how their itineraries constitute purposeful travel that would support civil society in Cuba and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities,” according to the senator’s news release.
April 11, 2012Read More Tags: Summit of the Americas, Colombia FTA, President Dilma Rousseff, Latino Vote
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Presidents to Converge in Cartagena for Sixth Summit
Democratically elected leaders from throughout the hemisphere will convene in Cartagena, Colombia this weekend to attend the Sixth Summit of the Americas. The summit's theme is “Connecting the Americas,” and will focus on hemispheric integration and cooperation. “What is less clear, however, is whether the agenda that has been agreed to in advance by regional governments will have a meaningful impact on the hemispheric trajectory in the twenty-first century,” writes COA’s Eric Farnsworth for Poder. The Financial Times’s beyondbrics blog says the real issues on the radar will be the expected debate on the pros and cons of drug legalization, Argentina’s claims on the Falkland Islands, and Cuba’s continued exclusion from the summits—an issue that prompted Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa to boycott this summit. Speaking to Colombia's El Tiempo¸ Colombian President and summit host Juan Manuel Santos said he would be willing to mediate between the United States and Cuba, and voices support for the debate on drug legalization.
A report by AS/COA’s Summit of the Americas Working Group offers recommendations for job-creation initiatives in the Western Hemisphere.
Read an AS/COA Online Explainer about the origins and operations of the Summit of the Americas.
Obama Could Green-Light Colombia FTA Implementation
Colombia Reports writes that, while in Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas this weekend, President Barack Obama is expected to announce that Colombia has met the labor conditions necessary for implementation of the U.S.-Colombia trade pact. The U.S. Congress approved the Colombia free-trade agreement in October 2011, but implementation had been delayed pending fulfillment of an April 2011 plan requiring Colombia’s protection of worker rights.
Will Obama's LatAm Focus Extend beyond April?
With April being touted as U.S. President Barack Obama's "Latin American month," New York University Political Science Professor Patricio Nava asks if the United States will continue paying attention when the month is over. Navia is skeptical, warning: "By failing to take advantage of the opportunities Latin America offers, the U.S. will further erode its declining economic and political power in the world and Latin America will find partners for development elsewhere."
April 11, 2012Tags: Summit of the Americas, Colombia, Barack Obama, President Hugo Chavez
Colombian officials confirmed yesterday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is expected to attend this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. The announcement of Chávez’ decision to attend the summit alongside other hemispheric heads of state comes amid intense speculation about the possible deterioration of the Venezuelan leader’s health. Chávez has spent the last few days in Cuba undergoing radiation treatment for his cancer and, according to sources in Colombia, may spend only a few hours at the summit before heading home to Venezuela.
President Chávez at home is facing his most serious electoral challenge since he rose to power in 1998 and may be striving to shore up international support, while projecting an image of strength to observers in Venezuela. The upcoming summit will put major hemispheric issues into the spotlight, such as commercial integration, regional security, monetary policy, and natural disaster relief.
The Obama administration also announced yesterday that the U.S. president will arrive in Colombia on Friday—a day earlier than was originally planned. Senior White House officials have announced that Obama will go to the summit seeking to boost trade and commercial ties—especially in the energy sector—and will likely focus his public statements on the successful passage last year of free trade deals with Panama and Colombia.
April 10, 2012Tags: Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, Race
President Dilma Rousseff arrived in the U.S. on Sunday for an important diplomatic visit. This is the third meeting between the Brazilian head of state and U.S. President Barack Obama, who visited Brazil in March 2011. With the theme "Agenda of the twenty-first century between Brazil and the United States," the short visit was intended to highlight commercial and educational issues, but racial inclusion should not be left out of the discussions.
Despite not being received as part of a state visit—as in the case of the recent visits from the leaders of India and China—the meetings aimed to rekindle relations that are currently unsettled by commercial disputes and other international affairs such as Cuba and Iran. One of the highlights of the visit is also the Science Without Borders program, a Brazilian project that aims to send 100,000 students abroad to study science and technology. Plans are for the United States to be the main recipient.
Although innovative, the Science Without Borders program has been criticized in Brazil for its elitist character. Last week the Brazilian NGO Educafro protested in Brasilia for the program to include a quota for Afro-Brazilian students. As it is, the selection criterion only considers academic achievement and fluency in English, a focus only young wealthy people can afford. Without changes to the selection process, Afro-Brazilians will increasingly be left behind in science, technology, engineering, and math—the future of Brazil.
April 10, 2012Tags: Brazil, Barack Obama, Dilma Rousseff
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff met with President Obama yesterday on her first official visit to the United States since assuming office in January 2011. At the top of the Brazilian agenda was a push for U.S. collaboration in countering a global trend of countries keeping their currencies artificially undervalued in order to make their export prices more competitive.
According to Rousseff, a multilateral effort is needed to halt competitive exchange rate devaluations, which she contends impair growth in countries like Brazil. Now the world’s sixth-largest economy, Brazil’s trade balance with the United States has gone from a $6.4 billion surplus in 2007 to an $8.2 billion deficit in 2010. This is driven in large part by a strong real, which has boosted Brazil’s demand for imports.
Both presidents praised each other on fostering strong bilateral relations, but it was also acknowledged that there is more to be done. According to Obama, “The good news is that the relationship between Brazil and the United States has never been stronger. But we always have even greater improvements that can be made.” Among other things, the United States is trying to help U.S. businesses profit from major oil discoveries off Brazil’s coast and from growing Brazilian investments in advanced military equipment such as fighter jets.
President Rousseff is in Boston today to speak at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
April 9, 2012Tags: Summit of the Americas, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Barack Obama, Argentina, Hugo Chavez, Drug Trafficking, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Mara Salvatrucha, Counternarcotics, Dilma Rousseff, Otto Perez Molina, Amado Boudou, Zetas
Top stories this week are likely to include: Dilma Rousseff in Washington; Sixth Summit of the Americas on Saturday; Chávez possibly seeking treatment in Brazil; Maras and Zetas reportedly joining forces; and Boudou under investigation.
Dilma in Washington: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff begins a three-day visit to Washington today, where she will meet with her U.S. counterpart Barack Obama. This is Rousseff’s first visit to the U.S. since taking office in January 2011. Aside from meetings at the White House, Rousseff will speak at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce later today, and give a public speech at Harvard University tomorrow. In the Financial Times, Moisés Naim calls for the two countries to agree to a trade deal as a tangible outcome. Adds AQ Editor-in-Chief, Christopher Sabatini, “There will be plenty to discuss, from improving bilateral commerce and investment, Brazil’s recent flurry of legislation favoring local content and business, Iran, and—I hope—the upcoming presidential elections in Venezuela.”
Summit of the Americas on Saturday: Cartagena, Colombia, will host this weekend the Sixth Summit of the Americas, the regional conference of heads of state organized under the aegis of the Organization of American States. This year’s theme is “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity.” But will the summit yield any significant results? Notes Sabatini: “While this will be a great opportunity to show off how far Colombia has come in the 18 years since the summit process started, there is really very little the summit can accomplish beyond speeches and vague promises.”
Chávez May Seek Treatment in Brazil: Although Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez landed in Havana on Sunday to receive his latest round of radiotherapy, Brazilian media has been reporting that Chávez may seek further treatment at Sírio-Libanês hospital in São Paulo. This is the same hospital where former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last year successfully recovered from cancer surgery. Specifically, O Globo has reported—citing anonymous sources—that Chávez’ cancer has metastasized and may spread to his liver. Although the Venezuelan embassy in Brasília has denied the reports, pay attention to how this story develops over the coming days.
Maras-Zetas Alliance: Guatemalan authorities this weekend reported that the deadly Mara Salvatrucha gang, which dominates Central America’s Northern Triangle, has formed a pact with the equally dangerous Zetas group in Mexico for control of key drug transit routes from South America to the United States. In an already violence-plagued Central America, the alliance spells bad news for counternarcotics officials and may bolster the positions of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina—a proponent of drug legalization—at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas. “An alliance between two of the region’s most feared criminal networks yet again reinforces the critical need for a real regional approach to reducing insecurity. The drug traffickers don’t respect borders and neither should counternarcotics efforts,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Future of Boudou: Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou is now under investigation by federal authorities for his actions as economy minister—in the two years prior to assuming the vice-presidency—specifically that he helped printing company Ciccone Calcográfica get out of bankruptcy. Boudou has denied the charges and still has the full support of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her administration. After a raid of Boudou’s apartment last week, there may be new developments this week on the ongoing investigation.
April 6, 2012Tags: BRICs, Guido Mantega
Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said yesterday that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) bloc of advanced emerging economies should rally behind a single candidate for the presidency of the World Bank. Though an American has filled the role since the organization’s founding in 1946, developing nations—spearheaded by the BRICS group—seek to break to mold with whoever is nominated to succeed current president Robert Zoellick.
Mantega met United States nominee and global health expert Jim Yong Kim Thursday morning, but maintained that Brazil had not yet made a decision of who to endorse. “By late next week, Brazil should have a position on the matter, and I will talk with the other BRICS,” Mantega said.
Apart from Kim, the other front-runners include Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala—who has received the support of many developing nations and South Africa—and former Colombian Finance Minister José Antonio Ocampo.
With this and similar proclamations on behalf of other BRICS nations, Brazil sees the nomination as an opportunity tip the balance of power, long held by the U.S., in favor of the emerging markets. The World Bank plans to make a decision before its spring meetings held jointly with the IMF, beginning on April 20.
April 5, 2012Read More Tags: Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Dilma Rousseff
After just over a century of amicable relations, Brazil has decided to cool its relationship with Iran.
Gone are the days when Brazil's leader, President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva (2002-2010), worked hard to strengthen Brazil's partnership with Iran, defending Iranian interests, sharing and learning from similar policy experiences over cafezinho.
At a time when Brazil has sought every opportunity to engage the international community and increase its influence as a mediator of conflict and peace, why has Brazil's new president, Dilma Rousseff, refrained from strengthening the government's ties with Iran?
The answer lies in Rousseff's personal experiences and geopolitical ambitions.
As someone who experienced human rights violations first hand under Brazil's military dictatorships (1964-1985), Rousseff has been unwaveringly committed to human rights. She has made it crystal clear that she will not support Iran unless President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seriously addresses this issue.
It's striking how quickly two nations sharing similar economic and geopolitical interests have suddenly distanced themselves from each other and how Brazil's decision may negatively affect Iran's relationship with other countries.
What this also suggests is that amicable relationships between similar nations are never guaranteed and that a sudden change in government interests and aspirations can reverse historic partnerships while having broader geopolitical ramifications.
For Rousseff, personal experiences matter.
As a high school student from the city of Belo Horizonte, she joined a Marxist revolutionary group called Palmares Revolutionary Armed Vanguard (Var-Palmares), which sought to dethrone a military government that repeatedly violated civil and human rights.
In 1970, she was arrested, interrogated and placed in prison. While serving three years, Rousseff was periodically tortured: electrical shocks ran throughout her body; she was incessantly beaten and called names; she was hung upside down in between two steel platforms in what the military called the pau de arara ("parrot’s perch"). By the time of her release at 25, she lost more than 22 pounds and her thyroid glands were nearly destroyed.
Needless to say, these horrific experiences had an enduring imprint on Rousseff's foreign policy views.
Indeed, when questioned about Iran during her campaign trail in 2009, the first two words to often come out of her mouth were "human" and "rights." The Iranian regime's atrocious history of killing thousands of dissidents, when combined with Iranian court orders to have several people stoned to death for violating the law was viewed by Rousseff as "medieval behavior." Moreover, the regime's decision to continuously throw political opponents in jail touched a sensitive nerve with Rousseff.
She made it very clear that before any business took place with Iran, Ahmadinejad would need to stop these barbaric acts. Yet this may prove difficult as Ahmadinejad's political influence is often perceived as limited because of the presence of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Being blamed and essentially ignored by Ahmadinejad also didn't help. Last year, Ahmadinejad's media adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, was quoted as stating that Rousseff had "destroyed years of good relations" between them.
Under Lula, Brazil strengthened its political and economic ties with Iran through trade (indirectly via Dubai, estimated at $1.25 billion in 2010) and investment in Iran's oil sector. But when Ahmadinejad visited Latin America this January, he avoided meeting with Rousseff. Apparently he regrets having done so and plans to meet with her later this year.
Rousseff's geopolitical aspirations have also caused her to step away from Tehran. After Lula joined Turkey in 2010 to vote against UN sanctions on Iran for failing to disclose information about its nuclear reactor site and ignoring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's request to do so, it appears that Rousseff views distancing herself from Iran as a way to strengthen Brazil's relationship with the United States.
Through these efforts, it seems that Rousseff is seeking to garner U.S. support for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, as well as increasing Brazil's influence in major international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund.
Without Rousseff's support, Ahmadinejad faces problems in Latin America.
Iran has tried to strengthen ties with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, and until recently, Brazil. And it's opened six embassies in the region since 2005, sans Brazil. But Ahmadinejad can essentially forget about getting the support of Brazil's close economic allies, such as Mexico, Argentina and Chile. Ahmadinejad has also failed to live up to his promise of helping spur economic development in the region.
At a time when he is trying to increase his legitimacy, given his hostile relationship with Israel and efforts to develop his nuclear reactors, Ahmadinejad might not be able to afford losing his Latin friends, as they have defended him in the past and their support makes him look less isolated in the world.
This freeze in relations with Brazil, and Iran's gradual loss of allies in the region, also opens up further opportunity for the United Nations to impose and enforce additional sanctions on Iran. Should this occur, Ahmadinejad faces the specter of other allies questioning their relationship with Iran, which could have serious political and economic repercussions for Iran.
Despite the rich history that these two nations share, it seems unlikely that Rousseff will want to strengthen her ties with Ahmadinejad.
With aspirations to increase Brazil's international influence and geopolitical importance, she will likely place more stock in strengthening her relationship with the United States and other cooperative nations within the United Nations. Unless Ahmadinejad changes his tune on human rights and decides to fully abide by UN rules, Iran's losses may go beyond Brazil.
Eduardo J. Gomez is assistant professor in the department of public policy and administration at Rutgers University.
April 5, 2012Tags: Eric Holder, Drug Policy, Crime and Security, Fast and Furious. U.S.-Mexico relations
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday he expects to be interviewed by investigators looking into Operation Fast and Furious, the flawed program run by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in which federal agents were supposedly authorized to smuggle hundreds of illicit weapons into Mexico.
During an appearance in Chicago, Holder said he would speak to investigators from the DOJ’s inspector general’s office when they request it. That office has been conducting an investigation into the individuals responsible for employing the tactic known as “gun-walking,” in which illicit weapons were smuggled into the hands of drug traffickers as part of an effort to trace them to the highest echelons of Mexico’s drug cartels. Fast and Furious was launched in October 2009 and ran until January 2011. ATF lost track of hundreds of the firearms, many of which have since been linked to crimes against U.S. civilians, including the fatal shooting in December 2010 of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
House Republicans are also currently investigating the operation. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has subpoenaed the Attorney General’s office for 80,000 pages of documents concerning Fast and Furious and threatened to hold Holder in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t comply. So far, Holder has only handed over about 7,000 pages, though he has given all 80,000 pages to the DOJ’s investigator general.
Democrats are also increasingly critical of Holder’s handling of the operation and investigation. Two House Democrats recently demanded that the DOJ release the findings of the inspector general’s investigation ahead of this year’s presidential election.
April 4, 2012Read More Tags: FARC, Colombian Hostages, World Bank President, Obama Latin America, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
FARC Releases Military Hostages
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released the last of their security force hostages on April 2. The ten hostages—four soldiers and six policemen—were surrendered to hostage mediators and the Red Cross, and transported by Brazilian military helicopter to the city of Villavicencio. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos praised the release, but called it “insufficient,” saying the FARC must still release hundreds of civilian hostages and renounce all violence.
Colombian World Bank President Nominee Outlines Vision
In an op-ed for Project Syndicate, ex-Finance Minister of Colombia José Antonio Ocampo shared his vision for the World Bank in light of his nomination for the presidency of the institution last month. He explained the need for social inclusion and the importance of incorporating market, state, and society actors. “It is not the role of any international institution to impose a particular model of development on any country—a mistake that the World Bank made in the past, and that it has been working to correct,” he writes. “Because no ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy exists, the Bank must include among its staff the global diversity of approaches to development issues.”
April: Obama’s Latin America Month
Latin America will be U.S. President Barack Obama’s focus this April, reports EFE. Obama kicked off the month meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderón at the North American Leaders Summit. April 9 will see a visit from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at the White House, followed by a trip to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas a week later. After the summit, Obama will spend an extra day in Colombia meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. This attention serves to shore-up support from the Latino community in the United States, says the article, which also notes that the “renewed relationship” Obama promised with Latin America in 2009 has not materialized.
April 4, 2012Read More Tags: Mexico, Women's rights, Josefina Vázquez Mota, Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), Voters and Voting, Mexico presidential election 2012
Last weekend Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota officially launched her election campaign, as did the other two primary contenders, Enrique Peña Nieto and Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The media have focused on whether Peña Nieto can convince voters that he represents a new Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, the governing party for 70 years until the election of Vicente Fox in 2000), and if López Obrador (of the Partido Revolucionario Democrático—PRD) can make a comeback after narrowly losing the 2006 election. As for Vázquez Mota, the candidate of the incumbent Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), one central question has been whether she can become the country’s first female president.
The Vázquez Mota candidacy is a symbolic victory for feminists. Globally, women are disproportionately less represented in politics (making up only 17.2 percent of national legislatures), and only a handful of world leaders are women. Mexico in particular is known for a deeply-rooted culture of machismo, which pervades politics and business as much as it does society at large. Only 6 percent of Mexico’s mayors are women, although 25 percent of its national legislators are (thanks to a law that requires at least 40 percent of a party’s candidates to be women). No major company is led by a female CEO. Only one, Grupo Modelo, has a female board chair—and that because her father passed it on to her when he died without a male heir in 1995.
Vázquez Mota, in contrast, has risen to the candidacy on her own merits; the 51-year-old mother of three is a trained economist, former congresswoman and ex-cabinet minister (in each of the last two administrations). While Vázquez Mota has embraced her gender head-on since Day 1 (in accepting PAN’s official nomination, she declared, “I will be the first woman president of Mexico”), it remains to be seen whether the candidate of the socially conservative, Catholic PAN will campaign—and potentially govern—with a large focus on women’s issues.
April 4, 2012Read More Tags: NAFTA, Canada, trade, Mexico, Stephen Harper, Barack Obama, Felipe Calderon, Trans-Pacific Partnership
Assembled in the White House Rose Garden for a joint press conference on Monday, the “three amigos” of North America projected an image of trilateral comity in keeping with the depth of their countries’ relationships. Yet Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper departed the one-day North American Leaders’ Summit without a firm commitment from U.S. President Barack Obama on their request to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Buried in the penultimate line of the lengthy joint statement was a coy response: “The United States welcomes Canada’s and Mexico’s interest in joining the TPP as ambitious partners.”
As President Obama acknowledged in the Rose Garden, TPP’s high-standards approach “could be a real model for the world.” Indeed, the goal of the original four TPP members—Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore—was to create a uniquely comprehensive agreement to which like-minded countries on both sides of the Pacific could accede, thus linking Asia and the Americas. Similarly, the U.S. decision to join TPP made more sense for the bloc’s potential to grow than for the market-access gains to be found in the members’ relatively small economies. For Washington, TPP carries significant strategic weight as long as it continues to expand.
To its credit, the Obama administration recognizes the geopolitical benefits of TPP in the context of increased U.S. engagement with the Asia-Pacific. Its reluctance to advocate for expanded participation from the Western Hemisphere, however, risks a gross strategic oversight. As Harper candidly remarked to an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Monday, while “most of the members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would like to see Canada join, I think there’s some debate, particularly within the (Obama) administration, about the merits of that."
April 4, 2012Tags: Brazil, Economy, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff
On Tuesday President Dilma Rousseff announced a series of stimulus measures to kick-start the Brazilian economy. After a disappointing 2.7 percent GDP growth in the 2011 fiscal year, President Rousseff is hoping to reach at least 4.5 percent economic growth for the 2012 fiscal year.
The stimulus packet, worth about 60.4 billion reais ($33 billion), will include a mixture of fiscal incentives, including lowering payroll taxes for employers in hard-hit industries and increasing tariffs on products that have been gaining market space. Furthermore, the state-sponsored Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), backed by a 45-billion reais ($24.5 billion) injection from the Treasury department, will increase its loans to subsidized companies in order to foster local production. According to President Rousseff, Brazil has to make use of its big and growing internal market, which also attracts great amounts of foreign investment.
These measures mark an important shift in strategy in President Rousseff’s administration. She came to power in the beginning of 2011 with an agenda ready for a country whose GDP had grown by 7.5 percent in 2010. The unexpected slowdown of the economy, however, has necessitated the adoption of fiscal measures to stimulate local businesses. Responding to criticism from the Brazilian congress over Rousseff’s management of the economy, former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva announced his full support of the Rousseff administration.
April 3, 2012Read More Tags: Immigration, Supreme Court
On April 25, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Arizona, et al., v. United States, a case which questions the constitutional legality of Arizona’s restrictive SB 1070 immigration law that was passed by the state legislature in 2010. The Court, in taking up the case, jumps right into the center of a national political debate. Paul Clement, who argued against U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. in last week’s equally highly charged hearings on the federal health care law, will do so again on behalf of the plaintiff.
The decision on whether to uphold the April 2011 ruling from the Ninth Circuit, which barred certain provisions of SB 1070 from taking effect, will fundamentally shape the way immigration policy is determined in the United States.
Arizona argues that a state should have the right to pass whatever measures it deems prudent—independent of how legislation will affect the historical, long-standing rights that immigrants (and those who may appear to be immigrants) have long enjoyed in this country. But in its decision last year the Ninth Circuit noted that: "The Arizona statute before us has become a symbol […] and a chilling foretaste of what other states might attempt."
April 3, 2012Read More Tags: Colombia, FARC
Que ayer, este lunes, se vivió en Colombia un episodio que parte en dos la historia del conflicto en el país, es una verdad de a puño. Regresaron a la libertad los últimos militares y policías que las FARC tenían en su poder, 10 uniformados que por casi 14 años vivieron en la selva, mientras sus hijos, padres, o familiares morían de pena moral o de enfermedades agravadas por la angustia de no saber el paradero de sus seres queridos. Mientras el país pasaba por tres mandatarios diferentes—un período de Andrés Pastrana, dos períodos de Álvaro Uribe y casi medio de Juan Manuel Santos, quienes a su modo querían ponerle fin al secuestro—mientras el mundo daba saltos tecnológicos agigantados al punto de que hoy cubrimos esas liberaciones con un iPad o un teléfono inteligente.
La espera de las 10 familias de los militares Luis Alfonso Beltrán Franco, Luis Arturo Arcia, Robinson Salcedo Guarín y Luis Alfredo Moreno Chagüeza, y de los policías César Augusto Lasso Monsalve, Jorge Trujillo Solarte, Jorge Humberto Romero, José Libardo Forero, Wilson Rojas Medina, y Carlos José Duarte, terminó. Vidas que se habían congelado en el esfuerzo por las liberaciones, o que se habían subido en la montaña rusa de las esperanzas, tuvieron un final feliz ayer, el lunes 2 de abril: el mismo día en se conmemoraban 30 años del desembarco argentino en Las Malvinas.
Colombia celebra la noticia. Las FARC cumplen por fin su palabra después de haber hecho este anuncio desde noviembre. El gobierno califica el gesto de la guerrilla, como “un paso en la dirección correcta pero insuficiente,” y Piedad Córdoba asegura que el trabajo de colombianos y colombianas por la paz cerró un ciclo en lo referente a la mediación en las liberaciones, y abrió otro en lo que para ella serán sus siguientes misiones: buscar a los desaparecidos y concretar las visitas a las cárceles para ver las condiciones de los guerrilleros presos.
April 3, 2012Tags: President Felipe Calderon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President Barack Obama, North American Summit, Three Amigos Summit, North American Trade, Arms Trafficking
President Barack Obama hosted Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderón for the sixth annual North American Leaders summit at the White House on Monday. The summit featured a two-hour, closed-door meeting and a joint press conference where the three heads of state issued a joint statement outlining their plans.
Trade between the three countries, which exceeded $1 trillion for the first time last year, topped the agenda. President Obama said North American trade is an important driver of job creation, and said the three leaders agreed to “simplify and eliminate more regulations that will make our joint economies stronger.” Prime Minister Harper, who will travel to Chile later this month, said that Canada seeks to improve trade relations with the U.S. and Mexico, as well as other Latin American countries.
The three heads of state also discussed regional issues, such as crime, energy, immigration, and the drug war. In his statement to the press, President Calderón once again called on the U.S. Congress to stem the illegal flow of American weapons into Mexico. “The expiration of the assault weapons ban in the year 2004 coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the harshest period of violence we’ve ever seen,” said Calderón.
President Obama responded by saying that while the U.S. is actively preventing illegal gun trafficking, but more can be done to stop the violence plaguing Mexico. Absent from the press conference was any mention of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from Canada’s oil sands to the United States. Obama tabled the issue last November, which drew criticism from Prime Minister Harper.
The three heads of state will meet again at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia on April 14 and 15.
April 2, 2012Read More Tags: Brazil, Favela, Social Media
When I first met Raull Santiago, 23, and Nathalia Menezes, 24, my initial charmed impression was that these were two young people who felt no shame of their penchant for playing on their cell phones. By the time we left our first meeting, they had friended me on Facebook, tweeted about our meeting and ‘checked in’ the time and place of our interview.
What made all of this more than just another day in the life of social-medialite is where the spirited pair live: The community of favelas called the Complexo do Alemão, for years the scene of intense trafficker-police confrontations. Residents long feared the police that forcefully entered “pé na porta” to inspect their homes with a blanket judicial order. Outsiders feared that area was “off limits,” controlled by armed traffickers who famously killed a journalist who went undercover to investigate child sexual abuse in baile funk parties. Now Nathália and Raull were cautiously hopeful. The military had invaded the favela after an intense week of urban mayhem, in which scores of vehicles were robbed and lit on fire across the city, in what the government billed as a proactive response to retake territory key to traffickers.
News watchers across Rio saw the site of dozens of traffickers in boardshorts fleeing with rifles on foot through the jungle and of tanks toppling the iron barricades once mounted to prevent police vehicles from entering.
April 2, 2012Tags: Canada, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Stephen Harper, Barack Obama, Felipe Calderon, FARC, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Dilma Rousseff, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota, Pope Benedict XVI
Top stories this week are likely to include: Calderón and Harper at the White House; FARC releasing its remaining hostages; the Mexican presidential campaign officially underway; Good Friday declared a holiday in Cuba; and Brazil’s currency hits a six-month low.
Harper and Calderón in Washington: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and U.S. President Barack Obama are meeting today for the North American Leaders’ Summit. According to a White House press release, the meeting will have a “particular focus on economic growth and competitiveness, citizen security, energy, and climate change.” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini says, “President Obama has met with these two leaders more than any other world leaders; it makes perfect sense given our levels of trade and the importance of both countries to our security, though this fact has escaped attention.”
FARC Releasing Hostages: After announcing in February that it would release the 10 remaining hostages in its custody, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) will begin doing so today and later this week. The FARC has also announced that it will stop kidnapping civilians for money; asks Sabatini, “Could this be the end of the FARC?”
Campaign Season Underway in Mexico: On Friday the three leading candidates launched their presidential campaigns in a bid to succeed incumbent Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) President Felipe Calderón, who is term-limited from seeking re-election. Expect much attention to be paid to the first full week of official campaigning among the candidates—Enrique Peña Nieto (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD), and Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN). AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak notes, “Although much of the campaign will focus on security policy, the next three months will also be crucial for further defining visions of other important issues, namely energy reform, competition, education, and fiscal policy. These issues must get their due attention as well.” Mexico votes on July 1.
Good Friday in Cuba: Pope Benedict XVI proffered during his visit to Cuba last week that Good Friday be declared a holiday in the island nation; over the weekend the Cuban government granted the papal request. This is particularly interesting for Cuba, which has a small Catholic population relative to other Latin American nations. Could this mean a growing influence of the Church in Cuba? Sabatini observes, “Religious space—any space—is important in Cuba. I hope, though, that the Pope’s trip helped produce more than this.”
Brazilian Currency Hits Six-Month Low: Bloomberg has reported that the value of the Brazilian real dropped to its lowest level since September 2011. How will President Dilma Rousseff respond? Despite much global fears about slowing growth in China, Rousseff expressed frustration with what she termed a “monetary tsunami” on the part of developed economies including the United States. Given that President Rousseff will hold a bilateral meeting with President Obama next week, pay attention to how currency discussion unfolds in the coming days.
March 30, 2012Tags: Felipe Calderon, Cuba-Mexico relations
Mexico’s federal government officially notified the Senate yesterday that President Felipe Calderón will visit Cuba and Haiti as part of a four-day trip that will conclude on April 14–15 in Cartagena, Colombia, for the 6th Summit of the Americas. Cuba was not invited to participate in the Summit.
The visit to Cuba will be the first for the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) president; a planned 2009 visit was postponed after outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus.
Calderón plans to raise human rights concerns, as well as issues of migration, oil exploration, and regional commerce and investment integration. Mexico–Cuba relations have been rocky since the administration of then-President Ernesto Zedillo (1994–2000) raised tensions by publicly criticizing Cuba for its checkered record on human rights. The relationship grew more contentious in 2004 under then-President Vicente Fox (2000-2006). Both countries closed their respective embassies for three months over human rights concerns.
The trip to Haiti is in response to a long-standing invitation to visit the island extended by Haitian President Michel Martelly to discuss Latin American and Caribbean regional integration.
March 29, 2012Read More Tags: Pope Trip, Pope Cuba. Cuba Economic Reform, Latino Labor, Mexican Presidential Election
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Pope Rounds out Tour of Mexico and Cuba
Benedict XVI arrived in Mexico on Friday, where he spent three days before leaving for Cuba on Tuesday. He will return to Rome tomorrow. Beyond entertaining Mexicans by donning a sombrero, the pope decried the drug violence affecting the country and asked for Mexico to honor religious freedom. The papal visit comes at a time when the Mexican Catholic Church is increasingly politicized, and the role of the institution in public life has reached legislative debate, according to analysis from The Los Angeles Times. “[A]lthough the Catholic Church has almost always enjoyed a powerful position [in Mexico], it has taken on a particularly activist role in partisan politics during the last decade,” says the article.
The pope’s visit to Cuba has invited inevitable comparisons to Pope John Paul II’s visit to the country in 1998. In a post for ForeignPolicy.com's Argument blog, Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez writes about the general lack of enthusiasm among Cubans. “At the end of the nineties, Karol Wojtyla inspired us to hope. But now, in 2012, national cynicism conspires against enthusiasm. We already know, for example, that the phrase, ‘Let Cuba open herself to the world and let the world open itself to Cuba,’ never became more than the beautiful intention of the Polish pope.”
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on concerns in Mexico and Cuba preceding the papal visit.
Looking at a Rapidly Changing Cuba
The Economist this week features a 10-page special report on Cuba, with the headline “Cuba hurtles towards capitalism.” Articles focus on the island’s economic reforms, the consequences of those reforms, and relations with the United States. “After 50 years in which it has been an exception, the island’s destiny increasingly resembles that of its region. It is high time that those on both sides of the Florida Strait recognize that,” says the publication.
North American Defense Heads Talk Transnational Security
Mexico’s Defense Secretary General Guillermo Galván and Secretary of the Navy Admiral Mariano Saynez Mendoza met with the Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Ottawa on March 27 for the first trilateral meeting of North American defense ministers. Participants focused on the threat posted by Mexican organized crime and agreed to boost intelligence and security cooperation. “Quite frankly, these cartels don't recognize borders, they don't recognize nationalities,” said McKay.
March 29, 2012Tags: Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI
Meeting with Fidel Castro and in a Mass before half a million people, Pope Benedict XVI urged Cuba to allow for greater freedom for the Catholic Church. On the last day of his Latin America tour, which also included stops in Mexico and Santiago, Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI met with Cuba’s revolutionary leader at the Vatican Embassy in Havana. The meeting, which lasted about a half-hour, was marked by “intense, cordial and serene dialogue,” said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi.
This is the first time Fidel Castro, 85, has met with Pope Benedict XVI, 84. He met with Pope John Paul II twice—at the Vatican in 1996 and in Cuba in 1998. According to Lombardi, the two joked about their age, and Castro asked the Pope about changes in the Catholic liturgy since his days as a young student at a Jesuit school. For his part, Pope Benedict spoke of his gladness to be in Cuba and the warm reception he had received.
The intimate meeting between the two leaders followed remarks by the Pope before a much larger audience in Revolutionary Square, where he delivered a midday Mass. With an estimated 500,000 people in attendance, and President Raúl Castro seated in the front row, the Pope’s message of religious—and political—opening was clear. “It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly,” he said. “Nonetheless, this must continue forward.” The Pope told those gathered in the square to search for truth, the search for which “supposes the exercise of authentic freedom.”
It was unclear how the Pope’s homily was received. Many cheered on his call for an expanded role of the Catholic Church in Cuba, while others simply said they “came for curiosity.”
March 28, 2012Tags: Peru, Environment, Climate change
La minería aurífera ilegal nos deja un paisaje lúgubre, producto de operaciones que degradan y transforman los ecosistemas amazónicos. Así mismo, organizan la sociedad alrededor de puestos de trabajo en condiciones deplorables. Parte de este negocio también corrompe los asentamientos aledaños y da lugar a un ambiente de desgobierno. La realidad de los campamentos mineros ilegales es el típico modelo del negocio furtivo que daña al medio ambiente, se preocupa sólo de los beneficios económicos que este genera y se aprovecha de la necesidad laboral de los peones (gente de bajos recursos y de escaso nivel educativo).
Las consecuencias de la actividad minera se reflejan en la organización de los espacios comunes dificultado el ordenamiento territorial, la conservación de la naturaleza y desestructurando modelos de organización comunal. A consecuencia de esto los bienes comunes no se pueden ubicar dentro de la perspectiva de una buena gobernanza social y la posibilidad de gobernabilidad estatal. Queda como desafío impulsar propuestas participativas que hagan del concepto de desarrollo sostenible una herramienta indispensable para planificar el futuro, garantizar la continuidad de los ecosistemas y proteger la autonomía de la organización social propia de las comunidades nativas; así como la participación de todos los grupos sociales que conviven en un mismo medio ambiente. (Fotos y pies de foto cortesía de Daniel Valencia.)
March 28, 2012Tags: 2014 World Cup, U.S. Scccer, 2012 London Olympics, El Salvador soccer
The United States Under-23 Men’s National Soccer Team failed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympic Games on Monday, after tying El Salvador in a must-win match in Nashville, Tennessee. A victory would have advanced the Americans to the semifinal round of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) regional qualifying tournament, but an injury-time goal from Salvadoran striker Jaime Alas in the 94th minute ended the U.S. Olympic hopes.
The Americans were hoping to bounce back from a rare 2-0 defeat at the hands of Canada on Saturday and appeared to have the advantage against El Salvador early on when Terrence Boyd scored after only 61 seconds. But El Salvador, with the support of half the 7,889 fans in attendance, came from behind twice to secure a tie and claim the top spot in Group A. La Azul y Blanco will face second-place Canada on March 31 in Kansas City, and a victory would earn the Central American nation its first Olympic berth since 1968.
With the World Cup defeat to Ghana still fresh in the minds of American soccer fans, elimination from the Olympics is yet another disappointing performance for a team striving to prove itself on the world stage. “I’m sorry for the fans,” said U.S. Under-23 Coach Caleb Porter, “and I’m sorry for U.S. Soccer, that we didn’t get the job done.” The loss also hurts the Americans’ chances looking forward to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The rising stars of the Under-23 team, some of who will become part of the U.S. World Cup squad in 2014, are missing out on a rare opportunity to represent their country in international competition.
March 27, 2012Read More Tags: trade, Argentina, United States, Argentina Debt Default
The United States announced on Monday that it was suspending trade benefits for Argentina under the Generalized System of Preferences, which waives import duties for select goods from developing countries. In 2011, the U.S. imported approximately $500 million worth of goods under the GSP program from Argentina. This sanction will mostly affect the wine, beef, sugar, and olive oil industries.
The decision came after years of wrangling over a 2005 ruling when the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes ruled against Argentina in a $300 million case involving two American companies, Azurix and Blueridge—a case that dates back to the Argentine debt default in 2002. Although the settlement was widely accepted by the international community, Argentina has refused to pay damages stemming from the case.
A working paper published by Buenos Aires-based Red Latinoamericana de Comercio Exterior in anticipation of the expect U.S. decision notes that “this sanction is effectively null in the context of the overall trade with the US. It only represents 14 percent of total sales to the U.S. and even a smaller .0007 percent when compared with worldwide Argentine exports.” Although this does not represent a big economic hit for the South American country, experts say that it still has important political consequences.
March 26, 2012Read More Tags: Venezuela, Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina
Small countries like Guatemala hold little leverage in global energy markets; not surprisingly, Guatemalans are also strongly feeling the adverse effects of rising petroleum prices in their daily activities.
As the saying goes, good business trumps politics—and Guatemala proves the maxim true. Although firmly opposed to acceding into the Petrocaribe agreement with Venezuela in 2008, President Otto Pérez Molina is now looking south to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ Petrocaribe organization for any possible relief. He is left with few choices as fuel prices hover closer to 40 quetzales ($5.15) per gallon.
Guatemala has tried to position itself as a Central American petroleum hub through efforts to get off the ground construction of a possible regional refinery and by attracting investments into the exploration and production of its designated drilling blocks. But despite these efforts, Guatemala has not been able to finalize any refinery deals nor has it attracted much international interest in its oil exploration activities.
More recently, in 2011, to the dismay of government officials, only two natural resource companies submitted bids for the four drilling blocks made available to investors that year. With up to 12 potential onshore and offshore oil areas currently available for exploration, Guatemala will have to raise the country’s profile in key global energy hubs. Another key challenge for bringing in energy investment is putting forth clear and more investment-friendly laws.
March 26, 2012Tags: Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, FARC, Hugo Chavez, Drug Trafficking, Henrique Capriles Radonski, Pope Benedict XVI
Top stories this week are likely to include: Pope Benedict XVI’s ongoing trip to Latin America; Hugo Chávez in Havana for radiation therapy; Latin America’s verdict on the World Bank presidency; pro-FARC sentiments in Caracas; and Chávez neck-and-neck with Capriles Radonski.
Benedict XVI in Latin America: In his six-day trip to Mexico and Cuba, the Pope has already waded into the thorniest political issues. He condemned drug trafficking in Mexico and urged followers of the Catholic Church to wield their faith against poverty and other social challenges. “Besides being a successful visit for the Pope, on the political front the question is whether his message will in fact translate into a boost in the polls for PAN presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota,” observes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak. Amid an ongoing crackdown on human rights in Cuba ahead of Benedict XVI’s landing in Santiago today, the pontiff has spoken out against Cuba’s communist model, adding that “today it is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality.” The reserved response given by the Castros may overshadow the Pope’s visit through Wednesday.
Chávez’ Therapy in Cuba: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez arrived back in Havana, the site of his two surgeries after being diagnosed with cancer, for further radiation treatment. He is expected to remain there until Thursday, and he will return to Venezuela for three days before flying back to Cuba for another five-day treatment. But the Venezuelan people still do not know the severity of their president’s health. Notes AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, “This has already sparked the rumor mill. The lack of transparency on the part of Miraflores is troubling.”
Brazil and the World Bank: Brazil, Latin America’s strongest economy, has not yet decided whom to support for the World Bank presidency despite nominating José Antonio Ocampo (Colombia) on Friday. The two other candidates are Jim Yong Kim (U.S.) and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria). Brazil has long argued for greater representation in global governance on the part of emerging markets, despite casting its vote for Christine Lagarde over Mexican Central Bank (Banxico) head Agustín Carstens last year for the International Monetary Fund managing director post. “Even under the realignment in the voting system, Brazil only controls just over 2 percent of the votes while the U.S. controls nearly 16 percent. Developing countries will certainly have more of a say in this election but the vote of countries like Brazil will ultimately be more of a political statement than one that will dramatically affect the outcome of the election,” notes Jason Marczak. The three candidates will be interviewed to succeed the World Bank’s outgoing President Robert Zoellick, with a decision to be announced at the latest next month.
Outrage over Tirofijo Tribute: Former FARC commander Manuel Marulanda Vélez—nom de guerre Tirofijo—was given a tribute over the weekend in Caracas to commemorate four years after his death. The Colombian government expressed indignation at the event, saying that Tirofijo represents “decades of terror of the FARC.” Venezuela’s perceived coziness with FARC and other rebel groups has always caused rifts with Colombia; Christopher Sabatini says: “President Santos’ policy of improving relations with his counterpart in Caracas helped to cool tensions and address regional issues. But this event is just another that tries those ties. Are they intended to provoke?”
Chávez Tied with Presidential Challenger: President Chávez is in a statistical tie with the opposition candidate, Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, according to a Consultoras21 poll released last Friday. Chávez received 46 percent support and Capriles Radonski 45 percent, marking the first time in the general election that Capriles Radonski has moved to a technical tie with the incumbent. Chávez is seeking a third term on October 7; Christopher Sabatini observes that “there’s a long time until voting day, but things are certainly getting interesting.”
March 23, 2012Tags: Cuban government, Communist Party’s Central Committe
Cuban President Raúl Castro yesterday announced the departure from office of two long-time, high-ranking government officials. Jose Ramon Fernández, 88, vice-president of the Cuban Communist Party’s Council of Ministers, will be replaced by Higher Education Minister Miguel Diaz-Canel, 51. José Myar Barrueco, 79, minister of science, technology and the environment, will be replaced by Elba Rosa Pérez, former head of the Science Department of the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
The cabinet changes, which come on the heels of the removal from office this month of Culture Minister Abel Prieto, are some of the most significant changes to Cuba’s senior leadership since the 2009 sacking of Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque. They are also a likely consequence of Castro’s desire to promote a new generation of officials to posts currently occupied by people in their 70s and 80s.
The shake-up also comes only a week before the widely anticipated visit to Cuba of Catholic Pope Benedict XVI on March 26–28. Since formally taking office in 2008, Castro has embarked on a series of reforms with the goal of improving economic conditions on the island. Any changes to Cuba’s political leadership are watched closely by outside observers for clues about Castro’s own succession plans.
March 22, 2012Read More Tags: Mexico, Religion, Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to Mexico will begin on March 23 but unlike his predecessor, Benedict will not feel as comfortable calling Mexico siempre fiel—and so hopefully some of his agenda will include discussion on religious diversity.
Pope John Paul II called Mexico “forever faithful” in 1990 due to Catholicism being the dominant faith in the country. However, rising popularity of other religions and the emergence of atheist and agnostic thought in the country could very well be pushing Mexico to a tipping point, leading to question the favored role Catholicism plays in sociopolitical life.
To this day, many large companies in Mexico (national and international) hold posadas, celebrate Christmas and observe other Catholic holidays such as Easter. Some even hold mass within their facilities to kick off special events. On the flip side, there are very few companies in Mexico that observe Yom Kippur or Ramadan. It is still a commonplace human resource practice to ask potential employees what their religion is during recruitment and—though none will publicly accept it—religion still plays a criteria in actual talent selection (otherwise, why would they ask about it?). This, by the way, is illegal under Article 3 of the Federal Labor Law.
Catholicism is not just favored in the private sector. During the first weeks of December and leading up to the 12th (Day of the Virgen de Guadalupe) Catholics are not only allowed to march on some of the busiest streets in the cities as part of their pilgrimage while causing transit chaos, they are even escorted by public officials to guarantee their safety. This is a nicety not usually awarded to other faiths and it is funded by taxes paid for by people of all faiths.
March 22, 2012Read More Tags: President Barack Obama, Keystone XL pipeline, Mexico Earthquake, Papal Visit, Mexican Elections
Strong Earthquake Rocks Mexico
The largest earthquake since 1985 rocked Mexico on Tuesday, with the U.S. Geological Survey placing the epicenter near the border between the southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, and giving it a 7.4 rating on the Richter scale. Compared to the 8-point earthquake in 1985, which killed at least 10,000 people and destroyed parts of the capital, Tuesday’s earthquake resulted in no reported deaths and light damage. Officials attributed the lack of destruction to stronger building standards set after the 1985 quake. Mexican daily El Universal offers images and video of damage resulting from yesterday’s quake.
Mexico and Cuba Prepare for Six-Day Papal Visit
On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Mexico, for a three-day visit before going to Cuba until March 28. While the Vatican says the visit is purely for religious aims, the pope could play a political role in both countries. The Washington Post reports that, in Mexico, where presidential campaigning officially begins next week, the visit could bring support to President Felipe Calderón’s National Action Party, which is close to the Church. In Cuba, the pope may look to expand the Church’s role following a religious opening in the 1990s. “Now the Church is an umbrella for many groups who seek more space for social action. This pope will try to strengthen this space, to try to position the Church to play a strong role in Cuba,” said Eduardo Barranco, a Catholicism specialist at the Center for Religious Studies in Mexico.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the pope’s upcoming visit to the region.
Ruling-Party Candidate Drops Five Points in Mexican Polls
A recent poll by GEA/ISA registered a 5-point drop for Mexican National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, decreasing from 36 percent to 31 percent of expected votes. The poll widens the gap between Vázquez Mota and frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), whose lead grew from 43 to 48 percent. The third major candidate in the campaign, the Party of the Democratic Revolution’s (PRD) Andrés Manuel López Obrador, retained 21 percent. The decline for Vázquez Mota comes after her poorly attended inauguration as the PAN’s candidate, which took place in a stadium where crowds left due to delays.
Mexico to Be World’s Seventh-Largest Economy by 2020
A recent report by Goldman Sachs predicts that Mexico will become the world’s seventh-largest economy by 2020. By that year, Mexico should contribute 7.8 percent to global GDP, more than India or Russia, two of the so-called BRICS countries. Goldman Sachs, which created the concept of the BRICS, said it previously excluded Mexico from the BRICS because it was not growing at the same rate as countries like Brazil or China. This year, Mexico’s GDP should grow by 3.6 percent—equal to Brazil’s expected growth.
March 22, 2012Tags: Chile, Peru, Argentina, Dakar rally
The Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) announced Wednesday that the 2013 Dakar Rally will be held once again in Latin America. The off-road race first staged from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal, in 1979 will take place from January 5-20, 2013, starting in Lima, Peru, passing through Argentina (crossing the Andes mountains twice) and finishing in Santiago, Chile.
Peru’s National Chamber of Commerce estimates that the 2013 Dakar Rally will generate around $600 million for the Peruvian economy alone. José Luis Silva, minister of foreign commerce and tourism, stated that all expectations were surpassed during the 2012 race, including 1,200 hours of television exposure and millions of dollars in publicity around the world. “We hope to surpass the number of spectators from 2012 [in 2013],” Silva told Agencia Andina.
The prestigious competition of cars, trucks and motorcycles was moved from Dakar, Senegal, in 2008 to Latin America, because of the dangers encountered along the route in Africa. According to Etienne Lavigne, director of the rally, it is the organization’s intention to return to Africa at some point. But until violence and insecurity in the region subsides, Latin America will remain the host continent.
March 21, 2012Read More Tags: Brazil, BRICs, IMF, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, 2014 World Cup, European Union, Dilma Rousseff, 2016 Olympics, Guido Mantega
The news that Brazil has overtaken Britain to become the world's sixth largest economic power is being touted as a sign that that the longtime "country of the future" has finally arrived. While the celebrations have been somewhat muted by concerns over slowing GDP growth and the country's still-heavy dependence on high energy and food prices, Brazil is heading into the coming global showcases of both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics with more than its usual swagger.
But this emerging economic prominence is raising the question of just what kind of actor Brazil will be on the world stage. In the past 20 years, Brazil has become well known for turning crisis situations into geopolitical opportunities, becoming a leading voice in international forums devoted to AIDS, poverty, and even the environment. And now, it is doing it again with a challenge that Brazilians understand all too well: a debt crisis.
Only this time, it's Europe in need of a helping hand, not the former Portuguese colony in Latin America. At an EU-Brazil summit held in Brussels last October, President Dilma Rousseff told European leaders, who had asked for assistance: "You can rely and count on us." As an initial strategy, Rousseff and her finance minister, Guido Mantega, considered using their foreign exchange reserves—estimated at $352 billion—to purchase debt through treasury bonds. However, after consulting with her BRIC colleagues at a meeting in Washington last November, Brazil decided that buying EU bonds would be too financially risky, and proposed instead to indirectly assist Europe by donating an estimated $10 billion to the International Monetary Fund.
March 21, 2012Tags: Summit of the Americas, Cuba, Hugo Chavez, ALBA
Hugo Chávez is urging fellow left-leaning leaders to attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas, despite their displeasure at Cuba’s exclusion from it. The Venezuelan president confirmed Tuesday that he plans to attend the summit in Cartagena, Colombia, on April 14-15, and urged other members of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas) to follow suit, though they had previously threatened to boycott the meeting if Cuba were not invited. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced earlier this month that Cuba would not be attending the summit, following a failure to reach consensus during bilateral talks.
In a phone call broadcast on state television Monday night, Chávez said, “This will be the last so-called Summit of the Americas without Cuba,” as “a good number of us” would advocate Cuba’s inclusion in future such gatherings at the Summit. He said he had discussed the issue with leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Nonetheless, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said ALBA member countries still had yet to decide whether to participate. That position was reiterated by Deputy Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde yesterday, who said in a statement to Prensa Latina that “Cuba has to be present, [and] must be part of the family living in this continent.” He did not say, though, which method of promoting Cuba’s inclusion was preferable—skipping the regional meeting by way of protest, or demanding Cuba’s inclusion from within it. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, said last week he would not attend in protest.
The Venezuelan and Bolivian statements came just after President Barack Obama confirmed his participation at the summit. Other high-profile attendees will include Microsoft founder Bill Gates, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Mexican media mogul Carlos Slim, and World Bank President Robert Zoellick. One issue expected to be a hot topic is drug decriminalization, which Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina has firmly advocated of late, and which Santos and Mexican president Felipe Calderón are open to discussion. The U.S. has said it is “willing to listen” to the debate at the upcoming meeting but remains firmly opposed to legalization.
March 20, 2012Read More Tags: Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, FARC, Juan Manuel Santos, ELN
Last weekend, Colombia, headlines announce the worst in a series of military setbacks for the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos in its fight against the FARC.
In a rural area of the department or Arauca, 10 soldiers and a corporal were killed when their unit was ambushed by the FARC. Arauca has remained a tough zone for the government to control: even during the heyday of former President Alvaro Uribe’s military offensive, the FARC maintained a considerable military power in Arauca. The ELN, a very weak group, has its only stronghold in that region.
Both groups have benefited from the fact that Arauca has a long border with Venezuela: a few years ago, when Venezuela had a policy of supporting Colombia’s guerilla groups, the FARC and the ELN established a sort of strategic rearguard beyond the border. Now that such policy is uncertain, they nonetheless take advantage of the border to escape the Army’s persecution, and to establish camps in Venezuelan territory.
How will this incident affect Santos’ policies?
“If you want peace, prepare for war” is a strategic maxim first written by Vegetius, a relatively unknown Roman author, who wrote treatises on military strategy and veterinary medicine. Such maxim can be interpreted in two ways. First, if you want your potential adversaries not to attack you, increase your military power so you will deter them. Second, if you are already involved in war, and you want to reach negotiated peace, you must build strength so that your enemy will conclude that talks are the best option to end the conflict; and you will have leverage at the negotiations.
March 20, 2012Read More Tags: Venezuela, FARC, Hugo Chavez, Henrique Capriles Radonski, Adan Chavez
When Patrick Duddy, the former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, thinks about the ailing Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, he is reminded of the 1961 epic El Cid. In the climatic finish, a dead hero's men, fearing they cannot defeat North African invaders without him, secure his corpse upon his horse, and send it onto the battlefield in order to intimidate their enemies. Sure enough, the dead El Cid's Castillian army goes on to final victory.
With seven months to go until October presidential elections, Chávez returned to Caracas over the weekend after a second cancer operation in Havana. Chávez's health has thrown the election into disarray, raising questions about what will happen not only in Venezuela should he be incapacitated, but in the country's projection of influence around the region. Until 2008, Chávez, fueled by the income of some 2.5 million barrels of oil exports a day, provided hundreds of millions of dollars of support for Colombia's hyper-violent rebel opposition FARC movement. Venezuela also was a key to cocaine smuggling. Meanwhile, Chávez has had a tense relationship with foreign oil companies during his 13 years of power, sometimes nationalizing their fields, or unilaterally changing contractual terms. ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips left the country.
On arriving home, Chávez sang and danced with his daughter on a balcony, a demonstration of rigor intended to dispel talk that, despite chemotherapy he is to undergo, he is not up to the challenge of a tough campaign. "The beating we're going to give the Venezuelan right will be memorable ... not just in the history of Venezuela but in almost all the world," Reuters quoted Chávez as telling the crowd.
Duddy is sure of only one thing: that, whether or not Chávez is healthy, he will in fact appear as the ruling candidate for president on October 7. There simply is no serious alternative in the chavista camp to face the popular opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski. And there is too much at stake in the way of power and wealth to leave victory to chance.
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