John Kerry, the longtime Democratic U.S. senator representing Massachusetts from 1985 until this week, was confirmed on Tuesday as the next secretary of state. He assumes the post today, and has some pretty big shoes, or heels, to fill after Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure.
What does this mean for Latin American affairs? What change awaits U.S. foreign policy?
Based on observations from well-placed State Department sources and Kerry’s nearly four-hour confirmation hearing, however, there are a few hints of what’s to come.
First, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson will stay on, according to my sources. This is good news, given her masterful dexterity in bureaucratic and congressional machinations and cross-agency management—notably regarding counternarcotic efforts—in addition to her regional expertise. However, her office could become savvier with using U.S. media to present policy positions to American audiences. Not only does the United States need to win the hearts and minds of those abroad, it needs to bolster support for policies at home.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized deepening business ties and promoting innovation in a speech to Brazil’s National Confederation of Industry (CNI) on Monday. Clinton had traveled to the capital city of Brasilia for a two-day visit following her participation over the weekend in the Summit of the Americas meeting in Cartagena, Colombia.
In her remarks before the CNI, Clinton noted that last year trade between the U.S. and Brazil reached $75 billion, and that Brazilian investment in the U.S. now stands at $15.5 billion. She also praised Brazil for undergoing inclusive economic growth in recent years, saying the country “has ascended to the world stage as an emerging economic dynamo, lifting millions of Brazilians into the middle class while maintaining and improving democratic institutions.”
However, she said the U.S. and Brazil could do much more. “I believe that the opportunities and potential for greater investment, trade, growth and jobs is only now being tapped,” she said. Specifically, Clinton pointed to private-sector innovation as a key element of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Brazil, yet she also emphasized a role for government, which she said “can work closely with business leaders to create the conditions [for innovation to] take hold.” In particular, the secretary mentioned a double taxation treaty, a bilateral investment treaty and a future free-trade agreement.
Beyond the CNI speech, the secretary met yesterday morning with the new head of Petrobras, Maria das Gracas Foster and led the U.S. delegation for the third U.S.-Brazil Global Partnership Dialogue. The Global Partnership Dialogue builds upon previously-reached agreements in the areas of development and education cooperation and global political and economic issues.
Today, she and President Dilma Rousseff speak at the First Annual High-Level Meeting of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The OGP, launched eight months ago by President Rousseff and President Barack Obama, includes 42 countries that have pledged to prevent corruption, promote transparency and devise ways to harness technology to empower citizens.
Top stories this week are likely to include: the World Bank presidency goes to a vote; Secretary Clinton in Brazil; Repsol proposes talks with CFK; Chávez authorized for 90-day leave; and the possibility of progress in drug-related violence.
World Bank Presidency: With Colombia’s José Antonio Ocampo withdrawing his candidacy over the weekend, the contest for the next president of the World Bank is a two-person race. A vote is scheduled for today to decide between the two remaining candidates: the United States’ Jim Yong Kim and Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Despite Brazil’s call recently for the BRICS nations to rally behind one candidate, pay attention to which candidate the developing economies will cast their vote. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini says, “The ability of developing countries to really force a change in the international financial institutions depends on their ability to ally. They split over the IMF presidency last year, and despite their narrowing to two candidates for the World Bank, it’s difficult to imagine them rallying over the Nigerian candidate.”
Secretary Clinton in Brazil: After yesterday’s conclusion of the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Colombia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in Brasilia, Brazil, today and tomorrow for meetings on the Global Partnership Dialogue and the Open Government Partnership (OGP). She and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will “welcome 42 new countries into the [OGP] as they announce concrete commitments to prevent corruption, promote transparency, and harness new technologies to empower citizens,” according to a State Department press release. AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak notes that “with last weekend’s summit not signaling any kernel of hemispheric unity, this week’s meetings are an important opportunity for the Americas’ two largest economies to show that one of the most important relationships in the hemisphere continues to strengthen.”
Repsol Proposes Talks with Argentina: Reports surfaced last week that the Argentine government was mulling a takeover of the majority of shares of YPF SA, the country’s largest oil company. Those reports sparked an international backlash especially in Spain, where YPF’s parent company Repsol is based. Spain’s minister of industry warned on Friday that Argentina would become an “international pariah” if it went ahead with the takeover—and Argentina has since delayed the project rather than abandon it. The head of Repsol is currently in Argentina and is urging talks between his company and the Argentine government. Look out for developments this week.
Chávez in Cuba for Extended Stay: Although he planned to attend last weekend’s Summit of the Americas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez instead departed for further medical treatment in Havana after doctors advised him on Saturday not to travel to Cartagena. On the same day, the Venezuelan legislature legally authorized Chávez to leave the country for up to 90 days. Pay attention to how Venezuelans react to the possibility of a prolonged absence of the president—especially the opposition eager to unseat him.
Progress in Drug-Related Violence?: Last weekend’s Summit “served as a good forum for discussion over drugs—and that was about it,” according to Sabatini. But while no final declaration was made on this longstanding problem, there was one glimmer of hope on Saturday. El Salvador, one of the Northern Triangle countries embattled by the bitter gang violence surrounding narcotics trade, experienced its first homicide-free day since President Mauricio Funes took office in June 2009. Whether this is a one-off success or the beginning of a pattern remains to be seen.
On Wednesday, October 12, just in time for the October 13 State Visit of South Korean leader Lee, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The agreements were too long delayed, but the overwhelming margin of victory for all agreements in both chambers gives credibility to the argument that the Administration frequently made: to build sustainability for the trade agenda, broad-based political support was required, and political support had to be developed over time, with careful and methodical coalition building. In the end, Panama received 300 votes in favor of the agreement in the House, passing by 171 votes. The most controversial agreement, Colombia, received 262 votes and passed by 95 votes. Compare that to the passage of the trade agreement with Central America in 2004, which won approval by exactly two votes. This new margin of victory lays the groundwork for renewal of a politically sustainable trade agenda, and is a bright spot for those of us who believe trade remains one of the best tools that the United States has to support our security and economic interests abroad.
The agreements still need to be signed by the President and there will be a period of time before implementation actually occurs. But the biggest battle has been won. As a result—this being Washington—claims of credit abound. Indeed, there is much credit to go around. But some are more equal than others in this department, and deserve to be singled out for special praise.
The first, of course, is President Obama himself. At a yet-to-be-determined political cost, and little potential direct political benefit, the President defied the roots of the Democratic party to advance the agreements as part of his “doubling exports in five years” initiative. Unquestionably, his views on trade have evolved since the 2008 campaign, and by moving the deals forward, he has effectively neutralized trade as a potential wedge issue for the 2012 presidential campaign, which, importantly, will provide greater political flexibility to the President on these issues after January 2013. He got the deals done and moved them forward. He won’t get appropriate credit for it, but that does not mean he does not deserve it.
Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who renegotiated the agreements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who publicly set a deadline when she told the foreign minister of Colombia in June that the deals would be done by the end of 2011, and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley did much of the political heavy lifting to lay the groundwork for submission to Congress. They are all on the heroes list.
Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya signed an agreement yesterday in Cartagena, Colombia—brokered by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—that allows him to legally return to Honduras for the first time since being overthrown in a June 2009 coup d’état. This accord was conceived at a meeting early last month between Santos, Chávez and current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.
As part of the deal, Zelaya and his supporters will be allowed to participate in the Honduran political system. Corruption charges against Zelaya were dropped earlier this month. Lobo has pledged not to appeal them, meaning Zelaya can reenter Honduras without fear of prosecution Honduras is also expected to rejoin the Organization of American States as a full member, after being suspended one week after the coup took place.
At the Council of the Americas’ annual Washington Conference earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for this pact. Clinton noted that it will help reintegrate Honduras into the international community, calling this step “long overdue.”
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.
Calderón on NorthAm Integration, Clinton on Hemispheric Cooperation
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered her views on U.S. collaboration with Latin America in a new era at the 41st Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, saying: “We are interdependent, and we have to deal with the real questions that interdependence poses.” The secretary talked on a range of hemispheric issues, from the near-term goal of approving Colombian and Panamanian trade deals to academic exchange, institution building, and security pacts. Mexican President Felipe Calderón closed the conference by talking about the need to deepen North American integration, and said: “The closer we are, the more competitive we will be, and the faster we will grow.” Calderón called the current U.S. immigration system “broken” and described it as a “bottleneck for growth and prosperity.” He also called for U.S. leadership on climate change and bilateral security issues, pointing out that winning Mexico’s fight against organized crime required Washington’s collaboration to tackle arms trafficking, money laundering, and drug consumption in the United States.
Other speakers at the conference included Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, U.S. Senator John McCain, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Get complete coverage at AS/COA Online.
Obama Steps up Call for Immigration Reform
President Barack Obama gave a major speech in El Paso on May 10, calling for comprehensive immigration reform that would include a path to citizenship for the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. It was the fourth major event over the last three weeks in which Obama continued his push for reform, though he did not clarify when legislation will come or how he will win over opponents in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Read an AQ blog post by Senior Editor Jason Marczak about the renewed call for immigration reform.
The Mexican Senate confirmed Marisela Morales yesterday to the post of attorney general—the first woman to hold the position of chief lawyer—in an 84-15 vote. Morales was formerly deputy attorney general for special investigations and organized crime under Arturo Chávez Chávez, who resigned last Thursday after 18 months as attorney general.
Morales will continue her work tackling narcotrafficking and organized crime, which has killed over 35,000 people since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took power in December 2006. She is the third attorney general under Calderón.
This represents a positive step forward toward gender equality in Mexico, which was one of the lowest-ranking Latin American countries in the “Global Gender Gap Report,” published last year by the World Economic Forum. Morales was recognized for her efforts last month by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the 2011 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony.
The U.S. Embassy in Brazil announced yesterday that President Obama’s speech in Rio de Janeiro, scheduled for this Sunday, will change venue. The President’s appearance was originally scheduled to occur in Rio’s historic plaza Cinelandia, but instead he will deliver remarks at the Municipal Theatre. The embassy did not issue a reason for the change in location, and has not yet confirmed whether the event would be open to the public.
In preparation for the President’s visit, Brazilian authorities began securing the premises by closing off numerous streets on Thursday night. Some of the areas surrounding Cinelandia had been covered with anti-U.S. banners hanging from a roadside fence. Some social organizations and union groups have declared Obama a persona non grata and called for a protest the event, criticizing the U.S.’s foreign policy and the War on Terror.
There is much anticipation around Obama’s first diplomatic visit to Latin America as president. Brazil, the largest power in the region, will be the President’s first stop. As U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon said last year, Brazil and the United States have begun “encountering each other in places where traditionally we have not.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will discuss U.S.-Latin American relations in a televised speech entitled "Our Opportunity with the Americas” today at 2:00pm.
With the recent trip of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Mexico on January 24, and the even more recent visit of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the White House on February 4, the past several weeks have seen a lot of high-level engagement on North American issues.
In many respects the relationship between the United States and its two neighbors is as strong as it has ever been. With Mexico, the level of cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking is unprecedented. North of the border, President Obama is extremely popular, and the bond between Obama and Prime Minister Harper is robust.
But, as with all relationships, not everything is perfect. Take, for example, the cross-border trucking program with Mexico. Agreed to under the North American Free Trade Agreement, it was implemented for the first time as a pilot project in 2007 by then-President George W. Bush. The United States suspended the program in 2009, and Mexico responded by imposing tariffs on about 90 U.S. agricultural and manufactured exports worth about $2 billion a year.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Port-au-Prince yesterday to meet with Haitian politicians regarding the ongoing presidential elections. She met with incumbent president René Préval and the three leading candidates after the November 2010 vote: former first lady Mirlande Manigat, construction executive Jude Célestin and popular musician Michel Martelly.
The preliminary results were originally contested when Martelly—long expected to advance to a second round—lost out to Célestin to advance to the runoff. After much international pressure, the Organization of American States (OAS) conducted an investigation, and issued a report recommending that Martelly be included in the runoff instead of Célestin. Secretary Clinton said yesterday that the Obama administration supports the OAS’ findings. Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council is expected to issue its final ruling on Wednesday.
Although the presidential runoff is scheduled for March 20, with results to be announced on April 16, Préval is constitutionally required to leave office on February 7. However, an emergency bill passed by Haiti’s parliament last year allows Préval to stay in office until May 14. Célestin, a member of Préval’s Inité party and widely viewed as his political protégé, has in recent days rebuffed Préval’s calls to withdraw from the race.
In addition, a Department of State press release noted that Secretary Clinton visited a cholera treatment clinic to monitor ongoing reconstruction efforts after last year’s earthquake.