It was difficult for any Latin Americanist (not to mention Latin American) not to feel a swell of surprise and pride when New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson broke into Spanish at the end of his speech announcing his appointment to Commerce Secretary last week.
The announcement further filled out President-elect Barack Obama’s economic team. Governor Richardson adds to the moderate perspective and international perspective of a very capable, talented team. But as his heavily Mexican-accented closing remarks indicated, he also brings a unique focus to the job. The son of a Mexican mother and American banker father, raised briefly in Mexico City, Richardson doesn’t come from the working class immigrant world. But he does bring with him a true commitment (and responsibility) to the hemisphere and Hispanic voters.
In his closing remarks, he spoke first to Hispanic immigrants, thanking them for their support and promising that their vote brings a voice. And then he spoke to the “millions of Latin American citizens” pledging that “hay que fortalecer los nexos y recordar la importancia de un hemisferio unido.”
Minister Rodrigo Rivera has announced that in the first week of February he will travel to Washington DC to consult his U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on Colombia’s U.S.-backed efforts to combat drug trafficking.
During his visit, Mr. Rivera’s discussions will focus on violence sparked by nacrotrafficking organizations. The administration of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has been retooling its counternarcotics strategies since the beginning the year when two students from a prestigious Bogotá university were found murdered by suspected drug traffickers near a beach on Colombia's Caribbean coast.
Mr. Rivera’s U.S. trip will follow his visit next week to Venezuela, where he will hold meetings with Venezuelan Defense Minister Jose Mata Figueroa to discuss border security and the possible intensification of military border operations to fight illegal armed groups.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim on Saturday in Geneva announced that Argentina is on track in 2010 to become Brazil’s largest trade partner behind China, replacing the United States in second position. The announcement was shared at the eighth annual International Institute for Strategic Studies meeting.
Bilateral trade between the two Mercosur-member countries is projected to reach up to $34 billion by the end of this year. This comes despite trade relations between Argentina and Brazil being strained at times. Brazil has periodically been accused of using unfair non-tariff policies to favor its import-competing industries. Addressing the need for improved bilateral trade relations with Argentina, Amorim recently called for “a leap forward in [liberating] the services and investment sectors.”
Amorim will continue trade discussions during his European tour and will meet with Pascal Lamy, director general for the World Trade Organization.
President Barack Obama is zipping along with nominations and appointments related to all things Latin America. I am not going to share a laundry list of every post coming from the administration, but here are some highlights and what people are saying.
First, Arturo Valenzuela. As I wrote here months ago, he was nominated as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs in May. Valenzeula, a Chilean-American, served at the State Department and the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton and was an adviser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
If confirmed by the Senate, he’ll be leaving his current job as director of the Center for Latin American Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. His expertise is democratization, security issues, and of course, Chile. And, he really knows how to deal with the media. That’s important.
Venezuelan authorities seized 4,370 pounds of cocaine and arrested three suspects in central Miranda state on Saturday. In a separate case, 1,830 pounds of marijuana were seized in the western state of
Back in April, President Hugo Chávez dispatched federal agents and security forces to take over major seaports and airstrips in four Venezuelan states. Experts offered disparate interpretations for the move; some saw it as an effort to crack down on opposition leaders in three of those states, others as an attempt to placate critics in the US, Russia and Iran.
Farm state senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND), along with at least 13 other senators, are expected to announce legislation this week that would lift restrictions imposed by the Bush administration requiring all shipments of U.S. agricultural goods to Cuba to be paid for before they were left port. If lifted, the change would increase
Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has introduced similar legislation in previous years. In 2007, he sponsored the Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act, which would have prohibited restrictions on payments from Cuban financial institutions and directed the Agriculture Department to promote exports to the island. According to Parr Rosson of Texas A&M University, agricultural sales to Cuba could reach $1 billion per year if restrictions were lifted.
"Every interest group, left, right and center, for one specific reason or another opposes the [immigration] bill. The question is, in a complicated world can Congress rise above those specific interests?"
That’s a quote from the new chair of the Senate’s immigration subcommittee, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who held his first immigration reform hearing yesterday. But my how things remain the same. Schumer actually spoke those words in 1986 as a Brooklyn (NY) congressman. That year he played a key role in brokering a compromise on agricultural workers—allowing undocumented farm workers to become legal immigrants if they had worked at least 90 days from 1985 to 1986—that paved the way for passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).
Panamanians go to the polls on Sunday to elect their next president. Knowledgeable observers including Jaime Daremblum predict that supermarket magnet Ricardo Martinelli will win the election, his primary opposition, Housing Minister Balbina Herrera, being far behind in the polls.
Martinelli is well versed in politics as well as in business, having served as Minister of Canal Affairs and as board chairman of the authority that oversees management of the Canal. His tenure was notable for its lack of drama. When the Canal officially reverted to Panama in 1999 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaties signed with the United States, numerous observers predicted that the Panamanians would either run their most important asset into the ground within a matter of months, or they would turn it over to the Chinese.
Well, neither prediction came to pass over the past 10 years, nor has the prediction that Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez would be able to underwrite the Herrera campaign and exercise undue influence over the incoming government as he has long sought to do elsewhere in Central America. Panama is not Nicaragua, nor is it Bolivia. Nor is it Colombia or Costa Rica, for that matter. In fact, since the country’s founding in 1903, Panamanians have repeatedly shown a knack for independent actions that have routinely confounded their critics.
Lost among all the buzz surrounding the widely publicized handshakes between President Obama and President Chávez in Trinidad and Tobago is yet another conciliatory gesture the U.S. President made this weekend—this time toward Bolivia.
President Evo Morales, who was recently a victim of an alleged assassination plot that left three dead in Santa Cruz last week—including two non-Bolivian conspirators—had publicly raised suspicions that the plot was related to a coup attempt last year, in which he cast blame on the U.S. government. On Saturday, Morales reportedly approached Obama and asked him to publicly repudiate the attempt on his life.
At one of Obama’s final news conferences on Sunday, he specifically mentioned Bolivia in a statement opposing any violent overthrows of democratically elected governments in the hemisphere. The U.S. relationship with Bolivia has been icy in recent years. It appears, however, that behind the shadow of the Obama-Chávez handshakes, there may be room for renewed dialogue between the new administration and leftist governments in the region that had vocally opposed the Bush administration. Morales, who is speaking at a public forum in Harlem (New York City) tomorrow, will have the opportunity to follow suit on Obama's gesture over the weekend—whether he decides to actually do so, however, is another question altogether.
As the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago recedes, several impressions dominate. The first is that most of the hemisphere remains enthralled by Obama-mania and his message to the hemisphere of inclusion, social justice and the more humble exercise of U.S. power and influence. There is a real electricity there, and on balance, much of the hemisphere is ready to put paid to the paralysis of past meetings and engage constructively with the new Administration. I’ve participated in a number of Summits previously, the only one with a similar positive spirit was the first, in Miami in 1994.
Some of the hemisphere remains skeptical, including the leaders of Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and others, but their pronouncements at the Summit were notable for the backing they did not receive from other leaders and simply came off as being tone deaf. Because really, even as global economic recovery continues to be of primary concern, which hemispheric leader wanted to use valuable time at the Summit to hear a diatribe from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega—who gamed Nicaragua’s election and now works hard to subvert Nicaraguan democracy through the institutions of democracy—about the previous alleged sins of the United States? Or to hear Bolivian President Evo Morales prattle on about goofy assassination plots he claims were cooked up in Washington. Talk about magical realism…