Top stories this week are likely to include: Enrique Peña Nieto tours Latin America; United Nations General Assembly gets underway; Venezuela’s presidential election intensifies; European Union continues free-trade talks with Canada; and Paraguay seeks reparations from Mercosur.
Peña Nieto Visits Latin America: Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto departed yesterday evening for his six-country Latin America tour, which will take him to Guatemala, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru this week. Eduardo Sánchez, spokesperson for Peña Nieto, says that the trip’s purpose is to strengthen “the position that Mexico has in the region and the possibilities that it has as a country to build itself as a facilitator” in Latin American relations. Issue topics that are expected to dominate the agenda include security, migration and trade. AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak adds, “each visit will highlight how a Peña Nieto government will seek to elevate Mexico’s role in the region and in working with each country bilaterally. Strengthened cooperation with Guatemala is critical for improving security and migration flows, Colombia has important lessons learned in security, the Chile and Peru visits are linked to trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Brazil visit will likely seek to set the two countries on a path toward trade collaboration rather than trade competition.” Peña Nieto told Brazil’s Época magazine that “free trade, far from protectionism, is the path that we should take to make Latin America a thriving actor in the global economy.”
UNGA Gets Underway: The sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly opens debate tomorrow afternoon at 3:00p.m. in the New York secretariat. Access the agenda here. Heads of state are expected to arrive next week, where they will make their plenary addresses.
Venezuela's Presidential Election: In the lead-up to Venezuela’s October 7 presidential contest, it was revealed over the weekend that incumbent President Hugo Chávez would not select a running mate in spite of his widely speculated deteriorating health. Chávez’ challenger, Henrique Capriles, has not selected a likely vice presidential candidate either. Further, Venezuelan polling firm Consultores21 released a poll over the weekend putting Capriles Radonski two percentage points ahead of Chávez – 48 percent to 46 percent.
Related: Americas Society and Council of the Americas will host a discussion on September 18, titled “The Road to Venezuela’s Elections: A Look at the Media, Public Opinion, and the Economy.” The president of Consultores21 will speak on the panel.
EU - Canada Trade Talks Continue: Officials from the European Union will arrive in Ottawa this week for the penultimate round of negotiations with Canada on a free-trade pact. An agreement is farther behind schedule. As Americas Quarterly reported in early 2011, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement was anticipated to be signed in the middle of last year.
Paraguay to Demand Reparations from Mercosur: The Paraguayan foreign ministry filed grievances with the Argentine, Brazilian and Uruguayan embassies in Asunción a few days ago on the charge of “grave arbitrariness” since its suspension from Mercosur following the ouster of former President Fernando Lugo. In a separate release, the foreign ministry noted that “Paraguay has the right to demand moral reparation for the offences infringed upon the dignity of the Republic, as a State and as a member of the international community, as well as claim compensation for the economic losses and damages suffered.” President Federico Franco has charged Mercosur as an “ideological club of friends,” and is intensifying his rhetoric against the South American trade bloc that does not recognize his presidency as legitimate. Expect Argentine, Brazilian and Uruguayan responses from the grievances this week.
Extra: Today begins the first full week of National Hispanic Heritage Month in the U.S., which lasts from September 15 to October 15.
The presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay will meet Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in Brasilia today to formalize Venezuela’s full admission into Mercosur, the largest trade bloc in South America.
Venezuela’s entry was approved in 2006 and recognized in subsequent years by the parliaments of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, but failed to materialize due to opposition by the Paraguayan Congress. Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur after Fernando Lugo’s impeachment on June 22, 2012 opened the door for Venezuela to formally join.
Paraguayan President Federico Franco—who was not permitted to attend the meeting—asserted that Chávez’s goal in joining was to give him an electoral push in the upcoming October elections. The visit to Brazil will be the Venezuelan president’s first official trip abroad since he was diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. Chávez, who turned 58 last Saturday, has lately appeared in more rallies and public events after declaring himself free of cancer earlier this month.
Chávez claims that Venezuela finally joining Mercosur is a sign of the United States’ failure in South America, as he claims that Paraguayan resistance is a product of American diplomacy. However, due to its tight exchange controls and high dependency on imports, Venezuela will benefit the least from participation in the regional bloc. The country will also have to meet a series of conditions, which might include resuming diplomatic relations with Israel that have been broken since 2009.
Top stories this week are likely to include: post-election protests in Mexico; OAS to issue its report on Fernando Lugo’s ouster; anti-mining protests continue in Peru; Raúl Castro arrives in Vietnam; and ASEAN-Latin America Business Forum gets underway.
PRD Alliance Questions Peña Nieto’s Victory: Although officially declared the winner on Friday by the autonomous Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute—IFE), Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto still faces criticism of fraud by second-place candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) . Ricardo Monreal, AMLO’s campaign manager, accused the PRI of vote-buying at a press conference this morning. In addition, tens of thousands of demonstrators claiming to belong to no political party protested over the weekend in Mexico City decrying the IFE result. Will the situation turn to a repeat of 2006? AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak notes there’s a clear difference between the 2012 election and what happened six years ago: “With only a few hundred thousand votes separating López Obrador and Calderón in 2006, AMLO saw an opening for a recount through protests and pressure on a still fragile electoral process. But this time, in losing by about 3.5 million votes, AMLO will only serve to discredit his nationwide appeal by crying foul and once again being a sore loser.”
Updates on Lugo’s Ouster: The Organization of American States (OAS) is expected to release its report today on its fact-finding mission last week to Paraguay to investigate former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo’s removal from office. The delegation was headed by OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza. The U.S. has said it would wait for the OAS verdict to issue a formal statement on the legality of the ouster—a move that has drawn criticism. With Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro reportedly endorsing a military coup to restore Fernando Lugo to power, the situation in Paraguay is still contentious and perhaps the OAS report will provide more clarity on the issue.
Peruvian Anti-Mining Protests Heat Up: After police clashed with protesters demonstrating against natural resource extraction in northwest Peru, the death toll has climbed to five. A state of emergency has been imposed in the Cajamarca region, and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has come under fire for his administration’s handling of the demonstrations. Nevertheless, tensions are still high and this week could very likely see a new wave of protests. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, who is in Huaraz, Peru this week, notes, “President Humala will have to do something to address the protests, including trying to verify claims of pollution and improving overall access to social services in mining communities—while not appeasing some of the more extreme groups.”
Raúl Castro in Vietnam: After wrapping up a trip to China last week, Cuban President Raúl Castro arrived in Vietnam yesterday for a four-day official visit aimed to strengthen bilateral relations. This is Castro’s first visit to Vietnam as Cuba’s president, and he is scheduled to meet with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Community Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang. Sabatini observes, “The purpose of the trip is twofold: First, to help Raúl and the group better understand the process of economic and limited political reform that has taken place in Vietnam as a model for Cuba—though the comparison is thin. But second, Cuba—in this and other efforts it has made—is trying to diversify its economic relations and lifeline beyond Venezuela.”
ASEAN, Latin America Deepen Commercial Ties: The third annual business forum between Latin American nations and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members takes place today and tomorrow in Jakarta, Indonesia. The theme of the forum is: “Towards a Sustainable Future.” ASEAN is comprised of Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. For more information on the forum, including programs, speakers, organizers, and partners, access its website.
Today’s Mercosur presidential meeting, in Mendoza, Argentina, is getting rather more international attention than it likely anticipated. Previously expected to be little more than tussling over tariffs and a perfunctory discussion of fiscal woes in Europe, the focus now will be Fernando Lugo’s sudden removal from the Paraguayan presidency last Friday.
Although Paraguay claimed to adhere to due legislative process, Lugo’s vice president Federico Franco was sworn in mere hours later, causing international observers to ask if the swift removal had, in fact, been a bloodless coup. In Brazil, use of the neologism “golpeachment”—a combination of the Portuguese words for impeachment and coup—quickly began to spread through social networking sites.
Condemnation came swiftly from Paraguay’s neighbors, leery of regional democratic instability following a series of bloody coups in the 1970s and 1980s. The Mercosur alliance—founding members being Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—suspended Paraguay from this week’s meetings.
Here in Brazil, the Foreign Ministry refused to confirm circulating reports that President Dilma Rousseff had drawn up “a menu of sanctions” against Franco’s government, and as the week wore on it looked increasingly likely that Brazil’s response would remain diplomatic. As Colin Snider, a professor of Latin American history, pointed out in an interview, Brazil’s ambassador to Paraguay was recalled “for consultations,” but not withdrawn permanently, “an important marker on the more moderate, ‘wait-and-see’ approach from Brazil.”
Mercosur member nations officially decided today not to impose economic sanctions on Paraguay; Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) said that Mercosur doesn’t believe in sanctions because “they never hurt governments; they always hurt the people.” Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota gave hints yesterday that he would advise against economic sanctions.
Top stories this week are likely to include: effect of Fernando Lugo’s impeachment; Supreme Court verdict on Arizona’s immigration law; Mexico elects a new government; Julian Assange’s asylum request to Ecuador; and Mercosur summit in Argentina.
Backlash to Lugo’s Ouster: After former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo was impeached last Friday by the opposition-dominated legislature in a 39-4 vote, his vice president, Federico Franco, was sworn in later that evening as the country’s new head of state. Lugo, while accepting the decision of Congress, likened the move to a “parliamentary coup.” Franco belongs to the same coalition—the Patriotic Alliance for Change—as Lugo, who was ousted due to his handling of deadly land clashes the week prior that killed at least 17 people. In response, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Venezuela removed their ambassadors to Paraguay while other countries such as Colombia recalled its ambassador in Asunción for consultations. According to CNN, the governments in Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic said they will not recognize Franco as the legitimate leader of Paraguay. It was just announced this morning that Paraguay will be suspended from this week’s Mercosur summit in Mendoza, Argentina, although Lugo will still attend. However, pay attention for any official declarations from Mercosur later this week on the Paraguay situation. Notes AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, “As we saw in the case of Honduras in 2009, democratic institutions and rules—when weak—can be manipulated to undemocratic ends. In both cases, presidents were denied fundamental rights of due process. I fully expect that at the Mercosur summit member governments will take action to threaten punishment of the post-Lugo government. UNASUR will likely do the same. The question is: Will anyone care if the OAS does?”
Supreme Court Verdict on SB 1070: The U.S. Supreme Court verdict on Arizona’s restrictive immigration legislation—SB 1070—was delivered this morning, which invalidated three of the four controversial provisions of the law but did uphold the “papers please” provision, which permits police officers to ask for documentation from anyone they suspect of being in Arizona illegally. This ruling could have ripple effects in other U.S. states that have adopted similar legislation, such as Utah, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak observes: “Today’s ruling is a partial victory for the rights of immigrants and for any American who may appear to be an immigrant. By blocking three of the four provisions, including the section that would have allowed police officers to arrest anyone if there was probable cause of their being in the U.S. without authorization, the Court by and large held firm that federal regulations must supersede the growing patchwork of state-level immigration laws. It is unfortunate that the Court upheld the bill’s provision whereby police officers can conduct status checks, but it did severely restrict when and how those checks can be applied.”
Mexico Elections on Sunday: Aside from the presidency, all 628 seats in the Mexican legislature (500 in the Chamber of Deputies, 128 in the Senate) are up for grabs in the nationwide election on Sunday, July 1. In addition, the executive and legislative branches of the Federal District government will be chosen as well as the governorships in the states of Guanajuato, Jalisco and Morelos. While Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto looks poised for victory as he has led the polls for months, a Barclays Capital analysis predicts a PRI win in Congress.
Assange’s Asylum Request: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange broke terms of his house arrest in London last week when he sought refuge in Ecuador’s embassy to the United Kingdom, claiming asylum under the UN Declaration on Human Rights. Sweden is seeking Assange’s extradition from the UK based on sexual assault charges; Assange fears that Sweden will turn him over to the United States. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño has said that Ecuador is considering the request, based on Assange’s account that he is being persecuted. Sabatini says that an agreement from Ecuador to take in Assange “would be said because he would effectively be given asylum for rape charges, not as a martyr for freedom of expression.”
Mercosur Assembly in Mendoza: An annual meeting of Mercosur members and observers is taking place this week in Mendoza, as Argentina holds the rotating presidency of the trade bloc. Higher-level meetings will occur on Thursday and Friday. While this summit has been planned for months, Friday’s news of Lugo’s ouster—Paraguay is a founding member of Mercosur—has thrown Paraguay’s future status in the alliance under speculation. A statement this morning from the Argentine foreign ministry, signed by all Mercosur nations, “energetically condemns the rupture of the democratic order in the Republic of Paraguay for not having respected the right to due process.” Observes Sabatini, “Watch for the member governments to take formal action to isolate the post-Lugo government.”
The forty-second summit of members of the Southern Common Market (Mercado Común del Sur, or Mercosur) begins today in Montevideo, where Uruguay will hand the six-month presidency of the trade bloc over to Argentina. The economy ministers of the four founding countries—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—will convene today, and their presidents will do so tomorrow.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who has expressed interest in full membership in Mercosur, will also attend. Currently, Ecuador is an associate member of the bloc, along with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela.
One of the top issues at the summit will be fast-tracking the upgrade of Venezuela’s membership to “full” status. The parliaments of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have already ratified Venezuela’s bid, but it remains stalled in Paraguay’s congress. Despite the bid having the imprimatur of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, many congressmen from the opposition Colorado party have concerns with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ indifference to Mercosur’s “democratic clause.”
Mercosur’s charter mandates that accession of new members requires unanimous approval from the presidents and legislatures of current members. Venezuela’s bid is already five years old.
Uruguayan President José Mujica has said he would propose amendments to membership rules at this semiannual summit. He elaborated by saying that Venezuela’s membership in Mercosur is “important because it would provide a direct link between Mercosur and ALBA [Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América, or Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas].”
The U.S. is donating $1.156 million in equipment and training to help Paraguay combat a small guerrilla army in the north of the country. In a news release on Wednesday, the U.S. embassy said the money would be directed toward police training for rural operations, vehicles, communications gear, and improvements to police facilities in the jungle region where the Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army–EPP) operates.
The EPP has carried out bank robberies, ransom kidnappings and attacks on police and military posts in the San Pedro and Concepción departments in Paraguay’s north. Though rumored to have only about 20 armed members, it has been behind particularly high-profile crimes—including, in 2004, the kidnapping and murdering of Cecilia Cubas, the daughter of a former president. It is also thought by some officials to have ties to Colombia’s FARC.
Since the spring of 2010, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has made defeating the EPP a priority. Congress granted him emergency powers for 30 days in April 2010, authorizing arrests without a warrant and army accompaniment of police in security operations in five departments. The crackdown met with mixed results and divided public opinion. Last October Lugo approved a congressional resolution to declare a 60-day military siege in the departments of Concepción and San Pedro. Though the siege officially expires on Saturday and has failed to produce the capture of any insurgents, Ministry of the Interior Carlos Filizzola reiterated that security forces would continue to work in the north “to capture the members of the EPP and completely dismantle this criminal organization.”
In 2009, the U.S. donated equipment to Paraguay to help an elite military force combat urban terrorism.
The sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) general debate began this morning in New York. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon opened the debate session followed by Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the 66th UNGA and Qatar’s permanent representative to the UN.
This year, the first head of state to speak was Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, followed by U.S. President Barack Obama. President Rousseff’s prominent speaking slot at the UNGA is not only significant for Brazil, but also for women: Rousseff was the first female president in the UN’s 66-year history to open the General Assembly—a fact she highlighted at the opening of her remarks.
Rouseff began her visit to New York at a special meeting on Monday regarding non-communicable diseases, which was chaired by the former president of Chile—and current executive director of UN Women—Michelle Bachelet. Rousseff also co-chaired a meeting yesterday with Obama on open government partnership.
Additional Latin American heads of state that will deliver their opening speeches today to the morning session of the UNGA include: Mexican President Felipe Calderón; Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. In today’s afternoon session, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, and Bolivian President Evo Morales will deliver their remarks.
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The Paraguayan Congress on Thursday rejected a constitutional amendment that would allow presidential re-election. Supporters of President Fernando Lugo’s Alianza Patriótica por el Cambio (Patriotic Alliance for Change—APC) party presented the opposition-controlled Congress with a petition of 100,000 signatures urging lawmakers to overturn one-term limit that dates back to 1992. But after Thursday’s ruling, President Lugo—who has claimed no interest in running for re-election—will leave office at the end of his first term in August 2013.
Several supporters of the amendment walked out of the hearing in protest of the decision, including Senator Carlos Filizzola, who said, “We are turning our backs on the country, they have smacked the citizens.” But Senator Lilian Samaniego was skeptical of the president’s stance on the re-election issue, saying the "campaign for re-election is encouraged by the president of the Republic, who with his classic ambiguity intended to appear as alien to the attempted constitutional violation."
Lugo was elected in 2008, ending six decades of rule by the Colorado Party on pledges to champion the needs of the poor.
Paraguay’s Senate is expected next week to vote in favor of Venezuela’s bid to join Mercosur—Mercado Común del Sur or Southern Common Market. The anticipated approval will be Venezuela’s final hurdle before assuming full membership of Latin America’s preeminent trade bloc, completing the process it began in 2006.
Mercosur nations are divided into three categories: full members, associate members and observers. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay are the founding signatories and full member nations; Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru comprise the associate members, while Mexico is the only observer. The parliaments of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have already ratified Venezuela’s bid. The Paraguayan Senate needs 23 of 45 senators to support the measure, and observers predict that the simple majority will favor it despite the Senate being controlled by the opposition Colorado party.
Venezuela’s robust supply of oil and energy commodities is attractive to Paraguay, although Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ indifference to Mercosur’s “democratic clause” is a point of concern to Paraguayan senators who oppose the bid. It has also been reported that President Lugo’s administration, which strongly favors Venezuela’s accession, has promised high-level political appointments to undecided senators—particularly those in the UNACE party, a former faction of Colorado.