Top stories this week are likely to include: President Obama discusses immigration reform in the State of the Union; Ecuador prepares for presidential and congressional elections; Colombia and FARC make progress in peace negotiations, Venezuela’s currency devaluation goes into effect; and Mexican farmers begin to release suspected criminals in negotiations with Guerrero state.
President Obama to Discuss Immigration, Guns in State of the Union Address: U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to renew his demand for comprehensive immigration reform, gun control and climate change in this Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, according to senior officials. Obama has called for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. and told House Democrats that immigration reform will be a “top priority and an early priority” of his second term. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban American and one of eight U.S. Senators in a bipartisan effort to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, will deliver the Republican response—a signal that the GOP is seeking to overcome its poor standing with Latino voters in the last election. “The president and Senate negotiators have laid out two different visions with respect to a path to authorized status for undocumented immigrants. The principles to be laid out in Tuesday’s speech will set a marker of just how much the president is willing to negotiate,” said AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak. Tuesday’s speech will be the 100th State of the Union address.
Ecuador Prepares for Elections Next Sunday: Ecuador's presidential race will enter its final week as voters at home and abroad prepare to elect the country's next president and members of the national assembly on February 17. President Rafael Correa is heavily favored to win re-election to a third term. A survey last week by polling agency Perfiles de Opinion showed that 62 percent of expected voters support Correa, while only 9 percent of voters say they support his nearest rival, Guillermo Lasso. Correa has held office since 2007, and if he wins Sunday’s elections, he will serve a four-year term that will end in 2017.
Colombia and FARC say they are Nearing an Agreement on Land Reform: The Colombian government and FARC leaders said Sunday that they are making progress in the latest round of peace negotiations in Havana, which included an "exhaustive analysis" of land reform. During a press conference on Sunday, the FARC said that they are prepared to free two police officers and one soldier captured by the rebel group in January, fulfilling demands by the Colombian government to release the hostages at once. FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda said Sunday that the negotiations were on track and advancing at “the speed of a bullet train.” The sixth round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC will start on February 18.
Venezuelan Currency Devaluation Takes Effect Wednesday: The Venezuelan government's long-expected currency devaluation, announced last Friday, will officially go into effect on Wednesday. The official exchange rate will change from 4.3 bolivars to the dollar to 6.3 bolivars to the dollar, the fifth time the country’s currency has been devalued in a decade. Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro, currently leading the country in the absence of the ailing President Hugo Chávez, said that the devaluation was needed to fund the country’s social programs, and was also a response to attacks on the bolivar by capitalist “speculators.” The impending devaluation has already caused a rush of panicked last-minute shoppers to buy domestic appliances and other goods over Carnival weekend.
Mexican Farmers Begin Turning over Hostages: Mexican farmers in the township of Ayutla who detained 53 suspected criminals in January released 11 of their hostages last Friday after negotiations with the Guerrero state government. The farmers, fed up with recent drug-related violence and kidnappings in their community, have formed so-called “self-defense” forces to set up checkpoints, capture and imprison suspected criminals before trying them before an ad-hoc town assembly. The vigilante justice has been criticized by human rights groups, but the farmers say they are acting to protect themselves in the absence of the state, which has so far tolerated the movement. The Guerrero state government said the farmers agreed to turn over "the first 20" detainees, though it's not clear whether more will be released. The farmers have said they will not back down until the government proves it is capable of protecting them and establishing peace in the region.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Cubans apply for foreign visas; Nicolás Maduro, Diosdado Cabello and Latin American leaders visit Chávez in Havana; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner travels to Asia; and Barack Obama begins his second presidential term.
Cuba Loosens Travel Restrictions: The directive announced last October to relax regulations on Cuban travel overseas goes into effect today. The measure eliminates the requirement for Cubans to have a government permit and an invitation letter from abroad when applying for a passport. However, the Cuban government still reserves the right to refuse passports “to those deemed risky to public security, national defense or for other reasons, and limit travel by professionals considered ‘vital’ to Cuba,” according to MercoPress. The Associated Press is reporting long lines forming outside travel agencies, migration offices and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana today in response to the policy.
Chávez Remains in Havana: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ health remains uncertain following his December 2012 surgery in Havana on an unspecified form of cancer—causing him to miss his own inauguration last week. Now that Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice has delayed Chávez’ swearing-in until an indefinite, ambiguous date when Chávez recovers, many Venezuelans are questioning who is in charge. Over the weekend, Vice President Nicolás Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello traveled to Havana to meet with Cuban President Raúl Castro. Former Vice President Elías Jaua has said that Chávez is “fighting for his life” while Information Minister Ernesto Villegas asserts that the Venezuelan leader is responding to treatment. Pay attention this week to see if more information is revealed about the state of Chávez’ health.
CFK in Asia: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner departed Cuba yesterday, where she was meeting with Raúl and Fidel Castro, and continued to the Middle East and Asia for a three-country tour through next Monday. She arrived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, yesterday to speak at the World Future Energy Summit and will leave tomorrow for Jakarta, Indonesia, for a visit that will focus on advancing bilateral cooperation with the world’s fourth most populous country. Fernández de Kirchner will depart Jakarta on Friday for Vietnam, where she will visit Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. The president’s visit follows a trade mission last October led by Secretary for International Trade Beatriz Paglieri.
Obama’s Inauguration: U.S. President Barack Obama begins his second term on Sunday. However, since the January 20 date falls on a Sunday, the public ceremony on the National Mall in Washington DC will be pushed back one day to Monday, January 21. Obama will be sworn in on Sunday at a small, private gathering.
Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper interrupted his trip to India to offer President Barack Obama his congratulations on his reelection. In Canada, there had been talk that Conservative Prime Minister Harper may have preferred a more ideologically-similar partner like Mitt Romney to govern our closest political neighbor and ally and strongest commercial partner.
But anyone who knows Canadian-American relations and history should know that interests and interpersonal relationships play a greater role than ideological kinship.
To his credit, Harper, who won a minority government victory a month before Obama's win in 2008, sent a clear signal that his approach to U.S. relations would be pragmatic and sensitive to the president-elect's interests and agenda. The appointment of NDP Premier Gary Doer as Canada's ambassador to Washington in 2009 had all the makings of Harper's desire for a smooth and operational relationship. He was not wrong: Doer has shown aplomb and pragmatism while gaining access, which is so critical and crucial for a functional partnership.
Top stories this week are likely to include: the United States heads to the polls; Puerto Rico decides on status; Michel Martelly requests emergency aid; and Rafael Correa gets re-nominated for president.
Elections in the United States: On Tuesday, voters across the United States will go to the polls to vote for the next president as well as all congressional representatives and select governors and senators. A poll of polls from Real Clear Politics has President Barack Obama maintaining a razor-thin edge—0.5 percentage points—over Governor Mitt Romney. The difference-maker could be the turnout of Latinos, a demographic that supports Obama by 52 percentage points over his Republican challenger according to a poll released last week by Latino Decisions. AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak observes: “The question is the degree to which Latino political preferences will translate into votes, especially in battleground states. Beyond Election Day, Latino turnout tomorrow will shape the extent to which their concerns will factor into policymaking in the next four years.”
Puerto Rico's Referendum: Voters in Puerto Rico will decide on Tuesday about the future of the island’s status. Currently it is a semi-autonomous “unincorporated territory” of the United States that—since it is not a state—plays no role in the U.S. presidential general election. Puerto Ricans will decide whether they want the island to gain more autonomy as a “sovereign free association,” or whether Puerto Rico should become a U.S. state or independent altogether. Tuesday’s vote will be the fourth time in 45 years that Puerto Ricans have formally weighed in at the ballot box on the status of the island. A poll last month found that a slim majority—51 percent—want to keep the island’s current status intact, according to AS/COA Online. “This is probably the most complicated ballot used for a referendum on Puerto Rico’s status and will likely split the vote for those opposing the commonwealth’s status quo,” observes AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini.
Haiti Rebuilds After Superstorm Sandy: Sandy, which took on many forms including tropical storm, hurricane and post-tropical storm, left much damage in its wake—including in Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and the United States. But a country that appears to have suffered the most long-term damage is Haiti. According to the Associated Press, 70 percent of crops in the south of the country were destroyed and livestock killed—significantly damaging the agricultural industry. President Michel Martelly is appealing to the international community for emergency aid as his country adds the superstorm damage to the loss inflicted by a devastating earthquake outside of Port-au-Prince in 2010. Will Martelly’s request be granted this week?
Correa to be Nominated at Party Convention: Ahead of Ecuador’s presidential election in February, the Alianza País incumbent party will hold its convention on Saturday and re-nominate President Rafael Correa to represent the party on the ballot. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño affirmed this past Wednesday that Correa, first elected in December 2006, will run for another full term. If he wins, the populist leader will remain in power into 2017. Early polls show Correa with a huge advantage over potential challengers, bringing in 56 percent of votes versus Guillermo Lasso, an ex-banker of the opposition who garners 23 percent.
During the last presidential debate, Mitt Romney put the spotlight on an aspect of his five-point economic plan that has received little scrutiny. Romney said forging trade deals with Latin American nations would be a cornerstone of his plan to revitalize the U.S. economy. “The opportunities for us in Latin America we have just not taken advantage of fully. As a matter of fact, Latin America's economy is almost as big as the economy of China,” he said.
Like the other parts of the plan, Romney’s Latin American trade plan is short on details. There are two details that should make Americans think twice about whether more trade deals with Latin America can lead to prosperity. First, the U.S. already has trade deals with most of the major Latin American countries. Second, the outstanding countries, most notably Brazil, would likely not negotiate a trade deal on Romney’s terms.
If any U.S. president wants to significantly increase trade with Latin America, he will have to change the template for U.S. trade deals so that they can truly make the U.S. and its trading partners better off. Time is running out. China has quickly become the largest trading partner for many South American nations and Chinese trade deals are much more amenable to Latin Americans.
The U.S. has trade deals with Mexico—under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—as well as with most Central American and Caribbean nations, Peru, Chile, and Colombia. Moreover, the U.S. has investment treaties with Argentina, Haiti, Ecuador, Grenada, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. It had a deal with Bolivia that Bolivia withdrew from earlier this year.
This is a rush, unedited transcript of the presidential debate on foreign policy at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida on October 22, 2012:
Welcome and thanks, 50 years after the Cuban missile crisis and as a segue I want to ask about...Libya...talking point...Afghanistan in 2014, maybe, maybe not...talking point...Iraq!...horses and bayonets...Iran will never get nukes...talking point...the 1980s called and they want their foreign policy back...talking point...you want to cut defense...do not...do too...sequestration will NOT happen...liar, liar, pants on fire...talking point...Iran will NOT get nukes...the U.S. economy is bad...it’s better...it’s worse...I know how to fix it...you have never done foreign policy...Iran!...China is a big country far away, they do bad things to their money, it hurts us...it helps your off-shored investments...yours too...talking point...we are the world’s beacon of hope...did I mention Iran?...please vote for me...please vote for me.
This is only an approximation of how the “foreign policy” debate went. Still, the evening was a play for undecided voters in swing states—with the economy as the hook. An outside observer would be hard-pressed to believe that U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century had to do with anything beyond the Middle East; Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel, Libya, Iran, Iraq, and Syria were all discussed at some length over the course of 90 minutes. What about Europe? China was debated briefly at the end, and received what seemed like cursory attention especially since much of the viewing audience had long gone over to watch baseball and football games. Governor Mitt Romney purposefully brought Latin America into the mix on the trade and economic front, but the issues were not pursued and were quickly dropped.
Nuclear proliferation? Global climate change? The South China Sea? Japan? The use of force? Nothing.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appeared on the Spanish-language Univision network Wednesday night in a bid to convince Latino voters to unseat President Barack Obama in November.
During his 35-minute appearance before a largely supportive audience at the University of Miami, Romney emphasized his accomplishments as Governor of Massachusetts and said he would do a better job than Obama of finding a "permanent solution" to undocumented immigration.
"We're not going to round up people around country and deport them, we're not going to round up 12 million people," Romney said when asked whether he would deport undocumented immigrants or repeal Obama's policy of deferred action. He later said he would "staple a green card" to the diploma of immigrants who serve in the U.S. military or graduate with advanced degrees.
Univision partnered with Facebook and the University of Miami for Wednesday and Thursday's two-day "Meet the Candidates" series, providing an alternative, bilingual forum for both presidential candidates to appear before a primarily Latino audience in the run up to the elections. According to an ImpreMedia/Latino Decision poll released Monday, Latino voters favor Obama over Romney by a margin of 68 to 26 percent.
Univision launched "Meet the Candidates" last month, after the Commission on Presidential Debates released an exclusively Anglo-American lineup of debate moderators and denied Univision's request to schedule an additional debate with a Latino moderator focusing on issues of importance to Latinos.
"It's so interesting, because the Commission on Presidential Debates seems to believe that it is OK to have an African-American president, but it is not OK to have a moderator from a minority group," said Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, who moderated Wednesday's forum alongside Maria Elena Salinas.
More controversy erupted when Univision and the University of Miami announced that the distribution of tickets to "Meet the Candidates" would be controlled by campus Republicans and Democrats, rather than distributed randomly by student lottery. As a result, Wednesday's audience was audibly supportive of Romney and could be heard jeering a number of the interviewers' questions, particularly when Romney was pressed to provide more details about his stance on immigration.
An Obama-friendly audience is expected to attend Thursday's forum for the president, which will be live-streamed on Univision's website and Facebook page in both English and Spanish. Viewers were encouraged to submit questions to the candidates via Facebook.
A new Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll revealed that Florida voters overwhelmingly support comprehensive immigration reform that would give people living in the state illegally a pathway to citizenship. Of the 800 registered voters interviewed from across the state, 66 percent said they support immigration reform that allows people living in the Umted States without legal status to stay and apply for citizenship. Another 28 percent oppose it, and 6 percent are undecided. According to Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, the nonpartisan, company that conducted the poll, "most voters here support some sort of way to solve the problem."
The telephone survey, conducted from July 9-11, also found that 53 percent of Florida voters favored President Barack Obama's recent move to protect some younger illegal immigrants—so-called “DREAMers”—from being deported, while 42 percent opposed it and 5 percent of voters were undecided. Coker noted that support for the president's action is wide, but may be dulled by the way President Obama handled it. Although the administrative action will allow young undocumented immigrants who were raised in the U.S. to remain for two years under a deferred deportation, work and go to school, it does not provide a path to citizenship for them.
Both Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney are courting Hispanic voters, especially in the swing stages of Florida, Nevada and Colorado. Although President Obama leads Romney among this voting bloc in most polls, he must shore up his support among Latino voters to win in November. Romney would not need to win over all Hispanic voters, but he does need to peel away some to compete in the swing states.
The Mason-Dixon poll also found that 53 percent of Florida voters support the right of police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest for a violation or crime. Forty percent opposed it, and 7 percent were undecided.
The margin of error for the poll was 3.5 percentage points.
Today marks the date of entry into force of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA). What a long, strange trip it’s been since the agreement was signed in 2006. The rear-guard action of those opposed to trade generally, those opposed to the United States in Latin America specifically, and those who sought to use the agreement as leverage to promote narrower special interests has been fierce. In the end, however, it became politically untenable and strategically short-sighted to continue to deny both Colombian as well as U.S. citizens the benefits of the trade agreement, and, as a result, today marks the beginning of a new chapter in U.S.-Colombian relations.
Nonetheless, amid well-deserved celebrations within the trade community, we should not lose sight of the fact that the current moment is just the next step. It is a critically important step, to be sure, one that should have occurred years ago, and one that, by its absence, held up much of the rest of the hemispheric agenda for the past several years. It is important that the U.S.-Colombia FTA be seen as a tool for the improvement of the lives of people in both nations, and that, together, we work toward that outcome through close attention to the implementation process. And it is equally important that the United States and Colombia begin now to work toward a broader trade agenda, one that would bring Colombia as a Pacific nation into the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum as well as near-term participation in negotiations to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Colombia should also be invited to join the G20 as a permanent member, and, once all standards have been adequately met, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), too.
Colombia is a nation on the move, and an engaged, strategically-minded United States would seek to capitalize quickly on the success of the bilateral FTA by working with others to bring Colombia into the broader global trade and investment architecture. Colombia has a well-established and hard-earned record of success, and it has proven over the years to be a close friend of the United States. At a time when we need allies globally, we should do what we can to promote Colombia’s broader ambitions, consistent with our own interests, just as we are doing with nations outside this hemisphere.
President Barrack Obama’s pronouncement in favor of gay marriage certainly qualifies as both historic and courageous, not only for its content but also for its timing. Some critics already see some political machinations in this statement, which came shortly after Vice President Joe Biden seemed to indicate support for gay marriage. The polling data, however, would indicate that the president made a somewhat risky move whose ramifications remain uncertain.
The issue of gay marriage has been a polarizing issue more so in America than in my home country of Canada. In the 2004 presidential election, the Bush campaign cleverly used state referenda on banning gay marriage or defending traditional marriage as an instrument to bring out the religious right in favor the president. Considering the narrow victory by Mr. Bush over Senator John Kerry, it has become conventional wisdom to consider the tactic a success.