Top stories this week are likely to include: the U.S. embargo of Cuba turns 50; Chile votes in municipal elections; final U.S. presidential debate; Argentina-Ghana standoff continues; and Canada may reconsider protectionist energy move.
Cuban Missile Crisis: Fifty years ago today, then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced a naval blockade of Cuba after U.S. spy planes found missile sites supported by the Soviet Union. On that evening in 1962, President Kennedy delivered a television address vowing to end the Cuban Missile Crisis, which he termed a “clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace.” Today, Cuba is slowly undergoing economic reforms and the Cuban government is fending off rumors of former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s death—“yet oddly a policy that has failed to produce change and has hamstrung U.S. diplomacy (the embargo) is still in place. It’s telling that the embargo will likely outlive Castro—the man whose government it was intended to take down.” says AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini.
Chilean Municipal Elections: On Sunday, Chileans will head to the polls for elections in municipalities across the country. For the first time, “voting will be voluntary with automatic registration, which will allow all Chileans 18 and older to vote. The change could potentially double the number of voters, allowing up to 5.2 million to vote—half of which are under age 29,” according to AS/COA Online. Also, Chile’s ongoing educational protests will come to the fore, as the secondary school system is administered by local municipalities and 70 percent of Chileans support students’ calls for inexpensive, high-quality education.
Extra: Stay tuned for an AQ Web Exclusive this week from NYU Professor and La Tercera columnist Patricio Navia on the elections.
For a country that abhors political dynasties, the announcement by Justin Trudeau on October 2, 2012, that he would vie for the leadership of the Canadian Liberal Party drew a stream of comments and analysis. Surely, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (1968-1979, 1980-1984) would have been proud of his son’s decision, but he would undoubtedly have known that the expectations would be high. The response in Canada’s English language media ranged from skepticism to nostalgia to hope and excitement. In Québec’s French language media, the response was more tepid, with a mixture of indifference, amusement and curiosity.
Trudeau’s main claim to fame outside of his illustrious name is his ability to have been elected in a Montréal riding that once belonged to the separatist Bloc Québécois in 2008 and resisting the New Democratic Party (NDP) wave in 2011. Lately, the 40-year-old Trudeau took on a Conservative Senator in a “boxing” match for charity, and won handily. For moxie, the young Trudeau can be reminiscent of his dad at times.
This being said, the Canada of Pierre Trudeau has been transformed since the former prime minister left the scene in the 1990s. Constitutional issues involving Québec no longer dominate the political landscape. The preponderant role of Central Canada (Ontario and Québec) in Canadian politics has begun to shift toward Western Canada (Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia) making Justin’s Québec credentials less significant than they were for his father.
The Liberal Party, which he wishes to lead, has also been transformed from its “natural governing party” status to that of a third party. Quite a descent for a party that governed for 75 years in the twentieth century! The progressive voice in Canadian politics is now primarily in the grasp of Tom Mulcair, official opposition leader and head of the NDP party. Becoming the leading progressive voice in the Canadian parliament will be the primary challenge for Justin Trudeau if the Liberal Party hopes to regain a semblance of its former status.
OTTAWA-The election landscape has changed in the predominantly-francophone province of Québec. On September 4, les Québécois elected a minority pro-independence party, le Parti québécois (PQ) with Pauline Marois at its helm.
This makes life a lot simpler for Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister. A referendum on the separation of Québec from the rest of Canada, a lifelong dream for Marois, is on the backburner at least for now.
Still, the worst thing for Harper would be to be too complacent, observers say.
If he doesn’t want to go down in history as the prime minister “who lost Québec” he has to “calculate his moves,” says political scientist Louis Massicotte from l’Université Laval in Québec City.
The conditional invitations for Mexico and Canada that were first extended during the G-20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, this past June, have now become permanent. Both North American governments announced yesterday that they had joined the now-11-strong Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a cross-oceanic trade zone, in a move that was widely expected.
Public hearings for Canada and Mexico conducted by other TPP members were necessary prior to full invitation, according to TPP guidelines. Specifically, the U.S. Congress just completed a 90-day consultation that allowed the accession process to move forward.
Canada and Mexico now join the United States, Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam in a trade alliance that encompasses 658 million people and a combined GDP of $20.5 trillion—or 26 percent of global GDP.
Mexico and Canada will join their nine allies in Auckland, New Zealand, for the next round of TPP talks from December 3-12.
Newspapers across Canada are recalling the events and the issues related to the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA) of 1987. Yes, it’s been 25 years, and the general impression in the reports seems more positive than negative. Canada’s premier newspaper, The Globe and Mail, titled it the “deal that freed Canada’’.
The FTA was later transformed into the North American Trade Agreement with Mexico (NAFTA) in 1993. While there remain some detractors on both sides of the border, no one is really questioning its existence, and if anything, both the U.S. and Canada have actually expanded their free trade impetus to other parts of the world.
It is worthwhile to recount that the FTA was not a deal without its obstacles and difficulties in Canada. The unions generally were opposed because of its feared impact on jobs and existing social programs such as Medicare. Some provincial premiers, including David Peterson of Ontario, and the federal leaders of both opposition parties in the national parliament (John Turner of the Liberal Party and Ed Broadbent of the National Democratic Party—NDP) resisted Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney‘s initiative with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and are still to this day somewhat unenthusiastic about the deal and its promise.
The truth is that while the results may be mixed, the absence of the FTA would have deprived the Canadian economy of greater access to the world’s largest market at a time when both countries were coming out of a recession. In the early years, until 2000, the trade level rose dramatically—exports to the U.S. tripled, and imports from the U.S. increased significantly. With Canada getting its government deficit and debt problems under control in the 1990’s, Canadians entered the new millennium poised for better days. The FTA was in effect delivering on its promises, at least in its early days.
We may be observing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s last trimester in this pivotal and strategic post. Hillary became a household name during her husband’s presidential years. Her subsequent six year tenure as New York Senator, along with her “break the glass ceiling” campaign for the U.S. Presidency, has made her one of the most influential leaders in the world. This will be apparent at UN week in New York.
Until Barack Obama burst onto the scene, the probability of Hillary as President was highly likely. To this day, there remains speculation that she will be a candidate in the 2016 Presidential election. Presidential politics seem to go well with the current Secretary of State. The fact that President Obama was able to convince her to accept being his Secretary of State says much about the President, but it says much more about the kind of public servant Hillary Clinton is.
Canadians have generally shown greater affection for Democrats in the White House over Republicans since the JFK assassination. Most Canadians would have preferred a second Clinton Administration under Hillary’s stewardship than any other choice in 2008. While President Obama remains highly popular north of the border, Secretary Clinton is seen as very effective on her own, and very much a co-architect of the Obama foreign policy. Canadians appreciate her moderation, her civility, her approach to diplomacy and her overall civic engagement.
Relations between Canada and the U.S. under the Obama Administration are built on mutual respect and mutual interests. Clinton has worked closely with two successive Foreign Affairs Ministers, Lawrence Cannon and John Baird. The Canada-US partnership remains the closest on the planet both commercially and strategically.
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.
A few weeks ago in a previous blog, I cited the JFK quote, “civility is not a sign of weakness.” Let me tell you a story about two politicians from different ends of the political spectrum who were not in the arena at the same time, but who share one thing in common—civility. They are former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, and former Québec Premier Lucien Bouchard.
Last week, Mr. Lougheed passed away at age 84, and tributes to his character have not stopped coming in.
During the same week, Mr. Bouchard launched a book about the importance of young people and their involvement in political life. In so doing, Mr. Bouchard was asked to comment on the new political situation in his home province of Québec. The party he led, the separatist Parti Québécois, has regained power after 9 years in opposition, and the return of the PQ has once again raised concerns about the future of Canadian unity. Bouchard easily dominated the news with some frank talk, and in the process, he actually questioned his former party’s political agenda. It took courage for him to do so.
Unlike in other Canadian provinces, a Québec election can have repercussions on the functioning and future of the Canadian federation. Since 1970, the separatist Parti Québécois (PQ) has been a significant force in Québec politics. It has formed governments on two occasions: 1976-1985 and 1994-2003.
Last week, on September 4, PQ won a minority government with 54 seats, compared to 50 seats for the outgoing Parti Libéral du Québec (Québec Liberal Party—PLQ). It was a close election with only 31.9 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots for the PQ, the lowest total for a government in Québec history. Nonetheless, Pauline Marois became the first woman elected as premier in the history of the province. A dedicated sovereignist, determined and perseverant, she should not be underestimated as she takes over the reins of power in a minority government.
Departing Premier Jean Charest leaves office after winning three consecutive mandates. Following the election results, Charest decided to end a 28-year career in both federal politics (i.e., Ottawa) and provincial politics (i.e., Québec). His career stands out as possibly the most unique in Canadian history: he left a promising federal career, having served for a short period as deputy prime minister of Canada, to run for provincial politics and became premier in 2003.
It is too early to draw sweeping conclusions about the Charest era. Suffice it to say that he promoted Québec’s role in the Canadian federation and that he departs office with support for Québec separatism at its lowest level, despite the PQ win.
In Canada, the Conservative party has had a majority government since May 2011, yet it never talks about dismantling the nation’s social safety net. Both the opposition parties, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals, have led governments in our federation—in the case of the NDP at the provincial level, and Liberals at both levels—that have produced balanced budgets and worked to reduce the public debt. The one constant between parties of the Left and the Right in Canada since the mid-1990s has been the recognition given to three important tenets usually associated with fiscal conservatism: the means to keep social programs viable and sustainable, or cuts must follow; the need to balance yearly budgets; and the obligation to address the debt burden as part of GDP.
With the political convention season ending in the United States, the Democrats and the Republicans are also presenting policies and making promises on how to deal with existing social programs, yearly government deficits and the increasing debt. Unlike Canada, the thorny issue of eliminating taxes or bringing in new taxes, and the maintenance of existing social programs in order to deal with yearly deficits and long-term debt have been the wedge issues between Democrats and Republicans since the Reagan days, and are at the center of the 2012 presidential debate. Republicans want to balance budgets by reducing the size of government through lower taxes and cutting spending. Democrats, taking a page from Bill Clinton’s playbook, want to balance budgets with a mixture of cuts and raising revenue. Of the two, it is fair to say the Democrats resemble most of the Canadian approach.
The reality today is that the issues of social programs, deficits and debt must be addressed outside the prism of ideological purity and rigidity. Undoubtedly, the social safety net in both countries, with its universal character which emerged in the post-depression years often out of necessity, and in the post-World War II period because of prosperity, will be hard to dislodge. In the United States, “Don’t touch my Medicare or my social security” is a more powerful force than “Lower taxes on the rich, cut spending, and reduce the size of government.” I am certain Canadians would have similar reflexes .
Does this mean that we are condemned to the status quo? Must we be resigned to the fact that deficit and debt will eventually drive us over the cliff, and then it will be too late? The debate should not be relegated to the Left-Right continuum of politics. Nor should it be limited to one about the role of government, whether it should be active or limited. It should be about the will to act, the need to rise above partisan concerns, and the desire to compromise. In this regard, failure to endorse the Bowles-Simpson Commission Report on the Debt in the U.S. was likely a missed opportunity.