The most controversial outcome of last month’s second CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) summit in Santiago, following close on the heels of the first EU-CELAC meeting, was the decision in Santiago to appoint Cuban President Raúl Castro to the chairmanship of the 33-member regional body.
Castro, who will be splitting the two-year term with his Costa Rican counterpart, Laura Chinchilla, could not resist several pointed remarks aimed at the United States. He decried the presence of multinational companies in the region and the U.S.’ continued possession of Puerto Rico. The 81-year-old leader’s message was clear, however:
“We are building the ideal of a diverse Latin American and Caribbean region united in a common space of political independence and sovereignty over our enormous natural resources to advance toward sustainable development [and] regional integration,” Castro said.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos described Cuba’s leadership of CELAC as a “very significant political development with special symbolism.” Though absent from the summit, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez wrote in a letter that the act told “the U.S., with a single voice, that all the attempts to isolate Cuba have failed and will fail.”
Top stories this week are likely to include: Cuba takes over the chairmanship of CELAC on Monday as the summit wraps up in Santiago; a bipartisan group of U.S. senators release a plan for comprehensive immigration reform a day before Obama lays out his proposals; violence in Colombia increases following the end to the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire; Argentina and Iran seek approval for an international truth commission to investigate the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires; mining protesters blockade a highway in Peru.
Bipartisan Senate Group, Obama Release Plans for Immigration Reform
A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators will announce at 2:30pm (EST) a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that is contingent upon first ensuring that new border security measures and an exit system are in place. The agreement comes a day before U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce his proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. The bipartisan group includes Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined the discussions more recently. They met over the weekend to finalize the draft of a principles agreement that also outlines a path to citizenship for undocumented youth, known as DREAMers, and other principles for reforming the immigration system. “Today’s release of bipartisan principles for immigration reform legislation will put down a marker of what will be possible in a potential comprehensive package this spring. This, combined with the president’s speech in Las Vegas tomorrow and the significant weight that is expected to be placed on reform in the State of the Union on February 12, illustrates that if reform is to happen now is the year,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Cuba takes over Chairmanship of CELAC as Summit Concludes
The two-day Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) summit concludes today in Santiago, as Cuba formally assumes chairmanship of the regional body today. CELAC—which includes 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations and excludes the U.S. and Canada—hosted leaders from the European Union, who pledged to deepen ties with Latin America while meeting with regional trade blocs like Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance for trade discussions. As the summit wraps up today, Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro is expected to deliver a message from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—still in Cuba recovering from surgery—who was noticeably absent from the summit. Also absent were Paraguayan President Federico Franco (Paraguay was not invited), Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who left early to deal with the aftermath of the nightclub fire that killed over 230 people in Rio Grande do Sul.
Violent Attacks Increase in Colombia After Ceasefire
In the first week since the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) ended a unilateral ceasefire it had announced in November, the guerrillas have reportedly carried out 32 violent attacks between January 20 and 26, surpassing the number of attacks before the peace talks were announced. The Colombian government warned that the increased violence, including the FARC’s kidnapping of two policemen last Friday, could undermine the rebels’ peace talks with the government in Havana. The third round of talks concluded last Thursday, with no major progress toward ending the conflict between the rebels and the government.
Argentina and Iran Agree to Create a Commission to Investigate Bombing
The foreign ministers of Argentina and Iran agreed Sunday to create an international truth commission that would investigate the 1994 car bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Argentine prosecutors have said that the attack was orchestrated by Iran’s current defense minister and carried out by Hezbollah. Formation of the truth commission will require legislative approval in both Iran and Argentina to move forward, and would consist of five independent judges from other countries that would analyze documentation investigating the attack. Jewish groups in Argentina have said the agreement will strengthen Argentine-Iranian ties at the expense of the victims of the attack, and expressed doubt that any suspects would be brought to trial.
Hundreds of Protestors Protest Mining Project in Peru
Hundreds of protestors in northern Peru are continuing a week-long highway blockade near Cañaris after 31 people were injured Friday in a confrontation with police over the nearby Cañarico Norte copper project. The protesters say that Canadian mining company Candente Copper Corp. will divert water that locals rely on for farming, but Peru’s vice-minister of energy and mines says that the protesters have been misinformed about the project’s environmental risks. Despite the protests, a roundtable meeting will go forward as scheduled on February 2 to discuss the project. Meanwhile, Peru's Ministry of the Environment will publish a guide to reducing social conflict through "ecological and economical zoning."
On August 7, India’s foreign minister held the country’s first dialogue with a troika representing a recently formed 33-nation Latin American group, the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC). The meeting drew little attention, and most media outlets dismissed it as a routine affair, akin to India’s engagements with other multilateral blocs. A more nuanced look, however, indicates a window of opportunity for both India and Latin America.
First, we must explore Latin America’s changing geopolitical priorities over the past few years.
The very nature of the CELAC grouping is reflective of this shift: it was formed in defiance of the Organization of American States to leave out the United States from its political confabulations. Latin America now looks less to its traditional trade partners—Europe and the U.S.—which are preoccupied with their debt crises and political transitions, and the region also no longer sees them as a model they can emulate.
As a result, China is a dominant player in Latin America, with an annual trade of $240 billion. The Chinese presence there is maintained by two pillars: primarily, by a massive exchange of commodities and natural resources, and secondly, by a large Chinese diaspora totaling upwards of 2 million people. This will continue to sustain China’s relationship with Latin America, though more recently there has been a subtle change of policy positioning toward Beijing. Some perceive the flooding of Chinese goods into their markets as a risk; others simply want to engage with new markets.
This is where India comes in. It presents Latin America with an opportunity to diversify and opens the door to a large and promising market.
Today and tomorrow, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will host the foreign ministers of Chile and Venezuela, Alfredo Moreno Charme and Nicolas Maduro, and Cuban Foreign Affairs Vice Minister, Rogelio Sierra. The meeting marks the first official dialogue between representatives of the 33-member Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) and the South Asian country.
According to senior foreign ministry officials, the main objective of the summit is to strength the strategic and economic relationship between India and Latin American and the Caribbean, increasing contact points despite the great geographical and cultural distances. “A meeting with the external affairs minister in this format is indicative of interest (from both sides) in raising engagement between India and the CELAC,” said India foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.
Over the past decade, relations between India and Latin America and the Caribbean have continued to grow, as professor Jorge Heine and ambassador R. Viswanathan showed in their article in the Spring 2011 issue of America Quarterly. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former President Pratibha Patil visited several countries in the region over the past four years, and 10 Latin American presidential visits to India were made between 2001 and 2011. India’s trade with CELAC increased from $2 billion in 2000-2001 to $25 billion in 2011-2012. CELAC receives about $16 billion in Indian investment, which mainly revolves around the hydrocarbon sector, information technology, pharmaceuticals, and minerals. Investment in the energy sector totals $8 billion, but further investment is likely given India’s growing energy needs.
CELAC was created on February 23, 2010, at the Rio Group–Caribbean Community Unity Summit and formally established in July 2011 at a summit in Caracas, Venezuela. It includes 33 countries in the Americas, representing roughly 600 million people, with the notable exceptions of Canada and the United States.
Top stories this week are likely to include: India-CELAC dialogue; Jamaica marks its independence; impact of the Antamina spill; Repsol to meet with Venezuela on YPF; and responses to Petrobras’ poor quarterly release.
India-CELAC Dialogue: Tomorrow, Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna will host a troika of high-level diplomats from the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) in New Delhi with the objective being to deepen relations with Latin America. As Chile currently holds the CELAC presidency, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno will lead the delegation that will also include Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and Cuban Vice-Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra. According to India’s foreign ministry, India’s trade in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) was over “$25 billion in 2011 and cumulative investments are estimated to be $16 billion mostly in hydrocarbons, minerals, agriculture, pharma and IT;” still, there is “vast untapped potential” for further collaboration. This presents an enormous opportunity for Latin America, notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak: “Greater trade and investment linkages with India will be critical for protecting the region against any decrease in demand caused by a slowing Chinese economy. India represents a growing, untapped middle class.” For more on LAC-India relations, read “The Other BRIC in Latin America: India” from the Spring 2011 AQ. As well, AS/COA notes that diplomatic ties between LAC and India have expanded; between 2002 and 2009 the number of LAC embassies in New Delhi grew from 12 to 18.
Jamaica Rings in Independence: Today Jamaica celebrates 50 years of independence from the United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth II remains the island’s monarch, but Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller pledges to loosen ties with Great Britain and make her country a republic. Doing so would maintain Jamaica’s status as a British commonwealth, but would remove the Queen as Jamaica’s head of state and have the prime minister become president. Reflecting on 50 years of independence, Simpson-Miller told TIME Magazine that “despite our challenges, I think we’ve done very well on balance our first 50 years […] Jamaica is more than just the ‘brand’ the world recognizes so well; it’s a place of pride for the people who live here, its educational institutions, its sports achievements, and its science and technology growth.”
Impact of Peruvian Mine Spill: A toxic copper concentrate spilled at the Antamina mine in the Peruvian region of Ancash on July 25 has made over 100 people ill. Antamina’s environmental director has disputed that the material was toxic, instead referring to it as a “dangerous substance that requires a particular handling but not necessarily toxic.” Still, on Sunday, the company was fined for not activating its response plan to the accident. Copper has been instrumental to Peru’s economic ascent, accounting for 60 percent of export income, but “environmental protection has been relatively lax” in the Andean country according to the Associated Press. As more details emerge this week, will the government take additional action?
Repsol Representatives to Meet with Venezuelan Officials on Thursday: Officials from Spanish firm Repsol S.A. will meet with Venezuelan leaders on Thursday to discuss Repsol’s dispute with Argentine firm YPF after Argentina’s government seized a majority share of YPF, formerly held in a joint venture with Repsol. Venezuela has pledged to invest in Argentina to boost its oil production and desires an amicable resolution to the conflict with Repsol and the Spanish government. Repsol has investments in Venezuelan oil and gas fields, according to Bloomberg.
Fallout from Disappointing Petrobras Report: Petrobras posted its worst quarterly report since 1999, registering a R$1.35 billion ($663 million) loss in the second quarter, versus a R$10.94 billion—then equivalent to $6.86 billion—gain one year earlier. Petrobras President Maria Graça Foster blamed the loss in part to an “excessive depreciation” of the real against the dollar. What steps will be taken in response to this report?
At the conclusion of the Fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009, President Obama called for hemispheric partnership in place of “stale debates and old ideologies.” Three years later, the stalest of all debates is once again dividing the region. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa leads a threat to protest the absence of Cuba at the Sixth Summit by boycotting the entire event. While the political storm clouds will likely dissipate before April, the episode reveals the magnified symbolic importance of the lone outlier in the inter-American system.
Correa’s proposal immediately met with the avid support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the other members of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) bloc gathered in Caracas last weekend. In response, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department appropriately pointed out that Cuba has not reached the threshold for participation—the essential elements of a representative democracy—as recognized at the Third Summit in Québec in 2001. The Secretary-General of the Organization of the American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, hastened to add that the Cuban government has not requested “the process of dialogue” necessary to participate in the OAS, as stipulated by the 2009 resolution that revoked its nearly five-decade-old suspension. Meanwhile, Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín has reiterated that an invitation does not depend on her government, which will host the Summit in Cartagena, but rather must result from a consensus decision among the member countries.
The notable lack of consensus is striking for what it says about the incentives and challenges faced by each of the actors involved. Policy toward Cuba has always generated controversy, less for the island itself than for larger principles; Cuba can represent either a litmus test for a government’s commitment to human rights and democracy or, as is so common in Latin America, a measure of a government’s independence from Washington. While this week’s debate does indeed spark a sense of déjà vu, it also demonstrates shifting dynamics in inter-American relations.
For Ecuador’s agent provocateur, Cuba fits neatly into a strategy of discrediting the OAS in favor of hemispheric organizations that exclude the United States, principally the new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Correa is locked in a fight with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous branch of the OAS that has documented his abuse of press freedoms. Fellow firebrand Hugo Chávez is facing his own domestic problems, with rising inflation and crime endangering his electoral prospects in the October presidential contest while also contributing to a loss of regional influence for the ALBA bloc. In this context, Caracas and Quito have little to lose in promoting Havana’s participation in the Cartagena Summit, even knowing that the proposal will be a non-starter in Washington.
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.
Brazil’s Senate Passes Forest Code Bill as Amazon Deforestation Declines
On Monday, Brazil’s Senate passed a controversial forest code bill with overwhelming support. The bill alters an existing forestry law, and would increase the amount of forest farmers can legally cut down. It would also offer amnesty to those who illegally deforested land before 2008. The bill must pass the Chamber of Deputies before being submitted to President Dilma Rousseff, but still faces still opposition. Environmentalists have rallied support against the bill, and a Folha de São Paulo report today reveals that 50 congressmen received $8.3 million in campaign donations from agribusinesses that would receive amnesty under the new law.
Coincidentally, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reported this week that deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 2011 reached its lowest level ever recorded since 1988. Between August 2010 and July 2011, Brazil lost 6,238 square kilometers of rainforest, 11.7 percent less than the same period last year.
Brazilian Labor Minister Steps Down
Brazil’s embattled Minister of Labor Carlos Lupi resigned on December 4, becoming the seventh member of President Dilma Rousseff’s team to step down since she assumed office, and the sixth on account of corruption. Brazilian press accused Lupi of diverting taxpayer money to NGOs, an accusation he repeatedly denied. In his resignation, he stated: “I leave with the clear conscience of a duty fulfilled, of my confident, personal belief that the truth always prevails.” Hoping to avoid another political crisis, President Rousseff also called on Fernando Pimentel, minister of Development, Industry, and Foreign Trade, to discuss his time as a consultant between 2009 and 2010. Brazilian newspaper O Globo suggested he may be involved in influence peddling and non-payment of services rendered.
Read an AS/COA Online hemispheric update about the Rousseff administration’s attempts to rein in corruption.
State of Emergency Declared in Peru Amid Mining Protests
On Saturday, President Ollanta Humala announced a 60-day state of emergency following large-scale protests against Peru’s largest mining project in the Cajamarca province. Residents oppose the $4.8 billion Conga mine, operated by American company Newmont Mining, since they believe it will cause environmental damage and contaminate the water supply. The state of emergency permits arrests without warrants. On Tuesday, police arrested two protest leaders; Wilfredo Saavedra, head of the Environment Defense Front of Cajamaraca, and Milton Sanchez, the head of a civic association were questioned and detained for 10 hours.