This week’s likely top stories: Brazilians demonstrate against corruption; Colombian generals investigated; Obama and Castro hold meeting; Puerto Rico seeks debt help; Chilean communities fight mining companies over water.
Hundreds of Thousands Protest Corruption in Brazil: Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets on Sunday to protest government corruption. Estimates of participants vary, but police say almost 700,000 citizens protested, while organizers of the demonstrations claim the number was closer to 1.5 million people. The protests, which took place in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and across Brazil, were smaller than the ones that took place in mid-March 2015. Demonstrators then and now claim that President Dilma Rousseff was aware of the bribery taking place at Brazil's state oil company, Petrobras, during her tenure there, and yesterday, many called for the president's impeachment. Rousseff’s approval rating sank to just 13 percent following last month’s protests.
Colombian Generals Are Investigated for “False Positives”: The office of the Attorney General of Colombia announced on Sunday that approximately 22 army generals are being investigated for their suspected involvement in the “falsos positivos” (“false positives”) scandal during the term of former President Álvaro Uribe. The case involves thousands of civilians who were promised jobs and then murdered and dressed up as paramilitaries by the armed forces in order to up the military’s kill count. So far, 800 members of the military have been imprisoned and over 5,000 linked to the scheme. Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre Lynett stated that the investigation should conclude by the end of 2015.
Presidents Obama and Castro Meet at Summit of the Americas: At the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama on Friday and Saturday, a showing of anti-U.S. sentiment by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the Venezuelan and Bolivian delegations was overshadowed by a historic meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro. The face-to-face meeting—which was the first between presidents of the U.S. and Cuba in over 50 years—was mostly symbolic, but demonstrated the two leaders' willingness to work together despite ideological differences. Latin American leaders praised the U.S. for renewing relations with Cuba, and experts are now analyzing how Obama can best leverage the renewed credibility. The leaders did not issue a joint declaration at the end of the summit, as a result of President Nicolás Maduro’s demand to include a denunciation of U.S. sanctions in Venezuela.
Puerto Rico Calls on Former IMF Officials to Help with Debt: Puerto Rico’s government and investors have asked former International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials for help in resolving the island's debt crisis. Puerto Rico has hired Anne Krueger, the IMF’s former first deputy managing director, as a consultant, and hedge funds that own Puerto Rican bonds have reportedly approached Claudio Loser, the former director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department. Puerto Rico has over $7 billion in debt, and last month, Fitch Ratings downgraded its debt to a “B” rating. On Wednesday, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority faces a debt payment deadline, but is currently negotiating with creditors about restructuring.
Chilean Citizens and Mining Company Continue Dispute: Citizens in Caimanes, a small community in the north of Chile, are locked in a dispute with mining company Antofagasta Minerals over water, a precious resource in the arid region. Citizens claim that the Los Pelambres copper mine’s tailings dam is contributing to water scarcity and that the mine’s activity is contaminating water in their community. Juan Olivares, one of the citizens that has criticized Antofagasta Minerals, said this weekend, “They say we are looking for an economic reward. That has never been the goal […] We want the law to be respected in Chile.” A recent court ruling ordered the company to demolish the dam, but the company will appeal the decision, and is also exploring further investment in the area.
As a crowd gathered outside the entrance of the Summit of the America’s Hemispheric Civil Society and Social Actors Forum on Wednesday—one of four sponsored gatherings being held on the margins of the summit—a small parade of youth hoisting large Cuban and Venezuelan flags approached. Chanting revolutionary slogans such as “Viva la revolucion! Viva Cuba libre! Viva Venezuela,” they quickly forced their way to the entrance, where they were blocked by de facto bouncers attempting to sift those with badges through the chaos. “All of us or none of us, damn it!” one protester yelled.
The scene was a clear manifestation of the tension leading up to today’s summit, as Cubans from two opposing political poles—both claiming to represent the real Cuba—have flooded to Panama to be heard. Big name Cuban dissidents such as Berta Soler and Miriam Celaya headed human rights forums this week sponsored by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba and Florida State University-Panama. Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez represented her new publication, 14 y medio, in the press pit—alongside Granma and other Cuban state publications. While famed Cuban musician Silvio Rodríguez inaugurated the parallel People’s Summit on Thursday, his son Silvito El Libre was slated to perform at a hip hop show sponsored by the Nation Endowment for Democracy in another part of town.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has been under fire from both sides of the Cuba divide since he invited Cuban President Raúl Castro to the summit (Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama soon after issued their historic announcement of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement on December 17). Miami hardliners and Cuban dissidents condemned the temporary detention of dissident Rosa María Payá after she arrived at the Panama City airport, as well as the perceived legitimization of Cuba’s current government by Panama. Meanwhile, the Cuban government and pro-Castro groups protested the reported arrival of Guillermo Fariñas—recently pictured with Luis Posada Carriles, who was involved in the 1976 bombing of the Cuban flight 455—and Félix Rodríguez, implicated in the death of Che Guevara.
Clashes between Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents and pro-government supporters marked the initial proceedings of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City on Wednesday, two days before the summit officially begins. Cuba’s participation in the summit for the first time has sparked encounters between pro-Castro supporters and the Cuban exile community, many members of which are critical of Cuba’s invitation to the summit and the U.S. government’s warmed ties with the country.
A civil society forum, attended by Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, began an hour late after Cuban officials and supporters staged a protest against the presence of Cuban dissidents, whom they referred to as “mercenaries” and “terrorists,” as reported by EFE and AP. Venezuelan representatives also left the event in a show of support for the Cuban delegation.
Also on Wednesday, police reportedly arrested 12 people after supporters of the Cuban government came to blows with dissidents outside the Cuban embassy.
Cuban activists began arriving in Panama over the weekend, when it was reported that Rosa Mariá Payá, a high-profile Cuban dissident, was detained by Panamanian authorities upon her arrival in the country. Officials later released Payá and issued an apology.
Meanwhile, a protest in a Panama City park reportedly drew approximately 300 Venezuelans who demanded the release of political prisoners in their country.
Lilian Tintori, the wife of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo López, arrived in Panama Wednesday alongside Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, the wife of imprisoned Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma. On Tuesday, prosecutors in Venezuela formally charged Ledezma with attempting to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. The two women have decried what they describe as a deteriorating respect for human rights Venezuela and have called for the release of their husbands and more than opposition 30 mayors detained by the government. Tintori is reportedly expected to meet with President Bill Clinton while in Panama City.
More from AQ:
The Summit of the Americas in Panama this week could produce public performances worthy of an Academy Award nomination. Following recent efforts to re-establish diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro may stage a carefully choreographed handshake.
This eagerly anticipated moment could usher in a new chapter of U.S.–Latin American relations, as leaders south of the Rio Grande have repeatedly called for an end to U.S. aggression against Cuba. However, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro could upset the party by criticizing recent U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, which have been unanimously rejected by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Yet beyond the theatrics, there could be very important diplomatic exchanges behind the scenes, which could prove pivotal for the world’s response to global climate change.
The United Nations climate change negotiations are headed towards a major deadline this December in Paris to create a new global agreement. The Summit of the Americas presents an ideal place for the U.S. and Latin American and Caribbean leaders to candidly and privately discuss the issue.
If the U.S. wants to keep the Summit of the Americas process on track and regain some measure of influence in the hemisphere, it will have to change its Cuba policy, pronto. Reframing our policy and saving the Summit process isn’t as tough as it seems; it just takes leadership.
In coming months, the United States is going to face a tough choice: either alter its policy toward Cuba or face the virtual collapse of its diplomacy toward Latin America. The upcoming Summit of the Americas, the seventh meeting of democratically elected heads of state throughout the Americas, due to convene in April 2015 in Panama, will force the Obama administration to choose between its instincts to reset Cuba policy to coincide more closely with hemispheric opinion and its fears of a domestic political backlash.
During her visit to Washington on September 2, Panama’s vice president, Isabel Saint Malo, indicated her intention to invite Cuba to the Summit, but public U.S. statements failed to commit President Obama’s attendance.
The periodic inter-American summits have become more important than ever for U.S. regional diplomacy, but our Latin American neighbors have said—firmly and unanimously—that unless Cuba is invited, their chairs will be empty. At the same time, the alarming specter of photos of Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro conversing around the same table, apparently as equals, will set off a political reaction among the Cuban-American hardliners, Democrats and Republicans alike—the thought of which gives the White House politicos heartburn.
Dice el Nobel de Literatura Mario Vargas Llosa, en su último libro, el primero después de ganarse el prestigioso galardón, que asistimos a la “civilización del espectáculo.” Su argumento es que cada vez más la cultura se confunde entre lo banal y lo espectacular y que temas como el sexo y la vida privada hacen más que nunca parte de la esfera de lo público. Aunque la discusión de lo mediáticamente importante puede ser de largo aliento, lo innegable es que un espectáculo mediáticamente taquillero en la semana poscumbre de las Américas, ha sido el de los agentes del Servicio Secreto que hacían parte del cuerpo de seguridad del Presidente Barack Obama, quienes durante su visita a Cartagena pagaron servicios sexuales a prostitutas. O muchachas prepago, o damas de compañía como prefirió llamarlas el alcalde de Cartagena, Campo Elías Terán, quien consideró “injusto” llamarlas prostitutas—y puntualizó indignado que el puerto “no es el Cabaret de Suramérica.”
Ya a estas alturas sabemos mucho de ellas: Cuántas eran (20); quién es la mujer que pidió $800 por sus servicios y le pagaron $30 (Dania), razón por la cual desató el escándalo (vimos su rostro y por supuesto su cuerpo para poder hacer la valoración pertinente sobre si su reclamo era legítimo); y los bares donde trabajaban, burdeles cuya clientela aumentará solo por la morbosa curiosidad. Los medios corrieron por la exclusiva como si se tratara de la mismísima “garganta profunda,” y hasta hay rumores de que el New York Times le pagó para que no le hablara a ninguna otra publicación.
El periodista que destapó el escándalo en el Washington Post, Ronald Kessler, es más famoso aún, como también algunos de los 12 agentes que participaron en tamaño desliz (y de paso su familia sometida a escarnio público), cuyas fotos en Facebook coqueteando con otras mujeres ya son de dominio público, y cuyas cabezas rodarán dentro de poco, quizá junto a la de Mark Sullivan, director de la agencia que le cuida la espalda a uno de los hombres más custodiados del mundo.
Last weekend’s Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, ended on a discordant note with no final communiqué outlining a joint statement on the conference’s outcome. The refusal by the United States and Canada to accept Cuba at the next Summit created a schism with their Latin American and Caribbean partners who supported Cuba’s inclusion, although President Obama and Prime Minister Harper were acting in a manner consistent with previous positions regarding Cuba‘s participation. The lack of a communiqué, however, should not be seen as a failure but rather as a time to reflect.
The U.S. embargo of Cuba is essentially a relic of the Cold War period when Fidel Castro embraced the Soviet bloc, and later, when the world teetered on the brink of a nuclear confrontation during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Clearly, in this presidential cycle with Florida remaining a swing state and with its fiercely anti- Castro Cuban population, Obama had little room to maneuver. Admittedly, there is no appetite in both the Democratic and Republican parties to turn Cuba into a political issue in the short term.
Despite this predictable outcome, it is reasonable to hope that both the U.S. and Canada take a fresh look at Cuba and the post-Castro period. Both Castro brothers are aging and communism is no longer a major geopolitical factor on the global stage. Latin American countries have emerging economies with increasingly stable democracies wanting to reach out with trade overtures. In this era of the Internet and globalization, it is unlikely that the iron fist of the Castro legacy will be able to maintain its grip for years to come. In any case, the embargo has not achieved its goal. Why not explore the option of engagement?
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.
Summit Advances Cooperation Despite Lack of Declaration
The uproar over the scandalous behavior of U.S. Secret Service agents, combined with front-page reporting of Secretary of State Clinton’s late-night party at a local salsa club appear to have drowned out more serious coverage of last weekend’s sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.
Maybe it’s for the better. There isn’t much positive news to report—at least from a U.S. perspective.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón may have been impressed by President Obama’s patient demeanor during days-long speechifying by hemispheric leaders on issues ranging from the U.S.-led war on drugs to Argentina’s territorial claims to the Falkland Islands. But at the end of the day, 30 regional leaders refused to sign even a symbolic joint declaration, largely out of protest against U.S. policies that prevent one of our closest neighbors, Cuba, from joining the conversation. Even the host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, acknowledged that future summits will be in jeopardy unless Cuba gets its seat at the table.
To be fair, when it comes to Cuba’s participation, both sides have valid points. Latin American leaders rightly point out that the U.S. embargo and policies of isolation are ineffective Cold War relics. The Obama administration and Canada correctly note that membership in the Organization of American States (OAS), which organizes the summit, is reserved for democratically-elected governments, which Cuba’s is not. But what’s missing from this largely rhetorical debate is less wishful thinking and more nuts and bolts analysis on how to improve U.S.–Cuba relations in the years leading up to 2015, when Panama has offered to host the next summit.
Since taking office, President Obama has unilaterally relaxed rules on travel and remittances to Cuba to their loosest levels since the late 1970s, and he seems poised to do more. Given ongoing reforms in Cuba, changing attitudes in South Florida and growing calls for policy changes in the U.S., a substantially warmer relationship is possible.
The catch is that the ball is in Havana’s court and the Cubans refuse to pave the way to better relations by making one simple gesture: releasing 63-year-old USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned since December 2009 on charges stemming from his work to distribute sensitive communications technologies to independent civil society groups in Cuba.
Disregarding the particulars of either sides’ positions on Gross’ imprisonment, it’s safe to say that he has become a pawn in a larger diplomatic chess match and a thorn in the foot of U.S.–Cuba relations. Despite early indications that the Cuban government would consider releasing Gross on “humanitarian grounds,” they have since tied his fate to that of five Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned since 1998 in the U.S. and suggested that a prisoner swap is the only way to resolve the impasse—a nonstarter for the White House. So, Gross remains—in the views of many observers—the single biggest impediment to further bilateral progress.
The Cubans should let Alan Gross go home now. Here’s why:
No nos digamos mentiras: los únicos resultados concretos de la Cumbre de las Américas se hicieron a la medida de Estados Unidos. Unas pocas horas antes de que el presidente Barack Obama aterrizara en Cartagena, dos leyes sustanciales para la aprobación del Tratado de Libre Comercio (TLC) fueron aprobadas a pupitrazo por el Congreso de Colombia.
Por su propio veto (el de Estados Unidos), temas cruciales que marcaron la agenda mediática y política las últimas semanas, no se discutieron en la Cumbre: la inclusión de Cuba en próximos encuentros continentales y la defensa argentina de la soberanía de las Islas Malvinas. Ese disenso motivó que no hubiera declaración final conjunta. Una cumbre sin declaración, es como una reunión sin acta: ni idea quién estuvo ni qué se dijo, ni en qué orden, ni quién apoyo qué. Claro, aquí se sabe más que eso, pero varias de las reuniones fueron privadas, y las públicas fueron sin duda políticamente correctas.
Por tanto más hubiera valido hacer una cumbre bilateral y no un encuentro con 31 invitados que costó al menos 25 millones de dólares (según la propia cancillería) en los que algunos se fueron molestos (Argentina y Bolivia), otros cortaron su estancia inexplicablemente (Brasil) y otros se tomaron fotos con los indígenas Wayuu y hablaron de responsabilidad social (Chile) pero a la hora de la verdad tampoco aportaron al debate grueso que prometía marcar la diferencia en esta cumbre: la discusión sobre la política antidrogas.
Pese a que el mismo José Miguel Insulza, secretario general de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) dijo que ya era hora de una estrategia antidrogas propia para el continente, desde pronto Barack Obama, entrevistado en medios latinoamericanos, tanto como Juan Manuel Santos en medios norteamericanos, lanzó frases políticamente correctas como que aceptaba la responsabilidad de su país en el consumo, pero siempre fue claro en que no estaba de acuerdo con la despenalización.