“Pese a casi dos años de reflexión y discusión, los países de la región llegaron sin un acuerdo a la Asamblea General de la OEA convocada para definir el futuro de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH)”. Así encabezaron distintos medios de comunicación su cubrimiento de la maratónica reunión de cancilleres realizada el 22 de marzo en Washington DC.
Esta presentación, sin embargo, no captura del todo su compleja realidad. En primer lugar, si bien es cierto que no existía acuerdo total en todos los países, es innegable que existía una inmensa mayoría que consideraba que la CIDH había respondido satisfactoriamente sus dudas y que, por tanto, querían dar por terminado este largo proceso.
Por el contrario, en una posición aislada y minoritaria, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua y Venezuela (los llamados bloque Alba), pese a que sus propuestas habían sido derrotadas, insistían en mantener abierto un debate sobre las funciones y límites del órgano de derechos humanos. No existía entonces un riesgo de división hemisférica. Se trataba de un grupo radical y minoritario frente a un amplio consenso regional.
En segundo lugar, la entrada no da cuenta de que a esta posición se llegó tras un gran esfuerzo. No hay que olvidar que en la Asamblea General de Cochabamba las tímidas voces de defensa de la CIDH de Estados Unidos, Canadá y Costa Rica fueron literalmente acalladas por la euforia colectiva de un grupo de países que pedía a gritos una reforma. Fue gracias a que la prensa independiente y la sociedad civil de las Américas, que se dieron a la tarea de defender al sistema de protección del juego político de conveniencia de los gobiernos, que se llegó a esta posición mayoritaria del viernes. Los progresistas y protagónicos discursos de los cancilleres en la Asamblea General guardan muy poca relación con los ataques de hace no muchos meses.
Top stories this week are likely to include: student protests in Chile; Ecuador and the UK continue Assange standoff; newspaper kiosks close in Buenos Aires; Brazilian candidates start regular media appearances ahead of municipal elections.
Student Protests Persists in Chile: More than 130 activists were arrested last Thursday and Friday during protests at the University of Chile and other educational institutions. Gabriel Boric, president of the University of Chile’s student federation, responded via his Twitter account, “Secondary school students and university students are in the same fight and we are not going to take a step back on this.” The students demand free higher education for all. At the same time, a recent Harvard study found that Chile raised student learning more than three times the average in a 49-country survey; still, its PISA scores are in the bottom third of all countries. Expect more protests this week and a continued hardening stance from the government. Today, police used tear gas to clear student occupiers from the Instituto Nacional.
Ecuador and UK Continue Assange Standoff: Foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) expressed their solidarity with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa for granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over the weekend. They rebuked Britain for "threatening" to storm the country's embassy in London. A seven-point declaration notes that Britain's threat to force its way into the embassy is counter to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as well as the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Correa’s decision was also backed by member nations of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which issued a joint statement expressing "emphatic support.” AQ Editor-in-Chief, Christopher Sabatini, observes that “given all the other issues in the region—including challenges to freedom of expression in Venezuela and Ecuador themselves—it’s hard to believe that expressing support for Ecuador’s offering asylum to Julian Assange for unsubstantiated allegations of a U.S. witch hunt should rise to the level of a foreign ministers’ statement.”
Buenos Aires Newspaper Kiosks Threaten to Close Again: Kiosk vendors refused to sell newspapers in Buenos Aires and the surrounding urban zones this past weekend in protest over a decrease in fees collected from each newspaper sale. Distributors and publishers unilaterally reduced the take for vendors to 32 percent of the newspaper price; the vendors want it to be raised to 40 percent. Omar Plaini, secretary general of Sindicato de Vendedores de Diarios y Revistas (SIVENDIA), noted, “we will join our colleagues at a meeting next Friday and, if they do not comply with our claim for the return of what they seized unilaterally and arbitrarily, which is 20 percent of our income, we will have a battle plan that will extend what we are doing today.” He declared that the closures could take place again this weekend if no agreement is reached.
Brazilian Candidates to Begin Free Radio and Television Appearances: This week, candidates for mayor, vice-mayor and city councilor will begin appearing on radio and TV as part of the obligatory free programing mandated as part of the Horário Gratuito de Propaganda Eleitoral (HGPE). Elections will take place on October 7 and October 28, 2012, in the 5,566 municipalities across Brazil. The one hour of daily programming is divided into two half hour blocks: 7:00-7:30 am and 12:00- 12:30 pm for radio; and 1:00-1:30 pm and 8:30-9:00 pm for television. Beyond the TV and radio coverage, “look for a continued shifting of political alliances as national alliances don’t necessarily translate into local ones. Still, the results will have important national implications,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
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.
Hugo Chávez is urging fellow left-leaning leaders to attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas, despite their displeasure at Cuba’s exclusion from it. The Venezuelan president confirmed Tuesday that he plans to attend the summit in Cartagena, Colombia, on April 14-15, and urged other members of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas) to follow suit, though they had previously threatened to boycott the meeting if Cuba were not invited. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced earlier this month that Cuba would not be attending the summit, following a failure to reach consensus during bilateral talks.
In a phone call broadcast on state television Monday night, Chávez said, “This will be the last so-called Summit of the Americas without Cuba,” as “a good number of us” would advocate Cuba’s inclusion in future such gatherings at the Summit. He said he had discussed the issue with leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Nonetheless, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said ALBA member countries still had yet to decide whether to participate. That position was reiterated by Deputy Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde yesterday, who said in a statement to Prensa Latina that “Cuba has to be present, [and] must be part of the family living in this continent.” He did not say, though, which method of promoting Cuba’s inclusion was preferable—skipping the regional meeting by way of protest, or demanding Cuba’s inclusion from within it. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, said last week he would not attend in protest.
The Venezuelan and Bolivian statements came just after President Barack Obama confirmed his participation at the summit. Other high-profile attendees will include Microsoft founder Bill Gates, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Mexican media mogul Carlos Slim, and World Bank President Robert Zoellick. One issue expected to be a hot topic is drug decriminalization, which Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina has firmly advocated of late, and which Santos and Mexican president Felipe Calderón are open to discussion. The U.S. has said it is “willing to listen” to the debate at the upcoming meeting but remains firmly opposed to legalization.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced yesterday that Cuba will not be invited to attend the Summit of the Americas, which he will host in Cartagena, Colombia, on April 14 and 15. The announcement came at the conclusion of a trip to Cuba where the Colombian president had met with Raúl Castro. Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, said that this verdict was not a new revelation, dryly calling it a “chronicle of an exclusion foretold.” He nonetheless also said that Cuba’s exclusion from these summits is unacceptable and unjustifiable. Meanwhile, he asserted that the U.S. was behind the agenda, and is following a policy of economic and political blockade that “violates the human rights of the citizens of Cuba.”
On Wednesday Raúl Castro thanked Santos for his efforts to include Cuba in the Cartagena Aummit. Since the first Summit in 1994 the communist-led country has been excluded from participating in the hemispheric gathering. Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela have pushed in recent years for Cuba to be included in the meeting. Santos had previously said that Cuba’s participation in the Summit would require consensus; on Thursday he said he was “not able to find” that consensus. Some members of the leftist Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas) had said they would boycott the Summit if Cuba was not invited. The status of their participation remains to be determined.
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.
Cops and Soldiers Clash in Brazilian Police Strike
Soldiers clashed with police in the Brazilian city of Salvador da Bahia, where police are protesting in favor of a 30 percent wage increase. Soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at police occupying the state’s legislature. The BBC reports that crime has soared in Salvador since the start of the protests last week, with the murder rate more than doubling. Jornal do Brasil reported on February 8 that police strikes could inspire strikes in six other states this week, including Rio de Janeiro. The protests come two weeks before the country’s carnival celebrations, leading some to accuse the police of holding the government hostage.
In Peru and Argentina, Top U.S. Envoy Promotes Educational Exchange
Mercopress reports on U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson’s travels to Peru and Argentina this week. Jacobson will introduce Obama’s "100,000 Strong in the Americas" plan to increase international study between the United States and Latin America, as well as tackle a number of economic and civil society issues with the Peruvian and Argentine leadership.
U.S. Leaves Diplomatic Posts Vacant in Latin America
An article in The Wall Street Journal explores the lag in appointing U.S. ambassadors to a number of Latin American diplomatic posts. The article observes that no other region in the world has as many U.S. ambassadorial vacancies. A meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on February 7 decided to delay the decision on any pending nominations.
A DREAM Deferred? Looking at the ARMS Act
Feet in 2 Worlds blog questions the wisdom of the Adjusted Residency for Military Service (ARMS) act, introduced by Representative David Rivera (R-FL) on January 26. The ARMS Act is a revised version of the DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to youths brought to the United States illegally as children if they completed college or served time in the military. The ARMS Act removes the education component. The blog asks if this might lead some to “sign up out of desperation” rather than an honest commitment to military service, and if it is wise to “deport trained professionals or students who have benefited from the public education system funded by the taxpayers.”
At a summit of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas, or ALBA) this past weekend in Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, ALBA’s founder, backed Argentina’s claims for sovereignty of the Malvinas (or Falklands) Islands. ALBA’s eight member countries—Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and Venezuela—agreed to ban vessels flying the Falklands flag from docking at their ports, echoing a similar Mercosur decision last December.
The islands have been a British overseas territory since 1833, when Argentina claims the United Kingdom stole the land from them. Argentina attacked the islands in April 1982, sparking a two-month war that retained British control over the archipelago. The UK will commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the war later this year.
Over the weekend, Chávez pledged the support of the Venezuelan army if Argentina ever reignited the conflict militarily. Chávez added, “I’m speaking only for Venezuela, but if it occurs to the British Empire to attack Argentina, Argentina won’t be alone this time.” Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa opened up the possibility of stronger economic measures, noting, “We have to talk about sanctions.”
Also at the ALBA summit, Chávez proposed to offset the global economic crisis by accelerating the usage of the SUCRE currency that was established in 2009. Chávez wishes to use the SUCRE as a substitute for the dollar; Venezuela has already paid for food imports from fellow ALBA countries with the virtual currency.
Latin America’s new global profile and trade and diplomatic connections mean that it will increasingly be affected by and can positively affect world events—in this case the popular rumblings in the Middle East and North Africa.
If Latin America has truly arrived—as the World Bank and many have proclaimed—we need to understand more the region’s relationship with the world and its events. Leave aside for a moment legitimate concerns that Latin America’s arrival are overplayed and the fact that these grandiose sweeping statements do not apply the entire region. (Venezuela, as much as it wants to be a global player, is stuck in some combination of Bolivarian fantasy and 1970s retrograde project—making it just basically a sad, deluded nuisance.)
What it does mean is that increasingly, whether its economic policymaking in China, drought in Africa or the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America has a stake—often underestimated but real. It’s time to stop imagining Latin America as an isolated region, like a bug trapped in amber.
Let’s take one example: the popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa (and the repressive reaction in Bahrain, Libya, Syria and Yemen). Here are five ways they affect Latin America and in which Latin America can play a positive diplomatic and economic role in shaping their outcomes.
1. The Shifting Sands of Relations: During the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva Brazil and Mercosur built closer trade and diplomatic relations with the Middle East. Economically, the last two years have seen a flurry of trade negotiations between Mercosur and the Middle East and North Africa that have produced framework agreements and pending FTAs: a framework agreement with Morocco in 2010 an FTA with Israel in 2010, a still pending FTA with Egypt signed in 2010, and a framework agreement with Jordan in 2008 to name just a few. In addition, the Lula Administration created the Summit of South American-Arab Countries to better coordinate policy between the regions and serve to deepen trade ties.
Diplomatically, in 2010 President Lula tried briefly to breathe life into the Israeli-Palestinian peace discussions—though the effort failed. And of course later the same year, Brazil and Turkey negotiated with Iran in an attempt to head off a tightening of international sanctions against the Iranian regime for continuing its nuclear program. We can debate the merits and results of Brazil’s forays into the region, but they clearly indicate a desire to assert itself into diplomatic deadlocks. With popular protests now changing the composition of governments in the Middle East and North Africa, will those same desires extend to negotiations between citizens and autocratic governments? Exchanges with newly elected governments? From the wave of democratic transitions in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s Latin America has experience in giving autocrats the boot and electing and sustaining democratic regimes. Can they help? Or will they continue to play broker to autocratic regimes? One area that represents an opportunity now is in the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza. With the recently announced accord between Hamas and Fatah, Brazil could leverage its relations there to try to broker negotiations at a time when the U.S. and Israel appear increasingly marginal. Doing so, however, will require Brazil to accept and push for the acceptance on the part of the Palestinians of the basic conditions for discussions: the renunciation of violence and the recognition of Israel by the Palestinian authorities on the other side of the table.
On Tuesday, Honduras’ Congress approved a decree handed down in December by interim President Roberto Micheletti to end Honduras’ membership in the Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas (ALBA), a regional organization started by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Presidential spokesman Rafael Pineda, in an apparent reference to Venezuela, explained that the decision to leave was taken because “some of the countries in the organization have not treated Honduras with the respect it deserves.” Pineda also cited Venezuelan threats during the initial stages of the Honduran coup last year to invade Honduras in support of deposed President Manuel Zelaya.
Honduras joined the regional organization on August 25, 2008, during a meeting between former President Zelaya and President Chávez. However, it was not until October 9 that the membership agreement was ratified by the Honduran Congress—then, ironically, presided over by Mr. Micheletti himself.