Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 10, 2015


Pres. Obama issued an executive order yesterday, "declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela." It blocks U.S. assets and property of 7 Venezuelan officials, prohibiting Americans from doing business with them and barring them from U.S. entry.  The executive order "does not target the people or the economy of Venezuela" according to a transcript of a related White House conference call (3/9).

The official Venezuela response was that the U.S. action was "disproportionate" and "rude" (literally, "una groseria") and later in the evening Pres. Maduro named one of the seven sanctionees as the new Minister of Interior and Justice, according to Panorama (3/9). In a televised talk last night, Maduro compared Obama to Nixon and Bush and tried to calm his audience saying Venezuela is protected by a wall of unknown contacts all around the world, according to El Universal (3/9). Venezuelan NGO Derechos (3/9) pointed to hypocrisy within the U.S. policy while opposition newspaper El Nacional (3/10) noted that this is the first time individual Venezuelans have been sanctioned. Ecuadoran Pres. Correa's twitter feed was forceful recalling "invasions and dictatorships imposed by [North American] imperialism" and Cuba called the sanctions "aggressive and arbitrary."

Most large U.S. news sources publish their own takes (BloombergLA TimesMiami HeraldUSA TodayWall St Journal) save for the NYT (although they posted an AP story overnight on Maduro's response). No source explains what the "extraordinary threat" might be. While the Wash Post quotes U.S. Treasury officials saying it is "boilerplate language, required by decades-old authorizing legislation," the actual order says that it goes "beyond the requirements of this legislation." Bloomberg, the Herald and USAT quote David Smilde (WOLA) wondering whether this could be "counterproductive" and the Post cites Michael Shifter saying "it is hard to see what ratcheting up the rhetoric will actually accomplish." These sanctions were a response to last year's demonstrations, reports NPR this morning. They also interview Smilde who says this will play well into the Maduro story line.  On WOLA's Venezuela blog, Smilde added that multilateral efforts would have proven more fruitful. 

The NYT published today an analysis of how Maduro hold on power while the Christian Science Monitor has a column by Smilde who is in Venezuela: "My wife and I went grocery shopping for a family of four last night ... There's food - it just may not be what shoppers need.  Separately: Smilde talks this morning about 'Neo-Weberian Theory of the Venezuelan Conflict' at the Universidad San Bolivar. And there is some worry about how the Venezuela crisis will impact Major League baseball.

  • Brazil's Pres. Rousseff warns against rumours of impeachment and says "peaceful demonstrations are the democratic norm" but "what we can not accept is violence," according to Folha do Sao Paulo (3/9).
  • 'Hope for Colombia’s Peace Process,' headlines a New York Times editorial (3/10) on the "ambitious effort" will depend on the "willingness of Colombians to make tough compromises." It declares that the success of American intelligence and military personnel has drawn "little attention or controversy" and that "the backing of the United States is undoubtedly helpful" even as it acknowledges that the government "often acted brutally with impunity." On a related note, El Tiempo (3/9) estimates that cleaning up the minefields will cost US$200 million and will impact all but four municipalities.
  • Public safety has become one of the issues that most concern Latin American societies, even above poverty, unemployment, inflation and good management of public services, according to Spain's El Cano think-tank (3/9) which cites reports from LatinoBarometro and CAF's 'Por una América Latina Más Segura.'  This last report, though published last year, will be presented later this week at a conference in Madrid.
  • Cities are the new guardians of human rights, according to an essay by Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing in Open Democracy (3/9). She notes that Colombian courts have upheld aspects of the right to adequate housing. David Adler, a Fulbright scholar at El Colegio de México, writes about the Districto Federal's Norma 26 which seeks "to incentivize the production of sustainable housing," and hopes to address class segregation through building codes, in an essay in Latin Dispatch.
  • The U.S. needs to stop funneling money to Honduras and start treating its president like the corrupt ruler he really is, according to an essay in Foreign Policy (3/9) by Dana Frank (UC-Santa Cruz). She writes that there is "overwhelming evidence of [Pres. Hernández] dangerous record on human rights and security," and uses InSight Crime's Honduras reporting to support her case. Prof. Frank believes the 'Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle' will only "exacerbate" the region's problems and that  White House seeks to "serve transnational corporate interests."
  • Surveillance cameras are to be placed in "strategic public places that do not violate the privacy of citizens," according to new regulations by Ecuador’s Interior Ministry (3/6). This seems to focus on nightclubs and bars, according to Expreso (3/4) but would seem to have broader implications.
  • Former Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro, is likely to be elected next week to lead the Organization of American States - and even has a Facebook page supporting his candidacy. He was endorsed last year by WOLA ("a great candidate to ensure human rights") but Andres Oppenheimer expresses his doubts about about Almagro in his Miami Herald column (3/10) saying the OAS needs stronger leadership to go up against UNASUR (which "has become a de facto mutual protection society for repressive regimes").
  • Digital technology isn’t delivering the democracy it promised, according to The Atlantic's Qz (3/10) which includes reviews on several related books. In January, Moises Naim co-wrote an essay arguing that digital technology makes things worse for the media by helping governments track and punish journalists, in the Columbia Journalism Review which includes an investigation on Venezuela media.
  • Matt Yglesias column in Vox "erases" the history of U.S. intervention in Latin America, particularly in Honduras, according to a NACLA blog (3/9). 

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