Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 25, 2015

A bipartisan group of U.S. congressional leaders wrote a letter yesterday to Guatemalan Pres. Pérez Molina urging him to renew the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) when its mandate expires in September, according to a press release from Rep. Engel's (D, NY) office. The letter was widely covered in Guatemala including by La Prensa GraficaEl Periodico, and La Hora, among others. The issue continues to raise passion: only monkeys would support the CICIG, writes a columnist in this morning's El Periodico while another columnist for the same newspaper argues the current government is scared of CICIG because it would likely imprison them.

Two new reports outlined CICIG's importance. The Informe Alternative (8pp) was signed by 24 civil society groups, according to El Periodico (3/24) and included recommendations to CICIG, to the international community and the private sector.  And last week, 'Una Labor Inacabada: CICIG' (9pp) (published by the Open Society Justice Initiative) concluded that despite significant advances made by the agreement, they were "fragile and reversible." Separately, CICIG responded to confusion about their finances and said that most all of their funding came from international organizations, according to EFE (3/24). 

Asst Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson testified yesterday before two congressional committees - the House Foreign Affairs Committee on stated funding priorities in Latin America as well as the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations on assistance to Central America. (She stayed off her Twitter account during this time.) The Obama administration's proposal includes $2 billion in aid to Latin America and the Caribbean, half of that earmarked for the 'Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle,' according to EFE (3/24).  It also includes includes $119 million for the Merida Initiative, $288 million for Colombia "to continue supporting development and law enforcement," and "$95.9 million to the anti-drug trafficking effort in Peru."
The 'Plan of the Alliance' fails to "articulate a credible plan to address weaknesses in local governance, controls on corruption, and political commitment," according to Jose Cardenas (USAID during George W. Bush admin) in a Foreign Policy blog (3/24).

  • Brazil's Pres. Rousseff has again been invited for a state visit to Washington, "a diplomatic breakthrough," announced late yesterday, according to Reuters (3/24). Brazil should imitate India in their relationship with the U.S., writes Peter Hakim, in an oped in Info LATAM (3/25), who identifies specific policy changes he thinks Pres. Rousseff should make.
  • The U.S. government removed 28 Cuban companies, 11 boats and six persons from its list of entities and individuals linked to terrorism or drug trafficking, according to the Miami Herald (3/24) and are listed in a Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) press release. An OFAC official said "the measure was not related to the relaxation of some sanctions against Cuba" but rather that it was intended "to reduce the burden of compliance" of sanctions. Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov praised the thaw in U.S./Cuban relations during a visit to Havana, according to Reuters (3/24) and Cuba Debate, while the EU is accelerating bilateral negotiations with Cuba, according to the BBC (3/24). 
  • Are Radio and TV Martí still relevant?, wonders a long story in the NY Times (3/25). The Obama administration has proposed consolidating the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Voice of America’s Spanish-language programs, turning them into a nonprofit. The Cuban American National Foundation's influence "remains strong" and The Times concludes there is little danger that the Martís will lose funding altogether. 
  • How long does it take to buy basic goods in Venezuela? A BBC reporter (3/24) videotapes his answer in an intimate view on shopping in Caracas.
  • A violent confrontation between the Colombian military and the FARC left a soldier dead and three others injured in Guaviare, according to the army in a story in El Espectador (3/24). Last week, Colombia's Ombusdman had reported no "military actions, hostilities or armed attacks" that violate the cease fire, according to a press release (3/21). Separately, Michael Shifter (Inter American Dialogue) writes about the tricky negotiations between Pres Santos and former presidents Pastrana and Uribe, in the World Politics Review (3/24).
  • Reporters Without Borders is "very disturbed" by Mexico's MVS media group’s decision to fire investigative journalist Carmen Aristegui, and connects her dismissal to the issue of free speech, according to a press release (3/25).  This is becoming the 'Big-Money Scandal Rocking Mexico,' according to The Daily Beast (3/24) which says, "the facts remain stark: the journalist who ... exposed a massive conflict of interest deep within the upper echelons of Mexican politics has been fired." MexicoLeaks was the catalyzing element in Aristegui's firing, reminds an article in Proceso. Separately, journalism advocacy group Article 19 released 'Estado de Censura' report this week declaring that "threats and attacks against journalists including murder have risen in the first two years of Mexican President Pena Nieto's administration," according to Reuters (3/24). Aristegui said that one of the challenges with Mexican media is government advertising, according to Proceso.
  • A coalition of Mexican farmworker groups in Baja California are on strike ("the first in decades") for higher wages, government benefits and the halt to alleged workplace abuses, according to the LA Times and the Associated Press (3/24). "Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission said Tuesday it has started an investigation into possible human rights violations, after protesters complained of police abuse and detentions." El Diario de Coahuila explains the challenges on surviving with existing market wages.

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