Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Top Latin American Stories, March 18, 2015


Talks between Cuba and the U.S. ended "abruptly" and "with no public comment," according to the New York Times (3/17) and a short statement by the Cuban Foreign Ministry. Shortly afterwards, Cuban Pres. Castro delivered "a toughly worded attack on the United States" regarding Venezuela, before traveling to Caracas for an ALBA summit on Venezuela, according to the Associated Press. Castro and Obama are expected to meet in Panama in April for the Summit of the Americas.

It's not civil society or the feared Ministry of the Interior that will have the upper hand in a new Cuba but rather the U.S. most reliable partner "is probably going to be" Cuba’s military establishment," according to a retired foreign service officer in Politicos' magazine. As if to not be forgotten, Russia's Foreign Minister is making a tour through the region, visiting Cuba, Colombia and Guatemala later this month, according to EFE. Separately: Gawker offers a touristy report from Havana on food, art and religion, unfortunately by a reporter whose Spanish "consisted mostly of charades."

There is growing momentum behind the Colombia peace talks, reports the Miami Herald (3/17) and a Christian Science Monitor editorial. Even former Pres. Uribe seems to envision peace developing in a letter he sent last week in which he called for the process to slow down (though not to dissolve them) according to El Tiempo (3/15). Whether or not the military will "face up to its human rights abuses" in the past is still a large obstacle to peace, according to an op-ed in Open Democracy (3/18). 

Separately: the cover article in Semana focuses on an ever weakening state (¿Dónde está la autoridad en Colombia?). "70% of Colombians do not trust public officials and 80% believe that there should be a greater respect for authority." A new country report by the United Nations adds that organized crime is a bigger threat to national security in Colombia, reports Reuters and Colombia Reports.

  • Venezuela took out a full-page advertisement in yesterday's New York Times, 'Letter to the People of the United States: Venezuela is Not a Threat,' that advocates for a "multi-polar world" and demands that Pres Obama retract his executive order, reports The Guardian. The text set sovereignty as the terms of debate: "Never before in the history of our nations, has a president of the United States attempted to govern Venezuelans by decree." WOLA's David Smilde says that "this is what Maduro spends all of his time talking about – that there’s economic war, that there’s an effort to try to undermine Venezuela, to sabotage it." The libertarian Cato Institute (3/17) questioned Obama's executive order "because it signals a return to the overuse of national security justifications that was so common in previous administrations ... [and] produce frustrating, counterproductive results."
  • Mexican investigative journalist Carmen Aristegui's firing "is a worrisome development that speaks to the fragility of the media here," according to an assessment in the Christian Science Monitor (3/17) that also takes on media consolidation in the country (see 2012 related study by Inter-American Dialogue). Some found it odd that the government released a statement encouraging both sides to figure things out and to make clear that the state respects the exercise of critical journalism, according to Milenio. Sonora Ciudadana's Guillermo Noriega (an Open Society grantee and the current secretariat for the Colectivo) talked about the transparency law with Aristegui last week on her program on CNN (7 min).
  • Brazil's President of Congress, Eduardo Cunha made clear that he thinks corruption comes from the executive and not legislative branch of government, according to an interview in O Globo (3/16). Cunha is one of 34 legislators being investigated in the Petrobras scandal. Former Pres. Cardoso is shifting his tone and now says that it is "not credible" that Lula and Rousseff didn't know about the corruption in Petrobras, according to Info Latam (3/17).
  • Mexico is sending 9 state and federal representatives to meet with the CIDH, according to Proceso (3/17) while over 30 civil society leaders are also going.  "The Mexican government will have an opportunity to respond [this Friday] to questions brought by civil society organizations about the state of human rights Guerrero." Meanwhile, Venezuela has labeled a potential visit by the CIDH as "immoral and unacceptable," according to El Universal.
  • Luis Almagro is likely to be elected today as the new head of the Organization of American States and is profiled in the Miami Herald (3/17). He intends to strengthen the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as well as create the Inter-American System for the Prevention of Social Conflicts. Miguel Vivanco (Human Rights Watch) says, "Every time that I have approached him on human rights issues on a global level, he has delivered." Michael Shifter (Inter-American Dialogue) adds a sobering note: "The OAS is in terrible [financial and organizational] shape and there’s a consensus on that."

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