Friday, March 6, 2015

Top Latin American Stories, March 6 2015


The ever-shifting relations between U.S. and Cuba and with Venezuela is creating new bedfellows that may have seemed impossible a few years ago. Who would have imagined Juventud Rebelde (3/4) lauding former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake (who now leads UNICEF) in Havana. At the same, a coalition of 33 human rights NGOs sent a stark letter (3/5) with five recommendations to the UNASUR delegation arriving in Venezuela today, expressing concern over the deteriorating human rights and the repression by the State. (Signatories included WOLA and a variety of groups from around Central and South America.) As Havana creates a path to welcome U.S. diplomats, and Caracas works out a way to expel them, the media and analysts assess the messy nature of (hopefully) democratic order in the hemisphere, and the role the U.S. will (or won't) play.

A recent online ‘Juventud Rebelde’ forum showed how a new, participatory democratic state is evolving in Cuba, as they fielded calls for direct and secret votes as well as term limits, according to the Miami Herald. The article notes that no one requested elections with multiple political parties. (Recent online forums in Cuba have focused on issues like housing, the tax system, or the state’s telecommunications company.) Many of these potential changes were part of the focus at a recent conference on Racial Politics in Cuba convened by The Cuban Research Institute at FIU held in late February.

Cuba wants a controlled courtship while the U.S. is leaning toward "a fevered embrace," as each side has opposing political calculations to make, suggests The Economist (3/7). Raúl Castro's continued calls for compensation for costs the embargo imposed as well as the return of the Guantánamo naval base, are difficult if not impossible propositions for the U.S. politically. Castro, however, has his own political context where these demands are just as impossible not to make.  

Venezuela's turn in the tit-for-tat diplomatic row with the U.S. is characterized as "theatrics" in today's International New York Times (3/6) editorial which declares that President Maduro "increasingly relies on blaming and punishing scapegoats for his own failings." Yesterday's column in TruthDig (3/5) argues much the opposite, starting with the headline: "Don’t Believe Media Coverage of Venezuela." Separately, yesterday (Thursday) marked the second anniversary of former President Hugo Chavez’s death, note the LA Times (3/6) and the Wall Street Journal (3/5) though the articles focus mainly on the deteriorating economy.  

In preparation for the upcoming elections, Venezuelan opposition parties in the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) coalition have decided against using a primary system to select candidates, according to El Impulso (3/5). According to Cuba's Prensa Libre (3/5), this means that MUD candidacies will be chosen by the dedazoAnd in a pre-electoral dance, opposition leader Leopoldo López has been declared ineligible to be a congressional candidate until 2017, according to an interview with the Attorney General with Globovision (3/4). A blogger on America's Quarterly (3/3) suggests that the elections are the reasons for the recent government crackdown while in El Universal, President Maduro denied a potential coup from his political left.

Long-time Latin American observer James Petras argues in an essay (reposted by the Centre for Research on Globalisation, 3/5) that the U.S. policy toward Venezuela is a microcosm of its larger strategy toward Latin America and that "the intent is to reverse the region’s independent foreign policy and to restore US dominance." This is a replay of the strategy between 1964-1983 where the U.S. "successfully collaborated with business-military elites to overthrow nationalist and socialist governments." Petras suggests that Washington believes Venezuela to be the easiest, most important target because of its structural vulnerabilities. Pomona College's Miguel Tinker Salas' 25-minute interview on Uprising Radio (3/2) affirms most of Petras argument and suggests that the U.S. is "constantly conspiring to destabilize the Bolivarian Revolution."

Prior to Vice President's Biden's recent trip to Central America, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina downplayed CICIG and said it was absolutely not on Biden’s agenda, according to Guatemala's El Periodico (2/28). Consequently, a WOLA statement reinserted its' importance which made headlines in Guatemala’s three leading dailies: ElPeriodicoPrensa Libre and Siglo21.  On Biden’s first day of his two-day visit, he mentioned the CICG’s work as "very important" and on the second day he made it clear and in no uncertain terms: "the Commission Against Impunity, so-called CICIG must be extended. Obviously it’s a sovereign decision you have to make, but it must be extended if anyone expects the U.S. Congress is going to come along and say, -were going to make billion dollar commitments to your commitment to clean up the system." Though today's editorial in El Periodico emphatically endorses CICIG, the Guatemalan President "appears willing to forego potential millions in U.S. funding" to get rid of it, according to The Tico Times (3/5).

  • The new Secretary General of Uruguay's National Drug Board (JND), Milton Romani, affirmed that the new president is supportive of the country's drug legislation and that "the law will be fulfilled," according to an interview with Uruguayan weekly, Busqueda (sub required - here is a text-only version). Romani travels this weekend to Vienna, Austria, for meetings of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs United Nations.
  • Bolivia's former top policeman in charge of counter-narcotics is being held on suspicion of illicit enrichment and links to the drugs trade, according to the AP and BBC (3/5). This demonstrates the emergence of Bolivia as a regional drug trafficking hub, according to InSight Crime (3/6).
  • Colombian generals and FARC representatives met for the first time yesterday, according to Semana and Reuters (3/5), substituting a conference table for the battlefield, even while their counterparts are engaged in the latter. Concurrently, U.S. Under Secretary Sarah Sewell arrived in Bogota to show support for the peace process, reports El Tiempo.
  • Colombia came in a close second (after Syria) in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) 2015 report with more than 5.7 internally displaced peoples, according to Dan Kovalik's column in the Huffington Post (3/5). He warns pessimistically that since the peace process does not include paramilitary groups, "massive human rights abuses" will continue.
  • As Mexican President Peña Nieto finished his state trip to the UK, a column in The Guardian (3/6) questions the propriety of realpolitik bilateral relations when "Mexico is in the grip of an urgent human rights crisis, with Amnesty International describing torture as 'out of control.'" Those who pay the biggest price are the region’s poorest and most vulnerable. An essay in the World Politics Review (3/5) doubts that Peña Nieto can walk the walk against corruption.
  • The EIU's Rodrigo Aguilera writes about 'The Slow Suicide of Mexico's Left', in the Huffington Post (3/5). "There is space for the emergence of a strong-social democratic party that works to address the disappointing social and economic outcomes of the last three decades of right-wing rule under both PRI and PAN."
  • Peru's Congress passed a law against sexual harassment, according to EFE (3/4) and Andina, the government's news agency. It establishes penalties for obscene acts and sexual touching offense in public spaces, although El Comercio (3/6) suggests that it will be hard to enforce.
  • Two notes on indigenous affairs: the Achuar in Peru have won an undisclosed, but also unprecedented out-of-court settlement for compensation for deaths, birth defects and environmental damage allegedly caused by Occidental Petroleum’s pollution, according to The Guardian and El Comercio (3/5). While in El Salvador, three years after the rights of indigenous people were recognized in the Constitution, there are still no public policies and laws to translate that historic achievement into reality, reports Inter Press Service (3/5).
  • Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been cleared of accusations that her government obstructed an investigation by the late Alberto Nisman, though that does not "end the saga," according to an assessment by The Economist. Another prosecutor is keeping pressure by appealing the ruling, according to the New York Times (3/4). In addition: "The case has caught public attention and raised speculation that it could hurt the governing party’s chances in the Oct. 25 presidential election." On Wednesday, the government ran a full page advertisement in many dailies, titled, 'Commitment, Trust, Justice' defending their case in the matter.

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