Friday, April 10, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 10, 2015


Pres. Obama arrived last night in Panama for the VII Summit of the Americas.  Obama said the current relationship between the United States and the Americas is "the best it's been in many decades," in an interview he gave to the Spanish news agency EFE. "I've pledged to our brothers and sisters in Latin America that the United States will work with the countries and people of the region as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." He also talked about the $1B program for Central America, security in the Northern Triangle and more. 

Pres. Obama and Pres. Castro "have spoken by phone ahead of an expected encounter," at the Summit, according to the Associated Press this morning (4/10). The phone call happened on Wednesday, before Obama left Washington. The AP's Cuban source (who works at Agencia Cubana de Noticas) gave a soft denial on his Facebook page. Yesterday, the U.S. and Cuban foreign ministers met "in the highest-level meeting between the two sides since the early days of the Cuban revolution more than half a century ago," according to Reuters. (The State Dept has set up a Summit page with press releases and scheduling.) 

Venezuelan Pres. Maduro seemed to be softening his stance toward the U.S., according to EFE and Reuters. He told State Dept's Thomas Shannon, "I hope ... that the doors open to a new phase of relations (based on) respect, respect for dignity, respect for the sovereignty of Venezuela,"  according to EFE.  Maduro said that Obama "could temporarily open a door to begin a new era of historic relations between Venezuela, according to Reuters. Still, Venezuela's Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez invited the U.S. to a public debate on human rights, according to press conference (1 min video).

"The U.S. is dropping its claim that Cuba sponsors terrorism," headlines the Washington Post (4/9) - well, not quite, if you read further. "It hasn't happened yet, but President Obama is expected to remove Cuba ..." and the article goes on to explain the process and the implication of such a move. The LA Times says Cuba "may" lose the designation and the NYTimes says the U.S. is "closer" to deciding the issue and includes a video of Obama talking about it.  “Congress’ role is that if it doesn’t object then it will deem to have been notified and the government in forty-six days will remove Cuba from the terrorist list," according to the Atlantic Council.
U.S. media is paying more attention with reports from last nights' PBS News Hour (3:30) and the New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson who reports the chess-like moves between the U.S., Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela. The impact on Cuba since Obama's detente is already significant as "an estimated three million foreign tourists visited Cuba" in the last three months, "as many tourists as had visited in all of 2014." Separately, Buzzfeed reports that "the diverse composition of the Cuban contingent is a reflection of the changing economy and culture on the island." The Guardian (4/10) reports that businesses have already been flocking to the island, exploring opportunities.

In Jamaica yesterday, President Obama launched the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) to expand opportunities for emerging entrepreneurs and civil society activists, according to a White House press release and the Jamaican Observer (4/9).

Many opinion columns focus on the Summit. "Why do other nations in the region so easily side against its lone superpower? Is it pan-Latin solidarity? A cultural divide? A Cold War hangover?," asks the Washington Post preview of the Summit. The article quotes David Smilde (WOLA) on Venezuela and Carl Meacham (CSIS) on U.S./LA relations. Separately, Cynthia Aronson (Wilson Center) writes that "this summit represents an opportunity to debate these issues that should not be squandered, or lost in the obsession over how Obama and Castro will greet each other," in an oped in the LA Times (4/9). Julia Sweig (UT-Austin) says "let's not lose sight of how far we've come. ... Cuban CEOs will attend the CEO Summit, and leaders of Cuban civil society will populate the civil society activities," in an oped in the Huffington Post and Folha do Sao Paulo. And WOLA's Adam Isaacson writes about expectations for the Summit in Colombia's El Espectador.

The Rogue State is the U.S.: "The world outside of Washington knows that the sanctions have nothing to do with any alleged human rights violations in Venezuela," according to Mark Weisbrot (CEPR) in The Hill (4/9) who went on to detail the support the U.S. has given several other Latin American countries with serious human rights violations.

The Rogue State is Venezuela: WOLA (US), PROVEA (Venezuela), Conectas (Brazil), CELS (Argentina), and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Argentina) issued a joint statement on the Venezuelan crisis declaring that there was "an opportunity ... help Venezuelan society and its political institutions find a path to democratic stability and respect for human rights." The signers believe that the OAS can "re-position ... as a central institution for the multilateral resolution of political conflicts." The statement was republished in Argentinas' Pagina 12.  Separately, A diverse group of two-dozen ex-presidents from Latin America signed the Panama Declaration, under the aegis of the Iniciativa Democrática de España y las Américas (IDEA), expressing their concern for human rights in Venezuela, according to the Miami HeraldLa Patilla (with video) and the PanAm Post which notes that "not a single head of state attending the summit was willing to officially introduce the Declaration" to the Summit.

The Rogue States are U.S. and Cuba: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl) writes that "allowing a brutal dictator [Raul castro] to attend undermines the future of democracy in the region," in an oped in the National Review(4/9). He argues that Obama has acted "timidly (as in Venezuela) or naïvely (as in Cuba)[and] more often he has not acted at all," in Latin America. According to a Wall St Journal editorial (and a similar editorials in Investor's Business Daily and the NY Post), "Mr. Obama has offered an economic lifeline and the promise of diplomatic recognition [to Cuba], while asking nothing in return.  ... These days it’s all about the dance of Raúl and Barack."

Colombian Pres. Santos will try to encourage the creation of an Interamerican System of Education, according to El Espectador and in an interview with El TiempoMexico will promote the exchange of best practices for anti-corruption meaures, according to Proceso.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the CEO summit preceding the Summit: "If Cuba 'opens up' Facebook would be interested in extending its free connectivity to island," according to a tweet from a WashPost reporter.

Gustavo Mohme (Pres of the Inter-American Press Association and publisher of Peru's left-leaning La Republica) writes in a letter in this morning's Miami Herald that "no one can remain silent no be indifferent to the violations of human rights, to freedom of expression that are committed, specifically and systematically, by the governments of Raúl Castro, Rafael Correa and Nicolás Maduro."

Confrontations between pro-government Cubans and dissidents are an early feature of the Summit, according to the Associated Press and NPR. "A boisterous group of some 40 Castro supporters stormed a hotel conference room to protest what they said was the exclusion of government-backed groups from Cuba and the presence of Cuban dissidents they called 'mercenaries' and 'terrorists'."


  • The State Dept's Thomas Shannon met with Venezuelan opposition leaders at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, one day after meeting with the country's Foreign Minister, according to El Universal (4/9). 
  • Brazil's House of Representatives approved an amendment that drops the confidentiality of loans made by the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES), according to Veja and Folha do Sao Paulo (4/9). Pres. Rousseff is likely to veto the amendment but it was still considered a defeat for transparency in Brazilian politics - a columnist in Veja has some background. Separately, BNDS announced this week it would allocate approximately R$60 billion (around US$19.4 billion) for 2015 towards the infrastructure sector, according to the Rio Times (4/10).
  • Guatemala has named a new judge in the Rios Montt case, according to Emisoras Unidas (4/9).
  • Add "helicopter gate" to the corruption lexicon - Mexico’s National Water Commission, David Korenfeld, along with his wife and his children, were caught using a state helicopter for leisure, according to the NY Times (4/10) and Proceso. "Korenfeld’s resignation shows that citizen complaints and demands are powerful because they are legitimate,” Mexicans United Against Crime, a leading civil society group.
  • Unaccompanied children at the U.S.-Mexico border "are down, but the crisis continues", according to a WOLA report (4/9).
  • Mexico's Senate approved U.S. border and customs agents to be armed in Mexico, under the 'Ley Federal de Armas de Fuego y Explosivos,' according to Milenio and La Jornada (4/9).
  • A harrowing video shows 'sicarios' in Mexico preparing for an attack, according to Proceso (4/9). According to officials, the video was filmed shortly before an attack between the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels last November.
  • North Korea accused Mexico on Wednesday of illegally detaining one of its ships with some 50 crew and warned it would take 'necessary measures' to release the vessel, according to Reuters (4/9). The ship ran aground off the coast of Mexico in July and the Mexican government says it is following "proper protocol because the company that owns the ship, North Korea's Ocean Maritime Management company, has skirted United Nations sanctions," according to CNN.

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