Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 7, 2015


The 7th Summit of the Americas - taking place April 10-11 -continues to dominate the news (see agenda; Twitter; Facebook).

Pres Obama vowed "to act quickly" once he receives a State Department recommendation on whether to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring countries, in response to the last question in NPR's interview with the President this morning (4/7).  This could lead to the announcement of embassy openings at the Summit, according to one Reuters report while another downplays expectations (4/7). Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. demand for assurances there will be no future terror support "has led Cuba to reiterate its own past allegations about U.S. involvement in terrorism against the island, and issue a reciprocal demand that the United States pledge to not support such attacks in the future."

This morning's NYT editorial suggests that "the Obama administration’s gamble on engaging with Cuba has made it increasingly hard for its leaders to blame their economic problems and isolation on the United States.  Executives from Google, whose platforms and services are widely desired in Cuba, visited the island in mid-March to make headway in the company’s goal of establishing its presence there."
"It has already been agreed that nobody will agree, and therefore there will be no final communiqué," according to the Financial Times (4/6).  But the paper suggests that for the first time in a decade, "the forces shaping global capitalism are in the US’s favour rather than in South America’s." 

The Obama administration's missteps in Venezuela could have consequences in the Summit, according to Cynthia Arnson (Woodrow Wilson Center) in the Associated Press though she expects positive changes in U.S.-Cuban relations. Separately, Mack McLarty (Pres. Clinton's Special Envoy for the Americas) writes that Obama arrives in Panama with "some wind in his sails," in an op-ed in USA Today (4/6). "With the diplomatic opening to Havana, President Obama has shifted the spotlight away from U.S. Cuba policy as a dominant theme of Inter-American debate and a source of summit gridlock."  The Summit will have a celebration, a confrontation, and lots of lies, writes Moises Naim (Carnegie Endowment) in El Pais (4/4) and a tv interview on NTN24.  The celebration will be the rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S.; the confrontation will be between Maduro and the U.S.; and among the lies will largely emanate from Caracas.

In sports diplomacy, the NBA is set to become the first U.S. professional sports league to visit Cuba with a "development camp" since Obama ordered diplomatic relations between the countries to be restored, according to the Associated Press and Reuters. The immediate goal "isn’t to identify the league’s next Cuban-born players [but] about growing the game globally," according to the Wall Street Journal.

The presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador will meet with Pres. Obama about the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity at the Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama, according to Cuba's Prensa Latina (4/6). Separately, Canadian Prime Minister Harper heads to the Summit "amid chilly relations with U.S. and Mexico," according to the Ottawa Citizen (4/6). "Obama has only made one bilateral visit to Canada that lasted just a few hours. ... By comparison, the Pacific Alliance – composed of Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico – is advancing an ambitious trade agenda and when the leaders can’t meet in person they do so by video conference."

Beyond the theatrics, there could be very important diplomatic exchanges on global climate change, according to Brown University bloggers on Americas Quarterly (4/6).

  • March 2015 was El Salvador's most violent month in the last decade, according to official numbers from the Policia Nacional Civil (PNC) , reports La Prensa Grafica (4/2), El Periodista (4/6) and The Guardian. March averaged 15 homicides a day, and the PNC suggested that most victims were gang related, according to ContraPunto
  • Chilean Law 20.000 which allows for the depenalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use, was passed by the Congressional committee on health after five months of "discussion," according to Cooperativa and ADN Radio (audio). The bill now moves to the full House of Deputies.
  • A visual take on the Mexican landscape where hundreds of people are reported missing — presumably kidnapped, if not killed — by drug cartels in Guerrero is highlighted on the NY Times photography blog (4/6). Separately, Newsweek (4/7) investigates on the story of the 43 missing college student. "Disappearing without a trace is not uncommon in Latin America."
  • How Brazil's "nine litlte-known" federal prosecutors uncovered the Petrobras money-laundering scheme (nicknamed 'Operation Car Wash') is explained by the Wall Street Journal (4/6). The lengthy investigative piece concludes, "Brazil’s law-enforcement and judicial organs have begun to emerge as independent institutions ...  their success or failure in the high-profile case will go far to determine whether Brazil can break a long history of corruption with impunity, a legacy that many say has hampered the economy and trust in government." Separately, the financial press is not certain where Brazil is headed - Reuters offers an optimistic scenario while the Financial Times is less certain. 
  • Steven Levitsky (Harvard College) writes about the two principle challenges of the Latin American left, in his regular column in Peru's La Republica (4/5). The first is that most leftist parties have outstayed their welcome and "few parties win more than tree consecutive elections. ... 12 years (Argentina) and 13 years (Brazil) in power is too long." The second challenge is the end of the commodity boom. Still, the past decade has been a success for progressive causes in Latin America. 
  • Was Fidel Castro’s appearance last week a message to Washington or Caracas?, asks a Foreign Policy blog (4/6). "For longtime Cuba watchers, the 'impromptu' appearance may be a message to the Cuban public that “El Jefe” supports Havana’s new rapprochement with Washington, but isn’t about to leave old friends and allies in the cold."
  • The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from Alan Gross, the former government subcontractor seeking to sue the US government for negligence over his five-year imprisonment in Cuba, according to Reuters (4/6). Gross will receive $3.2 million as part of a settlement reached with the USAID and the contractor DAI.
  • Kingdom of Shadows, a documentary film that "takes an unflinching look at the hard choices and destructive consequences of the U.S.-Mexico 'drug war'," was previewed at the SXSW festival in March.  Director Bernardo Ruiz hopes his film will give the people in Mexico's violence-racked communities a voice on the world stage, according to Voice of America (4/6).
  • The Brazilian graphic novel Cumbe, by Marcelo d’Salete, is a searing account of the enslaved Bantu peoples, told through the perspective of the victims, most likely for the very first time, according to the Huffington Post (4/7) and HyperAllergenic (4/2). The book was released early last year, according to Amazon.br.

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