Thursday, April 9, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 9, 2015


Obama travels from Jamaica to Panama today for the VII Summit of the Americas. There are reports of tensions easing between the U.S. and Venezuela, of Cuba being removed from the State Dept's terrorist list, and whether or not the Summit should be about Cuba and Venezuela.

The State Dept. recommends removing Cuba from the state sponsored terrorist list, according to CNN (4/8) - others, including theMiami Herald, do not confirm this and only refer to CNN. An article in USA Today explains what steps would need to be taken for Cuba to be taken off the official list.  Asst Sec of State Roberta Jacobson tried to clarify what it would take for Cuba to remain on the terror list in an interview yesterday afternoon on NPR. The examples the radio host gave didn't seem to qualify.

Obama tried "reassert American influence in the region and press its leaders to pursue alternative energy solutions," at the CARICOM meetings in Jamaica, according to the NY Times and NPR. (The Times mentions - and the Miami Herald headline - the brief tour of the Bob Marley Museum the President made. “I still have all the albums,” said Obama.)  The U.S. influence in the Caribbean is juxtaposed with China's growing presence in the region in the Associated Press.

There are several signs of the U.S. and Venezuela trying to resolve some difference even before the start of the Summit, according to EFE. Yesterday, it was reported that the Venezuelan government invited the United States to send a senior official to Caracas to meet with President Maduro before the Summit of the Americas, according to the NY Times (4/9). Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez met with Thomas Shannon yesterday and asked him to rescind Obama's Executive Order, according to the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry (4/8). Venezuela's Notiminuto and TeleSur gave Shannon glowing profiles in anticipation of his visit with Pres. Maduro.

Maduro phoned Brazil's Pres. Rousseff yesterday and said he wanted to explore ways to lower the tension between Venezuela and the U.S ("se manifestou favorável a uma relação com menos tensões"), according to Globo and Jornal do Brasil (4/8).

"I think the Cubans will say to the Venezuelans, ‘Yeah, look, you can have your moment in the sun, but this is really our fiesta and we want to have the headline be the photo op showing harmony and progress rather than divisiveness,’ ” said Richard Feinberg (Brookings) in a Wall Street Journal analysis. "And I think the other Latin American countries, most of them, will also want that to happen.”
There are several opinions and expectations for this Summit.
  • Incoming OAS leader Jorge Almagro writes about 'The Inclusive Summit', in an oped in El Pais (4/8).
  • CEPR (4/8) offers a primer on Obama’s Trip to Jamaica and Panama.
  • "Latin American countries need to decide "once and for all whether they value freedom more than they value solidarity and knee-jerk anti-American rhetoric, according to a Miami Herald editorial (4/9).
  • Long-time LA reporter Tim Padget writes about the 'conventional wisdom' on Obama and Latin America - that "a gringo president was finally getting it" until "Obama screwed up" in Venezuela, in an oped in WLRN (4/9)  But, "was this really a blunder ... [or did Obama] rescue this summit for [Latin American presidents] by restoring their nostalgic comfort zone?"
  • The Economist (4/11) writes that "beyond the headlines of discord, changes are afoot in Latin America that should favour the United States" and they cite both Obama's outreach to Latin America ($1B Central American plan, downplaying War onDrugs) and the present challenges facing the Continent (corruption, end of commodity boom).
  • InterPress Service offers an arm-chair analysis of the U.S.-Cuba relationship over the last 50 years complete with a photograph of Che calculating that "Obama was only four days old when Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara publicly castigated the United States’ policy of hostility toward Cuba at an inter-American summit," in 1961.
Human Rights: Venezuela "is intimidating and harassing human rights defenders, and making unsubstantiated allegations that they are seeking to undermine Venezuelan democracy," according to 28 international and Latin American human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, according to a press release (4/8). "The government harassment is clearly intended to discredit and intimidate groups that document human rights violations. (An op-ed trying to discredit HRW and AI was published in TeleSur.) WOLA's Venezuela blog (4/8) highlights this and other human rights NGOs concerns at the Summit. Separately, Cuban dissidents were heckled at pre-Summit events, according to the Miami Herald.

The Economics of the Region:  Latin America's economic growth is down to levels last seen in the 1990s, and its debts are heavy and getting heavier, according to a new IDB report, The Labyrinth: How Can Latin America and the Caribbean Navigate the Global Economy. "This should be topic No. 1 at the Summit of the Americas. Sadly, it won't be," according to a Bloomberg editorial.  The drama between the U.S, Venezuela and Cuba "are largely irrelevant to the summiteers' main challenge: how to meet the rising expectations of their voters amid sluggish economic conditions and fiscal adversity." Separately, Latin American companies are increasingly are looking to the U.S. for business, an opportunity that has "handed the United States a chance to reclaim some of the regional economic and political clout it lost to a surging China over the past decade," - and an opportunity for Pres. Obama to seize at the Summit of the Americas, according to the Associated Press.  

  • Chilean municipality in Santiago, in partnership with the Daya Foundation, is harvesting legal medical marijuana as part of a government-approved pilot project aimed at helping ease pain in cancer patients, according to the Agence France Press and the AP (4/8). A bill moving through Chile's Congress "would allow planting of up to six plants for recreation use."
  • Corruption in Latin America is the focus in the The GuardianNY Times, (4/8) and an editorial in AmericaEconomica (4/1). The Guardian reports just on Chile while The Times cites many cases around the continent but also hones in on Chile which "was long thought to be above such agitations," but now has clouds above Pres. Bachelet, members of the Pinochet family and right-wing parties. Pablo Collada who leads Intelligent Citizen, an organization promoting transparency in politics, says, "it’s like we’ve realized this is a swamp and everyone has one foot in the mud." The magazine's editorial says corruption is the "great unfinished task for Latin America." It also cites many cases but begins and ends with Mexico. Still, public indignation is a a sign that there is hope for the region. 
  • Last week reported that the U.S. was looking into establishing a military base in Palmerola, Honduras - news that was repeated this week in La Prensa (4/7). Consequently, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa declared that there was no intention to increase troops or bases ("no aumentará tropas ni ampliará sus bases") in Honduras, according to La Prensa(4/8). President Hernández added that Palmerola was set to become an international airport with aid from Spain, according to a separate report from La Prensa (4/8). 
  • Michael Bloomberg, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has launched a multi-million dollar fund to help smaller countries fight legal battles with tobacco companies, and a BBC (4/8) report focuses on their work in Uruguay. The report says the debate is the right of an individual country to pursue its own aggressive health policies against the commercial freedoms of the cigarette companies. 
  • Squatters have taken over a 20-story high-rise in Rio de Janeiro - set to be a luxury hotel ahead of the 2016 Olympics, according to the Associated Press (4/8).
  • The New York Times and the LA Times (4/8) catch up with the deportation of former Salvadoran defense minister, Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides, "the highest-ranking foreign official to be deported under laws enacted in 2004 to prevent human rights violators from seeking haven in this country."

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