Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Obama Policies On Latin America (August 4, 2015)


Reuters investigation discovers that leading up to the release of the annual U.S. report on human trafficking "human rights experts at the U.S. State Department concluded that trafficking conditions hadn’t improved in Malaysia and Cuba. ... [But] the State Department’s senior political staff saw it differently — and they prevailed." Senior American diplomats "over ruled" and "pressured [staff] into inflating assessments of 14 strategically important countries in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report." As a result, Cuba and Mexico "wound up with better grades than the State Department’s human-rights experts wanted to give them." (See the accompanying graph where 'Tier 3' is the rating for the worst human-trafficking records.) There is this caveat: "Typically [staff] wins more than half of what officials call 'disputes' with diplomatic sections of the State Department, according to people familiar with the process." Separately, The Guardian reports on People Smuggling: How it Works, Who Benefits and How it can be Stopped." 

More from the Reuters investigation:  "Human rights groups and people with knowledge of the negotiations over the rankings said an unearned upgrade for Cuba, especially at a time of intense attention due to the historic diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana, could undermine the integrity of the report. ... although Cuba ended up with an upgrade, the final report remained highly critical, citing concerns about Cuba’s failure to deal with a degree of alleged forced labor in medical missions that Havana sends to developing countries. ... Mexico was kept at Tier 2 despite the anti-trafficking unit’s call for a worse grade, according to officials in Washington and Mexico City.  

Separately, Bloomberg and World Policy report on the Obama administration’s outreach to Venezuela.  Bloomberg calls it a "charm offensive" noting that State Department officers have been meeting quietly with officials in the Maduro government since April. The article mainly cites supporters of this move but includes at least one skeptic, Carl Meacham (CSIS) who is a realist. If there is an economic crisis there "it won’t just affect folks inside Venezuela, it also has the potential to affect countries all over the region." World Policy says that Venezuela is the backstory to Washington’s rapprochement with Cuba. "Washington may have recognized it could reap the benefits of normalizing ties with Cuba, not only by removing the irritant of the embargo from its relations with the hemisphere, but by encouraging U.S. officials to analyze countries through a strategic, non-ideological lens.

The U.S. Dept of Defense sold Colombia US$45 million in aircraft out of a total of US$122M in 2012, according to an arms sales report (see p. 33) FOIA'd by WeaponsDoc. Other countries in the region listed among arms buyers from the Dept. of Defense include Argentina; Belize; Brazil; Chile; Costa Rica; Dom Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Guatemala; Haiti; Honduras; Mexico; Nicaragua; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Uruguay.  In addition, the Latin American countries listed as receiving Dept. of Defense aid through the 'Building Partners Capacity' included Bolivia; Brazil; Colombia ; Guyana; Honduras ; Mexico; Peru; and Uruguay.

Separately, "U.S. bilateral assistance to countries in Latin America has encouraged the adoption of military equipment and military training for local police forces.   While the U.S. prohibits the armed forces from assisting police forces at home, the practice of technology transfer and military training in-country has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean for years," according to Orlando Pérez in an essay in Latin America Goes Global. This policy directly undermines democratic governance, writes Pérez who teaches at Millersville University (Pennsylvania) and is the coordinator of the Americas Barometer survey in Panama and Honduras.

  • Al-jazeera has published a lengthy two-part series on slavery in Brazil (Part One | Part Two). The first piece from mid-July followed one man, Elenilson de Conceição, on his return trip to Pará state, where he "was enslaved to deforest the jungle. He was not paid a cent for three months of grueling labor. ... Then after three months, [he was] suddenly released ... the decision to release the workers came in the aftermath of a raid by inspectors from Brazil’s Ministry of Labor on a neighboring farm, in which 78 slaves were rescued." The follow-up piece reviews more stories and strategies in the unresolved cases of forced labor.
  • Brazil's Petrobras scandal to have spread to media as news site Brasil 247 is accused of receiving bribes, reports Veja.
  • Folha do Sao Paulo and Bloomberg goes deeper on former Brazilian Minister Direcu's arrest: his computer and phone were also confiscated and a bank account of US$20 million blocked. It's also one step closer to former Pres. Lula.
  • Why didn't slain Mexican journalist Ruben Espinosa seek protection?, asks the Christian Science Monitor. According to the director of the free press advocacy group Article 19, it was because he “had more confidence in civil agencies ... and his friends.” The article cites the WOLA/PBI report on El Mecanismo de Protección para Personas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos y Periodistas en México from earlier this year.  Mexico City's Mayor said at a news conference that "there will be no impunity in this matter. No line of investigation will be discarded,” according to the Associated Press. Still, many are skeptical that authorities won’t consider the killing of Espinosa as being related to his work, even though colleagues say he had fled his work in Veracruz state out of fear."  Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez writes in an op-ed in Reforma writes, "Si el poder se concentra en una sola persona (o en una sola institución o en un solo grupo) habrá abusos. Sólo con equilibrios puede haber tranquilidad." Milenio tries to identify those killed along with Espinosa including Yesenia Quiroz, Nadia Vera, and still unnamed, a domestic employee and a Colombian. Colombia's Semana pursues the mystery over their compatriot; and Proceso says Ms. Vera anticipated her death and suggested who would be responsible.
  • In Guatemala, CICIG's Iván Velásquez responded to LIDER's presidential candidate Manuel Baldizón in an interview on CNN saying that "it is normal for those affected by criminal investigations to complain about the investigators," according to Prensa Libre. Meanwhile, CICIG and Attorney General Thelma Aldana continue to receive support from civil society, political and economic organizations, according to El Periodico
  • Colombia's Supreme Court has ruled that parents have the right to review their children's electronic communication including email and social media, according to Semana.
  • Semana lists the 42 Colombian women who are candidates for regional governors or city mayos, several of whom are running as favorites.
  • The implicit and explicit semantics of race and discrimination in Spanish idiomatic phrases is the focus of an essay in Colombia's Semana, written by Prof. Joaquín Robles Zabala (Universidad Tecnológica de Bolívar). 
  • While Venezuela's first lady will be a congressional candidate, opposition leader Maria Corina Machado (who is a former congresswoman) was not allowed to register as a candidate for the December 6 elections, according to the Associated Press. Machado has already conceded and offered a substitute candidate. President Maduro commented about his wife's candidacy: "She consulted me about it, and I told her, 'You are free to fight your own battles because you have your own leadership qualities, your own space, and there is no machismo here that will limit you'."
  • Is Cuba becoming a haven for LGBT rights?, asks Al-Jazeera. "Cuba offers free sex change surgeries and government-sanctioned Pride marches, but activists say more change is needed."  Both CENESEX and Proyecto-HSH-Cuba are included in the article.
  • This past weekend, Argentina implemented a new Civil and Commercial Code which "will change daily life for Argentine citizens," according to EFE and Telam. "The legislation no longer states that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and also simplifies procedures for getting a divorce, which beginning immediately can be requested by either spouse without giving a reason." In addition there are new protections of consumers' rights "against standardized contracts with insurance companies, banks and companies the deal in prepaid medicines." Perfil offers the 7 most significant changes. 
  • Civic leaders in Bolivia’s Potosi region declared Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera “persona non grata,” saying that he had not contributed to resolving their local conflicts, according to EFE  (Bolivian papers like El Dia and La Vanguardia use the same EFE story). Still, they did end their month-long strike in which they asked for hydro-electric plans, three hospitals, more roads, glass and cement factories as well as a new international airport.

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