Friday, July 22, 2016

Americas Quarterly memos for the next U.S. president (July 22, 2016)

Americas Quarterly has fifteen "memos" from a variety of Latin Americans -- including a president, activist, business CEO and experts -- for the next U.S. president. "... The “real” Latin America has little to do with the stereotypes and myths being thrown around in this U.S. campaign cycle. We hope that by highlighting issues such as cybersecurity, corruption, protecting the Amazon and even the region’s potential as a retirement haven for Baby Boomers, we can contribute something new to the debate."

Some highlights:

  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos urges support for a change in the drug policy paradigm. "I previously asked President Obama the question I now put to his successor: How can I look a Colombian peasant in the eye and tell him he will go to prison for cultivating marijuana, while in American states like Colorado and Oregon it is now legal to plant, sell and consume it? Part of what we need to do is to have an honest reckoning of what is happening and seek greater coherence in looking at this issue. ... This is not a call for legalization. It is a call to recognize that between the two extremes of all-out war on drugs and full legalization, there is a broad range of options that we can explore together."
  • Former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan refused to contemplate the possibility of a Trump win, and addresses his plea for "restoring a sense of strategic priority and direction in the Mexico-U.S. relationship" to Hillary Clinton. "Our partnership faces many challenges, not the least of which is foundering public perceptions of the other nation on both sides of the border. ... So many of our challenges and opportunities are intertwined and have truly become "intermestic" — rooted in the domestic politics, values, ideologies, constraints and specific interests of each nation, yet often expressed in a complex international, crossborder bilateral dialogue."
  • Indigenous activist Tarcila Rivera Zea asks for indigenous peoples to be included in the search for solutions to climate change, noting that they "have contributed the least to climate change, but they have suffered the most from its consequences. Extreme weather events put our sources of food and our traditional lifestyles at risk."
  • CEO of Americas Society and Council of the Americas Susan Segal calls for "Silicon Valley diplomacy," noting that "the region represents the best of our approach to innovation and entrepreneurship, and is the envy of the world," with especially strong pull for Latin Americans. Summits on innovation "could help spur the innovation needed for a new wave of economic growth, not just in the Americas but in the world. It’s also true that greater public and private sector engagement on these topics, where we are so admired, could lead to greater cooperation and dialogue on other, thornier issues. So why not seize the moment?"
  • Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana asks that the next U.S. government focus its Latin America policy "toward strengthening judicial systems, preventing and combating impunity and corruption, and promoting transparency in public spending."
  • AQ editor-in-chief Brian Winter makes a plea that will resonate with many observers of the region: to treat Latin Americans as equals. "... The relationships between Washington and Latin American countries remain uniquely weighed down by the historic baggage of the Cold War, the Monroe Doctrine, and the condescending “b-word” — backyard — still so often used to describe the region by U.S. media and some politicians. (Can we please retire it?)"
  • And academic David Truly makes the interesting argument that U.S. policy should help American baby boomers to retire in Latin America. "It’s a question of fairness. The vast majority of U.S. retirees living in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America have effectively contributed all their working lives to a Medicare system that they cannot use."
  • Igarapé Institute research director and cofounder Robert Muggah notes the U.S.'s role in supplying Latin America with firearms, and calls for "stronger U.S. control over the flow of arms south of the border ... Given the ready supply of firearms and ammunition the U.S. continues to provide as part of major security packages to Mexico, Central and South America, you have a special obligation to ensure the responsible export of arms and ammunition to the region."
News Briefs
  • Mexican investigative journalist Carmen Aristegui denounced that she is facing a new lawsuit intended to intimidate her regarding a book she published detailing President Enrique Peña Nieto's wife's purchase of a luxury home from a favored contractor, reports the New York Times. Aristegui reported on the "Casa Blanca" case, which has cast a pall over Peña Nieto's presidency, in Nov. 2014, and was dismissed from her job with MVS Communications soon after. The group's chairman is behind the new suit, for moral damages. The suit is aimed to divide the book's publisher, Penguin Random House from Aristegui, reports Aristegui Noticias. The issue became a Twitter "trending topic," with more than 30,000 tweets since yesterday, reports Aristegui. News of the suit came out just days after Peña Nieto partially apologized for the affair, though denying any wrong doing, notes the Guardian.
  • Another journalist was killed in Veracruz, Mexico's deadliest state for journalists, reports the Associated Press.  Pedro Tamayo was gunned down by two attackers on Wednesday night in the municipality of Tierra Blanca.
  • Homicides in Mexico in the first half of this year rose over 15 percent over the same period in 2015, reports the Associated Press.
  • InSight Crime has the English translation of an Animal Político piece detailing cartel operations in tMexico. Two cartels -- Jalisco Cartel - New Generation and the Sinaloa Cartel -- occupy fifteen states combined, while the Zetas and the Knights Templar have been reduced to operating in just one apiece. Three states, including Mexico City, have freed themselves of cartel presence, according to a new government analysis.
  • Brazilian authorities arrested 10 members of an Islamist group planning a terrorist attack, reports the New York Times. The arrests come as there is increased scrutiny of Brazil's security apparatus ahead of the upcoming Olympics games. Nonetheless, the justice minister emphasized the amateur nature of the group, called Defenders of Sharia. The target was unclear and most of the suspects knew each other only through online messaging, reports the Wall Street Journal. The suspects did not have bomb materials, nor did they identify a target and some merely discussed taking up martial arts, but one of them had reportedly been in contact with a website offering clandestine guns from Paraguay, according to the Guardian.
  • Weapons-screening plans for the megagames are in chaos, reports the Wall Street Journal separately. People hired to screen outside of the games have no security experience and minimal training.
  • Security concerns notwithstanding, Olympics organizers said they sold 100,000 tickets for the games in less than five hours, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • "The United Nations' 2016 World Drug Report's finding that Brazil is the most frequent country of departure for cocaine going to African, Asian and European markets has refocused attention on Santos, the country's largest port, and raised questions about the effectiveness ofBrazil's overall drug policy and enforcement measures," reports InSight Crime.
  • Brazilian rights groups celebrated a court decision that cancelled a major land purchase deal because investors had illegally acquired territory from small-scale farmers, reports Reuters.
  • Support for a wide-ranging amnesty law, overturned last week by the Supreme Court, might be the only thing El Salvador's main opposing political parties agree on, according to the Economist.  (See last Thursday's and Friday's posts.) The court's decision is "a sign that El Salvador’s judiciary is eager to assert its independence of both political parties." The question is now whether attorney-general Douglas Meléndez will take up the gauntlet and pursues cases of atrocities committed during the country's twelve-year civil war.
  • El Faro's Oscar Martínez is racking up prizes this month. In addition to the Committee to Protect Journalists' award (see Monday's post) he won a Maria Moors Cabot award this week. And El Faro won this year's Premio Gabriel García Márquez de Periodismo in recognition of excellence (see last Friday's briefs).
  • A piece by academics Chris van der Borgh y Wim Savenije in El Faro looks at how successive Salvadoran governments have enacted policies aimed at working with gangs to reduce violence and repressive measures that treat the gangs as an existential threat. Both approaches must be understood as "strategic steps that respond to specific political moments," they argue.
  • A great piece on the Knight Center's Journalism in the America's blog profiles Cuba's new "non-opposition" independent media, which started coming into its own just last year. "Besides avoiding standing at the extremes, they tell the stories that the official press does not, and make denunciations, but also profiles and chronicles of daily life on the island. They are looking for a place between Miami and Revolution Square."
  • On that note, Periodismo de Barrio has a piece on the energy crisis in Cuba, which includes details on government initiatives to cut usage -- such as a reduction of hours in certain government offices -- as well as increases in collective taxi prices in Havana. The piece is interesting in that it presents information from a variety of government sources -- mainly speeches, but also also presents relevant analysis, including previous instances of Venezuelan political crises affecting Cuba's oil supply.
  • UNASUR head Ernesto Samper said the Roman Catholic Church may soon join a group of Ibero-American leaders seeking to mediate between the Venezuelan government and the political opposition. The addition could help allay opposition suspicion's of UNASUR, reports Reuters. Samper noted, however, that the opposition maintained its condition for talks: a recall referendum this year, permission for international humanitarian aid to Venezuela, the freeing of jailed government opponents, and respect for the legislature.
  • David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas analyze how Venezuela's ongoing crisis could affect Colombia's peace process in World Politics Review. (Firewall.) They argue that "Venezuela’s government played a key role in facilitating Colombia’s dialogue with FARC guerrillas, and is posed to do so again with the smaller ELN. If Venezuela’s economic woes and political turbulence continue to worsen, or if a change of government occurs, it could significantly alter Venezuela’s future role in supporting talks with Colombian rebels."
  • Colombians face a difficult choice in a plebiscite vote on whether to approve a peace deal between the government and rebel FARC guerrillas. While citizens long for peace, and the accord is expected to pass, hatred for the FARC could push "no" votes, reports the Guardian, in a piece that compares the dilemma they face to that of the "Brexit" vote.
  • In the upcoming campaign for the plebiscite, opposition led by former President Álvaro Uribe must decide whether to promote absenteeism from the vote, or a "no" vote, reports Silla Vacía.
  • In the meantime, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is promoting the idea that the peace accord transcends his government, that peace would be a return to normalcy, and that this is a golden opportunity to end decades of fighting, reports Silla Vacía.
  • New security measures in the Colombian city of Palmira, including reinforcements from the National Police and a focus on combined social and police work in the most affected communities, succeeded in nearly halving homicides in the violence plagued city, reports InSight Crime.
  • Police are still trying to identify all of the victims of a prison riot in Guatemala that killed the country's most famous inmate -- Byron Lima Oliva -- and thirteen others, reports InSight Crime. An internal intelligence agency memo reviewed by InSight Crime insinuates that Eduardo Francisco Villatoro Cano, alias "Guayo Cano," a jailed drug trafficker, paid Marvin Montiel Marín, alias "el Taquero," about $130,000 to assassinate Lima inside the Pavón prison. But, as the piece notes, that is likely only "the first of many official versions" regarding the crime. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Argentine president Mauricio Macri lifted a decree by his predecessor controlling spending by the country's intelligence agency, and has floated the possibility of returning control of national wiretaps to the highly questioned agency, reports Reuters.

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