Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Latin American countries urge U.S. Cuba migrant policy change (Aug. 31, 2016)

Nine Latin American countries have joined together to urge the U.S. to change its Cuba migration policy. The countries argue that a special policy allowing Cubans who reach U.S. soil to stay is creating a humanitarian crisis for tens of thousands of Cubans who must transit illegal and dangerous routes in their attempted migration, reports McClatchy.

The message comes in the midst of a dramatic increase in Cubans migrating to the U.S. -- fueled in part by fear that the renewed relations between the two countries will end the Cuban Adjustment Act. Already more than 46,500 Cubans were admitted to the United States without visas during the first 10 months of the 2016 fiscal year, according to the Pew Research Center. That figure compares with more than 43,000 in 2015 and just over 24,000 in 2014.

Cubans traditionally set out by sea to attempt to reach Florida, which is why the favorable immigration policy is known as "wet foot, dry foot," in reference to the requirement that migrants reach dry land in order to qualify. But in 2013, when the Cuban government lifted an exit visa requirement for its citizens, an alternate path began to involve taking a flight to another country in the region and then heading north to Mexico's northern border.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/national-security/article98719787.html#storylink=cpy

“Cuban citizens risk their lives, on a daily basis, seeking to reach the United States,” says a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, signed by the foreign ministers of the countries, which include Ecuador and Costa Rica. “These people, often facing situations of extreme vulnerability, fall victim to mafias dedicated to people trafficking, sexual exploitation and collective assaults. This situation has generated a migratory crisis that is affecting our countries.”

Over the past year the already fraught route has become more complicated by countries requiring visas for Cubans and clamping down on land borders migrants must use to head north. Thousands of migrants have gathered at Costa Rica's border, for example, after Nicaragua closed its border for migrants. (See post for Nov. 25, 2015, for example, and also briefs for Aug. 12.) 

The costs have been significant for transit countries forced to deal with stranded migrants.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/national-security/article98719787.html#storylink=cpy

The U.S. must do more to redress the difficulties caused by its policy, say the signatory countries. Up until now the main focus has been encouraging other countries to stringently apply their own immigration laws and deport Cubans back to their home country. Cuban activists note that this approach would only encourage more Cubans to undertake the dangerous sea journey.

"The difficulties between the U.S. and Cuba has a direct consequence on other countries in our region that serve as transit," Costa Rica's foreign minister Manuel González told McClatchy. “And we are, in a way, paying the consequences of that bilateral relationship.”

New York Times editorial joins the call for the U.S. to change this "irrational" and "anachronistic policy," noting that it also has the effect of easing pressure on Cuba's government to reform, "by offering an incentive to those who are most dissatisfied with the status quo to take a dangerous way out."

Earlier this month Cuban diplomats also stepped up pressure on the U.S. government to change the policy, which has led to a human resources drain on the island. (See Aug. 19's briefs.)

Cato Institute op-ed in the Miami Herald argues in favor of maintaining the policy, arguing that Cubans deserve differential treatment because "Cuba is the only 'unfree' country in the Western Hemisphere" -- and that the law must be maintained until there are free elections in Cuba.

Though Cuban migrants are at the center of the debate, they are by no means alone. A surge of migrants from Haiti, Africa, and the Middle East have also been following a similar route through Central America, echoing the more publicized migrant crisis in Europe, notes the Miami Herald.

News Briefs
  • More on migration: Mexico's authorities have cracked down on a migrant route on a cargo train, nicknamed "La Bestia" for its high human toll on migrants headed north on the tracks that cross Mexico from the south. The efforts against the emblematic route culminated last week with the announcement that the service, as is, will be shut down, reports the New York TimesAnimal Político reports that the numbers of migrants detained on the tracks have shot up. The upward trend began in 2014, when the Mexican government announced efforts to stop migrants from hopping on the train. In the first six months of this year, authorities have detained 1,700 migrants on the tracks. Last year they detained 2,351. But as analysts note, the efforts are only pushing migrants to more dangerous routes.
  • U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will be in Mexico City tonight to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, ahead of an Arizona speech focused on his immigration policy, reports the Washington Post. The Mexican government issued the invitation to both parties' candidates, according to the WP. The visit comes as Trump has wavered on whether he will maintain his hardline stance on immigration, particularly a call to deport 11 million migrants living illegally in the U.S. Trump will be accompanied by hardline immigration advisors, Alabama senator Jeff Sessions and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, reports Animal Político, which transcribes some of their more incendiary phrases on the issue. The Mexican government's move is surprising, considering its harsh stance against Trump. Earlier this year Peña Nieto compared his rhetoric to Adolf Hitler's and Benito Mussolini's. And just last week the Mexican tourism minister, was in Miami debunking key elements of Trump's rhetoric and arguing that a schism between the two countries would also affect U.S. prosperity, reports the Miami Herald. The Guardian also notes that it's difficult to see how the visit will favor Peña Nieto, whose popularity has plummeted, given a widespread dislike for Trump in Mexico. Immigration advocates are denouncing the visit as a stunt, notes the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times reports that it's Trumps first meeting with a head of state as the Republican presidential nominee.
  • Peña Nieto is expected to present an annual report to Congress later this week, with a dismal national outlook of rising homicide rates and poor economic performance, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil's Senate is expected to have a final vote on President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment trial later today. Earlier today Senators agreed to vote separately on the issues of her impeachment and disqualification from holding office, reports Folha de S. Paulo. It's a final attempt at saving face from her Workers' Party supporters, as it could permit her to be impeached but still hold administrative positions in future governments.
  • Venezuela's national electoral council announced that the next stage in the opposition push for a referendum on President Nicolás Maduro's mandate will take place on Oct. 24, reports Venezuela Analysis. That stage involves gathering 20 percent of the electorate's signatures in favor of the move. However, the CNE's timetable would lead to the actual referendum taking place next year. The opposition will be rallying tomorrow demanding a more rapid timetable that would allow the vote to take place this year and a replacement election to take place if Maduro is ousted. (See yesterday's post.) The opposition is banking on a big turnout in tomorrow's "great taking of Caracas." "The opposition is measuring its organizational power,” Dimitris Pantoulas told Bloomberg. "It’s not that they are taking the temperature of the streets, it’s that they are taking the temperature of themselves." 
  • In the meantime the government has intensified a crackdown on opposition leaders ahead of the march, reports the Wall Street Journal. In addition to detaining former San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos, yesterday intelligence agency police arrested Carlos Melo, a leader of the Progressive Advance party. On Monday Yon Goicoechea, an organizer for the Popular Will opposition party, was arrested for allegedly carrying materials to make bombs. Popular Will says at least four other leaders are in hiding after their homes were raided or arrest warrants were issued for them. Opposition oriented Efecto Cocuyo reports seven attacks on opposition leaders ahead of 1S.
  • A judge ordered former Salvadoran attorney general Luis Martínez to remain in jail, on charges of divulging intercepted phone conversations, reports the Associated Press. Martínez was originally arrested earlier this month in a separate case in which he was charged with obtaining personal favors from a well-connected businessman. (See last Thursday's post by David Holiday.)
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales accused the OAS of pushing a right-wing agenda in the region, abandoning left-wing governments under attack in the region, reports TeleSur
  • Jet Blue inaugurates commercial flights from the U.S. to Cuba today with a trip from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara. Tomorrow Silver Airlines follows suit. And next week American Airlines will run a flight from Miami, "heart of Cuban exile," reports the Miami Herald.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a decree calling citizens to polls on Oct. 2 to answer a yes or no question in a plebiscite on the peace accord with the FARC: "Do you support the final accord for ending the conflict and constructing a stable, long-lasting peace?", reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • In the midst of Colombia's peace deal plebiscite campaign, the Los Angeles Times has a retrospective on the fifty years of fighting with the FARC. Though Colombians seem to generally support the idea of peace, many are expected to vote against the accord. "Few families in Colombia are untouched by the war’s kidnappings, displacements and extortion involving threats of violence. Although the military and right wing paramilitary groups committed atrocities over the course of the conflict, the public holds the rebels most accountable," explains the piece.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri unveiled a new anti-drug initiative yesterday. Developed with NGO's, judicial, legislative and academic institutions, the plan commits to eliminating "paco" cocaine base and protecting witnesses who provide information on drug traffickers, and increased resources for the justice and police systems, reports the Latin American Herald TribunePágina 12 notes the discourse at the presentation heavily focused "winning the war." And later Security Minister Patricia Bullrich discarded legalization as a tool to combat drugs, saying examples from the region have not worked, reports Página 12 separately. Yet huge amounts of state resources are taken up by detaining and prosecuting small time traffickers, reports Bubble in a critical piece. "According to a series of reports issued by Federal Prosecutor Federico Delgado, a vast majority of cases that reached his desk didn’t have anything to do with drug-lords, but citizens who had been detained for personal consumption: out of the 376 cases filed in April for violating the country’s drug laws, 250 were for personal consumption, 66 percent of the total. That marks a whopping 30 percent increase from November. 'The investment and human energy that is taken in the whole process, which goes from detaining the person who broke the law, to filing the case, to entering it in the court system, are parameters that should be evaluated at the time of doing this, as the Attorney General’s Office spends money and energy that is later insufficient to investigate more important issues,'" Delgado told Bubble.

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