Heated exchanges between U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last week seemed to signal a potential trade war between the two countries. (See last Friday's post and yesterday's briefs.) But Mexico's foreign minister said yesterday that there are positive signs the U.S. administration would seek alternate forms of payment for a wall along the border with Mexico, reports Reuters.
Luis Videgaray said he was heartened by White House officials' mentions of plans that could involve somehow taxing drug cartels or undocumented immigrants in order to pay for the wall. "I think it's a welcome sign, at least I interpret it that way, that we're seeing the rhetoric is changing," said Videgaray.
Yesterday Peña Nieto announced the government will earmark $50 million to provide legal assistance for migrants in the U.S., reports the Associated Press.
But Canadian officials have declared they will prioritize preserving trade ties with the U.S. in a potential NAFTA renegotiation, and might not be able to stand with Mexico.
The AP notes that Videgaray yesterday mentioned his country's willingness to renegotiate NAFTA, but not return to protectionist policies such as import quotas and tariffs.
And Mexico's government is demanding an apology from Israel over a tweet by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently praising walls as an immigration deterrent.
In a tweet on Saturday, Netanyahu wrote: "President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea." In the days since, he has insisted it was only in reference the barrier Israel constructed along the Egyptian frontier, aimed at halting undocumented African migrants. But Mexico diplomats insisted it was offensive, reports Reuters.
The tweet was widely rejected in Mexico. Jewish groups, including the Central Committee of the Jewish Community in Mexico, issued a joint statement “forcefully rejecting” Netanyahu’s position, notes the Guardian.
In fact, border walls between friendly nations --largely aimed at keeping out migrants -- are increasingly common, reports the Los Angeles Times. Around the world at least 70 border barriers separated nations from their neighbors as of last October.
Some rays of light:
Trump's policies could be a potential disaster for Mexico's economy, but he's providing great inspiration for ad-makers in Mexico and abroad, reports the Miami Herald. The latest spot for Corona beer argues that América is already great. And Starbucks advocates "building bridges, not walls with Mexico," and promises to maintain investment in the country, reports Animal Político.
And a New York Times Español op-ed by Ilan Stavans notes the Trump administration's offensive against the Spanish language -- including the elimination of the White House's español site -- and general ignorance in relation to Latin America. "I have the impression that the effort to suppress Spanish and wall in his country will have the opposite effect: each time it will be considered more as opposition. We must learn from the resistance movements organized during Latin America's dictatorships in various moments of the twentieth century. It was through protest songs, the act of storytelling, of poetry in political tones that the population maintained its sanity in difficult times, that is to say, through language. Thanks to Trump, Spanish in the United States is part of the resistance today."
- Most of the outcry over Trump's immigration orders this weekend have focused on the implications for citizens of banned Muslim countries. But the new policy also suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions program for all nations for 120 days, notes the Miami Herald. That means Latin Americans too, and could particularly affect Cuban medical professionals who have abandoned international missions in order to defect to the U.S. In the 2015 fiscal year 2,300 refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean were admitted with most coming from Cuba and Colombia.
- Brazil's largest criminal organization, the First Capital Command (PCC), is recruiting FARC dissidents as part of its bid to expand its hold over the region's drug trade. The prison gang is working to hire guerrillas in Colombia, reports the Wall Street Journal. The rebel group's 6,000 fighters are in the process of demobilizing under a landmark peace agreement with the government, but the PCC is targeting the 5 to 10 percent of fighters expected to reject the accord. This news item brings together two distinct trends: the PCC's increasingly combative bid to control the drug trade through Brazil's north, as exemplified by the violent prison riots of this month, and the challenge Colombian authorities face in demobilization. (See Jan 27's briefs on how the Urabeños criminal gang in Colombia is also recruiting FARC dissidents, and the post for Aug. 25, 2016 on the power vacuum demobilization will create in some areas of Colombia. See Jan 3's and Jan 9's posts on Brazil's prison riots.)
- The PCC is already operating in Paraguay and Bolivia, and there are reports that it's using Montevideo as a transit point for international drug trafficking, reports InSight Crime.
- A newly released International Crisis Group report argues that, after last year's negative plebiscite, "Colombia's peace agreement still lacks sustainable political support. Reversing public distrust will need swift and effective implementation of the accord – including full apologies for past crimes and the visible handover of weapons by insurgents."
- Peace is already paying off dividends, notes a piece in la Silla Vacía -- FARC fighters are in the midst of a baby-boom, and there are no more troops wounded in combat with FARC guerrillas -- yet neither the political nor media discourse has shifted to reflect these evolving realities.
- In the meantime, less than half of the guerrillas are in on of the 26 designated concentration zones today, the deadline established for the fighters to gather as part of the demobilization process, reports InSight Crime.
- Dozens of child soldiers are expected to be released from the FARC in upcoming weeks, reports Reuters.
- A new report by El Salvador's by the Civil Society Roundtable Against Forced Displacement by Violence and Organized Crime found that 84 percent of the country's forced displacements are due to the country's street gangs, reports InSight Crime.
- Venezuela's Supreme Court again ratified that it considers the National Assembly in contempt of court and that all of its actions are legally null. The decision yesterday clarified that the opposition-controlled congress doesn't have the right to declare President Nicolás Maduro in abandonment of functions, as legislators did earlier this month, reports the Miami Herald. (See Jan. 10's post.)
- Maduro uses the threat of outside violence and agression to sow internal fear, he points a rifle at his own people, argues Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Venezuela is a time bomb," and opposition parties must put aside their internal differences to defend democratic spaces he writes.
- Maduro announced a PDVSA shake-up on Sunday, aimed at rooting out corruption in the state-owned oil company, reports Reuters.
- A Sony Pictures Spanish-language television series on the life of Hugo Chávez is causing backlash before it even airs, reports the Associated Press. The 60-episode series was conceived by Moises Naím, a staunch chavismo critic, shows the rise of the populist leader from rural Venezuela and argues that his authoritarian tendencies laid the groundwork for the country's current economic mess. The Venezuelan government has already announced a "counter-attack" miniseries, reports the BBC.
- Great in-depth piece on InSight Crime on the story of Guatemala's prison king, Byron Lima, who was killed last year. "...The Byron Lima case was about more than murder. It touched on the ongoing battle for Guatemala's soul. Like Lima, the country's efforts to project an image of stability quickly dissolved into corruption and crime. Lima's short-lived empire embodied this dichotomy as well; the order, control, security and progress he sought to create inside the jails clashed with the chaos he himself engendered and his own efforts to enrich himself at the expense of others. ... Depending on who you ask, Lima was a protector or an aggressor, an honorable soldier or an extortionist, a military leader or a smuggler, a future president or a fearsome "king" of the prisons. At the end of day, Lima's murderers were neither the drug dealers, nor his former companions. What killed Byron Lima was the eternal paradox called Guatemala."
- Guatemalan authorities have arrested the former Interior Vice Minister Manfredo Vinicio Pacheco Consuegra and the former head of the National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil - PNC), Walter René Vásquez Ceron, who are accused of having illegally awarded five government contracts for the rental of 47 bulletproof vehicles during 2014 and 2015, reports InSight Crime.
- A major corruption case in Honduras, in which executives allegedly used a Panamanian business and a US bank to pay $2.5 million in bribes could put President Juan Orlando Hernández in an awkward position as he heads into a polemic reelection campaign, reports InSight Crime.
- The Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia (REDLAD) has a statement denouncing that the Nicaraguan government has detained an OAS report on the country. The platform for more than 520 organizations that defend democracy and human rights, calls on the OAS to create and publicize a report on human rights in Nicaragua.
- Charcoal is used for cooking across Haiti, but rural producers have long been considered an environmental scourge. Now new research is showing they are not responsible for deforestation, and that a properly regulated artisanal industry could actually combat topsoil loss, reports the Associated Press.
- Haitian president-elect Jovenel Moïse hopes Trump's business background will lead to a more fruitful bilateral relationship, reports Reuters.
- While most of Bolivia's capital faces water rationing in the midst of a massive drought, EFE profiles a La Paz community that is self-managing water use through cooperatives.