Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Key Central America summit in Miami (June 14, 2017)

Miami is going to a regional policy focal point over the next couple of days. While an upcoming announcement regarding U.S. policy on Cuba -- Trump is expected to rollback his predecessor's rapprochement with the island -- has hogged headlines, experts point to a summit tomorrow as a key opportunity to examine Central America policy.

The "Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America," starts tomorrow in Miami and is co-hosted by the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security along with Mexico. It will be co-chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray on the first day, which will focus on "advancing prosperity and economic growth." The second day will be led by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Osorio Chong, and will focus on U.S. security relations and policy towards Central America. The meeting will be attended by the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. While no policy breakthroughs are expected, the meeting "is the first high-level summit between the Central American presidents and the Trump Administration and will set the tone of the relationship for years to come," writes the Woodrow Wilson's Eric Olson in a Miami Herald opinion piece.

The "region’s greatest challenges: fragile governments infested with corruption that are unable to protect their own citizens, provide adequate economic opportunities or deliver basic services." The failure to address these challenges is behind the "irregular flow of migrants and the existence of illicit trafficking networks in Central America" and poses a grave risk to the region and U.S. security, he argues.

The Guardian emphasizes the business and military focus of the summit, quoting experts who point to a return to Cold War and "war on drugs" approaches. 

Last week over 100 national and international civil society allies from the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador (as well as other countries in Latin America and Europe) -- including the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) -- urged U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to demonstrate leadership to ensure that human rights do not take a backseat in any agreements reached during an upcoming Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America that the United States is co-hosting with the Government of Mexico. The groups criticized plans to "discuss US policy towards the region solely from a security and economic lens, without addressing the protection needs and human rights of families, individuals, and children from the region." (See June 12's briefs.)

The Guardian quotes WOLA's Adam Isacson who says a worst case scenario would be a halt to Obama's more holistic approaches and a return to military aid. And Daniella Burgi-Palomino, senior associate at the Latin America Working Group, said: "We’re very concerned at the detrimental impact of Gen Kelly inserting homeland security into what should be foreign policy decisions, especially as he’s shown no understanding of the root causes driving migration and refugees."

And while the focus for the meeting is gang violence, drug trafficking and stemming illegal migration from Central America, El Salvador and Honduras' leaders are interested in discussing the continuation of Temporary Protected Status in the U.S. for some of their nationals, reports the Miami Herald. Both have taken to social media to make the case for citizens who have spent years in the U.S. under a temporary immigration status. There are currently about 57,000 Hondurans receiving the temporary immigration benefit, which was granted after Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras and nearby Nicaragua in 1998. And about 195,000 Salvadorans live in the U.S. under a TPS up for renewal next March.

News Briefs
  • Cuba must improve its human rights record if it wants to continue normalizing relations with the U.S., according to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Addressing the Senate foreign relations committee in Washington yesterday, Tillerson said that Obama’s reforms effectively removed pressure on Raúl Castro’s regime to alter its behavior, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The imminent Cuba announcement has people in favor and against engagement jockeying to influence the presidential decision, reports the Miami Herald, noting a "flurry" of letters to Trump on the issue.
  • The face of Cuban defenders in the U.S. has changed, notes the Associated Press. "...A coalition of high-tech firms, farming interests, travel companies and young Cuban-Americans thrown into action by the looming announcement of a new Cuba policy. On the opposite side, hard-line members of Miami's Cuban exile community who suddenly have a direct line into the White House through Cuban-American Republican members of Congress and the administration."
  • The Chavista ranks are cracking, according to a Washington Post piece that says "current and former government officials, as well as residents of poor neighborhoods that were once adamantly pro-government" are turning on President Nicolás Maduro's government. (See yesterday's briefs on alternate views.) Maduro's push to rewrite the 1999 constitution, passed under his predecessor Hugo Chávez, has angered many in the socialist movement. The piece discusses the potential rise of a "former Chavistas" space in the political middle -- in opposition both to the government's current path and the alternatives presented by the opposition. 
  • A top Venezuelan general resigned last week, saying he disagreed with the format of the Constituent Assembly convened by the Maduro government, reports the BBC. The head of Venezuela's National Defense Council, Alexis López Ramírez, joins chief prosecutor Luis Ortega Díaz as a critical voice from the government. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The term "civil war" is being increasingly bandied about, but an actual militarized conflict in Venezuela is unlikely, according to a Washington Post WorldView. "But an institutional collapse that plunges the country into homicidal chaos and anarchy is not hard to imagine."
  • Marco Coello was tortured by Venezuelan security forces for participating in 2014 protests against the government -- a case documented by Human Rights Watch and included in the U.S. State Department's 2015 human rights report. But Coello was arrested immediately after an asylum interview in Miami, reports the New York Times, which says the case may be "a sign of just how far the government is willing to go to carry out President Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration."
  • Demobilized FARC fighters have handed over another 30 percent of their weapons, decommissioning a total of 60 percent of their arms so far, reports the BBC. Images of the weapons handed over to U.N. monitors have been made public, but not pictures of the former fighters themselves giving in their arms, as that would be an image of defeat according to the FARC.
  • Former Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Sérgio Cabral was sentenced to 14 years in prison yesterday for corruption and money laundering. He is one of the most high-profile politicians convicted so far in the Operation Car Wash investigation, reports the Wall Street Journal. Judge Sergio Moro found Cabral guilty of receiving around $816,450 in bribes from an overpriced construction contract for a refinery built by state-owned oil company Petrobras and laundering some of the proceeds. Moro said there was not enough evidence to convict Cabral's wife Adriana Ancelmo, reports the BBC.
  • Three Colombian men gained legal recognition as the country's first "polyamorous" family -- they are legally a family unit with inheritance rights, reports the Telegraph. Same-sex marriages were made legal in Colombia last year.
  • Peru's drug strategy maintains a military focus, making success at reducing a booming coca trade unlikely, writes Paul Gootenberg at the AULA blog. He contrasts Peru's strategy to Colombia's failed eradication efforts and Bolivia's approach to working with cocaleros. "As Colombians learned after decades of drug war against coca growers, including Plan Colombia, forced eradication is one of the most inefficient and futile ways to combat drugs.  ... Eradication also provokes violent conflict and propels growers to new areas ... Effective intelligence to hit labs and intermediary layers of cocaine trades pays bigger dividends.  So does enlisting cocalero unions on the side of the state – to self-police as in Bolivia (now with the region’s least illicit cocaine) and Colombia (where the 2017 peace accord now recognizes cocalero rights)."
  • Brazil's last economic crisis -- admittedly smaller in scope than the political and economic scandals roiling the country today -- had an important ripple effect in the region. "Now, if in the 1999 crisis Brazil sneezed and South American countries caught a cold, what happens now that it's in intensive care?" asks Alejandro Frenkel in a Nueva Sociedad essay. The results are negative for regional integration, he argues, and foment a process of "centrifugal heterogeneity." "That is to say, governments with different political and economic orientations that, rather than seek a minimum of common denominators, exacerbate their differences, generating a vicious circle of polarization-blockage-fragmentation."
  • Former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli appeared in Miami federal court yesterday, arguing that spy charges and an extradition request by the Panamanian government are politically motivated, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Panama has switched diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China, a major victory for Beijing according to the Guardian.
  • Human rights groups have denounced an increasing sympathy for Argentina's last military dictatorship. Three women are denouncing their fathers, who participated in the dictatorship's widespread torture and killing in an attempt to counter that shift, reports the Guardian. "The children of perpetrators who never approved their crimes, who shouted ‘murderer’ to their faces, should unite," wrote one in a Facebook appeal last month. They hope to pressure convicted perpetrators into providing information about the thousands of disappeared victims and the babies given up for illegal adoption.
  • More than 200 parents participate in a Peruvian group campaigning for medical marijuana for their epilepsy affected children, reports the Guardian. In the meantime, many are forced to resort to the illicit cannabis market and home-made manufacturing to treat their children with a life-changing remedy.
  • Argentina's government is trying to raise votes among the poor ahead of October's mid-term elections, but is running into trouble in traditional Peronist strongholds, where residents are skeptical welfare workers looking for a quick photo-op, reports Reuters.
  • Popular mobilization seems to be on the rise around the world -- and its fueled, at least in part, by inequality, argues Fabio Andres Diaz in a Conversation piece that focuses on the cases of South Africa and Colombia.

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