Tuesday, August 29, 2017

NAFTA in Mexico (Aug. 29, 2017)

NAFTA has achieved enormous benefits in terms of industrial development and jobs for Mexico. But wages are stubbornly low, hobbling the country's economic growth and creating unfair competition for Canada and the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. will likely focus on obtaining tougher labor standards in Mexico as a strategy in renegotiations to the 23-year-old free trade agreement. But experts point to complicating factors behind the country's low wages -- and in fact note that wages in areas benefited by NAFTA are higher than in the rest of the country.
NAFTA is viewed positively by 60 percent of Mexicans, and brought about a revolution in the country's access to consumer goods, reports the Washington Post. "The revolution in shopping ­options has become so ingrained that many Mexicans recall with haziness the pre-NAFTA days of limited brand choices, domestic knockoffs and black-market scrounging. In such cultural ways, the NAFTA years have brought Mexico and the United States far closer together, a cross-border blending of behaviors that even a clampdown on trade is unlikely to undo."

(See yesterday's briefs on Trump's social media approach to the renegotiations and Mexico's response.)

News Briefs
  • Hurricane Harvey could be the worst storm in Texas' history, and than 30,000 people are expected to be housed in shelters indefinitely. Mexico offered assistance in dealing with the impacts of the natural disaster. In 2005, Mexico sent aid to assist in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But this time the offer puts Trump in a bind, notes the Washington Post. "Should he accept the generosity, which, to some of his supporters, might ring of hypocrisy and weakness? Or should he deny it, while Texans cope with a nightmare?"
  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales unleashed a storm this weekend by trying to kick out the head of a U.N. anti-corruption commission who is investigating him. (See yesterday's post.) Pressure from Guatemalan civil society and the international community has been key in thwarting Morales' attempt at impunity, reports Nómada. Morales announced the immediate expulsion of CICIG head Iván Velásquez on Sunday, but the decision was blocked by the quick action of Justicia Ya, which had requested a precautionary measure against such a move the night before. The piece goes into detail about the protests in favor and against Velásquez that took place on Sunday.
  • The U.S. government called on Morales to rethink the expulsion order yesterday, reports the Wall Street Journal. A government spokesman yesterday said the government was considering its options -- both in response to the Constitutional Court decision protecting Velásquez and a request to the Supreme Court from the attorney general to strip Morales of immunity. (See yesterday's post.) However, there are signs that Morales could backtrack, reports Reuters, which notes that Morales said on Monday on his official Facebook page that he would be "respectful of the decisions of the courts."
  • What has changed in the two years since the CICIG and popular protests ousted then-President Otto Pérez Molina? The CICIG and the Public Ministry have expanded their focus from political corruption into illicit political financing in exchange for favors and contracts, argues Nómada. That means big business owners are now targets, and back Morales' quest to defang the anti-corruption efforts. El Periódico goes into detail about the "military mafias" controlling corruption networks within the state. "Nobody knows how this crisis will be resolved. What is true is that one day, for the first time in a year and half heading the government, Jimmy decided to exert his authority and be Chief of State, only to gladden the mafias by trying to expulse Iván Velásquez. Since then, he is keeping the nation in uncertainty because he hasn't yet clarified whether he will obey the Courts order, or if he plans an authoritarian turn ... Things could get worst," concludes Nómada.
  • Wuilly Arteaga, the violin wielding Venezuelan protester who made headlines around the world when he was beaten and imprisoned by security forces, is an example of how the government has used "intimidation, torture and propaganda to cement its power," according to the Washington Post.
  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet proposed extending the right to marry to same-sex couples yesterday, a bill that will go to Congress next week. The proposal comes amid a spate of progressive legislation this month -- last week she sent a bill to Congress that would revamp Chile’s migration law to make it more welcoming to the country's growing immigrant population. And earlier in August Congress approved a reform to the country's abortion regulations that had been proposed by the president. Though Bachelet's gay marriage proposal reflects evolving public opinion among Chileans on the issue of same-sex marriage, it's not clear whether the proposal -- which would give same-sex couples the right to adopt -- will pass, writes Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly.
  • The ultimately successful efforts to modify Chile's strict abortion ban can serve as an example for the remaining countries in the region where abortion is completely prohibited -- El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Surinam, argue José Miguel Vivanco and Verónica Undurraga in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Colombia's demobilized FARC released a list of assets worth approximately $332 million, but the accounting falls far short of the former rebel groups true holdings said the Colombian attorney general. According to InSight Crime calculations for 2015-2016, before the FARC officially disarmed, the guerrillas' potential yearly earnings from illegal activities may well have reached $580 million, mostly from the drug trade and illegal mining. And there is evidence that much of these holdings remain hidden, according to Insight.
  • Cuban asylum seekers entering the U.S. are treated differently according to gender, reports the Miami Herald. Men are kept in immigrant detention centers during the entire process, while women (especially those with children) are released far more quickly, according to advocates.
  • Venezuelans now lead all nationalities for U.S. asylum requests. This diaspora, however, has been welcomed by U.S. conservatives, and could potentially reshape Florida's electoral map, reports Americas Quarterly. But as the Venezuelan community grows and more become U.S. citizens, they may defy Republican expectations and the Cuban model, argues Andrés Rabellino.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is encouraging the dozens of native languages with a policy that will require government agencies to offer services in those languages in areas where they are dominant, reports the Economist.
  • Around the world, three billion people cook or heat their homes with open fires, with deadly consequences for their health, reports the National Geographic. In Guatemala aid efforts have made inroads in providing families with alternatives, but local quirks and and ingrained ways mean that replacing open fires is not as simple as it might seem. "For a stove to be fully accepted by a household, both stove and fuel must be affordable, accessible, and easy to use—goals that aren’t easy to achieve simultaneously."

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