And this week negotiators announced that ongoing NAFTA renegotiation talks are falling far behind what is expected, reports the Washington Post. Trump elevated tensions regarding NAFTA -- threatening to include Canada and Mexico in new tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. The two neighboring countries promised to retaliate if such tariffs are put in effect, reports the Los Angeles Times. (Yesterday the White House suggested that exceptions could be carved out for both countries, reports the BBC.)
But sending a relative with no official government post, recently lowered security clearance, and a last-minute agenda instead "underscored the profound shift in approach that the Trump administration has taken with Mexico, and with the region more broadly," reports the New York Times. "Public fights with Mexico, vows to end relations with Cuba, suggestions of intervention in Venezuela and a high-profile exit from a major regional trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, have signaled a sharp change from what had become a rough consensus in Washington over the last two decades: a softer, friendlier approach to the region and a belief that American interests would be better served through alliances."
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson, who has over 30 years experience in the region, was excluded from the meetings, according to the NYT. Jacobson recently announced she will step down in May, the latest in a string of high level State Department resignations that are draining U.S. diplomatic expertise in the region. (See last Friday's briefs.)
In part, Jacobson is stepping down because she is undercut by the personal relationship Kushner developed with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray dating to the Trump presidential campaign, according to the Los Angeles Times. The two are close, and Kushner has directly managed many aspects of the relationship with Mexico, cutting out State Department experts, notes the NYT.
The Kushner visit is a last-ditch attempt by officials in both countries to move forward with more than a dozen bilateral agreements, relating to law enforcement cooperation on fighting drugs, economic development for Central America and border security, among other issues, before Mexico's July presidential election, reports the Washington Post.
The Trump administration's comments regarding Venezuela and Cuba have made it hard for other countries in the region to pressure the Maduro administration without appearing servile to the U.S. And a warm relationship with Colombia has become difficult and mainly focused on "war on drugs" policies, according to NYT.
Peruvian Congress angling for PPK ouster, again
Peru's leading opposition party, Fuerza Popular, decided to back a motion for President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's impeachment, reports La República. Congress will not vote on the motion until after the commission addressing the local Lava Jato corruption investigation meets on March 16, to hear testimony that could implicate the president, reports El Comercio. (See yesterday's briefs.)
It is the second time lawmakers attempt to oust PPK, the last motion was derailed in December by the last minute defection of members of Fuerza Popular. (See Dec. 22's post.) Critics say PPK traded a pardon for former dictator Alberto Fujimori in exchange for the votes that saved him from impeachment. (See Jan. 2's post.)
Though the rationale behind the impeachment motion is related to allegations of corruption in relation to Odebrecht, PPK supporters say an alliance of opposition parties -- except for Fuerza Popular -- pushing the measure are retaliating against the Fujimori Christmas pardon, reports TeleSUR.
- On the issue of Lava Jato in the region, Transparency International denounced that the corruption investigations in several countries are "excessively" stalled. The organization signals Panama, Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina especially.
- The former head of Brazilian state oil company Petrobras was sentenced yesterday to 11 years' prison for taking a three-million-real (RM3.6 million) bribe from the Odebrecht SA, reports AFP.
- The European Union, together with Norway and Switzerland, have expressed their concern about social leaders and human rights defenders being attacked and murdered in Colombia, reports EFE. attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia shot up 30 percent last year, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. And the NGO Somos Defensores said at least 106 social leaders and human rights defenders were slain in 2017, which signified a 32.5 percent increase over 2016.
- Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is increasingly unlikely to be allowed to run for office in October, but polls indicate he could easily win the presidency, reports Reuters. Absent Lula, polls indicate that right-wing reactionary Jair Bolsonaro would face-off against environmentalist Marina Silva in a second-round election. It's not clear who would win. (See yesterday's briefs.)
- Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is leading in polls for Mexico's July presidential election, with 35 percent support and a 14 point lead over his opponents, reports Reuters. AMLO is benefitting from cross accusations of corruption among his main opponents. The ruling PRI party has accused left-right coalition candidate Ricardo Anaya of illicit enrichment, accusations he denies. In turn, he has said that PRI candidate José Antonio Meade could be linked to irregularities in a government ministry.
- Anaya is attempting to capitalize on opposition to Peña Nieto, and has accused him of politically interfering in the campaign, reports El País. It's a risky bet for the Frente Amplio coalition, which includes the conservative PAN party, according to the piece, which says governors fear government reprisals.
- Enrique Krauze warns of the potential dangers of an AMLO win for Mexican democracy in a New York Times op-ed, though he admits Mexican voters are justifiably disgusted with the political establishment.
- This weekend a group of Mexican writers and former government officials urged Peña Nieto to back off an apparently political investigation of Anaya, reports the Associated Press.
- Human rights groups in Mexico fear the newly passed law of Internal Security, which regulates the use of the military, will worsen violations. Santiago Aguirre, sub-director of the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, told Al Jazeera that the law also represents the continuation of a failed anti-crime strategy.
- Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced that he would pull out the army from internal security duties, reports the Associated Press. He said the country’s national police forced would be strengthened to compensate for the army’s reassignment. The move comes amid accusations of corruption and criminal activities by members of the military.
- Reports of escalating Rio de Janeiro violence are exaggerated, and the actual numbers do not warrant the military intervention decreed recently by Brazilian President Michel Temer, argues Robert Muggah in the Los Angeles Times. (See Feb. 20's post.) The politically motivated policy does nothing to address the underlying causes of crime, poverty and inequality, he writes. "... Human rights advocates fear that Temer's decree is part of a larger shift toward more punitive approaches to controlling crime. They have good reason to worry. Some military officials have hinted that the extraordinary measures taken in Rio could be replicated in other states. Brazilians are understandably looking for quick solutions. Three-quarters of Rio's residents support the federal intervention. But it won't be possible to restore public security through military action alone."
- FARC presidential candidate Rodrigo Londoño is out of the race for May's election due to health problems, and the former guerrilla group turned political party will not replace him. However the FARC will participate in this Sunday's legislative elections, reports Reuters.
- Venezuelan officials are seeking talks in Washington about a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Venezuela, reports Reuters. U.S. officials believe the government seeks to use Joshua Holt as a bargaining chip, in the face of potential U.S. oil sanctions against Venezuela. Last month a top-ranking Republican congressional staffer met with President Nicolás Maduro on the issue, reports the Associated Press.
- Opposition candidate Henri Falcón defended his decision to run in Venezuela's questioned upcoming presidential elections. He told the Miami Herald that he he’d move quickly to bring in humanitarian aid for a hungry nation, eradicate price and currency controls and release hundreds of political prisoners. Critics say he is giving a veneer of legitimacy to rigged elections.
- Multinationals in Venezuela are pushing back against government price controls more aggressively, reports Reuters.
- The killing of a dissident MS-13 member in Mexico City suggests the Salvadoran street gang schism has reached Mexico, but is unlikely to to have a strong impact on the country's criminal scene, reports InSight Crime. (See Monday's briefs.)
- Chile's president-elect Sebastian Piñera said he placed $1.2 billion of his family’s wealth in blind trusts, ahead of assuming office on Sunday, reports Reuters.
- The U.S. has little moral high-ground to denounce foreign intervention in its elections, argues Timothy M. Gill in the Washington Post. Interference in regional politics did not end with the Cold War, he writes, rather "the U.S. has continued its longtime practice of working to destabilize democratically elected, leftist governments throughout Latin America right up to the present day." He looks at the cases of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua as examples of how the U.S. used programs aimed at strengthening democracy to counter governments that are unfriendly to U.S. interests.