Thursday, March 19, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 19, 2015

The State Dept's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report was released yesterday, according to a press release. While the first part of the report is on 'Drug and Chemical Control,' a second volume focuses on Money Laundering and Financial Crimes. The two-volume report offers a comprehensive assessment of the efforts of foreign governments to reduce illicit narcotics production, trafficking and use, in keeping with their international obligations under UN treaties, while also presenting information on governments’ efforts to counter money laundering and terrorist financing.

"Mexico remains a major transit and source country for illicit drugs destined for the United States and a center for money laundering," according to the report, (the chapter on Mexico in the first volume starts on p. 235) and Proceso. Several Mexican sources argue the report shows Mexico has made progress on corruption, including El Universal. An Acapulco newspaper highlights the report alongside a story on execution-style killings.  

A Brookings' new report, Better Than You Think: Reframing Inter-American Relations, (19pp) argues that U.S. core interests in the region have steadily improved in recent decades, contrary to what others have suggested, according to a press release. Most countries in the region "have aligned to produce stronger economic growth, improved macroeconomic management, consolidated democracy, and inter-state peace." One of the reports' authors is on WBUR/NPR's On Point today.

  • Venezuela/U.S. relations are reviewed and assessed in the New Yorker (3/18) by Boris Muñoz, a Venezuelan journalist living in the U.S., who wonders if the sanctions "could jeopardize the strategic objective of overcoming more than half a century’s stalemate with Cuba." The main question is still whether Maduro will still allow upcoming parliamentary elections.  A few weeks ago, Muñoz wrote more directly in Dossier 360 (3/8): ¿Qué Carajo Está Pasando en Venezuela? The revolution, he wrote, "largely depends on the conspiracies ... because it is a narrative that still works." Luis Vicente León (Datanálisis) thinks these sanctions could have a positive impact in internal U.S. politics, according to his column in El Universal (translated into English on WOLA's Venezuela blog). However, he agrees with Muñoz that Obama's Executive Order is "a blessing for the Venezuelan government at a time of falling popularity." The conservative-leaning Weekly Standard accuses Obama of "going wobbly" in Latin America: "There is no reason to be cowed by a disparaging advertisement in the New York Times or the usual cacophony of tin pot regimes that have recently provided rhetorical assistance to Maduro." 
  • Brazil's Pres. Rousseff announced a package of anti-corruption measures including strengthening the Ficha Limpa Act, and proscribing "10 years in prison for those involved in corruption and fines of between five and 10 times the amount of money involved in any scheme," according to the LA Times and Reuters (3/18).  Rousseff's favorability continues to slide, according to DataFolha (3/18) and she may be "politically paralyzed for the remainder of her term, which ends in January 2019," suggests the Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer. The columnist quotes the ever-evolving former Pres Cardoso who now says that he doesn't think Lula nor Rousseff were "directly involved" but had to know "something bad was happening" with Petrobras. The political opposition is trying to figure out how to pin some responsibility for the corruption on Rousseff, according to the Wall St Journal - the same opposition that Oppenheimer argues should be brought in as members of the president's cabinet. While some businesses accused of paying kickbacks, are figuring out if they can admit wrongdoing, repay any damages that resulted, in order to get back to business, reports Bloomberg, another possible element in the Brazilian scene is "the nonchalant demonstrator" who is "not exactly sure where to direct their anger," according to a blogger in Open Democracy
  • Coletta Youngers (WOLA) and Pien Metaal (Transnational Institute) spoke "effective, rights-respecting approaches to the cultivation of crops deviated to the illicit market," at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna, last week, according to her testimony (watch video - 4min). According to Al Jazeera (3/17), drug policy reform is low since "evidence-based practices on narcotics use are being undermined by a five-decade-old international convention."
  • Colombia court ordered a referendum that seeks the impeachment of the Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro, according to Colombia Reports (3/18) but affirmed he can stay in office in the mean time, according to El Nuevo Siglo. Last year Colombia’s inspector general "kicked the mayor out of office on charges that were later deemed unsubstantiated by the court" and Petro was reinstated two months later. The mayor is set to finish his current term on Jan 1, 2016, according to El Tiempo.
  • Nicaraguan indigenous groups spoke about significant repercussions for their peoples if the new canal project moves forward, at this weeks' IACHR meetings (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights), according to Fusion (3/17). The proposed canal 'Connects Oceans, Disconnects People,' headlines Marinelink.
  • "Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere" was the subject yesterday in a U.S. Congressional Hearing where Michael Shifter (Inter American Dialogue) provided testimony questioning why the hearing was taking place: "The time, effort, and resources that are being spent on the subject of Iranian intervention in the Western Hemisphere should rather be devoted to proactive engagement and support around the very real security issues that Latin America is confronting today: a robust drug trade and other illicit commerce; an epidemic of violence and crime; a deteriorating political, economic, and human rights situation in Venezuela; and widespread corruption and state weakness."

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