Monday, April 13, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 13, 2015

(Note: an incomplete version of this brief was accidentally sent out earlier.) 

Summit of the Americas Tug-of-War

Obama won the Summit of the Americas tug-of-war between the United States and Venezuela -- or regional "anti-imperialism" to take a wider view. At least according to U.S. press.

The New York Times reports that the U.S. is the new star in the region. For the paper, "now, the question is how will the United States spend the considerable political capital it has accrued in the region to address vexing issues such as corruption, impunity and the fragility of democracy or, in the case of Cuba, its glaring absence?"

The Miami Herald celebrated a paradigm shift in U.S. - Latin America relations. It's the end of ALBA, according to the piece, and Obama is the overall winner of this round. Andres Oppenheimer chalks it up to ideological fatigue in Latin America, though fear of potential reverberations from Venezuela's economic crisis are also impacting Cuba, Central American and Caribbean nations' turn towards the U.S.

The U.S.- Cuba goodwill even overshadowed the traditional U.S. slamming that takes place at these events, reports A.P.

But such an interpretation ignores the changed regional dynamics that led to this incipient rapprochement between the U.S. and its estranged neighbor. Cuban President Raúl Castro mentioned the 2005 summit in which Free Trade of the America's proposal taken by George W. Bush was rotundly rejected. And he emphasized the importance of the CELAC -- a regional alliance that does not include the U.S. as a new chapter for the continent. The last Summit of the Americas concluded with threats from many regional presidents to boycott the meeting if Cuba was not included. That the U.S. is bothering to attempt to fix relations with Cuba could be seen a measure of success for regional power, according to an op ed in Página 12.

David Smilde also paints a more nuanced picture of the dynamics of the U.S. - Venezuela dispute. It's more like a game of chess, he wrote on Friday. While the U.S. seems to have taken the laurels of the Summit, it also granted concessions to Venezuela last week, clarifying that its not a national security threat and sending a high level diplomat for talks.

Obama in his speech urged nations at the summit to avoid using the U.S. as a scapegoat, and not focus so much on past injustices. Various of the other leaders' speeches, including Castro's, did revisit history, however. And called for the U.S. to examine it's own human rights policies. La Jornada emphasized Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's response. She said that history has its uses, "not to remember it and self-flagellate, or as an exercise in masochism, but in order to comprehend why things happened," she said.

Reuters has a piece on the U.S. background on the changed U.S. policy towards Cuba, saying it's the result of a "long quest" by Obama. Nonetheless, hurdles remain with regard to the normalization of relations with Cuba, notes the WSJ. Cuban's applaud the diplomacy, but would like to see a concrete positive impact on their lives, reports AP.

And the Washington Post focused on Cuban officials attempts to stifle dissidents' voices at a parallel civil society event, where chanting crowds denounced them as "mercenaries" and "worms."

For Summit fanatics who just haven't gotten enough, the BBC lists its "six unique moments."

 Daily Briefs
  • Brazil is also warming up to the U.S. after leaks indicated extensive National Security Administration (NSA) surveillance in Brazil, including monitoring cell phone communications of thousands of citizens, Petrobras, presidential advisors and Rousseff herself. The LA Times reports Dilma Rousseff will be visiting the U.S. in June -- a previously scheduled state-visit was cancelled in the wake of the scandal -- and notes the efforts American officials towards this end, including three visits from Vice President Joe Biden.
  • Nearly 700.000 protesters across Brazil demanded Rousseff's impeachment yesterday, though the turnout was less than marches last month. Though protesters say their cause is spreading, opinion polls show Dilma's rating has stopped plunging, at least, reports the NY Times and the WSJReuters reports that two thirds of Brazilians would like for Rousseff to face a political trial, but nearly the same amount doubt it would remover her from power.
  • But a piece in NACLA urges skepticism of press narratives about the protests. "The Brazilian and foreign press are engaged in an endless echo chamber of self-validation: foreign journalists get their information from anti-government media outlets, which then breathlessly report the foreign “analysis” in order to validate their own bias. For example, a March 21 story in the Folha de S. Paulo and Veja reported favorably on the New York Times’ foreign policy editorial. If foreigners say it, it must be true," writes Bryan Pitts. (It's a dynamic observers of Latin America are probably familiar with by now ...)
  • The remains of five decapitated persons were uncovered in a clandestine pit in Veracruz, reports AFP. The pit was found due to pressure from families of disappeared people. A pit with 31 cadavers was uncovered in the same state last year, most mutilated or decapitated.
  • Four members of a papal advisory commission on sexual abuses traveled to Rome yesterday to personally express concern regarding the Pope's designation of a Chilean bishop accused of shielding the country's most known pedophile, reverend Fernando Karadima, says AP.
  • The wives of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leaders, Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, arrived in Chile yesterday and say they would like to meet with President Michelle Bachelet, though they don't have any encounter programmed.
  • AFP reports the arrest in Cancun of César Gastelum Serrano, a member of a family network that provides cocaine to the Sinaloa cartel who is on the U.S. and Hondura's most wanted lists.
  • The six former Guantanamo prisoners taken in by Uruguay will receive housing help from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, reports the Miami Herald. The prisoners have struggled since arriving in December, and have demanded a better support system from the Uruguayan government, especially in light of the conditions of their detention over the past decade. Former president Mujica in turn urged the men to accept jobs offered to them. Last week President Tabaré Vázquez said the U.S. should provide them with financial assistance. Previously he had announced that the country will not be granting asylum to more ex-prisoners.
  • Vázquez also said, this weekend, that he will be reevaluating another Mujica policy: Uruguay's groundbreaking marihuana law. "We will be evaluating in the development of this process which are the positive aspects, if any, and which are the negative, if any. On the basis of that evaluation we will see afterwards what steps we must take," he said. In the same press conference he offered Colombia support for its peace process, saying they could provide an adequate environment for the negotiations.
  • Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos called on Latin American countries to continue developing strategies to face the region's illicit drug problem. "We proposed, at the Cartagena Summit, to start an objective scientific evaluation, without passions, of the methods and results of the so-called War on Drugs, which unfortunately has not been won, in order to seek more efficiency in the face of the problem of illicit drugs," he said. "The study was realized by the OAS two years ago, and since then has been at the disposal of our governments, the academe, and interest groups, to help us create a more informed and coherent position." 
  • Sad news for Argentine teenie boppers: Justin Bieber will be arrested if he sets foot in the country. A judge ordered the arrest after Bieber failed to answer questions regarding an alleged assault that occurred back in 2013, according to Reuters

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