Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Macri welcomes Obama, as rights groups reject U.S. legacy (March 23, 2016)

Obama continued his Latin America tour yesterday, flying to Argentina where he seeks to bolster President Mauricio Macri, who was elected last year on a platform promising a closer relationship with the U.S.

Argentina is the first major South American leader to align publicly with U.S. policy toward Venezuela, and Macri has spoken out strongly against human-rights abuses there, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Unlike his predecesor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Macri seeks to create an investor friendly climate and is looking to the U.S. for help, reports the Associated Press."President Macri recognizes that we're in a new era, and we have to look forward," Obama said ahead of his trip. The two leaders will hold a press conference later this morning.

The visit also signals Washington's backing for a shift to the political center in the region, reports the New York Times. The last U.S. President to visit was George W. Bush, who sought to push a free trade agreement and instead got lectured by then Presidents Hugo Chávez and Nestor Kirchner.
Macri himself represents a new shift in regional politics, reports the Wall Street Journal separately. 

Following his historic Cuba trip, Obama's Argentina visit represents a different kind of rapprochement, notes Reuters.

Annual trade between the two countries is at a minimum, and Obama hopes to create new economic exchanges, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Obama and Macri planned to announce new joint efforts on climate change, energy, and fighting drugs and crime, the White House said.

Macri has taken significant steps to end the decade-long debt dispute with litigating hedge-funds and seeks investors for the country's renewable energy industry, notes the New York Times.

Macri plans to make counter-narcotics a centerpiece of his national policy, and Security Minister Patricia Bullrich has already met with FBI and DEA officials in Washington. 

The new government's "paradigm shift" in drug policy represents "a realignment of the country on the map of world debate with regard to drug-related problems and drug trafficking," according to CELS' Manuel Tufró and Paula Litvachky, writing on Open Democracy. The policies remove Argentina from the group of countries in the region increasingly questioning the effectiveness of the "war on drugs," they write, and a fear campaign regarding drug trafficking is silencing incipient debates on the decriminalization of consumption.
The piece goes into depth regarding the adverse effects that can be expected in terms of violence, human rights violations and institutional functioning. They criticize that in such a context the prohibitionist model of drug control isn't even questioned. (See March 14's post and the post for Sept. 16, 2015, on CELS report documenting the harms of the "War on Drugs paradigm.)

The especially criticize the potential for military intervention in the new approach -- blurring the line between domestic security and foreign defense. Though armed forces have been used (with poor human rights results) in Mexico and Colombia, in Argentina the distinction between the two has been upheld since the return of democracy in 1983.

The debate comes at a symbolic time, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the 1976 coup, which has also clouded over Obama's otherwise sunny and optimistic visit.

The coup ushered in a period of "dirty war" in which 30,000 people were "disappeared." The deep trauma that remains reflects the atrocity of a "premeditated mass murder," writes Uki Goñi in the New York Times.

Declassified cables show that then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger appeared to support the military's repression tactics, notes the Wall Street Journal.

Human rights groups protested Obama's presence on the anniversary. He subsequently changed his itinerary and will spend Thursday in Bariloche, avoiding commemoration marches in Buenos Aires.

He will participate in an early morning ceremony in a memorial park, outside of Buenos Aires' city center. Human rights groups will boycott, calling his presence a provocation, reports the Guardian. Massive marches will take place in the afternoon.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel wrote an open letter to Obama. "In 1976, while you were only 14 years old, we were starting the most tragic period of our history, with the implementation of a state terrorism which subjected our people to persecution, torture, death and the forced disappearance of persons ... I am writing as a survivor of that horror [which included] financing, training, and coordination by the United States." (See March 4's briefs.)

Ahead of the visit the U.S. government is moving to declassify American military, intelligence and law enforcement records that could reveal what the United States government knew about the Argentina's brutal "dirty war" dictatorship which lasted until 1983, reports the New York Times. Last week several human rights groups, including Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo submitted requests to the U.S. embassy to declassify secret records.

The full extent of U.S. knowledge and support for human rights abuses -- which were spun as counter-terrorism actions -- is still shrouded in secrecy. 

"Declassifying a more extensive set of documents would also bring into sharper focus a shameful period of American foreign policy, during which Washington condoned and in some instances supported the brutal tactics of right-wing governments in the region," writes the New York Times Editorial Board. "It is time for the American government to do what it still can to help bring the guilty to justice and give the victims’ families some of the answers they seek."

Goñi notes that while the U.S. abetted the military junta, the President Jimmy Carter's administration was instrumental in saving lives and making human rights a cornerstone of his administration. He remembers the efforts of Carter’s human rights envoy, Patricia M. Derian and U.S. diplomat Tex Harris.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday in a televised speech in Cuba, Obama called on President Raul Castro to implement change on the island, to allow free political expression and a less regulated economy, and to finally bury the hatchet on long-standing historical disputes from imperialism to the Cold War, reports the New York Times. His message to the Cuban people, in a speech unlike those they are used to hearing: "It's time to leave the past behind," reports the Washington Post. He made a "made a stirring case for democracy and freedom" and called for Cubans on the island and in the diaspora to come together, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Obama's Cuba speech yesterday urged the island to engage with issues of race, a largely undiscussed topic for Cubans that the revolution supposedly resolved, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.)
  • For the baseball diplomacy commentators: The much maligned exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team was attended by both presidents and a contingent of the FARC guerrilla group's peace negotiating team in Havana. Leader Rodrigo Londoño looked relaxed wearing a baseball cap, blue Cuban team sweat jacket and sunglasses, and appeared to be enjoying the game with his fellow rebels, reports Reuters. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with the rebel group on Monday, a meeting Londoño called "something unprecedented and unthinkable. We received support from him in person for the peace process in Colombia, which fills us with optimism and makes us more certain that we’re moving toward peace," according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • On Monday the U.N. warned about a possible surge in violence by paramilitary successor groups if the FARC demobilizes following a peace accord with the Colombian government, according to Colombia Reports. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff again affirmed that she will not resign, and called impeachment attempts a "coup d'etat" against democratic rule because she had committed no crime, reports Reuters. She could be suspended as soon as May if the move wins congressional support.
  • In the meantime the Petrobras investigation will likely continue to expand and send shockwaves through the country's political system. (See Monday's post.) Yesterday executives at Odebrecht, the major engineering and construction firm at the center of the corruption investigation agreed to ask prosecutors for plea bargains, reports Reuters. The move comes as investigators uncovered systematic corruption at Odebrecht, with an office to pay bribes on work for World Cup soccer stadiums and Olympics legacy projects, as well as a bribery scheme that helped skim money off of state-run oil company Petrobras contracts.
  • Late yesterday a Brazilian Supreme Court judge ordered that a corruption investigation  of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva be sent to the country's highest court, reports the Wall Street Journal. That effectively eliminates the risk of his immediate arrest.
  • Corruption scandals continue to plague governments across the region. Chile, which is generally seen as a case apart, has been suffering an ongoing campaign financing scandal for the past year which has cast a shadow over politicians of all major parties. Now they are struggling to find an unblemished candidate for next year's election, reports Bloomberg.
  • The ongoing electoral disaster in Peru, where two popular candidates were already eliminated from the running by an electoral board determined to carry out strict interpretations of the law, could now lead to all of the leading candidates being eliminated for relatively minor infractions. The determination would come only a few days before the April 10 presidential elections, but demonstrates the absurdity of the board's process, writes Gustavo Gorriti in Caretas (republished on IDL-Reporteros). (See yesterday's briefs.)

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