Tuesday, December 13, 2016

China moves to fill Trump vacuum in Lat Am (Dec. 13, 2016)

There have been several pieces lately about how U.S. president-elect Donald Trump's anti-Latin America rhetoric is pushing the region's leaders towards China, which is interested in fomenting closer ties.

China is signaling that it will capitalize on regional fears of new U.S. policy, reports the Miami HeraldThe government released an 11-page policy paper on the “new era” of Chinese-Latin American relations following a South American tour by its president, Xi Jinping, last month.

The document sets out out ambitions to expand the country’s global influence and step into the vacuum created by any U.S. withdrawal, reports the Wall Street Journal.

And yesterday China and Mexico pledged to deepen ties, reports Reuters. Though relations between the two countries had cooled after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto scrapped high-profile rail and retail projects -- both countries are miffed by Trump's promised diplomatic direction. Mexico last week awarded two deepwater oil blocks to China's Offshore Oil Corporation.

The two countries are pushed by diplomatic desire to snub Trump and potential economic benefits, according to Quartz
"Latin America is already a big piece of China’s international expansion strategy, and Mexico is one of the region’s largest markets. In turn, Mexico could use some Chinese investment at a time when it desperately needs to diversify its US-heavy portfolio. Indeed, officials and business leaders(Spanish) in Mexico are looking to China to plug the hole that US business might leave, if Trump carries through with his promises."

Of course, this recent push is part of a longer process of Chinese economic growth, both in the region and in the world, notes Andrés Serbin on the Aula blog. But the expected rejection of the long-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement by Washington further pushes Latin America into the arms of China he argues. It also means that countries will enter agreements that eschew labor and environmental regulations pushed by the U.S. he said.

"In sharp contrast with the new U.S. President’s views of Latin America, Beijing calls Latin America and the Caribbean “a land full of vitality and hope,” praises the region’s “major role in safeguarding world peace and development,” and calls it “a rising force in the global landscape.”  While some analysts suggest that globalization is slowing if not ending, these developments more strongly indicate that it is rather taking on a new form within a new world order that clashes with the visions and values of the West.  We appear to be transitioning into a world that is genuinely multi-polar with globalization under new rules."

Off the subject of China, but regarding Trump's relationship with Latin America, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczinsky told the Washington Post he hopesfor a good rapport with the new administration. "It depends a little bit on what their perception of Latin America is. If they think that Latin America is just a bunch of guys who climb walls to get illegal work, then it is not going to go well. I hope they go past that. ... I am going to tell him: 'You are lucky you have Latin America. Sure, there are drugs and problems, that’s true. But you have to look on the positive side. We are less uncivilized than you think. We actually make a big contribution to the U.S. We don’t give you any real trouble. Latin immigration to the U.S. — sure, it should be done legally — makes a pretty positive contribution to the U.S. economy.'"

News Briefs
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced a 72 hour closure of the border with Colombia yesterday. The announcement came a day after the government launched a plan to withdraw the 100 bolivar bill from circulation, alleging economic destabilization attempts from transnational criminal groups in the neighboring country, reports AFP.
  • The government released four jailed activist early today, but opposition leaders say the gesture is insufficient and demand the release of 100 people they say are political prisoners, reports Reuters.
  • Trump's willingness to throw diplomatic convention overboard could be put to good use supporting the Venezuelan political opposition, argues Evan Ellis in Latin America goes Global. "As with Tsai Ing-wen’s call and China, the position of democracy in Venezuela will be strengthened if Venezuela’s President Maduro (and those who stay out of jail so long as he remains in power) returns to the bargaining table knowing that the incoming Trump administration is paying attention, and not entirely sure what he will do once he takes office," he writes. Ellis also notes that Trump's nomination of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State will likely tilt U.S. policy against the chavista goverment which "mistreated Exxon in the country for years, expropriated its assets, and violated its contractual rights."
  • Guatemala's congress rejected two constitutional reforms -- drafted by a wide coalition of civil society -- aimed at shielding judge nominations from corruption and recognizing indigenous justice, reports Nómada. The reforms were critical for maintaining the national push against impunity embedded in government structures, writes Martín Rodríguez Pellecer. A Faro column by #JusticiaYa leader Álvaro Montenegro delves into the alliances behind the rejection and laments the difficulties reform-minded civil society must surmount in the struggle to clean up Guatemala. "Guatemala must now decide between deepening its efforts against impunity and corruption, or the reinstatement of control by the “Hidden Powers,” profit-orientated criminal groups with influence or entrenched in the country’s institutions," writes Adriana Beltrán for WOLA. An Open Democracy piece by Christian Medina-Rodríguez and Luis Mack concurs, ascribing the congressional rejection as pushback against the anti-corruption achievements of last year. The question whether the achievements of the U.N. sponsored CICIG can be maintained and how Guatemalan institutions can wean themselves of outside support.
  • Mexico is having a surge in violence this year -- homicides in the first ten months of the year already surpassed last year's total, and are the highest since 2012, reports the New York Times. It has many concerned about a backslide into the country's more recent violent past. And experts point to the failure of the kingpin targeting policy in the country's fight against organized crime. It has resulted in fragmented and volatile criminal groups replacing the monolithic cartels. Fights for succession have increased violence in the country, note experts cited in the piece, including InSight Crime's Steven Dudley. It has also created an increase in smaller scale crime, less susceptible to the kingpin strategy, explains Alejandro Hope. The potential withdrawal of U.S. support for Mexican rule of law initiatives has others concerned that a hands off approach could lead to further violence in the region. (See last Friday's post.)
  • The flow of Central American migrants across Mexico headed towards the U.S. has increased significantly in recent years. Increasingly, women set off on the journey, which poses particular dangers for them. Between 60 to 80 percent are raped in Mexico, reports Nómada in an in-depth piece.
  • Last weekend was the 35 anniversary of the El Mozote massacre in which a U.S. trained death squad killed about 1,000 civilians were killed. Though it's an emblematic example of the "tragic consequences of anti-communist fervor in poor countries like El Salvador," the massacre has mostly been forgotten," writes Sarah Maslin in a Nation piece that examines the history of the atrocity and the current quest for justice. The remains of 21 victims were buried on Saturday, reports TeleSur. The event was held as the repeal of an amnesty law earlier this year permits victims' families to pursue a legal case, and as efforts to exhume the victims started last year continue. More details on the legal case and exhumation efforts at Tim's El Salvador Blog.
  • Underfunded aid efforts in Haiti mean the country is at real risk for a food crisis, reports the Guardian. International donors have provided 46 percent of the 120 million humanitarian appeal made by the U.N. in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The storm particularly affected the country's primary agricultural production areas, making food supplies a critical problem.
  • At least 50,000 people remain in makeshift housing in Haiti, seven years after magnitude 7.0 earthquake destroyed their homes, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilian senators approved a constitutional amendment freezing government spending for the next twenty years, a major victory for the increasingly embattled President Michel Temer, reports the Wall Street Journal. (To think, there were a few months there without the adjective "embattled" affixed to the Brazilian president in the media. Plus ça change ...)
  • A new Datafolha poll puts leftist politician Marina Silva in the lead for winning a second round presidential election in 2018, reports Folha de S. Paulo. Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would win in a first round, but then lose in a hypothetical second round by about 9 points.
  • Brazil's federal police asked prosecutors to charge Lula with more corruption related crimes, reports Reuters. The charges against the former president, his wife and others for alleged irregularities in the acquisition of land intended for the construction of his think tank in São Paulo, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The European Union and Cuba signed an agreement to establish closer relations, which have been blocked for twenty years due to human rights concerns, reports AFP.
  • Honduras and Israel signed an agreement to strengthen the Central American nation's military, reports La Tribuna.
  • Dominican police extrajudicially killed about 200 civilians this year according to a report by the country's National Commission for Human Rights. About 70 percent were young men, reports EFE.
  • The U.S. declassified another bunch of documents relating to human rights abuses by Argentina's last military dictatorship, reports AFP.
  • Peru launched it's first Quechua language news show this week, on state television and radio, reports EFE.

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