Friday, January 6, 2017

Mexico won't pay for the wall just yet (Jan. 6, 2017)

The U.S. Congress, not Mexico, will be asked to fund the construction of a border wall separating the two countries, reports CNN. The wall, to be paid for by Mexico which opposes the policy, was a major campaign promise of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump. But he defended the change in tack in a morning tweet, saying this route would be faster and promising the money would be paid back by Mexico.

The transition team is already looking at locations for the first phases of the "Great Wall," and the effort will likely use legislation signed by George W. Bush authorizing the construction of a "physical barrier" on the southern border, reports the New York Times.

But U.S. policies could definitely batter Mexico's economy. Yesterday, Trump threatened to slap a "big border tax" on Japanese car manufacturer Toyota if the company follows through on plans to expand production in Mexico of vehicles destined for the U.S. market, reports the Guardian

It promises to be a tough year for Mexican leadership, amid national fears over the economic impact of Trump's policies, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post on the potential impact of Trump's threats on the Mexican economy, specifically the car manufacturing sector.)

News Briefs
  • Trump's policies -- especially those rejecting free trade -- seem likely to preclude a closer relationship between the U.S. and the new market-friendly governments in the region. This coupled with economic and political crisis in Brazil, an unpopular government in Mexico, increasingly weakened democratic institutions in the region's remaining leftist governments and ever increasing violence in Central America paint a grim picture for the next year, according to Eric Hershberg and Fulton Armstrong on the Aula Blog. "Insofar as Washington changes gears and Latin Americans throw up their hands in dismay, the region will be thrust into the dilemma of trying to adjust yet again or to set off on its own course as ALBA and others have long espoused."
  • The old U.S. policy on Cuba was an irritant to relations with the region, wrote outgoing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a memo likely directed at the incoming administration, which has threatened to roll-back détente with the Communist governed island, reports McClatchy DC. Ties must be deepened in order to truly help Cubans and U.S. interests, he argued.
  • On the issue of upcoming U.S. policy towards the region, Honduras could be considered both the coal mine and the canary, writes Greg Gandin in The Nation. Observers should keep a close eye on whether Trump allows a military cooperation deal between Honduras and Israel to go through despite human rights concerns. (See Dec. 15's briefs.)
  • U.S. international drug policy -- both the funding it provides Latin American countries for battling trafficking and sanctions for failing to try to reduce production -- is a significant factor in fueling drug wars around the region. The The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission, signed into law last month, "will assess the success of US drug policies in Latin America in reducing the supply and abuse of drugs, and the damages associated with illicit drug markets. It will evaluate alternative policy models and make reform recommendations," explains Luis Gómez Romero in the Conversation. This could potentially usher in a sea change for a region increasingly aware of the futile policies of the drug war and the hypocrisy of the demands to continue it from the U.S., where marijuana is increasingly legal and over 9 percent of the population uses illicit drugs, he writes. (See Dec. 12's briefs on the Commission's mandate.)
  • U.S. lawmakers could demand changes to the Colombia-FARC peace deal before approving U.S. funds to support the process, according to the Washington Times.
  • Four U.N. monitors, designated to oversee the FARC disarmament process, were fired after a video showing them dancing with fighters at a party caused controversy, reports the AFP.
  • Protests and looting over gas price increases continued yesterday in Mexico, leading to four deaths, the ransacking of at least 300 stores and the arrests of more than 700 people, reports the Associated PressAnimal Político reports over 980 arrests and five injured. And family members are denouncing irregularities in the detentions, reports Animal Político separately. Arrests included four state police officers who were caught on video putting looted items in their patrol vehicles reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • At least 33 inmates were killed in a Brazilian prison riot this morning, just days after fighting at another jail killed 56 inmates, reports Reuters. The fighting in Roraima state has been blamed on the São Paulo-based First Capital Command (PCC) drug gang by one official. The riot earlier this week largely involved killing of PCC members by the North Family gang, allied with the powerful Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command drug gang. The killings were particularly brutal, some of those killed were decapitated, dismembered or had their hearts torn out, reports the New York Times. The Boa Vista prison was built for 700 inmates but currently holds about 1,400. (See Tuesday's post and Wednesday's briefs.)
  • El Salvador's government is touting a reduction in the country's sky-high homicide rate last year as a sign of success for it's violent gang crackdown. Nonetheless the 2016 rate of 81 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants -- still well within the U.N.'s definition of violence epidemic. And the official message of violence against gang members "is only aggravating and protracting problems of social coexistence that have dragged on for decades," writes El Faro journalist Roberto Valencia in a New York Times Español op-ed. The current government's policies may have some measure of popular support, but have resulted in widespread human rights abuses, including hundreds of cases of alleged extrajudicial killings by security forces. "In the most violent society in the world, tweeting 'death to gang members' or 'we got what we wanted' on the day a prison riot leaves 14 gang members dead, gets votes. On the other hand, it's political -- and social -- suicide to demand that police respect human rights, propose improvements in jails tending towards rehabilitation, or suggest solutions to the problem that include direct and above board dialogue with gang members," writes Valencia.
  • The new head of Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly called on the armed forces to back the political opposition against President Nicolás Maduro in his inaugural speech yesterday, reports TeleSur. Julio Borges also used the occasion to demand new elections. The government responded that the National Assembly was in contempt of the law, reports Reuters
  • Most of Costa Rica's electric energy was produced with renewable sources last year, including large hydropower facilities reports the Independent. However, the 98.1 percent refers only to electricity usage -- about 70 percent of the country's other energy needs are met with oil. And although hydropower is cleaner than non-renewable sources, dependence on dams carries its own costs, notes the Guardian.
  • Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht signed the largest anti-corruption settlement in history last month, but finds itself banned from bidding on public projects in an increasing amount of Latin American countries as investigations into its corrupt practices multiply, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Dec 22's briefs on the settlement.)
  • Odebrecht reached an agreement with the Peruvian government yesterday to pay $8.9 million and give information regarding bribes to officials, reports Reuters. The payment is just to start talks though, and shouldn't be considered a final amount, said officials.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer isn't letting his unpopularity (and lack of electoral mandate) get in the way of governing. In fact, he boasts that he's taking advantage of his low approval ratings to push through unpopular austerity measures, many of which "will harm Brazil’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens for decades to come", writes Vanesa Barbara in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Argentina's government plans to debate lowering the age of criminal responsibility, reports Ámbito Financiero. Trying 14-year-olds as adults is a perennial regional debate popular among voters concerned by insecurity but is questioned on issues of rights and effectivity. The initiative is unconstitutional, but also would do little to reduce violent crime, marks Página 12, noting statistics for the city of Buenos Aires, where most detained minors are charged with unarmed robbery.
  • Guy Phillipe, Haitian senator-elect and a leader of a 2004 coup, was extradited to the United States yesterday, where he is wanted for alleged drug trafficking and money laundering, reports Reuters. He was due to swear in on Monday, which would have afforded him some level of immunity. He was arrested leaving a radio station and shots were fired in the process, reports the Miami Herald. Phillipe has successfully eluded detention both in Haiti and in the U.S., where he has been wanted since 2005 on charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine and money laundering. Human Rights Watch has accused him of overseeing extrajudicial killings in the aftermath of the 2004 ouster of Aristede. (See briefs for Oct. 20, 2016.)

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