Monday, January 23, 2017

Tillerson wants to review U.S. support for Colombia's peace deal (Jan. 23, 2017)

U.S. Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson said he'd review Colombia's historic peace deal with the FARC in order to "determine the extent to which the United States should continue to support it," reports Latin America goes Global.

The answer is part of a written response to questions that members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent to him as part of the confirmation process, reports the Associated Press.

As a counter-weight, Homeland Security nominee, John Kelly has emphasized the importance of maintaining U.S. support for Colombia over the years, in his previous role as commander of U.S. Southern Command, notes an Americas Society/Council of the Americas explainer. (The piece reviews the Lat Am stance of key nominees, for example noting concerns that Kelly will is a strong proponent of paying more attention to the region, but that his focus on security aspects of stopping flows of drugs, weapons and migrants raises concern that the humanitarian aspects of those issues will be overlooked.)

Many State Secretary positions have yet to be filled, leaving huge question marks over who will be dealing with Colombia, notes la Silla Vacía pessimistically.

News Briefs
  • More from Tillerson's response to Senate questions: though he said he stood by the commitment to reverse Obama's Cuba policies, he appeared to leave some wiggle room by saying that he'll carry consider placing "conditions" on current travel and trade regulations to motivate the release of political prisoners, reports Latin America goes Global. On Venezuela he voiced commitment to supporting human rights.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said he will begin NAFTA renegotiation talks with Canadian and Mexican leaders soon, reports Reuters. Mexico’s foreign minister Luis Videgaray and economy minister Ildefonso Guajardo will travel to Washington for talks on Wednesday and Thursday, reports the Financial Times. Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will meet in Washington on Jan. 31 to discuss trade, immigration and security, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • New York Times editorial, using the example of the Mexican government's extradition of drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán last week, urges the new U.S. administration to follow the Obama administration's efforts of persuasion with the Mexican government, rather than hectoring. "This fit with the administration’s broader strategy for Latin America, one that was rooted in pragmatism and cooperation. It offers a lesson Mr. Trump would be foolish to disregard."
  • Jalisco state governor Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz defends the mutual benefits of free trade between the U.S. and Mexico in a Guardian op-ed. "Building a wall along one of the largest and most dynamic borders in the world is a toxic symbol of mistrust. In one single reckless act, the US risks destroying the very special relationship it has built with Mexico over many years and portraying Mexicans as second-class citizens. A wall is both a physical and a symbolic barrier to the notion of working together to solve common problems. The money invested in building something like this would be better spent in solving structural problems and strengthening ties."
  • Ironically, Trump's efforts to put America First, have hammered the value of the Mexican peso, pushing citizens many to consider illegal immigration to the U.S., according to the Guardian. "The numbers trekking north had dwindled over the past decade as Mexico’s economy improved, and the US’s struggled, but the mood now is bleak, and dreams of life in the US glow anew."
  • The incoming U.S. administration should aim for policies tailored to each of the region's countries, especially considering that many are natural allies for Washington, argues Michael Shifter in a New York Times Español op-ed. To not do so, to maintain the streak of provocation Trump espoused up to now, means losing the measure of good will established in recent years, he writes.
  • Cuban migrants -- suddenly illegal after the outgoing Obama administration cancelled their special immigration status -- are hoping that Trump reverses that particular executive action. While Trump is anti-immigration in general, he has also promised to overturn Obama's policy of Cuban engagement. Cubans caught in "limbo" in Mexico at the border hope, in any case, that he will create some sort of loophole for those who bet everything on the trip, reports the New York Times.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer faces an extremely delicate political situation: he must appoint a replacement Supreme Court judge who could oversee a landmark corruption case that will likely implicate members of his government. Delays to the Operation Car Wash investigation of federal politicians will likely help him pass economic reform legislation, but will further undermine his standing, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Friday's post.) The investigation could even lead to Temer's ouster, if allegations that Odebrecht donated about $28 million illegally to 48 political campaigns between 2006-2014, with a large share going to Temer's party, reports the Financial Times. The remaining Supreme Court magistrates can also choose to reassign the case to another among them, but that avenue also leads to questions in a context of weak institutionality, argues law professor Eloisa Machado in an interview in El País. On Saturday Temer said he'd wait for the case to be reassigned by the Supreme Court to name a new justice, reports the Associated Press.
  • In the meantime, conspiracy theories about the death of Supreme Court justice Teori Zavascki are proliferating on the web, including that he was carrying vital documents related to the landmark corruption case, reports El País. (See Friday's post.)
  • After a week of fighting in Brazil's Alcaçuz penitentiary, authorities separated rival gang members with an improvised wall of shipping containers, reports El País. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro named legislator Ricardo Sanguino to head the country's central bank, amid a devastating economic crisis, reports the Wall Street Journal. The change comes amid a troubled rollout of new banknotes amid sky-high inflation, notes Deutsche Welle.
  • U.S. legislators on both sides of the aisle want to sanction Venezuelan officials for profiting from food shortages, reports the Associated Press.
  • Venezuela's hard-line Popular Will party has advocated confrontational street-protest tactics as the preferred method for opposing the Maduro administration. A recent crackdown, by the anti-coup unit headed by Vice-President Tareck El Aissami, has focused on the party, accused of fomenting violence, reports Reuters.
  • "The opposition needs to complement institutional struggle with scrupulously nonviolent street mobilization. But to actually mobilize more than the urban middle classes, they will need to put forward a vision of what they would do to turn the crisis around and address the needs of average Venezuelans—simply demanding the ouster of President Maduro is not enough. They also need to think concretely about what kind of negotiations could occur and what mechanisms of transitional justice could be put in place to lower the exit costs of the main figures of Chavismo," argues David Smilde in a Latin American Advisor Q and A.
  • Fifty-six sets of human remains have been identified from a burial pit found last year in Mexico's Nuevo León state, reports the Associated Press. Some belong to people reported missing as far back as 2010.
  • Peace is apparently ushering in a FARC baby-boom. High pregnancy rates among about-to-be demobilized fighters has leadership scrambling to figure out how to incorporate babies into the concentration zones, reports la Silla Vacía.
  • As climate change potentially opens up opportunities for commercial exploitation of Antartica, the Antarctic Treaty is coming under scrutiny and pressure, reports the Financial Times.
  • At current rates, the world's rainforests will disappear within 100 years, reports the Guardian.
  • Urbanism note: Interesting piece in El País on inequality among São Paulo favelas.

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