Thursday, February 9, 2017

Trump era diplomatic shifts (Feb. 9, 2017)

Trump's hostility towards Mexico seems to be reconfiguring diplomatic relations across the region and beyond -- or at least talk of change. 

Initially the focus was on the opportunity for China to expand its area of influence. (See post for Dec. 13, 2016.) And recently there's been much debate over how and whether regional leaders will unite to confront the new neighborhood bully. (See last Friday's briefs.) Free-trade minded governments are discussing new agreements among themselves and looking out towards Asia and Europe. (See yesterday's briefs.)

New York Times Español op-ed by Gaspard Estrada explores what France's policy towards the region should be. Over the past five years of government, President François Hollande has visited countries around the region, seeking to support French businesses operating there, garner support for the Paris Climate accord, and strengthen the country's educational and scientific network. "France must reject the construcction of a wall between Mexico and the United States, and present itself as a third way between the U.S. and China. It should maintain presence in the grand regional debates, such as the Cuban regime's transition, or supporting the Colombian peace process," he writes.

And in an interview with El Faro, WOLA's program director Geoff Thale warns Central America's northern triangle to unify for negotiations with Trump.

On a more international plane, a group of eight countries, including the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, have announced an initiative to raise millions of dollars to women's access to abortion services around the world. They aim to support NGO's around the world affected by the newly reinstated U.S. rule against funding groups providing information on abortion, reports Reuters. The so-called "gag rule" would cause a funding shortfall of $600 million over the next four years.

News Briefs
  • The New York Times travels the border between the U.S. and Mexico -- walled, unwalled and double walled -- and talks to locals about what a new barrier would mean. A Guardian piece explores how the U.S. Border Patrol's “prevention through deterrence” policy, in which barriers on the border force migrants to cross "the driest, most remote and brutal parts of the desert, far from roads, resources or possible rescue." The result is thousands of deaths.
  • Would a wall work better at keeping out migrants? Of course says Trump, just ask Israel. The Los Angeles Times reports on the comparison with a wall described as apartheid by Palestinian villages it bisects.
  • Mexico's foreign minister met with the U.S. secretary of state in Washington, where they apparently had a "respectful and constructive" meeting, reports Animal Político. Rex Tillerson agreed to visit Mexico in coming weeks, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Anger in Mexico over U.S. agression has been expressed in a myriad of small ways, reports the Financial Times. In Tijuana residents held a symbolic strike of a few hours where they stopped crossing the border, and across the country citizens have swapped social media profile photos for an image of the green, white and red Mexican flag.
  • El Salvador's government will extend the mano-dura "extraordinary measures" crackdown on gangs, despite doubts over its effectiveness and questions over rights abuses, reports InSight Crime. Back to that El Faro interview with Thale, he questions the utility of using only repression oriented policies to combat gangs.
  • Salvadoran authorities said they arrested about two dozen members of a criminal network linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, pointing to the continued importance of the Central American Northern Triangle to Mexico's drug trafficking operations, reports InSight Crime. Those detained include a children's TV and radio host, reports the Associated Press. Another twenty members of the group were artisanal fishermen, accused of fuel, shelter and food to the traffickers, transporting drugs and informing traffickers regarding the movements of the Salvadoran navy.
  • A hard to believe phenomenon: hundreds of gang members in El Salvador are abandoning crime for the evangelical church, reports Factum. (InSight Crime has the story in English.) "The majority of the nearly 150 retired gang members who were interviewed over the last two years for this report spoke negatively about their past lives. They say they are no longer homeboys, and do not want to be anymore. Those who emerged from the movement in Gotera do not only encourage an escape from the structure. They give damaging sermons against the gang that, according to them, ruined their lives and robbed them of their youth."
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski will present the opposition-dominated legislature with a bill to legalize medical marijuana, after police raided a house in a Lima neighborhood where a group of parents grew marijuana to make oil for treating their children suffering from epilepsy and other diseases, reports the Associated Press.
  • Looting and rampant violence in Brazil's Espirito Santo state shows "how quickly public security can come crashing down in Brazil when the military police are absent," explains InSight Crime. The homicide count is up to 95 since a police strike over pay has left the city without law enforcement since Saturday, reports the BBC. Yesterday 200 cars were reported stolen, up from an average of 20. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • A Brazilian court has suspended Rio de Janeiro state governor Luiz Fernando de Souza and ordered a new election charging "abuse of economic and political power," reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • In a handwritten letter sent to a prominent Mexican journalist, the sons of Sinaloa cartel kingpin, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán said they were wounded in an attack orchestrated by a rival drug gang figure, reports the Associated Press.
  • A Guatemalan court will determine today whether former José Efraín Ríos Montt will face trial in relation to the 1982 Dos Erres massacre in which Guatemalan soldiers massacred 200 people, many children, reports the International Justice Monitor.
  • Pope Francis' attempts at mediation in Venezuela have been a disaster, and the opposition's failure to officially suspend Vatican mediation have been a major obstacle in reaching a solution to the country's political impasse, argues Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald.
  • Check out this gripping account of the power struggles and daily life in San Pedro Sula Prison in Honduras by Juan José Martínez d’Aubuisson and Steven Dudley in InSight Crime"In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and the economy bustles with everything from chicken stands to men who can build customized jail cells. Here you can find a party stocked with champagne and live music. But you can also find an inmate hacked to pieces. Those who guard these quarters are also those who get rich selling air-conditioned rooms, and those who pay the consequences if they get too greedy. That's how inmates live, on their own virtual island free from government interference, in the San Pedro Sula prison."
  • Seven months after the expanded Panama Canal reopened, ships are frequently scraping against walls that leave them little margin for error, reports the Associated Press

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