Wednesday, February 22, 2017

U.S. State and Homeland Security secretaries headed to Mexico (Feb. 22, 2017)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are set to travel to Mexico today, where they will discuss border security, law-enforcement cooperation, trade and other issues with their counterparts and President Enrique Peña Nieto. 

They will meet with Peña Nieto and with Luis Videgaray, Mexico’s foreign minister tomorrow, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The meeting comes in a period of heightened tensions between the two countries. These are hardly likely to be helped by yesterday's announcement by the U.S. government of a policy making essentially all undocumented immigrants subject to deportation, reports the Wall Street Journal

Trump has promised to renegotiate NAFTA and threatened to slap a tariff on Mexican made goods. Mexico has sought to tie negotiations to security and migration issues in order to gain leverage. In recent years Mexican cooperation has stopped thousands of Central American migrants from crossing to the U.S. border, and has cooperated with U.S. drug policy. 

But the grand border wall plan, a project which has deepened the diplomatic rift between the two countries, appears to be stalled in Washington, where federal agencies are reportedly resisting the idea and Congress is hesitant to fund it, according to the Guardian.

Several pieces in recent weeks have noted that Trump's policies are alienating a traditional ally and causing diplomatic rifts where there needn't be problems. (See yesterday's and last Thursday's briefs, for example.)

A piece in the Washington Post explores how NAFTA changes could affect industries straddling the border and, ultimately, make U.S. consumers pay higher prices.

Mexicans fear the new U.S. crackdown on undocumented immigrants could lead to deportee and refugee camps along the border, reports the Associated Press. The sweeping changes announced yesterday could deport migrants from other countries to Mexico, a influx the country is ill-prepared to receive.

A new report by Mexican group Cohesión Comunitaria e Innovación Social looks at how mass deportations from the U.S. could affect specific Mexican localities, and hypothesizes that cities taking in large amounts of returned migrants could face tensions and conflicts with locals, reports Animal Político.

A feature in the Guardian looks at migrants in Tijuana hoping to cross the border. "Tijuana has long been a staging post for Mexicans headed north. In recent years, families fleeing violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala added foreign accents to the mix. More recently, and unusually, Asians, Africans and especially Haitians have swelled the influx. An estimated 15,000 migrants from outside Latin America passed through Baja California last year, five times more than in 2015. It gives Tijuana the feel of a global waiting room. Or a limbo."

And another Guardian piece looks at the dangers Central American migrants headed through Mexico face at the hands of bandits and kidnappers, who are often cooperating with security forces.

News Briefs
  • 2017 is off to a gory start in Mexico -- 1,938 homicides in January, the highest since tallies started two decades ago, reports Animal Político.
  • Ecuador is headed for a second round to determine its next president, reports Reuters, after a few days of uncertainty following Sunday's vote. The runoff is between Alianza País candidate Lenin Moreno and conservative CREO candidate Guillermo Lasso, reports the Miami Herald. With nearly 95 percent of all votes officially tallied, the outcome is irreversible, the National Electoral Council said yesterday afternoon, according to the Associated Press. The latest count in the heated competition has Moreno at 39.33 percent to Lasso's 28.19, putting Moreno nearly at an outright win, reports EFE. Protesters maintain a vigil outside the electoral authority's offices in Quito, reports El Universo. (See yesterday's post.) Interesting note in the Herald piece: Moreno won 38 percent of the vote from Ecuadorans living in the U.S., perhaps in part because Lasso was part of the 1998-2000 government, a period during which a banking and economic crisis forced millions to migrate from Ecuador.
  • Cuban President Raúl Castro is slated to step down next year. It would be the first time in 40 years that the country is led by a non-Castro, notes the Miami Herald. He is expected to be succeeded by Miguel Díaz-Canel on Feb. 24 of next year. Nonetheless, Castro is expected to retain considerable influence. Yet the island is also facing uncertainty regarding the direction of U.S. policy, and some experts say Castro could potentially use a hostile relationship with Trump to extend his tenure in power.
  • On that note, just as the regional pink-tide of leftist governments seemed to be in it's final ebb, "Trump’s policies have at least temporarily provided an updraft to a group of Latin American leaders who seemed on their way out the door," writes Christopher Sabatini in World Politics Review. It has also provided a boost to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, which lacking U.S. input seemed to be on its way out as a relevant international body, he says. (See Feb. 8's briefs on how several free-trade minded leaders from the region are scrambling to adjust to the new U.S. stance.)
  • Another perspective from the New York Times, which says Ecuador's election shows a sagging left in the region, as regional icons die off or are forced off the center stage.
  • Brazil's economic crisis and political turmoil are keeping it from a central role in international politics, argues Ramon Blanco in Al Jazeera. "... A country that was once able to pursue a very proactive foreign policy - for instance, brokering, alongside Turkey, a nuclear deal with Iran, or fostering a polycentric world with BRICS countries, engaged in the conception of an alternative international financial architecture with the creation of the New Development Bank - is now unable to deal effectively with pressing crises in its neighbourhood, such as the one in Venezuela or in Haiti."
  • Cuban officials denied entry to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and two independent Cuban journalists, all heading to a ceremony honoring Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, reports Aristegui Noticias (article 1 and article 2).
  • The Odebrecht earthquake rocking Latin America's political establishment shows the need for concrete steps towards making political campaign contributions more transparent argues Andrés Oppenheimer in a Miami Herald op-ed. He looks at a Transparency International proposal that all future political contributions be done through Blockchain, the financial world’s new technology that uses virtual currencies such as Bitcoin. "Under this plan, politicians would only be allowed to receive donations in Bitcoins or another virtual currency that could be specially designed for political contributions. They would use this virtual money to pay for T-shirts, caps or any other campaign expenses, and only the last supplier — the T-shirt manufacturer, for instance — would be allowed to exchange the virtual currency for cash. 'Think of it like buying chips in a casino: you can only use them in the casino, until you leave,' Transparency International’s Mexico office director Eduardo Bohorquez told me." 
  • On that whole Odebrecht thing, the Washington Post has an in-depth on the ongoing fallout around the region that could implicate current and former presidents in several Latin American countries. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • I'm a bit late, but food for thought in an Monkey Cage piece in the Washington Post, which likens Trump's "president-versus-the-press mentality" to "the adversarial attitude of many Latin American presidents." Such an approach has affected press freedom in Latin America, argue Marisa Kellam and Elizabeth A. Stein.

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