Friday, June 16, 2017

U.S. LatAm policies on display in Miami (June 16, 2017)

This week Miami is at the center of LatAm diplomacy. U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce a presidential policy directive regarding Cuba later today. 

It would tighten regulations for U.S. citizens seeking to travel to the island -- requiring detailed logs of transactions and group travel -- according to a draft version seen by the Miami Herald. It prohibits business with the business arm of the Cuban military, which is deeply involved in the tourism industry. But it would not limit family visits nor remittances. The directive does not include regulations, which are expected in 90 days and would detail how the directive is to be carried out. 

The prohibition of business with the military and intelligence allows exceptions for airlines and cruise lines and will aim to not disrupt business under way, reports the Wall Street Journal.

"In general, the president is trying to navigate a delicate line between cracking down on money that goes directly to the Cuban military and not taking measures that would hurt Cuban citizens who have embraced private enterprise, opening restaurants, bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels and other businesses that cater to the growing number of travelers to the island," according to the Herald.

Key elements of former President Barack Obama's policy towards Cuba would remain, including diplomatic relations and commercial flights between the two countries, notes the Guardian.

Trump is expected to take a hard rhetoric line, however. He will likely declare that the two-year-old Obama-era approach of engagement had amounted to a failed policy of appeasement, according to the New York Times.

The White House said it hopes its Friday announcement will encourage the Cuban government to take steps to allow free elections, release political prisoners and directly pay Cuban workers, among other changes, reports the WSJ.

In recent weeks a number of rights groups and business associations have argued that rolling back Obama era relaxation would do little to further respect for human rights on the island and would harm Cuban citizens. (See yesterday's post.) The changes announced will make it more costly and difficult for U.S. citizens to travel to and carry out business with Cuba. And Cubans who make a living from tourism or hoped to carry out business will likely suffer, notes the NYT.

The question will be how the rollback is received in Congress -- 75 percent of U.S. residents support current policies -- and by the Cuban government, argues Christopher Sabatini in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Despite what the embargo's defenders argue, the harshness of the measure has never led to improvements on human rights issues." The result of the Obama policies have been the creation of leverage. 

"The Cuban government will have to avoid an excessive reaction in the face of the exalted rhetoric and denouncements that will accompany the changes. But it is improbable that they will resist. If history serves as parameter, the Cuban government will take advantage of recent antagonism in its response -- as it did in 2003 -- and restrict spaces of independence and information that have taken root in the past four years. After all, what autocrat can resist playing the victim and blaming foreigners for political and economic failures?"

The two-day Conference on Prosperity and Security focused on Central America and co-hosted with Mexico will be wrapping up today. (See Wednesday's post.) The Miami Herald characterizes the event as a "charm offensive between the United States, Mexico and the leaders of Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador."

The love-fest is a step towards dispelling the notion that the Trump administration "has nothing but contempt for the region," says Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald.

U.S. authorities -- led by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson -- praised Central American leaders, who in turn refrained from publicly mentioning the potential deportation of 300,000 of their citizens from the U.S. (See Wednesday's post.) Pence praised the Northern Triangle governments for cracking down on crime and corruption, and got a standing ovation.

In turn the Honduran and Guatemalan presidents, and the Salvadoran vice president, sought to sell advances in reducing tragically high homicide and violence rates. For the Miami Herald, "the fact that leaders sought to put a positive spin on what observers say is still too high a crime rate shows how out of control homicide rates and violence have gotten in the Northern Triangle."

But in private Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, and the El Salvadoran vice president, Óscar Ortiz, asked Pence and Tillerson to ensure citizens permitted to live and work in the U.S. by a Temporary Protected Status program be allowed to stay. They did not receive assurances that the program, which is up for renewal, would be continued, reports the New York Times. A flood of returned migrants -- and the loss of the remittances they send -- would be crushing for their home countries.

Behind the scenes the juxtaposition of Trump's hostile announcement towards Cuba and the conference was too much for Colombia, which apparently threatened to not attend the summit if Trump's announcement wasn't moved, reports Politico. According to the piece Senator Marco Rubio urged the administration to counter that the threat would jeopardize the $450 million “Peace Colombia” initiative that President Barack Obama pushed but that remains in limbo under Trump.

News Briefs
  • Venezuelan chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz has launched an all out offensive against the government she once supported, they highest level official to defect, reports the Guardian. Earlier this week she called for the removal of 13 judges she said were elected under irregular circumstances following a surprise opposition victory in 2015 elections for the national assembly. And then asked the country’s supreme court to strip away the immunity from prosecution from eight judges who had approved Maduro’s plan to rewrite the country’s constitution. All of her requests have been rejected, and she is increasingly insulted by government loyalists. (See Tuesday's briefs.) She forms part of a broader defection of former socialists, many of whom say they are disturbed by the attempt to rewrite the country's constitution, reports the Washington Post.
  • Human Rights Watch's Daniel Wilkinson and José Miguel Vivanco advocate focusing efforts on cracking down on security forces carrying out repression of protesters as a way of ensuring a somewhat more peaceful transition in Venezuela. To discourage further violence regional governments should demand  "that officials responsible for human rights crimes — whether torturing and killing protesters or jailing political prisoners — should be brought to justice," they write in Foreign Policy.
  • Demobilized FARC fighters are advancing towards handing over their weapons to U.N. monitors, though they are behind the original schedule. This week's handover takes the total to about 40 percent, according to the Guardian. The figure falls short of the 60 percent that should have been achieved this week, reports the BBC. (See Wednesday's briefs.) The UN says it registered more than 7,000 firearms over the past few months, with at least one weapon per Farc member.
  • Just how many people are murdered in each country in Latin America -- and in its cities -- seems to be a perennial subject of debate. Every year announcements that one place or another is the "homicide capital" generate denial by government officials and much discussion by experts. This year the debate is over whether Caracas or San Salvador take the "prize." "So which is it? Both, or neither – depends on how you count," writes Igarapé's Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre in an Americas Quarterly piece that's part of a series in support of the Instinto de Vida campaign. "The truth behind headline-grabbing superlatives is that counting the dead is an inexact science. Debate is ongoing over how and to what purpose we classify the planet’s most dangerous cities. Despite being home to 43 of the world’s 50 most dangerous cities (according to most counts, including those of both SJP and Igarapé) our understanding of violence in Latin America remains incomplete. That’s precisely why more research, more information and, yes, more lists are so vital to understanding and curbing violence and homicide, in the region and beyond."

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