Monday, February 26, 2018

Trump's wall causes rift with Mexico, again (Feb. 26, 2018)

An upcoming White House visit by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been postponed after a tense phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump over his perennially conflictive border wall proposal. The Washington Post reports the two leaders spoke for nearly an hour last Tuesday, and that discussion regarding the wall consumed most of that time. Peña Nieto was planning an official White House visit this month or in March, but sought for Trump to publicly affirm Mexico’s position that it would not fund construction of a border wall.

According to the Washington Post, a Mexican official said Trump had lost his temper, while U.S. officials said he was exasperated and frustrated that Peña Nieto insisted he back away from his electoral promise to make Mexico pay for the wall. Its worth noting that Mexicans are profoundly opposed to the unilateral proposal.

(The official White House release makes no mention of the spat.)

According to sources, Peña Nieto sought assurance that he would not be publicly embarrassed during the visit with a reference to the proposal. Mexicans vote for president in July, and a diplomatic failure by Peña Nieto would likely further damage prospects for the ruling PRI party at the ballot box.

Just over a year ago, days after Trump assumed office, Peña Nieto called of another official White House visit after a conflictive phone call about the border wall. 

Which leads to the question the Washington Post reports is on many Mexican's minds: why did Peña Nieto think a visit with Trump could ever be a good idea?

The wall proposal has become a sticking point in efforts to extend the Dreamer program which shields from deportation people who migrated illegally to the U.S. as children, notes Reuters.

News Briefs
  • Trump administration threats to sanction Venezuela's oil exports could be a potential death blow to a rapidly failing industry, reports the Washington Post. This weekend President Nicolas Maduro promised to recover 70 percent of the country’s lost oil production in the first half of 2018, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuela's pro-government electoral council said Friday it was considering maintaining the upcoming presidential elections separate from congressional elections, contradicting Maduro's proposal from earlier last week to combine the two, reports Reuters. The proposal would require meeting a series of technical requirements the council likely cannot achieve before the April 22 date set for snap presidential elections, explains El País. There are however rumors, according to El País, that the election might be postponed for a couple of months. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • Fishermen in Venezuela's Amuay are battling an oil refinery, as toxic spills threaten the fish they live off, reports the New York Times.
  • María de Jesús Patricio, known as Marichuy, failed in her bid to become an independent presidential candidate in Mexico's upcoming elections. She would have been Mexico's first indigenous candidate, and her campaign demonstrates the systemic injustices that more than 60 ethnicities face, argues Juan Villoro in a New York Times Español op-ed. Nonetheless, her campaign to gather the necessary signatures to validate her candidacy, has drawn attention to the country's most isolated and hostile regions. And also to the bias in the new system for independent candidates to run, which requires a smart phone and internet access -- not easy in the areas Marichuy focused on.
  • Two female candidates for local posts were assassinated in the last week in Guerrero state, reports El País.
  • Some scientists and doctors believe the episode of U.S. embassy workers affected by alleged sonic attacks is being spun for political gain, reports the Guardian. (See Feb. 15's briefs.)
  • Rio de Janeiro's favelas are being guarded by the military, but few of their inhabitants believe this is a solution to the surge in violence that led the national government to declare a state of exception last week, reports El País.
  • Brazil's pension system threatens to bankrupt the country. But unpopular President Michel Temer has been forced to shelve a reform plan that likely wouldn't have passed congress in an electoral year, and an angry electorate is unwilling to listen to arguments about necessary cuts in the midst of ever more reports of political corruption, reports the New York Times.
  • Anti-establishment discourse has led former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro to shoot up in opinion polls for the upcoming presidential vote in Colombia, reports El País.
  • Panama has made some headway in rolling back its money laundering friendly legislation, but a new study by the Latin America Financial Action Task Force found the country's legislation continue to appeal to people seeking to hide illicit revenue. "The GAFILAT concluded that Panama is more vulnerable to foreign illicit revenue streams than domestic ones. The group also found that drug trafficking, contraband and other illicit activities related to organized crime provide key sources of illicit revenue entering the country’s financial system," reports InSight Crime.
  • The massacre of United Fruit Company workers in 1928 in some ways laid the groundwork for decades of strife in Colombia. The Observer visits banana farming communities in the new post-conflict paradigm, but finds that many have little faith in the demobilized guerrillas, and also mistrust the government.  
  • Washington Edison Prado, known as the "Pablo Escobar of Ecuador," was extradited by Colombian authorities to the U.S. He is accused of shipping more than 200 tonnes of cocaine to the U.S., reports the Associated Press. Prado tried unsuccessfully to avoid extradition by claiming membership to the FARC.

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