Thursday, April 12, 2018

Summit of the Americas dead on arrival (April 12, 2018)

The eight Summit of the Americas, starts tomorrow in Lima, but expectations are singularly low for meaningful interaction among the region's leadership. In fact, some experts are questioning whether its worth continuing the meeting at all. The Washington Post is calling it a "surreal summit," noting the theme of corruption even as governments around the region are rocked by graft scandals. 

Host country Peru has a newly sworn in president, Martín Vizcarra, after former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was forced to resign last month amid allegations of corruption. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was disinvited by Peru due to violations in the democratic order, causing a schism among countries in the region which urged for his inclusion. 

Cuban President Raúl Castro less than a week away from the end of his term, and will be succeeded by a hand-picked leader without a popular vote. The presidents of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia finish their terms this year and face low approval ratings at home.

The Honduran government is tainted by allegations of electoral fraud, and Brazil is in political upheaval after the detention of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a frontrunner for October's presidential election.

But the last minute absence of U.S. President Donald Trump is perhaps the strongest a confirmation of the hollowing out of the Summit, writes Daniel Erickson in a Miami Herald op-ed. (See Tuesday's briefs on his abrupt decision to not attend.) It will be the first time since the regional meetings began in 1994 that the U.S. president will not attend. Though the last minute announcement drew little attention in the U.S., it is a snub for the region, which already views the Trump administration with mistrust. A Gallup poll released earlier this year found Trump’s approval rating in Latin America was just 16 percent. (See yesterday's briefs.)

It's just the latest in a laundry list of rhetorical and policy hostilities towards the region, including sending National Guard troops to the border with Mexico, scrap Nafta, threats of tariffs, and a renewed hardline against Cuba, write Inter-American Dialogue's Peter Hakim and Michael Shifter in a New York Times op-ed. The aggression is only more puzzling as it is paired with Washington's insistence of a lurking danger of Chinese influence in the region and that Latin America make the U.S. its "partner of choice," they write. "... Despite the shared confusion and distrust about United States policies and intentions, nearly all Latin American governments have chosen a pragmatic approach to dealing with Washington, seeking to accommodate Trump’s idiosyncrasies without caving in to his often exaggerated demands. They are not ready to risk an open breach and potentially lose the United States’ huge, profitable market and access to its trade, investment and technology. But Mr. Trump’s failure to show up in Lima will leave the region less secure about the future of United States-Latin American relations." 

In fact, Trump's decision not to attend could lead to the "non-trivial risk that this year’s summit could become, in part, a discussion about the region’s relationship with the U.S., conducted in less than favorable terms in the shadow of the U.S. executive’s absence," writes Evan Ellis in Global Americans.

Nonetheless, the weaknesses going into the meeting make it less likely that any meaningful headway will be made on the issue of Venezuela, they note.

In other Summit news, the U.S. condemned Cuba for blocking critical members of civil society from participating in related events, reports the Miami Herald

A group of 37 former leaders from the region, part of the Democratic Initiative in Spain and the Americas, urged Summit participants to reject the new Cuban government scheduled to assume power next week, reports the Miami Herald. They urged summit participants to “reject the presidential elections called by the dictatorship” and “refuse to recognize as legitimate the newly elected members of the National Assembly, the Council of State and its president because they do not represent the will of the people.”

Donald Trump won't be there, but his daughter Ivanka will use the occasion to unveil an initiative to promote economic empowerment for women, reports Voice of America.

News Briefs
  • Venezuela's inflation is over 450 percent in the first quarter of the year, according to the opposition-led National Assembly's estimate, reports Reuters.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted 127 Haitian migrants aboard an overloaded boat in Cuban waters. The Cuban Border Guard took custody of the migrants. It's unclear whether they will be allowed to remain in Cuba or sent back to Haiti, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Pope Francis apologized to victims of sexual abuse in Chile, who he accused of slander earlier this year, reports the BBC. In a letter to the South American country's bishops, Francis said he felt "sadness and shame" over those comments, and said he would invite some of the victims to Rome. The pontiff has been criticized over perceived lack of sensitivity towards the issue of sex abuse in the Church, reports the New York Times. The shift suggests an investigation tasked to Archbishop Charles Scicluna must have uncovered more details about the extent of Chile’s child sex abuse scandal, reports the Washington Post.
  • Honduran opposition leader Salvador Nasralla is withdrawing from negotiations with the government regarding irregularities in last year's presidential elections. Nasralla said he "trusted the Organization of American States, the United Nations and theUnited States for trying to find a political dialogue; however, after all the meetings I observed that the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez has no real political will for solving the electoral crisis created by the fraud," reports TeleSUR.
  • Trump has focused on the problems posed by migrants flowing north from Central America and Mexico. But arms flowing south are a far deadlier issue, writes Ioan Grillo in a New York Times op-ed. "Guns from America inundate Mexico, arming the brutal cartels that have drowned this country in blood, destroyed families and driven people from their homes. ... As President Trump rages about the dangers of drugs and criminals seeping north from Mexico, he should consider how America exports its own deadly products and the devastation they cause."
  • Mexican immigrants in the U.S. have huge economic clout back home, but historically haven't had an electoral impact in Mexico. But this year, for the first time, Mexicans living abroad will be able to vote without returning to the country, a potential game-changer ahead of July's presidential vote, reports the New Yorker.
  • Colombian authorities are blaming the Gulf Clan criminal gang for a bomb attack that killed eight police officers yesterday, reports the BBC.
  • A fire has been devastating a protected area of Nicaragua's tropical forest for over a week. But Nicaraguan authorities refused assistance from neighboring Costa Rica. Environmentalists say the fires have consumed more than 5,000 hectares, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil's highest court blocked the eviction of 5,000 indigenous people from disputed land, reports Reuters. The community's leadership say the decision averted a "massacre."
  • More than 60 members of Brazil's Congress formally changed their names. The move started with Workers' Party legislators who added "Lula" to their name in honor of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, reports the BBC. Some right-wing legislators followed the move, but instead added Judge Serio Moro's name to their own, in honor of the judge who jailed Lula.
  • Brazilian federal police chiefs asked that Lula be transferred to a military facility for security reasons, reports EFE. Hundreds of supporters have camped outside of the federal police building in Curitiba where the popular former leader has been detained since last weekend.
  • An explosion at a mine in western Bolivia killed seven people and injured 15, reports EFE.
  • The main opposition candidate in Paraguay pledged to defend the “traditional” family, made up of a man and a woman, as well as to protect life from the moment of conception, reports EFE.
  • Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro told Reuters he'd focus on reducing social inequality if elected.
  • Comuna 13, a former violent neighborhood in Medellín, has become a tourist hotspot and example of how community leadership can transform local dynamics reports InSight Crime
  • Eight Argentine cops were dismissed after attempting a "dog ate my homework" type excuse: they blamed mice for 540 kg of marijuana missing from a police warehouse. But experts consulted by the judge said "mice wouldn't mistake the drug for food" - and even if they did, "a lot of corpses would have been found in the warehouse," reports the BBC.

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