Friday, May 31, 2019

U.S. slaps blanket tariff on Mexican goods over illegal migration (May 31, 2019)

U.S. President Donald Trump shocked markets yesterday with a surprise announcement that he will place a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports in order to pressure the country to do more to curb immigration into the U.S. The surcharge will apply to "every single good coming into the United States from Mexico" starting on June 10, it will hit millions of products like cars, machinery, fruits and vegetables. The tariff will rise by 5% each month until it reaches 25% in October unless the number of people crossing the Mexico-U.S. border illegally isn't "substantially" reduced. (Guardian and Guardian)

Such a blanket tariff against another country has never been implemented by the U.S., and Trump's legal authority to do so is untested, according to the Washington Post. It will exact a significant toll on U.S. consumers and businesses, who have raised objections, reports the New York Times. Needless to say, it could affect the implementation of the new NAFTA agreement, notes CNBC, though the White House insisted otherwise yesterday. (See Mexico briefs below.)

The sudden move threatens to upend relations between Mexico and the U.S. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador defended his administration's track record on immigration, and also the history of cordial relations between the two countries. “President Trump, social problems aren’t resolved with taxes or coercive measures,” he said in a two page letter.

Though the initial focus was on stopping illegal migration, in a series of Twitter posts today,  Trump "hit on so many themes that it was unclear what precisely he was demanding in exchange for waiving the penalties," reports the Washington Post

News Briefs

Venezuela diplomacy
  • After the Oslo discussions between Venezuela's government and opposition ended without an agreement this week, all eyes are on a New York ministerial level meeting between the European Union-backed International Contact Group and the Lima Group next week. Both sides indicated openness to another round of talks, eventually. (New York Times)
  • Early elections were on the table however, and the fact that Maduro administration representatives were even willing to entertain the issue is a promising sign, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Opposition leader Juan Guaidó's representatives met with Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Canada and the U.S. differed yesterday over Cuba's role in negotiating a solution to Venezuela's crisis. U.S. Vice President said the island's influence was malign, and called on Canada to do more to counteract it. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau countered that the Lima Group believes Cuba can play a positive role. (Efecto CocuyoReuters)
  • A failure in mediation by the regional Lima Group and the European Union backed International Contact Group for Venezuela could provoke a "violent" and "very dangerous" outcome for Latin America, warned Uruguay's foreign minister, who criticized the opposition's demands as unrealistic. (EFE)
  • An unnamed Norwegian official with inside knowledge of the talks between the Venezuelan opposition and government in Oslo said the opposition "needs to be more realistic," according to the Real News Network.
More Venezuela 
  • Univisión said it recovered footage of a contentious interview of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro by journalist Jorge Ramos. (Associated Press) The footage was confiscated during the interview in February, and Ramos briefly detained. (See March 1's briefs.)
  • Four children died in May awaiting bone marrow transplants at the J.M. de Los Rios children's hospital, a case that is raising public anger. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Judicial persecution is decimating the opposition-led National Assembly and could threaten its functioning, warns Efecto Cocuyo.
  • A third attempt to ratify a new government and prime minister in Haiti -- the country has been without a working government for more than two months -- ended in chaos yesterday. Four opposition senators interrupted a parliamentary vote dragging chairs, desks and other furniture onto the lawn. Police fired tear gas at protesters outside of Parliament, reports the Miami Herald. Significant amounts of aid, aimed at shoring up Haiti's deteriorated economy, is dependent on having a government and a budget approved by both chambers of Parliament.
El Salvador
  • Nayib Bukele swears in as El Salvador's new president tomorrow. The 37-year-old former mayor of San Salvador has promised an innovative agenda, but will have to work to convince lawmakers from other parties to back him, reports Reuters.
  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Salvadoran lawmakers to desist from an amnesty law that would eliminate jail penalties for perpetrators of grave human rights violations during the country's long civil war, reports Revista Factum. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • "The deeply flawed bill would deny meaningful accountability to thousands of victims of grave crimes," said Human Rights Watch, noting that justice has only recently become possible after the Supreme Court struck down an earlier amnesty law.
  • Nicaragua's Ortega administration released another 51 political prisoners to house arrest, as a June 18 deadline for releasing hundreds of political prisoners approaches. Civil society groups say 182 people remain behind bars in relation to anti-government protests, but the government does not recognize more than 90 as political detainees. (ConfidencialAl Jazeera
  • Honduran police forcibly broke up a protest of thousands of teachers and health workers in Tegucigalpa yesterday -- at least 25 people were injured in the clash. (Associated Press)
  • Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and some of his closest advisers were among the targets of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation, according to U.S. federal court documents. (Associated Press)
  • Most of the recognizable names in Guatemala's presidential race have been barred from running, leaving Sandra Torres ahead of the pack a couple of weeks ahead of the June 16 vote -- Americas Quarterly has the rundown. (See May 16's post.)
  • A total of 3,182 licit businesses employ 9,371 people in Rio de Janeiro's Complexo da Maré favela. The data comes from a census organized by by Redes da Maré and Observatório de Favelas that aims to flesh out a part of the city usually left blank on the map -- a lacuna that contributes to invisiblizing its inhabitants. (Economist)
  • Norway and Germany might pull out of a fund aimed at reducing Amazon deforestation if Brazil's government unilaterally changes how the money is used. (Reuters)
  • Tens of thousands of students, academics and teachers protested around Brazil against the Bolsonaro administration's education cuts. (Guardian)
  • Mexico's government has begun the process of obtaining legislative ratification for the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement. The NAFTA replacement was negotiated between the three countries last year, and requires lawmakers' approval in each one. The government believes it will be passed quickly. (Wall Street Journal)
  • AMLO's push for government austerity could come at a significant social cost, and prove counterproductive, argues Valeria Moy in Americas Quarterly.
  • Newly declassified U.S. intelligence reports give grisly detail on how Argentina's last military dictatorship ruthlessly destroyed perceived enemies. (Associated Press)
  • Chinese understanding of the region lags behind the marked increase in economic cooperation over the past decade, writes Guo Cunhai in Americas Quarterly.
It's the Economy
  • Latin American economies have lagged for decades. New studies analyze why and leave lessons for both sides of the political aisle, explains the Economist: "The left should understand that fiscal discipline and exports are vital to achieve sustained income growth. But the right needs to learn that monopolies hold back economies, that workers should share in productivity gains and that taxes should be adjusted so that they do not fall disproportionately on consumption rather than income. Otherwise Latin America risks being trapped in a vicious circle of economic stagnation and social and political conflict."
  • A project by photographer Johis Alarcón looks at African culture in Ecuador and how the descendants of enslaved women maintained their their identity and dignity through their spiritual practices. (New York Times)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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