Thursday, October 7, 2021

Mexico - U.S. high-level security talks (Oct. 7, 2021)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is leading a delegation to Mexico for high-level security talks between the countries, tomorrow. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland will also attend the meetings, billed as the first US-Mexico High-Level Security Dialogue, and an indication of the priority the U.S. Biden administration is placing on restoring security cooperation, reports CNN.

The talks come a year after the U.S. arrested a former Mexican defense minister, a move that angered Mexico's government, which received no warning, and exposed simmering resentment at U.S. management of the relationship between the countries. Mexico retaliated by largely suspending DEA operations in the country; U.S. officials say extraditions of cartel suspects have stopped, and Mexico has not approved any visas for DEA agents this year.

"The security and law enforcement collaboration has been scaled back to levels that we hadn't seen since probably the first half of the first decade of the century," Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. told CNN.

The Mexican government will focus on measures to reduce arms trafficking, with the explicit goal of reducing violence, reports El País. Mexico's governmetn said it will propose scrapping the Merida Initiative (known as Plan Mexico) in the talks with Blinken. The Merida Initiative is a security cooperation agreement among the United States, the government of Mexico, and the countries of Central America, which is based on using the military to fight drug trafficking, reports EFE.

Mexico doesn't want handouts of military or police equipment, but rather a more equal relationship. “It's about mutual respect. If you don't respect me, I don't respect you. If we do not respect each other, it is going to be very difficult to get something done,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told the Associated Press. (See Ebrard's July interview with the Washington Post, in which he detailed the plans failures to stem violence.)

Ebrard said he wants to see faster extraditions of suspects from the United States and fewer guns coming across the border. The López Obrador administration also wants more of the illicit money tracked and seized in the United States from Mexican suspects to be returned to Mexico, reports the Associated Press. U.S. officials, on the other hand, are expected to focus on issues like the increasing trafficking of the synthetic opioid fentanyl.


Peru cabinet reshuffle

Peruvian President Pedro Castillo named Mirtha Vásquez prime minister yesterday evening, a bid at political stability after ousting her controversial predecessor Guido Bellido in the afternoon. Vásquez, the new prime minister, served as head of Congress between 2020 and 2021. She will head a cabinet that remains leftist, but seems more moderate than that of Castillo's first months of government. (ReutersAl Jazeera)

Under Peruvian law, the prime minister’s resignation automatically triggers that of the entire cabinet, and Castillo made six other changes yesterday, reducing the influence of the Peru Libre party he and Bellido belong to. He appointed businessman Eduardo González  to the mining ministry, and maintained Economy Minister Pedro Francke.

Vásquez's parliamentary experience will likely help the executive build a better relationship with Congress, reports La República.

"The new stage of the people's government seeks to foster dialogue, governability and team work," he said yesterday. "The balance of powers is the bridge between the rule of law and democracy, therefore the question of trust, interpellation, and censorship should not be used to create political instability," he said. (La República)

This week Bellido had suggested the government should be prepared to shut down congress if it tried to impeach the president or censure government ministers. Last month he told the foreign owners of the largest natural gas project in the country that they should hand over more of their profits to the state or else face nationalisation. (Financial Times)

The move was rejected by Perú Libre hardliners, including party founder Vladimir Cerrón, but welcomed by others, demonstrating a potential schism within the party, reports La República. (See this June Americas Quarterly profile of Cerrón.) 

Peruvians and foreigners alike have been watching to see who holds the power in government — Castillo or his ideological backers, according to the Financial Times. The pushback from hardliners is a welcome sign of Castillo's more moderate stance and control over government, according to La República's editorial this morning.

Vásquez's appointment is being seen as a concession to the moderate wing of the informal leftist coalition backing the administration, reports Deutsche Welle.

News Briefs

  • Haiti's political crisis -- which is fuelling part of the migration surge impacting the U.S. government -- is in large part due to international interference. Gangs currently control more than half of the territory of Haiti, according to Haiti's National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH). If the U.S. and other countries cut off the ruling party, the Haitian Tèt Kale Party, or PHTK, the gangs would lose considerable power, writes organization director Pierre Espérance in Newsweek.

  • Historically "Haiti was not a source of refugees but a haven for them — and in particular for Black people fleeing oppression in the United States and elsewhere in the Americas. This emancipatory history helps explain why Haiti is so demonized in the United States," writes Jesús Ruiz in the Washington Post.

  • The U.S. increased deportations to Haiti last month, and the Biden Administration promised to support the migrants upon their return to a country many had left more than a decade ago. But more than a week after mass deportations began, U.S. assistance has yet to arrive, NGOs in Haiti say. (Time)

  • Mexico sent another planeload of Haitian migrants back to their homeland yesterday on a flight carrying 129 people to Port au Prince. Unlike the first repatriation flight in late September, Mexico did not specify that all those aboard the flight were returning voluntarily, and some appear to have been escorted up the steps to the plane by immigration agents, reports the Associated Press.
  • The U.N.-backed Covid-19 vaccine program, Covax, can't meet its target for delivering doses to Latin America and the Caribbean this year, in part because wealthy countries have bought up most of the supply, reports the New York Times. Producers aren't prioritizing delivery to Covax because countries with bilateral deals are paying more per shot, said Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO assistant director. Covax aimed to provide enough doses this year for Latin American and Caribbean countries to inoculate 20 percent of their people. But most countries have only received around 30 percent of the supply they contracted through Covax.
  • Two Brazilian right-wing political parties -- the Democratas (DEM) and the Social Liberal Party (PSL) -- decided to join forces to become the country's largest political party: União Brasil. They plan to challenge President Jair Bolsonaro (formerly of the PSL) in next year's elections, reports Reuters.
Regional Relations
  • Colombia deployed a new unit of 14,000 military personnel to increase government control of a conflict hotspot near the Venezuelan border, where multiple armed groups compete for control of cocaine production, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said the IMF has not yet delivered funds under a program to help countries battle the COVID-19 pandemic, amid a dispute over the government's legitimacy, reports Reuters.
Puerto Rico
  • Power outages across Puerto Rico have surged in recent weeks, with some lasting several days, leaving residents feeling as if they are, once again, living in the aftermath of a major storm. Hundreds of Puerto Ricans gathered outside the governor's mansion in San Juan last week, angered by outages. But the issue is long-term and authorities are missing a chance to rebuild with renewable, resilient power sources, say experts -- see this week's Just Caribbean Updates.
  • "Afro-Cuban rhythms have mingled with African American ones going all the way back to late-19th-century New Orleans — distant siblings that intersected at key moments," but Cuban vocalist and composer Cimafunk's new album unites the two tendencies in a new way, according to the New York Times.
  • Over 100 prominent figures in Latin America urged The New York Times' publisher to maintain its Spanish-language opinion journalism section, in response to rumors that it has been shut down. The letter points to a surge of Latin American leaders with authoritarian tendencies, growing attacks against freedom of the press and journalists in the region, and greater social unrest than at any other time in recent memory, as reasons the Spanish-language opinion section is of critical importance. (Axios)

  • "The Op-Ed section in Spanish has brought the best academics, scholars, and experts together with the greatest journalists and thinkers in the region. Their published essays are widely read and commented on by other media, governments and policymakers, and sometimes even read aloud in street demonstrations, as happened in Peru late last year," reads the letter.

  • New Yorker writer Jon Lee Anderson was one of the main authors of the letter, whose signatories included Juan Manuel Santos, José Mujica, three other former Latin American presidents, Benicio Del Toro and Isabel Allende. 

  • On a personal level, it has been an honor to write essays for the section. As editor of the Latin America Daily Briefing, documenting the daily news arcs of the region, I have found the New York Times Español op-eds to be a source of illuminating and necessary analysis. The section is a unique space, and the perspectives authors bring us are tough, fresh, and constructive. Latinamericanists will, no doubt, miss its contributions to the region's most critical debates.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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