British Foreign Secretary William Hague and his Ecuadorian counterpart, Ricardo Patiño, met in London on Monday to discuss the unresolved asylum case of the Australian journalist and founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. One year ago, Assange, 41, sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual assault and rape. Assange denies the charges and says that he fears he will be extradited to the United States to face additional charges for publishing thousands of confidential government documents on his website.
Patiño confirmed that the Ecuadorian government will continue to provide refuge to Assange inside the embassy. According to a press release from the British Foreign Office, Hague and Patiño “agreed to keep channels of communication open, but made no breakthrough on Julian Assange.” Any solution would have to fall within the laws of the United Kingdom. The British government has repeatedly said that Assange will be arrested if he decides to leave the building, and has spent almost $5 million dollars in around-the-clock guarding of the embassy.
During his visit to London, Patiño also met with Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy, where Patiño declared to the press that there will be no changes in the refugee’s circumstances. Ecuador granted protection to Assange last August, saying that the government feared for Assange’s safety because the journalist believes he might face the death penalty in the U.S. if he is extradited.
According to Patiño, Assange is willing to stay inside the Ecuadorean embassy for five more years. Patiño added that Ecuador would also consider granting asylum to Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old computer analyst who provided The Guardian with top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) documents. “If he applies to our government, then of course we shall analyze the situation,” Patiño said.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Brazilian protests expand across the country; Ecuador approves a controversial new media law; FARC negotiators aspire to Northern Ireland-style ceasefire; U.S. Senator Marco Rubio says immigration bill needs to contain stronger border security provisions; Ecuador’s foreign minister travels to London.
Brazilian Protests Grow: Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the national stadium in Brasilia on Saturday at the beginning of the opening Confederations Cup match between Brazil and Japan to protest the growing cost of living in Brazil, as well as public expenditures for major sporting events set to take place in Brazil, like the World Cup and Olympic Games. Brasilia’s new stadium reportedly cost $600 million to construct. Authorities said that at least 15 people were arrested in Brasilia on Saturday, but the match continued without disruption and ended with Brazil’s 3-0 victory over Japan. The protests come two days after protests against bus fare increases in São Paulo led to hundreds of arrests.
Ecuador Approves Media Law: Ecuador's congress approved a controversial new media law in a 108-26 vote on Friday. The law will create official media overseers and impose strict limits on the percentage of licenses granted to private radio and TV companies. The Ecuadorian government has called the law a “milestone” and said it would make media in the country more democratic. However, press freedom groups and members of the political opposition have said that the new measure, which they characterize as a “gag law,” will have a chilling effect on free speech and dissent.
FARC Aspires to Northern Ireland-Style Ceasefire: FARC negotiator "Andrés Paris" said Sunday that he hoped that the negotiated peace process between the guerrillas and Colombian government will be inspired by the ceasefire that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) agreed to in 1994, resulting in an official end to the conflict four years later. The FARC is calling for a major constitutional reform before they join the political process, and said they would not participate in the 2014 presidential elections unless this happens. So far, the Colombian government has resisted their proposal.
Rubio Calls Immigration Law "95 Percent Perfect": U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said in an interview Sunday that the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently being debated in the U.S. Senate is "95 percent perfect," but needs to contain stronger provisions for border security. Meanwhile, fellow Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said that a perception that the Republican Party is responsible for blocking passage of the bill would add to the party’s “demographic death spiral.” On Thursday, the Senate majority rejected a proposal to make border security a precondition for the legalization of undocumented immigrants.
Patiño to Meet With Hague, Assange in London: Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño is arrived in London on Monday and will meet with his British counterpart, William Hague, to discuss bilateral relations. Patiño also met with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is still living in the Ecuadorian Embassy after more than a year in an attempt to avoid extradition on charges of sexual assault. Assange told Patiño that he was prepared to spend five more years living in the embassy if necessary. Meanwhile, Ecuador’s ambassador to the UK, Ana Alban, announced last week that she would leave her post before Ecuador decides whether to extend political asylum to Assange.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff inaugurated a new safety system yesterday, the Integrated Command and Control Center (Centro Integrado de Comando y Control—CICC), that will increase security in several cities—and soccer stadiums—through a coordinated effort among the police (federal, military and civil), the armed forces, the fire brigade, and public utility companies. This new safety system became operational just two days before Brazil kicks off the Confederations Cup —a two-week soccer tournament expected to attract over 350,000 tourists—and that will serve as a test of the country’s readiness for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
The first center became operational on Thursday in Brasilia, with the president’s announcement serving to inaugurate similar facilities in other Brazilian cities.
The command centers have been installed in the six cities hosting the Confederations Cup: Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Salvador, and Recife. Over the next six months, the enhanced security technology will also be installed in Manaus, Natal, São Paulo, Cuiabá, Curitiba, and Porto Alegre.
The centers are modeled after similar security technology in cities such as London, New York, Mexico City, and Madrid, and will receive real-time images of each stadium and the surrounding areas through fixed and mobile cameras installed on helicopters or police patrols. Unmanned aerial vehicles—small planes that flies over a stadium and monitor ground movement for up to 16 hours within a radius of 250 kilometers (155 miles).
Brazil Minister of Justice José Eduardo Cardozo emphasized that the centers will “allow Brazil to strengthen the fight against organized crime and provide greater security for all its people.”
On Wednesday, representatives of the Bolivian and Chilean governments met for the first time at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague for a preliminary meeting to establish the timetable and other details for a case around a long-standing disagreement over the countries’ maritime borders.
Bolivia filed a formal lawsuit against Chile with the ICJ in April, demanding that the court force Chile to negotiate in good faith to provide land-locked Bolivia a sovereign outlet to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost access to the sea in 1904, when it signed a treaty to end the War of the Pacific—a war sparked by conflict over mining rights. Bolivia is seeking land that is currently part of Chile’s Atacama region.
During Wednesday’s meeting—the first step in a long process before the case actually comes before the court—former Bolivian President Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé met behind closed doors with Chilean Ambassador to the United States Felipe Bulnes to discuss dates and other logistics for the proceedings.
After the meeting, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno denounced the lawsuit as unfounded, upholding Chile’s decades-long dismissal of Bolivia’s territorial claim. Meanwhile, the Bolivian government maintains that the 1904 treaty was signed under pressure from Chile and is therefore invalid.
If the case goes forward, this will be the first internationally arbitrated attempt to solve the dispute. Previous negotiations have failed and the two countries have never re-established diplomatic ties since they lapsed after a previous failed negotiation in 1978.
Four of Argentina’s main farm associations announced on Tuesday a five-day commercial strike that will begin this weekend to protest the Argentine government’s market regulations. Argentine farmers, one of the largest global providers of food, will stop selling livestock and grain from Saturday, June 15, through Wednesday, June 19.
The strike is motivated by rising production costs, export restrictions, high inflation, and high export taxes—up to 35 percent in the case of soybeans—and aims to get the attention of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner just months before the midterm elections. Currently, the Argentine government restricts the export of wheat, corn and meat to ensure a low domestic price.
The relationship between the Argentine government and agricultural workers has been strained for years, beginning with a four-month strike in 2008 that protested Fernández de Kirchner’s attempt to raise taxes on corn and soybeans. The strikes caused food shortages throughout Argentina and eventually halted the planned tax increase after the public showed broad support for the farmers.
Since exporting firms have had advance notice of the strike and will have several days to acquire the goods they need, the strike is not expected to affect commercial exports. Next Thursday and Friday are public holidays, so the strike will only affect the market for three days next week. According to a source from the export sector, “the effect on exports won’t be large, they’ll be relative. [The strike] is more a political move than anything else.”
On his first official trip to the United States since his 2011 election, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala is meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House today. According to a Peruvian government press release, Humala’s three-day visit is aimed at strengthening bilateral relations and mutual cooperation between the countries—particularly in the areas of education, capacity building, support to small businesses, and technology.
Humala will also hold private meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Peruvian president is traveling with Foreign Minister Eva Rivas, Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano, and Foreign Trade and Tourism Minister José Luis Silva Martinot.
Humala is scheduled to give a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce later today. On Wednesday, he will travel to Boston to visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he will sign several cooperation agreements with the university.
Humala is the second Latin American president to visit the White House in a month, following Chilean President Sebastián Piñera’s visit on June 4. Obama and Piñera discussed opportunities for U.S.-Chile cooperation in areas such as economic growth and job creation, transparency, human rights, and the rule of law.
Obama also met recently with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and other regional leaders during his trip to Central America in early May. Read AQ’s exclusive interview with President Obama about his trip to Mexico and Costa Rica here.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Venezuela’s CNE confirms April’s presidential election results; President Humala arrives in the United States; U.S. senators visit Guantánamo prison; Brazil’s FUNAI director resigns amid Indigenous protests; Nicaraguan Congress expected to vote on building a canal.
Venezuelan Audit Backs April Election Results: Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) confirmed the victory of Nicolás Maduro in the country's tightly-contested April 14 presidential election. A CNE official on Sunday reported that Maduro beat rival Henrique Capriles by a narrow 1.5 percent of the vote. Capriles, whose request for a full recount of the results was denied, called the audit a farce and has challenged the election results at the Supreme Court. An official report of the audit results is expected to become available sometime this week.
Humala Visits Washington, Massachusetts: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala begins a three-day visit to the United States on Monday. He will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other U.S. officials and political leaders. Along with Humala’s trip to Washington, he’ll also travel to Massachusetts to visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This will be Humala's first official visit to Washington since he became president of Peru two years ago.
U.S. Senators Visit Guantánamo: U.S. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Dianne Feinstein of California reiterated the need to close the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba after the two made a surprise visit to the facility on Friday with President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough. The visit by McDonough was the first by an administration official since 2009. Currently, 104 of the 166 prison inmates are participating in a hunger strike to protest conditions and what they say are invasive searches by prison guards. Forty-one prisoners are currently being force-fed, according to military authorities. On Friday, McCain and Feinstein said prisoners were being treated in a "safe and respectful" way.
Brazil FUNAI Director Steps Down amid Indigenous Protests: Marta Azevedo, the president of Brazil's Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Indian Foundation—FUNAI) announced her resignation on Friday, citing health problems. Violent protests have erupted in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul over a dispute between Indigenous groups and landowners in which one person has already been killed. Last Thursday, 200 protesters demonstrated in Brasilia to call for a return of Indigenous ancestral lands, while landowners told the government that they expect to be paid at least $1 billion reais to leave the area. Brazilian troops were sent to the site of the dispute last week.
Nicaragua to Debate Alternative Canal: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega hopes to gain congressional support this week for a canal that would connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans through a canal in Nicaragua. The project, in which the Nicaraguan government would partner with Chinese company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment co. Ltd., would take approximately 11 years to build and is expected to cost $40 billion. The government would grant the Chinese company a concession for 100 years to run the canal. The proposed canal in Nicaragua would be three times longer than the Panama Canal, which is currently being expanded and is expected to be completed next year.
Ecuadorian Minister of Defense María Fernanda Espinosa and her Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, expressed their “concern” over Colombia’s ongoing discussions with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during a press conference yesterday in Quito, Ecuador.
The defense ministers’ reaction came in response to a series of statements by the Colombian government over the past week regarding the country’s intention to pursue a closer relationship with NATO, which originally began with President Juan Manuel Santos saying last weekend that Colombia was “to start a process of rapprochement and cooperation” with NATO. Juan Carlos Pinzón, Colombia’s defense minister, later clarified that although the country would extend its “cooperation” with NATO, he ruled out the possibility of membership in the alliance. Instead, he explained that the government’s goal is to cooperate as a partner similar to the relationship that Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and other countries have with NATO. Those countries’ efforts are centered on areas such as terrorism, military training, conflict management, disaster relief, and intelligence.
A NATO official also clarified that Colombia does not meet the geographic qualifications for NATO membership since the alliance is only “open to states in the North Atlantic area.”
Still, the flurry of statements has provoked strong opposition from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Bolivian President Evo Morales asked that Alí Rodríguez, secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), convene an emergency meeting. Colombia is a member of UNASUR.
The General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) comes to a close today in Antigua, Guatemala, with a vote for three new members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) scheduled for this afternoon. The elections, which will take place during the 3:00 p.m. (CST)/5:00 p.m. (EDT) plenary session, will replace three of the seven commission members from a pool of six candidates—each representing a different member nation.
The IACHR vote comes at a moment when several member states are calling for reform of the Inter-American System of Human Rights, putting the future of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in jeopardy. The most vigorous criticism has come from members of Alianza Bolivariana de los Pueblos de Nuestra America (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—ALBA), which includes Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In 2012, the bloc initiated the discussion of a series of reforms that would drastically limit the role of the IACHR and bar the commission from seeking extra-regional financial support. Debate on the reforms has been set aside for now, but it remains on the agenda.
In the meantime, the General Assembly will consider candidates to the IACHR from Ecuador, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and the United States.
Erick Roberts Garcés, from Ecuador, recently served as director of human rights for Ecuador’s Attorney General’s Office. Roberts’ close ties to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s administration—as well and his outspoken criticism of the IACHR—have raised questions about Roberts’ impartiality and sparked concern that, if elected, he could threaten the commission’s independence and use his position to push forward reforms that Ecuador supports.
Yesterday U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chilean counterpart, Sebastian Piñera, met at the White House to discuss economic development, trade and their commitment to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a free trade agreement being negotiated among 11 Pacific Rim countries. This was President Piñera’s first official visit to the White House.
Both heads of state were hopeful that the trade agreement would be finalized prior to the October Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Indonesia. Issues have yet to be resolved in areas such as labor, the environment and intellectual property, but negotiations are accelerating.
TPP negotiations are being held among Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam. All 11 countries are also members of APEC, and have a combined GDP of $21 trillion, about 30 percent of global GDP. Japan has also been invited to join the group.
The U.S. and Chile already have strong trade ties. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. had a surplus of $9.4 billion in its trade in goods with Chile last year, an increase of 36 percent from 2011. Chile has trade deals with 62 countries and its economy is projected to expand by 4.9 percent this year, the second fastest pace in Latin America after Peru.
TPP talks will also be on the agenda when Peruvian President Ollanta Humala visits the White House on June 11. Beyond TPP, the two leaders are expected to discuss cooperation on education, energy and climate change, science and technology, and the bilateral trade relationship.
Heads of state and foreign ministers from across the Western Hemisphere arrive in Antigua, Guatemala, today for the 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS). The three-day meeting will begin with an inaugural session at 6:00 pm (local time) this evening. The primary focus of the Assembly, as noted in the draft declaration, is to discuss effective solutions to the world drug problem and ways to devise a comprehensive and integrated approach to tackle this issue in the Americas.
According to Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Fernando Carrera, consensus already exists among member states that the final declaration should include changes to the current anti-drug policy in the hemisphere. "We already have some ideas on how to change drug-fighting policies,” he said. On Monday, dozens of human rights organizations signed a letter asking leaders “to discuss and rethink the existing initiatives with a view to place human rights at the center of the debate."
The Assembly takes place two weeks after the OAS released a report that urges "assessing existing signals and trends that lean toward the decriminalization or legalization of the production, sale and use of marijuana.” Some member states have argued that the report fails to make specific proposals and reveals that there is no consensus among OAS member states to legalize cocaine, the illegal drug with the greatest impact on the region. According to OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, the Assembly will not approve the report, but will serve as “a platform for discussion and for reaching an agreement to see which agency will monitor the study."
On Thursday afternoon, during the meeting’s fourth plenary session, the Assembly will elect three new members to serve on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The six candidates to the Commission are José de Jesús Orozco (Mexico), Rodrigo Escobar Gil (Colombia), Javier de Belaúnde López de Romaña (Peru), Paulo Vannuchi (Brazil), Erick Roberts Garcés (Ecuador) and James Cavallaro (United States). The Assembly is also expected to discuss some of the controversial reforms to the IACHR being put forward by a group of member states led by Ecuador.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is leading the U.S. delegation. During his visit, Kerry will meet with Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and hold bilateral talks with his regional counterparts. The U.S. delegation will also include R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson; Assistant Secretary of State for Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield; and U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS Carmen Lomellin.
Top stories this week are likely to include: the OAS meets for the 43rd General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala; Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Mexico and the United States; the U.S. Senate will soon debate immigration reform; the UK and Ecuador foreign ministers may meet to discuss Julian Assange; Indigenous settlers protest in Mato Grosso, Brazil.
OAS General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala: The 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of Americas States (OAS) will be held this week in Antigua, Guatemala, with agenda items to include the future of the hemisphere’s fight against drug trafficking and the election of three new members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and several other hemispheric Heads of State have proposed a discussion on revising the hemisphere’s policies against the criminalization of marijuana; an OAS report published in May described several scenarios for dealing with the drug trade, including legalization. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will represent the United States before the Assembly, which meets from June 4-6, with the IACHR election to be held during the afternoon plenary session on Thursday, June 6.
Chinese President Xi Jinping Visits the Hemisphere: Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Mexico on Tuesday to discuss increasing trade ties between the two countries. China’s relationship with the previous Mexican administration was strained after then-President Felipe Calderón received the Dalai Lama in 2011. Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, visited China in April in an effort to improve relations between the two countries. President Xi has also visited Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica, and will end his regional tour in the United States this weekend.
U.S. Senate to Debate Immigration Reform: U.S. Senator Charles Schumer predicted on Sunday that the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill will pass the Senate by July 4. The full Senate is expected to begin debating the reforms by June 10, with floor debate possibly beginning this week. The bill needs at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, but supporters of the bill are hoping to attract about 70 votes. Meanwhile, a group of legislators is working on its own bill in the House of Representatives, but has not yet formally introduced the legislation.
UK May Enter Talks with Ecuador over Julian Assange: Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño has asked to meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague to discuss the future of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange when he visits London on June 16. Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June 2012. Assange faces extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault charges and fears that he will be extradited to the U.S. to face additional charges for the release of secret diplomatic cables.
Hundreds of Indigenous Brazilians Protest in Mato Grosso: Members of the Terena tribe seized a rural property in Mato Grosso state on Saturday that they say is part of their ancestral territory. Tribal members were forcibly evicted from the territory, known as “Sidrolândia,” on Thursday during a confrontation with police, and one member of the tribe was killed in the standoff. On Saturday, members of the tribe met with property owners and representatives from Brazil’s Conselho Nacional de Justiça (National Justice Council—CNJ) to reach an agreement over the conflict, but were not successful. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has said that reaching a solution is a priority for the Brazilian government.
On his second trip abroad since taking office, Chinese President Xi Jinping began his tour of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago today. He will also visit Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States as Vice President Biden finishes his own Latin American tour.
On this trip, the Chinese president will meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Mexico and China are the two biggest suppliers of manufactured goods to the United States. He is also expected to discuss oil exploration in Trinidad and Tobago and to open up talks with Central America, a region with which China has historically experienced diplomatic strain because most Central American countries maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
While China has increased its interest and trade presence in Latin America, Enrique Dussel, rector of the Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México, believes that the United States’ continued presence and renewed interest in Latin America will limit Chinese influence in the region and create a “triangular relationship.” At the same time, Francisco Nieto Guerrero, director of Georgetown University’s Americas Global Project, believes that the current Chinese administration is prioritizing partnerships with Africa and Latin America because “China sees a great potential for its raw materials and growing markets.” He says that China’s approach to Latin America is a “more ambitious and very pragmatic.”
Mr. Xi is expected to meet with President Barack Obama at the Sunnylands Estate in California from June 7 to 8.
Today, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera begins a week-long trip through through the hemisphere, making his first official visit to the United States since he took office in 2010. He will also travel to Canada, El Salvador and Panama.
Piñera’s visit comes as the Obama administration has displayed a more visible interest in boosting ties with Latin America. President Obama traveled to Mexico and Costa Rica in May and Vice President Joe Biden is currently in Brazil—the last leg of a trip that took him to Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago.
Piñera will kick off his trip in Ottawa, Canada where he will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and attend a day-long conference on technology and learning before heading to the United States on Saturday.
In the U.S., Piñera will meet with members of the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, Secretary of State John Kerry and other world leaders, including International Monetary Fund (IMF) Director Christine Lagarde and World Bank Director Jim Yong Kim.
Piñera will close his U.S. visit by meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday. The presidents will discuss their bilateral agendas and broach the possibility of relaxing or eliminating U.S. visa requirements for Chilean citizens. The presidents also plan to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a trade alliance between 11 Pacific Rim countries, including the U.S. and Chile.
After the U.S., Piñera will travel to El Salvador to meet with President Mauricio Funes and to Panama, where he will tour the renovations of the Panama Canal.
After visiting Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago this week, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden began a three day tour of Brazil today that is expected to focus largely on energy cooperation and economic growth.
Biden’s first stop on his tour is Rio de Janeiro. While there, the vice president will address energy-sector business leaders, tour a Petrobras deep-water oil exploration research facility and visit community leaders in a favela. On Friday, he will travel to the capital city of Brasilia to meet with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
The discovery of large oil reserves off the coast of Brazil could help reduce U.S. dependence on oil in the Middle East, and U.S. technology designed to extract shale gas could serve as the foundation of an energy deal between the two countries. Vice President Biden and President Rousseff are also expected to discuss Rousseff’s October trip to the United States. It will mark the first state visit by a Brazilian executive to the U.S. in nearly twenty years.
In addition to the bilateral agenda—which includes energy cooperation and development projects in science and technology as part of Brazil’s Science Without Borders initiative—the vice president’s trip also reiterates the United States’ interest in Latin America as a strategic economic partner. Prior to Biden’s tour of the region, President Obama visited Mexico and Costa Rica earlier this month.
On Monday, various Mexican government officials were joined by the representative of the United Nations' Human Rights office in Mexico at an event to mark the creation of a special investigative unit to search for missing people. The unit will be part of the attorney general’s office and will increase the number of federal investigators dedicated to these cases from 6 to 12 people; a group of federal police agents will provide support. The International Committee of the Red Cross will also provide technical assistance to the new unit.
During a press conference on Monday, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said that the new unit will improve institutional coordination by guaranteeing that the same investigators and forensic experts remain on cases until they are solved. “Today we want to eliminate the bureaucratic mess […] we are going to exhaust all options and be completely transparent in regard to the results of the program,” he said.
Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong recognized the victim’s families’ dissatisfaction with the current system and said that the government will use all necessary resources to locate their missing family members. In the absence of a coordinated system, many of the victims’ families have had to take full responsibility for investigations and shoulder the costs of the investigations.
Mexican authorities are also working on creating a single database of missing individuals. Official records report that 26,121 people disappeared during Felipe Calderón’s presidency (2006-2012) in a wave of violence associated with the government’s crackdown on narcotraffickers, a put together by the previous administration and made public earlier this year. According to Osorio, the number of disappeared could be “significantly lower," as some of the people who were reported as missing had left their homes temporarily or decided to migrate, and thus should be removed from the official list.
At the end of the press conference, families responded to the government’s announcement by saying, “We don’t want promises, we want results.” To date, official sources have not revealed the amount of funds that will be directed to the special unit.
On Friday, Human rights organizations across Latin America will take to the streets to protest the May 20 decision by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court to overturn the genocide conviction of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. The Guatemalan general was sentenced to 80 years in prison on May 10 for ordering the deaths of at least 1,771 members of the Ixil Maya ethnic group during his 1982–1983 rule.
Protesters in Argentina, Mexico, Honduras, Peru, and Nicaragua will march to the Guatemalan embassy in each country in solidarity with the victims of the violence. Human rights activists in Guatemala City will also march from Parliament to the Supreme Court of Justice, ending in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court. Organizers in Guatemala expect some 10,000 participants.
The idea for the marches arose on Wednesday after 70 human rights and victims’ organizations throughout the hemisphere—including the Fundación Rigoberta Menchú (Rigoberta Menchú foundation), the Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos (Association of the Families of the Disappeared and Detained) and the Comisión Nacional de Viudas (National Commission of Widows)—signed a statement calling the decision to annul Ríos Montt’s conviction “illegal” and demanding that the court reestablish the conviction.
Participants in today’s demonstrations see Ríos Montt’s conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity as a triumph for international human rights. Ríos Montt was the first dictator to be convicted of genocide in Latin America. After the defense lodged several appeals with the court over alleged irregularities in the case, the constitutional court annulled the conviction and returned the trial to where it was on April 19.
On Wednesday, during a one day visit to Peru, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a new aid package aimed in part at helping regional governments more effectively reinvest taxes and royalties from mining in programs to alleviate poverty.
During the first official visit to Peru by a Canadian prime minister, Harper met with executives from Canadian mining companies before meeting with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to reveal the new $53 billion aid package. The package, which more than doubles Canada’s aid to the Andean country, includes funds to develop mechanisms to more efficiently and transparently allocate the $4 billion regional governments have amassed in unspent royalties.
Humala, who campaigned on a platform of social inclusion and poverty eradication, imposed the mining royalties as part of that commitment. But that money lies idle in government bank accounts, while half of Peru’s rural population continues to live below the poverty line and violent anti-mining protests have sprung up.
Canada has a large presence in Peru’s mining sector. Currently 75 Canadian mining companies are engaged in gold, silver or copper exploration throughout Peru.
Canada’s increased investment in Peru is part of a broader initiative rolled out by the Canadian government in fall 2012 to ensure that Canada’s federal spending goes toward efforts that boost the country’s commercial interests and to encourage investment in socially and environmentally responsible industries.
The presidents of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru—which together represent 36 percent of Latin America’s GDP—begin arriving in Cali, Colombia, today for the seventh Pacific Alliance Summit. Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, and representatives from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and Uruguay will also be attending the presidential summit on Thursday.
Members of the Pacific Alliance bloc, created last June, are focusing on decreasing trade barriers and fostering the free circulation of goods, services, capital, and people. One way it seeks to accomplish this is by making the elimination of travel visas between member-states a requirement—a sticking point that could deter Canada from becoming a member. The rapidly-growing alliance differs from other regional groups such as Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA), Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur) and Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASAUR) in that it seeks to capitalize on global flows rather than protect against globalization.
This week’s meeting marks the seventh presidential summit in two years to promote greater economic opportunities and deepen cooperation between Latin America and Asia-Pacific countries. While the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) already includes Asian members, Mexican Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergio Alcocer believes that the Pacific Alliance’s focus on bilateral trade agreements across the Pacific could open up Asian markets before the TPP.
After two weeks of street protests, the Central Obrera Boliviana (Bolivian Workers Union—COB) will begin negotiations with the Bolivian government today to discuss changes to the 2010 Pensions Act after a series of strikes, marches and road blockades in the capital city.
The COB protests began on May 6 as a means to push for a modification of the 2010 Pensions Act that would allow miners with 35 years in the sector to receive a pension of 8,000 bolivianos ($1,137), while all other workers would receive 5,000 bolivianos ($714). The union is also pushing to increase the retirement pension for miners to 100 percent of their average salary, rather than the 70 percent established under the Act. The government believes such a proposal could cause a collapse of the pension system.
The strike increased in intensity last week with marches and road blockades that partially paralyzed the capital. Eventually, the union accepted the terms of a proposal from Vice President Álvaro García Linera, and agreed to suspend the protests for 48 hours—a precondition to start the dialogue.
During a press conference last night, the executive secretary of the COB, Juan Carlos Trujillo, stated that the COB is willing to resume the talks with the government “to resolve the conflict and bring the peace needed by the country and the people." The talks began at noon, with the participation of Minister of Labor Daniel Santalla, Minister of Government Carlos Romero and Minister of Economy and Public Finance Luis Arce, with COB Executive Secretary Juan Carlos Trujillo representing the workers.
While the talks take place in Cochabamba, thousands of peasants, women and members of Indigenous groups will march today in support of the government of President Evo Morales. He has been very critical of the union’s role by stating that it is only defending the interests of a privileged group, and has called his supporters to “defend democracy” and carry out counter-demonstrations against the protest, which he considers an attempted coup d’état.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Barack Obama will speak about closing Guantánamo Bay; Venezuela says it is open to normalizing relations with the United States; the FARC says that more time is necessary for peace negotiations; an OAS report calls for a discussion on marijuana legalization; and Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos will likely seek a second term as president.
Obama to Deliver Speech on Guántanamo: U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to discuss the Guántanamo Bay detention center when he delivers a speech on counterterrorism practices this Thursday. As of Sunday, 103 prisoners at Guántanamo were on a hunger strike protesting prison searches that the inmates say involved rough treatment of the Quran. Thirty of the striking inmates are reportedly being force-fed through feeding tubes. Meanwhile, Obama has renewed his commitment to closing the controversial prison, where many inmates have been held for over a decade without being charged.
Venezuela Open to Normalizing Relations with United States: Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua said during a TV interview on Sunday that Venezuela would "remain open to normalizing relations" with the United States. Recently-elected president, Nicolás Maduro, has selected Calixto Ortega as a potential Venezuelan envoy to the United States. Jaua said that the appointment of Ortega was motivated by the fact that the U.S. remains Venezuela’s top trade partner. U.S. President Barack Obama has yet to congratulate Maduro for his narrow victory in the country’s April 14 election.
FARC Leader Says Rebels Need More Time for Negotiation: As the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government marked six months of peace negotiations on Sunday, lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez said the FARC needs more time to negotiate a "solid basis to build stable and long-lasting peace." The negotiators are struggling to reach an agreement on agrarian reform, one of the FARC’s major requirements for peace. The Colombian government has promised to redistribute land to displaced peasants, but insists that the rebels must cease hostilities before this can happen.
OAS Calls for Discussion to Legalize Marijuana: A drug policy report by the Organization of American States (OAS) released in Bogotá on Friday called for "greater flexibility" in dealing with illegal drugs in the hemisphere and said that decisions regarding the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana will need to be taken "sooner or later." The 400-page study emphasizes drug abuse as a public health issue and argues that criminal prosecution is inappropriate for dealing with drug addicts. Though the study considered the possibility of legalizing marijuana, it also noted that there was “no significant support” among member countries for legalizing cocaine.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Suggests he will seek a Second Term: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos suggested on Friday that he will seek a second term as president in 2014, though he must wait until November to make the announcement official. “I would like many of our policies to continue beyond August 7, 2014,” Santos said, referring to the last day of his current term. Colombia's elections will be held on May 25, 2014, but presidential candidates cannot announce their candidacy until six months before that date.
Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs José Antonio Meade met with Russian Senator Valentina I. Matvienko president of the Federation Council of the General Assembly in Mexico City, to celebrate a cooperation agreement signed earlier in the week that highlights the importance of stronger relations between the two countries.
During a ceremony earlier this week Ernesto Cordero, president of Mexico’s Permanent Commission of Congress (Comisión permanente del Congreso de la Unión) said that both countries are being called upon to play a leading role in the global economy for their notable industrial development and natural resources. Lawmakers stressed that bilateral trade between Mexico and Russia has continued to grow—reaching $5 billion last year—as has tourism with over 80,000 Russians visiting Mexico in 2012.
Bilateral discussions between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will continue in the coming months when they meet at the summit of leaders of the Group of Twenty (G20), to be held in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on September 5 and 6, 2013, and at the XXII Annual Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF) from January 12 to January 16, 2014, held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
In addition, earlier this week, Mexican Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs Carlos de Icaza and Russian Vice Minister of External Relations Serguey A. Riabkov committed to solidifying new strategies to strengthen bilateral agreements on maritime transportation, nuclear energy and extradition measures. They also addressed the Russian government's decision to suspend the import of meat products from Mexico as well as the anti-dumping measures placed on Russian steel imports by the Mexican government. De Icaza announced that passengers can now purchase direct flights between the Mexican and Russian capitals. Riabkov signaled his government’s willingness to sign the Suppression of Visas Agreement in Ordinary Passports (Acuerdo de Supresion de Visas en Pasaportes Ordinarios) — an agreement that is being considered in Mexico to abolish travel visas for tourists visiting both countries.
On Wednesday, after a nearly two-week recess, the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) resumed peace talks in Havana, Cuba, with this ninth round seeking to reach an agreement on agrarian reform. Talks originally began in November 2012.
Only the first of five items on the agenda at the talks, agrarian reform is one of the most controversial. The negotiations have been delayed twice as the two parties have struggled to agree on methods for land redistribution and restitution. Discussions around agrarian reform also seek to address plans for rural development as well as infrastructure and land improvement. Other topics include promoting agricultural production and establishing a social security system for rural areas to include health care, education, housing, and poverty eradication. The current round of talks is scheduled to continue through May 25.
In addition to agrarian reform, talks must still find compromise on four other agenda items: ensuring political participation of members of the rebel group, combatting drug trafficking, ending armed conflict, and compensating victims of conflict.
The talks resume just a day after President Juan Manuel Santos called on negotiators to speed up the negotiations, which were initially expected to conclude by November 2013. On Tuesday, Santos also urged the rebels to disarm, stating that, ultimately, no peace agreement could be reached otherwise.
Fighting has continued in Colombia since the negotiators last met. A member of the FARC leadership, Leonidas Zambrano Cardozo, also known as "Caliche," was killed in a clash with soldiers in southwest Colombia on May 4 and clashes between the FARC and Colombian police throughout the country on Tuesday left five FARC members and a police officer dead.
The National Council of Justice of Brazil, headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa, ruled yesterday that government licensing offices cannot deny homosexual couples marriage licenses. The ruling is expected to accelerate a law legalizing same-sex marriage in the Brazilian Congress.
Basing their decision on the Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling that recognizes same-sex civil unions and guarantees homosexual and heterosexual couples the same rights under the constitution, the council ruling bars notary publics from denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The ruling also calls for government licensing offices to convert a civil union into a marriage if requested by the couple. While 14 of Brazil’s 27 states have already legalized same-sex marriage, national legislation has failed to pass the Brazilian Congress, which has a strong religious faction.
Barbosa rejected the notion that a congressional decision was necessary to begin issuing marriage licenses. "Are we going to require the approval of a new law by the Congress to put into effect the decision that was already taken by the Supreme Court? It makes no sense," he said on Tuesday, adding that the high court’s decision should be followed by the lower courts as it “is binding." A challenge of the council’s decision by the Supreme Court is not likely.
Should Congress act and pass legislation regarding same-sex marriage this year, Brazil would follow Argentina and Uruguay and become the third Latin American country to legalize gay marriage.
Update, May 15, 2013: President Nicolás Maduro and Lorenzo Mendoza, president of Empresas Polar, met last night and resolved their differences, with both pledging to work together to overcome any food shortages.
May 14, 2013 - Lorenzo Mendoza, head of Empresas Polar S.A., Venezuela’s largest privately-held food company, refuted government claims that his business is sabotaging the local food market. Mendoza’s comments came in response to President Nicolás Maduro’s accusations over the weekend that Polar is attempting to exacerbate food shortages and destabilize the economy by cutting output of staples like corn flour—which is used to make arepas, or patties, a staple in the Venezuelan diet.
In a press conference held in the company’s headquarters in Caracas on Monday, Mendoza said restrictive state regulations were the real cause of Venezuela's food shortages and that his company was being treated as a scapegoat. While Polar controls 48 percent of the corn flour market, Mendoza explained that his company couldn’t be responsible for overall food shortages because it only accounts for 9 percent of total food consumption in the country.
The head of Polar said that the company increased its corn flour production and sales by 10 percent during the first four months of 2013, compared to the same period in 2012. He also announced that Polar is willing to buy or lease some of the state-owned production plants to increase local production of corn flour.
Venezuela’s scarcity index, which measures the amount of goods that are out of stock on the market, rose to 21.3 percent in April, its highest level since the central bank began tracking it in 2009. Inflation also jumped 4.3 percent last month, led by an increase in food prices. The combination of price controls, which analysts claim choke domestic output, together with government limits on accessing dollars further contributes to delays in acquiring raw materials. The government is trying to solve both problems. According to Finance Minister Nelson Merentes, accessing dollars will be resolved in the short-term, and the Venezuelan government plans to import 700 thousand tons of food from Mercosur countries to combat its food shortages. Brazil and Argentina are studying the possibility of emergency food sales to Venezuela.
Mendoza is scheduled to meet with President Maduro today. According to a statement on its company Facebook page, Polar said that it would attend all the meetings requested by the government and that it is willing “to cooperate with the search for solutions that favor the Venezuelan people.”
Top stories this week are likely to include: Rios Montt convicted of genocide; Venezuelan military to fight insecurity; Panama announces continued electricity rationing; FIFA expresses concerns over Brazil’s World Cup stadium; and China’s vice president travels to Venezuela.
Rios Montt found guilty: On Friday, a three-judge tribunal sentenced the 86-year-old former dictator of Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt to 80 years in prison. Rios Montt was convicted of genocide for ordering the deaths of nearly 2,000 people of the Ixil Maya ethnic group between 1982 and 1983. He is expected to appeal the court’s decision, a process that promises to drag on a trial that, over the course of two months, has been beset by numerous delays. The conviction is seen as a victory not only for Guatemalans who endured the violence, but also for international human rights more broadly. It marks the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide by a court in his or her own country. A hearing on Monday will focus on compensation for the victims.
Venezuela’s military deployed to fight crime: Today, some 3,000 military troops will deploy to the streets in several neighborhoods throughout Venezuela as part of President Nicolás Maduro’s efforts to tackle the country’s daunting and rising crime rate. Venezuela has the highest number of homicides per capita in Latin America and polls during the recent presidential election revealed that insecurity tops the list of citizen concerns. Troops will be concentrated in the municipalities of Sucre and Baruta—both areas dominated by opposition supporters and, according to the government, two of the most dangerous regions of the country. Critics say the move violates the constitution, but Maduro maintains that the troops are necessary to protect the Venezuelan people.
Strict electricity rationing to remain in place in Panama: On Sunday, Panama’s government announced that most of the restrictions on electricity use that went into place last week will continue until further notice. The rationing, which curtailed business hours and drastically limited the use of electricity-intensive devices, comes amid a severe drought that has dried up the water sources that power the country’s hydroelectric plants. While other restrictions will remain—and in some cases tighten—schools, which were closed last Wednesday to Friday, will reopen today. However, the government has instructed schools to keep the air conditioning off and to use lights sparingly. Over the course of the week, the government will monitor energy supply and modify restrictions as necessary.
FIFA warns Brazil about construction timeframe: As Brazil prepares to host the World Cup in 2014, FIFA, the games’ governing body, issued a warning about delays in the construction of six soccer stadiums. FIFA’s concern came after as second test at the Maracanã stadium was cancelled due to unpreparedness. The Maracanã stadium, along with the others in Cuiabá, Manaus, Natal, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, and São Paulo must be handed over to FIFA and tested twice by December, according to FIFA. Yet, the current timeline is that the stadiums are unlikely to be completed before February or March.
Vice President of China travels to Venezuela: China’s vice president, Li Yuanchao, arrived in Venezuela on Sunday, beginning a four-day visit focused on deepening the bilateral relationship and establishing alliances with the new administration of President Nicolás Maduro. On Monday, Li will participate in a memorial to former President Hugo Chávez, followed by a series of meetings over the course of the week with Venezuelan leaders, including the minister of science and technology. Li hopes to prioritize educational and technology exchanges between the two countries. He will also meet with the ministers of energy and economy, President of Petróleos de Venezuela Rafael Ramírez, and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, among others. The two countries are expected to sign accords on issues such as oil and mining. Li will then travel to Argentina on May 16.
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro marked the end of his three-day trip through Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil yesterday with a meeting in Brasilia with President Dilma Rousseff to highlight Venezuela’s strategic alliance with Brazil.
Maduro traveled to Mercosur member countries for his first trip post-presidential election in an effort to consolidate bilateral ties. In Uruguay, his first stop, the Venezuelan president met with President José Mujica, as well as former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, and pledged a “permanent” supply of petroleum. He continued on to Argentina, where he signed 11 bilateral agreements with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and gave a public address at a soccer stadium where he invoked the legacies of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as well as deceased Argentine President Nestor Kirchner.
In Brazil, his final stop, Maduro received a firm endorsement from President Rousseff. The two leaders announced that Brazilian construction and engineering conglomerate Odebrecht will construct a 1.5-million-tonne-a-year urea plant in Venezuela. Venezuela is the second largest market, after Argentina, for Brazilian manufactured goods.
The international trip also carries domestic implications. Eduardo Viola, International Relations professor from Universidad de Brasilia said that “with this trip to Mercosur member countries whose leaders have demonstrated support, Maduro seeks to legitimize his situation, highly questionable in his country, not only because of the tight electoral results questioned by the opposition but also because of the grave economic and public safety conditions which are bleak.”
While an audit of Venezuelan election results began this week, nearly every nation in the region has accepted Maduro's presidency.
A four-month drought has crippled Panama’s electricity supply, prompting the government to close schools and impose strict limits on electricity use on Wednesday—a day after declaring a state of emergency in four of the country’s nine provinces.
In addition to closing schools, new restrictions curtail operating hours for late-night businesses such as supermarkets, bars and restaurants, forcing them to close between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Wednesday’s restrictions come after orders on Monday for businesses to cut air-conditioning use by four hours each day, among other measures.
Current restrictions will last through Sunday, when officials will determine whether the electricity supply will allow for a loosening of restrictions and re-opening of schools next week. However, a rainless forecast hints of little relief in the coming days.
Panama relies on hydropower for 60 percent of its electricity supply and the dry-spell that began in December has dried up two of the largest basins that feed hydroelectric plants.
In recent years, electricity demand has grown sharply. Between 2011 and 2012, electricity consumption increased nearly 6 percent, according to government statistics, yet supply has hardly grown.
Panama is Latin America’s fastest growing economy with growth exceeding 10 percent in 2012, according to the government. This growth has resulted in the construction of new business, office buildings and shopping centers throughout the country, taxing the energy supply.
Officials hope current measures will cultivate more conservative energy use even after the restrictions are officially lifted. Besides emergency restrictions, Panama has focused on diversifying its electrical grid to incorporate more geothermal sources of electricity to complement existing hydroelectric sources. It is also pursuing initiatives to integrate its electricity grid with other countries in the region, including an ambitious project to connect the transmission networks of six Central American countries and a separate bilateral effort that would link Panama and Colombia with one large power line.
The drought and power rationing have not affected trade on the Panama Canal, which produces its own energy.
Roberto Azevêdo, Brazil’s current ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), will succeed Pascal Lamy as the director-general of the organization on September 1, 2013, becoming the first Latin American to head the WTO since its creation in 1995. A formal announcement is expected today.
Azevêdo claimed the spot over Herminio Blanco, Mexico’s former Trade Minister and chief negotiator for the North America Free-Trade Agreement, in the final round of the six-month selection process which began in December. While Blanco had the support of the influential members such as the European Union, a majority of the WTO’s 159 member-states voted in favor of the Brazilian. Some analysts believe that Brazil’s active role in protecting the interests of developing countries during global trade negotiations contributed to Azevêdo’s popularity.
Azevêdo, who first joined the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the WTO in 1997, will face several challenges as director-general. He will be responsible for reviving the Doha round of talks, which were officially launched in 2001, and maintaining the organization’s relevance as regional and bilateral trade agreements grow in scope. Azevêdo will head his first biennial meeting in Bali, Indonesia this December.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro embarked today on a three-day tour of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, all members of Mercosur (The Common Market of the South). Following Paraguay’s suspension from the free-trade group, Venezuela joined Mercosur last year and will assume the bloc’s temporary presidency for the first time on June 28 during a summit in Montevideo.
During a ceremony on Sunday to commemorate the two-month anniversary of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Maduro announced that he would visit the other Mercosur countries to “continue bringing forward a perfect equation of financial, energy, cultural and political integration.”
In Uruguay, Maduro will meet with Uruguayan President José Mujica, as well as former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, union leaders and the electrical transformer company Urutransfor. Members of the Uruguayan opposition have criticized Maduro’s visit as “tactless and inconvenient” because of the current political tensions that exist in Venezuela. Later this week, Maduro will meet Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia to discuss the next steps for the regional bloc.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Senate Judiciary Committee begins mark-up of the U.S. immigration reform bill; Álvaro Uribe reacts to Nicolás Maduro; Ríos Montt genocide trial is briefly suspended; Barack Obama criticizes the imprisonment of an American filmmaker in Venezuela; and 100 prisoners participate in the Guantánamo hunger strike.
Immigration Reform in the Judiciary Committee: On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin to mark up the 844-page immigration reform bill drafted by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" U.S. senators with amendments to be considered due by 5:00pm on Tuesday. Dozens of amendments are expected to be submitted by members of the Judiciary Committee, including the Uniting American Families Act—an amendment to be offered by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners for green cards. On Friday, President Barack Obama said that he supported a proposal, calling it the “right thing to do.” If passed in committee, critics say the amendment could erode bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. On Friday during his visit to Mexico, Obama said he was “optimistic” that Congress could pass immigration reform this year.
Venezuelan and Colombian Heads of State Face Off: Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said Sunday that he would bring Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for putting his life in danger after Maduro accused Uribe on Friday of plotting to kill him. Maduro also alleged that Uribe was involved in the murder of Jhonny González, a sports reporter who was shot to death last week. On Sunday, former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana criticized Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for not speaking out immediately against Maduro's accusations.
Guatemalan Constitutional Court Suspends Ríos Montt Trial: Guatemala's Constitutional Court announced on Saturday a "provisional" suspension of the genocide trial of former General Efraín Ríos Montt while it resolves an injunction request filed by Ríos Montt's attorney, Francisco García Gudiel. However, a definitive ruling on the genocide trial is expected this week after the Constitutional Court ruled on April 30 that the case could proceed. The presiding judge, Jazmín Barrios, granted a week’s recess so that García Gudiel could review the file against his client.
Obama Calls Imprisonment of American in Venezuela "Ridiculous": Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said on Sunday that American Timothy Tracy was posing as a documentary filmmaker to spy on the Venezuelan government. Tracy was arrested after Venezuela’s April 14 election as he was leaving the country and was charged with conspiracy late last month, saying he was plotting with opposition groups to destabilize the country. U.S. President Obama called the Venezuelan government’s claim "ridiculous” in an interview with Telemundo this weekend. Maduro responded on Saturday by calling Obama the “grand chief of devils.”
100 Prisoners on Strike in Guantánamo: An Afghan prisoner at the Guantánamo military prison in Cuba alleged in a sworn affidavit released Sunday that soldiers roughly searched prisoners' Qurans in February, triggering a hunger strike in which at least 100 prisoners have been participating for the ninth consecutive day. At least 23 prisoners are now being force-fed, though a prison spokesman said that no one is experiencing life-threatening conditions. Marine General John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, told reporters that there was “absolutely no mishandling of the Quran” inside the prison.
U.S. President Barack Obama met with his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, in Mexico’s Palacio Nacional on Thursday to discuss trade and economic partnership between the two countries. This was Obama’s fourth trip to Mexico but his first under Peña Nieto’s tenure.
Both heads of state agreed to form a high-level working group to expand the countries’ trade agreements with Asia because of its fast-growing import and export market. “By working closely together to upgrade and revamp our trade relationship, we're also in a position to project outward and start selling more goods and services around the world,” Obama said. “And that means more jobs and more businesses that are successful in Mexico and in the United States.”
Both the U.S. and Mexico had estimated trade of up to $500 billion in 2012, are members of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada, and are participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations that Japan has recently joined.
Obama briefly mentioned the U.S.’ effort to overhaul its immigration system and said that he was “optimistic that we’re finally going to get comprehensive immigration reform passed.” Obama said that the bill contains elements that he approves of, but that the bill is likely to be amended before it is passed. Peña Nieto responded by saying that “Mexico understands this is a domestic affair for the United States.”
Today, before meeting with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Obama is scheduled to make a speech at the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum) in Mexico City and meet with young people to highlight the importance of the historical and cultural ties between the U.S. and Mexico. On Saturday, Obama will meet with other Latin American leaders from the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (Central American Integration System—SICA), including leaders from Nicaragua, Belize, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.
For further coverage of Obama’s visit to Latin America, visit AQ’s in-depth page.
Today, as U.S. President Barack Obama kicks off his sixth visit to Latin America, Americas Quarterly releases its Spring issue, Latin America Goes Global, in which, among other articles on the region’s increasing role in global affairs, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson reveals 10 generally unknown initiatives that are advancing U.S-Latin American relations.
In “10 Things You Didn’t Know about U.S.–Latin America Relations,” Jacobson looks at both long-standing and nascent efforts to promote many of the broader issues President Obama will discuss during his meetings with Latin American leaders in Mexico and Costa Rica. The president departs for Mexico this morning and will be visiting the two countries from May 2–4.
Economic and trade relations, security and cooperation will be top agenda items. And Jacobson points to local efforts already in place to connect small entrepreneurs and bolster education and opportunities in the region. From bicultural centers throughout the region that offer education in English and technology, among other subjects, to the Small Business Network of the Americas (SBNA), the hemispheric collaboration Obama seeks to expand has firm roots in place, Jacobson notes. On a larger scale, Jacobson notes multilateral alliances like the Tran-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—also explored in the Spring AQ—and its potential to deepen economic ties and opportunities.
President Obama has committed to discussing efforts to coordinate the hemispheric energy supply and demand and to launch new environmental partnerships, and Jacobson details existing efforts to collaborate on environment and energy issues. Local initiatives are raising environmental awareness and furthering initiatives to connect Latin America’s private sector entrepreneurs to U.S. clean energy companies.
The Spring AQ explores many other aspects of Latin America’s increasing global presence that will, in part, guide the issues Obama discusses and the initiatives he puts forth.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) Honorary President João Havelange resignation was made public Tuesday following the publication of an internal ethics committee repot that implicated him in a $155.4 million bribery scandal. The 96 year-old Brazilian national served as FIFA president from 1974 to 1988.
Havelange and his son-in-law, former Brazilian Football Confederation President Ricardo Teixeira, allegedly received bribes from the Swiss-based International Sport and Leisure (ISL) in exchange for exclusive rights to market the World Cup to some of the world’s biggest brands from 1992 to 2000. They were found guilty of "morally and ethically reproachable conduct" by FIFA ethics court judge Joachim Eckert. Although accepting the bribes at the time was not a crime given that FIFA’s ethics code came into force in 2012, Eckert found that they should not have accepted the money, and believes that they should pay it back as it was “in connection with the exploitation of media rights.”
FIFA has been plagued by controversy in recent years with corruption charges at every level. Most recently, FIFA’s leadership, including President Sepp Blatter, was accused of selling votes to Qatar’s bidding committee leading up to its successful bid for the 2022 World Cup. The international governing body has also taken steps to address widespread match-fixing scandals and rampant on-the-pitch-racism against players of color.
In anticipation of his May 2-4 trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out his perspectives on how regional cooperation can help to advance growth and prosperity in the Americas. In an exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly, Obama said that his sixth trip to the region will be an opportunity to consolidate joint efforts on citizen security, increase trade and investment, launch clean energy partnerships, and expand exchanges between citizens across the hemisphere.
On Thursday, Obama will travel to Mexico, where he will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. “Building on Mexico’s presidency of the G20 last year, we’ll continue working to sustain the global economic recovery, promote global development and address climate change,” Obama told AQ. The president also highlighted Mexico’s “growing leadership in the region and on the world stage," and praised Mexico’s role in the negotiations around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he expects to be completed by the end of this year. He emphasized that TPP would bring “rewards [that] would be substantial for all our countries.”
On Friday, Obama will travel to Costa Rica, where he will meet President Laura Chinchilla and other Centro American leaders at the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana—SICA) summit in San José. During this meeting, Obama will draw attention to the importance of finding new ways to involve governments, the private sector and civil society in reducing crime and violence, as well as encourage regional partners to address citizen security from a more holistic perspective. Energy security and cooperation to provide clean and affordable energy also will be on the agenda.
Immigration will be a backdrop to the president’s discussions given the large number of Central American and Mexican migrants in the United States. Here, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible to take advantage of the significant contributions that immigrants make to the U.S. economy. “We need to fix our broken immigration system to make sure that every business and every worker in the United States is playing by the same set of rules,” he said.
Read President Obama’s exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly here.