July 1, 2015
President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba will reopen embassies in their respective capitals on July 20, officially restoring diplomatic ties between the two countries. The opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana for the first time in over 54 years would be the most tangible sign of progress in the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement since Obama announced his intentions to normalize relations in December 2014.
Wednesday’s news came after months of bilateral talks between Cuban and U.S. delegations, both in Havana and, most recently, in Washington on May 21 and 22. The U.S. cleared its biggest hurdle to opening an embassy in Cuba when it removed the country from its State Sponsors of Terrorism list on May 29.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Obama reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to working with the Cuban government and moving beyond what he called a “policy of isolation” that “hasn’t worked for fifty years.”
“American engagement,” he said, “...is the best way to advance our interests and support human rights."
While significant, the reopening of embassies is only a step in what will be a bumpy road to reestablishing functional ties between Washington and Havana. The U.S. economic embargo on Cuba remains codified in U.S. law and can only be lifted by Congress. In light of the President’s announcement, the Cuban government said Wednesday that ending the embargo was “indispensable for the normalization of relations” between the neighboring countries.
While a majority of Americans favor normalizing their country’s relationship with Cuba, some members of Congress have expressed opposition to the process. Hard-line politicians who feel the President’s agenda wrongly legitimizes the Castro government, such as Cuban-American senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio, have promised to block the confirmation of any potential ambassador to Cuba. Others have introduced legislation that would restrict the funding of an embassy in Havana.
Americas Quarterly publisher Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) welcomed the decision to reopen embassies in Washington and Havana. “The overwhelming support that this new course has received from leaders and people around the hemisphere and the world confirm that the Obama administration is moving in the right direction,” said AS/COA's President and CEO Susan Segal. “We look forward to seeing Congress further the goals of these new policies to bring positive tangible benefits to the people and businesses of the U.S., Cuba and the region."
Monday Memo: Mexican Same-Sex Marriage—Haitian Deportation—U.S. and Venezuela Meeting—Nicaraguan Protest—ELN Leader Death
June 15, 2015
This week’s likely news stories: Dominican Republic set to deport individuals of Haitian descent; Mexican high court paves way for full marriage equality; U.S. and Venezuelan officials meet in Haiti, address strained relations; Nicaraguans protest Chinese-funded canal project; top ELN commander killed in Colombia
Dominican Republic to Deport Dominicans of Haitian Descent: The Dominican Republic will proceed as planned on Wednesday with the mass deportation of over 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent who have not been regularized under the Plan Nacional de Regularización (National Regularization Plan). These individuals, many of whom were born in the Dominican Republic and have never been to Haiti, will be rendered stateless. According to the Nation, police trucks have begun nightly limpiezas (cleanings) in poorer neighborhoods, detaining “Haitian[s] or dark-skinned Dominicans with Haitian facial features.” Created following the passage of Sentencia 168-13 in September 2013, the Plan Nacional retracts citizenship from anyone born to undocumented parents residing in the country. It has received widespread criticism and has failed in the eyes of human rights organizations—many have been unable to register due to the government’s failure to provide residents with the necessary government identification documents to apply.
Mexico’s Supreme Court Deems State Laws Banning Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional: Mexico’s Supreme Court quietly opened to the door to the nation-wide legalization of same-sex marriage on Friday. The court ordered the publication of a jurisprudential thesis in which it declares that any state-level law that defines marriage’s purpose as “procreation, and/or defines [marriage] as being celebrated between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.” The finding does not overturn state laws, but obligates the country’s district judges to grant injunctions to individual couples claiming that their marriage rights have been denied. “What has to happen is that the state laws have to be reformed so that couples have the same rights and they don’t have to spend time and money,” said José Luis Caballero, a constitutional scholar at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. “A couple with resources can get married. A couple without resources can't.”
November 19, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced this Monday that the Monroe Doctrine—a policy that has defined U.S.-Latin American relations for nearly two centuries—has come to an end. During his speech at the Organization of American States (OAS), Kerry emphasized that the era of U.S. interventionism in the region was a matter of the past, and that the present administration values its partnerships and cooperation with its southern neighbors.
“The relationship that we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It's about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues and adhering not to doctrine but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests that we share," Kerry said.
A stronger push toward multilateral diplomacy in the region began under the Bush administration and has continued with the Obama administration. Nevertheless, the announcement was well received in Latin America, where a growing middle class and dynamic economic growth have made countries in the region into increasingly attractive economic partners for the U.S. The statement was also seen as a welcome change from moments of tension earlier this year when Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from Bolivia after Secretary Kerry referred to Latin America as U.S.’ backyard, and when Brazilian President Rousseff criticized U.S. surveillance programs during her address to the UN General Assembly.
Monday Memo: Kerry in Brazil and Colombia – Argentine Primaries – Colombia Peace Talks – Chong Chon Gang – Brazil Dictatorship Spying
August 12, 2013
Likely top stories this week: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Colombia and Brazil; Argentines vote in congressional primary elections; FARC and Colombian government hail progress in peace talks; Panama concludes its inspection of the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang; and documents reveal details of Brazilian dictatorship-era spying.
John Kerry Travels to Brazil and Colombia: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will make brief visits to both Colombia and Brazil early this week to meet with high-level government officials in both countries to discuss trade and energy, as well as address the recent revelations that the U.S. conducted electronic spying in foreign countries by monitoring phone calls and e-mails. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos by phone to offer an explanation for the National Security Agency program, but Santos said Thursday that he wants further explanation from the U.S., and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed indignation about the program at the UN. Kerry will arrive in Bogotá on Monday and Brasília on Tuesday.
Argentines Vote in Congressional Primaries: Argentine voters went to the polls on Sunday for mandatory congressional primary elections that could serve as a bellwether for Argentina's October 27 midterm elections. By early Monday, candidates from the government’s Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) led in Senate races in six of seven provinces, but FPV candidates for the Chamber of Deputies trailed in the country’s most populous provinces, including the province of Buenos Aires and the city of Buenos Aires. A third of the country's Senate seats and nearly half of the Chamber of Deputies seats will be up for grabs in October, with the results likely to affect Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's chances of reforming the Constitution and winning a third term in office.
FARC and Colombian Government Hail Progress in Peace Talks: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) released a joint statement on Saturday praising the results of the 12th round of peace talks. Government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said that "nobody has come this far," acknowledging progress in discussions over the FARC's future participation in Colombian politics—the second item on a five-point peace agenda. The Colombian government has refused to call a ceasefire while peace talks are underway. On Friday, the Colombian military killed FARC commander Jesus Antonio Plata Rios, known as "Zeplin," who led the rebels in western Colombia.
Panama Concludes Search of North Korean Ship: The Panamanian government said Sunday that it has concluded its search of the North Korean vessel Chong Chon Gang, stopped in Panama on its way from Cuba on July 15 under suspicions that the ship was transporting drugs. Authorities said that they had spent nearly a month unloading hundreds of thousands of bags of sugar from the ship, revealing 25 containers filled with undeclared weapons and six military vehicles. The Cuban government has acknowledged the military equipment onboard, but says that it is obsolete and was being sent to North Korea for repairs. On Monday, a team of six UN inspectors arrives in Panama to investigate whether the shipment violated international sanctions against North Korea.
Brazil's Dictatorship-Era Spying: As Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota prepares to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this week to discuss U.S. electronic spying in Brazil, Brazil's O Estado de São Paulo revealed Sunday that the Brazilian military government spied on its neighbors—particularly Argentina—during the country's military dictatorship. Meanwhile, the digital archive Armazém Memoria (Memory Warehouse), Brazil's federal prosecutor's office, and other local and national entities jointly launched the "Brasil: Nunca Mais" (Brazil Never Again) digital initiative on Friday, which includes hundreds of thousands of pages of searchable documents and multimedia from 710 trials of dissidents during the 1964-1985 regime.
June 13, 2013
Turbulentas han sido las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y Venezuela desde que Hugo Chávez dio rienda a su proceso revolucionario en 1999. En medio de altas y bajas, John Maisto, embajador norteamericano en Caracas entre 1997 y 2000, pareció entender con rapidez el fenómeno bolivariano y apuntó que “hay que fijarse en lo que Chávez hace, no en lo que dice”.
Desde entonces, Caracas y Washington han vivido cualquier cantidad de desencuentros políticos, especialmente entre 2001 y 2009, durante la gestión de George W. Bush. En esos años, Chávez no titubeó al desatar su oratoria y, con la acepción negativa del verbo, innovó en estilos diplomáticos al usar epítetos como “diablo” y “burro” para referirse a su homólogo norteamericano.
Algunos podrían pensar que una de las mayores frustraciones del ex presidente Hugo Chávez era que “el imperio”, como solía enunciar, era el principal socio comercial del país que proclamaba su segunda emancipación. Un cliente que recibe la mitad de los 3 millones de barriles de petróleo que Venezuela produce diariamente. También un proveedor que despacha la mayoría de los bienes que la nación caribeña consume. En síntesis, un aliado con quien la balanza comercial ha crecido durante cuatro años consecutivos.
Pero sin ánimos de entrar en el terreno especulativo, lo cierto es que uno de los grandes apegos de “la revolución bonita” era la oratoria de su líder, y gran parte de la, tan mentada, segunda independencia nacional no era otra cosa que una intachable clase improvisada de retórica. En la práctica, la Venezuela de nuevas instituciones y lemas patrióticos era tan pro americana como aquella que en los años 70 hacía gala de la bonanza petrolera comprando ropa y bienes en Miami.
Culturalmente, la afinidad entre ambos países es tan grande que, justamente, la motivación que llevó a Hugo Chávez a la Academia Militar no fue otra que el béisbol, el deporte bandera de los americanos. El sueño del, entonces, recluta era ser descubierto por un seleccionador e iniciar su carrera de ascenso hacia las grandes ligas. Años más tarde, la política le permitiría una mínima satisfacción personal: en 1999, durante su única visita oficial a Estados Unidos, fue invitado a abrir un juego en el estadio de los Mets de Nueva York.
Su admiración por el líder cubano, Fidel Castro, y sus coqueteos con China en busca de apoyo político a cambio de petróleo, no modificaron ni un ápice la relación comercial entre Caracas y Washington. Políticamente, el saldo de la retórica sí es constatable: ocho años desde la última reunión de cancilleres, cinco años sin embajadores, y apenas un encuentro oficial de mandatarios.
El apretón de manos que Obama y Chávez protagonizaron ante el frenesí de las cámaras, en 2009, durante la cumbre de las Américas de Trinidad y Tobago, fue un suerte de presagio, descartado dos años después cuando Venezuela rechazó las credenciales del embajador designado, Larry Palmer.
La semana pasada, nuevamente un apretón de manos figuró en la prensa nacional: el secretario de Estado, John Kerry, y el canciller venezolano, Elías Jaua, sonrieron ante los flashes, y con banderas de fondo, dieron garantía de que ambas magistraturas quieren un acercamiento.
Según Jaua, ésta fue una de las últimas instrucciones de Chávez. Esto a pesar de que el 5 de marzo, horas antes de anunciar la muerte del mandatario, su sucesor, Nicolás Maduro, expulsó dos agregados militares de Estados Unidos bajo acusaciones de supuestos intentos de “desestabilizar” el régimen. Los meses subsiguientes no fueron menos frenéticos: el Ejecutivo venezolano denunció que Washington no sólo podría ser el culpable del cáncer que afectó a Chávez, sino que además tejía planes para asesinar a Maduro, y, también, a su contendor Henrique Capriles Radonski.
En medio del vaivén discursivo, Calixto Ortega, actual encargado de negocios venezolano en Washington, aseguró que no existe aquello de “malas relaciones” con Estados Unidos, es sólo “una matriz mediática”, frase de efecto que emplean los seguidores de la causa revolucionaria para desmeritar un hecho y volverlo apenas una invención de la prensa opositora.
Paradójicamente, Ortega afirmó este miércoles que “hay una nueva etapa en las relaciones con Estados Unidos”, hasta adelantó que podría venir un encuentro Obama-Maduro. Tocará ver si esta nueva etapa se materializa, o si, por el contrario, la máxima de Maisto también se aplica a los herederos del proceso.
February 1, 2013
John Kerry, the longtime Democratic U.S. senator representing Massachusetts from 1985 until this week, was confirmed on Tuesday as the next secretary of state. He assumes the post today, and has some pretty big shoes, or heels, to fill after Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure.
What does this mean for Latin American affairs? What change awaits U.S. foreign policy?
Based on observations from well-placed State Department sources and Kerry’s nearly four-hour confirmation hearing, however, there are a few hints of what’s to come.
First, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson will stay on, according to my sources. This is good news, given her masterful dexterity in bureaucratic and congressional machinations and cross-agency management—notably regarding counternarcotic efforts—in addition to her regional expertise. However, her office could become savvier with using U.S. media to present policy positions to American audiences. Not only does the United States need to win the hearts and minds of those abroad, it needs to bolster support for policies at home.
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