A Cuban jury will release this week the verdict from the trial against the young Spanish politician Ángel Carromero, which took place last Friday in Bayamo, in the southeastern province of Granma. Carromero is accused of vehicular manslaughter, after the car that he was driving on July 22 crashed and killed two Cuban dissidents: the prominent 60-year-old Oswaldo Payá along with Harold Cepero, 27.
The trial gained additional notoriety when the well-known Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez was detained on her way to the courthouse and released 30 hours later.
The international repercussions of the accident have been limited, but it has been recognized as a diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Havana.
The Castro regime is trying to use Carromero, leader of the youth wing of Spain's ruling Partido Popular, to spotlight European involvement with the opposition, especially since Madrid has always taken the lead on Cuba in the European Union. The incident is also being used to start the first political crisis with Spain’s conservative government in the era of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Top stories this week are likely to include: continued fallout over YPF expropriation; Leon Panetta to South America; Humala approves controversial mining project; and IMF warns of protectionism in Latin America.
Global Response to YPF Seizure: Repsol has threatened to take legal action against any company that invests in YPF SA, its Argentine subsidiary that was nationalized last week. This will complicate efforts by Argentine Planning Minister Julio de Vido to elicit investments in YPF. Beyond Repsol’s response, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner faces continued condemnation from Spain and the European Parliament, which is looking at the possibility of imposing trade sanctions on Argentine imports. Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil corporation, has pledged to expand cooperation with Argentina. Look for further official reaction from Europe this week.
Panetta in South America: U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta departs today for a five-day tour in South America, where he will visit Colombia, Brazil and Chile. A defense official reports that Panetta will stop in Bogotá to evaluate U.S.-funded Plan Colombia and discuss further measures to combat the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Then, he heads to Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro to discuss potential military deals, including Embraer’s participation in a now-cancelled military aircraft contract for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak notes, “Although the Embraer deal was worth less than $400 million, getting it back on track would be a huge plus for U.S.-Brazil relations.” Panetta and his Brazilian and Chilean counterparts will also discuss drug interdiction measures off the coasts of Africa and Central America—two of the world’s worst drug transit points.
Peru Approves Conga Mine: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala gave conditional approval last week to the controversial Conga mining project, constructed by U.S.-owned Newmont Mining Corporation. Previously, it had been stalled due to environmental concerns and protests by local Indigenous peoples in the Cajamarca region. Independent environmental auditors recommended a series of changes including larger artificial reservoirs that would allow for the adequate supply of water to local populations; Humala gave Newmont the green light for construction on the condition that these suggestions be met. Cajamarca President Gregorio Santos remains unconvinced, so watch out for the possibility of further local backlash.
IMF Warns of Protectionism: During its spring meetings over the weekend, the International Monetary Fund predicted 3.75 percent growth for the Latin America and Caribbean region this year. The IMF also warned emerging economies against adopting protectionist measures in response to the “accommodative monetary policy” adopted by the U.S. and other developed countries. The 3.75 percent figure represents a moderation of the region’s 4.5 percent growth in 2011. Given Brazil’s criticism of the United States’ monetary behavior, pay attention to whether Latin American economies heed the IMF’s advice.
*RELATED – Angelina Jolie Visits Refugees in Ecuador: In her capacity as a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ambassador, Angelina Jolie visited displaced Colombian refugees in Ecuador over the weekend. Read an Americas Quarterly dispatch on refugees in Ecuador from the Winter 2012 issue.
In early January, three Argentine pilots of a private modern jet were arrested in Barcelona, Spain, for transporting nearly a ton of cocaine. The episode is embarrassing for the Argentinean government since Spanish investigators have proof that the cocaine was loaded onto the plane from an Argentinean military airbase. Moreover, this was the last and biggest of a series of three carefully planned trips. The Spanish authorities chose to watch the first two smaller shipments and wait to seize this larger shipment. They also chose not to reveal any information about the nearly year-long operation to Argentinean authorities.
The lack of Spanish cooperation with the Argentinean authorities reveals an absence of trust and makes an outside observer wonder about the possibility of government complicity. Indeed, there are government connections from previous administrations. Two of those arrested are brothers Gustavo and Eduardo Juliá, sons of Brigadier José Juliá who was head of Argentina's Airforce when Carlos Menem was president. The third, Matías Miret, is also the son of a former Airforce official in command during the country's dictatorship (1976-1983). The modern jet plane used in the last flight, a Challenger 604, was supposedly rented from the company Medical Jet based in Miami, which claims it was leased to the Argentines by an outsourced group. Spanish authorities have revealed evidence that the 944 kilos of cocaine confiscated from the jet originated from the Valle Cartel in Colombia and passed through Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, for processing before making its way to Argentina.
The recent episode is not only uncomfortable for the Argentinean government; it highlights the country's growing role in the international drug trade and the government's weak control over trafficking. At first, President Cristina Fernández´s administration wouldn't admit that the drugs were loaded on the Argentinean airbase, but evidence forced the new Security Minister (former Minister of Defense) Nilda Garré to concede that it was possible and that “some controls have relaxed a little.” Accordingly, Ms. Garré has begun calling for increased regulations for private aircrafts. This sounds like a good idea considering the private jet loaded with a ton of cocaine at a military airbase even passed through Argentinean customs before taking off for Spain.
According to a researcher from the University of Buenos Aires, there is significant drug trafficking throughout Argentina, but mostly taking place by sea. This Juliá brother case is unique because of the large quantity of cocaine transported by air. There is also evidence, however, that Argentina is not just a transit point. It is also a drug producing and consuming country. The exponential growth of the use of Paco, a cheap cocaine derivative often made from production leftovers, makes specialists believe that there is significant production taking place in the country. Around the year 2000, the combination of Plan Colombia cracking down on drug producing countries up north and Argentinean’s economic meltdown made sending cocaine paste directly to Argentina for processing a viable, economic alternative. As a result, consumption has risen among the poor and the use of cheap drugs by young slum dwellers is leading to increasing acts of random gun violence in Buenos Aires.
As soon as I arrived in Paraguay last week, I could see that the country was in the grips of football fever. It was impossible to forget, even for a minute, that the World Cup was on and that Paraguay’s team was doing extremely well. Every public space was draped with a Paraguayan flag. Every bar had its television on, blaring sports commentary. Taxi drivers and night watchmen carried around transistor radios so as not to miss the latest developments.
The 2010 World Cup will not soon be forgotten. Even with the Quarterfinal loss to Spain last weekend, Paraguayans proudly welcomed home their team yesterday. After all, this team advanced further than any previous Paraguayan squad. This is a big deal for Paraguay, which otherwise suffers from an identity crisis.
“Nobody knows what our country is,” said Bechy, a young woman waiting for a flight out of Asunción’s airport. “People always confuse us with Uruguay.” It doesn’t help, she added, that Paraguay is sandwiched between regional superpowers Brazil and Argentina.
Well, it was fun while it lasted. What was shaping up to be the year of Latin America in the early rounds of this year’s World Cup will see two European teams fighting for the championship on July 11. The best that Latin America can now hope for is a 3rd place finish for Uruguay. That'd be a terrific result for Uruguay, of course, the best finish for that nation since they last won it all in 1950. But for Latin America as a whole, the result is underwhelming.
Brazil’s surprising defeat at the hands of the Flying Dutchmen, Germany’s wipeout of Argentina and Spain’s close call with Paraguay ensured that Uruguay, which defeated Ghana in penalty kicks, would be the regional standard bearer in the final four. Tiny Uruguay outlasted the region’s soccer giants, and started off well in its semi-final match, tied 1-1 with the Netherlands at half time. Alas, their luck ran out with two superb quick strikes from the Dutch in the second half that put the game out of reach, despite an injury time goal that closed the gap to 3-2 and a furious final rush from Uruguay at the end. Throughout the tournament, Uruguay proved to be a highly skilled and creative team, particularly effective on dead balls in the final third of the field. For their part, Holland has tied its best previous finishes, in 1974 and 1978, when it lost championship games to West Germany and Argentina, respectively. Will they finally be successful in 2010?
Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a message to Venezuela on Tuesday, demanding an explanation from the government for its alleged support of an alliance between Basque separatist group ETA and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).
On Monday, Spanish High Court Judge Eloy Velasco accused Venezuela of helping the two groups plot attacks on Spanish soil and issued international arrest warrants for six alleged ETA members and seven Colombians thought to be members of the FARC. The Venezuelan government facilitated communication between the two groups, the Court found, leading to the FARC asking ETA for help coordinating an assassination of Colombian officials visiting Spain, including Colombian president Álvaro Uribe.
Velasco’s 26-page report outlines the contacts ETA is believed to have in Venezuela, and says the groups also collaborated on an assassination plot of former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana in 2000.
A statement from the Venezuelan government said the accusations were politically motivated. At a press conference in Germany, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the Spanish government awaited an explanation from Venezuela before pursuing any further action.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
OAS on Overturning 1962 Rule Suspending Cuba
Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Relations Fander Falconí told journalists Wednesday that the ministers at the OAS General Assembly have agreed to overturn a 1962 decision that expelled Cuba from the organization. Falconi said that Cuba’s suspension will be lifted as a result of a new proposal that eliminates conditions for Cuba to rejoin. This came after the first day of the assembly ended with no consensus about allowing Cuba to rejoin the organization. U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton insisted that Cuba must show clear steps towards addressing human rights and political freedom before the island can be allowed to rejoin.
Despite the United States opposing proposals to allow the readmission of Cuba without the country meeting certain democratic standards, signs of a U.S.-Cuba thaw continue. On May 30, the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington Jorge Bolaños officially accepted on behalf of Havana the U.S. proposal to resume high-level talks on legal immigration. Talks will also cover bilateral cooperation on drug trafficking, terrorism, disaster readiness, and resuming regular mail services.
Financial Times takes a look at how some members of the U.S. Senate hope to block easing of restrictions in U.S.-Cuba relations. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) suggested at COA’s Washington Conference that the United States should reexamine its funding for the OAS if the agency allows Cuba to rejoin.