President Obama’s recent visit to Costa Rica focused on enhancing competitiveness and deepening economic ties with the Central American Integration System (SICA) through a U.S.-SICA partnership based on human and economic development. The visit also served as a pressing reminder of the need to improve integration efforts within the region.
For this partnership to succeed, the countries involved should recognize that most regional challenges arise in part because of poverty. Young men and women don't see a brighter future ahead and institutions are not working for their people.
President Obama’s trip provided a renewed perspective on the relationship between the U.S. and Central America—especially for a region more used to talking about its problems than coming up with solutions and more used to asking for assistance than offering mutual cooperation. In that spirit, here are the three main themes that Central American leaders must follow up on after this visit.
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.
From 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.
U.S. Visa for Castro's Daughter Stirs Controversy
Last week, Cuban President Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela received a visa to travel to the United States, sparking controversy among Cuban-American senators. Head of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, Castro will attend events in San Francisco and New York beginning on May 24. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) criticized the visit, calling Castro “a vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy.” AS/COA’s Senior Policy Director Christopher Sabatini told Fox News Latino: “The U.S. government is clearly trying to demonstrate a new, more fluid relationship with some elements of the regime.”
UN Begins Cuban Human Rights Investigation
On May 22, the Geneva-based UN Committee Against Torture announced it would begin an investigation into human rights in Cuba, and demanded information from the Cuban government on poor prison conditions, detention of political dissidents, and harassment of government critics. The same day, government-run Cuban newspaper Granma published a report on prison conditions on the island, writing that the penitentiary system protects prisoner rights and “respects dignity.”
Incumbent Party Wins Dominican Elections
Danilo Medina of the incumbent Dominican Liberation Party declared victory on Monday after winning just over 51 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election. The Dominican Revolutionary Party candidate and former President Hipólito Mejía won almost 47 percent of votes. In an article for Americas Quarterly, former Dominican Ambassador to the U.S. Flavio Darío Espinal argues that Medina owes his victory to President Leonel Fernández’s sound management of the country and missteps by Mejía in the last weeks of the campaign. Mejía questioned the election results, accusing the government of vote-buying, but appeared to concede defeat yesterday.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on the Dominican election.
Laura Chinchilla, president-elect of Costa Rica, urged a quick return to the Organization of American States for Honduras, which was expelled following the June 2009 military ouster of Manuel Zelaya. Chinchilla, who takes office on May 8, met with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo in Tegucigalpa on Monday during a three-day tour of Central America.
The first woman to be elected president of Costa Rica also urged her fellow Central American leaders to support Honduras during a stop in San Salvador, El Salvador—hours before she arrived in in Tegucigalpa. She said it is especially important that the Inter-American Development Bank extends credit to Honduras.
Lobo met with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who has yet to recognize Lobo's presidency, in Managua last Friday, to discuss reopening the stalled process of Central American integration. A meeting in Guatemala City between Ortega and the presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador to discuss reincorporating Honduras into the Sistema de Integración Centroamericano, however, was postponed on Sunday because the leaders could not agree on the agenda.
Chinchilla’s three-day Central America tour concludes today in Nicaragua.
Just after 10:00 p.m. last night, the presidents of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) came together for an emergency meeting in Managua, Nicaragua, to discuss the military coup in Honduras. President Hugo Chávez assured the group that although the member states of ALBA will "do everything that we have to do" to bring President Zelaya back to Honduras and the presidency. This echoes the message from Washington, which has also called for “respect [of] the constitutional order.” The Venezuelan government clarified that it will not militarily intervene “because of the sacred respect for the sovereignty of Honduras."
The overall regional response has been one of solidarity with the ousted leader. The Rio Group, which includes 23 countries from the hemisphere, issued a statement condemning the coup and calling for Zelaya's "immediate and unconditional restoration to his duties." The foreign ministers of SICA (Central American Integration System) also held an emergency meeting and issued a statement strongly condemning the coup, stating that those in power are "against the constitutional and democratic government of President Manuel Zelaya.” The Organization of American States (OAS) called for the “immediate and unconditional return” of Zelaya to the presidency and will convene a Special Session of the OAS General Assembly on Tuesday . The OAS could potentially suspend Honduras from the organization under the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, which bans “the unconstitutional interruption of democratic order.”
For more information on the coup in Honduras, read Christopher Sabatini's June 29 blog post. The AS/COA has also published a resource guide to the evolving situation.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.