A final postmortem this morning on Obama and Latin America. The Wall Street Journal’s parting thoughts seem to gauge the general sentiment: while offering “attention and respect” to Latin America, Obama returned home yesterday with little in terms of real “accomplishments.” Ditto from the Washington insiders at Politico who talk about a “big trip” that was “short on progress.” The Miami Herald’s headline is a bit kinder but the message is essentially no different: high marks for conciliatory tone and cordiality but many questions in the region about “what will be left behind when the glow of the visit fades.” That is, on a variety of issues – among them guns, crime, drugs, immigration, or even trade, Obama, for better or worse, announced nothing of any new significance – for better or for worse. Speaking with the WSJ, Kevin Casas-Zamora of the Brookings Institution notes what many others have as well: US domestic politics and the multiplicity of crises there-in continue to contain the possibility of any shift – be it to the ‘right’ or to the ‘left’ – for the administration’s Latin America policy:
“When it comes to the truly crucial issues that are at the heart of U.S.-Latin American relations, to really move the relationship forward requires politically costly decisions here in the United States.”
Obama’s short visit to the tomb of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero seems to have been the moment which is being most discussed, particularly among rights groups. Francisco Altschul, El Salvador’s Ambassador to Washington, called Obama’s decision to pay homage to the late Archbishop was the most significant aspect of the president’s whole trip. Historian Greg Grandin offers similar thoughts in his commentary at The Nation yesterday. “By lighting a candle for Romero, Obama,” writes Grandin, “was tacitly doing in El Salvador what he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—do in Chile: apologize for US actions that resulted in horrific human tragedy.”
Insight Crime echoes what I mentioned here yesterday: that Obama’s mention of $200 million in “new” US anti-crime assistance does not, in fact, appear to be anything particularly new. The money was announced last month by Bill Brownfield and looks like it will be channeled through the existing CARSI structure, at least for now. But El Faro has written this week that the Salvadoran government plans to increase the size of its anti-crime prosecutor’s office from 15 to 150 and that expansion may be facilitated by some of that $200 million from the United States. This may, in fact, turn out to be the most significant initiative of the Obama visit, and it looks to be connected to Funes’s new initiative, also announced this week, to create some sort of replica of the CICIG for El Salvador over the next year. I haven’t seen anything significant on either of these developments in the US media, but they do some quite noteworthy.
The New York Times has more on drugs and crimes in Central America, more broadly, in a troubling piece about the growing incursion of Mexican and Colombian drug cartels throughout the region. On Honduras, specifically, the piece is cites official US acknowledgement that “the 2009 coup in Honduras kicked open the door to cartels” – a door it now seems more than a little difficult to shut.
Working backward from El Salvador, it appears human rights groups and the Chilean left were not the only ones who seek stronger US support in prosecuting human rights abuse cases from the Pinochet era. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, in an interview with the AP, says that in the coming weeks he will “formally request classified U.S. intelligence documents” that coud aid in prosecuting Chilean officials responsible for the more than 1,200 human rights violations committed under the dictator’s watch. According to the wire service, those words were Pinera’s most forceful to date about the need to continue the prosecution of former Pinochet officials.
On Obama’s “regional speech” in Santiago, Chile specialist Greg Weeks links to a variety of Chileanist commentators in the blogosphere – the majority of whom were unenthusiastic about the Santiago speech on Monday.
Regarding Brazil – where trade was supposed to be the administration’s number one priority –Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota, just a day or two after Obama’s visit, seems to have immediately turned the talk back Mercosur – a regional trade partnership which puts explicit limits on the sorts of deep, bilateral trade agreements some in the US might ultimately have desired.
Finally Florida congressman Connie Mack (R-FL) seems to have been given the task of offering a Republican response to the Obama trip. The talking points are not unfamiliar ones: by not advocating free trade agreements with longtime US allies Colombia and Panama and not more vigorously seeking to isolate Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, President Obama’s Latin America policy remains “unfocused,” according to Mack’s assessment.
Today’s bullet points:
· In Honduras, significant protests against controversial educational reforms being proposed by the Lobo government have rocked the capital in recent days. The demonstrations have been organized by Honduran teachers and university students. On Wednesday, El Heraldo says the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras (UNAH) became a “battlefield” between security forces and demonstrating students. La Prensa has more. The Knight Center highlights an incident of assault on at least two journalists by Honduran security forces (riot police launching a tear gas canister at a Honduran journalist and cameraperson who were covering the protests). Similar actions took the life of 59-year-old school teacher Ilse Velasquez during March 18 demonstrations. Adrienne Pine has some of the latest updates from the crackdown which lasted late into the evening at the offices of the association of secondary school teachers (COPEMH) – a building which also apparently houses the Honduran Truth Commission. RNS at Honduran Culture and Politics also comments, noting serious divisions within the Lobo’s own cabinet about the sort of force used in the crackdown. Lobo thus far has continued to back the actions being taken by his security forces.
· Colombia Reports, meanwhile, says Colombian and Honduran defense ministers met Tuesday to strengthen their cooperation on security and drug trafficking matters.
· In Guatemala, Plaza Pública with a long report on another worrying use of security forces – this time in the Alta Verapaz town of Panzos where over 500 police officers plus the national military were used from March 15-17 to dislodge indigenous groups occupying African palm and sugar plantations. (Greg Grandin, who knows a thing or two about Panzós, also mentions the event in his post at The Nation).
· The CS Monitor examines one of the countries that Connie Mack was upset Obama skipped in Latin America: Panama – specifically focusing on President Ricardo Martinelli’s ambitious attempt to turn his capital, Panama City, into a “global hub.” CSM:
“President Martinelli wants Panama to be known as the next Miami as a shopping and airline hub; the next Chile for copper exports; the next Dubai as a business and real estate capital; the next Rotterdam as a shipping hub; and the next Singapore as a global logistics center."
The project has apparently begun with the recent construction in Panama City of the first Trump Tower anywhere outside the US. The tower will soon stand as the tallest building in Latin America.
· In the other country Republicans wanted Obama to visit, Colombia, Julian Assange has offered his first interview with a Latin American news outlet. The Wikileaks founder spoke with Semana here.
· On Wednesday, the final two dissidents from the Group of 75, Felix Navarro Rodriguez and Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, were formally released to their homes in Cuba. Reuters reports and Amnesty International has a statement.
· The AP reports on a major Ecuador-Mexico transnational anti-drug bust that led to the arrest of one of Sinaloa’s top bosses and an in-law of Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzman, among others, in Ecuador.
· Infobae.com has a bit more on the recent decree issued by the Chavez government in Venezuela which has altered 48 of 138 articles of the country’s armed forces law.
· Reuters with a look at the Venezuelan opposition’s attempt to find a candidate its various factions can all agree on more than a year-and-a-half before presidential elections.
· El Universal highlights a new complaint issued to the UN by the Committee of the Relatives of the Victims of February-March 1989 (Cofavic) in Venezuela about rising numbers of extrajudicial killings being carried out by “vigilante groups” in the country.
· Boz highlights a slew of new poll numbers from around the region.
· And finally, in the upcoming London Review of Books, Perry Anderson, one of the most important living historians today, offers his take on the presidency of Lula da Silva and the future of Brazil. According to Anderson, Lula represents “the most successful politician of our time,” and if you have 30 extra minutes at any point over the next few days, I highly recommend reading through the whole piece to understand why.