President Obama looks set to embark on his three-country tour through Latin America, beginning in Brazil, before moving on to Chile and finally El Salvador. Today some of the latest specifics on the Obama agenda:
First in Brazil. As the Miami Herald suggested earlier in the week, business and the economy are expected to take center-stage. US Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and Fred Hochberg of the Export-Import Bank will all be accompanying the president for part of his weekend visit to the country (Energy Secretary Stephen Chu will also be present). The Herald adds that President Obama is also scheduled to address the U.S.-Brazil Business Summit in Brasilia Saturday, a conference which will bring together 300 top executives from “some of the largest corporations in Brazil and the United States.”
On Tuesday when the White House's deputy National Security Advisor for international economic affairs, Mike Froman, highlighted the impact of Obama’s trip could have on domestic U.S. recovery, particularly through new U.S. export markets, it’s Brazil, in particular, he appears to have had in mind. Froman, quoted in the Herald yesterday:
“Fully half of its population is now considered middle class, and that creates a great opportunity for us to engage and sell our products there and have a deeper economic relationship.”
In particular, the paper notes the President will seek out opportunities for American business in the energy industry and in the construction of new infrastructure, ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. Private business interests are also pushing for a “bilateral tax agreement” between the two countries, which would, according to the Herald, “eliminate dual taxation of companies and individuals” operating in Brazil. Bloomberg also has an interesting look at what role the growing economic presence of China – in Brazil specifically – may have on the US’s heavy focus on trade and investment.
All thi talk about deepening US-Brazil economic relations in the US appears to have some in Brazil on edge. Two days before Obama is set to leave, Brazil’s foreign ministry has issued a statement affirming its commitment to Mercosur, which explicitly rejects the possibility of any bilateral free trade talks which would bypass the regional trade bloc.
The biggest surprise on the Brazil portion of the agenda? A possible weekend visit by the president to the “City of God” favela in Rio, accompanied by rapper MV Bill, who heads a youth center there, the Central Única de Favelas (Cufa).
The Chile portion of the president’s agenda may be the least detailed thus far, although the Miami Herald notes that it’s in Chilean capital of Santiago where President Obama will give “regional speech” on March 21. Aides say it will be “an amplification” of his 2009 Summit of the Americas speech in Trinidad and Tobago. In a press briefing yesterday, the White House said the speech would “lay out the administration’s approach on Latin America” – three years into the president’s first term. Specific areas of focus mentioned Wednesday include “energy cooperation, citizen security, economic growth and development, and democracy and human rights.”
There’s also talk of a possible nuclear energy accord being signed between Chile and the US.
Finally, stop three in El Salvador. The big announcement Wednesday from the White House: that President Obama will pay homage to Archbishop Oscar Romero on the anniversary of his murder by visiting the archbishop’s grave on, or around, March 24. Obama and family also look like they’ll visit some Mayan ruins in-country. The presidents from the two countries will also cover “a range of issues related to economic growth and security.”
For more on the history which precedes Obama in El Salvador, McClatchy has a good report this morning. Interestingly, the report focuses on one person Obama will not be meeting with: Manuel Melgar, El Salvador’s chief public security official. Melga is a former FMLN rebel commander and US diplomats (according to Wikileaks cables) say he still “has blood on his hands” for the killing of four US marines in 1985. Carlos Dada, editor of El Faro sees the US position re: Melgar as one of the remaining hypocrisies of US policy toward the country:
“People . . . who were involved in financing death squads are still guests of honor at the U.S. Embassy. Why do they have this double policy?”
More thoughts on the El Salvador portion of the Obama trip from Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), who speaks with El Mundo about the need to focus on issues of poverty in the country, among other things. Jim Lobe at IPS does the rounds in DC, speaking with various Latin Amercanists in Washington think tank world. And Greg Grandin, who’ll be writing about the Obama trip for The Nation, posts his preview of the tour at the magazine’s blog, The Notion.
To other stories:
· In Haiti, the wait for Jean-Bertrand Aristide continues. Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, who flew to South Africa yesterday, looks like she and a handful of others may be accompanying the former Haitian president back. The Miami Herald says the return could come later today or perhaps tomorrow. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus are expected to travel to Port-au-Prince as part of a welcoming committee, says the paper, while both the US and UN say they have tried (unsuccessfully thus far) to persuade South African President Jacob Zuma that he should prevent Aristide’s return before Sunday’s presidential elections. Also this interesting point from the Herald for those clamoring that Aristide be arrested upon his return: “Federal sources told The Miami Herald the five-year statute of limitation has run out on any potential money laundering charges stemming from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s investigation into alleged drug traffickers’ kickbacks to Aristide and other Haitian officials.”
· In Cuba, the AP reports on yet another dissident release. Yesterday, the Catholic Church said the Castro government will be releasing Ricardo Librado Linares Garcia, picked up in the 2003 “black spring” crackdown. Librado Linares Garcia will be allowed to remain in Cuba. His release means just two dissidents arrested in 2003 remain in prison. Nine other non-political prisoners are also being released to Spain. The full list at The Cuban Triangle.
· Also related to Cuba, journalist Ann Louise Bardach testified Wednesday as a key witness for the prosecution in the case against Luis Posada Carriles. Posada Carriles had told the Times journalist about his role in a series of 1997 Havana hotel and restaurant bombings during an interview in 1998. The AP reports before Ms. Bardach’s testimony yesterday while the New York Times reports after. At Venezuelanalysis/Cuba Debate meanwhile, José Pertierra, the Washington DC-based lawyer who has long represented Venezuela in its case to extradite Posada Carriles, recaps the last month of the El Paso trial.
· From Guatemala, BBC and AFP have reports on Ban Ki-Moon’s Wednesday meetings with regional leaders on the issue of organized crime in Central America. According to the BBC, the UN Sec. General promised the UN's support for a conference on security in the sub-region, to be held in June. Mr. Ban also extended two more years of UN support for Guatemala’s anti-impunity commission, CICIG. Apparently Nicaragua was the only country who did not send a representative to the summit.
· The AP says US drones have been surreptitiously flying over Mexico since 2009. Already the issue is heating up domestic debate in Mexico. Sen. Ricardo Monreal of the left-leaning Labor Party said Wednesday that having U.S. drones fly over Mexico is “unconstitutional” and a “violation of national sovereignty.” More worrying, perhaps, reports, via Wikileaks, that a group of Juarez businessmen contracted a group of former Zetas in 2008 to act as a private security force against kidnappings and violence. The cable also says then Juárez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz sought to bring in a 2000-man private security company that might protect the city’s banks, maquilas, and private businesses. The El Paso Times and Juarez’s El Diario report.
· The AP says human rights activists in Brazil are applauding their Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo for comments he made Wednesday, supporting calls for a truth commission to investigate rights abuses during the country’s two-decade-long military dictatorship. Legislation that would do just that is under consideration, although some rights groups say the current bill would not go far enough.
· IPS looks at claims of 21st century slavery in Argentine agribusiness.
· In These Times reports on FNRP’s recent convention in Honduras, and the plans it still has for holding a constitutional convention.
· EFE and Mercopress, meanwhile, say the current Honduran government of Pepe Lobo is planning to close the Tegucigalpa embassies of the five South American countries which still do not recognize the his administration: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. The resources from those buildings will apparently be transferred over to new trade offices with India, Singapore, China and Canada.
· Finally, opinions: Ben Ehrenreich at the London Review of Books blog, on Mexico’s billionaires; Andres Oppenheimer on Daniel Ortega; and two Latin American issues which are absent from Obama’s trip South this weekend: Cuba policy, which Phil Peters comments on in the Miami Herald and Colombia, which the LA Times discusses.