The Sunday headline in Rio’s “O Globo” sums up stop-one of President Obama’s three-country tour through Latin America: “In Brazil, Obama Orders Attack on Libya.” As the AP reports it, Obama practiced “split-screen leadership” in South America’s largest country over the weekend– what it calls a model of “awkward, if not incongruous contrasts” which Obama is unlikely to escape as he travels on to Chile this morning. The New York Times began its coverage of Obama in Brazil in a similar fashion.
“Behind the scenes here,” the Times wrote, “President Obama…performed the most profound act of a commander in chief: sending American forces into conflict.”
The bumps and contradictions of stop one came early and often. Just hours before Obama landed, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled the joint press conference the two presidents were scheduled to give Saturday for reasons that remain unclear. The two presidents appeared together publicly Saturday, with Rousseff centering her comments on the need to reform international institutions – including the UN. But in a joint statement released after Saturday meetings between Obama and his Brazilian counterpart, the American president failed to offer his public support for Brazil’s bid to join the UN Security Council as a permanent member. Sao Paulo’s Folha describes Obama’s words about Brazil and the UNSC as “superficial.” The AP declared the visit a major disappointment by late Saturday:
“Obama came to Brazil with none of the deliverables Rousseff hoped for. He did not endorse Brazil's bid for the Security Council, saying only in a statement that he ‘expressed appreciation for Brazil's aspiration.’ That fell short of his November endorsement of India's quest for a permanent seat on the Security Council, saying it would elevate India to ‘its rightful place in the world.’”
President Obama did not publicly discuss Brazil’s abstention from the UN Security Council vote on military action in Libya, but he did spend much of his day Saturday in private, giving final orders about an impending attack on the North African country. Late Saturday, the president released a public statement on the beginning of military action there. A photo from the White House captures the Saturday scene.
There was some talk of economic matters – the issue which seemed to be originally driving much of Obama’s Brazil trip. At a meeting of business leaders Saturday, Obama is quoted by the AP: “As the United States looks to Brazil, we see the chance to sell more goods and services to a rapidly-growing market of around 200 million consumers.” But just exactly how such declarations will be translated into policy seemed less clear. For her part, Dilma Rousseff suggested Saturday that stronger economic ties would continue to be contingent upon the United States willingness to lower trade barriers for Brazilian products like ethanol, beef, cotton, orange juice and aircrafts.
On Sunday – as US and European forces extended their military attacks on Libya well-beyond the imposition of a no-fly zone – Obama made a brief stop in Rio’s “City of God” favela before speaking to crowd of 2000 at a Rio theater. His goal, reports indicate: attempting to draw parallels between the re-emergence of Brazilian democracy in the 1980s and current events in the Middle East and North Africa. Although the president mentioned Libya only once by name, the new war there hung overhead. The Washington Post quotes from the Sunday speech: “You fought against two decades of dictatorships for the same right to be heard – the right to be free from fear and free from want. Brazil today is a flourishing democracy, a place where people are free to speak their mind and choose their leaders.”
Obama aides say highlighting the region’s transition to democracy, in light of events in the Middle East, will likely continue in Chile today. But the task may be more difficult in Chile, a country whose democracy the US helped topple in 1973. [Both the AP and Ariel Dorfman in the LA Times discuss]. In the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis, there are also significant questions about the timing of a new nuclear accord signed last week between the US and earthquake-prone Chile. Text of the full accord here, via Setty.
Two notable absences from the Obama's time in Brazil: race and Lula da Silva. As the New York Times points out, Obama shied away from making any statements about his African heritage, instead retelling his story as emblematic of the “American Dream.” The Times: “[Obama] hailed ‘the American dream’ as appropriate for both the United States and Latin America, defining it as ‘the idea that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or how you start out, you can overcome the greatest obstacles and fulfill the greatest hopes.’ And little mentioned in US reports: the absence of Lula da Silva from a weekend luncheon with President Obama. According to Folha, all ex-Brazilian presidents since the 1985 transition were invited to an event in Brasilia on Saturday but only Lula appears to have rejected the offer.
A rough weekend for US policy in Latin America continues in Mexico:
· On Saturday, US ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual turned in his resignation – arguably the most significant US Wikileaks casualty to date. The New York Times and Reuters, among others, report on the resignation while McClatchy reported late last week on President Calderon’s on-going frustrations with Pascual, despite an attempt at peacemaking by President Obama two weeks ago. Insight looks at the reasons behind the resignation, including Calderon/PAN anger over the fact that the now former ambassador Pascual is dating the daughter of Francisco Rojas, one of the most important figures in the PRI.
· In Haiti, Democracy Now has exclusive reporting on the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Friday and sociologist Alex Dupuy comments in The Guardian. Meanwhile the New York Times and the AP report on yesterday’s second-round election between Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat. AP: “Voting was much calmer than the election's first round in November, which was marred by disorganization, voter intimidation and allegations of widespread fraud.” CEPR’s live blog covered election day in detail yesterday and documents, among other things, early reports of very low turnout. Preliminary election results are not expected until March 31.
· El Faro has two reports this weekend (here and here) on a new proposal for the creation of a “Super-Fiscal” that would take on impunity in El Salvador in a way similar to the CICIG in Guatemala. Latest reports say the proposal could be ready by April. WOLA has more on El Salvador’s approach to crime and citizen security under Mauricio Funes, in an updated backgrounder.
· Honduras Culture and Politics reports on a worrying state of emergency decree issued Friday by President Pepe Lobo. The decree allows the president to intervene unilaterally in the country’s K-12 school system. It comes in the wake of on-going teacher strikes, which were broken up violently last week in Tegucigalpa. According to EFE, at least one teacher – 59 year-old Ilse Velázquez – was killed.
· The AP with a long investigative report which sheds new light on the growing role of US law enforcement agents in Mexico. According to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act thus far, AP says:
"The Drug Enforcement Administration has the largest U.S. presence in the drug war, with more than 60 agents in Mexico. Then there are 40 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, 20 Marshal Service deputies, 18 Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, and dozens more working for the FBI, Citizen and Immigration Service, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, Coast Guard and Transportation Safety Agency.”
· In Peru, Prime Minister José Chang resigned unexpectedly this weekend, citing personal reasons. Meanwhile, new poll numbers ahead of next month’s presidential vote in Peru show an ever-tightening race. Ipsos/Apoyo: Toledo at 23%, Keiko Fujimori at 19%, Ollanta Humala now in third at 17%, Luis Castaneda continues to slide down to 14% where he is joined by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, also at 14%.
· And finally two opinions in major US papers that come amidst Obama’s trip to Latin America. It’s hard to make this stuff up. First, Mary Anastasia O’Grady regurgitates the “good left” vs. “bad left” schema, arguing Dilma Rousseff’s Brazil could become the center of a new anti-Chavez alliance in the region. Meanwhile, Roger Noriega, in today’s Washington Post, says Islamic radicalism is on its way to the US, through Latin America (specifically Venezuela). The op-ed comes after Republican lawmakers considered – but ultimately delayed – a field hearing in Miami last week which would have dealt with the issue of “Islamic radicalism” in Latin America.