Stop two of Obama in Latin America: A one-day visit to the Chilean capital of Santiago Monday. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Chile’s La Tercera all begin their coverage of the Santiago visit by talking history. As all three write, despite emphasizing Latin America’s need to look forward, not back, Obama’s “regional speech” Monday drew heavily on recent Latin American history – namely the Southern Cone’s “democratic transitions” of the late 1980s and early 1990s – to point forward to a possible future peace in the now turbulent greater Middle East. Obama, as quoted in the WSJ:
“At a time when people around the world are reaching for their freedoms, Chile shows that, yes, it is possible to transition from dictatorship to democracy—and to do so peacefully…The lessons of Latin America, … can be a guide—a guide for people around the world who are beginning their own journeys toward democracy."
But, as the Times suggests, the president wavered when his focus on recent history got turned back on the US:
“[A]t a news conference, [Obama] was asked by a Chilean journalist whether he also would ‘ask for forgiveness’ on behalf of the United States for its part in the 1973 coup that brought Chile’s former dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, to power and for the ‘open wounds’ that remain. Mr. Obama said that his administration would consider any requests for information as Chile seeks a truthful record of that period, but that neither country should be ‘trapped by our history.’”
When asked whether or not the US would cooperate in releasing more declassified US documents related to the 1973 coup and the decade and a half of dictatorship which followed, the Wall Street Journal describes the president as “non-committal.”
Obama: “Any requests that made by Chile to obtain more information about the past is something that we will certainly consider. We would like to cooperate.”
Chile’s La Tercera adds that Obama met briefly (10 minutes, says the paper) with former presidents Patricio Aylwin, Ricardo Lagos, and Eduardo Frei. The latter says the US president was more open to the possibility of aiding the Chilean human rights community in its ongoing investigations of rights abuses – among them the murder of Frei’s father.
Quoted in the Wall Street Journal’s coverage, Chilean socialist senator Juan Pablo Letelier said he would give Obama a “D-“ in world history:
“Latin America went through its first processes of independence 200 years ago. You can't compare the history of Latin America with other processes like Libya, Tunisia or Yemen, for God's sake.”
No radical, Riordan Roett, director of Latin American Studies at John Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) concurs:
“The Middle East may be at the beginning of the process but the institutional fragility of most of the countries compares poorly with Latin America where, better or for worse, we have had institutions in place for some time.”
I’m not sure if Obama’s attempt to outline a “common” US -Latin America past – a 2011 resurrection of the “Western Hemisphere Idea” – was any more convincing. Quoting Obama:
“But even more than interests, we’re bound by shared values. In each other’s journey we see reflections of our own. Colonists who broke free from empires. Pioneers who opened new frontiers. Citizens who have struggled to expand our nations’ promise to all people -- men and women, white, black and brown. We’re people of faith who must remember that all of us -- especially the most fortunate among us -- must do our part, especially for the least among us. We’re citizens who know that ensuring that democracies deliver for our people must be the work of all. This is our common history. This is our common heritage. We are all Americans. Todos somos Americanos.”
To be fair, it was not all history in Santiago. The White House’s “Fact Sheet” has a list of new agreements – heavily weighted toward trade and development – which were entered into by the US and Chilean governments yesterday. In his speech, the president also highlighted cooperation on climate change initiatives and regional alternative energy projects. The only mention of last week’s US-Chile nuclear accord seems to be in the joint statement issued after Obama and Sebastian Pinera’s private talks. Additionally, Obama spent significant time in his Monday speech on issues of security and drug trafficking in region – a matter that will jump to the top of his list of priorities when he arrives in El Salvador.
For a preview of that stop: the AP; the Washington Post; Andres Oppenheimer; WOLA’s Geoff Thale on Obama’s visit to Archbishop Romero’s tomb; and El Faro on the evolution of US-FMLN relations. And for more commentary on this weekend’s disappointing visit to Brazil, Greg Grandin at the The Nation.
· On the same day President Obama left Brazil for Chile – and as significant divisions emerge over the nature of the international military mission in Libya – the Brazilian government, in one of its strongest statements to date, demanded a cease-fire be implemented “as soon as possible” in Libya. Reuters: “The goal of a cease-fire should be to protect civilians and pave the way for dialogue between the Libyan government and its opponents, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said.” Similarly – albeit with more rhetorical gusto – ALBA member states, meeting in Bolivia this week, also condemned the intervention in Libya over the weekend.
· CBS News reports speaks with the second ATF agent to come out with public statements about “Operation Fast and Furious” – the secret ATF program which knowingly allowed U.S. gun dealers to sell to suspected traffickers for Mexico's drug cartels in an attempt to trace the movement of those weapons. The ATF agent, Rene Jaquez, has been posted in Juarez for the past year. He calls the program “probably one of the darkest days in ATF's history.”
· The Miami Herald reports on significant military purchases continuing to be made by Venezuela. Analysts, consulted by El Nuevo Herald, say the country has spent $15 billion on new weapons. [The time frame for when those purchases seems to be missing from the report]. According to the Venezuelan NGO Citizen Control, Venezuela is currently in the process of finishing a series of new deals with Russia, China, and Spain. Some of the new equipment on the docket, according to the paper: “2 mid-size T-72B1V tanks, about 240 bulletproof infantry vehicles (BMP-3 and 8x8 BTR-80), nine submarines, nearly 50 vessels of different sizes, dozens of Sukhoi Su-30MK2 fighting airplanes, an undetermined number of Chinese J-10 fighter airplanes, and close to a hundred Russian helicopters.”
· Also on Venezuela, Human Rights Watch posts its submission to the Human Rights Council, as part of that body’s universal periodic review.
· More new poll numbers from Peru. According to Datum, Ollanta Humala has surged to overtake Keiko Fujimori and move into second-place ahead of April 10 presidential elections. Toledo: 20%; Humala: 18.5%; Fujimori: 17%; Castaneda: 15.5%; Kuczynski: 12.7%.
· In other upcoming presidential races: the AP reports that Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom and first-lady Sandra Torres have begun divorce proceedings so the latter is eligible to run for president. Colom and Torres have been married for eight years. Guatemala's constitution bans members of the president's extended family from running for the presidency. In Nicaragua, the AP says Daniel Ortega made his controversial re-election bid official late last week. He also selected a former military chief, Gen. Omar Halleslevens, as his running mate. And in Argentina, Mercopress writes that organized labor is pushing hard to get one of its biggest parliamentary allies, Hector Recalde, onto Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s re-election ticket as vice president.
· The Miami Herald with more on Haiti’s Sunday’s elections, which seems to have been better executed than round one. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and no advocate of international aid, has gone so far as to “signal future support for Haiti,” according to the paper. No official figures yet re: turnout, although there are estimates it was around 22%, slightly higher than round one.
· In Guatemala, independent journalist Sandra Cuffe reports for Upside Down World on recent indigenous movement protests against mining giant Goldcorp, specifically the investigation into violence and repression which followed a late February protest against Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in the highlands of San Marcos.
· The latest on the Luis Posada Carriles trial and the recent testimony by journalist Ann Louise Bardach, in the New York Times.
· And back in Haiti, Democracy Now has another interview with former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Among other things, Aristide says he strongly opposes the restoration of Haiti’s military. Aristide disbanded the military in 1995. Both Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly have suggested they support bringing the institution back in some form, if elected.