The third and final stop of Obama’s five-day tour through Latin America came to end in the Central American country of El Salvador Tuesday. The New York Times kicks of its coverage this morning by focusing on immigration. According to the paper President Obama said he remains committed to a comprehensive reform of US immigration law Tuesday, but both he and his Salvadoran counterpart Mauricio Funes maintained that economic growth and development, would be the long term key to resolving migration issues. La Prensa Grafica reports on the El Salvador’s inclusion in the “Partnership for Growth” program which is expected to address those issues.
So too, said the presidents, was economic growth central to resolving the other issue atop Obama’s agenda in El Salvador: crime and drugs. Interestingly, none of the major US papers discuss citizen security issues in any meaningful way this morning, another sign that Obama’s Latin America trip has been greatly overshadowed by other crises – among them a new war in Libya and Japan’s nuclear disaster. [The Washington Post and LA Times did address the issues of crime and drug trafficking yesterday, before Obama arrived]. The AP does note that President Obama highlighted the idea of an expanded security partnership with Latin America – something which was discussed last month during US Assistant Secretary of State for Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) Bill Brownfield’s visit through the region last month. But, despite the way some headlines this morning depict those discussions, it seems to me the mention of $200 million was just repeating last month’s new US security assistance commitment through CARSI. As the AP puts it this morning:
“The deal does not come with new money, but rather a pledge from the White House to review some $200 million already allocated for current conditions, with a commitment to continue support ‘as appropriate.’”
For more, the full transcript of President Obama and President Funes’s joint remarks are available here. As of this morning the White House does yet have up any joint statements or list of agreements signed by the US and El Salvador Tuesday.
Getting perhaps the most attention this morning is President Obama’s highly symbolic visit yesterday to the tomb of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. The visit came one day earlier than originally scheduled as the US president sped through his final in-country commitments Tuesday in an attempt to return home to Washington. But the visit– coming two days before the anniversary of Romero’s assassination 31 years ago– was historic nonetheless. Mercopress says paying tribute to Romero kept with one of the principal themes of the Obama trip: the region’s “successful transition to democracy.” The LA Times leads its coverage of Obama’s Salvadoran stopover with the Romero visit, calling it “the most dramatic gesture” of the president’s three-country tour. More coverage from El Faro. The scene outside San Salvador’s Metropolitan Cathedral late Tuesday, from the LA Times:
“There were no cheering crowds or religious processions in the streets to greet Obama. Security was so tight that the entire area around the cathedral was emptied of the usual cacophony of street vendors and smoke-belching buses, replaced by hundreds of police and army troops, four armored personnel carriers, sharpshooters and sniffer dogs.”
Regarding overall impressions of the Obama tour as a whole, the position seems to be quite unanimous: despite cordiality, the signing of a few new agreements, and the location of the president’s person, US-Latin American relations could not have been further from Obama’s mind all week. As headlines from the BBC and the AP frame it, at one stop after another, it was Libya which displaced Latin America, making the last-minute cancellation of a scheduled visit to some Mayan ruins in El Salvador today, perhaps a fitting end.
To other stories:
· In Cuba, EFE reports that the final two “prisoners of conscience” from the Group of 75 are expected to be released in the coming days. The Catholic Church, which has brokered the release of all 75, made the announcement in a statement Tuesday. Like the 10 political prisoners released immediately before them, both Felix Navarro and Jose Daniel Ferrer refused to go into exile in Spain and will now be allowed by the Cuban government to remain on the island after their release. Eleven other non-political prisoners are also set to be released but will leave for Spain.
· Also on Cuba, the Miami Herald reports on a new sworn statement from Gerardo Hernandez, a member of the Cuban Five and, according to the Herald, the only defendant convicted of murder conspiracy related to the Cuban government’s shoot-down of Miami exile planes. In a bid for a new trial, Hernandez has filed an affidavit in a Miami federal court rejecting the claim that he had any role in the shoot-down of a Brothers to the Rescue plane over the Florida Straits in 1996.
· In Venezuela, the AP says a new decree issued by the Chavez government went into effect Tuesday, allowing the Venezuelan military to distribute weapons to pro-government militias. Rocío San Miguel of Citizen Control for Security, a Venezuelan NGO that works on security-related issues, says the measure could allow the government to use militias as the “armed wing of the revolution.” Under a previous framework, the military was allowed to train militias in the use of firearms but could not issue weapons. The AP says there are approx. 120,000 militia volunteers in Venezuela.
· Also on Venezuela, AFP reports on one student hunger striker’s decision to sew his lips closed in front of the UNDP’s Caracas’s offices in a ratcheting up of protest against university budget cuts. The hunger strike of some twenty students passed its 27th day yesterday.
· On the resignation of soon-to-be former US ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, the State Dept. said Monday that the decision was a “personal” one made by Ambassador Pascual himself. Pascual’s resignation will not be immediate, however. According to EFE, “the departing ambassador will remain in Mexico to aid in organizing an ‘orderly transition before taking up a new post in the State Department.”
· On Haiti, Dan Coughlin at The Nation says whoever becomes Haiti’s president-elect in the coming weeks will continue to face serious problems of legitimacy. Kim Ives, in The Guardian, with a critical opinion of the man some say is the early favorite in that election, Michel Martelly. And Amy Goodman, also in The Guardian, on the return of Aristide to Haiti.
· The Center for Constitutional Rights with a media advisory about a press briefing it will hold at the National Press Club today with Honduran human rights and legal activists, among them Bertha Oliva of COFADEH. The event comes after the CCR filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, seeking the release of additional US documents relating to the June 28, 2009 coup in Honduras.
· IPS reports on numerous congressional candidates of Keiko Fujimori’s party in Peru who remain under investigation for their ties to narco-trafficking and money laundering.
· IPS also with a good report on some of the major disappointments of Obama’s visit to Brazil.
· And finally two opinions on the US, Latin America, and economics. Jeffrey Rubin, at the Huffington Post, says US talk about “growth, investment, consumers, and markets” in Latin America will not, on its own, resolve persistent problems of poverty and inequality in the region; only an economics that takes democracy seriously, says Rubin, will be capable of combating such issues in any sustainable way. Similar thoughts from Kevin Gallagher at Triple Crisis, who writes about the shortcomings of CAFTA for El Salvador, and Obama’s about-face on free trade.