Former President Jimmy Carter’s three-day visit to Havana came to an end Wednesday with a rather historic news conference. The BBC reports, highlighting former President Carter’s unequivocal denunciation of both the US travel ban on Cuba and the US trade embargo on the island. The latter, Carter said, should be “immediately ended.” He also attacked the US government’s decision to keep the island on the “state sponsors of terrorism” list, calling that policy “unfounded” and in need of revision. To that end, there are reports that Carter even met with diplomats from Spain and Colombia who both welcomed Cuba’s policy of accepting FARC and ETA members as part of an effort toward peace and reconciliation in their countries.
Also very notable, Carter called for the release of the Cuban Five, a group of Cuban intelligence agents who have been jailed in the US for over twelve years after infiltrating anti-Castro groups in South Florida.
I’ll direct readers to Peter Kornbluh’s excellent coverage of the Carter visit and press conference at The Nation for all the details. But it’s worth highlighting here the quite amazing number and diversity of meetings Carter held during his three days in Havana. After a six-hour meeting and dinner with Raul Castro on Tuesday, the list of individuals Carter met with Wednesday included dissident bloggers Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar, and Claudia Cadelo; Cuban rights activist Elizardo Sanchez; Catholic activists Dagoberto Valdes and Oswaldo Paya; various members of the Ladies in White; a dozen recently released members of the “Group of 75” who have been allowed to remain in Cuba, the apparently retired Fidel Castro, two mothers and three wives of the Cuban Five, as well as imprisoned USAID contractor, Alan Gross.
On Monday Carter also talked with Jewish and Catholic religious leaders in Cuba, including Cardinal Jaime Ortega who successfully negotiated the release of many of the “Group of 75” dissidents over the past six months.
It’s the Gross issue which has drawn most American press coverage in recent days, and, as Carter indicated upon his arrival in Havana, he was not on the island – at least this time – to secure Gross’s release. But as he spoke Wednesday, Carter remarked there were various “confidential matters” he would be discussing with President Obama when he returned home.
After accompanying Carter and his entourage to the airport Wednesday, Raul Castro expressed notable optimism as well, offering a few brief comments on the Carter trip. “[Carter] is helping something that's humanely just – to advance the solutions to common problems,” said Castro. “I think this was a good visit. He met with whomever he wished, declared – as you saw – whatever he wished. Now, you be the judge.”
More coverage from IPS and the Havana Note, which notes that, despite the former president’s meetings with members of nearly every major dissident group on the island, anti-Castro hardliners (also here) in Washington could not, unsurprisingly, be satisfied.
Today’s bullet points:
· From the AP wire in Guatemala, news this morning that the man considered to be the country’s top drug trafficker, Juan Ortiz Lopez, was detained in a joint US – Guatemala operation. Guatemalan Interior Minister Carlos Menocal says Ortiz was arrested at a house in the western city of Quetzaltenango with two other individuals after being surveilled by DEA and Guatemalan intelligence agents for nearly a week. US Attorney Robert O’Neill unsealed a U.S. federal indictment against Ortize in Florida Wednesday which charges Ortiz with two counts of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. No word yet about possible extradition plans.
· In Colombia, the case of top Venezuelan capo Walid Makled is back in the news after Colombia’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega announced this week that Makled should be sent to Venezuela rather than the US. According to AP, Ortega said that last Friday the Colombian Supreme Court cleared the way for Makled’s extradition to his native Venezuela to face narcotics trafficking and murder charges. That has some in the US, namely US congressman Connie Mack (R-FL), once again quite upset. In a letter to Juan Manuel Santos this week, Mack suggests he knows Colombia’s interest better than Colombia does:
“Security of your nation is paramount to many in Congress, and despite the Obama Administration’s signals to the contrary, the threat of Hugo Chavez is taken seriously by many American lawmakers.”
· More drug talk. Wired Magazine with a long look at Colombia’s “jungle-built, Kevlar-coated” drug subs. McClatchy says 60% of Mexicans think the drug cartels are winning the drug wars in their country. EFE reports on a new Wikileaked diplomatic cable about US worries over high-powered weapons entering Mexico from Central America. The Guardian on an experiment in Bolivia to turn illegal coca harvests into an organic fertilizer:
“Every year Bolivia confiscates almost 700 tonnes of illegal coca from drug traffickers. The government's coca director, Luis Cutipa, believes that turning this excess into fertiliser will deprive criminals of their raw material for making cocaine, much of which goes to Brazil and on to Europe. He is optimistic that compost made from coca can be made on an industrial scale.”
And from the BBC, a look at how Brazil is quickly displacing the US as Bolivia’s new counter-narcotics partner. The two countries signed a new anti-drug cooperation agreement this week which will replace the “void” left after the US Drug Enforcement Administration was expelled from Bolivia in 2008. The so-called “Brazil-Bolivia Action Plan” agreed to this week builds on prior cooperation agreements between the two countries and includes new initiatives for Brazil to train Bolivian security forces, as well as the deployment of Brazilian drones to patrol the Brazil-Bolivia border. There’s also talk, says the BBC, of expanding the agreement to include Peru.
· Another new presidential poll in Peru (IMA) shows Alejandro Toledo back in the number one slot ahead of April 10 elections with 23.9%. He’s followed closely by Ollanta Humala with 21.9%. The IMA poll then has Keiko Fujimori falling to third (17.6%), Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in fourth (16.9%), and Luis Castaneda in fifth (13.8%). Interestingly, most polls show the fifth-place candidate, Castaneda, doing the best in nearly every possible second-round match-up – a fact which led the former Lima mayor to make the bizarre request this week that his three more conservative competitors (Toledo, Fujimori, and PPK) step down and back his candidacy against Ollanta Humala. The story from La Republica.
· In Chile, the AP reports on a new, $15 million lawsuit that has been filed against the Chilean government by the daughters of assassinated army chief, Carlos Prats. The suit targets former Pinochet intelligence chief, Manuel Contreras, and other high ranking pinochetistas. Chile's Supreme Court last year sentenced Contreras to 20 years in prison for the assassination of Prats and his wife in Buenos Aires in 1974.
· In Mexico, senators from the PAN and PRD (as well as many members of Duarte’s own PRI, it seems) have rejected a proposal by Chihuahua governor Cesar Duarte that would have made three years of military service obligatory for Mexican youth. La Jornada reports.
· The AP writes on the death of Lula da Silva’s VP, José Alencar. Mercopress also with an interesting report on the late paulistano industrialist who is credited with easing business and investor worries about a trade union president.
· Mercopress also has the details of stop-two on Hugo Chavez’s regional tour: Uruguay. The two countries signed new energy agreements Wednesday but the focus of the reporting has been international – namely the war in Libya – an intervention which both presidents, each in his own way, again rejected in a joint press conference in Montevideo. Those words came amidst another somewhat bizarre announcement: that former Nicaraguan foreign minister and one-time UN General Assembly president, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockman, will now be representing Libya at the UN. D’Escoto was born in Los Angeles, although does not hold US citizenship apparently, and is currently in New York on a “tourist visa.” US UN ambassador Susan Rice said Wednesday d’Escoto must leave the country and re-enter on a diplomatic visa before he can take up his new post. Rice threatened D’Escoto with expulsion if he “acts like a representative of a foreign government on a tourist visa.” D’Escoto is apparently planning to hold a press conference at the UN today. He did an interview with Telesur yesterday, discussing his new gig.
· And finally, also on wars and the absurd, US congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX) penned a provocative piece in the Houston Chronicle yesterday. The headline: “Let's make a commitment to war on Mexican cartels.” His suggestion: “I believe we should explore a joint military and intelligence operation with Mexico, similar to the 1999 Plan Colombia. This plan aimed to destroy that country's cocaine trade, eradicate its cartels and restore its economic and national security, and we certainly saw results.” As a follow-up, McCaul will be chairing a hearing today entitled “The U.S. Homeland Security Role in the Mexican War Against Drug Cartels.” He spent his day Wednesday introducing new legislation that would classify six Mexican drug cartels as “foreign terrorist organizations.” More at the Houston Chronicle.