Thursday, July 21, 2011

House Foreign Affairs Committee Votes to Defund the OAS

Please excuse the technical difficulties this morning. This post was sent out earlier this morning via the Google Group, but apparently not posted to the blog.

In a markup hearing of the State Department authorization bill yesterday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 20-22 along party lines to support an amendment that would completely end U.S. funding for the Organization of American States (OAS).  According to Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin, the author of this amendment is Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL), who has characterized the OAS as being too supportive of anti-American governments, and in the meeting yesterday labeled it “an organization that’s bent on destroying democracy in Latin America…that is destroying the dreams of the people of Latin America.” As the head of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Mack has made a name for himself as a crusader against leftist regimes in the hemisphere, most recently by calling on Colombia to extradite Venezuelan drug lord Walid Makled to the U.S. rather than Venezuela.

The debate over the measure lasted over an hour, during which House Democrats repeatedly accused their Republican counterparts of withdrawing from multilateral engagement in favor of isolationism.  Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) sarcastically said he was considering "offer[ing] an amendment to pull out of the world, to build a moat around the United States and put a dome over the thing," adding "this is getting ridiculous."
                   
Just the Facts has a collection of the most colorful remarks made in the hearing, perhaps the most absurd of which was Rep. David Rivera’s (R-FL) Animal  House reference:
“It kind of reminds me of that scene in Animal House where the college pledges, pledging the fraternity, as part of the ceremony to become a member of the fraternity you have to get paddled, and every time he gets paddled he says, ‘Please, sir, may I have another.’ How much longer are we going to say to the OAS, ‘Please, sir, may I have another?’”
A central point of debate was OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza, who Republicans claim has failed to condemn Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for violating the organization’s “democracy clause,” which seeks to normalize democratic regimes in the hemisphere. As the Americas Quarterly Blog’s Anthony Palma  points out, Insulza’s moderate socialist ties have been something of a lightning rod for criticism in recent years, with members of both parties attacking him for being too “soft” on leftist governments.

The amendment would withhold $48.5 million in U.S. funding in 2012, a figure that amounts to nearly 30% of the OAS’s current $169.9 million budget for 2011.  While the move is not likely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, the debate highlighted a worrisome lack of knowledge about the OAS’s function and performance.  At one point, Republicans contended that Cuba was a member of the OAS, which it is not, although a motion was passed in 2009 which allows the island to re-apply for membership.

As Grobin notes for Foreign Policy, this is “only the beginning of what looks to be a long and contentious debate over the fiscal 2012 State Department and foreign operations authorization bill,” which was written by the vehemently anti-Castro chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

News Briefs:

·         The Economist reports on the difficulties of establishing a comprehensive poverty index in Latin America, where income and purchasing power are not always the best indicators of development.  The article profiles a recent report published by Fundación Ethos, a Mexico-based think tank that takes both economic and environmental factors into account in order to rank relative developmental progress in the region’s eight largest countries (excluding Argentina, where reliable economic statistics are difficult to obtain).  Although the Fundacion’s index offers valuable insight into the different forms of poverty in the region, the Economist questions whether bundling these factors together is too ambitious of an attempt, essentially complicating the issue of poverty more than is necessary. 

·         Voices from El Salvador offers an update on El Salvador’s “constitutional crisis” caused by the controversial Decree 743, which requires the country’s Constitutional Court to make decisions unanimously rather than by majority.  Although the court has found the decree to be constitutional, their ruling was not published in the government’s Official Diary, because the decision was not unanimous.  Meanwhile, the different parties in the country have further staked out their political positions on the matter.  Although ARENA initially announced its support of the decree, it has since backed away from it, leaving the FMLN and President Funes to defend it on their own.

·         In a move that is sure to frustrate former Green Party presidential candidate Antanas Mockus, Colombia’s Green Party has endorsed President Juan Manuel Santos in the new congressional term, joining his Coalition of National Unity (Mesa de Unidad Nacional), according to Colombia Reports and El Colombiano.  As reported in a previous brief, Mockus left his party in mid June, after Bogota mayoral candidate Enrique Peñalosa accepted a controversial campaign endorsement from ex-president Alvaro Uribe.  With the Greens’ support, Infobae reports that Santos’ coalition now includes 95 percent of Colombia’s congress, giving him more political capital to attempt reforms to the country’s tax and education systems.

·         An Ecuadorean judge has sentenced three directors and a former columnist of Ecuador’s El Universo newspaper to three years in prison for publishing an opinion column  which called President Rafael Correa a "dictator" and accused him of having ordered an attack on a police hospital during last fall’s failed coup attempt, led by elements of the national police.  AFP says the judge also sentenced the four to pay $30 million in damages and charged the publication with $10 million in libel fines.  Emilio Palacio, the author of the offensive column, has called the ruling a “barbarity” and vowed to appeal it.  According to AP, this is the second major lawsuit filed against Ecuadorean journalists by President Correa, the first being a February case against two journalists who wrote a book which charged the president of abusing his position to benefit relatives.

·         Peruvian President-elect Humala announced several cabinet appointments late last night via Twitter, La Republica reports. Among these, it seems Humala’s campaign manager Salomon Lerner has been tapped as prime minister, and economist Luis Miguel Castilla has been chosen as finance minister.  According to Reuters, the appointments “burnish the pragmatic image Humala sought to project during the campaign.”

·         AP says that Haitian President Michel Martelly will formally request the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by co-chaired by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and outgoing Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, to extend its mandate by a year.

·         AFP reports that eight Chilean high school students have begun a hunger strike meant to pressure the government into adopting reforms to the country’s education system, including increased scholarships for low income students and transportation waivers which would make it easier for students in rural areas to attend school.

·         Despite the release of a report on Tuesday that identified the cause of President Salvador Allende’s death as a suicide, Chilean judge Mario Carrazo claimed the forensic exam was only one source of evidence, and said he plans to continue overseeing an investigation into the incident; Infobae and AFP have more on this.

·         According to AP, Brazilian police have issued arrest warrants for three suspects involved in the recent killings of two activists in the country’s Amazon region.

·         El Universal cites a 2010 United States Customs and Border Patrol report – apparently not available online – which found that the so-called “kingpin strategy” of capturing and killing leaders of Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations has had no effect on the flow of drugs into the U.S.  The report allegedly found that the only factor which had any effect on drug trafficking was Mexico’s seasonal agricultural cycles.