Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Brazilian President's Cuba Visit More Economic than Political

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff arrived in Cuba on Monday, for her first official state visit to the island since taking office in January 2011. Prior to her arrival, some analysts questioned whether the Brazilian leader would use her visit to bring attention to the human rights situation in Cuba, or perhaps even meet with opposition groups. Last week her government issued a temporary visa to dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez so that she could attend a film festival in February, in a move that some saw as indirect criticism of the Cuban government.

As it turns out, however, Rousseff used her visit primarily to discuss trade relations between the two countries. AP reports that she met with President Raul Castro yesterday to sign a series of cooperation agreements, and announced that her country would be giving some 600 million dollars in credits to help Cuba purchase Brazilian food products and agricultural equipment. She also briefly visited the port of Mariel, where Brazilian engineering firm Odebrecht is completing a massive 800 million dollar modernization project. Additionally, Rousseff met with the aging Fidel Castro, whom Reuters refers to as the “revolutionary hero of her youth.”

The Brazilian leader refused to criticize the human rights situation on the island, reportedly telling Brazilian media "One should sweep one's own house before criticizing others. We in Brazil also have (human rights problems). So I am willing to discuss human rights from a multilateral perspective." According to her, whether or not the Cuban government allows Sanchez to travel to her country in February is an internal decision which should not be judged by outsiders. In a blog post on Monday, the Cuban blogger said she would find out about the decision on February 3rd.

While Rousseff refused to comment on the political situation in Cuba, she did offer some criticism of the U.S. prison base in Guantanamo Bay, according to the Miami Herald. She also criticized the 50 year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba, saying it “brings more poverty and serious problems” to the Cuban people.

Rousseff will depart Cuba today for Haiti, where she is expected to meet with the Brazilian-led peacekeeping force there, as well as further her country’s economic role in the country.

News Briefs

·         The New York Times reports on the growing tension between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands, otherwise known as the Malvinas. Prince William, who is currently serving as a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, will be posted there this week in a move that some Argentines see as an act of provocation. Argentina has accused the UK of sending over Prince William “in the uniform of a conquistador.” His deployment comes just two months before the 30th anniversary of the Falkland Islands War, in which more than 900 forces on both sides lost their lives. Meanwhile, the British navy has announced that it will deploy one of its new Type 45 destroyers to the area to participate in routine naval exercises, which has further angered Argentines.

·         Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have indefinitely delayed the proposed release of six hostages. In a statement on their website, the FARC claim that informants within the armed forces have told them that the government has “unjustly militarized” the area which the group had planned to use as a staging point for the release in an attempt to conduct a military rescue.  El Tiempo reports that the government denies this claim, saying that it had never been given the coordinates of the release from the guerrillas and was thus unable to send a military presence there.

·         According to Animal Politico, a Mexican army general and 29 soldiers under his command are facing charges of torture, homicide and drug trafficking. The AP quotes Security Secretary Alejandro Poire as saying that the crimes are "deplorable and reprehensible," and confirming that General Manuel Moreno Avina and his troops troops are being tried in a military court. The general himself allegedly ordered the execution of at least six civilians from 2008 to 2009 during his time stationed in Ojinaga, Chihuahua, which is along the Texan border.

·         Speaking at a luncheon in Guadalajara yesterday, Mexican President Felipe Calderon was interrupted by a youth who stood up and heckled the leader about his controversial security strategy, asking "When will this war be over? Where will you live when your term is finished?" According to La Jornada, Calderon took the hecking in stride, quickly responding “here in Guadalajara, mi estimado” and adding that his government could not stand by as young people are attacked and extorted. The LA Times’ World Now blog has more on the incident, as well as an overview of past instances where the president has been publicly confronted for his military-led counternarcotics strategy.

·         Despite the fact that a judge ruled on Monday that former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier could not be tried for human rights abuses, the Associated Press reports that he may still face lesser corruption charges, for which he would be sentenced to no more than five years in jail.

·         The U.S. State Department has pledged to help Guatemala dispose of precursor chemicals used to make meth. The Central American country seized 310 tons of precursor chemicals earlier in the year, but claimed it lacked the technological capacity to safely dispose them. In early January, The Associated Press reported that the powerful Sinaloa Cartel is ramping up meth production in neighboring Guatemala.  According to the AP, the Central American country could be producing as much as or more of the drug than Mexico, which is generally considered the top source of U.S.-bound meth. 

·         Polling firm CPI claims that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has an approval rating of 54.5 percent after his first six months in office, despite discontent in some rural sectors over his handling of anti-mining protests. State owned news agency Andina notes that this is higher than the support his two immediate predecessors had after their first six months. Alan Garcia had a popularity of 45.3 percent after his first six months, and Alejandro Toledo before him had an approval rating of 30.6 percent.

·         Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli received a draft of a new constitution from a special commission yesterday. If passed by a referendum, the draft would call for the creation of a Constitutional Court and would prohibit the reelection of congressmen. As security Analyst James Bosworth points out on his blog, the draft is surprising for its lack of any language which would allow Martinelli to stay in office beyond 2014.  

·         Indigenous marchers in Bolivia have once again organized a protest related to President Evo Morales’ controversial plan to build a highway through the Isiboro-Secure reserve in the Amazon (known as TIPNIS). Morales cancelled the project last October due to a series of rallies by indigenous organizations. However, as the BBC reports, this time groups have taken to the streets of La Paz in favor of the plan, saying that it would bring much-needed economic development to the region. In response, the Bolivian government has said it will dialogue with both groups in order to come to a decision on the highway.

·         Foreign Policy’s Michael Shifter has written an insightful critique of the debate between Republican presidential candidates in the lead up to the Florida primary, which Romney has won in a landslide. According to Shifter, the candidates talked too much about Fidel Castro and not enough about drug policy, meaningful immigration reform and promoting economic development in Latin America. 

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