Monday, April 16, 2012

Summit of the Americas Sees Right, Left Call for Cuba Invite

The Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, ended without a final declaration of consensus, as attendees were divided over whether to allow Cuba to attend the next meeting.

Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner wanted her country’s claim over the Falklands Islands to be part of the final declaration, while various attendees wanted Cuba to attend future summits, both of which the US and Canada opposed.

Countries from across the political spectrum have called for Cuba to be included, from leftist leaders in Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama to conservatives in Mexico and Colombia. President Barack Obama gave no ground, however, saying that Cuba would need to reform in order to attend the summit, which is restricted to democratic leaders. Host President Juan Manuel Santos, a close US ally who is considered to have averted a regional crisis over the issue by visiting Havana and talking to Raul Castro, had strong words for the US, saying, “There is no justification for that path that has us anchored in a Cold War, overcome now for several decades.”

Meanwhile Cuban dissident groups made a public call for the country to keep being excluded from the summit unless there is political reform, reports EFE.

For the Financial Times, divides over Cuba and over the Falklands Islands

illustrated the region’s growing economic interdependence even as Latin America feels increasingly emboldened to go its own way politically.
The Washington Post notes that the summit was calmer than some previous ones, due to an absence of the most anti-US leaders. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez was unable to come to the summit due to health problems, while both Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa failed to attend, with Correa boycotting over the lack of invitation for Cuba. It pointed out however that the failure to bridge gaps between the US and rising southern powers meant that there may not be a seventh summit, currently scheduled for Panama in 2015.

Another piece in the WP says that Obama’s domestic campaign themes -- jobs, and the role of the government in alleviating poverty -- resonated at the summit, as the questions of economic inequality and job creation are key issues across the hemisphere, as Latin America is home to a growing middle class.

The question of drug policy reform was raised by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who called for a debate on the issue “without prejudice,” and said that fighting the drug war could feel like riding a stationary bicycle.

As expected, Obama expressed US opposition to drug legalization, noting that a legal drug trade could be as much of a corrupting force as an illegal one, while allowing that it was a legitimate topic for discussion, reports the Wall Street Journal. He held private meetings on drug policy with both Guatemala’s Otto Perez, who has brought the subject to worldwide attention since he came to office in January and called for a fresh look at the issue, and with Peru’s Ollanta Humala, who has backed the US position against legalization.

The Miami Herald points to rising protectionism in the region as a topic that dominated private meetings at the summit, with many worried by Brazil and Argentina’s trade policies, amongst others.

Amid the criticism of the summit’s failures, Bloggings by Boz points to an overlooked success -- that all countries approved Mexico’s proposal for a single Inter-American System Against Organized Crime. This will involve the creation of a body to oversee and harmonize regional policy against organized crime by governments and bodies in the region, including the OAS, reports Animal Politico. More from El Faro.

News Briefs

  • The long-brewing free trade agreement between Colombia and the US will come into effect on May 15, Obama and Santos announced at a joint conference in Cartagena, reports the WSJ. The agreement was signed by George W. Bush and Alvaro Uribe in 2006, and ratified by Congress last year. It had been held up in part by concerns over labor rights in Colombia, and is coming into effect now after Obama certified the country’s efforts to improve protection of workers' rights. The move has been criticized by US unions, who say Colombia needs to make more progress on the issue. Human Rights Watch noted in October that Colombia still sees more unionists murdered than any other, and that the majority of these crimes go unpunished. In 2010, more than half of the 90 unionists killed worldwide were Colombian, according to the International Trade Union Federation. Four unionists have been killed since January, reports Colombia Reports. WOLA told CR that the finalization of the trade pact would reduce the US government’s leverage to press Colombia to increase workers’ protections.
  • Another issue casting a shadow over the summit was a scandal over 11 of Obama’s Secret Service personnel and five military being accused of bringing prostitutes back to their hotel. The events came to light because of hotel rules that say guests must leave by 7 a.m., reports the NYT. On Thursday morning police were called because a Secret Service agent who had a woman in his room refused to open the door to hotel management. When the police arrived, the sex worker complained that she had not been paid, according to thechairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. The entire team has been replaced, the Secret Service said Friday, amid allegations that others had also brought prostitutes back to their rooms. Committee head Peter T. King explained that, though prostitution was legal in Cartagena, it was against agency rules of conduct, as it could expose the agents to blackmail, or help enemies get inside a security perimeter. Obama said he would be angry if the allegations were true, as the agents were representing their country, reports the NYT.
  • Peruvian rebel group the Shining Path has freed 36 hostage gas workers, who had been held hostage for five days. The workers, contractors for Swedish company Skanska, were kidnapped en masse on Monday from a remote village in the Cusco region, and rebels demanded $10 million for their release. On Saturday morning, the hostages walked into another village in the region, still wearing their orange work uniforms and saying they had walked for seven hours after being freed by the guerrillas at 4 a.m., reports the AP. The government denies that any concessions were made to bring about the release, and said that military pressure forced the group to free their hostages. Some in the country have questioned the authorities’ version of events, with analyst Jaime Antezana telling media that, according to his sources, $5 million was handed over to the rebels by the contracting companies. At least three members of the Peruvian security forces lost their lives in the rescue mission. 
  • On Saturday El Salvador saw its first day in three years without a single murder, reports the Guardian. The country has one of the highest murder rates in the world, averaging 13 a day in February this year, but the rate dropped dramatically in early March, following a controversial pact between the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs. The government denies offering concessions to gang leaders in exchange for a drop in murders, though it seems clear that the authorities were involved in the truce.
  • El Faro looks at the Salvadoran government’s decision to take the provision of security in prisons out of the hands of soldiers. The government says this happened for humanitarian reasons, but the website, which broke the story of the alleged gang deal in March, notes that the move could be related to deals with imprisoned gang leaders.
  • Brazil’s Supreme Court has ruled to allow women to terminate pregnancies when the fetus lacks a brain, reports the AP. Abortion is illegal in Brazil, except where the woman has been raped or where her life is in danger if the pregnancy continues. Reuters points out that President Dilma Rousseff was forced to back away from her support for abortion rights in order to win the election in 2010. There are estimated to be 1.4 million abortions carried out in the country each year, most of them illicit, giving it a higher rate of terminations than the US. A quarter of a million women suffer health complications from these illegal operations in the country each year.
  • Via InSight Crime, an investigation by Plaza Publica into the techniques of money smugglers who take illicit cash out of Guatemala and into countries like Panama for laundering.
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ argues that Brazil should stop complaining about US monetary policy, whose low interest rates push up Brazil’s currency, as allowing the real to increase would give the country more purchasing power abroad.
  • McClatchy Newspapers reports on hitchhiking in Cuba, which it says is the only way to get around the countryside for most people, with gas at prices that are unaffordable on government salaries. The reporter traveled around the island picking up hitchhikers and asking them their opinions about the country, finding that many were finding times tough as the government cuts back jobs and subsidies, while none could name a possible successor to the Castro brothers.
  • The LA Times blog looks at the case of a premature baby who was declared dead by doctors in Argentina, before being found alive by her mother in a morgue hours later. According to one doctor, what may have happened is that the baby had a very low heart rate which doctors could not detect. When she was transferred to a cold area of the morgue, this “may have allowed the baby to survive by cooling the metabolic rate so much that the organs of the body don’t need as much oxygen and nutrients.”

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