Thursday, June 7, 2012

New Pacific Trade Agreement ‘Will Not Supplant’ Other LatAm Treaties

Wednesday saw the formal signing of the Pacific Alliance, a new economic and political agreement between Peru, Mexico, Colombia, and Chile, which is the latest move towards deepening economic integration in the region. The four heads of state signed the accord at Chile’s Paranal Observatory in the Atacama desert, during a ceremony also attended by the king of Spain and Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla. One of its first, most concrete moves will be the elimination of visa requirements between the four countries, reports the AP in a brief note.

Each nation must take the agreement, which has its roots in the 2010 Ibero-American Summit, to Congress before it is fully approved.

Santos called it the “the most important integration process in Latin America,” even as other heads of state were careful to emphasize that the Pacific Alliance is not intended to displace other regional trade agreements like Unasur and Mercosur. Still, it is notable that the Pacific Alliance was signed as Mercosur has seen its achievements steadily decline. The past several years, Mercosur summits has seen little accomplished besides prolonged debates over expanding its original membership from Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Little progress has been made towards accomplishing the goals originally laid out in 1991, when Mercosur was first established. According to much of the conventional rhetoric surrounding Mercosur, the trade agreement should have brought Latin America to something more closely resembling the European Union, but the project has arguably not lived up to its original expectations.

Notably, the Pacific Alliance also emphasizes trade with Asia. “This is a way to enter more competitively into the Asian market,” the Chilean ambassador to Mexico told El Universal. While Asia’s economic expansion in Latin America is still relatively limited compared to the influences of nations like China in Africa, the Pacific Alliance is another sign that Latin America is increasingly looking away from the traditional European and US markets. Last year, Chinese investment in the region was about $23 billion. The signing of several oil and coal deals between China and Colombia last month was further indication of Asia’s increased importance as a trading partner for the region.

News Briefs
  • Reuters reports on another flare up concerning the disputed Essequibo territory between Guyana and Venezuela, and the oil wealth found there. An approximate one million square kilometers of land, the Essequibo currently represents about 40 percent of Guyana’s territory, but Venezuela has been claiming the area for its own for nearly a century. President Hugo Chavez reversed the usual policy towards Guyana after a state visit in 2004, when he said he approved of Guyana’s decision to allow foreign oil companies conduct exploration activities in the disputed area. Now, in light of new reports that Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell both have concessions in areas off the Essequibo coast, the Venezuelan opposition is again criticizing Chavez for his “weak” stance towards Guyana. The opposition directed the critiques against Chavez as its official presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, formally resigned from his post as state governor to run for the presidency. Chavez has until June 11 to officially register his candidacy. 
  • In what has been described as an echo of the attacks leveled against leftist candidate Andres Lopez Obrador during the 2006 presidential campaign in Mexico, a new wave of attack ads depict the candidate as an angry radical, reports the AP. The article highlights one ad which deliberately takes one of Lopez Obrador’s political speeches out of context, and was aired by the campaign of National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota. The AP notes that the ad’s rhetoric is similar to that approved by Vazquez Mota when she managed President Felipe Calderon’s 2006 bid for office. Meanwhile, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is believed to be behind a series of well-organized anti-Obrador protests seen in some Mexican states this week. “Thousands of people in several cities marched with uniform, professional-made banners that were a sharp contrast to the large spontaneous, but rag-tag demonstrations that youth groups staged against Pena Nieto in recent weeks,” the AP reports.
  • Ecuador’s attorney general petitioned the Mercosur bloc countries to approve the creation of a regional court that would try international organized crime cases, reports EFE. The court, which would fall under the authority of the Unasur bloc, would have the authority to try cases related to money laundering, human and drug trafficking. Attorney generals from Unasur’s 12 member countries would form part of the criminal court, according to EFE. The petition follows recent remarks by President Rafael Correa that Unasur should create its own human rights monitoring body to replace Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHRC) . The overall aim behind these political maneuvers is most likely to strengthen Unasur’s influence in the region over the Organization of American States (OAS). 
  • US agents arrested at least 33 people during a drug sweep through Puerto Rico’s largest airport and several other areas, reports the AP. Two workers were arrested at the Miami international airport and another person at Dallas-Fort Worth airport. The detainees are suspected of moving some 14 tons of cocaine from Puerto Rico to the US since 1999. Puerto Rico has seen the volume of cocaine moving through its border rise dramatically in recent years, which has helped contribute to rising violence levels. Last year the territory experienced its most violent year on record. 
  • A new report by Honduran government agency the National Social Prevention, Rehabilitation and Reinsertion Program counts more than 4,000 gang members in the country and about 19 homicides a day, reports EFE. The study surveyed 14 cities and estimates that 49 percent of Honduras’ gang members claim allegiance to the Mara Salvatruchas, and another 48 percent form part of rival gang Barrio 18. Capital city Tegucigalpa and the most violent city in the region, San Pedro Sula, have the highest number of gang members, the study found. 
  • Women in rural Mexican communities are increasingly the family’s main breadwinner, upending traditional gender roles, according to a Wall Street Journal report. In about one-sixth of Mexico’s approximate six million rural households, women are now the primary economic earners. Many women have been forced into such roles after their husbands left Mexico and stopped sending them back remittances, the report notes. 
  • Brazil-based meatpacking company JBS, the world’s largest, has threatened legal action against Greenpeace, after the environmental activists said that the multinational buys cattle raised on illegally deforested land in the Amazon. Greenpeace’s accusations come two weeks before the United Nations holds its conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro; the protection of the Amazon is supposed to be a top item on the agenda. In other environmental-themed news, Mexico signed a law which makes it the second country in the world to define binding targets on climate change, the BBC reports
  • Infosur on El Salvador’s new phone tapping technology, donated by the US, intended to enable law enforcement to better intercept communication among suspected criminals. The $2.2 million communications center will allow agents to tap cell phones, landlines, and text messages; under El Salvadoran law, the center also has the authority to track suspect e-mail and radio messages. US agencies the FBI and the DEA are supposed to train the prosecutors and police who will rely on the communications monitoring system. 
  • President Cristina Fernandez says she will switch all of her savings from dollars into pesos, in order to set an example for other government officials to do the same, reports Mercopress
  • Argentina has officially nominated human trafficking activist Susana Trimarco as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Trimarco’s daughter was kidnapped in 2002 and sold into sex slavery; since then, Trimarco has become Argentina’s most activist and documenter of human trafficking networks. For more background on her work, a post from the InSight Crime archives
  • BBC Mundo visits Michoacan, described as the “birthplace” of Mexico’s drug war.BBC English has a lighter video piece on Mexican wrestling.