When asked about the Venezuelan president’s relatively close ties to Iran, Obama downplayed the relationship, saying: “We're always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe. But overall my sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us."
“My main concern when it comes to Venezuela is having the Venezuelan people have a voice in their affairs, and that you end up ultimately having fair and free elections, which we don't always see," he added.
Predictably, Conservatives in Washington pounced on the president’s remarks almost immediately. Mitt Romney led the charge, telling Fox News that the remark showed Obama to be “completely out of touch with what's happening in Latin America.” His campaign also released a statement calling Obama’s word’s “stunning and shocking.”
Ironically, one of the reasons the Romney campaign cited for its objection was the assertion that Chavez has “encouraged regional terrorist organizations that threaten our allies like Colombia,” despite the fact that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has praised Venezuela’s efforts to crack down on guerrilla activity on the countries’ shared border. Another reason is Venezuela’s relationship with Iran, the threat of which has been largely overstated.
The Miami Herald reports that Romney’s criticism was shared by other leading Republicans, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Despite this criticism, Greg Weeks notes that perhaps the most debatable aspect of the statement is the fact that elections in Venezuela have actually largely been free and fair, but “the opposition mostly loses.”
· Two newspapers in northern Mexico have been attacked, both incidents seemingly attempts to suppress reporting on drug cartels. Unknown assailants threw grenades into offices belonging to Monterrey’s El Norte and Nuevo Laredo’s El Mañana early Tuesday morning, although there were no injuries in either incident. The New York Times reports that the incident caused El Mañana to reiterate a pledge to cease covering drug violence, so as to avoid further attacks. More from the AP.
· Reuters reports that Hugo Chavez is seeking congressional approval to raise a borrowing cap in order to fund a pension program. The Financial Times’ Beyond Brics blog notes that it is likely no coincidence that the move comes just three months ahead of the elections.
· Cuban officials have raised the number of confirmed cholera cases in the country from 85 to 110, although the government insists the outbreak is under control. The Miami Herald cites a dissident journalist in Santiago who claims that the disease has spread to the city (the island’s second-largest), and that hospital workers have witnessed eight deaths so far due to cholera.
· The New York Times reports that the 50-year-old trade embargo on Cuba has forced Russian company to postpone plans to drill for oil in Cuban waters, as it could not find a drilling rig that wouldn’t be in violation of the ban. The project was slated to begin in August but will now start in November. The Havana Note’s Anya Landau French reflects on why Cuban dissidents like blogger Yoani Sanchez are routinely held up as martyrs by critics of the Castro government in the U.S., and yet ignored when they voice objections to hardline interventionist policies like the embargo.
· Brazilian Senator Demostenes Torres has been removed from office due to his connections to an illegal gambling ring, after a corruption investigation found he took bribes from business tycoon Carlos Augusto Ramos, also known as “Carlinhos Cachoeira.”
· MercoPress covers a dispute between Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and his vice president, Danilo Astori, over Venezuela’s recent incorporation into Mercosur. While Mujica is in favor of the move, Astori called it “a lethal injury” for the regional body.
· The New York Times has an interesting overview of Haitian television comedy “Regards Croisés,” which is popular among middle and working class Haitians for the way it irreverently lampoons Haitian elites. The paper describes the show as a “phantom hit,” as wealthy Haitians and foreign aid workers alike complain about the lack of domestic television shows when “just out of their line of sight, on state-owned TV no less, one is already on the air.”
· Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ visited the embattled southwest department of Cauca yesterday, where he attempted to make the case that despite widespread discontent with his security policies, the situation is improving. He was met with criticism from local indigenous residents, however, who called on both the military and FARC guerrillas to leave them in peace.
· Meanwhile, a Colombian Air Force plane conducting a counterinsurgency operation has crashed in Cauca, but EFE reports that members of the FARC relayed the location of the downed plane and its crew to the International Community of the Red Cross.
· Two weeks away from the start of the London Olympics, BBC Mundo profiles the five Latin American countries that have never won an Olympic medal: Bolivia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.