Friday, May 3, 2013

Obama and Peña Nieto Carefully Avoid Addressing Security, Immigration

U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Mexico yesterday to discuss bilateral relations with his Mexican counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto, but in a press conference in Mexico City the pair tiptoed around the issues of security and immigration, two of the cornerstones of United States-Mexico relations.

Instead the presidents focused largely on economic cooperation and stimulating growth on both sides of the border. Their joint press statement mentions citizen security only briefly, and after long statements on the importance of improving economic and cultural ties. According to Diana Negroponte, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute’s Latin America Initiative, this is a calculated move to avoid the appearance of interference in the other country’s affairs. “Mexicans have an understanding of noninterference. So they do not want us to talk about energy, and they will not talk about immigration," Negroponte told the L.A. Times. "It's a quid pro quo."

The New York Times notes that the leaders also avoided answering questions on immigration and reports of decreased security cooperation. From the Times:
During the news conference, both leaders waved aside reports of the unravelling of cross-border ties between security agencies. 
“We will interact with them in ways that are appropriate,” Mr. Obama said. Recent reports have indicated that changes by the Mexican government might diminish years of cooperation aimed at drugs and violence. But Mr. Obama dismissed that concern. “We are very much looking forward to cooperation in any ways we can to battle organized crime,” he said. On immigration, Mr. Obama repeated his optimism about a bipartisan overhaul plan but avoided drawing his counterpart into the delicate political debate he is having back home. Mr. Peña Nieto answered an immigration question with barely more than a sentence. 
“We wish you the best in this push that you are giving to immigration,” Mr. Peña Nieto said.
To Obama’s credit, he did not avoid every contentious issue in yesterday’s conference. When asked about gun control -- a key issue for Mexico because there is evidence to suggest the vast majority of guns used by cartels are originally purchased in the U.S. -- the American president acknowledged that he was not satisfied with the Senate’s failure to approve expanded background checks for gun purchases. But he claimed that he would continue to press the issue. “Things happen somewhat slowly in Washington, but this is just the first round,” Obama said. “I want to be clear that we’re going to keep at this. One thing I am is persistent.”

El Universal reports that the U.S. president is slated to deliver a speech this morning to an audience of university students on the close historic, cultural and economic ties between the two countries. He will then meet with Mexican businessmen before leaving the country for Costa Rica, where he will take part in a Central American Integration System (SICA) summit on Saturday.

News Briefs
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has officially challenged the results of the country’s April 14 elections before the Venezuelan Supreme Court. El Nacional reports that members of Capriles’ campaign team presented the court with a formal request that the vote be declared null, and that new elections be held in its place. The appeal requests that the case not be heard by the Electoral Court (which would normally handle the issue), and directly accuses the judges of that court of being biased towards the government.    
  • A minor diplomatic crisis has broken out between Peru and Ecuador after Ecuador’s ambassador to Peru was accused earlier this week of assaulting two women in a Lima supermarket. Although the Peruvian government publicly asked Ecuador to recall the diplomat, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa refused to do so, and his foreign ministry released a statement yesterday saying that it had reviewed the case and believed the women had initiated the conflict, and that Ambassador Rodrigo Riofrio was merely acting in self-defense. “Why would we withdraw an ambassador because he was attacked?” Correa remarked to local press when asked about the incident. Despite this, Peru’s La Republica reports that Riofrio left Ecuador last night in a commercial flight to Quito.
  • Reuters has an exclusive story on the Humala government’s decision to restrict its interpretation of a law requiring prior consultation with indigenous communities before mining projects can be approved. According to the news agency, Mines and Energy Minister Jorge Merino has successfully convinced the Peruvian president to exclude Quechua-speaking indigenous communities from the bill’s provisions. This is a major victory for the mining industry, as Quechua people live mostly in the mineral-rich Peruvian highlands. Sources told Reuters that Deputy Culture Minister Ivan Lanegra plans to resign in response out of protest, as he maintains that excluding Quechua from the law’s provisions amounts to a denial of their rights as an indigenous people.
  • Yesterday the Guatemalan government declared a 30-day “state of siege” in four towns east of Guatemala City, in response to protests against a Canadian-owned mine in the community of San Rafael Las Flores. President Otto Perez said that the move was necessary after locals overran a police station and took the officials’ weapons on Monday. According to Prensa Libre, 16 people have been arrested as a result of operations so far.
  • After the trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt and his former intelligence chief Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez resumed briefly this week, the tribunal overseeing the case has suspended yet again until May 7, in order to allow Rodriguez’s newly-appointed defense attorney time to prepare his case, Prensa Libre reports.
  • After a previous attempt failed, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is once more pushing Congress to approve a bill which would ensure that all revenue from future oil royalties goes towards public education.
  • Despite previous rumors that the Obama administration was planning on removing Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terror, the State Department announced this week that the island will remain on the list. The L.A. Times offers some analysis of the decision, suggesting that it is proof of the continued clout of the Cuban-American lobby.   
  • One of Colombia’s most prominent investigative journalists, Semana magazine’s Ricardo Calderon, was shot five times in a failed assassination attempt on Wednesday evening while travelling from Bogota to the town of Ibague. President Juan Manuel Santos has vowed that the attack will be investigated, Semana reports.
  • The AFP interviews several Bolivia analysts about the impact that President Evo Morales’ decision to eject USAID will have on the Andean country. As suggested in yesterday’s post, most agree that the move was a long time coming, and will have little impact.
  • The Economist profiles this year’s Father and Son Business Meeting, a summit of Latin American economic elites held on May 1, which the magazine describes as a May Day conference for “a select handful of the capitalist class.” This year’s meeting was held in Lima, and was organized by Carlos Rodriguez Pastor, Peru’s second-wealthiest man.

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