Monday, May 6, 2013

Obama Shifts Drug War Rhetoric in Central America Visit

After arriving in Costa Rica on Friday to observe a meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA), U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the region’s security challenges with a marked shift in language, emphasizing the importance of tackling crime and violence with poverty reduction and economic development.         
                                                          
“The stronger the economies and the institutions for individuals seeking legitimate careers, the less powerful those narco-trafficking organisations are going to be,” Obama said in a news conference alongside Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla. The president also said he was “not interested in militarizing the struggle against drug trafficking,” an allusion to regional governments’ increasing reliance on the armed forces to fight drug trafficking organizations.

As the L.A. Times notes, his remarks were “a shift from years of tough talk on U.S. plans to help governments crack down on the cartels,” replacing this with rhetoric of increased cooperation and trade.

The change in message may carry political risks for the Obama administration. The New York Times reports that the perception that the president is relinquishing the United States’ place at the head of the drug war in Latin America could play into the hands of his political enemies in Washington, and potentially damage his efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

“Obama becomes vulnerable to the charge of downplaying the region’s overriding issue, and the chief obstacle to economic progress,” Inter-American Dialogue President Michael Shifter told the NYT. “It is fine to change the narrative from security to economics as long as the reality on the ground reflects and fits with the new story line.”

However, his critics will have limited ammunition on this front. Obama did not unveil any new aid packages to Central America during his visit, nor he did he announce any concrete policy shifts, suggesting that the new rhetoric will not alter the breakdown of the U.S. government’s multi-million dollar Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). Although CARSI was initially billed as a mixture of “hard” and “soft” anti-crime initiatives, nearly twice as much has been spent on training and equipment for security forces than on social programs since it was announced in 2008.


News Briefs
  • The Venezuelan government has lashed out at the United States over a remark Obama made in a Friday interview, in which he refused to say whether his administration recognizes the government of President Nicolas Maduro. In response, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry released a statement which claims that Obama’s “fallacious, intemperate and interventionist declaration” is proof of that he is attempting to undermine the U.S. government.
  • The AP reports that Richard Morse, a prominent Haitian hotelier, has said that former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide is trying to reconstruct his political party, Lavalas. Morse claims that his wife, Lunise Exume Morse, is considering running for senator under his party’s banner.
  • The Washington Post has a piece on Chilean president and current presidential candidate Michelle Bachlet’s attempts to create a broad coalition behind her candidacy, suggesting that her embrace of demands for a new constitution and education reform are part of a bid to reach out to the Communist Party and leftist social movements.
  • Telesur and the AP report that Honduras and Guatemala have now joined Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program, which provides countries with oil and natural gas on preferential terms. Honduras’ El Heraldo has more on the significance of this for President Porfirio Lobo, who has been rebuffed by Venezuela in the past.
  • On Friday, both the Colombian government and FARC rebels told the press that peace talks are progressing well, although officials expressed regret that the proceedings were not moving faster. In response, a member of the FARC negotiating team in Havana told Uno Noticias that the rebels refuse to speed up the process in order to ensure internal agreement with the accords.  
  • After taking a hit due to public scepticism of peace talks with the FARC, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ approval rating has risen slightly to 47 percent, up three points from the month before, according to a newly-released Gallup poll. Caracol Radio reports that support for peace talks has grown as well, and is now up to 64 percent of the population.
  • The L.A. Times is the latest media outlet to question Brazil’s readiness to host the 2014 World Cup and Rio Olympics in 2016, noting that security and infrastructure issues persist despite the government’s assurances that it will be fully prepared for both.
  • The adult sons of two Mexican journalists were killed over the weekend in the northern state of Chihuahua. According to officials the two were gunned down as they drove home late Saturday night in the state capital. The victims were the sons of financial journalist David Paramo and Martha Gonzalez Nicholson, editor of a local newspaper called Peso de Chihuahua. Police say their parents’ occupation was not a factor in their deaths.
  • The New York Times profiles Nuevo Germania, a community founded in 1887 by German anti-Semites who were looking to lay a claim to all of South America. While descendants of the initial colonists remain, their ideology of racial purity has long since faded; the town’s main language is now Guarani.