Friday, June 28, 2013

Ecuador Pulls out of Trade Pact, Offers Human Rights Training to U.S.

In yet another act of defiance to the United States, Ecuador has announced that it will pull out of a preferential trade pact in response to alleged pressure from the U.S. not to grant asylum to former CIA contractor Edward Snowden. Government spokesman Fernando Alvarado announced the decision yesterday morning, saying “Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, and does not negotiate its principles or submit them to mercantile interests, as important as they are.”

But the administration of President Rafael Correa did not stop there. Reuters reports:

In a cheeky jab at the U.S. spying program that Snowden unveiled through leaks to the media, the South American nation offered $23 million per year to finance human rights training. 
The funding would be destined to help “avoid violations of privacy, torture and other actions that are denigrating to humanity,” Alvarado said. He said the amount was the equivalent of what Ecuador gained each year from the trade benefits. 
“Ecuador gives up, unilaterally and irrevocably, the said customs benefits,” he said.
President Correa himself later addressed the decision in a speech, in which he accused the U.S. of using renewal of the Andean Trade Promotion with and Drug Enforcement Act (ATPDEA) to blackmail Ecuador into denying Snowden asylum. “Our dignity is priceless,” the Ecuadorean leader said. El Telegrafo reports that he pledged to submit a bill to Congress that will make up for the loss in commerce.

The Washington Post notes that the announcement comes one day after the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), promised to do all he could to block the renewal of ATPDEA. Still, the extent to which Snowden was the determining factor for the trade deal’s demise is unclear, as it was unlikely to be renewed anyway. On June 21, before news of Snowden’s asylum request broke, El Universo reported that a U.S. Embassy official in Quito believed the deal’s renewal seemed “less and less probable.”

The AP reports that yesterday also saw the Ecuadorean government “scrambling” to explain the emergence of a single-page, unsigned letter dated June 22 which claimed to give Snowden the right to travel to Ecuador for political asylum, and asked other countries to allow him safe passage. The letter was leaked by Univision on Wednesday night. According to officials in Ecuador, it was issued by the country’s diplomatic mission in London without the approval of the Foreign Ministry, and is thus invalid.

News Briefs

  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff appears to have won broader support for a series of political reforms meant to address protesters demands, and more details have emerged about a proposed referendum on the changes. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Rousseff administration is seeking to hold the vote in mid-August, and is expected to meet with opposition leaders in the coming days to discuss the nature of referendum questions on the ballot.
  • On Wednesday, the Venezuelan government released a recording of an alleged onversation between opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado and Venezuelan academic Germ├ín Carrera Damas, in which Machado claims the head of the Venezuelan opposition called for a coup in a meeting with U.S. diplomats in Washington. David Smilde of Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights notes that the tape could have serious implications for U.S.-Venezuelan relations, and illustrates divisions in the opposition much like the release of a tape in May showed divisions in the ruling PSUV.
  • Mexico’s Foreign Ministry released a statement yesterday welcoming the passage of the immigration bill in the U.S. Senate, though it expressed concern that some of the provisions on border security “move away from the principles of shared responsibility and neighborliness.”
  • The New York Times examines the rising public outrage against a longstanding culture of corruption and impunity for congressmen in Brazil, which has become one of the primary targets of recent demonstrations. The paper notes that, according to watchdog group Congresso em Foco, nearly 200 legislators -- a third of Brazil’s Congress -- are facing charges in trials overseen by the Supreme Court. On Wednesday, the Court upheld the conviction of a former congressman found guilty of corruption and sentenced him to prison for 13 years. According to O Globo, this the conviction of Natan Donadon is the first time an ex-congressman has been imprisoned since the new constitution was approved in 1988.
  • The Americas Quarterly blog profiles protests in Venezuela organized by professors and students upset with a lack of funding for public universities in the country. The demonstrators argue that universities have had the same budget they did in 2006, with no adjustment for inflation. The government has also refused to recognize the right of university professors’ unions to strike, as rights group PROVEA has denounced.
  • The Economist’s Cuba correspondent looks at the country’s plan to open the first privately-run wholesale market on the island in fifty years on July 1, which farmers are eagerly awaiting as an opportunity to sell produce in bulk.
  • Chilean police arrested some 120 young people yesterday in a series of pre-dawn raids on more than 20 secondary schools that had been taken over by students. The BBC reports that the schools were intended to be used as polling stations in Sunday’s primary elections. El Mostrador has photos of the raids, in which many students clashed with authorities.
  • According to Bloomberg, the U.S. State Department has presented a congressionally-mandated report on Iranian influence in Latin America. The report found it is in decline due to “diplomatic outreach, strengthening of allies’ capacity, international nonproliferation efforts, a strong sanctions policy, and Iran’s poor management of its foreign relations.” Its findings contradict a October 2011 paper by Roger Noriega and Jose Cardenas written for the American Enterprise Institute, which generated alarm in Washington about Iran’s activities in the region.
  • A leader of Mexico’s leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in southern Oaxaca state, missing since June 15, was found dead on Thursday with three gunshot wounds to the head, Reuters and El Universal report. Jesus Zambrano, the PRD's national president, has called for a full investigation into the murder. 

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