Thursday, July 4, 2013

Kerry: Happy Independence Day, Venezuela

It appears that the meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua last month at the OAS summit in Guatemala may have been more than just a photo-op after all. While it is only a minor gesture, a press statement released yesterday by Secretary Kerry to commemorate Venezuela’s Independence Day suggests he is serious about improving ties with the Bolivarian Republic.

Kerry’s statement:
On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I congratulate the people of Venezuela as you commemorate the day that Venezuela declared its independence 202 years ago. 
Venezuela and the United States have much in common. For example, revolutionary leader General Francisco de Miranda also played a part in our own struggle for independence, participating in the Battle of Pensacola in 1781. His contribution is forever memorialized in a monument that stands in the heart of Philadelphia, the original capital of the United States. When a devastating earthquake struck Venezuela in 1812 the United States sent the Venezuelan people the first humanitarian assistance it ever provided to a foreign country. These two examples demonstrate that Venezuela and the United States have shared ties of friendship and common values since the birth of our two nations, and the ties between our people endure. 
I wish Venezuelans everywhere health, happiness, and hope on the anniversary of your independence. 
Venezuelan Independence Day is actually July 5, but its proximity to the same holiday in the United States is a perfect symbolic opportunity to mend Venezuela-U.S. relations.

After the meeting in Guatemala, Kerry told reporters that he and Jaua had agreed to “an ongoing, continuing dialogue at a high-level between the State Department and the foreign ministry,” with a view towards outlining a mutual agenda.

An eventual step in this process will be the appointment and exchange of ambassadors, which will likely meet opposition in the U.S. Senate. If Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro decides to grant asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, whom he recently praised, this will no doubt be impossible.

News Briefs
  • As a result of Evo Morales’ forced 14-hour layover in Vienna earlier this week, other Latin American heads of state are furious over his ill-treatment by the European countries who refused to allow his presidential jet to cross their airspace, the New York Times reports. In response, an emergency meeting of UNASUR foreign ministers has been called in Lima, and the presidents of a handful of other nations are expected to arrive in Cochabamba this afternoon to show solidarity with the Bolivian president.
  • Although there was initial support for UNASUR to assemble the region’s heads of state, Peru’s El Comerio claims officials in the country’s foreign ministry said privately that the organization was unable to reach consensus on this. As such, the UNASUR meeting in Lima will involve only foreign ministers.
  • According to a press statement by Bolivia’s Foreign Ministry, this afternoon’s meeting in Cochabamba will bring together the presidents of Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Suriname and Venezuela. El Nacional reports that the meeting will be unaffiliated with UNASUR. The leaders are expected to denounce Morales’ detention as a major breach of diplomatic protocol, which according to BBC Mundo may have even violated international law. Reuters reports that legal experts consulted by the news agency claim Bolivia would be able to take the case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague if Austrian officials boarded the plane without Morales’ consent.
  • La Razon and the AP report that Morales arrived in his home country late last night, and was greeted at the La Paz international airport by a crowd of supporters. The president took the opportunity to lash out at the United States, which he claimed pressured France, Italy and Portugal to deny him passage due to suspicions that he was harboring former CIA contractor Edward Snowden. “I regret this, but I want to say that some European countries should free themselves from North American imperialism,” said Morales.
  • Meanwhile, international diplomacy figures have condemned the incident as well. OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza expressed his “deep displeasure” with the “lack of respect” shown to Morales, while UN Secretary General said he “understood” Bolivia’s concerns with the matter. Rodolfo Sanz, executive secretary of the ALBA bloc, said the organization considered the temporary stranding of the Bolivian head of state a violation of international law and would take the matter to the UN General Assembly, according to Telesur.
  • Beyond the legality of the event, many in the region see it as a reflection of the disparate power dynamic between Latin America and Europe/North America. The Guardian reports that Europe stands accused of “reopening historical scars” by aiding the detention of the first indigenous president. Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera implied as much, saying: “Just as they did 500 years ago, foreign powers have once again mistreated and assaulted the Bolivian people.” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez voiced similar criticisms, labeling the incident a “remnant of colonialism we thought had been completely overcome.”
  • Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has disputed The Guardian’s reporting on his recent remarks on the Snowden case, claiming that he never characterized his consideration of the asylum bid as a “mistake.” Still, there are other reasons why Snowden might not want to seek refuge in the country. The New York Times notes that slow internet connections and inferior quality of available computer technology would make living in Ecuador difficult for Snowden, who is said to be something of a technology geek.
  • A British surveillance company, appropriately named The Surveillance Group, has denied that it had anything to do with a hidden microphone that Ecuadorean officials claim was found in Ecuador’s London Embassy last month ahead of a visit from Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño.
  • Brazilian Congressman Henrique Eduardo Alves, president of the Chamber of Deputies, apparently flew to the final Confederations Cup game in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday on a taxpayer-funded air force plane, which has understandably sparked a scandal in the country. While Alves has said he will refund the state for his trip, this is unlikely to put the matter to rest as abuse of public funds has been one of the main criticisms of the protest movement in the country.
  • Ahead of local elections in 14 Mexican states on Sunday, at least eight local politicians, or their relatives have been killed, the AP reports.
  • El Faro’s Sala Negra looks at the surprising trans-Atlantic reach of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang, which has had affiliate cells in Spain since 2004. But while gang’s arrival in Spain caused a flurry of speculation about an imminent spike in violent crime, the local MS-13 cliques pale in comparison to their counterparts in Central America or even along the U.S. West Coast.

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