Monday, July 15, 2013

Mercosur Leaders Back Snowden's ‘Right to Asylum’

The Mercosur summit held on Friday in Montevideo, Uruguay, served as a conduit for mounting U.S.-Latin America tension, ending in a joint statement which touched on recent allegations of National Security Agency surveillance and the U.S. effort to prevent former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden from reaching the region.

The statement, signed by the presidents of Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia, shied away from specifically mentioning Snowden. But it did criticize outside “pressure, harassment, or criminalization” limiting a state’s “sovereign decision” to grant asylum, a clear jab at the United States. The leaders also emphatically rejected the decision by “some European countries” to deny their airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales earlier this month. The countries agreed to summon their ambassadors from France, Spain, Portugal and Italy in response.

The declaration reserved harsh criticism for the NSA’s surveillance activities in the region. While it did not address the program by name, it condemned the “interception of telecommunications and acts of espionage in our countries,” arguing it constituted a violation of human rights, the right to privacy and the right to information. The AFP reports that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff asserted that it was time for Mercosur “to set a limit” on such espionage, saying “We must adopt pertinent measures to avoid a repetition of such situations.”

Recently, regional analysts and the mainstream media alike have characterized support for granting Snowden asylum as an attempt by ALBA countries to improve their record on freedom of speech, and distinguished it from concern over NSA surveillance as a violation of sovereignty (see this op-ed by Americas Quarterly Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, or this WSJ editorial). But the fact that Rousseff and Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica joined other, more populist leftist leaders in signing this statement should give these Latin America watchers reason to pause. Although neither Uruguay nor Brazil will shelter Snowden, their advocacy for the right to asylum suggests that the U.S. will find it difficult to diplomatically isolate Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua -- the three countries who have offered him asylum so far -- if he succeeds in traveling to any of them.

News Briefs

  • Mercosur also agreed to reinstate Paraguay’s membership to the trading bloc, announcing that the ban on the country would be lifted when president-elect Horacio Cartes assumes office on August 15. However, because the rotating presidency of the group was transferred to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro despite Cartes’ protests, the Paraguayan politician has seemingly rejected the invitation. According to El Pais, he released a statement on Friday claiming that Venezuela’s affiliation to the bloc “was not been conducted in accordance with the legal standards set for the addition of a new member.”
  • After 20 months out of the position, 18 of which were spent as Minister of Security, Salvadoran General David Munguia Payes has been renamed as head of El Salvador’s Defense Ministry by President Mauricio Funes, reports El Faro.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on the alarmingly high numbers of extrajudicial killings by Brazilian police, which make it a country “where police kill more suspects than almost anywhere else in the world.” In São Paulo state, for instance, police killed one suspect for every 229 they arrested last year, according to official statistics. While the trend goes largely unchecked, the surfacing of footage showing the November 2012 execution of a suspect by police in São Paulo has brought the matter into the national spotlight.
  • On July 5, the United Nations refused yet again to take responsibility for the cholera outbreak likely spread by UN peacekeeping forces. The Economist notes that the disease has affected 7 percent of the population, and killed nearly 8,200.
  • The New York Times takes a critical look at the recently-announced plan by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to recruit some 10,000 doctors to work in poorer areas. In cases where Brazilian nationals can’t be found to fill posts, foreign doctors will be recruited. The proposal is opposed by many medical professionals in the country, who claim that the problem is not a lack of doctors, but insufficient resources to support them where they are most needed.
  • The NYT also notes that opposition to Rousseff’s doctor program is part of a larger trend, as her efforts to meet the demands expressed in recent demonstrations have fallen short of expectations. The Times claims this has been made worse by her lack of experience with political maneuvering, leaving her more vulnerable to criticism from her opponents in Congress.
  • Animal Politico reports that the heads of Mexico’s two major opposition parties, the PAN and PRD, have conditioned their participation in the “Pact for Mexico” on several conditions. These include the investigation of potential violations of anti-corruption provisions in the pact, the passage of electoral and political reform laws, and the promotion of land and energy reform packages.
  • Although Chile and Peru have publicly stated a willingness to abide by a ruling on a long-running maritime border dispute in the International Court of Justice, El Mostrador reports that both countries have sent troops to their border, largely out of concern that the other party will reject the ruling, as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos did after a recent ICJ decision over a dispute with Nicaragua.
  • After negotiations with protesting farmers in the northeastern region of Catatumbo backfired last week, Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon has traveled to the region to reignite the talks.  El Colombiano reports that progress has been made, and that the outlook for a resolution looks positive. News site La Silla Vacia notes that the region is a guerrilla stronghold and “one of the epicenters of the war,” although the FARC have denied any links to the protests.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the first expropriation of his presidency, ordering the seizure of an area of land outside the city of Biuraca in western Apure State. Acording to El Nacional, Maduro announced the government would fund the construction of some 6,000 new homes there.

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