Friday, August 30, 2013

UNASUR Leaders Weigh Joint Condemnation of Strike on Syria

As U.S. President Barack Obama appears poised to announce a limited military strike on Syria in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians last week, many South American countries are lining up to oppose the move.

EFE reports that yesterday, in a preparatory meeting ahead of a Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) summit today in Suriname, the foreign ministers of member states to the regional bloc debated the wording of a joint statement condemning foreign intervention in Syria. In subsequent remarks to the press, the foreign ministers of Venezuela and Ecuador said the officials also considered sending a delegation to Syria to assist UN experts in investigating allegations of chemical weapons use.

While its exact language is up in the air, a statement on Syria will likely come out of today’s UNUASUR summit, which will be attended by heads of state or top officials from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. The president of Paraguay, which was temporarily suspended from the bloc following the removal of President Fernando Lugo in June 2012, will be in attendance as well, reports La Nacion.

Also yesterday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro issued a statement urging Obama to wait for the results of the UN investigation, and to stand up to “the hawks in the Pentagon,” according to El Nacional. He was joined by Bolivian President Evo Morales, who told reporters he would propose a joint statement on Syria in the summit meeting today.

The ALBA bloc nations are not the only ones opposed to a U.S. military strike on Syria. The governments of Argentina -- currently the president pro tempore of the UN Security Council -- and Brazil have also signaled that they are against it. While the Argentine Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that “the proper international law mechanisms have not been used” to justify foreign intervention, the newly-appointed Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo also urged the U.S. and its military allies to wait for the conclusions of the UN investigators.


News Briefs
  • While Venezuela’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) has long been a staunch ally of the Syrian government, some in the party are taking this a step further. Abdel el Zabayar, a PSUV lawmaker of Syrian descent, has asked permission from the government to step down from his position and fight with the Syrian army in the country’s civil war, according to the Global Post. Venezuela’s Noticias24 reports that the congressman is in Syria at the moment and will stay indefinitely, as he first arrived to visit family and then decided to stay to support the Assad government.  
  • The nationwide campesino protests in Colombia are heating up, and have spread to the capital city of Bogota. The Washington Post reports that some 30,000 people marched in support of small farmers in the streets of Bogota yesterday. The demonstration was an act of solidarity with the roughly 45,000 farmers, coffee growers and truck drivers who have blocked highways and roads throughout the country since last week, who claim that their sectors are being undercut by free trade policies. In a public address yesterday, President Juan Manuel Santos recognized that the rural demonstrators had legitimate demands, and characterized the ongoing protests as “a storm.” El Tiempo has a breakdown of this storm, which it claims is due to a “plurality of political interests” that has not converged simultaneously in years.
  • La Silla Vacia points out that the protests have come as a major boost to Colombia’s leftist Democratic Pole party, which just months ago appeared badly divided and fractured. The Colombian news site claims that party’s traditional opposition to free trade agreements, abuses by security forces and President Santos’ relationship with business interests have gained unprecedented traction among urban voters in the country, a political climate the Pole will likely use to its advantages in legislative elections next March.
  • The New York Times examines a recent U.S. court ruling on Argentina’s debt restructuring, the implications of which have the U.S. Treasury and the International Monetary Fund deeply concerned. A senior Treasury official told the paper that the department is worried the decision could “undermine the orderliness and predictability of sovereign debt restructuring and could roll back years of progress.” Ultimately, U.S. officials fear that the decision will encourage countries to issue bonds under English law instead of New York law, threatening New York’s status as a major financial hub.
  • Meanwhile, IPS reports that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has submitted a bill to Congress to swap the debt still held by “holdout” creditors who refused earlier restructurings. Unlike previous bills, this version has been supported by the opposition, and does not set a deadline for bondholders to accept the deal.  Earlier this week, however, the AP cited financial analysts who were pessimistic about the outlook for this measure, as bondholders are unlikely to settle debts in Argentina instead of continuing to appeal to courts in New York.
  • IPS also has a good overview of the controversy around a proposed mining law in Uruguay, which would authorize open pit mining in the country. The measure could make the country the eighth-largest producer of iron ore, but it is strongly opposed by environmental groups and local residents near planned projects. Interestingly, while polls suggest that the majority of the public is against it as well, the ruling Frente Amplio looks set to pass the law.
  • Writing for The Atlantic, Robert Muggah and Steven Dudley profile insecurity, crime and corruption in the Nothern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, which they claim amount to a brewing “humanitarian catastrophe.” They conclude that one of the main contributing factors in this situation is the fact that international donors and world powers alike have been unwilling to push for the banking, judicial and campaign reforms necessary to crack down on corruption and organized crime.
  • With Chile’s presidential elections a month and a half off, the Center for Public Studies (CEP) has released a new poll which shows that 44 percent of Chileans support the candidacy of former President Michelle Bachelet, compared to 12 percent for conservative candidate Evelyn Matthei. La Tercera reports that Matthei’s campaign has criticized the poll’s accuracy, arguing that the poll was initiated before Matthei even declared her candidacy after Pablo Longueira unexpectedly dropped out of the race.
  • In the latest attempt by Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to avoid becoming a lame duck by reaching out to the opposition, La Republica reports that the president’s cabinet chief has offered to meet with two of Humala’s most powerful political critics: former President Alan Garcia and Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori. There is no word yet on whether they will accept the offer, though they have refrained from participating in his outreach efforts in the past.