Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Latin American Leaders at the UN General Assembly

A number of regional heads of state are set to address the United Nations General Assembly today in New York, and are expected to touch on a range of issues, from drug policy and UN Security Council reform to U.S. surveillance abroad.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will be the first head of state to take the podium today. O Globo reports that she is expected to use her speech to call for the adoption of an international legal framework to limit espionage and allow states to maintain sovereignty over the internet in their territory. The speech comes a week after the “postponement” of her state visit to the U.S., which will be underscored by the fact that Rousseff will be immediately followed by U.S. President Barack Obama, as Bloomberg News notes.

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera will be the second Latin American president to address the UN today, and according to El Mercurio will advocate reforms to the Security Council. In remarks at an event at Columbia University yesterday, the president said he favored “a new method of integration to the Security Council, incorporating new permanent members, particularly with the support of Chile, Brazil, Germany, Japan and India and non-permanent members as well.”

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will also address the General Assembly this morning. El Espectador reports that he is slated to talk about the ongoing talks with rebels in his country, and the importance of transitional justice in the peace process. Yesterday Santos met with Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, who offered to facilitate talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Montevideo, according to EFE. While Santos emphasized that the decision to host the talks in Uruguay has not yet been made, he told reporters that “the fact that we have a country like Uruguay on the table is an important step for us.”

Later in the day, the Uruguayan president himself is expected to address the General Assembly, in a speech that is highly anticipated among Latin America watchers. While the Mujica administration has said that the president does not intend to focus his address on his country’s marijuana regulation initiative, it is likely that he will at least touch on it, especially considering how much the issue has raised his international profile.

In any case, Uruguayan press has treated drug policy as central to Mujica’s New York visit. Special emphasis has been given to his visit yesterday with billionaire George Soros, founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations (OSF). Most of the coverage has centered on the fact that OSF has provided support to Regulacion Responsable, the civil society coalition backing the marijuana bill. On Friday, El Observador ran an article noting the irony in the ideological overlap of the “magnate and austere president” on the issue, “one from recycled Marxism of the south and the other from staunch liberalism of the north.” Mujica offered a humorous take on their contrasting backgrounds to La Republica, describing Soros as a “businessman who has behaved very well with Uruguay because he finances NGOS which have helped on the issue of addictions.” The meeting was the front page story of today’s El Pais, the leading daily in the country, which highlighted Soros’ remarks in which he described Uruguay as a “laboratory” for alternative drug policies.


News Briefs
  • The New York Times looks at leading New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio’s activist background, noting that he “studied Latin American politics at Columbia…was conversational in Spanish, [and] grew to be an admirer of Nicaragua’s ruling Sandinista party.” De Blasio travelled to Nicaragua in 1988 on a ten-day trip with a Maryland-based solidarity organization known as the Quixote Center, and has credited the work of Sandinista-sponsored health clinics with inspiring his progressive politics. While he has mixed opinions of the FSLN today, the candidate is still interested in left-wing Latin American politics. According to the NYT, he honeymooned in Cuba -- in violation of the U.S. travel ban -- and sees his politics as fundamentally influenced by liberation theology.
  • While recent studies of immigration dynamics have pointed to a drop in the number of undocumented migrants who are detained on the Mexican border, official statistics suggest that figure is once again on the rise, which the Wall Street Journal attributes to the U.S. economic recovery. However, a new Pew Hispanic Center report (see the Washington Post and NYT) has found that while the number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. may be on the rise, it shows no sign of reaching pre-recession levels.
  • On Monday, Mexico’s main opposition party, the conservative National Action Party (PAN), conditioned its support for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s oil reform proposal on the passage of an electoral reform package that would significantly alter Mexico’s political sphere. As Animal Politico notes, the PAN plan would allow run-off votes between presidential candidates, permit direct re-election of lawmakers and mayors, and provide a basis to annul elections due to “excessive campaign spending.”
  • The Miami Herald has an overview of the domestic ramifications of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s decision to postpone her state visit to Washington. While many analysts argue that the move will ultimately harm her country (see Christopher Sabatini’s recent piece in Foreign Policy), in the short run Rousseff’s decision has been positively received in Brazil. Paulo Sotero of the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute describes the postponement as a smart political move grounded in a political climate that had soured as a result of the NSA revelations. At the same time, Sotero claims the decision was not primarily motivated by politics. “Any political mileage that Rousseff got out of the postponement is a ‘bonus,’’ not a motivation,’’ he told the Herald.
  • On Friday, El Salvador’s Supreme Court accepted a challenge to the country’s 1993 amnesty law, its first legal challenge since the Inter-American Court of Human Rights effectively ordered it to be overturned in a December 2012 ruling. El Faro claims that there appears to be growing political will to reverse the country’s amnesty, though it could leave the judiciary vulnerable to an institutional crisis similar to the one that began in June 2011.
  • The Associated Press takes a look at the recent discovery of 1.5 tons of cocaine found in 31 suitcases on board an Air France flight from Caracas to Paris last week. The find was the largest cocaine seizure in French history, and has so far resulted in a total of nine arrests in both countries. The AP notes that two National Guard sergeants and a lieutenant assigned to anti-drug operations in the Caracas airport have been arrested, renewing concerns about the possibility of Venezuelan military involvement in the drug trade.  
  • There will be one notable absence at the UN General Assembly today. After requesting that the United States provide guarantees that he and his entourage would be adequately “respected” in the visit, it seems Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has decided not to attend, at least today. El Nacional reports that the president is on his way back to Caracas from a state visit to China over the weekend.
  • On Friday, a Guatemalan court sentenced former National Police Director Héctor Bol de la Cruz to 40 years in prison for orchestrating the disappearance of a dissident student leader in 1984. As Reuters reports, the case was presided over by Judge Yasmin Barrios, the same judge who convicted General Efrain Rios Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity earlier this year, before the decision was overturned. According to elPeriodico, Bol de laCruz’s legal team has vowed to appeal the case to the International Criminal Court.
  • With Latin America emerging as ground zero for drug policy alternatives, the UK-based Transform Drug Policy Foundation has published a new report aimed at providing decision makers in the region with policy arguments tailored to Latin America’s political climate. The report, entitled “Ending the War on Drugs: How to Win the Debate in Latin America,” is available for download in Spanish