Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rousseff Postpones State Visit to U.S.

It’s official: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has called off next month’s state visit to the United States. But while many outlets are reporting that the Brazilian leader has canceled the visit, press statements released by both the White House and the Rousseff administration were careful to say that the visit had only been postponed.  Brazil’s statement expressed confidence that “when the question is settled in an adequate manner, the state visit can quickly occur.”

The Washington Post’s Juan Forero claims that the announcement will harm Brazil in the short term, asserting that the country’s flagging economy is “is seeking American investment and a greater opening to Brazilian products.”

However, the move is probably best interpreted as posturing ahead of next year’s elections. As noted in Monday’s post, the NSA’s surveillance activities in Brazil have been loudly criticized by leading members of the president’s Workers’ Party (PT) as well as the opposition. The New York Times characterizes the announcement as a “sharp rebuke” to the Obama administration, which could potentially “unravel years of Washington’s efforts to recognize Brazil’s rising profile in the developing world and blunt the growing influence of China, which has surpassed the United States as Brazil’s top trading partner.”

Additionally, the NYT and other media have noted that the stakes for the visit were particularly low. No major breakthroughs in relations were set to be announced, and the accords the two were set to sign were expected to be fairly limited. As Matias Spektor, a Brazilian international affairs expert, told the Wall Street Journal: “The accords were going to be very thin in the first place, basically lots of nice language about how far Brazil has come, but in practical terms there wasn't much at all…The assessment in Brasilia was that the potential costs were high, and the benefits were limited.”

At the same time, postponing the visit rather than canceling it is a shrewd move by Rousseff, as it will allow her to appeal to her PT base while leaving the door open to take up the offer again in the future. A state visit is probably off the table for the rest her current term, but if she wins re-election in October 2014 -- which opinion polls suggest is still quite likely -- she may be able to schedule it afterward, in a potentially more favorable political climate.


News Briefs
  • Today the senior justice in Brazil’s Supreme Court, Celso de Mello, will cast the deciding vote in a split ruling over whether to allow 12 of the 25 defendants in the high profile “mensalão” corruption case to appeal the strict sentences against them. The Wall Street Journal quotes several analysts who say that allowing the defendants to appeal for lighter sentences could reduce public faith in the political system, and O Globo reports that Supreme Court Judge Marco Aurélio Mello (who is against allowing the appeal) has said that he believes the credibility of the Court is at stake with the decision.
  • When Colombia’s historic Victims Law went into effect last year, it was widely praised for its ambitious attempt to compensate individuals who have suffered violence or been forced off their land as a result the country’s armed conflict. However, the Colombian government’s ability to fulfill its commitment to land restitution is severely limited by the lack of state presence in rural areas, where individuals attempting to reclaim their land face intimidation and assassination at the hands of local armed groups.  This is the conclusion of a new report on land restitution in Colombia released by Human Rights Watch yesterday. The Associated Press provides a decent overview of the report’s findings (including the alarming facts that over 99 per cent of denounced cases of forced displacements are met with impunity, and at least 21 land claimant activists killed since 2008), but the best English language coverage of the report is by Sibylla Brodzinsky for the Christian Science Monitor. Brodzinsky notes that land ownership is an important source of “political, social, and economic power” in Colombia, and illustrates the report’s findings using the case of farmers in southern Cesar Province. The victims are unable to return to their land because it is occupied by individuals with links to a convicted paramilitary warlord, who is currently believed to be living in Maryland. The HRW report has also received attention in local media, including in Semana magazine and newspapers El Tiempo and El Espectador.
  • The L.A. Times profiles Colombia’s settlement of a lawsuit filed by Ecuador, in response to claims that herbicide used in Colombian aerial spraying  efforts to eradicate coca crossed the border and harmed crops, as well as leaving several farmers with health problems. As a result of Ecuador’s complaint to the International Court of Justice, Colombia agreed to pay $15 million in damages.
  • According to La Tercera, a Chilean appellate court has referred a judge to look into a petition alleging 106 acts of violence committed by left-wing rebels in the country between November 1970 and 1990. If the case proceeds, it will no doubt serve to rebuke claims made by the right that transitional justice efforts in Chile have overlooked crimes committed by leftist insurgents.
  • While Central and South America have received plenty of attention recently as the “front line” in the search for alternative drug policies, several countries in the Caribbean are also studying the possibility of relaxing their drug laws. EFE reports that Puerto Rico’s Senate will begin studying a proposal to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, and the governments of St. Lucia and Jamaica are also weighing new approaches to marijuana. Recently, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines proposed that his Trinidad and Tobago counterpart -- who has the rotating chair of CARICOM -- open up a debate on legalizing medicinal marijuana use.
  • An organization of Cuban bishops issued its first joint pastoral letter to journalists on Monday, the AP reports. In the letter, titled “Hope Does Not Dissapoint,” the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba called on the government to recognize “the right to diversity with respect to thought, to creativity and to the search for truth.” Additionally, the letter praised the recent reforms of President Raul Castro and called on the U.S. to end decades-old economic embargo on the island. A copy of the letter, in Spanish, can be read over at Diario de Cuba.
  • El Universal reports that Mexico’s dissident CNTE teachers’ union has vowed to return to the central square in Mexico City today, despite the opposition of officials. According to Animal Politico, riot police are in the area and government officials say the teachers will not be permitted to resume their occupation.
  • Yesterday Guatemalan authorities arrested alleged drug trafficker Waldemar Lorenzana Cordón in an operation in Zacapa state. According to Prensa Libre, Lorenzana is the son of Waldemar Lorenzana Lima, who has been identified as a major local drug kingpin. Lorenzana senior and another of his sons have already been extradited to the U.S. on charges of cocaine trafficking. The decline of the Lorenzana crime family was well documented by journalist Julie Lopez in this 2011 investigation for Plaza Publica.
  • Venezuelan officials say that at least 16 inmates have been killed this week in clashes between rival gangs in the Sabaneta prison in the western city of Maracaibo. The BBC reports that the director of the Venezuelan Prison Observatory (OVP), an NGO that monitors the coutnry’s overcrowded prison system, said the latest incident made Sabaneta the most violent jail in the country, with at least 69 people killed there so far in 2013. According to Noticias24, the OVP’s records show that 289 inmates have been murdered behind bars in the first six months of this year alone.
  • In an interview with Bloomberg news, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has expressed optimism about the peace talks with FARC guerrillas in Havana. Although the two parties have only reached an agreement on one of the five items on the agenda, the president said he is hopeful that the peace process will end before presidential elections next May. The president also said he was aware of a lack of public support for the process, but claimed he had faith in the Colombian public to back an eventual agreement with a referendum. “I was very aware since the beginning that it would be very difficult to sell to public opinion,” said Santos. “But I can assure you that if you have a sensible package, people will accept it. People are tired of war.”