Monday, September 16, 2013

Rousseff Weighs Canceling U.S. State Visit

The administration of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has sent its clearest signals yet that the president is seriously considering canceling her state visit to Washington next month, with a final decision to come after a Tuesday meeting with her foreign minister.

Yesterday, Reuters reported that an anonymous official told the wire service that an increasing number of political figures who are close to the Rousseff government now favor canceling the trip. Among these are former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Franklin Martins, an ex-press secretary under Lula who remains influential in the current administration.

Despite this, Rousseff will reportedly wait to make a final decision on the matter until after a Tuesday meeting with Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo. The foreign minister traveled to Washington last week to meet with United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who told reporters that the U.S. is “committed to working with Brazil to address these concerns.”

But with the recent revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the personal communications of government officials, and may have spied on Brazilian state oil company Petrobras, it will likely be tough to waylay the president’s concerns.  Last week Rousseff released a statement saying that if the Petrobras story is confirmed, “it will be evident that the motive for the spying attempts is not security or the war on terrorism but strategic economic interests.”

Some have argued that the costs for canceling a state visit would be too high for the administration. As Folha de Sao Paulo notes, the trip (which was announced in May) is the only official visit by a foreign president scheduled this year, and would be the first state visit by a Brazilian leader in nearly two decades.

But there are strategic reasons why Rousseff might cancel the visit. For one, the surveillance revelations have received a lot of play in the domestic media, and the NSA has been roundly condemned by both the opposition and the president’s own party. Going through with the trip could leave her vulnerable to criticism ahead of elections next year.

Additionally, the NSA scandal has provided Rousseff with a welcome distraction from domestic protests. With her approval rating already recovering from the June demonstrations, she may be loath to put the issue behind her, especially if journalist Glenn Greenwald continues to publish details about the NSA’s activities in the country.  Greenwald is set to testify at a parliamentary committee hearing into the issue this week, providing an opportunity to reveal more specifics of U.S. surveillance programs.  

News Briefs
  • Popular support for Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has continued to fall, with a new Ipsos poll showing his approval rating has fallen to 27 percent in September, down from 29 percent the month before. The Wall Street Journal notes that the poll also found that 67 percent say Humala hasn’t lived up to his campaign promises.
  • On Friday, the White House released a report which included Venezuela and Bolivia in a list of countries which “failed demonstrably” to make significant efforts in curbing drug trafficking.  It was Venezuela’s fifth consecutive year on the list, and the government of President Nicolas Maduro lashed out at the classification. In a statement, Venezuela anti-drug official Alejandro Keleris accused the U.S. of selectively ignoring the government’s efforts to arrest top drug traffickers. El Deber reports that the Bolivian Interior Ministry also responded by accusing the U.S. mischaracterizing its approach to drug policy, as well as “copying and pasting” the accusations from reports published under President George W. Bush.  
  • The Vatican announced on Thursday that Pope Francis had held a private audience in Rome with Gustavo Gutierrez, the founder of liberation theology.  La Republica notes that the meeting has interesting implications for the unsteady relationship between Latin American proponents of liberation theology and the Catholic Church.
  • Writing for Al-Jazeera English, Belen Fernandez takes down the recent, problematic Washington Post article on Iran’s cultural diplomacy efforts in Latin America. As Fernandez notes, the sources in the article appear linked to a concerted effort by conservative groups to exaggerate Iranian influence in the region.
  • Simon Romero of the NYT profiles Brazilian business tycoon Luciano Hang, who owns an expanding chain of department stores around the country which are known as tributes to U.S. consumerism. Each store features gaudy displays featuring replicas of the Statue of Liberty or other U.S. landmarks.
  • Last week, Colombia signed an agreement to increase farm exports to Venezuela by some $600-million. Considering the recent protests by Colombian farmers looking for a more secure market, as well as the frequent food shortages across Venezuela, the L.A. Times characterizes the deal as a “bail-out” for both leaders.
  • In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Heraldo Muñoz, United Nations Development Program director for Latin America and the Caribbean, takes on the claim that the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet is responsible for Chile’s economic success. Muñoz asserts that the groundwork for Chile’s prosperity -- high literacy rates, efficient agricultural redistribution and respected universities -- was actually laid before Pinochet came to power, concluding that dictatorships are not a “necessary evil” to stimulate economic progress.
  • The L.A. Times reports that on Friday, the majority of the CNTE teachers’ union occupying Mexico City’s center square agreed to temporarily move to allow President Enrique Peña Nieto to hold a ceremony marking the anniversary of Mexico’s struggle for independence. Some stayed behind, however, and the New York Times notes that there were prolonged clashes with riot police. According to Animal Politico, the teachers’ union has vowed to retake the square on September 18, and continue its protests against Peña Nieto’s education reform plan.
  • Over at Honduras Culture and Politics, Russell N. Sheptak puts the Honduran government’s concession of land grants to indigenous Miskito federations last week into political perspective, questioning whether it was related to the government’s attempts to authorize oil exploration in the area.
  • On Saturday, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner gave her first televised interview since 2009, which was broadcast on public television. La Nacion has video of the interview, in which the president defended her government’s debt restructuring plan, and criticized the relationship between economic elites and the media in the country, which she accused of falsely “creating an image people believe in.”

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