Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Brazil, U.S. Move to Thaw Relations

In Brasilia yesterday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the first high-level meeting since last year’s NSA scandal led Rousseff to cancel a planned Washington visit. Remarks by both suggest that U.S.-Brazil relations are on the mend.

According to a White House press release, the two discussed growing bilateral trade and financial issues, as well as both countries’ shared interest in reducing the role of nation states  in the future of internet governance. Biden also praised Brazil’s efforts to promote dialogue in Venezuela, though government talks with the opposition came to a halt last month.

Additionally, the U.S. Vice President announced a new project to declassify and share documents with Brazil’s National Truth Commission documents related to its investigation into military abuses from 1964 to 1984. He turned over the first batch of these documents to officials yesterday.

The AFP reports that following the meeting, Biden told reporters that they had a “candid” discussion of the NSA’s surveillance program, saying the U.S. would “keep consulting closely with our friends and partners like Brazil.”  When asked by a journalist whether he believed relations with Brazil could be improved, Biden said he was “confident” they could be.

This mirrors language used by Presdient Rousseff, who in a recent interview with foreign correspondents said she was prepared for a thaw in U.S.-Brazil relations. The Brazilian president said she was “certain we can pick up our relations where we left off,” and even claimed she would consider rescheduling her canceled state visit to Washington. Still, she made no immediate public comments after the meeting, and the AP notes that a plan for Biden and Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer to make a joint statement was scrapped without explanation.

The Wall Street Journal notes that plenty is at stake in talks of improved ties. In addition to its status as an important trading partner, the paper points out that Brazil has strategic potential to serve as a middleman with governments more hostile towards the U.S. in the region, like Bolivia and Venezuela.


News Briefs
  • In a press conference yesterday, Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof held a press conference yesterday to lay out the government’s response to Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on its fight against holdout bondholders. Because the ruling would deny Argentina access to the U.S. financial system until it pays off the holdout creditors, Kicillof said the country would begin to negotiate an arrangement with those who accepted previous debt restructurings so that they could be paid in Argentina under Argentine law.
  • Tomorrow will mark two years since Wikileaks founder Julian Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, EFE reports. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa marked the occasion yesterday by calling on the UK and Swedish governments to grant him reassurances that he would not be extradited to the U.S. if leaving the embassy, accusing the hacktivist’s enemies of “violating his human rights.”  According to El Universo, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño said he would hold a joint press conference with Assange tomorrow.
  • Writing for Reuters, Caracas-based journalist Girish Gupta reports on a unique intersection of two of the most pressing issues facing Venezuela today: the high murder rate and shortages of basic goods. A lack of brass, varnish and satin has made the production of coffins in the country difficult, so many Venezuelan undertakers are encouraging cremation in order for coffins -- used only in the wake -- can be “recycled.”
  • In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos defended peace talks with FARC rebels in Havana against critics who accuse the government of infringing on victims’ right to justice by granting some form of amnesty to guerrillas. Framing the issue as a necessary component of transitional justice, Santos said the following: “How much justice are people willing to sacrifice for peace. Where does one draw that line? If you ask a victim, they will always want more justice. If you ask a future victim, they will always want more peace."
  • La Silla Vacia has an analysis of the “winners and losers” of Colombia’s presidential election last Sunday, noting the changed political landscape in the country. Among the “winners” are ex-President Alvaro Uribe and his supporters, certain figures on the left and the peace negotiators in Havana, while the news site claims that Colombia’s mainstream media are among the main “losers,” as the campaign season highlighted widespread bias towards Santos.
  • Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels have accused the government officials altering the wording of a joint announcement of exploratory peace talks between the two in a press conference last week, El Pais reports. The guerrilla group claims it has raised doubts about the government’s integrity going into negotiations, though the rebels say they will continue to dialogue with officials.
  • The Miami Herald profiles various perspectives on the recent protests in Brazil from sociologists and political analysts in the country, many of whom frame the demonstrations as signs that the country’s democracy is maturing and its middle class is gaining a political voice.
  • Brazilian news site Agencia Publica, an excellent source of investigative journalism on corruption, unaccountability and environmental justice in the country, is supporting the launch of Ponte, a new online media outlet dedicated to citizen security, justice and human rights in Brazil. In its manifesto, Ponte stakes out a broad mission for itself, including combating fear of police abuses, a justice system that favors elites, and media coverage and policies that “benefit the center over the periphery.” Ponte.org will begin reporting next week.