Friday, June 6, 2014

LatAm Backs Cuba’s Participation at Americas Summit

The 44th OAS General Assembly in Asuncion, Paraguay ended yesterday with relatively few surprises. The Ecuador-backed resolution to establish more state control over the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) failed, as expected.

Instead, it was replaced by a watered-down declaration of support for dialogue over the IACHR’s rapporteurships and funding, as well as a call for the IACHR to “consider” holding sessions outside its offices in Washington. Following the measure’s failure, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño took a swipe at OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza -- who has opposed IACHR reform -- dismissing Insulza’s concerns as “imprudence” and noting he would be finishing his term “in good time.” The OAS head will be stepping down next May.

The final resolution of the General Assembly, in which member states express their support for social inclusion, reducing inequality and supporting social and economic rights, is equally diluted.

What was notable about the OAS meeting, however, was the overwhelming support among Latin American nations for Cuba’s unconditional attendance at the next Summit of the Americas in Panama in 2015. EFE reports that the United States was alone in opposing an invitation to Cuba. The representative from Canada, which joined the U.S. in blocking a similar measure at the 2012 Summit in Colombia, apparently offered no position on the matter this time around, diplomatic sources told the news agency.

In contrast, explicit support for inviting Cuba came from traditional allies in ALBA governments, as well as the delegates of Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Chile, and even Paraguay. Bolivia’s OAS representative Diego Pary Rodriguez announced his country would join Ecuador in boycotting the summit if Cuba were not invited. Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman claimed his country’s participation would be “difficult” without Cuba, and Brazil’s representative said the presence of Cuba was necessary for authentic dialogue.

With the hemisphere so clearly in favor of giving Cuba a seat at the table in Panama next year, it’s hard to imagine the U.S. would have much success at pressing for its continued exclusion without risking some credibility in the region.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday, Colombia held the first of two televised debates between President Juan Manuel Santos and his rival Oscar Ivan Zuluaga ahead of the country’s June 15 runoff election. As Semana reports, the debate focused largely on the peace process in Havana, with the president linking peace to improved economic development, and Zuluaga insisting on a more hardline approach to talks with the FARC.  According to the latest Gallup poll, the two are statistically tied, with 48.5 percent supporting Zuluaga, and 47.7 backing Santos. A Cifras y Conceptos poll, however, gives the edge to Santos, with 43.4 percent versus 38.5 for Zuluaga.
  • Santos appears to be doubling down on his campaign message as the “candidate for peace” ahead of elections. On Wendesday, he raised the potential for ending the country’s obligatory military service once “the conflict is over and peace is consolidated.” Representatives of FARC rebels at the talks in Havana praised Santos’ remarks, even as the he of Colombia’s association of retired military officers criticized them in a statement to the AP.
  • Peruvian authorities arrested one governor this week -- Klever Melendez of Cerro de Pascoince pro -- and issued a warrant for another -- Tumbes’ Gerardo Viñas -- as part of a larger crackdown on corruption at the provincial level by federal prosecutors. The AP notes that the move comes after the arrest of Cesar Alvarez, who is accused of embezzling public funds and intimidating critics into silence. La Republica has published an overview of the prosecutions, noting that 19 governors are under investigation for 158 separate corruption cases.
  • In its coverage of yesterday’s decision that determined Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez should remain in custody as his trial for allegedly inciting violence moves forward, the Wall Street Journal notes that Lopez’s lawyers say he will be tried in August.
  • Another development at the OAS General Assembly worth pointing out is Guatemalan Foreign Minister Fernando Carrera’s claims to EFE that he submitted a proposal that would question the blanket international prohibition for cannabis. In the minister’s words, the proposal would consider marijuana a “sovereignly controlled substance,” and pave the way for countries to alter their drug laws without renouncing international drug treaties. Carrera also supported reforms to allow drug producing countries to export marijuana to areas where it is legal. According to him, these will be discussed at an upcoming OAS meeting on drug policy to be held in his country in September.
  • Reuters offers some insight into the reasons why many Brazilians’ attitudes towards the World Cup are so lackluster. The news agency notes widespread failure for the government to deliver on its promise to accompany investment in the Cup with improved public transportation, with proposed light rail and rapid bus corridor projects stalled or scrapped in many cities across the country.
  • Datafolha has released a new poll on support for Brazil’s presidential field. The survey shows that support for President Dilma Rousseff’s reelection continues to fall, dropping three points over the last month to stand at 34 percent. However, this does not translate to increased support for the other two main candidates, Aecio Neves (19 percent) and Eduardo Campos (7 percent). The survey found that their polling numbers have remained more or less stable over the past four months, even as Rousseff’s have dropped ten points since February.
  • According to the AP, which has obtained an advanced copy of Hilary Clinton’s forthcoming book, “Hard Choices,” the former secretary of state claims she urged President Obama to reassess the U.S. embargo on Cuba while in office. Clinton writes that she saw the embargo as “holding back our broader agenda across Latin America,” and also claims that the Cuban government is using its imprisonment of USAID contractor Alan Gross as an excuse to “put the brakes on any possible rapprochement with the United States and the domestic reforms that would require.”
  • The BBC reports on anti-mining activism in Guatemala, specifically on opposition to Canadian-owned Escobal silver mine in the south of the country. Critics of the mine say it is not addressing local concerns regarding pollution and water contamination.

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