Monday, June 23, 2014

The Human Rights Case for Argentina in its Hold-Out Battle

The days following last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving Argentina’s debt case have seen a wealth of commentary on their consequences.

The Economist has argued that the odds of the Argentine government negotiating with the hold-outs could be distant, noting President Cristina Fernandez’s hardline stance on compromising with the so-called “vulture funds” in the past. Friday’s New York Times featured a more comprehensive analysis of what Argentina’s loss of the court battle means for the future of government debt. Comparing the ruling against Argentina as an endorsement of a “21st-century equivalent of a debtor’s prison for countries confronting an oppressive debt burden,” the Times suggests that the move could discourage nations from borrowing under U.S. law, a position the Obama administration holds as well.

But especially interesting -- at least from a human rights perspective -- is an analysis of the development by the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), a Buenos Aires-based human rights group. Over the weekend, CELS published a concise but compelling argument for Argentina’s position based on international human rights norms.  According to the authors, the case puts property rights, “supported by the predatory practices that the financial system enables,” in direct conflict with the duty of states to guarantee economic, social and cultural rights to their populations.

CELS argues that the right for nations to restructure their debt on terms that do not impact their social obligations to citizens is supported by the Guiding Principles on Foreign Debt and Human Rights, which the UN Human Rights Council endorsed in 2012. This is also backed, according to CELS, under Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which asserts: “All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.”

The group also maintains that the hold-out lenders’ refusal to participate in restructuring agreements goes against the principles of good faith and abuse of process, which it declares are among “the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations” enshrined in the Statute of the International Court of Justice.

On Friday, President Fernandez gave a speech in which she adopted a more conciliatory tone towards the hold-outs than many analysts expected, and the prospects for negotiation are looking better than ever, as the Wall Street Journal  and La Nacion report. Regardless, as CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot argues in an NYT op-ed today, last week’s ruling will damage the ability of countries to escape debt crises in the future, and serves as a blow to CELS’s interpretation of the above international human rights guarantees.

News Briefs
  • Following U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s meeting with Central American leaders over the immigration crisis on Friday, the U.S. government has announced it will attempt to curb the surge in undocumented immigration from the region with a multi-million dollar aid program to support security and development. The money will also include funding for repatriation programs in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  According to the White House,  this will be accompanied by “steps to enhance enforcement and removal proceedings,” which will include accelerated deportations, the Washington Post reports.  
  • The Associated Press has published an investigation into the overburdened system that oversees deportation proceedings, finding evidence of long delays which ultimately make the perception that the U.S. is more tolerant of undocumented child migrants “understandable,” according to the AP.
  • While the recent primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was widely seen as the nail in the coffin for immigration reform in the U.S., the Miami Herald profiles cautious optimism among some lawmakers that that a reform bill could still pass the House this year.
  • The absence of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez at Friday’s meeting -- he sent a top aide, while both the Salvadoran and Guatemalan presidents met with Biden -- earned some criticism for the Honduran government from some corners. As the New York Times reports, the U.S. ambassador to Honduras issued a blunt rebuke to him last week, remarking on a radio program Friday: “I know he is in Brazil, and today there is a very important game, but the country has priorities for which the top leader should be present.” Dan Restrepo, a former chief adviser to the Obama administration on Latin America, delivered even more acid criticism in an interview with Fox News Latino, accusing Hernandez of denying his country’s role in fueling the wave of immigration and using the U.S. as a scapegoat. “The Honduran economic and political elite have systematically and historically failed the people of Honduras,” Restrepo said.
  • Over at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, Hugo Perez Hernaiz and David Smilde offer some analysis of President Nicolas Maduro’s removal of planning minister Jorge Giordani from office last week. While some analysts have interpreted this as a sign of the administration favoring pragmatism over ideology, Giordani’s subsequent public criticism of Maduro exposes an emerging rift in Chavismo. This divide could come to a head in next month’s Congress of the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV), in which the party’s leadership will be chosen.
  • When a Mexican federal court ordered government prosecutors to pay reparations to Jacinta Francisco Marcial, an indigenous woman wrongly imprisoned for three years, the news made international headlines. However, the international media appears not to have picked up on the fact that the attorney general’s office has refused to comply with the order, despite criticism from human rights groups like Centro Prodh and Amnesty International, as Proceso reports.
  • Sunday’s New York Times featured an op-ed by Mexican reporter Marcela Turati, co-founder of the Grassroots Journalists Network, who provides a critical look at the bureaucratic process Mexican journalists face when applying for asylum in the United States. Turati notes that U.S. officials request evidence of a concrete threat in order to grant asylum, which many find is difficult to prove.
  • At a party conference in Brasilia on Saturday, Brazil's ruling Workers Party (PT) solidified President Dilma Rousseff's re-election bid ahead of the October vote, ending speculation that ex-president Lula might jump in the race at the last minute. While the endorsement of Vice President Michel Temer on the ticket also renewed the PT’s alliance with the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), Veja reports that the formerly PT-aligned Labor Party (PTB) confirmed its split from the PT over the weekend, illustrating the party’s diminished ability to forge broad alliances. As the Wall Street Journal reports, this factor combined with Rousseff’s waning popularity is setting up the presidential race to be more competitive than initially expected.