Thursday, November 6, 2014

Rubio: GOP Senate Sweep Could Push Venezuela Sanctions

United States Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has offered one of the first predictions of how Sunday’s midterm elections could impact U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. The senator, who is in Colombia for a two-day visit to discuss trade and security issues, gave a press conference in Bogota yesterday in which he broached the subject of neighboring Venezuela.

While Rubio welcomed the Obama administration’s July decision to institute a ban on U.S. travel for Venezuelan officials linked to rights abuses, he told reporters he hoped the new Republican majority in the Senate could “achieve something much stronger than what the White House has done so far.” From the AP’s Josh Goodman:
Rubio said the sanctions bill would have already been approved if not for the objections of his Democrat colleague, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who has stalled a vote out of worries over hundreds of jobs at a refinery owned by Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-run oil company. Landrieu faces a December runoff ballot with a Republican challenger after failing to secure a majority of votes in Tuesday's election.
Despite the arguments against sanctions put forward by Venezuelan human rights groups and political analysts like Luis Vicente Leon, it appears many on Capitol Hill assumed the bipartisan sanctions measure would easily pass. But as Politico reported in August, Landrieu and Citgo worked together to block the bill at the last minute, with the company claiming it had concerns that the official interpretation of the bill could change over time and leave it vulnerable to restrictions as well.

Interestingly, while Rubio has criticized Colombia’s peace talks with FARC rebels in the past -- the Miami Herald notes he is “among the U.S. lawmakers who have voiced concerns that the peace deal may be too lenient” -- he has so far been decidedly diplomatic in his remarks on the peace process. As EFE reports, the senator responded to a question on post-conflict aid by saying that he supports shifting anti-drug assistance from Plan Colombia to economic aid, “to turn the progress achieved so far into something permanent.”

News Briefs
  • Yesterday marked a day of international protests  in solidarity with the disappearance of the 43 Mexican students of Ayotzinapa, and it seems the arrest of Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca has failed to satisfy popular outrage over the incident. Mexico City saw hundreds of thousands turn out for demonstrations yesterday, and Animal Politico reports that parallel protests took place around the country and in major cities in Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Spain, France, Switzerland and Germany, to name a few.
  • While the rallying cry for these protests has been “vivos los queremos,” El Universal  reports that the parents of the missing 43 say that in their interaction with officials, they have been repeatedly told that their children are likely dead. However, several said they will refuse to believe the government’s claim until it is confirmed by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) that is assisting the official investigation.  
  • Colombia’s El Tiempo reports that police in Cartagena have arrested the suspect accused of ordering the murder of Venezuelan Congressman Robert Serra last month. In the weeks following the killing, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said a “Colombian paramilitary” was behind the crime, but the motive remains unclear.
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez’s medical team has announced that the leader is “in a stable condition” while being treated for a bacterial infection of the colon. Her doctors have also said that she has been ordered to rest “a minimum of 10 days” after leaving the hospital, though they have not provided a date for her release, as the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro is stepping up his campaign to be the next OAS Secretary General, traveling to the Caribbean this week to visit Cuba and then drum up support for his candidacy from the governments of Jamaica, Grenada and the Bahamas, according to El Pais.
  • Following the murder of ten people around the northern Brazilian city of Belem on Tuesday night -- which came amid reports from local residents that the killings were retaliation for the murder of a police officer -- Para state officials say they will investigate the shootings. O Globo claims that authorities believe the crime was in fact committed by a “death squad” seeking vengeance, and quotes witnesses saying that the killings were carried out by masked gunmen on motorbikes seeking to “cleanse” targeted areas.
  • In his latest Miami Herald op-ed, syndicated columnist Andres Oppenheimer argues that the passage of marijuana legalization initiatives in Washington DC, Oregon and Alaska are the start of a potential credibility crisis for U.S. anti-drug efforts abroad, especially in Latin America.
  • In the New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson has an analysis of Cuba’s unparalleled efforts to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, arguing that the country is uniquely poised to commit doctors to the fight to contain the outbreak. As Anderson writes: “health-workers are an exportable resource that, with an investment in schools, a small country without many natural ones can produce on a large scale. Castro’s medical internationalism has been a huge financial boon to the island, earning it an estimated eight billion dollars a year.”
  • In a Huffington Post column, anti-corruption advocate Frank Vogl argues that the Obama administration has a unique opportunity to call for a new international treaty to protect civil society organizations when he attends upcoming summits in China and Australia. Among the examples of vulnerable transparency NGOs cited by Vogl is Honduras’ Asociación para una Sociedad Mas Justa, which he includes among groups facing “harassment and intimidation by their national authorities.”

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