Archive for April 10th, 2012

Squeezing Iran Out of Latin America

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The Huffington Post


President Obama was in Seoul last week mobilizing the international community to counter nuclear weapons proliferation. He met with the Russians and Chinese on the sidelines and asked them to support the international community’s diplomatic and economic stranglehold of Iran. And yet, even as an Iranian nuclear weapon looms, the U.S. is moving too slowly to cut the Iranian regime’s growing lifeline in Latin America.

Since 2005, the regime’s Latin American lifeline has grown through six new embassies and 17 cultural centers. In tandem, Iran has dramatically increased the size of its diplomatic missions across the region.

The ayatollahs’ diplomatic offensive has borne results. At a 2010 joint press conference in Tehran, representatives from Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela announced their determination to “continue and expand their economic ties to Iran,” in effect, to assist Iran in evading international sanctions.

In January of this year, Iranian ... Read More

Obama faces skeptical leaders at Americas summit

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Article originally appeared in Reuters


Three years after being feted by star-struck Latin American leaders, President Barack Obama faces skepticism and disappointment at this week’s Summit of the Americas for failing to meet promises of a new era in relations with the region.

Obama’s first meeting with leaders from the hemisphere in Trinidad and Tobago at the height of his popularity included a vow to mend ties with Cuba and a photo-op handshake with Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president and pugnacious U.S. critic.

This year, Obama is more focused on re-election than foreign policy and is set to receive a grilling over contentious issues like the drugs war, Cuba and even U.S. monetary policy from heads of state eager to remind him that Washington is growing less relevant for the region.

“The deception and disappointment are quite real,” said Hal Klepak, a Canadian history professor and Latin America expert. “The last summit’s focus was the ‘Obama show,’ ... Read More

Interview with Guatemala President Otto Perez Molina (transcript)

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From the Washington Post


The following are excerpts from an interview with Otto Perez Molina, the president of Guatemala, conducted on March 24, 2012, via phone by The Washington Post’s Juan Forero. The interview was translated from Spanish.

What’s your assessment of the war on drugs?

“I think it is very clear that the war that has been staged against drug trafficking in the last 40 years has not had the fruits that we expected. I think that’s the case in the area where it’s produced, in the areas where it’s transported, as is the case with Guatemala and Central America, and in the area where it’s consumed, which is mostly in the United States.”

You’ve talked about legalizing drugs — can you explain?

“It could be a partial de-criminalization, or a complete de-criminalization that would go across the whole chain of production, transit and consumption. But obviously, that implies a commitment of all the countries. ... Read More

Brazil’s leader wants more U.S. investment

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Washington – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called on the United States to invest more in the world’s sixth-biggest economy and told President Obama that monetary conditions in rich nations may be hurting growth in emerging markets.

Rousseff, meeting with Obama Monday at the White House, said she was concerned about “expansionist” monetary policies that “lead to a depreciation in the value of the currencies of developed countries, thus impairing growth” in countries such as Brazil.

Obama said trade and investment between the United States and Brazil is reaching “record levels.” He said the United States is opening two new consulates in Latin America’s biggest economy and has “drastically” cut down visa wait times for Brazilian visitors to the United States.

Brazil’s drive to develop offshore oil offers “tremendous opportunity” for expanding Brazil’s relationship with the United States, as does expanded sales of defense equipment and ship building, Rousseff said. Direct investments by Brazilian companies in ... Read More

Mexico’s ruling party candidate changes campaign strategy after public missteps

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Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — The candidate of Mexico’s ruling party retooled her presidential campaign on Monday, promising a more aggressive strategy to win undecided voters and adding new members to her campaign team following a series of missteps in the first week of the race.

Josefina Vazquez Mota, who is trailing Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in the polls ahead of the July 1 vote, blamed the campaign problems on divisions within her National Action Party that have been overcome with Monday’s “course correction.”

The 51-year-old’s campaign has been marred by poor logistics, late-starting events, a speaking gaffe and a dizzy spell that interrupted one of her speeches.

Vazquez Mota, who is seeking to become Mexico’s first female president, won her party’s nomination in a primary even though most analysts considered rival Ernesto Cordero, the former finance secretary, as the preferred choice of outgoing President Felipe Calderon and the party establishment.

“I ... Read More

Why Latin America is looking at legalizing cocaine

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The Star


What does celebrated Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa have in common with the president of Guatemala and the editors of The Economist magazine, not to mention a century-old U.S. toothache remedy?

Simple: legal cocaine.

The Peruvian is for it, as is Guatemalan leader Otto Perez, as well as a growing assembly of influential Latin Americans.

I think it is important for us to have other alternatives. … ” Perez told CNN en Español earlier this year. “We have to talk about decriminalization of the production, the transit and, of course, the consumption.”

As for The Economist, the venerable British publication has long advocated removing criminal sanctions from cocaine, arguing this is the only way to reduce the otherwise relentless toll of death, corruption and social disintegration the drug has engendered on account of being illegal.

On April 14 and 15, heads of state and government from across the Americas, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister ... Read More

Latin American countries pursue alternatives to U.S. drug war

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From the Washington Post


BOGOTA, Colombia — When President Obama arrives in Colombia for a hemispheric summit this weekend, he will hear Latin American leaders say that the U.S.-orchestrated war on drugs, which criminalizes drug use and employs military tactics to fight gangs, is failing and that sweeping changes need to be considered.

Latin American leaders say they have not developed an alternative model to the hard-line approach favored by successive American administrations since Richard Nixon was in office. But the Colombian government says a range of options — from decriminalizing possession of drugs to legalizing marijuana use to regulating markets — will be debated at the Summit of the Americas in the coastal city of Cartagena.

Faced with violence that has left 50,000 people dead in Mexico and created war zones in Central America, regional leaders have for months been openly discussing the shortcomings of the U.S. approach. But the summit marks the first ... Read More

The India of Latin America? The United States should improve relations with Brazil

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Article appeared in The Weekly Standard


In 2001, Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill famously coined the acronym “BRIC” to describe four of the world’s most populous countries—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—each of which boasted great economic potential. Since then, China has enjoyed breakneck GDP growth while making very little progress on economic or political reform, and Russia has devolved into a petro-autocracy dangerously reliant on global oil prices. As for Brazil and India, they have reaped consistent accolades for their commitment to democracy and economic stability.

The differences between Brazil (population: 195 million) and India (home to 1.2 billion) are too numerous to count, yet the countries also share certain broad similarities. Both are rising democracies with rapidly growing middle classes. Both have a history of promoting dialogue and cooperation with developing countries. Both have a foreign policy establishment that has traditionally been somewhat hostile to the United States. Both remain reluctant to speak out for ... Read More

Chavez Exit Won’t Mean Venezuela’s Problems Out the Door

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This week’s Summit of the Americas, which opens on Saturday in Cartagena, Colombia, may well be Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s last. Right now, though, there’s no guarantee that whoever, or whatever, succeeds Chavez will necessarily bring a change for the better.

Chavez, who faces elections in October, has just left Venezuela for another round of radiation therapy in Cuba to treat a mystery cancer first disclosed last June. It’s uncertain if he will be healthy enough to campaign, or how long he will live if he is re-elected.

His political opposition has united around Henrique Capriles Radonski, the 39-year-old governor of Miranda state who won a resounding primary victory in February. Capriles has pledged to continue many of Chavez’s pro-poor programs, while abandoning the economic policies and expropriations that have hurt economic growth. He also promises to rethink the unsavory associations with Cuba, Syria and Iran that have turned Venezuela into a benefactor of political oppression ... Read More

For Cuban Dissidents, an Open Phone Line

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Article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal


HAVANA—Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez became famous for sneaking into state-run Internet cafes to upload posts to her blog, which the Cuban government says is subversive. Part of that process is now a lot simpler: She uploads tweets from an iPhone at home.

Mobile phones, once banned from Cubans’ hands, are changing the face and pace of the Cuban dissident movement. They were made legal by President Raúl Castro in 2008, though at first, high costs made it difficult for most Cubans to make calls on the island, let alone send data internationally.

But in the past year, Cuba’s government has signed deals with several companies that allow foreigners to add minutes to prepaid Cuban cellphone accounts from abroad.

The measure was aimed at making it easier for outsiders to send money to the cash-strapped island. But contributions from foreign supporters also have been helping dissidents ramp up their flow of messages ... Read More

Costa Rican diplomat is latest Venezuela kidnap victim

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Article originally appeared in Reuters


Gunmen have kidnapped a Costa Rican diplomat and are holding him for ransom in the latest high-profile abduction to rock crime-plagued Venezuela during an election year, officials said on Monday.

The diplomatic community in the South American nation has been targeted in several attacks in recent months, underlining rampant insecurity that mostly affects Venezuelans and which voters say is their biggest concern as President Hugo Chavez campaigns for a new six-year term.

Guillermo Cholele, a trade attaché at the Costa Rican Embassy in Caracas, was seized on Sunday night as he returned to his home in La Urbina, a middle-class neighborhood in the eastern part of the capital.

“A telephone call to the diplomat’s home mentioned a ransom request and added that he was in a good state of health,” Costa Rica’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Private TV station Globovision said that, in connection with the kidnapping, security ... Read More

Trial of prominent drug trafficking suspect starts in Venezuela

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Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — The trial of alleged drug lord Walid Makled began Monday in Venezuela, where he is accused of money laundering, drug smuggling and murder.

Journalists were not permitted inside the courtroom, but Rafael Ojeda, an attorney representing Makled, said his client was present along with eight other suspects when deliberations began.

Makled was captured in Colombia in 2010 and extradited to Venezuela last year. While under arrest in Colombia, he caused a stir when he told a television channel that he made monthly million dollar payments to a group of more than 40 military officers in Venezuela.

President Hugo Chavez has dismissed Makled’s allegations involving purported ties to his government and the military as false.

Both Venezuela and the United States had requested Makled’s extradition. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos decided to turn him over to Venezuela, saying Caracas made its request first.

Makled is accused in the killings of Venezuelan journalist Orel ... Read More