Thursday, November 6, 2008

Barack Obama's victory as seen from Latin America

Praise and congratulations emanated from Latin America, in response to the historic victory of President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday. Many Latin American presidents called for a new era of relations between their country and the United States, however, others expressed doubt as to whether relations will actually change. Editorial boards across the region also provided their interpretation of Obama's win, pointing to both the historic nature of the elections, with Barack Obama being the first African-American in the White House, and the significant challenges that lie ahead, despite the strong popular support for change.

Below you will find quotes from various Latin American presidents' official communications to the United States' new President-elect, as well as links to and excerpts from editorials from many of Latin America's top newspapers.

Latin American presidents' remarks:

Colombia: President Álvaro Uribe

"We have to continue working and looking for support in order to maintain a policy of coordination with the government of the United States against narcotrafficking, terrorism, and the strengthening democratic institutions."

Ecuador: President Rafael Correa

"I think that foreign policy is going to be more reasonable, more humane, less imperialist. I think that (there will be) more attention on Latin America, but I do not believe that there will be changes."

"I dream about the day that Latin America, really does not have to worry about who becomes the president of the United States, because it will be sovereign and autonomous enough to walk on its own two feet."

Correa also stressed the fact that for the first time "a black man will be the president of the United States. It is important that a minority leads the most powerful country in the world."

Bolivia: President Evo Morales

"Mr. Barack Obama has made history, his victory is historic and, in the name of the National Government, congratulations."

"Weeks ago, I said that, regardless of which candidate became president, we would work to improve relations with the United States, but even better with Obama, who is a person who represents the most marginalized sectors."

Chile: President Michelle Bachelet

"I know that we will continue working together to strengthen even further the relations between our countries and take advantage of not only economic opportunities, but also of the training, technology exchange and cultural development that we have."

"This triumph brings us to an historic moment. Because today, when the world is confronted with a serious range of difficulties affecting peoples' lives, such as the energy crisis, the economic crisis, and the food crisis, the international community obviously requires new solutions and a special preoccupation for the less protected populations. I am certain that Barack Obama is an expression of the dreams of an entire nation for a better future, full of hope."

Peru: President Alan Garcia

"We have followed this presidential campaign with interest and admiration, as it has shown the vigor of democracy in the United States and the majority of the U.S population has supported your message of change and hope. We are sure that your leadership and political convictions will be decisive so that the international community will find a responsible and equitable way out of the crisis that is affecting world finances and economy.

We are equally assured that during your term our bilateral relation will continue to strengthen. The vigorous entrance into the Free Trade Agreement, which you supported and used as an example during your campaign, will serve to energize business and investment, and will stimulate exchange and cooperation in the other fields Peru needs for its development and those fields over which the United States has global leadership."

Venezuela: President Hugo Chávez

"The historic election of an African-American to the head of the most powerful nation in the world is a symptom of the changing times that have been brewing from the south of America, which is now knocking on the door of the United States. From Simon Bolivar's homeland, we are convinced that the time has come to establish new relations between our countries and with our region, within the basis of principles of respect for sovereignty, equality, and true cooperation.

From all of the corners of the planet, a clamor is arising that demands a change in international relations and the construction, as the liberator Simon Bolivar said, of an equal, peaceful, and coexisting world.

The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela confirms its will and its determination to build, over a base of absolute respect of sovereignty, a constructive bilateral agenda for the well-being of the Venezuelan and U.S. citizenry."

Mexico: President Felipe Calderón

Text from an official press release:
"The President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, sent a letter today, in the name of the pueblo and the Government of Mexico, to Senator Barack Obama, congratulating him for his victory in the United States' presidential elections.

In the letter, President Calderón reiterated the Government of Mexico's commitment to strengthening and deepening bilateral relations and working toward the construction of a better future for the region. He confided that the relation between both countries will begin a new phase of progress based on shared responsibility, a frank and respectful dialogue, and mutual trust."

Honduras: President Manuel Zelaya

"Barack Obama's victory is one for the entire world, and is for everyone, who in any moment of their lives, have fought for momentous changes through social organization, for civil rights, human rights, to combat inequality. It deserves sincere congratulations to the American population, to the president-elect, and to those who chivalrously accepted defeat."

Editorial Boards

Bolivia:
La Razón: Estados Unidos, hacia “el cambio” (The United States made "the change")

"There are 'changing times in Washington,' [Bush] recognized; but immediately, he signaled that 'the world is going to continue being the same' with Obama. The change, it appears, is passing to the other side in the United States. And Bolivia, as the rest of the countries in the region, will have to understand it like that."

Los Tiempos: El triunfo de Barack Obama (Barack Obama's triumph)

"However, what awaits Obama is not anything easy. Many prejudices about his ability to lead were refuted by facts, yet there still remain other relative tests to his true aptitude and decisions to confront with conviction the necessary and monumental challenges such as terrorism and the economic debacle. If it is like this or not, the judgement of history will tell. Until then, what is certain is that the United States population and its democracy gave an admirable show of strength. And that already is, by itself, an extraordinary motive for the United States to revitalize its faith in the future."

Colombia:
El Tiempo: Revolución Obama (Obama revolution)

"In the case of Latin America, and in Colombia in particular, it is too early to speculate about the immediate changes that will be in the bilateral agenda. Regardless, the democratic majority now in power favors adding conditions to military aid packages, trade exchanges, and the fight against drugs in exchange for improvements in human rights. For our country, the arrival of the new Obama administration could become a unique opportunity to spell out new points in the bilateral agenda."

Ecuador:
El Comercio: Ganar era previsible, gobernar será titánico (Winning was foreseeable, governing will be titanic)

"The agenda of the United States' new President is one of the most difficult tests in the history of the country. It will require an enormous and historic serenity; from an extraordinary team of advisors and, if it is believed, blessings from the divine."

Peru:
El Comercio: Estados Unidos: histórica elección y grandes retos (United States: historic election and great challenges)

"In regard to Latin America, one hopes for improved relations, that will not be limited to a revised migration policy, but instead in more concrete links and on a longer time scale. In regard to Peru, it has only been mentioned as an example FTA that could be better considered by our government."

La República: Obama y A. Latina (Obama and Latin America)

"Although there were few references to Latin America during the presidential campaign, . . . there were two concrete points that can be cited in favor of the president-elect. The first was his t.v. spot in relatively correct Spanish, addressed to the hispanic electorate, that, according to the results, he ended up conquering.

The second, that was brought about during his debates with McCain, was in reference to Peru. The senator from Illinois presented himself as favorable to the FTA signed between the USA and our country, to which he practically qualified as exemplar and said that it could count on his support."

Venezuela:
El Nacional: Obama y nosotros (Obama and us)

"When Venezuelans think about these campaigns in other countries and we compare them to their elections to elect governors and mayors, it makes them want to cry. Destruction is the war cry of the President against his adversaries. In the United States, the competition has other characteristics. It was between parties and between candidates; here it is between the all-powerful and corrupt government and simple citizens."

Mexico:
La Jornada: Histórico (Historic)

"It is not sensible, ultimately, to hold expectations of a radical change in the power of the United States as a result of the arrival of Barack Obama to the White House. But, it would be unfair to deny the marked and positive political and human differences between the victor at the polls yesterday and the man who in eight years has carried the power of the United States to its worse moral and economic abyss."

Argentina:
Clarín: Una elección por el cambio, en Estados Unidos (An election for change, in the United States)

"The triumph of Barack Obama was the consequence of a profound political mobilization. The Americans voted for a change in national and international policies and the election has an enormous significance for the northern country and for the rest of the world, in that which respects the national administration, international relations and the culture of social relations, because it will contribute to a more inclusive and tolerant society."

Chile:
El Mercurio: Triunfo de Obama (Obama's triumph)

"Obama represents a distinct way of taking on international themes, in tune with the ruthless criticism that the Democratic Party made to Bush in his eight years."

Guatemala:
Prensa Libre: Respecto de una victoria anunciada (Respect of an announced victory)

"This election became a symbol of hope to achieve changes and to establish the now lost unity of the purposes of this country."

Costa Rica:
Nación: Presidente de la esperanza (President of hope)

"The exemplar triumph of Barack Obama reflects the best of the United States. Governing will be the biggest challenge, but he has solid conditions to assume it."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What have McCain and Obama said about Latin America?

Less than one week remains before election day, and the end of what has felt like the longest-ever presidential campaign season. While Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain have tried to show America what a McCain or Obama Administration would look like, talk of how they will work with Latin America has been few and far between. Below, we have compiled links to speeches, press releases, policy statements, and some interviews that will give you a better idea as to what each candidate has been saying about U.S. policy toward and relationship with Latin America.

Obama

A New Partnership for the Americas: Fact Sheet on Latin America (PDF)

On Latin America & the Caribbean

At TC Williams High School - Alexandria, VA - Feb 10, 2008

Statement of Senator Barack Obama on Fidel Castro Stepping Down - Feb 19, 2008

Obama Statement on Recent Events near Colombia's Borders - March 3, 2008

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Renewing U.S. Leadership in the Americas - Miami Florida - May 23, 2008

Interview with Barack Obama - ABC News - Jake Tapper

Obama Talks Latin America -- and Spain -- on Miami Radio - Sept 22, 2008

Debate Reality Check: Obama's Position on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement - October 15, 2008

McCain

Full text of the McCain interview - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - January 23, 2007

McCain Statement on Castro Resignation

Statement by John McCain on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement - April 11

Remarks by John McCain on Cuban Independence Day - May 20, 2008

John McCain 2008 Launches New Spanish Radio Ad, "Cuba Prisoners" - June 10, 2008

John McCain 2008 Launches New Web Ad: "Colombia Free Trade" July 1, 2008

Statement by John McCain on Today's Hostage Rescue in Colombia - July 2, 2008

ICYMI: John McCain On "Good Morning America" From Columbia (their typo) - July 2, 2008

Statement by John McCain on Venezuela - Sept 12, 2008

[Audio] interview with Union Radio - September 18, 2008

Remarks By John McCain In Miami, FL - October 17, 2008

Dialogue between both candidates at the final presidential debate on October 15: (see full transcript and video of this debate here)

MCCAIN: But let me give you another example of a free trade agreement that Senator Obama opposes. Right now, because of previous agreements, some made by President Clinton, the goods and products that we send to Colombia, which is our largest agricultural importer of our products, is -- there's a billion dollars that we -- our businesses have paid so far in order to get our goods in there.

Because of previous agreements, their goods and products come into our country for free. So Senator Obama, who has never traveled south of our border, opposes the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The same country that's helping us try to stop the flow of drugs into our country that's killing young Americans.

And also the country that just freed three Americans that will help us create jobs in America because they will be a market for our goods and products without having to pay -- without us having to pay the billions of dollars -- the billion dollars and more that we've already paid.

Free trade with Colombia is something that's a no-brainer. But maybe you ought to travel down there and visit them and maybe you could understand it a lot better.

OBAMA: Let me respond. Actually, I understand it pretty well. The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis and there have not been prosecutions.

And what I have said, because the free trade -- the trade agreement itself does have labor and environmental protections, but we have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn't being perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organize for their rights, which is why, for example, I supported the Peruvian Free Trade Agreement which was a well-structured agreement.

But I think that the important point is we've got to have a president who understands the benefits of free trade but also is going to enforce unfair trade agreements and is going to stand up to other countries....

MCCAIN: Well, let me just said that that this is -- he -- Senator Obama doesn't want a free trade agreement with our best ally in the region but wants to sit down across the table without precondition to -- with Hugo Chavez, the guy who has been helping FARC, the terrorist organization.

Free trade between ourselves and Colombia, I just recited to you the benefits of concluding that agreement, a billion dollars of American dollars that could have gone to creating jobs and businesses in the United States, opening up those markets.

...

MCCAIN: I have fought against -- well, one of them would be the marketing assistance program. Another one would be a number of subsidies for ethanol.

I oppose subsidies for ethanol because I thought it distorted the market and created inflation; Senator Obama supported those subsidies.

I would eliminate the tariff on imported sugarcane-based ethanol from Brazil.

Monday, October 6, 2008

President Bush suspends Bolivia's trade preferences under ATPDEA

Last week, both the House and Senate voted to extend the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) for Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. (ATPDEA is a trade preference system by which these four countries are granted duty-free access to a wide range of exports, with the goal of promoting economic development and providing alternatives to the production of cocaine.) While the House version granted a one-year extension to all four countries, the version of the bill passed by the Senate granted a one-year extension to Colombia and Peru and a six-month extension to Ecuador and Bolivia. A final, reconciled bill awaits approval.

For Bolivia, however, the outcome of Congress' decision on the matter may not make a difference.

On Friday, September 26, President Bush enacted his presidential powers as outlined under the terms of the law, requesting that Bolivia's designation as a beneficiary country under ATPDEA be suspended. Under the terms of the agreement, the President may withdraw or suspend the designation of a country as a beneficiary country if the country is not satisfying the eligibility criteria. According to the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the White House's decision is based on the designation of Bolivia, on September 15, 2008, as a country that has failed demonstrably to cooperate with counternarcotics efforts. As outlined in a USTR press release,

the recent expulsion of U.S. Agency for International Development personnel and the removal of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials from the main areas of Bolivia's illegal coca production, a marked increase in cocaine production, the government's failure to close illegal coca markets, and publicly stated policies that increase government-sanctioned coca cultivation, have placed in doubt the Bolivian government's commitment to cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking.

President Bush's decision has received criticism from OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, who said that the suspension of trade preferences by the United States "will gravely harm many small Bolivian industries that survive on exportations of their products to the United States, and could leave more than 50,000 Bolivian workers without jobs." Other sources, such as Bolivia's La Razón and Los Tiempos, cite a loss of anywhere between 5,000 - 80,000 jobs.

According to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, the United States "regret[s] that the proposed suspension that is prompted by the Bolivian government's actions could affect hard-working Bolivians.... Once imposed, the suspension could be lifted as soon as the Bolivian government improves its performance under the ATPA and ATPDEA criteria" (i.e. proves that it is cooperating with the United States' counternarcotics efforts). However, Bolivian President Evo Morales has said that "dignity is more important and we cannot give in or back down," giving the impression that Bolivia's counternarcotics efforts will not change to fall in line with the policies of the United States, despite warnings by the Bolivian Institute of International Trade (IBCE) that this could be "terrible . . . for the manufacturing sector."

Not only could President Bush's decision to suspend trade preferences with Bolivia lead to the unemployment of 2% of the country's total workforce, but it is also unknown if it will lead to a change in the way Bolivia conducts its counternarcotics strategy. As outlined on this blog before, Bolivia's counternarcotics results have not differed much from that of two governments friendly to the United States, Peru and Colombia, and the U.S. decision to "decertify" Bolivia came at a time of worsening diplomatic relations between Bolivia and the United States.

In accordance with the ATPDEA agreement, a public hearing must be held on the proposed action to suspend trade preferences to Bolivia, which will take place on October 23rd. However, as it looks right now, Bolivia will be removed from the list of ATPDEA designated countries at least through the end of the Bush administration in January 2009.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

United States: Bolivia does not cooperate with the drug war

Last week, we speculated about whether Bolivia would be placed on the United States' list of countries who have "failed demonstrably" to cooperate with U.S. anti-narcotics policy and the implications this might have, especially when comparing coca production and eradication and seizure levels of Bolivia with those of Peru and Colombia - top U.S. allies in the region. This week, the White House issued the "Majors List" of narcotics source and transfer countries for 2008, and Bolivia had been added to the "non-cooperating" list, which last year only included Venezuela and Burma.

Below are two charts that lay out both coca cultivation and cocaine production levels in Bolivia since 1994. The U.N data used to create these charts show a 5% increase in coca cultivation and an increase in cocaine production from 94 to 104 tons in 2007. These numbers differ from those cited by Assistant Secretary of State David Johnson at a press conference this week, held upon the release of the 2008 list. In criticizing Bolivian President Evo Morales' drug policies, Assistant Secretary Johnson said "The expansion of cultivation and lack of controls on coca leaf resulted in a 14% increase in the area of coca under cultivation, and an increase in potential cocaine production from 115 to 120 metric tons." Regardless, while these numbers do show a rise in the amount of coca and cocaine in Bolivia, the increases are not outstanding, especially in comparison to Colombia and Peru's cultivation and production numbers.

The addition of Bolivia to the "non-cooperating" list, however, comes at a time of tense relations between the governments of the United States and Bolivia. Just last week, Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador, claiming that he was conspiring with the opposition. The United States retaliated by expelling the Bolivian ambassador the next day.

At the press conference, Assistant Secretary Johnson noted that the addition of Bolivia to the list was not "a hasty decision" in retaliation for the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, but instead cited "the [drug] policies that they are pursuing, capped off by the expulsion, if you will, of the USAID program in Chapare [a coca-growing region in central Bolivia] for alternative development, as well as the assistance program provided by our Drug Enforcement Administration, made the conclusion rather clear."

Here is a timeline of the deterioration of U.S.-Bolivia relations since last fall.

August 2007: Bolivian Minister Juan Ramon Quintana accuses the United States of using USAID funds to finance opposition groups.

November 2007: The Bolivian government passes around a photograph of U.S. Ambassador Goldberg with John Jairo Venegas, a Colombian accused by Bolivia of being a member of the Colombian right-wing paramilitary squads.

October 2007: In reaction to a campaign supported by President Morales to relocate the UN headquarters, Ambassador Goldberg publicly announced that he wouldn't also be surprised if Evo Morales asked for Disney Land to be moved.

February 2008: U.S. embassy official Vincent Cooper was accused of asking an American student and Peace Corps volunteer to spy on Venezuelans and Cubans in Bolivia.

June 9, 2008: Thousands of Bolivian protesters marched on the U.S. Embassy to demand that Washington extradite a former Bolivian defense minister who directed a military crackdown on riots that killed at least 60 people in 2003.

The United States recalled Ambassador Goldberg in reaction to the protests.

June 26 2008: The Chapare coca growers unions announced that they will no longer sign new aid agreements with USAID, as a result of the repeated accusations against USAID made by President Morales.

In reaction, the United States removes USAID personnel from the Chapare region, while President Morales praises the coca growers for kicking out the U.S. agency.

August 2008: Due to frustration with the way the U.S. spends money to fight cocaine production in Bolivia, drug czar Felipe Caceres announces that the Bolivia government will "nationalize the war against drug trafficking." And adds that "we will still welcome cooperation in the future, but the Bolivian government will decide how that money will be spent."

September 11, 2008: President Morales again accuses Ambassador Goldberg of working with the opposition, and orders the U.S. Ambassador to leave Bolivia. In 'solidarity' with Bolivia, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez also orders the U.S. Ambassador to leave his country.

The United States reacts by expelling the Bolivian Ambassador.

September 16, 2008: The United States adds Bolivia to the list of countries who have "failed demonstrably" to cooperate with U.S. anti-narcotics policy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Violence in Mexico

Drug related violence in Mexico has killed over 2,700 people this year. Just this week, over 30 people have been found dead: 24 of whom were found in a mass grave, bound and shot execution style, and 7 of whom were killed yesterday when a grenade exploded at an Independence Day celebration in Michoacán.

While Mexican press is filled everyday with accounts of violence, kidnappings and murders, the U.S. press, which for multiple reasons should be closely following the increasing violence so near its borders, has only recently begun to report on the topic.

Last week, a Washington Post editorial sought to draw attention to this, comparing Mexico's violence and death toll to that of the war in Afghanistan:

More Mexican soldiers and police officers have died fighting the country's drug gangs in the past two years than the number of U.S. and NATO troops killed battling the Taliban. Civilian casualties have been just as numerous, and as gruesome: There have been scores of beheadings, massacres of entire families and assassinations of senior officials. By the official count, kidnappings in Mexico now average 65 a month, ranking it well ahead of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Post continues, claiming that the violence

gets relatively little attention here because Americans are only rarely among the casualties. But U.S. money and weapons are fueling this war. Billions of dollars from American drug users flow to the syndicates, along with thousands of weapons smuggled across the border.

Not only do we need to pay attention because of the role U.S. money and arms trafficking plays in the violence, but we should also be following this closely because of the $400 million in aid, known as the 'Merida Initiative,' destined for the Mexican government that Congress approved in June (here is a a breakdown of aid for the Merida Initiative from 2007). A large percentage of this money will arm and equip the Mexican military in its fight against narcotrafficking. Critics like the CIP Americas Program, Amnesty International, LAWG and WOLA have argued that strengthening Mexico's institutions, especially the police force and the judicial system, and addressing the military's human rights violations should be the top priorities for Mexico and any aid from the United States.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times published an article on Mexico's various police forces, citing that a reform has begun, but that there are still inherent problems that make the police a very corrupt institution trusted by few Mexicans.

The weaknesses of Mexican police are vast. Most officers have at most a grade school education. They often have to buy their own guns on wages equal to those of a supermarket cashier. Many times, the average cop has his hand out for a bribe, in part to pay off bosses for the privilege of a job he probably will not hold for more than a few years. Problems are worst at the local levels.

In a video that goes along with this article, the Mexican citizens interviewed all cited lack of education, low wages and corruption as the main problems that must be addressed within the police force before violence will diminish.

The corruption of the police force has translated into many state and local officers working with the drug cartels instead of fighting against them. Last week, the Mexican government confirmed that an active Mexican federal agent had been involved in a highly publicized kidnapping and murder of a 14 year old boy. And the L.A. Times highlighted a shoot off that occurred last week between federal police transporting seven drug suspects and police officers from the city of Torreón intent on freeing the arrestees. "In the trenches of the drug war, cops were fighting cops."

With 25,000 federal police and over 350,000 state and local officers, it will be difficult for Mexican President Felipe Calderón to overhaul the entire police system. However, until corruption can be rooted out of the local and state police forces, it may prove difficult for U.S. aid to have a significant impact on the increasingly violent drug war next door.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bolivia's Crisis

Protests and demonstrations in Bolivia grew increasingly violent this week. Opponents of President Evo Morales in the resource-rich eastern provinces are pressing harder with autonomy demands after a recent recall referendum ratified both Morales and regional governors who oppose him. The latest protests have resulted in numerous casualties and significant property damage.

President Morales’ reaction has included lashing out against the United States, including Tuesday’s expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, who had met with one of the opposition governors several days earlier. Venezuela followed suit by expelling its U.S. ambassador, and the U.S. government responded by sending home both countries’ ambassadors to Washington.

The week ended with dramatically worsened relations between Bolivia and the United States and increasing speculation about the possibility – still remote – that Bolivia’s political violence could come to resemble civil war.

Links for More Information:

Analysis of the Protests

Information on Casualties and Damages

Regional Responses to the Protests:

The European Union’s Response:

The Bolivian Response:

The Venezuelan Response:

The United States’ Response:

Potential Resolution or Dialogues:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

U.S. questions Venezuelan and Bolivian counter-narcotics strategies

Every year, the President is required by the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to submit to Congress an annual report identifying (a) major drug-producing or transit countries and (b) those countries not "cooperating" with U.S. counternarcotics measures and subject to sanctions. Using the "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report" published by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) every March, the "Majors List" is compiled each year and presented to the Secretary of State for consideration before being approved by the President and sent to Congress.

Of the twenty countries that made the "Majors List" last year, only Venezuela and Burma were found to have "failed demonstrably" to cooperate. While making it to the second "non-cooperating" list stipulates that a country not receive U.S. assistance under the foreign operations appropriations act, the President can reinstate assistance if the "provision of such assistance is vital to the U.S. interests." Last year, President Bush determined that while Venezuela "failed demonstrably" to cooperate, "support for programs to aid Venezuela's democratic institutions is vital to the national interests of the United States," and therefore assistance was not revoked.

This yearly process is going on right now and we should expect to see the list for 2009 sometime next week, which coincides with a recent increase in coverage of the United States' criticism of Venezuela's and Bolivia's drug policies. While Venezuela and Burma are most likely to make the "non-cooperating" list for 2009, Bolivia is a wild card.

Recent U.S. criticism of Venezuela:
According to Reuters, the United States accused Venezuela's government "of failing to fight back against drug gangs moving huge amounts of cocaine through the South American country." This criticism stems from the decline in drug seizures from 63 tons in 2005 to 35 tons in 2007 and what the United States has cited as being a "more than 16-fold increase in the amount of cocaine departing Venezuela by air since 2002." The dispute continued, with President Chavez threatening to kick the U.S. ambassador out of the country and dismissing White House drug czar John Walters' criticisms as 'stupid'. According to the an Associated Press article, Chavez insists "that Venezuela doesn't need U.S. help in fighting drug trafficking" and that Venezuelan Vice President Ramon Carrizalez said that "Venezuela is cooperating internationally - just not on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's terms."

Recent U.S criticism of Bolivia:
Under President Evo Morales, Bolivia has adopted a "zero cocaine, but no zero coca" policy, allowing for the cultivation of nearly 30,000 acres of coca for traditional uses, a policy which, according to Reuters, the United States has described as "permissive." However, the United States has started to critize Bolivia's drug policy as a result of a recent UN report on coca cultivation in the Andes region, which measures the cultivation in Bolivia increased by 5% in 2007 and covers 71,660 acres.

A recent article in El Espectador shows that despite the increase in drug-seizures in Bolivia from 18 tons in 2007 to 19.5 tons between January and August 2008, the U.S. government "considers that the increase in confiscations only is proportional to the increase in the production of coca" and the New York Times quoted a U.S. official saying "Let's put it this way: [Bolivia's] going in the wrong direction," in reference to Morales' drug policies.

While coca cultivation in Bolivia did increase in 2007, the UN report shows that coca cultivation also increased by 27% in Colombia and by 4% in Peru, two of the United States' main allies in the region, while confiscations increased 29% in Bolivia and decreased by 9% in Colombia and 30% in Peru. Bolivia remains far behind Colombia in increased coca cultivation and has improved its capacity to confiscate drugs in route, yet Bolivia is still being scolded by the United States.

Whether or not Bolivia makes it on the "failed demonstrably" to cooperate list, the recent U.S. criticism of President Morales' drug policies and belittling of Bolivia's increase in drug seizures so far in 2008 in light of the records of Peru and Colombia makes us wonder if all of this is just because Bolivia wants to pursue a different, yet effective, drug control approach, rather than do everything the United States asks?

You can read more of the recent coverage of the United States' criticism of both Venezuela's and Bolivia's drug policy here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

President Chávez warns the Fourth Fleet to steer clear of Venezuelan waters

On Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez warned the United States' Fourth Fleet to steer clear of Venezuelan waters.

The U.S. Navy officially reestablished the Fourth Fleet on June 12 of this year. According to a U.S. Southern Command press release, the Fourth Fleet will be headquartered in Mayport, Florida, and "will not involve an increase in forces assigned in Mayport, or result in any permanently assigned ships or aircraft." However, President Chávez has been speaking out against the arrival of the Fourth Fleet in Latin America and the Caribbean since the announcement of its reestablishment.

Below is a transcription and translation of the segment of President Chávez's television show, "Aló, Presidente," in which he discussed the Fourth Fleet and Venezuela's newly acquired Russian Sukhoi fighter jets:

The Fourth Fleet. The Fourth Fleet. Incidentally, the Commander of the Fourth Fleet recently said that they were coming to navigate the brown water - the brown water is the water of the rivers. The gringo fleets have various components: deep water fleets, or blue water; green water fleets - that is the coastal water; and the brown water fleets. Well, the Commander of the Fourth Fleet said that they were coming to navigate the brown water. Well, any gringo ship that sails into brown waters will turn brown, because it will sink to the bottom of the brown water. It will not pass through here, it will not pass through here, through here it will not pass. Don't be mistaken by us.

...

We are advancing, advancing in this political battle. In this battle for Venezuela against the imperialist threat. The Fourth Fleet. The necessity to strengthen our Armed Forces, to continue strengthening. We are strengthening and they know this, the military, from the highest command, to the middle command and the troops. Well, here's an example: the tank battalion that surrounds us. There are three basic principles for a soldier. Ambassador, you know them. And I, as a tank soldier, will never forget them. First, move, a tank battalion has to move a lot. If it does not move, it is dead. Second, to shoot - fire power, mobility, fire power. And third, communication. The extent of space ... requires permanent communication. Well, if for instance some of our tanks fired, if for instance some moved, they did not communicate. Now, you will see that in the Ayana Battalion, for example, we are repairing the radios and the cannons and updating the ammunition. They're for defensive purposes. We are not going to attack anyone.

We already have 24 Sukhoi aircraft. Yesterday, the Commander of the Air Force told me that we have completed the Sukhoi fleet. And now with our pilots and our crews and our missiles. We have already begun test firing the missiles ... and they go all the way to the Caribbean, from here. There is a very long arm now.

On the other hand, the F-16s go 15 kilometers, 14 kilometers. This is not very far. And there is a missile that is called 'shoot and forget about it.' It goes alone because it is a computer and the computer has a camera and it can see where it is going.

And now, during the last trip to Moscow, in addition to the oil and energy agreements that were made with the large Russian businesses, ... we have also signed a new military cooperation agreement and the missiles have already begun to arrive. I will show them to you later, I will show them to everyone. For one, I will show them to the the Fourth Fleet that wants to pass through here. AHA! Well, and how are they going to get through? How? With the ammunition? Where, where are they going to pass? How will they get through? They are not going to pass. They are not going to pass. So, forget about it.

I hope that the next government of the United States, I hope the next government of the United States understands that a revolution is happening in Latin America. Now, thank God and history that it will be a peaceful revolution. Peaceful. But not unarmed. Don't forget it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ecuador's Defense Minister, Gustavo Larrea, visits Washington

Yesterday, Ecuador's Minister of Internal and External Security, Gustavo Larrea, was in Washington to meet with various members of Congress, the media, and to speak at an event hosted by CSIS and the Inter-American Dialogue. It seems that Larrea's visit was timed such that he could promote Ecuador's new Constitution, approved by the constituent assembly yesterday and up for referendum vote in September, and to make clear that while Ecuador hopes to maintain bilateral relations with the United States, it also will uphold its sovereignty. You can listen to Larrea's presentation at the CSIS and Dialogue event (in Spanish) here.

Below are translations of excerpts from two media sources, The Associated Press and El Nuevo Empresario, covering Larrea's visit.

The Associated Press, "Ecuador wants the United States' help, but will deny it the base in Manta" by Nestor Ikeda

The Ecuadorian Minister of Internal and External Security said on Thursday that his country needs the cooperation of the United States in investments and to combat drugs, but it will continue with its plan to deny, at the start of next year, the United States' use of the Manta air base for its interdiction flights.

"United States would not accept another country's air base in its territory, we won't either," said Gustavo Larrea. "We are a nation and we are sovereign."

...

He indicated that he came to ask for U.S. help in the implementation of Plan Ecuador, for border development; the fight against narcotrafficking, the renewal of the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) that expires in December, and business investments, but "with total respect for our sovereignty."

...

According to Larrea, in the case of the U.S. exit from Manta, Ecuador was being stigmatized because the government was preparing the maritime port for operations of high quality Asian commercial ships.

"These improvements are part of multiplying our trade relations with the world's communities," he declared. "We make them with absolute pride and absolute sovereignty."

Larrea explained that Ecuador was working with the United States "in a transition" so that it can move its two interdiction aircrafts to another place and recalled that his country, despite having been recognized by the Department of State as a leader in the capture of drugs, was "the least favored in international cooperation," of only some three million dollars. [We have no idea how Larrea derives this figure, as our database shows the United States granting Ecuador an estimated $52.3 million this year.]

"I have not come to ask for a dollar more of cooperation," he affirmed. "I have come with dignity to say what we are doing and to say that a base (of the United States) is not acceptable in our territory because our country does not want it."

He explained that the U.S. exit was not the result of expulsion, but because in 2009 the 10 year contract that was signed by the two governments expires.

"This does not mean that we are not going to continue fighting against narcotrafficking," he said. "We will continue our efforts. But we need this airport (in Manta)."

According to Larrea, Ecuador will take on the work of interdiction of drugs, for which they have bought two unmanned planes and dozens of high velocity boats.

El Nuevo Empresario, "Gustavo Larrea, Minister of Internal and External Security completes a tight agenda in the United States"

At the House of Representatives, he [Larrea] met with Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel [D-New York], Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, with Republican Rep. Dan Burton [R-Indiana], minority head of the same subcommittee, and with Rep. Nita Lowey [D-New York], Chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations.

Minister Larrea made known to the representatives the process of change that the country faces in a democratic and peaceful environment, which is reflected in the elaboration of a new political constitution that will be put up for public consideration in September through a referendum.

At the same time, the minister referred to the specificities of Ecuador, a country that does not follow any foreign model and is independent from other Latin American models and that is living its own process of change; he referred to the friendly relations that exist between the two counties, expressed above all by the U.S. Embassy in Quito.

During the conference at CSIS, he referred to the role developed by the Ecuadorian Government in the fight against drug trafficking and the control and protection of the border with Colombia, where the country has put into practice "Plan Ecuador" as a policy of peaceful borders and community development in the provinces bordering Colombia."

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