I knew that drug smugglers were starting to use semi-submersible vessels but carry cocaine into North America, but it seems this is more than a freak occurrence. The Washington Post reports that more than a third of the Colombian cocaine smuggled into the United States now travels by submarine:
The subs are powered by ordinary diesel engines and built of simple fiberglass in clandestine shipyards in the Colombian jungle. U.S. officials expect 70 or more to be launched this year with a potential cargo capacity of 380 tons of cocaine, worth billions of dollars in the United States. ...
U.S. officials and their Colombian counterparts have detected evidence of more than 115 submersible voyages since 2006. They have apprehended the crews of more than 22 submersibles at sea since 2007. Six crews have been arrested this year. The Colombian navy has intercepted or discovered 33 subs since 1993.
ROLANDO AVILES/AFP/Getty Images
The Organization of American States welcomes Cuba back into the fold:
Foreign ministers of the Organization of American States have voted to lift the suspension of Cuba, apparently paving the way for it to rejoin.
Revolutionary Cuba was suspended from the Washington-based organisation in 1962 over its 'incompatible' adherence to Marxism-Leninism."
Though former Cuban leader Fidel Castro was said to be uninterested by the development, the lifting of the ban is another signal that relations are improving between the Caribbean state and its neighbors.
For those who're counting, the embargo is 47 years old.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
If you were worried that Hugo Chavez's global reach would shrink right along with the oil prices, there good news for your today, as Lebanon inaugurates the Hugo Chavez shawarma spot. The Venezuelan ambassador was on site for the "emotional" opening of the restaurant, replete with great festivity all around.
The restaurant, it seems, is quite patriotic indeed -- decorated with flags and pictures of the Venezuelan president and, nearby as the press release from the Embassy put it (my translation), "instructions of our head of state relating to the fight for the sovereignty of the oppressed people of the world against the pretensions of potential imperialists."
What atmosphere! Add the waiters' red shirts and hats, clothes traditional to Venezuela, and you've go the whole deal. Now, I just wonder how good the shawarma is.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had promised a four-day marathon edition of his widely watched weekly television talkshow, but unspecified technical problems threw the plans awry this weekend.
In a three-line statement, the information ministry said Sunday's "Alo Presidente" program had been canceled for technical reasons. Saturday's show was called off without explanation[...]
A member of the president's press team said they had waited on the show's set until late afternoon without learning why it had been pulled.
Ever the entertainer, though, Chávez made good use of his time on the air:
The leftist began Thursday, speaking for about eight hours in two installments and threatening to punish a critical private TV station.
He also chatted to teens about sex education, talked about problems with his weight and called his friend and mentor, Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro, "Our father who art in Havana."
The next day he challenged a group of right-wing intellectuals, including Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, to debate ideas on Saturday's show, but the broadcast never materialized.
At least he didn't mobilize the army on the air again.
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
Interesting analogy from the New America Foundation's Patrick Doherty, ahead of this week's Organization of American States summit:
The Palestine analogy is early, but we have three very good data points on which to base it. First, in December 2008 at a meeting of the Rio Group of Latin American heads of state, one of the only issues the summit was able to agree on was that the incoming Obama administration needs to end its embargo of Cuba.
Second, in Trinidad at the Summit of the Americas, while Cuba was not on the formal agenda, Cuba was the major topic of conversation both at the summit and in the media. As my colleauge Phil Peters points out, Trinidad was really a Cuba summit.
The third data point is this diplomatic full court press in the run up to the Honduras Ministerial of the Organization of American States, in which multiple sub-groupings of states have submitted a variety of proposals for repealing the act which expelled Cuba from the organization in 1962.
All three point to one clear message: the price of a new relationship with Latin America is ending the dysfunctional legacy of our old ones, in particular, the indiscriminate and disproportionate economic embargo the United States maintains on Cuba. That's pretty close to the formula that the Arab world has used for at least two decades with Palestine: don't think we are going to help you move your regional agenda forward until you help us out on getting a Palestinian peace deal done.
Also, in both cases, the Obama adminsitration has to contend with the reaction from domestic interest groups if it plans on a significant policy shift.
Hugo Chávez is looking to give Jerry Lewis a run for his money. For the 10th anniversary of his weekly show Alo Presidente, the Venezuelan president is planning a special four-day long episode:
It will be in chapters, like a soap opera," said Mr Chavez, a former paratrooper who often breaks out into song on air.
"There will be everything: songs, reviews," he said.
His programme normally runs on a Sunday, when typically he talks, sings, explains government policy and attacks his critics at home and abroad.
But the special edition will run between Thursday and Sunday.
The LA Times reports on an uptick in drug violence in Mexico and that Colombia's FARC rebels are increasingly operating on the Panamanian side of the border:
Over the last decade, the leftist insurgents have regularly spilled over into Panama, seeking rest and respite from pursuing Colombian armed forces. But rarely have they appeared as frequently or penetrated so deeply into Panamanian territory as in recent months, say residents and officials here in Darien province.
And guns aren't all they're bringing with them.
Panamanian and U.S. officials say it's no coincidence that drug-related violence has risen in tandem with the more frequent sightings of the guerrillas, whom the State Department labels drug traffickers and terrorists.
U.S. counter-narcotics officials believe that the FARC and other Colombian traffickers are shipping more drugs from Colombia overland across Panama to avoid tighter control of Pacific and Caribbean coastal waterways by the Panamanian and U.S. naval forces. ...
Whether it's because of the drug trade or more aggressive pursuit by Colombian troops, the increased presence of the FARC on Panama's side of the Darien rain forest is indisputable, several locals said.
That Alvaro Uribe's aggressive offensives against the FARC in Colombia have led to an uptick in rebel violence across the border in Panama (as well as Ecuador) sounds quite plausible. It's in some ways similar to how Chechnya's rebel violence spilled over into Dagestan and Igushetia after the Russian crackdown there. Or how the Taliban expanded its influence in Northwest Pakistan after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Or even the increase in drug violence in the southwestern United States since Felipe Calderon's crackdown on Mexican cartels.
It's certainly never safe to border a country in the midst of a violent insurgency, but in the short-term, aggresively fighting the insurgency can make life painful for the rest of a country's region. Something governments probably should keep in mind before demanding that their neighbors squeeze the balloon.
This seems too good to be true, but for what it's worth, Canadian defence reporter Dave Pugliese passes along a report that the planned sale of Russian nuclear submarines to Venezuela was scuppered after Hugo Chavez's bodyguards mixed it up with some Russian sailors:
...the KILOs (the subs) destined for Vietnam were originally to be purchased by Venezuela but that deal collapsed after a fistfight on board the Russian cruiser “Peter the Great” when it and other warships were visiting Venezuela.
Venezuela’s leader Chavez was in the process of visiting the Russian flotilla but his bodyguards were prevented from boarding. A fistfight then broke out between the Russian sailors and the bodyguards. The nose of one Russian was broken.
That ended the sub purchase.
Robert Farley notes that the deal is indeed off, and it's certainly not out of the question that the fight took place. But it's likely that the bigger reason Chavez balked at the deal is that his government is low on oil money these days.
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
Days before his murder, Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg recorded this video predicting that he would soon be killed and that the Guatemala's President Alvaro Colom would be responsible:
Rosenberg was shot and killed while riding his bicycle on Sunday. He had been representing a financial expert named Khalil Musa who was himself murdered along with his daughter after accusing a state-owned bank of corruption. Rosenberg had publicly accused the government of conspiring the kill Musa. The video quickly went viral after Rosenberg's death, sparking anti-government demonstrations with thousands of angy protesters demanding Colom's resignation and calling for an international investigation.
Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin has been following the tech angle on all of this including today's arrest of an IT worker for "inciting financial panic" by suggesting on Twitter that Guatemalans remove their money from the accused bank. Guatemalan Twitter users are responding by retweeting his post en masse.
Update: Great rundown of the situation so far from Ethan Zuckerman.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox is the latest Latin American leader to advocate the legalization of marijuana (or at least open the debate) in an interview with CNN's Jim Clancy, comparing Mexico's current war on drugs to prohibition in the United States during the 1920s:
His predecessor Ernesto Zedillo, along with former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria and former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso also recently advocated decriminalization.
This has to qualify as the most dangerously stupid swine-flu overreaction yet:
Haitian officials rejected a Mexican aid ship carrying 77 tons of much-needed food aid because of ''unfounded'' swine flu fears, Mexico's ambassador said Wednesday.
The Mexican navy ship El Huasteco was to arrive May 2 in Port-au-Prince carrying rice, fertilizer and emergency food kits to help the impoverished country respond to chronic hunger and devastating tropical storms.
But Mexican Ambassador Zadalinda Gonzalez y Reynero said Haitian officials told her April 29 they would not accept the ship, which was still in Mexican waters near the Yucatan peninsula at the time.
''The crew was in perfect health and there was no risk at all,'' Gonzalez y Reynero told The Associated Press, adding that the cargo and 64 sailors aboard the ship had all been screened in Mexico.
24 percent of children in Haiti suffer from chronic undernutrition. Glad the country has its priorities in order.
Agim Ceku, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army who was attending a conference on demobilizing guerilla movments in Colombia, has been expelled from the country after he was placed on an Interpol "red list" at the request of Serbia:
The director of Colombia's DAS security agency, Felipe Munoz, told the AP that Serbia sought the expulsion after Ceku's arrival for the conference, which was organized by President Alvaro Uribe's peace commissioner and attended by Uribe himself as well as by Guatemala's president, Alvaro Colom.
The Interpol-issued notices alert member nations that a person is wanted for possible extradition but does not force them to arrest or expel the individual. Munoz said Colombian law compelled the Ceku expulsion.
During the 1998-99 Kosovo war Ceku was the military head of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army.
Ceku says Serbia wanted him expelled because he was the "hero of the conference" and getting too much attention.
This comes two weeks after Interpol redlisted Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales who has sought refuge in Peru after being charged with corruption by Hugo Chávez's government.
To my mind, these two cases raise the question of whether Interpol is allowing itself to be used by governments to crack down on political opponents. Interpol's constitution states:
It is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.
I don't know enough about Ceku or Rosales to form an opinion on their guilt or innocence, but I think it's fairly indisputable that both indictments at least have a "political character." With Chávez requesting that a second political opponent be redlisted, it might be time for the organization to review its procedures.
Tyler Cowen looks for a silver lining for Mexico in the swine flu:
Once the national government discovered what is going on, they acted decisively and without undue panic. There has been very little denial, a common feature in the early stages of health crises (how long was it until the U.S. government acknowledged AIDS?). No one is treating the Mexican federal government like a banana republic or a basket case or thinking that the Canadian government would have done so much better.
Am I wrong? Could this episode in the longer run bring Mexico closer to the community of developed nations? Might Mexicans now be more likely to self-identify with a government that is at least partially competent?
Most Mexicans seem to agree. Over 70 percent give Felipe Calderon's government high marks for its handling of the crisis.
Thanks to Mexico's raging drug violence, there's been a growing meme in the U.S. media -- including this magazine -- that the country was teetering on the brink of anarchy. The Obama administration even chose an expert on state failure as its ambassador to the country. The Calderon administration's decisive response to swine flu at least complicates this notion.
Compare, for instance, Mexico's fast and seemingly effective handling of swine flu to China's disastrous initial denial of the 2003 SARS outbreak and ask which one looks more like a failed state.
Mexico's problems haven't gone away. This is still a country where 11,000 public servants have been sanctioned for corruption in the last three years and more people have been killed in drug violence than all the U.S. troops killed in Iraq. There are also new fears that Calderon will use the flu crisis to consolidate power.
However, I think it's safe to say that more than a few governments around the world would have collapsed or reverted to dictatorship given the horrendous few months that Mexico has had on the economic, crime, and public health fronts. Mexico, on the other hand, is gearing up for what promises to be a lively and close-fought midterm election.
It shouldn't be shocking that stable and functioning states can sometimes respond to crises in ways that seem hopelessly inept (Just ask anyone in New Orleans) or that weak and corrupt ones can provide some public services quite well. Where Mexico falls on this spectrum is certainly open for debate, but the fundamental strength of the country's political institutions are stronger than they're often given credit for.
ALFREDO GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images
The Washington Post mothership has put up a very interesting piece from CFR's Julia Sweig scheduled for this Sunday's Outlook section which proposes a novel idea for breaking the U.S. stalemate with Cuba, giving them back Guantanamo Bay:
Whatever Guantanamo's minor strategic value to the United States for processing refugees or as a counter-narcotics outpost, the costs of staying permanently -- with the stain of the prisons, the base's imperial legacy and the animosity of the host government -- outweigh the benefits.
The time to begin this transition is now. By transforming Guantanamo as part of a broader remaking of Washington's relationship with Cuba, the Obama administration can begin fixing what the president himself has decried as a "failed" policy. It can upend a U.S.-Cuban stalemate that has barely budged for 50 years and can put to the test Raul Castro's stated willingness to entertain meaningful changes.
Returning Guantanamo Bay to full Cuban sovereignty and control is a win for the United States: Aside from the boon to America's credibility with the Cuban people and throughout Latin America, these first steps would probe the Cuban government's apparent disposition to use the base as a point of contact with the United States -- and gauge the regime's willingness to move the ball forward even more.
"As a president, I say the U.S. should go. As a military man, I say let them stay," Raul Castro quipped last year. It's hard to know exactly what he means. Floating these proposals would be a good way to find out.
I don't completely understand Sweig's desire to "test" or "guage" Raul Castro's intentions. The Obama administration's recent moves to lift some restrictions on Cuba could be viewed as a test as well, and Raul Castro has dismissed them as minimal and indicated no intention of reciprocating with political reforms. Following up minor concessions on travel and money transfers with something as big as closing Guantanamo would be a bit like handing a teenager the keys to a Porsche after he crashes the family station wagon.
The best case for engagement with Cuba is not that it will turn the island into a democarcy (it most likely won't) it's that after five decades we can fairly safely say that not engaging them isn't accomplishing a whole lot. Likewise, if, as Sweig argues, the U.S. presence in Guantanamo has outlived its strategic usefulness and serves only as a diplomatic and public relations liability, that alone seems reason enough to close it.
In any event, I'd be interested to see the military's case for why the base remains necessary.
Brennan Linsley-Pool/Getty Images
State-owned Venezuelan oil company Citgo finalized a deal yesterday to donate an island it owns in the Delaware river back to the state of New Jersey. Citgo built refineries on Petty Island decades ago but the facilities are no longer in use and the island has become a sanctuary for eagles and waterfowl. New Jersey plans to create a nature sanctuary on the island.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez trumpted the deal at last weekend's Summit of the Americas. According the Newark Star Ledger the involvement of Chavez spooked New Jersey governor Jon Corzine who decided not to attend the handover ceremony:
A ranking Corzine administration official, however, said the governor's office feared Chavez was planning to issue a video statement complimenting Corzine, which would prove potentially sticky for the Democrat during his re-election bid this year. The official said the concern was that Republicans would use a Chavez statement to paint Corzine as a "socialist."
You know things have gotten bad when the former CEO of Goldman Sachs is afraid of being called a socialist.
Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has been hit with three paternity claims in the past two weeks. As if that weren't embarassing enough, he allegedly fathered the children while he was a catholic bishop:
The president, 57 and single, has admitted fathering one of the children and has not denied the other two paternity claims. There are rumours of yet more revelations in the pipeline.
The scandal has undermined Lugo's image as a moral force for change who would clean up Paraguay's corrupt and stagnant politics. The charismatic former cleric, known as the "bishop of the poor", was elected last year and joined the region's "pink tide" of leftist rulers.
Lugo has cancelled a trip to Washington this week to deal with the allegations.
Interestingly, there's a debate as to whether the scandal will help or hurt Lugo in the long run. His poll numbers have taken a hit but ultimately, "Lugo has given proof of his virility and that is an inherent attribute that a part of the population expects from its leader," according to one analyst.
Comedian Stephen Colbert likes to brag about his ability to boost the book sales and political careers of his guests -- the scientifically-proven Colbert bump -- but he's got nothing on Hugo Chávez.
After the Venezuelan president gave a copy of the book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent to Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas, the book's sales have skyrocketed:
In just hours, the book, by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, rocketed to bestseller status on online book store Amazon.com.
The English version was at No. 11 on the site's list of top sellers Saturday night. On Friday, it had been No. 60,280.
The book topped Amazon's "Movers and Shakers" list on Saturday -- with a reported 466,378-percent increase in popularity on the site.
Back in 2006, Chávez pushed Noam Chomsky's "Hegemony or Survival" to the top of bestseller lists after praising it in an address to the United Nations.
Can it be long before authors are clamoring to appear on Alo Presidente?
Ladies and gentlemen, we have our photo op:
There are no plans for Mr. Chávez and Mr. Obama to meet privately, but White House officials said before the meeting that the two would participate in at least one small group leaders’ meeting, and that Mr. Obama would not spurn any outreach by Mr. Chávez, who frequently referred to Mr. Bush as “the devil.”Indeed, Mr. Obama made the first move, officials said, striding across the room to introduce himself to Mr. Chávez as the leaders were lining up to parade into the opening ceremony. As he extended his hand, the Venezuelan government reported, Mr. Chávez told Mr. Obama: “I greeted Bush with this hand eight years ago. I want to be your friend.”
... some spin here from White House advisor Jeffrey Davidow:
[T]here is a sizable population in Venezuela, probably the very,very vast majority of Venezuelans who have a more favorable attitude to President Obama than they have to him."
Asked if he was saying that President Obama is more popular in Venezuela than President Chavez, Davidow said, "yeah."
Davidow called Chavez's rush to promote images and a description of his offer of friendship to President Obama "a little confusing."
President Obama, Davidow said, "smiled and shook hands with every head of state in the reception, and of course the picture of him smiling and shaking hands with Chavez gets the news coverage. All I’d say is a smile and a handshake doesn’t mean that we have a deeply different relationship with Venezuela today. Venezuela kicked out our ambassador a few months ago. The relationship is a strained one. It has to be repaired. I think it’s up to Venezuela to take some steps. I would not ...read too much into the fact that the President, you know shook hands and was seen smiling because that’s what he did with 33 other presidents as well."
Thailand's efforts to extradite former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and charge him with corruption were made quite a bit harder last night, thanks to Nicaragua of all places:
The Nicaraguan government announced late Wednesday it had named Thaksin a "Nicaraguan ambassador on a special mission" to bring investment to the Central American country and issued him a passport in January.
The announcement came just hours after the Thai government said it had revoked Thaksin's personal passport, accusing him of stoking the unrest that paralyzed the Thai capital earlier this week.
If you're wondering what Nicaragua has to with any of this you're not alone. Thai authorities seem to have been taken off guard by this development as well. Thaksin has spent some time in Nicaragua since he was exiled so it's conceivable he simply payed for a passport, though he claims to be short on money since the Thai military seized his assets.
This isn't the first time in recent months that Nicaragua has stuck its nose into an international dispute that seemingly doesn't concern it at all. Last September it became the first (and so far only) country other than Russia to recognize the breakaway Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Granted it's only two examples, but it will be interesting to see if President Daniel Ortega continues to offer his country as a one-stop-shop for conferring (albeit dubious) legitimacy on international scofflaws.
Opening up diplomatic dialogue with Cuba is one thing, this is another:
“It was almost like listening to an old friend,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Il.) [after meeting with Fidel Castro], adding that he found Castro’s home to be modest and Castro’s wife to be particularly hospitable.
“In my household I told Castro he is known as the ultimate survivor,” Rush said.
For the most part, the Congressional Black Caucus's meeting with Castro seems to have been quite a lovefest. Fidel seems to have gotten a bit creative in his recollection of it, though:
In a statement following the meeting today, Castro said that the delegation had expressed to him that a segment of American society “continues to be racist,” and is at least partly to blame for the travel restrictions.
But the delegation this evening said those remarks were not expressed in the meeting.
“That did not happen,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), told reporters.
Without in any way condoning the embargo or the diplomatic isolation of Cuba, the CBC's visit seems to have been about the worst way to engage the regime -- almost a parody of the way Barack Obama's campaign pledges of reaching out to hostile regimes was characterized as appeasement by his opponents.
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
He started out as one of Peru's most unexpected, and most well-respected political leaders. But today, former President Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in jail for the killings and kidnappings that took place under his watch. The trial took place under close international watch -- the first such proceeding for a democratically elected leader. Many hope it will set a precedent for ending impunity for the powerful the world over.
What remains just as fascinating as the trial, however, is Fujimori's continued presence and legacy in Peru, where many remember histechnocratic leadership fondly (in 2002, Fujimori was more popular than the then president). Fujimori suppressed the Shining Path rebellion, undertook public works, and rehabilitated a broken economy even as he relied on shady characters to help enforce justice and keep the system in order. The former president's daughter Keiko, now a congresswoman, is seen as a possible presidential candidate.
64 percent of Peruvians believed that Fujimori was guilty -- certainly no way to lay down the law, but a good indicator of his waning brand name. Still, the "Fujimoristas" (yes, they even have a website) have hardly disappeared from Peru. And if they stay technocratic, without that whole death-squad part, they might even pick up a few votes in 2011.
ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images
The six-person U.S. congressional delegation visiting Cuba yesterday reported a productive first session of discussions on how to normalize the two countries' relations. That will be a long, long road, but the momentum is growing. Restrictions on travel and remittances are rumored to be on the policy chopping block soon. The delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus was not sent from President Obama -- though carrying the self stated goal to "listen and talk" -- they became the first lawmakers to speak with Cuban officials since the president took office.
Praising Richard Lugar's call to amend U.S.-Cuba policy:
those capable of serenely analyzing the events, as is the case of the senator from Indiana, use an irrefutable argument: The measures of the United States against Cuba, over almost half a century, are a total failure."
Calling for dialogue with the U.S.:
There is no need to emphasize what Cuba has always said: We do not fear dialogue with the United States. Nor do we need confrontation to exist, as some foolish people think. We exist precisely because we believe in our ideas and we have never feared dialogue with the adversary. That [discussion] is the only way to build friendships among people."
But remaining staunch on the Cuban revolution:
The Cuban revolution, which the embargo and the dirty war were not able to destroy, is based upon ethical and political principles; it is for this reason that it has been able to resist [attempts to destroy it]."
As I said, it's a long -- if increasingly well-lit -- road ahead.
No one is betting on the health of Argentina's economy these days. Ever since the country defaulted on its international debt in 2001, confidence that its economic situation could turn around has been extremely low. Indeed, in February, when the Argentine government requested permission to once again enter its bonds into U.S. capital markets, the Wall Street Journal suggested this response:
The SEC should instead insist that Argentine securities bear a warning like cigarette packages: 'This issuer has a record of misrepresentation, debt defaults and debt repudiation, and therefore may be dangerous to your financial health. Do not consume this issuer's bonds unless you have a platoon of lawyers and a Navy to back them up, and you're prepared to use both.'"
Why, then, would China use this week's Inter-American Development Bank meeting in Medillín to agree to a $10.24 billion currency swap with a country whose bonds could be worth next to nothing by the end of 2010? Two reasons seem apparent -- one is straightforward, the other is disturbing.
First, as Xinhua reports, the Argentines can essentially use the RMB as extra cash to pay for imports. But one might note that, since the Yuan is not a convertible currency, the money can only be used to purchase goods from -- you guessed it -- China, potentially giving a boost the Dragon's ailing export sector.
The other reason for the swap seems more strategic, especially in conjunction with other currency trades that China has very quietly signed with Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Belarus, and Indonesia over the past three months. As the Financial Times puts it:
Economists...see Beijing's currency swap deals as pieces in a jigsaw designed to promote wider international use of the renminbi, starting with making it more acceptable for trade and aiming at establishing it as a reserve currency in Asia, something that would also enhance China's political clout."
Combine these actions with China's recent call to replace the U.S. dollar as the international reserve unit, and it starts to look like this currency swap has nothing at all to do with Argentina.
RAUL ARBOLEDA/Getty Images
“I would say that because of the decisions we took during the good times, we were able to save some money for the bad times. And I would say that today that policy is producing results.”
It's gonna be quite a G-20.
SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images
The New York Times reports, following the Mexican media, that Hillary Clinton's visit to Mexico is in danger of being upstaged by concerns over Obama's reported pick for ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual. Pascual, who is director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and former ambassador to Ukraine, has written extensively about failed states and ran the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization under the Bush administration:
That could raise hackles among some Mexicans, who take umbrage at recent assertions by American analysts that drug-related violence has so destabilized Mexico that it is danger of becoming a failed state.
Pascual's views on state failure are state laid out in this 2005 Foreign Affairs piece (subscribers only) co-written with Stephen Krasner:
In today's increasingly interconnected world, weak and failed states pose an acute risk to U.S. and global security. Indeed, they present one of the most important foreign policy challenges of the contemporary era. States are most vulnerable to collapse in the time immediately before, during, and after conflict. When chaos prevails, terrorism, narcotics trade, weapons proliferation, and other forms of organized crime can flourish. Left in dire straits, subject to depredation, and denied access to basic services, people become susceptible to the exhortations of demagogues and hatemongers.
Most of Pascual's work concerns post-conflict scenarios like Iraq and Afghanistan and doesn't quite apply to Mexico's current situation. I haven't been able to find anything he's written specifically on Mexico and he didn't mention drugs or Mexico as major concerns in his Brookings "memo to the President.
It'll be interesting to see if he shares the view, put forth by Niall Ferguson and Sam Quinones in the most recent issue of FP, that the Mexican state is in danger of being overwhelmed by a "criminal-capitalist insurgency." His appointment does seem to indicate that the Obama adminsitration is taking that possibility seriously.
Photo: Brookings Institution
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva says white people are to blame for the financial crisis, specifically blue-eyed ones:
“This crisis was caused by the irrational behaviour of white people with blue eyes, who before the crisis appeared to know everything and now demonstrate that they know nothing.”
“I do not know any black or indigenous bankers so I can only say [it is wrong] that this part of mankind which is victimised more than any other should pay for the crisis.”
Is this a joke? After denying the Dalai Lama a visa to attend an international peace summit in South Africa, the country today announced that it would award Fidel Castro its top honor, the Order of Companions of O. R. Tambo In Gold. Previous awardees include Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Okay, okay, I know that the Cuba's revolutionaries were tight with South Africa's anti-apartheid left back in the day. (both countries championed the non-aligned movement). But in 2009, isn't that day over yet?
Sigh. It's a moments like this when even the news wires get a little fiesty.
South Africa, which prides itself as a model of democracy and human rights, drew fire from opposition parties this week when it denied a visa to Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who was due to attend a peace conference."
A well respected South African journalist put it more bluntly:
Human Rights and democracy are no longer the cornerstones of our foreign policy. We prefer countries with entrenched, unelected, self-perpetuating leadership. Ignore the dull thud of rifle butts."
(Hat tip: Passport reader Eric Jon Magnuson)
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
Between NAFTA and the drug war, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have a lot to talk about on her visit to Mexico today, but she probably wasn't anticipating defending the U.S. conquest of a Mexican sidewalk. Some Mexico City politicians that security barriers set up around the U.S. embassy have effectively annexed an ajacent side street:
"It seems to me to be a lack of respect, and it is also a violation of national sovereignty," said city legislator Tomas Pliego of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, who pledged to force the Embassy obey a law against occupying public streets, parks and sidewalks.
Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, of the same party, also has taken up the cause of reopening Rio Danubio, a narrow one-way street off Paseo de la Reforma, the capital's main promenade modeled after the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
"The Embassy has not had, nor does it have, authorization to occupy public spaces," Ebrard told reporters. "They shouldn't be the ones who occupy the city with the aim of providing security."
SUSANA GONZALEZ/AFP/Getty Images
We know that Fidel Castro really loves baseball. We also know that he really hates losing. But even so, he seems to have taken Cuba's elimination by Japan from the World Baseball Classic pretty hard. First there was this self-flagellating column from last Friday, praising the "technical and scientific" advancement of Asian baseball and berating his own team's coaches:
I should point out that the team leadership in San Diego was abysmal. The old criteria of well-trodden paths prevailed against a capable adversary who is constantly innovating.
We must learn the relevant lessons.
In a weird psuedo-Maoist moment, Cuba's players were instructed to study the column and "systematically evaluate" Castro's writing upon their return to Havana.
Then in a column yesterday (written before Japan's eventual win) he declared that the results proved that the contest had been "organized by those who run the exploitation of sports in the United States" because Cuba had been placed in the same division as eventual finalists South Korea and Japan. (He actually kind of has a point about that.)
If anyone should be humiliated by how the WBC turned out, it's those overpaid capitalist stooges the Dominicans, not Cuba. As he did after the Olympics, Castro seems strangely focused on the negative but I guess that's just blogger Fidel doing his thing.
Speaking of blogger Fidel, this piece about Rahm Emanuel from February is kind of how I would imagine Gabriel Garcia Marquez would write after a 36-hour Robitussin binge.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Unsettling violence in Mexico over the past year and a half has understandably provoked the question: is Mexico becoming a failed state? In our current edition of Foreign Policy, Sam Quinones argues that -- with more deaths due to drug violence than all U.S. deaths in Iraq since 2003 -- Mexico's chaos is spiraling out of control.
While we bear responsibility for our problems, the caricature of Mexico being propagated in the United States only increases the despair on both sides of the Rio Grande. It is also profoundly hypocritical. America is the world's largest market for illegal narcotics. The United States is the source for the majority of the guns used in Mexico's drug cartel war, according to law enforcement officials on both sides of the border.
Back in October, Krauze told Foreign Policy much the same thing. While he worried about Mexico becoming a narco-state, he maintained that the government was in control:
There are many municipalities that are clearly under the rule of the drug traffickers, and that’s frightening because of course they kill the journalists and they corrupt everything. There is a danger [of Mexico becoming a narco state], but it’s still an embryo.
Read FP's the full interview with Krauze, as well as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Michael Sanders, here.
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