[Update: Last night, Venezuelan electoral authorities agreed to a partial audit of Sunday's vote, although not the full recount demanded by challenger Henrique Capriles.]
After an ill-advised overture to Hugo Chávez's government last November, the Obama administration has regained its footing with a strong, principled stance on Venezuela's contested election. Based on the razor-thin margin and opposition protests of irregularities, the administration has yet to recognize as the winner Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chávez's anointed successor, and has instead supported a review of the vote count.
In appearances before both the House and Senate in recent days, Secretary of State John Kerry re-affirmed that position "so that the people of Venezuela who participated in such a closely divided and important election can have the confidence that they have the legitimacy that is necessary in the government going forward."
He said, "I don't know whether it's going to happen. ... [But] obviously, if there are huge irregularities, we are going to have serious questions about the viability of that government."
Kerry's statements brought the predictable howls of protest from Venezuela. "It's obscene, the U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela," Mr. Maduro said. "Take your eyes off Venezuela, John Kerry! Get out of here! Enough interventionism!"
But no one should be intimidated by such false bravado.
Maduro is in a panic. He knows he cannot handle declining socio-economic conditions in the face of a reinvigorated opposition, dissension in his own ranks, and an engaged U.S. government standing firm on principle regarding the legitimacy of his election.
Of course, the administration will face a vociferous public campaign by chavista sympathizers pressuring it to accept Sunday's disputed result. Already, the feckless Organization of American States Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has backtracked from the organization's initial strong statement on behalf of a recount and now has accepted the result.
Recognition proponents will tell us the United States faces "isolation" in the region if the administration doesn't recognize Maduro (only Panama and Paraguay have joined the call for a recount) and that its supposed intransigence plays right into Maduro's hands, allowing him to whip up nationalist sentiment.
Nonsense. Those proposing such arguments fail to recognize that governments are pursuing interests. Certain countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and even Russia and China, have benefited greatly from economic ties with Venezuela under Chávez and their short-sighted view is to try and keep that spigot open.
Most citizens throughout the region, however, tend to be more appreciative of principles, such as the security and integrity of one's vote. One can be sure that, in case of a disputed election in their own country, they would hope to count on external support for an honest accounting in their own electoral processes.
Secondly, as the election just demonstrated, Maduro is not Chávez, and his capacity to whip up anything but official violence against Venezuelans protesting in the streets is extremely doubtful (Warning: graphic photos here). In short, no one should be misled by the noisemakers.
A continued firm stand on behalf of a clean election will resonate positively throughout the region, sending a strong signal to all democrats that the United States does indeed care and that intimidation and violence have no place in any democracy. It is not likely that such sentiments will sway Maduro and his Cuban advisors to accept any sort of recount, but it will certainly place the United States on the right side of the debates and confrontations to come.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
By Ambassador Roger F. Noriega and José R. Cárdenas
Last week, ahead of President Obama's meeting with the Business Roundtable, the Roundtable and the U.S. Council for International Business released a report saying that, "the success of American companies, and of the U.S. workers they employ, increasingly hinges on their success as globally engaged companies."
Indeed, there is some optimism in Washington that President Obama, free from political constraints in his second term (i.e., Big Labor opposition to free trade), can implement a robust international trade agenda as a sure-fire way to create new jobs at home, markets for U.S. goods and services, and investment opportunities abroad. Much of that talk is focused on action regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a trans-Atlantic free-trade agreement with Europe.
We have just co-authored a paper for the American Enterprise Institute -- "An action plan for US policy in the Americas" -- the essence of which can be distilled down to the following: Mr. President, stop ignoring Latin America!
If the President's objective is to use trade to help jump-start the U.S. economy and create more jobs here at home, then Latin America has to be part of the equation. That's because when you look beyond the rogue behavior of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and his populist ilk, clearly the Western Hemisphere is home to some of the most dynamic markets in the world.
Since 2003, an estimated 73 million Latin Americans have risen out of poverty. Moreover, between then and 2010, the average Latin American income increased by more than 30 percent, meaning that today nearly one-third of the region's nearly 570 million population is considered middle class. And in just the next five years, regional economies are projected to expand by one-third.
Given the Americas' close historical, cultural, familial, and geographic ties, linked by common values and mutual interests, what that means for U.S. businesses is millions of new consumers with an ingrained affinity for U.S. goods and services.
Greater economic integration will also create momentum to deal with other challenges in the region, from security issues to modernizing immigration policy -- not to mention rendering obsolete once and for all the retrograde populist agendas of some who prefer looking to the past rather than the future.
It's time that U.S. policymakers dispensed once and for all with Old Think when it comes to Latin America: that is, what is it the U.S. can do for the region. Today, it is what we can do together to benefit all the peoples of the hemisphere and boost our own recovery and competitiveness. If President Obama is to pursue an aggressive trade agenda in his second term, the incentives are powerful for a fundamental reassessment of relations right here in our own hemisphere.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
By Otto J. Reich and Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger
Seventy-one years ago this week, on December 7, 1941, the United States changed forever. What began as a tranquil day in a country that thought it could avoid the violence wracking the rest of the world ended with a bloody and unprovoked surprise attack. That "day that shall live in infamy" -- in President Franklin Roosevelt's famous words -- saw our country transformed from a growing but isolated nation into the military, technological and economic superpower that routed a vicious totalitarian Axis, then a brutal communist empire, and that has ensured peace and democracy in the world ever since.
On December 7, 2012, the people of Argentina will wake up to a different assault. The attack on its freedoms will not be a surprise and it will not come from a foreign empire. It will be a pre-announced offensive on freedom of expression, the most fundamental liberty of any democracy, and it will come from the increasingly despotic regime headed by Cristina Kirchner, a left-wing populist that, like most authoritarians, cannot abide an independent press.
It is often said that Argentines only protest when the economy hurts their pockets. If so, last November 8, was an exception to this rule. On that day about a million people across that country took to the streets with a clear message: Argentina wants more freedom, an independent judiciary, free press, and an end to widespread corruption. Unlike previous protests, this time the Argentines rallied not for better pay but for the basic principles that a democracy requires to function.
In the last year, after winning re-election with over 54 percent of the vote, Mrs. Kirchner apparently felt that an electoral majority allowed her to crudely grab all remaining power and move aggressively against every sector of society that she saw as a threat.
Motivated by Kirchner's removal of her democratic face mask, the protesters carried signs and placards denouncing many policies of the government, including violations of the constitutional separation of powers (e.g, threats, blackmail and extortion against judges); corruption scandals at the highest levels of government such as with the sitting vice-president; resumption of close diplomatic relations with Iran, with the concomitant somber foreign policy implications; and arbitrary restrictions on private enterprise, such as blocking access to foreign currency for commercial transactions and obstacles to importation of goods from abroad.
But the biggest immediate challenge facing the country, and the largest target of popular discontent, are the threats to press freedom coming from Kirchner. Many of the other indignations described above would not have been known but for the existence of an independent press that the government is trying to silence. And among the most professional and hard-hitting journalistic reporting is that by the largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarin.
Two years ago, Mrs. Kirchner saw to it that the Congress pass a new media law that seeks to break up the Grupo Clarin, a move that in the opinion of many jurists is unconstitutional. After several judicial processes, in which the government tried to maliciously influence the judges' decisions, the President announced that on December 7 Grupo Clarin will shed many of its properties. If this occurs, it could spell the beginning of the end of press freedom in the Argentina, since Clarin is a trial balloon to be followed by Government attacks on smaller news organizations less able to defend themselves.
But not only is press freedom threatened. If the government is able to neutralize Grupo Clarin, representative democracy itself will be tested. Without the independent media's courage to expose the abuses and scandals of the government, President Kirchner will have eliminated the largest obstacle in her path toward the "constitutional reform" that would allow her to remain in power for an unprecedented third term, or perhaps indefinitely.
Argentina is once again at a crossroads. On November 8, its people arose and demanded the President respect basic principles. On December 7, Argentines will face their own "Pearl Harbor," seeing one of its most illustrious institutions shatter. If, on the other hand, they stand and defend their Constitution and freedoms, they will put a stop to Kirchner's plans for autocratic government and avoid the self-destructive path followed by the Cuban, Venezuelan, Bolivian, Ecuadorian, and other left-wing hemispheric governments.
The U.S. and other Western governments have a responsibility to defend the people of Argentina. Just as on December 7, 1941 the U.S. was bloodied but not broken, so will the people of Argentina recover their freedoms, sometime in the future, probably after a fierce but non-violent struggle, but one that must count with the support of the free world.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Follow him on Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Follow him on Twitter: @ezequielvazquez
ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP/Getty Images
Wikileaks renegade Julian Assange seems to be genetically incapable of staying out of trouble. Holed up now for some five months in the Ecuadorean embassy in London to evade police questioning on sexual assault charges, the self-styled paladin of transparency and free expression appeared on CNN for an interview with host Erin Burnett and wound up insulting his Ecuadorean hosts.
Fumbling about to answer an obvious question on how he reconciled his seeking the political protection of a country whose president, Rafael Correa, has one of the worst track records against a free press in the hemisphere, Assange asserted he did not want to talk about "little things in small countries," and, when Burnett persisted, dismissed the situation of press freedom in Ecuador, because it is "not a significant world player."
Yet even as Assange strained mightily to change the subject from his hypocritical embrace of the Correa government, the latter is showing no signs of letting up on its suppression of critical media, and has even brought its campaign to the United States. Last month, Ecuadorean ambassador to the United States Nathalie Cely and another close Correa crony traveled to Miami to pressure a local Spanish language station not to air a documentary critical of Correa's presidency. (The good news is that the State Department's patience with Correa appears to be wearing thin, with Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson recently criticizing his abuse of the Ecuadorean legal system to punish and intimidate the press.)
As far as Julian Assange is concerned, as much as he desperately tries to convince anyone who will listen that his cause is openness and transparency and, now apparently, speaking out against purveyors of strategic surveillance technologies, his alignment with someone like Rafael Correa, who as recently as last month said that control of information should be "a function of the state, like the judiciary," leaves his credibility in shambles. Of course, openness and transparency and the abuses of surveillance technologies should be concerns of anyone living in the 21st century, but if you believe the threats emanate from the United States and Europe and not today's technologically savvy authoritarians, then you are less a prophet than a crank whose audience will remain forever confined to the fever swamps of the rabid, anti-American Left.
Assange's quixotic crusade has led him to a cramped room in Rafael Correa's embassy in London -- with no exit in sight. With his opinions on just how much Assange thinks of their country, the Ecuadoreans got to see a side of him they probably were not expecting. Still, the two sides appear to be locked together out of ideological convenience. Here's to a long and unhappy marriage.
GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
While we have no doubt that Bob Schieffer, the moderator of Monday night's foreign policy debate, will have plenty of material to choose from in formulating his questions for the candidates, we couldn't resist a chance to add our own suggestions. Following are some potential questions for the debate as submitted by the Shadow Government crew:
1. Mr. President, is there any foreign policy challenge America faces that you would concede has gotten worse on your watch because of actions you have taken or not taken? In other words, is there any foreign policy problem that you would say can be blamed at least partly on you and not entirely on Republicans or President Bush?
2. Mr. President, what is the fairest criticism of your foreign policy record that you have heard from Governor Romney over the course of this campaign?
3. Mr. President, what is the most unfair criticism of Romney's foreign policy platform that you have heard your supporters levy over the course of this campaign?
4. Mr. President, why do you say that Romney is proposing defense expenditures that the military have not asked for when Romney is just proposing restoring funding to the levels you claimed were needed in your own budget a few years ago. That budget, which you asked for, reflected what the military asked for didn't it? And didn't you order the military to accept deeper cuts -- thus they can't now speak up and ask for those levels to be restored without being insubordinate, so isn't it misleading to claim that they are not asking for them when you ordered them not to?
5. For both: Both campaigns have featured senior retired military endorsements as a way of demonstrating your fitness to be commander-in-chief. Don't you worry that such endorsements drag the military into partisan politics, thus undermining public confidence in a non-partisan military institution?
1. Mr. President, history tells us that prestige matters; that is, nation-states who are regarded for their power, whether military, economic or moral, are less often challenged by those who wish to upset the peace or change the international order that favors the interests of the great powers. Has your administration seen an increase in the prestige of the United States or a decrease, and why?
2. For both: Isn't a reform of our foreign aid system and institutions long overdue, and shouldn't reform have as its primary goal the promotion of direct and tangible US interests, such as more trade with more countries that govern themselves democratically? If this is truly the appropriate goal for international development funds, then why aren't all aid recipients required to practice sustained and real democracy?
1. For both: Do you believe that the economically endangered nations of Europe should adopt policies of austerity, as countries like Germany have argued, or that they should turn instead to more fiscal stimulus? If you prefer stimulus, is there any level of debt/GDP at which you get concerned about their ability to pay those debts? If you believe these countries should borrow more, from whom should they borrow? Should the United States be offering funds?
2. For both: There has been almost no progress on global trade talks since the summer of
2008. How would you assess the health of the World Trade Organization and the
world trading system? Is this important for the United States? What would you
do to strengthen the WTO, if anything?
3. For both: In 2009, in response to the stimulus bill, a top Chinese economic official said, ""We hate you guys. Once you start issuing $1 trillion-$2 trillion... we know the dollar is going to depreciate, so we hate you guys but there is nothing much we can do...." Brazil's finance minister, Guido Mantega, has accused the United States Federal Reserve of igniting a global currency war with its policies of quantitative easing. To what extent does the United States need to consider the international ramifications of its economic policies? Do you believe a strong dollar is in the U.S. interest? If so, what does that mean?
1. For both: What do you consider the top two national security threats to our country?
2. For both: How do you see increasing energy independence for the United States affecting our foreign policy?
3. President Obama, you have threatened to veto any changes to the 2010 Budget Control Act, yet both your Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe sequestration going into effect would be disastrous. How will you enact the Budget Control Act without damaging our national defense?
4. Governor Romney, you have committed to increase defense spending; where does the money come from to do that in year 1 of a Romney administration?
5. President Obama, Vice President Biden has said that your administration will withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanstan in 2014, whether or not the Afghan security forces are then capable of taking over the fight. Do you agree?
1. For both: Under what circumstances would you authorize military action against Iran's nuclear facilities? Will you intervene to stop the civil war in Syria? If so, what lessons have you learned from our recent experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya that will shape how you undertake an intervention? How do you plan to accomplish a responsible transition to Afghan leadership for security there? What should be the mission of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after transition, and how many troops will be required to accomplish it? Or do you envision a complete withdrawal of all forces?
2. For both: Should the United States support the spread of democracy abroad? What is the role of democracy assistance in U.S. grand strategy, and how does it relate to our overall national interests? How will you respond to future peaceful uprisings like the Green Revolution or the Arab Spring?
3. For both: Some Americans are concerned that the government has accumulated too much power over the last decade in its effort to develop a robust counterterrorism capability. Others believe we need to keep those powers because the terrorist threat has not abated. Do you plan to sustain the government's new, post-9/11 war-time powers, reportedly including targeted killings and indefinite detentions, indefinitely? If not, will you publicly and explicitly commit to defining a clear end-state to the war against al Qaeda, the achievement of which will terminate the new powers?
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Jimmy Carter's capacity to astound continues to know no bounds. Last Friday, presiding over an event at his eponymous organization, the former president allowed how Hugo Chávez's election process in Venezuela is "the best in the world."
Well, apparently he isn't reading much on the run up to Venezuela's October 7 presidential election, because such an affirmation flies in the face of nearly every report in recent weeks, which have overwhelmingly concluded it has been a fundamentally unfair process. (A few examples are here, here, and here.)
To be charitable, Carter may have been referring to the technical procedures on election day to guard against fraud, but, still, that is more a testament to the skill of the Chávez-dominated Venezuelan electoral council in convincing credulous foreign visitors on the supposed integrity of their system. In any case, focusing on voting machines on election day is missing the forest for the trees.
From stacking the electoral council with his loyalists, to his near-monopoly control of the broadcasting media, to his non-transparent spending of Venezuela's record oil profits for political purposes, to intimidating voters with the public exposure their votes, Chávez has used every tactic, above-board and underhanded, to smother the candidacy of former governor Henrique Capriles. It is a measure of Capriles' tenacity that not only is he still standing, but that he is giving Chávez all he can handle.
Yet, while Capriles's surging candidacy certainly bodes well for the preservation of some semblance of democracy in Venezuela (not to mention the prospects of a Chávez-less Venezuela), it is also heightening concerns that should Chávez come to believe he is losing on election day, he will unleash a wave of violence targeting the opposition.
In a recent 2,400-word exposé, Reuters reported on what are known in Venezuela as "colectivos," radical (and armed) neighborhood groups committed to outwardly defending Chávez's political project. They are unaccountable to any authority, acting above the law and with impunity. According to Reuters,
"In the eyes of critics, the groups are bandana-clad killers and vigilantes, the shock troops of the president's self-styled revolution. They have become more high-profile in the last four years, and some have been blamed for attacks on people they are said to perceive as enemies of Chavez.
"With a presidential election looming on October 7, opposition members fear the colectivos will turn to violence if challenger Henrique Capriles defies the polls and wins."
Moreover, in a second recent report, the Spanish newspaper ABC ran a front-page story -- ironically, published the day after Jimmy Carter's sanguine comments -- based on internal government documents revealing plans for even more select units of civilian "rapid mobilization networks" to be deployed on election day. According to ABC, these specially trained units -- expressly civilian to give the government plausible deniability in the event of lethal action - are tasked with "aborting opposition rallies before these can take shape, 'detection of opposition leaders, organization of street protests and resistance, and territorial control."
Civil society leaders have been sufficiently alarmed by these reports to write a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon apprising him of growing tensions in the country due to Chávez's inflammatory rhetoric promising "civil war" if he does not win. It also requested that member states express their concerns to the Chávez government and be vigilant that their election comports with international standards. Now, it is unlikely that any will express their concerns to Hugo Chávez, but the Obama administration does not have to remain silent. Yes, it has avoided microphone diplomacy with the Venezuelan caudillo, just as the Bush administration did. But there is an important difference: The Bush administration did indeed speak out when it concerned matters of high principle. This is such an occasion. Jimmy Carter may have gotten it wrong, as he is wont to do, but there is no reason President Obama has to get it wrong as well.
ANDREW ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images
That's the question Jake Tapper asked earlier this week over at ABCNews.com after coca-growing Bolivian President Evo Morales called the U.S. "a haven for delinquents" for denying his extradition request for former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada.
Apparently, Tapper had caught sight of some blowback on the matter from the usual suspects, including this tendentious screed from The Guardian:
"a classic and common case of the U.S. exploiting pretenses of law and justice to protect its own leaders and those of its key allies from the rule of law, even when faced with allegations of the most egregious wrongdoing. If the Obama DOJ so aggressively shielded accused Bush war criminals from all forms of accountability, it is hardly surprising that it does the same for loyal U.S. puppets. That a government that defies U.S. dictates is thwarted and angered in the process is just an added bonus. That, too, is par for the course."
What drivel. Actually, the answer to Tapper's question is quite simple. The administration apparently had no interest in railroading an innocent man to satisfy some radical leader's political vendetta.
It seems the Morales government had asked for Sánchez de Lozada's extradition on charges of "genocide" related to an incident in 2003 when mobs led by Morales tried to block roads supplying food and fuel to the capital city of La Paz, which is situated high in the Andes and is approachable by only a few highways. When Sánchez de Lozada called a state of emergency and ordered security forces to escort fuel trucks to the capital, armed protesters attacked them, leading to casualties on both sides. According to the Morales government, 67 civilians died in the clashes.
Unable to appease Morales and his willingness to appeal to rule by the mob, Sánchez de Lozada fled Bolivia in October 2003 and has lived in the United States since. He has said since then that he just wanted to end the violence. Morales was elected president soon thereafter. (For good measure, Morales has also tried to concoct legal proceedings against all former living presidents in Bolivia.)
Rather than "genocide," the pro-American and pro-market Sánchez de Lozada's only "crime" was that he tried to lead his country into the 21st century, encouraging foreign investment to develop Bolivia's prodigious natural gas reserves for export. But that was beyond the pale for Morales and his followers, whose vision is of taking the country backwards in time, to a pre-Columbian era, based on indigenous customs, lore, and, indeed, "communal" justice.
In Morales's constricted world view, larded with a healthy dollop of angry leftist ideology, all foreign investment in Bolivia is inherently predatory and the country's natural resources must remain in the hands of "the people" -- of course, it is populists like Morales who alone possess the ability to channel what are the wishes of "the people."
So, in this instance, the Obama administration got it right in not playing along with Morales's political ploy to sustain the narrative that brought him to power: that he is the avenger for four centuries of his people's mistreatment.
In the end, however, no one denies that Bolivia's indigenous majority have legitimate grievances over the way they have been treated for centuries, but such political theatrics do little to help the Bolivian people beyond sating the blood lust of more radical elements. It's a shame Morales doesn't spend more time trying to build a better and more prosperous future for the people he claims to represent.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos's announcement that he has agreed to peace talks with the narco-terrorist FARC is a dangerous gambit that threatens to undo a decade's worth of hard-won military gains that have rescued Colombia from the brink of failed-state status.
The decades-old FARC, which long ago devolved from a guerrilla army into a drug-running mafia with zero public support, has a track record of deceit in such "peace" talks, using them only as a tactic to shore up its position when the need arises. No doubt today it sees the government's agreement to negotiate less as an opportunity for peace than as an opportunity to prolong their destructive reign.
President Santos, who served ably and honorably as Colombia's defense minister under former President Álvaro Uribe and knows the enemy quite well, certainly knows the risks involved, but that can't stop one from asking hard questions: What has convinced Santos that the FARC are now seriously interested in laying down their arms? And what exactly is he prepared to offer a group awash in drug money and impunity from the law?
The last time a Colombian government entered into peace negotiations ended badly. In 1999, the FARC was granted a Switzerland-sized safe haven within Colombian territory as an area where they could ostensibly reside unmolested to facilitate talks. Instead, the FARC used the zone to further increase its military capabilities and drug activities and carry out terrorist attacks. Those "peace" talks collapsed in 2002, when the FARC hijacked a commuter aircraft and kidnapped a Colombian senator who happened to be on board.
It may be that President Santos believes the government is now in a position of strength to begin new negotiations, with the FARC battered and bruised after a decade of relentless Colombian military pressure by the Uribe government; but we know nothing of the FARC's intentions.
Reportedly, the framework agreement for the talks has several themes: land reforms; political participation; disarmament; truth and reconciliation; drug trafficking; and security. But it is difficult to see what incentive exists for the FARC to lay down their arms absent full-blown amnesty for their crimes. Political participation? No one affiliated with the FARC could be elected dog catcher in Colombia, so low is their public standing.
Frankly, the only thing the FARC should be negotiating is the terms of their surrender to the Colombian state and some measure of accountability for the mayhem they have caused over the past decades.
For its part, the United States is no disinterested bystander, having invested some $8 billion in the bilateral Plan Colombia to help the government reassert its control over its territory. The Obama administration "welcomed" Santos's announcement, but given its only casual acquaintance with Latin America in four years, it does not inspire much confidence that they will take an active behind-the-scenes role in monitoring the talks.
President Santos is certainly no one's pigeon, so it's unclear what ultimately will come of his gambit. What is clear is that he is taking a huge risk, not only with his own political fortunes, but Colombia's future as well. It's one thing to open a window of opportunity for legitimate peace; it's quite another to open an escape hatch for the FARC to prolong their criminal conspiracy against the state. President Santos can preserve both his legacy and Colombia's security by keenly appreciating the difference between the two.
FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/AFP/Getty Images
Last month, I wrote how Ecuador's radical populist President Rafael Correa has tasked his ambassador in Washington with launching a charming offensive to secure congressional renewal of trade preferences under the Andean Trade Preferences and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), which expire next year. Ostensibly, the campaign is designed to make policymakers forget about some of President Correa's more egregious anti-American actions, such as embracing Iran and unceremoniously expelling the U.S. ambassador from Ecuador last year.
One would think then that a looming congressional vote on ATPDEA extension would cause President Correa to rein in his provocative behavior. Far from it. In fact, in the past couple of weeks, he has continued apace his efforts to sever normal ties between the two countries.
First, he announced Ecuador's withdrawal from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), where Ecuadorean military officers traditionally received U.S. military training. The facility, formerly the School of the Americas, has been a target of leftist agitation for decades.
At the same time, Correa has begun a campaign threatening to now expel the U.S. Agency for International Development mission from Ecuador, which he has accused of "funding the opposition."
Yet, through it all, his ambassador in Washington has been maintaining a brave face. In a recent interview with the Ecuadorean press, she claimed that a recent U.S. Trade Representative report on ATPDEA extension concluded that Ecuador "met all the criteria for eligibility." In fact, it did no such thing.
In one key passage, the report notes, "developments in the past few years give rise to concerns about the government's long-term commitment to international arbitration for the settlement of investor disputes." According to The Hill, "The report could make it harder for lawmakers to renew the program."
The embassy also apparently snookered the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative into hosting next week a senior Ecuadorean official to expound on Correa's efforts to "transform" Ecuador's judiciary, no doubt to assuage U.S. companies concerned about their treatment there. The Ecuadorean judiciary has indeed been transformed by Correa -- into another arm of the executive.
Today, he has the majority of the Supreme Court in his pocket and the politicization of the judiciary was laid bare in Correa's recent $40 million lawsuit against a newspaper for a critical op-ed column. It turns out, for example, that the sentencing documents were not written by the presiding judge, but by Correa's own lawyers.
The incongruence between Correa's behavior and the apparent goal of securing the extension of U.S. trade preferences is striking. As I have written previously, no matter on what front Ecuador is evaluated, the Correa government does not merit a renewal of ATPDEA benefits. At the end of the day, such programs are meant to elicit cooperative, positive behavior from the beneficiaries. Why else would they exist? The Obama administration and Congress ought to make clear to the Correa government that they are no longer interested in subsidizing his bad behavior.
Much of the initial commentary on Julian Assange's surprise bid for political asylum in Ecuador has centered on the question of, why Ecuador? After all, Assange has fashioned himself as a paladin of free speech and government transparency, even as Ecuador's radical populist president Rafael Correa's campaign of intimidation against his own country's free press has been assailed around the world, including his $40 million lawsuit against a leading newspaper and his systematic shuttering of news outlets that don't display an appropriate sympathy for the government line.
Yet if one understands Assange not as a paragon of freedom of expression, but simply as an angry, maladjusted individual who has sought to damage the United States, not because of its alleged lack of openness, but because he sees it as the guarantor of an international system from which he is completely alienated, then his bid for asylum in Ecuador makes perfect sense.
Indeed, he certainly would find a home in Ecuador.
For his part, President Correa appears to have his own psychological tics about the United States. Although he received his PhD in economics here, his father was also jailed here for drug trafficking. He has also consistently railed about the "neo-liberal" world economic order, evidently resenting his country's relatively powerless role in it and its relation to Ecuador's recent history of political instability.
Thus, his presidency has been one of conflict with established international institutions and practices of that order, as well as pretending that the traditional determinants of international power and influence no longer apply. He's all South and no North.
In fact, the quixotic, anti-"system" campaigns of Assange and Correa recently converged when the two sat down together for a fawning satellite interview over the news outlet RT TV (funded by the Kremlin). It was a veritable anti-American love-fest, with Correa telling Assange, "Welcome to the club of those who are persecuted!"
So far, the only response from the Obama administration on Assange's Ecuador asylum bid has been a passive statement from the State Department, saying that it was "a matter between Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Ecuador."
That may be an appropriate public response, but privately the administration ought to make it clear to the Correa government that there will be serious repercussions if asylum is granted to Assange. The temptation to grant it will be great for Correa, who will bask in the global attention it would bring, as well as further burnishing his radical credentials. So far, his anti-"system" posturing and preening has come at no cost to him. It's time he learned there are limits to such behavior.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Tonight a small but enterprising Miami-based TV network, SoiTV, will air a revealing interview with former Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Eladio Aponte Aponte, who has been under the protection of the U.S. DEA for several days. The authors of this article had access to the interview results.
Judge Aponte Aponte is, so far, the highest official who has defected since Hugo Chávez came to power. His testimony presents a unique view into the criminal structure promoted by the current Venezuelan government. Aponte also names individuals who have committed serious violations of Venezuelan human rights and attacks on foreign interests.
Mr. Aponte confessed that he received direct orders from President Hugo Chávez to use his legal power against individuals that opposed the regime. As president of the criminal tribunal of the Supreme Court, Aponte had supervision of all criminal courts in the country and practically on all judges, with a capacity to influence almost any judicial decision.
Moreover, in his testimony Mr. Aponte says he also received calls from Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, Venezuela's Defense Minister and Hugo Carvajal, who until recently was the head of military intelligence, among others, ordering him to "manipulate judicial proceedings." Both Rangel Silva and Carvajal have been designated by the U.S. Treasury as "drug kingpins" for their ties to the narco-terrorist FARC guerrilla army in Colombia. Moreover, Aponte alleges that he has "evidence" of the high officials' ties to narcotics traffickers. An example he cites is that of a drug shipment that was safeguarded overnight in a Venezuelan military base. Aponte says he was ordered to provide legal cover for the drug shipment as it made its way from the border to "the center of the country" (on the coast, where Venezuela's ports are located).
Aponte also admits to having been linked to other important figures designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury as international drug traffickers, such as Walid Makled who, according to a federal indictment in New York, sent hundreds of tons of cocaine into the U.S. with the help of top-ranking Venezuelan officials. Makled's "trial" began a few days ago in Venezuela.
It was, in fact, Aponte's link to Makled that led to Aponte's removal from the Supreme Court by the General Assembly of Venezuela and his subsequent defection to Costa Rica, where the DEA picked Aponte up. Makled had been arrested in Colombia nearly two years ago and extradited to Venezuela in 2011. While in a Colombian prison, Makled was interviewed by various U.S. law enforcement agencies, and his testimony implicated Aponte in drug trafficking. Since Chávez has had Makled in his jails for nearly a year, Chávez knew what Makled was going to say at his trial about Aponte, and therefore Aponte had to be "sacrificed" to save Chávez and what the Venezuelan people call his "narco-generals."
Numerous reports from the U.S. State Department and international human rights monitors indicate that the Venezuelan judicial system is used by the President Chávez as a tool to punish and persecute opposition leaders, as well as to obtain the release of drug traffickers.
Aponte's testimony is probably the most important evidence so far to show the lack of independent institutions in Venezuela, the existence of political prisoners, and the links between high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government to drug trafficking and criminal organizations such as Colombia's FARC.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Follow him on Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Follow him on Twitter: @ezequielvazquez
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
We do not blame Amb. Nathalie Cely for defending her government, for that is an important part of any ambassador's job. But in her efforts, she distorts our article and commits a number of important omissions and distortions.
Amb. Cely says that Ecuador is a peaceful country and by no means supports or facilitates any terrorist activity. First, we never said that the Ecuadoreans are not a peaceful people. We limited ourselves to pointing out just some of the actions of President Rafael Correa that clearly show that he is not a peaceful person, and that his actions, regardless of his intentions, have made Ecuador into a more dangerous place and a threat to United States' foreign policy objectives, including abetting terrorism.
For example, President Correa has this week announced that he -- and to this date he alone among the western hemisphere's elected heads of state -- will boycott the Summit of the Americas in Colombia, a regular meeting of the freely-elected presidents of western hemisphere nations. Correa cites one reason only for avoiding the meeting: The fact that the 53-year old totalitarian dictatorship of the Castro brothers in Cuba has been excluded from the meeting. Cuba has never been invited because its government is not a democracy, as required by the Summit's rules.
In other words, Rafael Correa considers it more important to express solidarity with an unelected, one-party police state (the only legal party being the Communist Party of Cuba), than with the leaders of all the other nations of the hemisphere, who have confirmed their attendance at the Summit. Moreover, Cuba is on the list of the U.S. State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism. Thus, the leader of the peaceful Ecuadorean people clearly values his friendship with two bloodthirsty tyrants, the Castro brothers, who set up training camps for terrorists that committed atrocities in every country of this hemisphere for about 30 years, until their paymaster, the Soviet Union, ceased to exist. Apparently Correa does not care about the thousands of Cubans who have been executed by the Castros for the sole reason of wanting a peaceful, inclusive, free, and democratic Cuba.
Moreover, we don't think that the actions and links that President Correa and his administration have established with countries such as Iran can be considered peaceful. In a previous letter to the editor published in the Miami Herald in response to our op-ed "Iran's Stealth Financial Partners in Latin America", Amb. Cely said: "The items Ecuador trades with Iran, mostly bananas and flowers, are not subject to the sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union."
That statement is refuted by the words of her own colleague, the president of the state-owned oil company Petroecuador, Mario Calvopiña, who a few days ago stated: "I understand that those who must comply with the [Iran] sanctions are U.S. companies or companies with American capital and American citizens, but we are a company that has nothing to do with the U.S. government," adding that in June "an Iranian delegation is coming to Ecuador to discuss their possible participation in the construction of the Pacific Refinery, a project that will cost $12 billion and in which PDVSA [a state-owned Venezuelan oil company] is a minority partner. Iranians have expressed an initial interest in participating."
Again, Correa apparently does not know or does not care about the destruction of democracy in Iran by the Ayatollahs and the Ahmadinejad dictatorship. Nor does he consider the fact that Iran's support for terrorism is one of the reasons why Iran is being isolated not only by the U.S., but also by the European Union. Oil is in fact very high on the sanctions list.
Moreover, if Amb. Cely is correct that Correa's Ecuador is peaceful and inclusive and only sells "bananas and flowers" to Iran, then why do delegations of high-ranking members of the government, including the president of the Central Bank, Pedro Delgado, travel so frequently to Iran? Why did the Italian police find an Ecuadorian diplomatic pouch in Milan containing 40 kg of cocaine, arresting an Ecuadorean citizen linked to the president of Ecuador's Central Bank and to the sister of President Correa? Why does the GOE continue to undermine well-respected organizations such as the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights and the non-profit organization Human Rights Watch in their investigations of human rights violations in Ecuador? Why does President Correa try by any mean to destroy the independent press in his country, as demonstrated by his efforts to bankrupt newspapers such as El Universo, and persecution of journalists Emilio Palacio, Christian Zurita, and Juan Carlos Calderón? Why did Correa expel the American ambassador last year only because Wikileaks publicized a U.S. Embassy cable that proved corruption in the president's inner circle?
Here are two documents that show Ecuador's cooperation with Iran:
We respectfully suggest that Ambassador Cely familiarize herself with the range of anti-American, anti-democratic, and pro-Iranian actions by her president before prematurely coming to his defense.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Twitter: @ezequielvazquez
PABLO COZZAGLIO/AFP/Getty Images
Otto Reich and Ezequiel Vázquez Ger's reckless and illogical column ("How Ecuador's immigration policy helps al Qaeda") says more about the authors' desire to baselessly attack the government of Ecuador than their ability to offer readers any substantial insight into foreign policy.
Reich and Vázquez Ger routinely stumble over irrational arguments in attempts to undermine our country's burgeoning democracy, but this piece marks a new low, even for them. They attack Ecuador for opening "the floodgates" to nationals from Pakistan and other countries, and accuse our immigration policy of facilitating "transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups" that want to harm the United States. In their insistence on profiling against Pakistanis, Reich and Vázquez Ger seem to have forgotten that the United States itself is home to hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis and that the Pakistani-American population doubled from 2000 to 2010.
Ecuador is a peaceful country and by no means supports or facilitates any terrorist activity. Recently, support from the Ecuadorian Justice Department led to the capture of three men suspected by the United States of support for terrorism, including Irfan Ul Haq, referenced as a threat in the authors' column. The men were deported from Ecuador to the United States and sentenced to multiple years in prison this week.
Ecuador's immigration policy reflects our values as a nation. We are inclusive and welcoming of foreigners from across the world. That's part of the reason why thousands of American seniors have chosen Ecuador as a retirement destination. Reich and Vázquez Ger would serve Foreign Policy's readers better by sticking to the facts rather than inventing conspiracy theories.
Nathalie Cely is Ecuador's ambassador to the United States.
RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
Terrorism, as the United States has learned at a high cost in recent years, comes in many forms and from unexpected sources. The government of Ecuador has once again crossed the line between irresponsible policies and ideologically driven actions that have created a serious security problem not only for its citizens but also for the entire Western Hemisphere. The disarray created in Ecuador's immigration policy has permitted transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups -- possibly including al Qaeda -- to potentially use the country as a base of operations with the ultimate objective of harming the United States.
In June of 2008, the Ecuadorian government opened its borders to foreigners and ended visa requirements to enter its territory. This opened the floodgates to nationals from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (e.g., Afghanistan, China, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Kenya, Nigeria, Cuba, Pakistan, and Somalia). For example, according to statistics of its own National Immigration Office, in 2006 (before the policy change) there were 92 entries of Pakistani citizens, by 2008 were already 178 and in 2010, 518. This is an increase of 550 percent in 4 years. More significantly, just between 2008 and 2010 an estimated 60,000 Cubans entered Ecuador, according to intelligence sources.
Records shows that large numbers of these immigrants enter to obtain Ecuadorian nationality by naturalization and thus be able to travel freely throughout Latin America and eventually to the United States without arousing suspicion because of their original nationalities. The routes by which they enter the Americas generally include a first stop in Cuba or Venezuela, countries with highly subjective immigration controls. Two routes that are used repeatedly are Pakistan/Afghanistan-Iran-Venezuela-Ecuador, and Somalia-Dubai-Russia-Cuba-Ecuador.
According to U.S. diplomatic cables, Ecuadorian authorities were alerted in 2009 by various international intelligence agencies about this deception. However, it was not until mid-2010 when they began to again administer their immigration policies. Thereafter, the Ecuadorian government somewhat modified its visa policy for nationals of certain countries that were considered the riskiest.
Nevertheless, some reports suggest that despite this change, these immigrant groups have developed a criminal infrastructure of sufficient magnitude to keep functioning independently. To bypass the stricter immigration controls, criminal gangs have specialized in forging travel documents, visas, birth certificates, and fake residency permits that ultimately lead to illegally obtaining an Ecuadorian passport. Documents are not difficult to obtain because the Mafiosi suborn government administrators including civil registry officials, judges, and other government officials.
Of particular concern to U.S. security is the case of nationals of third countries who enter Ecuador with passports issued by Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela, countries for which Ecuador still does not require visas.
It is noteworthy that by Executive Order No. 1065 signed by President Correa on February 16, 2012, Ecuador has substantially eased the process of naturalization of foreign citizens. This resolution orders the granting of letters of naturalization to people who had provided "relevant services" to Ecuador and have resided for more than two years in the country, opening the door for virtually anyone to become a naturalized Ecuadorian and obtain a passport.
The danger these criminal networks pose is illustrated by two examples, among many: In 2011 an investigation was conducted by the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) attaché in Quito, Ecuador, the HIS office in Atlanta, the Miami division of the FBI and the Ecuadorian National Police. The operation led to the arrest of Irfan Ul Haq, a Pakistani citizen who according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) was conducting a "human smuggling operation in Quito, Ecuador, that attempted to smuggle an individual they believed to be a member of the TTP from Pakistan (Tehrik-e Taliban) into the United States." The TTP was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department on Sept. 1, 2010.
A second case, which resulted in the arrest of Yaee Dawit, alias Jack Flora, probably the most important human trafficker in Africa and linked to different cells of al-Qaeda in East Africa, illustrates the good work of international cooperation, but also the importance that Ecuadorian cities have acquired as "hubs" for terrorists and transnational criminals.
These cases not only illuminate the crime of human trafficking, but they also show how they continuously finance other terrorist and criminal activities. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, of the Criminal Division, describes these criminals as follows: "For financial profit, they [were] willing to jeopardize the safety and security of the American people. Human smuggling operations pose a serious risk to our national security, and we will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners at home and abroad to combat this dangerous threat."
While there is no evidence to show that the Correa government established the policy of "open borders" in an effort to attract criminal organizations, that has been the result. On the other hand, there is no evidence of Correa wanting to stem the flow. These examples show how Rafael Correa's Ecuador is becoming a failed state, hosting all sorts of dangerous actors. They also help to understand the context in which various financial, commercial, and energy agreements are being developed by Ecuador with the governments of Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. While many of the agreements are not yet completed, they serve as "government-authorized illicit tunnels" through which anything and anyone can pass, from terrorists and drugs to money and arms. The time has come to close these tunnels.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Twitter: @ezequielvazquez
DANI POZO/AFP/Getty Images
I am in Panama for the second time in seven years, and it certainly is a very different place today. Skyscrapers are sprouting up all over the city and there has been explosive growth here. Constant sunshine, no earthquakes, fabulous location, peaceful Costa Rica to the north and a natural buffer of the Darien region to the south make Panama a stable and peaceful democracy. Americans are not perceived as an alien presence but a welcome partner. To be an American in Panama, especially an American who speaks Spanish, is to feel very, very welcome.
The Embassy estimates as many as 45,000 American citizens down here while the Panamanian government estimates as many as 250,000. One of the reasons for the discrepancy in estimates is that many Panamanians, for legacy reasons, possess U.S. passports and dual citizenship. In short, the U.S. legacy in Panama is obvious. At one point the U.S. had 35 military bases here to protect the canal from Japanese attacks in World War II, but today there are no U.S. bases in Panama. Many of the former U.S. bases have become urban renewal projects similar to the Presidio in San Francisco, and the new U.S. Embassy is built in one of these old sites.
Though this past year Panama's growth rate was 8.5 percent, services account for over three-quarters of the economy and English is a big need here. There is a shortage of skilled workers, and English is not as strong as it might be, or as strong as many locals think (although many call centers have been built here). The weakness of English in Panama is the legacy of dictator Omar Torrijos, who deemphasized English, going so far as to ban the teaching of English in public schools and stopping an entire generation from learning the language. Anecdotes tell of English teachers at public schools who have a hard time conducting visa interviews with the U.S. embassy in English.
For years, the Panamanians have been stalling building the last piece of the Pan-American Highway through the Darién region, and the U.S. has supported them for a number of reasons -- preventing the northward spread of foot and mouth disease, environmental worries, and perhaps other security concerns relating to narcotrafficking.
When I was last here, there were discussions about building an extension of the Panama Canal. The expansion is well underway, and ideally the expanded canal will be up and running in 2014 though more likely this will happen in 2015. You may have heard of the "Panamax" class of boats, but the expansion was needed for the "New Panamax" class of ships. At its narrowest portion, the canal can only run one way at a time right now for the largest ships, but after 2015 it will be able to run both ways at all points. The U.S. administered the canal as a public utility until 1999 and therefore hardly made any money. Today, the Panamanians run the canal like a business and it generates around $1 billion annually in profits for the Panamanian Treasury. This figure will increase considerably after the expansion.
In October, Congress finally approved the Panama Trade Promotion Agreement. It took way too many years under the current administration to sign this agreement. Though it is more a signaling effect, the upshot of this is the elimination of tariffs that were making it difficult for American goods to compete in Panama.
As far as security for U.S. interests in the region, there is little concern here over Hugo Chavez's influence except perhaps rumors of mischief with labor unions, and there are likewise no murmured concerns about Chinese influence. Nor do there seem to be any agricultural, mineral, or fuel resources that attract the attentions of China. In fact, Panama has kept official relations with Taiwan over China. I also asked about the ownership of Pacific and Atlantic ports through Hong Kong's Hutchison Port Holdings. It was met with a series of shrugs from U.S. officials and old Panama hands.
The FARC has used Panama's Darién region as a base of "rest and relaxation" but the current center-right government has taken a notably harder line than in the past. The FARC is almost exclusively interested in drug trafficking here, unlike in Colombia, where the group poses a threat to the state. According to U.S. officials, Panama yearly seizes about 40 tons of drugs in partnership with the U.S. There are also gang problems here but nowhere near the level of trouble that other Central American countries have been having over the last decade or so. Perhaps the biggest challenge to Panama's future is the weakness of its institutions and the persistent whispers of endemic corruption in the society. If Panama can confront this challenge, it will be on its ways to being as wealthy as the United States.
Two hours by plane to Mexico City, 40 minutes to San José (Costa Rica), less than an hour to Bogotá, and 4.5 hours to Washington. Panama, with a population of 3.4 million, is truly the hub of the region and a great American ally.
Guest Post By Otto J. Reich and Ezequiel Vazquez Ger
Ecuador has headlined many newspapers in recent weeks due to President Correa's attacks against the independent press. The international media, however, has not yet focused on an international scandal that is brewing for the Correa regime. Only a few days ago Italian police discovered 40 kilograms of cocaine being smuggled into the country in Ecuador's diplomatic pouch.
Diplomatic pouches are the means by which governments send classified correspondence and articles intended for official use to their diplomatic missions abroad. These pouches are regulated by the Vienna Convention, which states that "the packages constituting the diplomatic bag must bear visible external marks of their character and may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use," and that the bag "shall not be opened or detained." Also, each bag should carry a waybill that lists all the documents or goods being transported, among other information regarding to its content.
On November 21, 2011 in the Official Register No. 212, the Ecuadorian government adopted a provision governing its interpretation of the Vienna Convention, thereby establishing a number of "exceptions" to the waybill on the diplomatic pouches. This stated that the shipping of works of art, jewelry, crafts, and other items with no commercial value for exhibitions of cultural and commercial promotion abroad, were exempted from carrying this waybill.
At the same time, these Ecuadorian provisions introduced a new legal form called "extraordinary diplomatic pouches," which can contain objects such as works of art and crafts, that is, objects that are not necessarily for official use, and, mentioned earlier, are not required to carry a waybill.
In mid-January, Italian police in Milan discovered one of the "extraordinary diplomatic pouches" sent by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador, containing 40 kg of cocaine. This cargo, valued at over 2 million Euros in street value, was distributed in different vases that were supposed to be used in a play by an Ecuadorian artist. Immediately afterwards, five Ecuadorian citizens were arrested for alleged links to the case. Among them was Jorge Luis Redobrán Quevedo. According to a letter sent by Ecuadorian opposition Congressman Enrique Herrería to the Attorney General of Ecuador, Quevedo is someone with a close relationship to Central Bank President Pedro Delgado (who also is President Correa's cousin), to President's Correa sister, and who also maintains constant relations with the Ecuadorian Consulate in Milan.
This is not an isolated case of drug trafficking. Last week, during an anti-narcotics operation in the port of Guayaquil, the police, which apparently still believes in enforcing the law, seized a shipment of 119kg of cocaine hidden inside a container of mashed bananas about to be exported. The company that owns the shipping container had already been denounced two years ago by Congressman Cesar Montufar because of the company's main shareholders was Mr. Galo Borja, who at that time was Vice Minister of Foreign Trade and responsible for commercial relations with Iran, among other nations. Montufar correctly asserted that the Minister of Trade should not be engaged in the business that he is charged with overseeing for the State.
These are but two cases of how the Ecuadorian government has sanctioned a permissive environment for illicit activities within its territory. Through formal arrangements such as the new mechanism of "extraordinary diplomatic pouches," through the apparent involvement of members of its government in drug trafficking, through a virtual elimination of the visa requirement of unknown persons to entry the country, or through financial agreements with Iranian banks that facilitate money laundering operations, Rafael Correa's Ecuador has become an ideal territory for lawlessness and deceit.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Email: email@example.com / Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org/ Twitter: @ezequielvazquez
Joern Pollex/Getty Images
You have to hand it to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa. He has a plan and he is working it relentlessly. Unfortunately, for those concerned about democracy in the hemisphere, his plan calls for the gutting of democratic institutions in Ecuador and concentrating all power in his person.
It may be that the Ecuadorean populist doesn't generate the international headlines like his amigo in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, but that doesn't make him any less of a threat to democracy in the region.
Recently, Correa has generated some attention in the U.S. for the campaign of intimidation he is waging against one of the country's most respected newspapers, El Universo. Editorials in the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times have harshly criticized his efforts to drag the newspaper owners and a columnist into court and winning a $40 million judgment in a trumped-up defamation proceeding.
According to the Post, what is occurring in Ecuador is, "the most comprehensive and ruthless assault on free media underway in the Western Hemisphere."
The problem is that abuse of the media is only one troublesome aspect of Correa's populist project. Undermining rule of law is another. This week, for example, a new Ecuadorean Supreme Court will be seated, the product of referendum Correa rammed through last year, giving his latest power grab a patina of legitimacy.
Evidently not satisfied with the provisions on selecting judges in his own rewritten constitution of 2008, Correa changed the rules again. The standing Supreme Court was abolished and through a new, convoluted selection process -- controlled by the Executive -- Correa got what he wanted: 13 of the new 21 judges are now in his pocket.
But with control of the judiciary and his party's present control of the National Assembly, Correa is still not satisfied. He has set as his next priority ensuring that his party remains in control of the legislature by rewriting electoral laws to unduly favor incumbents (including himself) in the run-up to 2013 elections.
For example, a law he is currently pushing would prohibit the news media from "either directly or indirectly promoting any given candidate, proposal, options, electoral preferences or political thesis, through articles, specials or any other form of message." As to how anyone could run a campaign under such a law is mind-boggling -- which is obviously the way Correa wants it.
Correa's defenders point to his current popularity in Ecuador to somehow justify his policies, but that is hardly a measure of the health of any democracy. Demagogues have never had much problem recording high popularity numbers by playing to mass resentments and envy. The true measure of the health of any democracy is the respect and protection afforded the rights of the minority. And, in Ecuador, those protections are increasingly non-existent.
Drinking from the populist cup will someday soon cause a massive hangover for Correa's mass of supporters. But there is plenty the U.S. and other defenders of democracy in the region can do and say to stand up to Correa's steady suffocation of democratic processes and hollowing out of democratic institutions.
Unfortunately, the administration response to date has been only to silently and feebly nominate a new U.S. ambassador to Ecuador following Correa's intemperate expulsion of respected career diplomat Heather Hodges in April 2011. (The nomination of the new ambassador has been held up, however, by Senator Marco Rubio [R-FL] out of frustration with the administration's languorous policies towards the steady erosion of democracy in the region.)
The least the administration could do is speak out against Correa's trampling of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and provide public support to those Ecuadoreans standing up for their rights. If the administration aims to pursue a new ambassador to Quito, then it needs to select someone more experienced in difficult environments who is not afraid to publicly stand up for the principles and values enshrined in the Charter.
As the New York Times noted, "Latin America has a bitter history of authoritarian rule. It has struggled hard to get beyond those days. All of the hemisphere's democratic leaders, including President Obama, need to push back against Mr. Correa." Indeed, Ecuadorean democrats cannot do it alone.
RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
Apparently, apropos of nothing, the Obama administration has decided to restore normal diplomatic relations with Ecuadorean radical populist Rafael Correa. Shadow readers will recall that it was only last April that President Correa, in a fit of anti-American pique, expelled U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges because of an innocuous comment in a Wikileaked cable about a corrupt senior police official.
Given the unceremonious departure and treatment of Ambassador Hodges, one would have assumed the announcement of her replacement would be accompanied by some sort of statement explaining why the administration deemed the moment appropriate to restore ambassadors. Have there been any commitment from the Correa government to abide by any notions of civil discourse? Any understanding that the U.S. ambassador isn't there to be used as a stage prop in his populist theater? We are only left to wonder.
MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images
Even before Hugo Chavez revealed he is battling cancer, his political star was on the wane in Latin America. More and more, voters in the region have simply realized that class warfare, polarization, and centralization of power are not prescriptions for economic growth and political stability. (As a case in point, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, a one-time Chavez acolyte, couldn't run away fast enough from the Venezuelan leader during his recent successful campaign - even if he had no qualms about taking Chavez's cash.)
Still, the fading appeal of the Chavista model is of cold comfort to those still suffering under radical populist rule elsewhere in the region. Specifically, in Ecuador, Rafael Correa continues to trample democratic institutions, although regrettably nowhere to be found is any expression of concern by the Obama administration.
In late July, in a "trial" that lasted less than a day, a cowed Ecuadorean judge sentenced prominent newspaper columnist Emilio Palacio and three of the directors of his newspaper, El Universo, to three years in prison and fined them $40 million for publishing a column critical of Correa last February.
The defendants said they will appeal -- but so did Correa. He says he wants the full $80 million in damages he requested when he filed his defamation suit.
"We're making history, my friends, we won't retreat," he said after the verdict. "There's no room for magnanimity in the face of such miserable humanity."
Even as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and every major international media defense organization denounced the verdict, nary a word of concern has been expressed by the Obama administration.
Intimidating the media and using the judicial system to quash freedom of freedom expression are hallmarks of Chavismo, ones that Correa has embraced with relish. He has sued, fined, and seized control of numerous outlets since his rise to power in 2007. Where the government once owned one media outlet, under Correa it now controls 19 television and radio stations and newspapers.
MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images
Tomorrow the House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a joint subcommittee hearing on "Venezuela's Sanctionable Activity." The hearing follows the Obama administration's recent announcement of sanctions against Venezuela's state-owned oil company and a military armaments entity for illicit dealings with Iran.
Congress has been at the forefront in pressing the administration to further unravel the dangerous Venezuela-Iran relationship to identify and sanction activities found to be aiding Iran's international sanctions-busting campaign and that threaten U.S. security interests. There is no shortage of opportunities. It is, as they say, a target-rich environment.
In fact, the next target should be the Venezuelan airline Conviasa, which is operating secretive weekly flights between Venezuela, Iran, and Syria. We do not know for certain who or what is aboard these flights because passengers are not subject to immigration and customs controls and cargo manifests are not made public.
Published reports, however, indicate the flights are ferrying terrorists and weapons between the Western Hemisphere and the Middle East, meaning that that these flights should be targeted immediately using Treasury Department anti-terrorism authorities.
For example, it was widely reported that Abdul Kadir, a Guyanese national who is serving a life sentence for his role in the 2007 terrorist plot to explode fuel tanks and pipelines at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, was arrested in Trinidad as he was attempting to board a flight to Venezuela. From there, he was to planning to continue on to Iran on the Conviasa flight.
The Peruvian presidential election is over now that Keiko Fujimori has conceded defeat to Ollanta Humala, but it is clear that the country is very divided. The United States faces a period of "wait and see" regarding the winner and it is anyone's guess how he will perform: either as a force for good for Peru and for the region, or as a once and future advocate of leftist populism who erodes democracy now that he has won the presidency. This is not a small matter because U.S. interests (and those of Colombia, Brazil, and Chile) are best served by a Peru that continues to play the role that it did under Garcia as a strong advocate for free markets and free trade and one that continues to improve in terms of democracy and good governance.
Barely more than half the voters have chosen a former military official who was involved in a coup, is accused of committing human rights violations, and until his political fortunes demanded it, was a strong ally of Hugo Chavez who had planned to take Peru down the path that Chavez has forced Venezuela upon for the last ten years.
Humala had been defeated in 2006 by the pro-U.S. and pro-business Alan Garcia but Humala figured out that President Lula Da Silva of Brazil had the right approach: a leftist who promotes free market economics, trade and warmer relations with the United States, at least on international economic issues, has a better chance of being elected, not to mention helping his countrymen and not becoming a pariah like Venezuela.
Those voters who chose Humala were many of the poor and indigenous who have not seen much gain during the good times that the Garcia administration oversaw; they've also chafed at the lack of progress in combating corruption. Humala also had the support of some of those who are better off who, following the lead of intellectual and novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and former president Alejandro Toledo, voted against the daughter of a man who was corrupt and who committed human rights violations against civilians in his attempts to wipe out the Maoist Shining Path terrorist insurgents. To be sure, many poor and indigenous voted for Keiko Fujimori precisely because they remember fondly the efforts of her father to combat the Shining Path; and of course she got the majority of the votes of the middle and upper classes who don't want a new government to squelch growth and investment. Those would be the people who spent the last couple of days taking their money out of Peru before Humala takes it from them, as they suspect he will do.
CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images
It appears from the first round of Peru's presidential election that the trend in Latin America toward left-wing populism might have stalled. With about a fifth of the vote counted, we await a second round as no candidate received the needed 50 percent of the vote to win outright. But assuming the current trend holds, it is likely the Obama administration will continue to have in Peru a partner conducive to U.S. interests.
First, some bad news: Friend of Hugo Chavez and ex-soldier Ollanta Humala leads the vote with 26.6 percent. In 2006, he ran as an avowed Chavista against current incumbent Alan Garcia (who could not succeed himself) and almost won, giving the Bush administration a scare. A Humala victory then would have meant a near-sweep in the Andean region for Chavez-style anti-U.S. politicians. Many of us working on Latin America foreign policy found ourselves in the odd situation of being relieved to see the erstwhile leftist Garcia just barely win.
In the last few weeks of the current campaign, observers came to expect a first-place finish for Humala, in part because he has done a decent job of selling himself as more of a Lula and less of a Hugo, but it was assumed that the second slot would go to ex-president Alberto Fujimori's daughter and congresswoman, Keiko. Fujimori père is serving time for human rights abuses and his daughter's supporters champion her as someone who would continue her father's legacy as a champion of the poor from the more capitalist side of the spectrum as well as a scourge to the resurgent communist narco-terrorists that her father routed. But her detractors note that, should she win, it will not be good for Peru (or the Obama administration) to have the disgraced father trying to run the country from jail through his daughter.
Former presidential candidate and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa called the possible choice between Humala and Fujimori a choice "between cancer and AIDS." But here is the good news: Keiko came in third with 21.1 percent, so Peruvians likely won't face that choice.
Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met today with President Obama at the White House to end an impasse blocking adoption of a trade agreement first concluded in November of 2006. The Colombian government has agreed to rewrite parts of their labor law to U.S. specifications.
The resolution came after mounting calls for movement from Capitol Hill. House Republicans had been particularly vocal about the need to advance the pending Colombia and Panama agreements alongside the South Korean accord after years of delay. Of late, though, the calls had grown bipartisan. On Monday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) published a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal describing the Colombia pact as an important spur to employment:
Each day we fail to act costs American jobs and sales-and sends them elsewhere.
So, 1,091 days after the Bush administration submitted the Colombia FTA to Congress, the Obama administration has found a path to move forward. The plaudits for this move have been rolling in since it was announced yesterday. Not only does the Colombia FTA offer its own array of benefits, but the move has the potential to unblock U.S. trade policy more broadly. To lever the administration into action on the pending FTAs, Republicans had linked the passage of the Korean FTA, renewal of trade adjustment assistance programs, trade preference programs, and even confirmation of a new commerce secretary. It is not clear that all of the timing issues have been worked out between House Republicans and the White House, but the agreement with Colombia significantly enhances prospects for movement on a trade agenda this summer.
Lest there be excessive rejoicing, though, it is worth keeping in mind that passage of the three agreements would partially complete the trade agenda of 2007, and there was a cost to the dithering. The pending FTAs offered benefits in two important dimensions: access to the markets for American exporters and stronger diplomatic ties. On the economic front, this access was originally set to grant American businesses and farmers preferential access to the Korean and Colombian markets, ahead of global competitors. Now, there is a scramble just to keep U.S. exporters on an even footing. While the agreements were stymied by domestic political fights in the United States, our partner countries reached other agreements to open their markets to the world. A prime motivation for the mid-summer deadline on passing the Korea-U.S. FTA is the looming passage into force of Korea's FTA with the European Union.
On the diplomatic front, the FTAs were meant to send a signal of friendship and allegiance. While the partner countries certainly welcome passage now, that signal has been somewhat diminished by years of slapping them around through public criticism.
There is a pending, post-2007 trade agenda out there. The eternal but deeply-troubled global trade talks (the Doha Round) are in desperate need of American leadership. The WTO's director-general, Pascal Lamy, sounded the alarm to members last week:
Now is the time for all of you, and in particular those among you who bear the largest responsibility in the system, to reflect on the consequences of failure ... to think about the consequences of the non-Round to the multilateral trading system which we have so patiently built over the last 70 years. It is the time to think hard about multilateralism, which your leaders, yourselves and myself preach at every occasion. In politics, as in life, there is always a moment when intentions and reality face the test of truth. We are nearly there today.
Then there are the Bush-launched, Obama-embraced talks to expand the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A number of the participants in those talks are earnestly shooting for a conclusion this November, when the United States hosts the APEC meetings in Hawaii. This seems implausible, since the administration has not yet broached the question of trade negotiating authority for those talks with the Congress. And if labor and human rights issues with Colombia stirred controversy, wait until we start discussing Vietnam, a TPP participant.
The biggest question surrounding this week's breakthrough on the Colombia FTA is where it leaves relations between the White House and the American labor movement, which has been the most outspoken opponent of recent trade agreements. The administration made some inroads with labor through its reworking of the Korea-U.S. FTA at the end of last year. That won the support of the United Auto Workers, though that support did not extend beyond Korea. The AFL-CIO has remained opposed to all of the pending FTAs. Yesterday, it released a statement:
We are deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has signaled that it will move forward to submit the proposed U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement to Congress for a vote in the near future ... on the basis of the information provided to us at this time, we remain strongly opposed to the Colombia trade agreement.
It remains to be seen whether this opposition will be vigorous or muted. The Obama administration will also need to decide whether, on trade issues, it has now cast its lot with a coalition of pro-trade Republicans and internationalist Democrats, or whether it has pushed its labor allies as far as it dares.
Those are questions for another day, though. Today, Presidents Obama and Santos had cause to celebrate.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The Qaddafi regime's use of deadly force against protesting Libyan citizens has been properly met by condemnations from responsible governments around the globe. And then you have the outliers.
It may surprise some that this includes several governments in the Western Hemisphere, led by Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, the one-time petty dictator who posed as a born-again democrat to capture his country's presidency in 2006 (only to revert to his autocratic ways).
To great fanfare, Ortega pronounced, "I have been speaking with Qaddafi on the telephone ... he is again fighting a great battle, how many battles has Qaddafi had to fight. In these circumstances they are looking for a way to have a dialogue, but defend the unity of the nation, so the country does not disintegrate, so there will not be anarchy in the country."
It bears noting that the last time Daniel Ortega was heard from on a global scale was in 2008. Nicaragua was the only country to recognize the independence of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia following the brutal Russian invasion.
Also displaying solidarity with the murderous Qaddafi regime is Ortega's guiding light, Fidel Castro, who gamely tried to change the subject by telling the world that, "The government of the United States is not concerned at all about peace in Libya and it will not hesitate to give NATO the order to invade that rich country, perhaps in a question of hours or very short days."
The support for Qaddafi, as detestable as it is, is not hard to understand. After all, both Ortega and Castro, along with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales, are all past recipients of the Muammar Qaddafi International Human Rights Prize, bestowed by the Libyan dictator himself.
For his part, the loquacious Chavez has been unusually silent on the Libyan situation. That is quite different from September 2009, when Chavez hosted Qaddafi in Caracas, exclaiming, "What Simon Bolivar is to the Venezuelan people, Qaddafi is to the Libyan people." He also awarded him Venezuela's highest civilian decoration, saying, "We share the same destiny, the same battle in the same trench against a common enemy, and we will conquer."
Chavez critics are currently giving him his comeuppance, "Our garrulous president is keeping a thunderous silence," wrote Teodoro Petkoff in the newspaper Tal Cual. "Now that the democratic rebellion has reached Libya, Chavez is looking the other way and even abandoning his disgraced ‘brother.'"
Compare all this with the reactions of serious governments in the region, such as Peru, Colombia, and Chile, who have all forcefully condemned the attacks of protesters, with Peru breaking relations with Libya all together.
All this crystallizes the situation for the United States in Latin America today: between serious governments with whom we can do business and the irresponsible outliers with whom we share hardly any common interests. It is a distinction the Obama administration doesn't always seem to appreciate. At a House Western Hemisphere subcommittee hearing last week, Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) chided Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela on this score, saying that our hemispheric policy seems to be all about trying to make up with our enemies and ignoring our friends. Let's hope the disparate reactions to the carnage in Libya will serve as a wake-up call to realign our priorities in the Western Hemisphere.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Last October, Ambassador Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere during the George W. Bush Administration, exposed Hugo Chávez's efforts to aid and abet Iran's illegal nuclear weapons program, including its efforts to obtain strategic minerals such as uranium and to evade international sanctions.
Documentary evidence now suggests that Hugo Chavez's junior partner in Ecuador, Rafael Correa, is apparently forging his own dangerous alliance with the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regime, raising troubling questions about whether Iran continues to expand its global efforts to obtain uranium and other strategic minerals that are critical to Teheran's rogue nuclear program.
According to sensitive official documents provided to me by knowledgeable sources in Ecuador and other countries and published here for the first time, Iran and Ecuador have concluded a $30 million deal to conduct joint mining projects in Ecuador that appears to lay the groundwork for future extractive activities. The deal, which was apparently finalized in December 2009, "expresses the interest of the President of the Republic [of Ecuador] and the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum to boost closer and mutually beneficial relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran on a variety of fronts, among them mining and geology."
The deal calls for the establishment of a jointly run Chemical-Geotechnical-Metallurgical Research Center in Ecuador [Laboratorio Químico-Geotécnico-Metalurgico] and "to jointly implement a comprehensive study and topographic and cartographic analysis of [Ecuadorean territory]."
What is most concerning about developing Ecuadorean-Iranian ties in the mining sector is that, like Venezuela, Ecuador is known to possess deposits of uranium. In August 2009, Russia and Ecuador signed a nuclear agreement that included joint geological research and development of uranium fields, as well as building nuclear power plants and research reactors. In March 2009, the International Atomic Energy Agency also unveiled plans to help Ecuador explore for uranium and study the possibility of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
Nobody should have been surprised when Bolivian President Evo Morales opened the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (CDMA) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on Nov. 22 with a one-hour stem-winder against the United States. Given his commitment to leftist populism, it would have been out of character for him to ignore his radical support base or sponsors in Cuba and Venezuela. Still, the conference was not a disaster.
In the end, ministers agreed to support a system of tracking expenditures on conventional arms in both the United Nations and the Organization of American States, to develop cooperative mechanisms to speed military aid to civil authorities in disaster response, and strengthen civilian competency in managing defense ministries. Moreover, they declined to approve Bolivia's motions condemning the United States.
Despite opportunities for incendiary rhetoric, such meetings let senior leaders talk one-on-one with counterparts about issues of mutual interest. Often, the most useful gatherings are not the droning plenaries filled with long speeches, but pull-asides outside the main hall in which decision-makers share private concerns. Since so many of these can't possibly take place through individual travels to Washington or in foreign capitals, it makes sense to take advantage of the proximity that a summit brings.
In unscripted encounters, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates undoubtedly got ear loads on a variety of sensitive topics. He also had several chances to urge agreement on matters important to the United States: counternarcotics, curbing unnecessary weapons purchases, boosting cooperation in disaster response, and strengthening the competency of civilians now working in most of the hemisphere's defense ministries -- much of which made it into the final declaration.
On all sides, participants had time to meet on specific bilateral matters, or to debate such topics as defense spending, donor-recipient relationships, and whether defense and public security missions should be combined or exist as separate functions. These conversations aid mutual awareness and often influence policy-making in neighboring capitals.
What to make of the hosts? Bolivia volunteered to hold an upcoming CDMA during the 2006 ministerial in Managua, and delegations at the eighth conference in Banff, Canada accepted its offer. Shortly thereafter, Morales cooled relations with the United States and set the stage for a tense summit by arbitrarily ejecting U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg. Still, Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra reportedly said that Bolivia wanted to improve security ties with the United States in the run-up to this year's meeting.
Thinking otherwise, President Morales began by charging that Washington had instigated coups in Bolivia, Venezuela, Honduras, and Ecuador. He called a U.S. congressman critical of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez an assassin and stated that Latin America didn't need economic aid if it involved the kind of market reforms advocated by the International Monetary Fund.
Vice President Alvaro García Linera closed the conference calling for the creation of a unified Latin American state from Mexico to Argentina to blunt the influence of Canada and the United States, as well as the establishment of a Latin American military school and separate military doctrine -- presumably reflecting Venezuelan and Cuban models.
If creating a ruckus defines success, Morales won -- judging by all of the column inches devoted to his remarks. But his was a political rant that didn't match the conference purpose, the demeanor of many of the Bolivian organizers, or the viewpoints of all participants. His one substantive input, on eliminating bank secrecy laws to target narcotics-related money laundering, failed to move.
García's statements suggested a cultural confrontation not terribly relevant to the region's more democratic governments in this era of global interdependence. They seemed uninformed given that most countries have military or police schools that already partner with neighbors and extra-hemispheric players in offering and receiving exchanges and assistance. Nor did they square with U.S. policy encouraging Latin American allies to develop leadership and self-sufficiency in security matters.
Perhaps 15 years ago, the creators of the CDMA process may have contemplated a forum that might include testy members and even hosts whose inputs would be contentious. After all, dissent helps guard against complacency and can focus participants on tasks at hand. And so it may have been that while shouts made headlines, quiet discussions were able to move the agenda forward.
Defense ministers who gathered in Santa Cruz this past week should feel proud they opted for cooperation over division. The citizens of their countries are better off for it.
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
Though plagued by heart trouble, former president Néstor Kirchner's death Wednesday (October 27) caught Argentines and foreign observers by surprise. As his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was serving out the remainder of her four-year term as president, he was positioning himself to run again next October. Theoretically, she would bide her time to run once more after he left office in 2015, thus keeping the administration of South America's second largest country in family hands.
Now such a scheme -- if ever plausible -- is in disarray. Besides who might prevail in the 2011 elections, the question is whether Néstor Kirchner's departure marks a turning point. Will Argentines cling to the model of powerful paternalistic presidencies that Kirchner and populist role model Juan Perón represented, or opt for a more institutional, accountable type of government? For the moment, the latter does not seem to be a viable option.
For one thing, Kirchner gained popularity by bringing Argentina back from a crisis that impacted a lot of people. Taking over from interim President Eduardo Duhalde in 2003, his confrontational leadership style guided Argentina out of an economic collapse that had devastated the ranks of its middle class. Kirchner angered foreign creditors by paying pennies on the dollar for Argentina's debts. Yet he put the economy on a growth track, aided by the inspired retention of economy minister Roberto Lavagna, a devalued peso, and rising commodity prices.
He elevated concerns for human rights in pursuing unresolved cases from the era of Argentina's military dictatorship. And when his wife was elected to succeed him as president, he helped her make difficult policy decisions and maintain unity within his party's normally unruly coalition.
Despite factions and splits, Kirchner's peronist Justicialist party is alive and well. Its patronage system of national and provincial party chiefs, union bosses, and special interest groups is the dominant political archetype. Welfare payments to the unemployed, some of it reportedly distributed through groups linked to the militant piqueteros movement, helped assure political loyalty among the poor, even as it encouraged a culture of corruption and favor trafficking.
Not all that Kirchner did was popular, however. Following Argentina's financial recovery, he ditched his economy minister and implemented policies spurring inflation that currently outstrips Argentina's 9 percent growth rate. Both Kirchners frequently circumvented lawmakers and ruled by decree. In 2008, they aggravated farmers with plans to raise taxes on grain exports and had to back off after months of protests. Subsequently, agricultural producers began working with lawmakers to rollback existing tariffs -- which got easier when the Kirchners lost their majority in congress.
Currently in lame duck status, re-election prospects for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner depend on her ability to show she can govern on her own. If she departs very much from her husband's themes, she may lose the backing of her party's faithful. Also, voters will be looking to see if she can run her coalition or if the party and union bosses have the upper hand. Whether or not she succeeds in presenting a fresh vision of the future, the campaign may still be about her husband's legacy.
Potential rival candidates have a related problem. Playing off Néstor's more unpopular decisions, they might have claimed to be the "anti-Kirchner." That's almost irrelevant now. They too will need to propose a compelling vision. Only the conservative Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri is likely to offer much in the way toward a more accountable, commerce-friendly government. However, he has no national party to help him campaign.
No doubt, Nestor Kirchner's departure creates an opening for a new direction and tone in Argentine politics. It could also be an opportunity for the United States to develop closer ties with Argentina, strained as relations had been under the Kirchners, who were chummy with Venezuelan populist Hugo Chávez. (That said, below the presidential level, ties remained cordial and productive.) Still, it is unclear whether prospective candidates, party leaders, or the electorate are ready for a different discourse.
While Néstor Kirchner may have overplayed his "father knows best" routine, he wielded a deft hand in a crisis and left intact a potent political machine. Maybe Argentines may want less corruption, fewer burdensome taxes, and more say in their government's policies. But achieving that may depend more on an evolution in thinking than a revolution at the ballot box.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Defense cooperation agreements are a good thing, and the United States has many with friendly nations around the globe. They enable mutual undertakings such as disaster response and counternarcotics efforts, they define limits, and specify rights and obligations for signatories. Sometimes they attract controversy, as did the U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) signed in October of 2009. But generally they won't if they are in step with each party's needs and adequately explained.
Unfortunately, when the U.S.-Colombia DCA was announced, South America's regional bully, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, was quick with a hysterical response. He deftly mischaracterized its counternarcotics theme as a threat to his government during a South American leaders' summit in order to distract attention from his outlandish multi-billion dollar arms purchases. These include long-range Sukhoi Su-30 fighter-bombers, Mi-35 combat helicopters, plans for advanced Su-35 fighters, submarines, and seaborne missile attack platforms.
Whereas Chávez signs all manner of troubling pacts with Russia and Iran without restraint, it's comforting to know that Colombia's Constitutional Court decided that the DCA required legislative approval. That's the difference separation of powers and rule of law make. The Court's decision deserves respect and newly inaugurated President Juan Manuel Santos did the right thing by setting the issue aside.
EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images
Fresh off his creepy public spectacle fondling the remains of South American liberator Simón Bolivar, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has concocted yet another circus to try and distract the attentions of increasingly suspect voters ahead of legislative elections in September. The current contretemps between Venezuela and Colombia stems from outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's parting salvo at the OAS directing his ambassador to present maps and video evidence of 87 Colombian terrorist camps across the border in Venezuela.
Chavez has reacted in typical fashion: railing about everything -- a Colombian invasion, a U.S. invasion, cutting off oil to the U.S., a 100-years war -- everything except the evidence presented by Colombia. Elsewhere on this website, Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alavarez provided a "who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes" rebuttal to Colombia's charges.)
Uribe's move is his going away gift to regional governments who consistently head for the tall grass whenever Colombia requests solidarity and cooperation in combating the narcoterrorist armies that have wrought death and destruction in Colombia for decades. At the same time, by presenting yet again evidence of Chavez's complicity in aiding and abetting Colombian terrorist groups, it leaves his successor Juan Manuel Santos in a position of strength to carry on Colombia's lonely diplomatic offensive to secure regional help against these criminal gangs that rely on the benign neglect, if not outright support (i.e., Venezuela) of Colombia's neighbors to sustain their war against Colombian society.
Yet the notion that the crisis somehow helps Chavez by allowing him to whip up nationalistic sentiment ahead of elections is folly. Venezuelans are about as militaristic as your average Scandinavian, and they assuredly want no part of a war with Colombia -- a trading partner, not to mention a well-armed military -- when the stakes are over whether Chavez is in bed with narcoterrorists.
Besides, what are the Venezuelan people to make of Chavez's self-contradicting rhetoric? On the one hand, he praises the FARC as an "army" that doesn't deserve the terrorist label and is widely suspected of providing them weapons. On the other, he pretends to put his country on a war-footing when evidence is presented that FARC and ELN units are camping out in Venezuela undisturbed. Maybe in Chavez World you can have it both ways, but to everyone else, he reminds no one of Winston Churchill rallying his country to arms.
For its part, the Obama administration has unfortunately been content to remain on the sidelines, issuing a tepid statement of support for Colombia (even though the evidence no doubt resulted from our intelligence cooperation) and calling on "both sides" to ratchet down the rhetoric. Imagine, equating the victim of terrorist violence, and a strategic ally no less, with a facilitator of that violence by telling them BOTH to "tone it down" -- even as Chavez is doing all the shouting.
As much as Chavez's enablers would like it, the sideline is no place for the United States to be on this issue. Other countries in the region have proven either incapable or unwilling to hold Chavez to account, either as he undermines democracy at home or helps rogue regimes abroad like Iran evade international sanctions.
During the Bush administration, a conscious decision was made to avoid a microphone diplomacy war with Chavez and instead allow him to define himself before the international community, without any help from Washington -- which he complied in doing. But the Bush strategy has run its course, and the Obama administration campaign talking point of improving relations is in tatters.
What everyone needs to come to terms with is that, yes, Chavez is a clown, but he's also a dangerous one, just like his Iranian amigo Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Therefore, it's time to get serious about Chavez and his pretentions to be of regional and even global consequence and treat him as the danger to regional peace and security that he is.
Last May, 10 Republican senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to designate Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism. That is precisely the discussion we need to start having about Hugo Chavez.
Chavez has always believed his oil exports to the Untied States operate as a kind of magic talisman, warding off meaningful action against him by the United States. He needs to be disabused of that notion. Targeted sanctions that would begin to reduce U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil would have catastrophic results for his government, and the U.S. could easily find new markets to offset the drop. (The oil markets didn't even blip when Chavez made his latest threat to cut off exports.)
Hugo Chavez has always aspired to be considered a real nemesis by the United States. It's time to accommodate him.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton isn't known for gaffes, but when she announced from foreign shores that the U.S. government will sue a state for helping to enforce federal laws, it was kind of a biggie.
The state is Arizona, of course. And at issue is the law it passed in April allowing police to query the immigration status of individuals following a lawful stop, detention, or arrest. As amended, it prohibits consideration of race, color, or national origin and specifies that those suspected of unlawful entry be turned over to federal authorities to determine their status. The bill was a response to Washington's paralysis in enacting meaningful migration reform.
In its response, the administration opted for a political brawl over the more difficult course of pursuing national reforms. On May 19, President Barack Obama stood next to visiting President Felipe Calderón of Mexico when he called for the law to be struck down. Soon after, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief John Morton said his agency would not necessarily process individuals referred by Arizona authorities.
Hillary's pronouncement came during the course of a TV interview in Quito, Ecuador following her appearance at the Organization of American States General Assembly in Lima, Peru. On June 8, she told interviewer Andrea Bernal that President Obama feels the federal government should be determining immigration policy, and that the Justice Department will bring a lawsuit against the act. Sounds reasonable enough, you say.
Yet as gaffes go, this is a three-fer. First, while most American citizens know it is the federal government's responsibility to determine and enforce immigration policy, no public servant should fan the flames of internal controversy from a foreign pulpit. If Arizonans are going to get sued by the feds, best they learn about it from officials closer to home.
Second, the Clinton got out ahead of the issue owner-the attorney general. In response, the Justice Department said it was still reviewing the law. Then administration sources scrambled to tell reporters that a decision had in fact been made, but the department needed time to build its case. The facts remain cloudy.
Third, there could have been a teachable moment here. Bad living conditions and porous borders are problems in various parts of the Americas. Just as desperate Ecuadorans seeking employment have found their way illegally to the United States through Central America and Mexico, Ecuador has felt the impact of Colombians fleeing drug violence and guerrilla bands from their native land.
Clinton could have discussed how the United States and its neighbors might benefit from multilateral cooperation to reduce illegal migrant flows, crack down on attendant trafficking, and attack the root problems that make people want to leave home, such as weak rule of law and rigged economies that make life difficult for job-supplying small businesses.
For now, it's hard to tell where Obama's migration policy will end up. It may be that he is developing a reasoned course. But you would never know by remarks that seemed to be mostly about U.S. politics, another agency's authorities, and little about the broader issues in which our neighbors play a major part.
RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.