Category Archives: Regional (In)Stability

El Colombiano – Estados Unidos promete minimizar influencia iraní en Latinoamérica

Publicado el 28 de febrero de 2013

La secretaria de Estado adjunta de Estados Unidos para Latinoamérica, Roberta Jacobson, aseguró este jueves que su país defenderá la democracia ante los “líderes populistas” del continente y minimizó la influencia que tiene Irán en los países de la región.

Jacobson se pronunció así en una audiencia ante el subcomité del Hemisferio Occidental en la Cámara de Representantes de Estados Unidos, en la que habló sobre las oportunidades y retos en Latinoamérica en el segundo mandato del presidente Barack Obama, en el que Estados Unidos tiene un nuevo titular de Exteriores, John Kerry.

“En algunos países del continente, los líderes populistas que son impacientes o incluso irrespetuosos con los procesos de la democracia están cerrando o subyugando medios independientes y buscando controlar tribunales y parlamentos”, indicó Jacobson.

“Estamos trabajando a través de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) para proteger la libertad de expresión“, aseguró. “Seguiremos pronunciándonos para defender instituciones fuertes e independientes de la democracia”.

Estados Unidos ha analizado de cerca la situación en Venezuela, donde el presidente Hugo Chávez, reelegido en los comicios de octubre, no pudo jurar su nuevo mandato (2013-2019) el pasado 10 de enero debido a sus problemas de salud, y opina que en el caso de que el mandatario quede permanentemente inhabilitado para ejercer el poder, deberá haber elecciones en el país.

Al respecto, Jacobson consideró este jueves que, ante la posibilidad de que se produzca una transición política en Venezuela“Estados Unidos tiene un papel que representar”, al defender en la OEA y en sus intercambios con los venezolanos “la necesidad de que cualquier elección sea libre, abierta y justa”.

La responsable de Estados Unidos para Latinoamérica también se refirió a la creciente actividad de Irán en el continente, ante la que el Departamento de Estado está elaborando una estrategia de respuesta que ella misma está coordinando y que entregará al Congreso en junio.

Jacobson reconoció que Irán ha firmado “muchos acuerdos diplomáticos y actividades en la región”, pero aseguró que “no parece que estén dando frutos”.

El informe que elabora Estados Unidos tendrá una buena parte clasificada, según adelantó, aunque también una porción pública que reflejará “lo que hacemos para supervisar la influencia de Irán y responder cuando se violan las sanciones”.

“Gran parte de lo que creemos que es crítico para responder a Irán es trabajar con otros países, para ver si hay información que podamos compartir”, afirmó. “No siempre es posible, pero muchos países están preocupados de no tener la información que necesitan para supervisar ellos también (las actividades iraníes)”.

El Congreso aprobó el año pasado una ley que obligaba al Gobierno de Obama a elaborar una estrategia al respecto y describir detalladamente las actividades de Irán, su Guardia Revolucionaria, sus Fuerzas Quds y el grupo libanés Hizbulá.

Según esa ley, Irán ha construido 17 centros culturales en América Latina y en la actualidad mantiene once embajadas, en comparación con seis en 2005.

El Departamento de Estado también enviará al Congreso “lo antes posible” otro plan: elacuerdo que firmaron hace un año la entonces secretaria de Estado, Hillary Clinton, y el expresidente mexicano Felipe Calderón, para permitir la explotación de los yacimientos de hidrocarburos que estén en la frontera común en el Golfo de México.

El Gobierno de Obama aún tiene dudas sobre si el acuerdo con México es un tratado, que necesitaría aprobación del Congreso, o un simple pacto que no la requiere, según indicó una fuente legislativa al diario especializado The Hill. En caso de que decida que es un tratado,  deberá ser ratificado por el Senado y la Cámara baja antes de que pueda comenzar la exploración conjunta de los yacimientos transfronterizos.

La energía es, precisamente, una de las tres áreas en las que Jacobson ve más oportunidades en el continente, junto a la educación y la defensa de la democracia y los derechos humanos, según indicó.

Destacó el “excelente trabajo” que ha hecho Colombia en la mejora de su seguridad,hasta el punto de que “en muchas ocasiones saben hacer las cosas mejor que Estados Unidos” en esa área; y consideró que la alianza con el nuevo Gobierno mexicano de Enrique Peña Nieto “ha tenido un gran comienzo” en la cooperación de seguridad.

En cuanto a Cuba, confió en que haya “cambios en el terreno político en los próximos cinco años, porque hasta ahora” sólo han “visto avances en los derechos económicos”.

Click here for original article.

Advertisements

Economist – Security in Colombia: Fear of missing out

The second-biggest guerrilla group tries to muscle in on peace talks

WHEN the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s strongest guerrilla group, wanted to convince the government that they were serious about restarting peace talks, they tried to prove their good intentions by formally renouncing their decades-old practice of kidnapping for ransom. They also declared a unilateral two-month ceasefire when the talks began, which expired on January 20th. The country’s second-largest guerrilla force, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has adopted the opposite strategy: disgruntled that it has been excluded from the negotiations, which began in November, it has launched a new campaign of attacks to establish its relevance.

On January 18th the ELN abducted five workers for Canada’s Braeval Mining Corporation near the company’s gold and silver mining project in the department of Bolívar. The captives included a Canadian and two Peruvians. The group has also bombed an oil pipeline twice so far in 2013.

The ELN has left little doubt that the attacks are a cry for attention. “Why aren’t we at the [negotiating] table?,” asked Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, its leader, in a video posted online the day the miners were kidnapped. “That’s a question for President [Juan Manuel] Santos,” he continued.

Since the mid-1960s, the ELN and FARC have fought parallel wars against the Colombian state. Although both groups espouse a Marxist ideology and have financed themselves through kidnappings and the drug trade, they have a long history of mutual mistrust. Whereas the FARC began as a peasant-based organisation and adopted Soviet-style doctrines and a strict military structure, the ELN was founded by university students, oil workers and priests who followed liberation theology and had close ties to Cuba. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Colombian army commanders and ELN leaders actually agreed in 2006 to fight the FARC together in some parts of the country.

Mr Santos has been careful not to give the ELN the public recognition it craves. According to El Colombiano, a newspaper in Medellín, the ELN sent a delegation to the peace talks, but it was turned away because the state’s representatives were not authorised to talk with it. Although the government has not ruled out parallel discussions, it worries that the narrow five-point agenda it has agreed to address with the FARC—aimed mostly at ending the country’s armed conflict—could be diluted by the ELN’s long-standing demand for a broad national convention about all the country’s woes. Moreover, many officials hope they can simply fold the ELN, which has just 2,500 fighters, into any deal with the FARC, which boasts around 9,000.

The government is taking a risk by continuing to sideline the ELN. Felipe Torres, a former member of its national directorate, recently told El Colombiano that the group is far stronger politically than militarily. He said that just one-fifth of its supporters have taken up arms. If true, that should make it easier for the ELN to follow the FARC’s lead by ceasing its campaign of violence and freeing its hostages—steps that the government will surely demand before opening any separate peace process with Colombia’s “other” guerrillas.

AQ – Maduro is No Chávez, For Now

DECEMBER 10, 2012

BY JAVIER CORRALES

After much speculation President Hugo Chávez announced on December 8 that his cancer was back (for the second time in a year), and that he now had a person in mind to succeed him—Nicolás Maduro, the minister of foreign affairs who was elevated to vice president in October 2012.

Designating Maduro as the official successor was, as political scientist María Teresa Romero said, both expected and surprising. Anointing Maduro was expected since he had become Chávez’ closest political figure, frequently seen right next to the president, especially when traveling to Cuba for treatment.  The constitution also says that Maduro, as vice-president by special designation of Chávez himself, takes charge if the president is ever permanently absent from office.

If Chávez is unable to complete his new six-year term within the first four years, the constitution stipulates that a new election must be called within 30 days. In this case, it is now clear that Maduro would be the preferred candidate for Chávez’ Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV).

The Venezuelan political system, which is a mixture of democracy and autocracy, has now officially entered the moment of succession—a process that varies significantly between the two political systems. In democracies, successions are determined by constitutions, while in autocracies, successions are always indeterminate and fraught with uncertainty and the potential for crisis.

 

Still, if the constitution is clear about this process, and Chávez was already frank about whom he wanted for vice-president, why bother to interrupt his “urgent” treatment in Cuba, postpone surgery for a few days, and return to Venezuela to make the announcement that Maduro was his preferred successor? To be finally so public and emphatic about his choice was a shock.  Why not tweet the news from Cuba, or better yet, remain quiet, as he had been doing thus far?

With his dramatic announcement about Maduro, Chávez indirectly admitted that Venezuela is an autocracy by implicitly recognizing that the country is suffering from a succession crisis.  Chávez had seen the signs of the crisis before.  Each time he traveled to Cuba for treatment, vicious internal speculation about succession would metastasize within the PSUV.

Chávez must have been told in this last trip to Cuba that this type of political competition within chavismo, like Chávez’s cancer, is lethal.  Cuban doctors would try to take care of the recurring cancer, but only Chávez could take care of the recurring succession crisis. Chávez then knew that he needed to appear on national television to appoint Maduro, and thus contain this crisis.

In the end, Chávez gave Venezuela the gift of clarity by seeking to prevent a succession crisis. He also gave Maduro the gift of a lifetime, saving him from what would have been his first potential crisis as presidential candidate, namely internal sabotage.  Chávez was clear: all Venezuelans (meaning all chavistas) must vote for Maduro.

The day after the announcement (on December 9), the PSUV held a special meeting in Caracas.  Attendees included Maduro, the president of the National Assembly and the PSUV’s first vice-president Diosdado Cabello, and the candidates for governorships in the December 16 elections. They signed on to a document expressing unidad, but the question is whether their pledge of unity will stand the test of time.

It is likely that that the PSUV will grant Chávez his wish, and if the time comes, vote for Maduro for no other reason than to pay their last respects.  But it is less certain whether this loyalty will be automatically extended to Maduro if he assumes office.

So who is Maduro, and will he ever command the loyalty of chavistas?

In many ways Maduro is everything that Chávez represents, as well as its opposite. He is the Revolution’s most two-faced character.  On the one hand, he is one of the most leftist and anti-imperialist figures in the PSUV—the architect of some of Venezuela’s most radical foreign decisions such as close ties to Libya, Syria and Iran.  On the other hand, he can be soft-spoken and conciliatory.  He is the architect of the remarkable turnaround of relations with Colombia in the last two years and is the third longest-serving foreign relations minister in the Americas.  He has acquired experience, and might have even learned, on the job, the importance of pragmatism.   He also has a good relationship with the military, but unlike Chávez, he is not one of them.

The multiple sides of Maduro are worth remembering in trying to predict how he would deal with two inescapable political problems as president.  The first is what to do with the opposition, which is stronger than ever.  Here, Maduro is more likely than Chávez to understand the need to talk with his opponents, which is good news and bad news for them.  More government-opposition talk could help bring some moderation to public policy, but greater discussion may also split the opposition.

The second challenge is how to deal with the multiple factions within chavismo.  One faction is the military, whose institutional presence has never been higher and whose patience with the politiquería of Venezuela and the PSUV has never been lower.  A day after Chávez spoke about Maduro, the armed forces publicly reiterated their loyalty to Chávez the “person,” to the “Revolution,” and to the “people” (without mention of loyalty to the vice-president or even to Chávez’ wishes). Another faction is the very corrupt business tycoons who have amassed uncountable profits making deals with the state and have the influence to cause trouble.  The third faction is the radical ideologues who want a more extreme revolution than Chávez ever delivered. They have passion and impatience, and thus, capacity to also cause trouble.

These factions won’t disappear if Chávez disappears from politics, and it’s unclear how Maduro as president would manage them.  Chávez dealt with internal factions by blaming others for any setback, offering huge rewards to those who laughed at his jokes, and suppressing dissent from within.  As Teodoro Petkoff, editor of Tal Cual, once famously remarked, nowhere is freedom of expression more lacking in Venezuela than within the ranks of chavismo.

In dealing with these factions, Maduro will face two epochal choices: either introduce political competitiveness within the PSUV to allow the internal currents to fight among themselves, or impose order from above.  If he chooses the former, he may end up being a one-term president.  If he chooses the latter, he may survive in office longer, but he will have no choice than to imitate some of the hardline practices that his protégé deployed to unify his band of followers.

No two political leaders are ever identical, and Maduro will never be another Chávez.  But if the Venezuelan regime remains unchanged, the forces pressuring for convergence in rulership, and especially in dealing with dissent, will also remain the same.

Click here for original article.

AS/COA – The United States and Mexico: The Path Forward

Michael Werz and Eric Farnsworth / Center for American Progress

 

November 30, 2012

 

Mexico inaugurates a new president on Saturday—Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Given the early lead he enjoyed during the campaign and the public fatigue with the ruling National Action Party, Peña Nieto, the former governor of the state of Mexico, ran on generalities and never clearly defined his political philosophy or presidential agenda. Much of what he campaigned on could be boiled down to two statements: “I’m not the National Action Party, and I’m not the old Institutional Revolutionary Party.”

Good enough, as far as the election result goes: Peña Nieto was elected with close to 40 percent of the vote, a plurality but not a majority—in part because many voters retain a strong distrust of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and its autocratic past. It is now up to the president-elect to fill in the blanks as to what kind of president he will be. If all goes well, he could be transformational. But obstacles loom and initial expectations must be held in check.

The country has solid standing. Economic growth is strong and projections show continued expansion, surpassing even Latin American darling Brazil. The middle class is growing, with greater access to goods and services and the ability to purchase them. Manufacturing is moving back to Mexico from China, with Mexico becoming a platform both for production in North America and also in Latin America. The country has also become a leading voice in global trade, as well as economic and environmental initiatives. Mexico is becoming economically what it has always been geographically: the crucial link between North and South America.

The outgoing government has effectively used its final days in office to promote a reform agenda consistent with Peña Nieto’s stated views. Mexico has one of the longest transition periods of any democracy—five months. While outgoing governments have traditionally done little during this period, this particular transition period has proven different, particularly with regard to the charged issue of strong protections for labor that have been loosened through new legislation in recent weeks.

Working together, the National Action Party executive and the Institutional Revolutionary Party-controlled legislature have joined to give the incoming Peña Nieto government a strong tailwind toward economic opening and greater competition, without having to pay the political cost that labor reform might otherwise have entailed. At the same time, north of the border, President Barack Obama has spoken clearly of his desire for meaningful immigration reform this year, which would provide another significant political and economic boost to the new Mexican president.

With labor reform out of the way, attention turns to the three policy fields that Peña Nieto has promised to address, perhaps all at once: energy reform, tax reform, and Social Security reform. Should he succeed in addressing these issues effectively, he will have restructured a significant part of Mexico’s economy, preparing Mexico for an economic takeoff that could rival Asian economies.

This effort brings risk as well as promise, since failing with these fundamental reforms could throw Peña Nieto’s presidency into turmoil at its inception. Each of these reforms individually would be enough to occupy the Presidential Palace Los Pinos for months and to soak up the political capital of any president. Doing all of them together would be a political project more involved than any other since the Institutional Revolutionary Party first restructured Mexico’s economy in the 1930s. Clearly, the political stakes are huge.

A major obstacle to reform could be the Institutional Revolutionary Party itself. Party discipline will largely ensure a supportive if not compliant congressional delegation, but party bosses, governors, and individual congressional representatives, among others, will likely seek to ensure that their political equities are protected in any reform process. Peña Nieto’s challenge will be to keep them in line, using traditional tools of political coalition building without stepping over the line into corruption. A number of younger, newly elected members of the Mexican Congress in the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution have indicated that the deepening of democratic reform is their main priority and that there might be room for cooperation with President-Elect Peña Nieto should he push this agenda.

The fate of the reform agenda will arguably be the new president’s greatest and most immediate test. He faces a Mexican public that no longer tolerates the old ways of doing politics in Mexico and is skeptical that the Institutional Revolutionary Party has truly changed. But equally importantly, the party has been out of power for 12 years and its leaders now want and expect to receive the rewards that national power bestows. It will be a delicate balancing act for Peña Nieto. But his inauguration also has implications for U.S.-Mexico relations, which will play out on both sides of the border.

The Path Forward

Given this backdrop, the new Mexican president needs major political and policy successes in 2013 to consolidate power within his own party and secure congressional majorities for an ongoing economic reform process. Here, the United States has an important role to play: The two countries are intertwined in a unique way and thus the political success of Enrique Peña Nieto will, at least in part, be impacted by what happens north of the border. And the to-do list for the United States is extensive, but it is largely focused on economic policy and immigration reform.

Immigration reform is increasingly likely to dominate the domestic debate once the fiscal cliff is resolved. President-Elect Peña Nieto made a strong endorsement of immigration reform at his Washington press conference with President Obama this week, stating that he fully supportsPresident Obama’s proposal. Even though a strong majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, it will remain a difficult legislative battle. And while aligning with a popular U.S. president who will be viewed as fighting to legalize Mexican nationals makes obvious sense, there is some risk that a failed legislative effort will trigger collateral damage to Peña Nieto’s image in Mexico.

On the economic front, the success of the new Mexican administration’s economic reform and growth agenda is a core interest of the United States. A number of policy fields will be crucial to create a successful North American growth model and will elevate the transactional partnership with Mexico to a strategic relationship much like the United States enjoys with Canada. To achieve this goal, both countries must address a number of issues simultaneously.

  • The creation of jobs will play a central role in domestic politics in both countries. U.S-Mexican trade needs to be encouraged in the border region and beyond. To achieve this, the U.S.-Mexican border needs to be more permeable and allow more crossings at lower cost.
  • To secure energy independence, both countries need to prioritize research and development investments to ensure that technologies that facilitate access to shale gas—such as horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracking—do not adversely affect the environment. This is a necessary step to move forward with the development of massive North American shale gas resources—a potential strategic game-changer.
  • Mexican states along the U.S. border are official observers in the Western Climate Initiative, joining California and four Canadian provinces. The federal governments in both the United States and Mexico should take aggressive steps to make it more feasible for these Mexican states to become full partners in the initiative to achieve meaningful reductions in carbon pollution and move toward greater U.S.-Mexican cooperation on future North American pollution cuts.
  • Both countries need to expand their economic relations with Asia and Europe. President-Elect Peña Nieto sees China as an important future partner for economic growth. Both Mexico andCanada were invited in June to join the negotiations toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership—an important if belated step. Both should also be included at the very beginning of discussions with Europe—should they occur as has been rumored—toward the creation of a free trade zone in the Atlantic. Such trade negotiations would provide an added means for the three North American economies to build cooperation.
  • The war against cartels and gangs involved in the illegal drugs trade continues to rage on both sides of the border, although indications of progress include a reduction in violence, cleaned-up cities, and increasing professionalization of the Mexican security forces. Achieving a reduction of violence will be a key challenge for President-Elect Peña Nieto, with street protests demanding as much. Judicial reform is moving forward, albeit slowly, but Mexican authorities still rely too greatly on confession by apprehended suspects and have deficits in the acquisition and use of intelligence. This fight needs to be framed as a joint challenge, emphasizing the co-responsibility of the United States, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed several times.
  • The re-launch of a U.S.-Mexican bilateral commission would be an important vehicle to institutionalize cabinet-level discussions across the broad range of issues that affect our countries and maybe trilateralize along with Canada from time to time. Tone and perception count a lot in the bilateral relationship. In addition, both sides should establish permanent working groups to help change the image and perception of Mexico in the United States and vice versa. Such an engagement in public diplomacy could include messaging and outreach to counter the often-distorted perception of Mexican society in the United States.

The election of Enrique Peña Nieto and the re-election of President Obama mean that the U.S.-Mexican relationship has a unique opportunity to grow closer and bring numerous benefits to both sides of the border. To fully appreciate this unique opportunity, both sides must invest political capital and be prepared to engage domestic public opinion when it comes to explaining why our countries are united by much more than a fence.

Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, heading their Washington, D.C., office since 2003. His areas of expertise include the role of Asia in the Americas, trade, energy, U.S. policy in the region, and national security affairs.

Michael Werz is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where his work as a member of the National Security team focuses on the nexus of climate change, migration, and security, as well as on emerging democratic powers in Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, and India.

Click here for original article.

AS/COA – Viewpoints: What Should the Top Priority Be for U.S.-Mexican Relations?

ecember 03, 2012

 

With Enrique Peña Nieto taking the reins in Mexico and Barack Obama’s reelection the United States, what should the two leaders focus on in terms of bilateral ties? Many observers say the time is ripe to strengthen relations: Last year, U.S.-Mexican trade ties broke new records, hitting $500 billion in bilateral trade in goods and services; news outlets offer glowing praise for Mexico’s economic outlook; and strong support from the Latino electorate for Obama’s candidacy could help boost prospects for U.S. immigration reform early in his second term.

As new administrations take shape in both countries, 9 prominent Mexican and U.S. experts share what they believe the top goals should be for U.S.-Mexican relations. From opportunities presented by the Trans-Pacific Partnership to a reconsideration of outdated perceptions on both sides of the border, from infrastructure projects that could boost cross-border trade to a renewed focus on North American integration, these high-level officials and analysts provide their perpectives on how the two governments can deepen ties.

View expert contributions:


Rafael Fernández de Castro, Chair, Department of International Studies, ITAM

 

It is Peña Nieto’s task to help Obama create the foundation for immigration reform, not with demands but through actions.”

 

Brand new President Enrique Peña Nieto has three priorities in Mexico’s bilateral relations with the United States.

The first priority is to take advantage of the opportunity that was created by the weight of the Hispanic vote in favor of Barack Obama’s reelection to achieve immigration reform. It is Peña Nieto’s task to help Obama create the foundation for immigration reform, not with demands but through actions. He must therefore align Mexico’s objectives with those of the United States: they must consistently seek legal, safe and orderly migration. Furthermore, he must do some serious housekeeping, preventing abuses against Central American migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. And, he must develop a stable southern border, one that counts with a state presence and adequate infrastructure. The spirit of the transformation of the southern border must preserve the positive aspects of border integration processes while achieving efficiency in formal operations that will allow it to triumph over illegality.

The second priority is to take advantage of more favorable economic winds in both Mexico and the United States. Peña Nieto must prioritize an agenda of economic integration and greater regional competitiveness. The Mexican and Canadian entry into the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations signify an opportunity to harmonize stances between the three members of NAFTA to amplify markets in Asia. Mexico will be hosting the 2013 North American Leaders Summit, and Peña Nieto should thus be able to push a new regional strategic agenda that includes safer and efficient borders and the standardization of production.

The third priority is to maintain the aid flows that help combat organized crime and drug trafficking in the face of a U.S. fiscal crisis that can threaten these resources. Here Peña Nieto must emphasize three elements: agree with Washington’s priority that it help strengthen Mexico’s law enforcement institutions (police, judges, and prisons); develop a regional vision that includes Central America; and insist on an open debate that finally puts the decriminalization of drugs on the table.

Rafael Fernández de Castro is chair of the international studies department at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (Autonomous Technological University of Mexico—ITAM).


Antonio Garza, Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico

A first step is to get rid of outdated perceptions—on both sides.”

Tony GarzaThe United States and Mexico have enjoyed a very healthy and respectful relationship. On issues of shared interest—primarily trade and security—we’ve cooperated, though mostly out of necessity. Yet neither country has ever truly leveraged the bilateral relationship strategically.

What will it take to bring about this kind of fundamental shift? A first step is to get rid of outdated perceptions—on both sides. You simply can’t expect to have a strategic relationship that functions in real time if perceptions lag present realities. There’s been new research and insightful commentaryrecently highlighting the gap between Americans’ perceptions of Mexico and the country’s current reality.

President Enrique Peña Nieto faces the daunting task of moving Main Street U.S. perceptions of Mexico closer to where the views of economists, investors, and discerning travelers are on the country. He will help this along by conveying his administration’s absolute commitment to carrying through promised economic reforms, implementing anti-corruption and transparency initiatives, and reinforcing cooperation on security.

For President Obama, it’s important to signal that his new team is completely schooled in the reality of today’s Mexico and that they are prepared to take advantage of the moment to recast the relationship to the benefit of both countries. Delivering on immigration reform and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement are rare opportunities for a U.S. administration to fundamentally alter Mexicans’ perceptions of their northern partner.

As Mexico’s place in the world rises and the U.S. continues to recalibrate its foreign alliances, there’s a unique opportunity to move the bilateral relationship to a more strategic level—but it will take some work.

Antonio Garza is former U.S. ambassador to Mexico (2002-2009). He is counsel in the Mexico City Office of White & Case and is chairman of Vianovo Ventures, a cross-border consultancy.  Ambassador Garza is online at www.tonygarza.com.


James Jones, Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico

 

North America sits near the pinnacle of its greatest economic strength in history.”

 

James JonesThe overarching goal of our bilateral relationship should be to thoroughly integrate the economies of North America. Democracy and security are strengthened when commerce flows and grows. This creates wealth, opens new jobs, and establishes better personal relationships in both countries. To achieve this, we can work together to reduce the regulatory barriers to efficient trade by harmonizing cross-border regulations and modernizing border infrastructure.

The U.S. must pass comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes reality in our labor needs and legal protections for immigrants who are here helping build our economy. The U. S. must implement a debt reduction program combining serious spending cuts and revenue increases to give certainty and new impetus to growing our economy. Mexico must implement judicial and law enforcement reforms that will give confidence to businesses and citizens that a rule of law prevails there. Energy reforms are needed to attract private capital to fully realize Mexico’s abundant opportunities. Mexico needs tax reform that increases revenue, reduces the informal economy, and provides the framework to close the deep wealth divide among its citizens. To accomplish this and to further reduce the 40 million living in poverty, Mexico needs to make massive investments in infrastructure and quality education. Mexico’s growing middle class is impressive but to expand that even more will create market and economic power that will be the envy of the hemisphere.

North America sits near the pinnacle of its greatest economic strength in history. Together we can take it to the top.

James R. Jones is the chairman and CEO of ManattJones Global Strategies and the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico (1993-1997).


Beatriz Leycegui, Senior Fellow, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development:

 

Mexico and the United States cannot fight geography.”

 

Beatriz LeyceguiOne of their top priorities should be to address with a greater sense of urgency the bilateral and North American competitiveness agenda. The Mexican and U.S. economies are highly integrated and interdependent. If their economies do well, the impact on job creation is immediate. The U.S. is Mexico’s most important export market; Mexico is the U.S.’s second most important export market. Of every dollar the U.S. imports of Mexican goods,40 percent have American content, in comparison to China’s (4 percent), Brazil’s (3 percent), or India’s (2 percent).

Due to the reduction in the differential in labor costs between Mexico and China (in 2003, it stood at 237 percent; in 2010, at 13.8 percent) and increases in energy and transport costs, investment and production are returning to North America.

The most important elements of the North American competitiveness agenda should include: expediting the work to create a twenty-first-century border (infrastructure, risk management, pre-clearance, customs cooperation); strengthen regulatory cooperation (mutual recognition of regulations); liberalization of strategic services (e.g. telecommunications, air, land and sea transportation), and the improvement in the enforcement of intellectual property laws. The Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations can be an opportunity to advance some of these issues.

Mexico and the United States cannot fight geography. Why would Mexico forego the benefit of being next to the most important economy of the world? Why would the United States ignore the possibility of further integrating with a country that has proven to be a partner in production more than a competitor?

Beatriz Leycegui is a Senior Fellow at the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development in Geneva. She served as Mexico’s undersecretary for foreign trade at Mexico’s Ministry of Economy for five years (2006-2011).


Diana Negroponte, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution:

[F]acilitate the anticipated tripling of cross-border trade.”

Diana NegroponteDeepening the trade relationship and facilitating the shipment of component parts between Mexico and the United States requires the creation of access roads some eight miles ahead of the principal border crossings. With electronic submission of customs/immigration documentation and with electronic seals on transnational containers, trucks filled with bilaterally manufactured products can more rapidly pass across the border. Currently, the trucks are delayed principally for lack of access roads leading up to the border, especially on the Mexican side.

In order to construct these roads, private-public partnerships are needed.  The NADBANK, established 20 years ago to support environmental projects, is the best placed to mobilize these partnerships. The bank’s bylaws permit this. However, the environmental impact needs to be interpreted broadly. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could recognize that new roads relieve the congestion and high levels of air pollutants at the border crossing itself. Use of access roads may spread pollution further inland, but the levels of pollutants will be significantly lower than those currently suffered each side of the Rio Grande.

NADBANK’s initiative and the White House leadership to facilitate EPA approval could lead to the development of access roads and decongestion at the actual border. Mexican presidential encouragement to NADBANK’s directors to seek PPPs and U.S. presidential urging to the EPA for a broad interpretation of its mandate could result in a decade’s work of new infrastructure projects. This will facilitate the anticipated tripling of cross-border trade as both countries negotiate a Trans-Pacific Partnership and Mexico negotiates a Pacific Trade Alliance with its South American partners.

Presidential decisions to advance on instructing NADBANK to move forward with PPPs for these infrastructure projects are relatively easy. Their consequences will enhance the trade and prosperity of both nations.

Formerly a trade lawyer and professor of history, Diana Negroponte is a nonresident senior fellow with the Latin America Initiative under Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution.


Shannon O’Neil, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

 

“[Expanding production links will] enable companies to become more globally competitive, benefiting businesses, workers, and ultimately the economies of both nations.”

 

Shannon O'NeilMexico and the United States should focus on deepening economic ties. Commercial interdependence is already substantial, with nearly a half trillion dollars’ worth of goods crossing the border each year. Some 80 percent of Mexico’s exports go north, and for nearly half of U.S. states, Mexico is the number one or two destination for exports— supporting an estimated 6 million American jobs today.

These exports are more often than not pieces and parts—not finished goods—evidence of the regional supply chains developing in North America. In fact, 40 percent (on average) of every product imported from Mexico is really “made in America.” This compares to just 4 percent in goods from China.

Facilitating and expanding these production links will require making cross-border trade more efficient through investments in border infrastructure, standardized regulations (so that countries do not need fulfill similar requirements in both countries), and common customs forms, among other efforts. But they will also enable companies to become more globally competitive, benefiting businesses, workers, and ultimately the economies of both nations.

Shannon O’Neil is the Douglas Dillon Fellow for Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and publishes the blog www.latintelligence.com.


Ambassador Arturo SarukhanMexican Ambassador to the U.S.

 

[W]e need to continue strengthening the participation and commitment of civil society and the private sector across our common border, as they are true co-stakeholders in our bilateral efforts toward economic progress.

 

Arturo SarukhanOver the past two decades, NAFTA has dramatically altered the way Mexico and the United States engage with one another. However, much more can and should be done to bring North American competitiveness back to a starring role on the global stage. This is why the participation of all three North American countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be so important. The TPP will enable us to discuss measures that meet the needs and challenges of twenty-first-century free and fair trade, such as compatibility of regulatory systems, new environmental provisions, strong protection for intellectual property rights, and emerging areas such as digital technologies and e-commerce. The TPP will further deepen and strengthen the integrated supply and production chains between our two countries. And as a true coalition of the free-trade willing in the Americas and across the Pacific Rim, the TPP therefore represents the next step in a North American Grand Strategy. In addition to the TPP, we need to continue strengthening the participation and commitment of civil society and the private sector across our common border, as they are true co-stakeholders in our bilateral efforts toward economic progress.

I am convinced that Mexico and the United States are very well-positioned to make progress on the economic agenda. During the past six years, we have developed a solid bilateral relationship, based on the principle of shared responsibility, and with unprecedented levels of cooperation. This spirit of collaboration, together with NAFTA and soon TPP, leave Mexico and the United States on a strong footing to profit from the economic opportunities before us, and to and tackle our common challenges together.

Arturo Sarukhan has served as Mexico’s ambassador to the United States since February 2007. He previously served as chief of policy planning at the Foreign Ministry and as Mexican consul general to New York.


Charles Shapiro, President, Institute of the Americas

 

“It is time for [President Barack] Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto to transform U.S.-Mexican bilateral relations into a true partnership.”

Charles ShapiroAt the 2009 Summit of the Americas, President Barack Obama stressed that he wanted a relationship of equals. It is time for Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto to transform U.S.-Mexican bilateral relations into a true partnership.

The headlines always go to energy, drugs, and immigration. And yes, Mexican leaders must figure out how to produce more oil and natural gas. Yes, the United States must reduce our appetite for drugs and control the illicit export of weapons and drug money. U.S. politicians will reform our immigration policy when they understand that we need Mexican workers and that anti-Latino sentiments will cost them elections.

What is vital, if less sexy, is to realize that Canada, Mexico, and the United States are one economic entity. The focus must be on North American competitiveness. While respecting national sovereignty, we need to recognize that supply chains straddle borders. The manufactured exports of each contain components from all three. NAFTA was the cutting edge laptop of 1992. It’s time for the North American equivalent of the iPhone 5. We must accelerate the movement of sub-components and finished products (and tourists) across our borders. We need to make it easier for technicians to work temporarily in each other’s countries. We need to harmonize our regulations and standards. Together the three nations need to develop markets with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the European Union, APEC, and the Pacific Alliance. That’s how to generate growth in all three North American nations.

Charles Shapiro is president of the Institute of the Americas, a public policy think tank at the University of California San Diego. He is a retired U.S. diplomat and served as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela (2002-2004).


Eric Farnsworth, Vice President, AS/COA

 

“A joint economic agenda is now more achievable than before.”

Eric Farnsworth“Should be” and “will be” have frequently been two very different things in the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship. The coming year offers the opportunity for a new approach.

For their own domestic purposes and in the wake of their respective elections, the United States should quickly tackle immigration reform while Mexico should liberalize its energy sector.

In terms of the bilateral relationship, however, both governments (including their legislatures) should recognize the nature of economic integration that has occurred since NAFTA, making our two economies virtually inseparable, along with Canada, as a joint production platform. This new reality should both be celebrated and also enhanced. Joint approaches within the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations can be a means to achieve NAFTA 2.0. If coupled with a North American approach to potential trade negotiations with the EU, North American economic integration can advance to a point unthinkable even a few short years ago. With continued economic and commercial pressure from China, India, and elsewhere, this approach will support the long-term economic well-being of the United States and North America more broadly.

A joint economic agenda is now more achievable than before. The Hispanic community in the United States has found its voice politically, manufacturing is returning to the United States due to lower prices for natural gas, and, despite ongoing concerns about violence and the drugs trade, Mexico is doing well enough economically to entice investors back from China. Now is perhaps the best opportunity in recent memory to intensify economic collaboration. It should be the top bilateral priority.

Eric Farnsworth is vice president of Americas Society/Council of the Americas in Washington DC. From 1995 to 1998, he was senior adviser to the White House special envoy for the Americas.

Click here for original article.

Economist – Next in line

IN HIS 14 years as Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez has always subscribed to the principle of après moi, le deluge. Wary of allowing any rival centre of power to emerge, he has systematically hollowed out the country’s institutions, and subtly encouraged factions within his movement to spar for his good graces. But on December 8th, Mr Chávez announced that his still-unspecified pelvic cancer has reappeared, and that he must undergo a fourth surgery. With no guarantee that he will be in suitable condition for his inauguration for a third term on January 10th, he at last anointed an heir apparent, choosing Nicolás Maduro (pictured), his foreign minister and vice-president.

Under Venezuela’s 1999 constitution, if the president dies or leaves office during the final two years of a six-year term, the appointed vice-president serves out the remainder. But before that point, if a president has to abdicate, new elections must be held within 30 days. So if Mr Chávez cannot be sworn in, the country will hold a re-run of the vote held on October 7th, when the incumbent beat Henrique Capriles of the Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance by asurprisingly comfortable margin. Assuming that Mr Capriles, currently the governor of Miranda state, is re-elected to his post in regional elections on December 16th, he would almost certainly be the opposition candidate once again, and would face Mr Maduro in Mr Chávez’s stead.

Mr Maduro, 50, has never held an elected executive post. A former student leader and member of the radical Socialist League, his only job outside politics was as a bus driver starting in the late 1980s. That gave him a toehold in organised labour, and he became president of the Caracas Metro union. His links with the president go back to the days when Mr Chávez was in jail after a failed coup attempt, and he joined the legislature in 1999, chairing the assembly in 2005-06.

Like most of Mr Chávez’s inner circle, he has no significant political base of his own. But he has been more successful than anyone in convincing the president of his loyalty and ability to carry out orders. Mr Maduro has never been far from Mr Chávez’s side during the president’s frequent visits to Cuba for cancer treatment. He is widely considered to have the support of the Cuban regime, whose security and intelligence services play an important (though largely hidden) role in Venezuela.

Mr Maduro would have to triumph over two rivals if he hopes to take over the chavistaapparatus. The first is Mr Capriles, who won a respectable 46% of the vote in October, and showed impressive skills as a campaigner. Polls have consistently shown Mr Capriles beating all opponents save Mr Chávez himself, including Mr Maduro. However, the president’s whole-hearted endorsement of Mr Maduro would surely cause many of his supporters to back his preferred successor, especially if an incapacitated Mr Chávez remained alive to remind voters of his dying wish. “My firm opinion,” he said on December 9th, “clear as the full moon, irreversible, absolute, and total, is that in a scenario requiring the holding of new presidential elections, you should choose Nicolás Maduro as president.”

Even if Mr Maduro did vanquish Mr Capriles, however, he would still have to exert control over Mr Chávez’s fractious movement. His main challenger would be Diosdado Cabello, a former army lieutenant who participated in Mr Chávez’s coup attempt, and is now the chairman of the legislature and the vice-president of the ruling United Socialist Party. Mr Cabello lacks Mr Maduro’s bona fides as an ideological leftist. However, he wields influence in the army and the highly opaque distribution of the country’s oil revenues, and despite the president’s wishes, he may not line up meekly behind Mr Maduro. Despite Mr Chávez’s belated effort to arrange for continuity, some degree of internecine warfare seems inevitable.

Click here for original article.

NYT – Before More Cancer Surgery, Chávez Had Some Political Fences to Mend at Home

LA PAZ, Bolivia — President Hugo Chávez ofVenezuela has flown repeatedly to Cuba this year for cancer treatments, but the flight that took him back to Caracas on Friday may have been the most meaningful of all.

Mr. Chávez postponed emergency cancer surgery to return home, meet with his inner circle and announce on television on Saturday, for the first time, that he had picked the man he wanted to lead his socialist revolution when he is gone — something he seemed to suggest might come sooner than his millions of followers would hope.

He flew to Cuba again on Monday to prepare for surgery, news agencies reported.

Mr. Chávez could well recover and remain a potent force, but on Saturday night he seemed intent on smoothing over factions within his party and solidifying support for the man he chose to succeed him, Vice President Nicolás Maduro.

Mr. Chávez, 58, spoke the word “unity” several times during Saturday’s somber, symbolically weighted appearance. To his left sat Mr. Maduro, and behind both of them viewers could see a bust of Mr. Chávez’s hero, the South American independence leader Simón Bolívar (who never realized his dream of unifying a fractious continent).

Mr. Chávez, a charismatic and polarizing leader who has crafted his own brand of socialist revolution in this oil-rich country, has been vague about the nature of his illness since it was first disclosed in June last year. Since then, he has had at least two operations,chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Yet he said on Saturday that doctors had once again found malignant cells, necessitating a new operation.

The fact that he chose to go home to put his political house in order and clear up the long-unresolved line of succession — rather thanwrite about it on Twitter or report it by calling in to a government television show, as he so often has done with lesser policy decisions during his many medical absences — suggests that his doctors have told him that the news is not good.

“This is a huge passing of the torch,” said Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College.

Even if Mr. Chávez makes a strong recovery after his surgery, Mr. Corrales said, “there’s no question we are in the transition stage, and that’s always incredibly uncertain.”

Mr. Chávez, who has been president for nearly 14 years, was re-elected in October to another six years. His new term is to begin on Jan. 10.

But if he dies or cannot continue to govern before then, the Constitution states that the vice president, Mr. Maduro, would become president and finish out the last days of the current term.

If Mr. Chávez is unable to begin his new term, or if he leaves office within the first four years, then new elections would be called, according to the Constitution.

In that case, Mr. Chávez said on Saturday that he wanted Mr. Maduro to be his party’s candidate, and he asked his supporters to elect him.

“I ask it from my heart,” he said.

New elections could open the way for a new run by Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young state governor who opposed Mr. Chávez in October. Mr. Capriles received 44 percent of the vote and 6.5 million votes, far more than any previous candidate against Mr. Chávez.

But Mr. Capriles is now running a difficult race for re-election as governor of Miranda, which includes part of Caracas, the captial, and one of the country’s most populous states. The election is on Sunday.

He is being challenged by a former vice president, Elías Jaua, and the government and Mr. Chávez’s socialist party have made it a priority to defeat Mr. Capriles, hoping that it will weaken him politically and remove him as a threat.

“If Capriles loses, there will be a battle in the opposition, a struggle for power, and the leaders will call for a change,” said Luis Vicente León, a pollster close to the opposition.

Some polls taken earlier this year showed that Mr. Capriles could beat Mr. Maduro if they ran against each other.

But Mr. León said conditions had changed with Mr. Chávez’s endorsement of Mr. Maduro. If Mr. Chávez were to die or become too ill to continue in office, it could give Mr. Maduro’s candidacy an emotional boost, he said.

But Mr. Maduro, 50, will have difficulties of his own in having to rein in factions within Mr. Chávez’s party. That could include the military and former military officers to whom Mr. Chávez has given a major role in his government.

For the time being, Venezuelans can look forward to more uncertainty.

The country has been obsessed with Mr. Chávez’s illness since it was first revealed. It has been the source of endless speculation and conspiracy theories. Some people even insist that he is not sick and has invented the illness to throw his opponents off guard. His fiercest opponents see his cancer as a sign of hope that his days as president are numbered; his supporters insist that he will recover, and they condemn such grim speculation as necrophilia.

But the last announcement of his need for another surgery, coupled with his call to rally behind Mr. Maduro, takes the nervous focus on Mr. Chávez’s cancer and what it means for the country’s future to a new level.

Several hundred supporters of Mr. Chávez congregated on Sunday in Bolívar Plaza in central Caracas in what was an uncharacteristically subdued gathering, by the standards of his followers. But also on display was their quasi-religious connection with the president — and the refusal among many to acknowledge his mortality.

“He is going to overcome this difficult time,” said Israel Pérez, 32, a law student. “He will be with us forever.”

Nonetheless, would he support Mr. Maduro as Mr. Chávez’s replacement?

“Venezuelans would support any proposal the president asks them to,” Mr. Pérez said.

Andrew Rosati contributed reporting from Caracas, Venezuela.

Click here for the original article.