La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Hillary Rodham Clinton

Rousseff tackles economic matters in first day as Brazil's first female president

Dilma rousseff epa

Economist Dilma Rousseff was sworn in as the first female president of Brazil on New Year's Day, special correspondents report in the Los Angeles Times. Rousseff received the symbolic presidential sash from outgoing leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who left office with a resounding approval rating of 87%.

The transition keeps Lula's Workers' Party in power for at least another four-year term, and speculation remains high that Lula might run for the presidency again in 2014 after a single Rousseff term, or wait out two terms under Rousseff and seek the presidency in 2018. That's assuming, of course, Rousseff has as much success in office as Lula had.

Brazil boomed under Lula, becoming the largest economy in Latin America and shedding millions from the ranks of the poor. Under Lula, Brazil captured the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, strengthened its oil sector and asserted itself as a rising global force, even playing diplomatic deal-maker with Iran over its nuclear program -- a move that irked the United States.

Representing the U.S., Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attended Rousseff's inauguration in Brasilia. Brazil-U.S. relations remain "in flux," The Times reported.

Rousseff, 63, is a former Marxist guerrilla who survived torture under Brazil's military dictatorship in the 1970s. She had never held elected office, and won a runoff in October largely because of the backing of her mentor Lula, who campaigned heavily for his former chief of staff. Rousseff remains strongly identified with Lula and his policies, which could help or hinder her early efforts to form an administration, analysts said.

"I will not rest while there are Brazilians who have no food on their tables, while there are desperate families on the streets, while there are poor children abandoned to their own devices," Rousseff said in her inaugural speech.

On Monday, the new president moved quickly to cut government spending and open discussions on privatizing expansion projects at the two airports in Sao Paulo, signaling a "market-friendly tone" on the crucial subject of Brazil's economy.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: President Dilma Rousseff greets supporters after receiving the presidential sash from outgoing leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brasilia, Brazil, on Jan. 1. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

Update: An earlier version of this post misspelled Sao Paulo.

New cables reveal frank U.S. views on Latin America, from Argentina to Venezuela

Hugo chavez wikileaks

The global fall-out over the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables continues to trickle into Latin America, where leaders are responding to a variety of disclosures that reveal frank opinions on governments with whom   the United States has sometimes had tense relations.

Here's a run-down of some of the most significant claims or statements made on Latin America in the latest WikiLeaks disclosures, by country. Links below follow news coverage as well as the original cables as published by WikiLeaks or the news organizations that have reviewed them.

Continue reading »

WikiLeaks on Latin America: A cache on Mexico

WikiLeaks has amassed 2,836 classified or secret records relating to Mexico, but the website has made no announcement on when or if any of those records will be released.

The Mexico records were discussed briefly in an online chat on Monday with the editor of the Spanish daily El Pais, which has been publishing some of the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables (link in Spanish). The editor, Javier Moreno, says the Mexico records are related to "the war against drug trafficking." Moreno defended El Pais' decision to publish leaked U.S. cables, saying  his newspaper's job is "not to protect governments."

He did not say whether El Pais will be publishing any records on Mexico.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the leaking of the diplomatic cables "an attack on America's foreign policy interests" and said her office would not be commenting on the contents of any specific leaked documents.

The Mexico records obtained by WikiLeaks originate mostly from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, but also come from consulates in Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Monterrey, Guadalajara and other cities, reports El Universal (link in Spanish).

The United States has a deep diplomatic and intelligence infrastructure in Mexico, with field offices inside the country for the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service, FBI and other agencies. As reported previously by La Plaza, the United States and Mexico opened a joint office in Mexico City in August to oversee the implementation of the Merida Initiative, the multiyear aid package to help Mexico confront powerful narcotrafficking groups in a conflict that has left 30,000 dead over four years.

"Neither officials from Mexico or the United States working in the Bilateral Implementation Office will engage in intelligence or operational activities," the State Department said in its August statement announcing the office.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

WikiLeaks on Latin America: Clinton asks personal questions about Argentina's Kirchners

Cristina fernandez de kirchner hillary clinton ap

A secret U.S. diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks reveals requests by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the mental health and decision-making style of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

The cable bearing Clinton's name was dated Dec. 31, 2009, and sent to the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires. It asks:

How is Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner managing her nerves and anxiety? How does stress affect her behavior toward advisors and/or her decisionmaking? What steps does Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner or her advisers/handlers, take in helping her deal with stress? Is she taking any medications? Under what circumstances is she best able to handle stresses? How do Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's emotions affect her decisionmaking and how does she calm down when distressed?

The cable also inquires about the health and decision-making style of Nestor Kirchner, Fernandez's husband and the former president. Nestor Kirchner died suddenly late last month. In the 2009 cable, questions then turn to the interpersonal dynamic between the two Kirchners.

"How do Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Nestor Kirchner divide up their day?" it asks. "On which issues does Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner take the lead and which issues does she leave to Nestor Kirchner?"

Clinton made no direct reference to any specific leaked cables in statements she made on Monday at the State Department in Washington, and no statements in response to the leaked cable were reported Monday from Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Buenos Aires on March 1. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press

WikiLeaks on Latin America: Honduras coup 'illegal'

Manuel zelaya epa

The June 2009 coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was rooted in an "illegal and unconstitutional" military and civilian plan, says one of the secret U.S. diplomatic cables published online by WikiLeaks.

The cable, dated July 24, 2009, and signed by the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, is directed to the White House and senior State Department officials. It says the Honduran legislative and judicial branches "conspired" with the military to remove Zelaya from power. Zelaya was yanked from bed on the night of June 28 and put on a plane to Costa Rica. His foes alleged he was planning an illegal referendum to help him keep in power, a goal the cable labeled a "supposition."

From the cable:

The analysis of the Constitution sheds some interesting light on the events of June 28. The Honduran establishment confronted a dilemma: near unanimity among the institutions of the state and the political class that Zelaya had abused his powers in violation of the Constitution, but with some ambiguity what to do about it. Faced with that lack of clarity, the military and/or whoever ordered the coup fell back on what they knew -- the way Honduran presidents were removed in the past: a bogus resignation letter and a one-way ticket to a neighboring country. No matter what the merits of the case against Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and Micheletti's ascendance as "interim president" was totally illegitimate.

The United States temporarily blocked aid to Honduras after Zelaya's coup, and President Obama called it "not legal" in the days that followed Zelaya's ouster. Yet Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton eventually agreed to recognize the results of elections in November won by Porfirio Lobo, who assumed office in January.

On Monday, the outspoken Zelaya, who is still in exile in the Dominican Republic, said the leaked cable demonstrated "complicity" in the coup on the part of the U.S. government (link in Spanish).

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Manuel Zelaya, former president of Honduras. Credit: EFE

U.S. apologizes for experiment that infected Guatemalans with syphilis

Kathleen Sebelius AFP

The United States apologized to Guatemala on Friday for a 1940s research program in which Guatemalans were intentionally infected with the sexually transmitted disease syphilis without their knowledge or consent.

Between 1946 and 1948, the agency then known as the U.S. Public Health Service infected Guatemalan sex workers, prison inmates, and mental health patients with syphilis. The program was conducted in order to examine whether penicillin, relatively new at the time, could be used to treat the disease. It was led by John Cutler, the U.S. doctor who later led the infamous Tuskegee experiment, in which African American men in Alabama infected with syphilis were observed without receiving treatment.

The Guatemala program was "clearly unethical," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a joint statement.

"Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health," the statement said. "We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices."

Archival research conducted by medical historian Susan Reverby, a professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, uncovered the Guatemala syphilis experiment. Reverby, who has written extensively on the Tuskegee experiment, found documents on the Guatemala program at a library at the University of Pittsburgh. The professor discovered that the Public Health Service sent Cutler to Guatemala to study syphilis transmission, with the backing of Guatemalan health officials and the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau.

Cutler and Guatemalan doctor Juan Funes induced the disease by allowing prison inmates to have sex with infected prostitutes, or by inoculating the syphilis-causing bacteria in inmates through a solution. The patients, who remained uninformed, were then given penicillin to see if the antibiotic could treat syphilis.

"In addition to the penitentiary, the studies took place in an insane asylum and an army barracks," Reverby said in a Wellesley College release on her work. "In total, 696 men and women were exposed to the disease and then offered penicillin. The studies went on until 1948 and the records suggest that despite intentions not everyone was probably cured."

The Wellesley release has more details. U.S. Health and Human Services has posted an information page on the Guatemala syphilis study at its website.

President Barack Obama called Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom on Friday to apologize on behalf of the United States for the 1940s syphilis program. Colom's government posted a message on its official website condemning the experiment and requesting a full investigation, which the U.S. has promised to carry out.

A separate statement on the government's Facebook page said Guatemala "reserves the right" to further denounce the experiment in an international forum, but did not elaborate.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Credit: Agence France-Presse

Report: Mexico is not Colombia, here's why

Mayor mexico body reuters

Comments made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton comparing Mexico's drug war to a Colombia-style "insurgency" touched off a flurry of debate over the parallels between the two conflicts. Seeking out the facts, L.A. Times foreign correspondents conclude that the secretary's comments were like comparing "apples and oranges."

Here's the full story from Sunday's paper. At issue is whether the U.S. will seek to model the Merida Initiative aid package to Mexico on Plan Colombia, the deal that has supplied Colombia with more than $7 billion in aid to combat rebels and drug traffickers.

In their reporting, correspondent Ken Ellingwood, Mexico City bureau chief Tracy Wilkinson and special correspondent Chris Kraul in Colombia break down the two conflicts into basic areas. Here's the La Plaza summary:

The nature of the foe: Colombia's decades-long conflict with the FARC rebel group and with powerful drug cartels is motivated, at least on the rebel side, by a Marxist ideology aimed at overthrowing the state. In Mexico, the drug war is motivated by the cartels' basic goal of moving narcotics into the U.S. without government interference, and collecting profits.

Territory: At the peak of its power, the FARC controlled a "Switzerland-size chunk" of Colombia's territory, with identifiable borders, plus other land. In contrast, Mexican drug gangs' sway over certain regions of Mexico remains fluid, and there is "no zone the Mexican army cannot reach when it wants."

Targets and tactics: Terrorist-style attacks have occurred in Mexico's drug war (a remote-controlled car bomb in Ciudad Juarez, a grenade attack on civilians in Michoacan) but they have not occurred with the frequency and scope as such tactics in Colombia. The Mexico drug war is mostly a conflict between feuding cartel groups.

State weakness: This is where the line is fuzziest. Colombia had a weakened army when the FARC began attacking the state, but a relatively strong civil society that eventually rose up and demanded solutions. Mexico sent 50,000 troops head-on to combat its drug gangs, but it has so far fallen short in pursuing desperately needed reforms in the justice system, for example, and in money laundering.

What's the proper prescription for Mexico then? One unnamed U.S. official in Mexico told The Times: "Institution building, institution building, institution building."

The U.S. recently signaled it would drastically boost funds to Mexico but held back a fraction of a previously pledged amount over doubts on progress over human rights allegations. Human rights abuses remain the darkest mark on Colombia's advances over the FARC and traffickers, as reported recently by the left-leaning Washington Office on Latin America, in an extensive analysis on Plan Colombia titled "Colombia: Don't Call it a Model."

On the 10th anniversary of Plan Colombia's start, Kraul reports in The Times that the country is more secure and that the military has made advances over the FARC. Still, coca eradication efforts have not been as successful as hoped, and have pushed some cocaine production over to neighboring Peru. Kraul notes that the Colombian military is believed responsible for 3,000 extrajudicial killings between 2002 and 2009.

On Thursday in New York City, U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos over the confirmed death of a major FARC leader in a military operation on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, a mayor in a town in the Monterrey metropolitan area was assassinated late last week, the fourth mayor killed by suspected drug hitmen in the last six weeks, Wilkinson reports. A mayor-elect in Chihuahua state was also shot on Friday and was in critical condition.

In another troubling and slightly Colombia-esque development here last week, a lawmaker-elect with suspected ties to the La Familia drug organization was sworn into office after evading police. The newly sworn-in federal deputy, Julio Cesar Godoy of Michoacan, now has immunity from prosecution.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: The body of Prisciliano Rodriguez Salinas, mayor of the town of Doctor Gonzalez, northeast of Monterrey, Mexico, lays near his truck after gunmen assassinated him on Sept. 23, 2010. Credit: Reuters

Columnist: Immigrant rights community must react to Mexico migrant massacre

Migrants coffins honduras massacre afp

The massacre in Mexico of 72 migrants bound for the U.S. should be met with outrage and introspection by immigrant-rights groups, but has so far been met mostly with silence, Hector Tobar argues in a Thursday column in The Times. The columnist writes that people in the immigrant-rights community readily protest anti-immigrant legislation in the United States but rarely address the root causes for illegal migration from Latin America.

The migrant massacre (which La Plaza has covered here, here, and here) was an "act of psychological warfare" by suspected members of the Zetas drug gang, the columnist writes, and it exposes multiple failures in immigration reform in the U.S., Mexico's drug war, and the lack of economic opportunity across the region. An excerpt:

Most of the country's leading immigrant rights groups haven't even bothered to issue a news release.

That doesn't surprise me. Generally speaking, the U.S. immigrant rights movement doesn't have much to say about the social and political conditions that lead so many to leave their native countries and place themselves at the mercy of an increasingly violent smuggling industry.

Indeed, the United Nations released a condemning statement just days after the migrant killings, but major immigrant-rights organizations in the United States apparently did not.

An Amnesty International report released in April says Central and South American migrants seeking to cross Mexico to reach the U.S. embark on "one of the most dangerous journeys in the world," as human smugglers and corrupt officials routinely expose migrants to abuse and violence, including the rape of female migrants. Those who survive the trek across Mexican territory then face the increasing risk of death along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mexico's national human rights commission estimates that 20,000 migrants are kidnapped each year in the country, a startling figure. On Wednesday, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton likened violence tied to Mexican drug trafficking groups to a Colombian-style "insurgency," sparking rebukes in Mexico, authorities said they arrested seven gunmen suspected of participating in the Aug. 23 massacre in Tamaulipas state.

Tobar, an author and most recently an L.A. Times foreign correspondent in Mexico and Argentina, writes a regular column in the paper.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Coffins of victims of the Mexico migrant massacre return to Honduras. Credit: Agence France-Presse

Obama hosts Calderon, the pomp and circumstance


Calderon obama white house

President Barack Obama welcomed Mexican President Felipe Calderon to the White House Wednesday morning, beginning a day-long visit between the presidents and the two countries' first ladies that culminates in a state dinner Wednesday night.

In the morning welcoming ceremony, as expected, both presidents blasted Arizona's tough illegal immigration law. The immigration issue is sure to be on the agenda, as is trade, drug and weapons trafficking and a lingering dispute over Mexican trucks.

According to the official White House schedule for the day, Obama and Calderon were to hold a 25-minute private meeting in the Oval Office at 10:30 a.m. EDT, followed by an expanded bilateral meeting with the U.S. and Mexico delegations until 11:50 a.m. A brief press conference with the two presidents followed.

Obama is scheduled to hold other meetings while Calderon will have lunch with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to schedules released by officials.

At 6 p.m., President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama once again greet Calderon and Mexico's First Lady Margarita Zavala and take them off for an official portrait to be taken on the White House grand staircase. The state dinner follows, in which both presidents will offer a toast. The evening ends with a reception on the White House south lawn.

After the "crashers" scandal during the White House's last state dinner -- hosting India's prime minister -- officials hope for a smoother event Wednesday night. The chef is Chicago's Rick Bayless, and although details of the menu have not been released, the Associated Press reports that Bayless is at least preparing a black mole sauce for the occasion.

Here is President Obama's official remarks from the arrival ceremony, via the White House. An excerpt:

The United States and Mexico are not simply neighbors, bound by geography and history.  We are, by choice, friends and partners. We are bound by our business partners, workers and tourists who fuel our prosperity; by our students and educators who broaden our horizons; and by our men and women in uniform, who serve and sacrifice to keep us safe.

In the United States, we’re also proud of another bond -- the ties of family: Mexican American families have been here for centuries, as well as those who continue to -- our proud tradition as a nation of immigrants, all of whom strengthen our American family and who join us today.

And here is Calderon's statement (also in Spanish at the president's official site), and an excerpt:

Today, Mexicans and Americans share a decisive moment for our respective countries. We face common challenges of great magnitude: organized crime, economic crisis, climate change, migration. These monumental challenges place us at a crossroads: either we return to mutual recrimination, which has been so useless and so damaging in previous times, or we face and overcome these challenges together, and from there, we begin a new chapter of shared prosperity.

This is the choice: look toward the future, and begin a new era in the strategic partnership between the United States and Mexico based upon shared responsibility.

The two presidents also released a joint statement upon the start of the state visit.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and President Photo: President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and President Barack Obama of the United States, at the start of Calderon's state visit to the White House. Credit: White House

Brazil's president triumphant in Iran nuclear deal

Brazil iran turkey afp

In the international efforts to stall Iran's nuclear program, plucky Brazil took a gamble, rebuffed the United States and came away a winner.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Sunday helped broker a deal with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that would see Iran ship the bulk of its enriched uranium to nearby Turkey, a move intended to avoid the U.N. sanctions against Iran that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had been pushing for.

The L.A. Times has more details on the Iran-Brazil-Turkey deal. And meanwhile, it appears Clinton and allies at the United Nations are going ahead with the push for sanctions.

The meeting in Tehran ended with Lula and Ahmadinejad locking their raised hands together and smiling along with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, a powerful image for developing world powers who see U.S. dominance in global affairs as a thing of the past.

The U.S., as expected, reacted coolly to the proposal.

Lula has sought to broaden Brazil's global stance with diplomatic triumphs outside of the country's immediate interests, even if that means occasionally crossing the United States and angering Brazil's elites. Brazil, home to South America's largest economy, previously has taken positions contrary to the United States on climate change, last year's coup in Honduras and the embargo against Cuba, notes the New York Times. Lula has previously said he believed Iran had a right to nuclear energy to be used for peaceful purposes.

Iran, meanwhile, had hoped to avoid U.N. sanctions through diplomatic channels -- while not appearing to bow to pressure from America and its Western allies. Now the Iran-Brazil friendship is growing, reports Al Jazeera, and this week's agreement with Turkey gives both countries the sheen of independent winners.

But is Lula really just looking out for himself? As one historian tells Al Jazeera, the Brazilian president is frank about his goals to one day be named to a high-profile international position, such as U.N. secretary general. The deal he helped broker between Turkey and Iran is one more step in that direction, said Marco Antonio Villa, a professor at the Federal University in São Carlos.

"We all know it’s his dream to be secretary general of the United Nations. So he is using Brazilian foreign policy to his personal advantage, to raise his profile, and possibly [he] gains votes from Arab countries and countries friendly to Iran," Villa said. "I find that very grave, because never before in Brazilian history [has] a president used Brazilian diplomacy for personal interests.”

Here's more analysis on the subject from the Council on Foreign Relations. Brazil, of course, operates an active nuclear program and has rare reserves of natural uranium within its territory.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Leaders -- Lula, second from left; Ahmadinejad, center; and Erdogan, at right -- cheer after Iran signs deal to move enriched uranium to Turkey on Sunday. Credit: AFP


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About the Reporters
Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
Chris Kraul
Richard Marosi
Tracy Wilkinson