1. The allegations of bribery and corruption weren't just a campaign ploy by President Dilma Rousseff's opponents in the last election. Over the past weeks since the election, the scandal has grown and prosecutors have begun making arrests of Petrobras employees and contractors who engaged in bribery and cartel-like behavior in setting their prices (BBC, Reuters). US prosecutors are also looking at the company and its partners for potential FCPA violations.

    There is an immediate political concern, in that this scandal appears to have frozen the Rousseff administration and drained it of much of its political capital before the second inauguration even occurs. The president will likely bounce back from the political problems, but a stalled agenda even for a few months at the start of her second term is a lost opportunity when she should be at her most productive.

    The bigger issue is economic. Petrobras is a single company market mover. Brazil's currency, inflation and growth can all move a few tenths of a percentage point based solely on how this one company is doing. That means this scandal and the repercussions in terms of investment and infrastructure have the potential to determine whether or not Brazil falls back into recession (commodity prices aren't helping). For Rousseff, that economic damage from this scandal should be a much bigger concern than the potential for a few former political allies to go to prison for corruption.
  2. President Obama announced a series of executive actions last night that will provide millions of immigrants who have entered the United States illegally a guarantee that they will not be deported in the coming two years. About four million people will be eligible to take advantage of an expanded deferred action program that grants a legal guarantee that they won't be deported plus a work permit. The US government will also prioritize deportations to only target felons and recent migrants (those who have entered since January 2014), meaning millions more migrants can feel safer from deportation, though they won't have a legal guarantee.

    These actions are necessary and long overdue. The president could and should have done more, within his legal ability, to grant status to migrants, defer deportations and keep families together. He also should have done it sooner, months or even years ago, rather than waiting for after the midterm elections. His record of deporting two million people isn't something to be proud of and goes against one of the best lines in his speech last night, "tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans."

    Obviously, while I wish the president had done more sooner, I'm glad he did something. The US Congress has failed for over a decade to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill to start dealing with these challenges. Congress should pass a bill. If they don't, Democrats should be proud to make immigration reform an election issue in 2016, not run from it as they did this year.

    "Millions." I used that word in the first paragraph, suggesting that president's executive actions will only benefit 4-6 million of the 11 million undocumented migrants in the US. I also noted the president has presided over the deportation of over two million people. This impacts a lot of people and it's unfortunately easy to miss just how many people are impacted while watching the media and politicians debate the issue. Over three percent of the US population do not have a legal status. Over five percent of students in the US (1 out of every 20, or on average, more than one child per classroom) have a parent who immigrated illegally. We're talking about the lives of millions of people and their families in the United States and around the hemisphere.

    The immigration issue is at the heart of the United States and its character. We are a nation of immigrants and each generation of migration has made us stronger and better as a country. How we treat the millions of immigrants who arrive looking for a better life will define how well the US does over the coming century.
  3. It’s nearly all good news this year on the statistics about student exchanges, with 100,000 Strong in the Americas remaining one of the top policy items for President Obama in Latin America. Last year’s numbers were ok. This year’s numbers are great and place the program on track to meet one of its goals.

    The Great:

    8.2% increase. Latin America and the Caribbean added 5,454 students to hit a total of 72,318 students studying in the US. That’s an impressive increase across the region, much better than the 3.8% increase registered last year. If the region can maintain an increase of at least 5% each year for the next five years, we’ll hit the 100,000 mark around 2020 or 2021, which is the goal.

    Brazil! It’s the second year in a row Brazil has increased over 20%, adding another 2,418 students (more from RioGringa here). The increase of foreign exchange students by Brazil is a sign of Dilma’s policies on this issue achieving serious results. Her administration deserves credit and if the region hits President Obama’s 100,000 goal in 2020, it will largely be due to Brazil’s cooperation and its initiative in pushing forward even faster than the US targets. Additionally, if this year’s trends continue, Brazil will pass Mexico next year in terms of the number of students studying in the US.

    Gran Colombia. The countries of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela all posted numbers above the regional average and were responsible for a combined 1,800 student increase.

    The Northern Triangle. You want some good news from the northern countries in Central America, here it is. The three countries added 443 students studying in the US for a combined 12.5% increase.

    The Good:

    Mexico. Adding 580 students for a 4.1% increase is certainly moving in the right direction. That’s undoubtedly good news. However, it could and should be better given the two country’s geographic proximity. The Peña Nieto administration has its own ambitious goal of 100,000 students in the US by 2018, though not all those are university students. I know both countries have focused hard on the issue of educational exchanges, but these numbers still need to increase more quickly to reach the ambitious goals the US and Mexico have set for themselves.

    The rest of South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru all showed pretty good gains, adding 3-4% over last year. Those numbers are good, but like Mexico, could be significantly better. Paraguay added 97 students, an impressive 25% increase but still low numerically.

    The not-so-good:

    The Caribbean: The Caribbean continues to lag or decline in the number of students sent to the US, seeing a 2% drop this year. The Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago were the main causes of the decline, dropping a combined 150 students.

    US students studying abroad: The number of US students studying in Latin America and the Caribbean only increased 1.8% in the 2012/13 academic year. Unlike the other numbers above, the numbers of US students studying in the hemisphere is still well short of President Obama’s goal and not on track to meet it. Those data are one year behind the other data above. I’m told that the numbers should show some significant improvement next year when the 2014 data comes in.
  4. I've largely agreed with the recent series of New York Times editorials calling for shifts in US-Cuba policy. Their editorial today, however, on the US granting asylum for Cuban doctors is incorrect.

    The Universal Declaration on Human Rights says "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country" and "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution."

    If some Cuban doctors feel they are being illegally trafficked or forced into labor conditions, they should have every right to "defect" and seek asylum. That right to asylum is a basic human right that the US and every country around the world should guarantee. The US is a better country whenever we open our doors to the persecuted of the world.

    The problem with US migration policy is not that we're encouraging Cuban doctors to seek asylum or that we grant Cuban refugees special status when they reach the US. It's that we don't offer that same liberal asylum and refugee policy to other persecuted populations in the hemisphere.

    Liberals tend to reflexively argue against any policies supported by the hardline anti-Castro activists, but in the case of migration policy, perhaps they've designed a model that we should expand to other countries rather than repeal for Cuba.

    There is talk that the Obama administration may expand the asylum process for Central Americans in his upcoming executive actions on immigration, but those actions will not go far enough. Refugees from the violence and persecution in Central America deserve the same protections that doctors and other asylum seekers from Cuba receive. Instead of shutting down our migration policies towards Cuba as the NYT argues today, we should consider embracing and expanding them to other countries. It only seems fair that the migrants and refugees of the hemisphere should receive equal treatment.
  5. The FARC kidnapped a Colombian military general in Choco, the first time in 50 years a general has been taken hostage by the group. While there are some strange facts surrounding the case, including the general traveling in civilian dress without bodyguards, the Colombian government appears fairly convinced the FARC's 34th front is responsible for the hostage taking.

    The most recent kidnapping prompted President Santos to announce last night that peace negotiations with the FARC are suspended. Negotiators will not travel to Cuba for the next round.

    The FARC have been pushing the patience of the Colombian government for weeks. They kidnapped two other soldiers in Arauca last week. The group has also issued several recent statements indicating that they do not plan to disarm as part of the peace agreement, which is a non-negotiable point for the Colombian government. The end-state of the peace talks must be a disarming and demobilizing of the FARC. Otherwise, the talks aren't really leading towards peace.

    Other than releasing the recently taken hostages, Santos has not outlined steps to return to the negotiation table. Santos has been under intense pressure from political opponents and his own military to take a harder line with the FARC. Including this kidnapping, the FARC have done what they can in recent weeks to strengthen the hand of the hardliners to scuttle negotiations. Getting back to negotiations will likely take a concession from the FARC, and the FARC do not appear willing at the moment.

    The opposite option that Santos has is to increase the military offensive. The Colombian military would certainly support it as would a decent portion of the Colombian population, but it would be a major step back for the peace negotiations that looked so promising. While a military offensive would force the FARC to pay a price for their deliberate stalling and antagonism, it isn't a quick path back to the peace process from there.

    These peace deals have been harmed by both sides' unwillingness to acknowledge a key fact on the ground: the FARC are not a single organization. There are significant leadership disputes, far worse than any reported divide between the civilian and military sides of the Colombian government. Some of the fronts can be negotiated with, some cannot. Some of the FARC leaders are interested in a political accord, some in continuing with the profits of crime, drugs, kidnapping and extortion. The FARC reject this analysis because they want to portray themselves as a large and unified organization. The truth is that the FARC leadership at the table in Havana do not control the operations or finances of some of the most powerful FARC fronts on the ground in Colombia.

    A peace deal in Colombia might be able to disarm and demobilize several thousand FARC fighters, which will be positive for the country, but as with the Bacrim offshoots of the AUC, there will be some FARC fronts that remain or reorganize after a deal is struck. The FARC leaders who are negotiating want to claim to represent the whole of the group, but getting back to the peace deal may require both sides finally admitting that the FARC are divided and that peace with part of the FARC does not mean all the fronts will be represented.
  6. The Guyana opposition says they will not dialogue with the president outside of parliament, attempting to place pressure on his suspension of the institution. 

    Several members of civil society including the heads of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and a local Catholic Bishop met with the president yesterday, but the meeting does not appear to have been overly productive.

    Opposition leader David Granger issued a statement calling on the police and the military to avoid taking unlawful action against protesters. The statement was made after criticisms that the police appear to have increased training in anti-protest and crowd control tactics in recent days. Granger, though now a civilian political leader, consistently refers to himself as a retired military officer, which is important for understanding the tone and audience of his statement.

    The Economist provides some background on the issue:
    The conflict goes deeper than ordinary political rivalry. It is a big part of the reason that Guyana has remained relatively poor. Politics have been polarised by race for 60 years. Most Indo-Guyanese—descendants of indentured labourers who were brought over when the country was a British colony—support Mr Ramotar’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP). Most Afro-Guyanese have backed the People’s National Congress (PNC), now part of the main opposition group, A Partnership For National Unity. 
    After unrest in the early 1960s, the PNC held power through rigged elections for 28 years. During the 1980s Guyana was briefly nearly as poor as Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas. From the 1990s coalitions led by the PPP formed governments made increasingly complacent by unstinting support from Indo-Guyanese, the largest group of voters.
    In a letter to the editor, Cheddi Jagan Jr., son of a former PPP president, denounces the move and disassociates himself from President Ramotar.

    I noted earlier this week that no statements have been issued by Brazil or the US. The APNU released a statement yesterday saying they met with representatives of the US, UK, Canada and EU, who told the opposition leaders,"that the government and opposition needed to find internal mechanisms for a resolution of the stand-off."

    One reason for the lack of a public statement from the US is that we don't have an ambassador in Guyana. President Obama nominated career diplomat Perry Holloway in July and his is one of many appointments that is languishing in the Senate awaiting confirmation. It's a small example of how Congressional disfunction in the US and the inability to confirm nominees harms our foreign relations and influence in the Western Hemisphere.
  7. This editorial by the Stabroek News on Sunday preemptively criticizing the prorogue is highly critical of the move by the president.
    This would be in a situation, it must be emphasized, when there is no emergency of any kind which might conceivably justify such a method of proceeding. Paradoxically, it would exhibit a parallel with 1953 when the constitution in that instance was suspended by the colonial authorities at a time when there was no emergency or civil disorder of any kind. 
    How prorogation could even be considered an option by the ruling party, therefore, is something to be marvelled at. But then this is a deracinated PPP which has forgotten its origins, forgotten what it stood for during its years in the wilderness, and forgotten its early leadership. It is, quite simply, inebriated with power.
    Guyana's opposition parties met yesterday to coordinate a plan for both domestic protests and international pressure on President Donald Ramotar for his suspension of parliament. The Alliance for Change (AFC) says they met with four foreign governments yesterday to express their concerns and plan to go to international organizations soon.

    David Granger, the retired Army general who leads the opposition APNU party in Guyana outlines his take on the prorogue here. Calling the move "dictatorial," the opposition says that the president is trying to extend his time in office and spend government resources without parliamentary oversight.

    The Jamaica Observer leads its editorial with "Guyana headed for dictatorship" and suggests the president may use more than one prorogue in the coming months.

    OAS Secretary General Insulza called the prorogue constitutional but also said it should be in place for "the shortest possible period of time." As far as I can tell, there have been no public statements yet by the US, Brazil or Caricom on the issue.
  8. With the COP20 meeting only three weeks away in Lima, Peru, the United States and China announced an historic agreement to cut carbon emissions. As the two largest economies in the world, and the two largest emitters of carbon gases, the US and China are required participants in any agreement.

    The agreement is based around two promises:

    • The US will cut carbon pollution 26% from 2005 levels.
    • China will have its CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and will non-fossil fuels for 20% of its energy needs. 
    The response from politically realistic environmentalists is quite positive. Yes, we probably need bigger cuts in the coming decades, but this agreement is the first time China has gone on record with any specific goal and timeframe for cutting carbon. Getting China and the US to agree to anything before the Lima meeting will place pressure on other countries to make their own commitments along similar models. The climate-hawk website Grist calls the agreement a "game changer" and says it maps a path for economies like India, Brazil and Indonesia to follow.

    Here is the White House factsheet, an op-ed from Secretary Kerry and a Vox explainer on the benefits and limitations of the agreement.

    NASA Scientist Piers Sellers has an op-ed in the New York Times on the science of climate change. Read the whole thing, but this paragraph is the essential key that needs to be acknowledged:
    The earth has warmed nearly 0.8 degrees Celsius over the last century and we are confident that the biggest factor in this increase is the release of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. It is almost certain that we will see a rise of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) before 2100, and a three-degree rise (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher is a possibility. The impacts over such a short period would be huge. The longer we put off corrective action, the more disruptive the outcome is likely to be.
  9. Guyana's two opposition parties, which combined have a one seat majority in the National Assembly, planned to call a no-confidence vote on President Donald Ramotar. That vote, or a preemptive dissolution of parliament by the president, would have almost certainly led to new general elections. Yesterday, Ramotar prorogued or suspended the parliament, which he is constitutionally allowed to do for up to six months.

    The prorogue is supposed to be used to allow additional time for the president and parliament to negotiate. Guyana's opposition leaders claim that Ramotar has no interest in negotiating and is using the move simply to extend his time in power, particularly as budgetary issues come due. The opposition has likened the move to a 'coup' and plan to challenge the move in Guyana's court system.

    Guyana is a member of the OAS, UNASUR, CARICOM and CELAC, so there is certainly an international dimension to the current political conflict. Guyana's opposition has not yet requested any international involvement.

    If a similar suspension of the legislature had occurred in the presidential democracies of Latin America, there would (or at least should) be a call for an immediate review of the country's standing as a democracy. The democracy clause at the OAS largely comes from the failure of the hemisphere to respond when Peru President Fujimori overthrew the legislature in his country. However, in spite of that founding example, all international organizations in the hemisphere tend to defer to the executive branch in power when the issue is a clash among government institutions.

    In either event, Guyana's case is a bit fuzzier with its hybrid president-parliament system, where this suspension may be constitutionally grounded, at least for a few months. The situation should be monitored and opposition concerns should be considered and heard by various international organizations, but there is also reason to let Guyana's institutions including the judiciary sort things out and run through their remaining options before the international community becomes involved.

    UPDATE: OAS Secretary General Insulza released a statement acknowledging the prorogue as constitutional but encouraging the two sides to compromise and hoping, "that parliamentary debate can be resumed in the 10th Parliament in the shortest possible period of time."
  10. In the weeks prior to Brazil's second round, Southern Pulse conducted a number of interviews with political operatives and analysts in Brazil to map out the influence of various economic advisors around President Dilma Rousseff and her potential policies and ministers in her second term.

    Those interviewed close to the Rousseff government and campaign suggested the president is likely to maintain or double down on her economic policies from the past four years. That goes against the many analysts who are calling for her to reform her policies. Southern Pulse's report, published ten days ago, also considers BNDES President Luciano Coutinho and former Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Finance Nelson Barbosa as the most probable candidates for Minister of Finance.
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