The 5th Summit of the 33-nation Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in the Dominican Republic on 25 January 2017 revealed apparent fissures in the region. Only 10 heads of state attended. Mexico, Chile, Panama, Colombia and Guatemala cancelled at the last minute. The political declaration called for Washington to return the Guantanamo military base and end the economic embargo on Cuba “without conditions”. It also called for a “national dialogue” in Venezuela and “constructive commitment”. The first LAC meetings since the inauguration of Trump did not mention US threats but condemned the criminalisation of illegal migration.
Trump’s insistence on a wall along the border, which Mexico would ‘indirectly’ pay for, forced Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to abruptly cancel a trip to the United States in end of January. In a reportedly offensive telephone conversation, Trump told Peña Nieto that he may have to send US troops to fight Mexican narco traffickers. He wants to renegotiate NAFTA. Mexico is the leading source of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine for the United States and the leading transit country for cocaine from South America. Most of the guns in Mexico come from the United States. Mexicans constitute the largest legal immigrant group in the United States, nearly a third, and over half the illegal 12 million immigrants, spread across the country. The United States will have to pay a heavy price if Mexico halts cooperation on security, narcotics and immigration. During a joint visit to Mexico in late February, US Secretaries of State and Homeland Security attempted to calm a prickly Mexican administration, claiming there would be no mass nor forcible deportations of illegal immigrants. The issue is complicated by US attempts to deport illegal immigrants from Central American and other LAC countries through Mexican territory.
Argentina could see improvement in its relations with the United States, given the reported personal and business relationship between Presidents Mauricio Macri and Trump. Macri has curtailed strategic cooperation with Russia and is more cautious with China compared to his predecessor, Cristina Kirschner. China retains its space radar facility in Neuquén, after assuring it will not be used for military purposes. Plans for procurement of military material from both countries are on hold, while military cooperation with the US is set to increase.
A politically dysfunctional Haiti finally got a new President on 3 January. Ruling-party candidate Jovenel Moise, a businessman close to former President Michel Martelly, who completed his term in February 2016, won 55.6 percent in a field of 28 candidates. Haiti continues to suffer extreme poverty, political fighting and crime. Hurricane Mathew in September left 573 dead and 800,000 affected in a country still to recover from the earthquake of January 2010. Over 900 Indian paramilitary personnel, participating on rotation in MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping force, maintain order in areas of Haiti since 2008.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen made official visits to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. Of 21 countries that recognise Taiwan, 12 are in LAC: 6 in Central America, 5 in the Caribbean and Paraguay in South America. The main event of her tour was the inauguration of President Ortega in Nicaragua on 10 January. Taiwan’s aggressive foreign policy appears to be a departure from the PRC-Taiwan understanding of recent years not to change the status quo in LAC by wooing nations competitively.
Venezuela’s beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro appointed a new Vice President, Tareck El Aissami, giving him unprecedented powers to approve all ministries’ budgets, appoint Vice Ministers and manage the expropriation of prívate businesses. With this El Aissami, who was Interior Minister under Chávez, could become a "possible presidential candidate" of the socialist ruling party, or interim President if Maduro is impeached before his term ends in late 2018. The 42-year-old El Aissami is being investigated by U.S. prosecutors for possible involvement in drug trafficking.
March 14, 2017