Nafta is apparently safe from U.S. unilateral withdrawal -- this week the White House said it would seek to renegotiate the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, rather than pullout. (See yesterday's briefs.) Renegotiation would affect several key industries that have come to rely on the free flow of goods across the borders, reports the New York Times, which looks at the examples of the automotive and apparel industries, agricultural trade between the three countries, and medical device manufacturing in Mexico.
And a piece by Luis Calle in Americas Quarterly looks at the unique nature of the original Nafta agreement, which imposed the same rights and obligations on all three partners, despite the lack of symmetry between the two developed economies and Mexico's relative poverty: "Symmetry was and remains NAFTA’s most important value for Mexico, for two reasons. First, it was and remains unacceptable for Mexico to be treated as a minor partner — one that requires patronizing conditions. In effect, NAFTA marked Mexico’s coming-of-age in the international arena. Second, NAFTA disciplines and the rule of law they imply represented an historic, revolutionary opportunity for Mexico to establish them in at least a growing segment of its economy." Mexico must demand symmetry moving forward he argues.
Mexico reacted with relative tranquility, or perhaps a willingness to call Trump's bluff, to the U.S. president's suggestion earlier this week that he was drafting an executive order leave NAFTA. In recent weeks Mexico has talked tough about the expected renegotiation and U.S. promises to build the border wall. (See Wednesday's briefs, for example.) It's a sign that Mexican politicians are learning to work with the U.S. administration's esoteric style, according to the New York Times. "In interviews with politicians, analysts, economists, business leaders and former diplomats, a general sentiment had emerged throughout the day on Wednesday that Mr. Trump’s threat to withdraw from the treaty using an executive order was mostly a piece of political theater — aimed as much at his voting base as at Mexico and Canada — and not something to get terribly worked up about."
Yesterday Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and agreed there is an opportunity to update Nafta for all signatories' benefit, reports Reuters.
Perhaps in part the security is due to the fact that despite gloom and doom predictions, Mexico's first quarter economic growth exceeded expectations, reports the Financial Times.
On the issue of migration, the White House is backing down from its request to Congress for $1.2 billion to start building that border wall. But it is persisting in another $1.8 billion in Fiscal Year 2017 for increased border security and intensified migrant apprehensions and deportations. The funding includes money to hire new agents for the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), explains WOLA. Such rapid expansion would multiply concerns regarding oversight, accountability, and potential rights violations.
Rather than increasing Border Patrol and ICE, Adam Isacson and Maureen Meyer recommend increasing "funding for additional CBP agents working at the land ports of entry, through which the vast majority of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and heroin pass hidden in vehicles."
"On detention, WOLA recommends that the detention of migrants awaiting an immigration hearing be reduced, not expanded and that Congress and the administration continue to pursue more cost effective alternatives to detention."
On the issue of the border, Americas Quarterly has a series of articles exploring the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. "People who live near the border know: the United States and Mexico are indivisible. That’s not some warm and fuzzy platitude. Rather, it’s a real-life recognition of how closely our economies and societies have become bound together, especially over the past 25 years. The advent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and a historic wave of immigration – some of it legal, some of it not – have changed both countries forever," writes Brian Winter.
And even a very great wall won't curb the massive illicit flow of guns from the U.S. to Mexico, note Robert Muggah and Topher McDougal. "In 2014, roughly 70 percent of all traceable illegal weapons recovered in Mexico were tracked back to licensed U.S. vendors. Approximately four of 10 of these weapons originated in Texas."
- Massive proposed cuts in U.S. foreign aid would reduce the $1 billion currently devoted to the Western Hemisphere by 40 percent, reports InSight Crime. (See yesterday's briefs.)
- Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is attempting to downplay the national crisis through social media videos, but instead he's coming across as "tone-deaf and out of touch," according to the Wall Street Journal.
- The European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the “brutal repression” of Venezuelan protesters by state security forces, increasing the government's international isolation, reports Bloomberg.
- Venezuela's National Assembly created a commission to investigate the role of pro-government armed groups -- known as colectivos -- in protest related violence in recent weeks, reports InSight Crime. If the move is an indication that the civilian militias would be dismantled in an eventual transition, it could have significant impact on the country's criminal landscape, where the colectivos are deeply embedded, according to InSight.
- Brazilian senators approved a bill aimed at curbing "abuses of power" in corruption investigations -- a measure prosecutors say is intended to strike back against judicial probes that have dozens of sitting lawmakers in their sights. The bill, passed late Wednesday, would curtail some practices recently used in the investigation, such as detaining suspects for questioning without prior requests, with penalties of up to four years in prison, reports the Wall Street Journal. The approved bill, which now passes to the lower house, was modified somewhat in response to judicial criticisms, notes El País. For example, punishment for judges whose rulings are later overturned and permission for investigated people to prosecute investigators and magistrates, were removed from the project. Prosecutors say the bill is aimed at curbing their investigations. At least 24 senators are under investigation in the "Car Wash" case, notes Reuters.
- A general strike today, called by unions opposed to Brazilian President Michel Temer's economic reforms, has practically paralyzed São Paulo and disrupted traffic around the city, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- Authorities boarded up government buildings in Brasilia ahead of potential violence, reports Reuters.
- Yet another human rights defender killed in Colombia, in the Cauca region, reports TeleSUR. The latest in a string of dozens of murders, Diego Fernando Rodriguez, a legal representative for a local community council in the Gana Plata area was found dead with stab wounds. (See Tuesday's post.)
- A self-defense group in El Salvador is seeking formal legal recognition, calling attention to an increasingly dangerous situation as non-state actors seek to fill a perceived power vacuum in battling street gangs, reports InSight Crime.
- Mexico's Senate passed new legislation that would raise prison sentences for enforced disappearances and create a national system for searching for missing persons, reports the Associated Press. (See Wednesday's briefs for a WOLA analysis of Ayotzinapa a year after the GIEI's exit.)
- Uruguay's "barra bravas," organized soccer club fans, "have transformed themselves into true cartels that even fight for [control of] territory and the criminal activity they are involved in," according to Rafael Peña, head of security for the Uruguayan Soccer Association (Asociación Uruguaya de Fútbol - AUF). If so, their evolution could parallel that of their counterparts in Argentina, explains InSight Crime.
- The tiny vaquita porpoise may already be extinct, and if it is not, the species' last hope may be captivity if scientists can find any surviving animals, reports the New York Times.
- Trump and Argentine President Mauricio Macri had a friendly Washington meeting, accompanied by their glamorous wives. They played up their business history and announced a bilateral working group dealing with cyber security to “protect economic and security interests” in both countries, reports EFE. Trump repeatedly referred to his counterpart as his "good friend" and praised Macri as "a great, wonderful person," and "a great leader," reports the Associated Press.
- Forty years after their first march, las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, in their characteristic white headscarves, are hailed as human rights champions around the world. But they "warn that the current era of alternative facts and revisionist history poses a new kind of threat for the country," reports the Guardian.