Rights: Is regional solidarity lost in Latin America?

During a publicly live-streamed dialogue with former Brazilian President Lula da Silva last Friday, Argentinian president Alberto Fernandez said he misses the regional solidarity that Latin America had when he was Chief of Cabinet of President Nestor Kirchner back in 2003.

"Now it's only Andres Manuel [Lopez Obrador] in Mexico and me" he explained, after Lula's description of the close ties he had as president with many other heads of State in the region and how they dared to say "no" to US president George W. Bush's proposal of a Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2005.

As a contrasting example, Fernandez quoted the proposal of President Donald Trump to name his Latin American advisor Mauricio Claver-Carone to lead the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The unwritten gentlemen's agreement since the creation of the IDB at the time of the Eisenhower administration was that the regional development bank would have its headquarters in Washington, but always with a Latin American citizen as its head.

All presidents rushed to support Trump - explained Fernandez - leaving Mexico and Argentina alone in opposition.

Former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ricardo Lagos from Chile, Juan Manuel Santos from Colombia and the Mexican Ernesto Zedillo also opposed the designation in a public letter, calling it "a new aggression from the US government against the multilateral system, based on rules agreed by the members".

Even Uruguayan foreign relations minister Ernesto Talvi opposed the initiative, which was supported by the Uruguayan president Luis Lacalle and his finance minister.

Meanwhile, another major debate around development banks and nominations has been kicked off in Latin America by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro appointing his former Education Minister Abraham Weintraub as Executive Director at the World Bank.

An economist and former investment banker, Weintraub used a diplomatic passport to travel to the US on 20 June, the day before his resignation as Education Minister was announced, and thus escaped a Supreme Court order to seize his normal passport so that he could be interrogated in two pending investigations about racism and mismanagement.

The Brazilian Executive Director does not only represent his country on the board of the World Bank, but also speaks on behalf of a constituency that includes Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, the Philippines, Surinam and Trinidad and Tobago.

A letter was sent to the Ambassadors of these countries in Brazil, signed by dozens of influential opinion-makers, warning them "about the potential irreparable harms that he would cause to your country's standing within the World Bank".

Rubens Ricupero, a former head of UNCTAD, was among the signatories.

Weintraub is accused by civil society of "odious behaviour and lackluster performance as Minister of Education".

The Speaker of the House has called him "disqualified" for the job, adding that having him in the position is a "pity for Brazil", and the Chinese Embassy in Brazil vehemently condemned one of his posts on Twitter, accusing his words of being "completely absurd and despicable, with a strong racist character".

In theory, any member of the constituency can break the consensus around their Executive Director nomination, but since most of them are the same countries that supported Trump's nomination (of Claver-Carone) to head the IDB, it is unlikely that they will have the determination to oppose the will of Trump's imitator and loyal ally in the biggest South American country.

This episode is just one more spot in the complete chaos which is Brazil right now, a country without a health minister while thousands die every day from COVID-19; with the Supreme Court and the federal police chasing after corrupt senators and a government in the hands of "wild conservatives, religious fundamentalists and psychopaths", according to the rather sober description of an objective commentator.

Yet, in a document sent to the UN as a summary of the "regional dialogue of the Americas", Venezuela is the only country named as an example of a situation where "civil rights have been attacked and severely reduced".

The document, written by three officers of the Washington-based Stimson Center, synthesizes "on a not-for- attribution-basis" inputs into an on-line dialogue with participation of several missions to the UN and representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS), ECLAC, NGOs and foundations.

The strong endorsement by this summary of a closer collaboration between the UN and the OAS led several organizations and influential journalists from the region to write a common rebuttal, starting with the point that "the Americas" is not a UN-recognized region, but Latin America and the Caribbean is.

The Stimson Center document is presented as a contribution to the "conversation" about the future of the UN convened by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. But it reads more as an outline for future US Hemispheric policy, with the OAS as its main tool, than a blueprint of a regional view, which would necessarily have ECLAC at its centre.

The rebuttal letter argues that "the chapter on "Promoting Human Rights, Justice, and Humanitarian Action" does not even mention the Escazu Agreement (Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean), which has been signed by 22 countries of the LAC region and has ECLAC as its technical secretariat."

The signatories add that for a document issued or endorsed by peacekeeping and Human Rights institutions, it is surprising that it ignores completely some recent major UN achievements in the LAC region, such as the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comision Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG), while in its section on migration, the movement of people is not seen as a source of hope for migrants, or of additional revenue for their countries of origin, but as "an additional source of insecurity".

"Migration out of Venezuela is the only development mentioned and is identified as creating "cross-border instability and violence", without a thought about the human rights situation along the border that divides the LAC region from the rest of "the Americas"."

Finally, the signatories observe that the document they challenge only mentions twice the word "women". And in both cases it does so after the adverb "including", grouping women with other actors like youth and the private sector.

"Workers" are never mentioned as actors and minorities of African origin are also ignored.

The authors conclude that "Instead of bringing regional concerns and consensus to the attention of the UN, the document, if its suggestions were to be implemented, undermines the role of the United Nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, downplays the contribution of women as one more of the "marginalized groups" needing to be empowered, exacerbates geopolitical conflicts, demonizes migrants and ignores workers. This is clearly NOT the United Nations that citizens from Latin America and the Caribbean want."

By Roberto Bissio. Roberto Bissio is a Uruguay-based civil society activist and coordinator of the international secretariat of Social Watch, an international network of citizens' organizations.

Source: SUNS - South North Development Monitor, SUNS #9151 Thursday 2 July 2020.