Colombia Becomes NATO’s First Latin American Global Partner

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced Friday that his country will formally become NATO’s first Latin American “global partner,” beginning next week.

In a televised address from the presidential Narino Palace and on Twitter, Santos said: “We will formalize in Brussels next week — and this is very important — the entry of Colombia into NATO in the category of global partner. We will be the only country in Latin America with this privilege.”

Santos, the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who made peace with FARC rebels, said the move would improve Colombia’s image on the world stage.

Colombia and NATO reached a partnership deal in May 2017 following the conclusion of the peace accord with FARC, now a political party.

Areas of cooperation include cybersecurity, maritime security, terrorism and its links to organized crime, and building the capacities and capabilities of the Colombian armed forces, according to a statement posted on NATO’s website.

In addition to Colombia, NATO lists Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand and Pakistan as “partners across the globe” or simply “global partners.”

Each country “has developed an Individual Partnership Cooperation Program” with the 29-country U.S.-led alliance. Many of them are actively contributing to NATO missions.

Colombia Becomes NATO’s First Latin American Global Partner

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced Friday that his country will formally become NATO’s first Latin American “global partner,” beginning next week.

In a televised address from the presidential Narino Palace and on Twitter, Santos said: “We will formalize in Brussels next week — and this is very important — the entry of Colombia into NATO in the category of global partner. We will be the only country in Latin America with this privilege.”

Santos, the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who made peace with FARC rebels, said the move would improve Colombia’s image on the world stage.

Colombia and NATO reached a partnership deal in May 2017 following the conclusion of the peace accord with FARC, now a political party.

Areas of cooperation include cybersecurity, maritime security, terrorism and its links to organized crime, and building the capacities and capabilities of the Colombian armed forces, according to a statement posted on NATO’s website.

In addition to Colombia, NATO lists Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand and Pakistan as “partners across the globe” or simply “global partners.”

Each country “has developed an Individual Partnership Cooperation Program” with the 29-country U.S.-led alliance. Many of them are actively contributing to NATO missions.

Barbados Elects First Female PM in Opposition Landslide

Barbados elected its first female prime minister as the opposition inflicted a crushing defeat on the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), winning all the seats in the Caribbean island’s parliament, election results showed Friday.

Mia Mottley’s victory in Thursday’s elections returns the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) to power on the island of some 285,000 people for the first time in a decade.

Parliament sweep

The Electoral and Boundaries Commission said the BLP had elected all 30 members of the parliament, delivering the first clean sweep in the history of the legislature. The DLP had previously held a slim majority with 16 seats.

“This victory is the people of Barbados’ victory,” Mottley, 52, told supporters outside the BLP’s Bridgetown headquarters early Friday, calling the result a vote for a more inclusive and transparent kind of leadership for Barbados.

“This must be our legacy to the people of Barbados: to give you back your government and your governance,” said Mottley, a former minister and attorney general who was sworn in later Friday.

The result means the Barbadian House of Assembly is without an official opposition, despite the fact that an unprecedented 135 candidates ran for office across nine parties.

Stuart concedes

Outgoing Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who had served since 2010, congratulated Mottley, conceding that the DLP had suffered an “overwhelming defeat.”

“In campaigning, whenever there is success, success is shared by all those who succeed and by those with whom they are associated, but when there is failure, failure points to one man,” he told reporters at his party headquarters. “I think that there was some hurt in the society in respect of some of the decisions that had to be made.”

The U.S. State Department issued a statement commending Mottley’s “stated intent to address fiscal transparency” and saying the United States looked forward to working with Barbados to enhance economic partnerships and private sector investment.

The Barbadian economy has struggled since a sharp contraction in 2009 after the global financial crisis.

Weak growth has put strains on Barbados’ public debt, pressuring foreign exchange reserves and helping to spark repeated downgrades of the island’s credit rating.

The DLP’s economic record dogged Stuart in the campaign.

Many voters expressed frustration at the party’s failure to reduce debt and the cost of living even as their taxes rose.

Barbados Elects First Female PM in Opposition Landslide

Barbados elected its first female prime minister as the opposition inflicted a crushing defeat on the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), winning all the seats in the Caribbean island’s parliament, election results showed Friday.

Mia Mottley’s victory in Thursday’s elections returns the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) to power on the island of some 285,000 people for the first time in a decade.

Parliament sweep

The Electoral and Boundaries Commission said the BLP had elected all 30 members of the parliament, delivering the first clean sweep in the history of the legislature. The DLP had previously held a slim majority with 16 seats.

“This victory is the people of Barbados’ victory,” Mottley, 52, told supporters outside the BLP’s Bridgetown headquarters early Friday, calling the result a vote for a more inclusive and transparent kind of leadership for Barbados.

“This must be our legacy to the people of Barbados: to give you back your government and your governance,” said Mottley, a former minister and attorney general who was sworn in later Friday.

The result means the Barbadian House of Assembly is without an official opposition, despite the fact that an unprecedented 135 candidates ran for office across nine parties.

Stuart concedes

Outgoing Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who had served since 2010, congratulated Mottley, conceding that the DLP had suffered an “overwhelming defeat.”

“In campaigning, whenever there is success, success is shared by all those who succeed and by those with whom they are associated, but when there is failure, failure points to one man,” he told reporters at his party headquarters. “I think that there was some hurt in the society in respect of some of the decisions that had to be made.”

The U.S. State Department issued a statement commending Mottley’s “stated intent to address fiscal transparency” and saying the United States looked forward to working with Barbados to enhance economic partnerships and private sector investment.

The Barbadian economy has struggled since a sharp contraction in 2009 after the global financial crisis.

Weak growth has put strains on Barbados’ public debt, pressuring foreign exchange reserves and helping to spark repeated downgrades of the island’s credit rating.

The DLP’s economic record dogged Stuart in the campaign.

Many voters expressed frustration at the party’s failure to reduce debt and the cost of living even as their taxes rose.

US Sen. Corker Meets with Venezuela’s President Maduro

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Friday, less than a week after the embattled socialist leader was re-elected in a vote the U.S. condemned and he kicked out the top American diplomat in the country.

The visit appeared to be an attempt by Sen. Bob Corker to push for the release of Joshua Holt, a U.S. citizen who has been held for two years in a Caracas jail without a trial on what he has called trumped-up weapons charges.

Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, was seen live on state TV shaking hands with Maduro and being greeted by first lady Cilia Flores as he entered the presidential palace. He left an hour later, and neither the senator nor the president made any statements.

Maduro easily won a second, six-year term in Sunday’s election, which was criticized by the U.S. and other nations as a “sham” after several of his key rivals were barred from running. After his victory, Maduro expelled U.S. charge d’affaires Todd Robinson and his deputy for allegedly conspiring to sabotage the vote by pressuring opposition parties to boycott the election, which had the lowest voter turnout in decades.

Corker was accompanied by an aide, Caleb McCarry, who led backchannel talks earlier this year with a close associate of Maduro aimed at securing the release of Holt.

Speculation on social media

Holt, a 26-year-old from Utah, traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry a woman he had met online while looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him improve his Spanish. He was arrested after police said they found an assault rifle and grenades during a raid on the public housing complex where the couple lived. He has denied the charge.

Shortly after Corker’s meeting with Maduro, social media in Venezuela lit up with speculation that Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, would be released as a good will gesture to improve relations, much as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did by freeing three American detainees.

In a previous visit to Caracas in 2015, Corker was shunned by Maduro after having been promised a meeting with the president. Upon his return to Washington, Corker blasted Maduro’s government, saying its “flawed economic policies and political system” had put Venezuela on a “destructive path.”

There was no immediate comment from Corker’s office about the nature of his latest visit.

​Other senators 

Last month, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, also met with Maduro to press for Holt’s release.

The Maduro government has been seeking contacts in the U.S. to stave off the threat of crippling oil sanctions that could further damage an economy already staggering from hyperinflation and widespread shortages.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, an outspoken critic of Maduro who has President Donald Trump’s ear on Venezuela, played down Corker’s visit.

“Any U.S. Senator can meet with whoever they want,” Rubio tweeted. “But no matter how many senators dictator (at)NicolasMaduro gets to meet with him, U.S. sanctions will go away when Maduro leaves & democracy returns.”

Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez described Maduro’s conversation with Corker as “very good meeting, good news for the Venezuelan people” but gave no details of what the two discussed.

A close Maduro ally, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, accused Holt of being the CIA’s spy chief in Latin America after the prisoner appeared in a video last week pleading for help, saying his life had been threatened during a riot by inmates in the Caracas jail where he and dozens of Maduro’s opponents are being held.

Before he left Venezuela on Thursday on Maduro’s orders, Robinson had been pushing unsuccessfully to see Holt.

However, on Friday, U.S. officials were allowed entry to the prison, according to a message posted by Holt’s mother, Laurie Holt, on her Facebook page. She said her son “was in good spirits,” except for discomfort from dozens of mosquito bites. She said his visitors gave him bug repellant.

US Sen. Corker Meets with Venezuela’s President Maduro

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Friday, less than a week after the embattled socialist leader was re-elected in a vote the U.S. condemned and he kicked out the top American diplomat in the country.

The visit appeared to be an attempt by Sen. Bob Corker to push for the release of Joshua Holt, a U.S. citizen who has been held for two years in a Caracas jail without a trial on what he has called trumped-up weapons charges.

Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, was seen live on state TV shaking hands with Maduro and being greeted by first lady Cilia Flores as he entered the presidential palace. He left an hour later, and neither the senator nor the president made any statements.

Maduro easily won a second, six-year term in Sunday’s election, which was criticized by the U.S. and other nations as a “sham” after several of his key rivals were barred from running. After his victory, Maduro expelled U.S. charge d’affaires Todd Robinson and his deputy for allegedly conspiring to sabotage the vote by pressuring opposition parties to boycott the election, which had the lowest voter turnout in decades.

Corker was accompanied by an aide, Caleb McCarry, who led backchannel talks earlier this year with a close associate of Maduro aimed at securing the release of Holt.

Speculation on social media

Holt, a 26-year-old from Utah, traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry a woman he had met online while looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him improve his Spanish. He was arrested after police said they found an assault rifle and grenades during a raid on the public housing complex where the couple lived. He has denied the charge.

Shortly after Corker’s meeting with Maduro, social media in Venezuela lit up with speculation that Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, would be released as a good will gesture to improve relations, much as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did by freeing three American detainees.

In a previous visit to Caracas in 2015, Corker was shunned by Maduro after having been promised a meeting with the president. Upon his return to Washington, Corker blasted Maduro’s government, saying its “flawed economic policies and political system” had put Venezuela on a “destructive path.”

There was no immediate comment from Corker’s office about the nature of his latest visit.

​Other senators 

Last month, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, also met with Maduro to press for Holt’s release.

The Maduro government has been seeking contacts in the U.S. to stave off the threat of crippling oil sanctions that could further damage an economy already staggering from hyperinflation and widespread shortages.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, an outspoken critic of Maduro who has President Donald Trump’s ear on Venezuela, played down Corker’s visit.

“Any U.S. Senator can meet with whoever they want,” Rubio tweeted. “But no matter how many senators dictator (at)NicolasMaduro gets to meet with him, U.S. sanctions will go away when Maduro leaves & democracy returns.”

Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez described Maduro’s conversation with Corker as “very good meeting, good news for the Venezuelan people” but gave no details of what the two discussed.

A close Maduro ally, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, accused Holt of being the CIA’s spy chief in Latin America after the prisoner appeared in a video last week pleading for help, saying his life had been threatened during a riot by inmates in the Caracas jail where he and dozens of Maduro’s opponents are being held.

Before he left Venezuela on Thursday on Maduro’s orders, Robinson had been pushing unsuccessfully to see Holt.

However, on Friday, U.S. officials were allowed entry to the prison, according to a message posted by Holt’s mother, Laurie Holt, on her Facebook page. She said her son “was in good spirits,” except for discomfort from dozens of mosquito bites. She said his visitors gave him bug repellant.

Brazil Truckers Maintain Blockades, Cripple Key Economic Sectors

A truckers protest over diesel prices that has crippled key sectors of Latin America’s biggest economy dragged into Friday night, putting drivers in a standoff with Brazilian President Michel Temer who authorized military force to clear highways.

The protest will stretch into its sixth day on Saturday.

South America’s largest city and economic hub Sao Paulo decreed a state of emergency, as did Rio de Janeiro.

Gas stations and airports across the nation ran out of fuel, supermarket shelves went bare and hospitals said they were running out of supplies. Public transport and trash collection was reduced or halted across the country, and many schools canceled classes as teachers could not get to work.

Lack of feed supplies may cause one billion birds and 20 million hogs to die, Brazilian meat group ABPA said.

“Those blocking the highways and acting in a radical manner are hurting the population,” Temer said in a televised address. “We will not allow hospitals to run out of supplies to save lives. We will not allow children to be harmed by the closure of schools.”

Yet Friday night, much of the country remained paralyzed.

In response to the threat of military action, Abcam, a Brazilian truckers association that says it represents 600,000 drivers, called on them to no longer block roads. 

However, it encouraged the drivers to keep protesting and not deliver goods, meaning it was likely the situation would remain critical.

Accord, little action

Negotiators for several trucker groups agreed late on Thursday to suspend their blockages for 15 days after the government vowed to subsidize and stabilize diesel prices, which may cost 5 billion reais ($1.4 billion) this year.

To win over truckers the government promised to extend for 30 days a 10-percent diesel price cut announced by state-led oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Shares of Petrobras, as the company is known, closed down nearly 1.4 percent on Friday after plunging 19 percent in the prior two days, as the blockades continued.

But the Abcam trucking association that ignited the strike was not among the parties that signed the accord and insisted on Friday it would not do so until Congress puts diesel tax cuts into law, which would take several days at the quickest.

No trucks were able to enter the port of Santos, Latin America’s largest, and oilseeds crushing group Abiove told Reuters that soy exports would halt on Saturday if truckers did not allow access to major ports.

Meat group ABPA said 152 poultry and pork processing plants had indefinitely suspended production.

Auto production in Brazil, which contributes about a quarter of industrial output, ground to a halt on Friday in the latest blow to a fragile economic recovery following the worst downturn in decades.

Brazil Truckers Maintain Blockades, Cripple Key Economic Sectors

A truckers protest over diesel prices that has crippled key sectors of Latin America’s biggest economy dragged into Friday night, putting drivers in a standoff with Brazilian President Michel Temer who authorized military force to clear highways.

The protest will stretch into its sixth day on Saturday.

South America’s largest city and economic hub Sao Paulo decreed a state of emergency, as did Rio de Janeiro.

Gas stations and airports across the nation ran out of fuel, supermarket shelves went bare and hospitals said they were running out of supplies. Public transport and trash collection was reduced or halted across the country, and many schools canceled classes as teachers could not get to work.

Lack of feed supplies may cause one billion birds and 20 million hogs to die, Brazilian meat group ABPA said.

“Those blocking the highways and acting in a radical manner are hurting the population,” Temer said in a televised address. “We will not allow hospitals to run out of supplies to save lives. We will not allow children to be harmed by the closure of schools.”

Yet Friday night, much of the country remained paralyzed.

In response to the threat of military action, Abcam, a Brazilian truckers association that says it represents 600,000 drivers, called on them to no longer block roads. 

However, it encouraged the drivers to keep protesting and not deliver goods, meaning it was likely the situation would remain critical.

Accord, little action

Negotiators for several trucker groups agreed late on Thursday to suspend their blockages for 15 days after the government vowed to subsidize and stabilize diesel prices, which may cost 5 billion reais ($1.4 billion) this year.

To win over truckers the government promised to extend for 30 days a 10-percent diesel price cut announced by state-led oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Shares of Petrobras, as the company is known, closed down nearly 1.4 percent on Friday after plunging 19 percent in the prior two days, as the blockades continued.

But the Abcam trucking association that ignited the strike was not among the parties that signed the accord and insisted on Friday it would not do so until Congress puts diesel tax cuts into law, which would take several days at the quickest.

No trucks were able to enter the port of Santos, Latin America’s largest, and oilseeds crushing group Abiove told Reuters that soy exports would halt on Saturday if truckers did not allow access to major ports.

Meat group ABPA said 152 poultry and pork processing plants had indefinitely suspended production.

Auto production in Brazil, which contributes about a quarter of industrial output, ground to a halt on Friday in the latest blow to a fragile economic recovery following the worst downturn in decades.

Canada’s Trudeau Raises US Auto Import Probe Concerns with Trump

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday and raised “strong concerns” about a U.S. probe into car and truck imports that was launched this week, the prime minister’s office said.

The two leaders also discussed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations and bringing talks to a timely conclusion, Trudeau’s office said.

The Trump administration earlier this week began a national security investigation into auto imports that could lead to new U.S. tariffs similar to those imposed on imported steel and aluminum in March.

The move was seen as adding pressure to the ongoing NAFTA negotiations, where auto provisions have become a critical part of the talks.

Trudeau “raised strong concerns about the U.S.’s Section 232 investigation on automobile imports, given the mutually beneficial integration of the Canadian and American auto industries,” his office said in a statement.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Trudeau said the investigation was based on flimsy logic and part of pressure from Washington to renegotiate the NAFTA trade pact.

Mexico’s economy minister said on Friday there was about a 40 percent chance of concluding the NAFTA talks before Mexico’s presidential election on July 1.

 

Canada’s Trudeau Raises US Auto Import Probe Concerns with Trump

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday and raised “strong concerns” about a U.S. probe into car and truck imports that was launched this week, the prime minister’s office said.

The two leaders also discussed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations and bringing talks to a timely conclusion, Trudeau’s office said.

The Trump administration earlier this week began a national security investigation into auto imports that could lead to new U.S. tariffs similar to those imposed on imported steel and aluminum in March.

The move was seen as adding pressure to the ongoing NAFTA negotiations, where auto provisions have become a critical part of the talks.

Trudeau “raised strong concerns about the U.S.’s Section 232 investigation on automobile imports, given the mutually beneficial integration of the Canadian and American auto industries,” his office said in a statement.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Trudeau said the investigation was based on flimsy logic and part of pressure from Washington to renegotiate the NAFTA trade pact.

Mexico’s economy minister said on Friday there was about a 40 percent chance of concluding the NAFTA talks before Mexico’s presidential election on July 1.