UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Caribbean, Latin American leaders likely to discuss spying, development at U.N. meeting

 

jwyss@miamiherald.com

Last week, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a U.S. state visit over allegations that the National Security Agency listened into her conversations and spied on state-run oil company Petrobras.

On Tuesday, as she kicks off the United Nations 68th General Assembly, she’s expected to vent those grievances to the globe by calling for more oversight and stricter rules to keep the U.S. from being a global peeping tom.

The U.N.’s annual six-day event is expected to be dominated by talk of chemical weapons in Syria, the terrorist attack at a Kenyan mall and the prospects of a U.S.-Iran rapprochement. But leaders of the Americas are bringing their own agendas, including allegations of U.S. meddling, development in the Caribbean and peace in Colombia.

Rousseff’s call for reining in U.S. intelligence is likely to resonate among nations that have been stung by the spying allegations that came to light after NSA contractor Edward Snowden began revealing details earlier this year.

If the issue comes up, President Barack Obama is likely to respond by making the point that U.S. intelligence activities also increase the security of its allies, Ben Rhodes, a U.S. deputy national security advisor, told reporters.

“What the president has said is that we’re going to be reviewing our intelligence capabilities to ensure that we’re focused on threats… to deal with things like terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, security challenges in different parts of the world,” he said. “These are not tools that are intended to target, single out friends of the United States’’.

VENEZUELA

During his 14 years in power, late President Hugo Chávez used the annual event to put on one of the best shows in international diplomacy, playing air guitar, calling President George W. Bush a sulfur-emitting “devil” and flogging the books of his favorite authors, including U.S. philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky.

This time it’s the turn of his successor Nicolás Maduro. Maduro set the stage for his U.N. debut last week by accusing the United States of trying to hamstring his visit by denying visas to members of his delegation — a charge the U.S. State Department denied. Venezuela also accused the U.S. of initially denying Maduro the right to fly through U.S. airspace in Puerto Rico on his way to China.

Those gripes will likely get a global airing during Maduro’s Wednesday address. What’s not known is if Maduro will use the stage to advance his theories that a broad-based conspiracy is causing his country’s economic problems — from blackouts to inflation to food shortages. Earlier this month, Maduro said the White House was trying to destroy the nation through a plan called “Total Collapse.” Those accusations play well with some government loyalists, but it’s unclear how they would go over internationally, said Saul Cabrera, a political analyst with Consultores 21, a polling and political analysis firm.

“I’m hoping he doesn’t put on a media show like Chávez sometimes did,” he said, “and instead comes prepared with a thoughtful agenda.”

CUBA

As in years past, Cuban leaders are expected to bring up the U.S. embargo against the island. On Monday, it released the highlights of a report it plans to present on damages to its healthcare system and other costs of the embargo, which it refers to as the blockade.

From May 2012 to April 2012 alone, the Cuban government said such damages added up to $39 million, mainly because of the need to purchase medicine, instruments and other medical supplies from more distant markets, rather than the United States.

The Cubans, who will take the U.N. podium on Monday, also complained of lack of access to cutting-edge technology produced only in the United States, as well as the difficulty for its medical personnel to receive training in some of the latest techniques.

CARIBBEAN

This year’s meeting is particularly significant for the Caribbean Community, with Antiguan ambassador John William Ashe serving as president of the U.N. General Assembly.

On Wednesday, Ashe will convene his own special event about the Millennium Development Goals — eight benchmarks, which include reducing poverty and stopping the spread of AIDS, that countries are supposed to meet by 2015. Ashe has said the goals are a heavy lift for less-developed nations.

“I look forward to seeing how we can each play a part in fulfilling commitments already made,” he said, “changing old paradigms that no longer serve us, and building something that serves and honors all of us.”

The leaders of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are expected to use their time on stage to talk about development goals after 2015.

HAITI

Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe will make his first appearance at the opening, as President Michel Martelly opted to stay home to address his nation’s ongoing political crisis. Lamothe’s speech Thursday is also expected to address how Haiti is meeting the development goals.

Outside U.N. headquarters, human rights advocates will be calling on the organization to take responsibility for the deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed more than 8,000 since 2010. Last year, Haiti’s Institute for Justice and Democracy sued the U.N. seeking hundreds of millions in compensation on behalf of cholera victims. The U.N. rejected the request. Even so, there has been increasing evidence that U.N. peacekeepers were responsible for sparking the epidemic 10 months after Haiti´s 2010 earthquake.

COLOMBIA

As peace talks between Colombia and the FARC guerrillas enter their 11th month, questions are arising about just how lenient the government might be with guerrilla leaders in order to secure a deal. Earlier this month, the attorney general warned that the administration might fall afoul of the U.N.’s International Criminal Court if it doesn’t thoroughly punish the FARC leadership — many of whom are wanted in the United States on murder, drugs and kidnapping charges.

President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to argue that Colombia needs flexibility to bring the country’s 48-year civil conflict to an end. He’ll also be making his case to ICC officials.

“Peace is the product of a negotiation where everyone has to give in,” he said last week. “To believe otherwise, to want to impose peace by force and unilaterally, is to resign ourselves to decades of more violence, pain and fratricide.”

Miami Herald Staff Writer Jacqueline Charles in Miami and special correspondent Aaron Morrison at the United Nations contributed to this report

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