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Friday, June 28, 2013

Cuba: U.S. Policy and Issues for the 113th Congress

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Cuba remains a one-party communist state with a poor record on human rights. The country’s political succession in 2006 from the long-ruling Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl was characterized by a remarkable degree of stability. In February 2013, Castro was reappointed to a second five-year term as president (until 2018, when he would be 86 years old), and selected 52- year old former Education Minister Miguel Díaz-Canel as his First Vice President, making him the official successor in the event that Castro cannot serve out his term. Raúl Castro has implemented a number of gradual economic policy changes over the past several years, including an expansion of self-employment. A party congress held in April 2011 laid out numerous economic goals that, if implemented, could significantly alter Cuba’s state-dominated economic model. Few observers, however, expect the government to ease its tight control over the political system. While the government reduced the number of political prisoners in 2010-2011, the number increased in 2012; moreover, short-term detentions and harassment have increased significantly. 

U.S. Policy 

Over the years, Congress has played an active role in shaping policy toward Cuba, including the enactment of legislation strengthening and at times easing various U.S. economic sanctions. While U.S. policy has consisted largely of isolating Cuba through economic sanctions, a second policy component has consisted of support measures for the Cuban people, including U.S. government-sponsored broadcasting (Radio and TV Martí) and support for human rights and democracy projects. The Obama Administration has continued this similar dual-track approach. While the Administration has lifted all restrictions on family travel and remittances, eased restrictions on other types of purposeful travel, and moved to reengage Cuba on several bilateral issues, it has also maintained most U.S. economic sanctions in place. On human rights, the Administration welcomed the release of many political prisoners in 2010 and 2011, but it has also criticized Cuba’s continued harsh repression of political dissidents through thousands of shortterm detentions and targeted violence. The Administration has continued to call for the release of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, detained in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in March 2011. Gross’s continued detention has been a major impediment toward improved relations. 

Legislative Activity 

Strong interest in Cuba is expected to continue in the 113
th Congress with attention focused on economic and political developments, especially the human rights situation, and U.S. policy toward the island nation. The continued imprisonment of Alan Gross remains a key concern for many Members. Now that Congress has completed action on FY2013 appropriations, it will soon be considering the Administration’s FY2014 request for the State Department and Foreign Operations, which includes funding for Cuba democracy programs and Cuba broadcasting. For many years, U.S. sanctions, particularly restrictions on travel, remittances, and agricultural exports to Cuba, have been topics of congressional debate, and this could be possible again in the 113th Congress.

To date in the 113
th Congress, eight initiatives on Cuba have been introduced. Several would lift or ease U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba: H.R. 214 and H.R. 872 (overall embargo); H.R. 871 (travel); and H.R. 873 (travel and agricultural exports). H.R. 215 would allow Cubans to play organized professional baseball in the United States. H.R. 1917, among its provisions, would lift the embargo and extend nondiscriminatory trade treatment to the products of Cuba after Cuba releases Alan Gross from prison. Identical initiatives, H.R. 778/S. 647 would modify a 1998 trademark sanction; in contrast, H.R. 214, H.R. 872, H.R. 873, and H.R. 1917 each have a provision that would repeal the trademark sanction. H.Res. 121 would honor the work of Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez in challenging the oppression of the Castro regime. In addition, in March 2013, Congress completed action on full-year FY2013 appropriations with the approval of H.R. 933 (P.L. 113-6), which continues to provide funding for Cuba democracy and human rights projects and Cuba broadcasting (Radio and TV Martí).

This report will be updated periodically during the 113
th Congress. For additional information, see CRS Report RL31139, Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances.

Date of Report: June 12, 2013
Number of Pages: 62
Order Number: R43024
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Kristin M. Finklea
Analyst in Domestic Security

Brazen violence perpetrated by drug trafficking organizations and other criminal groups is threatening citizen security and governance in some parts of Mexico, a country with which the United States shares a nearly 2,000 mile border and $500 billion in annual trade. Although the violence in Mexico has generally declined since late 2011, analysts estimate that it may have claimed more than 60,000 lives between December 2006 and November 2012. The violence has increased U.S. concerns about stability in Mexico, a key political and economic ally, and about the possibility of violence spilling over into the United States.

U.S.-Mexican security cooperation increased significantly as a result of the development and implementation of the Mérida Initiative, a counterdrug and anticrime assistance package for Mexico and Central America first funded in FY2008. Whereas U.S. assistance initially focused on training and equipping Mexican counterdrug forces, it now places more emphasis on addressing the weak institutions and underlying societal problems that have allowed the drug trade to flourish in Mexico. The Mérida strategy now focuses on (1) disrupting organized criminal groups, (2) institutionalizing the rule of law, (3) creating a 21
st century border, and (4) building strong and resilient communities. As part of the Mérida Initiative, the Mexican government pledged to intensify its anticrime efforts and the U.S. government pledged to address drug demand and the illicit trafficking of firearms and bulk currency to Mexico.

Inaugurated on December 1, 2012, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed to continue U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, albeit with a shift in focus toward reducing violent crime in Mexico. Peña Nieto has begun to adjust the process and priorities of U.S.-Mexican efforts, adjustments which President Obama has pledged to support. The Interior Ministry is now the primary entity through which Mérida training and equipment requests are coordinated and intelligence is channeled. The Mexican government is requesting increased assistance for judicial reform and prevention efforts, but limiting U.S. involvement in some law enforcement and intelligence operations. As the Peña Nieto government fleshes out its security strategy, Mérida programs are likely to be adjusted in order to support those efforts that align with U.S. priorities.

The 113
th Congress is likely to continue funding and overseeing the Mérida Initiative and related domestic initiatives, but may also consider supporting new programs. From FY2008 to FY2012, Congress appropriated $1.9 billion in Mérida assistance for Mexico, roughly $1.2 billion of which had been delivered as of April 2013. The Obama Administration asked for $234.0 million for Mérida programs in in its FY2013 budget request and $183 million in its FY2014 request.

Congress may wish to examine how well the Mexican government’s security strategy supports U.S. interests in Mexico. Congressional approval will be needed should the State Department seek to reprogram some of the funding already in the pipeline for Mérida, or shift new funding to better align with Mexico’s new priorities. Should disagreements occur between Mexican and U.S. priorities, Congress may weigh in on how those disagreements should be resolved. Congress may also debate how to measure the impact of Mérida Initiative programs, as well as the extent to which Mérida has evolved to respond to changing security conditions in Mexico. Another issue of congressional interest involves whether Mexico is meeting the human rights conditions placed on Mérida Initiative funding.

Date of Report: June 12, 2013
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: R41349
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Chile: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations

Peter J. Meyer
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Chile has maintained friendly relations with the United States since its transition back to civilian democratic rule in 1990. The Obama Administration has sought to build on these traditionally close ties and encourage Chile’s leadership in the Western Hemisphere. Bilateral commercial relations are particularly strong; total trade in goods and services has nearly tripled since the implementation of a free trade agreement in 2004. Additional areas of cooperation include supporting regional stability and promoting clean energy development. 

Political Situation 

Sebastián Piñera of the center-right “Alliance for Chile,” or Alianza, was inaugurated to a fouryear presidential term in March 2010. Piñera’s electoral victory was the first for the Chilean right since 1958, and brought an end to 20 years of governance by a center-left coalition of parties known as the Concertación. Piñera’s coalition lacks majorities in both houses of the Chilean Congress, however, and he must secure the support of opposition or unaffiliated legislators to advance his agenda. This need for cross-coalition appeal has contributed to considerable policy continuity.

While Piñera has won legislative support for a variety of incremental policy reforms, he has struggled to deal with a series of popular protests over issues ranging from energy policy to the education system. Analysts maintain that the Chilean populace has resorted to such tactics to demonstrate its increasing dissatisfaction with the country’s political class, which it views as unresponsive to citizen demands and unwilling to address high levels of inequality. As the generalized sense of discontent has spread, Piñera’s approval rating has steadily declined. In April 2013, 34% of Chileans approved of Piñera’s performance in office while 56% disapproved.

Since Piñera has less than a year left in his term and is constitutionally ineligible to seek immediate reelection, the Chilean political scene is focusing much of its attention on the presidential election scheduled for November 17, 2013. Early polling suggests that former President Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010) is likely to lead the Concertación back to power. National primary elections to select each coalition’s candidate are scheduled to be held on June 30, 2013. 

Economic Conditions 

According to many analysts, Chile has the most competitive and fundamentally sound economy in Latin America. In 2012, the country had a gross domestic product (GDP) of $268 billion and an estimated per capita GDP of $15,410. Chile’s economic success stems from policies implemented over several decades that have opened the country to investment, secured access to foreign markets, and mitigated the effects of external shocks. In recent years, this solid policy framework has helped the Chilean economy weather the global financial crisis and a massive February 2010 earthquake. After a 0.9% contraction in 2009, the Chilean economy grew by 6.1% in 2010, 5.9% in 2011, and 5.5% in 2012.

Strong economic growth—paired with targeted social assistance programs—has also contributed to a significant decline in the poverty rate, which fell from 38.8% in 1989 to 14.4% in 2011. High levels of inequality have persisted, however, contributing to some popular discontent with Chile’s generally strong economic performance.

Congressional Action 

Congress has expressed interest in a variety of issues in U.S.-Chilean relations over the years. The 113
th Congress could take up matters such as the U.S.-Chile bilateral income tax treaty, which was signed in 2010 and was submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification on May 17, 2012 (Treaty Doc. 112-8). Ongoing negotiations over the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which includes Chile, the United States, and at least nine other nations in the Asia- Pacific region, may also attract congressional attention.

This report provides a brief historical background of Chile, examines recent political and economic developments, and considers current issues in U.S.-Chilean relations.

Date of Report: May 28, 2013
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R40126
Price: $29.95

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