Opinion

The Great Debate

The looming U.S.-China rivalry over Latin America

President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) in California, June 7, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Though the U.S. and Chinese presidents heralded a “new model” of cooperation at their weekend summit, a growing competition looks more likely. The whirlwind of activity before President Barack Obama met with President Xi Jinping in the California desert revealed that Beijing and Washington’s sights are set on a similar prize — and face differing challenges to attain it.

Their focus is Latin America and the prize is increased trade and investment opportunities in a region where economic reforms have pulled millions out of poverty and into the middle class. Latin America is rich in the commodities and energy that both China and the United States need, largely stable politically and eager to do deals.

Consider the travel itinerary: Obama visited Mexico and Costa Rica last month. Vice President Joe Biden recently went to Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil. Chile’s president paid Obama a visit last week, Peru’s leader arrived Tuesday and Brazil’s is due in October.

Meanwhile, just after Biden left Trinidad, Xi arrived, part of a tour that also took him to Costa Rica and Mexico to promote trade and cooperation.

Post Chavez: Can U.S. rebuild Latin American ties?

The funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez earlier this month was a massive celebration of a vitriolic foe of the United States. This tribute should make Washington take a fresh look not only at its relations with Venezuela but also with all of Latin America.

Virtually every Latin American country sent a high-level delegation to show its esteem for Chavez, who, during his 14 years in office, regularly vilified the United States, disparaged its leaders and campaigned tirelessly to end the U.S. role in the region. The presidents of Latin America’s six largest nations — including the closest U.S. regional allies, Mexico, Colombia and Chile — traveled to Caracas for the burial ceremonies. Never in Latin America, as many commentators noted, has a deceased leader been given a grander memorial — not even Argentina’s adored Juan Domingo Peron back in 1974.

This extraordinary acclaim for Washington’s most virulent adversary in the Americas was probably not intended as a deliberate snub. There were other reasons that so many of Washington’s friends ended up applauding a committed antagonist of the United States.

With Chavez gone, what of ‘Chavismo’?

“The End of the Chávez Era” That was the headline on Colombia’s major newspaper, El Tiempo, the day after Hugo Chávez’s death.

True, Chávez’s controversial and colorful 14-year rule has ended, and Venezuela has lost a president who evoked uncommonly intense passions among followers and detractors.   Venezuelans will not easily forget a leader who, for better or worse, was the consummate showman and left an indelible mark on a highly polarized society.

Yet Chavez also followed in a long line of caudillos, or strongmen, who have been a notable feature in Latin America’s political history. Indeed, Venezuela has had its fair share. As the acute observer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia’s Nobel Prize-winning writer, noted soon after Chávez’s 1998 election, the new president’s seductive rhetoric recalled so many of the region’s other leading political figures — but he could well end up as yet another Latin American despot.

from The Great Debate UK:

A bet against Castro’s immortality

REUTERS-- Neil Collins is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own --

LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) - "Practically everyone who follows Latin American events agrees that Castro's end is near." Thus one Laurence W Tuller, writing in 1994 in his manual on high-risk, high-reward investing. Defaulted Cuban government bonds had jumped on hopes of a settlement to allow the country back into the international capital markets.
Today, former leader Fidel Castro's end is 15 years nearer, but he's still there, albeit in semi-retirement, and holders of these pre-Castro bonds with a face value of around $200 billion are still waiting. Castro's regime kept good records, but have paid no interest, and ignored redemption dates since his revolution half a century ago.
Few Americans can remember why their administration has been so beastly to Cuba for so long.
Those who can mostly live in Florida, a key swing state, and many risked everything to get out of Cuba. They do not want to see their investment devalued by hordes of their former compatriots simply walking off the Delta Airlines flight from Havana.
Last week U.S. President Barack Obama eased the squeeze somewhat. Americans can now visit Cuba, but only if they have relatives there.
This gesture has re-ignited the bondholders' old hopes. Past settlements of defaulted sovereign bonds have tended to pay about half the total of accrued interest plus principal, so the buyers see plenty of upside.
Exotix, a specialist trader in "frontier markets", says its price for a typical Cuban bond instrument has risen from around 9 cents on the dollar at the start of this month to 14 cents on April 23.
Mind you, the spread is wide, the market thin and as events crowd in on the President, he might feel there are more pressing problems than to risk upsetting those key-voting Floridian Cubans.

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