Watershed moment

Cuba carHere is my latest column for IBA Global Insight:

After years of negotiations behind closed doors, the US and Cuba finally brokered a deal last December, which saw the release of US government contractor Alan Gross and three Cuban agents convicted of spying on anti-Castro groups in Miami.

The significance of the move cannot be underestimated. Fernando Peláez-Pier is a former IBA President and a partner at Hoet Peláez Castillo & Duque in Caracas. He says:
‘It has been an enormous step to take the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba and to lift the embargo in the short term, although it is not yet envisioned that it will lead to a reopening of embassies in each country.

‘This is the most important decision since Carter and Castro decided to establish representation of each country’s interests in Havana and Washington. It’s the beginning of a new era in the relations between both countries, marking a before and an after.’

However, the process is far from over. ‘Whoever thinks this process will be fast would be mistaken and would fail to understand the complexity of the case and what it implies for the re-establishment of relations between two countries after more than 50 years,’
says Peláez-Pier.

Published on 09-04-15. Read on here

Mexico student massacre exposes cracks in rule of law

Fuera Peñá - David MonroyHere is my latest column for IBA Global Insight:

As images of the terrorist attacks that paralysed France at the start of 2015 reverberated around the world, thousands of miles away, in the south-western Mexican state of Guerrero, families were still waiting for accountability regarding the biggest massacre in the country’s recent history.

On 26 September 2014, more than 100 students from a teacher-training college in Ayotzinapa were taking part in a peaceful protest against alleged discriminatory hiring practices in Iguala, when a number of them clashed with local police and were bundled into police cars. The exact chain of events that ensued is still unclear, but it soon became apparent that 43 of the students had vanished without a trace.

Large-scale protests against corruption and violence erupted across the country after a mass grave was discovered on the outskirts of the city. Some of those police officers involved (who have since been arrested) told investigators they handed students over to the drug cartel Guerreros Unidos.

Published on 05-02-15. Read on here

No country for compensation

BolivaresHere is my latest column for IBA Global Insight:

Gripped by high inflation, chronic shortages and an ever-widening fiscal deficit, Venezuela a year ago was not a pretty picture. But after 12 months that have seen further unrest, currency devaluations, a dramatic slump in oil prices and a bitter stand-off between the government and international airlines, turmoil has taken on a whole new meaning in Venezuela.

‘The economic situation in Venezuela has worsened considerably since measures have not been taken to resolve the main problems affecting the country,’ says former IBA President Fernando Peláez-Pier, a partner at Hoet Peláez Castillo & Duque in Caracas.

Despite indications that Nicolás Maduro’s government was taking action to combat the crisis, ongoing shortages of basic food, medical supplies and foreign currency – not to mention the estimated $12bn a year the government is spending to subsidise domestic gasoline sales –  have pushed the economy to breaking point.

Published on 04-12-14. Read on here

Better together? Ukraine and Russia’s contrasting trade alliances

Ukraine Photo Ivan BanduraHere is my latest column for IBA Global Insight:

After months that have seen widespread demonstrations, bloodshed, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, snap elections and ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, it is easy to forget that it was the decision by former President Viktor Yanukovych to pull out of a much-anticipated trade pact with the European Union that sparked the protests in the first place.

Wind on nine months and the EU has signed an association agreement with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Russia has also forged ahead with expanding its own trade relationships and signed the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU) with Belarus and Kazakhstan. As the fallout from the tragic downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine on 17 July continues and relations across the EU and beyond become increasingly strained, the question remains: is it always better, together?

Lourdes Catrain, Vice-Chair of the IBA International Trade and Customs Law Committee and director of Hogan Lovells’ European international trade and investment group, believes the June association agreement signed between the EU and Ukraine is a significant step for European trade relations. ‘It’s important to remember that it was the proposed Ukrainian association agreement with the EU that triggered the Russia-Ukraine crisis, and which shows that Ukraine has made a strong bet for the EU,’ she says.

‘The association agreement with the EU shows that at least, a very large part of the population in Ukraine is prepared to follow the EU. Given the size of Ukraine that’s an important message. [Although] Georgia and Moldova have much smaller economies, it’s significant that the three of them have joined what could become a very deep association with the EU.’

Published on 04-08-14. Read on here

Five key takeaways on Russia’s relations with the West

Here’s my latest blog for Huffington Post UK:

After months of fraught relations between Russia and the West which have seen a flurry of tit-for-tat sanctions triggered by the growing unrest in Ukraine, the final straw seemed to come with the suspected downing on 17 July of flight MH17 over Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists.

Under growing international pressure to act, on 29 July the EU finally confirmed it was imposing ‘stage three’ sanctions against Russia. Here are the five key takeaways on Russian relations with the West in recent weeks:

1. Press reaction to MH17 disaster – differing views

Many of the European, American and Asian newspapers led with the story:

Guardian front pageAlthough as UK broadsheet The Guardian was quick to point out, many Russian newspapers relegated news of the accident to the bottom of the page:

Rossiskaya GazetaAlthough pro-Kremlin Russian tabloid Tvoi Den did lead with a more dramatic image, the caption told a startlingly different story: Donetsk People’s Republic Authorities Claim Plane Destroyed by a Ukrainian Buk Missile:

Tvoi Den front pageReflecting the shockwaves felt across the Netherlands, which suffered the most losses, Dutch daily nrc•next was noticeably more reserved: Last night in eastern Ukraine, a plane crashed. On board were 300 people, 154 of them were Dutch:

nrc.nextPublished on 01-08-14. Read on here