At the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term, moves toward normalization between the United States and Cuba briefly seemed possible. Restrictions on travel and remittances were loosened, and Obama hinted at bigger changes during the April 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
However, the political space in the United States quickly closed after USAID contractor Alan Gross was detained by Cuban authorities in late 2009. Meanwhile, the continued detention of three members of the “Cuban Five” since 1998 by the United States remained a major irritant for Cuba.
This is not the first time that the fate of prisoners has played a significant role in U.S.-Cuban relations. During the 1960s, Cuban authorities detained four CIA agents who were engaged in covert activities on the island. Their status was a sticking point during discussions between the two countries about repairing relations. Carter administration officials met with Cuban counterparts, including Fidel Castro. When the administration inquired about the release of the CIA agents at the end of the 1970s, Castro pressed the United States to release Puerto Rican nationalists imprisoned for violent attacks during the 1950s. [Editor’s note: This is not to imply that Alan Gross was a CIA agent or that he was engaged in espionage. The blog is simply drawing a parallel between to roughly similar moments in U.S.-Cuba relations and history and their relationship to the late Bob Pastor, who had been a contributor to Americas Quarterly.]
A new, 27-minute documentary entitled “The Non-Trade Trade,” explores the similarities between the prisoner releases of the late 1970s and the status of the prisoners being held today. Produced by Soraya Castro, a professor at the University of Havana, the film draws heavily on an oral history with the late Robert A. Pastor. Early in his career, Pastor served as the senior director for Latin America on President Carter’s National Security Council. [Disclosure: While I was not involved in the making of the documentary, Pastor was my dissertation supervisor at American University.] Both Pastor and the documentary argue for releasing the prisoners and improving U.S.-Cuban relations.
The film uses original documents about the prisoner releases of the 1970s, which it refers to as the “non-trade trade.” While the prisoner releases were closely linked, Pastor argues that they were individual, humanitarian gestures. The Carter administration had no guarantee that after commuting the Puerto Ricans’ sentences, the release of the CIA agents would follow. Carter took the risk, and Cuba released the agents shortly afterward.
There are few perfect historical analogies in foreign policy, and the parallels between today’s prisoners and those of the 1970s are not perfect, either. As Pastor himself often said, in drawing on history, it is important that analysts give as much weight to the differences as the similarities. There are important differences between the prisoners, as well as in the broader political context of the day. The CIA operatives had the bureaucratic support of their agency; Alan Gross, a subcontractor for a company undertaking a USAID project, has not received the same bureaucratic response, despite public calls for his release. USAID has continued to fund projects similar to Gross’ ill-fated mission, including the creation of a “Cuban Twitter” and sending Latin American students to sound out civil society opposition to the Cuban government.
The imprisonments of Gross and the remaining members of the Cuban Five have been offered by both sides as a reason why relations cannot be improved. Those who see Gross’s imprisonment as “the chief obstacle to a diplomatic breakthrough,” including the The New York Times, should also consider why a broader effort to normalize relations has failed, despite the prisoner release of 1979.
It was hoped that the “non-trade trade” of 1979 would pave the way for a new relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. But back then, U.S. objections to Cuban military involvement in Africa were already weakening the push for rapprochement. Global factors grew inauspicious as the superpower détente of the 1970s slid into the renewed confrontation on the early 1980s. Carter’s push for normalization was a spark for Cuban-American opposition, leading to the creation of the Cuban American National Foundation. In the face of stiff headwinds, the prisoner-swap was not enough.
Today, the international environment seems to encourage rapprochement, with-near unanimous condemnation of the U.S. embargo in the United Nations and strong Latin American pressure to reincorporate Cuba into the inter-American system. This might not be so clear-cut, however. The United States’ still-unrivaled position as a superpower allows it to ignore global opinion on Cuba and, Robert Jervis has argued, creates dynamics that lead the United States to respond to domestic, not international, pressures.
In short, the argument for a prisoner swap today should be humanitarian; its effect on U.S.-Cuban relations may be short-lived.
FARC delegates in Havana released two hostages today in an apparent effort to revive peace talks suspended since last week. The two soldiers, Paulo César Rivera and Jonathan Andrés Díaz, were captured on November 9 in Arauca department and were released to the Colombian army this morning.
The FARC has said that it plans to release General Rubén Darío Alzate and two other hostages on Thursday, although the rebels warned earlier this week that the release could be cancelled due to the significant military presence in the region where the hostages are being held. General Alzate was captured along with corporal Jorge Rodríguez and lawyer Gloria Urrego on November 16 while travelling unarmed and without bodyguards in Chocó. Alzate and his companions are allegedly still there.
The November 16 kidnapping led President Juan Manuel Santos to suspend peace talks in Havana, ongoing since 2012. There is some controversy as to how a general could have stumbled on to FARC territory without any security, but the talks will remain suspended until Alzate, Rodríguez and Urrego are released.
On Sunday, the defense ministry announced the temporary cessation of operations in part of the northeast of Colombia in order to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to the area where Rivera and Díaz were being held to assist with the process.
As of yet, President Santos has denied the FARC’s offers for a ceasefire.
On November 13, as Uruguay’s national soccer team, La Celeste (The Sky Blue), ran onto the pitch at Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario, the biggest cheer came for the most scandalous of soccer heroes.
Luis Suárez, who has earned the enmity of players, fans, and at least one prime minister for his race-tinged language and taste for opponents’ flesh—gave a wave and a big, toothy grin as tens of thousands of fans applauded his first match at home since being suspended from competitive international soccer for biting an Italian opponent at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
I was in the bleachers for the Nov. 13 match against Costa Rica, which Suárez could join because it was a non-competitive “friendly,” and I was taken aback by the popularity of the No. 9 jersey and the unwavering conviction of Uruguayans to stand by their man—even after his bizarre behavior crippled the national team’s quest for the Cup. Without its star scorer, La Celeste was subsequently knocked out of World Cup play, and now its ability to defend the Copa América championship title next year has also been compromised.
Surely Suárez had bitten off more than he could chew on stage at the world’s largest sporting event, but in Uruguay, Suárez is loved more than ever.
“His popularity increased after the World Cup,” Ignacio Zuasnabar, the Director of Public Opinion at the Montevideo-based consulting firm Equipos Mori, told me in his office not too far from Estadio Centenario itself. “Suárez made goals against England and Italy; it was impressive. When he came back, all the people were waiting for him the airport. He was a national hero.”
Aunque los cálculos políticos y militares anunciaban una pronta liberación del general del Ejército Rubén Darío Alzate Mora, secuestrado por las FARC en el Chocó, el hecho que provocó la suspensión del proceso de paz entre el gobierno colombiano y esa guerrilla por primera vez en dos años de diálogo, todavía lo tiene en vilo.
Las operaciones de rescate de la Cruz Roja Internacional, lideradas por los países garantes Cuba y Noruega e iniciadas el pasado 19 noviembre, podrían tomar más tiempo de lo esperado por la necesidad de cesar operaciones militares en el Chocó. Una versión del plagio habla de que el General y sus acompañantes, el cabo Jorge Rodríguez y la abogada Gloria Urrego, se subieron de manera voluntaria en una chalupa en el corregimiento de las Mercedes con dos guerrilleros vestidos de civil, y se fueron río abajo. Otra dice que los sujetos iban armados hasta los dientes y los obligaron a hacerlo.
Cuando se de la esperada entrega del general, vendrá por primera vez la rendición de cuentas de un ex secuestrado: al militar le espera una citación al Senado para que explique qué hacía vestido de civil y desarmado, en una zona roja de alta presencia guerrillera, que él mismo conoce como la palma de su mano. No en vano estaba allí al mando de una fuerza de Tarea Conjunta antiguerrilla, en uno de los departamentos más golpeados por la violencia de las FARC.
Las misteriosas circunstancias del histórico plagio de un General de la República, el hecho de que el ex-presidente Álvaro Uribe fue el primero en dar la noticia en su Twitter y el debate que el Congreso está dando sobre el proyecto del fuero militar, no son hechos aislados. Al contrario, ponen sobre el tapete la fuerte voz que quieren tener los militares y los sectores de ultraderecha en el proceso de paz, y la necesidad del gobierno—en particular a través de su ministro de defensa, Juan Carlos Pinzón—de hacerles sentir que nadie está claudicando en el terreno de la guerra. Que la moral de las tropas debe estar siempre en alto. Que las fuerzas militares, entregadas ellas mismas por 50 años a combatir al terrorismo, jamás serán equiparadas con los guerrilleros en términos de juzgamiento y condena—no importa cuántos excesos hayan podido cometer o con quién se hayan aliado para lograr la derrota de ese gran y único enemigo llamado FARC.
This week's likely top stories: Colombia to resume peace talks with FARC once hostages are released; Mercosur and Pacific Alliance convene to discuss regional cooperation; Uruguayans return to polls on Sunday to elect president; Panama courts Walmart for its regional distribution center; Goldcorp to inaugurate Cerro Negro mine in Argentina.
Hostages Released and Peace Talks to be Resumed: Peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia- FARC) will resume after the two parties reached an agreement to free hostages kidnapped by the FARC over a week ago. The FARC will release a total of five hostages, including General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, the highest-ranking military captive ever taken by the FARC. The Colombian delegation will return to Havana and resume peace talks as soon as the captives are liberated and the humanitarian operations by the Red Cross to return the captives home are underway. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the suspension of the peace talks on November 17, just after the kidnappings took place.
MERCOSUR and Pacific Alliance Meet in Santiago: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet inaugurated a meeting today in Santiago between Latin America’s prominent regional integration blocs, the Alianza del Pacífico (Pacific Alliance)—comprising Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru—and the Mercado Común del Sur (Southern Common Market—Mercosur)—which represents Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela. The meeting, a follow up to Chilean Foreign Relations Minister Heraldo Muñoz’s proposal last February to design a formal trade alliance between the entities, brings together representatives from both sides, including trade officials, academics, union members, and business leaders, in order to dialogue about opportunities for cooperation on climate change, infrastructural development, public health, tourism, and the export of manufactured goods. In her opening statement, Bachelet said, “We are hoping that this historic meeting sets us on our first steps down the shared path of developing our Latin America and each one of our countries.”
Uruguayans Vote for President on Sunday: Uruguayan voters will return to the polls this Sunday, November 30, to elect the country’s next president in a runoff vote. Former president and Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) candidate Tabaré Vázquez is almost assured a victory after a November 12 Cifra poll showed that 52 percent of eligible voters plan to elect Vázquez, compared with the 35 percent of voters who plan to vote for challenger Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party—PN). Other polls have made similar predictions, and Lacalle Pou recently said that he fully expects to be defeated by Vázquez in the second round. Vázquez just missed an outright victory after he won 47.8 percent of votes during Uruguay’s first round election on October 26, falling short of the 50 percent plus one required to avoid a runoff. Vázquez served as Uruguay’s president from 2005 to 2010.
Panama Courts Walmart to Host Distribution Center: Panamanian business leaders have asked U.S. multinational Walmart to build a Latin American distribution center in Panama’s free trade zone, the Zona Libre de Colón (ZLC). ZLC Manager Surse Pierpoint said that Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has sent a letter to Walmart executives asking them to consider the proposal, which Pierpoint said will “elevate the status and image of the ZLC” and attract additional companies to Panama. Pierpoint and other business leaders, including the head of the Consejo Empresarial Logístico (Business Logistics Council) and the Cámara Marítima (Maritime Chamber) are seeking a meeting with Walmart executives, expected to take place in December or January, to pitch the proposal.
Goldcorp to Open New Mines in Argentina: Today, the Argentinian Secretary of Mining, Jorge Mayoral, announced in a memo following an on-site meeting with Goldcorp’s Vice President and COO of Central and South America, Eduardo Villacorta, that the company’s Cerro Negro mine will be inaugurated in February 2015. In 2010, Canadian gold giant Goldcorp acquired the Cerro Negro mine, located in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina, and invested $1.67 million in its reconstruction. Cerro Negro is expected to forge between 130,000 and 180,000 ounces of gold before the end of 2014, and once fully operational, the mine will maintain a production capacity of 4,000 tons per day of concerted gold and silver throughout its 23 year lifespan. Cerro Negro marks the Vancouver-based miner’s second Argentinian venture, after its 37.5 percent share of the Alumbrera copper mine in Catamarca.
U.S. Republicans did not wait long after their midterm gains to provoke a congressional vote on the approval of the Keystone Pipeline project.
It was not the first such try. Getting a strong and unequivocal vote in favor of Keystone in the House of Representatives, where the GOP has a strong majority, was easy. The Senate, on other hand, was another matter. The project narrowly failed to reach the needed 60 votes needed to make it to the president’s desk, with 59 votes in favor and41 opposed. So once again, the Republicans failed.
Obviously, this was a failed political ploy meant to embarrass the president. Republicans knew that President Obama would likely have vetoed Keystone, and would have had the votes to resist an override by Congress (two-thirds of both Houses are required to override a presidential veto). The new Senate, with 54 Republican senators (nine more than in the current Senate) will not be sworn in until early January 2015.
So it was all about politics—and the president expected as much, even in the current lame-duck Congress.
However, Obama is not beyond playing politics himself. He has essentially given up the Louisiana Senate seat currently held by Democrat Mary Landrieu (who faces a runoff election on December 6) to her Republican adversary. He repeated that he will not decide whether to approve Keystone until a Nebraska Appeals court rules on the pipeline’s route through the state.
In a primetime address to the nation last night, President Obama announced sweeping executive action on immigration. The president’s plans include a new deferred action program that will reportedly protect as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. “Our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it,” Obama said.
The announcement belatedly fulfills the president’s promise to issue executive orders on immigration in the face of Congress’s failure to pass a comprehensive reform bill. “I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as president,” Obama said.
According to statements by the Republican congressional leadership, the president’s action may have put Congress’s stalled efforts to pass a bipartisan, comprehensive bill into deep-freeze. “With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek,” said John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House.
The action expands the scope of “administrative relief” first offered in June 2012 through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—an action that gave temporary legal status to 1.2 million undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children. Protection from deportation will now also include the parents of U.S. citizen children and legal permanent residents who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, and expands eligibility of DACA by not including an age limit of those eligible, as long as they came to the U.S. before the age of 15. In addition to deferred action, Obama outlined plans to beef up border security efforts, recalibrate law-enforcement strategies around immigration violations, and reform specific authorizations and benefits associated with existing visa programs.
The president is due to attend an event at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday afternoon to build support for his initiative. Obama unveiled plans for comprehensive immigration reform at Del Sol nearly two years ago.
The United States Treasury accused Medellin-based soccer club Envigado of laundering money for a drug trafficking group this Wednesday. According to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the soccer club, owned by Juan Pablo Upegui Gallego, worked together with the crime syndicate Oficina de Envigado to cover up drug trafficking money through the club’s balance sheets.
The Treasury’s announcement comes after ten years of investigations, including the collection of testimonies from paramilitaries and narco-traffickers, to collect the necessary evidence against the soccer team, Upegui Gallego and others involved. The club and its associates have been placed on the U.S. "kingpin list," which prohibits any financial transaction with U.S. citizens and freezes the assets of those involved. A total of eight members of the syndicate, which was founded by Pablo Escobar, were blacklisted.
“The Oficina de Envigado has played a significant role in large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering activities, and this action […] will strike at the financial core of this violent criminal network and impede its efforts to operate in the legitimate financial system,” said Adam Szubin, the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Envigado is not the first soccer club to be blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury. In 1999, the club America de Cali was listed.
Over the past week, politicians have argued about whether or not President Barack Obama should take administrative action to protected undocumented immigrants and their families. But for small business owners like me, the case is clear: the president should act quickly and boldly.
I’m the proud, tax-paying owner of Latina Beauty Variedades, a clothing and perfume store in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I’ve owned my business for four years, and I’ve been proud to be of service to my community and watch my business grow.
When I first came to this country from Uruguay 12 years ago to find a better life for my family, it was hard to make ends meet. So I started working cleaning houses. After several years of doing this back-breaking work to just barely survive, in 2010 I decided that I would not let anyone else be my boss. I started my own small business. But, because I was undocumented, I could not access credit through banks, so I had to use my savings from cleaning jobs to get my business up and running.
My business is now doing well, but my family lives with the constant fear of being separated. I live here with my husband and my two daughters. All but one of us are undocumented: one of my two daughters benefited from President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, while the other missed the deadline by less than a month. But my children are American through and through. When the thought of going back to Uruguay comes up, my daughters simply say no. They’ve been raised here and this is their home.
This was supposed to be a banner year for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. In the last quarter of 2013, his party was able to push through what were then called historical structural reforms to modernize the Mexican education system and boost the national economy and energy sector. If 2013 was the year for lawmaking, 2014 was supposed to be the year for implementing reforms and beginning to reap their benefits.
However, instead of the anticipated stability, the end of 2014 has proven to be one of most politically turbulent times in Mexico’s recent history. There are no stories of a buoyant economy or a modernized education system to speak of. On the contrary, a flurry of disturbing stories have dominated the Mexican news cycle: the state-sponsored mass murder in Guerrero; strikes at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (National Polytechnic Institute—IPN); protests and police violence at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico—UNAM); a railway contract scandal implicating Peña Nieto; and waves of viral videos showing police repression, abuse and violence throughout the country.
Against this clamorous background, the $4.7 trillion peso federal budget approved last week by Mexico’s Lower House of Congress allocates 188 billion pesos to police and security projects—a 3.3 percent larger investment than the government made in 2014. Congressman Pedro Pablo Treviño Villarreal, who presided over the budget committee, specified that a portion of these additional funds would help harmonize the police and security forces among the different states and municipalities of Mexico.
Leopoldo López, a Venezuelan opposition leader and founder of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party, appeared in court on Tuesday for the first time since the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found his detention illegal and called for his immediate release on October 9. He had refused to appear until presiding judge Susana Barreiro ruled on the recommendation.
Judge Barreiro rejected the WGAD recommendation last week, saying that it was not binding. Using the same argument as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Barreiro argued that Venezuela is a sovereign nation and rejects international interference. López’ lawyers have appealed Judge Barreiro’s decision in the Court of Appeals.
López has been in pre-trial detention since he was arrested on February 18 for his alleged involvement in inciting violence during widespread protests. President Maduro has said that he believes that López is “responsible for crimes, violence, destruction, (loss of) human lives,” and that “he has to pay, and he's going to pay.”
Various high-profile world leaders have called for the release of López and the other political prisoners arrested during Venezuela’s tumultuous protests in February, including UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.S. President Barack Obama, Pope Francis I, and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. On Monday, Socialist International joined the growing lists of international groups and human rights organizations calling for López’ release.
The Argentine government published a decree on Monday that establishes the Unidad de Seguimiento y Trazabilidad de las Operaciones de Comercio Exterior (Tracking and Tracing of Foreign Trade Transactions Unit), which will monitor the flow of goods, services, and currency into and out of the country. According to Decree 2103/2014, the new agency will operate under Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers Jorge Capitanich, and will be made up of representatives from the Central Bank, the Economy Ministry, the AFIP tax bureau, the Financial Information Unit, the Bureau for Economic Crimes and Money Laundering (Procelac), and the National Securities Commission (CNV).
According to the government, the new agency is meant to “assure macroeconomic stability,” yet the decree also notes that it was created because of an increase in foreign trade as well as illegal operations like tax evasion. The government claims there have been 9,600 cases of suspected Criminal Foreign Exchange Regime violations. The regulatory body will monitor trade and currency flows in order to prevent tax evasion, especially by companies earning money on imports.
In recent months, tax employees have carried out a number of raids in Buenos Aires and across Argentina due to a prosperous black market for U.S. dollars. The informal market started to flourish in 2011, when the Kirchner administration made it difficult for Argentines to get dollars through legal means in response to the alarming decrease in international reserves. After a devaluation of the peso in January 2014, the “blue” dollar exploded.
Alejandro Vanoli, who took over as head of the Central Bank in October 2014, has been imposing measures to limit the fall in the Central Bank’s reserves, including raiding cuevas, the informal currency exchange houses, and arbolitos, people who sell dollars illegally on the street. At Tuesday’s Central Bank conference, Vanoli noted that Argentina’s reserves grew by $800 million in the last month and stressed that the government would continue to fight tax evasion and money laundering.
This week's likely top stories: Colombia’s peace talks suspended over kidnapping; U.S. will grant refugee status to select minors from Central America; Brazilian police arrest 27 in Petrobras corruption scandal; Cruise ship tourism is booming in Cuba; Pemex invests millions in hydrocarbon production and exploration.
Kidnapping Halts Colombian Peace Talks: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has suspended peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) after the rebel group kidnapped a Colombian army general this weekend. General Rubén Darío Alzate Mora—who was apparently dressed as a civilian when captured—and two other people were reportedly abducted on Sunday by the FARC’s 34th front in the western department of Chocó, making General Alzate the first general ever to be kidnapped by the guerrillas. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón deployed hundreds of troops to the area on Sunday. On Santos’ orders, Colombian government peace negotiators will not travel to Havana today to participate in the second round of the two-year-old peace talks with the FARC.
Some Central American Minors to Receive Refugee Status: Vice President Joe Biden announced on Friday that the U.S. government will grant refugee status to minors from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador if their parent is a legal U.S. resident. The program, to be launched next month, will permit immigrant parents to request refugee status for any children under age 21 living in any one of the three Northern Triangle countries. Upon arrival, the children will be eligible to work and will eventually be eligible for permanent residency and citizenship. Currently, a maximum of 4,000 Latin American immigrants per year from Colombia and Cuba only are eligible for refugee status in the United States. Biden’s announcement comes amid growing concerns about the surge of unaccompanied Central American migrant youth who entered the U.S. illegally this year. The Obama administration is expected to announce further reforms to the immigration system in the coming weeks.
Brazilian Police Arrest 27 in Petrobras Corruption Scandal: In response to mounting political pressure to resolve the Petrobras corruption scandal, Brazilian police made 27 arrests on Friday in connection with the investigation by order of federal prosecutors at the Ministério Público Federal (Federal Public MInistry). Those arrested included Renato Duque, the former director of engineering and services at the state-owned oil company, as well as nine executives from construction firms who signed fraudulent contracts with Petrobras. Authorities also froze $277 million in assets belonging to 36 suspects and three unnamed companies. Former Petrobras director Paulo Roberto Costa, arrested in March, first disclosed the details of the company’s alleged decade-long, $3.8 billion dollar kickback scheme to buy influence among the members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Responding to the arrests, President Dilma Rousseff, who chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003-2010 while serving as energy minister, commented that “This will change forever the relationship between Brazilian society, the Brazilian state and private companies.” Following Petrobras’ statement that it would delay the release of its third quarter earnings, the company’s stock fell five percent on the IBOVESPA exchange.
Hike in Cruise Ship Tourism Projected in Cuba: The state-run Cuban tourism agency, Cubatur, announced late last week that it is expecting the arrival of more the 200 cruise ships at ports throughout the island during the upcoming winter season, which ranges from late November to April. Tourism is the nation’s second largest source of income (after technical and medical expertise), and it brought 2.85 million visitors to the island in 2013. The resurgence of cruise ship tourism reflects the Cuban government’s attempt to diversify its tourist offerings. The cruise ship industry had been all but abandoned in Cuba since the Spanish firm Pullmantur was acquired by the U.S.-owned Royal Caribbean cruises in 2006 and subsequently shut down all operations to the island. The Cuban government has rejuvenated the cruise ship tourism sector by establishing joint operations with international companies. This was made possible by the Foreign Investment Law, inaugurated in 2014, which aims to attract foreign investment through concessions such as new tax breaks, more flexible labor policies, and a reinforcement of the offer of allowing 100 percent ownership.
Pemex to Invest Millions in Upstream Oil Industry: Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) announced to investors today that it is planning to invest up to $161.7 million between 2015 and 2019—or 78 percent of its available capital—to its upstream search for potential underground and underwater sources of hydrocarbons. Pemex’s investment may cover shale gas extraction from the Agua Nueva deposit in the Tampico-Misantla Basin and deep-water drilling across the Perdido Fold Belt in the Western Gulf of Mexico. By comparison, only $34.4 million will be rerouted back into downstream activities—such as refining, marketing and distribution—to increase the efficiency of oil refineries like the complexes in Tula, Salmanca, and Salina Cruz. Since peaking in 2004, Pemex’s crude oil production has fallen by nearly one million barrels a day. Moreover, this past October, the state-owned oil company posted its eighth consecutive quarterly loss. Against this grim background, the redistribution of capital resources into upstream projects represents Pemex’s long term objective of achieving national energy security by diversifying the national energy portfolio.
Over the past month and a half, the world has been challenged by the nimble Ebola virus, the latest outbreak of which has killed over 5,000 people. Even in the United States, a country with one of the best healthcare systems in the world, the Ebola virus infected two healthcare workers and claimed one life, revealing gaps in preparedness and protocol.
If this level of uncertainty is present in the U.S., what does it mean for nations with fewer resources, like many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean?
Although no case of Ebola has been confirmed in the region, Latin America and Caribbean leaders are already taking steps towards prevention. They are implementing travel restrictions, constructing quarantine centers, investing in biosafety equipment, training health professionals and re-evaluating infectious disease protocols.
Take Brazil, for example, which had a suspected Ebola patient arrive last month to a public health clinic in the town of Cascavel, Paraná. The patient was immediately quarantined and transported by an Air Force plane to the Instituto Nacional de Infectologia (National Institute of Infectious Diseases) in Rio de Janeiro. The 64 people who had been in proximity to the patient were immediately alerted via contact tracing and monitored by Brazilian health officials. Though the patient eventually tested negative, the emergency response system and protocols appeared to be functioning well.
Beyond seeking to deepen trade links with Asia, the leaders of Chile, Peru and Mexico—the three Latin American member states of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)—used their time in Beijing to push for greater Chinese investment in their countries. The three leaders also backed a Chinese-led proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP).
Peruvian President and Ollanta Humala and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet met with President Xi separately on Wednesday. In his meeting with Ollanta, the Chinese leader is reported to have proposed a bilateral trade agreement with Peru. The two leaders also reportedly signed a memorandum supporting the creation of a trilateral group with Brazil to plan the construction of a rail link between Peru and Brazil.
While Bachelet left China empty handed in terms of signed agreements, she made her objectives clear. “We have a high level of trade, but we have not made any progress in investments,” she said at a meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Monday. However, both Xi and Bachelet expressed confidence that the establishment of a Chilean branch of the China Construction Bank next year will spur future Chinese investment in Chile.
In a sign that the relationship between China and Mexico may not have been seriously damaged by Mexico’s recent cancellation of a bid awarded to a Chinese consortium for the construction of a high-speed rail link, the Chinese leader and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed 14 separate agreements and investment contracts at a meeting yesterday. Peña Nieto also announced plans to create a joint fund between three Chinese companies and the Mexican oil company Pemex, with the goal of raising up to US $5 billion for energy projects in Mexico.
In his Nobel Prize speech in December 1982, Gabriel García Márquez described the heterodox habits of colonial conquerors, generals and dictators as the roots of “the solitude of Latin America.” During the laureate ceremony at the Swedish Academy, he made no mention of the Dominican Republic. He also refrained from pointing out examples of judges’ heterodox conduct, probably because he was a writer, not a lawyer. But if García Márquez were alive in November 2014, he might consider TC-0256-14, the recent ruling by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal, to be a perfect example of “the solitude of Latin America” in the mindset of judicial officials in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.
Adopted on November 4, TC-0256-14 concluded that the Dominican Republic’s acceptance of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ (IACt-HR) jurisdiction in March 1999 by then-President Leonel Fernández marked a breach of Article 37, numeral 14 of the Constitution, which states that the National Congress is empowered to “approve or disapprove the treaties and international conventions signed by the Executive Branch.”
It is worth mentioning that although the Dominican Congress ratified the American Convention on Human Rights on January 21, 1978, the country did not formally accept the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction until February 19, 1999. Over the past 15 years, the IACt-HR issued four judgments on the merits of cases and granted three provisional measures in the Dominican Republic, whose government had never challenged the jurisdiction of the Court on the grounds of the alleged supremacy of its national constitutional provisions. Indeed, the current Dominican Constitution was enacted in July 2002, three years after the acceptance of the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction—raising serious questions about whether national norms that regulate the ratification of international treaties can be applied retroactively.
Up until now, the only other country to attempt to withdraw the instrument of acceptance of the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction was Peru in July 1999. Can the Dominican justices who handed down the recent ruling be proud of sharing the same sense of commitment to human rights as Alberto Fujimori? They should at least be credited with authoring the Western Hemisphere’s first-ever judicial attempt to reject the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction.
Today, U.S. officials said that President Barack Obama is planning to announce a broad overhaul of the national immigration enforcement system to protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The official announcement could come as early as next week, and Obama’s actions will be manifold. First, an enforcement memorandum would direct federal law enforcement and judicial agencies to deprioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants with strong family ties and no criminal history. Another component of the executive order would allow many parents of children who are American citizens or have legal status to obtain legal work documents, thus quelling fears of family separation.
Depending on the strictness of the White House’s final resolution, these protections would be extended to at least 2.5 million of these parents who have been in the country for at least 10 years—and potentially to 3.3 million more who have been in the country for 5 years, plus the 1 million unauthorized immigrant youth. Lastly, Obama’s executive order would expand opportunities for immigrants with high-tech skills, reroute security resources to the border, and revive the immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities.
Demonstrations in Mexico intensified on Tuesday as protesters in Guerrero state took a police chief prisoner and set fire to the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) state headquarters in two separate protests related to the disappearance of 43 students missing since September.
Protests have escalated after last week’s announcement that Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) drug cartel members had confessed to killing the students after they were handed over to the cartel by municipal police in the southern city of Iguala. On Monday, thousands of protestors clashed with police and blocked access to Acapulco’s airport.
Yesterday, the families of the missing students met with Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong and Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam for two hours to discuss the latest developments in the investigation. The presumed remains of the students have been sent to a specialized lab in Austria for identification. However, because the remains were burned for 14 hours, Murillo says that the chances for positive identification are slim. The parents of the students have repeatedly stated that they will presume their children alive until conclusive tests prove otherwise.
The students’ disappearance has intensified the debate over the effectiveness of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s security strategy in the country. Both the UN and international human rights organizations have expressed concern over the government’s response to the crisis.
For U.S. Democrats, hiding President Barack Obama and making the U.S. midterm elections about local politics was supposed to curtail the predicted gains of the Republican Party.
That strategy did not work, and the GOP gains turned into a wave. While midterms are not presidential elections, the new U.S. electoral map may favor the possibility of a trifecta sweep for the GOP in 2016.
We can therefore expect a spirited race for the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. And unlike the Democrats, who could claim Hillary Clinton as their nominee early in the primary season (if not before), the Republicans will dominate the news cycle once the Iowa caucuses meet in January 2016. This could favor the GOP if the party veers closer to the political center.
Is it over for Obama? On November 6, Canada’s most respected daily, The Globe and Mail, published an editorial entitled “Obama is still alive and living in Washington.” Yet despite the convincing GOP victory on November 4, U.S. pundits on the Sunday shows have been careful to avoid concluding that the Obama presidency is over. Quite the opposite: spokespersons of both political parties recognize that political gridlock was likely uppermost in voters’ minds on Election Day. Talk of bipartisan immigration reform, tax reform, and an infrastructure rebuilding project was heard on various news shows in the course of the week, thereby keeping Obama potentially relevant in the political mix.
São Paulo Governor Gerardo Alckmin presented a $1.4 billion plan for eight infrastructure projects to mitigate the state’s drought crisis in a meeting with President Dilma Rousseff in Brasília yesterday.
The meeting took place at the Palácio do Planalto between Rousseff, Alckmin, Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira and Planning Minister Miriam Belchior, with Belchior voicing concern over how the projects would be implemented. Some of the projects will not be done until the end of 2015, and others will take up to three years to complete. Governor Alckmin acknowledged that the projects do not create an immediate solution to the drought, but will alleviate water shortages in the longer-term.
Brazil is currently experiencing its worst drought in over 80 years. In São Paulo, the Cantareira reservoir system, which provides water for many of the city’s approximately 20 million inhabitants, had fallen to below 11.3 percent of its usual capacity as of November 9. Critics have complained that the presidential elections only served to deepen the crisis, as São Paulo’s opposition politicians were afraid to advocate for fines and regulations regarding water use for fear of losing votes. Given that Brazil produces 12 percent of the world’s fresh water, a lack of planning is a key source of the problem.
The federal government indicated that it was willing to assist the São Paulo state financially with the drought crisis, but is awaiting further details before approving the payments. Next Monday, November 17, a new working group will meet to further discuss the projects and define how many people each project aims to benefit.
Not only have residents had trouble getting water for personal consumption, but the economy is also starting to feel the adverse effects, with industrial as well as agricultural production dropping. Scientist Antonio Nobre has warned that deforestation of the Amazon is related to the current drought and said that continued deforestation could cause an even worse crisis. He has urged the country to act now to stop deforestation.
Brazil’s October 26 election was undoubtedly contentious. As incumbent Dilma Rousseff edged out centrist opposition leader Aeció Neves in a runoff with only 51.6 percent of the vote, it was one of the closest elections in Brazilian history.
Ultimately, the Brazilian people opted for another four years with the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). So what does Rousseff’s re-election mean for the political representation of Brazilian women? In what way do Brazilian women perceive Rousseff to be advancing their calls for progress and opportunity in a society in which “machista” ideals have traditionally disregarded women’s political and social prowess?
Prior to the runoff, Pesquisa Datafolha published research data revealing that women were more inclined to vote for Rousseff than men. Women in the North and Northeast—where poverty is highly concentrated among the predominantly Afro-Brazilian population—and less educated Brazilians were also significantly more likely to vote for Rousseff. Rousseff’s overwhelming support in the North and Northeast led to claims that the PT “bought votes” through the conditional cash transfer program Bolsa Familia and other social programs. Meanwhile, the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil, Secção Bahia (The Bahian Section of the Brazilian Bar Association—OAB-BA) received numerous human rights complaints about hate crimes against Brazilians from the Northeast after the election.
This week's likely top stories: Brazil’s military launches training operation in Amazon; Mexico cancels high-speed rail contract to Chinese-led consortium; Indigenous court in Colombia convicts seven FARC members; AT&T purchases Iusacell; Mexico erupts in protests over reported discovery of remains of the 43 missing students.
Brazilian Military Trains in the Amazon: According to the chief of Brazil’s Amazon Military Command, Gen. Guilherme Cals Theophilo Gaspar de Oliveira, today Brazil will launch Operation Machifaro, a five-day training exercise simulating a foreign invasion of the Amazon by a superior force, in an attempt to “consolidate a doctrine of jungle combat.” The exercise consists of 550 troops who will conduct drills in Manaus, the Amazon’s largest city, and other regional outposts. Despite the peaceful relations that Brazil maintains with its smaller neighbors and the unlikelihood of a foreign invasion, the defense of the Amazon and protection of its resources has been a top concern of Brazilian national security historically.
Mexico Cancels High-Speed Rail Contract with China: Only three days after awarding a $4.3 billion contract for Mexico’s first high-speed rail project to a consortium led by China Railway Construction Corp., Mexico rescinded the contract last Thursday and will re-open the auction to new bids for six months. Given Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s diplomatic mission to Beijing this week, the cancellation comes as a surprise, but Peña Nieto’s administration said the move represents an attempt to increase government transparency. The China Railway group—which plans to bid again in the new round—was the only consortium to submit a proposal for the project in the first round. After the original decision had been announced, the opposition Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) had accused the government of favoritism, arguing that the sole bid was too expensive. On Sunday, the website Aristegui Noticias revealed that the president’s private home was built by a subsidiary of Grupo Higa, one of the companies belonging to the China Railway-led consortium.
Colombian Indigenous Community Convicts FARC: Members of the Nasa tribe in Colombia’s southwestern Cauca department have convicted seven FARC guerrillas for the murder of two members of the Nasa’s unarmed Indigenous Guard, which patrols and protects tribal territory. Manuel Antonio Tumiñá Jenbuel, 42, and Daniel Coicué Julicue, 63, who had asked the guerrillas to leave their land, were shot and killed by members of the FARC on November 5 after they started to take down signs that the FARC had posted in their community. Thousands of people participated in a tribal assembly in Toribio to sentence the rebels, deliberating for hours before sentencing five of the defendants to between 40 and 60 years in prison and destroying the guerrilla’s weapons. Two teenagers received a lighter sentence of 20 lashes each. Colombian Indigenous authorities have jurisdiction over their own territories under Colombian law. The FARC’s Iván Márquez addressed the community on Sunday, tweeting “we regret what happened with the Nasa community of Toribio.”
AT&T Buys Mobile Carrier Iusacell from Grupo Salinas: This weekend, U.S. mobile phone carrier AT&T Inc. purchased Iusacell SA, the third-largest Mexican mobile phone carrier, from billionaire Ricardo Salinas for $2.5 billion. AT&T will absorb Iusacell’s 8.6 million subscribers onto its regional 3G network as well as the company’s $800 million of outstanding debt. The acquisition of Iusacell enters AT&T in tough competition against Carlos Slim’s mobile carrier, América Móvil SAB. Remarking on President Peña Nieto’s business friendly policies that paved the way for this deal, Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, said that the “acquisition of Iusacell is a direct result of the reforms put in place … to encourage more competition and more investment in Mexico.” In light of its purchase of DirecTV for $48.5 billion earlier this year, AT&T has solidified its expansion into the Latin American telecommunications market.
Mexico Outraged By Massacre of 43 Missing Students: Mexico erupted in protests this weekend after Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo said on Friday that 43 students who disappeared six weeks ago in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, were massacred and their remains incinerated shortly after a protest on September 26. Murillo said that corrupt police in Iguala arrested the students on orders from the town’s former mayor, and handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, which carried out the killings. Members of the gang have confirmed that they participated in the murders, but relatives of the missing students have said they will not allow the government to close the case until there is concrete proof of the students’ fate. More than 70 people, including the former mayor of Iguala and his wife, have been arrested in connection with the murders. Protesters took to the streets and to social media this weekend, using the hashtag “YaMeCanse” to decry violence, corruption, and the federal government’s failure to stop the murders.
This Saturday, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina will formally launch a reparation program for communities affected by the repression and violence surrounding the construction of the Chixoy Dam in the 1980s, according to the Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral de las Víctimas de la Violencia en las Verapaces Maya Achí (Association for the Integral Development of the Victims of Violence in the Verapaces, Maya Achi—ADIVIMA).
The Chixoy hydroelectric dam was built in the early 1980s with money from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Opposition to its construction by members of the communities facing displacement was met with a fierce military crackdown. In 1982, more than 400 people were killed in a series of massacres. Many more were displaced or otherwise victimized.
Facing pressure by victims’ families and the international community, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina signed an agreement on October 14 with the Coordinadora de Comunidades Afectadas por la Construcción de la Hidroeléctrica Chixoy (Coordinator of Communities Affected by the Construction of the Chixoy Hidroelectic Dam—COCACICH), and approved a reparation policy. That agreement was officially published on Thursday, and will benefit 33 Indigenous communities who will receive an investment of 1.2 billion quetzales (about $153 million) between 2015 and 2029.
The agreement is the latest development in affected communities’ struggle for recognition of and reparations for the atrocities of 1982. Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an appropriations bill that effectively instructed the U.S. directors of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development bank, which co-financed construction of the dam, to take steps to implement an earlier reparation plan. The bill also suspended U.S. military aid to Guatemala until “the Secretary of State certifies that the Government of Guatemala is taking credible steps to implement the Reparations Plan.”
On the afternoon of February 27, a bright and warm winter day in Cuba, the staff at the Hotel Nacional in Havana busily prepared for the arrival of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was due to a give a talk to a group of business people that afternoon. Meanwhile, I was seated on a couch in the rear of the hotel, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, chatting with Sergio Jaramillo, the high commissioner for peace in Colombia.
Jaramillo is leading the government delegation to the peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia— FARC) and the Colombian government. He told me he was reading the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke, and that those long, difficult poems helped him remain alert. “In general, people are very self-centered,” Jaramillo said. “Here, you need to think about what the other is thinking, what the other thinks I'm thinking. It is an exercise in extrapolation that helps you think differently, helps you find common ground. It is a cliché, but it's true.”
Jaramillo probably has the most challenging job in Colombia. Since February 2012, there has not been a single month that he hasn’t traveled to Havana to meet with representatives of the FARC. Over the past four decades, guerrilla and paramilitary groups have kidnapped 358 mayors and 75 congressmen. In the last century, six presidential candidates have been killed while campaigning. According to the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (National Center of Historical Memory—CNMH), the conflict with the FARC has caused at least 220,000 deaths since 1958, and more than four out of five killed are estimated to be civilians. Colombian society is traumatized. Therefore, negotiating with the FARC is a political and personal risk for everyone involved.
Thousands of Mexicans from across the country took to the streets yesterday to demand answers about the fate of 43 students who are still missing after they disappeared in the city of Iguala in late September.
The protest is part of a 72 hour strike staged by nearly 100 universities throughout Mexico and also includes family members of the missing students, as well as fellow students from their teaching training school in Ayotzinapa. In Mexico City, demonstrators marched from Los Pinos, the official residence of the president, to the Zócalo, demanding that the students be returned, dead or alive.
The former mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, were arrested on Tuesday in Mexico City for their alleged roles in the students’ disappearance. Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo accused Abarca of ordering police to attack the students to prevent them from disrupting a speech being given by his wife.
President Enrique Peña Nieto has addressed the disappearances by deploying federal police to Iguala in mid-October and by meeting with relatives of the missing students last week. Although Mexico’s homicide rate has decreased over the past two years, protests have intensified as enraged Mexicans cite a lack of institutional accountability for the more than 20,000 people that have gone missing in Mexico over the past decade.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) will travel to Colombia today for a two-day meeting with Colombian government officials, businesses and civil society organizations to discuss security, trade and human trafficking, his office said Tuesday.
Senator Rubio will be traveling to the South American nation in his capacity as a member of the Senate’s intelligence and foreign relations committees. “Colombia is a key U.S. ally, and Florida has also benefited from all of the security and economic gains they have made in recent decades,” said Rubio, who represents the state with the largest Colombian immigrant community in the United States. Rubio’s trip comes on the heels of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ securing financial aid from the European Union to continue the peace process.
While the details on the amount of funding provided by the EU is yet to be determined, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered her support of the peace process and Germany’s state-owned development bank pledged $100 million over the next two years to support projects born from the peace negotiations.
The recently released issue of Americas Quarterly has demonstrated that experts are divided on whether or not the peace talks, which began in October 2012 in Oslo, will be successful in ending the 50-year conflict between the Colombian government and the guerilla Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). In the past, Senator Rubio has expressed his skepticism that negotiations will be enough to deter the FARC.
President Santos will be in Europe during Senator Rubio’s visit.
Bolivian Ombudsman Rolando Villena voiced his alarm yesterday at the recent uptick in sexual violence against women, and particularly young girls, in the wake of the rape and murder of a four-year-old girl last week in the town of Palos Blancos. This attack follows the death of a five-year-old girl in the Cochabamba region who was raped in a medical center, allegedly by a nurse. Villena noted that not only has there been an increase in attacks against girls in Bolivia, but also in the brutality of the violence.
The ombudsman’s statement reported that 14,000 cases of rape are recorded annually in Bolivia, and 34 percent of minors have been sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 18. A Pan American Health Organization report from 2013 found that Bolivia had the most gender violence of the 12 Latin American countries surveyed.
Villella criticized both local and national governments for failing to adequately protect girls, and denounced the “complacency” of authorities in the face of increased attacks. “We don’t know how many attacks it will take before the government accepts that we’re facing an unsustainable situation of violence against women, and especially girls,” he said. The ombudsman announced that his office would establish a committee to travel to Palos Blancos to investigate the murder and report on the spike in rapes and feminicides in the area so that Bolivian authorities and organizations can work together to address the violence.
In October 2014, the Bolivian government enacted a new law to fight violence against women that establishes shelters for victims and the strengthens the Special Forces Against Violence, a police force formed in 2013 to combat sexual assault and domestic abuse.
This week's likely top stories: Ecuador's National Assembly dismisses referendum on controversial constitutional amendments; Argentina suspends Proctor & Gamble for fiscal fraud; Brazil grants contracts for 31 new solar parks; U.S. gears up for midterm elections and immigration reform; Colombian court sentences AUC paramilitary leader to 8 years.
Ecuador’s National Assembly Strikes Down Referendum on Amendments: On Friday, the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court dismissed the proposal for a referendum on a package of constitutional amendments sponsored by President Rafael Correa’s ruling party, Alianza País (Country Alliance—AP). Instead, the decision will be passed on to the National Assembly, where parliamentary approval of the amendments is virtually guaranteed given the AP’s two-thirds majority. The most contentious of the reforms would allow for the indefinite re-election of public officials, which would effectively permit Correa, who is currently serving his third and last term as president, to run again in 2017. Despite Correa’s high approval rating, a September poll found that 73 percent of Ecuadorians supported the referendum, which was called by Guillermo Lasso, a former presidential candidate and leader of the opposition party Creando Oportunidades (Creating Opportunities—CREO).
Argentina Bars P&G from Business for Tax Fraud: The Argentinian tax bureau, Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos (Federal Administration of Public Revenue—AFIP), announced on Sunday that it has suspended the operations of multinational consumer products corporation Proctor & Gamble for alleged fiscal fraud and capital flight. AFIP stripped P&G of its importers/exporters registration upon discovering that the company evaded paying duties totaling up to $138 million on hygiene products imported from Brazil by billing through a Swiss subsidiary. P&G, which has been operating in Argentina since 1991, will be allowed to resume business once it has paid its tax bill and fines accordingly. In asking Argentine courts to place travel restrictions on top officials at the local P&G affiliate, AFIP chief Ricardo Echegaray commented, “Our main goal is for P&G to repay the Central Bank the stolen currency as well as the customs sanctions and the income tax that has been evaded.” P&G responded by announcing that it is working to understand and resolve the allegations.
Brazil Grants Contracts for 31 New Solar Parks: As the output from key hydroelectric plants in Brazil has decreased substantially amidst the worst drought in 80 years, the country has kickstarted the solar power industry by granting contracts for the construction of 31 solar parks on Friday. Brazil’s energy regulator brought the country’s first solar energy auction to a lucrative close on Friday by signing 20-year energy supply contacts with companies to invest $1.67 billion to begin powering the national grid by 2017. The parks, which are the first large-scale projects of their kind in Brazil, will have a combined capacity of 1,048 megawatts (MW), and at a price of $89 per megawatt-hour, the Brazilian government has earned itself one of the lowest rates in world. Brasília has been a latecomer to the photovoltaic industry—which currently supplies a meager 1 percent of the country’s electricity—because the government levies high tariffs on imported solar panels.
U.S. Midterm Elections and Immigration: U.S. voters will go to the polls on Tuesday in midterm elections that will be crucial for the future of immigration reform in the United States. Recent polls suggest that the Republican candidates are outperforming Democrats in several key states, and thus the GOP could pick up six new seats to take control of the Senate. Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Sunday that if Republicans win the Senate, comprehensive immigration reform will be a top priority. Last year, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to bring a bipartisan immigration bill passed in the Senate to a vote. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is expected to use his executive authority to overhaul immigration rules shortly after Tuesday’s elections.
Sentenced AUC Leader Says Colombian Military Collaborated: In sentencing Colombian paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso to a maximum sentence of eight years on Friday, Judge Alexandra Valencia said that “the military and the army were institutionally responsible” for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in northern Colombia. Mancuso, who led the Colombian paramilitary Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia—AUC) between 2004 and 2006 and was later extradited to the U.S., said that the Colombian army was complicit in the AUC’s military offensives in the late 1990s that led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians. As part of a plea bargain with Colombia’s special Justice and Peace prosecution unit, Mancuso admitted to leading four massacres and committing hundreds of crimes. According to Mancuso, the Colombian military gave him special access, trained paramilitaries, and had informants in both the police force and the regional prosecutor’s office to warn paramilitaries of investigations or raids. “Without the action or inaction of the State, we wouldn’t have been able to grow the way we did,” he said.
This is one dinner party where the guests of honor are only there in spirit. But what a feast it is! On Day of the Dead, the holiday that starts at midnight on the day following Halloween, the souls of lost relatives are reunited with the living. And like so many other traditions, food is central to consummating this union. Not only are feasts prepared that include special offerings and dishes that were favorites of the deceased, but specific breads (pan de muertos), candies, and other sweets such as skulls made of crystallized sugar are used to appease the souls and the stomachs of celebrants.
Día de los Muertos in Mexico has become one of the most famous of celebrations because of the elaborate food preparations and decorative offerings at the altars constructed for this holiday. Technically, the holiday begins on October 31st, Halloween, with festivities continuing on November 1st, All Saints Day, and November 2nd, All Soul’s Day.
In Mexico families often gather at the tombs of those who have passed, but in the United States, Mexican restaurants have picked up on the holiday to offer exotic dishes, bringing customers to the table with some of the best and most typical of dishes.
In Washington, D.C., the food tradition for Día de los Muertos is now a well-established ritual, with many local and national chain Mexican restaurants providing the city’s foodies with an array of exotic appetizers and entrees. Recently, Oyamel, the Mexican establishment owned by celebrity chef, José Andrés, hosted a Día de los Muertos preview with a menu that featured such dishes as frog’s legs in mole verde, braised ox tail in vegetable stew, hangar steak with nopalitos, baby roasted pig in chile morita, and locally foraged mushrooms in a sauce of epazote, sorrel, and jalapeño.
To wash it all down cocktails made of a new organic tequila, El Luchador, were transformed into drinks with names like Zombies and the Witch’s Attack to honor the famous folk-hero, El Santo.
The word Oyamel, which means butterfly in the ancient Nahuatl language, is especially significant in the history of the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico. It is not a coincidence that this very Catholic celebration had deep roots in a month-long Aztec festival held at the end of the summer to commemorate the migration of the Monarch butterflies from the Central Valley and to honor the goddess Mictecacihautl, the Lady of the Dead.
After the Spanish conquest the Catholic priests conveniently used this celebration, which coincided with the Catholic calendar’s All Saints Day, to bring new converts into the faith. The convenience of using this pre-Hispanic event to get recent converts to conform to Catholic holidays is ever-present in the religious syncretism that abounds in indigenous regions of Meso-America.
Not to be outdone, Rosa Mexicano, another restaurant with branches in other cities, is also offering a special Day of the Dead dinner. Its menu and altar honor its founder, Chef Josefina Howard, and features two of her favorite dishes, a guacamole de otoño, which features pomegranate and pumpkin seeds, and a chicken enchilada with mole sauce.
There are also exotic cocktails that feature mezcal, a liquor made from the Maguey plant, laced with agave, orange, lime, and very fiery chile de árbol. For a sweet dessert they offer a traditional buuelos, a fried donut pastry that is filled with ice cream.
Altars with food offerings are also important for families celebrating this holiday. Washington has one of the most wonderful examples of such an altar at the Mexican Cultural Institute. This year the Institute decided to dedicate it to Colombian author, Gabriel García Márquez, who passed away in Mexico on April 17th. This spectacular piece of art with color tissue and other bright adornments includes the offerings of sweets that are characteristic of the celebration. You can view the altar on Saturday November 1st starting at noon and remain open until November 7th.
At Oyamel the altar honors Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, widely known as El Santo, Mexico’s legendary luchador wrestler, folk icon and actor. He is credited with having popularized luchador wrestling, but was also a symbol of justice that pervaded the themes in his films and comic books.
Although he died thirty years ago in 1984, his funeral was one of the largest and grandest in recent history. Given the challenge of ongoing violence in Mexico today it is not surprising that El Santo is being revived as a cult figure who symbolizes a much more peaceful time in that country’s history.
Mexico has taken the celebration of Día de los Muertos to a new level. The focus on the decorative aspects of the festivities—the use of skeletons and skulls—and the famous sweets and food offerings that accompany the rituals at family offerings or outings to the graveyard play an important role in connecting past and present, living and dead. Celebrations are not ones of sadness, but of remembrance.
Like the use of favorite foods prepared for those who are no longer living with us, it only reinforces the power of food as memory. And on the Día de los Muertos we are all transformed into Mexicans when we recreate such fiestas as a way to link us with our shared heritage.
So go out for a zombie cocktail, and even if your community does not have a special meal at a local Mexican restaurant, recreate the spirit of the holiday at home. And don’t forget that these days of Halloween and All Saints Day carry with them ancient roots of the seasons changing, of lives ended and sprits renewed.
This holiday offers more than the candy filled trophies that are too often the only memory that kids will have from the act of trick-or-treating which is really only one night of a longer, and more meaningful holiday.
This article first appeared in VOXXI.
Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies passed a bill yesterday that updates the country’s 47-year-old hydrocarbon law. The bill, which has President Christina Fernández de Kirchner’s support and has already been approved by the Senate, would ease foreign investment in energy exploration and production. Significantly, it includes regulations for off-shore and shale gas production—categories that were not included in the 1967 law.
The bill provoked significant debate along party lines, and passed largely on the strength of President Fernández de Kirchner’s Frente Para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) representation in Congress.
Argentina’s energy deficit is estimated to reach $7 billion this year. The new bill is part of an attempt to set the country on a course towards energy independence by ramping up domestic production—especially in the country’s Vaca Muerta region, which is considered one of the largest reserves of shale oil and gas in the world. Faced with dwindling foreign reserves and access to credit, the government has looked to increased foreign investment. To do attract investment, the bill would lower the level of investment needed for companies to avoid export taxes and foreign exchange control to $250 million from $1 billion. “The desired horizon for Argentina is only possible if there are investments,” said Mario Metaza, a deputy for the FPV.
Opposition lawmakers have accused the government of steam-rolling provincial interests and selling off strategic resources. “They are ratifying the concept of hydrocarbons as a commodity and not as a strategic resource and a common good,” said Claudio Lozano, a deputy for the Frente Amplio Progresista (Broad Progressive Front—FAP). Outside observers have also raised questions about the current administration’s ability to manage any potential windfall derived from the energy reform, pointing to the mismanagement of the country’s wealth during the economic boom of 2003-2008.
In a pilot pain prevention program, the municipality of La Florida planted the first marijuana seeds for medical use in Chile on Wednesday. Once the marijuana plants have been cultivated, oil from the plants will be used to treat 200 selected patients as part of a clinical study on the effect of cannabis as a pain medication, administered by the Fundación Daya (Daya Foundation), a nonprofit dedicated to alleviating human suffering.
Daya Foundation employees planted a total of 850 seeds of the Durga Mata II, Wappa, IceCream and Pandora varieties imported from the Netherlands, which will grow on a plantation surrounded by electric and barbed wire fences. The plants will be heavily guarded to stave off any potential thieves.
The Chilean Ministry of Agriculture approved the cultivation of medical marijuana in September, and the harvest will begin in April of 2015, with treatments using cannabis oil scheduled to take place in May.
According to the United Nations, Chile is the third largest consumer of marijuana in South America, but while fellow South-American country Uruguay recently become the first country in the world to legalize the cultivation, production and state-run market of marijuana, the Chilean government has no plans to legalize the plant beyond medical use. “This is about providing people who are suffering from cancer with a natural, healthier and cheaper treatment for their pain,” said Rodolfo Carter, mayor of La Florida.
Both Carter and the Chilean actress Ana María Gazmuri, president of the Fundación Daya, were present for the planting of the first seeds.
Despite government support for the cannabis program, many in Chile’s medical community disapprove of the use of marijuana for medicinal use. Jorge Las Heras, a representative of the Chilean Medical Society, spoke out against the project on Wednesday, saying that there are “sufficient therapeutic alternatives” to marijuana, and that cannabis oil can have negative side effects, such as “convulsions, nausea and other conditions that have even led to death.”
In a presidential contest that may have seemed like déjà vu, Uruguay’s elections on Sunday produced some unexpected headlines: former President Tabaré Vázquez earned nearly 48 percent of the vote—a full 17 points ahead of challenger Luis Lacalle Pou; Vázquez’ center-left Frente Amplio coalition (Broad Front–FA) has retained its parliamentary majority; and a plebiscite to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16— referred to during the campaign as la baja—was convincingly defeated.
Aside from the accurate prediction that no candidate would earn more than 50 percent of the vote—resulting in a November 30 runoff—these were not the results expected by Uruguayan pollsters, who have begun a period of self-criticism after pollster Ignacio Zuasnabar from Equipos Mori admitted that the old polling methods need to be refreshed using Facebook and cell phones. Nearing October 26, pollsters believed Lacalle Pou was closing the gap on Vázquez, and some even said that right-wing Partido Colorado (Red Party–PC) candidate Pedro Bordaberry would achieve about 17 percent of the vote. In the end, Bordaberry did not even earn 13 percent.
Meanwhile, Vázquez, who has already run for president three times, and Lacalle Pou of the center-right Partido Nacional (National Party–PN), the son of former president Luis Alberto Lacalle, will return to the trenches for the final phase of their campaigns. Third-place candidate Bordaberry, the son of former president Juan María Bordaberry—whose government ushered in Uruguay’s 1973-1985 military dictatorship—has already voiced his support for Lacalle Pou.
What do the Brooklyn hipster and the Brazilian president have in common? They both think they look good in a pair of oversized, black-framed glasses.
Sometimes called “hipster glasses” in the United States and óculos setentas (70s glasses) in Brazil, these trendy frames have proven to complement both skinny jeans and struggling presidents in need of appearing more accessible to the youth vote. During the final months of the Brazilian presidential race, incumbent Dilma Rousseff’s campaign began circulating a stylized poster depicting Rousseff as a young revolutionary in the 1970s wearing a plaid shirt and sporting the thick-framed glasses.
It’s an outfit you might spot in any number of artsy New York or São Paulo neighborhoods today. The retro glasses have been re-popularized in recent years by sports stars (Lebron James, David Beckham), artists (Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z), and politicians (former U.S. presidential candidate Rick Perry, for one), but Rousseff wore them before they were cool, which makes her that much cooler.
“It was an attempt to bring Dilma closer to youngsters and people who did not relate to her more 'formal' image as president,” said João Marcelo Ehlert Maia, a professor of sociology at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro. “The idea is to present the 'guerrilla look' in a new fashion. 'Hipster Dilma' is, in fact, 'Revolutionary Dilma.’”
The re-election of President Dilma Rousseff as president of Brazil was not a foregone conclusion as little as a week ago. While the campaign could not have been dirtier, with charges of corruption, womanizing and wife-beating flying around, Rousseff’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT) now seems set for another four years in office.
The PT is on the verge of having the longest-running rule of one party in Brazil since the end of military rule in 1985.
Watching the Brazilian presidential campaign in Rio in its final days provided a useful window to talk to voters.
If this election reveals anything about the Brazilian electorate, it is that they are not yet ready to give up the socioeconomic gains of the years under the PT’s stewardship of the country.
The 12 years of PT government so far have created expectations for many millions of Brazilians to become part of the middle class. Even though the right-of-center candidate, former Minas Gerais governor Aécio Neves, promised to keep the social programs going, the majority of voters opted for the status quo.
The electorate was closely divided, though. With the final votes counted, Rousseff, with 51.6 percent of the vote to Neves' 48.5 percent, had only a 3 percent—or 3.5 million vote—difference.
That foreshadows a polarization of what some have characterized as two irreconcilable halves—much as is the case now in the United States.
The United Nations General Assembly voted for an end to the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba for the twenty-third time on Tuesday. For the second year in a row, 188 countries voted in favor of a non-binding resolution calling for the end of the embargo, with Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstaining. Only two countries—Israel and the U.S. itself—voted against the measure.
The vote, which has become an annual occurrence in the General Assembly, was first approved in 1992, with 59 votes in favor, three votes against, 71 abstentions, and 46 countries refused to participate at all. Since the end of the Cold War, however, support for the embargo has waned. The European Union lifted sanctions on the island in 2008, and agreed to begin negotiations to restore bilateral relations with Cuba on February 10 of this year, leading to speculation that the U.S. would follow its lead through executive action.
While it would take an act of Congress to formally repeal Helms-Burton, which codified the U.S. embargo into law, President Barack Obama has recently taken steps to ease travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban-Americans and reinstate people-to-people travel to the island.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.